A shop teacher’s legacy

A shop teacher’s legacy

It was when I was running every street in my little New Jersey town last summer that I began to notice the Adirondack chairs. I just figured they were a popular item that looked nice on residents’ front porches or lawns. After all, I had two plastic ones I purchased at Home Depot myself. I did estimate that the ones I was noticing were wood and a much higher quality, however.

One day after returning from one of those runs, I found an email from George Chrisafis, the high school shop teacher, telling me that my daughter’s Adirondack chair was at the school and needed to be picked up. Hmmmm. I didn’t even know she had made a chair in shop class (she never tells me anything). Although…a glimmer of a memory from Back-to-School Night? Perhaps.

The next class. Ramsey, New Jersey. June 2018.

I finally got over there in August to get it before the new school year was to begin and it would have to be discarded to make room for the next class. It wasn’t finished (how she passed the class, I’ll never know). The arms still needed to be attached and three more slats needed to be added to the front of the seat. I took it home and there it sat – unfinished – on the back deck the rest of the summer. It was moved to the garage with the rest of the patio furniture by November. Still unfinished.

The fall was election time and my volunteer role with a local political campaign had me knocking on doors all over town. I came face-to-face with 100s of these Adirondack chairs. Some were brightly colored. All were proudly displayed. You could almost accurately guess how many children had passed through the high school from any given household by the number of Adirondack chairs a home had. I vowed that one way or another we’d finish ours!

When spring arrived the patio furniture came back out. Finishing the chair was put on my to-do list along with all of the other things I needed to accomplish before our move. We (and I exaggerate a bit here) finished the chair and painted it a dark green to match the trim on our beloved home. When we moved last month, all the patio furniture was left for the new owners, except for our special Adirondack chair. It will be a cherished reminder of our time in our little New Jersey town, a symbol of the mother-daughter team work that had carried us through the last four years, and Mr. Chrisafis’ legacy like all the other Adirondack chairs sprinkled around town – and maybe around the country.

A new home. Vernon Hills, Illinois. July 2018.
Why Chicago?

Why Chicago?

Fifty-one years-ago this past May, aboard an Aer Lingus 707, I arrived at JFK to meet my adoptive parents for the first time. I spent the first night in my new Northern New Jersey home…and basically, I never left.

I couldn’t wait to leave for college, but after four-years in Philadelphia, I gravitated back to northern New Jersey. My first apartment with friends was only 5 miles from the home I grew up in and the home I just moved out of, where I raised my daughter, was only 6 and half miles away.

There were lots of times that I fantasied about a change of scenery. There was the time back in the 80s when my friend and I made plans to move to Charleston, South Carolina after college even going as far to spend a weekend there looking at apartments. My late husband and I had considered Vermont, Oregon, and yes, Charleston again (because its warmer in Charleston).

Ultimately, proximity to family was the biggest factor that kept us here and then once our daughter was born we wanted to have roots. The plan was always that we’d finally consider a big move in June 2018 – the month our daughter would graduate from High School and we’d celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Our gift to ourselves: a huge reduction in property taxes. (I wrote about how I continued to make that dream a reality few weeks ago).

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The view close to the end of my road trip last week. June 2018. Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago has been pulling me for a long time. My first trip was in 1985 with my college boyfriend who grew up here. I loved it (although this New Yorker didn’t admit that to him at the time). We came back again the following summer. In 1994, just after leaving my first big job, I went to work for a Chicago-based company and spent a week out here for training.  I did a lot of exploring by myself and remember feeling very at home.

Work I was doing with a national non-profit took me on a couple business trips here in 2012 – once for a meeting at the Admiral’s Club, where I never left O’Hare. I was also aware of a former work colleague from that first big job who went to work for the Chicago Tribune and was transferred here in 1994. There was just something about Chicago.

In 2015, I ran the Chicago Marathon. In 2016, my daughter’s Sweet-Sixteen present was an all-expense-paid trip for all four days of Lollapalooza for her and a friend (it was what she wanted and was cheaper than a party). By December of that year, I was starting to make some regular trips to the Windy City, because that “former work colleague” was now my boyfriend.

When my daughter started looking at colleges, with all my other family gone, I was acutely aware that there wasn’t a lot keeping me in New Jersey. I told her to select the right school and not worry about the location. I would just move to be closer to her…wherever that was. Of course, that was when we were looking at schools in Southern California, not Chicago.

By the time Chicago became an option, I was invested in a life here even if it meant more cold winters. It certainly wasn’t cold when I arrived on Friday, although I know that will change come fall. But as I said to someone who questioned my decision, “I have my love to keep me warm.” So, why Chicago? It was just meant to be.

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First day in my new neighborhood with the keys to my apartment. June 2018. Chicago, Illinois.

 

Twelve things I will miss about New Jersey

Twelve things I will miss about New Jersey

High School Graduation is now behind us! I am so proud of my girl for all that she has achieved here and for setting herself up right for what’s to come. The movers are on their way. Today is the day I move out of my house. It is going to be bitter sweet closing the door for the last time this week. There will certainly be a lot of things I’m going to miss about life in New Jersey.

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A gorgeous setting for the high school’s 110th Commencement ceremony.

A friend posted on FaceBook recently that he was working on his column and asked that we contribute “things we love about the Garden State.” There were a lot of the usual suspects like Springsteen, the Shore, Taylor Ham (or pork roll?), and proximity to New York City (or Philadelphia, depending on who was contributing).  There were debates around whether or not pumping one’s own gas is a benefit or a curse, or whether not having to pay sales tax on food and clothing balanced out the high property taxes.

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Sunrise on the Hudson. Palisades Interstate Park. Englewood, New Jersey.

My boyfriend (who was a transplant from New Jersey before moving to Chicago almost 25 years ago) said the things I will miss most about Jersey will be (real) pizza, Chinese food, and spring.  My daughter thinks for her it will be good bagels. I think I will miss not having to pump my own gas only in the winter. I’m renting, so I can’t give an assessment on property taxes; but I can tell you that I got a really nice 2-bedroom apartment in a great residential neighborhood in the city for considerably less than New York City rents. And I’ve always wanted to live in a city.

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Summer hike with Enzo. Ramapo County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey.

So quick list of things I will miss about (specifically Bergen County) New Jersey that pop into my head…

  1. Proximity to New York City and the countless wonderful things it has to offer like Broadway and Rockefeller Center at Christmastime, Central Park, the High Line, and the Brooklyn Bridge
  2. An hour drive north to a ski resort; an hour south to a beach resort
  3. Sunday driving (and those from Bergen County know what I’m talking about here)
  4. Accessibility to several major cities from Boston to D.C.
  5. The Atlantic Ocean, especially along the beach in Montauk (my happy place) and the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore
  6. Seeing the New York City skyline on the horizon from numerous high places just minutes away
  7. Running the hills of Palisades in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge or not having to even leave town to find a hill to run
  8. Hiking trails that lead to the top of high mountains
  9. Running races and knowing the courses – and the competition!
  10. Being relatively close to the final resting places of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles
  11. Countless friends and the memories of life here for the last 51 years
  12. And finally, the thing I will really miss about New Jersey – which also happens to be the same thing that gave me incentive to leave – is familiarity.
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Seen on many, many runs. Saddle River County Park. Paramus, New Jersey.

Back in May, I talked about my life currently as so familiar that it was one I could “lead with my eyes closed.” The part of me that likes to be comfortable, also likes the fact that around here, I can steer my way out of any traffic jam without relying on Waze. I know the history and the stories, about our towns and businesses, and people. I’ve met my elected officials, I understand the politics and I always run into people I know everywhere I go.  When people talk about someone in a New Jersey diner, I’m that person in the booth behind them who knows who they’re talking about…and yeah, add “diners” to the list. 🙂

 

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New Jersey Meadowlands. Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

That all makes life here very comfortable, but it can make it boring, too. I am also someone who likes a challenge (and if I’m honest with myself, I will admit that I’m in a little bit of a rut here recently). So off I go to be challenged. This kid who sometimes suffers from separation anxiety is armed with the security of friendships maintained on FaceBook and off to a whole a new adventure. An education awaits. I’ll find you again as soon as I get to Illinois (don’t leave me).

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Last Memorial Day, I talked about 5 great Memorial Day weekend races, and said, “some creative time on your travel apps could get you on the starting line for one each day.” While I didn’t quite do that, I did fulfill my desire to do the Soldier Field 10 Mile again…and continue my Ridgewood Run tradition for one more year. Read more

My next goal

My next goal

A few things came together last week which quickly launched me into a plan to accomplish my next goal. That goal is to have two cars, two pets, two people and the contents of a four-bedroom house packed up and transported to Illinois before the end of the summer. And no, I’m not running there. Although that actually seems less daunting. Read more