We hadn't planned to visit Cleveland this Christmas, largely because I didn't think my cousins with kids were going to be there, and we knew it would be too expensive to pay for three plane tickets (plus E.J. for free) and too many logistics to handle this year. We planned to take a year off. As Christmas approached, however, I was feeling badly about not going. I really wanted to get E.J. up there to meet my Gramps (his great-grandfather), and to see everyone that I missed seeing at the family reunion this year. I started looking into it - what would it really cost for all of us to go? How about just me with the kids? How about just E.J. and me? I looked into every option I could think of but at the end of the day, it was just too much money. Flights to Cleveland at Christmas are just not cheap.
But then, over Thanksgiving, I woke up one morning to see a bank transfer confirmation in my email. My sister had very generously sent me the money to pay for my flight to Cleveland as my Christmas gift! She said that she also wanted to be there, but couldn't, so she wanted to make sure I got to go at least. Isn't she amazing?
So, E.J. and I ended up going to Cleveland while Eric and Ellie stayed behind. They took us to the airport that Friday morning, then hung out in St. Pete for another night before heading back to Jacksonville.
Meanwhile, E.J. and I embarked on his first flight. He slept a grand total of 20 minutes on the way there and got pretty fussy, which was bad for him but not bad at all in the grand scheme of babies. Overall he really did pretty well.
Sleeping on the flight!
When we arrived in Cleveland, my mom and Aunt Rachel picked us up from the airport and took us to my Gramps's house, where my Aunt Rachel, Uncle Mark and cousin Adam were already waiting for us. Gramps and Aunt Rachel met us outside and Gramps got his first look at his newest great-grandchild!
My cousin Molly and her family arrived that evening. We had pizza for dinner, and chocolate for dessert - my Gramps always makes trays and trays full of delicious chocolate candy!
E.J.'s face when I told him he has to wait until next year to try Gramps's candy
We were missing a few important people for this holiday weekend, including (but not limited to!) my sister Heather and the two great-granddaughters, Zazi and Ellie. Luckily, they were able to join us in "Person-On-A-Stick" form!
Heather-On-A-Stick-In-A-Santa-Hat, Ellie-On-A-Stick and Zazi-On-A-Stick, all in the centerpiece!
Selfie with Heather!
The next day, E.J. and I went for a quick visit at my aunt's house. He was able to meet his Great Aunt Jean, as well as my cousin Erin and her husband and two sweet kids. It was great to see them!
E.J. and Great Aunt Jean
The rest of the morning was spent hanging around the house, visiting and feeling my cousin Molly's belly move. She's expecting a baby girl in March, as is my cousin Jacob's wife Zita! So many new babies on the way!
Isn't Molly just the most lovely pregnant lady???
My mom and her grandkids, of sorts
E.J. and cousin Santiago
E.J. getting to know his Uncle Adam
Hanging out with Molly and Gramps
E.J. and his Great Aunt Rachel
E.J. and his Great-Gramps
That evening we did our big Christmas dinner. My mom and Aunt Rachel prepared a delicious feast for us!
Sisters at work
Gramps carving the ham
After dinner we did our Christmas crackers, an annual tradition. We all pop open our crackers, show off our trinkets, share our jokes and then don our crowns for the family photo. Good times!
Christmas crackers for the stick people!
E.J. is excited for his first Christmas cracker experience!
After dinner I put E.J. to bed and then we exchanged gifts. Santiago served as Adam's "gift distributing-elf" apprentice, and did a fine job!
Santiago and Adam giving out the gifts
Santiago looking through the reunion write-up book with Gramps and Aunt Rachel
Later that night we were able to Facetime with Heather! We also stayed up visiting for some time, which was so nice.
Sunday morning we were up and at 'em for church at Divinity, where my grandfather was the pastor for many years. We filled a full pew for a very nice service. It was E.J.'s first (non-baptism, non-holiday) church service, and it meant a lot to me that it was at my home church, a church that has been so significant to our family.
With E.J. after church
After church we snapped a few pictures of everyone in their finery.
These two! Stop it.
The boys and their stick cousins
With my mom
E.J. and his godmother
The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. We hung around, watched the Browns, ate some shrimp. The usual. My Uncle Peter arrived that afternoon, and Aunt Rachel, Uncle Mark and Adam left that evening.
E.J. and Gramps watching the Browns together.You're a real Hesterman now, little man!
The boys watching their Browns
Fun with Aunt Molly
E.J.'s first shrimp/cheese/cracker/veggie spread, and there's that "you have to wait until next year" face again!
That night the remaining ladies indulged in a little craft project. My mom had found some old Looney Tunes appliques she'd had hanging around for...decades, probably? And she thought we should make something with them. We decided to make t-shirts for all the "greats" (great-grandchildren) to wear at this summer's family reunion! We got that project started Sunday evening and wrapped it up on Monday. They turned out great! Each shirt has a baby Looney Tunes character on the front, with the child's name. The back says "The Greats" across the top, with the child's birth-order number below it (like a jersey). I can't wait to see all of them in their shirts - including the two yet-to-be-born/named/numbered little baby girls on the way!
Ellie-On-A-Stick modeling the back of the shirts
Monday was another pretty laid-back day. I spent the afternoon over at my friend Megan's house, visiting with her and her husband Andy. I wasn't able to see Megan last Christmas and we missed going up there for the reunion this year, so it had been some time since I saw them! It was so nice to see my friend again!
I think E.J. liked meeting Megan and Andy, too!
The rest of the day was spent hanging around the house, visiting and munching on leftovers and chocolate. I should also mention how much Santiago and E.J. bonded on this trip! Santiago just loved "Baby E.J." and E.J. also seemed pretty fond of Santiago - or at least, of his toy cars! They spent a lot of time playing together and E.J. was the recipient of many a Santiago hug. It was so sweet! I hope they really do become great friends as they grow up. They'll be sandwiched in the middle of four girls, so it's nice they'll have each other!
We called it a night a little earlier that evening because E.J. and I had a very early flight to catch on Tuesday morning. Molly was kind enough to get up at the crack of dawn and drive us to the airport, and after a bit of a diaper disaster in the security line (by that I mean he POOPED ON HIS OWN SOCKS), E.J. and I were on our way back to Florida. This time, he slept the entire flight! His sleep was rather poor in Cleveland so I assume he was catching up. We were even on the aisle in the back (in the frequently-trafficked-for-bathrooms portion of the plane), so I kept having to move him to make sure the drink cart and/or random passersby didn't bump his head, but he remained OUT. Poor tired love.
Waiting to board the plane, and already looking sleepy
Oh! And when we arrived in Orlando and de-planed, I had a near disaster. When I boarded the plane it was already quite full, so I ended up having to stow my suitcase in an overhead compartment at the front of the plane while we were seated in the back. When I was getting off the plane, I grabbed what I thought was my bag, only to realize IT WAS NOT. It was the only one left where my bag had been, though! Someone had taken my bag! Luckily that person realized it quickly and an airline employee came back on the plane looking for that person's bag and I was able to figure out and explain the mix-up. That has never happened to me before! I'm glad we caught the mistake before anyone left the airport.
Eric and Ellie had driven down from Jacksonville that morning and met E.J. and me at baggage claim. What a happy reunion it was! I was so glad to see them both, and vice versa. I know it was hard on Ellie to be left behind, because even weeks later she still sometimes says things like, "Mama, I didn't want to make you be gone. I didn't want you to go on a trip." Shatter my heart, kid. Geez. So clearly, I will never be leaving her again for as long as I live.
"I like walking with you, Mama."
We had planned to all go to Sea World that day, since we were in Orlando anyway and our free passes were about to expire, but the weather was rainy and awful so we just headed back to Jacksonville. We did stop for Arby's lunch, a treat for Ellie!
I missed that pretty face!
It was a great visit in Cleveland, and I'm so glad E.J. got to go and experience Christmas at Gramps's house. I know he won't remember it, but Christmas with my family in Cleveland has always been such a big part of my holiday memories, so it meant a lot to me to have E.J. be a part of it. Thanks so much to Heather for making it possible, thanks to Gramps for his hospitality and thanks to the rest of my family for making the trip!