Precious

This happened on Friday night.

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Jon treated Ri to a father/daughter dinner and let her pick the destination. She chose Bravo. The girl goes classy. They dropped Mario off at Kids Night Out first and then went out on the town.
I was busy driving home from Toledo Ohio after an entire day participating in a mediation at the courthouse. I dreaded the drive all week but in the end, it was rather pleasant. Timbits, coffee, the sunrise, and NPR for two and a half hours with no interruption was quite amazing.
Ri and I drove out to the farm on Saturday to visit the munchball baby girl (forget Sarah, Grandma Meg and Peepaw)! She was so excited all morning to leave for the farm and refused to come home until late on Sunday so she could get maximum time with Elena. She is fricken cute as can be.
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We took Rocco out with us so he could run around the farm like a wild man, which he promptly did. He refused to sit in the trunk when Ri was in the back seat so she allowed him to lay his head on her lap the entire way.
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Ri was in seventh heaven when I left her at the farm. Baking cookies with Sarah and changing Elena’s diapers. She is a baby whisperer at age nine – she is gonna make big bucks as a babysitter in a few years. This picture Sarah took of her reading to Elena makes my heart sing.
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Look at those chunk a lunk wrists! Eat her up!
Meanwhile, Mario and Jon hung out together. Mario’s favorite person to hang with lately – his pops. Jon can do no wrong. If Mario overhears me asking Jon to do the dishes, he butts in and tells me how dad has had a hard day and he should be able to relax. If I comment on my strength when I pick up a Christmas box, he puts me in my place by telling me dad is much stronger. But I’m not complaining – I think it is precious. Jon is great about taking him to his basketball practices on Saturday and Sunday and watching him play for two hours. And Mario loves having his undivided attention. I went to watch him play on Sunday and it was a trip watching him move up and down the court with his buddies. It was also sweet to see Jon rooting him on.
I think he liked having Jon and me all to himself for a day. I woke up with him on Sunday morning at 6:45 am (heaven help me) and played Wii Kartz with him for an hour. He was so excited that I would play with him. Obviously, doing homework with him, taking walks with him and eating with him pales in comparison to playing Wii with him. And then Jon played Wii basketball with him. He was in such a great mood. But the best was when we arrived home from his basketball practice at 1:30. He threw off his coat and ran to the family room.
“Come on dad, let’s watch the Bengals beat the Browns!” He flipped on the tv and sat on the couch right next to the spot Jon always sits.
Precious.>

Football and cake = an August weekend

We made it out to the farm on Saturday with enough time to eat lunch, eat cake and play one badminton game. But Ri got to soak it up a bit longer out there with her friend Henley. Jon, Mario and I had to head back to Columbus for his Meet the Team night in the Grandview Stadium.
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Ri and Henley had a good time holding Elena and riding the horses and playing yoga kickball with Peepaw and Jorge. Poor Henley took a hike with me and Ri and fell on her back as she tried to swing on a vine. Then she got stung by a bee. I’m not sure a trip back to the farm will be happening soon for her…!
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I always forget how self sufficient Ri is on the farm. She’s completely able to traverse the farm without any issues, and when she falls she just picks herself up and keeps truckin’. A true farm gal. But we gave kudos to Henley for not giving up and trying that vine again. She succeeded at swinging on it the second time.
Meanwhile, Mario, Jon and I went to Meet the Team night. Mario was in his element with his guys. He soaks up that testosterone and jumps right into all the boy antics.

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The high school boys came out last and all the younger boys get to form a line on each side of them to cheer them on. We watched Mario smile as he slapped the high school boys’ hands. The high school boys got to introduce themselves and name their favorite breakfast food. Mario will fit right into this football group based on the answers we were hearing. I believe 80% of the boys answered that their favorite breakfast food was donuts or pancakes.
After the stadium event, the Touchdown Club held a gathering at the Italian Club down the street. We weren’t going to attend but after sitting around the house for an hour, we decided to head down. Mario was again in his element. He partied it up with his football buddies tossing the football and running around the place. He even jumped on stage without hesitation when Gangum Style came out of the speakers.
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We had to drag him out of the building at 9:30 to head home.
While Ri and Henley were trying to read to Elena Sunday morning, Mario was chowing on eggs and waffles preparing for his first football game.
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Jon headed up to the field with Mario at 11 am. He had to get weighed in and practice before the noon game. I gasped when I saw him – big ol’ shoulder pads and jersey with his name on it. He looked like a miniature pro football player.
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He was ready to play. He has no desire to throw or catch the ball; he just loves to tackle. He’s not scared of the big boys either. I thought I’d be scared half to death watching him but I wasn’t. I saw him hold his own play after play and felt surprisingly calm. Now, I’m sure the day will come where I will exhibit nerves and fear (especially if he is catching the ball and getting tackled) but I’ll enjoy watching him play for now. He’s also quite the nut of the team.
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They ended up tying the game. Mario looked like me after a long run – completely drenched in sweat. He got a celebratory hot dog and walked out with the love of his life, Grandma Ionno.
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Of course, he had to take off his shirt and strut it out back to the car. I used to not be able to picture my little guy as a teenager but as I snapped this picture, all I could see was Mario at age 16.
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Hence why I agreed to read Dracula to him for a half hour last night at bedtime – I’ve got to get the snuggle time in with him while I am able.
And Ms. Maria is heading right up that path, too. I go to say goodnight to her and find her in her pjs, wet hair combed from a shower, looking up iPhones on her iPad. But just when I was about to leave her room, she noticed me and sang “mom, can you scratch my back and bring me water.” There’s my baby girl.
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Pure exuberance

Dad called me as I was unloading bottled waters and Doritos from the gas station to the kids.
“We are heading out to the farm, dad,” I confirmed after seeing his name appear on my phone.
“Great, I was hoping you’d say that! We will see you soon!”
I made sure the crew was buckled – I had pleaded for Sophie and Quinn to come since Ri and Mario wanted them to experience the farm so badly – and veered onto the highway. We drove to Exit 186 and turned off the tv. I made them look for animals. They were excited to get to the farm and see the dogs and horses and chickens. I was excited to see Ms. Elena.
We pulled up and Ri gave Peepaw a huge hug. Rocco went nuts as soon as he jumped out of the car. The boys ran down the hill to play badminton. Yes, the chaos had arrived. Little Elena better get used to the Menkedick energy.
We decided to take the dogs on a hike through the woods. Jorge placed Elena in the Ergo Baby and we were off. Dad and the girls led the way. The kids found the swinging vines and I held Rocco back to avoid him biting at them as they swung. Sar and Jorge broke off from us in the meadow – they didn’t want to overdo it since it was Elena’s first woods hike – and dad and the kids and I continued on towards the pond. The kids couldn’t resist the creek laying to our right. I should have put their boots on them before the hike but I was busy gooing over Elena. Maria, Sophie and Mario jumped right down into the creek not caring if their shoes got wet. Quinn was not so ready. He asked if I’d walk with him and help him traverse the spots without many rocks to use as landing spots. We were very clever finding ways to scale the muddy banks and avoid the water. But eventually we had to climb the thorn-filled hill to the path. Meanwhile, Sophie found a darling salamander.
We rounded up the kids after a bit so we could get to the pond before it rained. Mario was already complaining about wet feet. I scaled down to help him get the sand and pebbles off his feet and put on his soaked shoes. I can’t stand wet feet on a hike but I did not tell him that or else I would have convinced him that he had to be carried the whole way back. Rather, I got away with holding him only a few times throughout the rest of the hike.
I should have listened to dad when he questioned whether we should hit the pond before the creek. About five minutes into resuming our hike to the pond, the kids were complaining of being tired. And hungry (Ri). I yelled up to dad to teach us about some of the trees we were seeing and leaves we were brushing against. And the nature lesson began.
Dad pointed out a beech tree and it’s smooth light grey bark. Next he crushed a spice tree leaf in his hand and gestured for the kids to try the same. They “ohhed and ahhed” over the smell. He showed us a cherry tree (with its jagged puzzle piece-like bark) and a red-bud (with its heart leaves). We found a sassafras leaf and learned that it smelled like root beer. I was learning as much as the kids and just as excited. As a young child, I did not experience the woods and camping out like my younger sis and brother did with my dad. When I go on a hike with Sar, she’s able to point out an oak, a hickory, a certain wildflower, and a great deal of that knowledge was rooted from her hikes with my dad. So when dad pointed at the bark on the cherry tree and described its texture, I felt like an eight-year old absorbing all of his knowledge. And as I watched him walk ahead of me on the trail and answer Quinn’s questions, I felt fortunate to have this time together. You are never too old to learn.
We made it to the pond and Rocco was in heaven. He jumped right in the water and fetched every stick we threw to him. He refused to get out of the water each time he swam back with a stick to us; he’d just wait for another to be thrown.
The kids watched for a bit and then asked for water. Yikes. We had forgotten to bring water. Luckily it wasn’t scorching hot but I knew we were in for some whining on the way back. Again, dad saved the day.
“Let’s play 20 questions! I am thinking of an animal….”
And the questions and guessing began. Then Maria thought of one. Then Mario. Then me. And before we knew it, we were at the abandoned house. And that was super cool for the kids to see.
“Can we go in it?” asked Quinn. Dad couldn’t resist, even when Maria chided “Grandma Meg will be upset if you go in Peepaw.”
He took the kids in and made them be very careful. He talked about who may have lived in the house and held the kids speechless talking about ghosts. They were fascinated. If there’s one gift that I am incredibly grateful for receiving from my dad, it is the gift of exuberation over the simplest of things. Be it a salamander in the creek or a wildflower popping alive in the garden or an abandoned house. He brings positive energy into any place he travels and I’m so grateful to have witnessed that over and over growing up with him.
We traversed the hill back to the house and the kids – who were starving the entire trek home – were enamored with the chickens again and forgot about food. That gave time for dad to go to Dandy Don’s (true name) and get some good ol’ hot dogs and chips for lunch and it gave me time to hold Elena Rosa. Oh, what a doll baby girl.

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I have never seem an infant make so many different shapes with her mouth. I could stare at her all day.
After lunch, the kids wanted to play in the creek down by the house. They also wanted to go in the infamous waterfall but the water was rushing fast after the hard rain so I made them stay in the “wading pool.”
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They even posed “O-H-I-O” while in knee high muddy water.
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They were full of crazy energy once they got Salesville hot dogs in ’em!
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They couldn’t resist jumping in the dog pen and playing. What a hilarious shot our photographer Jorge got:
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Unfortunately, I had to be the party pooper and round everyone up for home even though I seriously wanted to put in my notice and nanny for Sarah full-time rather than head into work on Monday.
The kids begged for ice cream on the way home and I think the brief sugar high they got from McDonald’s Oreo McFlurries combined with the hiking and playing knocked them out. An hour from home and they were zonked.
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And what a way to end a beautiful day – kids in bed as soon as we got home, peanut butter-n-chip ice cream waiting for me, and the Sunday New York Times on my computer screen. Pure exuberance.
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Summertime fun

The kids went to Mama Meg’s and Peepaw’s house last week. I took them out to the farm on Saturday. We brought a movie for them to watch but my video player didn’t work. Maria sighed and whispered “this is why you need a new car.” She’s been watching ads for cars during the Today show and knows the safest ones and least safest ones. Volvo was not the safest anymore, she reported. I turned off the video after my tenth try to get it working and pronounced happily “this means we can talk!” Both Ri and Mario sighed. But we ended up having a great time. We listened to the entire Free to Be You and Me CD. When “It’s alright to Cry” came on, I explained to Mario that sometimes people make fun of boys who cry and he should always feel alright to cry when he was sad. Ri chimed in “don’t you want to give the same advice to me?!” She prides herself on being like her dad and never crying. Mario requested a little Uncle Jack music after Free to Be You and Me. We jammed to some Innocent and Simple Words. Then we moved onto Ohio trivia. I know more today about presidents from Ohio and Ohio historical milestones than I ever did in the past. Ri grilled me.
The farm was wonderful as always. I took a short hike with Sarah to get an update on how she was feeling. I was just waiting for that belly to pop!
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After a yummy chicken and salad meal and some good laughs about 80’s and 90’s music with Meg and Sarah and Emily, I left to head home to Jon for a night together sans kids. Ri and Mario headed out with Peepaw to fish.
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They didn’t catch anything but they did swim at the beach until 8 pm. They are lucky they have some energetic grandparents. The next night they slept in the barn all by themselves. Mario was scared and kept trying to convince Ri that they should rethink the barn. “There are spiders in the barn, Ri.” She would not be scared. They took Rosie to sleep with them and they had a huge flashlight. I can’t believe they did it.
On Sunday, Meg and Jon drove back and forth to Zanesville twice to make sure that Ri got to partake in 30 minutes of softball pictures with our Reds team. I’m glad though because I wanted her in the picture.

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Meanwhile, Peepaw and Mario fished on the banks of the river. Mario called to tell me he caught 13 fish and they were all bigger than Peepaw’s catches (of course). He also excitedly relayed how he and Peepaw found these big rocks to fish from and how they cast their lines and waited and when one bit, how they pulled and pulled to reel it in to them. Mario will have some good memories and some well-honed skills as he gets older. Ri sat around the cabin chatting with Sarah as she cooked dinner just like another 30 year old in the room. And they christened the new corn hole game that dad and Jorge built and painted. Ri and Meg kicked some butt against the boys, I hear.
The kids returned on Tuesday in time to go to Music on the Lawn at the library. Ri thinks she’s “too old” for it but she was happy to take Luka and play the mom role.

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She also let me slip in some selfies with her.

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How long will that last?
Mario found a few boys from his class and went to town on the wrestling front. Ridiculous – wrestling with shoes off and eventually shirts off looking like little rugrats.

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And when they were worn out and sore from beating each other up, they relaxed in front of Henry’s mom’s phone to take turns playing Goat Rampage. Boys.

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The music ended and we headed home to see Jon, who brought me home a steak and scalloped potatoes from Hyde Park where he took a colleague out to dinner. It sure beat the bag of Cheetos I chowed down on at the library (the kids drank root beer floats and donuts – yes, we are the poster children for healthy eating…)!

Book fairy and birthday parties

My sis is a book fairy.

She has been gifting books to me over the last few years and has a 100% satisfaction rate. Truly amazing since I am not typically a book reader. A package came in the mail on Wednesday night from Amazon. I ripped it open and found a gorgeous hardback book staring up at me.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward.

Loved loved loved it. I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t wait to get home from work to read a book. Finished it in three days. Her story is powerful on many levels but I connected strongly with her mother and the sacrifices she made in order to provide for her family. Ri listened to me read a few pages on Friday night as we laid on the couch together while the boys watched some hunting show. Ri asked a ton of questions with each new page I read and I eventually got so annoyed I had to put my book down and pick Ri’s book up to read with her. We read Wonder together. She was on the chapter where the family dog dies. She began reading the first page of the chapter and we both figured out what was happening. She slowed her reading and when she got to the point where the little boy is crying about his dying dog, she began to bawl. And I joined.

She choked her tears back as she said “I remember you bringing Cy to see me at school before he died. I miss him so much.” Then she cried again. And I joined again. This girl has some serious emotion in her and I’d have it no other way. We laid on the couch in an embrace and cried about our sweet Cy. Then we went to bed.

On Saturday, we hit Mario’s friend, Jack’s party at Sports Ohio. Ri wanted to come with me and Mario didn’t freak our about it amazingly. Kate told Ri she could play in the inflatables with the other kids and Ri was so excited. Mario just didn’t pay her any attention as he ran around with his “bros'” (as he calls them affectionately). They played flag football, too. Ri gave it a try, which completely surprised me. Mario pleaded for the ball at every play.

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Then came cake and ice cream. I scored a huge slice since no other moms wanted any.

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After the party, Ri and I picked up Evie and headed out to my friend’s bonfire party. Ri and Evie were quite happy to see hot dogs and marshmallows and chocolate galore lined up on picnic tables. They played and performed shows for the adults that involved singing and goofy, eight-year-old girl antics. On the way home, they sang Rihanna and Michael Jackson songs.

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Meanwhile, Mario opted to stay home with his dad because he much prefers Jon over me these days. They played Wii football and watched hunting shows and got wings at BW3s. Very manly activities that Mario loves.

On Sunday, we traveled to the farm for another birthday celebration with Meg, dad, Jack, Sar and Jorge. Jon slaved over homemade meatballs and sauce so that we could have a fabulous lunch out there. Meg-pie scored a yummy sheetcake from a bakery out in the hills and even bought chocolate chip ice cream! They do love me!

We took a hike as soon as we arrived out to the vine where Peepaw swung Ri and Mario back and forth to see who fell first. Except they changed into Mabel and Gramps when on the vine and Peepaw called out “how are Mabel and Gramps doing?! I think Gramps is falling! Oh no, Gramps is down!” Ri and Mario laughed hysterically.

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Jack and I walked together and chatted about light-hearted topics like the meaning of life and being in the present moment. I just adore my little bro. And so do Ri and Mario. He raced Mario down the hill and picked him up over his head. He listened to Ri and all of her stories about school and family.

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We came home to a warm meal and lots of kid jokes. Mario told a joke to Jack that Ri taught him:
Mario to Jack: "what's your name?"
Jack:"Jack"
Mario: "what does h-a-s spell?"
Jack: "has"
Mario: is it good or bad to kill someone?"
Jack: "bad"
Mario: "what do you put in your car tank?"
Jack: "gas"
Mario: "Jack has bad gas!!"
Ahh, the frivolity! That started my dad up and he got Mario to say "Mario has a screw loose." Now Mario gets me and Jon with that joke every day.

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I am so lucky to have such a tender good-hearted family. And a family that knows my taste buds! The cake was superb!

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We took another hike after devouring the cake and came back to the house ready to go to bed. The kids would have enjoyed that but we had to get home for school on Monday. And I got yet another birthday gift on Monday – a day off work while the kids were in school!

Break time

It was Christmas in July for Jon and I when Meg and dad agreed to take their two grand kids for a couple days. I woke up Monday morning and took a run and hit a 9:30 am yoga class (I felt like I was skipping school). I picked up framed pictures of the kids’ drawings and bought a huge iced coffee and scone. Ahhh.

But when I got home and unpacked and cleaned up, I missed them like mad. I had just spent five full days with them never leaving my side but I wanted them back. I wanted to wake up with them nuzzling my neck, tickling my nose, laughing with me. Funny how you can be so ready for some alone time but then you get it and you want the munchos back pronto. For me, it’s having that breather time of just a few hours that makes all the difference.

Meanwhile, the kids got some quality grandparent time. Ri loved seeing her horses at the farm. She described each one of them to me, including the type of horse they were, their temperament and who can ride them. It was precious.

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Mario loved teaching Rosie new tricks and herding the chickens in their coop. He also loved fishing with Peepaw and making bird houses!

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Peepaw got a kick out of Mario with the birdhouses. While Peepaw was hard at work constructing the house with Mario, Mario asked “when are we going to be done with this one?” Peepaw said it would take some time if they wanted quality but Mario wanted to rush it in order to make seven of them by the time they came home.

Why?

Because he wanted to sell them! Maria was appalled. “How can he sell something he made with his grandpa?” Ri has sentimentality out the wazoo; Mario not so much.

I couldn’t wait to get home on Tuesday to see them. I walked through the door and grabbed ’em both in a big bear hug. Will I be able to do this when they are teenagers?! Mario was happily playing on my iPad having been without technology for an entire two days (at night he would call me crying to come home but only because he was used to playing on an electronic device at our house at bedtime). Ri was a bit sad.

“What’s the matter darlin’?” I asked her.

“I just feel lost. Things I love are in the country, like the horses and chickens. I feel like I’m out of place in the city.”

Oh, Jon is gonna love this talk. He will swoop Ri up in a heartbeat and move to a farm. He’s been dreaming of that for years. Yet further affirmation that Jon and Ri are exactly alike.

Jon got home shortly after me and we all sat around the family room for a few minutes before Ri and I needed to slip away to a pool party. The kids laughed at Jon’s antics while climbing on me.

All is back to normal.

Family farm day

We made the trek to the farm Sunday morning to celebrate Father’s Day with my pops. Sarah and Jack also made it out – the first dad’s day we’ve all been together in a long while.

Mario watched Goosebumps the entire way out; these are his new favorite movies. He holds his pillow tight across his chest and reports out to us what is happening in the scary scenes. Ri is not a fan of the movies. She played Minecraft on the iPad and wrote poems about Stella and Mona.

When we arrived at 10:30 am, everyone was still bleary-eyed and making coffee. Emily was in town from DC. Ri loved listening to her stories as we stood in the chicken coop listening to Mario rustle around trying to catch a chicken. Ri eventually left our conversation and caught “Peepaw’s girlfriend” for Mario. Mario gave no appreciation to Ri; instead he got mad that he wasn’t the first one to catch a chicken and proceeded to work twice as hard to pin one down (but in the most gentle fashion possible). He eventually got one and we were impressed with how delicate he held her. Ri boosted his ego as she always does and shouted “Good Job Buddy!”

Ri soon found delight in throwing the frisbee with Sarah, Jorge and Jack. The trick was to keep it away from Stella. Not an easy task. Ri was not scared to catch that disc with 80 pound Stella running at her. Mario not so much. He darted to the side and let Stella bite that frisbee and carry it off. We took a walk in the woods and found the swing vine. Sarah tried it out for us first. She looked like a ten year old swinging back and forth. She used to get so mad when she’d go to restaurants at age 17 and they’d ask if she need a kids menu. Now she can eat it up being age 30 and looking 18.

Uncle Jack and I gave the vine a try, too. Nothing like the kid coming out in you for the few seconds you’re hanging on for dear life. We all screamed wildly. The kids love love love being around me and my siblings. They can’t get enough of them. Everything is “look Uncle Jack” or “watch Aunt Sarah” or “come on Jorge!” Precious.

We returned to yummy barbecue chicken and cole slaw and beans. Mario threw a fit because he wanted to sit next to Jon at the “big person” table. He pushed his chair back and angrily crossed his arms and pouted. Jon gave in and pushed his chair over and let Mario sit by him. Mario beamed. It’s the little things. Maria sat next to me because we were right next to the food.

After we ate, Jon and I threw to Ri. She could not hit a ball to save her life. She progressed from sighing to heaving to throwing her bat and yelling “I hate softball!” I felt so bad for her. She wants to be perfect at whatever she does but she doesn’t like to practice. I tried to talk to her. Then Jon. Nothing worked. Meg came out and told us she was heading to the stable. Ri followed. I went inside to get a cookie and then made my way down to see them.

Maria stood by Taz brushing out her hair. She looked completely at peace. Meg stood on the other side adjusting the saddle. I could hear Ri talking with her about her horse camp. Meg listened and quietly commented back to her. I could have watched the two of them all day. Ri was so in her element next to that horse and talking with her grandma. Meg let her ride Taz on her own and gave her tips as she circled the grounds. Dang, I wish they lived closer so Ri could get lessons from the Meg-pie.

We played some Quirkle (the new favorite Menkedick game) while Mario and Jorge played some mean badminton. Sarah won, again. After Quirkle, we broke out Mario’s beebee gun. Jorge drew a bear and some type of elk/goat mix (ha! poor Jorge agrees to draw and then we make fun of him!) as the targets to shoot. At first the boys shot alone but then they asked us to bring down cans and paper and we became intrigued and joined them. I think we have a new Menkedick past time – target shooting at fake bears and pop cans. We all got into it.

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With each hit, the kids and Jon and Peepaw would check out the paper to see where the beebee hit.

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The pressure was on to be the first person to hit the pop can. We all tried but Peepaw hit it. He’s still got it.

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And what did we do after target shooting? What else but recited poetry on the back porch.

Is there any talent this family doesn’t have?!