Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Israel: The Dead Sea and Masada

When people ask me what my most memorable experience is Israel was, it is hard to answer. It's like picking your favorite ingredient in a really great sauce. However, the Dead Sea and Masada do stand out among the favorites.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is beautiful.

What you see on the shore is not sand. It is salt. Across the Sea where you see those hills lies Jordan.

The Dead Sea is some 35% salt! There has been a drought for the past five years causing it to become even saltier. In normal years the area, which lies 1385 feet below sea level, receives only some three inches of rain per year.

The Dead Sea is so salty that you cannot sink. Helaine and I both donned bathing suits and waded out into it. You have to wear shoes because the "rocks" are actually chunks of salt and will not only cut your feet but will then "pour salt into the wound."

After wading out, everyone tries to sit down on the bottom. But you can't because you float. It's an unusual feeling to be able to sit on top of the water without sinking!

The Dead Sea was the world's first health spa! Herod used it as such. The mud from the flats and quicksand areas around the Dead Sea are supposed to have therapeutic and cosmetic benefits. I rubbed mud on my bad shoulders and knees. Did it help? I don't know.

There is a great spa at the Dead Sea, called Ein Gedi.
King David is said to have hidden from Saul at Ein Gedi. We ate a sumptuous meal at the spa. Helaine asked if the meal was kosher. The employee rolled her eyes then said, "of course." At the spa we shopped. A cosmetics company has its headquarters there. The cosmetics are made from the minerals of the Dead Sea.

Here is Helaine standing outside the spa at Ein Gedi. The desert is behind her; the Dead sea is in front of her. What scenery!

From the Dead Sea, we drove straight uphill until we reached the Masada.

Here you can see the Dead Sea as we climb up to Masada. There is a cable car. The option of climbing by foot on what is called the "snake trail" is available. Like most, we opted for the cable car.

I love Masada. It is an architectural, interior-design and engineering marvel. It also holds a tragic story within its walls.

The ancient walls still stand.

When you walk through Masada, you feel you have become a part of ancient history.

Herod (also called by some Herod the Great) built Masada between 37-31 B.C.E. One thing you can say about Herod--the man knew real estate! He built the place both to impress the Roman Emperor and as a refuge for himself in case of a Jewish revolt. He used slave labor to build the place.

He had a swimming pool built and baths. In the desert. On top of a mountain!
The slaves would have had to carry water to fill the pool and baths! Herod never got to use Masada.

Here is a bath that Herod had built.

Though Herod had the place built in case of Jewish uprising, Masada is most famous for the tragic yet brave tale of its later Jewish inhabitants. According to history, in 66CE a group of Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of the Roman Empire. After the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), the Jewish rebels fled with their families to Masada and used it as their base for harassing the Roman soldiers.

Looking down from the "top floor" to the "bottom floor."

In 72, the Roman governor of Judaea, Lucius Flavius Silva marched against Masada and laid siege to the fortress. but he couldn't breach the wall. Using what was most likely Jewish slaves, the Romans built a ramp of rocks and dirt against the western face of the plateau.
The ramp is 375-feet high! The Romans finally breached the wall of the fortress with a
battering ram. But when they entered the fortress, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies.

Here is the rampart the Romans had built to get up to the walls of Masada.

Visiting Masada, I was reminded of the tragic history of the Jews whose only desire is to survive, free to worship the one G-d without harassment. And, of course, of the magnificent architecture. Much beauty of Masada still survives. Food stores were found intact!

Here is an oil jug that sits where it was excavated. Many jars still had remnants of oil in them!

Looking down into the living quarters that have been excavated.

No, this is not a rug. This is a mosaic tile floor made to look like a rug. Imagine the man hours it took to make this. But then Herod used slaves. He didn't care about the hours of tedious work.

Yes, I would say that the Dead Sea and Masada were the most fascinating parts of my visit to Israel. But there is so much more.

More later.....

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Our pilgrimage to Israel was wonderful. Here are a few photos that I thought you might enjoy.
One day, we traveled to along the western border. Israel's western border is the beautiful Mediterranean!. The ancient route we traveled was called Via Maris. Via Maris used to link Egypt with the northern parts of Syria and was one of the most important trade roads in the ancient times.
We followed the Roman Via Maris alongside the western shore of Israel, skirting the beautiful Mediterranean Sea.

Here Helaine and Yvonne pose in front
of a Roman wall (aqueduct?) at Caesarea
on the Mediterranean.
Caesarea was built by Herod.

Our trip took us north to the lovely city of Haifa.
Here is a view of Haifa from Mount Carmel.
Haifa is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean
There is a saying: "Jerusalem prays. Tel Aviv plays. Haifa works."

Our travels took us to Acre: the city of Crusaders. In the northern part of Israel, this is an Arab village. Notice the mosque in the background of the ancient well. While there, we had to walk (quickly) through an alleyway where a crowd of men were gathered.
One man had about 20-30 cages filled with CATS! Our guide asked what they were doing. They were releasing the "imported" (and hungry) cats in an attempt to control the rat population.

This is the River Jordan of song and story. The River Jordan is the only river in Israel that has water all year round! These pictures were taken of the river in the town of Tiberias at a spot
called "Yardenit." This Jordan River Baptismal complex attracts Christian pilgrims from all
over the world.

The site is touted as the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
Historians, however, place the event further south near Jericho.

But Jericho is in "contested" territory and not as safe as Tiberias. The tourists don't question it. Thousands come here to be baptized in the River Jordan.

We passed a Bedouin village where camels are available for photo opportunities. I, once again, refused to climb aboard the beasts. They are interesting creatures. The Bedouin no longer use them except for charging tourists to sit on them for photos.

Here is the Western Wall, Judaism's most holy site. The wall stands as the only reminder of the Holy Temple. Here Helaine turns from having prayed at the wall.

Here is a beautiful view of the old city of Jerusalem
as seen from Mount Scopus.
The gold dome is the Temple Mount.
You can see the remnants of the
wall that once enclosed the original

city of Jerusalem. The old city to this day has citizens living in apartments that overlook the Wall. We met a lady who lives in the Old City. She kindly invited us to her home. But, alas, we had no time left to take her up on her invitation. Maybe next time.

The Old City is divided into 4 parts: The Jewish Quarter,
The Armenian Quarter,
The Arab Quarter and
The Christian Quarter.

The walled city is a warren of paths, alleys and "roads." It is a continuous
route of vendors' booths hawking mostly religious wares and "locally and personally" crafted goods. Some of them actually are. Many of them have the familiar label "Made in China." Buyer beware!

The famous "Via Dolorosa" is located in the Old City. The Via Dolorosa is the path that tradition says Jesus carried his cross to his crucifixion. In the Armenian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a sacred place for Christians.
I will post more photos later. Israel is a special place to all 3 major religions. It is amazing to see the Old City. But even more amazing is the rest of Jerusalem and the rest of the country which has been built in just 62 years. The amazing infrastructure of roads and bridges, trains, power lines, sewer systems, and potable water for everyone is awe inspiring. I remember as a child sending money to "plant a tree in Israel." Well, now the trees are grown and there are forests surrounding Jerusalem!

For a Jew, Israel naturally holds a special place. The only Jewish country in the world, some 6 million of the 7.5 million are Jewish. Of the remaining 1.5 million most (16%)are Muslim. A small number (2%) are Christian. The remaining 2% are Buddhist, Baha'i, etc. There are a lot of Baha'i.
While in Israel, never once did I enter a place and have the familiar and uniquely diaspora Jewish feeling, "I'll bet I'm the only Jew here," a sensation that every Jew in American has very often. Visiting Israel was a special pilgrimage. Israel made me feel proud, special, holy and welcome.

I will post more pictures later. The Masada the Dead Sea were amazing.

More later....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Night Visitor

I awoke startled last Thursday night. I heard an intruder. In my sleepy haze, I couldn't quite place where the noise was coming from but I definitely heard things falling over. I listened and heard it again. BOOM!!!

It sounded as if something was smacking against the garage door! Apparently someone was trying to get into (or out of?) the garage. I grabbed the phone and my protector and slowly checked all the windows and doors. Then I crept quietly into the laundry room. Yes. The noise was there. I banged on the door; turned on the garage lights from the switch in the laundry room; and yelled, "I've got a gun. Stay where you are."


Then I unlocked the door leading to the garage and jumped back. Nothing happened. Nothing was visible through the crack in the door.

I snatched open the door and could see the windows were locked and closed and the garage door was down. But staring me in the face from about 10 feet away was a very angry 'possum. I have to admit I was struck by its beauty. The sharply delineated lines of his color were beautiful. And even angry, his eyes, although beady, were very pretty. I liked this animal. But he had to leave. I couldn't have him waking me up every night. Plus, like all feral creatures, the can be rabid. I had to think of the cat, the dog, and my family.

The opossum at the right is NOT 'Ol Sam. Just a 'possum.

Arming myself with a long walking stick, I looked under the car and all around the garage. No 'possum. "Oh, great," I thought. "The one night everyone else is at the beach and I finally have the house to myself, this happens." I assumed he had left.

I was wrong..

The next morning my daughter-in-law and I spent an hour looking for him in the garage. We searched every corner and looked in the top shelves. No 'possum.

That night, well two o'clock in the morning to be exact, the same thing happened again. BOOM! I recognized it this time as the 'possum. I had decided that he was a male and had dubbed him Ol' Sam. Somehow he looked like an Ol' Sam.

Armed with the walking stick, I snatched open the door to the garage and hit the button to open the electric-controlled garage door. I ran around the car yelling. I raked the floor under the car with the stick. No 'possum. This time he had to be gone

The next day I ordered my son to search high and low to confirm Sam had vacated the premises. He hadn't.

Armed with the same, trusty walking stick, my good son found him fast asleep on the floor behind a screen. A very small space only about four inches wide! Son poked him, expecting him to jump up and dart out. Not Ol' Sam.

He became one angry possum. Being nocturnal creatures, the do not like to be awakened during the day. Being of an opposite but equally irritable nature, I understood his attitude at being awakened. Payback is, as they say, hell.

Ol' Sam opened his mouth like a cat does when it makes the battle hiss. It bit at the stick my son used to try to sweep him out of the garage.

After a brief struggle, Good Son, knowing that wild animals can carry rabies and fearing an imminent attack, grabbed a can of wasp spray that was handy and gave Ol' Sam a spray in the face

Better than mace! The 'possum took of at a rapid waddling crawl. 'Possums are slow.

Ol' Sam headed for the woods and hasn't been seen or heard from since. He did, however, manage to consume a lot of cat food during his brief stay. He was the biggest possum I have ever seen in my life. And I have seen many. However, I must confess that most of the ones I have seen were somewhat flat and lying on the side of the road.

I actually miss seeing Ol' Sam. But I do enjoy a full night's sleep

More later....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I cannot believe it is Chanukah again. Once again let me say:

May your dreidle always land on Gimel.

May 2010 bring peace to the world.

May we all know joy and love in the coming year.

May whichever holiday you hold dear
Bring fulfillment of the promise of your faith.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Homesteading: Making it Pay

Someone asked me to follow up with a return-on-investment for my 2009 summer garden. The life of a homesteader, even a kitchen gardener, is a life of chance. There is a chance that the elements will be favorable and a chance that the elements will not.

The summer of 2009 was not a good one for farmers and gardeners in this area. A sudden, violent rainstorm dropped 19 inches of water onto my garden just as it was going good. The rain beat down many healthy plants and drowned many others. Most of the butter beans and all of the okra rotted in the field before they had a chance to produce a crop.

Then, before I could recover from that, a heat wave destroyed almost all of the corn crops and my daughter-in-law and I had to scramble to get the potato crop in before it, too, was ruined. We salvaged about half of the potato crop. I did manage to eek out the can-equivalent of the following.

Veg/ INVESTMENT Can equivalent *Cash-equivalent Profit

Potatoes $6.00............95 lbs. .....................$47.50............$41.50

Corn $4.50..................17.............................$16.15.............$11.65

English Peas $0.45......8..............................$6.00..............$5.55

Okra $0.28................**0................................0.................-$.28

Lima Beans $0.50........2..............................$1.70...............$1.20

Green Beans $0.68......10.............................$7.50..............$6.82

Tomatoes $12...............60............................$45.00............$33.00

*Based on the quality of product purchased for this household.
**What the rain didn’t wash away, the heat burned to a crisp. Last year okra was such a bumper crop, neighbors were sneaking into yards and anonymously leaving bags of it on doorsteps just to get rid of it. This year there wasn’t any. C’est la vie of a homesteader.

The final cost of the garden was $24.41. The estimated profit was $99.44. Of course, this does not take into account the cost of fuel for the tractor and the tiller or the cost of the electricity used to run the irrigation system. The water is from my own well so the water itself is free. Also not taken into account are the many, many hours of back-breaking hoeing, thinning, weeding and harvesting of the plants.

I suppose $99.44 is not enough profit for some. But for me, it was not only profit enough but the pleasure was immeasurable. I got farm-fresh food for many days before nature turned against my efforts. I also managed to freeze/preserve/can enough to get me and my family through the winter. Most importantly, what I did can or freeze was done so with no artificial preservatives and under conditions that I know for a fact were as clean and wholesome as humanly possible.

Will I do it again next year?

You darn betchya.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Finally the weather has changed. It is cooler; the bugs are gone; the skies are clear;
and the crops are in.

It's fall. The chickens
roam fartherafield on
days like this because
the grass is filled with
grasshoppers, a
delicate treat
for chickens.

Turnips are starting to get larger and should be ready to eat in just a couple of weeks. Certainly ready in time for Thanksgiving. The collards will be ready then, too.

I love the fall.

It's the time here in the country for our Heritage Festival. Some communities call it Founders' Day. We call it the Heritage Festival.

Local churches have Homecoming. So does the high school. There are parades with floats and beautiful young women riding in open convertibles waving at eager young viewers who line the small-town streets hoping one day that they, too, will sit on the back of a convertible in an evening gown and wave the royal wave.

The band plays what might or might not be a Sousa march as their shoes make shuffling sounds on the blacktop of small-town Main Street. And an embarrassed trumpeter just misses hitting the right note. But no one notices because they are watching the majorettes who, like our own grandmothers did, toss their batons high into the air and easily catch it when it falls back to earth.

The parade with its one band and five floats, not counting the Boy Scout troop, the Cub Scout troop, and the Ruritan officers, travels from the pharmacy to the parking lot by what used to be a car dealership. About 3 blocks.

Here in rural America, there are a lot of empty buildings that used to be something but now sit vacant. But we still turn out for our Homecoming parade. And people do come home.

Aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, in-laws and outlaws, and even exes who owe more back child support than they can ever pay come home to watch their "kin" in the homecoming parade. Traffic is backed up for at least a whole block.

The smell of burning leaves lingers in the air after sunset. Families here still sit down to dinner at the table even if dinner is pizza from the local gas station, our only place to get pizza.

This is fall in small-town USA. I love it.

More later....

Monday, September 7, 2009


Today I'm 60. I don't feel any different. Well, maybe a bit different physically than I did at 30 or even 40. But mentally, I'm still the same. Same old anti-fascist I've always been. If I've mellowed at all, it's only to be more forgiving of people. I shrug off hateful comments more than I did when I was young. I think part of that is because I live on this homestead. I think people who are closer to the earth and closer to the rhythms of nature are gentler with others. We see a lot of diversity and a lot of life, and death, on a farm.

Today I got a nice birthday surprise from one of my young hens. A green egg! Five months ago, a couple of weeks before I bought my own incubator, I took several eggs to a friend who had an incubator. She hatched the eggs for me. When she gave me the chicks she told me she had also been hatching eggs for a friend and she might have confused some of the eggs.

She was right! Apparently she gave me an Araucana chick! Araucana chicks and Rhode Island Red chicks look amazingly alike when they are days old. Araucanas lay eggs that can be anywhere from blue to blue-green to olive green.

I went out this morning to gather eggs and there in the pullet's coop was a beautiful green egg. My special birthday present from one of my girls. I feel special, indeed. What a nice gift on this my 60th birthday.

I hope I am growing old gracefully.

More later....

Monday, July 27, 2009


I've been told that the death of a spouse is like childbirth used to be--no one talks about it. Those of us who have suffered the loss of our beloved spouse know what others think: "It's been 9 months, why hasn't she moved on?" The lack of understanding isn't really a bad thing. The death of a husband/wife is something that most haven't experienced. That's a good thing. Yes, it has been 9 months since my beloved died. And, no, I haven't moved on. What others don't understand is that losing the one you shared every breath, every moment of life, every joy, every sorrow, every trip, every life cycle event with is akin to losing your own life. In essence, you do lose your own life. The life you knew for years is gone. The light that illuminated your existence has been turned off as surely as if someone reached into your heart and flipped a switch. My life has no bright light. I live in a world shrouded with shadows. I say things and wonder if I said the wrong thing. I dress and wonder if this is the same thing I wore yesterday and, perhaps, the day before that, too. I go to the post office and wonder if I brushed my hair. I ask questions and wonder if I already asked it and forgot the answer. I ask a question of the original source of information, was deemed impolitic, and was remediated for it. I lock myself out of the house. I lock my keys in my car. For 10 minutes I sit in my car crying before I can go into class. I walk in shadow. No one knows it but me. Also, I break things. Somehow items slip out of my grasp. I've lost my focus. I'm distracted. I guess it had been at least 15 years since I broke a dish. But since my Ronnie died, I have broken every glass drinking glass I owned and at least half a dozen dinner plates. I have dropped jars of jam and pickles, 2 casserole dishes along with their matching lids, and numerous coffee cups. I am now relegated to plastic glasses and rapidly closing in on plastic coffee cups. I sometimes wonder if those who are so concerned with the smaller details of life know that they should be spending more time cherishing the ones they still have with them. Oh, if only we knew when the span of our life ended, we would spend the last days so very differently. Then again, it is best that we don't know. I have learned that much. No matter how we live, death hits us with a powerful, knockout blow. We are too stunned for the first several months even to talk about it. By the time we can talk about the pain we learn that talking to the living about death just is not done. Why should we impose our shadow on their light. More later....

Friday, July 3, 2009

Homesteading: Preparing for Winter in the Heat

By the Fourth of July, canning is finished here in Northwest Florida. Gardens are dry and crackly and all fruits and veggies have pretty much been harvested and preserved.

A bushel of green beans becomes this.

225 lbs of tomatoes (minus the ones we ate)

turns into jars of canned tomatoes,
chili sauce and tomato juice.

4 dozen ears of corn get shucked

and await canning.

There's little opportunity for more canning this season. I'll make a few more jars of tomato juice, but the time for preparing for the winter months has ended.

The ant prepared while the grasshopper fiddled. Now I can spend a quiet
summer trying to escape the oppressive heat of the Florida panhandle.

Enjoy your summer!

More later.....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Homesteaders have Jammin' Good Times!

Harvest season is upon us. My sister, who just moved to northern Virginia from southern Pennsylvania, says they have a saying about corn: "knee high by the 4th of July." Our corn here in NW FL is grown, picked, and canned/frozen/eaten by the 4th of July. And by that time, our cornfields have already been plowed under.

I've been canning and making jam all week. I've included some pictures for you. I made a batch of spaghetti sauce this week. I picked up 40 lbs of tomatoes at a price I couldn't refuse.

Here is a site you might enjoy. You can see a step-by-step instruction of making sauce.

The website shows a process that is close to how I do it. Which is probably how everyone does. Our recipes are different but our process is the same. Especially the use of a pressure canner.
Did you know that tomatoes are the #1 most common home canned item in America? Probably because they can grow just about anywhere (even on a patio) and you don't have to use a pressure canner to preserve them.

You do not have to use a pressure canner for jams and jellies either. You don't have to use one for tomatoes if you aren't putting anything else (carrots, peppers, okra) in it.

But you MUST have a pressure canner for non-acid foods. It is the only known safe way to can low-acid foods. Yes, tomatoes are a high acid food, but today I'm making spaghetti sauce. I add other veggies in the spaghetti sauce (onions, peppers, carrots and maybe a zucchini). So we need the pressure canner.

To make my spaghetti sauce, I started off with 40 lbs of tomatoes. I bought them from a produce stand.

I clean them.

I chop them up and liquefy them with other vegetables and seasonings that I want in my spaghetti sauce. If, like me, you like wine in your spaghetti sauce, DO NOT add it here. Add it to your sauce when you prepare the sauce to serve over your pasta.

I cook the sauce until it is the thickness I prefer. See the rings? It was up to the top ring when I started. Yes, It took a couple of hours to cook down this far. But it's worth it.

I fill the jars leaving 1/4" head space. Head space is important! Too little and the jar could burst as the contents expand. Too much and the jar won't seal properly. There are many sites showing head space requirements. Check with your county extension office

Or buy a copy of the canner's "bible" the BALL BLUE BOOK: Guide To Home Canning, Freezing & Dehydration.

It is an invaluable tool to the home canner.

Here is my spaghetti sauce: cooked,
jarred, processed, and ready for use.

Here are some of the jars of peach jam and blueberry jam that I made. Y-U-M.

The peaches we bought were not good for eating. They were too sour even though they were ripe. But they made magnificent jam!

Go ahead!! Try your hand at making jam. It's fun! And economical!!!

In the next few weeks, I'll use the pressure canner to can dozens of jars of green beans, potatoes, gumbo mix, corn, and whatever else I have grown or can pick from a U-Pick farm for a very cheap price. I won't bore you with the process again. But I might show you the pictures of the finished product.

Comments are welcome!

More later....