As I sit in a warm piso with the sun shining brightly outside, we’ve just had a great Sunday dinner of roast pork, potatoes & gravy, vegetables & salad, Hna Belnap is making an apple pie, we’re making progress in learning Spanish, we had an uplifting experience in our meetings today and I’m thinking - life is good! I reread Elder Holland’s poignant talk in April Conference describing our Savior’s atonement and wonder why we sometimes lose sight of the things that have true importance and spend much time in pursuit of those that have little or no eternal significance. But, since to us, our family has eternal significance, I’m going to write a letter describing our week for you.
We went into the office earlier than normal Monday morning to try to get our emails taken care of – we’d been told to prepare for a trip to San Sebastián to finalize a lease on a new piso for the elders there. But it wasn’t until we were nearly ready to leave that we understood that Flo & I were to drive Elders Anderson & Strickland there to take care of the business. We got the Assistants’ car from the parking lot and literally squeezed out (there was so much congestion with people parked illegally and others trying to get in and out of the lot that we clipped mirrors with another car and had to turn them in to get by each other) and made our way to the freeways. We made all the right turns and exits, missed most of rush-hour traffic and were soon out of town into the very beautiful countryside. The freeway winds thru the hills and valleys passing lots of small villages and towns, the hills are covered with grass and trees with the grass still bright green and the deciduous trees turning the many colors of fall. Russ & Jen Perkins had been on that same route when they visited earlier this month and had described it as beautiful – it really is. Some of the grass fields are so steep that I wonder how the sheep and horses we saw can graze there and not fall down the slopes. Flo took some pictures and was trying to get them on our blog Friday so hopefully you can get a flavor for what we saw. Elder Strickland had been assigned to San Se (as they call it) for several months so he knows his way around the city and tried to guide us to our destination. But there’s significant difference between being able to walk between points A and B and being able to drive them. But by going thru ‘do not enter’ signs (like other drivers were) we were able to get to our destination of a pay parking lot under the local cathedral (apparently every sizeable city has one – just not like León’s), parked in a very narrow spot and met the Elders above ground. We saw the new piso with the real estate agent, walked to a beautiful beach nearby (it’s what San Se is famous for) to use the time we had then met owners and real estate people at the agency. I’m not sure what they haggled over but it took about 30 minutes to get the lease agreement finalized and signed (apparently all it takes from the church perspective is a couple of Elders to sign the agreement). I wanted to help the Elders move as much heavy stuff as we could using the car so I took a couple of them in the car and went to the old piso, parked as close as we could get (the combination of no parking and narrow, one-way streets was a real challenge) and we hauled stuff from their 3rd floor piso to the car 300-400 yards away. On one of my trips I hauled a box of booklets and thought it was going to kill me before I got to the car. We couldn’t find any parking close to the new piso so we returned to the parking garage, hauled a load of stuff up to the new place and waited for Flo and the others to return with food to make sandwiches for lunch. When they got there, we couldn’t find anything to eat with or on so we found a store, got plastic spoons & napkins and the crew put away two loaves of bread and every other bit of food there. I’d liked to have hauled more stuff for them but we had to get back and nearly all the stuff we hadn’t gotten was light or on wheels so we left town. We’d just hit the freeway when the gas warning light came on so we had to make a stop to fill the tank. The return trip was in the dusk, it was foggy and mostly thru a light rain so we couldn’t see the same beautiful scenery we’d had coming to San Se – we made it back safe & sound.
Via email I’d asked the church’s vehicle coordinator for Spain for a little guidance on getting the mission van back into operation but he didn’t ever reply. So Wednesday I put on my sweats, went to the van and pulled the battery. The available tools aren’t very good (I had to hold the head and handle of the ratchet together to keep them from falling apart) but I got it into the back of our car to try to get it checked. Later in the day the Elders came with me, we drove to the dealership and told them we’d like the battery charged and tested. The shop guy explained that the battery gets charged as the car is driven but that he’d test it for us. He came to our car, hooked up a tester, got nothing and told us he’d have to charge the battery before he could test it. We brought it into the shop, he said he’d leave the charger on it all night and for us to return the next day. We tried to get them but he wouldn’t give us his name or phone number – I don’t know why. We returned the next day, found the same guy and he told us he’d charged it and the battery is fine. We asked about paying and he waved it off saying there was no charge – we didn’t argue. On Friday I went back to the van in my sweats, got the battery back into its hole and reconnected – it took a little cranking but I finally got the van to start and it seems to run fine. A picture has gradually emerged that, when the Elders went to the van to get the mileage numbers for October, they’d turned on the key to get an odometer reading and had left the ignition turned on – that’s how the battery went dead. And it’s interesting to me that, although the front & side doors have manual locks on them, the back door will only lock & unlock with the power lock and only the driver’s door has a key lock/unlock. So in the 2-3 weeks it has sat there, only part of the doors have been locked.
A tooth in my lower jaw has been sore for a couple of weeks and it’s been getting worse rather than better so Thursday the Elders went with me to find the dentist one of the Assistants had used a couple of weeks ago. We found him, his receptionist made an appointment for Friday morning and I went alone for that. The system here might be different but I believe that not being able to talk much to each other cuts down on paperwork. He got my name from my nametag (the Elders explained to the receptionist on Thursday why we all have the same fist name of ‘Elder’ and she explained it to the doctor), sent me to a chair where he did some looking and probing and I spoke the universal language of pain when he pushed too hard in the wrong spots. We returned to his office and I’m quite sure he told me the nerve is infected, he’ll do a root canal first and we’ll see if that corrects the problem. He prescribed an antibiotic (750mg) and ibuprofen (600mg) for a week to try to control the infection & pain and I have an appointment for next Wednesday morning for step 2. He says if that doesn’t correct the problem he’ll probably have to pull the tooth but that presents a problem for me because it’s the front post of a bridge and I don’t want to get into that right now.
We’ve been trying to get arrangements made to buy Reliv here in Europe and Flo eventually had communications with the Reliv distribution center in the UK. She doesn’t want to give a credit card number via email so we got the needed information to call them with the card info and to confirm our order. We finally got that done this week (I’d tried to call once using my prepaid phone card but that only resulted in more & faster Spanish than I could keep up with) and should be back on Classic sometime next week. By the time we get past shipping costs and exchange rates, it’s pretty pricey but we think it helps us with our health so we’ll spend a little more of the kids’ inheritance.
The mission work is going well – we got two new Spanish missionaries this week. Both are sharp young men and are glad to be here on their missions. A lot of the Spanish missionaries we have are from families that were members in South or Central America, their families moved to Spain and they have varying lengths of time in the church. I think about ¼ of our missionaries are from Spain, are all encouraged to study English while they’re serving missions and are at different stages in their learning. We continue to get more and more to do to stay busy – sometimes it’s very long days and other times we’re still not real busy.
Flo had a stake RS meeting Saturday at the stake center in Vitoria and, although long distances for meeting attendance isn’t something that’s totally foreign to her, it’s a little different using public transportation. She wasn’t going to go until Hna Clegg (who had to speak) asked that Flo accompany her. She left our piso shortly after 2:00, took the Metro to Bilbao, they rode a chartered bus from the Bilbao chapel to Vitoria, attended the meeting and were home shortly before 10:00. While she was gone I did some work on my laptop, took a walk (for the first time I saw a large ship moving up the river – we see lots of smaller boats but this was at least 5 times larger than those we normally see), took pills and kept myself nourished (like I say – life is good!).
We love each of you, appreciate very much your love and support and pray continually for Heaven’s blessings on you. I might have mentioned it previously but we’ve very excited and thankful whenever we get those nice letters in our emails. We’re thankful to be here (even though we’ll miss families very much this holiday week – Happy Thanksgiving to all!), love being involved in helping bring the gospel to the lives of others and bear witness that it’s true.
Lots of love, E&H Belnap