Vacationing with sand dunes and Michigan cherries

We just arrived home from our 6 day, 5 night trip to Traverse City, Michigan.  All of us packed in the truck with lots of snacks, water, movies, and “when will we be there” questions.  We stayed at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, which I found on-line after researching furiously two weeks ago when we decided we’d go on a vacation last week.  Nothing like waiting until the last-minute.  The website for the Resort promised to be loads of fun for the family with two indoor pools and two outdoor pools, a private beach, and two queen size beds (a must after trying to fit the four of us in two full-size beds in Florida – we have become too accustomed to a king size bed and we have to deal with two sleep thrashers).  Jon and I debated staying in a cabin on the lake like I used to when I was a kid but we worried about Mario complaining that he was cold in the lake and us being plain out of luck for the week. 

We figured we’d have the best of both worlds like we did in Florida – we could go to the beach and the pool.  And we were hoping that Mario might like the lake more than the ocean since he hated the salt water in the ocean.  When we got to the Resort, the kids were ready to explode.  Seven hours in the car (with a pit stop at Cabella’s to check out the stuffed animals – Maria and Mario reacted appropriately to the stuffed skunk) and they were ready to let out some energy.  We immediately headed to the indoor pool, which did not disappoint the kids.  It had an enclosed slide and a rope climb where the kids could step on four plastic animals floating in the water and hold on to the rope above to try to cross to the other side.  Maria loved them both.  She slid down the slide with no fear while I had a mini-heart attack on my first slide down because it was so narrow and dark. On the rope climb, she used her brute strength to grip onto the ropes above her and move her legs from animal to animal.  When she fell, she laughed and tried again until she made it.  Mario was too scared to try the slide so he stayed with the rope.  But he was too short to reach the rope so he just jumped from animal to animal sometimes with his chest hitting the side of the animal when he jumped.  It didn’t bother him because he was too determined to reach the other side. 

After the pool, we hit the Traverse City strip to find some dinner.  I got my wish come true when we spotted a Ponderosa along the road.  Jon must truly love me because he stopped.  We have not eaten at a Ponderosa for years – and for good reason.  Jon got deathly ill when we went to a buffet during law school and he has refused them ever since that time.  But he saw the stars in my eyes when I saw the sign, and agreed to it.  His face was hilarious while we ate.  He looked like he was in true pain.  But he took a few bites and hung in there with me while I danced around the buffet bar with Ri oohhing and ahhing over all of the selections (of course my girl loved it!).  

The next four days were a welcome departure from “reality.”  The reality of work and deadlines and library book returns.  Our first destination was the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  It took me back to my trips as a kid – absolutely gorgeous.  The kids loved the last stop – a view of Lake Michigan and a steep sand dune.  They immediately began running down the dune, which drops suddenly straight down to Lake Michigan.  I told them to go about an eighth of the way down and if they could easily get back up, they could go all the way down.  It took us 20 minutes to climb back up.  They were spent and had no desire to head all the way down after that climb up.  We hit another dune on our way to Platte River – the dune I remember climbing as a kid.  Maria got about 20 feet up the dune and said “forget it.” Her feet hurt from the hot sand and she was tired from the preceding climb.  Mario saw me head up the hill and did not want to give up.  But when I wouldn’t hold him any longer, he asked if we could just climb a little further and then run down together.  I agreed (as much as I wanted to climb the whole thing!) and we ran down together holding hands and laughing. 

We drove to the Platte River and played all day long in its warm waters while occasionally dipping our toes in the cold waters of Lake Michigan.  Platte River was everything I remembered.  Clear and calm and warm.  And it contained the most gorgeous rocks.  I could have planted myself in the shallow water all day long and looked at rocks.  Maria practically did that.  She knows how much I love them and every chance she gets to find good ones for me, she takes it.  This time was no different.  She dove under water incessantly until she found just the right rocks for me.  Then she’d walk them over to me and describe why each one was special.  She is a dear.  Mario fought off the current in the river for a long time but then he finally decided to join Maria in finding rocks for me.  He would approach me with one or two and make it a production: “Mom, I found this rock for you and I think you will love it. Close your eyes.”  And then I would look at him and express my love for it and he would smile in pride and say “wasn’t that a cool rock, mom?!” 

Another day, we took a boat ride on the Bay.  The water was choppy but Jon did an excellent job not capsizing us.  Our daredevil girl begged Jon to go faster.  She loved the thrill of bouncing up and down in the water and the sprays of water in her face.  She did not want me to hold on to her when she sat up front.  Mario and I meanwhile, were ready for the boat to go back to the dock after a half of an hour.  He did fine at first but the poor guy started to turn green towards the end.  Nevertheless, he continued to sport a smile through it and have a good time.  He did not want to ruin everyone’s fun.  We rented a water trampoline and slide afterwards, and that was a lot of fun.  Our daredevil Maria loved sliding down the slide head first.  She would beg Jon and I to get the slide more wet so it would go faster.  If you swam under the trampoline, you could stand above the water and breathe.  The kids loved swimming under it and waiting for Jon to scare them when he quickly swam under and grabbed at their legs.  We joked that we paid $60 for the kids to play under the trampoline.

In the evening, we were able to watch the sun set from our hotel room.  One evening, the sun was brilliantly red and I told Maria and Mario that if we held hands and made a wish before the sun set, it would come true.  We all stood together holding hands and making our wishes.  When we finished, the sun was almost set.  All of a sudden, the kids realized dad was not in on our wish-fest and they yelled “DAD, you have to make a wish, too.  HURRY!”  Jon, who had been in the bathroom, ran out, grabbed our hands, and we all made a wish again.  Then we continued to hold hands and stand in awe as the sun disappeared from the horizon.  What a great way to end the evening.

The last day of the trip was overcast so we drove to some fishing towns and watched mama river otters feeding raw fish to their babies on the shore.  The kids scored a couple more stuffed animals from a fishing trinket store and got to slide down an old metal slide liked I used to slide down as a kid.  We ended our driving adventure in Glen Arbor for some yummy cherry pie.  I could eat that pie every day and night.   On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at putt-putt golf for one last putt-putt game – we had already played three games earlier in the trip.  I had won two of them, Jon had slammed me on one of them and we had this one to determine the champion.  And we ended up in a tie.  Maria, our anti-competitive girl, was very happy.

We played some ping-pong, too in the indoor pool area.  It took Jon and I back to our honeymoon in Alaska where we played ping-pong along the Kenai River.  We had some good volleys back and forth and again, tied winning one game each.  Maria and Mario weren’t too bad at volleying.  Mario liked to hit the ball high up in the air for everyone to admire and Maria liked to avoid any hit that would attract attention – complete opposites they are.  This vacation definitely reinforced their different demeanors. 

Mario: When we were at the market, Mario asked a woman at the checkout line if she could grab a 5 hour energy drink for him to give to his mom. She looked at him suspiciously.  I walked by when he asked her a second time and she looked over at me.  I whispered to her that he was just trying to get the 5 hour drink for me.  He heard me and went ballistic.  “Mom! I wanted to surprise you with one of those!  Now you ruined it!” He cried and pulled his body away from me when I tried to hold him.  I had to kneel next to him and tell him how awesome he was for thinking of me before he talked to me again.

He gets so upset when things do not go his way, and holds a serious grudge.  He seems to get angry in two instances: 1. he doesn’t get something he wants, be it the computer or a toy or 2. he wants to do something for you and you “ruin it” by finding out about it early or not reacting happily enough.  I was telling Patty that he has two modes lately: super-duper sweet and endearing or angry and pouty.  Lucky for us, his super-duper sweet and endearing side trumps the angry and pouty.  At the hotel in Michigan, he bought two chocolate hearts to eat for a late-night snack.  As he opened one up, he walked over to me and said “mom, this reminds me of you.” He pointed down to the red aluminum foil to an indentation of a heart.  Yeah, those little moments make up for the other ones.  And the other ones are fierce but short.  If you tickle him or tease him, he typically turns off his grudge and laughs and gives you a hug.  It’s pretty simple with him – he craves attention and recognition.  We constantly get questions from him about who we love more – him or Ria.  Or who we think is cuter – him or Ria.  When Maria does something and we laugh, he tries to do something funnier.  I think it’s his age but I also think it is who he is.  He loves to entertain people and make them laugh.  He also has no qualms about approaching people. When we were at the outdoor pool, he walked up to a couple in the hot tub and asked how the water felt.  He told them his name and where he was from and how old he would be in September.  All this without them even asking!  When we went to the lake, he walked up to a boy who looked about his age and said “do you want to play with me?”  He is not scared to take a chance on getting a “no” response.  Complete opposite of our girl.      

Maria: And then there is Ri.  She would never approach someone and ask them to play with her, and during this trip, she actually  steered far clear from anyone that approached her to play with her.  Two little girls jumped in the pool and tried to talk to her and Maria swam over to me and told me that she did not want to play with them.  Then she told the girls the same.  My girl likes her space.  But if she sees girls that look like they may be fun to play with, she will stand to the side and wait to see if they ask her to play.  She did that with girls on the rope climb, and they eventually asked her to play and she really enjoyed her time with them. 

Maria is a total daredevil and a lover of life.  She is self-deprecating and real.  And she cares about how people feel.  When we went to putt-putt, Mario would shoot a hole in one and Maria, who is not the best at putt-putt, would say “I’m certainly not going to get a hole-in-one; I might get a hole-in-six!”  When we rented the water trampoline, Maria walked up the ladder, jumped high on the trampoline, and slid down head first without hesitation.  When we went out to eat, she ordered BIG and loved to head back to the hotel candy shop for late night sundaes.  She took care of her little brother during the trip.  When Mario got upset because he wanted to play on my phone, Maria pled his case for him arguing that he had not played with it for the entire trip and he had been a good boy all day long.  She treated Mario like her baby – ordering his food (when he let her), letting him go first in line, letting him push the buttons in the elevator, and giving him more superballs then she got.  

Vacations are a necessary component to our lives.  It gave Jon and I a chance to breathe and let go of all of the deadlines and worries we have with our jobs.  We were able to concentrate fully and completely on ourselves and the kids for 7 days.  We know Maria and Mario up and down and side to side but this vacation reinforced in us how wonderfully diverse they both are and how many incredible qualities they both exhibit.  And I believe the trip reinforced for M&M how much Jon and I love them and want them to experience great things.  On the ride home, we stopped at a rest stop to go to the bathroom.  We all hopped back in the car to continue our trip and I looked back at the kids to make sure they had their seat belts on.  Then I looked over at Jon as he pulled out onto the highway.  I closed my eyes and gave thanks for the time alone with them.  When I opened my eyes, Jon verbalized my thoughts saying “I had a great time with you guys on this trip.  I love you.”  The kids responded “Love you, too” as they watched the final episode of Scooby Doo.

Easter extravaganza

The Easter Bunny is way too prevalent on Easter weekend. The kids participated in three easter egg hunts and got two baskets of goodies. Our tummies are rolling in chocolate and sweet tarts.

After we all ate a box of Oreos!The first hunt was in Grandview on Saturday morning. They host it at the local park for kids up to 10 years old. Ri’s been going since she was a baby and Mario, too. It used to have a lot more eggs and a lot fewer people but this year it seemed like there was a ton of folks and a lot fewer eggs. They make up for the fewer eggs with giant packs of Oreos, animal crackers, and Rice Krispy treats. The kids line up at 10 am and by 10:01, the hunt is long over. The kids walk away with packs of Oreos and rice crispy treats and no eggs. We have our stock of treats for the next month. Why do it if this is why we end up with every year? I love my traditions and this is one that I have known since I was little. My grandmas both hid eggs for me at Easter and I loved hunting them down. I loved opening up the plastic eggs even if all I found was a jelly bean. So, my love has been passed down to M&M and they seem to love it, too.

The cousins hitting the trailsWe headed out to my parents’ farm on Saturday morning with Jon’s parents. Patty sat in the very back between Maria and Mario because they fount over who got to sit next to her. She resolved the fight by squeezing herself in between them in the third row seat. Of course, anyone else would be smooshed but she fits right in the small space with her tiny self! Mario cozied up to her as they watched Kenny the Shark (an awesome Discovery Channel find for $1.50 at CVS). Maria helped her put in her earring and tutored her on the features of her iPhone. She kept us all laughing with her commentary, which sounds like it’s out of the mouth of a fifty year old rather than a six-year-old. At one point, Patty asked Maria if she would get the $5 egg at my cousin’s house (each year one egg has a $5 bill in it). Maria said that she would let her cousin get the $5 egg because her cousin was having some rough times and needed it more than she did. God love her old empathetic soul.

The farm provided an awesome time with the wildflowers blooming and the trails awaiting our footsteps. Nothing better than eating a humongous meal of ham, potato salad, macaroni and cheese casserole, and butter ball rolls and then taking a hike through the woods. You start out feeling like you can’t move but by the end of the trek, you can actually take a breath without having to unbutton your pants. And within ten minutes of the hike, you can eat more! Rock-n-roll!

The bro and meThe kids rode the horses – Maria has got the strong thighs for it. She looks like a natural on Taz with those thighs and good posture. Mario looks like a little jockey all tiny and delicate compared to the regal horse. We even found the first toad of the year! Mario and Maria tried to grab it for me but it sensed trouble and hopped in a pipe.

My little bro and I got to hang out a bit, too, which is always a treat. He is twenty-three and trying to get his band more noticed and on the scene. He has been contemplating Toronto and Chicago but has recently decided on sticking with Columbus because Columbus has a decent music scene and it is a heck of a lot cheaper. It’s fascinating to talk to him about his music – it is all so innate in him and he rattles off descriptions of playing notes and feeling the music that I could never experience. His band, Alpine Ghost, kicks out some funky, alternative rock, and I would buy all his CDs in a heartbeat.

On Sunday morning, we woke to two little kids begging to see if the Easter Bunny came to our house. I acted like I was hitting the bathroom and hid eggs outside. They came down to baskets full of jump ropes and silly putty and candy. They scoured through the baskets excited to see all their presents and ready to move onto the eggs outside. That Easter egg hunt only lasted a minute longer than the Grandview one. They found all the eggs in less than 2 minutes. They are like police dogs with drugs – they sniff out those eggs like pros. I purposefully filled their eggs with candy I would not eat so that I would not be tempted to eat it while I filled them. However, I filled them right next to the extra Girl Scout cookies so I went through a box of Thin Mints and a half of a box of Do-Si-Dos. I would have been better off with peanut M&Ms.

Of course, what else to do on Easter morning than head to Tim Horton’s for some Easter donuts?! We strolled down while I read a book to them. Yes, I have gotten quite good at reading to them as I stroll them down the street. After Tim Horton’s, we strolled to the river to get some Easter rocks to paint. We were going to give them to Grandma Lolo and Papa Rod and the Heile gals but only got a few done by the time we had to go because we had to stop by my friend’s house to walk her dog. Maria loved this chore because she keeps talking about how much she wants to train and walk dogs. She is hilarious with dogs, and humans for that matter, when she is in charge. The dog’s name is Charlie, and all I heard from her was a command of “Charlie!” and then a loud clap. She does the same thing with her little cousin Gracie when she “watches” her. When Gracie does something she shouldn’t, Maria yells “Gracie” and smacks her hands together for a loud clap. She does not mess around!

Some of the Heile cousins!And then we made the drive to Cincy. Mario slept the entire trip while Maria played on my iPad. When we finally arrived, we met Lou, my mom’s new pup. He is a British coon hound and he is a gorgeous thing. So tame and sweet. Maria was in heaven walking him around the house. Mario played with his boy cousins, play fighting them and taunting them. They taunt him back, though, and he gets upset. Cousin Laura made him the cutest shirt in the world – she sewed a fishing rod and fish on a white t-shirt. It is precious and he loved it. She asked him to pose in it for her blog, and he stood on the chair performing every pose possible until she finally had enough. Ask the boy to pose, and he will gladly oblige.

The kids ran around with all of their cousins all night, and begged not to go when 8 pm arrived. Aunt Ann was in town from DC and she is always a hit with Maria. Maria seems fascinated with her probably because she is always dressed in nice clothes and jewelry but she still acts silly. She is that aunt that lives far away and is so exotic to kids but yet so down to earth and fun when she is in town. Maria begged to go back to Julie’s condo with her so we gave in and let her since the condo is on the way to the highway. She was ecstatic. When we picked her up later, I saw her and Ann in the window, and Maria was just staring at her while she spoke. So darling.

The four contestants for the egg hunt!The Heile’s fest was a whirlwind as always. Volleyball, Easter egg hunt (Maria and Mario did not get the $5 egg again this year!), DQ cake, hugging, frisbee, basketball, and lots of good-natured yelling (poor Jon!).

We arrived home at 10:45 pm – both Maria and Mario asleep in their car seats. Maria awoke at 7 am crying hysterically about not wanting to go to Kids Club. Twenty-five minutes straight of bawling hysteria. On a Monday morning. Seriously? That was not what I needed to get me off to a good day. But who am I kidding? There was no way that this Monday morning was going to be good anyway. I just spent a week in Florida and two days eating non-stop sugar and hanging with family. Monday was going to be back to reality. So I wanted to cry with Maria when she was throwing down tears but I held it together and acted like all was just peachy keen. And eventually, it was when we were all off of work and school and back in the house again eating chocolate peanut butter cups.