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.

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.

Cancun 2014

I never thought I’d complain about the heat after the Winter we have had this year. But I returned from my morning run in Cancun sweating and feeling nauseous because of the sun beaming down on me. I think my body was in shock after running in 5 degree weather the last two months. But that was the only hot weather complaint I had while on our annual Cancun vacation with Jon’s work folks.
We left on Wednesday morning at 4:30 am (I braved 10 degree weather in shorts with the excitement of landing in 80 degree weather). We arrived at the hotel at 11 am, did our Chevy Chase Vacation head bobbing on the balcony of our room while taking in the ocean, and headed down to swim. We had a blast playing in the waves. Meanwhile, Ri called us four times in a row to tell us how much she missed us. Mario was perfectly content with Grandma Ionno but Ri missed having us around her. We better take that in while we can because I have a feeling that may not continue in a couple of years.
We hung out a good deal with Jon’s friend Craig and his wife Julie. Julie and I tease Jon and Craig about their bromance but it is quite darling. They told Julie and me that they take care of one another – when one is having a bad day, the other lifts him up. And when Craig heard Jon ordering a coke at McDonald’s one morning, he counseled him on making better choices. Precious. Julie talked to me about Pure Barre and how much she loved it. I think that will be my new adventure in exercise…. They are a sweet couple and we all laughed a lot when we were together.

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Jon and I engaged in our normal routine: I get up and workout, we meet for the killer breakfast buffet (Ri would adore it), we jump in the ocean and swim, we get massages, we jump back in the ocean, we eat dinner, we crash. Not a bad life. I even swam with a shark this year! I didn’t mean to by any means…. I was looking for shells a ways down the beach and stood up to find a three foot shark swimming by me. I froze and let him continue to circle me and when he moved away a third time, I darted onto the beach. I couldn’t wait to tell Jon and Mario! And Jon experienced a first at the beach, too. He got a pedicure! His feet were baby soft and he had to admit he loved it. I imagine he will be sneaking away at lunch to get one every three weeks. He did have to endure his guy friends giving him grief about his robe though. The front desk lady gave him a super short one to wear even after he asked for another. When he walked into the waiting area, his buddy Phil shook his head and said “Jon, you just made my day.” His other friend told him that the robe looked like it would fit his twelve year old daughter. Nothin’ like guy friends to calm your anxiety. When we got up to the room, there was a present laying there for Jon – a toddler-size robe compliments of “The Guys”. We laughed for ten minutes straight.
Jon’s boss, Jim tried to teach us to body surf to no avail. The man is like balsa wood the way he rides a wave nearly into shore. Jon and I made it about five feet from where the wave crested.
We missed hanging with Dave and Jen and Joe and Lydia – our Michigan buddies. Our schedules never lined up except when Jen and I got to dance to our Violent Femmes song in the pool Friday night. We are gonna need some time on Dave’s boat this Summer….

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Patty cranked out four straight days with the kiddos, god love her! Maria got strept throat on Thursday. She called us up barely able to speak but mustering up the words to tell us that “this is the time when she most needs her parents near her.” Talk about knowing how to give a guilt trip…! When we arrived home on Saturday night (a day early between Ri’s strept and the snowmageddon predicted for Sunday), these posters were hanging:

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I love how this one has our ages.

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And this one poses questions to us (answers: I’d rather eat with Michael Jackson and Jon would rather eat a snail).
We got the most warm and welcoming hugs from the munchos when we stepped in the door (we need to leave more often).
And Rocco was in heaven with his doggy pals at the farm. As Jorge commented “Rocco likes Winter.”

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All is back to normal again: kids, Rocco, 48 year old dad and 42 year old mom are back at home together waiting for Spring to come.

Summer vacation 2013

We packed our bags and headed to West Virginia last Wednesday. They say that a procrastinator should never marry another procrastinator or nothing gets done. Jon and I are both procrastinators so a summer vacation never got scheduled. We found ourselves near mid-July without any plans. I just happened to be on a conference call at work and a flashing ad came up for Oglebay Resort in W. Virginia.

“Paddle boats, fishing, putt-putt, swimming, zoo, and more!”

The ad enticed me between the kids activities and the short distance (2.5 hours away). Pretty soon I was on the website looking up rooms. I remembered my grandma talking about this place and I faintly remember another older relative (was it Grandpa Bill?) talking about it, too. I remembered this because the website was geared towards 65+ year olds and the rooms looked like ones decorated by my grandma – big florals and gawdy colors and maroon carpets that looked like they were straight out of my grandma’s retirement home.

I called a few other resorts but they were booked. I debated with Jon whether to do it or not and after listening to me him and haw for 30 minutes, he demanded I just go for it. So I did. Wednesday through Saturday. A short trip. Even if it was unbearable it was only two full days.

Ri played with her barbies on the way there while Mario watched Ben Ten. We held our breath under the West Virginia bridge. We commented on the old school restaurants off the exit – Perkins! Hardee’s! Long John Silvers!
As soon as we pulled into Oglebay, we spotted deer grazing on the hills. The kids went nuts pointing them out. The land sloped up and down and was peppered with pines and oaks and deer and a random groundhog. It was quite serene and poetic. Jon and I glanced at each other and raised our eyes silently saying “hmmm, maybe it won’t be so bad.”

We got our room keys and had the requisite talk with the kids about fighting over who opens the door. “We take turns back and forth, got it?” They shook their heads with excitement not getting anything. The room was huge. We had a living room and side kitchen and bath and a bedroom suite with a large bath and two queen beds. The kids mouths dropped for an entire five minutes and they dragged us all over the rooms to show us every detail. The living room couch pulled out into a bed which they believed to be a piece of heaven brought to Earth. “We can watch tv all night and fall asleep out here alone!” Jon and I were so excited we booked another night so we stayed until Sunday.

We checked out Schenk Pond and did some paddle boating and fishing (Ri and I boated and Mario fished all by himself, god love him).

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After paddle boats and the Aqua Cycle, Ri and I joined Mario on the bank. Within ten minutes, he had a fish. Luckily, a teenage boy helped us unhook him. Mario wanted to throw it back in the water but got scared so Ri took control. Thank god for big sisters.

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After pleading with Mario to stop fishing to no avail, we finally had to bribe him with the pool. We threw on our suits and headed to the rather small indoor pool. Over the four days, however, it grew on us. One plus was that it was heated. Another plus was that you could jump off the side, which led to lots of cool cannonballs and dives.

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The kids begged for room service after the pool. They loved the idea of getting food served in our room and eating it while watching Spongebob. Ahh, the vacation life!
Every morning we had to drag Mario to breakfast – he wanted room service for every meal. Meanwhile, you had to strap Ri down for a few minutes in bed or she would have thrown on a pair of shorts and bee-lined for the breakfast buffet as soon as she opened her eyes. She has her mom’s and great-grandma’s love for buffets (Grandma Menkedick used to love to bear witness to Ri’s excitement over the Season’s buffet bar). She is a total carb lover. Her plate always included two types of muffins, a cinnamon roll, biscuit and waffle (she was stacking up her energy for the day). Mario’s plate was the same every day. Cinnamon rolls. And maybe a slice or two of bacon. And that’s it.

On Thursday, we took the trolley to the Oglebay Zoo. Yes, it has a zoo…. with zebras. It was a tiny area with about ten different animals scattered around. It also had dinosaurs that would roar at you as you passed. The kids are finally at an age where they understand they aren’t real but they still had fun with them (thanks to me pretending to be scared too death). The lorikeets were the biggest hit since they drank nectar from cups M&M were holding.

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The best part of the zoo trip was eating popcorn while we rode the train around the zoo and spotted animals.

We returned to the hotel and did some more fishing and paddle boating. Maria had been longing to head into the fountain in the middle of the pond when we went paddle boating the day before but I had nixed the idea. When she pouted, I steered the boat just enough into the fountain that she got wet and I just got a drizzle. On Thursday, I decided to let her go for it and steer us right into the fountain. And she didn’t flinch. I got soaked to the bone with her. The smile on her face made my heart happy (a saying I got from Meg-pie). Jon and Mario stayed on shore trying to catch fish. Mario gets so angry and frustrated when he doesn’t catch one. There were little fish that would swim up to the bait and nibble at it until it was gone leaving none for the bigger fish. This got Mario red hot.

“Those stupid As!”

Mario heard the word “a–hole” a while ago and knows its a bad word so every once in a while when he gets super mad he yells out the “A” vowel.

We ordered room service for a second night on Thursday not wanting to head out after another long day. Pizza for Mario and burgers for Ri. Jon and I determined we were food snobs after all our nights out at Hyde Park and Mitchell’s – the hotel food just didn’t do the trick for us.

Each night, the kids and I would head to the pool for a swim nightcap. We played mean games of hot potato with our beach ball where you had to name a super hero while you threw the ball. They were exhausted by the time we got back and were fast asleep as soon as they hit the pillow to watch tv. And they slept in until 8 am! Alleluia.

On Friday, we hit the Wheeling Park pool. It had a water slide. A nice sized slide at that. The only problem was that it kept thundering and the guards would shut the pool for 20 minutes with each round of thunder. Ri wanted to call it quits bit Mario wanted to stay. What else were we gonna do? We made Ri stay, bought hotdogs and soft pretzels, and played charades. The kids put on our flip-flops. Nothin’ better.

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Finally, we were allowed back in the water. Ri and Mario jumped off the diving board (Mario dove). Mario wanted to do a flip like some kids were doing but couldn’t quite get up the nerve. The slide was a blast – it was actually fast and dumped you out into a giant wave of water. The kids loved it.

After the pool, we went to High Tea at the hotel. It sounded super fancy and Ri had been wanting to go badly. It ended up being a carafe of hot water and Lipton tea bags and a few random cookies and cinnamon bread. But that was all that was needed by Ri. She loved it. We filled up our cups, got our treats, and sat outside on the balcony. Ri actually enjoyed the tea!

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Mario came with us the next day and loved the cinnamon bread. He did not enjoy the tea.

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The kids and I took the trolley Friday evening to the mansion and the flower shop, sweet shop, and glass store. They both wanted to take pictures on my phone of random things… Ri took the fountain and wine picture (true Italian) and Mario took the butterfly ones.

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Mario and I went to town at the sweet shop. So much chocolate we could have lived there forever. Ri liked looking at all the trinkets and the wine holders. Mario fell in love with a stuffed animal bear that sings “Will you still love me when I’m 64?” He absolutely fell head over heels for it. He played the song and stated into its eyes. He hugged it. He begged me to buy it. I couldn’t resist. My aunt Julie has a bear like this one that Mario has loved since he was little. It has a top hat and sings “My way” by Sinatra. My Grandma Heile would chuckle watching Mario stare at it as a baby.

Maria found a last minute gem – a night light with horses on it. She also forced me to buy a Yoda coffee cup knowing that I never buy anything for myself. “I will pay you back $12.95 if you buy it, mom.” I told her she didn’t have to pay for it later and she reiterated “I will mom because you need souvenirs, too.” She’s always looking out for us.

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On Saturday, we hopped in the car to Cabela’s. It was a rainy day and Jon had allowed me to get an hour massage so I owed him one. Mario loved looking at the animals; Ri was appalled, especially at the stuffed Bobcat – her school mascot.

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They enjoyed the toy section (Mario checked out every gun possible and Ri gawked over Duck Dynasty memorabilia).

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Ri ended up with a Cabela’s Barbie set with a tent and horse (I approved of that Barbie who was dressed like a cowgirl) and Mario got a walkie talkie set. They made out. We ate ourselves some Cabela’s lunch and headed back to the hotel for more fishing and boating.
The hotel had a s’mores campfire that night, which Ri enjoyed immensely. Mario just liked burning the marshmallows for me to eat and then watching the stick burn in the fire. I’m pretty sure I saw the word pyromaniac rise from the ashes as he sat on the stone bench in awe.

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We hit the game room last – we had avoided it the whole trip. It was a small little room with only a few games. Jon and I competed on Ms. PacMan and the kids drove fast cars.

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They also won a few super balls in honor of their mom’s childhood obsession.
We ordered room service once again and watched Jessie episodes for Ri. The kids just could not get over how awesome it was to be served food in bed while watching their shows. “This is the life” they thought as they fed their faces and then lied back on their pillows with the tv blaring.

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Maria gave a toast on our last morning in the hotel.

“This is a toast to Oglebay. We had some good times here fishing and swimming and being together as a family. But we must go and so we wish others as much fun as we had here.”

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Amen sister!

Spring Break 2013 – Phoenix

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“The Grand Canyon is not that big.” This was Mario’s initial observation as we stared down into the vastness of the Canyon. It takes a lot to impress that kid.  Jon and I decided to pay for a four-hour tour knowing full well that we would not be able to provide the education that a guide could provide.  Maria is at the age that she slurps up all the facts and information provided by teachers so we knew she would enjoy it more.  Mario, well, we could have just led him run throughout the canyon and he would have loved life.

mariamarionutsWe had a guide named Dora who had been a park ranger for years.  Her husband is a geologist.  She focused in heavily on the trees and the berries and, of course, the rocks in the Grand Canyon.  Our first stop was at a juniper tree.  There were berries just beginning to mature on the tree and Dora plucked on off for us to try.  When you cracked open the berry, there was a tiny nut to eat.  RI and Mario were skeptical but they each asked for one to try.  Neither of them spit it out but neither of them were overwhelmed.  Then Ri looked in her berry and found something.  A worm.  Jon and I and even Dora dismissed her telling her it was just part of the berry.  But  Dora took a second look and said “you are the first person to find a worm in their berry.” Ri kept eating and was proud as can be. She also introduced us to mariamariodoraPinyon Pine and pine nuts (we all loved those), oak, and ponderosa trees (Ri loved the ponderosa pines on my behalf because “they are named after mom’s favorite restaurant!”).  Next, we learned about the different type of rock  making up the Grand Canyon. Ri asked a ton of questions and held a long conversation with Dora about the different layers.  She loved the look of the sandstone. She bought a bag of rocks to take home with her to show her class. The last adventure as a fossil find.  Mario loved it.  He would grab Dora’s hand to pull her over to a rock with a fossil to show her.  When she confirmed it was a fossil, he looked up at me with that look of self-pride and moved on to the next rock.  Jon spotted a mule deer on our way out. Maria peppered Dora with more questions ending with the ultimate one “how did we get here on this Earth?”  Our old-soul girl.  Dora loved it.

The night before we stayed at the Best Western Hotel near the park.  It had no indoor pool but it did have a hot tub, an arcade room and, strangely enough, a bowling alley. We arrived at 6 pm which is 9 pm our time so we were all exhausted. We went down for dinner to the seedy sports bars near the arcade where the waiters looked completely miserable and the clientele consisted of locals or other exhausted families. Mario had a breakdown waiting for dinner – he was so tired and irritable and saying “I hate this place!” every two seconds. Ri was completely dazed out.  The food was horrid except for Ri’s baby back ribs. Yeah, that is what she ordered at the seedy sports bar. She does know how to live it up.

By the time he hit the arcade it was close to midnight our time.  I knew when Mario put quarters into a hunting game and it didn’t work, that all hell would break loose.  Although he reacted better than I thought he would, he was still shot.  It really was time to just head upstairs and call it a day.

After the Grand Canyon, we headed back to Phoenix with Mario watching movies on the iPad and Ri talking up a storm about everything and anything.  She’d finish telling one story and there would be a pause, Jon and I would open up our mouths to say something, but then Ri would jump into another conversation.  We laughed at the difference in the two of them.  Mario could plant his nose in technology for five hours; Ri needs conversation.  Three and a half hours later, we were at Desert Ridge Marriott.  What a place!  A lot different from the cabins and tents I stayed in as a kid.  Ri and Mario have now stayed in the RItz in Naples and Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix.  I think their significant others will be treated well when they find them years from now.

rabbitThe hotel grounds were gorgeous with a huge grassy area out back that led to the lazy river, regular pool, and fountain pool.  We were on the fifth floor and had a balcony overlooking a desert garden and a large patio for parties.  The kids loved the balcony and got an awesome surprise as they stood looking into the garden.  There were bunnies everywhere!  One hopped out of the cactus and Ri and Mario screamed for us.  Then another bunny hopped, and a baby followed.  They could not believe it.  And that became our entertainment every morning and afternoon.  One afternoon we came up to our room to take a little break in swimming and the kids sat on the balcony for over an hour acting like scientists studying the movements of the bunnies.  They got water and soap and spread it on their bodies to attract the bunnies and them got notebooks and pens to write down their observations.  Every five minutes they’d come in to give us a report.

mariamarioswimmariamarioswimphoenizThe lazy river was great because you could float in it or you could swim or walk in it.  Mario typically chose to swim, I walked, Jon floated, and Ri did a combo (she always had a tube in hand but would switch between floating and walking with it; she used it as her laboratory spying on people).  It had a slide in the middle of the river that the kids loved.  It wasn’t that fast and the kids were a little skeptical at first but it quickly endeared itself to them and they were doing all sorts of poses as they slid down.  They about lost it with glee when Jon went down; they stood on the side of the pool and waited anxiously and when Jon flew out, they laughed and applauded as if he was a celebrity.  When it came to me, well, I was just expected to slide down with them.

The breakfast buffet was a slice of heaven.  They had anything your heart desired (they should have at the amount you have to pay) – the typical eggs and bacon to corn meal pancakes to donuts to granola.  Ri and I were mariamariobuffetbeyond excited every morning to hit it – we asked for the table closest to it so we could dig right in.  We got our money’s worth with me and Ri; however, Mario ate a few bites of donut and piece of bacon and he was done.  He was more concerned with going out on the green space and playing with the other kids.  The only problem was that the other kids all knew each other and had no desire to ask Mario to join them.  He looked like such a sad soul standing outside watching them.  mariamariodonutRi went out to cheer him up.  I followed after one last bite of a chocolate muffin.

We did cartwheels on the lawn while Jon watched (I swear he looked like Don Corleone when he sat in the garden chair with no one by him).  Other families looked at us with either awe or disgust but we didn’t care. It was refreshing.

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mariamariofoozWe swam everyday and hit the Family Play Room the last two days.  The Family Room provided a refuge from the sun and the pool (after being in it for four hours).  RI and I colored pictures, Mario played Wii and on the iPad, and we all played foozball (I am horrid).  They had cubicles of hershey kisses, caramels, tootsie rolls and apples and raisins.  I grabbed Mario an apple to eat when he complained of being hungry.  He ate it and then turned the corner and saw the hershey kisses.  I wish I would have had my camera to capture his reaction.  He stood with his mouth agape absolutely flabbergasted that all of those kisses were available to eat.

We drove over to Jon’s best friend, Paul’s house to visit him and his wife and their kids on Thursday night.  They got pizza and Mario glued himself to their son, Sam (age 15) and Ri did the same with their daughter, Eve (age 11).  Sam played football with Mario and listened to Mario’s stories; Eve showed Maria her horse awards and let her play with her iPod. Jon got to hang with his best buddy and I got to hear all the particulars about how their daughter’s fiancée proposed.  We left at 8 pm, and both kids were passed out within ten minutes of our drive back to the hotel.  I carried Ri and Jon hauled Mario from the car all the way to our hotel room.  We were both sweating and out of breath.

mariaputtmarioputtWe hit the putt-putt for tradition’s sake.  The course was the most boring one we have been on to date.  I kicked everyone’s butt (my lucky day).  Maria got a hole-in-one and Mario stayed calm about it.  He did not play well but instead of acting out, he just kept to himself laying on the grass or sitting in the shade.  It broke my heart.  He’d go to the next hole and just sit under a tree looking like a little orphan.  But he perked back up at the end when we agreed to let them bounce on the trampolines.  After the trampolines, we played in the arcade and all found out we love air hockey.

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mariamariohikeThe kids and I also got in a hike at Pinnacle Peak.  I loved that.  I was surprised that the kids made it up nearly a mile (the entire route up was 1.75 miles).  I was worried about Mario in the beginning because he slipped and cut his knee on a rock.  You would have thought it was deep gash by the way he was hopping around and crying.  It was a small cut that barely even bled.  But he just kept saying “I can’t go any farther, mom, I can’t.”  Luckily, a mother approached me with two band-aids.  “I know how kids can be about cuts,” she told me.  I bandaged him up but he still made me hold him.  That was the first sign we probably wouldn’t make it the entire way up.  But then his competitive spirit awoke when he saw Ri charging ahead.  He started to walk with a little limp and a big bodybuilder walked by him and said “Way to go guy mariamariopeak– keep it up!”  Mario looked at me and asked if I heard what the man said.  I told him “yes” and Mario said “he said it just to me mom, not to you or Ri.”  Mario, Mario.  But that is what it took to get Mario motivated.  Within five minutes, Maria complained of feeling sick and complained that she couldn’t go any farther.  That sealed the deal.  I could not carry her for 1.5 more miles.  I held her for a while and then we’d stop in the shade for a bit.  We did this off and on until he hit a perch near mile 1.  A kind soul saw that I was carrying Ri and said “congrats – you reached the top!”  Mario looked at me and asked “we did?”  I winked at the woman and declared “yes, we are here!”  Mario would have freaked if he knew we did not make it the entire way; he wanted to find the bodybuilder on our way down to tell him that he hiked to the top.  The flowers were gorgeous and the sights beautiful.  Ri walked the entire way down and when we got to the bottom both kids were sweating.  I told Ri she could empty the remainder of her water on her when we reached the bottom.  She promptly did so.  Mario followed suit.  They filled their bottles up with more water and did it again, and again.

cactus mariamariobikingphoenixI did not want them to get their car seats soaked so they took off their bottoms for the drive home.  They both found this hilarious, and laughed the entire way home (I must admit I was chuckling when I glanced back at these two half-naked goofs).  They made me crack up even more with this picture near the cactus.  Cards, they are.  

Jon and I found out they had bicycles to rent and a trail to ride around the hotel.  We had this idyllic scene in our head of all of us on our bikes riding past gorgeous cacti and flowers ad smiling at one another.  Reality took over with Jon and Ri biking and me running alongside Mario who was too nervous to ride a mountain bike.  Mario complained that he wanted to stop biking while I kept saying in my cheerful little voice “Come on, you are doing great. We are having fun.” My hypnosis didn’t work and our bike ride was all of fifteen minutes.

Out of all of that fun, the kids may most remember being asked by the pilot if they want to sit in his seat.  Their eyes opened wide and they looked up at me like it was a practical joke.  But there they were ready to fly us around the world.

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I tell my folks that I have a new-found appreciation for my vacations as a kid because I realize the work that goes into them on the parent side now.  But boy are they worth all of the planning and hand-holding and fuss when you see the faces of your kids entranced by the glory of the Grand Canyon or the simple hopping of a bunny.

Stepping out

maryOur trip to Cancun started with a box of Whoppers and Bossypants. I must have snacks and a good book on a two-hour flight (in fact, any mode of transportation absent a bike requires emergency snacks).

We left Mario with Patty and Joe and Maria with Meg for the first two days of our trip and then M&M went to the farm for the weekend. Mario is beside himself at Patty and Joe’s house even more than before because they recently bought a Wii. Mario packed up his Skylanders and couldn’t wait to spend hours showing them off to Grandma and Grandpa (they will be sainted). It was almost as awesome as Christmas morning for him. While Mario was at Grandma’s house, he made a formal declaration to her: “Grandma! My mom doesn’t buy me any clothes that fit.” He did this after he went in the bedroom to get dressed and came out with a pair of high water pants and a long sleeve shirt that could have been short-sleeved on him. In my defense, I bought him clothes this year but I have tended towards the smaller sizes because up until this awakening with Patty, he never wanted pants that went to his ankles and he wanted his shirts skin-tight. So, I’m glad to see he’s turned a corner and that Patty got to be his personal shopper while we were away. He dragged her into Children’s Palace, picked out clothes, and had her and Joe wait outside while he tried them on in the changing rooms “like the girls get to do.” He walked out with an Oxford shirt and a pair of jeans and asked if he looked cooler than Justin Bieber. Patty told him he looked cooler. He was smitten. He found a tie to match his shirts and he was set. Thank you Patty for clothing our rock star.

mariapjsMaria hung with Meg and dragged her all over the house to see random things – her fish, her clothes, her on-line games. She even got to take Meg to see her classroom and demand Meg to definitively tell her whether it was Jack’s old room or not.  They ate pizza with Jen and hit Target for a new pair of hip peace symbol pajamas.

On Friday morning, Maria got the present of her life – a day off of school due to the ice accumulation.  Poor Meg had to deal with the school closing (Jon and I lucked out!).  Not only did she need to deal with the school closing – she had to deal with a migraine and vomiting.  We would have never known had Maria not left me a voice mail that I got when I returned home on Saturday that went something like this: “Mom, please call me as soon as you hear this message.  Something is very wrong with Grandma and we need you to come home.”  Lovely.  Meg ended up feeling better by later in the afternoon and luckily the kids were able to spend a few hours at the neighbors’ house dancing to Gangum Style while she rested.  Mario got to eat chocolate for breakfast and Maria got to fill her cereal bowl with Lucky Charms so all was good with them.

maryjon1Meanwhile, Jon and I ate like 16th century kings and played in the ocean like toddlers.  We are one of few folks from Jon’s work that actually go into the ocean, probably because there are always red flags on the beach (meaning you shouldn’t enter) and because you wouldn’t want to hit the waves if you are the tiniest bit intoxicated.  The waves were angry this year, and Jon and I were hurting after a half hour in the water.  We limped out complaining that our shoulders hurt, our legs were weak, our calves were twitching.  It’s not easy getting old and still acting like you’re two.  But we continued to jump in every day we were there.  We may be immobile for the next two weeks but we did it.

I had a rough Wednesday night and Thursday due to some rockin’ gin and tonics.  There was something about the ocean, full moon and 80’s music that made me do it.  And it will be another year before I do it again.  I just don’t have it in me to recover quickly.  I woke up in my dress Thursday morning with Jon laughing at me.  I felt like I had swallowed a cat.  When I stood up, my legs felt like spaghetti.  I was hurting.  I tried to make it the gym to ride the bike with the hopes of sweating some of those nasty toxins out of me but as soon as I pedaled, it felt like someone was squeezing my head in a vice.  It was no use.  I went back to the room and curled up in a ball.  Jon returned from breakfast and shook his head.

The rest of the day consisted of a facial and a massage and lots of steam room and sauna action.  I refused to leave the steam room until I was dripping in sweat.  Those little alcohol toxins were going to be blasted out of my body somehow if not by exercise.  I ate two entrees for lunch.  We sat with Jon’s colleague, Dave and his wife Jen (the “sporty couple”).  They are always a treat with hilarious stories about their kids or their house or some random event that happened to them. They also give us a little glimpse of what M&M may be like in a few years since their kids are a few years older than ours.

By the evening, I was back with the living.  We had dinner at a fish house with Jon’s boss and others on Jon’s team.  We sat outside and chowed down on crab, lobster and apple pie.  One of Jon’s friends, Craig and his wife Julie (the “healthy couple”) sat with us at dinner.  Craig gets on Jon for eating McDonald’s for breakfast; he gasps when he hears Jon order his breakfast and tries to urge him to eat oatmeal instead. God love him.  There was an ongoing joke at the restaurant that Craig and Jon were “together” since they sat next to one another (I sat across from Jon and Julie and Julie and I decided the boys could have each other).  It led to much laughter through the evening in addition to the laughter that came from discussing 80’s tv shows (Love Boat, Dynasty, Eight is Enough, Chips – it was hilarious to hear the names of these shows that we all grew up with in the 70’s and 80’s).

Friday was a much more friendly day to me.  I had not drunk at all on Thursday night and my body thanked me.  I got out of bed ready to take a run in the heat and hit the gym.  Jon and I hit the breakfast bar together, too, which is one of our favorite things to do on these vacations.  For a girl who loves chocolate and bread, I was in heaven, Chocolate croissants, french toast with almond slices, nutella, chocolate donuts, chocolate muffins.  Maria would have been hitting the bar with me five times over if she was there.  We swam in the ocean again Friday and then met up with the president of Jon’s company and a throng of others to have dinner at a Mayan restaurant.  We sat with a good group of folks including Jon’s colleague, Joe and his wife Lydia (the “chic couple”).  They are precious.  Lydia is Sicilian so Joe had some hilarious stories about dinner with her parents.  He also told us the story of why he enjoys Porsches and VWs so much.  Jon wants to follow in Joe’s footsteps and buy a Porshe.  I told him he could if Joe promises to provide maintenance on so it so we avoid throwing thousands of dollars at a car shop when something goes awry.

We were so full after our dinner on Friday night we could barely move.  We packed up some of our clothes for our 8 am departure on Saturday but then gave up and laid on the bed like two beached whales.  When the morning hit, I did one last run to remember the hot weather (I would much rather run  in cold weather) and then hit the breakfast bar with Jon.  We got to the airport two hours early as the hotel requires us to do and then found out that our flight was delayed three hours.  So we had five hours to kill.  We played Gin Rummy and ate Dominos pizza.  It was the bomb even though Jon is up 7-4 on me.  But I did win our one and only game of Crazy Eights.  Yeah, I’m bad.

We arrived home late Saturday night and called the kids.  They were so excited to hear from us they couldn’t stop grabbing the phone from one another.  That felt good.  Meg said that Maria cried for me when the night-time rolled around – sweet baby.  Mario got me on the phone to tell me he thought of me when he looked at the sky and he wanted to see me – second sweet baby.  I hung up the phone feeling loved.  The kids reported their adventures when they returned from the farm – Mario helped Peepaw cut a trail in the woods (he showed me his cuts from the thorns); Maria helped Peepaw clean bird nests and found two blue eggs and Meg taught her the process of sewing (that is a talent we need in this house).  Both kids got to go fishing on Saturday when it was a tepid 45 degrees outside. They got some bites but no fish.

mariamarioWhen they arrived home on Sunday, I ran out to greet them.  I got two of the longest, strongest hugs in a while and sat on my knees enjoying them.  Then I got pulled inside to look at Maria’s eggs and to show Mario where the iPad was so he could play on it – he hadn’t been around technology for two whole days!  Maria was by his side within minutes helping him try to buy gold coins to use in his Spiderman game.  And we are back to normal….

Vacationing with sand dunes and Michigan cherries

We just arrived home from our 6 day, 5 night trip to Traverse City, Michigan.  All of us packed in the truck with lots of snacks, water, movies, and “when will we be there” questions.  We stayed at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, which I found on-line after researching furiously two weeks ago when we decided we’d go on a vacation last week.  Nothing like waiting until the last-minute.  The website for the Resort promised to be loads of fun for the family with two indoor pools and two outdoor pools, a private beach, and two queen size beds (a must after trying to fit the four of us in two full-size beds in Florida – we have become too accustomed to a king size bed and we have to deal with two sleep thrashers).  Jon and I debated staying in a cabin on the lake like I used to when I was a kid but we worried about Mario complaining that he was cold in the lake and us being plain out of luck for the week. 

We figured we’d have the best of both worlds like we did in Florida – we could go to the beach and the pool.  And we were hoping that Mario might like the lake more than the ocean since he hated the salt water in the ocean.  When we got to the Resort, the kids were ready to explode.  Seven hours in the car (with a pit stop at Cabella’s to check out the stuffed animals – Maria and Mario reacted appropriately to the stuffed skunk) and they were ready to let out some energy.  We immediately headed to the indoor pool, which did not disappoint the kids.  It had an enclosed slide and a rope climb where the kids could step on four plastic animals floating in the water and hold on to the rope above to try to cross to the other side.  Maria loved them both.  She slid down the slide with no fear while I had a mini-heart attack on my first slide down because it was so narrow and dark. On the rope climb, she used her brute strength to grip onto the ropes above her and move her legs from animal to animal.  When she fell, she laughed and tried again until she made it.  Mario was too scared to try the slide so he stayed with the rope.  But he was too short to reach the rope so he just jumped from animal to animal sometimes with his chest hitting the side of the animal when he jumped.  It didn’t bother him because he was too determined to reach the other side. 

After the pool, we hit the Traverse City strip to find some dinner.  I got my wish come true when we spotted a Ponderosa along the road.  Jon must truly love me because he stopped.  We have not eaten at a Ponderosa for years – and for good reason.  Jon got deathly ill when we went to a buffet during law school and he has refused them ever since that time.  But he saw the stars in my eyes when I saw the sign, and agreed to it.  His face was hilarious while we ate.  He looked like he was in true pain.  But he took a few bites and hung in there with me while I danced around the buffet bar with Ri oohhing and ahhing over all of the selections (of course my girl loved it!).  

The next four days were a welcome departure from “reality.”  The reality of work and deadlines and library book returns.  Our first destination was the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  It took me back to my trips as a kid – absolutely gorgeous.  The kids loved the last stop – a view of Lake Michigan and a steep sand dune.  They immediately began running down the dune, which drops suddenly straight down to Lake Michigan.  I told them to go about an eighth of the way down and if they could easily get back up, they could go all the way down.  It took us 20 minutes to climb back up.  They were spent and had no desire to head all the way down after that climb up.  We hit another dune on our way to Platte River – the dune I remember climbing as a kid.  Maria got about 20 feet up the dune and said “forget it.” Her feet hurt from the hot sand and she was tired from the preceding climb.  Mario saw me head up the hill and did not want to give up.  But when I wouldn’t hold him any longer, he asked if we could just climb a little further and then run down together.  I agreed (as much as I wanted to climb the whole thing!) and we ran down together holding hands and laughing. 

We drove to the Platte River and played all day long in its warm waters while occasionally dipping our toes in the cold waters of Lake Michigan.  Platte River was everything I remembered.  Clear and calm and warm.  And it contained the most gorgeous rocks.  I could have planted myself in the shallow water all day long and looked at rocks.  Maria practically did that.  She knows how much I love them and every chance she gets to find good ones for me, she takes it.  This time was no different.  She dove under water incessantly until she found just the right rocks for me.  Then she’d walk them over to me and describe why each one was special.  She is a dear.  Mario fought off the current in the river for a long time but then he finally decided to join Maria in finding rocks for me.  He would approach me with one or two and make it a production: “Mom, I found this rock for you and I think you will love it. Close your eyes.”  And then I would look at him and express my love for it and he would smile in pride and say “wasn’t that a cool rock, mom?!” 

Another day, we took a boat ride on the Bay.  The water was choppy but Jon did an excellent job not capsizing us.  Our daredevil girl begged Jon to go faster.  She loved the thrill of bouncing up and down in the water and the sprays of water in her face.  She did not want me to hold on to her when she sat up front.  Mario and I meanwhile, were ready for the boat to go back to the dock after a half of an hour.  He did fine at first but the poor guy started to turn green towards the end.  Nevertheless, he continued to sport a smile through it and have a good time.  He did not want to ruin everyone’s fun.  We rented a water trampoline and slide afterwards, and that was a lot of fun.  Our daredevil Maria loved sliding down the slide head first.  She would beg Jon and I to get the slide more wet so it would go faster.  If you swam under the trampoline, you could stand above the water and breathe.  The kids loved swimming under it and waiting for Jon to scare them when he quickly swam under and grabbed at their legs.  We joked that we paid $60 for the kids to play under the trampoline.

In the evening, we were able to watch the sun set from our hotel room.  One evening, the sun was brilliantly red and I told Maria and Mario that if we held hands and made a wish before the sun set, it would come true.  We all stood together holding hands and making our wishes.  When we finished, the sun was almost set.  All of a sudden, the kids realized dad was not in on our wish-fest and they yelled “DAD, you have to make a wish, too.  HURRY!”  Jon, who had been in the bathroom, ran out, grabbed our hands, and we all made a wish again.  Then we continued to hold hands and stand in awe as the sun disappeared from the horizon.  What a great way to end the evening.

The last day of the trip was overcast so we drove to some fishing towns and watched mama river otters feeding raw fish to their babies on the shore.  The kids scored a couple more stuffed animals from a fishing trinket store and got to slide down an old metal slide liked I used to slide down as a kid.  We ended our driving adventure in Glen Arbor for some yummy cherry pie.  I could eat that pie every day and night.   On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at putt-putt golf for one last putt-putt game – we had already played three games earlier in the trip.  I had won two of them, Jon had slammed me on one of them and we had this one to determine the champion.  And we ended up in a tie.  Maria, our anti-competitive girl, was very happy.

We played some ping-pong, too in the indoor pool area.  It took Jon and I back to our honeymoon in Alaska where we played ping-pong along the Kenai River.  We had some good volleys back and forth and again, tied winning one game each.  Maria and Mario weren’t too bad at volleying.  Mario liked to hit the ball high up in the air for everyone to admire and Maria liked to avoid any hit that would attract attention – complete opposites they are.  This vacation definitely reinforced their different demeanors. 

Mario: When we were at the market, Mario asked a woman at the checkout line if she could grab a 5 hour energy drink for him to give to his mom. She looked at him suspiciously.  I walked by when he asked her a second time and she looked over at me.  I whispered to her that he was just trying to get the 5 hour drink for me.  He heard me and went ballistic.  “Mom! I wanted to surprise you with one of those!  Now you ruined it!” He cried and pulled his body away from me when I tried to hold him.  I had to kneel next to him and tell him how awesome he was for thinking of me before he talked to me again.

He gets so upset when things do not go his way, and holds a serious grudge.  He seems to get angry in two instances: 1. he doesn’t get something he wants, be it the computer or a toy or 2. he wants to do something for you and you “ruin it” by finding out about it early or not reacting happily enough.  I was telling Patty that he has two modes lately: super-duper sweet and endearing or angry and pouty.  Lucky for us, his super-duper sweet and endearing side trumps the angry and pouty.  At the hotel in Michigan, he bought two chocolate hearts to eat for a late-night snack.  As he opened one up, he walked over to me and said “mom, this reminds me of you.” He pointed down to the red aluminum foil to an indentation of a heart.  Yeah, those little moments make up for the other ones.  And the other ones are fierce but short.  If you tickle him or tease him, he typically turns off his grudge and laughs and gives you a hug.  It’s pretty simple with him – he craves attention and recognition.  We constantly get questions from him about who we love more – him or Ria.  Or who we think is cuter – him or Ria.  When Maria does something and we laugh, he tries to do something funnier.  I think it’s his age but I also think it is who he is.  He loves to entertain people and make them laugh.  He also has no qualms about approaching people. When we were at the outdoor pool, he walked up to a couple in the hot tub and asked how the water felt.  He told them his name and where he was from and how old he would be in September.  All this without them even asking!  When we went to the lake, he walked up to a boy who looked about his age and said “do you want to play with me?”  He is not scared to take a chance on getting a “no” response.  Complete opposite of our girl.      

Maria: And then there is Ri.  She would never approach someone and ask them to play with her, and during this trip, she actually  steered far clear from anyone that approached her to play with her.  Two little girls jumped in the pool and tried to talk to her and Maria swam over to me and told me that she did not want to play with them.  Then she told the girls the same.  My girl likes her space.  But if she sees girls that look like they may be fun to play with, she will stand to the side and wait to see if they ask her to play.  She did that with girls on the rope climb, and they eventually asked her to play and she really enjoyed her time with them. 

Maria is a total daredevil and a lover of life.  She is self-deprecating and real.  And she cares about how people feel.  When we went to putt-putt, Mario would shoot a hole in one and Maria, who is not the best at putt-putt, would say “I’m certainly not going to get a hole-in-one; I might get a hole-in-six!”  When we rented the water trampoline, Maria walked up the ladder, jumped high on the trampoline, and slid down head first without hesitation.  When we went out to eat, she ordered BIG and loved to head back to the hotel candy shop for late night sundaes.  She took care of her little brother during the trip.  When Mario got upset because he wanted to play on my phone, Maria pled his case for him arguing that he had not played with it for the entire trip and he had been a good boy all day long.  She treated Mario like her baby – ordering his food (when he let her), letting him go first in line, letting him push the buttons in the elevator, and giving him more superballs then she got.  

Vacations are a necessary component to our lives.  It gave Jon and I a chance to breathe and let go of all of the deadlines and worries we have with our jobs.  We were able to concentrate fully and completely on ourselves and the kids for 7 days.  We know Maria and Mario up and down and side to side but this vacation reinforced in us how wonderfully diverse they both are and how many incredible qualities they both exhibit.  And I believe the trip reinforced for M&M how much Jon and I love them and want them to experience great things.  On the ride home, we stopped at a rest stop to go to the bathroom.  We all hopped back in the car to continue our trip and I looked back at the kids to make sure they had their seat belts on.  Then I looked over at Jon as he pulled out onto the highway.  I closed my eyes and gave thanks for the time alone with them.  When I opened my eyes, Jon verbalized my thoughts saying “I had a great time with you guys on this trip.  I love you.”  The kids responded “Love you, too” as they watched the final episode of Scooby Doo.