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!

​ 

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.

Legal career?

Maria called me last Wednesday evening on my way home from work. She talked excitedly about her day. All was going well over the telephone wires until she asked me if she could come to work with me for National Bring your Child to Work Day. 
Huh? I had not heard anything about this day being Thursday. I had a conference to attend and work to complete. It fell on a bad day; and besides, she just brought it up to me (could she really have been excited for weeks to come to my work as she alleged?)! I told her I didn’t think I could swing it. 

Tears, lots of tears. 

She had a rough week with her crazy allergies. And tears. I couldn’t stand it. I caved and told her that I could take her to work with me in the morning but then she would have to stay home and hang with Morgan. She was thrilled. 

We dropped off Mario in the morning (he thought we were heading to the doctor’s office – little white lie) and headed to High Street. Ri had on her black boots and vest. She looked more stylish than me (not too hard to accomplish). 

We had to head to an 8:30 am meeting. By 8:45, she was begging to go up to my office so she could play on the computer. I made her stay and endure the pain of the infamous “meeting” until 9:10 and then I let her go up to my office. She loved the swipe badge she had to use to get in the office and took every opportunity she had to use it.

We went to Starbucks for a morning beverage after my meeting and then she went to town on cleaning my bookcases – a much-needed task to complete. While she was sorting through binders of junk from 1998 she posed a question: “since its bring your “child” to school day, we should really bring Mario, too. He would be so pumped up, mom.”

Always looking out for her little bro.

So we picked Mario up at his lunch time and took him back to my work. He was pumped. Maria taught him how to use the swipe card and showed him where all my candy was stashed. 


They played in my office and continued to clean. Maria wanted me to sit in another office far away but Mario wanted me to stay. I answered questions about what books to keep and toss and posed legal hypotheticals to them. Mario was intrigued with the hypotheticals; Ri not so much. She was wondering about lunch. We decided to get lunch downstairs at the cafe – they had 50% off pizzas, which Ri knew would make me smile. They wanted to eat in my office so we trekked back upstairs and dug into our discounted pizzas. After another half hour of watching me answer email and research, they were ready to call it a day. 

“Can we go home now” they both pleaded. 

They didn’t last as long as I thought they would but I give them credit for trying. My next career will be much more exciting as a park ranger in Yosemite…

I dropped them off at the house to Morgan and gave them a writing assignment: write a paragraph about whether you think you’d like to be a lawyer when you grow up.

I came home to two paragraphs: one from Ri and one from Mario. They couldn’t have had more different take-aways.


I think Mario was more intrigued with the notion of having his own office and being able to boss people around than actually being a lawyer; although he was intrigued with managing a “case file.” Ri was definitely not a fan of meetings; she still has bad memories of her last “bring your kid to school” experience three years ago where she wrote a poem titled “meetings are boring, boting, boring.” But she loved the perks of an office setting: free food (actually, she didn’t realize that me and others stocked the fridge) and jumbo post-it notes at your beckon call. 

Only time will tell what influence this day had on their future careers. I’m perfectly happy if they choose to run faraway from the legal profession or if they choose to embrace justice. I just want them to be as happy as they were when we were in the car driving to my office that morning. 

Trooper 

The girl is a trooper. Her poor little eyes have been swollen for three straight days. Swollen, itchy, stinging. Yet, she does not stomp around the house blasting her misery in every direction. She does not cry and wail and pout in the corner. 

Rather, she lays in our bed with a washcloth over her eyes and begs for her little brother to give her a hug. She only wants her Mario. And Mario innately knows that he needs to be there; his brotherly love is in full force and comes through when Ri truly needs it. 

Mario is not one to give away free hugs to his sis (whereas Ri would hug her bro every millisecond if possible – as seen below).  But he senses when it’s necessary and he obliges. Last night, she was upstairs crying after I put her to bed. I didn’t hear her but Mario did. He yelled for me, and I stopped doing the dishes and walked upstairs. I found Mario holding the washcloth on Ri’s eyes and Ri’s arm wrapped around his waist. 

She had stopped crying. 

Mario repeated “you got this Ri; you will be ok.”
  
  

Lunch with my boy

  Right as we were getting ready to head to school yesterday, Mario asked me to take him to lunch. He’s been asking me to do that here and there over the last month. I saw that I had a break on my calendar from 11:30-1:30 so I told him I could do it. A huge smile swept his face. 

I picked him up at 11:40. He was sitting in the office reading a book and waiting for me. The principal asked him where he was going for lunch and he responded “Marshall’s.” I am thankful for a restaurant across the street from his school since I biked to meet him. 

We took a look at the fish as we entered Marshall’s. They have some big ol’ goldfish swimming in a pool of water. Mario loves to watch them. Mario chose a table and we skimmed the menu. He had already decided that he wanted chocolate chip pancakes. 

I asked him about his day and told him about mine. I told him I had asked a question to my colleagues to start my morning meeting and the question was “what would you do for a living if you weren’t a lawyer.” He was intrigued. He asked what people answered. I started to tell him and after about the third answer I gave him, he said “what was the most dangerous job that someone wanted to do?”

Of course. I had to be more exciting! So I told him about the guy that wanted to work on a safari and be around lions and elephants. That intrigued him a bit. Then we talked about Perkins pancakes and how much I loved waitressing there throughout my late teens and twenties. 

I enjoyed having time with just him. Typically, when Jon or I have alone time with a kid it is paired as dad/Mario and Mom/Ri so it was all the sweeter to have some quality time with just Mario. He’s such a good kid with a sense of humor and a desire to learn and ask questions. He also loves to hear about his past. We spent a good chunk of time talking about his growth development from the time he was an infant until now. We went to the doctor’s office this week and learned that he was in the 50th percentile for height and 83rd persontile for weight. I told him he used to be in the 20th percentile for weight and height. He was charged to learn that he shot up so high in height and weight. It also was used as an argument by him that he did not need to eat any more of his eggs.   

His friends were right outside the restaurant window as we were eating. I asked if he wanted to go play with them at recess but he chose to hang with me. Yes, that is one for the memory banks. I will bring that back to light when he is older and begging to go hang with friends at the park. 

We headed back to his school with five minutes to spare. He asked me to go to his classroom. I gladly obliged. He showed me a game they play with a globe. All the kids rushed in shortly thereafter and it was time for me to head out. I knew better to hug Mario so I just whispered bye and he waved bye to me. As I walked out, Mario’s teacher stopped me and quietly told me “Mario was so excited to go to lunch with you.” Little did he know that the feeling was mutual.

More soccer in the family

Mario played soccer at school recess after he broke his arm on New Year’s Eve. He used to only care for football at recess but with a bum arm, that’s impossible. So soccer it was for 6 weeks straight. 

He enjoyed it. 

A few times over dinners, he asked if he could play on Spring soccer. I told him I’d look into it. It so happened that I was picking him up at school one evening after a Kids Night Out function and one of the dads there asked me if Mario played soccer. I told him he had never played but was interested. And voila! The next day I got a Facebook message from a Kiwanis coach asking Mario to join them for practice. 

When I told Mario, he was charged up. 

When I told Ri, she cried.

Soccer has always been her sport. She’s worked her way up from Kiwanis to OCL and she’s proud. She loves the game. She does not want to share it with her brother. She worries that Mario will excel in it and become the “soccer star.” She broke my heart as she relayed all these emotions to me while getting ready for bed.

A part of me thought I should take Mario out of soccer. After all, he’s also playing flag football this Spring. But that’s not fair. And Ri needed to understand that we’d always love watching her play and it would always be her sport. 

Jon was out of town this week when Mario had his first practice. I took him up to it and dropped him off. Ri did not want to go. I went back home after walking Rocco and told Ri that I wanted her to walk up to Mario’s practice with me to pick him up. I bribed her with ice cream.

We arrived with ten minutes left to practice. They were scrimmaging. Ri and I watched Mario run the field. Ri didn’t say much for the first couple of minutes. Then, as Mario stopped the ball mid-field, she shouted:

“Go Mario! Get that ball and score!”

I melted. My girl – although not too happy about Mario’s choice to play “her sport” – still rooted on her brother to victory. Her heart is as big as the cosmos. And I know Mario heard her and ran harder to impress his big sis.

I told Ri that a reason he wanted to play was because he had seen her enjoy playing the sport so much. She has an influence on him as his big sis. She liked that thought. 

After practice, she begged me to take them to Target to buy him shin guards and a ball so that he’d beprepared for their next practice. The girl takes care of her little bro, no matter what.

   

Fried ham and pancakes and joy

If only every night could be as delightful as last Wednesday evening. I came home from work and both kids had finished their homework. They asked if we could make pancakes and eggs for dinner. Ri wanted to make the eggs and Mario, the pancakes. Right out of the bat, no fighting over who makes what. Yes!

Ri found some ham in the refrigerator drawer and asked if we could fry up some ham with her eggs. She started frying the ham, and the smell emanated throughout the kitchen. Mario looked over at her as he poured the pancake mix and said “that ham smells great Maria!”

She thanked him and brought a slice over for him to eat. “You need your protein”, she said. He laughed and gobbled it down.   Ri asked how he wanted his eggs cooked. They debated on which would be better – sunny side up or over medium. Mario left it to Maria to decide. Maria then asked if he wanted cheese on his eggs and he replied “whatever you want to give me Maria!” Was I dropped in a fantasy world?!

Mario continued to stir his pancake batter, and was anxious to put the batter on the skillet.  We got the chocolate chips, the cornflakes, and the bananas. Maria likes corn flakes, Mario likes chocolate chips, and I like bananas. Mario asked me to pour the batter on the skillet but he wanted to flip the pancakes. It took a while for them to cook. He kept placing his spatula under a pancake trying to flip it but it was still not cooked enough to flip over. I turned away to wash a dish in the sink and I heard a yell of “Mom!” Mario flipped the pancake when it was still raw and the batter fell halfway off the skillet onto the stove. He was mad at himself. Maria quickly jumped in and provided her pancake war story. 

“Mario,  the first time I made pancakes I flipped the pancakes so hard the batter hit the top of the ceiling and then some came back down and landed all over the floor. So you are doing so much better than I did my first time, little brother!”

He smiled, shook his head in comraderie with Ri, and continued on with his next pancake.    

 The next batch he made were flipped perfectly. He got a plate for Ri and asked her to try one he made for her with a bold combination of chocolate chips and corn flakes. 

“This is superb! It’s ten times better than mom’s pancakes!”

Yes, she gave me a huge grin right after she muttered those words. Then she blurted out a back-handed compliment to me: “It’s ok mom, you are much better with food that’s cooked in the microwave.” Obnoxious… but I couldn’t argue with that observation.  

Mario finished up his pancakes and Ri scraped out her final egg from the skillet. We sat at the table and talked about school work, teachers, and spring break.   Then, to top off the fabulous meal, Mario found the last episode of blackish on demand. He’d been checking every night for me since I had mentioned wanting to see it after hearing how great it was on the topic of race in America. We all sat down in the family room and watched the show together. And to make Mario’s night complete, we  wrestled during the commercials. 

Oaxaca!

Ri conquered her first out-of-the-country trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to visit her baby cousin Elena, Aunt Sarah, and Uncle Jorge. She has mastered the art of travel at age 10. When we arrived at airport security, she nagged at me to get her passport out to be prepared to show the agent. Then she schooled me about taking my laptop out of my book bag and placing it in a separate bin. Once we were through security, she wanted to get her Starbucks drink and go straight to the gate to be ready to board (Jon would have been so proud). And as I fretted about how tiny the plane was, she calmly pulled out my computer from her bag, slipped on her earbuds, and started up the movie she downloaded the night before.

Our flight arrived on time into Houston so we had three hours to chill before our flight to Oaxaca. Ri wanted some good ol’ American cuisine before we headed south so we ate at Ruby’s 50’s diner. I let her splurge on whatever she wanted. She chose a bacon cheeseburger with sweet potato fries. I have not witnessed a more gleeful girl than Ri when she took a bite out of her burger.

“Now, this is a burger, Mom! Bacon and cheese and a huge piece of meat. Yum!”  Gotta love this girl. We filled ourselves up and waited anxiously for our flight. The plane to Oaxaca was just as small as the one from Columbus. Ri calmed my nerves by holding my hand. 

 We landed in Oaxaca so excited to see our clan. Ri stood next to the conveyor belt waiting for our suitcase. It arrived quickly and we got in line to give our papers to the agent. The automatic doors opened for the person ahead of us to leave and we got a glimpse of Elena. Ri leapt in the air.

And so our epic Oaxacan adventure began. We had such a marvelous, magical time. Some highlights:

1. Bed jumping! Elena loves her some bed jumping; it was one activity that guaranteed smiles from her. It was also a mighty good incentive to get her to eat her oatmeal. She loved to strategically place Ri on the bed, and then me, and then proclaim “Jump!” We’d jump and she would fall and look up at us and smile or let out a bubbly laugh. Then we’d do it again and again and again.

During our trip, Elena did to Ri exactly what Ri did to Sarah when Ri was little – pushed her away. Ri used to shout “No, Sarah!” every time Sarah came near her when she was little. Elena just liked to use the word “No” and raise her right palm to push you away. I was worried Ri would get sad by Elena’s actions but she completely rolled with the flow after I talked with her about how most babies go through this stage. Sarah kept reiterating how much Elena would be begging to be with her when she got older. And Sarah and Ri learned to condition jumping on giving kisses. So every time Elena asked Ri to jump, Ri would demand “give me a kiss.” Elena would quickly abide to get the jumping started. 

 2. Fresh juice. I remember the juice from my last trip to Oaxaca. There is a stand that Sarah frequents with the nicest gentleman. He always carries a smile and a raucous welcome. Ri loved the strawberry mango juice, and it came in a plastic bag with a straw, which she thought was super cool.  3. The Cerra del Fortin. Could I please wake up every morning to a run on this trail? Absolutely stunning.

Ri did not want to go to the Fortin with Sarah and I but we begged and cajoled her and she broke down and agreed. She was so glad she did when she got to witness Sarah driving her Blazer up a 90 degree hillside freaking out that we were going to flip (I was too, frankly). But the Menkedick sisters pulled it together and got turned around. Sarah and Elena went running and Ri and I walked the trail. She was a bit irritable at first but then ten minutes in, she whispered “I’m glad I came.” How couldn’t she be with this view?! And Aunt Sarah persuaded Ri to run with her at the last leg of the trail so that Ri could brag that she ran the Cerra del Fortin!

4. Walks with Elena. Elena loves hanging with her mama but there were some times when Sarah would quickly hand her over to Ri before Elena knew what was happening! Ri had to do all sorts of tricks for her to keep her amused but Ri had no issues doing them in order to be able to hold her. We walked to breakfast or lunch most days and Ri would bounce Elena on one hip and then quickly move her to the other hip. Elena thought this activity was awesome. Or Ri would put her on her shoulders and Sarah and I would hold Elena’s back to make sure she stayed steady while pointing out everything and anything we could to have her forget she was on Ri’s shoulders.  

 5. Nuevo Mundo. Jorge’s brother owns this coffee shop close to the Zocolo and it is scrumptious. Ri fell head over heels for the strawberry cream crepes and I looked forward to their double cappuccinos. 

 Ri also found a treasure at the coffee shoppe. They had little pamphlets organized in different compartments on a wooden box on the wall. Elena loved to take the pamphlets out and put them back in the different compartments. So Ri would scoop up Elena and stand in front of the wooden box to allow Elena to play.

6. Village parade. Jorge found a parade for us to see in a small village about 45 minutes away. We had planned on a different parade the night before but Elena was still not feeling the best so we waited a day to take her out. And this parade was worth the wait. It was a parade to celebrate being gay, and there were many cross dressing males,  including the queen of the parade. We followed the music to an area containing many homes in a small camp. A man was passed out in front of the first home. We knew it was gonna be a good party.

Jorge spoke to a man at the entrance and the man invited us into the area. There were men dressed up in animal costumes and dressed up in extravagant dresses and sparkling heels. Kids ran around after a puppy. Ducks waddled around us. Ri, a bit taken aback at first, eventually soaked it up and watched the scene unfold. After a few minutes, the crew was ready to start the parade. The music started up and everyone went out to the street. Jorge shot a ton of pictures and we danced in the street with our new friends. 

     The parade ended at a stage with folding chairs set out around it. We sat down and a short, hunched-over old woman walked over to sit next to us. She wore a strawberry shortcake winter cap on top of her head and wore an interminable smile. After a while, we rose out of our seats to look around at the village church and square. Then we spotted them – the little devils.  The boys dress up in these colorful costumes and wear masks, and turn into little devils. They hold wooden sticks with flour-filled eggs on top of them and run around looking for girls to “flour.” Ri was a chosen one and before she could know what was happening – BOOM – a dust of flour fell on her shoulder and face. It was awesome.   One of the local men kept prodding Ri to climb the metal pole next to the church because she could grab prizes on top. They have a metal ring at the top of the pole that holds a bike, backpacks, and toys. If someone makes it up there, they untwist the string holding the object, it falls to the ground, and they get to keep it. If it’s not hard enough to climb a 40 foot metal pole, they grease it so its impossible to grip. I really want to try this at Mario’s 9th birthday party.   7. Hierve el Agua. Jorge and Sarah took Ri and I to Hierve el Agua, a spectacular site with springs and petrified waterfalls. It was a 90 minute drive from their apartment  through the countryside. We planned the car trip around Elena’s nap at noon – which she never took (but she was pleasant as can be holding her mama’s hand in the backseat). I think the reason she never took her nap was because Ri was jammin’ it out to Taylor Swift in the front seat with Jorge. And jammin’ to Maroon 5. And some other artists who Jorge had never listened to in his lifetime. Ri enjoyed uizzing him and singing the lyrics to him (Jorge, you will be sainted).

We arrived to a windy plateau. Sarah put the cutest bathing suit ever on Elena. Ri and I had to stick to shorts and t-shirts. Ri didn’t care at all, though; she just wanted to plunge into water. She had been dealing with over 80 degree days for three straight days and she wanted relief! The springs were nestled in the mountains, and the views were magnificent. We walked down to the first pool of water. Ri was the first one down and rushed into the water. She didn’t get two steps into the water when she went BAM – feet in the air and butt landing hard on the concrete. My sweet girl; everywhere we go she seems to find a way to go down. Sarah and I laughed so hard our sides hurt. Ri, as always, laughed it off with us and dove headfirst into the deeper part of the water.   She begged me to go under with her; I refused.  But I did get in to the water up to chest level, and it was freezing. We played around in the pool with Elena who loved the water as much as Ri. After a while, Maria wanted to try out the water down the hill. We gathered our things and traveled down to that pool of water. It was a bit warmer and Ri and Sarah walked in together. Elena and I followed. Jorge snapped pictures and we enjoyed the views. But if you stood up with your body out of the water, watch out. Freezing wind. Baby Elena started to get cold so Sarah went back on land with her while Maria and I braved it for a few more minutes. The landscape was beautiful as you looked out on it from the edge of the water.

    But the departure from the water was brutal! It was freezing with the wind, and we had no towel to wrap around ourselves. So we sprawled our bodies out to get maximum sun exposure and waited to bake.

 We eventually warmed up enough to be able to conquer the trail to the petrified waterfall. Ri and I ate Chex Mix as we climbed over boulders. We arrived at a sharp precipice and Ri immediately gravitated to the edge. Daredevil. I made her stay 15 feet back and I stayed 30.       Sarah, Jorge and Elena met up with us on the way down the trail and Elena was all dried off and back in her darling toddler attire. We walked past the pool of water but Ri couldn’t resist jumping in one more time. She’s insane. I refused to follow suit but I did walk Ms. Elena around the perimeter of the water. She held my hand and talked away.

Love.

She also got a kick out of watching Ri kick her legs up out of the water. The little things in life.  At the entrance to the springs, there were a handful of fruit and food stands. Sarah swore by the coconut water so we decided to try it. Ri was not convinced so she went with the tried and true pineapple. It did not disappoint.     On our way home, we got a taste of the countryside. A weathered older gentleman walked his goats on the side of the road.    Two minutes later, we witnessed donkeys carrying sticks up the path.   Pretty surreal to catch this site while listening to Taylor Swift and eating coconut wedges with spices drizzled on them.

8.The Tree of Tule. On our way home, Jorge steered us to Santa Maria del Tule to visit one of the widest and oldest trees around the world. It is a Montezuma’s Cypress and it’s over 2000 years old. Beautiful.    8. Espresso! Ri tried her first espresso at Nuevo Mundo.   She looks sophisticated in this picture but this is the “before sipping espresso” picture. I didn’t get an “after” shot because she spit it out so quickly.

9. Fried grasshoppers. We almost left Oaxaca without Ri tasting them but luckily the restaurant we went to on the last night served them. Ri was so happy to hear that! This girl is game for most anything, god love her, so she readily tried one. She didn’t spit this out so it beat espresso! Jorge and I devoured a few in comraderie with Ri. Not bad.

 10. Moments with Elena. Let’s face it. The overwhelming reason for this trip was to be with Elena! We love Sarah and Jorge tremendously but we wanted some quality time with the munchie-munch. Elena had a bit of a different idea of our purpose for vacationing in Oaxaca. At 20 months old, she is just learning the thrill of using the word “no.” She mastered it by the time we left. Ri loves to tell people about Elena’s four hand gestures to articulate “no.” She saw each one of them scores of times. Sarah, Ri and I would laugh hysterically at Elena’s dogmatic hand gestures to us as we approached her. Despite Elena being in her new phase, Ri was still able to spend some quiet, sweet moments with her, like this one when Maria was explaining to Elena how to have fun with water (Elena got to see a second slip and fall by Maria when she slipped on the stone and her leg fell into the water; the girl keeps us laughing).  Or this one when Ri carried Elena in the backpack at the Cerra del Fortin.  Or when Elena was fascinated watching Ri climb a tree and wanted to follow suit.

 11. Spicy Medicine. Aunt Sarah bought Cocoa Krispies cereal for Ri at my request. I knew that if all else failed she would live on Cocoa Krispies. The first morning we woke up, Sarah was feeding Elena berries and oatmeal. As soon as Elena saw Ri sit down with her Cocoa Krispies, she pointed and begged for some. So, we had to come up with a reason she couldn’t have them. Hence, the creation of Spicy Medicine!  Ri would say “you won’t like this, Elena, it’s spicy medicine!” I can’t wait until Elena stays with us and gets a taste of that “spicy medicine!” The oatmeal days may be long gone….

12. Hot Stone massage. Ri got her first massage while in Oaxaca, and even better, a hot stone massage. Spoiled. Sarah and I dropped her off for a 30 minute massage and got a coffee with Elena. We told the masseuse to go lightly on Maria because I did not want anything to happen on this first massage. Meanwhile, I got to spend some quality time with my niece and spoil her with tastes of cappuccino foam. We went to pick up Maria, and she came out of the room crying. At first I was scared half to death that something had gone really wrong but then she sniffled “they didn’t give me a hot stone massage.” The masseuse explained that she thought we meant no hot stones when we said “go lightly.”  So being the sweet mama I am, I gave up 30 minutes of my massage to Maria so that she could get her much anticipated hot stone massage. She loved it.

13. Crossy Road. Maria is addicted to an iPhone game called Crossy Road. It is very similar to the game Frogger I used to play as a kid. She and I had intense battles in the afternoon when Elena would nap or in the evenings before bed. I think I beat her three times out of 150. Jorge played it for the first time when we were at a restaurant and he started screaming as he tried to move the little chicken across  the road. It was hysterical.

14. Gourmet cooking. On our last nightt, we went to a very fancy restaurant. It was the same restaurant we went to with a group of people when Sarah and Jorge got married. They have the most delicious food. Sarah and Jorge and I split three different dinners (scallops, ribeye and duck) that were all scrumptious. Maria ordered  something out of the blue: a rice dish covered with feta cheese and onions. She devoured it in seconds. The girl is up for anything.   15. Playing with balloons as tall as a telephone pole. While Sarah and I got massages, Jorge took Ri and Elena to the Zocalo and bought two tall balloons for Ri. Jorge said the people in the square loved her because she was having so much fun with the balloons. She even managed to endear the folks she accidentally whacked on the heads with the balloons. And Elena loved watching Ri try to manage those giant characters.


 16. Pulling the wooden pup around the terrace. On our second morning in Oaxaca, we bribed Elena to eat oatmeal and then we would go on the terrace. She has a little wooden puppy that she likes to pull around with her. We took the puppy out with us for Elena to pull. But the joke was on us. She directed Maria to pull the pup the entire time. Maria gladly obliged, nonetheless, and we spent 20 minutes watching Maria pull the  wooden puppy while Elena followed her pointing to where Ri should go. It was golden.


17. The Zocalo. I walked down to theZocalo  nearly every day when Elena would nap. I loved it. There were always musicians playing music and people selling vibrantly colored balloons. We all walked down after dinner one night to let Ri see the scene. It is a wonderous refuge to read a book, take a rest, and people watch.  

    18. Kefir. My dad gave me a piece of advice before Ri and I left for Oaxaca. Drink some kefir while you are there. Kefir is cultured milk with lots of good gut bacteria. Yep, good gut bacteria. Jorge made Ri and I some after we ate fish at a local restaurant and felt a little queasy. I had been warned by dad and Sarah that kefir can be rather disgusting tasting.  But I guzzled down a half of a glass, and Ri got a few sips in before she gave up. And, dad was right (or else Ri and I just have iron stomachs) – we left Oaxaca with absolutely no sickness!

19. Mid-afternoon cafe lunches. We went to a little cafe close to Sarah’s apartment for lunch one afternoon and it was so good. The salad was phenomenal – we had one with turkey and chesses and avocado with  an out-of-this-world dressing. And the sandwiches were scrumptious, too. Ri stuck with her German roots and ordered sausage and potatoes!  20. Belly laughs. We had some serious belly laughs together on this trip. Ri falling in the spring water was a good one. Or Elena standing on the side of the bed and demanding Ri to stand on one side of her and me on the other and jump up and down incessantly. Or, the greatest one, listening to Ri call out songs on Sarah’s iPod and quizzically call out “Sarah Menkedick, Goats? You have a song, Aunt Sarah?” It was Sarah’s audiotape of an essay, and we all laughed for ten minutes straight while listening to Sarah read “Goats.”

But best of all was just the ability to spend a good chunk of time with my sister and brother-in-law and niece without work interruptions or errands or other daily pokes. Sarah and I have not gotten that in quite some time.

I’m thrilled we got to visit Jorge’s birthplace. Mexico provided us with wonderous contradictions: rugged yet tender; vibrant yet muted; raucous yet serene. It calls out to you: I remember the morning Ri and I were hiking and we kept hearing what sounded like a cow in the distance. I asked her if she heard the cows.  She laughed and corrected me. “That is the sound of a gas truck, mom!” Uncle Jorge had taught her that the day before.