Saturday, February 27, 2016

Too much fun!

I don’t know how weeks can get more jam-packed, but somehow they do. This was an incredible week. On Sunday we went on a field trip to Ne’ot Kedumim, a Biblical plant and animal reserve. They had changed it to Sunday so that our whole family could come, and so off we all went. The forecast was for heavy rain all day, so we went super prepared in so many ways for bad weather. Instead it rained hard for about ten minutes while we were already under shelter, and it drizzled just a bit once, and the rest of the time it was perfect, amazing weather. It was a fantastic day.

The Landscape of Ne'ot Kedumim

More of the landscape of Ne'ot Kedumim
It started out in a fun way. I explained to the students that they were our mule team, and that with Skinner and Muhlestein on the bus, we were Muleskinners, which is the name of the guy who drives a mule team. I happened to mention that it was also the name of a famous blues song which I had never heard. Within a minute a girl came to the front of the bus with that song on her phone. I have since learned that the song is really about yodeling, and is a pretty serious yodeling opportunity. But the version she found was by the Fendermen, and really seems to be making fun of yodeling. It is the funniest, most hilarious song you can imagine. We all listened and couldn’t help but just start laughing and chuckling and the whole group was immediately in love with it. It was used throughout the day.

We ended up with a fantastic guide, named Patrick. I hope to get him every time. He was so good with the students, yet explained things so well, and we all learned a lot. He showed us a number of plants that I knew little about. One thing he taught me is that you can eat the pods of the carob tree. They have tough seeds in them (of such uniform size and weight that they became a standard for weights, and you would measure something by how many carobs it weighed, which became carats in our parlance, such as 24 carat gold). But it turns out that the pod itself is very good. It has a kind of sweet chocolate taste, but better. I went back and picked pods a few times, and munched on them for a while. I could eat carobs all day. Who knew? Tasty!
Almond Blossom, as was used on the menorah or appeared on Aaron's rod

an almond tree in bloom

We went to their sheephold (which has lots of sheep and goats), and the students (and my kids) were separated into groups and given different herding tasks. It was great to watch everyone do it. They learned a lot and did very well. Patrick said the BYU groups always do much better and faster than any other groups. His opinion as to why is that the group already knows and loves each other, so no one is concerned with showing how much they know or how good they are, but instead they are ready to work as a group to really get the task done, and they know how to work as a group. I think he is right. They did well, and it was fun to watch.

Tashara, Jacob and Sabrina herding goats and sheep

Jacob and Sabrina herding goats and sheep

Kaleb and Alexia herding goats and sheep

Alexia herding goats and sheep
Afterwards we taught them about the differences between sheep and goats. With just this little experience the students were able to tell us some key differences between sheep and goats. The nimble goats like to scatter, and so when a predator comes they all scatter in every direction, looking for places to go that the predators may not be able to follow. They literally adopt an every-goat-for-himself policy. The sheep are not that nimble nor fast. Instead they gather in a group with their heads together. The wolves may be able to nip at their rears, but the ability to kill them by striking their throat is taken away as they squish together with their heads at the center.

Jacob with a kid
Alexia with a kid
I helped them see how this is used in the parable of the sheep and goats. After the Savior teaches about the signs of the times he teaches about how to be prepared for the second coming by teaching some parables. The first is the parable of the ten virgins, which teaches the importance of being personally, individually prepared. He then gives the parable of the talents, stressing how part of our preparation is about what we do with what God has given us. He finishes with the parable of the sheep and goats, which is the parable where he separates the sheep and goats and tells the sheep that they were on his right hand because they had visited him when he was sick, clothed him when he was naked, etc. He seems to be teaching that the way to be prepared is to use our abilities to take care of others. But the symbolism of the sheep and goats is interesting. The goats focus on taking care of themselves, while the sheep band together and live or die together. The Savior seems to be saying that in order to be ready for Him, we must have a sheep mentality, we must realize that we aren’t in this life by ourselves, but it is only when we work together and take care of each other that we can be ready to be with him. It is a fun addition to the imagery of that parable.

My family and class listening as we taught about sheep and goats

We also crushed hyssop into a spice that was good for eating. Hyssop, with its antibacterial properties, plays an important symbol of purification a number of times in the Old Testament, and even in the New. It is a plant that is used frequently and is good to know about.

My class crushing hyssop
We spent some time teaching about threshing, and the way that symbol is used in the scriptures. We also went through the whole process going from preparing the ground to planting wheat, harvesting, threshing, grinding, and cooking, so that we can actually get our daily bread. It was a great little presentation.

Alexia dragging Jacob on the threshing sled

The bottom of the threshing sled

Then we went and made some bread (pita bread). We also made pottage and fried some wheat (called parched corn in the story of Ruth). It was so tasty. My students all made an amazingly tasty pottage. It was so very, very, very good. My kids seemed to be having a fantastic time the whole day.

Alexia getting the fire ready for cooking

Jacob getting the fire ready for cooking

Kaleb visiting with Brittany Wallace, a great student
Sabrina helping to cook
Tashara getting the "Parched corn" ready with our guide, Patrick
Jacob trying to break some firewood
Jacob and TJ and JT built a little shelter, just for fun

My class cooking pita, pottage and wheat
 Finally we had a presentation by Zechariah the Torah Scribe. He does a great job of explaining how to make a scroll and write the scriptures in it. It is an impressive thing to do, and the students seem to love learning about it. 

Zecharia writing a Torah Scroll

Zacharia reading from a Yemeni Torah Scroll that is over 200 years old while the teachers hold the honorary adornments of the scroll in the background

The Kosher ingredients for writing on a Torah Scroll

The Torah
Sabrina getting a ride from Kamden
I would say that on the whole we had an incredible day!

The beautiful countryside of Ne'ot Kedumim

Almond trees at Ne'ot Kedumim

flowers at Ne'ot Kedumim

The landscape of Ne'ot Kedumim

A Mustard Plant at Ne'ot Kedumim

Jacob and Sabrina drawing water

The next day we go the kids off to school, and then we had some free time, since we did the field trip yesterday. Today we didn’t escape the bad weather, it rained on us a lot. But still we had a nice time. We went with the other faculty couples to the Citadel of David museum. I was so glad that we agreed to just each go through at his own speed, that way I could move along and enjoy it and see what I wanted and not get slowed down by everyone else. I was able to see a lot and enjoy a lot. It was a fun time.

A model of the temple at the Citadel of David Museum
Then we went together to the Hurva Synagogue. We had a nice little tour, and I was able to watch a lot of the studying and worshipping there and really enjoyed it. I also really loved the views. Then we went to Jacob’s Pizza and had some fun together. All in all it was a wonderful day. Some of the students had suggested that we do the Muleskinner Blues song as a lip synch for the talent show. With Julianne’s help I was able to talk Phil and Andy into doing that with me. Should be fun.
Inside the Hurva Synagogue

Praying at the Hurva Synagogue

Folding a prayer shawl at the Hurva Synagogue

Studying at the Hurva Synagogue

Folding a prayer shawl at the Hurva Synagogue

Studying at the Hurva Synagogue
View of the Dome of the Rock out of the Hurva Synagogue Window
View of the Jerusalem Center out of the Hurva Synagogue Window

The Dome of the Rock and the Jerusalem Center as seen from the top of the Hurva Synagogue

A group of Israeli soldier women singing near the Temple Mount

The group of us on top of the Hurva Synagogue
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of the Redeemer from the top of the Hurva Synagogue

Studying in the Hurva Synagogue

Studying at the Hurva Synagogue
When we got home we worked on our skit for the talent show, did homework, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make my trip next week for scuba training work. We don’t have enough miles allotted to us for me to go up very often, but I can’t find any place up there to stay that I can afford. I have been trying and trying, but haven’t been able to get it all worked out.

The next day we started doing classes again. I was happy to teach Jeremiah, I love teaching Jeremiah. I also worked on getting stuff ready for my finals, and for starting my New Testament class next week. I think I have all the syllabi and computer things lined up. I got a lot done today. We also had a very nice Branch Presidency meeting. Things keep moving along so quickly.

On Wednesday it was more fun teaching Jeremiah, which I love. I was able to work on several things with Julianne. One of the things I love about being here is that she and I get to work together so much and spend so much time together. It is delightful, it makes it all worthwhile. I just love it! Tonight we worked some more on our family skit for the talent show. I also finally found a place I think I can stay. It is a place for hikers/backpackers to stay. It is fairly grungy, but it is free. I will check it out this Friday, but I think it is a place that should work okay. It is a huge relief off my mind for that to finally happen.

On Thursday morning, after finishing up Ezekiel in class, we went with Andy, Janet, Phil and Jennifer to the Russian Orthodox churches, which are only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They are beautiful buildings, and in beautiful spots, and have cool things to see. The Tower of the Ascension commemorates Christ’s ascension into heaven after his resurrected ministry. They also have a church there with a place where John the Baptist’s head was supposed to have been found. The grounds were gorgeous, the spring blooms are incredible, and from there you can look down on Bethphage (the traditional place of the beginning of the triumphal entry) and Bethany (where Lazarus was raised form the dead).

Tower of the Ascension as seen from their olive orchard

Peacock in the garden of the Russian Church of the Ascension
Jul in the garden of the Russian Church of the Ascension
Tower of the Ascension
Phil and Jul in front of the Church of the Ascension
butterfly in the garden of the Church of the Ascension
Bethphage as seen from the edge of the property of the Russian Church of the Ascension
The Olive Orchard of the Russian Church of the Ascension
Bethany with a good zoom as seen from the Russian Church of the Ascension
The chapel over where they say they found the head of John the Baptist
The spot where they say they found the head of John the Baptist
Bethany area as seen from the Church of the Ascension grounds

Then we went to their other church near Gethsemane. It is to commemorate Mary Magdalene, but also Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane. It is beautiful, and we had a peaceful time there. I was glad to be there with Andy, who showed us something I never knew about. They have there part of the stairway that existed in Christ’s day as you went up and down the Mount of Olives. This is a place he could have walked on as he went to suffer for us (depending on how far up he went), but is almost certainly the way he went to and from Bethany throughout the last week of his life. That makes it a very sacred spot for me. I was glad to see it.

Sanctuary built over the steps on the Mount of Olives
More of the steps on the Mount of Olives
the hillside on the Mount of Olives
bees in the flowers at the Orson Hyde Park. What a land of milk and honey!
The Old City of Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives
That night we did the talent show. It was a lot of fun. The students had some great performances that we loved a lot. Then our family did ours. We started out with Alexia and Jacob talking about how they weren’t excited about looking at the rocks at some tels (a tel is a hill with archaeological ruins on it. Almost all ancient cities here are a tel). I yelled from the side that they were now kicked out of the family. Then we started the music and marched in in our best rocker style. We sang to the tune of I love Rock and Roll:
We saw them sitting there by terminal 3
It was clear they were as jetlagged as can be
But the land was callin’ us on
 So we started goin’ strong
And I could tell it wouldn’t be long
Til JC was part of me
on a hill with you and me
I love rocks and tels
So off we go on a field trip baby
I love rocks and tels
So come and learn your Bible with me!
We all went together down to Moab’s plains
We saw Jericho where down its walls came
Went to the Valley of Elah, and slung some stones
After Goliath was gone
Went to David’s City
Glory of Solomon
His temple on the mount
Singin’  (chorus again)
Azekah’s lights went out
Lachish is all alone
Hezekiah’s tunnelin’ on
586 BC
Babylon’s movin’ them on
We’re singing our history song
Singin’ (chorus again)
Our song went over super well. The kids hammed it up amazingly. Kaleb slid along the floor with his air guitar, the students got the jokes, and all in all it was a great hit! We loved it.

Marching out to Rock and Roll

Rockin' on about tels

Kaleb on the air guitar
The Mule skinner blues went over really well too. Andy especially hammed it up, and everyone loved it. They spontaneously arose as one in a standing ovation, then we did it again with everyone joining in. It was a ton of fun!

Singin' the (Mule Skinner) Blues

Rockin' away at the Mule Skinner blues

Also, Brodie sung a courting song to Sabrina, who was cute as can be. And Tashare was in three serious dance numbers, and rocked in all of them. She was incredible. What a fun night!

Sabrina being serenaded

Tashara in a Bollywood dance

Tashara in a ballroom dance

Tashara in a ballroom dance

Tashara in a Polynesian dance
Tashara in a Ballroom dance
The next morning I taught Daniel and started Ezra. Afterwards my class showed me a video they had created for me as class winds down. They did a nice job, and it was fun and touching. At the end, when they said that I had helped them come to Christ, it was almost more than I could take. There is nothing else I want more.
Then I got ready, and drove up for my first scuba lesson. The drive was beautiful, the area is so gorgeous, especially this time of year. Sometimes it felt like I was driving through the heath and hills of Scotland. It was breathtaking. I got up there and checked out the place I am thinking of staying. It is run by a guy whose son died a few years ago. He wanted to memorialize him, so he built a place where he teaches music to autistic and troubled kids (his son loved music), where he helps collect clothes and food for abused and homeless women (his son loved to volunteer), and where he has some huts and tents for backpackers (his son loved backpacking). They are not very nice accommodations, but they are suitable, and I think they can even be fun. He offered for me to stay in the warehouse building where they teach the music, etc. He even said that he would look into whether or not his daughters would be at their home, and if not I could stay with him. He was super nice, and I am really grateful for all he is doing and for how he is making this possible for me.

I drove around just a bit more and enjoyed the beauty of the place. I went to the hotel with the swimming pool where we were going to do our first scuba lesson. It is a nice hotel, and I saw some places I could sit and work and spend time during my four days in the area.

The place I ate my lunch at the hotel
Finally it was time to do the training. We had to wait until a specific time because the pool is for very religious Jews, so women and men can’t be in the pool at the same time. So we waited for the women’s turn to be done. The interesting thing is that after that all these really orthodox men, who are super modest and come in wearing ten layers of clothes, they all just strip all the way down right there and put on some tiny swimsuit and swim. It is a bit funny.

My instructor is Oren. He is a really nice guy, whose English is great, and who is a good teacher. He felt like I learned really quickly. I think this is because I have read the book I was supposed to read and have snorkeled a lot. He taught me about how to assemble the equipment and then we got in. We practiced breathing under water, then we practiced getting water in the mask and clearing it out while under water, including fully taking the mask off and putting it back on and clearing the water. Then we practiced taking the regulator in and out and breathing again, and helping someone else if they are out of air and need to breathe. Then we practiced learning how to maintain a specific depth, which was a bit tricky but was pretty cool. It took me a few minutes to figure that one out. In the end it is really cool to breath underwater. People talk about how amazing it is, but I think I have snorkeled enough, and have held my breath for long enough underwater while snorkeling, that while I thought it was really cool, I wasn’t overwhelmed with it like I hear so many are. Still, I loved it. 

I had to pass some written tests. Then I passed the swimming tests. I had to swim a ways underwater with a snorkel, just holding my breath. I had to clear a snorkel, etc., all of which are things I have done 100’s of times. I had to swim 1200 meters with a snorkel, something I did a thousand times just for fun. I had to stay in the water without touching for ten minutes. I just floated on my back and almost fell asleep. I had a wonderful time, and it was over too soon. Next week we go to the ocean. I so look forward to it.

I had a nice drive back, and then we went to dinner with all the students. Julianne was able to talk about her app the whole time. This is probably the fourth time in the last month that she has been able to talk about it with others for an hour or so. Now I know more of what she feels like after she has to sit and listen to me answer questions about the Book of Abraham or my excavation again and again. It is actually kind of fun, but I make more smart alec comments than she does.
That night we just visited with our kids and watched a short movie. It was a very nice night.
The area where I did my training
The next day was nice. Church is always great. The talks today were particularly good. I love sitting there and looking at the students. They are truly so wonderful, and I love them so much. So does God. These are wonderful, amazing students. Then I spent some nice, quiet time with my family.