Phase 3, Day 5…

This weather is insane! It was 74 degrees today, so of course I went for a bike ride. The second I rolled out of my driveway, the wind decided to have some fun. I immediately recalled looking at the weather last night and attempting to ignore the little wind symbol displayed on today’s forecast:


Today was just a “steady ride,” so I told the wind I didn’t feel like battling today, having practiced fartliks during yesterday’s ride. My legs were just too tired to fight and I simply wanted to enjoy this absolutely gorgeous day…


But Wind persisted…then, I thought, “Haha, Wind! I may be riding against you now, but you will be at my back on the return trip, pushing me ever so gently towards home!” So Wind changed it’s tactics. Hither and dither, Wind changed direction on the way back…without warning…shamelessly torturing me and Old Bessie. By that time, I didn’t care. I simply cruised around that river and ignored Wind’s goading. I slowed down when I couldn’t find the strength and sped up when Wind wasn’t looking. Eventually, Wind just gave up…and I had a lovely ride.


The worst crime I committed today was not walking my bike over the bridge…but I finally got a decent shot of Center City Philadelphia!


There were so many people out today – walkers, runners, cyclists, mommies with strollers, dog walkers, employees enjoying their lunches at picnic tables, couples snuggling on benches along the water. I watched a little dog gleefully chase Canadian geese who squawked and flapped their wings wildly. And all I could think was…what a beautiful world!

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world”

What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

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

Nothing but blue…

Day four of phase three:


Nothing but blue skies…and I love that my house is the same color…makes me happy.

It’s 72 degrees in February. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that I can train in the winter. On the other hand…should I start taking this global warming thing a bit more serious?!

“You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.
Lord, you know it makes me high when you turn your love my way,
Turn your love my way, yeah.”

Blue Sky – Allman Brothers Band

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

Alice through the looking glass…


This was my mother’s bedroom mirror. I’m not sure how old it is, but me nor my older siblings ever remember it not being in our home and my parents were married one year shy of 60 years. What I loved about this mirror was the shelves on either side where my mother placed small delicate vessels of crystal, porcelain and ceramic, each one holding various pieces of her jewelry. I took pleasure in how beautiful it was to look at, admiring my mother’s sense of style. I’m sure there were plenty of days where I looked in that mirror as a child, but I don’t recollect any specific moment in time.

On the other hand, this mirror reflected my mother’s image for decades and through numerous moments of her life. I imagine the first time she looked into this mirror after its purchase, gazing at it’s fine workmanship. Or getting ready to go dancing with dad at some holiday or work event, pressing her face close to its sheen squinting to put on her earrings or slowly gliding her signature red lipstick across her lips, me making sure to get a promised “lipstick kiss” on my cheek before she left the house.

I visualize her sadness on the death of her children, her parents, her friends and other family members, her brother and eventually her husband of 59 years. I see her old body shuffling across the bedroom floor, walker in hand, not needing to look at herself anymore…

After she died, my sisters agreed to let me have my parent’s bedroom furniture. When I got it home, I noticed how worn it looked. It hadn’t dawned on me until that moment that my parents’ bedroom was always dimly lit, giving the illusion of clean smooth lines. But in my brightly lit home, the scratches, dents and paint splatters blemished decades of admiration. Disappointed, I quickly went to work, spreading Old English all over its wood and spot staining deeper wounds. And then I noticed the mirror was not original to the dresser, being made up of a completely different and darker wood – so where and when did it enter my mother’s life? This all bothered me for a while…but then, I got over it…because this was mom’s mirror…


My Jacob’s Ladder…

In February 2016, I only got one bike ride. It was a year ago today and it was a very uneventful and rather boring ride…

So far this February, I’ve gotten in three rides and will probably get in more with temperatures climbing into the 60s and 70s Farenheit this week.

I’m in week three of my training for the half century I’ll be riding on June 11th.

Having mostly trained this winter on the stationary bike at the local gym, any warm weather is more than welcome! Yesterday was Day Two of Phase Three.

I got some nice colors over Cooper River, tiny signs of spring starting to pop up – little red buds on the trees and tiny purple crocuses pushing their way through the dead leaves left over from the fall. I also decided to climb the very steep and crooked ladder to the crew lookout to get a better view of the river. Lacking any safety railing, I found my legs shaking spastically in an effort to stand erect. I managed to calm my body long enough to get two shots, one resulting in a blurry mass and the other coming out perfect. When I started to descend my lofty perch, a wave of intense fear came over me. Looking down the twenty-foot drop at the ladder secured to the foundation by an old rusty padlock and chain, I panicked, “What if I fall?! What if I can’t get down?! Should I ask someone to help me? How embarrassing is this?!” I imagined the sun slowly fading, the temperature dropping to its more seasonal resting place. I pictured myself stuck on this platform, spending the night alone…in Camden, New Jersey…


Thankfully, I managed to climb down, calmly telling myself to take my time and carefully manage each step no matter how long it took me. And then I thought, “Are there that many ladder thieves out there that they had to lock this ladder to the platform?!”

As a child, I climbed all kinds of heights – tree branches, tree houses, fire towers, light houses – no fear of falling. And back then there was no danger. No bubble wrap for us! We did things parents wouldn’t even think of their children doing today.

When we were little, my sister and I slept in bunk beds. Being older (by a mere 15 months, mind you), she claimed her stake in the top bunk. I remember being upset that she had this right simply because she was older, and I would poke her butt with my fingers through the mattress to let her know how unhappy this situation made me. After moving to New Jersey from Long Island, our bedroom was big enough that we could lose the bunk of our beds and sleep separately. So what to do with that bunk bed ladder…?

Our house at that time had a full semi-finished basement with the concrete blocks of the foundation still showing and a flat concrete floor. The house had been built in the 1920s and sold to us by its original owner. Memories of the former family were sprinkled throughout the basement in the form of stickers pasted on the walls in various locations. We loved playing in that basement, my favorite activity riding my tricycle in circles repeatedly around the staircase situated in the middle of the room.

So now back to that bunk bed ladder…

In that house, our washer and dryer were in the kitchen. On warmer days my mother would hang the laundry on the clothesline outside to dry. But if the weather wasn’t cooperative, she had my father erect a clothesline down in the basement, tied from one support pole to another. My sister and I had the brilliant idea of hanging that bunk bed ladder on the clothesline and use the ladder as a swing. Sitting on a lower wrung, I would sway to and fro, legs kicking out straight as I pulled forward, arms pushing my upper body to the rear, then bending my legs and pulling my torso forward on the way back. We did this regularly, never thinking of the potential danger it created.

When I was five-years-old, at some point swinging on that ladder, I fell head first onto the concrete floor. I’m not sure exactly what happened – either the ladder slipped off the line or I slipped off the ladder. Either way, it knocked me out. The next thing I remember was waking up in my bed crying and Kathy coming to my aide. For some reason, she had me drink a glass of orange juice after telling me she spoke to our doctor. I don’t remember much after that and simply woke up in the morning and went back to school. Knowing what I know now, I obviously had a concussion – and a bad one at that. As an adult, I developed a neurological condition, including a brain tumor, that could have been a result of that fall. However, strangely enough, it never stopped me from climbing or risking bodily harm…until yesterday…

Several years ago, my daughter suffered two separate concussions, the latter occurring during a basketball game in which she was forcefully knocked down by an opponent. After hitting her head on the court, she was unconscious for about 30 seconds. My husband and I took both situations very seriously. As a result of the second concussion, our daughter required very expensive specialized vision therapy not covered by insurance. Needless to say, my daughter has been very cautious since that time, my mother-in-laws last words to her being, “Watch your head.”

Now I try to move a little slower and am learning to take my time – slow and steady as Kathy would say. I like being alive too much, so I guess my bungee jumping days that never got to exist are gone forever…

“Climb every mountain
Search high and low
Follow every byway
Every path you know”

Climb Every Mountain – Rodgers and Hammerstein

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


From December 2010 until October 2016, I lost 4 members of my immediate family, along with my mother’s brother and both my in-laws. I also lost one of my dearest friends  suddenly and unexpectedly in 2012. Since my parents, sister and brother were not Jewish, I did not mourn for them in the Jewish tradition. However, over a two-year period from 2014 until today, I’ve watched and tried my best to support my husband throughout his mourning process.

Mourning as a Jew is not easy, especially after the death of a parent. We mourn after the death of a child, a sibling, a spouse and our parents. On a basic level, there are three stages of the mourning process – four if you’re mourning a parent: Aninut (pre-burial), Shiva (shiva, “seven;” the seven-day period immediately following the funeral) and Shloshim (shloshim, “thirty;” the thirty-day period after shiva). Aveilut, the fourth stage, comprises the remaining months of the year only after the death of a parent.

To me, shiva seems like the most difficult stage. The mourner stays in their home for the entire seven days (except Shabbat). As a result, someone brings food to the family  daily so that they do not need to worry about feeding their family. The front door is left unlocked so visitors can come into the home to pay their respects to the bereaved (and there is a strict etiquette to being a visitor).  The person sitting shiva must not work, does not bathe/shower or groom, cannot cut their hair or shave, refrains from marital relations and does not listen to music or enjoy any form of entertainment. They do not wear leather shoes or buy new clothing, nor do they change or launder their clothing. If the mourner is a man, they pray three times a day in the home with at least nine other men and he leads the services, reciting aloud the appropriate prayers for mourners. A memorial candle is lit for the entire seven days and all mirrors in the house are covered – a means of removing all vanity and self-interest, although there are other more Kabbalistic explanations for this practice.

As I’ve written before, after “getting up” (the last day of shiva), the sholoshim period begins. The mourner still does not cut their hair or shave, cannot buy new clothing and does not enjoy music or other forms of entertainment. These rules also apply to the aveilut stage, except the mourner is permitted to cut their hair and shave.

My husband was barely out of aveilut with his mother when he found himself right back into it for his father. For 2 1/2 years, my husband will have grieved for his parents. We opened our home to everyone in our community for those two separate weeks of shiva. People fed us and prayed with us without hesitation. My husband follows every rule as best as humanly possible. Needless to say, the past two years have been lonely and uneventful. Being that my husband is a musician and loves listening to music and attending concerts, this has been particularly difficult. His collection of guitars gather dust, waiting for the day he can play them again and asking our daughter’s musician friends to play them so they don’t gather rust. His iPod is rid of all tunes, satisfying him only with lectures on how to be a better Jew.

When my parents and siblings died, there was no formal “process.” For Jews, the deceased is buried within 24 hours. With both my parents and siblings, days and sometimes weeks went by before their bodies were laid to rest. However, for the week following these deaths, our family came together to console one another and plan our next steps, the following months and years being met with a sensation of drifting through space not knowing where to land.

What struck me most following the deaths of my four family members was the disappointment some women in my community felt not being able to perform the mitzvah (good deed) of preparing a meal for me, the bereaved. After my parents and siblings passed away, I wasn’t forthcoming about their deaths, knowing that being a convert would make the process much more difficult. Some women were surprised to find that I had converted. For others, it answered the nagging question of why I “didn’t look Jewish” or why my name was Alice (definitely not Jewish).

After experiencing shiva with my husband and being fed by the community at large, I realized the importance of this mitzah. Food is prominent in every culture on earth, and in Jewish culture, there’s nothing greater than food as “comfort.” Food is life. As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, food is “something that nourishes or sustains in a way suggestive of physical nourishment.”  As anyone who has lost a loved one, eating is not in the forefront of a mourner’s mind. Eating is necessary – you are alive and must continue on. Being “fed” suggests the need for us to keep going…to nurture the legacy of the deceased.

After the completion of shiva for my father-in-law last November, I decided to take on the role as shiva meal coordinator at my synagogue, taking it on after the former representative moved out of the community. Since taking on this position, sad to say, I’ve been busy – some mourners I know, others I’ve never met. Either way, performing this mitzvah has been my greatest gift over the past seven years.

No one wants to talk about death – it’s downright terrifying. We act like it’s some spectral figure lurking in the wings that we can’t touch and will never touch us. I think that when someone has no spiritual or religious guidance, death is an even more frightening aspect of life. But…it’s inevitable…for all of us…everyone single one of us…and it can happen at any time.

It’s the end of February in southern New Jersey and yesterday it was 68 degrees Farenheit. We had a beautiful Presidents Day weekend, hovering in the 50s and 60s all three days. Of course I had to call on Old Bessie to go for a ride! I’m in week three of my training for the American Cancer Society’s Philadelphia to Atlantic City Bike-a-thon. Although the entire tour is a century (100 miles), I’ve chosen to do the half-century (50 miles) – that’s the most I can do for now. My goal is to eventually do the entire 100 miles…time will tell…

“They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

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



My father would have been 86 today.


This is the last birthday photo of my father taken by me less than two months before he died.

My father’s official cause of death was pulmonary embolism. The day before he died, he complained of feeling dizzy and having difficulty breathing – that’s probably why the doctor provided the diagnosis. On the day he died, my father was dragging his recycling bin to the curb for pickup the next day. He was very particular about where it was placed – several feet right of the driveway and butting the curb. This fixed sense of his nature was no doubt a result of my father’s increasing dementia and his need for routine and order. At first my mother thought dad had tripped over the curb, which seemed plausible at the time, considering his vision had grown progressively worse with macular degeneration and ever-present double vision. But we would later find that his body had simply collapsed under the weight of having died as he was returning to the house.

That was the seventh day of Passover, a religiously observant day for me. My phone ringer was off and phone put away for the holiday. At some point that night, walking by my phone, I noticed a number of phone calls made to me that day, all within a few hours of one another. Breaking tradition, I looked to see who had called – there were a number of voicemails. First was my mother, her voice frantic, sobbing and difficult to understand, “Alice, I think there’s something wrong with daddy. Please call me!” That was around 1:00 pm. The second voicemail was from the local police telling me I needed to get to my parents’ house as soon as possible – that was later in the afternoon. The next two voicemails were from Michael and his wife, informing me that my father had died and I needed to get to the hospital immediately.

Distressed and in a hazy state, I ran to my car and drove to the hospital. At first I went to the wrong division, needing to turn the car around and backtrack a few miles. After parking the car, I ran as fast as I could to the emergency room. I was guided to the room where my father’s body was placed, the curtain drawn around him in dignity. My mother sat in a chair, a pale look of shock still on her face. I climbed onto her lap, straddling my legs around her waist like a child. I hugged her with all my strength and wept uncontrollably. I was then asked to confirm my father’s identity. It was not how I wanted my father to look the last time I saw him – his body half naked, the endotracheal tube still down his throat and all the life saving equipment and monitors still attached, his eyes still open and soulless…

I called my father “Peepaw” after I had my daughter. In her struggle to call him something as she learned to talk, she one day blurted out “Peepaw !”and it stuck. According to Urban Dictionary, Peepaw is a “name used by ignorant southerners referring to their old grouchy dad…Peepaw is a man who is typically really grouchy, smokes Marlboro, drinks Bud Light and tries to be fancy when he goes to parties, but you can usually see his pit stains and smell his smoker’s breath from a mile away.” This definition certainly did not fit my father! He was grouchy only when deserved. He never smoked and rarely drank beer, aside from the occasional brew here and there. He didn’t need to be fancy – everyone respected him for who he was. And if he had pit stains, it was because he was working hard in his garden under the hot summer sun.  This is the Peepaw we knew:


All in all, I found it funny to keep calling him this name and it has stayed with him even in memory.

I still miss buying a silly birthday card and throwing him a party every year…

For today’s video, I picked one from my childhood. Every time this song plays on the radio, I always think of my dad and repeat what he said to me so many years ago. At the time I remember he was doing some kind of repair work in my bedroom and this song came on the radio. By the end of it, he shouted, “For the love of God, will somebody hit the guy already?!” I still laugh when I think of it…

“Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!
Hit me!
Hit me!
Hit me! Ow!
Hit me!
Hit me!
Hit me! hit me!”

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – Ian Dury

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

Forrest Gump

Trail riding

“It’s the way you ride the trail that counts.” – Dale Evans
Despite having four months until my cancer ride, I decided to start my training program today. On this first day of phase 1, I only needed 30 minutes in the saddle – a very slow start to a long haul ahead…

I headed up to my “go to place,” but just to the tail end of the route that is up the street from my house.


The trail is more suitable for walking or running, with various obstacles to cycling along the way. There’s unexpected twists and turns and trails that split without warning. There’s mud and occasional flooding that conceal deep crevices. There’s hills, albeit small ones, that end in gravel and jutting rocks. There’s bridges with erosion at the base of their ramps causing inches of curb to navigate. Some of the trails end abruptly, only to be met with stair cases. But the most dangerous obstacles are the downed trees and roots that occasionally obstruct the trails…

Boy…these guys mean it!

I used to ride these trails every day, each time becoming more and more adventurous and increasing my speed…until August 2012. I’m still not sure what happened but often speculate the scenario. In my swelling confidence, I felt myself flying down a small hill, over a bridge and splitting left at a fork in the road. Next thing I knew, my bike was shaking violently and I was going down. My handlebars twisted quickly to the left, spinning my front tire in a counterclockwise 360, causing my hands to slip off. Very quickly, I fell onto my left side and skidded across gravel and dirt for approximately 10 feet…still on my bike in a riding position. A couple who had been eating their lunch at a nearby picnic table came running over, as did a mother with her young son who were fishing on the river. Having just started a new job requiring recent first aid training, I knew not to move. The pain was unbelievable and I was convinced my leg was not only broken, but that I would find my bones bursting free from my flesh. After several rounds of loudly repeating the F word (and educating the young boy on the various nuances one can say the F word), I quickly told my bystanders not to touch me until I felt I could get up. I’m not sure how long I laid there, but I didn’t dare move.

Finally, after some time, I was capable of shoving the bike off of my body and pushing myself up to a seated position. Eventually, with the help of the couple, I was able to hobble to the nearby picnic table. As I sat, I looked over to the “scene of the crime,” noting a raised root running diagonally across my path – I’m pretty sure I hit that sucker at just the wrong angle and that was that…

Sitting for some time, the couple offered to call my husband and drive me home (the mother had run off with her son in total disgust for my potty mouth). I thanked them for their kindness and called my husband to meet me at the playground across the street. Once home, I discovered horrendous bruising down the entire left side of my body. To my pleasant surprise – no broken bones whatsoever. And THANK G-D FOR MY HELMET! I knew that if I hadn’t been wearing my helmet that day, my face would have been shredded to pieces, not to speak of what would have happened to my head…

So for about a month I couldn’t ride my bike at all and slowly started back up by the time September rolled around…but I didn’t hit those trails again for at least a year. I would also later learn that the dryer the ground, the more dangerous it is. That summer we didn’t have a lot of rain and the ground was very dry and dusty, no doubt adding to the inevitability of my fall that day. More and more I’ve been finding my way back to these trails, but now I ride them in an overly cautious manner – like some little old lady pushing a shopping cart across a busy parking lot. However, it did force me onto the streets where I’ve come to realize the love of road tripping…and bike tours!

Needless to say, my bike didn’t need much repair, but due to the inability to completely correct them, I can no longer ride with no handlebars…

“I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars”

Handlebars – Flobots

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

Forrest Gump


Being dealt a 52-Card Pickup…

I did it! I made it to 52!

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, my sister Maureen died four weeks before her 52nd birthday. A dreadful anxiety began to fester when I turned 50 – would I make it to 52? Mom had just died with Michael in her footsteps later that year. I tried convincing myself that it was all in my head, that I indeed would live to the ripe old age of 103 (a number generated by some online predict-your-age site I found on Facebook a number of years ago and threaten my daughter with whenever she complains about me). But my anxiety told me I was doomed. After my mother passed February 3rd two years ago, my health slowly started to decline. I had gained 15 lbs. while caring for my mother during her last months. As a result, a rare neurological condition resurfaced after a 20-year hiatus. My blood pressure quickly rose and refused to come back down. My cholesterol numbers were increasing. My joints ached to the point of walking with great difficulty. I was doomed alright…if I didn’t get myself back together, I feared the worst…

As I mentioned last time, my mother died the night before my 50th birthday. Today is the second anniversary of her death. My birthdays never seem to work out right. It’s not a huge deal, but at some point I’d like something fun and special to happen (no, this is not a hint!).

Turning 52 makes me think of the game “52-Card Pickup.” For those of you who may not know the “game,” I give you Wikipedia’s explanation:

“52-Card Pickup is a practical joke using a standard deck of 52 playing cards. The name has also been used for solitaire card games and for legitimate educational children’s games that are based on the fundamental principle of picking up scattered cards or objects.

Rules: Any deck of cards will do. “Unnecessary” cards such as jokers may be ceremoniously removed. The game mechanics require at least one player who is familiar with the game and one player who wants to be initiated into the game. The first player, as “dealer”, throws the entire deck into the air so the cards land strewn on the floor. The other player must then pick them up.”

This game seems to represent my life on most days. It’s something I would fall for every time – I’m as gullible as they get. I’ve been told numerous times throughout my life that my portrait stands next to the word “gullible” in the dictionary…and, yes, I also fell for that one as a young child…that’s how gullible I am…

But it’s not just the falling-for-it character of my gullibility in which this game describes my life. It’s the having to pick up all those cards every time – the humiliation of believing it was a real; the embarrassment of an others mean-spirited action towards me; the shame of having to clean up the mess I didn’t make…

Having been dealt such a deck in life, I’ve learned to “play the game.” Of course, it’s more fun to give than receive (and I’ve given a few people a 52-Card Pickup in the past). I’ve also come to embrace my idealism – I believe what you tell me, I roll with the punches and I don’t mind helping to clean up your mess. It’s what has made me a good social worker over a 25-year career span. Even when I truly do not believe what is being told to me, I give you the benefit of the doubt. I believe that you believe what you are saying. When what you tell me may seem incomprehensible or just downright insane, you won’t know it – people need to be able to tell their life story without judgment. And sometimes people just need a little guidance with or maybe just a little motivation towards cleaning up their own messes.


This photo was taken five days after I turned 50 and six days after my mother’s death. It was also on what would have been my father’s 84th birthday. It is the last birthday I celebrated as a social worker. Half my life was spent as a helper and a caregiver…now I think I’d be happy simply working at the local Whole Foods Market…

“You’re what?!
Tin roof…

Love Shack – The B-52s

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