2 Adults, 3 boys, 365 Days of Adventure

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Pompeii

More catch-up from our Europe stay…

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Our next stop after Amalfi was the city of Pompeii where we stayed at a cute little hotel just a few blocks from the ruins.  Our room was tiny with a bunk bed towering over the king sized bed next to it but it was really cheap and clean and it was only for two nights so all was good.  New Pompeii, the  modern day city, is actually a cute little town away from the craziness of Naples (cars actually stop for you at crosswalks) and the pizza is every bit as good.  In fact the best pizza we had in Italy was at a little pizza and gelato outlet called Hot Cherry.  So fresh and so good!
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Right after we arrived we were met by our guide, Fabio, who took us to the ruined city.  I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we were about to see.  We had seen Roman ruins all over Europe and they were always relatively compact and generally in very poor condition.  Pompeii on the other hand is huge – over 60 acres and incredibly well preserved.  It was like walking through a deserted Roman city.  There were grooves in the original stone streets from centuries of carriage traffic, there was plaster covering many of the walls (apparently in ancient times no stone or brick was exposed) and the frescos were still visible on the walls.  It is really an amazing place.

The boys seemed to think it was their own personal city and ran around like children in a playground (go figure).  Nothing we could do could contain them.  Our guide seemed to take it in stride but I can only wonder what he was thinking.

The Romans seem to have had a fascination with the human penis, as there were carvings and pictures of them everywhere.  The boys had great fun trying to find them all and giggled wildly every time they did.  Apparently many of them point the way to the brothel, which was one of the stops on our tour.  Open foyers lead to a series of little rooms.  Frescos along the tops of the walls pictured the various positions that were available and formed an ancient menu of sorts.  We rushed the boys though as fast as possible to avoid them catching a glimpse but Keeks tried to stay behind asking, “what was that? What was that?”  But that wasn’t a conversation that we were prepared to have at the moment.
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The next day we hiked to the crater of Vesuvius and peered down it’s 900 foot deep crater and watched as steam vented from the bottom and sides.  Jen found it eerie and unsettling and wanted to leave (she kept thinking it was going to erupt).  I though it was remarkably cool and prolonged our stay as much as she would allow.  The echoes of voices against the far wall of the crater were incredible.  The boys picked up pieces of lava rock and brought them back to their friends at home.

February 22, 2010   1 Comment

My Spot

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I just love sitting out on the balcony of our room and enjoying the crashing of the waves and gentle ocean breeze.  While the boys are in kids club I’ve spent my time out here (I’m writing this on the balcony now) and have gotten almost completely caught up on my blog – more than 8,000 words since the cruise began.  Hotels rooms with just a peak at the ocean sell at huge premiums and I feel so lucky to have a view that beats them all.  I’ve seen seals, dolphins and albatross, waterfalls cascading down cliffs, snow capped peaks and amazing piece of heaven.  It’ s one of my favorite element of cruising.

February 15, 2010   1 Comment

Amalfi

[Catching up o the balance of our Europe trip]

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After dropping papa John off in Rome we began the four-hour drive down to Sorrento – just across the bay from Naples.  It was a beautiful drive.  The fall colors were everywhere against a backdrop of snow covered peaks and a new hill town seemed to pop into view just as the previous one dropped over the horizon.  Inside the car was not quite so peaceful, however.  I think getting back to the reality of traveling after leaving the paradise of the Equinox was a bit of a shock.  At one point, in a fit of anger, I turned the car around and started heading back to the Rome airport intending to catch the next flight back to the U.S.   Alone! Luckily we were meeting the Karlins and Marilyn and John in Florence two weeks later and that realization was enough to get me to turn the car back to heading south.

Jen had found a couple of hotel options in Sorrento on our drive down (our Vodaphone internet key was working great) and we decided to check out the town before committing.  Ultimately Sorrento just didn’t feel right.  It has a beautiful setting on the cliffs above the Bay of Naples but it was very busy and densely populated.  Jen and I were both feeling that we wanted something more secluded and quaint and there were other hotels in nearby towns along the Amalfi Coast that looked promising so we decided to head down.

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The drive along the Almafi Coast is said to be one of the most vertigo inducing of any road in the world. Both Jen and I had read about this before and should have been aware of it.  In fact, looking back, one of the reasons I had suggested Sorrento instead of Amalfi was that is was NOT on that road.  Somehow, in the moment that we decided to leave Sorrento, these facts did not bubble to the surface with their true significance.  Maybe it was because we had just drove along the cliffs to Sorrento with barely a peep from Jen, or maybe it was my subconscious holding back this important piece of information because I have always wanted to see the Amalfi coast.  Whatever the reason we were on our way…

The drive certainly lived up to its reputation.  The road was carved into the side of massive cliffs that dropped precipitously into crashing surf below sometimes at heights of 1000 feet.  The road was so narrow that that you felt as if you have to hug the edge of the cliff in order to not ram head first into oncoming traffic and at each curve we had to watch out for buses on the other side because the two of us could not share the same corner at the same time.   As we were heading south on the road Jen was in the unenviable position of being in the seat that was on the very edge of the cliff.  Needless to say she was terrified.  By the time we arrived in Positono, Jen was on the verge of tears, she was refusing to go any further.  We parked the car at the top of the hill and walked down into town only to find that the hotel she had hoped to stay at was closed for the season.  The next hotel of interest was another four miles down the coast and, after talking Jen into getting back into car we arrived at the hotel only to find that it was perched on a cliff several hundred feet ABOVE the road.  At this point Jen, now fully in tears, decided she was going to walk the 6 miles to Amalfi and started on her way with the rest of us following slowly behind her in the car.  Eventually she regained her courage and we made rest of the drive to Amalfi with only a few screams and tears.

All that said it really was a beautiful drive.  Jen describes the experience of looking over her shoulder and seeing the scenery behind us and thinking to herself “wow, that’s really beautiful” and then looking in front again and being completely terrified.  I guess it was frighteningly beautiful.

Amalfi is a cute little town and we had a nice little room with a loft right in a B&B right in the center of town.  The owner, who was from Boston, was very sweet and made us feel right at home.  Unfortunately we had to spend most of our time inside for the three days we were there because of the torrential rains.  We ate a lot of pizza (the place across the street was great) and plenty of pasta and the boys did crafts and watched movies on iTunes.  Quinn got inspired by watching the Incredibles to create his own superhero costume and we used construction paper to turn him into “Super Rizzoli” – it was adorable.

We had hoped to have Jen take a ferry to Salereno so she wouldn’t have to do the rest of the drive along the coast but unfortunately the ferries had stopped running for the season a few weeks prior.  So in the end Jen did the entire 30-mile drive along the Amalfi coast and she never wants to do it, or anything like it, again.

February 15, 2010   1 Comment

Fiji

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We left Los Angeles, for our overnight flight to Fiji, tired and still a bit hung over (or very hung over in Jennifer’s case). The boys and I slept very well on the 10-hour flight only waking up occasionally for the first eight hours. Unfortunately, Jennifer was awakened by each of us and barely slept a wink. Jennifer doesn’t do well with jetlag and lack of sleep in the first place but to be hungover as well, was a painful combination. Luckily when we arrived at the Radisson Denaru Island at 6 a.m., our room was already ready and she was able to get some rest while the boys and I enjoyed the 90-degree pool and waterslide.

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We only ended up going to Fiji because it was a free stop-over on our way to Sydney but it was nice to just hang out by the ocean and enjoy the pool. We’ve been to Fiji twice before and compared to other destinations in the country, the Denaru Island area’s only redeeming quality is that it is very close to the airport. Still the Radisson had a beautiful pool and our suite was just 30 feet from the ocean so it was easy to unwind, relax and get adjusted to the time zone.

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On our last day in Fiji we took a half-day cruise out to South Sea Island, which is a tiny island 30 minutes away from Port Denaru and is a popular destination for day-trippers and backpackers. The facilities on the island were pretty funky and definitely had the backpacker vibe but we still had a great time hanging around the island, which was surrounded by bright blue waters and coral reefs, and enjoying a few activities. The boys loved the semi-submersible ride and Cracker and I had a nice snorkel trip to some coral heads. Cracker was really scared to get in the water because it was so deep at the drop off point but I knew he’d love the view so I decided to dare fate and grab him and jump in the water with him. He took one look down (it was about 20 ft), screamed and started scrambling to get back in the boat. Luckily I was able to talk him back into the water and we snorkeled around huge coral pinnacles for about 20 minutes. With luck he’ll probably go snorkeling with me again…

So far Fiji takes the cake for the worst food on the trip. I guess all those years of English rule destroyed their taste buds.

We’re now off to Australia to start our 22-day cruise around New Zealand and Tasmania.

February 12, 2010   No Comments

Big White

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After leaving Colorado we headed up to Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna in British Columbia. This is our sixth season up there and the boys and I didn’t want to miss out on skiing this year. The first nine days there were pretty challenging. The boys struggled to get back into the routine of doing school work (we had taken a break while we were in Colorado) and were not as gung ho about ski school as they had been. On top of this, the weather was foggy. I ended up with a really bad cold that laid me up for a few days, and our favorite restaurant up there has gone way down hill. We began to feel cooped up and lonely.

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Luckily during the last five days the weather improved and we were visited by our friend Sarah (Cracker’s Australian ski instructor from last season) and by my sister Erin who drove up from Vancouver. Sarah was a delight to have around and the kids absolutely love her. Erin’s visit was too short but it was so great to be able to spend some quality time with her. It had been way too long.

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Keeks and Cracker participated in a ski cross race (a new Olympic sport) and I acted as their “coach.” It was a great experience for them but also a bit humbling, as the other kids, who had been racing for years, were so much faster. Next season in Colorado we’re really going to have to work on their race skills. Still it was fun to see them lining up and in the gate with their numbers on and charging down the course as fast as they could. I was proud of them.

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February 11, 2010   No Comments

We’re Moving to Boulder!

[sorry – having trouble posting photos from the cruise  but here’s the text anyway]

Yes – it’s true – but a bit of background first: Jennifer has long struggled with Los Angeles, and has never really felt at home there. As a girl she, like me, she grew up in the same beautiful city of Boulder, Colorado. We both enjoyed Boulder’s great schools, fantastic weather, intellectual college town vibe and easily navigable distances. Jennifer then moved to NYC and had the experience of living in a midst of a thriving metropolis full of culture and life. I think she is equally at home in either of those places, but the more laid back, yet very image focused, beach culture of MB and the vast urban sprawl of greater Los Angeles has never really suited her.

I’ve always loved Colorado and was crushed when my mom uprooted me from that paradise and planted us in rural Nova Scotia just as I was entering high school (no mom – I haven’t quite forgiven you for that one <<grin>>). I enjoyed living in NYC, and had a blast during the three years I was there, but it was never really me. No mountains, no beaches, no rivers – I just need more outside time. Los Angeles, and especially Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach, suit me very well. A near perfect combination of weather, outside activates and thriving business community. It’s the only other place besides Boulder that has ever felt like home.

For the year before we left on our adventure we were commuting Keeks and Cracker up to school on Mulholland Drive. The commute took us 45 minutes to well over an hour both ways. The school was a great fit for them and they were really happy there so it was definitely worth the commute. That said we were all spending so much time in the car that we felt that a move to the westside would be necessary if we were going to stay in Los Angeles. Thus the decision to sell our house before we left.

So given this background Jennifer and I fully planned on returning to LA after our year was over – but we also agreed to be open to other opportunities if they should arise. The world is a very big place.

When we visited my mom in Colorado in June, as we started our trip, we were reminded of what a great place her town really is: Beautiful scenery, 300 days of sunshine a year, rarely hot, rarely very cold, amazing restaurants, compact and accessible, hip and alternative intellectual community, hiking and biking trails everywhere, 35 minutes to good skiing an hour twenty to the world class stuff, and the list goes on. We also discovered that they still have a great school system as well as some amazing private schools to choose from. We began to feel that Colorado would be a real option for us and decided to check it out more completely when we returned in December for Christmas.

When we arrived back in December we made a concentrated effort to get to know the area as fast as we could. We ate out for every meal to discover what the restaurants had to offer. We took the kids to the local playgrounds. We enrolled Keeks and Cracker in the local ski racing club (a humbling experience for them). We even left the kids with my mom (many times), which ended up being a fantastic experience for all of us (if a bit overwhelming for her – thanks mom!).

But the most important thing we did was that we started working with a realtor team to help us figure out where we might live and what kind of home we could afford. The agents we chose were fantastic. They worked tirelessly to show us every area of town and fought to get us into houses that had been taken off the market for the holidays. Within a week we felt we had a good feel for the real estate market and neighborhoods and, based on what we saw, we began to relish the idea of living there. Still the decision did not come easy. Ultimately, I left the decision to Jen. I would have been very happy to return to LA but also felt that our quality of life would be better in Colorado. So for me all that mattered was that my wife was happy (happy wife = happy life, right?). Even as it seemed more and more likely that Jen was going to decide to make the move – committing was difficult. After about three weeks, and after seeing countless houses, we found ourselves compelled to make an offer on a beautiful property about six blocks from my childhood home. It is a new “modern farmhouse” (Jen’s favorite style) that is more than twice the size of our previous house, has a big back yard, is a two blocks from the trails and was a great value. After Jen and I signed the paperwork for the first offer I turned to her and said, “I guess we’re moving to Boulder eh?” “I guess so” she replied and that was that.

February 8, 2010   1 Comment

Catching Up

So I’ve gotten terribly behind again and it’s going to take me some time to get caught up.  Unlike in the past I may post some cities out of order so that I can write while things are fresh in my mind and give my readers more consistent content.  I also may post some things that are more reflective on the adventure so far as opposed to being strictly chronological.We’ll see.

It was great to get so much positive feedback about my blog when I was back Los Angeles and it has inspired me to start writing again.  So thanks for all of the kind words!  Please keep them coming because sometimes I feeling like I’ m throwing out thoughts into a vacuum.

Given that some upcoming posts may be out of order I wanted to summarize our recent destinations:  After leaving rvieto (my last post), immediately following the Ancient Empires Cruise, we followed this path:

Amalfi – 3 days
Pompeii – 2 days
A Villa in Tuscany –  7 days

Florence for Thanksgiving with the Karlins and Mamo and Papa John –  11 days
Rome with Mamo and Papa John – 6 days
New York – 3 days
Boulder for the Holidays and a some self-reflection – About a month
Big White, BC – two weeks
Manhattan Beach – 3 days
Fiji – 3 days

As I write this we are on an Air Pacific flight on our way to Sydney.  Keeks and Cracker are sitting in the row behind me on their iPods (playing SimCity I think), Jennifer is on my right watching an in-flight movie, Bodie is on my left watching Keeks’ performance of The Wizard of Oz on Jennifer’s laptop and I am enjoying a few moments of peace and writing as fast as I can.  Once we land in Sydney we will head to our ship, the Rhapsody of the Seas, which will be our home for the next 22 nights as we circumnavigate New Zealand and Tasmania.  We’re looking forward to it!

February 6, 2010   4 Comments

Orvieto

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After leaving Egypt we had two rough days at sea, followed by a brief stop in Naples. It was pouring and we were coming back to Naples the following week so Jen and the kids stayed on the boat while Papa John and I walked around Naples for a few hours and just got a feel for the city.

The next day we docked back in Civetevechia, picked up our car and a rental for John and made our way to Orvieto (making our reservations for the agriturismo on our way there).
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We had already been to Orvieto two years ago but it was good to return and we spent a nice afternoon walking around the city and visiting their marvelous cathedral with amazing frescos. The boys and I also took a tour of the “underground” a series of over 2000 caves dug from beneath the city. Bodie fell asleep while I was carrying him about 10 minutes into the hour long tour and I ended up carrying him through the series of tunnels trying not to bump his head as we ducked through the low passages. He woke up just in time to climb the stairs on the way out.

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The next day we drove Papa John down to the Rome Airport before heading off to Amalfi. After an amazing two weeks together we were sad to see him go but knew we’d see him again in Florence after just another two weeks.

January 18, 2010   No Comments

Egypt

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The Equinox docked in Alexandria and we were met by our Egyptologist Dalia and our driver.  Dalia, an archeologist, was a spunky Cairo native in her late twenties who seemed to have a never ending knowledge all things Egyptian.  She gave us a fascinating three hour lecture on our drive from Alexandria Cairo all about the history of ancient Egypt.  She had created a book of pictures and maps that she used to illustrate what she was speaking about and was able to keep Keeks and Cracker completely engaged the whole time.
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We stopped for lunch at a floating restaurant that was docked on the banks of the Nile.  The food was mediocre at best but it was cool to be eating on the Nile never-the-less.  We then made our way through the heavy Cairo traffic to the Egypt Archeological Museum which contains the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on earth including the tomb of King Tut and dozens of mummies.  King Tut’s treasures were unbelievably impressive and probably worth the trip to Cairo alone. The amount of pure gold was just staggering (the coffin alone has nearly 300lbs).  Dalia did a great job of walking us through the museum and adding context to all of the incredible artifacts.

Seeing the mummies was pretty freaky.  They have over 20 of them laid out in glass boxes that you can walk right up to.  Keeks walked into the mummy room, took one look at the mummies and turned around and walked back out.

That night we saw the sound and light show in Giza and got our first close-ups of the pyrimids.  I was prepared for them to be big and they did not disappoint.   They are just huge.  The sound and light show was a bit cheesy and too long but seeing the pyramids and the sphinx lit up in front of us was really amazing.

We spent the night at the Meridian and had a great traditional Egyptian meal at the hotel and then got to bead early so we could be rested for the big day ahead.

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Dalia had insisted that we meet at 7:30 am the next morning so that we could avoid the crowds and we all jumped into the minibus and headed out to Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt.  The drive took us through some of Cairo’s poorer neighborhoods  and along one of Cairo’s infamous canals.  This was an eye-opening experience for all of us.  The roads were shared by beat up cars and trucks spewing fumes, buffalos pulling carts, donkies and stray dogs and cats.  The banks of the canals were literally covered in trash and water was a dark brown ozze that flowed slowly carrying it’s foul cargo of garbage which congealed along any opbstile in it’s way.  It was poverty and disregard for the environment on a scale that we had all never experienced.
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The city of Memphis is long gone but we made an interesting half hour stop to see a multitude of and well preserved large statues and then made our way to Sakara to see the first limestone structure ever built, the Stepped Pyramid of King Djozer.  The Stepped Pyramid is nearly 5000 years old and while it’s out shell of white limestone has been stripped over the centuries the main structure is still completely intact.  When we got there there was hardely anyone else there and the kids had fun playing in the sand right in front of the pyramid.  At Sakara we were also able to decend down inside a pyramid and see the burial chamber of a king.  Very cool.
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We then made our way back over to the Giza plateau and got up close to the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.  The experience of being so close to these giants was really indescribable.

After finishing up at Giza we grabbed a quick lunch and then went briefly to the papyrus institute and got a demonstration of the process of making papyrus.  The boys also all got pendants with their names spelled in hieroglyphics inside of a cartouche (the ancient Egyptian sign of royalty).

One the way back to the ship Jen probed Dalia on what it was like to be a Muslim woman living in Egypt and they had a fascinating discussion about the differences between the societal roles of men vs women in a marriage in Egypt and the United States.   Dalia was incredibly forthcoming and candid and seemed to enjoy the conversation and provided us with a great experience.  Our driver however seemed to be very uncomfortable with the conversation and was visibly cold to us for the remainder of the trip and on our departure he got out of there as fast as possible not even bother to say goodbye to Dalia.
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Of all of the places that we’ve been done on this adventure so far, our two days in Egypt was definitely one of the top two highlights for all of us.

January 17, 2010   No Comments

Jerusalem

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Jen had booked a private tour of Jerusalem online and unlike the other cities we hadn’t gotten any recommendations for the company that we were using so it was a bit of a crap shoot on whether our guide would be any good. We figured no matter what it would be better than getting on a tour bus with 50 other people (and less expensive too!) Our guide, Mier, met us at the port and we knew right away that we were in for an interesting day. He was probably 70 years old, sprayed saliva as he spoke in a heavy accent and wore a half tucked in shirt and a old baseball cap that was tilted to one side. He was a mess.

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The ride from Ashdod to Jerusalem was about as nerve racking as they get. He seemed to be incapable of speaking and looking at the road at the same time. He was constantly looking in the mirror and every time he looked back he would slow down and veer out of his lane. We tried to get him to stop talking just so we would arrive in one piece!

For all his idiosyncrasies he did seem to possess a good knowledge of the city and was fully versed on the history of Israel. He had a habit of quizzing us constantly which was somewhat embarrassing because we never knew the answer. That is except for Keeks who when Meir asked somewhat obscurely “what happened in 76 A.D.” replied “The Romans destroyed Jerusalem?” Looks like all the effort Jennifer has been putting into history lessons is paying off.

Jerusalem is an amazing place. I really didn’t know what to expect when we got there as I don’t recall ever seeing pictures of the city and knew very little about its history (unlike Keeks). I guess I expected it to be more modern looking – it’s a young country right? Instead we found a medieval walled city steeped in history and seething with people.

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Our first stop was Mt. Olive for a view of the Old City and the graveyards. Then we headed off to the Holocaust Memorial. We didn’t visit the museum because we thought it would be too heavy for the kids but we did walk around all of the outside memorials. We were especially impressed and touched by the children’s memorial which was designed as a hall of mirrors that reflected the flames of five candles that were in its center into 1.5 million points of light (to represent the 1.5 million Jewish children killed by the Nazis). It was both breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time.

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We then headed to the Old City to see the Wailing Wall and the stations of the cross. Seeing the juxtaposition of so many of the most sacred sights of the three of the worlds most important religions really brought home why Jerusalem is such at such a pivotal point in the Middle East.

It was pouring while we were walking through the old city and we had the bad luck of being there at the same time as all of the group tours from the Equinox. The streets were crowded with hundreds of people, all holding umbrellas and listening to their guides speak through earbuds which dangled from their ears. We really couldn’t see anything so after an overpriced, but excellent, middle eastern feast at a hole in the wall restaurant we decided to call it a day and head back. When we exited the old city we were greeted by the most magnificent rainbow that came down right on the top of Mt. Olive – BEAUTIFUL.

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Being in Jersulem was a great experience and I’m really glad we went. This is especially true because the day was packed with so much great education for the kids (and for us).

January 17, 2010   No Comments