Travel with Mona, visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land

Many trips to Israel and the Middle East had often been canceled or postponed because of political turmoil or instability. When a Canadian friend told us about a group from Montreal organizing a guided tourist visit to the Holy Land in March 2010, my husband and I found it an excellent opportunity to finally travel safely through the region.

We flew from New York to Amman, Jordan, where we met the eighteen people coming from Canada. The next day we boarded our comfortable bus and visited Petra that I described in a previous blog. From there we continued along the King Hussein Bridge between Jordan and Israel. The security was very tight with x-ray scanning, questioning and bag searches and passport control.

Monastery of the Temptation
 The sycamore-fig tree or  Zacchaeus tree

We stopped for lunch in Jericho, commonly known as “the oldest city in the world” (8000 BCE) and the world’s lowest city (1200 feet under sea level).” Jericho is a Palestinian city in the West Bank, an important historical, cultural, and political center located northwest of the Dead Sea. It is truly a place where the ancient past comes in contact with the immediate present and where the fragrance of oranges and citrus permeates the air.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon at the Dead Sea shore. The sea water is rich in minerals and salt, and so muddy. The mud is cleaned and sold as an anti-wrinkle facial cream at $90 the small jar. [Yes, I bought a jar. It didn’t erase a single line.]

The Dome of the Rock or Masgad El Aksa. A cabinet within the building houses a hair from the prophet Mohamad’s beard. Another tradition suggests it’s the mountain where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac.
A view of Jerusalem from Mount Olive

Finally we entered Jerusalem in the early night and checked in our hotel that was fully booked for the week. For our bad luck, millions of Christian pilgrims and orthodox Jews had flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate the Catholic Easter, Orthodox Easter, and Passover that all occurred on that same week in the year 2010. The hotel manager had programmed the elevators to stop at each floor in respect for the Jewish patrons who were not allowed to operate the lift. Imagine the slow traffic, going up and down.

In the morning we boarded our bus and headed to Nazareth where we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation and in the lowest floor an ancient house that tradition says is the site of the angelic announcement. Not far from it, we visited the Church of St. Joseph, the site of the Holy Family’s house and St. Joseph’s workshop. Later we had lunch on the Lake of Tiberias, and then drove through the verdant hills of Galilea, where we visited three more churches.

Lunch of fish on the Lake Tiberias known for its rough waves.

We spent the evening on the shore of the Jordan River. Many pilgrims wore a white robe to be baptized or renew their baptism vows in the Jordan River.

Sea of Galilee, also called Lake Tiberias, through which the Jordan River flows.

The next day, we stopped by St. John the Baptist Church, built over the house where he was born. We climbed 154 steps to the Church of the Visitation. Inside the church, 41 plaques, each in a different language, bear the Magnificat.

We visited the Museum of Jerusalem and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls, then admired a small model –maquette– of Old Jerusalem, with the Temple, Pilate’s fortress, Herod’ s Castle, and the walls of Jerusalem.

We continued to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.

The Church of the Nativity is built above a cave which may have been the place of Jesus’ nativity.
The church was built by Queen Helena in 329, and renovated by the Crusaders. The cave includes two lobes, one with a star marks the place of Jesus’ birth, the other marks the place of the manger.

We passed by the Shepherd’s Field where the sheep and goats used to grate.

Later the hotel offered us a tour of Jerusalem by night, with a stop at Mount Olive. We crossed some villages, stopped by Victoria Hospital and Masada. We saw a temple, built by an American philanthropist on the model of the initial Temple of Solomon. It is said that the Masgad el Aksa, the mosque with the golden dome, was built on the location of the former temple.

On Holy Thursday, we returned to Mount Olive, visited a Jewish cemetery, walked by the Eastern Wall, and the Wailing Wall.

A Jewish crowd
A Christian crowd

We spent Good Friday walking through the Via Dolorosa and visiting old churches, and spent Friday evening and Saturday in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre .

Strolling along the narrow lanes of Via Dolorosa
A view of the Church of Holy Sepulcher
from Mount Olive
The Chapel built on top of Christ’s Tomb in the center of the Holy Sepulcher

It would take ten blogs to describe all that we’ve seen and learned during that week spent in Jerusalem and its surroundings. An amazing trip that will remain imprinted in my memory forever.

My latest published books are part of the Love Plans.

SAILING AWAY PLANS ; DATING PLANS ; RESCUE PLANS ;

WEDDING PLANS ; BABY PLANS

Family Christmas

In elementary school, one of our teachers used to ask the class to write a paper about the meaning of Christmas. What does Christmas mean to you? This sentence still echoes in my ears after so many years. I had no trouble filling the pages, writing how my grandparents organized Christmas for their family of six children and families. Christmas meant getting together with the many cousins, enjoying a fun time, a delicious dinner, innumerable cookies and desserts. “Christmas is family time,” my grandmother often repeated. Yet she always added to her guest list the friends and neighbors that were on their own on Christmas day.  

And then my grandfather passed. A year later, my mother took over. The Christmas get-together moved to my parents’ house, with my grandmother’s menu and a few new recipes. By then I was married with small children. So were the invited cousins. The reunions continued, with thirty guests attending, all related — my children playing with their relatives, creating life-long bonds of friendship within the family.

When my dad passed, Mom lost the desire and energy to prepare big gatherings. It was my turn to maintain the tradition that came with a lot of work but so much joy for children and parents. For the last thirty years, I’ve been starting the cooking and baking three weeks before Christmas. Even after we retired and moved to Florida, our children and relatives kept visiting for the holidays. This year, I will entertain twenty-five guests on Christmas Eve, relatives and a few lonely friends. My daughter will handle the Christmas Day dinner. The family reunion continues with my grandchildren befriending the cousins’ kids.

Christmas meant family togetherness for church, dinner, and play, when I was a school kid, and it still has the same meaning. My grandmother must be smiling from up there at my grandchildren and her many descendants bonding together.

Yes, the holiday preparations can be exhausting. What do you do after a long day of preparation? Wouldn’t it be nice to lounge in front of a fire or curl onto a couch or even in bed with a sweet romance novel, forget the latest lousy news and escape into a warm Christmas story that would cheer you up and reassure you there is still love in this world?
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Here are a few warm Christmas stories to lift your heart:

 

 

Holidays Decorations

Most of us decorate our houses for Christmas and the holidays. I get my fake tree up the first weekend of December to put myself in the holiday mood.

But do you decorate your house for other holidays?

My daughter has made it a tradition to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Spiders and pumpkins are set in the front yard, at the door, and in the living room.

Three years ago, when I screamed after hitting my head against a spider dangling from a lamp in the kitchen, the kids squealed in delight, and made sure they multiplied their cute decorations—I call them disgusting.

Two days before Halloween, my grandchildren invite a dozen of friends who arrive in costume and with a pumpkin to carve and decorate in the backyard. Pizza is served to the hard-working artists and at the end of the party, they fill their basket with candies.

On the following weekend, the Halloween decorations disappear in a plastic container and the Thanksgiving ones come out. This time the celebration is a family gathering with adults and children around a big table. During the traditional dinner of turkey, green beans and sweet potatoes, and dessert of pumpkin pies and pecan pies, each guest, grandparents, parents and children take turns telling us what they are most grateful for.

Setting traditions and building memories is important to raise happy children according to my daughter, a pediatrician who knows her business.

Do Aphrodisiacs Work?

Being the confirmed sensualist that I am, I’m a true believer in the power of food to affect our moods and desires.  That said, I loved this terrific article by Diana Herrington (@DancinginLife) on the power of aphrodisiacs to affect our love life.

Do aphrodisiacs really work? Can you change your mood with food chemistry? Here are famous foods and activities known for love, the science behind them, and tasty recipes to share with your sweetie.

Aphrodisiacs

  1. Honey
  • Honey is a great source of boron, the mineral that helps the body metabolize estrogen, the female sex hormone.
  • Studies show that boron may also increase testosterone, the hormone responsible for promoting sex drive in both men and women.
  • Medieval hopefuls drank mead, a fermented honey drink, to promote sexual desire.
  • Ancient Persian couples drank mead every day for a month (known as the “honey month”–a.k.a. “honeymoon”) after they married to prepare for a successful family life.

Tip: Start the morning with Honey Syrup on pancakes or waffles.

Chocolate

  1. Chocolate

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” ~Charles M. Schulz

  • Chocolate contains phenylethylamine, which mimics the brain chemistry of a person in love. It also promotes serotonin production. Together they give you a hormone rush that feels like the rush of love or love making.
  • There are other foods that may contain more of these ingredients (like cheese) but who cares? Chocolate tastes so good!
  • The problem with chocolate is that you risk a sugar crash, putting a damper on your “happily ever after.”

Tip: Create Homemade Walnut Dark Chocolate, a healthy choice since it has no refined sugar unhealthy oils, or preservatives!

Almonds

  1. Almonds
  • Through history, almonds were regarded as fertility symbols.
  • The aroma of almond supposedly arouses passion in females–or so thought the poets and scribes.
  • Almonds provide high doses of vitamin E, magnesium and even fiber.

Tip: Share some Almond Milk that you made yourself with love.

Beets

  1. Beets
  • One of the first known uses of beets was by the ancient Romans, who used them medicinally as an aphrodisiac.
  • Beets contain high levels of nitrates which increase blood flow by expanding blood vessels walls. Increased blood flow to the genital areas is one of the mechanisms Viagra and other pharmaceuticals create their effects.
  • Beets also contain high amounts of boron, which is directly related to the production of human sex hormones.
  • Beets have a host of other health benefits.

Garlic

  1. Garlic
  • Garlic is full of allicin, another ingredient that will also increase blood flow.
  • In eastern traditions monks and priests are not allowed to eat garlic (or onions) because they are particularly stimulating.
  • Garlic has a host of other health benefits, many of which boost your immune system.
  • The obvious trouble with this food is that unless your partner is also a garlic eater, they might not like your smell!

Exercise

  1. Exercise
  • Exercise doesn’t sound romantic unless it’s a “moonlit walk on the beach.”  But it turns out, exercise is so good for the body, that it triggers romantic moods, as well.
  • During vigorous activity, endorphins–the ”feel good” chemicals–are released. They can feel like a rush of love.
  • Exercise increases blood flow to the whole body and thus like beets and garlic, can increase moods and desire.
  • Exercise and building muscle mass also usually increases testosterone levels.

Tip: Go for a walk together. What better way to deepen your love then while connecting with nature.

Licorice

  1. Licorice
  • In ancient China, people used licorice to enhance love and lust.
  • The smell appears to be particularly stimulating.
  • Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Tip: Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, conducted a study that looked at how different smells stimulated sexual arousal. He found that the smell of black licorice increased the blood flow to the genital area by 13 percent.

Ginseng

  1. Ginseng
  • Asian ginseng is an adaptogen, or a substance that helps keep proper hormone balance in your body.
  • Ginseng, helps moderate the harmful effects of stress, enhances your energy and stamina and may improve your sexual function.
  • Caution: Because ginseng has an estrogen-like effect, pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take it. Although ginseng is not a kitchen food in the west, it is so well known and universally used that I have included it.

Basil

  1. Sweet Basil
  • Sweet basil herb is known across cultures to naturally increase sex drive and fertility by fostering a feeling of total relaxation in the body and muscles while increasing circulation.
  • In Italy, it is a symbol of love.
  • The scent of basil was said to drive men wild–so much so that women would dust their breasts with dried and powdered basil.

Is it all in your head? Well…yes. Each of these foods and activities can affect your chemistry but the effects are often subtle. If we are cued for love though, even a boost of energy from carbs could be perceived as an emotion or an attractive force. The body then enhances that effect since it can manufacture any number of its own mood enhancing brain and body hormones.

“Money is a powerful aphrodisiac. But flowers work almost as well.” ~Lazarus Long

This is why western science officially states that there are no effective aphrodisiacs. Scientists are looking for something as powerful and immediate as steroids or Viagra. But why would we want to use those strong drugs when we could simply have fun eating real food that will enhance our health? An attractive happy body and mind comes from a healthy body and mind.

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I can’t say it better.  Let’s eat real food for love of our self and our loved one. And to feed all of our senses, check out this terrific Box Set from my Author’s Billboard gang.

Sweet and Sassy Heroes

 

My book in this Sweet and Sassy Heroes collection is:

Exposed Taylor Lee

EXPOSED

Prequel: The Criminal Affairs Collection

By

Taylor Lee 

 EXPOSED: The Prequel Novella in USA Today best-selling author Taylor Lee’s Sizzling Hot Detective Series, The Criminal Affairs Collection.

  • A renegade police officer infiltrates a dangerous cartel intending to take down its leader. 
  • Little does she know that the handsome Drug Lord is a special operative hotshot heading up a mission two years in the making. 
  • Learning who the outrageous woman is, the undercover commander does the only thing he can to protect the mission, and her. He claims her for his own.  

WARNING: Romance so HOT it singes the pages.  HOT, tough, explicit. Not for the faint at heart.  Definitely bring a fan!