How To Not End Up On The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Normally, I would happily hand over my cash to any airport for the sheer opportunity to escape a long and tedious car ride, because honestly, there is a special place in Hell for parents that force their children who already are arch enemies to sit next to each other in a smelly minivan for more hours than I would normally be asleep for. However, in my new post-grad status, there aren’t a ton of chances to drop hundreds of dollars on a trip when you can get in the car for a few hours and hand over forty bucks instead. As a result, my trip to Hilton Head Island with my friend took about 13 hours in the car, including stops, originating from New Jersey, which I’m really pretty proud of.

Anyhow, on this journey through the backroads of the South and abandoned highways (accompanied by abandoned cars, which is another thing entirely), I got to thinking about if I had been alone on this journey, as many people are, especially when they are college kids traveling back and forth from their colleges after being home for the holidays. And you know what? Driving by yourself must be friggin scary. 

So, after speaking to my adopted retired NYPD detective aunt (who I came to visit on this beautiful island), I have some tips to share with you about things to consider if you are driving for an extended period of time, alone or not….

1. If you will be staying in a hotel, opt to stay in a hotel that accepts pets. Why? First of all, people who have pets tend to be less likely to be serial killers. You don’t need a study to tell you this. And second, if people have pets, that means they will be walking outside from time to time to take their pets out, meaning that they will form a sort of neighborhood watch. Plus, since the hotel knows that dogs are gonna bark if they hear someone knocking, they, nor anyone else, is going to be knocking on your door.

2. If a “cop” flashes their lights at you, wait until you are on a main road to actually pull over. There have been cases known where people posing as cops pull you over on a backroad because they know that no one is gonna come by, and then they… well, you know. Will you piss off a real cop a little by waiting a minute or two to pull over? Yeah, maybe. Is it worth your life? Yeah, I would say so.

3. If you’re in a sketchy area and you get pulled over, ask to see a badge before full-on opening your window. Chances are, someone posing as a fake cop isn’t going to have a fake badge to accompany themselves; it’ll be a miracle if they even have a car that looks remotely like a cop car. And if they do, there is no feasible way for you to tell if it’s fake… so if they do, you’re shit outta luck. So if you catch someone without a badge and you haven’t opened your window yet and they have no chance of getting at you, you still have a chance to get away before they come after you. 

4. Have someone call you at designated times to check up on you. Your mom will most likely do this anyway, let’s be serious. But even if it’s only once every four hours, at least the person calling you will know that you will be available at that time and if not, then yeah, there is a problem and a little search may be in order.

5. If you have to stop your car for whatever reason, pull a little off the road so no idiots hit you. This is literally so easy but no one follows it. I constantly see people who pulled off the road (if their car just broke down, then obviously they have no choice…) who are barely even off the road so if someone just isn’t paying attention, they could ram right into their car. Just pull over!!! And for Christ’s sake, turn your hazards or your lights on!!! I know they look dumb, but you know what looks dumber? A bashed in car.

So there you have it. Follow these basic tips to ensure your safety on those long rides. They’re really not even hard and your mom will be proud and you can still eat all the fast food you like, I really don’t even care. Just try not to die. 


Wine Country, USA

Yesterday we enjoyed a relaxing, sunny afternoon in beautiful Wine Country, sipping on whites and reds while sampling fine cheeses before taking an outing through the vineyards lain across the rolling green hills without a care in the world. Tuscany, you may think? Maybe Napa Valley? Oh no. We were in scenic Pittstown, New Jersey, located in northwest Jersey just a little bit off of the beaten path.

At first, the idea of visiting a winery, a beloved and precious place that now makes me think of Italy in the way that tattered old photos make you think of your angelic passed dog, made me wonder if I could even take it, if I could enjoy a place that was so magnificent across the Atlantic but seemed like it could only be a cheap and sad imitation in the US of A. And to be honest, it actually wasn’t half bad.


Beneduce Vineyards was one of the few wineries in the area I was able to sniff out that wasn’t an obscene distance from my house in the Middle of Nowhere, New Jersey (only about 45 minutes away) and had a pretty down-to-earth deal concerning wine tastings and tours and such, because let’s be honest, you can’t drive that far just to gulp down some wine. Unlike many other wineries I was looking at, you didn’t need an appointment to come to a tasting or 11 other people or an extra $150 bucks.

Instead, for $10 and from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Sundays, my boyfriend and I sampled a pretty humble amount of four different wines, which I guess I couldn’t complain about for $10.The girl at the desk who poured each wine for us had a pretty extensive knowledge about how each was made and bottled and the quirks and its appropriate pairings. Which was made even better because with the four wines, we received some meat and cheese, which we maybe sort of substituted for lunch that day. Whoops.

Beneduce Winery

After the wines and the free glasses we received with them and the food, for some odd reason, the workers at Beneduce Winery then handed us over some keys to their golf carts to cruise their winery on their own doing. They offer a tour by one of their own workers, but I think everyone felt the same way as we did (who needs a tour of a vineyard?) because as we were cruising around in a semi-drunken stupor (after figuring out how to drive the cart, which they don’t bother telling you about either) we saw many other yippity groups giving themselves tours (AKA going as fast as they could in a golf cart without running over any plants).


Mostly, the vineyard part is just a nice photo op, since without someone telling you about each one, the only info is a sign saying what kind of grape each plant is. It’s still fun to cruise around in a real live vineyard, and maybe stop at the hammock on the outskirts too for an afternoon nap. Hey, why not?

It may not be my beautiful Tuscany. It may not be France or Napa or any other places that house wine country. Jeez, it’s just New Jersey. But I think there is something to be said for finding gems in your own backyard. It doesn’t require a full wallet or a plane ticket or a pompous sense of what’s high class. All you need is a little research to see what’s hiding right before your very eyes.

Photo Ops

Where to Nest

When you’ve lived in pretty much the same place for your entire life, a funny thing happens… you really start to absolutely, positively loathe it.

And, at the same time, every place I basically have gone ever I have wanted to move to, which I do not hesitate to tell my mother about. Her eyes get glossy for a second before she realizes that I’m probably full of shit, when then she says, “Well that’s nice, honey” before going back to finishing her dinner and I’m stuck there feeling like a little kid who says they want to be an astronaut when they grow up.

However, by no means is New Jersey an unpleasant place, despite the things you have heard me say and the rumors you have undoubtedly heard. (If you want the truth, the reason we make fun of Jersey is because we want everyone else to stay the hell out). In actuality, it is the garden state (shocker) and is full of green forests, beautiful beaches, bustling towns, and life.

Driving down Ocean Avenue to work is always a pleasant reminder of this. Yes, to me, New Jersey may be a little overdone, and I wouldn’t mind eventually finding a new place to set up camp and move on to bigger and better things. At the same time, I try to look at these beautiful beaches as an outsider and that’s when I remember…

This is the most beautiful place in the world. Long Branch

There’s No Place Like Home.

Having returned to America from my semester in Florence, Italy last Saturday, I have clearly taken my time in posting anything about my farewell to Italy and my return back to this strange country I call home. This is because all that I can articulate about the whole thing is

I am sad

And happy

The end.

Because honestly, how do you sum up the strangest, most exciting, tiresome, scary, and thrilling three and a half months of your life? How do you put that into pre-packaged little words that you scramble away on your laptop back at home in your childhood bed?

Sitting in this bed with my stuffed animals and my best friend Dona, the same thing I have done for the last god-knows-how-many years, makes me feel like those three and a half months in Italy weren’t even real. When people ask me the much-anticipated question how was Italy? I just want to ask them, wait, I was in Italy? That was me in my own life? What? 

And at the same time, I feel like kind of a jerk when I’m standing in line in Starbucks chatting with my friends and I say Oh, in Istanbul, Starbucks has way better holiday drinks and the woman in front of me turns around and gives me a confused look. I feel even worse when I ask my family, Hey, what’s new? and they have nothing to report, when all I want to do is tell them about how I spent the weekend before last in Ireland. I feel spoiled, awful. For a second, saying Florence sounds so natural and it rolls off my tongue because it was where I called home. Now, it is a faraway place that people dream of visiting.

At the same time, I remind myself that I made this decision to go, and it was scary and exciting and I did it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of to not want to be the same person I was back in August. It’s okay to come home and not be happy anymore with going to Applebee’s for dinner when I could be at a family-run hole-in-the-wall place or go on yet another vacation to Florida. It’s okay to not want to wear sweats and Uggs and look like every other cookie-cutter girl in their Victoria’s Secret gear and it’s okay to want to explore the cities that are in your own backyard that you now see that you haven’t really experienced yet.

And yet it’s also okay to take back the life that was yours- your friends, your jobs, your much-loved responsibilities and your big bed and your pets and your obscene amount of purses that still have tags on them. It’s okay to appreciate your television set in English and the fact you can now send text messages without asking what’s the wifi password? I missed my friends and my cat and the fact that I am needed here in America, that people rely on me and I’m not just flitting about aimlessly just because I felt like it.

On this note, I feel like some of the things I wanted so badly to come home to maybe weren’t so great after all. I craved pancakes and bacon and buffalo sauce and driving, and now that I have it, I miss my beautiful pastas and fresh croissants and taking a nice walk to class. It’s funny how the things that once seemed so important really aren’t so important at all. I used to wish I had my dryer back and that I had all my clothes in my closet back to wear. Now I see I wear all the same outfits I wore in Italy anyway.

So what am I getting at here? Um, that’s a good question. I was hoping this was something I would be answering at the end of this post but maybe it’s just not possible to make these grandiose conclusions after something profound. I’m happy to be home, to have my life back and my friends back. Yet I am saddened by the problems I see in America that I was blind to in the past. All I can think of is that day we got in our taxi at the ripe time of 7:00 am in the much-fitting pouring rain and bid farewell to our beautiful Duomo, our beautiful home, that we will never return to, that feels like a dream.


In its Wake

When studying abroad, you often hear a lot of talk that sounds kind of like this–

“I am never going back.”

“America sucks.”

“I don’t miss anything about home.”

And I won’t lie, either, sometimes I say these things too. Maybe sometimes others feel differently, but I get the feeling that a lot of this kind of talk is a little dramatized. Okay, yes, I get it- Italy is awesome. Trust me, I am well aware. But when it comes down to it, we have only been here two months. I can barely say a full sentence in Italian and I go home in a month, so I think this keeps Florence outside the realm of my home. Because my real home, as always, will lie on the coast of New Jersey.

Last Monday, Hurricane Sandy kicked the shit out of New Jersey and New York. The largest hurricane to ever hit the Atlantic coast, it has caused $50 billion in damages, according to, and killed 88 people in the United States and 68 people in Cuba. Moreover, it has wiped out legendary landmark cities like Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and Ocean City, and has devastated countless other towns that sit along the coastline like Long Branch, Brick Township, and Asbury Park.

As you sit at your computer and read this, these stats sound very distant from you. I’m sure that you do not hear, behind these figures, the sounds of people crying because everything they have ever owned is gone or because their boat sits five miles down the street on top of someone’s garage. I’m sure that you do not see people waiting in lines for gas for three hours or hear the beating in their hearts the first time that they step back inside the homes they had to evacuate last Monday.

Most of the time, when I hear about disasters like this, I feel the same way you do. I listen to the facts and the stories, but the truth is, I don’t know these people and I never will and I have no idea what the hell $50 billion in damages even looks like. When the tsunami rocked Japan in 2011 or Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005, I felt bad and all and would maybe drop some change into a collection jar outside Shop Rite, but I didn’t give it all too much thought. This time, though, it isn’t someone else’s home city that was destroyed.

Right now, my home University, which sits on the coast of Monmouth County, has been closed from last Monday (when the storm hit) to this coming Monday, as about 1,000 people take shelter in our Multipurpose Activity Center (which is currently being used as a state shelter) and the University itself remains without power. Thousands of students will have nowhere to go home to once school starts again, and it’s a miracle in itself my own apartment, only a feet away from the boardwalk (which lies in ruins) will even be livable upon next week.

Just like anyone else, I have visited my friends’ beach houses that run alongside the bay in Tom’s River next to Seaside Heights and we danced with their neighbors and biked to the bay when the sun was setting. In Wildwood, I rented hotel rooms with my friends and we hung out on balconies and cruised the sketchy boardwalks at night, playing Frisbee and going in the ocean even if it was raining. I have run the Long Branch boardwalk, alongside couples holding hands and kids riding their skateboards, probably more than 150 times. None of this exists anymore. It is simply not there.

To love a place so dearly, as one loves a home, and then have it disappear, is unreal. It’s just gone. That’s it. And as of now, I can only sit across the Atlantic Ocean, typing on my computer, stalking this freakshow that is Hurricane Sandy on the Internet. Please God, let there be a place to go home to.

To donate to relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy, you can visit the American Red Cross website for volunteering efforts or visit the iTunes Store homepage American Red Cross link, both of which give 100% of the proceeds to relief efforts.

Day Trip Scrimpin’.

Last weekend, I didn’t go to the Bahamas, or the Dominican Republic, or Mexico (but I did go there the weekend before). I did not spend thousands of dollars or wake up at the crack of dawn to get on an airplane. I did not try to stuff a suitcase or budget my money so that I could go parasailing, scuba diving, swimming with dolphins.

However, I did get in a car and drive about two hours down the New Jersey Parkway to go to Wildwood. I spent about 1/100 of the cost of a normal vacation and had just as much fun, if not more. The beauty of New Jersey (yes, it exists) is that there are a thousand of hidden (and not-so-hidden) day trips that are in our backyards, and no matter where you’re from, I’m sure that they are in yours, too. So stop whining that you didn’t get to go on vacation this summer, read some of these saving-money-on-vaca tips, and get in the car.

1. Go for a bike ride. In Wildwood, we rented cute little beach cruisers (one of them, i.e. mine, was very little) for FIVE DOLLARS. You get the bikes for an hour, which is really all you need, and wander down the boardwalk in the morning when it’s still a little cool and you’re not ready to go sit on the beach and bake yet. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t ride bikes often (because I have no balance) so it was a nice treat to cruise alongside the beach for less than what my breakfast costs.

2. Visit a theme park. Most theme parks offer tickets for between $20 and $40 (any more than that is a little ridiculous). At Six Flags, with the bringing of a Coke can from your nearest WaWa, you can buy one get one free, which is pretty sick since Six Flags is great. In Wildwood, we got a family pack and each paid $25 and all went on about seven rides together. Log flume, roller coasters, Dante’s Dungeon, “It”, and of course, the ferris wheel, is well worth $25 to me and a few hours out on the boardwalk.

4. Watch a sunset. This is the really cool thing about nature. It’s FREE. It’s so easy to bring a couple beers, maybe some chips, and go sit somewhere nice and watch the sun set. Now I wasn’t really aware of this, but the sun actually sets pretty fast, so by the time you get bored of identifying clouds and getting embarrassingly drunk it’s time to leave anyway. And if you visit the beautiful Sunset Lake in Wildwood, you’ll see this–

5. Check out the local night scene. I don’t know about you, but I get pretty bored going out to the same bars in my town once in a while. Same old same old. But when you’re away, even if it’s only a half an hour or an hour, you have the chance to go to all new places! In Wildwood, we each paid $3 for a cab to take us a few blocks to Keenan’s Irish Pub, which is a huge place with no cover charge and quite a few bars (one outside, one for an older crowd, one for dads, one with live music, one with dance music…) Point is, no matter where you are, the night scene is NEW. This is a good thing.

6. Eat cheap. It requires a little extra planning, but it’s worth it to bring along a couple bagels and boxes of cereal and snacks. This could save you buying a few meals, which when going on day trips, will save you like half the money you were going to spend anyway. Buy some sandwiches at WaWa and save your dollars for something that matters. And NEVER buy waters/soda. Just bring a damn water bottle. In Wildwood, they practically give food away on the boardwalk, which is actually surprising. Dollar hotdogs, 89 cent pizza slices? May not be too sanitary, but hey, you’ll live.


There has rarely been a summer where, at this point in time, I didn’t feel the same as I do now. Midway through, I’m a little bored and antsy, I’m sick of working and being cooped up in my house and I am ready to move on out and go back to the water and go to class and live with my best friends. I go on Facebook and talk to my friends and I know that I’m not alone in this– most feel the same and are ready to go back to the place that we now consider home, even if it is in a dorm room. Only this time, I won’t be returning.

On August 28, instead of heading back to the Jersey Shore, I’ll be getting on a plane to Italy with a bunch of people I don’t know, only a few of which I have ever spoken with, and I will be living with them for the next four months. I will be on another continent with not one person I really know, and I can count the ones on one hand that can speak English. I will not see my best friends, my mother, my father, my cat. Even a simple phone call will be a project.

From this perspective, I couldn’t be more nervous. It makes me so scared sometimes that I have trouble making the preparations, trouble talking about it, trouble leaving my house.

On another hand, it makes me kind of sad. I know that I planned this. I know that I made the arrangements. I have high hopes for what I will find, and hope that it is what I am looking for. But even still, I am jealous of those who will be returning to my home the first week of September, who will jump in the ocean in their clothes late at night, who will stumble into class the next morning, who will drink cheap beers at happy hour at Jack’s and will sit in their rented king beds and do homework with their own best friends. It saddens me that even upon my return, I will only share a short four months more of this life before college will throw me out of its nest and shove me into the real world (because, as God knows, I won’t go willingly).

However, there is one more perspective that exists here. When I get really bored (as I am most days here) I think of what I could be doing in Florence right now, at this moment. I think of how newfound friends will invite me for a walk alongside the river, how we will order beautiful meals in Italian, how we will explore the Tuscan countryside on a whim. I think of the cheap planes we will take, of the dreamlike Amalfi Coast, of Oktoberfest, Sicily, Naples, Rome, of my already planned trip to visit my family in Bergen, Norway. I like to consider the prospect of feeling alive again and feeling like I am doing something important, instead of rotting away in the same room I slept in when I was fourteen years old and had braces.

When I signed up for this, I was scared then, too. But when I get an idea in my head, it doesn’t just fade away. I have to finish what I started. I have to do it all.

All it takes is twenty seconds of courage, and good will come. 


Soon, there will be pictures of me on these pages, instead of photos of Italy I find on the Internet.

The Joy of Nothing.

While living out of your car, you are sometimes faced with an odd predicament. Most of the time, I find that my time is taken up by the people that I have to see, running, eating, working, or driving to somewhere else. However, sometimes the hours pass where I realize, Damn, I have nowhere to be and I have an hour to kill. 

While at my own house, I would probably sit in my awesome bed, watch some nick toons, Facebook creep… you know, the usual. However, these are not activities that are easily accomplished while in the backseat of a Ford Focus. And, as any other overachiever feels, we can’t just sit here and do nothing, can we?!

Yes. Yes you can.

The other day, with an hour before a barbecue started, I said to myself, okay, what can I do now? I can go to the mall. I can call up some friends and see if they want to grab some food. I can run down the boardwalk (again). Instead, I said to myself, you know what? The beach is looking awfully nice today.

So I took my throw blanket (towels are for moms) and a book and I camped out on the beach in my leggings and t-shirt. No swimsuit over here. I let myself enjoy the warmth of the sand for a bit and just DID NOTHING. At first, I felt antsy, checking my phone every minute to try to figure out when I should leave. But the joy of summer is that you don’t have to DO anything (while you’re still a wee one, that is).

I’m still getting used to this whole free-time-thing. Sometimes, I feel my muscles throbbing, aching to do something, anything. But doing nothing takes a surprising amount of courage- it is the time that you are forced to spend with yourself, with just your thoughts. There is no one or nothing to distract you from who you are and what you have done. So if you can handle that- being in the company of yourself, of the quiet- then you deserve it. You deserve it to enjoy the nothing and then get up and do something else, again.


Let’s Go Home.

Today in the car, after an unfortunate visit with boring and expired family members, I had a thought–

I just want to go home. 

Yet curiously enough, when I thought of the “home” that I wanted to go to, I didn’t think of my house nestled in Morris County, the house that I have lived in for most of my life, where my family is, my childhood friends, my blue room, my dumb animals. Instead I thought of a different place– the beach house I rented at school and the room that I lived in for a measly three months, which I shared.

When I am old and gray, the time I spent in that house compared to the years that I have will be incredibly inconsequential. A few short months in a house that I had only seen once before, a house where I owned nothing inside it but my clothes and my bed sheet (and yes, just one, because the other one was my roommate’s). Yet, that will always be a time that I remember, in a room that I shared with my best friend (and a room stuffed with beds so I ended up sharing it with a lot of other people too). It was a house where we threw parties and danced on the same countertops that I learned to cook in. Where my friends would light fireworks in the front yard and try to jump in the closed pool and spray the fire extinguisher for fun. It was where we stumbled home a countless amount of times, and where we tried to catch kittens in the backyard and poked around through our landlord’s endless amount of stuff hiding in the damp basement.

It doesn’t matter how much time you spend in a place. It doesn’t matter if it’s your car, an apartment you spent a weekend camping out on the couch, or an otherwise forgettable house in an ordinary neighborhood. What makes a place home isn’t how much of your stuff that you can jam in there. It’s the significance of the people that you get lucky enough to be shacked up with.


Pack the Car, Mom

I have a confession to make.

As much as I love to wander, I also love my house. My house on the hill with my dear animals and blonde mother feels like a battery pack in which I can stop in between wherever I have to be and I can eat some food (for free, mind you) pet the cat, sit on my awesome bed, read a magazine, and change my clothes (again). However, a major problem is presented when you opted to spend your summer working an hour and a half away from where you live.

You end up with a new home. And that is your car.

At first, I was a little anxious about having to literally pack up everything I could possibly need (gifts for happy hosts, cooking utensils, sports bras, clean underwear, stuffed animals) and stuff it into my dear Ford Focus, since I often forget things and end up having to make some pitstops. But there’s something raw about living out of your car. As I drove out of the wilderness where I live for the first time to embark on one of my many journeys, I realized:

I don’t need anything. 

Yup. That’s right. You don’t need your running clothes, because you can run barefoot down the boardwalk. You don’t need clean clothes, because you can wash them in the sink. You don’t need water bottles, because there are water fountains in the local department store. You don’t need anything. You can relax.

And with this came a freedom. For once, I wasn’t worrying about how I was going to stop home and run these silly little errands that don’t really need to get done anyhow (Read the mail? Why bother). I didn’t worry about anything. Instead, I put the to-do list away, left my phone in the console, and went about my merry way. Having nothing solid to do is refreshing, wonderful, new. Stay out a few extra days? Who cares. Miss the Saturday morning workouts? Whatever. I would rather spend my time with the ones I find, the books I come across, or the scenery I stumble upon anyway.