Vacation 2012

Early in the month of July, I took my son and we got out of town for a couple of days.  He had no idea I was planning a vacation.  In some ways, I didn’t really know I was going to plan a vacation — I had been tossing the idea around in my mind, but was really thinking I would use that money to pay down some more debt.  Then, in less than two weeks, a huge chunk of things that I thought would never change about my life was thrown on its ear.  I was already feeling stressed from taking on a lot of projects this summer, and the added stress of trying to sort through all of this new information tipped the scales.  I decided my son and I were going to get out of town, I was going to clear my head, and neither of us were taking any electronics with us!  (If you know me well, you will realize how shocking this is — most people think I need to have my laptop surgically removed….)

I will relate the travelogue in a moment.  If you had to ask me to rank the events of our vacation in the order of my favorites, the list would look like this:

  1. Spending 20+ hours in the car with my son with no electronic distractions.  I have a wonderful son who has a quick wit and gentle sense of humor.  He is a rare soul who can put on a young man’s swagger and still have the heart of a best friend.  I am so lucky to have a son like him!  He’s my buddy.
  2. Visiting the Carthage Jail.  It’s hard to describe the moving experience I had there, but I will try.
  3. Stopping off at Nauvoo.  It was too hot to truly enjoy the town.  I would like to go back at a cooler time of the year and allot time to see more.
  4. Goofing off at the hotel/resort.  I hate to admit it, but it was good for me to be able to pretend to be a kid again, and it was good for my son to see that I really do like to have fun.

The Beginning

I picked my son up from his father on a Monday evening, and informed him that he needed to go home and pack.  In spite of his early adolescent protests, I think he liked the mystery of not being told where he was going or what we would be doing.  All he knew was that he needed to pack a swim suit, so the hotel must have a pool.

We took off Tuesday and drove for 10 hours.  I forgot to allow for the intense fatigue that hits me every early afternoon.  I was doing a reasonable job of fighting it, but Robert was sleeping and I had nothing interesting to focus on.  That’s when I wandered over the dotted line a bit and nearly side-swiped a car — an unmarked patrol car.  Fortunately, the officer in the car must have had more important things to do, because he simply avoided me and kept on driving.  I drove to the next exit and took a break.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we arrived at our destination around dinner time.  Since my son wasn’t ready to eat, we decided to explore.  We played mini golf.  I learned something — if I ever find someone who feels like they are way less talented than I, all I need to do is challenge them to a game of mini golf.  My son, who has had less experience with a set of golf clubs than I, was giving me pointers to improve my game!  (Yes, they worked.)  My neighbor from my middle school days would be very disappointed — my brothers and I spent hours on the putting green he had in his backyard.  I guess nothing stuck….

We returned to our room so that my son could freshen up for dinner, and ended up at the hotel restaurant a little after 8 p.m.  (I used to think that adolescent girls were hyper-focused on their appearance to others.  My girls don’t even begin to keep up with my son and his showers!)  The restaurant was in a building across the parking lot from the hotel.  It was part of the indoor amusement park.  We ordered a pizza, ate, and then decided to ride the rides.  I held out for as long as I could, but by 9:30 the fatigue and the spinning had made a so-so pizza sit badly on my stomach.  We called it a night.

Day Two: Rest and Play

The next morning, we went into town in search of somewhere to buy groceries.  (Neither of us really wanted to eat what the restaurant had to offer again.)  We stopped on the way at Starved Rock Park.  (I can’t remember if it is a state park or a national park.)  My son wasn’t too thrilled, but I got him to give me an hour.  We started in the welcome center.

I liked the exhibits about the history of the place.  It turns out that Starved Rock was the site of one of the earliest French forts in the area.  My son thought the animal exhibits were pretty cool, and took a lot of pictures.

I think he liked the fish tank best, though.  We managed to be in the visitor’s center at feeding time, and they fed the gar, catfish, and others some minnows.  We had to stay until my son got some shots of them eating.

I would have been content to stay and walk the trails all day, but my son is not as well-acclimated to the hot outdoor temperatures.  He thought he might die.  I talked him into climbing up to see Starved Rock, but that was it.

On the way up to Starved Rock, you can see the edge of the land form through the trees.  What you can’t see is how high the actual rock is.  I took a few pictures to try to show how tall it is, but I don’t think they really give you a true sense.  As you can see from the photos, the area is gorgeous.

We weren’t sure, but we thought there may actually be remnants of the fort left.  It was hard to tell.

After we bought souvenirs and were ready to leave, we asked directions to the nearest grocery store.  Suddenly, we became typical vacationers — we went shopping at Wal-mart.  At least we were able to get some food that we liked, and we found my son a new shirt and shoes.  We weren’t complaining.  With my vacation “fanny pack” on, someone may have snapped a quick picture of me.  I’ll have to check and see if I’ve made it on “People of Wal-mart.”

Back at the hotel, my son got the honor of deciding how we would spend the rest of the day.  He chose the water park.  Since we were still full from breakfast (those were done in the hotel and the food was good), he decided that we would hit the indoor water park.  It was a very nice swimming area — kiddie pools, a wave pool, a Jacuzzi, a “river” that you could float on in tubes, and a 3-story set of water slides.  I spent a lot of time climbing the stairs and going down the water slide on the tubes.  It was a blast!  I lost count after run number 10, but I figured out how to lay down just right to get the maximum speed, how to lean to get the most height on the curves, and how to slow down and make a big splash as I exited!  I got to pretend I was 18 again for a day….

It was closer to dinner time by the time I convinced my son that we really should go back up to the room and eat some lunch.  He’s a wonderful son — he let me rest for an hour before we took off again.  This time, we went back over to the indoor amusement park.  I decided to get some pictures.  The first thing I learned was to be still when taking photos in “night” mode:

I think I kind of like the photo — it looks like the ride is exploding!

The amusement area really only had 3 thrill rides.  It also had some things geared for smaller children.

It didn’t take long for my son to realize that the rides just weren’t as fun the second time around.  I’m not sure how he talked me into it, but he got to indulge in one of his favorite pastimes: feeding quarters into games  to win tickets.

Once he had gotten his prizes, we went back over to the hotel and returned to the water park.  We stayed there until about 9:30p.m., ate dinner, and went to bed.  I haven’t slept that soundly in a long, long time!

Spiritual Nourishment

When morning dawned, it was time to eat, pack, and get back on the road.  We couldn’t leave the area without detouring to Nauvoo and Carthage, though.  We arrived in Nauvoo around noon, and I quickly realized that I had no idea where I was going.  We found a parking area, and started walking.  My son was NOT a happy camper — the temperature display on a nearby bank said that it was 100 degrees.  As we turned the corner, I saw a sight that nearly made me cry:

I have never been inside the Nauvoo temple, nor did I have any direct involvement in the rebuilding effort.  But somehow, just standing there, I could feel the spirit of the place, and I was humbled.  I dragged my son across the street for a closer look.

The statue of Joseph and Hyrum leaving Nauvoo is stunning.

Knowing that I could rely on the kindness of Latter-day Saints, I stopped a sister going into the temple and explained that we were completely lost and wanted to find “Old Nauvoo.”  After she made sure that she knew what I was talking about, she kindly pointed us in the right direction and gave us some pass along cards about the temple and Nauvoo.

I really wish I had been able to allot more time to stay in Nauvoo.  We only got to visit about three buildings.  My son and I were walked through the process of making rope, and my son was pretty impressed that he got to keep what we made.  I loved the stories that the missionaries told as we visited the bakery and the drugstore.  I was so entranced that I forgot to take any pictures, so we took a couple as we were leaving town.

This statue is actually inside the visitor’s center, which we stopped at before going into the the rest of the town.  I could have stayed and really studied a lot of the displays there.  There is a spirit inside the visitor’s center that just invites reverence and reflection for those who sacrificed so much to preserve the restored gospel.

We took a small highway beside the Mississippi River to get to Carthage.  Again, it is beautiful country.  My son didn’t completely appreciate the joy of driving a road that looks like it could dump you in the river around almost every curve….

We arrived in Carthage around 3:30 p.m.  The jail is just one small place, but there is a huge spirit that tells you something special happened there.  My son was much more accepting of this stop.  I’m not sure if it was because so much of the visit was air-conditioned, or if he really felt the spirit of the place, too.

I loved the video they show before the tour.  I knew most of the stories they showed about the prophet, but it was powerful to see them strung together, to see that this was a man who had to be called of God or he could have never done what he did.  So many of the stories just illustrate the love of God that lived in his heart.  After the video, we moved over to the jail.

The jail is incredibly small, and the jailer and his wife had seven kids.  It’s amazing to think about the day-to-day things that we would find so hard that women and men did as a matter of daily life 150 years ago.  I took a picture of the key ring.  To me, it’s really telling to see the club attached.

Sister Zebetti, who was leading our tour, seemed to take a special interest in my son.  She had him close the door to the holding cell, and I could feel the atmosphere of the room change.  Sister Zebetti told us about how Joseph, Hyrum, and several friends spent their first night in this room, sleeping on the hard wood floor.  Normally, this cell was used for short-term holdings until the judge could be brought in to decide the sentence.

These two pictures are of the dungeon cell upstairs.  This is probably where Joseph and Hyrum were supposed to be held.  I was using the night feature on my camera again, so you don’t really get a feeling for how dark and oppressive this room really is from the picture on the left.  The picture on the right is one of the windows in the room.  There were only three or four of these to light the whole room, and one little lamp in the cell.  The bed was a pile of straw with a thin mattress thrown over it.  I can only imagine what the buckets in the cell were used for.

For reasons I may never know, the jailer decided to let Joseph, Hyrum, and the other men with them use his bedroom next to the dungeon room.  It was much brighter, and there was a writing desk, a proper bed, and a fireplace.  The events of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s deaths have been well-documented.  I could feel the room fill with the presence of the Holy Spirit as Sister Zebetti retold the story.  For a brief moment, I could almost see Hyrum’s body lying in the floor, and see Joseph run to the window.  The most moving event at the end was when the sister missionary was bearing her testimony and boldly declared that she felt moved to tell someone in the room that Heavenly Father had not forgotten them, and that He was very aware of them and their circumstances.  It was quite humbling to see someone so much younger than I speak so frankly what had been laid upon her heart.

Returning Home

We left Carthage and started the drive home.  Fortunately, I had spend my afternoon “lag time” in Nauvoo and Carthage, so the drive home was very uneventful.  I have a terrific time just talking with my son.  We goofed off a lot.  Toward the end of the drive, my son decided to video some of our conversation.  I decided not to include it in this blog.  Let’s just say it’s proof that living the Word of Wisdom and avoiding drugs and alcohol is a very wise decision for me….

So, in the end, I could have stayed home and used that money to erase some debt.  I could have avoided the anxiety attack I had the first evening as I fought my old programming that I wasn’t good enough to pull this vacation off successfully and had just majorly screwed up.  But, I had a little over two days to relax and connect with my son.  That was worth every penny and more.