All Aboard the Spooky Caravan!

Aboard the spooky hayride

Note: My heart goes out to all who have suffered due to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey was one of the hardest hit and I am wishing everyone there, and everywhere, a speedy recovery.

I love tradition, friends, and adventures close to home. Every fall I look forward to getting an email from my friend Andi inviting me along on the “Spooky Caravan” – a day long adventure through New Jersey or Long Island that properly celebrates the fall season, samples local produce and products, and ends with a haunted house or hay ride.

The pumpkin patch at Stony Hilly Gardens

This year Andi and our friend Stephen went all out. They rented a 15 passenger van, Andi handed out trick or treat bags full of candy, and they plotted a perfectly timed route that took us through rolling farm land into rural New Jersey, which is the kind of pastoral landscape I had no idea existed in that oft-maligned state and less than an hour from New York City.

Foraging for Butternut squash

We were victorious in the corn maze!

The day began with a pick-your-own adventure at Stony Hill Gardens. We took a hayride out into a huge field, oddly situated under high-tension wires, and picked apples, pumpkins, and vegetables. We also conquered that favorite of farm fall traditions: the corn maze.

Corn maze navigation. Photo by Stephen Musgrave

A beautiful horse friend at the Valley Shepherd

After I picked half my weight in apples and we filled up on hot cider and doughnuts we loaded ourselves back into the van and headed to the next stop: The Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey. It was the perfect place for lunch on a sunny mid-October Saturday. The farm features a shop where you can buy beautiful cheeses right from the source, and also bread, sausage and other picnic essentials. As we ate our local bounty we sat at a picnic table and watched sheep, llamas and a beautiful draft horse wander around in the pasture in front of us. Did someone say pastoral?

Artisan cheeses and sausage at the source!

Horse and sheet at the Valley Shepherd

We followed up lunch with a quick stop at the Long Valley Pub and Brewery for a tasting flight of their local brews. While it wasn’t on our original itinerary it was right around the corner from the creamery and seemed too perfect to resist sitting out on their large stone patio to take in the waning afternoon.

Tasting flight at Long Valley Pub and Brewery

As the sun began to sink we pressed on through small towns, forests and more rolling farmland to the Beneduce Vinyards. I had no idea New Jersey even had wineries, much less decent ones. Beneduce is a friendly, welcoming affair. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I was invited to stir some vats of freshly made wine. I’ve never had the chance to get hands on with the wine making process at any other vineyard I’ve been to and I really loved it.

Stirring the new wine at Beneduce Vineyards

For the wine tasting we got to sit in our own private green house and sampled 5 of the vineyard’s wines, all for $5. It felt really special and convivial and I hope to go back and take a tour of the vines themselves.

Me and spooky tour organizer Andi at Stony Hill Gardens. Thanks Stephen Musgrave for the photo!

The day concluded with us sitting around a bonfire at a “haunted” farm, roasting marshmallows, looking at the stars through the woodsmoke, and marveling at all the bounty that was so close to home.

Spooky caravan! By Stephen Musgrave

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Greetings from Asbury Park (Well, Ocean Grove)

Asbury Park boardwalk at dusk

Ocean Grove at sunset

For the past few days I have been close to home, but faraway. I rented a small apartment with two of my good friends “down the shore” in New Jersey, a tranquil, two-hour train ride from Penn Station, but only a block’s walk from the beach and long from the crush of daily city life. I recently switched jobs and found out that I had to use up three days of vacation before the end of June. I called my friend L.J., who I have gone on adventures to Central Europe and Iceland with. Did she want to go somewhere for five days? Somewhere cheap and last minute? Yes! We dreamed of getting a super steal of a deal in the Caribbean, of jetting off to a quiet island for $300 apiece like the advertisements in the back of the New York Times travel section promise. However, after much research on every travel site we could find we found the deals to be far beyond our price range. We were depressed for a few instants, but then turned our sights to something closer. What did we want? Sun, sand and easy living that won’t strain our wallets. Why not the beaches of Long Island or New Jersey? We visit these beaches regularly on summer-weekend day trips and there’s no lack of cute towns. A little more research and we found our rental, in a historic community called Ocean Grove, right next to the storied Asbury Park.

Ocean Grove street at dusk

Nagle's, Main Ave, Ocean Grove

Ocean Grove is incredibly charming and full of historic, multi-colored, well-maintained Victorian summer homes. On Main Avenue is Nagle’s, a pharmacy and classic soda fountain turned restaurant where we had a burger our first night and a daily ice cream. The beach is popular without being swarmed and the boardwalk is well maintained. This is a long way from the hair gel, fist pumps and sleaze that has popularized by a certain television show. However, one thing we neglected to find out about Ocean Grove, is that it is owned by the evangelical Church. There’s regular worship services on the boardwalk, there’s a posting about daily scripture, you can’t go onto the beach before 12:30 on Sundays because you are supposed to be in church, and forget about buying alcohol. The advantage of this is the town is quiet and peaceful, the disadvantage that if you are made uncomfortable by rules, religiosity, and the sexism, homophobia and hypocrisy of the church (which we are) it feels a little… creepy.

Junot Diaz quote on the Asbury Park boardwalk

Marinere: American Apparel, Levi's shorts ("Mom shorts" found at Tucson Goodwill and cut off to be chique), Bensimon sneakers

Fortunately, not a 10 minute down the boardwalk is “sinful” Asbury Park, home of the Boss, Bruce Springstein, and the Stone Pony, the club where he got his start. The boardwalk pulses with life and on Saturday night you can hear the latest dance pop hits booming out over the water from the recently restored pier. There’s restaurants, bars, mini golf, ice cream stands, and The Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade full of vintage pinball machines where you pay by the hour! There’s also Asbury Lanes, a punk rock club that is also a bowling ally where $22 gets you unlimited bowling and admission to that evening’s show (a little steep for us, but a good deal for bowlers and music lovers).

Shirt: J Crew "Artist" T, Skirt: Brooklyn Industries, Worishofer Sandals, Sunglasses from in God We Trust (hah hah) in Brooklyn

The streets are bikeable and on a morning ride I relished taking deep breaths of the sea air and felt transported by the mixture of  of salt, sunscreen, sand and honeysuckle carried on the breeze. No makeup, no fancy clothes, no plans, just jean shorts, bathing suits, and sunscreen. These days have been like a gift—because they were unexpected there’s no obligation and no expectations put on this time. It’s just mine to read, relax, enjoy my friends, eat simple food and relish a sliver of the good life close to home.

Beach and boardwalk cruiser (not mine, I brought my road bike from Brooklyn)

Strawhat and shorts (cut off by me!) both found in Arizona, Esther Williams bathing suit (love!)