So, I thought about doing a day by day thing, but then I realized that it would take A LOT of BRAIN POWER (rockband, anyone?) to do that, so I decided instead to give highlights and excitement that happened....HERE WE GO! (It will probably still go somewhat in order of events...)
*We left Monday morning and getting out and about was no problem. One of the great things about our car was that it had an XM radio, and we listened mostly to all broadway, all the time. I felt a little sad for Derek because he REALLY wanted to hear "People" from Funny Girl and he never did. It broke my heart a little.
*We had this GPS system that helped for the most part, but didn't help at others, but it added to the adventure of it all!
*Mom had said we were camping, and boy did we! The first night we were in Ogallala (I think that is right) Nebraska. We got in kind of late because the spots were a little hard to find, and we ROUGHED it that night. We got there and quickly set up our tents. On the first night, the "we" in the tent setting up was everyone but me because I was a little inept at this point AND I was getting attacked by mosquitoes. Also, they were not kidding when they used the term "primative"...the toilet was a stinky outhouse that freaked Emalee out and I had to check it before she would even think about going in. No sinks, no lights, nothing! I think it was character building! I got to sleep alright, but Emalee was freaking out at every noise, which was funny. We got up the next morning at 5:20 AM...yes, that early! I was feeling very ripe and gross, so mom, the wonderful person that she is, found us a place to shower...I do love me a shower!
*Our next day of travel got us more through Nebraska. We also got the chance to go to Winter Quarters. We had the opportunity to see the Visitor's Center, the Temple, and the Cemetary. We found it thanks to Jenny, and her mad googling skills! I loved being able to stop off at different church history places. We made it into Newton Iowa. This was my favorite place to camp because we got there earlier to set our stuff up, the kiddles got to go swimming, we had a dinner feast and it was the first night we saw FIREFLIES!!!! ALSO, there were SHOWERS!!!!!!
*I love fireflies so much it is a little ridiculous. They just seem to make things magical and lively. They go on their way, leaving a little light trying to find that someone. I don't know...I just love love love them!
*The next day was the one of an unexpected but AWESOME adventure! The plan was to go to the Chicago Zoo. We made it into Chicago with no problem....but finding the zoo is a completely different story, and this is where the awesomeness comes in. We got to drive around Downtown Chicago. It is an absolutely breathtaking city. The architecture, the size of the buildings, the people, the scenery is all amazing. It was funny because I would see different buildings and remind everyone in the car that this building was from such and such movie, or from that TV show. It was neat to see them all in person. We saw one of the Great Lakes, a few times as we tried to find the zoo. We eventually stopped for directions twice and found the zoo. HOWEVER, we couldn't find any parking that was less than an arm and a leg for any length of time and it was already the afternoon and wouldn't have been worth it. Derek was a bit emotional by this time because he loves zoos and he was hungry, so we left. We were going to go to a bookstore, but there wasn't any parking there either. Parking in Downtown does NOT exist!
*The girls in the car all loved the day and joked about it, but Derek was not in the best mood about the whole thing. As we drove out of the city we tried to make light of it, but Derek was not having it. I still have to smile about the whole thing.
*We saw a McDonald's oasis~seriously, it was in the middle of the road right after the toll booth. We were planning on stopping but we didn't think oasis meant in the middle of the road, so we drove right past it. We ended up at a Long John Silver's and it was good grub, but while we were there we heard the employees talking about the coming storm. We got a little nervous, as we were camping that night, but we figured we would be fine, a little rain never hurt anyone. (I wonder if that is what the people in Noah's time thought when it started to rain.)
*As we arrived at our campsite for the night, things were looking good. There were showers, another pool, laundry, and fireflies! The check-in lady warned that if it was storming, we would have to go to either the laundry room or the bathrooms. HA! We got the tents set up. (I became quite the tent putting up guru by the end of the trip.) I took the kids swimming again, but this time there were other people there and I ended up getting pelted with water toys a couple of times. We went to bed and life was good.
*HERE IS THE ADVENTURE!!!! We had the bug screens as the doors for our tents when the rain started. We quickly zipped up the more protective 'door' and took inventory of the wetness of the tent. There was a little from the rain, but it didn't seem too bad. A few minutes later we heard mom and Derek getting out from the tent and booking it for the car. I thought Emalee and I were okay, and I was checking every few minutes and things seemed to be fine. However, we wound up swimming in our tent so we jumped out of the tent, zipped it up and knocked on the car door. Emalee and I piled in to the back seat with mom, while Derek was in the front seat (the driver seat had stuff piled on it). After trying to get situated, my mom suggested that because I would be driving for a while the next day that Derek and I switch. I was perfectly fine with this idea, but Derek was a understandably little hesitant, but he was a trooper and made his way to the back of the car. My mom was in the middle with a kid on either side of her AND THEN the car got steamy! We would open the door a crack to let air circulate while trying to prevent the rain from coming in. Eventually, we all fell asleep and the rain ceased. The next morning we were a little grumpy but we made the best of the situation, tried to dry everything as much as possible, and get on the road again.
*I got to drive for quite a bit this day. By the end of the trip we noticed that it seemed to rain when I was driving.
*We went to Kirtland, Ohio. I had never been before and it was wonderful to be able to actually SEE where the Saints lived, to walk where they walked, to imagine myself as a part of their world. We also drove to see the Kirtland Temple. Although we didn't go in, it was nice to see the first temple of this dispensation. It is interesting because while it was a beautiful building, there was a lack of the spirit of temples there. I am so grateful to have the priesthood and the work of temples restored to us and to be able to go to the House of the Lord to feel His presence.
*Our next stop was a blast! We went to visit my mom's long lost brother (technically half brother, but who cares?) in Cleveland, Ohio. I had only met my Uncle Leon and his wife Laura one other time before this trip, so I was a bit unsure of what to expect because the last time it was a BIG group, it was a few years ago, and things have happened that change people. I was greatly reassured about the visit the second I got out of the car. Uncle Leon gave me this big hug and welcomed us with open arms into his home. He and Laura were the best hosts, they bent over backwards and are so loving. We had a home cooked meal and were able to relax. I was grateful to get to know him better, to see him, to be with him. (it was another bonus because we got to use a computer) He let us TRY to play his guitars, and use the computer, watch TV, and Laura was just as accommodating. The next day was Independence Day. We got to go to the Cleveland Zoo. Derek was quite excited that we finally got to go to a zoo. It had been years since Leon and Laura had gone too, and they were *really excited to go! It was really cool because the zoo put up signs for any animal that was a patriotic color of any sort. They have many beautiful animals that we got to see, which was neat, but it makes me sad for them at the same time. We also had a BBQ that night.
*We also had the opportunity to visit my mom's Aunt Olive while in Cleveland. She was unable to go to the reunion, but mom wanted to see her, so we stopped by. Her home is amazing! They have little birds, beautiful fish, and ducks. There is also a little downtowny feeling place with a salon,a cafe, a chapel, etc.
*The next day was the actual reunion. We got off to a bit of a late start, so we arrived late in Michigan, but it was so nice to be with family. It can be a bit awkward talking to family you haven't really spoken to or seen much, but it got better and I was able to talk to family and get to know them better. One good thing was that mom had been put in charge of activities, so she had us shift around the room, in different groups, depending on things like the decade we were born, the time zone we were born in, the one we currently live in, and things like that. We did some other activities and talked. I am in full support of not doing too much but getting to talk to others.
*We headed out to the Pierson's farm in Hastings for a bonfire and weenie roast. We were given the musical stylings of Derek on his clarinet, my aunt and her husband's vocal stylings and my mom's cousin Mark played his guitar for us while we were all singing. It is interesting to hear the songs that other church's sing-the tunes as well as the words that are sung. It was great fun, although my marshmallow toasting skills are not really up to par. I had a great time and wasn't eaten too badly by the mosquitoes.
*I am totally loving my mom's cousin Mark. He is funny and sassy, and lets me sass him right back. We have this connection that bridges the eons of time between our ages!
*We got to spend the night at Aunt Orpha's house. (she is my mom's aunt) We went to their church the next morning. They go to a Free Methodist Church. They had a piano (played my mom's cousin, June), an organ, a flute, a bass guitar, a guitar and 4 song leaders. It is a different atmosphere than our church. On our way to the cemetery to see Uncle Arlo's grave (he passed almost a year ago and is Aunt Orpha's husband), Uncle Harry asked me about the difference in our services. It was nice to have a few minutes of a missionary practice to share about our church. Our talk was very short, but it was nice to know that Uncle Harry is interested in our church to some extent.
*We had lunch at Larry and Janet Nicholson's house and it was GOOD! We had ham and potatoes and good pasta salad. I tell you these Michiganians (?) sure know how to cook up some delicious grub! We then made our way to Aunt Ella Mae's for strawberry shortcake.
*Aunt Ella Mae's house is one of my favorite places on earth. No doubt in my mind that it is in my top 5 places I would choose to be, even for just 1 day. We were there with a bunch of family, kind of the last hurrah of the reunion weekend. I liked having a bunch of different activities because we got to talk to a different group of people at each place. We looked at family pictures and heard stories about my grandpa who passed away when my mom was 18. I could stay at Aunt Ella Mae's house forever. I love sitting on her porch and just listening to the world. There is often a light breeze blowing, making the wind chimes dance together in a symphony. There are birds talking to each other and the colors are so vibrant. The trees are green, the sky is so bright blue, and the sunsets are an amazing watercolor of orange, yellow and red. We had the chance to stay the night at her house and leave early the next morning for our trip home. Before we went to bed I had the chance to sit and talk with Aunt Ella Mae and just talk to her. I have only been to her house 3 times, but I have loved it so much each time and feel fortunate to have the memories I do of the farm.
*I feel so lucky to have the wonderful people I have in my family. My great aunts and uncles are all wonderfully loving and welcoming people and they have wonderful families.
*The second part of our trip was a wonderful Church History Tour. I had been to many of these places when I was 6 or 7, but it is so nice to have gone again when I can really remember and appreciate. We first went to Carthage Jail, where the Prophet Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were martyred. It was amazing to go there and to see where Joseph and Hyrum sealed their testimonies with their blood. The door still has the bullet hole that killed Hyrum and the well that was next to where Joseph fell. I feel that this church history tour was so good for me before I go on my mission. I am reminded of the sacrifices that were made that I can go on a mission, that I can share the truth with others; that I am who I am because of those who came before. We also went to Nauvoo. We arrived in the late afternoon, so we went to the Visitor's Center and then headed for the "Night on the Mississippi" performance. It was PHENOMENAL!!! The couple missionaries as well as the performing missionaries made it a night to remember!
*The next morning mom went to the temple while I took Derek and Emalee to Nauvoo. Our first stop was the horse-drawn wagon ride around the historical parts of Nauvoo. It was not the down town part, but more country and the stories of the people that helped build the town. We saw a well close to where King Follett died and we got to see Inspiration Point. It was a wonderful ride and I love hearing the history of the town. We then went to the print shop, the school, the bakery, the Family Living Center, the brickyard, the blacksmith, and the Cultural Hall. We danced a bit where Joseph and Emma danced! We went to the family accommodation center for the temple and watched an interesting video. We were only able to go for a day, but I am dying to go back and spend at least a week there to get to go EVERYWHERE!
*We headed for Liberty, where we visited the jail and then to Independence. The Independence Visitor's Center is the only Temple Visitor's Center that is running before a temple is there. Both places are incredible and I feel so much more for the early pioneers and the many sacrifices they made. I think that one of the words that can always be used for our church and choosing the right is SACRIFICE. We have the choice and ability to make our lives go in the direction we think is best, but it comes with some sacrifice. Sacrifice helps Heavenly Father mold us into the people that become more than we are.
*The rest of our trip was uneventful. We drove back to Utah to drop me off, but not before we had the chance to sleep in a rest stop in Colorado.
*It was a great trip and I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to travel with my family and to visit so many places and to get to know my family that much better!