...and they all lived happily ever after...

...and they all lived happily ever after...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chicago -- That Toddlin Town

Almost two years ago I came across a fantastic deal on a condo in Illinois and I dreamed up the idea of taking Josh to Chicago.

Josh served a mission for our church in and around Chicago 20 years ago and he's always wanted to go back.

Boom!  Wish granted!

I worked out all the details and planned all the bits and it really was an amazing adventure.

We decided to make this a couple's trip rather than trying to take the whole family.  Our kids had TONS going on the two weeks we were gone (like jobs, a pre-girls camp backpacking hike, scout camp, youth conference, musical theater performances, etc).

My parents courageously volunteered to manage our half dozen children in our absence and off we went (I say that like leaving them was nothing, believe me, it was rough for me to leave my babies).

We decided to make this excursion a road trip so we could stop and see things along the way.

First stop, Mount Rushmore.  

I have heard people who love this place, and other people who say it really isn't all that exciting.  I can agree that there is not a ton to do here...but I LOVED it.  I was so impressed with the love and care and focus and devotion that went into creating this work.  I loved reading about the artist and his vision and all that it took to make this project happen.  I'm really glad we stopped.

We also did a bit of exploring in the Black Hills while we were there (we don't schlep up to the area real often so good to get it in while it's convenient).  The area was beautiful.  We did almost hit a mountain goat as it came out of the bushes and we did very slowly chase a terrified marmot down the road because the rock walls kept him from being able to escape for a while, but it was a great drive.

We stopped for the night in Omaha and while we were there we went to the Winter Quarters Temple and visited some of the LDS Church History sites nearby.

Then we drove and drove and drove to Illinois and finally reached our condo in Sheridan.  Here you can see Josh's "why are you taking another freaking picture when all I want to do is go inside" face.

We did eventually make it inside and the condo was really comfortable (and surprisingly easier to keep tidy without our crew of youngsters).

On Sunday we attended one of the LDS branches were Josh had served as a missionary.  They had a building of their own (something new since he was last there) and there were a few people still in the ward who he knew from his mission.  It was really fun to hear them talk about old times and remember the work they did together.

Then I made us stop at this awesome, abandoned, haunted prison in nearby Joliet.  It would have been really fun to sneak through the fence and explore, but the signs said not to and Josh said I had to behave.

Our next stop was Starved Rock State Park which was one of my favorite places.  I love to hike and while there really aren't any mountains in Illinois (or even really hills...or large mounds), we "hiked" the trails into the "canyons" and this place was amazing.   

Plus, the trees were incredible.

Fabulous live tree.

Fabulous dead tree.
 Anyway, Monday morning we drove into Chicago for the first time.  

Driving to Chicago looked like this pretty much every time.

It was miserable (I may or may not have whined about it incessantly).

But once we got into the city and paid the $22 parking fee (gulp...and I thought Utah parking fees were bad) we had a lot of fun.  

First stop, the aquarium.  We found when we arrived that it just so happened to be free day for residents...which meant the place was packed!  It was crazy crowded, but it was still fun to see all the creatures.

We spent half the day at the aquarium and the other half at the Field Museum.  I do love a good museum.

Day 2 in Chicago we went to the Art Institute.  This was by far my favorite place that we saw in the city.  It was really great to explore all the cultures and time periods and just plain creative ideas of the artists.

Ye olde medieval hymn book

Armor for all ages (not sure who needs a tin suit for their three-year-old...but ok).

 This museum also features MANY works by my favorite artist, Claude Monet.

And there were plenty of other things to keep us...er...entertained.

Yes, this is an actual piece of art on display in the museum.

Chicago day three took us to the Museum of Science and Industry.

This is where I missed my children terribly.  They would have loved to touch all the things and try all the experiments.  In fact, it was sort of not at all exciting there without them.  

Science Museums -- not really very good without your children.

Josh plays tic-tac-toe with a robot (he didn't lose)

Captures WWII German U-Boat -- yeah, that was pretty cool.
 On the way back to Sheridan that afternoon (after our obligatory stint in traffic) we stopped at a restaurant Josh has been bragging about to me since I met him.  He always tells me Giordano's is the best pizza on the planet and 20 years later he got to indulge in it again.

Eat at Giordano's was item #1 on Josh's "things to do in Chicago" list.

Item #2 on the list (and also the last item on his list) was buy a Cubs hat while in Illinois.  Done and done.

But, as we drove home that evening, Illinois had a surprise for us in the form of a pelting rainstorm that made it so we could barely see the road which was also quickly littered with leaves and branches.  The windshield wipers couldn't keep up so we slowly limped back to the condo.  

Our last day trip in Illinois was to the Chicago Temple (not exactly in Chicago, but still included the traffic to help us feel at home).

We also made a quick stop at the nearby Bahai Temple which was a beautiful building as well. (Favorite quote of the many engraved on the building, "O rich ones on the Earth, the poor among you are my trust, guard ye my trust.")

And then it was time to start for home.  We took a brief detour to Nauvoo to go to the temple there and explore the historical village.  That was a really cool place and we really enjoyed seeing it.  I can't explain the peaceful spirit there, but we learned a lot as we got to see for ourselves places we've read about in church history for many years.   Josh and I each have ancestors who were part of the company that settled and then fled from this area and that added a measure of care to the day as well.

That night we just barely made it to our hotel (thanks for giving out on us GPS) which was across the Mississippi River in Iowa.  By the way, Mississippi River -- yeah, we don't have stuff like that in Utah.  Impressive.

Our...um...sketchy hotel gave us this already battered and well-used paper folder with our key inside and we hoped the door would hold and that the stains on the floor weren't from anything too horrible.  It was not my favorite hotel we've ever stayed in.

Sunday morning we attended the local branch in Fort Madison in which the primary had as many children as we do, but they sang their little hearts out for Father's Day and it was super sweet.

We then trekked back across the river to visit Carthage and see the jail where the prophet, Joseph Smith, was held and eventually murdered.

I expected this to be a somber place, but it wasn't.  To me, it was peaceful and warm.  It was an inviting place.  I am really really glad we were able to stop.

And then it was time to hit the road for real and head for home.

We made it home in one piece and the kids were in one piece and the house was in one piece and my parents still liked us so all in all, it seems like the trip was a success.

Actually, it was a giant success.  I got to spend two weeks with my favorite person in the world doing one of my favorite things (traveling and seeing new places).  We met great people (and a couple of crazies...remind me to tell you about the guy who told us about the city under Salt Lake City and then the city under the city under Salt Lake City).  We spent time in the temple (another favorite place) and just got to enjoy life together without all the everyday distractions.

I loved it. 
(But let's take the kids next time).

Monday, June 5, 2017

We meet the best people: Garbage Dump Edition

So we've been cleaning some trees out of our yard.

It's a big job and has resulted in loads and loads of wood and debris which then needed to be carted to the dump.

So, last weekend, while Josh and Bryce were working at the park, the other kids and I took on the task (and I felt all tough and important about it because usually Josh does the messy, physically difficult types of things around here, not me).

We loaded logs and branches and twigs and everything in between into my parent's truck for six scratchy trips to the waste center.  Parker and Logan helped me empty and re-load the bed of the truck every time.  Aubrey and Gavin heaved limbs and wood scraps into the front yard to make loading the truck easier after each trip.  It really was a family effort.

But, the very best thing happened when we reached the dump to unload our haul.  As we pulled up to the attendant at the green waste area he peeked into the truck, took one look at the boys and said, "I see you brought some muscle with you," which immediately endeared him to Parker and Logan.  They flexed and strutted and loved showing off their strength while we worked.

When we returned an hour later with the next load, they looked for their new friend.  And again, he engaged with my guys and made them excited to be at the garbage dump (no easy feat).

In fact, as the day progressed, we became friends with all three of the men who manned the green waste area.  They were patient and helpful with me as I backed the truck into really tight spots.  Every one of them commented on how lucky I was to have boys who work so hard to take care of their mom.  They showed me secret tricks and exits they don't usually let people use that made our life easier.  But it didn't stop there.

These men really engaged with us.  They told us about their lives.  One of them had three grown boys who he said sadly he wished would work as hard as my boys.  One of them said his dad had passed away several years back but he works at the dump and has a second job to help take care of his mom.  And because of his work, she has been able to keep her house and her independence and he is very proud of that.  One of them took his sick sister in to live with him so that he could care for her.  I mean, these guys are incredible.  You might not know it to look at them (they were definitely a little rough around the edges, but if I worked there, I would be too), but these men are the kind of men I hope my boys grow into one day.

These three men made us look forward to each trip we took to the garbage dump.  And that doesn't just happen to everyone.  I am so grateful that they were kind and selfless enough to help turn an ominous task into a job we were almost sad to finish.

So, yes, we made six trips to the garbage dump all in one afternoon.  And what we really found there was anything but garbage.

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