These are the blocks I used to bike through as a kid. Fox Beach was the detour my sixth grade bus took each morning to pick up a few kids on the way to school. The street was so narrow the bus could barely squeeze by.
These tiny bungalows, once used as summer getaways for the elite Manhattanites in the 1920s, became the blue-collar neighborhoods of my childhood in Staten Island. Tucked away “below the Boulevard,” the streets around New Dorp and Cedar Grove beaches had a feeling that they had been left back in time. Mom and pop delis and restaurants. Hardly any cars came by in these quiet narrow streets a few blocks off the water.
Out the window of my childhood bedroom, beyond another block of townhouses and a wetland field, I could see the ocean. Almost a week ago, this ocean swept into the old neighborhood. My parents evacuated, but neighbors who stayed behind said a wall of water came charging down the block, flooding basements and first floors, and then rushed back to sea as quickly as it came.
Here is a Youtube video posted on Facebook by one of my former high school classmates. Please watch it. Please, in your prayers, don’t forget Staten Island, the forgotten borough, it’s full of some great people.
The other morning I phoned my sister-in-law in northern New Jersey. I needed to know her Hebrew name for an honor she was receiving for the morning service at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, now only days away.
Now, I should have known this, and certainly my husband should have known his sister’s Hebrew name, but we didn’t.
I called her cell phone a few days ago after 8:45 in the morning. With four kids in school, she had to be up. She is always on the go. Instead, a very groggy voice answered.
“I am. That’s my Hebrew name.”
Oh, of course, that’s why I was calling. But why did she sound so tired?
“Why arent’ you up? Don’t you have kids to get to school?” Fool that I was, with the glorious November day outside, and the fact that Western New York again survived the latest storm to hit the east coast unscathed, I was not thinking about how bad things were back in the NYC/NJ Metro area. The now-dubbed Halloween snowstorm had turned the streets of parts of New Jersey into what looked like a war zone. With downed trees and downed power lines, it was even too dangerous to go trick-or-treating.
“I’m sleeping at a friend’s house. We have no power and no heat.”
She sounded so sad. She still had no power after two days. The kids had no school for two days straight. But the one thing that seemed to make her the saddest was:
“You should see my block. We lost so many big, beautiful trees.”
In the winter, when the snow is wet and heavy enough to put a coat of sugar on every last branch and twig, my street looks like this:
Sadly, even trees don’t last forever.
The snow-laden trees above were planted because they were fast-growing trees for Rochester’s first suburban development. They are now almost 90 years old.
Trees planted closely to houses are dangerous when they age and begin to rot from the inside out. Last weekend, our neighbors took down one of these trees. The bottom trunk was this big:
This tree saw 90 years of changes of seasons, survived ice storms and blizzards. It saw generations of school children off on their first day of school. It was a home to birds and squirrels who played in its branches. But it lived out its days and succumbed to “crotch rot” of all things. Now, where its branches once stretched out, there is a whole punched into the sky where it once stood.
When snows fall heavy before the leaves drop, trees come down before they get a chance to live out their days. Back in New York City, Central Park lost 1,000 trees; trees that were just beginning to peak in their fall splendor of color. Trees that were planted generations ago so that we may enjoy them.
The other week, my son got a gift from a relative in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. In the true Jewish tradition, a ring of trees had been planted in his name in Israel. It’s a good thing we are headed there this winter to water them!
Now after this devistating storm that cancelled trick-or-treating and felled countless trees close to home, it seems like New York City needs new trees just as much as the land of milk and honey. The Central Park Conservancy is now asking for donations to restore its tree population.
Do you have a favorite tree? How would you feel if it were destroyed or it had to come down? Or, did you lose a tree to the Halloween storm? If so, I am sorry for your loss. Why don’t you write about it here?
I love having summer guests. This summer, I convinced my brother and sister-in-law to come up for a long overdue visit the last weekend of August. Even though my husband and oldest son would be away on a father-son baseball road trip to Cooperstown and a double-header at Citifield, I welcomed their visit. Niagara Falls, a water walk in Stony Brook State Park and the Erie Canal were in my plans. Hurricane Irene, a flu-like virus, and cleaning my basement were not in my plans. But all of the above happened in one packed weekend.
I am apparently a negligent housekeeper. It’s not that I didn’t clean before my family arrived. I scrubbed bathrooms and even dusted and vacuumed stairways and rugs. But, my undiagnosed ADD shows through in my cleaning. I miss a lot of spots. And I’d rather be gardening, reading, or writing than cleaning.
To my defense, my two children had just returned, laundry and all, from summer camp. We still had mountains of dirty socks and sleeping bags to conquer when the Cooper clan showed at my door on Thursday. And I still prepared a birthday party dinner for my nephew, planned a picnic for the next day at Stonybrook, and played tour guide again on Saturday at Niagara Falls.
Then, somewhere between the Maid of the Mist and the Journey behind the Falls on Saturday, I got sick. Once home, I surrendered myself to my bed and the mercy of the Cooper Cleaners.
Now, I know my brother and sister-in-law weren’t criticizing me at the sorry state of my basement. Glenn was truly concerned about the high humidity rate in my basement and my out-of-comission dehumidifier. He was concerned because he noticed mold growing on some of my basement walls, and, well, my office chair, and the soggy condition of some of the contents of my downstairs pantry. And there is a cause for concern, as my youngest has asthma.
“When was the last time this thing worked?” he asked, as I lay in bed, about my basement dehumidifier.
I confessed: I cleaned it out earlier this summer. I vacuumed out the lint vent and the metal coils in back. But I hadn’t noticed if the dehumidifier was working in many months.
“How old did you say this thing was?”
“I honestly don’t know, bro.”
So, I pulled myself out of bed and off we went to the Home Depot to get me a new one. While we were there, my brother was also on the hunt for a backup sump pump. Hurricane Irene was battering the east coast. We were watching coverage of the storm’s progress all day, and he was concerned his New Jersey basement would become flooded. We got a dehumidifier, but no luck on what he needed. He checked Lowe’s too, and they were out of the sump pump as well. Apparently, people had traveled as far as Albany and Connecticut to get ones for their flooded homes.
Sunday rolled around. My family decided to wait out the storm at my place and not traverse the roads until Monday. That was fortunate for me, because I became even more sick.
I spent the whole day in bed. When I rose, I went downstairs to find my dining room table was filled with clean, folded laundry. I went further downstairs to my basement, to find the remains of the dirty laundry sorted in baskets. And my basement floor had been swept clean.
AND: My brother installed my new dehumidifier and got the humidity level down to 65 percent.
I felt embarrassed and guilty that this was supposed to be my sibling’s getaway and they were instead holding down my household while worrying about theirs. I was eternally grateful.
And what was the payback? The Coopers returned to New Jersey, after being rerouted several times from the New York State Thruway and Route 17 to find they had no power.
Not because of Irene. Because a crazy old man who lived across the street, jealous that their side of the street had power and his had none, blew out a power transformer on the block with a shot-gun.
He got arrested, according to the news report. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s true.
Thanks for taking care of me, little brother and sister. A thank you gift is coming in the mail.
Last night it seemed that every other town with a beach or shoreline had a fireworks show. Every town, except, Staten Island.
Staten Island really does have some fine beaches that have come a long way since their more polluted and burned down boardwalk days of the 1970s and 1980s.
But, no fireworks. Staten Island, stuck between the sands of Long Island and the New Jersey Shore, remains the bastard stepdaughter for deserving her own fireworks display on the 4th of July.
Even the famed Macy’s fireworks, once visible from the waterways around the Staten Island Ferry, have been moved up the Hudson River and away from the Statue of Liberty. Got me mad enough to think about tearing up my Macy’s charge card.
But, my two sons had come down from Rochester to the Big City to see the Big City fireworks. We can’t see the Hudson River along the Upper West Side from Staten Island. And we were not driving to Jersey City.
They had two options: watch the Macy’s fireworks like the rest of the country – on TV – or take our chances and see what we can see from the Ocean Breeze Fishing pier off the South Shore of Staten Island. The Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier opened in September 2003. It is 835 feet long and 30 feet wide, making it the largest steel and concrete recreational pier on the Atlantic Ocean built in 100 years in the New York region.
As the sun set, families gathered. People continued to fish off the pier. The air smelled of rotting fishheads, cigarettes, salt air and tar. A woman yelled at her young daughter ”Do you know what you said? That’s a curse word in Italian and I better not hear it again…” And then, something bright exploded off in the distance. In every direction.
From the pier, we had a panoramic view of nearly every fireworks display – from the Atlantic Highlands of the New Jersey shore, to ones out in the Far Rockaways. Some “homemade” shows were on display in nearby South Shore neighborhoods. But we didn’t feel the boom of fireworks that can rattle your insides like a drum like when you see them up close. Most were too far off to even elicit a sincere “oooooh” or an “ahhhhh.’ But they were fireworks, alright. They were just meant for some other place, some other town.
And then, around 9:45, one could make out the very top glow of the Macys Fireworks coming from the other side of the Island. Maybe we could have seen them from Bay Street after all. Maybe. Maybe next year.
Well, it seems I’ve opened up a can of worms. For the sake of this blog post, the worms would probably be Thai Lime Basil worms, or Trader Jose’s cha-cha chili worms.
My love affair with Trader Joe’s, the California-based small-scale gourmet supermarket, started nearly 16 years ago. A newcomer to the San Francisco Bay area, my roomate got me hooked on Trader Joe’s quirky products. I didn’t have a car. No one doesn’t have a car in California. But that didn’t stop me. To get to a Trader Joe’s, I would take two lines on the BART, with a small cooler in tow, to get there, where I would purchase delicacies such as frozen tri-colored butternut squash ravioli and mahi-mahi filets.
Later in life, when we moved back to New Jersey and had a car (because you *really* need a car to get around in NJ), I loved shopping at the Trader Joe’s in Westfield, N.J.
Now, I live in Rochester. We have Wegman’s, headquarters to the mother of all amazing supermarkets, where my own mother, on her first trip into the cavernous Marketplace section, with its patisserie, brick-oven artisan bakery and 20-foot long Mediterranean olive bar, described Wegmans as “where food goes when it goes to heaven.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Wegman’s.
But it’s not Trader Joe’s.
One of my most recent columns was about how and with what to fill the vacant retail spaces around Brighton. Lately, as I drive the stretch of Monroe Ave. between Brighton and Pittsford, I get an empty feeling. Whether the properties are older; like the former Steve’s restaurant in Brighton, or brand new; such as the Oak Hill Commons in Pittsford, I can’t help but wonder what the holdup is for filling these properties: is it the economy, or local politics?
The most glaring of these vacancies is the 11,348 sq.-ft. site of the former Rite Aid in Brighton Commons. To get some opinions on this for my column, I took a very informal poll of my Facebook friends asking them what they would like to see in this place. One friend wrote: Trader Joes! And then another and another in complete agreement.
I would love to see this place in the center of Brighton become the nation’s newest Trader Joe’s. It would be great to walk or bike to a store like this to pick up items ranging from organically grown lettuce, cage-free eggs, a box of gluten-free granola, or even mahi-mahi burgers for the grill.
Trader Joe’s was featured on the Sept. 13 cover of Fortune magazine, and described it as one of the nation’s fastest growing retailers. I make a pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s in Long Island whenever I can and ask the manager about the possibility of an opening in Rochester. But the answer is always the same: this privately-held company, which boasts 344 stores in 25 states, fears competition from a certain large-scale supermarket further up Monroe Ave. bearing the name that starts with a W. But one can always hope.
I got an enormous number of responses from my column, both via email and others who told me that “yeah! I want Trader Joe’s too!” at the gym, or — lo and behold — in the middle of the produce section at Wegmans! They even asked me how they could help me convince them to come here – like I have an inside track or something.
So you see, TJ’s – Brighton, NY folks are educated, earthy and slightly crunchy. See why we would need you and support you here?
One reader wrote in an accused me of starting a crusade of trying to bring yet another chain into town while running the little guy mom and pop markets out of business and told me to stick to writing and stay out of the business development business. Other readers wrote in and shared their Trader Joe’s love stories, and still others wrote to me with links of articles explaining the complexities of chosing a site for new grocery stores in urban areas.
So, Trader Joe’s, if you are reading, in spite of Rochester being home to the world’s greatest supermarket chain, there is still room in our hearts for you. So come on up!
Last week, my family stayed two nights in Lebanon. We sat on one of the world’s biggest harem pillows eating halvah as we watched a belly dance performancee. After that, we saw a fireworks display over a river. That day, we also picked raspberries as we hiked through the wilderness and swam in a pristine lake, and sampled some of the best guacamole this side of the Rio Grande.
Where were we?
I know. I’m starting to sound like one of those tourism ads of the 1980s starring Bill Cosby. But I can’t help it. My family and I had a great mini vacation in The Garden State, the place of our former residence. New Jersey is conveniently sandwiched between visiting the family back in New York and our home in Rochester. Between our old life and relatively new life.
Ten years later and I still feel a pang when we drive by the exit that we used to take to go home when we lived in Central New Jersey. Every return trip to Rochester, when I see the exit for S. Plainfield off of Rt. 287, I think, we could have been home by now.
My kids are getting older. They have no memory of our tiny Cape Cod in Fanwood. I think they are getting to the point that they are actually enjoying parent-free time (demonstrated by the camp countdown that started 40 days ago) more than hanging with parent time. That’s to be expected. But, damn it to hell, I wanted some happy family memories before we shipped them off.
Now, the highlight of our just-the-five-of-us mini vacation was a four-hour tubing excursion down the Delaware River. A time of family bonding. Togetherness.
Do you see these happy people in the picture to the right? That is not us. It is a picture from the Delaware River Tubing Co., the nice family-run business that supplies the tubes, the mid-river hot dog (or veggie burger) lunch, and the bus ride back up river. We did buy a waterproof camera from them, but I broke it. I would have had much difficulty navigating my tube and photographing the family anyway. On the course of the river, I lost my hat, and nearly lost both of my shoes.
The water was warm. The currents were minimal. It was like a lazy river ride at a water park. Only, the river was real. The kids were – bored.
Floating down a river for four hours with the family taught me many lessons that can apply to being a family:
- You can only control so much. You have to go with the flow.
- Children need solid boundaries. Encourage them to stay in their tube as much as possible.
- You can try to stick together. You may float away from each other from time to time, but eventually, we all come out of the river together.
- Try to go against the current to stop, or go backwards, and you will capsize your tube.
- Always make sure your shoes are securely fastened, or you can lose them in river mud.
- Facing rough waters is always a little better when you hold someone’s hand.
Back on dry land, the next day, on a bridge between New Hope, Pa., and Lambertville, NJ, we watched an impressive fireworks display. Last year, Toby cowered at the booms of fireworks. This year he cheered them on, the louder the better.
“I sure wish we lived in New Jersey!” He said.
I guess he was 10 years too late.
Our first house in Fanwood, New Jersey was on a street called Shady Lane. It was anything but shady. There were very few trees around our 1950′s Cape Cod, the former site of one of the countless farms that were sold to suburban developers. The one advantage of living in a neighborhood that was once farmland: great soil.
“You have to dig a trench and plant your tomatoes horizontally to encourage the roots and make your plant less leggy,” my mom instructed as I planted my first garden. My mom was raised in an apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, but knew all there was to know about tomato gardening from her tiny yard in Staten Island.
So I planted my first tomato plants. Jersey Big Boys and a few plants of cherry tomatoes. The support cages I surrounded them with were so tall it gave my neighbor, a chain-smoking retired firefighter, chuckle with skepticism.
“You really think they will get that big?”
But they did. Each night after work, I would come home to find new flowers on the plants that continued to grow and stretch inside their cages. Thanks to that soil and constant New Jersey sun.
The sun was merciless that summer. In fact, New Jersey in 1998 was under a severe drought alert and temperatures reached 90 and above. Every night, after my husband and I bathed our kids, I would haul out the bathwater, one bucket at a time, to water my tomatoes. By the end of the summer, I had baskets of tomatoes to enjoy with my neighbors, who weren’t laughing at my puny tomato plants anymore. I brought in bags of cherry tomatoes to snack on in my office in Manhattan and left some in the break room for my co-workers to enjoy.
Contrast this with my garden in Rochester. My neighborhood: home to 80-year-old towering sun-sucking Sugar Maples. Unlike the loamy beautiful soil of New Jersey, my Brighton neighborhood is the site of a former brick yard. You guessed it: thick, clay soil.
I love trees. I have – no had – 10 trees surrounding my property. But with only an average of 165 sunny days in Rochester, and a huge pine tree standing in the way between my vegetable garden and the sun after 3 p.m., I did the unconscionable. I cut down that tree. I wanted those red tomatoes that badly. Even so, my vegetable garden in Rochester, will never be so kissed by the sun as the ones back in New Jersey. The threat of frost lasts until mid-may. Days of clouds and rain cause blossom rot and blight. Last year, we received so much rain that if my tomato plants could dream, they dreamt of a sunny hillside somewhere in Italy. Or New Jersey.
Only this summer did I witness what other sun-starved Brighton neighbors did to achieve that perfect, sun-ripened tomato: for $25, they reserved a plot of land in the town’s community garden. On a tract of land that used to be a farm. More on this community garden in a future post.