Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cedar Point

The last stop of our trip, Cedar Point, was a celebration of sorts for having made it that far. We almost didn't go when the weather looked a little iffy, but went through with it at the last minute and had so much fun! To make it even better, I got a text two days before that my college roommate, Laura, whom I haven't seen in years (and had never met most of her kids) had decided to plan a spontaneous road trip to come meet us there!

I first learned of Cedar Point back in high school, when my friend, Laura (different Laura), would go every summer with her family. Cedar Point claims the title, "Roller Coaster Capital of the World," and for good reason! It had so many big roller coasters! Jeff and I are both roller coaster junkies, as are Logan and Savannah, so we knew we had to check it out. Taylor was game for everything, but Emma was more reserved and had to work up a lot of courage to go on the biggest and fastest coasters. But she conquered a lot of fears that day and I was super proud of her for it!

The only downside to Cedar Point was Savannah's height. She was an inch to short for all the big coasters. Every single one. She was so disappointed and tried to be a good sport, but was green with envy watching the older kids ride the big rides over and over. Every time we go to a carnival or amusement park she asks for funnel cake, so this time I actually let her get it as a reward for bearing with us that day.

The other major happening of the day was losing two of Laura's boys for about 20 minutes. Jeff had taken the big kids on the big rides while Laura and I kept the little ones on the kiddie rides. Laura's 3- and 5-year-old wanted to ride the gondola, so we headed to the line and started unloading our strollers. By the time we got the babies out and to the front of the line, we discovered that the boys had run ahead and already gotten on, all by themselves! We quickly jumped on the next cars, but they were 5 or 6 cars ahead of us already. Who lets two little boys ride on an aerial ride by themselves?! We figured they would either ride in a complete loop and end up back where they started, or they would jump off at the end and wait for us there. But when we got to the other side, they had gotten off and were no where to be found. The path split into four different directions, and we had no idea where to go. We quickly checked the closest kid rides thinking maybe they had gotten in line, but no luck. We split up and started down different paths, but the crowds were thick and the paths long. We needed help, so I grabbed a worker and told her we were missing two kids. She seemed nonchalant about it, and not even really sure what to do. I expected some code red or something, but the best she could do was direct us to lost and found. Um... We didn't lose a purse, we lost two children!! Nonetheless, I sent Laura to run back to guest services while I kept looking.

I circled the places I thought they might have gone, growing more frantic by the minute. It suddenly seemed like everyone was wearing green and neon jackets like the ones I was so desperately looking for. I didn't want to call Laura unless I had good news, but finally I felt like I had to update her. I called her number and felt an immediate rush of relief when her happy voice answered, "I found them!" It turns out they had gotten off the gondola and started walking back to the other entrance, thinking we would still be there. It makes sense, considering the other rides we had done thus far they had ridden alone and met us back at the ride entrance. Another mom has seen them walking alone, and helped them get to the "Lost Persons" booth (not the lost and found-- thank you helpful worker), where Laura was waiting. Phew!! The crisis was averted, and we didn't have any repeat performances the rest of the day.

It was so fun to get together with Laura and get to know her cute kids. They have such distinct personalities and I loved seeing bits of herself and her husband in each of them. Laura is a friend that I can talk to for hours, even if it's been months or years since we've talked last. We've stayed in touch ever since we first met 12 years ago, and have seen each other through weddings, the births of all our children, and multiple moves for each of us (in fact, Laura moved cross country a week after our rendezvous!). I always think of her when I remember this quote: 
Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same. - Flavia Weedn

Hotel Pool Party

Any time we stay in a hotel, it is absolutely necessary to check out their pool. Some hotel pools are better than others, but we always have fun, regardless. Our hotel pool in Cleveland, however, was a step above the others. It was big, to begin with, which is always nice when you have a large group. We always had it to ourselves, and although it wasn't a zero entry pool, it had a super shallow end. In fact, Sawyer could stand up and walk around at that end, which was totally trippy to watch.

Annnnnd it had a slide! It was only open during the evening hours, so we had to wait patiently to use it, but the kids had a blast going down over and over and over and over again. Savannah wasn't able to go at first (dang height requirement), but Jeff made friends with the life guard and he softened up and let her go by the end.

Sawyer developed a sudden and intense crush on his cousin, Avery. He would not let go of her. It was hilarious, especially because he is so selective about who he likes! He held on to her for a good 10 minutes like this. Avery was all giggles and just let him squeeze her. Even now when Sawyer sees these pictures, he points to Avery and says, "Oooh!" Yup, it's love.

Our kids have the greatest cousins. We loved getting to spend so much time with them on this trip!

The Ohio

"And again, a commandment I give unto the church, that it is expedient in me that they should assemble together at the Ohio..." Doctrine and Covenants 37:3

Our last educational stop of our Eastern tour was Kirtland, OH. A year after the church was founded in 1830, saints began gathering in Kirtland from all over the northeastern United States. There they built their first temple and many sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received. The School of the Prophets was established as well as the first bishops' storehouse. It was a time of organization and growth, and for the most part, a happy time. The cutest sister missionary took us on a tour of historic Kirtland and even knew all the kids' names by the end.

We began our day on Kirtland with a stop at the Kirtland temple. Since it is operated and owned by the Community of Christ, we were able to go inside with all the kids and see the rooms where so many miraculous events and visions occurred. The wood carvings through the temple were absolutely stunning. It is very different from our current temples, with two "chapels" on the first and second floors, and several small rooms on the third floor. Both chapels had tiered pulpits at either end for the priesthood leaders, and choir seating at all four corners for a surround sound quality. We learned about the dedication of the temple, which lasted seven hours and includes angelic visitors. A thousand people crammed into the building, sitting on leaps and squashed into pews, not saying to leave their spot the entire time for fear they would lose it. (No bathroom breaks?!) They were grateful to be there, and never complained at the length. The next day they repeated the dedication for the remaining thousand that had not fit the day before, and it was reported that that day was even longer and better than the first! A week later, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were praying in the priesthood boxes on the first floor when the Savior appeared to them and told them he accepted His house. What marvelous days to have lived in! I felt privileged to have been able to stand in the room where a vision of the Savior had been witnessed. We completed our temple tour with a verse of "The Spirit of God," which brought tears to my eyes as I felt a tiny bit of the joy those early saints must have felt to finally have a temple in their midst.

In historic Kirtland, we learned a lot about the Newel K. Whitney family and their instrumental role in helping the church establish itself in Kirtland. Already a prominent and wealthy family, the Whitneys generously opened up their home, store, sawmill, and ashery for use by the saints. Newel became the bishop over the saints in Ohio, and established his bishops' storehouse, a structure that has been copied and is still in use across the world today.

Every artifact in the store is period appropriate. So cool!

Baskets from the Bishop's Storehouse.

School of the Prophets, held in an upper room in the Newel K. Whitney store.

While trying to take a picture of the pulpit replicas from the Kirtland temple at the saw mill, Jeff jumped up and shouted, "Photo bomb!" while flying Sawyer into the photo. It made me laugh and is one of my favorite pictures of the day.

This little room off of the ashery held all sorts of test tubes, vials, beakers, and hour glasses. The scientist in me loved this little snapshot into a lab of the past.

After song the sights of Kirtland, Taylor and I both expressed remorse that we hadn't purchased a first edition Book of Mormon replica from the Kirtland Temple visitor center. We hurried back but arrived minutes after they had closed. I felt frustrated for once again demonstrating my lack of decisiveness coming to bite me, and resigned to pouting in the car over my lost chance. Taylor, however, demonstrated a persistence that I didn't know existed among his sweet and quiet personality. He ran up and started knocking on the door and peering through the glass door. At first no one came, and he started back dejected towards the car. But then a group of stragglers from the last tour came out. Even then, I discouraged Taylor from going in, telling him they were closed and trying to go home, but the leaving tourists told us to go on in, so we hurried in and quickly made or purchases. We were all so happy to be able to take home such a meaningful and significant souvenir from our trip, and I am so grateful for Taylor's optimism and drive to achieve his goal!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Niagara Falls

I have a confession to make. This entire 3500 mile road trip may have stemmed from my unnatural and irrepressible urge to see Niagara Falls in person. New York, DC, and church history sites were all just icing on the Niagara cake. For the longest time, I have had this itch to see the falls in person. I'm not sure why--usually it's Jeff that has the thing for waterfalls-but it was enough that I started formulating how we could get to them and what other stops we'd make along the way.

And so that is how, on June 15, I found myself standing on a boat in the Niagara river, wearing a thin plastic poncho, ready to ride straight into the wake of the most powerful waterfalls in the world. The ride was exhilarating, to be sure, and I was literally blown away by the force of the wind coming from the base of the massive horseshoe falls. The aesthetic features were less impressive... between the mist and the fog we could barely see a thing.

Wet baby alert!

We found a number of lookouts (back on land) to try and get a better view of the falls, but unfortunately the only straight on viewpoint was on the Canadian side, and I didn't think it was worth getting all my kids passports just to cross the river for a few minutes.

We did get to go stand right on top of the falls and imagine what it would be like to be swept over the top off them. It just about gave me a heart attack to have so many kids running around so close to the water. I refused to let Sawyer get down, which made him madder than a hornet.

I don't think Isabelle liked being so close to the top, either.

You can just make out another Maid of the Mist boat in the corner.

As usual, the kids needed nothing more than each other to have a blast. They were being so cute that some Phillipino college kids asked to take their pictures with them. I didn't understand what they wanted until they were surrounded by our kids and passing camera phones around. It was very awkward and kind of unnerving.

So, ironically, the thing I was most looking forward to was probably the thing I would be least likely to repeat. But I'm glad to have it checked off and to be able to compare future waterfalls to this giant among them.

Palmyra: Humble Beginnings

We ended up in Palmyra on a Sunday. It was hands down the most educational "sunday school" I've ever attended. We went inside the Smith family log cabin, where Joseph Smith read James 1:6 and asked the question that changed history. We went upstairs to see where Joseph was awakened one night by the Angel Moroni, who was eager to finally share the location of the plates he had dedicated his life to abridging, protecting, and hiding. We walked the paths of the Sacred Grove, where Joseph saw God the father and Jesus Christ, who directed him to restore His church on the earth. We learned about the Smith family, how they had struggled financially for so long, and just when they were about to be right side up, their son, Alvin, died tragically and unexpectedly, and his lost income ended up losing the family farm. Even Joseph, as a crippled 10-year-old (still on crutches from his leg operation at 7), sold baked goods made by his mother and sister from a push cart to support the family.

It was pouring rain as we walked the Sacred Grove, so I rounded up the oldest 3 kids to drive back the following morning for a dryer, calmer experience.

We learned about the miraculous chain of events leading to the publication of the Book of Mormon:
  • The printer who took on the enormous (5000 copies) and risky project, who was an entrepreneur at heart and only owned his printing business for 5 years, 2 of which were spent printing the book of Mormon.
  • The brand new, state of the art printing press which he recently purchased-- a machine which would have been unheard of in such a tiny town, but thanks to the Erie canal, was possible.
  • The incredible staff at the printing office, who made the first run of books a durable and quality product, hundreds of which still exist nearly 200 years later.

Our very soggy group.

Binding equipment.

The pressroom.

Replica of the gold plates and how they were translated.

A copy of the handwritten manuscript from which the Book of Mormon was published.

Isabelle taking her daily nap in an odd location.

We explored the home of Peter Whitmer, who generously allowed Joseph to escape persecution for a time under his roof, and hosted the first meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ, where it was organized with it's first 6 members (although 10 times that were in attendance).

By the end of the day, I felt like I had a better understanding and testimony of those early years in our church history. I hope my kids got something out of it, if nothing more than a place and setting to recall when they hear these stories at home or church. Unfortunately, it was a rainy, stormy day, and it put a damper on our sacred grove walk. We were all so muddy by the end, that we were washing our feet in puddle in the parking lot. Sawyer refused to walk under the umbrella and was drenched all the way through! Luckily the missionaries lent us a whole bunch of umbrellas or we would have been a lot worse off. Nevertheless, we made the most of it and had a great time.