House Sitting in New Jersey
July 18, 2014
When our friends the Goullet’s found out we were available for house sitting this summer, they asked if we would house, dog and kitty sit for them in their home on Halsey Island on Lake Hopatcong, NJ while they went on a river cruise with their daughter and son-in-law in Europe. Guess what we said?! Heck ‘Ya!
We flew into Newark and John & Barbara whisked us away to their island home. We boarded their pontoon boat and crossed Lake Hopatcong to Halsey Island. Their home on Halsey is not only impressive because it is so gorgeous, but also because they built it by bringing over every single piece of material and the laborers by boat. It took them 2 years (of summers) to complete their home. Every room offers beautiful views of the lake or the surrounding woods and the large deck became our oasis for 2 weeks.
When we arrived we met our roommates, Ms. Maggie the beagle and Mr. Oscar the kitty. We took our time to get to know each other for the first few days, but soon we were all good buddies and enjoyed each others company. Turns out Oscar loves guitar music!
Having only been to New Jersey once on a business trip years ago, I found some of these NJ particulars interesting:
- All gas stations are full service, you cannot pump your own gas. This website goes into detail explaining the reasons, but basically it reflects the will of the people of New Jersey.
- They utilize “jug handles” on the roads to change the way traffic turns at an intersection.
- At some of the grocery stores, you have to insert a quarter to get a cart. If you return the cart, you get your quarter back. Also, when we produced our own shopping bags, we got a 2 cent refund per bag.
We spent a great deal of our time on the island due to weather and being lazy. While Hurricane Arthur charged up the coast, it rained every day for about 3 days. We had a significant storm that rained pebble size hail down on us for about 30 minutes, pummeling the flower beds and destroying the flag pole holder. We were happy to sit cozy in the house and watch the rain on the lake. By the time the first weekend rolled around we had not left the island except for groceries. And due to the busy activity on the lake over the 4th of July holiday, we didn’t leave the house over the first weekend either.
The Goullet’s neighbors, George & Cindy have everyone over for dinner on the weekends, and they were very gracious to invite us for dinner both Friday and Saturday night. George loves to cook and, seriously, he is really good at it! We had homemade Olive Tapenade, Bruschetta, Shrimp, Ribs, Steaks, Green Beans, Carrots, Snow Crab and Clams. Wow, what a feast! Everyone told us that the local restaurants were not going to be the best food we had ever had… well, we found the best restaurant on the lake, George & Cindy’s! It was so interesting to get to know the neighbors and some of the history of the island. Several of the families have owned homes on the island for several generations. What an amazing legacy to leave to your children.
Lake Hopatcong is the largest freshwater body in New Jersey. Halsey Island is one of two Islands (Raccoon Island is the second) on the lake. There are ~20 summer homes on Halsey Island, the homes are vacant during the winter when the lake is usually frozen over.
On the island and around the lake we saw deer, a bald eagle (who has a nest on the island), herons, cormorants, geese, ducks and lots of spiders. I had never seen geese upturn their butts in the air while the rummage for food below, hysterical! One rumored island resident, a boa constrictor, never made himself visible. Once the sighting was reported, we stayed close to home and didn’t allow Ms. Maggie to roam. But my favorite was the fireflies! I haven’t seen fireflies since I was a child when we captured them in glass jars when we visited my grandparents in South Carolina during the summers.
There are several hiking trails on the island and around the lake, and cruising around the lake on the pontoon boat to admire the homes became a favorite past time.
We did manage to leave the island to do a little sight seeing:
Lakota Wolf Preserve – the wolf preserve was developed and run by a married couple. They rent their land from a large camp ground, about 10 acres. They have 4 packs of wolf, with a limit of ~20 wolves total allowed on the preserve. It was a interesting visit and our first time seeing wolves outside of a zoo. Wolves are an endangered species, so kudos to the preserves for saving wolves from bad situations and allowing them to live out their lives in a more wolf friendly environment. Apparently it is illegal to capture wolves and to release them back into the wild. They also have bob cats and foxes on the property.
Brook Hollow Winery – on the way to the wolf preserve we drove by this winery, so we stopped in on the way back for a tasting. Their most popular wine is a dry Cranberry wine that passed the taste test and followed me back to the house.
Washington’s Headquarters and Jockey Hollow in Morristown – in the winter of 1779, General Washington and the Continental Army’s encampment was near the town of Morristown in Jockey Hollow. During the winters, the enemy was the winter itself, fighting the elements to survive. We explored the Ford Mansion where Washington and his officer’s stayed and then drove to Jokey Hollow where the army built their log cabins for the ~10,000 men. It was one of the most brutal winters on record, snow drifts 4-6 feet high. It took them 3 months in the bitter cold and snow to build their cabins, and for the entire winter there was little in the way of food and provisions. ~300 died in the camp while more than 1000 deserted. Sobering and thought provoking. While we walked drove to the Jockey Hollow recreated camp we saw a black bear that had just crossed the road and a red tailed hawk flying over the open pasture area.
We talked about driving to Jersey City and catching the ferry to Ellis Island and Manhattan, but when the time rolled around to go, I opted for a hike instead. Hiking in the woods is so different from my beloved walks on the beach. You must be every vigilant and pay attention to the trails, the terrain and any threatening wildlife. Since our bear sighting a few days before, I just walked thru the woods shouting “go away bears!” Seems to have worked.
The 2 weeks flew by and soon it was time for us to leave. Thank you Barbara & John for sharing your little slice of heaven with us!
Grateful for it all