Thanks giving 

I love celebrating Thanksgiving. The gratitude and appreciation expressed for one another makes me beam. Everyone lets down whatever guard they may have erected and opens their arms to hugs. I must admit I was a bit concerned this year that my idyllic view of Thanksgiving may be shot to hell due to the recent election of Trump. But alas, it was not. All were polite. It was definitely more quiet than usual for a Heile get together … but Jon appreciated that peace. 

Maria slaved over the favors for the family with me. We thought about what would be best for days before the event and finally landed on mason jars filled with a holiday mix.  We drove to Giant Eagle to try to find mason jars. I told Maria that I did not want to spend a bunch of money on the jars. She was determined to find a deal. We walked down an aisle and Ri exclaimed “here are 12 for $8.99!” I shook my head with approval and we grabbed two cases. As we turned towards the checkout, a woman approached us. She held two coupons for mason jars, and asked if we wanted them.  I was taken aback, as was Maria. What are the chances that somebody with a coupon for mason jars would be walking by us right when we are heading to the checkout? Life is crazy strange and full of surprises. And heck, we saved six dollars because of that woman; Ri and I were charged! A reminder to pay forward.

 We arrived home to find Mario listening to music on the computer. We made him turn it off and help us decorate the mason jars, much to his dismay. But once he got started, he realized it wasn’t horrible. Maria enjoyed gathering all of the different foods we bought and mixing them together (while she taste-tested each one separately). She also decorated the mason jars and took her time trying to determine what decoration would look best for each person. I love how she put thought into each jar that she decorated; Mario, on the other hand, placed random stars and hearts on all his jars. 


On thanksgiving morning, we drove down to the YMCA to serve the homeless man at the shelter. We have been doing this for about three years, and the kids thoroughly enjoy it. It helps that one of my long-time buddies runs the program and is really great with the kids. The men are also great with the kids – talking to them, thanking them for their service, and teasing them. The kids actively engage with them, especially Maria who sits down with them at their table and asks about their lives. One man approached me and told me how impressed he was with Maria in the way that she could talk to him and make eye contact. It made him feel special.


We got back home in time to shower and greet our guests from Cincinnati. They arrived with much good food and wine and treats. It was an easy year for us on the turkey front. Jon bought two of them from Ray Ray’s hog pit so we had nothing to cook. There is something to be said for going the easy route some years… (especially when Patrick isn’t around to help!). 

Everyone mingled and got caught up on the latest news … and cooed over Elena before dinner. The potatoes actually took the longest this year because my mom had so many in the pot. It was starting to be a stressful situation but they finally came to a boil and we were able to mash them and get them on the table to be served. We chowed on our carbs and went into our annual daze. Folks on the couch watching football and folks in the kitchen cleaning up. 


We went for our annual walk around the block after the dishes, which pleased Rocco greatly. Shortly thereafter, most of the crew left. But the diehard liberals stuck around to talk about their displeasure with the election … and Aunt Ann’s new beau.


We capped the evening off by meeting up with Sarah, Elena, and Jorge at their hotel. We brought some snacks with us and enjoyed jumping on the bed and playing farm with Elena before she went to bed – definitely the highlight of the day for Maria. 

There was no getting up at 4 AM to shop on Friday morning – we slept in letting the carbs run through our bodies. 

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. 

 

  

Partyin’ with potato salad

Jon took over the kitchen Sunday morning; there was no stopping the man.  When Mario and I got home from our run, we found him hunched over peeling potatoes into a glass bowl.  He had spices out, jars open, and utensils scattered.  It was quite a breath-taking (and rather attractive) sight.  Patty gave him the recipes to her potato salad and her baked beans, and he would not let anyone else see them or work on them.  Once he decides to cook, everyone else must scatter away from his kitchen space.  After tasting his potato salad, I am happy to give him all the space he needs.  He is a heck of a cook.  That is how he wowed me when we were dating – he’d bring me soup while I studied for the bar.

Maria and Mario and I cleaned rooms and the kitchen, and got ready for Gracie to come over.  Maria loves to babysit that girl but Maria is a tough bird.  Gracie does something bad and Maria says “Grace Ann Wells! You should not do that!”  She is everything I am not!  Discipline, structure….  god help her children.  Grace arrived at 1 pm, and yelled “Aunt Mary!”  She was glued to my hip the rest of the day except when she took a two-hour nap in the middle of the afternoon.  Maria read her The Fly Guy before her nap and when we all left the room, she babbled for fifteen minutes and then fell asleep.  That is a foreign occurrence for Jon and me.  We would have to rock M&M to sleep, rub their backs for 20 minutes, lay with them, you name it.  All of those hurdles before any sleep would occur.  And then, 9 times out of ten, they’d be up within a half an hour anyway.  So Grace is a piece of cake. 

While the gals napped, Mario played Ben Ten games on the computer.  He had his Cheez-Its next to his side as he intently concentrated on his next move.  His concentration allowed me to get the house decorated for Maggie Jean’s party.  Of course, I had felt that we had it all under control the night before but then inevitably, the day of, I find myself scrambling to get everything together.  Maggie, our graduate, arrived to the house at 4 pm after sitting in 90 degree heat for four hours.  Julie and Liz were with her – Liz having sat through graduation on Friday in Cincinnati.  We broke out the celebratory beer and chips and dip, and let the party begin!  Maria was instantly mesmerized with Maggie’s friends Sarah and Annie.  Mario acted silly with Maggie’s dad, Denny.  Gracie stayed on my hip the entire afternoon, which I loved.  Liz kept telling me to put her down but I just couldn’t do it.  She was so happy hanging out with me that I had to soak in the love. 

My aunt Terrie and aunt Ann arrived a little later.  They had not seen the house since we bought it.  They each brought me a house-warming gift from Pottery Barn (high-class aunts, I will say…), and gave accolades galore about the house.  So sweet.  I was so excited that they came up to Columbus because I don’t get to see them often.  Terrie is in Marietta, Georgia with her hubby and three boys and Ann is in Washington DC and Dubai with her job and beau.  When I was little, Terrie and Julie used to invite me over to their apartment on the West side of Cincy for sleep overs and I remember listening to slow sappy 70’s love songs on the radio.  Time with them was a treat – hanging with the older girls.  Ann is only a year and a half older than me (the youngest of eight) and I looked up to her like a big sis.  She was into serious heavy rock when she was in high school and I used to just sit in her room and watch her get dressed to go out as she banged her head to Motley Crue.  And now here we all were standing my kitchen as adults.   Life is strange. 

At one point in the evening, we brought out Dairy Queen cake for Maggie.  We were all joking about what to sing to her, what the cake said, etc. and I all of a sudden felt a rush of gratitude and joy for having the day with my aunts and cousins.  I just wanted to lean over the table and smooch ’em all on the lips but I figured that may not have come off as I would have planned so I just smiled at them all and lit the candle for Maggie to blow out.  After cake, Julie and Terrie helped me figure out the weeds versus plants in the garden.  I have a lot of weeds but weeds look like plants to me; in fact, I think I am prone to liking weeds more than plants and flowers.  They are tough cookies – not dying for anything and growing back even stronger than before.  There is something you have to respect in the weed.  But we pulled ’em out nonetheless.  We would have been out there all night if Jon wouldn ‘t have announced that there is poison ivy in the garden.  That blasted Ter and Jul out of the garden and into the bathroom to wash off.  I would have felt like a total heel if they had gotten poison ivy.  

The aunts left a while later – all three of them heading to Starbucks to get a coffee for the road.  Little do they know how much I think of them and appreciate their generosity in traveling up north to see me.  And Julie constantly opening her house to me and the kids when we are in Cincy.  It is a rare gift to receive.  With their departure, we just had Maggie and her friends left at the house.  Maria and Mario were in heaven – Mario danced to I’m Sexy and I Know It and played ball with the boys, and Maria brushed the boys’ hair so that they could “pick up rich girls.” I am sure they were wondering what they had done to deserve a night at our house. 

Everyone hit the road around 9:30 and the kids hit the sack pretty quickly.  I got to watch my HBO show, Girls, and eat the rest of the DQ ice cream cake.  What a great life.

Pushing away

Maria refuses to come home.  She has been in Cincinnati since Friday morning when Maggie drove her down.  Just six months ago, she would have cried for her mama after one night.  Now, she tells me to stay in Columbus and not come get her.  I can see why – she is getting pedicures and manicures from Aunt Ann, time to babysit Gracie, trips to garage sales with Aunt Julie and Terrie, and attention from her grandma and all of her cousins and other aunts.  Columbus cannot compete.

It is yet another step towards independence just like her desire to ride her bike up the street all by herself.  I remember dreaming about this type of independence when she was two and a half-years old throwing her binky at me one minute and pulling on me to hold her the next.  But now it doesn’t feel quite right.  She seems too young to be moving in this direction.  I want that two and a half-year old back even if I have to take a binky in the forehead. 

Hanging with Maggie for 3 days straight!Ahh, but in thinking harder about it, I guess I don’t.  I guess I just want the affection back, and the desire to take refuge in my arms.  Intellectually, I know that how she is acting is healthy and a sign of confidence.  I remember reading an article a while back that talked about kids’ confidence levels.  A study had shown that kids who feel comfortable holding their ground with their parents (e.g., parent wants to leave but kid says she doesn’t want to leave) are typically more self-confident because their parents have given them the opportunity to not be fearful in standing their ground (now, there obviously comes a point where this self-confidence leads to bratty and obnoxious behavior and I am sure the study went on to find those kids are now occupying positions in Congress).  I think of this study when Maria acts this way to me, and chant in my head “I have made her a self-confident girl…I have made her a self-confident girl….” 

I wonder if I will feel as strongly when Mario begins to push away?  Or is it just a mother/daughter phenomena?  I harbor dreams of Maria changing this world in some way that suits her – I’d love if her suit involves curing cancer, feeding the poor, saving the environment.  But she can’t stay snuggled under her mother’s bosom and achieve any of those aforementioned feats or others.  I have the same dreams for Mario and can only assume, since he is glued to my hip, that I will feel much the same way when he decides to unravel the tie that binds us.  Maybe this process with Ri will lessen the sting a bit with Mario.  Or maybe it will be a different set of feelings that onset with that little guy.  I should have another couple of years before I find that out.

Skippin’ Football Sunday

The family woke up on Saturday and got working on cleaning our rooms.  It caused much heartburn in Maria on Saturday night – she worried that she would be bored cleaning her room.  “How can I make it fun, mom?” 

“I used to listen to music and dance around my room while I cleaned,” I told her.

A while later, she headed to her room to go to bed.  Jon and I were sitting downstairs when we heard Justin Bieber’s voice coming from upstairs.  A few minutes later we heard crying.  Jon went upstairs to see what was wrong.  Maria stood in her room with tears down her cheeks and told Jon “I am trying what mom told me to do but it isn’t working.  I am still not having fun.”  Poor thing….

That is why when we woke up on Sunday morning, I jumped out of bed and made cleaning fun!  I smiled and laughed and skipped around as I helped Maria pick up her room.  Mario jumped right in, too, picking up barbies and folding clothes.  Maria picked up a book here or there, made her bed and then moved on to getting dressed.  She is going to be one that takes two hours to clean her room on Saturday morning.  When we moved to Mario’s room, he lost interest in cleaning.  He was more concerned about jumping off his loft bed and doing kick stands around his room.  Maria helped me check the clothes on his floor to determine whether they were too little for him anymore and if they were dirty.  He somehow still does not understand where the laundry basket is located. 

Maria and Alana outside of the hospital with the flying pig

After cleaning, we got ready for the day.  Jon scooped up Mario under his wing, and headed to Dover, Ohio to visit Big Mario and Vicki for a day of pasta and wrestling.  I scooped up the Maria and Alana and headed to Cincinnati to visit my grandma in the hospital and to play at Aunt Julie’s house.  We listened to Big Time Rush for most of the ride and then colored pictures for grandma.  The kids were anxious to see grandma – I think they were more anxious to see “sick” people and the devices and instrumentalities of the hospital.  Neither of them remember a hospital.  They peered at the people in the hall and in the beds entranced by the fragility of life.  When they got to grandma’s room, they greeted her skeptically not quite sure if they should get near her.  As time went on, they got better at engaging with her eventually singing Christmas songs to her and talking to her about school.  Alana must have sung her 10 religious songs that she learned in Catholic school.  When Grandma asked Maria to sing a song, Maria belted out Jingle Bells!  My grandma looked at me and said “you need to get Maria in Sunday school.”  

After grandma’s, I took the girls to a delicious bagel shop in Blue Ash.  I grew up on these bagels and cream cheese.  They are fabulous.  We got toasted bagels with a load of cream cheese and sat at the bar.  Heaven.  Next, we headed to Julie’s to see her dogs and visit Grandma Lolo.  The girls LOVE to walk Julie’s dogs because they are just right for them.  Both are maybe 25 pounds and do not pull on their leashes.  They allow the girls to drag them anywhere.  A win-win situation for all. 

I went back to the hospital to be with grandma. We had a pleasant conversation about her friends, card parties, and needing solitude.  Us Menkedick brood all have that solitude gene in common – we need alone time to be our best.  We picked it up from grandma, I learned. When I returned to Julie’s house, the girls were downstairs listening to records on a Fisher Price record player.  Yes, records!  Maria was amazed at the looks of the record player, laughing at how I used to have to listen to music on such an antiquated device!

We hopped in the car to head back to Columbus.  Alana’s parents are much more strict than Jon and I and wanted Alana home by 7:30 since it was a school night.  We raced up I-71 in order to hit McDonald’s Playland for ten minutes (it has become a staple with each Cincy trip).  We got Alana home 1 minute late and proceeded to Orange Leaf for a frozen yogurt treat before bed. 

Mario walking up the long hill.

The boys met up with us at the house – they were exhausted from four-wheeling and wrestling all day.  Little Mario also decided that he was old enough to walk up the long hill from Mario’s shop to Mario’s house all by himself.  He got tired of waiting for Jon to finish his conversation with Big Mario and informed Jon that he was big enough to take the trek himself.  Jon agreed, not sure if he would make it or not.  But that boy has determination and will when he needs it and he made it.  

We all gave each other kisses hello, got in our pjs and headed to our beds – no time to watch football on this jam-packed Sunday….

Welcoming in the New Year

This New Year is being brought in with potato chips, Taco Doritos, Gatorade, Wii Sports and telephone calls to grandmas and grandpas. 

The girls dancing to Justin Bieber

We completed our last round of party hosting last night with Jon’s family coming over for an afternoon and evening soiree.  Three of Jon’s brothers came over with their respective families, which led to ten little ones tearing through the house and ten older ones eating appetizers and drinking wine.  The kids range in age from 11 to 3.  They get along fairly well with the older two playing mother hens and the middle ones (like Maria) only butting heads with them every once in a while.  The girls wanted to be on their own to dance to Big Time Rush but the boys kept bothering them.  We finally got the boys upstairs by enticing them with swords and shields.  My niece, Shari (who is a year older than me!) brought her daughter and her daughter’s son, Isaiah who is a few months older than Mario.  Mario and Isaiah always wrestle one another when they meet up.  Isaiah has a good ten pounds on Mario and probably a good ten inches but Mario enjoys a tough match.  Isaiah is actually pretty passive with Mario.   Mario doesn’t understand that he would be pummeled if Isaiah used his natural strength.  One of these days, Isaiah may show him how tough he is, and Mario may learn not to provoke these boys so much.   Shari’s daughters are the two mother hens, and are loved dearly by Maria.  She loves to go over to their house and play, and they always come up with fun things to do.

The adults talked about old times, movies seen, and Urban Meyer.  The simple act of being together brings enjoyment to Jon and me.  We are glutton for punishment with all of these parties this year between all of the mess in the kitchen and the basement and the kids’ rooms.  But the chaos is well worth it when you hear the laughter and happiness echoing throughout the house.  And Mario got a new shovel from Kevin and Margie – he will love using that with Jon this year!

My aunts!

This morning I took a long run and packed up Maria and her cousin, Alana for a trip to Cincy.  Jon stayed home with Mario.  They bought new phones for the house and a new putter for Mario.  Their day consisted of playing golf, watching tv, wrestling, and playing golf again.  The girls and I headed to Cincy to see my aunts (my Aunt Terrie and her two boys came in from Georgia) and our cousins.  They all gathered at my Aunt Julie’s house, and when we walked in, the cousins informed me that they were taking Maria and Alana and I was going with my aunts to get a facial.  Not bad news at all! 

My aunts and I went to Macy’s for the facial – they told me I needed one now that I was 40!  The cousins walked around the mall hitting the toy stores and Disney store.  Maria and Alana enjoyed teasing the boy cousins and slapping them around.  They put up with a lot from these gals. 

Maria and some of her cousins

The girl cousins give me no reason to fear leaving the kids with them – they have a way to make things fun but orderly.  It was a gift to have some alone time with my aunts and to get all pampered up.  We are so goofy together talking about how hot we are and how we’re looking 20.  I love them dearly.  And my cousins, I adore them for their love and commitment to family.  When we got home from facials, all of the cousins were working on a puzzle on my aunt’s floor.  Some were watching tv more than working on the puzzle but they all sat together ribbing each other and having a good, relaxing time.  They are good role models for Ri and Mario.

And that leads us to tonight.  I have been writing this blog off and on for the last three hours.  Besides eating chips, we played Scavenger Hunt, read books, and played on our electronic devices.  At one point, Mario played on my Iphone, Maria on my Ipad, and me on my computer.  Definitely a sign of the times.  I made us put the electronic devices away before the ball dropped though.  With five minutes to go, we sat on the couch together.  We watched the ball drop at midnight huddled in a mass and giving one another the first kisses of 2012!

Bringing in the New Year (Mario ditched the phone before the ball dropped!)

One down, three to go, two down two to go, three down, one to go…Finish Line!

Christmas 2011

And so we end another Christmas season with toys scattered across the floor, chocolate wrappers lingering on coffee tops, and pants unbuttoned to make room for the holiday food resting snuggly in our bellies.  It feels like someone stood me up in the middle of a large room, twirled me around at lightening speed for three minutes straight, and then let me go.  Dizzy, light-headed, and a little lost but the excitement was well worth it. 

We started out with our Christmas Eve at my mom’s house and then my cousin Laura’s house (formerly my Grandma and Grandpa Heile’s home).  My mom’s house is always a whirlwind because we only have about 45 minutes to say hi, open presents, and get ready for Laura’s.  My mom agreed this year to limit the presents for the kids and ourselves but it still seemed like we gave too much even though the kids ripped through the presents in ten minutes.  My mom scored big this year with Ben Ten paraphernalia for Mario and Pet Shop and Barbie for Maria.  Each present that Maria opened garnered a big ol’ smile and a big ol’ gasp when she saw it no matter if she loved it or not.  What a ham and a sweetheart since I had told her it makes people feel good when you smiled and acted happy while opening a gift.  After the gift opening, Mario hit the treadmill for a bit (my mom calls it her $1000 toy for the kids) and Maria looked for food in the kitchen.  After we raided the cheese and crackers, we headed to Laura’s house.  

M&M iwth Robert, Kristen, and Cy

It is still strange for me to see my little cousins all grown up with Laura the oldest at 27 and Konner the youngest at 14.  The girl cousins are all in the 20-something range and lavish Maria with love and advice on how to deal with boys, how to brush her hair, and how to be polite.  The boy cousins rough house with Mario and teach him wrestling moves.   While teaching Mario moves, Robert commented to Mario that he was acting like a girl.  This comment threw Mario into a state of deep depression.  Jon and I found him outside of the house sulking and he finally told us why.  Jon, our family protector, had a few words with Robert, and he told Mario he was sorry and he was only kidding.  I would have never dreamt that such a comment would have bothered him, but you never quite know with Mario what he is going to take to heart.  The other day he was upset because Mr. Park made fun of his sweater by saying it wasn’t “ugly sweater day”; Mario went in the corner and sulked until Park told him he was only kidding. 

While the cousins entertained M&M, I talked with my aunts.  They always seemed so much older than me since I was a pre-teen and they were in their late teens or twenties.  Completely different worlds at that point.  But now I have a kinship with them since we all have or are experiencing a lot of the same – kids, jobs, mortgages.  Most of us have the bond of motherhood – we talk about how to deal with temper tantrums, moments we cherish with the kids, moments we wish we could forget and everything in between.  These women raised me and each time I see them, memories of my times with them flood through my head.  We enjoy the brief time we have together over the holidays with the male family members watching football and engaging in small-talk about hunting or sports or the latest event in the news.  This is home to me – this is what I have known since I was a newborn and it is comforting. 

Trying to get a picture of the cousins...!

The kids opened presents after dinner.  Every kid gets another kid’s name and acts as his/her secret santa.  However, Maria and Mario scored gifts from all of the aunts.  They had a boatload of presents to unwrap.  I was so proud of them as they tore through the presents.  Maria got a book she already had at home but she acted surprised and said thank you to my aunt (and then looked at me and gave me a nod).  Mario said thank you to every person that gave him a gift even before he opened it.  He got a bow and arrow from Robert and Cy (his cousins whom he idolizes).  Maria got i Carly lip gloss from Aunt Jane. 

After gifts, we talked and laughed a while longer and then hit the road for Columbus.  I still had to wrap a few gifts and get Maria’s Barbie Dream House out of the garage.  I am still so charged about that purchase – $30 from a fellow Grandview mom and it does not even look used.  Maria had no idea.  I just could not fathom buying a $150 dream house when I knew she would play with it for a short time and move on to something else.  Mario kept begging us for a Boy Barbie Dream House for him.  All I could imagine was a house with frat boys waiting for the “barbies” to show up. 

The kids fell asleep right when we left for Cincy (miracle), and did not get up until 7:45 am.  Nice present.  Maria stood by my side at 7:45 trying to cough gently to arouse me from sleep and then Mario, sleeping beside me, bolted up.  Is it Santa time?! We threw on sweatshirts and headed downstairs to see if Santa decided we were good this year.  THe kids tore through their presents with Mario getting Ben Ten everything and Maria getting random presents like a robe, drawing stuff and a Leapster reading game.  She walked over to Jon towards the end and said “I don’t think I will get the dream house because it is expensive.” When I brought it our for her, she nearly passed out.  She was so excited. 

My parents came to the house around 10 am and the kids got showered with more presents.  Overload city.  The kids tore through the next round with Mario again scoring mega Ben Ten toys and Maria getting serious bling from Mama Meg (she is known for getting Maria some sweet sweat suit get-ups!).  After we opened up our presents, the rest of the Menkedick crew arrived.  My 91-year-old grandma made the trip, which made the day for me.  Jon’s parents also arrived early to have dinner with us.  The dinner went off without a hitch except that we had to use my parents’ apartment down the street to cook one of the casseroles!  How do people make big holiday dinners with just one stove?! 

The Menkedick and Ionno clan with Grandma M. at the left

During dinner, Patty recognized my grandma for raising my uncle Bill and my dad all by herself.  She commended her for raising such wonderful “boys”.  I was so glad that she spoke up and recognized my grandma.  I don’t know how many people I have talked to about how amazing my grandma is for raising my dad and my uncle in the 1950s all on her own.  Never re-marrying.  Taking them on trips every year.  Making sure they were fed and went to good schools.  As open as my family is, we tend to shy away from sensitive subjects when we get together.  In our defense, we don’t all get together too often, so when we do, we want to keep the conversation light and upbeat.  But surprisingly, the conversation remained light and honorable.  My grandmother received much-deserved praise and gratitude from all at the table (even if she didn’t fully recognize it) and we continued to laugh and enjoy one another’s company.  

M&M and their cousins

After a big ol’ dinner and big ol’ dessert (peanut butter chocolate pie), we opened yet another round of presents.  After an hour, we finished the unwrapping (we go around with each person opening one gift at a time).  Five minutes later, Patrick and my niece and nephew arrived for dinner.  Rock-n-roll!  We switched out the table-cloth, got out new plates and silver, and began making the dinner.  Maria and Alana danced to Big Time Rush and Giovanni and Mario took a walk with me to the park.  I needed some fresh air after a non-stop day indoors.  Besides it was 42 degrees out – balmy for Christmas. 

We returned home for wedding soup, ham, green beans almondine, and potato casserole.  Mario had a break down because he wanted to sit next to Alana and Maria wanted to sit by her alone.  Maria eventually gave in to him like she typically does – Mario has it really good with her.   After dinner, we opened the last round of presents.  I think my cousin’s son summer it up well earlier in the day when I asked him if he is ready for his presents.  He replied “I have opened up too many presents today.”  Fortunately, I don’t think any of the Ionno kids felt that way and how could they with the big bags of goodies that Patty brings for them? 

The babes enjoying the season

When everyone left at 9 pm, Jon and I collapsed on the couch.  Absolutely exhausted but absolutely elated.  A NPR commentator summer it up well when she spoke about her holidays.  She told a story about experiencing the same exhaustion we had and her husband asking her why she drove herself to such a state.  She hosts holiday gatherings in order to honor her family.  I thought that was such a profound and relevant statement for me this year.  The joy I experienced in sitting with my Heile clan that I have grown up with all my years; the warmth I felt in sitting with my Menkedick brood that I cherish and respect; and the happiness I experienced in sitting with my Ionno family at the end of the night brought it all together in one tidy Christmas present for me.  The best present I could ask for 2011.