Thursday, August 31, 2017

Heading to Jerusalem, but first, Rome!

This post is going to focus on the positive aspects of our trips to Rome and will leave out any negative parts, should there have been any.*

Many, many people helped us get off to the airport. From John’s parents who spent two full days cleaning and entertaining kids, to Lani’s family members for providing meals and other good experiences. Tuesday morning we left the house right on schedule at 6:30 AM, got a little Chick Filet and made it to the airport 2 hours before our flight. Check in was smooth, and even though there were some glitches with the actual flights the short version of the story is that by Thursday, August 17 at 7 PM we were at our apartment in Rome. 

In SLC at 7:30 AM...

28 hours later we are finally in Rome!

We went to a nice restaurant near our home and everybody got pizza. Delicious!

We knew that we had a big day the next morning, so we were all in bed by 9 PM. Miraculously, we were all up and ready to go by 7:45 AM. This was one of our big touring days, and our first stop was the Colosseum. 
Thank heavens we booked our tickets online. This allowed us to skip multiple queues and by 9:00 AM we were in the Colosseum with very few other people. We followed the Rick Steves tour and Levi taught us things he had learned in preparation for the trip. It was fun to be together in such an epic place.

We continued into the Roman Forum, listening to Rick Steves and using a book for kids that helps them engage with Rome (it was a great book). John recounted various incidents that had happened at the Forum and we imagined what it would have been like to like have lived in ancient Rome. We got a view of Circus Maximus from Palatine hill and saw where Cesar Augustus once lived. My favorite thing was to look at the arch of Titus and make the connections between Roman and Jewish history.

It was now 12:30 and we were looking for lunch. While walking to Trevi Fountain we found a hole in the wall restaurant that served “paninis” (really glorified chicken sandwiches) and “hot dogs” (they actually were hot dogs). John neglected to tell them not to put any sauces on the food, which led to about half of it not being consumed, but oh well. It was enough to refuel and get us to Trevi Fountain and Gelato. All felt refreshed and enjoyed Trevi Fountain!

Then we were off to the Pantheon! On the way, we found John’s favorite street performer. John had been mystified by how the man floated, but Levi figured it out almost right away. Can you?

Next stop, the Pantheon with Rick Steves. We pressed forward to Piazza Navona but we were losing steam. We should have quit there, but we wanted to see where Paul was in prison (Maria in Lata). After what felt like an arduous walk, we arrived, only to find it was closed until September. Bummer. But we were close enough. To celebrate the fact that we had walked so far that day, we took Uber home. Uber van was a big win for us in Rome. The home we rented had a nice terrace where we ate some of our meals, including Italian sandwiches for dinner that night. Although it was hot during the day, the nights (and mornings) were perfect for outside dining.

The next morning we slept in a bit and got off to the Catacombs by 9:30 AM. We arrived just as they opened and joined a small group of people on a tour. We learned a lot about St. Sebastian (do you know why he has arrows in him?) and the catacombs and had a great experience there. 

After a brief lunch at home we walked to the train station and headed for Anzio…the kids were very happy to go to the beach! The water was perfect and we spent a beautiful time on the Mediterrean Sea before heading to a great restaurant where we tried various Italian pastas. Adding the magic was the man that walked around playing his accordion. And of course, more Gelato!

Sunday was a great day! We enjoyed the Rome 2nd ward, which had a departing missionary speak, as well as other excellent speakers. They had English Sunday School for both youth and adults, and primary was in Italian and English. Apparently several local members were away on holiday, but as it was there was only one Italian speaking child in the primary.

After church we briefly attempted to take a bus to the Rome temple, but quickly abandoned that effort (some more quickly than others). After a siesta we trooped out again to visit three ancient churches: Santa Maria Maggiore, San Pietro in Vincoli, and St. John Lateran. All were beautiful in their own way. We participated in Mass at St. John Lateran – the oldest Christian church in the western world. We had purchased some Ravioli and other good food from the supermarket and had a nice dinner on the terrace. That evening we walked down to the Colosseum and enjoyed the beautiful view of it being lit up at night and also saw some amazing street painters.

After two somewhat relaxed days, it was time for us to do another hard-charging day. Monday we went to a multi-level building called the Basilica of San Clemente and learned about 2000 years of history by exploring three different levels. That was pretty cool. Then we visited the oldest baptistery in the world and some of us climbed the holy steps (ideally we would have done these latter two the day before as they are right by John Lateran, but our time didn’t quite work out.) We split up – some people went to get gelato, others to try to purchase that special souvenir we didn’t think we could find elsewhere (we later found it several places J).

After a quick lunch, it was the moment we had been waiting for – The Vatican! We went all out on this one, even hiring a private tour guide to take us through the Museum. Paola was great! She fed us with lots of great insights and took us to rooms we probably would not have seen on our own. It was the first time for all of us to see a real mummy (no picture included on this G-rated blog!) 

We also gained a lot more because of little details that the guide pointed out that we would have otherwise missed. Of course, the Sistine Chapel was a highlight and everyone felt like they got a lot more out of it because of all the studying we did prior to entering and the insights from our guide. John’s favorite part was the Pieta – such a beautiful work of art that evokes deep feelings. Spent some great moments in St. Peters Basilica and on the Square and headed back for home.

Everyone had the option to spend money on a restaurant dinner or souvenirs/more gelato, and nobody chose the restaurant. Probably because the store bought food we had was so good! After some delicious ravioli on the terrace and cleaning the kitchen, it was time to call it a night. It was an amazing trip to Italy – probably the only time we will ever take our kids to Europe, but we are glad we did it!

*Such incidents may or may not include one or more of the following: six hour delay at the airport, a completely new itinerary, luggage not arriving, dad losing his temper, people complaining (about walking too much, not having enough to eat, that 1 gelato per day wasn’t enough, etc.), a young child getting lost at Termini Station, and a meltdown at the Spanish Steps. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Performing in the Nauvoo Pageant

One of the highlights of our summer was participating in the Nauvoo Pageant! For those who haven’t been, it’s a musical production that runs for four weeks during the summers. It’s powered by ~30 core cast members and supported by about 150 “family cast members” who are the ensemble performers. The family cast rehearses for a week and then performs for a week.

We drove out early on a Saturday morning, which was a little bit crazy given that John, Joseph, and Katrina got back from Boise on Friday night, and Annemarie and Maria returned from Girls Camp late Friday night. On the way to Nauvoo, we stopped by Cheyenne and saw Richard and Judy Brown, as well as the apartment complex where John was a missionary.

As part of the family cast, we arrived Sunday night, started musical rehearsals right away, and got our costumes!

We were looking good!

During the week of rehearsing, the family cast members help run the “Country Fair” that is held from 7-8:30 PM every evening. We learned how to do the Country Fair Monday, and by Tuesday we were “at work” running our station at the Country Fair. We were in charge of “Children’s Games” and had a lot of fun interacting with other people. Levi was one of the dancers, and although he may not have been initially enthused about it, he wound up enjoying it.

We were extra happy to see special people in Nauvoo. Among these were Anne and Denny Anderson. John helped teach Anne in Boulder, CO in 1998 and they have been in touch for all of these years. They provided our kids with the “Duck Tape Merit Badge,” which led to a lot of cool creations being made while we were in Nauvoo.

There were two separate pageants – the Nauvoo Pageant that focused on the events in Nauvoo, and the British Pageant, that told the events of the Saints who gathered from the British isles. As such, there were a lot of songs and dances to learn. The rehearsal schedule was pretty demanding – 8 AM – 12PM, then 2 PM – 4PM, then a cast meeting at 6 PM, followed by the Country Fair. We also appeared in the Finale of the musical, so we stayed there until 10:30 PM each night.

The whole thing was enjoyable, but the first few days were particularly hard as it was hard to remember all of the dances and we frequently felt jumbled up. But the choreographers worked extremely well with the children and teens to help them learn their parts and have a good experience, and by the time we were supposed to perform, we were ready.

Fun side note – my first time going on stage for the British pageant as part of the finale – I was ready and pumped. I ran on stage and immediately a bug flew into my eye. So I’m trying to do the dance and sing with the bug in my eye, trying not to wipe it with my eye, etc. Hank Smith was there and afterwards he said, “Did a bug fly into your eye? I could totally tell.” He was cracking up because he could see my efforts to get rid of the bug.

Our performance week flew by. With a lot less rehearsal time, we were able to visit several Nauvoo sites. My favorite is the Lands and Records office – we went to the spot where Jesse N. Smith’s home was and walked the trail of hope with the performing missionaries. Beautiful. My favorite thing about being in Nauvoo is pondering people like James Fife, Joel Hills Johnson, Charles Shumway, Lorenzo Hill Hatch, Anne Ratcliff, and many other ancestors. Walking where they walked, trying to feel what they felt and so forth. For me what touched me the most was the dedication and strength of my ancestors and knowing that they live in me, and I am a reflection of them. More than anything else, I would say that I felt a deep connection with my ancestors and this has been a touching and valuable thing. I learned (relearned) more about many of them, and made several connections between them and the Pageant. For example, I hadn’t realized that King Follet and my ancestor James Fife were neighbors.

As the time went on, Rehearsals were good, the weather was a lot cooler, continued to have great conversations. Our kids solidified friendships and it was great to be together as a family working in a good cause for 12 hours a day. The pageant was also a great opportunity to share the gospel with others. We had many meaningful gospel conversations, particularly with Nancy and Nick who have been meeting with the missionaries and would like to be baptized.

As a beautiful end to our trip we stopped by some key Missouri sites – Independence, Adam-ondi-Ahman, and Far West. We also spent some happy times with Olsen cousins in Independence and in Denver with Lani’s brother and family; John also enjoyed driving through the streets of his mission, and in particular visiting Angelica, a woman he taught as a missionary.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

2017 Summer Adventures

Summer Adventures 
We could write a book about our summer adventures! Since pictures are worth 1,000 words, we’ll mostly rely on them to hit the highlights of the first half of the summer. Separate posts will focus on the 2nd half.

Lani speaks with power at EFY!

 Levi receives his Eagle Scout award! 

Awesome hike to Stewart Falls! 

Jet Skiing at Yuba Lake 

Joseph receives his Arrow of Light 

First time for our family to be at the Stadium of Fire (and possibly last if we can’t figure out how to beat traffic in the future!) 

The below pictures are all from an AWESOME trip John, Joseph and Katrina took together to Nyssa and Boise. Special thanks to the Petersons and the Spjutes. We love, love LOVE the Treasure Valley!