My Gump Ride…putting the past behind me so I can move on…

December 1, 2018

3:38:45am

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going…My mama always said, “You got to put the past behind you before you can move on” and I think that’s what my running was all about.”

I’m putting the past behind me so I can move on….and I think that’s what my riding has been all about. I have ridden for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. I’m pretty tired…think I’ll go home now…

And just like that, my riding days was over…so I went home…

Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

Memory – Barbra Streisand

Why I have annoyed all my Facebook friends with hundreds of photos of my bike rides for two years now…

October 27, 2018

For ten years the hubby and I searched for that perfect community. We had come a long way, driving the 1 1/12 hours both ways to the kid’s third Jewish day school in her lifetime, incorporating our shopping for chagim (Jewish holidays) into the fold, me oftentimes thinking I should just get a job here to justify the travel. After nine long months of three-hour-a-day driving five days a week, we had a two-week break for Passover, at which time I proclaimed to the hubby, “We’re moving to Cherry Hill by next school year…”

By that time, the hubby and I had been together for almost 21 years – he knew me well enough to recognize that I was serious…this move was going to happen within the next three months or else. So, on October 1, 2009, Erev Sukkot, we packed up the kid and our morbidly obese guinea pig named DJ into our two cars and headed west. Upon our arrival, I directed the movers up and down the endless sets of stairs as the hubby assembled the sukkah that would stand unadorned for the first time in ten years, only because our new community had come to our rescue thanks to the friend of a friend (the mother of the groom from the February 26th wedding we attended in Israel this year – A lawyer, a judge and a barrister walk into a bar/The Wedding…Monday, February 26, 2018) who invited us for first lunch and whose friend/neighbor insisted on having us the second day and so it went – every meal we had received an invitation from other guests we had eaten with each meal, leaving me not having to unpack the kitchen for the first two weeks of living in our new (very old) house.  It was as if our dreams had come true. We were now in a place that accepted us for who we were in a Jewishly diverse community and everything was at our fingertips for the first time in over 20 years. Of course, because this is the way our lives together have mostly gone, it was too good to be true…

The only thing stopping me from truly enjoying my new habitation was the nagging feeling that I had abandoned my parents who now lived the 1 ½ hours away. Up until that move, we had spent the last seven years a mere five miles from them (less than ten miles the eleven years before), my parents spending all their available time hanging out with the kid. And, by the summer of 2010, after seven years of working at that Jewish camp I just couldn’t get enough of, I found myself discontent and no longer wanting to be there. While the hubby and the kid let me know how miserable they both were with the daily torture of living amongst 500 other souls 24/7 for nine weeks straight, thanks to much better cell phone reception, I was listening to my mother’s concerned voice daily complaining about dad’s eye sight worsening and increasing loss of memory. He had difficulty driving, leaving them incapable of running errands and going to appointments, stranded in a house that had become way too much to manage. By the end of that summer, mom called to tell me that dad had been diagnosed with dementia. After seven summers, the kid and I having abandoned Peepaw and his pool, I was ready to go home. Forgoing the end of summer camp staff gala, I packed up my belongings, quietly sneaking them to my car while the rest of the staff partied in the dining hall. That night I stayed in my bunk and cried myself to sleep. As soon as the sun peaked through my remnant-curtained window, I tiptoed to my car and slowly drove away, knowing this would be the last time I would be in this place…

Death would enter our lives with a vengeance, refusing to leave for six…long…years…overshadowing any possible happiness in our lives…

By October of 2016, I’d had enough of Death’s all too frequent visitations and searched for a way to deal with the immense loss the hubby, the kid and I had endured since leaving camp that summer in 2010. I mourned over the summers missed with Peepaw playing beat-up-the-kid in his swimming pool, knowing our summers would never be the same again. I lamented daily for months over the senseless loss of my sister two days before Christmas, regretting the many occasions where I just didn’t take the time to pay a visit. I cried for my mother’s sorrow, losing her only sibling, having reconnected with him recently after a twenty-year absence. I shed tears at my dear friend’s funeral, for the loss of a beautiful life and friendship that had had its ups and downs in the years prior to her death. I sobbed with despair over not having answered the phone that afternoon mom called begging me to come to her house while she sat in the driveway all alone with dad’s lifeless body in her arms. I wept over my mother’s dying body, reliving the last time I saw her, yelling at her about how I needed time for me and my family and storming from her inpatient rehab room, stress and exhaustion having gotten the better of me. I grieved alongside the hubby when he lost both his parents and quickly joined me as a member of the “Orphan Club.” But, for some reason, it was Michael’s death that brought me to this blog.

I think I knew two years ago that this would be some form of therapy for me. I needed something to make Death go away and let me be. At first, I wrote almost daily or, at the very least, once a week. Over time, my posts grew more intermittent, sometimes forgoing my writing for weeks and even months. I also noticed that my posts had become less and less about Death and more about the life I was continuing to live with the hubby and the kid, so many new paths being forged over the past year. As the third anniversary of Michael’s passing quickly approached, I found myself wanting to get back to the point; that this blog was about Michael and our shared love of cycling. However, not realizing it at its launching, it has really been about coping with death and loss. The therapy I received and still receive from cycling lead me to this place. I have shared my life with many family members, friends and strangers alike throughout the world and pray that my stories have made an impact on everyone who has read them.

So why was it Michael’s death that provoked me to start this blog? Looking back over those six long years, it was his passing that generated a response I had never experienced before. After speaking to Kathy on October 25, 2015 and her informing me that Michael would be dead within 48 hours, a yowl burst from my soul so forcefully I almost passed out. Seemingly selfish and insincere, I went for a bike ride to clear my head and think about my next move. By nine years, nine months, three weeks and one day, he was my older brother…the only brother I have ever known. We shared a special bond, he being the oldest child and me being the youngest.

By the end of that ride, I knew I was getting on the first flight to Milwaukee. Impulsively boarding that plane on October 26, 2015, I finally recognized how cunning Death is in seizing life and how precious every single moment matters. This was the second chance I hadn’t had all those other times Death cheated me. In the end, this blog has helped me heal from six long years of grief…and now it’s time for me to truly enjoy this habitation…

On September 16, 2015 at 11:38:45AM, five weeks and six days before Michael died, I got on Ole Bessie for no particular reason and decided to go for a little ride…

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Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

In sixty-nine I was twenty-one and I called the road my own
I don’t know when that road turned into the road I’m on

Running on Empty – Jackson Browne

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

 

 

First Day of School

“You know, it’s funny what a young man recollects. ‘Cause I don’t remember being born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas, and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.” – Young Forrest Gump

Do you remember your first day of school? For you younger folks, which includes my daughter, that might mean the first day you were put in daycare at the tender age of three months. However, back when I was a little girl, the first day of school meant kindergarten. In my world, mothers didn’t work or, at the very least, they didn’t work full time. Mom was there when you got up in the morning, ready to hand you that brown paper bag filled with the lunch she made while you were getting ready for school. However, in our house you were permitted to buy lunch from the cafeteria once a week, which for me was usually hamburger day on Fridays. Mom was also there when you got home from school, all ears and seemingly willing to hear about your experiences and question whatever homework was due the next day. No latchkey kid here. I actually hadn’t even thought about my first day of school for decades until Regina sent me this photo:

First Day

I vaguely remember my first day of kindergarten, little snippets of memory breaking through here and there over the years. My best friend, Kassie Moore, and I walked the four blocks to John Y. Dater School, our mothers in tow and Kassie’s baby sister Meredith in a stroller

First Day of Kindergarten 1970

As we approached the building we noted separate entrances, one for boys and one for girls, and questioned whether or not it was necessary to abide. Fortunately, my classroom was the first door on the left, accessed through the lower middle doors not marked by any gender requirements. I remember Susan P. sitting at the end of the table, sucking her thumb with an incurable case of the hiccups while several other kids cried for their mommies, not quite ready for the inevitable beginning of separation that would occur for the rest of their lives until launching properly as young adults from their parents’ household years later…hopefully. I recollect the teacher asking if we knew how to read, write and/or count, which I, being the youngest of six children, knew for at least two years.

My teacher was Mrs. Schoenlank, the best kindergarten teacher a kid could have. She was also probably the most sensitive teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life. She was made for kindergarten. She played piano for us every day, sometimes teaching us a new song to sing along with her accompaniment or leading us in a tremendous marching band circling the room, miniature drums and handheld cymbals, tambourines, triangles, wooden blocks, jingle bells, maracas and kazoos in mastered rows. Aside from the ever-present music, we occupied ourselves with sand and water tables, finger painting, board games and other toys always readily available. Mrs. Schoenlank also knew a local chicken farmer who provided our class with fertilized eggs kept inside an incubator for us to monitor until adorable little yellow chicks emerged, ultimately returning them to Farmer Fred. We also bred mealy worms…not sure why…perhaps to feed the chicks? Needless to say, I don’t remember doing any schoolwork whatsoever. It was just downright fun. I loved going to kindergarten every day…until the mid-year switcharoo…

Although some school districts still follow this pattern, back in the day kindergarten was only half day. For three months you went to morning session and for six months you attended the afternoon session or vice versa. How I got stuck doing afternoon longer than morning annoys me to this day. In the mornings you woke up, got dressed, brushed your teeth, ate breakfast, grabbed your paper-bag lunch and ran out the door. By the afternoon your day was almost over…and there were way too many distractions…like Bozo the Clown…

I was obsessed. After morning sessions, I would arrive home just in time for Bozo the Clown, who waited patiently for me in the television set every day at 12:00 noon sharp. But during the afternoon sessions I was expected to leave the house by noon in order to get to school on time. I often attempted to “hide” from my mother’s watchful eye by sitting in front of the t.v., quietly praying she would forget I existed and/or believed I had responsibly found my way out the door like a dutiful child. Not so lucky…The only other memory I have is of Dawn C., the girl who would become my best friend for many years after and who, thanks to the marvels of social media, I would find once again decades later.

Each new school year I looked forward to the first day of school, carefully planning what I would wear and anxiously wondering who would be in my class. But it never lasted beyond the first week. On the first day of first grade I was transferred to Mrs. Gebhardt, a brand, new baby teacher who was a total bitch and yelled at poor Jimmy G. who cried because he just wasn’t ready to leave kindergarten. In second grade I ended up in the hospital with some strange stomach virus, although Miss Marble made sure letters were written by my fellow students, claiming to miss me and wishing better health. Third grade was an exception, Mrs. Layton being one of my all-time favorite teachers who lived on a farm and invited students to her home on a regular basis to witness farming firsthand. For years after, Dawn C. and I would ride our bicycles to Mrs. Layton’s home where we would spend hours helping out and playing with her kids. Although I loved my fourth-grade homeroom teacher, Miss Hamilton, a lounge singer at night, she was the only teacher that year who didn’t treat me like an idiot. And my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Walker, was going through a divorce – need I say more? Middle school was horrendous. And don’t even get me started on high school. G-d bless Mrs. Schoenlank for her efforts. It all started out so nice. If anything, she was the motivating catapult that pushed my love of music and encouraged my learning how to play piano – an instrument that got me through many a challenge in life.

In the end, by the time I was in high school mom went back to work full time, and I became that latchkey kid, oftentimes forgetting my key and having to climb into the downstairs bathroom window and rummaging through the fridge for food after spending my lunch money on cigarettes. Kassie Moore moved the summer before first grade, and we never saw one another again. Steven R. , the kid known as “the retard,” now works for Merrill Lynch. When we were in middle school, Susan K.’s mother died from lung cancer after sucking the carcinogens of her father’s cigarette smoke for years, her father later becoming an ex-smoker, born-again Christian who married another Christian and moved the family away before high school. Susan G. and Kim W. now live happily in Florida, a place we all aspire to retire. Laura F. died from cancer a few years back. Lisa G. would be caught with cigarettes by her father, who would challenge her to chew an entire packet of tobacco thus allowing her to smoke openly. Susan P. stopped sucking her thumb and went on to be a head cheerleader in high school. Matthew C. is in software. Larry R., my secret crush, would ultimately move away, get married to his perfect match (not me) and raise two beautiful children (not mine).  Jimmy G. would be left back in first grade to kindergarten. I later befriended him in high school, but I don’t think he ever graduated. Dawn C. would move away before middle school, marry her high school sweetheart, divorce and lose a long-time love to cancer last year. Marc M. would later squeeze my boobs in the second grade and find himself deep in the throws of addiction and come out clean for years after. John Y. Dater School got a complete makeover a couple of years ago and looks nothing like when we were in attendance, and the granddaughter of John Y. Dater was killed on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21, 1988 thanks to a terrorist bomb planted on the plane in Germany. As for the rest of my class – Rosemary, the two Andrew W.’s and the other Andrew, Laurie S., Eileen O. and the other Eileen, Melody and Clifford B. – I pray that your lives have given you fulfillment. Accepted into the gifted program in first grade, I was smart but refused to excel – too much work and not enough fun – a decision I regret to this day. Discovering that Mrs. Schoenlank died from cancer years ago, I wept as if I’d lost my best friend and, at this writing tonight, I learned that Bozo the Clown (a.k.a Frank Avruch) died this year on March 22nd. And I suddenly wondered what happened to those cute, fuzzy little yellow chicks…

How was your first day of school?

I still prefer mornings over afternoons..

 It started out with butterflies
On a velvet afternoon
With flashing eyes and promises
Caught and held too soon

It Started Out So Nice – Rodriguez

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

Lockin’ it up

June 10, 2018 – Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon

Checking the forecast throughout the week, I was repeatedly forewarned on a daily basis that it was not only going to rain all day long, I should also expect severe thunderstorms…

Great…

Was this some kind of metaphor? For nearly three years I’ve been riding for and writing about my brother Michael and his battle with cancer. How apropo…

A year ago this week, I was bombarded by a nasty respiratory infection (no thanks to the hubby) that I, in turn, gave to the kid days before her high school graduation. I still can’t believe I managed to ride 54 miles that day, deathly ill with the possibility of an SVT attack in 90-degree weather. I also cannot believe that the kid is already a full year out of school and is now an Israeli citizen.

All in all, I allowed my OCD to take over this year, thereby ensuring I would not, under any circumstance, become ill in any way, shape or form…and it worked in my favor. Although the kid was battling a nasty respiratory infection over in Israel (just in time for college finals), the hubby and I were clean as whistles, which are not actually clean with all that spit, are they? It’s like “sweating like a pig” – FYI pigs don’t sweat…

I also took Ole Bessie to the shop for a pre-ride check up last month and had to wait almost two weeks to get her back thanks to cycling being in season and everyone and anyone deciding to bring in their bikes the same week. Needless to say, despite paying for an intense cleaning and requesting small quirks be eliminated as much as possible, Bessie was not fixed properly and I had to return her three days before the ride. Admitting their error, I waited for Bessie while chatting with my buddy Jeremy who told me about a couple of very cool miniature golf courses in the area and gave me the name of a guy who just might take those 78s we inherited from my father-in-law and have been piled in the garage for over a year. All in all it was a productive visit – bike fixed for the cancer ride, mini-golf addiction fed for the summer and possibly gaining three extra feet of storage space in my garage for the year…

Before I knew it, the day was here. Although I had done it last year, I still found myself nervous, struggling to catch my breath as I swung my right leg over Bessie’s saddle. Maybe it was because I decided to challenge myself a bit more this year and rode from my house to the first rest stop for cyclists leaving from Philadelphia – a mere six extra miles. Or maybe it was the impending thunderstorms the Weather Channel adamantly insisted would happen today. Or maybe it was the change in directions to the second rest stop that were unfamiliar to me, despite printing the directions out again and remembering how I missed a turn last year, almost missing the whole ride.

But I was prepared – I was wearing my new pair of Shebeest capris with the cushiony chamoise that had proven effective. I  had my new iPhone 7 (see below), fully charged portable charger and fully charged new micro bluetooth speaker to play my fully charged iPod, two containers of water, a bike kit, two extra inner tubes, a bike pump, ID, debit card, cash, snacks, lip balm, hand sanitizer, wipes, eye drops and reading glasses – yet, I was still scared…

Last year the temperatures were into the 90s by 6:00AM, but this year I actually needed a light jacket as I rolled out of the driveway at 5:45AM.

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The first six miles were a piece of cake…

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Eagerly lingering at the rest stop and trying to be a law-abiding adult as the volunteer with the megaphone updated us on how many minutes we had left, declaring we had three minutes left two minutes after telling us we had two minutes left, I took off five minutes before the starting time…I think…and I wasn’t taking my phone out again for fear of dropping it after shattering the screen when it fell from the new phone holder five times on my last ride before the cancer ride that cost me $150 plus to fix so I would have a GPS and a cry for help safety net for the 61 miles I planned on riding. (BTW, Target graciously allowed me to return said holder sans packaging but with receipt in hand…and I had to explain to the customer service rep how to complete this transaction – my Target addiction is a whole other blog…)

Asking what time it was from the gentleman behind me riding for Lockheed Martin who was also complaining about megaphone woman’s issues with math, I pretty much started the same time as last year – 6:40AM. Although this year it was only in the 60s, I stripped off the jacket after sweating buckets thanks to my relentless menopausal hot flashes that never seem to take a break…

Not missing any turns this time, finding the new path actually more direct and easier than last year, I quickly arrived at my first rest stop.

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Parking Ole Bessie under an old faded sign allowing me to “park anytime,” I battled with my anxiety over whether or not I should lock her up as I watched absolutely no one with bicycles much more expensive than mine not locking up theirs. I managed to escape long enough to stock up on the traditional carbs and salt while checking on Bessie to squelch my ridiculous fears of thievery. Allowing The Bully to take over and forcing me to move my bike closer to where I was hanging out, I made friends with a very friendly local police officer who was biding his time by using his radar gun on incoming cyclists and telling them their speed.

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As the Philadelphia crowd arrived at the rest stop, I remembered Jeremy-at-the-bike-shop’s words last year, “Don’t stop at the first rest stop – too many people stop there and wear out their welcome.” Apologies to my Philly friends…

As I made my way to the second rest stop, I thought about why I allowed The Bully to take over my thoughts about having my bike stolen. It wasn’t about the price of it – I could always buy a new one, right? I’ve invested a lot of time and money into Bessie to make us fit just right and have ridden many miles with her. To me she is a priceless creation. After complaining about my saddle being torn from use, bike shop Jeremy advised me to suck it up and buy some duct tape, “Once your ass and your saddle fit, you don’t wanna f**k with that symmetry.” Well, that about sums it up…

Reaching the second rest stop, I defied The Bully and leaned Ole Bessie against a tree next to the bike repair tent set up 20 feet away (at least someone would be keeping an eye out, or so I believed enough to abandon my bike) – so that I could make a B-line to the port-o-potties. Actually, my bladder pretty much wins against any bully, human or imagined.

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Stuffing my belly to the gills with watermelon and a snack bar wondering why I was eating so much despite not actually being hungry, I proceeded to the third rest stop and set Ole Bessie under a shady tree sure that she would be safe – f**k you Bully!

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Pretty much sensing my average MPH at this point, I texted the hubby as predetermined, knowing it would take me 1 1/2 hours to ride the remaining 18 miles to Atlantic City – the estimated time it would take him to drive the entire 61 miles. Long stretches of pine barrens later, I approached the third rest stop, grateful that the township had finally repaired their majorly potholed roads that nearly killed us last year. Now all I wanted was fluids with only seven more miles to go…

IMG_0435Thinking about all the losses my family has suffered over the past eight years, I felt the tears welling up here and there along the way, but as I rounded the bend off Franklin Boulevard onto the ramp leading to the Atlantic City Expressway, I felt the giddiness of a little school girl. It’s like having the red carpet rolled out before you – royalty for the whole world to stand by and applaud – and they always do. Passengers in vehicles rolling down their windows cheering us on, telling us, “You are awesome! You can do it! You got this! We’re so proud of you! Keep going, you’re almost there!” Although it was 20 degrees cooler than last year, that ass-kicking sea breeze off the Atlantic Ocean coupled with 57 miles of riding in the saddle made this the most difficult stretch of the ride.

And then it hit me…something I’d noticed last year but didn’t quite register – when you round that bend, everyone suddenly breaks off and rides the last 4 miles alone, even the teams. That’s what it’s all about – we have our cliques, our groups, our teams, our peeps, our families, our whatevers…but in the end, we are all alone…

ace

Texting back and forth, the hubby and I managed to find each other in front of Boardwalk Hall amidst thousands of tourists, volunteers, onlookers, cyclists and local weirdos. Walking Ole Bessie into the garage to park her while I collected my participant tee shirt on the boardwalk, I made sure to lock her up this time, in spite of the posted signs throughout stating you needed to check with security (who didn’t exist) before you could leave with your bike (which anyone could’ve done) – it is Atlantic City after all…and absolutely no one with bicycles much more expensive than mine locked up theirs – that’s not The Bully, that’s just common sense.

I’d show you the pictures I took while riding the ACE and at the finish line, but I accidentally deleted them from my phone and Facebook…I’m a serial purger, what can I say…but that’s a whole other blog…

“When I want something,
I don’t want to pay for it
I walk right through the door”

Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction

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

 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

The Centerton Bridge in Mount Laurel  was abruptly closed three years ago due to being found structurally deficient. I don’t remember the first time I found this 186-year-old bridge, but I do remember crossing it a couple of times, discovering an historic section of Rancocas Village on the other side, for which the creek is named and over which the bridge spans.

http://rancocasvillagenj.org/wths_history/

My very first blog post was about this bridge. It was the first picture I posted on Facebook for my brother Michael after deciding to photograph my bicycle rides as a means of entertainment while he was in and out of the hospital.

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September 16, 2015

And, for some reason, I return to this site every September 16th, secretly hoping the bridge will be open once again.

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September 16, 2016
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September 15, 2017

In a later blog I vowed to find an alternate route that would bring me back to Rancocas Village and finally sat down to look at a map. I was also inspired by a friend who asked if there was any kind of loop around the Rancocas Creek where he was not required to simply turn around and return home the same way he arrived – there is only one bridge about six miles west of Rancocas Village or an overpass on Route 130, a six-lane highway to hell including multiple entrance and exit ramps. Thanks to a frigidly cold winter followed by days of rain that never seemed to end,  I was also way behind in my training for the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon in less than two weeks – I needed to ride at least 35 miles if I was going to be ready for the 55 miles close on the horizon. Not only did I manage to find my alternate route around the creek, the loop would be at least 35 miles long!

Between MapMyRide, Google Maps and my backup handwritten notes, I managed to find my way to Bridge Street in Rancocas Village…but not without threatening storm clouds that followed my travels the first 15 miles, temperatures in the high 80s with suffocating high humidity for the remainder of my journey, some rather creepy neighborhoods, long stretches of nothingness and frighteningly narrow bicycle lanes on four-lane highways. Oh, and don’t forget the crazy ass bitch who wailed on her horn behind me screaming, “Get the f**k off!” and attempted to run me off the road. Needless to say, I didn’t recommend this route to my friend…

And guess what I found? Pretty much looks the same as the Mount Laurel side…

I once again defied the DO NOT ENTER sign and walked up to the barricade and looked around, finally getting a look to the east I’ve waited three years to see once again.

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I was happy to read a recent article discussing the possibility of reopening the bridge as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge…trust me, I won’t be holding my breath on this one. I have a feeling that on September 16th I’m going to be disappointed again.

As I stood on the bridge pondering my steadfast determination to get through to the other side, it dawned on me that exactly six weeks after posting that first bridge photo on Michael’s Facebook page, he would lose his battle with cancer. He had gotten to the other side, but I wasn’t allowed – DO NOT ENTER. Even in my defiance, a complete crossing over just isn’t in the cards any time soon…and I’m more than happy to wait…

Desperate to get in more long rides, five days later I finally decided to bite the bullet and attempt to ride to the cemetery where Michael is buried with both my parents and our brother Arthur. Remember Thank you Pearl and f**k you heart! (May 7, 2017)? Yeah, me too…

I was feeling equally dreadful this year about the distance. The last few long rides were painful, with me once again questioning if I could do the cancer ride (which is actually a stupid question because I’ve done it). However, I knew that at the core of my anxiety was my heart. Despite not having any SVT episodes since having a cardiac ablation in January (It only hurts when I burp/January 18, 2018), along with a new pair of Shebeest capris with a cushiony chamoise, a new iPhone 7, my portable charger fully charged, a new micro bluetooth speaker to play my iPod tunes and both fully charged, two jugs of water, a bike kit, two extra inner tubes, a bike pump and my backpack filled with the usual ID, debit card, snacks, house key, lip balm, hand sanitizer, wipes, eye drops and reading glasses, I was scared…

So on Memorial Day I headed to the veteran’s cemetery to pay my respects. This time I remembered to keep a slow and steady pace – I would be doing at least 56 miles this time. No devices died in Maple Shade and the little voice didn’t make a peep. Flying by the Moorestown nipper dogs and the Mount Laurel Target, I stopped in Mount Holly to take a breather and accidentally found the oldest active volunteer fire department in America.

Although a cloudy, chilly day with occasional spritzes of drizzle, I made my way through North Hanover Township and stopped at the local farm market to pick up some arrangements for the graves.

Cemetery

Thinking ahead, I brought a map of the cemetery with everyone’s gravesite numbers clearly marked and headed to visit Michael first. With no SVT attack in sight, I was grateful for my big brother’s advice and having gone through with the cardiac ablation – he was right…thanks Mikey Bro.

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Next and last stop was mom, dad and little Arthur, where we had a little snack together.

The ride back was physically difficult, but I did it. It took eight hours altogether, but I listened to my body instead of the little voice this time and managed to ride a total of 60 miles. A year ago I asked myself at what point I would concede before not getting away with defying death. I still can’t answer that question, but I can tell you this – I’m not quite ready to cross that bridge yet…I’m more than happy to wait.

“Well, I traveled a long way
And it took a long time
To find you
But I finally found you”

I Found You – Alabama Shakes

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

Abandonment

Boy oh boy, Old Man Winter is really sticking it to me. Seventy-four days into 2018 and I’ve only had one bike ride…ONE! By this time last year, I had been on Old Bessie nine times! It’s just not okay as far as I’m concerned.

So my one and only ride of 2018 occurred on February 14th. The temperature slowly climbed into the low 50s and the sky was that perfect blue with fluffy white clouds. On the usual route to my go-to place, I passed the former First Baptist Church on Pennsylvania Avenue and discovered it had officially become the Y.A.L.E. School (a special needs school for children with developmental disabilities):

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I thought about the post I wrote last year (April 28, 2017), Is G-d dead? , questioning the abandonment of religion in America.

Taking the short cut through the parking lot, my mood lightened somewhat and I questioned whether or not I really wanted to know what kind of waste was being dumped there…

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As I neared the river, the sky turned an ugly grey and a fierce wind began to howl. Defiantly, I carried on, determined to get in that one and only ride of the year and found myself exploring another building that had been abandoned around the same time as the church. Once a thriving private school, the Living Faith Christian Academy now lays in waste, succumbing to the Hoodlums of Cherry Hill – windows and glass doors shattered by rocks, wooden doors ripped from their hinges, graffiti- laden walls attest to the guilty parties and air conditioners plucked from their casings…

Outside, the playground stands desolate in mile-high grass and the hopscotch and four-corner boards lure the eye with their surprisingly vibrant colors miraculously preserved despite the elements while evidence of residency hides behind a concrete wall…

A former hotel and restaurant, the building directly next door was also vacated shortly after the school. Despite the owner’s attempts to close off the area with wire fences, the Hoodlums of Cherry Hill have managed to find their way over and through the boundary.

Feeling thoroughly depressed and not wanting to fend my way back home as the temperatures and the sun began to plummet, I made a pitstop to photograph the hibernating boats at the marina and longed for warmer weather…

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…which I got exactly one week later when we abandoned New Jersey for the mother land – Israel.

Oh, and I lied – I did manage to get in another “bike ride” this year…

“I walk this empty street
On the boulevard of broken dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I’m the only one, and I walk alone”
Boulevard of Broken Dreams – Green Day

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

It only hurts when I burp

Lying on a gurney in the PCCU (Progressive Cardiac Care Unit) there was only one detail I kept focusing on – my heart was at peace.

For those of you who know me and/or have been following my blog, for over 20 years I have suffered from SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) (May 7, 2017 – Thank you Pearl and fuck you heart! May 16, 2017 – Me Day…June 25, 2017 – My life is going down the toilet…Israel: Part I – The path to acceptance):

“Atrial or Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is a fast heart rate that starts in the upper chambers of the heart…Electrical signals in the heart’s upper chambers fire abnormally, which interferes with electrical signals coming from the sinoatrial (SA) node — the heart’s natural pacemaker. A series of early beats in the atria speeds up the heart rate. The rapid heartbeat does not allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts so blood flow to the rest of the body is compromised.” – American Heart Association

At some point in my 20s, I had an EKG (electrocardiogram) administered for no apparent reason and discovered an arrhythmia (a condition in which the heart beats with an irregular or abnormal rhythm) in my heart. After being told it was a common occurrence and knowing that mostly every member of my family had some kind of irregular heartbeat, I wasn’t concerned at the time. Several follow-up EKGs over the next few years pretty much repeated what I already knew – the arrhythmia wasn’t going away. If not for those EKGs, I never would’ve known I had this issue. And it wasn’t effecting my health in any way…until 1995…

As I mentioned in my last blog (January 12, 2018 – Go the f**k to sleep), in 1995 I was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition known as pseudotumor cerebri after two years of misdiagnosis while living in a painful hell. Electing not to have a stent surgically planted in my spine, I was prescribed the only medication that was going to alleviate my symptoms and get me back on the road to recovery – a medication that took advantage of the arrhythmia residing in my heart, setting forth the beginning of SVT over the next 22 years. Even though this medication was stopped when I got pregnant with the kid, SVT became a permanent fixture during the third trimester, landing me for the first time in the emergency room. A new medication helped to control the abnormal rhythm during pregnancy, but after giving birth my heart rate plummeted to 40 BPM and the medication was no longer an option. As SVT worsened over the years, I learned to control my heart rate by completely cutting out caffeine and it worked…until last year…

A year ago an endocrinologist prescribed levothyroxine (a generic form of Synthroid) due to a long-term battle with hypothyroidism. Unbeknownst to me at that time, its number one side effect is heart palpitations. Five months later, after arguing with this doctor ad nauseum about daily episodes of SVT (three of which were very serious episodes while riding my bike long distance), I took myself off levothyroxine and finally called my cardiologist…who was no longer practicing…now I needed to find a new endocrinologist and a new cardiologist.

At this point, you’re probably asking,”What the hell were you waiting for woman?!” Trust me, I’ve repeatedly asked myself the same question over the past year…and my reasons are quite simple:

(1) I “don’t do sick.” (March 30, 2017 – Death defying…) That’s just me and my genetics, plain and simple.

(2) About 15 years ago I had a cardiologist who performed a treadmill stress test and concluded that I needed a pacemaker – I wasn’t even 40-years-old and had a toddler at home. Needless to say, I ran from his office never to be seen there again.

(3) Ten years ago I was forced to find a new cardiologist who could perform a nuclear stress test prior to having laser surgery to eradicate some cancerous growths. Making the “mistake” of mentioning a history of heart issues, my oncologist insisted on the test before undergoing the laser to make sure I could handle the anesthesia. Luckily, my heart cooperated that day, and I passed the test with flying colors – hence my belief that I had SVT under control and surgery was no longer necessary.

(4) Seven years ago I had to have the same laser surgery, but this time the oncologist only wanted a treadmill stress test. Although the cardiologist was able to induce some palpitations and recommended cardiac ablation, he deemed my heart healthy enough to undergo anesthesia without incident. Of course I followed through with the laser surgery, but didn’t return to discuss the ablation.

(5) People die in hospitals…which I’ve witnessed firsthand. After 36 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing the kid out of my body at 11:30am, I was ready to leave by dinner time. Following my hysterectomy, I could’ve easily jumped from my hospital bed dragging my morphine drip and urinary catheter behind me. Don’t get me wrong, most days I’m a really good patient…until you put me in the hospital.

(6) Anxiety – I’m that 1% who suffers the “worst case scenario.” It’s my track record and just my plain dumb luck…

So after 20 years of denial reinforced by doctors, EKGs, stress tests, echocardiograms and ultrasounds, I convinced myself that I could live with it.

The good news was that I had found a new cardiologist last summer who I liked and trusted, mostly because he agreed that the levothyroxine had been the culprit in bringing my SVT out of hiding with a vengeance. However, he also strongly recommended cardiac ablation. I agreed to follow up with the electrophysiologist within the same practice and go through with the cardiac ablation by the end of 2017…until the kid called about making aliyah and we impulsively flew to Israel…and then I came down with a respiratory infection that lasted over a month…more excuses…until that last trip to Israel when I had that hour-long bout of SVT before takeoff. On that flight I promised the hubby I would call the cardiologist as soon as we returned to the states.

And I kept my promise and scheduled a cardiac ablation for January 16th.

Barely capable of sleeping the night before and fasting since midnight, the hubby drove me to the hospital. Arriving fifteen minutes early, the hubby made a B-line for the toilet and I signed in as a receptionist slapped onto my wrist a red plastic bracelet with bold capital letters reading “ALLERGIES.” Okay, the first hurdle of anxiety has been jumped – someone has actually read my chart and knows of my numerous and potentially lethal allergies. Before I could sit down and make myself comfortable, I was whisked off to an office where a woman slapped another plastic bracelet onto my wrist, this one white and containing personal information. Second hurdle of anxiety jumped – no one’s going to confuse me with the patient who’s getting prosthetic testicle implants…

Fifteen minutes later I was called back to prep for the procedure. Walking by the nurses’ station, my escort was asked by her supervisor what my name was, to which I announced in a sing-song voice with jazz hands, “Alice!” My escort followed suit and all the staff giggled. Anxiety hurdle number three – everyone’s nice and easily entertained.

Changing into a hospital gown and hopping onto a gurney, I was greeted by another nurse with a fabulous sense of humor and an ability to avoid pain through distraction – wiggle your toes while I shove this IV needle into your vein…and it actually helped. Fourth anxiety hurdle – limited pain through genuine kindness. Another nurse administered one last EKG confirming the long ago diagnosed arrhythmia lived with for over 20 years…and the hubby was allowed to wait with me…and we waited.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had met the electrophysiologist only twice – once eight years ago and the second back in August of 2017…what he hell did he look like?! What if some dude came over and claimed he was my physician?! What if I did end up with testicular implants?! Thankfully, all the staff confirmed his identity as he approached my little corner of pre-op. Anxiety hurdle number five – doctor recognition.

The doctor proceeded to walk us through the procedure – how they would sedate me, insert catheters into veins in both sides of my groin and thread these tubes to my heart in order to deliver energy in the form of heat to modify the tissue in my heart that was causing the arrhythmia. After years as a psychiatric social worker with a few years of medical transcription in between, his words didn’t phase me in the least. When he started to explain the possible “down sides” of the procedure, that’s when my brain got stuck…

Bleeding or infection at the site where the catheter was inserted – okay, I could deal with this one…wouldn’t be the first time.

Damage to your blood vessels where the catheter may have scraped as it traveled to my heart – okay, just try to visualize this one…that’s when the brain stops thinking…

Damage to my heart’s electrical system that could require a pacemaker…See! That cardiologist way back when was right!

Possible stroke -I had nightmares of this days leading up to the procedure.

There was no turning back…and the doctor literally evaporated…okay, so maybe not literally…

…and then I made it known loud and clear that I.WAS.ANXIOUS

By the end of the night, I was known as that “one who said she had anxiety…”

That’s when one of the OR nurses introduced herself (and when I started paying attention to names for some unknown reason at the time).  Her name was Holly, and she explained what her role was as well as all the other women (except for one man who she kinda blew off) that would be in the operating room with me. Obviously recognizing my anxiety (perhaps because of my repeated exclamations of feeling anxious), Holly managed to calm me down after answering the routine virally paranoid  questions about traveling abroad, to which I answered, “Yes…Israel” and to which she exclaimed her pending visit with her church group this coming October. Anxiety hurdle number six – interfaith love of Israel and a topic I love to talk about.

After meeting one of the anesthesiologists, Tom, who in the end had nothing to do with my surgery, Holly and I chatted about Israel as she wheeled me through a labyrinth of hallways to the OR. The last stop before D-Day, I waited and watched in the hallway as the ladies prepped the operating room…and, holding back sobs of fear, I clearly announced, once again, that I was ANXIOUS and guaranteed my heart would go into SVT upon request…and Holly, ever my savior, came back to reassure me that all was good with the world and we continued to talk about Israel. And then I met David (King David?!), the lead anesthesiologist who reminded me of my meeting Tom (doubting Thomas?!) and mentioned that Leah would be my anesthesiologist for the procedure (who, I would later find out, had a lunch break during my ablation?!) Wait…how many anesthesiologists do I need for this “quick” procedure?! Carefully sliding me from gurney to operating table, I made a note of all the names of the people present in the room – Holly, Kathy, Karen, Benjamin, Leah…and I reminded them about how anxious I was, trying to link their names to some personal significance…

Kathy! My oldest sister’s name is Kathy! Karen! Several of my best friends are named Karen! Benjamin (who was Asian and I referred to as Benyamin, which produced a giggle), the hubby’s paternal grandfather! Leah! Beautiful Leah, our matriarch and wife of Yacov! Anxiety hurdle number seven…as my vision got blurry and my speech slurred, I told Leah how sneaky she was for slipping me a Mickey when I wasn’t lookin’…

One of the things about my brain is that I dream very vividly – if I put my mind to it, my dreams would make fantastic screenplays. In essence, I sometimes have to consider whether or not my “dreams” are real or imagined. So when I found myself having conversations throughout my surgery, I thought nothing of it. I was simply “dreaming” about my experience. Only later did I come to find that I was actually conversing with the medical staff in the OR during the procedure.

Oh…the two things I failed to mention earlier:

(1) Warning the cardiologist that I was a sleep talker, and

(2) Asking Tom, the anesthesiologist, what would happen if I woke up during the procedure. Answers:

Cardiologist: “Can we record?!”

Anesthesiologist: “No problem! The drugs are so good you won’t even know what’s happening.”

I remember talking about Israel with Holly and having a conversation with Leah about being a red head. I “dreamed” about my mother and her family…did I discuss this out loud?! (Side bar – my mother’s father is buried across the street from the hospital (Meemaw – December 5th).

Next thing I knew, Leah was talking to me about the procedure and I was WIDE awake…which apparently freaked out the entire medical staff…because I had been loaded up with twice the required sedation for someone my size…the words “elephant tranquilizer” whispered throughout the OR…

Although the procedure itself only took one hour (thanks to my cooperative heart going straight into SVT), apparently, it took almost an hour to get me sedated because I kept waking up throughout the procedure. Leah explained how I went under almost immediately…and then I opened my eyes and started talking again…repeatedly – something the hubby and the kid have experienced numerous times over the past several years. Yeah, it’s freaky for those witnesses, but I have no recollection whatsoever of these events. Leah explained that some people can metabolize chemical enzymes quicker than others. Who knew?! Either way, anesthesiologist Tom was right – I didn’t feel a thing and honestly didn’t give a s**t…

Doing better than anyone had expected, I actually skipped two levels of recovery because I was so alert. Four hours after surgery, the hubby was driving us home.

Two days post-surgery, I feel awesome…although the “elephant tranquilizers” are drastically wearing off and occasional chest pains remind me of my ordeal…but it only hurts when I burp…

I can’t get over how calm and quiet my heart feels. For the first time in 23 years my heart isn’t struggling and I barely notice it’s even there. Me and my happy heart are ready to live again.

I’m eagerly looking forward to my next bike ride…without incident…if only the weather would cooperate…

“Wo! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would, now
So good, so good, I got you”

I Feel Good – James Brown

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

Believe

It dawned on me today that it’s been over a month since my last bike ride. I have a vague memory of October 22nd – I remember the weather promised to be unseasonably warm with abundant sunshine, so Old Bessie and I made sure to take advantage of the day.

Riding along Elbo Lane towards my parents’ former neighborhood, something caught my eye at the local fire department and prompted me to turn around after passing it.

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It was a large piece of twisted metal rising toward the heavens against a beautiful blue sky. Now, I’ve ridden by this facility dozens of times and never noticed the 9/11 Memorial on display in front of the building and questioned my awareness. After learning that the memorial had just been erected the month prior on the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, I was reassured of my knack for acuity.

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Not knowing from which tower it fell, the twisted metal was recovered at Ground Zero and donated to New Jersey to be put on display. Other artifacts included a piece of limestone taken from the Pentagon and a rock from the crash site of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

It reminded me of that day and how much I really don’t like to think about it. September 11, 2001 was the kid’s “half birthday” – she was exactly 2 1/2 years old. The kid was busying herself with play while I worked out to a video in our living room. A few minutes after 8:46AM the phone rang. Still working out, I listened to the answering machine as it recorded my mother’s voice on the other end. Panic was in her voice, and she demanded I respond to her call. Picking up the receiver, I asked her what was wrong. “Turn on the t.v.! We’re under attack!” As ordered, I turned the channel to CNN and watched as the North Tower burned. Now it was my turn to panic. The kid could tell that something serious was going on as I desperately attempted to calm my mother down. Trying to figure out what had happened, I watched as a jetliner crashed into the South Tower at 9:03AM…then the Pentagon at 9:37AM…and finally, a crash in rural Pennsylvania at 10:07AM. In memory, most of that day was an emotional roller coaster of hysteria and complete terror. And then the skies grew quiet…very quiet…and it stayed that way for 48 hours. For weeks I was glued to CNN, paralyzed by the incomprehensibility of events on that mild Tuesday morning with the beautiful blue sky. It took months before I didn’t cower when planes flew overhead, and the kid became so frightened by our reactions she refused to leave my side for over two years. At some point I turned off the news and never watched it again…

And then I saw something in the parking lot that delightfully lightened the mood:

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A practice dummy lying face down after being “rescued” during a drill…time to move on!

Heading toward Church Road and making the usual pit stop at Johnson’s Farm, I found myself passing Kirby’s Mill (Seeing, May 25, 2017) and discovered a small house behind the mill.

“This simply detailed, 1 story, three bay wide frame house with a shed roofed porch across the front was built in the late 1700s. It may have been a tenant house on the Jonathan Haines farm. Jonathan was one of the men who petitioned the New Jersey Assembly for permission to build a dam, a gristmill and a sawmill on the land bordering the South Branch of the Rancocas Creek, “one end abutting on the land of the said Jonathan Haines.” In 1778, the mill was completed and started operations. This building became the home of the sawmill foreman and therefore was called the Sawyer’s House.”

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMA6G2_The_Sawyers_House_Medford_NJ

After a cautious look around, I decided to explore the road further, not having ever ridden it before – Fostertown Road. A little over a mile later, I came upon an airport.

It’s called the Flying W Airport and Resort:

“Flying W Airport & Resort was built in the 1960s by Bill Whitesell; hence the “W” in its name. Mr. Whitesell initially envisioned a place to provide air transportation services to those involved in building the Alaska Pipe Line. He also wanted to provide a place where both travelers and local families could dine al fresco in a restaurant that also doubles as a bar and cafe, stay in the quaint Flying W Motel, and swim in the famous airplane-shaped swimming pool. Over the years, the restaurant, lounge and swimming pool have provided enjoyment and wonderful memories to many who still visit.”

http://www.flyingwairport.com/

What a quaint little place! Thinking about how much Michael would have loved this place, I looked at the small single-engine planes and remembered hearing how some of the 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons at little airports like this one in order to gain the knowledge they would later use to kill thousands of people…time to move on!

Continuing down the road, I pulled Old Bessie to the side of the road so as not to miss the perfect photo op of all rides:

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Yup…some days, when everything is right with the universe and the sun is high in that beautifully cloudless blue sky and you’re just coasting through life feeling groovy without a care in the world, a huge pile of shit is going to find you. So why the challenge? I believe that G-d gives us what we can handle and maybe sometimes we need a little humility to remind us of our fortune in life. But how does one explain pure evil? Why do we need the challenge of men full of hatred turning jetliners into weapons of destruction and killing thousands of innocent people? Perhaps we need an occasional reminder as to why we all need to be better human beings. Some would say that if the test is passed successfully, we are rewarded in the end…

Four days after 9/11, on a quiet Saturday morning with a beautiful blue sky, a friend decided to go ahead with the wedding she had planned over the past year. This friend spent decades dating all the wrong guys until she happened to meet up with an old acquaintance from elementary school when in her late 30s. In a storybook fairytale, they fell in love and got engaged two years later during a romantic getaway somewhere along the Florida Keys. Originally planning to exchange vows on the beach, the ceremony was transferred to a little church on the main drag due to public restrictions being enforced throughout the region. Wearing her fantasy wedding gown purchased on ebay months before, she and her husband exchanged vows to a tearful congregation. I had known this woman for ten years and watched her struggle from one relationship to the next. I was truly happy for her, but couldn’t stop thinking about the collective sorrow resonating silently throughout the chapel. For a year we helped plan the perfect wedding never anticipating something as horrific as 9/11. As we gathered together to leave the church and head to the reception, we thanked our friend for providing a moment of peace and love desperately needed after a long week of tremendous despair.

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

I Shall Be Released – Bob Dylan

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

Following the sun…

“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”

Helen Mirren
September 10, 2017

Tis the season for sunflowers! For me, sunflowers signify the true end of summer and warn that autumn is not far behind (which happens to be my and the hubby’s favorite season). I took the above photo in my neighbor’s front yard. He grows sunflowers instead of grass. Most people in the neighborhood dislike it, commenting on how strange it is to grow sunflowers instead of grass in your front yard. I adamantly disagree every time the topic comes up. Other neighbors have trash in their front yard or unsightly demonic gargoyles or car parts or grass two feet high or no lawn at all. I rest my case…

Heading out to Burlington County this morning, I decided to finally stop at a farm market I’ve passed a dozen times on my bike rides. Leaning Ole Bessie against a parking block, I began to look around at what was being offered. Of course, The Bully made me check and double check that Bessie was still where I left her until we were both finally convinced that I was in a space where the honor system was set in stone. No worries…

Halloween was my all-time favorite holiday as a child. Regina and I would plan out and create our own costumes, using whatever materials we found around the house. On Halloween night, we bundled up, grabbed our pillowcases and scoured the neighborhood for all the best candy. Filling our bags to capacity and barely able to drag them home, we made pit stops to the house, dumping our goodies on the living room floor for mom to pick through and sort out the “bad” candy from the “good.” And we knew which houses to not go to. There was the UNICEF lady who only gave out pennies (and refused to give anything if you didn’t have a UNICEF box). We also stayed clear of the people who always gave out fruit (especially after the apple and needle scare). Most of all, you NEVER went to the spooky house…to this day, I have no clue who lived there or why it was so scary, but there were way too many stories circulating around the neighborhood to find out…

However, my love of Halloween changed when, at the age of 18 months, the kid decided she wanted nothing to do with it. This was around the time that her Bully decided to pay a visit and stay for awhile. For the next several years, the kid was paralyzed by fear. Up until she started school, she refused to leave my side. Everything frightened her. She never took risks. So, for the sake of my poor child, Halloween was no more…

So how is it possible that this fear-ridden child is flying to Israel in two days…by herself…all alone…over 6000 miles away…to a very different country where English is not the dominant language…and she only knows a handful of people?!

September 12, 2017

I dreaded this day…

We anticipated this day for a year, yet I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t sleep last night and finally fell out of bed around 6:00AM, exhausted and emotionally strung out. The kid was well-rested, up and at ’em and ready to go. I loaded her bags into the car and dragged my sorry ass upstairs to get ready for what seemed like the longest drive of my life. On my final go through, I made the mistake of going into the kid’s room. There snuggled under the blanket were the Dollies…and I began to sob…and so did the kid. I cried over my disbelief that they were staying. She cried over the fact that she had no more room in her suitcase to fit them.

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See, Dolly (a.k.a. The Dolly Lama) is what kept the kid sane for 18 years. Dolly went everywhere with us. She was part of the family. There are three Dollies altogether – each time one became thread bare and beyond cleaning, I would buy an exact replica of the previous Dolly, snatch the old one and sneak in the new while the kid was at daycare. However, I kept the previous two Dollies, tucking them away in a box in the closet where they were forgotten for some years. Stumbling on the former lovies during one of my serious closet purges, the hubby and I decided to reveal the truth about Dolly. The kid was somewhat confused initially, but it didn’t stop her from having three times the love for her girls…and all three Dollies became one with the family – the sisters the kid never got.

Driving the kid to JFK and forgetting to get directions, the GPS didn’t work properly and we missed our exit.  Driving in circles and figure eights until we found ourselves back on the turnpike, panic set in…as did the screaming…and the sobbing…Getting back on course and calming down, I shouted to G-d, “WHY MUST YOU CHALLENGE THIS FAMILY SO MUCH?!” This day was probably the most single important day of our lives, especially for the kid. That’s when the hubby reminded me that every obstacle is a test – G-d is asking us, “Are you sure you really want this?”

Me: “No…I’m not sure this is what I want…”

Little Voice: “But the kid is more than certain…make this happen…”

Getting to the airport with ample time to spare, we stood in line to check the luggage. Asked to stand aside while the El Al employee questioned the kid’s intentions, I felt completely shut out. As a now legal adult, I had no business answering for this child of mine. Passing the security check (after making the staff member cry with me), we loaded her bags onto the scale one by one, we impressively praised her for packing both cases with under 100 pounds of belongings. That’s when it hit me for the first time – she was prepared

Next stop, TSA – only passengers can go through and I knew it. After 18 years on a roller coaster ride of a lifetime, it was down to that millisecond when we had to say goodbye. No if, ands or buts about it. I knew that was the moment I was going to lose my shit…and I did. Watching my baby girl stand in that long and winding line alone with no guide but her own self, she promised to ask for help if needed and text me when she got to the gate…

September 15, 2017

…and I sobbed for 48 hours.

Friends and family expressed understanding, albeit ordering me to stop crying – that it was a good thing for all involved. “She’ll be safe.” “She’s going to have the time of her life.” “It’ll be fine.” “You and your husband can get reacquainted.” Then it dawned on me – I wasn’t crying for her, I was crying for me. I was feeling sorry for myself. For 18 years my life had been the kid and the kid had been my life. There was no other job I had worked as hard at with a desperate passion driven instinctively by the mothering gene. She’s the only kid I get in this lifetime – how can I give her up so easily?! That’s when I found myself saying to G-d, “Let her be truly happy and I will let go…”

Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of my very first Gump Ride…

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September 16, 2015
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September 16, 2016

Being that it’s Shabbat tomorrow, I needed to get this anniversary ride in one day early. And guess what I found…?

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September 15, 2017

This time I decided to ignore the DO NOT ENTER sign…shhh!

Over the past week, this turkey couple have been visiting my bird feeders every morning. Each day I have attempted to snap a photo without success. But today, they cautiously allowed me to approach. That’s when I realized the kid had a guardian angel looking down on her and everything was going to be okay (see Totem, September 28, 2016)…

momma

September 20, 2017

A few years ago, I discovered my sunflower neighbor was Jewish. Daily I watched him walk up and down the street after what seemed to be some kind of hip or knee replacement, he trying to gain back his bearings. I made a point of saying hello every time. Then he showed up at shul (synagogue) one Rosh Hashanah and he’s been back every year since.

This is the first Rosh Hashanah in 18 years without the kid. I’ve kept myself busy this week, cooking and cleaning for the holiday. I made sure to surround myself with friends for the next four days to keep my mind off the inevitable – the kid won’t be here…

Talking to the kid this morning before being out of contact for the next 72 hours, I reassured her (and probably myself) that I was “fine” and that it will just be strange not having her here. She begged me not to start crying again, saying, “No offense, mommy, but you always invite old people, so I wouldn’t want to be there anyway.” The kid was right – she’d get sick of sitting around us old farts and hibernate in her room…it’s like she wouldn’t even be here. If there was ever a reason the kid couldn’t be home for the holidays, I’d have to say living in Israel is definitely the perfect excuse…

Every day I hear how the kid is doing in Israel via text, Messenger, WhatsApp, photos on Facebook and phone calls home. And every time she tells me, “I’m really happy here mommy.” Follow the sun kiddo…

Thanks Big Guy!

May you be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
יְשִׂימֵךְ אֱלהיִם כְּשָׂרָה רִבְקָה רָחֵל וְלֵאָה.

May God bless you and guard you.
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
May God show you favor and be gracious to you.
יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו  אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

May God show you kindness and grant you peace.
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלום

“May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young”

Forever Young – Bob Dylan

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

When to say no…

Labor Day – What a great day for a bike ride! Temps were in the 70s, blue skies with puffy clouds brightened my day and barely any cars were on the road. I was a happy camper…

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My first rule of thumb when on the road? Know where all the bathrooms are!

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The Air Victory Museum is one of my regular stops through Burlington County and they just so happen to have a Mr. Bob. Why name a latrine Bob? I guess it sounds better than Mr. Shit ‘n Piss…

There were a lot of travelers flying in and out that morning. In cocktail phenomenon fashion, I listened to a group of folks sitting at the nearby cafe talk about nothing, one particularly opinionated gentleman seeming to have the answer to everything and anything anyone should need to know in life…

I found it interesting that as I approached the airport, this song randomly played on my iPod:

Michael sure did love his planes. He would’ve also loved this place…

Moving right along, I found myself riding through fields and fields and fields of fresh Jersey corn…

Can’t wait to run through a corn maze somewhere this fall!

As a child, Labor Day signaled the last day of summer and the dreaded back to school week.

This is the first time in eighteen years I didn’t get to take that annual first-day-of-school photo before tossing the kid on the big yellow bus she begged to ride as a four-year-old preschooler. In four days, the kid will be off to Israel to study for the next ten months and my emotions are all screwy. I’m looking forward to embracing the “empty nest syndrome” with open arms and have already started planning new adventures with the hubby. We’re both looking forward to getting reacquainted after this long eighteen-year haul, but it’ll be strange not having the kid in my life on a daily basis…

Yesterday I spent the day cleaning up my yard. As I bent over again and again to pick up all the little twigs, sticks and branches, my back aching more and more with each bend, I remembered the kid’s childhood wagon re-purposed as a “wheelbarrow” years ago and collecting dust in the abandoned shed out back. Covered in cobwebs, wood shavings (thanks to the resident squirrels grinding down their teeth on the roof and walls) and filth, I loaded up the wagon and dumped the load over the fence to help build up the quickly eroding creek bank behind my house. Afterwards, I decided to recommission my “wheelbarrow” and attempted to wash it down. Quickly realizing a lost cause, I wheeled the wagon to the curb for trash collection this morning. And then I started to cry. It was beyond repair and needed to go, but my heart didn’t want to let go. As I stared out the window looking at that wagon, I couldn’t stop crying…

That wagon was given to the kid by my parents 18 years ago. Since infancy, I dragged that wagon down every street we lived on until she was too big to fit. I just kept picturing her in that wagon at the Fourth of July parade when she was 3-years-old:

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The kid is one of the most patriotic people I’ve ever known. Her love for America goes beyond any other. So, as she talks about volunteering for the IDF (Israeli Defence Force), making aliyah (becoming an Israeli citizen) and living on a kibbutz in the Golan after her year at university, my brain simply asks, “What happened to that hardcore American patriot?” For years she never wanted to live anywhere else on the planet and dreamed about joining the army to defend the homeland against terrorism. So why the “sudden” change?

At some point the kid realized that her patriotism was misguided. Don’t get me wrong – she’s still the poster child superhero for America and would do anything to fight terrorism throughout the world. But something clicked…and now I know why…

It’s the typical love/hate relationship we Jewish parents have with Israel – all their lives we talk about Israel to our children. We teach them from infancy to love their true homeland. We take our kids to Israel as much as financially possible and expect them to spend their first year after high school (referred to as a “gap year”) in yeshivot and seminaries (Judaic study schools). We need to believe that making aliyah is the best launching a Jewish parent can make.

We took the kid on her first trip to Israel in 2011 after becoming a bat mitzvah. She graduated with her class from eighth grade at the Kotel in Jerusalem. She spent five weeks stranded in the north during the Gaza Conflict and followed with a group trip touring Israel last summer. Despite these visits, the kid said she’d never do a gap year…ever, ever, ever…and here we are. After starting her senior year last fall, the kid “suddenly” announced she was applying to a program in Israel to study for a year, and she had acquired all the information on her own and was already in the application process. Simultaneously shocked and thrilled, we supported her efforts and immediately offered whatever assistance she needed. Over the past year, the kid went from never to forever. And still I ask myself, “How did this happen?!”

Here’s the clincher – my daughter and I are converts. Long story short (a self-published article should be written about this at some point in my life), the kid and I converted three times, each time me and the hubby telling her it was necessary to be halakhically (legally) Jewish so that if and when she got married and/or had children and/or wanted to make aliyah, there would be no question about her Jewishness. There you have it…it’s our fault she wants this – our love/hate relationship with Israel…

Returning to my yard cleanup and rearranging the flowers in the front garden for the hundredth time this summer, a Veterans of America truck stopped in front of the house to pick up donations I’d left in the driveway. As he loaded the boxes and bags onto the truck, I asked him about the wagon on the curb. With a resolute “Yeah, I’ll take it!” he swiftly placed it into the back of his truck and thanked me and I, in turn, thanked him. At least to someone it wasn’t beyond repair and didn’t need to go and will once again be re-purposed…

My rabbi once told me there are three times a Jewish child can say no to their parents: (1) wanting to learn Torah; (2) who they can marry; and (3) making aliyah

I think the next eighteen years are going to be very interesting…

“All my bags are packed
I’m ready to go
I’m standin’ here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye”

Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver

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