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Geocaching Milestones: #1100-#1500

After having no luck yesterday, I found my 1500th geocache at 2:57 this afternoon.

The last time I posted a geocaching milestones post was when I found my 1400th last year; now, I conclude this series with the stories of my five most recent milestones.

#1100: Who Needs Labels? (Katy, Texas)

This cache was on a hot and sunny day in Katy. It was a little hard to find, because it was near some train tracks, but it had a lot of favorite points. I felt stupid when I found it; it was an ammo box painted white and attached to something. I wore a tan shirt that day.

#1200: Sunset in the Far East (Houston, Texas)

This cache was decently sized and despite the name it was in the western part of Houston. It was at a dead end under some rocks, and ironically, I found it just after sunset in my gray Bookcrossing shirt.

#1300: I’d rather do the Texas Alphabet Chili Challenge (Shenandoah, Texas)

I hadn’t explored the wealth of caches in the northern suburbs of Houston, and so I decided to head to The Woodlands and Shenandoah that day. This challenge required a geocacher to have found a cache for every letter of the alphabet, somewhere in Texas. With over 500 Texas caches at this point, it was pretty simple to make a list. I saw a big turtle near the cache, which was a pot in a patch of woods next to a parking lot, about 100 feet from the car. I found it in my green Edward Gorey t-shirt.

#1400: the Secret Garden (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

The journey to this cache was stressful. It was during the move from Houston to Madison, and I knew I was coming up on this number. I didn’t want my 1400th to just be a pill bottle or a skirt lifter; I wanted a real cache, and the morning we left Oklahoma City, I had 7 to go. We visited the Oklahoma City memorial, where I scored 3 virtuals, and nearby was a large hospital complex with 4 physical caches on its grounds. My dad was more interested in getting on the road, so he gave me 30 minutes to find the caches. I booked it through parking lots and grassy knolls, and as luck would have it, the first three were spot on. The last one was a nail-biter; I had only 5-10 minutes left and I was searching all through this little garden. Finally, I spotted it sitting in a small tree. I can’t remember what I was wearing, but I was very sweaty.

#1500 : District 13 (Madison, Wisconsin)

I really wanted my 1500th cache to be extra special. District 13, a mystery cache, was my initial choice. But then, I realized that I was at 1,494 and was going to Perrot State Park and potentially Minnesota the next day, so I could only find a maximum of five caches on that trip. I didn’t end up finding any, which was a bummer, but the next day, I just picked up where I left off. I looked for a few easy caches around town and found five out of seven of them, then headed to the coordinates I got after I solved the District 13 puzzle. Though it was a pain to find parking, the cache was an easy-to-find tupperware container hidden near a grocery store. As I took my victory picture, I realized that I was wearing my Virgin Records t-shirt – the exact same one I wore when I found my 100th cache. That’s either a very bad thing or a very good thing.

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Sign of a Bright Future?

I mentioned conspiracy theories today in a conversation with someone, so I’d like to address another that recently came into my mind, both while shopping at Marshalls and then later when I was bored because of course, I have a million things that I have to do but end up slacking on.

Sunglasses.

I never liked sunglasses growing up, because I had actual glasses and could never wear real-person sunglasses until I was a teenager and contact lenses saved me from hating myself forever. I kind of have a thing for really funky, almost girly sunglasses, but never granny glasses, never. Actually, I really like the free plastic ones they give away at events – I have one on my dining room table that says “I ❤ ISRAEL” on the side – but I’m a little too old to be wearing them in public and be taken seriously at the same time. Ever since I moved to a very sunny place (Houston) followed by a place that’s not sunny but when it is, it’s blinding due to the snow (Madison), so sunglasses have been nice for things like driving and walking and avoiding eye contact with certain people. Sunglasses are also probably useful in Vietnam and Guyana, the two newest countries on my traffic (welcome!) There are so many cool kinds out there, and they’re usually pretty cheap.

The problem?

Every time I buy sunglasses, just as I start to really love them, they either a) break, or b) disappear. Usually it’s the first one.

I could give you a rundown of every single pair of sunglasses that I ever bought, but suffice it to say that they’ve been stepped on, sat on, crushed in a bag, and of course, forgotten somewhere. It’s almost to the point of laughter – every time I’ve taken a big trip, my sunglasses have been the first thing to go. I lost them early on in Ecuador, someone sat on them when we got to Slovakia, and I sat on them my first day in Israel. Occasionally I acquire new ones before the trip is out, but usually, I wait until I’m like “gee, now that was a situation where sunglasses would have been helpful, and I didn’t have them.” And then I get them, start to really like them, wear them everywhere, only to have something happen to them. And since the cheapest ones at the west side Marshalls (yes, I actually went to both) were over $15, I think that I have solid proof that I have, indeed, purchased and lost/broken all the $10 and under sunglasses in the world.

Anyway.

Just bought soap.

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Take Your Toddler Off the Table

One time, I was having a perfectly lovely dinner in Houston with my friend, and her friends, who are a young couple with an adorable baby girl who sat and cooed in her stroller the whole time. What happened after dinner absolutely grossed me out. It wasn’t at a particularly fancy place, but it was gross nonetheless.

They put their baby daughter on the table.

On. The. Table.

I don’t know what possessed them to do that, but they did it anyway. And not only did they put her on the table, they picked her up and put her on her feet on the table as if she was dancing. Dancing. In her shoes. Only slightly less gross than if she were in her socks, or barefoot.

I just don’t get it.

If I put my own feet on the table at any point during the meal, you’d be disgusted. Same goes for anyone putting their foot on any dining table while it is being used thusly. You don’t know what’s on the bottom of that person’s shoes, or if their shoes look nice but their feet are dust mops.

Speaking of complete slobs, I knew a girl in Amherst who was one. Well, at least on the outside. She looked like she never showered or brushed her hair, always wore grungy looking outfits which were usually baggy, monotone, and polyester, and had gigantic, oddly-shaped glasses. But appearances aren’t everything, personality is important too…and personality she had. Of a dirty dish towel. She wasn’t an awful human being, just a dull one. I tried to find something redeeming about her, so I tried to grasp at straws. She was usually barefoot, and her feet weren’t grotesque-looking at first glance, but then, I saw her sit down and put her feet up, and on the bottoms? Let’s just say that she possessed a pretty dark and disgusting sole, times two. That is the image I have in mind whenever anyone’s feet, including an adorable little girl’s, go anywhere near where I’m eating or have eaten. Then there’s the whole issue of parents thinking that everything their children do is cute, but that merits a whole different blog entry.

So don’t put your children on the table and especially his/her feet. Or your own feet for that matter. Ever.

Except if the meal is completely finished, and the table has an inset lazy Susan.

Then, it’s adorable, as seen by Figure A (just imagine the record player inset within the table):

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And On The Seventh Day, He Rested

Most people know that Jews have holidays that occur intermittently throughout the year, usually in the fall. What they don’t know is about the most important holiday of all: the Sabbath, or as we like to call it, Shabbat.

Shabbat is like an island of peace to which we Jews can escape one day a week, every week. For the rest of time.

Growing up, my family observed Shabbat pretty strictly, starting off with Friday night dinner and continuing with 25 hours total of no technology (computers, TV, and later, cell phones). No drawing, no writing, no going anywhere in the car, no spending money. All there was to do was go to shul on Saturday mornings (where, if I was lucky, we’d have a luncheon) and then spending the rest of the day alternating between eating in the kitchen, sleeping either in bed or on the couch downstairs, or reading, anywhere. All up until an hour after sunset, when we’d do Havdalah at the kitchen counter. I always got to hold the candle since I was the youngest. One of the few perks of being a younger sibling.

After I left home, Shabbat became harder and harder to observe. I started to crack under the pressure of college life, especially one with few Jews. I remember resorting to counting the ceiling tiles in my dorm room over and over. I couldn’t go to the dining hall because I had to swipe in, so I’d have to make do with whatever food I had in my room. It was hard, and probably contributed to why I didn’t do so well there. I also ended up needing to do work on Shabbat in my sophomore year, a move which my parents didn’t endorse but approved of since it was for my education. It was also a move that worked in my favor, I think, for when I went to submit the paper to my professor I told her it was the first time I’d broken Shabbat in my whole life (probably not entirely true, but to this extent, at least), which earned me an apology for her and maybe a few sympathy points even though I ended up with an A anyway.

Through junior and senior years I tried to keep Shabbat the best I could, but it was mostly loneliness that caused me to break. One particularly lonely Passover, when everyone else went home but I couldn’t arrange it, I was on the phone with my dad and he told me that if I was really that upset and lonely, I should find a computer game to distract me for a little while, which is when I discovered (and became addicted to) Phantom Mansion, this weird little Internet game thing that I never did quite beat but I got pretty darn close.

In Israel, keeping Shabbat was much easier, but ever since that Passover, I did not feel as compelled to keep it 100%. I tried to, but sometimes I just needed to get on the computer for a little while. On a few particularly lonely Saturdays, including Yom Kippur, I spent the whole night and day holed up in my office at the theater, sleeping on my couch (which I wasn’t technically supposed to do, but no one ever caught me) and getting work done during the day so I could get a jump on the week.

Houston is pretty much when my Shabbat-keeping completely fell apart. It started when I told a friend (who wasn’t Jewish) that I would walk 2 miles each way to and from Chabad on Friday nights, which prompted her to say that if she ever saw me doing that, she’d pick me up and throw me in her car, so after that (and knowing how dangerous Houston at night can be) whenever I went to Chabad, save for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I would drive and feel incredibly guilty about it even though most people did the same because it’s Houston and you have to drive everywhere anyway. Usually I spent most of Shabbat doing what I did the rest of the week: watching TV, exercising, making food, doing work, and hanging out on the computer. I remember spending 8-9 hours one Shabbat on my computer translating some Slovak, without which I would’ve never finished my thesis.

One of the things I was looking forward to about moving to Wisconsin was observing Shabbat more strictly, because now I live merely blocks from Chabad, and I could probably transition back to not using technology pretty quickly. But it’s been hard not to check my email or my phone at all, but I hope that’ll change, at least as soon as the play is over.

I miss that feeling that I could be completely at peace, just praying, reading and doing non-technology-related activities that I enjoy, like taking walks, napping, or just kicking back and enjoying the day. I never liked Shabbat growing up because there was so much my parents wouldn’t let me do, but now I wish I could go back to then, that innocent time when Shabbat meant resting in its purest and highest form, and thinking about being closer to God and to myself. Maybe when I get back to Madison from Houston I can start, little by little. Shabbat is a weekly gift, and Friday night especially – as a girl I went to college with termed it, “my date with God.” Collecting my thoughts and connecting with my feelings is something that I could definitely use 25 hours of my week to focus on.

Shabbat, shabbat, I will forget thee not.

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Happy Places

Getting in bed late last night, I was trying to calm myself down after a hectic day (well, mostly a hectic three hours’ worth of throwing a six-page paper together), and decided to travel to my happy place.

What is a happy place?

A “happy place” is something that I first heard on Friends, in the episode where Phoebe is trying to calm Monica down by asking her to access her happy place. Monica admits she doesn’t have one, so Phoebe lends her her own happy place, but admonishes her friend “…but please don’t move anything.” Phoebe then goes on to describe the happy place, which includes a waterfall. This fails to make Monica calm down, but does make her want to pee. Actually, I kind of have to pee now too, but I’ll finish writing first.

Probably not a great idea, but we’ll see what happens.

So, back in bed last night, I was attempting to find my own happy places, and realized that I don’t have that many. Then I really took a good long flip through my memories, and found that there are plenty of happy places for me – I just fail to recognize them as what they are. For a place to count as a happy place, it must be a concrete memory, and not just “the beach” or “in a garden.” It’s gotta be personal.

I’ve been short on stories lately, so here’s a list of random memories of times and place where I felt best, my true “happy places.”

Childhood

  • Not in my memory, but a picture of myself sitting on a brown blanket at the park near Wellwood Elementary, with my family. There are two pictures of that day that conjure up only happiness in my mind. In the first, I am a chubby toddler in a striped shirt and tan shorts, laughing and looking slightly south of the camera. In the picture, it’s just me, and for a moment, I am just happy with myself, by myself, just enjoying life. The second picture is one from that same day that my dad probably took. I am sitting on my mom’s lap at a picnic table. I know it’s from the same day because I’m in the same outfit. She’s bouncing me on her knee, and I’m laughing, and she’s looking down at me and laughing. In that frame, there’s no worry, anger, anxiety, or stress, just happiness.
  • Evenings spent sitting by my mother as she graded her third graders’ work. She sat, as my dad says “like a deer, on her haunches” on the blue bedroom carpet by the heater with her work in very specific piles around her, and usually me among them, talking to her or just sitting and reading or watching whatever channel my dad has decided on for the moment. Being situated between my parents was comforting, and such a familiar scene helps me feel like I’m right at home, in an easy part of my childhood.
  • Riding in the car with my mom, wherever, whenever, but listening to good oldies music. It seems like many of my childhood happy places seem to be close to my mother. I wasn’t really close with my father until I entered adolescence, really. Also, no school memories come to mind at all.

Adolescence/Teenage Years

  • Spending a peaceful Shabbat at home, usually involving a rotation between the couch, the brown chair in the basement, the plaid chair in the living room, my parents’ bed, and my bed. Extra happy if I got to finish at least one or two books.
  • Spending Shabbat in Ocean City. I’m not as huge on sitting on the beach reading as my dad is, usually because it’s cold, but coming with a suitcase of books and between the beach, the deck, the couch, the chairs, my bed, my parents’ bed, and my parents’ deck, worming my way both around the house and through several books could only be described as happy.

Amherst Years

  • Being lost in a bookstore. Any bookstore. Food for Thought, the big one on Pleasant St., the one in the mall in Northampton, some of the little ones in NoHo. Brattleboro, Vermont? Even better. A warm cup of something from Postcard Cafe, or Sylvester’s, (or Mocha Joe’s in Brattleboro), and a quick duck into Acme Surplus, just celebrating my freedom by hopping between stores.
  • Friday nights with any arrangement of Daniel, Goldie, Nora, Neta, Sarah, Cory, Kelsey, and Zippy on the couches at the Hillel windows for our weekly entertainment: cars getting towed on Phillips Street with their owners absent, standing by, or the best kind – running shoeless and coatless from a frat/sorority house only to watch their ride leaving without them – literally; or, watching guys pee in our parking lot, banging on the window and catching them midstream, and seeing their reactions. Pure fun with pure friends.

Israel

  • Midnight to 2 AM in the Nahum Lifshitz apartment, watching marathons of Hannah Montana, That’s So Raven, and Lizzie McGuire with Rael (and later, Adina). The routine: I get home from whatever I’m doing that night at the theatre or at the gym; if it’s the theatre, I put on the pasta and make the salads. If it’s the gym, I get out the veggies, put on the pasta, and leave the door unlocked for Rael so she can let herself in to check on the pasta in case I’m not out of the shower yet. In either scenario, at this point I take out my pasta and bring it to the table, as well as our salads and beverages. We watch show number one while Rael’s pasta continues to cook (she likes it stringy and mushy – I still don’t understand why, but whatever suits her appetite) and usually by the time show one is over, her pasta is ready and I focus on my salad or eyeball whatever dessert Rael has brought. The company, the conversation…man those were happy times. I can’t believe we’re so far away now. We did the midnight walks through Jerusalem as well…okay, this is bordering on tear-worthy nostalgia…
  • Being busy at the theatre. The busier, the better – I’m in control, I feel alive, and I’m in a million places at once, doing it all as hard as I can. Dedication, commitment, and in spare moments, a sweet garden to lounge in, or my insanely large office with the couch that served as a nap spot for myself and numerous others. Everyone comes to Jacob’s office.
  • Sunny days off, wandering around Jerusalem. Old City, New City, a different neighborhood anytime. The Old City’s the best though, the shuk, the Western Wall, getting lost and meeting locals and tourists, on the precipice of both myself. So fab. And in my happy place, I can have less acne.
  • Sitting by the sea in Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus, with the whole sea to myself. Sketching, reading, white wine, Mediterranean breeze – it was just one afternoon but it couldn’t have been more perfect. A language I don’t understand? Perfect for zoning out and being in the moment.

Houston Years

  • Hanging out in the apartment. Just knowing that I have this luxurious nest that I can go to and just lie on the couch watching TV, sit on the porch, or holing up in bed.
  • Studying at the Julia Ideson Library in downtown Houston. Leather couches and chairs, Greek statues, old bookshelves, roomy tables, free wifi, picture window views of Houston. Usually alone –  Houston’s hidden gem. Sometimes I just couldn’t sit still and got up and danced around the room – quietly, of course.

Bonus Happy Place: Vacation

  • Prague. A bench along the Vltava. A sunny Saturday. Getting lost in a book – but then looking up and seeing the most beautiful picture postcard in the world. And not only can I see it, I can feel it, I can touch it, it’s all there. I could sit on that bench forever.
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How I Got Into Graduate School – Round 1, Part 2

Today was my Hebrew birthday, so that’s something, I guess. Happy birthday to me.

But to continue where I left off…

So here I am, in March 2011, with prospects looking pretty dim for the coming school year.

Through the Baltimore County secondary school grapevine, my mother hears of a woman who is planning on retiring from her position at a local Catholic girls’ school in order to foster the launch and growth of a full-time life-coaching business. So she sets the two of us up. At the second or third meeting, upon expressing my interest to go to graduate school for theater but not having had any bites on my three previous applications, she tells me a few things: 1) that three wasn’t enough for a first go-round, 2) application season is most likely over, so to set my sights on building my resume in the coming year with work and volunteer positions, and 3) to go to the library, get a book of majors, and pick 10-20 graduate theater programs around the country, and contact them with a letter of interest and some supplemental materials, but not the same ones I used on my previous applications. She asks me what else I have, what else that’s interesting about me. I show her the YouTube video that I worked on for the ASTR video contest (wow, I just realized that that statement needs context – note to self: tell that story too) and she claps her hands together and says “Marvelous! Just send out an email with a short letter of interest, your CV, a link to that video, and nothing else.”

So I do that.

Before long, I start getting emails from said schools. I get emails from schools in New Jersey, Ohio, and South Dakota. I even get a call from a university in Oklahoma, from a woman who I didn’t remember but remembered not only meeting me at ATHE in 2010 but seeing the previous incarnation of the video there as well (side note: today, this woman is a dear friend and colleague of mine who I can’t possibly imagine having forgotten!) with the first of the many puzzling yet pleasing pieces of information I’m to hear in the next few weeks: that she would love to have me in her program and could possibly slide me in for fall admission. She does mention that I’d have to mobilize pretty quickly, and that even though it is a slot in a program, the department is very small and in a small town in Oklahoma with limited cultural opportunities and absolutely no Jewish life to be found. The main point here is that she tells me to consider other options, but that she could possibly make it happen for me if I really wanted it. Which is a very comforting thought.

Then, on April 13, my email of interest shows up on the computer screen of the theatre department at the University of Houston, in faraway Houston, Texas. The response I receive is an overwhelmingly positive one, with many compliments to my resume, my YouTube video, and my personality. The response also poses a question at the end of the body of the message, asking me “by the way…would you be interested in Fall 2011 or Fall 2012 admission?” 

Hmm.

I fire back a response asking them what they mean by this, and not ten minutes later, a response shows up in my inbox, saying that someone dropped out of their incoming fall class, leaving them with a spot to fill, and I seem like a good candidate for doing just that, provided I can get an application in ASAP (but with no concrete promises that this will, indeed, happen).

Wow. Okay.

Over the coming days, I get into action. I fill out the application, send off GRE scores, call in some favors for last-minute recommendations (which is kind of fortuitous, since it happened to be spring break), and in about 48 hours, voila, my application has been completed and sent off. Upon receipt of the application, I get a phone call from the head of the department for an informal interview. Then, another phone call from another professor in the department, for another informal interview. Then, I get a call from a current student in the program to talk about the program from a student perspective, and Houston logistics. After she and I introduce ourselves over the phone, she says, “just so you know, they wouldn’t have asked me to call you if they weren’t already going to accept you, so basically, congratulations, but you didn’t hear it from me.” So things are looking pretty good – in my favor, you could say.

Fast-forward to April 25. Exactly two weeks after the initial contact was made. It’s Pesach, and I’m taking a mid-afternoon nap when my phone alerts me that I have an email, waking me up. I go to check…and it’s an acceptance letter.

I’m in.

And it took all of two weeks, as opposed to the months I spent preparing for the other applications.

Maybe the stars were aligned that day, maybe it was fate, or maybe I just plain deserved it, but whatever way you slice it: I got in, then I moved to Houston, then I started classes, then two years later I graduated after successfully defending a thesis. But we’re getting ahead ourselves here.

Because that’s how I got into graduate school.

Thanks, YouTube.

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Geocaching Milestones: #600-#1000

Good morning from Omaha, Nebraska, where we’ve been for a couple days and hopefully only an hour or two more. Actually, it’s not so horrible here – the hotel I picked turned out to be pretty awesome, if not for the many guests under the age of 3. Omaha is pretty and full of hills, a welcome change from the flatness of Kansas and Missouri. 

I found my 1400th geocache a few days ago in Oklahoma City, so I thought I’d share some more geocaching adventures.

#600 Henry Woodfin Grady (Houston, Texas)

This one was pill bottle not far from my apartment. I remember having to rush to school afterwards so I just got a quick pic and left.

#700 Bellaire Nite Owl (Houston, Texas)

This one was a large protein powder container hidden in a tree in Bellaire. Again, nothing too out of the ordinary here.

#800 The Last Bodiddle! (Humble, Texas)

I hadn’t ever gotten any caches in Humble, a northern suburb of Houston, so I went to grab some, including this one. It was a nano on the grounds of an old high school. Not a fantastic hide, but it served its purpose.

#900 Sesquicentennial Summer (Austin, Texas)

This was probably one of the most memorable milestones. I had about 15 to go, and I went to Austin that day for an ill-fated research trip. All was going well for the first 10 or so caches, but then the skies opened up and it started to pour. The last few caches involved me running through the raindrops and probably angering people with my frantic cache-to-cache driving. Though the rain had just let up when I found my 900th cache, a tupperware outside of the Texas School for the Deaf, it was still pretty dreary. The sun came out somewhere on the ride home. I posted on Facebook something like “cold, wet, miserable, but I found my 900th cache.”

#1000 Landman Lounge (Columbus, Texas)

Turning into the big four digits was something that I wanted to share with friends, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. One of my good friends, Julie, is based in Arlington, TX, but comes from Columbus, about 45 minutes outside of Houston. She was visiting her parents that weekend with her husband and kids, and as a new geocacher, she invited me to spend the day with her geocaching. I had a job fair in Katy to go to that morning, so I picked up about 10 or so there before heading out to Columbus, where this was the first cache we found together along with her daughter and brother. I actually got the pleasure of finding it, which was even better. Even though it was just a magnet attached to a fence post, it was in a pretty garden and the fact that I was with friends made it a sweet victory.

Back to the hotel room to finish packing up I go – next stop, Iowa, then on Monday, Wisconsin.