Starting up a CoderDojo in Metuchen, New Jersey…

I’ve got a new personal project that I’m pretty excited about – CoderDojo Metuchen.

A guy in my town put out the call recently for anyone who was interested in working on this project. I jumped on it.

The idea is, you find ways to encourage and mentor learning to program (code!) in kids and teens.

I like mentoring, so that’s a plus. And I think getting youths involved in interesting activities and projects is another good thing. And, I’ve been looking for good volunteer opportunities for a while but always wanting to find something I had a passion about – not just something that someone else could be doing just as well as me.

This, I think I can do better than most. And that’s a good way for me to spend my time, in my humble opinion.

We shall see. 🙂



Metuchen – It’s a Bloody Great Town!

My local ice-cream and pizza shop (What’s the Scoop) had a Blood Drive this week. That’s bloody great!

I think some of my friends and family thought I was kidding. (People seem to think an ice-cream shop is an odd location for this.) Others said, “Gross!” But it’s true – a blood drive at our ice-cream shop, which is one of the community centers of Metuchen‘s Main Street (yes, it is called “Main Street” – isn’t that quaint?).

Metuchen is a (bloody) great town. My wife and I – who are recently transplanted from Brooklyn – love every bit of it.

We moved here to get more quiet and space, but had no idea the amount of good community we would see. I have to say, it’s more community than I saw any place I lived in New York City. We have our fill of live music, good eats, good people, whenever we want it. Other times, we enjoy the quiet of our back yard.

What’s the Scoop

There are many good places to eat, drink, get coffee, or hang-out in Metuchen. What’s the Scoop has a quality that makes it unique.

First, it’s an ice-cream and pizza place, so that’s fun. It also has a LOT of space inside, so it’s a nice place to linger while you enjoy a cone of mint chip. More lingering out front keeps the sidewalk active and neighborly for much of the day – it’s one of the nicer scenes on my walk home from the commuter train. But on top of all that, the owner regularly hosts New York Blood Center blood drives. Bloody great, I’d say.

And… you get free ice-cream and pizza for your donation. Plus, our local Irish pub (Hailey’s Harp & Pub) matches pint-for-pint on donations (limit one pint, as I recall). 🙂

Other Community in Metuchen

I am, perhaps, being overly supportive of the ice-cream industry. There are many other forms of great community in my town. For example:

  • Forum Theatre Arts Center – A restored theatre that hosts eclectic films.
  • Brewed Awakening – Our local coffee shop that is open from morning until late each night, serving great coffee and food all day. Plus, live music can be heard here many nights each month. (Shameless Plug: My wife recently started hosting a music series here.
  • Metuchen’s Outdoor Concert Series – Starting today (August 5th) and running each Thursday until a culminating fireworks show early in September.
  • There’s some sort of car show that occasionally appears the entire length of Main Street. Old, beautifully finished cars.
  • Parades for every holiday down Main Street.
  • Alessio – A good place to get some rock-solid Italian food. Great staff, and a quiet but lively community atmosphere.
  • Novita Bistro & Lounge – We go here more often than I’d care to admit. Great bar food and fancier food as well. Wide selection of drinks at the bar. Nice outdoor patio. Live music a few times per week. Highly recommended.
  • Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza – Another place I go more often than I’d care to admit. Great heroes, pizza, always a crowd hanging out.
  • Other pizza places, bagel shops, a French restaurant, some great Chinese food, Indian food, Thai food, pretty much anything you could ask for.

These are just some of my personal favorite spots along Main Street. I’ve left out many others, which you may also enjoy.

And then there’s the great websites, blogs, and Facebook groups:

  • Metuchen Matters – A blog about town.
  • Metuchen Matters on Facebook – And the blog’s Facebook page.
  • Metuchen Living on Facebook – A blog about town which has LOTS of great photography.
  • Metuchen Cultural Arts Commission – The ones responsible for much of the community activities – e.g., the Outdoor Concert Series this month.

It’s the New Urban

Soon after we moved in, I proclaimed to my family and closest friends that we had found the “new urban.”

When we lived in New York City, it always seemed to me like there was a disconnect, even between people who were close socially. A friend who lived 5 miles away was sometimes actually over an hour away by subway. Our immediate neighborhood just didn’t seem to have the same sort of “neighborhoodness” that you might see in an old movie about New York. Maybe I am being overly sentimental about a connected New York City that never really existed as it appeared in movies?

People lived one place, worked someplace else, and socialized in yet another bunch of scattered places throughout the City. Put that disconnected social life together with the fact that we had long ago stopped frequenting New York’s many museums and theaters, it really left us wondering what value the City actually held for us.

Fast forward to our move to the suburbs. Many of our friends said “Why?!?”

There were all the stereotypes of large, vapid, lawn-filled towns where people drove everywhere and never met their neighbors. Even we returned from our first few visits to the Borough of Metuchen with a very unsettled feeling, wondering if we could ever be happy again outside of the concrete walls of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Turns out – nothing to worry about. This suburb is fanTAStic. It’s got all the resources and “neighborhoodness” that one might expect in an urban environment, but it’s still not called urban (by most people).

To me, I think the true urban centers like New York have actually grown beyond their prime, big enough so that we people are scattered across them and spend most of our day trying to move from one location to another, and less of our time being connected to each other. We live where we can afford, or where our own very particular set of interests and requirements lands us, often having no common ground with our neighbors.

Not to say that common ground can’t grow, and found neighbors can’t become great friends (many did), but there is still a price paid in disconnect, and a constant running to keep up with the many disconnected “neighborhoods” which a typical City-dweller calls his own.

Perhaps there are other factors causing me, personally, to feel disconnect, like the problem of immediate families and closest friends being scattered so far geographically, even beyond the impenetrable neighborhoods of the City. Whatever it is, the urban advantages of even a city like New York are strongly out-weighed (I’d say) by the advantages of a suburb like Metuchen – the New Urban.

Others would disagree. What do you think?

Heaven On the Northeast Corridor Line

Some days, I feel like I live in Heaven. I know that’s arrogant to say. But I’m just describing my feeling, and that’s how I sometimes feel.

It’s a nice feeling.

I know I’ve had my share of complaints about the cell phone talkers during my train commute, and I’ve grumped about the occasional horn-honker who seems intent on running down pedestrians on Metuchen’s Main Street. There’s also been the ongoing war against snow, mild flooding, autumn leaves, and the army of squirrels who besieged my lawn this morning. And don’t get me started about the bird sh*t that is recently raining upon my Corolla each morning in our tree-lined driveway.

But aside from those minor quibbles, I’ve having a grand old time in my new neighborhood. It’s pretty awesome. 🙂

I started writing this post a few months back, on a weekend when my wife was out of town, and had taken our one car with her. In many a suburb, that might be a problem for the husband stranded at home. We are fortunate enough to live in a town that has a marvelously interesting Main Street (yes, it’s actually called “Main Street”), and to live a mere five-minute walk from the town center. So on a weekend without a car available, I have access to every bit as much neat stuff to do as I did back when we lived in Brooklyn, all within walking distance. Or, if I want, a reasonable train ride back into Manhattan on my monthly commuter pass.

It’s like a new kind of urban. Or, as I said, like Heaven, at times.

That particular weekend when my wife was out-of-town, I believe I had spent most of my day around the house, perhaps doing some yard work. By late afternoon, I was getting a little bored at home and I walked into town.

Here are some of the fun things I did:

  • An hour on the wireless at our local coffee shop – Brewed Awakening
  • A walk over to one of our local pizza places – Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza – to pick-up some take-out food.
  • A quick stop in across the street to pick-up a quart of my favorite soup – a delicious New England clam chowder from Dick’s Dock.
  • Then, a leisurely walk home on a quiet, tree-lined street, to enjoy a movie at home.

Other options I could have taken on that particular weekend evening:

  • Catch a movie at the Forum Theatre Arts Center.
  • Spend some time browsing the used books at The Raconteur.
  • Take the NJ Transit train to New Brunswick or Princeton (people seem to do that sometimes).
  • Stop by our local martini bar – Novita (which also happens to be a fantastic bistro and restaurant, with live sax/piano music every Friday night.
  • Stop by our local Irish bar – Hailey’s Harp & Pub, for a.. Guinness and burger!

So.. Heaven I say. I am arrogant, I guess – perhaps superficial. But I gotta tell ya’, I sure like my new neighborhood. 🙂