Derek's cousins were having a family reunion shortly after ours in Michigan and since we had so much fun at ours decided to crash theirs (really they invited us but we may have been a little too eager to jump on board) They were boating and picnicking at Deer Creek reservoir so we decided to take the Randazzle on it's maiden voyage

We fit 6 kids (in addition to Derek and I) in it and had a wonderful time paddling around the reservoir. The kids loved it, we loved it and are so excited to have a boat in the family. I really hope we can put it to good use.  We'll probably put it to much more use when the boys are old enough to help Derek get it off and on the van though.  I'm the weak link in the chain.

Derek's sweet cousin helped us get the canoe down and snuggled little man as we paddled around with the kids.

We had a wonderful time and almost missed a birthday party Hyrum was going to since we were having so much fun. Hyrum went on the speed boat on tubes and never wanted to get off.

They made the mistake of telling us that they were having a BBQ the following Tuesday so even though Derek was away I packed up the boys and we went.  They even had blow up slides and a blow up boxing ring for the kids to play on.  Noah got scared when one of them collapsed on him but after seeing Hyrum bounce around and not get swallowed by it he ventured onto it and by the end didn't want to get off.

After all of THAT fun they had a ( get this ) Family Talent show

 complete with judges.  It was great!! There were so many different acts! Everything from upside down lip syncing

to magic tricks

To synchronized  swimming

To stand up comedians and companion piano playing.

It was soo much fun.  They even asked me to be a part of it all but I graciously declined.  After the winner was crowned we had to head off but we are continually grateful to be welcomed and involved with this part of our family. They are soo great!

Even their family reunion SHIRTS were cool!!

While in Michigan we picked up a extra traveler for the way home. My late uncle Randy's canoe, The "RANDAZZLE"

We had to have three grown men help us get it on to our van and secure it for the trek across the country.

My sister Holly and her husband bought the canoe from my Uncle Randy before he died. He was happy that it was going to a young family that would have years of memories in it.  They now have older kids and individual kayaks.  They don't take the canoe out much anymore so they offered it to us which we excitedly accepted

In front of the Nauvoo temple on our 10 year anniversary

I have many memories in this canoe with my grandparents (where the canoe was housed for years) on the Rogue river in Rockford.

In front of the Carthage Jail

I can recall sitting, head resting on my hands that laid on the edge of the side, gazing at the seaweed and rocks at the bottom of the river looking for seashells, mesmerized by the swirls in the water from the paddles.
Passing the Gateway to the West in St Louis

I was so excited for it to be in my garage now. Waiting for hundreds of similar memories for my boys.

We had to really search for a green cornfield in Kansas. We missed the sunflower field. Bummer.

I envisioned later in life my three boys hoisting it up onto some kind of vehicle and taking it out, just the three of them. Laughing and bonding on a lake or river somewhere.

Passing through Vail, Colorado

Or Derek and I paddling around some mountain lake with crystal clear waters.

Up through the mountains

As we drove it hummed to us. I think it was happy for the adventure

This was an wild picture to get. 

At one rest stop we were at an Asian family couldn't stop looking at and talking about it. I swear I saw them take a picture.  This must be bonafide old Indian kind of stuff.

Here it is in front of it's new home. Ready for a hundred new memories to be made!

Today was a head down and drive day again. We stopped a few times to take pictures but other than gas and food we just drove. And the boys watched.
This morning while we were getting ready for the day Noah said “I want to go home!”  We said “Ok we’ll go home today.” And he said “NO!”  We were confused and asked “Is the beach house home?”   “Yes” was the reply.  I have to say I would not be opposed to that at all, as long as we could put a door on the shower. J

The day was largely uneventful until we stopped in Grand Junction for lunch. We walked into the Wendy’s and saw some family friends who live in Utah crossing over the mountains the other direction to a family reunion!  What are the odds of that in the middle of Colorado?

When we were on the home stretch of Highway 6 Hyrum needed a rest stop so we stopped. Now as you transverse the country you tend to become a connoisseur of rest stops and this is not a good one.

Little more than a port a potty. Not fabulous. A few miles down the road we found this rest stop

MUCH better. 

They even had a little museum of sorts about the trains in the canyon. 

The trains that Derek's uncle, grandfather and great grandfather all drove. Wish we would have held out for this one. Derek's favorite rests stops along the trail were the ones in South Dakota. They all had these gigantic concrete tee pees adorning them.  And wouldn't you know it that the one rest stop we stopped at in South Dakota didn't have one.  But we did get a picture.

As we finished our trip I began to think of how it went, what I thought worked well and what I wish we'd done differently. Here's what I've come up with

Of all the laminated games I made for them (those being eye-spy, road trip bingo, licence plate game  and slug bug) the the one they liked the best was by far the slug bug, which we just used as a color car game.  The problem we found with it ( which I should have noticed before I printed it) was that there were three or four shades of green car and two shades of orange car.  We were assigning other colors to these cars. :)  The other ones will be better received when they are older.

Another roadtrip winner ( at least for Noah) was the magnetic letters. Noah has been fascinated by the fridge phonics lately so a week or so before the trip I put them away and packed them with a dollar store cookie sheet.

Voila!  He loved it and it kept him busy for a good long time. Plus he's learning! BONUS!!  I also packed every magnetic thing I could think of that they might have the slightest interest in playing with because IT'S MAGNETIC and has a less chance of rolling around the car for the duration of the trip.  I saw ideas for printing copies of well known games laminating them and playing them with magnetic game pieces but I didn't feel right about the copy write laws.  This worked just fine anyway.

Another fun game that evolved during the trip ( that you heard a  bit of in the video ) was the airplane walkie talkie. One time Hyrum got upset that he wasn't getting some thing that he wanted and so Derek told him that all he needed to do was say ( "Curch  passenger to Dad, passenger to Dad, come in Dad") And it became a thing.  It made driving fun.

And as SICK as we ALL were of fast food by the end ( although the boys would NEVER admit it) getting a new toy everyday (despite their LAMENESS) did wonders for their happiness in the car.

It was really good to have a week of staying put in the middle of the three week vacation. It gave us a chance to just be and not be constantly running from one place to the next. That being said it was really fun and effective to have destinations along the way for the majority of our trip. It made it fun for all of us.

One of the best things about this vacation was that it was completely flexible. Granted had we planned ahead we may have been able to get a place to stay in Yellowstone park or at least near to it but if we'd planned ahead we couldn't have done the SS Badger car ferry which was GREAT!  I liked the rough outline of where we wanted to generally be when but none of it was set in stone and it was wonderful!  Thank HEAVEN for Derek's smart phone and a shout out to Derek's contact at Marriott who hooked us up. Holla!

But more than any of that the thing that worked the best on this vacation was being together (minus not being able to sit beside my husband while he drove) We were just completely together. No where to go no place to be. And we all loved being together. It was pure bliss.

Things I would have done differently would be to have more strings to clothes pin papers to. We had a lot of papers that we'd be referring to again and again. ( the map they colored state by state and the games we played along the way) It would have been nice to have them accessible to the boys more easily.

Something you don't think about on a vacation is fingernail clippers. but let me tell you that on a three week vacation you NEED to think about fingernail clippers and bring them

Noah had long fingernails and used them

Yeah, ouch!

But despite all of that this vacation was perfect.

As we drove past the giant windmills near the mouth of Spanish Fork canyon there was a stab of regret that it was almost over. So many people commented that we must be happy to be home, but really we would have happily gone another week. In fact we really wanted to. We were not ready to be home yet. The boys traveled SOOO well. I'd planned a lot to keep them entertained but they made their own fun too

Happen to love that. So do the boys

When we walked into our house it totally felt weird. Didn't feel like home, at all.  But here we are, home. It's going to take a good long time to adjust.

After Topeka and the 2nd cousins there were no scheduled stops besides gas and food until Utah. Some 16 plus hours of driving with nothing to look forward to until the end. We knew  this would be the hardest leg of the trip and the boys were already ready to be home.  We decided now was the time to break out the secret weapon and plug them in. I figured we’d have them fighting over what to be watching but we rathered that then the constant “I want to go home. When are we going to be home?  I don’t even remember what our house looks like anymore!”  We set up the screens last night and remembered that they each can play different movies if you want. Perfect! We then realized the need for earphones though.

 But before long they were both lost in their respective passions.

And Elijah fell asleep

I sat in the front with Derek and sighed, I thought I might actually be able to sit beside my husband and chat.  Then 5 minutes later came the call for snacks, then drinks, then a new movie and another and another ( just from Noah ) I realized that this didn’t necessarily buy me a ticket to the front seat for the duration of the trip, but certainly more time up front anyway.

It wasn’t long before Hyrum couldn’t wait the 10 minutes while the car was filled with gas to have his movie playing again, and for Noah, who is not as much of a movie watcher, fall asleep.

As we cruised across Kansas we expected to see acres upon acres of corn but found mostly dried up fields and even some that had been cut down already. When we saw this we weren't surprised and were happy to sail along in our air conditioned van.

We did see a field of sunflowers which was really cool but I wasn't quick enough with the camera to get a picture. Sadly we never saw another.

We drove in to the Denver area less than 24 hours after the 12 people were killed in a movie theater by a deranged man and were treated to a spectacular sunset. We saw something of the divine in it.

The boys hit the hotel and started to strip down to go swimming. 

They swam for a good long time, while Elijah lounged and laughed at the reflection of the hot tub water on the windows above.

I’m sure today was their favorite day of the trip, movies all day and topped off with swimming.

Hyrum is doing really well with the water he’ll just go jump in and Noah has a big more respect for the water. Good on both counts. J
They went to sleep really quickly tonight as well. YAHOO!

We woke up all too early to be at the St Louis zoo for a number of reasons. One, it was supposed to be over 100 degrees and humid, and two, we needed to start making some major headway towards home.

At the zoo we met Derek’s new manager and really good friend who had just had their fourth baby boy. He had his three older boys with him. I couldn’t help singing “Meet me in St Louis, Louis, Meet me at the zoo!” in my head all day.

The St Louis zoo has no charge to get in but there were a few experiences  (the children’s area, the rays at Caribbean Cove and on the train that goes around the zoo) that cost a few bucks to do but the first hour they were free, one more reason to be there early. Michael, Derek’s friend and coworker has a membership to the zoo and was kind enough to get us into the rest of the areas we didn't get to in that first hour. We parked on the street ( you could pay for closer parking but we opted not to) and made our way into the zoo
Our first stop was the Emerson’s Children’s zoo.  It was so fun!  Not only were there tons of animals but there were fun ways to look at them too. 

This was the Meerkat hole you climbed in to look at the meerkats

And a log where spiders were

All of the enclosures seemed to get the kids as close as they could get to the animals

There was also a petting zoo but my boys wanted nothing to do with the extraordinarily calm goats.

They were much more interested in sitting on frogs

Then we were off to see the stingrays in Caribbean Cove. As we waited in line they told us to wash our arms up to the elbow because lotion, sunscreen, bug spray etc can harm the stingrays. I was a little nervous that the boys wouldn’t even put their hands in the water much less touch the stingrays. But I was pleasantly surprised that they did both and really seemed to like it.

They had a “nursery” where they had baby stingrays. They were adorable.

We decided to bring the stroller into the zoo figuring that at least one of the boys would want to ride from time to time. They did but when Hyrum didn’t want to ride Noah wanted to push. This was all fine and good but Noah is NOT a very good driver and he was constantly running into people. Finally I’d had enough and took the stroller away. Noah.threw.a.FIT! I didn’t want to reward his fit with getting the stroller back but he created such a scene that eventually Derek’s manager was asking Derek if he was alright and I could tell it was making him uncomfortable. So I gave Noah a second chance and let him drive the stroller again.

He was MUCH happier, and luckily for him, much more careful.

Then we were off to the newest attraction, Sea Lion Sound in which you go in a plexiglass tunnel that goes under the water of the sea lion enclosure.

Seriously soo cool. Sea lions would swim directly overhead and past the glass on either side.

Hyrum and Noah became fast friends with Michael’s boys Thomas, Matthew and Joseph.

Hyrum and Matthew in particular were inseparable.

After the sea lions we went to see the big cats but were side tracked by the reptile house and we were so glad we did.

This is an animal enclosure, if you can believe it. So cool!

They had typical enclosures as well.

But do you see how close even the smallest visitors can get to the animals? So great.

Then we got on the train, again courtesy of our host. Noah didn’t even know how excited he would be for weeks after about this ride.

Even Elijah who had slept through the rest of the zoo woke up for the train.

We went through tunnels

And peeked behind waterfalls

And waved to everyone, as we made our circle tour.

We finished off the zoo with the puffins and penguins. Or as Hyrum called it ‘Penguin Island’

The best thing about the penguin house is that it was inside and cold. Sweat had been dripping down my face like tears.

It was crazy how close they were!

Did anyone else not know that puffins could “fly” under water?  Puffins were a favorite animal of mine as a kid and you’d think I’d have known that but I guess you learn something new every day. I was fascinated by it!

We left the zoo, but not without tossing a coin or two. Hyrum and Thomas shared the coin they tossed.

We decided to all go out to eat for lunch at Steak and Shake before we parted ways. We were grateful for the reason to NOT go to McDonalds again.

The woman taking us to our seats asked the names of our boys and when she heard them picked up immediately on them all being biblical names.  She said our next one should be Isaiah. J

Strangely it was only at the restaurant that I noticed that I was the only woman in the group. I’m so used to being in the boys club. As we waited for our food to come the waiter brought us out paper cars and paper hats which the boys completely appreciated. 

Don't let Hyrum's face fool you. He LOVED his blue paper car with it's hamburger driver!

Who needs Happy meal toys?

We were sure to put Elijah in his “Trust me I’m a Jedi” shirt that Michael sent to us when he was born. He was happy to show it off.

After our meal the hostess who was so impressed with the names of our boys asked who the minister was in the group. Derek was taken aback by the question but eventually consented that he was kind of one and she asked him to pray for Evelynn. We discussed it later and I told him that although it’s not a title we typically use in our church that he could safely consider himself at least right now, certainly, what they would consider a minister.  Interesting to think about.

We parted ways with our friends and after a few unexpected detours across the river, finding ourselves in burned out and abandoned neighborhoods then finally the red light district of East St Louis Illinois, a few quick fly by pictures of the Gateway and an EXHAUSTIVE search for postcards (Seriously who carries them anymore? We need to increase the demand out there people!) we left St Louis headed towards Topeka and more 2nd cousins!

So on the way there I had “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” running through my head.

“Here she comes!  Whoo whoo, whooo whooo whoooo!” J

Along the way across the country we were trying to coordinate things with my cousins who were coming up with these amazing things to do in Kansas City (which of course had “Kansas City! Kansas City here I come…yeah yeah!” going through my head) but in order to do any of them we’d have to delay our progress and we really needed to start making headway towards home if we were going to make it by Saturday night. We settled for meeting them at an ice cream place well past their young kids bed time. We’d kind of promised Hyrum that he’d be able to play with cousins when we thought we’d be meeting at a park or something but when we pulled into a restaurant  he stayed the course and was determined to play like crazy with them, much to our (and surely the restaurant staffs) dismay.  It was fun to see them and really meet them since I’d never met my cousin Adam’s wife and two kids.

We of course had to stop the kids from running around like crazies to get a picture to document that it actually happened.  Car disheveled and all. We kept their kids up way too late but we wished we’d been able to stay longer and visit with them more. Perhaps on another vacation.

We hit the hotel and the boys crashed while Derek went out to the car to do some magic.