For the Love of a Dog – Saying Good-bye

Springtime2013 012By the end of the first week on a good dose of Doxycycline, Bella looks pretty chipper. She begs to go for a walk with me. Then suddenly by nightfall, she regresses.

“Bella looks terrible tonight,” Hubby greets me as I come in the door from volunteering work.

“She looked great this morning,” I counter.

She refuses to eat her evening meal and she staggers when she tries to run. I excuse what we are seeing as being weakness caused from not eating. If I could only get her to eat. I go back to the first vet and ask for some prednisone tablets which I break into 10 and 5 mg doses. This may be a huge mistake but I conclude that she is starving to death so it does not much matter about the effects of long term prednisone. I continue the doxycycline 400mg per day and add 10mg of prednisone. Within a day, she is gobbling a can of soft cat food mixed with her dry dog food. With a sigh of relief, I pack up several cans of cat food, a bag of dry dog food, all her medications, and accessories and meet our daughter for an exchange. She will keep Bella for the weekend while Hubby and I make a trip to Long Prairie, MN for a book promotion weekend.

018

Treehouse B&B @ Long Priarie, MN

Bella wags her tail happily and excitedly whines to get out of Daughter’s house and into my car when I go to pick her up on Sunday. She looks like her normal self. Daughter tells me that she bought some canned dog food, warmed it up, and mixed it with the dry dog food. Bella has been chowing it down like a healthy dog. When I get Bella home, I make a decision, that in looking back, results in a final decline. I decrease the prednisone dosage to 5 mg a day, thinking that a small maintenance dose might be all that is needed to keep her on an even keel until we can finish all her antibiotics.Powerline construction 014

I can tell Bella is still running a fever as she puffs when it isn’t in-the-least-bit hot but otherwise, seems stable. But by Tuesday, things have changed. I send her out to go potty before we leave for the evening. She seems OK when I put her out but is totally dizzy and disoriented when she comes back in. She cannot walk a straight line and lays down in the middle of the floor as she can’t navigate. This is the first either of us have seen her like this. I expect to find her dead when we come home but she wags her tail in greeting and does not seem worse than before. However, by the next evening, she is refusing to eat again and I have to force the pills down her throat. The part of me that is a nurse knows that there is no longer any hope. We have fallen back into a deep dark hole and I see no point in doing this anymore. The emotional part of me wants to save her and the logical part of me knows that it is not possible.

By Thursday morning, it is obvious that Bella has seriously declined again. I had been told by a colleague at work about a vet clinic in Eden Prairie where they can do MRIs, CT scans, and all kinds of advanced tests at their clinic. As a last ditch effort, I assist Bella into the car and make a two-hour drive to this clinic in Eden Prairie. While I fill out paper work, the assistant takes Bella away to exam her. They then meet with me to explain what they would like to do and how much it will cost. They are recommending some blood work, a urinalysis, a chest x-ray, and some biopsies if they see any enlarged lymph nodes. They will be happy to perform all of these things that day, all to the tune of $1500 due and payable before I leave. Whoa! That’s a lot of money. Other than the blood work, which they already have from the local vet a couple weeks earlier, I don’t see that any of the other things will be particularly helpful.

“What would an MRI cost?” I ask.

“$3000”

“Guess that is not going to be happening.” I assert.

“Do you realize that Bella had no platelets already on the bloodwork done at your local clinic? Did he mention that to you?” Doc asks.

I sort through my brain trying to remember what was said at the local clinic. I think lower that normal platelets were mentioned but not “no platelets.” I don’t know what to do.

“I want to call my husband and daughter before I make a decision.” I tell the veterinarian.

“OK, we will leave you alone for a time while you call your family.”

Again, the emotional part of me wants to keep going but the rational part of me knows it is time to quit. “I think we are just pouring money down a deep dark hole,” I finally communicate my decision to the veterinarian after talking to Hubby and Daughter.015

“Well, if you don’t let us do any of this, we can’t help you,” is her response back. Now I feel guilty and like I am a really bad pet owner. But I am resolute. It is time to go. My plan is to go home and increase the prednisone to 20 mg twice a day. This is the treatment for an auto-immune disorder that is causing her to destroy her platelets. It is what I should have been doing all along. That is why she got better during the couple of days I had her on 10mg per day of the prednisone. None of the other stuff being proposed is going to be of any help.

Bella lies quietly on the back car seat on the way home. She meets my eyes every time I look back at her. I hold a tiny little hope that we can still turn this around. But it is too late. By evening, her breathing has changed to being more labored and there is a red fluid dripping from her nose. She refuses her food and her pills. We struggle to get them down her. It takes all her strength to follow Hubby down the stairs and out the door for her before bed potty time. Then she heads out across the yard and lies down instead of coming back in. She just looks at us when we call her name.

“Can you come and help me bring Bella back in?” Hubby implores. “I can’t leave her out there tonight.” Frost is predicted and the temperature is supposed to drop into the 20s.

I wake up several times during the night wondering if she is still alive.

“Can you go down and check on Bella?” are the first words out of Hubby’s mouth in the morning.

“I’m going,” I reply. I already know what I will find. I find her lying in the mud room where life has fled. She is at peace now. Sadness envelopes me. Bella had become a part of who we are.

I make a phone call to Daughter and we plan for a burial in our pet grave yard in the woods on Saturday morning. Hubby digs the grave on Friday evening while I am at work. “I cried the whole time I was digging,” he says with sorrow.

Hubby and Daughter sob and embrace as we carefully lay our beloved pet to rest. If I start to cry, I will never stop.

“Bella, and Blackie, and Honey Spot, and Purr will be waiting in heaven for us,” Daughter declares. Maybe they will. Maybe they will. Who am I to say they won’t be?

For me, the emptiness of the house is what messes with my brain the most. There is no happy barking when someone comes or the doorbell rings. There is no ringing of the bell on the door saying, “I want to go out.” There is no begging for food or play. There is no wagging tail and happy greeting of unconditional love when I come home. I have to keep telling myself she is no longer here.

“Are you going to get another dog?” Is the question that keeps being asked. I don’t want another dog. I want Bella.045

For the Love of a Dog

PetsFamilyJan2013 143“Come Bella,” I call from the bottom of the stairs. I repeat the summons several times before Bella staggers down the stairs and stumbles out the door to go potty. I sigh. A feeling of hopelessness creeps through my chest and into my heart. For several days now Bella has refused to eat, no longer desires to play, and lies upstairs puffing. She has grown thin and emaciated. I am at my wits end. I took Bella to the vet for the third time three days ago for these same symptoms. “She has a temperature of 104 degrees F,” was his verdict. We do not know why.

Early in January, during her last excursion outdoors before bedtime, her frantic barking alerted us. On the security camera, we could see her aggressive stance as she faced off with some unknown creature in the yard. A few minutes of protecting “her” property and she returned to the house, seemingly unscathed. But a few days later, she seemed mildly lethargic and had stopped eating. I wasn’t too worried as she has had times of skipping meals in the past. She continued to bring her indoor ball to me when I would come home, begging me to play. I did notice a small area of black on the bottom of her tongue. I don’t remember her tongue having a black colored spot there. I quickly dismissed my observation as irrelevant. One evening, I noticed very bad breath arising from her mouth each time she delivered her treasure to me. Whew! That smell was enough to knock me over. Still not giving it much thought, a few more days went by. One evening, as she stood panting, waiting for me to throw her ball, I noticed part of her tongue was missing and the remaining slit looked swollen and infected. So maybe that is why she wasn’t eating properly.363

After a trip to the vet for some antibiotics and prednisone pills, Bella began to eat regularly again and to play like her long-forgotten puppy self. Being between 7 and 8 years old, she is no longer a puppy so it was obvious that the prednisone had transformed her into the energetic frisky dog she once was. It seemed that all was back to normal. All of us were happy and returned to other life concerns.

But the good times were not to last. About 4 days after the last of the prednisone pills, Bella again started skipping meals. Oh well. I’m sure she will come around in a couple of days and be OK.

“Bella is not eating at all,” my concerned hubby conveyed to me a couple of evenings later. “And it seems like she is puffing more than normal,” he continued.

Oh dear. I had to work for the next day so I couldn’t make an appointment until the following day. “She has a fever of 104,” was the vet’s observation. “Let’s just treat her conservatively with Doxycycline for a couple of weeks and see what happens.”

That sounded good to me. Bella has always been an easy dog to give pills to which makes treating her easy. Wrap the pill in a piece of meat and give it a toss. She just opens her mouth wide and swallows whole whatever you are tossing her. Over the next couple of days, she slowly improved and went back to eating and behaving normally.power pole and birds 145

One day, however, while taking her for a walk, she was panting with maximum open mouth. As she and I puffed to the top of a steep hill, she was slightly above me and I had an unimpeded view into her open mouth. I noticed two slits on her tongue running lengthwise with her tongue further back in her mouth. That is weird. Is it possible that she has a rough or sharp tooth that is cutting her tongue? This really doesn’t make any sense.

I stopped at the vet clinic the next day and asked to make an appointment to have her sedated so that they could inspect her mouth and teeth for mechanical reasons for the slits and poor appetite.

“I would like to have you finish the antibiotics and then come back and we will take a look,” was the desire of the veterinarian.

OK, I guess I can live with that as Bella seemed to be totally back to normal. I made the appointment for a week later on March 30. I was hoping that they could also clean her teeth and x-ray her front shoulders while she was sedated as she had been limping on her front end off and on for over a year. Apparently, I did not communicate this well as when I brought her in for her appointment, I was told they did not have time to do all I was requesting that day.

“Then let’s make a new appointment when you can do all those things while only sedating her once,” I requested

“We are very busy and don’t have any opening for any kind of surgery until April 11.”

That date is almost two weeks out but I agree to the change. After all, Bella seems OK at the moment. Several days later about 4 days after completing her course of doxycycline, Bella has stopped eating again. By the following Friday, it is evident that she is seriously ill. “Bella is not going to make it to her appointment on Tuesday,” I explain to the receptionist who agrees to take her that day. “Can you draw labs too and check her for Lyme’s disease?” I implore.

They sedate her and inspect her mouth. “Her tongue looks pretty rough,” the receptionist conveys to me when I pick her up, “but it is completely healed. The only thing the doc finds abnormal is that she is running a fever of 104 degrees again. He left some antibiotics for her.” I pick up the bottles and look at them. There is a bottle of Flagyl and one of Amoxicillin. The course of treatment is for 10 days. I was hoping that he would give me more of the doxycycline since it seemed to work the last time. “I want to give her doxycycline again and try an extended course of antibiotics,” I explain to the receptionist. “Did he check her for Lyme’s” I continue my questioning. She shouts to the veterinarian who is working in the back room and he shouts back to her, instructing her to give me two more weeks’ worth of the doxycycline. I am frustrated by the lack of one-on-one communication and the inability to get what I believe is needed. He did not believe it necessary to check for Lyme’s so did not draw that test. “All of her other labs look pretty normal.”

“Alright, I will try this,” I say, “but I don’t think it is going to work.”

By now, Bella is so sick that she refuses not only her regular food but all treats as well. It has become impossible to get her to take her pills. She just smells what I have to offer and turns away. I want to cry. If I can’t get her to take the pills, she is going to die. “I can’t handle another loss,” is the sentiment expressed by my hubby. What am I going to do? There are two pills to give morning and night. There is nothing to do but pry open her mouth and shove them down the back of her throat with my fingers. Hope wells up each morning and I hurry down to see if she has started to eat her food.  But each morning and night, it lays untouched. Three days go by and Bella shows no signs of improvement. Each day, she slowly deteriorates. She no longer asks to play, she no longer walks with me and goes out only to urinate. She does continue to drink water and urinate which is a good sign but I have resigned myself that she is going to die and there is nothing I can do about it.PetsFamilyJan2013 196

“Should I make an appointment for Bella at the clinic where I work?” reads the text from my daughter.

“Yes, go ahead,” I respond. What can it hurt? I see no hope with what we are doing.

With a sense of foreboding, I take Bella 30 miles to this other vet clinic. She reacts weakly to the Lyme’s test. She is still running a 104 fever. But this vet and I agree to put her back on doxycycline at a higher dose and for a month. This vet also gives me a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to reduce the fever and a drug to increase her appetite. Will it work? I do not hold out much hope but it is the last ditch effort. Is it silly to pray for the recovery of a dog, I wonder? At this point I don’t care how silly it is. We pray every night for Bella to get better.

The problem this new regime creates is that I now have five pills to get down her throat every morning and she is not the least bit interested in our attempts to help her. There must be a better way. When I took care of cows, we had a pill gun to give pills to uncooperative cows. What can I use to make a pill gun? Then it comes to me. Vaginal estrogen cream and vaginal anti-fungal creams come with applicators. This is unconventional but I craft one into a pill gun for Bella. I find that if I mix some yogurt around the pills, they slide out nicely and into Bella’s mouth. Ever so slowly, Bella gets better over the next week. She begins to ask to play again, agrees to go for short walks with me, and gingerly starts to eat small amounts again. She still won’t touch her dog food but readily gobbles down the cat food. If she wants to be a cat, I guess we are OK with that for now. My hubby and I cheer when she finally gulps her pills wrapped neatly in bologna. Will this recovery be permanent or will she again relapse when the month is up? Only time will tell. I never realized the love of a dog could pull so hard at one’s heartstrings especially since my heartstrings tend to be loosely tied.

One Day as a Tax Aide

“Amanda, do you want to take this last one?” I pause and look at my watch. It is 11:45 a.m. on a morning of volunteering at the Salvation Army. Not too late, I think. My day has been going smoothly and I am feeling more confident in my ability. I can whip through this one in a hurry and be out the door by 12 noon or 12:30pm on this Saturday morning.010

I had decided this year to volunteer with AARP as a tax aide, helping low income and elderly people do their taxes for free. I love playing with numbers and the opportunity that I found printed in the local newspaper seemed like an interesting, exciting challenge.  After 40 hours of class and much on-the-job learning, I am finally enjoying this opportunity to give back to the community.NightCrossesJohnsonWedding 076

A short, elderly lady rises slowly from her chair and trundles after me. She lugs a large cloth tote bag with her. She settles into the chair beside my desk and plants the tote bag between her feet.

“Hello,” I begin, “First, let’s go over your pink sheet that you filled out and then I will need a copy of your social security card and a driver’s license or ID.”

She fishes through her wallet and hands me the social security card. Several more minutes pass as I patiently wait for the requested ID. The minutes are ticking away in my head as others are wrapping up and getting ready to leave. “I almost never need an ID so I don’t really know where it is,” she finally shares this information with me.

“Well, you keep looking while I start to put your basic information in the computer.”

“Do you want my paperwork?” she questions.

Sure, why not. “Yes, please.”

Out of the tote, she produces a very thick envelope-stuffed folder. I quickly flip through the contents. My heart sinks to my toes and a sense of panic threatens to overwhelm me. This is not what I was hoping for from my last client. There are return addresses on the envelopes from various financial companies, banks, etc and none of the envelopes have been opened. I take a deep breath and realize that there is nothing to do but begin at the beginning. I methodically open and sort through each envelope, placing the pertinent 2016 reports in one pile, the mixed-in 2015 ones in a second pile, and those that have no relevance to the current situation in a third pile. When did I become the mail sorter?

I can feel the frustration mounting and feel the clock ticking. I wonder how many questioning faces will be peering in at me before I get this done. I take a deep breath.

power line 3-13-14 250Finally, I am ready to begin entering the data. Even though I have not done many returns that contain IRA distributions, mutual funds income, and rental property, amazingly, my training kicks in and entering the data goes quite smoothly. Most of my questions to the client requesting additional information are met with, “I don’t know. My husband used to take care of all this” so I need to rely on my gut instincts and previous knowledge.

Searching the internet for property tax information for the house takes more time but I am ecstatic when I am successful. I think I am doing pretty well with this challenging undertaking. It never ceases to amaze me the information one can scare up on the internet with a few clicks.

“Are we going to have a return to submit today?” the question comes from a smiling face at the door. The pressure is on. The two remaining quality reviewers are getting antsy. The rest of the aides have gone home.

“I will be done in just a few minutes,” I assure the anxious face.

A few more minutes and I hit the final “ready for review” button. I did it. And it only took an hour and 15 minutes. Whew! I thought I was going to be attending Salvation Army church on Sunday.PetsFamilyJan2013 108

Visitors in the Attic

PetsFamilyJan2013 094As my husband and I lay in the darkness of our bedroom, just as we are drifting off to sleep, I hear this scratching noise like when our white cat, Snowflake, uses her paws on a door to open it. Scritch, scratch, thump, bang seem to be coming from the bathroom or so I think. Often Snowflake will sneak into the bathroom closet by opening the folding door. She does this by placing her little paw in the opening underneath the door and pulling until it squeaks open just a crack. Her owners then give doors such as this one all over the house that compulsory push to close them again. Once Snowflake is done snoozing away in the soft blankets and towels, she must find her way out. It keeps her entertained. The thought occurs to me that I should get up and let her out but I am nicely snuggled down in my bed so I sink into my world of dreams. Around 11:30 p.m., I hear my hubby get up to go to the bathroom. I can still hear the scritch, scratching noise so when he comes back, I sleepily mumble, “Did you let the cat out of the closet?”

“She is not in the closet,” he replies. “Both cats are laying with the dog in the hall.”

OK, so what is that persistent scratching noise that I hear? And where is it coming from?

PetsFamilyJan2013 092My 6’4” hubby reaches up and bangs on the ceiling. Instant silence follows. Apparently, we have some kind of visitors making their home in our crawl space above the ceiling. Mice? Rats? Raccoons? Squirrels? And what do we do about it? There is no entrance from inside the house to the crawl space in order to set a trap. Hubby crawls back in bed and we settle back down to sleep. Only a few minutes go by and the scurrying, scratching noise begins again. Ugh… How are we supposed to sleep like this?

Over the course of the next few weeks, there are nights when we hear no noises and nights when the frantic scurrying awakens us. We discuss many times what to do. Our house roof is very steep, 30 feet in the air, and covered with snow so neither one of us wants to go on the roof to see if one of the attic vents is allowing access to our happy housemate.

“We have a live trap boxed up in the basement from when we caught that squirrel running around in our first house,” I inform Hubby after he decides he will go buy a live trap and cut a hole in the bathroom closet wall. Soon our trap is baited with peanut butter and set just outside the new hole our closet wall sports. Hopefully, the cat doesn’t find this hole or she will be gone into oblivion.

Several weeks go by. There are some nights during which the scurrying persists and many nights when there are no sounds. The trap sits empty, always at the ready to receive the offender who seems not the least bit enticed by what we are offering. We have given up hope of ever catching anything and don’t know what our next step should be.005 (3)

One morning, as I am sitting on the commode, I hear this commotion in the bathroom closet (scratching, scurrying, banging). What is that noise? Finally, it dawns on me. I pull open the closet door and peer into the depths. Two shining eyes and bared teeth glare back at me. Hello, my not-so-innocent little friend. We have just caught a squirrel. Now the question is, what do I do with him? Our son-in-law had suggested that we make squirrel soup if we ever caught the critter. But to my soft-hearted Hubby, that is just not an option. So, I load my very unhappy catch into the car and drive him 7 miles down by the river and watch him scamper off into the woods there.

The very next evening, Hubby hears the very same crashing going on in the closet. Squirrel #2 in custody. Has the first squirrel already made his way back? Or is this his mate? Now, it is hubby’s turn to drive 7 miles, this time in the dark, and to release our catch. Another decision is made. On the next Saturday, the bucket truck comes home and all the branches on the tree next to the house that must be totally tempting for squirrels to use as a bridge to the house roof come off and go into a heap. Hopefully, this is the last visit from the busy bodies. I guess we shall see as the trap remains at the ready.039_1 (2)

January Ice Storm

123“A major ice storm is moving across the Midwest,” the weather forecaster pronounces during the Sunday evening weather report.

I groan inwardly and outwardly. “Not again. I hope it stays south of us. Maybe they will be wrong this time,” I lament to my husband before we head for bed. Just in case he is not wrong, I gather a small bag of personal toiletries and clothes to take along to work in case I get stuck in town tomorrow.

The waning moon still lights the western sky as I cruise down the driveway headed for work in the morning. Hope that the weatherman is wrong springs up again. I shudder to think about if he is right. Our driveway will be a perfectly prepared skating rink with the winter snow pack and ice already currently on it.

“How is the weather outdoors,” I inquire of OR staff as they come in for later shifts.

“Not bad,” is the response, “It’s just raining some.”074

By the time I am relieved early at 6:30 p.m., I make the decision to drive home. No one seems too worried and my employer has not called a “weather emergency” so any hotel room would not be paid for. Huge steady drops of rain pound the pavement as I drive out of the parking ramp. This is not what is supposed to happen in January. I glance at my car’s outdoor thermometer. “34 degrees,” it declares – just above the freezing mark. As I creep out of town, frozen slush on the payment hails me. Any touch of the brakes rewards me with a flashing “dynamics control system activated” light on the dashboard and a sliding of tires on the pavement. This is going to be a two-hands-on-the-wheel 30 mile per hour drive.

I press “2” on my phone to call my hubby and alert him that I am coming home.

“No, you’re not,” he says, “I slid down the hill sideways on the gravel road and then got stuck in the driveway.”

“Well, I am on my way, so I will see what is like when I get there and decide what to do,” I inform him.

This will be interesting. I toss different scenarios around in my head. Should I park in the field drive and try to walk home? Should I go to the neighbors and ask for a 4-wheeler ride home? Or maybe I can slide down the hill on the gravel road and at least, park in the driveway. But I need to go to work tomorrow again so that doesn’t seem like a wise choice.

The Subaru high beams reflect off the shiny sparkling surface as I park at the top of the hill and gingerly step out of the car. Cold water cascades from the sky. I slide my shoe around on the smoothness testing its potential to send my feet in different directions. Hanging on to the car for stability, I slip back in and decide to park it right there by the side of the road under the stop sign. I pray that no one hits it and that it will still be there in the morning. I turn the ignition off and pull the key. I am thrown into pitch black darkness as I sit and try to gather up my courage to set out on foot. I don’t even have any boots.011

It looks like there is some grass sticking out of the ice along the side of the road. I will make that my path down the hill. Water soon trickles down my glasses and drips off my nose as I carefully set one foot ahead of the other as I feel for the side of the snow pack in the blackness. Breaking a leg out here alone seems like an outcome I should attempt to avoid. Once I have safely reached the beginning of the driveway, I transition to stomping through the two-foot-high snowbank along the drive as I trudge uphill, puffing away towards that warm glow of home. This is a nice ¼ mile walk in the sunshine but a daunting trek in these conditions. Just as I open the garage door, my feet attempt to escape from under me. Just what I need to do – fall down at the last moment. In the bright sweet light of home, I hang my drenched coat and set my shoes by the heat register. Time for a sleep in my warm toasty bed. At least, no plow truck is needed for this kind of precipitation.

I start out early on my walk to the car in the morning. The rain has stopped and a light coating of snow covers the ice. I walk down the middle of the drive as if the previous evening was only a dream.046

The Final Day – Traveling Home

11-17-2016 Thursday

Today is our last day in Israel. It is chilly and only partly sunny. Our first stop today is at an archaeological dig site to shift through debris from the temple mount. The temple is occupied by the Muslims and apparently, they decided to expand their mosque without contacting the antiquities authority as required. Truckloads of artifacts and debris were hauled away in the night and dumped on the Mount of Olives.

1245

Lecture with Directions

Sifting through buckets of stones is not really my cup of tea but we are here so participate we do. We are assigned to a sieve kind of thing in groups of four. Son-in-law, Daughter, Hubby, and I are a group. We are to dump a bucket of the debris on our wire sieve, wash it with a garden hose and then sort through it. Things that we find that are old metal, pottery, mosaic, glass, bone, or unusual stones are to be picked out and put into a muffin tin. The whole mess looks like regular old stones to me and what little interest I had is soon gone. Hubby sticks with it.

1246

Sifting rocks

Picking up pretty stones is more his thing. Other groups have some success with finding valuable items. Our picking is mostly a failure.

We board the buses again about 10:30 to make our way to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is a somber experience as we remember the many lives lost through the cruelty of the Germans. The sad reality is that world leaders are now trying to tell people that it never happened. I cannot understand this phenomenon – how educated people can deny this tragedy. It is also unfathomable to me how men can be so depraved and heartless on one hand and on the other, there were those who risked their own lives and futures to save as many Jews as possible. What I am most shocked by is that Christians in the early centuries after Christ returned to heaven (200-400AD), considered the Jews subhuman and persecuted them for not accepting Christ as the Messiah. We eat our noon meal at the Holocaust Museum then relax for some time standing in the sun until everyone is ready to go.

Our last stop of the day is in the garden which contains one of the places believed to possibly be the burial site of Jesus. Our tour guide is a Swedish gentleman who talks to us about the garden and about Jesus sacrifice for us on the cross. As he is explaining about the Hill of the Scull

where Jesus was crucified, a booming loud speaker blares out the Muslim call to prayer. It is so loud we cannot talk above it and need to wait for the call to be over. Often, we are told, the Muslims call their people to prayer more than the 5 times required by their law just to interfere with the Christian activities such as this. Trying to protest or stop this kind of behavior would result in WW III so the behavior is quietly tolerated.

We make our way to the garden tomb and each one of us gets a chance to take a look into the empty tomb. Then we gather together on some benches to sing hymns and worship. Pastor Mark brings us a short message and then communion is shared together. The communion cups are made of olive wood and we can keep them as a remembrance. The wind has started to pick up and it is quite chilly as we sit there. It is 4 pm by the time we wrap up the service and head back to the bus and the hotel.

Several people, including Daughter and son-in-law, want to get off at the Jaffa Gate to do some last minute shopping so the bus makes a drop off stop there. The rest of us go back to the hotel to rest until the 6:30 drop off time for taking our suitcases to the bus. Then it is time for the last supper. A gourmet meal it is.

bus2photosecond20161126

Bus 2 Group Photo

We board the buses at 8:30 pm for our trip to the airport where we say Good-bye to our bus driver, Shalom, and our guide, Eli. Our excursion through the airport turns out to be a stressful challenge. We are first told to get our boarding passes at the many kiosks designed for such purposes. Brother, his wife, Hubby, and I are successful at doing so. However, by that time, we realize that all the other 100 some have been told to just get into line and we are left at the end of the line. Son-in-law and Daughter have left us in the dust. They are far ahead at the front of the line. I keep thinking having our boarding passes and luggage already checked should allow us to bypass some of this line but it does not seem so. My stomach muscles are getting tighter and tighter as this line progresses with the speed of a turtle. I keep looking at my watch and thinking that we are going to end up missing the plane. As we are all standing in line, we find out that El Al Airlines have overbooked the flight by at least 15 – 20 people and they are asking members of our group to stay. Apparently, the pilots have also been on strike since Sunday which we knew nothing about. Just last evening, all flights were canceled.

The clock has ticked away an hour and a half before we finally reach the first security point where they compare our passport with our face and ask numerous questions. This one we zip through. Then we are told to get into the line for checking our bags in.

“Can we check our bags in somewhere faster?” I ask “since we already have luggage tags.”

Of course the answer is, “No, you need to get in that line.” As the man points to the line that snakes around 3 rows of slowly crawling snails. I am starting to feel somewhat panicked as we wait again for 30 minutes. Finally, we head for the next stop which is the physical security checkpoint where we need to go through the metal detector. We are allowed to keep our shoes on which makes this line move at incredible speed. As we leave the metal detector, I look around for the signs pointing to the D concourse. I see nothing like that. Confusedly, I lead my pack of four around in circles. Finally, I decide to ask. The TSA agent I ask is visibly irritated by this ignorant idiot, “You have to go through passport verification first,” she snaps. I have no idea what that means but head towards a line marked “foreign passports.” Another official looking lady waves toward some strange machines on the wall,” You can use those automatic ones over there.”

OK, I have no idea what to do with those things but I wander over and read the directions which say, “Put passport under scanner.” Amazingly, it likes my approach and prints me a little ticket. Feeling confident that we are now on our way, I tuck everything away and we are funneled through 1 small opening towards the boarding area.  No wonder I could not see it before. We have not gone more than 20 feet and we come to more machines that indicate we need to scan our pink card to get through. “Pink card? I don’t have a pink card.” Then I realize this must mean the little slip of paper we just got. It has a faint ting of pink across the top. Finally, we reach the boarding area. Are there any more hoops to jump through I wonder? We have about a ½ hour wait before boarding the plane. They make an announcement that any liquids we have bought cannot be brought on the plane and that they will be going through our carry-on bags looking for liquids. You can’t be serious! Again? This line moves quickly as the search is not terribly thorough. The last straw awaits me on the plane. We realize Hubby and I do not have exit seats as I paid for and we are stuffed into the middle of the plane with someone between us. I make myself at home in the middle seat regardless. It makes no sense for someone to want to sit between us. When that person finally arrives, she is fine with our arrangement as it will put her husband just across the aisle from her. In all the confusion of the Airline’s overbooking and moving people around, we are left to stuff ourselves in the regular seats for 12 hours and the money I paid extra for exit seats has been swallowed up in the mess.

Other than being unable to breathe or move properly for 12 hours, all goes well with our flight. We land in Newark, NJ 45 minutes late but safe and sound back in the US. Our connecting flight to Minneapolis is uneventful. We break through the heavy clouds into light rain. By the time we retrieve our bags, it has started to snow heavily. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

This time the hare beat the tortoise as we get home before my brother and his wife who drove home from the Newark airport.1313

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 4

11-16-2016 Wednesday

 

1235

Sunset over the desert

Clouds darken the sky today for the first time since we have arrived here. The temperature is chilly and I surrender my belief that it is still summer by putting on a sweater. We are on the bus by 8 am and headed for Masada.

1130

Bedouin sheep

The drive south along the Dead Sea is beautiful in its own way. We pass areas of what they call “desert farming.” They drip irrigate using the sewage water from Jerusalem to save water.

As we go further south, the land becomes more barren with huge hills of wasteland to the west. Masada is the ruins of an ancient city built upon the top of a 1000-foot-high flat top hill. King Herod, the Great, first built one of his fortresses high on this hill. Later, it became a place for the Jews to flee for refuge around 70 AD when they were defeated by the Romans in a crushed uprising. After 3 years of refuge, the Romans are able to breach the hill and all the rebels there die. It is an awesome sight to look up at this hill high above our heads as we drive into the parking lot. If one were young and ambitious, he could hike up the Snake Trail to the top of Masada. None of us are either of these, so we board a cable car/Tram to be hoisted to the top. We are told it holds 80 people and they are serious about this as they jam pack us into the car. I am starting to feel the rising panic of claustrophobia when I find I can’t move.

It is a beautiful day here – not too hot and not too cold. We spend about an hour and a half at Masada exploring the ruins and viewing some of the great inventions of Herold the Great. Probably the most remarkable invention is the water collection and storage system.

1173

Israeli flag over Masada

The one or two huge rains per year are the only source of water. As we stand listening to the tour guide, I hear a clatter of something on the stone. It is Hubby’s glasses lens. He has lost the screw to hold the frame together. We brainstorm as to how to fix this but can do nothing about it at the moment.

Around 12 noon, we head back down on the cable car and board the bus for the Qumran Caves Museum. This is where we will eat lunch. It is the usual chaotic scene getting through the lunch line. We see a group of Mennonites who instantly make contact with Brother and his wife. That is how it is with Mennonites. They recognize each other anywhere and feel a bond. We exit through the gift shop to wait for our tour guide. I notice a bunch of sunglasses and we decide to buy a pair in the hopes that we can use one of the screws to repair Hubby’s glasses. Getting through the checkout line is a bit of a challenge as people are everywhere and buying the skin care products manufactured from the Dead Sea. I finally am able to get outside into the crush of people there. Our guide today, Bruce, finally is able to get us away from the masses to explain the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We make a short tour of the Essene ruins and then head back to the bus.

Our last stop is the beach of the Dead Sea.

1135

Dead Sea

I do not plan to float but simply to wade. The Dead Sea is 33% salt so the water is toxic if taken orally or gotten in the eyes. We receive our towels and make our way gingerly down the steep hill that once was the banks of the Dead Sea. The use of the minerals and water from the lake for commercial purposes has caused the shores of the Dead Sea to recede several hundred feet over the last 40 years. The mud is a dark gray color. I step gingerly into the water. As I move one foot ahead of the other, it drops over the edge into a hole. After several attempts, I decide to move to a different location and am able to enter the water. As I stand there watching others smear black mud all over themselves, a man holding a cell phone steps into the water in the place I formerly tried.

His leg disappears into a hole and down he goes, cell phone and all. Now why would someone take their cell phone along into a salt bath? Is my question. After wading about for approximately 15 minutes and getting splashed by others falling down, I decide it is time to get out before I end up totally wet. After washing off my feet, Hubby and I find some ice cream to enjoy at a small picnic table under a spreading tree. Hundreds of chirping birds seem to be perched in its branches. I am just about done when I feel a wet drop on my forehead from above. Gross! A bird has just pooped on my head. It is time to move on back to the bus.1226

We are back at the hotel by 5:45pm and catch up with Daughter and Son-in-law who did not accompany us today but decided to wander around by themselves and relax. I spy the pipe cleaner on our suitcase and use it for the repair so badly needed on Hubby’s glasses after we can’t get the screw out of the new sunglasses we bought. It works. Only one more day before it is time to head home again.