Long Beach Island has been a constant in Jennifer Crawford's life, her favorite place to visit every summer. And one constant of any visit to the home her parents, Dick and Sandi Crawford, own in Beach Haven Park is a reminder by her dad of his two unbreakable house rules.
Rule No. 1 is a reasonable one: "No sand in the house," Jen recites automatically, from 41 years of hearing it.
And Rule No. 2 is repetitive: "No sand in the house," she continues, agreeing that yes, her dad is pretty serious when it comes to that particular rule.
But Hurricane Sandy was a very serious storm when it hit Long Beach Island last October, a hurricane that definitely lived up to both parts of its name - and didn't care about anybody's rules.
The Crawfords' shore house got as much as 41 inches of water in parts, and that flooding left behind a solid coating of sandy, muddy muck all over the floors - so much that Dick Crawford says you couldn't even see what color the floors really were anymore.
And Jen got the idea for a children's book whose characters include her dad, her rule-following kids - Abby, 8, and Charlie, 6 - plus that outlaw storm. The book's title is, naturally, "No Sand in the House."
It's the first book for the author, a reformed newspaper writer - she worked for The Star-Ledger before and immediately after her graduation from Boston College - turned lawyer. She's a veteran of 10 years in the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate General Corps and still carries the rank of major in the Army Reserves, so she admits to having more experience writing legal briefs than children's tales.
Then again, she has plenty of family experience in reading kiddie literature - Jen laughs as she figures she's been the personal narrator for probably "hundreds of thousands of books" to her kids by now.
"I thought, 'This is something I can do,'" she says, meaning both a job she could accomplish and a way she could help other people on Long Beach Island and along more of her beloved New Jersey shore. Because the author is donating profits from her self-published book to four groups trying to help her home state come back from Sandy - the Alliance for a Living Ocean, LBI's High Point Volunteer Fire Co., Hometown Heroes and Restore the Shore.
As of this week, she had covered her costs and raised more than $1,000 for her charities, Jen says.
She got the idea for her children's book at the same time she got the inspiration to try to help people the hurricane hurt.
"My parents were going through a lot of stress, and I felt a lot of stress," said Jen, who lives in Charlottesville, Va., when she's not at her favorite beach. "It was a snowy Friday, my kids and I were at the library, and I said, 'I think I can write a children's book.'"
Later that day, she told her husband - Army Lt. Col. Chuck Kirchmaier, who also is in the JAG program, where the two met - about her plan. And when she had trouble sleeping that night, she got out of bed around midnight.
Chuck asked where she was going, and Jen said she had a book to write. She didn't get back under the covers until she finished what turned out to be a first draft of a
32-page story, counting all the illustrations.
She knows, from years as a consumer, kids' books are big on repetition, and admits she may have overemphasized her dad's emphasis of his rules just a bit. For his part, Dick, 72 - a retired IBM salesman who grew up in Philadelphia and also learned to love LBI as a kid - says his daughter used a little "literary license." But he leaves no doubt he's serious about his ban on sand.
"Nobody at the shore likes sand in the house," he says. "It gets into the carpet, it gets on the floor. When the children were small" - Jen has one big sister - "it was just easier for their mom not to have to clean up sand. ... And since my daughter has been selling this book to raise money for charity, we're finding out that this is not a unique rule to the Crawford family."
Dick and Sandi Crawford actually went to stay with Jen's family in Virginia after Sandy hit the parents' main home, in Essex County, and knocked out the electricity there. They followed Long Beach Island news as well as they could from a few states away, but didn't really know what happened to their two-story Cape Cod-style shore place until they got back on the island 10 days or so after the storm.
Mold had already started to grow in places and Dick says they had to rip out the whole first floor - the second floor is usually a small rental unit - because the house was built in the 1950s and the walls were made of knotty pine that couldn't be matched today. Their builder had to replace everything with new wallboard.
"We could stand on the (support) beams and see sand on the ground and the ceiling above" - and that was it, Dick says. It was just before July 4th, more than eight months after Sandy struck, before the Crawfords could spend a night in the first-floor place again.
Still, he considers his family "truly blessed. ... We have neighbors who can still stand on their beams and look down and see sand."
His daughter's book doesn't cover the rebuilding process, but it does show the good side of another character Jen wanted in her book - Long Beach Island itself. The illustrations, by Hannah Tuohy, who also lives in Charlottesville, include LBI landmarks from Barnegat Lighthouse to Beach Haven's Acme to Pinky Shrimp's Seafood Co. in Beach Haven Crest.
"There aren't a lot of children's books that take place on LBI specifically," Jen says. "I think the Jersey shore has a unique community and a unique feel, and I wanted to get that into the story."
And her book is starting to get noticed in high places in the state. She made three public appearances around Long Beach Island this month before her kids had to head back home to school, and she sent copies to such New Jersey superstars as Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi and Gov. Chris Christie. She knows at least Christie got his -because she got a letter from him this week officially congratulating her on the book and wishing her family good luck recovering.
All the Crawford characters are also fans of the book, and Dick has even heard from a few strangers on LBI who recognize him as Pop-Pop from "No Sand in the House."
And while he swears he really doesn't harp on his rules as much as his character in the book does, his author-daughter laughs as she says that Sandy's flooding lesson last year basically changed just one thing about the sand ban: Now, it's even more strict.
"You can really tell on the new floors," she says. "It's like a brand-new house now."
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