We drove from Chicago, Illinois to Chandler, Arizona and back. It was a whirlwind of an adventure and some crazy and wonderful things happened along the way. I could describe everything in a five-part blog post, or I could offer the highlights. For the sake of brevity, I'll choose the latter, but I'll fill in some of the best details. Settle in for this one, it's almost as long as the trip, but I'm going to surprise you!
We hit the road on May 15th, leaving after Ryan got off work at O'Hare. We packed up the kiddo, the dog, and all our stuff. I sat in the back next to Harrison, behind Ryan, in front of Dean Yeager. I was at the ready to give the baby a bottle, the dog a Milk Bone, and our driver the Beef Jerky. We made videos along our way (which are on my Facebook page if you'd like to watch our silliness) and kept ourselves sane by listening to movies on CD or music or chatting.
We stopped in St. Louis at an okay Best Western that was pet-friendly. We got up early and discovered they had a pretty terrific free breakfast that we happily ate. We made our way to Oklahoma City, where we stopped in for the night at the home of Ryan's Aunt, Uncle, and cousins, the Ifill family. They were gracious hosts, and fed us a nice home-cooked meal. We discovered the rain we'd driven through was actually part of a huge cell full of tornadoes. Luckily, we'd reached the Ifills' in time to avoid being in their path. We were shown the storm cellar, just in case, and we watched the weather on TV a bit. Dean Yeager got in a bit of a tussle with one of the Ifills' three dogs, so he had to be separated from Xander for the evening. He did make friends with Pirrow and Frankie, though. Pirrow, the long-haired dachshund, even helped Dean Yeager break out of the guest room at one point! Sneaky puppies!
From Oklahoma City, we plotted a course for Roswell, New Mexico. It was a bit out of our way, but something we decided we wanted to do. We rolled into town at 6:45 and discovered the UFO Museum was already closed. So sad. We did, however, find a "UFO and Alien Stuff" souvenir shop, and we had a great time in there! After a stay in a pretty decent Best Western, we hit the road again. This time, I read us an article I found online all about Roswell and the back-story to all the alien hubbub. We saw White Sands, NM which was breathtaking, and signs for possible missile testing nearby. Yikes!
We took in our surroundings and were enjoying ourselves, but then Harrison started to get more and more upset. As he wailed, I noticed it: NEW TEETH. His front upper tooth had broken through and the one next to it looked angry. Poor dude. I gave him Tylenol and a bottle, and he napped for awhile. Meanwhile, this particular leg of the trip had started to drag. We were in the desert for so long and the sights, while lovely, had started looking similar every mile. Mile after mile. I was rocking in my seat a little. Dean Yeager was getting restless. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
Then: a sign for Chandler! Huzzah! We finally arrived at Ryan's folks' house and there was a greeting party out front to meet us! Ryan leaped from the car to hold our new niece, Kaylee, only four months old, whom we hadn't met yet. Ryan's sisters, Caitlin (Kaylee's mom) and Bronwyn were there with smiles and hugs, as well as my father-in-law, John. Pop Pop, Ryan's 93-year-old grandfather, got up from his nap a bit later and joined the festivities, and our nephew and godson, Hunter, was enjoying all the activity. Our oldest nephew, Dylan, joined us when he got out of school that afternoon and helped his Uncle Ryan unload the car. He marveled at all the bugs we'd managed to pick up along the way. (Ewwwww.)
Dean Yeager had a bit of a spat with the Schiles' dog, Sierra, that resulted in their separation as well. Sadly, Dean Yeager just doesn't play well. I mean, he likes other dogs, but dogs who want to play tend to freak him out. He just wants some space these days. He wants to protect Harrison, and me, and make Ryan (the Alpha) happy. Sadly, both Xander and Sierra tried to follow him around and nudge him to play with them and he just flipped out a bit. Luckily, no one was hurt, but it was sort of a bummer.
That night, Cathy, or "Momma Dukes" as we call her for some unknown reason, came home from work and saw just how big her youngest grandson had become. We all had KFC for dinner and that was just perfect. Eventually we were able to get the baby to bed, spend a little time chatting with everyone, and then we turned in.
It was not a restful night. None of them were restful nights. Why? Oh, ya know, TEETHING. Another tooth broke through that night. Both top teeth had broken through poor Harrison's mouth since we left home. Yeesh. Despite the miserable pain of growing teeth, he really was a champ about it. He was still chipper a lot of the time, with brief fussy spells. People still commented "what a smiley baby he is," which we found remarkable, since we knew he wasn't completely himself. I guess that's a pretty good sign that we have a wonderful kid.
The next day, we finally saw Caitlin's husband, Mark, Bronwyn's boyfriend, Robert, and Ryan's sister, Juliet, and her kids, Cole and Sarah. We had all the cousins together! Why didn't we take a picture?!? I don't know. Probably the chaos. My family is relatively small in comparison to the Schile clan. If you know my family, you know what we're like, so you will be shocked when I tell you the volume of Schile gatherings puts Jenkins gatherings to shame. I was one of the quiet ones for awhile there (I hold my own now) and that's saying something! But with the boisterousness comes so much laughter. There is almost constant storytelling and laughing going on. It's glorious. I certainly married into the right family.
Anyway, we had six days of vacation there. There was a ton of swimming and chatting and eating and playing. There was a day we all went kite-flying at the park. Two kites did not come back with us, but their retrieval attempts are now archived in the Schile Story Vault. We also went to the Arizona Science Center, and out for pizza, and bowling. Bowling was my favorite, I think. Pop Pop came along with all of us to the bowling alley. He happily watched and laughed at each of us when we celebrated or pouted. He loved when the kids would bowl. Then, suddenly, the lights went out. Up come the black lights and lasers: it's Cosmic Bowling! I started laughing. Ryan asked what was so funny. I said, "Your Pop Pop is at Cosmic Bowling!" Harrison slept through Cosmic Bowling, but Pop Pop and I took pictures of ourselves in the crazy lights, laughing. That was a fun night.
The whole trip is sort of like that last paragraph for me. I have overall memories of our trip, sprinkled with little detailed ones. That's why I always take so many photos on vacation: to help me remember everything we did! I can tell you, we had a wonderful time there. So did Dean Yeager (who finally settled down and was able to hang out casually with Sierra) and so did Harrison, who had yet ANOTHER tooth coming through. That's three new teeth on our trip, for those keeping score at home.
We had planned to go the Grand Canyon on our way home. I mean, not so much "on our way," but as we headed back. I'd never been there and we figured it was only a few hours' extra driving. We got the atlas out one day and started trying to plan it. Something was bothering us about it. Eventually, I said, "Ya know, if you'd rather stay here an extra day, the Grand Canyon will still be there. I'll see it another time. And Harrison won't even care right now." Ryan looked a little relieved. We decided to stretch our visit in Arizona instead of adding another mini-adventure to our big adventure. We spent extra time with Pop Pop, Mom and Dad, and the rest of the family instead. It turned out that was the best move because on that final day, the day we weren't even going to be there, Harrison took his first steps!
A walker! Our boy is a walker! (Remember that surprise I mentioned?!?)
Well, not exactly. He took about a dozen steps back and forth between Ryan and me that afternoon, and hasn't done it since. But, BUT! The whole family was there and got to see it happen! Juliet grabbed her phone and even got a short video of it for us! I didn't share that huge event online because my folks were out at sea until yesterday, so now that they know, the world can know! My baby took his first steps!! Weeeeee!
Leaving was hard. Leaving family after a great trip with so much laughter is always hard. We all went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast that morning. We had an enormous table in the middle of the restaurant. There were babies on either end and the four generations that brought them here in between. We filled an already-loud and crowded restaurant with more joyful noise than perhaps they expected. I looked around to see Dylan playing with Harrison, Pop Pop laughing with Juliet, Ryan and his folks talking travel, Caitlin and Mark getting Hunter to eat, and Robert watching Bronwyn make faces at Kaylee. I snapped out of it when Harrison threw his airplane rattle on the floor yet again, but I smiled thinking about how great the Schile family is.
I'll spare you our tearful goodbyes. It was rough.
So, we hit the road that afternoon for Albequerque. On the way, we saw signs for Meteor Crater. Ryan geeked out! So we made that pit stop, paid an exorbitant rate to see it, and took some fun photos. When we got back in the car, I looked up another article online, and read us the history of Meteor Crater. We stayed in a really nice La Quinta Inn. Like, really nice. I didn't want to set an alarm or leave, maybe ever, kind of nice. Ryan was up late that night, finishing the latest episode of Our Fair City, for which he is the Sound Designer and an actor (I'm an actress in it myself. Give it a listen if you're looking for a fun, post-apocalyptic radio drama). How he stayed up late and then got up early, I'll never know. Harrison, Dean Yeager, and I all crawled into the king-size bed and passed out that night.
The next day, we returned to Oklahoma City. On our way, we passed abandoned gas stations and ghost towns. It was getting weird. There were sections of road that twisted and turnoffs that veered sharply. I saw a memo in the atlas about Historic Route 66, so I looked it up online. I found a ton of information on it, and discovered we'd been driving on it since Flagstaff the previous day! Fun! We finally got to Edmond, Oklahoma. This time, all three of the Ifill cousins were there! Aunt Carol and Uncle Walt served us home-made (delicious) pizza, and we caught up on the lives of Emily, Amanda, and Eddie. They, too, are an awesome family. We laughed a lot with them, swapping stories and telling them about the trip, and they invited us to stay two nights if we wanted to. We opted to take our time in the morning, but still hit the road the next afternoon. We got up, had breakfast, chatted more, and Ryan and Eddie even played some basketball. We showered, had much coffee, and piled back into the car.
We got to the not-too-bad Days Inn in Kansas City that evening with energy to spare! The casual morning and the decision to go to Kansas City instead of St. Louis (about an hour closer) really seemed to help. I even had time to participate in ChicagoNow's May Blogapalooz-hour and write a story for the challenge! You can read it here, if you like! (You should. I'm proud of it.) We got a good night's sleep (with only one mid-night baby interruption) and hit snooze about ten times the next morning. I finally got up, saw that we were going to miss the free breakfast if we didn't hurry, and looked at my very-much-asleep family in the bed. I grabbed my room key and padded down to the lobby, bringing back bananas, bagels, and a huge Belgian waffle for us to share. After a few sips of coffee that tasted like dirty laundry, we packed up and hit the road. This time, we were going home.
Along the way, we made one final geeky pit stop. Riverside, Iowa. The future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. We pulled up with our license plate that says KHAAAAN and climbed out excitedly. Ryan and I went to Riverside for our one-year wedding anniversary, arriving on May 28th. Here we were, four years later on May 28th, arriving in Riverside once again. This time, though, we had grown in number. We took photos in the same places as our first visit, but this time they included Harrison and Dean Yeager. In four years, we went from newlyweds to a family. Funny how some things change and some things stay the same, isn't it? Our family grew, but our geekiness remains. Now, time to head home: Engage!
We pulled up to our house in the deep blue evening. All the trees around our abode had grown leaves upon leaves, the bushes were taller, and the grass was too long. It looked like a secret garden was going to envelope the house, and I loved the sight of it. We filmed one last quick video of the four of us in the back of our trusty SUV, the Botany Bay, and then rushed inside. We took in the smell, and that brief moment when your home is slightly foreign to you. We saw flashes of fur that meant the cats heard us come in and decided they had better things to do. We let Dean Yeager out back, put Harrison in his play pen, and turned and gave each other a hug.
"We did it!" Ryan said.
"Arizona and back," I said.
We took a deep breath... then jumped back into our lives.
Until next time... "It was fun... Oh my."
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