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!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feb Five

Mile Marker 2525:

I'm not sure anyone likes February.

We even beat Chicago!
Yesterday, temps dipped to 3 degrees.  Today, we got 3 inches of snow.   That adds up to 6 more reasons to stay inside!

This weather makes it difficult to walk on my own.  The pavement is icy and unpredictable.  Wind gusts whip around the corners of buildings.  This month alone, I've racked up more money in parking garages than I care to admit, just to avoid city sidewalks!

Ironically, at the heart of February is my WALKING ANNIVERSARY:  February 11th.

From that moment on,
I had 2 feet again!
February 11, 2011 was the day I put on my prosthesis, gripped the parallel bars, and took those life-changing "second" first steps.

"Small step with the left.  Big step with the right."  Prosthetist's Tim's guiding words became my version of Neil Armstrong's message from the moon.  They marked the edge of a new frontier.

The race was on.

You've seen the replay before, but I never get tired of showing it...


Happy Walking Day!  

Balcony Cam
I'm celebrating 4 years of being back on my feet!   February 11th means freedom, but each year it falls inside the season that's most limiting.  The time when I feel least free to move about as I please.

So what are February's redeeming factors?  In the midst of this dismal, gray, windy, snowy, will-winter-ever-end month, I'm making a list:

I call it the FEB FIVE.

To kick off my 5th year of walking, I've compiled the Top 5 Reasons for Setting Foot (or Feet) Outside in February...

Reason #1:  FOOD.   Like any scavenger during the long, cold months, we're all in need of some comfort.  For me, that's found in Philly's shoveled-out corner cafés.  When my friend Jen lands unexpectedly in the city, I ford the dicey sidewalks and slushy tire tracks to meet her at Café L'Aube.  As I tiptoe through slippery remnants of the last snow, a tiny lady plows by, pushing a walker as big as she is.  (What was I complaining about again??)   We exchange smiles, resigned to be 2 fall risks who should have probably stayed home.  But inside, hot chocolate awaits.  Jen and I warm up and catch up.  I'm refueled!

Happy Whatever!
Reason #2:  FAMILY.   If you haven't yet heard of our family tradition, we celebrate Hanukkah during the Superbowl.   We're liberal with the religious stuff -- bypassing latkes in favor of pizza, meatballs, and spinach dip -- but still, every February we TRY to get together as a family.  This year, I'm not the only one held back by the winter doldrums.  The flu runs rampant through my sister's house in Vermont, so they're unable to make the trip.  We swear that next year we'll move our celebration closer to spring.   Phillies Opening Day?  Passover?  I'll keep you posted....

Reason #3:  FITNESS.  No, I'm not quite in training for an Icy Ironman.  But I am working on some new skills this winter, and they're worth leaving the house for.  At the rock climbing gym, I just got certified to belay, so that's a prime destination on my February map.  I can now pull my own weight -- and yours! -- to keep you safe while you climb.  Plus, I've found my water leg to be quite versatile on the wall.  It's flexible and easy to maneuver, and locks straight for sturdy belaying.  Let me know if you want to climb sometime!

Worth the walk!
Reason #4:  FUN.   How about a two-mile walk in 15 degrees and 40 m.p.h. winds??  Apparently I have an odd concept of fun, but when I'm with friends even the most challenging goals seem attainable!  My friend Chris and I embark on a brisk jaunt -- somewhere between a Sunday stroll and an Arctic voyage.  Three frozen feet, 2 runny noses, and 1.83 miles later, we arrive at our destination, Morning Glory Diner.  Finally... brunch!  Was it worth it?  Yes.  (See Reason #1.)   It's too cold for even a selfie, but my mouth is frozen into a permanent smile :)

Reason #5:  FIRE (IN THE SKY).   Ok, so maybe that's a stretch.  It doesn't require stepping outside; you can view it from any west-facing window.  But February sunsets are like fresh icing on a stale cupcake.  No matter how bitter the days are, they often finish brilliantly.  I spy orange beyond the trees of the Swarthmore woods and lavender seeping out from behind the city skyscrapers.  Best of all, showtime moves one minute later each evening.  It's true, February fans, the days are getting longer!  Any way you look at it, those fiery skies bring hope.

For a short month of short days, February lingers long past its welcome.  But for me, it's also a time to be thankful and mindful of all I have.  Food to warm my belly.  Family to fill me with joy.  A fit set of legs to hold me up.  Fun adventures to keep me going.  And fantastic friends to guide me over the inevitable icy patches.

It's easy to be brave with these guys around!

So what if schools are closed today, or if I'm staying inside to write this blog post?  Warmer days are just around the next windy corner.

Take that, evil sidewalks!
Only 11 days till March...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sneaky Spring

Mile Marker 2486:

It's sneaky spring!

Today's one of those days that pops up in the dead center of winter.  Out of nowhere, the biting wind turns into a cool breeze.  The sky lifts up high, an airy blue with the thinnest layer of cotton clouds.

It's a perfect walking day.

There's only one problem -- this little blister on my leg.  Yesterday, I admit I ignored the warning signs.  But winter clothes and school bathrooms aren't the best combination for making leg adjustments.  Plus there's always Murphy's Law (the prosthetic version):  A readjustment might make it worse.

So today, I'm spending a legless afternoon at home.  Insert sigh here.  At least the windows are open!

It's been a long, heavy winter, and it's only half over.  Earlier this week, that darn groundhog somehow saw his shadow.  (It must have been from the TV spotlights because on that dark rainy day, I sure couldn't see mine!)

Last night, when I watched the national news, I texted my brother Andy in Chicago.  "How are you guys doing in the snow?"  I asked.
..."Not bad."

He sent me back this photo, with a side of sarcasm...

We should take a lesson from Chicagoans, who have a funny, sunny way of facing winter.

Snow lips!
My friend Wendy shoveled out her family's backyard hockey rink, leaving a Valentine "kiss" for her husband Jim to find -- and finish!

...Don't mess with the Bumble!

And the weather may be abominable, but my friend Annie makes the most of it too...

With all the heart in that windy city, you'd think the snow would just melt already!

Despite the weight of the season -- and all the dismal things it brings with it -- Mother Nature still delivers a few surprises.

Here in Philly, we had our own snow day last week.  They'd predicted up to 22 inches with blizzard conditions, high winds, and deep drifts.  Schools were closed.  Appointments were cancelled.  The trains went on a Saturday schedule.

So I headed out, of course :)
Yet when I woke up in the morning to peer out the window, there was no snow on the ground.

By amputee standards, it was the BEST SNOW DAY ever!

I found the best parking space on the street.  I trekked the city on dry, empty sidewalks.  I tutored at Starbucks instead of the school library.  (Turns out, math is much easier to swallow with a Frappuccino!)

The dusting of snow stayed on the grass, and the crowds stayed at home.  It wasn't exactly spring -- temps hovered around 25 -- but the openness of it all felt refreshing.  There was space to breathe.

Winter's a season of confinement.  I usually stand at my windows and look skeptically at the white sidewalks.  I grind my teeth when I hear the whistling wind.  I don't dare set foot outside alone.

And instead, on our first snow day, I got a brisk walk under a hopeful pink sky.  It was my own sneaky spring.

So today, at Mile Marker 2486,  I don't mind staying in.  The windows are open.  The sun is shining.  Like winter, this leg stuff too shall pass.

Anyway, there's more snow predicted for tomorrow.  And probably for this weekend as well.  Go ahead, meteorologists.  Bring on the doom and gloom.  Because behind those weather forecasts is just the tiniest sliver of doubt.

If a blizzard can drift pass Philly with barely a dusting...
If the groundhog only sees his shadow in the light of TV crews..
If we just keep looking toward the sun...

Can spring be far away?

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!