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Unquestionable Beach Belief

Sometimes finding the inspiration to write is difficult. Writers often live in a perpetual state of writer’s block. I know I do, and the last few days and weeks have been no exception.

But as I sit on my screened in porch at my home in Virginia, the 80 degree weather and accompaniment of the August issue of Cape May Magazine sent me into a frenzy of needing a pencil and paper to write down why I like to write about Cape May.

If you’re reading this blog, you must have some interest or a connection to Cape May. Just as I gravitate towards writing about Cape May, there are plenty of people who enjoy reading about the small beach town. Cape May has a je ne sais quoi that draws people in and does not let go.

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For me, growing up – most of my assigned writing projects for school featured Cape May in some way. Whether it was poems, short stories or opinion pieces, Cape May always showed up in my writing. I’ve often been told that writers write about what they know, which is why I wrote about the beach town I love so much.

It was too easy for me to write about the town where I have so many childhood memories. Every memory could easily spark a story – which is why I never hesitated to use Cape May as writing topic. Even when it came to standardized tests or writing descriptions when I was learning French, Cape May was the easiest topic for me to write about because I knew it like the back of my hand.

I’ve always dreamed of a future that included spending more time in Cape May. But it is only recently, this summer, that I realized that I want to have Cape May as my full time life – not just a vacation destination.

It should come as no surprise to me that everyone in my life has come to expect that my future will involve Cape May. I think my friends and family knew that before I consciously accepted that fact. It was not until this summer when I started blogging for Capemay.com, that I realized how much I want Cape May to become my future.

As I mentioned in my first blog post this June, My Cape May Past, Present and Future, I’m ready for my future to not only hold Cape May, but I want my future to be Cape May. The reality of moving to Cape May is that it will no longer be a vacation destination spot for me; it will be my new home.

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I want to not only write about the town, but I want to live and breathe all the things that make Cape May, Cape May. It will be exciting to see the gradual change of the in season to off season, especially when the town quiets down from summer to fall and then ultimately to winter.

Writing about Cape May gives me the sense of peace I feel when I am there. Writing takes me to another place, and if I write enough details, I can close my eyes and picture myself sitting on a chair on the beach.

As I go into my senior year of college, I know a lot of people my age are uncertain of their futures and plans. But Cape May has always held a pull on me. And I’ve come to realize that I need to let go and allow Cape May to pull me in and embrace me.

I’ve never been as sure of anything as the hold Cape May has on me. And come graduation, I am coming home.


Cool Summer Reads

Cracking open the spine of a new book and inhaling that crisp, new page scent is perfect. But being able to open a new book on the beach?  That’s the life.

I’ve always been an avid reader, something I can thank my family for. My parents and grandparents started me off reading books at a young age, and I have not been able to stop since. One of my favorite memories of reading in Cape May was picking out books in Whales Tale on the Washington Street Mall.

Whales Tale has a great selection of children’s books, in addition to many other types of products for sale. Perhaps my favorite book that came from Whales Tale was Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore. I loved reading about Sid’s six different families and adventures.

Some of the books I read this summer, on the beach.

Some of the books I read this summer, on the beach.

As I grew away from the children’s book section of Whales Tale (which I still visited with my younger brother) I began to shop in the young adult section of Atlantic Books, and at the local antique stores for Nancy Drew mysteries. Even though I brought more than enough books on vacation with me, I always needed to check out what I might be missing.

Reading is one of my favorite relaxing activities I get to do in Cape May, especially while I’m on break from school. This summer I spent the majority of my free time reading (well, when I wasn’t working at Cape May Magazine or binge watching Orange is the New Black).

How cool is it to see my summer spot in my book.

How cool is it to see my summer spot in my book.

This summer, I brought The Summer After You and Me by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski to Cape May and was very excited because it was set in New Jersey, post Hurricane Sandy. Cape May was even mentioned in the book. Even though the book did not take place in Cape May, the small New Jersey town had many similar feelings of the local area.

Another book series I’ve read that mentions Cape May is Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard. A series of sixteen books and a popular television series, the cast is often shown or mentioned visits to Cape May. A week in Cape May is very important to the final book in the series, as well.

Spending time at the shore can always be made more interesting with a great book to read. All ages will appreciate the literary options at Whales Tale and Atlantic Books. And if you’re lucky enough to be a local, The Cape May County Public Library has a great selection of books to enjoy in the summer sun.

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.


Summer To Do List

I am a huge supporter of lists. To do lists, grocery shopping lists, random lists, really anything in list form. So it should come as no surprise that when I plan my time in Cape May, there are always lists in accompaniment to my vacation.

Relaxing on Trenton Avenue beach, age 4.

Relaxing on Trenton Avenue beach, age 4.

I thought my creating to do lists was something I acquired later in life in order to be efficient, but apparently not. Recently I was looking through one of my mom’s Cape May albums. I stumbled across a cute to do list that I had made in 1997, when I was four years old.

To do list, summer 1997.

To do list, summer 1997.

My first to do is “beach” which is definitely the same priority I still have when I go to the beach now. You can never sit on the beach enough! Each summer I try to beat last year’s visits to the beach too (and I successfully did that this year).

I have to laugh at a few things on that list, particularly “bicycle,” because that was the year my parents rented a surrey and drove me around in the basket seat. Note: it was not on the Mommie et al list either – probably not a popular choice, especially with me ringing the bell every few seconds.

The few things we have in common that have checks next to them are the “arcade,” “candy,” and “ice cream.” These are three popular family friendly activities to do in Cape May, especially with young kids.

My to do list for this summer consists of activities of a twenty one year old:

  • Beach
  • Reading
  • Baking
  • Scrapbooking
  • Watch the sunrise

Of course the beach is still number one and always will be, because truly I am four at heart. I love to read and try to read as many books while I am on vacation as possible. It is nice to get lost in fictional worlds that take me away.

Before I come in to intern at the office of CapeMay.com, I bake a new creation every Sunday night. Baking is one of my favorite hobbies, but only when I can share my creations!

I’m also a huge fan of scrapbooking – which I started doing because of the albums that my mom kept. For many years I had heard about the famous Cape May albums and it was the reason that we saved scraps of paper, receipts and restaurant menus. My mom kept an album from 1992-1998…so she is a little behind and needs to catch up.

The last item on my check list this summer was a source of contention between me and my internal clock. I’ve had “watch the sunrise” on my Cape May to do list for years, but it was never a serious plan. I knew this summer I was finally going to get up early enough to see the sunrise, despite that the sun rises much earlier than my body is used to getting up in the morning.

Sunrise not quite visible on Sunset Beach.

Sunrise not quite visible on Sunset Beach.

And on June 19, 2015 I really did get up at 5 am to see the sunrise at 5:30 am.  It was beautiful and such a fun experience. My mom was so surprised that I actually was able to get up and go!

Of course, I did go to Sunset Beach to see the sunrise and take a walk – I was not thinking that Sunset Beach was called Sunset Beach for a reason. It is better to see the sun set there, not necessarily the sun rise!

Having a summer to do list is really fun and is a great way to plan vacation. To do lists gives you something to look forward to on your visit to Cape May. It brings together all ages and can be fun for the entire family.

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel


Hermit Crabs: A Live Souvenir

Picking out the absolute best souvenir to bring home from Cape May, was one of my favorite parts of vacation as a kid. Shopping is one of my favorite activities, so I always spent a fair amount of my vacation time perusing the stores.

Two weeks in Cape May was usually the right amount of time to find the perfect souvenir to bring home. And by far, my favorite childhood souvenir I brought home was a live one; a hermit crab. I was so excited that my parents trusted me with a live animal that was mine and that I could take care of by myself.

Very proudly showing off my first hermit crab, Hermay.

Very proudly showing off my first hermit crab, Hermay.

I picked out a crab in a purple shell and decided to name it Hermay – “her” because I decided it was a female crab and “May” for Cape May. I brought her back to our rental house and was so excited to share with our neighbors my new pet. Hermay’s cage was filled with rainbow colored gravel, she had a sponge that was to be misted every day and a little coconut hut to sleep in during the day (turns out hermit crabs are more active at night).

Everywhere we went the next few days, I proudly boasted that I had my own hermit crab to take care of and call my own. A nice lady at the Victorious Store (when it was still in Washignton Commons Mall) told my family and I how she had a hermit crab that lived for fifteen years. If Hermay lived fifteen years, I would have her through college!

One time when we were visiting my cousins in Ocean City, NJ, we saw a giant hermit crab (much larger than I’ve seen sold on the boardwalk there) just strolling down the sidewalk. We watched him for a while and I really wanted to take him, but my parents thought he was probably somebody’s pet. We regret not taking that giant crab!

Certificate of Adoption from the boardwalk in Ocean City.

Certificate of Adoption from the boardwalk in Ocean City.

I had Hermay for two years. She lived in a few different cages and switched her shells a few times (really cool). At home in Virginia, I would play with her in a bowl of water. In addition to feeding her hermit crab food, the guidebook I had gotten when I bought her said it was okay to feed her other things – so she also got cheerios and pieces of cut up fruit.

Hermit crabs in captivity have variable lifespans depending on their care. But I think our house was too cold with our air conditioning, which is probably why Hermay only lived for two years. After that, my brother and I had quite a few hermit crabs in the years following, always from Cape May. They never lived as long as Hermay did.

And eventually, after a cannibal situation where two crabs became one, we were done with the live souvenirs. My mom and dad were definitely over the crabs, because despite it being my responsibility, I was not always the one taking care of my hermit crabs.

No matter their size, hermit crabs are a responsibility like any other pet.

No matter their size, hermit crabs are a responsibility like any other pet.

After the last year of hermit crabs, I always joked with my dad about getting another one. He and my mom really did not want me to get anymore and they tried to dissuade me by telling me I had to use my own money to buy any new hermit crabs. So that was the end of that!

Before I left Cape May this summer, I noticed lots of kids on the Washington Street Mall with cages containing hermit crabs. It reminded me of so many memories and my first real pet responsibilities. It made me smile, and think of a simpler time in my life.

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.


Beach Habits

I have always loved going to the beach when I visit Cape May – who doesn’t? My family has always been peculiar when it comes to our beach habits. My dad does not like the ocean or the sand, hence a few years of us all wearing the most blister-inducing sand shoes ever (they let in more sand than they promised to keep out).

And despite the sand, my family enjoys coming to Cape May and has been for over twenty one years. The way we do our beach visits is unusual from most other families. In fact, the first two days of vacation, we did not get down to the beach.

Usually the first two days of our Cape May vacation were spent buying groceries and getting settled in to our rental. I was always so anxious to get down to the beach right away, but I wasn’t old enough to go down alone and my parents were never in as big of a rush as I was.

My mom and dad usually wanted to wait out the large crowds on the beach, and opted to go down after the temperature had cooled off. This waiting meant heading down to the beach any time after 4 p.m.

On Jefferson Street beach, 2003.

On Jefferson Street beach, 2003.

Walking down to the beach lugging chairs, towels, books, shovels and buckets in the late afternoon never failed to have people give us glances. They had been on the beach since the morning, having spent their morning and afternoon in the ocean. They must have wondered why we were heading down to the beach when it was time to clean up and get ready for dinner. Little did they know, early evening is the nicest part of the day to be on the beach.

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Poverty beach.

Picking which beach to go to was always dependent on our location. I grew up going to Trenton Avenue beach while staying at the Morning Star Villa. We rented condos there for three years from 1997-1999. Then once we started renting on Sewell Avenue around 2000, we exclusively went to Jefferson Street beach and we have been going there the last fifteen years.

My preference now is to mostly walk the four blocks from my house to Jefferson, but I often beach hop and go to Poverty beach. I like to drive to others for a different experience and change of scenery. We always walk to the beach, never drive – so I like the freedom I have now of keeping a beach chair in my car.  I never know when I will take a spur of the moment trip down to the water.

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Access ramp on Trenton Ave beach.

Just the other day, I happened to drive down to Trenton Avenue beach, just to see what was new there (not remembering it is where I got my start to visiting the Cape May beaches). Trenton Avenue has a handicap access ramp up to the entrance and boards going down most of the way towards the ocean. Right at the entrance, there is a showering area to rinse off sand and a bathroom. There are also picnic tables near the entrance. And of course, the sand and water is pretty much the same as everywhere else.

Middle building is the Morning Star Villa, where I got my Cape May start.

Middle building is the Morning Star Villa, where I got my Cape May start.

Jefferson Street beach almost seems like a whole other beach from Trenton Avenue. When I leave my house, I strap on my backpack chair and round the corner. Four blocks down to Jefferson Street beach and up onto the boardwalk is already a difference from the entrance to Trenton. Jefferson Street beach has the Steger beach boxes, where people store their beach chairs and toys.

Lately it is around 5:30 p.m. when I make the trek down the sand to the water, and sit to the left of the lifeguard chair. I open my backpack chair, pull out my book and sit down.

Jefferson Street beach.

Jefferson Street beach.

I never get tired of the view from my favorite beach, Jefferson Street beach.

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.


The Perfect Cape May Photo

Point and shoot. It should be just that easy to take a photo.  But when my mom tries to recreate her favorite shot of my brother, Michael, and I on the boardwalk, it is never a simple task.

The original shot of my brother and I was one of those candid shots that were taken in a quick moment. We did not even realize it was happening. I’m bending over to hold his hand and leading him off to show him something.  It was taken around 2000 when I was six and Michael, one and a half.

The original photo.

The original photo.

The reason my mom loves this shot the most, is because it has all of our favorite boardwalk spots – the arcade, Morrow’s Nut House, Convention Hall and the Oasis (since gone) – and the newer pictures have Henry’s on the Beach (since gone) in the background.  She took it on our point and shoot, automatic Nikon camera.

Every year since she took that photo, my mom tries to recreate that shot. In fifteen years since the original photo, she has only been successful twice.  Now in the days of iPhones, she can take the shot as many times as she wants, until she is satisfied. Of course, both Michael and I have to be in the mood to cooperate – a difficult task.

Once we were old enough to cooperate, it meant we were old enough to be uncooperative.  Especially in our teenager stage, where any request from our parents was met with an astounding “no way.”

2003 was the first year my mom tried to take the photo again.  I was ten and Michael was five, so we were a little more agreeable. We must have been goofing off before she took the picture, because we both have silly expressions on our faces. She took the photo during the day, not totally recreating the original nighttime shot, and there is more of the boardwalk visible than in the original picture.

2003 retake.

2003 retake.

The most recent time she almost successfully recreated the shot was in 2009, I was sixteen and Michael eleven. The shot was taken around the same time at night as the original shot, but it is not in the same spot. The retake is posed, which just does not have the same je ne sais quoi as the original shot.

2009 retake.

2009 retake.

Fast forward to present day, 2015. I am twenty-one and Michael is sixteen, and all attempts to recreate the shot are even more difficult than before. No one wants to cooperate with my mom. So I took Michael to the boardwalk for a funnel cake, and very kindly asked if we could take a selfie of mom’s favorite shot, to update it – and to my surprise, he agreed! Mom did not even need to be involved in this retake (thanks to the popular iPhone selfie) – kind of an ode to how much things have changed in fifteen years.

2015, a selfie.

2015, a selfie.

I think the great thing about the original photo, is every time my family looks at it, we smile. It was one of those photographs that you cannot help but love. It not only captured the moment at the time, but kept that memory alive fifteen years later.

It does not take much to get a photo that will continue to be talked about many years later. It was a simple shot that is not perfect and is slightly blurry. In the days of iPhones and digital cameras, we strive to take the perfect shot, over and over again. But there is something charismatic about a photo that only got one chance to come out right.

It might not be the best photo, but it is perfect to my family because the memory lives on a decade and a half later.

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.


My Cape May Past, Present and Future

The Atlantic Ocean is the only body of water I have ever known. Family trips to Cape May have filled my summer vacation fantasies from before I was even born. Cape May has been my tropical destination for 21 years. And I have no desire to change locations.

I will be forever grateful that my aunt and uncle told my parents about a quaint little Victorian town, called Cape May back in 1992. My dad does not like to fly (a trait he has passed on to me too) and prefers to take vacations to which he can drive. So my parents set out to explore Cape May, not knowing that they would be spending the next 21 years vacationing here.

Growing up with the anticipation of summers in Cape May has thrilled me for as long as I can remember. We have rented a house on Stockton Avenue, a condo in the Morning Star Villa (my earliest memories of Cape May are from there), a few hotels and finally two houses on Sewell Avenue.

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My younger brother, Michael, and I on the boardwalk. Circa 2003.

Having to squeeze in all my favorite activities in a two week span was not easy, but with a whole year to plan my vacation, it was possible. I counted down the days until the day before we left for Cape May.

I love every aspect about my trips to Cape May. I enjoy packing my bags, and loading up the car. Even the tedious waiting for my parents to pack the roof rack the morning we were leaving. I looked forward to eating fried chicken at our favorite spot on the ride up and probably seeing dolphins on the Cape May Lewes Ferry.

When we would stop at the rental company to pick up the house keys, I knew my vacation in Cape May had truly begun. And I could not have been more ecstatic the year that I was old enough to hold on to one of the house keys.

Coming to Cape May each summer was always a mystery. I would wonder if my favorite stores and restaurants were still in business. I longed to sit on the beach with a good book in hand and a plastic baggie to hold my shells and beach glass.

Visiting with my neighbors has also been such an important part of my summers. I kept in touch with them throughout the year and kept them up to date with my schooling. I was even lucky enough to meet, become friends and stay in touch the girl next door, who shared the same birthday one year apart from me.

Fast forward many years, I never thought I would be blessed enough to skip stopping at the rental company and drive all the way up from Virginia with a house key in my pocket. In 2012, our dreams of owning a house in Cape May became real. The Cool Cat Cottage on Sewell Avenue is now my actual dream home.

Suddenly, I did not have to fit my entire vacation into two weeks, because I now had six weeks to spend at my leisure. I was able to channel my love for Cape May into writing and interning for Cape May Magazine.

I even got to come up every few months to the house. Soon we were celebrating Passover, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and my birthday at our home here. Swiftly, my special summer trips to Cape May lost their sparkling appeal. I still anticipated my trips to visit, but as the visits became more frequent, Cape May became slightly less special. I could not quite place my finger on why exactly.

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Quiet Thanksgiving 2014 on Sewell Avenue.

Maybe my vacations were not as special because I did not have to condense beach trips, mini golf, shopping, antiquing, baking and running around town into just 14 days. I did not have to spend all year planning the perfect two weeks in Cape May. I could now skip going to the beach every day, and not feel like I was wasting time. Even now, six weeks’ worth of beach visits and fun is not enough time in Cape May.

Now, with one year left of college – I plan to move here after graduation and begin my journalism career. How will living in Cape May full-time compare to a few weeks’ vacation? I don’t want to take living in Cape May for granted.

I never thought there would be a day where I would be telling people that my plans to move to Cape May might actually be a reality. I have wanted to live here for as long as I have been vacationing here. And presumably soon, that wish will become reality.

A repeat renter. Return vacationer. Vacationer local? I’m not sure what spending 21 years here and then moving here will make me. But I cannot wait to find out!

Connect with Rachel on Twitter @capemayrachel.