Sunday, November 27, 2011

Starting the Turkey Trot

Janeen & I had fun at the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, but the crowds were massive.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Sweet Anna

She's sweet when she's like this... but there is a mischief maker side, too....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy Birthday Annabelle

One year ago today, I got a call in the afternoon from my wife.

"Husband, don't get angry at me, but they found a dog at our warehouse." My wife has a soft spot for animals. All animals, but particularly for those in need. She's always told me she like animals better than people. In most cases, I wouldn't believe someone who said something like that, but with her, I absolutely do. Her company's warehouse is just south of downtown Detroit, in a rough neighborhood, so I feared the worst.

"Ok," I said, "What are you telling me?" I was hoping she wasn't trying to talk me into getting another dog. We'd just adopted Howie, a sweet but very skittish Bichon mix from a foster home back in June. We lost two dogs the previous year, and we both still felt that loss everyday.

"What I was thinking was that we can take her for tonight and then tomorrow we can take her to the vet and make sure she's ok. I have someone here in the office who already wants to adopt her."

I'll admit now that I was more annoyed with this then I should have been. I didn't really want to complicate things, even for one night, by adding another dog to our mix. Howie was finally starting to come out of his shell, and I didn't want that progress slowed in any way. Plus, the idea of a vet visit for a homeless dog terrified me. Who knows what was wrong with her? We were already paying off a large vet bill from the previous year, when our beloved Gizzmo got sick, was misdiagnosed by two vets, then sent home with a clean bill of health, only to die a few days later from the undiagnosed brain aneurism. Not only did this experience leave us with with a huge whole in our hearts, it left me with a slight distrust of our vet.

I told Janeen that it was fine to bring her home, and that I would give her a bath (Janeen is allergic to most shedding dogs and I wasn't sure if this dog would bother her) and that she could sleep in my room with me for the night.
Anna on her first night with us
When Janeen got home I went out to her car to help her bring Anna inside. I picked her up and immediately felt her ribcage. She seemed so fragile that she would break if handled wrong. She was also very weak. I could tell this when she wasn't able to shift her weight around the way most dogs do when they are picked up by a stranger. I took her downstairs to give her the bath. She was matted and I knew that getting her clean was going to be difficult. When I went to set her down in the tub, it happened. She looked up at me and gave the tip of my nose one small kiss. I knew at that point it was going to be impossible for me to give her up.
Anna after her first bath
We got her bathed and then fed her some food. For a dog as skinny as she was, she seemed to have little appetite. I worried she might be sicker than she seemed. That night, I let her sleep on the bed with me. It was not a good night. She had two accidents and barked at every little noise she heard.

In the morning, Janeen took her to the vet. The plan was still to give her to the woman from her work, so I left work to come over and see how she was doing at the vet. She seemed so much stronger in just one day. Once the vet appointment was over, I gave her a little kiss and said goodbye. Janeen told me later that she saw me put me head down as I walked back to my car, knowing that I was crying, and she made the decision at that point that we were going to keep her. When I got home that day, she was there with a brand new purple collar with a tag on it that read "Daddy's Little Girl".

We were fortunate that she was moderately healthy, despite all her time out on the streets. The vet estimated that she had probably been on her own a month, and judging from her condition, she probably could have only survived on her own for another week. The vet was amazed that she survived as long as she did. He guessed that her breed was a mix of Cairn Terrier and Dachshund, and that she was probably about 3 years old.
Anna 'dancing' with mom

The past year had been great, but nothing is perfect. We found that once she got healthy, she has quite an abundance of energy. She sometimes likes to pull things off of end tables and other low lying surfaces so she can 'destructo' them. For the first few months, she had to be crated when we were gone due to these destructive tendencies.

It turns out our worrying over how she would get along with Howie was unfounded. It wasn't more than a couple of months later when they started playing together. We were initially concerned, since Howie is quite a few years older, and Anna seems so aggressive toward him. She never hurt him, and those times in which she accidentally did or he wasn't in the mood to play, he would let her know with a well-placed nip. We absolutely love hearing the frantic clacking of their nails in the kitchen as they race from room to room playing. We've come up with out own little term for it- we say it's like they are yelling "To The Battlefield!" when the take off across the kitchen to play in either the front room or one of the bedrooms.
Anna & Howie

Anna is now up to 11 pounds. She was 5.5 during that first vet appointment a year ago. I often think of her before she came to us, out on the streets, dodging cars and going hungry, and it makes me want to cry. Janeen always brings me out of it by reminding me that she was on her 'journey' to us. While that period must have been horrible for her, we are so glad she found us. She makes our lives richer everyday.
Sleeping with her toy Penguin in her mouth
Anna LOVES to give kisses

Post dinner nap in Dad's lap (with the toy in her mouth, of course)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Return to Jerusalem

After the two exhilarating day trips to Petra and Mount Sinai and baking in the heat of Eilat for 5 days, I headed back to Jerusalem. My original plan had been to spend the last week of the trip between Jordan and Egypt, and then fly straight from Eilat to Ben Gurion Airport then home all in one day. I knew I didn't want to spend three more days in Eilat, there was nothing to do there and it was too hot to even walk around during the day. So I booked a 7 A.M. bus trip from Eilat to Jerusalem. Before I booked the bus trip I'd made sure I was going to be able to get a room at the same hotel I had stayed in on my pervious visit there, the Hotel Hashimi, which I had liked quite a bit. The trip took a little over 5 hours, and followed a route up the Eastern edge of the country, passing by the Dead Sea. I had driven much of the route through the area a week before. The biggest issue was getting all of my stuff to the bus station, which was a thankfully short walk from my Eilat Hostel. I'd spent a couple hours the night before trying to cram it all in the bags I'd brought. I'd done it, but knew that I would need to find another bag in Jerusalem to make the journey home easier.

View from Mamilla on May 27
The same view 20 days earlier

We arrived back in Jerusalem to find it in the middle of a sandstorm, which didn't bother me too much. I'd had great weather on my first visit, and the lack of visibility gave me a perfect excuse to spend most of the afternoon at the hotel napping, exhausted from carrying my 125 pounds of baggage to the hotel through the Muslim Souq. In the evening, I had a leisurely meal and then a long conversation with the owner of my hotel. I took a grand total of 3 pictures the whole day.

The morning I took a walk over to Mount Zion, one of the areas I hadn't explored on my earlier visit. I had seen Mount Zion from the walls of old city when I did the ramparts walk, but I hadn't actually walked around in the area. Mount Zion is an area of biblical importance, with many of the events of the last week of Jesus' life taking place here. The building above is the Church of the Dormition Abbey, built on the spot where the Virgin Mary is to have 'gone to the eternal sleep'. The basilica is one of the most beautiful I saw anywhere in the holy land, but pictures were not allowed inside.

Right outside of Zion Gate is the Armenian Church of St. Savior. The complex was in surprisingly poor condition, and I was told by a monk who took my entrance fee that they had planned a major renovation, but the money had just never come. The guidebook I had with me which was written in 2002 said the complex was expected to be under renovation for a couple of years, but I couldn't see any evidence of that.

Also on Mount Zion, I visited the Coenaculum, or The Room of the Last Supper.

A short walk west brought me to Jerusalem's Catholic Cemetery, where I visted the grave of Oskar Schindler. This grave was made famous by the closing scene of Stephen Spielberg's epic Schindler's List.

Winding downhill toward the City of David, I came to St. Peter in Gallicantu, the church built on the site of the home of the High Priest Calaphais. This is the spot where Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, as Jesus had prophesied the night before. Today, the site holds the beautiful modern church, with some of the most impressive stained glass I have even seen. The basement of the facility also contains the excavated cells where Jesus was held while awaiting trial by the high priest.

I continued back up to the walkway that took me around the east side of the old city walls, right next to Temple Mount. From this walkway I was able to view all of the Mount of Olives and the impressive churches and shrines that are built on it.
I was also able to take in the ancient tombs of the Kidron Valley. Many of these tombs are falsely labeled (example, one is called the tomb of Zachariah), but archeologists believe these tombs are more likely from the 5th or 6th Century A.D., and instead of holding prophets, they more likely hold wealthy or important citizens of those times. Nonetheless, they are impressive buildings in a dramatic setting.
The above picture is of the thousands of Jewish graves on the side of the Mount of Olives. As mentioned in the post about my day on the mount, the Jews believe that these people will be the first to be resurrected when the savior returns.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from above

Temple Mount from the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
On my last day in Jerusalem, I took another short walk around the Old City. The only sight I took in was The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. This church is adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and had a bell tower that you can climb for sweeping views over the Old City and it's immediate surroundings. I spent close to an hour up in the belltower, taking pictures and observing the Old City from a new perspective.

Finally, on Sunday, May 30th, I walked the short walk from my hotel in the Old City to the front of the Jerusalem Hotel in East Jerusalem. Normally this walk would have taken only a few minutes, but it took me close to an hour because I was carrying all of my stuff, which by then weighed over 125 pounds. From there I caught my share-taxi to Ben Gurion airport. Security at Ben Gurion was the most intense I have ever seen, but once that was done, the flight home was uneventful, which is about the most you can ask of a 10 hour flight. I arrived in Philadelphia about an hour early, and was able to catch an earlier flight to Detroit, which allowed me to be home almost 5 hours before I though I would.

I have a couple more Israel posts, one about the Stations of the Cross and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, another about my experiences with hotels and food in Israel and a final post trying to take an overview look at the trip as a whole and how it has affected me.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mount Sinai- Part Two- The Climb Down

The Climb up Mount Sinai was an incredible experience. I'd made it with relative ease compared to what I thought the experience would be like. The sunrise itself had been breath-taking. As I stood up after watching the sun come up, it realized I was a little sore, partially from the climb up, but also from laying on the hard cement roof of the shed where I'd been camped out for two hours.
Now that the sun was up, I was able to get a proper look at my surroundings. As I mentioned in the last post, the moon had been so bright that I'd gotten an idea of what daylight would bring- just in a darker black and white perspective. The building above, the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, a small Greek Orthodox chapel, was perched dramatically on to of the peak. It was built on the Fifth Century ruins of a shrine that marked the spot where Moses talked to God.
Across the way from Mount Sinai itself is Egypt's tallest peak, Mount St. Catherine, where legend has it angels flew the body of St. Catherine after her martyrdom.
Below the Chapel of the Holy Trinity is a small cave, where Moses is reported to have received the 10 Commandments.
The top of the mountain was also home to many of the souvenir stands like we had seen on the way up. They mostly sold knickknacks like blankets and 10 commandment replicas, but also water, pop, coffee & tea, candy bars. I did have an Egyptian Pounds, but even if I had I wasn't going to carry anything down the mountain with me.

We'd taken the camel path up, the easier, longer, winding path up the mountain. Mohammed had explained to me that we would take the almost 4,000 stairs known as The Steps of Repentance down the mountain in the morning. I'd spent so much time worrying about the trip up the peak, I hadn't given much thought to the walk down. I guess I just figured the stairs down would be fairly easy. I, however, underestimated three key factors. Firstly, I was exhausted from the climb up. It was 6 A.M. an I'd been up for over 24 hours besides a couple hours nap I'd taken the previous day to get ready for this experience. Secondly, the walk up had been comfortably cool, even a little chilly. By 6:30 A.M., less than an hour after sunrise, the temperatures were approaching 90, and the sun was merciless. Thirdly, the idea that the "Steps of Repentance" were actual steps was far from the truth. Legend has it the these 'steps' were carved by penitent monks from the monastery in the valley. The terms steps paint the picture of a nice even orderly staircase winding down the mountainside. I really shouldn't have been so naive to have this picture in my head, especially after all of the blog posts I'd read about them. The steps are amazingly uneven. Even with comfortable tennis shoes I found myself slipping and almost falling a number of times. The most uncomfortable thing about them was their sheer height. It was impossible to step down, it instead forced you to turn sideways and lower your leg down to the next step. That constant pounding had my knees aching less than a quarter of the way down. I can't imagine how impossibly difficult it must be to climb these steps up.
A short distance down from the peak is Elijah's Hollow, a spot where the prophet Elijah heard the voice of God while fleeing from the evil Queen Jezebel. Today this small flat spot has a chapel and is a favorite camping spot for those who choose to spend the night on the mountain before ascending to the summit for sunrise.
Passing through Elijah's Gate heading down the mountain, the stairs got even steeper.
Soon we came to The Gate of Repentance, considered the halfway point of the trek down the mountain.

A short distance past the gate we came to the 6th century chapel of repentance, which was closed this morning, as all the chapels had been. This part of the hike was thankfully shaded, and I took many breaks along this stretch of path preparing for the final push downward, much of which was in the fierce sun.
I'd been proud of my pace on the way up. We'd been the second ones up the mountain that morning. On the way down, I was constantly moving to the side of the path so we could be passed. Mohammed was very gracious about this, allowing me these increasingly frequent rest breaks which started growing in length as well.
Soon St. Catherine's Monastery was visible on the valley floor in the distance. We stopped and looked at it for a long time. I was a little anxious about getting going, but Mohammed reassured me that we might as well wait at this great viewpoint because it was shaded and if we kept moving we'd arrive at the gates of the monastery well before they were opened at 9.
A cliffside, terraced garden tended to by monks from St Catherines
We finally made it down to the monastery around 8:40 A.M. and were greeted by throngs of pilgrims at the gates. Many had also recently hiked down the mountain, but these numbers were supplemented by a large number of tourist groups that had shown up here just to view the monastery.
I had got in a long line to use the bathroom, where I got my first glimpse of the ubiquitous squat toilet which are the standard in developing countries. I hadn't seen any in Israel, but Egypt and Israel are two completely different countries.

The huge crowd pushed their way into the monastery about 5 minutes after nine when a single monk unlocked the doors. I was stopped on the way in and given a light blanket to cover my legs (I wore shorts to be comfortable climbing in), which I tucked into my waistband. I followed the crowds through the chapel, dimly lit and smelling of incense. The interior reminded me of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, just on a much smaller scale. Much of the iconography and artwork was similar, too. (The church was off-limits to photography, explaining my lack of photos). St. Catherine's is reported to be the oldest continually occupied Christian Church in the world, dating from the 5th Century A.D.
The picture above is of the bush that is reported to be "The Burning Bush" from which God first spoke to Moses. I've tried not to sound skeptical in these posts, firmly believing that faith guides people to find inspiration from these sites in their hearts, but if that bush is over 2,000 years old (and was once on fire) it's in pretty good shape. I'm just sayin'.
I walked around for about a half an hour appreciating the art and architecture of this venerated place. I knew even then I would regret not taking more time to explore the monastery, but I was hot, sweaty, hungry and exhausted, and all I could really think about was my comfortable dark air-conditioned room in Eilat three hours away by car. Mohammed was surprised when I reappeared from the inside after only the half an hour.
As I walked back down the path to the parking lot as tremendous sense of satisfaction settled over me. I had done it, climbed Mount Sinai for sunrise. I'd known this would be one of the highlights of my trip and I was so thankful that I hadn't allowed my doubts to talk me out of such and amazing experience. I thanked Mohammed for all of his help and kindness. I tipped him twenty US Dollars, which he was embarrassed to accept, since it was over five times what his guide fee was. I guessed I was committing one of those ugly American faux pas, but I wanted him to know how much I appreciated all his help. He had definitely earned it.
I was so exhausted on the ride back, I watched the landscaped roll by with almost a sense of otherworldliness. I'd seen it by moonlight on the way in, and while similar to what I'd imagined, the starkness of the desert surprised me. The deserts I have visited in the US and Australia seemed less sun-bleached and more alive.
Reaching the coast, we passed Nieweba, the town I was supposed to have reached Egypt by via the ferry from Aqaba, Jordan. The ferry was visible in the distance.

We passed scores of unfinished resorts. I had been warned about these eyesores. Apparently there was a building boom in the late 1990s, when it appeared that the Egyptian shores of the Gulf of Aqaba were on their way to being a prosperous African Riviera. September 11th and some terrorists attacks during the 2000s had left the demands for these types of luxury resorts almost non-existent. Even the resorts that we finished and operating for business looked empty. I was told by my drive that the fear of terrorism was what necessitated so many checkpoints along the way.
We drove for a couple of hours beside the blue expanses of the Gulf of Aqaba. We were stopped at numerous checkpoints, and I saw my driver hand over small bills at a couple. I was surprised to see this because I hadn't noticed him needing to give these bribes on our way in. I had figured there wouldn't be any during the day driving back if there hadn't been any at night when a shakedown is easier to accomplish. They weren't of anything more than a passing annoyance to me, my driver never said anything about the bribes, and never asked me for any money to pay them. In fact, I was never spoken to by any of the armed men at these checkpoints. The bribes must have been 'included' in the price of my tour as part of doing business in Egypt. It made me even more glad that I hadn't attempted to visit here on my own. That feeling was validated also when I saw the conditions of the the public buses and taxi cabs I would have been using to get around.
A Crusader-era fort near Taba and the Israeli border

We arrived back in Taba shortly before noon. The company's Egyptian representative was surprised to see us back more than an hour ahead of schedule. He apologized profusely that he had been able to get a hold of his counterpart in the Israeli side, who was responsible for driving me from the border back to my hostel. I was so tired, I didn't care. I explained to him that if he wasn't there when I got out of customs on the other side of the border, that I could figure it out. Customs didn't take long to clear, since I was just about the only one crossing from Egypt into Israel at that time. My driver showed up about 20 minutes after I walked into Israel, just as I was about to grab my own taxi back to the hotel. I arrived back at my hostel, and after a short conversation with the owner thanking him for finding me the excursion, I walked into my room and took one of the most needed showers I can ever remember. Five minutes after that, I was out like a light.

I woke up later in the day and packed all of my things for the trip back to Jerusalem on the bus the next morning at 7 A.M. I was excited to be going back to Jerusalem, a place I was fimiliar with, and a place that I felt I'd missed seeing some things in because I'd left a day early, excited to get out and explore the rest of the country. I knew with as tired (and homesick) as I was that these wouldn't be the most productive days, but I was going to do my best with them.