Hot diggity, dog ziggity boom…

Today is my husband’s birthday. As he was turning 45 in 2008, he started feeling more and more depressed about getting older and didn’t want to make a big fuss over his birthday anymore. So to get him out of this birthday funk, for the past ten years I’ve planned little “birthday parties” just for the three of us. He has always been adamant that I NOT throw him a big party with lots of guests and I have always abided.

The first party was a James Bond 007 Casino Royale theme – we made him dress in a tux-like suit with bow tie and decorated the house to look like a casino. We played various gambling games such as poker, craps and keno and I even made a fondant cake that looked like a poker chip.

The second party was a mock hike of the Appalachian Trail. We made a “trail” around the house, strategically placing various stuffed animals, along with trail blazes, in order to give that outdoor nature feeling.

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A pirate theme forced my husband to wear a pirate cap, eye patch and black cape while playing pin-the-treasure-chest on the treasure map, shooting toy cannonballs at a pirate ship and looking for treasure.

When he turned 51, we had the official “old as dirt” party. And when he secretly admitted how much he adored Hello Kitty, that was the theme for 2015…

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In 2016, my husband’s birthday was on Tu b’Shevat, the Jewish new year for the trees.

It was the Hello Kitty party that I was planning when my mother was rushed to the hospital for the last time. By the time I got to her, she was completely delusional and rambling incoherently, demanding to know why I was there and accusing the doctors of various heinous crimes. This would be the last conversation I would ever have with her. It was a Sunday. By the following Tuesday, my sisters, Kathy and Regina, and I brought our mother home to die. All life support was removed. We eased her pain as much as possible and took care of her body to ensure her dignity. We met with nurses and social workers and the chaplain who presented us with that stone heart. Michael would join us on Friday. For seven days we watched over her, waiting…wondering…desperate…each time she seemed to draw her last breath, we sobbed exhausted. Other times we drew on our family humor to get us through the day.

Finally, the night before my 50th birthday, I visited my mother one last time. I sat in the dark, holding her hand, rubbing it and just sat looking at her. By then the death rattle was prominent and frightening. Feeling her end was near, I leaned over to her and said, “Mommy, it’s not about giving up, it’s about letting go.” I promised her that her children would stick together, despite our differences, and look out for one another. And then I left…

On my way home, I impulsively decided to stop at the mall and buy myself something for my birthday. I found myself in one of my mother’s favorite stores, Boscov’s. After wandering around for some time, I bought myself a new shirt and headed home. As soon as I pulled my new shirt out of its bag, Kathy called me with the news – mom had died ten minutes after I left her while I was shopping at Boscov’s…

On this day of my husband’s birthday, it was the first time in a long time that it didn’t snow and the temperatures went above 50 degrees, so naturally I went for a bike ride.

Today I decided to stop at a gazebo I’ve never stopped at before, taking a very cool accidental photo of my shadow and discovering lots of love graffiti, old wasp nests and remnants of barbecues and picnics past. I thought about past parties we threw for my husband on this day. And then I thought about this day two years ago, apologizing to my husband over not having our usual birthday party. I realized that this was the warmest birthday he has had since before 2008. And I remembered that crazy snow storm enveloping my mother’s neighborhood the day I picked up Michael and his wife from the airport.

I’m sad that my husband’s birthday reminds me of the last words with mom, but I’m glad I have a festive day to help me overcome my sadness. Whether he likes it or not, we’re going to always celebrate the day he was born, regardless of how old, bald and wrinkly he becomes.

So today is my husband’s 54th birthday. He told me not to do anything and that all he wanted was hot dogs…

Happy Birthday Woobie!

Perry Como was my mother’s favorite singer…and hot dogs were my father’s favorite dinner…

“Never knew that my heart could go “zing” thattaway
Ting-a-ling thattaway, make me sing thattaway
Said “goodbye” to my troubles, they went thattaway
Ever since you came into my life”

Hot Diggity – Perry Como

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

So today My Gump Ride finally feels like its true purpose will be served. For the past few years, I’ve been wanting to ride in the annual American Cancer Society Bike-a-thon in my region, traveling from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Atlantic City, New Jersey. However, this event always took place on a Jewish holiday or interfered with some other event I needed to attend. Discovering that I had nothing else planned, scheduled or interfering on that day, I committed myself to the challenge.

I will admit…I’m a little nervous, but I’m not sure why. Although the longest route is 100 miles, I chose to only do half this first time around. I rode 45 miles last May with Kathy in the Five Boro Bike Tour – this will only be five more miles. I also rode almost 47 miles the other day without even trying. So why am I so worried?

Well…this time I’ll be alone – my big sister Kathy won’t be riding with me, but I’ve ridden almost that far without her. I’m also afraid of getting lost from the route, although I know every road from here to Atlantic City and could manage my way. The weather should cooperate…somewhat. Even if it rains, it’ll be summer in Southern New Jersey. So why am I so worried?

Maybe I’m worried because of the “unknowns” I can’t predict or control.

January 20th – today would have been Maureen’s 58th birthday. As I’ve mentioned, Maureen died one month before her 52nd birthday. She died suddenly and unexpectedly. We couldn’t have predicted it and certainly couldn’t control it. I’m two weeks away from my 52nd birthday…maybe that’s it…I’m worried about “not making it.”

If I don’t make it on this upcoming bike tour, I’ll just get SAG to pick me up and take me to the finish line where my husband will be waiting to take me home. But if I don’t make it to 52…will there be a SAG of angels waiting to take me home? And what about my husband…?

When I ride, I think about the strength and bravery my brother had after being diagnosed with anal cancer. I also think about my sister Regina’s perseverance and ever present positive outlook throughout the past six years after battling breast cancer and surviving. “Dohertys don’t do sick,” I’ve said for decades. We fight and we fight hard. Two weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I was mowing the lawn. Two days after having a hysterectomy, I was vacuuming my house. When I get sick, I unfortunately venture on and infect those around me because I just can’t be sick…sorry…

This all made me think of something I wrote following last year’s Five Boro ride:

Rounding the bend in Brooklyn as you enter the BQE, there’s a terrible wind that slaps you in the face…hard. Imagine your body flying through the air at 15mph only to be met by a MAC truck driving 40mph from the opposite direction. It hurts…and it hurts bad…you can’t breathe. Your eyeballs sting from the bullets of rain shooting into them. IF you make it past the slap turn, you’re received by the lonely boro volunteers who’ve been standing out on the sidelines in 40-degree weather in the pouring rain since at least 7:00am, “WELCOME TO THE BQE FOLKS! [snicker…snicker…]” You KNOW it’s gonna be bad. Having driven the BQE numerous times…you KNOW it’s gonna be WORSE than bad. First there’s the curve…uphill…a little…then the next hill…a little bigger…then the next, then the next…until you’ve lost count of the hills from which you’ve sucked wind. You imagine the Little Red Caboose – “I think I can, I think I can…” At this point, there’s silence…SILENCE. You’re on the BQE in New York City and it’s QUIET…except for your own gasping breaths and the sound of raindrops pelting your helmet. You keep telling yourself, “This is the part they talked about.” The part where your thighs are screaming and your lungs can’t breathe the air. The part where you panic, but there’s NO turning around – there’s NO bailing out. If you can just get up that last mountain…only to be met by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. You’ve heard about it…read about it…studied it…it’s one of the world’s longest suspension bridges…that goes UUUUUP one end and DOOOOOWN the other. You can see it’s peak fade off into the horizon as you approach – a sea of colorful cyclists before you – some who’ve been this route before and others who experience it for the first time – all riding as if driven to finish the challenge. Behind it, a roller coaster of a hill that frightens you more. But all you’re thinking is, “I need to climb this mountain…I need to climb this mountain…” There’s absolutely nothing else on your mind, except that mantra. Nothing else matters. All thoughts, all worries, everything else that’s happening in your life and around you, DOESN’T MATTER. All you know is…you need to climb that mountain…because there’s no turning around and no bailing out…you’re in first gear, with no gears left to grind. And then you peak…and there’s no pain…and you can breathe…and the roller coaster ride is so much more fun going down…because you just made it through 40 miles of pain…and downpours…and people cheering you on…and music playing your tune. And as you cross the finish line, you’re suddenly overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of others around you who are sharing and feeling their own pain. In the end? You feel invincible – like you can do anything…BECAUSE YOU CAN!

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I have a feeling this ride’s going to be even better…

“I coulda gave up then but
Then again I couldn’t have ’cause
I’ve traveled all this way for something”

I’m On Top Of The World – Imagine Dragons

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.”

Forrest Gump

Planes, trains and automobiles…

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors in their grueling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through.”
Wilbur Wright
It’s January 12th in Southern New Jersey and the temperature tipped at 67 degrees Farenheit. The record high was 72 degrees in 1967…man we missed it by only 5 degrees!
All I could hear was Ole Bessie whispering from the garage, “It’s 64 degrees outside…why are we still inside?!” With nothing in particular scheduled for the day, I, of course, hopped on Ole Bessie and took her for a spin. For whatever reason, I decided to travel to a place I’ve ridden to a handful of times but never actually explored – the Air Victory Museum.
As you can see from their website and as I saw before heading out, the museum is closed until April 5, 2017. I was a little disappointed because I was determined to stop and visit this time. Despite my misgivings, I saddled up and made the 10-mile trek eastward.

Taking photos along the way, an attempt to capture my beautiful blue sky in the rearview mirror of my bike failed slightly, but I still thought the picture was interesting…the creek, typically enveloped by greenery throughout the rest of the year, lay dormant and carpeted by it’s debris…a door left closed on the side of the road – where did it lead to? And Bessie the Cow happily introduced herself to Ole Bessie the Mule…

As I’ve mentioned before, my brother Michael was in the Air Force. For the most part, I think he truly loved it. He knew anything and everything about planes. When my parents lived near the Atlantic City International Airport (a joint civil-military airport), my brother could instantly tell us which plane was flying over and provide numerous details about how the plane was made and how it operated. Flying with him greatly decreased my anxiety as he explained every step of take off, flight and landing. His knowledge of planes was incredible. However, I’m not sure he would’ve known what to make of this one:

Definitely Star Trek inspired…

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Michael would’ve loved this place – they also have toy trains on display, one of his other passions in life. I can’t wait until April 5th when I can visit this place for real…

And for only just a moment, I got my blue sky…

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“Every place I go, I’ll think of you
Every song I sing, I’ll sing for you”

Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee…

It hit a whopping 51 degrees today, so I bundled up and ventured out for a spin. It’s been over a month since I’ve ridden and pore ole Bessie was dusty! I quickly headed to my go to place.

At the entrance to Cooper River Park:

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“If we are not careful, we shall leave our children a legacy of billion dollar roads leading nowhere except to other congested places like those they left behind.”

Omar Bradley

This is the first time I actually stopped to read this sign. Looking diagonally across the street, I’d almost forgotten there used to be a miniature golf center on the corner. I took my daughter there once after we first moved to the area. I rarely saw anyone playing there, but it lasted until renovations for the park started a couple of years ago.

For me, miniature golf is the end-all-be-all of entertainment. I’m highly competitive, take it very seriously and could play for hours if I had the time. Every vacation I go on with my family, the first thing I look up is where the closest mini golf is located. When my daughter and I visited Michael in Milwaukee July 2015, he asked me what I wanted to do…

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It was one of the most fun times I’ve had with my brother. It’s impossible to believe that three months after this selfie was taken, Michael would be dead. Looking at him, you would never know he was dying or that he suffered great pain 24/7. He had lost all his hair and the basic daily functions of his body. The one thing he did keep was his sense of humor.

When I went on that long ride October 25, 2015 to contemplate whether or not I should fly to Milwaukee, one of the things I thought about was what my brother’s spirit animal or totem would be. As I stopped at a red light along the route home, I happened to look down at the ground and noticed a swarm of bumblebees hovering among the vegetation surrounding my foot. They simply went about their business and ignored the human invading their pollinated feast. I didn’t think much about it that day or in the days following, until I got home from Milwaukee. For days after my return, dozens of bumblebees swarming around my garden would dance around my head each time I walked by, whisper buzzing in my ear, “Stop and smell the roses with us…” Then the spark ignited – bumblebee!

“When Bee appears in your life the most common message it carries has to do with your levels of productivity. In some cases we are doing too much, and in others not enough. Bee spirit has a strong work ethic but it also knows the importance of stopping and smelling the flowers. There is a time to enjoy life’s nectar and a time to grab after the proverbial brass ring with vehemence. Bee helps with both, and in finding the delicate balance between the two.” –

WhatIsMyAnimalSpirit.com

My Gump Ride had been just that – it was my “stop-and-smell-the roses” and Michael was there to tell me to keep riding…

In a class with my Rabbi yesterday, we discussed this week’s Torah portion, when Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. We learned how neither Joseph or his brothers felt anger toward one another by that time – only joy in reuniting. Joseph knew that what had happened to him was in G-d’s plan – that he needed to use his visions to help save his people, including his family. He was capable of “seeing” all the little messages G-d had sent him in every moment of his life leading up to that day…those bumblebees were a message I needed to see…

Today I noticed that the lights on the Christmas tree were actually lit up ornaments and that it was being suspended by wooden boxes painted to look like presents under the tree. As I watched the temporary ice rink melt into dirt littered piles of snow and carefully stepped around muddy sinkholes, I also took time to notice the still vibrant colors of winter – bright yellow pansies and fiery red shrubs along the river. I encountered a little Zamboni and remembered how my husband once remarked that he wanted to be a Zamboni driver when he retires. I observed the geese feeding on the mini golf grasses while seagulls sunned themselves on the docks. I took note of the Bishop Eustace Prep Crew boat and giggled at how the locals referred to it as “Bishop Useless.”

And although the day had started out a dreary January grey, this is what I found by the time I hit the river:

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My blue sky…

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump