I engaged in the annual hmmming and hawing over what to get the kids this year. I torture myself by overthinking what they may want, what they do want, what they should get in order not to spoil them, what they should get to spoil them….

I long for the days they were babies and toddlers. It was so simple! I could get ten $1 toys, wrap them, and we’d be set Christmas morning. This year was especially strange because they really didn’t “want” for anything.  Realistically, they should never “want” for anything since they have all of life’s necessities at their disposal and much more; but alas, they are kids bombarded by advertisements friends with cool gadgets.  Maria had been begging for an iPhone 7 for her birthday but she cooled her heels about one for Christmas.  I think I assisted her in this change of heart by talking about how I believed experiences were more special than “things.”  I asked her what she remembered more – her new iphone she received two holidays ago or her trip to Oaxaca.  Oaxaca without a doubt.  

Mario was even perplexed about what he wanted – at first it was an Apple computer, then any type of computer, then a pug puppy, then any type of puppy.  At one point, Maria talked with him about the experiences bit and almost had him convinced to just wish for them and not ask for any “things.” But Mario couldn’t quite get there at age 9; he still wanted to open gifts on Christmas.

And there lies the dilemma  – as a parent, do you put your foot down and re-purpose Christmas to the holiday it should be: a holiday about giving to others and appreciating family, and sacrifices made, and peace, and love, and goodwill?  Or do you give “things” that the kids can madly unwrap on Christmas morning? Tradition gets the best of me and I inevitably err on the side of “things”.  However, this year I did not go as overboard as years’ past and tried to mix the things with some experiences.  Oaxaca will be a destination for us in 2017 as well as DC.  I also want to take some good camping trips.

We asked Santa to stick with a room décor theme for Ri this year.  She got a new desk and hutch, dresser and nightstand as well as some pictures and framed quotes.  Mario got a new Dell computer in order to vlog and listen to his jams.  He also got some Cowboys attire since that is his new favorite team thanks to Ezekiel Elliott).  I ended up getting him a dresser, too, since I found one for cheap on line, and he has never had one before. Yeah, not kidding.  He has just used the three tiny drawers in his steps going up to his bed. Of course, I ordered all the kids’ furniture on line so Jon and I get to assemble it ourselves.  We worked on the dresser the day after Christmas and 3 hours later, we were still slaving over it.  I was ready to ship the assembly off to a contractor but was not ready to pay $150 so we kept working. We finally finished 2 hours later, and now we can walk in Mario’s room and admire our work….

Maria’s desk and hutch was a bit easier to assemble, thank god.  I actually assembled the hutch all by myself; I screwed all the parts in backwards and had to dis-assemble it all and start over, but I finally got it.  It does feel good to know that you built something from scratch (especially when you are typically inept at such creations).  And I now know what a cam screw is!

We enjoyed Susie’s house for Christmas Eve.  Patty drove down with us this year and we first stopped at my mom’s to exchange gifts.  Patty got to admire her new home, and my mom got to ask Patty about her potential new home in Marietta.  My mom enjoys the company.  The kids loved on Lou and took a few trips down the stairs in their comforters before begging to open presents.  They got spoiled beyond belief: Mario got a desk chair and Ri got new boots.  Rocco got a new hedgehog playmate (which he did not destroy within the first ten minutes of playing with it – miracle).

The kids loved playing with Cy and Robert at Susie’s house.  They ran around and around with them playing with nerf guns and wrestling.  The fun had to cease when Cy turned to run away from Mario and rammed his head on the dip in the ceiling.  He got a nice gash.  Jane and Olivia rushed him to Urgent Care and a few staples later he was good as new.  It’s not a Heile party until someone starts bleeding.  The kids also love participating in the White Elephant game.  Mario got a puzzle and was less than impressed.  He had his eyes on a bag that had a Polo watch and a pair of “USA” socks in it because he thought they would be the perfect gifts for his dad.  He was finally able to steal the bag after Aunt Julie helped him out and took his puzzle. Ri scored a Starbucks card.

Ri and Mario loved holding baby Harper. Mario thoroughly enjoyed it for about three minutes and then was ready to move on. Ri would have held her all night.

We all sang Christmas carols with Aunt Susie towards the end of the night – one of the highlights of the evening.  Susie plays the piano while we try our best to keep a tune.

Mario was the first to get up on Christmas morning at 7 am.  We made him wait until 7:30 to wake Maria up.  We laid in bed trying to prepare for the day ahead. At 7:29, Mario woke up Ri and they both walked into our room commanding us to awaken and head downstairs.  Patty had been up since 6 am, and was showered and ready to head out to church.  Ri distributed the gifts to everyone, and the opening began. Big smiles planted on their faces.  It took about 45 minutes to get through gifts this year, which was pleasantly longer than last year.  I swear we were done opening presents in 10 minutes last year.

The kids were more mature this year in both the approach to opening presents and in the actual opening of the presents.  In years’ past, they would have been up at 6 am and jumping on our bed incessantly until we arose and trekked down the steps with them.  They would have been shaking each present and thinking heavily about which one to open first.    They would have torn through them in seconds unable to soak in appreciation for each gift one at a time.  But this year, they wokr at a reasonable hour. They waited patiently as we got on our sweatshirts and brushed our teeth.  

They still showed enthusiasm, when passing out the gifts under the tree but it was a more measured, calm enthusiasm.  They carefully tore the wrapping paper off their gifts and took their time scanning each present.  And they showed appreciation for each gift (even if it wasn’t something they particularly wanted (i.e., hats and gloves).

So here we are, setting up a computer and a desk  rather than a train set or a Barbie house.  The day was bound to arrive at our doorstep.  But I am going to work hard to celebrate it rather than bemoan it.  True, my babies are growing up and no longer require constant attention, and I miss that greatly. But my babies are growing up and no longer require constant attention, and I must appreciate that as well. 

I just wish we could go back to ten $1 gifts….

Learning my XBox lesson

So Mario had three things he wanted for Christmas – yea, just three: Apple laptop, X Box or iPhone. Seriously? What happened to Legos and Pokemon cards? Jon and I debated what to get him for weeks. Each week brought a sweeter Mario trying his hardest to be good during the holiday season to earn one of the three presents he wanted. How could we keep the spirit of Santa alive without getting him one of his three wishes?
We decided that we could probably use a Xbox since all we have is our old Wii. It’s ridiculous that we only bought the Wii three years ago and it’s already completely outdated. There are hardly any games for it anymore. And it’s winter so we are stuck in the house after 5 pm. It’s nice to move the body if only to a dancing game or a bowling match. So we agreed we’d get him a Xbox. I stopped at Best Buy to buy it and was floored to pay $550 for it. What???!
I walked out of the store flabbergasted.
Not even two days after buying the Xbox, Mario was reviewing the advertisements in the paper and saw a Nintendo DS.
“I want one of them so badly!”
“But I thought you wanted a Xbox or laptop?”
“No, I really just want a Nintendo DS. That’s it. I’d be so happy.”
He repeated this over and over through the night and into the next day. So I called Jon at work and told him we should return the Xbox and get him a Nintendo. Besides, we’d save $300. And he was begging Santa for a Nintendo.
Jon pushed back. “He doesn’t need another hand-held devise to stare at. He will get bored with it within a day. He’s more likely to find games and play the XBox – just keep that.”
I pushed back. “But he believes in Santa and he’s begging for a Nintendo. We should get that since he really wants it.” I have to admit the $300 savings was weighing heavily on my mind, too….
I won. Jon caved and told me to take the Xbox back and get the Nintendo.
On Christmas morning, Mario opened the Nintendo present and was charged up. He played for a day or two. Then he went back to his iPad. And then, a couple of days ago, he found a few games that could only be played on Xbox. And all he has done over the last 48 hours is plead and beg for a Xbox. Non-stop. He and Maria gathered all their money together tonight and found a Xbox on Amazon for $171. They have $167. They want to do extra chores this weekend to get another $4 to buy it. Mario is desperate and Ri, being the sweet sis, is willing to spend all her saved money to buy it with him (she has $118 and he has $49).
So, have I learned a lesson to listen to my hubby? Yes – at least when it comes to electronics. I appreciate that he’s been gracious in his victory and not rubbed Mario’s change of heart in my face.


Decorating Grandma’s Christmas tree

Maria begged me to come home early last night so we could decorate the Christmas tree. I made her day when I pulled in the driveway on my bike at 5:10. Although I was still talking to my work colleague, Ri jumped in my arms and whispered “thank you thank you!” With that kind of welcome, I will come home early any day. She dragged me in the house and down the steps to retrieve Grandma Menkedick’s Christmas tree standing upright in the cardboard box under the stairs. Jon would rather have a “live” tree and I would, too but I also love having something of Grandma’s so central in our house. I know that she would be proud that her tree continues to grace our living room because she always loved for me to tell her that we put it up in years’ past when she was still with us. She loved contributing in that way. And the kids love helping to resurrect it each year.
Sophie was over when we started piecing it together. She commented that it doesn’t look like a Christmas tree and Ri immediately jumped in on Grandma’s behalf.
“Just wait until we get all the branches in place. Then you will change your mind.”
And she was right. After we inserted all the branches and flushed it out in accordance with the instructions found on the original tethered but legible, delicate piece of brown paper, it looked just like a baby fir you’d find at a tree lot. Pure magic.
After that task was completed, we ran up to the attic in a mad rush to find the boxes of ornaments ranging in age of creation from 40 years to last year. Maria and Mario teamed up to lug down one box and I lugged the other. Rocco followed behind us trying to nose his way to the front of the line (which he eventually accomplished even with Mario yelling “No, Rocco!”). Maria and her sentimental self reached in to the box and pulled out an ornament that I had bought for my grandma in 1978. Mario went to grab it and she scolded him: “this is a prized possession of mom’s so you have to be gentle.” Meanwhile, Rocco gave us all heart attacks with his barreling under the tree and shaking the ornaments. However, he only broke one which is the same number I broke.


The kids took some down time from ornament hanging and ornament admiring in order to play “hide-the-pickle” (No, it’s not some inappropriate adult game). We have an ornament that Uncle Jack gifted me in the shape of a pickle because I love pickles so much. The kids made up a game two Christmas’ ago where they hide the pickle ornament somewhere on the tree and the other kid has to find it. Loads of fun for hours! Sophie won by hiding it in such a snug place in the middle of the tree that both Ri and Mario gave up.
Finally, after the pickle game ended and the ornaments were hung, Mario placed the blue star on the top of the tree. Ri has let him do it every year because she loves to see how excited he gets when she says “ok, you can do it” (plus she gets to photograph it).

And so, another year of Christmas tree decoration is complete… unless Rocco decides to wrestle the tree and all of its ornaments. But I think he even feels Grandma’s spirit because after a few swipes at it, he laid down to rest by its side.

Simple pleasures

The kids have been begging to see Rise of the Guardians. After a disappointing trip to the zoo on Saturday afternoon (playground closed and hardly any animals out – I guess it is December…), we decided to hit the 7:15 showing. Of course, it was only playing in 3D so we paid $37 for three tickets – insane. Between the tickets and the popcorn, we could have bought groceries for the month. But the kids loved it.


On Sunday morning, we woke up to sheets of rain. Hence, no stroller ride. So we decided to put up the Christmas tree. I brought up my grandma’s tree and the kids and I assembled it to surprise Jon while he was out for coffee. Mario assembled the metal base of the tree from scratch; he figured out how to put the metal feet in the circle and where to place the screws. There may be an engineer in our future…. Meanwhile, Maria perused through the cardboard boxes of ornaments picking out select ones that she remembered creating or that she knew had meaning to us. Jon’s blue ornament from his teacher, the ornament I gave my grandma when I was ten, Mario’s gingerbread ornament from his old daycare. Ms. Sentimental she is.

We blasted Christmas music from the tv and went to town on the tree. I love our time spent decorating the tree. We talk about years’ past, we admire the ornaments that we forgot about it since last year, we laugh, hysterically. We are completely immersed in the process and it is delightful. Jon always hunts down his favorite ornament to place strategically on the tree; Mario places all of his in one big clump; and Ri directs us all on where things should go.




And there you have it. Our darling Christmas tree lighting up our abode. Later in the evening we realized we forgot to place the star on top of the tree. We looked through all of our boxes and finally found it. Mario begged to put it on and Ri agreed, as always. She got to take the picture and tape a video of it though so she was happy.


Simple pleasures.

The elf brings magic

Ri and I walked into her classroom on Monday morning and all of the kids were in a circle screaming at one another about what their “elf on a shelf” did the night before.

“My elf’s a girl and she took clothes out of my brother’s drawers!”

“My elf swung from one side of the room to the other side with my dad’s rope!”

Maria stood outside of the circle with her mouth opened just enough to form a tiny candy square and her eyes fixated above the kids as if she was watching their words floating in the air. She shifted her piercing blue eyes onto me.

“Mom, why don’t we have an elf?”

By Tuesday we had one: Christmas Elfie, Snowy Snowbell. A girl. I didn’t run out and buy one because everyone else had one and I needed to keep up with the Jones’. I bought one because I saw the magic and wonder in Ri’s eyes when the kids were talking about the elf. She believed. After last year’s trauma with St. Nick where she refused to believe in him and broke me down to where I had to admit it was dad and me who filled her stockings, I would have bought a continent to have her believe.

When we all got home Tuesday night, I placed our elf on the mantle and yelped “Guys, did you see what’s on our mantle?” They ran in the living room and Ri screamed and immediately belted out commands to Mario.

“Don’t touch the elf; she will lose her magical powers! Don’t bother her! Write down what you want for Christmas and lay it next to her!”

He listened intently. I told them that one of their friends’ elves must have told Santa to send an elf our way. I described to them how this elf would watch over us all day and head back to the North Pole at night to deliver a report to Santa. Their eyes bulged out towards the window imagining the elf’s travels to the North Pole. They each wrote up a list of desires: Maria, a pup, American Girl doll, a Barbie; Mario, a scooter, tic tac toe game, and a laser. They set it by the elf and we all went in the family room to play.

A half hour later, Jon rushed into the room and gasped “the elf is gone!” The kids bolted into the living room and he was out of sight. The front door was ajar.

“He must have headed back to the North Pole and taken your lists!”

Mario burst through the front door and stood on the porch looking into the black sky. Pointing to the North Star, he proclaimed “I see the elf riding towards Santa’s home!” Ri stood next to him and gazed up at the crystal star.


Jon moved the elf to the kitchen bookshelf that night and the next morning the kids ran downstairs screaming “the elf didn’t come back!” Jon explained that the elf may have landed somewhere else in the house upon his return from the North Pole. They opened a hall closet and found the green exercise ball shoved in it.

“Dad, the elf shoved your ball into the closet!”

Jon had shoved the ball in there on Thanksgiving to avoid someone tripping over it but he went with it. “Oh my! Where could that elf be?”

They finally found it in the kitchen. They did not touch it because they didn’t want it to lose its magic. They just yelled “We found Elfie! We found her! She’s back!”

Pure Magic.

Twice-baked goodness

We ended the four-day holiday with twice-baked potatoes; Jon’s and his brother, Chris’s favorite and one of Patty’s signature dishes. I am not a velveeta cheese fan and was hesitant to try one but I had put so much effort into helping Patty make them that I felt compelled. It was not a mistake. Pure yumminess.



I need to buy some stock in Nike elastic sweatpants because that’s all I will be wearing for the next two months between all of the holiday goodies.

Maria and Mario called me from the road on their way back from the farm to see when Grandma and Grandpa Ionno would be over. They had a good time at the farm with Sarah and Jorge and Mama Meg and Peepaw. Maria got in a hike with Sarah and the pups and Mario got to go hunting with Peepaw.



They also got treated to a holiday parade in Marietta. Peepaw piled ’em up in the car on Saturday and drove to Marietta to see what was happening; he had no idea that a parade was in order! Mario scored some plastic army men and a tank and Maria nabbed a ladybug pillow. Maria got to bathe Taz and love on him, too. Mandatory horse fixes when she’s out on that farm.

I got some monstrous hugs upon their return, which I soaked up like bubbles in a bubble bath. The farm (or maybe Aunt Sarah or Mama Meg) had quite the effect on Maria. She went upstairs without any prodding and took a shower, got dressed, and brought down both hers and Mario’s dirty clothes bins. She dragged them right over to the washer and threw them inside. She went back upstairs and got a hamper for the clean clothes in the dryer. All without any peep from me or Jon. Alleluia! She did ask for help with the detergent though and I walked over to get it down for her. She pointed at the Downy and said “I need that, too.” I told her she didn’t need to use that with detergent and she promptly channeled her dad directing me to get it. “We need both – Downy makes the clothes smell better.” I could practically hear Jon in her voice.

Grandma and Grandpa Ionno arrived at 2 pm and Mario promptly laid his body across Grandma and played his iPad game. When she tried to move, he cried “No, grandma!” Finally, she got to move but only to help Ri with her homework. Ri got lucky because Grandma is the master of word puzzles. They cranked the puzzle out with the help of Alana and me at the end. As soon as that was over, Ri and Alana dashed upstairs to Ri’s room never to be seen again until dinner. Mario and Gio watched tv in our room and then went outside to play frisbee and bounce on the trampoline. They referred to each other as “dude” continuously. I picture them on a cross country road trip in ten years with feet hanging out the window and music blaring.

We all watched the Browns game (Patrick was lucky the Bengals weren’t playing) and caught up on the latest. Chris and Connie arrived with pictures from their wedding. Dinner was fabulous with the twice baked potatoes quite the hit. Ri ate two and begged for a third. We talked about Jon and Patrick as kids – Patrick slapping his cheeks outside in order to stay awake on New Years Eve and win 50 cents. Jon had no trouble staying awake. It was a superb time especially with the kids eating in the other room.


After dinner, the kids helped Alana and Grandma open birthday presents. Grandma scored an iPad for her birthday – I can’t wait to see her on Facebook! I am also going to urge her to write her and Joe’s story on it because it would be an amazing memoir.


We had to end the holiday on a pumpkin pie note so we sat down at 7 pm for one (or two) last pieces of pie with lots of whipped cream. Maria showed us her “trick” which entails putting the tip of the can of whipped cream in her mouth and pressing down to fill her entire throat and mouth with whipped cream. About as impressive as her dad swallowing a whole deviled egg.

We sang happy birthday to Patty and Alana and wrapped up the night. I kept wanting to extend the days longer so that the reality of work and school could be quashed. But I woke up this morning (after falling asleep with the kids at 8:30) happy as a clam – my body filled with tenderness and appreciation for a most incredible family and a most fantastic holiday weekend.