Friday, January 24, 2014

Christmas in Cleveland

On December 26, we departed on our longest road trip (with kid in tow) to date: from Jacksonville to my grandfather's house in Parma Heights, Ohio. The trip was estimated to total about 14 hours, and we decided to split it up over two days, with a stop at a hotel just before the mountains in Virginia on Day One. Ellie has been a little hit-or-miss in the car lately (especially on our trips back and forth to St. Petersburg) so we were a bit anxious, but have you ever checked flight prices from Florida to Cleveland around Christmas? Astronomical. The cheapest flight I could find would have run us about $400 EACH, and that flight would've departed around 5:00 A.M. on December 26th, had a layover, and ultimately ended up in Akron, which would mean we would also have to rent a car and drive an hour to Cleveland upon arrival. Then, the return flight (also with a layover) would have delivered us to Tampa at 11:50 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Tell me that doesn't sound like The Flight Itinerary Of Nightmares when traveling with a toddler, am I right?  And all for the bargain price of $400 a piece!

So, needless to say, driving was our best option. We decided to turn it into a little road trip (that's just our style) and planned a stop in Pinehurst, NC on the way back, so Eric could golf at yet another super fancy golf course and I could get a divine prenatal massage to kick start our year in 2014. Everything sounded grand, and we had just two major variables to worry about: Ellie and the weather. So, we crossed all extremities that could be crossed and went for it.

As it turned out, on the way up, both the weather and Ellie cooperated beautifully. Ellie got a bit fussy from time to time, sure (don't we all on that long of a trip?), but overall she was an ANGEL. And when she did get upset, just holding my hand was enough to calm her. Also, we made frequent stops where we allowed her to run around. That coupled with a few well-timed cookies made for a pleasant trip. And, there was nary a snowflake to be seen, so the weather was even on our side. We made great time to our hotel in Virginia, had a nice dinner then passed out, woke up the next day and made good time to Cleveland. Road trip victory!

Road trip!
Top row: Rest stop in South Carolina; holding hands to settle my girl.
Bottom row: Lunch with friends along the way; admiring the mountains in Virginia

We were the first to arrive at my grandfather's house on Friday, with Molly, Arturo and Santiago (via plane from Illinois) mere seconds behind. My sister Heather came an hour or two later (also via plane from Florida), and that was the group for the evening. We dined on Gramps's infamous homemade chicken noodle soup and entertained ourselves in various ways...some stranger than others, thanks to Eric's love of a challenge. And juggling.

Left: Eric and Heather debated whether standing on one's foot for a long time required more physical skill or "heart." Then they had to try it to find out for sure.
Right: Molly and Gramps on their iPads; Eric giving Heather a lesson in juggling clementines.

The next day, the rest of the clan arrived: My mom from Florida; Aunt Rachel, Uncle Mark and cousin Adam from Pennsylvania; cousin Jacob, Zita and Zazi from Boston; and Uncle Peter and Rosemary from Illinois. That evening, we had our Christmas feast. Our family has grown so much that we now had to add two card tables to the living room to accommodate everyone!

Gramps, Aunt Rachel and Uncle Mark carving the ham

The big table!

The living room tables

After the meal, we opened our Christmas poppers and had some fun with the jokes and prizes inside.

Christmas popper time!

Ellie was psyched about her paper crown.

Uncle Peter showing off some questionable prizes

And, of course, we had to take our Annual Paper Crowns Photo.

Hesterman Family, Christmas 2013!

On Sunday, we took up three pews at Divinity Lutheran Church, and the babies were as good as gold. (Seriously, three toddlers at one church service with ZERO meltdowns? Angels, I tell you!) Then we returned home for some photos.

With my mom, Heather and Ellie

We tried to get a picture of the three babies, but two of the three weren't having it. ELLIE WAS THE COOPERATIVE ONE THIS TIME!

Then, it was time to exchange gifts. There were some lovely presents given, and Eric and I used this time to share our good news of Plus One with Gramps and the rest of the family. I gave him a four-picture photo frame, and filled three of the openings with pictures of his three current great-grandchildren. In the fourth spot, I put a little note that said "Photo Coming This Summer: New Baby W.! Your next great-grandchild is due July 1, 2014!" Everyone was very happy for us and quite congratulatory!

Top row: A gift for Ellie!; Sweet Zazi
Bottom row: Gramps opening his gift from us; showing the rest of the family!

After gifts we had our annual carol-sing.

Yay family singing!

The rest of the day was spent relaxing in various ways. Much of the family spent the afternoon watching the Browns...

And thus, a new generation of Browns fans prepares for a lifetime of heartache.
(Ellie's sweatshirt is "vintage" - it belonged to Heather and me when we were little!)

...while the grandkid-generation ladies got a little crafty and made Christmas shirts. This craft was inspired by my beloved (and sorely missed) Nana, who took it upon herself to make poinsettia sweatshirts for all the ladies of the family back when we were kids. Molly wore hers to a Christmas party this year and we were all struck with the nostalgia and the urge to channel our inner Nanas. And so, we crafted.

Molly sporting Nana's creation this year

Hard at work!

The finished products! (Unfortunately, Heather left before they were all dry and ready to wear, so we couldn't get an actual picture of the four of us in our shirts, but through the magic of Photoshop, you'd never even know!)

That afternoon there was also a slight mishap, wherein the barely-hanging-in-there-for-years-now bathroom door knob finally gave up the fight for survival, leaving poor cousin Adam trapped in the bathroom. With the help of a great many family members and even more tools, he was successfully freed. A happy ending!

It was far more of a project than expected.

How many hammers does it take to get one cousin out of the bathroom?

That night a bunch of us made the trek downtown to see a Cavs game at "The Q," which was a first for me. The Cavs ended up tying the game at the very end to go into overtime, but alas, they couldn't pull out the win. But, we had fun nonetheless.

Go Cavs!

At the game

The whole gang! (The rest were back at the house on baby-duty)

On Monday, most people spent the day relaxing around the house, as the snow had finally arrived:

View from upstairs on Monday morning

However, regardless of the weather, Eric, my mom, Ellie and I decided to do some sightseeing. Specifically, we wanted to see the house from the movie A Christmas Story. You may or may not have known that the movie was filmed in Cleveland, but indeed it was, and the "Ralphie's house" has been restored to how it looked in the film. We've been wanting to check it out for some time now and finally got our chance. It doesn't take long to go through the house, and there is also a little museum to check out. The house was fun because it's not so "museum-like," so you're able to touch and interact with the displays.

Top row: The exterior of the house; all of us on the front porch
Bottom left, clockwise: Ellie and me hiding under the sink from the "old man": Eric trying to solve Orphan Annie's code in the bathroom; "you'll shoot your eye out!"
Bottom right: Ellie mesmerized by the soft glow of electric sex

Back at home, we just spent some more time with family. Everyone was departing either that night or early the next morning, so we enjoyed our last hours of visiting before saying our goodbyes.

Left: Ellie and my mom
Right: Hugs good-bye from Zazi; cousins and babies!

Overall, it was a fantastic visit. It had been a few years since I was able to be there for the actual Christmas celebration, and it was so nice to be back. Christmas at Gramps's house with my cousins is a huge part of my childhood memories, and a very cherished part at that. It meant so much to me that Ellie, Santiago and Zazi also got to experience it all this year, too. By far the coolest part of the visit was seeing our little ones taking part in decades-long traditions that were such a big part of my growing-up experience:

"Kids' table!" (Okay, so it was just for a photo-op, but they'll get there for real eventually!)

Singing carols

Duets on the piano

Ping pong in the basement

There's this post in the basement on which my grandma recorded the height growth of my mom and all her siblings, and then the grandchildren were recorded, too. This Christmas, we measured the newbies, thus adding a new generation to the post! Santiago was a good sport but the girls hated it. The fourth picture shows where they all fall!

Ellie also wanted to measure her baby doll!

And, my most favorite picture of the whole trip, of Ellie doing the best thing of all: spending some quality time with her Great-Gramps.

As usual, I just want to say thank you to my family for continuing to make the effort to get together like this. It means so much to me to still be able to do things like this, and it means even more to watch my own child(ren) participating. Hopefully someday Ellie will treasure these times with her family just as much as I do.

My family!

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