Pittsburgh!

Who wants to go to Florida when you have Pittsburgh for spring break?

We again failed to plan a week-long spring break adventure with the kids. We were so on the ball when the kids were little and didn’t even know that they had a spring break – we went to Florida several years in a row. Now that they’re older and want to go places, Jon and I continue to drop the break ball and procrastinate. I did give them the DC trip for fall break though, so I don’t feel as bad.

We decided we’d hit Pittsburgh to visit sweet Elena and hang out with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days. Patty had invited the kids to Marietta at the end of the week to be with their cousins and celebrate Easter so Pittsburgh provided the perfect getaway spot for a few days. Maria wanted to leave at 6 AM on Sunday morning in order to get there by 9 AM. Mario and I talked get into leaving at 8:30 am. Mario told her he needed to play a little bit of his fortnight game before we left since he’d have no access to Xbox in Pittsburgh. I needed to walk the pup a couple of miles since I knew he would be staying inside with Jon while we were gone (although he loves it because he gets truck rides and pupucinos). We ended up out of the door by 9 AM, which I thought was pretty good.

I allowed the kids to stop at Starbucks and buy their pink drinks and a sandwich treat for the road. They had their blankets and phones, and were all snuggled in for the trek. Little did they know that I remembered to bring their books so that they could read a bit in the car. We had amazing driving weather – no clouds in the sky and a soft sun pressing on the windows. It made for a quick jaunt to Pittsburgh. We called Sarah when we were about an hour away to let her know we were close. She announced that there was an egg hunt at the Aviary. We told her we would head straight there and take Elena on the hunt.

The kids were excited at the thought of an Easter egg. They knew that they were going to miss out on the Grandview one we do every year since they would be with Patty during that time. We scooped up Elena from Sarah a few minutes after we arrived at the Aviary. We walked through the entranceway to find the Easter egg hunt. The kids were cracking up because it was just a small five foot patch of grass with a few eggs interspersed. Kids were told what type of egg to find (robin’s egg, bluebird’s egg, etc.). When a kid found the egg, he picked a plastic egg out of a big basket and opened it up to see what color ticket you got. A blue ticket got you a starburst; a green ticket got you a snickers bar. A bit different than what the kids had imagined. But they hung in there and made it fun. Elena thought it was awesome. We ended up planting ourselves there for a good two hours.

The kids got to fly a simulated flying machine. They were scared when they dipped down between tall buildings. It was hilarious to watch. They played in the penguin area with Elena. We went to storytime, which cracked us up due to the very animated older lady who read the book to us. We fed chickens after the book (the kids were pros due to MamaMeg and Peepaw’s house). We walked around to see the different birds, which Elena helped us identify. We ate lunch; the start of our fabulous eating routine. Here is Sarah and Jorge with all of their organics and granola, and here we are getting carry out pizza and chicken nuggets everywhere we go.

After the aviary, we unloaded all of our bags for a quick stop at Sarah and Jorge’s house. The quick stop included painting Easter eggs. Yet another activity that we typically do at the house before Easter but have been too busy to fit it in. I was happy that Sarah had went out and bought some supplies. After the egg coloring, we hopped back in the car and headed to Frick park. This did not go over as well as planned because we had worn sweet Elena out at the aviary. She proceeded to bawl her eyes out when Mario and I decided to play a little basketball together. But sweet Mario stopped playing in order to hold Elena on his lap and calm her down. Throughout this trip, I was amazed at his nurturing skills. Maria has always amazed me with her empathy and nurturing skills but those skills were not at the top of Mario’s list in the past so it was good to see him be able to go nurture his skills. We obeyed Sarah’s directive to have Elena back by 7 pm to put her to bed.

Maria and Mario got the joy of reading her a couple of books and trying to get her to sleep. About 30 minutes later, Mario quietly descended the stairs and proclaimed that he gives up. “She just won’t go to sleep.” He left the job to Maria. And don’t you know, she eventually got the job done. Of course, she ended up falling asleep as well. But she did rise an hour later in order to chat with us and devour some pizza we bought. She knows she’s got to get to bed at a decent hour because the little one will be up at 6:30 am ready to go. And sure enough, you could hear her asking where Meemaw and Mario were before the sun rose. We got up, brushed teeth, put on some clothes, and got E in the stroller to head to Starbucks. We ate our sandwiches and headed off to Frick with the hopes it brought more joy after a full night of sleep. The slide was still a bit wet from the earlier rain but the kids still enjoyed it. We hung on the jungle gym and Elena loved having Meemaw and Mario sweep under her arms and glide her across the playground like she was a bird.

Monday with the only nice day predicted for the week so we decided to hit the Pittsburgh zoo. The joke while we were there was how many times we went by an animal habitat and there was no animal present. The kids had wanted to hit IKEA on Monday but I refused because it was going to be nice out, and I wanted us to get outside at least one day in Pittsburgh. Hence, they loved to find no animals in their habitats and rib me about it. Although there were less than the optimal number of animals out, the most important one was out: the monkey. That is the only animal Elena wanted to see. We also got to see a giraffe, elephants, and lots of pretty fish. I don’t know what Lanae enjoyed more – the monkeys or eating animal crackers at lunch. Of course Meemaw would not let Elena eat the crackers until she finished her grapes and peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Mario enjoyed laying down the rules as well. I think the lack of rules that Jon and I have instilled has made the kids want to enforce some (but only on others)! Heaven help their children…. Mario was dead tired by the time we left, which cracks me up, because the boy can play basketball for hours or wrestle for days. But you have him walking around the zoo and he complains that his thighs are killing him.

After the zoo, we headed to Whole Foods to get ingredients for dinner. Earlier that morning, Sarah had told us that we were on our own for the day and evening because she had to work and Jorge was in Philadelphia. Maria loved that. She was so excited about “playing house.”

I could not believe the prices at Whole Foods. We bought three zucchinis and they cost nine dollars – outrageous! As I was lamenting the cost, Mario grabbed a little chocolate pretzel out of one of the bulk bins. Elena caught him. She begged for him to get one with her. They both thoroughly enjoyed engaging in some sneaky maneuvers in order to get Elena a pretzel.

As soon as we arrived home and walked in the door, Maria was ready to cook. She told me to leave and take a walk – she had the house, and kids, handled (as if she was 20 years old). And sure enough, she and Mario handled everything perfectly. She made some kick butt zucchini muffins and started dinner while Mario played with Elena. I got to unwind with a walk in the park. Maria made a yummy pasta and spinach dinner for us, which warranted her a trip to Millie’s – her favorite Pittsburgh ice cream spot. It did not disappoint.

When we returned home, I had to jump on a call. When I walked into the living room, this is what I found….

To their credit, this only lasted for about 10 minutes, and then they were up and running around and playing “pioneers” together.

Mario called it quits for trying to put Elena to bed. However, Maria stood strong and succeeded in putting her to sleep a second night in a row. Rock star. The kids played Gin Rummy while I gave Sarah a massage. The next morning, it poured rain. I tried my hardest to get us to walk to Starbucks but I could not convince the kids. Once we started driving there, I was glad that they won. Rain was coming down in buckets. We sat in Starbucks and ate blueberry muffins and oatmeal.

The kids could not wait for our Tuesday adventure. We were finally heading to IKEA! You would think that Ikea was an amusement park the way they were acting. I had read on-line that they were hosting spring break activities at the store but that ended up being a coloring table for toddlers. But that was OK; the store itself provided entertainment. Besides, Maria and Elena really just came for the Swedish meatballs.

After IKEA, we hit to the Children’s Museum because it’s not a Menkedick trip unless you go non-stop for ten hours straight. I had debated on bringing bathing suits for the kids because I knew Elena would want to play in the water play area. But, alas, I had forgotten them. I figured Elena could still splash around in the area without getting too wet. Wrong. She wanted to go fill on under the sprinklers. You know Ri was right there with her caring less that her clothes were soaked. The surprise was with Mario who typically cannot stand getting one inch of his clothing wet. He not only ran under the sprinklers but he allowed Maria and Elena to dump water on his head (but not hear his shoes). to see him because you need to pack everything and it’s tight as possible! He did it all for Elena.

Mario also ended up enjoying the art area. He pooh-poohed it at first when Ri tried to get him to sit with her. He and I and Elena ended up at a table playing blocks for a while. But then he saw kids running their artwork through a drying machine and that intrigued him. I showed him one of Maria’s creations where she traced her initials and that sealed the deal. He ended up in the area for 45 minutes making three separate creations – one with his initials, one with the word “HI”, and one in tribute to his favorite basketball player, James Harden. It warmed my heart watching him and Ri. Elena was simply concerned about getting to the ice cream store. We had promised her ice cream after the museum.

The sendoff was bittersweet, as always. We bounced the ball with Elena out back for a while – she’s got some mad basketball dribbling skills. When we went inside to gather our belongings, she found a birthday invitation from her friend. It was the cutest thing ever. She danced around proclaiming that she’d been invited to a birthday party and then she asked all of us if we wanted to go with her. Darling girl. We did several group hugs and then took off squeezed in the Volvo. The ride home was long; we were all tired, It didn’t help that we filled our bellies with gas station food.

Once we got home, we felt a mixture of relief in being in our own beds but also sadness in missing our little munch. It’s like a tornado ripped through our lives for three days but it was a tornado filled with stardust and glitter and ballerina twirls.

Sledding!

Sledding promotes good health. You get it all – you work out your heart by climbing up the hill, you work out your mind by trying to figure out where best to place your sled, and you work out your abs by laughing your butt off as you fly down the hill on your sled.

However, as much fun as it ends up being, it is a pain in the butt to get ready to sled. You have to throw on three layers of clothes (when it’s 5 degrees like it was for us), you can barely move around, and it’s impossible to pull on your boots without being able to bend at your waist. Then, there is pulling the sled out of the garage and hauling it to the car in the freezing cold. But the pay-off is huge.

Look at the smiles.



We haven’t gotten good sled riding in for a few years. We hardly got any snow last year, and the year before that the little bit of snow that we got came when both kids were out of town. I was scared half to death the first time we went down. I sat on a tiny circular plastic sled with Maria who is not shy about taking up almost all the space on it. My butt was barely in it when we took off. I just kept praying that we would not hit any rocks or ramps because I knew that my tailbone would hurt for days. The things you think about when you’re an adult. I would’ve been looking for that ramp when I was 10 years old.

We laughed so hard together as each one of us took some crazy fall or turn on the hill. I love all of us being together like that – being outdoors, being active, it’s my ideal day. And the one good thing about it being freezing cold all weekend was that the snow did not melt from the hill. Therefore, we were able to go sledding with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jack through the weekend.

Elena had no fear going down the hill as long as somebody went with her. Sarah went on a little sled with Maria. She screamed as loud as I did when I went down with her.


Sarah and I even took a sledding trip together – both on a tiny little plastic sled. Thank God Sarah has no booty. Jack was a good sport as well. He went down with Maria a couple of times and watched each time the kids yelled “Uncle Jack, watch me!” They also had to impress their Uncle Jack by going down the abandoned hill that has all of the trees interspersed on either side. It scared me half to death but, live and learn, right!?


After sledding, I got cocky that we could build a snowman as well. The snow did not pack well at all for such a task but the kids still humored me and came outside. They shook their heads as I tried to pack down the airy snow. But they saw my strong desire, and decided they would help as much as they could. In the end it looked more like a snowman jabba the hut but it was something. How boring is a normal snowman anyway?

Dis expectations and embrace appreciation

I listened to just the right podcast this weekend. I was sitting at the skate park watching Mario and his friend do tricks on their scooters. Meanwhile, there were some serious skate dudes performing incredible flips and tricks. Mario and his friend looked precious as they scootered down a small ramp and looked over at me excited about their feat.

After watching them scores of times, my mind started to drift to Thanksgiving day. We are hosting Jon‘s family this year, which takes the burden off a bit because there are not as many people for dinner. In addition, they tend to be a rather quiet crew so I do not need to worry about anything getting broken, fights ensuing, or hurt feelings at the end of the night. But I do want to have a lively, entertaining day with them; so, I started thinking of ways that we could create such an atmosphere. 

I heard about an app that allows you to record people‘s stories, and thought that we could use it to record stories of Jon’s mom and his brothers. Maria could craft five questions for each of them and post them during Thanksgiving meal. I then played my sweet husband’s reaction when I told him that that was our plan.

“Mar, you have got to be kidding. People Just want to eat dinner and relax with one another. You don’t always have to have activities happening all the time.”

So my mind moved on to something that was not so intrusive. Maybe we would have paper and pencil laid out so people could write gratitude notes to one another. We did something similar with my side of the family a few years back, and it was a lot of fun. At least for me. On further thought, I realized that only one of Jon’s family members – his mom – would really enjoy writing such notes. Scratch that idea, also.

I tend to do this to myself. Exaggerate how awesome the day is going to be and all of the things that I hope to get out of it – be it gratitude notes, interviews with family where they detail a magnificent hidden secret that we would have never known about but for the interview, incessant laughter while playing an awesome board game. Then the day comes and goes, and I am disappointed. I am disappointed because people didn’t laugh as much as I thought they would, I didn’t get to interview anybody, no one expressed gratitude to one another…..

The perfectionist mind comes into play again. But not this year, baby. 

I have set no expectations. 

None. 

Rather, I have focused on appreciation. I learned that from one of Oprah’s SuperSoul Podcasts. Yes, I never thought that I would be an Oprah podcast listener but she has some good ones on there. And you can’t help but love how she finds such joy in wanting to better understand humanity, meaning, and spirituality on a deeper level. Her guest talked about how a death knell is having expectations of anything. He said that expectations will automatically destroy you. Rather, he recommends fostering appreciation; appreciation takes it off you and puts it on others. You change your mindset from wanting to giving. I no longer want things to happen the way I expect; rather, I give appreciation to those around me and for all that I have in my life. 

And guess what? It worked! I even caught myself at the dinner table starting down that path of expectations. I hoped someone would bring up a topic that would burst into a magnificent conversation. As soon as my mind started going down that path, I took a deep breath and shoved in a pile of potatoes. I looked around the table at my hubby, who had drank a few wines and was making me laugh all day long; my kids, who were on their phones making videos of one another; and my family, who are all very different from one another but who love each other and feel comfortable enough together to simply sit at the dining room table and eat.


It’s fun to be crazy!

Maria wanted to go to Disney world for spring break this year. Mario wanted to go to Hollywood. Both of them did not get their wishes because Jon and I decided to stay low-key for spring break and do something big over the summer. As soon as Maria learned we were not going to Disney World, she immediately begged for us to go to Pittsburgh. Elena should be happy to know that she only ranks second to Disney World!

Mario decided to stay home with Jon for the four days we went to Pittsburgh. He knew that he would be able to do whatever he wanted with his dad, i.e., no mandatory reading, watching movies at anytime of day, going outside and shooting his bow in the backyard…. Maria persuaded him not to go to Pittsburgh by simply informing him that Aunt Sarah does not own a tv (Ri likes her alone time with her cousin). 

We left for Pittsburgh after Maria’s game on Saturday. She sprinted off the field and grabbed my arm.

“Come on mom, we have to get to Pittsburgh. I promised Aunt Sarah we would be there by 5:30 tonight.”

We hopped in the car and did not stop until we hit Pittsburgh traffic. Maria proceeded to tell me how the traffic was not as bad as it could he on a Saturday afternoon. It’s as though she’s been driving in Pittsburgh for years. Gotta love this girl.

As soon as we arrived, Maria jumped out of the car while I was still parking it. She ran up to the house and knocked on the door. Aunt Sarah answered with Elena by her side. Elena hugged Maria and immediately took her up to her room to play. I was quickly beckoned by the both of them to play, also. We started on a barnyard puzzle and within three minutes moved to the art table, and within four minutes moved to Elena’s bed to play airplane. She had to get all of her animals in the bed with us, including a live animal, Sarah’s dog, Little Dude. We acted like we were flying in the sky. She has such an imagination. At one point, she looked at Maria and me, and pointed her finger out the window yelling “there’s a woodpecker!” And this is how we spent many an hour over the next four days in Pittsburgh.

I forgot how draining it can be to watch a toddler all day long. It took me back to weekends with Maria at age 3 and Mario at age one. Jon and I would look at each other at 9 am, after being up for 3 hours, and wonder how it was not 5 pm. It was so conflicting – at once, you are overcome with amazement at how this toddler can find joy in an ant crawling along the sidewalk but you are also overcome with frustration at how slow this toddler is moving. You need coffee! 

However, since going through that conflict with Ri and Mario, and growing in my mindfulness practice, I am better able to appreciate the 20 minute venture with the ant. Or maybe it’s the realization that the 20 minute venture with the ant will be over in three days and I will be back to having my own time when I want it. Kinda like the grandma thing. You spoil the heck out of the grandchildren because you can send them back home at the end of the day. 

But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s draining – nothing else can be said about it. Pure drainage of energy. But would you have it any other way? It makes you strong, like you weathered a toddler war and survived intact. You got a notch on the parenting belt. And you recall those trying moments when the kid did something so sweet or hilarious or daring.  

Ri and I got plenty of those moments with Elena. Like putting together the barnyard puzzle. Maria found the head of acow that   matched the bottom of the cow piece Elena was holding. She was so excited to put the two pieces together. She exclaimed: “look Meemaw, we have a cow!” The thrill she felt in putting a puzzle together automatically translated into a thrill for Maria and me. You can’t help but smile and feel good when you are around her. Everything is amazing; everything is new; everything is worthy of attention.

Maria and I got into a routine every morning. We would hear Elena wake up, usually at 7 am, and ask Sarah “where is Aunt Mary? Where is Meemaw?” She would open the door to the guest room and climb into bed with us. No snuggling time though; instead, it was straight to jumping. Ri and I pulled ourselves up out of the covers and watched her jump and land on her butt. She’d yell “I landed on my butt!” 


Then she would direct us to jump with her. Meemaw would hem and haw but Elena would not back down (when we were driving to Pittsburgh, Maria was comparing Elena to recent dictators and confirming those dictators were weak compared to her cousin). After jumping, we’d move on to Elena’s room to play airplane and draw. Maria gave her about 15 minutes of play time in the am before Ri would push her to head to Starbucks with us. Maria needed her morning treat and I needed my coffee. Elena was happy to join us because she got treated to a tiny vanilla bean scone, which became her staple breakfast item (in addition to the spinach wrap Sarah made sure I fed her).

Elena loved Meemaw’s Strawberry Acai drink. She kept staring at her with those chestnut eyes and giving her that shy grin, and Meemaw couldn’t resist. You know you are loved by Meemaw if she shares her drink with you. 


After our Starbucks’ adventure, we’d head to Frick Park. The first day kicked our butts; Ri and I are not used to those hills! I am a former Cincinnati girl so I should be able to handle it, but I was pooped. We always had a good time at Frick. Maria loves the concrete slide. She found card board in one of the trash cans before we even got to the park. It was a tiny piece of board but she was able to still fly down the slide. She even got Elena to slide down with her.
But Elena enjoyed the ropes most of all. Sarah told me she had never really gone on the ropes before we took her. She did an amazing job maneuvering in and out of them, and was so proud of herself. She must’ve stayed on those ropes for 45 minutes one morning. She would counsel Meemaw and I as we climbed to the top of the rope tower. 

“Be careful to not knock your head”, she’d yell up to us. 



Elena especially loved tricking Meemaw on the slide. Ri would sit at the end and pronounce “I hope no one runs into me on this slide. I’m trying to sleep!” Elena would giggle up the steps and run across the bridge to slide into Ri. She laughed hysterically. Then she’d promise not to do it again and run up to do it again. Meemaw has much patience.


We also engaged in Operation Bunny Watch each time we went for a walk. We were determined to find a bunny. We never did. Of course, as soon as Maria and I returned to Columbus, we spotted a bunny. Next time we head to Pittsburgh, they better be out. 

After an hour or two at the park, we’d head home to have some lunch and to draw. Meemaw and I would get a little break to eat some soup and sandwich and Elena would get to see her mama. But, after about an hour, we’d hit the road again. We went to the Science Museum on Sunday afternoon and spent about four hours there.  I was thrilled to see Elena so happy with us. In the past, she has missed her mama but not this time. Finally! She loved looking around and watching Meemaw climb the space station. 


We went over to the Sports Center, and almost had her on one of the bars that you hold onto and get lifted up. She watched other kids and waited in line but when it was her turn, she backed out. Ri took her turn. Then Ri led us to a little bullet. You sit in the bullet and you get taken through the entire body. It shakes when you go through the stomach and gets really dark when you get into the intestines. However we don’t know anything more than that because Elena started screaming at the top of her lungs pretty much as soon as the ride began. I was ready to strangle Maria since my aunt intuition told me that Elena would probably not like the ride. I started banging on the door with the hopes that the attendant would open up the bullet. After banging for what seemed like minutes, he finally opened it up. The family of three sitting behind us were still holding their ears when we exited. Lovely.

Elena’s favorite part of our Science Museum trip was the submarine. She loved moving through the “holes.” These were the tiny doors that we had to go through during our trip down the submarine. She thought it was so fun to get picked up and put through the door to Meemaw, and then to run through the submarine to the next door. She could have cared less about the dining or sleeping areas or even all the gadgets. She just wanted holes!

But even more than the sub’s holes, she loved the M&M’s we bought her at the end of our tour.  I swear I felt like my 80-year old grandma throughout the trip because Elena knew that her aunt Mary would always get her chocolate – just like my grandma would always give me chocolate when I came to her house. 

Sarah and Jorge took us to a crazy good hamburger joint Sunday night. The joint also had amazing milkshakes. Maria could not wait to order hers after our meal, and Sarah accidentally ordered one for Elena as well. That girl was in seventh heaven (as was Maria!). 


On Monday, we hit our Starbucks and the park. We laughed hysterically at Starbucks because we got subjected to the “Elena poop time.” This is where Elena goes to a corner of the room and squats and pushes out a poop in her diaper. If that’s not good enough, while she is squatting, she yells out “Get away! I’m pooping!” Men and women would walk by her and squat down to say hello. She would turn her head and demand that they go away because “I’m pooping!” How precious. 

After we changed a massively poop-filled diaper, we left for the park. Elena made Maria so happy by going down the slide with her.


Elena also learned to jump off the swing since Meemaw did it. Her face lit up when she realized she accomplished it. We had to book it home that morning because Elena had a gymnastics session at 11 am. Whoa, that took me back to watching Maria and Mario at Wendy’s Gymnastics. Those little feet and little fingers grabbing the bars and tumbling over. So cute! I was so mad that I forgot my camera because I would’ve taken 100 pictures. 

We came home to broccoli soup and pork sandwiches. After our hour of rest, we decided to go to the children’s museum. Maria loves this museum with all of her heart, especially the art room. We got in another full afternoon at the museum with our muncho. Last time we went to the museum, Elana was scared to death to climb in the climbing area. But this time, she was a pro with Maria. She likes her space, however, so when a kid came up to try to crawl with her, she started to cry. Maria handled it beautifully – being her bodyguard – and telling the kid to shoo away. 


Elena was hilarious in the art room. Maria wanted to stay in the silk screen station to make a collage for Elena’s room so she was parked there for 45 minutes. Elena sat there for the entire time making newspaper bracelets for me. She would tape a piece of newspaper around my wrist, draw on it, and then cut it off. This process was repeated several times over but with the same glee as the first time.

Maria moved over to the painting station next. I thought this would be a lot of fun for Elenda. It was at first, but then she dripped a dot of paint on her shoes. She looked down at them and then back up at me, and began to cry. By this time, Maria and I were experts at how to calm her down. I whipped her shoe off and told her that I would wash the paint off. She calmed down and began painting again. Meemaw and she created masterpieces together. 


Next, we went up to the water play area. Maria was so excited to get in her bathing suit with Elena. At first, Elena was hesitant to go into the sprinklers with Maria but then she warmed up to it and began to allow Maria to run through the sprinklers holding her. Maria allowed Elena to dump a bucket of water on her head. The more water she can pour on herself, the better. Elena hung in with the water-loving Ri for a while but then went from loving the water play to “let’s go home!” We had a trying time getting dry because we didn’t bring towels. We may have killed a couple of trees in the process of drying off. 


We cranked out some more art to warm us up after the water play. Elena cut out circles, triangles and squares for her silk screen. The girl is so smart for her age, and picks up on everything. She definitely takes after her aunt Mary….


We headed home to get in some roller skating and bike riding down the hill n at Sarah’s house. Maria loved the hill. She about gave me a coronary arrest her first time on it because she let go of my arm and went flying down the hill by herself. She was either hitting the guard rail and flipping down a hill of brush to the highway or she was veering right to even out on a flat surface. I ran after her as hard as I could when she let go – about ripped both hamstrings – but she was way too fast. I just stood and prayed to whoever or whatever would listen. She veered right and I fell to the ground and nearly cried. She rolled back up towards me in pure exhilaration. 

“That was great!”

Yea, I’m gonna be popping anti-anxiety pills during her teen years.  Elena joined up with us riding her red bicycle. The two of them looked hysterical together. 

We sat up in the evening with Sarah and Jorge talking politics, school, living arrangements (Ri wants them to move to Columbus so badly), publishing, Oaxaca. I enjoyed downloading from the day and spending a couple of hours just talking about random things before bed. Back at home, I always feel pressure to get some work done, fold the laundry, dishes washed, and by the time all of that is done there’s no time to talk. 

We hit Starbucks and Frick Park again on Tuesday morning. Elena gave those irrisistable eyes to Ri again and got many sips of her refresher drink. We walked our normal path to the park and spotted our two balloons flying from a gate post. There was a yellow one and a blue one. However, the yellow one had burst. Elena kept questioning why the yellow one was little,  and not like the blue one. I explained that it burst, which she found hysterical. She had to examine it before we moved on to the park. Another moment where us adults look at a burst balloon as nothing more than a piece of garbage hanging off a fence post but this little munch sees it as a fascinating question to be solved. 

We spent nearly two hours at the park sliding and playing on the ropes. Ri and I are convinced she’s going to climb the Alps.

We had our afternoon planned out with an exciting trip to the Aviary and then to the children’s museum if we had time. We stole Sarah’s license so that we could get in free to the museum. Ri took my hair out of my ponytail and tried to give me bangs and glasses so that I could look like Sarah. Elena freaked. I quickly put my hair back up in a pony and she calmed down. It was no hope anyway – Sarah looks 15 in her picture and I’m lucky to look 40! 

We parked near the Aviary and hopped our way over to it (Elena’s new favorite move is to hold our hands and hop between us). We walked up to the doors of the Aviary and saw a sign that announced the Aviary was closed for the day. Are you kidding? Of all days….Well, if Peepaw taught us anything, it’s to make lemonade out of lemons. We trekked over to the museum and got in without a glitch. I was lamenting on the way over about missing out on the Aviary and Ri reminded me that it was a “first world problem” and “who cares, we get a second day at the museum!”

It was as if we’d never gone to the museum. They both played at all the same displays and had a blast. More newspaper bracelets, more ball throwing, more clay houses, more meditating in the egg chair. 


And what did we do with the extra time by not hitting the Aviary? We walked to Mike’s Ice Cream and got giant scoops of ice cream for $2! The owner informed us he was retiring soon so we were lucky to get the last bit of ice cream. It was delicious, especially eating it under the big oak tree.


We made one last stop before heading home on Tuesday since we knew we were leaving the next day. We had to go out with a blast! We stopped at Schendley Park and took a mini hike to the creek. Elena asked me to find rocks for her and then she’d chuck them into the stream. Hilarious. She let Meemaw hug all over her, which made Meemaw’s day. 


We arrived home a bit exhausted but proud of our day full of adventures! And god love Elena – we dragged her in the car 20 minutes away for a fancy dinner. She hit the wall as soon as we ordered and Sarah took her out to nurse her. She immediately crashed but woke up when Sarah carried her back in the restaurant. We were going to get our food to go but Jorge convinced us to wait and see how she did. And don’t you know the girl rebounded and hung in there with us throughout our entire dinner? As we were leaving, she looked at Sarah and pleaded “can we go home and play all night?” She has the partying gene in her, for sure.

We came home and jumped off the back of the couch for a bit, played puzzle, and took an airplane ride before Sarah called it a night on behalf of Elena. 


Sarah, Jorge, Ri and I played Bananagrams after Elena fell asleep. Sarah whooped on us but I got her the last game! Jorge let Ri join her team and they were cracking us up with their word choices and dialogue back and forth. 

We stayed up too late and 6:50 am came real quick…. Jorge laughed at us later in the day and said he knew Ri and I broke that morning because we could barely keep up with Elena when she pulled us out of bed. The other mornings we were energized and raring to go! I actually think it was just sadness, knowing that we had to leave. After all, as Elena stated at one point during our stay “it’s fun to be crazy!” We had crazy fun and with this girl for three straight days, and it was pure magic. 

Mini-Pittsburgh trip

Our weekends have been so full this Fall between sports that we have not been able to schedule any weekend outings. But Ri freed us up a bit with her soccer concussion – way to take one for team, Ri-bee! Now we have Saturdays free so we used the newfound freedom to head to Steeler country and visit Sarah, Jorge and sweet Elena for a couple of days.

I picked up the kids at noon on Friday, which absolutely made Mario’s day. He actually begged to not go to school at all Friday morning…. (I’m telling ya, I will not be surprised when he leaves us at age 15 for Hollywood – the latest place he wants to live). Ri was more excited at the thought of seeing Elena then getting out of school (unlike Mario she “loves school so much”). We hit I-70 with our bags of snacks and water bottles. 

I loved the drive out to Pittsburgh because we talked nearly the entire trip. Ri gave us her vocabulary words and we thought up sentences for them. Mario looked at our Atlas book and decided he wanted to visit Australia. They read some. We geeked out at the “Welcome to West Virginia” sign and then the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign soon thereafter. Those moments boost me up more than any energy drink ever could. 

We arrived to Pittsburgh traffic but – as Ri pointed out – not as bad of traffic as it could be. She’s been to Pittsburgh a handful of times but she knows the city like the back of her hand…. We finally hit our exit and waited at the light to turn up Poucousset Street. Ri observed that the intersection looked like an intersection in Oaxaca with the painted mural on the stone wall, the gas station and the one-story stone building. Gotta love this perceptive girl. 

We arrived at Sarah’s house with the kids fighting over who got to present Elena with her Frozen book. Ri gave in to Mario and let him present it to her. Sarah opened the front door holding Elena in her arms. The kids yelled surprise and Elena made a hilarious “O” face and held out her hand like an officer directing traffic. She is a card! She immediately jumped down and played with the kids. Within five minutes, she was directing Ri and Mario to jump on the bed with her.


Mario couldn’t wait to go to the park and try out the cement slide. He had heard about it from Ri when she went to Pittsburgh and it sounded awesome. The rain was heading towards the city so we loaded up the kids and drove to Frick Park. The slide did not disappoint.


Elena loves the rolling hills at the park so she held our hands and led us in their direction. The kids ran down the hill in a scene reminiscent of Little House on the Prarie, minus the face plants. Elena likes to act like she’s sleeping and Ri has to wake her up. She also likes to climb on Ri and Mario’s backs. Oh, and she loves to eat grass, much to Sarah’s irritation. 


As it started to sprinkle harder, we decided to pack it up and hit the hotel pool for some swimming action. We all could have eaten Elena up in her swimsuit and floaties. 


The hotel pool seemed minuscule compared to our visit four years ago. And they got rid of the hot tub! The hot tub is Maria’s and Mario’s favorite. 

The pool was freezing when we jumped in and sweet Elena was shivering within ten minutes. We lasted about 30 minutes altogether – the kids got to act out lines as they jumped in the pool and Elena loved watching Ri do cannonballs. 

We got dressed and you guessed it – we headed out for another adventure. This time to the Union of Pig and Chicken. They serve southern goodness – baked beans, collard greens, brisket, corn bread. Ri was all up for it; Mario, aka “picky eater” was not. He ordered plain nachos. While he ate those, we could not get enough of our food. Delicious!


We could not fathom dessert after that spread so we dropped off Elena and Sarah at their house and headed back to the hotel to watch some cheesy Nickolodeon movie and lay in our pjs. We did end up getting ice cream bars and KitKats later in the evening, however….

Mario woke up at 6:30 am Saturday morning. I purposely drew the heavy curtains with the hope the darkness would keep him sleeping. No luck. He is a night owl and an early morning bird! I made him lay with me until 7:15 am and then Ri woke. I thought for sure they’d want to go to the pool but they had no desire. They just wanted to see Elena. I called Sarah at 8 am and for once Elena was still sleeping! We wore that girl out. To our glee, by the time we got packed up, checked out and got Starbucks, she had awaken and was ready to see us. 

We pretty much hopped right back in the car as soon as we arrived and headed 40 minutes outside of Pittsburgh to a pumpkin patch. It was still sprinkling outside as we drove. We kept hoping it would stop and clear up. Meg and dad met us at the patch and informed us we just missed a massive downpour before we arrived. I guess a few sprinkles is nothing compared to a downpour. Dad probably just said that so we’d keep the sprinkles in perspective….

The clan headed straight to the corn maze. Mario and Maria darted into the entrance and loved trying to find their way around. I have never been a big fan of corn mazes; they freak me out. But the kids love them and Elena seemed to love it, also. At the end of the maze, they had a sledgehammer game where you try to hit the ball to reach the bell at the top. It looked a lot easier than it was, I can say that much. Mario tried with all of his might to get it up to the top. He accomplished the feat on the miniature one!


They had a slingshot area where you tried to shoot a tennis ball at a target. Mario got quite a few at the first target; Jorge and I cracked up at our attempts at the farther target. 


They also had a tube slide and inflatables. Elena loved the kiddie inflatable but she wanted Maria in it with her the entire time. Mario loved racing Ri and I in the other inflatable – he won by ten seconds each race. Ugh! They also had a petting zoo and lots of animals to see, including little chicks and a piggy. My favorite! It was Elena’s favorite as well. 

Our last activity was the hay ride to find pumpkins. We found Elena a tiny  pumpkin as we looked for the most perfect colored and shaped pumpkin in the patch to put on our porches. I loved a white squat one but another person grabbed it. Mario nabbed a pretty bright orange one with a curved stem. Maria ended up with a monster of a pumpkin weighing 32 pounds! I got a multicolored one – green and orange. We all walked away happy. 


The rest of the gang was ready to call it a day four hours after we had arrived but the kids and I decided we needed one more round of pig watching and haunted house viewing, and we still needed to go apple picking. We kissed our gang  goodbye and headed up to see our pig. Then we went to the haunted house, and ended the day picking golden delicious and gala apples from the orchard. I figured we’d head home from the pumpkin patch but the kids wanted to see Elena one more time. 

So we loaded ourselves into the car and headed back to Sarah’s house. Are you tired yet?! We scooped up Elena and took her to the park while Sarah took a run. In typical Mary style, I allowed Elena to play in the mud and get her hands full of it. In typical Maria style, she joined in the mud-fest and got it all over her. In typical Mario style, he stayed far away and was repulsed. I was cracking up. But I knew better they to let Sarah see Elena with mud-filled hands so we darted to the water fountain and cleaned her off before Sarah ended her run. There was no way to clean Ri but Sarah wasn’t surprised that she was full of dirt! 

After the park, the kids wanted to take Elena to target to look at toys. Yes, we hopped in the car for one last trip. The kids were fascinated with Target because it had a parking garage and an escalator. Hilarious. We got Elena a new fall outfit and played with toys in the toy aisle. Yes, all Frozan items….

We bought some nutritious Lunchables for the ride home and packed back into the car to head to Sarah’s house. I packed up my car with our goodies while Ri and Mario gave kisses to Elena and told her they loved her. We packed ourselves into the car with pumpkins by our sides and Lunchables in laps. Earlier, my key had gotten stuck in my car so I had to park it at the top of Sarah’s narrow driveway to avoid someone stealing it. I reversed the car in the dark trying to see behind me. As soon as I merged in between the two houses, I thought to myself “watch the side view mirrors.” I might as well have willed me to hit one against the brick wall. CRUNCH!

I let out a few choice words only to hear Maria whisper up to me “it could be worse mom, you could have gotten in a huge wreck.” That’s my girl. Perspective. After all, I could still see out of the side mirror through all the cracks.

Jorge and Elena came our to check on us and after laughing about the craziness of it all, I drove off into the Pittsburgh night with the kids watching Spellbound and devouring their ham and crackers. 

Roller derby girl

Grandma Ionno bought roller skates at a garage sale for $2. Alana and Gio were with her at the time so they scored the skates. They brought them over to our house a couple of weeks ago to show them off. Maria begged to use Gio’s skates so she could ride with Alana. He graciously let her borrow them, and then agreed to let her buy them for $10. She loves skating. I’ll come home from work and she’ll be skating down our driveway trying to turn the corner to the sidewalk. She and Alana made up skating routines when Alana stayed with us for a few nights. One night I came home from work and cracked up at the two of them – they looked like total roller derby chicks. Maria especially with her short shorts and muscular legs, and her look of fierceness. 


There is no doubt she’d be taken in the first round of eleven year old derby draft. Mario watched her having so much fun that he begged to get a pair of roller blades. Maria begged on his behalf since she always helps him out with his pleading, and because she wanted someone to ride with when Alana went back home. Mario was not quite as smooth on his blades as Ri was on her skates. And he wasn’t quite as addicted to them as Ri. 

But he continued to give it a try, especially because he got to try it in our kitchen one night when it was raining outside. I had stalled them from going outside until I finished dishes.

“Now it’s raining, mom, and we can’t skate.”

Alas, mom comes through and pushes the table out of the way so they have some room in the kitchen to skate. The small things in life that bring joy.


They had me cracking up the way they were running into the counter and table. That is, until Mario rammed into me as I sat on the family room floor watching them. He took out my shin, which has yet to recover, with his roller blade. Ouch. He called it a night after that collision, as well as me. 

But not Ri, not our roller derby gal.

Wait a minute 

Thanksgiving arrived abruptly this year. In years’ past, I spent a week pre-festivities getting things together and prepping the house for thanks and gratitude. After all,Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I am a big believer in gratitude and its positive effects on your life. NPR had a clip about gratitude the day before Thanksgiving. I gratefully got to take a walk with the pup before work and listened to the entire interview. Researchers conducted a study of a group of patients who recently suffered heart attacks. One group wrote in a gratitude journal for weeks after the heartatrack and the other group did not. The group who kept a journal got better more quickly. Other studies have shown that people who practice gratitude tend to be more hopeful, joyful and content. 

The last couple of years, I’ve created a gratitude tree for Thanksgiving. The kids have helped to cut leaves out of construction paper and I’ve had family write down what they are thankful for and hang their leaf on a twig. I tried to even have family members go around at the dinner table and pronounce something or someone that they are grateful for but Jon always gives me the look (deep down, I know he’s grateful for me and my antics nonetheless).

However, this year,Thanksgiving snuck up on me like a burglar. I barely had time to set the table much less create a tree. We had Jon’s family over this year. All of his brothers were in town for the holiday, which is a rare treat. Maria was in seventh heaven because she got to stay with Patty for three days straight and sleep over with her girl cousins, Alana and Dagmawit. Mario loved hanging with his boy cousins, too.  

The traditional Thanksgiving meal was served, and it was carb heaven. Patty’s corn casserole, potatoes, Patrick’s stuffing and rolls. We were able to get the adults around the dining room table, too, which was nice. The kids acted goofy and rambunctious in the other room. 

After the meal, I took the pup for a walk with Chris and Connie and Michael and Debbie. It felt good to move a bit. None of us were ready for all the desserts even at the end of the night. The carb overload was too much. We were ready for some music serenades though. Maria and Alana gave us a short concert.  

Amy and Zach stopped by for a bit after dinner and chatted it up with us. We commiserated over plantar fasciitis and leg aches. Rocco flipped out when he saw Zach; he recognized him immediately. Zach was our life-saver when Rocco was a pup; he let him out two times a day and tossed the stick with him all the time. 

Margie and I talked about raising these girls of ours and all the joy and heartache in that task. Michael and Debbie talked about their biking adventures. I had Connie watch the you tube clip on awareness that Meg posted on FB. I figured she’d appreciate it in her social work role. 

The girls couldn’t get out of the house quick enough to head home with Patty. They were so excited to do blind makeovers on each other. And Mario was stoked about sleeping over at Gio’s because they were gonna play video games all night.

Jon and I got a breather on Friday morning. I got in a good workout and he got in a farm auction. Then the entire crew and more joined us on Friday evening to celebrate the matriarch’s birthday. 

How is Patty 76?! The woman looks and acts half that age. She’s unbelievable.  

I loved seeing all the cousins get together and play. It reminds me of hanging out with my cousin Kerry on special occasions. And sweet Baby Harper joined us in the celebration! She is such a doll; she goes to anyone and smiles non-stop. Maria plopped her right on her hip and carried her from room to room. Mario glued on to Isaiah as soon as he walked in the house. He loves Isaiah because he is an amazing athlete. He wanted to play b-ball with him but it was raining. 

The boys went with me to pick up the pizzas for dinner. I put on some electronica jams for them and turned around to this vision.  

Heaven help me. 

We sat at the dining room table and debated whether Kevin dangling a friend from his feet out a three story window was funny or not (Kevin was a young lad at the time). Then we moved onto other childhood antics (no matter what occasion the story of Chris and Jon taking all the milk and making Patrick use water for his cereal comes up!). After the pizza was demolished and we had a break on conversation, the kids and I found candles and decided on one single one to light in the pie. We gathered around and sang happy birthday to Patty. She was overcome with emotion. “This is only the third birthday party I’ve had in my lifetime.” I’ve got my eyes on a huge one for 80.   

   
Margie and I took the girls for a walk after dessert. Ri had no desire to go but Alana and Dag wanted to go so she succumbed. Margie and I got to talk about motherhood again, and the challenges that come along with it. Both our gals are rather strong-willed, which we love but also can lead to trying times. If we can make it through those teen years though, they will be leaders with their personalities! When we got home, the girls waltzed downstairs and sang us a song in their get-ups….  

  
And, of course, I had to irritate Jon at least once during the holidays by asking everyone to gather around for a family picture. Carrie moved us towards the steps for a different pose this year and it only took fifteen minutes for all of to situate who should be where. But we did it! 

 Ionno Thanksgiving 2015!