Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Christmas that almost wasn't (in NJ)

We made it to New Jersey to see Rob's family for Christmas! And it was quite the trip. Let me back up...

When we were trying to decide if and when to travel for the holidays (Thanksgiving/Christmas) I was in the first trimester, wasn't feeling well at all, and felt like I was just wrangling the kids every day and trying to survive. Rob and I thought that driving in our van to NJ to see his family with a 2 year old, 1 year old and growing pregnant belly sounded like pure misery, much as we missed our family out East. So we basically planned not to travel at all until after the baby was born.

As we were putting up our Christmas tree in early December, it just didn't feel right that over a year would end up going by without seeing most of Rob's family and getting all the little cousins together. We were only 4 weeks out from Christmas, I was well into the second trimester and feeling great, the kids were healthy, sleeping well through the night and were on a good schedule, and we were hating the idea of Christmas passing without seeing all of our family. So I begged Rob to reconsider heading to NJ for Christmas... and we decided to look into flying instead of driving.

Rob's dad offered to let us use his miles and fly under his Elite status - which (who knew) would be our saving grace as we traveled. It afforded us the best seats on the plane (bulkhead, just behind first class with room for the kids to sit and play on the floor!), priority boarding, and free checked baggage! Ellie flew as a lap child and that ended up being the toughest part of the flight. She is at a busy age and is always moving.

When we arrived in NJ on Thursday, Dec. 23rd, we were thankful that Rob and I had avoided getting the flu that the kids had earlier in the week. We spent the afternoon and evening unpacking, settling into Grammy and Papa's house, and having a big family dinner with all of Rob's siblings, their spouses, and of course the cousins.

The next day, Rob's older sister Rachel invited us over to her house (just 15 mins away from his parents' home) for the morning. She had pre-glued together gingerbread houses made of graham crackers for the boys to decorate, and had gathered and sorted every kind of candy imaginable!

It is so much fun to do activities like these with cousins who are the same age. It was a great morning, and fun way to kick off our visit. Poor Marc (Rachel's husband in the top left of this picture) - he and I rarely make it into pictures because we are busy taking them all! Sorry Marc, I think this is somehow the only picture I have of you from the week!?

Love this one - the little girls just ate their way through the morning, and I think Katelin is getting a sucker taken away by mommy!

Cousin James - he was the most intent decorator, and the last one up from the table HOURS after we started! For such an active little guy he really got into this quiet activity. If I remember correctly, he included a pool as well as garbage can complete with candy wrappers inside on his plate. So creative!

Cousin Nicholas with Robbie - Nicholas is very imaginative and spent a lot of time hollowing out the center of marshmallows and tending to the details of his gingerbread house. He made his choices carefully and thoughtfully and it was fun to see how able he was to carry out his vision because of his age. Robbie spent much of HIS time thoughtfully eating the candy while he watched Nicholas create. :)

The girls enjoyed reading books and playing together once they were banished from the table.
This age is just too cute, and the two of them together!? Agh! I hated only picking a few pictures of the two of them together for this post. I have hundreds.

I peeked into the playroom later on when things got quiet, and found James perched on the table explaining some of his toys to Robbie and Ellie.

After getting the kids down for a nap, Rachel, Christine and I snuck out to get Christmas manicures and pedicures. This is becoming a traditional outing whenever we are together, and we always wrap it up with a walk across the street to Starbucks. Love! Christine couldn't wait and made us open her gifts to the two little girls in the parking lot. She had picked out matching aqua peacoats, white skinny jeans, and a hot pink shirt for them! The perfect gift for an aunt to give - what mom can rationalize that sort of purchase!? Oh so cute and totally impractical. She is the best gift-giver. Later on, she also gifted the girls matching pink tutus with grey tights and frilly white turtlenecks. I need to get a picture up of Ellie in these clothes!

Later that evening, we thought it would be fun to let the kids open a few more presents early. Aunt Christine (in the background with the yellow shirt and blue cardigan) and Uncle Brad (far right) gave the kids these awesome Melissa & Doug chunky wooden beads and strings, and it was a huge hit. The uncles (Ryan, left, and Brad) sat with Robbie and Ellie at the table and played for quite a while. Our kids are so spoiled to have great aunts and uncles on both sides of the family!

Ellie totally remembered Uncle Ryan from his visit earlier in the year, and he was carrying her around the day we arrived and she hung on to him like they were best buds. Be still my heart. She found a cozy place on his lap to play beads.

Papa and Uncle Brad, possibly advising Robbie on the best way to string beads or create a pattern!? :) This is a family full of patient men. I'm so lucky to have married into it, and am reminded of that when I look at pictures like these.

Christmas Eve dinner!
Grammy slaved all day and made a big turkey dinner not unlike Thanksgiving dinner (which we missed, as well as Brad and Christine). It was complete with Great-Grandma's sausage stuffing and homemade applesauce, both of which are legendary and impossible to recreate. I've tried, and only came close with the applesauce.

The kids take over the kitchen table now, and it's quite an event feeding them all at the same time! So much fun to see them all together, and never a dull moment.

Post-dinner lounging.

I found the girls like this while the adults tried to eat in the other room! Another too-quiet moment made me nervous, but I walked in to find them like this. Little angels! (ha) Katelin is modeling the new white skinny jeans - how cute are they!?

This little girl loves her Uncle Brad, and always makes time for a snuggle with him.

Oh yes we did... Rachel and I ordered matching Christmas Eve pj's for all the cousins, and had a great time trying to get a group picture!

The girls were more than compliant to pose for us.

And after a few takes, we actually got a great shot of all the kids!
So much easier than last year's attempt.


We put the kids to bed, anticipating a fun Christmas day the next day! Since Robbie was having a hard time staying in a new bed, I went upstairs and turned in early with him. Ellie slept in a pack and play in the room with Rob. I was woken up by Rob at 5am Christmas morning, though, because he had come down with the flu in the night and Ellie was awake and he didn't want to pass the illness back to her. So baby girl and I headed downstairs at 5am (4am bodyclock / Central time!) and watched a lot of Blue's Clues in our pj's. Christmas was cancelled for the day in an attempt to keep the flu from spreading, but the next day Rob's parents caught it and were sick as well. Ryan and I managed to stay healthy the whole time.

So there is a gap in pictures for the two days we took turns nursing one another back to health! We laid pretty low, and the kids enjoyed a bath in Grammy's huge tub.


I think it was Sunday that Rob was feeling better and Rachel invited us back over to her house for dinner and some cousin playing time, while Grammy and Papa battled the flu. She made a wonderful dinner of baked ziti and pasta fagioli soup, and the kids had fun together playing trains and kitchen!

Little chefs...

You guessed it... another quiet moment, and this is what I found. Ellie perched in the drawer of the train table, playing by herself. It could have been worse...!

That night New Jersey (and New York, for that matter) experienced a massive snowstorm and the next morning (Monday, Dec. 27th) the east coast was snowed in. The kids enjoyed a quiet morning in their pj's while Papa, Rob, Ryan and Brad attempted to dig out the cars in the driveway.

About to head out into the 3- and 4-foot snowdrifts! Robbie was still a little clingy to his daddy after not being able to snuggle him for a few days (b/c of the flu).

Seriously - it was an incredible amount of snow.

The kids perched in the bay window in the dining room and watched the action.
Again, to brag on the sweetness of my husband and his family, after finishing Grammy and Papa's driveway they headed next door to clear the neighbor's driveway. She is a widow and would literally have not been able to get out of her house without someone's help. It took hours and uncle Marc and cousin Nicholas had come over by then so they helped, too. She sent them all home with a chicken dinner!

Post-shoveling snuggle.
Check out the snow that blew in through the screens and was settling up against the windows in the background! It's reminded us of that fake spray-snow that people (used to?) spray on windows to get this effect. We had the real deal.

Brothers, digging out the deck!

That evening, we finally celebrated christmas with everyone rid of the flu but the kids now passing a deep chest cold around. :) Once again, Rachel and I are never ones to pass up an opportunity to coordinate the kids' outfits. Sadly, Katelin's red dress was out of stock by the time I tried to order it. Ha! Please note that Robbie and James are hugging. Is there a cuter bunch of kids? I don't think so.

Why we even continue to try, I do not know. Attempted family picture.

It was fun and chaotic for the kids to all open gifts together! Ellie perched in Aunt Christine's lap for much of the time, and felt the need to test out her Mrs. Potato head's glasses.
(Does everyone have a picture like this one from their childhood? I feel like it's some sort of rite-of-passage!)

After way too many sweet gifts from doting Aunts and Uncles and very generous grandparents, we enjoyed another big meal courtesy of Grammy. We topped off the day by celebrating Great-Grandpa's 83rd birthday (belatedly, since we were in flu-mode on his actual day) with cupcakes for the kids and carrot cake for the adults.

We flew home the next day (Tuesday, Dec. 28th) and that in and of itself was a miracle.
When we got to the airport, we needed the skycap service just to get checked in (think 4 large suitcases, 2 backpacks, a stroller and 2 little kids). But the bays were all closed. We found a skycap walking around (there weren't many visible) and he told us to follow him, that he'd get us checked in. He led us inside with our suitcases on a big cart, and took us past lines that looked hours long and scooted us into a service elevator ahead of other people. Rob and I had no idea where he was taking us or how we were going to even get checked in in time for our flight, but we quietly followed him and prayed under our breath! Because of the massive snowstorm, flights had been cancelled and passengers were stranded and now trying to get home. And they were not a happy bunch. Our flight was unaffected and we had seats on our plane, but we ran the risk of not making it onto our flight because of the back up inside the airport itself.

The skycap led us right up to a desk to be checked in, and within 15 minutes we were on our way through security in plenty of time to board our flight. It was worth every dollar we tipped him, too - he was the only way we made it home that day.

It was a great trip and we are so glad we did it. Of course the illnesses we passed around made it more challenging than we could have anticipated, but there is just no predicting things like that! We are so thankful for every bit of time we get to see Rob's family, since it is so much less frequent than we would all like.

And I have to say that the thoughtfulness and generosity of Rob's mom and dad, his sister Rachel and sister in law Christine made it SO much easier on me. They had thought of everything we could have needed at the house for the kids - booster seats, beds, car seats, etc. Combined with the willingness of the uncles to play with the kids, especially while Rob was sick and I was managing them on my own, it was a team effort!

What a great Christmas memory this trip ended up being! We love you, Livingstons and DeBlocks!

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