Our trip to Utah was long ago enough that I know I'm going to have trouble recalling the specifics,
but I'll try to give a brief re-cap for my family's personal records.
Unfortunately, I left my spare camera battery and charger in Tennessee and I didn't have much of a charge left from the beginning, so my pictures from my camera are very limited.
Even with my phone, I wasn't the best at taking pictures during this trip, but photos from family members helped to significantly fill in the gaps (thanks, Hillary and Breanne!).
Several months before Christmas, I was delighted to find some plane tickets for a great price that left from St. Louis. It was a nonstop flight to Utah and the times were perfect for our schedule, so we decided we would snag the tickets and make the 4.5 hour drive to St. Louis.
We were up until the wee hours of the morning packing, but after a few hours of sleep we loaded everyone and everything into the car (rather miraculous that we fit it all into our minivan with room to breathe) and headed out.
We were quite the sight to behold as we parked, took the shuttle to the airport, and made our way through ticketing and security, before settling in to wait by the gate. We had 5 kids, 6 carry-on suitcases, 6 backpacks, 2 large suitcases, coats for us all, and a sit-and-stand stroller that Sam and I worked to keep in order! We came up with a pretty good system where Sam was the train engine, the boys were the train cars, and I was the caboose with Maxwell and Benson in the stroller. At various points of the trip, Maxwell was absolutely insistent on pulling his own carry-on suitcase, so we figured out a way he could sit in the stroller and pull his suitcase behind while I pushed him.
Thankfully, the St. Louis airport was one of the quietest airports I've ever been in and we made it to our gate several hours before take off where we ate pizza and smoothies and wandered up and down airport corridors.
The flight was a breeze (gotta love the white noise in airplanes that puts babies to sleep!) and we landed in Utah just after the kids' bedtime. We crashed at my parents' house and the next morning the real fun began!
I'm a little foggy on the details of every day we spent there, so I thought I'd just cover some of the highlights:
-Since Grandpa and Grandma live up high on a mountain, there was plenty of snow for the kids to play with! It started coming down the first night we were up there. I had left their snow gear at my parents', but they were so excited to play in the snow that they just put socks over their hands and ran out to play in the dark and cold.
Eventually, I drove back to my parents' and gathered the snow gear so the kids could have more fun in the snow in the morning. They have missed the snow so much!!
-Grandma fixed us lots of yummy Peruvian food and the kids loved it when Grandpa showed them some classic cartoons from his childhood. We played games, got acquainted with the boys' cousin, Walter (he was just a couple of weeks old when we moved), and sat around visiting.
-We got to go to the temple with Sam's mom, his sister, and his brother and his wife! It was so wonderful to be in the temple together. We snapped a few pictures outside (after Joseph and Hillary had already left) but it was COLD so we kept it really short!
-We visited This is the Place Heritage Park for their big Christmas event! We got to learn some old-fashioned square dancing, eat delicious gingerbread and hot chocolate, watch a blacksmith work, take a ride on the train around and learn about the pioneers, see a live nativity with farm animals, and enjoy beautiful Christmas lights. It was a super fun event! Unfortunately, Maxwell got extremely cold and he was starting to get sick, so he totally fell apart and it made for a stressful time for everyone. But once he got home and tucked into covers (it took hours for his poor, cold feet to warm up!), he settled down and by morning he was mostly back to his usual chipper self. We got to go to Church with Grandma Sue and enjoy the Christmas program. When it was time for the kids to get up and perform their Christmas songs, our kids went right along with them!
-We got to meet my sister's baby, Matthew! He was born the day after Benson, and the two of them were so adorable together.
-On Christmas Eve, we gathered at my parents' house for a "shepherd's dinner" my sister planned and my mom and sisters put together. Breanne has spent a lot of time in the Middle East, so she introduced us to some Middle Eastern dishes and the kids dressed up like shepherds going to Bethlehem! We ate Lebanese Meat Stuffed Grape Leaves, Musakhan (basically a type of chicken flatbread), Za'atar (kind of an herb & cheese bread), pita bread, dates, and cucumber tomato salad, and we topped it all off with Sahlab (a creamy, hot drink).
(Correct me if I'm wrong on any of those names, Breanne!)
-We headed back to Grandma and Grandpa's to sleep and have Christmas morning. Things were really simple this year for the kids (lots of gifts are hard while traveling!), but they were thrilled with their stockings, books, and games, and then they opened their Lego sets from Grandma and Grandpa and spent the morning assembling them. Wesley was cracking me up because he would always open presents with his eyes shut tightly and then open them dramatically only after the present was totally open. Guess he wanted to prolong the suspense!
-Then we headed over to Grandma Sue's for more Christmas fun! Kellie had purchased a bunch of fancy cheese (like, $30/pound fancy!) and had out a beautiful spread of cheese, crackers, pomegranate, pears, and more, and we munched on snacks and opened/played with presents all afternoon.
Sam's family has a tradition where they say something they are thankful for before opening each present. We have continued that in our family! But this year they added in something different where, over the course of the first round of present-opening, we had a minute before the present was opened to call out things we liked about that person. It was a fun way to express appreciation and highlight each other's talents.
-The day after Christmas, we headed up to Bear Lake to spent a few days at a vacation house my parents had rented for the family. We had such a great time eating so much delicious food, playing in the snow, launching potatoes with catapults Uncle Bronson made, playing in the amazing game room, playing my Grandma's famous candy bar game, having our annual family talent show/nativity skit/white elephant gift exchange, playing Quiplash, having a cool rock climbing presentation, and doing lots of visiting and catching up!
(Oh, and passing around a nasty stomach bug too, but let's not dwell on that... Jonathan, you're still a hero for jumping in to snatch the vomiting child from me!)
(A few of the amazing white elephant gifts:)
-Aunt Breanne also held her annual Cousins' Birthday Party for the kids while we were at Bear Lake. This finished up her year-long multicultural book club she had done with all the kids! They each did a presentation on a different country, they made maps, and then for dinner we ate food from each of the countries the kids presented on. Pretty awesome!
-After coming back from Bear Lake, we gathered for family pictures (more on that later) and then we spent the following Sunday going to Church with my parents and relaxing together at their house. We spent the next couple of days hopping from house to house, visiting with family members. We played Mario Kart and ate delicious red curry with Uncle Joj and Aunt Hillary, Sam got to play basketball with Joj, and we had an amazing New Year's Eve game night with some of my siblings after the kids were in bed! One of the best parts was when we were playing a game that had me extremely confused the entire time and then in the end I totally creamed everyone...by accident!
-We went to the beautiful Church History museum in Salt Lake City. My favorite part of the museum happened as we were talking to one of the museum guides after she had just told the kids a story about a handkerchief that was on display. After the kids moved on, Sam's mom commented on all the fingerprints they had left behind on the display case. The guide smiled warmly and said something like, "We have housekeepers who come around every two hours and wipe off the fingerprints. We love fingerprints because it means the children are engaged and learning!" I loved her attitude, which isn't something typically seen in a museum. The kids had a great time learning and playing, especially in the "Tell me the Stories of Jesus" exhibit. All of the exhibits were so interactive and kid-friendly! It was amazing to see how it has all been re-done.
-We spent our final day with my family, doing laundry and packing everything up. The following morning we headed to the airport bright and early (with everything we had brought plus an additional giant cardboard box full of Christmas gifts!) and somehow made it onto the plane, through the St. Louis Airport again, back onto the shuttle, and back to our trusty old minivan that had been sitting in the parking lot for 2 1/2 weeks. As we loaded into the car and began driving toward Memphis, the tears started falling from several of the boys. Everyone was so sad to leave behind their family, but when we walked in the door another kind of excitement settled over the kids as they ran through the house and were reunited with their belongings. They kept exclaiming over things. "I've missed this!! I just love our house! Guys, remember this?!" Poor Maxwell had been so stressed our entire time in Utah. Just about every time we would get in the car he would say sadly, "Mommy? Go hooooome." That stress had carried over to his physical well-being as well and his stomach had been tied up in knots. Within just 15 minutes or so of being home everything relaxed and he was at peace. It kind of broke my heart to see! But now, two months later, he gets excited over seeing pictures of family members and chatters happily about that time. Hopefully this year will be smoother for him.
-We had stopped at Chick-fil-a on our way home from the airport, and it seems the fries were contaminated. In the middle of the night, Talmage, Lincoln, and Sam started throwing up (the ones who ate the fries). It was horrible. They felt so sick and it was a pretty unpleasant welcome back to real life. The next morning we finally opened our presents to each other, some of the family laying on the couches with severe stomach aches as we opened them. Wesley had wanted to get Sam a little robot kit that they could build together, so the boys worked on that in the afternoon and everyone rested. By Sunday they were mostly back to normal and then it was back to school and work and business as usual on Monday!
All in all, it was an amazing trip! The kids went through a couple of weeks of missing Utah a LOT after we came home (it didn't help that it was basically non-stop partying for 2 1/2 weeks so Utah now=endless fun), but they've since recovered from their sadness and we are already looking forward to our visit this year!
(P.S. Congrats on making it to the end. That was a LOT to wade through!)