Home again, home again - jiggity jig! Yes, folks - I'm home from an amazing 3 week vacay, and now YOU get to suffer through the recount! YES! So, grab your favorite blanket, a cup of hot cocoa, and settle in for part one of the great trip review!
Few things make me happier than leaving in good time for a vacation. We were hoping to leave our place by 9am. We did better than that! We were pulling out by 8am! WAHOO! We were on our way, with a quick stop at our friend's home in a town 20 minutes outside the city to drop off our pets to be "pet-sat".
The drive was pretty uneventful thanks to the genius invention of a in-vehicle DVD player! The only annoyance was our sweet 2.5 year old who felt it was necessary for us to stop the vehicle every half hour or so to go potty. It could have been more painful if we hadn't remembered to bring along our little potty for the girls to use.
We had no trouble crossing the border, which is a miracle since I had forgotten to SIGN my passport! Silly me. We did have to say goodbye to our Chilean grown apples, though. *sniff* *sniff* Oh well - it was a good cause.
We arrive at our overnight destination just before supper time with high spirits and flat bums :) We ate dinner at a place called "JB's" which was.....okay. Then checked into our motel and went to bed - ready for a good sleep and an early start the next day!
Did I say early start? Is 5:30am early enough? *sigh* My sweet daughters thought so. We hopped back in the van and started off from Great Falls. The last time I went on this same drive it was April, almost 5 years ago, and I was on my way to BYU Women's Conference with my mom and sisters. We hit a freak snowstorm and were driving through a white out. Scary! This time around the scenery was much more breathtaking!! There were about 5 times we almost stopped the vehicle to jump out and take some photos. But, being the efficient people we are, we settled for snapping some pics out the window as we were driving by! Still - gorgeous, no?
There were a few less potty breaks this time around, so we were slightly less annoyed :) I watched some movies on my laptop with my megahuge earphones, while the kiddos watched more DVDS. I also decided to finish reading "House of Sand and Fog" during the last leg of our trip. In fact, I read the last few words as we pulled into our Hotel.
JOY AND RAPTURE! We were there! Our hotel looked SO inviting, and we were SO pleasantly surprised by how AWESOME our suite was! It had 3 queen sized beds in 2 rooms, 2 large TVS, a fridge, microwave, 2 sinks, you name it! Just perfect for winding down. When we walked in the lobby, they had a huge platter of freshly baked cookies laid out for the guests to enjoy ( a new kind each day!) which I thought was such a nice touch. This place also had a free FULL breakfast included (we're talking eggs, sausage, bacon, 3 kinds of cereal, muffins, scones, danish, fresh fruit, yogurt, 3 kinds of juice, waffles, breakfast biscuits and gravy (I know!), bagels and toppings - it had it all! The kids loved the awesome indoor pool and hot tub, I loved the exercise room, and my hubby loved the laundry room! Can you tell we loved our hotel?? I recommend the "Comfort Suites" near the airport to EVERYONE! It's central to everything we wanted to see, too.
We arrived early enough on day 2 (thanks to our VERY early start!) to take some time to walk around Temple Square a bit. It takes my breath away each and every time I see it in person, which has been 4 times in my life now.
The only mishap came when Bayboo wasn't watching where she was going and whacked her ear right into a granite planter. OUCH! Poor thing had her ear turn black in blue almost instantaneously.
We headed back to the hotel after supper to go for a quick swim, then get ready for bed. SO glad to have made it safely.
After a GREAT night's sleep, we got ready, had our phenomenal breakfast, then headed out on a mission to find a Target store! I needed a T-shirt and I had been waiting to go there before I bought one. We found one easily enough and I found 2 summer shirts and a white dress shirt for less than $10 each. LOVE TARGET!
We still had some time before our first tour of the day started, so we headed across the street to Payless shoes, which was having a great sale. I needed some white heels for church, and my hubby picked out a fabulous pair for $10. He also found some nice black canvas-type shoes for me to walk around in, since I forgot my walking shoes. I love them.
I wasn't the only one who scored a nice pair of shoes, though. We found a great pair of running shoes for TJ for $5 for school this Fall, and she used her own money to buy herself some very grown-up looking gold sandals. She loves them and looks great in them! I love seeing my children making responsible decisions, and reaping the benefits of their own hard work!
With some shopping out of the way, we headed straight to the LDS Humanitarian Center for a tour for our family. This tour was unexpectedly emotional for me. I felt the Spirit so strongly the entire time. The tour was led by 2 sister missionaries - one from Australia and the other from Japan. They explained the 3 purposes of the Church humanitarian aide which were 1. To help those in need. 2. To foster self-reliance, and 3. To offer opportunities for them to serve. They showed us the large painting depicting the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, waiting for 38 years for the water to stir and for someone to help him reach the water to be healed. No one would help him, and that is how the Lord, Jesus Christ, found him. Then Jesus healed him. They explained how important it is that we help everyone in need, regardless of whether they belong to our church, another church, or no church at all.
They brought us through the warehouse where donations that come in packed into HUGE bales and then sorted by workers - workers who are mostly people hired who need employment skills and experience. They sort through 4 bales per day - which is a LOT! These bales were ENORMOUS! I was astounded by how many donations there were! They said about 15% of donations are sold in the Church's thrift store (which is all non-profit, the money they make goes into paying their employees and keeping up the store) and the remaining 85% is packed and mailed out to those throughout the world who need the clothing, blankets, etc.
The Church Humanitarian Center sends out several kinds of packages all over the world (I'm talking millions of these care packages!) -everything from newborn packets containing things like cloth diapers, sleepers, blankets, etc. (I was shocked to hear how many newborn babies in the world are sent home wrapped in banana leaves, newspapers, or nothing at all!), orphanage packages with things like toys, clothes, and bright wall hangings which are meant to give the orphans something bright to look at to help stimulate their minds because so many orphanages have absolutely nothing on their walls. They also send out school kits with things like notebooks, pencils, erasers etc. in a durable cloth bag that they can keep their supplies in (many children do not attend school because they can't even afford one piece of paper - crazy!). I found the disaster relief kits very interesting as well. They have boxes that have a month's worth of food inside that are sent out to families who are victims of disasters - the food varying according to the region of the world it is sent to. They also send out large white buckets with basic cleaning supplies in them so victims of disasters have the means to clean and disinfect their homes so they can actually have somewhere safe and clean to EAT! They think of everything.
They showed us the many, many handmade quilts that are donated, which not only give those in need temporal relief, but it lifts and brightens the heart knowing that someone out there lovingly made that item with their own hands. It was very touching. Something neat? You are actually able to stay after the tour and help sew, if you have the time. No wasted opportunities!
At the end of the tour, they showed us a film outlining just a few of the things the Church is doing to help people around the world. I bawled throughout the film, the Spirit was testifying so strongly that what I was seeing was pleasing to the Lord, and that I can do much to help in this effort by simply donating some money on the "Humanitarian" section on our tithing slips. I'll be doing that MUCH more often. I'll give you one example in a minute of just how a little goes a LONG way to helping those in need.
Directly after that tour, we headed to Welfare Square for a tour of those amazing facilities! Again the tour was led by 2 American sister missionaries. The first thing we learned about was their bishop's storehouse. It is a large building that looks very much like a grocery store. That is where members of the church, and non-members alike can go for food when there is a need. In the storehouse we could see all of the products that had one of 2 labels on it. One would be the commercial label. These were items that were cheaper for the Church to buy directly from a commercial seller than to produce themselves. The other products had a label indicating that the product was produced by the church on one of their farms, dairies, or whatever. I had no idea just how much food the church produces itself. WOW!
They showed us the cannery and the dry pack cannery where members of the church can volunteer to can food for sale in the storehouse or for purchase for their own families. They also showed us the bakery where loaves of bread are baked from scratch and then distributed throughout about 5 states for helping those in need. They use the wheat the Church farms grow, and they said that because of the economy, they have had to dip into their wheat stores for the first time! Good thing they have this enormous grain elevator filled with wheat to use! It was HUGE!
Next they took us to check out where the clothing and household items are donated by members of the community, and then the 15% that will be sold in the thrift store are separated, and the rest are shipped off to the Humanitarian center for sorting and shipping to those in need all over the world. The Church's thrift store hires workers who need work experience at a wage just slightly higher than minimum wage for about 18 months after which time they are strongly encouraged to get a better job for themselves, thus perpetuating the employment opportunities for others who need them. They help to train hundreds of people each year, and help to place them in great jobs. It's a great program. We were able to see the facilities where they make cheese, milk, yogurt etc. and it's such an amazing thing to me. Really, if governments adopted similar systems, the entire world would easily be fed. I found it interesting when they spoke about how we can do little to build someone spiritually when they have hungry bellies, or are not well physically.
Remember when I said I would give you an example of how a little donation on our part can go along way? Years ago there was a couple who saw many children starving to death in Africa. They were in a pickle because while they had some resources to help feed these children, their digestive systems could not handle the food and it would only make them sicker. They developed a product called"Atmit" which means "thin, nourishing porridge" which is basically a powder made of oatmeal powder, powdered milk, sugar, and vitamins and minerals. They brought the recipe to the students at BYU who perfected it and began to produce it for distribution. The people will boil a large pot of water to remove impurities, then add the atmit with a little oil - then feed it to the starving children to bring them back to health and strength. After just a few weeks the difference in how the children look is incredible. Okay, get this - for $5, you can literally save a starving child. That's all it costs to pay for enough Atmit to bring a starving child back to normal health and strength. You can bet I'll be donating at least $5 on my next tithing slip under "humanitarian aide".
The tour ended on a "sweet" note when they gave us some samples of their cheese, chocolate milk, bread, butter, honey, and jams - all produced by the church for helping those in need. And they tasted SO GOOD! I just felt my heart burn within me, telling me that this program was inspired by the Lord. Apparently the girls didn't get enough food, though, because they still needed some lunch afterward :)
After a quick lunch we headed to the "This Is The Place" monument and heritage park.
Okay, I KNOW I'm a nerd, but I LOVE heritage parks and other similar things. LOVE THEM. I felt just a little giddy when I saw the first few people dressed in the pioneer clothing and caught a glimpse of the gorgeous buildings from the 1800s. We visited the monument first and we explained to our girls the significance of that place.
It's difficult to imagine being a pioneer, entering into that beautiful valley, and hearing that "THIS is the place!" knowing that finally, they can rest, settle down somewhere safe and free from persecution. Wow.
We really enjoyed the afternoon in the heritage park. The kids were able to try their hands at using washboards to wash some cloth, hanging it t dry on a line with old fashioned pins, and using IRON irons to press the fabric. I just loved that the park interpreters also had their kids with them, dressed up and staying in character just as much as their parents!
The girls also loved making their own candles. I found it fascinating! It didn't last long before we felt some tiny drops of rain beginning to fall. We made our way through a few more historic houses, then ran into the Boot maker's shop just as the downpour hit.
The cobbler was quite the character and kept our family very entertained as the rain, and then hail began to pour down. It was quite the sight to see all of the people in their pioneer clothes running through the streets, some of them screaming, as the lighting struck and the thunder roared! It was crazy! It didn't take long for a tiny stream to appear just outside the boot maker's shoppe, but we were warm, dry, and being very entertained.
The boot-maker showed us how they made shoes back then, showed us a number of buttons in his collection - made from antler, wood, horn, shell, and pewter. He told us how a girl and her mother would collect buttons as she grew until she had 999 buttons saved up. When a man was interested in marrying a girl, and was about to propose, he would present a single button to the girl which would complete her 1000 button dowry and would mean she was then ready for marriage. Since buttons were expensive and difficult to replace, a woman would remove the buttons from old shoes and clothing to reuse them as her children outgrew or wore through their clothing. Men often would wear their fancy buttons on the top of their shirts where they could be seen.
He also explained things like his bee's wax candles, showed the girls a bunch of different animal furs, and played a few renditions on his bugle horn, including some very convincing animal sounds. Then, he told the girls that the sure way to chase the storm away was to shoot at it. So, he loaded his revolver with gun powder, took it outside and fired it off! It was SO COOL!!! Sure enough, the rain started to slow down. He did it a second time and the rain stopped even more. I'm not kidding! Then he ran next door and retrieved his rifle. His LARGE rifle! He loaded that baby, and fired her off, straight up at the clouds. It wasn't 1 minute after that then the rain had completely stopped! The girls were just amazed, completely believing he did it. I even believed it a little :) He was one of the highlights of the afternoon, for me. Such a funny, entertaining, and knowledgeable guy.
We also hit the hat shoppe where we tried on some fancy hats that the woman there actually makes herself. I was interested in the then and now prices. The hats back then would have cost anywhere from a dollar to $20. She said a man would typically make only a dollar a week, so that shows how much a hat really cost. Women back them thought it was very improper to be seen without a hat, and would start their children wearing hats right from when they were born. The little girls tried on tea hats and riding hats. The lady there had me try on a "gentlewoman's" hat - which would have cost a lot of money. And of course, hubby tried on the fedora and looked mighty fine in it, too!
He hit the general store, the hotel, and the printers where we got to learn about how they had to hand lay each tiny letter (really, it was hard for even hubby to read and he's got better than 20/20 vision!) and then he got to help ink and print a 4 page newspaper. Fun.
We hopped on the trolley train and took a tour around the park and stopped off at Brigham Young's farm house that he never actually lived in himself, but several of his wives did, though not at the same time. It was an enormous gorgeous house - and yes, it was originally pink. Back then, they only had 3 colors of stucco - blue, white, and pink. He chose pink because it was the color that showed the dirt the least. Neat, huh? I think my husband would prefer a dirty looking house to a pink one ;) That house cost about $25,000 back then, which would equate to about a half million now a days. Nearly every single room on the main level had a door to the outside, too. So neat!
We checked out the school house, and a few other things before heading out just as the park was getting ready to close. Such a full day. Our feet were sore and our hearts were full :)
We headed back to the hotel for supper, then headed right back out to attend the Mormon Tabernacle choir's rehearsal. Normally they practice twice a week in the Tabernacle, however during the summer they get so many visitors during their practices they moved into the Conference center just to accommodate. It was so beautiful. They were practicing for a performance they would be doing for the 4th of July. Even their practice sounded phenomenal!
Hubby had never been to the Conference Center before, so we decided to take the last tour of the evening with a wonderful volunteer. It is one of the few (if not only) church buildings where the tours are NOT given my missionaries! That was by request of Pres. Hinckley. Neat, right?
Anyway, our guide was this fabulous woman who we became fast friends with. Somehow we've been blessed to basically have every tour be just our family and the tour guide! It's so nice that way! We got to see the original paintings that are found in the Books of Mormon (the paintings depicting the different scenes from the Book of Mormon - you know the ones found inside the front cover?). She explained how the artist wanted to paint them in a way that showed them as real people who had families and grandchildren. She was very impressed by how TJ knew the story behind each and every painting. She said TJ could do her job very nicely!
I enjoyed seeing the hall of prophets where there was a painting of each member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles (with the exception of Neal L. Anderson who didn't have his painting up yet), then the busts of each of the Presidents of the Church from Joseph Smith to Pres. Hinckley (they didn't have Pres. Monson's up yet).
We finished the Conference Center tour up on the roof where there were beautiful trees, gardens, and fountains. The roof was designed to replicate the Salt Lake valley. Along to East side of the roof were planted tall pine trees and other plants that represented the mountains. To the west was planted a large field of wildflowers that represented the vast valley. Along the middle was the fountain and streams that flowed around the roof. There were large sky lights which let light into the auditorium, and there was an incredible view of the Salt Lake temple.
Lyndon found it interesting that our tour guide has a son-in-law who is the CEO of a humanitarian company who helps the Church in it's efforts, and that is exactly what my husband is down here researching for his MBA! He passed along his card and who knows? Maybe it will lead to a new contact here!
The girls were up way past their bedtime so we headed back to the hotel and went to bed quickly after a long, very full, wonderful day!
Shopping, shopping, and more shopping - we hit stores like a Wal-Mart super center, Big Lots, Dollar tree, Toys R Us, and Dress Barn.
We broke up the afternoon with a cheap movie - Monster's Vs. Aliens- at a ticket price of $1.25 each. Gotta love that!! Their dollar movies actually are DOLLAR movies, not like in Canada, where the 'cheap' theatres are actually $5-$6 to get in.
We also went swimming in the pool at the hotel, and hubby did grocery shopping for our one meal a day we eat at the hotel (okay, 2 meals including the free breakfast buffet).
Okay - that's part 1! Are you exhausted yet?? I'll be back with part 2 after I've recovered! :)