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Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street

Tuesday morning, Ben and I woke up early to get a 3 mile run in the neighborhood in before our full day with Grandma, Grandpa and Chuck.  We decided not to go too far, and just ran in the neighborhood around the condo.  My cousin Ari warned me that the hills were pretty hard, but I figured, we'd both been training in Birmingham with plenty of hills and awful humidity.  Surely we could handle it.

Holy cow.  Jerusalem hills are SO. MUCH. BIGGER.   We covered three miles, but I had to stop to walk a few times.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have saved my energy for the rest of the day & night, but I didn't, and now I can say I've run the hills of Jerusalem--which does hold certain bragging rights. :)

After our run and breakfast at the condo, we decided to spend the morning at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum.  We couldn't visit Israel and have Jewish family that lived through the Holocaust and not experience Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

I wasn't allowed to take photos inside the museum, so you'll just have to take my word for the fact that it's a very impressive museum that chronologically tells the story of the Jews throughout the Holocaust, describing in detail the persecution, the ghettos, the death camps, and the lives of the people who lived through it.

Built around a long cement triangular hallway, the museum has you weave back and forth into different rooms full of giant photographs, video interviews, memorabilia and written stories.


{source}

If I remember the story correctly (family - please correct my story-telling if I'm wrong) my great-grandmother's cousin, Hadassah lived in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland and was involved with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and spent some time in a concentration camp.  You don't need a family connection to appreciate the severity of the Holocaust, but it definitely adds a deeper dimension of respect to the history.

Though the combination of my exhausting early morning run and the ominous mood set by the theme of the museum left me feeling like I might pass out at any moment, I do feel like I learned so much more than my high school history classes could ever have taught me.  It leaves you flabbergasted that something like that could ever have been allowed to happen.

I wouldn't necessarily call it a "fun" morning, but it was certainly educational - and a must-see if you are in the Jerusalem area.

From there, we headed into downtown Jerusalem to Ben Yehuda Street for lunch and a look at the more "modern" Jerusalem with Uncle Chuck as our guide.

Ben Yehuda street is full of Judaica shops, street cafes and lots of people - both locals and tourists.

But, before we could do much exploring, first things first -- lunch at Tmol Shilshom, a quaint little bookstore & cafe.

{I'll be blogging all our adventurous food choices in a separate post.}

After lunch, I had some much-needed coffee to try and get me through the rest of the day without needing a nap! 

After lunch, we walked through the street, taking in the sights and sounds, hopping out of the way of the electric train cars (that you can't hear coming), and stopping for some very quick souveneir shopping along the way.  We picked up a shofar for Paxton and some Hebrew letter beads that spell Ayla's name, plus a mezuzah and prayer parchment for our front door.

Then Chuck guided us into the neighborhoods behind the main thoroughfare and we got a little glimpse into the world people live in.

This synagogue had all kind of ornate decorations on the front door and sign.  Plus, I loved the metal star of David above the doorway!

I especially enjoyed photographing the windows and doorways and I never tired of the turquoise doors and shutters. :) My favorite color.

Next, we walked over to the Mahane Yehuda Market, also called the "Shuk".  This was one of my mom's favorite places when she visited Israel a couple of years ago.

It was busy - and full of all kinds of gorgeous displays of foods of all different kinds - fruits, olives, nuts, spices, desserts, vegetables and more!

Wouldn't it be fun to be able to buy your weekly groceries here?

After the market, Grandma and Grandpa rested for a little bit while Chuck led us on a brisk walk through a religious neighborhood in the area called Mea Shearim

I think Ben was especially intrigued by this group's religious lifestyle and customs.  Walking through their neighborhood was truly like stepping back in time.

Here's some Wikipedia info about the people who live in this neighborhood:

Today, Mea Shearim remains an insular neighbourhood in the heart of Jerusalem. With its overwhelmingly Haredi population, the streets retain the flavor of an Eastern European shtetl. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish texts. Traditions in dress may include black frock coats and black or fur-trimmed hats for men (although there are many other clothing styles, depending on the religious sub-group to which they belong), and long-sleeved, modest clothing for women. In some groups, the women wear thick black stockings all year long, including summer. Married women wear a variety of headcoverings, from wigs to headscarves. The men have beards and some grow long sidecurls, called peyos. The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, and use Hebrew only for prayer and religious study, as they believe Hebrew to be a sacred language only to be used for religious purposes. "

Modesty" posters in Hebrew and English are hung at every entrance to Mea Shearim. When visiting the neighborhood, women and girls are asked to wear what is deemed to be modest dress (knee-length skirts or longer, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders) and tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups. During the Shabbat (from sunset Friday until it is completely dark on Saturday night), visitors are asked to refrain from smoking, photography, driving or use of mobile phones. When entering synagogues, men are asked to cover their heads.

Just a normal day of touring in Jerusalem!

By about 4:00 in the afternoon, we headed back to the condo so we could rest get ready for the big event that night and the reason for our entire trip -- my cousin's wedding!

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
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Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank

(continued from Israel Trip: Jerusalem - Old City)

After some much-needed nourishment on this busy tour day, our group hopped back on the bus and headed to the afternoon portion of our tour -- a trip into the West Bank to Bethlehem.

While Bethlehem is only a short drive from Jerusalem, since it is a city under Palestinian control, there was a certain amount of shuffling necessary to get our group across the checkpoint.


{image source}

Our Israeli guide dropped us off at the check point, and passed us off to a Palestinian guide, who took over our tour for the next several hours. 

We pulled directly up to the ominous border wall:

West Bank Wall near Bethlehem

Our Israeli guide wasn't allowed to cross the border into the West Bank, and our Palestinian guide appeared to be bending a few rules by meeting us on the Israeli side to bring us through, since he told us quickly to act as if he wasn't a part of our group as he speed-walked us through the checkpoint.

Checkpoint into West Bank at Bethlehem

West Bank Wall at Bethlehem

With an American passport, we had no trouble whizzing through the checkpoint, but it was certainly a strange and unsettling feeling to walk through the barred walkways and cross the space between the two territories.

Crossing into the West Bank

Once we reached the other side, we hopped on a new bus, and were suddenly navigating the streets of Bethlehem in the West Bank.  If we thought traffic in Israel was insane, it was 5 times as "boisterous" in Palestine.  Honking, shouting, weaving, waving, and we even saw a man literally pushing his car down the street with a LOONG line of cars honking and waiting behind him.

Bethlehem Street

In Bethlehem, the signs no longer had the Hebrew translations we had been seeing. Now we saw Arabic, English and Spanish.  In fact, our new guide spoke fluent English and Spanish and began translating his commentary into both languages (for our Venezuelan tour companions).  Since Bethlehem is primarily a Christian town, and a very popular location, it attracts many Christian and primarily Catholic, Spanish-speaking tourists.  Ironically, I was actually able to understand his Spanish a little easier than his English, because of his accent.

Our first stop was Johnny's Souvenier Shop, where we were able to use their restroom and, conveniently, spend a little time shopping.  I'm sure this is a "deal" worked out with the shop and the tour guides, but hey...it was a great place to buy some trinkets and souveniers in our very rushed day of touring.

Bethlehem specializes in carved olive wood creations.  Some of these detailed and intricate creations were priced as high as $5,000 or more. 

Nativity Carved from Olive Wood

We picked a much smaller, less-complicated version as a family souvenier of our visit to Bethlehem.

After our group was finished shopping, we had a few minutes of time to kill (evidently the Church of the Nativity was EXTREMELY crowded), so our guide took on a brisk walk through the city to see the Calle de la Estrella -- the street where locals, not tourists, believe Joseph and Mary walked through Bethlehem just before Jesus was born. 

Calle de la Estrella

Calle de la Estrella

We met our bus just off the main road, and started heading toward the Church of the Nativity

Palestine - Bethlehem

As we drove there, our guide informed us that the church was VERY crowded, and he was going to split us into two groups so that he could sneak half of us in through the front entrance of the "main attraction" and the other half he would escort through the exit door. 

Having no idea what he was talking about, we just nodded and followed instructions!  We walked into the church through a little door on the side. 

Church of the Nativity

Ben and I were in the group that our guide weaseled into the front of the line.  He had us take off our tour stickers and enter as if we were "locals" coming to worship at the church.

Church of the Nativity

We were then hustled into a mass of people, all trying to fit into this tiny little door.  Evidently the tour groups that had been there waiting a long while were NOT happy with our immediate entry -- and actually joined together to block us from going down with their group.  A woman across from me stared me down shaking her head over and over again as if I was the Devil.  I can't blame them for being irritated, but we were just following our guide's instructions!

Church of the Nativity

Eventually, we did make it down the tiny stairway and into a small basement room FILLED with people, draped walls, and lots and lots of lanterns.

Church of the Nativity

Having spent all our time getting into the church and trying to sneak into the front of the line, we weren't totally sure WHAT we were in line to see.  There's nothing like using deception and force to skip in front of God-fearing pilgrims so that we could see the location of Jesus's birth in a timely fashion.  I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure Jesus would not have approved.

Church of the Nativity

In any case...here it is -- the presumed location where Mary gave birth to Jesus, marked by a 14 point star, representing the 14 stations of the cross.

Church of the Nativity

And around the corner, an altar where Mary lay Jesus down in a manger.

Church of the Nativity

Unfortunately, my experience witnessing these two holy locations left me feeling kind of disappointed.  The sardine-like crowds, the hanging lanterns, the church, and the speed in which we whizzed through the underground grotto was NOTHING like what I imagine the night and location of Jesus' birth would have resembled.  I found that walk-through Nativity reenactments we've experienced at churches in the US at Christmas-time were much more effective at transforming my mind to that dark night in a stable. 

But then, I guess we did cheat and lie to get to the front of the line, so what did I expect, really?

When we emerged from the cave, we landed back up in the main hall of the church, where I was able to take a moment and appreciate some open-space and beautiful light along the columns of the church.

Church of the Nativity

Next, we took a glimpse at the original mosaic flooring of the original fourth century basilica (built between 327 and 333 AD) while our guide told us a little more about the original and current basilicas.

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

While it was beautiful and intricate, unfortunately, I don't remember much about who added the artwork or when it was added.

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Next, we quickly walked into the other main attraction of the area - Saint Catherine's Church - where internationally televised Christmas cermonies are held each year.

Saint Catherine's Church

Saint Catherine's Church

Saint Catherine's Church

This is also where the baby Jesus used in those famous processionals is housed throughout the year.

Saint Catherine's Church

Saint Catherine's Church

Outside, at Manger Square, we took a quick look at the front entrance of the Church of the Nativity (since we had come in from a side door).

Saint Catherine's Church

The entryway had been enclosed and made smaller over the years, and is now called the "Door of Humility".

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

Though it wasn't quite what I expected, and it was awfully rushed and crowded, we enjoyed our journey to Bethlehem.  Certainly, we'll have a distinct memory to refer back to each Christmas as we teach our kids the story of Jesus' birth. 

West Bank - Bethlehem - Palestine

Most of all, we appreciated the opportunity to cross into the West Bank and experience a taste (though small) of the Palestinian section of the Holy Lands.

Crossing back to Israel from Bethlehem

Back on the Israeli side of the checkpoint, we got back on our bus and concluded our guided tour for the day -- but NOT our adventures.

As our guide was driving us to the various hotels to drop each person off, Ben and I were going to be let off at second drop-off stop, where we were going to call Grandpa to come and pick us up.

I got a little over-confident.

As we were driving down the street, I looked out and recognized Chuck's condo to our left.  Thinking I was being helpful (to both our guide and to save Grandpa a drive), I told our guide he could let us off there and we could walk, since we were staying just down the street, so he didn't have to drive us all the way to the hotel.  "Sure!" he said, "That would be great."  And we hopped off the bus, and he drove away.

Remember when I mentioned that everything in Jerusalem is made from the same Jerusalem stone?  Oh, and Mom, remember that time in grade school that I "ran away" and you shouted down the street "You're going the wrong way!"  Why couldn't I remember that I have a horrible sense of direction?  Yeah...we were NOWHERE close to my uncle's condo.

Oh jazz.

So there were were, sitting at some random intersection in Jerusalem, not sure how to get home.  At the time, we still thought we were pretty close to the condo, and tried to look around to see if we could figure out how to get there. 

*sigh*.  I'm always lost.

I took some photos of the street names and we weighed our options:

  1. Call Grandpa and explain to him and Grandma what we had done and see if they could figure out how to find us.
  2. Hail a cab, and have 'em take us to the hotel we were *supposed* to be dropped off at, so we could call Grandpa and everyone would be none-the-wiser.
  3. Call Uncle Chuck, and see if he could help us navigate back to his condo.

Since we weren't sure how difficult communcation would be with a taxi driver would be, and we DIDN'T want to worry Grandma and Grandpa, we went with option #3.  Uncle Chuck to the rescue.  Thanks to Google Maps, he was able to figure out where we were and came right away to meet us.

We were NOWHERE close to where we thought we were. 

We decided not to mention our little adventure to Grandma and Grandpa (until now!)  Thanks Chuck for rescuing us!  I'll try not to make dumb mistakes like that again!

Since we were out and about, Chuck decided to take us to another lookout point, called Talpiot, before we headed home.

Talpiot - Jerusalem

There we took in another amazing view of the city from up on a hill.  As the sun was setting, it was a gorgeous backdrop and a great way to end our touring day.

Talpiot - Jerusalem

See...sometimes, things have to go a little wrong in order to make opportunities for great experiences. :)

Talpiot - Jerusalem

Talpiot - Jerusalem

It's nice that Uncle Chuck was such a good sport about our face-palm mistake.

As we headed back to the condos, I took a photo of the condo buildings -- I would NOT mistake another building for his again -- at least not on this trip!

We met up with Grandma and Grandpa at the condo (and let Uncle Chuck get back to work, which he had interrupted him from), and then headed back out to a sweet little neighborhood called Ein Karem for some dinner. 

Brasserie - En Karem Jerusalem

We found an Italian restaurant that was open and ate up on the rooftop.  Though the service was slightly lacking, it was a beautiful night and especially nice to sit down for a few hours and relax after our VERY long and overwhelming day!

Then we topped the night off with some gelato for dessert.

gelato

What a whirlwhind day!  This sign says it all...

Enjoy Life Now.  This is not a rehearsal.

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
2

Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City

After a good night's sleep, we were up and at 'em early on Monday morning.  Ben and I had signed up for a full-day guided tour of the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem to give us a good overview of the area and allow us see some of the key sights while learning some history and context through a trained guide's commentary.  This was the only day we planned to do a guided tour, and would rely on guidebooks and my family's experience for the rest of the trip.

Since the tour bus doesn't pick up at Chuck's condo, he gave us a ride to a nearby hotel, where we were supposed to be picked up between 8:30 and 8:45 am. 

Let me just say that I was *not* surprised when no one showed up to pick us up by 9:00 am.  That's just the way things had been going so far for this trip!  Thankfully, though, we had borrowed a cell phone, and were able to call the tour company to see what was up.  Evidently they had us scheduled for the 25th (when I clearly had a confirmation for the 30th), but they promised to send the bus our way to pick us up immediately. 

After waiting another 10 - 15 minutes, the hotel concierge came up to us and told us that the tour company had called him to let him know they were sending us a taxi to meet the rest of the tour group.  Thank goodness so many people speak such fluent English in Israel!  Not having a clue how to speak (or read) much Hebrew makes navigating and communicating REALLY hard.

When the taxi finally arrived, we decided to just trust this dude in a pink polo shirt, who didn't say much to us, and hope he knew where he was taking us!  He certainly knew more than we did, but we were totally at his mercy.  Worried we had missed the first portion of our tour (we thought it started at the Mount of Olives, and didn't want to miss that), we got our first daylight glimpse of the hustle and bustle - and traffic - in Jerusalem from the back of the taxi. 

True to his word, the taxi driver dropped us off at the top of Mount Scopus to meet our tour group (we were sure it was our group, becuase the guide knew our names...whew), who had just started the long day's adventure.

With about 12 other tourists from various countries, our guide Aaron began telling us all about the history of Israel by pointing out where important landmarks are throughout the city, as we took in this unbelievable view from Mount Scopus:

One thing I learned in Jerusalem - and all of Israel, really - is that every time you turn around, there's another spectacular view.  The landscape of never-ending hills lends itself to perfect perch points from every angle.  I was camera happy--and my zoom lens got a major workout this week.

View from Mount Scopus

After a quick introduction to Jerusalem, the group hopped in our little bus and headed toward the Old City. 

Ben and I were hoping we would stop at the Mount of Olives -- we thought the tour description included a stop there -- but as we drove by it in a traffic jam of tour busses and cars, with a quick description from our guide, we realized that was not going to be one of our destinations that day.  We made a mental note to add that our agenda for another day of the week - since it was a spot we did NOT want to miss - and moved along...

Mount of Olives

As we drove around the city walls, we got a peek at a few of the seven famous city gates.  While we didn't get to see them all, I did snag pictures of several throughout the week.

Here's a view of the Dung Gate, which is the closest gate to the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter.

Dung Gate

Speaking of the "Quarters", here's a map of the Old City so you can get a bird's eye view of where we were and how we navigated through the streets. 

The Old city is divided in to four quarters - Armenian, Jewish, Muslim & Christian -- and that's the order in which we toured them during our walking tour of the city that morning.  It's pretty small, but we were walking FAST.  I'd recommend at least 2 days to really explore the entire area if you have the opportunity.

Map of Jerusalem Old City

We entered the Old City from Jaffa Gate in the Armenian Quarter.

Jaffa Gate

I should mention that EVERYTHING in Jerusalem is required to be built out of what they call "Jerusalem Stone" - in both the old *and* new parts of the city. It's made from the natural materials that are abundantly available, which gives the entire city a cohesive, though monotone, look.   What's amazing is that these walls in the Old City are not just old, they are ancient, dating back as far as the second temple built by King Herod in the 1st Century BCE - nearly 2,000 years ago.  Evidently, Jerusalem Stone is durable. :)  So you'll see a LOT of it in our photos.

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate

Jaffa Gate

Armenian Quarter

We walked quickly through the Armenian Quarter, which had high walls and narrow streets and was fairly quiet. 

In the Armenian Quarter, we walked by (but did not visit) the Tower of David Museum.

Tower of David

Jewish Quarter

From the Armenian Quarter, we quickly entered the Jewish Quarter, where we could see a lot of newer construction where the Jews have had to rebuild after it was destroyed while under Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1968.

But even with the newer buildings up above, we could see that the history of the area remained.  Just below the new Cardo you could see the archaelogical digs revealing ancient streets, columns and corridors.

Jewish Quarter Cardo

As our guide continued to point out, in Israel, you only have to look down to peek into the past:

Jewish Quarter Cardo

Around the corner from the Cardo, we saw the courtyard of the new Jewish Synagogue, where, since it was a Monday, there was a Bar Mitzvah party taking place.

Jewish Quarter Synagogue Bar Mitzvah

Walking from each section of the Old City to the next is kind of like traveling from one country to another in a matter of minutes. We moved from the Christian Armenian area full of churches and crosses, right into the Jewish Quarter of Bar Mitzvah's, menorahs, and torahs!

Western Wall

Which brought us to the highlight of the day (in my opinion), which was visiting the famous Western "Wailing" Wall (aka the "Kotel" in Hebrew).

But first...a security check point - metal detectors, bags checked, etc.  Then we could walk into the Western Wall courtyard and see all the commotion for a typical Monday morning.

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

The Western Wall

The mens side of the wall was filled with groups of men participating in Bar Mitzvah celebrations, singing, chanting, praying and marching, not to mention tourists like us taking their turn getting and up-close look at the famous wall.

The Western Wall - Bar Mitzvah

On the women's side, chairs were pulled up to the diving wall so that female family members could watch their sons' and grandsons' Bar Mitzvahs up close.  They were clapping, cheering, throwing candy and having big old celebrations!

The Western Wall - Bar Mitzvahs

Still, as you walked closer to the wall itself, you could find people focused firmly on their prayers and meditations, often touching the wall or standing with thier noses nearly touching it.

Praying at the Western Wall

Both men and married women are required to cover their heads and dress modestly and appropriately at the Wall.

Praying at the Western Wall

People from all over the world come here with notes of prayers to stick between the cracks of the stones.  Interestingly, we learned that those notes are collected on a regular basis, but are not thrown away or burned.  Instead, twice a year, Rabbi Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Western Wall, and his assistants collect the notes left in the Wall and bury them in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. {note}

Notes in the Western Wall

Notes in the Western Wall

Praying at the Western Wall

Along both the men and women's side, you could find bookshelves full of prayer books. 

There were also fountains and sinks at the entrance where the Jews will do a ceremonial rinsing of their hands before they pray.

Jewish Hand Cleaning Ritual

I consider this spot one of the wonders of the world and am glad to say I've visited and experienced it.

Western Wall

The Western Wall Stones

Muslim Quarter

From the Western Wall, we headed into the Muslim Quarter to walk through what is called the "Souq", which is a VERY crowded marketplace along a long narrow and stepped street.

Narrow doesn't stop traffic in there though...we all had to scoot ourselves into the entries of the shops along the way to allow this truck to pass by right in front of our toes.

We moved so quickly through this area, trying to keep up with our guide, that I barely saw what was inside the crowded shops on both sides of us.  This picture *SO* accurately shows how our Muslim Quarter Souq experience went...I really wish we could have headed back there one day to explore a little more, but time just didn't allow.

Christian Quarter & Via Dolorosa

Just as quickly as we had entered it, we emerged from the Sooq and were suddenly in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, where there was a little more breathing room, and a whole different set of "goods" in ther shops.

The Christian Quarter is also home to the famous Via Dolorosa, which means the "Way of Suffering", where there are 14 Stations of the Cross memorializing Jesus's walk toward his crucifixion.

Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death

Station 2: Jesus carries his cross

Station 3: Jesus falls the first time

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 5: Simon or Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 7: Jesus falls the second time

Via Dolorosa - Stations of the Cross

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Station 9: Jesus falls the third time

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

While following the stations, and thinking about the walk Jesus made, we arrived at a VERY crowded entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a giant church built at Golgatha, the site of the Crucifixion.  Interesting fact about the church -- it is shared by several different denominations of churches, though none of them Protestant.

It was a rather jarring experience to go from that spiritual train of thought to seeing this large group of modern Israeli soldiers outside the church doors.  Israeli soldiers are a very normal sight in nearly every place you turn in Israel.

Israeli Soldiers

We went inside the church to see the final five Stations of the Cross -- along with the rest of the world.  Holy crowd of tourists!

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Station 10: Jesus' clothes are taken away

Station 11: Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

While the crowds made this spot difficult to truly appreciate in a meditative and spiritual sense (at least while we were standing there), it is a very pretty church and regardless of how accurate the actual locations for each event are, it is a very meaningful way to recount and study Jesus' last day. 

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

As we left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we headed to a little corner restaurant to get some much-needed lunch (yes, that's right...we did all that before lunch!) before getting back on the bus and heading toward Bethlehem in the afternoon.

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
2

Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World

In case you haven't looked at a globe recently, let me assure you that from the middle of the United States all the way to the Middle East is a long long long distance across a very large ocean two and a half continents (6191 miles / 9963.45 km). 

Chicago to Israel

So, while this post may seem to be full of boring airport photos, it's an essential part of telling the story of our trip.  We spent a lot of time in airports, airplanes and cars in order to get our physical bodies all the way across the world.

We met my grandparents at O'Hare Airport in Chicago on Saturday afternoon, and hoped and prayed that everything would go well at check-in and we'd have boarding passes in hand soon.

Well...it wasn't *quite* that smooth.  When we arrived to check-in, Grandma forgot her cane in my Aunt Susan's car, so I headed outside to wait for it to be delivered while Grandpa, Grandma and Ben worked on checking bags and getting our boarding passes.

That would have been pretty simple, except, somehow there was a problem with one of the tickets - Grandpa's.  There wasn't a ticket showing up for him in their computer.  At least, that's how it looked for a very nerve-wrecking few minutes while the nice ladies at American Airlines tried to decipher the problem.  After all the Alitalia hoopla and having to re-buy tickets on El Al, losing a day of our trip, and Grandma losing a LOT of sleep over the stress and continuous phone calls, I thought we might just have a major fall-apart right there at the desk before we even got started. 

If I was a smoker, I'd have lit up a cigarette right there and been escorted promptly out of that airport! Thankfully, I'm not, and a piece of gum sufficed in stifling my stress attack while I waited outside to meet Aunt Susan to pick up Grandma's walking cane, praying that they'd figure it all out while I was outside.

With Grandma's walking cane in hand (after a super-fast pep talk in the drop-off lane from Aunt Susan about the letter she wants me to write to the Chicago Tribune about Alitalia, and some tips for surviving the long plane ride), I returned to the check-in desk to see a smiling Ben, Grandma and Grandpa, with four boarding passes in-hand and our bags checked.  Finally.

Off we go...

Don't be fooled by the little old lady with a cane.  She walks faster than me and can climb mountains...you'll see!  And yes, I borrowed Ayla's suitcase.  Darn thing had too short of a handle, but it did it's job as best it could! 

We plodded through security at O'hare, found our gate, and then, waited.  And spent some time catching up! I hadn't seen my grandparents in a while, and was excited about getting to spend the week with them.  This would be their 34th trip to Israel.  We were traveling with EXPERIENCE!

We had an uneventful flight to Newark, New Jersey, ate dinner in the airport, and then we headed into uncharted territory (for me)....the International terminal and El Al gates. 

As we approached the international terminal, a second round of security screening caught me totally off-guard.  Holding a full water bottle from dinner and wearing a bulky sweatshirt, I rushed through the line, was berated for trying to carry a water bottle into the gate, felt totally awkward in the full-body scanner, and got patted down before I could continue through to our gate. 


{image source}

It was a very real reminder that we were headed to the Middle East, where security risks are significantly heightened.

Once through security, I managed to relax a little bit, though I noticed the crowd we were amongst had definitely started to change.  I heard more Hebrew and less English, and by the dress of several orthodox religious men and women at the gate, it was obvious that we were headed to a different country in a whole other part of the world.

Though our seats were in the VERY back of the plane (the last row actually), and we would normally be seated last, Grandma used her cane to her advantage and asked if we could get priority seating to help them get their bags stowed and get themselves settled at a calmer pace.  No problem, they said. 

However...as soon as they called priority boarding and we showed our passports, all three El Al employees at the desk began saying "Rosenberg & Steed!" and making big arm motions for us to move aside and out of the front of the boarding line.  Evidently, something was flagged with our names to do an additional security check. 

We spent the next 5 minutes talking to the Head of Security at Newark Airport (as the other passengers boarded the plane) answering questions about where we were going, how we all knew each other, where we were from, what church congregation we are a part of (??), if we had been given anything by anyone to take with us, whether we had packed our own bags, and why were going to Israel.  He seemed particularly interested in Ben's motives.  We think it's the beard.  Actually, we can only speculate, but I wonder if we were flagged because we had bought last-minute tickets the day before.

In any case, they did FINALLY decide we weren't a threat to the flight or country and let us onto the plane. That whole experience gave me another little mini panic attack.  I had a fleeting feeling of dread as I walked down the ramp to the plane and *all* the way to the back to the very last row of seats.  It took me a few minutes and some deep breaths to calm down, but then, thankfully, everything was fine.

I was so worried about what a long flight it would be (10 hours from Newark to Tel Aviv), but since our flight left at 10pm EST on Saturday, and arrived at about 2:00 pm Israel time on Sunday, rather than it feeling long and boring, it felt more like a strange night of sleep.  They served us dinner, I took a Benadryl, and managed to spend most of the flight drifting in and out of a light and slightly uncomfortable sleep, while listening to music on headphones to drown out any talking, babies crying, or commotion of people moving around. 

The back row had only two seats (Grandma and Grandpa were in the row ahead of us), so Ben and I didn't have to share space with anyone else -- unless you count all the people walking by to the bathrooms behind us.   What we thought would be the WORST seats of the plane turned out to be kind of nice.  When they turned on the llights to serve us breakfast, we only had about 2 1/2 hours left of the flight. 

Easy peasy -- though we were definitely plenty tired, as you can see from the puffy-faced photo of us at the end of the flight.  But we made it! Our first trip across the world. :)

We were excited to see our first glimpses of Israel via the Mediterranean Sea and the Tel Aviv coastline:

Arriving in Tel Aviv

Once we had landed and deplaned, we worked our way through Passport Control, found our baggage (yay, it arrived!), and met up with my Uncle Chuck and Uncle Moti, who had arrived to pick us up at the airport.  It was good to see some familiar faces!

Remember how I mentioned that on this trip, things didn't always go as planned?  Here's another example:

Before we left the airport in Tel Aviv, Grandpa headed to an ATM to get some cash (shekels) to have on hand for the week.  As soon as he chose an amount, the ATM told him "You've requested too much." and ate his card.  Gone.  No one around to help.  Ben had been waiting in line behind him, and promptly decided NOT to try that particular ATM.  What a way to enter the country!  Thankfully, Grandma also carries an ATM card when they travel, and later that night they were able to try again at a different ATM and had no trouble. But, boy would they have been up a creek without a paddle if she hadn't!

We carried our luggage to Chuck's rental car, and hopped in for the ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Though we were tired, we tried to soak in as much of our new surroundings as we could as Uncle Chuck narrated and navigated and pointed things out along the way.

And then we were there!

Since my uncle and several of his friends have condos in Jerusalem in the same building, we were blessed with a fantastic and comfortable place to stay, and an invaluable tour guide and escort for the week -- my Uncle Chuck.

It was a long day getting there and was not without some stressful moments, but WOW was this a cool view to greet us from the balcony of Chuck's condo as we started our adventure in Israel!

After a quick dinner out to refuel (I'll be posting about the food we ate all week in a separate post), we tried to stay awake just long enough to watch a little bit of the Chicago Bears game on the computer on Chuck's balcony before our big guided tour of Jerusalem & Bethlehem the next day.

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
0

Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago

Ben and I had mapped out a course to run our long run for the week in the cool weather and on flat roads in Chicago.  It was meant for us to get a run in before our trip started and to tire us out before our long Friday flight, so we could sleep on the plane.  When our flight was changed to Saturday, we decided to go ahead and stick to our plan anyway. 

I *LOVE* running in Chicago.  I made it 4.5 miles, but Ben finished a full 7 miles! 

We spent the rest of the morning on the back patio with Daddy and Sean, and playing with the dogs.  Sean got a schnauzer puppy named Duke the week before, and Roxy (Kelly's big lab/pit bull mix) was there to play too.

Even I fell victim to Duke's cuteness:

We made the most of our one-day layover in my favorite city, and had some deep dish pizza at Giordano's for lunch with Daddy, Sean & Kelly.

Then we borrowed a car and headed downtown for the day.  Ben usually misses all our downtown fun while I'm in Chicago with the kids, so I gave him a quick walking tour (on some tired legs) of some of our favorite spots, starting with the beach and bike trails along Lake Michigan.

We stopped in at Lurie Children's Hospital for a visit and tour with Jan (she was working all day), and sent a picture to the kids of Ben inside the Fire Truck in the hospital that they like so much!

Since we had no kids in tow, we took the opportunity to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art across the street from the hospital.

I won't lie. Contemporary art is kinda strange.

We grabbed a snack at Water Tower Place and then walked back along the lake and admired my favorite skyline from the pier at North Avenue Beach.

The sunset, the skyline, and volleyball -- all in the same view??? I almost forgot we missed a day in Israel.

On our way back to Daddy's house, we picked Jan up from work and stopped at Portillo's for dinner. 

The next morning, with our flights booked and confirmed, we relaxed on the back porch with the Nokes family and had Papa Chris' for lunch with Jake, Marisa, Isa & Ani before heading to the airport to FINALLY get started on our Israel trip.

 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
0

Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go

Getting ready for a 12 day trip out of the country, while the kids are still home and in school is nothing short of a monumental feat. 

Ben and I have been planning this trip to Israel for several months to attend my cousin's wedding and tour the country, but the two weeks leading up to it were consumed with getting all *we* needed ready to leave the country and spend a week traveling AND preparing the kids, the house, and my mom for a week at our house without us.

I spent every waking moment trying to think of everything my mom would need to know (that Ayla couldn't answer for her) in order to allow her to take over both mine and Ben's role in the house for over a week.  In retrospect, it would have been so much easier to send the kids to Las Vegas!  Instead, I made Mom a manual for how to be "ME" and wrote down specific day-by-day schedules, routines, contact numbers, and instructions for her to reference while we were gone.  Thanks to that, and some helpful friends who contributed to carting Ayla to and from school, I think we did the best we could to make it easy for her!

But not without some forthought -- Just the instructions for how to work the television required a full page of step-by-steps!

But, if anyone can handle it, Mom can.  By the time her plane arrived, I tried to have the house cleaned up, the manual ready, and everything prepared for her to take over. 

Several people asked me if I thought she would actually *follow* my instructions.  Um, yes...as you can see in the photo below (taken as we got ready to go out to do some carpool duty with our cross-body purses & drinks-on-the-go) we tend to think alike.  I think she was very glad to have my manual - tucked under her arm!

Unfortunately, even with all that prep, we had a few inevitable hiccups before we could head out of town.

First -- Ayla came home from school on Wednesday complaining about an itchy head.  Fabulous.  We got to do a full-on lice treatment -- the works: special shampoo, comb through each strand, wash all the sheets, quarantine stuffed animals, etc.  And we hadn't packed yet.  So that made for a late night on Wednesday for everyone - and resulted in complete chaos in what *would* have been a calm and clean house.

Then -- We spent a long time Wednesday night packing and repacking our luggage, since we found out that our carry-ons could only be 17.5lbs on Alitalia's flight.  Since I had planned to fly with ONLY a carry-on suitcase (that by itself weighed 8lbs), that made my packing plans impossible.  I ended up using a smaller carry-on suitcase that is actually Ayla's (complete with colorful hearts all over it, and a kid-sized extended handle) so that it would meet the size requirements and I would have several days worth of clothes with me--just in case. I've had luggage not show up before.  Not fun. We did decide to check a large suitcase between the two of us, which made bringing a few luxury toiletries possible. That was nice. :) 

Thursday, I spent the morning walking my mom through the morning routine, the carpool routine, and updating her on all the codes, passwords, and *stuff* she needed to know about the house, the car, etc.  Our flight to Chicago didn't leave until about 6:00, so we had most of the day to do last minute prep, which was nice.

Until, when Ben and Mom went to pick Ayla up from school, our car died and wouldn't start.  They had to have a friend jump the car to get it going, and we spent a frantic hour trying to charge the battery so that it could get us to the airport in time.

That's when I started getting one of those "everything is going to go wrong on this trip, and I'm about to leave the kids with my mom for a week, and we'll be essentially un-reachable, in a foreign country that is known for bombings and catastrophes" kind of feelings.  

Thankfully, the car started on-command (and didn't have any trouble the rest of the week either), and we managed to make it to the airport in plenty of time.

Still...the ride there and watching the kids ride off with Mom to Paxton's swimming lesson left me with an uneasy feeling...out of my hands now!

I knew they'd be fine, but I also knew that a week in charge would be hard on Mom (since it's hard on Ben and me, and there are two of us!).

We went through our first round of security (which we got good at by the end of the week), and found some dinner at an airport restaurant.  While we were in the security line, we both got several phone messages from my grandparents.  When I finally checked them as we sat down to eat...I heard a frantic message from my grandmother that went something like this:

"Andrea, call me back right away.  Our flights are all screwed up."

Awesome.

Here's a tip:  Don't fly with AlitaliaDon't buy thier "cheap" tickets.  Don't even read the flight schedules.  If you do, you WILL regret it.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  It's not just our experience...others will agree.

When I did get a hold of Grandma, we found out that Alitalia had rescheduled our next day's flight from 3:30 in the afternoon to 10:00 pm at night, which would make us miss our connecting flight in Rome to Tel Aviv.  So, that would mean we'd have to spend the night in Rome and hopefully get on the next day's flight to Tel Aviv.  But...since this was a problem for LOTS of people on these flights (the same rescheduling affected Thursday, Friday & Saturday afternoon flights), it meant there wasn't going to be much space on those next day connecting flights.

Poor Grandma (and Uncle Chuck, who had the same trouble with his Thursday flight schedule) had to call -- and call and call and call -- and deal with Alitalia and waiting for them to sort out our flight schedule.

There wasn't much we could do, sitting in the Birmingham Airport, except hope that they'd get it all figured out.  Grandma didn't sound hopeful.  We just tried to be flexible and available to leave Chicago whenever necessary -- but first we had to get there.

Once we arrived in Chicago (thanks to Daddy for picking us up!), Grandma still didn't have any more information, other than we *for sure* weren't going to leave before 10:00 pm on Friday.  So, we went to bed, and figured we'd just make the most of our Chicago morning, and see how it all played out.

Friday morning, my phone woke me up with a message from Grandma--

"We're totally screwed.  Call me back."

Grandma has a way with words. :)

Alitalia hadn't responded with any solutions to getting us to Tel Aviv in a timely fashion.  They offered to refund our tickets, which appeared to be the best they could do.  Grandma had looked at other airline options, but the price was significantly more than we had already paid for our tickets, she was exhausted, frustrated, and angry -- and *STILL* waiting for Alitalia to offer a better solution.  Grandma seemed to think the trip was about to be cancelled altogether.  Of course we wouldn't let THEM miss the trip, but it seemed doubtful that we could spend the extra money to buy more expensive tickets.

After a quick pow-wow, Ben and I decided that it was foolish to keep waiting on Alitalia, so we wanted to cancel that flight and get a refund.  But...it also seemed like a MAJOR waste and disappointment to cancel our trip altogether.  I mean, we had already gotten Mom to Birmingham, packed, traveled to Chicago, and done all the research for the Israel trip.  We decided -  it's only money - and called Grandma and told her we wanted to book some new tickets - regardless of the price.

She seemed relieved. :)

We found a flight schedule through El Al Airlines that worked with our plans (though it put us in Israel a day later than our original plan), and allowed us to fly from Chicago to Newark to Tel Aviv, which meant that if there was trouble with connecting flights, we wouldn't be stranded in another country.  The bad news...the tickets were double the price we originally paid.  Oh well...we were gonna get to go to Israel!  Guess I may just have to run my Buy One, Get One Free Sign Sale this Christmas after all!

So that's what we did. Canceled Alitalia.  Booked El Al.  And spent a bonus day in Chicago...

As you can see from the little hiccups in our prepping, it became the theme for this trip: Things would NOT go as planned...but it would turn out just fine. 


Israel Trip Wrap-Up:

  1. Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
  2. Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
  3. Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
  4. Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
  5. Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
  6. Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
  7. Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
  8. Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
  9. Israel Trip: City of David
  10. Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
  11. Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
  12. Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
  13. Israel Trip: The Food
0

So Much Catch-Up to Do!

Get ready for an onslaught of blog posts over the next couple of weeks (because it will take me that long to write them all!) 

In addition to the regular stuff going on at home with the kids, I'll be catching you up on blogging our amazing week-long whirlwind trip to Israel!

View from Mount of Olives

I'll try and mix them all up, so you aren't overwhelmed with trip posts. I can't wait to share our adventures with you (and a sampling of the nearly 2,000 photos we took)! 


Since I'm planning to back-date the posts for our trip to keep them in mostly chronological order here on my blog, I'll update this post with links to all of my Israel Trip blog posts as they're added:

 

13

Weekly Plan of Attack - Staying On Top of a Busy Schedule

The older our kids get, the more crowded our calendar seems to be.  No longer is the day simply determined by naptime and bedtime (don't worry...when it did, I didn't think that was simple either). 

Now, it's more of a week-by-week barrage of activities, carpools, appointments, responsibilities, and weekend trips.  We've been trying to figure out how to make our week flow smoothly, stay on top of chores and housework, and still manage to pick everyone up on time at all 13 carpool appointments each week.

So, I thought I'd share some things that help our family stay on top of our schedule each week and see what others do as well. 

The Sunday Sweep

Starting at about 4:00 every Sunday afternoon, we start the Sunday Sweep to get ourselves--and the house--ready for the week ahead.  Here are some of the to-dos on that list:

  • What's on the Schedule? I check our calendars for the next week and transfer each days' activities to our dry erase board calendar on the refrigerator for quick reference throughout the week.  Ben and I have both migrated to using Google's calendars, and have access to each other's calendars, which makes it helpful for us to both be aware of what's going on for the entire family -- even from our phones.

  • Weekly Meal Plan & Shopping List.  Once I know what kind of activites we have going on for the week, we search through the kitchen and our deep freezer and come up with 4-5 dinners for the week and add them to our dry erase board calendar.  When we have evening or late-afternoon activites, we plan for leftovers or crock-pot dinners. I also put together a shopping list for any random things we might need that I can pick up early in the week. 

  • Put everything in it's place.  This is usually something the kids do--putting away toys, clean laundry, shoes, books and anything else that has managed to get thrown all over the house while we were "relaxing" over the weekend.
     
  • Vaccum.  I've found that vacuuming the carpets on Sunday night, right after everything has been put away is great motivation to get the kids to *actually* put stuff away -- especially picking up Legos off the floor!  Plus, a freshly vaccuumed floor makes the house feel "ready" to tackle the week.  If I was really ambitious, I'd clean the bathrooms on Sunday night too, but I don't.  Instead, I try to clean them on Friday mornings AFTER all the damage of the week has been done. :)
     
  • Lay out clothes.  I've started laying out 5 outfits for both kids on Sunday nights, and then letting them pick a pile each day so they can get dressed on their own in the mornings.  Paxton doesn't usually care what he wears, but for Ayla, this has been KEY to eliminating morning tantrums about not liking her outfit options.  She and I come up with the outfits together, so they're approved by us both ahead of time. 

  • Pack Lunches.  I like to pack lunches the night before, usually while we are making dinner. I've found that I simply can't do it as quickly in the mornings, and I can usually find 5 minutes while dinner is cooking to knock it out and have them ready for the morning.

The Morning Routine

  • Beat the beasts.  I get up at 6 am.  That gives me just enough time to get dressed, check my email, and wake myself up a little bit before the kids get up.  I'm not "chipper" in the mornings.  I need some time to myself before I can be civil.  Most days Ben is up early too, and getting his run in before Ayla leaves for school.
     
  • Set an alarm.  This year, Ayla (2nd grade) gets up on her own with an alarm at 6:25.  She turns it off, gets dressed and puts her shoes on before coming downstairs.  It often takes her until about 6:45 -- especially when she has to tie her tennis shoes -- but she does it all on her own and it is WONDERFUL.  I think she's like me. She needs some time to herself when she first wakes up, so this way, we don't have to interact until both of us have had a chance to de-grumpify ourselves.

    Paxton (4) doesn't wake up with an alarm, but he usually gets up shortly after Ayla does on his own.  He comes downstairs in his underwear, with his puppy (and his eyes barely open). I usually say good morning, and then turn him around and send him back upstairs to get dressed and make his bed so that then he can have breakfast.  Which he does...on his own. :)

  • Breakfast.  While the kids are getting dressed, I put their breakfast (usually cereal) on the table. While they are eating their 4 bowls of cereal each, I use that time to empty the dishwasher, put their lunches into their backpacks, make coffee and make my own breakfast.

  • Out the Door.  Ayla leaves for school just after 7 and then Paxton plays with toys while I finish my coffee and catch up on blogs, facebook, emails, etc.  Usually by 7:45 we're out the door too and getting started on our activities for the day (rec, school drop off, playdate, etc.)
     
  • Check-In & Adjust.  Since Ben and I both work from home, we're able to check-in with each other often throughout the day.  Sometimes our plans change, or one of us gets busier than the other, and we can make adjustments on the fly to better fit each of our days.  That also means we're able to share carpool duties, household stuff like laundry, dishes and cooking, and running errands, which is a VERY nice convenience of working from home.

The After School Shuffle

  • Unload Backpacks.  The VERY first thing the kids do when they get home is unpack their backpacks, hand over any important papers, put their lunch boxes away and hang their backpacks up on their hooks so they are ready for the next day (and out of the way!) Ayla's homework goes on the desk in our entryway - she usually works on it a little later in the evening-- papers are sorted and either immediately tossed, saved in a folder, or dealt with as needed.  Getting all that stuff taken care of immediately helps move quickly on to whatever else is planned for the afternoon and evening and keeps the mess of their school papers under control.  Plus, then nothing has gotten lost by the morning, when it's time to leave the house!


 

The Evening Routine

  • Kitchen clean-up.  After dinner every night, we make sure that the kitchen is completely cleaned up -- all the dishes washed, counters and table wiped, floor swept, and counters cleared of papers and miscellaneous objects.  This makes waking up in the morning SOOO much more peaceful!! 

  • Empty buckets. On our way upstairs to take baths and get ready for bed, the kids carry their buckets upstairs and put those miscellaneous things away that had accumulated downstairs throughout the day (or past few days if it hasn't been much).  They are usually full of shoes, socks and books! 

  • Bedroom cleanup.  If I have the time and energy to enforce it (most nights...but not all), the kids have to clean up their bedrooms each night before bed.  Ben is better at ignoring it, but I can't concentrate to read them stories or put them to bed when their floor is an obstacle course of trucks, blocks, action figures, stuffed animals, dolls and blankets all of over the floor.  It *actually* raises my blood pressure. Thankfully, during the school year, their rooms don't get trashed EVERY single day.  And over the weekends, we let the mess slide till Sunday night. 
     
  • Enforce an early bedtime.  Our kids are in bed by 7:30 with the lights out at 8pm as many nights of the week as our schedule allows us to enforce it.  When we get them in bed late, it often comes back to bite us in the morning with crabby kids. 

And then...we start all over again!

 

What works for your family?

Do you have any tips to share for keeping things on-schedule at your house?

 

1

Ayla's Sewing Debut

Paxton has been sick with a cold this week, so we've been hanging out around the house, laying low.  I promised Ayla if she cleaned up her room, we could do some sort of art project or sewing project.  She was VERY excited about doing a sewing project.

Since I didn't have anything in particular in mind and she had never sewn anything before (nor am I very good at it), we started with something easy. I pulled out a scrap of denim, some embroidery floss, a needle and a hoop, and we decided on a simple rainbow with her name underneath it for the design.

I drew the design on the back, threaded the needle and knotted the end for her, and then showed her how to make straight stitches.  She did the rest!  She did an amazing job following the lines and had remarkably evenly spaced stitches for her first try!

The whole project took her about an hour.  And she was REALLY proud of the results.

Plus, it happened to fit perfectly in a 5" x 7" frame we had picked out to use in her room. 

Whew...a successful art project!

6

Cleaning House - Rid Your Home of Youth Entitlement

A local friend of mine has three boys, one Ayla's age, one Paxton's age, and one younger.  As I've gotten to know this family, I've been blown-away impressed with the boys' manners, their willingness to be helpful, and their capabilities.  The oldest first introduced himself to Ben and I by telling us his full name, shaking our hands, and calling us by name.  He exudes independence and responsibility.  The middle one can often be seen helping the youngest brother and doing little jobs.  And even the youngest (who barely talks), is his daddy's little sidekick, helping with all the jobs around the house.  They say please and thank you, they share with their brothers and friends without being asked, and they RARELY complain or whine.  They call themselves a TEAM -- and they are one! 

So I've been keenly observing their mom and dad and picking their brains about how they do it, trying to incorporate some little things in our house - things like setting and clearing the table, keeping their rooms clean(er), etc.  Because, let's be honest. Ben and I were doing ALL of those things for A & P, *while* they demanded we do more for them!  And they had no clue how to make a bed, or fill the dishwasher, or sweep the floor--skills they NEED to have in life.  So, who's the sucker??? Us. 

No more!  Once I saw some other kids their age being responsible and contributing to their family -- I was done with being a hovering slave parent!

And then, I heard about this book -- Cleaning House - A Mom's 12 Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement: 

Is Your Home Out of Order?
Do your kids expect clean folded clothes to magically appear in their drawers? Do they roll their eyes when you suggest they clean the bathroom? By racing in to make their lives easy, have you unintentionally reinforced your children’s belief that the world revolves around them?
 
Dismayed at the attitude of entitlement that had crept into her home, Kay Wyma got some attitude of her own. Cleaning House is her account of a year-long campaign to introduce her five kids to basic life skills and the ways meaningful work can increase earned self-confidence and concern for others.
 
With irresistible humor and refreshing insights, Kay candidly details the ups and downs of equipping her kids for such tasks as making beds, refinishing a deck chair, and working together. The changes that take place in her household will inspire you to launch your own campaign to dislodge your kids from the center of their universe.
 
“If you want your children to be more responsible, more self-assured, and more empathetic, Cleaning House is for you.”
—Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family

While we were on our trip, I read the book.  Usually in the backseat of my car, while my dad chauffered us around Chicago.  It's pretty good, not exactly profound, but it's a good catalyst for recognizing different areas of life where kids need to learn how to be more responsible, and she gives a realistic response to how well that went over in her family (not always so well received...) The biggest thing I learned from her was START EARLY.  She had the most trouble with her teenager...

I've tried to incorporate some of her ideas, some of what I'd seen my friends and their kids accomplishing together, and did an *ok* job of giving my kids some responsibility in the middle of a 3-week long vacation.  In some ways, since we had less stuff to take care of, it was a perfect introduction to being responsible for their stuff. 

So, while staying at my dad's house, we gave them jobs.  They made their "beds" every morning, got themselves dressed, cleaned up their own dishes, wiped up spills, helped with the garbage, cleaned up their toys, carried their own bags, helped load and unload the car, etc.

Then we came home.  So far, it's been a good transition into having more responsibility at home too.  It's a work in progress, but I can happily report that it's going well, and though they complain about it some (mostly they're excited about it), they ARE contributing to the family, instead of creating more work for Ben and I to do.  And I call that SUCCESS.

Ayla is 7, Paxton is 4.  Here are some jobs they've recently added to their repoirtoire of responsibility:

Paxton:

  • set the table for dinner
  • clear the table after dinner
  • put away silverware from clean dishwasher
  • replace garbage bags in garbage cans
  • clean up his room and put toys away
  • make his bed in the morning
  • get himself dressed
  • dusting
  • wipe down kitchen table & chairs
  • feed the cat

Ayla (in addition to the jobs Paxton can do):

  • wash dishes & fill up dishwasher
  • vaccuum kitchen floors
  • clean mirrors
  • wipe down counters in kitchen & bathrooms
  • make & pack lunches
  • put food & condiments, etc. away in refrigerator
  • straighten bookshelves
  • go back and get something we forgot at Target (while I was in line checking out)
  • strip sheets and remake her bed
  • take dirty laundry to garage

They are lists we're adding to every day.  Not only has it been good for them to learn to do all these things, but they're actually HELPING and making my job easier.  Once I have seen that they're capable of all these things, I'm much more comfortable saying "YES! You can help!" and trust that it will be helpful.  Because they WANT to help.  They always have, I just wouldn't let them.  It wasn't their fault they didn't know how to do anything -- it was mine!

So here's to raising responsible, capable, contributing kids!  Expect great things from them and watch them happily strive to do even more...

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