New Jersey 2016

My favorite from the Graduation
We were lucky enough to be be able to travel to New Jersey last month to celebrate my little sister Lianna's high school graduation.  The boys hadn't been to New Jersey in 5 years - almost exactly - and Sam remembered a little, but of course Danny didn't remember anything.  It was the first trip we have taken where they got to fly on an airplane and visit family across the country that they will actually be able to remember, so it was kind of special that way.

Me and my sisters

We flew into Baltimore on a combination of redeyes, leaving Seattle at 12:45 am and getting to Baltimore nearly 12 hours later.  It was pretty crazy, but both kids did really well.  It definitely helped that Delta has some fancy planes with TVs in the seatbacks and they were able to watch TV while they weren't sleeping.

We crashed at the hotel for a little while and then headed out to dinner with my Dad who lives in Greenbelt.  We went into Baltimore and had pizza at Pub Dog, which was delicious.  The next day, we made the 3+ hour drive up to Flemington, NJ where we'd spend the rest of our trip.

Lianna & Helene
The house my stepmom and sister live in is like a 2nd home to me.  They have been there for 15ish years, and I've spent a lot of time there over the years.  Because over the years it's been a place that me, and now my children, have gone to in order to relax and vacation, I generally find being there to be really relaxing and comfortable.  It was even better having my sister and her family there from Washington as well and getting to spend time with my nieces in a day to day situation, which I don't get to do all that often.

At the graduation party
Lianna graduated from Hunterdon Central Regional High School with a class of over 700 students!  My graduating class had a bit over 300, so it was a huge ceremony to me.  I got a pretty good sunburn just from sitting in the stands and walking around for the 2.5 hours we were there, even though we were home before noon!  I took a lot of photos of the ceremony, but the one above is my favorite, Lianna walking back to her seat after getting her diploma.

Lianna with all her nieces & nephews
I'm so proud of her.  It's hard having a sister who lives so far away, because I wish that we were closer and that I could be there for her more than I have been.  I think about her a lot, but we don't talk that often.  I'm hoping that sometime soon she'll be able to make her first solo trip out to Washington to visit me and our other sister.

Kira and her family were all in New Jersey for the graduation too, and it was so wonderful to be with so much of my family all at once.  It's been a really long time since we were all together.

The Doley side of the family (my Dad's side)

On Saturday, the day after the ceremony, my stepmom Helene threw a great Graduation party for Lianna at the Women's Club building down the street from where the lived.  I had several cousins and aunts and uncles that I hadn't seen in years there, and got to see my cousin Emmy (who is coming to visit WA in a little over a week and I'm sooooo excited!), which is always one of my favorite parts of a trip back East.

Father's Day with my Dad and sisters
On Sunday, Kira, Lianna, and I were all with our Dad for Father's Day, which hasn't happened in many years (if ever!).  It was pretty cool to all be together and take my Dad out to breakfast and shopping before he headed back home to Baltimore.

One of my favorite parts of visiting NJ is the neighborhood, specifically the people who share a driveway with and live next door to our house there.  There's a family who live next door who have 2 boys the same ages as mine, and a little girl the same age as my sister's older daughter.  I remember last time we visited, when Sam was 5, there was one day that he spent 12 full hours playing with the boy next door, and even though it's been 5 years it's like they picked up right where they left off.

Backyard pool!
I wish that I could just pick up that little block of Flemington and plop it right down near me in Washington.  I love where we live, but playdates take planning, and there's no neighborhood kids to just run back and forth to and play in the back yard all summer long.  They had such a great time, and it was nice to hear from their parents that my kids played so well and that they all got along so wonderfully!  I really hope that it won't be another 5 years before we get back there.
Danny and his cousin Nora

Another thing I really loved about this trip was watching the way that Sam and Danny interact with kids who are younger than they are.  They're both really good at it, and Danny played really well with Ashley, who is several years younger than he is.  My kids are far from perfect, but I always hope that I am raising them to be polite to others and kind.  It was really fun to watch Danny and Sam interact with their cousins and think about how much I enjoyed seeing my cousins during summers and spring breaks when I was a kid.  I hope that Danny, Sam, Nora, and Lila will be able to form cousin friendships that will last as they get bigger and older.

The boys at Hershey's Chocolate World!
Kira and her family flew home a couple of days before we did.  When Sam heard we were going near Pennsylvania, he almost immediately asked if we could go to Hershey.  Since we didn't have tons of plans while we were there, I figured that would be a fun outing for us to do on one of our free days.  So, on Tuesday we got in the car with Grandma Helene and headed for chocolate town!

In Hershey, there are a few different things - there is an ampitheater where 18 or so years ago I saw Lillith Fair with Kira and Helene.  There's Hershey Park, a water and amusement park, and there's Chocolate World, which is just a fun attraction where they have different little activities, and OF COURSE an absolutely ENORMOUS gift shop full of all the things.

Making their chocolate bars!

We did the 4D mystery movie where you had to help solve who was running around in the chocolate factory at night, then headed over to the ride they have where you walk through and learn about chocolate and the history of Hershey Chocolate.  It takes you through the process of making the chocolate in the factory, though it's all recreations and not the actual factory you're looking at.

I'd been to Hershey once before when I was younger and probably wasn't paying attention, but it was so interesting!  I had no idea that before Hershey chocolate started being made in Pennsylvania, chocolate wasn't at all readily available in the US and was something only people with money and means had.  I also didn't know that Mr. Hershey was a huge philanthropist who at one point basically gave his factory to a local school for underprivileged kids that he started.  Next time we go, I'd love to go to the actual museum in town and read more about the history of the town and Milton Hershey.

Mmmm.... chocolate!
Then we did what was definitely all of our favorites - the make your own chocolate bar attraction!  You use a computer to choose your base and add-ins (mine was dark chocolate with pretzel nubs and toffee bits) and then you get to watch your bar go down the line, get add-ons, get enrobed, and design your own wrapper.  It was pretty cool, and then you end up with a delicious, really good sized bar of chocolate to eat later and a cool tin you can keep!

We had a great time, and the kids loved it.  We did a little shopping in the gift shop before heading back to Flemington.

It was such a good trip.  Spending time with my family, watching Game of Thrones with Helene and texting silly pictures back and forth with Lianna, sitting in the backyard with my cousin and my aunt as the sun goes down and the fire burns.  Taking pictures at the graduation, and getting some good shots for my sister to remember the day by.  Cheesesteaks and NY Style Pizza and TastyKakes.  Watching the kids play for hours in the backyard, spraying each other with the hose, watching my one year old niece eat smear cake all over her face.  I can't wait for next time.

On our way home!