Wednesday, November 26, 2008


So it's the night before Thanksgiving, and I'll admit, I've been feeling a little bit sorry for myself. Not only are we away from our families, but we are in a strange country that obviously doesn't acknowledge good ol' turkey day. Our branch is having a Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, but I can't help but imagine my whole family getting together tomorrow to stuff themselves silly with the standard Balderree faves. I can imagine all the sisters after dinner chit-chatting in the living room while the kids run around in the backyard. Of course the husbands will be in whatever corner of the house they can find to take a nap. But I'm obviously having a different holiday this year.

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:

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:

“Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” (D&C 59:7.)

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.

Could that quote have been any more perfect for me?

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

Update on Dad

I have felt quite privileged the last several days because Dad calls me first thing every morning (okay, MAYBE it has something to do with the fact that I'm the only person he knows that's up at 5:30 am MST, since I'm 9 hours ahead, but whatever).

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

Garden Tomb and a shout-out

Most of all, this is a shout-out to my dad. He'll be going in for surgery soon, and I can't stop thinking about him. Joni and I were able to talk to him yesterday over Skype. It's a little weird to see him all hooked up to machines in a hospital, but it was SO good to talk to him. Joni and I promised him we would post some pictures of the Garden Tomb so he would have something to look at and keep him busy, even if it is only for a few minutes.

Here is a video of us walking from the Old City, up to the Garden Tomb entrance. It was extra crowded that day because it was Friday, which is the "Day of Gathering" (prayer) for Muslims.

You can see Tom there on the right turning up the walkway that goes up to the entrance.

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.

Dad, you're probably going into surgery as I'm posting this. Joni is so excited to show you these pictures. Hopefully they can put a smile on your face as you are in the hospital recovering.

We're praying for you!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prayers please!!!

Would you like the good news or the bad news first?

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, 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

Good and bad

Okay, I'm going to admit something...even though I try hard to stay positive, I have my good days and my bad days here in this strange place called Jerusalem.

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 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).

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Old City

As I've mentioned many times before, we love to go to Jerusalem's Old City. It takes us close to an hour to walk there - I'd say it's maybe three miles away from where we live, but that's just a guess. This is the part of Jerusalem that pretty much made up the whole of the city until some time in the mid 1800's, when there started to be settlements built outside the walls. The wall goes all the way around the Old City, so you have to enter through one of the gates - I think there's 11 gates, but only 7 of them are currently open.

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.

Looking down on Damascus Gate (FYI - the walls were built from 1537 to 1541).

The rest of these pictures are in the Muslim Quarter. I'll have to post more pictures of other quarters as I compile them. I'm not including specific religious sites. I'll have to do separate posts for those.

There are big tractors and trucks that drive right through the tiny walkways - they seem to be either hauling goods in, or taking garbage out. One wrong move and I swear they would just run right over your foot. Sometimes you have to kind of run and scramble to find a place to back into a corner.

A spice shop with a an impressive little spice mountain. Hey, it drew me in.

Meat shop - bleh.

I should have put my hand out so you could see the size of these suckers. That middle one was huge.

The ones above and below are just your typical view as you walk through the narrow "streets". A lot of the ground floor buildings consist of shops, with cramped living quarters above and behind.
That's a Muslim dress shop on the left.

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.

P.S. If there's ever something you want me to post about, just let me a specific site, or maybe aspect of living here. It's getting weird to think up ideas because a lot of this stuff feels pretty normal to me already.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Y'all wanna hear about my big accomplishment today? Okay, well maybe it's a small, I'm stickin' with big. Are you ready?

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.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The unexpected

There are some things you experience in life that are just plain unexpected. Some of these things are hard, some exciting, some thought provoking. But wouldn't you agree that those unexpected experiences are usually a gift?

Yesterday our little LDS branch did a service project up on the Mount of Olives. We picked olives for hours in order to help a Lutheran hospital on their quest to provide good care for poor Palestinians.

We filled several big bags....

In order to raise money, they then press the olives for oil, and put them in hand blown glass bottles to sell.


Unexpected, but awesome.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I officially miss the celebrating of American holidays. It's just not that same when no one understands why your baby is dressed up like a lion. We went to playgroup (for expats) Friday morning, which had a Halloween theme, and as we were approaching the house, a very cute little Arab man asked us who's birthday it was. We explained it's an American holiday, Halloween, and that kids dress up. He asked if it's a religious holiday or a government holiday...I think all three of us moms chimed it at the same time, "It's not religious!" We can't have them thinking we're too weird.

So Joni had two costumes, since she was having a hard time choosing between her two options. In the morning for playgroup she was a ballerina.

On the way there - one very excited girl. Luckily, my friends actually have cars, so we do catch a ride occasionally.

Here Jackson is trying to escape in his lion costume. I didn't get any great pictures of him...blurry and such, but I'll include these two.

Someone brought a pinata, I think straight from Mexico. Fantastic idea - the kids loved it!

Here is Joni's second costume - medieval princess. We went to a friend's house to carve "pumpkins" (or the closest thing we could come up with), and Joni sported this get-up...
(Just being a proud mommy and showing off her awesome 'do)

All of us at the Myers' house, showing off our "pumpkins". Bro. Fitzgerald, the Crawfords, us, and the Myers. Tom was mighty proud of his Cyclops - that's so Tom, right?

Emptying our giant pumpkin. I think she took two little slops out and was done. She likes to be clean too much to deal with such messy matters.

The cute kiddies - Jackson, Joni, Claire, Zoe, Benji, and Eli.