Friday, July 18, 2008

East Meets West (or, What I've Been Up To This Summer)

Ah, summer. The season can mean so many things to different people -- hot sun, watermelon, sandy beaches, tube floats down the river, ice cream cones, local fairs, farmer's markets, dips in the ocean, bare feet, browned shoulders. It is only recently that it has truly begun to feel like summer to me.

This year, my summer days are spent working at an alternative pre- and early elementary school's camp. With about twenty campers ages 5 through 9, we have spent the first weeks of our summer exploring various themes related to art, food (especially local and organically grown foods), and myths. It's been interchangeably fun and challenging, but so rewarding. I can sense myself maturing as a result of this experience -- I definitely feel the growing pains as I develop my own confidence as an educator as well as collaborative skills, creativity, and, above all, patience. Right now I am sitting in the playground while the after-care students play in the sandbox, enjoying the sun, rapidly browning mountains, and the edible-looking cerulean sky. Even with the ups and downs of both work and life, I can say that with conviction that life is good. I am so grateful for this job, for my wonderful husband, and above all for God. Whew! July never felt so good!

I've been something of a slacker at work, though. Even though it's just a summer gig, I took a week off to travel to my home state of New Jersey with the Best Husband Ever, who had never spent any time on the east coast outside of an airport before. We flew east to visit my parents, attend a family reunion on my mother's side of the brood, touch base with good friends, and explore. I love where we live in western Montana -- it is truly my home, Every so often, though, I begin to get an itch for the museums of New York City, for Broadway shows, for the Atlantic Ocean, and for that paragon of the flatbread family, Jersey-style pizza. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get all of my hankerings met.

One of my favorite excursions was the day my husband and I met up with my best friend (and maid of honor!) for a trip into the City. (The City? you may ask. Like there's only one? What can I say? It's the Jersey girl in me.) We visited Times Square, stopped by Saint Patrick's Cathedral, and strolled up 5th Avenue to meet my brother for lunch (he is working as a computer programming intern there) before heading downtown and over to Brooklyn. From there, we hopped off the subway and walked back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge. I didn't really expect much from the experience, but it ended up being a pure joy. What a simple but satisfying pleasure! If you ever have the opportunity to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on a nice day, seize it. There is a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan. We even got to see the natural art exhibit, Waterfalls, that is installed there (that, unfortunately, was less than impressive). Later in the week, we returned to uptown Manhattan to visit my favorite museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was extraordinarily crowded as it was July 4, but wandering through the Egyptian wing is just about as soothing as it always has been nonetheless.

The Best Husband Ever and I also headed down the shore for a few days, staying at the very southern tip of New Jersey. I grew up spending part of every summer in that area, so it was exciting to be able to share it with the man that I am in love with. We swam in the ocean (which was frrrreezing -- I spent a copious amount of time sunning myself on the beach afterwards, burning my belly a little as a result), ate ice cream and Polish ice on the Boardway, played miniature golf, visited Victorian Cape May and discovered a fantastic restaurant (I ordered a veggie quesadilla and the Best Husband Ever had a grouper burger), and explored a lighthouse and the surrounding wetlands. Of course, we walked on the beach at night -- one of my favorite oceanic activities -- and were lucky enough to cross paths with a live crab.

One of the best products that New Jersey has to offer, in my opinion, is its pizza. I love it. Thin and floppy, topped with mushrooms or pepperoni or simply cheese, there is not a better version of this greasy delicacy as far as I'm concerned. We partook of this treat of a meal at my family's long-time favorite pizza joint-turned-restaurant, Ralph's Pizzeria. We ordered a plain cheese pizza, which was the best, as well as one that was half pepperoni and half garlic. The garlic was my suggestion, and while it wasn't bad, it wasn't amazing either. I feel a little bit sad for that choice since I'm the only one who tried any, but at least I took a chance with something new.

A whirlwind trip, to be sure. Check out more photos here! The best part of the whole trip, though, was coming back to Montana. When we stepped out of the airport at midnight when we arrived, the air smelled like honey. It felt like sliding into a broken-in pair of jeans, or a warm bath. It was so good to visit my first home in this world, and even better to come back to my new one.

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"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King