Category Archives: Scintilla

Scintilla ’13: Day 16

It’s the last day of The Scintilla Project.  I’ve still got a healthy handful of prompts to write on, so they’ll show up from time to time.

Day 16: What would it have been like if your life had turned out the way you wanted when you were a kid?

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I dabbled with the idea of becoming an oncologist, with no real idea of what that sort of commitment actually meant, as well as a killer whale trainer, if we’re being totally honest.

I never thought about money, or what it would take to make it, or how much of it I would need to live the life that I was accustomed.

When you’re a kid, growing up means freeing yourself of homework and adults and rules.  Period.

This is a universal experience.

I think that there are a lot of people, who would read this prompt, and maybe think about what they didn’t have.  Because it is only rarely that things go according to plan.

And yes, there are things I do not have.

Things I do not have: a massive backyard with a wild garden (Pam’s Gardening School teaches us that it is better to plant flowering weeds than to be forced to weed) and a bright kitchen with a massive granite island.

Oh, and as of late, I’ve been coveting a living room with a full wall of windows facing North.

But then I realized that our living room features a window that occupies the majority of one wall.  That all of the windows on our main floor do, in fact, make our kitchen bright.  And proportionally to our kitchen, we have a fairly large island.

This is the plight of the optimist.  But I also think I’m being honest here.

If I look at what I possibly could have imagined for my adult self as a child, I know that this was not the life I saw.

The funny part about that though, is that day-to-day and month to month, my adult life never turns out the way that I expect it to.

What I will always know For Now: this life of mine and this life of ours is very, very good.


Scintilla ’13: Day 13

The Scintilla Project is winding down.  So for just a few more days, I’ll be writing on the prompts they’ve been e-mailing me.

Day 13: Post a photo of yourself from before age 10. Write about what you remember of the day in the photo. It may not be a full story–maybe just flashes of event and emotion–but tap into the child you were as much as you can.


I am three years old here.

Whether I was preparing to dance in my first recital, or dramatically reenacting what had just occurred on the stage at Central Middle School, we will never know.

For seven years, I took classical ballet, which explains the abundance of spandex and the lack of anything that would resemble Toddlers & Tiaras.

What we do know: Purple was my favorite color, so our costumes were The Best.

My mother did not know how to action a bun, so instead of my bun being at a regular height, it sat straight on top of my head, like some sort of antennae.

Is there really anything else that needs to be told?

Scintilla ’13: Prompt 11

The Scintilla Project is winding down. So for just a few more days, I’ll be writing on the prompts they’ve been e-mailing me.

Prompt 11: Write about an experience you had that was so strange or incredible that it sounds like it could have been made up.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Of all of the things on our Birthright trip itinerary, the Dead Sea was one of the things I was looking forward to the most by far.

I’m not going to get all self-righteous and tell you that it was on my bucket list or something, because it’s not, and I don’t have one of Those.

But I like to think that most people, given the opportunity to Go There, would be thrilled to have the chance.

Then the day came and I was in a mismatched swimsuit at the lowest point on earth. Any and all practical thoughts about Not Shaving or Avoiding Cuts had vanished, and I was rubbing mineral-laden mud from a 10 gallon bucket all over myself.

Not kidding. Look.

Dead Sea 1

It was a sunny, 60 degree day, which was unseasonably pleasant for January in Israel. Our thankfulness for the weather tempered with the reality that swimming at 60 degrees is a vastly different proposition than swimming at 80 degrees.

Because the Dead Sea is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean, it is a body of water that comes with instructions.

I am not a terrifically buoyant person. I am a confident swimmer, yes. But if we were in a float-off, I would probably lose before we even got properly started.

So when Tsach, our trip leader, enthusiastically chirped at us that once we were knee-deep in the sea we were to Sit Down In The Water, I’m sure you can understand how I raised an eyebrow at the situation.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Covered in mud, I waded into the water. I made it up to my waist before I found Alli floating in front of me, pleading with me to Sit Down Already.

Dead Sea 2

And with no more effort than it takes to sit down on a couch or collapse into bed, I found myself sitting very nearly on top of the water.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Dead Sea 4

20 minutes later, my fear of floating gone, I continued to flip and roll on top of the water like a happy sea otter. Kicking my legs up. Pointing my toes. Lounging on my side.

Noam, one of our Israelis, looked at me and said, “The look on your face is that of a small child.”

Dead Sea 3

And he was right. For those weightless minutes, I was a tiny pup without a care in the world.

Scintilla ’13: Day 9

We are basically halfway through The Scintilla Project. What that means: they’re be e-mailing me prompts, and I’ll be writing on them. For another week or so. And if I fall behind, maybe this whole experiment will drag out for more than two weeks.

Day 9: What is the longest thing you know by heart (poem, speech, prayer, commercial jingle)? Why did you learn it?

It probably comes as no surprise to most of you that I am abysmal at math.

I can manage addition and subtraction, time-telling (not actually math, I know) and splits-wrangling when I run. But just try to chum the waters with a solvable equation, the multiplying of fractions or trigonometry and I am out faster than a light during a power surge.

I don’t know that I was ever born to be the numbers genius that my husband is, but nevertheless, I will take some responsibility for this factor-based shortcoming of mine.

And yet, it goes without saying that I had more than my fair share of bad math teachers.

In 7th grade, there was Mr. Walz, who refused to wear deodorant. Ever.

In 8th grade, there was Mrs. Fisher who took the issues in her personal life out on our class by being outright vicious.

In 9th grade, there was Mr. Thorson, who also taught calculus and had no interest in dealing with freshmen (I don’t blame him). As an added bonus, he was retiring at the end of the semester and had completely checked out. I couldn’t even tell you what Math 1 was supposed to be about.

And finally, in 10th grade there was Mr. Wilson. He had brown hair. Anyway, he spent a lot of time teaching at us in his outside voice. He also spent a lot of time bringing his Teaching Bro in from the classroom next door, because Teaching Bro had a free period during our block. Teaching Bro also liked using his outside voice at us and like, three years later would end up getting arrested for essentially Chris Brown-ing his girlfriend.

Who would like to guess at why I never learned any math.

Because when you lay it all out like that, it becomes very clear very quickly.

Which brings us to Math 3, in 11th grade at Wayzata High School.

Where I was in a classroom that was so full that some of us were relegated to chairs clumped with desk groups, rather than proper desks.

Classroom-size issues aside, I had my first Proper Math Teacher since 1999, ending the black hole-sized gap in my math education.

The difference between an adult who is barely-functioning and an enthusiastic, dialed-in one is the difference between night and day.

For all that Mr. Lombardi was moderately good at teaching math, he was spectacularly good at teaching life.

He was one of Those Teachers.

We had about half of the varsity girls’ soccer team in my class and it was state tournament time.

In high school, this is the way the passage of time is marked.

So, the day before the tournament, he reached behind a bookshelf and pulled out a framed poster. He read it aloud, and told us that if we took nothing else from our time in his class, that we needed to remember this:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

Nearly 10 years later I still do.

Scintilla ’13: Day 8

We are basically halfway through The Scintilla Project.  What that means: they’re be e-mailing me prompts, and I’ll be writing on them.  For another week or so.  And if I fall behind, maybe this whole experiment will drag out for more than two weeks.

Day 8: Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.

When I travel I am Hungry.  Starving, even.  I don’t believe it is possible to truly understand a place until you have eaten in it The Right Way.

I have lunged into Laduree for Macarons.  Raced back to a ship with Sicilian pizza and cookies.  Run through the streets of Montreal with a bag full of pastries.  Eaten three kinds of BBQ in a free-standing, windowless, cinderblock building in Lubbock across the parking lot from a WIC outpost.

In 2010, Marcus and I went on a trip to Hawaii to visit  Michelle, my now sister-in-law. We took advantage of the two years she spent waitressing and living on the beach to plan a tropical getaway that we probably wouldn’t otherwise have taken at the time.

It was a wonderful vacation for a host of reasons, not the least of them being the fact that we got engaged while we were in Maui.

I have written briefly about our adventure to the inland shrimp ranch on Oahu before.

Hawaii - Shrimp Sign

And how as we drove around the island on a tour of the North Shore, I repeatedly promised Marcus and Michelle that we would have lunch at The Shrimp Ranch.

On the list of Things That Sound Like Empty Promises, that one ranks fairly high.

I had no actual evidence to support my words. Nothing from a guidebook.  Or from Yelp (though they’re on there now!).

Just a hunch that the same strange food truck that had risen out of the ground for me years before would appear for me once more.

I suppose that this hunch of mine is not entirely dissimilar to the feeling that prehistoric man had when he decided to rub two sticks together and hope for the best where the whole fire-thing was concerned.

And just as Marcus and Michelle were ready to toss me out of the car to leave me to the elements, there it was and there we were.

Hawaii - Trailer

Ordering spicy garlic shrimp and two scoops of rice off of their cash-only menu.

Hawaii - Shrimp Plate

Unsurprisingly, it was Just Wonderful.

For some reason, of all the meals I’ve eaten or of all the restaurants I’ve visited, this one stands out tonight.  There were many ways in which this meal was outright exceptional, and even more in which it was wholly bizarre.

But I think I finally understand why.  How it could be that here I am, on the first freezing-cold day of spring, pondering the shrimps of Januarys-past.

In 12 days, I will be on a plane to Paris.

For the third time.

And as I’ve been trying to describe this trip (and my feelings about it) to others, I keep on coming back to the word familiar.

I am going to a place where I know that if we walk down the street and cross the bridge, we will be at Notre Dame.

I am going to a place where I know that two blocks away on the right side of the street there is a sort of cross between a plaza and a courtyard that is lined with cafes.

I am going to a place where I know that once you pass through the Tuileries and begin to make your way up the Champs Elysees to Avenue Matignon, there is a restaurant that produces a quiche-arrangement that is Just Excellent.

We devote so much time from our daily lives to recording every last detail.  To plotting.  To organizing.

Sometimes it’s really nice to play it by ear when you already know the tune.

Scintilla ’13: Day 7

We are basically halfway through The Scintilla Project.  What that means: they’re be e-mailing me prompts, and I’ll be writing on them.  For another week or so.  And if I fall behind, maybe this whole experiment will drag out for more than two weeks.

Day 7: What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?

The unraveling continues.  Yes, Israel in and of itself was an Event Horizon.

But the whole is only the sum of its parts.

In the middle of our trip, we visited The Western Wall.

The Kotel.  The Wailing Wall.  The remnant of the temple that was destroyed.

The place we are facing when we pray in our synagogues at home.

It is tradition to place slips of paper containing prayers into the wall when you visit.

So I wrote a prayer of gratitude.

There have been times in my life where my prayers have been a plea.  I fully expect that there will be many more.

But on the day that we went to the wall, I knew that my life was So Full.  That yes, there was always room for more, but that even if nothing else ever changed I had been blessed with more than Enough.

I folded it carefully along with the prayers I carried for others.

For all that I had thought about what I would bring to the wall (prayers) and what I would wear to the wall (a black maxi-dress and a black cardigan), I had never given any thought to what the actual wall would be like.

Until there it was, directly in front of me, bathed in the golden morning sun.

The wall is divided into two sections.  The men’s side and the women’s side.  This I knew.

The men’s side is expansive, bright, spacious.

The women’s side dark, confined and crowded.

As I entered the women’s section, I began to weave.  Around women clutching books of psalms.  Around women holding sick children.  Around old women.  Around young women.  Around women with their heads covered.  Around women with hair streaming down their back.  Around women sitting.  Around women standing.

There I came to find myself standing silently behind a row of women praying along the wall and I took it all in.  How they placed their hands on the wall.  How they bowed their heads against the wall.  How they stood shoulder to shoulder.

And then a space cleared and it was my turn.


I tucked Our Prayers into a crack with thousands of others.  I placed my open palms on the stone.  I rested my forehead in the same indent that had cradled the heads of thousands of women who came before me.

I did not ask for this photo of me to be taken. I did not know that it had been until I returned home.

What Rachel saw through the lens of her camera, I think it does the best job of explaining how it was for me that day.

The person who walks up to the wall is not the same person who walks away.

Scintilla ’13: Day 6

For the next two weeks, I’ll be participating in The Scintilla Project.  What that means: they’ll be e-mailing me prompts, and I’ll be writing on them.  And if I fall behind, maybe this whole experiment will drag out for more than two weeks.

Day 6: Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.

When I signed up for Scintilla, I hoped that some of the prompts would allow me the chance to start untangling the mess of stories that is Israel.  Beka is there right now on her Birthright trip and she so perfectly put into words what I could not when she wrote, “I am so full, I can’t even process individual events.”

I converted to Judaism about four years ago.  And before that, Israel was a place that other people went.  The Holy Land was a place that other people visited.

Have you noticed that I separate a lot of things in my life into the categories of Things That We Do and Things That Other People Do a lot?  Because I have.

In the blink of an eye, Israel was a place that I Had To See.  Which I sort of resented.  Not because I didn’t want to go, but because the impetus for my going wasn’t mine.  It was An Expectation.

So I hope you can understand, how I found it all to be quite surreal that I ended up in a place that was so very far away.  And a place that was so very important to so many people.

It was not entirely unlike watching a This Is Your Life-style clip, Ben Gurion International Airport-edition.

I was there.  I had made it to the place that others knew as home.

I boarded our bus in Tel Aviv and one of our trip leaders immediately said, Hey Kat, these girls are from Minnesota as well.  I was on a trip that was meant to be for people from Chicago – that I was even on this particular trip was a happy accident of sorts.

And when I turned around to look at these fellow residents of the Tundra, I was greeted by the face of a girl I graduated from high school with and her younger sister.

Several days later I would learn that one of our Israelis, Yair, that his father had immigrated to Israel from St. Paul in the ’80s.

I had traveled thousands of miles to find home surrounding me.

Meeting me where I was at.

On the night before we left, Yair gave me this pin from his beret, signifying the corps he was in.  And it was all very bittersweet, because Israel is not a place that you can unsee or unlive.


Over the course of 10 days, that place left thousands of invisible marks on me.  Marks I will be discovering for decades to come.

But with that I brought some of home back Home.