Monday, October 31, 2016

Church History Tour (and So Much More) Logistical Introduction

I had the best intentions.  I even bought a keyboard so I could blog more easily with the tablet.  But, with nine people needing clean clothes, sack lunches and, frequently sack dinners packed, thousands of miles to drive, and so many sights to see I was one exhausted mama.  After getting only one blog post half-way written, I decided to give myself a break and blog after we came home.
Peter Whitmer Farm

Adding to the confusion was the fact that we had four phones (three of which had far superior cameras to mine) and I couldn't blog about the amazing events of the day without a picture I knew was on one of the other phones. One of my first jobs will be to upload pictures from all the devices onto one online file.

Kirtland Temple

It was a remarkable trip, though, and I need to document it for my family first and foremost, but also for my readers, many of whom have asked for details because they are planning a similar trip.  I know I had to do a ton of searching for information and it would have been nice to have the details I will put here in one place for others.

1.  Transportation
Our cars are both too old and too small for our family, so driving our own car was not an option from the start.  I checked into renting or buying an RV, renting or buying a newer van, flying to different places and renting either a van or two cars, and taking the train.  In the end, the best buy for our large family was flying and renting a van.  I checked ticket prices and rental prices every other day for five months.  When Southwest and Budget (through Costco) had sales that converged, I pounced. We ended up flying to Milwaukee and renting a passenger van from there.  If you do this, make sure you don't have mileage restrictions! 

2.  Lodging
Once again, the large family contributed to the tangle.  We would need two regular hotel rooms every night unless I got creative.  The first thing I did was open a Hilton credit card.  Hilton had the most hotels in the places we were going (#1 consideration) and I have had reliably good experiences with the Hilton family, verses other hotel chains.  Our accumulated points got us about 1/3 of our nights.  Another 1/3 were a combination of airbnb houses and random hotels.  The final 1/3 of our nights were spent in camping cabins.  In trying to reduce costs, I wished we could just camp.  But, it was October and we couldn't bring all of our camping gear on the airplane.  Then, in a stroke of inspiration from Heaven, I remembered camping cabins.  For less than half the price of a hotel room, we rented cabins which varied from awesome to crappy.  They all had mattresses and heat, though, so we only had to check sleeping bags.

3. Food
I would say that 75% of our meals were sack lunches and dinners or hotel breakfasts.  I had to be creative in feeding everyone cold foods for that many days.  Sometimes we had a microwave and a few of times I had an oven, but even those days, I didn't have regular kitchen standards--no flour, lemon juice, seasonings, baking powder, oil, etc.  I'll post the menu if you want it.  In addition to food obtained at the grocery store, we did eat out periodically.  Each of the children provided a meal for the family and an generous anonymous donor bought gift cards for us for three meals.  What a gift for ME as the days wore on and I grew more and more wiped out.  Remember, not only did I have to make all of those meals (and pack lunches), but I also had to go grocery shopping.  Who wants to go to the grocery store after a very full day of driving and touring?

4. Sites
After all the logistical planning, what do you want to see???  For us, the number one most important thing was to see the Church History Sites.  As I blog about each day, I'll tell you details about the locations we visited, but go here to get a good overview.  After the church sites, I knew there were a few not-to-miss locations.  Some of those include the Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield, IL, The Henry Ford in Detroit, and Medieval Times in Chicago.  Depending on the ages and interests of your family, there might be other priorities for you.  Knowing the driving miles, I set up stops to accommodate a break in driving.  We were also visiting in the Autumn, so I built in a few days just to enjoy the beauty of the season.  If we had gone in the summer, there would be different essential stops.

Medieval Times

One more question on the sites is how to pay?  All of the church sites are free, so that makes a world of difference.  Other things to check are for online codes, signing up for birthday clubs, and knowing different place's cheaper days (half-price Wednesday is popular in the museum world).  For my large family, a couple of times it was less expensive to buy the family membership vs paying singly.  I also took the time to jump through hoops to get home school pricing.  Sometimes that meant filling out forms and mailing them ahead of time.  I know.  So many hours of research!

Museum of Science and Industry

5. Schedule
Ah, and there's the rub.  I can help you a bit with this (I'll try to tell you how long to plan on spending at different areas), but this is going to be so personalized based on your family, interests, ages, time of year, hours of operation and how much time you'll have for your trip.  I set up a map in google maps that helped with drive time and keeping track of addresses and web pages.  Knowing the time the sun rises and sets is important because some locations are open "until dusk" and other places you'll want to hit with the sun.  You will be traveling through time zones, so make sure you take that into account as well.  

This might sound sacrilegious, but it is hard to be reverent and respectful all the livelong day.  I would suggest you make sure to plan some time for running and jumping and playing.  Plan things in-between church sites that have nothing whatsoever to do with pioneers or the translation and printing of sacred texts.

Okay.  I hope that's a good enough introduction.  I'll begin blogging about the actual trip now.  :)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

We Set Out

After a mere two hours of sleep, it was time to get up and get going.  The good news is that everyone was excited, so the morning went smoothly. We got all nine of us checked in, bags checked, through security, and onto the airplane.

After researching buying and RV, renting an RV, renting a van and driving the whole distance, taking the Amtrak train for some of the distance, and flyng into several differnt cities, the most cost effectve solution ended up being the last.  I checked airline fairs and rental van pricees every other day for four months.  When Southwest had a sale to Milwaukee that corresponded to Budget having a sale on 12 seater van rental, we pounced.  Several of our kids had never flown, so they were especially excited and nervous about the trip.

We watched the sun come up and it was mesmerizing.  

Our flights were uneventful, except the general thrill of doing something mankind dreamed of doing for centuries.

It was a bit of an adventure getting our crowd through the aIrport with all pieces and bits and parts intact, but we did.

I pondered for a long time about whether we should bother hauling around the carseat for this guy.  In the end, we decided familiarity was more valuable than convenience.  At one point, we went to the airplane lavatory.  By the time we got back to our seats, the baby girl was having a small meltdown.  I tended to her and let the three year old remain unbuckled for a few minutes.  He was up and down and turned around and inside out.  I was SO glad we decided to bring that carseat!!

Besides the one hiccop, our little one was happy and well-behaved.  It helps that she likes me so much. She would be content if she could be in my arms at all times forever and always.

After waiting in a forever line, we got the rental van, loaded up, checked into our hotel, and landed on our beds in a heap.  I did have to rally to go buy groceries (another way we are saving money in order to make this endeaver possible).

Off an exhausted, dreamless sleep.  Tomorrow we begin seeing the sites!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Oh, the Laundry

I was so proud of myself this morning as I told my husband, "There is NO dirty laundry in this house."  We have been cleaning all week and I have asked the children repeatedly and specifically if they had every scrap of dirty laundry in the laundry room.  Assured that they had, I was confident as I stepped into their rooms to begin packing this afternoon.  I knew I would have every pair of pants, every matched sock, every folded shirt, and piles of happily laundered undies from which to choose.

I was terribly wrong.

Not only did I not have all of the dirty clothes in the laundry room (much less washed, dried, and folded), but I was going to be up LATE doing the laundry so it would be done before we left for our trip.

Indeed, here it is, 11 o'clock at night and I still have two loads to go.  I also need to pack breakfast and lunch for eight people (that's sixteen sack meals, if you need help).  This was work that should have been done this afternoon when I was, instead, cleaning closets and sorting clothes.

We leave for the airport at 3:30 in the morning.

To the credit of the children, there has been massive repenting and heartfelt apologies.  Also, the blame is not shared by all of the children.  I will not specify the offenders because I love them and do not believe in public humiliation.  The end.

You know, in case you thought my house was filled with sunshine and tulips all the livelong day.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bye, Bye, Piggies!

We took a spectacular drive this morning, through predominantly evergreen forests whose scattered aspens and birches are busy turning gold.

The drive was made even more lovely because we were dropping off these smelly fellows:

Did you hear that giant sigh of relief?!
We still have our runt, but the big guys are gone.

That was it! Our last major hurdle!
Oh, my goodness, you guys.  This is actually, really, truly happening.
Now we pack!

So Tired

My nephew married his sweetheart yesterday in my sister's backyard.  It was a beautiful October day and the celebration was lovely.  We could not have asked for more perfect weather.
But we didn't know that it would be that way on Friday when it was POURING down rain.
There was a lot of scrambling to figure out alternatives, clean up places that weren't meant to be seen, and prepare for the worst weather. Luckily, my parents live right next door and Dad has a shelter that worked perfectly.  

We got home late last night, exhausted but happy.  Crawled into bed and zonked out cold until it was time to get up for church this morning.  I looked forward to a nap after church, but didn't get one.  So sad!  I quickly cleaned the kitchen and baked because my Camilla girl had her 13th birthday party tonight.

(Earlier in the week, I asked the girls to get out some autumn decorations, they put out the Halloween AND the Thanksgiving decorations and I just don't care enough to change it. We're rolling with all the fall festivals on the mantle.)

She wanted baked potatoes and chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.
It was all well received and she was thrilled with the family and the gifts they brought.
We are so lucky to have such good people around us.

After everyone left, I cleaned up a tiny bit and hit the hay.
Guess who can't sleep?
Yes.  Me.  The exhausted mama.

I'm tired, but I have had some wonderful experiences this week.  We have been chipping away and a huge and intimidating list of things that had to be done before we leave on our trip.  The final things that were tackled in the last few days included preparing the yard for winter, deep cleaning the house, helping with Kevin and Kenzie's wedding, and Camilla's birthday. Tomorrow is the last big hurdle:  we take the pigs to the butcher!  Hooray!  My husband was an absolute superhero this week, scrubbing and organizing like nobody's business.  I only knew the guy for a few minutes before we were married, but trusted in my Heavenly Father.  He gave me a good one.  I am so thankful that Justin is not above helping out around the house.

As soon as these pigs are welcomed into their new, frigid home, we will be down to our final loop in the chain.  Final loads of laundry.  Final loads of dishes, final sweeping and vacuuming of the floors.
And the packing will commence!