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Some mornings, you just don’t want to get out of bed. The idea of another day overwhelms you and you’d prefer to stay warm and under the covers. But you get up because you have to, because you have a job and people depending on you, if only for a few more days.

On the drive to work, you cave and break your no-coffee streak, because the day before you tried to have a conversation with a coworker but couldn’t manage to put words together in a coherent fashion. The coffee makes you feel better and you plow through your work, curse when your $20,000 property tax bank deposit is off by nine cents and pump your fists when you figure out where you screwed up along the way. You meet your father for lunch and then head back to court because hey, maybe law school isn’t the worst idea in the world anymore. You hang out with the lawyers and get their opinions on law school and the court system. One of them, a man about your parents’ age with a large mustache, tells you to choose what sort of life you want before you decide to go to law school, or before you do anything, really.

Then the inmates from the jail come in and you recognize a guy who went to middle school with you. He’s got an eight-year-old daughter and six more months in jail and you wonder at what point you went in such different directions. You leave court after a couple hours and drive up to Woodstock because there’s a pair of shoes you want, but the boutique is closed. You wonder why the hell a shop in the center of town is closed at 4 p.m. and figure that while you’re up there, you’ll wander aimlessly around town. You end up in Dharmaware and find that they sell your favorite incense there. A nice surprise, because you haven’t seen this particular kind since you lived in Korea. You walk back outside and down Tinker Street to your car. As you drive down Rt. 28, Jay-Z’s “Forever Young” plays on the radio and you remember driving down the same road years earlier listening to Youth Group’s version of the song. The better version, you think. You remember driving to your first day of work at the Reservoir Inn. Your uncle passed away that afternoon, but your parents still made you go to work. After all, it was your first day. That was four years ago, but sometimes, when you think of it, you pull out your iPod and play that song and think about what it meant to you then and how easy things were that summer because all you had to worry about were the specials of the day and the cute guy with his southern drawl who was game to stargaze at the Zena playground late at night after you both got off work.

On your way home you stop at the market to get some food for dinner. On your way out, you donate your last dollar for a Relay for Life star and think of your high school boyfriend’s mother, who lost her fight with breast cancer two months after your ex decided he wanted to date someone else. You remember the last time you spoke to her, a few days before she passed away. She was home sick from work, but you didn’t think anything of it. Wasn’t she in remission? When you got the phone call that Sunday night, standing outside Wawa in College Park, you lost your balance for a minute, steadied yourself and then stepped on the bus. You cried on the bus back to North Campus, on the walk from the bus stop to your dorm and in the Cumberland stairwell so that nobody could see you. You think about the weeks after that, the unanswered calls and e-mails and finally the visit to the cemetery, where you left a letter that eventually repaired some of the broken pieces. That was the very first time you learned the power of the written word. And that was the very first time you learned the power of your words.

After the market, you come home. The cleaners came this morning, so your house is looking the best it’s looked in two weeks. Now you sit down on the couch, put on the best version of “Forever Young,” think about making some dinner and decide that today was worth getting out of bed for.


I’m all about the local breweries, which means I’m all about Keegan Ales. Tori had been telling me about TAP-NY for weeks, but beer festivals were never really my thing. (Except, of course, Oktoberfest in Munich.) But a beer festival with my beloved locally brewed Super Kitty on tap? How could I refuse? I snatched up one of the last tickets a few days ago.

TAP-NY is one of the biggest beer festivals in the state. Thirty-eight breweries from around the state set up stalls at Hunter Mountain for a weekend of beer-drinking and merriment. Oh, and delicious smells…

A few feet away, the “Beer Goddess Headquarters,” where Tori was enticed by a pair of beer goggles–pardon me, beer sunglasses.

Keegan's was there and free Super Kitty was had. Be still, my heart.

And one of the vendors was selling dried Korean seaweed?

The next few hours went by in a blur. So much of a blur that apparently, I forgot to take pictures of the beer. Stolen from Elina:

Highlights to lowlights:

Sixpoint Craft Ales ‘Apollo Wheat.’ Light and sweet without being too light and sweet.

-The friendly guys working the Southern Tier booth, who did a so-so job of explaining why 2XIPA smelled like marijuana, but were friendly and personable enough that we walked away having already forgotten that they didn’t answer our original question. Thumbs up on the raspberry wheat beer, too.

-While we’re on the subject of fruity beer, can we discuss the blueberry ale at the Bluepoint booth? The beer smelled like blueberries, and tasted almost as good. I held off for as long as I could before drinking it, just taking in its scent.

-The mean Russian couple behind us in the Brooklyn Brewery line. If only they knew that Elina is Russian and understood every last terrible word they said. Oh, wait, they did, because Elina turned around and told them to “shut up and drink your beer.”

-Free food. Nothing entices me more than the idea of free food (even if I did pay $60 for my TAP-NY ticket). But food is usually free for a reason. The ‘Kick-Ass Chili’ was good, but certainly not kick-ass, the hot dogs had an unusually thick casing and the server carrying the tray of chicken nuggets ran away before I could get any sauce on my nug. That being said, the mac and cheese was great. I’d rate it a seven, but it would have been higher had there not been awkward pieces of ground beef mixed in.

Hello, love.

After a drive down Rt. 23A to show Elina and Liz the Kaaterskill Falls, we made it back to Woodstock. In the hours that followed: BBQ, hot tub and of course, cupcakes:

TAP-NY made me realize that I like beer more than I thought I did. It was nice to sample so many different kinds and to learn what tastes and smells appealed to me and what did not. It’s just a shame that I’ll have to wait a whole year for TAP-NY 2011. Hmm, does anyone want to hit up Oktoberfest with me again?

There's still snow on the mountain!

Conversation with Grandma Jackie:
“So what are you doing in Bangalore?”
“Volunteering at an orphanage.”
“Oh. Doing that again, huh?”

It’s been a long week and I’m very ready for the weekend. House to myself till Sunday and a beer festival that is going to rock my socks and tastebuds tomorrow. Five more days of work, seven days until a final weekend in NYC and 13 days until I’m on a 777 to India.

Unrelated (hmm, maybe a little related): Food aside, I am most looking forward to popping malaria pills again. Have you ever taken them? They’re freaking crazy, people. After I started taking them in Thailand, I had the most intense, vivid dreams of my life. And it was like that for a month and a half. Crazy. Dreams. Every. Single. Night. Including the first and most traumatic, in which I was convinced that the bed Jeanette and I were sleeping on was covered with ants. I was in some half-awake, half-asleep state for most of the night and couldn’t differentiate between what was real and what was in dreamland. I do remember kicking a cockroach off of my toe–and that was very much real.

Suffice it to say, those dreams eliminated any desire I might have ever had to use illicit drugs. And I didn’t get malaria.

“Traveling is more fun–hell, life is more fun–if you can treat it as a series of impulses.”

Bill Bryson, “Neither Here nor There”

I graduated from Maryland in May 2008 confused about what I wanted for my future. Where did I want to live? What did I want to do? Did I want to stay in journalism? Who did I want to grow up to be? Two years, 17 countries, thousands of cupcakes, one motorcycle burn and countless bowls of bibimbap later, I am finally ready to start answering those questions. I’m ready to settle down in one place. Well, almost ready.

You’ve probably figured it out from my tweets/Facebook statuses, but for those of you who don’t already know, a few weeks ago, I booked a flight to India. I leave May 6 and arrive in Bangalore on May 8 after a 13-hour layover in Dubai. I’ll spend two weeks volunteering in an orphanage on the outskirts of Bangalore before heading west to meet Mimsie in Goa. We’ll work our way north to Delhi before parting ways the first week of June. My last week will either be spent in Varanasi or in the jungles of northern India. My flight will get me back to JFK on June 14.

Why India? I like the food.

No, I’m serious. There is nothing in the world that makes me happier than a piping hot curry. I’d say that the delicious cuisine accounted for about 75 percent of my decision to go. The very idea of India blows my mind–so many cultures, languages, religions and people–and to know that I’m about to experience six weeks of it makes my heart pound.

A few weeks ago, a court clerk in my office called me a gypsy. While not entirely true (and trust me, I took a class in college called “Gypsy Culture”), I get it. It makes sense. I’m terrified by the thought of commitment–whether to people, places or even just an idea. I’ve never been one to stay in the same place very long. When the going got tough, I ran the other way. And I ran far.

But now my metaphorical legs are tired. I love the thrill of a new trip, the scent of a new country, the taste of a new food. There is absolutely nothing that matches the the excitement I feel as I walk down a street for the first time. I will always have that urge to see and learn and taste and hear and touch, but the reality is that this isn’t a reality. The past two years have been wonderful and exciting, but they haven’t been a reflection of what real life is. Real life, for me, is about planting roots, growing with the people around me and weaving a life for myself that doesn’t involve throwing on a rucksack every few months. It has taken me two years, but once I return from India, I will finally be ready.

I’ve started to look at apartments in Washington and expect to be a permanent resident/regular patron of Kramerbooks by the end of June. I’m also hot on the job-hunt (hint hint, employed friends).

I hope you’ll continue to follow my adventures, through Dubai, India and then in Washington. Any and all wise thoughts, pieces of advice or comforting words are always welcome.

In Jerusalem, 5649 miles from where I type this, they are celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, one of the most exciting holidays of the year. Yom Haatzmaut celebrates the creation of the State of Israel. Israelis take to the streets for a day of celebration. But before the party, before the independence, came the struggle.

The day before Yom Haatzmaut is Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. On Yom Hazikaron, Israelis and Jews around the world remember all of those who have fought and died for Israel. I didn’t have a full understanding of the holiday until my junior year of college. The summer before, the world watched as the Israel-Lebanon war unfolded, resulting in the deaths of well over 1,000 people. Of those people, 121 of them were Israeli Defense Force soldiers. And of those 121 soldiers, one of them was Michael Levin, an American oleh, or immigrant, who I had met eight months earlier in Jerusalem.

On Yom Hazikaron that year, UMD Hillel arranged a screening of “A Hero in Heaven,” the documentary made about Michael’s life. That night, I met a student named Elie Berman, who, like Michael, joined the Israeli army as a lone soldier, a soldier with no immediate family in Israel. When he completed his service, Elie enrolled at Maryland as a 21-year-old freshman. Our conversation that night led to a story about Elie’s time in the army, which garnered me both praise from Jewish groups and angry comments on the website.

All of these things were on my mind throughout the day as I saw friends’ tweets about the holiday and Yom Hazikaron posts on Facebook. Then Aimee, a friend from my second trip to Israel who had also met Michael, sent me a message. Last night she ran a program in conjunction with Birthright Israel in Chicago, part of which was a viewing of “A Hero in Heaven.” The full movie isn’t available to watch online, but here is one of the few clips I could find. Since his death, the Michael Levin Memorial Center for Lone Soldiers has opened in Jerusalem, providing assistance and warm meals for lone soldiers.

From there I went to YouTube and found a video taken of a highway in Tel Aviv on Yom Hazikaron 2007. In Israel, a two-minute siren is sounded throughout the country, first at 8:00 p.m. and then the next day at 11 a.m. During those two minutes, the entire country comes to a standstill, as you’ll see in the video. In typical Melissa fashion, I found myself wiping away tears as the two minutes slowly passed.

That led me to a clip of David Ben-Gurion announcing the establishment of the State of Israel. Yep, you guessed it. More tears. (I can’t help it, people. Cut a girl some slack!)

From Al Gore’s 1998 speech of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Israel:
“A half century ago at one minute after midnight, your mothers and fathers proclaimed your freedom. In the morning they sent their children to prepare for war. The dream and the struggle were still one. And so they still are one.”

We’re now at the conclusion of Yom Hazikaron in this part of the world, and at the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut. The somber has turned into celebration, and I will celebrate from the comfort of my home with my Israeli music. First up, “Tutim”…

As an undergrad, one of the most exciting things about being a Maryland student was my university’s rivalry with Duke. Maybe “rivalry” is the wrong word. After all, is someone your rival if he doesn’t consider you to be his? Well, whatever. We fine Terps consider Duke to be our rival, even if that feeling isn’t reciprocated. Tickets to Duke basketball games were (and probably still are) doled out in a lottery based on overall season attendance–if it meant even a chance at a scoring a Duke ticket, many students would attend every single game leading up to it (and that’s a lot of boring games).

Spring 2006. NCAA women’s basketball tournament. Maryland beats Duke in double overtime. I was sitting on the edge of Simone’s bed, hyperventilating as the final seconds passed. We won. We won? WE WON! I, along with virtually everyone I had met since coming to college, rushed down to Route 1. There was yelling, cheering, shouting, singing and everything else you could imagine. At the intersection at Knox Road, a group of guys tried and failed to turn over a Shuttle-UM bus. Yes, my first (and only–unless you count that time in Budapest…) riot was everything I had hoped it to be. At one point, the cops in riot gear, perched on top of their horses, sprayed the crowd with pepper spray. Yes, your law-abiding friend was pepper-sprayed. (Am I badass enough for you yet?)

Those feelings of excitement came back when Maryland beat Duke in College Park in March. Of course, I would have been more excited had I not been in extraordinary amounts of pain and couch-ridden. But you know who wasn’t couch-ridden? University of Maryland junior Jack McKenna, who got the crap beat out of him by Prince George’s County police.

From The Diamondback:
“The charging documents, filed by Officer Sean McAleavey, suggest he provoked the officers and assaulted a horse. The video shows no signs of McKenna provoking the officers or touching the horses.”

See for yourself:

One officer has already been suspended as a result of the incident. I’m interested to see the coverage this will get over the next few weeks, and what the results of the investigation will be. The Diamondback mentioned potential FBI involvement, but that seems a bit overkill, no? I’m expecting this to fade as soon as something bigger comes along. Oh, the beauty of a 24-hour news cycle…

Update: A second officer was just suspended as a result of the tape. Thanks, @cnnbrk!

It was a weird one, that windy day in April 2007. I was sleep-deprived from the 24-hour Holocaust vigil that had been going on since the previous night, rattled by the fire in a nearby building and chilled to the bone by the day’s fierce wind. It was a relief to walk into the journalism building until I realized that I was surrounded by dozens of other people, including one costumed in a full-body frog suit, in the usually sparse lobby. The confusion only grew when a stranger shoved a plate of cake into my left hand and a plastic cup of champagne into my right one. “What…what is going on?” “Professor Roberts just won a Pulitzer for his book!” Professor Gene Roberts, whose civil rights journalism class I was headed toward? His book, “The Race Beat,” our class textbook? I pushed through the dozens of people crowding the lobby and sank into my seat, surrounded by my similarly confused classmates. A few minutes later, Professor Roberts made his way to the front of the room and began class as usual. Only there was nothing usual about this class, as it kept getting disrupted by knocks on the door and professors ducking in to congratulate my professor. After twenty minutes, Professor Roberts gave up on trying to hold anything resembling a real class and dismissed us. “He has an interview with The New York Times,” his TA explained. I downed the remaining champagne (the idea of free champagne during class was the coolest thing to this 20-year-old) and headed across campus to the Holocaust vigil, trying to piece together the last thirty minutes of my day.

Yesterday, I was midway through writing a post about the fabulous weather we’ve been having when my friends over at On Deadline tweeted that the winners of the 2010 Pulitzer Prizes had just been announced. In the three years since Professor Roberts was named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, I haven’t had strong feelings either way for any of the other recipients.

Until this year.

I’ve been a fan of Gene Weingarten’s ever since reading his June 2008 column in support of copy editors. Used to his witty columns and even wittier Twitter posts, I somehow overlooked the feature story he wrote last March on parents who forgot to take their young children out of the car. I read it yesterday, then again this morning. Then I shared it with a coworker. Now, as I write this post, I’ve skimmed the story again, chills running up my spine once more.

“The room was a sepulcher. Witnesses spoke softly of events so painful that many lost their composure. When a hospital emergency room nurse described how the defendant had behaved after the police first brought him in, she wept. He was virtually catatonic, she remembered, his eyes shut tight, rocking back and forth, locked away in some unfathomable private torment. He would not speak at all for the longest time, not until the nurse sank down beside him and held his hand. It was only then that the patient began to open up, and what he said was that he didn’t want any sedation, that he didn’t deserve a respite from pain, that he wanted to feel it all, and then to die.”

Please, read Weingarten’s story. The words will affect you, chill you and warm you in ways you didn’t think possible. If the entire story breaks your heart, the last few paragraphs will put it back together. By the time I finished reading it for the first time, the tears that had welled in my eyes made their way down my cheeks. So used to the funny, quippy Weingarten, I had forgotten that he also won the 2008 Pulitzer for Feature Writing, that award for his piece on Joshua Bell, the world-renowned violinist who performed “undercover” at a Metro station in Washington. The Josh Bell story was a fascinating look at the way society views art, but “Fatal Distraction” is so deep and cutting that you can’t help but hold your breath as you read, waiting for the inevitable outcome of each story to be a good one but knowing that it won’t.

A few weeks ago, Weingarten responded to one of my tweets with this:

Full disclosure: His response was provoked. I had originally tweeted, “#FF: @geneweingarten. That is all. Just about every tweet of his has made me laugh this week. Gene Weingarten tweets are the best medicine.”

In the brief, friendly back-and-forth that followed, I mentioned that I was also a fan of Leonard Pitts’ writing style, saying, “His columns reduce me to tears. Often.”

But this time, it was Weingarten’s words that reduced me to tears.

This week was rough and I needed to laugh. Months ago, I saw a sign outside the Ulster Performing Arts Center announcing that the author of “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and “When You Are Engulfed in Flames,” David Sedaris, was stopping in Kingston on his next tour. I thought it would be awesome to see the writer who I had recently gotten into. My father even called into one of the local radio stations and scored a pair of free tickets, saving me hefty $70.

This week sucked. Too much stress, not enough happy. Thursday night’s restless sleep kept me in a fog all Friday. The solution–an afternoon nap. Woke up, hopped in the shower and I was ready. David Sedaris, make me laugh.

The show was at UPAC, which the National Register of Historic Places listed as “one of the last great show palaces in New York State.” Broadway might be dumpy and the facade might look run-down, but the theater itself is gorgeous.

Gorgeous–and packed. I couldn’t believe the crowd. I also couldn’t believe that out of the hundreds of people there last night, I only knew three, including my former boss Jillian, who I hadn’t seen in months.

Sedaris was great. He read excerpts from a book set to come out in October, “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary,” griped about his newfound allergies and struggle to find good meds at Target and recounted horrible airport experiences. He speaks like he writes, which was really awesome. I took a feature-writing class in college, but never mastered the mix of past and present that my professor tried to get us to employ in our stories. Sedaris did it. One of my favorites is “Old Faithful,” an essay from a 2004 New Yorker and also published in “When You Are Engulfed in Flames.”

After the show, Sedaris signed books in the hallway. I stood in line for a good 25 minutes, but it was well worth the wait. Sedaris, who randomly gives small gifts at his lectures, offered the 15-year-old girl in front of me the choice between a tote bag and a condom. Much to her mother’s relief, she chose the tote, got her autograph and walked away. Up next, yours truly. I remembered that I had a couple Benadryl tabs left in my purse from a cat-induced allergic episode a few weeks ago. I offered to trade him the Benadryl for the condom. Fair trade? I think so. And Sedaris agreed. Here’s how our conversation began:

“What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Are you single?”

And so my copy of “Naked” is now inscribed:

After that, we chatted about Benadryl and Target and how I worked there in high school. Then he signed the condom. Yep, David Sedaris signed a condom for me.

Then, the kicker. In front of my father and dozens of strangers: “Use this for anal sex with your next boyfriend.”

So here is where you come in, friends. I will not be employing the autographed condom in the way Mr. Sedaris instructed. How exactly should I display this thing? I’m thinking about sticking said condom in a cute little frame. (And yes, I just used “cute” and “condom” in the same sentence.) Does anyone have a better idea?

We are now most of the way through my least favorite week of the year. “What, how can you hate Passover, Melissa?” How can I hate the holiday that celebrates the liberation of my ancestors from centuries of bondage? Well, I can and I do and I make no apologies for it. I started a list on the way to our first Seder last Monday (I was grumpy/hungry, if that explains any of this):

1. I’m missing “Gossip Girl.”
2. It’s raining.
3. No mac and cheese.

Well, I can watch “Gossip Girl” online and the sun has returned. But there is no substitute for macaroni and cheese. Have I softened my views on the holiday? No. But I’ve come up with things that make it bearable:

1. Matzah lasagna. (I am a culinary goddess.)
2. Charoset. (Apples, wine, nuts and cinnamon is always, always a win.)
3. Seeing family.

It’s been two years since I’ve seen my cousins out on Long Island. Months or years can go by without seeing them, but as soon as we’re all together, everyone falls in step very easily. Our grandmothers were sisters, and it seems that the Rutkin gene that keeps heads in the clouds has been handed down to all of us. In the hours leading up to the seder, wine was drunk, hugs were exchanged and stories were shared. I heard the infamous sponge story, in which my great-aunt Nettie started to chew on a purple sponge and remarked to her daughter, “I think this pumpernickel has gone bad.” “Ma, that’s a sponge.” That story was matched by the time the same aunt confused a dog biscuit for a regular cookie…after eating it. Let’s not forget the time Grandma Kitty went to strain some matzah ball soup and ended up pouring all of the broth into the sink. Yes, I am most assuredly part Rutkin.

My great-grandparents, the original Rutkins.

We also Skyped in cousin Steven Ezra, who is on tour with Momix in Italy at the moment:

Once all sixteen of us finally sat down, cousin Drew led us through the seder. Bitter herbs, Hillel sandwich, four questions, the four sons:

But then, a break from tradition! A few weeks ago, I wrote on cousin Hannah’s Facebook wall, “so word around town is that this year’s passover seder is going to be AWESOME…are you ready for this?” Cousin Vicki saw the post and was determined to find something to set this year’s seder apart from the rest. That “something” came in the form of two dozen scallions on the table. Vicki tried to explain their presence, but fifteen confused Jews at the table drowned out her explanation. I mean really, how do you explain this:

I finally took the time to Google the scallions and came up with an interesting explanation:

“Jews living in Afghanistan developed the tradition of using scallions or leeks to stand for the Egyptian slavedrivers’ whips, using them to lightly “whip” each others’ backs.”

According to the article, there is only one Jew left in Afghanistan, as the other one passed away five years ago. With nobody left to whip, the tradition will soon die out in Afghanistan. But it will be alive and well in Merrick, New York.

I live-tweeted the first night’s seder (or at least attempted to do so):

6:19 p.m.: I forgot that the theme of the Long Island fam seder is “Drink a Lot of Wine.” Remembering now…
7:44 p.m.: “Well, I think those very important words were sung to the tune of ‘Old McDonald.'” Let my people go, indeed!
7:57 p.m.: We just hit each other with scallions to the tune of “Dayenu.” New tradition?
7:58 p.m.: Pascal lamb has been replaced by ‘pascal yam.’

I gave up on the live-tweeting after that. The matzah ball soup came out, and matzah balls > Twitter.

All hail the pascal yam, in honor of vegetarian Hannah.

We left the house full and sleepy and made it back to Brooklyn by midnight. The second night of Passover brought me back to Kingston for a seder at home. Cellphones and live-tweeting were banned at the table, but I managed to get one picture in between the seder and the actual meal:

I’m telling you, it’s all downhill after the second seder. The leftovers have run out (except for some salmon that will be wonderful with salad tomorrow) and I’ve resorted to matzah pizza for most meals. In a moment of culinary ballsiness, I attempted matzah lasagna (recipe here) and found the final result to be a great success:

If nothing else, the lack of bad carbs has put me on an energy kick, inspiring to spend most of the weekends outside enjoying the beautiful weather (more on that in a later post). I hope you all enjoyed the weekend’s weather and whatever holiday (if any) you celebrated.

Wine, charoset and the infamous purple sponge. This is my Passover.

“לשנה הבאה בירושלים…L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalim…Next year in Jerusalem.”