We had an early start heading out - leaving our home at 10:00 PM for the airport and our 12:15 AM flight. My visiting teacher - Charlene - was very considerate to take us and offer to pick us up on our return as well. I still need to find a good way to thank her.
At the airport, we stopped by our gate and then headed down to the concourse where Popeye's is. Ever since one of our first trips together from Salt Lake Airport, we've made it something of a tradition to go there. However, we got there around 11:00 PM and initially there was no one there. When a lady finally did show up, she basically told us that because they were closing in thirty minutes, they only had the chicken and biscuits that had been sitting in the heating tray for awhile. Finding that somewhat unappetizing, we thanked her and headed back to a sandwich shop we'd seen next to security. This turned out to be a very good decision as the sandwiches were particularly delicious.
We finally got on our first flight to Charlotte and I made the realization that I am not very good at picking seats (this probably comes from years of flying standby and simply being happy to have a seat). The seats we had were next to the bathroom and didn't recline very much. On a normal flight neither of these things would really bother me, but for a long red eye, the non-reclining thing was a little painful - or at least added pain to the general discomfort of trying to sleep on a plane. I think I may invest in a neck pillow for Thailand.
We finally arrived, rather exhausted, in Charlotte. We headed to our gate and found some space to lie down, resting as much as we could (though I was admittedly much distracted with playing Pokemon Go). Cinnabun for breakfast made our stay there a little better. :) Finally on to DC, we arrived and quickly got our rental car! In fact - we were so speedy in all of this that we had about an extra 90 minutes before we had planned to meet Tanya at her work. As such, we drove downtown and walked around the White House for awhile. Downtown DC is pretty much a Pokemon Go player's dream come true. SO many Pokestops.
Finally really headed for Tanya's work this time, I'll admit that I didn't really know where we were going. Tanya had simply referred to her work as the "Agency" and offered to give us a tour. As we pulled up to the address she'd given us, though, we realized that we at a much higher level government facility than we'd anticipated. In fact, I'm not really sure how much it is OK for me to expound about where we were... Long story short, it was pretty cool and we got to see lots of neat things inside, including a little private museum there. We had lunch there as well and then headed back to BJ and Tanya's home where we hung out with them as well as Kris and Kallie before going to get sushi for dinner. Yum! We weren't ready to leave them when we did, but we knew we'd have limited time with Jeff and Sarah as well.
The drive to Jeff and Sarah's home was pretty quick. We hung out for awhile and then convinced them to watch the first episode of Stranger Things - an amazing eight episode show on Netflix that we recently binge-watched as soon as it came out. As it was a little intense, we ended the evening with some Jeopardy. In the morning Sarah headed off to Girl's Camp and we hung out with Jeff until about 11:00 AM and then hit the road for Harrisonburg.
The drive to Harrisonburg (about two hours from Jeff and Sarah's) was quick and uneventful. I realized at some point that we were less than a mile from the West Virginia border and we decided that we'd try and make time to swing back through West Virginia and do something so that Brandon could add it to the list of states he's been to.
We arrived in Harrisonburg around 1:00 PM - just a little while before the kids would get home from their summer camp activities. Our first order of business - kittens! Carina, just prior to our coming, had agreed to foster five little kittens - to help them become more used to people and gain a little more weight. They are so cute! We spent a fair amount of time, then and later, playing with them. Kittens are wonderful - full of explosive energy, curious, playful, and sooo tiny and fluffy! Brandon started to fall asleep while we were playing with the kittens, so we opted for a nap before the kids got home.
After a quick nap and the arrival of the kids, we all got in our swim suits and headed over to James Madison University. Carina works there and thus was able to get us into their recreational facility to use the pool. And it was a pretty cool pool! There was the main part of the pool (volleyball court sized) with a (surprise!) volleyball net, as well as two basketball hoops. Over on one side of the pool, a small rock wall divided the main part of the pool from a little moat with a lovely current flowing through it. The current in the moat created current across most of the pool as well, though less noticeably. The best part of the pool (at least for the adults) was when Carina asked some of the pool staff to get out the log. I don't know what else to call it, though I'm sure it has a more official name. Essentially, it was a man-made log that, when filled up partially with water so it would be partially submerged in the water, created a wonderful game/puzzle. The idea was to get on, stand up, and then walk along the log so that the log would slowly turn - all without you falling off. We mostly fell off and there were definitely some bruised forearms from trying to get on, but is was very fun. This link should give you a better idea.
We made dinner when we got home and then the kids went to bed and the rest of us settled down for another evening of watching Stranger Things (first episode for Carina and Dathan).
Early the next morning (Thursday), armed with bagels and their lunches for the day, the kids were out the door to await the bus to their summer camp. As soon as they were gone, the rest of us rushed out the door behind them to head to a Kayaking place on the Shenandoah River. Then, as you might guess, we spent the next several hours kayaking!
Back for lunch, more time with the kittens, and time with the kids, we were then back out the door and headed to a neighboring town (Staunton) to watch Twelfth Night at the Blackfriar Playhouse. first though - dinner at Baja Bean. The Blackfriar Playhouse claims to be the world's only indoor recreation of Shakespear's Theater - though I swear I've been in one just like it in England. Regardless - it was a fun performance and an enjoyable evening (more Pokemon Go happened - the theater was a PokeGym). We rushed home afterward to relieve the babysitter, and then proceeded with more Stranger Things. Carina had picked up some McVities Digestive Biscuits and Hobnobs before we arrived and we had them as dessert every evening.
Friday was much more relaxed after our whirlwind Thursday. Dathan had to head back to work and Carina, Brandon, and I headed to the school where the kids were having their summer activities for a special performance around noon. Right away, the first performance by some very young kids was fantastic. A skit about two bug-enthusiasts who accidentally skrink themselves (eg. Alice in Wonderland style) and then aren't sure exactly what to make of the bugs that are as big as them. Sylvia was then in a "Little Red Hen" skit where the typical story played out - though the children all got to choose the animals that they would be and make their costumes. Sylvia chose to be a fox and we watched, as the performance proceeded, her respond with the typical "Not I" to all of the hen's requests for helps. However, Sylvia was legitimately busy the entire time - making her own loaf of bread! She neither wanted to help the hen, nor asked for help making her own bread. We were impressed with her cleverness. Felix's class for the week had been on DJing and sound mixing. So, their presentation was musical as they demonstrated their new skills in a.) scratching on a record for cool sound effects, and b.) cueing the beginning of the next song into a mix. And while it was visually so-so to watch this, it was pretty cool to listen.
And the rest of the day followed in a chill manner! Kittens, kids, dinner, Stranger Things!
Saturday was another whirlwind day! We started out with a quick stop at the local Farmers Market (I bought a pair of green earrings) and then by heading to Shenandhoah National Park to hike the Bearfence Rock Scramble. The kids were mysteriously unenthusiastic about this hike -having done it before and saying that it felt SO long. But, when we got on the trail and were doing it, they didn't seem to mind. Plus, they got to watch a movie while they were in the car - so that wasn't so bad either.
Following the hike we found a nice camp ground to sit down and eat some lunch. Though, at least for me and Sylvia, the pesky gnats made it very difficult to enjoy the lunch site. I don't think they're always that bad - but that particular spot that day was very *gnasty* (cue cutesy laughter).
After lunch, we headed for Luray Caverns. When we arrived, we had the option of waiting 30-40 minutes in line to go straight into the caves, or buy tickets for an entrance time in an hour. We opted for the latter option and headed over to spend our hour in the hedge maze. I've been to a number of corn and hedge mazes, and this one was particularly well done. Tricky, but not impossible. Plus, they had these wonderful cool misting machines tucked all over in the hedge. Very nice for a hot day.
Before we knew it our time in the maze was up and we needed to head over to go down into the caves. Again, though I've been in many caves systems across the country, Luray did a really good job of making the most of what they had. It wasn't a particularly large cave system, but the path they had us followed allowed us to see all of it well and from many different vantages. The most spectacular part (in my opinion) was the large cave pool. The stillness of the pool made the water an optical illusion - such an exquisite reflection of the ceiling that if I hadn't known it was a reflection, I would have though it was more of the cave.
After the coolness of the caves, we were ready to brave the heat and humidity again! But first - ice cream. Brandon and I first shared what was advertised as an instant milkshake. Really, it was ice cream in a cup that they put into a special machine and it was supposed to come out as a milkshake. It came out more like chocolate milk, so we *had* to get another ice cream bad (Dove) to go along with it. ;)
Following ice cream we headed to our last activity at Luray - a ropes course.
It was pretty fun. Not particularly challenging in any way, but a fun mix for both kids and adults.
And then we were headed home to make dinner and conclude our Saturday evening with a few more episodes of Stranger Things (we left Carina and Dathan to watch the final two episodes on their own after we'd gone).
On Sunday morning we first went with Carina to visit her church (she attends Park View Mennonite Church) and then with Dathan to our normal church meetings (Dathan taught Sunday School). Carina's congrugation was definitely a change of scene for Brandon and I but we were both especially impressed with how fantastic their music was. A favorite song from the day,
(I wasn't sure about this version at first, but it has grown on me. It might have helped that Brandon immediately compared it to the closing songs you often here on animes.)
Monday was our last full day in Virginia. We'd mentioned our plans to cut into West Virginia briefly. Carina mentioned that there was a lake just across the border that they liked and why not go there this morning? So we packed up the kids and headed over.
It was neither a very small or very large lake - just right, really. The water was also the perfect temperature - slightly cool but not cold. Goldilocks would have loved it. ;) Me, being me, I immediately set to digging a hole (that's what I do on beaches) and then slowly beginning to construct a castle of sorts. Fairly early in this process, a woman arrived with her two children. This particular woman clearly belonged to a more orthodox Mennonite congragation as both she and her daughter were wearing the long traditional dresses. But after settling in for a moment, the boy and girl were on the beach in their swimsuits - and quite interested in what I was doing. We introduced ourselves (their names are Caroline and Josh) and they started helping me right away. It made for much more interesting conversation that I'd have anticipated! Meanwhile, Brandon kept the other kids much occupied by throwing them into the air.
After awhile of all of this, and after catching three salamanders and a crayfish, we (collectively) filled the center hole of the castle with water and deposited the salamanders and filled the moat and deposited the crayfish. Then, we created a moat down to the water and broke the castle moat and the castle itself so all of our critters could be free once more.
Basically, it was wonderful. And on our way home we saw a baby bear (about the size of a cat) on the side of the road (hopefully its mama was close) and then a fawn in the middle of the road! Both very cute. We got home, cleaned up, played with the kittens, said our goodbyes, and headed for DC. Traffic wasn't too bad heading back to DC. Our GPS led us well, though - concerned about a potential upcoming toll - we did take one detour. We stopped for about thirty minutes at the DC Temple and then headed on to Chuck and Michal's place where we had plans to have dinner and stay the night.
Dinner was wonderful (sort of eggplant quesadillas) and the conversation was excellent. We were sad to say good night as it was essentially good bye. Very very early we got up again and headed for the airport. Our flight was at 6:00 AM and while we weren't too far from the airport, we also had to return our car. Everything went swimmingly and we were at our gate and on our first flight without any issues. After a medium length stop in Chicago (an airport that makes charging phones SO difficult) we chased down our gate and headed for home.
And we made it! Charlene picked us up and when we opened the door into our little apartment, Peaches was particularly needy - a weeks worth of unheard meows were distributed over the following 24 hours.
All in all, we wish we'd had more time, but we're pretty happy that we got to go and see so many people we love.