Workin’ 9 to 5, or more like, 7 to 6.

In the beginning of the summer, Mario was complaining about not being able to get a job at age 11. He saw Maria coming home with wads of cash from babysitting and he wanted some of that action. He’s at that age where parents don’t trust him yet to babysit their younger children and businesses will not hire him. He’s banking on a job with a friend of ours who owns a landscaping company but even with that, he still needs to be 14. I mentioned this dilemma to my dad when we were taking a walk in late spring. He responded with a shrug of the shoulders. “If Mario wants to come out to the farm for a couple of weeks and do some hard labor, I would pay him.”

When he first spoke those words, I didn’t think so much about the money as I thought about having two weeks in the summer that Mario would not have access to Xbox or much tv. I could go to work not having to check up on him every two hours to make sure that he was getting his reading in or playing outside. When I mentioned the idea to Mario, he jumped on it. Or, I should say, he jumped on the money part of it.

“How much do you think Peepaw will pay me?”

I then had to sit down with him to tell him that part of the deal in going out to the farm was just to be with his grandparents and be in the outdoors. He had just slept in a tent with a couple of buddies outside of our house a few weeks back and I reminded him about how much he loved it. I told him that Peepaw would be the number one person to talk to about surviving in the outdoors, pitching a tent, making food, you name it. Mario listened and nodded his head in agreement.

Then he questioned one more time “I just still wonder how much I could make….”

Mario has not frequented the farm like Maria. Ri doesn’t think twice about going out there for multiple days in a row. Mario has never gone out there for multiple nights, let alone by himself.

My dad thought long and hard about the work he would have Mario help him with for the two weeks. At first it was going to be cutting back the grasses through the fields. Then it moved to building a bench alongside the creek. But he finally ended up with a project that he thought Mario would love: a fire pit between the blueberry patch and the house. If they had time, they would also build a yoga platform. Mario had been begging Jon and I to build a firepit outside of our house so I knew he would love the thought of building one at the farm so that he could learn how to do it at our house.

The first week, Jon drove Mario to Zanesville to meet Grandma Meg. Jon reported that the drop off went smoothly. At about 8 pm, we got a call from Mario. He FaceTimed us so we could see the color of the sky and the meadows. This brought me much joy. I thought “he’s soaking up the outdoors and may just be fine out there.”

Then the call came at 9:30 PM.

“Mom, can you come out here and spend the night?”

He is out there with his grandma and grandpa. He is completely safe. He is being fed. He is receiving love. And nonetheless, my heart broke and I wanted to be there with him. I kept reminding him to just enjoy the time with his grandma and grandpa and to work hard because he was earning money for the summer. I hate to say it, but I knew in the short-term, referencing money would be a huge motivator.

It was the nighttime that really got him. He would call us excited during the day and show us the progress he and Peepaw were making on the firepit. He would FaceTime us to show every little detail of what they were doing. The first couple of days he was out there were even more rough because it was a lot of hard labor. They dug holes into the dry land and moved toms of dirt. My dad reported after that the second day was rough for Mario. He took breaks every 30 minutes or so (which, by the way, would probably be what most normal humans do – my dad and I tend to go a mile a minute when we start in on a project), To Mario’s credit, and because I always have to stand up for my man, he did get a major sunburn on his shoulders the day before he went out to the farm. I told him to apply sunscreen but he forgot and spent five hours out in the 90 degree heat at a birthday party. Nonetheless, I’m sure he could have sucked it up a bit more. He knew I was coming out on the third day – Thursday – so on Wednesday I kept reminding him that I would be out in 24 hours. I think this kept him going. When I arrived on Thursday, they had cleared the land and laid the first layer of bricks to the firepit. They needed to lay another four layers of stone. I was eager to help with the work. I love that stuff. If I ever lose my job, I think I will do some type of landscaping or masonry work.

Mario drove the four-wheeler route over to the chicken coop while I loaded the stones on it. Dad put on the caulking and Mario and I took turns laying the stone. We were a good team.

We left that night at 5:30. Mario was excited to get back to his Xbox. Maria was excited to meet up with her friends. About 25 miles away from Columbus, the traffic stopped. I was in the far lane of the highway and we were trying to determine how bad the accident was before the exit. Maria told me I should get off the exit because Google estimated it would be an hour wait. However, I went with my intuition and kept on the highway thinking that it wouldn’t be that long. Big mistake. About two hours later we were getting off at the next exit (only 4 miles away from the one I missed) to take the back roads home. Just shoot me.

We arrived home with none of us wanting to see each other’s faces for 24 hours. While we were waiting on the highway, we tried to play games to keep the time rolling. This inevitably led to much irritation by each one of us based on the the other two engaging in irritating behavior.

The weekend came and Mario argued that he should not have to do any activities because he worked so hard at the farm. I explained to him that work is something that us adults do every day without a break. He was seriously milking it.

Jon and I were worried that he would not want to go back out to the farm because of how homesick he had gotten and because of the thought of getting up at 6 AM to start the workday. However, when we asked him if he’s ready to go back out, he said he was. He did try to shorten the time by a day so that I would come out earlier and hang with him. But when Sunday night came, he packed up his things and was ready to go. He called us Sunday night to let us know he had made it but didn’t cry to me on the phone about how he wanted me to come get him. The next day he FaceTimed me about five times but he never pled for me to come out there. He just showed me everything that he and Peepaw were accomplishing.

On Tuesday, they pretty much had finished everything. He called me to see if I would come out Tuesday night. I told him I would be out Wednesday morning and he did not complain. I also told him to ask Peepaw and Mama Meg what else he could do to help out since Peepaw has to be the ones to screw in all the boards.

By the time I got out there on Wednesday morning, he and Peepaw had completed the firepit and the yoga platform, and put away all the materials they had been working with over the last two weeks. It looked wonderful. They also had spent two hours picking blueberries off the vines and putting them in individual containers in accordance with the type of blackberry picked. I got treated to a taste test of blueberries upon my arrival. Heaven. We sat on the screened-in porch and chatted. It was nice to chill out for 45 minutes and just sit with family. I am usually on the go when I am there either playing with Elena or taking a hike. I am trying to learn how to sit still more often.

Mario showed me up close all the work that they accomplished. Then he held my hand on the way back to the porch and said softly “can we go now? ” I asked if he would take a quick hike with me. He was adamant that he did not want to take a hike. But then Peepaw nudged him and I promised it would be a short hike. Mario couldn’t resist our pleading. It ended up that all of us headed out – Mama Meg, Peepaw, me, and Mario. It was an enjoyable hike up to the abandoned house and down through the path to the meadow. We chatted about Stranger Things and the 80’s. My soul felt nourished.

We arrived back and stood around the table eating chips. Peepaw came down the stairs with money for Mario. He handed him $400 in 20s and a 50 dollar bill. Mario’s eyes bugged out of his head. My dad explained that although their time was cut a bit short, they did accomplish what he wanted to accomplish and Mario woke up every morning ready to get to work. He didn’t try to sleep in, and he didn’t complain during times of boredom or when he was super hot. He hung in there and for that he was rewarded.

The experience made me feel so joyful. I really wanted my dad and Mario to connect during his time out at the farm. I had romantic visions of grandfather and grandson having deep conversations while sitting in the fishing boat for hours on end. A little on Golden Pond scene if you will. I am not quite sure that my romantic vision lined up with the reality of the two weeks, but that’s fine. The realistic version of the romantic vision did occur. Peepaw and Mario hung out together through the day, talking about random matters, and being in each other’s company. They got some fishing in and ribbed each other on who caught the largest fish. They bonded over blueberries. Mario also got to connect with Mama Meg more than he usually does when we are out there for a short period of time (they bonded over the show Stranger Things).

He doesn’t understand at this age how important this time spent with grandparents will be to him, I think back to times with my grandparents with immense love. I didn’t think about it as a kid – the times spent with them seemed routine like going to school and brushing my teeth. But now I find peace and comfort in looking back at the times I sat next to my Grandma on the couch eating Pringle’s and sipping Coca Cola out of a slender tall glass. She didn’t have to say a word to me for me to know she loved me and thought I was special. I recall rubbing my Grandma’s feet as she sat back in her Lazy Boy recliner. She would give me a quarter for my work. She’d close her eyes while I massaged her tired soles and brought her some comfort after a long day. Her freezer always had a gallon of vanilla ice cream waiting for me and her fridge had the Hershey chocolate syrup. I recall my mom and I going to Kroger’s years after my grandma died. I was in the pickle section trying to find the dills. My mom commented “grandma would always buy dill pickles because she knew you loved them.” I had no clue she knew that about me.

Mario and Maria are blessed with three sets of grandparents. All of them provide different personalities and hobbies and passions for Ri and Mario to experience. All of them also provide similar wisdom and love that only a grandparent can gift to a grandchild.

Wise beyond her years

She accomplished it.

The 2014 Brain Blast occurred last night at Edison Commons, and Ri stood nervous but proud at her poster about horses. She practiced the night before with me and did fabulous. The first time she read off her poster but made eye contact with me every once in a while. The second time she tried without reading it and she struggled a bit. I told her to look at the poster when she needed to if she got lost.
She has a knack of being able to bulls– when she doesn’t know the answer. I asked her what a horseshoe was made of and she responded without flinching “it’s made of 100 different metals.”
Hmm, really. I gently asked her how she knew that and she gently noted back to me “she just did.” I think this could either be a very good sign that she can stay composed under pressure or a very bad sign that she can lie through her teeth! I let her know that her dad is amazing at being able to answer questions that he doesn’t know the answers to and she’s inherited his quick thinking. But, she’s gotta be careful to not purposefully lie about things. I showed her Wikipedia and it’s description of what’s in a horseshoe. Basically two metals, maybe three or four. She lurched back and looked surprised.
The day of Brain Blast, she did not want to practice. She wouldn’t practice with David or my mom. I took her for a quick walk when I got home from work to calm her down. She was nervous but not overly so. We couldn’t find her name when we arrived because another girl had set up camp in her spot. We didn’t let Ri know (no unnecessary stress) and we set up in another location next to a “Cheesehead” (his project was how to make cheese). A few of his friends came up and started tasting the cheese samples. No one approached Ri. My mama bear sonar went off. I had to fight my urge to grab a random parent and ask him to hear Ri’s presentation. I did inform her that lots of kids were just hanging out and people were passing by their posters.
She seemed a little dejected but then her teacher came by and listened and asked questions. I had to move away so I didn’t butt in and tell Ri what to say. Let her be her, Mom! I kept that mantra in my head the rest of the night whenever I wanted to help her talk about the bridle she had as an exhibit or some of the fun facts she wrote down (actually, I did mention a fun fact once to keep the conversation going – I couldn’t resist).

She did really well with staying calm under pressure. She kept asking the time so I knew she was ready to go. But we hung in for an hour. Mario was very sweet with her, too. These two take care of each other, for sure. When I whispered to him that Ri was a little nervous and anxious for people to see her poster, he walked up to her and hugged her. Then he asked her to tell him about horses. It was darling.

She asked if she could walk around and see other people’s projects. She hung with a few boys from her class and watched their experiments. She ate a cupcake. She seemed fine and dandy. It was me that was a nervous wreck. We left an hour later and she picked Bob Evans for dinner (Cap City was first but the wait was too long). I asked her if she had fun. She hesitantly said yes. I asked if she’d do anything different next year and she answered “I’d do an experiment to attract more people.”
I thought that was extremely mature and self-aware of her. She didn’t throw a tantrum that less people approached her than she expected. She didn’t blame anyone. She didn’t make excuses. She acknowledged reality and took accountability. Her horse presentation was good and something she enjoyed talking about but she also accepted the fact that kids seemed more attracted to experiments. I’m telling you, she is wise beyond her years.
While at Bob Evans, Mario had a meltdown because he wanted to see pictures of his food choices rather than mere words (yes, that is our Mario). Ri gently consoled him and then said “we will get you extra yummy chocolate chip pancakes and I will play tic-tac-toe with you until our food comes, ok little buddy?” He smiled and hugged her. Yep, wise beyond her years.


Family farm day

We made the trek to the farm Sunday morning to celebrate Father’s Day with my pops. Sarah and Jack also made it out – the first dad’s day we’ve all been together in a long while.

Mario watched Goosebumps the entire way out; these are his new favorite movies. He holds his pillow tight across his chest and reports out to us what is happening in the scary scenes. Ri is not a fan of the movies. She played Minecraft on the iPad and wrote poems about Stella and Mona.

When we arrived at 10:30 am, everyone was still bleary-eyed and making coffee. Emily was in town from DC. Ri loved listening to her stories as we stood in the chicken coop listening to Mario rustle around trying to catch a chicken. Ri eventually left our conversation and caught “Peepaw’s girlfriend” for Mario. Mario gave no appreciation to Ri; instead he got mad that he wasn’t the first one to catch a chicken and proceeded to work twice as hard to pin one down (but in the most gentle fashion possible). He eventually got one and we were impressed with how delicate he held her. Ri boosted his ego as she always does and shouted “Good Job Buddy!”

Ri soon found delight in throwing the frisbee with Sarah, Jorge and Jack. The trick was to keep it away from Stella. Not an easy task. Ri was not scared to catch that disc with 80 pound Stella running at her. Mario not so much. He darted to the side and let Stella bite that frisbee and carry it off. We took a walk in the woods and found the swing vine. Sarah tried it out for us first. She looked like a ten year old swinging back and forth. She used to get so mad when she’d go to restaurants at age 17 and they’d ask if she need a kids menu. Now she can eat it up being age 30 and looking 18.

Uncle Jack and I gave the vine a try, too. Nothing like the kid coming out in you for the few seconds you’re hanging on for dear life. We all screamed wildly. The kids love love love being around me and my siblings. They can’t get enough of them. Everything is “look Uncle Jack” or “watch Aunt Sarah” or “come on Jorge!” Precious.

We returned to yummy barbecue chicken and cole slaw and beans. Mario threw a fit because he wanted to sit next to Jon at the “big person” table. He pushed his chair back and angrily crossed his arms and pouted. Jon gave in and pushed his chair over and let Mario sit by him. Mario beamed. It’s the little things. Maria sat next to me because we were right next to the food.

After we ate, Jon and I threw to Ri. She could not hit a ball to save her life. She progressed from sighing to heaving to throwing her bat and yelling “I hate softball!” I felt so bad for her. She wants to be perfect at whatever she does but she doesn’t like to practice. I tried to talk to her. Then Jon. Nothing worked. Meg came out and told us she was heading to the stable. Ri followed. I went inside to get a cookie and then made my way down to see them.

Maria stood by Taz brushing out her hair. She looked completely at peace. Meg stood on the other side adjusting the saddle. I could hear Ri talking with her about her horse camp. Meg listened and quietly commented back to her. I could have watched the two of them all day. Ri was so in her element next to that horse and talking with her grandma. Meg let her ride Taz on her own and gave her tips as she circled the grounds. Dang, I wish they lived closer so Ri could get lessons from the Meg-pie.

We played some Quirkle (the new favorite Menkedick game) while Mario and Jorge played some mean badminton. Sarah won, again. After Quirkle, we broke out Mario’s beebee gun. Jorge drew a bear and some type of elk/goat mix (ha! poor Jorge agrees to draw and then we make fun of him!) as the targets to shoot. At first the boys shot alone but then they asked us to bring down cans and paper and we became intrigued and joined them. I think we have a new Menkedick past time – target shooting at fake bears and pop cans. We all got into it.





With each hit, the kids and Jon and Peepaw would check out the paper to see where the beebee hit.



The pressure was on to be the first person to hit the pop can. We all tried but Peepaw hit it. He’s still got it.


And what did we do after target shooting? What else but recited poetry on the back porch.

Is there any talent this family doesn’t have?!


In my twenties, I remember my girlfriend talking about sleepless nights with her sick daughter. They were horror stories to me full of broken sleep, house-bound days, and snot wiping events.

And then came Maria and Mario. And broken sleep, house-bound days, and lots of snot wiping. And survival through lots of ice cream, 5 hour energy shots and Vela blogs.

Almost two weeks ago, Maria developed hard-core allergies. Her eyes swelled and watered and became bruised. We went to the doctor three different times over an eight day period to try to find the root cause. At first, it was diagnosed as allergies, then pink eye, and then a skin infection with allergies. It took her out of school for the last three days of the school week. I stayed with her for one of them, my mom for one, and Patty for the last (thank god for family). Patty was going to keep Ri for the weekend until I told Ri that I was still heading to Pittsburgh for Sarah’s graduation. Ri freaked and begged to come even with swollen eyes. I couldn’t say no since she looks up to her aunt so much so I agreed to meet Patty half way in order to get Ri Friday night. At the same time, Mario had no desire to go to Pittsburgh. He was starting to feel hot and had a rash on his cheeks. Patty offered to take him so that Ri and I could go to Pittsburgh without the stress of a sick kid. What a god-send she is. Not only did it help me but it also made Mario’s day because any time with Grandma is the best time ever for him. I have no doubt that he would choose Patty over me anytime.


After driving back to get Mario and sitting in major traffic, we arrived at the Wendy’s in Delaware for the exchange. Mario hopped right into Patty’s car without hesitation. Ri jumped in mine and begged to head straight to the farm. She wanted to see Savvy who recently returned to the farm. She also wanted to be closer to Pittsburgh to see Aunt Sarah. And so I downed my Five Hour Energy at 8 pm and we were off. Ri played market on the iPad most of the way asking me what foods I wanted to buy and re-asking me after the first grocery trip was completed… and second… and third. I didn’t mind the constant interaction, however, because I needed stimuli.

We got to the farm way past Meg and dad’s bedtime and Ri was so slaphappy she laid next to me giggling for 20 minutes. Meg and I both commented the next morning how soothing it was to hear that core laughter coming from her little soul.

We woke Saturday morning to an exquisite day and headed east to Pittsburgh. We made it to Sarah’s apartment and Ri ran inside to greet Sarah and Jorge, and most importantly, the dogs. Maria got her fill of kisses and we were off to graduation.


The Cathedral of Learning has been Sarah’s second home for the last three years. It sits amongst the bustle of traffic and looks like a building out of Florence, Italy. You just know minds are churning away inside of it. When Ri and Mario and I visited two years ago, we met Sar in her classroom. She hadn’t arrived yet so Mario did a dance for her class and Ri stood near him completely embarrassed.

It was a good thing that Mario stayed back because the graduation included an hour and a half of graduate readings. Each grad read a piece of their work for five minutes. I gave Ri the iPad but hoped she would listen to the stories. I didn’t think she spent too much time listening until she and I were walking to Stauf’s this week and I said “let’s make up a poem. I will start. One day I walked in the woods.”

Ri stopped me immediately. “No mom. You should say ‘One–day–I–walked–in the woods.” She had totally picked up on the voice inflections during the readings. I Love It.

Sarah read a lyrical essay about my grandma. Ri knows how sentimental I am so she crawled down to my chair and rubbed my cheek as Sarah spoke. Always the caretaker. I could listen to Sarah for hours and read her writings all day long. She is talented beyond belief (and her professor, Jean Marie completely agrees).

Afterward, Ri and I walked down all 36 flights of steps and took the elevator back up to five to chow down on desserts at the reception. There was a little girl there and Ri gravitated right to her while Meg and I spoke to Sarah and her professor. It really was a lovely afternoon.

And the loveliness continued when we dined at a Thai restaurant with an outdoor patio. They had a warm atmosphere with vines of flowers surrounding us and the sun laying its rays upon us. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to have an entire conversation with another adult without a child interrupting me. And to eat amazing food.


After stuffing our face, we took the dogs for a walk in Frick Park. The ride over in Jorge’s and Sarah’s little car and the two dogs was comical. Stella sat on Mona and then leaned over and licked Ri too death.




Sar let Ri walk both dogs when we got to the park. That is a helluva job seeing that Stella is a big mamba jamba and pulls whenever a dog or squirrel comes near. But Ri surprised us all. She jerked back the leash when Stella pulled and bellowed “NO!” Sar and I turned our faces to one another and cracked up. She’s no joke.


We sat in New York traffic in the middle of Pittsburgh but finally arrived back at reached Sarah’s apartment and gave her graduation present to her. A little bubbly and cheez-it’s as well as a Street Food cookbook and wooden cookbook holder. Ri knows her aunt.

We hit the road back to the farm to spend the night again. When we arrived at 9:15, we got to surprise Peepaw at the cabin. He had his friends around the table getting ready for some poker. We decided to leave them be and stay down at the house. Grandma Meg had some Nashville clips to show us on Hula. Ri was addicted at first blush and I was soon thereafter. We finally hit the hay at 10 pm and Ri’s cough only kept us up half the night. When we got up in the morning, Ri got to ride her Taz and even persuaded me to ride for a second. She loves her horses.



We drove home at noon and I was exhausted. I told Ri I needed 10 minutes to rest and before I knew it, we both woke up two hours later. Sarah tired us out. Jon arrived shortly after our nap with bad news – no turkeys. We all laid on the carpet and talked about our weekends as the sun faded away. We were in bed by 9. Mario, to the contrary, was busy wrestling Grandma Ionno until 11 pm.

Weekend getaway

We packed the Volvo full of blankets and pillows and sleeping bags and Red Bulls and chips and chocolate.

All to head two hours east to my folks’ farm.

We had to take the Volvo due to weird sounds coming from Jon’s Yukon. You would have thought the world ended according to Ri who complained about how squeezed she felt in the Volvo. We would expect nothing less from her, however, since she always talks about her first car being a mammoth SUV. My girl likes her space just like her dad.

We arrived at the farm and within five minutes of exiting the car, Mario begged to play badminton. The boy loves this game and could literally spend all afternoon playing it. He looks like a pro out there with his shirt off, hair tussled and tanned body. Maria went straight in the house to help cook and position herself for any sampling of extra food.

We celebrated dad’s and Jorge’s birthdays with cherry pie and cupcakes. Maria snagged a gift for Peepaw from her treasure chest at school. It was a huge pair of clay lips. She wrapped them in a Victoria’s Secret box. Dad was clearly surprised at the box and the lips! Maria explained that the lips were a paper weight to hold down his poems after he wrote them. What a doll.

Dad retired in June after working 40+ years to support his family. He plans on writing in his spare time which Maria overheard during one of our conversations. The girl has my desire to think through presents to the nth degree and make sure they have a purpose. I love it!

We sang the traditional happy birthday song to the boys and watched them make their wishes.


After the celebration, we worked off dessert with a family badminton game. Mario made sure it stayed competitive and Maria made sure we kept it light-hearted! After an hour and a half of competition, Mario, Jon and Peepaw stacked wood to make a fire. Ri and I got the materials to make s’mores and before we knew it we were sitting in front of a blazing fire eating marshmallows and s’mores and telling stories about when Sarah was little. Maria loves listening to stories about the past (especially when she’s able to eat marshmallows!). Mario played with the fire the entire time intrigued by the heat and flames.


Maria enjoyed seeing her horses and got to perform obstacles while riding Taz. She amazes me on the horse. She is so calm and in control, and she knows so much about them already. I love watching her brush them and kiss their noses.


We headed to Mario’s and Vicki’s house on Sunday after gobbling up Sarah’s sweet potato hash for breakfast. We had not been to their house in months and Vicki cooked so many magnificent things, as always! Meatballs, spaghetti, tomato salad, homemade bread, steak, and zucchini bread for dessert! Jon and I could not move for a half hour. When I did finally move, I bounced on the trampoline with Maria. God help me. I can’t believe all that food stayed down!

Ri and I had a blast on the trampoline – we laughed so hard at each other bouncing everywhere. At one point she crawled over to me, laid on me, gave me a huge smooch and whispered “I love seeing you laugh mommy!” My baby girl. Mario and Ri had a good time, too, while Jon and I sat with Mario and Vicki on the porch and chatted. The weather was perfect.


We arrived back at our house in time for Ri and I to take a quick bike ride to Giant Eagle to get food for school and work. We even got sample sheet cake from the bakery ( two pieces each!). Life is good.

Maria hearts horses!

Maria loved horse camp last week. Actually, I need a stronger word than love – she adored horse camp. My little anti-competitive girl finally showed some competitive spirit when she came in second in Showmanship rather than first. She told Jon “she should have come in first and gotten the trophy.” It took riding to bring out that spirit.

We went to watch her ride on Friday afternoon. The farm seems really nice and clean and they have a lot of riders from OSU there. Maria strutted out of the barn on a huge horse named Wes. He was taller than me. My first experience with a horse was when I was older than Ri, probably 10, and I was scared too death. My dad had to sit with me on it because I cried and shook when I got on it by myself. Contrast that with Maria, age 7. Here she was riding past me poised and smiling and completely comfortable. What a woman!

She rode around the ring with three other students. She trotted. She performed obstacles. It was pretty amazing to watch. Jon has been around horses and has a love for them. He knows the names of different riding styles and different breeds. Me, I know little to nothing besides what Meg has imparted. It is going to take some time for me to appreciate the sport like I do baseball or soccer but I will get there if Maria loves it. When we went into the stables and saw all of the horses, you couldn’t help but fall in love with them. Beautiful, elegant, smart creatures and Maria knew everyone of their names. You could sense she felt right at home.

When Mario walked up to one and made crazy sounds around it, she snapped at him explaining to him that he could spook the horse. She’s got it going on. She wants to take private lessons now that camp is over. She told Jon she wishes she were at the camp today. Yep, she’s got horse riding in her blood.


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.

Family, Ham and Chocolate

Mario’s game face
M & M getting ready for the hunt!

I love Easter.  It is my favorite holiday for two reasons: (1) I adore chocolate and there is a ton of it between the easter egg hunts, the grandparents, and me splurging on it “for the kids’ baskets;” and (2) people seem to be more relaxed on Easter – less frantic about presents, meals, attire.  Easter comes right at the time of a new season – winter cold is gone and grass is turning green.  People are excited about being outside again. 

We celebrated Easter today out at the farm.  The forecast called for rain all weekend with strong thunderstorms at times.  When we woke up this morning, the sky was grey and dreary but had promise to it.  Patches of yellow and blue broke through in the sky, and I had a feeling during my morning run that we would be spared.  I was right.  The Grandview Easter Egg Hunt began at 10 am with soggy grass underfoot but no rain showers.  Maria’s nightmare came true when she heard that 5-7 year olds were grouped together (“I will never get as many eggs as 7 years olds).  However, she perked back up when she met up with her friend Anna and her grandma.  I stood with Mario in the 2-4 year old group coaching him about how to engage in the hunt (“pick up the eggs first – not the bags of oreos and cookies”).  He put his game face on after my speech, and anxiously awaited for the announcer to yell “GO!”  What comes over me and other parents at these easter egg hunts?  We are so competitive following our kids around the area pointing frantically at eggs that we see.  When the kid is looking in the opposite direction, we yell “Mario, look!  Mario!  Mario, over here!  Mario!!!”  Mario ended up with more eggs than Maria, which led to Maria frowning and complaining that she did not get “any” eggs even though she had three in her basket.  Her friend gave her two of her eggs, which led to 180 degree change in Maria who smiled from ear to ear.  the kids sat down to open their eggs, and Mario promptly gave me the first chocolate candy piece he opened.  What a doll.  I had told him how much I loved easter chocolate and he had told me that he would share his with me.  However, I was not going to believe it until I saw it.  And there it was.  He does love his mama!  Maria, on the other hand, gave me a stern look when I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from her basket.  “Mom, this is my food.”  She is so generous when it comes to other things but not her food!

We rushed home after the hunt and hopped in the car to the farm.  Within five minutes of walking in the door, Maria and Mario and their cousins found the baby chicks.  Tiny and precious and so delicate.  Just what three and five-year olds need to handle.  But Grandma Meg managed to let all of the kids hold them without incident.  Mario chanted “Calm, calm” to the chick while he held it.  Maria acted like she was a vet while she held one asking me what was wrong with my baby chick.  They were infatuated at first sight.  Maria and Anneliese, her 8 year old cousin, played beautifully together.  Surprisingly, Mario and his three-year old cousin, Ben, also played together for the first time ever.  In the past, they were into their own things (and still at that young age where you don’t play much with other kids) but this time they were by each others’ sides for most of the day.  Ben would yell for Mario and Mario would run to him.  Mario would ask Ben to get something for him and Ben would get it.  They threw stones in the stream for 30 minutes and talked about being in the army while they rode the rocking horses.  They used croquet clubs as hammers and swords.  Boys.  Maria and Anneliese held the chicks a lot and walked Rosie and played in the stream.  Tomgirls – yeah! 

We ate yummy ham and potato salad and deviled eggs and corn casserole and butter rolls.  Patty’s potato salad won everyone over with people going up for thirds!  I swear I am going to enter her p. salad into a contest – it will undoubtedly take first place.  Desserts made my stomach larger just looking at them – brownies, cookies, shortcake, chocolate cake, lemon bars in addition to all of the Easter candy!  Oh, how I love this holiday! But, oh, how I wish I had some sort of will power.  I get on Maria about eating too much but then I stand around the table eating 3 brownies, cake, candy and cookies.  I blame those Menkedick genes that cannot resist chocolate (unless you are supernatural like my father).  My 91 year-old grandmother devoured the desserts just like me so I think I am doomed.  

The kids got to ride the horses towards the end of the day and then got treated to a stellar easter egg hunt.  There is part of me that still wants to participate in those hunts – I see an egg hiding in the fence post and I get so excited.  I was a damn good egg finder back in my day….  We finished up the afternoon holding the chicks some more and chatting with family that we don’t see as often as we would like.  Maria would love to have Anneliese closer and Mario and Ben would have a blast together now that they are the ripe old age of three.  Grandma M. is strong as ever, carrying on conversation and watching the kids play.  I wish I lived closer to her so we could see her more often even though she even states that having M&M over any more often would seriously wear her out.  She has got to be kidding – my kids are little angels…! 

In sum, a great start to a holiday weekend.  The farm is a gem, and Meg did an awesome job hosting us all.  Dad did an awesome job entertaining the kids (even though he allowed Mario to fall in the stream!).  And the rest of us just soaked in the beauty of a wet Spring day.