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!

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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Harvest Time

Mile Marker  2266:

The first time I stepped outside in my prosthesis, I nearly blew over.
That’s right.  I waved goodbye to Prosthetist Tim, pushed open the glass door of his office, and a gusty breeze did the rest.
“Watch out for the wind!” Tim called after me.  Famous last words.
That was 3½ years ago.  Spring 2011.  Back then, I was like a brand-new sapling.  Easily shaken.  Unsteady on my feet.  Fragile in body and mind.

On the hardest days, I wondered whether my roots would ever survive in this new soil.
Even the wind could blow me away.

At Mile Marker 2266, I'm hit by another gust.

This time it's an uneventful day.  I'm just crossing Sansom Street to check on my Healing Garden at Jefferson Hospital.   That's when I step off the curb into a wind tunnel, the kind that whips down narrow streets and between tall buildings.  (If you live in the city, you know what I mean!) 
Leaves scatter.  Plastic bags fly.  My jacket flips open.  Hair stings my eyes.  For a split second, it takes every ounce of energy to stay on my feet.
Then I recover.  Push the hair out of my face.   Regain my rhythm.  Keep walking.
I'm not a sapling anymore.  
After 4 years, I can finally say my roots are firmly planted.  This season, my branches reach out in all directions.  I’m not just growing.  I’m ready to HARVEST!
I push through Jefferson’s revolving door and ride the elevator to the 8th floor.  My steps are swift and confident.   Each visit here is like a pencil mark on the kitchen wall.  This is the place where my growth feels most real.
The Surgical Waiting Area is a large windowed room filled with families waiting for their loved ones to come out of surgery.  Chairs are clustered in groups.  There are wooden cubbies for coats and bags, board games and restaurant menus.  In the center sits my Healing Garden.


“Rebecca…” Crystal calls from the reception desk.  “Somebody’s been waiting for you!”
She gestures to a woman with long braided hair sitting in a chair by the door.   I go over and introduce myself.
The woman tells me how much she likes the garden, especially the air plants suspended in their glass globes.  She tells me how her own home is filled with plants in every window and every room.  Then she pulls out her phone and shows me photos.  Lots of them.
People often talk to me when I’m taking care of the garden.  Usually they share a piece of their own story:  who they’re waiting for, how long it’s been, or what they hope the outcome will be.  But this woman doesn’t reveal any of that.  She just tells me about her plants and how much she enjoys them.

After a while, she asks if she can take home a plant from my garden.  “I’ll take good care of it,” she promises.  “I’ll name it Jefferson.”
A plant named Jefferson!  I love it!
I want to give her one, but I'm stuck.  The plants are in ceramic pots woven among leaves and pumpkins.  Taking one out would leave an empty spot.

And there aren’t that many.  It’s just a small garden really, barely 5 feet in length.  Truly I don't have a plant to spare.

Gently, I tell her so.  Then I go over to fill my watering can.
After I've tended to all the plants, I notice a little pot on the other side of the reception desk.  When I gave the garden its fall makeover last month, I intended to give that plant to a patient’s family.  But somehow it got left behind.

Carefully, I drizzle the remaining water into it.  Then I carry it over to the woman by the door.
"He looks like a Jefferson, don’t you think?” I say.
It's a simple houseplant with round green and white leaves.  The pot is plastic and nothing fancy.  But she's ecstatic!

“Did you know this is related to a rubber tree plant?”  she asks me.
I did not.
I pack my watering can into a file drawer behind the desk.  As I head out, I exchange smiles with Crystal.  We can both feel happiness radiating from the woman.  Jefferson is going to a good home.

I have always loved Thanksgiving.  Four years ago, it passed me by while I was in the hospital, and it seems I'm still making up for lost time.

Last year's crew!
With every step, I'm rediscovering what makes me happy, thankful, and satisfied.

I go home that day and decorate more flower pots.  Fill them with soil and clippings and greens.  So when I return to Jefferson later in the week, I've got a boxful of plants to deliver to patients on the unit where I spent Thanksgiving 4 years ago.

With a whole lot of nurturing, my roots took hold.  And for that, I'll always be THANKFUL.  Now it's harvest time!  What surplus do I have?  What capacities to share?

I'm ready to GIVE.


And it turns out, I've got quite a bounty.
Wishing you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mind the Gap

Mile Marker 2230:

Four years ago today, after a week of surgery and sedation, I woke up in Jefferson Hospital’s 7th floor SICU.  I know it was November 16th because I can still picture the date scrawled on the white board across from my bed.

"When’s Veteran's Day?"  I asked my family over and over.

I knew I'd been in an accident.  I knew my leg had been amputated.  I knew my body was stiff with tape and I could barely move.  But in that medicated fog, what I couldn't figure out was how I'd somehow missed November 11th!

Why was I so hung up on that particular day?  At the time, there was a lot riding on it.  On the Tuesday of the accident, I had a "To-Do" list a mile long.  Our school was about to undergo state compliance monitoring.  As the Special Ed Coordinator, I’d been spearheading the preparation effort for over a year.  And that week, I still had one major task:  to complete a video presentation about our program.

I had planned to put it all together that Thursday -- Veterans Day.  I'd been counting on that extra day off from school.

When I woke up on the 16th, that day had disappeared.

My case isn’t unique.  I’ve heard stories from people who were out much longer than I was.  My friend Rob, injured in an accident in August 2001, was unconscious through the events of 9/11.  In mid-September, he literally woke up to a different world!

Maybe it's a step in adjusting to my New Normal, but this year's anniversary finds me minding those gaps.   Not just that one missing week.  I mean the REAL GAPS.  The space that still exists between my life "before" and my life "after."

On the east edge of Philly, the Ben Franklin Bridge divides the river and the sky.  It stretches from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, towering 380 feet above the Delaware.

There's a walking path along it.  And this November 9th, I decide to try it.  If we make it to the other side, we will have walked 9,573 feet  – 1.8 miles.  If we double back, it'll be closer to 4 miles!

Like all events these days, walking the bridge is a last minute decision and "leg-dependent."   A team somehow materializes.  Friends.  Mom, Dad, and Mark.  PT Julie and her daughter Alaina.

At 10 a.m., we decide it's a go.

Early-bird Donna and her running pals were nice enough to mark our trail...


I follow the chalk messages like a treasure hunt.   


Wouldn't you??








Talk about motivation!

The half-mile stroll from my apartment to the bridge flies by!



At the foot of the bridge, we gather for a photo.  The Ben Franklin is a fixture in our neighborhood, but most of us have never crossed it on foot.  Today we're all ready for an adventure!

Happy Anniversary!

We start the uphill climb, rising above 4th Street, then 3rd, then 2nd...

If I squint to the south, I can just make out the yellow chairs on my balcony, blurred against the bricks.


The Race Street Pier rolls by below us, a collage of autumn leaves. 



And suddenly, we’re over water!

We walk the width of the Delaware River from 20 stories above.  I stop to gaze upward at this dizzying, amazing structure!

Jack likes this hike a lot better...
and I agree!


The bridge is an incline, but the walk isn't overly strenuous.  Not by last year's standards anyway -- when we hiked the slippery waterfalls of Rickett’s Glen


I'm in a different place this year, physically and emotionally.  This year's challenge isn't just survival.  It's to BRIDGE the old and the new.  The "before" and "after."

To build a bridge, you've gotta have a strong foundation!
Here's mine!

In the weeks leading up to this walk, I had a disturbing dream.  I was up on a bridge high above a river, on a walkway of concrete planks.  Between those planks were huge gaps.   To get from one section to another, I had to jump.  But I knew I’d never make it.  The spaces missing were much too wide.

And anyway, my friends
would never let me fall!
At Mile 2230,  I notice the Ben has gaps in its concrete too.   As we make our way across, my sweaty liner slips and my footwork gets sloppier.  I trip several times, catching my Genium’s foot on the edge of those openings.  Luckily, they're only inches apart!

But it reminds me of what happens when I try to bridge my "before" and "after."   I do stumble.  Frequently.  My leg gives out before the rest of me.  There's a gap between what I want to do, and what I actually can.  They're like two ends of a bridge that never quite touch.

I don't have to tell you that bridges are full of metaphors.  And this particular bridge -- on this particular day -- is fuller than most.

When you peer out over the water, you can see other bridges in both directions:  the Walt Whitman to the south, the Betsy Ross to the north.

I learned that from my PTs!
That's a handy thing about bridges.  If one is closed, you can usually find another.  It's become a way of life for me.  There are alternate ways to do almost anything!

Over the last 4 years, I've watched a few of my own bridges close down, but I've watched many more go up.  They're like highways zooming out in all directions.  A web of relationships, a network of support and care.  They connect me to people and places I never knew existed just 4 years ago.

But I feel like I've known
them FOREVER!
At least half of our group today is from my life AFTER!

On this bridge the ends do meet.  And they get along swimmingly!


After a brief stop on the Jersey side, we turn around to head -- Where else? -- back toward Philly.

The bridge vibrates as a train roars by on the tracks beneath us.  Here's our version of the High-Speed Line...

video

(You can always count on Mark for special effects!)

By the time we reach Philadelphia, my prosthesis is dangling, my gait is terrible, and I've set a distance record in my new socket.  But most importantly, we've crossed that bridge!

4 YEARS!

So whatever did happen to Veterans Day?

I can't really let it go without proper acknowledgement.  Let's just say from my new vantage point, it's grown from a school holiday to a day to honor some of the bravest people I know.

Pisey
Their strength,






Miles

their spirit,





and Mike
and the way they always stand tall.








I'm ready to make up for lost time.
Build bridges.  Keep walking.


And fill the gaps along the way. 

Love & thanks to all who've helped me "rebuild" these last 4 years!  Couldn't have made it this far without you!