F you

Warning: I apologize ahead of time for cussin’ like a sailor (no offense to all you naval peeps out there – respect). I’m a little grumpy today…

Coming home from grocery shopping, I was stopped at a red light preparing to turn left and decided to send a quick text to the hubby letting him know what I was making for dinner. When I looked up to check the light, I was startled by a person on a bicycle staring at me through the passenger side window. This person was visibly upset and seemed to be yelling at me, repeatedly looking underneath my car and continuing to berate me with words I couldn’t hear over the traffic or the rain. It finally dawned on me that my car was on top of the crosswalk, which wasn’t actually at the corners of the traffic light, leaving me completely unaware that I was parked on top of it. The cyclist walked around the back of my car and continued to yell at me through the driver side window, me finally capable of making out some of what this person was upset about. Apparently, it wasn’t at all cool that I was on top of the crosswalk because this person couldn’t just ride their bicycle straight across and remain within the lines of the crosswalk. Not wishing to interact, let alone having the energy to argue with a complete stranger who was observably not in their right mind and thought way more concrete than I was capable of at that moment, I simply chose to ignore them and turned when the light changed to green, watching as the cyclist pointed fingers and attempted to take my license plate down.

So, here’s what I would have said to this person if I truly had wanted to bother…

  • Angrily berating another human being in the middle of a busy intersection, let alone in the pouring rain and wearing a cycling outfit entirely made of black is not only 100% foolish, it’s downright dangerous. Someone could have run you over because they couldn’t see you as you were crawling underneath my car.
  • I could have been that person who ran you over because I didn’t know you were crawling underneath my car.
  • Yelling at other human beings, regardless of how you’re feeling today, is just not nice.
  • I could have had a gun and shot your face off because I didn’t like what it was saying to me.
  • I did have pepper spray in my pocket and was actually getting ready to launch if the light had not turned green.
  • I, too, am a cyclist and fully aware of the rules and laws of the road. Not only were you illegally riding your bicycle on the sidewalk, you were riding your bike against traffic, in the rain – foolish and dangerous, once again.
  • You would have been a lot less saturated by the rain if you had just kept going and not stopped for at least five minutes to berate me about my faux pas.
  • Go ahead, take down my license plate – see who gives a shit.
  • FYI, the cops don’t give a shit, that’s who.
  • Fuck you…

So, it’s not working out, this whole cycling thing. I see people riding in 20-degree weather or, like today, in the pouring rain. Fuck you. You make me feel bad about myself and I don’t like that you do this to me. Of course, it’s not your fault. I’m just grumpy today and wish I had the stamina and/or motivation that I had prior to 2019. I’ve started at least a handful of times since January 1st to train for the Bike-a-thon Bridge to the Beach ride scheduled for June and have failed miserably. I just don’t want to do it and couldn’t understand why…until I talked it over with the hubby.

What came out of our conversation was that I didn’t want to ride to raise funds anymore. I already knew from the get-go that I didn’t want to race for any reason whatsoever. Deep down inside, I realized that my motivation to ride had become selfish – simply ride for the pleasure of riding. I want to join a group of other people who feel the same way – find a beautiful place and just ride recreationally and look at the beauty that surrounds us. I also discovered that they exist and was determined to find the right fit…until Kathy sent me an email…

There’s this thing called the Great Cycle Challenge – a cycling challenge to raise funds for kids with cancer. As sick as it sounds, cancer is so very near and dear to my heart. For over 20 years I’ve been forestalling my own personal battle with pre-cancer, thank G-d successfully. My Irish twin battled cancer and won. My nephew-in-law also beat his cancer into submission. Several of my closest friends have cancer and struggle every day to keep it at bay. My brother, Michael, fought cancer and lost. The idea of children suffering what I witnessed adults go through just kills me.

So, when Kathy sent me that email, I found myself motivated once again to raise funds and challenge myself at the same time while taking in the beauty of the world at my own pace.

There are no coincidences in life.

So, here we go again…and fuck you…I’m still a little grumpy…sorry…

I apologize again for cussin’…

P.S. Rea (despite how you feel about yourself today) and Judy (you rock), you two are my inspiration today…

Look inside
Look inside your tiny mind
Now look a bit harder
‘Cause we’re so uninspired
So sick and tired of all the hatred you harbor

F You – Lily Allen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8VZX4sHn-4

Moo!

Warning: I tend to be overly friendly. Part genetics and part upbringing, I learned the true meaning of random acts of kindness from my dad. Don’t ever go shopping with me if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Always expect that moment in the store when I stop to chat with complete and total strangers. And, (G-d forbid) I should run into someone I know, don’t expect to be home on time for dinner.

The majority of the people I tend to strike up a conversation with seem to be senior citizens. I think it comes from the last few years I spent with mom and dad, taking them on their weekly grocery shopping trips once dad was completely incapable of driving. Dad always socialized at the store. For many senior citizens, it might be the only time in their day, week or even the month, where they get to be out and about among other fellow humans. Some only want a hello. Others may need a little more than that. I don’t mind either way – I’ve got time to listen.

So, shopping at the local Wegman’s a couple of weeks ago, I was perusing the bulk aisle in search of macadamia nuts for the monthly brownie recipe the Food Network magazine had convinced me to make for the month of January – Snowy Day Coconut Brownies. As I weighed my macadamia nuts, an apparently unconscious sigh broke the silence.

Joe: You’re way too young to be making that sound!

Me: You’d be surprised…

Joe looked like a man who should be the one sighing, but he was smiling instead. Then Joe asked me a question that I absolutely hate being asked, let alone answer…

Joe: How old do you think I am?

Ugh…either way, you’re wrong. If you say they’re way younger than they are just to be polite, you’re insulting their intelligence. If you guess way over, you’re just plain ignorant (or under the age of 30). So, swallowing an insult to injury along with my ignorance, I guessed Joe was about 75 and, of course, I was wrong. Joe is 90-years-old. Honestly, he didn’t look a day over 80 and actually did look like he could be in his 70s. Joe proceeded to listen to my sighing justification as a result of many personal tribulations over a short period of time, I, in turn, hearing about the deaths of everyone in his life as a result of living as long as he has.

Somehow, we steered ourselves onto a conversation about smoking. I told Joe how I had quit smoking over 25 years ago and subsequently developed a rare neurological condition. Joe then told me how he had only quit 10 years ago at the age of 80 and only because he was having open heart surgery. According to Joe, his doctor warned him of the need to stop smoking two weeks prior to surgery in order to be anesthetized properly without ramifications. Joe claimed he quit “just like that” without any kind of physical or mental support. And after the surgery he figured he hadn’t smoked for at least a month so why go back…and that was that. I praised Joe for this incredible feat, and blessed him for making it this far in life still looking like he was 75…

Asking Joe about his heart condition now, he said he never felt better, despite feeling all of his 90 years at this point regardless of how he looked. He told me how the doctor had to replace one of his heart valves with a cow’s heart valve because of severe aortic stenosis, something I had never heard of before.

Joe: Yeah, now whenever I go to the doctor for an examination, he takes out his tongue depressor and tells me to open up and say, “Moo!”

“Put them out, out to pasture, beneath the olive trees.
That line the hillsides of a distant gracefulness.
So they might feed and flourish in abundance.
And you and I may live.”

 Cows of Gladness – Seals and Croft

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVqQYKPXuvY

Forgetting to grieve…

I remember the day I decided to finally quit smoking for good. Well, not the exact day, but it was probably a New Year’s resolution or something of that sort. Actually, now that I think about it, it was New Year’s Day at some point in my late 20s. Memory tells me it was 1991…but my brain sucks and can’t remember anything for shit, so here goes…

It was the third time in my life since taking up this vile “habit” at the age of 15 that my New Year’s resolution was to quit, and this time I was determined to make it stick.

The first time I tried to quit, the hubby was still smoking. (FYI, quitting a drug when your partner is still using makes “breaking the habit” a thousand times more difficult, if not impossible.) So, naturally over the following months, after finding the hubby in various places with his new apartment building smoker buddies, including the Egyptian taxi driver across the hall who fashioned a hookah out of car parts and smoked the finest Turkish tobacco only money could buy the equivalent to the best cocaine on the planet, I found myself wanting to join in on the “pleasure” I was missing not being part of the smoking crowd.

The second time I tried to quit was about two months before the wedding of a mutual college friend the hubby and I shared. Once again, the hubby was still smoking. Watching as he and his new wedding smoker buddies convened their pleasure circle outside the reception tent, I could hear the laughter of possibly the best time ever a group of people could have at a wedding…outside the wedding reception. Ever notice how the people having more fun than you are the ones using when you’re not? It’s amazing how people who are stoned and/or drunk out of their minds can make standing around doing nothing look like the rave of the century. My exact thoughts at that moment while sitting at the table with a former college acquaintance suffering unmedicated schizophrenia and an unnatural affinity toward Irish women, along with a former college boyfriend who was sitting with his new bride?

Me: “F**k this!”

Storming out of the wedding tent, I marched up to the hubby, grabbed his pack of Marlboros, lit up like a Christmas tree and joined in on the fun. Yup…I was once again sucked down that never-ending smoker’s rabbit hole.

For the record, smoking is not a “habit” my friends – it’s an addiction. According to the American Addiction Centers in a November 25, 2019 article, “6 of the Hardest Drugs to Quit,” nicotine is the fifth most difficult addiction to break and the “number one cause of preventable death in America.” Even with this knowledge in mind by the end of 1991, my argument to myself was, “If the price of cigarettes goes to $2 a pack, I’m quitting!” And guess what happened by the end of that year?

So, fast forward to the third time I decided to quit – New Year’s Day 1992 (or thereabouts)…

This time it was going to happen. I was determined and did my research.

The first thing I read was that approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by mid-February…

Me: “Oh great! F**k! Okay, so now what?!”

Phantom article: “Set a different date later in the year to start said resolution.

Me: “Seriously?! That’s it?!

Phantom article: “Yup…”

I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the date, but I set May 1, 1992 as the day to start my New Year’s resolution.

The second thing I read about stopping an addiction had to do with what I attached to it. What purpose does the addiction serve me? What does this substance bring to my life that nothing else can? How does it make me feel? To this day, I don’t know how I came up with the idea to utilize grief therapy as a means of coping through withdrawal (although working in a drug rehab for three years probably taught me a thing or two), but it worked…along with a nicotine patch or two over a three-week period. Another friend told me about the healing power of sucking on licorice root, which I attempted and failed, later settling on organic panda black licorice chews instead.

All in all, through this process, I discovered that smoking went way back to elementary school, where, for some reason, I found the smoking crowd to be the coolest…and the most feared.

Ho…wait! I want to be cool AND feared. And that was it…

It was that simple. After years of being bullied – being the nerd, the thumb sucker, the fatty, the ugly one – my love affair with nicotine started at age 12, landed me an at-home suspension at age 14 for smoking in the girls room (now I was cool), became a full-blown habit by age 15, receiving two in-school detentions for smoking in the girls room and the hallway (because now I was an idiot), and was a hard-core addiction by age 27 (we’re talking looking-for-butts-in-random-ashtrays-to-suck-the-last-few-drags-of-nicotine addiction). So, at the age of 27, I had to convince myself that being a nerd, a thumb sucker, fat and ugly was okay; that I didn’t need to smoke to prove I was or wasn’t any of those things. And it worked…and then I gained 30 pounds and developed a rare neurological condition…BUT I never picked up smoking again.

That lesson in grief has stuck with me for almost 30 years. Each situation in my life requiring grief needed to be addressed situationally, and that’s what this blog has been for me. It helped me to process the loss of seven family members over a seven-year period…and now I’m back to NOT grieve.

One of the things that helped me heal after being diagnosed with that rare neurological condition was playing piano. At that point I had been playing piano for almost 30 years. Piano had been my love since I could speak and/or sit upright unattended banging the keys of a keyboard stenciled with numbers and letters. Playing piano helped the pain go away, if even for a minute or two. However, as my condition improved, not only did my interest in playing cease, I found that the condition would later rob me of certain memories, including my knowledge of playing piano. I grieved this loss of music ability that had served me so well over a lifetime just like I had grieved my nicotine. I later realized it had served its purpose and that was that…it was okay to let it go.

It’s been a little over a year since I stopped blogging about my bike rides. Over the past few months I noticed that I was visiting the cemetery less and less, merely stopping by out of guilt on the way back from somewhere else along the way. As birthdays and wedding and death anniversaries swiftly passed by, I would catch myself days, weeks and sometimes months later realizing I had forgotten the date…and it didn’t bother me…which brings me back to this blog.

This blog’s purpose was initially started to follow my bike rides so that my brother, Michael, could follow along while he lay dying of cancer in hospital. Over the past year I haven’t taken many bike rides but always made sure to take photos ultimately never posted.

 

Cancer is an unwanted visitor that has visited me and my family and friends over the past 10 years. After all we’ve been through, it is no longer welcome in my home, despite its insistence.

Dealing with my own battle of pre-cancer over the past 20 years, bike riding in 2019 has taken its toll and has not been a constant thing this year thanks to multiple procedures necessary to thwart off my unwelcome visitor…and that pisses me off. At some point I lost interest…again…and this time it wasn’t okay to let it go.

Last year I missed the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach ride and decided that it was time to get back in the saddle and take on this challenge once again – for Michael and everyone else fighting this beast. Today I forced myself to go to the gym despite the cold rain outside to begin my first phase of training – 30 miles in 8 weeks…pathetic…cause I gotta do 60+ miles in one day, starting from home at 6:00AM and on the Atlantic City Expressway before 3:00PM.  Feeling dejected, I put on my largest pair of bike capris owned (thanks to a ten-pound weight gain in 2019), drove to the gym six miles from home (I could’ve ridden to back in the day), perched myself atop the brand-new stationary bikes recently purchased (thank you Planet Fitness) and cycled 80-90RPMs according to my schedule…for 10 minutes…ugh…

It’s time to get back to life and continue the purpose!

Now, teacher, don’t you fill me up with your rules
But everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school

Smokin’ in the Boys Room – Brownsville Station

 

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

‘Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out…

October 31, 2018

Every year my memory banks remind me of the time that became known as “the day Alice was arrested for roller skating down Main Street” – a VAST exaggeration of the facts occurring the night of Saturday, October 31, 1980.

Number one rule in my parent’s house until marriage – NO BOYS IN YOUR BEDROOM…PERIOD…except for the afternoon of October 31, 1980 when I convinced my mother that Matt and I were just friends with absolutely no strings attached (truth) and that he needed to come to my room in order to paint my face for Halloween (also truth). Matt and I were friends by virtue of his squandering love affair with my best friend Roseanne. I won’t deny that I had a secret crush on him, but I was not even close to being in his ballfield whatsoever. He was tall and thinly muscular with shoulder-length, curly brown hair the likes of Lindsay Buckingham, beautiful crystal-blue eyes and an artistic talent and sense of humor that brought me to tears.

I was dressing up like a dead mime on roller skates – black opaque stockings and black long-sleeved bodysuit, a pair of chocolate brown satin shorts with white piping over both and a pair of rainbow suspenders to boot – and don’t forget the white four-wheeled roller skates. Regretfully, we didn’t get a photograph of Matt’s handiwork that night, but I will tell you it was MAGNIFICENT. It took several hours, but it was worth the time…especially having him in my bedroom alone and all to myself for the first time ever…strictly as friends. As the time quickly passed, I looked up to see Roseanne in my bedroom doorway ready to spoil the party. After a quick hello and an equally quick goodbye, Matt told us he was heading home to get his costume and would meet us at our mutually agreed destination – the local Shop Rite parking lot off Main Street

As we made our way to Shop Rite, Roseanne and I decided we were going to trick-or-treat for the last time in our lives, me at 15-years-old and she at 16. So off we went down Maple Street going door-to-door with our pillowcases begging for candy, trying to eat as much as we could along the way so as not to have to share with the group of kids waiting for us in the Shop Rite parking lot. At this point I will tell you, the only roller skating I did down any street that night was on Maple Street…and no one saw me except Roseanne…PERIOD

Once in the parking lot, no other kids having arrived yet, Roseanne and I sat on the curb waiting for Matt, me removing my skates and us talking about nothing, eating the rest of our candy. After some time, Matt, dressed up like an aborigine (and fabulously so, I might add), finally graced us with his presence at the entrance to the Shop Rite. Before I knew it, Matt began approaching various customers, asking them all kinds of silly questions and joking around with them. Every single person thought he was adorable and laughed along with him…except one

I will admit, even on that night 38 years ago, Matt stepped way over the line. Following a pregnant woman through the parking lot and into the store, chattering away and cracking jokes, Matt made the grievous mistake of asking the woman if she knew who might be the father of her unborn child. As Roseanne and I laid into Matt for his insensitive remarks and demanded we leave, the others arrived…just in time for the cops…who’d been called by the Shop Rite manager after hearing the pregnant woman’s complaints…

Oh…did I mention the bargaining I had to do in order to go out that night after Roseanne and I were picked up by the police three weeks before after missing curfew…after meeting up with two male classmates who bought us beer…and drank with us in the woods behind the railroad track next to Finch Park? First of all, both boys had girlfriends…long-term girlfriends. There was no way I was going to do anything with either of them besides drink their beers. Roseanne had a much different mindset – she didn’t care about loyalties (hence her squandering love affair with Matt). So while I fended off Mr. Tentacles, Roseanne was MIA somewhere in the woods…and I made sure to yell out for her every minute on the minute reminding her of the time. Finally emerging from the dark, I grabbed Roseanne and told her we were leaving – no ifs, ands or buts. Not sure how much Roseanne had to drink that night, I held her arm and slowly dragged her over to North Central Avenue down to South Central Avenue – the street where we both lived, her home across the street and several houses up. Somewhere along the way, a police officer stopped us and asked us if we wanted a ride, to which I gladly accepted, not knowing what time it was and feeling the urgency of getting me and Roseanne home and into bed ASAP. Unbeknownst to us, my father had called the local police to report me missing. Did I mention how buddy-buddy dad was with the local police force? It was 1:00AM, the town curfew being 10:00PM and mine being 11:00PM…I was IN trouble. If not for Roseanne’s intoxication and drunken divulgence of her version of the story to my sister Regina while walking her home, I most definitely could’ve talked myself out of that one…

Fast forward three weeks…Shop Rite parking lot…cops…everywhere…

The next thing we knew, Roseanne and I, along with a dozen other kids, were shoved into the back seat of several different police cars, being whisked away to the Ramsey Police Department a little over a mile away. Separated into various interrogation rooms, we were questioned about the night’s events. I was fortunate enough to be cross-examined by one of my father’s best friends, who knew there was no way I was involved in whatever heinous crime that had been committed in the parking lot of the local Shop Rite (for some reason Arlo Guthrie comes to mind…). Suddenly, dad stormed through the door, insisted on my innocence and I was released without incident…no arrest for roller skating anywhere in Ramsey whatsoever

That was the last time I trick-or-treated in my life…

The debate over whether or not to celebrate Halloween was difficult for me. It was my favorite holiday as a child and, quite honestly, was still my favorite holiday right up until the year 2000, despite my “arrest record.” As the hubby and I became more and more religious after the kid entered our world, however, the idea of celebrating a holiday that is pagan in its origins and focused on death seemed every bit antithetical to Judaism being centered on the celebration of life. Fortunately for us, when the kid was 18-months-old, the decision to forego Halloween was forced upon us due to her extreme fear of strangers coming to our doorstep dressed in scary costumes and demanding candy, along with the ever-growing yearly competition we had with our next-door neighbor to come up with the scariest yard scene. We finally realized the game needed to stop when we talked about setting up the garage like a haunted house and the hubby surprising everyone by jumping out dressed like the Jersey Devil wielding a chainsaw…so that Tuesday, October 31, 2000, the kid screamed and cried and hid behind the couch the entire night…and that was it…no more death in our lives.

Throughout the years, the kid would sit in her bedroom, peaking out the window to watch the trick-or-treaters roam the neighborhood, commenting on the different costumes and rating their creativity. Sometimes she would question if she might want to try it, but would quickly change her mind each time. She didn’t even like dressing up for Purim, so why would she want to dress up for Halloween? Besides, mommy bought candy all the time – why exert the energy going door-to-door when she could just go downstairs into the kitchen and grab a handful? By the time she left for Israel in 2017, the kid was looking forward to never having to see Halloween again…until her dormmates decided to sneak out to attend a Halloween party taking place for Americans in Tel Aviv…and she was pissed…

For the past nineteen years, we have spent Halloween night hiding from death with the lights off and watching some scary movie after taping a “NO CANDY” sign on the front door as we listened to the disappointed voices of children hoping to score one more tidbit before packing it in for the night.

Three years ago, today, on Saturday, October 31, 2015, my brother Michael, the only brother I have ever known, was laid to rest. Being that is was Shabbat, I was not present for his funeral, having flown back home early the morning before. Luckily for me, there were barely a dozen passengers on that flight, allowing me an entire row to myself, where I wept the entire way home and watched the sun rise…Shamayim…

2015-10-30 06.49.35

Exactly one year later to the day, on Monday, October 31, 2016, the hubby would bury his father…

Halloween had now truly become a day of death, its novelty having worn off…

Today the hubby attended the funeral of his cousin’s husband who died the night before All Hallow’s Eve…

At this point, I could take it or leave it…

And hopefully I won’t be pissed off on October 31, 2028…

‘Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out
And everywhere they’d go, they’d shout
And though I covered my eyes, I knew
They’d go away
My Dear Country – Norah Jones

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

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

Mommy Mikey Day

bound·a·ry /’bound(ə)rē/ noun: a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

June 27, 2018

This morning I remembered the box of Cream of Wheat in the pantry that I bought to use as a thickener for a vegan soup recipe. I haven’t had Cream of Wheat in ages and couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I really needed to eat it for breakfast. As the farina came to a slow boil, I reached for the Splenda and suddenly remembered that my mom always added butter. Okay, so Earth Balance Original is not exactly butter, but it still felt like a big ole hug from mommy. Now I was ready to rock and roll and start the day feeling good.

Tired of the same old gym routine and the threat of thunderstorms making a bike ride a bad decision, I resolved to go for a walk some place close to where my car would be parked just in case the weather decided to cooperate with the forecast. That’s when I thought about Boundary Creek Natural Resource Area, the park I ventured out to on a misty rain two days before Michael died (Christmas in October, September 23, 2016). Despite all forewarning, I defied the Weather Channel and chose to head out on another misty morning almost two years later. The park, itself, was not very large with the parking lot speedily accessible no matter what trail I would be walking along.

As I drove to the outskirts of Moorestown, it dawned on me that I had never been to Boundary Creek in the summer, having only gone in the autumn several times before. This time (weather permitting) I was going to take my time and really look around, determined to read every single signage…and I did!

Boundary Creek is located along Rancocas Creek, a waterway named after the “Rankokous,” the Native American Nation of the Powhatan Renape. Starting off the Delaware River and running a little further south of Vincentown, Rancocas Creek winds through a number of major hubs in Southern New Jersey. I discovered that the park was part of a 1050 acre peach plantation originally owned by John and Grace Hollinshead, immigrants from England in the mid-17th century. At the time the southwestern counties were being settled, there were no roads, thereby creating a “riverline highway” for steamboat transportation up and down the Rancocas. John Hollinshead also owned and operated one of the steamboats.

Three hundred years later, throughout the 1980s the County Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County began acquiring land in order to preserve what are known as “green acres.” As of the early 2000s, Burlington County boasted over 3500 acres of open space and over 50,000 acres of preserved farmland, the Hollinshead property being one such acquisition in 2002. By 2004, the county began planning and designing the preservation of the natural habitat that was later named Boundary Creek Natural Resource Area. From open field grassland and succession to a vast forest area, the park has become home to hundreds of plant and animal species.

Milkweed wafting lilac scents, stately coneflower, wild raspberries beginning to ripen, bright red berries taunting the local wildlife, interesting fungus growing on a fallen tree and sweet-smelling honeysuckle.

With a multitude of mammals, herptiles, waterbirds, birds of prey, songbirds and woodpeckers, several pathways along the creek invite you to hide out and spy or just merely sit and ponder…

Finishing up the 1 1/2 miles of figure-eight trails and boardwalks, I decided to stop off at Johnson’s Corner Farm, one of mom’s favorite places to visit. The rain still holding, I thought it would be a good idea to go pick-my-own veggies and fruits – an activity with a very short window in any given year. You just can’t beat fresh organic produce grown locally and picked by your own hands. Driving out of the parking lot of Boundary Creek, I officially declared Boundary Creek to be Mikey Bro’s Farm from this day forward. I’ll be forwarding a memo to the County Board of Chosen Freeholders ASAP…

Stomach growling to remind me that I hadn’t eaten all day, I stopped at the local Wawa to purchase some hard boiled eggs, promising myself some ice cream at the farm but only after eating something healthy like a nice homegrown peach. On the way, I somehow convinced myself to go to the gym after the farm, despite my decision this morning to skip the old boring gym routine. Besides, if I was going to eat ice cream, I had to hit the gym to burn off the calories, right? Arriving at the farm, I entered the shop to purchase some produce not available for picking, particularly the peaches. I quickly scarfed down a peach to satisfy my insistence on eating something healthy before going for ice cream. As soon as I saw the list, I knew what I needed – blueberry pomegranate chocolate chip ice cream! And it was FABULOUS!

Sauntering inside to buy tickets for the hayride that would take me to the fields where I had predetermined picking my own blueberries, strawberries, snap peas and green beans, I was informed by the cashier that the tractor driving away as we speak was the last one until tomorrow. I just had to stop for that ice cream, didn’t I…argh!

F**k the gym! I didn’t need all that stuff anyway!

In the end, I found myself at the local grocery store to shop for Shabbat.

A box of Cream of Wheat started today’s journey. How funny that a simple red cardboard box filled with farina can expel a swarm of memories – our family home in Ramsey filled with fifteen years of childhood memories, my mother ever present for whatever was needed…at least most of the time for me. So where did my thoughts of Michael come in? That’s right – they both died in 2015 eight months apart…and they both died on a Tuesday…

I thank G-d that my mother didn’t have to suffer the loss of one more child…

Still seething over my inability to pick my own produce and not burning off those ice cream calories, unlike my defiance of the definite impending thunderstorms that never happened, I succumbed to G-d’s advice – sometimes you just need to not have a plan and just go with what I’ve given you…LIFE

Enough is enough…time to set that boundary…

And then a neighbor came over this afternoon to give me some strawberries in exchange for some old dishes…

“Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone
But it all works out
It doesn’t matter much to me”

Strawberry Fields – The Beatles

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

Alice through the looking glass…

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

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

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

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

 

Shiva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

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