Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Fun

I think the Summer of 2012 has been one of my favorite summers thus far. We spent most of it at home, or close to it. We saw lots of friends and family. I'm sad to see it come to an end.

I summed up our summer recently to a friend in the following message (since edited):

* Ashley thinks having a bearded dragon is even better than she ever imagined. I still can't believe we own a reptile.

* Ashley taught herself how to do a handstand and a cartwheel. She enjoys doing them over and over and over again. Skills I never mastered! 

* We survived our "cruise to nowhere" out of NYC. This satisfied my desire to see the inside of a cruise ship -- a wish that dated back to the 1980s when I watched "The Love Boat" each week. Not sure if we will go on a cruise again, but if we do I want to go somewhere -- preferably someplace without rain.

* Don rode his bike 200 miles in June. I'm tired just thinking about it.

* Our contractor finished our master bathroom project. We now have 2 1/2 working bathrooms again (the 1/2 being the downstairs powder room). It will be nice not having to wait in line for a shower again. Reminded me too much of college days. Ashley is happy to have "her" bathroom back again.

* I'm thinking I am insane for signing up for two more half marathons (Columbus, OH on October 21 with family, and Trenton on November 10 alone since my friends signed up for the 10K). Hopefully once school starts and the humidity disappears I'll enjoy running again.

* Ashley was cast as Lucy in "Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe." November 30-December 16 at Somerset Valley Players. I see lots of drives to Hillsborough in our near future. She sees lots of lines to memorize (120 of them). Should be a good show as the director is insisting on British accents for the family members and is treating the children as adults.

* I signed up to join a couple of committees -- Sustainable Lawrence and Somerset Valley Players. Trying to gain some grant writing experience. I believe strongly in both of these organizations and look forward to seeing where this takes me.

* One of my Patch articles received the WPIX Pix of the Day award earlier this month. With it comes bragging rights and nothing else. Freelancing was light this summer. I'm looking for more steady income once the school year starts again.

* Ashley loved Terhune Farm Camp, Lenape Camp (Junior Counselor again this year), VBS, and a few days in Williamsburg with my parents. Most of the days she was in camp I was running in the heat and humidity. I'm really looking forward to more pleasant running weather. What doesn't kill me just makes me stronger, right?

* Saw all three plays at Edison's Plays in the Park as well as a couple of other community theater productions. Wish I saw more shows.

* We loved going to Music in the Park almost every Thursday this summer. We only missed the one week to cover the Sustainable Jersey Farm to Table Fundraiser at Terhune for the Lawrenceville Patch.

* We learned how to Skype this summer! Ashley had several Skype playdates with Emma, her best friend from kindergarten who now lives in Michigan.

* I was thrilled to get together with Melanie and her family in NYC, Karin and Michelle at Quiet Valley Historical Living Farm, and Heather and Jolie at their house. Play dates with Sophie, Maia and other friends too far to see regulary, in addition to play dates with closer friends, such as Emily, plus pool dates with my parents, and a visit with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Al. Don couldn't believe he got together with Tony in NYC after all these years. We enjoyed three Kappa parties (thanks Pattersons, Kaspers, and Trish) -- one in each part of New Jersey. (If I left anyone out, blame it on my old brain cells and not on our lack of having fun with you -- the joy of an online newsletter is that I can edit it in a flash.)

* We all read lots of books, most of which we borrowed from our local library.

The best part of summer, though, was seeing Ashley's spark return. Her eyes twinkled. She became animated and really fun to be with again. I want that 
spark to always remain with her.

Guess it has been a busy summer after all. 

Tell us about your summer!

WPIX Pix of the Day

Every night during the 5 PM news, WPIX (a New York City television station) posts their "Patch Pix of the Day." Living in Central New Jersey, and not one to watch TV very often, I was not aware of this honor until my editor emailed me on August 16 to say I was chosen as for this honor. 

WPIX selects a story each day each from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as a photograph, to highlight on their nightly news at approximately 5:45 PM. My picture (above) was selected from the photo gallery I created about the Sustainable Jersey Farm to Table event at Terhune Orchards on August 9.

Between Don and I, we took 550 pictures, which were culled down to 174 for this photo gallery. The shot of the chefs was helped by Mother Nature who provided a beautiful rainbow following a torrential rainstorm. The post-rainstorm weather provided a magical touch to the fundraiser.

Thank you for letting me indulge as my prize for being chosen as the WPIX Pix of the Day is simply bragging rights, and a mention on my resume.

NYC - High Line

Welcome to New York City's High Line, the latest trend in taking something useless and falling apart and turning it into something beautiful and useful.

The High Line is a handicap-friendly, elevated park running along 10th Avenue from just below 14th Street to 30th Street, with plans to expand to 34th Street in the near future. It is built on old freight rail lines (think rails to trails) from the meat packing district to Chelsea and closer to Grand Central Station.
With wildflowers growing along the path, and pretty vistas of The Big Apple, the High Line is a great place for photo buffs. The scenes along the path are timeless and photogenic in all seasons. It also helps that one end is only a couple of blocks away from my favorite photo supply store -- B&H Photos.

For a more comical shot look for the bleachers facing a giant glass window that stretches across 10th Avenue. Here you can pretend, like Ashley, to be run over by cars. 

A highlight of the stroll was stopping for ice cream cookie sandwiches from a street vendor. They were gooood. Ashley and I split one with dark chocolate cookies with peppermint ice cream in the center. Don had nutmeg cookies with peanut butter ice cream. The other street vendors' fares looked just as delicious.

My biggest complaint about the High Line is that it is too crowded. I was envisioning a cut-through to get from Point A to Point B without having to deal with traffic lights and slow moving pedestrians. Unfortunately the entire path seemed filled with slow moving pedestrians, many (like me) wielding cameras and stopping to take "the best shot."

A couple of days after going on the High Line, the New York Times ran an opinion story about it. The writer has even stronger opinions about the downsides of the High Line, including the demise of local businesses in the wake of gentrification of the former working-class neighborhood. Sounds like a case of too much success is not necessarily a good thing for everyone.

The park is free and open from 7 AM-11 PM everyday. It is worth a visit, especially on a nice day. While there, visit the neighborhoods below it and support the local businesses.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Music in the Park

Most Thursday summer nights, Lawrenceville, NJ has their own bit of "Small Town Americana." Lawrenceville Main Street has a weekly program called Music in the Park.

There is something for everyone. The older crowd sits up close in their lawn chairs and listens to the music. The in-betweeners (that's us) hang out with our friends and catch up on summer news. The people with small kids either sit up close, or sit in the back. Kids ages 5-15 hang out in the back playing with balloons provided by Roma Bank.

In addition to music, a local restaurant sells food at rates that are much lower than they charge in their restaurants. The meals are also smaller, but for under $20 the three of us can have a nice meal. I like being able to support a local restaurant. 

Pictured above is Off the Map, a new band made up of members of Miss Amy's Big Kids' Band. I was impressed this new group played 90 minutes of original music. Way to go!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm

With our day trip to Quiet Valley Living History Farm this week, I feel as if Ashley and I are back to day tripping our way through historical sites. Considering it is August already, it is about time.

This trip started out as a Facebook idea. My friend, Michelle, was lamenting that her daughter's field trip was too far away and would not get her home in time for her dance recital later that night. After looking at the place online, I suggested we postpone the trip until the summer and let the girls have a chance to visit together. Another friend, Karin, saw the "conversation" and asked to join the fun outing. 

Three moms, two preteen girls, and two kindergarten(ish) boys had a triple playdate in Stroudsburg, PA. It was nice because for many reasons. The weather cooperated (80, low humidity, and no rain). Plus the kids were all happy because they had a friend to play with, and the moms were thrilled to be able to hold conversations. Oh, we also snuck in a few lessons about farm life in the late 19th century.

The farm was started by the Depper family who escaped from feudal Germany in the late 18th century and settled in Stroudsburg, PA (about 100 miles from Philadelphia). 

Fast forward a number of years. In 1958 a family purchased the farm from the widow Hess with the intention of farming on the 100 acres. After purchasing the property, they recognized the historic value of the property (which I interpret to mean no one fixed anything in at least 100 years). Rather than farming, the family spent a few years fixing up the place and opened it up in 1963 as Quiet Valley Farm Museum. Changes were made over the years, including building a circa-1893 one-room school house, which was finished in 1994.

Tours are lead by "family members" who revel in telling guests about all of their "modern" conveniences. How much easier life is now (in the 1890s) than it was when "grandpa" began farming. It is cute and annoying at the same time. The discussion about the modern appliances in the kitchen came across as a Pampered Chef demonstration about how lucky the housewife is to have all of these gadgets that her husband, Harvey, kept buying for her. The stove in the picture was quite expensive -- $25 back in the late 19th century. Her husband brought it home for her in his wagon. 

The grandson was quite excited to have a modern-day "fiddle" to distribute seed rather than having to hand sow it like his grandfather. 

All of the presenters were enthusiastic. Each was excited to tell us about "their" lives.

On the day we went, there was a wool-dying presentation. Costumed re-enactors were using heavy pots to dye wool. Sometimes they added iron to change the color of the dye. The presenter became a bit too animated, though, when explaining the old-fashioned technique for making wool indigo-colored. Let's just say it includes everyone peeing in a pot and letting that sit for 6 weeks in the sun. Hard to look at the color again without thinking "ewww."

In addition to more staff than I normally see at small historical sites, there were also a bunch of animals. There were at least 6 goats, 5 pigs, 4 sheep, two horses, a mule, a bull and a foal. 

Our biggest challenge of the day way finding the place. It is tucked in the mountains only a few miles away from the Delaware Water Gap. A couple of signs would have helped. If three college-educated women with GPS units and website directions have troubles finding the place, it is not easy to find. Fortunately we also had children in the car saying (as we drive by) "is that it?" We were all glad that we were not the only ones dumb enough to drive past the unmarked parking lot. 

Thank you for the fun outing!

Terhune Orchard Farm Camp

Ashley spent a week at Terhune Orchard Farm Camp. To hear Ashley talk about it, this was the best week ever. All I noticed was the huge grin on her face and multitude of stories she told as she hopped in the car after camp. She had her sparkle back in full force. Even temps in the 90s and extremely high humidity could not deter her from having the time of her life.

At Farm Camp they played while they learned. They climbed trees, sprayed each other with a hose, played Arrows and other group games, and they sampled new foods. This last one really sold me. Counselor Elaine got Ashley to try smoothies, a whole bunch of vegetables -- squash, beets, and made ice cream. Okay, the last one was not a challenge for Ashley to try, but the rest were. She came home from camp with fruits and veggies she picked, which I then scrambled to add to that night's dinner to encourage her to keep eating them.

What I loved the most is that she came home genuinely happy and excited. She had counselors that were on-hand to make sure they did not get hurt (or to provide band-aids when they did). The counselors never yelled, nor did they spend their time on their phones or other electronic gadgets. If only her fourth grade teacher could have been as good.

The week made me think about what I value in education. While I do want Ashley "to study hard and get good grades" (something which was drilled into me as a child), I really want her to love learning. To be able to explore. To have adults encourage her to learn. To have a chance to fail and end up with scraped knees and come home dirty, but with a giant grin on her face. To grow as she learns. To be exposed to new ideas (or in the case of last week, new foods). To make friends. To be kind to others and have them be kind to her. To live free of electronic gadgets and enjoy it. 

A few side notes: 
Seeing Ashley climb a tree will always make me nervous. After all I fell out of a tree when I was 8 and broke my arm. I'm glad that fear does not stop me from letting Ashley climb trees. If she does fall and break a bone, it will heal. After all, my arm healed. 

While I had fun watching Ashley make crafts, I was glad she did not bring a bunch home from camp. She and a couple of new friends made boats to launch in a creek. I suspect the water-logged boats ended up in the trash, which would be better than leaving them in the stream. 

Brings back memories. I'm trying to find the picture from when Ashley was little and barely reached the 3 foot mark.

Updike Farmstead

In 2004 Princeton purchased Updike Farmstead, an historic farm located on Quaker Road. Thanks to a bunch of grants, the Princeton Historic Society renovated the late 18th century farm house in 2009/2010.

The renovations are stunning. In one hallway is a series of pictures documenting the transformation.

What drew me to the farmstead was the exhibit on Ellen Axson Wilson's American Impressionist paintings. Mrs. Wilson was First Lady when Woodrow Wilson was President. Many of the paintings in the collection were created while Woodrow Wilson was Governor of New Jersey and they lived in Princeton.

Ashley's favorite part of the tour was the scavenger hunt. Many museums (at least the ones trying to encourage families) have scavenger hunts. Often they are "I Spy" games where the kids are asked to find something inside. This was the first time we played the game outside. On the list were easy items, such as an oak or maple leaf -- stationary items. Then there were things we should be able to find (an acorn, a pine cone). As a storm was about to hit, we struck out on the live creatures (ladybugs, worms, and birds). Ashley did manage to find a deer track, which was not easy in the rock solid ground, but we could not find a feather on the property. It was an interesting scavenger hunt since we had no control over finding it all. We gave up before the storm since Ashley is familiar with all of the objects.

The farmstead is only open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons from 12-4. It costs $4 to visit. If you are not interested in American Impressionist art painted by a First Lady, I would recommend waiting until they have an exhibit that you would like better. It is "new." Hopefully it will grow and continue to get even better.