Taking the time to mindset pre-vacation

My stress level had nearly hit the top rung. It was mid-July and we had gone through nearly 2 months of summer without a babysitter. It is the first summer we decided to go without a sitter. Jon would be able to work from home so we figured he could at least have some oversight of the kids. Now, my “oversight of the kids” is quite different then Jon’s “oversight of the kids.” My oversight: I ask to see their homework even when they say they have done it; I make them a sandwich when they say they are hungry and make sure they get some strawberries with that PB&J; I help them clean their rooms while we jam to music. Jon’s oversight: he tells them to grab lunch if they are hungry; he asks them if they’ve done their homework and trusts when they say yes; he tells them they need to clean their room and assumes they will do so while he does his own thing.

With my type A personality, Jon’s oversight can lead to a bit of stress. But even if Jon’s oversight did not stress me, my own crazy worry would do the trick. One week I think that the kids are going to go back to school and be behind all the other kids for not having read six books during the summer or completed their math workbook. Other weeks I am concerned that they are not getting outside as much as they should. And yet other weeks I think they are going to be diagnosed diabetic since all they’ve eaten is crap.

And then there is my general worry about finances, my job, Jon’s job, kids’ college. You name it.

So, needless to say, when we were a few days away from leaving for Michigan, Jon sat me down and reinforced in me that we were going to let all the stress and worry go, and make this a good vacation. He demanded that I not worry about the cost of lunch, or whether the kids read for an hour on the trip, or what the kids selected when we stopped at the gas station to get a snack. “Just let it go” he told me, and “enjoy yourself.”

His advice sank into my bones. I was struggling with trying to let go of work and worry and school and tasks, and his words sank into my bones allowing my concerns to drift off. Our clan had been broken up throughout the summer – either Maria was gone for a couple of weeks or Mario. I had worked long hours some days and not been home when both kids were there. So, I needed this trip to ground me back to what’s important and what matters. In the end, no matter the circumstances – catastrophe or minor setback or huge fortune – family and community and connection drive me.

I breathed in all of the wonder of my small clan as we drove up north. We stayed in a small cottage that I found on VRBO. It was not quite as plush as I thought it may be, but, as with most things, my initial reaction of mediocrity flipped to quaint and charming after the first night of getting accustomed to it.

The hilarious part of the trip was the fact that there was only an air-conditioned unit on the top floor. The top floor was one bedroom with a queen size bed and a twin bunk bed. Jon and I planned on sleeping downstairs and letting the kids have the upstairs. However once Jon found out that the AC was only in the upstairs bedroom, he refused to sleep downstairs. The kids refused to sleep downstairs because they were scared with us being upstairs. Therefore, we all got to sleep together in the same bedroom … like Little House on the Prairie! (“I whispered “good night Mary, good night Laura, good night John Boy” as went to sleep). I ended up on the floor on a futon the rest of the night because Jon and I do not fit in a queen sized bed. One of the kids slept with me each night – I preferred Mario because he does not kick. Jon got the queen bed all to himself (except for one night when he agreed to let Maria sleep with him but regretted it all night as she kicked him every hour).

We woke up most mornings and went straight out to the lake for some paddle boarding or kayaking. We would come back inside and play a game of Monopoly before deciding what the plans were for the day. The kids still like to please their mama so they agreed to a hike most days. It would take us about 40 minutes to get to the dunes so we would make a day out of it and do something around Glen Arbor. What a cute little town. Jon and I have been saying for years that we don’t know what we will do when we retire because we have different locale tastes. He could be on a farm the rest of his life and I could be in the mountains the rest of mine. But we both agreed that Glen Arbor would be a locale we could settle.

It was surreal to climb the dunes with Maria and Mario when I had climbed the exact dunes as a kid with my dad and Meg. Bits of my childhood experiences would pop into my head as we walked on a trail or leaped through the dune sand. Life is strange. They had a love-hate relationship with the dunes and trails like I did as a kid. Part of them just wants to sit back at the cottage and watch You Tube but another part of them enjoys the thrill of climbing up a steep dune and running back down it. When I was their age, part of me just wanted to be back in the city with my friends but another part of me loved conquering those dunes with my family.

They also reminded me of how I would act when they bitched and moaned about how long the hike lasted. They were lucky – when I was a kid, my dad would take us on 3 or 5 mile hikes. I was easy on them with 1 or 2 milers.

One of their favorite places to eat in Glen Arbor was Dune Dogs. It is a little shack that sells hotdogs with all sorts of toppings. Maria, Jon and I also enjoyed the Cherry Hut. Their cherry pies are no joke. Mario, not a fan of cherries, did not find it amazing. But we made him smile with a superman ice cream cone from across the street.

We got our obligatory vacation putt-putt games in as well. The boys won the first game and the girls came back to win the second. We were going to have a playoff game on the last night we were there but the line was ridiculous to play. Mario was so bummed that we could not do it because he was ready to get revenge. We also got to do a ropes course at the putt-putt location. Mario and I had never done one before and Maria was adamant that we try it. She, of course, was fearless. Mario was a bit hesitant but then did great. I was surprised at how nervous I was because it was not ridiculously high. But, I kept my composure and did not scream throughout the climb. A win for everyone.

Oh, and we saw a black bear! Unfortunately, it was a dead one. It was lying on the side of the road behind a maintenance truck. It must have just been killed before we passed it. Poor baby.

Once back at the cottage, nobody wanted to leave. A couple of nights we ran out to grab some dinner (one night we traveled to 5 different spots for a nice Italian dinner only to find carry-out pizza joints so we ended up at KFC enjoying crispy chicken legs and mashed potatoes!). The other nights we made dinner at the cottage and then went out for a night swim. Maria was always ready for a swim and a jump off the dock. Mario, not so much. He had this irrational fear of fish biting his toes. But in contradiction to that fear, he liked standing in the water up to his ankles and watching the tiny minnows nibble at his dead skin. I could not stand it. Maria enjoyed it as well. And Jon. Freaks.

One of the ways I was able to get Mario to jump off the dock and into the lake was to play a game. He, I and Maria would hold hands and have to yell out a certain response to a question while we jumped in the water. I found that one of the questions he loved was to name a basketball player. Ri and I must have jumped off the dock with him 10 times before he realized where he was and feared the fish. The most exciting time for the kids in the lake was when Jon made one trip out to the deck and proceeded to chuck the kids off each time they got near him. They absolutely loved it (and went flying into the water).

Mario did a little bit of fishing but not as much as I thought he would. There were not a lot of fish right by the dock, but he did manage to catch two fish at one time on our first day. Ri tried to fish as well, but we were a bit concerned with her because she is so wild with her casting. She casted her lure right into Jon’s chest at one point.

I thought we would light campfires every night and make s’mores. Not so much. The Ionno family has a real problem with starting fires, which I guess is a good thing in the end. We could not start one in West Virginia and we had no better luck in Michigan. We got a very small one started but it kept dying out. We were able to make some half-baked s’mores but then called it a night due to the massive amount of bugs eating at us. There was no campfire after that first night. We opted for plain old Hershey bars and marshmallows.

I got some alone time with each of the kids, too. Mario and I would swim out to the dock together, and I would play the name game to keep him out there with me for a bit. He also liked playing in the sand with me (competitive castle building). Maria and I paddle boarded together and tried yoga on the boards. We never were able steady ourselves but it was fun to fall in together.

I loved this vacation so much. It was by far my favorite one with the kids. I think a big reason for my enjoyment was because I made a conscious effort to relax and let the stress go prior to heading out. I continuously thought about letting it all go for a few days before our departure. I have failed to take that step and consciously get in that mindset for past vacations. I let go of any expectation that the kids would sit on the deck and read books for two hours or any expectation that I should get up and exercise. We just all did what we wanted to do, which ended up being perfect. The kids didn’t want to play on their phones all the time. They came out and played in the sand and paddle boated with me. I had no desire to go out for a 5 mile run. Rather, I enjoyed walking out in the lake with the kids and sitting on the dock with Jon while they fished.

Another reason I enjoyed it so much was because the kids are older. They were able to do things on their own and engage with us about books, news, movies. On past vacations, when the kids were younger, it was a lot of running after them and long days of sitting in the pool as they said “mom, watch this somersault or “mom, time me while I go under water!”

The number one indicator that I loved this vacation so much was that I still remember it like it happened yesterday. With other vacations, I have come home and within 24 hours forgotten about any fun we had. I immediately got consumed back at work, with school, with errands. But this time, my carefree mindset stayed with me as we passed back into Ohio. Granted, a bit of stress and worry came here and there but it was a lot less intense and I could re-adjust my mind to take me back to what is important in this life. And it surely is not whether I please my boss, get promoted, fail to get my kids to read 6 books in the summer, or feed them Oreo’s for dinner. It is community and my clan and sending love and kindness out into the world.


Friend. Good.

I saw these two words written on a greeting card along with a silhouette of a big dog staring at the silhouette of a puppy. I immediately thought of my Cincy girls.

I’ve known these babes since the womb it feels like; actually it’s more like 1st grade. I’ve had many a crazy experience with them both individually and as a group. Lisa and I used to cheer the Reds on at the old Riverfront Stadium (and had the biggest crush on Dave Parker); Jill and I used to play house at our old kindergarten; Ericka used to catch my fast pitch softballs in high school; and Kathy and I used to get rowdy and break car door windows (actually that was just Kathy on my car window!).
We all are very different at this stage of our lives having pursued different life paths, different cities, different hobbies. But oh doesn’t that make for some fabulous conversation and some hilarious moments.
I took Maria Grace with me on the five and a half hour trek to Midland, Michigan where Kathy resides. She couldn’t wait to babysit Kathy’s kids and hang with her “aunts.” We, of course, had to stop off for some snacks along the way…


And we had to hit the Michigan welcome center…


Ri knew her father would enjoy those pictures. We were the first to arrive at Kathy’s sweet abode. What a magnificent house and location. Ri was excited that Grace was so excited to see her. And she adored Rose from the minute she set eyes on her. Kathy and Andrew were off the hook from feeding her, reading to her, and bathing her as soon as Ri walked in the house.

Lisa arrived a couple hours later with Josh and Emma. Maria was a bit irked at first because she liked having Emma and Rose to herself but she quickly bonded with Ms. Emma and babied Josh so all was good.


The kids played while we caught up on life. We chatted about Christmas presents, school, work, hubbies. Ericka and Jill finally arrived and we broke out the wine and snacks and cozied up on the downstairs couch together. Such a quaint setting with a fireplace and wood siding. Ms. Maria hung in with us until 12:30 am contributing quite often to the conversation. There is no doubt she will be engaging on the same all-night conversations with her friends years to come.
I woke up to a winter wonderland on Saturday morning. The neighbors had their snow blowers revved up but they had not cleared any snow yet. I walked in an all white landscape and listened to the ice crackling and the random bird singing. Heaven.
When I returned, Ri was playing away with the other kids. I watched her laughing with Emma and I was taken back to being 8 years old and playing with my girlfriends sitting in the next room. It was pure joy to see my daughter with my girlfriends’ daughters. A new generation beginning life-long friendships.

We got dressed and headed out to lunch in downtown Midland. The kids drew pictures for us in their booth, ate their food, and ran around like maniacs. We talked about our lives, our irritations, our blessings. It was like we had never moved away from one another.



We had to do the funny face picture after our meal. I knew all these gals and kids would participate. Next we headed to the mall. We all did some last minute shopping and let the kids sit on Santa’s lap. I was el cheapo and did not buy a picture. I was pissed at myself when we left because I remembered I had a Buddha picture of Ri when she was seven months old on Santa’s lap and it would have been a hilarious contrast seeing her now on his lap. Next year….
We hit Barnes and Noble to look at books and that was where we experienced the epic Grace meltdown. It was classic. At first, all was well. Ri read to the kids and they were all smiles.

Then I wanted a picture of the moms in the same pose. Kathy sat in Grace’s seat. Oh my. Ms. Grace let us know her anger at that move and went to town on Kathy. All the rest of us could do was laugh our a–es off because we’ve all been there. Kathy packed it up immediately and we all followed her. On the way to the car, Josh had a follow-up meltdown that rivaled Emma’s because he dropped his gum on the floor. There’s one big difference between Lisa and me. I would have brushed it off and popped it right back in his mouth but Lisa promptly discarded it. By the time we all got back to the cars, we were ready for the comforts of home and wine.
We broke out pizza. wine, guacamole and my beloved sheet cake and went to town after singing happy birthday to E.

We decided to head out to a wine bar at 9 pm just like we would have done in our twenties. We still got it. Except we only lasted until 10:45 pm. Ri was so sad for us to leave and all the other kids were going to bed so we let her go with us. She was ecstatic. She played on the iPad the entire time until she passed out on my lap at 10:30 (from exhaustion, not wine).


On Sunday morning, we ate sheet cake for breakfast and packed up our things dreading the ride home both because it was nasty outside and because we wanted a longer stay. These gals are my soul sisters who I can trust to be there for me no matter what. It’s hard to believe we’ve known each other for 35+ years and we still love each other so much! However, there are tines when we are just like an old married couple – committed but on each other’s nerves! But that’s the beauty in a long, thriving relationship – you take each other for who you are. I can’t imagine my world without these gals and I’m awfully glad that Ri got to share in the love with me.

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.