DC

The kids get a fall break every year, usually the third week of October. They only get Thursday and Friday off during the week but a lot of families take off a couple of days before, and use the week as a fall vacation. We have never done that. This year, I had extra vacation accrued that I would lose if I did not take by October 31. Therefore, I decided it was high time that we take a Fall trip. That was the easy part. Now where to go?

I immediately thought of Hocking Hills because it wa supposed to be warm and I love to hike. But then I thought about my lovely children and his hiking doesn’t tank as a vacation to them….  I asked my girlfriend (who tends to agree that hiking is not vacation) where she would go and she mentioned Chicago. I took a walk with Maria that evening and asked her what she thought about heading to Chi-Town. She freaked out. “Seriously mom, we could go to Chicago!?” Her enthusiasm sealed the deal for me. We arrived home and asked Jon to check on hotels. We mentioned the trip to Mario, and he was just as excited. And as life goes, we were quickly disappointed. The Chicago cubs were playing in the playoffs during the week we were going to go. The hotel prices were outrageous. 

Never ones to wallow in our tears, Ri and I thought of a back-up city. Washington DC. I had been wanting to take the kids to DC for a year or so because it is fairly close and they are at the age now where they’ve learned about politics, seen pictures of monuments in DC, read about the Declaration of Independence, and so on. 

Jon was able to find a hotel near the White House, and we were able to get flights for cheap. It was a done deal. We left on Tuesday night and returned on Friday night. Half of the fun for the kids is pulling their suitcases around the airport and flying on a plane. Our flight to DC was not even half full. The kids each got a row to themselves, which they loved. 


We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which the kids loved almost as much as flying. They had not been in a taxi before. Mario wanted me to tip the driver $100. He is very generous with my money.  Another small thing that thrills the kids is arriving at the hotel and getting the keys to the room. They inevitably engage in a power struggle over who gets the key to open the room. The compromise of late is that someone gets to use it to go up the elevator and another gets to use it on the room.  They fell in love with the room as soon as we walked into it. They opened up the curtains and gawked at the bustling outdoors. They loved that each of them had separate beds; they immediately relegated me to the sleeper sofa. I think not….

After reviewing the room, we traveled downstairs to the fitness room and pool. The kids loved the fact that they could lift weights and get on the treadmill with me. I was getting excited that we would have morning workouts but that never really came to fruition. They simply appreciated the fact that they could jump on the treadmill for a minute and then get off. We hit the hot tub and the pool that evening. There was a ceramic divider between the hot tub and the pool so we use that to be our imaginary net for pool volleyball. I predicted that game would end in a few tiffs, and I was right. But in hindsight, it was good fun.  The kids also had epic battles with some random foam noodles. Maria slammed Mario many more times then he got her and I swore that he would have welts all over his back. When I cringed and told them to stop, they swore that they were having fun doing it.


We are at District Taco Tuesday evening. It was only a few blocks from the hotel. Chips and guac hit the spot. After that dinner, we needed a walk so we headed over to the White House. The kids thought it looked tiny compared to how they pictured it. We all had a few words with the occupants of the White House before we departed…

 

On Wednesday morning, the kids woke up and asked to hit the gym. Woo-hoo!  They actually walked/ran on the treadmill for about 10 minutes, which was longer than I thought they’d last. Ri even lifted a few weights while Mario pedaled the stationary bike. It wasn’t long before they were asking to leave; I was excited we got 20 minutes in. We made a Starbucks run and then shot down to the Museum of African-American history. Unfortunately, you needed passes to get into the museum, which I may have known about if I would have read up beforehand. Whatever, better to wing it. We decided to go to the Museum of American History instead. We stayed there for an hour or so. The kids weren’t too interested. Mario thought an old car was cool and Maria liked looking at Ella Fitzgerald’s dress. We found a room for kids where they could experiment and create things. Mario found a way to get fruit from the top of a platform down into a basket, and Maria made a corn hole set to add to a play farm. 


We walked from the museum to the Capitol building for our 12:20 tour. I knew it was a bit of a walk but I was determined to get a good walk in on such a nice day. The kids didn’t complain too much…. Mario, consistently throughout the trip, begged for a taxi – no matter if our destination was one block away or 10 blocks away. Maria was good about walking – she knows how to please her mother.


We made it for our capital tour on time (I was mad that I had to discard all of the snacks in my book bag – I tried to hide them behind a pole much to the kids’ chagrin – Maria eventually grabbed the bag of goodies and forced me to throw it in the garbage can. Mario complained that he was hungry before the tour so he got a bit pissy in the beginning. But then he came around and he and Maria asked a ton of questions of the tour guide. 


After the tour, the guide mentioned that we could go across the street to our senator’s or house of representative’s office and ask them for passes to sit in the spectator seats in the Senate and House. Maria wanted to do it so badly (which I would have never guessed) but Mario was begging to just go to lunch. I told Mario that we would simply try to get into the Senate by asking the person if we could get in without tickets. We walked over and asked. We had no luck – she directed us to go across the street. This led to a breakdown by both kids – Mario pleading to leave and Ri pleading to go across the street.  I was trying to manage the bickering as we walked down the hall when all of a sudden a man dressed in a suit and holding a legal file stopped us. 

“I would like to help you get into the Senate. I have tickets that you can have so that you don’t have to go across the street.” 

We looked at one another in disbelief. Was he serious? He pulled out three green Senate passes and told us to walk around the building with him so the lady manning the Senate would not know that he gave them to us. We walked around the building with him and he pointed out different things to us. He then had us drop our phones and bookbag off prior to heading up to the Senate. He walked us to the elevator and asked if we wanted to meet up with him after lunch to see the House in session. The kids frantically nodded yes but I was still a bit skeptical…. Mario nudged me after he left and commented that he was trying to pick me up. Ri looked at him in disgrace. How could anyone want to pick up her mom?! We saw three senators speak in the Senate session: a senator from West Virginia who talked about economic needs, a senator from Wyoming, and a senator from North Carolina. They were basically talking to the air since nobody else was in the room but hey, we got to see a few reps in action. We left there and traveled to the cafeteria for lunch. It totally reminded me of the times I would visit my mom at Deaconess Hospital. The plastic trays, the cafeteria hamburger and fries, the soda fountain, the individual plates of cakes. We had a bit of fun right before dessert. The lights went off in the cafeteria and security was scrambling around talking into their headsets. Maria was truly frightened; Mario was ready to tag along with security and track things down. I frankly was a bit nervous, and thought maybe we should leave and not meet back up with our new friend. We debated, watched everybody walking around, and finally asked a front desk person if she thought everything was safe. She said that we were probably most safe inside the capital. So, we decided to stay, and for the next two hours we got to see parts of the Capitol where only the Senators and House of Representatives and their staff can go. We got to go on the floor of the House of Representatives. The kids got to walk down the aisle that the president walks down when he meets with members of the house. We even got a history lesson and learned about a shooting in the House of Representatives back in the 1950s. They were intrigued with the bullet hole in the wooden table in the middle of the room. The kids were good about asking questions and seemed genuinely interested in everything our friend said (we later learned that “our friend” was known for being generous to families who were visiting the Capitol, although Mario still thought he liked me:). We didn’t leave the Capitol building until 5 PM. 

We walked down to the Metro and took it directly to Georgetown where we met Aunt Ann for dinner. We got there a bit early so we decided to look at a card shop and get a few cupcakes from Sprinkles. Maria was on cloud nine because she had seen Sprinkles on one of her cupcake shows. The cupcakes did not disappoint. Anne treated us to an Italian dinner at Flavio. The kids talked up a storm with her – she kept turning her head from Maria back to Mario back to Maria back to Mario. I don’t think she’s used to the constant jabber of kids. But she did great keeping up and they loved having her attention. By the time we all ate our carb loaded meals, we were exhausted. The day has hit us hard. We gave Aunt Ann a big hug goodbye and I succumbed to the kids’ pressure to get a taxi to the Metro. How sad is that? We arrived back in the hotel and Maria was asleep within 10 minutes. I laid in bed with Mario watching some goofy show until he finally fell asleep. 


We woke Thursday to Maria searching her phone for a breakfast place for us. One of her favorite things about trips is eating out at new places.  Mario and I could’ve grabbed a Starbucks every morning but she likes to relax, have a good meal, talk, and then start the day. She chose a French café – I think it was because it was only a block away. They had different types of breakfast – nothing traditional – so Mario was completely appalled by it. Luckily, they did have chocolate chip muffins so he lessened his irritation a bit. Maria got an apple turnover and we were set. We sat at a high table near the entrance and reviewed what we had done the day before. 


We left for the monuments after breakfast. We saw the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the MLK Memorial. The kids were amazed at the Lincoln Memorial, and stood in awe with me at the MLK Memorial. We read all the quotes at MLK. 

We met our friend again at the Capitol and he gave us a tour of the legislators’ private subway system. He also led us through the hall the president walks down on his way out to the inauguration ceremony (and showed us pictures from this past inauguration). After the Capitol, we decided to hit the Newseum. I had heard that it was a cool museum, and the kids had heard there was an exhibit where you could be a news anchor. When we first got there, we were a bit disappointed. It was interesting to me because of my First Amendment work but the kids were rather bored with the incessant writing on the wall without much interaction. But then we found the area where kids could act like newscasters and watch themselves. They loved it. We ended up spending nearly two hours just doing that. Maria was precise and poised; Mario was hyped and comedic in his presentation. The area also had a virtual reality station where you had to escape the Berlin wall. The minimum age was 13 but we figured we would fib and get Mario in. The boy that’s Mr. Cool all the time lost his cool when he went up to the girl and she told him he had to be 13 to do it. He just ran away instead of saying he was 13. So he was all pissed off that he couldn’t do the virtual reality game. Of course, Maria gets upset that they won’t let him so she boycotts it herself. But after another few times as a newscaster, she got bored and went back over because there was no line to do the game. I scammed with Mario that I would walk in the line with him and tell the lady that he was going to be 13 at the end of the month. She caved and let him play. Am I the best mom or what!? They both loved it, and did it two times in a row. 


Even though there were six floors of information, the virtual reality and newscaster spots are the only ones that we reviewed. Lovely. By the time we left the Newseum, it was 5 PM. We slowly made it back to the hotel and rested for a few minutes. On our way back, Maria asked if she could hold Mario’s stuffed animal koala when they got back to the hotel. Mario said no way, and Maria was upset. I told her that we would go to a store near the hotel and see if we could find her a stuffed animal. Mario agreed to go because he wanted to see if they had any cool phone cases. We had some excitement on the walk there in the dark. Mario tried to leap over a garbage can and something came running out of it. We assumed it was a rat or a mouse – it led to 15 minutes of us trying to see if we could find it. Good times. We found Ri a stuffed animal puppy that you could also microwave to heat up. Gotta love what they come up with anymore. Maria was happy. Mario also found a phone case, which made him happy. And I was happy because they were happy, and it was a beautiful night to walk around DC with my two babes. They really wanted room service at the hotel so we ordered that and watched Hidden Figures on HBO. 


On Friday, I tried to get the kids to go down and work out with me. Maria refused and was adamant that we needed to have a big breakfast at a restaurant before we left DC. We found a breakfast place called Founding Farmers, and it did not disappoint. There was a 30 minute wait which caused some hesitation in staying (we are not a patient bunch), but it was well worth the wait when we got the food. Maria got vanilla cream French toast, Mario got chocolate chip pancakes, and I got eggs and bacon. Each dish was amazing. Even Mario liked it, which says a lot. 


After breakfast, we walked to Madame Tussaud‘s. They had been wanting to go there since we arrived in DC. I was hesitant – it cost a boat load  of money and it was … Madame Tussaud‘s. What happened to us going to culturally relevant museums? In my dreams, the kids would spend hours asking questions as they looked at exhibits and gained knowledge about our history. In reality, they wanted to stand next to Taylor Swift and the Rock. But, it actually ended up being a lot of fun because the kids absolutely adored it. There was a special room that had the White House desk and the press podium – that was a trip. They also had a room where are you could make wax hands. The kids were intrigued with the process – Maria got right in and wanted to do it but Mario was more hesitant. You had to put your hand in ice cold water for 30 seconds then dip it into burning water then back into cold and back into burning water several times in order for the wax to form. Mario kept looking at Maria‘s face as she did it and kept wondering whether it was a good idea. But in the end when he saw how cool Maria‘s hand looked he decided to try it himself. His face was hilarious as he held his hand in the water. 


After Madame Tussaud‘s, we had about two hours before we needed to head to the airport. The kids were ready to just head back to the hotel and sit around but I refused. We were going to get in one last museum if it killed us. I made them walk down to the National Archives so that we could see the Declaration of Independence. When we arrived, the line was all the way around the street. The kids laughed at me, but little did they know I would make them walk farther. I got out our map and decided that we would go to the Natural History Museum instead. The line was not too bad there – we waited for about 10 minutes and got in. We were able to see the Hope Diamond, which the kids wanted to see because Jon has talked about it before. We also saw the skeleton remains  of a number of animals, including the gecko (now we know what Buddy’s skeleton looks like). Mario got mad about something before we left the museum – I think Maria made fun of him – so he took off and Maria took off after him. I lost track of them, and they ended up waiting for me outside of the museum doors. However, I was looking all over for them inside before I went out to find them. This resulted in me ripping them a new one, and Mario walking ahead of us down the street. I was in the midst of trying to get us all to make up and have a good rest of the afternoon when Mario accidentally knocked over one of the ropes lining a museum. I heard someone from behind me scream harshly “pick that up!” I saw Mario walk back and begin to pick up what he had knocked over. I turned around and told the man who yelled at Mario that he could have asked more politely. He responded back with anger. This resulted in us going back-and-forth together before we each went our merry way. I was astounded at the exchange. What a way to end our time in DC! Maria told us that she was getting ready to flip him off if he kept yelling at me. Mario talked about how dad would have really given him a piece of his mind if he was there. Ahh, a family that vents together, stays together….

We got back to the hotel into our last DC taxi at 4:30 for our 7:30 flight. We had been told that we better take off that early because of DC traffic. Don’t you know that we got to the airport at 4:50 so we had 2 1/2 hours to kill! Ugh. We spent them sitting on a bench outside of customs and engaging in writing contests. Ri gave us a prompt and we had 10 minutes to write whatever we wanted. My kids are quite talented writers. I could not believe what they came up with. They made fun of all of my stories, of course. We also engaged in drawing contests, which always makes them laugh. I readily admit I have no skills in this area.

With 45 minutes left before boarding, Maria got herself a huge slice of pizza and Mario got himself a book. He wanted to buy a scary one but I told him I was sick of walking him to his room in the broad daylight so he needed a non-scary one.  Then we had a freak attack over the loss of Maria’s phone. She came running up to Mario and I as we searched for a book and said that she lost her phone. Mario and I walked back to where we had been drawing and didn’t see it there. Maria frantically searched her bag and couldn’t find it. I was so irritated; I went up to a security guard and asked if anybody had found it. Nope. He took me to another security guard and in the meantime, I received a call from Maria‘s phone. Maria was laughing and told me that she had accidentally put it down near the books when she was helping Mario try to find one. My goodness – how do parents survive all of this drama?! Our flight home was uneventful, thank god. Maria wrote some more and Mario stared out the window. 


Jon was waiting for us when we got off the plane – ready to take us home. We spent an hour laying in bed – the four of us – listening to the kids recall stories from the trip. 

Happy 9th birthday, Mario!

Mario turned nine yesterday. At least, he turned nine in biological years. In Mario years, he’s 21. 


If he could break free from the confines of his parent’s house, he’d do it in a heart beat. If he could head to the bar and drink a cold one, he’d be off. If he could head to the coffee shoppe and get an espresso, he would walk there in a second. If he could bike to campus to hang out with millennials, he’d grab his helmet and take off. 

This is not to say that he doesn’t still ask me to get him water or rub his back at night. It’s not to say that when he’s chillin’ on the couch he doesn’t ask me to sit next to him and snuggle. He even still let’s me squeeze and kiss him in private (he’d die if I did it around friends). 

But he has definitely hit an independence streak. I think he may deal with us until age 16 and then pack his bags for California and take off to hang with the surfer dudes and make vlogs. But he loves  money so much that if he did move out, he’d be one of those young, hip entrepreneurs who drops out of high school but makes millions.

So, how to sum up Mario’s eighth year of life? He loves you tube. He loves watching music videos. He loves playing video games with his buddies. He loves going to football games and playing on the hill with his friends and talking with the older kids. He loves wrestling and jumping all around the house. He loves sports. He enjoys biking by himself to the library or down to school. He still craves chocolate everything. He will drop all plans to go fishing. He remains a total character. He is compassionate and sweet, and loves to make people laugh.

Some highlights from his eighth year:

1. Football games with his buddies and sideline passes with his dad.


2. Halloween trick-or-treating with his two friends (and mom not standing too close to them as they went house to house)…and a boatload of candy!


3. Serving Thanksgiving meal to homeless men at the Y and chatting it up with them.


4. Christmas morning opening presents – oh, the drama and anticipation!

5. A broken arm! At 11:20 pm on NYE, you ran into my friend’s dining room  holding your arm and crying that it was broken. Your friend had fell down on it as you were playing. Sure enough, it was. We sat at the hospital as the New Year was brought in laughing at you in your “high” state from the pain meds. 


6. You took care of Grandpa Ionno’s grave in Marietta.

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7. You went to Feed the Streets with me and walked a mile passing out water and lunches to people in need.

8. You went hunting with your dad and “had the best day of your life!”


9. You watched OSU hockey with your buddies in a suite with tons of cookies, and met Brutus!


10. You got all dressed up for Easter and killed it on the volleyball court.


11. You went on Spring Break with the Webers and Muellers to Hocking Hills. You went fishing and hiked. I met you there two days into break and we explored together. You loved taking risks and climbing steep rock climbs.


12. You cranked baseball this year – one of the strongest players!


13. You fed a baby calf and named it after a girl at school (romantic, just like your dad).

14. You starred in your first talent show singing “We will rock you!”

15. You became enamored with ball pythons.

16. You started sporting sweet Panama Jack hats.


17. You won Elena’s heart by making her laugh with your silly antics.


18.You kayaked and fished on Lake Erie.


19. You went white-water rafting, zip lined, and completed a mud obstacle course in West Virginia!


20. You blobbed your sister!

21. You swam in the creek at Park of the Roses with your pup!

22. You won a poop emoji at the Ohio State Fair!


23. You started third grade – your last year at RLS!


24. You celebrated your birthday with a bunch of friends at Get Air and a sleepover!


Happy birthday our sweet Mario. I hope this year brings you lots of learning experiences and lots of adventures. And guess what?

We love you (you weren’t here to say it before me:)!).

COTA trip

Bus fare has risen to $2 a trip. Am I showing my age when I complain that it used to be 50 cents? The kids and I decided to take the COTA bus downtown to visit Columbus Commons last Friday. I had one more day of vacation left so I wanted to do something different. I’ve always wondered what their Fun Fridays were like (I had read that they had inflatables and carousel rides).  

We walked (without much complaining for once!) up to the bus stop a few blocks away and waited for the No. 5. We timed it pretty good with only a 10 minute wait in the 90 degree heat. The kids said hi to the driver and deposited their cash. They chose where they always have chosen – the back of the bus. While we rode, we guessed the years on the pennies in my purse and created different faces for each other on some crazy app Maria had on her phone. 

The kids pulled the cord to signal our stop on Town and High. We hurried across the street to the Commons only to find scores of young kids waiting in line for the inflatables. I sighed on behalf of Ri and Mario but they were good sports. We walked over to the carousel since it didn’t have a long line. Ri and Mario chose their horses and asked me to stand with them (that was unexpected). After the carousel, we walked over to the police and fire stations. The kids shook the two policemens’ hands and walked towards the fire trailer. The one policeman stopped me and asked if Mario was my kid. I said yes. He shook his head and laughed. 

“That kid is gonna be famous some day; mark my words. He came towards me and I stepped back like whoa, he’s strong and good-lookin’ as heck!”  

I chuckled and told him to keep his voice down – Mario doesn’t need a bigger head…. I then winked and told him Mario’s got good genes….

The fireman gave us a demonstration on fire safety and then had us crawl through a small smokey room. Ri and Mario had done it at school, and were strangely excited. We left the trailer and visited the football station where you throw a football through the hole in the placard. Mario impressed the young volunteer manning the station and threw it in the hole. Meanwhile, Ri helped a little girl hit a baseball. Her mom commented on how sweet Ri was. All sorts of compliments about the kids that morning!

We hit up Subway for Mario and went to Zoup for Ri. We had to head back to Subway to get Mario a second sandwich and Ri a cookie. We sat there awhile and people watched. 


After lunch, the kids decided the lines at the Commons were too long and they would rather head home and clean with me. Yea, right. They just wanted to get back to the AC. I didn’t mind though – this 90 degree weather is nasty. 

On our bus ride home, we chatted it up with a tall African American kid. He talked about visiting Senegal where some of his family lives. He described how hot it was, and the huge snakes he saw there. Mario was enthralled while Ri asked question after question. 

We pulled up to our stop and descended back into the heat. The kids forgot we’d have to walk back from the bus stop. Mario got a piggy back ride while Ri hoofed it out with me. We chilled the rest of the afternoon, cleaned some (very little) and played some, and I enjoyed one last day of vacation with my munchos before it was back to work. 

Summer vacation 2016 – Ace Adventure Resort 

We hated leaving our chalet in West Virginia. Yes, our chalet….

We had grown acclimated to our digs off the dirt road next to the pond full of blue gill. This was the first vacation where I did not look at my watch once to see how many more days we had left (what is it they say? With the kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a family trip!). Maybe it’s because the kids are older now and more self sufficient. I recall vacations past where the kids would be up at 6:30 am raring to go and pulling us by our hands to hit the pool or the arcade every five minutes. Now, they play on their own during our down times and Jon and I can have a few moments to catch up. But it was also the fact that this was an adventure trip where we were on the go throughout the day – whitewater rafting, ziplining, obstacle climbing – me in my element!

We left on Saturday for the three and a half hour trek to Minden, West Virginia – home of Ace Adventure Resort. We’d never been there before and never heard anyone talk about it either. I found it on Facebook and Ri researched it more after I told her about it. Jon and I loved the idea of only driving 3.5 hours to get to our vacation destination. It’s so nice to simply pack up the truck and head off mid-morning knowing you will arrive mid-afternoon. I only had to pack a couple of bags of snacks for the trip…:). 

  • We arrived at check-in time at the welcome center. They explained the layout to us and we took a look at the lake. It looked just like the pictures with the giant blob floating  near the beach and obstacles scattered throughout the water. Our chalet was about a half of a mile away from the welcome center right off an unpaved road next to a pond. Mario was excited to be next to the pond so that he could fish in the morning (he never ended up fishing in the morning but it sounded good; he did fish with some guys from Marietta one night; saw them the next day and they remembered his name calling out “hey Mario” – he loves that). The kids tore through the chalet to get a feel for where everything was, including their bedroom. They threw their bags down and went straight outside to the hot tub on the back porch. The hot tub was a huge hit throughout the trip. The kids would go in both morning and evening, and Jon and I loved relaxing in it after the kids went to bed. 

Our first night we laid low. We visited the New River bridge (which is taller than the Eiffel Tower). The walkway under the bridge was under construction so we could not walk under it. I was really bummed:). The kids loved messing with me as we drove over it.

We hit up Bob Evans for dinner and Kroger’s to stock up on breakfast and lunch foods and lots of snacks. The Kroger’s was amaze-balls, literally, with two dispensers containing superballs. It took me back to my childhood when I’d head to IGA with mom or dad and beg for a dime to get a new superball. The kids were just as excited to get a quarter and wait to see which ball they’d get (maybe not quite as excited but they played it up because they knew I loved it). 


They also had mini carts at this Kroger’s which mightily excited the kids. They loved pushing them around and throwing items into their cart. We ended up staying there close to an hour that night with the kids pushing the carts around the store. Simple pleasures.


The next morning we had our white water rafting trip. Jon is the only one of us who had gone rafting before. When I told him I had booked the Lower New River he flinched. He thought the rapids may be too much for the kids’ first trip especially because of the flooding West Virginia incurred a couple weeks earlier. A guide had called us the night before and told us that our rafting would likely be canceled due to the flooding but that we could select the New River which was more calm. I knew Maria would want the more adventurous route, so I was inclined to wait to see if the river would go down in a few days and we could still do the Lower. But Jon was fairly adamant that he thought we should just stick with the Upper New River tour. I conceded to Jon since Sunday looked like such a beautiful day to be on the river. Thank goodness I listened to my husband. I about lost it on our first rapid; it was scary as heck. The guide told us that a majority of our trip on the Lower New River would have been the Rapids we went through at the beginning. Again, I thanked Jon for convincing me. 


Jon and I stayed in the front since we had to have a strong paddle through the trip. The kids loved seeing Jon and I get soaked. The guide was awesome and allowed the kids to jump out of the raft and swim in the river in certain spots. She even let them get out and try to swim in the rapids, which freaked me out a bit but they loved it. She also played a game with Ri where Ri held onto a rope and tried to stand up on the raft and not fall off while the guide moved the raft back-and-forth swiftly. We stopped for lunch halfway down the river and they had a smorgasbord of smoked meats and side dishes and tons of brownies. Maria was in seventh heaven – she had been asking throughout the trip what the lunch would entail. 

Our guide let the kids move to the front of the raft near the end of the trip. We got a couple of good rapids while they were in the front, including one that nearly knocked Mario out of the raft. It was such an enjoyable day together; the kids begged to do it the next day. We promised the Lower New River next year when Mario had a bit more weight on him.

Monday was our chill day. We spent the morning at the lake playing on the inflatables. Ri acted like a  drill sergeant and woke us up at 8:15 in order to get us ready to head to the lake by 9 AM. She was hilarious barking orders to eat breakfast and to get our swimsuits on ASAP. Jon dropped us off at the lake promptly at 9 AM and went to work for a couple of hours. 

The obstacles were a trip. Here I was thinking I was in shape and could take on anything. I slipped a few times off of the plastic inflatables and thought I tore both hamstrings! Mario was a little monkey climbing up everything and beautifully jumping off feet first. Ri tried everything with Mario but had a few issues with slipping and sliding off of the top of some inflatables. Nonetheless, she continued to jump throughout the morning. They are both ready for any type of adventure. 

They made me jump off the side of a 13 feet high inflatable. It was one of the scariest things I have done. They must know how much I love them in order to agree to such an act. Of course, they both did it with ease. We cranked the inflatables out all morning, and cranked out the zip line and giant slide, too.



The only thing left when Jon arrived back to the lake was the blob. Ugh, the blob. It looked so much fun when we saw it on Facebook. But that blob was a brutal inflatable device. The trick was to try to sit with your legs out when you jumped off of the landing. It is much easier to watch than to do. Of course, tiny Mario had no issues with it but Ri and I had many. I had major skin burn on my right leg from one fall. Ri hurt her ankle on her fall. But she refused to give up and went back for a second try. She made a better fall on that try but little did she know what was ahead of her. 
She crawled to the end of the blob and sat down with her legs out and her torso leaning forward. The lifeguard at the landing asked her if she was ready and she gave a thumbs up. However, the woman that was going to blob her did not count down for her so she was not ready to pop up. In addition, the woman probably outweighed her by 150 pounds. John and I looked on a bit frightened for her. And then there she went – twirling up in the air – with an unpleasant descent into the water.


She rose up and put a smile on her face for everyone to see. But as soon as she swam over to Jon and I, she was crying. She said she hit a rock. Clearly, she had not hit a rock but she had hit the water so hard that it felt like it. Poor girl. We told her that she had tried it and that she had overcome her fear of the blob and that she could ignore it the rest of the trip. We called it a day after that episode, and went home to change and to head to a new dinner joint for the night. We found Gino’s – the best Italian food (for a fast food Italian joint) that we have ever had. And super service. Maria miraculously  felt better – nothing like a little pasta and meatballs to make our girl feel better.


On Tuesday, we went ziplining. We had another great group of guides to lead us. Maria and Mario had a ton of questions for them as we drove to the start of the tour. The views were gorgeous as we began our adventure. Mario was a bit fearful of the first zip line we went on because it was very high up. He went alongside Maria. When they both were getting locked in, he said that he was a bit nervous to go. The guide said he would do fine and then just pushed him off the platform. My heart sank for him – but when I got over to the other side he was laughing and saying how much fun he had. The guides joked the rest of the time that he was the intrepid one wanting to do flips and go backwards during each zipline; little did they know how intrepid Maria was. She just stayed calm and cool throughout the entire zip line; she absolutely loves those adventure treks.  

The last zipline was terrifying. You either had to fall backwards off of the landing or you had to stand frontwards and see yourself freefall towards the ground. I chose frontwards. The kids ended up choosing the same. But once you fell it was a blast because you could do flips or let go and just swing back and forth until you grabbed the rope and climbed onto the platform.

While we were zip lining, Jon got on a work call. As he loves to do, he got in his car and drove around while on the call. He ended up finding some gorgeous sites for us to visit after ziplining. We visited an overlook where you could see the New River and an old bridgespanning across it. It was a gorgeous view. We also got to visit an amazing waterfall right off the side of the road. Mario found some cool butterflies and Maria got to dip her body into the small body of water that had formed underneath the waterfall.


We decided to head to the lake for another couple of hours of obstacle fun before calling it a day. Ri was obsessed with the blob. She was so scared by it and she wanted to conquer her fears by getting on it again. She could not concentrate on anything else as we played. Mario and I could kept trying to keep her busy with other things but it was no use. She was set on conquering that blog again. So Mario helped her out and told her that she could blob him. She loved the thought of that. She had a perfect jump onto the blob with her legs going out. She was so excited. 


Of course, Mario wanted to blob Ri in return. Mario’s blob was a piece of cake compared to the previous woman’s blob!

​ 

We will never forget the blob, for sure. We also won’t forget the water nymph. There was a boy who was about 70 pounds wet and was about 5 feet tall. He was skinny as all get out. And he would move across the obstacles like a little water fairy. He had the kids and I mesmerized. 

After the lake, we headed out to get gym shoes for me because we had the mud obstacle course adventure on Wednesday afternoon. There was no way that I was getting my nice gym shoes muddy. We found a pair at Walmart for $10. And don’t you know what we did next? Went to Kroger’s to get some superballs and play with the mini carts. Yes, we did this every night except our last night there. Yep. Simple pleasures. And Ri found out she had something in common with the locals –  jumping on a grocery cart and riding it down the parking lot incline. 


This was also the night that Mario found the claw game. He loves trying to win an animal. He had won three at the lake with Jon. He found a little stuffed dog from the movie “The Secret Life of Pets” and he wanted to win it. He won it after two tries. Ridiculous. Then he wanted to win a pet for Maria. We spent $10 trying to get the rabbit from the movie. He had it numerous times but then it would fall out of the claw. So frustrating! Of course, if they had a rational mom, we would have left. But I wanted to win it. So, we went out to Jon and got five more dollars. And my boy won it after two tries again so we walked back out with four dollars left. Yea (forget the ten we spent earlier…)!


On Wednesday, we spent our last morning at the lake climbing up inflatables, trying to cross over lily pads, balancing on a giant dome, and jumping from the top of towers. I braved jumps I had no desire to do only because the kiddos begged me. We did one last water zipline and a few trips on the giant slide, and of course, one more blob. We could watch that blob for hours – it’s addicting watching folks jump on and get blobbed off. Ri got it right when she commented that it could be a reality tv show. 


In the afternoon, we participated in a private mud obstacle course. We thought we’d have to go with a group of 60 but they opened up a time just for us. We had a blast after we got used to putting our faces in muddy water and falling into knee-high mud traps. The mud traps were Ri’s dream. We crawled under wood trellises, climbed over logs, climbed ropes up a wall, scooted up and down plastic tubes. It was a blast!


At the end of the course, you had to jump in the lake and swim to lily pads. All three of us had to get on a lily pad and then jump to another pad. Ri and I acted as a team but Mario was in it to win it.  Typical, Ri just wants to have fun and Mario wants to race. After we went a few times together, I raced Mario while Ri got a drink; he got his shin slammed on the climbing wall and called it a day. He couldn’t stand to be dirty any longer. Ri, on the other hand, wanted to soak in the mud. I let her give me a mud facial, which made her very happy. 

We hosed each other off and went home for a much-needed shower. I didn’t want to get out. But the thought of Gino’s pizza and pasta lured me out and we were off for one final night out. 

We returned to one last jaunt in the hot tub looking up at the midnight blue sky and the stars gleaming down on us. It felt like home since we had been there for four nights.I was disappointed to leave and head back home. This was one of my favorite trips with the kids because of all the adventure treks we went on, the activities at the lake, and being in the outdoors. We took one last look at our chalet and the lake before we left to pick up Rocco on Thursday morning, and wished the folks lining up at the blob good luck. We were on our way back to Ohio but not without some awesome memories of Summer vacation 2016.

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.

Cape Cod wedding

Our family Cape Cod trip was sliced in half. Jon’s upper respiratory infection had him coughing so violently that he had no voice. He hadn’t slept for nights because every time his head laid on the pillow, he sprung back up with a barking cough. There was no way he’d make it through a weekend away; much less, there was no way we could stay in one hotel room together and get any sleep. Mario decided he needed to stay home with his dad to make sure he could take care of him if anything happened. Oh, and he also got to spend the night with Grandma Ionno to let dad get some rest. 

So, it was a girls’ weekend. Ri and I took our first airplane trip together alone. She had to endure sitting in coach seats; every other trip she has gotten First Class due to her dad. She’s a natural at traveling – she had her shoes off and her jacket in a plastic bin before I could tell her she needed to do that prior to going through security. Is it bad that I would look at her in line and see a 25-something, somewhat anxious, executive waiting in line to get to her work destination?  It’s so easy to imagine that with Ri because she acts so much older than her years. I recall Grandma Meg telling me a story about Ri commenting about her couch pillows and how nice they looked and felt. Grandma Meg felt as though she was having a conversation with a 50 year-old woman. 

We bought two bagels and sat at our gate. She looked at Facebook. I looked around. When it looked like the ticket agent was ready to board, Ri gathered up our things and scurried me along. “Mom, hurry, we want to get on the plane before the others.”

On the plane, she nestled into her seat with her iPad and earphones. Cupcake Wars began to play and she zoned out. The attendant came around eventually and we got waters and pretzels to eat (we each asked for an extra bag, of course). When we landed, Ri was the first to stand up and prepare for departure. She was excited to be in Boston. I was excited, too. So excited that we exited the terminal to get our bags not realizing that once we exited we couldn’t get back in to eat! We had two and a half hours to wait for Melanie and Stephen who were driving us to the hotel. 

But we figured out an alternative plan that ended up being much more fun. We took the Silver Line bus to South Station  where we got to eat come good Cajun chicken and people watch. Ri wanted to take a subway and this was the next best thing. We had to buy a card to go back into the station and catch our bus, which was something new and exciting for Ri. A man was playing the guitar on our way back right along two yuppies who were holding briefcases and chatting. You get to see a wide range of folks here, Ri. She nodded as if she’d seen it all before. 

  
By the time we returned to the airport, Melanie had landed. We found Stephen (after nearly 45 minutes of roaming the parking lot!) and headed to Cape Cod in the pouring rain. Ri had her girlfriend Henley with her now and she was loving that – they laughed and acted ridiculous most of the way to Cape Cod (Ri passed out asleep about 20 minutes out). 

On Friday morning, Ri woke up ready to devour the breakfast buffet. I was right beside her! We met up with Henley and the crew. Ri was mightily disappointed that the Inn did not serve a buffet bar. She threw a bit of a pouting session (there’s my ten year old girl!) but then livened up after I took her out to talk. The rest of the day we chilled with Henley and her family and Melissa and her son (Henley and Ri love to watch over him) around the Inn and around Sandwich. We visited some stores and found a cute candy shoppe that sold those candy cigarettes I used to fake smoke as a kid. I had to buy those up. Later that night, Ri asked if we could throw them away since they were bad for you – even if they were candy. Sweet thing.

   
 We headed off to the Clambake in the evening. It was at a lake house and it was a beautiful night. The kids loved the water and the sandy shore. They couldn’t resist to roll up their pants and jump in the lake. Ri exhibited much self-control – usually she will jump in fully clothed but I warned her I would not be happy. 

   
   
Ri also tried her first lobster! She didn’t think it was bad … not particularly her favorite, either, but she gave it a shot. She was not a fan of the clams, however. The cake and cookies were killer dessert though and we both had enough for four! 

   
 The kids put on a dance show for us at the end of the night. Ri, with her meek self, approached guests and told them they better come to the basement for a killer dance show. 

Saturday was the wedding and Ri and Henley spent an hour preparing. They looked like divas. Red lipstick and all. They were so stoked about it. 

   
 Ri has known Doris and Kim her entire life and I’m grateful that they let us witness their vows. We also got to take a trolley to the wedding. Too fun! The beach couldn’t have been any more stunning with the powder blue sky and white bouncing clouds and balloons and colorful umbrella for folks to hold as they stood in the sun waiting for the brides. The ceremony was short and sweet; the kids watched the entire event deep in the moment. 

   
 Afterwards, they jumped in the ocean after slipping off their shoes. They found huge rocks to climb and stand on as Melanie and I bit our nails worried about them slipping. They had it under control.

   
    
   
The kids took the mass of balloons back in the trolley and we sang songs as we headed to the reception at the home of one of Doris and Kim’s dear friends. The kids did fairly well in the beginning. However, Ri was pretty disappointed at the fact this friend had a pool but wouldn’t let them swim in it. She got over it though as they brought out appetizer after appetizer. She and Henley tasted most everything. There was a man playing the guitar and singing and a tent up for everyone to sit under while eating and chatting. Doris and Kim were so happy and in love, which made the day all the more spectacular. 

   
 After dinner, the kids were getting tired and antsy. I told them we could go to the boardwalk. Someone had told me it was just a few blocks away. About fifteen minutes into the walk – and five minutes from the boardwalk – we got a text that the desserts were being served. Henley desperately wanted to go back. Ri didn’t. One boy didn’t, the other did. I knew Henley’s mom wanted her back so we turned around and headed back. Ri was irritated. Henley felt bad. They both pouted. I walked with Ri and explained how I always feel bad when I get mad at a friend for something trivial and end up having a horrible time because of it. We could see the boardwalk later. Ri walked back to where Henley was sauntering and said something to her that led to them walking together and talking. Ri is good about letting things go, which I hope she keeps as she gets older.

We ended up losing out on the desserts after all. We scored a few macaroons but that was it. But we got hugs from Doris and Kim – a fine alternative to the sweets. We left a bit afterwards to go change at the Inn and hit the boardwalk. The kids got bored as the adults changed and relaxed for a few minutes and they went to the gardens. Much to their surprise, the pool was open. We went down to find them jumping off the fake cliffs on the sides of the pool and having a blast. So much for the boardwalk. The Inn’s pool won the evening. 

We closed the pool down and headed up to our rooms to change for a late dinner. How we could be hungry after all we are at the reception is beyond me but we were. Grilled cheeses and pasta dishes later, we trekked up to our rooms for sleep. We all looked like zombies the next morning. We had to leave at 9:30 am for the airport. We sat at breakfast staring off into space. No one was offended. We shoveled in more food and packed ourselves in Stephen’s van to head to the airport. 

Ri held my hand as we rose up in the air on takeoff. I get super nervous and I was starting to get sick by Sunday with a cough and headache. She nursed me well as we flew through the cotton clouds on our way home to Columbus. I learned how enjoyable it is to go on a trip with Ri – she is the quintessential travel partner. No drama, low maintenance, funny, out-going, and kind. She earned the right to visit Mexico and hang with her Aunt Sarah or Sweden to visit her Uncle Jack. Oh, heck, maybe we’ll hit both. 

  

Summer Vacation 2015

I grew up with lakes and hiking trails and gorgeous rocks. Michigan country. I remember despising the thought of leaving home for one whole week and having to stay in a cabin with my family. Now, I long for it. Funny how that works.

But this summer vacation was not in Michigan. Rather, it was in Florida. Hiking was replaced with pool swimming and the lake was replaced with the ocean. 60 degree nights were replaced with 85 degree nights. I am a cold-weather fan; the heat kicks my butt. But with two young kids and a hubby who crazily wants to spend vacation chilling out rather than hiking twenty miles, Florida was the right speed. 

The kids have gotten completely spoiled by Jon and his frequent flyer miles – upgraded to first class each time we fly. They have no clue what it’s like in the back of the plane – they will have a rude awakening when their knees are to their chests and their elbows pressed tightly to their sides … and no one immediately offers them Sprite and chips. 

  

Mario was also excited because Jon bought him a rolling suitcase. He still had his Spider-Man one from years ago and he made it clear that “there was no way he was taking that one.”

  
We arrived in Sarasota in the early afternoon. The kids were so excited to see the condo; Maria was naming every store we drove by like she always does on vacations. It didn’t take long to find our place and it took no time for the kids to run through the condo announcing everything they found. 

“We have a tv in our room!”

“Look at your bathroom!”

“Come see this room off the house!”

They immediately loved it. So did Jon and I. It is so much more relaxing and comfortable to have your own rooms, a kitchen where you can cook, a table where you can play cards and eat. We are addicted now. No more hotels for us. And boy did we use that table at the condo to play – except it wasn’t cards – it was Quirkle. Jon has been brushing us off for weeks whenever we ask him to play but he finally gave in on this trip. And he became quickly addicted but only because Ri would demolish him every game (and the rest of us). It was ridiculous; she’d win by 20+ points. He was determined to beat her (which never happened on our trip; it finally did back home).

  
Mario was a good sport about being crushed every game, which surprised me. Now if it was football, it would have been a different story….

This vacation was one of the most relaxing ones ever as a family. We woke up and had some breakfast, watched a little of the Today Show, and put on our suits for the pool. We’d go and swim a bit, play ball in the water, and then play some air hockey or ping pong. 

      

Maria learned to dive during this trip! Mario and I spent one of the mornings showing her different tricks to try to learn how to dive head first and then finally – BAM – she got it! I was so proud of her since she kept swearing she couldn’t learn it. 

   
   Meanwhile, Mario mastered the back flip. I swear he’s got more elasticity than a rubber band. His body contorts all sorts of ways!

  
After we tired of the pool scene, we went back to the condo to rest, and maybe have a sandwich, watch some tv, or play a game. Then we’d head down to the beach (in the heat of the afternoon) and swim in the ocean. Jon and I worried about Mario getting in the ocean because he swore up and down before the trip that he would not get in the water. Probably a mistake on our part to let him watch Jaws and Jaws II prior to the trip! But he follows his dad and wants to be just like him so when Jon put on his goggles and swam out under the waves, Mario trailed after him. And after a bit, he forgot all about the sharks. We all dove under the water to try to find cool shells and acted scared when Mario would pinch our ankles trying to act like he was a shark. 

Ri was our adventurer, as always, swimming out to a buoy located a few hundred feet from shore. None of us had braved it – surely thinking about sharks swimming way out yonder. But not Ri. She didn’t think twice about it. However, after conquering that feat, she had enough of the ocean. Way too hot for her even in the water. Mario, too, tended to like the pool better. But not Jon – he could have waded in that ocean all day. I liked the ocean, too, but am not a big fan of just sitting on the beach in the pounding sun all day (my A.D.D. does not help). Maria did try to stay on the beach while Jon swam by asking to be buried in sand (my worst nightmare). Mario and I covered her up and she was perfectly fine chillin’ while we worked on sand castles.

  
She finally erected out of her sand grave and we decided to build an OSU castle in honor of our hometown. We got lazy being in the sun though so we just did a block “O”. But a most impressive one.

   

  

 We went out to eat in the evenings. I chose the restaurant the first night – it got good ratings and it had a huge menu. Jon was hesitant but I convinced him. We pulled up after a 20 minute drive to hardly any cars in the lot. I remarked “it looks like no wait – great!”

We walked in and were the youngest people by 30 years. It was like MCL Cafeteria. Not that there is anything wrong with that – I love that place – but for vacation, it doesn’t really hit the mark. Jon did a good job at not poking at me the entire dinner but we did laugh hysterically when an old man complained to the waitress that he got to the restaurant by 5:30 so he should get the early bird rate. To add fuel to the ambience fire, the food was subpar. But the kids liked it so chalk the night up to them!

The next couple of nights we decided to take it easy and eat in – pizza and pasta. It was pretty awesome to go between play and rest all day and then head down to watch the sunset on the beach. It surely puts life in perspective: worry less about the small sh– and laugh more. 

   

  

  

  

  

We did nab some good seafood at a local spot three minutes away from the condo. Susie had recommended it when we were on our way to the wanna be MCL restaurant. The kids scored frisbees to take home; their food was served on them.

  
After dinner that night, we walked along the Siesta Key “downtown” strip. Ri finally got the frozen yogurt she’d been craving and Mario got a shark tooth. 

  
But the best part of the trip was the 6 hour boat ride we took. Jon got up early and rented it for us. We had the most wonderful time together. Mario got to fish, Jon got to drive and act like he was in Miami Vice, Ri got to relax up front while dad cruised, and I got to find shells on a little island. 

   
       

We were bumming on Tuesday night wishing we had rented the condo for the entire week. And although I’d trade the Florida sun and beach for the lake and dunes, I loved the quiet and peaceful flow of our Florida days. However, poor Ri was bumming on Tuesday night because her ear hurt. She had been complaining that evening at dinner and it seemed to be getting worse. Sure enough, I was up all night with her as she cried in pain. It hurt her for me to even touch it. At 4 am, I started the internet search. Not sure if this is a valuable tool or a nightmare. I read all sorts of stories about kids whose ears had ruptured while on a plane because they had an infection beforehand. By 7 am, I woke Jon up and told him I was nervous to take Ri on our afternoon flight. We called the doc and he thought it was low risk. Jon and I were debating whether to keep the rental and drive home or try the plane when all of a sudden we heard a cry from Maria. She had yawned and her ear popped. She was miserable. That is all we needed to see to make our decision. 

And so there we were packing up the rental car and heading to Wal Mart to buy a portable DVD and a handful of cheap movies. I had to accept the fact that the kids’ brain cells would die for a few days. We drove nearly nine hours that first leg of the trip stopping several times to get our gas station snacks and trinkets. Mario had to continue to pee every hour so Jon just decided to pull off the side of the highway. Mario loved that action. He stood next to the car door and made a fountain of urine. Then he started asking Jon to pull over every 20 minutes. 

   
    

We stopped at a Best Western at 10 pm and loaded Ri up with Ibuprofen. She only woke up once during the evening which was a gift as we had eight hours left to drive home on Thursday. We got up at 6:45 am and set off for round two. We lucked out with little to no traffic along the way. And the kids were really good for being in the car that long. We went through hangman and the license plate game and the “a my name is” game before they went back to DVD world. But I must admit I was ready for them to stick their nose in a screen because I was tired. I cannot stand being in a car that long. Jon, on the other hand, didn’t mind it a bit. In fact, he rather enjoys it. I feel rest assured that if he ever needed another job, truck driver would be a possibility. 

We arrived home around in the afternoon on Thursday and got Ri to a doctor. She got meds and was on the mend in a couple of days. We look back on the trip home and laugh now that it’s a distant memory. Funny how the mind forgets the bad and only remembers the good – the funny remarks the kids made, Jon getting Mario’s hangman word right away and leaving Ri and I in the dust, Ri writing down the states we found on license plates, me getting excited at seeing the Cincy skyline. It’s all about experiences and we sure have a bundle for Summer Vacation 2015.