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The Places Where We Live – Mobile, Alabama

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Mobile, Alabama – The Azalea City


By Cynthia M. (clariail)


I guess that you could say that I am a Southerner and have the drawl to prove it. At least, according to what I have been told when traveling outside of the South. I was born in Arizona but we moved back to Alabama when I was six months old or so. The only other time when I have lived outside of Bama was when we lived in Conway Arkansas for a couple of years. We did move multiple times in Alabama until my parents settled on Mobile when I was in high school which would have been around 1971. That makes me feel so old! I love living in Mobile and don’t foresee ever moving away even if that means I have to put up with heat, humidity and mosquitoes. I’ll just keep the AC cranked up and the bug spray handy.

City of Mobile is located in Mobile County which is the second most populated county in the state. Mobile has a population of more than a quarter of a million people in the metropolitan area that covers 128 square miles. Even though Mobile offers the amenities and infrastructure of a major metropolitan area, it has retained its sense of community and friendliness. I don’t feel like that I live in a large city. I can get to major shopping areas, downtown, and great restaurants within 10-20 minutes. We are also close to great beaches such as Gulf Shores and Dauphin Island, about a 45 minute drive or so.

Brief History:
Mobile began as the first capital of colonial French Louisiana in 1702. The city gained its name from the Native American Mobilian tribe that the French colonists found in the area of Mobile Bay During its first 100 years, Mobile was a colony for France, then Britain, and lastly Spain. Mobile first became a part of the United States of America in 1810, with the annexation of West Florida under President James Madison. It then left that union in 1861 when Alabama joined the Confederate States of America, which collapsed in 1865.

Absorb Mobile Bay’s unique history as you view artifacts detailing the city’s earliest beginnings to modern day heroes at innovative museums. Explore a mighty battleship (USS Alabama) from stem to stern or relive history aboard a World War II submarine. Enjoy nature at its finest and visit one of our unrivaled gardens. Blooming year round, these gardens are a part of our city everyone must see. Recapture the true spirit of Southern history on the veranda of an antebellum home. Check out the latest scientific discoveries through hands on exhibits or sit back and watch an IMAX movie. Greyhound races run nightly, so grab a bite to eat and cheer on the dogs. Any time of the year, on any day of the week, Mobile Bay is teeming with energy.

For the museum lovers out there, we have several to choose from as well as several art galleries. On the 2nd Friday of each month, there is the Loda Art Walk held in the downtown area where art galleries, institutions, studios and unique shops open their doors and welcome you inside to see beautiful artwork, sample delicous foods and hear the sounds of the LoDa Artwalk.

If you enjoy golf, we have twenty one world class golf courses that you can have your pick to play. My husband has tried several of them and enjoyed each one.

For those who enjoy baseball, we have the Mobile Bay Bears of the Double-A Southern League, a farm team of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And of course for the Party Goers among you, we have Mardi Gras. Mobile is not only recognized as celebrating the first-known American Mardi Gras celebration in 1703 (yes, even before New Orleans), but also as home to the “America’s Family Mardi Gras” delighting both young and old from around town and across the nation. This magnificent celebration lasts for over two and a half weeks and culminates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. For weeks, the streets of downtown Mobile are filled with the sights and sounds of live marching bands, brilliant-colored floats and of course teeming crowds of parade goers. The floats are glowing spectacles manned by masked riders festooned in satin and sequins, and armed with crowd-pleasing “throws” such as beads, moon pies, doubloons and candy.
Each year it expands a little bit more as more of the towns close to Mobile choose to have their own celebrations but they all occur during the couple of weeks that make up the Mardi Gras celebration. There is also the Mobile Carnival Museum where you may learn more about the history of Mardi Gras and see some of the beautiful outfits worn by the previous Kings and Queens that have presided over the celebration.

If you enjoy fresh seafood, we have plenty of places that you can find it both here in Mobile and in the neighboring cities and county. You can either choose from the great restaurants that we have or if you wish to prepare it yourself, there are plenty of shops to buy it fresh.

Mobile’s geographical location on the Gulf of Mexico provides a mild subtropical climate, with hot, humid summers and mild, rainy winters. The record low temperature is −1 °F (−18 °C), set on February 13, 1899, and the record high is 105 °F (41 °C), set on August 29, 2000.

A 2007 study by WeatherBill, Inc. determined that Mobile is the wettest city in the contiguous 48 states, with 66.3 inches (1,680 mm) of average annual rainfall over a 30-year period. Mobile averages 120 days per year with at least 0.01 inches (0.3 mm) of rain. Snow is rare in Mobile, with the last snowfall being on February 12, 2010.

Mobile is occasionally affected by major tropical storms and hurricanes. Hurricane Frederick 1979, Hurricane Opal 1995, Hurricane Ivan 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Public schools in Mobile are operated by the Mobile County Public School System. The Mobile County Public School System has an enrollment of over 65,000 students, employs approximately 8,500 public school employees. The State of Alabama operates the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science on Dauphin Street in Mobile, which boards advanced Alabama high school students. It was founded in 1989 to identify, challenge, and educate future leaders.

Mobile also has a large number of private schools, most of them being parochial in nature.

Major colleges and universities in Mobile that are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools include the University of South Alabama, Spring Hill College, the University of Mobile, Bishop State Community College, and Faulkner University.

I hope that you have enjoyed learning a little about my home town. I have loved sharing it with you and if you ever come this way, drop me a message as I would love to meet you.






From Fort to Port: An Architecural History of Mobile, Alabama by Elizabeth Barrett Gould


Keeping Hearth & Home in Old Alabama compiled and edited by Carol Padgett


Belle’s Letters: Contemporary Fiction by Alabama Women edited by Joe Taylor and Tina M. Jones


Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson


Baseball in Mobile by Joe Cuhaj, Tamra Carraway-Hinckle




The Places Where We Live – Idaho

Monday, May 7th, 2012

And Here We Have Idaho by Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty)



Idaho is one of those states that you have to break into regions, for each region has a very different identity.  I was born in the south eastern side of the state, on the edge of the high desert where the physical features bear witness to the volcanic past. As the continent drifted slowly eastward, the hot spot which is Yellowstone, was once under the desert, (more about this later). This volcanic soil and the cool high desert is the perfect climate for you guessed it potatoes.  My hometown is in the foot hills of the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains, and I grew up with this wilderness area in my backyard and this includes Yellowstone National Park. The part of Yellowstone in Idaho is not as well known as the more accessible parts of Yellowstone proper, but every bit as spectacular, since I am not the type that likes back country hiking I have only been told about this area.

When I am asked about Idaho I speak mostly of the physical beauty of where I grew up.  Idahoans are rugged individuals; they had to be. Most of the families who settled this area are descendants of the pioneers and miners.  A great many of the families can trace their ancestors to the pioneers from the Oregon Trail and to the Mormon pioneers who came west with Brigham Young,  although the first whites were the Lewis and Clark expedition, and fur trappers from several rival fur companies.  The Native American people predominant in the area included the Nez Perce and the Coeur d’Alene in the north; and the Northern and Western Shoshone and Bannock in the south.  I fear the native people didn’t not fair any better here than elsewhere in this country.  Sacagawea (c. 1790 -1812 or 1814) The Shoshone Indian that interpreted for explorers Lewis and Clark; was born in eastern Idaho. Although she joined the expedition in the Mandan Villages of what is North Dakota with her French-Canadian husband.  There were other explorers less well known, Wilson Price Hunt who navigated the Snake River looking for a waterway to the Pacific for one. There was also a great many missionaries that came to minister and to convert the native people and that also drew whites to settle in the territory.  In fact the oldest surviving structure in Idaho was built by the missionaries.  It is the Cataldo mission in Northern Idaho.

There is gold and silver in them thar hills:  Yes in 1860 gold was discovered and shortly after that silver was also discovered and mining had a huge impact on the economy of the territory that became Idaho, there are still active mines there today.  My hometown was settled because it was on the Montana Trail, a freight wagon route into these mining areas.   A toll crossing was built over the Snake River there, specifically to get supplies from the rail lines in Utah into the copper rich area at Butte, Montana. In 1878 the Union Pacific RR built a feeder line into the mining areas through south eastern Idaho, a rail crossing was once again built in my hometown, opening the area to more settlers looking for a place to farm.

Farming:  I have touched on potatoes, but farming was difficult in this arid place, many of the settlers to this area came out of Utah and had learned how to irrigate the desert, the Idaho feeder canals were dug in the late 1800 and early 1900 to irrigate the desert. Idaho became one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas, growing more than potatoes, also sugar beets, peas, grains, and alfalfa. There are also large ranches for cattle and sheep grazing on the public ranges administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Atomic age: In 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission opened the National Reactor Testing Station in the desert of southeastern Idaho, and on Dec. 20, 1951, a nuclear reactor produced electricity for the first time in history. The town of Arco became the first community in the world electrified by nuclear power.

At one time there were over 50 reactors; all but three are shut down now.  The INL is still in operation and employees 8000 people, it is an internationally respected research center.  There were also 3 prototype nuclear submarines and ship reactors, where the US Navy sent sailors to learn skills needed to serve in the nuclear fleet.  The Navy left the facility in the 1980’s

A sad note:  On January 3, 1961, the site was the scene of the only fatal nuclear reactor incident in U.S. history, three people died in the reactor room. The three men were buried in lead coffins and that entire section of the site was buried.

Stats:  Idaho is the 13th largest state, it is known as the Gem State because it produces over 72 different gem stone some that can be found nowhere else in the world.  Idaho became a state on July 3, 1890.  It has over 3100 river miles, more than any other state.  Mt. Borah, near Boise is the highest peak in Idaho at 12,662 feet.  The Syringa is the state flower, the Mountain Bluebird is the state bird, the Western White Pine is the state tree, the state horse is the Appaloosa, the state fruit is the Wild Huckleberry, the state fish is the Cutthroat Trout, and the state gem is the Star Garnet.  As of 2005 thepopulation of Idaho was 1,429,096. It seems that Boise State University has a fine football program.

The major wilderness areas are The Sawtooth Wilderness which has 260,000 acres, The Frank Church-River of No Return known as “The Frank” Wilderness Area, it has 2.6 million acres.  The Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness has 1.28 million acres. The Gospel Hump Wilderness has 206,000 acres. There are 12 National Forests and 1 National Grassland, Boise National Forest, Caribou National Forest, Challis National Forest, Clearwater National Forest, Coeur d’Alene, Kaniksu, and St. Joe National Forests, Nez Perce National Forest, Payette National Forest, Salmon National Forest Sawtooth National Forest, Targhee National Forest, Curlew National Grassland. 

The volcanic past I spoke of earlier can be seen at the Craters of the Moon, National Monument and Preserve.  It is a very unique place and must be seen to be believed, it can be seen from outer space, and NASA did some testing there before the Apollo Moon landings. It is an extinct volcanic landscape, but it would have looked very much like Yellowstone in the primordial past.



The spirit of the west in Idaho  attracts people there, some of the celebrities that call Idaho home are: Viggo Mortensen, actor; Demi Moore, actress; Carole King– singer songwriter; Patty Duke– actress; Ernest Hemmingway had a home in Idaho and committed suicide there. I don’t think it had anything to do with Idaho though.  Dawn Wells, Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.  Native Idahoans include Joe Albertson (1907 – 1993) Grocery chain founder, opened his first grocery store in Boise. Gutzon Borglum (1867 – 1941) the Sculptor of Mount Rushmore; born near Bear Lake.  Lou Dobbs – Anchor and managing editor of CNN’s Lou Dobbs Moneyline. He grew up in Rupert. Philo T. Farnsworth (1906 – 1971) inventor of television. He first came up with the idea when he was only 14 years old. He emigrated to Rigby in 1919 at the age of 11. Harmon Killebrew (1936-2011) played baseball for the Minnesota Twins and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame; born in Payette. Patrick McManus (1933 – ) author, born near Sandpoint. Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) poet; born in Hailey, Picabo Street (1971 – ) two time Olympic medalist, born in Triumph, Carol R. Brink author, Vardis Fisher author, from Annis; J. R. Simplot industrialist; Lana Turner actress, born in Wallace.

I am sorry if I did not do justice to the north and western parts of the state, I have only been to northern Idaho twice, and it was lovely and has its own history to tell.  As for Boise and the west I have been over there only twice as well, while I have been to Sun Valley on a number of occasions. But the northern and western part of my home state is a foreign place to me.

A Little Trivia:

Because of gold mining, Idaho City was the largest town in the Pacific Northwest in the 1860’s

Hell’s Canyon is the deepest river gorge in the US, deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Shoshone Falls is called the Niagara of the west, and spills over 212 feet near Twin Falls.

Sun Valley was created in 1936 as America’s first destination ski resort.

They say if you could iron out the mountains in Idaho the area would be equal to Texas.





The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark


The Nez Perce by Sharlene Nelson and Ted W. Nelson

Bird Woman: Sacagawea’s Own Story by James Willard Schultz

Philo T Farnsworth: The Life of Television’s Forgotten Inventor by Russell Roberts

A Fine and Pleasant Misery by Patrick F McManus






The Places We Live – Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

By Cathy W.  (Firefly)


If there is one thing I have learned about Alaska that I didn’t know before, it is that there are many different climates and cultures. It makes sense if you think about it, given that Alaska is the largest state by a significant margin. It covers a vast amount of real estate, roughly the same width as the contiguous US from east coast to west coast. I know I never thought about it until I lived here! I couldn’t begin to describe everywhere in one little blog post, so I thought I’d share a bit with you about Alaska in general, and then some about the small portion of Alaska where I live – the Kenai Peninsula.

One of the most common misconceptions about Alaska is that it is cold, snowy, and dark all the time. Not true. For instance, here in Homer, a coastal town on Kachemak Bay, the weather is more like the Pacific Northwest. Winter time temperatures hover around freezing, often raining instead of snowing. The higher elevations of the mountains or the bluffs usually have more freezing temperatures and larger snow accumulations, though it is not uncommon to have warmer spells with rain throughout the winter.

Photo by Cathy W. (Firefly)


Summers are glorious, with rich vegetation and usable light for almost 24 hours a day. If you look at climate details, you will see that there supposedly is only 6 hours of daylight on the darkest day of the year. What this doesn’t take into account is the more than an hour of light before the sun comes up and after the sun goes down! And speaking of light, the quality of the winter light is amazing. The rich oranges, pinks, and purples that highlight the mountains at this time of year will just take your breath away. Often winter comes with clear skies, which means the moon and stars reflect off the snow, making the earth seem to glow around you.


Photo by Cathy W. (Firefly)

The people in Alaska seem to be of two types: those that were born here, and those that came from somewhere else. That about covers everyone, doesn’t it? People that live in Alaska are from varied walks of life, but they all seem to end up here because they want a change or an adventure. They come either to get away from it all, or experience it all. Life is a little more laid back than other places. People take time to enjoy some of the simpler things in life, like sharing a cup of coffee and a chat with the neighbor. Those that live here on the Kenai Peninsula are fun loving, don’t mind the flood of tourists that arrive in the summer (much), and like the calmness of the winters. (I have to say, though, that we can’t really call this winter calm, as we received over 16 feet of snow!) Generally, winter is a time of pot-lucks and resting up for summer. With the sun not setting until after midnight in the summer, it is truly hard to tell yourself to go to bed. Blackout shades are a common sight in any household – usually something custom made by the inhabitants to fit their window and habits. Alaskans are a hardy bunch, usually with a bit of an independent streak. Individuality is valued. Both privacy and camaraderie are treasured.

State Flag of Alaska

The Kenai is known as Alaska’s Playground. You know those photos you’ve seen of bears grabbing salmon from the river? Those were taken here. You see tourist photos of men with smiles ear to ear while standing next to halibut that weigh as much as they do? That’s here. You read about volcanoes smoking or spewing ash? Well, we can see those from here. I’ve been told that you can find on the Kenai examples of any of the climates that you can find anywhere else in Alaska. Talk about diversity! The Kenai peninsula is home to many, many small communities and a few larger ones. The biggest are the Kenai/Soldotna area, Seward, and Homer. Others include Hope, Sterling, Anchor Point, and Ninilchik. And there are plenty of people that live off the road system, only accessing their homes by snow machine, boat, or airplane.

Photo by Cathy W. (Firefly)


What can you do here on the Kenai? It is indeed a playground – you can fish for halibut, salmon (5 kinds!), trout, rockfish, lingcod, and more. You can take a plane or helicopter to look at the glaciers of the Kenai Mountains. You can go bear viewing. You can take a hike in amazing wilderness areas. You can pick wild raspberries, blueberries, salmon berries, currants, fireweed, and more in the fall. Kayakers take advantage of the calm waters in the brilliant mornings. Skiers and snowshoers traverse the landscape both by the light of day and the light of the moon at night. Locals and tourists alike take in a play or an art show opening, or visit a gallery of locally made crafts. You can watch the eagles soar off the Homer bluffs, majestically slicing through the air. You can camp in the Kenai Wildlife Refuge. Take a guided hike on the boardwalks of Beluga Slough and learn about the ‘soup’ that is the estuary in Kachemak Bay. Take a cruise and look for whales and puffins. Dig for razor clams in Cook Inlet. Drive through Anchor Point and you’ll have driven on the western-most point of the US road system. Do some tide pooling on Bishop’s Beach. Enjoy a pampering session at local day spa, with a view that can’t be beat. And – cliche as it sounds – that’s just for starters!


The state flower of Alaska is the Forget-Me-Not…truly, once you’ve been here, you won’t forget it.

photo by Cathy W. (Firefly)




Alaska Twilight by Colleen Coble


If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende


Alaska Homegrown Cookbook


Alaska: Tales of Adventure from the Last Frontier


My Lead Dog Was a Lesbian: Mushing Across Alaska in the Iditarod–the World’s Most Grueling Race
by Brian Patrick O’Donoghue

The Places Where We Live – West Virginia

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Welcome to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia by Linda (Angeleyes)



Yes, you read it right.  Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.  So many times when asked “Where are you from?  West Virginian’s hear “oh Western Virginia?”  No, not Western Virginia.  Noted for its mountains and rich terrain, West Virginia became the 35th state of the union on June 20, 1863.

With a population of only 1,816,856 in 24,231 miles 75% of the state is covered with forest, giving reason to the nickname “The Mountain State”.   Myself, I’m a transplant to this great state.  I came here almost 26 years ago and fell in love with the mountains, the trees, the wildlife.  Much different than the concrete jungle where I grew up.  One of my favorite things to do is just jump in the car and go for a ride.  The state is absolutely beautiful no matter what time of year.  And it is such a diverse state that there truly is something for everyone.   Small towns with warmth and charm, larger cities, camping, biking, hiking, skiing, hunting, fishing, spelunking, and some of the best white water rafting in the country.   Whatever you’re looking for you can find it here.  Another neat aspect of West Virginia is its history which is filled with as many twists and turns as our famed country roads. Here you’ll find Native American burial mounds, re-creations of frontier forts, sites that recognize the heritage of our early presidents and in many of the small towns it’s like stepping back in time with general stores, outhouses, antique tools and appliances.

West Virginia is not a leading agricultural state because its rugged terrain and mountainous landscape have made farming difficult. The state relies on its rich mineral deposits and natural resources, oil, natural gas, timber, clay, limestone, salt and sand. Chemical production is West Virginia’s most important industry.  Coal deposits can be found under about two-thirds of West Virginia’s land, making it one of the leading producers of soft coal in the country.

If you like college football, West Virginia is the place to be.  WVU and Marshall University football are what bring this state together. And tear it apart.  Everywhere you go, no matter what time of year, you’ll see the blue and gold of WVU or the green of Marshall proudly displayed.  And once a year the day the two stare each other down on the field is an unofficial holiday.  Pick your team, get a cold drink and a good seat because you are in for a great show.  Go Mountaineers !  Go Thundering Herd !  (as you can see I’m sitting on the fence for this one.)

And there can be no discussion of West Virginia without mentioning the Hatfields and McCoys.  Most of us remember the story from our childhood.  Two families feuding across state lines: the Hatfields in WV and the McCoys in Kentucky.  The feud has entered the American folklore lexicon as a metaphor for any bitterly feuding rival parties. More than a century later, the story of the feud has become a modern allegory on the perils of family honor, justice and vengeance.

If you ever get a chance plan a trip to West Virginia.  I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it just like I did.


Did You Know:

  • The first brick street in the world was laid in Charleston, West Virginia, on October 23, 1870, on Summers Street, between Kanawha and Virginia Streets.
  • The first organized golf club in America was formed in West Virginia.
  • The first rural free mail delivery was started in Charles Town on October 6, 1896, and then spread throughout the United States.
  • Mother’s Day was first observed at Andrews Church in Grafton on May 10, 1908.
  • The New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville is the second highest steel arch bridge in the United States. The bridge is also the longest steel arch bridge (1,700 feet) in the world. Every October on Bridge Day, the road is closed and individuals parachute and bungee cord jump 876 feet off the bridge. Its West Virginia’s largest single day event and attracts about 100,000 people each year.
  • The first free school for African Americans in the entire south opened in Parkersburg in 1862.
  • Fairmont native Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics at the Los Angeles Olympics. She also took home two silver medals, two bronze medals and went on to become an official spokesperson for Wheaties, appearing on several breakfast cereal packages.
  • Outdoor advertising had its origin in Wheeling about 1908 when the Block Brothers Tobacco Company painted bridges and barns with the wording: “Treat Yourself to the Best, Chew Mail Pouch.” – so yes you can blame all those billboards you see on WV. It’s our fault. : )
  • The favorite karaoke song sung in the state is “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver.
  • The first state sales tax in the United States went into effect in West Virginia on July 1, 1921


Literary West Virginia

Pearl S. Buck – Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winning author was born in Hillsboro WV

The Good Earth:
Pearl S. Buck


Homer H. Hickam, Jr. – Author of Rocket Boys: A Memoir, the story of his life in the little town of Coalwood, WV that Inspired the #1 Bestseller and Award-Winning Movie October Sky.

Rocket Boys: Homer K Hickam Jr.

John Forbes Nash Jr. – 1994 Nobel Prize winning mathematician who was the subject of the 1998 biography and 2002 film “A Beautiful Mind.” Born and raised in Bluefield WV

A Beautiful Mind The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash: Sylvia Nasar


Carlene Thompson – Author of numerous books set in WV.  Born and lives in Point Pleasant, WV

You Can Run: Carlene Thompson


The Coffin Quilt: The Feud Between the Hatfields and the McCoys: Ann Rinaldi



The Places Where We Live – New Jersey

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

by Brenna B. (demiducky25)


Lately the first thing that people tend to think of when they hear the words “New Jersey” is the MTV show Jersey Shore.  Personally, I’ve never seen more than 5 seconds of the show so I cannot attest to the accuracy of how they present life in the Garden State (heck, I’m not a beach person and I’ve only been “down the shore,” as we say, a handful of times so I really cannot speak to life along the actual Jersey Shore at all).  Whether you love or loathe Jersey Shore, I hope that reading my entry about my home state will give you new insight and perhaps bring new images to mind besides Snooki going crazy. 🙂

In terms of size, New Jersey can be described a number of ways.  It is one of the smallest states in terms of land area (only Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware are smaller).  In terms of total population, New Jersey is currently the 11th most populous state, and for as long as I can remember it is the most densely populated state (my 4th grade social studies textbook had a map of the United States showing the size of each state in terms of population density, and I recall being amazed at how little NJ was suddenly the largest one on that type of map projection).  Yet what it lacks in size, New Jersey makes up for with presence and style!

Nicknamed “The Garden State,” New Jersey has had a very interesting and colorful history.  Prior to the American Revolution, the area that would later become New Jersey was originally a Dutch colony and was later acquired by the British, making it one of the original 13 colonies.  As with New York and Pennsylvania, the colony of New Jersey became a popular location for immigrants, making it a fairly ethnically and religiously diverse colony.  During the Revolutionary War, New Jersey was the site of several battles and winter encampments, earning it the nickname “The Crossroads of the Revolution.”  In fact, the commemorative state quarter for NJ showcases George Washington crossing the Delaware River to surprise the Hessian soldiers at the Battle of Trenton (though the image on the quarter, as well as the original painting, isn’t exactly accurate, but that’s a story for another time).

Fast-forward past the Revolutionary War and New Jersey kept its pulse on the changing landscape of American culture.  Despite the “Garden State” moniker, NJ became a booming center of factories and production during the Industrial Revolution and beyond.  Although the silk mills are no more, I grew up hearing stories about them and how nearby Paterson was once one of the biggest silk producers in the world.

As with the Industrial Revolution, modern New Jersey is still doing its best to keep up with the times.  The educational systems in New Jersey, from K-12 all the way to our many colleges and universities, are top-notch, thus preparing young minds for the future challenges our country will face.  Other ways New Jersey stays current with the times is in terms of entertainment.   Perhaps that has a bit to do with Thomas Edison (originally from Ohio, but I think NJ claims him anyway due to his work being done in Menlo Park, NJ) and his entertainment contributions of the motion picture projector and the phonograph (and of course the light bulb which would make our form of entertainment, reading, a bit more challenging without it).  In terms of professional sports, New Jersey has the Devils (hockey), the Nets (basketball, but I’ve heard that they might be moving to New York), and both the New York Giants and the New York Jets football teams actually play in New Jersey even though they are considered New York teams (personally I never really considered that fair, but that’s just me).   We also have a number of minor league baseball teams as well.  Besides sports, New Jersey is also home to other forms of entertainment.   There have been a number of entertainers, past and present, who have been proud to call NJ home (in fact, some of them appear on the list at the end of this piece).  How different the world would be without the impact of some of these great performers!  New Jersey has also been the setting, filming location, or both for many TV shows and movies: The Sopranos, Ed, Jersey Shore, House, Cake Boss, and The Adventures of Pete & Pete are just a few shows that fall into those categories.  Movies like Lean on Me, In & Out, Be Kind Rewind, Coneheads, and pretty much anything by Kevin Smith were all either about NJ, filmed scenes in NJ, or both.  I’m sorry if the movie list consisted of films mostly about or filmed in northern NJ, but those are the ones I’m familiar with.

That last sentence about northern NJ reminds me of something else that seems fairly unique to New Jersey.  Ever since I can remember, there has always been this strange rivalry between North NJ, South NJ, and the possible existence of Central NJ (some people argue that there is no Central NJ and that there is a clear dividing line between North and South, others see Central NJ as its own entity separate from North and South NJ).  I never really thought much about it until college when I lived with roommates from other parts of the state.  Apparently we all had a different dividing line depending on where we lived, and we also had different words for certain terms depending on where we lived.  The two biggest  examples are the night before Halloween (Goosey Night,  Mischief Night, and Cabbage Night seemed to be the top ones, though I never knew it as anything other than Goosey Night.  Our international roommate always found this argument hysterical because she never called the night before Halloween anything at all).  Also for a very long sandwich the terms “sub,” “hoagie,” and “hero” were deemed equally acceptable depending on which part of the state you were from (as someone from north NJ I went to elementary school where we had “hoagie days” then moved a few towns over and suddenly they were “subs” so that might not even be a “North vs South” thing).  For such a small state it is certainly strange that New Jersey has a number of different terms for the same thing!

One final set of quirks that I couldn’t seem to fit anywhere else (and I really can’t prove this one), but I feel like there are more malls (and sizable ones) and dinners (especially 24 hour ones or what is the point, hehe) in at least my little patch of New Jersey than anywhere else!  From where I sit now, I could get into my car and drive to at least 3 different malls in 5 minutes, and there are two 24 hour dinners walking distance from my house.  My international roommate, who has since moved back to her home country, has stated on Facebook before that the diners are probably one of the things she misses the most about New Jersey.

And that’s what New Jersey is to me, a wonderfully strange yet cozy and comforting nook in the world.  I don’t pretend to be a traditional “Jersey Girl,” whatever that really is, but I am certainly proud of my home state.  It’s hard for me to imagine living anywhere else.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some other tidbits that should have been noted, but I did my best, and I hope you liked hearing about my corner of the universe, and feel free to check out some of the books below (I hope the links worked this time, it was giving me some difficulties so be warned):



Notable New Jerseyeans

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)- only US president to serve non-consecutive terms (he was #22 and #24)

Thomas Edison (1847-1831)- inventor (from Ohio but did much of his world changing work in Menlo Park, NJ)

Bud Abbott (1895-1974)- actor/comedian

Lou Costello (1906-1959)- actor/comedian

Frank Sinatra (1915–1998)- singer/ actor

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (born 1930)- NASA, astronaut

Jack Nicholson (born 1937)- actor (born in New York City, grew up in Neptune City, NJ)

Debbie Harry (born 1945), singer/actress (born in Florida but raised in NJ)

Bruce Springsteen (born 1949), musician

Anthony Bourdain (born 1956) chef, author and television personality (born in New York City, grew up in Leonia, New Jersey)

Jon Bon Jovi (born 1962), musician

Kevin Smith (born 1970)- filmmaker

Lauryn Hill (born 1975), singer/rapper/songwriter

The Jonas Brothers (birth years vary depending on the brother)- boy band





1776 by David McCullough (provides a very detailed look at the American Revolution and highlights many of the events happening in NJ at that time)

It Came from New Jersey! My Life as an Artist by Tim Jacobus (the artist responsible for the covers of the Goosebumps books)


The Houseguest by Agnes Rossi (a novel about 1930s NJ)


The Lost Legends of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken (a novel about 1980s NJ)


Weird NJ:  Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Mark Moran, Mark Sceurman (highlights the wonderful and strange of the Garden State)












The Places Where We Live – California

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

by Alisa F. (Greycat133)


Welcome to California, the third largest state in the US (and the largest if you count population).  There’s no doubt we Californians are a mixed bunch.  We’re environmentalists, computer experts, farmers, miners, scientists…not to mention we’ve elected not one, but two movie stars to be our governor.  And we’ve got the geography to match such a diverse population.  You can travel the deserts of Death Valley in the south, over to the Pacific Coast in the west, up to the Redwood Forests in the north, and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the east, and still be in the same state.  And nestled in-between is the region we call the Central Valley.


I’m kind of partial to the northern valley myself, since it’s where I call my home.  A couple hours’ drive east or west and you can be crashing through waves at the beach, or skiing in the mountains.  Summers get hot (but not too hot) and it almost always cools down at night.  Winters bring rain instead of snow, and for a girl who spent a few years living in Idaho, it’s nice to live somewhere where the temperature rarely drops below freezing.


We’re farmers here in the Central Valley, with California produce being a huge share of the American food market.  Wine grapes, grain, tomatoes, and avocados are just a few of the things we’re known for. And we’re very proud of our dairy industry too.  After all, great cheese comes from happy cows, and happy cows are from California.  But we don’t just do agriculture around here.  You’ll find plenty of cities here too, including our state’s capitol in Sacramento.  Even if most of the county thinks the capitol is Los Angeles or San Francisco.



Fun places you never thought of to visit:

Everyone wants to go to the beach, Hollywood, San Francisco, Yosemite, and San Diego.  But did you ever think of visiting:

Sacramento – Not only the capitol, but home to some great historic sites and the Sacramento Jazz festival.
Coloma – In January of 1848, James Marshall discovered gold here, starting the famous California Gold Rush.  You’ll still find plenty of gold-themed activities around, including the chance to pan for your own gold.



Jelly Belly factory – Yep, you read that right.  One of Jelly Belly’s two factories is in Fairfield, California.  The tour is not to be missed, and you get free candy at the end!


Winchester Mystery House – A sprawling historic mansion built by Sarah Winchester from the day she moved there in 1884 to her death on September 5, 1922.  Rumor has it that she built the house to rid herself of vindictive ghosts, and even today the house is supposedly haunted.


Redwood forests – Home of the tallest and oldest trees, these natural wonders are a beauty.  Where else can you drive your car through a tree?


Famous people from California:

Sure, we’ve got lots of famous movie stars, directors, and musicians.  But let’s not overlook:

  • John Steinbeck, Nobel prize winning author
  • William Randolph Hearst, publisher and famous newspaper man
  • Julia Child, famous television chef
  • Jeff Gordon, NASCAR champion
  • Sally Ride, first American woman in space
  • Robert Ripley creator of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
  • Ansel Adams, photographer of the American West


California is a bit of patchwork.  We hail from all over, and our culture is as diverse as our geography.  But no matter what issues make the state seemed screwed up, it’s still a great place to live.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Letters from the Corrugated Castle A Novel of Gold Rush California 1850-1852 by Joan W. Blos


Cannery Row by John Steinbeck


Citizen Hearst A Biography of William Randolph Hearst  by W. A. Swanberg


Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Vol 1) by Julia Child


Racing Back to the Front: My Memoir by Jeff Gordon


Mission Planet Earth by  Sally Ride, Tam O’Shaughnessy


Ripley’s Believe It or Not Encyclopedia of the Bizarre Amazing Strange Inexplicable Weird and All True


The Places Where We Live – New Hampshire

Saturday, September 10th, 2011


New Hampshire by Robin K. (jubead)



New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free or Die”. General John Stark, who is New Hampshire’s famous Revolutionary War solider, coined the phrase and in 1945 the state of New Hampshire officially adopted the motto.  In 2009, the state felt the motto portrayed the state as unfriendly and attempted to change the motto to “Be Courteous, Its The New Hampshire’s Way”.  I remember one spring morning a couple of years ago crossing from Massachusetts into New Hampshire and seeing the new motto.   My first thought was “Huh?”.  This was a short-term campaign and when you visit New Hampshire you will once again be greeted with “Live Free or Die”, though we are all very courteous.  Thank  You Please.

New Hampshire borders Canadian province of Quebec to its north, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to its east, Massachusetts to its south and Vermont to its west.  Forests make up 80% of New Hampshire’s landscape with 1,300 lakes or ponds and 40,000 miles of rivers and streams.  New Hampshire has 18 miles of beaches (sandy and rocky).

New Hampshire is 168 miles long and 90 miles across its widest point.  As of 2010 the population reached 1,316,470 million and there are 146.8 persons per square mile.

Sales and Income Tax doesn’t exist in New Hampshire (except on meals, motels, tobacco, timber, gravel, dividends, interest, self-employed, small companies, property tax, etc.).  Unfortunately, New Hampshire property tax is among the highest in country.


New Hampshire’s official drink is Apple Cider, but we do not have any official food.   We got nothing!  Maine has Lobsters, Massachusetts has Baked Beans, Vermont has Maple Syrup, the Atlantic Ocean has fish and Quebec has Meat Pies.  NH has nothing.  Since we are better with mottos, then food, you will have to visit another state if you want to eat!




New Hampshire’s Fun Facts

  • The “Old Man of the Mountain” was one of the most famous natural landmarks in the state. The head measured 40 feet from chin to forehead and was made up of five ledges. This profile was carved by nature thousands of years ago. The “Old Man of the Mountain” is 1,200 feet over Echo Lake. In 2003 the rocks making up the Old Man slid down the mountain. They are trying to raise money to restore this great old landmark.
  • Mt Washington at 6,288 feet tall and is the highest in the Northeast.
  • NH still has only a single area code for the entire state “603”.
  • Peterborough, NH built the first free public library in 1833.


Who hailed from New Hampshire:

  • Sara Hale was the first women’s magazine editor in the nation.
  • Dan Brown author of the DaVinci Code
  • Robert Frost who is a Pulitzer Prize poet.
  • Horace Greely, founder of the New York Tribune.
  • J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye
  • Joseph Hale, author of “Mary had a Little Lamb”.
  • Christa McAulifee was the first private citizen sent to space.

You may Live Free or Die but it is against the law to…

  • Tap your feet, nod your head, or in any way keep time to the music in a tavern, restaurant, or cafe.
  • You cannot sell the clothes you are wearing to pay off gambling debts.
  • It is considered an offense to check into a hotel under an assumed name.
  • If cattle cross state roads they must be fitted with a device to gather its feces.
  • In White Mountain National Forest – If a person is caught raking the beaches, picking up litter, hauling away trash, building a bench for the park, or many other kind things without a permit, he/she may be fined $150 for ”maintaining the national forest without a permit”.
  • Finally, on Sundays citizens may not relieve themselves while looking up.


New Hampshire is beautiful, friendly and steeped in history. In the fall the foliage is breath taking, in the winter, well, it is cold, but you can go skiing, in the spring it is the start of Friends of Library sales, and finally in the summer you can fish, hike, or float on a lake and relax.   It is where I live…


The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving


The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger


Robert Frost’s Poems


I touch the Future: The Story of Christa McAuliffe by Robert T Hohler


The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown