Did you know Saguaros only grow in Arizona?

Neither did I. But our Uber driver did!

Thursday, February 16

We arrived in Denver at about 10:30 a.m., after a looooooong drive to Charlotte and four-ish hour flight to Denver. And once there? Not only had we gone back two hours, we discovered that our next flight left at 3:30 p.m.

“It must be 3:30 p.m. eastern time,” I informed Pat. But once we landed? And we looked at the board? The board didn’t say 1:30. It said 3:30.

A FOUR. HOUR. LAYOVER. IN. DENVER?!

Luckily, it’s five o’clock somewhere even when it’s only 11 a.m. in Denver, so we started drinking and had a delicious meal at Denver Chophouse and brewery. And we stayed there. For like three hours. Kept drinking. Props and thanks to our incredibly patient and understanding waitress who didn’t mind us hanging out during a very busy day at the restaurant!

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After about five drinks, we decided to spend the rest of our layover buzzedly exploring every shop in the airport, from “Spirit of the Red Horse” to “Greetings from Colorado” and even a bookstore. We bought geode tealight candle holders, I bought a shot glass, Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist, and found beautiful rose gold knot earrings.

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They’re not Tiffany but who cares at this point?

And what else did we find?

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Now, if you know me, you know that tornadoes are, in my mind, the WORST THINGS EVERRRR and so scary. And to see a Shelter sign on the bathrooms? Oh, boy, here we were in tornado country. Good thing it was almost time to fly to Phoenix–and good thing we were drinking plenty–it kept us running into the bathrooms.

We landed in Phoenix in the late afternoon after a mere hour and a half flight. Because it was pre-Spring Ahead, we didn’t gain another hour in Arizona. In the summer though, Arizona is three hours behind Connecticut, and THAT is because AZ doesn’t participate in Daylight Savings.

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We deplaned. My stomach churned; I hadn’t been in the Sky Harbor airport since the day I sat and cried on the way home on August 12, 2007. When I arrived in Arizona for the first time ever on August 5, 2007, it was after my very first flight, nonstop from Bradley to Phoenix. I remember sitting behind the customer service desk waiting for my camp pickup, while the woman working assisted people rerouted to Phoenix from Hawaii for engine troubles. Grumpy people.

In a bit of a daze, I followed Pat around to baggage claim. It was gigantic; it was a big open room with dozens of belts.

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Well, I’m back

Pat hailed an Uber and we spent the next half hour making our way through Phoenix traffic to Chandler, where our hotel and the wedding were. Pat ogled the flat, dusty landscape, palm trees and saguaros, which our driver informed us, only grew in Arizona (I later confirmed this). The city proper and its suburban outskirts lie in a dusty, flat area between several ranges of giant brown mountains. There is no grass and not much greenery save for the palm trees and cacti. And the sun is strong. It was a good change from North Carolina and Connecticut — one state was windy and didn’t get higher than 60, and the other just had a big snowstorm. Our driver also gave us a grand list of what to do in Phoenix the next day — hike a mountain, go to the mall, etc.

The rest of the evening, I started blogging about North Carolina and, we deliberated about getting dinner, but Pat and I ended up falling asleep instead.

Friday, February 17

Pat’s parents were flying in around noon, so we had time to explore. We grabbed breakfast in the hotel lobby and decided to take a walk to the Chandler Fashion Center Mall. Unfortunately, we forgot to check what time things opened. Since we were still not used to Western time, it felt like it was noon when it was really only 9 a.m. Pair that with going to bed early, and we were both well-rested and unadjusted. So our 20 minute walk to the mall concluded with the realization that everything opened at 10 a.m., which I should have known considering I worked at a mall for two years. 

The mall was mostly indoors and HUGE but it also had a neat feature where a bunch of the stores and restaurants opened up to a patio or the middle of the mall’s courtyard, which featured fake grass and a splash pad for when it gets hot — and it does. This is where Pat and I walked into. Starbucks was open, but we’d already had breakfast, so we just sat outside at the tables and enjoyed the sun and cacti for a little while together.

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It ended up being a great idea because I was able to buy shoes for the wedding AND new sneakers, which I’d needed, on sale ($40 down from $100!!). Pat even bought a new pair — we got matching all-black sneakers. We found a bench and changed into our new awesome shoes and threw away the old. My new sneakers were Nike Frees, which are really lightweight sneakers. I wanted a pair like this to wear while working out and running, and to replace my old New Balance pair which I think I got in like 2011 and had ripped along the sides.

We even hung around at the Windows store, which also ended up working in our favor. I didn’t buy anything that day, but we explored the tablets and laptops since I was in the market for a new one. My lime green, 17″ Dell at eight years old was slowly losing its life. I brought it with me on this trip for homework purposes, but it was only a matter of time before I had to buy something new. Not to mention, I think my Dell was about four Windows software generations behind. I debated between the laptops and Surface Pros, which I played with and fell in love with due to their removable keyboards, totally adjustable kickstand, and stylus. The screen was large enough and it folded up slim. I had a decision to make when I got home.

Pat’s parents met us at the mall and we had lunch before walking back to the hotel. They chose BJ’s Brewhouse, a place we’d never eaten before, and which had a lovely patio. I ordered the low-cal fire-roasted Barbacoa chicken, which is spiced chicken with brown rice, black beans, a little feta and Greek yogurt. And OH MY WORD is it amazing! On the side, I ordered the house-made cider, which I think was grapefruit (but it might have been Berry Burst, as that’s advertised a lot). I recommend, recommend, recommend.

We had a little time, like an hour or two, to kill before getting ready for the wedding (we needed to be there at four-ish). I put on a magenta dress with a patterned lace bottom and Pat wore a suit. I spent a little time ironing because thanks to suitcases, everything came out of them wrinkled.

The Ashley castle was, no joke, a five minute walk, but still a little too far with heels and nice clothes. Luckily, our hotel had a free shuttle! When we got there, everyone lined up outside the front of the castle for the videographer to film. About 15 minutes later, we could find our seats. Pat and I exchanged a Look once we saw the venue. First of all, I love castles, and history. Everyone knows this. Even though it’s not a HISTORIC venue, it’s a castle with a big open courtyard in the back and it’s stunning. Also, we really liked the idea of having a ceremony right there at the reception venue; we talked about that too.

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It. Was. Beautiful. Alexa was beautiful. Her bridesmaids were stunning. Cody and his brothers’ navy blue suits were a sight. They wrote their own vows and held back tears the entire time, but couldn’t stop smiling or laughing. The speeches were touching and heartfelt, the food was great, and while Pat and I don’t dance really, we had an amazing time. And, we were “wedding watchers,” scoping out ideas for venue and ceremony.

We didn’t stay too late after cake because we had a flight to catch the next day, but Cody and Alexa gave us big hugs and we said we hoped we’d see them soon.

We bid Arizona adieu, again, the next morning, and flew home. I went back to my schoolwork and gym routine, and went to my good friend Erica’s bridal shower. Pat went back to work and debating a change in career. We pondered next steps. We braved another blizzard. We kept going.

Little did I know.

Everything was about to change.

 

 

 

 

 

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