Well, except for the times when my midwest or American accent made me stand out.
This is a tough question. Here's the breakdown:
Born in Cleveland, Ohio and lived in Ohio until age 9.
Moved to Richmond, Virginia and lived there until age 18.
Attended college in Pennsylvania and then lived there for two years after college until age 24 (my parents moved back to Ohio when I was 19).
Got married and moved to New Jersey to share a home with my husband until last March (total time served: 9 1/2 years).
Back in Virginia now for over a year.
That's Ohio: 9 years; Virginia: 10 years and counting; PA: 6 years; and NJ: 9 1/2 years.
They say "home is where the heart is" and my heart is clearly here in VA with my nearest and dearest, and the time factor is weighing in its favor too.
But my recent trip to NJ has me sighing with the realization that I just may have to claim that state as my home state.
Why do I like New Jersey?
- I own a home there. It's not a house; it's my home. It was our first (and only) house. There's a lot of my sweat and tears poured into that fixer-upper. Things I planted are growing in that front yard.
- Most of my children were conceived there (not Katie).
- Most of my children were born and baptized there (not Pete).
- Most of my closest friends live there (and Lena used to live there; she only just moved across the river to PA).
- I found God in New Jersey.
- I learned 90% of what I know about Catholicism in New Jersey.
- There's actually quite a bit of farmland in NJ - parts of it remind me of the rolling hills of Eastern Ohio, except the fields have horses instead of cows. And the farmland isn't in designated spots only. Open Space laws have preserved farms in such a way that you could be in bumper to bumper traffic one minute and flying down a rural road the next.
- Most residents drive with a purpose in NJ (except on Sundays when some of the old folks take their cars for a walk).
- You don't have to pump your gas in NJ, and you don't pay any more for having somebody do it for you.
- There are a plethora of restaurants and other eating establishments in NJ, including, but not limited to, The Jersey Diner. You like bagels, they got bagels. You like pasta, they got pasta. Bill, on his first visit to Ohio, could not understand how two roads could interesect and be devoid of buildings. "Why is there even a stop sign?" he would ask. "You'd have to be blind to get hit - you can see for a mile." He explained to me that in New Jersey, every intersection has 3 delis and a bar, except Kearny which has 3 bars and a deli. When Bill was TDY here in Arlington and we still lived in Jersey, I brought the kids down to visit. Bill was working late, so we got into the car to find a place to eat. We drove and drove and drove. Fritz asked where the restaurants were. I suggested that the people in VA don't eat out. In Jersey, you trip over places to eat.
- The grocery stores (the mega-super-duper ones) offer such a fabulous selection of fresh meats and veggies and cheeses: organic, international, Kosher...you want it, you got it. I never, ever had trouble finding a special ingredient, even for the most ethnic of dishes. And if you have the time and energy, there are an abundance of options to the mega-grocery stores from health food stores to ethnic stores and from farmer's markets to roadside stands of home-grown produce.
- I'm not a big fan of the shore and Six Flags is nothing compared to Cedar Point, but for overall access to a wide variety of activities and places to go, things to see and people to meet, New Jersey has a lot to offer (even if you have to go to a neighboring state to do stuff).
And finally, I must now admit to the biggest thing I miss about New Jersey: pizza. Before Bill, I was a fan of Pizza Hut and Dominos. I loved the thick crust and the toppings. But after nearly a decade of Jersey pizza (at one point, Bill put his foot down and forbid me to order from Dominos ever), I have become a convert. Jersey pizza is yummy, and I miss it so.
And when you miss some things (like friends and pizza) this much, you have to start to think that perhaps your home - your heart - is there.
Oh, just don't tell Bill. He'll never let me live it down.