2014 in a Dozen Photos: May-August

Missed Part I? Check out January through April.


May 2014: Wat Mongkolratanaram

Wat Mongkolratanaram, also known as Wat Tampa, is a Buddhist temple in Tampa, Florida.

My request was to spend my thirtieth birthday weekend riding roller coasters until my face melted, and my husband obliged by whisking me away to Tampa, Florida for some quality Busch Gardens time. The coasters were fantastic, but perhaps the best part of the weekend was our discovery that Wat Mongkolratanaram, the temple serving the local Thai and Buddhist community, hosts an open house on most Sundays. Not only did we have the opportunity to learn more about another culture, its beliefs, and its practices, but we had the best Thai food I have eaten in a long, long time. Highly recommended.


June 2014: Middlebury, Vermont

A view of downtown Middlebury, Vermont.

June is hot and sticky in Pensacola. June in rural Vermont is lush, green, crisp, and mostly cool. While the favorable climate was not precisely the driving factor in my decision to apply for an intense, three-week total immersion program in Modern Hebrew at the Middlebury Summer Language Schools, it sure didn’t hurt! Going to Middlebury was a big step outside my comfort zone, and not just because of the pledge all students sign to speak no English and communicate only in the target language for the duration of the course. It’s amazing how much Hebrew one can learn when one has no choice but to speak it at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all classes and activities in between.


July 2014: Shalom, Chavera

Saying goodbye to my best friend from the School of Hebrew at Middlebury Summer Language Schools.

After three weeks of the most intense language study I have ever experienced, it was time to return to the English-speaking world. I know I said that these monthly snapshots wouldn’t necessarily depict super-significant, life-changing moments, but my Middlebury experience represents a turning point. I packed more Hebrew into my head than I would have through possible in such a short time, but perhaps the most important thing I learned is that after seven years out of academia, I could still hack it in a school environment. Not only could I hack it, but it energized and excited me to the point that I am preparing for a big, scary, exciting, terrifying application process in 2015. (More on that later.)


August 2014: The Prettiest Challah

Six strands, no problem.

I bake challah, the traditional bread for the Jewish Sabbath, frequently throughout the year. One I made in August just happened to turn out the prettiest of any I made in 2014. I was just branching out to a six-strand braid from my usual four, and this one looked good enough to eat. Which we did. With extreme enthusiasm. Of course, we do that even with challot that turn out a little derpy-looking.

2014 in a Dozen Photos: January-April

Now that we’re a week into 2015, I feel a belated urge to offer up a neatly-wrapped version of my 2014 — you know, the kind of bloggish year-in-review that those writers on top of their game presented in the dwindling days of December. If you’re looking for evidence of grand, probing contemplation of the past year and its moments of deep significance, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed in my quick-and-dirty version of a year-end wrap-up.

I have selected one photo from each month of 2014 for a collection of twelve vignettes. These dozen snapshots will not present anything resembling a comprehensive look back, not least because there were a number of months in which lots of things were going on and I [arbitrarily decided that I] may only choose one picture. These pictures aren’t necessarily the most important or best artistically or any other superlative from each month. Still, each jumped out at me for some reason, so we’ll go with that and try to keep the analysis to a minimum.


January 2014: Pensacola Blizzard

This dusting of snow completely shut down our area for three full days.

The first month of 2014 brought something rarely seen in the steamy, Southern city of Pensacola, Florida: frozen precipitation. Although we grew up rolling our eyes at the way the DC area flails when it snows, even that looks like steely-eyed competence when compared to the Florida panhandle response. Of course, snow happens so rarely here that one can hardly blame the locality for investing in hurricane prep rather than plows, salt, and gravel. It was fun having my husband home for three unanticipated “snow days” from this single dusting, and we indulged in wax log fires and obsessive jigsaw puzzling.


February 2014: Peacock up a tree

A denizen of the Gulf Breeze Zoo surveys his domain from above.

Any semblance of a Floridian winter evaporated quickly, so we were soon enjoying “spring” with outdoor activities and strolls through the Gulf Breeze Zoo. I had no idea that peacocks were even capable of getting up into trees; I’d always thought of them as ground-dwelling birds, akin to fancy chickens.


March 2014: Chag Purim Sameach!

Chemistry geek alert: “Queen Ester,” at your service. (Not pictured: the whiskey flask in my back pocket.)

March brought the Jewish month of Adar II, which brings Purim! Purim is one of the most fun, carnivalesque holidays on our calendar, and its celebration involves reading the Book of Esther, dressing in costume, and imbibing spirits. I let my geek flag fly with a punny “Queen Ester” costume: each molecule on my shirt is a different ester, which are often responsible for a particular fragrance.


April 2014: Backyard Blue Angels Practice

We have an excellent view of the Blue Angels’ twice-a-week practices from our backyard.

In order to minimize my husband’s commute to the flight line, we chose to live very close to NAS Pensacola. One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on how one is disposed toward the “sound of freedom”) is that we essentially get a free air show from the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron twice a week throughout much of year. I like the Blue Angels, despite the fact that working around their practices is a pain for my husband and his fellow instructor pilots on base. It gives me a warm fuzzy that Pensacola natives, by and large, take a great deal of pride in “their Blues” even if they have no official military affiliation.

Johnson Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

#BlogElul 4: Accept

#BlogElul 2014 topics

Shabbat is a gift. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that this time of rest and renewal is truly for us, and we turn it aside as if we’re over-modest children, too self-conscious to take a compliment at face value.

Sometimes, though, it’s easy to accept the gift of the world’s beauty. It is a beauty that not only exists independently of any of our labors, but one that can be experienced fully only when we free our hands of workweek burdens and allow our minds to drink in broader horizons.

Johnson Beach, Gulf Islands National Seashore

“The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array.” (Genesis 2:1, NJPS)

#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 3: Bless

#BlogElul 2014 topics

Today, my husband was blessed with a very short workday. We took advantage of it to get out and enjoy a rare treat: coffee at our favorite local place. In Judaism, we bless God for the big things and for the little things, such as every bit of food or drink of which we partake.

Caffeine and sunshine, both worthy of blessing today.

Caffeine and sunshine, both worthy of blessing today.

#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 2: Act

#BlogElul 2014 topicsI am a thinker. One could make a well-supported, cogent argument that I am an over-thinker, one who lives too much in her head and not quite enough in the world of action.

Confession time: I was already way overdue for an eye appointment and a dentist visit when the Navy moved us to Florida in March of 2013. A year and a half later, long after all the urgent upheavals of the move had settled into the routine (well, as routine as life ever gets with a Navy pilot for a spouse), I still had not managed to look up a new optometrist and dentist to call for appointments. Oh, I thought about it — frequently, in fact — but there always seemed to be something more compelling I could shove in front of it on the priority list.

I’ll do it later, I thought, and proceeded to throw up all kinds of excuses for why I needed to think about it more before picking some names from a list of covered providers and picking up the phone. I need to do research. I need to be sure our schedule is set. I need to… 

Today, goaded by the blog prompt’s exhortation to “act,” I pulled the dreaded task of phoning strangers off my mental back burner and made the calls. I now have appointments. Done. More than that, a chunk of my brain’s proverbial clock cycles were suddenly freed up. What I had thought was a low-priority task waiting to be done was actually a mental resource hog that had been taking up energy for so long that I had ceased to notice it.

In the new year, I want to be more aware of the difference between thinking about things because they need thinking about and thinking about things as a way to “deal” with them without taking any concrete action. Thoughtless, impulsive action is no help to anyone, but then, neither is overthinking a simple task to the point of paralysis.

#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogElul 1: Do

#BlogElul 2014 topicsIt would take more geekly wherewithal than I currently possess to get through this post without quoting Rabbi Yoda, so I’ll get it out of the way now:

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do #BlogElul again this year. My regular blogging fizzled out for an extended spring/summer hiatus sometime before Pesach. The months were filled with more doing than writing about doing; I have no online record of events longer than a Facebook update or more deeply examined than a tweet.

We are one month away from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This month, אלול (Elul), is our chance to take stock of our lives, to sift through the events of the past year that might have whooshed by, unexamined, masked by the background noise of daily busyness. For the next month, thorough, thoughtful reflection is on our daily to-do list.

Because life goes on even in this month of taking account of ourselves, there will be times when the work of self-examination elicits a “do not” reaction from me. I’m not going to like everything I find with all the usual comforting, self-justifying excuses stripped away from my actions this past year. On those days, I will focus on R. Yoda’s first statement and do the work anyway.


“Blog daily this month, you will.”

#BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the month leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#BlogExodus 6: Clean

#BlogExodus promptsYesterday, when I was supposed to be ruminating on the topic of “Clean” as it relates to the rapidly approaching holiday of Passover, I was out playing instead. We braved the morning fog to get to the movie theater in time for an early showing of “The LEGO Movie,” which was just as awesome* as my brother and various other family members had told us it was. Still singing to ourselves the movie’s notable song, we moseyed on over to Mellow Mushroom for a chametz-ariffic lunch.

It felt great to get out of the house for fun rather than errands. As much as I love the holidays, it takes a lot of work to get ready for them. For Pesach, much of this work is centered around thoroughly cleaning the house to remove all traces of leaven. Having the chance to step away for a few hours from the reminders of work yet to be done accomplished a lot in the way of cleaning up my attitude for this week’s home stretch.

* If you’ve seen it, you get it.

#BlogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.