Saturday, August 22, 2015

Getting to Jerusalem

Whoa, what a trip it has been. Getting ready to get here was crazy! 

We spent a lot of time packing. Sometimes that went well and sometimes not so well. In the end we ended up with a lot of luggage, even three extra bags. We had about 1200 pounds of luggage. Crazy! We also got our house all fixed up and packed away. That was a lot of work. And we tried to clean a lot. The night before we left Lisa Earl came and spent hours and hours with Julianne just cleaning our house. The next day, in the hours before we left, she came again, along with about ten other women from our ward, and they cleaned and cleaned. The place was looking great by the time they were done! We are so grateful for that.

The family together for the last time in a while, just moments before we left

I was not sure how we would fit everything in and how it would all work out, but we finally got everything in. I moved things from bag to bag, repacked several, made sure we had the right travel clothes and the right clothes in carry-ons in case our luggage didn’t make it to our destination right away. Each bag had to be fifty pounds or less. Every single bag weighed between 48 and 50 pounds. As we loaded the truck Hannah and Keegan, our upstairs renters, came by and started to move in. We dropped by my parents’ house to say goodbye. It was a bit sad. My dad is doing well enough I really think I will see him again, but I know there is a small chance I won’t. I put it out of my mind, and it tried to creep back during the flight but I again put it out, and haven’t let myself think about it again until right now. We will pray for him and my mom.

BJ drove their truck up, all the way full of luggage. The Sorensons drove up half the family, which was so very nice of them. It was hard to say goodbye to BJ. I think it would have been easier for him and us if he was leaving, but if felt weird for us to leave him behind. I will surely miss him. Julianne got emotional saying goodbye, and that got him emotional. I haven’t seen him emotional like that before. It was hard to leave him. It will be good for him, but there is so much I wish we could do with him this first year he is at school.

BJ saying goodbye to Jacob at the airport
It took us a while to get all checked in, but we made it. Good thing the bags weighed the right amount. One of them said 51 pounds when we first set it down, but then it went to 50. Close one!

Checking in at the airport

Security did not go as well as would be ideal. Julianne went through first, followed by Tashara, then the younger ones. That way they would be there to help the younger ones. Alexia followed them. Meanwhile Kaleb and I were busy getting out all four laptops and a few tablets. All seemed to go well until the very last bag. In that bag I had my big scriptures, and on top of them an ear-phone splitter that I had plugged into itself. On the x-ray it looked like a black mass with wires coming in and out of it. That made them suspicious. So they had to look at it. When they saw what it was they weren’t worried (one worker even told me the scriptures were the only kind of sword they let through there), but protocol said they had to swab everything down and put it through their analysis machine. Something about my brand new scripture bag set off the machine. So we had to take everything out of the bag and go through it all thoroughly, and I had to get the very, very full pat down. Fun stuff, but we made it through okay.

As we started to board the woman who checked us on the plane told us, after the last one started down the ramp, that we had too many bags. As others kept going by and getting on we showed her that we didn’t. We went in a few circles until we figured out that she was counting Jacob’s little turtle pack as a bag. So we stuffed it in another carry-on, and all was well. I think that most of us were asleep before the plane took off and didn’t wake up until it was landing. Sadly, that was only about four hours of sleep.

We were excited to be in NYC and see Julianne’s brother’s family. David moved from a few blocks from us to New Hampshire about two years ago, and we hadn’t seen them for a year. He came to pick us up at the airport, and then took us to a place they were staying about half an hour away. It was so good to see all of them again. In particular it was good to see their severely handicapped boy, Tanner, who has developed a lot in the last few years. He could talk a little, and clearly understands things more. I was really touched when he told me thank you for helping to carry him and his wagon a bit. A year ago he wouldn’t have recognized that I was doing something for him, much less have been able to express it. It is exciting to see him progress, and such a relief for everyone that he can tell us what he wants and needs at least a little bit. That was the best part of the whole trip.

Tanner in his wagon

After they fed us breakfast we all packed up and went to the subways. With only a few miscues due to well intentioned people giving us directions, we ended up at Battery Park, where we caught the ferry and went out to Liberty Island and saw the Statue of Liberty. We had already gotten tickets to go inside, but couldn’t go up too far. Still, it was very cool to see it and go inside. The kids have always wanted to do this, and now we did. As cool as it was, it was even better to be with David’s family.

Jacob with Tyler in the NYC subway
the Statue of Liberty as we approached

From there we took subways and got to the Empire State Building. It was getting late enough I wasn’t sure we would be able to do everything we wanted to. But there was no line at all at the Empire State Building. We went up to the observatory deck, which was very cool. Everyone loved seeing all the places we had been before, been that day, and where we were about to go. It really was great!

Our family (-BJ) looking from Liberty Island towards NYC

The Empire State Building

view from atop the Empire State Building
From there we walked to Bryant Park, next to the New York Public Library. We got some good old street vendor hot dogs and had a nice picnic. Then we walked to the Lego Store, which is what our kids had really, really wanted to do. It was exciting. By the time that was over we had already spent more about 13 hours in New York, and it was time to go. So we took the subway back to David’s place, repacked bags, somehow fitting new lego purchases inside and then David took us to the airport. Somehow we got slated for TSA precheck, and whizzed through security. Much better than last time.

at the NYC Lego store

But when we tried to check onto the plane, even when I had put two small bags inside bigger ones so that we wouldn’t have to worry, a stewardess still told us we had too many bags. Another stewardess just offered to check some of our bags on, and we did that and it all worked out. Everyone was so exhausted I thought this would be the easiest flight ever. It almost was.

Most everyone slept for pretty much the entire flight. Jacob and Sabrina, between whom I sat, fell asleep right away, long before we took off, and slept for 9 hours. I woke them up about 1.5 hours before we landed so that they would be able to go to sleep again later that night. Julianne slept about that same amount, and was so out of it that when I needed her help I couldn’t get it. The row in front of me, Alexia, Tashara, and Kaleb, slept most of the flight. I wish they had slept all of it. Just a little ways into the flight Alexia turned to me and gave me bad news. Her brand new retainer had been set on the tray of food she had eaten, and then had been taken by the stewardess and whisked away. That meant that I would spend over three hours of the flight going through every tray of eaten food and every garbage on the plane looking for the retainer. For the last few hours the stewardesses helped also. We all searched and searched, but we never found it. Very frustrating! My shirt and pants were sticky with food by the time I was done, and still no retainer. Other than that, it was a very peaceful flight.

Getting off went fairly well. We got all our bags no problem, and with only a few miscues found our ride. David Whitchurch had come to pick us up along with Sami, one of the security guards. We loaded all the luggage into a van and then off to the Jerusalem Center we went. 

The family at the entrance to the JC

We got there just as the pizza they had ordered arrived. Eran, the director, was waiting for us with a plate of fruit and the pizza. We had a nice, quiet little dinner and then he gave us ice cream. When that was all over we came down to our new apartment, to find the luggage all there and ready for us. The new apartment is wonderful! We also love how it opens to our own little playground. We really like it, and I think everyone was very excited about it and our new place and how the rooms would work and how well taken care of we had been. They did everything just right to make it a perfect night and homecoming for us. Everyone was as happy as could be. We unloaded a few suitcases, but were pretty tired by then, so everyone went to bed.

the JC, where we live on the very bottom floor (8 flights down)
The view from our apartment balcony (of the Dome of the Rock, or Temple Mount)

The living room of our apartment
The dining room of our apartment

The next morning several people were up at 4 am, but I got some back to sleep a bit. Then everyone really fell asleep, and we missed our 9 am shopping appointment. By 10 am I woke everyone up, and then we went shopping. I had forgotten how small the aisles are, how high the prices are, how hard it is to figure out what you are getting, etc., etc. It was a bit stressful, but we got what we needed and made it back in time to have some lunch. Then we met with the staff to go over what to do in case of fire, earthquake, etc. Julianne and I also met with administrators to establish how things would work for kids here in the Center, but it wasn’t anything new to us.

We did more unpacking, visited with each other and read and had fun with each other, and suddenly another day had passed.

During the night I was up with several kids who woke at 2 and couldn’t sleep for a long time. By 6 am or so they fell asleep and again I got things done in the morning while they all slept. When they finally awoke we went to the pita factory and got fresh warm pita, a family favorite. We did some more grocery shopping, and set up phones, and just took care of various bits of business overall. Mostly it was a day of settling in, and everyone is feeling pretty at home and happy.

shopping at the Shuq

Wednesday was Kaleb’s birthday. We had a nice breakfast. We sang and did presents. Then we got ready to go to the beach. We had set up with the only other family in the branch that we knew would have kids to meet them and go together. The Fellows family were so fun. Suzanne Fellows and their younger two children, Louisa (age 13) and Nick (age 15) traveled with us to the Tel Aviv area. They were a lot of fun, and the weather was great! The waves were just enough that we could body surf a bit, but no one got hurt. We caught a few good waves, dug in the sand a bit, and played Frisbee. The Mediterranean is so warm and wonderful. We had a great time, and I think it was a great birthday celebration for Kaleb.

a turtle sculpture made at the beach
With the Fellows at the Mediterranean
We came back, showered, relaxed just a bit, and then went to the Fellows’ apartment. James Fellows is the Branch President, and when she saw him Julianne was surprised to realize he had been in her freshman ward and had been part of a group that had done things with her friends. We all visited and had a great time together. We had pizza and Sister Fellows had made a great cake. We sang, visited, the kids played video games, and we had a great evening. It was all wonderful, and then it was time to go. We got home, and I think we had the first good night’s rest yet. Some people woke up a bit early, but not terribly early. Most of them I had to wake up. We are starting to adjust.

Thursday morning we got ready and went to the Anglican School for orientation. As good as it was before, I think things are even better now. I think they have made efforts to improve and it has been paying off. We met the teachers for the younger two, and they seem like they will be great! The kids got a feel for how to get around the school. The older kids got a few things settled with their schedules, but not all of it yet. We had a lunch at their cafeteria, and then found out that we had to pay $15 for the parking we had been instructed to use. Interesting. But all in all it seems like it will be a good school year.

We finished settling in, and spent the night playing games. Another good night’s sleep, though a few people still wake up a bit at night. The next day the older three went to school to do assessment tests, while I took a nap and played with the younger kids and started to work. When the older ones got home we watched a movie, and then went for a walk to the little stores down the street, where we got treats and bought a few school supplies. Then we played games again together. I believe we were the only ones in the building last night. It is kind of nice to have the run of the place. We have been having a good time. Tonight we called BJ and talked with him for quite a while. I have emailed, texted, etc. him a few times before, but this was the first long talk we have been able to have.

Last night was the best sleep yet. This morning we had church (yes we have it on Saturday’s here). I was sad to see that no one I knew from the branch from last time was here. There are a few still left here, I hear, but they couldn’t make it in today. Still, it was a wonderful meeting and we had a wonderful time. It was great to be able to again have that view during sacrament meeting and again look at the places I am thinking of during the sacrament. It was a blessed day. 

the auditorium where we have church

Afterwards I enjoyed visiting with a number of people. Then we had some great times together as a family. We also skyped with BJ and showed him our apartment and talked to him about how things are going for him. He is just a few days away from moving into his new apartment. I think he will love that and it will be just the change he needs.

All in all it has been a wonderful first week here, and we are feeling pretty settled in and happy to be here! We are blessed beyond measure. And I can feel our family coming even closer together.

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