Under one roof

So, I guess the holidays are officially over. We had the Menkedick crew over yesterday and the last of the gifts were ripped open by the kids. 

Time to put away the glittery centerpiece – the only remaining holiday item out of storage. All the other items were packed up and stored away within 48 hours after Christmas. Except for the lights strung around the trees in the front yard; they remained hanging until a few days ago due to the lack of desire to stand in the cold and try to flip the lights off the top branches without success. 

This holiday felt a little off to me. I still haven’t figured out what made it feel this way. It could be the kids being older.I believe Ri officially knows there is no Santa Claus. She doesn’t readily admit it but I can tell. She knows the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy are not real so why would Santa? I try to give her a condensed version of the precious articles I read on line by mothers who explained to their dis-believing children that Santa is simply a symbol of the season of giving and kindness. She nods and listens half-heartedly. She’s always been my old soul; she probably has always known there is no Santa but has kept it secret in order not to disappoint Jon and me. On the other hand, Mario seems to still believe. I don’t think he ponders it too much as long as he has gifts on Christmas morning. And when I put Elfie in his room with his Legos, he ran into our bedroom the next morning and was excited that Elfie liked his Lego men. The magic is somewhat still there, at least. 

It took 12 minutes to open presents Christmas morning. It was 7:17 am when we finished. You know you are in for a long day. You think “I just want to sleep for an entire day” but then the kids leave to hang out with grandma and you wonder “what should I do now they are gone?!” 

Or maybe it was the quick in and out with so many different family members. Christmas Eve at my mom’s for an hour ripping through presents and then to Aunt Susie’s with aunts and uncles and cousins and spouses and dogs (the cousins have chosen to own dogs prior to having kids). Talk to an aunt for five minutes, a cousin for ten. Sing caroles. Open presents. On Christmas Day, host my dad and Meg and then Jon’s mom and brothers. Everyone in for a few hours and then off to another home. Again, part of me is exhausted and ready for five minutes alone and another part of me wants a deep, long conversation with my family member. 

Maybe it’s all that yin and yang that leads me to find myself in a state of flux the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  What are my goals for 2016? What do I want for Jon and I? What do I want the kids to accomplish? I want to cook more. I want the kids to engage in more service and not whine when they have to do homework. I want Jon and I to hike. I want to sit still for an entire two hours. I wish Christmas could have lasted longer. I didn’t get to talk to Aunt Julie or Laura….

Step back. 

Take a breath. 

Try for one manageable feat at a time.  I am so bad about thinking of 20 different things to accomplish that I get overwhelmed and accomplish none. 

On New Year’s Eve, we went over to a friend’s house. A couple of Mario’s friends were there and a friend of Maria’s was there. The kids played upstairs and Jon and I hung in the kitchen talking to the adults and catching up with old friends. It was around 11:30 pm and Ri was knocked out upstairs. Jon and I agreed we should hit the road so we could be home at midnight. We were making the rounds saying goodbye when Mario flew into the kitchen crying in pain. 

“It’s broke! I heard it crack!” 

He held his arm. The way he was cradling it and the tears in his eyes had me nervous. A resident doctor was at the party and came over to look at it. She asked some questions and turned and probed it, and then told us we should take him to the ER. Lovely. She made a homemade sling for him and we were off. 

It was broken. 

We got home at 2 am drunk with fatigue. The rest of the weekend was long and tiresome and chill. I looked at Christmas pictures with Ri and reviewed FB posts of family. I cracked up thinking about Mario stealing the white elephant gift from Michael and Susie and Kenny leading us in caroles. I smiled remembering Ri open up her Molly baby from Grandma Lolo and Mario playing checkers with my dad. Alana and Gio excited to give me a box of chocolates. My aunt Julie and I exchanging duplicate pictures of each other in DC.  The girls opening American Girl dolls from Patty. Ri and Grandma Meg playing dolls together. Ben drawing random pieces of food on white papers, rolling them up, and giving them out to everyone. Maria and Anna taking Rocco on a walk together.

I love family. I actually get excited when I know there’s a get-together coming up. Nothing pleased me more than to have both my sis and brother in town a few years ago to share Christmas. This isn’t a new realization by any means. I’ve always been family-oriented. I could never leave Ohio because my parents and family live here. I wouldn’t want to not be close to them. And that’s one of the traits that attracted me to Jon right away. He loves family just as much. 

But I do realize how my expectations on what the holidays will bring need to be adjusted. I am not gonna get 30 minutes to sit down with my cousin to talk about the insanity of politics or to talk with my brother about the meaning of life. There’s too much chaos and revelry and excitement and people to see. So I just get to ask my cousin about her new house or my aunt about her classroom and move on to the next conversation. That’s fine. If you want a longer time, go out to dinner in January. The holidays are not structured for long-winded dialogue but for hugs and brief updates and cooing over new babies. 

So, here’s to my crazy, amazing family and all the fabulous times we have together – mostly over the holidays now since we are all doing our thangs, ya know…. Christmas 2015 will be appreciated for reminding me that the simple act of being together under one roof is a gift for which to be grateful. 


Learning my XBox lesson

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


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.

Christmas 2012

momheileThe kids had a marvelous Christmas holiday – how couldn’t they with all of their family around and all of the gifts to open. They got little gifts in their stockings on Sunday morning, including a Justin Bieber poster and an Avengers poster. On Christmas Eve, they got loaded down with presents at my mom’s house, including two Razor scooters that they jumped on and rode like pros (I couldn’t balance on one to save my life). They ran around with all of the cousins at the Heile’s get-together and got another load of presents from their great aunts. Maria even scored a Justin Bieber notebook and frame from the white elephant exchange (she also begged Susie to give her the Barbie doll head that Susie nabbed out of the exchange; Susie finally gave in and gave it to her in exchange for wearing Ri’s headband for five minutes).

americangirlbentenMaria woke up first on Christmas morning. She kept clearing her throat in her room to try and wake us up. Finally, she sauntered into our room and gave me a big hug along with a “Merry Christmas, Mom!” Precious. Mario ran in five minutes later all glassy-eyed and disheveled. When he saw Ri’s face and heard her excitement, he woke up and yelled “It’s Christmas! Lets go downstairs people!” We headed down the steps, turned the corner and witnessed a ton of gifts left by Santa. He even left some cookie crumbs which Maria happily picked up and threw into her mouth. “Santa left some crumbs for me, mom!”

The kids wasted no time tearing into presents. Ri opened her American Girl doll first, which I was hoping she wouldn’t do since it was her “big” gift. But she remained excited when opening up her other gifts, including gifts of underwear and leggings. Mario opened up his Ben Ten watch first and loved it but immediately moved onto opening the next one. He ripped through his presents like a tornado but still managed to say “cool” or “ahhh” after opening each one (even pjs). When he was finished, we brought out his punching bag and thought he’d be flabbergasted. He was happy with it but ready to open more. He had turned into a voracious animal ready to devour any gift in sight.

We went upstairs and started to fill the bottom of the punching bag with half-gallon jugs of water. I went back and forth from the sink to his room 20 times and it still needed more. But at least Mario could hit it and it didn’t tip over. Good enough for Christmas morning. Maria played American Girl with me while I filled the bag. I played the ticket agent and she spoke for Caroline, her doll who was heading to London.


megrisiblingsGrandma Meg, Peepaw, Sarah, Jorge and Jackson (yes, even party animal Jackson) arrived at 10 am. The kids pulled all of their arms up the stairs to show off their presents from Santa and spoke in lightening speed about their mornings. Peepaw tried to sneak downstairs to assemble Mario’s trampoline but Mario smelled him out like a bloodhound and quickly descended to the basement. Mario ended up assembling his present with Peepaw and Jorge. When they finished, Mario dashed up the steps and begged us all to see the creation he helped make. We don’t think he quite understood that was his present. Nonetheless, he loved it and bounced from the chair to the trampoline over and over.

peepawWe ate some yummy quiche with the eggs from Meg-pie’s chickens and cinnamon rolls, and then we opened presents. The kids kept with their routine and ripped open their presents with a fury. Ri got a horsey comforter and sheets and some awesome books and puzzle. I keep hoping some book series will entice her. Sarah and I are hoping Judy Blume books will do the trick. Mario got his trampoline and a puzzle and a Spanish/English kids book filled with photographs that Jorge took. After they tore through their presents, the adults opened their presents one-by-one. The Menkedick tradition – to hum and hem over each present that one receives. I scored big with a new coat, a collection of CDs with music selected by Jack, two books from Sarah, and two incredible framed photos of Ri and Mario. Sitting around a circle together and watching each other open gifts is one of my favorite traditions of the holiday. It brings back memories of Christmas pre-parenthood when I watched Sar and Jack squeal in delight over a truck or a doll from Santa.

pattyAfter present opening, we greeted the Ionno crew. Patty brought her signature delicious homemade treats – peanut brittle, chocolate cashews, pretzel rolos, and other fine concoctions. She also slipped in some Iced Cake Vodka that she enjoys lately over ice. Between her and Meg, I have a feeling my day is coming to become a Vodka drinker! Patrick and Carrie and Alana and Gio arrived and all of the adults were kicked to the curb – the kids had each other and had no more need for “old people” as Maria endearingly refers to us. Connie and Chris brought more cookies and treats. Why do we even have a dinner on Christmas? We should just go to town on sugar all day and then fall asleep at 7 pm.

pattygrandkidsJon’s prime rib was fantastic. Meg made a beautiful fruit salad with pomegranate seeds and kiwi. Bill and Patty baked yummy corn casseroles. I had laid out a lottery ticket on each person’s plate and it ended up being an Ionno versus Menkedick battle to see which family won the most money. The Ionno’s ended up with $9 and the Menkedick’s with $1. We not only lost the money competition but had to do the dishes because someone quickly made a rule that the family who won the least amount of money had to do dishes. My family, minus my Uncle Bill, suddenly had to hit the road to take care of their horses and dogs. Likely story…. So Bill and I put on our gloves and grabbed the kitchen towels and began to work. We are good sports. Patty felt bad and jumped in to help. All other Ionno’s sat around the dining room table and smirked! The Menkedick’s will prevail next year.

mariaalanaThen came the fifth round of present opening for Ri and Mario. Patty brought her big red bags full of toys for each kid. They did a good job taking turns reaching in their bags and looking at their gifts. Patty got the girls a photo Barbie and the boys a spy phone among many other things. After they ripped through the packages, they wolfed down some cookies and headed upstairs to get in some more play. Ri and Alana came up with a plan to have Patty take them back to her house. Of course, she agreed. They packed up clothes and went straight to Patty’s car without even saying goodbye to me or Carrie. Yea, Jon and I have no doubt that we will be fighting with the teenage Ri about curfews. Everyone took off around 6 pm, and Jon and I and Mario sat in the family room together feeling like it was midnight.

Another Christmas come and gone. 2013 is waiting for us right around the corner, and I for one, cannot wait for a quiet, low-key New Year’s Eve.