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I realized I have not written any works of fiction in the past couple of months. I have not made any progress on the book I've been working on for a while either.

Perhaps later, once I sort my own life out and commit it to writing, I might take better care of my fictional characters. But for now, I have enough of my own experiences to work with that I need not resort to them and their lives.

I suspect that when school starts I will come running back to my fictional characters, escaping into their world as I sit somewhere on a staircase or in a library during breaks, trying to ignore the noise and the chaos around me. I noticed that I often do that in school -- just immerse myself in my writing, in the lives of my characters, and escape for a bit.

But for now, I must face my own life and contemplate it thoroughly.

Organizing my Israel Memories  

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The numbers are in. Exactly 17 days. Over 2500 photos taken. Nearly three hours of footage. About 100 pages of notes written. At least $200 spent on souvenirs and jewelry. The memories and experiences -- countless.

Expect random photo posts over the next few days and weeks, perhaps even with pictures of what I bought (and bargained for) in Israel. (These were not among my purchases though.)

My bargaining 'skills' seemed to amuse everyone, but I was having a good time. (My father later pointed out that offering someone in the Arab shuk 9 shekels for an item he wanted 10 for was like bargaining to lower the price by 25 cents. But hey -- I felt proud of myself at the time.)
Here are some more photos.
Photos taken on the way to Teveriah through the window of the bus:
Graffiti a la Israel:

In Tzfat:

In other news, I just went with my parents to buy shelves for my room, to hold all the cute little things I got in Israel. I am also struggling to find space in my room for the rest of the things that would not go on the shelves. This might take a while.

HaChof B'Ashdod  

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My last couple of days in Israel were spent in Ashdod, in my cousin's house. She has two daughters, ages fourteen and twenty, and the last time I had seen them was back when I was four, so I was looking forward to spending some time with them and actually getting to know them.

I ended up having a great time with all of them there. Many of our relatives visited us in Ashdod (and my cousin was very hospitable to all those relatives AND friends that my mother invited). I got to repeatedly hear how much I've grown in the past thirteen years and was asked by many people whether I remembered them. My cousin's daughters heard the same. (We eventually sought refuge in one of the bedrooms.)

On Tuesday, my cousin dropped her fourteen-year-old daughter and me at the beach, told us to be back at home on time, and warned her daughter not to let anything happen to me because my parents would have her skin.

It was around 6:15 PM. We walked along the beach for over an hour, enjoying the sand under our feet and the waves washing over them.

Our timing was great -- we got to watch the sunset, from the time the sun began glowing red until it began disappearing behind the sea, and then until it finally disappeared.

Watching it was beautiful, the beach itself was beautiful, the weather was pleasant, and we had a good time. We even collected seashells.
We returned home at about 8 PM, covered in sand, our clothing somewhat wet, to be greeted by more of our relatives and some of my mother's friends.
All in all, a pleasant and relaxing day -- just the thing needed before a few hours of hectic packing!

Good Morning, Evening, Night!  

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I don't know how I managed this, and this must be a new record for me, but I slept for fourteen hours. When I woke up, extremely disoriented, I looked at my watch and saw that it was eleven. It brought back memories of when I first woke up in Israel and could not figure out what time it was.

My mother apparently also thought it was time for me to wake up, because she came into my room and told me that it was 4 PM. What?!

It took a minute for me to realize that my watch read 11 PM. Meaning, if I were in Israel then, I would be checking my email and blogging about my day at about that time. So I guess this means I completely slept through the day according to my watch.

The first thing I did after waking up was to crash into something sharp in my room and scrape my knee. The second thing I did was whine to my mother about it. I realized that there is a real need to remove the obstacles from that place I call my room.

Another thing I soon realized was that there were some habits pertaining to my eating that needed some serious changing. My Israel menu of bakery pastries for breakfast, Bissli for lunch, and more bakery pastries plus something from a cafe for dinner, would certainly not do here in New York. (When we were in Israel, I joked to my mother that what I ate there would never go over with her here, where she would insist on a healthier diet.)

I toured the kitchen and mourned the absence of the cheese danishes and cookies and various cinnamon rolls that made mornings so sweet in Maalot Dafna.

"We need to go to the bakery," I informed my mother. "I want a cheese danish."

The great thing about the bakeries in Israel is that they are so cheap. I remember once going to a nearby bakery there by myself, taking as much as my arms could hold, and paying around $10. We're talking about a whole box of sugar cookies, some baklava, chocolate rugelach, and a bag of cheese danishes. (I visited that bakery a few times during our stay, in order to replenish my supply. My cousin in Ashdod was laughing at me because I brought a lot of baked goods with me to her house, and she had bought a bunch of pies and cakes.) Needless to say, there was no shortage of calories there in Israel. Plus, the whole 'touring and walking around the entire day in the heat' thing helped me burn those calories right off.

But it is really time to make some changes in my habits.... It does not look as if I have a choice though, because no matter how hard I look, I will not find cheese danishes or sugar cookies in the house now. (If I end up getting out today or tomorrow, you can be sure I will look for some, though.)

I will probably spend the day uploading my photos, gathering my thoughts, and writing a bit.

Lights on Broadway  

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Well, I'm in New York, at home, at my computer. I have not been here in nearly three weeks. My first thought as I turned on the computer now (after using a small laptop all this time) was, "Wow, this screen is huge! And the letters! And icons! I don't have to squint to see them!"

It is nearly midnight here in NY, but my watch still reads 7... as in, 7 AM. I am not quite sure which time I should go by now, but while I am awake, I might as well spend a few minutes online, upload photos to my computer, pull some things out of our suitcases, and so on.

While we were waiting to board our plane in Ben Gurion (the flight was an hour late, but the screen still said it was "on time"), I got into a conversation with a young Israeli woman sitting next to me, who was going to New York for a year or two but insisted that Jews should live in Israel. She asked me if I'm planning on making aliya. I saw her again once our plane landed in NY and thought to myself, "Hey, that's cool -- I met her in Israel and now we're seeing each other again in New York!"

So yes, that's basically the point of this blog post.... I am not in Israel anymore. My plans for the day no longer include hailing a monit or bargaining with Israelis or taking hundreds of pictures of all the places I see.

I feel as if I can barely write. My fingers keep missing the keys, my eyes are closing, and I am trying to suppress a yawn.

I am exhausted.

Farewell, Jerusalem  

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I am in Ashdod now, staying at my cousin's house. We left Jerusalem and Maalot Dafna yesterday, although the original plan had been to come to Ashdod on Sunday. We were delayed a day, but are here now.

I haven't blogged in a while, not because I have nothing to say, but perhaps because I have too much to say and don't know how much of it I should share.

It is noon here, and we already had breakfast. When we were in Maalot Dafna, I was used to drinking some tea before running out the door and maybe grabbing something on the go. My cousin apparently does not find that acceptable, so I had a complete breakfast this morning (which is rare for me, because I am not a breakfast type of person).

Ashdod reminds me of New York. It is modern, organized, and the apartment is very chic. I almost feel as though I am not in Israel.

My cousin is telling me to get dressed so we can go out and shop a bit. And my father is anxious to reclaim the computer, which I pulled away from him.

I have a lot of other news I wanted to share and things I wanted to write about, but I get the feeling that it will not happen while I'm here. Once I get to New York, I will upload all my photos (probably over 2000) to my computer, organize my thoughts, and write about the past few days as well as I can.

My First Marriage Proposal  

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Yesterday, we visited Yad Vashem, the Israel Museum, and finally, Machane Yehuda.

My father had already visited Yad Vashem during his previous trip to Israel, while it was my first time seeing it. I have a lot to write about it, but I am doing so mostly in my Israel journal, not on my blog. It probably seems strange that I am dedicating only a couple of short paragraphs to something so important, while I can make an entire post just about the antics of Israelis, but the reason is that this is more personal.

One of the things that struck me in Yad Vashem was the connection between all Jews. There were all types of different Jews there -- Chareidi, daati, wearing kippot srugot, not religious at all, Israelis, Americans, Russians, Spanish, French. And yet you looked at all them and knew they were part of your nation. You felt able to relate to them, even though they were complete strangers. After viewing photographs or certain parts of the museum, you would catch someone's eye and acknowledge them as someone who is feeling the same way you are because you are all part of the same thing. It was unbelievable.

After Yad Vashem, we took a taxi to the Israel Museum, and we did not let ourselves be cheated. One driver offered us a ride for 40 shekel. No deal. He also offered to drive us to Ashdod, which was completely out of the blue.

In the Israel Museum, we saw four main exhibits. The actual museum is being renovated, but there were some exhibits open, such as Masks, Family Traces, a model of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. I remember the scrolls were on display in NYC for some time last year and I wanted to see them, but I never ended up going.

The last part of our day involved Machane Yehuda. Now that was fun! I could have spent hours just walking around and exploring. It is the perfect place for observing people, and I believe that if I stood there for a couple of hours, I would be able to write fifteen pages about it at least.

You have Israelis yelling from all sides and inviting you to check out their shops. There are Israelis shoving halva in your face, insisting that you try it. (I shoved my camcorder in his face instead.) Then there are other Israelis enthusiastically waving at you when they see that you are filming the shuk. There is something about a camcorder or a camera that makes them feel encouraged to make their presence known.

At one point, I walked into a little shop full of odds and ends like broken watches, antique goblets and souvenirs, and other items -- just a bunch of stuff, much of it simply piled one on top of the other. That kind of stuff always seems to fascinate me, so I walked in.

The owner greeted me, and I replied, "Shalom," in return. I think he must have asked me something in Hebrew and I looked at him blankly because I had not understood it, so he asked me which language I speak. "Anglit v'rusi," I replied. He smiled and began talking to me in Russian, asking me where I am from, what I am doing here, and so on. I told him that I am from New York and am on vacation here in Israel. The next thing I knew, he was telling me that he has a son whom I can marry and settle down with in Israel permanently. I think I was too speechless to do much else but stare at him. He added in Russian, "He's younger than me!" I was still unable to actually say anything coherent. My thoughts were something along the lines of, "You have got to be kidding.... This is crazy!"

My father came looking for me, so I introduced him to the storeowner, who repeated his offer of his son's hand in marriage. My father seemed eager to get out of there, so I thanked the man for the offer, said goodbye, and went on to explore more of the craziness that is Machane Yehuda.


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My brief post from Katzrin told you almost nothing about my stay there, so let me see if I can tell the tale now. In two days (Sunday and Monday), we managed to briefly cover Teveriah, Meron, and Tzfat, as well as the Kineret (the Sea of Galilee). Unfortunately, we did not get to see as much of the Golan Heights as I would have liked since we were short on time, but there is always next time. :]

So we took a bus from the Central Station in Jerusalem to Teveriah on Sunday. The trip was about three hours long. I thought I would write a bit since I had so much time, but that proved to be quite difficult since the roads were bumpy and it was nearly impossible to write legibly. Instead, I dug my iPod out of my handbag and listened to some music for a while. I was also taking pictures and video clips of the sights we were passing by. The Israeli woman sitting next to me, realizing that I was a 'tourist' and was interested in seeing everything (unlike those who preferred to sleep on the bus), began pointing things out to me in Hebrew and explaining.

When we arrived in Teveriah, we were greeted by my father's cousin and his daughter, my second cousin. I remember my grandmother used to show me pictures of her when she was little. I probably still have some pictures of her from when she was a little child. But I have never actually seen her, so when she and her father came to meet us at the station, I completely did not recognize her. Also, I knew she was a few years younger than me, while the girl meeting me and giving me a hug at the station seemed just about my age and a few inches taller too. (In this case, I am probably one of those annoying people who say, "Oh, I remember when you were *this* little!")

We put all of our stuff in their car and they showed us around Teveriah a bit. We went to the kever of the Rambam together and got brachot from a man collecting tzedaka there.

There were some other places I would have liked to visit in Teveriah, but as I wrote before, things were rushed and we would need more time to do everything.

My father's cousin and his family (which includes his wife, my second cousins, and my great-aunt and her husband) live in Katzrin, in the Golan Heights, so the plan was to stay there for the night and then see Tzfat and Meron the next day. So we went there and saw the Kineret along the way, along with many other beautiful sights.

I got to spend some time with my second cousin, who is fourteen now, and mature beyond her years. We were talking about the differences between her school's system and the system in New York and about more general differences in our lives -- and there were quite a few. She told me about her neighborhood, the schools, the people, her friends, the surroundings. She casually mentioned that you can hear shualing (foxes) and zievim (wolves) howling at night.

Over the course of our visit, she and I spoke to each other in three different languages: Russian (mostly), Hebrew, and English. I wanted to practice my Hebrew, she wanted to practice her English, we were having difficulties communicating in both languages, so we just stuck to Russian.

And what really struck me is that despite all the differences in our lives, in our locations, in our languages, we could relate. We found things in common, things we shared despite the miles between us. Literature, television, movies, music. I looked at the CD rack in the living room and smiled because I listened to so many of the same artists and bands.

The next day, the five of us set off again -- this time to Meron, followed by Teveriah. In Meron, we only went to the kever of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

On the path along the way were a few stands with souvenirs, food, and other various things. There was one wide stand run by Breslov Chasidim, and it sold just about everything from kippot to paintings, jewelry, paprika, musical instruments, keychains, Tehillim, and other items. We stopped there for a bit, bought a few things, and chatted with the man standing there.

He talked with us in English and asked us where we're from. The usual game of Jewish geography.

"We're from New York."

"Where in NY?"


"Where in Brooklyn?"

And so on.

We asked him if he has been there, and he has that he has been to just about every place in New York. But when asked about Crown Heights, he replied that that is the only place where he has not been.

He told us that the profits from the stand go toward publishing a book based on the writings of Rav Nachman, or something like that. Once we spent a good deal of money there, an older man asked for our Jewish names and gave us all brachot.

A nice breeze picked up as we were walking back to the car, which was a pleasant relief.

Our next destination was Tzfat.

I am not sure if I even have enough words to describe Tzfat. We did not spend more than an hour and a half there (if even that), but it was enough to convince me that it was one of my favorite places in Israel. We went into a few art galleries and shops (which was more than my parents wanted to do), and I finally bought a Tzahal sweatshirt. The storeowners there were friendly and talkative, and the things I came across in the shops and the stands were interesting and unique.

I loved just walking down the cobbled path, looking at everything from a 19th century perspective, and seeing art, craft, creativity, beauty.

In one of the galleries we went into, I found some sculptures that caught my eye and really fascinated me. I later did a Google search on the artist, Nicky Imber. This is the sculpture that particularly interested me. I think it's brilliant. It's called "Praying Man."

Once again, I wished I could spend half a day in Tzfat, but then was not the time, so I reluctantly left.

We took the bus back to Jerusalem from Teveriah, and for those who want to know, we are getting used to the taxis here and are no longer being taken advantage of as before. A taxi driver offered to take us to Maalot Dafna for 50 shekel, which was an offer we would probably have blindly accepted during our first couple of days here. But not anymore. Sorry, man, we're not completely ignorant. We know by now that a ride from the Central Station to Maalot Dafna is worth around 30 shekel. So we managed to bargain with him to get the price down to 35 shekel. Hurray for us!

So that was our trip up to HaTzafon -- the North of Israel.

Today, we went to Yad Vashem, the Israel Museum, and Machane Yehuda. Look out for a post on that soon.

Oh, and I am making a list of places where I want to spend more time in the future, if I come back to Israel in the next couple of years. Two weeks is nowhere near enough time to do any of the places we went to justice. For example, I should have liked to stay in Katzrin a few more days and see more of the Golan Heights. I would also have liked to dedicate an entire day to wandering around Tzfat. Spending a few more hours in Machane Yehuda would also be nice. So I am putting together a list of both the places I want to return to and the places I did not even get to visit. Looking forward to finalizing those plans someday. :]

Friday Memories  

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Here I am, blogging once again from Maalot Dafna. Yes, the time we spent in Katzrin was very short, unfortunately, but then again, our entire stay in Israel is short itself. The past couple of days have been great, and as I have not yet blogged about what we did on Friday, I will start with that.

My father and I went to the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. It was interesting, but getting there was a separate story. I checked it up a few times online to make sure we had the right address -- 25 Granot Street. The first three taxis we stopped in Maalot Dafna had no idea where Granot Street is. I think it was the fourth one that told us to come in and then started figuring out where we wanted to go.

"25 Granot Street," I told him.

"Granot?" he repeated, with a dismissive gesture, "No, no, no! Nayot!"

"Um, I don't know... It says here Granot," I replied.

"Ze Nayot!"

I looked at my father helplessly, and my father started spelling Granot to the driver in Hebrew. The driver looked at us in frustration and exclaimed that he knows Hebrew. (That was good to know. Haha.)

Either way, he said he would get us there, and stopped another driver on the way to ask about Granot Street. He also casually mentioned to us that he needs to pick up his cousin somewhere. Although he asked if that's okay, we could not really say "no," could we? So he drove up to a hotel, where we waited for five minutes while his cousin appeared.

Once we got to the neighborhood where the Bible Lands Museum was supposed to be, he started circling around. There was one road that we went over twice in a circle until he realized that the museum was somewhere in that area and he could just drop us off.

So he invited us to leave the taxi, his parting words, "I hope it is somewhere here." Thank you, thank you very much. We also hoped it was somewhere there, especially since we were standing on a road that felt like the middle of nowhere. We asked a couple of people which way to go(one young Israeli standing next to his motorcycle near a hotel and another man working at a gas station), and were given to understand that all we needed to do was walk uphill a bit. Once again, how very kind of the driver to drop us off somewhere on the road, leaving us to walk up a hill by foot. (This must be why I am allowing myself to eat whatever I want in Israel -- I am anyway burning the calories right off!)

It was well air-conditioned in the museum, so that was very pleasant. And it was also my first time using my student ID card in Israel to get discounted tickets, so yay for that! The lady at the desk gave us pamphlets with maps of the museum, and when she heard my father and I conversing in Russian, she also offered us a Russian pamphlet, which was also pretty cool. I mean, it's obvious that Israeli museums, tourist attractions, and restaurants have everything in English as well as Hebrew because there are many American tourists, but it was cool to find that they had Russian as well.

The museum was not very large, and we covered it in less than two hours, if I am not mistaken. Despite its size though, it was fascinating and had a lot of interesting artifacts. There is something about antiques that captivates me, especially when I am able to get close to them. It is a part of history, a part of a past reality, right in front of me.

The Bible Lands Museum included exhibits such as Old Kingdom Egypt, the Age of the Patriarchs, Israel Among the Nations (from the First Temple period), Assyria and Persia, Hellenistic Dominions (with artifacts from the time of the Maccabean Revolt), Rome and Judaea, etc. There were many ancient weapons, jars, jewelry, seals, and coins in most of the galleries, as well as some elaborate models of ancient-day Israel and Babylon.

We could have gone to the Israel Museum as well (since it was in the area), but one of my mother's relatives was planning on visiting us in our Maalot Dafna apartment, and Shabbat would start in a few hours, so we went back. (Hopefully we will get to the Israel Museum another day.)

The taxi we caught near the museum reminded me of why Israeli taxi drivers get me so nervous. This one was holding his cell phone in one hand, driving with the other, and paying little attention to traffic. You should have seen the turns he made and the way he passed by other cars -- it was enough to convince anyone of the necessity of wearing a seat-belt at all times. When we told him where we want to go, he began arguing with us, but once we pointed out where our building was as we neared the street, he admitted that we had been right as to the directions. See, we're not such ignorant foreigners after all! We already know the directions to where we are staying! (One of our previous drivers explained to us where we live, so we should know. Haha.)

Our visitor was my mother's cousin's son, making him my second cousin. When it comes to relatives in Israel, I am rich! I don't have this many back in New York... or at least not that I know of. He stayed for a while at our place and then had to leave for work at around 3 PM. (So I was able to go to a museum and meet my second cousin all before that time and got to prepare for Shabbat afterward!)

So that was my Friday. :]

Coming up soon -- my trip to the Golan Heights, Tzfat, Teveriah, Meron, and the IDF.

Now is a good time for me to call my friends in New York, since it is the middle of the day for them. I'm also uploading some photos from the past two days for my next posts.

Away from Home Away from Home  

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We took a little trip from Maalot Dafna to Teveriah, from where we went on to Katzrin (in the Golan Heights), where we are staying with our relatives.

More on that later.

Just wanted to say hi, how are you, I'm having a nice time here, and I have an excellent wireless connection.

Israeli Chutzpah and Israeli Fun  

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No matter what you do in Israel or where you go, you can be sure you will not forget it any time soon. It will either leave you frustrated and annoyed, or amused, or delighted, but it will undeniably leave an impression. So here are some of my impressions from Thursday, now that I have already posted about my impressions from Shabbat. (Friday coming up later.)

Our main plans for Thursday consisted of going to Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph. So we took a taxi to the Central Station (and if I was able to use a Hebrew keyboard on this laptop, I would show off my limited Hebrew skills). As the driver began driving, we remarked to him that the taxi we had taken the other day to the same location went a different route. He replied that the other way is longer and this is more direct. So apparently we had paid the first taxi driver much more than we should have. And there we were, thinking ourselves oh-so-clever for asking to pay by "moneh" (meter). Lesson: Don't try to outsmart Israelis.

There, we got tickets to Beit Shemesh. I was delighted by all the little shops and stands around the station, and could not help exploring. I ended up buying some jewelry from a stand.

We took bus 415 to Beit Shemesh, and I saw a young girl sitting near me in an IDF uniform. I have a lot to say about IDF soldiers in general, so I am saving it for a separate post.

When we got off the bus, we were greeted by my mother's cousin. He is the oldest son of my grandfather's oldest brother, so it was cool getting together. After we spent a while at his house, he accompanied us outside, where we hailed a taxi after equipping ourselves with some more water bottles at a nearby convenience store.

Our day's adventures only started when we got into that taxi. So what we wanted to do was take a drive around Ramat Beit Shemesh just to see the place and take some videos of the neighborhood. But how do you explain that to an Israeli driver who does not seem to know much English? So I had to rely on my Hebrew in order to communicate with him. That was funny; I loved it! Ten years of education were not wasted on me. Haha.

He finally got that we wanted to just circle around Ramat Beit Shemesh -- lehistovev. My father explained in English that we want to simply take some photos and videos of it, but I think the driver took that to mean that we want to go to a photo store or something, so I told him in Hebrew that I want to take photos and video from inside the car. He got it, although he seemed amused by my phrasing. My mother told me that she wants to go along the main road, so I passed on the message to him. He laughed and said that there is no main road there.

"Bishvil kama zman atem poh?" he asked, laughing at us and at how 'foreign' we seemed. You should have seen his expression and heard the tone in which he uttered those words. But when I said that we had only been there for a few days and will be there for another couple of weeks, he commended me on my Hebrew.

So he took us through Ramat Beit Shemesh and gave us a running commentary. Who lives there, who lives in other places, where the new buildings are, where the parks are, and so on. He tried explaining where the Chareidim live, and in order to demonstrate, he made motions with his fingers as if curling his imaginary peyot. For a whole minute he was showing what Chareidim are like. It was priceless.

At one point, after saying a lot of things about the area we were passing by, he shrugged and muttered in Hebrew, "I don't know if you're even understanding what I'm saying." I assured him that I understood some of it.

So that was fun. :]

We wanted to go elsewhere after that, but he did not recognize the address, so with many apologies he dropped us off at the nearest bus stop to seek another ride. There, we asked a few different people which bus to take in order to just get to Jerusalem. It took three people to finally tell us which bus would take us where we needed to go. So we took it and had a long ride.

I was sitting next to a teenage Israeli girl wearing jeans and a wifebeater, with black sneakers covered in white skulls, and nails obviously chewed on. She had a hoop-shaped nose ring, orange-tinted sunglasses, and gelled blonde hair. And it kind of made me want to cry because life will soon be so different for this girl if she goes into the army.

The bus stopped in the middle of nowhere, instead of stopping at the Central Station as the Israelis had told us it would. So my father asked the driver how to get to the Central Station. He pointed out the way, saying that it is only two minutes away. Wonderful! So we headed that way, and after five minutes of walking without finding it, we asked someone else, who told us to go straight, then in a circle, then straight, then in a circle. Um... okay. The third or fourth person we asked told us to take a bus there, because the walk would take us forty minutes. Um... very amusing. What was the guy who said "two minutes" thinking?! That it is fun to mess around with ignorant tourists from America?

Frustrated, we took a taxi. There is something about Israeli taxi drivers that just makes you nervous, whether it is the way they drive, communicate, charge, or tell you where you are going. This one, instead of dropping us off at the main entrance to the Central Station, dropped us off somewhere at the side, and it took us a while to find where we needed to be. But once there, I had a good time. I wandered around, checking out the shops.

From there, we wanted to go to Safra Square, to the Pera e Mela restaurant. That was an adventure by itself. Once again, we asked many people for directions, without any success. Everyone said something else.

The thing about Israelis is that they won't admit that they don't know the way to some foreigner (or perhaps to any person for that matter). So many of them just confidently give you directions, which are wrong, and confuse us poor tourists. Crazy stuff.

So we resorted to the same thing as the last time we were lost -- a taxi.

After having a delightful dinner at Pera e Mela, we noticed that there was a stage set up right outside and at least a hundred people already sitting in white chairs on the lawn. And wherever there is a crowd, there is bound to be something interesting or worthwhile, so we joined it.

A few guys were making a instrumental performance (which, by the way, seemed very professional, from the way it was set up, to the way the audience was seated), and we watched it for a while until my parents decided they want to go back to Maalot Dafna already. I could have stayed there another half hour, but we left.

Here are some of the pictures I took there. It was late (past 9 PM) so it was very dark outside and I had to rely on the stage lights (and occasionally my camera's flash) for these photos, but you get the picture. :]

When we came home that night (at about 10 PM), we were greeted by a very unexpected surprise: IDF soldiers everywhere. There had not been any earlier that day or anytime the day before, so apparently they had just arrived there that day. We were not quite sure why.

I was sitting on one of the staircases near our apartment at night, writing about my day, when an orange cat walked up to me and looked me straight in the eyes. I had seen cats around our building earlier that week, but mostly on the ground level. This cat had gone up the stairs and was now staring at me. I was not sure how to react; I did not want it to think that I was the intruder. So I just sat still. She approached me and, to my great surprise, began rubbing against me. Walked circles around me, she rubbed her back, her sides, and her head against me, the end result being that my sweater and my skirt were covered in cat fur. Then she discovered my notebook and thought that its corner was a great place to rub her face. Shocked, I did not protest. When she put her paw on me to get to the notebook, I realized just how sharp her claws were. I would not want to be clawed by that cat, even unintentionally. The next thing I knew was that the cat was climbing onto my lap and settling there. Once she was comfortably settled, she began scratching at my sweater calmly, looking up at me with those huge yellow eyes. She obviously wasn't doing it maliciously, and I could not feel much through the three layers I had on (Jerusalem becomes chilly at night), but I still did not appreciate it.

Finally, my mother came outside looking for me and I requested her to bring me my camcorder so I could have some videos of this friendly neighborhood cat relaxing on my lap. It was so adorable!

It was becoming very late, but it was hard to convince the cat to find another place to rest (and I admit it -- it was hard for me to part with the cat too). Finally though, I got her to get off of me. She looked at me reproachfully, but there was nothing I could do. There was no way my parents would allow a cat into the apartment.

Here is a photo of the cat sitting right outside my apartment door, hoping for an invitation. I wish I could have given her one.

And here is another guest that came into our apartment uninvited. He was quite friendly though, and did not mind that I was trying to make his acquaintance.

Now that is called Israeli chutzpah right there. The people, the cats, the bugs -- they all have it! :]

First Shabbat in Jerusalem  

Posted by inkstainedhands in

As I lit the Shabbat candles on Friday night and recited the bracha, I thought to myself, "Wow, my first Shabbat in Jerusalem." And when my mother finished lighting the candles, she turned to me and exclaimed with a smile, "The first Shabbat in Jerusalem!"

We stayed at home on Friday night, eating what my parents had found in a nearby makolet and what my mother had prepared. Interestingly enough, the melon tasted like pears, while the pastries tasted like sufganiot. I'll have to go back to the market for some more of those pastries. :] (The calories are nothing when you consider how much I walk around and how little I eat otherwise during the week.)

Shacharit starts, and therefore ends, earlier in Israel, so my father returned by 10 AM on Shabbat morning. We had been invited by my parents' friends for lunch, so we set off at around 10:45 AM.

What amazed me as we walked up the stairs to their apartment were the walls. There was graffiti all over them, but not graffiti in the traditional sense -- not the kind you would see scribbled on all the flat surfaces in New York. There were blue Israeli flags hastily drawn a few times for every level of stairs, along with the words ציוני גאה -- Proud Zionist. It made me smile.

Another one of the things I noticed is the superiority of the wine here. It is not as watered down as the wines we have back in New York. On the contrary, it is thicker and made up of more grapes than water. One of the wines we had at our host's house was, he explained, personally made by someone he knows. Homemade wine -- I think that is a first for me!

One of the things I loved about Shabbat in Jerusalem was how peaceful it was around the building and the courtyard of our Maalot Dafna apartment. I walked around the winding passages of the place (I am hesitant in calling it a building, just because it is not at all what I think of when I imagine a building) and then I sat at the bottom of one of the staircases and read for a few hours.

Most of the people I saw were IDF soldiers, who were constantly passing by, walking back and forth, and chatting amongst themselves in Hebrew. More on them later. :] In a separate post!

I also want to write about Thursday and Friday, so I will hopefully be making two more posts over the course of the weekend, if not more.

(Although by the time you Americans make havdala, I might already have a second post up. I just need to upload some photos in order to enhance my posts with some visual effects.)

Shavua tov!

Gan HaChayot  

Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

Here are some pictures from Wednesday's trip to the Biblical Zoo, while I try putting Thursday and today into words.

There were exhibits all over the zoo showing all kinds of birds, including this gorgeous owl here.

I could not get enough of these bears:

I used to have around a dozen posters of leopards, tigers, and cheetahs on the walls of my room (and I probably still have at least half of them). And now I have my own photos... Isn't he beautiful?

Egged Bus 99, Biblical Zoo, and Lots of Israelis  

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After another adventure-filled day, here I am, trying to do it justice. But even with all the photos and videos I took and the notebook pages I filled, I still do not think I can do justice to the sights, the experiences, the sounds, and the feelings one goes through in the course of a tourist's day in Israel. This is all new to me, so I am just taking it all in. I was here when I was four years old, but that hardly counts as anything more than a stamp on my old passport and some photos of me with my relatives.

My day started off at 10:30 AM local time, which would be 3:30 AM in New York. Now, I usually go to sleep at that time at home, so it was not very pleasant to actually wake up then. But I somehow did it, and we were out of the house by 12:45 PM.

We went to hail a taxi on a big road near our apartment. A middle-aged Israeli man, walking past us, advised us to go wait at the bus stop. What a brilliant idea! There was shade and a place to sit there. A young soldier was sitting there too.

Our taxi took us to the central station in Jerusalem. Before going out, we asking the driver exactly where bus 99 is. He pointed to the other side of the street and told us to cross it. We did so, and then asked another Israeli where we should wait for the bus. He also pointed to the other side of the street, where the first Israeli had dropped us off. So we crossed back again and finally got onto the bus, seating ourselves on the upper level, from where we had a beautiful view.

The tour bus took us past Machane Yehuda (where I want to return later when we have time), Davidka Square, Haneviim Street, Mount Scopus, an Arab village, Mt. of Olives, Lion's Gate with a view of many churches, Dung Gate, Mt. Zion, the Artists' Colony (which my father and I had passed by yesterday on our way back from the Kotel), Jaffa Gate, some hotels, King David St., the Old Railway Station of Jerusalem (which had cute murals painted on it), a view of Northern Jerusalem with its many synangogues, churches, and mosques, a view of Western Jerusalem, and finally the Biblical Zoo.

Since we had gotten 'on and off' tickets, we decided to get off at the Biblical Zoo stop and walk around there for a couple of hours. We were dropped off in the middle of a long and winding road, and since we were not sure which way to go or how far, we hailed a taxi. We asked the driver where the Biblical Zoo is, but he did not quite understand what we wanted, so I put my meager Hebrew skills to good use, and said, "Gan ha'chayot." He said it's around there, and invited us into the car. We later laughed because it would have only been a five minute walk for us an

The Biblical zoo was pleasant and entertaining, even though we had to frequently stop to seek shade and rehydrate ourselves. (And you should have seen my delight when I spotted an ice cream stand. Frozen vanilla ice cream in such heat is the most refreshing thing.)

We saw all kinds of animals at the zoo, and I will post some of my pictures from the day. There was a particularly fascinating exhibit with some very interesting animals. As my mother put it, creatures from Darwin's theory. There were four guys, either drunk or high, yelling and enthusiastically laughing at the giraffes and zebras. I found a nice spot a distance away to take a picture of that exhibit, and it came out perfect. Haha. Overall, what a fun day at the zoo!

Afterward, we went back to the bus stop to get on the next bus and continue our tour. But apparently, it was delayed by over half an hour, so my parents and I decided to simply take a taxi and go find a place to eat, because I had not eaten anything substantial, and a lollipop and ice cream are not what I would normally consider even a decent breakfast, much less a decent breakfast-lunch-dinner all in one.

Our taxi driver, not recognizing the addresses we showed him of restaurants and cafes, simply told us that he will take us to Center One and we can eat there. Most of the way there he was assuring us, "Is good, is good!" When we were getting out of the taxi finally, he once again stated, "Is good for you! Is very good!" So we ate at the Korus dairy cafe (which has very nice Caesar salads, milkshakes, and chocolate souffles with vanilla ice cream, and then I found in a little shop inside the mall a very cute pair of sunglasses, so I bought them.

During the taxi ride home, at a red light, the taxi driver recognized the guy driving a truck next to him, so they both opened their windows and started chatting in Hebrew.

We got safely back to our apartment after a long day, and now I am just relaxing and collecting the memories. I am uploading some photos from my camera right now, which I will hopefully post later on.

Tomorrow we are probably going to Beit Shemesh to visit my mother's relatives, and if we have enough time afterward, I hope to go to either Machane Yehuda, Yad Vashem, or some museums in Jerusalem. There are also some stores I wanted to check out. I should probably do a few Google map searches to see which things are clustered in one area and what the nearest cafes are, so we can do as much as possible with the time we have. Oh, and currency exchange is a must. My parents ran out of shekels and the driver was hesitant with dollars and was not sure how much change to give us, so I ended up paying him with the last 40 shekels I had in my wallet (and my father will pay me back afterward). So now neither I nor my parents have shekels. That should probably be our first destination tomorrow.

So that's the story. :]

My Life According To Michael Jackson  

Posted by inkstainedhands in ,

I got this from Material Maidel. The goal is to answer the following questions using song titles from a single artist without repeating any. This is especially fun when you have in mind an artist or a band that released many songs and has a wide and interesting selection to choose from.

So, here it is:

Pick your Artist:
Michael Jackson

Are you a male or female:
Liberian Girl

Describe yourself:

How do you feel:

Describe where you currently live:
Earth Song

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?:
Stranger in Moscow

Your favorite form of transportation:
People Make the World Go Round

Your best friend?
My Girl

You and your friends are:

What's the weather like:
Ain't No Sunshine

Favorite time of day:
Break of Dawn

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
The Greatest Show on Earth

What is life to you:
You Are My Life

Your relationship:
We've Got a Good Thing Going

Your fear:
Blood on the Dance Floor

What is the best advice you have to give:
Heal the World

Thought for the Day:
They Don't Care About Us

How I would like to die:
Die Another Day

My soul's present condition:

My motto:
What Goes Around Comes Around

The Inimitable Israel  

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Here I am again, blogging. It is 11:30 PM local time, and my parents are apparently just going along with it, while I am staying up and writing about my day.

Everything seems to be blurring into one day. And if it all is one day, it has certainly been a very long one. The last minute packing, the ride to the airport, the long flight, the ride to Maalot Dafna (during which I understood why you have to be wary of Israeli drivers), the search for the right apartment, the unpacking, the five hour nap (which disoriented me very much), and then the actual adventures.

Our first mini-adventure (if you can even call it that) was before the nap. My father and I went out to find a grocery store in order to buy water bottles. Somewhere along the way (we actually didn't know the way), I asked an Israeli woman, "Efo hamakolet?" That, my friends, was the first time I used Hebrew out of necessity and not just because I wanted to. So yay for me.

I was almost falling down from exhaustion at that point, so once we returned home, it was time to finally go to sleep. I woke up five hours later, confused and disoriented. My watch told me it was eleven. But eleven what? AM? PM? NY time? Israel time? I soon learned that it was past 6 PM in Israel.

I somehow pulled myself together by 7 PM and my father and I went to the Kotel for maariv. I had exchanged some of my US dollars for shekels in Ben Gurion, so I equipped myself with both currencies, and we set off.

Traffic came to a halt as we neared the Kotel, so my father and I decided to walk the rest of the way. There were cobbled steps and walls everywhere, and the view beyond was magnificent:

There were signs along the way announcing that it was forbidden to walk on the Temple Mount, and I thought about the story of Rabbi Akiva, who rejoiced because G-d would fulfill His promise to rebuild it and restore it to its former glory.

We went through security, emerging as it was growing dark outside, and there was the Western Wall. My father joined the men for maariv, while I made my way through the women's section, going closer and closer until I was finally able to touch the ancient stones. I was there for a while, and finally rejoined my father.

Our general plans for the evening were to visit the Kotel and then go back to Maalot Dafna in order to relax, unpack, and get some more sleep. But it seemed a pity to waste such a beautiful evening. The sun had gone down, it was not as hot as before, and there was a pleasant breeze. So I decided it would be a good idea to walk around Jerusalem and check out the little souvenir shops and other interesting places.

As we were walking, we saw people getting onto a crowded bus. There was a man in a blue uniform ushering them on, and he yelled at a woman standing next to the back door to go on at the front of the train because there was room there. She replied that she could not do that because her children were already on the bus in the back, so he yelled back at her, "Az tishari bachutz!" (Then stay outside!)

Finally, my father and I found where I could spend my money. Let me tell you.... Those Israelis really know how to make money. And I do not mind at all that I spent nearly all the shekels I had gotten at the airport, because it was so worth it. I am trying to remember when was the last time I got to bargain like that. Probably in Chinatown or in California's Olvera Street. This, however, was more fun than any of the other places. I did not want to buy as much as I did, but they were so insistent and kept lowering the prices, and I did end up getting many little things by which to fondly remember Israel and its shops.

The first time I used Israeli currency was at a little stand near the Kotel. The man gave me his price and as I was rummaging through my wallet, I asked my father, "Are shekels those little papers I got or the coins?" He tried not to laugh at me. I think I figured out the currency by now though, and can shop with a bit more confidence than before.

I would probably have spent another hour (and many more shekels) walking around Jerusalem, but it was time to return to our apartment. We hailed a taxi, got in, and got to once again experience the way Israeli taxis work. When our driver could barely pass through on a narrow street because another taxi had stopped right in the middle, he yelled at the driver of the other taxi in Hebrew. I did not understand what he was saying or what the other driver retorted, but our driver muttered to us afterward, "Slicha." (I want to use Hebrew letters when writing Hebrew words, but I need to change some settings on this laptop I'm working from.)

Overall, I had an interesting, fun day.


Posted by inkstainedhands in

This is Hannah Rozenblat, reporting to you live from an apartment in Maalot Dafna, where she is fortunate enough to have wireless internet -- although she would have trouble answering if you asked whose internet she connected to.

I want to let everyone know that I arrived safely in Israel, baruch Hashem, and we got all of our luggage just as we sent it.

I feel as though I woke up only a few hours ago, finished packing (and stressing because my carry-on bag, which was supposed to be 17 pounds or less, was a full 25), and waited for the car service to pick us up. (Our driver, an Italian man, entertained us the entire way with stories of how his friends toured with Donna Summer and how he met her backstage, as well as how he met James Brown when he was serving in the army.)

But so much time has passed since then, and I got absolutely no sleep from the time I woke up. My watch is still telling me what time it is in New York; it is past 4 AM. Here in Israel though it is a bit past 11 AM. The sun is bright (and overwhelmingly hot) and there are kids playing outside -- not the right atmosphere for sleeping.

I did not want to sleep during the flight, so I actually spent my time productively. I read, I wrote, I listened to music, and I did a lot of eating (if that can be called productive). The food on the flight was actually much better than I expected it to be, and much better than my friends told me to expect it to be.

I took many random pictures on the flight, but my USB cord is in one of the suitcases, and they have not yet been unpacked. We just got here an hour ago or so, and are just settling in. I feel a bit tired, but as the local grocery market closes on Tuesdays before 2 PM, we need to go there before allowing ourselves to crash.

Oh, and it seems my mother has just found the USB cable! But the internet here is too slow for me to upload any photos at the moment. Oh well.

I feel like this will be one of those posts that I just look back on and think, "Hannah, you should have seriously gotten some sleep before posting, because you are barely coherent!" So if I sound a bit off, you know I have a good excuse.


Posted by inkstainedhands in , , ,

By the time you read this scheduled post, I will be on the airplane to Israel, hopefully amusing myself with books, writing, and music. So I thought I might as well amuse you at the same time with something I found when I was searching for unfinished stories to work on. (And who knows? Perhaps you will amuse me too by leaving comments, which I will read once I get to Israel, jetlagged and exhausted.)

This is from November 2008, and it gives a general idea of what my evenings and nights are like during the school year.


The view as I look out the window is a bleak one; all I can see is blackness and nothing else. It is as though the world has been put on pause, and all the living creatures are frozen somewhere in their homes, away from my eyes.

My turtles, however, continue to splash in their aquariums, their shells often hitting the glass with a thud as they swim about. As the female comes up to the surface of the water for a breath of air, she gives out a slow whistle. My eyesight being somewhat fuzzy without my glasses, I cannot see her very well, but I clearly hear every sound she emits. The male turtle, for his part, leans against the raised stone platform in his aquarium, his limbs tucked into his shell comfortable. As much as I stare at him, I do not see him move more than a centimeter. Such is the usual order of things; the female does not sit still for a moment, while the male is always calm and relaxed.

Don’t they ever get tired? I wonder, my own eyes drifting shut and then hastily opening up again. Especially Chapa. If I moved as much as she does instead of sitting all day in the same spot, I would be even more tired than I am now, and that’s saying something. From where does she get all that energy without drinking coffee?

Coffee is, as some would say, my drug of choice. It is the remedy for a late night combined with an early morning, its hotness soothes a sore throat, and I somehow find a reason for it at every moment of my life. Now, as I am sitting and looking at my watch, which reads that it is past one in the morning, I think about my morning coffee. I calculate how early I will have to wake up to have time to have a coffee at home before running out the door to go somewhere. Fortunately, it is the weekend and I do not have to worry about getting to school on time, so I am able to sleep in a few hours later than I normally am able to do.

I have a few scenarios in my mind of what would happen if I ever missed my morning cup of coffee; most of those mental images are based on things that happened in the past, when I was both sleep deprived and caffeine deprived. Needless to say, I would not wish to repeat any of those experiences, so I diligently prepare and drink the same black coffee every morning.

My eyes turn back to my turtles, both of whom now seem to be resting.

It’s about time, I think to myself. I mean, you can’t just play, play, play all day. There’s got to be some time in there set aside for resting and grabbing a few hours of sleep.

I squint, trying to make out Tyapa’s facial expression. I am pretty sure that his eyes are still open, so he can’t be sleeping. His perfectly still body could have fooled me, though.

Another sound reaches my ears; deep snoring is emanating from the door leading to another room. I smile slightly, imagining my adorably chubby pug curled up on his blanket, sleeping and snoring. The snoring part, however, I don’t have to imagine, for I am able to hear it perfectly well from where I’m sitting. Pugs have this tiny little button of a nose, which causes their breathing and snoring to be often louder than that of other dogs – not that I mind. On the contrary, I find it absolutely cute that my dog snores like that. It does not compare to the other comical sounds he makes, though, like yapping at something to which he objects or whining in frustration when he cannot get the door to open so he can run free through the house, wrecking everything in his path. That little cutie pie can be dangerous when let loose, and that I know from experience.

I yawn, my eyes closing up and desiring to remain closed. Not heeding their pleas, I wrench them open again and continue to write in my journal, racing against the clock and hoping to go to sleep before two.

Fondly, I remember those few days when I went to sleep once the sun rose. I still do that sometimes, although not as often as in the summer. School does not allow for such luxuries; time becomes precious and every minute matters. Did you know that if you put your brain to the task, you can memorize a simple mathematical formula in only a minute? And yet, it can take as long as five minutes to apply it to a problem on an exam and a further five minutes to actually solve the problem? Then there is always that moment of panic when you realize that you have less than two minutes to complete your exam, but you have more than five examples left to solve. Those two minutes are of the utmost importance, for they can very often be the deciding factor between a passing and a failing grade.

When you need the time most, that is when you feel it is most unavailable to you, but when you do not need it to accomplish anything, it stretches on until you wish you could kill it. Many, indeed, attempt to do so. I often hear people saying that they “killed time” by doing certain things such as watching television or movies, going shopping, or eating three different snacks on a full stomach. What a slow, agonizing death for Time. Why, I almost feel sorry for it.

At the same time, I cannot help but worry for myself. As my friends are not here to help me kill time, the natural result is that I sink into thought. That, my friends, is often an even more dangerous hobby than killing time, for it conjures negative memories, fears of the future, and other such terrible things that end up keeping you up at night, worried about life.

I wonder, What are other girls my age doing? Are they killing time, blissfully unaware of all these thoughts floating around?

I, too, have the opportunity to make myself blissfully unaware of what is going on in life. Sleep smudges reality, blurs the line between the possible and the impossible, and erases some of the pain that is otherwise part of your existence.

Sleep, then, is what I want to do now.


Posted by inkstainedhands in ,

I have been waiting for this for so long -- for years -- and now there is not much time left to wait. The luggage is packed (for the most part), and I have plenty of things in my carry-on case to amuse me for the duration of the flight.

My turtles are at my friend's house, invading her living room, and my father and I just dropped Coco off where he will be staying these couple of weeks. For some reason, I keep thinking, "Hold on, where did the rest of my pets go?" And then I remember I don't yet have rats.

For some reason, I am anxious right now. I did not want to go to sleep yesterday, and was preparing things for the flight until around 4 AM. It's not that I think I won't be ready. I don't have much left to pack, and I still have the rest of today in which to do it. So I will be ready. But I still feel a bit like a shy person who's about to go onstage: nervous and sick.

I tried to relax myself yesterday by listening to music and watching a DVD. It did calm me down for a bit, and I was able to fall asleep after that, but now I am back to stressing. At the same time though, I am too excited for words. I feel as though I drank three cups of coffee and cannot settle down, except that I did not drink anything today besides for some green tea and Vitamin Water.

I was just looking through some lists of Hebrew words that I studied for Hebrew class in 10th grade. I think that most of the Hebrew I know is from that 10th grade class (for which I will have to thank my teacher when I see her in September). So I was reading these lists of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and phrases, brushing up on my Hebrew skills so I can put them to full use in Israel, when I came across this little gem:
ישר ישר ושם תשאלי
The definition? "Israeli directions."

I seriously can't wait to speak Hebrew to everyone there. Sure, I'll anyway sound like an American with my accent and my limited vocabulary, but it would still be fun to put ten years of my education to good use and see how it works.

My mother said to me on Shabbat, "Can you imagine, this time next week we will be in Jerusalem?"

Well, I am imagining...

In less than 24 hours, I will be at Newark with my parents and all our luggage.

In less than 30 hours, I will be on an airplane, flying across the ocean.

In less than 36 hours, I will be in Ben Gurion, probably tired, but very excited.

In less than 40 hours, I will be walking on Israeli ground, breathing in the air of Israel.

In less than 48 hours, I will be standing in front of the Kotel, and when I thought about it last night, I could hardly believe it.

This combination of anticipation and nerves is not doing me much good now though.

I will have internet access in our apartment, hopefully, so I will be blogging. There are a few ways it can go, though: either, I will be so excited to share what I've seen and experienced that I will post almost every single day (with photos), or I will be so busy actually living that I won't even bother blogging, or I will do something in between those two options. Let's see what happens.

I will also be writing a lot on the plane and working on some blog posts I've been wanting to make for quite a while, so once I get to our apartment, I might post that.

I might post again tomorrow, before we leave. I don't know. Maybe. (Another thought: do they have wireless internet in airports?)

But wish me a safe flight now anyways. :]