The Nativity

For all my belly-aching about being homesick during the holidays, you can't really get more Christmas-y than going to Bethlehem, can you? This trip was fabulous. Here are some pictures in Bethlehem and at the Church of the Nativity.
Stairs down to the original nativity. The church has been built up over it. The main entrance (not pictured) to The Church of the Nativity is child sized so that one must bend down and be penitent upon entering. Or just be a child, I guess.

The believed birth place

The place of the manger

The outer halls of the church.



Michael needed a haircut.  We liked his long hair, but it needed help.
Per custom, I first gave him a mowhawk.  Although it needed more gel...
Also, per custom, Lorena made me get rid of it shortly thereafter.
And there is the finished product.



I have to admit I've had a bit of the Christmas blues creep up on me here and there. Until the season got here, I hadn't really considered all the things I would miss by living in a country that does not celebrate Christmas. How completely ironic considering this is where Jesus lived! Anyway, I read that there was actually a little Christmas festival in Nazareth. I figured that was just what we needed to feel the Christmas spirit so Rob took off work early and we made the drive. I even kept a decently good attitude when we got stuck in traffic. I wasn't a fan that it added an extra 40 minutes and made us take nearly 2 hours to get there, but then I contemplated Mary's journey - about twice the distance, while pregnant, while riding a donkey. And that sort of put the traffic into perspective. And makes me understand why she had her calling and not me.
Look at the smile on that boy! Such a happy little goof.
We finally got there and realized that they shut everything down early on the last day of the festival. Everyone was packing up. There was a big tall tree still lit, but that was it and I felt pretty heartbroken. But then comes in the beauty of children. They didn't know what they were missing and were still happy as ever, singing and dancing and wandering around. Michael was as enthusiastic as ever, Ella was as curious and enthralled (with rocks and stairs and such) as ever. And almost nothing ruffles Rob's feathers. My family saves me.
We still got to see Mary's Well and see the Church of the Annunciation (one of three that claims to be where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary) and eat the most scrumptious Arabic food I've had yet. So it doesn't entirely deserve to be filed under "disaster trips" in my memory, but somehow I think that is where it sits. If only my brain were more sophisticated. 


Fifty Nifty

This has become our go-to party trick lately.
He learned it mostly on his own from youtube, because I still can't sing it through without getting stuck somewhere. He has a craze for maps and the USA and songs, so Fifty Nifty was an immediate favorite. I haven't been able to brainwash him into always saying California is the best (in the part of the song where you get to insert your favorite state) - he is a goof and always changes it up and Rhode Island won today (he knows he's being silly). I told him we would get to move the the USA one day and he was all, WOW, REALLY?! As if I told him we'd live at Disneyland one day or something.



Yesterday as I was looking through my purse for some change to pay for something, I remarked out loud that I couldn't find a ten shekel. To which Michael enthusiastically suggested "Mom, you should just use your magic and grab it out of the air!". He seemed rather pleased with his solution. I guess our dinner time games have been convincing.

And a story for Ella, too. Several weeks ago as we were finishing dinner, I got distracted as I was unbuckling Ella's tray. She wiggled it out of my hands and immediately turned it upside down on her head, all the food came raining down on her and with a big, silly grin she declared "hat!". She had us all cracking up. Two of her favorite words are "funny" and "silly" and boy does she have both of those qualities down pat.


Thanksgiving in Jerusalem

We took a half day trip to check out some of Jerusalem's old city. It did not disappoint! Besides all the cool sights, we lucked out on some Bar Mitzvah parties. I learned that Thursday morning is one of only three acceptable times that a Jew can have a Bar Mitzvah. Here it is tradition for the party to dance and sing and drum their way through the old city. Some people hold a fancy tent/cover/shade thingy above the special boy as they parade over to the Western Wall. We scored some candy as they partied past us. (Which really helped us out when Ella got fussy on the drive home.)
At the Dome of the Rock.
The Western Wall. Ladies must approach it from one end, men on the other. The line of people are men and women congregated on the fence that divides the two, standing on chairs to talk to each other over the fence. Cracks in the wall are all filled with prayers written on paper.
The interplay between multiple different faiths and all the history of these sites is so fascinating!

The stroller was a terrible idea. We usually anticipate stairs and choose the Baby Bjorn....oops. Stairs everywhere.


Recent stuff

Tonight I went to pick up Michael from his friend's house, several minutes drive from my house. About 10 seconds down the street cars were stopped still in an endless line as if there was an accident or something impossible to go around. I turned to take a different route, only to quickly meet up with the same grid-lock. Like a parking lot. This was on streets that I've never even seen real traffic. Tried a few other routes and met up with the same scenario. Then I heard the name of my street on the radio, amidst Hebrew so I had no idea what was being said except for I was certain that the apocalypse must be starting right there half a mile from my house. A terrorist had bombed a bus in Tel Aviv a couple hours earlier and so my mind was wandering...maybe something happened here too? Rude driving was going on. A van tried to squeeze in on my right where there was no lane, trying to eek past me. Of course I'm like, what the h#!!?! And as I looked over to the car with that expression on my face, I saw a man who gave me the most evil I'm-going-to-kill-you look I have ever been flashed, and in the same instance saw a huge chain saw sticking straight up into the air next to him. A FREAKING CHAIN SAW!
So I kindly offered him the spot in front of me, via his non-existent third lane.
The boring end to this story is that after 45 minutes of "driving", I turned back home (it took about 3 minutes once I was able to turn around), put on my running gear and took the jogging stroller to pick him up. It was amazing how light it was without Michael, and Ella kept screaming with delight "Fast! Fast!". It only took 15 minutes, I passed all those cars as quickly as I was passing houses, and my smugness was so delicious I could taste it. These are the instances I LOVE that I love to run. I had visions of what it might look like if there ever really was a mass exodus and my vision of us escaping by bike with the kids trailer attached made me happy to think about.*
Apparently the insane traffic was because IDF was stopping cars trying to find the bombers.

Unrelated, yesterday Rob actually witnessed the crazy guy who attacked the guards of the US Embassy with a pick axe.

We are happy to hear the cease-fire deal. My hopes are high, but expectations low, considering that there have already been numerous rockets launched into Israel from Gaza since the cease fire. I guess they aren't coming from Hamas, but it certainly doesn't make it seem like the most effective deal ever made.


Since this is already long, I'm can't help going pointing out some lameness about the news reports. From a report in BBC about the bus bombing:
The US "strongly condemns" the bus bombing, Mrs Clinton said.
Thanks for that nugget, BBC!

The Ichilov medical centre in Tel Aviv said that of the 28 injured, 10 had suffered "body injuries" - three of them serious - three received "moderate-light" injuries including shrapnel wounds and burns, and the remainder were suffering from "anxiety". 
Is BBC seriously humoring whoever decided to call anxiety an injury? Honestly!? I'm sure the anxiety is dreadful. But not an injury. Come on now. All the spin that both sides are trying to put on every aspect of this war is ridiculous. 

*Dear Anna - it's kinda like the homeless survival game.


So, about that little spat in Gaza...

For those wondering: yes, air raid sirens have gone off in Tel Aviv, but the rockets keep landing in the ocean. Luckily, HAMAS isn't very good at aiming. Also, we live about 8 miles north of Tel Aviv, so the sirens have not gone off in our town.  On the plus side, the weather is still warm and the beach is still nice!

In short, while you should be constantly thinking about how awesome we are and how much you miss us, you don't need to worry about us- yet!


Rockets, rockets, go away

Thanks to everyone who has been checking in on us during this mess!
Surely, having rockets launched at Tel Aviv feels a bit disconcerting; however, we are really, truly 100% fine here.
On an entirely personal level, the only ways this has directly affected us has been Rob working lots of overtime, a cancelled football game, cancelled church, and an email inbox full of security notices from the embassy and loving concerned notes from friends and family. On the most selfish of levels, I hope the fighting deflates quickly so that I can enjoy Rob more at home. I love what he does for work, but more between the hours of 8:00 - 5:00.
Not that I am unfeeling about the greater impact of it all - it's been a somber past couple days and I feel for all the Israelis and Palestinians who are greatly affected by the conflict. But if I hadn't talked to anyone or read anything or watched anything, then I would know no difference in my world. The sirens have gone off in Tel Aviv (Rob hears them at the embassy and heard an explosion in the sea), but we live in a suburb just to the north, supposedly just out of range of rockets from Gaza. So no sirens here. It can sound scary but at the current level it isn't really (in my little world, I mean). The rockets are terribly inaccurate and mostly land in the sea. If it isn't going to land in the sea or open land then they can be intercepted. They have launched hundreds of rockets and only 3 civilians have died, much south of here where it is in better range. Hamas doesn't have the most advanced warfare and aren't going to get very far unless others get involved. To me, that is the real concern - that this could escalate into something bigger. But unless that happens, things are totally fine (for an American family abroad, at least)! And if it does happen, I guess we could be home early. The next few weeks could be telling. But I must say, I really love it here so I hope that does not happen! We finally just got our household shipment a couple weeks ago and are starting to feel settled in to the activities of our new life. The weather has cooled down to perfection in the 70's (mid-20 C), and life is good.
So, don't be scared by the news - they report on the sensational stuff and not on everyday life in a suburb. Maybe you don't want to visit next week, but once this settles down a vacation here is still a great idea!
p.s. Apparently Rob and I decided to post about this at the same time...we so fit the stereotype of what a guy has to say about something versus a girl!


Guess who just won night duty

Ella has a cold and was fussy going to sleep tonight. After many long attempts to get her settled, I finally put her down. She started crying right away, so Rob came in to take a turn. After just a minute she started to squirm away and declared, "Bed! Sleep! Goodnight." He put her down and we haven't heard a peep since.
Rob just won night duty from here on out.


The Frog and The Butterfly

This butterfly was hard to catch still on camera...almost all pictures were blurry.
The International School here put on a pretty awesome halloween party on a street where many diplomatic families live. Although it wasn't completely closed off to traffic, costumed kids, adults, music, dancers, and decorated trick-or-trunk cars still ruled about a kilometer long stretch of a street. I think (?) most American embassies abroad have a Halloween party at the offices of the embassy, and while that is fun, it still felt really good to get out and do it American style, outside walking the street with masses of other party-goers.
Kermit and his Pirate friend loved holding hands all weekend she was visiting. Watch out Miss Piggy.

Hi-ho, this is Kermit The Frog.

The butterfly clung to me for dear life all night long, but seemed to love it from the safety of my arms.

After about an hour of trick-or-treating, a tired Kermit actually told us he was ready to go home. A surprise to me, but he has gotten a lot more self-aware lately.

Sharing the loot at home.


Kid talk

I am especially energized about my life as a mother lately. I think it is so exciting to see my kids develop and to get to be their teacher. I am so proud of them. I am always happy to get them to bed each night (ahhh, stillness), but then as soon as I do, I am looking forward to the next day I get to spend with them. Although I wouldn't mind it if they'd let me set the opening hours. Anyway, here are some things I want to record about them lately. It's a bit much, well, a lot much, and still I have to admit that this is the shortened and toned down (they enthrall me) version of what is in my head.

I'll warm up with some stories about Michael's sense of smell. He could survive in the Amazon with that nose. Today we were eating breakfast and there was some red peppers in a closed jar left out on the table. He goes "Mommy, I don't like eating while I smell that", and pointed to the closed jar. (I sniffed right against the bottle and couldn't smell a thing.) I put it in the cupboard, and he goes "Ah, that's better. (Breaths in) Now I just smell Ella's peaches (over on her tray, also odorless to me)."
If I have ever eaten chocolate within a half hour of being somewhat near him, he sniffs me out. Once I was pushing the jogging stroller and running and eating a chocolate Power bar all at the same time. Mind you, he is sitting in the stroller with a canopy over it, in front of me, upwind as I run. And he goes "Mom, you're eating chocolate. I want some!". Dang. Or he wakes up from a nap 15 minutes after I had a piece of chocolate, sniffs the air a few times and declares "I smell chocolate. I want some chocolate." And there have been so many other instances along the same lines of these stories with his nose that I wonder if I could hire him out to the police.

Michael's bedtime prayers always start with "Thank you for grandma and boopa Davis. Thank you for grandma and boopa Candrian." Tonight he surprised me with something along the lines of this - "Thank you for grandma and boopa Davis. *whisper whisper* and the big frog that came into the kitchen and ate up all of the food at grandma's house. He just kept eating and eating and didn't leave any left for me (sadness in his voice). And then the frog ran down the stairs and out to the pond and then jumped onto the lily pad....yada yada yada....amen." Upon further questioning, this happened at Grandma Liken's house (no such thing) with a BIG frog named Aiden (also, no such thing) who was both nice and mean (such thing). I'm pretty sure he was remembering a dream.

Michael loves his bearsuit, as always. But lately it is hilarious because he likes to tell other people about it, sure that they will find it as absolutely wonderful as he does. He showed it to a friend of mine and described to her how it was soft and brown and makes you feel good, and then demonstrated how you hold it and put your two fingers in your mouth while patting it against your cheek. He introduces it to his friends who all happen to be older here, and they all pretty much just look at him quizzically. It reminds me how young he still is. Yesterday, as he was playing with some random older kids at the park, he ran over to the stroller, snatched out his bearsuit, and proudly brought it over and held it up to show the kids ("See this? This is my bearsuit."). They started laughing hysterically. I think he just felt confused, especially since they didn't speak english and he was working hard to figure them out anyway. It made my heart ache.

All on his own, yesterday Michael put together a USA puzzle that has every State individually cut out. He is fascinated by maps. I printed out a floor plan of our house and he likes going around seeing what the "map of our house" represents.

Michael also is fascinated by street signs and directions. Here are two fun stories:
A couple weeks ago Rob took Michael into his office as I took Ella to the the embassy doctor. One of Rob's coworkers, wondering how Michael ended up with Rob at work in the middle of the day, asked him how he got there. Instead of replying "mommy took me" or "the car", he gave Rob's coworker the actual street directions.
Today, as we were leaving to go pick Rob up from the airport, I was entering it into the Garmin for directions. Michael asked me what I was doing, and after I said getting directions to the airport, he then replied (hand over my heart!) "to get to the airport, you just go to Shderot Abba Eben, then you get on the 2, and then you take that to the 20 and then get on the 1 and drive through the Tel Aviv city and then you just keep going and going and then the 1 takes you aaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way to the airport. That's how you get to the airport, mommy." The directions were spot on. I was floored. We had never driven there before, and I was putting the directions into the GPS for the first time myself. As I wondered in awe how in the world he knew that, he explained "Uncle Troy told me that's how to get to the airport". Troy's visit was last month.

After trying out multiple dolls and soft fuzzy blankets, at last Ella has found a lovie. She named him Arf. I found him at Ikea and somehow knew the moment I saw him that he was the one she was going to love. It started out as a strong puppy love, but now they are in a pretty deep relationship.
I think kids having a lovie is just sooooo adorable.

At 14 months, Ella's speech just started snowballing like crazy, to where now at 15 months she can easily say hundreds of words, although it is impossible to say exactly how much because she'll say just about anything - even big words like elevator, Benjamin, and helicopter. She is a master at parroting, but she also just busts out with words throughout the day that were not recently said and I never tried to teach.
Here is an example from tonight. I'm letting Michael hold a framed picture of Jesus. She comes over and excitedly says "Picture! Picture!", "fragile", points to Jesus - "Jesus." and then again, "fragile". I think those were all new words today, and I wasn't prompting her or anything. The context is that she must have overheard me talking to Michael about a starfish he broke that was fragile, and about 20 minutes earlier I mentioned in passing (to Michael) that I was putting the picture up high where they couldn't reach it because it was fragile glass. But I don't think I've actually ever directed that word to her.
Ella also says words pretty clearly - anyone could understand most of the words she says.
Here are some words I can think of that I think she said for the first time today (I am just racking my memory for these, I'm guessing there are more if I'd written them down as she goes...but they are popping out all day long) - fragile, picture, Jesus, sunroom, breakfast, fox, hippo, monkey, tray, belly, ouch, eat, eating, bum (Michael was sitting bare-bottomed and she walked over and patted it and happily exclaimed "bum! bum! Pat, pat, pat."), elbow, sunscreen, trashcan, nice, bouncing, tiger, purple, sunbeam.... And she uses them on her own, not only parroting (although she is very good at that). The point is that it seems she can say just about anything, is constantly saying words I had no idea she knew, and I'm sure her spoken vocabulary is somewhere in the several hundred range. I'm no longer surprised as she says new words throughout the day, since it has been like this everyday for the past month, I'm simply getting more and more astonished at the extent of it. As her language began to take off in September, I thought, oh this is fun, I have an early developer. But then she started on this stretch for the last month where she is busting out with 10 - 20 new words every day. And then this last week, two different friends who have worked with children have commented on how remarkable she is, and it just hit me, like, wow, she really is quite special.

I'm also starting to get a lot of comments from people at how understandable she is. She is on the petite side so that makes her seem especially precocious. She definitely has her cute little baby talk with some words, however. Flower and shower are "faow-faow" and "shaow-shaow". She plays a ton with the word water - it can be wawa, wawi, wawis, or water, depending what suits her fancy at the moment. Michael copies her silliness to a T, and ugh, I accidentally copy her too sometimes. I hate adult baby-talk, but she's so dang cute it is hard not to mimic.

She's also starting to use short phrases - "sorry guys" is my favorite one lately. So cute, she says when something happens to her, like she stumbling or bumping. And we had a good laugh when we were driving and Rob had to slam on the brakes and we heard her yell from the back "sorry guys!". There have been a few times when it really sounded like she said a complete sentence...but I'm not sure if it was just myself getting a little overly excited about her early speech development or if I really heard what I thought. But one thing I know for sure she is starting to do is mimic songs and say certain words at the right moments of a song. Or after I sing she will try to sing the song, and even though it is babble, she gets enough sounds right to tell she is attempting to sing and it is adorable.

She calls the letters of the alphabet "A-B's", and when she finds little toy letters around she'll bring it over to me and proudly exclaim a letter of the alphabet (today she saw K on the ground and exclaimed "H!", or at church she found C in the nursery room and ran into the sacrament meeting with it proudly proclaiming "D! D!") 

Ella loves the beach. She also loves her stroller and can get into it by herself. So lately her thing is to go downstairs, climb in the stroller and alternate between yelling "BEACH! BEEEEEEEEACH!" and then flat out screaming.

Ella is still pretty hard core attached to me. I wonder when the day will come that I can leave her wtih anyone without imminent screaming and sadness. She gets extra clingy to me when Rob comes home because she realizes then I can leave her, even though I usually don't. Lucky me that she has a zest for life and just goes around smiling and babbling and entertains herself most of the time, so at least she is usually good company. She destroys the house sooooo quickly but is so happy with her activities that I don't mind.


A Nice Autumn Activity

Everyday is still in the high 80's, low 90's (generally around 30 C) here. I haven't forgotten that last year we were already breaking out snowsuits, beanies, gloves and boots by this time. We've traded all that for sunscreen and sunhats. I don't even put shoes on the kids when we go to the beach - just throw em in the stroller. is so much easier this way. Funny thing is, I still miss our past life in charming Sweden. And of course the US (I'm not sure which state is "home" anymore). But it's nice to miss it in the midst of this...

I don't know how I will ever come to a solid decision about whether or not we should try to extend our tour here for an extra year. We have to make up our mind already by next month. Yikes!



Monday was another Jewish holiday.  Sept/Oct is awesome in Israel because there are tons of holidays - and we get all the local and American holidays off.  This means I've only had to work one full week since we've been here, and I still have three more four day work weeks coming up.  In total, in my first 8 weeks here, I will have had one full week of work.   So on Monday, we went down to Jaffa.

Jaffa is just south of Tel Aviv.   They are technically part of the same municipality, although Jaffa is older then Tel Aviv.  Is was a historical Arab town that Tel Aviv sprung front, about 100 years ago.   Not to get too historical, but basically a bunch of Jews moved north of Jaffa, into some sand dunes, and started Tel Aviv.  Roughly 100 years or so later, and there you have it. 

Jaffa definitely had more of a Middle Eastern feel to it (at least what I imagine other places in the middle east to feel like - without the protests or riots or jihad, so that was nice...) 

On a funny work note, we actually had a demonstration outside of the Embassy this week.  No need to worry about it being  a Libyan or Egyptian style protest, though.  It wasn't even an actual protest, since the group showed up to show their support for the United States and their appreciation that the U.S. is a supporter of Israel.  When my State dept. friends tell me that this is the "Middle East Light" they really are right.

On to the pictures:

 Ella and Michael sitting on an old cannon.  They thought it was awesome.


Yom Kippur

I'm really loving all the extra days Rob gets off during the Jewish high holidays. I'm also finding everything I'm learning about the Jewish faith quite fascinating as well. They have some really great practices, including a 10 day repentance period from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur where they try to reconcile with people they may have wronged and set things right in their lives.
Yom Kippur is considered the holiest of Jewish holidays, and in Israel even secular Jews observe it (sort of, at least). No one drives a motor vehicle. All shops and businesses are closed. We found when we went to the beach that even the elevator was closed! What made it all especially cool is that because everything is closed and there are no cars on the road, people take over the streets with bikes and rollerblades. There was a quiet over the city, and yet when we went outside, it was alive with children and teenagers and adults in the streets. Kids everywhere were forming little bike gangs and riding around having fun. Michael thought it was pretty cool to ride his bike in a lane like a car. It felt magical at night and we couldn't help but stay out a little late.

 During the daylight hours, my brother Troy (yay, our first visitor!) and I rode our bikes on the freeway to downtown Tel Aviv, just for kicks. Having everything shut down and the streets wide open with people truly made it feel like a special day. What an awesome tradition!

 We thought the beach might be crowded, since everything else is shut down, but I guess since no one can drive to get here it was pretty much deserted. Moreso, I think most people were probably pretty busy feasting after their long fast.


Michael's Bday

Michael's third birthday got a little overshadowed by our move. My strongest memory of the actual day centers around the worst grocery shopping trip of my life that took - seriously - four hours. (It involved an ridiculously overcrowded store, trying to figure out what to buy in Hebrew, Michael getting mauled by five-ton shopping carts pushed by some pretty aggressive shoppers, and losing the car in the parking lot.) At the end of the day we did end up going to one of the most amazing parks ever and eating some cake, but I still felt bad about the bad part of the day. So I figured I'd try to help him make some new friends here by throwing him a birthday party 10 days later, once I could manage it.
 He was happy as a lark. We did a treasure hunt, beach ball tag, and a played in a room full of balloons. I'm sad I didn't take a picture because it was pretty awesome. We have a small sunroom where I rigged three table clothes to hang a couple feet over their heads and we loaded them up with balloons. They had fun hitting it with long balloons from underneath to knock them out and then played around in a room full of balloons. It was really fun the night before to watch SNL while blowing up all those balloons. I got super light headed and the jokes have never been funnier.
Of all Michael's birthday presents, I think he has spent the most time playing with the abacus. It's like he is kissing up. It makes me so happy that he has such interest to do math with me. He has always had a natural fascination with letters and numbers so he knows a ridiculous amount (I think) for his age.


Happy 60th, Old Man.

My Dad turns 60 today.  What an old man.  For his 60th birthday I took him and his namesake to some Giants games.  Unfortunately, we somehow forgot to take a picture of all three of us at the games - probably an unforgivable sin to my Mom.  Oh well.  I'm sure it wasn't the last time that 3 generations of Candrian men will hang out at McCovey Cove.  Whenever I ask Michael who his most favorite person is in the whole entire world, he either says "Boo-Pa" (his nickname for my Dad) or "Daddy and Boo-Pa."  Either way, it's a good answer. 

So here's to another 60 years of Giants games and being your grandsons favorite person in the whole entire world (you are pretty high on my list too). 

Happy Birthday Dad.



Amen, George Will. Usually we just post pics of the kids, but this article spoke to me.  This is how I'm going to run my campaign in 2032.   Pretend that the voters are actually adults.

Act like grown ups.



Today and tomorrow Israel celebrates Rash Hashana, the Jewish New Year. So we used Rob's day off to take a morning excursion to Caesarea. Just a half hour drive up the coast, we could go explore the ruins and still be home in time for naps. So, sort of like vacation only way easier.
(Caesarea was built by King Herod from 22 - 10 BC.) 

Michael was in a monkey's paradise, climbing all over the place. I found balancing along walls and climbing around pretty compelling, too. 

Here is part of a massive arena where they used to have horse and chariot races.


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