Monday, October 27, 2008

Who Says Work Isn't Supposed to Be Fun?

Once upon a time it was my coworker's birthday... so we had some fun in his office. Ever wonder how long it takes to blow up 1200 balloons?

Pretty sure that my lungs hurt for days after... but it was so worth it!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Church History Trip - Day 6 (THE LAST)

We woke up and - after breakfast and hearing all about the frantic search for the two missing girls the night before - boarded the bus and headed towards Winter Quarters in Nebraska. In Winter Quarters (located currently in North Omaha), we first visited the Mormon Trail Center. This statue of a family pulling a handcart is just outside the main entrance.

Winter Quarters Facts #1: On June 14, 1846, the first wagon train of Mormon pioneers traveling westward reached the banks of the Missouri River. Since it was too late in the year to travel far, Brigham Young proposed an encampment be established. The camp was to be a sanctuary against the bitter winter. As provisions were scarce, it also would give them time to prepare for the resumption of their journey in the spring. A site was selected on a plateau overlooking the Missouri River. The name chosen was Winter Quarters. This wilderness community swelled to 3,483 souls.

I think that in general I was pretty burned out on museums. I kinda took the Center at my own pace. In one alcove that looked over the Winter Quarters Temple, I found this statue of two parents looking upon the grave of their infant. The statue really touched me, as I realized that seeing such families was probably a lot more common than I had ever really understood. I was made more profoundly aware of the great sacrifices so many made on this journey.

This painting was near the statue above and is called Shall We Not Go On in So Great a Cause. Perhaps because of my increased testimony in Joseph Smith the Prophet, or because I love the movie that now plays in the Legacy Theater on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, this painting also touched more than it ever had. Painted by Clark Kelley Price, the tag next to the painting read, "With their sights set on Zion, these Latter-day Saints sacrifice everything, including their last ounce of strength, to make the journey to the 'promised land.' In this symbolic painting, the image of Joseph Smith provides spiritual direction toward Zion and the vision of the temple spires on the horizon."

Winter Quarters Facts #2: Soon after the Latter-day Saints arrived in Winter Quarters, labor parties began to prepare for the approaching winter. Lots were plotted and assigned and practically overnight a city sprang up. Houses, built of logs covered with willows or prairie sod, lined the dirt streets. Openings were dug into the hill side and enclosed with willows or sod to form dugouts. While some workers built these crude houses, others were plowing land and sowing seed for next year's crops. This hopefully would sustain them when they again began their westward trek.

So, I saw the flute and piccolo below and couldn't resist. I craved to play a solid wood flute! I settled for a picture with bad glare and shadow... oh well...

Part of the Mormon Trail Center included a "hands-on" element, not unlike the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Boston. The following pictures include me sleeping on a ship bunk (talk about cramped quarters), Mindy, Gretchen, and me being "ganstah" pioneers (at least by the look of it), and the three of us "some-may-push-and-some-may-pulling" a handcart. Good times.

Winter Quarters Facts #3: The great difficulty at Winter Quarters, however, was not physical hardships or extreme cold only. It was a weakening plague which spread throughout the camp. As early as July, 37% of the community were down with this fever. Source of the sickness was found in swamps full of mosquitoes. Coupled with the plague, privation and exposure also took a terrible toll of these pioneers, and before the encampment at Winter Quarters was abandoned, over 600 men, women, and children had been laid to rest in the cemetery I visited next, now called the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, which is located on the north end of the Winter Quarters Temple grounds.

Winter Quarters Facts #4: Winter Quarters was only a temporary settlement. In 1847-48, under the leadership of Brigham Young, nearly four thousand people left from here. Winter Quarters and the hundreds of courageous pioneers resting in the cemetery exemplify the perseverance and dedication of those Latter-day Saints who moved west.

I think it is significant that the Winter Quarters Temple lies directly south of this hallowed cemetery. I imagine that those Saints will consider themselves more than blessed to be raised up next to a temple!

The stained glass on the temple was gorgeous! (Well, the whole temple was really...but I'm a sucker for stained glass...) We only had about 10 minutes to traverse the cemetery and the temple grounds before re-boarding the bus... We made the most of that 10 minutes. :0)

Our bus drove back across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa. When the Saints first came across from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters, Council Bluffs was also settled, and for a time renamed Kanesville. In 1847, Brigham Young requested the elders of the church to build a tabernacle that would hold a large quantity of Saints. Under the direction of Henry W. Miller, 200 men built the log Kanesville Tabernacle in two-and-a-half weeks! The tabernacle was able to hold 1000 Saints for the first solemn assembly of the church held to ordain the new Prophet and First Presidency, almost four years after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. I think that after attending the solemn assembly in April, this building held much more significance to me than it would have previously.

Outside the Tabernacle stood five plaques with engravings that included The Family: A Proclamation to the World; & The Living Christ. Also engraved were texts regarding the reorganization of the First Presidency as well as the westward movement of the Mormon Pioneers. The tabernacle itself was originally constructed with green cottonwood logs, which caused the walls to shrink between 6 and 8 inches each year as the wood dried.

This painting depicts the solemn assembly that took place in the Kanesville Tabernacle in 1847.

At one end of the wall was a huge fireplace and chimney constructed of stacked sod. I thought it was pretty cool to make a fireplace and chimney out of dirt... but maybe that's just me. The fireplace itself was about six feet tall.

This statue stood outside the Tabernacle, depicting the new First Presidency: Brigham Young, Willard Richards, and Heber C. Kimball.

Across from the Kanesville Tabernacle is the LDS Visitor's Center. While there our group watched the video on the Mormon Battalion (that video Aunt Kathy told us about several years ago). This encasement was a uniform and basic belongings to the average Battalion member.

We left Kanesville and headed straight south, back through Missouri, to the Kansas City, MO airport. I forgot to mention previously that Mindy, Gretchen, and I frequently had our meals with Tom, our bus driver. We took this picture with Tom right before we walked into the airport.

At the airport, we had some time to kill (like 3 hours). So we decided to walk Ferdner around the airport and show him the sights. You can see him in the bottom right-hand corner of these pictures. We also found this shirt... and died laughing for several minutes. (Largely in part, I would wager, because we were so travel-weary... but it's still pretty funny...)

Outside the airport, just before we boarded to Denver...

From the plane just outside Kansas City... probably a picture of Kansas, now that I think about it.

I arrived back in Salt Lake City, after a layover in Denver, at about 10:30 pm. It was an amazing trip... one that inspired me to learn new things, make new friends, and in many ways changed my life. To think that I only went on this trip on a whim. Funny how we are blessed when we follow those promptings!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Church History Trip - Day 5

Sunday, August 31, 2008 - We had church at 8:00 am in the Nauvoo Groves. I'd never had church outside of "church" before, and it was especially significant to have sacrament meeting in the grove of trees where Joseph Smith himself often preached when the Saints were there. It was the most pleasant, beautiful grove filled with a special spirit.

After church, by unspoken consent, our entire group walked up the hill from the groves to the Nauvoo Temple, where we took a huge group shot of everyone on the trip (which I still don't have access to).

After church, we went back to the hotel and checked out. From there our bus headed toward the Nauvoo Cemetery, located on a little hill surrounded by another beautiful grove.

At the entrance to the cemetery, there was a monument said, "On these walls are the names of some of those who died while living in Nauvoo between 1839 and 1846. There are others, we know not who or how many, as time has erased them from our records and our memories. Many of them had a story worth telling. We don't know all of their stories but we do know that they were loved and the Savior knows and loves each one." I was touched, especially when I found the following names: Mary E. Hales, Mary Isabella Hales, Elizabeth Thorndyke Hardy, Joseph Hardy, and Zachariah Hardy. I am curious to find these individuals and how they relate to my family history.

Along with many others, I found the headstone of Edward Partridge, the first bishop of the church and, as the Prophet referred to him, "a man without guile." I think the story of Bishop Partridge that I most remember is that when he was tarred and feathered in Independence, MO, he recalled later, "I was so filled with the spirit of God, that I had no hatred towards my persecutors, or any one else."

While Wilford Woodruff was serving his first mission to Great Britain in 1839 his first child, Sarah Emma, died July 17, 1840, being two years and three days old. Phoebe, his wife, wrote to him on the day following Sarah Emma's death: My dear Wilford, what will be your feelings, when I say that yesterday I was called to witness the departure of our little Sarah Emma from this world? Yes, she is gone. The relentless hand of death has snatched her from my embrace. But Ah! She was too lovely, too kind, too affectionate to live in this wicked world. When looking on her I have often thought how I should feel to part with her. I thought I could not live without her, especially in the absence of my companion. But she has gone. Phoebe continued: Yes, Wilford we have one little angel in heaven, and I think likely her spirit has visited you before this time.

I love both the story above as well as the sculpture below. The sculpture is of a young family looking down upon the grave of a young child. It overwhelms me to think of how common an occurrence this must have been. The trials these Saints bore appear so heavy to me, and yet I love the assurances I received from Phoebe Woodruff's letter; she knew that she would see her Sarah Emma again. I think I will always be humbled by the faith and conviction of these early Saints.

From the Nauvoo Cemetery, we drove back through Nauvoo to the head of the Trail of Hope. This sign explains the Trail of Hope the best: 1846 began the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo. Leaving behind their homes, beautiful city, family and friends who they quite possibly would never see again in this life. As they journeyed west, they recorded their feelings and experiences in personal journals. From these journals we get a sense of what it would have been like to have traveled with them. Some selected writings from these journals are reproduced on the signs along this trail to the river.

We walked from the trail head down to the end of Parley Street where the Saints crossed the Mississippi River and began their journey west.

Bathsheba Smith: "My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor, and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotions in my heard...I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future, faced it with faith in God and with no less assurance of the ultimate establishment of the Gospel in the West and of its true, enduring principles, than I had felt in those trying scenes in Missouri."

At the end of the trail was another monument, which included the names of Saints who it was believed died between Nauvoo and Winter Quarters, Iowa. The names included: Mary Ann Hales, Ann Parsons Lovell, and William Lovell. This statue (which was mentioned in Conference a few weeks ago is titled Eyes Westward. A replica of the statue now sits at This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.

George Q. Cannon: "Those of us who can remember when we were compelled to abandon Nauvoo, when the winter was so inclement know how dark and gloomy the circumstances of the Saints were, with the mob surrounding our outer settlements and threatening to destroy us and how trying it was to the faith of the people of God. The word was to cross the Mississippi and launch out into an unknown wilderness - to go where, no one knew. Who knew anything of the terrors of the journey thither, or of the dangers that might have to be met and contended with? Who knew anything about the country to be traversed? Moving out with faith that was undisturbed by its unknown terrors. It was by faith that this was accomplished."

It was interesting to see the river that was called formidable; what I saw was a great expanse of water that appeared tranquil and humbling. But to understand what it meant to them is something else - a river partially frozen over with huge chunks of ice, knowing that they must traverse this perilous ice field with all of their precious possessions, including their young families...I think that faiths quavered, and then were steeled by the icy fathoms. It makes me think of the handcart companies that grew closer to God through their unfathomable trials.

Those who know me would not be surprised that I could not be that close to the Mississippi River without getting my feet wet. (I specifically remember my 2 minute visit to Walden Pond, where I ran down the path, barefoot, placed my feet in the water, had Crystal snap a picture, and then booked it back up the hill... I had a bit more time with the Mississippi. And someday I will give Walden a proper visit!)

I post this mostly because it is probably my favorite picture of Ferdner that exists (except for maybe his recent beheading...).

Our last stop before we left Nauvoo was the LDS Visitor's Center. Located just outside the entrance is one of the three remaining sun stones from the original Nauvoo Temple (one of the others is at the Community of Christ Visitor's Center Historic Nauvoo and is damaged/unrestored; the other is located in the Smithsonian's American History Museum).

I would love to say that I took a flight over Nauvoo, but that is a lie. These next two shot are of a huge 3D map in the Visitor's Center. It is what an aerial view of Nauvoo would have looked like in the 1840s.

Located outside and in conjunction with the LDS Nauvoo Visitor's Center is the Monument to Women memorial garden, dedicated to women of the past, present, and future. There are 13 life-size statues throughout the garden, starting with this one of Joseph and Emma Smith.

This was my favorite of all the statues, probably because it hit the closest to home. Fulfillment, sculpted by Dennis Smith, references Proverbs 31:28, "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her." This sculpture reminded me so much of both of my grandma's, with her quiet reverence and simple dedication, finding satisfaction in the delicate task of quilting... and I think, in part, I hope that my own children and grandchildren see me in a similar light.

As a garden, it was also full of plants and flowers... really a beautiful, peaceful place that I wish I had discovered much earlier. This is basically one of my favorite pictures I've ever taken...

We left the Visitor's Center and drove north, leaving Nauvoo behind. We traveled half-way across Iowa, to our next destination - the Afton, Iowa Methodist Church. The patrons of this church had prepared what I believe was the best meal we had on this trip. It was amazing! Tons of homemade dishes, from soup, salads, desserts - and TONS of fresh homemade pies! It was so good! A patron of this church owns a ranch right on top of what was once called Mount Pisgah, named after the mountain in the Bible from which Moses first saw the Promised Land. A small community was once where this ranch is now, and was a primary stop (along with Garden Grove) for the Mormon Trail between Nauvoo and Winter Quarters. The man who currently owns the land has set up a monument for the Mormon Trail and takes people on tours of the land in this tractor-pulled-trailer.

I have seen an awful lot of sunsets in my time, and these are pretty darn near the top.

The Mormon Trail went right over Mount Pisgah (which is really more of a bump than a mountain).

Over different parts of the bump, we would get out and using bent hangers as Witching Sticks. (Witching is also called Divining, Doodlebugging, and Dowsing.) Now, I grew up believing that using a witching stick to "divine" water was a load of hogwashed superstition. Imagine to my baffled (and slightly freaked) surprise - it works. It actually works! Here's how:

The earth is made how it is, with magnetic pulls arranged from the north to the south. If you disturb the top layer of earth at least 18 inches, the magnetic fields are disturbed. So, lets say that you take two wire hangers, straightened and then bent in a "gun" shape. Now go out into a field or farm or some place, take these two "gunned" wires and hold them, loosely, directly in front of you, kind of like how you would hold a pistol. The two wires will align themselves according to the magnetic fields in the earth's crust, probably right in front of you. Now, you slowly walk forward and all of a sudden the two wires swing around so that they're pointing in opposite directions, right at each other, basically crossing over your torso. That means you just found a break in the magnetic fields. Slowly continuing forward, at one point the wires will rearrange themselves pointing forward. Let's just say that this magnetic disturbance is about three inches wide, and about four feet away - going the same direction - you find another three-inch wide magnetic disturbance. Well, on Mount (Bump) Pisgah, this means you just found two wagon ruts heading west along the Mormon Trail. Don't believe it? Go try it. It's kind of a trip. We found graves, cabin walls, tons of wagon ruts... This is Brad and Mindy divining wagon ruts (Note: Obnoxious postures are not required.): 

So, lets say that you take your two "gun" wires and, instead of staying in a stationary position, they just keep swinging in and out, back and forth. That means you found water. So I was just standing there watching my wires freak out and our guide turned around and said, "Oh look. You found water." It was weird.

The coolest part about Mount Pisgah by far was that we didn't even realize our guide wasn't LDS until he told us he was part of the same Methodist Church that fed us dinner. He had such a testimony of what the Mormon pioneers did, it was incredible. You could tell that he loved the people and was overwhelmed by the remarkable feat they accomplished. He first got involved with the Mormon Trail during the sesquicentennial a few years ago, when hundreds of members re-conquered the Mormon Trail with wagons and handcarts. He met many of them and realized the history that his land held. He is currently working with the Church to receive funding and possibly put up a Visitor's Center.

After we left Mount Pisgah, we drove for several more hours to Council Bluffs, Iowa (originally called Kanesville by the Saints). My roommates and I got our room key and went to bed for the last time on our trip. For me, the night was uneventful... I fell to sleep so quickly. While our room went for the most part undisturbed, most of the rest of our group spent half the night looking for two girls who had gone missing upon our arrival at the hotel. It took the group the better part of 4 hours to find the girls, who had been told the wrong room, found the room open, and went in to go to sleep. A simple mistake, not everyone felt as refreshed as I did when I awoke the next morning.