Hidden Gems of South Jersey

There is no doubt that I am a proud life-long resident of Southern New Jersey.  Thus, I’m constantly finding myself getting into debates with, not only outsiders, but fellow Garden Staters when they say “There’s nothing to do in South Jersey.”  Are you kidding me bro???

This is just not acceptable to me.  We’re all familiar with the shore points, the miles of boardwalks and the tourist trap known as Atlantic City.  But there’s so much more to do and see in our little section of New Jersey that very few are even aware of.  So I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorite “lesser known” South Jersey attractions for your viewing pleasure.  Without further a due, I present to you:  My Top Ten South Jersey “Hidden Gems”…

The Cohanzick Zoo's white tigers.  Picture courtesy of www.co.cumberland.nj.us

The Cohanzick Zoo’s white tigers. Picture courtesy of http://www.co.cumberland.nj.us

1.   The Cohanzick Zoo:  Yes, the grandiose Philadelphia Zoo is only a hop, skip and jump across the Schuykill River from South Jersey.  However, for those of us that do not have a full eight-hour day available to tour the 42 acre zoo, the Cohanzick Zoo is a more quaint, less costly option.  Nestled off an unpaved road in Bridgeton City Park, this 15 acre zoo immerses its guests into the animal’s natural habitat throughout its walking trails.  One of Cohanzick’s most famous residents are their gorgeous white tigers, Esor and Erik.  The zoo is open year round hosts numerous educational events for zoo-goers of all ages.  I’ve been to this zoo countless times and each time I revisit, there is always something new to see or do.

The Tooth

The tooth fairy may need a crane for this one!

2.  Grounds for Sculpture:  If contemporary art mixed with a hearty helping of nature is what you are looking for, Grounds for Sculpture is right up your alley.  The 42 acre park boasts over 270 world famous sculptures, each strategically placed along its grassy hills and fields for optimal viewing pleasure.  Set in the former location of The New Jersey State Fairgrounds, the park was founded in 1992 and opened to the public in 2000.  Guests can dine at the park’s Monet-inspired Rat’s Restaurant, attend artist lectures and hands-on workshops or simply stroll the trails in search of inspiration.  The artwork even spills out off-grounds alongside Hamilton’s streets.  It’s especially difficult to not notice the life-like sculptures frozen in time or the gigantic tooth leading up to the train station.

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Camping, canoeing, hiking and more can easily be found in the Pine Barrons.

3.  The Pine Barrens:  One of the most ideal locations for tourists in search of, not only nature, but history as well.   The Pine Barrens, aka The Pinelands, is a federally protected densely wooded area spread across 7 counties.  The Pine Barrens is home to all sorts of wildlife including deer, geese and the infamous Jersey Devil.  Activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing make the Pine Barrens an ideal family vacation destination.

Photo courtesy of visitjersey.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.visitjersey.com

4. Downtown Collingswood:  A great place to spend a relaxing afternoon browsing the line up of antique trinket and book stores or, if you prefer, simply people watching from a cafe window while sipping on a hot Cup O’ Joe. There is just something about strolling down Haddon Avenue in Downtown Collingswood that really puts your mind and soul at ease. The atmosphere is upbeat, yet relaxed. Shop owners and patrons alike are friendly and very willing to stop and chat with those they meet.   I’ll admit, I am quite partial to this area especially due to my love for food.  Downtown Collingswood boasts over 50 restaurants serving almost every type of cuisine you could imagine!

5.  Cowtown Rodeo:  When most people think of New Jersey and its residents, rarely does a 10 gallon hat and steer roping come to mind.  Surprisingly, South Jersey houses more than its fair share of cowboys and, of course cowgirls, who meet weekly at Cowtown Rodeo to show off their riding and roping talents.  This action packed weekly spectacle showcases riders from all over the world barrel racing, bull riding, steer roping and much more.  But wait, the fun doesn’t stop there!  During the day on Tuesdays and Saturdays their HUGE farmers market is open to the public to shop local vendor’s wares or purchase a chicken or two at the livestock auction.  Definitely a great family-friendly attraction worth checking out!

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Quick Buffalo chicken tacos

After this week’s detox I am so making these!

write meg!

Buffalo chicken tacos

I’ve had exactly zero cravings for sweets during this pregnancy . . . but Buffalo wing sauce?

Forget about it.

Baby J is all about the spicy, savory, salty and hot. Though I won’t typically turn down a dessert, I’m much more likely to lose myself in a bag of chips than a slice of cake. And if those chips are flavored with jalapenos? Well.

My husband hails from the Buffalo area, so I guess we’re predisposed to love the food of his native land. But even before he’d convinced me to really embrace all things wing sauce, I was a fan. And these days? If we’re not making this chili, I’m adding Frank’s RedHot to sour cream and mayo to make our own quick dip.

I think I have a problem.

A good friend shared this recipe for Buffalo chicken tacos with me on Monday and, by Wednesday…

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Making (and losing) Friends

We upgraded our accounting software at work to the latest edition today.The upgrade required me to contact customer service and, like most, I literally cringe any time calling customer service is needed.  Regardless, I put my big-girl pants on and called.  To my surprise, I was connected with one of the most funny, smart and charismatic people I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with. The total upgrade took just under 3 hours since our company file was so large. However, my rep made it feel like it took 15 minutes…tops!

Her name was Hannah Jo and she lives in the Philippines with her mom and brother. She just graduated, but the only work she could find there was a night job at the call center. She likes Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Her favorite cartoon character is the Minion from Despicable Me, and she drew a picture of one for me remotely. She enjoys the bar scene and playing baccarat at the casino.

We had lunch/dinner together and chatted like we had known each other for years! When the installation was over, I truly felt like I was saying good-bye forever to a long time bff:( Good looking out Hannah Jo, there aren’t many people out there that can avoid my bitchy rants and impatience when it comes to tech calls, you truly deserve a gold sticker!!!!

Hand drawn Minion art courtesy of Hannah Jo.

Hand drawn Minion art courtesy of Hannah Jo.

On the flip side: Last night did not go as well.   I went to my friend, Chrissy’s house with the intention of working on marketing material for our small side business.  That turned into a complete bust.  Her dog ended up biting our other friend, Melissa’s son.  Then, my best friend of 20 years, who I haven’t seen in almost 6 months, also stopped by in the midst of the dog bite drama.  He looked like hell.  He has battled, off and on again, with addiction to miscellaneous drugs throughout the past 5 years and last I had heard he was clean…Wrong-O!!!

I will be the first person to admit, I am no saint.  I have had my fair share of partying in my younger days and have done things that I am not so proud of.  However, I thank God every single day that I was not cursed with an addictive personality, thus saving me from the evils of drug addiction.  I hate drugs.  I hate what drugs have done to so many people I love & care about.

It was only 6 months and I barely recognized him when I answered the door.  Who was this person with the stubble-covered sunken in cheeks?  What happened to my clean-cut, charmer of a friend I once had?  He looked frail and dirty.  I knew instantly he was using again.

I didn’t want to make a scene in front of my girlfriends, so I decided to just ignore the elephant in the room and talk to him later, in private, about his obvious condition.  This plan pretty much went to hell in a hand basket somewhere around my 3rd glass of wine and his 45th minute of twitching endlessly at the kitchen table.  Constantly mumbling some gibberish and  nonstop itching, jumping up and down, moving the chair back and forth.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I flipped.

I scolded him in front of our friends.  I yelled at him and called him out as if I were the parent and he was my teenage son who just got caught sneaking out of the house after curfew.  I embarrassed him.   I was so wrong in so many ways, but I just couldn’t hold in my anger or disgust any longer.  How could he show up here like this?  How did he think I would react?  Did he think I was stupid and wouldn’t notice???

With all the drama of the evening, we called it an early night around 10.  I cried my eyes out the entire drive home.  Partially because I felt guilty for calling him out in front of everyone, but mostly because it broke my heart to see my dear friend like that and to not be able to do anything to make it better.

I sent him a text this morning apologizing for my outburst and letting him know that I would not be a part of his life if he continues to use.  I just can’t deal with the lies and the sneaking around.  The same scenario runs through my head over and over again; getting that phone call, that dreaded phone call, telling me he finally OD’d or was found in an alley somewhere dead.  Call me weak, call me selfish, but I will not stand by and watch someone I love slowly kill themselves.

Am I wrong?

Workplace Karma or That Time My Coworker Sharted

Whelp, it has finally happened. The day I’ve dreaded, yet known was inevitable for the past 3 years: My male coworker SHARTED in his pants.

I felt kinda bad for the guy. It just happened out of nowhere. There were no warning signs.  He was just sitting there at the afternoon meeting taking notes and minding his own business, then BAM….he messed himself.

The fact that he got about 6″ air off his seat when the implosion occurred made it sort of impossible to deny the source of the raw sewage stench that followed. Needless to say he was quite embarrassed, especially when everyone was running from the meeting room, gasping for air and gagging.

Now, I must explain in further detail as to the reason I only feel “kinda” bad…This guy has a few medical issues and has been advised by his Dr. on what foods that he is should and shouldn’t consume. Well, I’m pretty sure that two big macs and a large fry is not on the list of foods he should be consuming.  But hey, what do I know?  I’m no doctor?!?

Regardless, everyday at lunch this poor chap swings on through the drive thru of a different fast food joint only to suffer self inflicted bouts of diarrhea in the afternoon. Like, what do you expect dude??? That and he has played the same f’n Katy Perry song on repeat since 9:30am! I guess karma really does exist….my hats to you Karma, touche!

UPDATE (for anyone who cares)

I’ve been MIA for a little over a week now, so it’s time to get back into the swing of things…

This past week has been pretty hectic.  My cousin came up from Florida on his spring break to visit us and check out potential colleges in Philadelphia.  We, of course, had to take him out for a night of drinking at a genuine Jersey sports bar.  Followed by a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art the next day.  He loved both and I’m pretty certain that he’ll be making the move north in no time.

My cousin, double-fisting like a champ:)

My cousin, double-fisting like a champ:)

SMOKING UPDATE:  It is now officially 21 days since I quite smoking.  I’ll admit , I was tempted a handful of times to throw in the towel and buy a pack, especially when we were out drinking Saturday night.  The urge was there, but I just kept repeating to myself “I am a non-smoker, I am a non-smoker, I AM a non-smoker!”  Believe it or not, that really does help.  I also stopped using the patch and turned to the Vuse E-cig instead.  The patch was working, but it was irritating my skin and causing me to break out.  I’m only taking a puff here and there from it, so it’s not as constant of a nicotine flow as the patch.  I have noticed, however, I am awfully snippy lately.  Hoping it is just another withdraw symptom and will soon pass.

New morning ritual…coffee & E-cig

Also, I’ve been working out A LOT!  With the whole quitting smoking thing and summer just a few months away, I want to make sure my “30-something bod” will be “20-something bikini” ready.  I’m nowhere near ready to trade in my two piece suits for a one piece!  So, it’s been a whole lot of crunching and squatting when and where I can get them in.  I even joined a local cardio/dance/zumba studio!  Honestly really like it so far.  I’m not one for group workouts, but the instructors are nice.  Nice, but stern and have no problem going into drill sergeant mode when need be.

Okay, that’s all I got for now.   Time to be productive and try to accomplish some actual work at work today.  Have yourself a bright and shiny Monday!  XOXO

Finding Support: Virtually Everywhere

This past week and a half have been quite difficult, to say the least.  Making the decision to become a “Non-Smoker” has been rewarding, and yet, painful in ways.  I cannot believe how physically fit and alive I feel, even after just one week!  It’s been days since my last coughing/hacking episode.  I feel like I’ve been gifted a shiny new set of lungs, tar & chemical free.

186051-27517-54On the flip side, it has been a true mental battle.  The symptoms of nicotine withdraw are no joke.  Once you get past the headaches, nausea and cravings, the mental aftermath kicks in.  My mood is constantly changing.  One minute I’m bright-eyed, energetic and upbeat.  The next, I’m somber, quiet and easily irritated.

Luckily, I’ve found that I do not have to do this alone.  I discovered the most amazing support group in the most unlikeliest of place, online.  There are countless blogs written by individuals expressing their own personal battle with the dirty habit.  It’s funny to think as you sit behind your keyboard, pouring your heart out about how good or bad of a day you’re having, at that same exact moment someone, somewhere is going through the same exact struggle.  It’s nice to know that you’re not alone and that there are others who can relate to what you are going through.

For me personally, I sometimes find it difficult to talk to people in person about what I’m going through in my “smokeless journey”.  Either they don’t understand because they never smoked before or because they do smoke and have no interest in quitting or hearing my blah blah blah’s.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my family and friends and I know that they are there to support me no matter what the situation.  But, there are some things that people, even the ones who know you the best, just can’t relate to without experiencing it first hand.

This blog, alone, has truly become an outstanding source of support for me.  I am able get into contact with other “ex-smokers” and not only learn their story, but compare struggles and receive priceless advice.  It is truly amazing how remarkably similar a complete stranger from the opposite side of the country’s journey can be to your own.  It is nice to know that in a world with so wars and hate, that there are people out there floating around cyberspace that really do care and are willing to give support to one another, free of charge:)

Other online place that I found support for kicking the habit is Quitnet.com.  This is a great place to encourage others and receive wonderful feedback from people who know how truly hard it is to quit smoking.  Another great site that helps you create a “quit plan” and stick with it is becomeanex.org.  I have found that having a “quit plan” is so helpful for staying on track and maintaining control throughout the process.  These are just a couple of my favorites, but there are millions upon millions of sites dedicated to helping people quit.

No Smoking WallpaperSo, if you feel frustrated or that there’s no one out there that understands what you’re going through, take a look on the ol’ interweb for support.  Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.  We are all human.  We all make mistakes.  However, choosing to smoke is not a mistake you have to fix alone.

My First Time on Foreign Sand

Growing up, I wouldn’t particularly say that we were poor, but we certainly didn’t live lavishly.  My parents didn’t always have it easy trying to make ends meet.  We never had a new car.  My clothes were often one size too small.  And our house was certainly nothing to gauk at.  I even paid for my school lunches with a special card, designated for children of low-income families.  My parents were a one-income couple with 3 children, one of which with special needs.  Nonetheless, they made it a point to save up enough money each and every year to take us all on a family vacation.

I didn’t realize how uncommon it was for families to do this until I recently found myself in a discussion about childhood memories with one of my best friends.   She had grown up in an upper class neighborhood and her parents always had flashy brand new cars and such.  However, she admitted to me that they rarely took vacations together as a family.  This made me so sad.  She could not believe that we all went together somewhere for an entire week, not just my parents, not just one kid and one parent…all of us, together.

Now, before this begins to look like I’m bragging, let me explain that it wasn’t like we were jet setting across the world on some magnificent tour of Europe or spending the summer at a shore front retreat in the Hampton’s each year.  Our vacations consisted more of the typical setting up tents at a campground or 2 to 3 days in Disney World (which was only made possible by my dad making the 18 hour drive and staying with relatives instead of flying and staying at a hotel).  Like I said, my parents didn’t have much, but they insisted that one week out of the year, we vacationed together.

As an adult and parent, I look back on my parent’s dedication and I am truly in aw.  Life is so hectic.  I am constantly being bounced back and forth from home life to work life and back again.  We have daily routines, which turn into weekly routines, then monthly routines.  Finding time in our busy day to sit down and plan a family vacation becomes seemingly impossible, let alone finding time to actually take one.  Even if time isn’t a factor, money definitely is.  Vacations are expensive. I consider myself a pretty frugal person and have a talent for finding unbeatable deals for just about anything.  However, when it comes to vacationing, I am admittedly clueless.

In my 20’s I discovered (and fell in love with) Las Vegas.  It is truly the adult playground:)  Surprisingly Las Vegas is quite affordable as well.  It is the perfect spot for a young, cute, single gal to let loose and get her party on!  Unfortunately, I was not technically “single”.  I had my son when I was 22 years old.  Shortly after having him, his father and I decided to part ways and I moved back home with mom and dad.  Though it was fun to be able to have a “girls weekend in Vegas”  while my parents cared for my young son, I soon began to feel disgustingly selfish for not doing for him what my parents did for me.  I needed to take him on a family vacation.

Obviously, I wasn’t taking my 2-year-old son across country to party it up in Vegas.  I don’t care how many commercials you watch that declare Las Vegas as a “family friendly” vacation destination, I’ve been there and it will be a cold day in hell before I drug a toddler down the strip.  Maybe there are some child friendly attractions, but I definitely couldn’t see myself spending a week visiting the lions at MGM and seeing the outdoor pirate show at Treasure Island a million times.  So, I did what every parent does and booked a trip to DISNEY WORLD!!!!

That’s right, the happiest place on earth.  Or so I thought. Looking back now, I realize how insanely naive I was to think that I alone would be able to handle a toddler in a theme park, not to mention, make it somewhat enjoyable for us both.  Do you know what a 2-year-old absolutely despises?  Waiting in line and doing nothing.  Do you know what you do for 80% of your day in Disney World?  Wait in line and do nothing!

I can not recall how many tantrums my son threw.  I don’t remember how I managed to use the bathroom throughout the day.  To be honest, pretty much all of that week is now a blur, either because I must have blacked out at some point during the trip, or my brain has mentally blocked it for my own sanity.  Either way, I highly recommend NOT taking a 2-year-old to Disney.  At least, not alone.

Fast forward to this past fall and I began asking my, now 10-year-old, son what he wanted for Christmas.  He has always been so difficult to shop for and 2 years ago some bratty kid in his class ruined the idea of Santa, so I just find it easier now to get him exactly what he wants instead of standing in return lines after the holiday.  This year, he really shocked me and asked if we could go away on vacation.  Immediately I went into shell shock, back to that God-awful theme park, trying to calm a screaming toddler down because he didn’t understand why we couldn’t just skip the line and walk right up to Mickey for a picture.  I took a deep breath and snapped back to reality.  He’s not a baby anymore.  He’s actually a pretty good kid.  Why not try a one-on-one vacation again?

So, I agreed and asked where he wanted to go.  He right away blurted out “Hawaii”!!! Trust me when I say, I love my son.  I love him more than anything in this world.  However, Hawaii was financially way out of my league.  I make pretty good money, but I’m not a millionaire by any means, not even close.  So I did a little investigating and came across a cruise to the Bahamas that was well within budget.  So well within budget that I would be able to include extras, like swimming with dolphins.  I sat down with my son and showed him pictures and explained the financial situation to him and he seemed more than okay and excited about a Bohemian vacation.  So, it was settled, we were cruising to the Bahamas.

Absolutely stunning.

Absolutely stunning.

As it got closer to our trip date, I started to realize that I would soon be leaving American soil.  I had never done that before.  I’ll admit, it kind of scared me.  It didn’t seem to phase my son at all, but I am a notorious worrier.  Coincidentally, I have a passport that I had gotten over 5 years ago when I was planning a trip to South America with my, then, boyfriend.  Needless to say, that trip did not happen.  So this was it, my first international trip and that scared the crap out of me.  What if our ship gets hijacked?  What if I lose my passport?  What if I lose my son somewhere at port?  All of these crazy scenarios ran rapid through my mind.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea at all.

My son laughing hysterically at my apparent fear of stingrays.

My son laughing hysterically at my apparent fear of stingrays.

Regardless of my insane worrying, we went.  This was the best decision of my life.  We had a blast!  The cruise, itself, was absolutely far beyond my expectations.  Our room was small, but nice and we barely spent any time in there at all.  The food was amazing and our shore excursion was so much fun!  My son made friends with a group of kids from Brazil.  I made friends with a group of gals at our dining table.  My son and I played mini golf and ping-pong at sea and swam with dolphins at port.  He got a real kick out of my unknown fear of stingrays.  We really got a chance to bond one-on-one.  The natives turned out to be extremely friendly and the boarding process was smooth and quick.  The only thing I regret, was not doing this sooner.

My favorite part...swimmig with dolphins!!!

My favorite part…swimming with dolphins!!!

My first trip outside the U.S. turned out to be my favorite trip I’ve ever taken, hands down.  Even better than my past Las Vegas shenanigans!  We’ve started planning next year’s adventure together.  We might even let my boyfriend come with us this time, if his work schedule allows it.  If not, I’m quite okay spending more quality time with my little buddy.  I just hope that when he’s older, he also realizes how important family vacations are, not matter what size family.