Dinner time

It is pretty pathetic when your 14-year-old daughter makes better meals than you do. Maria has been in the kitchen since she was eight years old – making pancakes, frying eggs, and creating cupcakes.

Our family has been on a staple diet of random, minute-made dinners for months. Tacos, pork and potatoes, lean cuisines, crackers and cheese, and hot pockets. Granted, the last couple of months have entailed Maria or Mario at practice until 7 or 8 PM so it was hard to coordinate family dinners… But who am I kidding, we probably would’ve had a similar selection even if they didn’t have practices. Neither Jon nor I have any desire to slave away in the kitchen after a long day at work so the microwave is our trusted companion.

Maria, on the other hand, quite enjoys alone-time in the kitchen. The thought of spending a couple of hours alone baking in the kitchen excites her. Trying out new foods and recipes does as well. Jon and I are all game for new recipes but it’s the time in the kitchen piece that kills any excitement.

Maria was obviously getting sick of lean cuisines because this weekend she tossed out the idea of her making a couple of meals a week. She was diplomatic in her proposal – she stated she’d love to cook two meals and have Jon and I could cook two meals as well. She’s always up for getting everyone involved in the process so she asked Mario, Jon, and me to give her two recipes each and we would then vote on all of the recipes submitted. Maria sat us down in the living room on Sunday afternoon so that we could conduct the vote.  Each of us ended up getting one of our meals selected.

Maria made my selection on Monday night. Sloppy Joe sandwiches, baked potatoes and broccoli. Mario ate four sandwiches – that is unheard of for him. He had his friend Owen over that night and Owen devoured four as well. Maria felt on top of the world. On Tuesday, she made her selection. Paprika-baked chicken, parmesan cauliflower rice, peas and corn. Again, it did not disappoint. She and I loved it. Jon loved all but the cauliflower rice – he’s more inclined to have the real stuff. Mario, of course, had devoured food prior to dinner while over at his friend’s house but nibbled on some chicken and rice. Mario tends to shy away from anything too healthy….

I’m up tonight with Mario’s selection – spaghetti and meatballs. Yes, the meatballs will be purchased from the local pizza shoppe…. I readily admit to not having the cooking skills or patience of my part-Italian daughter.

Summer vacation 2016 – Ace Adventure Resort 

We hated leaving our chalet in West Virginia. Yes, our chalet….

We had grown acclimated to our digs off the dirt road next to the pond full of blue gill. This was the first vacation where I did not look at my watch once to see how many more days we had left (what is it they say? With the kids, it’s not a vacation, it’s a family trip!). Maybe it’s because the kids are older now and more self sufficient. I recall vacations past where the kids would be up at 6:30 am raring to go and pulling us by our hands to hit the pool or the arcade every five minutes. Now, they play on their own during our down times and Jon and I can have a few moments to catch up. But it was also the fact that this was an adventure trip where we were on the go throughout the day – whitewater rafting, ziplining, obstacle climbing – me in my element!

We left on Saturday for the three and a half hour trek to Minden, West Virginia – home of Ace Adventure Resort. We’d never been there before and never heard anyone talk about it either. I found it on Facebook and Ri researched it more after I told her about it. Jon and I loved the idea of only driving 3.5 hours to get to our vacation destination. It’s so nice to simply pack up the truck and head off mid-morning knowing you will arrive mid-afternoon. I only had to pack a couple of bags of snacks for the trip…:). 

  • We arrived at check-in time at the welcome center. They explained the layout to us and we took a look at the lake. It looked just like the pictures with the giant blob floating  near the beach and obstacles scattered throughout the water. Our chalet was about a half of a mile away from the welcome center right off an unpaved road next to a pond. Mario was excited to be next to the pond so that he could fish in the morning (he never ended up fishing in the morning but it sounded good; he did fish with some guys from Marietta one night; saw them the next day and they remembered his name calling out “hey Mario” – he loves that). The kids tore through the chalet to get a feel for where everything was, including their bedroom. They threw their bags down and went straight outside to the hot tub on the back porch. The hot tub was a huge hit throughout the trip. The kids would go in both morning and evening, and Jon and I loved relaxing in it after the kids went to bed. 

Our first night we laid low. We visited the New River bridge (which is taller than the Eiffel Tower). The walkway under the bridge was under construction so we could not walk under it. I was really bummed:). The kids loved messing with me as we drove over it.

We hit up Bob Evans for dinner and Kroger’s to stock up on breakfast and lunch foods and lots of snacks. The Kroger’s was amaze-balls, literally, with two dispensers containing superballs. It took me back to my childhood when I’d head to IGA with mom or dad and beg for a dime to get a new superball. The kids were just as excited to get a quarter and wait to see which ball they’d get (maybe not quite as excited but they played it up because they knew I loved it). 

They also had mini carts at this Kroger’s which mightily excited the kids. They loved pushing them around and throwing items into their cart. We ended up staying there close to an hour that night with the kids pushing the carts around the store. Simple pleasures.

The next morning we had our white water rafting trip. Jon is the only one of us who had gone rafting before. When I told him I had booked the Lower New River he flinched. He thought the rapids may be too much for the kids’ first trip especially because of the flooding West Virginia incurred a couple weeks earlier. A guide had called us the night before and told us that our rafting would likely be canceled due to the flooding but that we could select the New River which was more calm. I knew Maria would want the more adventurous route, so I was inclined to wait to see if the river would go down in a few days and we could still do the Lower. But Jon was fairly adamant that he thought we should just stick with the Upper New River tour. I conceded to Jon since Sunday looked like such a beautiful day to be on the river. Thank goodness I listened to my husband. I about lost it on our first rapid; it was scary as heck. The guide told us that a majority of our trip on the Lower New River would have been the Rapids we went through at the beginning. Again, I thanked Jon for convincing me. 

Jon and I stayed in the front since we had to have a strong paddle through the trip. The kids loved seeing Jon and I get soaked. The guide was awesome and allowed the kids to jump out of the raft and swim in the river in certain spots. She even let them get out and try to swim in the rapids, which freaked me out a bit but they loved it. She also played a game with Ri where Ri held onto a rope and tried to stand up on the raft and not fall off while the guide moved the raft back-and-forth swiftly. We stopped for lunch halfway down the river and they had a smorgasbord of smoked meats and side dishes and tons of brownies. Maria was in seventh heaven – she had been asking throughout the trip what the lunch would entail. 

Our guide let the kids move to the front of the raft near the end of the trip. We got a couple of good rapids while they were in the front, including one that nearly knocked Mario out of the raft. It was such an enjoyable day together; the kids begged to do it the next day. We promised the Lower New River next year when Mario had a bit more weight on him.

Monday was our chill day. We spent the morning at the lake playing on the inflatables. Ri acted like a  drill sergeant and woke us up at 8:15 in order to get us ready to head to the lake by 9 AM. She was hilarious barking orders to eat breakfast and to get our swimsuits on ASAP. Jon dropped us off at the lake promptly at 9 AM and went to work for a couple of hours. 

The obstacles were a trip. Here I was thinking I was in shape and could take on anything. I slipped a few times off of the plastic inflatables and thought I tore both hamstrings! Mario was a little monkey climbing up everything and beautifully jumping off feet first. Ri tried everything with Mario but had a few issues with slipping and sliding off of the top of some inflatables. Nonetheless, she continued to jump throughout the morning. They are both ready for any type of adventure. 

They made me jump off the side of a 13 feet high inflatable. It was one of the scariest things I have done. They must know how much I love them in order to agree to such an act. Of course, they both did it with ease. We cranked the inflatables out all morning, and cranked out the zip line and giant slide, too.

The only thing left when Jon arrived back to the lake was the blob. Ugh, the blob. It looked so much fun when we saw it on Facebook. But that blob was a brutal inflatable device. The trick was to try to sit with your legs out when you jumped off of the landing. It is much easier to watch than to do. Of course, tiny Mario had no issues with it but Ri and I had many. I had major skin burn on my right leg from one fall. Ri hurt her ankle on her fall. But she refused to give up and went back for a second try. She made a better fall on that try but little did she know what was ahead of her. 
She crawled to the end of the blob and sat down with her legs out and her torso leaning forward. The lifeguard at the landing asked her if she was ready and she gave a thumbs up. However, the woman that was going to blob her did not count down for her so she was not ready to pop up. In addition, the woman probably outweighed her by 150 pounds. John and I looked on a bit frightened for her. And then there she went – twirling up in the air – with an unpleasant descent into the water.

She rose up and put a smile on her face for everyone to see. But as soon as she swam over to Jon and I, she was crying. She said she hit a rock. Clearly, she had not hit a rock but she had hit the water so hard that it felt like it. Poor girl. We told her that she had tried it and that she had overcome her fear of the blob and that she could ignore it the rest of the trip. We called it a day after that episode, and went home to change and to head to a new dinner joint for the night. We found Gino’s – the best Italian food (for a fast food Italian joint) that we have ever had. And super service. Maria miraculously  felt better – nothing like a little pasta and meatballs to make our girl feel better.

On Tuesday, we went ziplining. We had another great group of guides to lead us. Maria and Mario had a ton of questions for them as we drove to the start of the tour. The views were gorgeous as we began our adventure. Mario was a bit fearful of the first zip line we went on because it was very high up. He went alongside Maria. When they both were getting locked in, he said that he was a bit nervous to go. The guide said he would do fine and then just pushed him off the platform. My heart sank for him – but when I got over to the other side he was laughing and saying how much fun he had. The guides joked the rest of the time that he was the intrepid one wanting to do flips and go backwards during each zipline; little did they know how intrepid Maria was. She just stayed calm and cool throughout the entire zip line; she absolutely loves those adventure treks.  

The last zipline was terrifying. You either had to fall backwards off of the landing or you had to stand frontwards and see yourself freefall towards the ground. I chose frontwards. The kids ended up choosing the same. But once you fell it was a blast because you could do flips or let go and just swing back and forth until you grabbed the rope and climbed onto the platform.

While we were zip lining, Jon got on a work call. As he loves to do, he got in his car and drove around while on the call. He ended up finding some gorgeous sites for us to visit after ziplining. We visited an overlook where you could see the New River and an old bridgespanning across it. It was a gorgeous view. We also got to visit an amazing waterfall right off the side of the road. Mario found some cool butterflies and Maria got to dip her body into the small body of water that had formed underneath the waterfall.

We decided to head to the lake for another couple of hours of obstacle fun before calling it a day. Ri was obsessed with the blob. She was so scared by it and she wanted to conquer her fears by getting on it again. She could not concentrate on anything else as we played. Mario and I could kept trying to keep her busy with other things but it was no use. She was set on conquering that blog again. So Mario helped her out and told her that she could blob him. She loved the thought of that. She had a perfect jump onto the blob with her legs going out. She was so excited. 

Of course, Mario wanted to blob Ri in return. Mario’s blob was a piece of cake compared to the previous woman’s blob!


We will never forget the blob, for sure. We also won’t forget the water nymph. There was a boy who was about 70 pounds wet and was about 5 feet tall. He was skinny as all get out. And he would move across the obstacles like a little water fairy. He had the kids and I mesmerized. 

After the lake, we headed out to get gym shoes for me because we had the mud obstacle course adventure on Wednesday afternoon. There was no way that I was getting my nice gym shoes muddy. We found a pair at Walmart for $10. And don’t you know what we did next? Went to Kroger’s to get some superballs and play with the mini carts. Yes, we did this every night except our last night there. Yep. Simple pleasures. And Ri found out she had something in common with the locals –  jumping on a grocery cart and riding it down the parking lot incline. 

This was also the night that Mario found the claw game. He loves trying to win an animal. He had won three at the lake with Jon. He found a little stuffed dog from the movie “The Secret Life of Pets” and he wanted to win it. He won it after two tries. Ridiculous. Then he wanted to win a pet for Maria. We spent $10 trying to get the rabbit from the movie. He had it numerous times but then it would fall out of the claw. So frustrating! Of course, if they had a rational mom, we would have left. But I wanted to win it. So, we went out to Jon and got five more dollars. And my boy won it after two tries again so we walked back out with four dollars left. Yea (forget the ten we spent earlier…)!

On Wednesday, we spent our last morning at the lake climbing up inflatables, trying to cross over lily pads, balancing on a giant dome, and jumping from the top of towers. I braved jumps I had no desire to do only because the kiddos begged me. We did one last water zipline and a few trips on the giant slide, and of course, one more blob. We could watch that blob for hours – it’s addicting watching folks jump on and get blobbed off. Ri got it right when she commented that it could be a reality tv show. 

In the afternoon, we participated in a private mud obstacle course. We thought we’d have to go with a group of 60 but they opened up a time just for us. We had a blast after we got used to putting our faces in muddy water and falling into knee-high mud traps. The mud traps were Ri’s dream. We crawled under wood trellises, climbed over logs, climbed ropes up a wall, scooted up and down plastic tubes. It was a blast!

At the end of the course, you had to jump in the lake and swim to lily pads. All three of us had to get on a lily pad and then jump to another pad. Ri and I acted as a team but Mario was in it to win it.  Typical, Ri just wants to have fun and Mario wants to race. After we went a few times together, I raced Mario while Ri got a drink; he got his shin slammed on the climbing wall and called it a day. He couldn’t stand to be dirty any longer. Ri, on the other hand, wanted to soak in the mud. I let her give me a mud facial, which made her very happy. 

We hosed each other off and went home for a much-needed shower. I didn’t want to get out. But the thought of Gino’s pizza and pasta lured me out and we were off for one final night out. 

We returned to one last jaunt in the hot tub looking up at the midnight blue sky and the stars gleaming down on us. It felt like home since we had been there for four nights.I was disappointed to leave and head back home. This was one of my favorite trips with the kids because of all the adventure treks we went on, the activities at the lake, and being in the outdoors. We took one last look at our chalet and the lake before we left to pick up Rocco on Thursday morning, and wished the folks lining up at the blob good luck. We were on our way back to Ohio but not without some awesome memories of Summer vacation 2016.

Cooking with Ri

My junior chef and I produced another wonderful creation this week. Ri loves to cook; she definitely takes after her Aunt Sarah. And she loves to cook healthy, which cracks me up since all I wanted at age 9 were hot dogs and potato chips.
But here we were cutting up cauliflower and broccoli and brussel sprouts to add to pasta. We tossed the veggies in olive oil and sea salt and placed them on a cookie sheet to roast in the oven for 20 minutes. We boiled some pasta (fiber plus white pasta since Ri hates wheat – just like her dad) and saved one cup of the water we used to boil the pasta. Then it was as simple as mixing the veggies and the pasta with the water and olive oil and feta cheese. Sprinkle a bit more sea salt and pepper and thyme and it was ready!

Ri and I sat down at the table together and toasted to another successful dinner creation, that included three veggies even! She’s carried me a long way from my hot dog and chips’ days.
Bon A Petit!


Tuscany for Five

Out for our first trip in Tuscany

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

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

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

A view of the fields outside of the villa

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

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

The Sea

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


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

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

The magical forest

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

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


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

Views driving to Monticino

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

Mushroom Risotto

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

A quintessential Tuscan scene

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

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

The girls

I wonder what 50 will bring?!

One extreme to the other


Snow party!

This Winter has been way too cold.  December usually brings a few days of below freezing weather but last month I don’t remember a day where I couldn’t have seen penguins sliding around on the ice outside of our door.  I thought maybe we could look forward to a surprisingly warm January but this month is more of the same.  However, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be less negative and see that glass as half full versus half empty.  So, here I go.  Although it was freezing outside, we at least got some snow.  Of course, not enough that we could build a snowman (stop the negative!) but enough that we could make a go at sledding down our local hill. 

 In doing so, wegot the chance to use the plastic sleds we received from cousin Laura for Christmas.  They are the cutest little sleds with a curvy hourglass seat and a handle in the front to steer.  Of course, the seat is made for a three-year old’s butt – when I sat on it at the house, more than half of each cheek laid on the cold snow – not a plastic sled.  We bundled up in two pairs of pants, two shirts, two pairs of socks, jumpsuits, gloves, hats, coats, and snowshoes and booked down to the hill in hopes of beating everyone else.  We only found four others sledding on it – yeah! 


Getting ready for the hill!

The hill had already lost most of its snow but with a plastic sled, no problem (see that positive spirit shining through!).  We climbed up to the top and loaded Maria on her red sled.  I gave her a push and much to our dismay, she gently coasted down the hill having to push herself one or two times.  Ok, my reaction affects her reaction so when she looked up the hill at me, I yelled “that was awesome, Ri!”  You could tell that she had expected to go faster but hesitated in saying so because of my reaction.  All of a sudden, a smile formed on her face and she yelled “can I go again?”  Nothin’ like spreading that positive thinking!  

Mario got on his blue sled, and I would have sworn it was custom-built for him.  His butt sat in it perfectly, and with a slight push he whizzed down the hill.  After watching Mario, Maria gave it another try and had high hopes.  Unfortunately, half way down the hill we heard a snap.  When she got to the bottom, she stood up and realized that her sled had broken in two (she has her momma’s bottom).  There was an immediate breakdown – crying like she had been told that she would ever eat meatballs again.  I raced down the hill to calm her down.  “Hey, we still have Mario’s sled” I told her.  

She finally calmed down.  We approached Mario at the top of the hill and told him of Maria’s dilemma.  

 “This is MY sled – no one can use it besides me!”
Pretty much what I had expected from Mario who is not into sharing at all (he won’t even share a piece of food that he does not like) so I was ready with my response.  
“Mario, your sister lets you share everything with her.  You will share your sled with her or we are leaving and no one sleds.”  
“Ok, let’s go home.”

Broken sleds

Yeah, again, pretty much the response I expected from him.  Stubborn as heck.  He will give up any type of fun if it means he does not have to share.  I explained to him that he was going to sled with his sister or let his sister go by herself.  He chose the former.   I loaded him and Maria onto the sled and they slid slowly down the hill.  Surprisingly, they both looked up from the bottom of the hill and were smiling!  Alright, score!  When they got up the hill, they asked me to go with them.  In the excitement of it all, I hopped on and stacked them on me.  The sled broke within two seconds of push-off.  Next meltdown but Mario this time.  I explained that we would get some new sleds and come back to the hill.  Hs finally calmed down, cheeks frozen with tears. 

Maria ready for the pool!

The next day, knowing that the hill would have no more snow on it, I offered the next best activity to sledding – swimming!  We went to a new indoor pool in Dublin.  Swimming is quite the chore for me because Maria is not swimming on her own yet and Mario wants me to watch his every move.  As soon as I go near Mario, Maria wants me and vice versa.  Finally, I got Maria to put on her goggles and swim to me while I sat near Mario and watched him jump up in the water and land on his stomach.  There was a lazy river that provided much fun as we acted like superheroes while we swam around it.  Unfortunately, they have 15 minute breaks every hour.  Poor Mario cannot handle the cold once he has to get out of the pool.  His lips turn purple, he shakes, and he begs to go home.  Maria, on the other hand, doesn’t even use her towel when she gets out – our little polar bear girl.  I knew that a bag of Cheetos and a big hug from me would calm Mario down and I was right.  We lasted through the 15 minute break and hopped back in at the whistle’s call.  Maria got better at playing by herself and Mario got better at not demanding every second of my attention.  We swam another 45 minutes and then hopped into the showers.  Mario refused to get out.  He showered for 18 minutes with hot water before he finally asked me to get him (this is the same kid who adores hot tubs).  We got dressed, got some chips for Ri and played I Spy while we sat in the Dublin Rec Center lobby.  
We got home in time for dinner, and decided on pasta and meatballs and garlic bread.  Good post-swimming meal.  As they sat at their table, Maria spoke to Mario about the importance of saying thank you even if you don’t like a gift that you get (we had discussed this with the kids when we were making Christmas rounds).  Mario sat intently listening to her.  She moved onto discussing the idea of sharing and asked him for a chip.  He promptly responded with a “no.” She took one anyway.  He complained.  She gave it back and told him that if someone takes your food, you should tell them that you do not appreciate it but you should not yell at them.  This coming from the girl who nearly burst a vein screaming at Cy when he ate her garlic bread.  However, that was months ago – how she has grown since that time.  

Mario waiting with goggles on!

Summer Teenage Control Program

Mario copping his attitude while at Five Guys eating his fries!

Tonight, I turned into my father (AHHHHHH!).  I instituted the Toddler and Kindergartner Dinner Control Program.  Jon and I have done a horrid job at sitting down to dinner with the kids.  Both of us grew up having dinner with our parents, and want to carry that tradition down to Maria and Mario.  However, for numerous reasons (some lame and some legitimate), we have failed.  We both work and have used that as an excuse to order in food most of the days of the week or simply skip dinner and eat some random foods through the night.  Now, before we have Child Welfare knocking at our door, we do feed the children decent meals.  They just usually eat them at their little Dora table as Jon or I (sometimes both) watch them gobble up their food and begin play again.  If they are not eating at their little table, they are out with me at one of the parks eating a picnic dinner or at Panera or Cowtown Pizza.  During the Spring, Summer, and Fall, we live outside.  Therefore, we carry our dinner with us.  So, here comes Winter and darkness at 5 pm.  We need to make the change. 

Maria wanted a “feast” for this dinner so she decided on turkey dogs, peas, leftover pasta and meatballs, grapes, and bread.  We cooked the meal while Mario and Jon played in the dining room. 

Maria doing her model pose (as always) while eating her fry!

After fifteen whole minutes, we had our meal.  Maria and Jon cleared the dining room table, Maria placed a vase of flowers on it, and we served the dinner plates.  We all sat down.  Maria and Mario fought for five minutes about who got to say a meal prayer (Grandma Ionno instituted this ritual in them!).  Finally, Maria caved and Mario went first and Maria second.  We then began our next soon-to-be ritual: telling each other our favorite part of our day.  Mario again got to go first (yes, Maria is a saint and so patient).  Mario’s favorite part of the day was learning about manners at school (always say “please” and put a napkin in your shirt when you eat sloppy foods).  Maria’s favorite part was sitting next to her friends, Zach and Trent, at lunch and laughing about “silly things.”  Unfortunately, Jon was stopped cold in his story because at this point, Mario was standing up in his chair and dancing.  We scolded him to sit down and eat warning him that Spiderman only gets bigger if he eats his food (the only thing, if anything, that works on him to get him to eat).  Maria, by that time, was begging for some of my spaghetti since she had eaten her food.  Maria skirted all around her chair and managed to get cottage cheese and spaghetti sauce in her hair, on her forehead and on her shirt.  We were asking her to scoot around to the table when Mario stated he was finished (although he had only ate half of his hot dog and nothing else).  He lifted those tiny arms up with his palms facing upward pleading “But, mom, I am not hungry. My tummy will hurt.”

He knows exactly what to say.  Maria, meanwhile, was set on finishing the rest of my spaghetti.  She is a girl who knows how to eat well.  Unfortunately, I do not think Mario will rise to her level anytime soon.  Right in the midst of all of this, guess  who calls?  My Father!  The Architect of the Teenage Summer Control Program that I morphed into the Toddler and Kindergartner Dinner Control Program!  Little did he know what influence he had on his daughter. 

Maria and Mario ready for our Fall picnic at the park!

As soon as I got on the phone with him, the kids were out of their chairs and wrestling on the floor.  It had been 16 minutes since we began eating our dinner – not bad for the Programs’s first night.  Tomorrow we will explain the Program in more detail to the kids and try for 18 minutes.  I may also have to give them a carrot like my dad did for me and tell them if they sit in their seats for 18 minutes, they will get a yummy treat for dessert.  I better stack up on vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and skittles!

Weekend days

Mario in his nightie on the slide

Mario has learned to write a “M” and an “A”.  He is so excited about his achievement.  He ran in the house from the porch where he had been drawing with his chalk and screamed “Mommy, come!”

“What, Mario?”

“Just come mom.”

We ran outside and I saw the magical letters scratched into the cement.  “Good job, buddy!”

“Are you proud of me, mom?”

“I am so proud of you baby!”

His face opens up into a giant beaming smile and he struts inside to grab his dad’s hand.  This is too good for anyone to miss.

Maria’s over her alphabet and has moved onto things such as fake press-on nails.  Yes, I gave in at Target and let her buy a pair.  Don’t know where my head was at the moment. 

Maria "posing" as usual these dyas, on the swing (sans fake fingernails!)

(Actually, I do know where it was – it was spinning like the Exorcist from trying to shop for things I needed while trying to watch the two rascals well enough that they did not get snatched by some awful monster lurking in the store.  When will the day come when I can let them go ont heir own and meet back up with me? Never.).     

We did get some quality family time in yesterday at Mario’s farm.  We took a walk/four wheeler ride through the woods and climbed on some gigantic rocks while “Mooing” at the cows below to try to get their attention.  The walk pleased me so much – I loved looking over and seeing Jon smiling at me and the kids running through the trees laughing and being goofy.  And the best was the dinner waiting for us when we returned – Vicki is an amazing cook and she did up some pasta and meatballs and homemade bread and elephant ears.  I sware that is why I always weigh five pounds more on Monday morning!

Today we went to the donut store and then to the park for a little slide and monkey bar action.  Maria went off to Mama Ionno’s house to spend a few days with her cousin Alana.  Both are counting down the days before Kindergarten and their “loss of freedom.”  Mario and Jon and I stayed around the house – Mario took a three and a half hour nap in our room.  Fans blowing on us, sun beaming in the window, Mario’s sweet face right next to mine on the pillow.  A piece of heaven on a Sunday afternoon.  

Brother and sister laughing and playing - rare moments to remember, indeed!

Not My Garlic Bread!


Maria eating her pasta

Maria was starving when we got home from school last night.  She opened the freezer and found a frozen spaghetti dinner that also included a slice of garlic bread.  You would have thought the box contained a princess Barbie or gold.  She held it up in the air as if it were magical, and screamed “Mom, can I have this for dinner!” 

Well, before my organic, “my kids would never eat microwaveable food” mothers go nuts, I typically cook spaghetti with wheat noodles and pour on some yummy tomato sauce.  However, I was tired last night.  I had felt nauseous all day and I just wanted to sit down on the couch and rest.  So, it was Maria’s lucky night. 

We popped the dinner in the microwave, and kept the bread out until the dinner cooked.  The entire time the dinner was cooking, Maria kept touching the plastic on the garlic bread and chanting “this bread is going to be so yummy.”  I made some other toast with our wheat bread and slathered butter and garlic salt on it.  I told Maria that this bread would taste just as good.  She knew better.  She has experienced “true” white bread garlic bread smothered in butted and garlic before – at our local pasta shoppe – so there was no tricking her.  One bite of that wheat imposter, and she made it clear that the plastic wrapped garlic bread was her choice. 

The spaghetti finished and the garlic bread went in.  Twenty seconds later, the bread came out.  Maria ogled it.  I broke the bread in half and told Maria she had to split it with Mario.  She protested at first but figured she would get Mario’s half anyway since he eats nothing but Goldfish and suckers.  I took the two pieces of bread to the kids’ Dora table and went back in the kitchen where Maria was putting parmesan cheese on her spaghetti. 

Before I knew it, I heard Mario running into the kitchen and yelling for Cy.  Next thing I knew, Maria was screaming uncontrollably and then sobbing and then darting toward her brother with both arms out ready to strangle his little neck.  I caught her during the choke hold, and pushed her aside.  She ran in the living room like a frantic lost animal. 

“Daddy, Mario fed my garlic bread to Cy!” 
“Maria, it is ok, we can make you some more.”

Still sobbing uncontrollably “No, Dad, that was the only good piece we had and Mario fed it to Cy.”  She threw herself onto the chair and cried and cried and cried.  Mario tried to get near her and she scolded him to get away from her.  “I never want to be your sister again!” 

Pretty harsh words over a piece of garlic bread.  Ahh, but that is our Maria.  She enjoys her food and is willing to give up friendships and even family when it comes down to it.  Mario has bitten her, scratched her, head-butted her, hit her, pulled her hair, and she still gives him hugs and kisses and sings “I love you little brother.”  But last night, he went too far.  He relinquished Maria’s garlic bread to the dog. 

It may take days, even months, for him to win her back over.   I advised him to invest in another piece of garlic bread, and this time, to make sure the dog is no where in sight.  Kroger’s here we come….