Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Time is Running Out

Realizing I am already at the end of June with only two months left of this lovely blog project has put me in a quandary. I still have so many things I would love to do in my final months but not enough time to fit them all in.

To be honest, I am also somewhat relieved that fitting all these adventures in around working and school time will soon come to an end. But I do hope to be able to pick a few things to incorporate into my weekly lifestyle to find that "me" time I have been missing for so long.

Take for example this month where I was exposing myself to my fear of deep water. Kayaking was a wonderful experience and proved to be just the right opportunity for me to explore my love of water and fear of small boats. I tried to organize paddle boating downtown and actually walked right by the place but the family schedule didnt allow for the excursion. I guess in hindsight, taking a 3.5 year old and a toddler on a mini-boat that they both would attempt to jump out of is probably not the best idea. But it looked both so scary and so much fun. Perhaps another time.

I also wanted to learn to drive a friend's family motor boat and try to water ski. Something that also didnt pan out but maybe will make a future appearance as an add in over the next two months.

My list of remaining ideas include: white water rafting, yoga-lates (thats yoga and Pilates in one), becoming fluent in Hebrew, traveling to New Zealand (and a score of other places for that matter), mosaic art studio classes professionally, zumba class and the slew of things I was turned down for during the year: volunteering at the aquarium and zoo, serving as a park or forest ranger, bartending and more.

So what will next month hold? Hopefully whitewater rafting and some rough rapids either in CO or WV. I hear there are great places in both. And August still undecided but Im taking recommendations for my final frontier. I forgot to mention in the middle of this all, we are planning a move to a nearby abode so on top of this, I am also contacting moving companies, dealing with realtors and finding the shock of relocating once again (albeit local but still) yet another adventure to pile on top.

Hopefully things will iron out smoothly and some calm will return to my life once again. I guess thats probably an unrealistic hope with two kids under the age of four but some calmer waters on the horizon, I suppose, is fair to request.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guest Blog Post for Mayyim Hayyim from Self Care Month

A Moment to Myself

Women go to the mikveh for many reasons. For most, it is seen as a monthly ritual to purify oneself in living waters, mayyim hayyim, after menstruation and preparation for physical reunification with a spouse. I think many women look at the mikveh as a monthly chore, another appointment to fit in to an already busy life, and the last step before they reunite with their husbands.

As someone who came to Jewish observance in college, I always associated the mikveh as a secret kept between Jewish women, the place everyone knows you go to, but no one asks about. In fact, I always find it the biggest surprise when I run into a friend at the mikveh. Your eyes meet each other, perhaps smile and nod, and then go back to your own space.

I view my visits to the mikveh as an encounter with nature, a time for me to pencil myself into the weekly hustle and bustle and immerse in rainwater. I admit, between working, traveling, caring for the kids and fitting in holidays, I often find the scheduling of an appointment grueling. But I find that if I can just make the time to go, once I get there, I can finally relax and focus on the moment. A time to care for myself—not just in a physical way but in both a spiritual and emotional manner as well. In fact, I no longer fear the need to visit a mikveh when I am on vacation or visiting family. I enjoy researching new communities, finding out-of-the way mikvaot and making the time to escape the family retreat or hotel of a foreign city to explore into the night. Some of my fondest memories of travel occur on my visits to mikvaot around the world.

It was one of these vacations that recently brought me back to my hometown of Boston and Mayyim Hayyim. To visit a mikveh so gentle on the eyes and calming to the spirit is refreshing. Every aspect of the mikveh was well thought out and planned to be a relaxing experience, from the building design to the fluffy towels. Users are invited to open the bor cap and let in the rainwater directly prior to immersion. I just took in all that surrounded me. A deep breath in and a minute to myself. It’s like stepping into another place in time where everything you’ve been rushing to or from just stops.

To me, the most powerful moment of my immersion experience was being allowed to spend a few minutes alone in the waters by myself. I was left surrounded by the stillness of the night and holiness of my act. It was as if time was standing still and I could finally quiet my mind and focus on coming closer to myself.

Jen Singer works in environmental consulting and lives in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, Steve and their two children, Ma’ayan and Aviv. Follow Jen on Twitter @jenluftigsinger.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Into the Deep

Anyone who knows me really well will know that I have a slight obsession with water. I love rain. I love Seattle. I love gray weather when you bundle up and carry and umbrella and venture out into the world. I like traveling, snorkeling, swimming, beaches and the ocean. But the issue that has always scared me, just a little, ok a whole lot, is that of boats.

I have taken the ferry from the Cape to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket like any true Bostonian. I've been out on a few motor boats while friends water ski but I usually sit right up front, near the driver and love being a bit away from the water's edge. I have even been out in a canoe a time or two. But every time I get into the smaller boats, I start looking around for some kind of creature to jump out at me. Maybe I've watched Jaws too many times as a kid or read "Is There A Loch Ness Monster" a little too closely. It was honestly one of my favorite books growing up.

So for my 10th month, I have decided to tackle my fear of deep water. Since I plan to fulfill my lifelong dream (so far) of going whitewater rafting during one of my two remaining future months, I figured overcoming this obstacle would be a good place to start.

Since it has been almost 10 years since I last sat in a kayak, the last being one of my earliest dates with my husband back when we were young kids exploring Boston together, I decided it was time to return to the deep water. I did some asking around and came upon Jack's Boathouse in Georgetown on the waterfront in Washington, DC. A good friend came along to share in the experience of water deluge and take a few photos to prove my accomplishment (and survival).

We drove to the boathouse, got geared up in life vests and went off to pay for our excursion. Just as we finished filling out the paperwork, you know where you sign your life away if some sea creature eats you or you capsize and dont make it back to civilization and release the boat people from the responsibility of keeping you safe, we were told a storm was coming and they were no longer letting boats go out. These people had no idea how hard it was to find a Sunday when my husband was off from work and could watch the kids, find an hour when the kids were both sleeping to lessen the burden on him and find a friend to also have the same stars align, drive downtown, find nearby parking and get to the boathouse ready to go. Lucky for us, ten minutes later, they decided to allow folks to go out for one hour stints but we were instructed to return once the rain started to fall. No rain and no storm, we were finally on our way.

Next we boarded our double kayak, double since we decided it was more stable of a boat than a single and also because of the reality that neither of us really knew what we were doing so it was likely that we would quickly drift apart in the water should we have selected separate boats. I have to admit that I didnt expect a long instructional class, but being a newbie to kayaking or at least somewhat removed from my previous kayaking experiences, I was hoping for some reminders on how to row. Nope. Nothing. We were handed some oars, pushed off into the water and on our own.

I was calmer than I expected but still not totally relaxed. First, I was worried about turning over and falling in. Then I was scared we were going to get caught in the wake of the motor boats going by. I became more confident that the ducks sticking their heads out of the water weren't going to eat me and once I realized anything in the water would be too small to make a dent in the boat, I started to chill out a bit. I did get concerned that we'd forget our way back to the boathouse and no one would know where we were. I should fess up that I'm pretty technology obsessed, between facebook, twitter, blogs and email, I try to stay fairly in tune and awake to the world around me. And here was, in this tiny little boat, with another pal with NO CELL PHONE. I had a camera and my car keys, two very useful objects when lost at sea.

Needless to say, I survived. I have to be honest and say it wasn't the most relaxed I've been but then again this project isn't about finding my comfort zone. Its about pushing myself to own up to my fears, tracking down some of the minor goals I've had along the way and taking back my life in a way every motherless daughter should. I can't say I'm a pro but I am bit less worked up inside when the thought of a boat crosses my mind. Sort of makes my dream of living in a houseboat off the coast of Seattle a little more of a reality. Call me a hopeless romantic but its true my friend. Always been my dream. Just a little obstacle in the way but after today, I'd say that wall is coming down a bit. Know a good place to scuba? May be next on my list.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Putting Up the Pedestal

A few weeks ago I was at what has become my small family's annual reunion over Memorial Day weekend.... Out on the back porch at night with my siblings and our spouses, nothing but stars in the sky to light the way. I started to think about what my life has been like, and how my relationship with my father is probably much stronger than most other children who grew up with both parents.

From prom dress shopping to spring break vacations and more, we have formed a strong bond that is often hard to describe. While growing up with my siblings, as the third child, I was certainly the baby of the family. Always receiving direction, support and inspiration from my older sibs. And while we didnt have all the fancy toys many kids of our time did or exotic sleep away camps to attend, we did have the weekly pizza take out and summer weeks at the Cape. College tuition was paid for in full without us having to take loans and he was always running the carpool shuttle to and from sports, drama, Hebrew school and more. Playdates and sleepovers, birthday parties and Montessori school.

When I think now to the challenges I face with a husband in residency, living far from family and a crazy work/home/religious life schedule, I have great awe and admiration for my dad. Not only did he encourage homework and extracurricular activities and art classes at the museum or summer classes for my siblings, but he somehow was able to afford food, clothes, social activities and more. All on one salary, working 50-60 hours a week, shuttling kids, living with his mother in law and raising 3 young kids, two cats and a dog.

Sure, we didnt have a fancy house. No fancy cars or shmancy clothing like some of the cool kids in school. Didnt have the healthiest diet (we got to eat sugary cereals that at the time I thought was pretty cool) and also faced lots of comments from friends.... I still remember being told once in Hebrew school that someone's mom thought I wore too much makeup or that other parents didnt think we had enough supervision during play dates since it was my nana watching us and not a mom. I remember being instructed by my teachers in elementary school on how to adjust the mother's day card to make it suitable for my nana and asked if I had anyone at home who could chaperone my field trip.

You know what, I never went hungry. I was always schooled in taking my classes seriously and making the most of my academic career. Always pushed to look up a word I didnt know and couldnt spell. My Judaism was instilled in me at an early age, attending Hebrew school from K-12 on the weekends or at night after school. An investment that has shaped the person I have become.

So sure, we can look back and miss a mother figure, someone we put up on a pedestal as the perfect person. I remember the way my heart sank when I was in my mid-20's and found out that my mother was a smoker. Something my father still does to this day. How could she? What right did she have to limit her life anymore from us? But the more I thought about it, I realized it only upset me so much because it made her more human and less porcelain like as a doll on my shelf, the way I used to look at her framed photos at night.

She was a real person, real wants, real faults. I am sure we wouldve fought in my teenage years and who knows if she wouldve approved of all of my social choices over the years. Maybe she wouldve been frustrated when I became religiously observant, keeping kosher and shabbat, doing things differently than the way my parents raised me. But I also know, looking at my baby boy who is now 15 months, one month older than I was when she passed, that she molded me, that I clung to her, recognized her voice and raised my arms when she came to greet me in the morning from my crib. Memories I unfortunately never had. But something is therapeutic to me in looking at my kids now and being so thankful that as hectic and crazy as it was, my dad kept it all together for us. To the point that I didnt really realize that I was so different. So much that when I went to college, I forgot to tell some of my closest friends that I grew up without a mom. Everyone knew in my childhood and I didnt realize it was something critical to share.

I hope I can provide my kids with the stability, security and love rooted in family and Judaism to show them the same respect and dignity that was shown to me. My dad always told me he had two choices, to let it break him or to pick up and go on. As simple as that sounds, I have always held that sentiment close to me. Some people choose to go through life looking at their glass half empty. Look what happened to me? Look what I missed out on? Woe is me. I made a decision a long time ago, that wasnt my road in life. You have to take what you get and go your own way. Mold your life into one that you want. Stop waiting for things to be handed to you or for everything to work out just so. You cant walk around life with a chip on your shoulder. These thoughts only hold you back. If youre not happy with the way things are, make it better for yourself and someone else. You cant pick the life you were given but you can choose how to mold it in your own way.

"Your keep your heart above your head and your eyes wide open, so this world can't find a way to leave you cold, and know youre not the only ship out in the ocean, save your strength for things that you can change, forgive the ones you can't, you gotta let 'em go.

Looking back now on my life, I cant say I regret it. And all the places that I ended up not the way Ma wouldve had it. But you only get one chance at life to leave your mark upon it. And when a pony comes riding by you better sit your sweet @$& on it."

--Zac Brown Band, "Let It Go"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Last Haul

So how is it that its already June? Public speaking is behind me, thank g-d, and I am coming down to the wire. The last three months have arrived. Many have asked what I plan to do when this is all over. Will I feel relieved? Have all this free time.

So the truth is, I have given some thought to the time after. Will I write a book? Will I start doing private energy efficiency consulting for synagogues in the area? Will I just go back to my normal crazy part time work schedule during normal business hours rather than this adding in time at night and on the weekends to fit in my blog projects? Will the pressure of figuring out my life's professional goals and fears to overcome every month be lifted off me when this is all said and done?

Ive gotten pretty good (as you can see) with drafting a list of questions to answer. And maybe thats how I will spend my first month post-year 32, lets call it year 33 for the sake of this discussion, contemplating these issues. At the end of the day though, people really just want to know if I will keep blogging. And to that I can say that I believe I will. There is something therapeutic to putting down my thoughts and just releasing it into the world as they say. I dont think I can sustain a new every something per month but I can continue to let everyone into my world of balancing craziness on a string and somehow remain standing most of the time.

So for my remaining few months, I have a goal to go whitewater rafting which was supposed to take place in June, as in now, somewhere probably in West Virginia. I hear Harper's Ferry is a wonderful spot. That is, until we booked the last minute family trip to Colorado in July due to my husband's wonderful (read ridiculously frustrating) schedule change in the 9th hour. In fact, we found out about his availability on the night before we had to give final notice of our daughter's enrollment for summer camp and were luckily able to cancel the week at the last second.

Anyway once CO entered the picture, I have now started to think that Rocky Mountain rafting sounds a whole lot better. But that would be for July.... leaving me project-less for June. I do have other ideas kicking around though such as overcoming my fear of deep water. I would be fine on a cruise ship (though Ive never been) or a ferry (lots of trips there)... but the smaller canoe type or motor boats in deep water have always frightened me. Perhaps I saw JAWS too many times as a kid. That and the Perfect Storm are enough to keep me awake for hours.

So now I am trying to locate some boating options, through friends and word of mouth and schedule a few expeditions to tackle this fear. That still leaves me with the final month and I have no idea how to end this year long expedition. Good thing I have a bit more time on my hands. Speaking of time, Im off to bed but more good things are coming right around the corner---I can feel it.