New Jersey July 2010

We took a trip to New Jersey a few weeks ago to visit my mom and a bunch of family who were also gathering there. The official reason for the trip was to celebrate my grandfather's 80.5 birthday, since his 80th was in January and we didn't get a chance to celebrate as a family then. His 80.5 was on July 4, which meant we were also gathered for Kent's birthday on July 3, plus the holiday festivities and fireworks.

We got there on a Thursday, settling in and hanging out with my grandparents who also arrived that day. The flight was pretty bumpy on the way down, and Kent ended up being sick right when we landed and he was thrown forward. I cleaned him off and changed his clothes without too much trouble, and Jack and I wondered why in the heck we can't seem to have a trip to visit my mom without Kent throwing up.

On Friday, we borrowed a car and drove down to Philly to visit our friends Lauren and Steve. Lauren (and Jeannette) had told me about a fabulous little play cafe in Chestnut Hill called The Little Treehouse, a sweet super-fun place that's almost just like the kid-friendly coffee shop I've been dreaming about.

I didn't remember to take any pictures of the actual play space, which took up about half the interior, or our amazing wood-fired pizza or coffee drinks... but the place was amazing. Here's just one aspect of the amazingness. Toys on the wall of the bathroom for the kids to play with while Mom goes to the potty. I have a difficult time keeping Kent in the bathroom with me sometimes, since he goes right away and then wants to leave before I'm done. Example: when I took my pregnancy test at Target last year and found out I was pregnant with Dean, Kent busted out of the handicapped stall before I had my pants up. I'll never forget that. So having something to keep him occupied was pretty ingenious.

We spent the rest of the afternoon chilling with Lauren and Steve, who gave Kent a card that we could turn into a cardboard airplane. There was much revelry throwing the airplane around their apartment. We also introduced Kent to a couple of different video games on the Nintendo Wii. He couldn't quite understand that his movements while holding the Wii remote were controlling what happened on the screen, but he thought bowling with 100 pins was pretty spectacular. Several of my friends in town, who have kids just a little older than Kent, have Wiis, and I've thought seriously about getting one sometime soon so that we can play games as a family. Perhaps it's in our future.

We also did a lot of Dean-gazing, because he's fun and very giggly.

We made a stop by the side of the road on the way back to NJ that evening, because Dean needed a break from the carseat. I snapped this picture of our reflection in the car's window.

Saturday was Kent's birthday, with a party and cake planned for the evening. My stepbrother Chris and his wife Cat had arrived from NC, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Jeff and two of their kids, Dave and Dan, had flown in from Colorado, and my stepsister Morgan, her husband Brian, and their baby daughter Blythe drove up from Baltimore on Saturday, so we had a pretty large crew. During the day, Mom and Bill took my little branch of the family to a carnival in town that Bill had some experience with as a Kiwanian. Mom, Kent, and I rode on the ferris wheel, which Kent always loves doing, and then Kent got to ride kiddie rides for the first time. He had a blast. He just kept grinning and smirking and then running around excitedly, telling us which thing he wanted to do next.

It was dang hot, so Dean and I bought a bottle of water and chilled in the shade where we could still see Kent.

Here's Kent getting a fun shoulder ride from Bill.

After Kent's nap, the birthday festivities got going, which included swimming, grilling out, and Kent's birthday cake, which I decorated earlier in the day to his specifications. He had told me he wanted a space shuttle on his cake, so I ran with it, and this is what I ended up with:

Several people have been confused by the numbers at the bottom, thinking that perhaps Kent was turning 32, but it says "3 2 1!" for anyone who can't read frosting.

On Sunday, we had a sort of lazy morning at Mom's house, while Mom, Bill, and my grandparents went to church. Ordinarily, we would go with them, but we knew that between Kent being in an unfamiliar church (and consequently not wanting to go to the nursery), and the up-and-down dance we usually do with Dean at our own church, we wouldn't get much out of the service, so we sat it out this time and hoped for a day in the future when it'll be easier to tag along. After church, we all went to a diner for brunch/lunch, and I got a Greek-style chicken wrap with tzatziki sauce, something I'd been craving. It was perfect. I don't quite remember what anyone else ate because I was so happy eating my own food. I think Kent had part of a meatball and some spaghetti, plus the chocolate pudding that came with his meal. It's funny, I read a quote recently about having realistic expectations while on vacation, and the example the author cited was that if your child is a picky eater at home, s/he is going to be a picky eater on vacation. Um, yes.

After the meal, Jack and Brian found themselves swaying side by side with their respective babies, so everyone turned to look and smile, and then Dave and Dan decided they ought to get in on the swaying, so Dan jumped into Dave's arms and gave us all a good laugh.

Back at home, Morgan and I took about 100 pictures of Blythe and Dean together in their Fourth of July outfits. What a couple of cuties. They're a month and a half apart, destined to be great friends as they get older. Dean hadn't quite developed all his sitting up muscles yet, so he kept falling over and we kept propping him back up next to her.

Brian caught a snooze later with Blythe and Mom and Bill's cat, Barnaby.

And my favorite part of Sunday was a little personal tribute to my grandfather: homemade pretzels. He and I made these all the time when I was a kid (though admittedly I didn't drink beer with them back then... I didn't know what I was missing). I have so many memories revolving around those pretzels. There was greasing the pan with Crisco, then having to wash it off my hands while my grandfather turned up the water temperature and I complained repeatedly that it was too hot. There were all the times I tried to make letters for everyone in my family instead of the classic pretzel shape, and my grandfather was a terrific sport and tried to keep Ms, Es, and Js together in the water bath and on the pan so that the letters would stay intact. And there was the time that we couldn't find the recipe (in the days before looking things up on the internet), and we tried to recreate the recipe from memory. I think my grandfather looked at it as a teachable moment, but I was too young to be much help.

Here's Kent munching on his pretzel by the pool. One of my favorite things about having kids is passing on traditions to them that have already brought me so much joy.

Here are some more pool pictures from throughout the weekend:

On Monday, Dave and Dan did a lot of crazy diving where they attempted to dive under each other, do high-fives on the way into the water, etc. I took a lot of pictures and a couple of short movies, and I thought I was going to be calling the collection "How Dave and Dan Ended Up in the Emergency Room." But somehow they managed not to injure each other, except one time that I heard Dave say, "You poked me in the eye!" Those two are hilarious. I wish we all lived closer.

All the diving board action seems to have inspired Kent to finally jump into our arms in the pool, and he dazzled us with his newfound adventurous spirit in the water.

Mom read a lot of books with Kent. I just love watching my mom bond with my kiddo.

At some point in the weekend, Chris and Cat posed for me to take a quick picture in Mom and Bill's kitchen. I was terrible about taking lots of pictures of everyone, so when I realized I didn't have any of them, I had to fix it.

Mom has lived in NJ for (almost?) three years now, and in that short time, I have developed a favorite tradition: walking to the little farm stand on the main road, shopping for produce, and then eating a cider doughnut and petting the goats. Here are Jack and Kent sharing a doughnut in the sun. Not much beats a doughnut enjoyed with the people you love most.

Inevitably, we had to go home. It was one of the few trips I've taken where I really didn't feel ready to leave. However, the temperatures in NJ were topping 100 that Tuesday, and when we got back to New Orleans, it was a pleasant 80 degrees. Talk about a schema breaking.

As we boarded the plane, the very eager flight attendant offered to let Kent go into the cockpit, and the pilots were all over him and had a great time with him while I went to grab the camera.

The pilot insisted on posing Mike the Tiger Kitty as well, and I was cracking up at all of them. I've said many times that I wish I could always fly Southwest because the staff is so great, but Continental gave them a run for their money this time.

And here's our wide-eyed baby enjoying the flight home.

The web of family was tightened a bit over this weekend, strengthening our bond across the vast country where we've been scattered. Thank goodness for the internet, and air travel.

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You've created quite a treasure, Erica! Fantastic photos and great narration-- makes us all want to be there with you! Your boys will LOVE having this to read over later on.
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