Friday, July 13, 2012

DAY 5 - Bus from hell and the Promised Land

I was dressed and ready to go. We would need to hail a cab and be at the bus station no later than 06:00. Not wanting to waste around, we left the hostel at 5:30 in the morning.

I was anxious to start the next phase of our travel. Israel! The night before, I'd met two American girls in the lobby of our hostel who were backpacking Egypt. We talked about my bus trip into Israel and one of the girls looked around cautiously and said, Remember - we didn't have this conversation! She was joking, but it was one of several incidences when I had mentioned Israel to another person (while in Egypt) and the person acted cautious.

In fact, I had mentioned my border crossings to one of our desk clerks and he intensely informed me that I WOULD NOT be able to enter Jordan with Israel on my passport! His remark stunned and dismayed me, until I reminded myself that I had spent MONTHS researching this exact information and that I COULD enter and re-enter all three countries. I shook away his remarks and noted mentally the tension between certain Egyptians and Israelites.

As we headed for the bus station, I remembered a comment several months back from a backpacker who had described his bus ride into Israel as the bus from hell.

His bus from hell consisted of the bus being too cold (from air conditioning) and loud Arabic music.

What a relief for me!

When he said, bus from hell, I was envisioning NO AIR CONDITIONING and as for the music, well, that's part of the experience of traveling the Middle East!

His comment made me realize that we all have different expectations on our travels. What was his hell, was really my heaven. So with that thought in mind, I hope people realize that my trip report is merely an account of MY own enterpretations and MY own expectations of this trip.

There was a bit of confusion when we arrived at the bus station. I found zero guards that could speak English and kept getting conflicting information. My bus would depart from gate 6 -- no gate 5 --- gate 6--- wait, gate 4--- gate 6! Our bus was to leave at 06:30, no 07:00!

A bus pulled into Gate 6 and we grabbed our packs and stood in line. A guard waved us away and shook his head. A handful of men stepped on the bus and it pulled away.

To my relief three English speaking women, of Filipino and Indian descent, appeared who were also catching the same bus to Taba. Now I had traveling companions to get lost with! But fortunately, our bus appeared and our driver confirmed that yes indeed, we were on the right bus - at gate 5, AND we were to depart at 07:00! (The day before, our guide said we were to depart at 06:30!)

Pamela and I settled into our seats for the 7+ hour drive. Leaving the city of Cairo took over an hour as we had morning traffic, and finally we reached the sprawling desert.
The landscape turned yellow and Arabic music played moderately over the speakers as the axles of the bus grinded and squeaked as we sped across the asphalt.

Occasionally the bus would come to a slow crawl or to a complete stop as we seemed to be inspected by the military every 20 to 30 miles. Sometimes they waved us past, or climbed aboard the bus to check our passports. I looked out the window and saw guards strategically standing throughout the desert. I realized we were fast approaching the Suez Canal. Another guard came aboard and asked me my nationality, and passport. He searched my papers carefully. He looked over at Pam and I told him she was my daughter. He nodded in satisfaction and walked to the back of the bus. Two Arabic men were led off the bus and detained. Our bus left without them. I decided against pulling out my camera.

Soon we entered a lighted two-laned tunnel. We were driving under the Suez Canal! I turned to tell Pamela but she was fast asleep.

Finally our bus pulled to a stop in front of what appeared to be a row of shacks. Our bus driver shut down the engine, opened the door and lit a cigarette. This was our one and only rest stop before hitting the border.

Not wanting to waste our only opportunity to use the bathroom, we stretched and climbed outside into the dust and heat. There were tables spread outdoors, and inside the building. The women gravited inside to the far backside of the wall, and we cautiously entered the bathroom and approached each stall. Door number 1? Door number 2? Or door number 3? We couldn't decide. Each stall was as bad as the other.
Pamela and I shrugged, chose door number 1, taking turns holding the door closed for each other. I reminded myself it was no different than using an outhouse. Don't look at what's inside the toilet, squat, and just do your business. We had no choice. I generously handed out toilet paper to the other ladies, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer as we stood by the sink that didn't work.

Stretching our limbs we walked back outside to a rundown snack booth and peered inside. Everything looked dusty! I wondered if sales were poor and if the food were expired, but then I remembered we were in the desert. Of course! Everything needed to be dusted on a daily basis! The area was fast reminding me of when we had lived in West Texas! The same flat landscape, the dust, and I would soon learn later, the same type of dust storms!

Pamela and I purchased Cokes, some potato chips that we couldn't figure out what flavor, and some chocolate snack cakes. I could tell when we paid that our prices were jacked up. Naturally with no competition out in the middle of the Sinai desert, a person could ask for anything!

Taba, Egypt

With anticipation, we braced ourselves for the remainder of the drive, crossing another series of road inspections and guards.
Finally things started getting exciting. Up in the distance the Negev mountains were appearing and the landscape changed. I could tell we were getting closer to Israel! My ears started popping as we entered into the clefts of the mountains and the peaks towered higher and higher above us blocking the sun.

Finally we entered Taba, and our bus came to a welcoming stop!
We dragged our packs down the steps of the bus, stepped onto the dirt driveway, and slung our backpacks over our shoulders and walked towards the Taba station. The two Indian lady friends wished us well, and headed straight for the border. They muttered something about needing to catch another bus.

We decided to wait for Diane, the Filipino lady we had befriended, while she used the bathroom. After realizing we had to go too, and taking our turns, everyone was very anxious to head for the border! We slung our packs over our shoulders and walked together to the Egyptian station for more visa checks, passport inspections and x-ray machines.

Finally, we were outside again and walking to Israel!
As expected, we had to show our passports every few steps as we neared the border. Finally we entered the airconditioned building of our final stop, and handed our passports through a glass window to a female Israeli solider. She flipped through the pages of my passport, glanced at me to verify my photo, then stamped something. Then she leafed through Pamela's passport, glanced at her, and smiled real wide. She happily stamped her passport too and waved us on.

This was becoming too easy. I had read earlier about people being interrogated and detained for hours at the Israeli border. We declared our belongings to customs, went through another series of x-ray machines, conveyer belts, passport checks, and each time we were waved on.
Welcome to Israel!

Our new friend, Diane wanted us to have lunch at the deli inside the building before we went any further. I agreed. With all that walking, and struggling with our packs, we needed to freshen up with a hot meal and something to drink! Pamela and I agreed to split the fish and rice dish, and ordered a coke. The meal was incredibly delicious!

After we had eaten, I couldn't locate an ATM machine to change money into the Israeli Shekel. (NIS) I had paid the cashier for our food in American USD, but it had cost me a small fortune! Using the NIS would have saved me some money.

Unable to locate a machine and pay for my cab, Diane very generously offered to share a cab and foot the bill. I had after all, saved her some money. She had purchased two bottles of Jack Daniels at the Egyptian Duty Free shop, but Israel only allowed one bottle to enter the country. Since we were traveling together, the Israeli customs had allowed (between us both) to enter her two bottles! Even better, Diane knew where the shelter was located that we were headed for. Her office was nearby! I thanked Diane profusely while we climbed into the cab. I listened in amazement as she spoke to our cab driver in fluent Hebrew.

While we were in the cab, Diane answered her phone and started yelling in both Hebrew and English. She stopped to explain to me that her husband was mad at her. I looked away embarrassed for her as she continued yelling. After she got off the phone, she explained that her husband was upset because she was arriving home a day late. She had missed her bus the day before (after our bus station experience, I totally understood!) She went on to explain that since her husband is an Israelite citizen, he was unable to enter Egypt with her! This explained why she was taking a cab, rather then him picking her up! She explained to me again that this was his way of showing how mad he was. She had to walk home!

I stared out the cab window, soaking in the sights. Like a glass of fresh cool water, the landscape greeted us. Palm trees, mountains, and the sparkling blue waters of the Red Sea appeared to our right. The cab came to a stop on a street corner and Diane pointed to a thicket of trees and palms. We were at the Shelter! Thanking her again, we bid farewell, and Pamela and I grabbed our packs. We followed the sidewalk to the gated entrance of the shelter, stepped inside, past the outdoor beduin-styled living area, and wound our way around the corner to the office.

With a sigh of relief, we dropped our packs to the floor and talked with the young volunteer who confirmed our reservations. We had requested a private room for the first day so we could rest, but would be moving to the dorms in the morning. I inquired about laundry facilities and was informed they didn't have any for the guests. John, the owner of the hostel, overheard my question and said that "laundromats" were not common in the Middle East! This was only something we had in the States! He then very generously offered me the use of the hostel's washer and that I could line dry my clothes. He explained to the guy at the front desk that we had traveled a very long ways from Cairo!

I appreciated his generosity and as soon as we had settled into our room of 2 bunkbeds (to ourselves), I stuffed as many clothes as I could into his small machine. The day before, while at the hostel in Cairo, I was offered the use of their tiny machine in the bathroom. I was informed to hand our wet clothes over to the Arabic woman (who had been serving us our breakfast each morning) and she would hang our clothes to dry outside our 4th floor window! I balked at the idea, as it was already late and we were leaving for Israel in the morning.

Although tired, I was anxious to explore the town of Eilat, but I needed to wait on the washer so we could hang our clothes. A clothesline was hung on the other side of the building for staff to wash sheets, and for guests to hang their own after hand washing. I looked at the outdoor sink and appreciated again that the owner had allowed me the use of his washer!

After our clothes were hung, Pamela and I walked outside the hostel and crossed into the park with a playscape and wooden benches. This is where we would find ourselves for the next several days hooking up to the free Internet. The signal was picked up as Kidoom, allowing us to surf the web on my laptop from a parkbench. I immediately emailed Alan, and told him we were in Israel! After we were done checking our mail, we walked down the sloping sidewalk, catching sight of the Red Sea down below.

We passed a bank and used their outdoor ATM to withdraw some funds. Earlier Diane had explained to me how to identify the NIS (New Israeli Shekel) from the Egyptian LE. Both currencies had the same concept. A shekel was the same as a pound, and the coins broke down into 1/2 shekel, 10 cents equivalent of a shekel, and some coins were marked as 2 shekels, 5 shekels, and 10 shekels. The bills were self explanatory. In Egypt, instead of coins, some of the breakdowns of the pound were in paper piastries (sp)

We walked to the Red Sea, passing a series of shops, markets, movie theatres, and shopping malls.

We played around the promenade until the sun dropped, people watching. What a total contrast to Egypt! It was like being back in the states. Light and colorful clothes, sandals, suntops, suntans, shorts, long windblown hair. Music flowed, and the smells of popcorn, cotton candy, yogurt, ice cream, and roasted corn on the cob, filled the night.

We walked into the shopping mall by the sea, and handed over our purses for a bag check, and to walk through the metal detector. Soldiers in plain clothes walked the mall, carrying machine guns. We would soon learn to expect this everywhere we went.

After ordering our falafel at the food court, Pamela and I wished we had split ours. It was more food than we could handle. Our appetites still hadn't returned. But they were good!

We were tired.

As Scarlett O'Hara had said, TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY!

We climbed the steep hill, back to our hostel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bird Bath & Beyond

Is this sink for the birds, or what?

 We have a birds nest right above this sink...
 Think they'll swoop down for a fresh bath, and maybe some bird seed from the seashell?
 I finally got my backyard certified as a wildlife habitat, but since we've been draining the top of the pool (that all the wild animals have been habitating to), I'm needing to build a small permanent pond. I was going to buy a bird bath to supplement our water source, but this recycled pedestal sink was so very affordable!
I'll be pulling the plug on the mosquitoes if they get any ideas. I can see myself stopping here to freshen up after a yard day's work!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Whole Wheat Artisan Bread

I'm so glad to have found this recipe! Recently, I've purchased a (hand crank) grain mill, and have been grinding my own wheat. Since we've been cutting out processed foods, this has included buying store bought bread.

For the time being, I've been buying organic wheat berries from Amazon. This 25lb bag cost $27 and FREE SHIPPING.

My favorite part about this recipe is that I just mix the ingredients, and that's it -- no kneading, no nothing. When I'm ready to bake, I just scoop out what I need, let it rise, then pop it in the toaster oven to bake (this way I don't heat up my house.) The rest of the dough sits in the refrigerator till the next meal. The longer it ferments, the better the flavor too!
Bun sized, for individual sandwiches








1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup honey
5 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
6 2/3 cups whole wheat flour

Mix all the wet ingredients in lg container or stand mixer.. add dry ingredients and mix well.. cover (not air tight) and let rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses or flattens on top.. approximately 2 to 3 hours.
Can be used right away but easier to handle when cold. store covered (not air tight) up to 5 days. after 5 days can be frozen portion sizes in air tight containers.. to use frozen dough thaw it out overnight in refrigerator..

This dough is very sticky and best handled with wet hands.. keeping hands wet quickly shape into grapefruit sized ball and place in greased loaf pan.
Lightly flour top of loaf and slash with serrated bread knife.. let rest in pan for 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Bake 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until deeply browned and firm.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Germany and Beyond

Neuschwanstein Castle
Don't you just love it when you accidentally erase emails, or blog updates? I did that last night, so this is my MINI condensed update from yesterday. (If you saw the update pop up for a fleeting second last night, and then disappear, now you know what happened!)


I've been working on trying to get caught up on my blog updates, but have been distracted and extremely busy -- well, to be entirely honest, I'm distracted with my garden.

This past month my husband and daughter have returned from their trip to Germany.

Since we've tried to integrate travels as part of our home school, I wanted to turn this next trip into an opportunity for my daughter to practice some math and life skills. With a very tight budget, my daughter was to pick ANYWHERE she wanted to go in the world, and PLAN, RESEARCH, BUDGET, as well as select her itinerary. She could go ANYWHERE (well, within reason.) She had to read travel reviews and select hostels or cheap hotels, look up the currencies pertaining to whichever country she selected, compare flight tickets, research the history, languages, transportation, visa requirements, etc.

We have to count pennies, so I was holding my breath. This was a trip that would make me wait for another year to replace my carpet, skimp on certain repairs, and shop second hand.

She wanted to see castles!

I asked my husband if he'd like to take her backpacking (so he could share in the home school travel experience) and to my surprise, he agreed! He already travels plenty for his job, so I knew he was being a trooper to take this trip.


Berlin Wall

Each day I looked forward to them calling me via the computer on Skype. I enjoyed hearing about the meals they ate, their train ride from Munich to Berlin, (how my daughter's backpack came open when they were walking down the street and a gentleman handed her back her underclothes) as well as them getting lost in Berlin during a snowstorm. What an adventure!
 After they arrived home I congratulated my daughter on a job well done. They had spent less than she'd budgeted. I looked at my worn carpet and knew we'd made the right decision.

Fifty years from now, I wouldn't have remembered the carpet I had replaced, but the memories that my husband and daughter shared together in Germany will last them a lifetime and beyond.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wild Edibles and Natural Remedies - Disclaimer

As I collect wild vegetation and introduce it into my family's diet, I am keenly aware of the importance and responsibility involved in making sure that each plant IS safe to consume. Not relying on just one source for my information -- verifying, reverifying the info, and using sound judgement, with a sprinkle of gut instinct. I am also keenly aware that not all foods and medicine come from the grocery store and pharmacy  - THUS why I'm educating myself on wild vegetation and herbs.

So with that said, here's my disclaimer ;-)

*Any herbal information you gather from my site, please verify from other sources, take at your own risk, and do your own research. All the information I share is over my own experiences and opinions. What I learn to be of value for my family's health, may not be appropriate for your own.

As I delve into wild edibles, I find that I mix company with people of various backgrounds and faith. I do not worship creation. I am in awe of the Creator.

 Today, I gathered some Sow Thistle, and wild onion/garlic at the nearby park. I was careful to collect this where there were no chance of pesticides. After feeding the chickens, and the rabbits part of the bounty, I washed and finely chopped the remaining Sow Thistle/wild onions for a pot of chicken soup.

The best soup in the world (in my book) is homemade chicken soup! Take a whole chicken and boil it till tender - carefully removing the whole chicken intact - cool and debone. Chop the meat and return to pot that is full of chicken broth. In this particular pot, I added what I had available - Rotel, greenbeans, onions, bell pepper, garlic, salt, pepper, and the Sow Thistle/wild onions... I know I'm forgetting a few other things, but you get the idea. It's the perfect dish for a cold day, feeling under the weather, or just wanting to go easy on the tummy after eating heavy foods all week.

I've created a new category - Wild Edibles and Remedies - to keep things better organized. Tomorrow, (weather willing) I'll be joining another group on a wild edible field trip.

Wild Edibles III


The GREENBRIAR is a vine that many consider invasive, but for those who appreciate their medicinal and nutritional values, will find them edible as raw, or cooked as spinach (leaves) and asparagus (stems.) The best thing about this plant is that it can be found plentious year-round. The Native Americans valued this plant. 
Sow Thistle
 SOW THISTLE was brought over by the Europeans as a garden vegetable. This plant is widely confused with the Dandelion as they look similar in appearance. I have on many occasions confused both the Sow Thistle and Dandelion as being the same. The difference is that the Sow Thistle has several vining flowers, as well as a green stem that leds to the flower. The Sow Thistle is rich in vitamin A, C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Phosphorus, and Iron.
Sow Thistle
*Harvesting the roots of both the Sow Thistle and Dandelion can be used as a coffee substitute. Another amazing benefit of the Sow Thistle (fast becoming one of my fav wild edibles) is that the white sap has an opiate-like effect and can be used as a pain reliever.

Unlike the Dandelions that prefer a watered lawn, the Sow Thistle will thrive under drier conditions. I have noticed since we've mowed our lawn that this "weed" is popping up throughout my yard, towering above my freshly mowed grass. Yesterday, I took a bucket and picked all the Sow Thistles I could find and gave them to my chickens. Now that I've learned the value of this European garden vegetable, I'll be finding ways to add this to my family's menu. What a gold mine I have growing in my yard!  (Stay tuned for part 4 of Wild Edibles.)

Wild Edibles II

Continuing to the second part of Wild Edibles, the next plant we had studied is the WOOD SORREL. This plant is high in vitamin C and A, and is great for spicing salads.
Wood Sorrel
Many of these plants have medicinal properties (too many to mention) but I will mention some highlights that we had covered during our class. Also, for additional references, I've located a Texas website where many of these edible "weeds" are listed.
The Clover is high in protein and can be used for salads, cooking, and tea.

It was a great feeling to learn the identity of the  Cleaver. This is the sticky "weed" that I had mentioned in an earlier post on what I had been feeding my chickens! Cleaver has been growing like a jungle around the yard. Since my chickens are confined to a coop, it is my responsibility to bring them fresh greens each day. My hens look forward to me picking them Cleaver each morning and have been happily providing fresh eggs in return.


Oh yes, the dreaded RAGWEED. This is what causes many here locally to suffer allergies. On the bright side, the seeds of Ragweed are incredibly 47% in crude protein. There are many benefits to Ragweed, and many claim that eating Ragweed actually helps lessen their allergies.

EPAZOTE is grown on a large scale for medicinal purposes, and is widely used to treat parasites. Epazote is also known as the bean herb, as it reduces gas. Just add a spruce or two to a pot of beans for flavor and for anti-flatulence.

Before I finish Part II of Wild Edibles (Part III coming up), I wanted to mention that we had learned in class that ALL grasses are edible to eat. With over 400 varieties to choose from, it is hard to believe we can ever go hungry.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wild Edibles - Part I

 What an amazing rewarding day! I had the opportunity to explore nature's bounty and learn (what I used to take for granted) about our local native plants.
 Katrina, the author of the book, Local Wild Life, was our teacher today. We didn't have to walk far - EVERYWHERE we turned, Katrina held up another, and yet ANOTHER edible plant.

 We tasted leaves, flowers, roots, seeds, and learned about the nutrional and medicinal properties of each plants.

 Pita bread was exceptional. Thanks Elani!
 The juice from all that we collected was surprisingly very delicious. What a health boost!
 The first plant we studied was the Chickweed.
The Chickweed, also known as Starweed (known by the star shaped flowers) is commonly found all over the world and blooms from March through October.

Respiratory Benefits

Chickweed herbal tea can have many beneficial effects for respiratory ailments. The tea can relieve symptoms due to allergies and asthma. It may also soothe respiratory infections, and may even soothe a smoker's cough, according to Chickweed tea contains saponins--chemicals found in most vegetables, beans and herbs that have beneficial health properties--which will gradually reduce thickened membranes of the throat and lungs and make breathing easier.

Circulatory Benefits

Chickweed tea, according to, can promote clotting factors in the blood that will enable the body to stop bleeding in the stomach and intestines. Chickweed tea also purifies the blood, reducing plaque in blood vessels. This allows for increased blood flow, reducing the risks of strokes and heart attacks.

Pain Relief Benefits

Chickweed tea also contains an anti-inflammatory property. It is commonly infused in a therapeutic bath to ease joint pain. Chickweed tea is effective in alleviating the discomfort of arthritis pain, stiff back and stiff neck. According to, chickweed tea, if applied directly to the skin, can reduce swelling of torn ligaments.

Skin Benefits

Chickweed tea can be directly applied to aid in treating skin irritations, acne and eczema, according to It also can be added to bathwater to speed up the healing process for rashes, burns, ulcers and abscesses.

Read more:

I scribbled what I could, but am depending on the help of my fellow students to make sure I logged this correctly. I'll be posting Part II tomorrow, as we had covered many plants, and I need to go over my notes, verify spelling, and double check information. (worm not edible) :)


FOUR of our hens are now laying. As expected, when the hens first lay, their eggs are usually smaller than usual until they gradually increase in size (see eggs to far left.) The white egg shown for comparision is a large store bought egg. Imagine our surprise when our 4th hen, Golda, layed this whopper to the far right! This is her first egg! I have never held a chicken egg this large or as heavy, except for the duck eggs.

We are now wondering if it is either a double yolk, or maybe we can expect this size of egg each morning. Another hen of ours lays in the afternoon, so I'll be comparing after we collect. Since the chickens are different breeds, we're finding it much easier in identifying the owner of each egg.