We traveled light when we came to Israel three and a half years ago — just eight suitcases, and four carry-ons, really.

My mother’s antique writing desk — the one from the 1920′s with the scars from her cigarettes that she had bargained down to $40.00 at Trash and Treasure was left behind in storage, along with the oak dining room table and the chairs a family friend upholstered in a vibrant floral print in shades of emerald, rose and lilac, and the bright yellow bookshelf that held my children’s favorite books, and even the weathered sea chest my Great Great Great Granddaddy carried with him on a whaling vessel…

…All of it in storage safe, because I’ll be real with you, I was sure we’d be back to bring it home within a year… home in LA, that is, safe and sound in our metaphorical cul-de-sac.

Between “Thirsty Thursdays” with my dad and the bro from Mar Vista Park, and Laker games with chips and salsa from Trader Joe’s in our neighbor’s living room, and holiday dinners where I would follow Great Gramma Celia’s recipe for chicken soup down to the last shred of parsley, we had a good thing going…

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…So Israel was really just an experiment — an exercise in “what-if” — what if I could stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, beyond vanilla lattes at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, beyond the kids section Barnes and Noble, beyond the marathon stretch of West Side Pavilion, beyond my family’s Sabbath table. What if I could live — like, really live — the idea that happiness is choice.

I soooo didn’t think I could though. So we left everything behind, except the new clothes from oldnavy.com, and the makeup from Sephora, except for a few books that I stuffed between my daughter’s zebra dress and my son’s cotton onesie with the sheep parading up and down the front.

And I stuck my copy of the storage key someplace safe, where I thought I could always find it.

But just in case — just in case I could actually figure out a way to make it work in Israel, just in case I never felt that need to come back to LA and claim the trappings of that old life, just in case I changed my mind about myself and my own constraints, I took the photos with us.

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And I’ll tell you something: While we look through these scraps of life, the kids and I, the stories come out in fits and starts: “Mama, why are you dancing in that sparkly blue dress?” (Because Sting’s Desert Rose was playing and it was Prom Night and I was happy) “Mama, did you really ride a camel?” (Oh hell yeah, I rode a camel.) “Mama, is that Gramma in the Garden? Did she really plant those flowers all by herself?” (Yes… she could make anything grow.)

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And now, I don’t have any idea where I last placed my copy of the key to that storage unit. It isn’t in my wallet, or at the bottom of my purse. It isn’t in a drawer or tucked into a corner in the closet shelf. It isn’t inside the kiddush cup my Great Gramma Celia gave Great Grampa Chaim on their wedding day. I checked half-heartedly because I know it doesn’t matter anymore, not really.

Because the pictures are here with us in our house in this little village where we live, quite happily most of the time, the three of us sharing a small space where we can see the rolling fields change with each passing season, in this place where we take new pictures and make up new stories that continue to sustain us.

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In this place we’ve made a home, where there are no dead ends, just a big huge sky.

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