Friday, November 15, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories - International Marketing

In case you're keeping track, this is day 15 of my walk down memory lane...half way there!  Thanks for sticking with me!

No more sad market animal stories.  Today I am fast-forwarding to my high school years.  I was either a junior or senior, and my family had left Nebraska and headed to Kansas. We lived in Saint Francis, and our flock had grown significantly to at least 100 head of ewes - Hampshires, Dorsets and a few Southdowns. 

A marketing agent was putting together a flock of young Hampshire ewes to send to South America, and I had two or three that would fit the specs.  They were registered, healthy, the right age, and so my dad and I loaded them up to take them to the drop off point for export.  I thought this was the coolest thing ever.  And it was until later that year.

In June, Dad and I traveled to the Midwest Stud Ram Sale in Sedalia, Mo., and we had the opportunity to meet the Brazilian who had bought our ewes.  We had a little language barrier, but he new us by our first names and that we "were from San Francisco" and yes, that was a good translation, but probably not the San Fran he had in mind.  And, he was having a large time at this sale - and every time he took a drink, he'd say "Salute!" Well, we were pretty sure he wouldn't make an appearance the next morning, due to too many "salutes".  It was a great experience, and I was glad I had grown from the sappy little girl selling her market animals to an international exporter of breeding stock!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories - The Load Out

I feel like I'm on a theme this week and yes, this is another story of me selling a market animal.  You might want to grab your tissues for this one.

I was either a sixth or seventh grader, and one of the best times of year for me was October because we loaded up the trailer, packed the suitcase and headed to Rapid City for the Western Junior Livestock Show (WJLS), which was a fall show for just select counties (think the Western Ak-Sar-Ben).  Any way, this particular year, I had a big string - several breeding sheep, a heifer and my prized steer, Snuggles.  I had got Snuggles the winter before and he was the perfect companion for me.  And yes, he was named after the dryer sheet teddy bear.  I tied him up all, worked what hair I could and his target was WJLS.  Except, I didn't quite understand the target would be so abrupt.

The steer show was an evening show, and as soon as we walked out of the ring, there was a semi ready - yep we were expected to lead our steers right out of the ring to "meat" their fate.  WHAT?!?! No one had told me this!  And they wouldn't let parents do it for us.  So I led my beloved Snuggles up that ramp and onto the trailer.  And I stayed there.  If he was going, so was I.  I was a sobbing messing -  maybe beyond sobbing.  Eventually, my dad had to come in the trailer, and take me and the halter off.  According to my dad, I eventually cried myself to sleep about 3 o'clock that next morning. 

Let's fast forward two more days.  We'd shown heifers and ewes and eaten good meals and went swimming at the hotel pool.  But we had one more stop before we left Rapid.  The. Packing. Plant.  WHAT?!?!  No one told me that the steer show was a combined on-hoof and carcass contest.  So there we were looking at Snuggles on the rail.  This was my first experience at a packing plant, and not on the most pleasant of circumstances.  We saw all the steers that had loaded out that night.  And when we got to Snuggles, there was a blue ribbon attached to his carcass.  And that made the trip all ok.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories - Saying Good-bye

The more I get into my memory archive, I feel like I should have named this blog, "4-H memories" or "youth memories" but all these stories I'm sharing with you and they all stem from my childhood spent on ranches.  So please keep reading...

The above photo is called "Saying Goodbye" and my mom took it in 1983 at the Dawes County Fair Sale.  I was 10, and selling my first market animal.  This would eventually become a cover photo for a Sheep Magazine, and my mom later framed the picture for me.  It goes with me from house to house and state to state on every move.

Saying "good bye" to my market animals was never an easy task...Even in my last auction at Dawes County, when I was a sophomore in high school, I cried when I sold my steer.  Granted, he was a Hereford, and I raised him.  He was reserve Hereford steer and after the sale, I sat in the back pen of the sale barn and laid on him and cried.  No saying goodbye is never easy.  I fed him animal crackers (ironic?) and we shared a soda.  My dad had to come haul me out of that pen as the semi pulled up to load the market animals that fateful evening.

Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to have 4-H projects that I could sell.  And fortunately for me, I had a mom that captured this awesome memory above. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories - July 2

If you ever showed cattle AND grew up in the Nebraska Panhandle, you know what happened every year on July 2.  Yep, it's Crawford Beef Show Day.  Every year on July 2, we would go to the Crawford Beef Show at the fair grounds right across from the sale barn; the only exception might be if July 2 fell on a Sunday, but I can't recall for sure.

I have so many memories from the Crawford Beef Show.  I went before I was old enough to show when my dad would help the older kids.  Oh, how I wanted to show!  Even when we lived in Mullen, I remember heading to Crawford (quite a haul) in the wee hours of July 2.  A bonus then was we would stop at the donut shop in Hyannis and got fresh donuts!

And of course some of my best memories were in the early 80s when I actually got to show there.  Yep, the Crawford Beef Show was a pre-cursor to the fair, about a month out.  You got to "go to town" and see all your friends and show your cattle!  What a deal! 

Perhaps one of my most vivid, although not pleasant, memories was showing Holly there.  Remember Holly, the HORNED Hereford?  Well, I wasn't very big, and she could practically pick me up with her left horn as I led her around that showring.  I think I was permanently bruised on my side that entire summer!

Even all these years later, I always get a little nostalgic when July 2 rolls around.

Monday, November 11, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories - Winter Wonderland

I'd say it was the winter of 1978-79; it was a bad one and I was 5 1/2 years old.  We lived on the Cox Ranch North of Mullen and most of our route was a one-lane gravel path.  I didn't actually remember that until a few years ago when my dad and I went to the Ranch's 101st anniversary, and drove it for the first time.

But back to that winter.  We had FEET of snow, lots and lots of feet of snow.  It was very handy to have the snowmobiles I wrote about in an earlier post to take care of the cattle, feeding etc.  But we were not leaving the Ranch HQ.  One thing I remember and will til the end are helicopters airlifting us hay for the cattle - the would lower these big round bales down to the ground, and my dad ran out to retrieve a few bags of groceries - milk and eggs - if I remember right.  We were pretty self sufficient on the Ranch with beef, canned and frozen goods from the garden and baked goods, but we plumb ran out and we were not getting to town.

Yes, that is a winter I will always remember.  I bet I didn't go to town for a month.  Good thing I wasn't in school yet.  Oh, but when I did get school age -we had a backup plan.  Sherron had a house in town, and a couple winters when my mom worked at the hospital we actually had an apartment too, so she could take call.  Oh the joys of living in the boonies!   But I wouldn't have traded it for anything!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories: A Birthday Tradition

Singing the "Birthday Song".  Giving gifts. Eating cake. Opening gifts. Giving birthday spankings.  Most of these are common activities at a kid's or even an adults birthday party.  When we moved to the Nebraska Sandhills, we learned of a new tradition that made me thankful to have a late Spring birthday.

At the Ranch, it was "customary" to get thrown in the tank for one's birthday.  I made it pretty easy, as the littlest person on the ranch to get picked up, swung over someone's shoulder and literally thrown in the middle of a horse tank in the corral - green slimy moss and all!  There was no time to retaliate; no time to kick off your shoes; and basically no where to run too!

I was an easy victim.  But sometimes the bigger boys and men weren't so easy.  It would sometimes take two guys - one to get the arms and one to get the legs - or four men - one on each limb - to get the bigger guys in the tank.  Somehow, it always happened.  What about those who had a winter birthday?  They weren't forgotten - they just got their surprise birthday christening in the summer months when they least expected.

Ranch life was pretty good.  We worked together, played together, and celebrated together.

Friday, November 8, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories: Sledding with Ease

When we lived on the Cox Ranch, north of Mullen, we had some horrific winters.  We also had some great hills for sledding right behind our corrals.  Even though we used horses a lot, we were also fortunate that Marvin was a snowmobile dealer.  We had a hay wagon that would attach to the snowmobile, and that was sometimes the only way to feed during the snowy winters.

What do big Nebraska Sandhills and snowmobiles have to do with sledding with ease?  Remember the three older boys, Donnie, Jamie and David?  Well, they loved to drive the snowmobiles, and I loved to sled down those long, big hills.  I had the best red disc sled.  Well, once I got to the bottom of the hills, they would zoom down, pick me up on the snowmobile and drop me at the top of the hill again!  Boy was I spoiled!  But I loved it, and I loved those big hills! 

Several years back, my dad and I went back for the Ranch's 101st anniversary.  I often wondered if those hills were really as big as I remembered.  And they were.  They looked just as big to me in my adult life as they did when I was just a little tike on the ranch.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories: In the Sheep Business

I only got to participate in the Hooker County Fair one year, because the winter of 1982-83, we packed up and my dad went back to work at Iodence's.  That year I would be ten, and couldn't wait to get a new heifer to show.  Well, I did, and if you checked out my "wordless Wednesday" post yesterday, you saw Holly, the  one and only horned heifer I showed with horns and me looking classy.

Well, my Grandma Stannard was worried about how competitive the cattle shows would be for me, and like any grandmother, she only wanted the best for her only grandchild.  And we did live in a competitive cattle county, with the Iodences, Sellmans and Dyers, just to name a few.  Grandma decided I would need sheep - the best her money could buy, and we visited a neighbor to buy my first registered Hampshire ewes - Molly and Polly.  (If you are keeping track, I did have three projects that year - Holly, Molly and Polly and it was fun to see my mom try to keep track of the names!)

Well, we picked out Molly and Polly, but the sheep business was entirely new to us - we knew (or my dad I should say) cattle.  So we decided to make it easy, we would show Molly and Polly as market lambs and then buy them back after the sale instead of them going to be lamb chops.

My, how I loved having Molly and Polly!  They were just my size!  And they were my project.  We built them a pen in yard with portable cattle panels and steel posts, and moved the pen around to wherever the weeds grew.  And I was a book worm - I was to books back then what most kids are to computer games and technology now - you couldn't get me to put a book down.  So my parents decided the best way for the lambs to get used to me was for me to set on a five-gallon bucket and READ out loud to my lambs.  And I did this every day!  I'm sure Molly and Polly found the Bobbsey Twins and Mrs. Piggly Wiggly invigorating! But it kept me occupied that summer AND it got them used to me.

Our fair turned out pretty good in the lamb project that year and I had reserve champion market lamb with one of them - don't ask which because I too could get them confused.  We sold the lambs through the sale and then took them home to start our flock.  More about that later. 

My first Dawes County Fair was a success!  Reserve market lamb and grand champion heifer!  And Grandma was worried that the cattle shows would be too competitive! 

Molly and Polly at brought me success during my first year showing lambs!  (check out that hair)

A newspaper clipping about me and my mentor, Sarah , with our champion heifer honors.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories: Wordless Wednesday

Guess who found her 4-H Record Books over he weekend? Yep, those pictures are good for a few smiles. Since I'm traveling this week, I'd thought I'd share some pictures instead of words. Please control your laughter!

The first picture is a page of my first record book, complete with my club name, and project leader, whose family I still keep in touch with.

Next, you'll see the fashionista I was at 9, with my heifer Holly.  More about her later this week! 

The next two are pictures I took my first year of photography...yep, I was destined to be in ag communications of some sort.  The dog, Wrex?  I don't remember cocker spaniel's name was Pogo Stick. 

My first camera was a Kodak 110 - and I loved it.  I don't think my mom loved all the film processing, but it definitely fueled my passion for photography!

Stay  tuned tomorrow for more Ranch Life Memories, and if you haven't check out my friend Holly's blog: 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories: The Saddle with a Secret

In an blog earlier this month, I mentioned the set up at the Iodence Ranch, describing various out buildings in our yard.  One of those buildings was the tack shed.  At both ranches my dad worked on when I was little, horses were used extensively.   We would move cattle from pasture to pasture on horses, use them for brandings, and doctor from horse back.

Well, I was a horse fanatic!  I couldn’t get enough of them.  My mom had a great horse, Penny, and I loved to ride anything that would let me get on.  I collected Breyer horses and they were my prized possessions.  Well one fall, I’d say I was six, I spent a lot of time in the tack shed “riding” on the saddles that were stored in there.  One of them was just my size, and I “rode” it often.

Fast forward to Christmas morning that same year.  I was always an early riser on Christmas morning, and still am if someone wants to warn Stan. . .I rushed into the living room, which was about 3 steps from my bed.  There, underneath the tree was a saddle!  And it was just my size!  I couldn’t wait to go riding.  But then I figured out I had been riding on it!  If memory serves me right, my parents tried to convince me that Santa sometimes has to “store” Christmas items before Christmas, because that sled gets pretty heavy to pull!

Either way, I knew.  I knew that Santa didn’t exist, except for in our hearts.  He might have visited a few times after that – I can’t really remember and I always found my mom’s hiding place for gifts.  But one tradition our family has kept is hanging stockings and filling them.  This is one of my favorite Christmas traditions, and my parents and I fill each other’s socks with fun small items – stamps, lotions, kitchen utensils, candy, you name it!  So even though I figured out the real Santa many years ago, Santa still is there for those who believe!



Monday, November 4, 2013

30 Days of Ranch Memories: Learning to Count

I mentioned in an earlier post I didn’t go to daycare, and I rarely went to a baby-sitter, with the exception of when I was really little or it was a super busy time on the ranch.  I was very fortunate to spend a lot of time with my dad.  And a lot of that time was spent feeding bulls, keeping them healthy and getting them ready for the annual sale down at the sale barn at Charles’ (less than a mile from our house).

When you are a young’un there is NOTHING cooler than being with your dad when he feeds those big ole horned Hereford bulls.  I think if the truth be told, I learned how to count on those bulls.  We bucket fed them in long bunks, and when I say we, I mean Dad.  I’d usually stand in the back of the pick up or sometimes get to ride on my dad’s shoulders and help him count.

I wish I’d had pictures of those bulls – all lined up eating.  But I don’t.  I do have some great some great memories with my dad – calling the bulls in his loud voice and beating on the pickup door to get them to gather up.   Oh, and there were no seat belts or car seats either. 

Sale time was always a fun and exciting time.  And although not a real “Ranch” memory, I was always excited for the Hereford field rep, Art Handle, to stop by.  He always had jokes and made me laugh.  Later, much later in life, I actually got to share a backdrop with Art at the SD Summer Show in Huron.  We got each other’s ears and had a few chuckles about that little girl who grew up to become a breed rep too!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

See no Evil. Hear no Evil. Speak no Evil.

For nine years of my life, my dad was the herdsman at Iodence Herefords in the Nebraska Panhandle. He worked for a great man, Charles. We lived in a house on the main ranch across the drive way from Grandma I. In addition to our houses, the yard included the barm, shop, feed bins, tack shed, and some other out buildings.

One of the best things about ranch life for this little girl was the five older Iodence kids on the ranch, 3 boys and 2 girls that were like older siblings.  During the summer, my dad and the boys, Mark, Brian and Curt, spent a lot of time in the hay field. And I was a ranch kid, who rarely went to a baby sitter.

I can still remember the summer day when the boys were greasing up the rake and tractor out in the yard and got into a grease fight...what I remember most includes 2 things.  The first is that I had the best view of this. You see our bathroom faced the yard.  I could stand in thebathtub, and peek out of the orange gingham curtains to see and hear  every happening in the yard.  The second thing I remember is this was the first time I heard certain four-letter words.  I'm not sure of the details, but I know my dad wasn't impressed when I told him what I heard and saw that day.  But then when you're five, the bathroom window was the window to my world!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My First Fair Experience

Since I mentioned my first 4-H Club yesterday, the Sandhill Hillbillies, I thought it would be fun to reflect back on my first project – a breeding heifer named Herfy.  I was a scrawny little thing and Herfy was just my size.  I rinsed her and brushed her and led her in a zillion circles around the corral out at the Cox Ranch where my dad worked.  And then fair time came.  I was so excited to take her to the Hooker County Fair!

We were in the check-in line, and I was most likely gawking around and not giving 100% of my attention to Herfy.  One of the big kids had a steer that got loose, knocked me down and put a hoof right in the middle of my back!  I had the wind knocked out of me! But I wasn’t seriously hurt!  Well that “big kid” and I have kept crossing paths during our adult lives – and he is John Tucker, who still raises Herefords in Nebraska.  Well, you should have seen his mom rush over to me – I never will forget that – she was so horrified, but I was fine and with a little ice, and some extra TLC from my family and the Tucker family I recovered just fine.

Well, Herfy was just about as tame as tame could be. And she wasn’t too bad either.  Herefords were the breed of choice in the Nebraska Sandhills in the early 1980s, and I was ready for my show ring debut. Herfy did way better than I had imagined – reserve champion heifer at the fair! (read more about this in an earlier blog: 30 years and a little trophy ago) I was so excited.  And you know what? Through every move, and that’s a lot, I carry that little marble-based trophy with me.  Oh I’ve won other honors and even nicer awards, but that was likely the “hook” that got me into the beef industry. 

I might have been trampled in the check-in area, but I didn’t that get me down!

I want to apologize in advance for the lack of pictures the next month.  Writing these blogs made me realize I need to bring some photo albums from my parents' house.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Kicking off 30 Days of Ranch Life Memories

Welcome to 30 days of Ranch Life Memories.  Thanks to Holly Spangler for the challenge to blog for 30 days about a rural topic. Holly is compiling a list of five things daily about rural life.  Visit her blog:  My Generation I just hope I can remember 30 stories from my days on Nebraska ranches.

Thanks to my great parents I had a pretty good upbringing. We did move around fairly often, but some of my fondest memories are from the two Hereford ranches my dad worked on as a herdsman back in the 70s and 80s --Iodence Herefords at Hemingford and Cox Ranch north of Mullen.  It seems like for the longest time I thought every kid got to ride in a feed pickup with their dad or be with their dad while making fence or just run around on the gravel road.  Those were a little more carefree times. I didn't know what a latch key kid was; we never lead to lock our doors. I thought it was normal to ride a bus that was a four-wheel drive suburban or a little bit later in life to go to a one-room school.  Yes, life was simple.  And life was good.

Since my blog is a place I share my random thoughts and life experiences I thought it would be good to get some of my childhood  ranch memories on paper, so to speak.

And speaking of putting the pen to the paper, I think I always knew I would be involved in communications and travel.  My first words were bye-bye and at my first 4-H meeting I was  elected reporter of the Sandhills Hillbillies 4-H club.  I remember how excited I was to record the happenings of each monthly meeting and submit my report to the Hooker County Tribune.  Think about most 8-year-olds writing --penmanship was not pretty, but later in the year, I started using my mom's typewriter.  I don't think that was very pretty either.  But  there was nothing  more exciting than to see my byline in the news as reporter.  I'm sure the older kids knew there was monthly work and were glad to see  the little kid get excited about writing.

I'll probably talk about 4-H a lot I  the next month because it seems that youth projects and rural living eventually lead to 4-H projects and ultimately careers. 

Today has been just a preview, and I'm excited to share more ranch life memories with you in the next month. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The 30-day Challenge

I’ve been a little absent from this blog lately – I did a great job capturing my trip to Israel this April – and am thankful to have the blog to go back and visit.  But then May hit.  I turned 40. Resigned from a 15-year stint at American Angus Association. Listed my house. And moved to Illinois to start the next chapter.  And with that new chapter came a lot of newness:  commute, job, renovated farm house, state fair and a crazy life, including Stan and Holly.  But I’ll catch you all up on that later.

The 30-day challenge is posed by my friend and one of the greatest writers I know, Holly Spangler.  Each November, she blogs daily with a theme in mind, and encourages others to do so too.  Holly is a great writer and captures rural Illinois and farm life for so many readers in the Prairie Farmer, and she has inspired me to take this as a way to get back to my “Thoughts on Life” blog.

So, for 30 days, starting Nov. 1, I’ll be recounting my Ranch Life Memories – a blog that discusses growing up on cow-calf operations in Nebraska – both in the Sandhills and in the Panhandle.  Yes, those were the “good ole days” and it will be nice to take a walk down memory lane during one of my favorite months of the year.

Please come back to visit, and  I’ll try to enlighten you a little how I got my start in the beef industry  running around barefoot in the corrals and wrangling cats and cows.  This is going to be fun!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Eat Beef: Convert a Vegetarian

Thank you social media for informing me that it is indeed World Vegetarian Day.  I won’t be celebrating this event, and if you want to, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest.  But the thought of it, triggered my memory to about 10 days ago when I helped the DeKalb-Kane Cattlemen’s Association distribute steak samples at the finish line of the Fox Valley marathon, half marathon and 20-mile race.  Justin Martz and I, along with other volunteers stood at the finish line for nearly five hours, shouting the following as we handed out bite-size samples of fresh off the charcoal grill top sirloin:

 “Zinc, iron, protein, B-12!”

“Refuel and rebuild muscle with beef!”

“Try one of beef’s 29 lean cuts!”

We answered questions about places to buy beef, how to prepare beef, and why the protein in beef is so important to athletes like those we were talking to.

More than once, we heard runners say that they had waited the entire race for their steak sample, or they remembered last year getting to the finish to eat beef or this was their favorite race because they knew there was steak at the finish line.

And more than once we heard the following while bite-size morsels were devoured:

“Oh, I’m a vegetarian, but I do need the protein.”

“I guess I’ll take a 5-minute break from being a vegetarian.”

“It smells so good. Guess I’ll  be a vegetarian tomorrow.”

But the one I liked best was this female runner who took this sample from the plate, put it in her mouth and exclaimed how good it was before asking what it was.  When beef was the answer, she hesitated above a nearby trash can to dispose of the partially chewed sample and said, “It tastes so good, and I’m a vegetarian,” and she kept on chewing!

My point is that so many people claim to be vegetarians, yet when tempted with something that smells great, tastes amazing and offers a definite health benefit, people were swayed.  Now, some people did flat turn us down due to their beliefs and good for them.  However, those who “took a break” from vegetarianism, are probably not that devoted to it.  They chose that way of thinking for different reasons.  But with that charcoal grill and cattlemen grilling fresh steaks behind the finish line – that was the last straw. 

Most of my readers are meatatarians.  And so am I.  Today I urge you to tell your beef story and share the health benefits with someone who is “unsure”…I can tell you the samples we were handing out looked much more tasty than the protein bars!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Life Begins at 40!

Late last fall, I was telling someone how freaked out I was about turning the big 4-0! And that someone, a very special someone, told me 40 would be the best year yet. Well, he was right, because today that milestone came, and my entire life is about to get real crazy in the best way ever.

Friday was a bittersweet day for me as I turned in my resignation to the American Angus Association. Yep, nearly 15 years and three positions later, I'll be departing from the Association on June 13. I love the people--members and coworkers--but it is time to settle down. Time to cease the opportunities that lie ahead. And time to move on.

I'll be moving to Illinois to pursue a career with the Illinois Beef Association, and move to the country. We have the most adorable little house and it is going to be great to have a garden (next year) and be around livestock on a regular basis. I'm so pleased that I can still be in agriculture, and hopefully settle into a state I've considered a second home for years.

I'm so excited! I'm a little nervous; that comes with the change. But I'm mainly happy. Happy to be following my heart.

I will always cherish the friendships I formed, the experiences gained and travels I've had the last 15 years. I will not be gone, just less visible at Angus events and more visible at some other events.

Life begins at 40! Yes it does, and it's gonna be awesome!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Manic Monday

Today in Israel was our "day off" or optional tour day. Still, about 30 people chose to go to Masada and the Dead Sea. We were total tourists today, which is a special day since it was the Memorial Day where the country remembered fallen soldiers since its independence and present. See the half-mass flag on Masada above the Dead Sea. So Masada was a palatial refuge for Herod, whom I am learning was everywhere. It is a ginormous plateau in the middle of nowhere aka the Judean Desert. It dates back to at least AD 74. We took a tram up and down. The thing that amazes me at all these ruins was the engineering and construction involved so many years ago. At Masada, there were detailed bath houses, water cisterns and and churches. The mosaics are amazing too.

After our hike at Masada, it was off to float in the Dead Sea--set in the lowest dry land on Earth. It is so filled with minerals and it is so dense that people can set down and float--and since I'm writing this you know I didn't drown! It was a cool experience, and after floating we gave ourselves mud baths, and with all the good stuff in the mud, it was just like a spa treatment!

Those were our scheduled stops of the day. Next stop, roadside camel rides! I was the first in our group to mount up---just a little taller than a horse! I freaked out when he stood up and kneeled down. The ride was fun, but those beasts are stinky!

On our way back to Jersalem, we made an another unscheduled to climb a point that overlooks the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23), and it was beautiful!

One thing that I'm still amazed by are the small communes along the road called bedwins. Families live in tiny shacks with their livestock. I tried to get some roadside shots.

Tomorrow is our final day, and we will fly home Tuesday night, get home Wednesday, so it might be a day or two before I finish telling my story.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Beginning and the End--A weekend in the Holy Land

I have to catch up a little bit, as I was too exhausted to write on Saturday, which was a wonderful day. We started our day with a trip to Bethlehem, where we all know Jesus Christ was born unto Mary & Joseph in a manger. For those who don't know, Bethlehem is part of the West Bank, Palestinian ruled. There is a huge wall around the city that is inhibited by Muslims and Christians, called the separation wall. As we were approaching border patrol, Rula, our guide said, "It would be better to build bridges of peace."

Our first stop in Bethlehem was the Church of the Nativity, a 4th century church, where Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Orthodox worship. Underneath the altar, is the cave it is believed that Jesus was born in, marked by a 14-point silver star. The 14 points on the star represent the 14 generations from Adam and Eve to Jesus. There is also the stone manger, where it is believed He was wrapped in swaddling clothing. After we stood in line with other pilgrims (aka tourists), more than 2 hours we were in the cave. What a mighty feeling; I don't think I'll think of the Christmas story ever the same again. I also learned that various faiths celebrate Christmas and Easter on different dates. Those of us in Western churches celebrate Christmas December 25, while the Eastern Churches use the Julian Calendar and celebrate January 7, and the Aremians celebrate January 18. Right next to the church is the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Catherine's. We went into this simple and beautiful church and sang "Joy to the World" to listen to the beautiful acoustics.

Next stop, the Shepherd's Field, where the Angel of The Lord proclaimed the Good News about Christ's birth. The field is just a little way East of Bethlehem, and many churches have been built there. These two stops plus a store for shopping were our stops in Bethlehem.

After we returned to Jerusalem from Bethlehem, we made two more stops--the Upper Room and the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. Most are familiar with the Upper Room as the place of the Last Supper. However, two other events of significance happened here--Pentecost and Jesus appeared here to show his disciples his wounds from being hung on the cross.

The Church of Saint Peter was beautiful (ok, all the churches are), and commentates the three denials of Jesus by the apostle Peter. Ther is a dungeon here where Jesus was held captive for one night before going before Pontupius Pilate.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the trip, was not on the itinerary. After dinner, about 11 of us, including Pastors Mitch, Todd and John, made the trek to the Old City of Jerusalem, which has 8 gates. It is amazing to me that the city is so old and contained by these walls. People live there, sell their good there, and worship there. We made a nighttime journey to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is used by multiple denominations, including Armenians, Coptics, Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and others. It was amazing to go out when the crowds weren't there. We went to the top of Calvary, where a group was praying, and we touched the slab where they laid Jesus after the took him from the cross, and prepped him for burial, and we prayed in the Tomb of Jesus. Now this is interesting because, I, along with most Protestants have learned about the Garden Tomb just a short way outside of Jerusalem. However, others believe he was buried in the tomb I prayed in Saturday night. People can choose their beliefs, but we all know He has risen! And we won't find him in any tomb!

Along that note, while we were in the church, Mitch ran into this little Aremian man who also believes Jesus was buried in a cave in the Armenian prayer room, so he took us in there a few at a time and did this ritual where he chanted, took our candles and extinguished them on the cave wall, and dipped them in oil and put the oily end of our candle on our heads (a blessing of sorts). I didn't feel any extraordinary presence there, but like I said, to each their own, and it was kind of cool to experience the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the evening when it is less crowded.

And crowded it was on Sunday morning! Holy batman! We started our Sunday morning at the Pool of Bethseda, Bet Hesda meaning the "House of Mercy." If you recall, this was a series of pools where Jesus performed miracles. I prayed and had my Sunday morning quiet time there. Then our entire group sang "Amazing Grace" inside the Church of St. Anne, who is the mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus. It was beautiful and other groups sang there as well.

Next we went to the Antonio Fortress, the start of the Via Dolorosa, which includes 14 stations. The Via Dolorosa or way of the cross is the path Jesus took from the Antonio Fortress, where they put the crown of thorns on His head, after he appeared before Pontius Pilate. We followed the entire trail to Calvary and the Tomb, which I described above. It was very moving to think we were walking the same trail as Jesus had walked. And it was moving to see other pilgrims actually carrying wooden crosses and stopping to pray at each station.

When we got to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it was of course Sunday, so many groups were worshipping and we couldn't get many places, let alone fight the crowd of tourists. The Armenians were worshipping in and around the tomb, and it was very ceremonial, and I took video on my phone.

After a tasty lunch of falafel, we had two more sites to visit--the Western Wall and the Teaching Steps. Tomorrow is "memorial day" In Israel and the following day is Independence Day, so much of the Western Wall, was secured for a celebration tonight. Security everywhere was high, and we had to wait for our guide Rula to convince the police to let our bus come pick us up as every road was barricaded.

What an incredible journey. I will post pictures in a separate blog since this is so long! Thanks for reading my friends!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Journey to Jersalem

Wow! Everyday in Israel just gets more and more special. Today is Friday, April 12, and we checked out of our hotel in Tiberias and headed to Jerusalem, where we will be until we fly out Tuesday. We made several cool stops today, and saw a lot. Forgive me if I don't write so much today, as I'm still exhausted and overwhelmed by everything I've seen the past few days.

We traveled along the Jordan River between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to Qunram, just about 10 miles south of Jericho. This isolated mountainous dessert area was perfect for the isolationist sect of the Essence to live. These men spent their days worshipping,cleansing and writing...this is believed to be the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were copied. The Essence hid them in jar clays in caves. In 1947, a young shepherd boy discovered the Scrolls in one of 11 caves. They included the Old Testament, minus the book of Esther, and included all 66 chapters of Isaiah. The topography was amazing. Many think John the Baptist once lived in their dwellings. Oh,and about the shepherds--they still exist today, tending their sheep and goats with a donkey and a dog. I tried to take some pictures, but they weren't so great from the moving bus.

Our next stop was the city of Jericho, which is believed to be the oldest inhabited city. We had a buffet lunch,did some shopping (uh oh) and tasted the bananas and the pomegranate juice that is fresh-squeezed. We also stopped by the Sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed. You remember that don't you...Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in the sycamore tree for The Lord he wanted to see. And as The Lord passed his way, he looked up in that tree and said, "Zacchaeus you come down. For I'm coming to your house today." Now that the song is stuck in your head, enjoy!

A street vendor gave me a tiny little banana and it seemed more sweet than most. We had a buffet lunch, and I'm really getting good at eating things I never would at home like couscous vegetables rantoule and other exotic foods. I really craving a diet mtn dew, skimmed and cold milk, steak and bacon. There is no pork over here, and no meat for breakfast and no dairy for the other meals where they serve meat. However, they do have diet coke and ice cream bars at nearly every stop!

Jericho is in one of the Palestine occupied part of Israel. There were definite fences and armed guards at the border checks. Seems so surreal to me.

Our final stop today was in Jerusalem, where we'll be staying the rest our trip. Our hotel is much nicer, the food is better, and Internet is accessible in room, and more reasonably priced! Ha!

We started out at the Mount of Olives, the highest point in the city, and where Jesus would come each year to pray during Passover. Just below the Mount is a Jewish cemetery we visited. Rocks are placed on the graves by loved ones because rocks remain forever, and flowers die off.

We continued the Palm Sunday trail down the Mount and stopped at a beautiful little church (sorry I can't remember name and was so hot, didn't write), that overlooked the old city. From there we went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and that was so moving. It was awesome to think that Jesus prayed in this very garden of olive trees and roses. Right beside the Garden was the church of all Nations. It was sooooo pretty, and built over the rock Jesus is believed to have pray on. Pastor Mitch led a great devotion and we sang one of my favorite songs, "In the Garden."

It has been an interesting and educational journey this far. I miss the familiar, but am learning about not being able to buy a postcard on Friday night because the shop owners are observing the sabbath until sundown on Saturday. I'm learning not to stare so much. And I'm learning that I'm proud to be a Christian.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Life Changing Day in Galilee

Today was amazing! We toured around the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus performed 85% of his public works. Today was an emotional day, in so many ways, and I'm so glad to share my pilgrimage with you.

Our day started with a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm, just to name a few. It was a cool, overcast morning, but the sun did shine eventually. We had a great prayer and lesson by Pastor Cindy (from Savannah), and scripture reading and a testimonial from Vjay, one of the ladies from India. We sang several songs together. I cried. The entire experience was so emotional for me.

Where we docked, we visited our first Kibbett or small commune. There was an ancient boat there, that two brothers found during a drought. It was very well preserved.

Our next stop was one I was really looking forward to--the Mount of Beatitudes. This sets high above the Sea, and is where Jesus delivered his sermon in the Mount. It had a beautiful church and awesome gardens. And lots of tourists.

Next we made a quick stop at Tabgha,where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplication, and turned 5 loaves and two fish into enough food to feed 5,000 and still had some left.

I really enjoyed our next stop--the Chapel of Primacy, which was right along Galilee. This is where Jesus prepared the "last breakfast" for his disciples before ascending to Heaven, and he asked Peter three time, "Do you love me?"

Capernaum was our final stop before lunch--yes, it was a marathon! Capernaum was where Jesus made his home during his ministerial years. We saw Peter's house as well as a synagogue that dates to the 4th Century A.D.

Lunch was served and looking right back at me! We had Saint Peters Fish, which they believe are the fish that he caught, and they cook the tilapia with its head and tail still attached! It was actually good.

And after lunch, was another highlight of the trip. We ended our day at the Jordan River, where I chose to renew my baptism by immersion. We changed into our swimsuits and a provided robe, waded into the River, with the fish, and were immersed. This was extra special for me since Pstor Mitch immersed me. Mitch was our associate pastor, and I went through membership classes with him at Ashland before he moved to the church in Indepence.

It was a glorious day for me and the 40 other people on our trip. We are laughing together, learning together and worshipping together. Know this is my one trip here and I'm taking every opportunity available to me. Will I ride a camel tomorrow? Only tme will tell! Stay tuned for the next installment, coming from Jerusalem!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Pilgrimage Begins

Well, I survived the 10+ hour flight from Philly to Tel Aviv. Lucked out with a window seat so I could get somewhat comfy with my travel pillow and new pink blanket (thanks Lara!). They fed us our choice of pasta or chicken as soon as we took off, and then a breakfast just prior to landing.

Our E.O. ( Educational Opportunity) people were waiting for us at baggage, and all bags arrived, and of course my suitcase lost its handle en route (at least it arrived).

What I wasn't expecting was the 2 hour bus ride to Tiberias, our home base for the next few days complete with Israeli rush hour and summer road construction. The land is rich in agriculture. The have already harvested wheat in many areas and have acre after acre of fields, orchards and green houses.

The above was written under pure exhaustion...we just finished day 1 of our tour of the Holy Land, and all I can say is WOW! And every stop just keeps getting better and better!

First let me say we are staying the first few days in Tiberias, right next to the Sea Galillee. Our pilgrimage began this morning at Caesarea, along the Mediterranean Sea, which is the most beautiful shade of blue. King Herod the Great developed this area into a magnificent harbor. Pontius Pilate used Caesarea as his headquarters, and the Apostle Paul was tried and imprisoned here for 2 years.

Our next stop was my most favorite thus far, and the most scenic --Tel Megiddo, found in the book of Revelation. This place is also known as Armegeddon,the site for a future battle between the forces of good and evil. The word "Tel" means city, and there are layers of cites built here dating back to 3500 B.C. Wow!! And the cities are literally built on top of one another. We saw the ruins of this archeological site, including a grain bin, stables for Solomon's 450 horses, including original feed troughs. Did you know the word "manger" means "to feed" and the manger Jesus was born in, is likely limestone like the one shown here, and not wooden, like it is represented in many Nativity scenes.

The views from atop Tel Megiddo were fabulous! It overlooks such rich agricultural fields in the valley. Like my one new friend Noma said, "reminds you of Kansas, doesn't it?"

The final stop for today was in the city of Nazareth. There we experienced the places of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel visited Mary to tell her she would give birth to a son. Our first stop was at the church of the Annunciation, a beautiful Catholic Church built over what was believed to be Mary's home. The church is so pretty, both inside and out.

The top inscription: An angel appeared to The Virgin Mary
Bottom: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Nazareth means flower, and many of the light fixtures were flowers of some type. Even the domed ceiling is believed to be an upside down flower, with the roots going up to Heaven. Our second stop was at the Springs, where it was believed Gabriel appeared to Mary initially, but she was afraid, and ran home from gathering water. We didn't get to go into the church built over the springs due to a funeral, but it was beautiful.

The top three industries in Israel are
1) tourism
2) agriculture
3) diamond cutting

I'm about to experience number three as our evening adventure (optional) is touring a diamond cutting factory!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Going, Going,Gone

Well, my bag is packed and I'm ready to fly the friendly skies. If you know me, you know that travel is nothing out of the ordinary for me. But the trip I'm about to take will be al new. You see, nextTuesday I'll be landing in Israel for a little vaca.

Yes, Israel.

I'd never really considered it as far as international travel goes. I'd always thought of exploring Australia or Africa. However, last year about this time I saw some information on the church bulletin board, and one of the couples at church encouraged me to look into. So I signed up. Made the payments. And now the time has come to head out.

It hasn't been easy preparing for this trip. Studying up on what I'll see. Preparing for May & June work events, and even packing for the WNAF show in Reno that I leave for the day after I get home. But I'm so excited to visit the Holy Land and see firsthand where so much history has occurred.

I'm going to try to update this site while over there, and post pictures to Facebook as I can. I hope you'll join me on this journey!