Spring is in the air–quite literally, as birds migrate and trees lift their blossoms.

Tree in bloom at Bahjí

Tree in bloom at Bahjí

Spring has brought both excitement and challenges.

There was, of course, the pre-spring challenge of the Fast. This year, my colleagues upped the ante of “mutual support” during these nineteen days. When we passed through usual morning teatime or entered the afternoon slump, they would dispatch group emails with goading subject lines like “Help yourself!” filled with photos of delicious banquets, caffeinated beverages, and mouthwatering desserts. One colleague, remaining in the office past the usual start of her lunchtime break, explained that she was assembling an email to send later, replete with tempting dishes, now that she had figured out how to insert photos directly into the emails. It was kind of adorable. These emails were always met with sighs from me, and from others, either wistful yearning–“I would choose the marzipan!”–or gentle teasing–“Oh, is this what you’re cooking for us tonight?”

I chose the final day of the Fast, the spring equinox and “new year’s eve” for Bahá’ís, to make that very consequential decision about graduate school–in other words, picking where Sergey and I will settle for the next six years. The journey leading to that decision had taken me from my senior thesis in which I explored the field of composition and rhetoric, through grueling GRE studies and work on the applications…and finally ended rewarding me with acceptance letters and offers. It was a relief for us to finally choose Penn State, where, besides the studying and teaching, I look forward to strolling through autumn leaves hand-in-hand with Sergey and a cup of hot cider.

Pansies after rain

Pansies after rain

On Naw-Rúz, we were invited to dinner with some Ukranian pilgrims. While I was expecting them to be a bit subdued from the chaos their country is undergoing, they surprised me with their joviality, greeting the host and us by bursting into a hearty song. As the sole non-Russophone in attendance, I relied on Sergey to interpret for me throughout the evening. Thankfully, what did not need interpretation was that they liked the German chocolate cake I had made. The funny thing is that several of the women asked if the cake was “from an American concentration.” I started to say no, not entirely understanding their wording, but then realized that yes, the cake was indeed from a box of Betty Crocker cake mix!


Several weeks ago, as we were preparing to leave our flat, I sidled up to the window and noticed the sky peppered with birds. These were white storks, returning north from their summer homes in Africa. Israel serves as a crossroads for many species that migrate between Africa and Europe, explaining why for that one weekend, we spotted hundreds of storks silently cruising above us. There was something fascinating about the way they seemed to float as if weightless, holding their long curved wings still, making no sound. Just floating. We saw them again flying over Junayn Garden in Nahariyya, and over Bahjí.

Of course, sometimes the birds come to our offices–or the Arc, actually. The kingfisher has been teasing me by prolonging his poses on statuary in the gardens, seeming to mock me when my phone completely fails to capture his stunning looks. In fact, I’ve become something of a stalker with him. If only my phone came with a mini telephoto lens, then I would have some photos to show you other than the clusters of pixels I’ve managed to gather thus far.

Vision test: can you spot the kingfishers?

Vision test: can you spot the kingfishers? (Hint: on the right, it is above the statue, perched in the tree.)


We had a visit to the Ridván Garden a few weeks ago. The scent of orange blossoms, heady and sweet, surrounded us, and we were entranced by the splashing fountain that I’m sure figures in many Bahá’ís’ visions of paradise.

Ridván Garden

Ridván Garden, replete with snapdragons.

The garden’s custodians told a story about how the gardener in the time of Bahá’u’lláh had been horrified to see a plague of locusts descend upon the garden, and ran to Him to ask for help. He replied along the lines of “let the locusts eat, they must have their food too.” I must have absorbed this story into my bloodstream, because by the time our visit ended, I had assembled at least fifteen itchy bites from letting the mosquitoes eat. I looked like I’d developed a sudden bout of chicken pox centered primarily on my right leg. I was rather embarrassed by it and regretted not thinking ahead enough to pack backup stockings. Ah, the pain of vanity!


My Christmas cactus is in bloom. It budded around Naw-Rúz and is now bursting with flowers. I’ve been enjoying gazing at it whenever I can–I love the waving arms of the cactus with their petaled, bright hands.


PS: This is my 75th post!

Gettin’ hitched, part one

I am sorry that I have been away for so long.  I really have no excuse except that little one about how I was preparing to get married.   So please blame Sergey.  It’s all his fault!

Let me start back in Haifa with our preparations there.  One of our biggest concerns before leaving was getting a flat where we could live together upon our return.  We were assigned one in French Carmel, which is on the other side of the Bahá’í gardens from Hillel, the street where we used to live.

Our old neighborhood could be called Bahá’ítown, as it seems the majority of staff reside there.  You can’t walk down the street without bumping into at least a few people you know.  It’s nice to have so much community around, but also disconcerting for those who are less used to the “village feel” of everyone knowing everyone.  Also, if by some miracle you don’t see anyone you know, you’ll surely bump into one of the many cats that call Hillel home.  Or one of the cats will bump into you, as happened to me on one of my final nights in my old flat.  There was a kitten, apparently motherless, trying to find a human mommy to latch onto.  I heard her meowing and then felt her butting her soft little head against my ankles.  Goodness.  My heart came very close to melting into a puddle.

They say that the cats were brought to Haifa to eat the rats.  Then the jackals came to eat the cats, and then the boars came to eat the jackals.  I wonder what will come to eat the boars….

Anyway, our new flat is number 26 in a high rise with flat numbers 1 to 26 spread across about eight stories.  So, when we first came to check the flat, we logically went to the top floor.  The flats ended with number 25.

“Great,” I told Sergey.  “I guess we’re living on the roof.”

Luckily we do have an actual flat that is randomly on the second floor, above the grocery store beneath.  We just need to hook up a rope with a bucket at the end to our window, make a hole in the roof of the grocery, and lower it to pick up our food.   Yay for laziness!

Actually, we need to be upright citizens, since both of our bosses live in the building across the street!

Moving our things was anything but lazy, though.  I moved in first and Sergey moved his non-essentials while continuing to live on Hillel.  While I came to Israel with two suitcases, over the past year I had somehow amassed many boxes worth of belongings.  Actually, most of my belongings were a dozen or so houseplants.  I like houseplants.  As decorations go, they are fairly cheap and bring vibrancy and life to interior space, and for apartment dwellers like me who can’t go garden in the street, they offer a special opportunity to practice my green thumb.  Honestly, their only drawback is their awkwardness when a move comes around.  Have you ever tried to wrangle a 10-foot long philodendron into a plastic bag?  Or have you ever stuffed a dozen houseplants into the interstices of luggage in a sedan while Sergey laments, “They will die!  They will die!”?

They did not die.  Once unpacked and released into the new flat, they began to enjoy the new western exposure.  And who wouldn’t?

Sunset over the sea, seen from our flat

Sunset over the sea, seen from our flat

In my week of living there, I found myself transfixed on a daily basis by the inimitable show of the sunset over the Mediterranean.  I would reluctantly break the trance to return to my somewhat obsessive task of scouring every surface in the kitchen first with soap, then bleach, while washing every dish and pan.  (But after Sergey pointed out the dead gnat adhered to the teapot, how could I do otherwise?)

Well, dishwashing seems like an appropriate way to end this episode.  Stay tuned for parts two and three as I get up to speed!

Happy (belated) Ayyam-i-Ha!

Ayyam-i-Ha is the period of 4-5 intercalary (between calendars) days in the Bahá’í calendar.  It is a time for generosity, hospitality, and fellowship.  Here, there is an opportunity to host “Special Dinners” in celebration.  You sign up for a type of cuisine and a date, then get assigned a guest list.  Sergey and I decided to host one of these dinners (Tex-Mex themed, because I have no idea what Wisconsin-Moldovan cuisine would entail) for two reasons.  One was to extend hospitality to our colleagues and friends.  The other was to study our behaviour under pressure.

It proved to be a great test for that latter point.  From a beginning guest list of ten, we eventually inflated to 25.  Now, I’ve done most of the cooking for 15 before (Thanksgiving dinner), and had 25 people over (for the weekly study meeting), but this was my first time cooking solo for so big a crowd.  Calculating how much food I would need to feed 25 people bulking up for the Fast, I began to mildly panic.  Would polvorones and tres leches cake (which was almost autocorrected to the less appetizing “tres leeches cake”) sate the many sweet teeth?  How many gallons of horchata to brew?  Four kilos of chicken?  Ten avocados for guacamole, twenty tomatoes for salsa?  And how much caffeine for me?

And then there was the cleaning and organisation to be done.  Sergey recently moved into a flat that was previously occupied by an artistic nature lover.  Therefore, scattered around the flat were odd arrangements involving bamboo poles, rocks, houseplants, and an iron tub.  My favourite was in the dining room, where in a corner several bamboo poles and rough white rocks sat on a dais of tree trunk, with a lamp and a houseplant nestled in the middle.

Eventually we got the place looking less like an eccentric’s greenhouse, and I merrily went about watering the many plants.  One giant plant seemed especially thirsty, so I kept watering it.  Several minutes later, I noticed a yellow puddle spreading under the refrigerator from the plant saucer and realised that I might have been overenthusiastic in my plant care.  While mopping it up, I thought of an incident years ago during my toddling days when I had also overestimated my green thumb.  In our living room, we had some big potted jasmine plants.  In my childish ignorance, I guess I thought soil contained seeds, and all one had to do was sprinkle dirt around and, poof, plants would grow.  So, after enlisting poor Jasmine in my plan, we scooped handfuls of soil out of the pots and sowed a mess on the carpet and couches.  Our harvest was two peeved parents.

Anyway, despite our nerves–mine manifested in excessive baking sprees–and obstacles like a contrary oven, the night was a success.  (There were a few jalapeño issues, but no trips to the ER.)  After eating, we had an anonymous gift exchange, and then a musical portion with sing-alongs and call-and-response.  Although by this point I was collapsed on the floor, I really enjoyed hearing the voices of our guests joined in song.  People were happy.  There’s a quote of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about how a gathering can transform a home into a house of heaven, and indeed, it was one heavenly flat.