Monday, December 29, 2008
We had a great time Christmas morning watching the kids open their presents. They each got three or four toys, which pretty much doubled their toy stash. They were stoked. Mom and dad were happy, too, that the kiddos would have more toys to keep them entertained.
And I better show off my Christmas present from Tom and the kids. Tom did well. He got me a Bedouin ring I had been eyeing in the Old City. LOVE it.
After the Christmas carols, the Jewish girl who speaks no English sang an opera song in Italian, then a couple of the Spanish members sang a South American song in Spanish, followed by the Filipino members singing a carol in Tagalog. Doesn't get any better.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
April has an adorable Etsy shop and baby accessory blog named Sweet Ruby where she sells some to-die-for baby stuff. She is having a giveaway that you all have to check out! I'm not officially entering myself since I'm so far away and not easy to ship things to, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to support two wonderful people.
So go check out "Sweet Ruby" now!
Saturday, December 27, 2008
A friend of ours gave us a ride home from church, which added to my happiness that my talk was over and I had the rest of the day to relax. We came home, ate lunch, and we all went down for naps.
When I woke up at about 4:30 or 5:00, I saw right away online that Israel made a major attack on Gaza as I peacefully slept in my bed. At this point they're saying about 200 are dead, and many other hundreds are wounded. I almost felt guilty for not being aware in the very moment so many were living in fear and horror, not too far from us.
As I got up to make dinner, I heard many helicopters flying overhead. So after dinner I got back online and heard that there have been some incidences in Jerusalem, also, in response to the attack on Gaza.
Here is a quote from the Jerusalem Post online:
Following the IAF assault on Gaza, outbreaks of rioting were being reported in East Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians at the entrance to the Shoafat refugee camp were hurling rocks at police and Border Police forces, who were attempting to disperse the demonstration. On Salah-adDin street in the city, dozens of protesters set ablaze garbage bins.
Earlier, several demonstrators were arrested after hurling rocks at police at the Flowers Gate in the Old City, and in the Muslim Quarter.
These places are very familiar to us. We go to the Muslim Quarter in the Old City regularly, and Salah-adDin is probably one of my favorite places to go in all of Jerusalem. It has fun shopping and is full of very nice people. We call it "our street" because we like it so much. Here are a couple pictures I took one of the first times I ever went there...
Tom recently got a text message from the University which said to avoid going into East Jerusalem and the Old City, which is funny because we LIVE in East Jerusalem! In fact, the main campus of Hebrew U is in East Jerusalem, along with all of their dorms. Hmm. Not quite sure what they expect the students to do.
Apparently, there is a lot of talk on Facebook about all the sirens, smoke, explosions, and police cars racing around our neighborhood. We haven't heard or seen much of it, so I'm not sure how much of it is hype. Our windows also probably face the wrong direction to see what's going on, so maybe that's part of it.
I'm not sure why I'm rambling on about this. I have a hard time making sense of a lot of it in my mind. I do understand where both sides come from, to an extent. I guess the hard part for me is I love Israelis, and I love Palestinians. Part of me just can't fathom why they want to hurt each other, and then the other part of me knows EXACTLY why they want to hurt each other.
Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that my heart is heavy today.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Joni starting on the ornaments, with Jackson carrying around his popcorn in the background. My kids were very happy campers.
Tom trying to put the origami star on top, but it wasn't going so well. We finally just taped it to the wall up at the tip of the tree...so it's not exactly hooked to the actual tree. Shh...don't tell.
We used Jackson's adorable blanket from Tom's cousin, Haley, for the tree skirt and it worked great. Lisa had even figured out a way to use an empty formula can as a tree stand. See? It all works out!
Jackson kept trying to eat the fruit slices and yank the popcorn strands off. I think he's finally given up on that, though.
Monday, December 22, 2008
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
Joni just kind of wandered around and played with rocks.
It was incredible.
Merry Christmas everybody!
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I came around the corner just in time to experience the sheer horror of it first hand, but I wasn't close enough to catch him. The front wheels rolled down the first couple of steps, then the back end of the huge stroller came up and over, causing Jackson to face-plant into the stairs, followed by the landing, and come to a stop with the stroller on top of him.
It still makes my heart pound to think about it.
I SCREAMED as I ran down the stairs and began to pull the stroller off of him. I had never seen ANY kid take such a tumble before, and in those few short seconds, I had come to the conclusion that as I uncovered him he would be dead, unconscious, or have his face mashed in by the marble-like stairs.
Just as I got to him, he joined me in the shrill screaming, with Joni joining in the choir, also. I quickly rolled the stroller over to see a very bloodied face with what looked like throw-up all over. I unbuckled him with my hands shaking like mad. As I picked him up, I had no idea what to do. I was expecting all my neighbors to come running out to help, which they didn't. Finally, a sweet Asian lady from two stories up came running down with her teenage daughter. They helped me get the stroller and both kids up into our apartment.
Joni kept screaming, "It was an accident mom! It was an accident!" The sweet teenage daughter took Joni into her room to comfort her while me and the other mom assessed Jackson.
I kept saying in a panic, "I don't know what to do. Is he okay? Do you think he's okay? I don't know what to do!" Since she was thinking MUCH more clearly than I was, she suggested we clean off his face to figure out where the blood was coming from. I grabbed the closest dish towel and started wiping....and wiping....and wiping. We first concluded that it was not coming from a cut in his head - good sign. There was definitely blood coming from his nose. And after a lot more wiping and flushing of his mouth with water, we finally decided there was no bleeding coming from his mouth. Whew!
So the two nice Asian ladies left, and I did my best to calm Jackson down who was still crying VERY HARD. I realized at some point that my hair was drenched in sweat and my jeans were sticking to me. I was a nervous wreck. I went to the computer to see if Tom was on his computer at school because instant-messaging is the only way we can communicate when he's gone. He wasn't online. To say I felt VERY alone would be a huge understatement.
So me, Jackson, AND Joni sat here and cried for longer than I care to admit. At some point I told Joni that she and I had to stop crying or else Jackson would never stop. I needed to know if his crying, and occasional thrashing around in my arms, was from pain or just from being upset. His nose was still bleeding but had finally started to slow down.
After several attempts, Joni and I finally stopped. Then Jackson made many attempts himself before finally calming down. I was still quite nervous that there was something else wrong with him. I just couldn't imagine how that kind of a fall could do so little to a helpless little baby. He had a bloody shirt, and I had dried blood all over my arms, and a couple bloody dish towels, but that was it. I seriously couldn't believe it. Oh, and I even decided that he hadn't thrown up on himself after all (or at least I don't think he did). I realized at some point that he had been eating a sandwich on the way home, and I think the force of the fall had caused whatever was in his mouth to fly up onto his face.
Once Tom got home, he gave Jackson a priesthood blessing. It said what I had suspected - that the Lord had protected Jackson from much more serious harm.
So that's the good news of it all. Jackson is okay. His nose is a little swollen, and he was a little more fussy than normal the rest of the day, but he'll be okay.
The bad news is (and sorry for being negative here), that I'm a little annoyed at my neighbors! You have to remember that from inside our apartment, we can hear EVERYTHING that goes on outside in the stairwell...every time someone walks up the stairs, talks, opens their door, or anything else. And yet the only person who responded to a hysterical lady with two screaming, crying children was the only other foreigner, who was two stories up. It might take me a while to get over that one.
Hopefully writing this has been therapeutic for me. It literally makes my heart pound every time my mind replays the sight of Jackson going face-first down the stairs, strapped in a stroller. But I am monumentally grateful that the Lord protected him from something much worse from happening. I think I've hugged that kid to death today. I'm so glad he's okay.
Monday, December 15, 2008
What better way to celebrate than to talk about food? My sister-in-law, Tara, is one of the skinniest people I know, but she's also one of those people who loves to eat and talk about food and she has requested that I share some of what we eat here. Your wish is my command.
We eat A LOT of pita. I just have to put that out there. We basically use it like Americans use bread, for everything from peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, to replacing buns for our hamburgers. It must be said that pita is monumentally different here than in the U.S. It's a very soft flatbread here, and you can often buy it fresh.
And with pita, inevitably comes hummus. As would be expected, they have some smokin' good hummus here. And just in case you're wanting to venture out and buy hummus back in the states - don't. It's disgusting. The only good brand we ever found was Meza, but it's hard to find. If you're going to do it, make it. Find a good recipe online that basically has garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. If it has much else, steer clear. You've been warned.
Next thing on the list would probably be produce. As I've mentioned before, food is SO EXPENSIVE, can I say it again, SO EXPENSIVE here. We spend more at the grocery store here than we do on rent, which is saying a lot. But produce is one thing that is a little bit of a better deal. We buy lots of cucumbers, pears, bananas, potatoes, onions, apples, or whatever else is in season.
If you'd like to put the above three things together, you have the cucumber and hummas pita sandwich. It's pretty tasty. Yes, I'm serious.
Cheese here leaves much to be desired. The only local cheese we can stand at our nearby store costs more than our first born. But we buy it anyway because we're cheese people and it's as good as it gets here. Unless you buy imported cheese. But if we're forking over that much cash, we may as well just retire early.
We also eat a lot of lamb. It's the one meat that seems to be a little bit cheaper. I often throw some of that in a fry pan with some olive oil, onion, and red pepper. We then stuff that in a pita with some hummus, and there ya go.
I make A LOT of soups. It's a good way to make use of produce, and still have it be kid friendly. One of our favorites is kind of a combo of this one and this one, but we make them with the above mentioned lamb instead of sausage or turkey. A few of our other faves are my sister Becky's amazing Corn Chowder, and an albino chili recipe we got from a senior sister serving at the Jerusalem Center.
We also flavor things up with a new homemade BBQ sauce recipe I found. Remember when I was so excited to find BBQ sauce at a store here? I think that jar is still sitting in our fridge, hardly touched. So, just as I have had to learn how to pop popcorn in a pan, or make my own hot chocolate and Lawry's season salt (not together), I also must make my own BBQ sauce. But it's so good it's actually worth it.
So as you can see, I still try to find ways to eat some familiar foods, but have a few things here and there that make our eating experience here a little different than it used to be.
Now, on to falafel. I know, Tara, you were waiting for me to say that. For those of you who don't know, falafel is a very Middle Eastern food that the Jews act like is theirs, but the Arabs make a point to let you know it came from them. It consists of little balls of ground up, seasoned, fried fava beans or chickpeas stuffed into pita, and garnished with any of the following condiments - hummus (you knew that was coming), cucumbers, pickles, onions, french fries, tahina (not to be confused with tahini), hot sauce, fried eggplant, and pickled olives. There are falafel stands all over the place, and each of the ones we've tried, seem to have some sort of signature sauce or condiment that makes their's a little different. So it's not always exactly the same, and I am no expert, but this is how we do falafel in our house......
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
- Cigarette smoke
- Falafel stands
- Head coverings
- Call to Prayer
Oh, and I guess there is a new sound I can add. We are 99% sure that last night as we were heading to bed, there were several gun shots not too far from us - as in, less than a block away - surrounded by a bunch of yelling.
Not good for the nerves.
It makes me think of a stress management class I had to take in college to fill up some elective credit requirements. We practiced a lot of meditation and other stress reducing techniques. I could have used some of those last night.
But I was too stressed to think of any of them.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Yes, it's a shark. *shudder*
Monday, December 1, 2008
Even though we were having a branch dinner the next night, I decided to sort of pull together a Thanksgiving-type dinner on the day of. I managed to get some home-grown sage from my friend Lisa in order to make my mom's stuffing (it was pretty good, but mom does it best, of course). I also made my famous mashed potatoes (which I happen to make best, thank you very much). And for protein, we had chicken nuggets (hey, they don't do Butterball here, and I was not about to manually pull the little, uh, thingys out of a turkey...don't know what they're called, but I hear it's tedious). To top it all off, Tom and I porked out on the pumpkin pie I made once the kids were in bed. Awesome.
And prepare yourself, because you get an extra perk today on this bless-ed blog. On our way out of the grocery store that morning, Joni begged (as she does every day) to hang out at the benches outside the store. She likes to sing and dance and have everyone look at her. I figured, "Hey, it's Thanksgiving. Maybe we'll make a new tradition of singing and dancing outside of grocery stores during the holidays." Just kidding. I just didn't feel like getting in a fight about it - it being a holiday and all.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tom is in school ALL DAY. He'll probably be gone first thing in the morning, and he won't get back until 8:00 at night at the earliest. Jackson will already be in bed. Joni will be anxiously waiting for her daddy to come home so she can say goodnight. And November 27th will have come and gone.
So I was literally on the verge of tears thinking about this, when I walked down the hall to get a glass of water. I could hear Tom in Joni's room, still getting her to go down for bed. I could hear him talking, so I stepped up to the door to hear what he was saying. He was laying in her princess bed with her, telling her about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and where the Jews come from. It was adorable. That was her scripture time for the night.
Suddenly I remembered all I have. I snapped this picture to help me not forget again.
Then I decided to do some reading to help me really get in the Thanksgiving spirit. I came across a talk by Robert D. Hales. There were so many good points made, but this section stood out to me for obvious reasons:
Could that quote have been any more perfect for me?
Gratitude expressed to our Heavenly Father in prayer for what we have brings a calming peace—a peace which allows us to not canker our souls for what we don’t have. Gratitude brings a peace that helps us overcome the pain of adversity and failure. Gratitude on a daily basis means we express appreciation for what we have now without qualification for what we had in the past or desire in the future. A recognition of and appreciation for our gifts and talents which have been given also allows us to acknowledge the need for help and assistance from the gifts and talents possessed by others.
Gratitude is a divine principle:
This scripture means that we express thankfulness for what happens, not only for the good things in life but also for the opposition and challenges of life that add to our experience and faith. We put our lives in His hands, realizing that all that transpires will be for our experience.
So I now have a new plan for tomorrow. I don't need a home stuffed full of people, laughter, fine china, OR even mom's famous stuffing to feel gratitude for all that I have. The kids and I will have our own little day. A quiet day where we can take time to ponder on all we have. To show gratitude for the angels God has granted us here to keep us safe. We'll take a moment, or a few moments, to realize how grateful we are that my dad is still around. The wheels are still turning, and it will be a simple day, but it will be a good day.
I will be thanking Heavenly Father tonight for the very blunt reminder that I am here for a purpose, and that I need to stop dwelling on the things I don't have. I will do better at thanking Him for both the good things in my life, and the challenges. And in turn, maybe I'll keep getting some of that peace He promised :)
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Today he called to inform me he is going home today! Two days early!
The surgery went great. He ended up getting a 7 bypass, instead of 5. Am I the only one who didn't even know there was such a thing as 7 bypass? Holy smokes.
He has been quite the champ. After his 1-2 day stay in ICU, he walked all the way to his new room, which is clear across the hospital. Most of the nurses had never seen anyone do that before. One nurse said she had seen it once, and it was an ornery old farmer. Mom informed her that Dad was an ornery old Marine, or something to that affect. They had a good chuckle over that.
It's amazing how quickly bypass patients begin to recover, and Dad has done exceptionally well. Right away they started pulling out tubes and getting him moving. Dad says they've done an excellent job keeping the meds on top of the pain, and the nurses have been very good to him (except one, but there always has to be one of those, right?).
When I talked to him this morning he wasn't sure on all the details of how mobile he'd be once he got home and what exactly the recovery would be like. But they were going to be spending a good part of the day educating him on all of that so he went home informed. It sounds like McKay Dee Hospital has been outstanding. He has been very pleased with how he's been treated.
We sure appreciate all prayers that have been given on his behalf. Words cannot express. He still has a little trek to climb up the little road called recovery, but I suspect he'll feel like a completely new person by Christmas. Bypass patients often feel 20 years younger once their heart is working as efficiently as it should, and I don't think this ornery old Marine will be any exception.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Joni at the entrance into the garden.
There are pathways that circle around the garden. So when you walk in, you circle up to the right first, which leads to Golgotha. Then you come back down and circle through here to walk across the garden to get to the tomb.
A little video of me walking up to Golgotha. The Call to Prayer starts in the background, along with Jackson saying, "Wassaaat?"
There are little scriptures posted throughout the garden.
Looking down on the Tomb, with tourists lined up to take turns going in.
An ancient olive press, right there in the garden.
Just Jojo chillin' on some steps outside the tomb.
Outside the Tomb door (taken by a guy we ran into that's from Huntsville and taught my sister seminary at Weber High...small world).
Taken from inside the Tomb, looking out.
We're praying for you!!!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Bad? Yeah, it's always better to end on a good note.
My dad had a heart attack yesterday. He had been having some strange chest pain for a couple of days, and decided late in the afternoon on Tuesday that he better get it checked out. He drove himself to the doctor's office (stubborn, crazy ol' dad!), who sent him to the ER, who admitted him and performed an angiogram the next morning. It confirmed that he did in fact have a heart attack (they didn't seem quite sure at first) and that there is significant blockage.
He is getting a 5 bypass surgery on Friday.
Now for the good news...
For one, he's alive! It could have been much, much more serious. The heart attack caused very little damage to his heart. In fact, his heart actually looks amazingly strong, and the valves look great. The blockage contains a lot of calcium, which really makes the arteries harden. But the surgeon is VERY optimistic about the surgery. He says that Dad is the best candidate for this kind of surgery because he is in excellent health otherwise, and will completely recover.
Two hours ago, I'm not sure I could have accurately told you what a bypass surgery is, but thanks to my trusty WebMD.com, I now can just in case you're wondering.
They'll be taking blood vessels from other parts of his body (at this point it looks like 4 from his leg, and one from his chest) and put them around the areas of blockage in order to form a new pathway to the heart.
One of my first questions was, "Do they have to open up his chest?"
But even though this is a very major surgery, it is EXTREMELY common. That gives me comfort.
And he's expected to completely recover - biggest comfort of all.
If you're sitting in your hospital bed, dad, reading this post, please know that I love you.
And everyone else who is reading this, please start praying.
As in, right now.
Because he is the best darn dad anyone could ever ask for, and I need him to be in one piece taking his usual snooze in his recliner when I get done living in Jerusalem.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I don't like not being able to buy what I want (or need) at the store.
I don't like it when people are rude to my kids.
I don't always feel like walking almost an hour to church, just to do it again after three long hours of meetings.
I wish I had a couch.
It's hard to hear stories like I did today....like this sweet man, Mohammad, who suffers so much because he's an Arab living in Israel, and says with pain in his eyes, "That West Bank wall is way worse than that one they had in Germany - and it's NEVER coming down." Or to hear about the two cute little Spanish men in our branch who were almost shot to death in their car the other day. I love Israelis, I really do...but hearing these sorts of things gets to me.
But on to better things.....
It's easy-peasy to walk down to the Garden Tomb on a lazy Friday afternoon (after days of my 4-year-old pleading, "I want to go to the place where Jesus was RESURRECTED!!!").
I have special angels watching over my family - it has been said in priesthood blessings, AND I feel them - regularly.
I feel my heart growing and growing, and growing some more, for people of the Middle East.
I appreciate things that I never have before.
I rely on the Lord more (does "compelled to be humble" ring a bell for anybody? Yeah, that's me)
Who else gets to sit and look at a panoramic view of the Old City and the Dome of the Rock during sacrament meeting?
My daughter's favorite thing to do is go see places where the Savior has been - could a mom ask for more?
And no matter where we live, my husband is still cute....
And my to-die-for-adorable kids still like to wrestle.....
At the end of the day, I really do love that we're here. If I suddenly found out that I had to leave tomorrow, I'd be heartbroken (even if do wish I could hang out with my sisters or go shopping at Target every once in a while).
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
It''s divided up into four quarters - Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian. We mostly go in through the Damascus Gate, which is on the north side, so it's kind of in between the Muslim and the Christian quarters.
This video was taken just inside the Damascus Gate. You're hearing just a little segment of the Muslim call to prayer over the speakers. We were very close to some of the speakers, so it was VERY loud.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I took the kids to the grocery store, all by myself.
Not impressed? Wondering why I've been here a month and I'm just getting around to venturing out on my own to pick up some grub?
Well, there's a few different reasons, so allow me to explain.
First of all, there's a little thing called a language barrier. I'm scared, yes scared, of people who don't speak English. I never know who does and who doesn't, so I am always nervous to talk to people. I've tried the smile and nod thing in order to give a little "hello", but they give me blank, annoyed stares. So I decided it's because I'm not saying anything. I started smiling, nodding, and saying, "shalom", but I still got nothing. So now I am left scared to ask anyone a question, don't know what to say when Joni accidentally flails herself at a stranger while dancing in the grocery store isle, or when the cashier jibber-jabbers something to me. But today I mustered up a response to the cashier lady, in Hebrew, thank you very much.
Second, until this morning I have not had a University ID. This can be a huge problem because we have guards at our entrance who check your ID every time you walk in. I've been too scared to risk getting out, and not getting back in. Alone, on the streets of Israel, by myself - not appealing.
Third, we have no car, which means I'm pushing two kids to the grocery store (mostly uphill), and then two kids plus sacks of food back home from the grocery store - and then up a flight of stairs. I kept worrying that I wouldn't be able to juggle it all.
But the time has come. I know it's something I have to do almost every day for the next two years, so today's trip to Mr. Zol's was the first of MANY.
And I did it.
Now I just have to tackle my abnormally freakish fear of whales and spiders, and I'm all set.
Speaking of accomplishments, Jackson has one of his own. As you can see from the picture below, he's beaming with pride.
He managed to climb into the closet, throw all of Tom's shoes out, turn around, and sit with his feet dangling...all by himself.
Grandma Joni and Omi Cyndy, you should be proud.....big day in the Sowards' house.