Sorry for missing Photo Friday, I was hiking to this beach: (photo from my phone)

I’m house-sitting for my aunt and uncle in Hawaii right now, and had heard of a remote beach with brilliant green sand. (The color is given by a rare deposit of the very common subsurface mineral olivine, also known as peridot.) Unfortunately, said beach was a six mile hike from the nearest point accesible by car, a point which happened to be the southernmost tip of the United States. And here at the southern most tip, it’s very dry and windy. Sandy, but also dusty.

This very same dust is why, suddenly, after two years of clarity and optic wonder, my camera died. I’m shooting a wedding in two weeks, and between now and then will be travelling from Hawaii to Pennsylvania to Ohio, possibly West Virginia, then Indiana, finally to St. Louis for the shoot. No idea what I’m going to about it right now. The past two mornings, I’ve tried hopelessly to shake and blow off any offending dust and turn it on, with only a flashing battery outline to tell me something not-so-funny has happened.

Things get worse; the handsome cockatiel I’ve been house-sitting slipped away Tuesday night, forgetting his feathered body as he flew home. Only, he was really supposed to stay another few days until his parents came home, and his sister, who has been away in Germany and hasn’t seen him in a year. We loved the bird and his antics, the way he sang to an oven mitt and bowed his head against the cage for you to scratch his neck. We had planned to cast him as the main star in a cover of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Pirates of Penzance. His name was Gilbert, and we found a piano player named Sullivan. The supporting characters were still in casting, but filming was due to start in a few days.

Wednesday morning when we found him, I was absolutely devastated. My reaction exceeded any I’d had for my own pets’ passing, perhaps because I felt so keenly that I was not the one to receive his last hour. I cancelled all our plans and spent the entire day at home. A hollow knot worked in my gut, rubbing itself against the walls of my abdomen as I tried to figure out what could possibly have gone wrong. It seemed we had done everything as directed. I questioned whether sulfur brought home on our clothes from Volcano National Park might have sickened him, and secretly hoped for a news report of volcanic gases leaking from a crevice and cascading down the moment, killing all the birds and rodents in Waimea, just because it would take away the questioning, the unshakeable culpability of my failed promise.

I’m privileged to have responsibilities coupled with amazing opportunities, but also overwhelmed by them, especially when it becomes apparent how many things in life I have no control over. I can say that I will care for their pets to my utmost, but that is no guarantor against providence.

Unable to untangle my grief for the loss of life, my guilt for not saying a better goodnight when I came in exhausted from our hiking trip, and my dread of the impending response from my family, I did the only thing which made sense to me, and began to clean furiously. I’m not typically an emotional cleaner, but the action of scrubbing out the cage was the closest possible to an act of fixing things. (Much better than the Dumb and Dumber solution, to my mind.) Sweeping and mopping, too, were cathartic as I tried to push the dirt off all the surfaces, to clear away the accumulation of dead leaves from the lanai, tracked sand from the entryway.

Still, I spent the last hour of the day sobbing into the phone, broken sentences and logic which should have been birthday wishes.


Thwarted Again

When I first thought about spending some time in Israel after graduating college, I planned to go to a different program than the one I ultimately chose – not a seminary program, but a professional training program, of sorts. I was really jazzed about it, and I spent a great deal of time tracking down scholarships and grants and cost-of-living stipends from every Jewish organization under the sun. I was a finalist for a generous award from my local JCC, and they really seemed to like my application – but in the end, they gave the main award to someone else, and I received a smaller grant that wouldn’t be much help in defraying the considerable cost of the program I liked.

I moped about it for a while before deciding that, as disappointed as I was, the reason I hadn’t gotten it would reveal itself in time. Meanwhile, I turned my attention to finding another way of getting to Israel. I remembered a seminary I’d visited and liked on my last trip, and found out that I could get a Masa grant for studying there. I completed a University Jewish Experience course, and got a free voucher for a plane ticket to Israel. After spending months trying, in vain, to line up the cash for the first program, the finances for going to seminary fell into place in less than a week.

So I booked my free flight, started brushing up on my Hebrew, got some plug adapters, and packed my bags. I was all ready to leave as scheduled, on Sunday, August 28. Then a hurricane came barreling up the East Coast.

Wet Bounty

We finally made our first friend in Southeastern Ohio! Well, our first friend our age–I went home from church with the most darling couple my first week there. They’re newlyweds in their 70s, having both been widowed at least once, and I absolutely consider them friends. Our new friend’s name is Taylor, and he actually lives across the river in West Virginia.

He sent us a message using the contact form on the webpage for the artist’s collective, eager to get to know us. When we first met, for delicious burritos in Wheeling, we asked how he found us and he said he googled “permaculture” for the area. While this makes sense as the interest we both have in common, googling permaculture Wheeling is more likely to give you results from Malaysia than our plans for agricultural design. Currently, we don’t know how we actually met, but we do know that after burritos, we drove out to his dad’s place in the hills and he knew a thing or two about permaculture. After we toured the fruit trees and fish pond, wondering at all the types of flowers we rarely saw in gardens at home, he loaded us down with tomatoes, squash, zucchini, pulling up carrot after carrot, insisting, “They needed to be thinned anyway.” But the tomatoes, we had more than we knew what to do with.

I was glad I had brought half a loaf of Challah for him, the first I had made without LM’s supervision that I didn’t manage to burn.

When we got home, I saw in our kitchen that my roommate had also received tomatoes from her Aunt Lu, saw in our garden that red orbs hung from our own vines, and knew we would have to get creative to consume them all. We tossed around the idea of a bruschetta, but that would hardly deplete the gallon-sized box bull of the round, ripe fruit of summer.

Armed with my recent baking success, I determined to   Continue reading

A California Shabbos

If I could choose anyplace outside Israel to spend Shabbos, it would certainly be the Bay Area. Why? Because there’s nothing like a Shabbos meal made from fresh, local California produce purchased at the Chinatown farmer’s market. On this particular Friday, we scored some perfect little eggplants, Chinese long beans, bulbous heirloom tomatoes, and an enormous bunch of fragrant basil, along with fruits for noshing.

We rounded out the menu with chicken in a garlic and white wine sauce and homemade challah.

A gut voch to all!

Guilt and Grieving

This is a time of mourning in the Jewish calendar. We mourn for the destruction of our holy Temple in Jerusalem, and for the many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish nation in our history. I’ve been feeling a deep and genuine sadness, but for all the wrong reasons.

I moved away from St. Louis, my home for the past four years, last Sunday. I loved living there; I miss it terribly. I miss the Southern hospitality, the absence of traffic, the delicious tap water, the friendliness of strangers, the tree-lined streets, the amazing shul that became my home and my second family. I miss Forest Park. I miss my cozy little apartment. I even feel a bit nostalgic for the thick, oppressive heat of a St. Louis summer.

At another time of year I might allow myself to wallow in missing this place I love, but not this week. I feel guilty for being sad about moving, when there are so many real tragedies to mourn. And on a deeper level, I feel guilty for being so attached to the “home” I’ve made for myself in galus. I shouldn’t accept or enjoy my life in exile. I should have this same grief, this same homesickness, all the time – but I should be missing Eretz haKodesh, the Holy Land.

People often say that it’s so difficult to tap into the grief of Tisha b’Av because we no longer remember what it was like to have the Bais Mikdash – we don’t even know what we’re missing. This is true for me, not just regarding the Temple, but regarding the entire land of Israel. I’ve visited briefly, I’ve vacationed there, but I’ve never lived there, so though I miss it intellectually – because I know I should – I’ve never felt the painful, acute longing that I want to feel.

This year is a bit different. This year, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and heading back to my Homeland to learn Torah. Between leaving St. Louis and arriving in Israel (in three weeks!), I have no real home base – I’m floating around, feeling pretty unanchored. This is how it should be for a Jew in exile: we should feel unsettled, unstable, homeless, because we are. So instead of suppressing my feelings, I’m redirecting them. I’m allowing myself to feel the anxiety that comes with not having a permanent place of one’s own, because the next time I have a home – a place where I can unpack my bags and stay awhile – I’ll be in Israel.

I wish everyone a meaningful fast. May this be the last Tisha b’Av we mark with fasting.


Pere Marquette

One of my last days in St. Louis, we went on an early morning roadtrip to hike Pere Marquette, a park north of the city in Illinois named for Jacques Marquette, a French missionary from Joliet’s expedition. We loaded Walker (the German Shepherd I was dog sitting) into the back of Lizard’s car, eating breakfast on the way. It wasn’t even eight, but it felt like mid-afternoon.  I took a photo through my sunglasses, thinking this might capture the oppressive heat.

  The sun had more to show us.