Watch out for the under toad!

Woof! What a storm we had the other night! As I sat at the desktop watching a documentary on the history of the internet and the influence technology has had on the world, the powers-that-be reminded us that something much more awesome is in control here. Far away thunder rumbled its warning signs when, suddenly, a torrential sideways rain swept through the neighborhood. I anxiously ran from window to window trying to see what was happening in the dark and waited for the storm to pass before drifting off to sleep, counting the seconds between thunder and lightening to figure how far it had traveled away…

The next day I headed to my go-to place so that I’d be close to home in case the roads were flooded and/or impassable. Aside from a tree branch hither and dither, the roads were clear, but this is what the riverside looked like:

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At the Camden County Yacht Club, the buildings, boats and docks were submerged in water with geese and ducks swimming in the parking lot. Two weeks ago I was walking around the grounds taking pictures of the kids sailing camp. I don’t think there was any sailing lessons that day…

Down the road a piece, my dolphin friend looked like he was really swimming in the water…

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…the bike trail was non-existent…

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and the Veteran’s Park was flooded out…

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It was a dreary day, but at least the heat had subsided, so I decided to ride a few loops around the river. With each round, the water slowly receded and I found myself determined to ride in circles until the sun came out. After 1 1/2 hours, the sun sheepishly peak-a-booed through a break in the clouds, then quickly hid its light. Telling the sun that it wasn’t enough, I continued on…but the sun refused…and I gave up…two hours is enough I’d say.

I thought about all the summer storms I’ve experienced in my lifetime – in childhood being chased from the public pool by the lifeguards when thunder boomed, getting stranded as a teen at various friends houses or waiting out the rain under an awning on Main Street and riding out the remnants of Hurricane Gloria in my parent’s stilted house along the Jersey shore during my college years, along with various other storms in my adult life – Irene, where we lost power for over a week, and Sandy, the worst and most devastating hurricane on record in New Jersey and one that affected a number of acquaintances, including a meteorologist friend who decided to stay in his home despite government warnings to leave the island. As the water crept up to his front door, he could hear the waves of the ocean and bay meeting as they crashed on the sides of the house. He told us how he had planned to climb into the attic and punch a hole through the roof…luckily, in the end, he and his home were left undamaged.

Water makes me panic…and I actually know why. Aside from my father freaking out every time the basement flooded when it rained, there is one occasion I have never forgotten in 46 years. In the summer of 1971, my family and I were on vacation at the Jersey shore. My sister and I were jumping the waves in the ocean when I suddenly felt a force tug at my feet as if some giant hands were wrapped around my ankles and pulling my body upside down. I felt my body flipping somersaults over and over again – forward and backward and forward again. Unable to breathe, I was terrified of the unknown battle I was fighting. Too frightened to shut my eyes, the salt water stung as if a hundred needles were piercing them and I cried. I remember thinking that this was what death felt like – that I would never be free of the force and never see my family again…when suddenly, the sea spat out my wilted body onto the beach. Sobbing, I ran to my parents to tell them what happened…and they didn’t believe me. Many years later I would learn that I had been caught in an undertow. Needless to say, I didn’t go into the ocean again until my daughter was 2 years old – 30 years later in the summer of 2001.

https://thingsthatmadeanimpression.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/excerpt-from-the-world-according-to-garp-by-john-irving-under-toad/

Thinking I had overcome my aquaphobia after all these years, the toilet poltergeist reassured me that the panic was still alive and well. If I could just get through a Sunday without checking and rechecking the downstairs toilet, there may be some hope…

and, by the way, I’m also afraid of closets, but that’s a story for another time…

“Blame, no one is to blame
As natural as the rain that falls
Here comes the Flood again

Wash away the weight that pulls you down
Ride the waves that free you from the dusk”

The Flood – Katie Melua

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

Summer camp revisited

We’ve had a major heatwave this week. It’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit before the sun even rises in the morning with humidity not below 70% most of the day. As I walked out of my garage this morning around 8:00AM to water the gardens, the sweat literally poured from my body like a fountain – I’ve changed my clothes five times over the past 24 hours…Needless to say, a bike ride has been out of the question. Anyone who knows me knows I love riding my bike, but there’s a line drawn in the sand when the weather is too cold or too hot. If I’m not enjoying myself, what’s the point?

The highlight of my week was last Sunday when I took the kid to the Poconos to visit some friends working at a Jewish summer camp. Having worked as an advisor/parent liaison/trainer for eight summers at one of these camps, I know visiting day is a big deal. It’s when the vomit-induced homesick, straight up miserable and incorrigibly rotten campers get to finally go home and thirty-six hours of relief is bestowed upon the staff until the next load is dropped off.  It’s also the day when all the helicopter parents arrive and descend like locusts on an unwatched field to make sure their child/children is/are still alive, despite staff reassurances on a daily basis for four weeks straight.

When I first started working at camp, if you had a cell phone, you had no service…ever (although sometimes if you stood in one particular spot on the basketball court on a sunny, cloudless day you might get a few minutes of reception…that is, only if you had Verizon service). Over two hundred staff members shared two pay phones and six desktop computers that worked as long as there was no wind, rain or clouds anywhere within a 50 mile radius…and you had zero privacy. The only communication between campers and their families was letter-writing hour once a week (and mail service was so slow parents wouldn’t receive those first letters for two weeks, halfway through the session). Otherwise, the only information parents received was from (you guessed it) me and my three co-advisors/parent liaisons/trainers.

The summer the administration decided to start downloading photographs of campers onto the camp website was probably the worst I had over that eight-year period. The reception was so bad, it literally took days for pictures to download, thereby spawning a new position just for that job – downloading. As internet connections advanced over the years, the administration then decided to lock us all out, creating secret passwords that only they could use in order to work on their own laptops. Towards the end of my term there, I was one of the very privileged few permitted the password, but only if it was work related.

This was Cheryl, one of my bestest friends ever in a lifetime. We were co-advisors/parent liaisons/trainers over the entire eight-year period, she having started many years before me and staying several years after my departure. All four of her children spent their entire lives at camp with all three eventually working there as adults. She made camp tolerable. For nine weeks every summer, we were there for each other through everything24 hours a day, seven days a week. We ate our meals together, lived and slept next door to one another and sat with each other at every meeting, sporting event and fireworks show. Refusing to learn how to drive the golf carts, I was her “chauffeur” and she would buy my favorite frozen custard in return.

Golf Cart

Every year we would dress up for our final staff meeting before the campers arrived . At my final meeting we wore our pajamas, messed up our hair, taped fake telephone messages all over our bodies and wrapped telephone cords along with the handsets around our necks. Sitting at our desks and making/receiving phone calls was pretty much all we ever did at that point, barely seeing the light of day from our windowless hole-in-the-wall office often used for excess storage. Some of my fondest memories are of Cheryl driving me and various other individuals into New York City the last day off each summer – an 8-hour round-trip journey filled with laughter and entertainment – some of the greatest fun I’ve had in my life. Aside from my husband, I can’t think of any other human being I’ve spent that much time with and didn’t want it to end…and then it did.

On May 7, 2012, a post on Facebook from a mutual friend caught me off guard. Cheryl had died suddenly from a massive heart attack following a brief illness during a vacation to her summer home at the beach. That was the year Cheryl decided to stop working at camp. Not only were we getting older and the job becoming more difficult, she had found full-time employment to which she wanted to devote her time and energy. But, of course, that’s not what happened. Apparently, due to a staff shortage, the week before her death Cheryl decided to go back one more time, calling and leaving me a voicemail message telling me about her excitement and wondered if I could be convinced to change my mind as well. Believing I was “just to busy” (or perhaps a bit jealous), I didn’t call her back right away. It’s a regret I continue to have five years later…

So dropping the kid off to see her friends, I decided to continue further north to the camp I had left seven years before, but not without stopping at the kosher pizza stand for sushi and having my favorite frozen custard.

Memories of those eight summers flooded my brain…I missed it dearly. I missed being outdoors – even when it rained for three weeks straight or the heat was so oppressive you couldn’t breathe during the day or sleep comfortably at night. I missed my shitty little bunk with the leaky roof and not caring or having to clean or cook or do laundry. I missed the co-workers who had become my closest friends in adulthood. I missed being part of some kind of secret society that one could only understand and explain after having experienced it yourself.

But no one was left. Except for the maintenance crew, with all new staff and renovated buildings, my camp was no more. Spending an hour talking with my maintenance buddies, we reminisced about our time together and caught up on our lives over the past seven years…and I felt sad. It was a time of my life that I cherished, albeit very stressful at times, but nonetheless some of the best times I’ve ever had in my adult life. However, for seven years I’ve also regretted not staying home and spending those eight summers with the kid and my parents in their pool, eating ice cream and drinking soda pop. If I had known those years would be lost forever due to my father’s declining health and dementia, I would have stayed home. That’s the price I must pay for the rest of my life – the best summers of my life versus lost summers with Peepaw and Meemaw.

As I rolled down the first hill descending the mountain, teary-eyed over my fate, a turkey suddenly appeared on the side of the road…thanks Peepaw…

“Hello Muddah, hello Faddah
Here I am at Camp Grenada
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining”

Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (Camp Grenada Song) – Allen Sherman

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

Sailing through life

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Attempting to avoid the “scattered showers” that never appeared, I went to my go-to place in order to be close to home just in case the weatherman was right this time…

I finally got to see inside the Cooper River Yacht Club and sneak a peek at the youth summer sailing camp. Listening to the tweens talk about their experience as I took photos, they asked one another, “How was it?!” and compared the number of times each one fell in the water as I watched several boys being towed in by staff. Every time I ride by the club and/or the crew house, I think to myself, “Why not try it?” One of these days I just might…”Let’s Do This” is what got me through a multiple two-hour loop of the river today, but the water out of that fountain tasted like it looked…possibly siphoned from the river itself? Perhaps the graffiti was some kind of warning label…

A year ago today, I was sailing on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

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Needless to say, it was just as hot, but the sunshine was much more appealing. Difficult to explain until you’ve been there, it’s an addictive land that calls you back over and over again. We’re counting the days to our return next year when me and the hubby will visit the kid and celebrate Purim in Jerusalem…

“Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free”

Sailing – Christopher Cross

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

Planting roots…

Sunday, July 9, 2017

It’s Sunday…and the toilet didn’t overflow!

On Monday the toilet shaman and his little sidekick came to the rescue. As I watched the holy man work his magic, a camera was snaked through the sewer line where we finally came to the “root” of our problem…

The good news – the sewer line did not collapse! The bad news – my favorite Spirea shrub decided sewer water was a nice place to settle its roots. Wishing more research had been done on my part years ago when planting the front garden, I learned that Spirea roots will grow as deep as 20 feet in search of water. Lucky for this guy, he only had to go about 3 feet down to find his only necessary source of nutrition…so glad we were able to provide…

Now that we knew where the toilet poltergeist resided, I spent 9 hours on the 4th of July digging up that Spirea shrub and replanted it far, far away from the house in the wettest part of my backyard. It’ll be very happy in its new home…

It’s been about a half dozen years since Cherry Hill stopped having fireworks, so it’s up to us to find a show somewhere else in one of the neighboring towns. Exhausted, bruised, bloodied and sunburned, I decided to forego the fireworks and watch a movie instead…

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Running up the stairs as the hubby ran down the hall and the cats flew under the couches, we looked at each other frightened.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

Convinced someone was outside with a gun, the hubby ran to he window.

Boom! Boom! Boom!

The hubby:”It’s fireworks!”

Me: “Fireworks?!”

The hubby: “Yes! Fireworks! Over by the school!”

As we ran out the front door and stood on the porch, there it was – a full blown fireworks show somewhere in our neighborhood! How this was happening, we had no clue. Buying, selling and using fireworks in New Jersey is illegal. Waiting for police cars that never came to investigate, we stood on the front porch and watched the show. Wow! Destroying the toilet poltergeist and enjoying fireworks all in one day?! Can’t get better than that!

So being that it’s Sunday and the toilet didn’t overflow, I went for a much deserved bike ride. Bored with my go-to place, I decided to pick some new roads to travel in Burlington County. Heading west on Westfield Road (although I have ridden east on Westfield Road once or twice), I came across an old building on the side of the road just waiting for a photo op.

The building is known as the Swede Run Barn and was believed to have been built in the early 1800s. Longtime residents recall it was once attached to a larger house and used mostly for storage of some kind at varying times in its history. Swede Run is named for the waterway that runs through the property, which is now referred to as Swede Run Fields after being purchased by the township to be utilized as open space and farmed locally for soybeans.

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Sometime around 2011, the township decided to restore the building rather than demolish it. When a number of local artists caught wind of the restoration, they were actually upset. It seems this little building has landed on many a canvas over the last 150 years or so (seriously, Google images of it and you’ll see). Although they didn’t want the building destroyed, they couldn’t imagine the loss of antiquity that had stirred so many to paint, draw and photograph.

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/arts-culture/42622-renovations-rob-200-year-old-barn-of-picturesque-character-

The repairs included a durable new roof, mixing “old style” mortars to repair the walls, and custom doors.”

Some people complained about the restoration of the Swede Run Barn. They didn’t like the roof and doors being replaced by something that wasn’t historically accurate. The alternative? Leave it as it is. However, because of the danger the building produced, demolition was the only other alternative.

I’ve actually found old photos of my 56-year-old home taken over the last five decades. My neighbor Paul who lives across the street has seen the changes first hand – he lives in the house where he was born. He explained how our properties sit on what was once a farm and that the creek behind my house was the runoff. He showed me where the farmhouse stood – the school where my husband thought the fireworks were being launched. Our house was where the cattle grazed by the water. There were eleven ponds at that time, all filled in to make room for development – now there is only one. He described how the outside of the house looked when he was a boy – the bushes, the trees, the flowers and the basketball hoop over the garage, pointing to the discolored shingles that had been replaced after the hoop was removed. He told me what parts of the house were original and how the inside was once constructed, confirming the photos I’d seen in my research online. He remembered the original owners, a lawyer, his wife and their son who Paul had befriended and grew up with and wondered whatever happened to them after moving from the house. He recollected the numerous residents who occupied the house over the years following, some leaving the house at it was and others making changes to suit their needs.

I was fascinated with what Paul had told me, but it didn’t make me want to make the house look like it did when first built. The house needed to change each time. If not, it surely would have been condemned. Going through some renovations last year, I got to see the bones of this old house. The originally structure was still there, solid and strong, despite a new roof and a couple of new doors over the years. What interested me more was the history inside the house – its roots. I wanted to know the people, who they were and why they had transformed the house. I wanted to know who lived under that roof and who walked through those doors…

…and I wondered what roots they had planted in the sewer line…

On the return home, I decided to stop at a local park I’ve ridden by numerous times but never entered.

A little over five miles from home, I never knew this park existed. What I loved was that it was open to whoever wanted to play there – walking and bike trails, a playground, several baseball fields, a street hockey rink and a bocce ball court…yes, you read that correctly – a bocce ball court! Who knew that even existed?! And apparently it’s a big deal here…

And when I got home, the toilet still didn’t overflow…

“I’m going back to my roots
Another day, another door
Another high, another low
Rock bottom, rock bottom, rock bottom”

Roots – Imagine Dragons

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

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Monday, June 26, 2017: My Go-To Place

After yesterday’s toilet fiasco, I was most definitely going for a bike ride today. The weather conditions were perfect, so I circled the river a few times, stopping here and there to take some pictures.

My beautiful fake skies, bright blue with puffy white clouds. Calm waters for the children learning to sail. A large gaggle of geese congregating to discuss their next move. Lofty orange tiger lilies swaying in the cool breeze. A clear view of Center City Philadelphia. Just gorgeous…

Coming across a sun bather drinking a beer and enjoying the peace and quiet, I apologized for the imposition and continued walking along the shoreline where I approached a set of bleachers with a mural of a cute little doggie wearing swim goggles painted on the wall. After taking the a photograph and walking to the other side of the bleachers, I noticed an abandoned backpack leaning against the wall…

“Oh shit! What the f**k?!”

Startled, I walked around to the front of the bleachers where a man started yelling at me for “abandoning” my bike because no one can be trusted ’round here and will steal your bike because he left his bike the other day and someone stole it…yada, yada, yada…smoke your crack somewhere else dude…no one’s going to ruin my zen today…

So I hopped back onto Ole Bessie and continued riding. My third time around the river, I noticed a man passed out flat on his back in the middle of the dirt path with a bicycle lying next to him – could it be?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017: My Gump Walk

The kid is heading for Israel in September to study for a year. With the Philadelphia consulate closing last year, we set today aside to make the trip to New York City in order to obtain a student visa. No complaints here! We love Manhattan…right?

Apparently, the kid hates New York City (and most cities, for that matter) and angrily let us know how much she truly hated being there. I suddenly remembered the first time we brought her to New York City. She was only a few months old. As long as we were in the hotel room, the kid was content. The second we tried to leave, she would start wailing uncontrollably. The hubby and I spent the next 48 hours taking turns leaving the hotel in order to enjoy some semblance of our vacation. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

There was only one place that would make it all worthwhile…

My father and his five siblings were all born and raised in Manhattan. All six were born in the apartment they lived in with their parents until each child married off and moved into their own homes, two of whom stayed in Manhattan and a third moving to Queens.

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Many hours and days of our youth were spent exploring the city with dad, who entertained us with stories of his childhood. I loved New York then and never stopped loving it. How is it possible that this loather of NYC could possibly be my child?! Finding the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company definitely made my day…

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Once again, it’s Sunday and plans have been made to visit a local flea market with friends. And, once again, it’s Sunday and the toilet poltergeist has decided that our plans are not to its liking…the same exact time as last Sunday…but this time it was determined to get its way…the sewer line has been crushed…off to a hotel for the night…

I think my Russian friend is right – it’s time for a toilet shaman…

“But you don’t need to waste your time
Worryin’ about the marketplace
Trying to help the human race
Struggling to survive
It’s as harsh as night”

Father and Daughter – Paul Simon

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