Slow motion

At times when I am very busy, when the tendency is to become unsettled, upset, panicked, I employ a coping mechanism that works for me. I think the idea actually came from the opening of the old TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man. Whichever show it was showed someone running very fast, but in slow motion. He’s making all of the rapid moves, but slowly.

I picture that slow running man when I am in situations that require a lot of thinking and a high level of activity. I picture myself slowing down, taking things much more slowly than usual. The background music becomes slower, softer, more gentle. So do the thoughts swirling around in my head. By slowing down, I avoid all of the hazards of haste- the frenzied movements, things being misplaced, bumping into things, feeling stressed.

I have my list. I do things one at a time. And I take my time.

Hanging out with my buddies


(and I stay less focused)

Parting

June 1967

I am 7.5 months pregnant with my first child. My husband of just a year is serving as a chaplain in the US Army. We are planning to leave the Army after our baby is born and to go to a civilian congregation. He has been hired as the new rabbi at the House of Peace synagogue in Columbia, South Carolina. We have just visited there a second time to talk with them about where we will be living and what changes we would like to see in the house the congregation owns. We are in the Atlanta airport. He is flying in uniform back to Fort Knox. I am flying to Philadelphia where I must take final exams at Gratz College so that they can see that I really did study on my own that year so that I can receive my BHL (Bachelor of Hebrew Literature) degree.

I am young, 21 years old, and very pregnant.

We wait for my plane. When we are called to board, we embrace. I cry. I will miss him.

I take my seat on the plane. The man next to me starts to speak. “He’ll be all right. Lots of men return healthy and whole from Vietnam. He’ll get to see that baby of yours.”

December 2011

I am a bit older. That baby is now a man with 6 children of his own. Soon I will be saying goodbye to my husband once again. This time he really is going to Vietnam.

But I am not worried.

He is going to supervise the kosher cooking for a tour. We have been to Vietnam together several times. We lead tours there. It is a lovely place to visit. It is beautiful and has rich traditions and friendly, welcoming people. The war years are barely a memory by now except for in places they have designated as war museums or in Cu Chi where the Vietcong built an elaborate tunnel system. A tour there is a treat and I look forward to returning.

This morning I bought him some instant coffee to take along because Vietnamese coffee is “different.”

We’ll keep in touch over his iPad and my computer.

But there still may be tears when he leaves.

“…hey it’s good to be back home again…”

Hello all!

It’s been a very busy time since I last posted. We spent the second week in August making final preparations for our tour of Vietnam & Cambodia. We did shopping (for all sorts of foods we took along), baking (6 loaves of bread for the first shabbat) and, of course, packing. On the way to the airport I commented to my daughter who was driving us, “Remind me that I never want to do this again.”

You see, in addition to all of the physical preparation, there is a lot of preparation in terms of planning all sorts of logistical issues such as how to meet a couple we didn’t know at the Bangkok airport (we got lucky… despite our plans, they happened to walk by us after we had despaired of meeting them, and were spotted by friends of theirs who were on the tour), how to feed 20 people a kosher dinner immediately on arrival at our hotel in Hanoi (at about midnight), etc. As much as we planned, we prayed a lot too because we traveled in the rainy season and we hoped that the forecasts we had seen for every city that predicted “chance of thunderstorms” every day(!!!) were wrong.

In the end, we did have a couple of days with rain, but it never really got in our way, and on several occasions, the cloudbursts came just as we walked inside or subsided just as we were ready to walk outside.

We had a group of people who were absolutely the best. We had Hebrew speakers who knew English and English speakers who knew Hebrew. We also had people who only knew Hebrew or English. And just for fun, we had a couple whose best language was French. Despite this, they became one happy family. They were caring and kind and thoughtful and appreciated everything we did for them.

Of course Vietnam and Cambodia are beautiful countries and we and our people had no shortage of excellent opportunities to photograph them. The countries are populated with wonderful warm, friendly people and we were happy to see some of our favorite people like our guide in Hanoi, Phuong, and the Chabad rabbi in Saigon, Rabbi Menachem Hartman and his lovely wife Racheli and their three beautiful sons.

After the tour, we traveled on our own in Thailand… but that’s a story for another day.

It was a magnificent trip, but it’s good to be home.

La-di-da-di-da-di-da*


A long time ago I was living in the US and one, and then two of my children were living in Israel. As time went on, the third and fourth joined them. By January of each year, knowing that I wanted to visit the children, I would make my airline reservations for the following summer. Months of anticipation and and planning culminated in a wonderful visit.

When several years ago we traveled to the US and gave an audio-visual presentation and spoke to people about travel to China, they responded by saying they would have to think about it and maybe in a year or two, they would want to travel. They would perhaps be saving money in the interim, but often it was the case that they had other long term plans that superseded these trips.

Now everyone knows that Israeli culture is different from US culture, but there is no greater difference, at least in my mind, than that of the attitude toward travel.

It is rare to find an Israeli who has not traveled outside of the country. A weekend in Turkey or Cyprus or Greece is no more exotic here than a weekend in Eilat. In many instances, it is cheaper. Years ago when the dot-coms were booming, it was not unusual for companies to take their workers away to Turkey for a weekend as an extra bonus. Israelis love to travel!

We have any number of travel agencies that offer package deals to European locations for prices that are practically unbelievable. And people may decide on a Thursday that they would like to go away the next week and by Sunday they are on a plane and by Sunday night they are strolling the alleys of Rhodes or perusing the English book shops in Malta.

But try planning a trip to an exotic location like the far east. We will be leaving on August 15 for Vietnam and Cambodia. Our American participants started planning the tour in the winter. Our Israelis (yes, I’m talking about English speaking Israelis too) have all pretty much started registering in the last 2 weeks with several calling today!

OK, I’ll admit it: this isn’t even last minute by Israeli standards. I once had a call from a woman on a Thursday to ask me about a tour to China leaving on that Sunday. Of course that one was impossible. It takes several days to get a Chinese visa.

I have to admit, I am more like the Israelis than the Americans. I get a real adrenaline rush from these last minute arrangements. I enjoy the spontaneity of making decisions and then acting on them immediately. So, if you know anyone who wants to come along, there’s still time!

*just nonchalantly hanging around… hmmm… maybe I’ll visit Singapore next week….

Ooof!

One of the things that people learn when they move to a new country with a new language is that exclamations differ from those they were raised with. In English, pain evokes an “ouch!” In Hebrew, it’s “Ay-ah!” Frustration in Hebrew evokes an “Ooof!” I’ll admit it; I forgot the English.

So why am I frustrated? It actually has to do with the fact that there is so much right with my life these days. I am feeling healthy, have kept off the weight I lost, and have no problem maintaining a healthy diet. We recently witnessed the graduation from high school of our oldest granddaughter and the awarding of a PhD to our son-in-law. My husband and I had a great honeymoon getaway for our 45th anniversary, and our children invited us to a wonderful dinner celebration in its honor, bringing along a nice sampling of well-behaved gorgeous grandchildren. We are in a state of high preparation for the tour we are leading to Vietnam and Cambodia and are looking forward to a week of fun in Thailand on our way back. In the fall, after the holidays, we’ll be taking a trip to the US and when we get back, I’ll be teaching marriage and family therapy once again. And then, best of all, we prepare for my sister’s aliya!

The blessing of a beautiful garden in Israel, filled with gorgeous plants and fruit trees brings with it the worry of the health of our gorgeous plum tree that has been attacked by some type of a worm. The blessing of a great apartment that we are renting out brings with it the work of cleaning it thoroughly between occupants. The blessing of being close to our children brings day to day discussions and concerns about the types of issues that remote grandparents never hear of.

So why am I frustrated?

I guess it’s because I wish I could split myself in two or three or four in order to give adequate time and attention to all of the wonderful people and things in my life.

I worry about letting people down.

Ooof!

Click on pictures for full images!

What I should have said

Here is what I should have said to some recent acquaintances (who I likely will not see again):

It’s not all about you. Just because you think that the world belongs to you doesn’t make it so.

The animals of the Galapagos have plans of their own and they do not include showing off for you.

It is not possible to convince all the other people at the theater not to take pictures because they may momentarily block your view.

The airline did not ask me which seat I reserved for you. Nasty people- they just decided arbitrarily.

The Chinese guides were not spying on us; I promise you- they did not mistake you for anyone of consequence.

Just because you have an outdated, inaccurate guidebook in your hands, it does not make you an expert on a place you have never visited.

Taking food with your fingers and coughing and sneezing on the serving dish might account for your having spread your cold to the others who were not aware that the serving dish had turned into a petri dish.

Berating family members in public does not enhance your reputation.

Gratuitous criticism does not make you seem erudite; just crotchety and unpleasant.

Common courtesy is apparently not so common. Ditto common sense.

If there were a contest between “rich” and “kind”- kind would always win. I don’t admire you. I pity you.

And remember this: Beauty, money, and material things are fleeting, but good character lives on. There is still time to develop it. Try. It is a gift for yourself and for all those around you.

Off once again

Sukkot is over. The newest baby is born and named. And now, on to China!

I haven’t been to China for 3 years and am very excited about going now. I am less excited about my journey on Aerosvit Airlines (and no, that’s not a typo). I will be spending 4 hours in Kiev, a place I would like to visit, but I have been told that 4 hours is not enough to get into town, to see something, and to get back in time for my next flight. I guess Kiev will have to wait for another trip.

I am expecting to have internet access at some of the hotels we are staying at. So, you can watch my other blog: www.drsavta.com/travelkosher for updates on my whereabouts and adventures.

Bye all!

I wonder

I was brought up to be a rich girl.

When I was four years old, my mother sent me to dancing school where I was taught by a personal friend of Anna Pavlova. I danced a toe solo at five and a half at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the summer, we would go to Atlantic City, renting a home there for the entire summer and taking the maid with us.

By the time I was in my teens, I had not a room of my own, but a floor of my own in the house. I had a bedroom, a study area, a sitting room and a bath. My clothes were as expensive as the clothes I buy today– in 1960! I was taught to appreciate the finer things in life like fancy restaurants and new cars.

My mother dressed in clothes that were high fashion. She was always ahead of the trends and many times I went with her as she took her new dress or suit with her to the milliner to have exactly the right hat made to match it, often taking some material from the garment to draw the outfit together.

That privileged stance was in direct opposition to my experience at high school. There I was the outcast, not having moved into the same neighborhood as the other Jewish girls in our school. We Jewish girls were a real minority at our high school, the first of a vanguard breaking into the formerly pristine suburbs. In our class of 675, we were probably fewer than 20. Antisemitism was not encouraged by the school, but its subtle and not-so-subtle appearance among the other students was ignored. Being rejected by the small minority of Jewish girls was very painful.

I had most of my social needs met by my friends in Hebrew high school, and later Hebrew college. With them I was on an equal footing and their unaffected manner and their acceptance of me, the misfit, allowed me to feel normal for the first time.

It was probably through them that I acquired my values. They were kind, unselfish, open, accepting, and full of fun. By spending time with them, I began to realize that my discomfort with my upbringing was well-founded.

Shedding the privilege I had been given was liberating. Instead of disdaining the world as not meeting my expectations, I could appreciate it and even love it. Suddenly I could enjoy new things, new experiences, and new people.

Recently, I have been to the Galapagos Islands three times. It was interesting to see how different people responded to the experience.

Mother sea lion and newborn infant

Mother sea lion and newborn infant

I was overcome with emotion, actually each time I visited. I was astounded by the beauty of raw, unspoiled nature. I loved watching the birds and the sea lions and the iguanas and the land tortoises. Unthreatened by humans, they had no fear and allowed themselves to be photographed, even posing for us, it seemed sometimes. There I was with G-d’s creation. What could be more awe-inspiring!

Nazca booby

Nazca booby

Most of the people I was with reacted that way.

But some did not.
“Where are the flamingos?” “Why aren’t they here?”
“Why aren’t there more animals?”
“Why can’t I walk around alone instead of having to go with a naturalist?”
“I already saw a blue-footed booby; what’s next?”
“OK, so I have seen the albatross babies. Enough already!”

At first these reactions made me feel angry. What do they want! But then I just began to feel sad for these people. Their privilege was blinding them to the beauty of the world. They were unable to share the awe of seeing a newborn sea lion nuzzling its mother. They couldn’t enjoy seeing the boobies protecting their young. They couldn’t share the excitement of seeing the magnificent frigates puffing out their red pouches.

Blue footed booby feeding her baby

Blue footed booby feeding her baby

I am grateful that that veil has been lifted from me and that I can look beyond myself and share the wonder of the universe. I hope someday that our privileged travelers will be able to do the same thing.

Watercolors and water, part 2

About a month after I returned from Peru, I left once again on a similar tour. I could hardly wait to get to the market in Pisac. Pisac is a small city located in the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. Here is a picture of the nearby terrain.

Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

In fact, when we finally pulled up the market, some of the people were not interested in seeing it and said they would stay on the bus rather than wander around the market. Fortunately, most said they would get off the bus and in the end, all of them did.

I quickly oriented myself and headed straight to the pace where I had bought the watercolor pictures. I found the woman who painted them with very little trouble. I asked to see some pictures and she had some, but none was even close in quality to the ones I had bought the first time. Since I was there, she had focused in painting larger pictures with faces of individuals on them. They were nice, but they were not what I wanted.

So, it seems that the two paintings I bought in June will be the ones that hang on my wall, paint drips and all.

Oh, and the market? Still magical.

A small part of the market at Pisac

A small part of the market at Pisac

Watercolors and water

A few weeks ago when I was in Peru, we stopped at a market in the town of Pisac (also spelled Pisaq) located in the Sacred Valley, not far from Cusco, where there is a beautiful market that sells locally made handicrafts. I was lucky enough to find two paintings that I found enchanting. They were watercolors and the colors came from local plants. They were delicate and beautiful and I was thrilled to be bringing home two such lovely paintings. They were put in a tube and looked just as good when I got home as they did when I purchased them.

A week or so ago, I took them to our local frame shop and found frames that were perfect. I spent the time waiting for them to be finished thinking about where I would hang them–as anyone who has visited can attest, I have no more wall space!

Two days ago I picked them up. They were gorgeous. I was elated. It was a nice day and I had a pretty dusty, gritty car and so decided to go to the car wash. They did a great job. It was only later, when I opened the trunk to take out the paintings that I noticed that both of them had gotten wet from the water that had seeped into the trunk while the car was being washed.

I immediately took them back to the frame shop where one painting was in good condition, really none the worse for wear, but the second, after an evening of drying had telltale drips that showed the water damage. They are reframing both and I am hoping eventually to replace the damaged painting– assuming that we visit Pisac again in a couple of weeks when I return to Peru.

DrSavta’s helpful hint for the day: If you are going to wash your car, don’t do it with watercolor paintings in the trunk.

Added: OK, here are the two pictures for those who were curious. The first picture is fine. I took the picture with the plastic wrapping around the frame still on and so that is what is at the ends and the light shining on it is my kitchen light.
Picture 002

The second picture is the one where you can see the dripping paint flowing from where it was put to where it wasn’t. It’s still pleasant to look at, but I am thrilled that we are going back to Pisac and so I might have a chance to replace it. But for now, here it is:

Picture 001