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!

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. 

 

  

Expectations

I had such high expectations for my two days off work two weeks ago to be with the babes on their Spring Break. I need to learn to temper those expectations….

Thursday was great. I drove out to the farm with Rocco and Mario to pick up Ri and hang out with the family. Mario watched a scary movie in the back and chimed in to me every 15 minutes with what was going on in the chosen scene. He got two packs of donuts on the trip and surprisingly gave up on eating the last two donuts in the second pack because his stomach hurt. One day he will learn. 

We took our routine hike once we arrived. Through the woods to the vine. We had to cajole Rocco down the path so the kids could swing on the vine; it freaks Rocco out completely to see them swing on it. He jumps on them and then tears into the vine as if its an intruder. It began to sprinkle and then downpour on us as we walked along the creek. The kids asked to stay in the woods and play while we went back to the house. It’s great they are at an age they can do that. When I got back, I grabbed a sweatshirt for Mario to take back to him since the wind was picking up. Before I got to their hide-a-way, they were running through the pasture yelling “mom!” They had gotten scared of the thunder. They still do need the comfort of their mama.

We dove into birthday cake when we got back to celebrate Meg’s birthday and played a mean game of Clue.   

   

  

We took off before the heavy rain since I turn into a nervous nelly if I have to drive in that stuff.  The kids petted Rocco and we played “would you rather” as we drove home. 

Alana and Gio arrived on Friday morning for our big day at Fort Rapids! We got in our suits and packed snacks and waters and jumped in the truck for a day of bliss sliding down big slides and splashing in the lazy river.

  

We arrived to a line of folks waiting to enter. This should have been a sign. When we finally got in, the kids dispersed and I found a couple chairs to sit our things on for the day. I went down a slide by myself and looked around for the kids. I found Mario; he looked dejected. He complained that Gio kept leaving him. I grabbed a tube and he and I stood in line for 30 minutes to get on the black slide – he was finally tall enough to go down it with me. That livened him up. After we finished, we walked over to our chairs to get some snacks. The rest of the crew was standing there. Ri asked “when are we going home?” 

I could have screamed. They’d been begging to head here for a week and within an hour they were asking when we would leave. 

Deep breath. 

I smiled and said through my clenched teeth “not for a while – go have fun.” To their credit, I was rather annoyed with the place, too. They did not have enough tubes so you had to wait for people to give them up. This took forever because everyone knew they would be hard to get so they refused to give them up. Ri and Alana finally got one but then lost it when they had to go to the bathroom. Mario and Gio nabbed one illegally, I believe, but by that time it was no holds barred and I turned a blind eye….

   

   

By the time 5 pm hit, I had to admit that as much as it pained me to have spent the money I spent on tickets for the entire day (until 9 pm), I was ready to go. The kids were, too. So we rounded up our soaken things and headed home for a sleepover. When I asked the kids if they had fun, they yelled “yea!” and I decided to take that answer and run with it. We will forget the whining to come home and remember the joy of the slides. I told them if they thought the waterpark was fun to wait until they went to the Easter Egg hunt the next morning in Grandview. Ri and Mario told Alana and Gio about it and how many eggs were on the ground. Everyone shouted the number of eggs they’d get “10” “20” “100!”

We woke up Saturday morning and drove down to the park at 9:45. 5-7 year olds were right by the 8-10 year olds. Gio wanted to go with the 8 year olds since he’s 8 but Mario wanted Gio to stand next to him in the 7 year old ring. When Gio refused, Mario got irritated. And the irritation only blossomed. 

We spoke on the way down to the park about the $25 egg. Each year, one egg has a $25 savings bond in it. All the kids were predicting that they’d get it. But Mario especially wanted it. So when the hunt began, rather than diving into the eggs and swooping up as many as he could, he stared at them to see if he could see the $25 in one of them. By the time he reached down to pick one up, all the other kids had taken them. He ended up with one egg.

One. 

And that one simply had a mini Milky Way bar in it, a candy bar he hates. It was not pretty. He stomped away from all of us and pouted on the picnic table. Then the woods. I finally was able to get near him and explained to him that all the other kids only got three or four eggs so don’t sweat it.

“I hate Easter and I hate hunts. I never want to do one again!” 

Meanwhile, Ri and her cousins were scarfing down their loot. Mario finally headed back towards them after I allowed him to say a curse word under his breath. Worst mom of the year? He livened up after that word and we ended up having a great morning at the park and eating candy (so it was well worth it).

   

   

And don’t you know when we went to Grandma Ionno’s house the next day, he jumped at the chance to participate in another Easter Egg hunt.  Sometimes you just gotta let the moment ride out and what ends up happening is that it’s all fine in the end.

  

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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