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…

2015-09-16-11-38-45

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

 

 

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

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

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.

dolly.jpg

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…

2015-09-16-11-38-45
September 16, 2015
img_20160916_100406873_hdr
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…?

IMG_20170915_082703994
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…

IMG_20170904_131243188

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

IMG_20170904_121550090

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:

img002

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

Time heals all wounds

 “I believe time wounds all heels.” – John Lennon

In my travels over the past week, the old saying of “time heals all wounds” comes to mind for several reasons. The first stems from a number of properties along my various routes that were once controlled by humans but have since been abandoned. After many years of injury and insult, I discovered that our planet has somehow managed to lick and heal its wounds…

IMG_20170820_094039585

IMG_20170820_094020699_HDR

About three or four years ago, the above property was occupied by a house, a manicured lawn and several human beings, but a raging fire burned the house down to the ground and the owners were forced to evict. Over the years I watched as the property was sold several times from one human to the next, the house razed and the lawn gone wild. In a matter of two years, this “property” grew back to its natural state (except for the occasional mow by its current human owner).

In January of this year, I stopped at the former (and now abandoned) miniature golf course along the Cooper River and this is what it looked like…

IMG_20170104_115010177IMG_20170104_115359441

This is what it looked like this week…

IMG_20170824_105658428 (2)

…and this is what it looked like when we moved here seven years ago…

golf

It’s moments like this when I truly believe our beloved planet Earth will repair itself long after we’re gone…and cycling is the only way I would have noticed.

Last Sunday we had perfect weather for a bike ride. I left first thing in the morning and didn’t come home until dinner time. First stop, mom’s favorite market:

That peach was the best peach I’ve ever eaten! When I’m at Johnson’s Corner Farm is when I miss mom the most…but not in a sad way – it’s more like a “DAMMIT, mom would love the produce today! And look at those pies!” My second reason for time heals all wounds – teary eyes are created from happy memories, not necessarily sadness. I always stop here on my route through Burlington County and take a look around…for mom…because I know she’s looking with me.

As I was leaving, I ran into a fellow cyclist and shouted, “The perfect stop!” to which he responded, “I love this stop!” Agreed, my man!

Next door to Johnson’s is Roselli’s Italian Market – yup, that Roselli’s, as in the tomato sauce you see on the shelf in the pasta aisle in Shop Rite…

sauce

Mom used to love shopping here as well. If it was kosher, I’d be buying everything off the shelf! On this trip I discovered that they closed their old shop and opened a new one on the same property. Mom would’ve been so excited!

And their property doubles as farmland…Earth repair thyself!

Next stop, the local Wawa where I met a man and his wife from Bucks County Pennsylvania biking the local trails. As we talked, the husband asked me about riding alone, to which I explained to him my preference to ride alone – I go at my own pace and stop wherever I like, I don’t have to hold conversations or entertain my guests and I can be spontaneous depending on how I feel. At first the husband was agreeable, but quickly turned to the dangers of my lone riding…and, of course, this is the first thing I thought of (mostly because I read her story):

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5554692

I also thought of Christopher McCandless – the young man who was the subject of Into the Wild. I read the book after seeing the movie for the first time. Funny thing is that after reading the book and after every time I’ve watched the movie, I’m pissed off that he traveled alone and had no experience whatsoever. Every time I think, “What the f**k was he thinking?!” And then I think about my own lone cycling. What the f**k am I thinking?! Rationale says, “Oh, you know where you are and have the experience to know what you’re doing,” which is true. I’ve had those lone traveling moments as a young adult – moved to Arizona at age 18 with no prospects except Michael’s apartment, met and lived with a drug addict who drained my bank account forcing me to live off my co-workers and friends, returning to New Jersey to live with another addicted person until begging mom to take me back. I subsequently attended University College, Galway at age 22 not knowing a single soul there. Reminds me of a favorite hand-me-down tee shirt I had that represented my life over the past years – #igotthis…worn to the last thread – reason #3 – all great challenges can be overcome in time…

10397845_582098905236125_5251085232134353614_n

After asking me where I was heading next (and ignoring fatherly advice), I told the husband and wife that I was thinking of heading to Smithville…and this is what I found:

IMG_20170820_124453606

Umm…how did this make me feel?!

2015-09-16-11-38-45
September 2015 – My Gump Ride beginning

There’s way too many bridges in need of attention in Burlington County. The road may have been closed, but on a bicycle one could ride the trails and reach the intended destination anyway!

I’ve been to this property on several occasions and find different perspectives every time:

http://www.smithvillemansion.org/

Although the main mansion and adjacent houses are on museum display, a once vibrant community has been abandoned for decades…and the Earth repaired itself once again…

After several hours of hugging the planet and feeling groovy about my carbon footprint, I realized that this was one of those days when I forgot about the the trip home – that’s when the Little Voice takes over to tell me how foolish I am and my body decides to listen to the Little Voice and shut down…

Muscles seizing, hands and feet aching, head spinning and lungs refusing to function as expected, thinking I couldn’t make it home, this is what I saw out of the corner of my eye…

IMG_20170820_133727692_HDR

’nuff said…

In sixteen days the kid will be traveling alone to Israel for the next ten months. She’s been there, done that four times without me (albeit, not as long). Contemplating my life at age 18, I’m not too worried…or so my anxiety tells me…

IMG_20170820_100428359

Are you open or are you closed?! The kid’s plans change daily at this point. I get why, but by her age I was graduated, working full time, living on my own and facing life’s circumstances head on – paying rent and bills, getting ripped off, living with addiction. And while I was living that life, in a far away land the hubby was in the army…I need to believe she’ll be okay…

I know she’ll figure it out – we all did…which leads me to reason #4 and the purpose of this blog – as I ride Old Bessie, taking photos of my exploits on my crappy smartphone and blogging about my travels, I find that time (and writing) has been helping to heal my wounds…and that cycling has been wounding my heel…

A sense of humor – that’s what it takes to get through the day. Last week a community member’s sister passed from lung cancer. I spoke with him at length about his sister’s ordeal and how difficult it is to watch a human life literally waste away. Calling to ask about providing shiva meals, I asked my friend if anyone eating had any kind of allergies, to which he replied, “Oh, yeah, pork…” I chuckled hesitantly, not sure if he was serious…”and shellfish.” I thanked my friend for breaking the tension and applauded him for his ability to look death in the eye with mocking laughter. Michael would’ve done the same.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace”

Imagine – John Lennon

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

Summer camp revisited

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

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

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

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

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

Golf Cart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sailing through life

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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

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

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

IMG_20160711_183712409~2 - Copy

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

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

Sailing – Christopher Cross

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