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I’m from Jersey, baby.

I’m on a “get healthy” kick, which includes clean eating, working with a nutritionist and working out regularly.

I’m feeling good about myself and how I look. All that came to a grinding halt last week. It wasn’t because I was injured and couldn’t work out, or that I gave in to my insatiable and insane craving for bread and cookies. What happened was I took a trip to California.

It all started innocently enough on the plane ride out where it was obvious that most were going home to California. Their luggage matched. They had travelling shawls and hydrating facial mist. They carried salads. Those of us hailing from the Garden State were dressed mostly in the latest trend from Marshall’s. Our luggage had duct tape. We carried donuts and coffee. The women next to me had six donuts, which she happily handed out to everyone around her. Jersey, baby. We share.

Upon arriving it seemed like every woman my age looked like she considered eating tofu a cheat day. Skin so tight you could bounce a tennis ball off their cheeks, strange plumped lip lines, hair extensions and huge enhancements up front. So much upkeep would be exhausting I told myself, trying to erase the fact that my right thigh was as big as their entire torso. From the back, they looked 18. From the front, they looked 58 trying to look 18. Jersey, baby. We look the same front and back.

Sitting around the pool was a 65-year-old guy in a speedo chatting up two twenty-somethings with double D’s. But he only spoke to them AFTER he finished with a few push-ups. I felt like Shamu, and I’m the thinnest I’ve been in years. The women around the pool, they didn’t get wet. I put my hair in a bun, put on my goggles, set some gangsta rap on my water iPod, and swam laps. Jersey, baby. We get in the pool.

I texted my sister describing the scene. She reminds me I can out swim them, out arm wrestle them, out shop them and out drink them. Which pretty much describes all my Jersey girls. My husband came to the pool, looked at the 20-somethings and started doing push-ups. Just kidding. Jersey, baby. Husbands only have eyes for us — if they want to live.

Then there was dining out. Every waiter, when taking my order, asked if I wanted the gluten-free option. Was he also asking the starving vegan sitting at the table next to me if she wanted the gluten-free option? Or just asking me, the fat sista from New Jersey? Finally, I said, “Look…go to the kitchen. Find some Italian bread, and bring me the entire loaf.” Jersey, baby. We eat.

On the positive side the weather was glorious. Even in winter, Californians hike mountains with the dazzling scent of eucalyptus and gaze at breathtaking vistas. Conversely, New Jerseyans hike on a treadmill with the scent of that person next to us hiking on their treadmill, while gazing at the parking lot. It’s spectacularly sunny in California and everything is in full bloom. Who wouldn’t want to live on the West coast?

I often wondered why my grandfather, Angelo, made Newark, New Jersey his home. Why, upon arriving Ellis Island from Italy didn’t he head to California where he could have pursued his passion for growing vegetables, fig trees and flowers all year-round. The reason? He had extended Italian family in Newark. Jersey, baby. It’s never about the weather, but always about the family.

I suppose that’s why I still proudly hail from The Garden State. When my husband retired, he wanted to know, and I quote, “Why are we living here when we can live anywhere?”

Because in New Jersey what you see is what you get. Because we dive into the pool and swim in the ocean worrying about our hair and make-up later. Because we like to eat healthy, but we like spaghetti and meatballs, too. Because we have that famous New Jersey humor that allows me to remain calm while the woman sitting next to me spritzes her face with hydrating mist, thereby spritzing my ear.

Jersey, baby. So many reasons to live here.

To my California friends and relatives…forgive me. To my girlfriends and sister, you will probably see many of your comments in this article. Thank you. xo

— Tracy Buckner

Tracy Buckner writes for The Observer Tribune of Chester, N.J., and blogs for the New Jersey Hills family of newspapers, which serve Madison, Chatham and Chester, New Jersey. She enjoys writing about the slow decline and vows to go down kicking and screaming. You can read more of her musings on her blog: “Aging, Kids, Family and Why We Self-Medicate.”

Reflections of Erma