The Cut-off

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There’s a short cut down the fabled back road.  Fewer people know of it than of the back road itself.  Just past the turn for the farm market is a row of mailboxes, all for a single yellow building on a big plot of land.   It’s an old house and I always wondered if it was a farm-house many years ago.  The “cut-off” is the very next right turn.   I get this smug feeling as I turn and watch all the cars behind me continue straight. 

Just as you turn the corner there is a huge field of millet.  Now, in the fall, it is probably ready to harvest.  It is a deep golden brown with the flower a chocolate brown.  In the breeze it sways in waves.  The road is possibly a mile long and on both sides are big houses and small farms.  It is a beautiful little road, no sidewalks, just ranch fences.  There’s a 4,000 foot log “cabin”  with a very large barn.  On the well-manicured lawn is a statue of a majestic horse, rearing up on its hind legs.  There’s a newly built mini-mansion with a stucco finish and a lovely front porch, including built-in gazebo across the street.   Another property has  a small exercise area for horses complete with jumping fences.  Further down is a quaint little ranch house with a corral in the side yard.   The biggest white horse I have ever seen lives there.  All the way at the end on the left is a fenced-in pasture where horses, mules, alpacas and of course, the infamous Jersey geese (f/k/a  Canadian geese) graze, though not necessarily at the same time. 

The homes and land are all well cared for and  beautifully landscaped.   The road empties out to a preserve with a huge lake.  It makes me smile to imagine someone riding down the road towards the lake on horseback with a fishing pole sticking out of a saddle bag.  It really is a timeless piece of Americana right in the middle of New Jersey.

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The Barbeque and the Squirrel

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 This entry is not quite as ominous  as the title sounds and no squirrels were injured or harmed during the actual event, except for those suffering from the effects of what they, of their own free will and stupidity, decided to ingest.

 In the backyard down There are two patios – one with a gas grill and one with the park bench.  When not in use, the grill has a protective vinyl cover on it – forest green to match the trees.  The grill is “not in use” alot  and actually, there is a new grill because when the cover came off in anticipation of the  ” sort of annual ”  Memorial Day Barbeque (all my family), R discovered that my beloved squirrels had chewed through the rubber hose that connected the gas grill to the gas tank. 

I insisted the poor things were starving all winter (it was very harsh with unusually large accumulations of snow) and they even ate holes in the heavy canvas cover on the bench.  This provided R with the perfect excuse… I mean reason… to buy a new grill.  The first one was going on four years old and the base was rusting anyway.  So, after consulting his brothers (who are grill masters) and some comparative shopping, a new grill was purchased and, once  assembled, a mere 3 hours later, it was ready to take its rightful place on the patio. 

 The Memorial Day party was a blast .  On a picture perfect day,  with all of the “definite attending” guests joining all of the “maybe attending” guests  we had one of the biggest and most successful party we have had in years.   The bright yellow day lillies were in full bloom.  The patio table’s umbrella provided shade, there were extra tables and chairs on the lawn and the colorful table clothes fluttered in the slight breeze. 

  W came to play grill master, was quite relaxed and his most charming Southern Gentleman self.  He brought his eldest Son, who admired all of his father’s handiwork and the peaceful feeling of There.  My Son came with my Niece (and her entourage) and he started styling my Sister’s hair, while F and I had a poker conversation.  My Mom helped with all the preparations and filled in as hostess when I was fussing in the kitchen.  My Dad and his Wife brought watermelon, as did my neighbor across the way to add to the watermelon I bought because I forgot what I asked people to bring.  My Cousin and her Husband, on a romantic anniversary trip to Atlantic City, stopped in “for a few minutes” and were almost the last to leave.  Everyone ate and chatted and mingled and I was very happy that my family and friends enjoyed being There in the way I had always hoped.  True to my family heritage, there was extra food that I divvied up and sent home with everyone.  I must admit, when it comes to throwing a party, R and I are a formidable pair.

 The summer rolled on and the new grill sat outside across from the park bench, covered in its new forest green vinyl wrappings, unused but admired.  As September approached, we started planning the  ” sort of annual ”  Labor Day Barbeque (all of his family).  There were to be eleven of us including several adult nieces.  R and I argued several times about the menu and amount of food to be offered.  R tends to have a more realistic relationship with food than I do and, truth be told, we have never run out of anything when entertaining when he has been in charge of the provisions.  When the shopping was finally completed and he conceded to extra steaks but held his ground on extra appetizers, I knew in my heart that we still had a bountiful amount of food.

 The morning of the party dawned bright with a promise of low humidity and temperatures in the  high  70’s – Perfect Weather once again!!  I was starting the salad and veggie platter production when R went out to check the grill’s gas tank.  He returned with that “Someone’s  In Big Trouble” look and announced that once again, my beloved squirrels had made a meal of the rubber hose from the NEW grill to the tank. 

 With my urging for calmness, and realizing that he did not have 3 hours to put a new gas grill together, R came up with the idea of buying a charcoal grill and repairing the gas grill at a later date… well, asking W to repair the gas grill at a later date.  He went off to Home Depot and came back with a charcoal grill and all the necessary fuels.  R opened the box and found that the “grill” part of the charcoal grill was missing ,  so unless we were going to roast the steaks on sticks   –  caveman style  – this grill wasn’t going to cut it.  With much growling, he packed up the “semi-grill” and returned to Home Depot.  Someone at that store surely got a tongue lashing.  Of course if I went, they also would’ve had to put the grill together for me and kissed my feet.   

 While R “went shopping”, I chopped, sliced, diced, moved tables, placed table cloths, arranged chairs,   defrosted shrimp, cursed my lack of height as I climbed on step stools to reach the top cabinet shelves for bowls, doubled checked for clean hand towels in all three baths, and finished up everything that needed to be done  until the very last minute.  Company was expected any time after 12 and the cooking was to start at 2.  R came home and started putting together the grill.  At 11:50 I finally went up for a shower.  At 1:45 the first group of company arrived (sans adult daughters) and at 2:30 the second group of company arrived (ditto).  We now had enough thawed filet mignon for approximately 15 people with only six adults  (including ourselves) and one seven year old attending .  Everything went exceptionally well once R got over that.

 The little guy, J,  thrilled with his toy space gun birthday present, proceeded to shoot his uncles.  So, he was taken to the woods behind There to hunt for bears, coyotes or some other menacing animal.  We followed the grass path, avoided sticker bushes and low hanging branches.  We checked the ground for tracks and trees for fur that might have been rubbed off,  listened for strange animal noises,  but finding  no animal large enough to shoot, we returned to the house about 30 minutes later with a new “mini-boulder” for my backyard collection.  A spot was carefully chosen and the stone was planted.  The food was terrific and before birthday cake, J was taken to the new outdoor gym equipment ,  about a 20 minute walk down a paved path on the wooded side of the development.  His mother and I dissuaded him from shooting any squirrels which scampered about (though I’m sure his Uncle R would have been delighted with the present of a  dead squirrel that day) and as J walked and beat the trees with sticks as little boys often do, I prayed that no squirrels appeared in the back yard while R and his brothers sat outside on the bench.  After J’s 30 minute gymnastics exhibition, including the inevitable hanging upside down, we walked back to the house along the sunshine speckled path.  I sighed happily enjoying the glow of another successful party with our family.  It has been a wonderful summer There.

 R will order the new hose, W will install it on the gas grill and I will coat it with a cayenne pepper mixture and keep the squirrel and bird feeders  filled  with seeds for now on.  Hopefully the squirrels  will  lose their taste for rubber  and this grill will last another four years .

Patriot Rock

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Among the interesting things on the trip from Here to There is something that has been in the book “Weird New Jersey”  Nothing weird about it though.  On the side of the road is a rock painted with red and white stripes and a blue background with white stars.  Along side of it are several flags of all different sizes that people have put up next to it, including a POW/MIA flag.   It’s been there for more than a decade and pre-dates 9/11.  

I remember,  many years ago, some moron repainted the rock and instead of Old Glory, the logo of the NY Giants looked out on the road.  A few weeks later, someone repainted the flag.  Then about a month after that, another moron painted some psychedelic peace symbols in crazy colors.   Again, someone repainted the flag and it hasn’t been disturbed since.  And I hope it never is disturbed or vandalized again.   Something about it feeds my soul and fills my heart with pride.  This country welcomed my immigrant family nearly 80 years ago.  We need to be reminded that unless we are Native Americans, all of us have immigrant families and that diversity is what makes this country not just the greatest in the world, but the most unique.   I thank the Lord every day that I was born American.

The Light

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OK.  This is not going to be about the trip but about why I make the trip.  I am part of an artistic family and I am very visual and verbal.  I have been taken pictures since I was about 10.   My black and white dark room in my home was one of my favorite things in the world.  Now I’m painting because I still have the addiction.  I want to capture the light.  I want to capture and create with it; I want to bend it, enhance it, amplify and surround things in it.  Light is what allows us to see the world and can make anything more beautiful.  Light can be revealing or concealing and it can induce all sorts of emotion.  I admit it.  I’m a light junky.  I want to see everything in any and all kinds of light.  The winter sunset, fleeting and intense is so different from a summer one with its hazy fireball.  The way the sunlight trickles through the trees and leaves pools of brilliant green in the dark woods.  The way the morning sun flows across my backyard, advancing every hour.  The way firelight makes golden planes of faces.

This photograph captures the fading light over the ocean as it creates the colors of steel-blue, pink, orange, gray and deep aqua on the wave rippled sea.  I will paint this some day, when I understand better how to paint light and its effects on the reflective surface of water.  In other words when I can create a painting that is at least one percent as delicate and balanced and truthful and soul filling as this image.   A cell phone photograph is not creating art, but simply finding and recording it, but it gives me a place to start.

Tonight’s Trip Back Here

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We have left There and I am driving back in the late afternoon.  I have driven the parkway and exited near the Mariner’s Museum.  I am past the little trees, the hamlet that nearly burned down, and thankfully most of the traffic has turned off at the first traffic light in 20 miles.   The Pine Barrens stretch in front and behind me without a car in sight.  The forest is dense with nothing but pine trees and an occasional invading oak.  The sun is just low enough to be a bit of a nuisance, with a strobe light effect as I pass the trees  but it’s still not the “golden hour” before sunset, so the light is good and I am taking the Fe through at about 65 mph.   I have passed civilization and even the occasional house, but now there is nothing but forest.   Then, there is a straight bit of road maybe a two-mile stretch and something catches my eye:  a hint to a secret.  A solitary mail box, shiny and proud, sits on top of its post on the side of the road.  I take  my foot off the gas to slow down just a little.  I can see the winding dirt road and I know there is a house at the end of it, but I can’t see it.  It is deep in the woods.  Maybe a lovely log cabin in the woods.  Maybe a family’s home with toys in the front yard, a shed for the lawn mower, a garden of herbs.  Maybe it is just a development house left over from the last big build in the area and someone put three bedrooms and one and half baths out here because they did not like the development.  What kind of house could it be?  Who lives there?  Are there flowers?  Children?  Is it a home or just a house?   The curving dirt road hides all this from me and I know the pines will never tell.  Even in the winter,  the pine forest will be green and secretive.   Now I will look for the mail box every trip.

The Trip

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This blog is about the actual journey There.  It starts usually on Thursday when I  pack and check the red shopping bag I keep hanging on a chair in the living room.  During the week I fill it with the things for the house that I don’t want to forget – a few extra groceries, my casino cards, some photographs to paint from.  Then I pack my clothes, all casual and comfortable.  I use a yarn duffel bag that I bought years ago at a street fair.  It holds alot but is very light.  Thursday nights I usually dream of painting or the ocean.

Friday at work I am in a good mood as I think about my release, my sanity just hours away.  Then, as I leave the office and wish everyone a good weekend, I find myself smiling because I know my weekend is always a mini-vacation.  I pray for light traffic, a prayer which is rarely answered and as I run for my Sante Fe in the parking deck, I call R and try to get him to be ready when I arrive, so all I have to do is make a quick pit stop, load the Fe and leave within 10 minutes.   Another prayer rarely answered but R doesn’t waste time.  He makes us sandwiches so we don’t have to stop, he makes sure everything is locked up and turned off and he is very efficient.  We leave as soon as possible. 

I am driving this Friday night as it is summer and day light savings time right now.  I will probably only be able to drive another 2 or 3 weeks as the days get shorter and my night blindness interferes.  Except for the 10-12 week period when I can drive on Friday night, I grit my teeth or try to sleep when R drives.  His driving is not that bad, I’m just a control freak.   There, I said it.

But for now, I’m driving and as I start to pull away, I coast slowly through our development and say, “do you have your wallet……. your money……..your cards…….. your cell phone………. your keys?” with each question prompting a pat down of all his pockets as I try not to laugh.  As he checks for vital belongings in a deliberate but slightly frantic manner, I keep my eyes on the road, ever mindful that I may need to make a quick U-turn to retrieve the forgotten item. 

Once everything has been located and we are out of the complex and on our way, I mentally say good-bye to the stress of  Here.  Goodbye crazy russian neighbors who live above us and whose daughter thinks she’s a kangaroo.  Goodbye window that needs fixing and carpet that needs cleaning.  Goodbye crazy, and somewhat needy family members who know not to call unless someone is in the hospital, in jail or dead…. no, really… that’s what I have told them all.   Goodbye to commuting, to the five and a half attorneys that I support in that God-forsaken City of New York. 

I’m on my way There.

Travels

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Honestly, I don’t expect anyone to read this.  It is about the weekly two-hour journey from my weekday home (“Here”) to my weekend home which I have nicknamed “There” and back again.  The trip takes me through horse country, rural South Jersey, the Pine Barrens and other places I have grown quite attached to. 

Here’s the back story.  In April 2006, my husband and I finally bought the second home that I had been praying for.  It took nearly 10 years to convince him but he finally understood that it would be a good investment, someplace to relax and a way to make me very happy.  About six months after we closed, the housing market crashed,  just the way it did six months after we purchased our first home.  Because we plan to keep the second home for a while, the market doesn’t matter. 

There is a townhouse, about 1500 square feet with 2 master bedrooms each with their own bathroom.  Downstairs is a small eat in kitchen and a living/dining room combination.  The sliding doors take up the whole back wall and outside is a 10 x 15 ft. cement patio, and then about 20 feet of grass and then a pair of paver patios built at the edge of the woods.  On one is a wooden park bench.   The pale mint greens and soft blues were lovingly chosen for a bright calmness.  Downstairs the artwork is all woods and trees, save for my little niche of paintings.  Upstairs is dedicated to the sea, with lighthouses, shells, photographs and paintings of crashing waves and serene beaches.

My flowers and gardens, the patios, the squirrels, the birds, the trees have been my salvation and sanity.  I sit on the bench, tilt my head back, listen to the wind chimes and watch the trees sway.  I am at peace. 

Twenty minutes from There is the Atlantic Ocean and Atlantic City.  I watch the ocean waves and the people on the boardwalk and the children  in the sand and I feel healthy, strong and whole.

My husband, R, enjoys being There, but not as much as I do.  For him it’s a place and not a dream.  My best friend, W, probably loves There as much as I do and it was he who put his blood and sweat into so many of the improvements we made.  W and I built the paver patios.  We moved about a ton of paver stones, bags of top soil, bags of pebbles, lumber and sand.  We built the patios in a weekend.  It was probably the most difficult thing I ever did physically.   Every year W and I go on Easter weekend for the spring planting.  I plan for weeks what we are going to buy and what plants we are going to replace. 

W is going to retire at least part-time at the end of the year.  I am hoping he spends more time There, with or without me.