Partyin’ with the Ritz

Once our girl gets wind that there is a party, she is raring to go! We finally were able to schedule our annual dunk tank party for Mario’s baseball team and Maria’s softball team this year. It was pathetic that we could find no weekends in July or beginning of August to have the party because of all of the activities the kids were in during the summer. We ended up choosing the Sunday after the first week of school, and we had surprisingly great weather. 85° and sunny. 

But back to our party planner, Maria Grace. She began planning the party is soon as I told her the date. It’s all about the good food with her so she immediately looked up all sorts of recipes. But, alas, the Internet was trumped by the good old-fashioned recipes on a box. Yep, our girl found delicious appetizer recipes on the back of a Ritz cracker box. We are so proud that she represents our Reading, Ohio and Marietta, Ohio roots as well as she does! 

She found two recipes that she thought would be best for the party. One was a little bit more “posh” for the adults at the party and the other one was more likely to suit the taste buds of the kids at the party. The “posh” one included guacamole, sour cream and black beans and the kid one included pasta sauce, pepperoni and cheese. Both on top of a delicious Ritz cracker!

We drove off to Kroger’s to gather the ingredients. 


The crackers were a hit. Ri taste-tested a few of them to make sure that they were edible. She was proud of herself as she chimed “now those are some good Ritz crackers!”

They were gobbled up in minutes by the guests. Hilarious. The kids needed fuel before spending the next three hours in the dunk tank, and leave it to Ri to deliver mighty fine fuel there way.

It’s fun to be crazy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

“That was great!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

Ri’s caramel hot chocolate dream drink

The boys went to the high school basketball game last night, while Ri and I worked furiously on her math and social studies homework. My gosh, I thought sixth grade math would be fairly simple- fractions, decimals, division. But I was wrong. I could not figure out the solution to three questions to save my life. I started to go a bit nuts. Maria, seeing me a bit irritated, decided to make me a treat. Here is a video of her explaining the concoction she created:


Yea, it tasted as good as it looks. It had all the foods I love – chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, ice cream, and nuts. I had to throw on a pair of elastic sweats after eating it but it was oh, so worth it. And I wouldn’t blink paying $10 for it (she changed it to $8 after I turned the video off). 

And the sugar high helped. I figured out the solutions to two out of the three questions and gave a daggone good guess on the third one. 

Fried ham and pancakes and joy

If only every night could be as delightful as last Wednesday evening. I came home from work and both kids had finished their homework. They asked if we could make pancakes and eggs for dinner. Ri wanted to make the eggs and Mario, the pancakes. Right out of the bat, no fighting over who makes what. Yes!

Ri found some ham in the refrigerator drawer and asked if we could fry up some ham with her eggs. She started frying the ham, and the smell emanated throughout the kitchen. Mario looked over at her as he poured the pancake mix and said “that ham smells great Maria!”

She thanked him and brought a slice over for him to eat. “You need your protein”, she said. He laughed and gobbled it down.   Ri asked how he wanted his eggs cooked. They debated on which would be better – sunny side up or over medium. Mario left it to Maria to decide. Maria then asked if he wanted cheese on his eggs and he replied “whatever you want to give me Maria!” Was I dropped in a fantasy world?!

Mario continued to stir his pancake batter, and was anxious to put the batter on the skillet.  We got the chocolate chips, the cornflakes, and the bananas. Maria likes corn flakes, Mario likes chocolate chips, and I like bananas. Mario asked me to pour the batter on the skillet but he wanted to flip the pancakes. It took a while for them to cook. He kept placing his spatula under a pancake trying to flip it but it was still not cooked enough to flip over. I turned away to wash a dish in the sink and I heard a yell of “Mom!” Mario flipped the pancake when it was still raw and the batter fell halfway off the skillet onto the stove. He was mad at himself. Maria quickly jumped in and provided her pancake war story. 

“Mario,  the first time I made pancakes I flipped the pancakes so hard the batter hit the top of the ceiling and then some came back down and landed all over the floor. So you are doing so much better than I did my first time, little brother!”

He smiled, shook his head in comraderie with Ri, and continued on with his next pancake.    

 The next batch he made were flipped perfectly. He got a plate for Ri and asked her to try one he made for her with a bold combination of chocolate chips and corn flakes. 

“This is superb! It’s ten times better than mom’s pancakes!”

Yes, she gave me a huge grin right after she muttered those words. Then she blurted out a back-handed compliment to me: “It’s ok mom, you are much better with food that’s cooked in the microwave.” Obnoxious… but I couldn’t argue with that observation.  

Mario finished up his pancakes and Ri scraped out her final egg from the skillet. We sat at the table and talked about school work, teachers, and spring break.   Then, to top off the fabulous meal, Mario found the last episode of blackish on demand. He’d been checking every night for me since I had mentioned wanting to see it after hearing how great it was on the topic of race in America. We all sat down in the family room and watched the show together. And to make Mario’s night complete, we  wrestled during the commercials. 

Oaxaca!

Ri conquered her first out-of-the-country trip to Oaxaca, Mexico to visit her baby cousin Elena, Aunt Sarah, and Uncle Jorge. She has mastered the art of travel at age 10. When we arrived at airport security, she nagged at me to get her passport out to be prepared to show the agent. Then she schooled me about taking my laptop out of my book bag and placing it in a separate bin. Once we were through security, she wanted to get her Starbucks drink and go straight to the gate to be ready to board (Jon would have been so proud). And as I fretted about how tiny the plane was, she calmly pulled out my computer from her bag, slipped on her earbuds, and started up the movie she downloaded the night before.

Our flight arrived on time into Houston so we had three hours to chill before our flight to Oaxaca. Ri wanted some good ol’ American cuisine before we headed south so we ate at Ruby’s 50’s diner. I let her splurge on whatever she wanted. She chose a bacon cheeseburger with sweet potato fries. I have not witnessed a more gleeful girl than Ri when she took a bite out of her burger.

“Now, this is a burger, Mom! Bacon and cheese and a huge piece of meat. Yum!”  Gotta love this girl. We filled ourselves up and waited anxiously for our flight. The plane to Oaxaca was just as small as the one from Columbus. Ri calmed my nerves by holding my hand. 

 We landed in Oaxaca so excited to see our clan. Ri stood next to the conveyor belt waiting for our suitcase. It arrived quickly and we got in line to give our papers to the agent. The automatic doors opened for the person ahead of us to leave and we got a glimpse of Elena. Ri leapt in the air.

And so our epic Oaxacan adventure began. We had such a marvelous, magical time. Some highlights:

1. Bed jumping! Elena loves her some bed jumping; it was one activity that guaranteed smiles from her. It was also a mighty good incentive to get her to eat her oatmeal. She loved to strategically place Ri on the bed, and then me, and then proclaim “Jump!” We’d jump and she would fall and look up at us and smile or let out a bubbly laugh. Then we’d do it again and again and again.

During our trip, Elena did to Ri exactly what Ri did to Sarah when Ri was little – pushed her away. Ri used to shout “No, Sarah!” every time Sarah came near her when she was little. Elena just liked to use the word “No” and raise her right palm to push you away. I was worried Ri would get sad by Elena’s actions but she completely rolled with the flow after I talked with her about how most babies go through this stage. Sarah kept reiterating how much Elena would be begging to be with her when she got older. And Sarah and Ri learned to condition jumping on giving kisses. So every time Elena asked Ri to jump, Ri would demand “give me a kiss.” Elena would quickly abide to get the jumping started. 

 2. Fresh juice. I remember the juice from my last trip to Oaxaca. There is a stand that Sarah frequents with the nicest gentleman. He always carries a smile and a raucous welcome. Ri loved the strawberry mango juice, and it came in a plastic bag with a straw, which she thought was super cool.  3. The Cerra del Fortin. Could I please wake up every morning to a run on this trail? Absolutely stunning.

Ri did not want to go to the Fortin with Sarah and I but we begged and cajoled her and she broke down and agreed. She was so glad she did when she got to witness Sarah driving her Blazer up a 90 degree hillside freaking out that we were going to flip (I was too, frankly). But the Menkedick sisters pulled it together and got turned around. Sarah and Elena went running and Ri and I walked the trail. She was a bit irritable at first but then ten minutes in, she whispered “I’m glad I came.” How couldn’t she be with this view?! And Aunt Sarah persuaded Ri to run with her at the last leg of the trail so that Ri could brag that she ran the Cerra del Fortin!

4. Walks with Elena. Elena loves hanging with her mama but there were some times when Sarah would quickly hand her over to Ri before Elena knew what was happening! Ri had to do all sorts of tricks for her to keep her amused but Ri had no issues doing them in order to be able to hold her. We walked to breakfast or lunch most days and Ri would bounce Elena on one hip and then quickly move her to the other hip. Elena thought this activity was awesome. Or Ri would put her on her shoulders and Sarah and I would hold Elena’s back to make sure she stayed steady while pointing out everything and anything we could to have her forget she was on Ri’s shoulders.  

 5. Nuevo Mundo. Jorge’s brother owns this coffee shop close to the Zocolo and it is scrumptious. Ri fell head over heels for the strawberry cream crepes and I looked forward to their double cappuccinos. 

 Ri also found a treasure at the coffee shoppe. They had little pamphlets organized in different compartments on a wooden box on the wall. Elena loved to take the pamphlets out and put them back in the different compartments. So Ri would scoop up Elena and stand in front of the wooden box to allow Elena to play.

6. Village parade. Jorge found a parade for us to see in a small village about 45 minutes away. We had planned on a different parade the night before but Elena was still not feeling the best so we waited a day to take her out. And this parade was worth the wait. It was a parade to celebrate being gay, and there were many cross dressing males,  including the queen of the parade. We followed the music to an area containing many homes in a small camp. A man was passed out in front of the first home. We knew it was gonna be a good party.

Jorge spoke to a man at the entrance and the man invited us into the area. There were men dressed up in animal costumes and dressed up in extravagant dresses and sparkling heels. Kids ran around after a puppy. Ducks waddled around us. Ri, a bit taken aback at first, eventually soaked it up and watched the scene unfold. After a few minutes, the crew was ready to start the parade. The music started up and everyone went out to the street. Jorge shot a ton of pictures and we danced in the street with our new friends. 

     The parade ended at a stage with folding chairs set out around it. We sat down and a short, hunched-over old woman walked over to sit next to us. She wore a strawberry shortcake winter cap on top of her head and wore an interminable smile. After a while, we rose out of our seats to look around at the village church and square. Then we spotted them – the little devils.  The boys dress up in these colorful costumes and wear masks, and turn into little devils. They hold wooden sticks with flour-filled eggs on top of them and run around looking for girls to “flour.” Ri was a chosen one and before she could know what was happening – BOOM – a dust of flour fell on her shoulder and face. It was awesome.   One of the local men kept prodding Ri to climb the metal pole next to the church because she could grab prizes on top. They have a metal ring at the top of the pole that holds a bike, backpacks, and toys. If someone makes it up there, they untwist the string holding the object, it falls to the ground, and they get to keep it. If it’s not hard enough to climb a 40 foot metal pole, they grease it so its impossible to grip. I really want to try this at Mario’s 9th birthday party.   7. Hierve el Agua. Jorge and Sarah took Ri and I to Hierve el Agua, a spectacular site with springs and petrified waterfalls. It was a 90 minute drive from their apartment  through the countryside. We planned the car trip around Elena’s nap at noon – which she never took (but she was pleasant as can be holding her mama’s hand in the backseat). I think the reason she never took her nap was because Ri was jammin’ it out to Taylor Swift in the front seat with Jorge. And jammin’ to Maroon 5. And some other artists who Jorge had never listened to in his lifetime. Ri enjoyed uizzing him and singing the lyrics to him (Jorge, you will be sainted).

We arrived to a windy plateau. Sarah put the cutest bathing suit ever on Elena. Ri and I had to stick to shorts and t-shirts. Ri didn’t care at all, though; she just wanted to plunge into water. She had been dealing with over 80 degree days for three straight days and she wanted relief! The springs were nestled in the mountains, and the views were magnificent. We walked down to the first pool of water. Ri was the first one down and rushed into the water. She didn’t get two steps into the water when she went BAM – feet in the air and butt landing hard on the concrete. My sweet girl; everywhere we go she seems to find a way to go down. Sarah and I laughed so hard our sides hurt. Ri, as always, laughed it off with us and dove headfirst into the deeper part of the water.   She begged me to go under with her; I refused.  But I did get in to the water up to chest level, and it was freezing. We played around in the pool with Elena who loved the water as much as Ri. After a while, Maria wanted to try out the water down the hill. We gathered our things and traveled down to that pool of water. It was a bit warmer and Ri and Sarah walked in together. Elena and I followed. Jorge snapped pictures and we enjoyed the views. But if you stood up with your body out of the water, watch out. Freezing wind. Baby Elena started to get cold so Sarah went back on land with her while Maria and I braved it for a few more minutes. The landscape was beautiful as you looked out on it from the edge of the water.

    But the departure from the water was brutal! It was freezing with the wind, and we had no towel to wrap around ourselves. So we sprawled our bodies out to get maximum sun exposure and waited to bake.

 We eventually warmed up enough to be able to conquer the trail to the petrified waterfall. Ri and I ate Chex Mix as we climbed over boulders. We arrived at a sharp precipice and Ri immediately gravitated to the edge. Daredevil. I made her stay 15 feet back and I stayed 30.       Sarah, Jorge and Elena met up with us on the way down the trail and Elena was all dried off and back in her darling toddler attire. We walked past the pool of water but Ri couldn’t resist jumping in one more time. She’s insane. I refused to follow suit but I did walk Ms. Elena around the perimeter of the water. She held my hand and talked away.

Love.

She also got a kick out of watching Ri kick her legs up out of the water. The little things in life.  At the entrance to the springs, there were a handful of fruit and food stands. Sarah swore by the coconut water so we decided to try it. Ri was not convinced so she went with the tried and true pineapple. It did not disappoint.     On our way home, we got a taste of the countryside. A weathered older gentleman walked his goats on the side of the road.    Two minutes later, we witnessed donkeys carrying sticks up the path.   Pretty surreal to catch this site while listening to Taylor Swift and eating coconut wedges with spices drizzled on them.

8.The Tree of Tule. On our way home, Jorge steered us to Santa Maria del Tule to visit one of the widest and oldest trees around the world. It is a Montezuma’s Cypress and it’s over 2000 years old. Beautiful.    8. Espresso! Ri tried her first espresso at Nuevo Mundo.   She looks sophisticated in this picture but this is the “before sipping espresso” picture. I didn’t get an “after” shot because she spit it out so quickly.

9. Fried grasshoppers. We almost left Oaxaca without Ri tasting them but luckily the restaurant we went to on the last night served them. Ri was so happy to hear that! This girl is game for most anything, god love her, so she readily tried one. She didn’t spit this out so it beat espresso! Jorge and I devoured a few in comraderie with Ri. Not bad.

 10. Moments with Elena. Let’s face it. The overwhelming reason for this trip was to be with Elena! We love Sarah and Jorge tremendously but we wanted some quality time with the munchie-munch. Elena had a bit of a different idea of our purpose for vacationing in Oaxaca. At 20 months old, she is just learning the thrill of using the word “no.” She mastered it by the time we left. Ri loves to tell people about Elena’s four hand gestures to articulate “no.” She saw each one of them scores of times. Sarah, Ri and I would laugh hysterically at Elena’s dogmatic hand gestures to us as we approached her. Despite Elena being in her new phase, Ri was still able to spend some quiet, sweet moments with her, like this one when Maria was explaining to Elena how to have fun with water (Elena got to see a second slip and fall by Maria when she slipped on the stone and her leg fell into the water; the girl keeps us laughing).  Or this one when Ri carried Elena in the backpack at the Cerra del Fortin.  Or when Elena was fascinated watching Ri climb a tree and wanted to follow suit.

 11. Spicy Medicine. Aunt Sarah bought Cocoa Krispies cereal for Ri at my request. I knew that if all else failed she would live on Cocoa Krispies. The first morning we woke up, Sarah was feeding Elena berries and oatmeal. As soon as Elena saw Ri sit down with her Cocoa Krispies, she pointed and begged for some. So, we had to come up with a reason she couldn’t have them. Hence, the creation of Spicy Medicine!  Ri would say “you won’t like this, Elena, it’s spicy medicine!” I can’t wait until Elena stays with us and gets a taste of that “spicy medicine!” The oatmeal days may be long gone….

12. Hot Stone massage. Ri got her first massage while in Oaxaca, and even better, a hot stone massage. Spoiled. Sarah and I dropped her off for a 30 minute massage and got a coffee with Elena. We told the masseuse to go lightly on Maria because I did not want anything to happen on this first massage. Meanwhile, I got to spend some quality time with my niece and spoil her with tastes of cappuccino foam. We went to pick up Maria, and she came out of the room crying. At first I was scared half to death that something had gone really wrong but then she sniffled “they didn’t give me a hot stone massage.” The masseuse explained that she thought we meant no hot stones when we said “go lightly.”  So being the sweet mama I am, I gave up 30 minutes of my massage to Maria so that she could get her much anticipated hot stone massage. She loved it.

13. Crossy Road. Maria is addicted to an iPhone game called Crossy Road. It is very similar to the game Frogger I used to play as a kid. She and I had intense battles in the afternoon when Elena would nap or in the evenings before bed. I think I beat her three times out of 150. Jorge played it for the first time when we were at a restaurant and he started screaming as he tried to move the little chicken across  the road. It was hysterical.

14. Gourmet cooking. On our last nightt, we went to a very fancy restaurant. It was the same restaurant we went to with a group of people when Sarah and Jorge got married. They have the most delicious food. Sarah and Jorge and I split three different dinners (scallops, ribeye and duck) that were all scrumptious. Maria ordered  something out of the blue: a rice dish covered with feta cheese and onions. She devoured it in seconds. The girl is up for anything.   15. Playing with balloons as tall as a telephone pole. While Sarah and I got massages, Jorge took Ri and Elena to the Zocalo and bought two tall balloons for Ri. Jorge said the people in the square loved her because she was having so much fun with the balloons. She even managed to endear the folks she accidentally whacked on the heads with the balloons. And Elena loved watching Ri try to manage those giant characters.


 16. Pulling the wooden pup around the terrace. On our second morning in Oaxaca, we bribed Elena to eat oatmeal and then we would go on the terrace. She has a little wooden puppy that she likes to pull around with her. We took the puppy out with us for Elena to pull. But the joke was on us. She directed Maria to pull the pup the entire time. Maria gladly obliged, nonetheless, and we spent 20 minutes watching Maria pull the  wooden puppy while Elena followed her pointing to where Ri should go. It was golden.


17. The Zocalo. I walked down to theZocalo  nearly every day when Elena would nap. I loved it. There were always musicians playing music and people selling vibrantly colored balloons. We all walked down after dinner one night to let Ri see the scene. It is a wonderous refuge to read a book, take a rest, and people watch.  

    18. Kefir. My dad gave me a piece of advice before Ri and I left for Oaxaca. Drink some kefir while you are there. Kefir is cultured milk with lots of good gut bacteria. Yep, good gut bacteria. Jorge made Ri and I some after we ate fish at a local restaurant and felt a little queasy. I had been warned by dad and Sarah that kefir can be rather disgusting tasting.  But I guzzled down a half of a glass, and Ri got a few sips in before she gave up. And, dad was right (or else Ri and I just have iron stomachs) – we left Oaxaca with absolutely no sickness!

19. Mid-afternoon cafe lunches. We went to a little cafe close to Sarah’s apartment for lunch one afternoon and it was so good. The salad was phenomenal – we had one with turkey and chesses and avocado with  an out-of-this-world dressing. And the sandwiches were scrumptious, too. Ri stuck with her German roots and ordered sausage and potatoes!  20. Belly laughs. We had some serious belly laughs together on this trip. Ri falling in the spring water was a good one. Or Elena standing on the side of the bed and demanding Ri to stand on one side of her and me on the other and jump up and down incessantly. Or, the greatest one, listening to Ri call out songs on Sarah’s iPod and quizzically call out “Sarah Menkedick, Goats? You have a song, Aunt Sarah?” It was Sarah’s audiotape of an essay, and we all laughed for ten minutes straight while listening to Sarah read “Goats.”

But best of all was just the ability to spend a good chunk of time with my sister and brother-in-law and niece without work interruptions or errands or other daily pokes. Sarah and I have not gotten that in quite some time.

I’m thrilled we got to visit Jorge’s birthplace. Mexico provided us with wonderous contradictions: rugged yet tender; vibrant yet muted; raucous yet serene. It calls out to you: I remember the morning Ri and I were hiking and we kept hearing what sounded like a cow in the distance. I asked her if she heard the cows.  She laughed and corrected me. “That is the sound of a gas truck, mom!” Uncle Jorge had taught her that the day before.

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!

Cupcake war

Maria obsesses over the show Cupcake Wars. Absolutely loves it. 

Yesterday, we had some down time between having friends over. Ri was shuffling through the boxes in the pantry and found a box of chocolate cake mix and icing (because we are the family that never is without sugar). She looked at me with her Maria smile and sweetly asked “can I do a cupcake war in the kitchen?”

Yes, it was her against herself. She retrieved all the ingredients and cupcake pans, and placed them on the counter. She wrote down the names of all the neighbors she’d give the cupcakes to and totaled the numbers. She needed 26 cupcakes. I stood at the oven and calibrated the timer to one hour and thirty minutes. 

She yelled “go” and I started the timer. She whipped over my way and preheated the oven. Then she poured her batter and mixed her eggs, water and oil. She was in a mad frenzy from the start. And she loved the thrill. I acted as assistant reacting to commands she belted out.

“Open the icing and put it in the plastic dispenser! Make sure the silver decorating tip is all the way down!”

As I did that, she poured the mix in the cupcake cups. She only had enough mix for 20. 

“Assistant, you need to run to the store and get another box of mix! And I need a topper. How about cherries or bananas?” I darted out of the house to Kroger’s. I had 18 minutes.

I grabbed a bunch of bananas and a box of mix. I also grabbed a can of frosting, in case (smart move in the end). Then I saw some decorative colored balls of chocolate so I grabbed a green and blue package. I thought Ri would love them. 

I arrived home to a daughter who was flying around the kitchen.

“Thank goodness you are home! We need more mix made into batter! Did you get the bananas?”

I gave her the bananas and then brought the two packs of chocolate balls from behind my back to surprise her.

“What are these?” She made a scrunched-up disgusted face.

“I thought you’d like them for your cupcakes.”

“Ahh, mom, they do not at all go with my theme. Thanks though.”

Theme?!

She proceeded to sprinkle crushed graham cracker on her cupcakes. She sliced four bananas out of the six because she calculated 7 slices per banana. Glad her math is up to par.    

   
She kept on me about the mix until I had stirred it up enough to bring it over to her. She poured it quickly (chocolate everywhere) and threw the pans into the oven. She dictated my next task: put the icing into the plastic decorating tube. 

There was 6 minutes left when Ri took out the cupcakes. Some were finished but some were not. This led to a scolding from Ri about how I needed to buy the same kind of mix. My mix required a 25 minute bake time and Ri’s required 20. This meant they needed 5 more minutes – that would only leave one minute to decorate! Agh!

I took the fully cooked cupcakes out to decorate and Ri threw the remaining cupcakes into the oven. At two minutes, she made an executive decision and took the cupcakes out of the oven – ready they were fully done or not!

She topped the cupcakes with icing and I moved them over to the table to sprinkle with crushed graham cracker. She finished and put the bananas on top. We had 1 minute … she placed the last banana on the last cupcake and we were done! We high-fived each other and breathed a sigh of relief.   

I could have eaten this girl up from head to toe as we stood there looking at her creations. She amazes me with her independence and strong will. She has a gift for design and a love of food. A pathway to executive pastry chef is beginning to be carved out….

Now, if she can just learn how to CLEAN UP!