Downtown Cincy

There are certain things about Cincy I miss. A friend posted this video of artists in downtown Cincinnati, and it made me nostalgic for my hometown. Columbus’ downtown has no where near the history and richness.

I remember taking Maria and Mario down to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Cincy this year and the awe in their eyes at the stadiums and fountain and skyscrapers. They were intrigued with stories of me sitting in old Riverfront Coliseum rooting the Reds on and heading to the garage after the game to gather autographs. They were amazed when I told them I used to take a bus downtown and go to the library (they asked if it had vending machines like ours). Their favorite thing was Fountain Square and throwing pennies into the fountain.

I wish we could have been there to watch and dance with those uplifting artists.


Is it really only 10:30 am?

The kids and I went to Cincinnati last night for a family wedding.  Grandma Meg and Peepaw joined us for the festivities along with Meg’s sisters and their kids.  Meg’s sister, Mindy and her husband Danny hosted the gala for their daughter Amy.  Amy is a down-to-earth, sporty, happy gal who seems utterly smitten with her new husband, Todd.  Todd seems like a carbon copy of Amy (minus the “gal” and add “guy!”).  They smiled throughout the wedding ceremony and had a blast at the reception (Todd did a dirty dance in front of Amy before taking off the garter and Mario and Maria were completely entranced). 

The family partying it upMario played around with four or five boys who all knew each other from Todd’s side of the family.  They did not invite him in but Mr. Mario asked his Aunt Kathy if she would introduce him to the boys, which she did, and it was over from there.  He fit right in when he wanted to play with them (the only bit of crying came when he collided with an 80 pound kid and got knocked into the side of the door).  Maria was perfectly happy not conversing with any kids, but rather, hanging out with the adults.  She sat with Meg’s cousin, Suzanne and her husband.  She enjoyed ribbing Suzanne’s husband about anything she could, and sitting close to Suzanne to talk about video games.  After Suzanne, she moved onto Kathy’s stepson, Miles and his fiancée, dragging Miles on the dance floor and out to the pond.  They were all wonderful with her, and very patient. 

After the wedding, we headed to my mom’s house to spend the night.  We petted Lou for a while since we had never been with him in his house.  He loved the kids.  We woke up at the break of dawn (6:45 am) and played with Lou and his tennis ball for an hour before getting ready to hit the road.  We had to go to Target first since Mario’s flip flops rubbed his feet wrong.  Next came McDonald’s for some quick breakfast.  Then, French Park. 

My old childhood park that I used to frequent with my best friend, Beth.  I love walking through that park.  My mom was quite impressed with it, too (as was Lou).  The trails are magnificent – patches of shade with huge fairy tale trees covering you, patches of bright sunlight with wildflowers, and patches of dark with troll bridges and ferns everywhere.  We walked the creek for a long time, too.  It had just enough walks to jump from to not get soaked but high enough standing water for the kids to get good splashes.  At the end of the trail, Maria took a good fall trying to climb onto a boulder and got a good chunk of skin off of her elbow and knee.  Nonetheless, as I always report, she is a machine and once the initial shock and cry hit, she was a trooper heading back to the car and into Grandma’s bathtub. 

On the way home, neither mom nor I was coherent.  We were exhausted from what felt like a “long day.” So how was it only 10:30 am?  Ridiculous.  There should be some rule that when kids get up so early and your day starts while most people are in REM sleep, you get to fast forward the clock 4 hours.  When we got home, the kids took and bath and played around.  Then we had to head up to Marx Bagels for some bagels and cream cheese (my favorite!). 

After bagels, we hung outside with Lou while the kids “spied” on us.  Julie got home in the meantime, and the kids begged to stay to see Baby Gracie.  She arrived a bit later and walked in the door exclaiming “Mary!”  How could I leave before hearing that punker-wunker call my name!?  The kids played downstairs while I cleaned and talked to Liz and Julie and helped Julie move coffee tables and tvs all around.  We left CIncy around 3:30 and within ten minutes, both Maria and Mario were sawing logs.  Out cold.  So I debated stopping at Pottery Barn outlet at Washington Courthouse but I could not resist.  When I stopped the car, and wiggled their legs to get up, they both bellowed “No!”  They cried and hit the seats with their feet.  They were pissed (now they get a taste of their medicine when they wake me up everyday at 6:30 am)! We finally made it into Pottery Barn (Mario on my right hip and Maria dragging beside me) only to find no good selection of rugs.  Ugh!

So, I treated them to McDonald’s Playland.  The Washington CH Playland just got renovated and it is actually quite nice.  Mario, again, made friends immediately with two other boys who were brothers.  Maria decided to stay by her mom because her side hurt from her fall.  After letting Mario play for a half hour we took off for Columbus.  Maria begged me from the back seat to let her give Mario the horn I bought him.  I bought it for him a week ago and told him if was good all week, he would get it.  Maria convinced me he had been good since he did not scream in the middle of the wedding, and he said “thank you” when Grandma Lolo gave him food.  Pretty high standards, heh?!

As soon as we stepped in the door, Maria grabbed the horn and gave it to Mario.  The whole neighborhood knew about the present because he honked it incessantly for ten minutes straight.  We hooked it on his bike (with training wheels) and took a two-mile bike ride to our old house and back.  When we got home, the kids rested to a tv show while I mowed the grass (which looked like the grasslands).  When I finished the lawn, Maria and I played baseball.  Mario watched his last Ben Ten.  We wrapped the night up with mac-n-cheese and chicken and two books about telling the truth and a pig going to camp.  Does it get any better than that? 

When I headed outside to take out the lawn clippings, my neighbor commented about how she couldn’t believe that I could mow the grass and water the lawn in such a speedy time.  I told her about our entire day and she laughed hysterically.  “Do you ever stop,” I believe she asked, but I was already at the top of the driveway grabbing the last lawn bag to put out front.

Sunday afternoon stupor

Three little munchos lying in bed
Taking a break and resting their keds.

It doesn’t get much cuter than this scene
You could eat them up like juicy red jelly beans.

Pretty soon they will be annoyed with each other
Yelling “get away from me brother!”

But for today we will stop and stare
Because moments like these can be quite rare.

And at least we’ll have proof in the future
That you at one time were in a love stupor!


Packin’ It In

Maria and GracieWe headed out of Cincy on Friday night with Cheez-Its, Diet Coke, and apples.  We were set for our rush hour drive down I-71.  Half-way through the trip, I found a kids size bag of M&M’s in my side pocket so all was good.  The kids watched Tom & Jerry and Maria drew pictures as she glanced up at the tv.  We burst into my mom’s house in record time; traffic was surprisingly light on the way down.  After playing on the treadmill for a few minutes, and eating some Girl Scout cookies, we headed over to Julie’s to pick up Gracie for a park trip.  Gracie is about the cutest little thing possible.  I venture to say that she may even compare to my munchkins when they were her age.  You must want to eat her up.  She loves her “Aunt Mary” so I get big hugs and kisses when I come over. 

Liz let Gracie come to the park with us while she picked up Laura and they got pizza for dinner.  Liz warned me that Gracie would not want to ride int he stroller but I told Liz that Gracie had never seen the “Cadillac” of strollers before.  Sure enough, when Gracie saw the BOB, she hopped right in it as comfortable as can be.  Maria strolled Mario and Gracie nearly the entire way to the park (she loves playing mom).  Maria took control of the climbing wall, as she always does.  The girl may just be a professional climber one day.  She has amazing upper body strength and she scales up the wall like she’s spidergirl.  It is awesome to see.  It’s funny how she likes these “untraditional” sports like rock climbing and frisbee while Mario enjoys the more “traditional” sports like baseball and basketball. 

The kids tried to find frogs for me in the stream but had no luck.  They did get plenty wet though.  Maria likes to go off on her own and “think” as she puts it.  I keep a distant eye on her but she does enjoy her space.  Mario feels like he has to do the same so he announces that he is going off, too, but inevitably within two minutes he is calling for me to show me something.  I like how they feel comfortable enough to go out on their own (just as long as they tell me first!).

After the park, Liz and Laura graced us with LaRosa’s pizza.  The best pizza ever.  We ate at Julie’s house, and Mario ate three pieces of pizza.  I almost fainted.  He has a little appetite lately.  After dinner, the kids went downstairs (Julie’s basement is the play area for the kids and is heaven-sent).  Liz and Laura and I got some alone time to talk, which was also heaven-sent.  I love their love for family and their respect for who I am.  The two of them are a lot more strict in the discipline area and tend to lean more conservative than me, but they have a respect for how I raise M&M, and we have a healthy dose of ribbing with one another on our parenting styles (Laura is like a second parent to my kids and Grace).  

We all traveled over to my mom’s for a viewing of “Babies.”  My girlfriend had recommended it to me and I was excited to think of watching a movie that wasn’t animated or geared towards four-year-old boys.  The movie turned out to be a delight, especially with Liz and Laura’s quips here and there.  It is about four babies growing up in different parts of the world – the San Fransisco, rural Mongolia, Tokyo, and Africa.  It follows them pre-birth to age 1 or so.  The movie does a great job showing the immense differences in the cultures.  The only constant is the breast-feeding mother, and the cats.  Each house had a cat that provided pleasure in one form or another to the babes.  I found myself getting a tad annoyed at the San Fransisco mom.  She did a lot of the activities that I did with M&M but putting her up against the other mothers made the things the SF mom did look ridiculous.  In one scene, the SF mom was in a class with her baby where they were listening to African music and waving their hands back and forth overhead in a dance-like motion.  The baby stands up and makes a bee-line for the door.  “That’s right, get out little one,” quipped Laura, and we all laughed.  After seeing the African women with their babies sitting in the dirt, with flies swarming around them, with smiles on their faces talking it up amongst each other, it was hard to take seriously the group of five white parents trying to sing African songs with their babies.  However, I fully admit that it may be something that I would do with M&M to introduce them to other cultures’ songs.  The kids were intrigued with the babies.  They enjoyed certain scenes like the African baby eating mud and water from the ground, seeing the Mongolian baby taking a bath with a goat coming up from behind to drink his bath water, observing the Tokyo baby trying to put a toy together and getting upset each time she failed, and watching the American baby take a poop in her diaper (with all of those memorable “poop” faces).  They also enjoyed Laura’s and Liz’s comments throughout the film.  On the way home to Columbus, Maria and Mario made the same comments while watching the movie in the car.  What influences those girls are!

After the movie, we hit the sack.  The kids slept on the floor – Mario in a sleeping bag that he thought was awesomely cool and Maria in a regular blanket because she allows Mario to have what he wants.  She was actually burning up for some reason so did not want to be stuffed into a sleeping bag.  They slept until 7 am, which was a gift to me.  By 7:45 am, we were in the stroller heading to Marx Bagels for our bagels and cream cheese.  Heaven on earth.  Pumpernickel combo toasted burnt with cream cheese.  Maria has fallen for the strawberry bagel.  Mario eats a small bite of the raisin bagel.  After the bagel shop, we hit the pet store and found a floppy frisbee.  I was charged after looking at three different places in Columbus.  The kids have taken to frisbee but we lost our old floppy one and the plastic one I bought produces much pain when they fail to catch it and it strikes them.  Mario wailed the last time we used the plastic one, and now he is gun-shy with the floppy one. 

We headed to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Cincinnati at 11 am.  I had been looking forward to the parade for the last few days.  In all my years growing up in Cincy, I never hit the parade even though I lived in Clifton and worked downtown for years.  Also, the kids had never seen downtown since we always stop at the Blue Ash line.  I had big plans to go to Bicentennial Commons and the Riverfront but those were squashed after the long parade. 

Our Party GirlWe partied on Fountain Square for a half hour before the parade, and then found a goodLaura and me seat on Fifth Street (thanks to Laura pushing us along).  The parade brought much excitement, especially when the participants threw candy at us.  I scored a green cowboy hat, and Mario scored a fireman’s hat.  Maria got mega compliments on her green hair.  The kids loved the clown that was part of the parade.  He walked out in the middle of the road and dropped his pants.  They laughed so hard.  We loved the Irish dancers and the bagpipes. But after an hour and half (and hardly any candy), the kids got restless and we took off.  We were all exhausted.  Laura had to do round two with her girlfriends, and I had to get us home to Columbus.  So, it was definitely Energy Shot time and time to head home (only after we took a glance at our mom and mine’s old Clifton house and reminisced about our time living together).

The rockin' shirtWhen we got home, Laura surprised Maria with a rockin’ Big Time Rush home-made shirt.  It is nothin’ but cool with BTR on the front and ruffles on the bottom.  She looks too cute in it.  She got it a little muddy later in the day and she freaked out crying that her shirt was dirty (she never does that with any other shirt)!  Laura is a sewing machine and has started a blog, Finding Red Fern detailing her escapades.  Laura also has stored an inordinate amount of facts in her brain.  She has answers to anything – I mean anything.  It always amazed me when I was with her the things that she would know.   Maria has since picked up on this fact as Laura blurted out random facts during the Babies movie and then gave descriptions of things at the parade that only Laura would know.  When we were driving home, Maria questioned me from the back seat: “Why does Laura know so much and my mom doesn’t?”  Lovely. 

We played frisbee outside of my mom’s condo in the parking lot.  Then we played jump rope.  My mom bought a jump rope for her exercise kick and the kids became interested.  We twirled the rope as they tried to jump.  Again, Maria did surprisingly well.  Again,it is those random, non-traditional sports that she enjoys.  Mario did alright, too, but again, he is much more proficient at picking up a ball and bat.  We had to take the dogs for a walk before we left so we dropped by Julie’s to pick them up.  Maria always takes Butters because he is heavier and pulls harder.  Mario takes Willie because he is a piece of cake to walk and he allows Mario to do anything he wants. M&M love dogs, that is for sure.  They are very gentle with them and always patient. 

We finished up the day with a bath (and the duckies that the kids remember from times past) so they smelled fresh for the ride home (I almost passed out on the ride down to Cincy because Maria took off her shoes and her feet reeked!).  We arrived home to beautiful skies (it had called for rain).  We played outside the rest of the night.  Maria and Mario built a rock wall for me in the front yard and brought blankets and pillows out in order to be able to lay down.  I love that they engage in these activities. Anything outdoors makes me giddy.  When it got dark, I laid with them on the blankets and we found stars in the dark blue sky.  Not an easy task with the immense amount of clouds.  It was idyllic for about 5 seconds and then Mario shot up and jumped on me and acted like a monkey.  He could not sit still.  We lasted another 10 minutes before we packed it up and moved it inside for nighties and a book. 

As I unpacked our clothes (I pack as if I will be gone for a week for an overnight stay), I grinned.  Then I smiled, Then I smiled wide.  What a jam-packed St. Patrick’s Day full of new adventures and old ones.  The kids built a rock garden.  We ate bagels and cream cheese.  Gracie warmed us up.  We saw clowns and bagpipers. Butters and Willie let us walk them.  We learned to jump rope.  What a wondeful life we have.

Lovin’ some DIrty Franks

Jon and I used to be ambassadors of Skyline Chili.  We are not embarrassed to admit it (well, maybe a bit embarrassed when people learn we had our picture up in the entrance way and our own “ambassador plates” to eat our three-way chilis).  Skyline bestowed this title upon us back when we were young pups with no kids and lots of time.  Now we go into Skyline and we are granted no privileges; we are just another family in the crowd eating oyster crackers as we wait for our food. 

But that is ok with us.  We like the relaxed atmosphere, the oyster crackers as appetizers, and the hotdogs with cheese.  Mario typically eats 2 of them before we leave (which is huge for Mario).  Maria typically eats one hot dog and a chili spaghetti.  They love the place, and may one day get our title back for us. They especially love the Oreo cookies that they get as a special dessert at the end of the meal (I admit, I am rather jealous although Jon gives me a quarter from his pocket so I can get Reese Pieces out of the dispenser). 

But Jon found another, cooler dive for us to head to when we are craving dogs.  A little hole in the wall on 4th Avenue downtown called Dirty Franks (  They have hot dogs with anything you can imagine spread on them.  Maria has fallen in love with the Octodog (macaroni and cheese with a hot dog shaped as an octopus).  Mario likes a plain dog with cheese on it.  I love the beanie weenie (baked beans with a hot dog and cheese and onion).  Jon typically gets a dog with sauerkraut or one with pickles or fries on it.  We also get the hush puppies with chili and cheese, which could subside anyone’s late night, hung-over cravings.  The walls are filled with artwork of famous singers like Michael Jackson and Prince (the only two I recognize).  Maria always asks me why Michael Jackson looks white when he is brown.  Mario loves all of the pictures of crazed looking rockers, especially the one with blood out of his mouth.  We find a new piece of artwork each time we go (keeps the kids busy!). 

I am thinking that Skyline may have to miss us for a bit while we frequent our Dirty Franks establishment.  Although, I do find myself craving that Cincinnati chili every once in a while – a girl can leave Cincinnati but Cincinnati can’t leave the girl!

Tearing up Kings Island!

We tore up Kings Island yesterday!  On Wednesday, I watched the weather report for the rest of the week.  They called for beautiful weather on Thursday and Friday and storms all weekend.  Maria starts school this coming week and I had been wanting to do something special with her for the last week.  I pulled up Kings Island’s website and took a look at the rides.  I debated back and forth on whether to take the dive.  I finally called my girlfriend who has a Season’s Pass and asked her what she thought about taking M&M to the park.  She sealed the deal when she told me she had coupons for $20 a person to get into the park (normally $59 and $39).  Now was the time to brave it.

We woke up on Friday morning and gathered up our suits and shoes and movies and workbooks.  A couple of granola bars, waters and movies later (Maria found the headphones for the video player in the car so she gets to watch hers and Mario watches his (not spoiled at all)), we were already at the park.  The kids stood in awe of the gigantic roller coaster 100 feet away, and listened to the screams of the riders.  Mario exclaimed “Mom, you and dad could not ride that because you would be so scared!”  I asked him if he would ride it and to my surprise he said “No way!”  He is normally my daredevil.  Maria said she would though – she is my daredevil lately. 

Looking down below

We charged in the gates with our bag of cheese pretzels, raisins, waters, and cheese and crackers.  Jill pointed us to Kiddie Land.  The first ride we saw was the Boo Monster ride.  The line was just slightly out the door and the clock indicated that it would be a 30 minute wait.  Maria and Mario begged to go on it.  I was hopeful that they put the little hands on 30 minutes with the thought that you would probably get in within 15 minutes but if you didn’t, you would not get so irritated.  My hopes were shattered when we moved into the cave and there was a line twirling around 6 lanes.  I did not think that Maria and Mario would do too well in that line but they surprised their mama.  They barely whined at all as we crawled through the lanes and got to the ride.  Mario hung on the bars and danced to the music and Maria stood in her own little world thinking about what 6-year-old girls think (?!).  The ride was pretty lame by my standards, and I think Maria felt the same way.  Mario, on the other hand, loved it because it involved using a plastic gun to try to shoot ghosts and goblins that popped up while on the ride.  Any ride that involves guns and violence will win my boy over.

We moved over to a couple of “kiddie” rides (helicopters, cars, etc.) and then we made our way to the log floom.  My favorite when I was a kid.  My girlfriend, Beth and I would stand in line for an hour or longer just to get on this ride and get soaked by the water as we plunged down the hill.  I told stories about Beth and me while we waited.  Luckily, we were there early enough to only have to wait about a half hour before getting on the ride.  Mario had already taken off his shirt and shoes before we got in the boat.  Unfortunately, the workers made him put on his shoes.  This really bothered my little man.  He did not want to get his gym shoes wet.  Maria wore her suit, too and had begged to wear her flip-flops so she was in a good state.  When the boat took off, Mario wanted the front.  By the time we had moved 100 feet, water had splashed in the boat and gotten his shoes wet.  “I don’t like this ride, mom!”  I calmed him down until we got ot the top of the hill and got ready to take the plunge.  maria was so excited.  And then, swoosh!  We flew down the hill and Mario and I got a decent soaking (not as good as my teenage days)!  Maria was in the back so she didn’t get as much (and she is the one that wanted it!).  Mario stepped out of the boat pissed as can be.  “Mom, I never want to go on that again – my shoes are so wet and my hair is messed up!”  Yeah, I kid you not. 

Mario still contemplating the telescope

In order to make it up to him, I took them to the “Eiffel Tower.”  We rode up on the glass elevator and my stomach sunk with each additional foot we rose.  I cannot hang with heights any more.  When we stepped off, the kids darted straight to the edge to look down.  It took me two minutes to gain my composure and head their way.  Mario yelled “Mom, come here, you can see Africa and North Carolina!”  Maria wondered where Grandma Lolo and Grandma Menkedick lived.  They loved it.  I was happy when they wanted to head down ten minutes later.  Next, we went to the games area.  Why?  I still have that competitive kid in me that wants to win a stuffed animal.  When Beth and I went to the park, we spent hours at the games trying to win animals (how did we have that money?!).  I loved the bowling game (probably because it only cost 25 cents).  You have to push the bowling bowl over one hill and make it stay in the valley and not come back over the hill again.  It is hard as heck but when I was young, I had some knack for it.  I won many a stuffed bear and monkey playing that game.  As an adult, not so  lucky.  Maria and Mario and I tried numerous times and only left frustrated.  We moved to the slingshot game and the plinko but no wins.  Our only hope was the Guess your Weight or Birthdate game.  Maria walked up and asked the girl to guess her weight.  She got on the scale and topped 63 pounds.  The girl had guessed 59 and could only be off by three.  She won!  Mario was next and I knew should guess his weight so we did birth month.  She guessed May and she had to be within 2 months so Mario won!  Maria took two seconds to pick out her bear.  Mario took 20 minutes.  He could not choose between a telescope (that would have cost a $1 at the dollar store) and a whale stuffed animal.   He begged for both of them.  He finally chose the darling whale.  When we walked over to watch another game he told me he wanted the telescope.  We went to exchange it and he begged me again to let him have both.  After ten minutes, he decided to keep the whale but kept mouthing to me “And the telescope.”  He never stops.  As we left, he tried to bargain to come back to KI on Saturday to get the telescope.  He knows how to keep the pressure on.

Maria enjoying the lazy river

After the games, we were all starting to break down a bit.  The kids were leaning back in the stroller holding their animals and I was moving a lot slower.  But no rest for the weary!  We decided to trek it over to the waterpark for some water fun!  I asked where is was located and a worker told me where to catch the tram.  I asked if I could walk, and he laughed.  “Sure, but most people take the tram.”  When we got to the tram pick-up, I saw a path to the park.  I decided to walk with the kids.  The waterpark could not have been 1000 feet from the tram pick-up.  It would have taken more time to load up the stroller than to walk.  People need to move more.  ALl sorts of different folks packed the waterpark.  We hit the shallow pool and then moved onto the slides and squirters.  I got rather freaked at that station because I could not keep a good eye on Maria.  Mario was so cold that he clung to me but when Maria went up the stairs and through all of the jungle gym squirty stuff, I lost her.  I watched the slides hoping to see her.  Nothing.  I ran to the other side.  Nothing.  I ran back and climbed the steps. Nothing.  Finally, I looked down and saw her going down the slide.  “Maria!” SHe looked at me and it was love at first sight.  One of life’s greatest feelings – to find your kid when you think they are missing.  I warned her that she had to stay close.  Some of these parents just let their kids go on their own throughout the area but I am so not one of them.  I know I am going to be bad when she gets to the age that she can go off by herself – I get anxious already about the day.  We rode the lazy river next.  Mario and I got in an inner tube for about 3 minutes and then we were ready to walk and end the trip.  Maria, on the other hand, laid back in her inner tube, head propped on the headrest and eyes closed.  She enjoyed every minute of it.  

Family pose waiting for a ride (with Mr. Comedian)

After the water park, we headed back to the rides for some bumper cars (Mario loved hitting other kids’ cars but was mad he did not hit enough) and the “mini” roller coaster (cars go around in a circle and speed up around the corner).  We also hit a little bigger roller coaster that actually had a hill to it (albeit small) and Maria sat in the front and held up her arms.  Mario leaned into my chest to hide.  You get the picture of the daredevil in the family, heh? 

I finally persuaded them to leave the park 6 1/2 hours later by telling them we would go to McDonald’s play land up the street.  Yeah, I am not kidding.  I was craving a hamburger anyway.  I just needed out of the park, too.  The kids played in the Playland; we saw Grandma Lolo; and I loaded up on Diet Coke and fries to steer us back to Columbus.  On the way home, Maria and Mario held their animals tight as they watched the rest of their movies.  When we got home, Maria begged me to sleep with her.  I said no at first but then the thought of lying horizontal sounded too good.  I tapped her shoulder as she laid in her bed, and she came running into my room.  We laid together talking about KI and school and how much we would miss our house when we moved.

Ronald McDonald visited us!

Sweet Gal Cousins

Some of the cousins on Easter

I have the greatest cousins.  I am the oldest child to the oldest sister of the Heile family so I have eleven years over my eldest cousin.  Then it gradually increases in years up to 25  or so.  We all have our idiosyncracies and varied beliefs and traditions but despite all of this, most of us are pretty tight knit, especially the gals.  Laura, my oldest cousin and Maggie, born five or so years later, have both graced Jon and I with their presence in Columbus at some time over the last few years.  Laura lived up here for a couple of years and Maggie lived up here throughout college and now during grad school. 

Laura is forthright and imperturbable.  She can party like a LA girl but can also sit around the house all afternoon play fighting with Mario or braiding Maria’s hair.  She has an answer to any question.  I can ask a question about a kind of plant and she will chime in with a quick answer and then ask about how to handle an ice cream brain freeze and she is just as quick with a response.  I envy her straight-forwardness and ability to tell it like it is.  I have always tread away from correcting people when they are wrong about something, e.g., Person: “George Bush was a democrat.” Me: “Really? Ok.” Conversation continues.  I feel like any correction – even if it would benefit the person in the end – would be taken too harshly so I avoid it.  A trait I want to work on because I know the value of constructive feedback.  On the other hand, if someone told Laura that Bush was a democrat, she would not hesitate to tell that someone that Bush was a republican.  On the same note, I know I can go to Laura for a straight answer if I just got my hair done and I am hesitant about whether it looks whacked or not.  She will tell me straight up I need to head back to the salon. 

Mag and Laura and the kids

Maggie is a good-hearted, all-american college gal.  She is a lot like her mama, my Aunt Julie.  She has the same mannerisms (e.g., biting her cheek and nails) and traditions (e.g., smacking your butt really hard in jest).  She does not take any grief from Maria or Mario – if they give her lip, she addresses it.  If they hit, she disciplines.  If they ask her to get them something, she tells them to walk over themselves.  Give these kids of mine a week with her and they would be whooped into shape.  But she also shows them love and tenderness and has taught Maria a very important fact about boys.  “Always date someone who is also your friend.”  Maria took that one to heart.

Laura and Maggie came by on Saturday after their night out on campus and we went to the pool.  Maria got to show off jumping off the high dive and Mario got to show off by doing power rangers’ moves off the low dive.  Maria hung with her girl cousins and role models while I made sure Mario kept his paws off the girls at the low dive (he tried to squeeze them).  Laura and Maggie had a diving board contest during adult swim with Maria rating their jumps – I think Maggie pulled it out.  When we got home, Laura braided Maria’s hair in the cutest style ever.  Maria looked like a young teen model – scary.  They also spiked Mario’s hair up to the sky, which he loved.  We walked to the yogurt shop for some yummy dessert and watched Maria do her runway catwalks for us.  She loved the attention and time with them. 

I missed them when they left Saturday evening.  I love their influence on the kids, especially Maria.  And I love the girl power they bring with them when we are together.

Lettin’ loose on a Thursday afternoon

My grandma has not been feeling well for a couple of weeks.

Work has been stressful and energy-draining.

The kids have been going non-stop with school and parties. 

I felt disengaged and needed to take a break from the normal routine.  I moved my meetings so I had a blank sheet on Thursday afternoon.  I picked Mario up from school at 1:15 just as he was laying down to take a nap.  When he saw me, he shot straight up in the air and asked “Are we leaving, mom?”  When I responded affirmatively, he leapt in the air, grabbed my hand, and shot towards the door. 

Mario concentrating on Wii

“Did you bring the bike, mom?”

“I did, little man.”

“Good, we can save energy!”  I have been trying to teach him about the importance of riding bikes and walking over taking a car everywhere and was happy to hear some of it was sinking in to his budding brain. We clipped on his Spiderman helmet and rode down the bike path.  On the way down the path, Mario turned his head around to me. 

“Mom, thanks for picking me up early today – it made me really happy.  We are going to have fun today!” 

Chalk that moment up for one to put in the memory banks.  The statement absolutely blew me away with the warmth and genuineness of it.  I let him play a game of Wii basketball when we got home while I packed our bag.  Yes, a bag for a three-hour stay in Cincy.  I packed an extra set of clothes, nighties, extra shoes, popcorn, pretzels, and ham.  Jon is still amazed at my strange packing habits but you can never have enough food – you never know when you might get a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere and be stranded for three days until discovered (even on a straight shot down I-71!).  My girl would not be able to live on berries. 

M&M with great-grandma

Mario and I picked up Maria an hour early from school.  We stopped at the gas station for gas, pop, and chips, and got on our way (this has been our routine since Maria was a baby – nothing better than a long road trip with pop and snacks!).  I promised the kids we would stop at French Park (the park I went to during my childhood) if they promised they would be good when we visited Great Grandma at her assisted living apartment.  It was strange to drive on the street I used to travel on as a kid.  Memories popped up in my head with each new block we passed.  French Park looked the exact same as it did when I was a kid.  We parked at the top of the first hill and walked down to the creek.  The kids hopped the rocks to the other side of the trail.  Maria found a set of stairs and we followed those through the enchanted forest with the overhanging trees and vines and the delicate flowers.  When we got to the top of the stairs, we noticed tracks from an animal.  Maria thought a dog, Mario thought a lion.  As we continued, Mario spotted a rabbit amongst the tress.  He was so proud of himself repeating to me every five minutes “I spotted a rabbit, mom!” 

After a few minutes, the kids decided that they wanted to head back down to the creek.  The thought of dipping their toes in the water was too enticing. 

M&M in the creek

We found a good spot to take off our shoes and socks, and we gingerly stepped into the freezing cold water.  The sun beamed through the spaces of leaves in the trees and the rocks seemed perfectly placed to lead us down the creek.  Maria tried to find frogs (for me) and Mario found rocks that resembled guns and acted like he was the captain of a boat fighting off pirates.  We threw rocks in the water (after trying to skip them with no luck (pee-paw is needed)) and splashed each other.  The kids had a blast.  When we headed back to the beginning of the trail, they both begged to come back to the park again.  I need to look for some good ones in Columbus – there is such a sense of gratitude and appreciation that floods over me when I hike and play in nature and I think it infiltrates the kids as well.  They were so good on the way to Great Grandma’s house and at her house, too.  It can be a battle to keep them under control in her apartment because it is so small and there is not a lot to do. But on this day, they played quietly with her blocks and balloons, ate their dinner, and stayed quiet while I talked with Great Grandma.  I did poke them a few times to make sure they were not aliens who had stolen my children. 

Deep in thought

We ended to trip with baths at Grandma Lolo’s house and a walk on the golf course.  The kids found 5 balls each, and were so excited to bring them home to show Papa Rod.  The ride home was even a positive because both kids fell asleep before home.  Maria fell asleep within ten minutes (as always). Mario watched Scooby Doo.  I kept hoping I would turn around and see him asleep so I could just put them both in bed when we got home and I could relax (otherwise, Mario gets his second wind and takes forever to fall asleep).  With about 20 minutes left to go, I glanced back to see if he had fallen asleep and saw that he had unclipped his seatbelt.  I scolded him and demanded that he re-buckle it.  He started wailing and could not get himself together to buckle up so I had to pull over and do it for him.  He cried and cried.  I held his hand for about a minute as I stood outside the car and looked down to see he was sleeping.

Swimmin’ in Cincinnati

The family takes a trip to Cincy while dad is out of town

I decided late in the day on Thursday that I was going to head to Cincy with the kids to spend the night with my mom and visit my grandma.  We were supposed to pick her up on Friday afternoon for a Friday evening bridal shower for my little sis but her world turned inside out with immigration lines, visas, broken down cars.  There was no way she was making it back to Cincy by Friday night from El Paso Texas.  So, I felt like I should get down there anyway to see grandma as she is 90 years old and thoroughly enjoys seeing me and her great-grandchildren (she is a sucker for punishment!).  Besides, Jon got to head to Baltimore for a Baltimore Ravens football game (down on the field before the game and box seats during it – the bum!) so I needed family to sop up my jealous tears!

When we arrived on Thursday night, we headed straight for mom’s pool.  Mom brought some cheese its and apple juice boxes in order to avoid the wrath of Mario (last time Grandma Lolo came to visit Mario asked “did you bring cheese its and juice boxes?” Mom answered no, and he looked very distraught “But, but why?”).  Maria loves the “neighborhood” pool so much more than the big Blue Ash community pool.  She likes to keep it tight and close rather than deal with everyone and their mother.  She swam and jumped around.  Mario sat on the first step of the pool and dipped his head in every five minutes or so.  He played with his noodle (blowing in one end and seeing the water squirt out the other end).  He ate his cheese-its.  

Maria and her noodle

We played hard at the pool for an hour or so and then ravaged some spaghetti, bread and m&ms when we got home.  We decided to head to Aunt Julie’s for some dessert and much to our surprise, for a kitten/possum adventure.  Julie and Ron put out food for stray kittens and a stray baby possum every night.  The critters arrived once dark hit like clockwork – first the kittens and then the possum.  The kids sat at the door watching them for 20 minutes.  When we left to go back to my mom’s house, Mario’s eyes were like hawk eyes watching out for that baby possum.  

We all ended up sleeping in my mom’s full size bed.  I tried to move one of the two of them to the floor but neither of them would have it.  Needless to say, I had cramps and twitches throughout my entire body when I woke on Friday morning from trying to twist my body into a needle to avoid hitting one of them.  In order to stretch my body out, we took a morning stroller ride to Marx Hot Bagels.  I used to go to this bagel store when I was a kid with my mom and dad.  The poignant smell of bagels never leaves you.  I walked in with M&M and immediately felt like I had been blasted back to age 10.  We ordered a sunflower, pumpernickel/onion and a wheat raisin bagel with a mountain of cream cheese and went to town.  Yum!  I could eat one of those every morning.  

We hit Grandma Lolo’s park on the way home and M&M got up on the amphitheatre stage to perform for me.  Mario sang “I like to Move it, Move it” and took a bow.  Maria sang one of her love songs, which went something like this “I wish we could be together but you are not for me.”  I kid you not! Her songs are all about lost love and boys not being good enough for her.  At age 5!  Ahhh! 

As soon as we got home, we headed back out to visit Grandma M.  Ahh, it is always so stress-free and calm 

Mario writing with Grandma M.

 when we head to her assisted living facility.  Ha.  The chaos ensues from the beginning with Maria and Mario having to show off for the residents, sign their name on the visitor sheet, punch the elevator buttons.  That is all in the 1o minutes before we hit grandma’s apartment.  Once we are in the apartment, it is a more enclosed space and ten times more chaotic because the kids can’t touch half of the things she has in the apartment even though they are within kids’ reach and they are so tempting to touch (kittens, dolls, statues, glass – I mean come on!!!).  

How is it that I always played with the same toys over and over again every time I visited grandma, and seemed to enjoy my time but these kids cannot play with a game for five minutes without wanting something different?  Could it be the parents are to blame?  Probably, just a little…  hehehe.  What can I say?  My biggest goal in parenting when Maria was born was to give her the freedom to do what she wanted and learn from her actions.  I did not want to stifle her.  But I see now that there is a limit; they are going to be seeing that limit a lot more from me!    


Maria in her grandma "get-up"!

However, they have gotten better at grandma’s through the multitude of times we have gone over to see her.  They played in her bedroom writing with her pencils and punching her calculator.  Maria put on her sweater and a bag on her head and acted like her.  Grandma stays very calm through it all – she only gets worried when they get near her pills.  I think that may be a valid concern.  

She took us down to her pool, which is perfect for the kids.  It is 3 feet high in most places.  Mario plays on the steps and Maria floats around the pool.  Maria got brave and even dove off the edge by herself.  She reminded me of Anna Quindlen’s little girl, Maria, who is my Maria’s namesake.  Quindlen wrote a Newsweek article about her daughter at age 16 – so intrepid and filled with adventure.  That was my girl yesterday – embracing something new and a little scary.  After an hour swim, we headed back to the room for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, vanilla wafers, butter cookies, and hershey kisses.  Who could ask for a better feast?!  

Mario loving the pool

We took grandma to Kroger’s to get her weekly stash of food (it is a 45 minute ordeal for about six food items but at age 90, I am still impressed), and then we headed to Blue Ash pool for some more swimming.  Mario LOVES Blue Ash pool with all of the fountains and slide and cushion bottom.  Maria, as I stated earlier, would rather stay in the confines of her own neighborhood but she agreed to come if there was pizza and popcorn at the pool.  After an hour and a half, I thought I may pass out from exhaustion so we packed up and traveled back to Grandma Lolo’s to pack up.  A bath, treadmill walk, popsicle, and golf game later, we were in the car waving goodbye to grandma and grandpa and accelerating the Volvo north to Columbus.  

We ended the trip with songs from Free to Be You and Me.  Maria has fallen in love with the CD much to my pleasure.  She loves the song about friends and the talking babies.  When the song “Parents are People” comes on, she yells “Mom, this is for you!”  

I was so exhausted when we walked in the door at 6:30 Friday night.  I could barely drag myself upstairs to lay down.   Luckily, Mario stayed asleep during the transfer from the car to the crib.  A little blessing from above.  Of course, he was up at 1 am standing next to my bed crying “Mommy, I sleep with you.”  The rest of the night I might as well have been doing laundry, cleaning the house, finishing up work, because he kept me wide awake between complaining that his leg hurt or he needed water or he wanted to watch tv.  At about 2:45 am, I thought I might jump out the window just to be able to sleep in the bushes below – broken legs/arms and all – it would be better than sleep deprivation.  But, we survived as always and were up and playing airplane on the bed at 7 am.  

Ahh, did I really ever sleep in until 8 am? 

Easter Madness

M & M hit the Easter Egg Hunt


We started our Easter weekend with a trip to Grandview’s Wyman Woods for the annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday at 10:00 am.  We had some friends ready to “take us on” in the hunt so we had to prep ourselves up beforehand with stretches and lunges and body jabs.  We will do anything for chocolate, after all.  Especially chocolate easter bunnies with their cute little faces that you can bite off.  There had to be two hundred kids there, some dressed up in bunny ears or tails, some still in their pjs, some in their “Sunday best” to have their picture taken with the freak mammoth bunny in the corner of the park all dressed up in pink and white and bouncing around waving at the kids (and surely cussing every other second about how hot the damn outfit was or how obnoxious the kids are).  

The kids were very patient waiting behind the line while staring at all of the Oreo packages, Reese Peanut Butter Egg packages, and brightly colored eggs with loads of candy inside of them. Finally, the whistle blew and they were off.  Well, the four-year olds were off.  The hunt was for 2 to 4 year olds.  The 2 year olds seemed loss in a daze or a stupor.  “Why are all of these kids running around like maniacs picking litter off the ground?”  But, that was taken care of in a few seconds as all of the parents of these 2 year olds (including moi) started yelling at them: “Over here. Get this one. Hurry!”  

Mario digging in


You would have thought that a check for college tuition was in the egg rather than a hershey kiss.  Mario 

Ri enjoying that chocolate


managed to get a few eggs, which he proceeded to open and devour every piece of chocolate he found in them.  Bill, one of our friends, gently approached Mario and asked him for a piece of chocolate.  

“NO!” Mario yelled at him.  “This is my candy.”  

Maria, on the other hand, took two whole packages of Oreo cookies and gave one to Bill and another to Heather who had mentioned that she loved those cookies.  What a sweetheart – hopefully, Mario will learn from her!  

Both M & M made the wise choice of not seeing the Easter Bunny.  We went home and showed off our candy to dad who just shook his head knowing that belly aches were surely to come (and not just to the kids!).  Later that night, we visited Grandma and Grandpa Ionno and Jon’s brother and sister-in-law and their two boys.  Maria has a complete crush on both the boys and hung on them all night (they, in turn, played with her as much as they did not want to at times – god love ’em).  Mario enjoyed playing with the older boy’s nerf gun and pretending he was being shot (lovely boys).  Grandma Ionno made her killer cookies, as always.  Why is it so hard to just eat a couple?  I devoured a dozen through the evening alongside Maria who has inherited my love for eating.    

Off to the Hunt


On Sunday, we woke up to another egg hunt but this one at our very own house.  I set out the eggs while Jon held the hunters at bay upstairs.  M&M ran out in their pjs just as I remember doing as a little girl and as I remember Sarah doing as a young girl.  The enthusiasm and excitement I felt as a little girl on Easter morning came back watching Maria and Mario hunt around for their eggs.  I loved seeing their face beam as they found an egg.  Oh, the memories!  

Maria finding "My Little Pony!"


Mario showing it off


We then took off for Cincy at 9:30 am.  We first went to my cousin Kerry’s house.  She lives in northern Cincy with her husband and two kids.  They are fairly close in age to M&M with Anneliese being 6 and Ben being 2.  Maria idolizes Anneliese, and loves to go to her house because she has a kickin’ toy room.  Mario enjoys Ben’s ball collection, and he loved the sticks and trees in the backyard.  My uncle made the most incredible coffee cake for brunch and pecan chocolate pie.  He has the Menkedick sweet tooth just like me.  We envied their house because it has so much open space and light and an awesome family room in the basement.  Oh, what I would give for a family room!  Dad and Meg brought Duke along (their new dog), which caused much glee in M&M who have been waiting to meet him for a whole week (“it felt like a year, mom!”).  

Maria and Anneliese enjoying the swing


After eating way too much food (including insanely gorgeous red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing ala Meg-pie), we hopped in the truck to head to Grandma Heile’s house (now owned by my cousin Laura since Grandma died last Summer).  Maria was all excited because she had on a gorgeous Easter dress that she knew all of her girl cousins were adore (she loves dressing up for them because they ogle over her all day!).  Mario was excited because Robert and Cy, our high school boy cousins, would be there and he could stand in awe of them playing basketball and toss the ball with them.   Maria got the attention she expected and she even scored some potato salad from Aunt Jane (her absolute favorite food after pasta and meatballs!).  Mario got to throw the volleyball to us after each play (although he would only throw it to Robert most times).  

We had yet another Easter Egg hunt in the big side yard and 

The chosen few for the egg hunt


Baby Grace (my cousin Liz’s sweet baby daughter) got the $5 egg (it is tradition to put out one egg with $5 in it).  When Maria found out, she plopped down on the grass and pouted “I wanted that egg.”  I explained to her that it is fun to see Baby Grace get it; besides, she needs diapers and that will help buy them.  Somehow, that explanation resonated with her and she agreed it was best for Baby Grace to get the $5.  Anyway, it meant more candy for her!   

Maria nabbing the eggs


Speaking of candy, that is simply all Mario cared about and frantically opened his eggs yelling “Candy Party” each time more candy fell out.  I am surprised that he was not constipated for five days from all the chocolate he devoured.  

We left Laura’s house at 8:30 pm and headed back to Columbus.  The kids were nearly comatose in the backseat staring at the tv. I was picking through the Easter baskets unwrapping random candies and plopping them in my mouth until my belly did start to ache.  Jon drove us all home safely.  It was a busy, magical weekend. 

Mario basking in the chocolate