Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Oh, The Places We'll Go!

Earlier this month we shared our new and exciting theme for the year: a United States road trip of epic proportions! But there are a lot of different ways that we could make this happen. This whole trip plan started based on the concept of the optimal road trip, outlined in Randal Olson's blog post here.

We took the map and list of landmarks, and customized it to the Alston family's interests, and where our friends and family live. Below is a general overview of our planned stops and landmarks we will be visiting! (All cities and states are listed in the order we plan to go.)

This is BASICALLY the route we will be going, except for some specific stops that have been changed to suit our needs

I tried to make this as easy to read as possible... States are listed in CAPITAL LETTERS, and different state visits are separated with a line that only has a hyphen. Cities where we are planning to stay overnight (or close areas) are indicated in parenthesis, in case you would like to volunteer to have us visit you, or know someone we should visit! Otherwise we will be camping almost the entire way. LDS Temples we plan to stop and take a picture at have ** around them. (We probably will not have time to do work in these temples, especially because we have two toddlers with us.) The main goal is to see the temples and share the beauty of a unified worldwide church with our kids. :) We have even added a couple more to the list in the past few weeks!

Thank you to EVERYONE who has contacted us so far with ideas and your favorite places to see. We are adding in and researching as many of your suggestions as possible!

Also, big thanks to Nonna and Papa Alston for the Idaho State Parks pass, and Beth Alston for the National Parks pass. :D  #ExtendedChristmasAwesomeness

Ready to see where we're headed?? Here we go!

Leaving from: Rexburg, IDAHO
Craters of the Moon National Monument, IDAHO
Lehi/Orem/Provo area, UTAH (overnight)
*Provo Temples*
Bryce Canyon National Park, UTAH (overnight)
Grand Canyon, ARIZONA (overnight)
Phoenix, Flagstaff, Sedona, Mesa, ARIZONA
*Phoenix, Gilbert, and Mesa Temples*
Mesa (overnight)
Hoover Dam, NEVADA
*Las Vegas Temple*
Las Vegas (overnight)
Fresno, CALIFORNIA (overnight)
*Fresno Temple*
San Francisco, CALIFORNIA
*Oakland Temple*
*Sacramento Temple*
Loomis, CALIFORNIA (overnight)
Portland, OREGON (overnight)
*Portland Temple*
Yelm, WASHINGTON (overnight)
*Seattle Temple*
Sammamish, WASHINGTON (overnight?)
Coeur D'Alene, IDAHO (overnight)
Glacier National Park, MONTANA (overnight)
Fort Union Trading Post, NORTH DAKOTA (overnight)
Mount Rushmore, SOUTH DAKOTA (overnight)
Ashfall Fossill Bed, NEBRASKA (overnight)
Fort Snelling/Minneapolis, MINNESOTA (overnight)
Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, WISCONSIN (overnight)
Des Moines, IOWA (overnight)
check out the border of KANSAS
head to Nauvoo, ILLINOIS
*Nauvoo Temple*
Springfield, ILLINOIS (overnight)
Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MISSOURI (overnight)
*St. Louis Temple*
West Baden Springs Hotel, INDIANA 
Louisville KENTUCKY (overnight)
or just straight to Mammoth Cave National Park, KENTUCKY
Cincinnati, OHIO (overnight)
Detroit, MICHIGAN (overnight)
*Detroit Temple*
Christmas Story House, Cleveland, OHIO
*Kirtland Temple*
Edinboro, PENNSYLVANIA (overnight)
Niagara Falls, NEW YORK (overnight)
*Palmyra Temple*, Hill Cumorah, Sacred Grove
Shelburne, VERMONT (overnight)
Mount Washington Hotel, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Acadia National Park, MAINE (overnight)
USS Constitution, Boston, MASSACHUSETTS (overnight)
Harvard University!
*Boston Temple*
The Breakers, RHODE ISLAND
The Mark Twain House
Hartford, CONNECTICUT (overnight)
Yale University! New Haven, CT
New York City, NEW YORK (overnight)
Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Times Square
*Manhattan Temple*
Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA
Cape May Historic District, NEW JERSEY (overnight)
New Castle Historic District, DELAWARE
Annapolis or Silver Spring, MARYLAND (overnight)
*Washington DC Temple*
The National Mall: White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, etc.
Arlington National Cemetery, VIRGINIA (overnight)
Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, VIRGINIA
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NORTH CAROLINA (overnight)
Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kitty Hawk, NORTH CAROLINA
Lost World Caverns, WEST VIRGINIA (overnight)
Charleston, SOUTH CAROLINA (overnight)
Fort Sumter and/or Fort Moultrie
Okefenokee Swamp Park, GEORGIA (overnight)
Spring Hill, FLORIDA (overnight)
Orlando, FLORIDA
*Orlando Temple*
Harry Potter World!!
Tallahassee, FLORIDA (overnight?)
USS Alabama, Mobile, ALABAMA (overnight)
French Quarter, New Orleans, LOUISIANA
*Baton Rouge Temple*
Vicksburg, MISSISSIPPI (overnight)
Vicksburg National Military Park / National Cemetery
Elvis Presley's house: Graceland, Memphis, TENNESSEE 
Little Rock, ARKANSAS (overnight)
Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park
Oklahoma City, OKLAHOMA
*Oklahoma City Temple*
Platt Historic District-former Platt National Park area
Chickasaw National Recreational Area (overnight)
Dallas, TEXAS
Carlsbad, NEW MEXICO (overnight)
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Colorado Springs, COLORADO (overnight)
Pike's Peak, Cascade, COLORADO
Denver, COLORADO (overnight)
*Denver Temple*
Casper, WYOMING (overnight?)
Jackson, WYOMING
Rexburg, IDAHO
*Rexburg Temple*

The End

Whew! So there you have the gist of it. 48 states in 51 days. Some states we just pass through quickly, and others we spend a couple days exploring. It really is a sightseeing and photo taking tour as much as anything. We really have to be picky and choosy about where we are going and what we spend time and money to see! I wish we could do more in some areas, but experiences like So Cal, Chicago, visiting The Alamo, and seeing a show on Broadway will just have to be part of another trip someday. :)

So give us some input! And if you know anyone in these areas that might want to be part of our adventure, let us know. We love all you wonderful people and are excited for this great experience together!

"To travel is to live." -Hans Christian Andersen

Sunday, January 3, 2016


"Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe. Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. ...
"faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things...even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiement upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe..."
-Alma 32: 17-18,21,26-27

photo credit: Steph, 12-29-15 Temple Square, SLC UT

On the last Sunday of 2015, I was asked to speak in our church Sacrament meeting. There were about 12 people in the entire congregation (including the Bishop and our High Councilman) because everyone was away for Christmas/New Year break. I don't have a problem with public speaking, so it wasn't really an issue either way to me how many people were there. I was just really glad that I could study this subject more.

The last time that Jon and I gave talks (in January) my talk was on Faith in Jesus Christ. Apparently Faith is a subject I need a lot of work on! I thought the talks might overlap quite a bit, but they didn't at all. There is so much that I could say on the topic, but my goal was to cover the basics. Faith is not perfect knowledge, but it is the idea that can define us. And that is what really counts.


Jon and I were watching Inception the other night, and there's a line that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dom, says to Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, that immediately made me think of of Faith:

“An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define, or destroy you.” –Dom Cobb (Inception)

FAITH is an idea. Faith is resilient (returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched. Recovers from adversity/being tested.). It is highly contagious (capable of being transmitted or spread from person to person). The smallest seed of faith can grow. Faith can grow to define you, and destroy any fear or negative characteristic that you may have previously held.

Faith is one of those words that we use interchangeably with many others, but it encompasses so much just on its own. Faith is confidence. It is trust in a person or thing. It is the observance of an obligation from loyalty. It is fidelity (strict observance of promises, duties, etc. loyalty, accuracy, exactness) to a person, promise, or engagement. It is a belief not based on proof.

By now your mind is probably spinning with synonyms and concepts of what Faith includes. I know mine was! So I decided to contrast the idea of Faith with other concepts to more clearly define what it is, but also to see what it is not. What, for instance, is the difference between faith and hope? A friend of mine who is currently serving a mission asked this question of us (her friends and family) in an email home this week. Here are the thoughts I came up with:

Q: What is the difference between faith and hope?

A: Hope is something that you look forward to, or want for. “I HOPE that I will get this job…” “I really HOPE that my classes this semester will be great.” Faith on the other hand is an active belief. It is based on at least a little hint of something concrete. Maybe you don’t know a professor yet, but you have had friends tell you that they are a great teacher. You have faith that the class will be excellent based on your confidence in the friends who gave you their testimony of a previous experience. Faith is an act of trust. Hope is a wish and a desire.

In his talk from this past General Conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on faith as a matter of CHOICE and not just by CHANCE. He says,
“How we live our lives increases or diminishes our faith. Prayer, obedience, honesty, purity of thought and deed, and unselfishness increase faith. Without these, faith diminishes. Why did the Savior say to Peter, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”? Because there is an adversary who delights in destroying our faith! Be relentless in protecting your faith.”

If faith is that little seed of an idea within us that motivates us to action and trust, then it should be the most PRECIOUS idea that we keep, not to let anybody tarnish or steal it. Faith can be small, and it can look differently inside of each of us. But faith has incredible potential.

In ethical philosophy there is the idea, suggested by Immanuel Kant, that some things have inherent value, and are ends-in-themselves. Rather than using a person, for instance, as a means to achieve a certain end, the person has their own intrinsic value, which is not dependent on anything else to have value. Just by existing, it is valuable. Similar to this is the idea of an acorn. It holds within itself the potential of tree value. It doesn’t need anything else to have that ability, but it must be nurtured to reach maximum possibility. I think of Faith in this same way. Faith, in itself, has everything contained within it that it ever needs to be. It might start off small, and we might want to tend to doubt it based on stature. But the way we treat it and nourish it will determine its end result. (Are we going to let it blow away? Or will we plant, and water it—actively contributing to its growth?)

Elder Andersen says, “Although your beginning fire of faith may be small, righteous choices bring greater confidence in God, and your faith grows. The difficulties of mortality blow against you, and evil forces lurk in the darkness, hoping to extinguish your faith. But as you continue to make good choices, trust in God, and follow His Son, the Lord sends increased light and knowledge, and your faith becomes settled and unwavering. President Thomas S. Monson said: “Fear not. … The future is as bright as your faith.””

But if we’re feeling like our concept of faith is shaky, Elder Andersen continues his talk by giving us advice for building faith: “Addressing honest questions is an important part of building faith, and we use both our intellect and our feelings. The Lord said, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart.” Not all answers will come immediately, but most questions can be resolved through sincere study and seeking answers from God. Using our mind without our heart will not bring spiritual answers. “The things of God knoweth no man, but [through] the Spirit of God.” And to help us, Jesus promised us “another Comforter” and called Him “even the Spirit of truth. Faith never demands an answer to every question but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward, sometimes acknowledging, “I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship.”

I loved this so much, because, as Elder Andersen puts it, “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not something ethereal, floating loosely in the air. Faith does not fall upon us by chance or stay with us by birthright. … as the scriptures say, [in Hebrews chapter 1 verse 11] it is… “substance … , the evidence of things not seen.” Faith emits a spiritual light, and that light is discernible.” (to be discernible means that it can be perceived by the sight, or some other sense, or by the intellect; it can be recognized, or distinguished mentally; as distinct or different.)

Elder Andersen further continues by saying, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a gift from heaven that comes as we choose to believe and as we seek it and hold on to it. Your faith is either growing stronger or becoming weaker. Faith is a principle of power, important not only in this life but also in our progression beyond the veil. By the grace of Christ, we will one day be saved through faith on His name. The future of your faith is not by chance, but by choice.”

Hopefully we all have an idea of Faith. A concept of what Faith in God means to us individually. My question, to myself, and to you, is: What are you doing (TODAY) with your faith to make it active?

This idea of Faith can be defining and grow to be the motivation behind every decision we make, and every direction in life that we choose to go. As we listen to the spirit of guidance from our Heavenly Father and have Faith in his intentions for us, we can find great blessings awaiting us. So LET YOUR FAITH BE BIGGER THAN YOUR FEAR.

If you’re not sure where to start, or aren’t sure of what exactly you have faith in, I would suggest starting with the Articles of Faith! These are the most basic points of belief that we have in the church, and are guideposts to help us simplify the gospel. As we start with the first one and examine where our faith is on the subject, we can work out our concerns by asking honest questions of ourselves, and then build up to the next Article of Faith.

Elder Andersen gives us a warning: “Immersing oneself in persistent doubt, fueled by answers from the faithless and the unfaithful, weakens one’s faith in Jesus Christ and the Restoration. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.” [1 Corinthians 2:14]” These things must be spiritually discerned.

So, start with the basic idea of faith. Build up slowly, increasing your faith by understanding one principle at a time. When you get stuck, acknowledge that you don’t know everything, but you know enough to continue on the path of following Christ and being a disciple of Him. Choose your faith over your fear, and stay True to that Faith that you cherish. Lastly, recognize that Faith is a gift from our Heavenly Father. He knows that we aren’t able to see everything in perfect detail. He knew that it would be hard for us to function here on Earth with a partially blind view of everything. But this is where the gift of faith comes in. To us it is given to discern spiritually what is true and what is worth pursuing. As we trust this gift, nurture it, build upon it, PROTECT it, and help it to grow, it will be the idea that comes to define us, and change us in ways that we never thought possible. [Faith defines character. It is a form of hope. It requires action. Faith is a feeling, and it builds on knowledge. Faith can grow as it is nurtured. Perhaps most importantly, Faith is the first principle of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, our Savior.]

1 Faith is knowing the sun will rise, lighting each new day.
Faith is knowing the Lord will hear my prayers each time I pray.
Faith is like a little seed: if planted it will grow.
Faith is a swelling within my heart. When I do right, I know.
2 Faith is knowing I lived with God before my mortal birth.
Faith is knowing I can return when my life ends on earth.
Faith is trust in God above;
In Christ, who showed the way.
Faith is strengthened; I feel it grow
Whenever I obey.
-Children’s Songbook 96

I know that this is true. I have had personal experience with testing my faith and just following what I know enough to keep going, and it has always brought me out on the other side of a trial with more awesomeness than I started with. Faith and trust in God works. I am thankful for this gift in my life. Especially with this Christmas season coming to a close and the start of a new year in less than a week. I hope we can all make our faith a little more active in 2016.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Theme for 2016

THIS. will be the biggest and best theme yet.

48 states, 22 temples, 51 days


It all started last year when I shared a road trip FB post with Jon. Some of you may remember this post being shared around. It looked something like this:

It's a circular trip, so you hop on the trail in whatever state you're in, and ride it the rest of the way around until you're back home. I said to Jon "Next Summer??" being ENTIRELY serious. And ever since then, this Year of America plan has infested my brain.

For a couple of years now, Jon and I have had the major travel bug. We have talked about taking our family permanently on the road. It's part of why we tested out Pineapple Snow (Steph's etsy shop) to see if it could become self-sustaining. If I was able to sew-on-the-go, then we could live in a semi-permanent state of movement, and with our converted bus-turned-camper with built in sewing studio, we would homeschool and visit whomever we wanted WHENEVER we wanted, all year 'round.

Screen shot from our shared Pinterest board: Home Bus

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Enter: IDAHO.

The transition of moving to Idaho and being faced with school, work, and debt decisions made us slow down and really re-evaluate how we were approaching everything. We learned some extremely valuable things. And if you know me, you know that if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it right. There is no room half-bakery. That being said, I became a budget-Nazi. Jon has been working his BEHIND off with two jobs, and we basically pretended like his teaching job at BYUI wasn't even there. Aside from tithing, we completely ignored those paychecks and threw them down to paying off bills and savings. We have a goal, and a plan, and we are well on our way!

Let me just say this: by April of this year, we will have everything completely paid off, and start working on a great savings, to accomplish the YEAR OF AMERICA 100%. debt. free.

This is our year.

The Year of America is a reward. It is a goal. It is a test run.

With the major push of family world traveling catching on, I have been jonesing so badly this year to get out there and start! Families like the Boyntons: and the Hunts: @wanderlust.crew on IG have been inspiring me like crazy. I am so thankful for their examples and amazingness. Check them out! Preparation takes time, and I know it's worth it.

So here it is: We are gifting ourselves 51 solid days of togetherness as we traverse the entire country! (Or at least, the 48 continental United States). We decided that if we're ever going to make the idea of travel-life happen, we need to make sure we can do it and will enjoy it. Doing the Year of America road trip is a way for us to jump into a new state-of-mind and lifestyle, with minimal risk.

So the plan is this: July 21st 2016, when Spring semester comes to a close, and BYUI has a 6 week Summer Break, we take off from Idaho and head south to Utah. Then Arizona, Las Vegas, California, up to Oregon, and well, you get the idea. We will make it back to Rexburg on September 9th, with the weekend to spare before Fall semester starts on Monday the 12th. 

Is it crazy?? Probably.
It is exciting?? Heck yes!
Are we going all-in to this plan? ABSOLUTELY.

But here's the best part: WE WANT YOU TO JOIN US.

Seriously, everyone.

Since we are seeing the ENTIRE country (I mean, within reason) we plan to visit as many of our friends and family as possible, AND if you want to come along for parts of our trip, we would be absolutely ecstatic! We realize that we won't be able to see everything in every state, and are going to have to pick and choose the major highlights. But that is where you especially come in. Tell us where you have traveled, where you have lived, where you grew up. We need to know the ins and outs of your state knowledge! I have done a TON of research up to this point, but I want to know your favorite things: places to eat, things to see, where to go, how to do it right. If you were a tourist in your home state, what would you absolutely not miss?

Also, there will be t-shirts! :)

Ultimately, when everything is said and done, the point of our yearly theme is ALWAYS to bring us closer together as a family. We discussed the pros and cons of doing this now when the kids are so little, and we worry a bit about them not remembering the whole thing. But we realized that you don't do things just because a person might or might not remember it. We still celebrate Christmas and birthdays before the kids really know what's going on. But that's not the point. It is the experience, establishing a tradition, and a mindset. It is something that they grow into, and something that we can learn from and having amazing experiences with too. The major goal here is to bring our family closer to Christ.
Closer to Love.
Closer to Forgiveness.
Closer to Peace.
Closer to Happiness.
Closer to HIM.
We are so excited to spend this time together, build memories, (see as many temples as we can!) attend church across the country with fellow Latter-Day Saints, and appreciate the beauty of the world that Heavenly Father has created for us--starting with our own backyard.

"No, never need an American look beyond his own country for the sublime and beautiful of natural scenery." -Washington Irving

So throw it at us! We have 6 months to officially plan, save, make reservations, partner up, and as we come your way, come and play with us! The Alston's Year of America is going to be the best Year ever. :D

Itinerary coming soon...