A Trip to Africa

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What can I say about a dream come true?  Shall I say that I spent most of my life believing my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled?  I lived much of my early years longing for the things that others had.  The thing about my longings is that it kept me out of the loop. There’s an unspoken presumption that it was beyond my reach. Growing up I heard about the trips to Florida my classmates took.  I longed to audition for a traveling high school production of Godspell, but had to work, and couldn’t afford to take time off, let alone pay for a ticket to California.  I felt left out.  Moving to New York in the early 80’s, there were apartments for sale at accessible prices. But for me, getting my hands on $200 was as elusive as paying for a $20,000 apartment.   It took years to learn that there were ways to have what I once thought as impossible.  I learned that by working hard in psychotherapy. And, throughout the years I’ve realized a few of my dreams, my own private practice, running the NYC Marathon at 56, and most recently, going on Safari in Africa.

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It was a month ago Larry and I were in East Africa.  It truly was a dream come true.  I first had the idea when my mother mentioned wanting to go to Africa when I was a child. In my mind, we would go together. But through the years it became apparent she was not one who could travel easily.  I, on the other hand, started traveling in college. First studying art history in Paris, and visiting a few other European cities.  Then doing what I could to go on local road trips, and visit other countries.  But one of my bucket list trips had yet to be realized.

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A little over ten years ago I created the Africa fund.  This was separate from a vacation fund, or any other savings account I had.  I had thought I’d go for my 50th birthday, but I hadn’t saved enough to do anything but backpack, and I’m really no camper.  So, I aimed for my 60thbirthday.  When my mother died this year, I thought, “Why wait? We only live once. ”   And, so, I started planning the trip.  We chose Micato Safaris, which turned out to provide an amazing adventure.  They designed special experiences throughout.  Elephants are my favorite animal, and they made sure my time with Elephants surpassed any and all expectations.

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We started out in Kenya. We went to the Nairobi National Park. It was our first safari experience. There is a unique energy trying to visually locate animals in their natural habitat.  Giraffes can be easier to spot based on their height, but most of the animals blend in so beautifully that it was not as easy to spot them as I would have imagined.  Later we went to a Giraffe sanctuary.  They save endangered giraffes, and raise them until they can go back into the wild.  We got to feed these beautiful creatures with their purple, foot long tongues, and expressive eyes.  Later we visited the  Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for baby elephants.  They ran past us in the sweet line as they made their way into their nightly beds.  They are rescued elephants, who are raised for their first few years, then introduced back into the wild, with their dedicated foster parents.

 

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The next day we flew to Tanzania for the Tanzania Spectacular tour.  It is aptly named.  We visited Tarangire, where we stayed in luxurious treetop cabins.  From there we went to the Ngorongoro Crater. It is like nothing else in that it attracts all the wildlife since there is a good supply of water.  From there we drove to the Serengeti.  The Serengeti is vast and varied.  There we were able to see so much.  And, though I was enamored by all the animals we saw, I have to say, I loved meeting and speaking to everyone we encountered.  When our tour ended in Tanzania Larry and I went to Zambia to enjoy the beauty and splendor of Victoria Falls.  While there, we went on a motor boat on the Zambezi to The Elephant Cafe, a restaurant that serves local cuisine after feeding and petting the rescued elephants they care for. It was an outstanding experience, from the crocodiles and hippos by the river, to a five star meal after communing with the gentle giants.

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Each moment of each day was full and satisfying.  I felt transformed.  Not only was I able to go somewhere I had only dreamed of, but I was able to enjoy all the trip had to offer.  I don’t know how it’s changed me.  Only time will tell.

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Running Again

 

IMG_1337.JPGI ran my first race in over a year.  It was slow process, both recovering from benign injuries, as well as running 15-minute miles this morning.  In the past months I went through acupuncture, medical massage and physical therapy putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. So, tentatively, step by step I took on Central Park’s Drive.

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What I noticed right away was the throngs who passed me as I inched my way forward.  I am no stranger to being left behind.  In elementary school I often was picked last in kickball, more for my lack of popularity than for any inability to kick and catch the ball. In junior high school I was not asked to parties.  I awkwardly went to school dances, uncertain how to pretend I was fine while swaying my hips to The Captain and Tennille.  Then, in my early adult years, I didn’t know how to negotiate apartment hunting, and ended up subletting again and again to keep a roof over my head.  I am still learning how to navigate the world.

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But today, I knew where I needed to be for start  of the event. I showed up along with a few thousand New York Road Runner members. Each one of us running for our own reasons.  This run helped me appreciate what I’ve learned over the years.  Some things are easier for some and not others.  We all have our own journey.  And, having others pass me can distinguish my particular trek through life.  A perfect spring day in Central Park making for an invaluable run.

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I Fell Well

 

IMG_2319I missed running, though I never thought I could be a runner. I was a girl who always got a cramp in my side when I tried to run anything more than a 50-yard-dash. In phys. ed. I ran the requisite laps around the gym, but my lungs burned and my midriff always hurt. I was among the last. Not THE last person, but close. And, in my twisted child’s mind, I took solace in that fact. That fact still gives me solace in my twisted adult mind when I slowly run races.

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Friday I returned to running. Sometime last winter I got injured running and found myself walking the city for months. Any time I tried to run, much to the chagrin of my PT, I would feel arbitrary pains in my hip, my knee, my calf. My mind said yes, but my body said no. After persistent stubbornness, I heeded to my lower half, and refrained from jogging at any speed.

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After continued physical therapy and medical massages I dipped my toe in the water. I went for a slow, even jog by the East River. The sun was setting, and the path was unpopulated. I was so happy. Bed, Bath and Beyond was my destination. I like having a destination. I was buying a new bath mat. A purchase that was sorely needed. And, yet, the light weight would allow me to jog back home.

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I was slow and steady. I made sure that my posture was upright, since I tend to slump when I’m not thinking. When I was 6, 7, 8, my Grandma Bec insisted I walk paces across our living room with a thick book on top of my head. She saw good posture as a sign of good breading. I watched her walk with her head held high and her back erect until she no longer walked at age 98. She prided herself on her continence. That has always informed my drive to stand up straight.

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So, while running slowly and carefully with good posture, looking at the commuters leaving their jobs to start their weekend, thinking of what I was going to try to get done Saturday & Sunday, I fell forward. As I move towards the York Avenue sidewalk, I put out my gloved hands and broke the fall with a less than perfect plank. Billy Joe Young, my sometimes trainer, though always awesome being, suggested I do planks on a regular basis. At best I did them on a semi-regular basis. Yet, having done them at all helped me break my fall so that I fell well. Initially startled, I was thrilled to be pain free. My gloves protected me from scrapping my hands. My upper arms, which I always considered weak, were strong enough to keep me from hitting the ground. My knees were safe. Oh, yeah!

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The strangers who kindly stopped to ask if I was okay, were visibly relieved when I got up so quickly. Then I ran with glee for the next quarter mile until I reached my destination. Staying in the moment is challenging. I can barely do it when meditating. And, I have a harder time when I’m running. Somehow I see running as an opportunity to go over all the arbitrary thoughts that pop up. But maybe the best thing about falling was coming back to the present. Maybe, just maybe, a safe fall was the best present I could ask for.

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What I lost

 

IMG_1238.JPGNo one tells you how grief feels in the body. The aches and pains and fatigue knead on stressed parts of our anatomy. The lethargy the body takes on is formidable. Clothes must be loose, sounds soft.

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My mother died. She was ill, so there were no surprises. She became weaker and weaker until she ceased to be. Death made sense in her case. And, yet, following her death, nothing seems to make sense. I’m losing things: earrings, gloves, documents. I forget. I forget to return emails, phone calls, texts. I forget to look at the lists I write so I won’t forget. I want to watch movies or TV, but it has to be soothing. Nothing aggressive please.

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I spent a good portion of my early life either trying to make my mother happy, then trying to make her understand. At the end, she was grateful for the little things, and I am grateful for that.

 

Getting up in the morning is an effort. Meditating brings arbitrary thoughts. Buying Merle Norman for my mom when I went to the mall. Wishing she wore pumps with her dress rather than booties. The Ford Grenada smell of Dentyne and Winston cigarettes when I was five. Her deliberate rub of Jubilee on the Formica counters. White tennis dresses and her worn Tretorns. Empire chicken parts with corn flake crumbs. Our past is in our present.

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I am here and there, Lost while discovering this new place. My body parts throb reminding me my mother is no longer.

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I Was a Suburban Dropout

As soon as I could I moved to a city filled with misfits. I needed a sense of belonging, and New York provided me with friends and neighbors misunderstood in their former lives. Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey attending a large high school and an affluent Hebrew School felt wrong to me. I yearned to fit in, but felt so different. I imbued my classmates with confidences and affluences they probably didn’t possess at such a young age. I had learned to harbor secrets, while watching acquaintances seemingly share their lives openly. I had to get out.

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Yet, returning to attend my 40th High School reunion, it came to my attention that I had missed so much. I saw old friends, and remembered the special moments we shared. I remember viewing my first Christmas tree all decorated, feeling a sense of awe at the beauty of the season. I remember playing outside in a friend’s backyard, being called in for a home cooked lunch. I remember running around until dinner-time, when we all regrettably had to leave the fun. There were fireflies to catch, and bubbles to chase.

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And, later, there were whispered calls to friends late at night bemoaning our parents’ cluelessness. There was clothes swapping, and sleepovers when we would double or triple date before meeting up to stay over our friend’s place. A group of us cut school to attend the Flyers’ Stanley Cup parade in 1975, feeling cool in Philadelphia. There was laughing in study hall, and gloating over a reading in Shakespeare, and the bewilderment of a simple biology class. There was babysitting, and the decision of which mall to shop with our earnings, Echelon, Cherry Hill or Moorestown.

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I left Cherry Hill because I hadn’t grown up. I remembered all the perceived rejection. The awkwardness of trying to be intelligible at a social. The ignorance of how to apply to college in a town where education was highly valued. The clothes that were off-brand. I was not your average Cherry Hill girl. Oh, and how I longed to be average then. And, yet, in attending the reunion, it was clear to me how unique we all were. I was ashamed of my struggles. It was that shame that kept me feeling separate, not my colleagues. Returning was a gift. The kindnesses of old friends was palpable. The warmth in the room was tangible. And, the good feelings were ever present. We had all matured. I was accepted for who I was and who I am now. Conversely, I joyfully appreciated all who I saw.

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The reunion was a helpful reminder of our connections and our individuality. Both are valuable. Time teaches that.

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One Step in Front of the Other

 

 

-9bcc6173bfec0f98.JPGWhen I was 10 years old I was allowed to walk on Haddonfield-Berlin Road, crossing highways entrances and exits to go to The Woodcrest Shopping Center. For a short time they had The Jerry Lewis Movie Theater, and I could get in for 50 cents, the amount of my allowances after chores. Or, I would go to W.T. Grant’s, deemed a twenty-five cent department store, but more of a five and dime. that sold colorful birds, toys, clothes, plastic jewelry, and featured a lunch counter. I was much too shy to go to the counter alone. But I loved getting lost in the aisles ending up with some sort of sweet. There was also Crest Lanes where I could bowl. I loved the crack of the pins being hit, and the overhead light of the score pad. In the other direction I would walk to The Haddontown Swim Club. It was lovely after a hot August walk to reach the pool and jump in to the cold splash of wet relief. These were some of my first destination walks.

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I would get upset that my mom didn’t drive me places, but with four children and a house to run, driving me to and from a destination that was just over a mile away, was not to be. What upset me then, actually provided me with a pleasure I’ve enjoyed throughout my life. I’ve lived in Manhattan for over 35 years, and a destination walk remains one of my favorite activities.

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Some of my best visits with friends have been walking to work with them, or going to a movie theater in another neighborhood. Films may not be fifty cents anymore, but the destination is still as satisfying. I love going to various farmer’s markets, or to a specialty stationary store. I walk to museums, or parks. Last week I took the subway just to walk in parks in other parts of the city. The destination is more often than not, motivation, but the walk is the true treat.

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Although I love city walks, and will make sure I go on foot when I visit other cities, walking in the woods, or taking a hike is equally as pleasurable. In these hectic times, walking has been wonderful for stress, it’s been reliable transportation, it’s been an education, and it’s been a gift.

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Free Shakespeare in the Park

 

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On a sweltering Tuesday in August, in my first full summer as a New York City resident, I was nervous and excited about the prospect of obtaining free tickets to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. The day in 1982 was hazy, and the great lawn was full of picnickers all with numbers for a place in line. I was number 26. I had gotten there so early, maybe 7 AM to ensure my audience participation. And, I was far from the first one in line. But with a coffee and an H&H bagel for breakfast, I felt well-prepared. Hour after hour of baking in the sun, I was a lucky recipient of two tickets to the show.

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The production was magnificent. Directed by James Lapine, a name I wouldn’t recognize until after the first production of Into the Woods, Shakespeare’s mystical comedy was a seamless theater piece. Before the show I spotted Kevin Kline among other stars in the V.I.P. section. As a young aspiring actress, I felt part of something.   Christine Baranski was spot on as a comedic actress. William Hurt was dreamy.

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35 years later, Larry, my husband, and I celebrated our 20th anniversary seeing the latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another wonderful evening of theater, this time with the wonderful singing voice of Marcelle Davies-Lashley. Although neither Larry nor I had ever heard of her before, we’ll be following her now. And, though the entire cast did a great job, our notable favorites were the indomitable Annaleigh Ashford, plus Danny Burstein and Kristine Neilsen.

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It was so much fun to share the evening with Larry. Between our work, our parents, our kid, and life’s needs, we don’t go out even half as much as we did twenty years ago. We very much felt like a part of something as as audience members, as New Yorkers, a supporters of Free Shakespeare in the Park, and as a couple. It’s more fun to laugh together. And, for that I appreciate a good night’s theater under the stars.

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(All images are from www searches)