Easter in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Watching the sun rise over the Old City in Jerusalem on Easter
Sunrise over Old City Jerusalem on Easter morning

On Easter morning, we got up before dawn, dressed the girls, and drove downtown for Easter Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. What could be more spiritual than Easter in Jerusalem, supposedly on the spot where Jesus was crucified two thousand years ago?

Well, a lot, actually.

But it was a good adventure, and we’d definite recommend it to anyone without young children.

Easter in Jerusalem - outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The church was deserted when we arrived — part of the reason we got there so early.

Once we got downtown (the city was deserted that early), we parked at the Consulate (yes, that’s one of the perks of working for the Americans—free parking in downtown Jerusalem on a Sunday morning), and walked to the Old City. We entered through Jaffa gate, and made our way through the deserted Souk to the church.

We arrived at the church around 7:00, and started asking where the Catholic mass would take place. The church is shared by Catholics, Syriacs, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox, so we wanted to make sure we were sitting in the right place. We found some wooden benches, and sat down with Jasmine in my lap, Bertrand to my right, and Grace still in the stroller (where she miraculously stayed until the service was almost finished).

The church slowly filled, and a Syriac mass began behind us. We quickly discovered that we’d chosen our seats poorly—the Syriacs had to walk through our aisle in order to touch the edifice in the middle of the church as part of their prayers. Oops! We were pretty easy going about it, much more so than the folks around us, and just pushed our bench back a foot or so to make room (it was standing room only behind us).

Easter in Jerusalem - Mass inside, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

About two hours into the mass, a young man came through, shouting at us to get up! And move! We did, and he pushed the benches out of the way so that the Catholics could make their procession around the the church. Previous to that, sitting and standing with Jasmine was no problem, but once we found ourselves without seats and pushed into the crowd, the experience was much less fun with children. Folks who’d previously been very kind about our stroller made several nasty comments, and, as we were pushed and jostled and Jasmine protested, we got a few comments about the noise as well.

Eventually, we just decided to leave. We couldn’t see, I was carrying Jasmine (who is getting big), and frankly, another hour of watching the Catholics march around the church and sing while being pushed and shoved in every direction didn’t seem like a terriblly spiritual experience for Bertrand or I. With the help of some lovely Syriacs, we lifted the stroller over the barriers, and pushed our way out of the church.

Perhaps the coolest part of the whole experience was listening to the three different Christian services going on at the same time in the church. It’s true that the different sects get along so poorly that they had to designate a Muslim family to hold the keys to the church, but at the same time, the fact that they somehow manage to share the space at all in a city as fractious as Jerusalem is beautiful to me.

Easter in Jerusalem - Snacks in the Old City after Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Post service snacks in the old city — pizza and calzones.

After the service, we drove down to First Station to meet another family for brunch, and had a lovely time letting the kids run around like morons.

Easter in Jerusalem - Breakfast at First Station

Not only was the food delicious, but there were tons of events going on for the kids, like live musicians and face painting.  One of the very real advantages of being in Jerusalem with Easter overlapping with Passover.

Easter in Jerusalem - Breakfast at First Station

Happy Easter.

Easter in Jerusalem - Jasmine is all tuckered outсистемы бесплатной раскрутки сайтов

Happy Easter from Jerusalem



The photo above is of Jasmine skipping down the narrow passage ways of the Old City on our way to mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as the sun rose above Jerusalem this morning.

Easter is my favorite religious holiday.  I find it beautiful that Christians all over the world are today celebrating second chances.  Jerusalem is often heartbreaking, and Easter reminds me that there is hope.  And what are we, teeming masses of unwashed humanity that we are, without hope that tomorrow can be better?

Happy Passover!  Happy (Orthodox) Palm Sunday!  Happy Easter!topodin.com

Our first trip to the West Bank — Biblical Bethlehem

Pedestrian market in Bethlehem
Over the weekend, I woke up early and dragged our family out to Bethlehem. Like Ein Karem last week, it’s a quick inexpensive excursion that didn’t require a lot of advance planning.  It was more of an adventure than expected—both Google and Apple Maps failed us completely. No route available to get from our house to Bethlehem? Really? Maybe if we were Israeli passport holders, but as Americans? Please.

So we downloaded Waze, and hit the road. The first check point is actually only five minutes from our house. My colleagues had prepared me for quite a long wait, but they waved us right through. And then we were in the West Bank for the first time. We eventually found parking in the middle of Bethlehem’s market, and began making our way to the Old City.

We stumbled on a Syrian Orthodox church with an open door, and peeked in.

Mosaic at the Syrian Orthodox Church in Bethlehem

There were several men just hanging out, smoking, and drinking tea, one of whom spoke French fluently (and was happy to find a fellow francophone in Bertrand).  Jasmine and Bertrand turned on the charm, and before long, the girls were welcome to run around in the courtyard and touch the beautiful mosaics on display.

Syrian Orthodox Church in Bethlehem

After peeking into the church, the kids were hungry, so on the way we stopped for shawarma. Bertrand’s the friendliest man in the world, and we quickly made friends with the proprietor and his kid.  Chicken schawarma, hummus, Palestinian garlic sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes, pickles, hot peppers, and yes, the ubiquitous pita bread.  It was absolutely delicious.

Lunch at Al Sufara, Bethlehem

And then Bertrand had to shop. No jokes about how women like to shop in this family! Bertrand can’t resist a sob story (and this trip was rife with them), and so we ended up with quite a bit more knickknacks than we’d planned.


Finally, we made it to the Church of the Nativity.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Which was beautiful.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

But also awful.


Nothing like being pushed and shoved while trying to keep track of a three-year-old and a one-year-old to get to The Spot Where Jesus Was Born. And then doing the same to get to The Manger Where Mary Laid Him. I found the whole experience disappointingly commercial (complete with overpaid tour guide that we somehow picked up on the way).

Moasics at Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

I expected the moment to be spiritual, and instead, it just felt … crass.

Beautiful carved doors at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

So there you have it.  The Church of the Nativity.


On our way out, we stopped to buy a rotisserie chicken (mmmm … those Levantine Arabs and their rotisserie chicken). The kids were getting crabby, so we stopped to buy some sweets. While we were pursuing the cookies, Bertrand was distracted by a juice merchant, and before we knew it, we were whisked away to a quiet side street blessedly empty of crowds of shoppers and tourists.



The juice and tea were delicious, and the fellowship we found with those who lived on the street was also lovely.

Kafaiyas for sale in Bethlehem

Once we made it back to the car, we were surprised and delighted to come upon a shepherd shepherding his sheep across the road home.  Biblical indeed.раскрутка сайта

Raising kids as expats — the “new” normal

My husband and I worry about the effect of the expat lifestyle on our kids.  Will they grow up rich with experiences, polyglot, and appreciative of all that they have?  Or will they grow up spoiled and entitled, used to having the world at their feet?  We hope the former, and fear the latter. A recent blog post from another mother who’s dragging her family around the world made me think about the “new” normal for our kids, which is nothing like the normal I grew up with.

I wonder if my kids will ever regret not being able to range over the countryside like my brother and I did (not that we ranged terribly far, but we at least had the illusion of freedom).  Bertrand wonders whether they’ll miss being surrounded by an enormous family and the sense of belong that comes from a structured family hierarchy.  I wonder if my kids will regret not.  I wonder if my kids’ educational experiences will suffer because they won’t grow up in just one school system, where all of the teachers know their mom and their siblings and everything about their family for the last decade.  Bertrand worries about how the kids will make lifelong friends if they move every few years.

And then when we’re done worrying, we think about the fact that our kids can say thank you in more languages than we can, and our three year old is figuring out the cues here in Jerusalem about whom to thank in which language.  Our kids love fou-fou, and hummus, and pita, and cassava.  They’re figuring out the difference between West African piment and Jerusalemite harissa and their parents’ Tabasco sauce, and which heat they like and they don’t like.  They’re friendly and respectful and so wonderfully confident that the world welcomes them.

Could I ever take that away from them for twelve stable years in the States?


Not ever.

But there are some things that we do as they grow (we have a preschooler and a toddler now!) to keep their lives more normal:

Insist that the girls say please and thank you, whether buying dried fruit in the market, ordering hummus at a restaurant, or getting yogurt out of the fridge.

Make the girls clean up after themselves.  Yep, you guessed it, at the market, in restaurants, and at home.  The world is indeed at their feet, but that doesn’t mean their food needs to be.  It’s a slow slow process, but the girls are starting to understand that the “circle of shame” after a meal, as friends of ours from another post called it, is actually, well, shameful.

New toys are a special occasion.  We buy the kids food treats all the time (and we are blessed with kids who think strawberries are the BEST CANDY EVER).  We take them out to dinner.  We explore Jerusalem and it’s wonderful.  But we don’t buy them stuff.  They have plenty of toys and plenty of clothes and frankly, we are happy for them to learn to entertain themselves without the mountains of plastic.

Emphasize that “normal” is wherever we are.  In Freetown, rice pilaf with chicken was normal.  Here in Jerusalem, hummus and olives are normal.  In Cotonou, bright colorful pagnes are normal.  And back in the States, jeans and a t-shirt?  Perfectly normal.  We want our kids to realize that normal is essentially meaningless.  Each wonderful place we live will have it’s own normal, and we want the girls to understand that as well.

Encourage drawing and art and creativity.  My preschooler loves scrapbooking (well, cutting triangles out of pretty paper and pasting them onto more pretty paper).  My toddler loves scribbling.  And pretends to write words (I know!  humblebrag!  already!  ahhhhh!).

Read every day.  I hope to foster in my kids the same love of reading that I have.  As a child, books exposed me to a wide variety of ideas and ways of life that I never would have seen if I didn’t spent every spare moment with my nose buried in a book.

Be each other’s best friends.  We made the decision early on that we wanted to have two children because we wanted them to have each other as we move around the world.  We are following a very Beninese school of parenting when it comes to our daughters’ relationship with each other.  They’re responsible for one another, both for the good and the bad.  The elder must take care of the younger and must serve as a good example, and the younger is obliged to follow her sister’s lead.

Any other great ideas for maintaining normality and stability as we drag our daughters around the world?

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Ein Karem – a Tiny Oasis in West Jerusalem

View from the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Jerusalem

Saturday afternoon, we’d finished puttering around the house, and didn’t really want to waste a beautiful afternoon indoors.  It was also late enough that we knew the kids wouldn’t last long, and we didn’t want to commit to a long expensive excursion if a breakdown were eminent.  With small children, it’s easy to get caught up in MUST! BRING! EVERYTHING! because you never know what your kids are going to need if you’re out for a long day of sightseeing. We’ve been making an effort to be more minimalist not only in the accouterments we drag along for the girls, but also in our actual excursions.

Ein Karem is technically part of West Jerusalem, but it feels like a tiny artist’s village tucked snugly among green hills. It is, supposedly, the town where John the Baptist was born.  It’s a 15 minute drive from our house, full of cute cafes and brasseries, and most importantly, parking (if you can find it) and most of the attractions are free.

We decided to give Ein Karem a try, knowing that we could be home in 20 minutes if the kids turned into disasters.  Happily, they had as much fun as we did!  Once we found parking, an adventure in and of itself, we climbed a hill to see the Church of the Visitation.  It was well worth the hike.

When you enter into the church grounds, your’e greeted by beautiful tile mosaics of prayers in languages from all over the world (Nigeria included).

Prayers in a variety of languages from all over the world, Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

The kind monk who greeted us didn’t speak much English (and we, of course, don’t speak much Hebrew), but he was very patient and gentle with the kids, both of whom wanted to take advantage of the large flat spaces to run around, instead of sedately and respectfully enjoying the church.  He was very understanding of their enthusiasm, and we were eventually able to convince the girls to hush.  Once they were quiet and calmed, we took a peek at some of the church’s beautiful interior spaces.

Holy well, Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

After exploring the area near the entrance, we climbed more stairs to visit the church itself.

Inside the grounds of the Church of the Visition, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

The Church of the Visitation is known for it’s beautiful tile mosaics, and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Mosaic tiles in the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem


Mosaic tiles in the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

Mosaic tiles in the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

After visiting the Church of the Visitation, we traipsed back down the hill to the village of Ein Karem itself. It was packed with Israelis and tourists. all sitting at outdoor cafes and enjoying the beautiful weather. We’d hoped to visit the Church of John the Baptist, but by the time we’d stopped to get ice cream and climbed the hill to the church, it was closed to visitors.

Bertrand and Grace eating ice cream in Ein Karem

The ice cream was delicious, though.

We’re going to try and go back in a few weekends to see the sights we weren’t able to visit this time. It’s a rare neighborhood in West Jerusalem that’s actually open and hopping on a Saturday afternoon, and kids and adults alike in our family could use a few more relaxing afternoons playing tourist in a non-stressful “OMG MUST! SEE! EVERYTHING!” way.aracer


Kousa Mahshi (Palestinian stuffed zucchini)


The longer we’re in Jerusalem, more in love I fall with the incredibly varied cuisine here. And like many international cuisines, no matter where the source, traditional recipes are long and labor intensive. I’m making an effort to learn one recipe a week, integrating it into my weekly paleo cook-up.

Sometimes, as with a recent experiment with maqluba, I simply say to hell with paleo! Rice doesn’t destroy my guy like wheat products seem to, so I made the traditional recipe as proscribed.  Most weekends, though, I weigh how good I feel when I’m eating strictly paleo against trying a new recipe, and frankly, feeling good wins. This week, I decided to modify traditional stuffed zucchini in hopes of creating a paleo-friendly version.


So delicious.

I read dozens of recipes while trying to figure out this one, but this one was particularly useful (I am not the first blogger who needs paleo middle eastern foods!). I modified the recipe for a larger batch and much more robust flavor.

Recipe for Paleo Stuffed Zucchini

Prep time: 15
Cook time: 60
Serves: 6


  • Six to eight large zucchinis (cut in half and cored) or a dozen small zucchinis, also cored
  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1T all spice
  • 1/2T cinnamon
  • 2t salt (divided)
  • 2 diced tomatoes
  • 3 whole tomatoes (or two cans diced tomatoes)
  • 3T tomato paste
  • 1c fresh chopped parsley
  • 1c fresh chopped mint
  • 1T garlic powder
  • 2c chicken broth

Directions for the filling

  1. Core your zucchinis. I used large zucchinis chopped in half, and a regular vegetable peeler. I’ve already ordered a regular corer from Amazon.
  2. Heat 2T olive oil in a pan, then saute diced onions until slightly soft.
  3. Add the ground beef, all spice, cinnamon, and 1t salt, then cook until beef is well browned and remaining liquid has evaporated.
  4. Remove beef mix from heat, mix in a separate bowl with two diced tomatoes and chopped parsley, and allow to cool.
  5. To make the sauce, puree tomatoes, then heat in a sauce pan with tomato paste, mint, garlic powder, chicken broth, and 1t salt. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
  6. While the sauce is cooking, stuff your zucchinis! Smash as much of the beef mixture as you can into the zucchinis, then lay them sideways in a foil lined roasting pan. Add any extra beef to the cooking sauce.
  7. Pour the sauce over the zucchinis in your roasting pan, being sure to distribute evenly.
  8. Cook for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, turning zucchinis halfway through.



Join Us for the Awesome Ladies Project this Friday!

Are you awesome?  Could you be considered a lady by any crazy stretch of the definition?  Do you love crafting and struggle to set aside time to work on projects that make YOU feel GREAT?

Join The Awesome Ladies Project and pledge two hours a month to creating a project that makes you feel like an awesome lady.

Creating Makes You Feel Awesome

I, along with the other ladies on the Awesome Lady Creative Team, pledge my hours publicly on the last Friday night of each month (that’s tomorrow!), and I’d love for you to join us! In addition to posting pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #AwesomeLadiesProject, rukristin has set up a (free! of course! because awesome!) workshop to share inspiration and creative project.

In addition to all of that …


This month there are TWO awesome ladies chats (registration required to access link)!  I’ll be hanging out in our chatroom starting at 7:00 PM GMT, and Kristin will be leading a chat later in the day beginning at 10:00 PM EST.

Holler in the comments if you have any questions, and I can’t wait to get creative with you all!

Disclaimer: as a part of the rukristin Creative Team, I receive a small amount of free scrapbooking product to help create the some of the awesome projects you’ll see as inspiration in the workshop tomorrow.aracer.mobi

Primal Broccoli and Pomegranate Mason Jar Salad

Mason Jar Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad

Primal Broccoli and Pomegranate Mason Jar SaladI am working on taking my lunch to work every day, but I needed an easy way to make an entire week’s worth of lunches in advance. I actually do a great job of cooking a week’s worth of food at once on Sundays, but never seem to find time in the mornings to pack my lunches. Enter the mason jar (side) salad. It’s a great way to take advantage of all of the amazing fresh produce that Jerusalem offers, without having to get up early to make myself a salad every morning for work.

I combine this salad with a more substantial entree (like paleo Shepherd’s pie, or meat balls, or whatever), and it keeps me full all day, including up and through my evening lifting sessions.

Mason Jar Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad Recipe

Serves 5 (or one person 5 times).


  • 2/3 cup mayo (I use homemade paleo mayo, but store-bought will also work)
  • 1/4 cup basalmic vinegar
  • 2 heads broccoli (chopped into florets)
  • Seeds of one pomegranate (check out this YouTube video for helpful instructions on seeding)_
  • 1/4 cup red onion (sliced)’
  • 1.5 lbs cubed leftover chicken
  • 1 cup goat cheese (feta, bulgarian, whatever, cubed; skip this if you’re strict paleo)
  • 5 mason jars


  1. Blanche the broccoli florets (bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil, dump in the broccoli for one minute until the florets turn bright green, then drain immediately), and allow to cool.
  2. Mix the mayo and balsamic vinegar.
  3. Layer into each mason jar: 2T basaltic dressing, handful of broccoli, red onions, chicken, pomegranate, cheese cubes.

Everything is made from scratch. All of the ingredients are primal and paleo friendly. And I can make five salads at a time to store in the fridge.

It’s true that the mason jar is pretty hipster, but I’ll take an ounce of hipster over the ridiculous cost of buying my lunch every day at the consulate.topod

How to become a runner.

Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – How to become a runner

How to become a runner.How to become a runner: put on your shoes, go outside, and start running.

How to become a CrossFitter: put on your shoes, go to a box, and start CrossFitting.

How to become a lifter: put on your shoes, to to the gym, and start lifting.

Yes yes yes yes yes, research boxes and find one you like. Yes yes yes, look at form videos on YouTube and learn how to lift correctly. Yes yes yes yes, invest in decent running shoes and try C25K.

But don’t let analysis paralysis stop you from going out and MOVING if that’s what you want to do.

Don’t start Monday.

Start tomorrow.

Start now.раскрутка

Stone steps at an outdoor amphitheater near kibbutz Be’eri

Darom Adom Southern Anemone festival in southern Israel – Watching the Desert Bloom

Matan running through the fields at Darom Adom

Friends of ours invited us to join them on a trip to the Negev to see Israeli’s national flower, the anemone bloom.  The flowers bloom only for a few short weeks after the rainy season, before disappearing until the next year.  After over a month cooped up in Jerusalem, we were happy to get out of the city (and so were the kids).

We took the long road to get to Shokeda, the region in the nortnern Negev where the flowers grow.  After a few mishaps, we finally found a place to park and let the kids run wild.

And she's off!  Grace running near kibbutz Be'eri

We actually hadn’t found the anemones yet, just crowded outdoor area, where cyclists were meeting (there was a bike shop) and getting ready to ride off-road and through the fields of flowers.  Behind the market area, there were some beautiful wide open fields were kids were running around and families were picnicking.  Grace and Jasmine needed to get out and stretch their legs before continuing to search for the beautiful red flowers, so we unloaded the cars and let everyone out to explore.

Jasmine running through a grassy field at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Between the fields, there was a beautiful outdoor amphitheater.

Stone steps at an outdoor amphitheater near kibbutz Be’eri

Once the kids were a little tired, we returned to the market area to find food.  Seats at tables were in short supply, but we found a large wooden table in the shade, and took it over.

Ian and Bertrand eating lunch at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Some of us sat while eating, and some of us chose to dance on the table instead.  One-year-olds are wonderful.

Suzanne and Matan after lunch at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Finally, after everyone had eaten and the kids were settled, we were ready to head off, still in search of the anemones.  We eventually found a field full of them, and full of picnickers and fellow travelers like ourselves.

Matan running through the fields at Darom Adom, And she's off!  Grace running near kibbutz Be'eri


We let the kids lose again, and had a lovely time chasing them around.  There were tons of other families out, similarly chasing their kids around.  And the flowers were breathtaking.

Grace wondering through the fields at Matan running through the fields at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Grace also ate several flowers.  Apparently, they were delicious.интернет раскрутка