My adventures in pregnancy, motherhood and beyond

Please enjoy the musings and updates and leave me a comment if you'd like!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

22 Weeks

Well this was a pretty relaxed week. There wasn't much on the calendar except for chiropractor appointments. They weren't helping that much until Friday, when she finally seemed to get the right spot and I had a weekend mostly pain free. If I sit a lot I still have some pain, and walking uphill isn't wonderful, but for the most part, my upper back pain is gone. Lower back pain is picking up though. Oh well, that I was expecting and can deal with, but the upper back pain was making breathing even more difficult.

We had a great time in Coronado over the weekend. We went down to celebrate our anniversary (6/19) and were able to just relax. Since we have U-Verse at the apartment, we found a way to hook up the computer to the TV and could watch movies online, which was great. We spent Saturday afternoon at the zoo, and got a real treat when we went down to see the tigers: they were running and playing and "hunting". Usually, you don't get to see tigers at all, unless they're napping close to the end of the day. We booked our tickets for Christmas: a 5 hour plane ride followed by a 5 hour car ride with a 2 month old should be interesting to say the least. And despite Southwest describing their infant fares as "very reasonable," They cost pretty much the same as a regular ticket. Lap baby it'll be. We've also started looking at registry stuff and all the things we need to get: crib, stroller/car seat, dresser/changing table, etc. That's my to do for this month, but with all the stuff left to do in the nursery, I'm starting to get overwhelmed. This also happens when we move. It's not very pretty. On the upside: I finally look pregnant and not chubby. Or maybe, I finally got someone other than James and my parents to confirm this for me. And having the first stranger make a comment made me believe it too. It was an odd experience. We had walked to church Sunday morning and went  to Miguel's for lunch after. We decided to stop for gelato and walk down Orange on the way back, and while we were walking, we were stopped by an older gentleman who asked if I was expecting, and when, if we knew it was a boy or girl, etc. Then he asked where we were from and we said Orange, but we lived here for a year. I noticed he had a Christ Church nametag on and said that we must have been in church together. He then asked if James had just graduated, and if he was the one going to Stanford. We were both like " ..." since he was referring to the recent high school graduates who were celebrated at church. High school. Like 17, 18 years old. He had wanted to talk to the guy going to Stanford since he went to Cal, but his son went to Stanford and even though there's a rivalry, there's also a lot of respect. It was very nice, but considering that James has a full beard (none of the boys had any kind of beard), a wedding band, a pregnant woman by his side and we had told him that we'd moved around a bit (at least 3 places in the last 2 years), it was an odd question. I also have to assume that he thought I was that young, since it was obvious that we were together. It was an altogether odd experience, and neither of us have been mistaken for teenagers in a very long time. At least 4 years for me (last time I believe was when they carded me in Scotland [drinking age was 16]). We were both able to laugh about it, and no one tried to touch my belly, so I was perfectly happy.

Tuesday night was our two year anniversary, and we had originally planned to go to an opening of Pixar's Brave in LA, but unfortunately the tickets fell through. James was left with getting off work a few hours early and no plans, so of course he figured something out. We ended up going to Simply Fondue in Mission Viejo, which had a Living Social special for a four course meal plus wine. James had both glasses of wine, and we started with a strawberry-spinach salad, followed by the traditional Swiss cheese fondue, then beef tenderloin, garlic chicken and shrimp for an entree with milk chocolate fondue at the end. It was a really fun meal, and anything with cheese is awesome. I'm not sure I'd go with the oil again for the entree, first it was too hot and burned the food without cooking it through, then it ended up making the tempura batter they included too saturated. It was still good, and a ton of food, and the stuffed mushrooms in the tempura batter were to die for! The chocolate was good, but I'm really not a chocolate person; I'd much rather have the cheese fondue twice. :) And everyone came by to wish us a happy anniversary and then congratulations on the pregnancy. I also had an excuse to wear my scroll necklace I made, and this gorgeous dress I got right before finding out I was pregnant. I don't think I can fit into the dress much longer, but I was gonna wear it once at least! It was a really nice night, but fondue always takes a long time--2.5 hours. We were both exhausted when we got home.

I'm also having some billing issues with the OB--old and new. Under my insurance plan (and I've verified this  5 times now) I do not pay any co-pays for pre- or post-natal care. However, the old OB has sent me a bill for my visits twice now (once after I called and corrected them). When I called this last time, she claimed she had never received a ball from Blue Shield (I was on the phone with them while they called her) and then when I explained that they needed to code the bill as an OB visit and not just a specialist, she rudely told me that Dr. Boyd was a specialist--in OB and Gynecology. At that point, I hung up and had Blue Shield call her again. I couldn't believe how rude she was to a customer. If I get another bill, I'm just giving up and having Blue Shield call without bothering to call them first. Yesterday I got a call from the new OB's billing office saying that even though I told them about the no co-pay thing, I did have a co-pay for the initial visit. After calling Blue Shield again, I found out that this isn't true. They called the office while I was on the phone and tried to tell the nurse this, but she apparently wouldn't believe them and just kept saying I had a co-pay (she was convinced Blue Shield told her this.) When I called to confirm everything was taken care of, she was on the phone with Blue Shield again (as if I lied to her) and when she called me back she said that the initial visit to confirm the pregnancy required a co-pay. Again, this isn't true, but it didn't matter--I confirmed my pregnancy with my primary care doctor since I had no gynecologist in Orange and I was already 17 weeks pregnant when I started seeing Dr. Akerman. Then the nurse claimed that they don't submit the claim until a week or two before the birth, so it didn't matter and would probably be covered. This makes no sense: so I'm supposed to dispute the charge with a week old baby? Why in the world they would wait 5 months for payment, I don't understand, and the nurse could not explain satisfactorily (something about seeing you/not seeing you again a week before the due date? Which also makes no sense...and why is she working on it now if they aren't going to bill it until October?) I tried calling St. Joseph Heritage because I think that's where the incorrect information is coming from, but not only were they useless, but the woman on the other end of the line wouldn't let me finish my sentences. After she interrupted me for the 4th time, saying she wasn't able to help me, but not understanding what I was asking for because she kept interrupting me, I finally yelled (in the middle of Target) "Would you let me just finish a sentence?!" and hung up on her. I won't be calling them again. I'm so sick of all the issues with the billing for this stuff. It really is enough to make me want to quit all doctors. Ever. Argh!

I'm introducing a new weekly update thing-a-ma-bob. The questions get repetitive. So let's just assume that some of the things (stretch marks, certain symptoms, the fact that I'm wearing maternity clothes and my belly button being an outie) are going to stay the same. Here's the new one:

How far along: 22 weeks
Total weight gain: No idea. My scale is an inconsistent liar, but I'd guess 4-5 lbs
Favourite clothes: My favourite sweats from Victoria's Secret no longer fit around my child-bearing hips, and I can't afford to spend $50 on another pair, so I've been wearing James' track pants, but finally found a cheap pair from Target and have been loving them.
Sleeping: A lot. I still have to use Unisom intermittently to get a restful night, but I've been making use of my limited employment by sleeping in on my days off
Best moment: Too many! Feeling him kick is always amazing, seeing Amy on Friday was great, the crab bisque from McCormick's was delicious, the stuffed mushrooms on our anniversary (and the whole dinner) were fantastic and walking the dogs to and from the beach with James on Sunday was awesome (but tiring, and farmer's-tan-inducing), baking to sea shanties was fun. It was a great week!
Worst moment: Waking up Monday morning feeling like I'd been in a coma and run over by a bus, dealing with the billing office of the OB (the insurance was fine, surprisingly)
Miss anything: Miguel's margaritas. So hard to pass up on a hot summer afternoon. Being able to control my temper again would be nice. Ok, I've never controlled it that well, but it used to be a bit easier...
Cravings: McCormick's crab bisque, roasted marshmallows and a warm blueberry muffin with the crunchy sugar topping
New symptoms: Carpal tunnel. Apparently, that's the wrist pain I've been getting on and off since high school, but haven't had for a few years. And my fingers are swelling. Also, when I move certain ways, I end up feeling like I've pulled muscles in my lower abdomen. The nurse said it's round ligament pain, but  it's really annoying. It goes away after a twinge and a few seconds, but it's a pain. Literally. Also, sharp pains right by my belly button (also confirmed as normal). Also, it's so HOT all the time...
Looking forward to: Going up to NorCal this weekend and camping at some point in the near future and Brave!
Pregnancy brain moments: I can no longer speak--I change my word choice halfway through and end up mispronouncing the word, or making up an entirely new one
Listening to: 90's rock (Vertical Horizon, SR-71) and sea shanties (look for a post soon)
Crafting: Working on dad's Father's Day present since we're celebrating when we visit and a friend commissioned some watermelon coasters for his mom forever ago, so I'm trying to work on those. I'm also going to pick up tatting again soon and I need to learn to crochet (see below)
Baby projects: Other than making the nursery habit-able, I plan on knitting a pumpkin hat and matching orange cocoon. Plus THESE are AMAZING (hence the need to crochet). There's also a felt sea creature mobile, an ocean-y night light and some wall art in the works. But I used to have all this time and now I feel like I'm running short on it!
Embarassing pregnancy confession: I love being home alone while eating because I can lick the bowl if I want to. (This one won't be weekly, but I couldn't resist)

And pictures:
22 Weeks: Wallaby is the size of a papaya and weighs ~1lb
I may have (definitely) confused papaya with mango. Oh well...

22 weeks and the belly is obvious

Fancy pants 22 week bump

Monday, June 18, 2012

21 Weeks

I'm always surprised at how quickly time has passed. The days and weeks seem to crawl by, but the months and even the years seem to just fly right by. This week was one of those really, really long weeks. A lot has been going on. Despite all the pregnancy stuff (or maybe because of it), we finally got a bit of a kick to get started on finishing unpacking and getting organized. Someone came by to pick up the mattress and box spring that were in the second bedroom, so we can actually get started on cleaning up the disaster zone in there to turn it into a real nursery! We also finally unpacked the final three boxes of kitchen stuff that have been sitting in the corner since we moved in. We had to pack up some other stuff to be stored in the garage, but we're finally making some progress. We also reorganized the kitchen counters, are figuring out if we can get a new microwave that goes above the oven/stove, deep cleaned the counters, and installed new hanging spice racks on the outside of the pantry, which frees up a lot of room!  We also made a few trips to Home Depot and are making shelves to display my shot glass collection on! James stained the wood yesterday and attached the brackets, so all that's left is one more coat of stain and to hang them. Then I can put up all my shot glasses, including my new ones from our trip! There's still more to do: the cupboard with our tupperware is a mess and the pantry needs to be reorganized really badly too.

We also bought a tent! We found a decent sized 4 person tent at Costco and have a friend from England who has agreed to help us procure a ReadyBed (a sleeping bag with an inflatable pad built in). We could only find it in a store in the UK, and they won't ship to us. But, we're planning to go camping in the near future! I'm so excited!! Now, here's some background on this, because this is truly an astounding suggestion from me. I NEVER went camping as a child. My father abhors camping in any form that doesn't involve returning to at least a motel at night. Apparently, he had some bad experiences camping in college, but it ended up with us never going camping. I didn't even go to a camp until sleep-away camp in 5th grade, and that was for school and didn't really count. So my first experience camping was AWE (Athenian Wilderness Experience) which was a 26 day backpacking trip required to graduate from high school. I'll skip anything more in depth about that, but suffice it to say that it was a good, but difficult, experience and I'm glad I did it, but I wasn't really interested in sleeping outdoors ever again. However, I've started to consider that I'd really like to go camping and have those experiences, especially with my son. So we decided to invest in a tent and some sleeping bags and are trying to figure when and where to go. We're hoping to go somewhere for a weekend before July. Any suggestions on campgrounds nearby would be greatly appreciated. I'm looking forward to s'mores and stars!

I had my monthly OB visit. It was moved up by a day because I was having really, really bad back pain. It started last Tuesday and would not get better. It was excruciating, getting worse each day, exacerbated by sitting (I have a desk job) and standing and walking, so I ended up being useless this weekend since all I could do was lie on the couch. Apparently, everything is fine, but with my center of gravity shifting and the added weight, it's easier to pull your back out of alignment. I ended up going to a chiropractor, but not until Monday. So it was almost a week of pain before getting some relief. There's still some discomfort, but I'm going back on Wednesday to get my back adjusted again and I think a few visits should do it to get my back back in working order again. I didn't see the doctor, but the nurse practitioner assured me that everything was ok and normal, and addressed everything on my monstrously long list of questions and concerns. My lack of sleep was a big issue, since it meant I had been so exhausted that even an hour or two out of the house left me needing a nap and I was more exhausted than in the first trimester. She told me I could take Unisom, so I've been taking it on and off and the difference it's made is absolutely amazing: I stay asleep at night and have been having dreams again. I wake up refreshed instead of exhausted and actually have enough energy to get through my day, whether I'm running errands or working or just going out to lunch. I also got to see Wallaby and hear his heart again, so that was nice and reassuring. And since I hadn't been feeling the kicks for a while, I was grateful to hear that when they're still this small and turn towards your back, you might not feel anything. He started up kicking again last night during dinner with friends and it was just as shocking as the first time. But I LOVE it; it's so reassuring to know that he's ok and moving around in there.

We're planning on trying to recreate the Arabic meal we learned to cook in Jordan tonight: lamb kofta and moutabbal, so I'll let you know how that goes. We're also going down to San Diego this week to celebrate our two year anniversary (next Tuesday). It's crazy that we've been married that some ways it feels like it was yesterday and in some ways (good ways) it feels like it's been forever. I can't even remember what life was like without James and I'm so grateful to wake up next to him every morning. Cheesy as this sounds, the pilgrimage really made me realize how truly blessed I am: I have a wonderful, loving husband, two pups who are pretty affectionate, two loving families on two coasts and a little baby on the way. And that's not even mentioning the wonderful friends and supportive coworkers we have! I'm just feeling so lucky to be living this life, even when it's challenging.

Anyways, enough of my sappy moment, here's the weekly rundown:
How far along: 21 weeks
Total weight gain: So far, 3 lbs
Maternity clothes?: I should just take this one off. Yes, and I love them lol
Stretch marks?: Yep
Sleep?: Well, since I got approval from the doc to take Unisom to help me sleep, I've been doing so much better and not getting as exhausted
Best moment this week: Seeing friends twice this week. I missed them on the trip and I love getting out and doing stuff (and getting my hair done!)
Miss anything?: Ahi tuna. Margaritas. (Virgin margaritas just don't taste the same)
Movement?: It slowed down for a bit, but it's picking up again (I'm not allowed to do any kick counts til 28 weeks according to the nurse)
Cravings?: Yes, but nothing I've indulged in
Queasy?: Nope
Baby's Sex: Male
Symptoms: My breasts are so sore, and I'm starting to breathe less easily (apparently, your lungs have less room as the baby grows). The other basic ones too, but the sleeping pills have helped with the exhaustion at least
Wedding ring on or off?: On
Belly button in or out?: The top half is pretty much all the way out now
Happy or moody?: Happy, with some moodiness the the pain exacerbated
Looking forward to?: A relaxing weekend with my husband, a massage and the beach
Pregnancy brain?: Just silly things, like not recognizing my own car when I walked out of the store and forgetting things quickly

21 Weeks: Wallaby is the size of a banana
And yes, I'm aware that doing my own bangs doesn't work

21 weeks: belly has surpassed my boobs

21 week belly

Friday, June 8, 2012

Battle of the Dance

Thanks to our subscription to Fill-A-Seat, we were able to get tickets to Battle of the Dance, a dinner show in Anaheim. There is apparently a story: a Spanish armada crashes on the shores of Ireland and their cultures and dances clash, but eventually they all get along peachy keen, creating a new style of dance.

We opted for dinner beforehand, since our experience at Medieval Times taught us that the food is rarely worth the money. The prices are way out of our normal price range, which is why I'm doubly grateful to Fill A Seat, which offered us tickets to the show without dinner. Normally, this is $45/person, but if you want dinner too, tickets can run anywhere from $60-$90/person.

Upon arriving, we were allowed into a lounge, where someone was walking around with appetizers and a bar was available. $7.50 for a margarita isn't too bad, and James said he definitely got his money's worth in the alcohol content, though that didn't make it a good drink. Honestly, I think he just got one to drink for me since I've been craving margaritas. When we were allowed into the theatre, I was surprised at how enormous it was. Apparently it seats around 900 people, though I'd guess there were no more than 200 there last night (maybe because it was a Thursday). Servers were coming around to take orders, etc and we opted to get the appetizer plate. I am always hungry nowadays and $8 for a plate of appetizers that sounds way tastier than the actual dinner isn't a bad deal. Then an emcee comes onto stage, though apparently he is also a singer and sings us a few songs while we wait for the show to start. It was all jazz, not exactly my cup of tea, but he had a smooth voice. The volume was way too loud for the space, and didn't get any better once the dancing started.

The dancing. Well. I can't comment on the flamenco, since I know nothing about that style of dance. It was beautiful and fascinating, but for a show whose plot is based on the Spanish landing in Ireland, it was pretty Spanish-centric. I was a little disappointed by how little Irish dance featured in the show. The Indian/Bollywood interlude lasted longer than the Irish parts. And the Irish parts just seemed like a knockoff of Riverdance. The soloists were very good, but the male dancer's arm movements were comically Michael Flatley. And really, all he did was trebles. Impressively fast trebles, but nothing more technically challenging. As for the ensemble Irish dancers, it looked like they took ballet dancers and gave them a crash course of a few months in Irish. They were mediocre; nothing spectacular and their crossing, especially during turns was painful to watch. Lifting in the back went out the window with hardshoe or when the softshoe dances sped up and sometimes I wanted to grab their feet and make them point better. Maybe I'm being harsh; they were good dancers, they just didn't look like Irish dancers. In addition, when they kicked up, there was this pause before, which an Irish dancer doesn't have--like the gymnastics "dance" section that doesn't really look like dance. Either way, the dancing was fun to watch and the flamenco dancers did seem pretty good. And again, the soloists were real Irish dancers that did very well, even if the steps they did were not technically challenging (that tends to happen in shows since most audiences are laypeople that respond to flash, not technique).

Our appetizers came out after everyone else was finished with dinner, and none of the food our waitress told us about was on the plate. It was still ok. The taquitos were horrible, as were the weird little sandwiches (I think they were supposed to be pulled pork, but yuck). However, the fried zucchini with the sauce was delicious and there was this meat wrapped in a puff pastry that was really good. There was one vegetarian wrap--just a little slice with nasty smelling veggies in it, and some sort of chicken empanada with a sweet, sweet sauce. I still ate almost everything (except the veggie wrap--it smelled horrible) because I'm always hungry now. I probably would have skipped it if I had known what actually came on the plate though. The time difference also kinda ticked me off since we were eating after everyone else had already had salad/soup and their entree. But again, I was too hungry to send it back on principle.

Over all, it was a good show, and I enjoyed seeing it, but I would not have been happy if I had paid $45 for the tickets--it just wasn't that good. And even Medieval Times includes dinner at $50 (apparently it's now $58, but it was $50 when we went). So, if you have a Fill A Seat subscription or if you have some extra cash you're looking for a way to spend, go for it! It was pretty fun to see, but if you're interested mostly in the Irish dance, I would recommend spending some time watching the champion dancers at the Irish Fair coming up June 16-17 (shameless plug for Aniar's feis!) 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

20 Weeks

What an eventful week! We're halfway through the pregnancy now and it's starting to feel more real! I can feel Wallaby kicking much more regularly and I'm actually looking pregnant instead of just chubby. Although, most of the time I still feel enormous and a bit fat. The increased appetite isn't helping that feeling; I eat almost everything in sight now. And I'm always hungry--gotta keep stocking the fridge with healthy snacks, even though I really just want ramen and chips haha. Well, I'm keeping fruit on hand too, nectarines and berries and trying to make more health-conscious choices.

We had the 20 week ultrasound on Friday and got to find out that our little Wallaby is a BOY! I started having a feeling that I was having a boy during the trip, and it's little scary because I don't know a thing about little boys. If it were a girl, I feel like I would have some idea what she was going through as she grew up, but with a boy I'm a little lost and I'm afraid he won't like me as a mom. James assures me it'll be just fine, and though it's a little scary, I'm so excited to meet our little guy! We are talking about names and I think we've got it pretty much nailed down, but we're keeping it a secret until the baby's born. It was hard to find a name that James and I both really liked and we could agree on, but we did manage it and I'm really happy with our choice; we don't need anyone second guessing it or expressing their dislike of the name. Plus it'll be fun to introduce him to the world with his name. So please be patient: it won't be that long and you'll all know his name! The ultrasound was fun: not only did we get to find out the sex, but we got to see all his little organs too. The tech took pictures of everything from his stomach, to his heart, to his kidneys, to his spleen! The level of detail was awesome: we could see all 4 chambers of his heart and count his little fingers and toes (ten of each, so we're good!). The doctor will also look for a cleft lip or palette, since the tech can't tell you if anything is normal or abnormal (though she hinted that everything looked good).  She was so nice, even if the boy or girl question was a bit anticlimactic. James also got to hear the heartbeat for the first time, which was awesome. Yes, I cried (tends to happen a lot these days). It was so cool to see him and have him actually look like a baby instead of an alien. We came home with a bunch of photos: showing he's a boy (he wasn't shy about that!), his little feet, profile shots, his hand and even his skull!! If I'm reading all the technical info on the side correctly, he's 13 oz! We'll know more about his health for sure come June 8, which is the next appointment, but I think everything is fine.

I've been feeling him kick and roll quite a bit, but James can't feel him yet. I wish he could, but I know it'll take a while for those little punches to be felt from the outside. They still make me jump a little each time, and are really surprising. I can't always feel them, but if I'm sitting still, especially if I have my legs drawn up to my chest, I can definitely feel them! Last night I felt him kick from the outside for the first time. He was really kicking on my right side, and I put my hand on my side, and BOOM! I felt my belly push out against my hand! It was amazing!! Unfortunately, James missed it and as soon as he had his hand on my belly, baby boy stopped kicking. Well, soon enough.

The 4th is my birthday--25 years! It's been a great weekend: I got to see the baby and baby got a pronoun, then James took me to Barnes and Noble and we spent 2 hours looking through baby name books together (he really surprised me with that one) and we went to a comedy show Sunday night (secret birthday-no sense being singled out). Today, one of my bridesmaids took me out to a delicious lunch and we got to catch up for the first time in a while, then James took me to dinner at Gabbi's for their tortilla soup and shrimp enchiladas! I actually had a dream about their enchiladas on the pilgrimage, that's how good they are!! We ended up getting dessert at Bruxie's since they have frozen custard sundaes. It wasn't Katie's, but it was pretty good. He also got me a St. Christopher medallion to replace the one my father had given me; it's gorgeous and I can't wait to get a chain to wear it on! We rented Captain America from a RedBox and enjoyed it with some microwave popcorn. It was a great day; very relaxing and low key, just perfect.

Now for the weekly info roundup:
How far along:  20 weeks, halfway there! Whoo!!
Total weight gain: No clue. I really don't trust my scale, which says -3, so we'll find out at the doctor's
Maternity clothes:  Yep. Although the jeans keep slipping down...I can still fit into some regular shirts, but they're getting tighter. And my hoodie is going to stop zipping up soon lol
Stretch marks: Yep. They're so attractive. But you know what, they're part of having a baby, and what my body is doing is amazing, so I'll deal with them.
Sleep: Still tossing and turning. I'd love to just sleep through the night. I get up at least twice to pee and I toss and turn all night long trying to get comfortable. Seems like I haven't gotten any rest for a month.
Best moment this week: Finding out our little one is a little boy!! Seeing James' face when he heard the heartbeat!
Miss anything: I really miss not being tired. I get exhausted so easily and take naps whenever I can, and still fall asleep on the couch around 9 or 10. I'd love to have more energy, but I feel drained. I thought this trimester was supposed to give me some of my energy back
Movement: Oh yeah. Little kicks and jabs, rolls and possibly a headbutt lol. It's a weird and amazing feeling. I can understand how it could be confused for intestinal stuff, but to me, it feels completely different (but then I know how to differentiate my tummy feelings too, so hey)
Cravings: Not anything specific. More often than not, I know what I DON'T want
Queasy:  Maybe once or twice, but nothing horrible
Baby's sex: Boy!
Symptoms: Same old, same old. My breasts are super sore lately, and GI stuff is still a problem. I think I may also have some round ligament pain from my uterus stretching.
Wedding ring on or off: On still. But I think my claddagh is going to be put away for a while soon
Belly button in or out: It's on its way out! The top half is definitely sticking out now!
Happy or moody: Mostly happy, but I get irritated and upset much, much easier now
Looking forward to:  Gabbi's tonight and opening my birthday present from James. I'm also planning on scheduling a massage when we head to SD for a weekend soon
Any pregnancy brain moments:  I left clothes I was washing in the washer for three (James says five) days. When I remembered them, they were gone and so was our basket! I totally freaked out and started crying, I was so upset. It was just a small load, but some of my favourite shirts were in there that I was trying to save from some green dye that got on them. Luckily, the manager had pulled them out and NOT thrown them away and we found them in the maintenance garage the next day. They'll have to be washed again, but I learned that I need to set a timer and get up when it goes off, no matter what. I felt like such an idiot.

That was our week! Here's some pictures:

20 weeks and the reveal! We're having a BOY!!!!

Pippin jumped up on me, hence the face.
The bump is starting to take shape!

My bump has finally surpassed my boobs!

Some of the photos: Profile, left hand, left arm and left foot!

Monday, June 4, 2012

May 23-26 (Pilgrimage Pt 4, last part)

From here on out, I don't have journal entries yet, so I'm going on memory and our itinerary. Since I'll use this later to update my journal, the days might be a tad bit longer, but I promise they're not very long days.

See the person on the end? Church of Beth Phage
Wednesday started with a group photo on the roof after breakfast. Our hotel has a great view, so it ended up being a nice picture. Boy, did I have a raccoon tan from my sunglasses by this point though. We left for Beth Phage (the house of the palms) and the Mount of Olives to walk the Palm Sunday road. The church is controlled by the Franciscans and represents Jesus' triumphal entry into the city on Palm Sunday. There were beautiful murals and there's a stone that's remembered as Jesus' stepping stone onto his mule (the factuality of this is questionable, however). My favourite mural was on the back wall: it shows Jesus on his donkey and people laying down cloaks and palm fronds for him to walk on. The reason I like it is because the last person is in the process of pulling off their cloak, and when a priest was asked who it was, he responded that it could be anyone, you or me. We walked down the Palm Sunday road, with beautiful views to Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We read the gospels and saw the tree from which the thorns for his crown came. Youch! Those thorns are LONG and nasty looking. The church has a beautiful picture window that overlooks the city, with metal designs and is shaped like a tear drop. We ended at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Agony or the Church of All Nations. This was James' favourite church last year because of the mural on the front of the church, which really is gorgeous and which I couldn't get a good picture of. The gardens have old olive trees, whose roots are said to be the same as those which Jesus would have walked through. Inside the sanctuary, the altar is built around the rock Jesus is believed to have offered his last prayer that night on (the "take this cup" one). It was a beautiful, dimly lit church. The doors were beautiful tree designs and the gates outside had some great metalwork. We headed to Caiaphas Palace or St Peter in Gallicantu next. We saw the dungeons and prisons, which show evidence of human cruelty. Some believe Jesus was held in the dungeons overnight. The church was beautiful: it had a wonderful stained glass gross on the ceiling that was breath-taking and there was a second church underneath the first. There was another model of the city during Jesus' time outside as well. We had lunch at the Notre Dame Center (they had couches!), just salads to save our appetite for dinner at Iyad's house in Jericho that night. We walked home through the Old City from the New Gate to the Damascus Gate. It was a nice walk, and you can really get a feel for the city. We went back to the hotel to rest before we left at 5 for Iyad's house in Jericho. His family was so kind and welcoming and the food was fantastic! Stuffed grape leaves (OMG why haven't I eaten these before), pastry-wrapped meat, rice and chicken and a very spicy spinach pastry as well. We all exchanged prayer partner gifts and my prayer partner was Jim, a Lutheran pastor who got me a tiny Jerusalem cross for the baby's baptism. So sweet. Then we headed inside to watch a hilarious show: West Bank Story. Think West Side Story as a comedy, set in Israel/Palestine with two fast food chains (Kosher King and Hummus Hut). It's pretty hilarious, and apparently available on Netflix: Go get it!

Touching Golgotha
Thursday was our last day, and our earliest. We had to be ready to leave at 5:45 in the morning. Gah! I woke up at 4:30, freezing cold from our air conditioner which was on super cold mode somehow. I again heard the call to prayer, but for the first time I didn't find it beautiful; all I could think was "Only 40 more minutes of sleep!" Despite the early hour, we were ready to head out at 5:45, and the chill in the air was welcome compared to the heat later in the day. I even had to wear my jacket as well as my head scarf. I'm sure I cut a very serious, religious figure walking the Via Dolorosa with my panda ears on my hood :) We walked all the stations, doing readings from the Way of the Cross book we were supposed to have read before hand (I'm not sure this is the name, but I can't find my copy right now). We were too early for most of the chapels to be open; in fact, I don't think we went into any of them, but it was so nice to walk without the distractions since the Via Dolorosa runs right through the souk. There were very few people out, none of the stores were open, and you were actually able to focus on the story. We ended in the Holy Sepulchre, where the last 5 (?) stations are located. At this point, we were able to see Golgotha/Calvary and touch the stone, through a little hole under the altar. We finished the stations and had some free time. Dad was very gallant and offered to anoint our headscarves once we were outside, since the women shouldn't enter without their heads covered. It was still a bit chilly, but Iyad brought us warm bread to munch on, which was delicious. We headed back to have a leisurely breakfast (a whole hour!) before leaving at 9 am for Emmaus. It felt weird to have done so much so early in the day, but also nice. I didn't eat much, since the bread was more than my usual breakfast, but it was nice to relax a bit. We left for Emmaus, which is mentioned in Luke. The story is that two of the disciples were traveling to Emmaus after Jesus' death and met a stranger on the road. The long and short is that the stranger is, of course, the risen Jesus, but he isn't revealed to them until he breaks bread with them. We had Eucharist at a Byzantine church's remains in Emmaus-Nicopolis (apparently there are four Emmauses) and after got to look around at the ruins a bit. There was a baptismal in the shape of a cross that looked like a full submersion one; kinda like a small version of my grandma's sunken tub. There was also a lizard. I tried to share my dried cherries, but it ran away from me. We headed back to Jerusalem to get our last lunch together at the Petra Restaurant (beginning and ending in Petra!) and had a lovely lunch. I don't remember the dish's name, but it's rice and meat all cooked in a big pot and then they turn the pot over. It was wonderful and extremely filling, plus they brought out watermelon and then ice cream at the end of the meal. It was hard to say goodbye to people, but we expected to see most people around the hotel since many were staying until the next day at least. We went straight from lunch to St. George's Cathedral since Mom was looking for a deacon's stole. No luck with the stole, and it took us forever to find the Cathedral, but we did find it eventually after a lot of walking. It's a very beautiful church and campus for a college. There was some debate over Hezekiah's Tunnels after we got back from the Cathedral, but we opted not to soak ourselves (I honestly thought the water was only ankle or calf deep, not up to your hips!) we saw Zedekiah's Caves instead. It's actually one big cave, and it's neat to see; I've always loved caves and caverns and even though it was humid, it was cool inside. It was also close to the hotel, which was convenient since we were all tired. We came back and rested after this since we were pretty exhausted: James was starting to get sick again, I had yet to feel better and Mom still had her Minnie Mouse voice. Dad, miraculously did not get sick. I crashed pretty hard, falling asleep while reading my book and I'm relatively sure this is the nap from which I "awoke" to tell James he had shekels in his hair. We had dinner at Azzahra's again, but I got lentil soup while everyone else went with the pasta. It was enough food for twice as many people! They brought out dessert again, a cinnamon-roll like thing, but way better than any cinnamon roll I'd ever had. I was stuffed, but I did sneak the roll back to our room to munch on later. :) We went to sleep early since we had another early morning planned: we were going to Masada!

That's James and me, inside the cistern!
Masada is one place that Dad said we absolutely had to go to if we were in Israel. He told me he'd always wanted to take Mom there, and wanted to take me since I was born. It was definitely incredible. We drove a long way, Iyad had set up the taxi for us, recommending that we take the audio tour once we were there. It was a beautiful, scenic drive along the Dead Sea. Our driver stopped to let us take pictures, and took some pictures of us all together too. We got to Masada and I think I shocked our driver by wanting to take the stairs instead of the elevator (he ended up asking what I did at hotels and seemed confused when I said I took the stairs up to 7 flights). We watched a very dramatic video introducing us to the history of the site and got our tickets for the cable car. Yes, I wanted to walk up the Snake Path, but that probably would not have been a good idea, although Dad pointed out that they had added railings along the edges since he'd been there. We opted for the giant cable car instead. On the way up, there weren't that many people and it was a quick ride, which was good. I really don't like being stuck with no way out of a situation and up in the air is about as "no way out" as you can get. We picked up our audio tours, and Dad got attacked by a bird when he pulled out his cheese sandwich from the hotel. Ok, attacked is a strong word, brought on by my own terror of birds, but the bird landed on his arms and definitely wanted some of that bread! It was kinda surreal to see a black bird of some kind, obviously wild, tamely perched on Dad's arm. Dad also had little luck with the audio tour; his switched to some other language halfway through, so James had to go return it. Other than that and the heat, it was lovely. We started following the audio tour and went in order up to number 11. It took a while, but we saw beautiful views of the Dead Sea and awesome ruins and heard about the stores of food Herod used to keep there. In fact, when the rebels holed up at Masada, they used the food stores that were almost 100 years old to feed themselves! We could see the remains of the Roman encampments and the siege ramp they built (apparently there's a way to walk up via the ramp as well). James, Dad and I walked down to the Northern Palace, or rather hiked down. It was quite a ways, and I thought there'd be a little more to see than there was, but it was still neat to do. Although I did have to stop and rest on the way back up. The whole trip was a LOT of walking and it was fine earlier, but as the day crept toward noon, the temperature kept rising. We kept hydrated and decided to shorten our trip, only seeing the things we considered highlights. We saw columbarium towers which were later used at dovecots and saw the Byzantine church's remains, which had walls decorated with pottery shards to make patterns. It was beautiful. But, for me, the highlight was the cistern on the Southern end that you could walk into! It was 60-some steps down, and the steps were enormous; we had to go down one at a time, and sideways. But it was soooo cool! It was enormous! I can't even imagine how much water it would hold and how long it would last; and it was only one of the big cisterns there. Going up was much harder than going down, but I did make it. At this point, we'd been up on Masada for a little more than three hours (We had told our guide 2.5, oops). We had seen what we wanted to see, and had an awesome time. It was a bit eerie at points: the lots that were found that showed the last men to kill the others and themselves, the stories of the Romans entering to find barely a living soul (2 women and a handful of children were the only survivors). It's hard for me to imagine myself in a situation in which death would be better than capture, although I know there are situations like that and I don't doubt that it was the case for the rebels. On the way back we stopped by Ein Gedi, just to take pictures with the sign that proclaimed it was the lowest point on Earth, but had a relatively uneventful, yet beautiful, drive back to our hotel. It was a great trip and I'm so glad I got to see it. We hadn't had lunch yet, so while Dad took a nap and I propped my eyes open, James checked out some restaurants. It was difficult to find one since it was Friday and Shabbat was about to start. We did find a hamburger place in the newer part of the city that was open til 4 (it was almost 2) and opted for a cab this time. Again, cab drivers don't seem to have a requisite knowledge of where things are, and we were dropped off in the vicinity of the restaurant, on the correct street at least. We finally found it (I think numbers are different there too, done by block or something) and had a nice, filling lunch. I could have probably done with a smaller burger, and James was a little sad about the lack of cheese, but we were in a Kosher certified restaurant. It was still delicious, and the bathroom (unisex) had the most awesome sink: just a flat slab of some red shiny stuff in place of a sink and counter. We had a nice meal and managed to grab a cab back to the hotel, or rather to Herod's Gate. Exhausted again, we all fell asleep before dinner. Maybe we should have done more, but we were all so tired. We had dinner at Azzahra's again, pizza for everyone but me, I had the spaghetti bolognese, which was different from Italian bolognese and delicious and huge (and I ate it all!) and more baclava for dessert. The music was middle eastern pop (I'm guessing) and I got the waiter to write down some artists' names for me because mom and I really enjoyed it. In fact, the man at the table next to us asked if he could copy the names too since he'd been Shazam-ing the music on his iPad. It was a lovely meal, and our waiters definitely recognized us. I guess we tip nicely, because they were all very nice to us, though I think they were amused that we kept coming back; after all, it was close to the hotel, didn't bother James' stomach, decently priced and delicious! We didn't want to risk finding a new place with only mediocre food our last night.

We were picked up at 7 am the next morning. James and I were flying out at 11, and Mom and Dad left at 1. James got pulled out for extra questioning as we were entering the airport. I really thought they wouldn't have a problem with him leaving the country, but we were all prepared for this happening. It was less intense than the last time, especially since I could see him and knew where he was. Plus, the guard who was asking questions was a lot nicer and didn't seem to hassle him, just asking who packed our bags, and if the ones in the back were all ours, and if they'd been under our supervision since being packed, etc. We had been warned about airport security at Ben Gurion by both Iyad and Mark, but were pleasantly surprised. I don't know if it was just that it was early (we arrived before the screening was open) but we had a great experience. Since we were leaving from different sections of the airport, and had to go through different security lines, we said goodbye to Mom and Dad before entering security, promising to call and text each other. We were a little confused since there was a sign saying to wait for an official before entering, but then another woman breezed right by the line forming, so we followed her lead, and everyone else followed us (apparently, there was supposed to be an official, but he was in the bathroom...for like 20 minutes). Our checked luggage got scanned through an xray machine that literally sent the luggage flying after it was done with it. Luckily, all the fragile items were in my carry on, and I still had a lot of room in my checked bag too. We checked in, checked our bags and got our boarding passes and headed off to the next security line. We went through that security and were surprised (and pleased) that James could keep his water all the way up to the gate. We were warned that the tiles we got might set off the scanners, but we had no problems and no one asked us any questions at all, despite being told to expect a lot of questions. We just breezed right through and poked around a few shops before getting a chocolate croissant and settling in to wait at our gate. We were there 3 hours early and had almost 2 hours left to wait after going through security. I settled in to read, and we finally boarded our plane. A really NICE plane. A really EMPTY plane. It was great: no one in our row and barely any people around us. In fact, James could probably have had a row to himself if he wanted. The food was terrible and I was starving, which wasn't a good combination (and none for purchase) but I did get to watch almost all three of the LOTR movies, which I'd been wanting to do for a while. So I didn't get any reading or journaling done, though I did sleep for a bit. Our next flight from New Jersey was a pain. We had to go through customs, and had very little time to do so. We finally go through customs with our bags and rechecked them, getting to our gate with our McDonald's (only slightly palatable option) with plenty of time. Only to discover our gate had changed to an entirely different part of the airport. So we had to backtrack down one wing to another wing (on the end of each wing, darn it) and only when we were almost there was an announcement made. Thank God we had a smartphone with us, or we would have been scrambling (by the way, the gate attendant had no clue and was completely unhelpful). Turns out that despite our plane being "on time" we still sat on the tarmac for about an hour before taking off, but after being told to turn off our phones. We couldn't let our ride know we were going to be late; but luckily she checked our flight online since we were over an hour late. *Sigh*. And the plane was gross to boot. Luckily we had no one in our row and I crashed out before we even left the gate, only waking up to eat the gross little meal, but it was an all over unpleasant, uncomfortable flight with no complimentary movies/tv (despite it being 5 hours long) and the attendants weren't even that pleasant. But, we were almost home. When we finally arrived in Orange County, we picked up our bags and called our ride, who was already there, yay! We finally got home to our puppies, who were so happy to have us back, and almost immediately crashed out in our own, queen-sized, comfortable bed! It was great to be home.

Aftermath: I got better within a few days, James was no longer sick, Mom and Dad both got really sick and had matching codeine cough syrup prescriptions. We woke up between 4 and 6 am most days, but adjusted relatively quickly. I get tired really easily, but I'm managing to rest a lot, which is good. We're finally recovering, and I've already got my photos sorted out. All that's left is to finish my journal, and then put the scrapbooking supplies away for the next 5 years or so ;) Eventually I'll get around to it, and it won't be as long a scrapbook as Ireland, so hopefully I'll get it done sooner rather than later. We also discovered that we have a dove nesting in the rafters of our balcony. I'm not sure why she's there, since Pippin tends to try to attack birds, but apparently she and her mate had a few uninterrupted days to build a nest. Now we're just working on keeping Pippin from popping the screen door out when she sees the dove (she's already done it once).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

May 20-22 (Pilgrimage Pt 3)

At Jacob's Well

We were staying in Jerusalem, but we didn't start the next day in Jerusalem.  On Sunday, we spent about two hours driving to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Zababdeh, which is in the West Bank. We switched busses once we were in the West Bank, for reasons that I'm not entirely sure of, but there was a different (Palestinian) license plate, and it gives work to people in the West Bank. We needed our passports, but we were never checked at the check points. The service and sermon were mostly in Arabic, though some parts were in English. We weren't the only English speaking group there; a group from England was there and a few people from Santa Barbara. Our guide said he'd never seen other non-locals there. I had a hard time with the sermon since it was in Arabic, and English is difficult enough for sermons for me, but it was neat to hear the multi-lingual service overall. After the service, one of the British women came up to talk to James during coffee hour and asked if we were seeing sights of meeting people. James said a little of both and the woman replied "Well, WE think people are more important." To which James had no reply. I had been standing off to the side and decided at this point not to join the conversation since holding my tongue with rude people is becoming more and more difficult. Before lunch, we could do some shopping from some local families: hand embroidery and olive wood carvings. Lunch was provided by a local family's restaurant and I really did try to like it. It was a soft break that was soaked in olive oil, stuffed with cooked onion and almond slices and a TON of sumac. This was accompanied by a chicken leg with crispy skin and cucumber/tomato salad and yogurt. After church we headed to another Greek Orthodox church that's built over Jacob's well. I don't remember the name of the church, but it was amazing! The current head priest came into the job when his predecessor was murdered by settlers. However, he finished building the church (actually physically doing the work, not just the plans) and painted all the icons in the church himself. Prolific is the only word to describe how many icons were in the church. It was so bright and cheery and colourful: the icons were gorgeous and the whole church just seemed like a happy pace. It helped that even though the priest looked like Rasputin (most Orthodox priests look like Rasputin to me) he was quick to smile and laugh. He laughed when all the women had our heads covered and said we looked like Russians, but he appreciated the devotion. He was almost impish in fact, especially when he told us that he "stole" the capitals on top of the pillars, with a laugh of course. He took us down to the well and anointed all of us with holy oil (nard) and allowed us to take photos, which was against the rule. We drew water from the well, which was SUPER deep and all got to take a sip: nice and cool. He also had icons and his own hand-painted icons for sale. They were quite expensive, and we didn't know what we would do with them, but they were definitely beautiful. We had some free time to look around the church and we found the previous priest's tomb (you could see his skull, like a relic) and the icon associated with his murder (nothing gory, but a bit unnerving). My mom wanted a photo in front of the church with dad and the priest was locking up and jumped into the photo! A total surprise, but it just seemed like he was a happy and sweet guy, something I think is often lost in the seriousness and severeness of the Orthodox tradition. Iyad took us out for knaffeh (like we made in Jordan) but I had to pass :( Back to Jerusalem and our guest speaker on an Israeli perspective. It was an interesting talk and he definitely conveyed the complicated nature of the topic, but again the bias of the trip showed. Mom and dad went into the Old City after dinner while James and I stayed in to journal and write postcards. Plus, I was having bad allergies and problems breathing with light-headedness, so staying in was best for me. They almost got caught in the Jerusalem Day celebration/demonstration, but luckily only caught the tail end with the police.

Iconostasis in the Greek section of the
 Church of the Nativity
Mom's birthday was an awesome day! As predicted, it was LONG. We left at 6:30 am because Iyad had managed to get us a real treat: we would be able to celebrate mass with the Franciscans in the Church of the Nativity! This is not a typical tourist thing and I have no idea how he managed it, but I was very grateful. The church is controlled by three denominations: Greek, Armenian and Franciscan, each with their own church and each with their own time in the grotto prior to it opening to tourists. The churches were virtually empty since we were there so early and it was amazing to celebrate mass (in Italian) in the grotto. Last year, James and the kids had to wait two hours just to walk through and spend a few seconds there, but we were lucky enough to be able to spend the entire service there. We had communion right next to the manger and were able to venerate the star, which is over where Mary gave birth. (Another truth and Truth thing). Iyad took us to walk along the wall, the "separation barrier" built in the West Bank around Palestinian neighbourhoods. It was very much like the Berlin Wall with graffiti and slogans and art on it. It was interesting to learn more about the situation, especially that US tax payer money is going to help pay for the building, which can explain a bit of the animosity sometimes shown on television (though honestly, we felt no animosity anywhere in Israel or the West Bank). Iyad then took us to Shepherd's Fields and we were able to go down into a first century cave like the shepherds would have lived in. The church there was beautiful and had great acoustics so we sang some Christmas songs. We shopped for olive wood gifts at the co-op and had lunch at Ruth's Field Restaurant which included a great dip (I think it was that eggplant one) and the best falafels I've ever had. I was sad we each only got one.We ended the day early due to a schedule change, going to the Israel Museum after lunch, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Seeing the building they were in was cool since it was designed as a jar like the scrolls were found in, but since James and I had seen the actual scrolls at different times, we weren't that interested. Some of the replicas weren't done very well either...but the model of ancient Jerusalem was awesome! A little like Legoland's miniature cities, it was neat to see where we were staying in relation to the first century city and all the different sites we'd see. We rested at the hotel til 4, then headed into the Old City for some shopping--hard sells, but I got a set of Muslim prayer beads made out of agate; one of the things I really wanted to find while we were there. We headed back for dinner, but had reservations at 8:45 at another restaurant that had pizza since the food was making James sick for some reason. On the way we stopped at the post office, which was an interesting experience with people cutting in front and super expensive stamps. Mom got a cake at dinner with "Happ Birthday Anne!" on it :) and the hotel manager was our speaker on Islam that night. It was an interesting talk, but he was very tangential, so it was a little hard to follow, and I was glad I'd already learned quite a bit about Islam before. We had to duck out at 8:30 for our reservation, but it was totally worth it. The food was delicious and the service was amazing! Dad and James split a pepperoni pizza and mom and I split a caper and green olive pizza. It was Italian-style, with a thinner crust and very, very fresh. After dinner, they brought out baclava for us. So good, and free of charge. And James didn't get sick, which was the whole point. It was at Azzahra Hotel and Restaurant and if you're ever in Jerusalem, I would highly recommend it. 

In front of the Dome of the Rock
Tuesday was a very, very hot day. Especially since Monday had been chilly. We saw the big sites of the three major religions today. We started at the Western (wailing) Wall. We had to have a head covering (James borrowed Mom's hat) and tuck any crosses into our shirts. We split into men and women to go up and pray. We were able to stick our prayer into the wall. I wonder what happens to the older prayers: if they clean them out or what happens. When we walked in, a group of women was singing. I guess a holiday was coming up, because the Torah arks were out on the men's side and there was a lot of yelling and singing. Some men were singing and dancing on our way out, and the girls on the other side of the barrier were dancing too. Dad and James had picked up some yamakas they offer for men to use. It wasn't too crowded yet, which was nice. Jews pray at the Western wall instead of the southern wall (which is also still intact) because it is closer to the location of the holy of holies. Next we got in line to go up to the Temple Mount (forbidden by the Chief Rabbi because of the holiness of the site) where the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque are. Ever since 2000, when an unannounced visit by Sharon sparked the second intifada, the sites are closed to visitors. They're still gorgeous to see: the gold dome and the blue and green Turkish tiles. The stonework is lovely too; we saw a gorgeous equivalent of a pulpit. We had entered into Jerusalem through the Dung Gate, and on our way to Lion's Gate, we stopped by the Basilica of St. Anne's and the pools of Bethesda, which were said to have healing properties (though I would not get in that water...) The ruins by the pools were gorgeous; I've always found ruins have a very haunting, beautiful quality to me. St. Anne was Mary's mother, and I learned a new factoid: the term "immaculate conception" actually refers to the conception of Mary, not of Jesus. Jesus' deal is called the "virgin birth," but in popular culture nowadays, immaculate conception is used to refer to Mary's conception of Jesus. It was a lovely church, again with good acoustics so we sang a bit before having lunch at Pasha Restaurant. It was a nice restaurant, with the typical mixed grill we always seem to get preceded by the little dishes with toppings/stuffings for pita bread. We got a yummy donut hole -like dessert: very airy and sugary. We went to the Church of the Resurrection or the Holy Sepulchre after lunch. This church is controlled by SIX different denominations: Greek, Armenian, Roman/Francisan, Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian, however the keys are controlled by a Muslim family to avoid disputes. The church houses Calvary, Golgotha, the Stone of Anointing, the location of the empty tomb, and Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. It was originally built by St. Helena, Constantine's mother and was built over by the Crusaders later. We had a gospel reading by an Ethiopian priest in their section of the church (very small) and saw various different chapels (though not Golgotha since we'd see that our last day during the Via Dolorosa), even seeing the Armenian, Greek and Coptic priests walk through on their rounds with incense and heard the bells, which were beautiful. We heard about the Holy Fire that sprouted from one of the pillars long ago, and how the tradition is kept alive during Easter with the holy fire from the Edicule, built over the location of Christ's tomb (Truth and truth, remember). We also saw a first century tomb, though no one but dad and me went in, which is believed to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Not the one he gave to Jesus, but the one he was actually placed in. It wasn't as well preserved as the one under the convent, but it was neat to see. After this, some people departed for Vespers at another church, but my parents and James and I stayed to get in line to go into the Edicule. I was confused until recently, when I read that the actual cave that was believed to house Jesus' tomb was carved away by a Muslim ruler in an attempt to quash Christianity. Either way, it seems the Greek Orthodox control the Edicule, or at least while we were there. There was a large Russian tour group ahead of us, and boy were they pushy. I was shocked and more than a little disappointed at the rudeness in such a holy place. You'd think of all places to be respectful toward your fellow humans, it would be here, but no such luck. We were pushed around a bit, but eventually got to go in and see the tiny little room that has what looks like a coffin, but is (I think) an altar and pray for a minute, before walking back out. The priests leading people through were communicating via cell phone, and it was kinda funny to see a priest in full Greek Orthodox garb (remember, it reminds me of Rasputin) on a smart phone. Mom and dad got some shrouds and some candles afterward and lit the prayer candles in the holy fire to take back to St. Luke's. While they were doing this, we saw a Greek Orthodox priest with a sprayer of water walking along the prayer candles and putting them out. Which was odd, to say the least. Mom anointed the shrouds on the stone of anointing, where Jesus' body was anointed before burial. James did the same with a shroud of Veronica he got for his prayer partner. I thought the stone magically/miraculously smelled like the oils, but James later explained that pilgrims actually use their own oils and it's the combination of all of these day after day. This was after he'd finished laughing at me of course. We took a leisurely walk through the Old City souk, running into Mark on our way back. We had dinner at Azzahra again, since James just can't seem to get used to the food, even though he likes the taste. Poor guy. Pepperoni for the boys again, but  shallot, green olive, basil and artichoke hearts for mom and me this time! Yum! It was hard to believe that we only had 3 days left before leaving after this, but it was drawing nearer to when we were leaving, and only 2 days until the pilgrimage was over and the group would disband. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Galilee (Pilgrimage Pt 2)

We left Jordan the morning of the 16th, heading from Amman to the border crossing at King Hussein Bridge. When we finally got to the border crossing, we had to take our luggage to be x-rayed, then put it back on the bus, drive a bit further and get off again for the actual passport control. We all waiting in line based on our visas and had our passports checked and our irises scanned. That took at least an hour. Then, after unsuccessfully trying to cross the bridge in our bus, we had to go back to passport control and switch ourselves and luggage to a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus had no a/c and was swelteringly hot. We crossed the bridge and had to sit on the Israeli side for at least 45 minutes waiting to get the all clear; they must have looked under the bus with mirrors at least 3 separate times. Finally, we got to passport control on the Israeli side. Again, we had to take out luggage to be x-rayed and go through metal detectors and answer questions. I made it through without any problems, but when I looked over, I saw James' stuff come through the x-ray, but no James. I had no idea what happened to him and was starting to freak out. No one seemed to know what had happened to him. He finally appeared, pissed off, but ok. Apparently, the guard questioning him decided he didn't look like his passport photo and took him aside for more questioning. I can understand that a little; after all he didn't have a beard when his passport photo was taken almost ten years ago. Still, when he gave them his driver's license (which does look like him), they said that wasn't him either and had him take off his shoes and patted him down, felt the soles of his feet and waved him over with a metal detector. They wouldn't believe him that he was there for a pilgrimage. He wasn't in a good mood when they finally let him go through the metal detectors, but apparently they tend to profile young men as activists. After another hour in line, James got questioned again before getting his tourist visa. We finally me Iyad, our local guide and got on the bus to Nazareth. We were at least two hours late, but the convent had lunch ready for us when we got there around 2:30. We had to change some things around, but we saw the Roman Basilica of the Annunciation, where the Roman Catholics believe the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the news she was pregnant. We were lucky and got a tour of the archaeological site next to the basilica, which included a little museum that housed the earliest found "Ave Maria." It also included a grotto like the one where Mary would have lived. It was interesting to hear our guide talk about it because it had an impact on the birth story. The "stable" was really a back room of the cave, where animals were kept, as opposed to the front room where people slept. We had some free time and I managed to cut open the bottom of my toe on a protruding pipe. Unluckily, I was wearing flip flops, which led to the cut, but luckily I wear flip flops often and have calluses that prevented the cut from being too deep. I am also up to date with my tetanus shot, so I was good. We raided a pharmacy and then found sumac in a spice shop. We headed back for dinner: soup, salad, rice, turkey, gravy and fresh fruit. It was delicious.

At the Jordan River

Feral Kitties!
Thursday was another long day: on the bus by 7:15 ready to go to the Jordan River to renew our baptism vows. We went to a spot no other tourists go to, which was really nice. We renewed our vows and I waded out into the river to get water for people, including a large bottle full for Wallaby's baptism. The water was cool and refreshing. We went to Capernaum, where Jesus' headquarters for his ministry was located. We saw the synagogue and Peter's house (a church is built over it, with a window in the ground you can look through to see the house). This was also our group's first encounter (of many) with feral kittens: they were playing down in the ruins of the synagogue and were so cute! We headed to the church at the Mount of Beatitudes, which was a beautiful octagonal church. James hadn't been able to go in last year, but we were able to do so this time; it was a truly beautiful church with mosaics and stained glass and a gilded dome. The views from outside of the Sea of Galilee were also beautiful. We saw a lot more of that after lunch as we headed out for a hike to the actual "mountain" (it was more like a hill) to have Eucharist. It was HOT, but it wasn't too bad of a hike. I stopped plenty to take pictures because the scenery was so gorgeous. Mark also stepped into a cave where it's thought Jesus preached from. The amplification of his voice (we were quite a ways away) was amazing, and you could definitely understand how Jesus could preach to so many people; it was a natural amphitheatre (ruined only by the 18-wheelers driving by on the road). After that we went to the Primacy of Peter church, right on the Sea of Galilee (also more like a lake...apparently the Gospel writers exaggerated a bit). We picked up some rocks and a seashell from the sea, but the highlight (for me, at least) was seeing a hyrax, which I'd only seen in the zoo before! We ended the day with a boat ride on the "Jesus boat" on the sea (there were HUGE catfish in the shallows) and I managed to sleep a bit on the bus ride back. After a bit of a rest, James and I went over to the Church of the Annunciation again, but got to go inside this time. We arrived right before they closed the doors to tourists. When we walked into the church, we were just walking up to the altar area (which is in the grotto) and this beautiful singing and chanting begins. It was so eerie, but so beautiful. Apparently there was a French mass going on, and that's what we were hearing, but the timing was amazing. We walked around, heading up to where they were having the mass and looked at all the mosaics before heading back for dinner. I did not feel like eating any meat; for the rest of the time in Nazareth, I somehow became a vegetarian--I just wasn't interested at all. After being assured tomorrow would be less busy, I agreed to not stay at the convent (I was feeling pretty sick) and I realized that my belly had popped out overnight: I barely recognized myself in the mirror from the day before.
Icon in the Church of the Annunciation
Friday was much more relaxed. We headed to Zippori in the morning, which had been the capital of Galilee in the first century, and would have been where Joseph and Jesus would have plied their trade. Which probably wasn't carpentry: the actual translation is "master builder" and there's almost no wood in the region, but plenty of stone, so they were most likely stone masons. The ruins were neat, but my favourite part was the Nile mosaic, which showed the measuring of the Nile to predict the prosperity of the coming year. It was so neat to hear the explanation and see the corresponding parts of the mosaic. I was having a real problem with the heat, but Anne noticed and wet down her overshirt to put over my neck, which really helped me cool down. The Greek influence was strong: mosaics portrayed centaurs, Amazons, Dionysus and all the writing was Greek. They had enormous cisterns to accommodate the entire town and some of the houses had their own private mikvehs (ritual baths, private ones were a rarity). There was also a crusader fortress and you could see the recycling of the time: one of the stones used was an empty sarcophagus. I didn't go to the top because of the heat, but Dad headed up there to see the view. We then headed to Shefa-Am'r, whose population is a mix of Muslim, Christian and Druze. I would have liked to hear more about the Druze religion, since I'd never heard of it, but we went to an Episcopal church and the rector gave a long, uncomfortably political speech (for me, at least) and then sang for us and showed us the cultural centre the Diocese of LA helped build and the parish hall. My blood sugar had crashed and I was more than ready for lunch, and what a lunch it was. It was more like a feast fit for a king; they just kept bringing out dishes! My favourites were a fried cauliflower, chicken tenders in a honey glaze and a fresh cucumber-tomato salad. After stuffing ourselves, we had ice cream at a famed establishment. We headed back to Nazareth, getting dropped off at Mary's Well (where we were supposed to go the first day) over which a Greek Orthodox church is built. Even though they were having a baptism, they allowed us to go in and see the well, with a beautiful icon that shows Mary with the baby in her womb (I think our guide said only two of these exist). Dad got some water for us; it was pretty good water. It was the only well in Nazareth, so it would have been where Mary had gone to draw water. It wasn't too bad a walk, but I'm glad it was downhill and we weren't carrying our family's water supply. After dinner, we took Mom and Dad over to the church, since they hadn't seen it yet, but we left for Jerusalem the next day, so we tried to get some rest.

Monastery of St. George
Got him!
(Last day of this post, I promise!) We headed to St. George's Monastery on the Mount of Temptation in Jericho. We were waylaid for about an hour by a cycle race that was passing through; just hanging out in the bus, watching people in fan-powered gliders with seats go by. It's believed that this mountain is where Jesus went after his baptism and was tempted by the devil. We had to take a cable car up to the monastery and then hike up even farther. I can't imagine how the old monks who lived in caves up there reached them, but the mountain was riddled with tons of caves where monks had gone to live like John the Baptist. Women had to cover their heads while in the monastery and no pictures were allowed in the church, but it was beautiful (like most Greek Orthodox churches seem to be). We saw the cave that's venerated as Jesus'; the concept of truth and Truth is very different here than at home. It's as though the veneration itself offers some Truth to the legend, even though it might not be factually true. We had lunch with a very friendly cat who kept rubbing against my legs. On the way to the Dead Sea (YAY!) we stopped at a shop and to see the Tree of Zacchaeus. We got an hour to float in the sea and it was amazing! You walk out to about knee height, then squat down and sit back and boom! you FLOAT! You can actually sit completely upright in the water without touching the bottom! It was soooo cool! There was plenty of the therapeutic mud/clay to rub on ourselves. It really does make your skin smoother, and Dad and I mudded ourselves up good. James was a bit reluctant, but I got him a bit! I could have stayed forever, but the saltiness started stinging my skin after a while (especially my legs; I probably shouldn't have shaved the night before...) and I got some water in my eye, which was horrible! I guess my skin is just too sensitive since no one else's skin had started stinging yet. In my search for the clay, I even found some cool little crystals. I'm not sure if they're salt crystals or what, but the were beautiful and clear. We took quick showers and headed back to the bus. We stopped by the Wadi Qelt, which overlooks the road the good Samaritan story refers too. It was a beautiful view and we read the story and took pictures before heading to Jerusalem! Our driver dropped us off at the Damascus Gate and we walked to Herod's Gate, which is right across from the hotel. He showed us the post office, a spice shop, an educational (English) bookshop, coffee shop, etc. Two twin beds in our hotel room again, but the view makes up for it: we could see the Dome of the Rock and the walls of Jerusalem; it was gorgeous! We were pretty exhausted, so we headed to bed right after dinner and a real shower.

The view from our balcony!