Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Final Road Trip Re-cap + a tribute to Aunt Dorothy

I just have to take a few final minutes to re-cap something that keeps running through my mind regarding our recent road trip: Exchanging emails and texts and sharing blog posts and Facebook statuses and even Skyping or video-chatting are all such lovely ways of communicating when miles separate us from loved ones. But creating opportunities for gatherings and making the effort to visit face-to-face (even if it means traversing 1000s of miles) reigns supreme!

Nothing beats the real live physical and emotional presence of family and friends.

This concept is even more near and dear to our hearts because:
Less than two weeks after returning home from this trip, we received the tragic news that Aunt Dorothy, the primary organizer of the big Smith family reunion, died suddenly from heat exhaustion while hiking in southern Utah on August 15. She was only 56 and was the first of all 8 of the Smith siblings to return home to greet their parents on the other side despite the fact that she was the second youngest and healthiest one. We are heartbroken for her husband and seven children, one of which is away finishing up his mission in Chile. But, how grateful we are for the opportunity to have seen her and her family--in person--so recently.

The Utah reunion--which greatly influenced the existence of our 2013 Summer Road Trip and all the lovely memories we accumulated because of it--may not have happened if it wasn't for Dorothy. She happily took on the stress of managing all the details so hundreds of family members could enjoy a day together. And now she is gone. I still can't believe it. Her influence will surely be felt for generations.

She left such big shoes to fill in order to plan for the next gathering...but shoes worth filling (it will probably take a few people to fill them) because gathering people together for real life time together is a very worthwhile endeavor.  You just never know when you're going to see them again.

Thank you, Aunt Dorothy, for your example, life, and light!! You are very missed already and will be for years to come. We love you and your family!!

A few final road trip thoughts and memories:

<Seeing pictures of Mount Rushmore or the Hoover Dam or the St. Louis Arch doesn't convey the same emotion or stir the same thoughts as a real life encounter. >

<As we were driving through the mountains, Brent, who normally feels quite determined to get us to our next location in a timely manner, suddenly stopped the van and jumped out to smell the roses for several minutes. He threw a stick upstream and shared his boyhood joy of watching it dance along the water while his children huddled up next to him. Knowing Brent would start a new job and the kids would begin new school years upon returning home from our trip, I sensed the symbolism of this quiet, still moment and felt grateful for the strength and refreshment that such moments give us if we take the time to have them amidst all of our daily and weekly and yearly rushing around. We don't have to take the time for these moments. But I'm always glad when we do.>  

<Without our road trip, when else would MaryAnn get the chance to monkey around on the toddler chair in Nana's kitchen that every other one of her siblings, Smith cousins, her uncles and maybe even her Daddy(??) have already fallen in love with when they were her age? MaryAnn felt very blessed.>

<I wonder how many other lucky dolls got to explore the country this summer...I smiled when I found their church clothes tucked in neatly next to ours the first time I opened the Sunday Bag down in AZ. Everything else they brought along was stashed in their individual doll suitcases. Watching my girls care so completely for their girls was a true treat.>

<We enjoyed Roadside Cereal during our western route to use up the remaining milk that would've spoiled back home in our fridge because we're frugal like dad would be so proud..>

<GG didn't get to see Kenny in person, but because we were with her in AZ and we Skyped with Kenny regularly while he ventured around up in Utah, GG and Kenny connected nonetheless.>

<My older kids took turns leading Christopher around during our journey home. "Seeing" the world through his blind eyes is a very insightful experience and one that truly enlightens us all.>

<And this is my confession of how we actually endured 70 hours on the road with a 2-year-old.>

I will be forever grateful that we took the time, energy, and money to live out of our van for two weeks so we could travel to places we don't see very often, but especially so we could visit with family and friends who mean the world to us, but just live a tad too far for us to cross REAL paths (instead of just virtual paths) often enough. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Part 3 of the Ol' Western Road Trip 2013

As part of our big loop around most of the states that sit west of the Mississippi River, we had the very unique and inspirational and quite adventurous opportunity to travel home with another family from IL who had similar plans this summer.

Meet Celeste.

Celeste is an incredible woman from our church congregation who has 10 children. Her youngest six line up with our six kids quite nicely; they are compatible both in ages and in personalities.

Celeste and her husband Les' parenting situation is extremely unique because 4 of their 10 children have been diagnosed with a rare genetic degenerative disease called Batten's disease that includes severe seizures, blindness, dementia, and the gradual loss of motor skills. Two of them (ages 15 and 11) have digressed so dramatically that they cannot travel. So while Les stayed home to care for Elizabeth and James, Celeste packed up the remaining 6 children (including 16-year-old Christopher who is blind and 6-year-old Samuel who is nearly blind) and drove out to Utah in a caravan with another family and then journeyed home with us. (Their two oldest boys are away from home serving missions.)

During our Utah stay, we met up with Celeste and her kids to hang out on a mountain lake for a day where the kids enjoyed tubing and Brent impressed us all with his wake-boarding skills. After lots of fun in the sun, we started our homeward eastern trek all together a few days later (3 adults, 12 kids and 2 vans).

<Though he couldn't see them, Christopher kept asking about other motor boats he could hear in the distance. He enjoyed the job of warning them when we had someone in the water.>

<Brent was a 6-and-under magnet for the entire trip...a role he takes very seriously and with lots of love.>

 <Celeste says all the effort it took to brave this trip was worth having Samuel see his grandparents because by next summer his sight will likely be completely gone.>

 <The Littles had no desire to go out on the tubes, but boy did they LOVE riding on the boat!>

About halfway home, we stopped for a camping adventure in Mount Rushmore. Besides viewing the majestically carved faces after a thick fog thankfully lifted that morning, other highlights included multiple dutch oven meals, a chain of severe thunderstorms, wet sleeping bags, no need for bug spray the entire time (I couldn't figure out where all the mosquitoes were, but was so happy not to meet any), a peaceful picnic by a lake, a drive through a safari park, and hundreds of thousands (literally) of roaring motorcycles engines who were gathering for an annual Harley Davidson pow-wow near Mount Rushmore the same weekend we happened to be roaming through the neighborhood. (They were very kind to us...a few of them offered rides to Christopher and eventually to all the rest of our kids who swarmed over to them.)

<Eggs in a bag...yummy and almost no clean-up...courtesy of my Eagle Scout husband.>

<This is what we saw after our climatic entrance into Mount Rushmore National Park. I admit I was a little nervous about the memories we'd take away from this historic site.>
<About 20 minutes later, we caught this outlining glimpse...but with patience, we eventually experienced the full clear breathtaking view.>

<For the first time in my life, I noticed that George Washington's statue also incorporates his old fashioned jacket as well (because someone pointed it out to me). MaryAnn noticed that all those big faces had really big noses.>

<These two were determined to make peach was delish!>

We experienced the beauty of the earth in places we'd never visited before.

We experienced the opportunity to deepen friendships with such an awesome family (in other words...we gratefully all still like each other despite how camping and road-tripping naturally encourages the entire spectrum of emotions to shine brightly for all to see).

We also experienced a few bumps along the way...with the bumpiest part being when Celeste and I and the 6 youngest kids were riding in Big Blue (their 15-passenger van) and the back left tire blew out while Celeste was driving at 70 miles/hour somewhere in South Dakota. It was scary. I'm still shocked and thankful that angels guided Celeste as she carefully pulled the van to a complete stop without rolling us off the road into a messy heap. Brent, who was driving behind us with the older kids, felt a knot in his stomach when he saw the tire fly away and then was so thrilled that we got safely to the side of the road that he came running up to our van with big cheers only to find that most of the occupants in our vehicle were crying hysterically. After lending his shoulder for teary eyes, Brent changed the tire and the big kids thoughtfully offered to ride in Big Blue after that. But the spare was not in much better condition than the blown tire, so we stopped for the night in Parkston, SD and continued on our way the next day after hitting the tire finally cross the finish line into our driveway after 10 pm on Sunday, August 4.

What an accomplishment for Celeste to take such a journey without her husband's rock solid support right by her side. I'm so proud of my friend!

<When we arrived in Mitchel, SD, there were no rooms in any of the 5 or so major hotels because bikers had already claimed them all. So we had to drive 20 miles off the freeway to Parkston, SD (a town of 1488 people) where we got the last two rooms at the quaint Rainbow Motel...pictured below.>
<Our final day's journey occurred on a Sunday. We decided to dress ourselves in prep for attending church somewhere along the way; however, we never got to a building in a timely manner. But the Lord was in our hearts as we thanked Him for our safe and enjoyable trip.>

It was a good trip.
We would totally do it again.