Inspiring tour of the Phillipsburg area… cats, dinosaurs and Edison’s concrete houses

I loved being a newspaper reporter and I adored working for weeklies the best. Weekly newspaper reporters typically had a geographic beat, whereas daily reporters had a topic-oriented beat. I worked in Phillipsburg (N.J.) School District (Phillipsburg, Lopatcong, Pohatcong, Greenwich, and Alpha) for several papers and Bethlehem (Pa.) Area School District for another.

I covered Phillipsburg from early 2000 to late 2005.

I know so many things about the region, its neighborhoods and its nooks and crannies. It’s how Maryann Ignatz of Steve’s Café on South Main Street in Phillipsburg ended up in the Parisian Phoenix anthology, Not an Able-Bodied White Man with Money. (Which Amazon has a ridiculous deal on right now. $2.60 each, limit four. I don’t think I can order them from the printer for that low of a price. So I ordered some. This also allows me to see if they really do have as many of my books in stock as they say they do. But I may do a Parisian Phoenix blog to explore this more. I ordered some books from Bookshop and Amazon, the kind I did not publish.)

But I digress.

Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab at Phillipsburg Petco

The cat rescue for which I foster originated in the Phillipsburg area “back in those days.” Mars, The Teenager’s foster fail, and his sister, the shy Minerva I mention occasionally, spent time in the Phillipsburg Petco to improve their socialization with a certain cat volunteer who I believe is the only person who has purchased, read & reviewed all of my novels. I call her my only true fan. She even bought some as Christmas presents for family. (I swear to this individual, I am writing the next installment. I am.)

So, when they have a “Meet the Kitties” event, someone from that crew usually invites Minerva.

Yesterday I received such a text.

I was in my bedroom plotting my catch-and-crate technique for the shy girls. I had two potential crates at the Petco, so if I could nab Minerva and tripod Louise, then they could share the crate on site, and eight month old kitten Jennifer Grey could have the other. Except Louise knew something was up and hid.

That’s when my friend and Parisian Phoenix photographer Joan Zachary texted.

“You going to be around later? I have some stuff I forgot to give you.”

I told her: The only place I had to go was to the cat event.

“I haven’t picked up my camera enough.”

Joan said she’d like to come photograph cats, as she hadn’t picked up her camera enough and could use the inspiration.

I don’t know what made me say it, but I asked her: “Have you ever seen the dinosaurs in Alpha?”

I warned her that they weren’t that exciting, unless you had a thing for dinosaurs or were five.

“I’m five at heart,” she replied.

So I told The Teenager that Joan would be coming over and we would go spend some time at Meet the Kitties and I might take Joan to see the dinosaurs.

“Can I come?!?!?!” she exclaimed as if she were five.

I have taken her to see the dinosaurs probably every three years since she was not-even-two-years-old. And she still acts likes the random metal dinosaurs are exciting.

G.J. Oliver’s Dinosaurs

We drove Joan to the Phillipsburg Petco where she took some kitty cat photos (“you need them for the new cat book,” she said). Then, with two cats and The Teenager in the car we headed to Alpha to the Industrial Park to see the dinosaurs. I heard the story about the dinosaurs at an Alpha council meeting, when someone was talking about how confused the MedEvac helicopter pilot was when a dispatcher told him to look for the dinosaurs to find the small municipality.

The story goes that industrialist G.J. Oliver built the life-sized metal dinosaurs, complete with a rather blocky, Minecraft-style caveman, for his grandson. Online research reports that the Oliver operation is a steel fabrication company, which makes a lot of sense. We did a photo tour of small town Alpha for the newspaper “in my day” and included another Alpha icon, the now defunct Charlie’s Pool Room which was primarily a hot dog joint run by two brothers with some blue plates, a crock pot, a skillet and their grandmother’s secret sauce.

The dinosaurs have been standing now for decades. The main display of dinosaurs in the field are now white. The Teenager insisted that they had to have been primed as the white was too even and perfect. The dinosaur by the gate is still deep green, which makes me wonder if sun damage may have bleached the others. (As of this writing, Joan has only shared her iPhone photos. She has not played with the real camera shots yet. And both the Teenager and I, having seen the dinosaurs a dozen times before, did not snap token photographs.)

photo by Joan Zachary via iPhone

Ingersoll’s Valley View Neighborhood of Edison’s Concrete Houses

photo by Joan Zachary, via iPhone

As we departed Alpha, some random information about my newspaper days started tumbling from my mouth.

“Did you ever hear about Thomas Edison’s patented, single-pour concrete houses?”

The Teenager, who has a fascination with all things built, leaned closer. Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic. But suddenly she looked up from her phone where she was probably engulfed in TikTok.

Phillipsburg has changed a lot over the years. The Ingersoll Rand tract has finally been developed into warehouses. When I still attended Phillipburg council meetings (before The Teenager was born), the town council constantly discussed the land’s redevelopment and finally took the parcel by eminent domain. Or maybe they just talked about it. But I’m pretty sure they did. I also remember one property on the site I may have visited in the first attempt to revive the site, but that might be my imagination.

So, it’s no surprise I lost my bearings among the warehouses and had to google Gino’s Market, the landmark of the Valley View neighborhood where the concrete homes (one neighborhood of only three in New Jersey featuring the experimental quick-to-erect, low-cost homes by early 20th century standards) stand. I don’t know why I didn’t google Green Street School.

I had overshot the neighborhood by a street and that’s how I confused myself. I had the Early Childhood Center in view the entire time but I was on the opposite side of the building where I thought I was.

Now, honestly, I don’t know if Joan really needs all my quirky adventures. I’d like to think she does. And The Teenager laments that she never knew me as a reporter and that she would love to experience all these strange tidbits I have floating in my head. I don’t know what made me think of the concrete houses today, but The Teenager loved them. I suppose it’s no surprise that I write fiction because sometimes my paranormal stories are less strange than my real life.

For more information:

Dinosaurs

Concrete Houses & another

Hunting among urban decay and industrial ruins for spaceships

There is an industrial site about a mile from my home, probably a brownfield. Everything on the property has been demolished, except for a mega-furnace of some sort, metal and concrete, far across the field like a spaceship from a 1940s science fiction movie.

This has fascinated me, again and again. So today I invited my photographer friend Joan Zachary and we went on a photo adventure. And trespassing.

These were shot with my phone.

Flexing Creativity: Leveraging the talents of those around you

As some of my loyal readers may know, my long-time friend and partner-in-creativity-crime, Gayle, and I have moved forward after five years on our publishing project, Parisian Phoenix.

Our initial launch will feature my Fashion and Fiends chick lit style horror novels. The first three novels are part of the debut. Gayle is the graphic designer in charge of all things visual whereas I handle the words.

We have ordered the ISBNs and barcodes. I have filed for copyrights. We have begun research on various publishing platforms. Gayle has drafts of all the text.

We needed to get an updated headshot for my author photo. Coincidentally, my good friend Joan is starting a photography portrait class. So I asked her to take my headshot and she asked me if she could use the residents of my menagerie as subjects.

Working together with other local artists generates a sense of community that can be a lot of fun.

These are two of my many favorites that Joan took before the start of her class, traditional and non-traditional compositions:

To see more about Joan and her photography adventures, visit her web site: Joan’s Portfolio.

Gratitude Photo Shoot

For the last couple of days I’ve wanted to spend as much time as possible taking photographs of all the things in my life that I encounter on that day and compile them into a gallery for a blog entry.

If I did it today, these are the things that made me happy and they would have appeared in my photos:

  • Kittens, kittens and more kittens
  • Coffee
  • My house is so full of food!
  • My teenagers
  • That Dunkin had a $1 coffee because of the Eagles playing
  • Streaming services, today I started a documentary on Netflix
  • Cozy blankets
  • My cat Fog
  • My make up
  • Cantaloupe
  • I tried a chocolate chip cookie dough Chobani Flip
  • Socks. I do love compelling socks
  • My budget book
  • My journal
  • My pink lamp

Goals—and how the impulsive selection of a desktop picture breeds hope

My last day in the office was March 17. We were practicing social distancing— not allowed to pass each other in the hall, speaking from inside our offices, wiping down doorknobs and the copy machine.

It was George’s mother’s birthday and he couldn’t go see her in the nursing home. That made him sad.

Tomorrow will be my 13th day of working from home. The fourth day of my second year with the agency. My first full day working on my new laptop. I had to reset windows and I managed to send myself this old picture from my phone for my desktop photo:

Traveling

I took it on the road between Djibouti City and Lac Abbé four years ago. Other than my daughter, I’ve shown one person this photo and they didn’t even ask what it was.

“Some random African photo,” he said when I asked if he noticed it, “I know your fascination with Africa.”

So I explained. “Ah,” he said, “that makes sense.”

This is the original photo that I took in January 2016.

On the Road

There is beauty in that photo, and oppressive dry heat, and the implication of hardship. Where are they going? Is it far? Yet, such color and contrast. Simplicity.

The man in the front is wearing a traditional man’s skirt. They say it helps you stay cool in the heat. The women have such light but colorful layers, lovely hijab blowing in what appears to be a slight breeze.

This photo takes me away when I look at it, and for me, it offers perspective and optimism.

I do have a critical theorist’s fascination with Africa, but my passion is actually post-colonial Francophone Africa and how their colonial experience and subsequent (ahem) immigration issues and Muslim relations provide lessons for American imperialism in a post-9/11 world.

Though recent political upheaval in South Africa may provide an interesting cross-examination of the British colonial experience… and what that means for the next generation of African citizens across the continent.

But I digress… not uncommon.

I have some goals I want to set this week.

  • Have several meals with my daughter at our patio cafe.
  • Take 3 walks.
  • Do 5 push ups tomorrow, 10 on Tuesday, and as many as I can each day as long as it is at least the same as the day before.
  • Care for my nails.
  • Take a bath.
  • Cut the grass.
  • Do a blog series on Tarot cards
Happy Sunday

A PJ Monday

So, I’m still receiving comments about how fun P.J. is. I have to admit, I didn’t expect him to be so popular.

I had a rough start to today. Let’s just say there wasn’t enough caffeine and sugar in my system to compensate for my Black Friday weekend in retail. Number seven. When I first accepted a job working part-time, I never thought I would stay this long. I wanted something to allow me flexibility and to leave my stress at the time clock. Both are usually true.

P.J. and I headed to West Chester early this morning and spent the day doing homework in my office between helping students as a history department graduate assistant.

Before too long P.J. had to use the facilities and you can imagine his confusion when I had to explain to him why the ladies’ room had urinals. You see, P.J., this building used to be a dormitory and it once housed male students.

We finished our work and had to decide what the next leg of our day would bring. After much debate, we opted for coffee. The nice man at Dunkin Donuts sold us TWO peppermint crunch doughnuts for a dollar. That meant we didn’t have to share! P.J. couldn’t have been more thrilled because he knows I am a bit of a glutton.

But I did have to be in the adult in the room and point out to P.J. that we needed “real food” and not merely sugar. I have a long night ahead and the sugar/caffeine roller coaster would do me more harm than good. We walked outside and right next to the Dunkin Donuts there was a natural food store (Great Pumpkin Market). That sounded great as P.J. and I have eaten more than our fair share of junk over the holiday weekend.

They had some raw honey at very reasonable prices so I picked that up and I discovered one of the “power sandwiches” I would eat occasionally during my vegetarian days.

As I walked toward the front of the store, I found a discount section and there was a power sandwich AND some fake turkey salad.

The clerk turned over the discount items and discovered they were out of date so she gave them to me for free! And since a bear is a scavenger P.J. didn’t mind at all.

Like good children we ate our dinner first and then had a doughnut.