Israel and Jordan!

20180220_161334.jpgThe good part about traveling standby is it is cheap and sometimes you get to travel First Class!  But the bad part is you never really know if you’ll make it on the plane – or when.  Recently my daughter and I wanted to travel to Israel via Newark, NJ.  As soon as she got home from one of her trips we raced to the airport and caught a flight to Newark – she made it just as they were about to close the doors.  But then, we waited and waited for the de-icing of the plane since an unexpected snow storm was causing snow to build up on the plane.  Eventually we made it to Newark, and then waited an hour to get a gate and get off the plane (they were having the same freak weather as we had in DC).  We weren’t worried – we had plenty of time before our flight to Israel!  At the gate, we got boarding passes for our flight (this was great – we had seats!) but then… our flight got delayed a little while, then a little more, and more.  At 2am it got CANCELLED – but we still had hope as they talked about getting a new plane for in the morning.  We realized at 4am, when the flight from Tel Aviv (back to Newark) was cancelled, that there would be no new flight – now all 300 passengers would be scrambling to get on the next several flights and as standbys, we didn’t have a chance!  So instead of waiting 2 days, we decided to travel to San Francisco at 6am – a 6 hour flight that we just barely made it on – Kate had to sit in the jump seat and I got the last available seat, which happened to be in First Class!  We arrived early in the day there and then had a whole day to kill in the airport as the flight didn’t leave until 10pm.  I spent the day chilling, just reading books and catching up on Facebook, wondering if we would make it on the flight that night and deciding we would just return home if we didn’t!  At the appropriate time we made our way to the gate – and waited and waited.  Would someone miss the flight so we could get on the plane?  Yup! Fortunately for us some people missed the flight, so we were the last 2 to get on – way back in the back!  Getting to the Promised land wasn’t easy!  After 13 hours in the air, with children screaming, the sun rising and setting, and me “returning”  my food (fortunately there wasn’t a line at the bathroom when I dashed there 3 times!), we landed – only to discover our ride wasn’t expecting us so we needed to find our own way to Jerusalem (not too difficult when expected but daunting without sleep for the last 48 hours).  Finally, we made it –  49 hours after we started, the hardest trip by far!


ISRAEL!!!  We made it!  What to see, what to see???!!!!  We knew we didn’t have much time (and then we lost a day!) so we wanted to make the most of it.  After scouring lists and lists on line of the top things to see, we came up with our must sees:

  • Hezekiah’s Tunnel – I had heard about this but had never visited. Hezekiah’s tunnel is a water tunnel carved underneath the City of David in Jerusalem in ancient times.  It’s named as such as it is believed to be the tunnel King Hezekiah had built to prepare for an expected siege by the Assyrians. We put on our shorts and watershoes and began our trek.  Within a few feet the water had risen to the tops of our thighs!  But that level didn’t last long and then it stayed mid-calf.  The tunnels weren’t wide and without our flashlight, completely dark – we could see where the torches would have been placed thousands of years ago!  For a third of a mile we kept going and going until suddenly we were at the pool of Siloam.  (To get back up to the starting point we chose, instead of taking the shuttle back, to walk through a different tunnel on an ancient street far underground from today’s street.


  • The Southern Wall (of the Temple Mount) – Some of this has changed so much since John and I last visited 20+ years ago. The Southern wall had been just a pile of rubble – now it has been excavated and we not only see the wall but also could climb the steps to the Huldah Gate.  (The gate was blocked when the Mosque was built) We saw many mikvahs (ritual baths) because when thousands came to Jerusalem to sacrifice at the temple, they all had to purify themselves.  We also walked on top of part of the ancient city wall. (This was all part of the Davidson Center where they also had a brief movie explaining about the area) 20180220_115626
  • Western Wall and Western Wall Tunnel – I used to know this as the Wailing Wall. It says Jerusalem to me.  We visited – and I learned that people, after saying their prayers at it, walk away from the wall backwards so they don’t turn their backs on God. 20180220_124413
  • 20180220_211607.jpg For the tunnel, we fortunately were able to get a last-minute tour (you have to have a tour).  There our guide explained so much about the Wall.  Before the 6 days war the Wailing Wall was just an alley way, with houses all around and just feet from the wall.  At the end of the war, a plaza was cleared out, making the area much larger.  But then excavations were done below the street level, all along the wall of the Temple Mount.  These excavations go all the way down to the end of the wall, where the wall incorporates the actual mountain which the Temple was built upon.  She explained how the ground level raised – from the Romans throwing the temple stones over, to why the Western Wall is the place to pray (as opposed to the Southern or Eastern) because it is the closest spot to where the Temple Holy of Holies was located (the Jews even have a prayer wall inside the tunnel, even closer than the outside wall).  Fascinating tour and I do highly recommend it!20180220_210031
  • Mount of Olives – What a great place for a view of Jerusalem. We went late in the afternoon and it was almost completely empty of tourists! (The first picture of this post was taken from there).
  • Garden of Gethsemane – Those olive trees are so very old! And they still harvest them and give the money proceeds to the poor.  The church there is lovely.20180220_163257.jpg
  • Garden Tomb – Located just outside the Damascus city gate, this is just a beautiful place! Unfortunately for us, every tour seemed to show up there on Saturday morning, so it wasn’t a very serene place.  But, it was neat to hear different groups singing praises to God in several different languages.  As we walked around the garden we always had music!  And the best part? The tomb is EMPTY!  He is RISEN!
  • Church of the Holy Sepulcher – If we thought the garden tomb was busy, this was worse than Costco on the Saturday morning before Christmas! It really reminded me of the story of Jesus overturning the money changers’ tables as we saw people with crosses and rosaries putting them on various places in the church to make them “special”.
  • Caiphas’ House at the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu – Unknown for certain, and of course, archaeologists don’t agree on this (after the sacking and burning of Jerusalem in 70AD, Josephus says very little was recognizable) but thought to be the place Peter denied Christ. Underneath the church, and house ruins, is a dungeon where Christ is thought to have been kept for the night before his crucifixion.  There is a small opening for the prisoner to be lowered through and a small peephole for the guard to peer in through.  All of this is carved out of the bedrock – and they have since opened another hole so visitors can walk in.  I found it very sobering to think of what Christ went through that night.  Outside the church excavations have uncovered steps, part of the ancient road, going down from Mount Zion – so Christ most likely did walk on them that night to get from the last supper to the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Masada – the mountain Herod build his palace on and the last holdout where the Jews resisted the Romans. We took the cable car up – just 3 minutes versus the 45-minute hike up the snake path.  There our guide explained the ruins, the water system (pretty ingenious to divert mountain water down the aqueducts to cisterns in the side of the mountain) and the story of the rebellious Sicarii Jews.20180223_115750

In 66 AD the Sicarii Jews overtook the Roman fort Masada.  For 3 years they held it as a holdout to the Romans conquering their land.  The Romans built a ramp but when they made it onto Masada, they discovered death and destruction.  The leaders had drawn lots, and rather than be captured and enslaved or tortured, had killed everyone.  The last man had killed himself (thus 950 died but only 1 committed suicide, the unpardonable sin).  However, 2 women and 5 children had hidden and thus lived to tell the tale.  So, Masada represents Jewish heroism and courage.  A visit to Israel would not be complete without visiting it.  And – it has a great view of the Dead Sea!20180223_121146.jpg

  • The Dead Sea – Again, what would a trip to Israel be without swimming floating in the Dead Sea! Actually, we weren’t sure about getting in since just an hour earlier we’d been comfortable in our jeans and jackets but we couldn’t miss the opportunity! On arrival, we put on our swimsuits and hiked the long way down to the water (the Dead Sea is drying up and the shoreline keeps dropping).  Kate wasn’t sure about putting the mud on her body but eventually did and then was amazed at how her skin felt afterwards.  We then relaxed and floated in the water – what a unique experience!

That summed up our list from Israel because we just ran out of time! Because we had a 2-day trip planned for…


Our 2-day trip was absolutely amazing!  A van picked us up in Jerusalem, the driver told us how to cross the Sheikh Hussein Bridge border and then we met our guide and bus for Jordan.  We had 4 stops.

  • Jerash – a Roman city with amazing ruins! It is one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis and is one of the best preserved Roman towns in the world.  The theater still has a spot where if you stand and speak, your voice projects through out (so also do the bagpipes as they have a guy playing bagpipes all day, hoping to get tips – Jordan was once a British controlled area so, yes, bagpipes!).20180221_12335420180221_123209.jpg
  • Amman – the capital of Jordan and the most populous city of the country. It also has an ancient citadel overlooking the city with beautiful ruins – large pillars from the temple to Hercules.  We got there shortly before sunset, so the pictures were fun!20180221_160812
  • 20180221_16173620180221_161842Bedouin Camp – Sounded exotic so we chose this over the hotel option! It was beautiful as we drove in as they have soft lights (candles?) in the hills surrounding us and paths going around the site.  We had our own tent with 2 beds, with lots of blankets on the beds.  Which was good since there was no heat and the outside temperature dropped to about 40.  Our guide told us that electricity would go off around midnight (so get our phones charged before then!) so, at 3am I wasn’t surprised that it was dark and cold outside when I had to get out of my bed, get dressed and use my phone as a flashlight to make my way to the toilet house.  But, I was surprised that it was raining and that the toilets don’t work when the electric water pump gets turned off!


  • PETRA! 20180222_091223We arrived early in the morning and our guide told us all about the area as we walked in.  He showed us carvings done in the walls and then had us walk backwards at a certain point – only to have us turn around and see the Treasury at Petra.  It was incredible.  What you don’t realize before going though is that there is lots to see in Petra – and it is quite spread out.  After the Treasury the ground opens to great wide spaces – and temples and amphitheaters and more.  20180222_093715

    The Monastery is located more than a mile away and up a steep mountain, but we decided to go for it.  It was just as impressive – with fewer people making the trek!  20180222_103839On our return we decided to cut off some time walking and give our legs a break– by taking a camel!  After bargaining and bargaining, we struck a deal with a camel owner and rode back to the treasury by camel.  And, by the way, it was a cool experience but riding a camel is not really very comfortable.20180222_120321


We also had some absolutely great food on our trip!  We ate shawarma at every opportunity we could!   Grilled chicken in a pita pocket with humus and garlic sauce and veggies – Yum!!  And in Jordan our guide stopped the bus in Amman and went and bought us Kanafeh, a traditional pastry made of goat cheese, crunchy noodles, honey and a sprinkle of pistachios of top.  Sounds kinda weird but oh, it was so good!


So, with 1.5 days in Jerusalem, 2 days in Jordan and a day at Masada/Dead Sea, it was time to pack up and return to the States.  We caught dinner in Tel Aviv with some old friends – homeschooling moms reunite – and have lives after homeschooling!  20180224_185251

Then, unlike our trip over, we had no problems getting back!  We left at 10pm from Tel Aviv, flew to Newark and caught the first plane back to DC.  At 8am I crashed in my bed at home!  What a fantastic trip!

Bonus pictures:


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Beneath the Surface – a novel


Wow!  What a fantastic book – filled with suspense, excitement, action and romance!  But there was also a journey towards God with some really great truths written.  “Life is hard… Everyone has tough stuff.  There’s no perfect relationship or perfect job or perfect house that will somehow make your life easy.  What throws us for a loop is when life is hard in ways we weren’t prepared for.  Divorce.  Illness.  Disability.  Money problems.  Rebellious kids.”

I really enjoyed reading this book – actually, other than quick bathroom breaks, I don’t think I put it down until I was done!  Highly recommend!!!  I was so fortunate to receive a copy of this book from the publisher. I am freely writing a review – all thoughts and opinions are my own.

She thought she’d be safe when she moved back home. She was dead wrong.

After a harrowing experience with an obsessed patient, oncology nurse practitioner Leigh Weston needed a change. She thought she’d left her troubles behind when she moved home to Carrington, North Carolina, and took a job in the emergency department of the local hospital. But when someone tampers with her brakes, she fears the past has chased her into the present. She reaches out to her high school friend turned homicide investigator, Ryan Parker, for help.

Ryan finds satisfaction in his career, but his favorite way to use his skills is as a volunteer underwater investigator with the Carrington County Sheriff’s Office dive team. When the body of a wealthy businessman is discovered in Lake Porter, the investigation uncovers a possible serial killer–one with a terrifying connection to Leigh Weston and deadly implications for them all.

Dive into the depths of fear with an exciting new voice in romantic suspense. Award-winning author Lynn H. Blackburn grabs readers by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final heart-pounding page.

The Author:    Lynn H. Blackburn is the author of Hidden Legacy (Love Inspired, June 2017) and Covert Justice, winner of the 2016 Selah Award for Mystery and Suspense and the 2016 Carol Award for Short Novel. Blackburn believes in the power of stories, especially those that remind us that true love exists, a gift from the Truest Love. She’s passionate about CrossFit, coffee, and chocolate (don’t make her choose) and experimenting with recipes that feed both body and soul. She lives in South Carolina with her true love, Brian, and their three children.

A Chance at Forever (a novel)

A Chance at Forever by Melissa Jagears

I loved going back to Teaville and getting caught up on the Moral Society again! This time it’s a new male character, Aaron, who has come back to the town he grew up in and was known for being quite the nasty bully. Introduced in the 2nd book of the series, A Love So True, Mercy “was always willing to help, even though a birth defect had left her with a missing right hand.” She left Teaville as a child (but was very affected by the bullying of Aaron!) and only moved back a year earlier. She and her brother and sister-in-law run the orphanage set up in the large mansion. Although this is the 3rd book in the series and much is to be gained by reading the previous ones, this book tells the stories of these 2 newer characters, so the book does stand alone.

I really enjoyed how the author showed how bullying really affects people for years and years. Kindness, similarly, also makes a lifelong impact. And woven with these truths are also truths about God – “If he could trust God to get him to heaven, he needed to trust that God could work miracles in him here on earth, too – because if her continued to rely on himself, well, he’d only keep proving how ineffectual he was.”

Of course, I also loved the sweet romance between Mercy and Aaron! I was so fortunate to receive a copy of this book from the publisher. I am freely writing a review – all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Determined to protect the children of Teaville, Kansas, from the bullying she experienced as a child, Mercy McClain finds fulfillment working at the local orphanage and serving on the school board. When Aaron Firebrook, the worst of her childhood bullies, petitions the board for a teaching position, she’s dead set against his getting the job.

Aaron knows he deserves every bit of Mercy’s mistrust, but he’s returned to his hometown a changed man and is seeking the forgiveness of those he wronged. He doesn’t expect Mercy to like him, but surely he can prove he now has the children’s best interests at heart.

Will resentment and old wounds hold them back, or can Mercy and Aaron overcome the past in time to battle the threats against the future of the town’s orphans?

“The third book in Jagears’ Teaville Moral Society series is a delightful addition with its wonderful message about God’s promises for the future and the closure of one’s past. . . . The characters are complex, and their struggles are realistic and believable, as are the details of the early 1890s time period. The romance is sweet and lovely, and Jagears knows how to pull heartstrings. If you are a historical inspirational romance reader, this is a fantastic read in an enjoyable series.”–RT Book Reviews


The Author:


Melissa Jagears is the Carol Award-winning author of the Unexpected Brides series and the Teaville Moral Society series, and an extreme night owl.

Much to her introverted self’s delight, Melissa Jagears hardly needs to leave her home to be a homeschooling mother and historical romance novelist. She doesn’t have to leave her house to be a housekeeper either, but she’s doubtful she meets the minimum qualifications to claim to be one in her official bio. Her passion is to help Christian believers mature in their faith and judge rightly. Find her online at, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

“I stay home with my kids, and though that’s PLENTY enough to do, I decided to add homeschooling and writing novels into my schedule too! I am an English/English as a Second Language teacher by trade and still occasionally convince myself to stuff an English class into my schedule since I LOVE adult second language learners (When students are eager to learn, that’s a teacher’s dream job).

My husband and I have been married since 2001 and have a daughter and two boys. My husband loves blacksmithing, knife smithing, traditional archery, hunting, etc. Generally whatever a mountain man does, he does it or has or wants to attempt it. He comes in handy for research!”
About Mesm18

A Light on the Hill (a novel)

A Light on the Hill by Connilyn Cossette

Wow! I know when I pick up a book by Connilyn that I will love it and I’d better have time to sit and read because I won’t want to put it down! The author skillfully combines ancient Biblical history, archaeological finds and Josephus’ writings with a story and romance that keeps you turning page after page, wanting to know what will happen next. What will happen as Moriyah make her way to the city of refuge?

Moriyah is a character first introduced in Wings of the Wind, but I don’t think it is necessary to have read it before this book as this is a new series. (However, if you haven’t read the previous series you should because it is fabulous!). This book starts some years later and Moriyah is now grown up. Life has beaten her down. She no sooner gets a small glimpse of hope for her life when it comes crashing down and is compounded by a tragic accident. This changes everything, and she must flee – away from her father, her home and even her friends who rely on her. I loved how, even in the difficult and uncertain days, she seeks to follow and obey God, even when it is not easy. I was so fortunate to receive a copy of this book from the publisher. I am freely writing a review – all thoughts and opinions are my own. And, indeed, it is a wonderful book, worthy of more than 5 stars!

Seven years ago, Moriyah was taken captive in Jericho and branded with the mark of the Canaanite gods. Now the Israelites are experiencing peace in their new land, but Moriyah has yet to find her own peace. Because of the shameful mark on her face, she hides behind her veil at all times and the disdain of the townspeople keeps her from socializing. And marriage prospects were out of the question . . . until now.

Her father has found someone to marry her, and she hopes to use her love of cooking to impress the man and his motherless sons. But when things go horribly wrong, Moriyah is forced to flee. Seeking safety at one of the newly-established Levitical cities of refuge, she is wildly unprepared for the dangers she will face, and the enemies–and unexpected allies–she will encounter on her way.


The Author:Connilyn Cossette

Connilyn Cossette is the CBA-Bestselling author of the Out from Egypt Series from Bethany House Publishers. There is not much she likes better than digging into the rich, ancient world of the Bible, discovering new gems of grace that point to Jesus, and weaving them into an immersive fiction experience.

When she is not homeschooling her two sweet kids (with a full pot of coffee at hand), Connilyn Cossette is scribbling notes on spare paper, mumbling about her imaginary friends, and reading obscure, out-of-print history books. There is nothing she likes better than digging into the rich, ancient world of the Bible and uncovering buried gems of grace that point toward Jesus. Although a Pacific Northwest native, she now lives near Dallas, Texas. Connect with her at

Hearts Entwined (a novella collection)



What a fun novel!  It is comprised of 4 novellas – each long enough to have a complete story but short enough to not need the same time commitment as a full novel.  I loved all of them and enjoyed reading the different stories!  Taking place in the Midwest during the late 1800’s/early 1900’s, they all have different bents to them – rich and poor heroines, frilly fancy ones and tomboyish ones – and each was enjoyable.  They read as complete stories, but if you have read other novels by these authors you will recognize the characters as minor ones in the other novels.

I really enjoyed these stories – and really had to laugh reading the 3rd one as it dealt with camels in the American Midwest!  I recently rode a camel and loved the author’s description of them – “Camels weren’t as easy to spur as horses, since they tended to have a mind of their own…”  How true!  I highly recommend this book!  I received a copy of this book from the publisher. I am freely writing a review – all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection to offer stories of love and romance with a twist of humor.

Hearts Entwined
Four Historical Romance Novellas of Love (With a Twist of Humor)

The ways of love can be complex. Sometimes a relationship full of unexpected twists and unlikely turns leads to a bond that’s strong and secure. Join Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, Regina Jennings, and Melissa Jagears for novellas that follow the winding path of romance in stories that celebrate a love that lasts forever.

The Love Knot
When Claire Nevin’s troubled younger sibling sends her an unexpected package by rail, the gift and the man who delivers it–an unexpected face from the past–threaten to upend Claire’s life forever. Fighting to hold on to all she has built, will she lose what matters most?

The Tangled Ties That Bind
Connor Kincaid returns home determined to win the hand of the woman he was too young for when he left. But Maggie is training to be a doctor in a distant town, while Connor’s about to settle on a ranch. Will either be willing to give up their dream? Or will they both have to give up the love of a lifetime?

Bound and Determined
As punishment for his recklessness, Private Bradley Willis is sent on an errand to help a retired cavalry officer move a herd across Indian Territory. No one told him the herd would be camels instead of cattle, nor that the officer’s headstrong daughter, Ambrosia Herald, would seem to be trying to undermine the whole enterprise. He’s definitely been saddled with more than he’s bargained for.

Tied and True
Wealthy Marianne Lister is in love with business assistant Calvin Hochstetler, but he can’t see past the difference in their social status. When Marianne takes a job to prove that she is prepared for a life of hard work alongside the man of her dreams, will it be enough to convince Calvin to risk it all for love?
Each tale is a fun blend of history and romance that will delight readers.


The Authors: Karen WitemeyerMary ConnealyRegina JenningsMelissa Jagears

Karen Witemeyer is a winner of multiple Carol Awards and has been a finalist for the RITA Award and National Readers’ Choice Award. She lives in Abilene, Texas.

Mary Connealy is well-known for her award-winning, bestselling historical romantic comedies. She lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska.

Regina Jennings is the acclaimed author of The Fort Reno Series. She lives outside Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and four children.

Melissa Jagears, author of the Unexpected Brides series, lives in Kansas. Her novella, “Love by the Letter,” won the 2014 Carol Award.  Melissa was kind enough to skype with my book club last fall and we found out that she writes late in the night because her days are filled with homeschooling her children!

Why I Hate Green Beans… (a book review)

I laughed so many times reading this book!  It is so very wonderful!!  Lincee writes with honesty and humor about her life – relationships and reality TV (she began her writing career by doing a brief weekly synopsis about the show The Bachelor), self-image and insecurity.  She actually does begin the book by telling why she hates green beans – and from there I was hooked!  Lincee went on to say her book is “for everyone who’s tried the latest fad diet or online dating app and failed – again… Yoga pants are your friend, Jesus sees you, and green-bean diets are never the answer.”

I had such a hard time putting this book down, but fortunately it is broken into short chapters, so I could keep coming back for just a chapter!  This is Lincee’s first book, although she does have a blog that I have now subscribed to, and I can’t wait to read her next book!  This one was amazing!  And I was so fortunate to receive it from the publisher – all thoughts and opinions are my own.

If there is one thing Lincee Ray has learned over the years, it’s that the majority of women on the planet struggle with insecurities. Our skinny jeans mock us. Our just-trying-to-help mothers are just driving us crazy. Our social media feeds taunt us with everyone else’s picture-perfect lives. It’s enough to send you on a gummy-bear bender while binge-watching Friends reruns and not showering for a week. Lincee knows. She’s been there. Right there, in fact. Gummy bears and all.

For every woman who’s ever wondered if she’s unlovable, uninteresting, or unattractive, Lincee offers her particular brand of hilarious (and hard-hitting) self-reflection. Like a true friend, she shows us that the fastest way to happiness is to embrace ourselves in all our imperfection, trust that God knew what he was doing when he made us, and maybe go buy a new tube of mascara. Walk alongside Lincee as she discovers that her identity is not found in her job, her relationship status, her bank account, or her social circle. It’s found in Christ.


The Author:Lincee RayLincee Ray began blogging accidentally when she wrote a recap for the beloved show everyone loves to hate — The Bachelor. Once her audience reached triple digits, she launched her website, What began as a place for closeted Bachelor watchers to commune and discuss the wonder that is Our Host Chris Harrison slowly morphed into a place where Lincee shares stories of her everyday life.
Lincee’s Bachelor recaps later miraculously landed on the desk of an editor at Entertainment Weekly. The woman quickly deduced that Lincee was a pop culture weirdo who probably watched all the teenybopper shows on The CW. She was right.

Lincee taught herself to say the ABCs backward as a child. It kills at parties. She really does hate green beans and is a little too enthusiastic about Dr Pepper and seasonal-themed Oreos. She also believes it’s important to tell your stories — even the ones that make you seem a little crazy.