Monday, December 21, 2009

Kia Ora, Howdy and a Happy Christmas to you!

Since the holidays and end of 2009 seem to be getting away from me and the prospect of sending out Christmas cards has faded, I have decided to post my annual Christmas letter online for my friends far and wide...

2009 has been a bit of a roller coaster year! I started the year with walking pneumonia, followed by the flu, then exhaustion and finished out the academic year by getting my final wisdom tooth extracted. In late summer the roots of some of my health issues were revealed when I was diagnosed with notable TX-based allergies and Chronic Fatigue. Not surprisingly the result has been some significant lifestyle changes, as my body has forced me to learn to say “no” and slow down. In the fall I was blessed with 3 month research leave from TAMU and had the privilege of being a visiting scholar at Vaughn Park Anglican Retreat Center in New Zealand, just north of Auckland. I enjoyed being well looked after and a slower pace of life with daily walks on the beach, participating in daily prayers, having maid service and all my meals taken care of (it was like living at home again without the curfew!) On top of this for the time in about five years I had space to really pray, reflect on my life and calling and let God heal my soul. I came back to the USA a few weeks ago feeling much stronger, healthier and happier. So this place of much joy and a grateful heart I am wishing you a very blessed Christmas!

Heidi’s 2009:

January- Taught my largest semester class to date, 145 students in Communication in Popular Culture

February- Did my first conference keynote on Virtual Worlds at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas

March- My co-edited book A Science & Religion Primer was published (Baker Academic)

April- Spent lots of time at the doctor and undergoing medical tests

May- End of another academic year, more medical tests, attended a communication conference in Chicago

June- Survived my final wisdom tooth extraction; commissioned as a Spiritual Director by the TX Episcopal Diocese

July- Worked with an Israeli colleague interviewing Orthodox rabbis & webmasters on beliefs about the internet in Jerusalem.

August- Finally after 5 years finished When Religion Meets New Media (Routledge), visited my sister in Florida for our Bday

September- Arrived in New Zealand and discovered a new love for beach walks on windy days, date scones & Pavlova.

October- Visited friends in Australia, welcomed a new beautiful niece (via email)--Hopeful Jean Grace Elmatti

November- Gave my first public lecture on my new book at Univ. of Otago (NZ), enjoyed the beauty of NZ

December- Back in the USA and looking forward to Christmas with my whole family in Florida (first time in almost a decade!)

May you know true joy and peace from above in 2010!
Cheers, Heidi


Friday, July 24, 2009

Shabbat Shalom--Time Flies in JLM

Only 4 days left in Israel. As usualy the trip has gone by fast but overall has been worthwhile. This has been my best and most productive visit by fa, but will be glad to get back to my TX to get caught up on sleep in my own bed.

Last week was spent in an intensive writing and resting retreat. I spent my mornings reading, praying and taking naps. My afternoons were spent writing the lit review draft of the research article I am here to work on and writing a grant application I am working on with another Israeli colleague from Hebrew. I was put up in a Hermitage which was a lovely cottage over looking the valley of Ein Karem and from my balcony could see the hills outside JLM and the church of the visitation and a Russian Orthodox Cathedral with its sparling gold onion domes. It was one of the most beautiful retreat spots I have ever been to. Over the course of the week I went to Vespers, prayers and Mass in Italian, Hebrew and French. The nuns were lovely and I would definitely recommend this spot from a most excellent retreat and space for contemplations.

However, since my research collegue picked me up last Shabbat (saturday) it has been all go. Saturday we met up with his cousin Katya who was visiting from Belgium for a quick tour of the north to see their relatives and visit Jaffa and Casearea. Then from Sunday I have done a total of 8 research interview and had 3 other meetings with Israeli scholars. It seems all my first hand research stuff all got schedule in week 3 as it is hard to pin down many of the Israeli webmaster and rabbis I had contacted. The phrase of week was "just 5 mins" as people often reschedule interviews at the last minute or when I tried to call to pin them down they asked me to call back again, and again. Blessed are the flexible. A highlight of the week for me was meeting Eli the Torah scribe in the old city. I wrote in my most recent book some details about Jewish law and craft of writing religious text so it was great to sit down with an trained scribe for over and hour and speak with him about his trade and verify what I had learned from books about the art and requirements. He was also a lovely man so who hand wrote me a beautiful mezzuah scroll and commissioned him to bible verse that I will take home to remember this meeting and experience.

So all in all I have been busy with not much time to blog!

Last night I got to go to synagogue with a new friend & reserach colleague and her family. It was a "modern" orthodox synagogue and one of the most moving services I have ever been in. The whole service is mostly sung led alternatively by a male then female cantors (which is unusual) followed by the while congregations singing. My biblical hebrew kicked in about 40 mins into the service so I was able to join in singing the Psalms (esp. 95-98 which I really love) in Hebrew during the 2.5 hour service. At times it felt even like a pentecostal service (like the "singing" in tongues part one often sees) as the cantor would sing part of a prayer like the shema and then the whole congregation would sing sponteneously in their own tune another part of the prayer.It is the closest thing I have gotten to a proper church service since being here and was grateful for a the space for worship.

Today am off with Oren to Tel Aviv, he is going to a family event and I will meet up with a friend for coffee, then it is back to work as we try to get the article drafted before I leave on Tues pm/Wed am.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday is a workday

I always find it a bit difficult to retraining myself to the fact that Sunday is a work day in Israel. The weekend is basically noon on Friday through Saturday, covering shabbat from sun-up to sun down on fri-sat. My shabbat was spent doing a lot of sleeping sat am and then a lot of work with my collaborator on our research project sat afternoon. I really miss the chance to go to church when I am in Israel, though I do sometimes go to synagogue but since my hebrew is limited am not able to join in as much as I would like.

After spending sat afternoon analyzing and doing some thematic graphs on the 8 interviews my collaborator and I have done so far it was time for a few chores since his maid has quit. Casa de Oren has a lovely view of southern JLM and is comfortable, but is definitely a bachelor pad. Main contents of the refrigerator are chocolate bars and pepsi max. There is no washer/dryer as he sends his laundry out so I got to use an old fashioned brush and board to wash my clothes.

The JLM film festival is going strong and Oren's cousin Katiya is a journalist visiting from Belgium to cover the event. We picked her up at 8pm and headed outside the city to the Arab village of Abu Gosh for dinner. The village is known for its monestary which tradition says Jesus will visit before his triumphan return to JLM. Why, I don't know, but it must be for the food because they have some of the best hummus, taboleh and home-made pita in Israel IMHO. We visited a new place and sat outside to enjoy the night air and stories of all our travel in Israel. Then we headed to a local sweet shop for kanafe and mint tea, surrounded by the swirling smoke of nargila pipes.

It was now 10:30 but the night was still young (at least for Oren & Katiya) so we headed into town and the German colony which is a bustling hot spot esp. post shabbat. Shops stay open till midnight so we broused in artisan stores and visited a well known video shop calle d the Third ear where Katiya could rent some movies for her research. We dropped her back to the JLM YMCA where she was staying and got back to Oren's after midnight. I was shattered but nocternal Oren wanted to watch movies...I opted out.

So now we are at Hebrew Uni where I am sitting a grad student office, supposedly working on a draft outline of our article. Tonight is dinner with a visiting Scholar from Cambridge also now at HU who studies Jewish Diasporic communities. Tommorrow I have another research meeting with an Israeli scholar that studies Haredi women and the internet before heading to Ein Kerem to the Sister of Sion Monestary for a writing and prayer retreat for 4 days. Am looking forward to this as my mind is full and soul feels dry after a hectic few months back in the states. Not sure what kind of net access I will have so there may be a gap in my posts.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Good morning JLM

Thanks to jet lag I have been waking up at 5-6am so have gotten to see some fab sunrises over JLM. I am staying in my friend's study cum guest room and since he is nocternal have not been getting to bed till about 1am which has made for very short nights. I do hope my body regulates soon.

Am enjoying but, am not use to urban dwelling life. Most of Oren and his friends don't go out till at least 9pm so last night that meant eating dinner at around 10:30 pm. We went with his friends Ariel, an Israeli tour guide, and his lovely fiance Patty from Brazil to a restaurant at the Artist house. I did not want something heavy so I went for baked St Peter's Fish and a side salad which was delicious but less than settling for my funny tummy. But it was nice to be out in the night air taking in the art and learning more about local culture. I am so enjoying the refreshing breezes and reprive from the heat here (it has only been in the low 90s and at night it cools down to low 70s to high 60s...even the Judean Desert has had cooler temperature than where I live in TX since I have been here).

Today after some work this am and errands I am hitting the Jerusalem Film Festival to see a film called Eyes Wide Open, a feature film with a story about negotiating life and sexuality in the ultra Orthodox community which should be interesting.


Old friends and new places

I have officially been in Israel for 48 hours. This is my 6th visit to Israel since 2003 and if you add up my trip have spent over 6 months here. While I wouldn't say I feel like a local or completely at home, I have made enough friends and spent enough time traveling around the contry for things to feel very familiar which makes it an easy place to visit.

Update on the food poisoning: the nausea subsided after the first 24 hours so no longer feel wretched. My tummy is still a bit funny when it comes to milk so am sticking to veg, liquids and bread but on the whole am much improved.

In the past 2 days I have been able to connect f2f with a number of research colleagues who are becoming friends. I am staying with my friend and research collaborator Oren Golan in Jerusalem. Together we met up with Batia Siebzhner for coffee to discuss her current work on the Jewish diaspora in Latin American. Yesterday I got to visit Beit Berl College North of Tel Aviv and spent time in the library reading an interesting book on Yeshiva Fundamentalism written by Oren's friend Nurit Stadler while he gave his student in his Internet Culture class their final exam. (I hope to connect with Nurit soon to learn more about her ethnograpic methods).

Afterwards we went birthday gift shopping for Oren's friend, we bought a coffee and then a suit case. Then we headed for a quick visit to Herzilla to see my friends Omri and Marianna Ruah Midbar who are also scholars in Internet studies. Marianna studies new age religion online Omri work in the philosophy of technology related to music online. They also have a cute and playful daughter named Thea Magia who has an impressive vocabulary for a 2 years old in 3 different languages (Russian, Hebrew & English).

Today Batia invited Oren and I to join a group from a conference she was attending at Yad Vashem, Israels main holocaust memorial. It is one of the few places I have not visited in Jerusalem and found it to be a powerful and melancholy experience, especially the Children's memorial paying tribute to the children who died in the camps. Now I am at Hebrew University, relaxing in the library after networking with Menahem Blondheim over lunch an a possible project on the "Peoples of the Book and New Media" we are looking at pursuing 2 years down the road. I have learned much from Menahem about Jewish views of communication and the media through reading and learning about his work over the numerous interactions since 2004.

So my stay is off the a full start, but so things will slow down as shabbat approaches and the need to get down to the business of why I am here analyzing research, doing interviews and writing about Orthodox views of the internet .


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Back in Israel 2009, a new adventure begins

To my friends who are interested wanted to let you know that I have arrived safe and somewhat sound. As usual my travels were memorable and if it is an indication of things to come it should be an interesting month.

On my Houston to Frankfurt leg I sat next to a nice elderly Bulgarian couple who spoke no English. I tried out some of my rusty Russian on them and they assumed I was fluent and continued to chat with me throughout the trip most of which I did not understand....But I did get to see over 70 pictures of their American Holiday and new faternal twin grandbabies.

A word to the wise, when flying Luftansa note the food in Economy class seems a bit suspect and you would be wise to avoid the breakfast omlet they offer....I sure wish I had. I started to regret partaking of it about 90 mins afterwards. By the time I made it to my next flight with a tight connection in Frankfurt I was far from well, and soon as they took off the fasten seat belt sign on the trip to Tel Aviv I had to rush to the plane bathrooms. I spend the next 3.5 hours going between my seat and various bathrooms emptying my stomach's contents before coming to the conclusion I must have food poisioning. When I contacted the stewardess to inform her of my condition she smiled and said she was sorry but there was nothing she could do for me., and for me to hold on till I could contact a Doctor for advice when entering Israel.

Well it is 5 hours later and food still sounds less than appealing. I feel quite weak still but the nausea is subsiding, thanks to some rest and sprite and saltines supplied by my friend and host Oren. I think the worst is over and hope to be back on proper food tommorrow. Am a bit frustrated by my body and this latest episode of of rebellion in my health, but there you go.

Jerusalem is a refreshing 94ish with a gentle breeze, which is a great reprive from the TX heat. Am looking forward to be post jetlag and for 3 weeks of adventures!


Sunday, September 14, 2008

After the Storm

All is quite now in College Station. It is hard to believe that 48 hours all was chaos weather wise. I spent part of the afternoon raking my yard for fallen leaves and branches and moving my patio plants from my garage to back outside. Some of my friends in Houston are still without power and water but we here in BCS are back to business as usual. I am thankful for God's protection this past weekend and that the storm is long gone, though I fear some will be dealing with the aftermath of days to come.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Outside the Eye

Hurricane Ike moved north and greeted Brazos County early this morning (sometime after 6am but I am not exactly sure as I was asleep). Fortunate for us, and not so fortunate for others, the eye of the storm shifted east and so missed us. We have had some significant gusting winds and quite a bit of rain but all is well besides that. And we still have power, yeah!

I spent the night in my closet so was as snug as bug in a rug and able to sleep through the night. I awoked a bit before 9am to some howling winds and lots of leaves and a few branches down but beside that all is well. The only slight concern I have is that the creek behind my has flooded,which is actually quite typical. The walking path (next to the tree in the pic) is under water and I had to take picture because the city want to put a paved & lighted biking and foot path right there which would turn my lawn into a swimming pool as the creek usually rises and often overflows during a storm.

We're not in the clear yet, high winds and pounding rain are expected for the next 4 hours but so far I feel safe and blessed!