Friday, April 5, 2019

april: Chuck and Jana go to El Paso!

Once upon a time in May 2017 Chuck and I were at the church on a Saturday night assembling a million Mother's Day gifts to be handed out the next morning. Our intrepid Bishop Swenson was there as well assisting in the process. We started discussing their family's approaching move to Texas, and Bishop Swenson gave me instructions to apply for a Southwest credit card, charge a certain dollar amount in the first three months, by doing so receive a fairly high allotment of Southwest points, and then cash those points in for two tickets to El Paso to visit him. I laughed and laughed and then rolled my eyes and said absolutely no chance, dude.
Fast forward ten months, to Jana and Chuck boarding a Southwest flight on the first leg of our journey to El Paso to visit the Swensons. Turns out there was a chance!

This was my first time flying since 2007 (two quick one way flights... prior to that it was 2002) AND my first time ever flying with Chuck... so I was pretty excited. Possibly an understatement. I possess that somewhat childlike quality of being able to find joy and wonder and enthusiasm for even the most mundane activities if I decide to. Flying for the first time in over a decade? I decided to ;). 

Chuck has flown a few times recently (twice for work, once for his solo trip to El Paso in September) so he was definitely a more seasoned traveler. He only rolled his eyes a couple times as I bounded around and informed possibly every ticket agent that I wasn't quiiiite a 'first time flier' but pretty close ;). There's a chance that I also wore my airport shirt...

Caption via instagram: Flying with Chuck = only way to fly. Hanging out in Phoenix eating a late (crazy expensive) lunch and sooo psyched to get to El Paso sooooon!

We rolled in that evening and Dan picked us up and we headed home juuuust in time to give the little  boys hugs before they went to bed. Cam stayed up to show me his cool go-kart and look at bike stuff on the internet with Chuck.

It was SO wonderful to see Shelly and Dan again and even MORE wonderful to surprise them with a huge stack of surprise birthday cards for each of them. I love that this little plan worked - serious thanks to everyone who participated. It was awesome.

Thursday morning we jumped right into the daily Swenson routine: sending kids to school and then a vigorous walk/hike by the local park with Shelly. This was our first real introduction to El Paso wind. It's no joke. Also, the cacti have beautiful orange flowers!!!

We picked up Jaxen from preschool and burgers from Whataburger and Cam met us at home for lunch. To be totally honest, I was slightly underwhelmed by Whataburger... but again, my favorite burger is either a Big Mac or a Jumbo Jack Jr. so maybe I just have unrefined taste buds??

We spent some time at the neighborhood park which has been a perfect outlet for Swensons during the nice warm winter. I loved getting the tour of all their favorite spots and seeing all the places I've heard about!

And then all the boys were home from school, hooray! Andrew's favorite thing is showing off crazy tricks that give me heart attacks ;). Nathan's favorite thing is his cat Spike. My favorite thing is both of them!

Jaxen was pretty pumped to show off his cool trick too. Ahhh love him:

Shelly and I never let the wind stop us from a photo op. No matter how hard it tries haha.

But seriously, that wind. 

Selfie with bae. 

We gathered up bikes and scooters and headed over to the bike park/mountain bike trails (where we'd hiked that morning). There's a chance Cameron beat us there:

We sent Shelly and Cameron to go mountain bike while Chuck and I hung out with the other three which was SO fun. We made friends with all the kids already there and learned that the large, um, hump in the middle of the bike park area there is called 'The Boob'. For obvious reasons. 

Dan finally got out of his work meetings and it was time for dinner - and dessert!! - and games.... which equaled a pretty serious amount of laughter...
I was lucky enough to score my own cello concert courtesy of Andrew, and it was so cool. Such a cool kid. Probably why he beat me so handily at checkers ;). And then it was time for scriptures and bed!

Friday morning? I went to Mexico, nbd.

Back story: Shelly attends the Juarez Temple regularly but since Chuck and I don't have passports, we didn't even consider the possibility of tagging along... until earlier in the week when Shelly called and said she had checked with a border agent and we would be able to re-enter the US with our driver's license and our original birth certificate. We had no idea where Chuck's birth certificate was... but I called my wonderful mama in Utah and she directed me to a specific file crate in her house and said if it was anywhere, it would be in there. I looked through it, to no avail... and then I took a deep breath... realizing that this was dependent on Heavenly Father and that either way, it would be His will. So I said a quick prayer and looked again AND THERE IT WAS.

More backstory: There's a beautiful book about the Juarez Temple that explains in detail its backstory and significance. Here is a link to some of the first chapter, which shares the story of President Gordon B. Hinckley visiting the area in 1997 and being so moved by the stories of saints in the Juarez area sacrificing so much to travel to the Mexico City temple. It was on that same trip that he received inspiration to design and build smaller temples, and Juarez was the first such temple built and dedicated.  https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/colonia-ju-rez-temple-prophet-s-inspiration/president-hickleys-inspiration

The temple session itself was amazing. It was in Spanish so we listened to the English translation via headphones... but honestly, sometimes I turned down the volume and just listened to the Spanish - SO beautiful. Such an incredible spirit. Being there with Shelly was the best. 

I love the story of how the saints in Juarez were blessed with this temple, and I love the promise that has been extended to the saints in El Paso - that they will be protected as they travel into Juarez straight to the temple, and straight home. I was so grateful for Shelly's friend who makes this drive weekly and extends an invite to anyone who would like to ride with her - something she's done since the temple was dedicated in 1999.
I took these pictures as we drove back through Juarez to the border. I'm not much of a world traveler... um, at all... so I was especially grateful to have this glimpse of another country. And I was very grateful that our re-entry to the United States was amazingly smooth - Shelly and the other women said it was one of the fastest and easiest re-entries they've had, despite my lack of passport. I followed all of Shelly's instructions to a T (sunglasses off, cell phone put away, don't say ANYTHING beyond responding when they call your name) and everything worked out amazingly! Honestly, doing what Shelly says in most cases is really the way to go through life...

The wind paused momentarily when we got back home so we made Cameron take another picture of us haha.

Since Dan and Chuck couldn't come with us to Juarez, they opted for Mexican food in El Paso instead - eating at Chico's Tacos after picking up Jaxen from preschool:

Afternoon park excursion with Jaxen and Chuck - two of my fave boys ;).

 Friday evening found us footloose and fancy free and leaving the state haha! We left all the kids at home and piled into the truck for an adult-only trip to Mesilla, New Mexico:

Some info for all y'all history buffs.

Our first stop was at a gorgeous Catholic Church that opens up to the center of the town. We had looked online and were bummed out that there wasn't a church service time that aligned with when we would be there, so we decided to content ourselves with just looking around inside...
soooo you can imagine our surprise as we stumbled upon a wedding! We took our cues from Dan (his two years in Ireland make him our resident expert on Catholicism) and stayed for the rest of mass/the wedding (other tourists wandered in and out during that time as well). It was really beautiful - I loved the music and the focus on commitment and also the bride's face as they walked down the aisle as man and wife and she saw us hahahaha.

We looked around the (now empty) church a bit more and then went on our way around town:

Quite a few of the shops were closed or closing right as we got there but we were able to browse in a few little stores... well, browse and find random stuff to laugh about ;).

By this time the wedding party had vacated the front steps of the church, which meant we could wander back over for some photo ops! Obvs we got a thumbs up pose of Chuck and Dan:
and this perfect (minus my windblown hair, grrr) shot of all four of us. Chuck and I went on this trip knowing about the impending dynamic shifts in the Swenson family and I love that when I look at this picture, I just see various combinations of incredible friendships - all four of us together, me and Chuck, Chuck and Dan, Dan and Shelly, me and Dan, Chuck and Shelly, and me and Shelly. Those three friends of mine have impacted my life in incredibly positive ways and I'm grateful for them.

I'm also very very grateful for the amazing dinner we had at La Posts de Mesilla. Soooo good.

We made it safely home in time for scriptures, prayers, and.... an impromptu arm wrestling tournament. Sounds about right!
I recused myself from competing and let Chuck represent the Izatt name alone. He did all right ;).

Saturday morning we were initiated into an awesome family breakfast tradition that was both the cutest thing ever and the most delicious - crepes, omelets, and chocolate milk? Don't mind if I do!

Andrew and I also honed our piano duet skills with everyone's favorite 'Heart and Souls'. There was a slight kerfuffle when I moved down octaves because apparently I was "taught" "wrong" but it was basically the most fun I've had playing the piano ever. 

Our main Saturday activity was (what else?) four-wheeling! Er, three-wheeling! Er, ATVs? Whatever all these contraptions are called ;). 
Shelly and Jaxen made it onto both the three wheeler and the four wheeler for some jaunts into the desert:
Cameron took the three wheeler for a spin... literally... but mostly stuck with his go-kart.

I hopped aboard with Nathan and things escalated pretttttty quickly. Namely, the gas pedal. Nate is the most hilarious driver ever - at one point we were kind of stuck up the side of the hill and he chose that moment to share that reversing wasn't his strong suit - very reassuring for his passenger to hear haha. 

Luckily Chuck isn't as easily riled as I am, so he and Nate were a perfect duo and took a few rides. Also: their matching orange shirts and blue shorts KILL me! So cute.

Andrew very patiently drove me around for a while and put up with my shrieks and tight grip around his waist and let me merrily believe he was obeying my '20 mph' rule while in fact going much faster haha. 
Andrew helped me pick out the pictures and filter for this instagram post about our adventures - the caption was all me: Put my life in the hands of an eleven-year-old today and had suuuuch an awesome time 😎🙌🏼. Luckily we made it out on a couple rides before all hale/vehicle parts broke loose: chain off, flat tire, broken axle joint, another flat tire 😳🤪👩🏻‍🔧🔨⛓😂

Ohhhh yeah, so our little field trip to the desert hit some road bumps. It's all a bit hazy now, but I thiiiiink it started with the three-wheeler losing its chain? Dan was on it... and maybe called and someone got service? So Chuck and Nate went out to the rescue... only to end up with a flat tire. So we sent Cam out on the go-kart with the pump to save them... only to have him walk back to 'camp' a while later explaining that an axle joint on his go-kart snapped. AHHHHH! So poor Cameron headed out again... on foot (it's cool, he's a freaking track star like both of his parents before him) with the pump, and Shelly, Jaxen, Andrew, and I took turns hauling the go-kart back. FYI that bad boy weighs like 200 pounds and is awkward to drag and also got a flat tire haha. We strengthened all sorts of things on that mile from heck: muscles, patience, perseverance, our desire to never encounter a go-kart again haha:
Andrew and I took a snack break and we all cheered mightily when the four wheeler returned with four inflated tires and four deflated (aka tired!) riders haha. It took a bit more finagling but eventually all the vehicles were safely tucked onto the trailer and we headed home!

Our weary souls opted out of any other traveling adventures for the day in favor of a lovely few final hours together at the house - and it was PERFECT. Backyard football for Chuck and Nathan:

and a relaxing hammock for me as I enjoyed the beautiful trees and scenery and rock walls.

Welllll it was relaxing for a while at least ;).
Delicious dinner, forced selfies with reluctant teenagers, watching Chuck and Andrew play checkers, sweet Nathan reading to me - these are a few of my favorite things.

I obviously started getting emotional as the evening winded down since we were leaving early the next morning... but luckily Cam was around to distract all of us with some fire and his first attempt at a homemade foundry! This is one of my favorite things about this family: Shelly is incredibly supportive of the boys and their hobbies and interests and endeavors.

Spending these few days in their home was so special for us - there was an incredible spirit there of love and peace and enduring to the end and finding joy in the meantime. So so grateful to Shelly for housing and feeding and entertaining us so graciously.

Sunday we were up briiiiight and early to make our flight... along with a bajillion other people who all fly out of El Paso Sunday mornings? Security was crazy busy but we made it! 

Dan the Man dropped us off at the airport and then posted this, apparently just to make sure I'd cry. Loved giving him one last hug.

We flew home a different way, this time with a connecting flight in Las Vegas, which meant different views out the windows! Also, Chuck is the best and insisted I get the window seat every time... although he was happy to lean over and share the view pretty often ;).

I tried to savor the flights (and the hot chocolate!!) since I have no intention/plans/money to fly again in the near-to-distant future. I loved it though!!

We came home with an embarrassing number of 'cloud/sky' pictures but it was worth it to get this one.
Sunlight streaming through clouds is how I see heaven. This trip felt like one big tender mercy from Heavenly Father. Everything just fell into place so that Chuck and I could get away for a few days and spend time with a family that has been uprooted in more ways than one and shown incredible strength and courage. I think we went with some sort of intention of lifting them up and instead felt so lifted up by them and their love and friendship. 

My instagram recap: Back home and already missing our favorite El Pasoans 🌵 tons. More highlights of the trip: surprising Shelly and Dan with a million lovely birthday cards 💌, crashing a (beautiful!) wedding💒, making friends at the skate park🛴, pronouncing it ‘What a burger’ because it just makes more sense🍔, meeting Charlie and Janay, aka the way cooler version of Chuck and Jana👀, getting selfies with all four wee Swenson boys occasionally against their will🤳🏻, finally hugging Dan without hurting his ribs👊🏼, beating Cameron at Phase 10🥇, losing to Andrew at checkers🥈, all the arm wrestling💪🏼, Shelly’s cooking👩🏼‍🍳, the backyard hammock🌴, and everything in between 🙌🏼. Love all y’all ❤️. (So much thanks to my amazing mama for making this trip possible by taking care of our high maintenance kiddos 😍. I will endeavor to be as devoted with your fish and rabbit and plants when you’re out of town 🤞🏼)