Friday, August 28, 2015


There are a lot of landmarks looming for me right now. Next June I turn 40. I'm just about to start teaching for my 11th year at the same school which means I've lived here for 10 years, taught here for 10 years and now gone camping for the 10th year in a row.

I remember how I felt at the end of my annual camping trip after the very first year. Pure terror filled me as I'd had a rough beginning at the new job and have always tended to be anxious. I felt nauseous and doomed. Teaching has always been anxiety-producing. At other times in my career it has manifested as keeping candles oriented in a particular way during yoga to help me see how close to Shabbat I was. At other times I remember being afraid to get out of bed until I could just remember the face of a child from my class instead of feeling I was drowning in the sea of things I needed to do and could not seem to do well enough.

It has been a habit for me to cling desperately to things that make me feel safe... visits home to Portland, hoarding of special items I'd buy there, weekends, precious moments in nature.

I've been through the cycle so many times now, it's no longer a big deal. When I went on my souvenir hunts this summer, I still loaded up, but not as much, and wondered what things at home I could get rid of at the same time.

How is this possible?

For one, I've become a better teacher.

For another, I have an easier position now than I used to.

Refuge seems to always be accessible now even if it takes a deliberate breath or step away from a difficult situation, but I've so many times gone through days that just weren't as bad as I thought, that I feel fine more often now.

As I began to reflect on this I wondered if age has brought a dulling of my feelings. I'm feeling less anxious. Does that mean less happy too? Now... it just means feeling a little lighter. Happiness is less desperate, but it's certainly there.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't mind if I were still camping right now. However, when I show up on Tuesday next week, it will feel familiar and I don't have to think a lot about it right now.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Missing writing

I admit it. I'm jealous. A friend from my writer's group, Writer Granny posted a few days ago that she hit blog post number 1,521 after having started her blog in 2009. This blog that you're looking at was started in November of 2004 and this post is number 912.

The result? I'm writing a blog post that doesn't say a whole lot of anything.

A few hours ago we took a break from some household chores and watched Spellbound, a documentary about 8 kids competing for the world championship in a spelling bee. Talk about over-achievement! My takeaway (especially after my last post): When you set goals that are really really high, there will always be a little disappointment, even if you really do the very best you can. To be in the moment without qualifiers, without "but" or "if only," but just to be and do what's possible with a little bit of discipline, that's my new goal. It's not easy to keep a goal like that under pressure. However, it's a goal that I can be proud of achieving again and again in small victories.

So why I'm writing this blog post. Well, yeah, I wish I had more blog posts. Am I aiming for 1,521? No, not right now. I do think I'd like to post a little more often though, and then maybe I'll throw a party when I discover I've actually reached 1000.

Another small victory.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Mindfulness

Summer is a complicated time for me. I'm fully aware of how fortunate I am to be part of the working population who has the summer "off" and as a result has a very different life during that time.

My summers are not, however, smooth sailing. My workaholism, ambition and strong belief in the importance of professional development prevent me from just vacationing. I've been putting in hours studying for my special education endorsement program as well as accomplishing things that I'm unable to do during the school year.

The onset of every summer is emotionally jarring for me. There's an enormous leap from putting in long and stressful hours, investing my work into children, worrying that my work over the year wasn't enough, waving them off and then having only my own child left to care for. To put in so much energy for other beings and then just have them disappear after maybe giving me a goodbye and thank you card is uncomfortable. It shakes up my sense of self-worth and industry. Then I face unstructured days and lists upon lists of expectations for myself, goals, to do lists.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Yad

I wrote in a previous blog post about our visit to Safed and of commissioning a beautiful glass yad to be created for me.

Today was the first day I used it, and a very busy day at that. We davened at our local "Shira Hadasha style minyan" where today I had more roles than I'm used to having in a single day. I led the Torah service, leined Hamishi and told a drash as well. The Torah service I've done enough times that it doesn't take a lot of preparation, but I've been practicing the leining for weeks. I was inspired to do it that as I was eager for my first chance to use the yad. I said a shechechiyanu on it before reading.

Between the leining, davening and speech, the speech went most smoothly. (I had the leining down perfect when I left home this morning but botched it reading from an unfamiliar Torah.) I'm enclosing the text of my speech. It's a little rough. I didn't actually read the pages I held, but rather spoke whenever possible, using what I had written as a backup and as a guide.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Israel, 2015 -- Part 5, End of the Journey

By Friday we were so tired that that day and Shabbat are somewhat blurred.

We packed up our hotel and prepared to meet friends of ours later in the day. Just one more restaurant, we said, and walked to one I'd read about a few days before but hadn't located. I'm so glad we did. Te'enim is the kind of restaurant we always wish we could go to when traveling, but usually can't because it isn't Kosher. It was quiet, decorative and had beautiful classical guitar music playing. We sat by an open balcony window and looked out on the old city. Opening the menu we sort of gritted our teeth because so far we had spent so much on food. The breakfast menu had a price with a long list of dishes after.

"So we have to choose one of these," we confirmed with the waiter.

This was not the whole meal. We also had buttered bread, juice and tea.
No. You got all of them for that one price. It was healthy delicious, beautiful.

This is just for decoration, a little spice swirled in the center of the plate.
Sigh. Wish we could have taken it home with us.

After that we met up with our friends, as planned. These Israeli friends of ours lived near us for three years and were our regular Shabbat park and seudah shlishit playdates. The mother of the family had relatives in Jerusalem that we would all stay with to enjoy the day together.

"Where do you want to go?" she asked.

"I'm so spent at this point," I told her, "it no longer makes much difference."

"Really, you don't want to see everything?"

I shook my head. "I've done just about all I can do."

So we just went to two places. One was the Israel Museum. It wasn't terribly child friendly. We did see the giant installation they have of ancient Jerusalem, but the real highlight was Big Bambu. This was an art installation you could climb up in, a towering bumble of bamboo. Those of us who did it enjoyed sitting at the top (holding on for fear of any sudden wind bursts) and marveling at our bravery and at how secure it actually felt.

Lunch came and we got yet one last restaurant meal. This one was in a mall and on an outdoor deck. Such a treat when we knew soon we'd be returning to snow.

By now I didn't even care what I ate anymore. We enjoyed our meal and watched as the staff hurried to close up in time for Shabbat. We rushed through our meal and headed for the family.

That Shabbat was lovely and ended with a walk on a promenade overlooking Jerusalem.

After Havdalah we had our final slice of Israeli-made pizza and followed our friends to their apartment in Shoham. There we showered and slept about 3 hours before shaking ourselves awake and driving to the airport.

We departed Israel during Sunday's early hours and stopped over in Vienna. There we exited the plane on a tarmac with snow coming down and gradually became used to being surrounded by fewer and fewer Israelis. I enjoyed speaking a few words of German with the flight attendants, but it certainly wasn't the same.

I can't say that I want to live all my life always around other Jews, for so many reasons, but there was a distinct feeling as we left Israel of leaving behind a place that really matters to us in so many ways, much more than a tourist destination.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Israel 2015, part 4 -- Rehovot

6 AM and a horrible beeping woke us up. At first we thought it a raid siren, but then I remembered the sign that had explained a siren like that would have a rising and falling sound. We pulled on shoes and jackets over our pajamas and went outside. No one was in the front office. The alarm stopped in our building then started in another. Then it did it again. Gradually we came to understand it was a malfunction and that no one really cared much about it. So much for sleeping in.

Our one reservation that day was for Leket. Leket is a nonprofit that used to be called table to table and was begun by a Bergen County ex-pat. The organization rescues unused food from restaurants, catering services etc., as well as from farms, and delivers them to Israel's hungry population. ND and I have both heard the founders speak at different venues and were eager to come glean for them.

Before we would go there though, we decided to hit one more destination in Ein Gedi, Wadi David. In fact, we didn't realize it until now, but the hostel where we were staying was actually next door to the park filled with trails. I wish we had had more time to explore, but even the easiest trail was a bit precarious in spots. Advertised as one of the easier family hikes, it climbs up to a lovely water fall. However, along the way there are a whole lot of rocks, a warning about potential falling rocks pushed down by ibexes and a few single file slippery spots where water washed over the rocky path. This was actually just about the level of adventure I like... do-able, but at least with a little feeling of risk. Signage for other trails warned to stay away unless you were a very fit hiker. So we were in and out in the hour we had budgeted and on our way to the fields in Rehovot.

Israel 2015, part 3 -- Ein Gedi

Tuesday was, for better or worse, another very long afternoon of driving. Along the way we made a quick stop in the neighborhood where U.’s mother had been raised and found a couple of family landmarks. However, time was short and we had to keep moving. The last hour or so of our drive came during a beautiful sunset, but then we had to drive on narrows roads around hills in a black night. We couldn’t even see The Dead Sea on our left because buildings or street lights of any kind were few and far between.

At last we arrived at a hostel which, honestly, was not the friendliest place we had ever stayed, but we were relieved to have two whole nights in the place. In addition, we were grateful to find a full buffet dining hall awaiting us. 
While in the dining hall we spotted an interesting group sitting at another table. There were two women. One had dark hair like mine and a little girl with curly hair. The second woman had long red hair, a young daughter and a baby boy in a high chair. The group reminded ND and me both of ourselves and our camping friend emarcy who has a little girl and was (at the time of this encounter) very very pregnant. The group we saw was disheveled too, so like us when we go camping each summer.

We emailed emarcy about the little party and she responded that we very well may have seen our camping “doubles.” We couldn’t know for sure yet as they had not yet learned the gender of the baby, but we might know very soon because her contractions seemed to be starting!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Israel 2015, Part 2 -- Safed

Monday morning we awoke in our hotel and had our first delicious hotel breakfast including shakshuka (love saying that word), potatoes, salads, pastries, yogurt, cereal... yum. So much delicious Kosher food to choose from.

Then, grateful at last to not have a deadline to meet, we took a quick walk to the Artists' Colony where saw some puzzle piece shabbat/Channukah candlesticks I was really tempted to buy. Then we hit the road to Safed.

Our drive North was very very slow due to construction and we were caught behind a series of trucks carrying tanks. Funny to be a tourist and not quite know what those tanks are up to, but have that all be normal routine in a country and small and with a military as active as that in Israel.

As a result we didn’t get there until close to nightfall and gave up the opportunity to "swing by" the Kinneret which beckoned temptingly on the map.

With so many reservations in so many places, I had failed to read the details on some of the confirmation emails. So we were a little nervous when Waze took us to an alleyway. We parked the car on the street and called the Guesthouse where a very warm, American voice answered and gave us lengthy details of how to walk to the Guesthouse. “You don’t have a ton of luggage, do you?” Not knowing how to respond I just left most of my stuff in the car and we dragged a few essentials single file down a narrow curb of a sidewalk, then down a flight of steps to a garbage-ridden alleyway.
Fortunately, we were hopeful that we were in the right place and had better to look forward to with the beautiful signs that pointed our way.
Our room's domed ceiling
Sure enough, at the end of the alleyway was a richly painted blue door which opened into a beautiful courtyard with geodes, crystals, an olive tree and herb garden. Several rooms looked out into the courtyard and we found our way to the hosts’ door. The hostess, Joy, came out to greet us, hugged me as if we were old friends and said she’d been waiting for us.
Guest House courtyard, daytime

She showed us our room which was dome-shaped and very homey, explained how everything worked, walked us through a map of the area, and then left us to go see if we could fit in anything that night. Our goals for Safed were to see a few of the shuls and to see and maybe purchase some art. By this time of evening, though, it was also to find some food. Alas, almost everything was closed including a Yemenite vegetarian restaurant where we could have sat on cushions and tried new foods.

There were a few galleries still open at least. ND and U. came really close to buying a few paintings, but I was too distracted by looking at all the tree shaped necklaces and finally bargaining down for one I really liked. (I’m saving it for a shechechiyanu at Pesach.) We also gave into having pizza, not for the first time at all on this trip, but enjoyed eating it in a little hole in the wall with lovely decorations, and Safed right outside.

I started off the next morning with Joy giving me a glorious massage. Then rejoined my family in the room where we ate breakfast together in our room with enormous pancakes and a plate full of fruit.

Mezuzah made by the glass blower who is making my yad
Back to the artist quarter then where I had a beautiful and moving experience of ordering a glass yad to be made for me for reading Torah. Hopefully it will be ready before Purim in time for the the women’s megillah reading that I organize. (Stayed tuned. Later I'll be posting an article about that. Below in this blog see a video of the glassblower.)

We also bought Kiddush cups, admired paintings, ran into Naomi’s first grade teacher who was also touring Israel, visited a few of the shuls and walked up the tall staircase back to our car and on our way to the next adventure.
Glass door to our room