Saturday, August 24, 2013

Part 2 of the Ol' Western Road Trip 2013

(road trip 2013 continued...first installment is here)

Upon leaving Arizona, we journeyed on up to Utah, but with only half of our children. Kenny was already up there spending Bear Lake time with the Ron Smith family. And Kirsti and Allison decided to spend one more night with Nana and Papa in Mesa and then drive up to the Utah reunion with them.

Brent and I felt a little strange traveling with just 3 kids. When we stopped at Hoover Dam on the way up, I just kept thinking about how half of my children were missing this experience. Sure they would see pictures when we all reunited again, but there's just no substitute for face-to-face real-life time...a theme that clung to my heart throughout our entire trip.

Our carload also stopped in St. George, Utah and spent the night with one of Brent's high school buddies who is an optometrist there...and I'll say it again, "It is soooo great to catch up in person!"

 At the Oliver and Barbara Smith reunion we had the privilege of mingling with this lovely group pictured below at Grandma Smith's old home (overflowing to the park across the street and the church building behind her house). As I spotted a cousin I hadn't seen in ages, I kept wishing we could just look at each other and know and feel everything we'd want to share about the last several years because time marched on too quickly those couple of days and didn't give us enough minutes to speak all the words I would've loved to hear.
<Now I have picture I can whip out next time I find myself explaining to fellow grocery shoppers that having a large family isn't that strange in our neck of the woods. Brent and I and our six kids are nestled in the middle of this huge crew (in grey shirts). Among the 53 cousins (of which Brent is one), there are 138 children so far and many cousins have yet to even start on the next generation. Having 4, 5, 6, 8, or 10 kids was quite normal at this party. Personally, my mothering has been greatly influenced by this inspiring Smith family. They are all incredible people and it was a pleasure to be in their presence again.>

<The Ken Smith crew (that's us) was in charge of flippin' burgers for lunch on a 90+ degree day. Way to go guys! Pictured above are Brent and his three brothers + his nephew Trevor.>

Reunions that involve lots of talking among adults who haven't seen each other in a while can be difficult on their children who in most cases have never met one another. But a bouncy house, a rock wall, a slip 'n slide, card games, a slack line, and Uncle Kevin's (Brent's younger brother) big bus did the trick for all ages. 
 <That's my Allison way up there!>

MaryAnn kept herself busy by hangin' around on the rock wall (a couple of feet off the ground) for as long as we'd let her

or filling up her water cup (whenever I wondered where MaryAnn had wandered off too, I learned quickly to check the water jug station)

and my favorite...sliding down the very slide that her Daddy (and probably his Daddy) used when he was about her size.

<Thanks for having such a cool family, Papa!>

<Random side note: Enormous snow cones are very IN out in Provo. We could see why. Loved them. Anxious for the trend to spread east.>

A visit to Temple Square is always on the agenda when we're in Utah. There's a magical feeling there. And even more memorable this time around...Brent had a job interview (for the facilities manager role of 22 church-owned buildings back here in northern IL) while the kids and I roamed the premises--hence the reason he's looking so handsome in that suit. A day later, right when we were driving by Temple Square on the freeway, the job offer we'd been patiently awaiting months to receive, popped up in his email and we promptly accepted. :) 

<"Choo Choo!" and "Yellow!" MaryAnn kept calling every time the transit system passed by.> 

One of my favorite parts of this whole western journey was visiting my brother and his family who live in Utah. We just don't get a chance to see them very often and we love every minute of cousin/aunt/uncle bonding time when we can get together...AND we rolled into town just days after Baby Brynlee joined their family, so our reunion was an extra special treat!!

Our visit to Brian's house coincided with the initial digging of the hole that will soon become a swimming pool in their back yard. Very exciting and quite entertaining...and now we're seriously considering another visit next summer.

**And not pictured in the Utah installment of our trip (because I was too busy talking)...I had a glorious visit with my childhood best friend who happened to be in Utah from Texas visiting her parents. Brent let me stay out until midnight with her even though we were getting up the next morning to drive 11 hours to Mount about true love (both for my BFF and for my sweetheart...I feel so blessed)! 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Part 1 of the Ol' Western Road Trip 2013

"Honey...about the big reunion this summer...what's our plan?"
"Well, Utah IS a looong drive away."
"And it's a lot of gas away." 
"Remember how stinky the van got the last time we took a hot summer road trip?" 
"Do you think any of the kids would get car sick this time?" 
"How would MaryAnn handle the 'all day and all night in your carseat' concept?"
"Hmmm. Staying home might feel more like a vacation for all of us..."

Bottom Line: Is a family-reunion-based road trip worth the effort it would take to get there?

"We hope so," Brent and I concluded during both random and structured discussions about what family memories we should make the effort to create this summer.

And now that we have gone, seen, and conquered, I can boldly declare, "Yes. Yes! YES! Cramming our lives into our 8-passenger mini-van to spend nearly 70 hours traversing over 4500 miles of our nation’s highways and mountainous roadways on a journey that took us through IL, MO, OK, TX, NM, AZ, NV, UT, WY, SD, MN, and WI was absolutely worth the face-to-face family and friend time we received in return."

Less than a week before our planned departure to Utah, we realized we wouldn't see 87-year-old GG (Great-Grandma Louise--Brent's maternal grandmother) during our westerly trip to Utah because she needed to stay in Arizona for health reasons. It had been 2 1/2 years since we'd last seen her in person and we don't know when we'll be headed out west it became obvious that we should change our route and take a special southern jaunt to AZ on GG's behalf.

The following pictures show a hint of how happy I am that we added 12 hours and another thousand miles to our agenda just so we could sit face to face with our GG again and experience life in a way that simply can't be done via Skype. 
<After driving for 27 hours straight through to Mesa, AZ, we all soaked in GG's special spirit for 3 whole days. Our only regret is that Kenny was already in Utah and therefore missed this portion of the trip.>

<In person Tablet 101 instruction provides such perfect generational bonding moments. I wonder what my grandchildren will teach me when I'm to fly? how to read brainwaves?> 

<I have many pictures of my children alongside great-grandparents who are gazing at them instead of at the camera...and they are some of my all time favorite pictures because I sense wisdom, appreciation, and compassion in the eyes of the elderly as they seem naturally compelled to admire the youthful energy of children. If I could remember to ditto that same serene expression when my children our bounding through the kitchen at dinner time each night, I would do well as a mother. Thank you G.G.>   

The majority of our family memories of GG revolve around visiting "GG's Pool" which is located at the retired folks' trailer park close to Brent's parents' home in Mesa. Though she no longer lives there, she still owns her trailer in the park, so we simply had to take a nostalgic dip while we were in town. After watching us from the sidelines for over an hour, Brent carefully and genuinely insisted on helping GG "swim with us"...something her very active body used to do all the time.  

<Our special AZ detour allowed these two to finally meet for the first time and gave MaryAnn the privilege of making memories with such an amazing lady.>

<Cliche or not...I've decided that I would walk a thousand miles...and I would walk a thousand more...and I would sit in a crammed van for 27 hours again...just to see my husband care so tenderly for his dear Grandma King during these fragile years. The experience made my love for both of them grow deeper and stronger.> 

Besides our extra-special GG time, we of course enjoyed many other bonus AZ memories: we got to help Nana blow out her birthday candles, hang with all the Smith-side cousins in their home town, visit with friends, cook in Nana's kitchen, and create using the infamous and enormous bucket of Nana 'n Papa Legos. 

Yes. The Arizona deviation was very worthwhile.

(more trip installments to come...)