100. Full circle

 

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2013

 

 

Yesterday, we drove down to Kingston, Just outside of Princeton, to see the oldest bridge in America and to satisfy my shutter-bug obsession. It was a beautiful, warm day and after wandering about for a bit we decided we’d head for our favourite brewpub in Long Valley and enjoy a couple of their fine ales.

As we sat outside supping our beers, It all seemed very familiar. The day was very like those I’d experienced on my very first trip to visit Jersey girl. The kids are currently  away at their Grandmother’s, just as they were back then.

I reminded my wife that this very brewpub was the first place we ever went out to dinner together. And that’s when it hit us. This was actually the five year anniversary of that very meal.

Somehow, completely unintentionally, we’d ended up back at the place where we had our first proper date. I was kind of stunned at the almost audible click of that long five-year circle finally closing.

That’s not the first such instance lately either. A few months ago, after our last Immigration interview had been successfully navigated, we stopped off at the Clinton Diner for some lunch and while sitting there had remembered that this was the very first diner we ever visited together.

We’d chosen, on that day of all days, to eat in the first place we ever went together (didn’t count as a first date, though, it was just breakfast).

On top of that, we have recently been forced to move house (and towns) and quite fortuitously have ended up back in the town where JG was living when we two first met.

It all feels like completion, like all the strings are finally being tied. There’s a sense, we both feel, that we are where we are meant to be and that the path ahead is clearer than ever.

This is Loveletter 100* and feels like a good place to end. I don’t suppose anyone will ever read through all 100 entries but for anyone that might, I think the story has the capability to inspire.

I don’t think there was a single person who actually believed that a relationship that began on social media between two people on opposite sides of the world had a snowball’s chance in Hell; not one.

No one, that is, except those same two people. We knew to the very core of our souls that we would succeed, that no matter what was thrown at us and no matter how hard the journey, we would ultimately be together.

Time has proven us right and yesterday was a reminder that anything in this world is possible, you just have to want it enough.

 

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*If you’re new to this blog and you want to know what it’s all about, you can go to the Love letters section and start reading.

 

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99. The Wish

 

They say you end up marrying your mother. I don’t think that’s strictly true but I did end up marrying a mother. Jersey girl and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary on Friday and today it’s Mother’s Day here in America.

When I made my commitment to Jersey, I also knew I was committing to her three kids (all girls) and I knew she was a mother first and everything else second. I completely understood that, as it had always been my approach to parenting too.

I also knew that all of this could fall over – and I would be done – if, when I met her kids, they didn’t accept me. I guess I’m living a charmed life because they took to me far better than I ever had a right to expect.

And so, in the end, I didn’t just find a wife, I found a family waiting for me on the other side of the world. A family that admitted, not only me but my own son right along with me.

My boy has visited us three times since I arrived here permanently and has been welcomed with open arms not only by Jersey and the girls but the extended family as well. My wife has embraced her new adult son as if he were her own. This has been a tremendous boon to me as he lost his real mother a little over five years ago.

So, on this rainy Mothers Day in NJ, I just wanted to take a few moments to celebrate a really wonderful mom.

Happy Mother’s Day my love.

 

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And while I’m at it, Happy Mother’s Day to you too, mum. You are so missed. Wish I could just say hi.

 

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1. Coming home

 

I’m feeling a little nostalgic today so I’m going way back to the beginning.

 

 

Runaway American Dream

New Jersey is a very strange place. I’ve visited the Garden State four times in the past two years. My reason for going was the best one there is; love. Yeah, that’s right; I fell in love with a Jersey girl.

How this happened is a subject for another post, but I can tell you this, when you fall for Jersey, you fall hard.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into back then; the world that was about to open up to me, but, ignorance being bliss ‘n’ all, in I jumped with both feet. Thank god I’m not the timorous type.

Because I didn’t just find my heart’s desire there, I found home. You see, NJ is simply unlike anywhere else. Sure, it takes a lot of flak from outsiders (particularly New Yorkers) but the popular notion of Jersey as some sort of industrial wasteland is…

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98. Prove it all night

 

If dreams came true

Ah, wouldn’t that be nice…

 

Yesterday was a red letter day for Jersey girl and me. We were summoned to the hellish pit known as Newark, New Jersey by the Department of Immigration to give an accounting of our relationship.

That’s a needlessly dramatic way of saying that my first year in the US was up and now we were required to prove, to the satisfaction of a lone bureaucrat, that our marriage was not a sham. This is the part of the process known as Adjustment of Status which, once passed gives the applicant legal permanent resident status.

This was a day that had been hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles since my arrival last March. I mean, it’s not like the marriage isn’t exactly what we claim it to be, both of us (and hopefully you, dear readers) are very much aware of exactly how real it is.

The thing that always gnawed at the back of my mind, however, was just how real it would look from the perspective of a bored government employee with very literal power over our entire future in his or her hands.

There was only one way to discover the answer to that nagging question.

The drive into Newark was not too bad but finding a park proved challenging (especially the one lot staffed by a lone, toothless Nigerian who couldn’t comprehend our English and whose own brand of same we could not decipher). Eventually, though, we found a place to stash the car and arrived on time at the fortress that all government buildings seem to be in this country.

Our lawyer, big surprise, was twenty minutes late showing up but, despite being told by the callow youth behind the sign in desk that the wait times were one to two hours, my name was called within twenty minutes and we were soon sitting across the table from an unassuming but very businesslike young man.

I won’t bore you all with a blow by blow (and I’m not sure the Department would be happy with me if I did – I think they like to keep the process mysterious) but the interview itself was relatively painless as we sat side by side and tried to appear like two people who know each other intimately – which, of course, is what we are.

People always say ‘be yourself’ but it’s funny how, under certain stimuli, we can struggle to remember who that is. Suffice to say, our interviewer seemed convinced by the end of our conversation and gave his tentative assurance that all would be fine. the Caveat to that was that if he checked my files and discovered any dark past type secrets then all deals were off. I’m pretty confident that all deals remain on.

We’ll have the official answer in the next fortnight or so. We’re not worried. Currently, we are looking for a new place to live and there’s even talk of buying something in the not too distant future.

Oh, the best question from the interview?

Interviewer: Do you intend to act against the US, by which I mean commit an act of terrorism or insurgency?
Me: Do a lot of people answer ‘yes’ to that question?

What a wacky world.

 

 

©2018

 

97. Straight to you

 

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I travelled 16,618 km (103256 miles) to be with my wife. At least, that is the distance, as the crow flys, between Melbourne Australia and New Jersey. Of course, I made the trip five times before that final permanent one. Five times both ways; 166,180 km plus the final trip bringing the total to 182,798 km or 113,585.411 miles.

Any way you cut it, that’s a lot of travel hours; a lot of time spent jammed into undersized airplane seats listening to babies cry and people snore, a lot of time dashing through strange airports trying not to miss my connection, a lot of time being irradiated in body scanners and harangued by the TSA.

Add to that the heartbreaking farewells at the end of each of those five visits and the weeks of depression once I’d returned to Melbourne and the whole thing feels a little Homerespue; at the very least, it is an epic(ish) poem of devotion and unflagging determination.

Was it worth it? Was all the lost sleep, longing, anxiety, and sheer discomfort worth the final reward?

Absolutely.

Jersey girl and I recently passed the one year mark in our real life together. One year living under the same roof. One year living as a family. It has been challenging, rewarding, vexing, and, at times, downright confusing but mostly it has felt like home. We live well together. Our chemistry has survived close and prolonged proximity. If there was a honeymoon period, it is still very much in effect.

I wake up every day and thank the universe for this woman with whom I now share my world. She has shown me what true love and devotion really are.

And my new adopted country?

America, much to my surprise has become a strange fascination to me. I have felt myself falling in love with her too. Her seasons, her moods, her people, and her beating heart (New York) have captured me in ways and with an intensity, I never would have guessed could happen to me.

There is a feeling that anything is possible here, that you might discover who you truly are as this vast melting pot of ideas and cultures reflects your persona, your mask, back at you. America will not let you hide from your true self. She demands that you simply be – you.

Challenge accepted.

 

 

Another Jersey Girl

 

You know she thrills me with all her charms

When I’m wrapped up in my baby’s arms…

 

In this blog, I’m going talk about something very dear to my heart; beer.

I can remember a time in my life when the selection of beers on offer (at least in Australia) was depressingly small. There were the big breweries which pumped out mass-produced swill full of chemicals that all tasted exactly the effing same and that was pretty much it.

Don’t get me wrong, those beers are still the most popular on the market. They have a loyal following among those who believe real men only drink beer that tastes like piss (hence the term “getting pissed”). It’s supposed to prove how tough, working class, and patriotic you are or somesuch BS (I think this is the actual reason women live longer).

England, where I lived for a spell in the early 80’s, was a different matter. There they had a fine tradition of pubs that brewed their own local beers and so you could get away from the generic blandness of the big brewers and experience a wider variety…. of beers drunk at room temperature.

Back again in Australia, things were (very slowly) beginning to get more interesting. A small(ish) brewer in South Australia called Coopers was producing a line of pure beers that were more than drinkable. I switched gratefully from dishcloth brews like Victoria Bitter (VB as it is lovingly known by its brain-damaged acolytes) to Coopers and, for a while, all was well.

Then one of the majors bought up Coopers and that fine beer was very soon close to indistinguishable from the VBs and Carltons. Amazing how thoroughly mass production screws shit up.

All beers produced in NSW are garbage btw and don’t let anyone tell you different.

By the 90’s the horizon was less bleak. Microbreweries were emerging in the back lanes of Melbourne (probably Sydney too but who cares?). Small pubs started experimenting with their own house brews and before long there was a plethora of not too terrible beers popping up. I alas, cannot remember the name of a single one of them.

‘Boutique’ beers really took off in the 2000’s (I refuse to say naughties). In Australia, Belgian style Beer Bars were all the rage and every pretentious wanker worth his salt was swanning around with a surgically decapitated Hoegaarden to go with his neatly trimmed designer stubble.

It all seemed to be about imported beers at that point. The disaster of 2008 was a few years away yet and confidence was still OK. People were willing to shell out a bit on imported brews to show their mates how well they were doing.

Craft beers (as they’d come to be known) really seemed to explode after the GFC but it wasn’t until I first visited America that I really saw how big they’d become. My mind was blown by the sheer volume of choice in every liquor store I visited. Back home, you generally had to go to one of the big warehouse booze emporiums to see that much choice.

I eagerly dove in. Each visit (and, if you remember, there were five of them) I would expand my repertoire of craft breweries.  Flying Dog, with their amazing Ralph Steadman, can designs, were a fave for a while but I eventually moved on from there. Two Roads Brewery was the next to catch my eye and I found several of their beers to be top notch. However, for some reason, the stores around our area just don’t seem to want to stock the good ones.

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We, that’s Jersey girl and I, eventually started specifically seeking out New Jersey brews. We found a great IPA from a brewery called Brotherton which would turn up on draft in various places only to vanish after a week or so. We tried to find it in bottles but the brewery was so small they weren’t bottling yet*.

Asbury Park Brewery does some nice beers but not quite the style we’ve been looking for.

I even kept searching while I was back in Melbourne, looking online for news of new breweries in NJ. Which is how I found the winner. A small brewery in Hackettstown was just about to start canning. They’d been around for three or four years and were finally about to release their first canned beer intriguingly called Rake Breaker. Hackettstown is very close to home and so I was pretty excited to get back to Jersey and try it.

And what was the name of this fledgeling brewery?

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You just know I was going to be won over by that, right? When I came back (this time to stay) we started looking all over for signs of Rake Breaker in the stores. To no avail. We started to plan our visit to the Brewery tap room but it seemed that every time we had a chance to go something came up. It was becoming a source of no small frustration.

Then, one evening, we were in a tap room restaurant in Princeton and there on the beer menu was Jersy Girl. By this time they had another IPA out called Sun Kissed Citra. We fell over ourselves to order and, there in a cellar in Princeton, had our very first taste of a Jersey Girl beer.

And lo, it was very, very good.

A few weeks later, the cans started turning up in the stores and we got to sample Rake Breaker at long last. It was, if anything, better than Citra.

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We’ve since visited the Taproom at Hackettstown several times It’s a great little spot tucked away in a fairly bland commercial park. They have big comfy sofas and board games to while away the time and a very nice selection of beer adventures to sample. They also sell their brews in refillable Growlers, which is nice.

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We’ve found our Alpha beer. We still stray into unknown territory fairly regularly, but the fridge at home always has a few cans of Jersey Girl on the shelf.

Ah, life’s simple pleasures**.

 

 

Here, for anyone interested, is the Brewery website.

 

 

 

 

 

*That situation has apparently now been rectified.

**And yes, It is my ambition to sit with Jersey girl at Jersey Girl, drinking Jersey Girl, while listening to Jersey Girl (they’ve played Springsteen while we were there but not that song – I would happily take the Tom Waits version).

95. I want a wonderful life

 

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I didn’t put anything Christmas themed up this year because, well, frankly I’m really not all that in to Christmas.

Bah humbug.

We had a very nice family gathering (it was the first time I’d personally celebrated Christmas in about seven years) and don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed it. That said, I don’t get into all the rigmarole that usually goes along with the consumer season.

I did, however, come across an interesting tidbit while perusing NJ.com.

Apparently, for many American’s, the movie It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart is a Christmas tradition not to be flouted. Now, I’ve not seen the movie myself but I get the gist of the message it conveys and I can see why people like to indulge in it around this time of year.

What I wasn’t aware of, was the story’s connection to New Jersey and Hunterdon County (where I now reside) in particular. The movie is set in the fictional upstate New York town of Bedford Falls but the story’s original creator, Philip Van Doren Stern, had a different town in mind when he was writing it; the town of Califon NJ.

We have spent some very happy times in Califon over the years. It’s only about seven miles from home and is a very pretty place to visit. I keep uncovering these odd little factoids since I found my way here to Jersey. I take them as little reminders that I’m where I’m meant to be and that all is on track.

 

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Take it away Jersey boy…