I engaged in the annual hmmming and hawing over what to get the kids this year. I torture myself by overthinking what they may want, what they do want, what they should get in order not to spoil them, what they should get to spoil them….

I long for the days they were babies and toddlers. It was so simple! I could get ten $1 toys, wrap them, and we’d be set Christmas morning. This year was especially strange because they really didn’t “want” for anything.  Realistically, they should never “want” for anything since they have all of life’s necessities at their disposal and much more; but alas, they are kids bombarded by advertisements friends with cool gadgets.  Maria had been begging for an iPhone 7 for her birthday but she cooled her heels about one for Christmas.  I think I assisted her in this change of heart by talking about how I believed experiences were more special than “things.”  I asked her what she remembered more – her new iphone she received two holidays ago or her trip to Oaxaca.  Oaxaca without a doubt.  

Mario was even perplexed about what he wanted – at first it was an Apple computer, then any type of computer, then a pug puppy, then any type of puppy.  At one point, Maria talked with him about the experiences bit and almost had him convinced to just wish for them and not ask for any “things.” But Mario couldn’t quite get there at age 9; he still wanted to open gifts on Christmas.

And there lies the dilemma  – as a parent, do you put your foot down and re-purpose Christmas to the holiday it should be: a holiday about giving to others and appreciating family, and sacrifices made, and peace, and love, and goodwill?  Or do you give “things” that the kids can madly unwrap on Christmas morning? Tradition gets the best of me and I inevitably err on the side of “things”.  However, this year I did not go as overboard as years’ past and tried to mix the things with some experiences.  Oaxaca will be a destination for us in 2017 as well as DC.  I also want to take some good camping trips.

We asked Santa to stick with a room décor theme for Ri this year.  She got a new desk and hutch, dresser and nightstand as well as some pictures and framed quotes.  Mario got a new Dell computer in order to vlog and listen to his jams.  He also got some Cowboys attire since that is his new favorite team thanks to Ezekiel Elliott).  I ended up getting him a dresser, too, since I found one for cheap on line, and he has never had one before. Yeah, not kidding.  He has just used the three tiny drawers in his steps going up to his bed. Of course, I ordered all the kids’ furniture on line so Jon and I get to assemble it ourselves.  We worked on the dresser the day after Christmas and 3 hours later, we were still slaving over it.  I was ready to ship the assembly off to a contractor but was not ready to pay $150 so we kept working. We finally finished 2 hours later, and now we can walk in Mario’s room and admire our work….

Maria’s desk and hutch was a bit easier to assemble, thank god.  I actually assembled the hutch all by myself; I screwed all the parts in backwards and had to dis-assemble it all and start over, but I finally got it.  It does feel good to know that you built something from scratch (especially when you are typically inept at such creations).  And I now know what a cam screw is!


We enjoyed Susie’s house for Christmas Eve.  Patty drove down with us this year and we first stopped at my mom’s to exchange gifts.  Patty got to admire her new home, and my mom got to ask Patty about her potential new home in Marietta.  My mom enjoys the company.  The kids loved on Lou and took a few trips down the stairs in their comforters before begging to open presents.  They got spoiled beyond belief: Mario got a desk chair and Ri got new boots.  Rocco got a new hedgehog playmate (which he did not destroy within the first ten minutes of playing with it – miracle).


The kids loved playing with Cy and Robert at Susie’s house.  They ran around and around with them playing with nerf guns and wrestling.  The fun had to cease when Cy turned to run away from Mario and rammed his head on the dip in the ceiling.  He got a nice gash.  Jane and Olivia rushed him to Urgent Care and a few staples later he was good as new.  It’s not a Heile party until someone starts bleeding.  The kids also love participating in the White Elephant game.  Mario got a puzzle and was less than impressed.  He had his eyes on a bag that had a Polo watch and a pair of “USA” socks in it because he thought they would be the perfect gifts for his dad.  He was finally able to steal the bag after Aunt Julie helped him out and took his puzzle. Ri scored a Starbucks card.


Ri and Mario loved holding baby Harper. Mario thoroughly enjoyed it for about three minutes and then was ready to move on. Ri would have held her all night.


We all sang Christmas carols with Aunt Susie towards the end of the night – one of the highlights of the evening.  Susie plays the piano while we try our best to keep a tune.


Mario was the first to get up on Christmas morning at 7 am.  We made him wait until 7:30 to wake Maria up.  We laid in bed trying to prepare for the day ahead. At 7:29, Mario woke up Ri and they both walked into our room commanding us to awaken and head downstairs.  Patty had been up since 6 am, and was showered and ready to head out to church.  Ri distributed the gifts to everyone, and the opening began. Big smiles planted on their faces.  It took about 45 minutes to get through gifts this year, which was pleasantly longer than last year.  I swear we were done opening presents in 10 minutes last year.

The kids were more mature this year in both the approach to opening presents and in the actual opening of the presents.  In years’ past, they would have been up at 6 am and jumping on our bed incessantly until we arose and trekked down the steps with them.  They would have been shaking each present and thinking heavily about which one to open first.    They would have torn through them in seconds unable to soak in appreciation for each gift one at a time.  But this year, they wokr at a reasonable hour. They waited patiently as we got on our sweatshirts and brushed our teeth.  

They still showed enthusiasm, when passing out the gifts under the tree but it was a more measured, calm enthusiasm.  They carefully tore the wrapping paper off their gifts and took their time scanning each present.  And they showed appreciation for each gift (even if it wasn’t something they particularly wanted (i.e., hats and gloves).


So here we are, setting up a computer and a desk  rather than a train set or a Barbie house.  The day was bound to arrive at our doorstep.  But I am going to work hard to celebrate it rather than bemoan it.  True, my babies are growing up and no longer require constant attention, and I miss that greatly. But my babies are growing up and no longer require constant attention, and I must appreciate that as well. 

I just wish we could go back to ten $1 gifts….

A Steampunk Christmas Carol 

I am still flabbergasted that the kids both performed in a play last week. How did these kids that came from two raging athletes ever acquire acting skills?! 

I still remember the first night we went to audition. Maria had called it quits as soon as she saw an eight-year-old boy bellow out five different tunes perfectly. Mario was right behind her. But then Mario’s friend showed up and sang a quaint little tune – happy birthday – and Mario felt like he could at least crank that song out. He followed his friend and sang “jingle bells”; his bravery allowed for Maria to feel comfortable enough to  stand up and sing “row row row your boat.” 

And with that, we were thrown into the world of acting. A completely foreign world to Jon and me. But the kids looked as if they had performed in plays 10 times over. They went to practice and picked up their lines. They made friends with the other actors. They ingratiated themselves with the director.  
I was surprised that they got roles with speaking parts since this was their first play. They only had about three speaking parts each but hey, that’s something for their first gig. And they were in a good deal of scenes. I loved watching them perform at the community center; I never felt comfortable performing in front of people so it amazed me to watch them perform so effortlessly. 

The last week of practice was intense. They had practice Monday through Thursday from 5:30-9:30, but they didn’t complain a bit. Ri especially enjoyed it. She loved the entire process involved in putting on a show – from setting the stage to putting on make-up to ensuring props were situated correctly, to performing. Mario, on the other hand, seemed to love only one piece – being on stage and getting the crowd to laugh. He hammed it up as much as he could enjoying the smiles and laughter from the crowd. 

I went to the final practice before the dress rehearsal on Thursday night and remember sitting with another parent and thinking “how will this play come together?” The parent next to me had done theatre in her past and reassured me it would come together just fine. And so it did. It came together wonderfully. 
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Meg and dad and Patty and Patrick’s family came on opening night. We bought roses for both kids.  They performed like pros and were so excited after it ended. They couldn’t come down off their acting high!


Saturday night’s performance was the best because the audience was so into it. They laughed and clapped and made it lively. I heard there were former actors with the Theatre Company who were in attendance and got the audience going. Whoever they were, I thank them because it really did liven up the entire show. Mario loved the attention…

My mom and Sarah came to the Sunday matinee. Ri was excited to see Elena but she was also so tired. Both of the kids were exhausted from 6 long nights working on the play. The feel of the last show was one of gratitude and relief that they had made it through to the end. It was much more low-key than Saturday. But they both again did a marvelous job reciting their lines with more power and conviction each day. However, Ri tripped on her costume during the matinee and ended up with a black eye because the ghost mask rammed into her. Poor thing. Nevertheless, in true Maria fashion, she just kept on going despite the obvious pain. 


After the play, we got the pleasure of cleaning up for 3 hours. Ri and Mario pitched in with the other kids and the adults tore down the set and picked up all the props and trash. We were all spent by 7 pm. But the kids had been promised Greater’s so off we went for ice cream. We talked at Greater’s (over brownie sundaes) until close to 9 pm before calling it a night. The kids hugged their fellow actors goodbye. I think they really enjoyed the experience and both want to audition for the next show in Spring. I am just pleased that their eyes got opened to another activity and that they were so capable of embracing it. 

Proud parents.

 

Under one roof

So, I guess the holidays are officially over. We had the Menkedick crew over yesterday and the last of the gifts were ripped open by the kids. 

Time to put away the glittery centerpiece – the only remaining holiday item out of storage. All the other items were packed up and stored away within 48 hours after Christmas. Except for the lights strung around the trees in the front yard; they remained hanging until a few days ago due to the lack of desire to stand in the cold and try to flip the lights off the top branches without success. 

This holiday felt a little off to me. I still haven’t figured out what made it feel this way. It could be the kids being older.I believe Ri officially knows there is no Santa Claus. She doesn’t readily admit it but I can tell. She knows the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are not real so why would Santa? I try to give her a condensed version of the precious articles I read on line by mothers who explained to their dis-believing children that Santa is simply a symbol of the season of giving and kindness. She nods and listens half-heartedly. She’s always been my old soul; she probably has always known there is no Santa but has kept it secret in order not to disappoint Jon and me. On the other hand, Mario seems to still believe. I don’t think he ponders it too much as long as he has gifts on Christmas morning. And when I put Elfie in his room with his Legos, he ran into our bedroom the next morning and was excited that Elfie liked his Lego men. The magic is somewhat still there, at least. 

It took 12 minutes to open presents Christmas morning. It was 7:17 am when we finished. You know you are in for a long day. You think “I just want to sleep for an entire day” but then the kids leave to hang out with grandma and you wonder “what should I do now they are gone?!” 

Or maybe it was the quick in and out with so many different family members. Christmas Eve at my mom’s for an hour ripping through presents and then to Aunt Susie’s with aunts and uncles and cousins and spouses and dogs (the cousins have chosen to own dogs prior to having kids). Talk to an aunt for five minutes, a cousin for ten. Sing caroles. Open presents. On Christmas Day, host my dad and Meg and then Jon’s mom and brothers. Everyone in for a few hours and then off to another home. Again, part of me is exhausted and ready for five minutes alone and another part of me wants a deep, long conversation with my family member. 

Maybe it’s all that yin and yang that leads me to find myself in a state of flux the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  What are my goals for 2016? What do I want for Jon and I? What do I want the kids to accomplish? I want to cook more. I want the kids to engage in more service and not whine when they have to do homework. I want Jon and I to hike. I want to sit still for an entire two hours. I wish Christmas could have lasted longer. I didn’t get to talk to Aunt Julie or Laura….

Step back. 

Take a breath. 

Try for one manageable feat at a time.  I am so bad about thinking of 20 different things to accomplish that I get overwhelmed and accomplish none. 

On New Year’s Eve, we went over to a friend’s house. A couple of Mario’s friends were there and a friend of Maria’s was there. The kids played upstairs and Jon and I hung in the kitchen talking to the adults and catching up with old friends. It was around 11:30 pm and Ri was knocked out upstairs. Jon and I agreed we should hit the road so we could be home at midnight. We were making the rounds saying goodbye when Mario flew into the kitchen crying in pain. 

“It’s broke! I heard it crack!” 

He held his arm. The way he was cradling it and the tears in his eyes had me nervous. A resident doctor was at the party and came over to look at it. She asked some questions and turned and probed it, and then told us we should take him to the ER. Lovely. She made a homemade sling for him and we were off. 

It was broken. 

We got home at 2 am drunk with fatigue. The rest of the weekend was long and tiresome and chill. I looked at Christmas pictures with Ri and reviewed FB posts of family. I cracked up thinking about Mario stealing the white elephant gift from Michael and Susie and Kenny leading us in caroles. I smiled remembering Ri open up her Molly baby from Grandma Lolo and Mario playing checkers with my dad. Alana and Gio excited to give me a box of chocolates. My aunt Julie and I exchanging duplicate pictures of each other in DC.  The girls opening American Girl dolls from Patty. Ri and Grandma Meg playing dolls together. Ben drawing random pieces of food on white papers, rolling them up, and giving them out to everyone. Maria and Anna taking Rocco on a walk together.

I love family. I actually get excited when I know there’s a get-together coming up. Nothing pleased me more than to have both my sis and brother in town a few years ago to share Christmas. This isn’t a new realization by any means. I’ve always been family-oriented. I could never leave Ohio because my parents and family live here. I wouldn’t want to not be close to them. And that’s one of the traits that attracted me to Jon right away. He loves family just as much. 

But I do realize how my expectations on what the holidays will bring need to be adjusted. I am not gonna get 30 minutes to sit down with my cousin to talk about the insanity of politics or to talk with my brother about the meaning of life. There’s too much chaos and revelry and excitement and people to see. So I just get to ask my cousin about her new house or my aunt about her classroom and move on to the next conversation. That’s fine. If you want a longer time, go out to dinner in January. The holidays are not structured for long-winded dialogue but for hugs and brief updates and cooing over new babies. 

So, here’s to my crazy, amazing family and all the fabulous times we have together – mostly over the holidays now since we are all doing our thangs, ya know…. Christmas 2015 will be appreciated for reminding me that the simple act of being together under one roof is a gift for which to be grateful. 

   
    
    
    
    
    
 

Christmas 2014

The kids get two weeks off for Christmas break every year.  Every year I find myself frantically calling my dad and stepmom or Jon’s mom or our sitter to see if they can take the kids certain days. You’d think I would learn with each year and plan a bit in advance but it is a lesson I will never learn.  Probably because I get away with it every year – finding family and friends to watch the kids on the days Jon and I have to work.  The year it doesn’t work out and I can’t attend the boss’s meeting is the year that will make me change my ways.

The kids counted down the days prior to their two-week break with increasing joy until finally on the Friday of the last day of school, Mario exclaimed “no more school after today!”  I guess two weeks feels like a lifetime to a kid.  We had our usual holiday trek to Cincinnati on Christmas Eve.  We hit mom’s house first and madly opened presents.  The kids always want to dig in as soon as we open the door and mom obliges.  IMG_2526

Susie hosted Christmas Eve at her house for the first time since I was little, and it was really enjoyable.  She had gingerbread houses for the kids to decorate (Mario was way too cool to decorate his for more than a minute), and a movie for them to watch (never got to that but good thought). IMG_2554 IMG_2555 IMG_2557

I wondered if I’d feel at all saddened by having it at Susie’s since I had spent my life going to Grandma Heile’s house for Christmas Eve. But I didn’t because all that mattered was that I had my Heile posse with me for the evening.  Ri joined right in the crowd as she always has since she was little. She fits right in with her 20 something cousins.IMG_2568 IMG_2570

Mario, on the other hand, is a bit more intolerant of the noise and chaos and constant hugging! Emily came up to hug him and he pushed her away. I took him upstairs to tell him that was rude, and he looked me in the eye and cried “doesn’t she know that I don’t like to be hugged?”  Spoken just like his father. I calmed him down and we went back downstairs only to have Cy accidentally hit him in the tongue and mouth with his head as they were playing horsey.  Back upstairs he stomped – angry and hurt.  Then, he suffered a third incident 30 minutes later when Robert picked him up by his feet and dropped him on his head. Lovely.  Poor kid couldn’t catch a break. But then he scored a Nerf gun from Aunt Jane and all was good.

Ri helped me play the white elephant game this year.  We took home the horrible clown that everyone hates to get each year.  Actually, we didn’t even win it – Cy’s girlfriend did – but she was so scared of it that Maria took it from her to be nice.    Ri could play those games all night long with her cousins; she loves it.

We left Susie’s around 7:30, which was nice. We arrived home at a reasonable hour versus the 10:30 or 11 pm times in years’ past.  The kids knocked off soon after we left (Ri first as always and then Mario shortly thereafter).IMG_2590

We did not arrive home to luminaries up and down the street, which was a bit disappointing.  Our street has always had about a 90% turnout rate on luminaries and it is magical to turn the corner and see the soft glow of lights lining the entire street.  But it was raining softly when we arrived home, and the lights would have gotten burnt out upon lighting.  Patty had wrapped some of the kids’ gifts for me while we were gone, which was such a blessing.  I came home to nothing to do (in years’ past, I ran around frantically wrapping and getting things under the tree).  Jon and I went straight to bed knowing the two goofs would be up at the crack of dawn.

They woke up at 6:30 am and we heard them outside of our door whispering and excited.  They lasted until about 6:50 am (we had asked for 7 am) before busting open the door and yelling “Come on! Let’s open presents!”  Jon and I rose from the bed, hair in every direction, and got pulled down the stairs by each kid.  It took approximately two minutes for the kids to open all 7 of their presents.  Seriously.  Next year we are going to have to take more time.  It was 7:05 am and Christmas was over.  But they were both happy campers.  Ri got her phone she wanted and Mario got his Nintendo.  They immediately unwrapped those items and started playing with them.  Jon and I got each other comforters without having any idea we were both getting each other one.  Two peas in a pod.IMG_2601 IMG_2595

Meg, Dad, Sarah, Jorge and Elena arrived around 9 am for our second round of fun.  Ms. Elena’s first Christmas!  We ate yummy quiche made by Meg-pie and cinnamon rolls and then skyped with Uncle Jack and Sofia.  It was great seeing the dude-man on Christmas day; he never ceases to make me belly laugh. He seems to be enjoying the Nordic life sporting a sweet wool sweater during our talk.  Elena let Ri and I hold her while we opened presents.  She loved the mega-blinged out baby walker we bought her with all sorts of sounds and lights on it.  As we sat around together watching Elena, I was reminded of all the years that Jon and I would head to Meg and Dad’s house for Christmas morning.  Jack and Sarah were in grade school and high school, and just as excited as Ri and Mario about present opening.  We’d get a call at the apartment at 7 am telling us to head over.IMG_2615 IMG_2625 IMG_2633

 

We hung out until around 12:30 and then they left to head back to the farm.

Bring in round three!

Patty and Patrick and crew and Chris and Connie and Frances came over around 1:00 to spend the rest of the day with us.  The kids loved hanging out together all day long. Chris told his jokes like he used to when Jon and I were dating.  Patrick and Jon talked about all the things they got into when Patty took them to work with her.  It was a good reminiscing session; their stories never cease to impress me.  Boys. We opened gifts after dinner.  Patrick and Carrie gave me the best gift I have ever gotten.  A shirt box full of chocolates.  There were probably 100 of the chocolate squares overfilling the box.  IMG_2640Pure heaven!

We missed Joe’s presence.  Patty teared up a few times thinking about him.  Mario also talked about how much he missed him.  And Ri cried at school before break because she was working on a tribute to Joe and sadness overcame her.  There is no doubt he felt the love soaring up to him this holiday.IMG_2639

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The girls went home with Patty on Christmas night like they have in past years.  They look so forward to that time with her.  She took them to play volleyball at the Y the next morning and all of her friends enjoyed their humor.  Mario and Gio spent the night at Gio’s house one night and our house the next.  They played video games and laughed about farts and butts and all things that make boys chuckle.  I am so happy that they still enjoy one another and get to spend time together.  Patty is a machine with them.  She takes them to the Y, to the arcade, to the movies, to McDonald’s.  She plays with them at the condo.  Her energy really needs to be bottled up and sold; we’d make millions.20140207-142722.jpg

We ended the holidays with a visit from Bill and Jean and Kerry and Kevin and kids.  Meg and Dad and Sarah joined in the afternoon fun. We made it easy and ordered City Barbecue and Bill made his awesome chocolate desserts.  Maria and Mario do not get to see Ben and Annaliese that often but they still find ways to connect.  Ben and Mario connect over the iPad; Maria and Annaliese connect over her American Girl doll and barbies.  I remember when Kerry and I were young and both possessing much different interests but we’d get together two times a year and catch up.  There was a connection between us even with the months apart and our different pursuits.  I am a strong believer in staying close to your roots. I am quite sure that Grandma Menkedick was smiling down on us all day.IMG_0011 IMG_0019 IMG_0032

After that crew left on the Sunday before New Year’s, we had the house to ourselves.  What to do without the commotion, present-opening, running around, and chaos?

Put on the pj’s, eat some of Bill’s chocolate cake, and read Vela.

 

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Learning my XBox lesson

So Mario had three things he wanted for Christmas – yea, just three: Apple laptop, X Box or iPhone. Seriously? What happened to Legos and Pokemon cards? Jon and I debated what to get him for weeks. Each week brought a sweeter Mario trying his hardest to be good during the holiday season to earn one of the three presents he wanted. How could we keep the spirit of Santa alive without getting him one of his three wishes?
We decided that we could probably use a Xbox since all we have is our old Wii. It’s ridiculous that we only bought the Wii three years ago and it’s already completely outdated. There are hardly any games for it anymore. And it’s winter so we are stuck in the house after 5 pm. It’s nice to move the body if only to a dancing game or a bowling match. So we agreed we’d get him a Xbox. I stopped at Best Buy to buy it and was floored to pay $550 for it. What???!
I walked out of the store flabbergasted.
Not even two days after buying the Xbox, Mario was reviewing the advertisements in the paper and saw a Nintendo DS.
“I want one of them so badly!”
“But I thought you wanted a Xbox or laptop?”
“No, I really just want a Nintendo DS. That’s it. I’d be so happy.”
He repeated this over and over through the night and into the next day. So I called Jon at work and told him we should return the Xbox and get him a Nintendo. Besides, we’d save $300. And he was begging Santa for a Nintendo.
Jon pushed back. “He doesn’t need another hand-held devise to stare at. He will get bored with it within a day. He’s more likely to find games and play the XBox – just keep that.”
I pushed back. “But he believes in Santa and he’s begging for a Nintendo. We should get that since he really wants it.” I have to admit the $300 savings was weighing heavily on my mind, too….
I won. Jon caved and told me to take the Xbox back and get the Nintendo.
On Christmas morning, Mario opened the Nintendo present and was charged up. He played for a day or two. Then he went back to his iPad. And then, a couple of days ago, he found a few games that could only be played on Xbox. And all he has done over the last 48 hours is plead and beg for a Xbox. Non-stop. He and Maria gathered all their money together tonight and found a Xbox on Amazon for $171. They have $167. They want to do extra chores this weekend to get another $4 to buy it. Mario is desperate and Ri, being the sweet sis, is willing to spend all her saved money to buy it with him (she has $118 and he has $49).
So, have I learned a lesson to listen to my hubby? Yes – at least when it comes to electronics. I appreciate that he’s been gracious in his victory and not rubbed Mario’s change of heart in my face.

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Bittersweet Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013 ended up being a very rough one. Jon’s dad got sick on the 14th and couldn’t get out of bed. He had just traveled to a funeral on Friday in Canton and spoken with family members. But by the time we arrived on Sunday, he was still in bed and not saying much. I was able to sit with him and watch the football game. I didn’t say much out of deference to him – he always liked calm and quiet and I wanted to provide that to him in what we knew were his final days. Jon got to be near him and tell him he loved him on Sunday, also. What a blessing that was because he started to decline quickly on Monday. All of his children were able to get to the house before he passed on Friday. Patty was able to read him the Bible in the comforts of their home and comfort him with her smile. That is one memory I will never forget: watching her bend down to Joe and whisper “I love you” and seeing his mouth widen into a smile and say “I love you” in return. Fifty years together and committed more than ever.

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The next week was painful for all the family to experience, especially Patty and the five sons. Jon stayed in Marion most nights and the kids and I went up a couple of times to say goodbye. On Wednesday night, many of the grand kids were there – Dagmawit, Maria and Mario, Alana and Gio, Emmi and Eli (great grand kids). They played downstairs and we could hear their laughter from Joe’s room. Kevin and Chris and Jon and Patrick and Patty reminisced about times with Joe while we stood in his room. The next day, the hospice nurse told us we may want to keep it quiet for Joe. We agreed. But I do believe that Joe enjoyed hearing his grand kids downstairs one final time since he spent so much time with them over the last few years. For 90 years old, it was amazing how much he could tolerate. And how he always was ready for an embrace.

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He passed away with Patty, Jon and Chris by his side. We all went to the house that evening and celebrated him. We held his wake on Sunday and the mass on Monday. Then we came home to prepare for Christmas Eve. Needless to say, we were all spent, emotionally and physically.
We took Patty to Cincy with us on Christmas Eve. She fit right in with the rowdy Heiles (actually, after we left we realized that it’s really just me that creates the rowdiness anymore…and I do it well!). We went to Grandma Lolo’s first where Maria and Mario were quite pleased. Ri got a “real” baby doll with five sets of clothes and Mario got Skylander Swap. Of course, Mario said thanks but then immediately asked “where’s more presents?” Jon and I both had a talk with him about being grateful and it sunk in … until the next gift opening. Maria was the same way at age 5 and grew out of it; but Mario may be tougher. Needless to say, we will be practicing gratitude all year long in 2014. My mom loved getting Maria a baby doll. The two of us refuse to let her grow up and slurped up the fact that she still wanted a baby doll for Christmas.

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We ate some chocolate covered cherries (Mario was not a fan) and headed to Laura’s house (formerly Grandma Heile’s home). All my baby cousins are grown up – it is just not right. They all sit properly in their chairs and drink their wine and talk about their jobs! Maria and Mario sit all over them and rough house with the boys. They love it.

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We left Laura’s house and headed back north to wait for Santa to arrive. Ri fell quickly to sleep because “Santa would come more quickly.” Mario stayed wide awake watching Epic with Patty and then played Legos with her in the basement until 11 pm. She is a machine.
Christmas morning arrived and Ri was the first up. She laid patiently with Jon and me until Mario woke up and jumped on our bed screaming “let’s open presents!” And we were off to the races!

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I bought them a bunch of clothes and small gifts, which they opened with vigor. At the end, they both looked up and smiled but wondered if anything else was coming (Mario had begged for an iPad all season; Ri had wanted one too but was conflicted because she also wanted a sewing kit and American Girl doll clothes, and she didn’t want to be greedy). I left the room and returned with two packages and a note. Maria read the note from Santa.

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The note detailed all of the dos and don’ts of having an iPad mini. Mario could hardly hold still as Ri read. Santa told them that they have to play educational games and get off of it when their parents say so, and they have to continue to be good and giving to others. I think Ri processed it; Mario is gonna take some time!

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The next 24 hours was a whirl wind. Meg, my dad, Jack, Sarah and Jorge arrived around 10 am. We ate yummy casserole and biscuits and then took two hours to open presents. We are notorious for being slow present openers. We have to ohhhh and ahhhh. Ri and Mario found out about their Disney trip. Ri flipped out with excitement; Mario was in a state of awe. He was both excited and nervous about going without Jon or me. He still loves hanging with Jon and me, but we know he will have a blast.

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After we opened presents, my Menkedick crew took off and our Ionno crew came over. Patty and I broke out her whipped cream vodka ( yikes!) and the kids played together all day long without any fighting.

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The girls went to the park with me and Rocco and climbed all over downed trees. Times are a changing: Ri is turning into the outdoors girl while Mario is wanting to stay in all the time.

The next morning we drove to Marietta for Joe’s burial. The cemetery sat on a steep hill amidst a throng of trees that must look magnificent in Autumn. A group of Patty’s family members showed up to the cemetery and afterwards we went over to West Virginia for Italian food (now there is an oxymoron for ya). It was comforting to sit with Jon and his family and my parents during lunch.
I took in our conversation with vigor.

Decorating Grandma’s Christmas tree

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Maria begged me to come home early last night so we could decorate the Christmas tree. I made her day when I pulled in the driveway on my bike at 5:10. Although I was still talking to my work colleague, Ri jumped in my arms and whispered “thank you thank you!” With that kind of welcome, I will come home early any day. She dragged me in the house and down the steps to retrieve Grandma Menkedick’s Christmas tree standing upright in the cardboard box under the stairs. Jon would rather have a “live” tree and I would, too but I also love having something of Grandma’s so central in our house. I know that she would be proud that her tree continues to grace our living room because she always loved for me to tell her that we put it up in years’ past when she was still with us. She loved contributing in that way. And the kids love helping to resurrect it each year.
Sophie was over when we started piecing it together. She commented that it doesn’t look like a Christmas tree and Ri immediately jumped in on Grandma’s behalf.
“Just wait until we get all the branches in place. Then you will change your mind.”
And she was right. After we inserted all the branches and flushed it out in accordance with the instructions found on the original tethered but legible, delicate piece of brown paper, it looked just like a baby fir you’d find at a tree lot. Pure magic.
After that task was completed, we ran up to the attic in a mad rush to find the boxes of ornaments ranging in age of creation from 40 years to last year. Maria and Mario teamed up to lug down one box and I lugged the other. Rocco followed behind us trying to nose his way to the front of the line (which he eventually accomplished even with Mario yelling “No, Rocco!”). Maria and her sentimental self reached in to the box and pulled out an ornament that I had bought for my grandma in 1978. Mario went to grab it and she scolded him: “this is a prized possession of mom’s so you have to be gentle.” Meanwhile, Rocco gave us all heart attacks with his barreling under the tree and shaking the ornaments. However, he only broke one which is the same number I broke.

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The kids took some down time from ornament hanging and ornament admiring in order to play “hide-the-pickle” (No, it’s not some inappropriate adult game). We have an ornament that Uncle Jack gifted me in the shape of a pickle because I love pickles so much. The kids made up a game two Christmas’ ago where they hide the pickle ornament somewhere on the tree and the other kid has to find it. Loads of fun for hours! Sophie won by hiding it in such a snug place in the middle of the tree that both Ri and Mario gave up.
Finally, after the pickle game ended and the ornaments were hung, Mario placed the blue star on the top of the tree. Ri has let him do it every year because she loves to see how excited he gets when she says “ok, you can do it” (plus she gets to photograph it).

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And so, another year of Christmas tree decoration is complete… unless Rocco decides to wrestle the tree and all of its ornaments. But I think he even feels Grandma’s spirit because after a few swipes at it, he laid down to rest by its side.