Our grand summer family vacation took place last week. The idea for it began with an invitation I received late last year to my mom's family's annual reunion picnic in New Jersey, and since most of my family there hasn't met John and none of them have met my kids, I figured this is the year we'll go. But flying all that was just for a one-day event seemed a little silly, so I figured we could first fly to my dad's general area, spend some time in and around western PA and then at week's end drive across the state to southern NJ and the picnic, then fly home from there.
I offered John an out on this crazy vacation idea, thinking I could manage it and the kids myself, but he courageously came along and allowed me to come up with our full week's itinerary without protest. I think he already figured he'd agreed to travel to NJ as a destination, rather than a way point to somewhere else, so what could I come up with that would be stranger than that?
My general vacation philosophy is: do and see a hell of a lot of stuff that you won't do or see at home. John's general vacation philosophy is: take more naps. Since I did all the planning, my philosophy dominated.
My dad's house is about equidistant between Buffalo NY, Pittsburgh , PA, and Cleveland, OH, so we flew to Cleveland. We arrived very late saturday night and stayed near the airport and the next morning we picked up our rented Family Truckster and headed south to Kent, Ohio, John's hometown. John has no family there anymore, even his best childhood friends have moved west decades ago, but we wanted to see his old house neighborhood and schools and look around the town, and also see where his dad started his first company.
John and the girls in front of his childhood home, and another Ohio native we found nearby:
Following our tour of Kent, we headed to PA to meet up with the folks at an amusement park right on the shores of Lake Erie. The girls love rides and so does my dad. He and Erin quickly paired up and did all bigger thrill rides that Erin was tall enough to do. Yep, that's my dad with his arm's up.
"Where's the 'take a nap' ride?" John asked. And he also commented after exiting a couple of the rides, "That was definitely NOT conducive to taking a nap!" Still, great views of Lake Erie from the Ferris wheel.
So after a few hours of rides and ice cream and performances by Wally the Waldameer Bear and company, we headed for our third state in a day, NY, where we were going to have dinner before finally heading back to PA and Oma and Opa's house.
The next day, the girls played with Oma and Opa's dog, Toby, out in the yard. Toby loves playing ball and was thrilled to have so much attention and so many willing participants at first. But each of the girls got out a different ball and would call Toby and throw the balls in different directions, often at the same time. Eventually Toby just sat in the shade of a tree with his water dish and watched the girls throw and run by themselves.
We also took a nice walk to a playground. Opa and Oma's town is quite small and out in the country (compared to home). Pretty scenery around there.
And that evening we had a great BBQ and picnic dinner along with my brother John (Oma's son) and family. And the girls enjoyed meeting John's boys, Hayden and Brandon, the first of many new cousins to meet this week.
The boys showed the girls how to make Toby start howling when they howled:
And the girls all loved the boys' new little puppy, Lily. Sometimes they loved her a little too much and she yelped when they hugged her too hard.
Later in the week the five of us decided (or, I planned for the five of us) to meet up with some old classmates of mine who live in Buffalo, New York. And as long as were going up that far, why not take the kids to Niagara Falls first? Again, this plan was directly at odds with John's ideal vacation philosophy, but he didn't complain. Both of us had been to the falls before but not in many years. I brought our passports and we headed for the Canadian side of the falls and the Maid of the Mist boat ride that takes you to the base of both the American and Canadian falls.
View of the Canadian side and the Canadian (horseshoe) falls:
It's nice that they give you those ponchos, but they don't do a lot of good. You get SOAKED on the boat. The mist comes down like hard pouring rain for several minutes at the base of the Canadian falls in particular. Our shirts stayed mostly dry enough but our pants and shoes didn't. I brought extra pants for us and had them in the car but I didn't bring extra shoes.
View of the American side of the falls from Ontario, and all of us in front of the Canadian falls.
Following our brief but exhausting Canadian visit we headed to the home of one of my friends in Buffalo for a BBQ, and the girls looked a little on the tired side. But they perked up and played with my friends' kids and had a fun evening. I brought their PJ's along so we got them changed and they slept in the car for most of the 2 hour ride back to Dad's late that evening.
The girls really liked their first visit to PA. They loved walking the dog and playing with Oma and Opa...
They liked meeting their Aunt and Uncle and very serious older cousins. We even went to a circus performance nearby and the kids got to ride an elephant...
On friday we packed into the rented Family Truckster again and took off for NJ, which involved crossing the state of PA since Dad lives up in the northwest corner.
As we drove I took some photos of western PA scenery--lots of hills and forest and rivers:
We had a course set out ahead of time which I went over with Oma the night before, getting her advice on the quickest routes to take. Then as we approached the state capital, Harrisburg, and appeared to be about 2/3 of the way to our destination and making very good time until this point, I realized that Lancaster was sorta-kinda on our way to Philadelphia and into NJ, but our original course would have us pass just north of it.
I told John I'd like to drive through Lancaster County instead since it's famous for being really pretty as well as for the Amish. Basically, I wanted to pass through it and see what it looked like. We reached the county and indeed, Lancaster is home to plenty of Amish Stuff, etc.
The landscape flattens out and where we previously saw more forest than anything else, now the land was dominated by farms.
And traffic. It took. so. long. to drive though Lancaster County. We stopped for lunch just briefly and fought stop and go and slowly moving traffic on small roads for the next 4 hours, all the way to Philadelphia, through it, and over the bridge to NJ. I felt terrible. This detour was my idea and my mom and plenty of other family were waiting for us at an Aunt's house and we arrived hours later than I estimated.
Nevertheless, we had a fun time when we finally made it.
The next day was the event that brought us east in the first place, the grand family reunion and picnic in NJ, hosted at a cousin's home with a huge yard and a beautiful pool to keep everyone entertained and cooled off on this very hot and muggy eastern summer day.
With with my cousin Joe from Chicago, and then me, mom (center), cousin Robin and below is mom's sister Lois.
The girls got their suits on right away and got in the pool and stayed there for, I'm not eggagerating here, the next 7 hours. They had a couple of quick bathroom breaks and scarfed down a hot dog at one point, and other than that, they were in the water the whole time.
The girls were shy and quiet around all the new family at first but as the day went on they talked to more and more people. "Hey mom," Kate said to me at one point, "this is my new friend. Her name is Kate too!"
"She's your cousin Kate," I told her, "All of the kids here are your cousins. Every one. Most of the adults are cousins too. Some of them are aunts and uncles." Her eyes kinda enlarged as I explained this.
Kate thought it was quite funny to have a cousin Kate, and not only that, but Allison found her cousin Allison and Erin found her cousin Erin, who also has the same middle name as our Erin. Calling to get my particular kids' attention at any given time got to be difficult.
Mom is second photo, swimming with Allison.
Photos of all the kids, then all the cousins in my generation, then last in my mom's generation.
There were many other cousins that couldn't be there for the picnic--mainly ones in their teens and 20's who had to work that day. We all had such a great time and we were asked by everyone, "Will you come back next year?" In all probability, not next year, but we'll be back. How could we not? Despite the busy schedule I created and the mostly minor snags we hit along the way Allison repeatedly told us, "Mom and Dad, I LOVE this trip. This is the best trip EVER!"