Before taking off for Virginia, my and Thomas' friends from our moms/play group were sweet enough to throw us a surprise "Going Away/Happy Birthday Thomas" party! They brought decorations, games, and treats (I'd volunteered my house so I could finally show off our newly-furnished place) and we had a great time! It made me so grateful to have much such great friends...sure going to miss them while we're on the other side of the country! (Sorry, no pictures--those taken by my friend Lesley won't work for some reason...)
We finished packing up and cleaning up our house and yard, leaving it to some nice renters. We packed our Saturn VUE to the brim with clothes, shoes, toiletries, toys, and stuff for our 5-month venture in Virginia. I love that feeling when you work together to get a whole lot done! We left late on Thursday, Sept. 20th for Utah and got in extra late after the 5 1/2 hour drive. We crashed at John's parent's house and got some car repairs done the next day.We stayed and had a nice BBQ with much of John's family (most of them live within an hour's drive) before heading on our way east.
We knocked out about 6-8 hours of driving that first day before stopping somewhere in Colorado for the night. The next day was Sunday and we pushed on. We stopped mid-day for a lunch/stretch break. We had a nice picnic lunch at the most amazing park I've ever seen!! It had a swimming pool with slides (now closed), an awesome splash park (still open), and a HUGE 3-story rocketship playground with a million things to do. We all had a blast playing and helping Thomas check out the great stuff. They even had a real tractor to climb up on! (He loved that!)
Neat splash park
Coolest park ever
We pushed on and made it to Illinois to visit with John's oldest sister, Amy Reed and family. We went for some lunch and met up with Amy to see our nephew Chandler run in a track meet in a nearby city. We made it just in time and watched him run a great race! We also got to check out the Cahokia mounds and visitor's center the next day. It was really neat! It is where a HUGE pre-historic community lived for around 300 years and where earthen mounds can still be seen. Tons of artifacts have been found as well.
The largest of the Cahokia mounds--quite the climb!
You can just make out St. Louis in the background!
We continued on our way to Virginia and stopped for the night in Kentucky and stayed at Mammoth Cave National Park. We got to go for a hike and eat some dinner before crashing in the hotel room for the night. The next morning, we did one of the shortest underground tours (seeing as we had a 2-yr-old to keep happy!) and enjoyed walking through the cave. I had been as a kid and though this part of the huge cave was "unlike the rest," it was similar to what I remember with stalactite and stalagmites, neat structures, and an underground river/pond.
Tuckered out afterwards!!
We then drove to the highest peak in Kentucky. It was a windy, curvy, backroad that, though it made me carsick, was so intriguing to drive along. All the small towns along it had tons of character and history attached. The fall colors were starting to fire up, too. Anyway, the actual "peak" is a tiny road you can drive up to, right on the border of Virginia.
The peak itself didn't have much of a view...
It was gorgeous!
PS-We got a double-screen portable DVD player and a few movies for the drive, which was a lifesaver, especially when it was dark out. This is Thomas vegging out to Lady and the Tramp!
After driving to the peak, we stayed in a hotel not too far away. It was hard finding a place, for some reason there were hardly any hotels. The next day, we went to find Virginia's highest peak! (The two peaks aren't too far away from one another.) After finding the right campground, John left Thomas and I to run up the trail to the peak. Thomas and I played at the playground at the bottom...that is, until it start POURING! At first, we took cover under some trees, but as it worsened, we made a mad dash for the bathrooms to wait it out. Unfortunately, John didn't make it quite to the top before the weather turned bad, but he came and got us anyway. I think it was close enough, be he doesn't. Oh well!
After that, we pushed most of the day and made it to Virginia Beach that evening to see our friends, Adam and Chuchie Barnett and baby Alexis. We had a fun weekend enjoying walking to the beach (they are only about 6 blocks away!) and talking, etc. John headed to Ft. Lee near Richmond (about 2 hours away) while Thomas and I stayed for the week so he could get housing figured out. (Lucky us, the army doesn't like to let you figure things out in advance). We set up the bottom part of a house in Colonial Heights to live in, a 2-bedroom fully furnished place that was reasonably priced. John came and got us the following weekend and we FINALLY got settled in! (You get tired of living out of a suitcase for a few weeks)
Since being here, we have spent one weekend going to Busch Gardens, a huge amusement park, during their free Veteran's Day special. The Barnetts met us there.
Thomas and Alexis
One of the roller coasters we rode!
Sesame Street land! So fun.
Riding the boat ride
We also went one weekend to Colonial Williamsburg, a city where many of the old buildings with a lot of U.S. history have been preserved and several of them have tours with people in period clothing, etc. I'm fascinated with old stuff and places and really enjoyed it. Some of my favorite places were the governor's mansion, an old church, and the cemetery outside on the church grounds. Many of the tombs were still engraved with dates like 1705!
Inside the Church
Beautiful tree--fall lasts so long in VA!
Entrance to the Governor's Mansion--marble floors and hundreds of mounted weapons
Fife band playing traditional songs after Declaration of Independence reading
We also had a fun Halloween, we took Thomas to a ward trunk-or-treat party where his Elmo costume was a huge hit! We also took him trick-or-treating along our street. I have to admit, he's the cutest Elmo I've ever seen!
Trick or treating
Elmo and Zoe! (Elmo's ballerina friend...)
I flew to Utah for my beautiful older sister, Candace's sealing in the new Brigham City LDS temple! It was so wonderful to be able to be there for her and to see her go through the temple making sacred covenants to God with her wonderful husband Matt who she is now sealed to forever!
My gorgeous sister and her handsome hubby
It was also wonderful to see family, even for such a short visit! (Christine, not pictured, was there too)
*PS-These pictures were taken by Kristin Spencer Photography, not me!*
We missed Angela and Corinne!
Also, we spent Thanksgiving holiday with our friends the Barnetts. They were generous to have us over and to prepare a wonderful Thanksgiving feast! They had some other friends join us and it was great to not be alone on Thanksgiving, even being on the opposite side of the country! Though it wasn't the same without being with family, we had an enjoyable holiday with great food and great company.
Otherwise, we've just been hanging out around the house. Thomas likes coloring and playing with playdough. He also is learning quite a bit: he knows his colors, shapes (even "ottagon", ie: octagon!), numbers, and almost ALL his letters! He talks a lot more and likes to sing songs with us. His favorites: I Love to See the Temple, Bill Grogan's Goat (family song), "Poo-ply" (Shoo Fly!), and Row Row Your Boat. He also takes over my kindle fire any chance he gets, playing educational games and watching videos on Netflix. He navigates it like a pro! Oh, and we also gave him a much-needed haircut! Here are some pics and a video:
Though there have been things we have enjoyed about the east coast (the beach, the super-long fall season, the U.S. history, being close to the Barnetts and my grandpa), it has made us realize how much we miss the beautiful western desert! I miss (being closer to) our families, our friends, the beautiful desert sunsets, the space, the undercrowding, our house. How lucky we are to have such wonderful things to return to after this short venture!