Sunday, October 08, 2017

Dig Day




I read an article about a community dig day at Rowan University in South Jersey and wanted to get in on that. Apparently, everyone wants to get in on this. The first year I tried we did not get tickets but this year we did. I waited at the computer and punched in what I needed to. The whole day sells out in minutes. Then it was a matter of keeping that day clear of teenage activities but we mostly did. We, minus Adam who had a football game, recently drove down there to see what it was all about.
Right before we left, we realized we had been to the area before. 22 years ago, Phil and I drove to New Jersey for the official ceremony marking the Ashbrook’s Burial Ground. I still had the brochure and brought it with us. We decided to stop if it was on the way. It was exactly on the way. Both the Ashbrook’s Burial Ground and the Fossil Park are off of Route 55, in an industrial shopping mall kind of place- about five minutes apart.
We stopped and walked around. Phil and I remember there being more of an open field at the burial grounds. No longer. Houses are moving in on the site but it is there. John Ashbrook, an indentured servant who earned his freedom and then bought a plantation in the area, is buried there. He left the land in his 1730 will to be made into a public burial ground, now the oldest known site in Camden County. Oddly, 50 Hessian soldiers are also buried there, retreating from the Battle of Red Bank in 1777. Another Revolutionary War hero is buried there as well making it part of New Jersey’s Revolutionary War history. The kids were amazed that our family had a connection to this place. Phil and I were amazed that we went so long ago, remembered it and went again. It was nice but once every 22 years is probably enough.
Next on the day of old things, the Fossil Park. Really this was a quarry (for marl, some sort of sandy substance used as a fertilizer) behind a Lowe’s. It was recently bought by Rowan University and endowed to be made into a citizen science site run by Dr. Kenneth Lacovia. Dr. Lacovia gave a short talk (and we also heard him on the SciFri podcast!) about how this site was a shallow sea and that fossils of sharks and sea turtles and moasaurs were being found all the time. The large skeletons are intact leading all to think that the creatures here died all at once. Dr. Lacovia spoke of how he is looking for the KT boundary, the iridium rich sediment from the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. How this extinction site could be one of its kind in the world for spotlighting the dying off.
 I sort of thought we would have a bunch of AP science type students and we did. But those students were the minority. I had somehow forgotten how much the preschool set loves dinosaurs. Those kids came out in droves. But are big kids were excited and stood by the other high schoolers who were also excited and standing apart from the parents. We dug but didn’t find much. The girls took what we found up to the onsite experts who looked it over. Everything we found was bagged up and named but it wasn’t a fossil and I can’t remember it. What I will remember is all of us driving home on a sunny day singing along with the They Might Be Giants Science Album, which we listened to daily during the Hong Kong years. The girls sang “I am a Paleontologist” with extra feeling and it was all worth it.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

All High School All the Time




Everyone around us, including the teens themselves, have accepted the new world order. But the parents are struggling. Yes, this year all three of our kids are high school. While it is nice to have everyone on the same campus again, there is a degree of finesse in getting all three kids out the door at the same time again. It works but mostly because Royce sometimes rides her bike and because Sienna, the dog, now stays home on the high school runs. This used to be the dog’s thing. But she’s been demoted. There is no more space for her with three big kids, their book bags and sports equipment.
The twins have really embraced high school. Both are doing a sport, cross country and football. They go to school and then straight to sports practice and finally come home exhausted. Last year, with no recess at middle school and no sports teams, they were not exhausted. This was not a great set up for a smooth evening. Honestly, they are so tired, they don’t even fight anymore. Yesterday, Royce was on the couch at five reading, fell asleep, woke up at bedtime and just went to bed. It might sound a little dreary around here but we’ve all mostly accepted it and moved on.
Tori is busy with tennis and lots of rigorous classes. She’s starting to meet with college reps that come to the high school. It all seems very real. Real that the whole plan is for her to go away sometime. In the meantime, we have a lot more information on her than ever before. Twins report on when they see her at school, what she was doing and if she seemed happy with it all. Both have joined the club that Tori is president of.
This past Friday the twins both invited friends over for a BBQ. This has long been a standing order but only a few times have kids come over. This time five or six freshman girls came by with just as many freshman boys stopping over. There was talk back and forth between the groups about classes and teachers. Royce and Adam sort of thought their friend groups would stay apart but the mixing has begun. And all of our kids love the mixing of the grades in their classes. They all love having seniors in their classes. We will know they have crossed some great coming of age milestone when they accept having a sibling in their class. Unlikely but one can dream.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Ocean Grove



Last year, we made a few trips to the Jersey Shore. Really just enough to learn that we weren’t supposed to call it the beach. We tried a few more visits but after one memorable time when it snowed on us in April we gave up. This year, with advice from Royce’s friend, we tried again and found our beach/shore. Ocean Grove.
Just an hour away, it is perfect for us. A straight shot down the New Jersey Parkway (fine for adults to drive, not yet even thinking about allowing Tori to tackle it…). Ocean Grove was established in 1869 by Methodist clergy as a summer camp. There were tents and tabernacles back in the day, with folks coming out from the city to experience the fresh air. In 1894, the Great Auditorium was constructed and I think that is the same huge structure I see today, about one block back from the shore. Around the Auditorium, then and now, are 114 tents. People reserve these summer tents well in advance and must abide by various rules of behavior. We heard that rent today goes for one tent goes for anywhere between $4,000 - $6,000 for the summer season.
Today the boardwalk retains its Methodist feel. At every beach entrance (where in New Jersey, you pay a daily fee to enter the beach- about $8/day), a daily scripture is written on a chalkboard. Near the part of the beach we like, there is a covered meeting area with Christian music being performed most days. There is nothing for sale on the boardwalk, just a view of the shore, backed with beach umbrellas, the sky woven through with planes pulling advertisements behind them and in the water, lots and lots of swimmers. Once when we got there we saw a crowd of people on the beach but no one in the water. Someone pointed and we gazed out into the water and saw a crazy looking big flat fish; a sun fish, maybe six feet long. I for one am always encouraged to see wildlife in New Jersey, which seems so populous to me.
Our approach to the beach this year was to leave when done with morning sports but not to rush. We typically got to the beach by 2-3 in the afternoon and stayed until 6. Easy to avoid the crowds, the heat and to find parking. Phil and Adam on their first boys only beach dive found an ice cream place en route called “Cone Zone.” They stopped twice, coming and going. For better or worse, we always do that now. For a family still settling into Americana, we know that any ritual that brings a smile to all three kids faces is a ritual we are going to keep.