Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Very First Stained Glass Class

Shalom, chaverim! I'm excited to say that I have now completed my first stained glass class and even made my own tiny little project. Elul and I went up to the beautiful--achingly beautiful, in fact--city of Vancouver, British Columbia, yesterday, and I had a lesson with a lovely man named Shane Edwards.

I connected with Shane via Craiglist, and from his picture, talking to him on the phone, and exchanging a few emails, I felt pretty secure that he wasn't going to be some kind of ax murderer. Elul wasn't so sure, however, so he came with me to Shane's front door just to sniff around protectively, so to speak. Everything seemed fine (and it was), so he took off for a couple of hours while I took my class. As it turns out, Elul wisely spent the time getting a wonderful chair massage in some neighborhood where they had lots of old Asian men offering chair massages and reflexology treatments.

The class was terrific. Shane spelled things out very clearly and had me do each step of the work myself, which boosted my confidence. We started out by picking pieces that we were going to use for our respective pieces, out of a pile of off-cuts from previous projects. After assembling them into the shape I wanted--in this case a kind of representational tulip form--I drew an outline around each piece so I could remember how to assemble them when it came time to solder.

Shane Allen, ready to teach me stained glass. Apologies for the unfocused shot; my camera lens is acting up!

Then, it was time to file some of the rough edges on the pieces, and then wrap each one with copper foil around the edges of each piece of glass. This was a lovely activity--about as engaging as knitting, without the need to count stitches--and gave Shane and I a chance to talk. We talked about our respective upbringings, and also about stained glass as an art form. We both agree that lots of stained glass hobby work these days is pretty conservative and very "safe." Who can get in trouble for doing stained glass objects featuring cats, or mallard ducks, or rainbows? There's nothing wrong with those pieces, of course, but they are rather repetitive when you go to craft show after craft show and see the same types of work. Of course, that's probably because people like them and they sell!

I am determined, however, to create pieces that are edgier and make more of  a statement. Indeed, why can't stained glass be provocative and thought-provoking? Judging from some rather libidinous Roman mosaics I've seen in the past, there's nothing like a canvas of any form to be a platform for social commentary and bold personal expression.

Revolutionary fervor and lofty discussions about art aside, it was soon time to get to the real business end of stained glass: the soldering. I'm happy to say that even though I'd never soldered anything in my life, with Shane's good form to follow, I did all right. The piece stuck together, and looked nice at the end. I filled in all the gaps created by pieces that wouldn't sit flush against each other, covered all the rest of the copper foil with solder to strengthen it, and then soldered on a hanging hook in the back,

Then it was time to wash off the flux, which is kind of a gooey paste that you spread on areas you want to solder. I did that, and then was thrilled to put my new piece up to the light.

My first piece. I have yet to get one of those suction-cup hangy-thingies to let it actually hang on the glass.
One final step that I chose not to do was to add black patina to the solder, which turns the silver to black, giving a piece that leaded-glass look. Although it looks black in the picture, the piece actually has silver solder on it. Time itself will turn the solder black, but until then, I'll enjoy the piece in its lighter, more ethereal state.

Quite satisfied with our day, Elul and I said goodbye and took a beautiful drive through a very high-end neighborhood in Vancouver, so we can see how the 1% live over the border. The cherry and plum blossoms were all in bloom, and it was a gorgeous, bright, cool day without a cloud in the sky. Driving back to Bellingham, we indulged ourselves in numerous stunning views of Mt. Baker.

Mt. Baker, also known as Komo Kulshan--the original Lummi and Nooksack name.
So that was lesson one in my career as a stained glass artist. Now the job is to get my own tools and materials to get started with my own pieces, and to continue learning with Shane and with other teachers I cross paths with in the future. It feels great to have finally taken the first step towards fulfilling a new dream. Obviously, our dream to live the rest of our lives in Israel did not work out--at least for now. But we have to carry on, and for me, I always do better when I am moving towards something, rather than sitting, crying, and staring at a closed door.

Shavua tov, chaverim!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bluegrass Stained Glass Baby

Shalom, chaverim! How's it going, eh? Things here in placid Bellingham are rolling along nicely since I last wrote. We've been having fun exploring the area, including a couple of visits to a local casino up the road. They loaded us up with new member "comps" (complimentary gifts) like meals at the buffet--two were free because we were new members, and another two were free because it was going to be our birthdays at some date in the next year! Not to mention each of us receiving two (two!) plastic tape-measure keychains (do we look like people who need to measure twice and cut once? Probably.), lanyards on which to hang our players' club card, large buttons screaming "New Member!", and a pen that doubles as a cellphone text message stylus. That's a lot of swag.

Unfortunately, the friendliness of the staff and the generosity of the players' club benefits was not matched by the actual quality of the food. Nursing our bloated bellies and disappointed palates following our meals there, we found ourselves missing the splendor and debauched gluttony of a typical buffet at a Las Vegas Strip casino. Some things just taste better at home.

Never mind. Allegiant Airlines flies cheap and cheerful planes out of Bellingham on a daily basis, so we'll get around to visiting Vegas again when our wallet and calendars allow it. By the way, here's a little shout-out to our friends in Nevada...we miss you all! Remember you residents of the mesquite-fired state, Allegiant also flies from Vegas to Bellingham, too, so come visit us in the City of Subdued Excitement for a polar opposite urban experience and all the crunchy organic granola you can eat.

I've harnessed the power of the interwebs to build up our social life, and have joined a bunch of groups on that meet in Bellingham. is a really cheap (like $10 a year cheap) online service you can sign up with to connect with like-minded people who want to meet "IRL" (web-speak for "in real life"). I've joined "Women of Whatcom," for one, a photography group, one for independent filmmakers, one called "Northwest Entrepreneurs,"  and a couple of others. So far I've been to two meetups, and the people have been very, very nice. Since I've completed my Goodwill classes at the moment, I have some extra time and want to put it to good use.

I've also put out some feelers to see if I can form some kind of act with other musicians. So far I've gotten two responses to an ad I put out on Craigslist, so we'll see what happens with that one. I was looking, actually, for musicians with whom to form some kind of old-timey, folksy bluegrass group--my secret music love. Of course, with only a few YouTube clips to demonstrate my singing, which were of me doing Cantorial Soloist pieces in Hebrew, I'm not surprised I didn't have much street cred. Never mind. I just keep thinking of The Bangles and how they all had boring day jobs as secretaries and office workers. If they can do it, why can't I get together a little folk music ensemble?

Finally, I've started in earnest to learn how to do stained glass--something I decided I wanted to do before we made Aliyah, but could never get it together to learn when I was in Israel. Of course, the language barrier, my own shyness, and various other problems got in my way there. But now, it's time to act. I tracked down two different teachers who are offering introductory workshops in stained glass, and signed up with both of them.

The first teacher, whom I'll meet this weekend, lives in lovely Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. That's great, because it allows Elul to explore Vancouver while I toddle away with my new hobby. The next teacher is down in Auburn, Washington--south of Seattle and near Federal Way, if you know the area. I hope to study with him next month, for a two-day workshop. Strangely, the woman in Bellingham from whom I bought my tools last year seems to have disappeared from the local stained glass scene, so I have to hit the road to find my teachers.

One of the many dreams I have always had, but never did anything about, was to make art that I could actually sell. In the past, I've always sold services: English lessons, babysitting, lawn mowing, copy writing, pet sitting, showing up to a job, and so on. But I have a passion for stained glass that has haunted me for years now, and now I want to learn to make all these daydreams of beautiful work that have danced around in my head come alive--and into the homes of people who love stained glass like I do. That's it. We'll see where this new road takes me. Maybe it will be a road accompanied by the dulcet tones of my bluegrass duo. "Olah chadasha Turns Bluegrass Stained Glass Baby" there's a headline and a half.

Until then, l'hitra'ot ("see you later" in Hebrew), chaverim!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Taking Care of Business, Been Working Overtime

Shalom, chaverim! Or, since we now live so close to our Canadian neighbors, should I say, "How's it going, eh?" Either way, it's nice to be back in the blogosphere! I feel like I'm talking to a good friend in this little bloggy-blog, even though I have little to no idea who actually reads it. Especially now that we're not living in Israel anymore. I've really had to think hard as to whether anyone would be interested in this blog now that we're not living in Israel, and whether I should just close the whole thing down. But I'm not ready to do that, simply because I like writing, aka gossiping via a keyboard.

It's been two months since my last confession--er, blog post--and the time has really flown by. At this very moment, I'm writing at 11:25 at night in Beautiful Bellingham, the City of Subdued Excitement. I am teaching an Israeli student, and her English lesson starts at midnight. Fortunately, she's the only one of my eight students who wants a lesson that is in the morning (for her), which means I have to stay up very late. The rest of my students like their lessons after they get home from work, so I teach them in the mornings.

My students are such an interesting and pleasant bunch of Israelis from all walks of life. One student, whom I'll call Svetlana, is a Russian-speaking woman who made a kind of forced Aliyah when she was just a teenage girl at a very tender age. She was from Moldova and her family got caught up in the Balkan war in the 1990's. The family left for Israel, and in the blink of an eye, she found herself living in very poor conditions and the only blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid in her school. All her classmates bullied her ruthlessly, calling her a "Russian slut" in a language she barely understood.

But Svetlana didn't let that get her down. She studied and worked harder than anyone in her school, and got a scholarship to study at the University of Haifa. She went into social work, because she wanted to help others who found themselves in equally dire straits through no fault of their own. She did development work in Haiti, then in Africa.

Right now, Svetlana is preparing to move to Senegal to do more work, helping to develop community leaders to teach others about psychological health. Her employers, a non-profit Israeli NGO, believe that a crucial part of development work lies in training young people to be community leaders and to feel empowered to make change within and among themselves. She is a delightful and fascinating student to work with, and I'm very lucky to have her. If anyone is interested in hearing more about my other students, let me know via Facebook or the comments section here, and I'll talk about the rest of them over time. They really are fascinating people, and always inspire me to do better, think bigger, and work harder.

So, what have I been up to besides work? Well, for the past two months, I've been taking free classes in Word and Excel and Career Coaching at our local Goodwill store. And here, I want to do a BIG plug for Goodwill. Did you know that sole mandate of Goodwill is to get people ready for and into the workplace? And that anyone who wants to can come in and take free classes to improve and build on their skills in computers, customer service, cashiering, GED preparation, ESL, and even citizenship test preparation? They do! And they do it so nicely, as well. I've had a great experience working with my job coach, Cathie Haag, my computer instructor Jim, my case manager Jessica, and the other great people who work there, Maureen and Sean. Cathie has been working with me on revamping and updating my somewhat chaotic and incoherent resume and has given me some leads on some great jobs.

I've really enjoyed the coaching and computer skills development classes, and I'll be returning for more when the new session starts in March. Even if you're only partially employed, you can still take advantage of the job coaching services Goodwill has to offer, and anyone, regardless of employment status, can take any class at Goodwill for free. I highly recommend you check them out and offer them support by becoming one of their customers. Yesterday, we students toured the "production area," where all the donations are sorted, cleaned, and priced to be put on the floor. As an example of how well the Bellingham store is run, the head of retail there, Patty, spent over twenty years running departments at Target, Sears, and even Nordstroms. This lady trains her floor staff incredibly well, and runs a very tight and immaculate ship...and it shows in the store. I can't tell you how many bargains I've gotten there already!

Our social life is still pretty much based around my mother, stepfather, stepsister, and her partner. We've been "shul shopping" at two places so far, and while one seemed quite promising, we're not sure if it's really the right fit for us. We'll probably go back a few more times, and if it still doesn't click, we'll try other places. We really missed our congregational life in America while we were in Israel, and hope we can find a new community that will be fulfilling spiritually as well as socially.

So while finding a synagogue to join is still in "search mode," we've also taken to going to to find other groups we might be interested in joining. I've joined one on digital photography, another one on independent filmmakers, and a couple of women's groups with various centers of attention. I've also joined a yoga group that does musical chanting, followed by readings from the Bhagavad Gita and a vegetarian potluck! I'm also flirting around with joining the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, but their dues are a little pricey for the moment, so I'm content just to go to their monthly talk. Last month's talk was about women and depression, and this month's talk is about women and economic insecurity in the local area. Having had first-hand struggles with both of these issues (being depressed and broke at the same time, living on not only a shoestring but also having my life itself hanging by a thread), I am a highly motivated attendee!

Well, it's time to teach my lesson "at the midnight hour," as it were, so I wish you all a Shabbat shalom, and a shavua tov (good week)! Please let me know if you'd like me to keep blogging about all my mundane and non-glamorous nonsense.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exit 255

Shalom, chaverim! Or perhaps I should say, "Hiya, everybody!"

It's been a long time since I posted and when I logged onto my Blogger account today I didn't even want to look at my last post, since I'd actually have to see exactly how long it's been. Anyway, this post has been a long time coming, I know. It wasn't until now that I was really ready to speak about it.

Elul and I have left Israel. Our family and many friends know this, of course, but not all of our friends or acquaintances. If I haven't reached out to you personally, please don't think it's because I don't care or don't think about you. It has been a very difficult time for me and for Elul and it's only recently that I've been even willing to talk about it much to anyone.

We left for a number of reasons, but the main issue was that Elul has a medical condition that needed treatment, and, even though he should have been able to access that treatment in Israel, he wasn't getting it. I'd love to tell you the specifics of all this, but it is Elul's business and not mine, so I will respect his privacy. Anyway, he tried to get the treatment he needed for over seven months, all the while becoming less able to work, and suffering more and more on a daily basis. Nothing was working and he was getting a vicious runaround from the powers that be, and his condition was visibly deteriorating. This was taking a great toll on him personally, on us as a couple, and on us financially. Life in Israel as middle aged olim chadashim is precarious enough--even if you have two able-bodied workers. When disability gets thrown into the mix, it can really upset the apple cart.

Other problems were related to finance--specifically, our financial plans for the future. Elul will be 62 in July, and when we came to Israel, the gauzy, hazy plan was for both of us to continue to work, but to collect and invest Elul's Social Security payments until he--and then we--retired. Since we were low earners (by both Israeli and American standards), there would be no issue of us exceeding the annual earnings limit and having the payment docked. We enjoy working and are not in any hurry to completely retire, so the thought of Elul working for another ten or fifteen years didn't bother him at all.

However, I happened to come across a notice for a seminar being held by a representative of the Social Security Administration down in Haifa, put on by the wonderful organization AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, which I strongly recommend North American olim join). I attended, and to my utter shock, it turned out that the rules for Americans living overseas regarding Social Security are quite different to Americans living within the U.S. In a nutshell, if you live overseas and are collecting Social Security, you are only allowed to work 45 hours a month, no matter what country you live in, no matter what hourly wage you are paid, no matter what currency--strong or weak--you are paid in. Period.

That little bombshell of information had major implications for our future. This was not the first marriage for either of us, and neither of us brought much to the marriage in the way of capital or investments--just a lot of lessons learned from the School of Hard Knocks and plenty of Stupid Tax "paid in full" receipts. We were, and are, determined to do what we can to prepare for our future. I've seen poverty among the elderly population in both Israel and America, and it's no walk in the park that either of us ever want to take.

A second very important financial problem also confronted us. Except for a brief period between 2003 and 2011, I've been living overseas in various countries since 1990. During all those years, I lived close enough and was able to always save enough to go visit my family on a regular basis--usually once a year. Now my family members are getting older and, very conveniently, they've all ended up on the same coast of America in Washington state and California. My grandmother was slowly edging towards the end of life in her 95th year, and I was extremely concerned that I would not be able to see her before she died and attend her funeral. I already knew that getting from Tel Aviv out to Seattle on a last-minute ticket just might not be possible for us financially. This was unacceptable. We just weren't earning enough to pay our bills and be able to go visit our families. Elul's mother and sister live in Florida, his sons live in North Carolina, and my family lives completely across the country. It wasn't working, and it really wasn't ever going to work. It took us awhile for this to really sink in.

So, as the Israelis say, "ma la'asot?" i.e. "Whaddya gonna do?" Well, after the umpteenth time that the tenants in our apartment building put the kibosh on doing the "Tama Shloshim Ve Shmoneh," aka the earthquake/bomb-proofing/elevator-installing renovation process that was supposed to have started nearly three years ago when we moved in, we'd had it. We seriously started thinking about moving back to America, at least for the time being. The stairs were getting too much for us, and it came to the crunch time: if we were going to move, was it to move apartments within Nahariya, move to another city in Israel that was closer to a university (like Haifa), or just move back to America?

The answer came wrapped in a most mysterious package: a car auction on eBay. One day, idly surfing the internet, Elul found my ultimate dream car on eBay at a wonderful price--thousands of dollars less than the Citroen C4 hatchback we'd bought in Israel. It needed some major repairs (some which were disclosed by the seller, some, unfortunately, not), but it was still a great deal and would mean living in that blessed state of no car payment. The car was located in Chicago. We decided, quite brashly, to place exactly one bid on the car. If we got it, the plan was that Elul would fly to Chicago (which would be a cheaper ticket than one to Seattle), then pick the car up and drive it to Washington, where he would investigate communities in and around the northern end of Seattle. My stepmother lives there, and my mother, stepfather, stepsister and her partner all live in Bellingham, which is about 90 miles north of Seattle. We were considering places like Everett, Bothell, and Mountlake Terrace.

We got the car. Within an hour, Elul had booked a ticket, and in less than a week he was out the door. Just three days after he picked up the car, he arrived in Bellingham, where my wonderful mother and stepfather put him up for a month while he looked around and scouted out communities. The big surprise was that while the original plan was for Elul to come back to Israel and for us to leave in February, he decided instead to just stay in Bellingham and not return to Israel at all. The minute he found an apartment and it was ready for him to move in, I was to pack up the cats and join him.

Not the actual car, but this is the exact make, model, year, and color of our awesome-ass, no-payment-ever, new-to-us dream car. Our car is parked under a fancy apartment complex carport. Whee!

So I did. I turned down three (!) teaching jobs I'd been offered for the fall, and we arranged with our employers to take our jobs with us to America. That's a huge benefit of working online--you're not tied to a physical place, so you can be extremely mobile if you need to be.

Elul found a great apartment. It's smaller than what we had in Nahariya, but far cheaper, quieter, and has a nice clubhouse with a pool, hot tub, and sauna. Of course, it looks onto a small pond instead of the Mediterranean, but it's warm, safe, quiet, clean, and very well laid out. And, amazingly, it is literally several doors down from my stepsister and her partner, who live in the same complex. (By the way, the title of this post, "Exit 255," is the freeway exit from the I-5 to our apartment.)

Everyone in the family has been so generous and supportive in helping us get set up: gifts in all forms keep coming at us from every direction, for which we are so extremely grateful. Elul now has access to the medical treatment he needs, and is now back to working nearly his full schedule. He is very, very happy to be feeling so good again. And, he didn't know it at first, but "my" dream car, with its badass black leather interior and heated, auto-adjust seats and mirrors, is now his dream car, too. He did an amazing job of pulling a new life for us here from thin air in a very short time--more evidence of my husband's formidable skills in planning and project management.

I got here in early November, with two cats, two computers, two suitcases, and a packet of anti-anxiety meds in tow. Our personal belongings, which I mailed from Israel in 26 large boxes, have just started to arrive. I was able to see my grandmother before she died, and I said what I needed to say to her before she passed away. I was able to attend my stepsister's birthday party for the first time. Last night, I saw a dear friend I hadn't seen since we left Nevada in 2010. I'm now living closer to my mother and stepfather than I have since 1984, and for the first time since I was three years old, I'm actually a resident of the same state I was born in. If you can believe it, we went to a Reform shul last Friday in Bellingham, where we met a man who'd known my brother from high school in Seattle! We're having the family over for brisket, latkes, and candle-lighting this Saturday. In terms of connecting with family and focusing on the fundamentals of life, it's been very good.

Well, I've been banging on for too long now, and I don't want to bore you. There's lots I can say about this strange re-entry process, Bellingham as a new place to live, and my jumbled feelings of grief, guilt, and ambivalence about leaving Israel and our dear friends and community there, but I won't right now. I wish you all a Chag Chanukkah Sameach--Happy Hanukkah, chaverim!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fight or Flight: Battling One's Internal Environment

Shalom, chaverim!

All is well here in sunny Nahariya. The children are back to school, so the Israeli version of school bells going off--to signal each change of class--are ringing around the town like an overly-loud mobile phone ringtone. By "Israeli version," I mean that here, school bells are actually electronic snippets of nursery tunes and folk songs. "Rock a Bye Baby," "Happy Birthday To You," and even "Jingle Bells" samples are used. When I would hear these tunes blaring at the Druze school I worked in last year, the setting itself gave it an even greater surrealist touch.

The past week has been a series of one domestic battle with our environment after another. Last week, our landlord's refrigerator finally gave up the ghost. Fortunately, we had a small spare fridge (given to us by an American olah who returned to America, screaming, after living a few years here), so we didn't lose too much food.   We've already had to fix the landlord's fridge twice at our own expense, but this time we just gave up and went out fridge shopping.Now we have a nice, shiny, brand-new Whirlpool fridge that is doing a great job. However, our landlord's old, humungous fridge is also sitting in the kitchen, right next to it. This puts a little dent in our available dining area, to put it mildly, so we've put the dining table in the living room.

Our new fridge is the tall, skinny one

Another ongoing battle with this apartment has been with water being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I swear, I have never, ever lived in a dwelling that seems to be losing the fight to the immense power of water, as much as this place is losing. Leaking roofs, blocked drains, leaking pipes within walls that lead to sickening mold and falling plaster, drafty single-pane windows that make the place humid and black-mildewy (not to mention causing us to waste vast amounts of electricity), a temperamental toilet, a washing machine that has a very unaccommodating drain pipe--the list goes on and on. Fortunately, our landlords have been as patient as saints in working to solve all of these problems, and by no means are these problems unusual when you live in an old apartment block anywhere in Israel. Other renters have had terrible luck with the same problems, but with uncaring and incompetent landlords to deal with on top of that.

However, the constant battle against the elements does get us down at times-- at least, I'm starting to take it personally, which is part of the immigrant paranoia that is induced by chronic culture shock. So many physical objects in Israel just break and disintegrate at an alarmingly fast rate. Some of this may be due to the harshness of the salt air and the intensity of the sun. As a small example, I can't even tell you how many times plastic clothespins, less than a year old, have literally crumbled in my hand. Electrical equipment gets corroded, ceases to work, and sometimes start electrical fires. Refrigerators go kaflooey, computers crap out, phones die, plastic and metal cooking utensils snap apart in one's hand, chairs collapse...even a brand new computer desk Elul bought the other day broke--just as he was assembling it. Sadly, the (generally crappy and overpriced) Ace Hardware in town won't take returns of items that have been assembled by customers, even if they are inherently defective.

Okay, enough kvetching! As chance would have it, my bad mood was just interrupted in the most delightful way, in the form of a phone call from our friend Elisa from Temple Sinai in Delray Beach, Florida. She's here in Israel, staying in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and will be attending a wedding in the West Bank (gulp!). She sent us a "suitcase full of love" from Temple Sinai, which I have received with great pleasure and gratitude. We send the back the same, but in shipping container-sized volume.

I really can't express how much we miss and care about our friends and family in America--those who belong to our Temples Sinai of Las Vegas and Delray Beach, and those who don't. We really, really miss you all! The older we get, the louder the clarion call of family, friendship, and congregational life rings in our heads and in our hearts. Since we really don't earn enough to be able to take lots of time off and travel back and forth for visits, however, it's really a conundrum. We feel very torn, and have not figured out a way--yet--to resolve this problem.

However, as the Israelis say, "ha'kol yihiyeh b'seder," which means "everything will be all right." That, along with the Arab maxim, "trust in G-d and tie up your camel," are the two things I always tell myself to keep going and to keep the faith.

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Back to Life--Again

Shalom, chaverim!

Well, in the land that is known for reportedly having at least one spectacular case of resurrection, here's a far more modest example of revivification--I'm back!

I've been dithering about what to say here about why I haven't posted for such a long time (December of last year was my last entry...yikes!). To make a long story short, things really started falling apart for me last November, and they haven't really started to pick up and sort themselves out until now.

Mostly, the problems were physical and involved seemingly endless rounds of tests and visits to various doctors all over the country. Neurologists, endocrinologists, heart specialists--you name it, I was there. After going through all the investigations and tweaking a few things here and there, I think I finally have a handle on what my conditions are, what medications I need to treat them, and what lifestyle adaptations I need to make in order to stay healthy, happy, and functioning. There is certainly room for improvement, though--taking up regular exercise that won't trash my knees or my joints is next on the agenda. Middle age has its advantages, but really starting to "feel it" physically isn't one of them. So it's a work in progress.

It's been hard to come to terms with the fact that I may never be able to get back to my "old self," who used to be able to easily juggle multiple jobs, lots of projects, countless moves, and a social life. I can do a lot less now than I used to, and I need to sleep more and rest more frequently. However, living at a slower--and more mindful--pace doesn't have to be all bad. I know this in theory, at least. I've attended two ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats in the past which demanded total silence and abstinence from all reading and writing, so I should be better about being "okay" with slowing down, but it's still a struggle for me.

If you've been following the world news, you'll know that Israel and Hamas just signed a "permanent" (whatever that means in the Middle East) ceasefire after fifty days of hellish, destructive battle and countless deaths and injuries. We were fine, more or less, up here in the North--only a few jerks set off a handful of rockets towards our area from Lebanon and Syria, and it seems the perpetrators were quickly dealt with. Some damage was done, but thank goodness no one was killed.

Still, it was truly a rotten summer. No one really felt like celebrating or going out to have a lot of fun, and no one really felt like going too far away from home.  It just didn't seem right, and it sometimes didn't feel safe, depending on where you were thinking of travelling to. As for Elul and me, we usually just hung around Nahariya, except for during ceasefires. When the ceasefires held, the whole nation breathed a sigh of relief; it was a palpable feeling. When fighting started again, gloom descended along with it.

The propaganda wars on social media, and within the news media (due to the ability to "talk back" to internet news stories by commenting on them) were intense, unrelenting, and often extremely vicious. Some real-life friendships were made stronger, some were destroyed, and some were severely tested. The anti-Israel demonstrations within Israel and outside the country, particularly in Europe, were extremely upsetting and frightening. I've never seen anything like it, and hope to never again. I've lived in England and in France, and seeing these demonstrations on the news made me feel sick, sad, and baffled. How could this be happening now, in 2014, in the same streets I had lived in so long ago?

My teaching career in Israel is taking a few twists and turns. This year, I might not be teaching in any Ministry of Education schools, as I just found out yesterday that the job I had been promised at the Druze school at the end of last year has mysteriously disappeared. At least, no one has any record that the Ministry of Education has awarded me any teaching hours to work there.  However, I did manage to find a job teaching English online for an Israeli company. I've just started with them and they seem like a very nice group of entrepreneurs, so I hope my hours with them will grow.

Elul has been having his own struggles with his health over the past six months, and they are reaching a crisis point. At the moment, he is unable to work his job full time anymore, due to repetitive strain injury and chronic pain from arthritis. This development has placed him firmly into the quagmire that is the Israeli social security system, aka "Bituach Leumi." This Kafka-esque institution has more forms, committees, meetings, and chase-the-tail gyrations than I've ever seen. He is lost in the thicket, so to speak, and there's no real trail of breadcrumbs he can follow to get himself out.

However, all is not lost. We are getting help in the battle from the wonderful Yanina Muskinow of the AACI (Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel), who explained Bituach Leumi very elegantly. "With Bituach Leumi," she said, "you need to understand that it does not operate by laws, but by rules. The whole art is to find out which rules and forms support your intended outcome the most." There is an art to letter-writing that must accompany one's application for various services, and if the letter is not written in a certain way, an application may be denied. The good news is, you can always write another letter and submit the same information (e.g. medical records), and get approved. Zoink!

My pet sitting business, Aliyah Petsitting, has dwindled down to the grand total of one client, for whom I am extremely grateful. This has been entirely because I have failed to market my business, even though I have the advertising material prepared and ready for distribution. Such is the insidious and opportunity-robbing nature of depression and fear. It literally prevents money from coming into one's pocket, as if you were zipping your own wallet closed with your own hand. At least now, though, I am less afraid to answer the telephone if someone calls who doesn't speak English. I may have to muddle through in awful Hebrew, but at least I can give it a fighting chance.

At the end of December, we will have been here for three years. Time seems to pass very quickly in Israel, and there is a certain sense of time distortion that many olim seem to comment on. Perhaps this is due to our aging brains, as research has shown that the older our brains get, the faster time appears to pass. And even though I've been mainly whining about the tough times I've been having, please don't think it's all bad or miserable. We have made good friends, and Nahariya--and Israel--is still beautiful and full of life. We are supporting ourselves and working hard to build our future. We are seeing more of the country, slowly, and we can speak one heck of a lot more Hebrew than we could at the end of our first year. We're still glad we came and don't regret it at all. So, we're hanging in there.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to two great bloggers I am fortunate enough to know in real life. One is Shem Tov Sasson, who, like me, was born in Seattle and raised in Michigan. We met him while we were on our pilot trip to Israel and he was a young man in Ulpan. Now Shem Tov is older, and has been serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). He has a terrific blog, full of stories about the interesting places he visits all over Israel. We met up at the recent annual Nefesh B'Nefesh Go North Picnic (which was terrific, as usual), and he encouraged me to start blogging again, despite my embarrassment. If he can blog from a war zone, what's my excuse? I don't have one, period.

Shem Tov's blog is called "Israel's Good Name." Also, his parents own and operate Aliyah Lift Shipping, and handled our lift when we made Aliyah from Florida. We received wonderful service from them, and no, they aren't paying me anything to say this! The picnic was held at Michmanim, an ecological Biblical village far up in the hills of Karmiel. It was a fascinating and beautiful setting for the event, and it was great to catch up with some old friends there.

Pressing concerns: A picnicker examines an ancient olive press at Michnanim, the Ecological Bible Village

My kind of picnic setting--plenty o' rustic
A view from the entrance down to the picnic area

View from the mountaintop down towards Karmiel

The second blogger I want to support is that of a former colleague from our teaching days in Nevada, Alvaro Pico. "Mr. Pico," as we addressed each other back then (I was "Miss Lana"), has been blogging about his weight loss experience for the past month at "It Can Be Done - Dropping the Weight." He's going great guns, is dieting and exercising sensibly and with a great attitude, and is getting real results. Both he and Shem Tov inspired me to sit down again, stop making excuses, and start blogging again.

As for you, kind and patient readers, I want you to know I really appreciate the Facebook comments and emails you've been sending me over the past months, with your good wishes and encouragement to keep going. It's been tough, and I've felt bad that I wasn't able to pull myself together any sooner than this. Still, thank you for caring, even though I wasn't able to respond with any action at all--sometimes not even a thank-you. I heard you and I felt your care and concern, so believe me, your kindness did not go unappreciated. If any of you can spare a thought to send some prayers and good thoughts to me to help me get out of my own darn way, I will be exceptionally grateful. And of course, please pray for peace in the Middle East--everyone around this region needs all the help we can get with that one!

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tools Down!

Shalom, chaverim! Once again, my intention to post more frequently, and at a regular pace, has been an "epic fail." That is not to say I put this blog out of my mind, but rather, I kept making mental notes about what to write in the next post. The problem with mental notes, though, is that they are mental (duh), rather than physical. And as I operate on the assumption that most of you are not professional mind-readers, it puts the onus on me to get off my anus and actually write something. So here it is, warts and all, sans the fabulous "mental posts" I had dancing in my head.

Organ Recital

November and much of December have turned out to be a real hassle for me, with a couple of scary health incidents. On November 24th, I decided that since it had been about two years since I'd seen a dentist, it was time to get a move on and make an appointment. I did so, with a Scottish dentist in town who had been highly recommended by my Nahariyan friends. Since his tiny office is in a shopping mall in the center of town, I came to my appointment heavy laden with shopping bags, backpack, and purse. Well, to make a long story medium-length, once I got into his examining room, I realized the only place to put my stuff was at the foot of the dental chair, which was across the room. And instead of trying to get past the dentist, I went to the other side of the head of the chair and charged forward, hyper-focused on the one eensy-meensy place I could put my bags.

BANG! I absolutely cold-cocked myself on the top of my head, having walked right into the overhanging arm of the metal x-ray machine. I staggered back, seeing stars and nearly fainting from the pain and the shock. I had no idea what had happened--it felt like a hammer from G-d had just given me a big old b*tch-slap. Fortunately, there was a counter and a stool just behind me, so I was able to grab onto it and keep myself from falling. I howled.

The dentist and his assistant got me into the chair immediately, which helped. When I was able to stop crying, we laughed about it and we went on with the examination and the cleaning. At the time, since I was in the chair for nearly an hour and didn't have to talk too much, I thought I was all right, and even rode my bike home.

However, that evening, things started getting strange. My vision got a little blurry, and I was finding it difficult to speak coherently. It was hard to read, and I was very, very sleepy. After Googling "concussion," I knew I wouldn't be fit for work the next day, so I called in sick. I made an evening appointment with the doctor to get a sick note, but by the time it rolled around, Elul had to work and I didn't feel safe to ride my bike or drive--I was that gorked out.

Hospital Visit #1

Anyway, the next morning, Elul took me to the doctor to get my note. By this time, I was so drowsy and out of it that my doctor took one look at me and sent me to the emergency room at the hospital. Although they first thought I might be in that state from drug use (!), they soon sent me for a CT scan. Fortunately, there was no internal bleeding, so they sent me home with a note for two weeks off, and strict instructions to do "no cognitive work," including reading and writing. That kind of makes it difficult to teach English, write and narrate news stories, and do graduate work in education. But seriously, I was in no shape to do any of it. It was strangely restful, though, to be so damaged that I could easily sit in a chair for 30 minutes at a time without thinking about anything at all. No worries, no cares, no concerns, no self-criticism. Just a lovely kind of emptiness, watching the birds and the sun on the sea, watching the dust motes dance.

Pini and I take in the view of my own personal "Gorky Park."

Hospital Visit #2

So, ten days go by and I think I'm on the mend. I've managed to secure assignment extensions from my professors, and have filed the sick note paperwork for my teaching job. Then, once again, with all the charm of Emeril Lagasse, BAM! It's the middle of the day, and, like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky, I find myself first bent over from lower abdominal cramps, then, within minutes, literally down on the floor on my hands and knees, vomiting from pain. I got Elul to call our (WONDERFUL) Maccabi health insurance company to talk to their nurse. He explained what was going on and she gave immediate approval for me to go to the emergency room.

Elul got me there right away, but I walked myself in because he had to park the car. The problem was, I was staggering and crying and couldn't stand up straight. Some aides helped me into a wheelchair and got me into the emergency room, but I was crying so much from pain that I couldn't speak clearly. So a nurse decided that I was "hysterical," and to "snap me out of it," gave me an extremely painful Vulcan death pinch on my left shoulder! That just made me bellow and cry even more, and shout "please stop hurting me!"

Oy! They gave me a scan right away and admitted me to the hospital. What was eventually pieced together, from multiple scans and multiple doctors, was basically this: "Well, you have ovarian cysts, endometrial tissue all over the place, and a "mass" that we can't really identify, exactly. It also looks like something has twisted, since there's no blood flow to your right ovary. So we'll have to operate tomorrow. No food and drink for you until after the op!"

Pre-op. I wasn't that chipper post-op, believe me!

They did the operation, I went into post-op and recovery, stayed another night, and was out the next afternoon. They removed all the crap they could find, along with my right fallopian tube. I am now the proud owner of three new "keyholes" in my belly, stitched up with dissolvable sutures that haven't dissolved yet. I have to say, though, that one of these "keyholes" must have been designed for a mighty large key! Still, once again, just like my brief stint last year for the same problem, I had absolutely excellent care from every single member of the hospital staff. I was extremely well looked after, the ward was clean and quiet, and everything was very well organized. Everyone was supportive and kind, and answered all the questions I had carefully and fully. Rock on, the Western Galilee Hospital Nahariya!

Elul was great during all this, I want to point out to the world. He was patient, kind, supportive, and dealt with all the odds and ends of work communication that goes with any health crisis, not to mention multiple visits and hassles with parking in bad weather. Thank you, sweetheart!

At my follow-up appointment with my doctor, she told me to take a month off work. At first, I thought that seemed excessive. But now, it's just great. I can't believe how much time I've spent sleeping and just doing the bare minimum of my household chores. I haven't ridden my bicycle since the head injury, and I can only walk for about ten minutes without getting winded. Elul and I used to walk an hour a day, seven days a week! I've had to back out of a wonderful singing engagement for our local ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) chapter, and have had to take a medical leave of absence from my M.Ed. program. I have just enough energy to work a little and do a little housework, and that's about it. In other words, my life has kind of gone off the rails. Where I go from here, I don't know.

Mystery UnDiagnosis

So, the final wrinkle in all of this is that I'm also being tested for Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that I may have contracted many years ago when I lived in Ireland. Even though I have ALL the symptoms, I have to say I'm not holding out much hope for a positive diagnosis. This is only because I've been struggling for so long, for so many years, to get to the bottom of this mystery condition, this "great pretender," that is routinely misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's, sleep apnea, epilepsy, vascular dementia, MS, chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein-Barr, irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, hormonal disorders, skin cancer, and perimenopause, to name but a few. I have been tested for, and have had ruled out, nearly all of these conditions. The fact that I now recall (thanks to Elul's detective work and careful questioning) that I once found an engorged tick under the bedclothes when I lived in Ireland, is what makes us think it may be Lyme disease. But like I say, I'm not holding out much hope. I feel discouraged and somewhat hopeless. My memory is getting so bad, and my fatigue is getting so out of control (11-13 hours a sleep required a day, anyone?) that I don't know where to go or what to do anymore.

The results of the "AB borrelia burgdorfer" panel blood tests should come back next week. I'll keep you posted.

Big Ol' Storm

In other news, Israel is just coming out of the worst storm it's had in the last 150 years. It's been freezing cold in our apartment, and we've been sleeping in our clothes for the past two weeks. I managed to ferret out a wonderful woolen blanket at the local charity shop, along with some woolen berets and a man's oversize turtleneck sweater, which I'v been wearing day and night during this last cold snap. We took one of my mother's quilts and hung it on a large dowel rod, which we then suspended over our leaky, single-pane home office window to keep the drafts out. The hanging quilt setup was completed by adorable duct-tape sealing, which immediately ripped the paint off the plaster when the cats pulled the quilt down by trying to climb it. To borrow from Willie Nelson's song, "Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to in old Israeli apartment buildings." I have just ordered a few pairs of silk sock liners, so as to be better prepared for next winter.

The Bright Side: Jon Hamm Doesn't Like Wearing Underoos

On the other hand, not all is terrible. I've been able to watch "Breaking Bad" from start to nearly finish. The apartment is reasonably clean. I've discovered the multitudinous benefits of chia seeds and have developed a crazy--but strangely tasty--"Chocolate Chia Seed Gruel" that I really enjoy, despite its turd-like appearance.

Don't hate me because my Chocolate Chia Seed Gruel is beautiful

Sometimes I walk a little on the beach and pick up sea glass for my friend Jody, who makes gorgeous jewelry out of it.

My friend Jody Garbe makes amazing Israeli jewelry and I'm happy to plug her business. Check her out on Facebook at "Twisted Sister Jewelry" and you can buy some yourself!

And occasionally, I get a really funny script to read for the voiceover work I do. Here's a recent one I did about Jon Hamm, the divine specimen of  hunky actor manliness who stars in "Mad Men":

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men." (Thanks, for the image!)

"Jon Hamm was spotted out and about in El Lay, with his lady love Jennifer Westfeldt, while getting some holiday shopping done at Barneys. Who knows what gift items they left with, but Jon was clearly not wearing any underwear. Maybe Jon should try buying some!"

Ooh, indeed!

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!