Christmas 2014

The kids get two weeks off for Christmas break every year.  Every year I find myself frantically calling my dad and stepmom or Jon’s mom or our sitter to see if they can take the kids certain days. You’d think I would learn with each year and plan a bit in advance but it is a lesson I will never learn.  Probably because I get away with it every year – finding family and friends to watch the kids on the days Jon and I have to work.  The year it doesn’t work out and I can’t attend the boss’s meeting is the year that will make me change my ways.

The kids counted down the days prior to their two-week break with increasing joy until finally on the Friday of the last day of school, Mario exclaimed “no more school after today!”  I guess two weeks feels like a lifetime to a kid.  We had our usual holiday trek to Cincinnati on Christmas Eve.  We hit mom’s house first and madly opened presents.  The kids always want to dig in as soon as we open the door and mom obliges.  IMG_2526

Susie hosted Christmas Eve at her house for the first time since I was little, and it was really enjoyable.  She had gingerbread houses for the kids to decorate (Mario was way too cool to decorate his for more than a minute), and a movie for them to watch (never got to that but good thought). IMG_2554 IMG_2555 IMG_2557

I wondered if I’d feel at all saddened by having it at Susie’s since I had spent my life going to Grandma Heile’s house for Christmas Eve. But I didn’t because all that mattered was that I had my Heile posse with me for the evening.  Ri joined right in the crowd as she always has since she was little. She fits right in with her 20 something cousins.IMG_2568 IMG_2570

Mario, on the other hand, is a bit more intolerant of the noise and chaos and constant hugging! Emily came up to hug him and he pushed her away. I took him upstairs to tell him that was rude, and he looked me in the eye and cried “doesn’t she know that I don’t like to be hugged?”  Spoken just like his father. I calmed him down and we went back downstairs only to have Cy accidentally hit him in the tongue and mouth with his head as they were playing horsey.  Back upstairs he stomped – angry and hurt.  Then, he suffered a third incident 30 minutes later when Robert picked him up by his feet and dropped him on his head. Lovely.  Poor kid couldn’t catch a break. But then he scored a Nerf gun from Aunt Jane and all was good.

Ri helped me play the white elephant game this year.  We took home the horrible clown that everyone hates to get each year.  Actually, we didn’t even win it – Cy’s girlfriend did – but she was so scared of it that Maria took it from her to be nice.    Ri could play those games all night long with her cousins; she loves it.

We left Susie’s around 7:30, which was nice. We arrived home at a reasonable hour versus the 10:30 or 11 pm times in years’ past.  The kids knocked off soon after we left (Ri first as always and then Mario shortly thereafter).IMG_2590

We did not arrive home to luminaries up and down the street, which was a bit disappointing.  Our street has always had about a 90% turnout rate on luminaries and it is magical to turn the corner and see the soft glow of lights lining the entire street.  But it was raining softly when we arrived home, and the lights would have gotten burnt out upon lighting.  Patty had wrapped some of the kids’ gifts for me while we were gone, which was such a blessing.  I came home to nothing to do (in years’ past, I ran around frantically wrapping and getting things under the tree).  Jon and I went straight to bed knowing the two goofs would be up at the crack of dawn.

They woke up at 6:30 am and we heard them outside of our door whispering and excited.  They lasted until about 6:50 am (we had asked for 7 am) before busting open the door and yelling “Come on! Let’s open presents!”  Jon and I rose from the bed, hair in every direction, and got pulled down the stairs by each kid.  It took approximately two minutes for the kids to open all 7 of their presents.  Seriously.  Next year we are going to have to take more time.  It was 7:05 am and Christmas was over.  But they were both happy campers.  Ri got her phone she wanted and Mario got his Nintendo.  They immediately unwrapped those items and started playing with them.  Jon and I got each other comforters without having any idea we were both getting each other one.  Two peas in a pod.IMG_2601 IMG_2595

Meg, Dad, Sarah, Jorge and Elena arrived around 9 am for our second round of fun.  Ms. Elena’s first Christmas!  We ate yummy quiche made by Meg-pie and cinnamon rolls and then skyped with Uncle Jack and Sofia.  It was great seeing the dude-man on Christmas day; he never ceases to make me belly laugh. He seems to be enjoying the Nordic life sporting a sweet wool sweater during our talk.  Elena let Ri and I hold her while we opened presents.  She loved the mega-blinged out baby walker we bought her with all sorts of sounds and lights on it.  As we sat around together watching Elena, I was reminded of all the years that Jon and I would head to Meg and Dad’s house for Christmas morning.  Jack and Sarah were in grade school and high school, and just as excited as Ri and Mario about present opening.  We’d get a call at the apartment at 7 am telling us to head over.IMG_2615 IMG_2625 IMG_2633


We hung out until around 12:30 and then they left to head back to the farm.

Bring in round three!

Patty and Patrick and crew and Chris and Connie and Frances came over around 1:00 to spend the rest of the day with us.  The kids loved hanging out together all day long. Chris told his jokes like he used to when Jon and I were dating.  Patrick and Jon talked about all the things they got into when Patty took them to work with her.  It was a good reminiscing session; their stories never cease to impress me.  Boys. We opened gifts after dinner.  Patrick and Carrie gave me the best gift I have ever gotten.  A shirt box full of chocolates.  There were probably 100 of the chocolate squares overfilling the box.  IMG_2640Pure heaven!

We missed Joe’s presence.  Patty teared up a few times thinking about him.  Mario also talked about how much he missed him.  And Ri cried at school before break because she was working on a tribute to Joe and sadness overcame her.  There is no doubt he felt the love soaring up to him this holiday.IMG_2639


The girls went home with Patty on Christmas night like they have in past years.  They look so forward to that time with her.  She took them to play volleyball at the Y the next morning and all of her friends enjoyed their humor.  Mario and Gio spent the night at Gio’s house one night and our house the next.  They played video games and laughed about farts and butts and all things that make boys chuckle.  I am so happy that they still enjoy one another and get to spend time together.  Patty is a machine with them.  She takes them to the Y, to the arcade, to the movies, to McDonald’s.  She plays with them at the condo.  Her energy really needs to be bottled up and sold; we’d make millions.20140207-142722.jpg

We ended the holidays with a visit from Bill and Jean and Kerry and Kevin and kids.  Meg and Dad and Sarah joined in the afternoon fun. We made it easy and ordered City Barbecue and Bill made his awesome chocolate desserts.  Maria and Mario do not get to see Ben and Annaliese that often but they still find ways to connect.  Ben and Mario connect over the iPad; Maria and Annaliese connect over her American Girl doll and barbies.  I remember when Kerry and I were young and both possessing much different interests but we’d get together two times a year and catch up.  There was a connection between us even with the months apart and our different pursuits.  I am a strong believer in staying close to your roots. I am quite sure that Grandma Menkedick was smiling down on us all day.IMG_0011 IMG_0019 IMG_0032

After that crew left on the Sunday before New Year’s, we had the house to ourselves.  What to do without the commotion, present-opening, running around, and chaos?

Put on the pj’s, eat some of Bill’s chocolate cake, and read Vela.




Bittersweet Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013 ended up being a very rough one. Jon’s dad got sick on the 14th and couldn’t get out of bed. He had just traveled to a funeral on Friday in Canton and spoken with family members. But by the time we arrived on Sunday, he was still in bed and not saying much. I was able to sit with him and watch the football game. I didn’t say much out of deference to him – he always liked calm and quiet and I wanted to provide that to him in what we knew were his final days. Jon got to be near him and tell him he loved him on Sunday, also. What a blessing that was because he started to decline quickly on Monday. All of his children were able to get to the house before he passed on Friday. Patty was able to read him the Bible in the comforts of their home and comfort him with her smile. That is one memory I will never forget: watching her bend down to Joe and whisper “I love you” and seeing his mouth widen into a smile and say “I love you” in return. Fifty years together and committed more than ever.

The next week was painful for all the family to experience, especially Patty and the five sons. Jon stayed in Marion most nights and the kids and I went up a couple of times to say goodbye. On Wednesday night, many of the grand kids were there – Dagmawit, Maria and Mario, Alana and Gio, Emmi and Eli (great grand kids). They played downstairs and we could hear their laughter from Joe’s room. Kevin and Chris and Jon and Patrick and Patty reminisced about times with Joe while we stood in his room. The next day, the hospice nurse told us we may want to keep it quiet for Joe. We agreed. But I do believe that Joe enjoyed hearing his grand kids downstairs one final time since he spent so much time with them over the last few years. For 90 years old, it was amazing how much he could tolerate. And how he always was ready for an embrace.



He passed away with Patty, Jon and Chris by his side. We all went to the house that evening and celebrated him. We held his wake on Sunday and the mass on Monday. Then we came home to prepare for Christmas Eve. Needless to say, we were all spent, emotionally and physically.
We took Patty to Cincy with us on Christmas Eve. She fit right in with the rowdy Heiles (actually, after we left we realized that it’s really just me that creates the rowdiness anymore…and I do it well!). We went to Grandma Lolo’s first where Maria and Mario were quite pleased. Ri got a “real” baby doll with five sets of clothes and Mario got Skylander Swap. Of course, Mario said thanks but then immediately asked “where’s more presents?” Jon and I both had a talk with him about being grateful and it sunk in … until the next gift opening. Maria was the same way at age 5 and grew out of it; but Mario may be tougher. Needless to say, we will be practicing gratitude all year long in 2014. My mom loved getting Maria a baby doll. The two of us refuse to let her grow up and slurped up the fact that she still wanted a baby doll for Christmas.






We ate some chocolate covered cherries (Mario was not a fan) and headed to Laura’s house (formerly Grandma Heile’s home). All my baby cousins are grown up – it is just not right. They all sit properly in their chairs and drink their wine and talk about their jobs! Maria and Mario sit all over them and rough house with the boys. They love it.



We left Laura’s house and headed back north to wait for Santa to arrive. Ri fell quickly to sleep because “Santa would come more quickly.” Mario stayed wide awake watching Epic with Patty and then played Legos with her in the basement until 11 pm. She is a machine.
Christmas morning arrived and Ri was the first up. She laid patiently with Jon and me until Mario woke up and jumped on our bed screaming “let’s open presents!” And we were off to the races!




I bought them a bunch of clothes and small gifts, which they opened with vigor. At the end, they both looked up and smiled but wondered if anything else was coming (Mario had begged for an iPad all season; Ri had wanted one too but was conflicted because she also wanted a sewing kit and American Girl doll clothes, and she didn’t want to be greedy). I left the room and returned with two packages and a note. Maria read the note from Santa.

The note detailed all of the dos and don’ts of having an iPad mini. Mario could hardly hold still as Ri read. Santa told them that they have to play educational games and get off of it when their parents say so, and they have to continue to be good and giving to others. I think Ri processed it; Mario is gonna take some time!


The next 24 hours was a whirl wind. Meg, my dad, Jack, Sarah and Jorge arrived around 10 am. We ate yummy casserole and biscuits and then took two hours to open presents. We are notorious for being slow present openers. We have to ohhhh and ahhhh. Ri and Mario found out about their Disney trip. Ri flipped out with excitement; Mario was in a state of awe. He was both excited and nervous about going without Jon or me. He still loves hanging with Jon and me, but we know he will have a blast.




After we opened presents, my Menkedick crew took off and our Ionno crew came over. Patty and I broke out her whipped cream vodka ( yikes!) and the kids played together all day long without any fighting.




The girls went to the park with me and Rocco and climbed all over downed trees. Times are a changing: Ri is turning into the outdoors girl while Mario is wanting to stay in all the time.

The next morning we drove to Marietta for Joe’s burial. The cemetery sat on a steep hill amidst a throng of trees that must look magnificent in Autumn. A group of Patty’s family members showed up to the cemetery and afterwards we went over to West Virginia for Italian food (now there is an oxymoron for ya). It was comforting to sit with Jon and his family and my parents during lunch.
I took in our conversation with vigor.

One down, three to go, two down two to go, three down, one to go…Finish Line!

Christmas 2011

And so we end another Christmas season with toys scattered across the floor, chocolate wrappers lingering on coffee tops, and pants unbuttoned to make room for the holiday food resting snuggly in our bellies.  It feels like someone stood me up in the middle of a large room, twirled me around at lightening speed for three minutes straight, and then let me go.  Dizzy, light-headed, and a little lost but the excitement was well worth it. 

We started out with our Christmas Eve at my mom’s house and then my cousin Laura’s house (formerly my Grandma and Grandpa Heile’s home).  My mom’s house is always a whirlwind because we only have about 45 minutes to say hi, open presents, and get ready for Laura’s.  My mom agreed this year to limit the presents for the kids and ourselves but it still seemed like we gave too much even though the kids ripped through the presents in ten minutes.  My mom scored big this year with Ben Ten paraphernalia for Mario and Pet Shop and Barbie for Maria.  Each present that Maria opened garnered a big ol’ smile and a big ol’ gasp when she saw it no matter if she loved it or not.  What a ham and a sweetheart since I had told her it makes people feel good when you smiled and acted happy while opening a gift.  After the gift opening, Mario hit the treadmill for a bit (my mom calls it her $1000 toy for the kids) and Maria looked for food in the kitchen.  After we raided the cheese and crackers, we headed to Laura’s house.  

M&M iwth Robert, Kristen, and Cy

It is still strange for me to see my little cousins all grown up with Laura the oldest at 27 and Konner the youngest at 14.  The girl cousins are all in the 20-something range and lavish Maria with love and advice on how to deal with boys, how to brush her hair, and how to be polite.  The boy cousins rough house with Mario and teach him wrestling moves.   While teaching Mario moves, Robert commented to Mario that he was acting like a girl.  This comment threw Mario into a state of deep depression.  Jon and I found him outside of the house sulking and he finally told us why.  Jon, our family protector, had a few words with Robert, and he told Mario he was sorry and he was only kidding.  I would have never dreamt that such a comment would have bothered him, but you never quite know with Mario what he is going to take to heart.  The other day he was upset because Mr. Park made fun of his sweater by saying it wasn’t “ugly sweater day”; Mario went in the corner and sulked until Park told him he was only kidding. 

While the cousins entertained M&M, I talked with my aunts.  They always seemed so much older than me since I was a pre-teen and they were in their late teens or twenties.  Completely different worlds at that point.  But now I have a kinship with them since we all have or are experiencing a lot of the same – kids, jobs, mortgages.  Most of us have the bond of motherhood – we talk about how to deal with temper tantrums, moments we cherish with the kids, moments we wish we could forget and everything in between.  These women raised me and each time I see them, memories of my times with them flood through my head.  We enjoy the brief time we have together over the holidays with the male family members watching football and engaging in small-talk about hunting or sports or the latest event in the news.  This is home to me – this is what I have known since I was a newborn and it is comforting. 

Trying to get a picture of the cousins...!

The kids opened presents after dinner.  Every kid gets another kid’s name and acts as his/her secret santa.  However, Maria and Mario scored gifts from all of the aunts.  They had a boatload of presents to unwrap.  I was so proud of them as they tore through the presents.  Maria got a book she already had at home but she acted surprised and said thank you to my aunt (and then looked at me and gave me a nod).  Mario said thank you to every person that gave him a gift even before he opened it.  He got a bow and arrow from Robert and Cy (his cousins whom he idolizes).  Maria got i Carly lip gloss from Aunt Jane. 

After gifts, we talked and laughed a while longer and then hit the road for Columbus.  I still had to wrap a few gifts and get Maria’s Barbie Dream House out of the garage.  I am still so charged about that purchase – $30 from a fellow Grandview mom and it does not even look used.  Maria had no idea.  I just could not fathom buying a $150 dream house when I knew she would play with it for a short time and move on to something else.  Mario kept begging us for a Boy Barbie Dream House for him.  All I could imagine was a house with frat boys waiting for the “barbies” to show up. 

The kids fell asleep right when we left for Cincy (miracle), and did not get up until 7:45 am.  Nice present.  Maria stood by my side at 7:45 trying to cough gently to arouse me from sleep and then Mario, sleeping beside me, bolted up.  Is it Santa time?! We threw on sweatshirts and headed downstairs to see if Santa decided we were good this year.  THe kids tore through their presents with Mario getting Ben Ten everything and Maria getting random presents like a robe, drawing stuff and a Leapster reading game.  She walked over to Jon towards the end and said “I don’t think I will get the dream house because it is expensive.” When I brought it our for her, she nearly passed out.  She was so excited. 

My parents came to the house around 10 am and the kids got showered with more presents.  Overload city.  The kids tore through the next round with Mario again scoring mega Ben Ten toys and Maria getting serious bling from Mama Meg (she is known for getting Maria some sweet sweat suit get-ups!).  After we opened up our presents, the rest of the Menkedick crew arrived.  My 91-year-old grandma made the trip, which made the day for me.  Jon’s parents also arrived early to have dinner with us.  The dinner went off without a hitch except that we had to use my parents’ apartment down the street to cook one of the casseroles!  How do people make big holiday dinners with just one stove?! 

The Menkedick and Ionno clan with Grandma M. at the left

During dinner, Patty recognized my grandma for raising my uncle Bill and my dad all by herself.  She commended her for raising such wonderful “boys”.  I was so glad that she spoke up and recognized my grandma.  I don’t know how many people I have talked to about how amazing my grandma is for raising my dad and my uncle in the 1950s all on her own.  Never re-marrying.  Taking them on trips every year.  Making sure they were fed and went to good schools.  As open as my family is, we tend to shy away from sensitive subjects when we get together.  In our defense, we don’t all get together too often, so when we do, we want to keep the conversation light and upbeat.  But surprisingly, the conversation remained light and honorable.  My grandmother received much-deserved praise and gratitude from all at the table (even if she didn’t fully recognize it) and we continued to laugh and enjoy one another’s company.  

M&M and their cousins

After a big ol’ dinner and big ol’ dessert (peanut butter chocolate pie), we opened yet another round of presents.  After an hour, we finished the unwrapping (we go around with each person opening one gift at a time).  Five minutes later, Patrick and my niece and nephew arrived for dinner.  Rock-n-roll!  We switched out the table-cloth, got out new plates and silver, and began making the dinner.  Maria and Alana danced to Big Time Rush and Giovanni and Mario took a walk with me to the park.  I needed some fresh air after a non-stop day indoors.  Besides it was 42 degrees out – balmy for Christmas. 

We returned home for wedding soup, ham, green beans almondine, and potato casserole.  Mario had a break down because he wanted to sit next to Alana and Maria wanted to sit by her alone.  Maria eventually gave in to him like she typically does – Mario has it really good with her.   After dinner, we opened the last round of presents.  I think my cousin’s son summer it up well earlier in the day when I asked him if he is ready for his presents.  He replied “I have opened up too many presents today.”  Fortunately, I don’t think any of the Ionno kids felt that way and how could they with the big bags of goodies that Patty brings for them? 

The babes enjoying the season

When everyone left at 9 pm, Jon and I collapsed on the couch.  Absolutely exhausted but absolutely elated.  A NPR commentator summer it up well when she spoke about her holidays.  She told a story about experiencing the same exhaustion we had and her husband asking her why she drove herself to such a state.  She hosts holiday gatherings in order to honor her family.  I thought that was such a profound and relevant statement for me this year.  The joy I experienced in sitting with my Heile clan that I have grown up with all my years; the warmth I felt in sitting with my Menkedick brood that I cherish and respect; and the happiness I experienced in sitting with my Ionno family at the end of the night brought it all together in one tidy Christmas present for me.  The best present I could ask for 2011.

Rounding up Mario’s b-day/holiday weekend

Mario completed his b-day weekend with a big bash at our “old” house.  It felt strange to sit around the dining room table knowing that it was likely the last “family” meal we would have in that house.  The good part is that the new house will have much more space to spread out; the bad part is that the new house will have much more space to spread out.  There is something quaint and sweet about sitting so close together at one table with chairs side by side and elbows bumping… until you can’t cut into that porter house steak. 

 Everyone spoiled Mario on his birthday.  What is new?  Both Maria and Mario have gotten spoiled rotten on their birthdays throughout their short lives.  Here is a list of some of the things Mario got:

Spiderman Web shooter (the new version which shoots out a piece of string and not the white foam that sticks to every piece of furniture and in every crevice of the room)

Transformer outfit and mask

Sweatpants (with the elastic on the bottom to stay tight around Mario’s ankles (he rolls them up two times now in order to not have them “hang” at the bottom of his leg)

Incredible Hulk Warrior

Soccer disc (it is like air hockey with a soccer ball – pretty cool)

Legos (I can only hope he starts to like those – so much more up my alley than transformers and superheros)


Overalls (he won’t wear them yet because they are too “long” even though they go straight to his ankles)

Maria begged for us to give Mario the rest of the presents we had gotten him but Mario was already on overload and did not need to continue opening any more (besides, they will make good Christmas presents).   She takes care of that little brother of hers.  When we were singing happy birthday to Mario, she stood right next to him and put her arm around him patting his shoulder gently.  After the song, we waited for him to blow the candles out.  Maria gently nudged him and whispered “blow out your candles, baby boy.” 

Mario impressed Jon and me with his manners, too.  After opening each gift, he gave a hug and kiss to the gift giver.  Then, at the very end of the gift opening, he stood on a chair, and with a little help from me, thanked everyone for coming to his b-day celebration.  God love him.  And to end all of the excitement of the holiday weekend, Mario and Maria had a tattoo fest.  Mario chose all of his favorite superheros to fill up his compact, strong arms.  Maria chose a huge tattoo for her… neck.  Yes, kid you not.  She is my west-side girl.  All in all, not a bad Labor Day weekend and b-day celebration for four-year-old Mario.