I live in Hackettstown, New Jersey, which is in Warren County in the green and hilly northwest corner of the state. This part of New Jersey looks nothing like what many people think of New Jersey if the only part they've ever seen is the area around Newark Airport, the Garden State Parkway or the New Jersey Turnpike (if you say "What exit?" I'm going to have to hurt you). Hackettstown dates back to 1754 when the first house (on record) was built. The town was founded by John Hackett (those guys loved to name towns after themselves in those days) but was not incorporated as Hackettstown until 1853. Here's a photo of my mother's house. My room is the one in the front left corner... picture me sitting at my desk typing this blog post.
I grew up in the outskirts of this town, in what is technically Mansfield Township but with a Hackettstown mailing address. (Here's an aerial view of our neighborhood.) My parents moved here in 1962 when I was about 9 or 10 months old and not even walking yet (although I had already said my first word: "squirrel"). I didn't attend Hackettstown schools as we lived less than 1 mile over the official town line, so everyone in Mansfield Twp. attended other regional public schools. This is probably one reason why I don't feel very connected to a town where I spent much of my life.
As I moved into adulthood and the post-college years, I began a cycle of moving out... and then moving back "home" again. First I moved to an apartment in Iselin, NJ which I shared with a coworker; and moved back just a few months later after I discovered she had fallen in love with a guy she knew I liked.
Next, I moved into an apartment in Bernardsville, New Jersey with my best friend Wendy. I loved living there and we had the time of our lives being young and single and in our 20's there... in fact we still talk about what a great life it was. Then Wendy met Steve, whom she later married, and moved out. I got another roommate for a while, who was very nice except for the annoying pet cockatiel that came along with her. But eventually she moved out, and I couldn't locate another suitable roommate and couldn't afford the rent by myself.
So I moved out to share a townhome in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, where I lived for a little less than a year before moving back "home" to my mother's here in Hackettstown. But this time there was a good reason to live here -- Mom suggested I live here to save money to buy my first home. Within 18 months I had the downpayment and bought a condo in The Hills, a huge development in Bedminster, New Jersey (where Maria now lives).
I happily lived in my condo for five years until 1998. At that time I was in the process of quitting my corporate web designer job to become a self-employed life coach, and since the real estate market was at a high, I decided to sell my condo to fund my venture into self-employment, and rented a half-duplex in Flemington. This was a disaster because the house was too remote for my tastes and was infested with mice and box-elder beetles (nasty!) Within 6 months I was ready to get the hell out of there and got permission from my landlady to break the lease (turns out she was divorcing her husband and wanted to live there herself so it worked out neatly for both of us).
I found an adorable 2-br. apartment in the lovely upscale town of Mendham, New Jersey, and lived there for 5 and a half years. I'd probably be there still if I could have afforded it, but my coaching practice was tanking and I was in transition to being a full-time writer. Clearly something had to change.
So... once again, I'm back home at Mom's house in Hackettstown. I've been here since November of 2004. My intention in moving here was to give myself some time to ramp up my freelance writing career and reduce my living expenses significantly, with the hope that I would be able to save money to fund my ultimate relocation adventure to Paris. Naturally I hoped I'd be able to do that within a year but it's taking a lot longer than I expected or wanted.
I don't love living in Hackettstown, frankly. Living with my Mom is okay, and we get along well most of the time, and my sister and her family live just 3 miles down the road so I get to see lots of my niece and nephew which is a definite perk. And it's a pretty area, with the rolling green hills, and although there are too many strip malls cropping up and it's getting too suburban for my tastes, it's still an attractive area in which to live.
But Hackettstown - despite the fact it made last year's Money Magazine Best Places to Live list - is about the most boring place you can imagine if you are single without children. There are no galleries, nothing even remotely intellectually or artistically stimulating, and if you're not married or a parent there is no social life. The downtown area is trying to make a comeback as an antique center, and in the neighborhood surrounding Centenary College there are some really lovely old Victorian homes -- including one that I call "The Mausoleum" because it looks just like the Adams Family house. (In fact, if I had the financial resources I would buy that house and restore it to its full Victorian splendor... that would be the only incentive I would have to buy property in this town.) The town is so boring I couldn't even locate any photos online of local sights -- because there aren't any! How we got listed on the Money "Best Places to Live" list is beyond me.
So, Hackettstown is a place I'm living by choice, but not because I love living here... because it's financially convenient for me as I work toward making a fresh start in creating the life I REALLY want: in Paris, with all Paris has to offer. And that's a LOT. I don't care if the French are difficult and go on strike every week and that terrorists probably live in every dark corner of the city. I'll miss my family and friends when I go... but this suburban soccer-mom life is not for me. I just need to be in a different environment.