Friday, February 25, 2011

Beauty and Potential

There are too many good things to be involved in here, we can’t keep up with all of it. The kids were not in school for most of the week, and we did a lot of great things with them. For scouts a great temporary member of the Branch named Jacob Rascon took the scouts on a tour of the ABC broadcasting offices. It was pretty small, and there wasn’t a lot to see, but it was a great experience for the boys, and I think they learned a lot. It was cool that they were able to talk about, and even see, some things happening live, since while we were there Muammar Gaddifi was broadcasting his crazy speech about never resigning.

Scouts at ABC Studios

On Wednesday the Judd and Muhlestein families went to Latrun together. It was the site of some crucial and costly battles both in 1948 and 1967. I did not know what all was there, but it ended up being a huge tank and armored vehicle museum and display. The kids loved it! Tanks to climb on all day. I think they could have stayed two days, they were having so much fun. It helped me to really understand the countryside that I have read about as I have read of these battles. Very enlightening. We also drove through a beautiful park that has some nice ancient ruins in it.

Sometimes getting ready to go somewhere seems like a family at battle

Tank Girls

Jacob in his element

Killer Team

Afterwards Julianne and I had a great afternoon. While Kaleb and Tashara were at the guitar lessons, we went to the Shuk and shopped/sampled together. It is nice to sometimes just experience these places just the two of us.

Kaleb and Tashara with their Guitar Teacher

We may be nuts, but this was a fun date. (sorry, couldn't help it)

We eat a lot of good fruit here. Julianne has fallen in love with their persimmons, and will buy some every time she gets the chance.

The Shuk

Lots of kinds of bread available here

Love the pastries and breads we sample.

Jul getting some of our fruits and vegetables

Olives anyone?!

For when you are feeling like some meat

Julianne getting some of her favorite nut mixes

Shuk Fish Market (we don't really buy our fish from here, but it looks cool!

Julianne Loves this Store!

That night we had a forum guest who spoke about the revolutions going on in the Middle East right now. It is truly an interesting time to be alive. Who would have guessed that so much would happen so quickly, and that it would be now, while we are here? I knew some of these things would happen sometime. But I sure didn’t foresee some things happening so quickly and so soon. Of course we will still have to wait and see how any of these things turn out, but certainly things are happening. Afterwards I stayed for another hour and more visiting with students and answering their questions about all of these happenings. I am happy to be able to help them see a bit of what is going on and help them learn how to learn about these things and learn how to form their own opinions.

Inside the incredible Sorek Cave

The next day we went to the Sorek Cave (also called the Stalactite Cave) again. It is in such a beautiful part of the country, and one of the most gorgeous drives imaginable takes you there. This place is great, and you feel like you are on another planet when you are there. We went with the Judd and Lewis families.

Kaleb and Bryce Lewis. Our kids sure love playing with the Lewis and Judd families. When this whole trip was over they just played at each other's houses for a long time

Seriously Cool Cave!

My panorama feature at work inside the cave (love that feature!)

The kids had a great time. We really enjoyed it, and on the way home I stopped for a few more pictures. I can’t get enough of this land, it is incredible. Each time we go out and drive around I feel like I am starting to understand more and more and more. The geography of the place is just starting to come alive. The more I learn the more I see that while I thought I got it before I am now just really starting to get it. It is exciting. I wish I could afford to just drive and drive, to just go around from one place to the other and get a feel for the terrain, the spatial relations, the climate, etc. It is coming and coming, but I hunger for more. Plus I love the beauty of this place.

Judean Hills Leading to the Sorek Valley

Eshta'ol Forest, where Samson grew up

Flowers springing up in the Eshta'ol Forest

Julianne didn’t come with us because she spent the entire day working/slaving away on getting everything ready for the seder (Passover) meal we hold each semester for the students. She worked so hard all day. But it was worth it. Everything looked great, and everything came together in an incredible way. We had worked out a few kinks, and it turned out to be a great time. It went so well, and the students seemed to love it and I think everyone learned a lot.

The Seder Table

Tashara and friends at the Seder Meal

We have also had a lot of very good classes. I feel like we are covering incredibly important things. We have covered a lot of good history and culture, which I think has helped the students understand a lot. Now I think we are getting into a lot of meaty, important things. I think the whole Old Testament is really starting to come together for them. I think they are starting to see a lot of how the themes and messages in it work for them. We had excellent discussions.

There are always so many decisions to make regarding the schooling of our children. We try to figure out what kinds of classes, extracurricular activities, public vs. charter vs. private schools, etc. BJ in particular is unhappy with his current schooling situation. He really doesn't like the language and dirty-mouthed behavior of the children there. We are having to sift through how to best handle that. I sure hope we do things right, this boy has so much potential. It is always just a question of how to help these kids reach their potential. That seems to be my quest, both with my children and my students. So much potential, just so much!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I was blind but now I see

Sabbath was a great day, as always. Church was great, we have good things going on everywhere with so many good people here in the branch. Julianne and I were able to take the time to interview each of our children and see how they are doing in things. They are such good kids. Each has their thing or two they need to work on, some bigger than others, but they are doing well. This was a great experience, and I need to do it more often.

Julianne as we visit with Jacob

Sunday the weather was terrible. It was a cold misty day with very, very strong winds. It was never a day where it seemed worthwhile at all to go out and do something. So we stayed at home and cleaned and organized and got stuff done that we have needed to do for a long time. I spent some of my time composing emails asking people to do better at certain things. There will undoubtedly be some fall-out. Some will struggle with what I am suggesting (which is basically that we view those around us a little higher and treat them a little better). I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone too much, and that good comes of it. I am blessed to be here with the greatest people in the world. The faculty members, families, and service couples are the best people I could ever hope to work with. I learn from all of them, love all of them, and think that they help me come closer to the Lord.
That night I did a presentation for the students on the Book of Abraham. I was surprised at how many came. It was a testament to the fact that it had been a long boring day for them as well, they had nothing else to do. But they paid attention to this very important topic, and asked a lot of good questions, and I think it worked out really well.
We were worried that the weather would be bad for the field trip on Monday. But it turned out to be great. It was just a little misty and a slightly cool breeze when we started, but it turned out to be full of sunshine and birds singing by the end. We went to the City of David. What a great place.

View from the top of the City of David down towards the valleys that protected the city so well, and with some of the walls that David overcame in view

There are so many significant things that happened there. It is amazing to walk around and stand in places that great people we have always read about were. We stood where David and Solomon certainly stood, where Isaiah prophesied and met people, where Jeremiah was imprisoned, where those who conspired against him and those who helped him were, and even looked where remains specific to those people had been found. We saw where homes had been destroyed by the Babylonians. We saw where the armies of Assyrian and Babylon would have encamped against the city. We walked around these places and read scriptures about them together. It was great.

Two students (Sadie and Kristin) with some of the City of David behind them (the stepped stone structure, possibly the millo)

We went down to the wall that stood there when David conquered the city. We talked about how Abraham would have seen this wall, how it may have been built by Melchizedek. There are so many touchstones of sacred history here it is incredible.

The wall that stood around the city when David took it, and stood for a long time thereafter. It may have been built my Melchizedek

A stone that was partially quarried out, but not finished.

We went down to where the gate for the city was, the place where Solomon was anointed king, and probably every king thereafter. I had a little horn and we reenacted it just a tiny bit, but nothing too much since so many other people were around.

The students and I looking over the remains of the tower at the Gihon spring, as I show them a horn that could be filled with oil and get ready to anoint one of our students king

Then we went through the tunnel that Hezekiah built to divert the water from the Gihon spring to the Siloam pool, or to divert it differently. It is always fun to travel through there. We would walk along, we sang, we twice turned out our lights to see how dark it really was. We talked about how it would have been to have been trying to hack your way through there by torchlight. Everyone loves this part, even our students who lean towards claustrophobia.

Students in Hezekiah's tunnel

Finally we ended up at the Pool of Siloam. There we read together the story of the man who had been born blind, and was sent by the Savior to wash his eyes there. It was at that pool that he first saw. We compared it to the spiritual sight I hope all the students are gaining. It was a good moment. I am so grateful for Christ and his willingness to heal us in every way imaginable, but most especially spiritually. There is some deep significance to that story, to being able to say that whereas I was blind, now I see.

The Pool of Siloam

We took some time to think, and I suddenly remembered that this was my last real field trip with this group. How did it go by so quickly? How could it be ending already? How can I not keep doing these great things with these great students? I have such a high regard for them. The future of the Church is in good hands, these are great people who have an even greater future ahead of them. I only hope I can do whatever it is the Lord would have me do to help them reach that potential.
We also had one of the better Family Home Evenings we have had for a while. Of course it came after having to nearly blow up during dinner to try to get the kids to learn to listen to their Mom when she talks to them. But that seems to have scared them enough they actually were good listeners as we had FHE. We have had a couple of very good days in regards to all the kids treating each other in a loving way. It sure makes for a wonderful feeling in our home, a real sense of peace. We are very blessed.

Jacob and Sabrina playing together

Friday, February 18, 2011

Remembering the Best Parts

View of Jerusalem from our balcony (taken with the panorama feature of our new camera)

Classes were great this week. It is so much fun to teach this stuff, and it is such wonderful material. The students have such good questions and we have such great discussions. This is fun stuff. I got a lot of good stuff done for other aspects of work this week too, which does not happen all that often. One of the things I enjoyed most this week was reading student papers. I usually don’t like that much, but have found that here I have enjoyed it much more. For this assignment I had the students go to a place where they can look over the city and read some passages about the siege of the city in Hezekiah’s day and write about it, answering some specific questions. I thought I might read five each day. But when I started they were so good I couldn’t stop, and I read all of them. They were really able to picture this, and see what it would have been like, and thus able to better internalize it and apply it to their own lives. It was great reading!
I took BJ home teaching with me, it won’t be long before he is my companion all the time anyway. We spent a little time learning how to use our cool new camera, which does some really cool stuff.

One of the students, Celeste Ouimette, dancing at the talent show. She used some gestures based on symbolic action we talked about in our class. Very Cool!

We had an outstanding forum speaker who really lays on the line the things that are going on here in regards to the peace process. He is a Palestinian Israeli citizen who has been a news reporter covering Palestinian Affairs for almost 30 years, and even used to work for the PLO. He knows the ins and outs of things here, and really taught the students a lot. We also had the students’ more formal talent show. These guys have lots of talent.Of course I do have some problems with our terminology, which I think teaches bad theology. But I am sure I will find a way to address the bad doctrine we often accidentally but strongly teach in connection with our talent shows. We just have to make sure that everyone knows that while the kinds of talents you can see are nice, the most important talents, such as charity, patience, spiritual sensitivity, etc., will never show up on a stage. We have to remember these are the best talents, the best parts of life, and those who can't stand on a stage and do something are almost more likely to have the more important talents.

President Ohman at the organ during the talent show

The kids were able to have a few friends over to play at our place. They have not been able to do that much, so it was really nice that they had the chance. Kaleb started working with a great student here named Ashley Crist, who is a great photographer and good at working on these things on the computer as well. She started teaching him how to do some good photo manipulation on the computer and he seemed to like it.

Sabrina, one of the reasons we are really here

Every now and then I have to pinch myself to believe this is all real. It is still breathtaking each time I look out at the city. I still can’t believe my children are having this experience. It is amazing, what they are able to do here. Most importantly I think they are getting the opportunity to think more about their Savior. They have the chance to learn more about Jesus Christ and all he did for them and it seems to become more real. Gaining a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Savior is what this is really all about. I see it happening with the students, with my children, and I feel it in myself. Nothing could be better. These are the best parts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Loved this weekend!

So much has happened in the last few days I thought I had better give an update before I forget some of it. Sabbath was great and tiring. I work with the most wonderful people imaginable. Yet people are people, and the most exhilarating experiences are also the most tiring.
Sunday was a great day. We had a nice, lazy morning. Then we played basketball together as a family. That was really fun. It was so good to have some low-key family time together where we just enjoyed each other. It is never easy. There was always someone who needed a drink, to go to the bathroom, or had some other need, so that the actual minutes we were all playing together were less than the minutes where someone was gone. But when I let myself stop worrying about those things I realize that I am having fun all the time.

Jacob the shepherd with Bethlehem behind him

When that was over we had a little down time. Then we got all dressed up and began our Nativity filming again. This time we went to shepherd’s fields (not any that anyone else calls that, but some where we know sheep graze and where you can see Bethlehem in the background) and filmed some of the girls as angels, and the boys as shepherds, and Tashara and I as Mary and Joseph. It was beautiful, if windy and cold. The little girls kind of froze to death being angels. But that is such a beautiful place.

Real little angels

Getting ready to film

We got there later than was ideal, it was colder than was ideal, the battery on the camcorder was dead so we had to use our new camera that came the day before, but which we didn’t really know how to use as a camcorder, and there were a few other glitches. But mostly it was great. I get nervous being there as it gets dark with just our little family, and that happened, so I got a bit stressed at the end. But the filming was great. At the end a shepherd actually came by and let BJ help herd the sheep, so we got that filmed. It was fun.

Sturdy shepherds

Mary and Joseph inside a real shelter just outside of Bethlehem

The next day was of course both Valentine’s Day and Julianne’s birthday. We woke up to find that people had put hearts all over our door and written nice things.

We got the kids all ready, and let them eat cereal. They were so excited for their mom’s birthday. They got ready really well, and got out the door on time. Jill Judd, bless her wonderful heart, watched the two youngest ones while Julianne and I went up to eat at the Oasis. I had arranged with some students to decorate a table, and had bought some flowers for them to put there. The flowers apparently died before the day arrived, so they went out and bought some more. We sat at our decorated table, they sang happy birthday, and then Taylor, one of the students, came and sang a song to Julianne in my behalf. Then they sang happy birthday together. These guys are so great, they so got into it, and made it such a special morning for her. They love to do good things, and have such enthusiasm for it.

Julianne being serenaded in my behalf at breakfast

Then we went off to our field trip at Neot Kedumim. Jacob had a bad cough, so he stayed home with Jill. Sabrina and Kaleb came with us. I put an additional sign on our bus, calling it the Muhlestein Love Bus, and we kept singing the chorus to Love Shack, except with the words “love bus” all day long.

I had arranged for about 7 little treats or cards to be given to Julianne all day long, and these great students had a great time finding her at different moments and giving her the treats. She felt so showered by their love and excitement. They sang happy birthday to her about a dozen times.

Julianne getting one of her gifts

Neot Kedumim was great. We herded sheep together, we drew water from the well together (and she and I posed for the Rachel/Jacob love scene at a cistern/well). We ground hyssop together, made fires to cook wheat and pitas together, one student even caught a chameleon! We found a million beautiful flowers together, and saw a million beautiful vistas together.

Beautiful Poppy

At the well

Me reading a several hundred year old Torah scroll at Neot Kedumim (it was Exodus 18)

Kaleb the shepherd

Poppies growing on a hut roof

Sabrina winnowing at Neot Kedumim. She also rode the threshing sledge, and helped hold the plow

Kaleb helping cook pita at Neot Kedumim. Many students made heart shaped pitas for Valentine's Day

Cool flowers at Neot Kedumim

Jul and I with the chameleon

It was a perfect day.

grinding hyssop

A sign some students were using they let us borrow

Poppy Field

When we got back we had a crockpot dinner I had made. Then we had ice cream and cake. Jill had made the cake (can you tell how many good things she does for us. I think she and Julianne do so many nice things for each other, they just go way out of their way to help each other, and it is great!).

Julianne blowing out her candles

Kids with their valentines gifts from grandparents

Then we went up to the student Valentine’s Dance. Julianne and I got to choose the first song and do the first dance together. We did “Sold” and found out we can still do country swing together a little tiny bit. Our kids had a ton of fun at the dance.

The opening dance (photo taken by one of our great students, Ashley)

Alexia at the dance

Julianne also got to talk to her parents, and we gave her a combined gift from my parents, her parents, and me, for buying something here she really wants. And the kids gave her their presents. We also enjoyed using our new camera! It was a perfect day, and I am so grateful to be married to the perfect wife. On the way home from Neot Kedumim I told the students that Valentine’s Day was just the right moment to talk about the importance of motherhood, and we spent most of the time on the way home talking about motherhood and how important it is. I have come to believe it is one of the most important things we do for the students here. But it was also a way for me to pay tribute to Julianne. She is such a great person, and the students learn so much from her. So many of them gave her notes and talked to her about how much they learn from her. She is incredible for them, and for me!