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.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Bears, Oh my!

When we first moved to New Jersey, I asked a friend for advice on where to go with kids. She suggested hikes and lakes and managed to get our tired crew excited about our new location. She ended the advice with a line about watching out for bears. All this was over email and I chalked it up as a joke. Well, no joke. There are bears here! I could not be more surprised. In all of green lush Germany, there were no bears. One poor bear wandered over the mountains from Czech and was tracked by various authorities until it wandered back across the border.
When we first moved in, our neighbors explained the trash thing. Not to take our garbage the night before pick-up as the bears would get into it. Sure enough we saw plenty of evidence of bears in the trash but we never saw the bear. Not once that whole first year. We picked up bear information from our local nature center, learning that the bears in New Jersey are black bears, but often have brown fur. The average male bear in NJ is 400 pounds and the average female is 175 pounds. The largest land mammals, these bears can stand 5-7 feet tall. We started to take all this bear talk more seriously.
Last year, I noticed New Jersey had a bear hunt season. Apparently, in the mid-1900s there were less than 100 individuals in the state. With legal protection in 1953, forest regeneration and increased food sources, both crops and garbage, the bears have bounced back and can now be found in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. In the 2016 bear season, authorities re-introduced archery for the first time since 1970. 636 bears were killed in northwest New Jersey alone. Sadly, we heard about this as a well-known bear named Pedals, as he walked around neighborhoods on his back legs, was killed, garnering him an obit in the NYT.
The first bear I saw was on the trail behind our house, while I was walking the dog with a friend (new to New Jersey). We saw the bear about 25 meters ahead of us. Our dog, Sienna, off the leash, ran right up to the bear, who was huge, 100x bigger than our small dog. The bear ambled off into the woods with the dog barking and following. I had just enough time to think “how will I tell the kids that I did not rescue the dog from the bear” when Sienna can tearing out of the woods. We all quickly walked away and kept on neighborhood streets for the rest of the day.
Typically, the police get calls about bears and patrol the neighborhood. Now that I know that it makes more sense to the high police presence on our quiet little street (which backs into the woods). There is also a text message alert to bear sightings but I am not signed up for that. In June, we saw a bear walk through our yard and then got a number of calls from neighbors. Earlier this month, Phil and I saw a bear just after we finished a hike. Now that we all believe the bears are here and they are real, it all feels okay. Somehow it’s encouraging to think that bears thrive here, in such a population dense state.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Goodbye Middle School

Yes, the twins have graduated! We were a little confused as to what the event actually was. In years past, our middle school had a bigger event off site but has recently down scaled to a “celebration” at the school itself. We got there and it definitely looked like a graduation. Kids marched in, close to 400 of them, and sat and rose on cue. Adam and Royce marched in together so that was a nice moment, though we were too far away to take a good photo. The grade 8 students practiced all week and were good marchers. The twins got dressed up and went despite some nerves on both of their parts. All in all, a nice event and closure to the middle school experience.
Middle school ended with a flurry of activity. The kids went to Washington DC for a few days.  They visited a number of sites, stayed at a hotel and had their grade 8 dance at the hotel. Royce texted us throughout the trip, telling us historical facts and figures. Her favorite site to visit was Mount Vernon, where she bought us all postcards and jam. I asked Adam if he liked Mount Vernon. He said no. I asked him if he liked the Air and Space Museum. He said yes. When he got off the bus, he had no voice, totally hoarse. So we know he was talking non-stop there, just not to us about the learning experience. We also got lots of pictures of Royce and her friends before the dance. We have no pictures of Adam at the dance but Royce assures us he was there.
After the graduation, we invited neighbors back to our place for pink and blue cupcakes and Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers. All very nice and so kind of everyone on our street to celebrate the end of middle school at our house. We even had some friends from Hong Kong who now live in our town in attendance. It was nice to have someone there who remember the twins when they were starting Reception 2 at Hong Kong International School. Made the whole thing feel full circle. We reveled in the moment, then got everyone to bed. The kids graduated on a Thursday and had to go to the final day of school on Friday. Short and sweet, just like the whirl of years in elementary and middle schools!