Friday, August 29, 2014

Fashionable Friday: Planning and Executing a Concert Outfit

This isn't just any Fashionable Friday...this is a FLASHBACK FASHIONABLE FRIDAY!!!

(That means that I haven't written in so long that I have a bunch of old stuff I want to tell you about. I'm trying to make it a thing, see?)

In December, a family friend surprised me with comps to the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis show at the Gwinnett Center. I (like the rest of the world) danced my fanny off to "Thrift Shop" last summer, so I was happy to accept them.

Concert Outfit

Also, my friend Jeremy would kill me if I didn't mention that he introduced me to "Thrift Shop" a full year before it hit the radio. We were doing High Society and getting to know each other when I mentioned that I adore thrift stores. He pulled the video up for me, and I nearly had a heart attack. So give Jeremy his hipster cred - he knew about Macklemore before you.

And he's a kitty cat
Some concerts are jeans-and-tee events, but not this one. When an artist has such distinctive personal style, you really owe it to yourself to go in costume. I wanted to wear a thrifted outfit (OF COURSE), but I also wanted to play into the aesthetics of the "Thrift Shop" video. Well wouldn't you know it, but I own the perfect foundation for such an outfit. 


And naturally, I had to wear a (faux) fur coat. Oh hey, I have one of those, too.

Faux Fur

I was not the only person who wore a fur coat - far from it. Nor was I the only lady in a jumpsuit. The audience was lousy with stinky fur and stained dresses, but that's the fun of it - when a concert is a costume party, you feel like you're in on a private joke.

Concert Outfit

Concert Outfit

I have this handy little wallet/phone case that's perfect for these events. I strung it on my belt and stuck the wallet in my pocket so I could dance hands-free all night.

Concert Outfit

If I could redo the night, I'd wear different shoes - the cowboy boots are HUGE- I was wearing three pairs of socks, and they barely stayed-on. I wish I'd worn more danceable shoes.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thrifty Thursdays: Buying Lingerie Secondhand

Let's talk about lingerie. Thrifted lingerie (also swimsuits).

You're probably freaking-out right now; you're probably having a panic attack. Well take a deep breath and half a Xanex, because this post is HAPPENING.

I'll admit it: I buy lingerie at thrift stores. Definitely more than I buy it from Victoria's Secret. I don't really go in for the padded bras you find at, say, Frederick's of Hollywood. I much prefer unlined pieces - I think they're more flattering to my figure. But good luck finding totally unlined bras in the wild - they're pretty rare these days.

But that's not the the elephant in the room - that would be you, tearing your hair and screaming, "BUT THE GEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRMMMMSSSSSSS!!"

This is what you look like.

Ahhh, see, you're afraid of catching an STD. Good news - when bacteria is exposed to the air for longer then 24 hours, it dies. Just like you can't get chlamydia from a toilet seat, you also can't get it from a night gown. And consider this: if you've ever tried-on a bra or teddy at Victoria's Secret, you can be nearly guaranteed that someone else has tried it on, too - making it "used." Also remember that you can always remove the little liner inside any bottoms - particularly in swimsuits. But if you're still really, really worried about other-people's-germs, Oxy Clean or vinegar will do the trick. Add a cup of either to your laundry and when your clothes are done spinning, they will be clean and happy.

Plus, guys, you should wash everything you get from a thrift store as soon as you bring it home. ALWAYS. Don't you dare buy something secondhand and then wear it without washing it - I don't care where on the body it belongs. Not because you'll get the AIDS, but because you might get a cold. Cold viruses can live on hard surfaces and fabrics for up to a week. Wash your clothes. Wash everything. MOSTLY YOUR HANDS.

Okay, let's go back to the lacy bits.

If you feel like you can't afford cute lingerie, I'm here to tell you that you're probably wrong. Even if you have a five-dollar lingerie budget, you can buy something like this.

Thrift Store Lingerie

After a little Google searching, I dated this nightgown to 1974. And I think it's just as lovely and romantic today as it was when it was first created. I adore the diamond waistband, and the delicate embroidered flowers along the neckline. It's pretty, simple, and it cost four dollars.

During my Day Camp weeks this summer, I needed a bunch of swimsuit options, and I found two at Goodwill for three dollars each. They fit well, flatter my body, and didn't cost eighty buck like the (admittedly amazing) ones from ModCloth.


And I get it - most of you are still probably squicked-out by used neglige. That's okay - we all have our limits. But I hope, if nothing else, that you're not afraid that you can catch an STD from a used teddy. Misinformation leads to stigmatization, and no one who has (or once had) an STD needs to be looked down-on. Don't be afraid of the things you needn't fear - be afraid of the truly dangerous stuff.

Like this psycho killer

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Incredibly Easy Chicken Chili

I like cooking - you know this. You also know (because I've told you) that when I get busy, I just can't find the time to do it. Well no matter how busy I get, there's always time to make a batch of this chili. It makes about 8 hefty servings, which means I can nosh on it for nearly a week before I need to revisit my stove, and that's a major blessing in my life.

Chicken Chili

Here's all you need to make it:

  • 2 cups chicken broth (or 4 cups water and 1 chicken boullion cube)
  • 4 cups canned chicken (I use 2 of the big ol' cans)
  • 2 cans Great Northern beans, rinsed
  • 1 can corn, rinsed
  • 2 cups salsa (basically 1 jar of the stuff)
  • 1 to 2 giant handfuls of kale (depends on how big your hands are)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • Couple squeezes of lime juice
  • Cheese/sour cream/greek yogurt (optional)
Once you have all that stuff, you put it in a pot and boil it, then let it simmer for like, I dunno, 30 minutes? However long you want. Let the liquid reduce down until you get the consistency you want.

Chicken Chili

Then put it in a bowl, garnish wish cheese or sour cream (or greek yogurt, if you want to try to be a little healthier), and go to town.

Super Simple Chicken Chili

Want to mix it up a bit? Use salsa verde instead of the red stuff - BAM, now it's white chicken chili! Don't eat gluten? NEITHER DO IT! Kroger's plain canned vegetables, canned meats, sour creams, shredded cheeses and salsas are all gluten-free. And here's a handy list of gluten-free chicken broths,

Easy meals are my favorite thing on this earth, and this is one of the absolute easiest and most-filling. Enjoy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fashionable Friday: DIY Eyebrow Maintenance

My current beauty obsession are the little caterpillars that live on my forehead. I have always loved a good, strong brow, but I rarely have the extra cash to pay for proper waxing. Last year, in a fit of definace, I let my brows run (very) ragged for about six months. I plum gave-up. But then Shrek opened, and this princess was having a tough time getting ready for the show. I finally decided enough was enough - this princess needed neater, stronger, more defined eyebrows.

Because I am a savvy modern woman, I turned to the only reasonable resource at my disposal: YouTube. I ran a simple search (Eyebrow Maintenance) and came up with this perfectly perfect video:

I don't want to overstate my case, but this is quite possibly THE BEST VIDEO IN THE UNIVERSE. If you want to free yourself from the evil grip of salon pricing, Zukreat can show you the way.

Here's how my mini-makeover came out:


I was - and am - extremely pleased. This is how I've been maintaining my brows for months, and I couldn't be happier. (Real talk), my brows don't grow in symmetrically, but now I have them faked to perfection! I tweeze from the top on my right side, the bottom on my left, and I use a pencil to fill in both sides.

I use Anastasia Brow Wiz in soft brown. This product is amazing - the pencil is very hard, and makes soft, light strokes. Most eyebrow pencils leave thick, crayonish lines, but this one is perfect and subtle. 

Instead of wax strips, I use a tiny brow razor to clean above my brow line. I like to protect my hair follicles for now, since I'm still in the process of perfecting my brows (yeah, it takes THAT long for your hairs to grow-in correctly).

I will admit, eyebrow maintenance is a bit daunting. The hairs grow back almost as quickly as I can pluck them, which means I have to tweeze every. day. I suppose that's the price we pay for beauty, huh? Wouldn't it be great if we could all buck the system? I wish I could walk into an audition with inch-thick brows and still land the part. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work that way. I'd like to be a one-woman revolution, but Mama got bills to pay.

Aaaaaaaand now I will leave you, since I feel like a sell-out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wordy Wednesday: Inside the Mind of the Anxious Professional

Hey everyone. I was doing some computer cleanup this afternoon when I came across something I wrote a couple years ago. I'd say it was a bit of character study for the novel I'm writing...but I'm not writing a novel. This is just a peek inside the head of a very, very anxious young woman. Luckily, I've come a long way since those days. Still, it's interesting to look back to a time in my life when I was completely overwhelmed by the simplest choices, and the mere prospect of "success."


Yes, of course she wants to be happy (she's not insane), but she’d like to do it on her own terms. Yes, she wants to be happy – but not enough to think-up new dreams; she’d rather see her old dreams come true. She wants to be right, and if she thinks-up new dreams, that’s like admitting her first ones were wrong. It must be a little bit more important to her to be right than happy. But it doesn't look like she ever will be right, at least not about this. So there's a very good chance that she will never be happy.

She's not good at making plans; she's too inflexible. Other people, they go with the flow – they make a plan and if something interrupts them, they digest it. Not our girl. She comes up with amazing plans – way better than yours. The problem, though, is that like all plans best-laid, they are not destined to come true. They are simply plans.

She's very bad at improvising. Which is funny, because she's actually a great improviser. Oh my God you should've seen her with her college group – it was insane! It was like they had one mind! Sometimes all four of them would make the exact same joke at the exact same time and the audience would scream and cry and yell and the four of them would stand and look at each other in amazement. But that doesn't happen anymore. She's a big girl now, in the Big Girl World, and she can't seem to find her footing.

Her friends who tumble along without too much ambition are doing great. She has so many girlfriends who are so wonderfully happy, and she's thrilled for them – really! She just wants their secrets. She wants to know how to glide through life with no expectations.

She’s a walking wind-up toy, and she’s full of plans. Specific plans.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thrifty Thursday: Buffalo Exchange

Who remembers the difference between thrift and consignment? 


That's right! Thrift stores feature donated goods in all manner of conditions, while consignment stores take only gently-used items, and they generally pay the donors. Consignment stores are usually more expensive, but because everything there is in good condition, it can be worth the upcharge. Can be. 

I used to frequent Plato's Closet, but their selection doesn't move me anymore. The clothes are too preppy and label-slavey for my tastes (though it's a great place to get jeans). For years, my favorite consignment shop was the branch of Psycho Sisters on Killian Hill, but it closed when I was in college. Their Little Five location is cool, but the clothes are more outlandish and very expensive. Little Five also features a Rag-O-Rama, which is always worth a visit, but legend has it that they are not great neighbors. Last year, Little Five got a new option: Buffalo Exchange.

Buffalo Exchange
Not all rompers are created equal.

Buffalo Exchange
This one was ADORABLE, and I really regret not buying it. WHAT WAS I THINKING?

Buffalo Exchange
I'm a star.

Buffalo Exchange
And you love me.

Buffalo Exchange
Starship Trooper Crawley, reporting for duty.

Buffalo Exchange
This dress is so sweet, but I need another vintage circle-skirted dress
like I need a massive stroke.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Fashionable Friday: Your Make-up Is Not Frivolous

Uugh, I am SCREAMING AND CLAPPING AND YELLING over here, because Anais Mathers, one of the best people I have ever found on the internet, has done it again - she's expressed Myself:

"For as long as I could remember, my guilty pleasure was beauty. Haircuts, hair products, moisturizers, eye cream, lipsticks and eye shadow and blush in every color, as far as the eye could see. I loved editorial hair and makeup and I loved the way a well made shirt hung and how a shirt you found thrifting could fit just as well* and the fact that I could put on characters and I could be more myself in looking different or just with mascara on. Even now, I still feel like I’m going to bore my husband by being excited about finding a new lipstick I’m obsessed with, that he’ll suddenly think I’m a vapid idiot, as if loving one thing negates everything else about you. It’s weird how society pushes you towards all these things you’re supposed to like and do as a woman but there’s a shame about it, you should do the things you need to do to be beautiful but you shouldn’t talk about it, you shouldn’t be excited about it, you shouldn’t have any control over it at all. Well, quite simply, no. I don’t do my hair and paint my nails and wear a variety of red lipstick (“but they all look the same,” says my husband when they obviously don’t) for anyone but me. I do it because I like to try things on and express myself and I like to play with the idea that I can be whoever I want on any day I choose. There’s nothing shallow or self-centered about exploring who you are, about feeling good and pretty, that’s just what they want you to think, that caring for yourself, whether that means a perfect cat eye or skipping makeup, is something you should feel guilty about. Fuck that and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for what you love and how you show it, especially all over your goddamn face. Femininity isn’t awful and vapid, society making us think that’s the case is."

*I mean, right?

Your assignment for this February Day: perform a phenomenal Act of Self-Care. Take a shower, get dressed-up, or drink a glass of water every hour on the hour - take your pick. Celebrate your body, because you are your greatest love affair (at least, you should be).

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thrifty Thursday: Get Premium Denim for Nearly Nothing

I want to talk about jeans. Before we begin I will encourage you to take half a Xanex and grab a glass of wine - this is a stressful topic.

I've never met a woman who likes shopping for denim. Actually, everyone I know loathes it. For such a wardrobe staple, that's really pretty strange. Everyone wears jeans (at least every now and then) but they are ridiculously hard to shop for.

When I was a teenager, my go-to brand was Old Navy. They fit me like a glove, and their denim blends were nice and soft - just how I like them. But midway though college, their whole line went through a major restructuring, and suddenly the waistbands all seemed to hit in funny places. Plus, as I was getting older, my ass was getting larger - REAL TALK. The super-ultra-low rise pants of my teen years now showed an unholy amount of buttcrack.

I suffered through a few pairs of okay jeans before I finally found my denim soulmate at Plato's Closet: 7 For All Mankind Kimmie Bootcut, size 26. 

The first time I put them on, I understood how a pair of jeans can make you look like an actual rockstar. Remember Liz Lemon and her "Made in USA" revelation? These jeans became my favorite piece of clothing.

But then disaster struck; only six months later, the fabric split at the crotch. 

I was in shock. I refused to throw them away, choosing instead to wear them with really dark underwear, and only when running errands. I'm not proud, but GUYS THEY ARE SO COMFORTABLE, I JUST COULDN'T BEAR TO GET RID OF THEM. Forget about replacing them - 7 For All Mankind is a premium brand, retailing for almost $200.

For months, I've scoured the racks at my favorite discount stores, hoping to strike gold a second time. It's been futile. When the solution hit me, it seemed so obvious - how had it taken me so long to get there?


If you know your preferred brand, size, and style, eBay is the perfect place to look. I ran several searches on variations of "7 For All Mankind Kimmie Bootcut 26," and within 15 minutes I had two great options - a Buy Now for $15, no shipping, and an auction at $1 with $4 for shipping. When the auction closed the next day, I had agreed to pay $10 for the pants. 

For less than $30, I bought two pairs of jeans - they both arrived with the tags ON.

And, if I do say so myself, they look fantastic.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Quinoa with White Onion and Tomato REDUX

Remember this disaster? Well Deb gave it such a good write-up that I had to give it another go. If she thought it was worth making, then I owed it to myself to try again.

I'm really glad I trusted her, because this stuff is DELICIOUS.

It's hearty enough to be a main course, but also mild enough to play sidekick. Plus, it keeps really well in the fridge. I'll make up a big batch on Sunday and then eat it for lunch all week. I like to bake a few chicken breasts to eat alongside (or I shred them and mix it all up).

How would you spice it up? Another protein? Or maybe a veggie?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Fashionable Friday: Why You Should Wash Your Face With Olive Oil

It's Bath and Beauty Friday! Here's your background info:

  • I used to have the oiliest skin of all time (foreshadowing: used to)
  • I'm a bit of a dirty hippie

When I was a senior in college, Eva, my Best Friend In the World (my mostly companion of 26 years, the friend I have had since before I was born) experimented with a chemical-free beauty regimen. This included baking soda instead of toothpaste, corn starch instead of deodorant/antiperspirant, baking soda instead of shampoo, and olive oil instead of face wash.

I was so. jealous.

I'm fully integrated into the 21st century - I have an iPhone and a Kindle and a car with Bluetooth and I get checks direct deposited (when I remember to turn in my voided checks) but sometimes I'm afraid of all the Chemicals in my life. There are Chemicals in, like, EVERYTHING - not only will our phones give us brain cancer, they will eventually break down and seep chemicals directly into our soil and water and give us stomach cancer. And there are tons of Chemicals in the other things we use every day - cleaning solutions, foods, and beauty products. Do we really NEED all those extra preservatives and detergents hanging around our bodies like that?

This flower child wanted to see how much she could simplify her beauty routine. I tried to use baking soda as toothpaste (it tasted disgusting, but felt okay; mostly, it was a little complicated to do, so I stuck with regular toothpaste), corn starch instead of deodorant (left my pits BONE DRY, but didn't do a THING to combat stench - I have literally never smelled worse in my life), baking soda instead of shampoo (my curls laugh at this method, and refuse, as usual, to be tamed), and olive oil as face wash.

My face LOVES to be cleaned with olive oil. 

It sounds counter-intuitive, I know - why would oil help oily skin? But when you look at the *science*, it all comes together. The best, most succinct explanation I've read comes from Crunchy Betty:
"You know how your skin – all of it – secretes oil? Even if your face feels dry, it still has oil on it. Well, according to chemistry know-how, like dissolves like. So, effectively what you’re doing is dissolving and wiping away all the icky dirty oil from your face and replenishing it with clean, nourishing oil. There’s no harsh chemicals involved. No suds. Nothing to actually strip your skin of its oil. And this is good, because when you strip your skin of its sebum, it goes into overdrive, trying to create more. Which leads to clogged pores. Blackheads. Whiteheads. Just plain old irritation."
Don't you want to slather your face in oil?! I hope so, because I think if you try it you will fall. in. love.

There are a lot of different ways to cleanse with oil - a Google search will return a ton of options. Here's my method:

  • I have a soap dispenser filled with equal parts olive* and grapeseed oil.
  • I turn on my hot water and let it get really warm.
  • While I wait, I pump a dime-sized amount into my hand and massage it all over my face (This is how I remove my makeup, by the way. Oil will lift the waterproof mascara straight from your lashes. Oh, and it's ridiculously gentle - if you poured the oil straight into your eye, it wouldn't hurt at all).
  • I soak a washcloth in the hot water, lightly wring it out, and then lay it over my face for a minute. The steam opens my pores for maximum cleanliness.
  • I wipe the oil off with the washcloth, rinse it out, and hang it to dry.

That's it! I do this at night, and in the morning I splash my face with cold water. If it's particularly dry outside, I'll put a few drops of oil on my whole face as a moisturizer. You can use the same stuff you wash with. 

I've been cleaning my face this way for four years, and I love it. My skin has never been softer, and it's not oily any more. Guys, science! 

Oh, and the OCM is insanely inexpensive. So chew on that.

I will say, this method doesn't always travel well. It's ever so slightly annoying to cart around a washcloth, and since it gets completely soaked, it's even more annoying to take home. When I was in Israel, I washed my face with a traditional cleanser (by First Aid - I got it as a deluxe sample from Sephora) and used maracuja oil (a gift from the aforementioned Eva) to moisturize at night and in the morning.

That's another thing - oils are really "in" right now. If you go to Sephora, Ulta, or even CVS, you'll see a lot of oils on the shelves. The maracuja oil is AMAZING stuff (I seriously adore it), but I urge you to save your money with this. Grapeseed, almond, avocado, safflower, olive, and castor oils can ALL work for cleansing and moisturizing, and you can get them for a fraction of the price.

So guys, don't you think it's about time to embrace your inner hippie, give your wallet and your face a break, and treat yo self to some oils?

*According to Crunchy Betty, I might be a freak, since olive oil works for me. You might want to try other oils, since it seems to cause trouble for most people.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Galen's Days in Israel: Part Three

This is Part Three in my Israel Logs. Finally. 

You can find the first installment here, and the second here.

Jan 8:
I awoke this morning in Tiberius to realize that our hotel room had a huge balcony overlooking a lake; I didn't notice it last night because it was dark when we got in.

All I want in the world is to eat some fruit at breakfast, but that ain't the way of things in the Promised Land. You know what you can have, though? Cole slaw. Two or three varieties, even. What I would give for some blueberries...

Driving to the Golan, we passed the Sea of Galilee, Magdala (Mary Magdalene's hometown), and the Jordan River. I think that's as close as we'll get to any Christian landmarks, but there they are, waiting for other people to come and visit.

We spent a couple hours hiking in the Golan Heights. I hate to say it, but I was so bored by the magnificent landscape; I've grown so jaded. I can hardly take in another amazing sight. 

Back on the bus, Shabat played a CD donated by a past Birthrighter. We all sang our hearts out to some Mariah Carey. 

Our second stop, Mount Bental, sits on the Syrian border. There, Shabat told us about the Yom Kippur War. In the middle of our discussion, we heard an explosion in the distance, in Syria. Almost before I could react, our Israeli group members were talking.

"Oh, did you hear that?"
"That was a bomb."
"Guys, did you hear it?"

Damascus was a good fifty miles away, farther than our eyes could see, but the war was within earshot.

My sense of amazement was renewed.

We stopped for lunch in a small town just off the highway. I wandered into a cafe, bought a latte and a meringue cookie, and ate alone for the first time since I left Atlanta. For fifteen minutes, I was a solitary traveller. Then I boarded a bus with 49 other people - once again, a member of the herd. 

We took a quick tour through an olive oil factory. We sampled flavored oils and tried a line of olive oil beauty products. I've been cleaning my face with olive oil for years - perhaps my lovely readers would appreciate a tutorial? 

We visited yet another Kibbutz as the afternoon waned. This one was very modern - it looked like a college campus (no mud huts to be found). I think I'd like to live on a kibbutz - I'd make a salary, do my share for the whole community, and eat all my meals for free. Do you think there are any kibbutzi that want a resident actor? 

On our drive to Jerusalem, the bus became a comedy club. As you might imagine, things got It was such a spontaneous, electric event; the air crackled with laughter. I wish that bus ride had lasted nine hours.

This was a Wild Wednesday

Jan 9:

Last night, I stayed-up til 2 discussing Palestine with one of our Israeli guests. It was my latest night of the whole trip, and so far my favorite. 

This day was incredibly emotional. I don't want to explain it; I don't have the energy. I'll just tell you where we went: Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum), and Mount Hertzel (the military cemetery).

So yeah, light day.

In the evening, I popped into a cafe with Michelle and we ordered absolutely delicious hot chocolate (shoko haam). 

A Taxing Thursday.

Jan 10:
I feel like I've been here for a month. It's been incredible, but I'm really ready to go home. This program is exhausting. The last time I woke up this early this often, I was in high school. My body can hardly take it.

This morning, we went to the Old City of Jerusalem. It's a fascinating place - there is so much overlapping history. We stood on the roof where the four quarters meet, and I could hardly take it in; so much happened in this city, it means so much to so many, and there we were, smack in the middle. Is this real life?

The main event, of course, was the Weatern Wall. As I waited with my note in my hand, I pinched the skin on my forearm. My grandma Hannah and my great-grndma Gussie each prayed for her moment with the wall, but they never went; I felt like I was standing there for all of us. When my turn came, I placed my forehead on the stone and took a deep breath. If hope has a smell, it smells like the Western Wall. If the collective energy of that place cannot reach to heaven, then I am not sure heaven exists. 

Afterward, we visited an adjacent archeological site, but no one could concentrate; our minds were still at the wall with our fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles and grandparents and teachers and friends.

Shabat gave us a task for the afternoon: pick a name out of a hat and buy that person a Secret Schlomo (because who is this 'Santa?') gift. We scoured the Jerusalem market for presents under ten shekels, and I got hopelessly lost for twenty minutes. It was no big deal; I bought a chocolate chai latte and stood still until I saw someone I knew.

Our second Shabbat began at sundown. We lit candles and walked to a nearby neighborhood. The Sephardic synagogue allowed us to come inside and observe the men in prayer; they even let the women sit in the main sanctuary (a very big deal for this Orthodox congregation). 

My Secret Schlomo was Liz. She got me candied almonds from the market because they're, "sweet, and a bit nutty," like me. They smelled like heaven and tasted better.

What a Fine Friday.

Jan 11:
Our last day in Israel, ten people in our group had a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony was quite simple, but overwhelmingly beautiful. We each went up in turn and sang the blessings, and (since none of us read Hebrew) the trip leaders read the portion for us.

This ceremony was so important to me; I have always felt like a Jewish Outsider, but now I am official. I was so nervous while I sang the blessings, but afterwards I could stop smiling. I was surprised by the flood of emotion that came through me, but I really shouldn't have been. Belonging in the Jewish community has always been very important to me, and this ceremony has put to rest the doubts which plagued me for so long.

It was a Sweet Shabbat,

Jan 12:
The rest of our day was all travel - bus to airport to plane to airport to plane to Atlanta. We even traveled back in time - time zones are funny that way. My sleep schedule is a mess, and I don't know how long it will take me to recover. But I'm home, finally, in the land of cheeseburgers and drip coffee. 

Quite the Strange Sunday.

My first trip overseas was exhilarating, exhausting, confusing, humbling, trying, thrilling, and amazing. It's something I'll carry with me forever; I hope that I am very different for it.

In all, a Terrific Trip.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Galen's Days in Israel: Part Two

This is Part Two in my Israel Logs. You can find the first installment here.

Jan 4:
This was Shabbat, and we did just about nothing - it was excellent. In the afternoon, we took a trip to the beach in Eilat. It was much, much too cold to swim, so I sat on a towel and read. That night, we went to a mall for dinner (and shopping). Yes, I bought a dress - don't you know me by now? We went to a bar called Park Avenue, which was decorated with touristy pictures of the New York City skyline. After my time there, no place seems less inviting or romantic than New York. I ordered a gin and tonic and received a glass of gin and a glass of tonic. 

My, this was a S Saturday.

Jan 5:
My birthday started with a bang - by 10 AM, I was atop a mountain from which I could see Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The Red Sea looked like a tarp - I felt I could pinch it and pull it off the land. 

We came down to the seashore, and even though it was 60 degrees I went snorkeling. The water was frigid (I screamed a chain of expletives as I eased-in) but once I was submerged I felt like part of the atmosphere. I very nearly swallowed seawater, but after a few false starts I found a rhythm. Floating on top of the water, facing the rocks on the sea floor, was very much like meditating. Fish passed beneath me; I pretended I was a mermaid. 

We had lunch at a kibbutz that specializes in dairy (amazing ice cream), and toured another - Kibbutz Lotan. At midday, I sipped tea in a mud building as sun streamed through the window.

As the sun set, we visited Ben Gurion's grave. It sits atop a cliff in the Negev desert, symbolizing the first Prime Minister's dream to incorporate the desert into Israel.

We're hearing a lot about the SIZE of Israel; we are told that without the Negev, the country will not be large enough. We are told that the Negev is vital for Israel's growth. We are reminded that the United States is SO BIG - look at how small Israel is! How can it ever compete?

We ended our night at a Bedouin settlement. An older tribesman welcomed us with coffee (the tradition is three cups) and told us a bit about his peoples' past and customs. The Bedouins aren't nomads anymore, and they sleep in trailers cemented to the ground. While the presentation was interesting, it did not feel particularly authentic. It was like visiting a museum and being told that people live there. The food, however, was delicious. 

I was presented with a cake, and the boys lifted me in the air 26 times - I laughed as my head brushed the roof of the tent again and again and again.

Late that night, we walked away from the settlement and spent some time under the stars. Ten minutes of silence and contemplation (in the freezing cold) was a welcome way to end my birthday. What is that Carl Sagan quote? "Everyone who has ever lived or died has done it on this rock?" Something like that...

We all slept in one huge tent, on pallets on the floor. I thought I'd be uncomfortable, but it was the best nights' sleep I'd had so far. 

In the morning, Mel woke-up with her face in my cake. CLASSIC.

This was a Special Sunday.

Jan 6:
Our last day in the desert.

We hiked through a valley with an oasis. There were natural caves in the cliff sides where rabbis and monks used to isolate themselves for years at a time. I could barely handle ten minutes of silence the night before - what a wimp. 

Shabat told us the traditions of a particular desert tree - the Bedouins claim that the wood will burn for days at a time. The burning bush, perhaps?

We left the desert for Tel Aviv. In Rabin square, our group grew by seven - we now have Israelis among us. Five of them are still soldiers; the others are a student and a business owner. They will accompany us for the rest of our trip, and hopefully we will all be different for knowing each other. After some light icebreakers, we heard about the tumult of the 80s and 90s, the hope of a new leader, and the despair of his assassination. His memorial is composed of jagged stones, representing the emotional earthquake of his death. 

There, we heard an anecdote that will not leave my mind. In 2011, a group of a thousand Palestinian prisoners was released in exchange for one Israeli POW. All the Israelis in our group, including Shabat, believe that was the right decision. One phrase keeps repeating in my head: "We do not negotiate with terrorists." 

Is one life worth more than another? Is it right to release a thousand convicted killers back into the world? Or is it wrong to let a countryman go?

I had pizza for lunch - it felt like cheating.

The market in Tel Aviv was interesting, I suppose, but if you've been to New York's Chinatown, then it's nothing new. By this point, I was ready to leave Tel Aviv; I missed the desert.

After dinner we had a panel discussion with our Israelis. Shabat tried in vain to keep the discourse light, but we weren't interested in pleasantries. There are serious forces at work here, and it seems we all want to understand them. 

I was most surprised by their attitude toward the United States - they don't understand what it's like to be a minority. They don't understand how we can BE a minority. They would rather live in Israel, where everyone they know is Jewish, and they don't ever deal with the complications of cultural diffusion. Personally, I love the American salad bowl; I love that I am from a blended family, and am constantly exposed to differing viewpoints. Yes, it's annoying when people try to convert me (it's not gonna happen, kay?), but I am proud to be a part of America's tapestry. In Israel (where 80% of the population is Jewish) you might be understood, but you are also one of the herd. And how must it feel to be non-Jewish here? In the Jewish State, being a Christian must be very frustrating. 

If you're the majority, then someone else is in the minority; do not forget to include them in the fabric of your country.

Almost everyone else went out to a club after our discussion - I am an ancient 26 year-old lady, and I went to bed early. But first, I spent two blissful hours ALONE in my hotel room. It was my first period of isolation in 6 days, and it was sorely needed.

I'm just gonna say it: Manic Monday.

Jan 7:
So many people are hungover this morning - I feel fantastic. Sorry, not sorry :)

At the moment, we're on the bus heading for Zefat. There, we will learn about Kabbalah and the roots of Jewish mysticism. I'm reading Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha" on my Kindle, which seems appropriate.

Here's a quick thought: I found out that I can be bat mitzvah'd in Jerusalem. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to do it, but it's a possibility. I wanted to feel more Jewish after this trip - that's one way, I guess.


It's been a few hours - we are now in Tiberius, in our hotel. Zefat was incredible - we visited a Kaballah center, a visual artist, a candle factory, and the artists' colony. 

At the Kaballah center, we reopened my favorite topic: Gilat Shalid, the Israeli soldier who was traded for 1000 Palestinian prisoners. In groups, we were given pieces of Jewish text and asked a series of questions relating to the controversy. My group discussed the difference between the heart and the mind; which decisions are better, emotional or rational ones? This group of 15 read passages by Jewish rabbis and tried to find consensus. It. Was. Fascinating. I could talk about this for days and days and never be tired; I am fascinated by the differences in American and Israeli culture. 

The artist showed us beautiful paintings which describe the core principles of Kaballah. My favorite mapped the sound waves of a Shofar, and showed how the blasts illustrate a relationship with The Divine. I've always been interested in Buddhism, and my therapist says I should meditate more - maybe I should give Kaballah a try?

The artists' colony in Zefat is incredible - there is so much beauty lining the streets. I kept thinking about my Aunt Sherry - she'd be in heaven there. 

Zefat won me over, hard. It is by far my favorite place we've been. The desert was lovely, a place to restart, but Zefat is a place that feeds the open soul.

I had a revelation this afternoon; I know what lead me to Israel: the questions. I always say, "I love being right," and I do (I really, really do). But when it comes to my faith, I have many more questions than answers. I'm not just talking about "big questions," either; there are a lot of details that I just don't understand.

I didn't grow-up going to synagogue; I actually attended a Unitarian church until I was 18. I am so grateful for my inclusive, tolerant, curious Unitarian family, but I have always longed to understand my Jewish roots. I call myself "Jewish," but sometimes I feel like a fraud because I don't understand the minutiae of day-to-day Jewish life. I'm ignorant to hundreds of traditions. Hell, until last Friday, I had never observed Shabbat before. 

These questions lead me to Birthright. I came to Israel to learn about my people - about Israel, this place which (I am told) is my home. I don't know yet if I feel "more Jewish" than I did when I left the United States, but I understand Judaism a bit better than I did a week ago, and that's a good place to start.

I liked this Teachable Tuesday.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Galen's Days in Israel: Part One

For the next 8 days, I will be traveling around Israel with a Birthright group. I'm with 39 other young (22 to 27) Jewish people from Atlanta, and we're getting crash courses in Israeli history, Jewish lore, and outdoor exploration. Galen's Days of the Week has gone international, y'all.

Jan 1:
I was told to get to Hartsfield four hours before our 5:40 flight to JFK. Good thing, because it took two entire hours to get our bags checked. As you might expect, a group of 40 does not navigate anything speedily. 

In New York, I found my cousin, Zach. We were on the same flight to Tel Aviv, traveling with separate Birthright groups. We had no idea we were both doing the trip, and less idea that we were leaving on the same flight. But there we were, speeding over the Atlantic, proving that the world and it's seven billion people is not so large after all.

It was a Wing'd Wednesday

Jan 2:
We arrived in Tel Aviv at 2:15. I had about 5 hours of sleep under my belt, plus a cup of weak airplane coffee. We met our tour guide (his name is Shabat, of all things) and we boarded our bus (285, of all numbers - a great joke for this Atlanta crew). Our first destination was a kibbutz in the Negev (a desert). After a round of icebreakers, we ate dinner and heard our itinerary for the next 9 days. I got in bed at 9:15, and fell asleep instantaneously. Some people stayed-up and drank in the courtyard; those people are insane.

What a Tired Thursday.

Jan 3:
We woke up at 4 to take a bus to Masada. We hiked a trail and watched the sunrise from the top of the mountain. Shabat took us around the site - I stood in one of the world's oldest synagogues and King Herod's secret mountain palace. I have trouble believing that something can stand for two thousand years, but there I was, among the stones. It must be easy to believe in creationism - the world seems much simpler if it is new. We came down the mountain via the Snake Path, and finally ate breakfast (after being awake a mere 6 hours). Next up, Dead Sea.

Guess what? You really do float in there - you basically have no other option. I tried to put my feet down, and the water flipped me onto my stomach. I had to paddle back to shore with my hands. I slathered my skin with mud (20 shekels a bag) - it made my skin really soft, but I made the terrible mistake of putting it in my hair. If you ever get this chance, DON'T DO IT. It will not make your scalp soft and hydrated - it will only make you crunchy. 

As I changed out of my bathing suit, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I looked like a stranger - no makeup, stringy hair, a t-shirt and jeans. My face was slightly ruddy, and my arms looked strong. I liked the sight of this Outdoorsy Galen - I felt new.

We drove to Elat and passed a mountain of salt. When it rains (every few years) the mountain melts. The rocks looked like ocean waves, like blades of grass, like feathers - like anything but rocks. Lot's Wife was there, a large singular pillar apart from the rest. Our guide, Shabat, says she used to be much taller - her head fell off a few years ago. Now she's just a dress.

We're getting ready for our first Shabbat dinner. I'm showered (finally), and am wearing makeup for the first time in three days. It was a lovely luxury to paint my face this evening, but it's nice not to worry about it during the day. Who needs to see my liquid-liner skill when I'm hiking in the desert?

So ends Frenetic Friday.