#blogExodus 1: Begin

#blogExodus 5775 topicsJewish days begin at sundown, and this evening is rather special in that we welcome not only Shabbat, as we do each Friday evening as the sun sinks below the horizon, but also the Jewish month of Nisan.

The vernal equinox and the first day of of Nisan happen to kiss this year. Thanks to this fitting quirk of the juxtaposition of our secular solar and religious lunisolar calendars, the first day of spring marks just two weeks until Chag haAviv, which means “the spring holiday” in Hebrew. It has a lot of names, this holiday, the spring holiday, but in English we call it Passover.

Today marks the conjunction of a profusion of beginnings. New season. New month. New year, on top of it all (there are four new years on the Jewish calendar). We brim with beginnings; we love them so much that we strew them like flower petals throughout our days. For a Jew, a calendrical fresh start is never far out of reach.

Naturally, I would like to get season, month, and year off on the right foot, and simple wishes seem most appropriate to me. Chodesh tov! A good month to you. Shabbat shalom! A peaceful Sabbath to us all.

#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.


Fresh Off the Needles: My Very First Sweater

2015-02-04 12.11.19

Partway through the raglan increases.

I first picked up a pair of knitting needles in June 2010, and I’ve come a long way since my first fumbling, awkward cast-on (only achieved by dint of watching YouTube instructional videos over and over and over again). No matter how much I had accomplished, though, something deep in my fiber-crafting soul told me that I must someday tackle The Sweater. The compulsion finally won out at the beginning of February, and I embarked on calculations for my very own Incredible Custom-Fit Raglan.

Torso mostly complete.

Torso mostly complete. Being able to try it on as I went was key.

I knit like a woman obsessed, which wasn’t difficult because I had deliberately opted for a simple, no-frills, plain stockinette version. The elapsed time from casting on the neck stitches to binding off the second sleeve was two weeks. We’re stationed in Florida, you see, and February’s arrival meant that warm weather was potentially just around the corner. I was racing the arrival of springtime, and if I lost, I would not likely have the chance to wear my new sweater until November.

I won the race, and although it’s definitely warming up now (just ask my allergies), I’ve had a number of opportunities to wear my cozy burgundy sweater. I learned a lot about in-the-round garment construction on this project, and I’ve got my eye on rather more complicated variations in the future. Some of them might even be appropriate for warmer weather (think lacy cardigans), so I won’t get too frustrated waiting for our too-short chilly season.

Completed Sweater

Ta-daaa! It’s a real, wearable (in public, even) sweater!

Fresh Off the Needles: Hue Shift Afghan

Well, not really fresh off. I finished my Hue Shift Afghan back in February, and it has been brightening up our ratty old vintage couch ever since.

Hue Shift Afghan

Well, this is the finished product spread out in all its glory on our bed, which is not a couch. Thank goodness.

Hue Shift Afghan, View Two

Another view of its full-spectrum yarniness.

Our cats immediately decided that I had spent fifteen months (well, there was a lengthy summer hiatus when it was just too dang hot in the Florida panhandle to even contemplate knitting a big ol’ blanket) of my crafting life solely to provide them with their very own handmade snuggly thing.

Stripy Cat, Stripy Blanket

Stripy cat. Stripy blanket. It was meant to be.

All Snuggled Up

Immediately after I snapped this shot, Val pulled her head all the way back inside her snuggly sanctum.

The pattern was an enjoyable, easy-to-memorize knit, which made it a great project to work on during semi-weekly knit/crochet get-togethers with my next-door neighbor. I could envision making another one in the future, particularly if I scale it down for a baby blanket. Maybe I could power through that in somewhat under a year and a quarter.

2014 in a Dozen Photos: September-December

Missed Parts I and II? Check out January through April and May through August.


September 2014: Great Falls National Park

The Potomac River has many faces, all of them beautiful to us.

My husband took a week of leave in September so we could spend Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) with our family in Northern Virginia. When we weren’t davening (praying) or hanging out with our relatives, we managed to squeeze in a hike around Great Falls National Park. The vistas are spectacular, though the view above is of a quieter part of the river downstream of the magnificent rapids. We spent a lot of together time here when we were in high school, so it’s a special place for us.


October 2014: The Tenth Doctor

You didn’t know I was a Time Lord, did you?

The squadron had a Halloween party, and we geeked it right up. Apparently “Doctor Who” isn’t terribly well-known amongst naval aviators, because we confused the heck out of everyone with our Ninth (husband) and Tenth Doctor (me) costumes. Does my hair look David Tennantish enough?


November 2014: Blackwater River

The sandy-bottomed Blackwater River meanders through a forest north of Milton, Florida.

Yes, here’s river picture number two in a single post. What can I say? We like rivers. In November, there were finally a few precious days of what I would consider proper early-autumn temperatures. When one such day happened to fall on a weekend, we jumped at the chance to get out of town a little ways and explore a park we’d been meaning to visit again. Our first visit had been the previous summer, and it was hot. With the temperature in a more comfortable range, we were able to truly enjoy a number of little trails by the sandy banks and in the woods.


December 2014: Almost Done!

Ninety-nine squares. One more to go, then the border…

I started on this afghan in the fall of 2013, took a huge break when it warmed up in the spring of 2014, and finally picked it up again when I started getting together with my next-door neighbor to knit on a regular basis in late summer. By December, I was in the home stretch. Since the above photo was taken, I have completed all one hundred squares, stitched the four quadrants together, and begun on the border. Had I not come down with some kind of demonspawn hell-cold right as we were heading out of town on winter leave, I might have finished it on the long road between here and Virginia. If I’m not a complete procrastinator, I’ll have the whole dang Rainbow Dash-worthy thing ready to show off before the end of January 2015.

And now we’re all caught up (well, for a somewhat scattershot value of “caught up”) and primed to tackle a fresh year. Hope everything is off to a good start with you!

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.