Twice-baked potato

Our girl hooked us up for Super Bowl night. She was planning out the snacks and appetizers long before the Super Bowl occurred. What did she want most of all? 

Twice-baked potatoes! 

She had eaten them at grandma Meg’s farm and loved them. She asked Meg for the recipe and was set on making them for us. This was in addition to nachos, wings, chips and dip, and 7-Up. Yeah, there is no-holds-barred on Super Bowl evening.

I bought Maria a 5 pound sack of potatoes, a block of Velveeta cheese (the only cheese Jon wanted on his twice-baked potatoes because that’s what his mom uses), onion, and sour cream. She came running in from her basketball game ready to start the potatoes. She baked them for the requisite 45 minutes, and then cut them “in the shape of a canoe.” She begged me to help her so that she could mix the butter and sour cream and potato together. 

“We need to get these in the oven within 10 minutes so that they are ready for the kick off!”

She is a little kitchen dictator. She watched over me as I scooped out the potato to make sure that I was getting all of the potato and there was only skin remaining. I was actually quite nervous.

But the little dictator can be nice when you follow her directions; she she told me that I did a good job in my scooping duties. She loaded the potato skins with the potato combination and we put them back in the oven with the cheese laid on top of each. And, ta-da, 15 minutes later, look at this beauty (Ri added some crumbled bacon on top for added flavor).

Thank goodness we have one chef in the house, and a beauty at that.

Gratitude to the core

I find myself feeling grateful so very often these days. The gratitude
is down in the core of my being – entrenched and unmovable. I find myself getting worried about losing the feeling because that would suck, I think to myself when I get caught in my “what can I worry about today phase.” I can’t remember a time in my past that this sense of gratitude was as strong, and I want it to stay. It makes me calmer and more content and more compassionate.
The kids and I went to Cincy on Friday to visit my mom over the holiday weekend. I had memories of Ri as an infant and me heading down on a Friday after work to sleep for an entire night while mom got up with Ri every two hours. And memories of Ri and Mario playing in the Timbers pool while Grandmas Heile and Menkedick sat on the side of the pool belly laughing at their antics.
We brought Rocco with us which ended up being great. He played nicely with Lou. We were going to leave him with Jon but when we went to load up the car, he ran out and hopped in the trunk and refused to budge. We even yelled “Treat!” but to no avail. He did great in the car. Just stared our the window and laid down. Stared and laid down.
We hit Blue Ash pool even though it was freezing. Mario and Ri loved the slide. They showed off their swim strokes to Grandma Lolo. Then we headed to the baby pool for old times sake. Besides, it was 20 degrees warmer. Aunt Julie came to swim with us and revved things up with her energy. She grabbed Ri and I to go off the diving boards. She got everyone in line – from old to young – to play follow the leader. We were doing splits, touching toes, you name it. Hysterical. Ri watched her aunt in amazement. Julie even went down the slide with her. TMF – Julie’s signature letters for “too much fun!”



As we headed to the car, Julie announced “I’m sitting in the way back!” Ri and Mario pleaded to sit with her for the half mile way home. Hysterical.


When we got home, Grace was back so the kids played downstairs while Liz and I caught up. That lasted a while but then they begged to go to the park. I love Blue Ash park so it was not hard to convince me. Plus Grace-bug is irresistible.



We arrived home to pizza and a little Walking Dead for Mario and Grandma Lolo. It was just like old times (minus the Walking Dead!).

I drove home with two happy kids in the back seat, an exhausted pup in the hatch, and the contentment of a day well spent.
We woke up on Saturday morning and headed right back out again. This time Jon drove. He dropped us off at Riesbecks and headed to big Mario’s to do farm chores. The kids and I went to the farm to visit baby girl Elena. She is growing like a weed at 9 pounds. Her face has changed from a newborn face to an infant face in the matter of two weeks. I could not believe it. And her little thighs had some meat on ’em! M&M were so happy to hold her and love on her.





Elena even opened her eyes for a while and took us crazy Menkedick Ionnos in full force. It’s precious to hear her cooing and sighing and breathing on you. She is vocal – there is no doubt she will voice her opinions just like us Menkedick gals.
Ri begged to stay out on the farm. She wanted Mario to stay, too, but he wanted to come home with Jon and I. Ri was not swayed; she had no issues waving goodbye to us.
Jon drove Mario and me home. Mario watched Willy Wonka and I read some Vela. Every few miles I’d glance over at Jon and a smile would form on my face. And the awesome feeling of gratitude swelled through my core.>

Beauty Queens

Maria has a favorite little girlfriend at school named Janira.  She had been begging all weekend to have a play date with her on Sunday but time slipped away from us so I decided to surprise her and pick her and Janira up from Kids Club on Monday afternoon. 

Mairo and his beloved computerPoor Mario.  He went with me to pick the girls up and he asked while we opened the doors to the school “Why can’t I have a play date with Blakey?” Blake used to live three houses down from us at our old house and Mario loved him because he was always outside playing sports.  But Blake is 7 years old and is interested in boys his age much more than he is interested in a four-year old.  I explain to him that Blake may be busy with boys his age, and he just looks at me like I am speaking a foreign language (who wouldn’t want to play with me, mom?!).  I ask him if he wants to invite over boys from his preschool, like Ben or Grant.  His response is “Ben smells funny and Grant is too small.”  The most picky four-year old (or any year-old for that matter) I have met.  However, he quickly replaced his frown with a smile as soon as I told him he could play on my computer a while since Maria wanted alone time with Janira. 

Janira and Maria taking an ice cream sundae breakJanira’s mom is a make-up consultant.  She always looks impeccable.  Janira shares her mom’s love for make-up and fashion.  And Maria loves that about her.  Maria is enamored with Janira’s mom’s fashion sense – her tight jeans, her high heels, her jewelry (she begged me to wear high heels when I came to her school to read a book last week). When Janira and Maria get together, it is all beauty, all the time.  They are either playing barbies or painting nails or applying way too heavy of make-up.  One of their favorite activities when they are at our house is to do my make-up and paint my nails and dress me.  Janira’s mom would never let them touch her so I am the fall-back.  Maria knows I will do it if she just begs for 2.5 seconds.  When she gets older, she better remember this torture I went through for her.  Ok, so maybe it’s not that bad but I can think of a few other activities I would enjoy a bit better…. 

The girls came to get me for my appointment, and I headed upstairs with them to the Janira and Maria Beauty Store.  They described to me the different lotions they make themselves out of peppermint and vanilla and strawberry.  They detail the color of the lipstick they will apply and the numerous shades of eyeshadow that match my eyes.  Maria informs me that “Mary Kay” loves their products.  They are simply pros.  Even Katy Perry can’t stay away.  They put on three applications of lipstick, four shades of eyeshadow, blush, concealor, lotions, perfume.  They love spraying hair spray all over my hair using at least half of a bottle on my mane.  But I abide with the hope that I am nurturing their creative spirits (and Janira hooks me up with really good make-up when I get old and she owns her make-up studio (Maria will visit her when she is on the road between corporate engagements).  ALl in all, I must love Ri completely to let her do this to me:

Putting on my "fish" face for Mario while I sport my sweet hair and make-up



Barbie’s got tattoos – now everything’s ok?

I mean, seriously. We are going to commend Mattel for coming out with a new Barbie that still wears a size 0 and sports a  size D bust but now has some – whoa, hold your britches – tattoos and funky pink hair?! The writer in Barbie Gets a Tattoo Makeover certainly thinks it is better than the barbie fashionista blond, blue-eyed model but I think she loses sight of the forest among the trees. 

Maria receiving a christmas barbie in 2010

Little girls get these barbies when they are in the prime of development.  Barbie’s size 0 body and D chest provide an ideal for these girls helping to lead to all sorts of body image issues, eating disorders, low self-esteem.  I am not saying that Barbie is the only toy out there creating this image for young girls – we can look anywhere from magazines to princesses to billboards to rock stars – and find that ideal shining through.  I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to provide girls (and boys) with “barbies” that look like us?  How about the sporty mother of two running from her 9-5 job to get her kids off to 5:30 gymnastics class?  Or the mom lawyer dressed in her corporate attire and briefcase heading off to a speech about helping others in need? Or the stay-at-home mom with her sweats and t-shirt and art pallette teaching her kids how to paint?  So many “real” world mom examples to choose from yet we choose to maintain our size 0 barbie and simply doll her up with some tattoos and pink hair?  Really? 

When I was little I had one “barbie.”  It was technically not a barbie but a “Dusty” doll.  She had a plain, bob-cut hair style (sandy brown hair), no breasts, thick muscular legs and shoulders, a cowboy hat, a pair of riding pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and she rode a horse.  She didn’t need to be a size 0 and have big breasts to have a good time.  She had a genuine smile on her face and her lips were your typical pale red lips.  She rode her horse, played soccer, ate pies, kicked around on the farm and had a blast while her friend Barbie smiled with her bright pink manicured lips, went to her 8 hour modeling shot, and talked about her newest clothes.  No wonder I grew up wearing sweats and playing sports and hating the thought of shopping at a mall. 

Mario and his toy cowboy gun

I have to admit that I have bought barbies for Maria (however, they are always the ones that are in some type of profession like a vet, doctor or teacher) and she has gotten many of them as gifts.  I could forbid them but I feel that outlawing them may just make it worse.  It’s similar with Mario’s toy guns – I could forbid them in the house but he will find them at his friend’s house and we will long for them more.  Maybe that is just an excuse I come up with because I don’t want to fight the battle?  Maybe… but I don’t think so.  I think that they are bound to pick these things up and bound to get these from friends and relatives.  They are ubiquitous toys.  And why not be the one that sees them with the toys and educates them on the good and the bad about them?  I would rather do that then have Mario silently trying out a gun in his friend’s basement without knowing its consequences and hurting someone or Maria idealizing her friends’ barbies when she is at their houses and inflating Barbie’s image even more than if she owned one herself.   

I take every chance I get to temper these “hot button” toys by explaining to Mario the harm that guns can do to people and explaining to Maria that being a size 0 and D cup is not the ideal to pursue in life, and I think they get it.  Mario knows guns can kill people and he routinely informs Jon and I that guns should only be used to kill turkeys (Jon and Peepaw’s turkey hunting days).  Maria knows that life is not just about being “pretty” but rather is about having fun with your friends, making people laugh, being smart, and being nice (although there are the days that I catch her in my heels standing in front of the mirror putting on lipstick). 

I think we should just bring back the Dusty doll and get girls idealizing a more realistic doll and one that knows how to dig her heels in and have a good time.  Besides, she certainly never would have dreamt of a boyfriend over her horse!

Tuscany for Five

Out for our first trip in Tuscany

The girls and I finally arrived in Tuscany two Saturday mornings ago at 10 am local time (4 am Ohio time) after an 11 hour flight from New York (we got delayed close to 2 hours on the runway and then poor Kathy had to sit in an Exit row weat because I had elected one not realizing the seats don’t recline back and we would be directly across from the lavatories!).  The plane trip only produced a bit of turbulence but I still popped a Sominex to pass out and avoid my fear of flying and my claustrophobia. 

We rocked it out after the flight – had no problem getting our bags and booking our rental car and within an hour or so we were out in the Italian sun.  Ericka, our travel agent (literally and figuratively), drove us out of the rental car agency with such style that the Italians driving past us had no clue that we were Americans (until a motorcycle rider zoomed past us and scared us all half to death) – Excellente!  We stopped at a restaurant on the way to the villa where a short, gregarious old Italian man greeted us and escorted us to a table cloaked with a white tablecloth and tiny vases of flowers and pictures of Italian countryside surrounding it.  He spoke Italian so quickly that we all took a step back and looked like deer in the headlights.  He then took a breath and said the all too famous Italian word “Vino?”  We understood that and ordered some red.  He brought it out to us and we quickly poured it into our glasses only realizing after the fact we had poured it into our water glasses.  We saw him chuckle on the side.  We drank our wine, ate our brushetta with the most amazing olive oil of all time, and enjoyed our chicken and grilled peppers and pasta.  We dragged ourselves from our chairs and back to the car for the final lag of our drive.

We got to the villa after two hours of winding roads and speedy drivers and it could not have been more worth it.  Absolutely amazing.  We got swept away upon stepping out of the car with the stone walls and the ivy and the grape vines and the potted herbs.  Jude and Richard, the Villa Cappella owners, came outside to greet us with their little pup, Luna.  They talked with us about the villa’s renovation from a pig sty and horse stables to this charming villa with a patio and portico and every type of tree: hazelnut, chestnut, fig, persimmon, and walnut.  They poured us our first (but not last) glass of Prosecco and offered us bread sticks.  We toasted to an exhilarating week in Italy.  And so it began…

A view of the fields outside of the villa

Jude showed us around the house and had to find joy in our gasping and cooing in each new room we saw.  The villa housed all sorts of African artifacts, Tuscan pottery and tiles, Canadian artwork, Roman statutes and fresh flowers.  The downstairs had a room with a king sized bed that Ericka took.  It also had a room with two twin beds that Jill got.  The upstairs had a room with two twins in it that Lisa and I shared and a room with a king that Kath got.  All of the rooms had fresh flowers and a window with a heavy wood door that, when opened, allowed the flood of Tuscan light to enter.  The smells could have been bottled up and sold back home for a pretty penny.

We got situated and relaxed in the kitchen with fresh grapes, bread sticks, juicy tomatoes, and cheese.  The next morning we took off for the Mediterranean sea – Lisa drove us and used the stick shift with sheer perfection.  We went to a beach off the beaten path in Tonga and felt right at home as we laid down our towels and bathed in the sun.  I found some killer rocks and shells in

The Sea

the glass-like sea.  The Mediterranean sand was black and smooth and the water was chilled but not freezing (a nice change from the Cancun rocky beach that Jon and I head to every year although I did miss the big Cancun waves).  I even got my girlfriends to do O-H-I-O for Ohio State (which is a feat for three Cincinnati girls who love X and UC).  After the beach, we hit Argenterio, a small marina town, for shrimp and rice and red wine.  We shopped around the town and I scored two big superballs – one with a skull and one multi-colored – perfect for my two munchballs!  I loved this town because it had superball machines rather than gumball machines everywhere you turned – it took me back to my childhood at IGA. 


On Monday we went to Siena to take in the magnificent Duomo and view the breath-taking scene from the top of the building.  We enjoyed wine and potato chips (yes, potato chips!) outside of the Duomo and stared at each other in awe of the fact that we were sitting in such a cafe sans kids, work and hubbies.  What a feat.  We started our ride back home rather late and by the time we hit the exit for our dinner spot it was dark and hard to find.  But, as we found throughout the trip, Obama’s presidential campaign quote fit us well – Yes We Can!  We found our restaurant and settled in for wine, bread, pork chops, vegetables dripping in olive oil and ricotta cheese and chocolate sauce for dessert.  We got home at 10:30 pm (Jude is still amazed that we stayed out past dark nearly every night) and downloaded lots of pictures. 

On Tuesday, we got up early (8 am is early on this vacation!) to head to the weekly fish market in town.  We ordered a cappuccino at the coffee “bar” and croissants and watched MTV videos on the tv.  We purchased our fish (salmon (which was not even for sale but the butcher must have known Americans liked salmon because she brought it out when we walked in), whitefish, and calamari).  We also bought some veggies (eggplant, zucchini, peppers and onions) and we headed back home with our dinner for the evening.  I went for a good run up the gravel road next to us.  It led to a bed and breakfast that had to house hunters as we heard their hunting dogs every night.   We left for Torre Alfina when I returned and Kath, Lisa and I hiked through a volcanic forest.  We got lost more times than we would have desired but we plugged our way through and made it out (Yes, We Can!).  There were a few times when we felt like we knew where we were and we’d take pictures and laugh and then ten minutes later we’d feel lost and it would grow silent again.   We treated ourselves to huge gelatos after the hike (choccolata and fragas for me) and rested at one of the best gelato shoppes in Tuscany.  Jill and E met up with us at the shoppe.  Gelato was our true addiction on this trip. 

The magical forest

After the hike, we headed back home to grill out our fish and veggies.  Jill did a kick-ass job cooking the fish and my other girls helped me cook the risotto and onions and tomatoes (I have a new-found desire to cook once back home)!  We ate on the patio with the flourescent moon shining down on us and the crickets serenading us.  After drinking glasses of wine and stuffing our bellies full of sea life, we topped the night off with the movie “Knocked Up” in our pjs on the couch. 

It felt like my head just hit the pillow when Jill came in at 6:15 am to wake us up for the train to Florence on Wednesday.  We dragged ourselves out of our comfy Tuscan beds and out the door to the car and to the train station in Orvieto.  Jill and I got a cappuccino (“Un cappuccino, gracie”) and a chocolate croissant (yum!) for the trip.  Two and a half hours later we arrived in Florence amidst a throng of tourists.  Of course, four days into our trip and having traveled throughout Tuscany and met many native Italians, we did not feel like tourists any longer so they were quite annoying to us.  A man from Utah approached us and asked if he could join our group – we ditched him after ten minutes.  A group of women from Denver asked us how to get to the Academy (we told them and they did not believe us –


too bad for them because we were right).  But we continued to stay in our small group of three traversing the streets easily locating magnificent and gorgeous sights (Neptune, Duomo, plazas, the statute of David, Bonacelli marble statutes).  We stopped at an outside cafe for pizza and pasta (pasta with white sauce and peas and mushrooms and pasta with red sauce and cheeses) that took us to another world – it was fabulous.  We ate on the piazza and watched all of the people pass by and commented on the statutes looking down at us.  Horse-drawn carriages passed by us.  We ended the day with gelato as we walked back to the train station.  You rarely see anyone sitting down eating their gelato – everyone walks through the streets with their cones, licking and looking at the sights, giving both their taste buds a wonderful experience as well as their eyes.

Views driving to Monticino

On Thursday, we all hopped in the car to Penzia to try out their world-famous pecorino cheese.  Can any food in this country be bad?  The cheese melted onto the bread and was like candy with blackberry jam on it.  We also enjoyed wild boar – we had to at least try it since we get to hear the barking dogs every morning and night. Surprisingly it was not bad (tasted like roast beef).  After lunch, we crossed the street to a wine shop and got a taste of Gappo – the Italian liquor that makes your mouth feel like it’s on fire (“Liquid Fire” as Lisa calls it).  It is horrible!  Two shots of that and I would be unable to function.  We had to take a breather after that drink but then we headed to Monticino for some wine tastings.  The tour of the first winery (Fanti) floored us because of the amount of care and time taken in producing the wine.  I kept thinking of Jon’s cousin Mario and his home-made wine.  I have a new-found appreciation for that process.  Monticino gave us a treasured gift at the end of our trip – the sunset.  We watched the sun go down from a stone wall at the top of the city.  It only lasted about three minutes but it was gorgeous.  We walked back to the car without a word to say – the experience could conjure up none.  We ate a “to-go” pizza that night (When Jude told us that no Italian pizzeria would give us pizza “to go” we had to find one!) and watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” since many of us had not seen it.

Mushroom Risotto

Friday was a bittersweet day for us because we knew it was our last day at the villa.  We walked through the market in Aquapendente and drove to Orvieto.  Orvieto is a quaint little hilltop town with classy shoppes and lots of narrow streets and pop-up views of Tuscan hills and trees.  We bought our obligatory souvenirs and enjoyed our never-ending gelato.  We hurried back home to meet our Italian cook who we had hired to make us a four-course Italian meal on our last night in Aquapendente.  We arrived to the sweet aromas of the Italian kitchen, and made our way up-stream to Jude’s house for a bon-voyage glass of wine and figs with walnuts and gorgonzola.  The figs tasted like nothing I have had before.  If politeness was not a barrier, I would have emptied the tray in my mouth all at once.  After Jude’s, it was back for more delicious food at our villa.  Arugula, parmesan and cured beef salad, risotto with mushrooms, chicken breast and grilled peppers, and chocolate mousse with cookie wafers.  What should have been a three-hour meal took us under an hour to consume!  We were starved and the food was way too good.  We laughed so hard at this fact – typical Americans gobbling their food up without taking any rest.  Ahh, c’est la vie.  We drank wine to extend the time out and then found ourselves on Faceb0ok looking up past friends from high school (“oh, look at her! “yikes, look at him!”). 

A quintessential Tuscan scene

On Saturday morning, we packed up the car and headed for Rome.  What a nightmare.  Actually, it could have been a much bigger nightmare if it wasn’t for Lisa’s spectacular driving through the chaotic Roman streets.  We missed a highway turn-off due to the complete lack of signs before the turn-off telling us where to go.  We have the luxury in the States of having signs that tell us when an exit is coming and where it will lead us.  Not so much in Rome.  However, because we are five intelligent and resourceful women, and we found our way back to where we needed to be and got to the airport with ten minutes to spare on the car rental (before we were charged another $140 euro). 

Rome felt like we had been thrown into a coliseum to fight for our life.  Ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit but it did feel overwhelming with the number of tourists pushing their way around and the high decibel levels compared to the countryside.  After years of hearing about the Vatican and the Pantheon and the fountains, it was an experience to see them in person.  But as amazing and ornate as the Vatican and the Basilica and the Pantheon were, I still gravitated to the small humble church at the top of the Spanish Steps.  It felt like home; if I had lived in the 15th century, I would have been a peasant rather than a royal.  We all got our picture at the Fountain of Trevi tossing a coin into the water and we all got our last gelato – extra big – at the corner gelato store.  And to think I had my reservations about going on this trip….  I was slammed with work, trying to sell my house, trying to renovate and move into a new house, and just tired.  But my girlfriends worked on this trip, nonetheless, and never gave me a bit of slack for not participating as much.  To the contrary, they called to check in on my mental well-being (thank god) and kept me up to speed on the latest about the trip.  This trip provided just what I needed before my 40th birthday – time to reconnect with my girlfriends and myself – to reflect on what I want in my fortieth decade – to appreciate all that I have in my life – and to laugh hysterically with my soul sisters. 

The girls

I wonder what 50 will bring?!

The city mice head to the country

The kids and I traveled out to Noble County last weekend to see Mama Meg and Peepaw and Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jorge.  And just as importantly, Stella, Mona and Rosie (the pups).  We jammed the last twenty minutes of the ride to Uncle Jack’s Alpine Ghost CD.  The kids love the first two songs of the CD because they are fast-paced and provide a beat that is easy to dance to wherever you are (car, bedroom, back yard).  Both of the kids break into dance while listening to the tunes but in completely different fashions.  Maria dances around like a nymph and Mario bangs his head and pumps his fists. 

As we drove up the gravel drive to the farm-house, we all sang loudly out of our windows to alert the crew that we had arrived.  The dogs took care of our arrival, also, by barking incessantly until we stopped the car and got out to acknowledge their presence.  They could not withhold their excitement; they knew that the kids would beg to get them out of their pen so they could play with them.  Little munchkin saviors.  And sure enough, within ten minutes of arrival, Mario was tossing a ball to Stella and Maria was trying to get Mona to do tricks for treats.  When Mona failed to adhere to Maria’s commands (she has only one leader – Aunt Sarah), Maria headed to the chicken pen.  She tried like mad to hold a chicken but they were in no mood to be touched.  She has the trick down – approach them quietly and calmly – but they still sense her presence and flee.  There is one female that loves Peepaw and Maria keeps her hopes up that if she stands around Peepaw long enough while he holds her, she will fall in love with Maria, too. 

We took a hike up to the swing a while later.  It still floors me after three years that my folks live on a farm with 40+ acres of land.  We can go out there whenever we want and hike through the woods looking at flowers and trees and mushrooms and caterpillars.  We can skim through the creek streaming alongside the trail and admire the slate soaking up the sunshine through the leaves.  We can study the circles on a fallen old oak tree to see how old it is and we can find all sorts of acorns and sticks to carry.  I love that the kids get this experience growing up.  I am a pure city girl so when I head into the woods with the kids, I feel like one, too.  I get excited at seeing a caterpillar on a tree limb or a big white-capped mushroom alone in a pile of clovers. 

After the hike, we ate a yummy wholesome meal and then visited the horses.  Taz and Sabe.  They are the most regal of creatures but I am still rather frightened of them.  I remember being eight or nine and being scared to death to ride on one by myself.  I still harbor that fear today when I saddle up.  I get nervous thinking about Taz trotting away.  But not Maria or Mario.  They saddle up on Taz and ride her around the ring like it is their business.  Mama Meg asks if they want to trot and there is no hesitancy: “YES” they reply.  What a treat for a six and three and year old.  The experience of riding and grooming and loving a horse – that has got to instill some seriously awesome life-long skills and lessons, doesn’t it?!  Seriously, I do feel like it raises their confidence and may push them to take on opportunities and challenges that they face as they get older.  Riding a horse is no easy task but they have always had the encouragement and patience of Mama Meg and Peepaw and now it is a rather easy task for them. 

We got to start a fire in the evening and make some yummy s’mores.  I could never tire of burnt marshmallows and chocolate and graham crackers.  Maria and I were going to town on the marshmallows while Mario “roasted” graham crackers.  The little guy found some way to actually get the spears of the tongs in the cracker without breaking it.  What a freak.  After we stuffed ourselves on those little sandwiches or goodness, the kids and I went down to our tent to call it a night.  Maria and Mario were adamant that they were going to sleep outside alone, especially Maria.  But within five minutes of wrapping herself in the sleeping bag in the tent, she allegedly got leg cramps and wanted to come inside.  Dad went outside with Mario and I rubbed Maria’s legs.  Within five minutes fo that, Mario wanted to come in to be near me.  He begged me to sleep with him outside so dad and I switched roles.  I am learning that it is much harder to sleep on the ground than it used to be ten years ago.  I was hurting and at about 1 am, I decided that it was time for Mario and me to hit the bed in the house.  I scooped him up while trying to hold the two pillows and flashlight and waddled up to the bed on the second floor of the house.  He was out cold.  I was not.  I could not get back to sleep for some crazy reason. 

Morning came and I heard tiny little voices.  Mario was asking Mama Meg if they could see Duke’s grave (their dog that died).  Maria was talking about something I could not understand.  I looked out the window at the meadow and at the morning sky and I felt happy as if everything was perfect for those few seconds.  Life was good and there was much for which to be grateful.  I breathed in that moment and remember it still.  I promised myself I would try not to forget it because it is a helpful talisman during those days of chaos and stress.  We packed up later in the morning but only after two rides on the bulldozer and backhoe from a neighbor who had them at the farm in order to build a riding ring for Meg-pie.  The kids were in heaven sitting in those big ol’ machines and moving gravel all over the place.  

We headed back to the house and gave kisses and hugs to Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jorge and Mama Meg and Peepaw.  We showered the dogs with treats and love.  We waved good-bye to the chickens and horses.  And we headed back down the country roads towards our city home packed full of country goodness.


Maria and Mario watching the fish at the Conservatory

I love weekends.  Sometimes I dread them on Friday when we have nothing planned and I know the kids will be up at 6:30 am and will likely not nap and will tear up the house and will pee in pants, and will beg to eat bad food, and will talk back to me and Jon.  But then inevitably on Sunday night, I sit down after putting the kiddies to bed, and I reflect on a wonderful weekend.  The past weekend ranked high among weekends where we had the most fun. 

I picked the kids up early on Friday and we headed to Devon pool (Grandview has been closed for a week and a half now – ugh!).  Maria is getting better about jumping into the pool by herself and hanging out while Mario and I play near her. 

Maria going underwater

Mario, unfortunately, has not taken to the outdoor pools.  He gets so cold – frigid – as soon as he hits the water, and immediately hops out.  The good thing is that he keeps himself amused outside of the pool by playing with “noodles” as if they were swords, rolling plastic cars along the side of the pool, and throwing his football to me.  He can usually last an hour or two.  I keep hoping that he will get used to the water – maybe if he puts on fifteen pounds. 

On Saturday morning, we took off to the library to get movies for our trip to Cincy and then headed to Giant Eagle for a birthday cake for Grandma Lolo.  Maria’s excitement soon turned to depression when she realized that there were no white sheet cakes.  She has convinced herself that she only likes white sheet cake even though she downs chocolate and yellow ones at other birthday parties.  Luckily, there were cupcakes in the aisle beside us that were screaming for our attention since the container contained both white and chocolate cupcakes.  Maria regained her excitement and proclaimed “White and chocolate so you and me can be happy, mom!” 

Meanwhile, there was Mario salivating at the muffin case.  “Mom, I want that chocolate muffin.”  The boy is his mother’s son – he would dine on chocolate everything if he had the choice.  I refused his pleads and the tantrum soon started.  He turns himself into a monster, squinting his eyes, balling his fists, and making a “grrr” sound.  He learned that from his sis back in the day.  I have learned to give him one chance to move off of his monster antics and then just walk away.  I had to walk away this time because he really wanted that muffin.  Eventually, he came around the corner to Ri and I, and we left the store for Stauf’s. 

I would have to rank sitting at Stauf’s with M&M as one of my favorite things to do.  We talk about the latest paintings on the wall, the people studying, our plans for the weekend, school, friends, family.  Those times take me through my week.  After Stauf’s, we headed home and into the car.  I realized Mario had his “big boy undies” on when we got in the car, and I thought I would give him a chance to wear them all the way to Cincy without peeing (actually, I was just too lazy to go back in and change him).  About half way down to Cincy, he began complaining that his pee-pee hurt, which typically means he has to pee.  I pulled off the nearest exit and veered off the berm.  I whipped him out of the car and into the grass on the side of the road and he experienced his first road side pee. He loved it. 

We got to Cincy, changed into our bathing suits, and headed to my mom’s condo pool. 

Maria on her "noodle"

Maria, aka “fish”, jumped right in even though the water was absolutely frigid.  She wore herself out by swimming to me (aka going under water and holding her arms out to me), going underwater, and jumping off the side of the pool to me.  Mario, on the other hand, took one step into the pool and jumped back out.  The frigid water was too much for his little body.  He spent the time using the noodles as swords and fishing poles.   He also made his monster faces and pushed me into the pool when I got close to the edge.  We broke for a snack of cheese-its and apple juice.  Mario found his new favorite food in the cheese-its.  He went to town on them. 

Mario chillin with his cheese-its

After the swim, we went to Aunt Julie’s house to pick up her two pups, Butters and Willie, to take them on a stroll.  The kids love to take them for a walk around the neighborhood, and have learned how to pull at their leashes to make sure they heed to their commands.  When they returned, they went to Julie’s basement to play with her doll house while we got to actually talk without being interrupted.  It was comical listening to the conversation between M&M playing with the doll house. 

Maria: “Can you help me put the baby to bed.” 

Mario: “No, I am too busy.”

Maria: “What do you want from the store.”

Mario: “I don’t care.”

Yeah, pretty much a day in most couples’ households!  We got treated to a delicious meal of grilled hamburgers and macaroni and cheese and beans (yeah, we are easy to please!).  We re-named Maria the Indian name “Little Bites” in order to push her to take small bites (she ripped into the burger and macaroni like she was amongst fifteen starving ravages who were going to take her food unless she got to it first).  Mario, on the other hand, had to be force-fed three bites of macaroni and two bites of hot dog.  We hit the road back to Columbus at 8:30 and for once they both passed out before we got home (usually one of the two if not both of them stay awake the entire trip). 

On Sunday morning, we got up and found that we had no pancake mix.  That is a travesty for Sunday morning because Maria and I are used to cooking up pancakes, eggs and bacon for us to eat (Mario helps stir the eggs but refuses to eat our meals).  So, they jumped in the stroller in their nighties and we strolled up to Giant Eagle.  On the way back home, Mario fell asleep (another rarity) so we decided to scrap the pancakes and go for the real deal – donuts!  We headed to TIm Hortons for two timbits each (I do set a limit!), and then back up Grandview home towards home. 

Maria and I had made the executive decision to head to the Conservatory while Mario slept on the trip.  Therefore, when we got home and Mario awoke, we got dressed (it takes a solid fifteen minutes to get dressed since Mario now likes to dress himself and he takes FOREVER and all clothes are always on backwards).   We headed to the Conservatory at 10:45 am.  While we were buying our tickets, a volunteer mentioned that butterflies would be released at 1 pm.  I immediately dismissed the event because I did not think there was any way that we would make it over 2 hours.  However, my children never cease to amaze me. 

Maria and her huge butterfly

It got a little dicey around 11:45 after we walked through all the rooms except the butterfly room (the Pacific Room) and they started to whine that they were ready to go.  But then came the Gift Room with all of its fun toys and a volunteer who asked us if we wanted to see him release a few butterflies outside.  The first one he released landed on Mario’s finger and he was hooked.  He held that butterfly for ten minutes until it finally got up the nerve to break free.  Maria eventually got one to perch on her finger and we learned all about butterflies from the volunteer.  It was such a tender moment.  When we came home and Mario talked about the butterflies, he recanted the words of the volunteer “And you cannot touch the butterflies’ wings because they are like paper.” 

We spent a half hour out in the garden area looking for the three butterflies and trying to catch them.  It was a good preview to the Pacific Room where there were scores of butterflies fluttering around us.  The kids ran after them, leaped to try to catch them, pointed when they came close and shouted “take a picture, mom!”  They amazed us with their coloring and patterns.  We stayed in that room for over an hour admiring the creatures.  I could not believe it. 

Mario and his favorite butterfly

We arrived back home for a lunch of hot dogs, cottage cheese and grapes (I should say the kids came home to that – I came home to ice cream and animal crackers).  Mario went down for a nap and Maria and I headed to Mirror Lake on campus to see Uncle Jack in the play Romeo and Juliet.  He played the Friar.  I strategically planned to get there after about half of the play was over because I knew Maria would get antsy.  It worked out well because she started to get antsy in the last few scenes but she still remained interested asking questions such as why Juliet was sad, why Romeo killed himself, why Jack looked mean.  Great play to take her to, heh?!  She was enamored, as always, with Uncle Jack.  She got to go up on stage afterwards and play out her scenes.  I even gave her a line to deliver and she did it with an uncanny ease.  If there is any profession I could see her in at this moment, it is acting. 

Mario joined us after the play was over for a little fun at Mirror Lake.  We disturbed the ducks and we threw rocks and we got snacks and we sat on the rocks together.  It was pure bliss. 

Mirror Lake Adventure

And that was it – our weekend in a nutshell.  By 9 pm on Sunday, I was exhausted.  My bones ached.  My mind felt like mush.  How wonderful it all was!

Heading to the Prom at age 4??!

Maria and Mario heading to school

At age 4, she had decided to go to the prom with Logan, a tough lookin’ little guy.  Who asked who to the prom is an unknown question.  She refuses to divulge the details.  I do know from Maria’s teacher that Logan asked Maria if she wanted to go to the Japanese Steakhouse with him some time because it had really good food.   Yeah, Logan asked my girl out to the Japanese Steakhouse.  The first offers I got to eat out were to UDF for a turtle sundae and to Burger King for a Whopper and I was 13.  Times have changed or else I just attracted some cheap guys (actually, I would take a turtle sundae over a steak anyway). 

But wait… am I actually talking about my daughter being asked out on a date and going to a prom at age 4 and not being appalled and wondering about what is happening to this world?  Yeah, I am.  First of all, I am way too tired to try to contemplate whether this is some type of anti-feminist movement at the school and all the little girls are being primed for a life of superficiality.  Second of all, I would guess that half of Maria’s girl friends have asked her if she wanted to go to some restaurant or place with them.  Third of all, Maria and Logan could have cared less that they “went to the prom together.”  They certainly were not standing in the corner holding hands or making out. 

To the contrary, Maria pushed him around most of the time.  

Now, would I have been happier with a dance party themed around loving unconditionally and a discussion about how there are all kinds of people in this world and we need to embrace everyone all the same.  But, that is the trade-off of deciding to work.  I take what I can get at the daycare. 

And the dance was a blast. 

The kids laughed and ran around and gave hugs and got pictures.  They exchanged valentine cards, candy, cookies, bracelets.  Of course, my girl was ready go after 20 minutes or so.  She can only handle so much partying when there is no food.  She kept pulling at my leg and demanding When is lunch coming?  I am so hungry!” 

Now, I say that I am not bothered by the fact that they had this prom at age 4, but I am a little concerned about Maria’s concern in the morning about whether she looked pretty.  This occurs every day – not just prom day – and it is increasingly concerning to me.  Did I ever care about that at age 4?  She is discovering herself and her body, and hopefully, this “do I look pretty” stage is just a part of this discovery.  I have tried to reinforce her entire life that she is a gorgeous, strong, funny, intelligent girl and that being gorgeous is not about having big beautiful eyes or blond hair or wearing makeup, it is about being funny and smart and genuine.  I continue to enforce it with the princess books we read.  “Why did the prince fall in love with that princess?” she asks.  “He loved how she made him laugh and how smart she was.  She had gone to college and become a veterinarian and was so good with animals….” 

She typically responds to my counseling with “I know, mom.  I know…”  Hopefully, that sigh and that response gets embedded in her and she will continue “to know” as she gets older and older. 

And for Mario…. He is way too young to understand that he had a “prom.”  He could have cared less about any of the gals in the dance room.  He ran around with his “guy friends” the entire time, tackling them and yelling at them.  When teachers tried to get his picture, he refused.  When a teacher asked him to be her valentine, he responded “NO!”  He steered clear of anyone from the opposite sex.  He decorated a shoe box to have it to store valentines.  He read valentine’s books.  He got to eat treats, especially Skittles, his all-time favorite.

Overall, a great day.  Their excitement in the morning continued throughout the entire day, and that is a great day for me, too.

Making cookies and valentines for the big day