In Jordan, Part II

Woke up in Petra, excited to start the day....


We took our hotel van to the site, got our tickets, and began our full day of exploration at one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  The anticipation was at an all-time high.  You are greeted at the entrance by lots of local bedouin men and boys trying to sell you rides on their horses to the base of the hike- which really wasn't far at all so, we decided to walk it- and it was such a beautiful day out.  We kept saying how hot this place must be in the summer because the winter is so nice!  Once at the base of the siq, or crack in the stone, which starts your walk toward the first sight in Petra, it took about 30 minutes on pathways through this stunning stone crevasse to the Treasury.  Locals, Nabatean bedouins, are the people who currently live right here inside Petra, but its been populated as early as the 4th century BC when it was a trade route, which generated a lot of wealth- the locals obviously excelled at stone carving, and hence, Petra was born...


We rode these camels around the facade of Al Khazneh- or the treasury.  You can't go inside, unless you're a local bedouin, so we took in as much of the grand exterior as we could.  It was massive and the scope of it was as overwhelming as you can imagine.  I wore my Nikes for ease of walking and leggings under my dress.  The combo was perfect and so comfortable.

Kissing camels...


The bedouins would take you on the shortened 10-minute hike, if you paid them a little.  Worth it to avoid the 1.5 hour hike and catch the morning sunlight! We hiked up/tried to keep up with a little boy that took us to a tent up above the treasury here.   From up high, you got an excellent view of the site, but could also see the many bedouin tents set up for actual residents right on the top of the mountains.  I cannot wrap my head around living up here- it was fascinating to see.    

We then walked by the theater, followed by the loooong walk to the Monastery, or El Deir.  The locals told us the walk was about an hour and a half and we were asked many many times along the way if we wanted to ride a donkey to the top instead (for a price).  We were tempted because my heel had a massive blister on it, but I took my shoe half off and we ended up walking the entire way.  I am sooo glad we did.  The walk was really beautiful and passed so quickly.  I always feel like earning a view makes it that much more valuable when you reach it- this was definitely the case with the monastery.  It felt like it was in the middle of nowhere- peaceful, quiet and stunning.  


We climbed a rock overlooking the monastery and just sat and relaxed and took it in.  Favorite moment for sure.  And we were almost entirely alone- there was hardly a soul around!  We stopped on the way back for a quick drink and then finished the walk back.  I didn't even know Brian was snapping these pics behind me as I was going- I'm so glad he caught the feeling of this magical place.


After Petra, we went back to a local restaurant and ate a late lunch.  Then, we waited for our tour bus to come and take us to our next stop...the Wadi Rum, or The Valley of the MOON.  "The Martian" was shot here, and you can see why.  It looks like another planet, quite literally.  We stayed in a funky little hotel with permanent tents for rooms.  They had a small hike to the top of this huge rock on the grounds, where Brian and I hiked up and he was able to catch the night sky with all of its amazing stars- a sight you don't ever see in NYC.  


The next morning we woke up and Faris, this totally awesome bedouin and tour guide, showed us around a small part of what his family has called home for many generations . Faris lives in a tent with no running water or electricity and only a camel for transportation, which he rides to work 2.5 hours every single day, and he wouldn't have it any other way.  You could really feel his love for the desert as well as the simple life he leads.  We talked a lot about his life and it was incredible to hear.  He was the nicest guy- by his own terms, he was a "good"ouin (not a "bad"ouin).  He took us to a cave where locals go when its too hot, showed us the echoes off the walls of the stone cliffs, wrote our names in Arabic in the sand (with a heart around it, no less), and showed us where they shot some famous movies.  


The pictures do NOT do this view justice.  The shapes of these mountains were so unique and went on and on and on in the distance.  It was quite the sight.  Faris offered to take a picture of Brian and I, that is not a mirage. ;)  Haha!  He did about as good as I would have done behind the camera.


From Wadi Rum, we drove to the passport control in Aqaba, walked across the border into the Israeli city of Eilat, where we had to undergo another INTENSE security check.  The Israelis do not mess around.   We basically had to unpack our entire suitcase and answer a million questions anytime we wanted to leave or enter their country.  But, I get it.  We got through and got on a plane to Tel Aviv so we could spend one more day in Israel before heading home.  We got a last-minute hotel and decided to spend the evening in old Jaffa- which ended up being another total highlight of the trip.  Old Jaffa was gorgeous- like a comfortable old beach town which also happens to be the oldest port in the entire world!   We walked around the charming city and then ate a slow dinner at the cutest little restaurant that sat right on the water.  They opened the huge windows and we sat and relaxed and watched one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've ever seen in my life.  It was amazing.  The meal was delicious and it was the perfect ending to our trip.


I've said this already, but I cannot wait to get back to Israel- even if I am sweating through their intense security checks-totally worth it.  What an amazing country!!

In Jordan, Part I

We woke up bright and early (6 AM Israel time, 11 PM NYC time on my travel-weary body) on Sunday morning to meet our driver that would take us over the border to Jordan.  It was a 2 hour drive from Jerusalem, past Jericho and the Dead Sea (only seen from afar). It was interesting to see the country that must have been where Nephi and his family traveled after leaving Jerusalem- it was a desolate place and made me realize why Laman and Lemuel may not have been the best sports. ;)

The border crossing was quiiiite the event- our driver dropped us at border control (with zero explanation at any point along the way), where we met our tour guide, who walked us through passport checks and payments, then left us to board a charter bus (for 5 sheqels), which then took us approximately 300 feet around the corner and dropped us off at the actual border, where we got in a taxi that drove us about half a mile over the border and back to our tour guide and his driver in a sedan on the side of the road in the country of Jordan.   Wow.  It was the weirdest experience, but I was glad we didn't have to manage it all on our own.  We drove first to the ancient Roman ruins in the city of Jerash.  Excavations have found remains dating all the way back to 7500 BC here!  All things considered (especially that this area was conquered and destroyed on many occasions), these ruins are in incredible shape.  They're not closely monitored either, so you could pretty much go wherever you wanted inside.


An oval forum, colosseum/theater, government buildings, and a colonnaded street make it a pretty impressive collection in what feels like a modern city, about 45 minutes from the capital, Amman.


Just as we started our walk down the Colonnades, the cutest group of school students came out of nowhere- they must have been on a field trip.  The kids and teachers were so nice and friendly- as was our experience with everyone we met in Jordan.  Very warm and welcoming.

We stopped for a quick lunch in Amman, then drove on to Madaba.  Madaba is especially known for their Byzantine mosaics- our tour guide told us they were the oldest in the world!  The main mosaic was a map of Jerusalem, dating back to the 6th century, on the floor of the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George.


I was soooo tired from jet lag and while we were between stops, I was totally passed out in the backseat of our car.  Literally, mid-sentence, our tour guide would ask Brian if I was awake because I was sitting up, with my sunglasses on, but completely asleep.  Ha!  I couldn't, for the life of me, keep my tired eyes open.

Next stop...Mount Nebo.  This is where Moses, after wandering in the wilderness, was granted a vision of the Promised Land, but was told he wouldn't ever make it there. He died on this mountain and is buried somewhere closeby, although no one knows exactly where.  On a clear day, you can see all the way to Jerusalem, but when we were there, only the Jordan Valley and Jericho were visible.

Can you notice the total desolation all around?!?! I can't imagine walking around here for a full day, much less 40 years!


More mosaics in this updated church on the top of the Mount.


We drove from Nebo to Petra, but arrived late at night to our hotel.  We tried to go to "Petra by Night", but it only happens on limited days in the winter, and unfortunately, it wasn't happening on the one night we were there.  Jordan has been a fascinating, old, and very friendly country so far.  Everywhere we went, the locals questioned if we agreed with Trump or not. :) Also, our driver was quick to point out that the Jordanian dinar is worth more than the US dollar, so things in Jordan were pricier than what you'd expect.  On to day 2 and Petra...

In Israel

Brian has been working in Israel a lot lately- in Tel Aviv, to be exact.  So, he planned a birthday trip for me to join him for the week of Dec 7 after he finished a week at the office.  I flew into Tel Aviv, he met me at the airport, and we got a taxi to our hotel in Jerusalem, the American Colony Hotel, right outside of the old city.  We set our things down and then went out to see the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath at the Western Wall.  As the sun sets on Friday evening, the Sabbath begins and most people on the streets can be heard saying "Shabbat Shalom" and rushing to the Western wall to beat the sunset.   It was a fascinating sight to see the Jewish men dressed in their Sabbath best and the woman looking beautiful and modest in their best.  I was truly in awe to witness their dedication and appreciation for their holy day in such a holy place.   We watched the beginning of prayers and then climbed the walls to get a higher look over the gorgeous city as the sun set and the evening glow began.  The higher we got, the more we heard the competing voices of the Muslim call to prayer with the prayers at the Western wall.  I've never seen two such devoted religions in such close proximity with each another.  I couldn't wait til tomorrow get a closer look in the daytime at the history of this great place, that truly feels different than anywhere I've yet been.


We grabbed the most delicious dinner at a little cafe, called Tala, right outside of the massive old city market.  Hummus, falafel, pita, grilled chicken, french fries, and tabbouleh.  Sooo good!  We walked back home afterwards and got slightly lost, but eventually made it back to our hotel, where we crashed- me from a really long day of travel and Brian from a really long week of work.  


We woke early the next morning in order to make our Sabbath meetings at the BYU Jerusalem Center (or "Mormon University", as the locals call it).  They hold meetings on the traditional Jewish Sabbath, which is Saturday in Israel.   It was a gorgeous day and we arrived on campus just as the meetings were beginning.  This sacrament ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip- the room was filled with such an incredible spirit as we sang Christmas songs...about events that literally happened right outside of this room, in towns not too far distant.  It was amazing to be so close to what we were singing about.  I was getting really misty-eyed because music just does that to me, and this was a really special moment that I hope I can always remember.  We heard incredible talks- the current bishop was being released and a new one was called, so they and their wives spoke.  All of this was done in a beautiful room with massive arched windows overlooking the old city on a exquisite day- it was just the best.   Then, the current student choir (this was their last week in Jerusalem), sang a gorgeous song called  "Gethsemane" about the most sacred event in our human history, and which literally happened right outside of the building.  It was a touching moment that I can't describe with any sort of justice- so moving.  


Gracie Berrett was in our trek group 3 1/2 years ago, when we lived in Texas.  Brian and I were her "Ma and Pa" and she's since served a mission and lived a semester at BYU Jerusalem, where we ran into her at church.  I remember being so impressed with her maturity and sweet spirit even back then- she's such a great woman and we loved seeing her again after so long.


After church, we walked down the backside of BYU Jerusalem to Orson Hyde Park, where Orson Hyde dedicated Jerusalem in 1841 for the return of the Jews.  It has a beautiful well-maintained trail that leads to the Garden of Gethsemane (the traditional site).   We walked through the garden for a few minutes.   This entire area is so special-  it really does feel like holy ground.  We grabbed a taxi back to the old city to explore more there.   As soon as we got in the car, the driver asked if we were Mormons and I asked how he knew...he said he could tell by our faces, which was pretty incredible.  Not that it was us specifically, but the light that we carried- especially after being in a special sacrament meeting and then the Garden of Gethsemane.  


We walked into the market and smelled the most heavenly things being prepared.    We grabbed the yummiest lunch-  it was at this little stand, pictured up above.   They shove all of these delicious ingredients into a fresh pita- falafel, tomatoes, pickles, sauces, french fries- I don't even know, but it was amazing.    We sat on the corner and ate while watching the sights and sounds of the bustling market and eager salesmen trying to unload their produce.   Such an ideal experience.    


We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the Christian quarter.   This is where its believed that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.   There are 6 Christian denominations that share control over the church, so the interior activity is fascinating with each religion jockeying for time and space.


We also picked up a TON of gummies at the market- two big bags.  One was for us, and the other was supposed to be for the kids, but Brian and I polished off both bags during our weeklong trip- they were so good and too hard to resist.  Sorry, kids!!  :) 


There had been a clash the night before at the Damascus Gate, so there were a few reporters out, either reporting or waiting for more action.  The clash stemmed from Trump's announcement earlier in the week that recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel.  You could tell that it wasn't a popular move, on either side of the debate. 


We then walked over to the alternate location for what is believed might be the sight of the Crucifixion, burial and resurrection.  A much quieter location, for sure.

We ended here, at this pretty overlook, which is part of the West Bank- designated for Palestinians.   We covered a lot of ground in and around the Old City today and saw a ton of really memorable things.  (I also wore new shoes, which subsequently wore a hole in my heel).  We left early the next morning for Jordan, so we just had one full day in Jerusalem and it left me with a huge hunger to learn more and get back as soon as I can.

Happy Thanksgiving from NYC!

We've heard soooo many good things about the Thanksgiving Parade from our friends here.  Last year, our first Thanksgiving in NYC, we went to the Sedgwicks house in Maryland.  So, this year we really wanted to make sure we checked it off of our bucket list.  And, luckily for us, the Sedgwicks were able to come here for Thanksgiving in the city!!  We live on the street where the parade begins, so the excitement mounts all week long with NBC trucks lining our street and taking over the church on the corner for their big production.  The balloons are being blown up the night before at the neighboring Natural History Museum and the roads are slowly . blocked off while the traffic around town gets really heavy.   In order to get a front-row seat at the parade, you have to get up around 4 AM, so thats what we did- or what Brian and Dave did.  :) Although, the kids were so excited when they heard Dad get up, they also tagged along for the 4 1/2 hour wait (yikes!!).  We sent them with a small rope, chairs, blankets, hand warmers and a granny cart to carry it all in!  They snagged a spot on 75th and CPW, right in the front and set up shop.  They roped off a big space with our chairs and they were good to go for the next few hours.   Did I mention that it was freezing??  It was.   When we ventured out around 7:30 (and after watching hordes of people heading to the parade from the warmth of our apartment), we scooted right to the front.   So grateful they all got up early and held out in the freezing cold.  And, then the parade started at 9 AM with tons of clowns, bands, floats, and the highlight- balloons!!   It was so exciting to watch those first banners come rolling past us.


Hot cocoa, gloves, hats, blankets and big jackets only staved off the cold for a while.   We were all numb in the fingers and toes by the end.


There she is---the Thanksgiving Turkey!!


My favorite were the floats with the celebrities on them- most of which I didn't recognize- but there were a few that were really fun to wave to, like Jimmy Fallon and Leslie Odom Jr.  Al Roker was doing a segment with Justin Hartley right across from us too!


Still finding confetti in the corners of almost everything we used that day.


Troopers...these guys lasted ALMOST the entire parade.  They headed out early due to numbness.


We came home after the parade, warmed up, and got hustling on Thanksgiving dinner. Snuck in a shower and a quick nap too, because most of us woke up at 4:30.  Also, there is no better idea than paper plates on Thanksgiving, right??!!  The kids had fun coloring their paper table cloth and we had fun talking about what we were grateful for in ABC order- ha! Everything on this table was so delicious!!   Jessica helped with a lot, but it was my first solo turkey, gravy and potatoes and I must say, I was pretty proud of myself the way it all turned out!  We had corn, rolls, peas, jello, and Martinelli's (which we refrigerated on our outdoor balcony)  The little girls made favors out of candy and ice cream cones that were so cute.  We ate dinner as slow as we could manage :) and then all sat and talked about what we were deeply grateful for (not in ABC order!).  It was a fantastic evening with family that we really love.


We had an impromptu talent show one night.  Caleb is really talented at tickling those ivories!  We also played some fun games.


The next day, we got up, exercised, and then decided to go ice skating at Wollman Rink in Central Park for a few hours.  The weather was much warmer, so it was a perfect day to go.  Jessica went to get tickets to Anastasia for Madi and Lucy for the following night and I took the kids to the rink.  We got all outfitted with skates and hit the ice.  I love ice skating- not that I am any good at it- but this rink has stunning views and is not far from our house.  I pretty much hold Tessa's hand the entire time, which I love.  I really get a high from watching my kids learn new things and get better and better at them.  It was doubly fun to have the cousins there with us.   


These three have waaaay too much fun together....


After skating, we walked down 5th Avenue by all of the famous Christmas window displays with what seemed to be every single tourist in town- it was madness.   We made it to the Christmas shops at Bryant Park, where we walked around and grabbed a few snacks- arancini and empanadas!

We then walked through the New York Public Library- where I discovered what I think may be my favorite NYC Christmas tree.  It was gorgeous.   Astor Hall is such a pretty backdrop for a tree too, so that never hurts.  We walked through all of the library's famous rooms- wood paneled great halls with tons of books and some beautiful paintings- I highly recommend a walking tour of this place!


Grabbed the subway home and ordered pizza on the way there.  But, the day was not over yet!   Jessica and I took our girls to see The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center.   The NYC Ballet is something else- they don't skimp on anything.  Every detail is immaculate and perfectly choreographed.  Its the most magical beginning to the Christmas season.  The girls loved it and danced the entire way home- and laughed at a few spills that happened along the way. 

The next day, the adults did a great run together in Central Park and then Madi and Lucy went to see their Anastasia and we were gifted lottery tickets to Aladdin, which Kate and Tessa were able to use.  Meanwhile, the boys took the rest of the kids downtown and attempted a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge- the kids didn't last long in the cold, but they snapped some good pics!


On Saturday evening, the adults snuck in a session at the temple and then went to The Smith for dinner.  The next morning, we went to church together, and then the Sedgwicks left for the drive back home to Maryland.  We really packed it in while they were here and we LOOOOVED having them.  It was one of the best Thanksgivings I can ever remember.

Happy Halloween UWS!

Halloween is a totally different experience in NYC.  I remember growing up, it was a competition between my siblings to see who could get the most as well as the best variety of candy- we would end up with what seemed like hundreds of pieces at the end of the night.  Thats definitely not the case here in the city.  You may get just enough candy to last you the week, but the getting it is way more of an adventure.   This year was even more variant because, for the first time, Kate and Taylor didn't go with us at all!  They were out with their friends for the evening and we missed them a lot.  But, we got to enjoy our two babies - which is pretty fun too!  We trick-or-treated along all the shops on Columbus- the shopkeepers have bowls of candy that they hand out once the kids come inside.  Its seriously so cool to just walk up and down the street filled with other littles in their Halloween costumes.


Lauren and Tessa both wanted to be superheroes this year- Superwoman and Wonder Woman!!  I'm liking this theme...,


working our way down Columbus to the famous 69th street Halloween decorations...


Our neighborhood feels like a small community on Halloween especially because everyone is on Columbus and 69th street, so you run into so many friends all night long


No one does Halloween like 69th street- it is nuts!  You can't trick or treat at the brownstones until after its dark, but the street is filled with onlookers admiring the outrageously cool Halloween decor.


These girls are just as excited to see and hang out with their friends as they are to load up on candy :) . And I'm really grateful that our house is no longer filled with 20 pounds of post-Halloween sugar.


It was a chilly night, so we stopped for a quick hot cocoa to warm up


The nicest residents also stand outside and hand out candy...such a different, but totally fantastic experience for these kids.   Once it gets dark out, we usually head over to a friend's building and let the kids run wild going from door to door inside.  The people who have candy leave signs on their doors, so you know exactly where to knock and not to.  Taylor ended up getting really sick and had to head home early, so I left Lauren and Tessa to finish up with Brian and helped her at home.  She just had a quick bug and was better the next day.

We love Halloween and the neighborhood feel it brings, even in this huge city!


Tessa got a new bike when we moved to our new place closer to Central Park.  We are now on the same block as the park, making a bike ride that much easier!  She got to go with Dad and pick it out all you can imagine, she was beyond excited!  


I'm sorry- but have you seen anything cuter??  


These two best friends melt my heart every day.  I love them so.

An Exciting New School Year

It's always exciting to start a new school year...and this one was no different.  Kate was able to switch middle schools, so her and Taylor are at the same school now here on the Upper West Side.  Once we moved to our new home at the beginning of October, Lauren switched to the elementary school we are currently zoned for, and Tessa started kindergarten at a private Catholic school in Greenwich Village.  Kate is in 8th, Taylor is in 6th, and Lauren in 4th.   We are looking forward to the learning and growth that will most certainly happen with so many new things going on around here!

The obligatory and well-loved (by Mom and Dad, at least) first day of school pics.  We are still in our old home, but moving at the end of September.


Oh my goodness- sometimes I think I may burst at how much I love these sweet girls who have embraced every bit of this crazy life we've led for the last 3 years.  They say they really love it here, so we are just going to take their word for it because there's a lot to love, but its certainly different from most of the life they've known.


Sneak peek into Tessa's first day.  She had a great time and loves telling us how her principal (Sister Diane) is married to Jesus and how cool she says that must be for her.  ;) Tessa's main teacher is fantastic and there are only 14 kids in her whole class!  They go to Mass every Friday and prayers in the chapel first thing every morning.  I love that she is being exposed to another religion and also dying over how cute she is in her uniforms.


So grateful for the new opportunities every school year brings and how much learning this crazy school system here has pushed, challenged, frustrated (almost to the point of giving up!), and made me feel settled and happy at the same time.  We love living here- all of the messy and good parts make it what it is.