Friday, July 12, 2019

An Emotional Journey Down Memory Lane

Hi, there!  Long time no speak with!  We were busy, busy, busy, maximizing our time in the Metro NY area while volunteering at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ.

We took the train back into New York City to visit the National September 11 Memorial Museum (  We were blessed to have visited the World Trade Center multiple times prior to 9/11.  Mom first visited during a high school trip back in its early days of opening.  She also attended several work-related parties at Windows of the World, the restaurant that was located at the top of the original World Trade Center.  Back in the day, Dad even worked on the Trade Center, overseeing the installation of the customized bus canopies at the main entrances. Fittingly, the company he retired from installed the interior and exterior glass, glazing and stainless steel panels of the Memorial Museum.

The tragedy of 9/11 affected all of us personally in the Metro NY area, for each of us had some connection to a lost life. For us it was the loss of a grammar school classmate, a neighbor, a work associate’s family member, and a schoolmate’s spouse. (We learned from a monument at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge that a former staff member was also a victim of the travesty.)  It was important to us to pay our respects and say a prayer for the innocent souls killed at the hands of terrorists.

The attack of September 11, 2001, was our Pearl Harbor, our Holocaust, our generation’s senseless loss of life at the hands of evil.  To think these were everyday people just like my parents, going about their everyday lives, performing everyday tasks.  No one could ever have known that gorgeous, cloudless, true blue-sky day would be the darkest of our lives.  Those who read this blog regularly know that this Rambling RV Rat is not political or controversial.  I do not promote hate and violence, nor do I have any prejudices against any religion.  But much violence has been done through history because of or in the name of religion, from persecution of the Jews, to burning Christians on crosses, to Crusaders raping and pillaging non-Christian sects, to radical Muslims deep hatred of the infidel who do not follow the tenets of Islam.  It is wrong, it is evil.  Those who perished on September 11, 2001, represented the very fabric of our country.  They were from all races, religions, and cultures.  They were of all ages, with all different professions, from custodians to CEOs.   They were just like US!  So it is important never to fall prey to those who undermine what happened.  We must never forget the inhumanity—it was terrorism, pure evil—and it changed our lives forever.  I only wish that people today would remember how we bonded AFTER the tragedy.  We didn’t see color or race or religion, but we saw brothers, sisters, moms, dads, wives, husbands, and children grieving—and we grieved with them.  We did prayer vigils, lined up for blood drives, and donated money to help the surviving families.  We were Americans, honoring our flag, respecting our first responders, and loving our Country.  I wish we could be as strong, united, and vigilant now as we were then. Anyway…

The Museum is very tastefully done.  Many years of discussions with surviving families ensued before building plans were finalized.  And rightfully so—the remains of approximately 40% of the victims have never been recovered.  So these grounds are sacred, respected, and treaded upon lightly.  And, out of deference, I refrained from taking pictures inside the Museum.  The Museum also honors the victims of Flight 93, Flight 11, Flight 175, Flight 77, and even those from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Because the Museum gets very crowded very quickly, we opted to purchase the Early Access Museum Guided Tour for $60 each, which begins at 8:15 a.m., before the Museum opens to the public.

Visiting the Museum and Memorial is very emotional. We saw the piece of steel that the nose of one of the planes hit.  We heard the victims voices echoing in the Museum, saw their photos on the wall, and felt the presence of their spirits.  I broke down in tears when I saw the photo exhibit of people who jumped from windows, taking matters into their own hands.  I often think I probably would have done the same in their place.  Another poignant exhibit was the Chelsea Jeans Memorial.  This retail store on Broadway near Fulton Street preserved a store display from that tragic day.  Clothing is covered in ash, debris, and dust.  A snapshot of a moment in time.  A special exhibit was dedicated to the canine rescue team members.  Sadly, they suffered from severe depression when they were not successful in rescuing an injured person.  So their handlers and first responders would sometimes hide so that the dogs could find them.  Then the canines would be happy that they were successful in their mission of finding survivors.  An emotional roller coaster, even for doggies.

We walked around the fountains outside, reading each name, letting each person know they are remembered.  To quote Virgil, as displayed in the Museum: “No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory of Time.”

Inside the World Trade Center PATH Station 

The North Tower Memorial Fountain in the foreground. You can see the "wings" of the butterfly design of the exterior of the World Trade Center PATH in the background.  The architectural design included mechanisms to make those wings move, but funding reductions prohibited this aspect from coming to fruition.


The first 20 floors of the World Trade Center are vacant.  They are just concrete and glass.


A new section at the Memorial Museum... dedicated to First Responders.

How ironic that a building designed to represent "man's belief in humanity" is destroyed by evil-doers hell-bent on destroying human life.

My Mom read a book many years ago written by a motorcycling acquaintance, Kathryn Bedard.  It is called, “Stones in my Heart Forever—9/11:  A Journey Through Courage, Strength, and Hope”.  Kathy volunteered to work at the Family Disaster Relief Assistance Center in Jersey City for many months following the World Trade Center attack.  The book is a poignant journal of the multitude of emotions evoked when dealing with families directly impacted by the attack.  It is a heart-wrenching, touching personal account of 9/11 well worth your time to read.

A visitor joined us as we sat outside the National September 11 Museum to regroup from our emotional journey. 

Well, I was a bit spent emotionally by the time we left the World Trade Center.  I needed to regroup.  So we walked Highline Park.  It is amazing to think that this beautifully-adorned garden trail was once an elevated rail line!  As we traversed the trail, we enjoyed views of the Hudson River, marveled at the multitude of restaurants, enjoyed the eclectic artwork, and reviewed the list of many activities available for participation.  From exercise, to yoga, to music in the park, there is something for everyone.  The Highline terminates at Hudson Yards, a gentrified community of high-end condos, restaurants, and retail shops.  We walked up “The Vessel”, a stairwell in the center of the community pavilion consisting of 16 stories and 2,500 stairs.  It is quite an engineering feat and provided some nice views of the West Side of the City.  Well, all that walking made me hungry.  Back for our final visit to Benjamin Steakhouse ( and another stupendous dinner with superb service from Ricky.  If I gave out higher than a 5-cheese award, Benjamin Steakhouse would receive it!

Isn't this the coolest chair!

Some cool artwork!

Some unusual architectural styles...

"The Vessel"

We went down to Central Jersey to the town in which we resided for 26 years to donate some historical artwork to the local library and to catch up with long-time friends Les and Nancy.  We first met them in 1987, and although we all lived in the same town, we first met them in Princeton as volunteers for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).  As many may remember, for more than four decades, Jerry Lewis hosted a 21-hour telethon over Labor Day weekend to raise funds for the organization.   What folks may not realize is that throughout the country, there were local centers that hosted simultaneous mini-telethons, raising money for a particular region.  These mini-telethons included local talent who donated their time, and people would come out to make a donation and enjoy a few hours of listening to a band, laughing at a comedian, or getting a balloon animal made by a clown.   Volunteers would be responsible for answering the phone calls of generous folks pledging donations, stuffing donation envelopes, and pre-sorting envelopes by zip code in stacks of 25 to assist the USPS with delivery.  Other volunteers were responsible for providing food and refreshments.    Mom had been an active volunteer at a mini-telethon since the age of 13. Once Dad took her as his betrothed, he got involved as well.  Anyway, friends Les and Nancy served as volunteer coordinators at the Princeton call center for many years.  And as we participated in other community service organizations throughout the years, we would continue to see this fine, generous couple volunteering their time and energy.

Les and Nancy

Les and Nancy's three therapy dogs.  Les and the doggies are regular visitors at local nursing homes and hospitals.  Just another example of the good works this couple does.

While back in the Central Jersey area, we just had to stop at Terhune Orchards and Winery (, 200 acres of veggies, fruits, and flowers tended by the 10th generation of family farmers!   They have a farm store, but we always opt for pick-your-own.  $4.25/pound was a bit pricey, but then again this is prestigious Princeton and you pay for the experience.  While Mom and Dad went to pick asparagus, I visited the petting zoo to see the new baby goat and reconnect with the family’s dogs.  In the past, the doggies would roam the property freely, but now must be penned up, probably due to insurance issues.  What a sad, litigious society we have become!

We then visited Hallock’s Farm ( in New Egypt, another of the u-pick farms we frequented regularly during our sticks-and-bricks life.  Hallock’s had pick-your-own strawberries for $1.99/pound!  What a bargain!  We went a bit overboard on strawberry picking, but we wanted to share them with Les and Nancy as well as our fellow RV Volunteers at Great Swamp.  Anyway, Mom insisted we bring our chest freezer on this trip East—we will be able to enjoy frozen strawberries when we get back to TX!

We couldn’t be in NJ without stopping at Pizzatown USA in Elmwood Park (check out their Facebook page).  My grandparents would take Mom and Aunt Laurie here as little girls.  This place would be perfect for an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”.  Nothing has changed since it opened in 1958—same motif, same paper cups, same low-budget operation run by the same family (the founder just died recently, but his daughters and son have been working there since young teens and run the operation in its traditional style).  But most importantly, same delectable food.  They have the absolute, hands down, bestest deep fried ham and cheese calzones!  Dad rarely cheats on his plant-based diet, but he cashed in a chip for this place.  Mom and I also polished off a dozen zeppole,—small balls of dough dropped in piping hot oil, deep fried until golden brown, then smothered in confectionery sugar!  To die for!

While Dad went into Rockland County, NY, to catch up with work associates, Mom reached out to her friend Ilona.  Though they last saw each other 30 years ago, they maintained contact with each other through cards, letters, and email.  Well, it turns out Ilona lives within a few short miles of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.  She popped over for a happy reunion!

We rode Rat Patrol, our side-by-side buggy, down to the Basking Ridge Country Club.  No, not for a round of golf (although this is a public course), but to meet with friend Barbara for lunch at Delicious Heights Outpost ( an eatery at the Club.  Barb was one of a group of gal pals from Jersey City with whom Mom would do the dance club circuit back in the 80s.  In fact, Barb was there when Mom met Dad!  The Outpost had a nice menu, with plant-based options for Dad, too.  We were all pleasantly surprised with the quality, quantity and taste of our selections.  Since we had so much to catch up on, we all came back home to enjoy some of Mom's desserts.  Good times with a good friend!

Before we knew it, it was blueberry season.  Down we drove to Dimeo Farms in Hammonton, NJ.  We had never picked here before, but we would be back again!  These are the all-time-best blueberries we have EVER picked.  HUGE, tasty, organic heirloom berries in well-manicured orchards, combined with the ambiance of a newly-restored farmhouse event-center from which classical music is piped to the fields.  I felt like I was in another place and time.

There is so much more to tell you about—which I’ll do in another post.  Talk to you again soon!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Touring Morristown, New Jersey - It's Revolutionary!

Volunteering at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ, gave us a wonderful opportunity to tour a portion of the State of NJ that we rarely visited during our residency.

For example, we spent considerable time on several occasions touring Morristown, NJ, with our motorcycles.  Like Princeton, NJ, Morristown is a trendy, urban business enclave steeped in Revolutionary War history.

We visited Ford Mansion within Morristown National Historic Park (  Ford Mansion was used by General George Washington as headquarters in Winter 1779 through June 1780.  This is one of literally a dozen places within NJ that claims “George Washington slept here.”  That man sure did get around!   The Mansion was built in 1774 by Jacob Ford, Jr., a Colonel in the Morristown Militia.  At the time of Washington’s stay, Mrs. Ford was widowed with 4 children, having her military husband succumb to pneumonia in 1777.   Although few of the furnishings are original to the home, all the furnishings are representative of the time period of Washington’s stay.  The Park Ranger made the tour both interesting and humorous, comparing modern day living to colonial times.

The War Room where General Washington reviewed strategy and logistics

George Washington slept here!

Jockey Hollow is also part of the Historic Park.  It is the Wick Family property where 13,000 of Washington’s troops were encamped.  What those soldiers endured!  The Winter of 1779-1780 was the absolute coldest winter the area had ever experienced.  In fact, there were 24 snowfalls that season!  The soldiers, with rag-tag clothes and worn out shoes, had to clear 600 acres of land, cutting 2,000 trees, many of which were used to build their meager huts.  I have to believe in divine intervention—despite the harsh weather, there were very few fatalities at the hands of Mother Nature.  Jockey Hollow has several hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.  I was transported back in time as I walked along the paths where American history was made.  

The Wick Farmhouse

The meager troop accommodations...

...those beds don't look very comfortable!

In fact, we could think of no better place to celebrate Independence Day than the Historic Park.  We walked with a militia regimen to the Green, which was the site of a tavern during Revolutionary times. We listened intently to a re-enactment of General Washington reading the Declaration of Independence, shouting “Huzzah” (the colonial version of “hooray”) at all the appropriate times.  Our Independence Day fun continued with a musical performance by The Loose Cannons, a very talented, witty group.  They are the NJ version of Weird Al Yankovic, offering satire and good humor that all New Jerseyans can appreciate.  For instance, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” becomes “Verge of Violence”, with new lyrics to parody the insane driving conditions and traffic within the State.  While we all chuckled at the lyrics, they clearly spoke the truth.  In fact, Mom was very worried about driving within NJ.  She was fearful she lost her edge and her survival skills for dealing with the idiots on NJ roadways.   Like those who cut across three lanes of traffic to get to the exit, or those who pass you in the right shoulder to cut in front of you in the far right lane, or her biggest pet peeve, those who ignore the warnings that a lane is closed down and wait until they can go no further before they force their way into the one open lane.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t take Mom (or Dad) long to get back into the groove and join the other crazy NJ drivers in sharing the infamous NJ one-finger salute!

I was recruited!  Atten-hut!

George Washington Re-enactor reading the Declaration of Independence--Huzzah!

The Loose Cannons, Satirical Singers

Morristown is home to Lewis-Morris Park (, a county park that has a beach area, water slides, and pavilions.  Thankfully, we visited on a weekday—the place must be packed on weekends and holidays. It has several well-maintained hiking, biking, and horse trails.  In fact, many of them connect with those at Jockey Hollow, like the Patriot Trail.

Little Chip joined us on the trail

Morristown has a wide array of restaurants and cafes. The Morristown Pancake House (, provided us two delicious brunches. They have several vegetarian/vegan options, and they are quite reasonably priced.   Friendly, efficient service, too.  On our first visit, we all enjoyed quesadillas, their vegan version.  The second time we dined here, Dad stuck to his vegan quesadillas—why mess with a good thing?  But Mom went all out, ordering the day’s carnivore special, the townhouse burger.  A juicy Angus beef patty with lettuce/tomato/red onion, topped with a fried egg, real cheese, and a NJ tradition, thinly-sliced grilled Taylor Pork Roll (You ain't a true New Jerseyan if you haven't had Taylor Pork Roll), all on a Kaiser roll.  I thought I died and went to heaven.  Simply scrum-de-lish-us!

We caught up with Escapees RV Club buddies David and Cheryl, who are hosting Escapees “Hangouts” in various Eastern Seaboard States.  We dined with them at The Pierogies House (, specializing in home-made Polish stuffed pockets.  They have a large assortment of “stuffings” from which to select, including traditional potato/cheese as well as unique vegan options.  We chose the vegan potato/onion and a mushroom/lentil.  We were not disappointed.  Very tasty and a real treat for Dad, who reminisced about the pierogies his Grandma made when he was a child.

Morristown also has The Game Vault (, a retro video arcade housed in what was once a bank.  Celebrating its third year of business, it is a very cool place!  I played all my fav old games to my heart’s content--Centipede, Asteroid, and of course, Ms. Pac-Man.  (Did I ever tell you why I'm partial to Ms. Pac-Man?  This gal is what brought my parents together.  Yup, they met each other at a dance club when they were both playing Ms. Pac-Man!)   The Vault has a big selection of pinball machines, too.   I liked the way the Vault operates—you pay a fixed $7 for 30 minutes or $10 for an hour to play as many games as you want within the allotted time.  No need to deal with tokens/quarters!  Loads of fun for me and my folks!

We visited Acorn Hall (, an 1853 mansion house of Italianate architecture, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The original owner sold the property in 1857 after his wife passed away.  Augustus Crane, upon purchasing the property, had it enlarged and remodeled.  The property remained in the Crane family until 1971, when the home was bequeathed to the Morris County Historical Society, complete with many original furnishings from the Crane family.  We participated in a walking tour of the grounds, which at one time housed a powder mill.  The powder mill was owned by one of the Ford sons, the same Ford from the aforementioned Ford Mansion that served as Washington’s headquarters--talk about 6 degrees of separation!

One day we visited the Frelinghuysen Arboretum (  Once the grounds of Whippany Farm, the summer home of the George Griswold Frelinghuysen family, it is now operated and maintained by the Morris County Parks Commission with the help of a "friends" group.  Generations of Frelinghuysens have been powerful NJ political fixtures since 1720.  In fact, Rodney Proctor Frelinghuysen was an influential force in keeping the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from building a jetport in Basking Ridge and in the subsequent creation of what is now the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.   (Isn't it interesting how everything is connected--just like a jigsaw puzzle.)  While the main mansion is no longer open to the public, you can walk along surrounding trails, photograph flora and fauna, tour the restored carriage house, which includes an exhibit hall, or even host a special event (it is a popular venue for wedding ceremonies).  The Arboretum offers unadulterated beauty and tranquility.  And best of all—there is no cost to visit!

Exterior of the Carriage House

Antique Carriages

Exhibit Hall of Carriage House

A butterfly enjoyed these flowers as much as we did

If you are a history buff and find yourself in New Jersey, take some time to tour Morristown.  There is so much to do and see--I promise you won't be disappointed!

Our touring during our stay at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge included so much more than just Morristown.  I'll tell you about our other fun times in a future post.

Talk to you again real soon!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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