Independence 

It has been a bit of a struggle this school year in dealing with Mario and his voracious streak of independence. Actually, let me strike the word “struggle” and change it to the word “battle.”

We never had this issue with Ri. She begged to be driven to school every day and enjoyed if Rocco and I walked with her on the other days. She had zero desire to trek 1.3 miles to school.

Since the end of last year’s school year, Mario has been pleading with us to allow him to bike or walk by himself to school. Jon and I would discuss it here or there but never arrived at a decision (yes, we are the ultimate procrastinators). Then, the school season arrived. And there stood Mario, at our sides, begging to bike by himself to school.

The bike ride is a simple one. Straight down the main strip with one small downhill at the end. There are three crossing guards spaced out at different sections of the strip. Kids are walking and biking along the strip from 7:30 until 8:15. 

But they are typically with an adult.  

“Typically with an adult.” These words scorched Mario’s ears. He did not hear anything more. Then came the persuasive arguing.

“You let me bike to the library by myself. You’ve biked with me to school and back and told me I did a great job. I am responsible and call you every time I should.” And so on and so forth…. On and on…. 

So, in a fit of whining fatigue and  unbridled trust, we let Mario bike to school two days straight. The first day, Jon followed Mario on his bike. When Mario got to the hill to go down towards school, Jon stopped him and told him he did a great job. Mario had no clue he had been following him and he broke down in tears.

“Why did you follow me, dad? I thought I rode by myself.”

Jon apologized and took off down the street. Mario thought that Jon was upset with him, so he biked towards where Jon drove. He couldn’t find Jon. One of our friends approached Mario and saw that he was sobbing. Mario called Jon from the friend’s phone and told him he was sorry for yelling at him. Jon felt horrible. He reiterated that he just wanted to see how well Mario biked to school, and he waited to give Mario a hug at the end of the hill.  The next day, we let Mario bike all by himself. He did great, policeman waved at him as he went by, and he called and said that he got home after school.

But that night I talked to my mom and a couple of girlfriends and all of them thought that having Mario bike to school at age 8 was a bad idea. I had been questioning in my own head whether I should continue to allow it. On the one hand, Mario craves independence and loves achieving physical feats. He was so excited to go to school those mornings. He felt awesome. 

On the other hand, he’s only eight. Other kids likely crave independence from their parents too, but they arent allowed to bike all the way to school. Jon and I have always given a lot of leeway in raising Ri and Mario. But what is the limit? If something happened to him on the way to school, I knew I would never forgive myself. Yes, something could happen to him when he’s in fourth grade and riding by himself but that feels different than allowing him in third grade at age 8. Besides, the fourth grade school is much closer to us. But he’s also a responsible 8 year old about to turn 9 year old. And he craves the independence so why not continue to give it a chance? It is a safe neighborhood, there are crossing guards, there are police. Parenting is ping-pong in the head. 

In the end, Jon and I pulled the plug. We sat with Mario the night before school and told him that for the time being we did not feel comfortable with him biking by himself. We discussed our concern for his safety at his age. We told him that we believed in him and we believed he was responsible but that he was just too young to go to school by himself. 

He was absolutely deflated. He cried. He gave us his case as to why he felt he was responsible and able to bike down to school. He begged for us to change our minds. It broke my heart. I was still so torn but I could not go back on my position at that point. 

The next morning, he did not want to get out of bed. He did not want to eat cereal. He did not want to go to school. I was sick to my stomach. Why had I allowed him to bike to school in the first place only to take it away. Why would I give him a tiny taste of it only to pull it back? I was beating myself up all day long.

After school that day, we allowed Mario to have a friend over to spend the night. When I got home from work after fretting all day, Mario and his friend were having a blast together. They were playing basketball and video games. Mario had nothing to say about not being able to bike to school. As it is many times with kids, the worry we put on ourselves is lost on them after a few hours. Over the weekend, at random times, Mario continued to bring up his wish to bike by himself. He made his case on how responsible he was and how he stayed on the sidewalk and how he would never let a stranger take him. We listened and continued to mull over what to do with him. My “all or nothing” personality was shining bright in my thought process. Either he can bike everyday by himself or nothing at all…either I eat an entire sleeve of cookies or none… either I win the race or don’t run at all. Maybe I needed to learn to loosen the reins of that  personality trait a bit.

On Monday morning, as I made his waffles and talked with him about his day ahead, I flexed my rigid trait and told him that we would just see how things go throughout the fall and the spring. I also told him that I had arranged for him to be able to walk with a couple of friends once or twice a week (I didn’t include the fact that I or another mom would be walking behind him).

Sure enough, this past week, he got to walk with his buddy (and yes, I walked far behind them to make sure they got to school on time). He also got dropped off  by Jon and picked up by our sitter. And he biked to school with me a couple of days. Jon and I allowed him to bike home by himself those days since our babysitter was waiting for him and she could call us to let us know he made it back to the homestead. 

And with each day, all ended up being just fine. 

School’s back 

We got the haircuts, the school clothes (braved Polaris Mall and wanted to poke my eyes out), the book bags, the lunch boxes, the notebooks, and even managed to get a couple of showers in prior to the first day of school. The kids were so excited – they both couldn’t fall asleep. It was like Christmas Eve. I was taken aback at how charged up they were to head back to school although I know in a few weeks they will be dragging out of bed…. 

Maria set her alarm for 5:30 am. Yes, 5:30. Why? Because she needed to spend 45 minutes on her hair. How is she my child?! She borrowed the “beach wave” curling iron from my girlfriend to assist with the do she wanted for her first day. My girlfriend had styled Ri’s hair a few weeks ago with the iron and Ri loved it. We laugh because my girlfriend’s daughter is a replica of me – athletic clothes, sports watch, hair in a ponytail and Ri is like my girlfriend with her sweet hair styles and trendy clothes. But I digress…. 

Jon and I shook our heads as we laid in bed listening to Ri bumble around in the bathroom. At around 6:15, Ri came into our room and tapped my shoulder.

“Mom, the curling iron is really hot. Could you do my waves in my hair?”

Are you kidding? Did she really ask me, the woman who puts her hair in a pony every day, to do her hair?! 

I rose out of bed determined to curl her hair and curl it well. Ri had straightened most of her hair but put a small section on each side in a ponytail on top of her head. She just wanted the hair in the pony to be wavy. Not so hard, heh?!

Yea, well, for someone that never uses curling irons, it was torture. I curled the first strand and when it came out, the hair was kined in every direction. Ri took one look in the mirror and bawled. Then she hyperventilated. Then she sobbed. I grabbed another strand determined to do it right. More kinks. What the he–?! More hyper-ventilating. I tried again. No luck. Ri bolted into her room crying. I walked in and made the executive decision.  

“We are gonna have to straighten the hair in the pony and try waves another time. I can’t do waves right now.”

She gave an affirmative nod and cried a few more tears. I told her again I was sorry. She stood still in the bathroom as I tried to straighten the kinks. She finally spoke:

“It’s ok, mom. I should have known you couldn’t curl hair.”

Well, at least she’s honest in her downtrodden moments. She actually looked just as adorable with the straightened ponytail look and I think she felt half way decent about it, too. Mom came through in a half-assed way….

Mario, meanwhile, slipped on a pair of athletic shorts and a t-shirt and was ready to hit the road. Thank goodness. 

I made Ri and Mario take obligatory pictures out front prior to heading off for their first day. One of these days, I will gather all of these “first day of school” pictures and do something with them….


Ri left at 7:30 to walk up the street and meet her two girlfriends. Mario and I biked up to meet them so I could get pictures. They all looked so mature! I can’t imagine how taken aback I will be when they hit high school.


Mario and I then biked to RLS. We got there early so we walked around and talked. Mario eventually spotted his buddies and bolted from my side to see them. I caught up and asked for a picture. What was I thinking? They dashed away from me as soon as they saw the camera. Where the girls were mature, the boys were 3rd grade crazy.


A few other moms and I were able to direct our sons over for a picture eventually but it took some muscle. 


And then the bell rang. Mario did not ask me or Jon to go in with him. He didn’t even wave goodbye. He just disappeared into the masses. 

Wrapping up Summer

So if the beginning of Sumner was all baseball fields and intense competition, the end of summer was all fun and games. A list of the activities we crammed in prior to an August 16 back to school date:

1. A dunk tank party – we hosted an end of the season dunk tank party for Ri’s softball team complete with lobster and steak (as promised by Jon and Stephen). Mario got to invite some of his buddies, too. However, the boys stayed away from the tank and engaged in Nerf battles for most of the night while the girls dunked each other non-stop. When the girls finally tired of the tank and decided to play barbies, the boys entered the picture and enjoyed the tank. Ri and the girls got their wish to dunk their coaches – I welcomed the water on the hot summer day but it is quite the jolt to drop down. My body cannot handle those quick motions anymore.


2. Akita! Ri headed off for her second year of Akita camp in Logan, Ohio. She loves this camp (compared to Camp “sucky” Laumann). They have a soap slide and a lake and crafts. She loves the counselors and has a group of local buddies she bunks with for five days. I wrote her a letter for each day she was there so that she’d have something to read each night (I’m sure she will remember that sweet gesture at some point when she’s a mother…).  She has absolutely no qualms with leaving for five whole days and being away from home. Good thing or terrifying?!


Ri also loved the fact that she got a big ol’ hug from Mario (and she snuck in a kiss) before she left on her adventure. 


Only after the fact did I learn that our sitter had ordered Mario to hug Ri before she left. Makes it a bit less sentimental but….

3. The Ohio State Fair! While Ri was off on her camp adventure, Mario and I hit the Fair. He was so excited to go with me. He had gone the day before with his friend and loved it (mainly because of the rides). He kept telling me about the pig races and how much I’d love them. The night before we were heading there, he came in the bathroom while I washed my face.

“Mom, are you excited to go to the Fair tomorrow?”

His blue eyes stared up at me. I knew he wanted me to be excited. I toweled off the water from my face and leaned down to him.

“I cannot wait to go with you, and I can’t wait to see those pigs!”

He beamed. 

We took off at 11:15 am. We didn’t return until 6 pm – in time for a sleepover party at his friend’s house at 6:30. He had us walking all around the rides’ area. We went on the Ferris wheel a few times much to my dismay. I still dislike that ride from my childhood horrific experience (stuck on top in a thinderstorm). 

Plus I hate heights. But I love Mario. 


The giant slide was much more up my alley.


I was doing ok ride-wise until we hit the scrambler. You sit in a two-person seat and buckle in. Then the cart goes zipping in all different directions at warp speed for what seems like a year. I cannot believe I was able to hold back my puke. I got off of it and could barely walk to the exit. Mario couldn’t understand why I felt so sick because “the ride was so awesome!” I had to lie on the concrete while fair-goers passed me, and try to get a grip. Holy heaven. I had even survived the Alien Spaceship where you stand against a wall and get thrown up and down with the magnetic force keeping you on your standing pad. That one through me for a loop when we stopped but I recovered after a few minutes. There was no recovering from the scrambler. Mario, on the other hand went back a half dozen more times. 


We hit the games like noone’s business. I brought extra cash because I knew he’d want to play and I knew I’d be suckered into playing – takes me back to my childhood at King’s Island when Beth and I would spend 50 cents over and over to win a stuffed animal. Except now it’s $5 a try. Mario was infatuated with the stuffed animal poop emoji (or the “terd” as I call it). His friend had won it the night before and he had his heart set on it. I think in the end we spent $50 for his terd. Lovely.


He also won a weinerman. Yes, “weinerman”is stitched on the belly of this stuffed animal. 

I loved one of the games at the fair: wipeout. It was a mini wipeout course where you had to jump over a rotating arm and duck under another. I took Mario on in it and beat him! Yea, I still got it…


Mario had to buy a spray paint cap to be a true fair-goer. He chose a “Team Mystic” hat because that’s his Pokemon Go team name (although he never plays anymore). He looked smooth.


But the best part of the day was, you guessed it, the pig races. We hit the tail end of one and they announced they had one more left – the pot-bellied pig race. The announcer looked for three volunteers in the crowd who had pot bellies. Two men were selected so he had to pick a lady, he said. I stuck my belly out and Mario and I cheered and I got chosen to represent Pig No. 3. 


Don’t you know my sweet No. 3 won the race?! I screamed with joy and Mario hugged me. You would think we both won a trip to Paris. But even better, I won a stuffed animal pig. It sits on my nightstand to this day.


I was sweaty, exhausted and stinky when we returned home but Mario and I had some awesome memories from the day that outweighed any stink (and a stuffed animal piggie)!

4. Grandma Ionno time. Both of the kids got to spend some time with Grandma Ionno and their cousins for a week. Mario is in seventh heaven when he stays with Patty because she makes cinnamon rolls and has mini donuts. She watches his you tube clips non-stop. She rubs his back all night long. He gets to stay up late playing with Gio. She lets them build forts and battle. 

Ri loves Patty’s spaghetti and meatballs. She loves playing water volleyball with Patty and her friends and chatting it up with all of them. She and Alana play barbies and roller skate and play on their phones. 

I am convinced Patty has super powers – how she can handle these kids for days straight without needing a break is beyond me. And it’s not as though she sits around and they play by themselves. She is running around with them, swimming with them, listening to all their stories, racing them down the street. They are lucky to have her in their lives, and have the opportunity to hang out together for days in a row.


5. Strength class. I signed the kids up for two months of strength class at my gym. I wanted them both to learn good form when lifting weights and running. They enjoyed it for the most part – they told me it’s hard to be motivated at 9 am on a Summer morning – but it woke them up and it was only two days a week. They missed quite a few since they were at camp and grandma’s house. But Mario accomplished his goal of rope climbing and deadlifting and Ri accomplished a 45 second plank. 


It was hilarious to see them squat and lift weights. Little bodybuilders in training. 

6. Elena time! Ri headed out to Pittsburgh with Sarah for a couple of days and then I met her out there on a Saturday. She learned how difficult and tiring it was to take care of a toddler. And I remembered how difficult and tiring it was when I got out there…! But it’s also a lot of fun to hang with the little muncho and listen to her talk and watch her act. She’s getting closer to her Aunt Mary and cousin Ri. She will be spending the night in no time.

We played with play-doh non-stop. I brought a baby doll for Elena when I came on Saturday and she squeezed that doll to death when we took it out of the package. We all sat around cooing over how cute she was with her doll as she cradled it and laid it on the ground, hovered over it and kissed it over and over.  We left the doll to take a bath and when we got back to play with the doll – all cleaned up – Elena took a different approach to care for the baby. She tossed the baby to the floor over and over and cracked up. Ri did, too. The cooing was replaced with some concern…! I have heard she’s back to loving the baby at times (but still chucking it at other times)!

7. Park of the Roses. Mario had quite a few sleepovers with his buddy Zach this summer. I like Zach because he’s always up for an adventure. We decided we’d hit Park of the Roses with Rocco one Sunday afternoon. The boys wanted to find crawdads. While we didn’t find crawdads, we did find an owl. The owl was perched on a branch above the creek staring at us with those huge wise eyes. I spotted him but the owl flew away before the boys caught a glimpse. Luckily, it didn’t fly far and the boys were able to run over and see it on another branch. It stared at us the entire time we stood before it. 


It was a hot day so the boys decided to take off their shirts and dive into a pool of water in the creek. They sprung up after going under head first yelling about how cold it felt. But they did it again and again. Rocco joined them. 


We ended the walk finding a snake skin that impressed the boys, and one happy pup soaked from his jaunts in the water. 

8. Celebrated Rocco’s 3rd birthday! We took advantage of having Lou around to celebrate Rocco’s 3rd birthday. The kids bought two birthday cookies and a few extra treats for Rocco and Lou to celebrate. We sang happy birthday to the birthday pup and he went to town on his cookie. He’s such a good boy – he didn’t even go after Lou’s treat when we set down a treat in front of him.. He’s so mature at three:)!


So there you have it! Summer break is officially over and the kiddos are back in school for another year. I’ve been waiting for this for the last couple of weeks – feeling like we needed structure back in our lives again. But now that we have it, I miss the spontaneity and casualness of Summer. I take refuge in the coziness of Autumn, however, and evenings sipping hot chocolate and playing board games.

COTA trip

Bus fare has risen to $2 a trip. Am I showing my age when I complain that it used to be 50 cents? The kids and I decided to take the COTA bus downtown to visit Columbus Commons last Friday. I had one more day of vacation left so I wanted to do something different. I’ve always wondered what their Fun Fridays were like (I had read that they had inflatables and carousel rides).  

We walked (without much complaining for once!) up to the bus stop a few blocks away and waited for the No. 5. We timed it pretty good with only a 10 minute wait in the 90 degree heat. The kids said hi to the driver and deposited their cash. They chose where they always have chosen – the back of the bus. While we rode, we guessed the years on the pennies in my purse and created different faces for each other on some crazy app Maria had on her phone. 

The kids pulled the cord to signal our stop on Town and High. We hurried across the street to the Commons only to find scores of young kids waiting in line for the inflatables. I sighed on behalf of Ri and Mario but they were good sports. We walked over to the carousel since it didn’t have a long line. Ri and Mario chose their horses and asked me to stand with them (that was unexpected). After the carousel, we walked over to the police and fire stations. The kids shook the two policemens’ hands and walked towards the fire trailer. The one policeman stopped me and asked if Mario was my kid. I said yes. He shook his head and laughed. 

“That kid is gonna be famous some day; mark my words. He came towards me and I stepped back like whoa, he’s strong and good-lookin’ as heck!”  

I chuckled and told him to keep his voice down – Mario doesn’t need a bigger head…. I then winked and told him Mario’s got good genes….

The fireman gave us a demonstration on fire safety and then had us crawl through a small smokey room. Ri and Mario had done it at school, and were strangely excited. We left the trailer and visited the football station where you throw a football through the hole in the placard. Mario impressed the young volunteer manning the station and threw it in the hole. Meanwhile, Ri helped a little girl hit a baseball. Her mom commented on how sweet Ri was. All sorts of compliments about the kids that morning!

We hit up Subway for Mario and went to Zoup for Ri. We had to head back to Subway to get Mario a second sandwich and Ri a cookie. We sat there awhile and people watched. 


After lunch, the kids decided the lines at the Commons were too long and they would rather head home and clean with me. Yea, right. They just wanted to get back to the AC. I didn’t mind though – this 90 degree weather is nasty. 

On our bus ride home, we chatted it up with a tall African American kid. He talked about visiting Senegal where some of his family lives. He described how hot it was, and the huge snakes he saw there. Mario was enthralled while Ri asked question after question. 

We pulled up to our stop and descended back into the heat. The kids forgot we’d have to walk back from the bus stop. Mario got a piggy back ride while Ri hoofed it out with me. We chilled the rest of the afternoon, cleaned some (very little) and played some, and I enjoyed one last day of vacation with my munchos before it was back to work. 

Summer vacation 2016 – Ace Adventure Resort 

We hated leaving our chalet in West Virginia. Yes, our chalet….

We had grown acclimated to our digs off the dirt road next to the pond full of blue gill. This was the first vacation where I did not look at my watch once to see how many more days we had left (what is it they say? With the kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a family trip!). Maybe it’s because the kids are older now and more self sufficient. I recall vacations past where the kids would be up at 6:30 am raring to go and pulling us by our hands to hit the pool or the arcade every five minutes. Now, they play on their own during our down times and Jon and I can have a few moments to catch up. But it was also the fact that this was an adventure trip where we were on the go throughout the day – whitewater rafting, ziplining, obstacle climbing – me in my element!

We left on Saturday for the three and a half hour trek to Minden, West Virginia – home of Ace Adventure Resort. We’d never been there before and never heard anyone talk about it either. I found it on Facebook and Ri researched it more after I told her about it. Jon and I loved the idea of only driving 3.5 hours to get to our vacation destination. It’s so nice to simply pack up the truck and head off mid-morning knowing you will arrive mid-afternoon. I only had to pack a couple of bags of snacks for the trip…:). 

  • We arrived at check-in time at the welcome center. They explained the layout to us and we took a look at the lake. It looked just like the pictures with the giant blob floating  near the beach and obstacles scattered throughout the water. Our chalet was about a half of a mile away from the welcome center right off an unpaved road next to a pond. Mario was excited to be next to the pond so that he could fish in the morning (he never ended up fishing in the morning but it sounded good; he did fish with some guys from Marietta one night; saw them the next day and they remembered his name calling out “hey Mario” – he loves that). The kids tore through the chalet to get a feel for where everything was, including their bedroom. They threw their bags down and went straight outside to the hot tub on the back porch. The hot tub was a huge hit throughout the trip. The kids would go in both morning and evening, and Jon and I loved relaxing in it after the kids went to bed. 

Our first night we laid low. We visited the New River bridge (which is taller than the Eiffel Tower). The walkway under the bridge was under construction so we could not walk under it. I was really bummed:). The kids loved messing with me as we drove over it.

We hit up Bob Evans for dinner and Kroger’s to stock up on breakfast and lunch foods and lots of snacks. The Kroger’s was amaze-balls, literally, with two dispensers containing superballs. It took me back to my childhood when I’d head to IGA with mom or dad and beg for a dime to get a new superball. The kids were just as excited to get a quarter and wait to see which ball they’d get (maybe not quite as excited but they played it up because they knew I loved it). 


They also had mini carts at this Kroger’s which mightily excited the kids. They loved pushing them around and throwing items into their cart. We ended up staying there close to an hour that night with the kids pushing the carts around the store. Simple pleasures.


The next morning we had our white water rafting trip. Jon is the only one of us who had gone rafting before. When I told him I had booked the Lower New River he flinched. He thought the rapids may be too much for the kids’ first trip especially because of the flooding West Virginia incurred a couple weeks earlier. A guide had called us the night before and told us that our rafting would likely be canceled due to the flooding but that we could select the New River which was more calm. I knew Maria would want the more adventurous route, so I was inclined to wait to see if the river would go down in a few days and we could still do the Lower. But Jon was fairly adamant that he thought we should just stick with the Upper New River tour. I conceded to Jon since Sunday looked like such a beautiful day to be on the river. Thank goodness I listened to my husband. I about lost it on our first rapid; it was scary as heck. The guide told us that a majority of our trip on the Lower New River would have been the Rapids we went through at the beginning. Again, I thanked Jon for convincing me. 


Jon and I stayed in the front since we had to have a strong paddle through the trip. The kids loved seeing Jon and I get soaked. The guide was awesome and allowed the kids to jump out of the raft and swim in the river in certain spots. She even let them get out and try to swim in the rapids, which freaked me out a bit but they loved it. She also played a game with Ri where Ri held onto a rope and tried to stand up on the raft and not fall off while the guide moved the raft back-and-forth swiftly. We stopped for lunch halfway down the river and they had a smorgasbord of smoked meats and side dishes and tons of brownies. Maria was in seventh heaven – she had been asking throughout the trip what the lunch would entail. 

Our guide let the kids move to the front of the raft near the end of the trip. We got a couple of good rapids while they were in the front, including one that nearly knocked Mario out of the raft. It was such an enjoyable day together; the kids begged to do it the next day. We promised the Lower New River next year when Mario had a bit more weight on him.

Monday was our chill day. We spent the morning at the lake playing on the inflatables. Ri acted like a  drill sergeant and woke us up at 8:15 in order to get us ready to head to the lake by 9 AM. She was hilarious barking orders to eat breakfast and to get our swimsuits on ASAP. Jon dropped us off at the lake promptly at 9 AM and went to work for a couple of hours. 

The obstacles were a trip. Here I was thinking I was in shape and could take on anything. I slipped a few times off of the plastic inflatables and thought I tore both hamstrings! Mario was a little monkey climbing up everything and beautifully jumping off feet first. Ri tried everything with Mario but had a few issues with slipping and sliding off of the top of some inflatables. Nonetheless, she continued to jump throughout the morning. They are both ready for any type of adventure. 

They made me jump off the side of a 13 feet high inflatable. It was one of the scariest things I have done. They must know how much I love them in order to agree to such an act. Of course, they both did it with ease. We cranked the inflatables out all morning, and cranked out the zip line and giant slide, too.



The only thing left when Jon arrived back to the lake was the blob. Ugh, the blob. It looked so much fun when we saw it on Facebook. But that blob was a brutal inflatable device. The trick was to try to sit with your legs out when you jumped off of the landing. It is much easier to watch than to do. Of course, tiny Mario had no issues with it but Ri and I had many. I had major skin burn on my right leg from one fall. Ri hurt her ankle on her fall. But she refused to give up and went back for a second try. She made a better fall on that try but little did she know what was ahead of her. 
She crawled to the end of the blob and sat down with her legs out and her torso leaning forward. The lifeguard at the landing asked her if she was ready and she gave a thumbs up. However, the woman that was going to blob her did not count down for her so she was not ready to pop up. In addition, the woman probably outweighed her by 150 pounds. John and I looked on a bit frightened for her. And then there she went – twirling up in the air – with an unpleasant descent into the water.


She rose up and put a smile on her face for everyone to see. But as soon as she swam over to Jon and I, she was crying. She said she hit a rock. Clearly, she had not hit a rock but she had hit the water so hard that it felt like it. Poor girl. We told her that she had tried it and that she had overcome her fear of the blob and that she could ignore it the rest of the trip. We called it a day after that episode, and went home to change and to head to a new dinner joint for the night. We found Gino’s – the best Italian food (for a fast food Italian joint) that we have ever had. And super service. Maria miraculously  felt better – nothing like a little pasta and meatballs to make our girl feel better.


On Tuesday, we went ziplining. We had another great group of guides to lead us. Maria and Mario had a ton of questions for them as we drove to the start of the tour. The views were gorgeous as we began our adventure. Mario was a bit fearful of the first zip line we went on because it was very high up. He went alongside Maria. When they both were getting locked in, he said that he was a bit nervous to go. The guide said he would do fine and then just pushed him off the platform. My heart sank for him – but when I got over to the other side he was laughing and saying how much fun he had. The guides joked the rest of the time that he was the intrepid one wanting to do flips and go backwards during each zipline; little did they know how intrepid Maria was. She just stayed calm and cool throughout the entire zip line; she absolutely loves those adventure treks.  

The last zipline was terrifying. You either had to fall backwards off of the landing or you had to stand frontwards and see yourself freefall towards the ground. I chose frontwards. The kids ended up choosing the same. But once you fell it was a blast because you could do flips or let go and just swing back and forth until you grabbed the rope and climbed onto the platform.

While we were zip lining, Jon got on a work call. As he loves to do, he got in his car and drove around while on the call. He ended up finding some gorgeous sites for us to visit after ziplining. We visited an overlook where you could see the New River and an old bridgespanning across it. It was a gorgeous view. We also got to visit an amazing waterfall right off the side of the road. Mario found some cool butterflies and Maria got to dip her body into the small body of water that had formed underneath the waterfall.


We decided to head to the lake for another couple of hours of obstacle fun before calling it a day. Ri was obsessed with the blob. She was so scared by it and she wanted to conquer her fears by getting on it again. She could not concentrate on anything else as we played. Mario and I could kept trying to keep her busy with other things but it was no use. She was set on conquering that blog again. So Mario helped her out and told her that she could blob him. She loved the thought of that. She had a perfect jump onto the blob with her legs going out. She was so excited. 


Of course, Mario wanted to blob Ri in return. Mario’s blob was a piece of cake compared to the previous woman’s blob!

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We will never forget the blob, for sure. We also won’t forget the water nymph. There was a boy who was about 70 pounds wet and was about 5 feet tall. He was skinny as all get out. And he would move across the obstacles like a little water fairy. He had the kids and I mesmerized. 

After the lake, we headed out to get gym shoes for me because we had the mud obstacle course adventure on Wednesday afternoon. There was no way that I was getting my nice gym shoes muddy. We found a pair at Walmart for $10. And don’t you know what we did next? Went to Kroger’s to get some superballs and play with the mini carts. Yes, we did this every night except our last night there. Yep. Simple pleasures. And Ri found out she had something in common with the locals –  jumping on a grocery cart and riding it down the parking lot incline. 


This was also the night that Mario found the claw game. He loves trying to win an animal. He had won three at the lake with Jon. He found a little stuffed dog from the movie “The Secret Life of Pets” and he wanted to win it. He won it after two tries. Ridiculous. Then he wanted to win a pet for Maria. We spent $10 trying to get the rabbit from the movie. He had it numerous times but then it would fall out of the claw. So frustrating! Of course, if they had a rational mom, we would have left. But I wanted to win it. So, we went out to Jon and got five more dollars. And my boy won it after two tries again so we walked back out with four dollars left. Yea (forget the ten we spent earlier…)!


On Wednesday, we spent our last morning at the lake climbing up inflatables, trying to cross over lily pads, balancing on a giant dome, and jumping from the top of towers. I braved jumps I had no desire to do only because the kiddos begged me. We did one last water zipline and a few trips on the giant slide, and of course, one more blob. We could watch that blob for hours – it’s addicting watching folks jump on and get blobbed off. Ri got it right when she commented that it could be a reality tv show. 


In the afternoon, we participated in a private mud obstacle course. We thought we’d have to go with a group of 60 but they opened up a time just for us. We had a blast after we got used to putting our faces in muddy water and falling into knee-high mud traps. The mud traps were Ri’s dream. We crawled under wood trellises, climbed over logs, climbed ropes up a wall, scooted up and down plastic tubes. It was a blast!


At the end of the course, you had to jump in the lake and swim to lily pads. All three of us had to get on a lily pad and then jump to another pad. Ri and I acted as a team but Mario was in it to win it.  Typical, Ri just wants to have fun and Mario wants to race. After we went a few times together, I raced Mario while Ri got a drink; he got his shin slammed on the climbing wall and called it a day. He couldn’t stand to be dirty any longer. Ri, on the other hand, wanted to soak in the mud. I let her give me a mud facial, which made her very happy. 

We hosed each other off and went home for a much-needed shower. I didn’t want to get out. But the thought of Gino’s pizza and pasta lured me out and we were off for one final night out. 

We returned to one last jaunt in the hot tub looking up at the midnight blue sky and the stars gleaming down on us. It felt like home since we had been there for four nights.I was disappointed to leave and head back home. This was one of my favorite trips with the kids because of all the adventure treks we went on, the activities at the lake, and being in the outdoors. We took one last look at our chalet and the lake before we left to pick up Rocco on Thursday morning, and wished the folks lining up at the blob good luck. We were on our way back to Ohio but not without some awesome memories of Summer vacation 2016.

Two fistin’ trophies

After six weeks of intense softball action, our girls brought home a league championship trophy and a tournament championship trophy. Rock on, ladies!


I am still beaming. These gals formed a cohesive and strong team during our six weeks together. 

The beginning few practices are always tough because girls are getting to know one another and feeling personalities and skills out. We had a sixth grader from the local catholic school on our team this year. She had an amazing pitching arm and hit the bat like Babe Ruth. She was definitely a notch above the other girls in the league. However, she was so humble and kind to all the other girls on the team. When one would strike out, she’d be the first to pat her on the back and tell her it was ok. When Ri pitched a bunch of balls, she’d step out to the mound and calm her down. The girls all looked up to her and her simple presence made a huge positive impact on the team. 

We struggled in the beginning of the season to understand the new rules of the game: dropped third strike, stealing, sliding…. And there was different rules for each league we played in through the season: UA played you could steal fine, Gahanna didn’t. UA allowed 4 innings per pitcher and stealing on a walk, we didn’t. You’d think it would be fairly easy to remember (I thought so too) but you get in a game situation and your mind is on who to play where, getting girls around the bases, where the game ball is hiding….

But we hit our stride half way through the season. The girls were all comfortable around one another, they were learning how to get under the pop fly, their arms were getting more accurate, and their bats were coming around well. We played only Grandview teams in the last week and a half of the season. We ended up 5-1 against our other Grandview gals; one game ahead of the second place team. We secured the league championship against the Indians – a team coached by my buddy and the father of Ri’s good friend. The girls doused me with water and ice and ran around the bases giving high fives. 


My assistant coach and I made sure after each game that the girls gave a cheer to the opposing team -“2,4,6,8 who do we appreciate…”. There were a few games where they were mighty hesitant to chant it but they came through after some provocation by their coaches. And their good sportsmanship was recognized: parents approached us after games and praised the girls for being upstanding sportsmen. 

I must admit, I was on pins and needles in the league championship game. I wanted my girls to get a trophy so badly. My stomach killed half way through the game but I held it together and never let the girls know I cared. It’s all about having fun and playing hard, I’d reiterate to them. But deep down inside, my competitive self squated, waiting for our next big hit.

I was calmer for our championship game. It was our last game, the girls had secured a trophy, and I just wanted to have some fun. Mission accomplished, for the most part. Ri didn’t have her best game; I wish she would have gotten a fly ball or hit a good single or double. But she cranked out some good plays in past games so I kept reinforcing that each time she came into the dugout mad she didn’t make a good play. In the bottom of the 6th, tied 16-16, Sofie hit a triple and brought Kathryn home to win the game 17-16, and no one cared how they had played through the game. They just ran out to the field to shake hands, ran the bases and hugged incessantly. 

We had to clear out immediately because the boys played right after us. The girls grabbed the water jug and moved it over to the grass. There was no surprise as to what was coming. I tried to get my assistant coach under the downpour with me but she alipped away. Half the girls got in there with me though. The ice felt good!


We moved to the picnic tables and I presented each of the girls with a gift bag filled with candy, sunflower seeds, framed picture and a “Stay Calm and Play Softball” postcard. I bought each girl a different type of candy based on their personality. As I handed out the bags, I described why I chose the candy for them. Yes, I am a sentimentalist….

I also just loved my team this year – I’d take these girls back in a heartbeat to coach. It was so strange waking up the next morning knowing there would be no more games to run to after work. Crazily, I really miss it, but look so forward to the insanity next year.

Roller derby girl

Grandma Ionno bought roller skates at a garage sale for $2. Alana and Gio were with her at the time so they scored the skates. They brought them over to our house a couple of weeks ago to show them off. Maria begged to use Gio’s skates so she could ride with Alana. He graciously let her borrow them, and then agreed to let her buy them for $10. She loves skating. I’ll come home from work and she’ll be skating down our driveway trying to turn the corner to the sidewalk. She and Alana made up skating routines when Alana stayed with us for a few nights. One night I came home from work and cracked up at the two of them – they looked like total roller derby chicks. Maria especially with her short shorts and muscular legs, and her look of fierceness. 


There is no doubt she’d be taken in the first round of eleven year old derby draft. Mario watched her having so much fun that he begged to get a pair of roller blades. Maria begged on his behalf since she always helps him out with his pleading, and because she wanted someone to ride with when Alana went back home. Mario was not quite as smooth on his blades as Ri was on her skates. And he wasn’t quite as addicted to them as Ri. 

But he continued to give it a try, especially because he got to try it in our kitchen one night when it was raining outside. I had stalled them from going outside until I finished dishes.

“Now it’s raining, mom, and we can’t skate.”

Alas, mom comes through and pushes the table out of the way so they have some room in the kitchen to skate. The small things in life that bring joy.


They had me cracking up the way they were running into the counter and table. That is, until Mario rammed into me as I sat on the family room floor watching them. He took out my shin, which has yet to recover, with his roller blade. Ouch. He called it a night after that collision, as well as me. 

But not Ri, not our roller derby gal.