Monday, November 22, 2010

The Hamilton-Trenton-Bordentown Marsh

I write a lot about Cape May, so much so that many readers probably assume that I live there. No, it was my parents' home, I was born there, and my sister and I maintain our family home there. I planted myself in Hamilton, NJ, because I'm near highways, trains and airports that lead me to all the places I like to visit. (Was that a long story not made short enough?)
My house sits on a bluff overlooking the Hamilton (-Trenton-Bordentown) Marsh, now a county park, but hundreds of years ago it was Lenni Lenape territory. Hunters would wait in what is my backyard for game to appear in the marsh below. Location, location, location.

At the turn of the last century and after, there was an amusement park in the marsh centered around Spring Lake. It was built by a trolley company so that people in Trenton would have a reason to ride the trolley on weekends. This stairway is leftover from that time. Visitors would walk down these steps to get to the amusements after riding the trolley through my current neighborhood's backyards. The houses on my street were built in the 1950s, but this neighborhood is a hodgepodge of single homes, duplexes, and rowhomes of all ages. There is even a mansion once owned by Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brother. I don't think he lived there, but his mistress did, and he lived on the other side of the marsh in Bordentown. Location, location, location.

Today the marsh is a great place to go to photograph nature in all seasons. In spring, the water lilies begin to bloom in Spring Lake.
And the Old Man Tree is surrounded by new growth.

In summer, wildflowers abound and avian residents hang near the lake to stay cool. This photo, "Single Cattail," actually sold at a marsh photography show a few years ago.

In fall, the leaves turn and start to drop revealing less obstructed views like this one of beaver lodges.

In winter, it's a treat to stand in my backyard and see the marsh covered with snow. Location, location, location.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dog Friendly Cape May

Hello everyone, I'm Gladys, the Sheltie dog who goes to the beach a lot. Last year, I guest-blogged about Dog Beach, also known as the Bay Beach in North Cape May. Today I'm writing about the ocean beach in Cape May City. Let me assure you this is perfectly legal:

This is where Mom sits when she goes to the beach without me in the summer. I may sound bitter, but I think mom is right that I wouldn't like it. I wear a thick fur coat all year long and I don't really like the hot weather.
I also don't like the water and these ocean waves are a lot bigger than the waves at Dog Beach. (Mom says to call them breakers because it's more descriptive.) On Sunday we walked from the Perry Street Beach up to the Cove. I have never seen so much sand. There's another dog with its people on the jetty in silhouette.

Here's me posing for the camera by the drift fence: This is Sunset Pavilion next to Cove Beach where all the brides go to get married or to have their pictures taken.
And this is Cove Beach See the lighthouse?
After Las Vegas and Disney World, Cape May is the most popular U.S. municipality for weddings.
On the way back to the car, Mom stopped to shoot some pretty Victorian architecture.

What I do not like about Cape May even in the cooler weather are the flagstone sidewalks. I cannot get traction on them. And this: But I really like that beach!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ugly Fabric?

The New Normal for me consists of staying home on weekends, cooking, sewing, preparing for the work week and maybe cleaning. Extravagant spending seems to be out these days even for those who can afford it, but for a person like me it is just careless. Luckily I can find joy in the simple things like trying new recipes and putting together a new outfit with fabric from the clearance shelf or my extensive fabric stash.

I have almost always been attracted to fabric, first for doll clothes, then clothes for me, and eventually for quilts and home decorating. (Why buy curtains when you can make exactly what you want to fit any window?) My mother was a sewer and used to drag me to fabric stores. As a little kid I found this excruciatingly boring, but when she started buying me inexpensive remnants for doll dressmaking experiments, I began to be very interested in the stuff. If I had a size 8 model I'd show you some of the masterpiece outfits I made from challenging Vogue Patterns in the 1980s, the era of Dynasty. And now that I have figured out how to fit my middle-aged shape I'm at it again. it's fun.

Recently, I've started watching Project Runway. A friend convinced me to try the show, and I wondered why I hadn't already gotten hooked by it. I'm hooked on it now, and although I never learned to sew without a pattern, I sense the need to take risks. Look at this fabric:

Hideously ugly or out-of-this world cool? I am not sure. My mother bought me this piece, about two yards, at Fabricland. (This is the North Plainfield fabric store I mention in the wedding post below, where I found the scrumptious midnight blue silk for a dressy dress.) I had to have this gaudy fabric and I think Mom was nervous and repulsed by my attraction to it. She was going to make something for me--I don't remember what--but I think couldn't bring herself to do it. Months after she passed away, I found it in with her sewing stuff. Somewhat surprised that she hadn't found a new home for it somewhere far away, I took the fabric home. Roughly forty years later, I'm still not sure if it is hideously ugly or way cool. It is sloshing around in my washing machine now to get rid of its musty smell, and after about 45 minutes in my dryer with a Bounce sheet it's going to become a skirt. Or a jumper.

If you see me walking around wearing such a garment, remember this little blogpost and see if you can decide whether it is hideous or cool. (The skirt I mean--that's the risk. I know the story's cool.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Colors of a Wedding

I went to a wedding Saturday. That night, waiting to fall asleep, I reflected on the colors of the day, something the poet and author Frances Mayes does as she travels, and I've noticed myself doing often. It hadn't only been me noticing colors--my confrere and I had been noticing the colors all day.

First was my dress. I chose the fabric for its delicious texture and rich midnight blue (according to my long-lost Crayola box). My shape demands more of a matronly muumuu style than a flirty cocktail dress, so I think the texture must have interest. As I put the dress parts together and the edges frayed a little, I realized that the fibers were black and fuzzy (warp) and electric blue and shiny (weft). Together, they made a fabric that was bright royal blue in sunlight and dark midnight blue under clouds and ceilings. This meant the dress only matched my bright royal blue brocade purse (shaped like a Chinese take-out container) some of the time.

I walked through green to meet my confrere at two o'clock: his green lawn, leafy green trees, and potted plants all illuminated by the bright September sun. An umbrella of green wisteria extended his front porch roof. He took care with his colors, too: the light brown of his suit was repeated in the light blue of his shirt and tie to create a perfect summer look without resorting to the more casual seersucker or khaki. (I have some classy friends.)

There were many hues of purple, violet, orchid at the church ceremony. The bridesmaids' dresses were what I think I remember Crayola calls mulberry, a reddish purple. The bride's mother wore a shade of purple more like eggplant or aubergine. Purples, pinks and blues in many textures seemed to be the most popular choices for the guests' frocks: strapless, one-shoulder, sheaths and gowns. My confrere and I agreed to dislike one (only one) dress. It was a flat sapphire blue, merely smooth satin with none of the all-important texture so many of the others wore. I had rejected this kind of fabric repeatedly while I searched through fabric stores. With no texture, the eye is drawn to the seams and lines of the garment (the waist, princess seams defining the bodice, the sleeves or armholes), and frequently these are unflattering.

Deep plum defined the reception. The tablecloths puddled on the floor and the napkins too fine to really use matched the darkest hue in the orchids that were everywhere. Young ladies in jewel-tone dresses posed for photos on the terrace with the Lake Nockamixon as a backdrop. The lake changed from bright azure to to sapphire and then disappeared into the darkness as the inside moved from late summer sunlight to warm candlelight. Tiny green and white lights dotted the lake like nonpareils to mark the locations of boats.

The most striking colors of the day were, of course, the bride's honey-gold hair, worn loose, and the exquisite cream-colored lace of her veil and gown. Looking like a fairy tale princess, her train had a magical, graceful drape and movement. She radiated deep joy and happiness as she moved through the colors of her long-anticipated day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Turtle Back Zoo

The Turtle Back Zoo in Essex County, NJ, is filled with engaging and aesthetically pleasing exhibits, but one of my most vivid memories is a giant pig named Arbuckle. This dude(?) was 800 pounds easy, and lumbered over to us at the "Essex Farm" exhibit. I have never seen a pig this big, and wondered, how do those pointy (relatively) petite hooves hold him up?
We were in this area of the world to visit the seamstress's mecca, Fabricland, in North Plainfield (where I lived from kindergarten to fourth grade). Mom used to drag me to Fabricland, but I hated it then--love it now. It's NJ's largest fabric store, after all. Anyhow, after driving past our old house and my old school, I thought it would be fun to visit the zoo in East Orange. This was a popular destination for Girl Scout trips, school trips, and playdates with friends. I remembered going there, but no specifics. On one of these trips I learned about carsickness; not me, but my seatmate. Ew.

The zoo is not huge, but the exhibits were terrific. The first 'wow' was the prairie dog exhibit. It looked like a landscaped playground thing for kids, and we were going to skip it. Then I noticed the prairie dogs and the plexi-glass lookouts with real kids heads sticking up in them, among the prairie dogs!
We were there for feeding time and got to see the dogs eating carrots. the zookeeper explained to Fred (who talks to everyone, everywhere) that they like orange foods the most: carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges. (I learn a lot from Fred talking to everyone everywhere.)

Next up was the Wild New Jersey exhibit I had read about online. This was interesting, but the animals are old news and the exhibits ordinary. But look at the cool shot of the Bald Eagles:This Australian Budgerigar (parakeets to us yankees) aviary was a stroke of genius. The pastel-colored birds fly around, perch, and eat seeds off sticks purchased by zoo visitors for $3. Kids and adults alike got a bang out of walking around the aviary with parakeets attached to their seed sticks. I was so mesmerized by the birds and the people interacting with them, I hardly noticed the noisy, sticky kids and their younger siblings' enormous strollers. Fred, who has infinite patience with rugrats, had reached his kid-saturation level while I was still admiring the scores of beautiful birds and their willingness to eat seed from strange people. Now that's an engaging display!Also part of the Australian exhibit were kangaroos and wallabies. These guys move fast--I tried to capture them boinging around on video, but that proved too much of a challenge.The Asian exhibit featured these graceful cranes, a red panda, lots of bamboo, and a waterfall.The Cape May County Zoo (mentioned in some earlier posts), has Capybaras, too. These are the world's largest rodents. We hit the Capybara paddock at feeding time, too. They seem like gentle creatures; really big hamsters.
Then the reptile house...
My photo of the giant python with the huge lump halfway down did not come out, so we will have to be satisfied with this sleeping bat photo.

And right at the entrance to the zoo, some of the newest residents, penguins! We got to see them swimming in their bright blue water when we entered, and their parting gift was this nice group pose.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ringing Rocks Park, Bucks County, PA

We spent Friday driving around Bucks County, Pennsylvania, so that I could gather information, photos, and video for an article about lesser-known attractions in this county. (I stayed away from Sesame Place and Peddler's Village, but we did drive through New Hope.) One of the most interesting places of all is Ringing Rocks Park. We brought all sorts of hammers as we were told, but a regular metal hammer was the best of all....

No one knows how these rocks got here, and the meteorite and glacier-dump theories seem to have been discredited. There is very little information online which adds to the mystery. It is an interesting place to visit, straight up the River Road (Route 32), among all of the other Bucks County sites: quaint towns, covered bridges, historical monuments, huge parks, and original restaurants. Why didn't I think to write this article sooner?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cape May's World War II Observation Tower

I chatted with World War II veterans at the restored observation tower and learned some stuff I didn't know. This mysterious structure has intrigued me since I was a child. It stood there with no explanation just down Sunset Boulevard from Sunset Beach and the sunken concrete ship Atlantus.
It looked creepy and spooky. The tower was finally restored over the winter of 2008-2009 by Cape May's Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities and opened to the public in March 2009.

Signs, officially called "interpretive panels," tell the history of the tower. It was built in 1942 as part of Fort Miles. Fort Miles was mainly situated on Delaware's Cape Henlopen, with some sites on Cape May. Originally it was called Fire Tower #23, and there were eleven others on the Delaware coast and three others in the Cape May area. The towers were staffed by soldiers who were charged with guarding the Delaware Bay and River from German U-boats. The ports upriver (Camden, Philadelphia, etc.) were though to be prime targets. Part way up the spiral stairs is an engaging memorial to local veterans showing then and now photographs. A couple more flights and there is the soldiers' "Dayroom" or lounge.

From the veterans last weekend, I learned that these towers were actually decommissioned in 1944. The army figured that if there were German U-boats approaching, they wouldn't be seen anyway because they would be under water. Also, the shipping channel, closer to the Delaware side of the bay, was not deep enough for the U-boats to submerge to sneak up on us. After the decommissioning, those two thousand soldiers involved were reassigned and the towers were staffed by volunteers until the end of the war.

I had been wondering about communication, too. How did the soldiers in this tower communicate with those in the other towers and on the base manning the big guns? (Cape May was remote when I was a child--imagine thirty years before that.) My question was answered by the equipment hanging on the wall and explained by the veteran at the top of the tower Sunday: they used radios until telephone lines were put up. Telephone lines, as you might imagine, were much more secure than radio transmissions.

The tower now has metal, spiral stairs up to its sixth-story top, but those don't seem military.
What did the soldiers use in the 1940s? The veterans explained to me that there were straight wooden ladders running up along the inside of the tower. They were staggered and passed through manhole-sized openings. If a soldier fell, he wouldn't fall all the way down because each ladder ended and a new one started on the opposite side of each floor.

The restored tower is no longer creepy to me. It is a meaningful memorial to the Cape May residents who fought for our country and a great addition to Cape May's riveting World War II destinations. How lucky are we that there are still veterans from that Greatest Generation willing to share their knowledge with us today?!

The view from the top:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cape May Free Photo Opps for Free

I just submitted a new article to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry's magazine, Twin Capes Traveller, about taking photographs in the Cape May County area. Of course I can't spill all the details of the article here, but I can suggest some cool (free) spots for my readers to try taking some great photos.

For great flower shooting, visit North Wildwood's Hereford Inlet Lighthouse and its amazing gardens. I hadn't explored this gem until last year when I read about it on Twitter. The Cape May County Park and Zoo in Cape May Court House is a nifty place to go for animal photos. Many of the exhibits are viewed from above, on cool overhead walkways. Back down south, the Cape May Point State Park is free and the best place to go for close-up views of the lighthouse. And if you are not worn out by now, check out the great sunsets at the (free) Sunset Beach. Technically this beach is in Lower Township, but it is south of the canal and seems like it is a part of Cape May Point, all the way at the end of Sunset Boulevard.

Now you know some of my Cape May photography secrets, but to read the rest and maybe learn some photo tips, head on over to either ferry terminal (Cape May or Lewes) later this summer and look for the little magazine that has my article. Oh, and the magazine is f-r-e-e.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cleveland, Part II (Austintown)

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?! Eventual answer: a noisy but mild blowout on I-80 near Austintown, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown.

Stay calm, it's still early on a Saturday, we're safe, the car isn't damaged and AAA is on the way. Tire stores close at 2:00 on Saturdays? And they don't have size 195-55-16 anyway? Well then what do we do now?
Yeah. Due to a massive soccer tournament in Austintown, all of the hotels were booked except for this one. After many phonecalls, I found two rooms at the Econo Lodge, just a stones' throw from where the blowout happened. (#19 orange on map) At first glance, the motel seemed about on par with my inexpensive Cleveland hotel, but way beneath the quality of the conference Marriott where Bill stayed. It was part of a truck stop megalopolis, so at least there were restaurants, drug stores and a liquor store. We passed on the adult entertainment options, and hiked up to a Ruby Tuesday's (#51 green on map) for hamburgers through knee-high grass and dandelions with unbelievably thick, mutant stems. Ruby Tuesday's looked a lot closer on the map, but it turned out to be a three-mile walk, round-trip. Afterwards, we made do with the crappy TV reception and Bill left to crash in his own luxurious room. I decided to wash out some clothes in the sink because I would run out of stuff if we had to stay past Monday when Flynn's Tire and Service would probably have my 195-55-16s in their delivery truck. Almost done, I decided I had enough packets of Tide to wash out my jeans as well, and that is when the sink fell through. Into the homemade "vanity." There was no way I could fix this even temporarily, and got a new room on the flip side of our strip of rooms. Bill graciously helped me move. (It was more than a little spooky there at night, especially after I noticed the guy standing on the footbridge in the woods just across from Bill's room.)

I settled in my new room, exhausted, and realized that my deadbolt wouldn't latch into the door. Okay, but the special hotel-style lock worked, and the handle locked securely. I'd be okay. I didn't notice until the last day that the hotel-style lock had mismatched bolts and looked as if it had been detached with force, perhaps by Austintown SVU. Whatever. Don't fuss and make Bill more miserable.

Next day, Sunday, we walked over to Cracker Barrel (#44 green on map) for brunch and checked out this gem of a highway eatery:

Yup, that really does say Quaker Steak and Lube (#49 green on map). We were tempted, but a steak and lube from Quaker were not in the cards for us. We expected thundershowers Sunday night and ordered Chinese delivery, and ended up at Cracker Barrel again Monday morning where we were greeted like old friends.

By the way, the numbers and the map are almost meaningless because, as we discovered, the map is not drawn to scale. But that gives you an idea of this part of the adventure.

Things moved quickly after this. Flynn's Tire and Service sent out a truck for us and our luggage, and we waited in the shop until the car was finished. About eight hours later (including more hamburgers, this time at Applebees) we were in New Jersey where I'm pretty sure Bill kissed the ground when he thought I wasn't looking. This girl went bonkers when I walked in the door like I have never seen her go bonkers before:

It was quite an adventure. I wasn't murdered in my sleep, I wasn't murdered by Bill, the Mini is fine, he graded papers, I read a book I'm using in my sabbatical project, and we listened to lots of good music in the car. I managed to match-up outfits each day from my meager supply of clean casual clothes, and Bill looked like a GQ model each day. Glad to be home now, and glad I risked taking lots of silly pictures for the blog.