Saturday, December 31, 2011

John and Amber's wedding!

The whole reason for our whirlwind Southwestern vacation was to attend the wedding of John Pearson and Amber Diaz.  John got his PhD from Princeton in 2004, and was really involved in PEF during his time here.  He's been a very dear friend of ours for years -- he was an usher at our wedding, and then because he went on to a post-doc position at Duke, pretty much every time we've gone down to NC to visit my family, we've managed to squeeze in a quick visit with him as well.  And though we hadn't met Amber until the day of their wedding, we knew that the woman who captured Pearson's heart had to be very special!  So even though Phoenix was very far to travel, we really didn't want to miss this wedding!

The ceremony was a beautiful celebration of their love, strongly rooted in community -- both in terms of their families (the wedding party consisted of Amber's sister and John's brother) and in terms of their church home (the service was officiated by the pastor of their church in Durham, where they met and where they both serve).

And the reception was so much fun!  We were especially impressed by how much thought had been put into every single little detail, particularly where it came to providing for their guests' comfort -- for instance, they provided these adorable little plush lovies for their littlest guests.  Joshua was very taken by his little orange puppy, which has now taken up permanent residence in his crib.  :)  And the toasts were among the best wedding toasts we had ever heard -- truly moving tributes to the happy couple from their fathers and siblings.

It was also so wonderful to catch up with old friends, many of whom we hadn't seen in years.  We were seated with Chris and Kelly, Curt and Christina, and the Pearsons' pastor Brad and his wife Jena-Marie, and we had wonderful times of conversation with all of them.  And we also got to catch up with Mark and Jeannette, Peter (whose wife Kim was too pregnant to travel!), and John -- so many of the old crowd were there to celebrate!

Sadly, I have no photos of Joshua from the wedding, even though he was in a super-cute blazer and tie outfit.  All the traveling and routine disruption finally caught up with us minutes before the wedding started, in the form of the biggest meltdown we'd seen from him in a long time.  David ended up spending the entire ceremony with Joshua in one of the Sunday School rooms calming him down with a barrage of toys, and then Joshua rallied enough to consent to hang out with the babysitters provided for the reception.  But here's a cell phone shot of our little trooper at the end of our long week of travels:

Thankfully, we had a few days at home to totally veg out and get back to our normal routines before I had to go back to work.  But all told, this trip was definitely worth it -- John and Amber, we had such a wonderful time celebrating your marriage with you!  Many blessings on you both as you continue into your married life together!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Southwestern Vacation!

As mentioned in the previous post, our time in North Carolina was cut a bit short because we had a wedding to attend in Phoenix.  (Which deserves a post all on its own!)  Since we were going to travel all the way out to Arizona, we decided to make a real trip out of it -- we flew into Las Vegas, stayed there one night, then drove out to the Grand Canyon, stopping at the Hoover Dam en route, and then down to Phoenix.  Kind of a crazy itinerary, especially with a toddler, but we saw some amazing sights and really had a great time!

Joshua did surprisingly well with all the travel.  Things did get a little dicey at the end of our long day of air travel from RDU to Vegas, with a layover in Atlanta -- we tried to pick our flights to coordinate with his nap, but the problem was that he didn't get a chance to stretch his legs all morning, and was strapped into his stroller as we hurried to make our connecting flight, so he wasn't tired enough to nap and was fed up with being constrained by the time we finally arrived in Vegas.  While we were checking into our hotel, he kept whining to be let out of the stroller, but wasn't any happier out of the stroller unless one of us was holding him.  Which got to be fairly tiring pretty quickly.  But funnily enough, as soon as we made it up to our room, this was the only place he wanted to be:

He kept climbing back in and wanting to hang out in the stroller that had imprisoned him earlier.  We chalked it up to Stockholm Syndrome, and let him play happily in and around the stroller.  :)

Our time in Vegas was very compressed (less than 24 hours), and very kid-centric, so I doubt we got the full Vegas experience, whatever that may be.  But we did get a glimpse of the Strip at night from our hotel window, and we also took a peek at the restaurant with flying sommeliers, which we only knew about because it was referenced in "Modern Family."  :)

But we chose our hotel, the Mandalay Bay, for its large and kid-friendly aquarium.  Which was a huge hit with our little guy!  (Who also insisted on showing his fire truck and yellow truck the sights...)

Then it was off to the Grand Canyon!  Oh, but I have to include a shot of the rental car we got in Vegas...  We had reserved a mid-sized family car, because we knew we'd be driving a lot and wanted a little more room in the back for me to comfortably entertain Joshua.  When we got to the desk, the rental guy saw us carrying Joshua and pushing a stroller filled with toddler accoutrements, and clearly decided that a two-door Dodge Challenger was the way to go...

Ah, Vegas...  :)

We made a stop at the Hoover Dam on our way to Arizona, and were struck by just how HUGE the structure is.  (I rented a Sigma 8-16mm wide angle lens for this trip, and got to take it for its first real spin here!)  What a monument to human ingenuity and dedication...  There's a memorial at the Dam erected in honor of the 96 men killed during its construction, which states simply, "They Died To Make The Deserts Bloom."  It's crazy when you stop to think about it -- trying to build cities in the barren desert.  Seeing the Dam that helps supply water to so many millions of people was an awe-inspiring experience, and well worth the stop if you're ever doing a similar road trip!

We then finished our drive to the Grand Canyon, arriving just in time to roll into bed and fall asleep.

The next morning, we drove out to see the South Rim of the Canyon.  This was the first time for all of us, and it was so thrilling to be able to cross the Grand Canyon off of our bucket lists!  Our first glimpse of the Canyon was literally breath-taking -- we approached it via a paved set of sidewalks from a visitor center, with flat terrain all around and the normal scrubby trees of the southwest all around, when all of a sudden you come to an overlook, and hey, THERE'S A GIANT CANYON IN FRONT OF YOU.

These photos don't even begin to do it justice...  I wish I had the skill to capture the sense of enormity, and beauty, and the breath-taking sweep of it all...

(I should note, in the interest of editorial candor, that Joshua didn't seem to be all that impressed.  His very favorite part of the walk to see the Rim was when David bounced him down a series of long steps in his stroller.  The kid could have done that all day and been perfectly happy with his first trip to the Grand Canyon.)

Then we had our one big splurge of the trip: a helicopter ride through the Canyon!

Someone, not naming names here, totally fell asleep on the helicopter...

What an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

After that exciting morning, we hit the road again to make our way to Phoenix.  We made a little detour en route in order to see Sedona.  And I know I'm probably already over my limit for superlatives for one post, but the red rocks of Sedona really were beautiful.  We stopped at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, one of Sedona's earliest landmarks, for the architecture and the amazing views of the sweeping vistas surrounding the area.

And then we made one final stop between Sedona and Phoenix -- Montezuma Castle National Monument, where you can see some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings (from about 800 years ago) in the US.

Joshua was slightly happier with this travel day, given the multiple opportunities to be outside in the sunshine.  At the very least, all of this exposure to national monuments and historical landmarks wore him out enough that he slept angelically in the car the rest of the way to Phoenix:

Big collective "Awwww..."  We then made it safely to Phoenix, with some time to rest and recuperate before the big wedding day!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in North Carolina

[Here begins a long-overdue series of back-dated posts... Seems a little silly to be posting Christmas photos in May, but the historian in me wants to get this all up on the blog, and these posts will eventually all go in our annual blog books, so here goes nothing!]

This year, we spent Christmas with my parents down in North Carolina.  It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, since we had the wedding of a very dear friend to attend at the end of December -- in Phoenix.  So we ended up only having a few days in Raleigh, but it was so good to spend some quality time with family and catch up with some old friends!

We had also just found out about baby #2 a couple weeks before, so we decided to tell my side of the family in person while we were there.  Or, to be more precise, we decided to let Joshua make the announcement:

You can't exactly tell from this photo, but his shirt says "BIG BROTHER."  :)  And yes, he has his beloved fire truck and yellow truck in his hands -- we wouldn't dream of going anywhere for any length of time without his two favorite trucks!

Joshua better understood the whole concept of gift-giving this year.  He had a lot of fun toddling around and handing presents to people, and he really loved tearing into the wrapping paper on his own gifts! 

Oh, and my parents loved the finger painting Joshua created for them!  (First mentioned here.)

And Joshua really enjoyed playing with his grandparents and uncles.  It was so much fun watching him roughhouse with the guys, and then exploring my parents' rambling backyard and working up the courage to say hi to the dogs...

Funny story about the dogs -- they love hanging out on the back deck when people are in the kitchen, hoping that someone will come out and bring them some of whatever it is we're eating.  Joshua noticed the dogs just outside the window, and ran over to stare back at them.  He first pointed to Pretty, the slightly smaller girl dog (in the last image above), and yelled "Puppy!!"  And then he saw Puggy, Pretty's full-grown brother, and with wide eyes, shouted "BEAR!!!!"

Later in the weekend, we went up to North Raleigh to meet up with two of my old high school friends!  Sara invited us over to her lovely home for dinner, and Vinney, who's been traveling the world lately doing all manner of interesting work, was in town and finally got to meet Joshua!  And Joshua got to play with another puppy.  :)

In that last shot, Vinney is reading Joshua one of his favorites, "Goodnight Moon," and they just made it to the "quiet old lady whispering hush" page.  :)

We really had a wonderful Christmas, and we're looking forward to the next time we can make it back to Raleigh for a visit!