Death defying…

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Once kitty’s in the garden, winter is officially done. Finally! The snow is melted, the rain has stopped, the sun in shining and my blue sky has returned:

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After three long weeks, I hopped on Ole Bessie and went for a ride along my go-to place, trying desperately to pick up where I left off with my training.

Giant puddles littered the parking lots, making for some good splashing. Mud splatters on my back always prove I’ve had a fun ride. A bright red “flower” sun, higher in the sky for the season, casts cool shadows. Colorful boats wait their turn to sail. Multiple signs telling us what we can’t do, but not letting us know what we can. A tree has grown into and intertwined with a fence…

I love seeing nature take over man-made things. It’s proof that we will not prevail, G-d’s reminder He and his creations are so much more powerful than us. Despite human intrusion, at some point a tiny seed planted itself under this fence. A sapling grew into a tree that adapted to its environment, regardless of the twisted pain necessary in overcoming the obstacles in its path.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the people in my family “don’t do sick.” This is something I learned from my father (and it’s not necessarily a bad thing).

I remember my father having a hernia operation before his father died. Despite the obvious discomfort, he went to his father’s funeral and then came home and mowed the lawn. Two weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I too was mowing the lawn. Two days after having a hysterectomy, I came home and vacuumed my house. This mentality also finds itself in every moment of my life. Looking back, most of my life has been fairly uneventful and I’ve coasted contently over tiny ripples in this life’s ocean. But, damn, when those big moments happen, it’s like getting hit with a tsunami every time. Each time, I find myself twisting and turning in the wave, unable to catch a breath, waiting for the water to calm. Each time I remind myself, “Tie yourself to a tree dummy!” like they did in that movie that scared the s**t out of you when you were little…the one that you saw before being caught in a riptide at age six…the one that kept you from going into the ocean until your 30s, thanks to your daughter’s love of water.

Maybe it’s just our way of stalling death. We’re fully aware of its presence, looming over every breath, watching and waiting to be given the go-ahead. And while death hovers, we sit and wonder when it’s going to happen, where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing and how we’ll die. I can’t say that I’m “okay” with it, but I know it’s going to happen…just not for a few more decades please…

This is also how I’ve dealt with the death of others in my life. Yes, there is a process necessary after losing a loved one, but once that process is followed, it’s time to move on. You are still alive. You must continue to live. Cycling has been a more recent coping mechanism – no better way to live than feel the strength of your own heart beat and your lungs breathing heavily while the wind passes through your body…besides, I’ve had a landscaper since 2004, so now I don’t get to mow the lawn anymore…

In our class this morning, the rabbi told us of a person who complained about something “tragic” having occurred on Purim years back and that they couldn’t possibly enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the holiday knowing what happened on that day. Saturday will be the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. He died on the seventh day of Passover. It was also April Fool’s Day, the day after Easter Sunday and the birthday of our best friend. Yes, I will be sad, but I will not allow Passover to be a somber time because of his death. We will call our friend and wish him a happy birthday – because he is alive and we are grateful for having him in our lives. Not only is it easier to remember this anniversary, I chuckle at the thought that my father would die on April Fool’s Day…it’s so like him…

Toward the end of my ride later in the day, I noticed a woman running across the street several yards in front of me. She was petite and thin, wearing a frilly pink dress and a taupe-colored winter jacket with faux fur trim. I imagined every reason why this pretty little dressed up woman would run out of nowhere – she was being chased by some crazy guy…or her boyfriend just broke up with her and she needed to get away…or she really really needed to pee and was running to the port-o-potty…As I got closer to her, I noticed she was also wearing flip flops. Impressed and amazed that someone could so easily run in flip flops, I again thought about how dire her situation must be that she needed to run away wearing only flip flops. As I passed her, I glanced over to look at her face – is she crying? is she grimacing? is she horrified? None of the above…her face was lit with passion, a giant grin intermittently broken by laughter. What a beautiful sight! This woman was simply happy. Of course I then tried to imagine why she was so happy…and was envious of her joy…

Week 9 Photo Challenge – Artistic: Still Life – in their words, “A couple of pieces of fruit on a table won’t impress…” Straight up…I cheated on this one:

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Although not a bowl of fruit on my table, this little cactus plant has become a literal picture of strength in overcoming life obstacles. I bought it in 1989 before my husband and I were married. We were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria Queens and would spend weekends trying to get away and explore the city. One particular weekend, we went to one of the botanical gardens in New York. I don’t remember if it was the Bronx or in Brooklyn, but before we left I picked up this cactus. It was smaller than it is now and had grown so big I had to transplant it into a large pot. Then death started knocking on doors, one by one taking my loved ones away. Slowly, I watched this cactus die, its needles dropping like rain on a funeral. I had this cactus for 25 years. It represented the life I’d created with my husband and now it was representative of the life being sucked from our bodies. That’s when I took over – I gently ripped the ailing plant from its soil, carefully holding its frail roots and replanting it into a tiny little pot. I put it on the kitchen window sill to give it lots of sun. I watered it when needed. Slowly, I watched this cactus regrow and transplanted into a pot slightly bigger. Several months ago, I was able to move it to an even bigger pot…this is hope…

“It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive”

It’s My Life – Bon Jovi

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

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Gump Walk NYC

Hello, my name is Alice and it’s been two weeks since my last bike ride…

I think the hemispheres have shifted – winter is now summer and spring has become winter…I don’t want to know what summer has decided to become…I got in a lot more bike rides last March and withdrawal is starting to kick in.

Withdrawal sets off my anxiety. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, anxiety is inherited. I remember the day I discovered my father’s Xanax prescription. In hindsight, I think he took it to help him deal with my mother’s anxiety, which was much worse.

My daughter had a therapist who referred to anxiety as “The Bully” because that’s what it is. It searches you out, looking for its next victim. Let your guard down for a second and The Bully’s gonna latch on to you like some form of sticky goo you see in those alien movies. Branding your back with a giant V for every other bully in your mind to see, you’re set for life…until you stand up for yourself.

There was a brief period in my 40s after having a hysterectomy when The Bully went on holiday. That’s when I remembered about Vivienne Eliot, the first wife of T.S. Eliot, who was diagnosed with “hysteria” and committed by her brother (Tom had abandoned her six years prior) to an asylum at the age of 50. According to records, Viv went through menopause while hospitalized and found her “hysteria” completely resolved.

Hormones play a significant role in a woman’s life. They’re there from the outset and never let go…just like The Bully. They control you without mercy, regardless of race, religion or politics. From the erratic mood swings pre-tween to the ruthless hot flashes of middle age, hormones have a compromising relationship with The Bully, helping each other out when the other needs time off. My “holiday” ended when I lost my job and the hormones of menopause decided to take over The Bully.

My sister Maureen was one month away from being post-menopausal before she died…that just sucks…and it’s just not right.

Since conceiving my daughter, the past 19 years has allowed The Bully to control my every thought. What if she dies of SIDS?! What if she doesn’t develop like a “typical” child?! How can I leave her with strangers while I selfishly relish in a career established 10 years prior to the twinkle in my eye?! How can I protect her from the real-life bullies in her school?! What do I say to her when she tells me she has no friends and eats her lunch and has recess alone?! How many schools can we transfer to before she’s happy?! Will she ever apply herself to get good grades?! How long can I make excuses for her not to drive?! Will she be able to handle her anxiety while away at college?! Will she be blown up on a bus in Israel?! What if she makes aliyah?! How will I see my grandkids?!

In 20/20 hindsight, all these worries have been a waste of precious time. Although the number one cause of death in infants in the United States, the percentage of SIDS related deaths is 1 in 1,000. Despite my daughter having “learning issues” throughout her life, she managed to get herself accepted into 9 of the 10 colleges she applied to, including American and Drexel Universities (f**k you UMD…your loss!). At some point, my career needed to end – I was simply getting too old and needed to accept the fact that I wasn’t 20 anymore. And that 10 years waiting to be pregnant were the most emotionally painful years of my life. As for the bullies? I once pissed off a psychologist for saying this, but bullies make victims stronger…when they have the support network necessary to combat them. They were very lonely and stressful years, but the kid managed to finally find her island of misfit toy friends in high school where bullying took the back burner. While all her classmates were ivy league consumed, the kid focused her mind on getting good enough grades to get accepted into decent grade-A colleges. After months of finding excuses to not let her drive, the kid drove herself to the bus stop for the first time alone without incident and backed up perfectly into the parking spot of a former president of our synagogue without a care in the word…and hopefully hasn’t lost my key. And if she can handle 10 months in Israel, college in America will be a breeze…I just need to remember that in 2018…

Several months ago, the kid gave me permission to open any and all college correspondence as long as I agreed to text her afterwards. I cried when I opened the packet from American University. After years of beating herself up about not being smart enough, the kid made it. And then she sent me her acceptance to Drexel University…I cried again…Despite all obstacles, the kid finally had proof that she was “good enough.” Consumed by her anxiety and surrounded by bullies, she planned her future based on what The Bully thought she was worth…another waste of time…

I regret her years of worry all because of genetics, but this is something beyond my control. I despise the adults who created children in their likeness who could control themselves and didn’t allow their children to flourish and prepare their own paths, thereby creating a whole new generation of anxiety ridden adults. After years of being told we weren’t good enough, The Bully has made us stronger. Tell a Doherty or a Gershuny they can’t do, expect some serious consequences.

Years wasted on unnecessary worry…

So having cultivated the kid to “adulthood,” we celebrated with an 18th-birthday-24-hour-extravaganza starting last Sunday.  After breakfast at the local bagel shop, our trip began 1 1/2 hours behind schedule (my bad…). The ride began with witnessing a high speed chase up the NJ turnpike that we followed until the perpetrator crashed and was taken into custody.

After driving in circles trying to figure out how to get to the hotel, we were told by some very cranky reception staff that the hotel no longer has valet parking. After dropping off my husband and the kid and driving in more circles, I found myself at the American Museum of Natural History where I was given a spot right at the entrance (good to know my circle driving had a rainbow and kindness makes all the difference). Once returned to the hotel, the room was smaller than expected and the toilet immediately clogged and screamed all night in pain, but I reminded myself of the abundance of kosher food that awaited us:

 

 

Kid’s choice? The Asian exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

 

 

We decided after a night of screaming toilets to head out to breakfast and then peruse the American Museum of Natural History, since my car was already parked there overnight and we’d get a discount with validation from the hotel. On the way back from breakfast, my husband insisted on meeting the giant Lego dude and briefly met with Abe Lincoln while he got some sun on the steps of the Historical Society after I asked a local policeman if I could take a picture on his horse:

 

 

After checking out the exhibits of the kid’s choice and having to extract my “children” from the museum shop before getting arrested for disorderly conduct, we headed back to the car only to discover I had lost our validated parking voucher. Following a brief freak out, we found ourselves handing over our credit card to a very grumpy parking garage attendant who made us pay a full day’s price PLUS our overnight stay, DESPITE my honesty in telling her what time we arrived the day before…$83! Next time we take the train…

All in all, my favorite place on the planet is the AMNH, so I didn’t mind the “donation.”

 

 

On the way home, we discovered that the high speed car chase perp was some pothead who stole a car in Connecticut and decided to take a joy ride on our lovely New Jersey Turnpike. After an hour of my bitching about crazy suicidal drivers, we witnessed a three-car pile up about 50 feet in front of us in which a sedan twirled several 360s along the right lane and an SUV flipped at least 2 or 3 times from the middle lane to the guard rail while a third car smashed head first into the guard rail. I narrowly missed killing a man who decided to stop in the left lane shoulder and run across three lanes of highway to attend to the drivers of the crash.

All in all, we arrived home safely to piles of puke throughout our basement left by one of our cats…OY!!!

On a totally separate note…week 8 of my photo challenge, Technical: One Shot – Imagine that it’s the last frame on a roll of film and I have to nail it – only one shot…bicycles, of course!

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If I had to live in NYC again, I’d ditch the car and ride my bike everywhere. This photo brings me back to the 1990s when we would order takeout Chinese food from our favorite restaurant that delivered by bicycle – the best Chinese food we’ve ever eaten since. In the two years we lived there, we never actually stepped foot in the restaurant until we passed it on our move to southern New Jersey. A tiny whole-in-the-wall place, it changed our perspective of what is “good.”

You only get one life…take the shot and make it work…

“Look
If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?”

Lose Yourself – Eminem

 

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

Something remembered…

In 1983, Mother’s Day was on Sunday, May 8th. That was the day I presented those 18 roses to my mother that I don’t remember buying or giving. Not too surprising is that I didn’t remember this date either…it was a very long time ago…

Exactly two months later, on July 8, 1983, I was on a plane with Michael headed for Phoenix, Arizona. I didn’t remember the exact date until now. I do remember that we decided to stay a little longer because my sister Kathy was getting married on July 3rd. I also remember most of the flight and how Michael calmed my nerves for my fear of flying. Michael knew a lot about planes…I mean, A LOT! He could tell you anything you wanted to know (or perhaps, not want to know) about airplanes, from their mechanics to their design. On a layover in St. Louis, I remember Michael buying this postcard, filling it out and mailing it to my parents, all right there in the airport:

The picture side shows a stick figure of my brother standing on a bridge over the Mississippi River shouting, “Egad! Someone help!” Below, in the river, you’ll find a stick figure of me screaming, “Eeee!” On the other side, Michael writes:

“Alice got so depressed having to stay here in St. Louie for an hour, she decided to end it all! Why should I stop her?? I LOVE my sister! Yech! Luckily there’s so much sludge on the river, she floated to safety! Ha-ha! Ho-ho! Hee-hee! Har-Har! Love and kithes, Mike and Ike! (a.k.a. Alice)”

“11AM 8 July 1983”

He also apparently liked the stamp he chose, writing “Nice” with an arrow.

But, alas, Arizona was not a good choice for me at the time…and, in the end, I had to sell my road bike and my guitar to buy a plane ticket home…but that’s another story for a different time…

“Searchin’ through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep
I wonder if the years have closed her mind
I guess it must be wanderlust or tryin’ to get free
From the good old faithful feelin’ we once knew”

Carefree Highway – Gordon Lightfoot

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

Things forgotten…

This past Saturday, my daughter turned 18 years old. It was also the Jewish holiday of Purim. She wasn’t pleased. What should have been an important birthday milestone, her day was trumped by the holiday.

At Purim, as told in the Megillah Esther (the Book of Esther), we follow the story of how the Jews came dangerously close to complete and total annihilation. In a nutshell, the story takes place in Biblical Persia where a Jewish woman named Esther unwillingly becomes the king’s wife after he has his former wife put to death because she refused to dance naked for his buddies at a banquet he was holding. Being an orphan, Esther was raised by her uncle Mordecai, a man who refuses to bow down to Haman or the king. He later discovers a plot made by two guards planning to assassinate the king, resulting in Mordecia receiving all kinds of accolades by the king and his court. This situation ends up pissing off the king’s viceroy, Haman, who decides that since Mordecai is a Jew, he wants all Jews to be killed. Haman devises a plan to cast “lots,” or purim (singular pur=lot) to help choose the date for extinguishing the Jews. Unbeknownst to Haman and the king, Esther is also a Jew. Mordecai convinces Esther to tell the king about her true identity and manages to save the Jews from inevitable annihilation. In the end, Haman is the one who is put to death by hanging.

As per Jewish law, lest we forget, we are commanded to listen to the reading of the Megillah Esther (the Book of Esther) on the eve as well as the morning of Purim. We also celebrate our survival. Aside from the prescribed seudah (third meal) on the afternoon of Purim where we dress up in costume and eat and drink until fully intoxicated, some people also have additional parties after the reading the night before. This seemed to be the big thing this year…of course, being that it was my daughter’s very important 18th birthday. Everyone had somewhere to go or somewhere they had to be, further shortening my daughter’s list of friends who could come to our home and celebrate. With all the holiday hoopla, her birthday was somewhat forgotten

My 18th birthday is also forgotten. I’m not sure what I did or how I celebrated. I had already been a year out of high school and working full time in order to save money for a move to Arizona with my brother Michael who was stationed there by the United States Air Force.

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Disneyland, California – 1983

I vividly remember those few months prior to moving, but I still don’t remember my birthday. I also don’t remember this:

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After bringing my parent’s bedroom furniture home following the death of my mother, I went through and emptied what was left in the drawers of each piece. In the upper right hand drawer of my mother’s dresser, I found this small card under a layer of socks and multiple unopened packages of pantyhose. Apparently, the first Mother’s Day after turning 18, I bought my mother 18 roses and gave them to her. I don’t remember this either. I don’t remember coming up with the idea, nor do I remember buying the flowers or handing them to my mother. Then it dawned on me – I didn’t remember, but mom did…and it evidently made a big impact on her. For 32 years my mother kept this card in her sock drawer. It brought instant tears to my eyes and I immediately texted Kathy with a photo of the card.

Photo Challenge – Week 7 – Story: Forgotten – Tell the story of something forgotten.

I may have forgotten many moments in this life, but the one thing I hope to never forget is how to ride a bike. Now, if I could just get the weather to cooperate, my body won’t forget either…

“Well, you know that I love to live with you
But you make me forget so very much
I forget to pray for the angels
And then the angels forget to pray for us”

So Long Marianne – Leonard Cohen

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

I want candy…

Falling a little behind in my training, no thanks again to Old Man Winter, I was stuck in Week 4 of Phase 2. Although yesterday ended up being a nice day, today was supposed to be much nicer – sunny and 64 degrees…but I woke up to rain and 40s…Willing to defy the rain, I donned my florescent yellow slicker and told Old Bessie to brace herself for the worst. After last year’s weather fiasco ride with the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City (pouring rain and 40 degrees the whole day – and that was in May), I figure I need to train in every kind of weather possible. I don’t think I’ll have to worry about snow in June, however, but you never know…

So today I rode 2 1/2 hours, resulting in 28 miles – not a great ride, but it is more than half of what I will ultimately be riding. I decided to stick close to home in case the rain got crazy and I needed quick shelter or wanted to get home quickly.

I love passing this wall, although it’s actually the base of a train trestle. Every few days someone comes along and paints new messages and pictures over the old, leaving layers upon layers of colorful graffiti.

And then, of course, there’s my go to place:

Thankfully, the rain did not return and I was able to ride the whole 2 1/2 hours (although I was secretly upset that I didn’t go with my original route planned for today’s “beautiful weather”). Quickly becoming bored riding around the Cooper River a couple of times, I decided to make a turn onto a street I’ve never been down. After wandering the backstreets for some time, I found myself on the main street of Haddonfield, New Jersey, a quaint historic town a little over 140 years old.

First, I must say…thank goodness for Wawa! Even when they don’t have a public bathroom, they’ll let you use the employee bathroom…phew! I love the little ma and pa type shoppes lining the street, each one unique and offering things you don’t find anywhere else in the area. Then I noticed the Seward Johnson sculptures “on loan” from the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. Those little old ladies on the bench have been making the rounds throughout southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area.

My husband and I often have fun wandering the Grounds for Sculpture and enjoy the Seward Johnson sculptures they offer on display…

One of the things I also noticed on my ride today was the ridiculous amount of trash along the roadside everywhere I went, not limited to but including the candy wrappers under this chess table in Haddonfield:

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Which leads me to Week 6 of my photo challenge…Artistic: Candy – My inspiration this week is candy, but I can’t actually use candy in the scene…

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As a child, Easter was all about going to church dressed in your finest. Of course, a nice little basket of goodies for breakfast prior to departure didn’t hurt either. There was the obligatory chocolate bunny, colorfully wrapped Hershey’s kisses and chocolate eggs, along with pastel flavored jelly beans and the hard boiled eggs we cooked and dyed the day before, all placed carefully in some florescent nest of plastic hay. We tried to make it last, but by the end of the day we were hungover from the overdose of milk chocolate bliss. My own conversion to Judaism aside, at some point going to church on Easter Sunday has become obsolete and a sense of a second, springtime Christmas seems to have taken over.

Michael, on the other hand, was always quite pleased with his tiny little basket full of joy:

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One of the first things I noticed when converting to Judaism was the similarity between giving and receiving food-type baskets in the spring. On Purim (which is this Sunday), aside from giving to charity, Jews give one another mishloach manot, literally “sending of portions,” or food baskets. It reminds me of those little baskets of goodies I received as as child from the Easter Bunny. However, now my baskets are much larger and filled with other, more exotic treats, many made from chametz, “leavened foods,” that we’re forced to rid our homes of just weeks before Passover. It sure was a lot easier ridding my home of a few chocolates and hard boiled eggs…

“Candy on the beach, there’s nothing better
But I like candy when it’s wrapped in a sweater”

I Want Candy – Bow Wow Wow

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

Waiting…

“How much of human life is lost in waiting!”

Prudence – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to Old Man Winter deciding to return this week, poor Ole Bessie sat in the garage and waited…

This week’s photo challenge: Ten Shots – Shoot ten shots of the same subject, each one being from a different angle, distance and focal length. I didn’t have a lot of time this week nor did I get in a decent ride, so my choices were quick and limited:

Bessie sits, head held up strong, waiting for her adventures to continue. She commiserates with the garden tools who are waiting for spring to arrive. She gazes at the framed landscapes painted by my husband years ago and waiting to be reassigned to a blank wall. She tells me how the snow shovels are waiting for that one big snowfall that has yet to arrive this winter and how the suitcases are waiting to travel someplace exotic. Old 78 records wait for someone to adopt them and holiday decor waits for its day to shine. And Bessie, like my two crazy cats, sits by the door, waiting to be let out again…

“I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love…”

Bob Marley

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