Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Mall Tree

The view can be relative. The long view:

the medium view:

and the close-up view:


"The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Celling Your Soul?

I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t want a cell phone.

Okay, I just wanted to get that out in the open and out of the way first thing. We did have one for two years - biggest waste of money I can ever recall! I never turned it on and I can’t remember ever having used it to make a telephone call.

I did receive calls from it when my spouse was carrying it, typically at inconvenient times and consisting mostly of “guess what I just bought at a garage sale” or “I’m on my way home” – usually when they were within ten minutes of arriving at the house.

Recently I saw two comments regarding the necessity of cell phones: “cell phones are a fact of life in this on-demand life” and “the world demands immediacy.” Notice that the word demand is in both of those statements as in “insists, orders, commands, or requires.” Well, I guess that I have just gotten too far in life to let others have that kind of power over me, to demand that I be available twenty-four hours a day whenever they decide.

And no one even bothers with the “you might need it in an emergency” pretext anymore. They are just annoyed when they can’t reach you whenever they want. In fact, they are downright insulted when you explain that you have your cell phone turned off because you wanted it turned off.

Or, occasionally, they are shocked that you have really decided to intentionally turn it off! What a concept!


While we are on the topic, what is with those strange ear-clippy phone things that always remind me of Star Trek costumes? Anyone who remembers clip-on earrings has got to figure that those things must hurt by the end of the day. Do you remember your mother getting home and pulling off her earrings the minute she walked through the door?

Additionally, the ear-phone wearers are insulting those with whom they are doing business in the real world; real people who are apparently not important enough to merit their undivided attention. If that is the case, then they don’ t need my business.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Alternate Office Gift Exchange

One autumn I started a new job at just about the time that the office manager was beginning the thankless task of planning the office holiday party.

When she came to me about the office gift exchange I said “No, thanks.” Big mistake. She hounded me and hounded me about participating.

Meanwhile, co-workers were privately cheering me on, telling me about what a pain it was to go buy something for someone they didn’t know and it stretched their holiday budget, and they never got a present they wanted.

Finally, in desperation, I had to come up with an alternate suggestion and believe it or not I did.

Instead of an office gift exchange we would find an orphanage or foster care center or children’s social welfare program and get a list of kids by sex, age, and interests and buy them presents. Each employee would bring an unwrapped toy to the office holiday party and at the party we would wrap the toys and a few days later a staff member would deliver the presents.

Wow! The idea was a hit and we all had so much fun! The company even pitched in some funds for some extras.

There was a mild competition for the delivery run, but rank has its privilege; the office manager and another senior staff member delivered the presents

That is the first time I had enjoyed shopping for an office gift exchange and had a really good time at an office holiday party and every employee overspent the suggested budget and we all had fun.

And if you know some office that can use this suggestion, please pass it along.


"I hear that in many places something has happened to Christmas; that it is changing from a time of merriment and carefree gaiety to a holiday which is filled with tedium; that many people dread the day and the obligation to give Christmas presents is a nightmare to weary, bored souls..." - Julia Peterkin (1880-1961), American Author.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Hallelujah!! I did it! It's November 30th - the last day of National Blog Posting Month and I posted every day.

And here's the background:

One of the writer's trade magazines - either The Writer or Writers Digest - published an item about NaBloPoMo that unfortunately caught my attention and apparently stirred up my competitive spirit.

The challenge put out to all bloggers was: Post every day of the month of November. And I can tell you now it is really hard! My admiration has increased a hundred fold for newspaper columnists who have turned out thoughtful, literate essays for many years and can still face a keyboard.

On the plus side, it is a good writing exercise and you produce stories that would otherwise be forgotten. On the negative side, your significant others can get really annoyed at the amount of time you spend on the whole thing.

For all who enjoyed my blog: Thanks. I'm not giving it up, but probably cutting back to a few posts a week.

To my family: Thanks. I'm not giving it up, but probably cutting back to a few posts a week. Honest.


If you think you might want to try your own blog, start by going to your real brick-and-mortar library. There are a lot of books about the technical aspects of setting up your blog. For the writing part I highly recommend the book Dispatches From Blogistan by Suzanne Stefanac which the Hillsborough Library has.

Online I found two helpful articles: "10 Tips on Writing the Living Web" by Mark Bernstein and "How to Write a Better Weblog" by Dennis A. Mahoney.


"... writers do not find subjects: subjects find them. There is not so much a search as a state of open susceptibility." - Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973)British novelist, story writer, essayist, and memoirist.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Gambling" Habit

Growing up in Central Jersey, my mornings were dedicated to “Rambling With Gambling” – the morning wake-up show on New York radio station WOR.

The show had three hosts in its 75-year history – a father, son, and grandson, but the “middle” Gambling - John A. who hosted from 1959 to 1991 - was mine.

You turned on the radio on the hour and heard 15 minutes of news and the weather report and the rest of the time the John Gambling family and their friends chatted about this-and-that. Nothing consequential, but they had a way that made you feel included.

They didn’t play much music, but they always played the morning march around the breakfast table. I guess the idea was that there were families who would actually stand up and march happily around the table, getting the blood moving before mom sent them out the front door to another day in the world. I didn’t know any of those families, but I had absolute faith that they were out there.

Even more important, they were one of the first shows that announced school closings – known as snow days. They read lists of closed schools from the tri-state area: New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. And to listen for your school’s name you had to be awake earlier than you would normally voluntarily wake up – maybe as early as 5 a.m. – because if you missed your school you had to wait for them to go through the entire list again.

Sometimes you would listen over-and-over, absolutely sure that you had missed your school the first time…or the second time…or the third time…or until you mother yelled at you to get up and get dressed.

How your school name got on the list was always a mystery that we thought we could break. Obviously there was a special telephone number that had to be called and a special code assigned to each school and if we could just figure it out and one of us could disguise our voice just right…well you can see what we could accomplish!

These days I can’t seem to find a station that connects with me the way WOR did, so I listen to one of the all-news stations. If "Rambling With Gambling" came on I still wouldn’t get up and march and nowadays I don’t have to get out of bed and go to school.

But somehow I can’t give up the belief that there really were families that marched around the breakfast table.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hearing a Memory

The TV stations began showing the 1983 movie A Christmas Story this past week.

Every year I watch it over and over, picking out different memories each time: the story, the desks in the classroom, the dish detergent boxes in the background of the kitchen, the coal furnace battle, the kid wrapped up in his snowsuit, the alleys – there is just so much.

But it was this year that I realized that I was hearing an important memory – the voice of Jean Shepherd, the writer and narrator of A Christmas Story.

Growing up in New Jersey, I was the recipient of a passed-down wooden AM radio that sat on top of the small bookcase-nightstand next to my bed, and that radio was tuned to WOR where storyteller Jean Shepherd reigned from 10:15 to 11 p.m. every night.

All through junior high school and high school as I got ready for bed I listened to the news from 10 to 10:15 [I guess I was a news junkie even then.], and then, just as I snuggled in and turned out the light, Jean Shepherd’s theme music came on and he began telling his tales of growing up in the Midwest.

As the years passed I felt I knew his hometown and his friends and his family. And of course at that age I felt the stories he told were so much more exciting than my own family's tales.

Just think what he could have done on the internet. And he would have made a great blogger!


I can’t find a show like that any more, but “Shep” still has his fans. There are entire websites: and discussion forums:, a Wikipedia entry, and the house where the movie was filmed has been restored and is open for tours.

Jean Shepherd (1921-1999) was on WOR from 1956 to 1977. He also wrote books and magazine articles.

Jerry Seinfeld is quoted as crediting Jean Shepherd for some of his "comedic sensibility."

For those of you unlucky enough to not be familiar with Shep's work:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

TV Timing

I have always thought that television schedulers live in an alternate universe, but now I am convinced.

Yesterday evening's TV listings had the following entry:

"5 Minute Workout With Dell-Maree Day"

The show ran from 8p.m. to 10p.m. Yes, that's right - two hours. Now I am not familiar with Dell-Maree, but that is quite an accomplishment. The only other activities I can recall that can stretch 5 minutes into 2 hours are the ends of football and basketball games and PBS fundraisers.

Oh, now I understand. It was on a PBS channel.

I'll wait for the Reader's Digest Condensed version.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Claremont Sewer Meeting

Just to update the Claremont development septic saga, I had one last item that I couldn't find yesterday but came across this morning.

The residents of Claremont have been invited to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. this evening at the municipal building to get information on the sewer connection plan and special assessment contract. There are supposed to be "various the meeting to answer [residents'] questions."

The more professionals the more it's going to cost.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Legend of the Claremont Sewers

Once upon a time not so long ago – around 1960 – a bunch of brand new houses were built in Hillsborough off Millstone River Road called the Claremont Development.

They weren’t big expensive houses, but to the people purchasing them they were castles, often bought by families who never thought they would have an opportunity to own such a place.

Now, some of these homebuyers were savvy enough to express some concern about having septic systems – especially septic systems that seemed a tad small. But the sellers reassured the buyers that they would only have the septic systems for “a while” as sewer lines would go through the area in “the future.”

After “a while” had passed and the Claremont builders had long moved on to other projects, some of the homeowners asked about the sewer lines, but the township told them that the time had not yet come. As decade after decade went by it became the 1990s and some of the septic systems failed. And some of the homeowners wanted to expand their houses but were told their septic systems were too small and their lots were too small to accommodate the larger systems they would need.

By the late 1990s, more and more of the old original “temporary” systems were failing and homeowners were filling their small yards with expensive mounded septic systems.

Larger groups of Claremont residents (also known as voters) were appearing more frequently before the township committee to ask exactly when it was that the sewer lines would be installed.

The sewer lines couldn’t be put off any longer.

And so, it appears that maybe – almost fifty years later - “the future” has come. The township is talking about the possibility that sometime soon the sewer lines will probably be coming to the Claremont area.

The paperwork is in the pipeline (so to speak).

Many of these original homebuyers have died, but it is surprising how many are still there and kept their faith in the American dream all these years. They are hoping that their faith is being repaid. [Well, actually they are paying for their faith by paying for their sewers – more than the original houses cost.]

But they are finally getting sewers. Soon. Really.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Painted Ladies

Sometimes you see something that brightens your day:

or makes you wonder:

and what these Hillsborough houses always make me wonder is:
Are these the colors they wanted or did they look different on the little chips?

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's a Taxpayer Thing

Due to an oversight by their union representatives many state employees will not have today, the day after Thanksgiving, off as a paid holiday.

A year ago Governor Corzine warned them about this, but they apparently did not think that he was serious.

Individual union members who have stressed to the media that having this day off is incredibly important are still free to take the day off by using one of their vacation or personal days.

Many of them have been invoking the legally significant “traditional day off” guideline, but it’s hard to believe they would believe in that principle if this were reversed.

Think about it: “You know how we have always traditionally had Columbus Day off and it’s in our contract as a paid holiday? Well, we, your union reps, have decided you should all go to work without extra compensation and just donate the day back to the state of New Jersey out of the goodness of your hearts.”

It’s time for the employees to start holding their union reps responsible.

One of the best reasons heard from union members for closing state offices today? The state will save money because they won’t have to heat them. So, it costs more to heat the buildings than donate a day’s pay to all those employees? The state must be paying way too much for utilities.

I worked yesterday - no paid holidays or benefits. My significant other and I are both working today – no paid holidays or benefits. No work, no pay. A cyber poll on a local newspaper website showed about a third of the respondents will be working today. Support for the state employees’ position may be a little fragile among a significant number of taxpayers.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Immigrants' Day

Today Americans celebrate a holiday originated by American immigrants - you know, those foreigners who arrived on the Mayflower.

When we sit around the dinner table on Thanksgiving, it is easy to forget that we are by-and-large a nation of immigrants starting with the Pilgrims. While some families arrived more willingly than others, each persevered until they “became” American with each group having its own measurement of what made them American.

So, to all of you whose families came to America from countries around the world for whatever reason and no matter how recently or how long ago: Congratulations on your achievements.

To the North American Indians who were here first: Sorry.

Today happens to be November 22nd, the anniversary of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It seems as though that Thanksgiving was a confusing weekend spent largely in front of the television and many immigrant families were afraid that the political upheavals they had so recently fled had followed them to America.


"And so it is that I carry with me from this State to that high and lonely office to which I now succeed more than fond memories and fast friendships. The enduring qualities of Massachusetts—the common threads woven by the Pilgrim and the Puritan, the fisherman and the farmer, the Yankee and the immigrant—will not be and could not be forgotten in the Nation’s Executive Mansion. They are an indelible part of my life, my convictions, my view of the past, my hopes for the future."
- President-elect John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), addressing the Massachusetts legislature, January 9 1961

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mom's Thanksgiving

My mother wasn’t born in this country, but she sure knew how to put on an all-American traditional Thanksgiving.

Her preparations started in October when she took the bus into Newark to shop for the nuts and dried fruits she needed for her steamed puddings and fruitcakes. Her fruitcakes were in demand. By the time the holidays came around they had been wrapped in cheesecloth for weeks and basted with whiskey or brandy so many times that the fumes could clear your sinuses and you probably should have been at least twenty-one years old to enjoy a slice.

A week or two before the big day Mom started her Cranberry Relish, clamping the metal hand-cranked food grinder with the long handle around a clean dishtowel onto the kitchen table where she fed in the fresh cranberries and the cut-up oranges and just the right amount of sugar and some spices. Sometimes the children – and later the grandchildren – were allowed to carefully turn the handle or even, if you were old enough, slowly feed in the ingredients.

Home baked cookies were stored in tins that were saved all year just for this occasion. Anytime in November, if you were sent down the cellar to “fetch the tins” you knew exactly what she wanted.

She produced hand-made pies – apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat – all with perfectly crimped edges on their golden, flaky crusts. I never developed a taste for mincemeat or the ability to crimp piecrusts.

Starting late Thanksgiving eve, using a small 1940s stove, she managed to complete the entire dinner by one o’clock Thanksgiving afternoon. Everything was finished cooking at the same time – another ability I did not inherit.

My parents were 19-year-old newlyweds when they spent their first Thanksgiving together. Last year my father spent Thanksgiving visiting my mother at the nursing home and after celebrating seventy-two Thanksgivings together, he will spend this Thanksgiving without her.

We can’t find her recipes. Of course, we can probably find the right kind of whiskey or brandy and offer a toast to Mom, her fruitcakes and steamed puddings, and her dedication to Thanksgiving: “Cheers!”


Our house, especially our kitchen, is quiet tonight as tomorrow we will be the guests at a niece’s Thanksgiving dinner and not the hosts.

This was originally to be a one-year intermission during some construction at our house, but I have the feeling that the earth has shifted slightly, we have crossed the generational divide, and Thanksgiving dinner is not coming back to our house.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I Want That Job

Last week there was an article in a local newspaper about former Beatle Paul McCartney being photographed kissing a woman whose family has roots in Edison.

Buried in the story was this paragraph:
“…[Paul McCartney’s] spokesman told the Associated Press, ‘We don’t comment, as a policy, on private or business affairs’…”

That quote has stuck with me.

If they don’t comment on McCartney’s private affairs or business affairs, exactly what is it that they do? I know that the rich are different, but I can’t come up with something in my own life that doesn’t fall under one of those categories.

Now we know that McCartney has lots of money - just ask Heather Mills who is currently suing him for divorce. But that still shouldn’t justify a public relations firm charging him good money to do no work.

Being an honest person who could definitely do the same job as his current spokesperson, I would like to apply to be the PR person for McCartney. I promise that I will charge him less for doing the same work(?) that his current firm does.

Where do I send my resume?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Baby'$ Holiday Li$t

Yesterday’s newspaper had an article on Presents for Baby’s First Holiday, containing the most incredible ideas for gifts you can buy for the one-and-under set.

Well, actually it was about items that other people might buy, because I didn’t see anything in which we would be willing to invest our hard-earned money. And I don’t use the term “invest” lightly.

As an example, let’s consider the hooded sweatshirt they recommended. First of all, just to set you persons of a certain age straight, these are no longer called “sweatshirts” – they are now called “hoodies.” I can only guess that the upscale venders of these items are trying to emphasis the “hood” part and de-emphasize the “sweat” part.

And why is that? Because the particular sweater they are selling is a cashmere hoody that sells for $96.95. For babies, let me remind you

Did you just gasp or laugh? Good. It’s always nice to know that my readers are normal people with a firm grasp on reality.

In order to be fair to the writer of this holiday sales piece, there was a more affordable item on baby’s holiday list: a handmade stick horse made by artisans in Brazil. If you noted the word “artisan” in the copy you have a clue about what is coming. Yes, the price of this dowel with an all knitted head on top is $44.00.

I can see several problems with this particular item – aside from the price. A child who is one-or-under will not be able to play with this item; they will be learning to walk and balance, not straddle a stick and gallop. Older siblings who are old enough to ride the horsie (after they take it away from the baby) will be more inclined to use it as a weapon to hit other children – including the one year old who is cutting into their haul of presents.

There is also a $750.00 wooden-looking seesaw. I just can’t make myself go further into this one. Buy the kid a good long-term certificate of deposit.

Trying to be fair I considered whether this article was just misplaced; maybe it should have been in The New York Times, a newspaper with upscale demographics sold to people who live in and around New York City and who, therefore, have no idea what is going on in the real world. But I couldn’t convince myself of this either as I know a number of perfectly normal people who receive and sometimes actually read the NYT. [See, I even know enough to refer to it by its initials.]

The only alternative I have is to give the writer credit for a tongue-in-cheek article that was very well done, because at first I thought he was serious.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Equal Opportunity Enjoyment

Music is equal opportunity. It doesn't care about your age, sex, race, religion, net worth, your disabilities or abilities, what kind of job you hold or whether you don't hold any job at all.

Music brought together the diverse group that spent this cold rainy gray Sunday afternoon enjoying the Raritan Valley Symphonic Band concert at the high school.

These musicians don't get paid money for their hours and hours of hard work, so they must do it for the sheer joy of creating music, meeting other musicians, and then sharing the joy and the music with their neighbors.

And I must say, they are very good at sharing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Today you are going to learn about patronymics. The word patronymic is a noun meaning a name (a proper name) that is derived from a father or ancestor. Origin: Greek. Pater + onoma = father + name.

The Welsh language patronymic is ap or ab. Welsh is the native tongue of Wales and many of their last names derive from combining the patronymic with the father’s name, such as:
Probert from ap+Robert or
Pritchard from ap+Richard or
Parry from ap+Harry.

Some more traditional nationalist (or, to the English, radical) Welsh families keep the ap or ab separate... such as…come on, you can do it…

Yes! As in Hughes ap Williams!

Diolch a hawddamor!
Just in case you are still confused, I am going to give you some more common (in America) examples of patronyms:

Fitz: Norman-French prefix – child (or sometimes grandchild) of.
Fitzpatrick = child of Patrick

Mc/Mac – Scottish prefix – son of.
MacDonald = son of Donald

"Brooded over by mist more often than swirled about by cloud, drizzled rather than storm-swept, on the western perimeter of Europe lies the damp, demanding and obsessively interesting country called by its own people Cymru … and known to the rest of the world, if it is known at all, as Wales." - Jan Morris (James Morris)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Photographic Remains

There is something sad about abandoned family pictures, those boxes and albums of photographs forever freezing moments in personal history. They have become clutter to be tossed out by descendents who have no clue who is in the pictures or why that moment was important.

Home organization shows advise homeowners to throw out family photos using the rationale that they “always have the memories in their minds.”

Do they understand that memories can fade? What about the next generation who don’t have these memories in their minds?

I personally came upon this dumping of family history when attending a local auction. I tried to return some photos that I found in a sewing bench I had just bought, but the auctioneer’s clerks advised me that the family wasn’t interested. The 40s Army uniforms, the 50s Christmas trees, the 60s prom pictures – no one wanted them.

And now I have become the recipient of two boxes (at least) of my family’s photographic memories and have begun to pick out ones that I am sure other family members would like to have, writing on the back any information that I can remember. Some sit on a corner of my desk just waiting for me to stick them in an envelope and mail them.

For some reason I haven’t been able to send them out.

"A family's photograph album is generally about the extended family - and, often, is all that remains of it." - Susan Sontag

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Blog, My Opinion

Local forum posters have been lambasting another community blogger for voicing his opinions in his blog, which is hosted by a local daily newspaper. These posters erroneously seem to believe that bloggers should check their lives at the door, when, in fact, personal perspective is the point of a blog.

Blogs are not designed to be online impartial news sources, even if a media company sponsors them. It would be more accurate to think of bloggers as Op-Ed columnists than journalistically neutral news writers although a good journalist can be both a news writer and a columnist, winnowing out personal biases when writing a news story and, when appropriate, still contributing their opinions to one or the other side of a good debate.

News writing and opinion writing are two different genres with different styles. In fact, an editor has recently pointed out to me that blogging has its own style that can be hard for traditional writers to develop.

The complaining posters also feel that they have been denied an opportunity to voice their opposing opinions, but they haven’t. There is a comments section located at the end of each blog post to be used at the option of the blogger and the blogger they are criticizing has chosen to allow comments. He even reads them.

And that’s my opinion.

“A blog is a little first amendment machine.” - Blogger Jay Rosen, June 5, 2007.

“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” - Lesley Gore, 1963

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

End of an ID Era

The end of an era is coming next month. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has advised me that it is time to renew my license…and I must report in person in order to have my photograph taken.

For many years when I have mentioned that I have no identification with my picture on it, I have been met with absolute disbelief. Perfect strangers are so shocked that they feel free to grill me about this impossible situation.

There is a litany of questions implying that I have forgotten some long lost photograph usually starting with “Work?” “No, I’m self-employed.”

But the one that brings the most disbelief is usually,

“Your driver’s license?”


“Oh, no. You must have a picture on your driver’s license. You have to!”

“No, that was phased in as people’s licenses expired and I appear to be among the last ones.”

“Oh, wow… but then, how do you fly?”

“I haven’t flown since about 1971.”

And that starts a whole new round of questions suggesting that I have forgotten some trip that I took by airplane in the last 35 years.

The people in Central Jersey live with a very limited world-view. They think that everyone has photo ID and travels by air and that no one can survive without a cell phone or Internet access and email.

Well, boy do I have news for you. Those people are here, in Hillsborough, living among you. Surprise!

I have reached the stage where no one asks if I have a school ID with a picture, but the last picture ID I had was a student ID card about 5 years ago when I took a course at Raritan Valley Community College.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finally Home

Working at home is wonderful. I can testify to that after decades of working in various "real" offices.

The big benefit is no commute. Additionally, you can generally set your own hours, decide on the ambiance, pick the dress code (PJs or jeans?), and choose your co-workers.

My dogs are wonderful co-workers, but I admit the cats have a tendency to interrupt by sitting on my paperwork or strolling across the keypad. [Okay, maybe I wouldn’t exactly choose the cats, but on the whole…]

As the number of people working from home increases, so do the magazine articles telling you how to work from home correctly - with the authors each providing their own sometimes wildly differing definition of what is correct. In order to understand this discrepancy, keep in mind that some of these articles may be written by people in their PJs sitting in the spare bedroom while others are authored by bitter full-time staff writers who are required to dress up and travel to an office in the outside world at least five days a week.

Recently these articles seem to be veering away from praising the convenience and informality of working at home and moving toward how to make the home office just like a “real world” office. Well, what fun is that? If I wanted a “real world” job I would go and get one and have someone else figuring out the taxes and providing medical benefits.

Being at home I can let the dogs out when needed, empty the dryer when the buzzer goes off, and take the pie out of the oven when the aroma says it’s time for a coffee break.

If I have a hankering to get out of “the office” I can go pick up milk or bread during the day when the stores are less busy and the employees aren’t as frazzled.

Sorry, I have to stop now. Sniff, sniff…mmm…it’s time for my coffee break.

To be fair, I have decided to mention the negatives of working at home. Getting the other human inhabitants of the house to understand that you are working. No steady paycheck. Um…let’s see…uh…let me think about this for a while. I’ll have my people call your people when I get back to the office.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Walkers vs. Riders

When I went to school back in the olden days I was a “walker”; that is to say, my family lived in an area of town where the kids’ weren’t transported to school by those big yellow smelly buses.

The rule back then was that if you lived within two miles of the school you were designated a “walker” and my family always seemed to live just a few feet inside the limit.

Walking to school in the morning burned off calories, saved gas, and expended some of our energy before we settled down for the school day.

With today’s obesity epidemic and gas prices soaring, having the kids walk would be a win all the way around. And maybe there would be fewer problems if everyone had to take a two-mile stroll each morning.

Oh, yeah, and one other plus for me not riding the bus: I was the kid who got motion sick.

It is obvious these days that the taxpayers are funding buses that aren’t even being used by the kids who are supposed to ride on them. Just look at the half-empty buses and the swarms of cars around the schools.

I enjoyed walking (still do) and I don’t understand today’s aversion to letting the kids walk to school. We developed a real appreciation for the changing seasons and the weather and I think some of my closest friendships were forged on those journeys.

And am I the only one who notices those empty bike racks at all the shools?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thoughts on a Veteran

As it is Veteran’s Day I started thinking about a friend from high school who enlisted in the army just after he graduated.

He showed up late one evening at my parent’s house where I was home on break from college. He had been drinking and asked if I would go for a walk with him. We walked up the road to a little macadam path that turned off the road and sat on a log on the side of the path and as we sat there he started to cry; he had just gotten his orders for Viet Nam.

I put my arm around his shoulders and let him cry it out.

Later he apologized for drinking before coming over and said he had eaten an onion bagel on the way over to my parents to try to hide the smell of the alcohol. He didn’t want my parents to think badly of him for drinking.

I just wanted to tell you about him. It seemed important.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Remembrance of Things Past...and Present

This weekend is Veterans Day. I know because I have been receiving Veterans Day sales circulars all week.

What are you doing to acknowledge this holiday? Participating in a veteran related activity or a commemorative service? Watching a war movie?

Today I went to the Manville VFW Hall where a few hundred people – scouts, seniors, church groups, veterans – were preparing gift boxes to be sent out to active troops. I watched “We Were Soldiers”, a movie about Viet Nam that was recommended to me by a family member who served there, as the most realistic movie about what it was like to fight there.

Today in 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was opened to the public. Twenty-five years ago and it still touches our hearts. Over 58,000 names and the politicians still haven’t learned.

So, what are doing this weekend? Going to a sale or maybe something else?

"The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my Heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love." - Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Dirge for Two Veterans

Last year around Veterans Day a Hillsborough resident suggested to the Township Committee that they look into having part of the GSA Depot set aside as a veterans’ cemetery and it was acknowledged as a good idea. Whatever happened to that?

Friday, November 9, 2007

What’s in your car?

Reading the police blotter has given me a new outlook on what people keep in their cars: wallets, checkbooks, cash, credit cards, collections of CDs and DVDs, and every manner of electronic equipment including computers loaded with all the information needed to steal enough identities to populate a small country.

And they keep their cars parked outside and unlocked.

Not that my own automobile is empty. One look inside finds my one-of-a-kind collection of towels, blankets, sweatshirts, old newspapers and magazines, umbrellas, empty food wrappers, dog bones, leashes, nonworking flashlights, baseball caps, a snow shovel, gloves, and other debris. And it is safely parked in my garage to protect its contents.

It would take me a while to figure out that anything had been stolen, but any self-respecting thief would bypass my car anyway.

Another vehicle security tip: check your back seat for intruders before you get in your car. Of course, it would only take seconds for a would-be intruder to realize he either couldn’t fit in my back seat or was too proud to get in with all the useful stuff accumulated there.

By the way, I was just talking to a friend who has retired to Colorado and tells me that the local police blotter is called "Busted in Butte." Don't you love a police department with a sense of humor?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Doggie Quality of Life

Our Little Guy, a 12-year-old Yorkie, is going in for surgery tomorrow morning.

The vet is going to check his few remaining teeth, removing any that are too far gone to save and cleaning the rest. Due to Little Guy’s lack of cooperation when we are attempting to groom him, we have asked the vet to also cut his nails while he is under. Even with most of his teeth gone and very little vision left, he can still connect with a pretty solid bite when you try to trim his nails.

But even though the procedures seem relatively simple, they still involve general anesthesia and we have to keep in mind that he is an older dog and not in tip-top condition.

He sometimes has trouble walking and is on medication for urinary incontinence and we put two types of ointment in his eyes. His teeth hurt and he is totally blind in one eye and can see light and some movement out of the other. The aches that he suffers are - so far - controllable.

We’re not sure about how much he can hear. Although he generally ignores us when we call him, he can hear kibble hitting a feed bowl from anywhere in the house.

Like so many pet owners, we have had to begin to think about how much we want to put him through. I have tried putting a dollar figure on it, but that doesn’t work. In the end it comes down to the question: At what point does his quality of life make it not worth living and what constitutes quality of life for a dog?

We have only had him for three years, but that doesn’t make us care less than if we had raised him from a puppy and it doesn’t make the decision any easier.

If we are lucky, the hardest thing about all this may turn out to be telling him he can’t have breakfast tomorrow morning before the surgery.

In order to understand the number of people wrestling with this question Google “dogs quality of life.” I got 17,900,000 hits.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The One-Party System ?

As a result of this week’s elections there will be a one-person change in the membership of the township committee, but it is an important change.

The only Democratic member lost to his Republican challenger by less than fifty votes. Not exactly a thundering mandate, but a win nonetheless.

After January’s reorganization meeting, the committee will be all-Republican and must make every attempt to not be perceived by the residents as not representing all the people.

They must not use their one-party system to make decisions without sincere and public deliberation and debate.

There must not be meeting after meeting filled with page after page of unanimous resolutions.

And, perhaps most important, this is an opportunity for Hillsborough’s mayor to prove that he really believes in “people before politics” when the appointments are made to the boards and commissions.

Will the appointed representatives be the residents best suited to each group or the most politically connected ones? Or will it just be the same old politics before people.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I Voted Today...

I voted today, of course.

In my home, growing up, voting was considered a responsibility of citizenship and an honor. We were Americans - some naturalized and some by birth - and it was something that all good Americans did.

We understood that another American right was the privacy of each voter’s choice. Although upcoming elections were discussed, we didn’t have to tell anyone how we had voted including other family members and I can’t ever remember them asking me how I had voted. To this day I don’t know how my parents were registered to vote although I strongly suspect they were independents – maybe just because in America they could.

They also made sure that we were aware that there were still people in other countries who were still fighting for the rights that so many Americans inexplicably took for granted.

I went to vote today, but I have to admit that it’s getting harder to feel like it makes any difference.

And that makes me sad.

“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves—and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945

Monday, November 5, 2007

Losing to Win

This year it is to the advantage of the Hillsborough Republicans to lose the campaign for the one contested township committee seat.

The only township committee incumbent running for re-election is also the only Democratic on the committee. If he loses, the committee will no longer be two-party and any political consultant worth his salt knows that it’s to the majority party’s benefit to keep at least one minority member on board.

It’s important for the majority party to be able to claim that our committee is representative of all the people because it has members from both parties - that the two-party system works.

Additionally, when something goes wrong (that is to say, makes the voters unhappy for one reason or another) it always helps to have a member of the other party to share the blame. When something goes seriously wrong, the minority member can always be used as a scapegoat. And, conversely, when the minority member does something spectacularly outstanding, the entire committee can take the credit.

Also, the township committee’s current Democratic member has specialized planning knowledge and contacts that would cost the township a lot of money if we had to hire a consultant with the same background.

In the long run the Republicans should lose this one for Hillsborough to come out ahead.

“More important than winning the election is governing the nation.” – Adlai Stevenson, July 26, 1952

“[Social inertia] is often observed in politics, when people consistently vote for one candidate or party out of habit, regardless of whether or not they actually would benefit from that vote.” –

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Caution: Rita Skeeter at Work

This year Hillsborough’s voters are being asked to choose whether to keep their current form of government (a township committee with five members who choose the mayor from among themselves) or to change to a form with a directly-elected mayor and a separate five-member committee.

For years those in Hillsborough against government change have been fighting a so-far losing campaign to prevent the citizens from making this decision. Now, with elections on Tuesday, the people of Hillsborough are finally getting a chance to decide by voting on Question 5: Do you want to change to a mayor-council form or stay with the current township committee?

An anti-change group, apparently unnerved by the possibility of the question passing, has now activated a final all-out well-funded propaganda crusade against question 5.

They have erected “Vote No” signs from one end of town to the other, posted mailers posing as Charter Study Commission (CSC) news, cut-and-pasted bits of videotape from CSC meetings using quotes out of context and then run the results on the local TV station, funded a web site, and had group members and their families, neighbors, and friends send a steady stream of letters to the editor.

They have tried to instill fear in groups in the township from employees (You’ll lose your jobs!), to taxpayers (Taxes will sky rocket!). Playing with statistics is such a timeworn technique that I won’t even bother to go there.

They have even claimed that the new senior citizen center is in jeopardy if the change goes through. [The reasoning behind that one still eludes me. We’re Senior citizens; ergo, we weren’t born yesterday.]

They have returned over-and-over to the “bigger more expensive government cry”. Okay, we would add one part-time mayor, but there is always the possibility that having someone to oversee the township committee that is not a part of it could produce some savings.

If these crusaders were so sure that they were right, they should have been able to logically and rationally explain their position to the voters and then have confidence in the outcome.

This panic-stricken scramble of disinformation leads me to believe there is more here than meets the eye; that there is some really really big reason that the current politicians don’t want this change - and it doesn’t have anything to do with logic.

If question 5 passes, maybe all those who worked so valiantly against it can apply for a job at The Daily Prophet alongside Rita Skeeter

Hillsborough’s own township committee decided that a one-page CSC-designed educational flyer about the proposed change should not be mailed out, under the guise that they were heroes saving taxpayers the cost of mailing it. In actuality, the money was already in the CSC budget and had been there for almost a year.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Hillsborough = Mayberry

Hillsborough Township has been trying to get its 39,000 residents to look decades into the future and to say what they would like to see.

Anticipating the construction of the Route 206 Bypass in some not-too-distant decade, the planning and zoning staffs have run seminars and workshops with title such as Sustainable Hillsborough and the Hillsborough Town Center Design Charette.

They asked what greenery the groups liked and what style of architecture. What material should the sidewalks be and should they be wider and where should the bicycles go and parks and lights and types of businesses and just… everything.

The result of this citizen participation is a small town center near the intersection of Route 206 and Amwell Road invariably referred to as “Main Street”.

Having studied picture after picture of the preferred building designs and parks and sidewalks and landscaping and maps, I can only announce that we have labored mightily and produced – trumpet blast and drum roll, please –Mayberry.

Yes, all this work has designed the Mayberry of Andy Griffith.

Or maybe it more resembles Mayfield, the home of the Cleavers. Or could it be Springfield, where the Anderson’s lived: Jim, Margaret, Betty, Bud, and Kathy. For those whose TV experience is more recent, think of the hometown of Darrin and Samantha Stephens of Bewitched.

We are designing the towns of the 1950s. Could it be that the boomers have overtaken America yet again?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Not That There is Anything Wrong with That...

It’s November and I am still picking tomatoes and planting bulbs. The azaleas and rhododendron are putting out occasional blooms.

Our woodpile is growing as we have had shorter periods during recent winters that are cold enough to justify cozying up to a fire in the fireplace. The old unused wood at the bottom of the pile is rotting.

You can tell which neighbor is hosting the family for Thanksgiving by looking to see who is cutting their grass and cleaning up the yard.

Either my memory is faulty or global warming has come to Central Jersey. I prefer to go with global warming.


“What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring.”
-T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Metal Band-Aid Boxes and Dime Phone Calls

Back in the day when I was a Scout, every troop sooner or later made emergency first-aid kits out of empty Band Aid cans.

Before you youngsters go “Huh?” let me explain about olden-day bandage containers. They were metal. No I don’t know why. No, I don’t remember when they changed from metal to lightweight cardboard. I’m just telling you they used to be metal.

Now, back to these tiny emergency kits. Each kit contained bandages, aspirin, a tweezers, a tiny bottle of iodine, and a few other miscellaneous items that I can't remember, and a dime.

What was the dime for? Well, an emergency telephone call. Yes, you could make a call with a dime, and no one carried cell phones (if they even existed), and there were pay phones on every corner that hadn’t been vandalized into uselessness. Trust me on this.

You know what, this reminiscing was a bad idea. Just trust me: Bandages were sold in little metal containers and you could make a telephone call at a pay phone with a dime.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Silly Signs of the Season

Just in case you haven’t noticed, elections are coming up in just over a month. The signs are everywhere – and I don’t mean signs as in “symbolic evidence,” but real signs. Those irritating cardboard “Vote for Me” miniature billboards that spring up everywhere and reproduce faster than cockroaches.

In the last few years they have become so intrusive and numerous that they are irritating the voters – not the effect the candidates want.

What is this proliferation of signs saying to the voters?

* This candidate has way too much money to spend.
* This candidate has no regard for the appearance of my town.
* This candidate is not discriminating.
* This candidate is wasting his own money and, therefore, will have no problem wasting mine.
* This candidate is very insecure.
* This candidate feels the voters are incredibly stupid and will forget his name if they don’t see it every ten feet.

Well, this voter will remember that candidate’s name when pulling the levers (or pressing the lights) in the voting booth. And that candidate won’t like the results.


Another thing guaranteed to annoy the voters is the automated “Vote For Me” telephone calls or, even worse, the “Don’t vote for my opponent” calls or “Don’t vote for the other party” calls. Unfortunately those “Do Not Call” lists don’t apply to political advertising.

I did receive one call asking for my vote several years ago that I liked so much that I actually voted for the candidate based only on that call. It was a lady running for the Board of Education who made an in-person call asking for my vote. Her pitch went something like this:

“Hi, my name is [Jane Doe] and I am running for the Board of Education and I would really appreciate your vote. I hope that I am not disturbing you and thank you for your time. Do you have any questions that you would like to ask me?”

Despite being stunned by the politeness and personal touch of the entire call, I recovered enough to ask a question about her stand on one item, which she politely answered. But her answer didn’t even matter at that point. She already had my vote.

Friday, September 7, 2007

And Coming in at Number 23 ...

This year Money Magazine’s list of 100 Best Places to Live for small towns included Hillsborough at number 23.

It’s fun to be included in this group, to look through the winning towns’ descriptions, and to see what the magazine has to say about Hillsborough and compare us to the other 99 choices.

Notice that I have used the word “fun.” It’s important to understand that these choices are not objective scientific studies designed by mathematicians and sociologists at recognized universities or research companies.

These largely subjective choices are made by the editors and writers of the magazine’s staff. The 100 change from year to year and are relatively evenly scattered in locations across the United States.

The main reason for the existence of this apparently popular annual feature article is to sell copies of Money Magazine by entertaining its readers with some general information while garnering free advertising for itself. [What a concept!]

Hillsborough puts a moving banner across its website with the Money Magazine name, the magazine's name and logo appear in our online e-news, and a wooden plaque publicizing the list hangs in front of the mayor during the televised meetings. More magazines are sold in the area, its name gets repeated over and over, and reprints are ordered. The same thing is happening in the other 99 towns.

Most of the adults who read the article are realists [or cynics] and understand what is being offered, but there some residents who are acting as though this is a serious scholarly study and are attempting to use the article politically.

With Hillsborough voting on a possible change of government in November, there are those opposing the change who are actually making the argument [ad nauseum] that our citizens should vote to keep our current form of government based on Hillsborough’s rating in Money Magazine. I can’t judge if they are serious or just funnin’ us. It’s scary and pathetic if they’re serious, so I’ll try to believe it’s all in fun.

I believe. I believe. I believe…

In 2005 the list’s top 25 contained Moorestown, Chatham, and Princeton and in 2006 it contained Parsippany-Troy Hills. None of them are on this year. So just have fun with this, let our township officials do some light-hearted boasting, and enjoy the 15 minutes of fame.

Monday, September 3, 2007

No Wards...just June, Wally, and the Beav

Unfortunately no matter which way Hillsborough’s change-of-government vote goes in November, wards will not be part of the result.

I say “unfortunately” because I was a little disappointed when Hillsborough’s residents voted two years ago against a change that, among other things, would have created ward representatives on the township committee.

Why did I support wards?

First, Hillsborough is physically large – 54 square miles – with several very different regions with different needs. Each area would have had its own representative on the township committee. The problems of the Sourland Mountain region can be very different from those of the PUD area.

Second, wards would have given residents who were willing to try government service a manageable way to dip their toes into the political pool. They only would have needed a few hundred signatures to run and could have started off slowly, gaining knowledge and confidence while serving the people of their own district.

Third, the current members of our committee seem to be residentially clustered in one area of the township giving the perception that other areas are underrepresented.

Those honest people who supported the continuation of the township committee form without wards because they sincerely thought it was best for Hillsborough had to have been disappointed that their victory was tainted by a “win” based on an anonymous groups use of an organized misinformation campaign to convince uninformed voters to vote against wards. They would have felt more vindicated if voters who clearly understood both choices voted to continue the current form. Their feeling of accomplishment had to have been tempered by the knowledge that it was not an entirely honestly won fight.

For those of us who liked the ward concept, it would have been easier to accept the “no” vote if the decision had been made by educated voters after careful deliberation based on their knowledge of the true merits and weaknesses of the two forms of government.

But, that is now a moot point. The attack on wards was so devious and thorough that the water in that well has been poisoned and wards are not included in the upcoming Charter Study Commission recommendation.


“There is a right kind and wrong kind of victory, just as there are wars for the right thing and wars that are wrong from every standpoint…” - Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Politics and the County Fair

Most politicians will put politics before people in a New York minute, but not too many politicians have the nerve to put politics before kids – at least not in front of their parents the voters.

But Somerset County’s politicians did just that last Thursday when Governor Corzine arrived to visit the Somerset County 4H Fair. He was introduced to the 4H leaders who had worked hard to make the three days successful and the kids were primed to meet this unknown man while parents and grandparents warmed up their cameras.

But before anything else could happen, the county level politicians in attendance wiggled past the 4H representatives, clustered around the governor, and began to privately bend his ear. Considering the current county level political mess, it’s not hard to guess what they were talking about.

As the minutes ticked by, little kids began squirming while the adults started to mutter to each other that the Governor was there to see the kids and their projects, not other politicians and “those people” could talk to each other anytime. The votes were dropping like flies.

Finally the Governor’s staff disengaged him from the county mendicants and he was able to tour the fair, although a considerable amount of the time that had been allotted to the visit was already wasted.

While politicians and county fairs have gone together for centuries (maybe like ham and eggs?), our county level politicians have got to learn how to play the game or they will lose votes instead of gaining them.

And the politicians should have remembered that they were the guests of the 4H.


As a side note, although the would-be politicians at the Fair were trying to get their names before the voters, they should not have pushed their way into every family-oriented picture with t-shirts blaring their slogans. Use some self-control; we have had little enough of that recently.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Somerset County 4H Fair

Last week I attended all three days of the Somerset County 4H Fair and it still wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted.

While I petted ducklings, snakes, rabbits, sheep, goats, llamas, and cows, I missed out on holding a newly hatched chick. I watched model airplanes fly and go karts race, but I missed the rocket launches and the radio control cars. I met a man who carved wood into beautiful pieces of art and a blacksmith, but I didn’t have a chance to have my name written in Chinese calligraphy or watch double Dutch jump rope or make jewelry or decorate a clothespin clip or run a big piece of machinery or make a print.

But I did have the chance to meet hundreds of members of the 4H family; kids with an incredible depth of knowledge about their projects and who are polite and patient when they explain the work they have done. And what work it is! They invite you to peruse their project books – binders where they have recorded each step in words and pictures.

When their projects involve animals they have done it all: cleaned, trained, mucked stalls, everything. Those who work with the farm animals have a better understanding of the food chain than many adults and know the end result of the market lamb auction or where those cute chicks are going to be in eight weeks; they know about birth and death.

The club members who work with mechanical items – trains, planes, vehicles of all types – don’t just pull it out of a box and play with it. These kids know how they work, how to fix them, how to maintain them, and how to build and personalize them; they respect what is behind each item.

When it comes to crafts they are tactful and clear while talking you through a simple project, hoping to spread their enthusiasm and knowledge.

The 4H has a depth of intergenerational family participation that isn’t often found these days. The kids aren’t just dropped off and picked up at club meetings, but their families are enthusiastic, encouraging, helpful, and involved; people who are making more than projects. They are making the strong extraordinary adults of the future.

And they helped me make memories. Next year I am definitely trying the Bubble Tea. And trying a new craft. And holding a newly hatched chick.

Go to and look through the three galleries of 4H Fair pictures.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Caution - Wet Cement

Hillsborough claims to be encouraging pedestrian friendly planning, but you can’t prove it by me. I am fed up with Hillsborough's pedestrian un-friendly sidewalks.

How do you make a sidewalk pedestrian unfriendly? You irrigate it. Yes, one of the most amazing aspects of Hillsborough’s pedestrian friendly walkways is the irrigated sidewalk.

And exactly how does one design an irrigated sidewalk?

A homeowner decides to have a lawn irrigation system installed. When the system is finished it has sprinkler heads not only in the main lawn, but also between the sidewalk and the curb spraying across the public sidewalk.

No, I don’t know why the irrigation installers do that, I don’t know why the homeowners agree to it, and I really don’t understand why Hillsborough allows it.

First, it’s a waste of water to irrigate cement. Second, you have got to somehow be undermining the walkways by running the piping under the cement slabs. Third, what if repairs are needed in a part of the irrigation system under the sidewalk? Fourth, you are installing the piping and the spray heads in the public easement, which is going to be a pain in the neck when the time comes that the township or a public utility has to do any work along the roadway or the sidewalk. And the homeowners who have installed these marvels of irrigation will complain like crazy when they discover the township does have the right to rip up the system if any work is needed in the easement.

Now, moving beyond the stupidity of the entire design, what about the pedestrians who are attempting to use the irrigated public sidewalk. If the system is already on, the hapless pedestrian – possibly accompanied by a pram or a dog - can choose to walk through the shower or walk out into the street.

Unless it happens to turn on just as the pedestrian is in range and just gets unexpectedly soaked. Maybe they are designed that way, with some kind of built-in motion detector for the amusement of the homeowner and the installers.

It seems as though plain old common sense would suggest that you do not install lawn irrigation systems that spray across public sidewalks.

I knew here was a catch. It involves common sense.

I can see a statute coming about not putting irrigation heads in the easements or aimed to spray across public walkways. I predict that the homeowners who are intent on irrigating their sidewalks will blame the radical pedestrian-loving politicians. They may even accuse them of being (horrors) tree-huggers or green-friendly.

When you walk out onto the street to avoid the spray, you often discover these same homeowners have their cars parked on the road thus forcing you to walk in the lane of travel. [I can only guess they don’t want their cars to get wet.]

Sometime we will discuss homeowners who park their cars in their driveways but across (blocking) the sidewalks. We will save this discussion for another time. I have to go get a towel. The dog is still wet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Politics Before People

The American two-party system pretty much doesn’t work any more. It’s broken and the Republican and Democratic politicians broke it when they started representing their parties and not their constituents.

Back “in the day”, if a politician represented a farming district his first obligation was to farmers; urban area representatives stood for urban interests, etc. No matter what party they belonged to, all the farming-district reps stood together, all the city-district reps stood together. You could tell what type of constituents a politician had by how he voted and his committee assignments.

Looking at the platforms of today’s politicians doesn’t give a clue what the interests of their districts and constituents are, but you sure know their party affiliation.

Is there any practical way to give the two-party sytem back to the citizens?

A start might be nonpartisan elections, but recent Hillsborough “nonpartisan” elections such as the Board of Education and the Charter Study Commission have shown we simply end up with party regulars running, quietly (and financially) supported by their parties. All that changes is the lack of a party affiliation listed on the ballot.

The rise of independent politicians might help, although I have no clue how they would finance any but the most local contests. Maybe if independents start winning local contests and proving themselves to their constituents they may eventually work their way up without becoming part of the old system.

The two major parties are much too entrenched to suggest they disband and we start again, but one hopes [0ne can always hope.] that there are at least some Republican or Democratic idealists who are trying to work from within to bring back representation of the people.

If the current two-party system doesn’t change – from the local elections on up - I fear for America as a democracy.

- Susan Gulliford

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hillsborough's Kulaks

The Founding Fathers designed our federal government with three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Each branch was assigned certain powers with this separation of powers designed to create a series of checks and balances preventing one branch from taking over the country.

One of the forms of government under consideration by our Charter Study Commission would involve a directly elected mayor [Executive Branch] and a council [Legislative Branch], thus adding a form of checks-and-balances lacking in our current form.

Unfortunately some local residents are opposing this basic tenet of The Constitution, with one forum poster disdainfully referring to the CSC as “hiding the divided, separated branches of government, with separate staffs, accountable to the separate branches of government.” Why would they hide one of the major doctrines of United States democracy?

The only argument these anti-Constitutionalists have made against this mayor-council form of government is the possible cost of separate branches. I guess those old Patriots were just a little shortsighted, right?

For those who need a refresher course in this divided sovereignty, please reread The Constitution: Article 1 - Legislative Power, Article 2 – Executive Power, and Article 3 – Judicial Power.

Considering what is going on in Washington, I can understand the confusion of a few Hillsborough residents about The Constitution.

In the best American tradition I tried to come up with an acronym for the anti-Constitutionalists, but I could only come up with Hillsborough Anti-Constitution Kulaks (HACKs). Any other suggestions?

kulak: n. A prosperous peasant in czarist Russia. Wikipedia has an interesting entry on kulaks, including "relatively wealthy peasants in the Russian Empire who owned larger farms and used hired labour....the creation of a group of prosperous farmers who would support the Tsar's government...".

Friday, July 13, 2007

Having Your (COAH) Cake...

Consider these two COAH applications recently heard before two different township boards.

A Weston Road developer is requesting permission from the Planning Board to convert 14 already constructed COAH two-and-three bedroom rental units in his 185-unit age-restricted development to COAH for-sale units, testifying that there is no demand for COAH rentals.

Another developer has applied to the Board of Adjustment to construct an apartment house containing 84 COAH rental units off Route 206 on Campus Drive.

Both developers have presumably studied the COAH market, but somehow come out with vastly different results. The Weston Road builder testified that he has been unable rent out his 14 affordable units – no one wants them. The Route 206 developer apparently has demographic and marketing information showing that he can easily rent out 84 affordable units.

Now, if the Route 206 builder gets approval, builds the building, Hillsborough gets the COAH credits, and then the builder can’t rent out the units, what happens? Can the builder “take back” his affordable offer and change them to market-price rentals or for-sale condos? Does Hillsborough just lose its credits or is there some penalty involved?

So who is going to decide if the COAH rental market is there or not? The developers?

Uh-oh. I think we're in trouble.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

You've Got Snail Mail...Maybe

According to an article in this morning's newspaper, due to rising costs mail deliveries could be cut back from six days a week to five or even less. Or the recipient may have to go pick their mail up or pay extra for home delivery.

From the tone of the piece I was given to understand that I – and all Americans – should meet this news with maybe not horror, but at least dismay. After a moments reflection I realized that I wasn’t even mildly upset.

The loss of a day’s mail delivery wouldn’t really impact my life as these days there is nothing that I receive in my daily mail that would make a big difference if it came a day or two or even three later. And it wasn’t that long ago that residents of some local villages had to go to the post office to pick up their mail.

Additionally, I no longer wait for the mail, anticipating a card or a letter or an invitation to a special event. Most of my mail is junk mail interlaced with an occasional bill or bank statement with more and more of my day-to-day personal communications arriving via email.

In fact, these days tell me I’m going to get my email delivered only five days a week and then you might get a dismayed reaction or I may even react with horror.


Reminiscing about mail delivery, I know that it came twice a day when I was young, but the switch to one delivery a day didn’t even register with me.

I remember when the mail was delivered to our door – either through a mail slot or placed in the mailbox hanging on the side of the house next to the door. In the early 70s I moved into a small village that didn’t have home delivery and had to go to the post office to pick up my mail from my post office box. When I lived in a townhouse we went out to our community mailbox next to the parking lot to get our mail from our individual boxes. In our later houses we had rural-style boxes along the road, the way we have now.

My father was a mailman through most of the 1950s. They weren’t mail carriers then, they were all mailmen because they were all men. They walked, carrying a leather mailbag over their shoulders, and I never remember him wearing shorts. And he had Wednesdays off.


Actually I just thought of a downside to delayed mail delivery. My habit of mailing cards at the last minute could mean friends and family will get their greetings even later than they already do and my excuses will stretch even thinner and thinner.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Don't You Hear the Whistle Blowing?

The first house I ever owned – several decades ago – backed onto railroad tracks. It’s what I could afford. A few trains a day went by and it wasn’t long before the noise blended in with my day-to-day life.

The trains never came to my attention again until a few years later when I tried to sell the house and discovered that there were a lot of picky homebuyers out there who did not want to live next to a railroad. I finally sold the house to a local who knew about the trains and didn’t care; he was buying an investment rental.

This past winter Hillsborough’s Board of Adjustment began hearing an application for a proposed 7-home subdivision along a railroad track. While none of the nearby neighbors objected to the development itself, they protested vociferously about the possible loss of the property’s woods that serve to partially buffer them from the trains traveling behind their houses and the bells and lights of the nearby railroad crossing.

One of the residents commented that when he bought his house he had been told there was only about one train a day. The board laughed. The attorney’s laughed. The press laughed. And, bitterly, the local residents laughed.

With today’s disclosure laws, the sellers will probably have to be upfront about the amount of train traffic behind these proposed single-family 3200 to 3500 square foot homes.

Unless the Board can find some reason to deny the application, good luck to the new owners and we all hope they purchase these homes with their eyes and especially their ears wide open.


Hillsborough’s growing transload facility and the township’s plan for a transit village encouraging passenger train service can only increase the numbers of trains.


I’m not sure where American literature [maybe through the first half of the twentieth century] came by the legend of the romance of the train – the whistle across the plains making the protagonist wonder about the rest of the world. Maybe it had something to do with the train not being in their back yard or the fact that most of the locals would never travel further than their county seat making train travel only an exotic dream.


"...Don't you hear the whistle blowing?
Rise up so early in the morn..." - from I've Been Working on the Railroad.

It seemed like such fun when you sang this in second grade.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Graduation Past and Present

Thursday evening was Hillsborough High School’s graduation. All over town orders for special cakes and cookies went out and “Congratulations Graduate” balloons floated off mailboxes.

Okay, congratulations graduates.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but that’s it. The juniors have moved up into your exalted senior position. Summer will pass and September will come and it will not be like the Septembers you remember for the past thirteen years. Life will move on.

Now, all you members of the Class of 2007 are excused. You old guys keep reading – you know who you are.

All you past grads – no matter how long ago or from what high school – should now take a few minutes to dust off and look through your high school yearbooks.

First you are allowed to laugh about the hairstyles, the glasses, the boy’s ties, and whatever else strikes your fancy. [Now you know why your parents and teachers encouraged you to buy a yearbook.]

Now look again at how hopeful you all look, all your futures ahead of you. Study the list of careers you were certainly going to have: teacher, doctor, engineer, nurse, police officer, soldier, and maybe a few jobs that don’t even exist anymore. Did anyone say they wanted to be a mail carrier or a garbage collector or a house painter or a cashier? These are all honorable jobs that are needed in our society and provide the incomes to support families, but we never close our eyes at seventeen and picture ourselves as being the ones doing them for the next fifty years.

Read the printed comments below your picture – the ones you submitted never considering that they would follow you for the rest of your life. Now look at the comments that the yearbook staff assigned to you – you know, the popular kids who didn’t even know you. Read the comments written by the kids who were going to be your friends forever.

Remember, for just a minute, the classmates who have died. They are still alive in your memories.

What did you think was going to happen for the rest of your life? Were you realistic when you were seventeen? I wasn’t, but I don’t want to tell that to this week’s grads. I want them to be idealistic for a while yet. To think, for at least a few years, that they can do it all.


In the interest of full disclosure my yearbook has “Carpe Diem” as a quote, says I will be a future journalist [Does blogging count?], and lists me as conservative [Huh?!].


The graduation ceremony memory for this year’s Hillsborough class will involve the weather. It began sprinkling as the class filed onto the field. Everyone sang the National Anthem. The clouds got darker, the rain got harder, thunder rumbled, and everyone fled back into the High School. After about a half-hour of pouring rain, the clouds cleared, the sun came out, and a double rainbow appeared as the class proceeded back to the field to complete the ceremony.

After the ceremony (Commencement speeches about how far they have come and how far they will go, diplomas, beach balls, hat toss), as we pulled out of the parking lot, another thunderstorm hit.

There’s a life-lesson here somewhere for the graduates, that they may understand in thirty or forty years if they are lucky.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day (Traditional)

Today is the day that I choose to mark Memorial Day.

I don’t go quite far enough back to call it Decoration Day, but I am old enough to remember when this was the day families went to cemeteries and checked on loved-ones’ graves, paying special attention to those with small American flags signifying a veteran’s gravesite. When was it that Memorial Day became a chance to have a three-day weekend and hit the stores for the sales? It is now with surprise that I note some calendars still have “Traditional Memorial Day” written on them on May 30th.

Hillsborough commemorated Memorial Day on Saturday with a hometown parade that was an old-fashioned blend of flags, scouts, sports teams, a beauty queen, fire trucks and ambulances, and the High School Marching Band. Following the parade there was a service at the Municipal Building’s Garden of Honor with the placing of wreaths, firing of a salute, singing of Amazing Grace, and the playing of Taps. Then was the community picnic.

But first, early in the morning before the parades and the public celebrations, the Township paid tribute to Hillsborough’s Veteran’s at a breakfast given in their honor.

The room was filled with neighbors who had always seemed familiar to me, but suddenly I didn’t seem to know them at all. Up until that moment they were the people who move anonymously around us all: they are in line when we check out of a store, they work at local businesses, they are police officers and firemen, members of the rescue squad, politicians, nurses, they can be anyone you meet.

Each veteran present, from those who served during World War II to those currently serving, stood – some less steadily than others - and gave their names, their service branch, where they served and what they did.

These people talking about their experiences suddenly turned into people I didn’t recognize, heroes who left the comfort of their homes to serve their country in one capacity or another.

You should have been there. You should have been there.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Rutgers: The State Athletic Association

A university is an institution of higher learning and students theoretically attend one to learn stuff. You know, academic stuff.

Rutgers is theoretically a university. It has recently fielded some winning sports teams and consequently increased the amount of money it has been pouring into its athletic programs, contending that successful sports programs bring more students to the school.

Okay. So what they are saying is that out there is a budding physicist thinking, “Wow, the Rutgers football team is doing really well. I think I should put that school high on the list of colleges I want to attend. And look at all the money and perks their coaches are getting. Just imagine the caliber of their professors!”

A future doctor is watching the women’s basketball team win and saying, “Mom, Dad, let’s go look at Rutgers pre-med program! If they are supporting their coaches to the tune of $2 million a year each just think what they must be paying their professors!”

And I can only imagine that future artists - writers, photographers, painters, poets, sculptors – are watching the winning teams and feeling so inspired that they are moving Rutgers up to the top of their college lists.



Unfortunately we all know this “athletics before academics” attitude doesn’t start at the university level.

This being a Hillsborough blog lets take it down to the high school level. There are many many residents who can tell you how many professional football players Hillsborough High School has produced; some even know them by name and current team affiliation.

Ask if they know how many physicists or doctors the school has produced and you get a blank look. How many artists or teachers? Any profession or career not sports-related? Blank, blank, and blank.

And this isn’t even Texas.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

We Have Met the Poor and They are Us

The Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), established by the Fair Housing Act of 1985, created an obligation for all New Jersey towns to provide for low- and moderate-income housing. These obligations are a hot button issue in many towns including Hillsborough.

After all, put in low-income or moderate-income housing and the next thing you know “they,” those unknown poor people, will be moving into your town, your neighborhood, and maybe even your block.

Simultaneously, residents are sadly shaking their heads because their children, new to the working world, maybe fresh out of college, can’t afford to buy homes in Hillsborough. Senior family members and neighbors have to give up their homes as the school taxes force them out.

Why is there a disconnect between these two thoughts? Maybe “they” are your grandparents, your parents, or your children who could be moving into the COAH units in your neighborhood.

Maybe the concept of “poor” in Hillsborough is relative in more than one way.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Misinformation Miasma

Recently I was in a small business in town and I asked the owner what she thought about the Charter Study Commission’s work and the possibility of a change of government in Hillsborough.

Well… she was aware of the CSC (unlike many of Hillsborough’s residents) and she was upset because if they changed Hillsborough’s form of government all heck was going to break loose. All the ordinances and zoning would change and it would cost hundreds-of-thousands of dollars and there would be no responsibility to the voters and if we voted in a mayor and didn’t like him we would be stuck with that person for years … and the sky is falling, the sky is falling.

When she finally paused, I asked where on earth she had heard all that? She has a customer involved in all that political stuff who “knows the truth”.

Trying to be the voice of reason, I pointed out that all ordinances wouldn’t change, just the few that needed to be reworded or updated to reflect the new form of government. Zoning wouldn’t change if we had an elected mayor or a manager. While we could be stuck with an elected mayor we didn’t like, we could – under our current form of government - get a council-appointed mayor we didn’t like. No one could judge the cost without knowing what the change was.

She listened politely [I am a regular customer] and reluctantly conceded that okay maybe those things wouldn’t change, but it was obvious that in her heart she believed that, for the most part, horrible things were going to happen if we changed our government to any form other than the one we have now.

It is apparent that an anonymous Hillsborough cabal has made it their mission to run a misinformation campaign that started even before the CSC members were sworn in. They work through individual contacts, repeated anonymous postings on Hillsborough-related forums including personal attacks on the duly elected CSC members, and disrupting websites that attempt to provide neutral educational material on the alternate forms of government available to Hillsborough.

This campaign has involved name-calling, causing alarm amongst the residents, threats of multi-million dollar tax increases, and unfavorable comparisons with the governments of large urban towns in New Jersey. They are convincing residents that any changes will mean soaring township costs, no responsibility to the voters, changes in all the ordinances and zones - always for the worse, and [one of the most bizarre] the entire municipal government – staff, commissions, boards, volunteers, employees - will cease to exist at midnight, December 31st of the year the change occurs throwing the entire town into disarray.

We can only hope that through citizen education Hillsborough residents will begin to recognize tactics that are so obviously outrageous they will be seen as the desperate schemes they are.

This has gone beyond misinformation and become the worst of politics and power.


miasma: 1.- A poisonous atmosphere once believed to rise from swamps and cause disease. 2. – A harmful influence (Webster’s II Dictionary).

Monday, May 7, 2007

Hillsborough's Website Whimsy

The Hillsborough Township Website includes a spot where various pictures of the township slowly fade in and out: the old church at Amwell and Main, barns and silos, the Garden of Honor at the Municipal Building.

They are beautiful verdant pictures, but I am not sure they represent most of Hillsborough as it currently exists and I have been pondering why they were chosen.

Are we proud of our past and not our present? Are we embarrassed by our current landscape? Is there something wrong with townhouses or condominiums, or the towers, or Route 206? Will pictures of our high school remind prospective residents of our soaring school taxes? Are photographs of strip malls so universal that they don’t speak of Hillsborough in particular?

If strangers saw those and came here to visit they would think they were in the wrong town. Maybe it’s time to do some updating.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Simple Bathroom Update

We have finally decided to update one of our bathrooms. [Those of you who have been through recent home improvement projects can stop laughing now!]

Even though we aren’t going to start this project for a few months, our contractor suggested we take a trip to the local bath decorating center, see what is out there, what’s new, what we like and dislike, and what these modern marvels cost (gasp!).

Geez! The prices!

It’s a bathroom for Pete’s sake! You use it for… well, you know…and reading and working on the crossword puzzle. And not, in this case, even a bathroom that will, for the most part, be seen by anyone outside the family.

Within a half-hour of entering the store, we both developed headaches. We thought we remembered going into a home-improvement store and saying, “I want one of these and two of these, and, oh yeah, a medicine cabinet with a mirror, and this. Okay, anything else? How much?”

Instead we wandered through dozens of model bathrooms containing equipment we would never put in our bathroom even if we could afford it or figure out how it works.

We are much too practical for current decorating trends or trendy decorating. When I see glass showers I picture trying to clean the watermarks off. When I look at a fancy bowled sink on a gorgeous wooden dresser, I wonder how you get the toothpaste from under the bowl and how the wood is affected by water. Will I be able to fix the new toilet if it involves anything more involved than bending the little float thing to stop it from running?

We finally fled the store with a handful of pamphlets that we could study in relative privacy – maybe in the bathroom.


I have just realized that our contractor has worked on our house before and knows our lifestyle and probably deliberately suggested that particular bathroom decorating store so that when he gives us the final figure for our regular standard bathroom stuff it will look downright cheap.

While walking around the fancy bathroom fixtures I just couldn’t bring myself to ask how some of the stuff works. Do the employees have a breakroom where they exchange stories about the rube who couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet or adjust the water temperature in the NASA-designed shower?

I was going to call this "Part I", because you know there will be more on this in the future. But I resisted the urge.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hillsborough Government: Good Enough?

Hillsborough residents are in the midst of considering a change in our form of government from the current 5-member Township Committee.

Presently, the voters elect the committee members and then – at the January reorganization meeting - the members “vote” on which one of them will be the next Mayor and the next Deputy Mayor. Within minutes of this “vote” engraved nameplates with the names and new positions on them magically appear on the podium. [It has been suggested that they have a tiny little engraver hidden in the back room.]

As it is obvious that the designated mayor will be a member of the committee’s majority party, it can make for some interesting committee-appointed mayors. For example, there is the distinct possibility that our next mayor will be a person who has resided in Hillsborough something like three years and has had no discernible previous political experience simply because this person is a member of the majority and the others have already taken their turn.

Well, to return to the possible change in Hillsborough’s government…

After a lot of partisan fighting [which I don’t have the time or patience to cover here] the voters chose five people as members of a Charter Study Commission to analyze the forms of government available to Hillsborough, including our present form, and make a recommendation to the voters about our future form of government – keeping what we already have or a new form. We will then vote yes or no on their recommendation.

[Now that I think about that statement, if they recommend no change what happens? A vote of confidence? A vote that we have noted their recommendation? Hmmm.]

Although there may not be anything intrinsically wrong with our current form of government, I can’t believe that the same way we ran a bunch of farms over two hundred years ago can be an effective way to successfully govern a suburban bedroom town of 38,000 residents.

The current form may be good enough, but there may be a better or a best still waiting to be discovered and implemented.


It turned out that many confused residents already thought they were directly voting for Mayor and have said they would like to vote for Mayor. If nothing else, we can only hope that Hillsborough’s citizens become more educated about their government.

It would be great to have an anthropologist study this entire Hillsborough Charter Study Commission experience and publish a book.

Recently someone suggested putting all the involved politicians and their followers into the Dr. Phil House and letting them fight it out with Dr. Phil attempting to moderate. That suggestion has a certain amount of charm.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Corzine's Support (?) Staff

Following New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s motor vehicle accident last week, the list of his injuries included a compound fracture of his left leg. The national media noted that our last three governors have suffered broken legs.

Now, these injuries didn’t have anything to do with The Sopranos despite what residents of the other 49 states may think. It probably doesn’t have to do with our superfund sites or something in the NJ water affecting their bones. If memory serves me, Whitman broke her leg skiing, McGreevey fell down a sand dune, and Corzine had his car accident. [Those are our stories here in NJ and we’re sticking by them!]

The day after Corzine had his accident, while he was unconscious and in the midst of multiple surgeries for a long list of serious injuries, I was amazed to see his spokesperson at a news conference say that the Governor would be back at work in a week. The media was amazed to hear that assessment. Doctors were amazed although at least one was kind enough to point out that the spokesperson did not have a medical degree.

A week later Corzine was still basically unconscious and not breathing on his own, but the next day (this past Friday) he was finally coming back into consciousness. Over the weekend he was able to respond to questions by nodding his head, soooo….

His staff (remember them? The guys that are supposed to be on his side?) now claimed that he would be able to work from his bed shortly wherever that bed would be – the hospital, the governor’s mansion, his apartment in Hoboken.

Everyone was amazed again – press, doctors, etc. Now that he is conscious, I wonder if Corzine was also astonished to hear that he is all better and just about able to go back to work.

Let me just remind you again in case you forgot. These guys are on his staff. They are on his side.


Richard Codey is our acting Governor again, the first time being when McGreevey retired. I actually learned how to do a write-in vote during our last gubernatorial election, so I could vote for him. One of Codey’s first reactions to becoming Acting Governor again was that he couldn’t go out in the morning in his pajamas to get his newspaper.

You gotta love New Jersey!


Please notice that I didn’t say anything about the Governor not wearing his seatbelt or his driver speeding 91 mph with the emergency lights on when there was no emergency. I just wanted you to notice that I didn’t point that out.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The DIY TV Painting Miracle

Although I find shows such as Mission Organization, Clean Sweep, Flip This House, and Designed to Sell fascinating, I am confused by the amount of work they manage to do in (usually) two days.

Let’s take something simple: painting interior walls. The perpetrators of these shows pick out paint, do minimal preparation, apply the paint under less than desirable conditions, and all seem to be working with homeowners who have never touched a paintbrush. In one or two days they finish a perfect job.

At our homestead, picking out the color can take a few weeks.

First there are the trips to all the major paint dealers in the Hillsborough area, comparing such items as price, coupons, coverage, and warranties, and possibly narrowing it to at least one manufacturer and/or store.

Then we each pick out a color, but it’s never the same one. We finally settle on the color and start the struggle over the exact hue and, then, how many gallons we need to buy.

The paint cans and the home maintenance books always warn us about the thorough preparation that must be done before the first brush touches the wall: taking off all the switch plates, taking down the pictures and anything else hanging on the walls and filling the nail holes, and patching any damage or nail pops. On television they seem to just blithely paint over everything on the walls including the old wallpaper.

We carefully read the instructions on the cans regarding temperature and humidity. On TV they paint in all conditions and as for waiting for any amount of time between coats (if they even put on a second coat) – hah!

And what is with them painting in one room while the floor guys are sanding in the next room? And who the heck are all these people who have never painted a wall?

And yet, inexplicably, when they complete the job it’s perfect. At our house that’s the time when we discover that the finished color isn’t exactly what we wanted after all and have to decide how long we can live with it.


Some real-life painting hints: Read the instructions on the can before you drip paint all over them. The older you get the smaller they print the instructions on the can. Vacuum the cobwebs off the walls before you start [Not that we have any cobwebs at our house, someone else told me that hint. Honest.]. No matter how thoroughly you clean the brushes they will never be the same next time you paint (which will be several years down the road), so don’t buy really expensive ones, just throw them out when you are done.