WHERE I LIVE: Home is Cranford, N.J. with its excellent schools, small-town vibe, and abundant sidewalks

The author takes a break after hosting the family Christmas dinner

The author takes a break after hosting the family Christmas dinner

By Jen Furer

Another school year has ended. As I was seated in the auditorium of Hillside Avenue School for my youngest child’s Seventh Grade Awards ceremonies, I couldn’t help reflect on how blessed I am to be living in Cranford, New Jersey. This is my 19th year in this town, and Josh would be the last of my four children who has walked to Hillside from kindergarten to 8th grade.

When Craig and I were contemplating on buying a house, I was pregnant with my third child. All I wanted was to be near my parents and my brothers. His decision, however, was based on a more extensive research that included parameters, such as an excellent public school system, proximity to New York City, a family-oriented neighborhood, and plenty of sidewalks.

Yes, sidewalks are just as important as the school system in determining where we would live. My husband and I love to walk, therefore a “walking town” was essential.

We would walk and talk hand-in-hand at least a few miles to get to town, then grab a quick cup of latté and then walk some more around Nomahegan Park. A few times, we walked 10 miles toward the nearby town of Westfield, grabbed a quick lunch at one of the restaurants and walked back home. One of our favorite walking routes was our walk to Barnes and Noble in the nearby town of Clark. It would take us 30 minutes to weave in and out of neighborhoods. But I looked forward to it because I got to catch up on reading magazines about celebrities, fitness and home and garden.

Family time is important to me. On a breezy spring morning, a warm summer night or a chilly autumn afternoon, my family would be by the back deck marveling at the rows of old growth maple trees that are hugging the Rahway River. There would be birds chirping in the background or little chipmunks jumping from tree to tree. We once had a fox as an unwanted visitor in our neighborhood, and in 2005, we were terrorized by wild turkeys! Felt like one of the adventures from Discovery Channel.

In my noisy suburban home, my family would have endless conversations on any topic, from the most trivial, such comparing the comforts of sleeping on their own beds versus the den couch, to the more profound discussions on current affairs and religion. During winter, my four kids, myself and my husband would be shoveling snow off our driveway. Once in a while, a neighbor would lend us his snow blower. In recent years, snow sculptures on people’s lawn would be the talk of our town.

So what makes Cranford special?

Cranford is truly a family town. It has that “small town” feel, a neighborhood where children grow up with their friends; where mothers hop over to the next-door neighbor for a cup of sugar or a bottle of nail polish remover; a town where everyone looks after each other.

On mornings you see commuters rushing to the train station, stay-at-home moms walking around in strollers, runners of all ages jogging around the neighborhood, and seniors walking at the nearby Mohawk Park. Once in a while you cross the street and a family of deer catches up with you on the road, and you ask yourself, “So, who has the right of way?”

In the afternoon, the streets are covered with children playing basketball or Capture the Flag, or running around in their skate boards or bicycles. I even taught some of my kids’ friends how to play “patintero,” the Filipino version of tag.

We love Cranford because the people are warm and down-to-earth. The butcher at Perrotti’s knows exactly what we love to cook for Christmas and Chanukah, and makes sure to remind me of Land O’Lakes Yellow American cheese for Josh. Our favorite Sunoco attendant nudges us when our inspection sticker is due. Garlic Rose knows our family’s favorite dish. Our dentist, Dr. Thomas Pijanowski, had given us a discount for cleaning when times were tough.

There are plenty of activities for residents: the downtown street fairs, morning TaiChi at Hanson Park, tours at the Historical Society, and snow sledding at the Memorial football field, to name a few. The Cranford Canoe Club rents canoes and kayak, and there are plenty of bike and walking paths for families.

Our downtown has mostly independently owned stores and restaurants, although recently Starbucks opened a store across from the NJ Transit train station.

My kids and I enjoy our morning walks to Cranford’s Best for bagels. Cranford Family Diner is where we go when I’m not in the mood for kitchen duties. A sip of latte with other moms at Rockin’ Joe recharges the spirit. At the end of the school year, the children walk to Calabria’s for pizzas and Little Scoops for ice cream. We have a Cranford Theatre for when the family wants to catch a matinee movie and the Cranford Dramatic Club for musicals and children’s theater.

How’s that for a snapshot of Cranford, where Ashton Kutcher and Zoe Saldana filmed the 2005 interracial romantic comedy “Guess Who.” Our town may not be big on diversity – it is 91 percent white and I only know a handful of Filipino American families – but my kids and I never felt out of place here.

‘Where I Live’ is a new section in The FilAm where Filipinos provide a snapshot of their neighborhoods while giving us a glimpse into their borough or suburban lives. WIL pries open the sprawling maze that is the New York metropolitan area – from NYC to New Jersey, Connecticut and Northern Pennsylvania — where Filipinos find their homes, raise their families and live their ideal of the American Dream.

The family that shovels together...

The family that shovels together…

Life’s a walk in the park for Craig Furer and son Jonathon

Life’s a walk in the park for Craig Furer and son Jonathon

The antique Victorian clock in downtown Cranford. Photo by Kalim 2008

The antique Victorian clock in downtown Cranford. Photo by Kalim 2008

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