New York and Morocco and Paris…oh my!

Ever since I was very young, I’ve wanted to travel. My dad always took me on very long drives across the country…from Maryland to Mississippi (about 20 hours), from Maryland to Wyoming to New Mexico to California (probably 20 years)…some really great memories come from traveling around the country with my Harry Potter books sprawled all over the back seat and my ear phones playing whatever “cool” tape or CD I managed to borrow from my sister or mom for the trip. I remember some of those trips so clearly. I remember rolling up my pant legs and standing in a shin-high creek that swirled around my great-grandmother’s property in Mississippi, grabbing minnows with my hands. I remember wearing blue socks and Pocahontas sandals when I was five and visiting my mom’s mom in new Mexico. I remember thinking my older cousin, Sandy, was a gross boy and that my brothers were way cooler. I remember the smell of my grandpa’s cologne and the way he always slicked his hair back. I always really loved traveling.

I joined the military under the guise that I would “see the world.” I saw some of the world, in a weird way, when I deployed to Iraq. I got to spend a few days sitting in an airport in Germany when our plane malfunctioned (could NOT find de-bubbled water for the life of me). Kuwait was sandy and gross, but I did spend a lot of time on the treadmill. Iraq was strange from my view (an unmanned drone) but I longed to go out and explore the cradle of civilization. Since leaving the military I have spent a week in South Africa and a week in Botswana. It was fun and exciting and I fell so deeply in love with Africa that, when something drew me to take Arabic 101 and my teacher mentioned a trip to Morocco, my heart skipped a beat. TIA, man, TIA… I freakin’ love Africa.

So, here I am! I recently purchased my ticket to Morocco with a two day layover in Paris on the way back. I have not taken out any student loans thus far in my college career, and do not plan on it for the rest of my career (I have a very intricate plan that I have a lot of support with to cover the rest of my degree(s)) so I bit the bullet and took a small one out for this trip. Traveling is the most beautiful thing in the world and when I look back at my college career and see a small loan, I will remember what I did with it and won’t regret a single cent of it. I’m going to Morocco to study advanced Arabic pretty intensely. Morocco is also a French-speaking country so I have the opportunity to brush up on my French while I’m there. After a month in Morocco, I am flying to Paris for two very intense days of backpacking around the city. 

In some other really great news, I submitted a paper to a group called the Sinai Scholars about the importance of giving charity. In brief, I wrote about how G-d blesses us with jobs, careers and money and then trusts us to, literally, spread the wealth. I submitted it a few months ago and got word yesterday that they really liked it…so much that they are flying me to New York University to present it to a board of business people, professors and rabbis! I’m literally ecstatic. I was so happy that I jumped up and starting yelling a bunch of sounds (my mouth was full) and spilled potatoes all over my skirt, but I didn’t even care. I’m so excited to present these ideas. I love writing, reading, talking, grammar, spelling, languages and just words in general and I am so honored that someone likes what I wrote so much that they’re paying me to talk about it. Even better, I am stopping in Maryland first to surprise my youngest niece on her fourth birthday. I’m SO excited that I can hardly stand it…only 18 days until I’m on way!

I leave all of you lovely people with this idea.

26.2

About a month ago, a friend of mine mentioned to me that she had signed up for a 26.2 mile called the Bataan Death March. She said she wanted to do it for bonus points for ROTC. I was familiar with the race because my dad lives about an hour from where it is held every year. I told her that she should save her money and just stay with my dad, and then I realized that I might as well go see my dad, too. “But I won’t do the race. I’ll just be at the finish line waiting for you guys.” Ha, anyone who knows me knew that I would be doing the race….I just didn’t know it yet.

When I was in Iraq, I was a 40-mile a week runner. I could run 15 miles at a time on a pulled hamstring or rolled ankle. I did P90x, yoga and weightlifting, but I really enjoyed running. It was exciting for me and I was addicted to the calorie burning. I lost about 15 pounds in the first 60 days of my deployment. However, since I left the Army, I haven’t really run. My workouts now mostly consist of CrossFit style training (which I’m obsessed with) and I’m much less concerned with burning calories and more concerned with eating healthy. I have cut MSG and a lot of other additives out of my diet because I get awful migraines. Of course, I’m also keeping kosher now (for the past six months or so I have been doing it to a T) and that has resulted in cutting out most meat since I don’t usually get kosher meat where I live. So I’ve learned that diet really is even more important than your workout (although you have to give both 100%!)

Anyway, so within a week I was signed up for the 26.2 mile race. 10 more of my friends were doing it, but they were all from ROTC so they were marching it with at least 35 pounds, though they all ended up having more than 40 lbs. They spent the past few months training pretty insanely for the race, but I didn’t because I wasn’t using as much weight. I did add a ten pound dumbbell to my school backpack and walk to and from most of my classes, probably 3-4 miles a day…but nothing crazy. When I “trained” I was usually wearing flat shoes that matched my outfit for the day, and a cute skirt or dress. 

Fast forward to last Friday, at around 9:30 am when I was scooping up two of my friends to start the drive to New Mexico. I pulled my Siddur out of my purse and struggled through the Hebrew side of the page with the Traveler’s Prayer on it (then read the English, for reiteration because my Hebrew takes a long time and could sound kind of weird) and we loaded up the car and left. The ride there was really fun. My friend Olivia and I are like sisters. We fight but we would die for each other. We both love singing and dancing so we literally spent the entire eight hours harmonizing to the acapella stations on Pandora. Her friend in the backseat, Ryan, was someone I didn’t know too well but turned out to be absolutely awesome and fun. He was endlessly patient with our bickering and singing and dancing and, at the end of the trip, told me that Olivia and I were really fun.

I didn’t keep Shabbos that weekend because I was at my dad’s house. He is not Jewish and I have never really talked to him about my becoming more observant. I did manage to avoid having to turn lights on and I read all of my Friday evening prayers before bed that night. Olivia is Christian, like my dad, and we both spent that night in bed reading through our religious texts and reading each other inspirational verses to keep us motivated. 

On Saturday morning I woke up early and read through Shabbat Shacharit (prayers and songs for Saturday morning) and then woke Olivia up so she, Ryan and I could leave to go pick up our race packets. We drove about 45 minutes to the race site and picked up our numbers and race chips, then we walked around and visited all of the booths that were set up for the racers. I joined the VFW, which I’ve wanted to do for a while, and got so many business cards from people who said they could hook me up with jobs after I graduate. We went to Olive Garden for lunch and I ate about 5 pounds of salad and a few bread sticks. I bentched at the table.

I don’t keep perfect kosher. I like to go out to eat and that will be a hard thing to phase out, but I have learned which restaurants are the easiest to keep kosher-ish at. Olive Garden’s salad and bread sticks are great because raw veggies are almost always kosher and I researched the dressing a long time ago. I’m not entirely sure about the bread sticks, but, like I said before…one step at a time. 🙂

Anyway, Saturday night we read through our literature some more, ate a delicious pasta meal and downed a few bottles of water so we could be hydrated for the next day…the crazy day ahead of us. Olivia and I hardly slept that night after we set alarms for 3:00 am. We talked for a bit and then just rolled around in the bed nervously. The next morning we were gone by four and at the start line by 5:00. We met up with our other friends and chattered kind of nervously until the race started. There were over 5500 people there for the race, every kind of person I could imagine. There were old people, a kid who was 12, pretty overweight people, people with prosthetic legs or no arms, soldiers in uniform, veterans, people with and without ruck sacks, completely athletic runner types, people who looked as if they had never walked more than a mile in their lives…and then there were all of us, a bunch of goofy ROTC cadets and a girl in a skirt, laughing obnoxiously loud and making stupid jokes. When the gun went off for the race to start, we crossed the line and covered our ears to hide from the obnoxiously loud beeps of the timing chips being activated.

For the first few miles, about seven of us stayed together. Olivia and I had to pull over on the side to use the bathroom and the faster guys took off without us. When we got back on the trail, we were with our road trip buddy Ryan. The race was really interesting. At about mile 11, we met up with some of our other friends who were struggling with blisters and other issues. The people who were hurt in our group got patched up at the medic tent and we continued our march. 26.2 miles is a long time! There were tons of volunteers along the way handing out water, Gatorade, bananas and oranges. We kept filling up and stopping to pee and took a few pictures along the way. The trail was pretty crazy. It was about half sand and the wind made it quite vicious. There were a ton of hills to battle through. Ryan had awful blisters from his boots but he kept up. At about mile 20, I began to feel dehydrated and cramps came on. I tried my hardest not to stop (because every time we stopped, it became more and more enticing to just take a nap) and we finally crossed the finish line after about ten hours. 

After the race was over, I took my shoes off and sat on a padded chair for a few minutes. My friends were hungry for the free hot dogs the race organizers were giving out but I declined and instead walked to find my car. I was shoeless, dirty and exhausted, and after about two miles of searching aimlessly for my car, two older gentlemen approached me and congratulated me on finishing. I said thanks, and congratulated them too. We made small talk and I learned that they were from Phoenix, about two hours from where I live and that one of them had graduated from my university. 

They invited me to sit in their RV and drink some water, and I did, without even considering that it could be a mistake. I know that isn’t the wisest thing to do, but it’s not much of a stretch to say that I was delirious at that point. They gave me a bottle of water, a few Advil and a bottle of Naked juice. Then, they offered to go get my car for me. I told them that the only thing I remembered about parking that morning was that I was the last car in a row on a dirt lot…somewhere. They laughed and took my key and, about ten minutes later, returned with my car! I was so thankful that I prayed with them, right there. G-d is so good.

I drove to scoop up my friends, who had decided to sit and wait at the finish line for the last five people from our school (who were pretty torn up by the end). All of our cell phones were dead so I was kinda panicky, thinking that they were wandering around looking for me while I was sitting in this RV sipping on Naked juice. But, right as I drove up to the finish line area, I saw them walking toward my car! It was literally perfect timing. When they got in the car, I told them the story and Olivia burst out with, “G-d is good!!!” and we laughed deliriously at the fact that the race was over.

It was amazing. I am officially addicted to walking marathons. I know running is more hardcore, but walking is my thing. It was just so fun. Ryan and Olivia and I are basically blood brother/sisters now after that battle. I will never forget my first marathon and how Hashem was nudging me through the whole thing and then took care of me afterwards. What a freakin’ experience!!

Olivia and me at the finish line. I love this girl so much.

Lift me up

I just finished reading a really great book called Unorthodox. It’s about a woman who is raised in a Satmar community and spends her whole life inkling to leave, and then finally does. I love Judaism. However, I’m not naive. I don’t ever walk into anything with my eyes clouded by sunshine and lollipops. When I started taking Prozac, I researched every possible reaction and point of view from new users. I scrutinized the pamphlet that came with it and interrogated my pharmacist with ridiculous questions. Getting married at the age of 18 and joining the military on a whim were enough to teach me not to be so foolish again. 

Maybe it’s the Jew in me, to analyze and scrutinize and criticize?

Anyway, the author was chronicling her decision to leave Orthodoxy. Some of the things she said were downright scary…I actually gasped at a few parts, which rarely happens when I read. But I know enough to know that Satmar is an incredibly Orthodox sect of Judaism. The author made note of how good it felt to find the perfect pair of jeans when she decided to leave her skirts behind, and I laughed because I feel the same way when I find a great skirt or dress. The book ends with an interview with the author where she says that she is raising her only son to be a Modern Orthodox Jew and allowing him to make his own choices with regards to religion.

That spoke volumes to me. I have been thinking about how I will raise my children (if I take the plunge into motherhood) and I do not want them to feel forced into anything. I think it is a beautiful thing to turn to G-d and religion entirely on your own. I am so thankful that my parents never forced me into a religion. I could always ask my mom questions. After years of flirting with Judaism–“yeah, my mom’s ancestors are Russian Jews or something,” the occasional Hanukkah party, giving up pork (all of which my family rolled their eyes playfully at but supported me nonetheless)–I made my own decision to go to a synagogue and a Shabbat dinner. I made my own decision to buy a Siddur. I hung my very first mezuzos. And I like it. 

I like kissing the mezuzos in the rooms in my house. I like reading prayers. I like struggling through Hebrew and feeling like a queen when I recognize a word. I like cradding the Siddur close to me as I recite the parts of the prayers that I have memorized. I like making creative and fun outfits that allow me to express myself with modesty. I like keeping kosher. I like Jewish jokes and humor. I like the holidays. And I love my unabashed love for G-d and the acceptance I now have of every single creature on this Earth. 

I like that I can ask questions. I like that I can make jokes. I like that I can educate the more Orthodox girls on life outside of Orthodoxy and that I can bask in their frum knowledge. I like that my friends are respectful. I like that I can incorporate G-d into every aspect of my life. I love being Teshuvah. I see Judaism in a light that I think many people can’t because they take it all for granted. My friend who is teaching my Hebrew recently told me she was jealous of me because I was seeing Hebrew with brand new eyes. I was shocked because I would love to have the familiarity with it that she has, but I was also secretly delighted. 

What should a reader take from this coffee-inspired diarrhea of the fingers? (Gross, right?) There are dark sides to everything. Judaism has as many scary sides to it as any other religion or culture. Don’t be shocked when you hear about children being molested at yeshiva. People can be monsters, regardless of their upbringing. If you are new to Judaism, take care to take baby steps into it. Observe Shabbos once a month. Experiment with different lengths of skirts to see what you’re comfortable with (or try wearing a pair of jeans under a shorter skirt or dress.) If you take a step that you feel is too far, step back! Ask questions, Google, read books…look for the dark side. Don’t fool yourself into thinking things are perfect in any facet of life. Most importantly, turn to Hashem when you’re confused. Most observant Jews agree that it is better to pray in Hebrew and have no clue what you’re saying than it is to pray in English, but He understands all languages. Sometimes you just have to throw your hands up and yell, “What do you want me to do from here?!” And the answer will come. 

Landslide.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I did not want to go to shul. I said the Modeh Ani. I ate my pre-prepared breakfast. I didn’t turn on any lights. When I moved out to the kitchen to drink some water and eat some graham crackers, my boyfriend said, “Shouldn’t you be leaving for shul?” And I kinda shrugged and said, “Maybe I’ll go a little later.” He looked at me with that sideways look, and I said, “Actually, I’m not going today.” Then he looked really confused. “Are you okay?” he asked. 

I was fine. “I can’t explain it, but I don’t really want to go today, and I find that on the rare Saturdays that I miss it, I am dying to go the following week. You know?” He said he understood, and asked what I wanted to do instead. He has Saturdays off, so we decided to drive to visit some of his family.We brought them a TV that we have but never use and then went shopping at IKEA with his super sweet cousin. It was a really good day.

On the drive to visit his family, I read a little bit out of a book I have called, “If you had been born…” It’s about what life would be like if you had been born a different religion. I felt a little guilty when I read the section on Judaism because it talked about how Judaism is one of the most connected religions. Even a pork-eating, church-attending uncircumcised Jew who doesn’t know a thing about their Judaism has the blood of a really beautiful history in their veins. 

I didn’t feel bad for long, though, because I looked back to six months ago when I attended my first Shabbat dinner here on campus. I have made huge spiritual strides between now and then and every facet of my life has been affected. I no longer allow myself to have pity parties or be involved in negativity. I move more slowly, cherishing moments like twinkling stars and funny things my pets do and the feeling of a perfectly formed sentence. Many BT ruin their journey by diving in too deep, too fast. It can be overwhelming. Dressing tznius, purging your diet of non-kosher foods (MARSHMALLOWS!), following Shabbos rules, davening, all of the terminology (Yiddish and otherwise)…it can be a lot. FFB have never known otherwise so they might not always see the difficulty. Luckily, I’m surrounded by people who are frum but “with it,” and they say, “I can’t imagine how hard it is for you!” And they cheer me on when I take baby steps, like walking to shul. But they also warn me of the danger of frumming out too quickly. 

So, I think many people have a morning where they wake up and want to have a regular Saturday again. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. But, I am saying, there is no regular Saturday after you’ve decided to try out a more frum lifestyle. I said the Modeh Ani. I still moved slowly and appreciated things about life that I may have ignored before. I wore a pretty dress with a sweater (I was kvitching like crazy down in Phoenix, but I’m a pretty sweaty girl…gross, I know). I kept kosher. I called my boyfriend’s cousin’s son par-par. (Confusing, the family tree, but in their family pretty much everyone who is older is “auntie” or “uncle”, so it’s really simple 🙂 I love it). Saturdays will never be the same. I thank G-d for the crazy path I’ve walked along thus far because it has led me to a life that I never dreamed I would be living. 

PS: I made out like a bandit at Goodwill yesterday…six skirts and five shirts for $45 🙂 I love thrifting. And, thanks to my mom, I’m a pro at it. I grew up shopping at thrift shops and I rarely had the same outfit as anyone else, never spent more than $10 on a prom or formal dress, and when I got tired of an outfit, we just re-donated it and got something else. 😀Image

Courtesy of http://meggielynne.tumblr.com/

TGIF!

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I found this adorable picture on a Facebook page that I follow. (https://www.facebook.com/FitnessHoots)

That’s definitely a cute way to start my Friday! Sidenote: My boyfriend got a raise and a promotion at his job. Mazel tov to him! A little more responsibility, but he deserves it and I know he can handle it.

Some other pretty great things happened this week. We had a snow day on Wednesday, which meant that I was able to bake a lot of cookies and do some other things around the house. It was also my boyfriend’s day off, so we were able to do some hardcore reorganizing together. Unfortunately I had a migraine that lasted about three days, but I found that I legitimately felt better if I was up and moving around, rather than laying down. Weird, but I won’t question it. 

I also got two pretty impressive grades on exams, which is always exciting. One that I am particularly happy about is in my Arabic class. I love Arabic, completely unreasonably. I literally find joy in just reading through my dictionary and practicing my accent. I love drawing correlations between Arabic and Hebrew. I can’t tell if it excites or annoys my teacher every time I say, “IT’S LIKE THAT IN HEBREW TOO!!” She’s pretty sweet and seems to think it’s genuinely cool when I make those connections. 

I’ve also decided to take up knitting. It’s kind of random, but my sister and my mom are both avid needle-ers. My sister crochets and my mom knits. I love the things they make so I’ve decided to get my own knitting needles and make some things. I’m starting small, but I’m really excited to be able to make scarves and things like that.

Another mazel tov goes out to a wonderful friend of mine who is getting married! She asked me to be her bridesmaid and I’m SO excited. I don’t want to plan my own wedding (I’d much prefer to elope 😉 ) but I’m really enjoying doing hers. We are going Pinterest crazy! 

And, finally, this weekend is Purim. Tomorrow we’re doing the Megillah reading and Sunday we are having a nice big meal. Boyfriend and I got a bottle of champagne so we’re going to pop it tomorrow and celebrate his raise. And just laugh about..whatever is going on. He’s funny. 

I hope everyone has a great weekend! I leave you with this thought: You live in a glass house, so don’t throw stones! 🙂