Tuesday, September 29, 2015


DAY 4:

Kirtland was raining cats and dogs our first day there, not a great day for a walking tour of historic kirtland.  But we bought a bunch of umbrellas and headed out anyway.  I was so impressed with what the church had done in the last 10 years.  There was such a sweet spirit and some of my kids will tell you that the Whitney store was there biggest testimony building experience, as they listened to the sweet older tour guide bear testimony of the school of the prophets and what was learned there.  We loved it.

We did the John Johnson farm after that, and despite a very disruptive toddler, got a lot out of that experience too...being where Joseph saw the vision of the 3 degrees of glory and where he was tarred and feathered was humbling and special.

We headed back to Kirtland to visit the Kirkland temple.  It's run by the Community of Christ and was really good.  We had a great tour guide, and especially loved singing "The Spirit of God" in the temple.

DAY 5:

Day 5 was a Sunday and so we headed to sacrament meeting in Kirkland.  It was a really special meeting, with great speakers; reinfrocing for me again why we take the time to attend church no matter where we are.  We went to the Isaac Morley farm and took a soggy walk in the rain as we listened to more excellent missionary tour guides.  We heard church history there that was completely new to us.

We had to say goodbye to Grandma Dorrie and Jeff as we headed to Indiana and they headed to Toronto.  We spent the rest of the day driving to Valparaiso IN, to meet up with our next set of grandparents: Mike and Genie!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Upstate New York

It's a little dumb to try to put this in one post.  Some of my favorite things happened in New York.  Let's see if I can make it NOT a million paragraphs long.

DAY 1:  Palmyra

We were lucky to have Grandma Dorrie and Grandpa Jeff meet us for this leg of the trip! It was fun to experience this part of the tour with them!

We started our trip at the Smith Family farm. We toured the home and other buildings and then headed to the sacred grove.  It truly was a lovely morning and we felt blessed to be there.  We all tried to take some quiet time to pray and meditate while there and there were some sweet experiences.

After lunch we went to the Grandin printing press and it was a really well done tour, as well.  Not that I'd know...this was when Ryan and I realized a feisty 18 month old baby was not going to do well on the tours.  Grandin was my turn to take the baby out.  But my kids really learned a lot.

We headed to Hill Cumorah after that and proceeded to hike up the wrong way and roll down the super steep hill and crack a head (Seth's) on a sprinkler on the way down and deal with copious amounts of blood.  After that was resolved, we took a few pictures and chilled a little in the visitors center.

For dinner we sent Ryan to buy salad mixes and fruit at the grocery store because we were done with eating out at this point. We just spread out in the hotel dining room and ate some vegetables!

DAY 2: Fayette, Seneca, Watkins Glen

We drove to the Peter Whitmer farm first thing in the morning and it was my most spiritual moment of the trip.  I LOVED the video in the visitors center and was so moved by the small little house from which this marvelous work has sprung.  I loved the story of Mary Whitmer and loved how the Lord rewards the service of homemakers and small acts of service.

We decided to stop in Seneca Falls and visit the hall where the Women's Suffrage movement started.  Great free museum and I thought it was so good to have the whole family reminded of the importance of women's rights.

At this point, we decided to head back to our hotel so that our strung out baby could nap...Grandma said she'd take a few kids and explore the finger lakes area. As we drove back, Levi fell asleep.  We opted to drive while he napped, and looked up Favorite Drives in the area, because it was SO BEAUTIFUL.  We saw rave reviews of the Watkins Glen hike and realized the my mom was headed there as well. It was one of the highlights of the trip.  It was like hiking through a Disney fairy movie...under waterfalls, through grottos, in carved out river beds.  We were all enchanted and so grateful we hadn't missed it. (The day was capped off by some of the best Chinese I've ever had, just outside of Palmyra.)

DAY 3:

We were all excited for Niagara Falls and, frankly, I think everyone was a little disappointed at first.  It really is so seedy at the State Park there and I think my kids were underwhelmed at the view from the top.  As I expected, though, everything changed as we did the Maid of the Mist tour.  It was awesome! People were thrilled and appropriately in awe of those falls, when viewed close up from the boat. We spent 2-3 hours in Niagara and then headed to Kirtland, OH.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Drive Across the Country

(I'm so excited to relive this trip by blogging it.  Hope it's not too boring for the 22 readers I have.)

In the weeks leading up to the trip, I surprised myself by being very nervous about it.  I drive by myself all the time and did it when I had little kids.  This time I had 2 teenagers, one who could drive and one who could run 6 minute miles to the gas station if I ran out or something.  So, I was totally caught off guard by feeling anxious about the trip.  I think it was being in very unfamiliar areas (and especially driving through big cities with a huge floating trailer and a Thule on top), with a very tight schedule.  I felt much better when we nailed down all of the hotel/airbnb accommodations and realized we could pack light enough to leave the trailer thing at home.

We left Spokane around noon and headed east.  The first night was a quick stay in Billings MT; nothing too exciting happened there.  I woke up the next day pretty excited though, because it was sunny and we heading to our first planned destination.

We took a quick 30 minute detour to Pompeys Pillar to see where Lewis and Clark camped and defaced the rock!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on the western edge of North Dakota and had been recommended by a friend.  We had about 3 hours to explore there and pulled into the town of Medora.  It's a cute restored western town, with fun shops and restaurants and show at night; I was sad we weren't staying there for the night.  We asked some locals for recommended hikes and started the sight seeing loop, stopping when the map indicated we were by those hikes.  It was so fun because the hikes were .5-1.5 miles and so we could jump out, explore for 10-20 minutes and jump back in.  We saw a "city" of prairie dogs, bison, mountain goats, wild horses and snakes.  The badlands are so interesting...the landscape has so much color and variety and our day was gorgeous.  It was the perfect stop. So perfect that we came back and visited it later that day, when I realized 30 miles away that I'd left my credit card at the gas station.  Ugh.

We stopped in Fargo ND for the night and were able to go to a 9:00 sacrament meeting before we headed back on the road.  We headed south into Western Minnesota and stopped at the town of Walnut Grove to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.  We spent about an hour there, looking at artifacts, and pictures, touring replicas of buildings that Laura had been in and buying fun souvenirs.  After, we drove 5 minutes down the road to visit the site of the dugout (famous in On The Banks Of Plum Creek) and it was my favorite part.  Though collapsed, it was fun to see the actual site where she lived and it was truly beautiful.  (We hadn't quite gotten to that part of the series when we visited, but we just started a few weeks ago and all of us, okay...except Gabe, are finding it so fun to picture the place because we've been there!)

Our next stop was Chicago, and the drive there was kind of awesome.  It was beautiful and we loved seeing the landscape change as we drove over the Mississippi river.  We stopped to eat dinner on the banks of the Mississippi and watched the sun set.  I kept thinking "THIS is why I planned this trip." Later that night, my usually non-verbal teenage boy talked to me in the dark for 3 hours while we drove into the city and it has become one of my favorite memories from the trip.

Chicago was crazy! It was unfamiliar territory for all of us and I loved the experience of riding the Metra, walking on city streets, finding our way around.  My kids had a kind of hard time with the smells and the humidity and lots of walking but there was still so much to do.  We had yummy doughnuts at Doughnut Vault, great deep dish pizza at Giordano's, a fun visit with my step-siblings who work at the former Sears tower.  We were disappointed that the lovely rainstorm we experienced shut down the observation deck.  We toured the Grant park, took pictures at the Bean and did a (kinda lame) boat tour of the lake...I learned later that the better boat tours go down the river.  Our favorite part were the 2.5 hours we spent at the Art Institute.  We checked out 3 audio tours, which we shared, and used the guide that tells you what to see if you only have a short time to visit.  SO SO SO GREAT.

We left Chicago around 5 pm and headed to Sandusky OH.  We stayed in a small, hot, spider-infested cottage about 20 minutes away from Cedar Point Amusement park, but I'm hoping it's one of those things that will turn into family legend.  Cedar Point totally blew my expectations out of the water.  It is the one of the best known rollercoaster parks in the country and is built in the middle of Lake Erie. It was the cleanest amusement park in the best location! The lines were short, the weather was mild and I didn't have a baby to worry about.  We went on some pretty epic rides and I had some pretty thrilled kids.  Most of my kids will tell you it was their favorite part of the trip.

We again left at 5pm, in order to meet Ryan's plane at 11:00 and we did it!  We were blown away with how gorgeous upstate New York was as we drove in.  Completing that trip felt like such an accomplishment and I was so happy to have Ryan (and Levi) with us to experience this epic vacation.  Watching the kids be reunited with their baby brother was the cutest.

We were ready to start the Church History part of our Church History tour!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

LDS Church History Tour Itinerary and tips for planning!

So, if you've been anywhere near me in the last few months or follow me on Instagram, you are well aware that we just completed an epic road trip in order to visit a majority of the historical sites that are sacred to the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I've had so many people ask me for my itinerary so I thought I'd record it here, along with a few tips.  I'll probably record more details of each spot in the coming weeks here, as well, but I wanted to have a quick reference for people who are interested in how we did it!

We had planned on flying to New York, but as we looked into the logistics of renting a vehicle big enough for 8 people AND dropping it back off or paying the extra fees, it just made so much more sense to drive to New York and back.  Truly the best decision we made, I 100% promise.

TIP #2:
In preparation, I began looking for websites that had good info on how to do a church history tour and I really couldn't find much.  I did however find these books: The LDS Family Travel Guide.  I LOVED them.  It was so nice to have a hard copy in front of me, with basic maps and timing suggestions and tips and directions.  I used it to plan and I took it on the trip.  It's a little dated but that really wasn't an issue.  I just used it as a guide and then used google, maps, yelp and phone calls to fill in the rest. I also really liked the basic background the books gave on each site. We used them in family home evening lessons before the trip and read them aloud as we drove to the sites during the trip.

TIP #3:
We used hotels (thanks to some discounts from my dad, the two rooms we needed were less pricey!) and airbnb.com.  I LOVE airbnb so much.  It's a really affordable way to lodge a family of 8 especially in bigger cities.  It's the first place I've looked for any trip I've taken in the last year.  Feel free to ask questions about where we stayed in the comments.

Spiritual preparation really helps if you want to have the best experience.  We held a family fast the fast Sunday before we went, asking Heavenly Father to bless us to feel His Spirit and to help us deepen our testimony of the restoration of the Gospel.  We also assigned each child to an area of the trip and asked them to present pictures, stories and outlines about what we'd see each place and had them give their presentations in family home evenings prior to leaving.

Okay...onto the schedule.  I'm including my cross country drive because it was just so cool, but obviously it will all be different depending on where you live.

Day 1: Leave Spokane and drive to Billings, MT (7.5 hour drive)
Day 2: Drive to Theodore Roosevelt National Park  (4 hour drive).  Explore for 2-3 hours.
            Drive to Fargo ND (4.5 hour drive)
Day 3: Drive to Walnut Grove MN; visit Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (3.5 hour drive). Stay 2 hrs.
            Drive to Chicago, IL (8 hour drive)
Day 4: Explore Chicago (Boat ride, Doughnut Vault, Art Institute, the Bean, deep dish pizza)
            Drive to Sandusky OH. (4.5 hours)
Day 5: Visit Cedar Point Amusement Park for 7ish hours.
            Drive to Rochester NY. (4.5 hours)
Day 6: Visit Sacred Grove, Smith family farm, Hill Cumorah, Grandin printing press
Day 7: Visit Peter Whitmer Log home, hike Watkins Glen State Park Gorge
Day 8: Drive to Niagara (2 hours) Visit Niagara Falls. 4-5 hours needed.
            Drive to Ohio (3.5 hour drive)
Day 9: Visit Kirkland visitor center, Kirtland temple, John Johnson farm.
Day 10: Visit Isaac Morley farm. Drive to Valparaiso, IN. (4.5 hr drive)
Day 11: Scrap plans to visit Indiana Dunes State Park (dumb rain). Drive to Springfield IL (3.5 hr
             drive.) Visit Lincoln's Tomb, Abe Lincoln Presidential Museum for 4-5 hrs. Drive to Nauvoo,      
             IL. (2.5 hour drive)
Day 12: Spend the day at Nauvoo.
Day 13: More Nauvoo, Carthage Jail, Nauvoo temple baptisms.
Day 14: Drive to Kansas City, stopping at Adam Ondi Ahman. (4.5 hour drive)
**here you could do Independence MO sites and Liberty Jail...we'd already done that a few years ago.
Day 15: Drive to Denver CO (8.5 hour drive)
Day 16: visit Breckenridge CO, hike Flatirons
Day 17: Drive to Salt Lake City (8 hour drive)
Day 18: Drive back to Spokane (10 hour drive)

So that's how we did it.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime.  I'll spend the next few posts talking about each place in detail, should you want more information.