Archive for March, 2007

Any ideas for a new name?

Since I am no longer on a journey in Israel or to Israel, I need a new name for this blog. Any votes or ideas?

 I was thinking about the ZooKeeper–but that doesn’t have such a positive connotation toward my children. And most of the time they aren’t animals!

 Or what about “small-town girl meets the big world” ??

I’m open to suggestions.


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What do you think?

It has been such fun to write this blog. I’ve enjoyed every minute recreating my experiences in Israel for you. So I’ve decided to continue with my blog. I suppose I’ll have to change the name–as I am no longer on a journey to Israel–not even figuratively.  I’ll still send updates with pictures to those who are interested. But there are times when I’m thinking about an issue and would like to discuss it. In that case, I’ll save you the problems of a crowded inbox and post it here.

I think it might be good for my husband too. During the day I think of things I want to discuss and then I start talking to him just as he is drifting off to sleep. By the time I have processed it and am asleep, he is wide awake thinking about what I brought up. Perhaps he’ll enjoy the opportunity to read my random thoughts while eating lunch instead of just before sleeping.

So, please feel free to keep checking in. I’ll post our continued adventures in Sweden.  We’ve got a week-long vacation coming  up next week and I plan to do some fun things with the kids.

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What I did not expect

I’ve come to the end of my entries about Israel. It feels bittersweet. I’m glad that I’ve recorded our experiences and yet it feels that I have yet to completely process our journey.

To go to a place that has been the destination for pilgrims for centuries, a country that has been the source of tremendous conflict in the Middle East, and a place that is so unlike anything I have ever experienced is an overwhelming experience.

I did not expect to be moved emotionally and spiritually and yet I was touched beyond words visiting Jerusalem and Capernaum.

I did not expect to see such beauty. The Weizmann Institute campus was a wonderful paradise of trees, plants, flowers, etc. The northern parts of Israel had such lushness that was completely unexpected. But yet, the desert, with its barrenness had a strange type of stark power and beauty that I did not expect to like.

I did not expect to feel completely safe. And yet, I did. Security was everywhere.

The Israel I saw and experienced is not the Israel that you see everynight on your television on the evening news. I hope that you will feel that. Everywhere I went, people often asked me what I thought of their country. They always said “it’s different than what you hear on the news in the U.S.” There is a hunger and a desire to show the world that their lives are ordinary in a way that is never portrayed by the media.

I hope the things I have felt and experienced will have become a permanent part of me.

I did not expect Israel to be so amazing. But it was–and I am still in awe.

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Our final exploration of Israel revealed the desert of Israel that we had always imagined to constitute the whole of Israel. It’s funny that most of our journeys in Israel would take us to such green and fruitful places. The phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey” seems very appropriate to describe Israel. But finally, we experienced the desert in a small way. And it was a bit surprising. I expected intense heat. But it was rather cold. When we visited Tel Beer-sheva and Massada, it felt as if we would be blown away by the wind pushing relentlessly across the mountains.   

Our last Sunday in Israel was a bit of a whirlwind day. We woke up fairly early, ate breakfast at the hostel (not as good as the breakfast at the other hostel), and then left for Tel Beer-sheva.


Tel Beer-sheva is a National park that was a real treat to see. Archealogists had uncovered a 3000-year old planned city built around the time of King David. It is one of the oldest planned cities ever discovered. The reason they can tell that it is planned is that the city was built into cocentric circles. We walked around the circles, looking at the ruins in such an up-close and personal way. Usually, when you see ruins, you are peering over a fence or squinting in the distance, trying to imagine what it really looked like. The ruins have been partially rebuilt so you get a sense of what things looked like.  The best part of city was going into the water cistern. It was amazing to carefully walk down all the steps, stand in the cistern and then ascend again. We all had to wear hard hats. I know I’m not really describing this well, but it was a cool experience.

The Desert

We had to drive through a portion of the Negrev Desert or Wilderness to come to Massada. The scenery was amazing. Part of it was covered with grass. We saw Bedouin herding their sheep and camels roaming around. That was an fun! And then, we left the grassy areas which reminded me the drive between Thermopolis and Cody. We began to see the stark land–barren of trees, flowers, bushes, grasses, etc. The descent was a bit steep as we were driving up the east coast of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth–some 1200 feet below sea level. Mountains border the Dead Sea. The mountains really are dramatic–they appear to support very little animal or plant life–and they rise above the sea. Everything seems to shout out how inhospitable and uninhabitable the area is.


Massada is a mountain that was often a refuge for zealots. Herod the Great had another grand building scheme and ordered a dramatic palace to be built on the side of the mountain with places for soldiers. He never really used it though. The place is famous because of a group of Jews that escaped to Massada during the Jewish revolt (shaky on the dates here–around 70 a.d.) and nearly survived a seige by Roman soldiers. When it became apparent that the Romans would succeed in the seige, the captain of the group persuaded the rest of the soldiers to commit suicide rather than succumb to the Romans. This they did, leaving only a few survivors to tell the tale. Massada is an important place for modern Israel. Often, groups of newly trained Israeli soldiers will have their “swearing-in” ceremony here, promising that Massada will not fall again.

We purchased tickets to the cable car–thereby missing the hour-long hike up the trail. The tickets were outrageously expensive, but given my fear of narrow stairs and narrow mountain paths, plus four small children, the expense was worthwhile.

I’m not going to go into detail about the ruins because it was rather windy and we kept getting sand in our eyes. We were also on a tight time schedule, so I wasn’t able to see everything. The bathhouse was fascinating. And Brent was able to see the seige ramp and Herod’s palace. If you want to read about Massada, you can easily do a google search and find all the interesting details.

The Dead Sea

I’ve heard a lot about the Dead Sea, but after spending time in Israel, I learned a lot more about its healthful properties. The Dead Sea has anywhere from 27-32 % salinity. The Mediterranean Sea has about 3 % salinity. Only a few types of bacteria are actually able to survive in the sea, otherwise no fish or plant life exist in the sea.

Both Israel and Jordan (Israel’s neighbor on the West) mine the sea heavily for minerals and salt. Both countries have exploited it and so the sea is becoming smaller. Israel has built several health resorts and people will all types of reumatic conditions, skin diseases, and arthritis come to spend time at the Dead Sea. Because the Dead Sea has such a low elevation, it is very difficult to burn. This is great for people who have serious skin conditions but are sensitive to the sun. (For, example, I am now very sensitive to the sun because of my lupus. But I had no problems at the Dead Sea. It felt wonderful.)

We all wanted to float in the sea, but it started to rain just as we were leaving Massada so I wondered if we would manage it. But suddenly, the skies cleared and we were able to go to Ein Gedi Beach (Ein Gedi is a famous oasis. David hid out here when Saul was trying to kill him.)

We changed into our clothes and walked down to the beach. I got into the water first and discovered that it really is true–you do float in the Dead Sea without any effort. The water felt wonderful. I can easily see how theraputic it would be to go to the sea, put some mud on your face, and then float in the sea. When I got out, my skin felt oily from the thick salt. The boys didn’t really swim because the water stings if you have any cuts on your skin. Also, the bottom is so rocky that it really hurts your feet. I cut my feet up pretty badly. The boys looked for pieces of salt that were on the rocks and collected some rocks to take home. Brent had his turn in the water and enjoyed it just as much as I did.

If I ever had a chance to go back to Israel, I would take more time in the desert as there was so much that we missed. It was an intense place of a type of desolate wildness and loneliness that reminded me a bit of Wyoming.

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Farewell to two friends

Yesterday, while browsing the obituaries from my hometown newspapers, (yes, I know its an odd thing to do, but you do find out interesting things. . .) I came across the obituary of a family friend, Walt. Walt’s wife, Connie, passed away a year ago. Their obituaries left me feeling sad and empty for their obituaries did not reflect the people they were to me and the impact that both of them made on my life. So, to honor my friends, I would like to write an obituary for them in my blog about my experiences with them.

Sometimes in laying out the bare facts of a person’s existance, we forget the personality or the essence of a person. I can’t claim to know Walt and Connie completely, as my friendship was as a child knows a grandparent, but I do want to share who they were to me.

I met Walt and Connie when I was a little girl. My dad was working with Walt. Walt and Connie kind of adopted our family as surrogate grandkids. They did a lot for my sisters and I. Looking back, I’m not sure what we gave them. I hope we gave them happiness from being around children that loved them.

Walt was an amazing cook. Several Friday nights our family would go to the VFW (Veterens of Foreign Wars) and Walt would cook the most amazing shrimp dinner. He would always come out and talk to us and ask how we enjoyed the fried shrimp. Delicious!

Walt had a kind heart and was forever building us toys that we cherished. It’s hard to pick which toy was the most beloved. He made us lincoln log sets, an amazing dollhouse, a beautiful playhouse, a play kitchen, and other things he made. In retrospect, I’m so touched by the time and effort that he spent in planning and then building toys for us that my sisters and I loved.

Walt had a good sense of humor. I enjoyed his laugh. He had a large tatoo on his forearm that I always liked looking at.

Connie was an amazing woman. She had been afflicted for many years by reumatoid arthritis. Reumatoid arthritis is a crippling and incredibly painful disease. And yet, I never heard Connie complain about the pain she surely must have felt on a daily basis. She worked to develop her talents–spending much time improving her oil painting abilities. Connie let me browse her personal library and introduced me to James Herriot. She always treated me with respect and without condescension–a rare thing in adults.

Connie never made us feel that she was bothered by our antics. I’m sure we were very loud and rambunctious, but she always seemed to enjoy us.

Walt and Connie did not have to go out of their ways to treat us with such kindness and love, but they did. And I’m forever grateful. It is a wonderful blessing when you are touched by the gifts of friends.

I’ll miss you, Walt and Connie.

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Our final trip in Israel began with a short drive to Beersheva. Our plan for the weekend was: go to church on Shabbat (i.e. Saturday), drive to Beersheva after church, stay the night in the hostel there, drive to Massada and the Dead Sea the next day.

Beersheva is the fourth largest city in Israel. Much of its size is due to the large number of Russian immigrants that have settled there. (Hmm. . . I think my grammar is deterioriating.) However, Beersheva still remains an important city for the Bedouin. They still have a weekly animal market on Thursday that is supposed to have a lot of cultural interest. But we missed the market.

 Frankly, I didn’t find Beersheva particularly charming. The city center looked run-down and neglected. And the never-ending rise of apartment buildings isn’t interesting.

 But, we did discover a few interesting things.

1. The COOLEST playground I have ever seen:

This playground consisted of 20 tube slides with tubes and tunnels on several different levels. It was very safe and very fun. Our children went wild when they saw the playground while we searched for our elusive hostel.  We finally stopped and let the kids out to run, slide and explore to their hearts’ content. And to our delight discovered the elusive hostel hiding very close to the playground.

2. In between the hostel and playground is a World War I cemetary with Australian and British graves. I knew very little about this war until I read several books (yes, all fiction!) that were set in the period–particularly in Middle East.

Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series has 4 or 5 books set during WWI in Egypt.

Anne Perry has a series that is fantastic set in WWI in England and in Brussels. The second book in the series is called Shoulder the Sky.

Dorothy Sayers’ sleuth, Lord Peter Whimsey, served in WWI and alludes to his experiences in some of his mysteries.

Anyhow, I walked through the cemetary at twilight. I was touched by the fresh wreath laid in memory of the fallen men. Some of the graves were for young men–some barely 18. Even though nearly a century has past, the thought of what those young men could have done in their futures is heartbreaking. I thought about the poetry I have read by brilliant young men who died in trenches in WWI. And suddenly, this war that I have only read about in fiction became real as I walked along the quiet rows of graves.

The cemetary was an unexpected find, but I’m grateful I was able to visit it.

3. Beer-sheva is the site where Abraham dug a well and then made a covenant with Abimelech about its use. The citation can be found in Genesis, but I’m too lazy to look it up. But more about my experience with the past in the next post.

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Oh how they grow

Today, after teaching piano lessons, and then picking up two of the boys from a friend’s house, I was thinking about how much my children have grown in the last few weeks.

Walter lost his first tooth, has two new teeth already grown in, and is awaiting the loss of his second “wobbly” tooth. He seems all arms and legs now and has a lanky look. He has outgrown many of his shirts and pants.

Trent, as I have always predicted, has become a ladies’ man. He is such a friendly fellow and is friends with all the girls at school. A couple of girls have really taken to him and have even had fights over him. Sigh! I have this feeling that girls are going to be a big problem–especially in junior high and high school. Despite the social challenges, Trent is progressing with his school and has started to read a few simple words! He also possesses a marvelous memory. Each Friday, he has a cooking class at preschool. Last Friday, he made cranberry muffins. On Sunday, I decided to make muffins for breakfast and asked Trent if he wanted to help. He told me he wanted cranberry muffins. I asked him how to make them and he recited the entire ingredient list from memory and even remember how to mix the muffins! I was impressed.

Josef just started preschool today. He has been going to the after-school care three days a week while I teach piano and music lessons. And he is friends with several of the other little “kingfishers”. I felt all choked up inside when he got ready this morning, asked for his snack and packed his indoor slippers. He did really well at school and participated. When I picked him up, he looked really tired. He gave me the longest hug and then held his sister for a long time. It wasn’t a “I don’t like preschool hug” but rather a “I’ve had a good, long day but I missed you and Brooke hug”. He told me “I like my teachers. I like my school. I like my friends.”

Brooke is all over the place now. She is very close to crawling, but still is incredibly mobile with her back scoot, rolls, and ability to push herself around on the wood floor. She has two little teeth and is cutting two more teeth. Her hair has even grown a little thicker, although she still looks bald because her hair is pretty light.

I love watching my children grow and develop. It is so exciting to watch them become themselves–to develop their personalities and strengths and weaknesses. But at the same time, it is bittersweet.

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