"Do you, like, ride a horse to work every day?"
"How can you stand that HEAT!?"
"Don't you just melt every time you walk out the door?"
"But it's hot, isn't it hot? It's so hot, there's like hot heat and hotness and stuff."
"How do you ever find things to do, surrounded by teepees and sand dunes?"
A few weeks ago, we got to go back to the beautiful state of Arizona for a special trip dedicated to home and family. We have one year of law school left, so it's really coming down to the wire! It's exciting and saddening all at once.
As we made the drive from Dusty's parent's house to my hometown of Casa Grande, I had an epiphany.
I am so glad people have really weird/negative ideas about what living in Arizona is like.
I turned to Dusty as we drove and said, "You know what? Some people will never understand the beauty of the desert, of Arizona. And I'm glad. It's like our little secret."
Instead of wanting to smack some sense into people who whine "It's just so hot, so hot, so hot" like a broken record, I will simply begin feeling sorry for them. They don't see it...they don't understand, and they never will. And that's okay. I'll turn that smack into a sympathetic pat on the head. And my list of "100 reasons why Arizona livin' is the best" will hang proudly in my own home.
For me, those two months of "hot, so hot, so hot" are sizzling days full of star gazing, warm evening walks, fireworks, popsicles, swimming, sunscreen, afternoon naps, weekend resorts, sunglasses, iced drinks, living room chats in the air conditioning, parties, ice cream, parking in the shade, tank tops, sunshine, game nights, cuddling with the dogs indoors, friends, watermelon, amazing sunsets, lunch under the misters, barbecues, blue skies, monsoon season, the smell of creosote in the rain, shopping, sun dresses, blockbuster movie nights, baseball games, mall days, spa treatments...and that's the "worst" two months of the year. And, yes...it's hot. Because it's the summer.
We flew into Phoenix really late Thursday night, and headed down to Casa Grande first thing on Friday morning, since Dusty's parents had to work.
The day was spent loving on our family (and most especially our nieces) who we had missed so dearly!
We drove straight to my parent's house to say hello to my mom (who was teaching a horse lesson) and to dad, because it was his birthday!
He jumped in the car with us and we went and grabbed Starbucks and donuts before heading over to see Amy and the girls!
|First things first: giving Abby her belated birthday present!|
|This picture cuts me to the core.|
|Best onesie ever, courtesy of our London travels!|
We spent the morning munching on donuts, playing with the girls, reading with/to them, and just soaking in the bliss of interacting with them. They're both at such adorable ages...and Abby was finally able to start recognizing us! She was so much more affectionate (whereas around Christmas she was still very shy/hesitant about being too close to us).
Over the course of the next few days, it was music to my ears to hear her say "Aunt Cait" and "Unc-D".
We had a late lunch at a downtown Chinese restaurant (partially a church meeting/birthday get together for dad's birthday), then we headed back to Chris and Amy's to hang out together.
|After lunch, dad sang all the way across the parking lot. Typical behavior.|
|Couldn't have asked for a better dad. Love him to pieces. I take after him in a lot of ways...|
That evening, the men were off to a Promise Keepers event, so I hopped a ride up to Chandler with them and spent that evening having dinner with Dusty's mom, sister and our nephew Wyatt!
That evening Dusty's brother and sister-in-law were flying into town, basically just to see us... :)
It was the best weekend. We got to spend the whole time by the pool, hanging out, shopping, and just enjoying each other. We were kind of realizing that it was going to be the last time we would all be together for a really long time.
Dusty's parent had just put in a new swing for Wyatt, so watching Em push him back and forth and kiss his toes was completely adorable.
Our nieces and nephew are growing so quickly, it seems multiplied by our time apart from them. It's going to be so wonderful to move back home and be closer as they continue to grow!
For now, we just enjoy moments like this times 10!
We threw in some birthday celebrations for Erin, since her birthday was a few days later. :)
She's the cutest!
We had a great few days. A lot of time by the pool, tanning and soaking up the sunshine, drinking pina colada smoothies and just enjoying being together.
I remember half-dozing, just listening to the chatting and laughter from all around. Definitely the most relaxed I've been in a long time!
On Sunday we went to an amazing church (visiting the new church plant of a really good friend/former pastor of theirs), and just had a really great experience there. A lot of family friends were there, the music was amazing, and a lot of people were getting baptized (including the pastor's daughter, to his great surprise). We were really blessed by it. It really set the tone for the rest of the day!
Love this family so much!
|Kisses for the birthday girl!|
We also saw Stark Trek: Into Darkness, which was amazing, in case you didn't know. If you haven't invested yourself in this new franchise, do so now.
We even got some more Schanaker girl time, when the four of us snuck away to go shopping and have some lunch!
Erin got to spend some birthday money at Anthropologie, and I got to shop in an actual store which never happens anymore. I've pretty much switched to online shopping, since Lynchburg is more or less a black hole of retail.
I love these women and miss them like crazy so these memories will have to tide me over for a while.
On Sunday afternoon, we were all sitting in the living room right before Dusty and I were going to leave to have dinner with my family in CG. Danny and Erin were flying back to California within an hour or two.
After we left, it was weighing pretty heavily that we all wouldn't be in the same room again for a full 15+ months. That's a long time. Too long!
Unbeknownst to us, an idea popped up: what about Christmas in Virginia!?
While the details aren't finalized, just the fact that they'd be able and willing to all fly out to see us over our last holiday season in Virginia is so amazing.
The idea of Dusty and I being able to spend a Christmas just the two of us may sound romantic, but lets be honest. We'd be puddles of sadness, stalking Facebook for family photos and crying ourselves to sleep.
We arrived in Casa Grande in time for dinner, which happened to be Grandma's Tacos!
It's capitalized because it's a well-know and beloved family dish, mostly served when there are many people home [lovingly] demanding that she make them.
We had her heavenly blueberry bread pudding for dessert (the only bread pudding I will ever eat), topped with cream and decadence.
It was an especially wonderful night because the whole family was together. (Again, for the last time for who-knows-how-long).
My brother Michael is on the verge of moving to Cleveland to do his 5-year residency for cardiovascular surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. He's just that good.
Sunday was his only time to spend in Casa Grande with us, so we took a lot of pictures and weird things happened.
But all in all, there was a sense of complete contentment, at least for me. I love my brothers. LOVE them.
And despite the fact that I begged for a sister and thought if I dressed Kevin up in a princess crown and purple leotard often enough he might take the place of the missing sister, I wouldn't trade my childhood with them for anything. I'm so desperately proud of each of them for the men they've become.
I pray for them all, delight in them all, and cherish the times when we can all be together. Like the good ol' days.
We stayed up late talking, listening to music, chilling out.
After some convincing from mom (and the rest of us agreed), it was decided that Kevin and Michael would stay the night and we would all have breakfast together in the morning.
The next morning we had a happy house.
A full house is a happy house.
It was full of happy smells, happy noises and happy people.
Waking and making coffee, and slowly smelling the sizzling breakfast waft through the house. It was great.
I was so glad we had all decided to be together again that morning.
The door started opening and in came Chris and Amy and the girls, followed by Kevin and a sleepy Michael.
It kind of felt like Christmas.
I'm not sure why, but we all kind of half sat, half stood all together in the kitchen. But it was kind of nice.
|I have this picture as the background on my phone. It's so very home, to me.|
The whole day was perfect, really.
After a while Abby was dying to "Go ride cow" (what she calls horses, or really any large animal) so she led my mom outside, and a few of us followed.
We had an amazing sunshiney horse ride, and she was so adorable, talking and even humming to herself while she rode.
She pretty much had her own paparazzi following her around!
Then Lil' Sis rode in on daddy's shoulders, and joined the fray.
|I adore this picture of this sweet girl.|
I know I'm completely biased, by my nieces are the cutest. Hands down.
I always knew I would love my nieces and nephews, but the rush of love I feel for them and their sweet personalities is beyond anything I could have imagined. I want to be with them all the time.
When Abby was done with her trail ride, she decided it'd be fun to run down mom's ramp.
Which quickly developed into having Unc'D and dad run down the ramp, with her in their arms.
Pretty soon, everyone was tuckered out.
Abby seemed a little baffled about the sad lack of energy we adults possess.
|Contemplating why the fun has to stop.|
Love all these girls!
Who knows who will be the first one of us to have a boy, but right now we're all about the girl power.
It is so fun watching these girls enjoy the property my brothers and I grew up on.
I love watching my brother be a dad, and watching my mom be a grandma...and watching my husband be an uncle! It's so exhilarating.
After being silly and taking pictures, we made our way back inside to cool off and relax a little bit.
For Bell, that meant hanging out with her uncles.
Both Kevin and Michael are such sweet uncles.
I've never known anyone entering their residency for a medical profession...but Michael is going into one of the longest residencies there is. Five years is a really long time. Long enough that Bell will be walking, talking, and shopping by the time he's done.
While I know we'll see him throughout those five years, it's really strange not knowing when, or how often.
We also have no idea whether or not he'll move back to Arizona, or how his life will change throughout that time, either.
It's all very unpredictable. Which isn't a bad thing, it's just a hard thing, sometimes.
Michael was headed back to Tucson, so we all broke off and said our goodbyes.
It was nap time for the girls, so Chris and Amy left first, and naturally it was time for a Culver's run.
Kevin, Dusty and I went to Culver's to grab the custard, and then went and joined Chris and Amy for some game time.
Michael ended up staying a little longer than planned (dad had his car and was getting it serviced for the long drive to the east coast), so he ended up stopping by again later to say another proper goodbye to everyone.
It was a lot easier for me because mom, Kevin, Dusty and I will all be joining him in Cleveland this weekend to help him move in. That's when the goodbyes will be much more final. Not looking forward to that part of it!
That night, we had Little Sombrero for dinner. The best that Mexican food has to offer.
On a side note, Bell is really talented at throwing back that bottle.
She was cracking us up.
I absolutely loved interacting with her this trip...she's so animated, so quick to crawl around, and so adorable.
One of my favorite things was her little wooden whistle, which she would chew on for a while and finally begin to blow through. Across the living room you'd hear the whistle going, and there she'd be, sitting on the ground rolling around and blowing her whistle. So cute.
The next morning we were planning on going over to grandma's house for her amazing biscuits and gravy.
Pretty much everything she makes is amazing, and I was very happy that we got to have some of my very favorite "grandma foods" while we were home!
Some of my extended family knew we were in town, so they made the trek down to spend some time with us! It was a great unexpected surprise.
|Holding hands. :)|
We were heading back up to Chandler that evening for an early dinner with the Schan Clan!
So after a blissful morning/afternoon of pool time and family visits, we headed to Chandler dinner. Si Senior!
I don't think we've missed having at least one lunch or dinner at Si Senior since we've moved to Virginia.
Every time we come home, it's the go-to spot with Dusty's family! I love it!
Wyatt was so cute - he was even wearing yellow submarine overalls.
I can't even describe my joy at this Beatles reference (even if it's not a Beatles reference, to me, it totally is).
|Hehe! Pucker up!|
We only had one more day lined up before our crazy trip to California.
We would be leaving the next day, Wednesday, late afternoon for a whirlwind birthday extravaganza for my friend Becky - it was her golden birthday, and Disneyland was the natural destination!
We had lots planned. We were going to see our old school, CBU, some old friends, some family and, of course, Disneyland.
Before that, we had at least one more Mexican food meal to eat.
Wednesday morning, we woke up at my parent's house and I went out and watched mom's horse lesson for a little while. Both Monday and Tuesday had been pretty much off days for her (and Chris had taken the days off), so it had been really fun to spend those days with them.
Since the construction of the big guest house/tack room by the main arena, I have spent many mornings drinking coffee and watching horse lessons. I miss that. Sometimes it's still a little strange that I won't ever live in that house again. For now, it's comforting to stay there and have my old room as our guest room.
Later on, we went back to Chris and Amy's and greeted a very happy Abigail.
She was wearing the shirt we had brought her as part of her belated birthday gift, and she looked adorable.
She also knew who I was! She still wasn't quite sure what to call Dusty, and every time we tried to get her to say his name she got stuck. (We would soon find out that "Unc'D" was the winning title.)
I absolutely love the way she says absolutely everything. Especially Aunt Cait, because it's so quiet and cute, with a little sweet "t" at the end of each word.
She got more boisterous as time went on, and I always loved hearing her says her names for us around the house.
Both Dusty and I loved her "Waaaay up high!" whenever she wanted to go upstairs, and other things she would say like "cow" and "earthquake!" because of a game we would play with her.
She has her lower boisterous voice, her normal voice, and her cute high shy voice. I'm going to be so very sad when we see her next and she's talking like a pro, and all her little cute phrases will be different. Is it bad to wish slow learning on a child?
For lunch, we went to Ricardo's, my absolute favorite Mexican restaurant growing up.
Home of the cheese crisp, the simple yet amazing creation of happy Arizonan Mexican people.
Beckles also joined us for lunch, and we were all getting excited for our trip to Cali!
Bean burrito, enchilada style, with sour cream and guacamole. Voila.
Her motives are still unclear, but Abby began collecting the salt and peppers and holding them like her own little miniature family.
She's so particular about the order of her toys, it's so funny! A little bit OCD, just like her Unc'D. :)
It was the best way to bid sayonara (for now) before we headed off to California.
We made some pit stops in Chandler to say hey to Dusty's parents at work, and then we obviously stopped by Starbucks, then we were on our way!
We were so excited to get there and see all our friends!
But that post is for another time. :)