Two weekends ago we headed up to what I will now refer to our as our vacation retreat, the welcoming log home of my in-laws up in Omaha. I've written and raved about how wonderful these people are, how visiting is a vacation and staring off at the beautiful view of the small lake from their deck on a quiet Saturday is just about as peaceful as it can get. This particular weekend wasn't exactly peaceful, it was more jam packed, filled with friends and family and activity, ok pretty much like every other weekend we have in Omaha, but this time with more sea crustaceans, out-of-town friends and wild animals, and I'm not talking about the kids here.
Joe's youngest brother, Chicago Jonny, turned 30 that weekend and in order to celebrate this milestone properly, in our family it must involve copious amounts of seafood, drawn butter and cake. And did we do it right or what? Joe's parents procured about 14 lobsters and several pounds of steamers for the feast. Salad, fresh rolls, and steamers for appetizers. Then the sluggish lobsters were gently placed in the boiling pots of water so we could feast on their delicious flesh. Yes, we are unabashed non-vegetarians. Lobsters are the best.
Joe and I left work a little early and hit Omaha by 6pm, started to help prepare for the festivities, the table was set complete with adorable lobster platters at each place setting, lobster tools, dishes decorated with lobsters to hold the melted butter, big bowls in the center of the table for shells, bibs, and plenty of napkins. The seafood place that the lobsters were ordered from even threw in a couple of bottles of lobster wine, really just a light white wine with a Cape Cod inspired label and a lobster themed name. It was pretty tasty with the seafood. Clearly, I'm not a wine connoisseur.
The sounds of cracking and crunching, drippy buttery chins, the smells and tastes of the ocean, the occasional sandy clam shell, wet fingers and the salty, sweet goodness that is fresh seafood. It was a special treat and a pretty great night. Then of course the birthday cake course.
This would be poor Sherry's broken foot, she tripped on one stair and broke the side of her left foot and her big toe on her right foot. She's gimpy for at least another few weeks. But she's festively casted, isn't she? Her foot did not touch the cake or ice cream I might add. At least I don't think it did.
Jon requested carrot cake, and after the lobster feast one would suspect that we would all be stuffed and unable to eat any cake or ice cream. We persevered. He blew the candles out, we ate too much cream cheese frosting and then collapsed for the night. Thanks for being born, Jon Sands.
Jon's birthday was not the only celebration that weekend. After Friday night's celebratory feast, we headed out to the Henry Doorley Zoo on Saturday morning to celebrate Bethany and Troy's daughter's 7th birthday. Zoo birthday parties are pretty awesome, and I'm a long way away from 7 years old. Good choice, Annalie! It was a surprisingly fun kids' party, even for the adults.
The zoo special event staff did a great job managing the kids, and keeping everyone amused and fed and following the rules. All the traditional birthday party stuff: cake and ice cream, presents, goody bags, custom made CD's with Annalie's musical choices, and then throw in a full size lion skin that the kids could touch and hold and stick their heads under, (I restrained myself and only pet the lion skin, I promise,) a tour of the aquarium right at penguin feeding time and then some craft time for the kids.
I'd never seen penguins being fed before so that was quite fun. It looked rather like our seafood feast from the night before, though more sushi than lobster. Lots and lots of excited penguins, buckets of fish, and zoo keepers with clipboards quickly writing down feeding details. There was one stand out gentleman penguin. He stood alone at the edge of the ice, staring out at all of the zoo patrons. I almost expected him to whip out a camera and start taking pictures of all of us.
Here I am, happily ignoring the quiet non-commentary from the tour guide and instead watching the family in front of me who were all wearing fanny packs, seriously, the whole family of four, fanny packed. All of their Chapstick and money and ID, right there, conveniently located at their waists.
Josh and Zach, two of Katrina's triplet boys, enjoying the aquarium and rocking their orange safety vests.
Joe's beautiful photos of the ethereal jelly fish. Joe was pretty much in photography heaven this weekend. Lots of kids, lots of animals and sea creatures, and then coming up: the Strategic Air and Space Museum, and more kids.
Annalie's baby sister, Elliora, relaxing at the party and making a brief wardrobe change. All done while rocking the classic Paul Frank daredevil onesie.
All the kids, post tour, pre-overly sugar loaded cake and ice cream melt downs. And the lion skin, of a lion that passed away of old age. The party hostess promised, "He died of natural causes."
I have no recollection about why we are laughing. That happens a lot.
Annalie opening some presents, and fully embracing the Dr. Who swag. As a Dr. Who viewing novice, I had an informative conversation with Bethany during the party about where to start when diving into the Dr. Who viewing universe. So many seasons makes the whole thing kind of overwhelming. She reassured me that I don't have to start at the beginning.
Joe is not viciously attacking the Venn boys. They were just being wrangled. Joe's hair is so wavy. I want to touch it. And then the party wrapped up. But the day with Bethany and Katrina and family was only just beginning.
We all headed our separate ways for a quick lunch and regroup. Then the men and women were appropriately and stereotypically separated for gendered afternoon activities. I exaggerate, but Joe and Bethany's husband Troy, along with the birthday girl, headed over to spend a few hours at the Strategic Air and Space Museum. Bethany, Katrina and I headed out for our traditional dottery and coffee afternoon with another couple of Bethany's friends, Carly and Rachel.
Pottery painting was a little bit more fun than normal, at least for me. I had somehow wrangled Bethany into painting one of her pretty, signature dottery mugs, but customized. Um, customized in a way that is profane and immature and entirely amusing to me. And probably entirely rude to have requested, oh , but I did. I had seen another mug that Bethany had painted for a friend (and bad language warning to all the kids reading here!) and inside the mug was a quote that included the word "fuck." Bethany is lovely, but a less vulgar and more conservative woman than anyone would ever say that I am.
Somehow this only made me want to ask her to paint nasty curse words mixed in among the colorful, dainty dots. Because she loves me, she agreed and was sincerely amused by my request. Half of the fun was the idea of my kind, religious friend painting dirty words, but it was even better than that, because I was there in person when she did it! The best quote was when she asked me "Where should I put douchebag? Right here?" I laughed like a twelve year old boy off and on all afternoon. I was probably irritating. But they forgave me. What five curse words are captured forever in glossy glaze? Cover your eyes, grandma. My five favorite: motherfucker, douchebag, sonofabitch, asshat and cocksucker. Maybe not totally original, but classics. Oh, I painted a bowl by the way. A utterly inoffensive bowl. Kind of boring.
After the ladies finished being all creative and talking for two and a half hours straight, we all headed over to Katrina and Matt's house for dinner. The kids played inside and outside. We ordered take out Chinese and talked and caught up with the husbands and gossiped about the neighbors. And after dinner, Katrina's husband Matt lit the fire pit on their patio and it was smores time.
You'd think after spending most of the day together we might be tired of each other, but that's the thing about old friends.
It's just easy to hang out together.
We burned marshmallows and got our fingers all gooey and sticky.
We passed around baby Elliora. We listened to acapella covers of Journey songs on someone's iPod.
And we took photographs. Lots and lots of photographs.
The night ended once it got too dark and too chilly outside. The kids exhausted. The adults smelling of smoke and melted chocolate.
We went home and slept hard that night, dreaming of campfires and catching fireflies and summers spent running around in the backyard, anxiously waiting for the next time we are all together again.
All photos by Joe Sands, except the ones at pottery and the ones of him!