November 30, 2005

White Chocolate-Raspberry Slices

Another really fancy cookie that is easy to make. It's like a tea biscuit. I found it last year in a magazine. It is a Challenge butter recipe.

Important Note: I made these last night and doubled the batch. It was very hard to work with the dough....very I had to sprinkle the dough with water. If I made it again, I would not use the whole amount of flour. I suggest just using a cup of flour for the regular recipe and add more flour if you can't form it into the ropes. Otherwise, this is a very good recipe!

White Chocolate-Raspberry Slices

1/2 cup Challenge Butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup raspberry jam
2 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1. In a large bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in flour, then beat until dough comes together.
2. Divide dough into thirds. On a floured surface, with the palms of your hands, roll each portion into a 9-inch long rope about 1-inch thick. Place ropes 3 inches apart on a buttered 12" x 15" inch baking sheet. Press your finger into dough to make 1/2 inch wide indentations at 1-inch intervals along each rope. Spoon 1/4 teaspoon jam into each indentation.
3. Bake ropes in a 350?F regular or convection oven until edges are lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet.
4. Place white chocolate in a plastic sandwich bag, pushing to one corner; secure bag just above chocolate with a twist-tie or knot. Immerse corner of bag in a cup of hot water until chocolate is melted. Dry bag, then with scissors, cut off the tip of the corner. Squeeze bag to drizzle white chocolate decoratively across ropes. Chill until white chocolate is firm to touch, about 1 hour, then cut each rope diagonally into 9 slices with the jam in the middle of the slice.

Yield: 27 cookies

Walnut Raspberry Brownies!

This is a recipe my sister started making for it away in little tins...years ago. It is a Baker's Chocolate recipe I think. It is wonderful with or without the walnuts.

Walnut Raspberry Brownies 

3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 c shortening
3 eggs
1 1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 c flour
1 1/2 c chopped walnuts
1/3 c seedless raspberry jam

Melt chocolate with shortening, cool slightly.
Blend together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt; stir in chocolate mixture, then flour. (hint: Mix these ingredients by hand, not with a mixer. A mixer makes the eggs too fluffy and gives the brownies a different texture. The brownies are supposed to have the consistency of fudge....or a little brownier than fudge.)

Fold in walnuts. Pour into well greased 8 inch square pan. Bake at 325 for about 40 minutes.

Spoon jam over hot brownies, letting it sink in. Let cool.

Make velvet chocolate glaze to spread over cooled brownies.

Velvet Chocolate Glaze

1 square of unsweet chocolate in microwave.

Blend in:
2 Tblsp each of butter and light corn syrup.

Stir in:
1 cup of powdered sugar
1 Tblsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Mix well. Spread over cooled brownies. When frosting is set, cut into 1 inch squares and place on a beautiful platter with a paper doily.

November 28, 2005

Which Jane Austen character are you?

I took my three older daughters to see the new Pride and Prejudice last week, the first day it was out. We are quite the Jane Austen fans. My oldest daughter raved about it and wants to see it over and over. I think I prefer the story told in the more lengthy five hour A&E production. I love the story and since we have four girls, there is a lot of material to use from it for teasing or quoting.

One of my favorite parts is the scene where Mrs. Bennet wants Jane to ride a horse to Mr. Bingley’s house because it looks like rain and she will have to stay the night.

Jane Bennet: May I have the carriage, father?
Mrs. Bennet: The carriage? No indeed! You must go on horseback for it looks like rain. Then you will have to stay the night!
Jane Bennet: Mother!
Mrs. Bennet: Oh, why do you look at me like that? Would you go all the way to Netherfield and back without seeing Mr Bingley? No indeed. - You will go on Nelly, that will do very well, indeed.

Tsk, tsk….anything to marry off her daughter to a rich man. I hope I don’t ever have to come to such desperate measures to get rid of mine…lol.

Today, while browsing some new-to-me blogs, I found this Jane Austen quiz on Gentle Art of Learning.

I’m glad I came out as one of my favorite characters…although I don’t know how true it is…

You are Emma, you like to talk of gossip and want
to be the center of attention...these are not
bad qualities because you genuially care about
everyone around you but are oblivious to what
is going on in your own life...

Which Jane Austen Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Some favorite scenes:

[Talking about Mrs. Elton]
Emma: She'd never seen him before, and she called him Knightley!
Harriet: I saw her at church. She seemed...
Emma: Vulgar? Base? Conceited? Crass? She actually seemed pleased to discover that Mr. Knightley was a gentleman. I doubt he'll return the compliment and find *her* a lady. She proposed that we form a *musical club*. Is it possible that Mr. Elton met her while doing charitable work in a mental infirmary?
Emma: There is only one thing to do with a person as impossible as she.
Harriet: What?
Emma: I must throw a party for her. Otherwise everyone will feel at once how much I dislike her.

[In the middle of a heated discussion, Emma tries to change the subject]
Emma Woodhouse: Did I mention we are having a new drain installed?

Maybe it’s a little true…heh.

November 27, 2005

Order shmorder
My daughter, Hannah, drives by this flamingo every day on her way out of her housing tract. It is a unique flamingo in that it wears costumes. She said every month or season she has lived there, this pink bird sports different costumes. For October he was dressed as a witch, now for Thanksgiving, it is dressed as a turkey. I was with her when she showed me the turkey suit and I laughed so hard, she took a picture of him. I will keep you updated on his changing looks.

I was trying to find a certain post, a recipe, on my blog today and realized I needed to organize a little bit. I have begun the process of putting the posts in catagories. Right now, I only have the topics of Recipes and To Israel 2005, but soon I will add more. The posts people ask me about or comment on most are also listed in the left column.

I hope to put up a lot of recipes for the Christmas season, so stay tuned.

November 26, 2005

The most wonderful time of the year....

Thanksgiving is over and it caught me a little off guard. My plan was to put up the Christmas tree today, but the man of the house was ready to do it yesterday. It's a good thing when a husband wants to get decorating done and I'm not about to argue!

We never put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving least not that I remember. The thing I remember about the day after Thanksgiving is getting up before dawn cracks (which is before God gets up, btw) and standing in long lines in the cold dark morning to go Christmas shopping. Standing in line to shop! Oh, the pain! We always got it mostly done though in one day and that was worth it. Things have changed now. Our oldest daughter is in college, we have 2 teenage girls and an 8 year old girl. These ages are a little hard to buy for, except the 8 year old. She wants roller skates, some Barbie movie and a 'rescue animal'....whatever that is. It turns out, the man of the house took it upon himself to order some mail order Christmas gifts for some of them. HUGE relief! loves him and is always sending him coupons and love notes. lol

I usually use the day after Thanksgiving to shop til noon (that's 7 hours of shopping when you begin at 5am!), then clean house and take down Fall decorations in preparation for Christmas decorations! I love the Christmas season...a whole month dedicated to celebration and awe. I think it is appropriate decadence for the celebration of the Incarnation! As I have studied Jewish holidays for the Messianic meanings hidden there, I am surprised by the lavish way they celebrated and enjoyed. (For some reason I always thought of Jewish folks as solemn and serious...wrong!)

And it is quite wonderful to see our whole country...the country that wants to ban the words Jesus and Christianity from it's vocabulary....actually celebrating with us Christians lavishly! As much as 'they' try to make it a 'winter holiday', the world doesn't easily forget that it is the Savior's birth we celebrate. As you walk through the mall or Walmart or see Christmas specials on TV, listen and hear Jesus being sung about in traditional carols and images of the creche scene out there in the secular world. I don't think 'they' will be able to totally secularize this holiday.

Because of our woodstove, which we love and gather around daily, we cannot have a real tree anymore. The year we got the woodstove, our Christmas tree disintegrated before our eyes as it dried to a crisp. The needles would cascade down every time your walked by it or touched it. By Christmas day we were praying that no one would light a match within a few feet of it and misting it with water each apologies to any hand painted ornaments we had. =(

So instead of hunting for the perfect tree, bundling it up on the roof of the car, sawing off the base and trying to prop it up to balance in the tottering stand so it wouldn't topple (and it did at least one year), we go to the shed and drag the huge box that houses our brand spanking new artificial tree into the house, hoping it's cold enough outside to prevent any spiders from coming in with it. (that was on long sentence baby...maybe a new record!) Once it is up and decorated, I am not so disappointed, but seeing our Christmas tree come out of a box, all in color coded pieces is just not right. So I try to hide while the man of the house and the girls put it up. And it is a pretty one...people always come closer and feel it before asking if it is fake...but it's still not right in my eyes. There is no Christmas smell or the job of watering the base or exploring between the branches for critters or pine bare spaces to cover or balancing act to entertain us, no comparing how this tree is better than last year's tree.....since it looks exactly the same each year now. Then we look at the fire crackling in the woodstove and's worth it I guess. *pout*

Today I will be taking down all my Fall decorations amid the already strewn around Christmas fluff all over the place. I will pack away all my tiny colored corns and fake leaves, my pumpkin candy dish (which we actually just found yesterday tucked into a Christmas box! I can't tell you how I searched high and low for that thing in October.), my scarecrow, my corncob basket and cornucopia. I'll more carefully pack away my cornhusk pilgrim and Indians, since the pilgrims were kind of squished and falling over when I got them out this year....had to prop them against a pumpkin. And I'll throw out my tiny gourds and pumpkins, which did NOT mold this year...yay. I will pull down my Fall door hanging and put up a wreath, scrape out the candy corn bits from the candy dish (not the pumpkin one, a Christmas one...since I couldn't find it) and put out Christmas hard candy.

I hope you enjoy the Christmas season this year. No matter what hardships we've been through or where the months have taken us, seeing the twinkle lights, wreaths, and beautiful city streets decorated will inspire you to turn your thoughts to the wonderful, unspeakable joy of the Incarnation. God came to earth, to dwell with us.....celebrate!

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail, the incarnate deity
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

November 23, 2005

Some reasons to be thankful

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Psalm 103 (NLT)

A psalm of David.

Praise the LORD, I tell myself;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.

Praise the LORD, I tell myself,
and never forget the good things he does for me.

He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.

He ransoms me from death
and surrounds me with love and tender mercies.

He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle's!

The LORD gives righteousness
and justice to all who are treated unfairly.

He revealed his character to Moses
and his deeds to the people of Israel.

The LORD is merciful and gracious;
he is slow to get angry and full of unfailing love.

He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.

He has not punished us for all our sins,
nor does he deal with us as we deserve.

For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.

He has removed our rebellious acts
as far away from us as the east is from the west.

The LORD is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

For he understands how weak we are;
he knows we are only dust.

Our days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.

The wind blows, and we are gone--
as though we had never been here.

But the love of the LORD remains forever
with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children's children

of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!

The LORD has made the heavens his throne;
from there he rules over everything.

Praise the LORD, you angels of his,
you mighty creatures who carry out his plans,
listening for each of his commands.

Yes, praise the LORD, you armies of angels
who serve him and do his will!

Praise the LORD, everything he has created,
everywhere in his kingdom.
As for me--I, too, will praise the LORD.

November 17, 2005

To Israel, part 7

The last day of our tour in Israel was really meaningful. Piling onto the tour busses that morning, we drove to a place called the Garden Tomb. We entered and were given a talk by a small elderly man with a thick Scottish accent. He was a member of the Garden Tomb Association of London, the caretakers of this beautiful place, full of green foliage of all types, which cool the air and put your heart at peace. He enthusiastically told us about the history of the area, why they believe it is the place where Jesus was buried and rose again, and then showed us the tomb. The tomb is in a place of bedrock, partially used as a quarry where they got stone from to build in Jerusalem. It is in the side of a hill….a small hill…that looks distinctly like a scull from the front. Unfortunately, and as with a lot of the historic sites around Israel, it is right beside an Arabic bus terminal. The scull is still visible though and I got a very eerie feeling looking at it, knowing this could be the place Jesus died, paying the penalty for my sin. They can’t be sure of course, but it is most like the garden tomb described in John 19:41-42. After viewing the hill, we got to step inside the tomb, which had two areas carved out for bodies. Only one had been used. They know this because when they laid the body in, they cut a place for the feet to slip in under the rock. Tombs were made a uniform size, then made longer at the feet depending on how tall the person was after they had died. At the entrance to the tomb, there was a track cut out of the bedrock to put a large round rock in and roll it into place.

Gathering at an outdoor seating area, we heard a sermon about the resurrection and read the Scriptures about the women coming to dress the body, finding the tomb empty and running back to tell the disciples. We pictured John and Peter running in and finding the burial clothes and the linen cloth folded neatly and set aside. The pastor who spoke has researched this greatly, as well as studying Jewish traditions and life. He told us something we had never realized before. The Jewish men put on a prayer shawl, a talit, when they go through bar mitzvah and they wear it every day until they die. It is precious and holy to them, it symbolizes a lot of reminders about the Law and God to them. When they die, their tradition is to wrap it around the man’s body to be buried in it. This is the linen cloth that the disciples found, lovingly folded and left as a sign to them that Jesus had risen. What a wonderful thought, and so meaningful.

After we heard the teaching, we had communion there in the garden. Part of the history of the area is that a large cistern was found under the ground, the third largest in Israel, to collect rainwater. Also found was a large winepress, so the garden was most likely a large vineyard, watered from the cistern. Our communion was provided free of charge by the Garden Tomb Association, unleavened bread and wine served in small olive wood cups. The curator told us to keep the cups as a memento of our visit….they are beautiful. We sang hymns about the cross, the words pounding into my mind the real meaning….He died, suffered torturously, willingly paid my penalty. I just wept and ached from the hard truth, from the gratitude welling up powerfully inside me and drank the cup with trembling lips. It was the most meaningful moment of the trip and perhaps of my life. Until now I haven’t been able to put all of this into words. I’m thankful to have the medium to take my time and do it.

One more thing before we left the country…we left a gift, each of us planting a small tree in a forest park. Planting a tree is symbolic of growth in the blessings of God for Israel’s future:

“Let the field be joyful, and all that is within it; then all the trees of the wood will rejoice before the Lord.” Psalms 96:12

There were a lot of trees planted there, each watered by hoses with holes in them running along the rows of neatly planted seedlings. Israel was a blessing to us…it was a blessing to see their courage, strength, ingenuity, and generosity. It was a blessing to see the carefully preserved Biblical sites and to be safe while doing so. We are praying for the peace of Israel and the coming of Christ, so the Jewish people we met may be part of the remnant of Jews who believe at His coming.

Please join us and pray for Israel.

November 16, 2005

To Israel, part 6

On the Sabbath day, we went to the Mount of Olives, which overlooks the Eastern Wall of the city. It is the place the Bible tells us that the Messiah will enter the city through when He comes back to the earth. It was a drizzly day, which is how I was feeling, looking over at the Muslim Mosque situated where the Temple of God should be…..not permanently though. We went to Mount Zion, adjacent to the southwestern corner of the old city….like I said, the area of Jerusalem is a lot of large hills and deep valleys. You can see a view of the Kidron Valley from there. I always imagined these places far from each other, but they are all right there in the same vicinity. Mount Zion is where they believe King David is buried. There is a tomb there and it is a holy sight for the Jews. Directly above the tomb is where tradition says the upper room is, where the disciples had the last supper and also gathered after Jesus’ ascension to await the power of the Holy Spirit. The reason they believe it is the sight of the upper room is because Jesus refers to the spirit of David being among them. There is more to it, but my brain is fuzzy on some of this.

On Sunday we walked through the Lion’s Gate and had a worship service at the Church of St. Anne. This was an amazing church, with huge domes. Our worship leader got up and spoke without microphone because the acoustics are so amazing. When he began to sing though, in a rich low voice, and it filled the room as our hearts were drawn in to worship.

We went to Ein Karem, the traditional sight of the cave of John the Baptist. If you’re interested, look this up on the internet and read about it. It is a really cool place, discovered on a kibbutz. This day we also went to the Memorial to the Holocaust at Yad Vashem. It was a beautiful memorial museum, but very troubling to the spirit and after a few displays I had to just walk through and couldn’t read or take in anymore. I think sometimes our minds can handle that kind of information and process it, but this was not that kind of day for me. It made my spirit very heavy and my stomach nauseas. The memorial to the children of the holocaust was beautiful. It was a separate building and when we went in, it was a dark room, filled with mirrors at all different angles and just six lit candles which reflected on forever it seemed, to represent those children who died. The mirrors are hidden by the darkness and the reflections of light seem to go on, like stars in space. As you walk through, the names of the children who died in concentration camps are read aloud. It takes 2 years for all the names to be read. Our guide said that she was once taking some tourists through the memorial and actually heard her cousins names read aloud while she was in there.

Monday found us in the Judean Wilderness, which is vast and barren. I took five rocks from the place we stopped to remind me of the temptation Jesus had to turn the rocks into bread when He was so hungry after fasting 40 days in that same wilderness. From this place, we were able to look over the modern day town of Jericho. From there, we went on into the desert to the Dead Sea, where we visited Qumran, the caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered and some braver folks put on swim suits and floated in the Dead Sea on this chilly day. Then we went a short distance to the ruins of Massada. We rode a tram up to the sight of the ruins and were astounded by the engineering feats of those ancient people. They had a water system, for safely gathering rain water from all the surrounding mountains into a cistern. There were mosaic tiles on the floors, vivid colors of paint in patches on some of the walls, a Roman bath house and even a steam room. Herod’s palace was built on the 3 tiered, steep side of the mountain, which stands totally disconnected from the rest of the mountain range. This is the night we had dinner at a Bedoin Camp in tents….very good food, which is good, since we were kind of nervous about this one. ;)

Tuesday I took a break. I was exhausted and needing a day off, so Charles went alone to tour the Old City of Jerusalem. They walked through winding, narrow streets, went through the tunnel system under the Western Wall, saw the street markets (which he took wonderful pictures of) and tour through the Jewish Quarter and the Herodian Quarter. After hours of walking, they returned to the hotel and I went with them to an Israeli Air Force Base to have dinner with the cadets in training. (see story in part 4) Amazing young people….

To Israel, part 5

We saw so many beautiful, awe inspiring places while in Israel. I’m just going to hit on a few in detail and mention the rest. One thing I never expected when I thought about going to the Holy Land was the spiritual softness, the receptivity we experienced there. It is hard to put into words, but I think that is the best I can do. First, seeing the Jews gathering back to Israel from every nation, knowing they are readying for the Messiah. Then to hear our guide and other tour specialists explain the reasons that they believe this or that to be the place where such and such happened. It sounded like they were believers. They were not Christians, but they did know the people of the Bible lived and there is evidence that these stories happened. To listen to their sureness that Christ went here and did this there made your heart ache for them to add that last ingredient…faith. Seeing a whole nation of people who live and walk where the Savior did, who have studied His teachings and the stories of His life for tourism reasons, yet are walking in a stunted faith. They love God and follow their religion, but I ache for them to know Him…to know the Messiah. One tour specialist was talking about how there was so much evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, even down to John the Baptist looking as though he was the incarnation of Elijah, which is so important to Bible prophecy. He said it was enough for anyone to believe Jesus was the Messiah, “….but then things fell apart for him.” He said, referring to being crucified. Yikes! It was enough to break your heart!

As I mentioned, the Sea of Galilee was spectacular. The first few days we toured that region and saw the lake from various viewpoints. We went to an ancient synagogue at Capernaum. We drove by the hillside that they think might be the place Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, because it is a natural amphitheatre. We drove up into the Golan Heights, beautiful mountain country from which we could see Mount Herman in the distance with a dusting of snow over it. There in the Golan Heights, we saw Caesarea Philippi, where the headwaters of the Jordan River are. They have ruins there by the river of an ancient place of idol worship…recesses are cut out of the sheer rock wall that used to house the gods of the Greeks. It is where Peter first confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.

Late that afternoon we went to a place called Migdal Ohr, a home for orphaned Jewish boys from Russia mainly. It began as a rabbi’s dream to stop the homeless or misguided Jewish youth of Israel from ruining their lives and becoming criminals. He would go out into the streets and into nightclubs and talk to these youth, caring for them and asking them to come live with him and be taught how to become productive citizens. Now it is mainly for the orphans, girls and boys. He brings them in, provides education, training and a loving environment. As we entered, the walkway was lined with bright eyed, enthusiastic young boys, singing us in! It was beautiful. They had an outdoor program of singing, dancing and heard several people talk about the success of the center.

That night (yes, this is all in one day!) we ate dinner at the Kiryat Yam Absorption Center, where they house, teach and train new Jewish immigrants who come to Israel. They currently have a huge number of Ethiopian immigrants, who fled their country this year because of persecution. They will learn Hebrew, learn the culture, the ways of their new country and be trained to work in jobs there before going out on their own to make a life for themselves.

We got home late and fell into bed, instantly becoming unconscious. =)

We visited the new excavations at Bethseida, we went to a museum which is built around an ancient, first century fishing boat that was recently discovered, drove through modern day Cana and Nazareth, very hilly country, housing built in terraced style up the hillsides. It was fun to look out and imagine Jesus growing up there in those hills, plush with trees. Then it was on to a really cool excavation sight called Beit Shean. It is a place the Romans built into a palatial city with Roman bath houses, columns and a theatre, all very much recognizable. Most of the columns were fallen over from an earthquake, but they are piecing it together. It is a really awesome place, very well preserved.

We had a baptismal service in the late afternoon at the Jordan River. The river is small, maybe 25 feet across, and has very steep banks, covered with lush grass and trees. It is a beautiful place! Dinner was at a place called the Lido, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We ate with a lady who is a Catholic nun from California. Someone asked her if she was baptized today. “Yes, it was wonderful,” she said, holding a finger up to her lips, “but don’t tell the Holy Father!” She is 86 years old and everyone just loved her sweet spirit, she was a joy.

The next day we went to Megiddo, which overlooks the valley of Armageddon, Mount Carmel, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, and Caesarea, right on the Mediterranean Sea. The seashore was beautiful with dark and light blue waters crashing onto the shore. Just above the shore was the magnificently preserved ruins of Caesarea. It was a place built by Herod to honor the Roman Caesar and was the capital of the Roman Province there. It has a large Roman bath, the remains of an elaborate palace which faced out onto the sea, a hippodrome to race horses, and a theatre (still in use today) where Paul went to be heard by Felix, when he declared his Roman citizenship.

We ended the day driving up (up!) into Jerusalem to arrive shortly before sundown to begin the Sabbath at the Western Wall…often called the Wailing Wall. Jerusalem is truly a city on a hill…it is mountainous in fact. In Jerusalem there are several large hills and between them are deep valleys. There are so many houses and buildings all over the hills, however, that is pictures you can’t tell how mountainous it is. We rode into the city to the old song Jerusalem, Jerusalem. It was one of those moments I can’t explain….it brought tears to our eyes and wonder to our hearts. I wrote about the things that happened at the Wall in part 4. It was a very moving experience that we will treasure.

November 12, 2005

To Israel, part 4

The Lifestyle

I keep mentioning the kibbutzes there in Israel, so I guess I should explain what they are. I found the concept innovative and fascinating. When the nation of Israel took back their homeland in the 1940’s, you can imagine there was a lot of strife with the neighboring countries and the people they took it back from. Under constant threat of attack, farming was a dangerous occupation, because you are alone on a large piece of land, putting your family, crops, and livestock in a very vulnerable position. So being innovative people, they banded together, lots of families and single people investing in a large piece of land….men and women working the land, caring for livestock, caring for each other’s children, cooking for a crowd. It is a very effective way of producing great results. Today kibbutzes are used not only for effective farming, but also to introduce new immigrants to the country. You join a kibbutz, they give you a job, a place to stay, food and friendship. In many kibbutzes half of your day involves learning how to speak and write in Hebrew.

I mentioned that the young people of Israel are so focused and sharp. One night we had dinner at an Israeli Air Force Base. We ate half tourists and half cadets at a table. It was fun trying to communicate with them as they practiced their English on us. Two of them were fluent in English, one tried and one sat quietly watching us. Many of them know three languages…their native language of where they grew up, Hebrew as an immigrant to Israel, and English to communicate with their best allied country. It astounded us that every high school graduate in their country is expected to serve two years in the military….and they do it gladly. We asked a young lady at our table what happens if they choose not to do their military service. She tried to explain that her peers would look down on them if they did not serve…it brought shame upon you. Patriotism is such a high value there…they do not take their freedom or democracy for granted. I wonder how long we in America will have that stupid luxury. We carelessly take so much for granted.

We had a great opportunity as we came into Jerusalem late Friday afternoon to just make it to the Western Wall as Sabbath was beginning. As we approached the wall area, I noticed young, old, modern and traditional people coming to pray. Men had to cover their heads with a yamaka (they had paper ones available for visitors) and women had to cover their head with a scarf or covering of some kind. I only had the hood of my raincoat, but several others did the same, so I guess that was alright. Many had their Jewish prayer books and rocked and prayed, kissed their shawls, their books….then slowly backed away from the wall backwards. The backing away is a respectful, old fashioned way to show honor, not turning your back to the Temple area. Many left notes and prayers in the cracks of the wall. Our guide said that people believe that when the paper falls out, then God has heard your prayers and they are swept up each day.

A lot of things are like that in modern Jewish religion….hoping, wishing, tradition, but not secure….it’s an impersonal kind of faith. I found myself hoping and praying for them, that Messiah, Jesus, will come back soon, in their generation, so that they will see Who He is and believe….I am having that hope for them. I wish I had put that in the Wall, but didn’t think of it then.....I'm glad that God hears us when we pray and doesn't have to pull out papers stuck into an old stone wall.

The Sabbath day we of course were still touring around Jerusalem, but I noticed how the Jewish people walked and laughed and enjoyed the day with each other….just what Sabbath should be. The next day, our Christian day of worship, we gathered at the Mount of Olives for a teaching on the Second Coming as we faced the Eastern Gate of the city, where the Messiah is supposed to enter Jerusalem when He comes again. It was a very memorable Sunday morning. =)

I’m still kind of reeling from all the travel…I think I have extended motion sickness from the flight home or something…but I will try to add more about the places we saw in the coming days.

To Israel, part 3

The Food
I can see why everywhere you go in Israel, you see slim people. Their diet is so healthy! Every meal we’ve had here has included fresh produce. For breakfast they lay out the cucumbers and tomatoes, lettuce, all kinds of melons, citrus and fruits, yogurt, granola and cereals…and to our surprise, fish! Fish for breakfast? Well that is what Jesus served isn’t it? It’s the only meal we know He cooked and it was fish for breakfast….very cool…icky, but cool. They also have pasta for breakfast….lasagna, alfredo and noodles with mushrooms, eggs baked on top of this very good, Italian tasting mixture of tomatoes, onions and peppers. Lots of pastries, not rich but very good….lots of breads. The past few days they have had scrambled eggs and also a make your own omelet station too.

The restaurants here in the hotel are kosher, so it took some getting used to. To be kosher, you cannot (for one thing) serve meat along with any dairy products…which is one reason their meat dishes were so healthy….no butter, milk or cheese! So at breakfast and lunch, you are served lots of breads, veggies, fruits and dairy products. But at dinner, there is no cheese, no creamer for your coffee, no cream soups or pasta with cheese, no butter for your bread…it takes a while to get into that frame of mind for Americans.

Israeli’s are also very fond of humus…plain humus, no garlic. Humus with bread, humus on your salad, humus wherever mayo or something creamy should be, fried humus in your sandwich (called falafel). Humus in the morning, humus in the evening, humus at the noon time too. Everybody sing! (or hum…heehee) Humus at every meal, a humus for every occasion, thin, thick, little green herbs in it…it had us sticking rarely found ketchup packets, and even more rare: salad dressing packets, in our purses and pockets!

We ate our breakfast at the hotels, then lunch and dinner could get interesting. Here are some of our experiences:

For lunch, we always stopped at some food place along the tour, chosen by our tour directors. We ate at kibbutzes several times. Often a kibbutz has a side business along with farming, so a lot of them have a restaurant, usually cafeteria style…..lots of salads, fruits, and very good selections of main dishes. These were usually familiar things like baked chicken, a sausage looking thing, sometimes on a skewer called a shish-kabob, but it was only meat…like a meatball, made of lamb and spices, a turkey or chicken sandwich (in a pita, not sliced bread) called schwarmies...not sure of that spelling. The side dishes were rices, potatoes, and a lot of baked sweet potatoes or baked squashes and peppers…very good! Throw a pita bread on top and you have a common lunch here.

One day we went to a little place run by an Arab family who made falafel, a ‘meatball’ made not of meat, but of ground chickpeas (humus) that were fried and put into a pita pocket. It was very good…and for those who gagged at the thought of chickpeas again, there were also thinly sliced and breaded chicken or turkey strips which they call schnitzel.

One lunch time, we ate at a place that cooked St. Peter fish….a fish they think was the one Jesus told Peter to open it’s mouth and got a coin to pay taxes. This fish is found mainly in the Sea of Galilee and is UGLY. Unfortunately for us skittish Americans, it was cooked with the head on, kind of lightly breaded and fried with a side of French fries. I had the schnitzel!

Dinners at the hotel were elegant, served one course at a time and kosher. The main courses were Americanish, served with wonderful vegetables and salads and breads. The desserts at the hotels were very good…but very small portions, it was always just right and never too much. Except for the night they put out a dessert buffet. You should have heard and seen the excited, sugar enticed Americans ooing and awing over that buffet! We all heaped it on our plates like it was the end of the world. LOL All the time we were feeling guilty for being piggish, but not caring. I appreciated the Israeli ways of eating (except the humus thing…oh, and fish for breakfast makes me shudder). I may keep on trying the no dairy with meats idea because it seemed much more digestible and agreeable….although Charles keeps saying, “Just give me a cheeseburger!”

The People

I know this will sound like I am gushing, but I was very impressed by the Israeli people. As you probably know, Israel is wanting to bring back all the Jews from all over the world (if they want to) to make their nation one again and to build up their strength as a nation. So there are people from every race and language coming ‘home’ to Israel. They have a large place called an immigration absorption center that we visited one day. A very large number of Ethiopian people had been brought in within the last 6 months and they were who we had dinner with and learned about. They are careful to make sure people have authentic Jewish ancestry and bring them in to the absorption center to teach them Hebrew and teach them the customs and practical things about their new country. After one year, they are trained to do a job, fit in to the culture and speak the language. It is amazing, very organized, very interesting.

From our airport experience to the hotels and businesses, we saw a lot of young Israeli citizens all around, very professional, very motivated and sharp! They have a great generation coming up. When the young people are in grade school and high school, they go on trips around their country and shown them the agriculture and history of their land. It instills a great pride in them and they love their country whole-heartedly. So when we were at a few of the tourist areas, we would see the Israeli youth there and they would approach us and say, “Hello, welcome to our Land. What is your name? Where are you from? Shalom.” It was really cool.

There is a distinct orthodox Jewish population, then there are traditional Jews, who celebrate the holidays and traditions, but are not overly religious. Then there are secular Jews, who are not religious at all…but who are still very proud of their heritage. Here in the U.S. I have mainly known secular Jews, but in Israel, the Jews we met were mostly religious and interested in the things that were happening in their country because they are awaiting and preparing for the Messiah to come. We Christians are interested in it because we are waiting for the Messiah to come again. So we seemed to have a commonality that was very interesting to see. The rabbi’s we had speak were very excited about Americans visiting the country and especially that we were with an organization that was helping bring Jewish immigrants back to Israel.

As I mentioned, there are also Muslims and Palestinians living in Israel. It is striking how separated their cultures and housing areas are. As long as they are living in peace within the same country, they are welcome….but there is also a lot of continuing strife in some areas. Israeli’s live constantly on guard in close quartered settlements, looking out for each other, determined to stay even in unsure times, with a great love for their country.

November 11, 2005

To Israel, part 2

Our first few days in Israel were spent in the region of Galilee….our hotel was right on the Sea of Galilee. (which is really a large lake, not a sea) The first day we got onto a ferry and rode it across the Sea of Galilee, which was a beautiful experience being on the lake that Jesus spent so much time on. I wondered if we would run into a storm in the middle of the lake. It only sprinkled on us, but seeing those waves would have been awesome!

The Galilee region is beautiful! With God’s help, the Israeli people have made this land into an abundant, productive country. A very common thing to see is a kibbutz, which is a group of people who live on a large piece of land and farm it. Each person on a kibbutz is treated equally. They are not paid, but are provided for and it is an enjoyable atmosphere. A lot of immigrants come into the country through a kibbutz because they not only run a farm or sometimes a side business along with the farm, they also teach new immigrants Hebrew and how to assimilate into Israeli culture. Our guide was a Jewish immigrant from Sweden. She came here 25 years ago and lived on a kibbutz for a year. Her stories are wonderful and she has taught us so much about modern Israel as well as the Holy land sites. While we are here, we are not to try to convert all the Jews that we see. We would not be welcome in this country long if we did. But I feel like we are a witness by caring about the Jews, acknowledging that they are God’s people still and supporting them in building up their rightful homeland again. Our guide as well as our guard are both Jewish immigrants, as well as our driver, who was born here. They love their country, they welcome tourists, especially Americans, to see their country and are preparing it for more and more Jewish immigrants to be able to return here. Now that they have a safe place to return to, there are thousands and thousands of Jewish people around the world who want to move here.

Every valley you see here is filled with agriculture….date, orange, grapefruit, mango, banana, avocado, apricot, plum and of course, olive groves. There are also cotton, pomegranates, figs, grape vineyards, as well as any kinds of garden vegetables you can think of. The Israeli people have created innovative ways to use water as well. Every plant that you walk by has a discreet little hose around it or by it that is a drip system to maximize water’s effectiveness. For several decades now, Israel has been planting tree after tree, reforesting the land. It used to be forested, but was cut down by usurpers making way for railroads. The forests are lovely too! Tall pines, cypress, and everywhere you go, you see huge eucalyptus trees. These were brought over from Australia as a gift to Israel and they are thriving!

The police and security are everywhere, so we feel very safe, although there are some areas we are not allowed to go to right now, even though they are part of this country. There are peaceful settlements of Muslims or Palestinians in every city, but there are also those that are volatile and possibly dangerous for tourists. Two of these that we were disappointed about are Bethlehem and Jericho. We got to peek over into both Bethlehem and Jericho from other places. Each looks like a regular city in Israel now, but as with all the places we visited there, you had to use your imagination to visualize what it must have been like.....a huge wall around Jericho with windows, one with a scarlet cloth hanging out....pastures of sheep around the hillsides of Bethlehem....very cool to imagine.

We get up in the mornings between 5:30 and 6am, eat breakfast and are on the tour bus by 8am, we tour around until late afternoon and then they have things planned in the evenings. My friend BJ has been on one of these tours and said the Holy Land tour busses should have a slogan on the bus, “I ran today where Jesus walked!” It’s so true. So I have been falling into bed, knowing I should write some things down but too tired to care. Now that I have time, it’s all so overwhelming, I’m not sure I can remember it all in order but I’ll try to hit on the highlights in the next few entries.

November 10, 2005

To Israel, part 1

When I imagine things, events, the future, it is always different than what my expectations were. There is no way to interpret what an experience will be like if you’ve never gone that way before…it doesn’t stop me though, I can’t help but wonder. For months now, since last spring, we have known we were going to Israel this fall. It was like a far off, exotic thing that was going to happen. Neither my husband or me has ever been overseas, so we had no idea what to expect….it was just a big wonder in our minds. My mind went to fear of the unknown and of preconceived ideas about the Middle East that I had developed.

Well, we are here now….the airplane didn’t drop us, we were not accosted by thugs in New York City, and I feel very safe walking around a Middle Eastern county…I didn’t get shoved into a car and kidnapped by terrorists once! Surprise, surprise! None of the things I let my mind wander off to worry about happened, and I am thankful for that. I’m so glad to finally be here and having this adventure instead of trying to imagine it. The real thing is always better than the imaginary…at least in my experience, since I tend to be anxious about the unknown and have a very vivid imagination.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though….we have already had adventures, even before leaving America. We arrived in JFK airport around 5pm Monday night. There was the occasional witch or vampire in the airports….since we flew out on October 31. Having a 7 hour layover in NYC, the airline provided us a complimentary hotel room to use until later that evening. We showered, had dinner and rode the shuttle back to JFK just in time to get in line with about 80 other people who were in our tour group.

We got in line at the Israeli airline counter, each person being interviewed by young Israeli employees. They were efficient and businesslike, but it made us nervous to be treated in a suspicious way.

When it was our time to be interviewed, the beautiful young woman interrogating us turned to her official voice and began spouting off questions….What is your business in Israel? How old are you? Has anyone given you something to bring into Israel that is not yours? Have you been in control of your luggage every moment since leaving home? Hmmm She stepped back to talk to a supervisor….”You come with me, ok.” (it was not a question, it was a command) “This woman will check your bags. Do not leave, we will show you where to go.”

We were led to a side area, dragging our over packed luggage to where some other people from the flight to Israel were also sitting. We sat….waited….the Israeli airline employees hustled around, talked to each other, gestured at us, talked some more, and talked about us to each other. Then she came back to us. “We have to search your bags. Please stay here.” More talking among other employees and gesturing. They took my carry on twice to check it with a wand. They took several of the others waiting with us behind a curtain to check them with a wand. (What made us nervous was not the wands, it was the plastic gloves they wore….help!) Everyone made it through alright and it turned out the gloves were only to protect them from germs or something. *whew!* “You leave everything here. It must be searched. Come back after 12:30.”

Well, there’s not a lot to do for 4 hours in JFK’s terminal 4 in the late evening hours, so we walked, sat, talked, drank coffee, watched people, sighed, then did it all again. When 12:30 came, we went back thinking we would pick up or carry on items and go to our gate. Wrong…..we were told we had to be escorted to the gate, so we had to wait with our little group of 6 other mighty suspicious looking baby boomers. ;) We were assigned a guard, walked with the guard through security, our stuff was checked again and we had to sit in a group with our guard until the plane started boarding. We were walked out in front of everyone waiting in line to board and put on first. We all felt pretty silly and strange, but when our guard let us go, he waved and smiled like we were old friends and told us to have a very nice visit. I think all of us thanked him for making everything so secure for us….but I think we all had the same feeling of “Why us???” The only thing we could think that we all had in common was our ages….all of us in our 30’s and 40’s. They say it is random, but we all saw a lot more suspicious-looking characters than us there on our flight. (some of them we have been riding around on tour busses with for a week now!) lol

The flight over was 10 hours loooooooooong. There was a large group of Hasidic Jews riding over to Israel from New York that night, all with their families. So all night there were babies crying and Jewish men stalking up and down the isles of the plane…up and down, up and down, stopping in the bulkhead to rock back and forth, saying prayers, all wearing a white button down shirt, a yamika under a jaunty looking black hat, black trousers and long black jacket. Several had the traditional long locks of hair growing where sideburns are, some with long bristly beards. The women sat with the poor fussy babies, the men and boys pacing and stomping and bumping my elbow, sometimes carrying their fussy baby as they paced. Oiy vey with the pacing already!

It was also our first taste of Middle Eastern food during the two meals that were served on the flight. It was hilarious to hear some of the Americans (especially the Texans) after they had taken a huge bite of humus, thinking it was mashed potatoes. People were holding it up, examining it, asking what it was….lol. We did finally arrive in Tel Aviv, loaded onto our busses, drove to Tiberius and collapsed into our hotel beds.

Our tour guide, Madelyn, told us she will tell us what the pacing and rocking is about on one of our touring days…..all information comes at a certain point, not when you want to know, but when they think you should know. She is a great tour guide and I am not complaining, it actually cracks me up. She is a Jewish immigrant from Sweden, so she has a very distinctive accent that you find yourself imitating in your head as you think about what she’s said…it’s very contagious. So when you ask her a question, sometimes she just looks at you and says, “Well that is a very good question, but we will talk about it later, ok.” Again, ‘ok’ over here is not a question like Americans use it to infer, “Is that ok with you?” It is just a way of telling you what you will do. She has a wealth of seemingly endless information about this land, the people, her Jewish faith and history. We listen to her with eager ears….part of her charm is the strong Swedish accent sprinkled with Yiddish expressions and hand movements while speaking English….and she tells jokes that are unexpected and make us chuckle.

Today is Thursday. We have already seen and done so much, but we arrive back at the hotel at 10pm or later and have been falling into bed, not moving til morning! Today is the first day that my head hasn’t hurt and I have been able to ride the tour bus without falling asleep instantly whenever Madelyn was not talking.

It is a weird thing to do all that traveling and time changing and step right into a busy schedule. Jet lag feels more like a mental disorder than mere sleepiness. Besides falling asleep suddenly, you get confused easily, say funny words, tip your water too far away from your mouth so that is goes pouring onto your shirt, drop things, and it’s made a few of us a little tipsy….not from alcohol, but from a dizzy, off kilter feeling in your head. Tomorrow we move to a hotel in Jerusalem and stay there the rest of the time, so I think I will write more later.

Until then, shalom….