Our Cross Country Vacation 2010

Our Cross Country Vacation 2010

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Well, after a few GPS glitches (aka darn thing keeps sending us to places that don’t exist), we have finally on our way to our first destination…. Chicago.
The kids are beyond excited to be staying in a city, as we have never before vacationed with them anywhere like this before.
So far, aside from me losing my mind a few times, and Will deciding that crying for a few hours straight might “help”, the trip has been going well and kids have even been singing in the car with Russ and I… real Partridge Family like ;O)

Part 1
How Stink Eye Led to Lake Erie
Our first official full day of our vacation entailed us driving from Pennsylvania to Chicago. Having looked at the map before planning the trip, we knew it was going to be a looooong haul that first day, so we actually left the night before from our home and stayed the first night in Puxatawney (yes, of Ground Hog fame).However, even with the “jump” on our day, we still had a good 8 our drive ahead of ourselves and once we really started driving, and driving, and driving we realized if we didn’t stop somewhere and let the kids out to run, we might have a full-blown melt down on our hands ala Will…
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We pretty much know when Will starts to give us “the stink eye”, that fun time is limited and the real adventure is only just beginning.

So, we made an unplanned detour.
I searched on our atlas and we decided to take the kids to a beach along Lake Erie.
It was not a pretty day. It wasn’t even a warm day.
It was yucky and drizzling and the sky was grey, grey and grey.
But the kids…. they were literally jumping with joy to get out of the van.
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and Will…
Well, he CLEARLY needed to get out and run off some steam.
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We spent about 45 minutes at the lake. Just dipping our feet in the icy water, collecting stones, playing in the sand and running around.
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It was the perfect break in our day and as we set off from the beach, the kids were more relaxed and both Will and Emma even fell asleep and napped for a while as we made our way, late into the night, to Chicago….

(stay tuned…)

That afternoon at the beach and the memories we made at Lake Erie Make My Monday.

Part 2
It Only Took 99 Bottles of Beer…
So, that first day…
after leaving Lake Erie and driving and then stopping for dinner and then seeing a beautiful sunset in Indiana…
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And singing LOTS of “car tunes”….
(and if I can EVER locate the darn video of us singing 99 Bottles of Beer… I will load it. I promise! Because, well, we sang ALL 99 VERSES!!!)

We finally arrived in Chicago!
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And, OMGOSH! We were not prepared for the SPEEDING cars. Through the city.
(I’ve been to NYC and driven during the night and never, and I mean never, have I seen traffic FLYING like it did in Chicago. Apparently, in Chicago, pedestrians do not have the right of way…)

We had to drive through the center of town because we were staying in the downtown Embassy Suites thanks to Brandi. (she had won a one night stay in Chicago and knew she couldn’t use it, so she passed it on to us.)
The even more amazing thing is when I called to make our reservations and started to tell the hotel that we were traveling with our family cross-country, they upgraded us to a double suite!

So, as we drove through the city and ooooooh’d and aaaaaaahhhh’d over the lights and the huge buildings, it suddenly occured to me that we would probably be staying in a huge building. (me! I’m deathly afraid of heights!)
And, sure enough, we pulled onto the street and there before us was a huge, I don’t even know how many stories, hotel with a parking garage which read: No Over-sized Vehicles

Ummmm…
huh?
What to do? What to do?

I called the hotel and they assured us that valet “could handle it”, and, they did!
We checked into and up we went…. up to the TENTH floor.
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Where the view was AMAZING.
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And it was so spacious.
And then…
There was a knock on the door and there was a delivery for Emma…
An American Girl Doll Package.
It included a new bed for her Bitty Baby (which she named “Bitty”. LOL), a package filled with snacks for her and a special package filled for Bitty too.
Emma was on cloud 9.
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And, well, with some coaxing, she finally gave me a nice smile.
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And then we called it a night.

Part 3
Four Years Later, We Arrived in Chicago
Four years ago, Russ and I started saying we were going to take a cross-country trip with the kids and for four years, we ended up finding excuse after excuse as to why the trip just wasn’t going to happen….
Granted, I did give birth to twins.
My dad DID have a transplant.
And then, another year, my dad had a major stroke….
So, it’s not like the reasons weren’t legitimate.
But, it was depressing.
We desperately wanted to visit my brother and best friend in Utah and Russ’ Uncle Pete in Chicago and that day we rolled into Chicago, it was like 4 years worth of promises had finally come to pass.
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We met Russ’ Uncle Pete and his girlfriend Chris in the lobby of the Embassy Suite
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And Pete took the reigns and led us out the door and into the amazing city of Chicago…
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I have to admit, I’m lucky I wasn’t hit by a car, because I spent most of the time I was walking with my head (and camera) pointed upward just admiring the beautiful architecture.
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And, I’m happy to report that the beauty was not lost on the kids either and they all kept pointing from one building to another, saying things like,” Oh wow, look at the arch over those windows.”

Pete led us to Wrigley Square and the kids were in love. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, with a light breeze and limited crowds, so we had plenty of time to explore all of the really cool art…
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The older kids fell in love with Cloud Gate, affectionately called The Bean by Chicagoans
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The coolest part about The Bean is that it doesn’t matter where you are, the image you see looks really cool and every picture you take looks even cooler 🙂
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From The Bean, we discovered The Crown Fountain and OMGOSH, I think we hung out there for at least an hour watching Will just giggle, and run, and have the time of his life.
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Of course, Will wasn’t the only one who took his shoes off and allowed his clothes to become saturated. ALL of the kids had a blast and looking around and seeing how much fun they were having made me wonder just how many kids hang out there in the summer FOR FREE…
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I sure was glad school was still in session in Chicago, because it meant my kids had no crowds to fight with and plenty of water to splash in.
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Once we were able to drag the kids away from the water, Pete led us through the city and toward the coastline, where we walked along Lake Michigan and ended up in front of Buckingham Fountain.
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We walked along the lake, amazed at the sheer size, watched the sailboats and the ran as the seagulls dove towards us.
It felt like we walked for hours and, let me tell you, Pete walks FAST, so we covered a lot of ground in that day and ended our walking tour at the Field Museum.
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Although it wasn’t one of Will’s favorite things to do for the day {read: he hated it and screamed until he fell asleep}, the other kids loved that it reminded them of Night at the Museum. There was a little bit of everything to see and the kids kept wondering when we would run into Teddy Roosevelt, Jedediah or Sacajawea 😉
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By the end of the day, we were EXHAUSTED and Pete decided that maybe we should grab a water taxi to get back to our cars rather than walk through the whole city again and, well, he didn’t have to suggest it more than once.
We were down with that!
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It was really getting chilly by this time, so Chris and I stayed inside the boat with Emma and Will for the ride along with Alex and Teddy & everyone else braved the cold wind on Lake Michigan and enjoyed the beautiful view.
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After getting everyone piled into our van and Uncle Pete’s car, we followed them home for dinner and then spent the night there and had such a wonderful time.
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There is NO WAY we will let another 4 years go by before we head back to Chicago to visit again. Thanks so much Pete & Chris! We had a great time!

Part 4
If I Had to describe Iowa in One Word: Farmland
After spending a full & exhausting day in Chicago, we decided that we wanted to get some miles under our belt the next day and chose to just “breeze” through the rest of the state of Illinois and the entire state of Iowa, stopping only to eat and get out to stretch our legs.
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We arrived in Iowa by the middle of the afternoon and I was in “farm heaven”….
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In case you have never peeked at my 365 blog before, I’ll fill you in a little.
I have a problem. It’s an addiction really.
For barns.
I LOVE them.
I make Russ stop in the middle of the road so that I can jump out and snap photos of barns, farms, cows, tractors…anything farm-like really.
And Iowa…. oh Iowa….
You did not disappoint.
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Of course, there were TWO PEOPLE in the van who disagreed with me and napped instead….
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More scenic beauty for me to enjoy in peace and quiet.
OK, who am I kidding?
There were 7 other kids in the car and neither Emma or Will slept all that long,
but still….
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It was beautiful. And the older kids thought so too. And you could hear the snap. snap, snapping of cameras in the van as we slowly drove along the scenic byway.
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We stopped at a diner along the border of Iowa and Nebraska after driving for HOURS wondering where the heck the people of Iowa possibly eat. (seriously, NONE of the rest stops had food!)
When we walked outside to go back to our van, we were greeted with the most vibrant sunset I think I have ever seen…
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We snapped a few shots and then followed the sun west into Nebraska.

Part 5
Nebraska. Home to Buffalo Bill
Once we arrived in Nebraska and were driving in the light of day, we realized that although we were still driving through LOTS of farms, this farmland was different from Iowa.
Nebraska farmers have lots and lots of horses…. and cattle.
(it was like a big silly light bulb going off for Russ & I… oh yeah. Omaha Steaks! LOL)
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We honestly had no clue where we were going to stop in Nebraska, just that we needed to make our way through the state and into Wyoming by night’s end, in order to make it to Colorado to meet up with friends the next day.
So, when we saw Buffalo Bill’s Scout’s Rest Ranch advertised on a sign, we decided to take a peek and see if it was worth stretching our legs….
Turns out, it was 🙂
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His beautiful old home… filled with lots and lots of artifacts from Buffalo Bill’s life and family.
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From the house, we headed to the huge barn on the property.
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Inside, it was full of item’s from the Wild West, as well as carriages and wagons
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The entire ranch is settled on 25 beautiful acres….
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The kids saw the huge field of tall prairie grass and just had to re-enact the opening scene to Little House on the Prairie….
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And, then they saw the buffalo!
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The sky started to look a little less friendly, so we quickly walked along the path to view Buffalo Bill’s original long cabin.
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Then we snapped a photo of the kids all sitting together
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…and got everyone back into the van and hit the road….

A few hours into our drive, I received a call from my friend Jess, whom we were supposed to visit in Colorado the next day.
Her words, ” Um, Deb? How close are you to Cheyenne?”
Me, ” We’re still a couple of hours. Why?”
Jess,” They’re under tornado warnings for the next hour or so.”

Good times.
Just you wait…..

Part 6
Auntie Em! ToTo! It’s a Twister!
After talking to my friend Jess and hearing we could potentially be driving toward a tornado in Wyoming, we considered driving straight into Colorado, until we found out that they, too, were on tornado warning.
What to do?
What to do?
I called my brother Scott, who lives in Utah, and asked him to go online and check the forecast for me. He searched on a radar site and called me back to tell me, ” Cheyenne should be in the clear by the time you get close. Go ahead and drive to Wyoming.”
Good Call, Scott.
NOT!

So, against my best judgement, instead of stopping for the night in Nebraska and losing a day of driving, we drove on and the sky got darker and more luminous. And, the more I protested about us driving further, the more Russ insisted that we would be fine…
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“No.”
So, we continued driving…
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But, we continued driving…
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So, we continued driving…
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“Oh dear God! holy sh*t! Pull over! Pull over! Dear God! Pull over!” – me, clearly not handling the situation very well.
And, Russ, well, he continued driving….
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Finally noticing that the clouds were looking hellish and seeing that I had my hand on the door, ready to jump out of the van and make a run for it with the kids, Russ realized he better stop…
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He pulled the van off the highway and drove up onto a high driveway where other cars had parked together and at my urging
frantic screaming like a crazed person
, he got out of the van and asked them if they had heard anything about the tornados.
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In fact, they had. They were a bunch of amateur storm chasers and were following the storm with a radar and they assured us that we were safe and that we should stay right where we were.
So, we did…
And, for the 1st time in any of our lives, we watched as the storm built up and formed into a tornado right there in front of us…
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and then more tornados formed….
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And it all came to an end in front of us when it formed into one HUGE tornado that took it’s time and moved across the plains in front of us. (I know it actually happened fast, but it felt like it lasted forever)
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After that passed by, the storm chasers came over to the van and told us not to head to Cheyenne because the storm was heading back that way again. So, we had no choice but to turn ourselves around and head south east into Colorado.
ps We learned 2 things while experiencing these tornados…
#1 I take HORRIBLE pictures through the windshield when I am freaking out.
#2 Speaking of FREAKING OUT… I do NOT handle high stress situations very well.

Part 7
Garden of the Gods w/ the Whitts
After back-tracking from Wyoming into Colorado and having my friend Sharlene book a hotel for us, we woke up thankful and excited about the day ahead of us.
We were going to be meeting up with my friend Jess and her family in Colorado Springs and although the weather looked gloomy outside, there were no tornados in the forecast, so all was well 🙂
We piled the kids into the van and met Jess and the kids at a McDonalds and then proceeded to follow Jess to the Air Force Academy to see the beautiful Cadet Chapel.

When we arrived, we first had to exchange hugs. It had been many months since we had seen their family… since they had traveled to Pennsylvania on their own cross country trip.
The little girlies, Emma & Piper, were timid for all of a few seconds, and then Emma broke the ice with her “thumb story” (a few months ago, Emma hurt her thumb and she’s still telling the tale. LOL)
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We walked up to the Chapel and the view was amazing. It over-looked the academy and the kids were all pretty excited to see the cadets in training.
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The inside of the Cadet Chapel was AMAZING. Just absolutely beautiful and I can only imagine how it must sound inside there when a choir is singing.
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After walking around in the garden areas for a bit, and letting the kids run off a little steam, we realized that the sky was looking gloomier & gloomier and if we wanted to do anything else, we needed to “hit the road”.
So, we piled back into our vans and followed Jess to the Garden of the Gods
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We couldn’t help but say “oooooh” and “ahhhhh” as soon as we took in the view.
Wow.
Just wow.
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Stephanie stepped up her “nannying skills” and I’m pretty sure that all the love Jess feels for Stephanie magnified 🙂
(I know my love did)
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As adorable as it was seeing Emma & Piper holding hands, giggling together, and just having a wonderful time together, it just screamed at me that Tuesday is missing.
I know that Emma is often lonely because Will is not anywhere near the same level she is and he just doesn’t have the ability to play with her, so she just LOVED having another little girl to run & play with her.
But Piper… for Piper, it’s just so much more….
And it was heartwarming and heartbreaking to see Emma & Piper filling each others’ voids…

You would think no time had gone by since we had last seen one another, because the boys were not shy even a little bit about rough-housing and , well, just being boys.
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At the end of the walk, we realized we hadn’t rounded up all of the kids and taken any pictures and it was starting to rain. So, we quickly had them climb next to a big rock formation and snapped a few pictures. (not an easy task with 12 kids)
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After we left Garden of the Gods, we went back to the Whitt’s house, where Charley was waiting for us with gourmet burgers, cold beer, & Mexican caviar.
The kids all played until it was well after dark, while Charley, Jess, Russ & I sat outside by the fire enjoying the beautiful night air.
When it was time to leave, it was hard saying “good-bye”…. as it always is and as we drove off, I realized that I didn’t have anyone take a single picture of Jess & I together 🙁
(ok, just one more reason I need to get together with her again…. perhaps North Carolina?)

Part 8
Prairie Dogs Will Eat Right Out of Your Hands!!!
We woke up bright and early in Colorado and went down to a delicious gourmet breakfast at our hotel and on the way down in the elevator Emma talked the ears off of anyone who would listen. She had to tell everyone she met that “Will is my birthday brother”, to which I then had to explain she had a twin brother who was already down at breakfast with his daddy.
Once arriving for breakfast, Emma made her rounds from table to table, introducing herself to everyone there and telling them, ” We’re going to Utah and the Grand Canyon.”
This, of course, always led to Russ or I getting into conversations with people about our family, our vacation and where we’ve already been….
On this particular morning, we met a very friendly family that was also traveling cross country and we all swapped stories of where we have been and what we had seen 🙂

From breakfast, we packed up the van and drove out of Colorado and into Wyoming.
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We were amazed at all of the open land in Wyoming. Just fields and fields of….. nothing but pretty country.
And, we were even more amazed when I looked at our map and realized we were 13,000 feet above sea level!
No wonder we were seeing snow in May!

After driving for a few hours, we pulled off at a rest stop, everyone had a potty break and as we were heading back to our van Teddy started to get excited and was jumping around like a lunatic.
“Mom! Look! What is that???”
I looked across the street and saw… prairie dogs!
Eating peanuts from the hands of another family that had stopped at the rest area.

Of course, my kids HAD to go check out the prairie dogs too.
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OMGOSH! They were SOOOOO cute! And not afraid even a little bit!
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Keith, Stephanie & Teddy all fed them from their hands (and I must admit, the entire time, I was screaming “Rabies!” in my head)

After that stop, we had the “big push” to Utah.
8 hours of driving through the mountains and pretty much nothing else for the eyes to see for miles, and miles, and miles, and miles, and miles….
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As the sun started to set, it was increasingly difficult to drive with the sun in our eyes.
Who knew the sun setting at 13,000 feet could be blinding? LOL
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Just as the sun ducked completely behind the mountains, we crossed over into Utah.
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Just a few hours more to drive and we would arrive at my brothers house and fulfil our promise we made to him four years prior.

My brother Scott & his family actually ended up having to meet us at the gates of his Air Force Base so that we could be signed in. We all raced from our cars to exchange hugs and then we signed in as quickly as we could so that we could get to their house and settle in for the next few days.
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Back at the house, my niece Brianna introduced all of the kids to her…MICE!
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(as cute as these pictures are… it still freaks me out hundreds of miles away. LOL)

Part 9
Nothing Like a Family Visit to Warm the Soul 🙂
Our first day in Utah, we decided to make it a very lazy day for a few reasons…
One, we had already spent many days on the go, go, go…
Two, we just wanted to soak up all of the love from my brother and his family and my best friend and her family.
So, that’s just what we did 🙂
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Angela is my childhood friend. We have been the best of friends since we were 7 years old and shortly after the sudden death of her father while we were in high school, her mom moved her family back to Utah and she has been there ever since.
It almost felt like divine intervention when my brother Scott was stationed at Hill Air Force Base because he happens to only live about 20 minutes from Ang and her family.
And, nearly 20 years after Angela moved to Utah, I finally made the trip out to visit her family with my entire family and the best part… we visited my brother as well.
We were one big happy family!
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My brother and his wife, Wendy, hosted all of us at their beautiful new home for a delicious BBQ where my brother served up some of his homemade BBQ wings.
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There were plenty of hugs and kisses to go around and even a little love in the air…
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Part 10
Our Utah Vacation Continues…
For the next 2 days, we just “relaxed” in Utah…
seeing the sights,
hanging out with friends & family,
& watching my niece play baseball….
It was wonderful.
And too short.
But every single moment was priceless.

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My niece, Bri, plays baseball for a league for special needs kids and while we were there, they asked if Will would like to give it a try…
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The park where Bri plays ball had an AWESOME playground for special needs kids, with a HUGE emphasis on sensory needs. Will was in heaven and it was the first time he’s ever really played at a playground. (I can’t even describe how that made me feel.)
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From the game, we made our way to Crown Burger for lunch. (we’d never eaten there before, but had heard LOTS of great things…. and everything was right. Thanks Sean Hannity for the suggestion!) YUM!
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Time to head to Salt Lake City…
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And back home again to hang out & have dinner with Angela’s family….
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The next day…
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And then back to the house so the kids could hang out with my brother’s family & Russ…
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And, Ang & I could go out to dinner ALONE…
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No kids.
No hassles.
No time limit.
Just sitting and enjoying ourselves.
And talking. Really talking.
And crying a little.
But, mostly laughing…
And wishing miles didn’t separate us.

Part 11
The Boufs Take On Arches Nat’l Park
It was time to say “goodbye” to my brother’s house, but not time to say “goodbye” to my brother & his family, because they were coming with us to the Grand Canyon. YEAH!
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We wanted to break up our drive from Salt Lake to Arizona, so we planned a bunch of stops along the way. Our first stop…
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Arches National Park.
The view, all 360 degrees, was absolutely beautiful. I found myself stopping and just standing in awe.
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Just a sampling of some of the beautiful and vibrant flowers in the desert.

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If you have a two-some you’d like to share about today, please link up 🙂
(and don’t forget to leave me a comment too! Cos, you know, I love me some comments.)


…and, I know it’s Twos-day, but I had to share these photos from that day as well 🙂
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Part 12
and back on the road we go…
Picking up where I left off with my cross country vacation, from Utah we headed southeast to New Mexico hoping to arrive at Four Corners to play a game of “Twister” with all of the kids…
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It was closed.
Closed.
The place where the corners of 4 states meet together in a perfect right angle was closed.
For construction (?!?)
Seriously, how much work can 4 corners need?
Oh well, whatever!
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We got back on the road, disappointed, but ready for a big day of sight-seeing in Arizona….
But first, the country-side.
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After a few hours of driving, we arrived at our next destination…
The Painted Desert & The Petrified Forest of Arizona
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Pretty cool, but Route 66 actually ran straight through the National Park and of course, we had to stop to take pictures 🙂
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There was a CRAZY raven sitting at the Route 66 site and after we finished taking our photos, it decided to “buzz” our van and my brother’s truck and was actually dive-bombing our vehicles, to the point where we were fearful it would come in the windows. (and, really “special”, but we were pulled over by a park ranger who suspected that we had been feeding the raven because “they ONLY do that if you’re feeding them.” – hated to break it to him, but we hadn’t done anything but photograph the dumb bird.)
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From Route 66, we made our way to the Petrified Forest.
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After spending nearly the whole day either on the road or exploring Arizona, it was time to get back on the road and head to our campsites (aka our teepees!)
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We arrived at our campsite late that night and set up camp as quickly as we could, which actually meant unloading TONS of bags, blankets & food. We put the little ones to bed and amazingly, they went right to sleep and then the bigger kids roasted some marshmallows and we all called it a night.
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Part 13
The Grand Canyon. Nuff Said.
Yep. I am STILL telling about our cross country vacation (partly because I’m not blogging as much and partly because I’m only doing a vacation post once a week. – I’m thinking I’ll be done telling about the trip by Christmas. LOL)

Anyway, we left off with us going to bed in our teepees in Arizona just one hour from the Grand Canyon….
We woke up after having a gorgeous cool evening for perfect sleeping weather. We had all snuggled into our sleeping bags, with the cool Arizona night air and for the first time on our vacation, we all slept in.
That morning, Russ and my brother Scott woke up and started making breakfast for us over the fire (is there anything better than waking up to the smell of bacon & coffee at a campsite????)
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But first….
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Then, it was on to the Grand Canyon.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I knew it was a HUGE canyon, but I didn’t know if it would just be there as we were driving along or if it would be fenced off and an official park (it was).
I was honestly a little disappointed at how commercialized that it was, but all of that drifted away when we stepped foot on the outer rim and started walking.
Photobucket I figured I would just let the pictures speak for themselves, but I did want to say, don’t let them fool you. My kids WERE pretty close to the edge, but probably with about a foot between themselves and the drop to death. And, the.entire.time my heart was in my throat.
The.Entire.Time.
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I know it’s probably horrible of me to say, but coming from someone who is used to having green, green & more green ALL around me, I wasn’t very impressed with the vegetation in the Grand Canyon. (luckily, the Canyon itself certainly made up for that 😉
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Sadly, toward the end of our hike, it became apparent that a very large fire must’ve burned through that area, because everything was just dead.
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At the end of our hike, which was a couple of miles long, we sat on a wall that ran along the rim and waited for the tour bus to pick us up.
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And, while I had heart failure because Emma & Bri were SO close to the edge, my sister-in-law Wendy & Stephanie decided to pose the girls and take these adorable pictures. (guess it was worth me taking a few Xanax…jk)
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Once we arrived back at the parking lots, we got in our vehicles and drove further around the canyon so that we could take in some more of the amazing views. (because my niece is in a wheelchair, we were able to drive our vehicles in areas that normally only allow buses)
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Photobucket I’ll admit, the views from this last ridge were fantastic, but HOLY cow, they were super high and those fences…. SCARY. (we kept Will in the van for this part. YIKES!)

Although we hadn’t seen the sunset over the canyon like I was hoping, our legs, backs, and tummies were telling us it was time to head back to camp.
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We decided to take a different route home from the canyon to our campsite and were shocked to see snow on mountains.(hadn’t we just left the desert????)
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Back at camp, the guys took their places at the grill again and made delicious dinnerfor all of us, including steaks and orange cakes.
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Of course, some people were just too tired to hang out and went to bed 😉
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The rest of us spent the night around the fire, telling silly stories, singing and laughing.
What a great time!
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Part 14
Me, a Michelle Duggar Wannabe?
Heehee, I figured after my post the other day about 20 Kids & Counting and now this… the title seemed appropriate 😉

Yep. I am STILL telling about our cross country vacation (partly because I’m not blogging as much and partly because I’m only doing a vacation post once a week. – I’m thinking I’ll be done telling about the trip by Christmas. LOL)

After we had spent back to back days visiting Arches Nat’l Park, The Painted Desert and then the Grand Canyon we woke up that last morning in Arizona sad to be saying goodbye to my brother and his family, but happy to have a couple days of “nothingness” ahead of us.
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We said our “goodbyes”, which is always hard, especially since my brother Scott ALWAYS makes me cry.
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Then, after shedding some tears and being sure we hadn’t left anything behind at the campsite (we did), we packed up in the van and headed for New Mexico.
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Our plan was to make it as close to the Texas border as possible, find a hotel for the night, celebrate Stephanie’s SIXTEENTH birthday by having a nice breakfast out the next morning, and then driving on into Amarillo for a 2 day stay.
We stuck to the plan, but New Mexico proved to definitely be one of the hardest states to find a hotel room on a whim when you need two adjoining rooms and we settled on a remote town in the middle of NOTHING for the night. And finding a restaurant that served breakfast proved to be an even bigger challenge. (thank God for our GPS or we wouldn’t have found anything!)

Finally, we arrived at Denny’s.
Although it’s not my favorite restaurant, we were excited to find out that Steph’s breakfast was free because it was her birthday. So, we let her choose a fancy schmancy drink from the menu as well 🙂
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(we always know we can count on both Keith and Emma for some slightly inappropriate dining entertainment 😉

From breakfast, we head out for the Texas border.
I have to admit, most people thought we were crazy for being excited about going to Texas, but for a very conservative, Christian family, Texas is like Disneyland to us and we couldn’t wait to cross the border into a state where the Constitution is more than just a piece of paper.
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My first impression of Texas may not have lived up to my expectations….
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It was so HOT and dry and dusty and not that I didn’t expect it, but I guess I was expecting to see ranches right away…..
And then…. we did!

In the distance, I saw this formation on the side of the road and as we got closer I started to yell and tell Russ to pull over.
“I know what that is! We HAVE to go there!”
The Cadillac Ranch!
Photobucket I had first heard about the Cadillac Ranch on a TLC special about the Duggars traveling cross country (on a trip very similar to ours) and they had stopped at the ranch and decorated the Cadillacs and as soon as I saw it, I knew we needed to stop too 🙂
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We finally found some spray paint that worked (there were bottles all over the ground. Kind-of sad really.) and we left our mark on Amarillo, Texas 😉
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After baking in the sun for a bit, we piled back into the van for our short ride to our hotel room (aka our home for 2 days).
While Russ checked in, the older kids unloaded their things from the van and I took Emma and Will out and let them “play” in the shade…
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Photobucket Yeah, and it’s a good thing we decided to stop for a few days, because I think all the stopping & going was beginning to get to us all and we needed a break.

Part 15
Everything’s Bigger in Texas!
Especially the temperature!
HOLY!
After spending hot days & cool nights in Arizona, we knew we were in for more heat in Texas but, wow, we had NO IDEA it would be so darn hot and humid.
105 degrees to be exact.
So, we quickly decided that our vacation days in Amarillo, Texas were going to be spent indoors…. sight-seeing, eating, swimming, and eating.
(ok, let me be honest. Russ & I had one plan and one plan only when we arrived in Texas and that was to enjoy some real Texas down-home BBQ and some yummy Tex-Mex good eats.)
So, eating is what we did 😉
And we got up bright and early to do it too 😉
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We piled the kids into the van, grabbed our Amarillo Guidebook and drove around all morning, buying souvenirs, sight-seeing, & searching for the perfect Tex-Mex place to eat for lunch and boy did we find that in Fernandos.
OMGOSH! The food was DELICIOUS and the price… amazing!
And their salsa & pico… to die for!
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After lunch, we HAD to go back to the hotel so Will could take a nap and to allow the kids, Russ and I to rest off and swim off our lunch. (we were STUFFED!)
We had already decided that we were going to go to the Big Texan Steak Ranch for dinner, so we knew we needed to “make room” 😉
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After swimming in the hotel pool for a couple of hours, we went back to the hotel room, woke up Will and Russ (who had fallen asleep while watching Will. LOL) and we all got ready for our limousines to pick us up for dinner.
Yes, limos! The Big Texan Steak Ranch offers a limo service to and from the restaurant and we figured “What the heck! We only live once!”, so we ordered 2 limos and the kids were SO excited when they arrived and saw that our drivers were cowboys 🙂
(would you believe I took NO photos of the limos or the kids in them??? me either!)

Once we arrived, it lived up to everything we hoped it would and the kids…. were in love 🙂
Seriously, what’s not to love about a restaurant with a shooting gallery, a gift shop, horses & yummy food!?!
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Finally we were called back to our table where Russ & I enjoyed some awesome Ziegen Bock beer, the kids had their tea in a boot, we watched 2 guys try to eat 72oz steaks (OMG!) and were serenaded by The Big Texan Singers and the food…. OH YUM!
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Photobucket And, in true mommy fashion, I tried desperately to get a picture of both Emma & Will in their adorable cowboy hats…
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After dinner, we head outside into the cooler Texan night air and waited for our limos to take us home.
And, of course, while waiting,
I forced the kids
the kids begged me to take their pictures while they posed for me and signed the giant boot 😉
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As we drove away and headed back to the hotel, I turned back to see the flags outside of the restaurant and took this photo…
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Part 16
After spending a few days “resting” in Texas (aka EATING), we prepared for the long ride home.Photobucket
I’ll be honest, I was FREAKED out knowing we were going to be driving through Oklahoma.
After our near miss with the tornados in Wyoming, the last thing I wanted to do was drive straight through tornado alley during the peak tornado season, but drive through is exactly what we did.
We left Texas on what had to have been the hottest day known to man (ok, I’m exaggerating, but HOLY COW, it was HOT and HUMID!) and the temperature didn’t get much better as we hit the Oklahoma border.
Photobucket If anything, the sky became more hazy and the temperature more sticky.
Photobucket As we pulled our van into Oklahoma City, we were astounded by the total lack of cars or people anywhere.
Photobucket Of course, once we turned off our AC and got out of the van, we knew why. It had to have been over 100 degrees and the humidity made it feel like it was 500 degrees. (definitely an exaggeration, but LORD it was gross!)
However, nothing was going to keep us from stopping at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and paying our respects, especially because it was Memorial Day.
Photobucket The first area we walked into was the Children’s Area, where there is a wall filled with tiles that were created by children across America in honor of the 19 children who lost their lives on the day of the bombing.
There is also a large sidewalk area where anyone can use chalk to leave messages of hope and love.
I can not tell you the feeling it gave us standing there viewing those tiles. But I can tell you that aside from Emma & Will chatting, everyone else in my family was silent…
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Photobucket From the Children’s Area we walked over to the Reflecting Pool.
It was here that the symbolism of the times above the monuments were explained to us…
9:01 Reflects the time of our innocence
9:03 Reflects the time we were forever changed.
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Russ and I stood with the kids and prayed here for all that was lost on that fateful day in 1995.
Photobucket From the Pool, we moved on to the Field of Empty Chairs.
Photobucket The sight of the 19 smaller chairs among the 149 larger chairs is something I think I will never forget. The symbolism at this memorial was deafening.
Photobucket It was breath-taking to see what was left of the original building and to see the list of names upon those walls.
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Photobucket We walked around the entire building and I think what struck me most was that my kids completely understood the significance of what they were experiencing and they respected why we were there.
We walked in silence or talked in hushed voices and remembered…
Photobucket We finished our walk in front of the Survivor Tree.
Photobucket This tree remained standing after the bombs went off and remains standing as a symbol of the resilience of the people of Oklahoma and the people of this country….
deeply rooted.
Photobucket Of all of the places we had visited up until this point, I don’t think anything had touched us so deeply.

Part 17
After leaving Oklahoma I took a look at the map and figured that we would just head straight on home to Pennsylvania. Well, we knew it was going to be a few days more of driving, but I didn’t schedule any more stops along the way.
We figured we would stop to eat and sleep only and then head on our way again.
So driving is what we did and while I would love to say the kids didn’t spend a a good portion of time watching DVDS, they did.
(of course, I got some great travel tips from Baby Safe Travels, so we didn’t have to depend on the TV too much.
Seriously, if you’re going on a trip, check out their ideas!)
Photobucket Thankfully for us, Henry has this “special power” when it comes to both Emma and Will and he managed to keep them happy and giggling for 99% of our drive.

We stuck to our plan, grabbing a quick breakfast and then driving, then a quick lunch and then driving and then suddenly, on the horizon, there it was….
Photobucket The Gateway Arch!

How I had forgotten it, I have no idea, but the second I saw it, I knew we HAD to stop.
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We parked our van right along the Mississippi River and watched the paddle boats go by for a while and then made our way to the arch.
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We were SHOCKED when we got closer at how HUGE it really was.
Because we hadn’t planned a visit, I hadn’t done any research, so I honestly had no idea what to expect.
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While standing under the arch, dark clouds started to quickly roll in, so we took a few more quick shots under the arch and ran inside.
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Photobucket As soon as we stepped inside, we realized that EVERYONE else had the same idea. The place was packed. Wall-to-wall people.
So rather than wait in line for a few hours to get in a teeny tiny elevator to go to the top (which would make me vomit anyway), we walked through the stores and the museums instead.
Then we made a mad dash through the most intense lightning storm I think I have ever seen before. The entire time we were running from the Arch to the Mississippi, I was paranoid and praying that God would spare us. (nothing like running to a van literally parked on the river while the lightning is striking the world around you.)

Soaking wet, we made our way out of St Louis and began our long drive to Indiana for the night.
And, just as we left the city, this appeared on the horizon…
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Beautiful & so vibrant!

Once again, Henry entertained Emma & Will until they fell asleep.
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Our drive from Missouri to Indiana was filled with peace and one of the most beautiful and vibrant sunsets of our entire vacation.
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Part 18
As my family gears up for the Restoring Honor Rally in Washington, DC on Saturday, it seems almost perfect that I am winding up telling about my family’s cross country vacation by sharing about our visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania. The rally we are going to in Washington this weekend is all about faith, hope & charity and about honoring those who came before us who embodied those qualities in this country and quite frankly, I can’t think of a better way to describe those men & women on Flight 93 who gave their lives to save so many others…

As our vacation was coming to an end, we finally started to see the green rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains (complete with me singing Take Me Home, Country Roads) , & we knew we were finally getting close to Pennsylvania.
Photobucket Then, finally, after 22 days on the road, we crossed the border into out home state.
Photobucket As I looked at the maps and discovered how many hours we had left for our drive, there it was…
Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Without hesitation, I immediately tried to put Flight 93 Memorial into our GPS and we were surprised to find it did not come up.
The memorial was also not mentioned along the major highway we were driving on, nor was it on our map, so we allowed God to guide me as I gave Russ directions to the town of Shanksville, where we hoped, once there, we would see signs to lead us the rest of the way.
Once we got close, we started to see signs everywhere and I decided to try my cell phone’s GPS and thankfully it was able to lead us the rest of the way.
Photobucket We had no idea what to expect and although it was nothing formal (the construction for the new memorial was clearly underway) it was everything where heart and soul is concerned.
Photobucket The amount of love and respect that was put into the Flight 93 Memorial at this point was amazing.
Much like we felt at the Oklahoma City Memorial, we walked silently as we took everything in.
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Photobucket It was amazing to see just how many plaques, stones, monuments, flags, letters, photos, pins, hats, etc have been left to pay the deepest respect for people who just woke up one day as ordinary citizens but died on September 11th as heroes.
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Photobucket Standing there, I was so proud of my children for understanding the magnitude of what had happened there and amazed at their empathy.
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As we stood viewing the fence, it became very apparent how these men and women are viewed and respected by members of our military, police & fire departments. There we so many hats, medals, patches & badges left by veterans of so many different wars and by police and fire fighters from all over the country. And, maybe it’s because my husband is a police officer, but I couldn’t have been more proud of the men and women he works with than I felt at that moment.
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Photobucket As we prepared to leave, we turned one last time towards the crash site and prayed together for everyone who lost a loved one on September 11th and for all that our country lost that day as well.
Much like the clock reflected at the Oklahoma City Memorial how the world changed on that fateful day, I think September 11th punctuated that moment.
Photobucket As we drove away from the memorial we drove in silence and just enjoyed to beautiful county-side around us.
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After 22 days of seeing our beautiful country, we were happy to be home in our state and then, in our beds.
It truly was the trip of a lifetime and one I will forever be glad we took. I think we left with low expectations (especially since we were DRIVING with 9 kids, including 2 toddlers!) and came home feeling like everything was perfect.
The whole trip.
Nothing I would ever change.

Now, if for some crazy reason, my posts weren’t enough for you, please feel free to purchase the book I made about our trip. I will be donating a portion of the proceeds to Killing It with Kindness aka Whatchagonnado.org (this is my friend Jess’ site that honors her daughter Tuesday by donating to help families dealing with pediatric cancer)

from Pennsylvania t…
By Debi Bouffard

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