We were enjoying immensely our time volunteering at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ ( https://www.fws.gov/refuge/great_swamp/). We met some terrific RVing folks that we are sure we will see down the road. In fact, we are hoping to all get reunited in Arizona in January 2020. Most importantly, though, we had a chance to visit with lifelong friends from NJ, like my favorites, Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ted. Though we share no blood line, they are truly our “family”. They are kind, caring, folks who devote themselves to helping animals at their farm, from adopting retired police horses that lost their sight, to dogs with severe medical conditions, to stray cats that need to be spayed/neutered. My parents met them more than 30 years ago, and Mom and Aunt Maureen are kindred spirits. The bond between these soul sisters withstands all obstacles; no distance can come between them. Uncle Ted has not been well and has been hospitalized multiple times this summer. So we were so glad to be back in NJ to offer encouragement and emotional support in person to this special couple.
We also had an opportunity to see Dad’s best buddy Kevin and his wife Ellen. Kevin and Dad go back to high school days, Kevin was an attendant in my parents’ wedding party, and the professional paths of Kevin and Dad have crossed many times throughout their careers. We entertained them at Mama’s Café Baci in Hackettstown, NJ (https://www.mamascafebaci.com/), having had a wonderful lunch there recently ourselves. Mama’s has an extensive, unique menu, offering “duets” of many delectable choices. (Why settle for one entrée choice when you can get a nicely-sized portion of two?) As we learned from the owner, who made a point of speaking to all the patrons, you can even devise your own combos. There is also a special menu the size of an Epistle for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and even Keto-conscious dieters! Eating here was a trifecta: the best Italian food we have EVER enjoyed, exemplary service, and a great atmosphere (including some live music) to share good times with good friends. Mama’s earns one of my coveted 5-cheese awards!
Strolling musicians at Mama's--great rendition of Sister Golden Hair!
We enjoyed a day at the Jersey Shore on July 5. Ironically, we rarely visited the beach towns during peak season throughout our many years of living in NJ. Instead, we would head “down the shore” in the fall, when most of the tourists were long gone. But we had good reason to break tradition—seeing Cecilia, a grammar and high-school mate of Mom’s, and Cecilia's main man, Michael, at Point Pleasant. We drove to Secaucus and took the train down to Point Pleasant. We figured it was easier than finding parking for Big Boomer, our medium duty truck, in the land of parking meters on a holiday weekend. (For those unfamiliar, the main source of revenue for NJ beach towns is issuing parking tickets for expired meters and charging for badges in order to access the public beaches). We enjoyed an early lunch at the Local Urban Kitchen (https://localurbankitchen.com/), which touts using fresh, local ingredients. Dad found this little treasure (and the aforementioned Mama’s, too) using his Happy Cow app, which lists vegetarian/vegan restaurant options. Dad enjoyed a black bean burger and Mom and I found our veggie panini quite tasty. Then as we walked the beach and the boardwalk at Jenkinson’s (https://jenkinsons.com/), which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2018, we realized that much of the place replicated the shore town of our childhood memories. We watched folks scramble to claim their 8 square feet of beachfront property for the day and families spend a small fortune on games of chance. I, too, dove into my cheese money. I tried my best at Ring Toss to save my fellow stuffed toys from a life of living on a hook, but alas I was unsuccessful. And who can forget the infamous Skeeball. Yup, we remember Skeeball well—and nothing has changed. Popping in money and putting all we had into tossing those balls, most of them ending up in the 10-point hole. Grabbing those tickets as they spit out of the machine. Honing our math skills as we tallied our points. Holy cow—750 points! We would run over excitedly and eye all the treasures from which we could pick our redemption prize—only to learn that for 750 points your choices were (and still are!) two pencils or a paddle with a ball attached to it with elastic. What! We must have spent 20 bucks--we busted our piggy banks! Mom always reminisces about the one time she and Aunt Laurie chose a paddle/ball. Grandma, who was an overly protective nurturer of her two princesses, cut the elastic string, saying, “You can poke your eye with that!” (This is the same lady who took the light bulb out of the Suzy Homemaker Oven to prevent her girls from getting burned as they pulled their mini cakes out. To know Grandma was to love her). Soon it was time to head to Marlin’s (https://www.marlinscafenj.com/about), a local Point Pleasant bar and grill, to hear Michael and his band play. Shade Tree Mechanics (http://www.shadetreemechanicsband.com/) has an excellent repertoire, combining rock, soul, blues, jazz, even some Zydeco. Michael and the boys are a talented lot. They really rocked the house! And for a local bar/grill, Marlin’s has some tasty food. Dad’s portobello sandwich was delicious and Mom’s beef fajita was piping hot, with the beef cooked to perfection—medium rare. It was a wonderful day, but alas a long one, especially when we incurred a 30-minute delay on the train ride home.
Only in NJ: For most NJ beaches, you must pay a ransom to gain access!
The crowds on the beach at Pt. Pleasant.
Pretty soon NJ will charge the seagulls to get on the beach!
The hydroponic garden at The Urban Kitchen. Mom wants one for our RV!
The swans enjoying Lake of the Lilies in Point Pleasant
Mission Impossible: Yours truly on the left trying my luck at ring toss to save my fellow stuffed toys from a life of hanging from a hook!
Dad, Mike from Shade Tree Mechanics, and Cecilia. (Mom mysteriously missing from another picture).
Shade Tree Mechanics doing what they do best! These guys rock!
I do believe that God puts us places for a reason. In addition to Uncle Ted getting sick this summer, Aunt Laurie had a life-threatening emergency. We decided that Dad would stay in the RV in NJ, caring for our fish and tabby cat and fulfilling our commitment to the Refuge. Mom would head to Central NY to be with Aunt Laurie, which would require renting a car. Enterprise Car Rental was right down the street from the Refuge in Basking Ridge, but unfortunately, they had no vehicles available. So we needed to go to their Morristown office to pick up the car. Dad entered the address into Gretchen, our Garmin 770 GPS. First she tries to take us to Flemington, NJ, then she brings us to a residence with the same street address as Enterprise Car Rental, but in another town. What an idiot! I can get us lost just as well as Gretchen can! Anyway, we get Mom situated, but she is panicked. This is the first time she is driving a “normal” sized vehicle in 5 years, let alone driving by herself for over 5 hours among NJ/NY roadways late at night. PoPo, the Rambling RV Rat to the rescue! I decided I would go along to offer moral support to Mom and deliver get well wishes to my Aunt Laurie in the hospital. But it turned out to be my worst road trip ever! We hit fog, torrential rain, and crazy drivers, all in the darkness of night. Plus the stupid “smart car” constantly dinging, beeping, or flashing every 5 minutes. Cross the shoulder to avoid a pothole, drive too many hours straight through, go over the speed limit—ding, beep, flash! Talk about distracted driving! But we arrived in one piece and spent a week going from hospital to hotel room and back. I’m happy to say Aunt Laurie recovered and got released from the hospital (I knew she was feeling better because she was arguing with Mom again). We got her settled into her home, made sure she got her prescriptions filled and that she had adequate groceries. But we were anxious to get back home to Dad. Not to mention I wanted to see what he brought me from the Yankee game he attended (I was pretty bummed that Mom and I didn’t get to go to the game with him as planned). But I’m happy with my new Yankee hat (Dad and I are wearing our new matching hats in the beach photo)!
Dad sent me a photo from Yankee Stadium
We visited Snyder's Farm in Middlebush, NJ (http://snyders-farm.com/) to do more blueberry picking. We only picked 2 pounds since Snyder’s charged $4/pound (more than double what we paid at DiMeo Farms in South Jersey) and they were quite tart. We stopped at Philip Farm in Milford, NJ, but did no picking at all. Their prices made no sense--$3.50/pound to buy berries at their farmstand, but $5/pound to pick-your-own from their patch. (I'm paying more and I'm doing all the work!) Not to mention Big Boomer would have had a hard time accessing their field, which was up a steep hill along a muddy dirt road. Instead, we stopped at a local Subway Shop for some Veggie Delite sandwiches and headed for a picnic lunch at Hunterdon County's Hoffman Park located in Union Township, NJ. The Park grounds once belonged to the Hoffman Beverage Company. There was a lake, bogs, a few hiking trails, and a great view of Spruce Run Reservoir. A sign at the Park entrance stated that a mama bear and her 2 cubs were seen in the area just a week prior to our visit. Oh boy! I got excited for a while, but alas, our hiking included no bear sightings. What we did encounter was a young doe and her 2 fawns. But just as I got ready to snap a photo, this trio was spooked by a dog with an irresponsible owner who had the dog off-leash despite the signs throughout the Park indicating leashes were required. This is a pet peeve of mine. I love doggies and consider them a part of people's families. So to me, if the signs say dogs must be on a leash, a responsible pet owner complies, protecting their pooch from getting in a pickle. Just this Rambling RV Rat’s opinion…
A new friend at Snyder's Farm!
View of Spruce Run from Hoffman Park
One of the bogs on the property
The armada is coming!
Daisies exude simplicity and happiness
We toured Chester Township, NJ, Though not chartered until 1790, its earliest settlers dated back to 1640! We stopped at Nathan Cooper Gristmill to learn how grain was milled back in 1826, then we hiked along the Black River Trail. The trail was well maintained with good signage, and most of the trail was in the shade, which made things much more comfortable. As we walked along another trail that led to a butterfly garden and conservancy, we once again were warned of a recent bear sighting, this time just the prior day! I must say I got a bit spooked because we heard quite of bit of rustling along the Yellow Route, not far from where the sign was posted. Nope, no bear. It was a mature doe that came darting out of the nearby woods! We must have awakened her from her afternoon siesta! After hiking, we returned to the motorcycles. There is some great riding in these parts of NJ, especially along Schooley Mountain Road, which lead us to lunch and our first outstanding meal at Mama’s Café Baci.
Nathan Cooper Mill
The Mill's water wheel
This is like Highlights Magazine: Can you find the egret in this picture?
A monarch butterfly feasting at the conservancy garden
The bees were enjoying this bloom!
Our lunch entrees at Mama's Cafe Baci...
...were soooooo good, they inspired us to entertain friends there for dinner!
Since it is located only about a mile down the road from the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, we walked over to the Raptor Trust in Millington, NJ (http://theraptortrust.org), a non-profit organization devoted to rehabilitating injured wild birds and providing a permanent home to those that cannot be released back to their natural habitats. A very cool place to visit, though some of the birds were looking at me a bit funny. Probably envisioning me as their Thanksgiving dinner!
I said my goodbyes to Grandma and Grandpa at the cemetery, lovingly placing artificial flowers on their graves. It will be a long time before I get back to NJ, so it was important for me to remind them of how much I love and miss them.
While it was a rewarding experience to volunteer at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and great fun to tour cool new places and see close friends, we were ready to get out of the State of NJ, the homeland of the popular HBO show, The Sopranos. For one thing, the bicyclists are a major nuisance. They insist on riding on narrow, curvy roads with blind spots and no shoulders, and then try to ride next to each other! And although one of the original 13 colonies determined to fight tyranny and government overreach, NJ has become one of the most restrictive, law-crazy states. Did you know from January to June 1992 it was against NJ law to order eggs sunny side up? Purchasing sparklers for your personal use for Independence Day celebrations was outlawed in NJ until 2018. And beware, it is unlawful in NJ to pump your own gas at filling stations! Not to mention that NJ was ranked recently #46 out of 50 as "friendliest state".
Recognize this guy? He is the lumberjack beneath the Pulaski Skyway as seen on "The Sopranos".
Message to Tourists from NJ Drivers: Welcome to NJ. Now get the hell out of the way!
Well, we left NJ just like we arrived—in torrential rain! We were heading back to Central NY to check up on Aunt Laurie. As we traveled along Interstate 80, I saw the waters of the Delaware River were raging. Fortunately, we did not encounter any road flooding and arrived safely at The Villages at Turning Stone RV Park (https://www.turningstone.com/accommodation/the-villages-rv-park) in Verona, NY. This is a lovely park operated by the Oneida Nation, conveniently located right off Interstate 90/NY State Thruway. This is where we would have stayed for our April visit with Aunt Laurie had it not been closed yet for winter. The Park allows a maximum of 14 consecutive days, but it is very difficult to get a site on a weekend during peak season. There are ponds, hiking trails, a huge pool, and 24 hour/7 day a week complimentary shuttle service to the Turning Stone Casino. The Park offered free Wi-Fi, but the signal was spotty. The laundry room was clean and inexpensive. We were assigned the largest pull-through site within the Park (#401). It was plenty long enough, but a bit of a pain for getting in/out with Big Boomer after we were set-up, especially since the Park was booked solid. You see, each row allowed only one-way traffic. We were at the very end of a row. So in order to park Big Boomer in front of our RV or even to hook up, we had to back all the way down a row. There were no alternate ways to access our site.
Fortunately, Aunt Laurie is doing well. She was back in full swing with her work and play (including her regular visitations to Turning Stone Casino). We celebrated her good health by treating her and our mutual good friend, Rosemary, to dinner at Symeon’s Greek Restaurant in Yorkville, NY, which offered vegan/vegetarian options for Dad as well as classic Greek cuisine. We all ordered different entrees, and each was nicely portioned and quite tasty. Mom and I had the special, which combined kabobs, gyros, and Thracian chicken over rice pilaf. Good fare, nice atmosphere, and reasonable prices always make this Rat a satisfied customer. 4-cheeses for Symeon’s!
We caught up with fellow Montana fifth wheel owners John and Shirley over breakfast at Miss Batavia’s, a cute, old-fashioned home-town diner in Batavia, NY. John was the very first RV friend we made after going full-time, so he holds a special place in our hearts. And he and Shirley have an adogable canine addition to their family—Aussie!
We traveled up to Six Flags Darien Lake to reconnect with Nancy and Jerry, another wonderful couple that we met while working at Amazon. The have returned to Darien Lake for another summer of work-camping. Nancy is like my Aunt Maureen, an animal lover with a heart of gold, and Jerry is like my Uncle Ted, a supportive and understanding husband. We haven’t been to an amusement park in eons (for several years when my parents were young and carefree, we had season passes to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ), so it was fun to take a spin on the Ferris wheel. Dad and Jerry backed out of the Roaring Rapids ride, but the gals and I braved getting soaking wet. It was quite refreshing since it was such a hot, sizzling summer day.
The view from the Ferris Wheel
My favorite ride!
What a cutie! I think I'm in love!
Talk to ya soon!
We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community: