A New Chapter And A Move Toward Introversion

1 01 2014

Over the past ten weeks, I traveled through Montreal, East Texas, West Louisiana, South Florida and Massachussetts. I presented Jewrotica, completed a Jewish outreach tour to remote communities, sold my RV and motorbike, squeezed in five final performances and services with my choir, savored inspirational time in nature with my dear friend Topher and said a quiet and informal goodbye to Austin.

I joined family for Thanksgiving and Chanukah in Aventura, delivered a final Israel Bonds program in Boston and continued on with my suitcases to Tel Aviv – and five weeks of these travels were with dear friend David Abitbol in tow.  I successfully completed two 30-day challenges – one to get my heart rate up every day for five weeks (with a weekly break for Shabbat) and one to breathe deep and savor the scent of my food before and while eating it.  (Scent is so powerful and definitely heightens appreciation and taste!)

I moved to Israel, signed a year-long lease on a Jerusalem apartment, converted my living room into an acrobatic and creative play space and was cast as the female lead in a production of “Division Avenue” (my first theatrical return to the stage in nearly ten years!).  I joined a Jewish women’s tribal group called Soul Dance, prioritized both family time and expanding my cooking repertoire and accepted a job offer for an incredible non-profit fighting against domestic violence in the religious community.

But as all this happened, I didn’t feel a need to record or report it.  My life is still creative and richly flowing, but I am excited about a new pace of life with meaningful work and a semblance of routine, surrounded by close friends and family.  Though I am as outgoing as ever, I am embracing my transition towards introversion with open arms, and find myself both appreciating quiet and unscheduled moments and limiting breadth of friendships in favor of depth of friendships.

This blog has been an incredible chapter in my life and I may return to it,  but for now – as I place my writing on an indefinite hold – just know that I am well, I am happy, I am home and I wish the same and more for all of you.

Nine weeks in photos:

Aren't We All?  Jewrotica's Canadian Debut, November 2013

Aren’t We All in Le Mood? Jewrotica’s Canadian Debut, November 2013

"Jewrotica: Sanctifying Sex" - Presenting a Dynamic Session at Le Mood Montreal

“Jewrotica: Sanctifying Sex” – Presenting a Dynamic Session at Le Mood Montreal

Playing the Green Absinthe Fairy and Marking Halloween in Montreal with Megan and Grace, Formerly of the Westboro Baptist Church

Playing the Green Absinthe Fairy and Marking Halloween in Montreal with Megan and Grace, Formerly of the Westboro Baptist Church

The Outreach and Educational RV Tour Was Stressful at Times, But This Day in Louisiana's Chicot State Park Sure Wasn't!

The Outreach and Educational RV Tour Was Stressful at Times, But This Day in Louisiana’s Chicot State Park Sure Wasn’t!

Milking My First Cow On The Road - A Day on the Farm in Alexandria, LA

Milking My First Cow On The Road – A Day on the Farm in Alexandria, LA

An Interfaith Thanksgiving Service - Relishing My Time With The Choir

An Interfaith Thanksgiving Service – Relishing My Time With The Choir

Last Sunday at Wesley - Saying Goodbye to Dharion

Last Sunday at Wesley – Saying Goodbye to Dharion

David Snaps a Selfie Outside the Co-Op in Austin

David Snaps a Selfie Outside the Co-Op in Austin

My Introduction to Sfinj (Moroccan Donuts), With My Parents and Courtesy of David's Cousins in Florida

An Introduction to Sfinj (Moroccan Donuts) With My Parents, Courtesy of David’s Cousins in Florida

The Rain Before The Storm - Jerusalem Gears Up For Snow

The Rain Before The Storm – Rockin’ The Umbrella as Jerusalem Geared Up For Inclement Weather

The Times of the Messiah...  Israel Gets Hit By Its Biggest Blizzard Yet and Arabs, Jews, Religious, Secular, Young and Old All Flock to the Park and Joyfully Hop On Each Other's Sleds

The Times of the Messiah… Israel Got Hit By Its Biggest Blizzard Yet and Arabs, Jews, Religious, Secular, Young and Old All Flocked to the Park and Joyfully Hopped On Each Other’s Sleds

Ho Ho Ho!  Ha Ha Ha!  Hee Hee Hee!

Ho Ho Ho! Ha Ha Ha! Hee Hee Hee!

Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass in Old Jerusalem

Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass in Old Jerusalem

Bye Bye Blonde - I Went Red!

Bye Bye Blonde – I Went Red!

Though Sometimes in the Sunlight It Looks Orange

Though Sometimes in the Sunlight It Looks Orange

But I Can Still Pull Off Professional When I Need To

But I Can Still Pull Off Professional When I Need To

Best Pal David Abitbol + Homemade Matbucha at My New Place in Jerusalem

Best Pal David Abitbol + Homemade Matbucha at My New Place in Jerusalem – The RV is Missed, Austin is Missed, Friends Are Missed, But What a Blessing to Be Amongst Family and Close Friends in the Holy Land

posted by ayo





Life As An Art Model

7 12 2013

Perhaps it’s a bit grandiose to refer to my “life as an art model”.  A more apt title for this post would be “my season as an art model.”

Over the past few months, I booked sessions all around the city of Austin as an art model.  I worked with local campuses as well as the local visual arts society, and – though I am happy for the experience – it was certainly a curious one!

Despite my background working as a yoga instructor on a clothing-optional resort and despite my time posing as a body paint model for a brilliant painter, I found myself nervous.  With the exception of my public speaking engagements, I have lately been shying away from the lime light and gravitating away from the center of attention. Regardless, I certainly have not been in many scenarios involving me to pose nude in a foreign environment, all the while holding perfectly still!!  (Anyone who knows me knows that the last thing I do is stay still.)

I researched what the role would involve and made all the appropriate preparations: I drank water that morning, ate and used the restroom before the session, arrived early, brought a towel, robe and flip flops, greeted the professor cordially, remained still and silent during the drawing, re-robed during breaks, etc. etc. The most important part was my exuding a feeling of confidence and comfortability to make the class feel comfortable and at ease.  During my first session, everyone thought that I was already an experienced art model, and they were an advanced class, too!

A Photographic Overlay Using Art Models

A Photographic Overlay Using Art Models

The format for my first class included ten one-minute “gesture drawings”, which are physically rigorous and artistically interesting poses.  I used a bar as a prop for about half of these.  The gesture drawings are a kind of warm-up exercise for the artists.  The rest of the session was spent in 20-60 minute poses with intermittent breaks.

I had several interesting and somewhat surprising observations:

1)  Art modeling takes skill!  The model needs to be creative to think of various gestures on the spot, have endurance and patience in order to hold the poses and have a good bedside manner to put others at ease.

2)  The professor makes a big difference in the experience of the art model!  I was made to feel valued, appreciated and cared for.  The professor thanked me repeatedly, remarked to the students that they should feel gratitude toward the model for this opportunity and she even set up a space heater lest I feel cold.

Each professor verbalized insightful observations on the physical form.  While this felt awkward at first, it was fascinating to hear another person’s observations on the arch of my back, the distance between shoulders, the length of my neck, the fullness of my lips, my muscle tone, etc. as the professors pointed out features for the students to draw.

Perhaps most interesting were the professors’ line of questioning:  “Don’t just draw another person.  This is Ayo sitting here before us.  What is unique to Ayo and her features?  And how are you going to capture what is original about her?”

3)  I was on stage with lights!  This was strange… very strange, but totally professional.  And it was nice, refreshing and natural to be nude once again in a non-sexual setting.  The experience was very freeing, very comfortable and reminded me of my season living in the Dominican Republic.

4)  I was the “overachiever” art model!  The professors were very excited that I came from an aerial and acrobatic background, so I took on poses that were much more rigorous than usual.  During the gesture drawings, I opted for full wheel (a back bridge), single-leg balances and a variety of gymnastic poses.  I even chose a yoga “frog” (think a sort of straddle split) for my 25-minute pose, which in retrospect was absurd, but an excellent challenge at the same time.

One of My Campus Art Stages

One of My Campus Art Stages

5)  Advice to myself: Choose comfier positions next time!  The short one-minute gestures were fine and the seated final pose was fine, but the overly ambitious 20-35 minute poses, with my neck thrown back and my back arched for dramatic flare were absurd, not to mention my choice of “yoga frog” (see above) where my full body weight was placed on the fronts of my ankles.  Lesson learned!

6)  Small classes are great.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started art modeling and I thought that there might be a large auditorium, but there were only four to eight students in each class, which was a lovely small size.  It was interesting to see what I noticed about them.  The male-female breakdown was about even.  Of the eight students in my first class, six seemed to be college-aged while two were older.  All had different body types.

I didn’t feel like the males looked at me or drew me any differently than the females on the whole, but my mind did notice that two of the male students were black.  This of course doesn’t make any difference at all, except that it was my first time fully unclothed in front of a black male and so it was a new experience on top of another new experience.  (I hope that doesn’t sound horribly boorish of me to remark.  The thought simply occurred to me during the session, and I found it interesting to note.)

7)  There was lots of individualism.  It was brilliant to see how each student had their own take and used a different medium or style to depict me.  One class repeatedly held rulers out toward me to take measurements and proportions, and I so badly wanted to pull out a ruler (out of who knows where) and measure them back.  Ah, the humor of art modeling… there were some very comical moments!  But it was very cool to inspire art.  When I had previously done body painting, I remarked on how incredible it was to literally be the art.  In life drawing class, I was the art in a different but equally powerful way.

8)  Just for the experience.  It’s always nice to be compensated for the things that I do, whether a dance performance, acroyoga lesson or strategic office work, but money is never the main motivation for my actions.  Here too, though there was compensation, my motivation was for the experience and to be a part of inspiring and creating art. Still, when I was toward the end of class and tired of holding the pose, it was nice to recall that I was being paid for my time!

An Art Model Sampler - With Strategically Blurred Sections

An Art Model Sampler – With Strategically Blurred Sections

So, how did I fill that still and silent time?  I’m not usually big on meditating, but I relaxed into the music (they had an enchanting Pandora station on), focused on my breath, stared into the distance, and sang songs in my head.  Toward the end of poses, I would count down the minutes / seconds in my mind. During the long pose, I gave myself challenging math problems to keep intellectually stimulated.  And during my medium poses, I davened (prayed).

I suppose that it was a peculiar place to daven – on a stage, with lights accenting my contours, fully naked and in an artistic pose while being drawn by a surrounding audience. But, it was really beautiful in a way.  And there was tremendous humor in the Birkot HaShachar (the morning prayers).

During the blessing of “Pokeach Ivrim” (gives sight to the blind), I was reminded to open my eyes and steady my gaze toward the wall opposite me.

During the blessing of “Zokef Kefufim” (straightens the bent), I engaged my core, arched my back and fixed the slouch that was starting to seep in.

And, of course, during the blessing of  “Malbish Arumim“, I just laughed.  I laughed inside, not breaking the pose, but I thought about how I quite possibly have never said a more ironic bracha in my life.  (“Malbish Arumim” is the blessing for God who ‘clothes the naked’.)

Seemingly, I was an ideal art model.  The professors look for a combination of easygoing, friendly, responsible, creative and athletic endurance, and I was able to rise to the occasion.  I have return invitations to a handful of campuses and studios should I desire and it always feels good to excel at a new skill or experience.

Practically, I’m not sure that I will be back in the studio any time soon. I don’t have the sitzfleisch (tolerance to stay still) to art model on a regular basis.  I value my free time more than my modeling time, and there’s too much that I want to do!

Also, when I return to Jerusalem, much of my time will be spent with knees and elbows covered doing work in the Ultra Orthodox community. But both communities are interesting, both are parts of me and I’m appreciative for the opportunity to be ushered and welcomed into the world of art modeling this past October and November. And so, my life as an art model comes to a successful – if temporary – close! :-)

posted by ayo





August in Israel (Part 1 of 3)

9 09 2013

August came and went, and what a month it was! With the exception of a few short day trips to neighboring cities, I spent the entire month in Jerusalem without traveling. (A first!) Though I was highly tempted to hop on an airplane to Norway for a kayaking trip in the fjords, I stayed put and started the makings of a life for myself here.

My rhythm looks something like:  work with a local organization (Bat Melech) three days a week, study Hassidism in the mornings at the local Carlebach yeshiva, co-teach acro and take ashtanga classes at an amazing yoga studio and the usual juggling of projects, family time and adventures.

The Neighborhood - My Yeshiva Is On This Pedestrian Street

The Neighborhood – My Yeshiva Is On This Pedestrian Street

And oh, the adventures! In early August, I ventured into the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Geula for a visit to the hidden-but-delightful vegetarian chulent factory (open until 3 am every night but Shabbat!). I might have needed to cover my collarbone, elbows, knees and braid my hair, but Lord that veggie chulent was worth it.

The following week, I squeezed in a visit to the stunning Ashdod beach and Mediterranean Sea with college friend Daniel (can you believe that study abroad was seven years ago?!) and I spent two evenings in the blissful nature of Ein Karem, dodging coyotes, taking in the stars, connecting with spiritual-minded folks at the Secular Yeshiva and starting an impromptu dance circle with sister Jess in tow.

Veggie Chulent Adventures with Mr. Jewlicious in Geula

Veggie Chulent Adventures with Mr. Jewlicious in Geula

Music, Dance, Nature, Learning and a Night Out On the Town with My Sister - Hard to Beat

Music, Nature, Learning and a Night Out On the Town with My Sister – Hard to Beat

Lastly, Jerusalem is currently in election season, and I snagged an invitation to a personal tour of the city, its developments and cultural offerings guided by the current mayor Nir Barkat.  

The tour was complete with a visit to Teddy Stadium (where I ran out to the center of the field!), the distribution of hard hats in off-limits construction zones and the gifting of Artiks (Israeli popsicles) to keep us happy.

Putting In A Word About My Organization With Jerusalem's Mayor

Putting In A Word About My Organization With Jerusalem’s Mayor

People lean on each other here and, in a sense, life feels more real and neighborly.  On my first Friday in town, I helped an elderly lady cross the street at the shuk (the outdoor market, whose streets are notorious for crazy driving and tricky pedestrian crossing) and she was so grateful for my helping her.

I didn’t know that “helping cute, old ladies cross the street” was even a thing anymore! I figured it was relegated to the realm of 1950s truisms, but the very next week a different elderly woman near the shelter where I work asked for help carrying her bags and was so appreciative. There’s something quite endearing and rewarding about the interaction.

Continue Reading “August in Israel (Part 2 of 3)“…

posted by ayo





A Taste of June – Part 1 of 4

10 07 2013

I haven’t posted an Our Take on Freedom entry in nearly six weeks!  I very much enjoy the process of writing, reflecting and recording precisely how I spend my time.  There is something validating about holding myself accountable for the days and weeks that slip by, and the reflection process is key for mindfulness and self-awareness.  It is sometimes hard to get into the rhythm of starting a blog post, particularly when it involves sitting in front of my computer – a machine critical to my daily existence, yet at times too domineering in its presence.

The past six weeks have been the closest that I have come to a sabbatical or mini-retirement.  I was scheduled to be on RV tour with Faces of Israel this summer, but community requests for a fall tour instead have freed up my summer days tremendously.  So, what have I been doing?

A lot!  My four months of aerials training at Sky Candy culminated in self-choreographed beginner performances on the Silks (see above – crazy split at 2:00) and Trapeze (see below – lots of tricks throughout), though I also learned skills on the lyra, hammock, rope, pole and cube.

I have continued to incorporate music and song into my daily routine and I even sang at my very first wedding, where I bonded tremendously with my choir members (who know how to break it down!).

I had an epiphany vis a vis my efforts to improve my singing, and that was patience.  It will come.  My voice is young and undeveloped now, but – just like I once was not able to drive a scooter, nail a split or author a paper but can now do all of those things – this too shall come.

In fact, last night at choir practice, I had this insane in-body / out-of-body spiritual experience of being sung.  I had been working on a solo piece with a mentor in the choir and something just clicked last night.  One moment, Sondra was chastising me to “forget about Barbara Streisand – feel the Lauryn Hill in you” and, within the hour, I was so moved and inside the song that my entire body was shaking, my heart was beating fast and I felt like there was something beyond my control inside of me that was coming out.  It was powerful and, yes, spiritual.

With Linda, One of My Mentors in the Choir (Yes, I Know That the Blingy Chai is on Backwards)

With Linda, One of My Choir Mentors (Yes, I Know That My Blingy Chai is on Backwards)

Once I finished the song, Sondra turned to me and – after several exclamations of “Ooooh, oh girl!” – she said:  “You’re ready for your solo.  It will be this month, and you are going to reach people.”  Woa.  Wow.  Wow.

We Gotta Support Our Acro Partners!

I Became Fiercely Strong This Spring – And, Hey, We Gotta Support Our Acro Partners!

Here are a selection of other pictures from the outdoor jam with Grant:

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Continue Reading “A Taste of June: Part 2 of 4“…

posted by ayo





An Ode to May (Part 4 of 4)

29 05 2013

This post is a continuation of “An Ode to May (Part 3 of 4)“.

My fourth weekend getaway took Arvie on the road for the first overnight trip since last August!!  I was ambivalent about Arvie “stretching his wheels” and was uncertain about how he would fare on the two hour trip to Kerrville-Schreiner Park, but he did beautifully and – thank God – the trip went smoothly and without a hitch!

It was thrilling to be back in nature and to overnight in a forest, and it was empowering to take Arvie out on my own.  (Previously, Yair did much of the water-filling, electricity managing and half of the driving.)  Arvie had been parked at the co-op for so long that, while I identified with the small house movement and the cooperative movement, I forgot that my house itself moves!!  I took in the surrounding nature, discovered “dragons” and chased white butterflies to far-off lands with my friend’s eight-year-old nieces, and rounded up our camping crew for hilarious games of charades and categories (a fun singing game) late into the night.

On The Road Again, I Just Can't Wait To Get On The Road Again...

On The Road Again, I Just Can’t Wait To Get On The Road Again…

Arvie Did Great!!

Arvie Did Great!!

Over the camping weekend, my most recent 30-day challenge came to an end.  For the past thirty days, I refrained from wearing any makeup.   It was an interesting feeling.

Though I’ve never been overly dependent on makeup and though I tend to steer clear of jewelry altogether, I had found myself wearing makeup more frequently – particularly as a blonde donning red lipstick and so forth.  While the natural look is beautiful, makeup does admittedly serve a purpose in accentuating attractive features and minimizing less attractive features like breakouts. Though the challenge was at times inconvenient, I experienced the restriction as a freedom to embrace myself, look at my features without filter and not have annoying black mascara smear off when I accidentally rub my eyes!

The no-makeup challenge was definitely a positive experience and one that I would recommend to any folks who incorporate makeup into their daily or even semi-weekly routines.  My next 30-day challenge, which I started this past Friday, is no utensils for thirty days.  It’s part novelty and part an attempt to be mindful of what I am eating, how much I am eating and to better connect with my food.  So far, it’s mostly been an inconvenience.  Surprisingly, I don’t like eating with my hands!!  But I’ll stick it out and we’ll see how it goes.

The "Dragon" That We Found in the Forest

The “Dragon” That We Found in the Forest

Lastly, a musing on charity…  When we were members of a single household, Yair and I made occasional charitable donations but did not have any set frequency to our giving.  Last August, as we prepared for our separation, each of us drafted a budget to guide our future living expenses.  At that time, Yair mentioned that he would be setting aside $100 / month for charitable giving.  I thought about this idea of building charity into my budget and felt my altruistic and frugal tendencies conflict, but ultimately the former won out.

Over the past year, I have followed through on that monthly charitable commitment and it is so empowering.  If I hear about an important cause, I already have the funds built into my budget.  They need to be spent.  They need to be donated.  And this framework and structure have allowed me to honor my frugality while, at the same time, hone the practice of giving and feel like a mini-philanthropist.  Please let me be clear that I am not sharing this to toot my own horn, but rather to perhaps introduce a new idea or serve as an example.   After all, if I can do it and I’m a self-employed chick with a fluctuating income who lives in an RV, you can do it too.

All in all, May has been a great month and this 4-part post captures only a handful of the eye-opening and smile-inducing moments that it offered.  My brother Yoni is coming to visit Austin tomorrow and, though I can’t believe that it’s almost June, writing this post at least provides me the comfort that May was well spent!

Happy Spring, happy May, go outside and do something nice for someone else!

posted by ayo





Wobble Baby, Faith Adventures and Chickens

1 04 2013

I like the pace of blogging on a weekly basis, and so much has happened in just the past week alone.  Our dear friends Matt and Bree from TallyHo and the 2012 New Years Scavenger Hunt are in town, and it was a treat to get together with them again – this time with Bree’s mom and baby Sienna in tow.

Some of you may recall the obsession that I had this past summer with a song called “Wobble, Baby” when I would break out my dance moves in national forests, parks… and outside Walmarts each morning.  Well, thanks to a straight-from-the-movies Greek life tradition at UT Austin last weekend, I was able to live the fraternity experience that I always shied away from and attend Round-up where I got to dance and Wobble with V.I.C. himself.  What what!

A Cool and Weird Bug Found by Matt of TallyHo

A Cool and Weird Bug Found by Matt of TallyHo

Wobble, Baby

Wobble, Baby

Wobble at AEPi Jewish Fraternity - Hebrew Tattoos Always Intrigue and Possibly Baffle Me

Wobble at AEPi Jewish Fraternity – Hebrew Tattoos Still Intrigue and Sometimes Baffle Me

Going home for the Passover seders was the best.  It was wonderful to spend quality time with family and, during my visit home, we were able to take a lovely trip to the shore.  Walking along the sand by the ocean reminded me how much I crave nature.  I spent a lot of the past two and a half years in national forests and parks, yet have spent most of the past six months locked into city life.  I hope to venture off to Enchanted Rock or some other nature-esque site in the coming month to just “be” in the great outdoors.

My time in the northeast left me happy, though also with my first cold in a long time, so I eagerly await the day when I can comfortably breathe through my nose again. (What a concept.)

The Beach. The Beach. The Beach.

The Beach. The Beach. The Beach.

A Pitcher of Fresh-Squeezed OJ (I Have Awesome Friends)

A Pitcher of Fresh-Squeezed OJ (I Have Awesome Friends)

This weekend was a prayer-filled interfaith extravaganza.  One of the local rabbis asked me to lead some niggunim (melodies) and tefillah (prayers) at the monthly Shabbat services in downtown Austin.  I was a bit nervous to sing in front of the whole room, but I did it “my way” – sitting on the floor, mindfully, sans microphone.  The feedback was good, and I may lead again next month.

After services on Friday evening, I ventured back into the acrojam community and it felt like coming home.  To see, catch up and play with longtime friends (longtime for a nomad = 1+ year) was incredible and there was so much loving touch.  I thought that I would kick a** since I have been intensively training at the Sky Candy aerial arts studio in town.  I have definitely gotten stronger, but acro uses different muscles than aerials and my longtime acro buddy Grant decided to throw some crazy moves at me, so I am now mega sore.  

Returning to the acrojam also underscored for me that I have been spreading myself a bit too thin and between too many groups.  In light of that, I hope to focus my energy on a handful of friendships and just a few communities in the coming months.  Separately, it’s interesting and a bit nostalgic to realize that Yair and I first arrived in Austin over a year ago.  It doesn’t feel like that much time should have passed and it’s a bit strange to be going back to all my favorite activities – SXSW, Honk Marching Band, Texas VegFest (coming up) – but this time without Yair by my side.  Mah la’asot? (What can ya do?)

Holi, Hey!

Holi, Hey!

Easter Sweets - I Proudly Collected a Basket of Candy-Filled Eggs :-)

Easter Sweets – I Proudly Collected a Basket of Candy-Filled Eggs :-)

On Saturday, I met up with a handful of friends at the monthly community soup party courtesy of Katie Visco extraordinaire and then brought a group to experience Holi, the festival of colors, at the largest Hindu temple in North America.  Hindus and visitors from all across North America make a pilgrimage to this particular temple in the hills of Austin, and the afternoon was a joyous site to behold.

Sunday rounded out the interfaith celebration as I brought in my first Easter the only way I know how to do anything in life – intensely.  My choir sang at the 6 am (!) sunrise service at a local church, and then again for the 10 am service in our own community. I joined my friend Daniel in visiting his (part-Dominican, mostly Catholic) family for Easter festivities in San Antonio and proudly participated in my first-ever Easter egg hunt.  Before leaving San Antonio, we met up with my longtime friend Kayak Dov who is studying to be a park ranger and we ended up staying in the neighborhood for Yom Tov (Passover) dinner at the local Orthodox rabbi’s house.  Quite a weekend!

In other news, the international press is still excited about Jewrotica and Der Spiegel sent a photographer to the co-op on Friday to do a photoshoot for an upcoming article.  Cool.  And, even cooler, our chicken coop at the co-op is finally ready, and our pets have arrived!  We’ll see how quickly owning chickens becomes tiresome, but for now everyone is very excited.

We Got Chickens! Dave Hanging in the Coop

We Got Chickens! Dave Hanging in the Coop

Months and a Bit of Research Later, My Choir's Church Decided to Start Recycling. It worked!

Months and a Bit of Research Later, The Church Decided to Start Recycling. Yes! It worked!

I will be scaling back my general and Jewrotica-related work schedule for much of the next four months to enjoy Austin, spend time outdoors, volunteer with the local Boys & Girls Club (I put in a call to the volunteer coordinator today) and read some good books.  I’m curious to see where these next weeks take me.  Sometimes it feels tiresome to always think about the decisions that await me, but I am focusing more and more on just being.  Being present, feeling and trying to relegate the “thinking/analyzing my life” mode to just a few times a week.

In the uncharacteristically hippie words of my Dad this week, why not view every decision as an opportunity to be happy?  Amen to that, and Happy Monday, y’all.

posted by ayo





A Different Type of Travel – Berlin, Germany

25 12 2012

Getting to Berlin last week was tricky.  My flight to New York was delayed and eventually canceled due to airplane maintenance, which caused me to miss Yair’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party and re-route my itinerary altogether. The re-routing of the flight cut my Berlin trip down from an already-short three days to a microscopic two and my luggage had seemingly decided not to take the flight, so I was a lone agent in a new country without possessions.

I was bummed to miss Grandma’s party and the first day of my Germany experience, but I was determined to make the best of it.  Since the airline had misplaced my luggage and since I am a frequent traveler, they issued me a generous stipend (equivalent to more than one month’s rent back home…though my rent is super low) to pick up necessities.  A pre-paid shopping trip in Europe would be a dream for most other people, but not so much for me as I try to minimize my possessions and shopping is one of my least favorite activities.  Nevertheless, I took advantage of the opportunity and hit the streets of Berlin on my first morning in-country to pick up some awesome wardrobe additions, including a very cool armored jacket for my scooter.

A Gourmet Homemade Dinner on a Cold European Night

A Homemade Dinner on my First Night in Town

Working Hard for My Breakfast - Anyone Know How to Say Spoon in German?

Working Hard for My Breakfast – Anyone Know How to Say Spoon in German?

It was fascinating to be in a country where I did not speak the language.  Everything became an adventure that required patience and a lot of sign language.  When I went to the supermarket, I largely relied on the images on the food packaging to determine what to buy – in addition to universally recognizable fruits and vegetables.  I honed my miming abilities when asking several folks where I could find a spoon for my yogurt and determined that – if/when I return to Germany – it would have to be with an expanded language repertoire.  After all, the extent of my German vocabulary was “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “good morning afternoon and night”, “good bye”, “God bless you”, “my place or yours?” (pick-up line courtesy of my Oma) and quite fittingly “nein/no”.

I walked around Berlin getting lost and enjoying new neighborhoods.  I learned the need to be more relaxed with the passing of time as everything takes longer when you are making your way around a foreign country in a foreign language.  I felt more vulnerable being a stranger in a foreign land and it made the world seem a bigger place than I’m used to.  Also, I more strongly related to the foreign couchsurfers that we host back home and appreciate how much it means to have someone show you around their hometown.

The Gems You Find When You Walk Around a Foreign City

I Found This Gem When Walking Around East Berlin

A Familiar Site in a Foreign Land

A Familiar Site in a Foreign Land

My dear friend, Dan Ludevig, hosted me in Berlin.  Our first evening was lovely with a delicious home-made dinner (curried vegetables and polenta), music, candles and an assortment of chocolate truffles.  I stayed in his guest apartment right next door and was delighted to get a glimpse into the Berlin that he raved about through day trips to Brandenburg Gate, SoHo Club, the Jewish Memorial, government buildings and more.

I bicycled through the city, joined Dan’s friends for an evening of raclette and an Ice Age 4 screening, and mischievously attended Dan’s ballroom dance studio’s holiday party.  The party started off extremely formal and very on time (how German…) with a long and festively-adorned table la the last supper, but Dan and I put on some music and got the crowd dancing as well as singing silly German children’s songs once a few drinks were behind them.

Quaint Outdoor Christmas Fairs Everywhere

Quaint Outdoor Christmas Fairs Everywhere

Meeting with the German Press about Jewrotica (I Ditched the Platinum Blonde For This Trip)

Meeting with the German Press (I Ditched the Platinum Blonde For This Trip)

Another fun part of my super short trip was meeting with the German press about Jewrotica.  I met with three newspaper and radio journalists during my visit, each of whom brought their own photographer to the meeting.  I had two of the journalists meet me back to back at the same café and – when the photoshoot for the first journalist began and the second journalist had arrived and was waiting – several café goers started snapping photos as well, thinking that there was something exciting going on.  At that point, the owner asked “who is she?” in German to which the second journalist replied “an American celebrity”.  Though that description is a far cry from reality and though I think real celebrity status would be both oppressive and an invasion of privacy, I had great fun playing the part of American celebrity for a few hours of a winter afternoon last week.  :-)

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.  I would go back to Berlin and – whether next year will lead me to more international travels or not – my eyes have been re-opened to the fact that there is so much of the world still to see.

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posted by ayo





The Start of a Grand (International!) Adventure

16 12 2012

I’m still riding high on life since last Sunday’s return of my usual “extra energy”.  The past week in Austin has been lovely with smile-inducing surprises, a celebration of World Hoop Day and an appearance in my choir’s 1950s Christmas Swing Spectacular.

Tomorrow I depart for a grand international adventure:  The first stop will be a brief layover in New Jersey, where I will have a few hours to swing by Yair’s grandmother’s 100th birthday party and celebrate with the family.  Then it’s off to Berlin for a few days to meet up with my swing dance buddy Dan who I haven’t seen since 2010!

By the time Shabbat rolls around,  I will find myself in Israel where I’ll be spending the next 2-3 weeks adventuring with family and friends, attending an international development conference and visiting an ashram where I will review a workshop for Jewrotica.  I’ll also take some time to reflect on the coming year and begin to feel out where life will take me in Fall 2013.

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There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks… including an aerial silks class that I will be starting upon my return to Austin.  I have expressed an interest in aerial work for almost a year now, so it’s time for less talk and more action!  (You have to be strong for silks and – for the first time ever - I nailed three pull-ups in a row yesterday.  I’m getting there!)

‘Til then, my suitcase is packed, my eighth night Chanukah candles are slowly burning down and it is time to get some shut-eye before Day 1 of this grand adventure begins.  Layla tov!

posted by ayo





Divine Providence – My Week in New York

24 10 2012

Giggles and love!  That’s what I’m feeling right now.  I’ve always had this extra level of energy and happiness that most people don’t experience, but it’s been conspicuously absent lately.  Not so on my trip to New York last week!

I was invited to present Faces of Israel at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and extended my ticket through the weekend to see friends and family.  The plane ride was quick, lovely and allowed me to churn out writing for my crazy new project (which you’ll hear about at a later point).

The Big Apple! I've Arrived! :-)

The Big Apple! I’ve Arrived! :-)

I had recently applied for an innovative grant that would fund an education outreach tour to visit rural Jewish communities this summer by RV… and I was selected as a finalist!  I was thrilled to hear the news and – as soon as my plane touched down at JFK – I rushed straight to the foundation’s office to say hello and drop off a DVD for the committee. (They were expecting me.)

Now here is where the title of the post comes in:  I got off the subway at Times Square and was amazed by the razzle and dazzle of all the lights and the individuals walking around the plaza in full Disney attire.  (My wide-eyed tourist admiration was a reminder that it had been a long time since I lived in New York!)  But I had a mission at hand and the foundation office would only be open for ten more minutes!  I rushed down the street, into the building and up the elevator to successfully deliver the film with just moments to spare.

I Raced Against the Clock to Deliver This Baby

I Raced Against the Clock to Deliver This Baby

Upon exiting the foundation office, I noticed that their immediate neighbor was a major Jewish publication.  As in one of the most widely-read Jewish newspapers in the country.  As in the newspaper that I had contacted two weeks ago about my new project and hadn’t heard back from.  I thought: Hmm, I don’t have an appointment.  They’re not expecting me. I can’t just walk in there.

So… I gathered up my chutzpah and walked on in!  I introduced myself, one of the senior folks obligingly came out to the lobby to meet me and what ensued was magical.  We chit-chatted for a few minutes – me riding on one of my energy highs from having made it to the foundation office in time and he informing me that the newspaper was on backlog from the holidays and wouldn’t be able to feature a piece on me for several weeks.

I turned to leave when he asked me what I was up to in life.  A few sentences in and I could tell that the wheels had started turning in his head.  But before he could ask me another question, I decided to level the playing field.

“I want to know you!”, I said.  “Well, what do you want to know – where I grew up?”, he replied.  I thought for a moment and then asked “What are you passionate about and when was the last time you were outside your comfort zone?”

Then came the moment of truth.  After a brief hesitation and despite it being almost 5 pm, he looked up, took a deep breath and said “You know what! Just come back to the office and we’ll talk now.”  And that was his Eliyahu moment*.

"Interviewing you is like watching fireflies on a summer night.  You're not sure where it's going but you can't turn away."

“Interviewing you is like watching fireflies on a summer night. You’re not sure where it’s going but you can’t turn away.” – From a note he emailed me the following day

We spent the next hour and a half developing what I can only call a (platonic) soul connection.  We spoke of living consciously, making the best of our time on earth, pushing boundaries and channeling life.  I shared my passion and vibrancy – helping him rekindle his own – and together we hacked his life by identifying new opportunities and 30 day challenges that he could explore.  I have this strange feeling that I was meant to make my appointment, meant to see The Jewish publication’s sign and meant to meet him on that day… and I did a half hour interview for my new project while there!

I’d like to share an idea that I found particularly beautiful.  This lovely man who was more than twice my age mused:

Sometimes I imagine the following scenario.  It’s ten years from now and – at 70 years old with all of the health challenges and realities that 70 might bring – I am given the opportunity to go back ten years and experience youth of a different sort by getting a second chance at being 60.  Only this isn’t a dream and I am 60 now with this magical opportunity presented to me.  How am I going to use it?

I was sparking off of this experience for days and took it with me to the ROI reunion later that evening.  It was wonderful to see friends from the conference, and I love the energy that is created when you bring all of these motivated people together to recapture some of the spirit of the summer.

Mini ROI Reunion With Friends JP, Adam and Sid in NY

Mini ROI Reunion With Friends JP, Adam and Sid in NY

After offering a quick Manhattan sidewalk hooping lesson to my friends, I hopped a train uptown to Yeshiva University.  Though the turnout was limited to a couple hundred (less than expected) since Gilad Shalit had spoken on campus the night before, my speech was nevertheless interrupted by applause when I explained how I revamped my life and encouraged the students to live their passions.  And a couple of Israelis told me that this was the best program that Israel Club has ever done.  Cool!

I was serenaded twice that evening – once by an intriguing former baseball player, singer-song writer turned religious YU student and once from my theater-aspiring childhood friend CB.  Other highlights included quality time with my best pal Shira, evening hangs with Yair’s parents and a day of adventuring on the Hudson with my mom and Dad.

Family Time on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie

Family Time on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie

Reuniting With Old Friends - CB Busts Out a Monologue

Reuniting With Old Friends – CB Busts Out a Monologue

I felt so very grounded and energized being back in my home community, and only hope to carry that spirit back with me to Austin.  Until then, I offer you divine providence, GIGGLES AND LOVE!

*Eliyahu (Elijah) was a prophet and mystical figure in Judaism.  Traditional stories have him appear when people most need him, but in disguise.

posted by ayo





Divine Play: Feeling Right-Side-Up In A World Upside Down

21 10 2012

So much has happened in recent weeks, and I feel like I’m ages behind on writing a blog post!  I’ll start with last weekend’s events when I treated myself to the “opportunity of a life time” by flying out to Divine Play.

Divine Play is an annual national acroyoga festival hosted in San Francisco. Acroyogis from around the country and the globe fly in for 3 days of acrobatic training, therapeutic classes and the opportunity to play with like-minded spirits.  Each programming time slot boasted a whopping ten options to choose from and the festival didn’t disappoint.

Up in the Air on Someone's Shoulders

(Me) Up in the Air on Someone’s Shoulders

The festival was lovely and I challenged myself in new and exciting ways.  I was able to experiment with “two high” (popping up to standing on someone’s shoulders), high foot-to-hand (standing in someone’s hands with their hands pressed above their shoulders), bicep stand on someone’s feet, shoulderstand on someone’s shins, cannon-balling into star, popping to a number of different poses, one-handed free shoulder stand on someone’s hand and best of all… low hand-to-hand!

If all this sounds like jargon, just know that I am working on balancing a handstand in someone else’s hands.  Coolest thing ever.  I never imagined that I would be an acrobat and – though I am not interested in pursuing the art professionally – I love surprising myself through the creation of “acrobatic Ayo” and making all of this a reality.

High Side Star - More Challenging Than The "Dirty Dancing" Lift

High Side Star – More Challenging Than The “Dirty Dancing” Lift – I Tried Even Cooler Moves with Better Technique, But Alas Don’t Have Those Photos!

The technique and new ideas that I gained through the weekend were wonderful, and there were only a few drawbacks:  First, I found some of the classes to be hit-or-miss depending on who I was teamed up with.  If I had a strong group or lucked out and was paired with an acroyoga instructor, the sessions were fantastic.  If I had a weak or unsafe group, it was difficult to learn and hard to build up a rhythm and rapport if I switched half-way through.

The second drawback was that I was itching to free play on the first night, but there was no “open jam”.  By the time the open jam was offered on the second night, I was way too sore to play from hours of training during the day!

The third and final drawback is that – though I love the acro community in Austin – it seems so, um, amateur-ish and limited compared to the high numbers and levels of many of the Divine Players.  But – keepings things on the optimistic and happy side – I learned lots of new things to bring back to the community and definitely had a positive and at times thrilling experience!

Hooping by the San Fran Bay

Hooping by the San Fran Bay

Beyond the class instruction, the weekend offered music and acrobatic performances, dessert fairies that flitted around offering (free) delicacies and… I got to try the “Baby lift” from the end of Dirty Dancing, which I’ve always wanted to do.  Unfortunately, I didn’t nab a photo of the lift, but still - so cool.

The fun continued beyond the festival with a farmer’s market, San Francisco food trucks and visiting local area friends.  I stayed once again with good friends, blog readers and future RVers Matt and Beans who were extraordinarily generous with their time and hosting, and even bought me a birthday cake!  Also a highlight was seeing Burner friend Ruthie (Captain) of biking-across-America fame.

Though I am not anywhere near this level, I’ve realized that I have begun to view acrobats and Cirque Du Soleil performers as my peers rather than as mysterious and mystical creatures worlds away from what I could ever achieve.  It doesn’t undermine my appreciation of their talent, but it’s exciting to feel “like one of them” in a chill way.

Out With Friends in San Francisco - Beans, Matt, Ruthie (Captain) and Me

Out With Friends in San Francisco – Beans, Matt, Ruthie (Captain) and Me

I’ll leave you with a short story:  On the second night of the conference, I was walking around SF late at night looking for my bus stop.  My phone battery was close to dead and I had been lost for just over 20 minutes.  I wasn’t getting too frustrated as it was a lovely night, but I still couldn’t figure out how I could have possibly gotten so lost – given that I had walking directions pulled up on my smart phone!

Well, I had a bit of divine providence working in my favor at Divine Play as not only did I have the most wonderful bus driver (who incidentally didn’t charge me for the ride), but at the very next bus stop, the famous and highly skilled Dutch acrobatic duo Det and Jim walked onboard and spent 40 minutes chatting with me about acrobatics, life in Holland and assorted bits of interesting-ness.  It was totally meant to be!

Divine Providence - Meeting Dutch Acrobats Det and Jim on the Bus

Divine Providence – Meeting Dutch Acrobats Det and Jim on the Bus

Signing off from New York (more on that to come) where I’ve just had a life-enthusing, energy-infusing four days surrounded by ones I love.  :-)

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posted by ayo








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