Keepin' it real

Fidgeting Gidget, a fellow 20 Something Blogger, gave me the "Honest Scrap" award last week. Be sure to check her out!

While I appreciate all the awards I receive, I especially like this one--and not just because it makes my blog look oh-so tough! This award recognizes bloggers who write honestly and openly and encourages more straightforward and candid conversation by obliging recipients to list 10 honest things about his/her self. Here goes:

1) When I hear people talk about how their father walked out on their family, I am actually a little jealous. Sometimes not knowing is better.
2) I am driven by guilt. Every action I take to better myself and the world around me is an attempt to ward off the guilt I would feel for doing nothing.
3) I was in a horrible car accident as a child and have mechanical scoliosis, an irrational fear of doctors and extreme road rage as a result.
4) Despite my high-power D.C job and urban lifestyle, I am [not so] secretly a dirty hippie.
5) You wouldn't know it from my relative success in life and innocent appearance, but I have a sordid past.
6) Jack is the one person in this universe that knows all the secrets of that sordid past.
7) It took 20 years for me to begin calling my step-dad, just "dad."
8) My dream is to own a small, eco-friendly bed and breakfast in Costa Rica or Panama.
9) I am the most un-photogenic person on earth.
10) I am relatively good at everything I try to do. This is a curse. When I encounter something that causes me to struggle, I just give up.

Now it's my turn to pass on this great award! Here is a list of five blogs I believe embody the spirit of the Honest Scrap:

Happy Friday!

The Novelista Barista tagged me in a survey, so here goes:

Eight things I look forward to:
1) Becoming my own boss (one day!)
2) Kayaking season
3) Weekends!
4) Seeing my friends turn their creative talents into careers
5) The day my crazy-ass kitten finally settles down
6) Sipping gin fizzes while sitting on my patio on hot summer days
7) Getting together with friends I haven't seen in a while
8) Fresh, local grown tomatoes

Eight things I did yesterday:
1) Wore a suit with sneakers
2) Received a very nice compliment from a friend
3) Researched Web development training opportunities
4) Drank beer from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag
5) Snuggled with my kitten
6) Drove through the hood with my windows down and Reggeaton blaring
7) Begged my boyfriend to give up his secret plans for my birthday (He knows I hate surprises!)
8) Walked 1.5 miles

Eight things I wish I could do:
1) Do a headstand
2) Bring peace to the Middle East
3) Surf
4) Quit my job and move to the tropics
5) Speak Hebrew
6) Solve world hunger
7) Break-dance
8) Carry a tune

Eight shows I watch:
1) Bones
2) House
4) George Lopez
5) Sponge Bob Square Pants
6) That 70s Show
7) Seinfeld
8) King of Queens

Instead of tagging specific people, I encourage all of you to complete this survey!


I even teared up a little bit

Lora at Jakezilla (And Oh, the urbanity!...and other secret places in the blogosphere), wrote a post containing some the nicest (and most sincere) things anyone has ever said about me. Here's what she said:
First I'll tell you why I love Mara. I probably already have somewhere in my archives, but bear with me.
I met Mara millions of years ago when we worked at a bar together.
She wore a lot of glitter on her face and hung out at warehouse parties and raves. I did not.
She was a teenager. I was 25.
I didn't think we would get along. I was wrong.
You wouldn't have known it by looking at her back then, but she is one of the smartest, bravest, kindest people I have ever met in my whole entire life. Mara owns Mara and everything that Mara does and Mara tells the world to either lend a hand or fuck off while she works hard to change the things that need to be changed and keep strong the things that need to be kept strong.
There aren't many people in the world you can say that about.
Thank you, Mara, for being such an amazing person and for teaching me that I can't judge a book by it's sparkleysparkley glowstick-slinging awesome-sneakered incredible-titty teenaged cover. It's a lesson I've held close to my heart all these years and it has allowed me to find the beauty and value in people no matter what they look like. Or do from 2am until the break of dawn.
And I miss your eyeshadow and think you should totally bring it back especially now that you have a High Power Government Gig at the DC Castle.
Not only did Lora's compliments give me a major ego boost, but she reminded me of a past self.

Sitting here in front of my dual-screen computer at my Castle office in Washington, D.C., wearing a three-piece suit, it's funny to think back to my "sparkleysparkley glowstick-slinging awesome-sneakered incredible-titty teenaged" self. I was even able to dig up an old photo....

Starscape 2000
(Yes. That goof with me is Jack!)


Charm City!

For those of you who didn't know, I also do a photo-blog called "Oh, the urbanity! Charm City edition," where I post funny and otherwise interesting photos taken in and around Baltimore.

Hope you like it!


Would you give your right foot to get to work?

How about your head? Or, maybe just all the contents from your purse?

Walk into any major Washington D.C. Metro station during rush-hour and you will see commuters, wearing business attire with sneakers, risking life and limb to cram onto crowded trains in an effort to shave a measly three minutes off their commute.

Let me set the scene for you:

It's 7:15 a.m. on Friday morning, my eyes-lids are heavy and my walk slowed. (I'm nursing a serious hang-over from one too many Hangar One Mandarin Blossom shots the previous night.) I step off the escalator just as a train is arriving.

The commuters already waiting on the platform group together around the doors and those just getting to the platform take off running towards the train. The chimes sound. The doors are closing. People are becoming frantic.

Just as I look up at the marquee and see that another train in coming in 1 minute, a middle-age woman leaps through the doors into one of the cars, crashing into the other riders who put out their hands to catch her. With the doors almost totally shut, a man decides that one minute is just too long to wait and sticks his right foot inside. The doors, which do not operate like elevator doors, slam against his foot.

The man remains stuck for a few seconds before the doors reopen to let him pass. Another man takes advantage of the situation and hurriedly hops onto another car. He makes it but his back-pack doesn't. Now he's pegged against the doors with his bag stuck outside. Luckily for him, the doors reopen half-way. He quickly pulls his bag into the train, the doors slam shut and the train takes off down the tracks.

Another train pulls up 30 seconds later.

For me? You shouldn't have!

I recently joined "20 Something Bloggers," a group very enthusiastic and supportive group of bloggers with lots to say. Since joining 20SB, I have added a number of new blogs to my reading list, gained new readers and even received an award from The Novelista Barista! I am happy to have met Novelista in the blogosphere--she is super-friendly, very open and shares my love of travel and desire to make this world a better place. Be sure to check her out!

This award is dedicated to those who love blogging and love to encourage friendships through blogging and seeks to find the reasons why we all love blogging.

Each person who receives the award is obliged to show thanks by posting the award on his/her blog, giving a shout out to the person who gave the award, and to answer the following question: "Why do you love blogging?"

Blogging helps me deal with the craziness that life throws at me--I sort out my emotions and thoughts through writing. Also, I love the community aspect of blogging. Through blogs, I meet and connect with people I probably would never have had the opportunity to know otherwise. People really are more the same than different--the abilitiy to build support networks of friends from all over the world through blogging proves it!
Without further ado, here's a list of five bloggers with whom I'd like to share this award:

  • Lora at "Jakezilla"
    Lora introduced me to this whole blogging thing, so I can't think of a more worthy person to receive an award for people who "love to encourage friendships through blogging." Lora is a great writer, who is not afraid to tell it like it is and encourages two-way communication with her readers.

  • Joe Ordinary at "Ink for Thought"
    Joe Ordinary writes from the heart and has been all over 20SB trying to make connections with other bloggers and find new ways to encourage his readers to engage in conversation.

  • Patrick at "Engineering My Life"
    A very active member of 20SB, Patrick writes about everything and anything, from politics to daily life. Check him out!

  • Greg Santos at "Tactical Diversion"
    Tactical Diversion is unique, creative and hysterically funny. Greg encourages readers to submit their own content to be published on his site. He was one of the first people on 20SB to welcome me to the group.

  • Lizzi at "Life According to Lizzi"
    An artist, writer and mother (and much more, I'm sure!), Lizzi's blog posts are always insightful, yet light-hearted and visually interesting. If you leave a comment, Lizzi is sure to keep the conversation going by responding back.


What really matters

A friend of mine recently offered this tip: Ask the people you meet about their passion, what they enjoy or how they made a difference today, instead of just asking about their job, where they live and what their marital status is.

I think that's a great tip. In fact, her words have inspired me to tell you a little about me. Not about my work, my home or my relationship, but instead about the things I'm passionate about, the things that bring joy to my life and the things I do for other people.
I am passionate about social justice; being a life-long learner; forming lasting connections with people of all backgrounds; cooking; experiencing the world; and being honest and open, no matter the cost.

Dancing to a funky beat til' the sun comes up; spending time with loved ones; and being alone with my thoughts on a hiking trail bring me great joy.

I help others through volunteer work, from helping educate the public about environmental issues as a volunteer canoe guide, to encouraging family-work balance through the initiatives of an employee advocacy group I lead at my workplace. In the past, I volunteered as an arts and crafts teacher for an after-school program, as well as worked as a volunteer Spanish-English interpreter at a free health clinic for the uninsured.I am always seeking a new opportunity to give back to the community.
Now, I ask each of you reading this post: What are your passions? What brings you joy? What have you done to make a difference in someone else's life?


About me

What is your first name? Mara..I am named for my grandmother Mary and my grandfather Max. 2.) What is your favorite food? Cheese with fruit and fresh baked bread...smoked gouda, feta, mozzerella, manchego, you name it! 3.) What high school did you go to? North East High School...4.) What is your favorite color? Red...lI;m wearing my red business suit as I type. 5.) Who is your celebrity crush? Adam Sandler...Yeah, I'm a dork. 6.) Favorite drink? Mojitos...I grow mint especially for making this cocktail. 7.) Dream vacation? New Zealand... 8.) Favorite dessert? Angel foodcake with fresh strawberries My mom makes me one every year for my B-day. 9.) What did you want to be when you grow up? Marine biologist... 10.) What do you love most in life? Freedom...to love, to chose, to live... 11.) One Word to describe you. Real...I don't BS, so don't come to me for advice unless you want to know w. 12.) Your Flickr name. Mara J....http://www.flickr.com/photos/35813724@N07/sets/

Do you want to do this?
1. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
2. Using only the first page, pick an image.
3. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into FD's Mosaic Maker.


Scrumptious Saturday: The Back Story

Last night my friends Emily, Christine and Melvin, Alena and their son Andy came over for the first-ever Scrumptious Saturday. We had good conversation, great eats and plenty of wine. The meal was a tribute to my recent Israel trip and consisted of falafel, sesame coated chicken, Israeli salad, labenah, hummus and sour cabbage salad. Emily brought some delicious hamantashen, a cookie with fruit filling that is traditionally served for Purim.

I had made hummus from scratch before, but it was my first time for the other items. Everything turned out fabulously, except the hummus, which was seasoned to perfection but had too crunchy a texture. Anyway, to pull this menu together, I started cooking and grocery shopping at 8 a.m. yesterday morning. I love spending an entire day in the kitchen, with Jack assisting, some happy house music pumping and wine flowing (after noon, of course).

The idea for Scrumptious Saturday--a weekly, low-key dinner that all my fabulous friends are invited to attend each Saturday--is inspired by Lora's Wednesday Spaghetti, as well as by my recent experiences in Israel.

Here's a journal entry I wrote during my trip that explains what I mean:

Written March 7, 2009

This is the first opportunity I've had to sit down and write since my Birthright trip to Israel began. I don't even know where to start.

Traveling in a group of more than forty people has certainly been interesting for me, to say the least. When I travel,
I like to blend in, observe my surroundings and take my time. A group of forty is imposing. When we were shopping in Jerusalem at the Mahan Yehuda shuk for rugala, pomella fruit, baklava, "kisses" and other goodies to celebrate Shabbat, we were blocking every sidewalk, stepping into traffic and generally acting like loud, typical American tourists.

you tell I'm Jewish? My journal entry about an amazing and FREE trip to Israel begins with bitching. I'll stop now.

This trip really has been amazing so far--
full of firsts. This is my first time to the Middle East. Two days ago I experienced a weightless sensation for the first time while floating in the Dead Sea. Yesterday, I hiked for the first time in the desert, around the rim of the Ramon Crater. I also celebrated Shabbat for the first time last night.

While I don't see myself becoming a more religious person, I would like to incorporate the concept of Shabbat into my regular life.

For those of you who don't know, Jewish people believe that you work very hard all week, and then on the seventh d
ay, Saturday, you rest.

Shabbat begins Friday night at sundown with a celebration that includes an elaborate
home-cooked meal, plenty of wine and time with family and friends. You share, talk, reflect and enjoy all the things you work so hard for during the rest of the week. Then, on Saturday you take it easy until sundown when you party hardy. (Obviously this is the secular way to observe the Sabbath.)

I will never make it home after work on a Friday night in time to celebrate Shabbat on the proper day, but why not do it Saturday night/Sunday day instead? It's not the day that's important but the idea of celebrating, sharing and feeling thankful for all the things that bring happiness to your life.

Like traditional Shabbat celebrations, the day after Scrumptious Saturday (today) is my "day of rest." For me this means calling to catch up with friends and family, writing blog posts, taking walks through the city and maybe reading a good book. I refuse to cook (luckily, I have plenty of delicious leftovers from last night), clean or think about work, until sundown tonight.

Life is good.

Ramon Crater

Dead Sea

Mahane Yehuda Shuk in Jerusalem


Snorkeling in the Red Sea (Eliat, Israel)

Written March 14, 2009

After putting on my mask and fins, I dipped my face into the crystal-clear, blue waters of the Red Sea and was greeted by an array of underwater life. Jellyfish, with short tentacles, expanded and contracted, moving gracefully through the water. I reached out my hand and allowed one to rest against my palm with my fingers curved gently around it. Colorful fish swam below, and a school of shimmering silver fish darted in unison like so together formed what looked like one big, magnificent organism. Spiny black sea urchins clung to the coral on the sea floor. I could hear my breathe, slow and steady through the snorkel tube, as well as the shrill sounds of the dolphins swimming around me.

Suddenly, two dolphins appeared before me. One playfully nudged a jellyfish before the pair swam just beneath me. I could feel their powerful tails moving back and forth, forcefully pushing through the water. Amazing.


Reflecting on my Birthright Trip to Israel

Written March 12, 2009

After looking through the pictures I'd taken during my Birthright Trip to Israel, I knew what the trip leaders meant when they said, "this is not a vacation but an experience, an adventure."

In just ten short days, I have done everything from riding a camel in the desert to standing before the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and from scaling Masada before sunrise to learning about Kabbalah at an artist's gallery in the mountaintop town Safed.

Looking at the beautiful photos I took--which only capture a glimpse of the true beauty of this amazing country--I was shocked to find that what touched me most was seeing the smiles of the new friends I'd made.

How is it possible to connect with so many people on such a personal level in just ten days?

It was absolutely amazing to take a break from my "real" life and focus on getting to know new people and forming connections that I expect to last a lifetime.

Aviva and Emily, I'd like to thank you both for being awesome and open people--you were great roommates!

Thanks to Pam, Ariel, Ashley and Liz for an awesome last night, and to Sam for making me feel like a kid again.

And thanks to the Israeli soldiers who joined our group. The trip wouldn't have been the same without Guy, Sve, Chen, Gitit and the others who taught me so much about Israel, past and present.

I also have to shout-out Christine for her unfading energy and adventurous spirit, and Shy for being an awesome, down-to-earth kid.

And, last but not least, David for keeping things interesting by constantly breaking my balls.

I will never forget any of you; I hope you'll keep in touch.


The much awaited photos from Israel!


I promise to post some things I wrote during my trip soon!