Israel: The Dead Sea, the Mount of Olives, the Judean Desert, and Masada

The last day spent in Israel found me floating effortlessly in the super-salty Dead Sea. Looks relaxing, doesn’t it? So why do I have a frown on my face?

See that mud on the bottom of my foot? I had to slip and slide through a shoreline of that gooey stuff to get to the buoyant waters. Once in, though, what I had read of floating in the Dead Sea proved true. A person can lie back (if you don’t mind getting your hair wet) and relax. The salinity of the Dead Sea is so high no swimming is needed to stay on top of the water.

In fact, the Dead Sea is saltier than any other body of water on earth. With a concentration of 34% salinity, it is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean. Due to the high salt content of the water, no living organism can survive in the sea, hence the name, the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is also famous for being the Earth’s lowest place. At its deepest point, it is over 2,300 feet below sea level.

Not only is the salty water full of minerals that are supposed to be good for your body, but the mud is also considered curative. You are advised to slather yourself with that slippery stuff and let it dry. I tried, but can’t say I consider the Dead Sea the Fountain of Youth. A partial mud bath did bring a smile to my face, though.

I’ve started with the end of my last day in Israel before crossing the border to Jordan. Let me back up and start at the beginning.

A visit to the Mount of Olives, one of Jerusalem’s seven hills, was a morning highlight. Jesus often retreated here to pray. The Book of Acts describes the Mount of Olives as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.

The Mount of Olives also provides a panoramic view. In the photo below, Old Jerusalem with the easy-to-spot Golden Dome is within the walls. Outside the walled city is also interesting. Notice the rectangular tombstones in the foreground of the picture. These mark an exclusive Jewish cemetery that’s over 3,000 years old and holds approximately 150,000 graves. It is considered the largest and holiest Jewish cemetery in the world.

From Jerusalem, we drove through the Judean Desert. Looking out the bus window at the landscape, I thought of Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. (Matthew 4:1-2)

Still Jesus denied Satan, who told him to turn the stones into bread.

After riding through the Judean Desert, our tour group arrived at Masada, a ruin of two fortified palaces that once served as a retreat for King Herod the Great. Masada is famous because of its military history. It was the site of the last stand of the Jews against the legions of Rome almost two thousand years ago at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War.

According to the first century historian Flavious Josephus, rather than surrender to the Romans, the Jews committed mass suicide. A television miniseries titled Masada, filmed in 1981 and starring Peter O’Toole, depicts this ancient story.

Today, you have to use your imagination to picture the once grand palaces and the elaborate fortifications.

Some of the original painting is still there. The colors remind me of those found in American Colonial homes. The black line is significant. What’s below it is original; what’s above it has been restored.

There were two ways to reach this mountaintop ruin: a long snaky path under the hot desert sun for walkers or a cable car ride from the visitor center that got you there in a matter of minutes. Guess which I chose?

My last day in Israel was a mixed bag of the religious experiences of the Mount of Olives and a drive through the Judean Desert, a historical tour of Masada, and the touristy adventure of floating in the Dead Sea.

The next day, I crossed the border to Jordan.

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Israel: Jerusalem

I spent Easter Sunday in Jerusalem, and it was my favorite day of the entire trip to Israel and Jordan. So many holy places to see: the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary’s birthplace and her tomb, the Upper Room, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the Stations of the Cross, and the tomb of King David. Many of these places were within the walls of what is called the Old City of Jerusalem.

Before visiting all these Christian holy sites, though, the first stop of Easter Sunday was at Yad Vashem, the Israeli holocaust museum. Outside, there’s a section dedicated to those who aided persecuted Jews during World War II. Remember the movie Schindler’s List? I wasn’t surprised to see this plaque for Oscar Schindler and his wife.

This statue depicts a man named Janusz Korczak, a Gentile, surrounded by the Jewish children of his orphanage that he refused to leave. All were sent to the death camp at Treblinka in 1942.

There was a group of Israeli soldiers at the museum, no doubt learning more about the history of the Jewish Holocaust. Notice the female soldiers. All Israeli citizens, regardless of gender, are required to join the military at age eighteen. Men serve for a little under three years while women serve for approximately two years.

After Yad Vashem, the rest of the day was devoted to visiting holy sites. The Garden of Gethsemane seemed a peaceful place on this Easter Sunday, quite unlike the time Jesus spent there awaiting his arrest and crucifixion.

The Church of the Agony, built at the foothills of the Mount of Olives, contains a large flat stone thought to have been the place Jesus spent praying the evening before his crucifixion. Above the stone is a painting depicting this scene.

Although the New Testament says nothing about Mary’s birthplace and her childhood home, records from around AD 150 place the house of Mary’s parents in Jerusalem. The Church of St. Anne has a flight of stairs leading to a cave that is thought to be the site of the Virgin Mary’s birthplace.

The location of Mary’s tomb is also controversial. Some believe she is buried in Ephesus, but others think this tomb in the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary in Jerusalem is her final resting place.

The Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper, seemed to me surprisingly light and airy.

The lively Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was a shopper’s mecca.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on the site where many believe Jesus was crucified and buried. The area below this elaborate depiction of the crucifixion is where the cross stood.

This slab of stone, called the Stone of Anointing, is thought to be where Jesus’ body was laid as it was prepared for burial. Many people pray here and lay hands on the stone, asking for blessings.

Not far away from what is believed to be the site of the crucifixion in this church is the location of Jesus’ tomb. There was such a long line to enter that I passed on the opportunity. Also, I liked the idea of the Garden Tomb, which I’d visited a day prior, as being where Jesus was interred.

But the exact location of where the cross stood and where our Lord was buried doesn’t really matter. On this Easter Sunday, I was sure he had arisen.

The Wailing Wall, believed by Jews to be the Western Wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, is a sacred Jewish site. The Second Temple was destroyed (as Jesus foretold) by the Romans in AD 70.

Men and women have segregated sections of the wall for prayer. Male visitors must wear either a Hasidic Jewish hat or the yarmulke. Those without (such as my husband) are given a yarmulke to wear before being allowed to enter the male-only side of the wall. Many visitors to the wall tuck prayer requests written on scraps of paper into the cracks.

We tourists were told to dress respectfully on the days we visited holy sites. Knees and shoulders needed to be covered. I often took a long scarf to cover my t-shirt and wore my below-the-knee jean skirt.

According to our guide, some sites in Jerusalem claiming the presence of Christ may be based more on folklore than the Bible. For example, below I have my hand in an indentation supposedly left by Jesus as he leaned against the wall for support on his walk to be crucified. Am I covering the handprint of Jesus? Probably not. Notice I’m standing upright, as Jesus, beaten and under the weight of the cross, would have been bowed.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa, are marked in the Old City of Jerusalem. These stations supposedly highlight the path Jesus walked as he carried his cross to the location where he was to be crucified. Since the time of the Crusades, pilgrims have followed this route of Jesus’ agonizing journey to his crucifixion.

Station VI below is where, according to legend, a woman named Veronica reached for Jesus and wiped the sweat from his forehead with her veil. Later, she was surprised to find the imprint of his face on her veil.

A final holy site of the day hearkened to the Old Testament: the tomb of King David. This is another site especially revered by those of the Jewish faith.

I feel blessed to have seen the many holy sites within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Still, one image that will stay with me is that of the prevalence of armed Israeli soldiers.

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Israel: Jerusalem and Bethlehem

For me, the days spent in Jerusalem and Bethlehem were the highlight of my trip to Israel and Jordan. Roman ruins are interesting, but my primary reason for this visit to these countries was to see places mentioned in the Bible. I especially wanted to follow the path of Jesus. Bethlehem, of course, was where his life on earth began.

Bethlehem has been commercialized with plenty of vendors trying to sell you expensive manger scenes and cross necklaces. But it was still an awesome experience to visit the Church of the Nativity, built over the site where Jesus was born. The simple outside entrance is appropriate, I think, for the humble birth that this church celebrates.

Of course, with the church being mostly under the control of the Greek Orthodox, who like glitter and gold, the interior is quite ornate.

Steps lead down to the grotto, the cave where Jesus was born. The spot is marked with a silver star.

Yes, I said “cave.” Like most people, I suspect, I’d always pictured Jesus being born in a barn. But caves were often used to house animals in ancient Israel. In fact, historians of the time describe Jesus’ birthplace as being part of a large network of caves in the area. Wow, I’ll never again look at my nativity scene the same.

A few steps away from the site of the birth is the manger where Baby Jesus was laid.

Back in Jerusalem, just a few miles away, is the Garden Tomb, where many Protestants believe Jesus is buried, with the site of the execution not too far away. “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41)

The entrance to the Garden Tomb has windows through which the soul was believed to depart. Of course, for Jesus no such exit was needed.

It’s hard to describe how I felt stepping inside the Garden Tomb, where many believe the body of Jesus was laid.

Those who believe the Garden Tomb is the location of Jesus’ burial also think his crucifixion took place nearby, where a street runs today as a road probably did in ancient times. Although we sing, “On a hill far away, stood the old rugged cross…,” the Romans crucified people in visible places as an example.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all mention a place called the Skull as part of the crucifixion location. These cliffs, today above a Palestinian bus station adjacent to the area of the Garden Tomb, once had a clearly-defined image of a skull.

A visit to the Israel Museum was also part of this day. There I saw the famous Dead Sea scrolls, parts of which authenticate the Old Testament. These scrolls were discovered hidden in urns in a cave by shepherds in 1947 and are considered one of the most important archeological finds of modern times.

The day ended with an optional excursion featuring a “Middle Eastern” dinner followed by a light show at the Tower of David near the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old Town.

I put quotes around “Middle Eastern” because this was the advertised description of a meal that featured French fries. Incidentally, the fries were a hit for us Americans looking for a break from falafel and shawarma.

The Old City of Jerusalem with its ancient walls was a magical sight at night. Tourists walked along the locals.

The story of Jerusalem was told through a sound and light show at the Tower of David, built during the second century B.C. The history of the city from King David playing his harp to Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of modern Israel was projected on the walls.

I loved being in Jerusalem.

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Israel: Nazareth, Bet She’an, Jericho, and Jerusalem

The fourth day of travel in Israel brought me to an overview of Jerusalem, the city I considered the highlight of my recent trip to Israel and Jordan. The golden globe in the left near the skyline is the famous Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount, the site of the two ancient temples of Judaism, is considered sacred by Jews. Can you see why there’s often religious conflict in this city?

Here’s another aerial view of Jerusalem showcasing the abundance of beautiful white limestone buildings.

I’ve shown you how this day of travel ended, but let me back up and talk about what I saw before arriving in Jerusalem. The first stop of the day was at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, built at the site where the angel Gabriel first appeared to Mary. Here’s how the book of Luke describes this encounter:

“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary…And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. (Luke 1, 26-27; 30-31).

Below on the left is a very fuzzy picture of the well where Mary was drawing water when the angel Gabriel appeared. The slightly less fuzzy picture beside it is shows the two-thousand-year-old steps leading to the well.

I took a better photo of the interior of the Greek Orthodox Church built over this site. Could you imagine attending a church located where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to give birth to the Saviour? The ornate interior is appropriate, I think.

Bet She’an, an ancient city of Roman and Byzantine ruins, was next on the day’s agenda. This site contains some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East. What’s a Roman ruin without an amphitheater?

Here’s what left of the main artery of the city, called the Cardo Street.

On a Biblical note, it was from the walls of Bet She’an that King Saul and his three sons were hanged in 1004 B.C. after their defeat by the Philistines. David laments Saul’s death in 2 Samuel 1:19: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!”

Looking at the ruins in Bet She’an, I was reminded of Shelley’s famous poem, “Ozymandias,” which tells the story of a traveler encountering ruins in “an antique land.” On a remaining pedestal are the words, “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The irony is that nothing around the pedestal remains. Yes, as much as we would like to think otherwise, all things on earth are only temporary.

From these ruins, I can only imagine the once magnificent city of Bet She’an.

On a lighter, more contemporary note, Israel has Coca Cola–and litter–just as we do. I’m not sure what “Old City” I was riding through here, but I was on my way to Jericho.

The Zacchaeus Tree is in Jericho. As my tour group got off the bus, many of the ladies began singing the children’s song related to the story of this tax collector who wanted to see Jesus:

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.” I don’t think a single man in the group knew this song, but then again, how many men have ever taught pre-schoolers in Vacation Bible School?

There is some speculation that this tree may not be the same one Zacchaeus climbed, but tests have shown this sycamore is over 2,000 years old.

Jericho is located in the Palestinian Authority lands of the West Bank. I had a moment of concern as I walked past this sign with the P.L.O. letters in the lower left corner, but our busload of American tourists got in and out of Jericho with no problems.

The day ended with checking in at a hotel in Jerusalem, our base for the next three days of exploring Israel.

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Israel: Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River

Day Three of my recent trip to Israel and Jordan included visits to several important New Testament sites, including the Jordan River.

This baptismal site on the Jordan River was actually the last stop of the day. Capernaum, the place where Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick, including Peter’s mother-in-law, was first on the agenda.

These ruins in Capernaum are what’s left of the temple built in the third century over the synagogue where Jesus taught while in the town. Jesus chose Capernaum as the center of his public ministry in Galilee after he left Nazareth.

The disciple Peter lived in Capernaum with his wife, daughters, and mother-in-law. It’s likely that Jesus resided at times with the family. The Statue of Peter with the Sea of Galilee in the background commemorates Peter’s connection to the town.

Near Capernaum is the location of the Sermon on the Mount. As with the temple built over the site of the synagogue where Jesus taught, there is a church at the likely location of this famous sermon. It’s appropriately named The Church of the Beatitudes and was built in 1938.

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him…” (Matthew 5:1). More meaningful to me than the Church of the Beatitudes is the surrounding area, a setting much like the one where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

“And he opened his mouth, and taught them saying,” (Matthew 5:2)

This excavated and restored two-thousand-year-old boat in a museum near the Sea of Galilee is much like one Jesus and his disciples would have used in their travels. In fact, a sign declares that “mystery” surrounds the boat. Was it a boat Jesus used or simply one owned by a fisherman?

I can picture Jesus and his disciples on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. I can imagine Jesus in these surrounding mountains when he needed time alone with God.

Although miles away from where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, this site on the Jordan River draws those wanting to be baptized or rebaptized in the same river as Jesus.

My husband and I stood with our good friends in the waters of the Jordan River. It was yet another spiritual experience on a day spent following the footsteps of Jesus.

In my next posting, I’ll talk about the journey to Jerusalem.

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Israel: Caesarea, Haifa, and Acre

When you’re in Israel, you never forget you’re in a Jewish state. All you have to do is look at the Star of David on the country’s flag. Not the American idea of the separation of church and state, but after all, modern-day Israel was founded in 1948 as the Jewish homeland.

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The prevalence of mezuzahs on the doorposts of different Israeli hotels was another sign that I was in a Jewish country. The mezuzah symbolizes the parchment on which the verses of the Torah are inscribed as well as the container which holds the parchment. The mezuzah is a reminder of the believer’s covenant with God and a declaration that the person who dwells in this residence lives a Jewish life.

Imagine a religious symbol like this beside a door in an American hotel.

But on to the second day’s excursions of this trip I took to Israel and Jordan. Other than Italy, Israel has more excavated Roman ruins than anywhere in the world. This fact is not surprising since the Romans ruled the area for 400 years. The ancient city of Caesarea Maritima is one such example of extensive Roman ruins.

Built by Herod the Great two decades before the birth of Christ, Caesarea was in its time a major port city of the ancient world and a luxurious city for the ruling Roman elite. But like many ancient cities, it was eventually invaded. The city was conquered by the Muslims in 640, and then by the Crusaders in 1101.

The ancient city of Caesarea is mentioned several times in the book of Acts. The apostle Paul often traveled through the city. Once when his life was threatened in Jerusalem, he escaped through Caesarea to Tarsus, probably aboard a Caesarean ship. Later, Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea for years, sharing the gospel while facing several trials.

Also, Cornelius the centurion lived in Caesarea. Peter visited Cornelius, converting him, a significant event at a time when salvation hadn’t been available to Gentiles.

What’s a Roman ruin without a theater? Of course Caesarea has one.

The city of Haifa was the next stop of the day. Here the Baha’i estate was the major attraction. Never heard of the Baha’i religion? Me either. Established in the 19th century in Iran, the Baha’i faith teaches the worth of all religions and calls for the unity of all people. There are anywhere from five to eight million believers worldwide.

The beautiful grounds surrounding the shrine of Bab, founder of the faith, were the drawing card. We weren’t allowed to get close to the shrine itself; a guard said it was closed due to Covid.

Haifa is the third largest city in Israel, after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It’s a seaport city, built on the slopes of Mount Carmel and stretching to the Mediterranean. Can you find the Bab shrine and the Baha’i grounds in this arial view of the city?

For lunch this day, I ate shawarma. This famous Israeli dish is made of thinly sliced grilled chicken rolled into a pita with chopped vegetables such as lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and garnished with hummus and tahini. Sounds delicious, I know, and it was the first three times I ate it. By the end of my time in Israel, though, I was shawarma’ed out. This entree showed up everywhere! Every menu, every buffet! One day I had no other option but to eat it twice, at lunch and then again at dinner.

What’s ironic is that, despite the frequent appearance of shawarma, I kept forgetting to take a picture of it. Writing this blog, I texted my travel buddies to ask if anyone else had a photo. (They probably all groaned reading the word “shawarma.”) Rick Adams sent me his photo of a half-eaten shawarma. Thanks, Rick…I guess.

The final tour of the day was to visit the underground Crusader City in Acre, built during the 12th century. It’s obviously above ground now, but like so many ancient ruins, was buried for centuries and then excavated.

Lots of halls, passages, tunnels, and chambers within. This room was a latrine.

This second full day of the tour was heavy on Roman ruins. On to more biblical sites on the third day, the subject of my next post.

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Israel: Tel Aviv, Valley of Elah, Latrun, and Jaffa

I’ve recently returned from a two-week visit to Israel and Jordan, and my mind is still reeling from all I experienced. I’ll take each day of the trip for a separate blog post (with lots of pictures!) and invite you to travel with me as I look back on my time in the Holy Land.

The photo above shows a portion of the ancient walls surrounding the Old City area of Jerusalem. If I had to pick a favorite day, it would be the one spent visiting the holy places within these walls. But more about the sights of Old Jersualem later. I’ll start at the beginning of the trip, Tel Aviv.

Israel is both ancient and new. There are Roman ruins and Biblical sites, but the Israel of today was recognized as an independent state in 1948, only a few years after World War II. Tel Aviv is a showcase of modern Israel as can be seen by some of its architecture, a style called Bauhaus, which features clean, bold lines.

Over 4,000 Bauhaus-style buildings were constructed in Tel Aviv between 1920 and 1940 by German-Jewish architects who fled to the area after the rise of the Nazis.

Here’s an ariel view of Tel Aviv. Notice the crane on the right. The joke goes that there’s so much construction in many of the cities of Israel that the crane has been declared the national bird.

Tel Aviv is located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline, and the weather was beautiful for the two days I was there. No time for lounging on the beach, though, as the first full day was packed with excursions.

A trip to the Valley of Elah was the first Biblical wow moment. This long, shallow valley has been identified, according to clues in the Bible, as the place where David slew Goliath.

There are plenty of rocks at the site. David, of course, would have used one of the smaller ones for the fatal ammunition in his slingshot.

We tourists were told we could pick up a few stones to take home. I chose two, which now rest on my desk in my office, a world away from the Valley of Elah in Israel.

A visit to the Monastery of the Trappist Monks in Latrun was next on the agenda. These monks take a vow of silence, so our presence was ignored.

The monks make wine, though, which is sold in a gift shop. Because of its name, I couldn’t resist buying this bottle. You may recall turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana was our Lord’s first miracle. Incidentally, I’m sorry to say this wine was too sweet for me. I wonder how Jesus’ batch tasted.

The door of the church at the Trappist Monastery was still decorated with palms on the day I was there, the Tuesday after Palm Sunday.

The final excursion of the day was to the ancient port city of Jaffa, which is the oldest part of Tel Aviv. Jaffa is home to a couple of other wow Biblical sites. It was from Jaffa that Jonah sailed, trying to outrun God’s orders, was tossed from a boat, and swallowed by a big fish (many say a whale).

I don’t know whether the leviathan that swallowed Jonah looked as happy as this replica in Jaffa.

According to the book of Acts, the Apostle Peter raised Tabitha from the dead in Jaffa. St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa was built to honor this miracle.

On a historical note, Jaffa was the site of a battle fought between the Ottomans and Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon won. Here our Israeli tour guide stands by Napoleon’s statue. Above the English “Historical Site” is the Hebrew spelling of the words.

Yes, I really did take this trip. (Sometimes I, myself, can’t believe I was there.) I’m posing here beside the Gate of Faith on a hill in Jaffa, with a panoramic view of Tel Aviv behind me. The sculpture represents the gate of entry to the land of Israel. The different inscriptions depict Jacob’s dream, the sacrifice of Isaac, and the fall of Jericho.

My next post will cover the second day of the tour: Caesarea, Acre, and Haifa.

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Springing into Spring

What’s on your agenda this spring? For me, it looks like a return to golf. Sigh.

My husband used a pro shop credit he’d won in a member-guest tournament in Greenville as a partial payment for this lovely set of ladies’ clubs. Golf and I have a mostly unpleasant history. He thinks that can be remedied by new clubs and lots of practice. Sigh.

Incidentally, those glass trophies and bronze statues you see in the background? All his, won in various tournaments over the years. There’s a hole-in-one plaque as well. He’s actually made two. Maybe one day I’ll break 100. Sigh.

Hope springs eternal, though, right? Walking around my yard these days helps me to forget about my lack of skill in the fairway. The azaleas are blooming! It seems early, but then my daffodils were at their peak in February. Are we on an accelerated schedule this year?

I have different types of azaleas, so my yard is a rainbow of colors ranging from pink to white to purple to red. A hodge-podge which reflects my tendency to buy azaleas on impulse. In addition to different hues, I get different blooming times, which helps to stretch the season.

These are just now budding. I wish I could rattle off the names of all my azaleas, the way my mother used to. She knew every species in her yard: Martha Washington, Coral Bells, Hershey’s Red, Snow. These were the traditional assortments. I’ve picked out newer varieties in the nursery, planted them, and then promptly forgot their interesting names.

These old-fashioned snow (?) azaleas are in full bloom. These were here when my husband and I bought the house, so I’m guessing on the name.

Unfortunately, the late frosts killed most of the buds on this lilac formosa-type variety, which dared to try to bloom too early. The same thing happened last year. It seems like this azalea would wise up. Its mate on the other side of the house is in better shape.

My never-say-die dogwood is lovely right now. I bought this tree as a sapling years ago when Home Depot was in Rocky Mount. My husband has cut dead limb after dead limb from it, pronouncing it a goner many times. It always rejuvenates. Given the story of the dogwood, that Christ’s cross was made from its wood, this new birth each spring seems appropriate.

The azaleas and my dogwood are not the only signs of spring in my yard. The blue-black salvia, a perennial, is sprouting. This plant draws the hummingbirds, and I have it in a couple of pots as well as beneath the spot where I hang my hummingbird feeder.

I bought the blue-black salvia at a Master Gardener sale several years ago. I got there late that day, and it was about the only thing left. It looked rather sad, with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree kind of appearance, and had been marked down. From its humble beginnings at that sale, it’s flourished in my yard.

That’s sedum, another hardy perennial that spreads each year, pushing through the pine straw. The deer and rabbits around my house keep the sedum “trimmed” during the summer. Fortunately, these rascals don’t seem to like the taste of salvia.

My emerging hostas, caviar to deer, are safe since I have them inside my fenced-in backyard. So far, rabbits, which squeeze through the slats in the fence, haven’t been interested in hostas.

The flowering quince my middle daughter gave me is showing off this spring. I texted her a picture this week, with the caption, “Blooming! The rabbits haven’t gotten it so far.” Last year, it was nibbled down to sticks before I got smart and put a wire cage around it. I should probably get that cage out of the storage building again this year to prevent another “pruned” plant.

I’m thankful that so much in my yard has bloomed early this year. I was afraid I would miss the azaleas due to an upcoming trip to Israel and Jordan. This tour was booked for spring of 2020 and due to Covid was re-booked for spring of 2021. Israel wasn’t open last spring, so again, there was another re-booking.

I’m hoping this third time is the charm. It’d better be. I’ve started studying.

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Fun and Facts from a Texas Trip

For our 45th wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to two large cities in the big state of Texas: Austin and San Antonio. We were in for a lot of fun with a dose of history.

We flew first to Austin, the state’s capital. I’d booked a hotel room downtown, within walking distance of all we wanted to see. I didn’t realize until we checked into the Driskill that it’s a hotel with a history.

Built in 1886 by Colonel Jesse Driskill, a wealthy cattleman who spared no expense, the Driskill was known as the finest hotel south of St. Louis. Sadly, Colonel Driskill soon lost his hotel in a high-stakes poker game.

Today, the place is supposed to be haunted by a number of ghosts, including the Colonel himself, who allegedly makes his appearance known by the smell of his cigar smoke. On a less spooky note, the Driskill was also a favorite hotel of Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson. The story goes they had their first date there at the Driskill Grill in 1934.

The Driskill Hotel today
Us in front of the Colonel’s portrait

From the Driskill Hotel, we walked down historic Congress Avenue to see the Texas State Capitol. There, we encountered a demonstration at the edge of the Capitol grounds. A passionate crowd with anti-Putin signs protested the invasion of Ukraine.

The Capitol Building, like Texas itself, is big and showy. Inside were portraits of Texas governors, the most famous being Sam Houston, Ann Richards, and of course, George W. Bush.

Austin is known for its live music scene. (Maybe you’ve seen Austin City Limits, the longest running music series in television history.) Sixth Street, lined with bars featuring all types of musical performers, is the epicenter of what’s happening. It was a short walk from the Driskill, so once the sun went down, we were off to find the tunes.

My husband and I were definitely part of the older crowd packing the music venues, but we had a great time listening to country and rock while also people watching. I’d heard Austin is a popular bridesmaids’ weekend destination, and I saw the proof.

After three nights in Austin, we moved on to San Antonio, an hour south. Our first item on the agenda there was to see the Alamo. We’d been warned this site wouldn’t measure up to its depiction in the movies (true), but it was still awesome to stand within its walls and imagine that motley group of men, vastly outnumbered by Santa Anna’s army, who fought and died for the freedom of Texas.

San Antonio is also known for its River Walk, and I’d picked a hotel with easy access to this attraction. We took the lazy boat ride through the channeled waters and walked the surrounding streets filled with restaurants. We were true Lone Star tourists eating lunch at a restaurant called The Republic of Texas where we drank an Alamo beer.

Our riverboat guide had told us about a free projected light show at the nearby San Fernando Cathedral, one of the oldest Catholic churches in America. Watching scenes of the history of San Antonio flicker on the ornate facade of this historic church was a nice way to end our final night of the trip.

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A Different Kind of Valentine’s Day Gift

Counting courtship and marriage, this guy and I have celebrated a half century of Valentine’s Days. During that time, I can’t remember a year when he didn’t buy me something on February 14, usually the traditional gift of candy or flowers. This year, though, I received a different kind of present.

I’m trying to lose that stubborn five pounds that has crept on and seems to want to hang around, so as much as I love a box of chocolates, especially a Whitman’s Sampler, I asked, please, no candy this year.

I’m too old for teddy bears, and besides, I have an attic full left over from the childhoods of three daughters. My husband knows not to bring home any more stuffed animals, cute though they may be.

I love cut flowers, especially roses, but a bouquet often lasts only a few days. I felt fifty years of spending Valentine’s Day together needed something a little more permanent than a dozen roses that would all too soon turn brown around the edges, droop, and die.

“I know what I want for Valentine’s Day this year,” I announced last week to my husband. (When you’ve been married as long as I have, you speak your mind.) I want a camellia bush planted in the left corner of the back yard near the storage building.

Today, Valentine’s Day, we went to Allen’s Nursery, where in Greenhouse #8, I found a camellia bush with a single red bloom. This afternoon, my husband planted it in the spot I designated.

I hope to look out my kitchen window for many years to come and see my Valentine’s Day camellia bush, maybe full of blooms, a reminder of once celebrating fifty years of February 14ths with this good man.

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