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.

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.

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.

Maggie’s Georgia wedding!

The kids were pumped up on Thursday morning with the thought of getting out of school early and being able to skip school entirely on Friday. They had Maggie to thank for their school skipping glee; she decided to have her wedding in the hills of Georgia. 

We mapquested the route: 8 hours of joy. We looked up flights but they were pricey so we opted to take the car and enjoy a family road trip. We got ten movies from the library and a few books; packed up a ton of snacks; threw in two blankets and pillow pets; and filled up some water bottles before we left around noon. The kids had their earphones on and a movie playing before we pulled on the highway.

  

They glanced up for a few seconds to take in the Cincinnati skyline and to peak down at the Ohio River. Ri also got excited to see the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign. I swore there was a sweet truck stop along I-75 that had a glass bridge going over the highway but we never found it. Instead, we stopped at a Love’s. I could go nuts in truck stops with all the random weird gifts they have stocked up. These hats were magnificent.

 

  

 And this doll looks like it’s straight out of the Chucky movies…

 

A can of Pringles and a bag of Doritos later, we were back on the road. We were supposed to stay in a Marriott in Lexington for the night but we were making good time and we would have had five hours to the lodge in Georgia the next morning so we decided to head to Corbin, Kentucky to stay the night. All we needed was a pool – and the Fairfield Inn had one. I could swim five strokes between one end and the other but who cares?! It’s a pool. And it had a hot tub, which made Mario ecstatic. 

   

   

I gave the kids a scenario and they took turns acting out how they world react as they jumped in the pool: we had winning the lottery, being chased by a bear, meeting the Queen of England, celebrating your birthday with a giant cake, you name it, we covered it. 

We decided on Cracker Barrel to eat dinner. Mario wanted McDonald’s. But he liked the peg game at Cracker Barrel, and the grilled cheese sandwich, so he stopped complaining.  

   

 

We filled up on DQ after dinner and hit the sack. The kids woke up at 7 am (even with the dark curtains in the room)so what else to do but throw on our suits for a morning dip. The pool didn’t open until 9 am but who could say no to these two munchballs?! Then we got treated to the Farfield Inn breakfast buffet – pancakes and eggs and muffins and fruit loops! 

And leg 2 of the trip began. GPS took us for quite the detour through a ten mile stretch of dirt roads with steep overhangs. But, there was a beautiful creek that ran through the woods and even some waterfalls. The kids turned off their movie to take in the scenery, which made me very happy. Ri tried to snap some pictures but they didn’t do the scene justice.

  

We arrived at our destination right on time after getting a bit lost and catching up with Julie and Ann. The cabins were huge and laid right on the bank of the river. The river reminded me of the river in the movie A River Runs Through It (if only Brad Pitt was fly fishing in it). Rocks laid throughout it with the water gliding over them. Geese standing atop the tallest rocks looking over at us suspiciously. The cabins had three floors – each with a lounge area and spacious bedroom. Our third floor bedroom had a loft, too. The kids loved this treat. After we checked out our space, we headed over to Julie’s cabin and yapped it up with the cousins and aunts and uncles as they arrived. Ri and Mario hadn’t seen the Glamp boys in years and I knew they’d love hanging with them. Maria and Mario became attached to all three of them within an hour.

   

 

Mario found out our cabin had a hot tub and rushed over to jump in it. Ri was close behind. The life, I’ll tell you.   

 

Soon after we arrived, Sarah and Jorge arrived with Ms. Elena. Elena didn’t know what to think with all those Heile ladies swooping her up and whisking her away from her mama! Poor Sarah didn’t know what to do either!  I’m telling you, those Heile gals will pat Elena’s butt and bounce her up and down and Elena will forget about her mama in no time. 

  

We all got caught up on our rides down – everyone having their own story about taking back roads, getting lost, fighting with the attendant at the front gate about access to our cabin. But we soon forgot our irritations and took in the beauty of the place and the time away from our regular routines. 

By the time everyone pulled in, it was time to leave to head to the barbecue at the lodge where Maggie was marrying Michael. It was an hour drive to the Lodge – the 15 minutes getting out of our development and the 15 minutes heading back toMaggie’s lodge were insane. Winding drives and steep curves. Thank god Jon drove. Ri and Mario drove with Aunt Jane and Cy and Olivia. Mario kept trying to pull his tooth out to gross out Olivia. 

  

The Lodge was quaint with an overlook down to the pastures where horses roamed. And the sunsets both nights were gorgeous. Of course, Jon and I failed to get a family picture because I was too busy yapping it up. Mario played basketball with a teenage boy and Ri chatted with her cousins. She attached herself to Gabe’s hip through the night – God love him. 

   

   

Maggie gave Sarah and I a piece of Grandma Heile’s veil stitched on a blue satin cloth. Laura stitched the veil piece on for each of us girl cousins. Such a sweet gift to receive. I thought of Grandma on the way home – how she always smiled and laughed at these events. I remember her laughing hard with Jon at our wedding; he could always get her going. 

The photographer asked for Julie and her siblings to get together for a picture with Maggie and Michael. I started to walk over to get in the picture and Ann said “siblings only Mary Grace.” I thought back to the time when I was maybe five or six years old and it was grandma and grandpa’s wedding anniversary celebration. Somebody wanted a picture of the siblings and I tried to get in it. Someone called me to get out of the picture. I cried and cried because I wanted to be in the picture with everyone. After all, I felt like I was a sibling since I hung out with grandma and grandpa so much and Ann and I were like sisters. Grandpa picked me up after the first picture and I got in the second. I felt relieved that I was a part of the family that I loved so much. I was nearly as close to these aunts and uncles of mine as I was to my mom and dad, and I’m sure I felt relief and joy to be included as one of the Heile clan in the Heile family picture.

   

  

However, I didn’t put up a fit for the picture with Maggie and all the aunts and uncles. I was content to be in the cousin picture (be with the youngins’)! We had to do the obligatory silly face for the last picture.

   

 

I’ve watched all these cousins grow from babies to 20 something’s and they all somehow turned out alright! No one has landed in jail or been involved in some social media scandal so I’m impressed. They really  are all fascinating young people in their own unique way and I was grateful to have some time to talk with each of them during the trip. 

On Saturday, the kids woke up at the break of dawn but they were too busy with their cousins and Elena to worry about waking us up. Hallelujah. That is, until the Glamp boys mentioned fishing. Then we had to get up and get Mario and Jon ready to go. I took a run/walk on the dirt roads looking down at the river and up at the green leaves on the trees (when we arrived back to Columbus there was finally green to be seen). 

Cy, Olivia and Lia joined me on a second hike through the woods. Cy is our nutritionist giving us tips on the heartiest foods. Lia got me up to speed on the newest restaurants in Columbus and the beauty of Match.com. And I got them to give me 20 push ups half way through our hike!

   

 

When we came back, I helped Ri get a mean game of Yahtzee together with Aunt Susie and Uncle Joe and Aunt Christina. I told them the winner got $5. Ri won beating out Aunt Susie with one extra Yahtzee! She still hasn’t tried to collect from me…. 

  

Mario returned without a fish in hand but happy that he got to go out. Beckett caught one that Mario described to us. The kids wanted to canoe in the river but we all agreed it was a bit too much for us to handle. So we decided the kids could put on their suits and wade. But before I could get down there with them, I see Ri waist deep with Sarah!

   

They climbed onto a rock in the middle of the river so Mario and I were bound to meet them. Except those darn rocks at the bottom of the river hurt like a mother when you stepped on them. Jagged, pointy things and you couldn’t see them to know when they were coming. My feet hurt like heck. Mario got  terrified of falling in the water and was freezing. But he couldn’t quite get himself to turn around. The competitor in him wanted to make it to the rock where Ri stood. And with a little assistance from me and Sarah, he did.

   

 

And then something happened I never thought I’d see. Aunt Ann, in her white pants and translucent top, got in the river and waded over to us. Yes, indeed, I was mighty impressed.

  

Jon and the cousins were rooting her on as they stood on the shore and the rest of the crew cheered from the deck at the lodge.  But then we had to return to land, and I dreaded it on behalf of Mario. He was genuinely nervous. Aunt Ann didn’t help the situation at all as she was the first to head back and get caught in the rapids. She slipped on a rock and tried to get her balance but the current took her and she fell – entire body up to her neck – in the river. I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard as I climbed over the rocks to save her. Uncle Joe, our firefighter, waded out to help. Those white pants suffered but we got her back to shore. Mario was next. And then Sarah and Ri made their way back as if walking on air. Ri stayed in the water for another fifteen minutes as we dried off. She could live in the Arctic in shorts and a tank top. I cannot understand her tolerance to cold!

By the time we all got out and laughed at all our falls and scrapes, it was time to get ready for the big wedding. Aunt Ann curled Ri’s hair and Jon did Mario’s (too precious watching Jon brush and gel Mario’s bangs!). Jon happily drove his hunting partner Steve and Ri and I drove in the shuttle buses. Ri sat with Aunt Ann and took selfies while Amanda and Lia and I tried to keep Elena entertained.

 

  

  

We arrived again at the lodge a little shaken from the twists and turns but ready to party Heile-style! Ri was excited to see Maggie walk down the aisle and Mario got an aisle seat to watch the flower girls walk down together (he will never admit it but we know it’s true). Maggie and Michael stood in front of all of us and gave their vows to one another (a great moment was when Michael began his vows with “I, Maggie, take you…”. Maggie burst out laughing as did all of us guests sitting on the lawn. Precious mistake. And thank god he got us laughing early because it was all tears after that moment. Michael crying. His dad crying. The officiant, Michael’s uncle, crying. My goodness. The reading was beautiful. Michael and Maggie’s hand-written vows were tender-hearted. I was sitting next to my cousin Tiffanie and we couldn’t stop wiping our eyes. 

  

And then the officiant announced them husband and wife. And the hoot hoot began on the Heile side! We were ready to party! Aunt Terrie and I hollered at the wedding party down the aisle and started to dance. And it wasn’t long until the rest of the Heile brood was shaking it up with us. 

We did stop for a few minutes to listen to Uncle Terrance give a prayer before dinner. It was another amazing job by Terrance – not leaving a dry eye in the crowd and reminding us all to remember our loved ones who were no longer with us but were surely watching over us with happy hearts and appreciate family and friends who we got to share a beautiful evening with all night. 

  

Then the toasts and more tears while listening to Julie and Michael’s sister and dad. 

   

 

Ann managed to get a few pictures here and there, thank goodness, so I have some memories of my sweet children and hubby all dressed up, but the rest of the night was filled with singing and dancing and partying it up. 

   

               

Even Steve with his healing back got out there to dance with Jane. Aunts Julie, Terrie, Christina and Ann were grooving it out jumping in the middle of the circle to show off their moves. And of course all my cousins were showing off their stuff. Ri and I kept up with them – I couldn’t believe Ri. She jammed it out with those girl cousins and Maggie’s friends. She also partied it up with her Grandma Lolo!

   

  

 At one point, Maggie’s friends were dancing to “Shake it up” and they were acting like they were bouncing a basketball and shooting it. Ri and I got in on the act and Ri pretend-bounced it and shot it to Maggie’s friend, Bree. Then Mario got in the game and stole the ball from Bree, dribbled it in and out of his legs five times and dunked it as one of Maggie’s friends held her arms out in a circle. It was hilarious. He loved it and wanted to continue the fake hooping all night. Ri swore she was gonna go until midnight and ride the bus home with Ann but at about 9:30 she asked the time. When I told her, she looked worried. She asked again at 9:45 as we danced around with Lia and Amanda. And then I found her here at 10 pm.

  

Jon took Ri home and the first shuttle left shortly thereafter but Mario and I stayed. I danced a little more with my Heile ladies and Mario stood around with Gracie and the two other flower girls. One of the girls lost her necklace earlier in the night and Mario spent an hour trying to find it for her (Grandma Lolo helped out, too, even crawling under the deck to look – God love her)! Mario wanted to be the hero.

Mario hit his breaking point around 11. He begged to leave but we had no shuttle. He broke down in fatigue and slept on my shoulder the entire way home when the shuttle eventually came. Uncle Ken had us cracking up the entire way home. And don’t even get me started about Ken and the front gates not opening! That scene was even more hilarious than Ann in the river!

I woke up Sunday morning with no voice. Completely gone. And my middle toe purple and as wide as my big toe due to my river walking. What a mess. But so worth it to spend time with this Heile clan. Uncle Joe made breakfast and we sat around in the lodge giving each other grief and laughing about all the antics from the night before. Oh, and of course, loving on Hoss, the Glamp’s sweet pup. 

  

Mario and Mario joked around with those cousins one last time and I chatted and played around with those aunts of mine a few more times before we hit the road. 

   

   

And then we were off on our epic drive home – waiting in two hour traffic jams while eating Spicy Doritos and Pringles and chocolate bars. Nothing like gas station meals all day. And I believe the kids lost all brain capacity for school this week due to the non-stop movie watching.

   

     

But all I had to do was keep taking myself back to that wedding night and all the joy and frivolity and laughter experienced by me and my family. Well worth a long road trip home and a tummy ache. 

 

  

Proud mama

There are those moments as a parent that your heart sinks into the heels of your feet and you wish you could reverse time and start again. Such a moment happened yesterday at the Pinewood Derby with Mario. He was so excited about his first Pinewood Derby race. Peepaw and he built his race car the weekend before the race and he swore that it would win, at least in his Den (he thought he may come in second or third overall). Jon and I were equally excited for him but kept telling him that no matter what happened it would be a fun time.  However, those words typically fall on deaf ears with Mario. As many times as he shakes his head ok, we know he is thinking about victory. 

Mario sat at the end of the race track with his buddies. He was laughing and having a good time. His car was in the first heat. He pointed out his car to his friends. The race started. His car trailed immediately. It came in last. He sunk into his chair. His eyes watered. He would not look over at me or Jon. We stood to the side watching him. He kept watching the next races. His car was in a few more and came in last or close to last each time. He continued to sit in his chair, at times on the verge of tears and at other times just quiet. He didn’t push his chair to the side and run off. He wasn’t rude to his friends winning beside him. 

That would likely have been his response a year ago. He stood up about 20 minutes later and walked over to us.

“Can we go home?” His eyes were watery.

I walked out to the hall with him and talked to him about rooting his buddies on for the remainder of the race. I told him how proud I was that he was not getting angry or running away. I could sense that he appreciated the recognition from me and Jon and he decided to stay (buying him a Mountain Dew helped out, too). He sat down again with his friends and, within 20 minutes, was laughing with them. He ended up having a great time despite the fact he lost. 



As a mom, these moments lift me high into the heavens and reinforce Jon and I are doing something right. It is awesome to see your kid mature and be able to process his emotions. And I was glad to witness the entire event unfold and watch each step Mario took of that process.

Ri also impressed me yesterday. 

Ri just started soccer this year. Several of her friends play on a higher skilled team because they’ve been playing for a while. But a few friends played on Kiwanis with her this past Fall, which is the only reason she joined. Those friends, she learned on Saturday morning, we’re heading to the more skilled league. Of course, she overheard these friends talking about it right before her game and she started bawling. She told me she did not want to play anymore. She felt left out. She couldn’t go on the field. And so on. I took her aside and explained this was her first year playing. She just needed to try her best and keep practicing and eventually she would move up. I wiped her tears and sent her onto the field. She ran over to where her team was standing.

She played hard. She ran more than ever. She dribbled and kicked better than ever. After the game, she ran up to me and shouted that her coach wanted to see me. Her coach asked her to join the team. Ri was elated. We talked the entire way home about how working hard and sticking with something – no matter how upset you may be- is worth it. We also talked about commitment. I told her this new team would require more effort on her part. Coaches would be more intense. Her team would expect her to know plays. She kept repeating “I know, mom.” She told me she’d give it her all. 

Proud mama.



covert cookie deal

We have almost delivered all of Maria’s Girl Scout cookies – thank god. What a task it was this year with the ridiculously cold temperatures. Ri and I were relegated to packing the boxes of cookies in my car and delivering them rather than walking them door to door. Bethany was a savior and worked with Ri for two hours sorting boxes for each house.

By the time I got home in the evening it was dark outside. We loaded up a couple of boxes, threw on a scarf and hat and gloves, and made our way over to the next street for our deliveries. No one was outside due to the cold weather. It was a pitch black winter night. The street looked ominous without any people walking and with the street lights out. I pulled up in the driveway of the first house and Ri jumped out with two boxes of Thin Mints. 

“How much do they owe you”, I asked her.

“$8!”

She scurried up to the door and knocked. A tall man opened the door and invited her in while he got his money to pay her. She slipped out into the night minutes later and rushed to my car. She handed me the money. 

I couldn’t help but feel that we had just completed a covert drug deal. Not that I have any experience with such an operation but I have seen them on tv and at the movies. I told Ri how I felt and she looked at me in horror. 

“Mom! Seriously?!”

But my girl doesn’t miss a beat. As we pulled in the driveway of the next house, I jostled the cookie boxes trying to find a Samoas and a Do Si Do. 

“Hurry up, Mom, I gotta get the deal done.” God, I love her.



Give me the money!

Mario is in love with his beyblades lately. He’s dying to buy Japanese ones on eBay. But he has little to no money in his wallet. So he decides to clean his room, Maria’s room and the bathroom to earn some money. Granted however, he does not tell Jon or me about this  decision so we did not set any price we’d pay for him to do these chores. And Maria never did either. 

He finishes “cleaning” Ri’s room, which entails throwing her clothes in random drawers and tossing random objects on the ground onto her bed. I think his mantra is “if the floor is clean, the room is clean.” He walks downstairs and informs Ri that he cleaned her room and she needed to pay him. She casually finds her wallet and whips out a $20 bill to give him. This all happens while Jon and I are at work.

When we come home, we hear what happened. Mario now assumes because of Ri’s ridiculous generosity that he is going to score serious cash from me and Jon for cleaning two rooms. Wrong. He’s deflated when we tell him we may give him $1 for his efforts. Ri comes to his side advocating about what a thorough cleaning job he did.  

Patty came in town to watch M&M while we went to Cancun last week. She lost her phone the day before her arrival and she was upset she’d have to buy a new one. While she was taking Ri to school one morning, Ri found Patty’s phone hidden in the car seat. Patty was so relieved. She offered Ri $5 for finding it. Ri’s response: “you keep it Grandma for when we go to the lake this Summer.” Mario later found out Patty offered $5 to Ri. His response: “What?! I didn’t have a chance to try to find it in Grandma’s car and get $5. Not fair!”

Jon and I arrived home from Cancun. We had bought a couple of drinks at the airport and I had gotten two Mexican coins back from the cashier. I slipped them in my pocket without looking at them. As Ri and Mario opened the last of their souvenir gifts, I remembered the coins. I took them out and handed one to Ri and one to Mario. Ri looked at it and said “cool, a $5 coin.” Mario looked at his and said “wait, mine is only $1.” Ri looked at me with a concerned look. She immediately handed her $5 coin to Mario and told him she’d trade. I stopped her arm from reaching his hand. But he had already rejected her offer. It’s like he innately knew there wasn’t anything he was going to do with pesos here in the US so why use his good will on that exchange with Ri. Or, for all I know, he innately knew that $5 pesos wasn’t even worth $1 in US currency so why bother. It would not surprise me a bit.