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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Watching Ms. Elena

God bless it’s hard to watch a six month old baby! I forgot what those days were like with Ri and Mario – where they need pretty much constant attention and cry like banchees when their mama leaves. I was whooped after an hour and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the front door open. Ri gave up after about 20 minutes and played video games with Mario. Smart girl. That actually helped me because Elena appreciated the quiet and sat with me for 20 minutes chowing on her sweet potatoes! But holy cow, it took my undivided attention to keep her happy.

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Yes, the selfies actually helped. She likes looking at herself in the mirror. My only goal was to not have her crying when Sarah got home. I had to prove I was a worthy babysitter! Mission accomplished. Once Sarah walked in the door though she was a much happier camper.
And Ri was back in full-on mode following Sarah and Elena everywhere. Sar asked if Ri wanted to hold her in the Ergo Baby and Ri jumped at the chance. Did that work out good or what?!
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She walked around with her for 25 minutes straight; Elena’s eyes fixated on the Christmas lights and objects throughout the house. And, of course, on her awesome older cousin. Now I know the magic bullet when we babysit her next time….
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Gratitude to the core

I find myself feeling grateful so very often these days. The gratitude
is down in the core of my being – entrenched and unmovable. I find myself getting worried about losing the feeling because that would suck, I think to myself when I get caught in my “what can I worry about today phase.” I can’t remember a time in my past that this sense of gratitude was as strong, and I want it to stay. It makes me calmer and more content and more compassionate.
The kids and I went to Cincy on Friday to visit my mom over the holiday weekend. I had memories of Ri as an infant and me heading down on a Friday after work to sleep for an entire night while mom got up with Ri every two hours. And memories of Ri and Mario playing in the Timbers pool while Grandmas Heile and Menkedick sat on the side of the pool belly laughing at their antics.
We brought Rocco with us which ended up being great. He played nicely with Lou. We were going to leave him with Jon but when we went to load up the car, he ran out and hopped in the trunk and refused to budge. We even yelled “Treat!” but to no avail. He did great in the car. Just stared our the window and laid down. Stared and laid down.
We hit Blue Ash pool even though it was freezing. Mario and Ri loved the slide. They showed off their swim strokes to Grandma Lolo. Then we headed to the baby pool for old times sake. Besides, it was 20 degrees warmer. Aunt Julie came to swim with us and revved things up with her energy. She grabbed Ri and I to go off the diving boards. She got everyone in line – from old to young – to play follow the leader. We were doing splits, touching toes, you name it. Hysterical. Ri watched her aunt in amazement. Julie even went down the slide with her. TMF – Julie’s signature letters for “too much fun!”

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As we headed to the car, Julie announced “I’m sitting in the way back!” Ri and Mario pleaded to sit with her for the half mile way home. Hysterical.
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When we got home, Grace was back so the kids played downstairs while Liz and I caught up. That lasted a while but then they begged to go to the park. I love Blue Ash park so it was not hard to convince me. Plus Grace-bug is irresistible.
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We arrived home to pizza and a little Walking Dead for Mario and Grandma Lolo. It was just like old times (minus the Walking Dead!).
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I drove home with two happy kids in the back seat, an exhausted pup in the hatch, and the contentment of a day well spent.
We woke up on Saturday morning and headed right back out again. This time Jon drove. He dropped us off at Riesbecks and headed to big Mario’s to do farm chores. The kids and I went to the farm to visit baby girl Elena. She is growing like a weed at 9 pounds. Her face has changed from a newborn face to an infant face in the matter of two weeks. I could not believe it. And her little thighs had some meat on ’em! M&M were so happy to hold her and love on her.
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Elena even opened her eyes for a while and took us crazy Menkedick Ionnos in full force. It’s precious to hear her cooing and sighing and breathing on you. She is vocal – there is no doubt she will voice her opinions just like us Menkedick gals.
Ri begged to stay out on the farm. She wanted Mario to stay, too, but he wanted to come home with Jon and I. Ri was not swayed; she had no issues waving goodbye to us.
Jon drove Mario and me home. Mario watched Willy Wonka and I read some Vela. Every few miles I’d glance over at Jon and a smile would form on my face. And the awesome feeling of gratitude swelled through my core.>

Whoppin’ weekend

It started with a rompin’ tee-ball game on Friday night. Mario was his goofy self diving after balls and making silly faces while standing on the plate. He and his buddy, Ben wrestled each other for the ball and wrestled each other while waiting to bat. Tee-ball is organized chaos but the coaches are dedicated and patient with the kids – much more than I could be.

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We headed to Doris and Kim’s house to catch the Grandview bike races. The kids were in heaven with all of the partying along our old street, 2nd Avenue. Bounce houses, lemonade stands, soccer balls. Mario wrestled with his buddies on the curb for most of the evening – they are lucky they didn’t roll into the street and get pummeled by the bikers.
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Meanwhile, Ri and her girlfriends played barbies at one of her friend’s house and were content staying out of the chaos for the rest of the evening. I left around 9:30 to go make party bags for my softball gals. Jon partied hard with the kids and pulled up to the house around 10:45 with both kids still wide awake.
We got a visit from the Overbeck crew on Saturday morning. They partied hard at ComFest on Friday night and visited us before heading back to Cincy. Mario loved having Robert and Cy watch him throw baseballs and Ri ran to Aunt Laura when she arrived. Ahh, the love.
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Ri’s last softball game of the regular season was at 3 pm Saturday – right in the thick heat of the day. The girls kicked it up a notch and won 11-2. I was so proud of them.
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Ri rocked it at bat – had two hard hits down the third base line. She is a muscle up at bat – little compact thing. After the game, we had root beer floats and I gave the girls each a gift bag with a picture frame and picture of the team, a card, and candy and sunflower seeds (their favorite during games). I had so much fun coaching them and watching them come together as a team.
Jack and Sofia came to watch Ri play and she was pumped. Then they took her to Noodles with them to grab dinner. She talked the entire dinner telling them stories about the family and asking them questions about themselves. At one point, Ri burped. She looked a little embarrassed and Jack chimed right in saying “it’s ok girl I just let one out myself.” She smiled and giggled. That’s my bro, always making us laugh. Next they played Wii. Ri and Mario made Mii characters of Jack and Sofia, which was hilarious. Then they played baseball with Jack. More hilarity. Then we had to hit Jeni’s so Sofia could experience the goodness.
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A huge downpour occurred as we ate outside. Everyone was scrambling towards the indoors or under the awnings but not Ri and Mario. They ran right out into it and got soaked. That’s my babes.
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On Sunday, I woke up with a killer migraine. I knew exactly what it was from. Dehydration. I had ran, lifted, biked, done hot yoga, mowed the grass, weeded, and stood in the heat for two hours. I wonder why I was dehydrated…. Jon took Mario to Big Mario’s and Ri stayed to nurse me. She got out pictures for us to look at and rubbed my feet. Then she asked “do you want me to go to Sofie’s house so you can sleep?” I knew what that meant – she was bored to death. And so she went and I slept the entire afternoon. I finally woke to somewhat less of a headache. I drank more water. I rested. I was finally able to take a walk with Rocco and the girls at 5:30. I hate wasting a Sunday like that but I now will gulp water all day. Ri and Sofie enjoyed Stauf’s bagels and acting like they were guzzling wine (Stauf’s syrups).
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Meanwhile, Mario was not playing around. He was dead serious as he shot his beebee gun at his target. Jon said he stood in the rain for a half hour shooting. It’s his nirvana. He loves heading out to Mario’s with Jon and Jon loves taking him. It is their bonding experience now and I’m sure for years to come. Mario absolutely is smitten when Jon tells him they are going.
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Jon rang the doorbell at 9:45 pm with a sleeping boy in his arms. He transported him to me and I took him to his room. He looked like a sleeping cub. I checked on Ri and she was sprawled out like a starfish. Love.>