The Long, Long Journey

As journeys go, ours had its share of highs and lows.  DSC_3744DSC_3805Our departure from Columbus, Ohio on Valentine’s Day was anything but lovely, but what would a good world traveling story be without at least a few snafus?!  We were to depart at 1:15 pm and although we watched the forecast carefully and knew there was a chance of snow that afternoon, we had little concern that it would cause any trouble for our take-off.  With the help of our family from Mount Vernon we successfully loaded, unloaded and checked all ten of our bags without a hitch.  We had a leisurely lunch together at the airport food court and then said our (sad) goodbyes.  We were set to get through security with a good 45 minutes to spare and aside from Katherine’s pat-down because of the child’s apple juice that exceeded the 3 ounce limit, all was well and we made it to our gate in plenty of time.

We watched out the huge windows that looked DSC_3817directly onto the runway and our hearts sank as our previously on-time flight was just now being delayed due to the sudden closure of the airport.  The fiercely blowing snow made visibility poor and no flights could take off.  We were discouraged, but still maintained hope as we knew we had a couple of hours in Minneapolis before our flight to Anchorage.  We waited and waited.  With two well-behaved (but soon to be very antsy) boys.  After what became a two-hour IMG_0178delay, we knew that we most certainly would not make our connection and Ben stood in line to find out our options.  The desk attendant made it a point to mention that if we could not be re-booked on another flight that day, then we’d be sleeping in the Minneapolis airport as there were no hotel rooms available.  This seemed odd to me at the time.  Really?  There were no vacant hotel rooms in the entire city of Minneapolis? Anyway, perhaps it put a fire under us to get our plans worked out quickly.  As Katherine was texting back and forth to her Mom and through the power of social networking we discovered that if we needed it, we would have an empty condo to stay in just 15 minutes from the Minneapolis airport!  Our dear friend Johanna has a brother who lives there and his in-laws have a condo that they only use when they’re in town.  Amazing!  At this point we knew that we WOULD in fact need a place to stay as the next flight available to Alaska was the next morning at 9 am.  And although it wasn’t a direct flight as we’d anticipated, the flight times and the layover in Seattle seemed perfect.  So, we were re-booked with those tickets and then we waited.  At one point, they called for boarding of families and we were literally handing our boarding passes to the agent when they scurried about discussing where in the line-up our flight would take off. They then decided since we were third in line for de-icing and take-off that perhaps we should wait to board.  We waited another hour.  Finally, our time came.

We got ourselves settled into the rather small commuter plane.  It took a bit to push back from the gate, but as we started the 45 minute de-icing process, we were starting to feel encouraged that at least we were leaving shortly and we had a place to lay our heads in Minneapolis.  We finally moved out to the runway and we sat.  And sat.  And sat.  Now, mind you, at this point our boys are much more squirmy and hungry and irritable.  As were we.  FINALLY, the pilot could be heard over the crackly intercom.  We were informed that although wIMG_1081e were next for departure, we’d have to return to the gate because a computer message could not be cleared from their system and this had to be completed before take-off.  There might have been tears at this point.  That small plane felt tiny and we were sweating bullets (although Ben and Matthias did manage to escape the madness with a brief nap).  [On a side note, how is it that its possible to use a 3D printer to build a functioning vehicle but there is yet to be invented an effective system of heating and cooling an airplane?]  We taxied back to the gate and were miraculously told that we could exit the airplane if we wished.  Katherine and Simeon began to make the walk to the front of the aircraft (was it mentioned that we were seated in the very. last. row?) when Simeon did exactly what the rest of us would have liked to do had it been more socially acceptable.  DSC_3689He had a meltdown.  We couldn’t blame him, so instead of leaving the plane, we took that moment to pull out one of the presents that Grandma Betsy had stashed in his backpack for each flight of the long, long journey.  He opened his finger puppets and was appeased for awhile.  After another 40 minutes at the gate we finally taxied BACK to the de-icing area where we waited another 30 minutes for our turn.  Another crackly message from the cockpit, “Well folks, when it rains, it pours.  We’ve been informed that the truck that was due to de-ice our plane has just broken and we’ll have to wait for it to be fixed or to be sent another truck, whichever come first.” Its almost laughable to re-live this whole experience through writing, but at the time, it was anything but amusing.  Although we received MANY compliments about the good behavior of our young boys, we were very aware that we had approximately 31 hours of flight time ahead of us and we had not even taken off yet!  This was a discouraging thought at the time, but we were grateful for how well Simeon and Matthias had done so far.  By the grace of God (oh, there were prayers involved), another truck came very quickly and we were FINALLY making our way to the runway.

When the day was done, we had spent three hours waiting at the gate and fivIMG_0286e hours on that airplane for a two hour flight to Minneapolis.  We were tired already, but SO grateful for a timely pick-up by our new friend and a short drive to our beds.  We had texted our friend’s brother and asked about carseats, informing him that we have a two-and-a-half-year-old and a 10-month-old.  We were willing to hold them on our laps if we needed to!  We were desperate.  He texted back to say that he and his wife have a two-and-half year-old and a 10-month-old as well!  Amazing.  We slept well and were thankful for the pack-n-play that was already at the condo for Matthias.  They even brought kid-friendly snacks and breakfast food for the morning before our flight.  God knew exactly what we needed that night.

IMG_0285We made it to Anchorage the following afternoon and we were SO glad to see Joel, our brother-in-law, who picked us up and helped man-handle all of our luggage.  Fortunately some very kind folks from their church offered to bring their van and DSC_2847get our luggage to the home where we stayed for a short 2.5 day visit.  Our time was blessed with newborn baby Rosie snuggles, a trip to the windy and beautiful lookout over Anchorage, a lunch of Moose’s Tooth Pizza, lots of cousin playtime with 5-year-olds Dora and Sylvia and a wonderful visit with Bekah, Joel and Grandma Kathy.  Ben even got the chance DSC_2973to speak at Joel and Bekah’s church during our brief stay.  It was a blessing to get to know the people who have taken such good care of them during their time so far in that beautiful city.  We were sad to say goodbye, but so very grateful for our unexpected detour!

The remainder of our travels, including stops in Seattle, Los Angeles, Brisbane, Port Moresby and then our final destination of Mount Hagen, were surprisingly unremarkable.  Oh sure, there were the fIMG_0316ew scream-offs between Matthias and the 4-month-old little girl in the seats next to us on the 13-hour flight, but this was to be expected, of course.  The most challenging time was the 2 hour wait for the long-haul flight out of Los Angeles, which left at 11 pm (although our bodies were still telling us it was 2 am).  The last 20 minutes of that wait and the first 30 minutes on the plane before take-off was a mild form of torture for all of us, but we emerged unscathed and the boys ended up doing amazingly well on the long journey (but not so well that we’re signing up to do it again anytime soon).  Throughout the flightsDSC_3652 we received many nice comments regarding our boys’ behavior and it did make us proud (and hopeful, seeing as this whole missionary thing will likely be a career for us).  After each flight Simeon’s favorite thing to do was strap on his backpack and barrel through the terminal.  It was an added bonus if the long hallways included those “people mover” conveyor belts.  He was mesmerized by them and actually got the knack of entering and exiting them without any major mishaps.

We landed in Brisbane, Australia with the blessed knowledge that the wIMG_1112orst of the flights was behind us and only a 3-hour and 1-hour flight remained.  We were able to shower in Brisbane (and change into our OSU gear) and  fortunately for us, there were only 50 passengers on the 3-hour flight to Port Moresby so we had empty rows all around us.  This allowed Simeon to move around a good bit and play peek-a-boo with his brother between seats when he wasn’t coloring on the iPad or watching a video.  We were gearing up for our arrival in the capital of PNG, knoIMG_1080wing we’d have to gather all 12 pieces of luggage (if we included Mom’s) and get them through customs as well as get our boarding passes for the last flight.  We quickly found Mom’s two bags and three of ours, however it didn’t take long to realize that the remaining SEVEN bags were not coming off that conveyor belt.  After asking several personnel standing around, we discovered that our bags were in fact NOT in Port Moresby, although nobody could tell us where they were.  We quickly filled out the required paperwork that might allow them to get transferred to another airline and flown on to Mount Hagen.  Did I mention it was obscenely hot in Port Moresby?  Its always hot there.  And humid.  But after being in the cold and snow for so long in Ohio and Alaska, the heat was especially breathtaking.  A sweet Papua New Guinean man must have taken pity on the sweaty, red-faced toddler in the terminal and offered to buy him a Sprite out of the soda machine.  In fact, he seemed almost privileged to do so!  Simeon was grateful.  Many troubles and potential outbursts can easily be diminished with the promise of a sparkling, sugary drink!  Just don’t tell his dentist.  [On another side note, during a trip to the other side of the world is NOT the time to worry about being judged for the things that you feed your children and allow them to do in order to keep from losing your own mind.  “Yes, I AM in fact feeding my toddler his fourth package of fruit snacks in a row.  And you would too if you knew what this moment would look like without them.”]

IMG_1117Despite the delay with the luggage, we made it to the large open room which serves as the domestic terminal. When our flight was called, we handed over our final set of boarding passes and stepped outside into the heat of the afternoon to make the trek to our plane.  We quickly settled into our seats and Matthias quickly made friends with the PapuIMG_0337a New Guinean ladies next to him.  He’s hardly met a stranger on this trip!  Simeon was asleep within 30 minutes of the flight and missed the most beautiful views of the highlands as we descended into the valley. We were moments away from landing in a place that already felt like home and we couldn’t have been happier.

Despite the news in Port Moresby that Jim and the operating room staff couldn’t come to the airport as expected because of an emergency surgery, they were there waiting for us as we de-planed!  Apparently they did the fastest surgery in the history of time in order to make it and we were SO glad.  Aunt LydIMG_0371ia, Uncle Cilla (yes, that’s what Simeon has called her for months now), Uncle Bill and Aunt Marsha McCoy and some other hospital staff were waiting too.  We loaded up the vehicles with our fewer-than-expected pieces of luggage and drove the hour to Kudjip.  Home was waiting for us.  As we pulled onto the station we were greeted by a beautiful sign and flowers woven through the gate.  We were preparing Simeon for “our new house” as we’d been referring to it for months.  We’d say, “We’re almost to our new house Simeon.  Its just around this corner.”  He had a look of anticipation on his face.  As we neared our home, we saw IMG_0385what seemed like the entire missionary family on our front lawn!  We drove by a few of the kids playing in a yard nearby and Simeon chirped, “Are those my new friends?”  Yes, yes they are!  If there are friends and toys, that boy is happy.  There were many hugs, some new faces and lots of “good to see you agains”!  Simeon had his mind and heart set on finding his beloved “orange juice truck” which was a purchase at a next door garage sale in Mount Vernon and ended up making the trip to PNG via our first crate six months earlier.  Simeon had literally been talking about that truck everyday as he was just itching to get his little hands on it.  And that he did.  He took it back outside to show off to his new friends (who didn’t seem nearly as impressed as he was)!

IMG_0389We were home and never before had the word HOME meant so much to us.  It seemed that all of our homes up until now had been a sort of transition.  Sure, we settled into them and made them comfortable and a place of refuge, but this felt different.  We knew that THIS home would welcome not only us, but also many of these beautiful people whom we have come to serve.  We had completed our long, long journey.  And that journey led us home.

We Don’t Travel Light

There’s an old proverb that says, “He who would travel happily must travel light.”  But I get the sense that the wise writer of that proverb was not moving 8,672 miles to a remote part of Papua New Guinea where many conveniences of life are…well, not so convenient.  That being said, we are also making this big move with the hopes of living in PNG for a good while.  We know our first assignment with World Medical Mission will last two years, but it is our hope that the Church of the Nazarene will appoint us as career missionaries at the end of this assignment.  So, when it came time to pack up our things and sell our home last summer, we decided we’d keep and ship to PNG those things that would make our house feel most like home (and might make life slightly more convenient).  After all, we had accumulated some nice things during our ten years of marriage and it seemed a pity to put all of our artwork and that leather La-Z-Boy recliner in storage.  So we didn’t!

Our packing journey began 8 months ago when we decided we would build, pack and ship a IMG_18894-foot wooden crate.  That seems simple, right?  We were rookies in the crate-building department, so we consulted with our good friend Steve Doenges who had built a similar crate for his daughter Steph when she moved to PNG where she served as a family doctor.  Steve gave us lots of good advice and offered to help, but we were off and building before he knew it! Katherine’s Dad even drove 40 minutes out of town to purchase the special heat-treated plywood necessary for the crate.  There IMG_1892were, of course, the usual mishaps of a small building project.  But within a few days, the crate was ready for its large plastic liner and then we got to start the huge puzzle that is filling a 4-foot cube with NO room to spare.  We certainly didn’t want to waste any of that precious space so we even created small pallets with gallon-sized ziploc bags and our favorite Target brand diapers that filled every single crack between Rubbermaids and boxes.  We made the final arrangements, put on the side wall, wrapped up and taped down that black plastic like a huge Christmas present and screwed on the lid.  It was done.  We breathed a sigh of relief and left for our Stevens family beach vacation knowing that Ben’s brother Tim would be there when the shipping company arrived to pick up the crate a few days later.  I remember the phone call from Tim as we sat relaxed in our beach house.  “Ben, did you leave keys for the Camry parked in front of the garage?”  Right.  So we built and filled our 900-pound crate just inside the garage door for the convenience of pick-up, but we failed to move the vehicle sitting directly outside the garage.  Nor did we leave keys for someone ELSE to move said vehicle.  Well, Tim still had a bit of time before the truck arrived for pick-up, so he carefully put the car into neutral and backed iIMG_2361t down the drive and off to the side just enough for the crate to be moved past.  Success!  Until…the gentleman arrived with his pallet-lift which was about two inches too wide to fit around the 4×4’s at the base of our crate.  This was the news we received in Tim’s NEXT phone call to us in North Carolina.  We couldn’t believe it.  Our crate could not be picked up because of two inches.  Tim thanked the gentleman and we decided to sort it all out when we got home a few days later.  But, unfortunately for us, “sorting it out” meant discovering that there was no shippingIMG_2044 company that would be able to pick up our crate as built because of the space allowed for at the base of the crate.  Well, it was a good thing we thought ourselves to be pretty good crate-packers, because we were going to get to do it all over again.  That’s right.  We were forced to unpack the ENTIRE crate, flip it over, remove one of the 4×4’s, re-pack the ENTIRE crate and find a new shipping company to pick it up within 24 hours to get it to Oregon in time and on the container to PNG.  If that sounds exhausting, well, it was.  We even took pictures on our phones of each stage of the unpacking so that we’d remember exactly how Crate in PNG
to put it back together.  But, to make this story short, we did it!  And about 3 months later we received word that the container with our crate on it had arrived at the mission station and it was being unloaded into our new home.  We breathed a sigh of relief and said more than once, “Glad we don’t have to do THAT again anytime soon!”

DSC_2371Fast-forward to the end of November.  Ben received confirmation that he was having an entire set of laparoscopic equipment as well as other OR equipment donated to the hospital in PNG.  We were doing it again.  All over again.  But this time, we got smart.  A simple google search found a pre-fab 4-foot crate ready to snap together.  That thing was on our door-step four days later!  Fortunately, we knew the routine and filled the SECOND crate with esIMG_0151sentially no snafus.  The equipment did not fill the entire space, so we were “forced” to add a few extras, like a Rubbermaid of books, a stove-top waffle maker and heavy-duty “we live in the tropics” door mats (just to name a few).  We packed it full.  Maybe too full.  But, last Friday, with a little help from our brothers again, it was sealed and the pick-up was successfully done the next day! I love it when that whole “live and learn” thing actually works out.   That crate has arrived in Oregon where it will be loaded into a container in April and then shipped to PNG.  If it makes good time, we’ll receive it in Kudjip mid-summer.

DSC_2367The remainder of our packing, including 10 suitcases and 5 carry-ons, has felt like a breeze after two crates!  We’re glad to say that the 10 bags are now packed (with 3 days to spare, I might add) and we’re making the final touches on the carry-ons before our departure on Saturday.  And, apparently all the packing has made quite an impression on Simeon (age 2.5) who walked by the counter after my quick grocery trip for dinner.  He noticed a new box of trash bags on the counter and inquired, “ADSC_2599re we taking those to Papua New Guinea?”  No, sweet child, we just need a place to put our trash!   We may not travel light, but at the end of a long day, we’ll be really glad to kick off our muddy shoes on a heavy-duty door mat before relaxing with a good-read and a warm-crispy waffle.

Rerouted!

If you’ve spent any amount of time with us in the last 6 weeks you will know that we have been hoping, waiting, delayed, frustrated, set-back…..and maybe just a teensy bit frustrated with bureaucracy.  We started the process of applying for our PNG medical licenses, work permits and visas about six months ago.  And even though we should have known better, I remember sending off that stack of paperwork in early summer and thinking, “Six months should be PLENTY of time to get all this in order.”  Like I said, we should have known better.

It was mid-November when we realized that our plans to leave with Ben’s family at the end of December were probably not going to work out.  Rerouted.

FOUR passports, ready and waiting!

We had to change our frame of mind and work toward our next goal.  We had gotten good news that our work permits had actually been approved in the PNG Immigration office before the holidays.  So, we had very high (and misguided) hopes that those could be faxed to the PNG Embassy in Washington D.C. in the first week of January.  It seemed reasonable that we could leave in the 3rd or 4th week of January if we got them quickly.  The PNG Embassy had our passports and would need to stamp them with our visas before sending them back to us.  And THEN we could purchase our tickets. Well, that week came and went without a sign of our visas.  Rerouted.

So, we hoped and prayed some more, not understanding why these delays were happening. You see, all this time we had been planning to travel with Ben’s sister, Cilla, who will be the volunteer high school teacher at Kudjip for the next year and a half.  In fact, Cilla had even delayed leaving in order to travel with us and help with the boys on the long flights.  She had gotten her visa weeks ago and could have left at any time.  We could not make sense of the delays.  It was on January 16th that we heard our approvals were FINALLY complete in PNG and they might even be faxed to D.C. over the weekend!  We were so encouraged.  Although we checked on Monday, we could not seem to reach anyone in D.C. to confirm our approvals’ arrival.  On Tuesday we received an email from the PNG Embassy (after several inquiries from us) stating that they HAD in fact received an approval for the Radcliffe family.  They had received ONE approval for Benjamin Radcliffe ONLY.  The visa officer even stated in his email that it was quite unusual since a family’s approvals are usually sent together.  Rerouted.

Bekah (Ben’s sister), Sylvia, Dora and Joel

We were frustrated beyond belief, but we also understood that our frustration would not make this process move along any more efficiently.  So, we waited and prayed.  We were especially feeling the pull to PNG so that Ben could begin to share the surgery work-load with his dad who is still in the late stages of recovering from open-heart surgery.  The delays were discouraging.  The next morning we received an e-mail from Ben’s mom in PNG.  She encouraged us to consider another option.  Perhaps we should consider meeting up with her in Los Angeles on February 18th when she returns from Alaska where she’ll be with Ben’s sister, Bekah, who is due to have their third child at the beginning of February.  This felt like quite a long delay, but maybe it should be considered.  Then it was Ben who made a rather exciting suggestion in the midst of all the frustration.  What if we routed our trip through Anchorage so that we could meet the new baby girl and spend three days with family there before flying on to PNG with Mom on the 18th?  This had never been in our thoughts or plans because we pictured being in PNG long before February.  But now we’re within a few weeks of the baby’s due date and we’re delayed anyway, so why not consider it?  I did a cursory search of ticket prices through Anchorage and we realized there was a good route that would cost just minimally more than our original itinerary. Although we desperately wanted to be in PNG, we both got excited about this possibility, especially considering we were delayed considerably anyway.  We also felt encouraged by the fact that Cilla could fly sooner with another missionary returning to Kudjip.  We decided to take a day to pray about this possibility and get a real quote from our travel agent.  Rerouted?

Simeon was pretty fascinated by these little blue books that give us the power to fly!

The next night we heard that our pastor contact who had been corresponding in the capital city of Port Moresby went to the immigration office to inquire about the three missing approvals.  The official asked him where our marriage license and the boys’ birth certificates were (despite this NEVER being a requirement in the past).  He was told our paperwork was being reviewed by the supervisor.  Ben scanned and faxed those document as soon as we heard (which happened to be at 11 pm).  And then we waited.  The next afternoon we received a very unexpected e-mail informing us that ALL FOUR of our approvals were received in D.C. and our passports would be mailed to us that day!  Amazing.  And almost as soon as we received that good news, our travel agent informed us that she could get the tickets through Alaska even cheaper than we had anticipated!  So, on Saturday, February 14th we will finally begin the first leg of this long-awaited journey to Papua New Guinea…but not without a quick (and quite unexpected) stop in Alaska along the way.  Rerouted!

A sight for sore eyes! FOUR visas allowing us to live and work in PNG for two years!

Ready, Set…Wait

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We are in transition. Our lives are in limbo. We are playing the waiting game (although calling it a game implies a good deal more enjoyment than waiting deserves).  For months we had been hoping and planning to make our move to Papua New Guinea when Ben’s family returned to PNG from their six-month home assignment in the States.  Well, December 29th has come and gone and we’re…well, we’re still in Ohio.  Not that its a bad thing, really.  Leaving four days after Christmas would have made for a very hectic holiday and we are really so thankful for the (somewhat) more relaxed time that we enjoyed with our family over Christmas and New Year’s.   And, we’ve so enjoyed living with Katherine’s parents (truly, we have!) for the last six months since we sold our home in Columbus.  Doing life together with them and Katherine’s brother has been a gift that we will look back on with fond memories for years to come.  But now we are feeling the pull to the other side of the globe.  Unfortunately, we continue to be at the mercy of the PNG Embassy in Washington DC.  They have our passports as well as the mountain of paperwork required to be issued an entry permit into Papua New Guinea.  And now, we wait for their “okay.”  We wait for the stamp in our passports that gives us permission to buy our plane tickets.  We’re hoping and praying this happens soon enough to allow us to fly within the next month.

These days come with great anticipation.  We are excited about the opportunity to be a part of this plan that God has for our lives.  We’ve waited for this culmination for many years, knowing that one day we would board an airplane (not knowing at the time that we’d have two young boys in tow) for a far-off land to answer the call of God on our lives to serve him as medical missionaries.  Honestly, this reality that we are living is a bit surreal.  After four years of college, four years of medical school, and five years of residency training, this departure has been a long time coming (to say the least).  But here we are.  We’re on the brink of quite a big adventure and we’re ready.  Sure there will be a good deal of unknown to conquer, but our confidence is in the One who sends us and he has promised to be with us, even in the waiting.

A Thousand Words: Holiday Times

We’ve enjoyed some really special family time this holiday season.  As our departure for Papua New Guinea draws near, we are especially grateful for time with immediate and extended family members from near and far.  We have had (very) full houses and (very) full hearts!

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Matthias Lincoln Radcliffe was dedicated on    December 21st.
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Matthias was pretty fascinated by all the family that showed up for his dedication!
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Simeon adores his cousins Micah, Jonah and Lydia.
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Matthias is growing quite fond of his Grandma Betsy.
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Simeon woke up to a train set on Christmas morning and he’s been playing with it non-stop since!
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Grandmama Kathy enjoyed some Christmas Day snuggles with Matthias.
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We had to keep up the Radcliffe tradition of acting out the Christmas story with homemade costumes, stuffed animals and plungers.
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Simeon enjoyed a visit to a nearby train.
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We’ve got another mama’s boy on our hands.
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The Stevens family had a great Christmas together!
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Sweet brothers, Matthias and Simeon.
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Sometimes a photo shoot comes to this.
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Ben and Matthias
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Simeon had a blast playing in a November snow!