Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"This is the World I Want To Live In. The Shared World."

What a few weeks it has been. The world has been reeling. I don't need to tell you: attacks in Paris and Beirut, hundreds dead too early in cafes and concert halls and sports stadiums. Refugees fleeing atrocities in the Middle East, men and women around the world collectively paralyzed by the decision between opening their arms in love and faith or barring against possible terror incursions that would threaten their own families. Terrorist attacks in Israeli communities I have been to, been a part of for however briefly.

And on Saturday the 14th, my own sweet grandpa died. I posted a picture and message on Facebook and Instagram about Grandpa a couple of days later. It felt a little funny interrupting the stream of posts about these heavy world events to post something so natural, so intimate. It felt like such a calm, comprehensible thing amidst the chaos, my 92-year-old grandpa passing away quietly at home from something as normal as old age.

His funeral was calm and pleasant. The family gathered, we were remembering and telling stories. Madelyn was twirling everywhere she went in her new (to us) flowy dress. I felt a few quiet tears, but it seemed that most of my "sad" emotion had been spent when I received the first phone call.

Last night my very talented sister-in-law, Sarah Lynn Hill, sent us the album of pictures she had taken of the funeral. With it came pictures from my grandparents' home, and they were stunning. I will treasure them my whole life as reminders of my childhood.
It's amazing how things like chairs and clocks can become so familiar and have such meaning when they have been associated with people you have loved. I only regretted that those pictures couldn't have been taken in my grandparents' longtime home in San Jose, the beautiful white rambler with black roof and shutters and the big beds of flowers. I will always, always think of that home when I think of my grandparents.

I must have had that thought in my mind when I went to bed because I spent the night dreaming of their California house in great detail. I went through every room, hanging on to every detail I could remember: the way the light fell through the rooms, the little round yellow soaps in glass containers in the bathroom in the hall, the color and texture of the wood in their furniture, the way the house smelled and sounded, the views from the windows. In my dream there were desperate plans to hold on to that house - Dave and I were going to buy it somehow (even at 5 million dollars, an inflated price because I was dreaming, but not much. It is, after all, in California).

After I woke up, my first to-do was to make a batch of rolls for a funeral luncheon at the church across the street. I had volunteered when the list came by on Sunday. Having been the recipient of the lunch made by volunteer strangers on Saturday, I wanted to pay the service forward. My sink overlooks the church and its parking lot, so I saw the hearse pull in when I was measuring water for my yeast. I'm sure that because of my dream my feelings were extra tender this morning. Watching Saturday unfold again across the street made me quite emotional, even though this time it was someone else's grandpa. I saw the mortuary workers pull the casket out and wheel it inside. Another flag, another World War 2 veteran. There are so few left now.

I was weepy all morning. There was something emotionally cathartic about the physical act of making rolls. As I measured, stirred, and shaped those rolls, I cried because I missed my grandpa. I cried because my feelings were so full and many-faceted: there was sorrow and pain because of loss (the loss of my grandpa, the loss of his home, the loss of such a stable part of my childhood), and there was love for the unknown recipients of my rolls, there was sympathy, there was gratitude, and there was peace.

As I worked, I watched the parking lot fill and mourners stream inside the chapel. I cried because I loved the giving, the sharing that these tender but monumental life experiences bring - new births, marriages, deaths. When people come and rejoice and grieve together because we all know, we've all experienced, we've all felt those times in our own lives. I love this shared world.

I don't know who you are, you who grieve across my street today. You who grieve around the world. But I offer you my rolls and my tears. And all the love I can give.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September In Pictures

(In which I try really, really hard not to write anything, but sometimes cheat through captions...)

Anna has the cheesiest grin!

We had twin cousins visit for a couple of weeks. Love these girls in their turquoise jammies!

Grandpa time!

We finally planned a vacation for our own little family - three days in Southern California sharing three of our favorite things with our girls: the beach, Disneyland, and Sea World.

Before we got to the beach she asked me, "Will there be a sandbox there?" Yes, dear, a very big sandbox...

Madelyn wasn't the only one happy about the sand...

Even more than the sand, Madelyn LOVED the water. She must be her daddy's girl, she stayed in the waves almost the whole time we were there.

Madelyn's very favorite thing at Disneyland was meeting princesses

Anna didn't like meeting Eeyore as much as Madelyn did...

It was so, so hot and humid so ice cream was definitely in order

I loved this - she was conducting the music

Trying to be eaten by dozens of tiny fish...

Madelyn was so disappointed that she hadn't been splashed during the first show. So next time we sat very close to the front and got splashed four times in a row right at the end of the show. She didn't like that either, but who can keep a real frowny face when you've been asked to frown for the camera?

Anna didn't like having her nursing session disrupted by bucket loads of salt water either, but it made for good pictures afterwards!

Getout Games for my brother's birthday - so fun for all of us, even Madelyn!

Madelyn chose to go camping for her birthday

She was so excited :)

We are sooo grateful that this spunky girl is in our lives. We can't imagine life without her.

Putting new toys to use right away

This picture is so Madelyn, a hard-hitting, twirly-and-sparkly-dress-wearing princess. Happy birthday sweet one!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Jerusalem Part 3: Yad Vashem

Dave and I left for Jerusalem a day earlier than my family so we could spend some time with a dear friend from Cambridge and her beautiful family. Her friendship was one of the most meaningful for me during my Cambridge year away from Dave - spending time with her and her young, boisterous family in her home was fresh air for me when I was away from my own home and family. I have missed her companionship and her wisdom, intelligence, and frankness. It was ridiculously good to see her again.

And (clearly) we had a blast with her kiddos too! Aren't these two darling?
One of the things we did that day was visit the nearby yeshiva, or school of Jewish learning. What a neat experience! It was probably the most electric academic environment I have ever seen - dozens of young men together in a great room filled with tables and sacred texts sitting together in pairs, talking over and debating passages of scripture and commentary. No one was studying alone. No one was studying quietly. It felt like the kind of study that energizes - it made me want to join them. I was grateful to witness it for a moment.

As we were leaving the yeshiva, we passed a bus stop on the side of the narrow road. My friend quietly told us that it was the bus stop where three Jewish teens had been taken from last year and then brutally murdered. Had we heard about it? 

Of course I had heard about it. The murders and subsequent war with Gaza that resulted in the loss of more than 2,000 lives dominated the news last summer. And there was that bus stop, right in front of us, suddenly looking chilling and eerie. It was too easy to picture three of the yeshiva boys we had just seen standing there, then to see them...gone.

After I returned to the States and collected Madelyn and started back into normal, post-travel life, I noticed a small, cynical voice in my head. Where before I might have gone to bed late and exhausted and wish inside myself that my girls would sleep through the night so that I could just.get.some.rest, now the "devil-on-my-shoulder" voice sneered at such a trivial concern. My worries, when even subconsciously compared to three murdered boys and 2,000 other lives lost, seemed absurd. 

There have been times in my life when I have felt heavy, weighed down by thoughts about these kinds of huge, horrible happenings in the world. It has been said that in the last days, "the love of many shall wax cold." The internet makes it so much easier to see the hatred, scorn, cynicism, injustice, cruelty, hardness, and bitterness around us and throughout the whole world. Sometimes it is hard to fight against the feeling of being pressed down by it, consumed with despair for the apparent absence of kindness and gentleness. 

Yet, I had an experience at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum of all places, that helped to counter that pressure. My tour group was given some time - not enough of it! but so valuable nonetheless - to visit the museum while we were in Jerusalem. We loaded Anna into the backpack like every other time we had descended from our tour bus, only to be told by a guard at the entrance that babies weren't permitted into the main museum building. So I - who had been to Yad Vashem before - sent Dave in and set off with Anna alone into other parts of the complex where babies were allowed. 

I'm so grateful for that hour alone! Yad Vashem, perhaps paradoxically, felt to me like a place of supreme peace and quiet after the crowds and rush of the tour. 

First I followed signs to the art museum, which was empty and still. The art on the walls was from Jewish artists who were killed in the Holocaust, beautiful works, some with Jewish themes, some without (me being me, I liked the Jewish themes the best). The plaques next to the works told about the artist and the artwork as plaques in art museums always do. The difference, though, was that this time, every plaque ended with the phrase: "[Artist's Name] was murdered at [Aushwitz] in [1944]." One after another, "[Artist's Name] was murdered," "[Artist's Name] was murdered..." It was powerful. Forceful in a different way than hearing numbers - the way that forces you to see, brutally, what beauty and virtue the Holocaust ripped from the world.  

Anna didn't let me stay long in the art museum. She was tired and started fussing, breaking the stillness of the place. So I left, wandering through the complex, trying to pacify Anna, passing young IDF soldiers on field trip. Feeling dull after the horrible beauty of the art museum, I vaguely leaned against the walls of a concrete tunnel, then climbed some stairs, looking for a place to sit. But as Anna quieted, I was drawn to a monument I had seen on my last visit - the Hall of Remembrance, a large, dark tent-like dome where an eternal flame burns in memorial to those who were lost. 

Like the art museum, I was the only one there in the dark, quiet, airy place. I stood looking at the simple, stark tomb, Anna sleeping on my back, and all at once I was weeping. Everything that hall represented was so, so sad.

But just as suddenly as I was overcome by the tragedy, I was overcome with an enveloping, burning feeling of love. Not just my love, but I felt distinctly that I was feeling the love of Another, One who felt the grief and anguish of every innocent who has suffered in this world. One who knew people would suffer because the love of other men would grow oh, so cold. One who wept for them and suffered with them in a dark garden long ago, suffered so much that He bled from every pore. And I gazed at the cold names of the death camps on the floor and knew that His love and suffering was wide and broad enough to encompass everyone who suffers. Somehow, in a way we don't fully understand, it covers all the tragedies and injustices of the world. He knows those who have and do and will suffer. Somehow, He will make it right. Everything will be made right. I felt it so strongly while I watched that eternal flame burn.

The Lord God will swallow up death in victory;
He will wipe away tears from off all faces.
He is sent to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives;
to comfort all that mourn, to give them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
Isa 25:8, 61:2-3

....I've been sitting on this post for a while now. I know that it is complicated to talk about Jesus Christ and the Holocaust, I am sensitive to it (I have that degree in Jewish-Christian Relations for a reason). But I have seen what life looks like when a man confronts the world's horrors without any source of hope or love; it is unhappy and bitter and friendless. And standing there in Yad Vashem, I was reminded again that absolutely, in every possible way, Jesus Christ is the bright reason for my hope. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Camps and Clans

Well, I survived camping for two nights alone with just the girls...

...AND I did it despite afternoon rainstorms and hail! To be honest, it has been a long time since I've felt so cozy and comfortable on a camping trip. I forgot my air mattress, but an extra-prepared uncle lent me thick comfy pads, over which I put my flannel sheets and a big fluffy comforter with an extra thick blanket on top for extra warmth. I settled myself in between the girls - Madelyn lay to my right in her sleeping bag and Anna was on my left in her car seat. It was a precious feeling, being there between my two girls, sharing a new and special experience with them. 

For two nights we came merrily back to our tent under the stars after late evenings enjoying excellent company from my amazing extended family. Every two years or so growing up I came to reunions with my mom's side of the family. Lately, with a family-owned ranch to visit in Wyoming, the reunions have happened annually, where as many who can of the 170ish of us get together for an extended weekend to camp, chat, play games, eat, and chase the littles - the fourth generation, the children of my grandparent's grandchildren. 

I expect to have a nice time when I go, and this year I had even more fun than I anticipated. The first night I was up late playing pairs Nertz with my siblings and cousins in the pavilion while Madelyn ran through the darkness in a cluster of second cousins alight with glowsticks. As we headed to bed in the (for her) very novel and exciting tent, Madelyn was glowing with enthusiasm for the fun she had had, and eagerly anticipating more fun the next day (so much so that at 5:20 in the morning she popped up in her sleeping bag with a look of supreme excitement on her face, saying, "Play with cousins now?!!"). 

On Friday, groups of us collected throughout the day to chat or play card and board games, then after lunch the whole group - those ages 2 to 60 - paired off into random teams for a relay that had us giggling and cheering and scrambling to do things like grab marbles with our toes, string yarn through our clothes, and build cardboard boats to set sail in the pond. That evening we gathered for a home video/talent exhibition that kept us cheering all night. Madelyn and I fell asleep exhausted but happy in our (slightly soggy) tent that night, listening to the sound of happy chatter around the nearby campfire.

What I hadn't expected of the family reunion was to be edified as well as to be entertained. We milled around in the pavilion throughout the reunion, chatting in small, rotating groups, and while we caught up on each other's lives, we also bore testimony to each other. It was amazing how naturally it happened: 

While one cousin talked about the ups and downs of his career, I heard him bear strong testimony about the principle of tithing. 

As one cousin who recently moved spoke about the challenges of trying to fit in with a new group of people, she acknowledged that it was an opportunity for her to stretch and grow and help others by reaching out to those who needed friends and who weren't used to being accepted by already established cliques. 

I heard one of my cousins, in a quiet voice full of faith, talk about how she has learned to fill her life with love instead of fear, to guide her family in paths of righteousness, and to recognize the value of the usually unappreciated talents and gifts of others. 

I heard cousins affirm the value of gospel obedience. 

I watched young cousins step in willingly to help even younger children, sacrificing other activities to watch, shepherd, and love the young ones. 

As we spoke of those who have passed away within the last three years - my grandma, a cousin, and my mom's oldest sister - I saw everywhere the confidence that there is life after death and that families can be together forever. 

In the past, there have been debates about whether we should go on having these reunions, now that the family has grown so big. One of my uncles has talked about how important it is to him that the reunions continue so that his grandchildren know their second cousins, know they are part of something bigger than themselves or even their immediate family. He wants his grandchildren to know what kind of legacy they are a part of. During this most recent reunion, I saw how that legacy provides so much more than just fun or even companionship. It provides faith and strength and testimony. 

My sweet grandparents started this clan and connect us to that legacy. My grandpa is alone and approaching his mid-90s now, but he was at the reunion giving hugs to everyone he saw. He doesn't remember all of us anymore. I don't think he knew the names of any of his numerous great-grandchildren. But he loves them so much. What a blessing in your 90s, to have a whole clan of people who came from you, who belong to you, who love you, who have patterned their lives after yours! Who come together frequently and delight in each other's company, and who lift and buoy each other up. David and I just celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary; we are young still. But I have the best examples to aspire to. Maybe one day, we'll be blessed to be surrounded by such a clan of our own. I can't think of anything better.

Grandpa and Anna

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jerusalem Part 2: International Travel with an Infant

You may have noticed that pictures of Anna in Jerusalem exist (in abundance), but that I failed to post any pictures of Madelyn. That's because she wasn't there. We sort of figured looking at half a dozen archaeological digs and a couple dozen churches wouldn't quite be her thing. My oh-so-generous mother-in-law and my cousin and her twin daughters split time as Madelyn's playmates back in Utah while Dave and I went off without her. Part of me hurt that she was so trusting; I had explained that Mommy and Daddy and Anna were going away on an airplane, but that she would get to play with Grandma and Grandpa and her friend "Edgie," and that after a long time, we would come back (emphasis on that last bit). And it made her a little sad, but she trusted that we were going away for a good reason and that we would come back to her. She was old enough to understand that, but not old enough to realize that she was missing out on something, sweet thing. She was a really good sport the whole time we were gone and only had (as far as I was told) one melt-down when we skipped a day calling her. We missed her; she is usually such a big, precious presence in our lives.

Anna, on the other hand, is still nursing every three hours, so she got to come :) She'll always get to brag that the first time she ever went swimming was in the Sea of Galilee, though I imagine she'll also be quite bitter that she can't remember a bit of it or anything else she did in Israel. 

To be honest, the closer the trip came, the more nervous I became about bringing Anna. There was never any alternative (I wasn't about to stop nursing cold and I was even more not about to pump every three or four hours while I was away, yuck) but the logistics of travelling with a baby! All the stuff you have to bring! The ridiculously long airplane ride in confined seats! The nine-hour time difference! The crankiness and crying and keeping us up all night when we were already sleep deprived! She loves being on her back instead of carried! She has a hard time sleeping anywhere but her bed! She's nowhere near as adaptable as Madelyn was! I dreaded these things, and it was enough to make me a bit anxious. 

But actually, in the end, Anna was a gem. I never imagined she would be so good. She handled the jet-lag much better than Madelyn did when we took her to England at nine months (and here I tried to post a link to my blog post about that trip, only to realize I never wrote a blog post about that trip. Sad!), possibly because the flight to Tel Aviv happened from about 10:00 pm her time to 9:30 am her time. So she slept the entire plane ride and started the time in Israel awake instead of asleep (Madelyn slept the entire first day we were in England, which meant she was then up all night long). Anna was cheerful and pleasant for all but the last day of the tour. The last two days were spent exclusively in Jerusalem, so she didn't get to sleep during longer periods of bus rides like she had every other day. After very little sleep the day before, she was mostly overtired and cranky the last day. But then again, she slept the entire plane ride home beginning from the moment after I sat down in my seat. Definitely a blessing for mom.

If anyone out there is planning to do the same crazy thing I did and bring a baby with you while travelling internationally, I learned a few things I can now impart to you :):

1.  Bring a boppy on the airplane. It sounds crazy when you already have to bring so much extra stuff, but this was my lifesaver. My total flight time was roughly 16 1/2 hours one way, and I really didn't want to have my arms tied up that whole time. The boppy allowed me to A) keep my arms free and B) let Anna stretch out to sleep (a must for her anyway). The boppy is a little wider than the seat, so it's best if you're sitting at a window next to someone you know or (as happened to us from SLC to JFK) sitting next to an extremely nice Chinese woman who apparently adores babies and makes every exuberant nonverbal effort - because she doesn't speak any English - to show you it's ok that yours is gently kicking her leg over and over again. I also actually sat on the aisle a couple of times and I just pushed in the boppy when the drink carts were going by, though a couple of times when I forgot the flight attendants gently (and very kindly thank goodness) did it for me.

2.  Bag check almost everything. I've hauled too much through airports before and it's a miserable experience (through security, down long concourses, through narrow airplane aisles to your seat, when you're trying to collect everything getting off the airplane. Basically, all the way to your hotel). Thankfully, most airlines let you check one international bag per person for free. AND, even in America, they'll check a child's car seat for free. So, this time around, we checked the car seat, the bigger suitcases, and even the child carrier (see next point) so we wouldn't have to worry about them. We only took one small roller bag and one small backpack on the plane with us and carried Anna through the airport. If it had been just me without Dave I would have gone with just a small backpack and Anna.

3.  Consider using a backpack instead of a stroller. I knew Israel already and I knew that it wouldn't work to have a stroller there. In the Old City the streets are narrow, crowded, cobbled and stepped. Some of the archaeological sites we were visiting had only dirt or gravel paths. I also knew that we would be at some of those sites for hours at a time, so carrying Anna without support wasn't really a (good) option. 

A couple of months before we left, I started researching child carrier backpacks. I knew I wanted a heavy-duty one with a hip belt, space between the adult and the baby (because it was going to be the Middle East in summer and having a baby right up next to the body sounded extremely hot and sweaty), a kickstand, a sun shade, and lots of padding (since Anna would be living in it for a week and a bit). With a pretty good coupon, we bought this Kelty new for about $65.00 off list price. We think we'll be using it on hikes and other family trips throughout our parenting lives too, so we decided the investment would be worth it. It was perfect for our time in Israel - I don't know what we would have done without it.

4.  Don't bring a bed. I wouldn't have added a bed to my list anyway except that Anna started rolling a couple of weeks before we left. If she hadn't been rolling I would have just settled her down on a blanket on the floor every night. As it was, I thought I'd need to bring a porta-crib with me. Then an Israeli friend suggested that hotels in Israel are quite child friendly and would almost certainly have cribs for use there. Sure enough, every place we stayed had small but comfortable cribs that they would wheel in for Anna. I am ridiculously glad that we could leave at least one big bulky baby item at home!

5.  Bring a blanket so baby can roll around in the airport and when you're out and about. This might not be necessary for all babies but I knew it would be important for Anna, who isn't always thrilled about being held. Her need to be flat on her back and rolling and moving was actually one of the things that caused me the most anxiety before leaving. I was worried that she'd be constantly throwing fits on the plane, on the bus, in the backpack, where her movements would be more confined. I decided to bring a small but thick blanket in our one carry on and with us on the bus each day so that she could be on the ground at airport gates, in restaurants, and even at some of the sites where we would be sitting and listening to a tour guide. Those interludes were enough to keep Anna happy the rest of the time.

6.  If you can, travel with people who can support you and help. I was surrounded by people who helped us the whole way. My brothers, sister-in-law and dad all helped carry Anna in the backpack.

One of the biggest helps was my family's willingness to grab all our extra stuff for us, since we were hopping on and off the bus every day with a baby, a car seat, a boppy (which I decided to bring on the bus, since I had it after all), a blanket, and the carrier backpack, besides the usual camera bag and day pack. Our arms weren't quite enough to handle all that ourselves. They were also really good about taking Anna at breakfast so that I could finish getting ready in the mornings, or holding her on the bus so that I could enjoy some baby-free time and so that Anna could be entertained by someone new. 

Beyond my family, our tour guides and bus driver were amazing. We thought, for example, that we'd be able to take Anna through Hezekiah's Tunnel in her backpack. After climbing way down to get to the entrance (and after the bus had already left to meet us on the other side), we were told the backpack wasn't allowed because of low-ceilinged sections. We didn't feel comfortable about taking Anna through the tunnel with us, though, because you have to walk through water that reaches, at some points, to mid-thigh. Our two tour guides graciously offered to take Anna through the dry tunnel with them and meet us on the other side, which they did. A few times when Anna was sleeping, the bus driver watched Anna for us on the bus while we hopped off for a quick stop. (Obviously I can't generally advise trusting tour guides or bus drivers with your baby. In these cases, though, after time spent getting to know them and in situations in which we were still relatively in control, we personally felt it would be okay. And it was.)

7.  Don't be strict about your nursing schedule. Don't be afraid to nurse if the baby cries, regardless of when she last ate. Since you won't always have a chance to nurse right at the three hour mark (or whatever the usual interval is), squeeze nursing in when you have spare moments on a bus, when you're sitting to listen to a tour guide, during meal breaks, etc. I figured that Anna would probably need some extra fluids anyway, and if nursing helped her fall asleep faster during the few quiet moments we had, all the better.

8.  BE FLEXIBLE- This is the most important. The other things are tips - you can ignore them if you don't like the advice. But if you can't be flexible, I would say save the travel until you can go sans baby:

You have to be willing to nurse anywhere (buses, crowded restaurants, discreet corners of churchyards or museum grounds, etc.). 

You need to understand the baby can't go everywhere. The churches were good about allowing Anna in, but Yad Vashem - the Israeli Holocaust museum - was strict about their no baby policy, even when our tour guide argued our case. With only an hour to see the museum, there wasn't time for Dave and I to trade, so I let him go since he'd never been, which meant I wasn't able to go at all. It was disappointing, but you have to realize such things might happen and accept it for what it is.

Along those lines, understand that you might need to miss something in order to meet the baby's needs. There were times when Anna was sleeping and Dave or I stayed on the bus while everyone else got off to see something. There were times when I had to leave the group to feed her. In the evenings, instead of playing games with my family in another hotel room or wandering outside to watch the sunset, I had to get Anna down to sleep. Really, we were able to do so much with her that we weren't too concerned about the few things we missed, but you can't expect to do everything - baby still has to come first. 

There are a few other small tips I'd suggest
  • If baby takes a pacifier, tie it to a ribbon and safety pin the ribbon (sharp side out) to the front of her shirt every day. 
  • Bring your own bottle of infant Tylenol, since every country has its own unique medications and you definitely don't want to be searching for some kind of safe infant brand and dosage in the middle of the night in a foreign country if your baby gets sick. 
  • Be really careful not to lose things when you're out and about. When your primary concern is keeping track of the baby, it's easy to lose track of other things.
  • Know that your baby will be photographed by tourists from all over the world, especially if the baby is in a backpack. Anna will be in the scrapbooks of dozens of cooing tourists from China to the Arabian Peninsula. It was ok with me. I loved how much others loved my baby.  
In the end, we had a great time, and having Anna with us really was no problem. I think it's actually easier to take babies younger than six months or so, because their sleep is still so flexible and their needs are still pretty simple. On the airplane especially, Anna just nursed and slept, nursed and slept. 

So what do you think? Any international travelling tips that you have to add?