Thanks giving 

I love celebrating Thanksgiving. The gratitude and appreciation expressed for one another makes me beam. Everyone lets down whatever guard they may have erected and opens their arms to hugs. I must admit I was a bit concerned this year that my idyllic view of Thanksgiving may be shot to hell due to the recent election of Trump. But alas, it was not. All were polite. It was definitely more quiet than usual for a Heile get together … but Jon appreciated that peace. 

Maria slaved over the favors for the family with me. We thought about what would be best for days before the event and finally landed on mason jars filled with a holiday mix.  We drove to Giant Eagle to try to find mason jars. I told Maria that I did not want to spend a bunch of money on the jars. She was determined to find a deal. We walked down an aisle and Ri exclaimed “here are 12 for $8.99!” I shook my head with approval and we grabbed two cases. As we turned towards the checkout, a woman approached us. She held two coupons for mason jars, and asked if we wanted them.  I was taken aback, as was Maria. What are the chances that somebody with a coupon for mason jars would be walking by us right when we are heading to the checkout? Life is crazy strange and full of surprises. And heck, we saved six dollars because of that woman; Ri and I were charged! A reminder to pay forward.

 We arrived home to find Mario listening to music on the computer. We made him turn it off and help us decorate the mason jars, much to his dismay. But once he got started, he realized it wasn’t horrible. Maria enjoyed gathering all of the different foods we bought and mixing them together (while she taste-tested each one separately). She also decorated the mason jars and took her time trying to determine what decoration would look best for each person. I love how she put thought into each jar that she decorated; Mario, on the other hand, placed random stars and hearts on all his jars. 

On thanksgiving morning, we drove down to the YMCA to serve the homeless man at the shelter. We have been doing this for about three years, and the kids thoroughly enjoy it. It helps that one of my long-time buddies runs the program and is really great with the kids. The men are also great with the kids – talking to them, thanking them for their service, and teasing them. The kids actively engage with them, especially Maria who sits down with them at their table and asks about their lives. One man approached me and told me how impressed he was with Maria in the way that she could talk to him and make eye contact. It made him feel special.

We got back home in time to shower and greet our guests from Cincinnati. They arrived with much good food and wine and treats. It was an easy year for us on the turkey front. Jon bought two of them from Ray Ray’s hog pit so we had nothing to cook. There is something to be said for going the easy route some years… (especially when Patrick isn’t around to help!). 

Everyone mingled and got caught up on the latest news … and cooed over Elena before dinner. The potatoes actually took the longest this year because my mom had so many in the pot. It was starting to be a stressful situation but they finally came to a boil and we were able to mash them and get them on the table to be served. We chowed on our carbs and went into our annual daze. Folks on the couch watching football and folks in the kitchen cleaning up. 

We went for our annual walk around the block after the dishes, which pleased Rocco greatly. Shortly thereafter, most of the crew left. But the diehard liberals stuck around to talk about their displeasure with the election … and Aunt Ann’s new beau.

We capped the evening off by meeting up with Sarah, Elena, and Jorge at their hotel. We brought some snacks with us and enjoyed jumping on the bed and playing farm with Elena before she went to bed – definitely the highlight of the day for Maria. 

There was no getting up at 4 AM to shop on Friday morning – we slept in letting the carbs run through our bodies. 

Hunting turkeys

Mario and Jon have gone turkey hunting a few times over the last month. They have come back empty-handed every time. Jon has, too, when he goes it alone. In fact, I think it’s been at least five years since Jon or my dad have gotten a turkey (the last time I remember is when I was laying out in the front yard and dad pulled up with a turkey he shot -I held it up by its turkey legs in my bikini – classy).

So, when Mario and I walked by the library on Tuesday night (Ri went out to dinner with her girlfriends after softball practice) and caught a glimpse of a turkey, we got excited. Mario screamed “Look at the big boy!” He strutted his fine self all around the cage (the turkey, that is).



Mario begged me to call Jon and tell him. “Dad can’t shoot this turkey, though because he’s a pet.” At least he’s got some sense (every other time we talk about turkeys he wants to get out and hunt ’em). The woman owner was sweet as can be with the kids. She had ducks, chicks, rabbits and the Tom turkey. Mario petted all of them but couldn’t quite leave that turkey.



When we headed home, I looked back at the turkey and glanced at Mario. “See, you couldn’t shoot one of those babes, could you?” He looked up at me for a second, grinned, and ran down the street laughing.

Gobble Gobble

Showing off Sarah's mac-n-cheese

We successfully hosted the first Thanksgiving in our new abode.  No injuries, no serious screaming and only one dish of slightly burnt food.  Even the diverse family members homogenized and got along great.  Most of the family consisted of Jon’s side: his mom, dad, three brothers, their wives and kids.  My mom and sis showed up to represent the Heile/Menkedick side.  Jon woke up at 6:45 am to start the turkeys with his brother who drove over from Hilliard at 7 am (we can’t have any meal without Patrick’s input – he is a master chef).  They grilled one turkey and smoked the other.  Maria woke up exclaiming “I can’t believe Thanksgiving is finally here!”  The day may have been better than Christmas for her – she loves having the family over and entertaining.  She proudly showed off her place mats that she slaved over for the three weeks prior to Thanksgiving day (Megan, her sitter, and I prodded her more than a few times but she did a first-rate job on them and everyone enjoyed having a handmade mat in front of them).  

My sis, Sarah, came over at 8 am in order for us to get in our Turkey Day run. We had contemplated running in the UA Turkey Race but decided that we may be pushing our luck trying to cook and run a race that started so late (9:15 am).  Besides, 5 miles is wimpy – we went for about 8.  We tore through the hills of Grandview and ran through donwtown back to our home.  Sarah’s dogs kept us at a clip of a pace – they are like Iditarod dogs running through the tundra – they never stop!  Little Sarah, all 95 pounds of her – held onto “the reins” the entire run.  When the pups spotted a squirrel, they darted and pulled so hard on Sarah that she had to buckle down into a squat position and yank them back with all of her might.  It is quite a sight to see this petite sister of mine take complete control of two dogs.  She may be under 100 pounds but she is mighty. 

A walk to the railroad tracks

When I arrived home, Maria and Mario were ready for everyone to arrive anxiously pacing around the house asking “how much longer?”  Finally, Alana and Giovanni arrived and the screaming and insanity began (relegated to the basement, which continues to be such a godsend!).  The kids had the basement destroyed in less than 15 minutes.  A good reason for me to take a break and walk them down to the woods.  I was getting antsy anyway because it was so gorgeous outside and I had been indoors preparing for the feast.  “Anyone want to take a walk?”  All of the kids jumped up and grabbed their shoes and coats.  We walked down the road to the railroad tracks that are hidden behind a row of trees and bushes off the road.  Is there any more fun than playing on the railroad tracks on a beautiful November day?  The boys threw rocks into the trees and the girls danced around on the wood slats (on the outside of the track!).  We thought we heard a train whistle at one point but it was merely wishful dreaming.  The kids’ eyes popped out at the thought of seeing a train whiz by.  Gio made me promise I would run back down with him if we heard the whistle at the house, and sure enough we heard it right when dinner was starting.  Next time, Gio.  Maria and Alana sang songs on the way back and Mario and Gio acted like “old men” by leaning on their sticks and hobbling up the hill. 

When we got home, Maria and Alana begged for me to keep the boys out of Maria’s room so they could play barbies in peace.  Mario refused to budge until I told him that the girls would beg to come to his room because of all of the cool toys he had so he better run in to it with Gio and keep those girls out.  Maria and Alana caught on to my plan quickly and started to beg to come in Mario’s room.  Mario and Gio slammed the door and refused to allow them in the room.  The plan worked.

Meanwhile, the adults got to chat downstairs without children nagging at their ankles.  Actually, I should clarify: Jon and I got to chat with out kids at our ankles.  Patrick and Carrie have Alana and Gio pretty well-trained and Jon’s other brothers’ kids are grown.  I was so bummed when I took the tablecloths out of the plastic and they were really wrinkled.  If you buy new tablecloths they should be wrinkle-free – that is what you are buying, too, isn’t it?  And what is the trick to getting those wrinkles out?  I spent 20 minutes with the iron on them and still didn’t make much of a dent.  But with the place mats and plates and silver on the table, you could barely tell.  I had bought orange gerber daisies and purple flowers at the market the day before and they bursted out in the dining room against the brown walls. 

Ready for seconds

We made enough food for a small army, as always.  Thirty pounds of turkey, regular and oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, chipotle mac-n-cheese, rolls, creamed corn casserole, gravy, and fruit salad.  Sarah’s mac-n-cheese dishes were a nice touch and Patty’s creamed corn casserole is always to die for.  I had dreamed of all of the food being laid out on the tables, everyone sitting down, and a beautiful grace being said by me.  Maybe the dream will happen next year.  THere were too many dishes to put them out on the tables, and it would have been a form of torture to make the first people in line wait for the last since it took about 15 minutes for everyone to get through (you know how that is “Oh, what are these? How did you make them?  They look great!”  all the while holding up the line!).  Patty did give an impromptu grace while we stood in line giving thanks for family – those with us and those who have passed – and appreciating the day we had together.  It was short but beautiful.  Patty and I are a lot alike in our love for family connection and every hour or so that day we would knock elbows and smile happy with the way the day was going.   

Maria and Alana with their drawing "If It's Too Loud, You Are Too Old!"

Within twenty minutes of putting my plate down to eat, I had to unbutton my jeans and stretch my arms.  Always a true sign of a good meal.  Maria loved the creamed corn casserole and the turkey.  Mario liked nothing and opted for an oreo yogurt.  Jon loved the creamed corn casserole, too.  I loved everything – seriously, I can’t pick a favorite.  I love all of the side dishes mixed together with the turkey.  Heaven.  When Mario was finished, he asked to be excused instead of stating “I am done.”  The family was quite impressed, as was I!  He informed me later that the school teachers make him ask to be excused because it is a more polite way of saying “I am done.”  Thank god the school teaches him some manners!

After dinner, Maria and Alana acted like vampires pulling naive aunts and cousins upstairs to the attic to “take a bite” out of them.  Josh and I were one of the firsts who got a “bite” in the hand from the vampire girls.  They had a hoot with that game for a while.  Then they chased after Peter for quite some time – poor Peter, our 17 year-old cousin who was “one of the kids” for so long that now even though he is grown, he is the honorary playmate.  We really need to slip him some cash next holiday.

Getting ready for dessert and celebrating Patty's and Alana's b-days!

The desserts enticed even the most full of us.  Pumpkin, pecan, cherry and peanut butter/chocolate pies with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.  With all of that, the kids played a game of who could spray the most whipped cream down their throats.  It took us nearly an hour and a half to wash dishes – definitely the most obnoxious activity that you have to perform after a big meal like Thanksgiving but at least it gets you on your feet.  Sarah ran over to get her pups when it got dark out and brought them back over for an early evening walk.  We had hoped for a relaxing, serene walk around the block but a mad dash of kids flew out the door and we spent the entire walk trying to ensure that they remained together and didn’t cross the street and held their voices down (yeah, right).  As rowdy as they are, I love seeing all of the cousins together having a good time.  The older ones take care of the younger ones and the younger ones love the attention. 

When we arrived home, we began the pack-up,stuffing leftovers into plastic bins and sliding pie slices onto paper plates.  I tried to get rid of all of it but somehow ended up with my favorites – pecan and cherry – sitting in the fridge.  How is it that one minute I can be stuffed silly and within an hour, I am ready for another slice of pie?  Life is cruel that way. When the last of the family members walked out the door, Maria looked at me with the saddest little face.  “I want Thanksgiving back.  Why do good days have to end?”  “I agree, Maria. But instead of being sad, we should be so grateful to have such a warm, loving, fun family.”  She still looked sad so I took her to the second step of our stairs and sat her down next to me. She leaned her head on me looking out the door.  I held the moment and told her that the second step was our resting place – a place that she could take me to talk about anything she wanted to talk to me about.  I imagined her at age 16 with all of the teenage woes a girl faces.  I told her that I want her to always feel she can tell me anything.  She looked at me and said “I know I can, mom.”  Please, Lord, let her continue to think that way.  

We swept up the remaining scraps from the dining room and living room but left the food that had been dug into the floors by random feet stepping on them.  Those would have to be wiped up on Black Friday; we were not heading out to the shopping mall so we had all day.  Of course, we chose to ignore all that mess one more day and head down to Cincy on Black Friday to visit our aunts and cousins.  A little procrastination never hurt anyone!