plant smiles. grow laughter. harvest love.

It’s already May, isn’t that stunning? I feel as if only yesterday I was rooting through the kids Halloween candy looking for the Jr. Mints, but then it has been a crazier than usual year so it’s no surprise its a blur. Let me fill you in on what I’ve been up to the past few months: Last September, as the kids started a new school year I began my crusade to build vegetable gardens at their school.  I walked into my first meeting with the principal with an idea, a passion for gardening and the confidence that my diy pro of a husband could help me execute whatever plan I came up with. Eight (somewhat tedious) months later that idea has become a reality and yours truly is now the proud chairperson behind the ‘Oak View Elementary Garden’ (O*VEG for short).

Our school garden is a true labor of love, for me and everyone else involved. Countless hours have been spent planning, researching and jumping through flaming hoops to get to where we are today. Thankfully I wasn’t alone in my belief that a school gardens matter. Once word went out that approval to build had finally been given, the volunteers started pouring in and what a marvelous and irreplaceable group they proved to be! The physical garden was built in the rain (and only after multiple weather delays including a Spring snowstorm) by a group of remarkably dedicated parents and children. Hauling gravel, dumping loads of soil, installing beds and fencing and painting sheets of plywood beneath the protection of tents. All the while smiling, laughing and filled with good cheer despite the crummy conditions. I was knocked out by the sheer number of parents willing to give up their weekend to help turn an ugly expanse of blacktop into an oasis of growth. A group who believed in the power of possibility and who knew their efforts mattered. Mother Nature however had other ideas. The very same night as our garden build storms blew through the area; uprooting trees, downing power lines and blowing apart our fencing. I won’t lie, it was heartbreaking but it didn’t diminish our spirits for long. Back to the drawing board, back to work and before long… back to a lovely garden.

We had our ribbon cutting ceremony on April 22nd— Earth Day. Four hundred students circled the garden cheering as the gate was officially opened. Then a student representative from each of the six grades as well as special ed helped us plant the first vegetables of the garden. Back in the early Spring we had kicked off our garden adventure with a little seed starting with kindergarten and first grades. They scooped dirt, read direction sheets and planted seeds like the future urban farmers they all are. Beginning next week each classroom will be transplanting their seedlings into the garden, and then the real work will begin!

The other O*VEG’ers and I understand that there is only so much time in the day and that curriculums are already quite full. To insure that the kids have every opportunity to experience and enjoy the garden, a parent committee has been working to develop an extra curricular program for interested students. First on our list is an afternoon spent learning about earthworms, their importance in a garden and (hopefully) even setting up our own vermicomposting bin. We’d like to purchase night crawlers that can be added to our beds, allowing the kids (some of whom have never held a worm) the opportunity to touch one of natures ultimate aerators before it’s sent off to work. Another afternoon the students will be invited to visit my garden and meet the beekeeper who maintains my two honey bee hives. We will discuss the importance of pollinators and why we need to protect them. Our hope is that this school garden will create a learning opportunity for our children outside of the constraints of the classroom. The plan is to donate any food harvested from the garden to a local soup kitchen, thus also helping our children to gain an understanding of the value of volunteerism. Education, environmental stewardship, and a deeper connection to nature and the world at large is what we hope the garden will be able to offer to our school community. Oh and a few Jersey tomatoes of course! 

So you see I may have been absent from my blog, but certainly not from my life. I’m tired, but here’s the thing… It’s an extraordinarily exciting time to be at Oak View for both the students and parents. It’s been inspiring to witness the enthusiasm and sense of community the garden has already generated throughout the school. A community I can only imagine will continue to grow and thrive as the plants themselves do. Seeing the kids visiting the garden, checking out the few plants that have already been planted and considering the space their own, makes my heart smile. And that my friend, makes all the effort worth it.

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i’ve got nothin’…

In almost two years of blogging I’ve never once missed a week, seriously— never. Even when we were in Disney I gave you the House of Mouse, so imagine my dismay when it dawned on me this past Tuesday that I didn’t have anything prepared for this weeks post. You see I recently went back to work and while it’s only part-time, working a few days a week has altered my free-time, big-time! I’m thrilled to be earning a paycheck again, to be valued for something other than my mothering skills and to get the chance to routinely flex my creative muscles (that’s my cluttered desk below). But…

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As a result there are always baskets of laundry waiting to be folded, the fridge is never fully stocked and I have far less time to whip up that recipe I’ve been meaning to try. Believe me I’m not complaining, just trying to explain why I don’t have much to offer you. I really do apologize. So instead of my typical rambling tales and a tasty recipe, this week I thought I would instead share with you a brief list of lessons I’ve learned over the past two years as a food blogger. Okay, ready? Here goes…

  • If you think about, cook and enjoy good food 24/7 you’re bound to gain weight. Get over it, donate those skinny jeans and go grab yourself a snack.
  • Wet dish towels conduct heat far better than dry. I know this. I know this. I know this.
  • When you accidentally omit a key ingredient in a recipe and only realize it when it’s too late to fix, do the following: Proceed as if nothing is wrong. Admit your mistake to one person and one person only. (A true crime always requires an accomplice!) And if anyone questions the “correctness” of the dish simply claim that you were experimenting with a new recipe. They’ll continue to think you’re a cooking genius, talented enough to go all avant-garde with the meal.
  • There is no shame in boxed cake mix or jarred pasta sauce as long as your meal is being made with love.
  • If you happen to be taste testing cocktail recipes and start drinking gin in the afternoon, plan on ordering out for dinner.
  • Everyone enjoys being cooked for, even food bloggers. So if you know and love one don’t forget to make dinner for them once in a while.

And there you go. Until next week (hopefully)…

stronger than the storm

A few months ago I was contacted by the Stronger than the Storm campaign and asked to contribute an essay to their website. For those of you not familiar with STTS let me give you a quick primer; Stronger than the Storm is a tourism campaign designed to support the continued recovery of the Jersey Shore business and communities most affected by Supertorm Sandy. It was conceived essentially to let the world know that the Jersey Shore is not only back and open for business, but that it’s even better than before and ready to make some irreplaceable summertime memories for you and your family.

I’m not one to ever shy away from a cause I believe in, and since it would be impossible for my family to declare a summer complete without at least one trip to the shore, I was happy to contribute. Here’s my essay…

The Jersey Shore: Making Miracles Happen

My kids start asking when were going to the beach sometime around April. It doesn’t matter to them that it’s in the mid 60’s and barely warm enough to leave the winter coats at home, they’re all about the sand and the sea. We live in Northern New Jersey, about an hours ride from the ocean and not exactly close enough to just pop on by. Last spring, on a glorious blue sky day and amid much begging and pleading, we agreed to take them for the day to the beach; a bite of lunch, a bit of kite flying, some seashell collecting and we’d be on our way back home. Or not. They weren’t wearing bathing suits (it was only May after all) and we hadn’t thought to bring a complete change of clothes because again, it was May in NJ and barely 65°F. Yet that didn’t stop them from “accidentally” getting soaking wet. You see for my kids going to the beach embodies the perfect day; loads of things to discover, tons of other kids to play with, the crisp smell of the ocean, the salty taste of the air and the way their parents appear to relax as they slump in their chairs and talk about trips to the Caribbean “before you were born.” But that was last year, before Sandy.

Sandy. Seems like a rather innocuous name doesn’t it? I’ve known several in my time; a Sandra, a Sandy and even a Sandeee (she was a lovely kooky character). The name Sandy never caused me a moment of pause, fear or worry— that was until last October. Call her a hurricane or call her a Superstorm, Sandy devastated my Garden State and left many of us in the cold and dark with empty grocery stores and even emptier gas tanks.

Flash forward ten months, the fallen trees have been removed, the damaged homes are being repaired and the broken hearts are slowly mending. But how would a post-Sandy summer at the shore measure up? If you believe what you hear on the news the Jersey Shore is back, is open and is ready to help you make more summertime memories. But is really? Is it really “stronger than the storm”? Will our favorite beach at Sandy Hook be the same? Will Moby’s Lobster Deck, the cute little seafood shack in the Atlantic Highlands, still be there? And what about Ralph’s on 36 where we always stop for Italian ice before heading home, is it up and running again? These were the thoughts I had running through my head as we planned our first post-Sandy trip to the shore.

The morning started out much like any other beach day; packing the car to the brim with chairs, beach bags, coolers, sun screen and sand toys. Stopping on the way out-of-town for coffee and bagels and getting stuck in traffic at the Highlands Bridge. But eventually we made it to the gates of Sandy Hook and were greeted by a remarkably unscathed beach. Yes, the roads were all freshly paved and yes we spotted a few more “just incase the sewers fail” port potties around, but the only real hard core evidence we saw of Sandy barreling through was a few remaining toppled light poles and an incomplete bike path at the foot of the bridge. Clearly an awful lot of people had been working overtime to bring Sandy Hook back to life.

Our beach day went off as perfectly as any beach day had before it. The kids dug for sand crabs and splashed in the waves with new found friends. We wandered up and down the beach searching for interesting shells, drank refreshingly tart homemade lemonade and ate cold fruit salad under the shade of our umbrella. This was, according to my children, “The best day ever!” Once we had worn ourselves out and done everything we had hoped to do, we trudged back up the sand to shower and change. Next stop dinner…

If you’re at all familiar with the Highlands then you know Bahrs Landing; Moby’s is the little hole in the wall restaurant across the parking lot from it and always our first stop after a day at Sandy Hook. (In fact we joke that you can chronicle our children’s lives by the annual pictures of them on Moby’s deck.) We don’t go there because of the fine food or the cheap prices; no we go there because sitting on Moby’s deck, overlooking a little marina with Sandy Hook in the distance is the perfect post beach spot to grab a light dinner and something cold to drink. The folks at Moby’s don’t care if you haven’t yet changed out of your bathing suit or brushed the sand off your feet. It doesn’t bother them if you happen to smell less than fresh or look less than put together. And if your kids are punch-drunk from a day of sand and sea and are perhaps behaving a bit less than their best, well so be it. For all those reasons Moby’s has earned a special place in our hearts and why as we approached their driveway we all heaved a huge sigh of relief to discover that our favorite little dinner spot was in fact looking as perfect as we remembered it. And just as we had hoped; the burgers and fries, steamers and beer, sea breezes and seagull calls while perched high above the river were indeed the perfect way to end our beach day. Ahhh… but wait (the kids were quick to remind us) we still had one more stop to make before heading back north! No day at the beach is ever complete without something cold for dessert.

If we’re visiting friends in Seaside Heights then Khors on the boardwalk is always our last stop and if we’ve just spent the day at Sandy Hook, then its Italian ices at Ralph’s. We were once again relieved and pleased to find our favorite little shop open, serving deliciously cold and refreshing ices and proudly advertising that they were in fact “Jersey Strong”.

As we drove back home, the kids zoning out in the backseat and barely able to keep their eyes open, I thought back on our day and how all my concerns had been allayed. It struck me that perhaps the phrase “stronger than the storm” is not just a metaphor, perhaps the Jersey Shore really is making miracles happen and coming back better and stronger than before. I know there’s still plenty of work yet to be done and some towns have risen up and rebuilt faster than others, but from this girls perspective the shore is in fact open and ready once again to make you smile. Yes, indeed…

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If you’re interested in visiting the Jersey Shore this summer and want more information on some of the fun things going on there, check out http://www.strongerthanthestorm.com.