Saturday, January 30, 2016

Grace's First Day of Nursery!

Grace started nursery last month, and I wrote this post last month, but I just got around to getting the pictures off my camera. 

This girl. This giant Momma's girl who screamed so hard for over a year every time a babysitter came or she was separated from mommy for any period of time started nursery today. I was a little nervous about how she'd do, but she ran in and didn't look back. I was so pleasantly surprised. Well... she was okay for the first 15 minutes. Then we recognized her cry from down the hall, and Russ went in to sit with her for about 30 minutes. Then he left and she loved her second hour. Here is a report of her day, as told by her:

Me: Did you go to nursery!?
Grace: Nope.
Me: Did you play with toys?
Grace: Nope.
Me: Did you eat snacks?
Grace: Nope.
Me: Did you have crackers?
Grace: Nope.
Did you sing songs?
Grace: Nope.
Did you pop bubbles?
Grace: Nope.

As you can see, it was a fun-filled day!!!

She really did do all those things, by the way. I know because I peeked through the window in the door every 10 minutes for the whole 2 hours. :D

Another amendment is that her second week, she cried off and on. I was in there with her during Singing Time, and I was surprised how much she loved it and how much she got into it. :) And now, sadly, we don't have nursery in Nigeria. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

#6 Nigeria: Observations - 2 weeks in

We have been here for almost 2 weeks, and we are basically settled in. We're over jet lag (well, Grace still sometimes goes to bed really late and sleeps in), we're unpacked, and we've hired house help. I even ventured out to the grocery store by myself for the first time today, and only embarrassed myself by acting like a stupid American once! :) Even though about 75% of life in general seems different here, here are some major different things I wanted to record:

1. Greetings are a big deal. Maybe this is the happy bubble of the Chevron camp, but everyone greets each other. If they're in a car and I'm walking, we wave. If I'm walking with the kids and pass anyone, we say hello. Russ says that at work, it's a big thing to say hello, ask after the person's family, and say something else (like "You are welcome to Nigeria." or "Happy New Year"). It's kind of like in the US though, when you kind of automatically say, "How are you?" but don't actually expect the person to go into an in-depth explanation. But the biggest thing I've heard here is, "You are welcome." I don't know if they're only saying that because they recognize that I'm new, or if it's a common phrase they use all the time.

2. The names seem to mostly fall in 1 of 3 categories: attributes, Bible names, or hard-to-pronounce African names.  What I mean by attributes is, for example, our driver's name is Confidence, and some other names I've heard are: Glory, Blessing, Precious, etc. Also, a lot of names are gender-neutral. Russ told me about a woman at work whose name is Frankba, which means "daughter of Frank".

3. Nigerians value big families. They have lots of kids and when we tell them we have two, they wonder why we don't have more. They "like los of shildren. Babies. You unda-stand?" (that was supposed to show the accent :D).

4. There are multiple ways to do exchange money on the compound, but one is to call this guy, tell him how many dollars you want to exchange, and he comes to your house. The best part is that this well-dressed Nigerian man shows up at your door with a fat wad of Naira in a black bag. I don't know if this transaction is all above-board, but the whole thing feels very mobster-movieish. It's hilarious.

5. The power goes out on the camp at least once a day. Luckily, it only goes out for about 30 seconds at a time. It's not a big deal, but it has turned off movies, cut off phone calls, turned off the stove while making dinner, and freaked Sophia out once when she was in the bath before bed (since it was really dark).

6. I'd say that almost every other car on the road (or at least on the expressway) is a mini bus. They're basically beat-up 12 passenger vans, but from the looks of it, they're usually crammed with many more than 12 people (it's a little awkward to make eye contact with someone riding a mini bus as I sit in the SUV with just my family, and they're squished up against the windows). People kind of hang out in the roundabouts, the mini busses slow down to a stop, and people get on and off. There's a driver and another man who stands in the open van door or hangs out the front passenger window collecting fares. The first time we were driving around, we saw a driver arguing and almost fighting with people collecting a tax for the mini bus - because they have city busses, but they sit empty while people take these mini busses, which are run by individuals. The missionaries told us the mini busses are actually more expensive, but people take them because they're much faster. So I guess it's like a 3rd world version of Uber :)

7. We have lots of bugs and lots of lizards. There are also lots of bugs in the house, and we all have lots of mysterious bites on us - or at least we hope they're bites and not something scarier. But even they girls are diligently taking our malaria medicine. I'm not gonna lie though, every mark on and cough from the girls scares me more here than it did in the US, since there are so many different types of illnesses here. There is a clinic on the compound, though, and they seem to be very capable there.

8. The main language is English, which is nice, but it can still be hard to understand. I feel like I speak in broken English to them all day, and they probably feel like they're doing the same for me. I imagine over time that will get better. The way they phrase things is also different - more formal. Nigerians are also very direct and almost aggressive when they talk, which makes a lot of sense in a place where you barter and negotiate a lot, but if Americans talked to each other like that, people would often be offended or you'd think it was rude. That's partially why the maid/nanny (called "stewardesses" here) I employed is actually from Ghana. This is a stereotype and not a rule, but the people I've met on camp from Ghana seem a bit more gentle, which is better for me when I have an employee-boss situation.

9. I will write a whole post about having house help when I've had more time to experience it, but for now, I'll just say that it's part awesome and part extremely strange to have a driver and stewardess. I'm glad I've watched Downton Abbey because although it's nothing like that, it at least gives me a point of reference with "upstairs/downstairs" interactions. For example, when the driver is silent in the car, I wonder if I should say something to break the silence or if that's just what's done - maybe the driver doesn't speak unless spoken to. And if I put a dish in the sink and walk away, it almost always gets hand washed and put in the drying rack before I go back into the kitchen. It has motivated me to take the extra 10 seconds to actually put the dish in the dishwasher and save the stewardess from having to wash something *I* used. Also, everyone calls me "Madame" or "Mam" and Russ is "Sir" or "Master".

#5 Nigeria: Lekki

These are all just pictures I took from my car window to give you a feel of what it's like in this area:
a small glimpse of a market

Unfinished buildings, people running through the road, and a mini-bus (the green and white van).

Everywhere is really crowded and unorganized - at least to my untrained and OCD eye. 

wild horses by the side of the road 

This isn't a wide enough shot, but there were 5 lanes on this 3 lane road 

some more "normal" looking buildings 

I thought this "shopping complex" was funny - reminded me of a run-down strip mall. 

This is a new, big grocery store that just opened a few weeks ago. It's very close to where we live, so a lot of the expats are excited about that. And this is probably the most-comparable-to-something-in-America place I've been since we got here (off-camp, that is).

The roundabout we live by. We live right next to an Expressway (basically a main road, not a freeway). There are several roundabouts on that road - like 7 between our house and the school - and people definitely do not obey the roundabout rules. You just go in when you want to, and when you want to exit, you just start going that way until people let you through. There's no stopping and waiting to be let in. Ever. You just inch where you want to go. I would be an awful driver here.

Goats! Probably going to be turned into food. Since they eat goat here...

Starred the American International School (where Sophia will start preschool next week), the church building, and the Chevron Compound. With traffic, the trip from Chevron to the school takes an hour.

I really haven't been around town much, but I'm glad I took my camera with my the first time because it's already starting to look more "normal" to me. I can only speak for this small area of Nigeria and Lagos I've seen, but I think it's a lot like Cairo, Egypt. That's the first place I saw tons of run-down buildings, small shacks all over, crazy driving, and whole families riding on mopeds. India seemed more poverty-stricken. There, you'd drive past people sleeping on the side of the road or in the shade of their rickshaws because they had no where else to go. India also smelled really bad, sickly-looking cows rambled around in the streets, and people were bathing and doing laundry in really, really dirty and smelly rivers. I'm sure all of that goes on here as well, but not in areas I've seen yet.

It is still very sad, though. All along the expressway (which is our main artery to everything here), there are small wooden shacks set up where people sell things. Every so often you pass markets, which just look chaotic! There are tons of tents and people and there's not any real sort of organization. There are burned-out cars left on the side of the road, and we usually see one or two car accidents because the driving is pretty crazy. We asked a driver if you'd get pulled over for speeding, and he laughed. I think we've only really seen 1 traffic light, but there are lots of roundabouts. People don't signal or yield when they're changing lanes, they just start coming over! When there's traffic, the three lane road turns into 5 or 6 lanes - with one lane in the bumpy dirt next to the road. But I would say it's not as crazy driving as in India. Here, we are just inches away from playing bumper cars with other people about every 30 seconds. So it's important to find a good driver who will make you feel safe, not be overly aggressive, and also knows his way around town.

When we drove around with Sophia last week, she kept saying, "Oh no! They're driving with their door open!" or "Why are they walking in the road where cars are moving!?" or "Why are they sitting in the back of that truck with no seat belt?" It was cute. That's Sophia - always concerned about safety.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

#4 Nigeria: First Impressions of Lekki Camp

One of the office buildings is in the background.

We've gone on lots of walks this week :)

There are always tons of lizards chillin' on the sidewalks 

 Sophia inherited a bike someone left behind! We took it out for a spin last night, and she did a great job. 
Grace loves stroller walks, but sometimes she also likes to be the one in charge...

My little crew :) 

As you can see, we can be real speed demons here! 

Our home away from home. Sophia loves finding shells and "treasure" in the sand. 

 Don't let Grace's face fool you. She asks to "wheeee", aka "swing", several times a day. She hates the sand at the park, so whenever we go, she sits in that swing (usually for 30-45 minutes at a time), and still cries when it's time to go home. 

 Turning the corner to our house. We're in the back corner of the camp, so it's pretty quiet. 

Home! And our car!

Our Chevron compound is like a little bubble in an otherwise totally foreign country, and I'm glad for that. It isn't very big; just under 1.5 miles around the perimeter. It's made up of 127 houses, a playground, swimming pool, tennis courts, soccer field, clubhouse/gym, a clinic, and the offices (maybe a few other things too, but that's the gist of it). People here are identified by their house number. Every e-mail I've seen from people ends with their name and house number. That way it's easy to match up family members and call them (since the phone numbers are an extension + house number). The girls and I have walked either to playgroup, park, or pool every day so far, and I can truly say this is like a strange (but awesome) neighborhood plucked straight out of the 50's. I feel like I live in the Truman Show or one of those fake nuketowns you see in movies. Everyone's house is the same, and there's only about 2 different types of cars assigned to residents here, and everyone's one assigned car is backed into the driveway. Almost no one is driving around, so kids are riding their bikes or walking around, everyone greets their neighbors, and everyone seems extremely friendly. Most of the time, though, when we walk around in the morning, the kids are at school, so when I'm walking around, we don't see anyone except the many, many workers - gardening, sweeping, or washing the cars. Russ starts work on Monday, and it'll probably be an interesting dynamic for him to see all the same people at work and around the neighborhood. 

There are three different types of house: single, duplex, and triplex. We're in the triplex. From what I've seen, all of them are concrete walls and mostly tile floors (carpet in the bedrooms). Everything is a little different. We had to learn how to use the shower, oven, stove, and microwave (which I still think I use wrong). The light switches and door handles look different, but kind of remind me of Germany. We have American plugs next to British plugs all over the house - it's really nice we don't have to have adaptors or transformers for everything! The compound is about the only place where you can actually drink the tap water (again, thank goodness. I was very worried about making sure the girls never drank from the tap!), and there are lots of shelves and cupboards to put things in (I may not feel like it's a lot if we actually had all of our stuff, but since we only brought suitcases, there are LOTS of empty cupboards in the kitchen and bedrooms!). The houses have a lot of windows! It's nice to have all the natural light, but also meant I had to use all the curtains I brought to darken the girls' rooms. As a side note, Grace has NEVER had windows in her room before, so I was nervous about her having a hard time sleeping, and maybe the jet lag has just worn her out, but she hasn't had a problem with it. Yay!

Everyone here has hired help. Everyone. Having a driver is required since we can't drive in Nigeria - it's so crazy I wouldn't even WANT to - and it's not as safe to take public transportation. Since most employees are gone all day, drivers appear to be people you pay to sit in your garage 75% of the time. But then you have someone available when you need to go somewhere. It makes me think of Branson on Downton Abbey - how he was always just reading or tinkering with the car.  :) Everyone here also hires a stewardess. Basically, she is a maid/cook/nanny rolled into one (or you can get ones that just specialize in one or two of those things). Before coming here, I thought, "I do all those jobs on my own at home, and we manage just fine, so maybe I'll just hire someone to come clean the house once a week. That'd still be a big treat for me". But almost everyone with kids I've talked to says they have one full-time so the stewardess can watch one or two kids while you're one-on-one with another (taking them to school or to something like tennis practice), or so you can be free to go to lunches, the doctor, or other activities outside the home without any kids. The stewardesses also run errands and go to the local market (where they'd be able to negotiate prices much better than an American would). The whole idea is a very, very foreign to me. Not necessarily bad, but just different.

This week we were assigned a temporary steward to help us clean the house and get settled until we hire someone ourselves. It was really nice to have someone do that, but it was also weird to have someone around the house with us, and I never had more than 2-3 hours of work for him to do. So I have no idea what I'll have a stewardess do if she's here full-time! But it's very inexpensive, and (I think) really helps the local economy, so that's probably what I'll end up doing. So far, when I've taken the kids to playgroup and the park, it has literally been me and the stewardesses. There are some kids I've seen every day this week, but I have no idea who their moms are!

Outside is 80-90 degrees every day. It's really hot and humid outside. Inside the houses, it is either really, really cold, or warm and humid. But since we actually HAVE air conditioning, I am not going to complain about finicky AC controls! The plants seem much more tropical. There are different birds, flowers, and trees than we're used to seeing. And the population of lizards has to be at least 10x that of people. Every time we go out, we see lizards everywhere, chillin' on the sidewalks. I'm glad they always run away from us because even if they are harmless, they're still a little creepy, and some are pretty big! We also have about 3 geckos inside our house, and I'm still trying to decide how I feel about that. I don't care about the downstairs ones, but one appears to live in Grace's room...

I don't know what else to say about camp, except I think we'll like it here! 6 months is going to go by really fast, and we plan to make the most of it!

#3 Nigeria: First Sunday at Church

We were so glad to see this sign as we drove down the road! 
I'll get better pictures of the church in the future. This one is obviously not great. :)

We were really lucky to not only find a ward here in Lagos, it's really close to us. It took us a few days to get ahold of someone to confirm the church times and address because the address on says something like: 22 Alpha Beach road, next to such and such bus stop on the right, off of Lekke Expressway, and Google Maps had trouble finding that. :) Another obstacle is that we have to hire a driver here, and most don't work on Sundays. We still haven't figured out exactly what we'll do about that. The options are to pay a driver extra every Sunday just for church, hire a Muslim driver (but I can't seem to track down the list of drivers to call one), or look into seeing if we can get a bus to take us. The last option sounds the easiest, and that's what all the other churchgoers on camp do, but we're not sure if they'd give us a bus just for our family. :) Hopefully we can get that figured out this week.

Today we paid someone else's driver to take us, and he even stayed for the meetings! haha I saw him sitting with the missionaries, and he even came home with a Book of Mormon. The church is in an old, run-down building, but everyone there was very nicely dressed (most men even in white shirts and ties) and very happy. I will try to take pictures of the meetinghouse in the future, but it definitely made me appreciate US church buildings. The chapel was a room with about 50-60 chairs set up, a podium, and a small sacrament table. There was no air conditioning, and Russ was literally dripping sweat before the meeting even started. They also didn't have a piano, so the hymns were sung a cappella. On the one hand, it was very inspiring to hear 50 Saints singing "How Firm a Foundation", and on the other hand, I desperately wanted to buy them a keyboard or a CD player or something so they could have music at church! All the speakers and teachers seemed very well-versed in their scriptures, and their testimonies were all simple but took hold of the true foundations of the Gospel. It was neat. I'll be honest, though. The room was super hot, there was a very loud generator outside (probably powering the lights and few ceiling fans), and in addition to hardly being able to hear them, we could hardly understand their accents. Maybe if we could have heard them better, we would've gotten 75% of what they said. As it was, I'd say I got less than half. 

Lots of people were friendly and introduced themselves to us. Everyone also liked interacting with the girls. We met with the Bishop to transfer our records and asked him if there was anyone in the ward we might be able to employ as our driver and/or stewardess (maid). He said he'd get back to us, but there are actually 4 people in the ward (that we know of) who work at Chevron already! It's too bad we can't snatch up one of them, but I asked one to come over tomorrow and help me decide on a stewardess since I have about 12 resumes and would love some insight! I thought maybe there would be other expats in the ward, but since we are the only ones, we are really hoping our tithing and fast offerings are going to help the ward! I guess I don't know what the other people's financial situations are, so I shouldn't assume anything, but there were only about 5 cars at church, and one of them was ours. Plus, when the expats pay a driver $200-250 per month and that's considered good, and the average salary in Nigeria is $3,500 PER YEAR....just yeah. I hope we will help those faithful ward members!

Primary and nursery were combined in a small room with about a dozen kids. Every time we checked on Sophia, she seemed to be having a good time (even though she said she didn't...). The kids stayed in the same room the whole time, but when I walked by at different times, it looked like they were having a lesson, a little activity, snack, and I heard one or two Primary songs. Since it wasn't really a nursery, Grace only lasted about 5 minutes before we heard her crying and she hung out with us the rest of the time. 

I also want it to be known that even though Relief Society was held in an old, dirty kitchen, there was a table cloth on the table!! 

Even though it was very different and we were the only white people in the congregation, it was one of the most comfortable things we've done here - because the church is the same everywhere! We were learning from the same manuals, same Hymn books, same sacrament, and even the announcements were exactly the same. One brother in the ward introduced himself and asked if the church was the same in America. We told him it was and he said, "See. Even with different color skin, we are one." :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

#2 Nigeria: First Few Hours

Our triplex is in the background, as well as the concrete back wall of our camp. It's pretty humid and hazy because this is the dry season, so we get the harmattan (wind blown from the Sahara that has picked up sand and dust particles).
The bus like the one that picked us up from the airport 

It was 5:30pm when we landed (but 10:30am to our bodies). Looking out the windows of our airplane at the airport, it was an older-looking building with tons of gray fans around the outside. For some reason, that's when it finally hit me that when I got off the plane, I would truly be leaving "America". We were warned beforehand to use the bathrooms on the plane because they're nicer than at the airport. So we were one of the last people off the plane. It was about 90 degrees and humid outside - and probably about 80 degrees and humid inside. Once we got off the plane, we followed the last groups to the escalator and stairs. We were told to go down, but kind of stood there for a minute, looking for an elevator. There wasn't one, which wasn't a big deal - we just unloaded the girls and put the stroller on the escalator - but it was the first time (of many more to come, I'm sure) we probably looked like dumb Americans, looking for our elevator.

Next came customs. We were a little stressed as we hurried to fill out our immigration cards - mostly because it was hot, the girls were restless, and it was just busy and bustling. Not as busy as I expected it to be, but it still felt stressful. Russ took our family's passports and cards up to the customs agent and he said that as soon as the agent got our papers in hand, he said, "You have a gift for me?" (asking for money). Russ just said, "Not today", which was probably a bit of a gamble since he was the one who stamped us into the country. :)

Then we went to the one baggage claim belt. Maybe there were more and it was too crowded to see it, but there were sure a lot of people waiting by just that one. Russ got the bags while I wrestled with very irritable little girls. (Grace just wanted to walk around, without shoes on, by the way. Sophia made it her mission in life to annoy Grace: sitting in Grace's car seat, using Grace's special baby blanket for her own stuffed animals, etc) There were several other Chevron families, and we were greeted right away by men wearing Chevron hats who helped us load our 8 69lb suitcases, our 4 carry-on suitcases, 4 backpacks, and 2 car seats onto a big cart. 

The group of about 30 Chevron people headed to the exit and stood for a while waiting. The whole concept of time at this point was foggy. I know by the time we got to Chevron's camp, it was after 9:30, and the drive only took 45 minutes to an hour. So we spent a long time standing at the exit waiting for our bus. Then we walked out to the bus and waited again. Then the women and children got on the bus while the men babysat the luggage until it got loaded. Whoever was in charge of picking us up didn't realize what a large group we were and didn't send enough busses. Everyone else said they'd never had such a long wait at the airport, but since we didn't know any different, it wasn't a big deal to us. 

I should say that even exiting the airport was different than in the US. You walk out and there's a small curb and a small road, and that's it. People came up to us asking for money, and we walked out in the street to get to where the vans were parked, with cars waiting for us or passing right by us. The airport guards were sort of directing traffic, while having AR-15s strapped to their backs. It was dark out, so we couldn't see much else, and maybe that's good because I thought Sophia would be more afraid of it all than she was. I did explain to her about how driving is different here and we had to be extra careful when we walked around - because driving is CRAZY. 

The bus has curtains covering the windows, and the girls and I were in the back, so I couldn't see out. I heard lots of honking, though. Russ was in the very front and said the driving conditions reminded him of India (aka mass chaos). Like I said, we got to camp at about 9:30. 

We are lucky to have not been alone for the whole arrival process. The other Chevron families were very welcoming from the start. It's a small enough community, everyone noticed we were new and introduced themselves. A few key people have already been invaluable to me as I ask them question after question. Our next-door neighbor had dinner waiting for us, as well as a key to our house. This is our first time being in an actual house! Sophia is very excited about having a back yard to play in. I will post pictures of the house when we get a little more settled, but it's a 2-story, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath triplex. It's mostly concrete and tile, which means it echoes a lot when the girls cry or even just talk, and we're worried about Grace cracking her head on the stairs! Our refrigerator and pantry were well stocked with lots of food, fruits, drinks, and about 8 different neighbors had delivered meals. This has been especially wonderful because you don't just have the ability to run out to the grocery store, so we've had more than enough to eat these first few days. We feel very, very welcomed and taken care of!

#1 Nigeria: Leaving Houston

I plan to use our blog as a journal for our time in Nigeria. I don't want to forget anything, so I apologize that these posts are going to be long. We're trying to take lots of pictures, too, so I'll put pictures first for a cliff-notes version and the journal-version after.

 Getting ready to leave the hotel with our stuffed to capacity suitcases! This is half of the big ones.

All the stress and crazy packing paid off and it was SUCH A RELIEF to have the big bags checked and just be left with the carry-ons.  

Fuzzy picture, but showing that the girls were still in good spirits, despite it being way past bedtime and still having over an hour in the airport to go. They really did do SO great with the whole airport and airplane adventure.  

Little Gracie sleeping in her big Business-First Class seat. :) 

 Looks like the high life suits her perfectly. 

I couldn't believe she actually slept 8 hours straight. She slept through dinner, the lights coming on, and announcements. It was cute to see the different positions she ended up in as she tried to get comfy.  

Sophia slept about 7 hours, as well. She didn't finally go to bed until after 2am, and she'd been up all day (minus a 30 minute nap in the car)!!! Russ said for the last hour or so before she fell asleep, she was hyper, telling him crazy story after story.

We flew out on a Friday night, and man, was it a stressful week leading up to it! I spent the better part of the last 6 months making lists of things to stock up on and what to bring with us that we wouldn't be able to buy here, so I felt pretty organized, but the 24 hours before the movers came still turned into, "Just dump it in that closet so it doesn't go to storage. We'll figure out how to fit it in later." The movers came on Wednesday (my goodness. That was less than a week ago? It feels like forever), and that closet full of stuff to bring got more and more full. We decided we would have to get an extra suitcase and pay the $200 excess baggage fee. We weren't excited about that, but were too overwhelmed to think of a better option. I was so bummed because, like I said, I felt so organized, but in the end, we overpacked.

Wednesday-Friday, we stayed in a hotel. Both Russ and I have bruises and scrapes from moving those heavy suitcases so many times..... we moved them around our apartment, we loaded them into the car to get them to the hotel, we moved them from the hotel to the rental van, from the rental van to my sister's house, back into the rental van, and finally to the airport. We ended up buying 3 bigger suitcases in the 3 days before our move. Luckily, we ended up not having to pay the extra fee, but only by replacing smaller checked bags with the new bigger ones. Thursday night, Russ and I stayed up until about 2am going through every single suitcase to see what we could leave behind. That stuff either got put in a suitcase currently at my sister's house or given away.

We checked out of the hotel at noon and our flight left at 10pm, so we went to Lissa's house in between - and we really appreciated having them as a "home base" to finish our suitcase re-organizing and let the girls play with their cousins one more time. Lissa was out of town, but Jason was really helpful in getting the van loaded and in letting us keep all our extra stuff there. I wish I'd taken a picture of our rental van. I really don't think it could have been any more full. We all went out to eat at Texas Roadhouse - a very nice last meal with our family before we left. As we started driving to the airport, it started to POUR rain and hail. It was pretty scary, but luckily it was off and on. Not luckily is when we were picking up the stroller from some neighbors (we had left it in Houston when we went to Lissa's in Katy because it literally wouldn't fit in the van before leaving some stuff at her house), it was raining the hardest it had all night. Russ got completely soaked (so soaked that his clothes were still wet 2 days later), there was a minute or two when we didn't even think it would fit, and Grace's car seat also got soaked when we took it out to put the stroller in. The weather slowed us down so we were a little later to the airport than we'd expected, but the flight ended up being delayed, so we were fine. No one was around to help us valet or curb check our bags, but also no one was there to keep the traffic moving, so Russ and I both just got out of the van to unload and we even checked in while he left the van outside unattended. Once his passport proved it was him, he left, and I checked the bags. The lightest one was 65lbs, but most others were 67-70lbs.

After the stress of driving and being up so late the night before and moving those heavy bags so many times, I was just plain worn out, and at one point, I embarrassingly tripped and fell over a suitcase as I moved another suitcase from the cart to the scale. Not only that, but it dropped on Sophia, so she was screaming, and she and I both have nasty bruises on our knees from it. I think after that the airport attendants realized I was in over my head and helped me move the rest of the bags. When Russ got back from returning the car, we went through security, walked to our gate to make sure the flight was really delayed, and then went to hang out in the United Club with the fancy first class people. We got some snacks and got changed into pajamas before going back and boarding.  Business-First was really nice. The chairs lay down completely flat, or you can move just the back to recline or the front to have a footrest. We got fancy meals, a TV with more choices, a pillow and big blanket, and gift bag with toothbrush, socks, eye mask, etc. It was also just extremely nice to have so much room you could get up and walk around in front of your seat instead of sitting with your knees scrunched up the whole time. Thank you, Chevron, for the classy accommodations!

As soon as we were airborne, I laid Grace's chair into a bed, and she went straight to sleep. I also went to sleep (it was about 11:30 or 12 at that point), but I was woken up at 1:30 when the lights came on and they served dinner. I missed most of it, but was mostly confused about why we were eating dinner at 1:30am. Russ said it was a fancy 5 course meal. Soon after, all of us went to sleep and woke up with 3 or 4 hours left of the flight. Sophia did amazing on the flight, and Grace did awesome, too. Grace did get restless and want to walk around, and didn't seem to understand that there really wasn't anywhere to walk to. It was harder for her since she is too little to watch shows, but for only a few hours, books and snacks and switching between Mom and Dad did the trick. :)

Honestly, at least for me, even with how crazy the jetlag is and adjusting to a completely new country and life here, last week is still more stressful. There were so many hurdles to get over: getting as much as we could packed, getting our car to storage, movers, getting the bags in the van, getting all those last-minute errands done. Once we got on the plane, a huge weight was lifted. The hardest parts were over. We knew it'd be a big adjustment once we got here, but we also knew we would be well taken care of. Getting ready to leave was so time-consuming, it still hasn't even really sunk in that we're gone. Or maybe I just figure we'll end up there again so there's no need to be too sad. But we really liked Houston! We liked being near family, our apartment, our ward, our friends, the restaurants, and the area we lived in. So goodbye, Houston! Thanks for being so good to us! You'll always be a special place to us, especially since Grace was born there!