Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Culturally Confusing Christmas

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The Middle East seemed like a perfect place to get away from fake pine trees, creepy santas and even creepier elves during the holidays. I did realize that Bethlehem was where Jesus was born, and that because of all the churches in the holy land, there might be some Christmassy stuff laying around for tourists to pick up.

But I honestly felt by visiting one country that was 75% Jewish, 16% Muslim and 2% Christian (the rest of the people being ambiguous) and another country 90% Sunni, 2% Shia and 8% Christian-ish, the odds were in my favor that I could evade santa and his eight tiny reindeer. Certainly there wouldn’t be any pine trees, tinsel or fake snow!

[insert laugh track here].

Though I sought to escape Christmas, Christmas found me nonetheless–and came back with a vengeance.

Christmas Assault #1: Jerusalem YMCA

During our visit to Jerusalem, we lodged at the YMCA, which having “Christian” in the acronym, is a likely bet for Christmas decor. While the pine tree was no big surprise, I was bemused to see the dining room windows adorned with fake snow.

Fake snow. Note the oranges in the tree outside.

Fake snow. Note the oranges in the tree outside.

YMCA Christmas Tree

YMCA Christmas Tree

Christmas Assault #2: Jaffa Gate Christmas ‘Market’

Perhaps it is unfair to compare any Christmas market in the world with those in Germany, but the market outside the Jaffa Gate blind-sided me with its cheesiness. Blue tarps strung on metal poles, people wearing santa hats, an eight-foot tall inflatable santa, an illuminated ‘tree’ AND to completely bombard our senses, American Christmas music. (I haven’t heard Silent Night by Annie Lennox in a LONG time!)

Jaffa Gate Market

Jaffa Gate Market

 Christmas Assault #3: Movenpick Hotel, Petra, Jordan

Becoming emotionally stable again after my traumatic experience at the Jaffa Gate market, I sought refuge in the least likely of places to honor Christmas with a fake pine tree: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

While sipping my hibiscus juice during check-in at the Movenpick hotel at Petra, I noticed in the foyer, amongst the potted palms, a huge Christmas tree. At first I thought our journey along the winding desert road had parched my brain and I was hallucinating. But alas, it was a real, fake tree. Thus realizing Christmas was out to get me, I forced the kids to pose for another picture.

Oh! Christmas tree! In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Oh! Christmas tree! In the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The Final Christmas Assault: U Coral Beach Club, Eilat

Not only did Christmas follow me from Wadi Musa to Eilat, but it twisted my arm behind my back until I fell to my knees, crying ‘Shalom!’ and wishing for the peace and harmony of a Christmas Eve sale at Wal-Mart.

Since my teenage son alone can eat his weight in falafel, staying at an all-inclusive resort seemed like a good idea for the nine of us. Little did I know that all-inclusive meant ‘family-friendly,’ which translated means ‘frenetic activities for kids and an open bar for parents.’

We were bombarded with fake trees, stuffed santas poking their creepy faces out from everywhere, a steady stream of Christmas music, tinsel, and we saw hotel staffers dressed as sleeping children and flanking the hall on our way into the breakfast room, a guy in plaid boxers with suspenders and a santa hat, inviting our kids to a trivia game, dance parties every night and, the coup d’état, Israeli children having milk and cookies while waiting for a Brazilian santa, who would be driving up on a Harley.

The stage is set for santa at the U Coral Beach Club.

The stage is set for santa at the U Coral Beach Club.

It was cheesy. It was gaudy. As my friend said, it was ‘garish.’ And yet, this is where we spent our ‘Silent Night.’ Despite it all, I DID manage it with a laugh, and a little Irish Cream added to my coffee.

*Editor’s note: In all fairness, the staffers were genuinely concerned with having fun and involving kids in activities. They were wonderful in their sincerity and very helpful and welcoming.

The Real Christmas

On Christmas Eve, the few items we had purchased for the kids were tucked away, and we decided to place them inside the kids’ adventure hats. We didn’t tell them, and I don’t think the kids expected to get anything at all, since we had told them the trip was the present. Honestly, my friend and I felt excited, figuring out how to sneak the presents into the hats, and when and where to place them around the hotel room. It was the most regret-free fun I’ve ever had on Christmas Eve.

Opening presents

Opening presents

Christmas morning, the girls and I awoke (the boys were in another room with their dad), and I gave each of them a ‘Christmas’ can of Coke, which is a special treat (especially at 6:00 am). I also had forgotten that I had some fake Nabatean coins in my purse that I’d picked up in Petra, and so, I handed those out to the girls as their Christmas presents. I got out my bible, and we read some and talked about Christmas and what it has to do (or does not have to do) with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Before we knew it, it was time for our ‘real’ Christmas to begin. My friend and I set up the adventure hats in her room and then had the kids go in, find their hats, and uncover their gifts. They were SO happy that they weren’t just getting fake Nabatean coins! Even though the presents they got could fit into their carry-ons, the kids were just as happy as any other Christmas. As Katie put it, “The best Christmas is the one you’re having right now!”

Christmas Surprise!

Christmas Surprise!

I don’t know if we will embark on another Christmas adventure (the words Scuba Diving and Indian Ocean keep coming to mind), but I do know that despite West meeting East in a big, loud way this year, it was the most memorable Christmas the Wellman family has had thus far. 

Shalom!

May God bless you with peace in the new year!

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Running Israel

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Road Signs

View from the bus

I brought my running gear to Israel and didn’t wear it once. We were too busy snorkeling, riding busses, touring, hopping taxis, trekking through deserts and riding camels to make the time for running, and yet, I feel as if I’ve run a marathon.

I’m finding it difficult to compact ten days of adventure into a single blog. I could talk about unplugging, the horrors of family-friendly resorts at Christmastime, the luxury of Jordanian hospitality, the poverty of Jordanian people, the IDF or the soul-soothing beauty of the Holy Land. But I will start with this topic: Israelis can RUN.

Every morning, I would sit on the hotel balcony and watch the sun rise over the Red Sea, drink my coffee and watch runners go by–and there were many.

One morning when my husband and I ventured out for cappuccino and free wifi (*note: I will address my unplugging hypocrisy in another blog) there were packs of runners, each looking as if they could be RW cover models.

I would love to run the Jerusalem marathon in March, but after spending a couple days in the very hilly city, I realized that not only would I have to be in great shape to tackle the hills, but I would have to be in the best shape of my life to finish by Shabbat.

On the shores of the Red Sea

On the shores of the Red Sea

Eilat, touching the Red Sea, is the ideal runner’s paradise in winter. The temperature was cool each morning and the sun was always shining. You could literally run from Jordan to Egypt in a single training run. Eilat is where we spent most of our time, with side trips to Jerusalem and to Petra, Jordan.

One day in Eilat, we were heading towards the nice beach (in front of the ritzy hotel, where we were NOT staying), when a woman bolted from the shopping mall on our right. She was frantically talking into a cell phone, paused for a moment a few yards in front of us, and then dashed off.

The first thing I noticed was her running. It was not girly, late-for-a-bus running. This was perfect, gazelle-like form. I paused to admire her, the way a kid on a tricycle watches a motorcycle zoom by, when people with guns seemed to spring from nowhere, and rushed past us down the promenade. Some of the people were in uniforms, but many, like the cell phone woman, were wearing average getup like jeans and tank tops.

A police car soon followed, and as the commotion built, we decided to head back to the hotel for a pool day.

The episode brought home the fact that we were not touring your average resort town. This was a place where guys wearing jogging pants might have machine guns strapped to their sides. Where that pack of awesomely fit runners might chase down someone who would hurt you. It is a place where your bus gets periodically boarded by people with guns. It is a place where a Humvee escorts your bus for certain portions of the highway.

There are security checks at every public building and concerned officials will sincerely look you in the eye and say, “I’m afraid someone will ask you to carry a package for them and it will be a bomb.” To their credit, they never added, “because you look like an ignorant tourist.”

The funny thing is that all of the security measures and the guys with guns made me feel safe. Many American cities are more dangerous than Jerusalem or Wadi Musa–and many are certainly more dangerous than Eilat.

Would I go back to Israel?

In an instant.

Would I run a marathon there?

Maybe if I train like a soldier.

Digital Christmas Card

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I love getting real Christmas Cards in the mail, and I am sorry that I didn’t get a single one sent out this year. But I am hoping that when our winter travels are over, I will have an awesome ‘Happy New Year’ card for you. You should expect those around Valentine’s Day.

Christmas is about to change radically for the Wellman family (see my post ‘Adventure for Christmas‘ on Uncommon Childhood), and honestly, I am still a little scared about doing things differently. If the kids DO get any tangible presents, they will be ones that can fit into a backpack. While this Christmas will be different from any we’ve had thus far, when this season comes to a close, our family will have some great stories to share.

The season has nothing to do with elves and trees and gifts, but it is a day we remember that the Creator of the Universe came to earth, taking on human flesh, so that we might be pulled out of the darkness. That is a reason to celebrate!

Now, take a walk with me down a snowy memory lane, as we take a peek at Christmases past.

Love and blessings to you!

Keri

Cool Mama

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Self-portrait along the running trail

Self-portrait along the running trail

I prefer running on early summer mornings, when the ground is dry and the insects and manure trucks are still sleeping. But since those conditions aren’t available year round, my second favorite time to run is when the trail is crunchy, the fields are white, and a light snow is falling as the sun sets, at 3pm.

Don’t let sideways sleet or high winds stop you from running. As long as there aren’t any Kansas farm houses whirling around out there, you should be fine.

The real key to running in winter is to have the right gear. You don’t have to spend a fortune on this, but a few good items will help you get out the door, rather than play it safe on the treadmill, a contraption which, in my opinion, should only be used during emergencies like hurricanes.

Here’s what I wear:

  • Bullet-proof socks: Actually, I’ve never tried shooting at them, but these neoprene socks are soft and cozy on the inside, and weather-proof on the outside. With these, I can wear my favorite running shoes year-round and keep my feet dry. My shoes get soaked, but my feet stay warm.

  • Bullet-proof mask: Again, nobody has shot at me while I wear this, but this balaclava with neoprene mask really keeps the wind out of my face. The neoprene means that while the mask might get damp from the moisture of my breath, it doesn’t cling to my face, whereas my Merino Buff feels like I’m suffocating on a sheep when I inhale.

  • Identity-Crisis Mitten/Gloves: While I wouldn’t wear Nike running shoes if they paid me like a basketball star, the company does occasionally put out something useful, like lightweight gloves that have mitten flaps and are surprisingly perfect. I wore these glove/mittens during my 50 degree, pouring rain July marathon in Bavaria, and I wore them the other day on a 12 mile, 20 degree, snow-in-your-face run. Even my pinky fingers stayed warm.

  • Supersuit: Definition: “Something that turns inside-out when you peel it off after your run.” A super suit must be tight, because any draft of air that touches your skin will make you cold. If you don’t have a super suit, get one. You’ll feel really awesome wearing it.

  • Sweater: when the temps are 40 degrees or above, a running ‘sweater’ over my super suit is perfect. I wear my Adidas ‘Tron’ shirt. It’s not really called ‘Tron,’ but the glow-in-the-dark piping begs the description.

  • Softshell: When it’s below 40, I toss on my UnderArmor soft-shell. I was a lot bigger when I bought it, so it can be kind of airy in there. But the extra space means I can wear my hydration pack under it, so the water doesn’t freeze. I also have a pair of ski pants in a soft-shell material, which are perfect for extremely cold temps.

  • YakTrax: These are a must on the icy, snowy roads, and if the pavement suddenly clears, they are easy to take off and shove in your pockets. Plus, they feel sproingy. (*New word, I know).

  • Warm Hat: My favorite is the Gore running cap, much like a swim cap, only soft. But when it’s below 30, I wear something thicker over the balaclava.

  • Neon Vest: to distinguish you from deer, if there are men with guns in the fields.

Motivation: Why You Should Run During Winter

  • You can eat more Christmas cookies, without guilt

  • Because post-run hot tea never tasted so good

  • Vitamin D is best taken in its natural state

  • You will have the farm roads to yourself

  • Your heart rate will be incredibly high–especially if you are punching through shin-deep snow

  • You might see deer on a snowy hill and pink clouds at sunset

  • You can scare your kids when you burst through the door while wearing your facemask

  • Overcoming challenges is addictive

  • Regular running boosts your immune system

  • During the crazy holiday season, you need time to chill (*Irresistible pun)

  • Your kids will think you’re cool (*Sorry, I couldn’t help it)

I hope that you won’t let the elements stop  you from enjoying the out-of-doors, even in winter. Even if you hate it at first (it is never ‘easy,’ after all), make it a habit to run outside and pretty soon, you’ll feel like you can’t do without it. It is especially important during this time of year, battling stress and the winter blues, to make it a point to get outside.

If I can do it, you can too!

Happy Running!

Loving Mudder

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mud

My Muddy Running Trail

I was sitting in the hair salon, trying to block out the persistent TV commercials for back massagers and ab rollers, and thinking of how spoiled I am to have my hair restored to a ‘natural’ color by chemically noxious means, when the stylist asked me how often I run.

“Four to five times a week,” I replied, most(ly) honestly.

“What do you do when it snows?”

Was that a question? It took me a moment to process what she was asking.

“I still run outside,” I finally answered, realizing that replying “I wear a hat,” might come across as flippant.

“Don’t you have a machine you could use?”

I thought about it. In fact, I did use the ‘machine’ for much of my training for my first marathon. But now, true to cliché, it has laundry piled on it.

The machine I might use is the elliptical, which stands steadfast beside the treadmill, and I only use it if gale force winds are blowing tiles off the roof, and I have no flex in my schedule, which means it is also collecting dust, because those two events rarely concur.

I much prefer to be outside in wind, rain, small pellets of hail, snow, sleet, and occasionally, sunshine.

But this time of year can be hard for runners. The combination of dark roads and mud can make it dangerous. I know this will astonish those who knew me when I left Alaska–vowing to never step foot in snow again, but I like the snow here.

Don’t tell anyone!

I enjoy frozen roads, because it means I don’t sink ankle-deep in farm mud. And there’s nothing more magical than running during a snowstorm. It’s like running in a snow globe, only sometimes your eyelashes freeze. 

Running through mud is more difficult than running through snow, because there are so many different types of it. Some mud is obvious, and you think ‘light’ thoughts as you tiptoe through it. But other mud gets spread on the roads from tractor tires, making a layer more treacherous than any form of ice.

When there’s ice I usually know it ahead of time, so I can slap on the YakTrax and avoid the patches that look like skating rinks, or I can stick to the frozen mud trails and avoid pavement altogether. But some mud LOOKS like the road, so sometimes you don’t see it until you step in it, or slip through it.

I use to avoid running on mud at all costs, but it doesn’t stop me anymore, though it might slow me down.

Normally, I spend the winter hibernating and fattening up, and then in March I wake up and kick myself for getting so out of shape. This year I want to run a marathon in March, so it means keeping up the pace, no matter what the weather.

This week I embarked on my first long run since the last marathon. While I was out, it began to lightly snow. I had planned on only running 3 miles, but the countryside was so pleasant and quiet, I ended up running 12 miles.

Sure, my calves were stiff afterwards from my new minimalist shoes, but I was in this ‘zone’ where everything just felt right, and I simply glided along, feeling strong and happy. I LOVE that feeling, and I hope to repeat it often.

Sometimes I look back and am amazed to see how far I’ve come, and how running has changed everything from the way I parent, to how I face challenges, to my spiritual life. I can only see positives.

It is important to get out there and face the challenges of the trail, but what’s really wild is to see the things you have learned to love along the way.

So if the weather is miserable, put on a hat and slog through it, because if you envision yourself running for a lifetime, learn to enjoy the road, mud and all.

My Muddy Newtons

A Real Running Shoe is Dirty