Friday, April 18, 2014

information overload

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend at Friday night services in Okinawa. He and his wife have a one-year-old, and they’re very excited that Yoni and I will soon have a baby of our own. As so often happens after you tell people that you’re pregnant, conversations with this friend now seem to revolve solely around pregnancy and babies – but that’s ok. He usually has helpful advice to offer and funny anecdotes to share. No scary labor stories – yet. Anyway, the morning after we had that conversation (I think it was about strollers), he came over to me at shul and apologized. He said that he didn’t want me to think that we could only talk about babies, and he also didn’t want to overwhelm me with too much information. Having gone through this process recently himself, he is very aware that sometimes endless conversation can be the opposite of helpful. I told him that I didn’t think he needed to apologize; whatever he had been saying the night before was helpful enough, and certainly not annoying. (I also told him that, as a rabbi’s daughter, I’m surprisingly used to having the same conversation over and over again.)

I’ve been thinking about that interaction a lot over the past week. While we do have access to all kinds of baby gear in Okinawa (on- and off-base), the selection is very limited compared to what one might see in the States. And so I decided that, as long as I was going to be in the States during my pregnancy, I’d do some shopping. Or at least browsing so I could decide what to order online later on. But wow – sometimes the options are overwhelming. As much as it’s fun to have 25 (or more) monitors to choose from as opposed to the 3 different models they sell on base, having so many options certainly makes the decision-making process more complicated. And how different could they all be, really?

This afternoon I spent some time sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, looking at different umbrella stroller options. She is a perennial review reader, which is a great skill, but sometimes prevents her from making a decision when one needs to be made. There are always more reviews to be read, more options to research. She asked me today if I have that problem as well, and I told her that I like to read reviews, but I get overwhelmed and give up more quickly. Or I outsource the review reading to her! What does Yoni think, you ask? He usually has opinions, if you ask, but he doesn’t obsess. Plus, he’s currently deployed on the USS Bonhomme Richard (you might recognize that name from the nightly news), so he’s not exactly available for baby gear discussions. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a balance – for soliciting and/or receiving advice, and review-reading, and all things baby related. Something to strive for, anyway. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

epic fail

Once a month, there is an organized get-together for all of the Navy Chaplain Spouses on island. There are something like 30 of us who choose to be involved, although obviously not everyone attends every meeting. When I first arrived in Okinawa, I found these get-togethers to be intimidating and strange – everyone was SO Christian, there was never anything I could eat (it’s always potluck and people have a really hard time bringing food that doesn’t contain meat), and there was a lot of spontaneous praying. Almost two and a half years later, though, I find these meetings to be fun and funny and, if not uplifting, at least something to look forward to. Sometimes we have an agenda and sometimes the meetings are purely social, but there’s always dinner involved. People have even (mostly) learned to sometimes consider cooking something (besides dessert) that I can eat. And they’ve learned to close their prayers with “in your holy name we pray” instead of “in Jesus’ name we pray.” Progress!

Last night was our April meeting, and the potluck theme was alphabet soup. We didn’t actually eat soup – rather, we were supposed to make something that started with one of our initials. I wasn’t feeling particularly creative, and I was trying to avoid too many dirty dishes, so I decided to make a salad – an Israeli salad, to be more specific. I love to make Israeli salad; weirdly, I find all the chopping and dicing to be soothing. I cut up my cucumbers and tomatoes, threw in some corn and hearts of palm for good measure, seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice and a little olive oil, packed the whole thing in a big glass mixing bowl, and was good to go.

My good friend Diane – a fellow chaplain spouse – lives in the same tower as I do, so we always ride to meals together. Last night we met in the lobby, as usual, and headed out to her car. I was about to get in when disaster struck. I don’t know if pregnancy is making me more clumsy (they do say that happens, though I haven’t really noticed it anywhere else) or I was just having an off night, but something about the way the car door swung open knocked the salad bowl out of my hands and it promptly went flying, landing in the middle of the road where (of course) it shattered. Bowl and salad were both a complete loss. Once we stopped laughing, or at least once we were able to talk again (the laughter hadn’t completely stopped), Diane and I weren’t really sure what to do. We couldn’t just leave all that broken glass in the middle of the road with kids running around and cars driving. We decided to try and gather as much of the glass as we could, which led to an exciting 10 minutes of crouching on the ground, searching for shards. [We did leave the salad. I’m guessing a lucky dog or cat went at it because by the time we got back a few hours later it was completely gone.] I was pretty bummed about the salad. I had tried not to eat it while I was chopping since I knew it would likely be one of the only things I’d be eating for dinner. Talk about an epic fail.  At least I had a good story to tell when we finally arrived at our meeting, 20 minutes late and with only a plate of bread between us.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

the further adventures of penny lane skolnik

When we lived on 90th St, Penny, Yoni and I were very close with a family who lived one floor down from us. Eventually they got a puppy who became one of Penny’s best friends, and the magnetic pull that their apartment had on Penny only grew. If we were walking down the stairs, she would try to go to their apartment instead of going outside; if we went to the second floor, she went immediately to their door and either scratched at it or sat down in front of it, waiting to be allowed entrance.

One day, Penny escaped from our apartment while Yoni was coming home. Our building was made up of 3 renovated brownstones that had been connected on the inside, and while the middle staircase had been turned into an elevator, there was still a staircase on each end. You can imagine the chase that ensued – Penny running down one staircase and up the other one, sneaky enough to outsmart us for a minute. But she didn’t return to our apartment. Instead, she ran to Kate and Christine’s and scratched at the door. Their door didn’t latch very well, and – much to everyone’s surprise – she let herself in! Let’s just say that was not the last time that happened.

That was a long time ago now, and I would have assumed that Penny had forgotten about her cat-burglar ways, but I learned this week that, no, she has not. Over the past few weeks, Penny and I have been spending time with our neighbor Jenny, her 4-month-old son Jeremiah, and her dog Rufio. It’s kind of win-win-win; Jenny’s husband is also away, so she and I get some human interaction. Plus Penny and Rufio get to work out some energy with one another. And, of course, there’s the attraction of Jeremiah. Penny doesn’t have a lot of time around small babies, so Jenny has been lovely about letting me train her a bit with Jeremiah. (She’s not doing so well. I mean, she doesn’t spend every second licking him like she did in the beginning, but I think it’s still sometimes overwhelming for Baby J. Oh well. It’s progressive.) Whether or not she’s well behaved around him, Penny does love Jeremiah – I mean, he smells and tastes delicious, after all.

Penny has always loved Rufio, but since we’ve been hanging out at their apartment more, she also feels at home over there. And then the other day, she (we) made the critical discovery that, just like Kate and Christine’s door, Jenny’s door doesn’t always latch fully if it’s not locked. Penny got out of the apartment (I forget exactly what happened) and ran to Rufio’s door. She jumped and scratched at it, I assume to get his attention, and, well, she got more than she bargained for! The door opened right up and she just ran in. Luckily, Jenny was holding Jeremiah.

It happened again today. We were coming in from a walk, and she heard Rufio bark. She immediately dragged me to their door and scratched until Jenny came to let her in. (Slightly more polite than just barging in, I guess.) It’s a good thing Jenny is really lovely and is always happy for Rufio to get some exercise! Lesson learned: Penny does not forget her sneaky skills. She will always know how to break into other peoples’ apartments. Let’s hope she continues to only use her powers for good. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Day at Sea with LT Yonatan M. Warren, US Navy

It begins with that God awful whistle. 

I don’t know who thought that giving a boatswain a whistle to blast into a microphone (sorry aboard ship it’s called the 1MC) was a good idea, but I would like to have words with that individual.

"Reveille! Reveille! Reveille! All hands heave out. Reveille!”

Fair boatswain, you thought you got me at that whistle.  But you are sorely mistaken.  I relish sleep, eat in the wardroom and don’t have to stand on line for breakfast.  I shall return to sleep!

And then.  The wake up song.

“Good morning.  This is your wake up song”

It doesn’t take more than two chords to recognize it.  It’s going to be either ZZ Top or…

“Let’s go girls.”

Oh no.

“Come on.”

Really?  Isn’t this a warship?

“I'm going out tonight, I'm feelin' alright, gonna let it all hang out…”

Its Women’s History Month aboard the USS Ashland and thanks to the Boatswains Mate working the 0200-0800 watch, I will have Shania Twain’s “Man! I feel like a woman!” in my head for the next day. next three days. 

Making matters worse, pulling from imagery lodged deep in my memory the song goes hand-in-hand with disturbing images of my holy friend, Rabbi Joshua Scott Rabin.  In drag. Making a run as top contestant in the 2000 Ms. Seaboard USY Pageant.  Nothing will ever purge that image.

Now, I’m awake.

I get dressed in the same pajamas that I wear every day: Woodland Marine Corps Cammies.  They might not be designed for sleeping, but they are super comfortable.  I head down to the wardroom for breakfast and a primer of coffee.  The first of what will inevitably be many cups.  0830: the first meeting.  Another day has officially begun for me and the Marines embarked out here.

I’m well into the third week of being at sea.  At this point, I only hit my head on something on average of twice per day.  I’m really getting good at that.  Though I will be walking with a severe hunch for several months following this little trip.

Days aboard the USS Ashland (LSD-42) flow into one another seamlessly.  The gentle rocking of the ship makes me sleepy at all times.  That is unless the ship is in extremely rough waters, when the crazy rocking makes me simultaneously sleepy and nauseous.

Speaking of rocking:  a physical training regimen is highly encouraged on ships like this (although there is very limited space in the gyms).  Things people don’t think about: when you run on a treadmill on a ship, sometimes you run downhill and sometimes you run very steeply uphill.

My schedule changes based on counseling needs and classes that I might be teaching.  Two days a week, I run a Bible Study.  We’re deep into the Book of Judges, and I have to tell you.  It’s pretty darn good.  I recommend reading it again, if it has been some time for you.  The whole thing is under 21 chapters (which I know for a fact is fewer than the first Hunger Games book).

Three times a week, I go up to the bridge at night.  With the helmsmen keeping the ship on course, quartermasters hovering over their charts (not maps, maps are of land; charts are for water), and boatswains doing whatever it is that boatswains do. 

At exactly 2155, a boatswain steps up to the 1MC.

“Tattoo.  Tattoo. Stand by for evening prayer.”

I get on the 1MC, do my thing.  Being liturgical I don’t mind repeating myself.  I pray about a trend of the day, muse about morale, or speak to fears.  The prayer is to put people’s minds at ease before shuffling into bed.  Like a big bedtime Sh’ma for 700 people.

“Help me, O God, to lie down in peace. Let me not be troubled by bad dreams. Grant that I may awaken, to a renewed life, again tomorrow. For you are our Eternal guardian, Source of comfort and peace.  And Let us say, Amen.
Good night, USS Ashland. Semper Fidelis, 31st MEU.   Rabs Out.”

Time to go to bed.

"Taps! Taps! Out all white lights. All hands turn in to their racks and maintain silence about the decks. Taps."

Friday, March 7, 2014

flying high

Normally it would be Yoni's turn to write today. However, due to the fact that he is currently deployed, you're stuck with me again. I'm going to cheat a little, though, by sharing some photos that I know Yoni meant to share before he left but never did. 

Yoni celebrated his 31st birthday in the weeks before he left, and as a birthday gift, our friend Josh, who moonlights as a flight instructor, took Yoni flying. We both assumed that they'd go on a scenic tour of Okinawa, see the sights from above, take in the ocean and the mountains. But Josh had something else in mind. When he said he wanted to take Yoni flying, he actually meant that he would let Yoni fly the plane. I know, it's a terrifying thought. Luckily, though, the plane was what I like to think of as a driver's ed style plane, meaning there were dual controls. But Yoni insists he took off and landed twice, practiced turning and steering, and was generally trusted with the operation of the (very small) plane.

At any rate, assuming he was going on a sightseeing tour, I sent Yoni with the camera. He didn't get too many pictures (he was pretty busy concentrating on the flying part), but he did - with Josh's help - get a few shots of himself in action. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, February 28, 2014

anchors aweigh

Well, Yoni is officially gone, off to spend 6-8 weeks on the USS Ashland as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

While there was no official send-off with flags and balloons and a brass band (too many people and too much stuff to on-load, I guess), I did get a chance to visit the ship with Yoni a couple of days before he left. We weren’t on board for long – Yoni was just dropping off some of his bags – but it was long enough to check out the accommodations and get a sense for what it might be like to live on a US Navy vessel.

First of all, I have to say that ships were not built for people as tall as Yoni. Putting aside having to step through every porthole/doorway and the million and a half opportunities to trip there are onboard every day, Yoni barely cleared the light fixtures. I’m not convinced that he won’t come back with a permanently bruised head. At least he fit in his bed – even if it was just barely.

Speaking of beds. In the Officers’ berthings (apparently that’s the ship-appropriate word for room-where-people-sleep), or at least in Yoni’s, there were 4 beds – 2 sets of bunk beds. It was a small room, and that seemed crowded.

At least until I saw the Enlisted berthings. Their beds are – no joke – 4 high. And these are not rooms with high ceilings. And each set of beds is pushed right up against a second set of beds lengthwise, which I’m sure makes for some awkward accidental middle of the night cuddling.

Oh, and the stairs might as well be ladders. I thought about wearing a skirt the day we visited; let’s just say it’s a good thing I didn’t. It must be an excellent workout, though, just moving around the ship all day.

Even based on the 45 minutes I spent on board, it’s hard to imagine being able to live on a ship like that for two months or more. It certainly gives me new respect for people who elect to do so. I’m curious to see how it plays out for Yoni. I’m sure he’ll make the best of it, however the actual experience is, but here’s hoping he learns how not to bump his head everywhere he goes! It’s the little things.