Taking the time to mindset pre-vacation

My stress level had nearly hit the top rung. It was mid-July and we had gone through nearly 2 months of summer without a babysitter. It is the first summer we decided to go without a sitter. Jon would be able to work from home so we figured he could at least have some oversight of the kids. Now, my “oversight of the kids” is quite different then Jon’s “oversight of the kids.” My oversight: I ask to see their homework even when they say they have done it; I make them a sandwich when they say they are hungry and make sure they get some strawberries with that PB&J; I help them clean their rooms while we jam to music. Jon’s oversight: he tells them to grab lunch if they are hungry; he asks them if they’ve done their homework and trusts when they say yes; he tells them they need to clean their room and assumes they will do so while he does his own thing.

With my type A personality, Jon’s oversight can lead to a bit of stress. But even if Jon’s oversight did not stress me, my own crazy worry would do the trick. One week I think that the kids are going to go back to school and be behind all the other kids for not having read six books during the summer or completed their math workbook. Other weeks I am concerned that they are not getting outside as much as they should. And yet other weeks I think they are going to be diagnosed diabetic since all they’ve eaten is crap.

And then there is my general worry about finances, my job, Jon’s job, kids’ college. You name it.

So, needless to say, when we were a few days away from leaving for Michigan, Jon sat me down and reinforced in me that we were going to let all the stress and worry go, and make this a good vacation. He demanded that I not worry about the cost of lunch, or whether the kids read for an hour on the trip, or what the kids selected when we stopped at the gas station to get a snack. “Just let it go” he told me, and “enjoy yourself.”

His advice sank into my bones. I was struggling with trying to let go of work and worry and school and tasks, and his words sank into my bones allowing my concerns to drift off. Our clan had been broken up throughout the summer – either Maria was gone for a couple of weeks or Mario. I had worked long hours some days and not been home when both kids were there. So, I needed this trip to ground me back to what’s important and what matters. In the end, no matter the circumstances – catastrophe or minor setback or huge fortune – family and community and connection drive me.

I breathed in all of the wonder of my small clan as we drove up north. We stayed in a small cottage that I found on VRBO. It was not quite as plush as I thought it may be, but, as with most things, my initial reaction of mediocrity flipped to quaint and charming after the first night of getting accustomed to it.

The hilarious part of the trip was the fact that there was only an air-conditioned unit on the top floor. The top floor was one bedroom with a queen size bed and a twin bunk bed. Jon and I planned on sleeping downstairs and letting the kids have the upstairs. However once Jon found out that the AC was only in the upstairs bedroom, he refused to sleep downstairs. The kids refused to sleep downstairs because they were scared with us being upstairs. Therefore, we all got to sleep together in the same bedroom … like Little House on the Prairie! (“I whispered “good night Mary, good night Laura, good night John Boy” as went to sleep). I ended up on the floor on a futon the rest of the night because Jon and I do not fit in a queen sized bed. One of the kids slept with me each night – I preferred Mario because he does not kick. Jon got the queen bed all to himself (except for one night when he agreed to let Maria sleep with him but regretted it all night as she kicked him every hour).

We woke up most mornings and went straight out to the lake for some paddle boarding or kayaking. We would come back inside and play a game of Monopoly before deciding what the plans were for the day. The kids still like to please their mama so they agreed to a hike most days. It would take us about 40 minutes to get to the dunes so we would make a day out of it and do something around Glen Arbor. What a cute little town. Jon and I have been saying for years that we don’t know what we will do when we retire because we have different locale tastes. He could be on a farm the rest of his life and I could be in the mountains the rest of mine. But we both agreed that Glen Arbor would be a locale we could settle.

It was surreal to climb the dunes with Maria and Mario when I had climbed the exact dunes as a kid with my dad and Meg. Bits of my childhood experiences would pop into my head as we walked on a trail or leaped through the dune sand. Life is strange. They had a love-hate relationship with the dunes and trails like I did as a kid. Part of them just wants to sit back at the cottage and watch You Tube but another part of them enjoys the thrill of climbing up a steep dune and running back down it. When I was their age, part of me just wanted to be back in the city with my friends but another part of me loved conquering those dunes with my family.

They also reminded me of how I would act when they bitched and moaned about how long the hike lasted. They were lucky – when I was a kid, my dad would take us on 3 or 5 mile hikes. I was easy on them with 1 or 2 milers.

One of their favorite places to eat in Glen Arbor was Dune Dogs. It is a little shack that sells hotdogs with all sorts of toppings. Maria, Jon and I also enjoyed the Cherry Hut. Their cherry pies are no joke. Mario, not a fan of cherries, did not find it amazing. But we made him smile with a superman ice cream cone from across the street.

We got our obligatory vacation putt-putt games in as well. The boys won the first game and the girls came back to win the second. We were going to have a playoff game on the last night we were there but the line was ridiculous to play. Mario was so bummed that we could not do it because he was ready to get revenge. We also got to do a ropes course at the putt-putt location. Mario and I had never done one before and Maria was adamant that we try it. She, of course, was fearless. Mario was a bit hesitant but then did great. I was surprised at how nervous I was because it was not ridiculously high. But, I kept my composure and did not scream throughout the climb. A win for everyone.

Oh, and we saw a black bear! Unfortunately, it was a dead one. It was lying on the side of the road behind a maintenance truck. It must have just been killed before we passed it. Poor baby.

Once back at the cottage, nobody wanted to leave. A couple of nights we ran out to grab some dinner (one night we traveled to 5 different spots for a nice Italian dinner only to find carry-out pizza joints so we ended up at KFC enjoying crispy chicken legs and mashed potatoes!). The other nights we made dinner at the cottage and then went out for a night swim. Maria was always ready for a swim and a jump off the dock. Mario, not so much. He had this irrational fear of fish biting his toes. But in contradiction to that fear, he liked standing in the water up to his ankles and watching the tiny minnows nibble at his dead skin. I could not stand it. Maria enjoyed it as well. And Jon. Freaks.

One of the ways I was able to get Mario to jump off the dock and into the lake was to play a game. He, I and Maria would hold hands and have to yell out a certain response to a question while we jumped in the water. I found that one of the questions he loved was to name a basketball player. Ri and I must have jumped off the dock with him 10 times before he realized where he was and feared the fish. The most exciting time for the kids in the lake was when Jon made one trip out to the deck and proceeded to chuck the kids off each time they got near him. They absolutely loved it (and went flying into the water).

Mario did a little bit of fishing but not as much as I thought he would. There were not a lot of fish right by the dock, but he did manage to catch two fish at one time on our first day. Ri tried to fish as well, but we were a bit concerned with her because she is so wild with her casting. She casted her lure right into Jon’s chest at one point.

I thought we would light campfires every night and make s’mores. Not so much. The Ionno family has a real problem with starting fires, which I guess is a good thing in the end. We could not start one in West Virginia and we had no better luck in Michigan. We got a very small one started but it kept dying out. We were able to make some half-baked s’mores but then called it a night due to the massive amount of bugs eating at us. There was no campfire after that first night. We opted for plain old Hershey bars and marshmallows.

I got some alone time with each of the kids, too. Mario and I would swim out to the dock together, and I would play the name game to keep him out there with me for a bit. He also liked playing in the sand with me (competitive castle building). Maria and I paddle boarded together and tried yoga on the boards. We never were able steady ourselves but it was fun to fall in together.

I loved this vacation so much. It was by far my favorite one with the kids. I think a big reason for my enjoyment was because I made a conscious effort to relax and let the stress go prior to heading out. I continuously thought about letting it all go for a few days before our departure. I have failed to take that step and consciously get in that mindset for past vacations. I let go of any expectation that the kids would sit on the deck and read books for two hours or any expectation that I should get up and exercise. We just all did what we wanted to do, which ended up being perfect. The kids didn’t want to play on their phones all the time. They came out and played in the sand and paddle boated with me. I had no desire to go out for a 5 mile run. Rather, I enjoyed walking out in the lake with the kids and sitting on the dock with Jon while they fished.

Another reason I enjoyed it so much was because the kids are older. They were able to do things on their own and engage with us about books, news, movies. On past vacations, when the kids were younger, it was a lot of running after them and long days of sitting in the pool as they said “mom, watch this somersault or “mom, time me while I go under water!”

The number one indicator that I loved this vacation so much was that I still remember it like it happened yesterday. With other vacations, I have come home and within 24 hours forgotten about any fun we had. I immediately got consumed back at work, with school, with errands. But this time, my carefree mindset stayed with me as we passed back into Ohio. Granted, a bit of stress and worry came here and there but it was a lot less intense and I could re-adjust my mind to take me back to what is important in this life. And it surely is not whether I please my boss, get promoted, fail to get my kids to read 6 books in the summer, or feed them Oreo’s for dinner. It is community and my clan and sending love and kindness out into the world.

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. 

 

  

Boy Scout Camp

I don’t have a twenty-year old body anymore. Here I was doggin’ on my girlfriend who swore she would never sleep on the ground in a tent.
“You’re a wuss. Sleeping on the ground is wonderful – being one with nature. Just pitch a tent and snuggle in your sleeping bag….”
There was no convincing her.
After Saturday night in a three-person tent with Ri and Mario, I’m starting to be swayed over to her side.
I thought I’d be fine with just a foam pad. I made fun of my girlfriend who drug out a twin mattress from the lodge and placed it in her tent. But damn if I didn’t want to pull one out in the middle of the night as I tossed and turned next to Ri and Mario. They were perfectly sound asleep – with no foam pad. To be a kid.
I woke up with quite the headache and my back felt like little trolls had stomped on it all night. But thank goodness for the drip coffee – sharp and black at 6 in the morning. All the parents looked bleary-eyed and in serious need of more sleep. I wasn’t in it alone. Meanwhile, the kids jumped around like those tiny plastic toys on springs that hop high in the sky when you press them on a flat surface.

Mario loved Boy Scout camp. He loved pitching a tent. He loved hanging with his guy friends. He loved running around in the woods. Maria loved it, too. She killed it in the beebee gun activity. She was like a sharp shooter – rarely missing the target.

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I asked her if she’d help her dad out in hunting turkeys and she quickly responded that she would not kill an animal with a gun – she just liked shooting at cans. Those turkeys are lucky.
Mario loved finding gems and fishing, of course. He has got quite the fishing bug in him. The fish were not biting but he refused to leave until the volunteers closed the area.
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After the activities, we dragged all of our camping gear out of the car and found a spot amidst the other tents. We did not get a spot right next to Quinn but I was proud of Mario for not throwing a fit. It didn’t matter anyway because all of the boys were running around and jumping in and out of all the tents.
The evening was a lot of fun. The boys played football; Maria learned how to knit with another mom and acted as babysitter to a boy scout’s little sister (she loved that)! I got to talk with some fun parents and soak up a gorgeous night.
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After the wood fire ceremony, the scout leaders sent everyone to bed and surprisingly, Ri and Mario went straight into their sleeping bags. One great thing about Boy Scouts is that Mario actually listens and abides by the words of his scout leaders. They were both asleep by 9:30. I figured I better get to bed, too, knowing I’d be up off and on through the night. As confirmed above, good thinking on my part.
We woke up to omelets in a bag. Sounds rather unappetizing but they were actually quite good. Liquid eggs, cheese, veggies all thrown in a ziplock bag and heated in boiling water. What I learned at Boy Scout camp (I also learned that ketchup crystallizes when heated so it’s better to write kids’ names on foil with ketchup rather than marker when making their food over the fire because it won’t melt away their names – love these little tricks)! Of course, Mario was repulsed at the omelet in a bag so he proceeded to eat only the muffins and cinnamon rolls – until he got scolded politely by one if the leaders that no one could eat the muffins until the omelets were made. But not even the scout leaders scared him – he grabbed one more when he thought no one was looking – he will break any rules for sugar.
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My girl and I devoured the omelets and the rolls and the muffins. We will try anything.
So glad we decided to go on the trip and so excited about future camping with my sweet Boy Scout.
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Weekend round-up

We got treated to a visit from Aunt Jane, Uncle Steve, Robert and Laura on Saturday morning. They came up to see Mario’s football game. We took Rocco to the vet at 9 am to hear that he was looking good and then rushed to Tim Horton’s to get lucky timbits for Mario to eat pre-game. The line inside and out was ridiculously long so Jon took me and the kids home and drove to another Tim Horton’s while we changed. The ovens at that Tim Horton’s were down so there were no donuts. You would have thought Mario was just told he would never be able to walk again. He lost it. Flailing everywhere. Bawling.

Once he calmed down, I told him we could get some magical donuts at BP and a cereal bar. Maybe they would work even better to allow him to score touchdowns. We stopped for them and got on the highway at 10:15 – his game started at 10:30. The highway we needed was closed. We spent the next 20 minutes trying to find an alternate route that wasn’t busy. I was irked because Jane and Steve had come to see the game and we were late. Jon was irked because I was irked. The kids, luckily, were oblivious listening to Radio Disney on their headphones. I was telling myself the whole way that I cannot control the situation; stay calm; breathe. I eventually convinced myself when we were two minutes away.

It was great having Jane and Steve and Robert and Laura at the game – they completely got into it jumping up and down and yelling for Mario as he ran for a touchdown.
I had ice cream with them later and reminisced about the good ol’ days when I rode in the trunk of the station wagon with no seat belts and played in the deep water with no life vest!

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When we got home, Jon swept Mario away to Big Mario’s and Aunt Vickie’s house to fish and go four-wheeling. Mario’s dream come true. He got treated like royalty between cookies and pasta and a coyote skin that Big Mario had treated just for him. He couldn’t wait to show it off when he got home Sunday night.

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Meanwhile, Ri and I got her present ready for her sleepover at the Hyatt. Yeah, a hotel sleepover. The birthday party detail continues to be raised up notches. Pretty soon you will be expected to rent out a ballroom and boy band for an eighth birthday party.

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After I dropped Ri off at 4:00, I had the night to myself. I got a massage at 4:30 and then spent the rest of the night with little dude.

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I was like this with Cy, too. I would make big plans in my head to go to the movies or the coffee shop to read but then Cy would look out the window at me and I’d turn around and spend the evening with him. So Rocco and I enjoyed the evening together with a walk to Pet People that took two hours with all the stops we had to make (between sniffing, laying down, and people petting) and watched a Sarah Polley documentary (which was quite good). We hit the sack at 10:15 pm and started all over at 6:30 am.
Maria texted me from her friend’s mom’s phone at 9:30 am asking me to pick her up. One of her friends had called her “heavy” and not let her participate in a game. Ugh, girls. But Ri is such an old soul and was able to process that her friend was probably mad about something else that had happened at the party and took it out on Ri. Pretty impressive intuition for an 8 year old.

She wanted time with her mama anyway – we took Rocco for a walk, bought a pooper scooper and a toaster at Target (she loved that I combined these two things in one sentence), and got a pedicure!

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As the night wore on, and Rocco got in his chew stage (Maria’s friend came over to apologize and Rocco accidentally caught her little brother with those sharp puppy teeth while chasing him), I started to get testy. I made Ri get on Xtra Math and she complained. Then, once on, she did poorly. She was not answering simple subtraction quick enough and I let my end of day fatigue take over.
“Come on Ri, you have to get these more quickly. This is why you have to do Xtra Math everyday. You aren’t getting simple problems right.”
She started crying as I peered over her shoulder and watched her every move. I let out a sigh when she missed another and she jolted up and ran upstairs crying and yelling “you are the worst mom ever!”
I sat on the kitchen chair staring at the computer. I definitely could have handled this better. I know how much Ri hates pressure and stress so why did I stand over her shoulder? Yea, I know why….

I called her back down to finish Xtra Math, which she did. Then I swung her legs around to meet mine, looked her straight in the eyes (those beautiful blue eyes) and told her I loved her more than anything. I also apologized for putting undue pressure on her. She reached out and hugged me and apologized, too. We both decided that the fight warranted an ice cream cone so we headed off to UDF for double dip peanut butter ‘n’ chip.

And we both concurred that ice cream solves all problems.

Summer vacation 2013

We packed our bags and headed to West Virginia last Wednesday. They say that a procrastinator should never marry another procrastinator or nothing gets done. Jon and I are both procrastinators so a summer vacation never got scheduled. We found ourselves near mid-July without any plans. I just happened to be on a conference call at work and a flashing ad came up for Oglebay Resort in W. Virginia.

“Paddle boats, fishing, putt-putt, swimming, zoo, and more!”

The ad enticed me between the kids activities and the short distance (2.5 hours away). Pretty soon I was on the website looking up rooms. I remembered my grandma talking about this place and I faintly remember another older relative (was it Grandpa Bill?) talking about it, too. I remembered this because the website was geared towards 65+ year olds and the rooms looked like ones decorated by my grandma – big florals and gawdy colors and maroon carpets that looked like they were straight out of my grandma’s retirement home.

I called a few other resorts but they were booked. I debated with Jon whether to do it or not and after listening to me him and haw for 30 minutes, he demanded I just go for it. So I did. Wednesday through Saturday. A short trip. Even if it was unbearable it was only two full days.

Ri played with her barbies on the way there while Mario watched Ben Ten. We held our breath under the West Virginia bridge. We commented on the old school restaurants off the exit – Perkins! Hardee’s! Long John Silvers!
As soon as we pulled into Oglebay, we spotted deer grazing on the hills. The kids went nuts pointing them out. The land sloped up and down and was peppered with pines and oaks and deer and a random groundhog. It was quite serene and poetic. Jon and I glanced at each other and raised our eyes silently saying “hmmm, maybe it won’t be so bad.”

We got our room keys and had the requisite talk with the kids about fighting over who opens the door. “We take turns back and forth, got it?” They shook their heads with excitement not getting anything. The room was huge. We had a living room and side kitchen and bath and a bedroom suite with a large bath and two queen beds. The kids mouths dropped for an entire five minutes and they dragged us all over the rooms to show us every detail. The living room couch pulled out into a bed which they believed to be a piece of heaven brought to Earth. “We can watch tv all night and fall asleep out here alone!” Jon and I were so excited we booked another night so we stayed until Sunday.

We checked out Schenk Pond and did some paddle boating and fishing (Ri and I boated and Mario fished all by himself, god love him).

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After paddle boats and the Aqua Cycle, Ri and I joined Mario on the bank. Within ten minutes, he had a fish. Luckily, a teenage boy helped us unhook him. Mario wanted to throw it back in the water but got scared so Ri took control. Thank god for big sisters.

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After pleading with Mario to stop fishing to no avail, we finally had to bribe him with the pool. We threw on our suits and headed to the rather small indoor pool. Over the four days, however, it grew on us. One plus was that it was heated. Another plus was that you could jump off the side, which led to lots of cool cannonballs and dives.

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The kids begged for room service after the pool. They loved the idea of getting food served in our room and eating it while watching Spongebob. Ahh, the vacation life!
Every morning we had to drag Mario to breakfast – he wanted room service for every meal. Meanwhile, you had to strap Ri down for a few minutes in bed or she would have thrown on a pair of shorts and bee-lined for the breakfast buffet as soon as she opened her eyes. She has her mom’s and great-grandma’s love for buffets (Grandma Menkedick used to love to bear witness to Ri’s excitement over the Season’s buffet bar). She is a total carb lover. Her plate always included two types of muffins, a cinnamon roll, biscuit and waffle (she was stacking up her energy for the day). Mario’s plate was the same every day. Cinnamon rolls. And maybe a slice or two of bacon. And that’s it.

On Thursday, we took the trolley to the Oglebay Zoo. Yes, it has a zoo…. with zebras. It was a tiny area with about ten different animals scattered around. It also had dinosaurs that would roar at you as you passed. The kids are finally at an age where they understand they aren’t real but they still had fun with them (thanks to me pretending to be scared too death). The lorikeets were the biggest hit since they drank nectar from cups M&M were holding.

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The best part of the zoo trip was eating popcorn while we rode the train around the zoo and spotted animals.

We returned to the hotel and did some more fishing and paddle boating. Maria had been longing to head into the fountain in the middle of the pond when we went paddle boating the day before but I had nixed the idea. When she pouted, I steered the boat just enough into the fountain that she got wet and I just got a drizzle. On Thursday, I decided to let her go for it and steer us right into the fountain. And she didn’t flinch. I got soaked to the bone with her. The smile on her face made my heart happy (a saying I got from Meg-pie). Jon and Mario stayed on shore trying to catch fish. Mario gets so angry and frustrated when he doesn’t catch one. There were little fish that would swim up to the bait and nibble at it until it was gone leaving none for the bigger fish. This got Mario red hot.

“Those stupid As!”

Mario heard the word “a–hole” a while ago and knows its a bad word so every once in a while when he gets super mad he yells out the “A” vowel.

We ordered room service for a second night on Thursday not wanting to head out after another long day. Pizza for Mario and burgers for Ri. Jon and I determined we were food snobs after all our nights out at Hyde Park and Mitchell’s – the hotel food just didn’t do the trick for us.

Each night, the kids and I would head to the pool for a swim nightcap. We played mean games of hot potato with our beach ball where you had to name a super hero while you threw the ball. They were exhausted by the time we got back and were fast asleep as soon as they hit the pillow to watch tv. And they slept in until 8 am! Alleluia.

On Friday, we hit the Wheeling Park pool. It had a water slide. A nice sized slide at that. The only problem was that it kept thundering and the guards would shut the pool for 20 minutes with each round of thunder. Ri wanted to call it quits bit Mario wanted to stay. What else were we gonna do? We made Ri stay, bought hotdogs and soft pretzels, and played charades. The kids put on our flip-flops. Nothin’ better.

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Finally, we were allowed back in the water. Ri and Mario jumped off the diving board (Mario dove). Mario wanted to do a flip like some kids were doing but couldn’t quite get up the nerve. The slide was a blast – it was actually fast and dumped you out into a giant wave of water. The kids loved it.

After the pool, we went to High Tea at the hotel. It sounded super fancy and Ri had been wanting to go badly. It ended up being a carafe of hot water and Lipton tea bags and a few random cookies and cinnamon bread. But that was all that was needed by Ri. She loved it. We filled up our cups, got our treats, and sat outside on the balcony. Ri actually enjoyed the tea!

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Mario came with us the next day and loved the cinnamon bread. He did not enjoy the tea.

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The kids and I took the trolley Friday evening to the mansion and the flower shop, sweet shop, and glass store. They both wanted to take pictures on my phone of random things… Ri took the fountain and wine picture (true Italian) and Mario took the butterfly ones.

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Mario and I went to town at the sweet shop. So much chocolate we could have lived there forever. Ri liked looking at all the trinkets and the wine holders. Mario fell in love with a stuffed animal bear that sings “Will you still love me when I’m 64?” He absolutely fell head over heels for it. He played the song and stated into its eyes. He hugged it. He begged me to buy it. I couldn’t resist. My aunt Julie has a bear like this one that Mario has loved since he was little. It has a top hat and sings “My way” by Sinatra. My Grandma Heile would chuckle watching Mario stare at it as a baby.

Maria found a last minute gem – a night light with horses on it. She also forced me to buy a Yoda coffee cup knowing that I never buy anything for myself. “I will pay you back $12.95 if you buy it, mom.” I told her she didn’t have to pay for it later and she reiterated “I will mom because you need souvenirs, too.” She’s always looking out for us.

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On Saturday, we hopped in the car to Cabela’s. It was a rainy day and Jon had allowed me to get an hour massage so I owed him one. Mario loved looking at the animals; Ri was appalled, especially at the stuffed Bobcat – her school mascot.

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They enjoyed the toy section (Mario checked out every gun possible and Ri gawked over Duck Dynasty memorabilia).

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Ri ended up with a Cabela’s Barbie set with a tent and horse (I approved of that Barbie who was dressed like a cowgirl) and Mario got a walkie talkie set. They made out. We ate ourselves some Cabela’s lunch and headed back to the hotel for more fishing and boating.
The hotel had a s’mores campfire that night, which Ri enjoyed immensely. Mario just liked burning the marshmallows for me to eat and then watching the stick burn in the fire. I’m pretty sure I saw the word pyromaniac rise from the ashes as he sat on the stone bench in awe.

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We hit the game room last – we had avoided it the whole trip. It was a small little room with only a few games. Jon and I competed on Ms. PacMan and the kids drove fast cars.

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They also won a few super balls in honor of their mom’s childhood obsession.
We ordered room service once again and watched Jessie episodes for Ri. The kids just could not get over how awesome it was to be served food in bed while watching their shows. “This is the life” they thought as they fed their faces and then lied back on their pillows with the tv blaring.

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Maria gave a toast on our last morning in the hotel.

“This is a toast to Oglebay. We had some good times here fishing and swimming and being together as a family. But we must go and so we wish others as much fun as we had here.”

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Amen sister!

Walleye and chocolate

Mario was born to be outdoors. He proved to us that he could be the Wildman’s partner the way that he caught Pikachu over the weekend (with all the pomp and circumstance that Ernie the Wildman exhibits when catching a river turtle)! The past two days he visited the farm and caught fish, including a walleye. My dad informs me that he could sit on his fishing boat for hours waiting for the big catch. He’s been talking about hunting and fishing with Jon since age 3 – I think he’s ready to go full throttle now that he’s five.

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Meanwhile, Maria got to stay home with Jon and me. She wasn’t too upset since I told her we’d enjoy some mother-daughter time. She loves when we get to hang out without those pesky boys. We let dad join us for dinner but then we took a bike ride through Grandview.

We picked up her friend, Lucia, and biked to Pure Imagination Chocolatier. The store just opened down the street. Can you pack on 20 pounds to my belly now and get it over with?! It is a piece of heaven in there with gelato, chocolate Oreos, chocolate coconut, chocolate turtles….I got four pieces and ate them all within 10 minutes. So much for savoring the taste!

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Ri and I biked home. She talked to me about her friends and I talked to her about how I used to handle difficult friends. The conversation made me happy – I’m glad she feels comfortable opening up to me. She begged me to lay with her for the second night in a row and rub her back while she fell asleep.

Gladly.

My fishermans

 

Maria and her catch

We drove to Big Mario’s and Vicki’s house last weekend and fished down on their dock.  The entire trip out to Mario’s and Vicki’s house, little Mario talked about catching a fish.  He remembers Jon telling him that the fish don’t bite when it is the middle of the afternoon because it is too hot and they stay far under the water to keep cool.  Therefore, we have to wait until dinner time to go down to the dock with our nets and poles to catch fish.  I think fishing is Mario’s favorite activity at this time in his life – it probably even beats basketball.  He just loves everything about it – putting bait on the pole, watching for a fish to bite, holding the fish in the net, measuring its size, and like every good fisherman, bragging about how big the fish was after the fact.  Maria loves to head down to the dock, too, but her tolerance level is much lower, especially after she catches one (that activity is complete – onto the next (a lot like her mom)). 

 When we got to the dock, the sun was still beaming.  Mario and Jon worked on the fishing poles and bait while Maria and I sat on the dock and looked out at the water.  I asked her “pluses” while we waited (8+2 =..; 9+4=..).  She loves to work on math problems.  Jon and Mario finished and brought Maria a fishing pole.  Within five minutes of Jon casting it, Maria caught the first fish of the evening – a huge catfish with whiskers as long as pencils.  Mario immediately wailed: “Not fair, I didn’t get one yet!”  Maria consoled him and patted him on the back telling him “Don’t  worry little brother, you will get one soon.”  Because Maria had gotten her catch, she decided to leave her pole stranded and head back to the house. 

Mario holding his catch

My fisherman

As I walked her off the dock, I heard Jon yelling for me and turned around to see him trying to handle Mario’s pole and Maria’s.  There were good-sized catfish pulling on both of them.  Mario was beside himself yelling at Jon to get them out of the water.  Mario held the net with one of the catfish in it while Jon worked on getting the other free from the hook in its mouth.  Maria and I cringed while watching Jon but Mario just ate it up.  Maria told Jon “get that fish away from me.” Mario immediately chimed back “Get that fish towards me!” 

He begged Jon to let him fish some more.  After about ten more minutes, he pulled out a blue gill.  This one was more his size and he stood by it proud as a papa with his newborn son.  He begged for more but the mosquitos were biting like mad.  When we got to the house, he announced his accomplishments.  He exaggerated the size of both the catfish and the blue gill.  Everyone gave him a high-five and he slapped their palms hard with a smug little look on his face.  My little fisherman.