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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Viewing a Snow Day from Inside

What’s not to love about a snow day? If, of course, a person doesn’t have to drive to work or haul a kid back up a hill on a sled. Yep, being old and retired has its benefits. A body can view (and take pictures of) a snow day out the window while staying inside, where it’s nice and warm.

Notice the tiny snowbirds on the ground behind the flag in the picture below. My husband was smart enough to top off the feeders on Friday before the snow arrived. We’ve had fun watching an assortment of birds dashing by for a nibble here and there.

We were even graced by the presence of a cardinal, our state bird, which seemed to dodge having its picture made by eating on the side of the feeders we couldn’t see from the kitchen windows. I guess this redbird knew we weren’t coming out of the house. My husband finally got a decent shot of it sitting on a bare branch of a snowy crepe myrtle with our neighbor’s house in the background.

The side yard was just as lovely as the backyard. The snow on the bird bath looks like a giant plastic bottle cap or maybe a fancy white tablecloth. This would be good place to scoop off the top layer for snow cream, if I’d ever learned to make it to taste the way my mother’s did. I fondly remember her slushy concoction. My few attempts always tasted like ice with vanilla flavoring.

The stems of rosemary are wearing their winter white quite well, don’t you think?

Part of the fun of a snow day is checking in with others to see how many inches they got. According to one of my daughters, we beat Charlotte this week. She eyeballed her deck there and pronounced only a couple of inches.

My other Charlotte daughter is in Beech Mountain this weekend, where, if it’s January, there’s sure to be snow.

Out my front window, I can see the neighborhood snow-day hangout. There’s a hill, well as much as we have a hill in this neck of the woods, that ends in a cul-de-sac. It’s good for sledding down although there’s no ski lift to bring sledders back up. (See job of parents on snow day in first paragraph.)

Of course before sledding down, if you’re a kid, it’s fun to throw a few snowballs and just roll around in the snow.

Alas, the sun came out for a while, raising the temperature just a little, and the sledders gave their slope a workout. Before long, the once pristine “hill” became a little slushy. Often a snow day in eastern North Carolina is just that, a day. It’s fun while it lasts, though, especially if you can view the winter wonderland from inside the house.

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Please Write a Review

Facebook friends who’ve read my book, please write a review on Amazon. It’s really quite simple.

First, find my book, Life and Death in Narrow Creek, on Amazon. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link:

Now scroll down until you find Customer Reviews on the left. (You’ll see the stars.)

Under Customer Reviews, find the words, Review this product. Underneath is a rectangular box that says Write a customer review. Click on it.

I’ve given you the steps, but you can also just click on Write a customer review (in purple below) to take you where you need to go to review Life and Death in Narrow Creek.

Customer reviews

Review this product

Share your thoughts with other customers

Write a customer review

You’ll be taken to your Sign-In where you’ll need your password. (You must have an Amazon account to leave a review. You probably have an account if you’ve ever ordered anything from Amazon.)

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Now you’re ready to write something. This might be the stumbling block for many folks. It shouldn’t be. Don’t worry about sounding like a professional book critic. Your review doesn’t have to be long or profound. Just be you.

What did you like about the book? Which character(s) were your favorite? Did you like the setting? The writing itself? Did this book remind you of another you’ve read? Be as specific as possible. Try to give someone who’s deciding whether to read Life and Death in Narrow Creek something to go on.

Here’s an example of a review I’ve received:

What a delightful read. This book is filled with small town Southern charm, relatable characters and situations. No matter where you live, someone is always up to something and everyone is talking about it. People want to know “whodunnit and why. Dee Ann makes it her mission to find out. Ms. Dee Ann’s career, as an amateur sleuth, is a funny and often precarious balance of her life as a young wife, mother, teacher and “newcomer” to Narrow Creek. So come sit a spell and enjoy some time in Narrow Creek for another fun and intriguing adventure. You will be glad you did. This second volume is like having a family reunion with some people you are always glad to see and some you wish had stayed home.

Be careful, though, not to give away the ending. Don’t tell who poisoned Floyd!

Above all, be honest and fair. Don’t automatically give a five-star. Four stars are good too. And if there’s something you didn’t like about the book, give it fewer stars, but again, be specific. Why didn’t you like the book? Don’t just call it stupid or boring.

Why am I begging for reviews? Because they matter. Here’s the deal. Nobody is exactly sure, since Amazon guards its data so closely, but some experts speculate that one million new books are published on the Amazon Kindle Store each year. I’ve also read there are 7,500 new Kindle books each day, more than one per minute.

Life and Death in Narrow Creek is up against a lot of competition, y’all. I need to make my book visible. Reviews help do that.

I’m a little (okay, more than a little) jealous of how many reviews Inez Ribustello has for her memoir, Life after Windows. Look at the information on this page at the beginning of her book: 130 reviews and still counting. (I just checked Amazon. She has 261 ratings. I really am jealous now.)

Seriously, Inez is a lovely person and she’s written a great book. She deserves her success. She’s even been kind enough to buy and read both my books and give me a shout-out on Instagram.

So I’m going to channel my jealousy into inspiration. If Inez can get 261 ratings, maybe I can get 50 reviews? If you’ve read Life and Death in Narrow Creek, please take a few minutes and help me reach this goal.

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The Simple Joys of the Season

Amid all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I try not to miss the small things that make the holiday special. For example, I noticed this camellia bush in my backyard blooming just this week.

This plant has a history. My middle daughter, who shares my love of gardening, gave it to me several years ago. It was much smaller then, and it almost didn’t live in the first location I chose for it. Or the second. The third site, fortunately, proved to suit it.

Since this camellia bush was a gift from my daughter, I worked hard to keep it alive, digging it up and replanting it two times. Had I bought it myself, I probably would have written it off as dead in its first location. Looking at it now, though, I’m glad I persevered in finding just the right spot in my yard. The camellia bush is rewarding me by blooming here at Christmas.

Another small Christmas moment, this one funny. Look at this young fellow, one of my grandsons. His mother has reported that not only did he eat all the chocolate candy in his Advent calendar early, he also polished off his brother’s as well.

I know the feeling. I had the same problem rationing that bag of double-dipped chocolate-covered peanuts from Smith’s Grocery. We can only laugh.

This five-year-old is also super-excited about his one big Christmas gift from his granddad and me. Whenever we FaceTime these days (he lives in Charlotte), I have to walk the phone upstairs, flip it around, and show him the package wrapped with “Grinch” paper. The present is so big I haven’t put it under the tree.

I hope he’s as excited once he opens the gift as he’s been about getting it. (In case you’re wondering, it’s some kind of Hot Wheels garage, suggested by his mother.)

Speaking of presents, each year I hang this Chinese good luck knot, once given to me at Christmas by a student at the community college. English was his second language, and he struggled in my composition class. Still, he was always positive, hardworking, and respectful.

It’s not often those of us who teach adults get presents from our students, so I treasure this token of appreciation.

Another simple gift that I cherish hangs on my tree. Early in my married life, some forty-plus years ago, my grandmother handstitched these gingerbread men for me. She was trying to help a young bride with a tight Christmas budget have something to fill up a Christmas tree.

These days, I could certainly replace these humble felt gingerbread fellows, a little ratty now from years of use, with something more elegant. I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

With all the busyness of the season–the parties, the presents, the food, even the family time–it’s easy to lose sight of the true significance of the holiday. A simple cross near the top of my Christmas tree helps keep me centered. I look at it often and remember the words from the Gospel of Luke:

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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