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
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September 16, 2016

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

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September 15, 2017

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

Over the past week, this mother turkey and her chick have been visiting my bird feeders every morning. Each day I have attempted to snap a photo without success. But today, she 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

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When to say no…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving on a Jet Plane – John Denver

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

nice great success…

“nice great success…”

What wonderful words to see first thing on my trek around the Cooper River. I thought to myself, “Wow! It’s so awesome to see such a positive message coming from today’s graffiti artists!” But then I made the mistake of Googling the words to see what came up…

nice

Borat…I loathe him. He is the most disgustingly foul and negative little man that ever flashed across a movie screen. Choosing to pretend I never looked it up, I’d rather continue believing there are people out there creating random acts of artistic kindness who want to help the world around them feel good about life once in awhile…

Otherwise, the graffiti wall has grown layers of colorful messages over the summer…

…an old dying tree had a few things to say before it goes – tree hieroglyphics, perhaps…

…and my shadow decided to climb the dead tree…

Overall, it was a nice little ride on a beautiful blue-sky day…

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Thinking about random acts of kindness, I had a discussion with one of the owners of the local liquor store about truth, honesty and idealism. This particular friend loves to play with my naivete. One of the first conversations I had with him, he told me he was on his fifth wife and had a multitude of children from various different women – and I “believed” him (he’s been married to the same woman for decades and they have three kids together). Over the past eight years, I’ve “learned” to take whatever he says with a grain of salt. Our discussion began with him showing me a “cheap $3.99 a bottle kosher rose wine” he just got in and said was “the best one I’ve ever had.” His greatest gift is that he can bull shit like no other and keep a completely straight face – that’s when he catches me. And, of course, he loves laughing at my gullibility and lets me off the hook (mostly because I’m probably his best customer). I explained to him of my belief that most human beings are decent, honest people, to which he mockingly chuckled and proceeded to show me a video of the guy who tried to rip off the store last night. I was surprised when he told me how often it happens – hence his belief that most people are stupid and dishonest. I get it – as a social worker and a lawyer, I and the hubby worked with some truly horrible human beings, leaving us both very cynical about the world around us. But then he started to tell me about the Hurricane Harvey donation drive he volunteered with until late last night. To the point of tears, he told me how overwhelmingly generous people were in helping the victims in Texas – hundred and thousands of dollars worth of items filling two whole semi-trailer trucks! That’s when I asked him again about how sure he was that most human beings aren’t good…and he conceded…random acts of kindness strikes again!

Reminds me of the time my father gave money to a homeless man outside a local Shop Rite store. Dad decided to play spy when the man went into the store, so he could see what the money would be spent on…a package of Oreos. Dad approached the man, told him he was going to buy him lunch, took him to the diner counter inside the store and bought him whatever he wanted – a full blown turkey dinner. Who knows how much it cost (and who cares). Now, when I see people asking for money on the street, I give them food and water. Dad was that human being I know exists in this world…and I hope to live up to his expectations.

I am gullible because idealism resides in my soul. I know I’m not perfect, but positive vibes feel a helluva lot nicer than the negative ones. Give others the benefit of the doubt – walk in their shoes – think about those times you weren’t at your best and how others perceived you. Remember, although we’re all born “pure,” we’re not perfect, but G-d don’t make junk. And smile more – it takes less muscles and creates less wrinkles…and it just feels good.

“Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you”

Honesty – Billy Joel

“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_094039585IMG_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…

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…

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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:

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Umm…how did this make me feel?!

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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…

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’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…

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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

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 managed to lick and heal its wounds…

IMG_20170820_094039585IMG_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…

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 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,” 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 a drug addict who drained my bank account forcing me to live off my co-workers/friends, returning to New Jersey to live with another addicted person until begging mom to take me back and subsequently attending 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 two years – #igotthis…worn to the last thread…reason #3…

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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:

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Umm…how did this make me feel?!

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September 2015 – My Gump Ride beginning

The road may have been closed, but on a bicycle one could ride the trails and reach the intended destination!

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

http://www.smithvillemansion.org/

A once vibrant community abandoned…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…

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’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 own young adulthood, I’m not worried…or so my anxiety tells me…

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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 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…

“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

Take me out to the ball game

Since 2014, every summer we are graciously invited to attend a Philadelphia Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia by a colleague of the hubby’s. The hubby being a New York Mets fan, we always go to the Phillies vs. Mets game.

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Three of those summers we had the luxury of watching the game from a corporate suite. Last year the hubby got sick, so I took the kid and two of her friends to the game – sat right behind home plate.

Suffice it to say, I could care less about baseball – the hubby and the kid are the sports fans. But don’t get me wrong – I completely appreciate the gift of being able to attend an event that many other people will never get to experience in a lifetime. And I always root for the hubby’s team because it gives him hope when they win (they are the Mets after all). However, I like socializing with the hubby’s co-workers and colleagues and love to people watch (the free beer doesn’t hurt either), so while the game is in full force, I go exploring…

Michael LOVED baseball. He knew everything and anything there was to know about the sport – its history, the names of all the teams, the players and all their stats, every schedule…everything. He went to games as often as possible or watched it religiously on t.v. He collected baseball cards his entire life. Baseball was his passion. Needless to say, every summer I think about how much I wish Michael could be our fourth guest…

So, in case you didn’t notice, I’ve given up on the 52 week photo challenge as the subjects became more and more difficult. I don’t mean that I gave up because it was too hard and I just didn’t feel like trying. I gave up because the subjects were not possible on my crappy little smartphone. I also realized that I simply like taking photos of what’s going on around me at any given moment and don’t really feel the need to look for subjects I really don’t care about. I may not care about baseball, but documenting the experience was spontaneous and fun. Michael would’ve loved it…

P.S. The Mets won!

“Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names.
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along,
Good and strong.”

Edward Meeker

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

“I am Groot!”

The heat has finally subsided and Ole Bessie was begging to go for a ride. I’ve enjoyed looping the river lately and stopping along the way to explore…

First loop: flood trails, parasitic silly string, colorful wildflowers, multitudes of bindweed and skies not quite sure they’re finished with the rain.

Second loop: kids sailing camp, a shoreline that didn’t exist after last week’s flooding, sailboats waiting for their owners to return, the Philly skyline, wild blueberries, bikes owned and bikes for sale.

Out of all these finds, I was fascinated by the “parasitic silly string.” After Googling images for some time, I come to learn that this strange looking organism is known as dodder:

“Dodder is a true parasite that lacks the ability to make its own chlorophyll, so it attaches itself to other plants to steal theirs. It begins life normally, as a seed that germinates in the soil. The brightly neon-colored stem that emerges will die quickly if it can’t reach another plant. But if it does find a victim, it attaches itself to the poor plant, breaks away from its original root system, and digs into the host with tiny root-like structures called haustoria. Then it flourishes as it sucks moisture and nutrients from the host.”

http://www.gardensalive.com/product/dodder-the-parasitic-silly-string-weed/you_bet_your_garden

After reading this, I immediately thought, “That’s what anxiety feels like!” The Bully (as we so fondly refer to it in our household) slowly incubates in the brain waiting for that perfect moment of vulnerability. If ignored properly, The Bully slowly “dies” – at least until it finds the next accessible opportunity. But if allowed to attach itself, The Bully burrows into your brain and absorbs all rational thought. Anxiety is a parasite.

And then there’s Groot…

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On my third and last loop around the river, I caught something in my peripheral vision – a word bubble that appeared to say, “I am groovy.” On close inspection, I recognized it as an old Camden County Park sign, faded and worn, it’s presentation of a tree now leafless and barely recognizable. Sprouting from the leafless tree, the word bubble stated, “I am Groot!” I definitely needed to look this one up!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groot

FYI – I’m really out of the whole movie/t.v. loop…I mean really out of it. Not only did I not know about Guardians of the Galaxy, I am absolutely clueless to its cast. For those of you who are as clueless as me, in a nutshell, created by Marvel Comics in 1960, Groot is a strange tree-looking alien who used to abduct humans for experimentation. However, after five decades of earthling research, Groot was reintroduced as a superhero in 2006. According to legend, he is very resilient, having the power to regenerate himself when “killed.” It was believed that Groot had no form of communication because all he ever says is, “I am Groot.” But it was later divulged that his was actually a highly intelligent language that could only be understand as “I am Groot” to those who could not translate (i.e., us dummies). I like this concept – a creature who previously allowed his Bully to take over his entire being to the point that he became The Bully, but through reclamation he managed to overcome and fight back. Groot is you!

So the next time you feel The Bully taking over, just shout out loud, “I AM GROOT!”

(P.S. Ignore the strange looks you may get…keep ’em guessing!)

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

 

 

A little local history

Nothing too exciting going on these days. Between the rain, the heat and preparing the kid for her year in Israel, not much bike riding has been happening lately. However, last Sunday the hubby took the kid to Brooklyn and I took Ole Bessie out for a spin.

I decided to stay local and explore some of the parks along the Cooper River, one of which I’ve been hearing about but never visited – Jake’s Place.

https://www.buildjakesplace.org/#ourmission

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Jake died at the age of two as the result of a rare cardiac condition. In honor to his memory, Jake’s family created a specially designed all-inclusive playground that allows children of all abilities to play, regardless of physical limitations. The playground and its surrounding area was jam packed with parents and their kids enjoying the beautiful day.

Jake’s Place is situated within Wallworth Park, named after Joseph Wallworth, a local politician during the early part of the 20th century.

http://www.dvrbs.com/People/CamdenPeople-JosephWallworth.htm

The park also houses Croft Farm, its surrounding buildings, including the Croft Farm Arts Center, Wallworth Pond, Evans Lake, a nature trail and the Kay-Evans House, an 18th-century dwelling situated along the Underground Railroad.

Colorful wildflowers, geese wading on the dam and a sustainable garden with whimsical artwork – I was truly enjoying myself!

The Kay-Evans House is named for the original and subsequent owners, Isaac Kay and Thomas Evans, both of whom farmed the area and ran a mill on the river.

https://www.americantrails.org/nationalrecreationtrails/trailNRT/Croft-Farm-Cherry-Hill-NJ.html

Taking advantage of the perfect weather, I headed to my go-to place…

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There are a number of sculptures dotted along the shoreline that I have often photographed but never researched – a dog pig headed stick figure and the floating shark fins. After some Googling, I soon discovered the local artist who created them, John Giannotti:

http://www.southjerseymagazine.com/articles/?articleid=395

Another building I’ve ridden by numerous times is the Hopkins House, built and owned by a man named Ebenezer Hopkins. Although the Hopkins family is a well-known name in the Haddonfield, New Jersey area, not much is known about the man who lived in this house, but it’s believed to have been his retirement home. More recently, local historians were capable of stopping developers from altering the building, thereby maintaining its antiquity.

Meanwhile, back at the yacht club, the river returned to normal and I got to poke around a few…until I noticed the sign that said, “Members Only!” Oops…

I found a lone wheelchair on one dock and a pair of sneakers on the other outside the boathouse. I’ve always wanted to try kayaking, but my fear of the unknown (or feeling embarrassed due to my sporting ignorance or thinking I’m too fat to fit inside or tipping it over and drowning myself because I can’t turn right-side up or just plain trepidation that has no rational thought whatsoever) always holds me back. Watching the sneakerless kayaker floating down the river as a blue heron glided not 10 feet from her vessel, seeing that wheelchair told me it was time to get over it…

I had a wonderful time alone, just slowly looping around the river for two hours and stopping whenever something caught my eye. Thankfully, the hubby and the kid had a nice day too.

Today was just as beautiful as last Sunday, but we were heading north for my father-in-law’s unveiling. Waking up with the sunrise to get ready, I crept outside to water my flowers in the quiet stillness of the morning air – and then…

Dammit! That sound to me is loudest when I can’t go for a bike ride. I can hear it a mile away. It stops me dead in my tracks, staring enviously at the rider as he passes by. It’s like hearing the ice cream truck caroling up the block but you have no cash or hearing your friends playing joyfully outside your window but you’ve got the flu. Needless to say, this was a day we had planned for almost a year and Ole Bessie would just have to wait until tomorrow…and, of course, it’s supposed to rain…

“So forget all your duties oh yeah
Fat bottomed girls they’ll be riding today
So look out for those beauties oh yeah”

Bicycle Race – Queen

 

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

Watch out for the under toad!

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

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

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

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

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…the bike trail was non-existent…

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and the Veteran’s Park was flooded out…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flood – Katie Melua

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

Summer camp revisited

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

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

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

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

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

Golf Cart

Every year we would dress up for our final staff meeting before the campers arrived . At my final meeting we wore our pajamas, messed up our hair, taped fake telephone messages all over our bodies and wrapped telephone cords along with the handsets around our necks. Sitting at our desks and making/receiving phone calls was pretty much all we ever did at that point, barely seeing the light of day from our windowless hole-in-the-wall office often used for excess storage. Some of my fondest memories are of Cheryl driving me and various other individuals driving 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…

Photo Challenge

Week 23 – Technical: F/8 Portrait – “Shoot a portrait using an aperture setting of F/8…[finding] a way to isolate your subject other than shallow depth of field.”

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I don’t have a camera and I’m technologically challenged, so I just took a “portrait” of my little kitty using vignette as a “shallow depth of field.” Yeah, I cheated…so what?! She looks so contemplative…what could she be thinking?

Week 24 – Artistic: Green –  “Your inspiration this week is green…the color of life, nature and hope.”

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Sun bleached and chalky white with hints of prior greenery, this frog sat at my parents pool for 24 years. I swam in that pool as a single gal, eventually sharing it with my soon-to-be husband, as well as my baby to come ten years later. My entire family and their families and our friends swam in that pool summer after summer – all with the little quickly fading frog fondly looking over us. It’s the same pool the kid and I would miss those eight summers of camp. When my sisters and I moved my parents to their final home in 2012 (the same week that Cheryl passed), for some reason I decided to take that frog – perhaps to remind me of those summers we had as a family at the ole swimming hole…or maybe to keep as a reminder of those summers we didn’t…either way, I repainted him bright green and now he fondly looks over my garden.

“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