Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

One Moment More

Mile Marker 2424:

Just after the holidays, a package arrives.

It's postmarked from Chicago and has the cheerful, curly printing of my good friend Shelley.

Inside is an assortment of little treasures:  a card with a dove of clouds, magnets that say "Yay! Chicago" and "Yay! Bacon," and a wooden bird that fits on the side of a flower pot.

There's also a Buddha Board -- a magic slate of sorts -- on which you paint water and then watch as your design slowly evaporates into peaceful oblivion.  On the box, it says "Master the Art of Letting Go."

Like all Shelley's packages, this one is full of joy, jokes, and the long-lasting bond of our friendship.  We see each other maybe once a year, but we are still as close as ever.

I arrange the presents into a small pile with a post-it note on top.  The note says, "Call Shelley."

Then things get busy.  I don't call.  I don't e-mail.  I don't text.  I promise myself I will find a moment soon.  But the pile sits there for more than a week.

And then it is too late.

Mile Marker 2440:

I am buying a plane ticket on a moment's notice.

This is not like me at all.  As an amputee, I've surrendered to the complexity of travel.  I do not just hop on a plane.

But now, I book a flight, hotel, and rental car in less than 10 minutes.  I do it without considering crutches or legs or shower chairs.

Shelley has passed away.

The news is sudden and unexpected.   Sad and unjust.  More tragic than words can explain.

I hop on a plane.

It's Shelley who usually hops on a plane.

In the bleak winter of 2010, she flew in from Chicago the day after my hospital discharge.  I was curled up on my parents' couch, doubled over with abdominal pain.  Suddenly the garage door opened, and a burst of sunshine -- a best friend from Chicago -- walked in!

"I wanted to celebrate New Year's with you!" she said.  It was New Year's Eve.

We did celebrate.  The pain subsided.  I took tentative bites of pizza.  I hobbled around on my new crutches.  We watched the ball drop as the year flipped over to 2011.  We swore it would be better than 2010.

She flew to Philly for my thousandth mile too.  Shelley never missed a milestone!

When she couldn't be there in person, Shelley sent packages and cards.

Her "paper hug" hung on my hospital wall.  Her battery-operated candles lit up my room.   Her Chicago socks marked a path to my recovery.

Celebrating Hanukkah
with Shelley's candles!
One day, just before surgery, a package from Shelley arrived.  I was headed down to the OR, but this little box couldn't wait.

"It's from Shelley!"  I said.  "I have to open it now!"

The nurses stopped my gurney mid-roll.  They gave me scissors to open the box.  We learned early on that a gift from Shelley always contained exactly the support I needed.

When I finally started walking again, Shelley sent this photo of her own feet, stepping out in Chicago.  Even long distance, she found a way to pack joy into the littlest moments.

Mile Marker 2448:

My plane lands in Chicago.

I hitch a wheelchair ride through 2 terminals to meet up with my friend Linda, who arrives a half-hour later from Omaha.

That evening, we meet up with friends Wendy and Jennie.  We telephone Alexa, who's still in Washington, D.C.  Elaine flies in around midnight.

We miss our 4th Musketeer
It's like the reunion we always wanted but never quite got around to planning.  Shelley always had a knack for bringing people together.

Over the next 2 days, I manage 2 showers in 2 different hotels.  I pack and repack.  I eat on the fly.  I stay up late and get up early.  My little leg is as moody as ever.  My socket is too tight, then too loose.  It itches and rubs and burns.

Elaine, Linda, and I toast Shelley
at one of her favorites,
Harry Caray's
But this trip is not about me.

It's about Shelley, who faced plenty of obstacles, but always rolled with them.

On this trip, I conjure up her strength, courage, and humor.   I borrow a bit of them for myself.

And like Shelley, I try to live in the moment.

Mile Marker 2450:

The funeral home is filled with friends and family.

On a side table sits a stuffed Super Grover guarding a basket of biking socks shaped like roses.

Shelley's friend Dawn sports a Bert sweatshirt, celebrating Shelley's love for the Muppets.  Another friend wears a Kermit pin.  I wear a scarf with bicycles.  And there's a whole contingency of cycling friends wearing rainbow-colored "Shagadelic" jerseys.

There's even a dorm reunion

We are like a collage of "Shelley moments."  We smile and share stories.  We laugh gently.  And we keep echoing the same words:  I can't believe she's gone.

It is inconceivable to lose someone so brimming with life.

I can still see Shelley waving from her bike along Lake Shore Drive, a pair of Cubs fuzzy dice swinging from her handlebars.

I can still hear her laughter when I first dipped my water leg into Lake Michigan.   And her adoring pride in Chicago no matter what the weather!

I can still smell her banana chocolate chip muffins baking in the oven before every final exam.

We've been friends for more than 20 years.  I could fill a thousand blog posts with our moments.

Still, they're not enough.

Mile Marker 2465:

When I finally head home, one memory resonates more than any other.

Shelley turned broken bike helmets into garden planters.

Even in the toughest moments, she always rode on the sunny side of the street.  She cheered for garlic shoots that pushed up through the snowy soil.  She celebrated when the Polar Vortex finally reached the single digits.   And she never missed a chance to help others do the same.

Shelley made the most of each moment.

She was an organ donor too.  And so, when all hope faded, her family spent many more hours at the hospital to make sure her wishes could be fulfilled.  In the end, Shelley passed on her gift of life to multiple people in the surrounding states.

Her heart -- I've heard -- lives on in Chicago.

I've been back from Chicago for one week and 15 miles so far.

The magnets from Shelley's package are hanging on my fridge.  The wooden bird perches on a plant in my bedroom.  Her dove card is displayed on my kitchen counter.

I still haven't opened the Buddha Board.   I don't think I'm ready to "Master the Art of Letting Go."

Yet these last few miles, I've found unusual comfort in each moment.

I take pleasure in dry sidewalks before the snow falls.  I wander in and out of stores, shopping for friends and family.  I enjoy my work with students.  I make time to stop for coffee.  I text friends while I'm thinking of it, before the moment passes me by.

Plus, my Christmas Cactus is in bloom.  It hasn't had a single bud in years, but now a huge pink flower is opening.  I can only imagine this is Shelley's doing.

On my way to the Jefferson garden this week, I pass a sign on the wall of a church:

Every moment counts.
I just wish we had more of them.

Thank you Shell, for bringing your love, light, and laughter into my life.  For riding with me through the fun times and the most challenging.  You are a true best friend, and I'll miss you everyday.

To see and hear some of our moments, click here for a video.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cookie Apocalypse

Mile Marker 2309:

When the apocalypse befalls us, I hope it finds me in the kitchen.  (With friends!  Who wants to handle an emergency like that alone?!)

At Mile Marker 2309, comes COOKIE APOCALYPSE -- the sequel.

Last year there were 4 bakers, 2 ovens, and 10 kinds of cookies.  This year, we have 9 bakers, 3 ovens, and more than 14 varieties of cookies!

It's become a tradition, our gathering of neighbors for an annual cookie-bake.  This year the day arrives with rain instead of snow.  But it's still perfect for a cozy day indoors.

That's Taster Mike, at the ready!
Once again, Donna takes hosting to a new level.  She sets up a work table, a cooling station, and a monstrous ingredient table.

We're well-equipped.  We've got food processors and standing mixers.  Nut crackers, zesters, and juicers.  Of course, we still wash and reuse the same set of beaters at least a dozen times!

As the storm bears down, I mix up a quick batch of Cranberry-Pumpkin Cookies.  They're moist and cakey like pumpkin bread.  In and out of the oven in no time flat.

I spend the rest of the day on my second batch:  Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Cookies.  Along the way, I change their name to "The-Batter-That-Will-Not End."   A mountain of dry ingredients fills Donna's deepest salad bowl.  The wet ingredients begin with 4 sticks of butter and multiply from there.  With everything combined, I can barely pull a wooden spoon through it!

Meanwhile, Donna mixes up Chocolate Mint Chip and an awesome hand-me-down recipe for Chocolate-Chip Cherry Oatmeal Walnut (a.k.a. "Martha's Cookies").

Chillin while the dough
is chillin!
Jasmine's Rugelach and Shortbread both require chilling.  That's a mandatory time-out for her!

Sarah makes Chai and Rooibos Shortbread with tea mixed from scratch.  Manali bakes up Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with an extra "kiss."

Helen's got Chocolate Stuffed Peanut Butter and Russian Tea Cakes bookmarked on her tablet.

Kristin brings the Frangelico and cracks open an entire bag of hazelnuts.  She turns them into Turtle Cookies and Chocolate Hazelnut Spiced Cookies.

Check out the apron :)
And Rupesh stirs up his famous biscotti with a chocolate twist.

We're all at the same table, but our cookies are as different as snowflakes.  No two trays come out alike.

Hey, save that Frangelico for the cookies!

Real food!
Midway through the day, Mike calls in reinforcements.

Some of us are stickier
than others!

By evening, all of us are sticky with sugar and exhaustion.

When the flour settles, we've got a very FESTIVE SPREAD!

After 9 hours of standing, both my legs are about to give out.  So I grab a chair, settle back, and let friends pile up my loot.

I've come a long way since Angry Cookies.   But baking is still just what the doctor ordered.

It's a surefire way to calm an anxious mind and renew a fractured spirit.  As I measure and pour, beat and stir, the flavors meld and transform.  Chaos becomes order.   Predictability becomes comfort.   And the results, well, I hope they speak for themselves!

In this crazy world, I'm never sure what my best defense will be.  But I do know one thing.

If the apocalypse comes, I'll be armed with oven mitts!

Get ready for the apocalypse -- or at least the holidays!
Here's our 2104 Cookie Roster.  Click to try the recipes...

Russian Tea Cakes
Chocolate Stuffed Peanut Butter Cookies
Chocolate Almond Biscotti
Turtle Cookies
Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies
Raspberry and Apricot Rugelach
Jasmine Tea Shortbread (Made by Jasmine, of course!)
Vanilla Rooibos Tea Cookies
Chai Shortbread with Sea Salt
"Martha's Cookies" -- Chocolate-Chip Cherry Walnut Oatmeal
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (Manali says add a Hershey Kiss on the top of each one.)
Chocolate Hazelnut Spiced Cookies (Kristin says double the orange ingredients.)
Cranberry-Pumpkin Cookies
Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink Cookies (I say throw in some pretzel pieces too!  Yum!!)

Don't get caught unprepared!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shades of Winter

Mile Marker 2270: 

For most people, GREEN is the color of spring.  But if you're from Philly, you know it means late fall.

Mark and I kick off Mile 2270 at the Eagles game.   The crowd is a sea of green and hundreds of fans thick.

As we near the security checkpoint, I whisper to Mark, "Do you think I should tell them about Genie?"

He shakes his head.  "If they ask, just pull up your pant leg."

Incredibly, they don't ask.  Metal detector in hand, a woman traces the outline of my entire body -- arms, legs, and torso -- without a beep or a second look.  "Go ahead," she waves us through.

I raise my eyebrows at Mark, who's stifling a laugh.

"Not such a great metal detector,"  I say once we're a safe distance away.

"Maybe they only turn it on for certain people," he jokes.  "Keeps the line moving."

It's a green light start to the day.  The weather's perfect, prosthetically speaking.  Mid 50's.  Too warm for volume loss;  too cool for sweating.

We descend the concrete steps to our seats in the corner of the end zone.

... and our other team too.
(Check out the blue ads!)
We stand.  We sit.  We cheer for our E-A-G-L-E-S...

We even run into my friend Tammy!

Who says it's not easy bein' green?

Thanks to Jodie for the invite!!
Mile Marker 2279:  

A few days later, I'm off to explore another Philly tradition:  Winterfest at Penns Landing.

My friend Jasmine and I follow a trail of WHITE LIGHTS into the winter wonderland.

I pick my way carefully over the yellow straw, only once launching into a full-fledged stumble.  Luckily Jasmine grabs me before I go down!

It's surprisingly comfortable!
We bypass the skating rink but find an armchair built from hay bales.

We round out the evening with a cup of Mexican hot cocoa by the firepits.  By the time we head home, we smell like a campfire and feel like one too.

Cozy and light, with the promise of more winter fun to come.

Mile Marker 2292:

A week later, Mom and I see RED.

At Target, we gather Hanukkah goodies from boots to toys to housewares.  Pushing a shopping cart makes it easier to walk.  It's like using a walker with wheels!

But the highlight of our trip comes in the check-out line.

Sure, why not?!
As the cashier fills our bags, she glances from Mom's face to mine.

"Sisters?" she asks.

It makes Mom's day.  And mine too.  Today it feels like it might just be true.

Holiday cheer not from Santa, but from a woman in a red shirt!

Mile Marker 2300:

I'm trying to walk every day, but some days are brighter than others.

The red marks on my leg tell a different story than the holiday lights.  Each morning I adjust my socket, trying to relieve the newest pressure points.

Despite the colors elsewhere, the hazy GRAY of winter hangs over my head.  Cold wind.  Icy sidewalks.  Snowbanks along the curbs.  I know it's coming.  Fear.  Loss of independence.  Being unable able to walk when I want, where I want.  (You knew there was a catch, right?)

Walking itself is a GIFT.

So I've been trying to make the most of it.

When my leg hurts, I distract myself.  Stop at stores along the way.  Snap photos of the decorations.  Inhale the chilly air.

I even bribe myself.  Nine blocks for a latté.  Hey, whatever works!

I'm out for one of these walks when I see friends Donna and Mike coming toward me.  They're like a poster for the holidays -- toting a bright red shopping bag from our city's newest department store.

Donna suggests strolling through the lights on Jeweler's Row.

"Oh, wait," she says.  "Is your leg ok for that?"

Surprisingly, it is.  "It's a lot better with friends around," I tell her.

Jeweler's Row is worth the extra few blocks.  With its MULTI-COLORED LIGHTS, it's a perfect end to this blog post!

You got this, dude!

One store window catches my eye.   It has tiny figures building snowmen and exchanging gifts.  My favorite little guy is pushing his car out of a snowdrift.

I call it shopping season!
Technically winter hasn't started yet, but this is the part I love.  When there's more anticipation than actual snow on the ground!

On our way home, the sun fades below the buildings.  The sky turns blue, then lavender, then violet.

The colors change before our eyes.