Pittsburgh!

Who wants to go to Florida when you have Pittsburgh for spring break?

We again failed to plan a week-long spring break adventure with the kids. We were so on the ball when the kids were little and didn’t even know that they had a spring break – we went to Florida several years in a row. Now that they’re older and want to go places, Jon and I continue to drop the break ball and procrastinate. I did give them the DC trip for fall break though, so I don’t feel as bad.

We decided we’d hit Pittsburgh to visit sweet Elena and hang out with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days. Patty had invited the kids to Marietta at the end of the week to be with their cousins and celebrate Easter so Pittsburgh provided the perfect getaway spot for a few days. Maria wanted to leave at 6 AM on Sunday morning in order to get there by 9 AM. Mario and I talked get into leaving at 8:30 am. Mario told her he needed to play a little bit of his fortnight game before we left since he’d have no access to Xbox in Pittsburgh. I needed to walk the pup a couple of miles since I knew he would be staying inside with Jon while we were gone (although he loves it because he gets truck rides and pupucinos). We ended up out of the door by 9 AM, which I thought was pretty good.

I allowed the kids to stop at Starbucks and buy their pink drinks and a sandwich treat for the road. They had their blankets and phones, and were all snuggled in for the trek. Little did they know that I remembered to bring their books so that they could read a bit in the car. We had amazing driving weather – no clouds in the sky and a soft sun pressing on the windows. It made for a quick jaunt to Pittsburgh. We called Sarah when we were about an hour away to let her know we were close. She announced that there was an egg hunt at the Aviary. We told her we would head straight there and take Elena on the hunt.

The kids were excited at the thought of an Easter egg. They knew that they were going to miss out on the Grandview one we do every year since they would be with Patty during that time. We scooped up Elena from Sarah a few minutes after we arrived at the Aviary. We walked through the entranceway to find the Easter egg hunt. The kids were cracking up because it was just a small five foot patch of grass with a few eggs interspersed. Kids were told what type of egg to find (robin’s egg, bluebird’s egg, etc.). When a kid found the egg, he picked a plastic egg out of a big basket and opened it up to see what color ticket you got. A blue ticket got you a starburst; a green ticket got you a snickers bar. A bit different than what the kids had imagined. But they hung in there and made it fun. Elena thought it was awesome. We ended up planting ourselves there for a good two hours.

The kids got to fly a simulated flying machine. They were scared when they dipped down between tall buildings. It was hilarious to watch. They played in the penguin area with Elena. We went to storytime, which cracked us up due to the very animated older lady who read the book to us. We fed chickens after the book (the kids were pros due to MamaMeg and Peepaw’s house). We walked around to see the different birds, which Elena helped us identify. We ate lunch; the start of our fabulous eating routine. Here is Sarah and Jorge with all of their organics and granola, and here we are getting carry out pizza and chicken nuggets everywhere we go.

After the aviary, we unloaded all of our bags for a quick stop at Sarah and Jorge’s house. The quick stop included painting Easter eggs. Yet another activity that we typically do at the house before Easter but have been too busy to fit it in. I was happy that Sarah had went out and bought some supplies. After the egg coloring, we hopped back in the car and headed to Frick park. This did not go over as well as planned because we had worn sweet Elena out at the aviary. She proceeded to bawl her eyes out when Mario and I decided to play a little basketball together. But sweet Mario stopped playing in order to hold Elena on his lap and calm her down. Throughout this trip, I was amazed at his nurturing skills. Maria has always amazed me with her empathy and nurturing skills but those skills were not at the top of Mario’s list in the past so it was good to see him be able to go nurture his skills. We obeyed Sarah’s directive to have Elena back by 7 pm to put her to bed.

Maria and Mario got the joy of reading her a couple of books and trying to get her to sleep. About 30 minutes later, Mario quietly descended the stairs and proclaimed that he gives up. “She just won’t go to sleep.” He left the job to Maria. And don’t you know, she eventually got the job done. Of course, she ended up falling asleep as well. But she did rise an hour later in order to chat with us and devour some pizza we bought. She knows she’s got to get to bed at a decent hour because the little one will be up at 6:30 am ready to go. And sure enough, you could hear her asking where Meemaw and Mario were before the sun rose. We got up, brushed teeth, put on some clothes, and got E in the stroller to head to Starbucks. We ate our sandwiches and headed off to Frick with the hopes it brought more joy after a full night of sleep. The slide was still a bit wet from the earlier rain but the kids still enjoyed it. We hung on the jungle gym and Elena loved having Meemaw and Mario sweep under her arms and glide her across the playground like she was a bird.

Monday with the only nice day predicted for the week so we decided to hit the Pittsburgh zoo. The joke while we were there was how many times we went by an animal habitat and there was no animal present. The kids had wanted to hit IKEA on Monday but I refused because it was going to be nice out, and I wanted us to get outside at least one day in Pittsburgh. Hence, they loved to find no animals in their habitats and rib me about it. Although there were less than the optimal number of animals out, the most important one was out: the monkey. That is the only animal Elena wanted to see. We also got to see a giraffe, elephants, and lots of pretty fish. I don’t know what Lanae enjoyed more – the monkeys or eating animal crackers at lunch. Of course Meemaw would not let Elena eat the crackers until she finished her grapes and peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Mario enjoyed laying down the rules as well. I think the lack of rules that Jon and I have instilled has made the kids want to enforce some (but only on others)! Heaven help their children…. Mario was dead tired by the time we left, which cracks me up, because the boy can play basketball for hours or wrestle for days. But you have him walking around the zoo and he complains that his thighs are killing him.

After the zoo, we headed to Whole Foods to get ingredients for dinner. Earlier that morning, Sarah had told us that we were on our own for the day and evening because she had to work and Jorge was in Philadelphia. Maria loved that. She was so excited about “playing house.”

I could not believe the prices at Whole Foods. We bought three zucchinis and they cost nine dollars – outrageous! As I was lamenting the cost, Mario grabbed a little chocolate pretzel out of one of the bulk bins. Elena caught him. She begged for him to get one with her. They both thoroughly enjoyed engaging in some sneaky maneuvers in order to get Elena a pretzel.

As soon as we arrived home and walked in the door, Maria was ready to cook. She told me to leave and take a walk – she had the house, and kids, handled (as if she was 20 years old). And sure enough, she and Mario handled everything perfectly. She made some kick butt zucchini muffins and started dinner while Mario played with Elena. I got to unwind with a walk in the park. Maria made a yummy pasta and spinach dinner for us, which warranted her a trip to Millie’s – her favorite Pittsburgh ice cream spot. It did not disappoint.

When we returned home, I had to jump on a call. When I walked into the living room, this is what I found….

To their credit, this only lasted for about 10 minutes, and then they were up and running around and playing “pioneers” together.

Mario called it quits for trying to put Elena to bed. However, Maria stood strong and succeeded in putting her to sleep a second night in a row. Rock star. The kids played Gin Rummy while I gave Sarah a massage. The next morning, it poured rain. I tried my hardest to get us to walk to Starbucks but I could not convince the kids. Once we started driving there, I was glad that they won. Rain was coming down in buckets. We sat in Starbucks and ate blueberry muffins and oatmeal.

The kids could not wait for our Tuesday adventure. We were finally heading to IKEA! You would think that Ikea was an amusement park the way they were acting. I had read on-line that they were hosting spring break activities at the store but that ended up being a coloring table for toddlers. But that was OK; the store itself provided entertainment. Besides, Maria and Elena really just came for the Swedish meatballs.

After IKEA, we hit to the Children’s Museum because it’s not a Menkedick trip unless you go non-stop for ten hours straight. I had debated on bringing bathing suits for the kids because I knew Elena would want to play in the water play area. But, alas, I had forgotten them. I figured Elena could still splash around in the area without getting too wet. Wrong. She wanted to go fill on under the sprinklers. You know Ri was right there with her caring less that her clothes were soaked. The surprise was with Mario who typically cannot stand getting one inch of his clothing wet. He not only ran under the sprinklers but he allowed Maria and Elena to dump water on his head (but not hear his shoes). to see him because you need to pack everything and it’s tight as possible! He did it all for Elena.

Mario also ended up enjoying the art area. He pooh-poohed it at first when Ri tried to get him to sit with her. He and I and Elena ended up at a table playing blocks for a while. But then he saw kids running their artwork through a drying machine and that intrigued him. I showed him one of Maria’s creations where she traced her initials and that sealed the deal. He ended up in the area for 45 minutes making three separate creations – one with his initials, one with the word “HI”, and one in tribute to his favorite basketball player, James Harden. It warmed my heart watching him and Ri. Elena was simply concerned about getting to the ice cream store. We had promised her ice cream after the museum.

The sendoff was bittersweet, as always. We bounced the ball with Elena out back for a while – she’s got some mad basketball dribbling skills. When we went inside to gather our belongings, she found a birthday invitation from her friend. It was the cutest thing ever. She danced around proclaiming that she’d been invited to a birthday party and then she asked all of us if we wanted to go with her. Darling girl. We did several group hugs and then took off squeezed in the Volvo. The ride home was long; we were all tired, It didn’t help that we filled our bellies with gas station food.

Once we got home, we felt a mixture of relief in being in our own beds but also sadness in missing our little munch. It’s like a tornado ripped through our lives for three days but it was a tornado filled with stardust and glitter and ballerina twirls.

Lockets, hash browns and pigs

I managed to get in a lunch with my girl and a zoo trip with my boy last week. I canceled another lunch with a girlfriend in order to surprise Ri because I felt so bad about how we started our day. I had come home from running in the early morning and Ri was standing in the kitchen bawling. I asked her what was the matter and she told me she lost her locket that she had gotten for her birthday a week earlier. At first, I was calm and told her to search her backpack. We talked about where it could have been lost. I thought she’d find it in her backpack so that soothed my emotions. When she didn’t, I proceeded to get a bit angry in my tone telling her she had to be more careful with things. Ok, maybe telling isn’t the correct verb. More like yelling. She bawled harder and ran upstairs. Ugh.

While she was crying to Jon, I found the locket in the pocket of her backpack. I called her downstairs and gave it to her. Then I hugged her. Then I told her I was sorry for raising my voice. Then I told her that I have to work on not getting so upset. Then I took a deep breath. She finally stopped crying and gained some composure before heading off to school, and I gained a big guilty chip on my shoulder the rest of the morning.

  
So I biked over to her school and surprised her for lunch. We walked to Stauf’s and got a bagel and hash browns. And we had a most enjoyable talk about what she wanted to do this Summer and what she’s liked most about fourth grade. As we walked back to school, I apologized again for getting upset with her. I explained there was a better way for me to teach her about taking greater care of things and that I didn’t want to raise my voice like I did. She did her Ri thing – flicked me in the arm and laughed and said it was ok – wanting to move onto a new topic. But I hope she got where I was coming from and values the open communication between us. We held hands on the way in to school (not long before that ends) and i gave her a gentle flick as she walked to class. The guilty chip fell off my shoulder as I biked back into work. 

  

The next day, I headed to the zoo with Mario. Jon took the first shift and I took the second. Mario was so excited to have Jon go with him; he was mildly happy to have me. Dad is the prized possession for sure. When I arrived, they were walking towards the cheetahs. Mario gave Jon a huge hug goodbye and told him he loved him – I can never get enough of that action. Then we raced towards the cheetahs. But we’d get about 500 feet and then have to stop to play (5 first grade boys – what else did I expect). 

  
We finally arrived at the African zone only to have ten kids walk by us yelling “you just missed the cheetah run!”  Ok, great, thanks. I wanted to pelt them in the head. Luckily, our boys were unphased. We still got to see the giraffes and hang out in a safari tent.

   
   

But best of all, Mario tracked down some pigs for me to see in the farm area. Big ol’ heifers laying around and snorting. Mario was so excited to find them for me.

  
Such a doll when he wants to be. We walked back to the front of the zoo to meet up with his class. Mario was charged up because they got to ride in a Coach bus since the yellow buses never came to pick them up. “It even has a bathroom in it” he exclaimed as I gave him a hug goodbye. Good reminder to me – appreciate the simple things in life.

Memorial Weekend Round-up

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Ri and I were short-term celebrities Memorial Day weekend when we got to walk in the Grandview parade. It took mad running around to find a truck for my girls to ride in Saturday morning but I found one and the girls had a blast throwing candy to folks lining the street. I had them whooping up “Go Reds” at every turn. And, we got a surprise visit from Grandma Lolo. She came up for Ri’s first game and joined in the parade with us.

Once we got to the field, the girls lined up and ran around the bases as their names were called. Half were charged up and the other half were scared too death (Ri was in the former, of course). Then mom and daughter got photographed by paparazzi.

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Maria went three for three in our first game. I was so excited for her! Jon and I were worried that she’d strike out and get all melancholy about softball (like she did in practice) but she cranked it (and then started to get cocky saying “the other team doesn’t hit that well…”). It was a blast watching the girls hit and go around the bases so elated to have actually hit the ball.

Mario rooted on his sis and when I asked what his favorite part of the day was he said “seeing Ria in the parade.” Darling.

Mom blessed us with gorgeous ceramic mushrooms for our yard when we got home from the game. I love walking out to them every morning. It was so nice having her experience the chaos of the game with us!

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Mom left in the afternoon and Jon’s kin drove up. We had his parents and brothers and niece over for a cookout. Ri is all about family – always has been. When I told the neighbor kids they could stop over in the evening, she scolded me “Mom, we have family over in the evening – we can’t have friends over, too!” She likes her family time. Patty made her potato salad and her chocolate truffle for the cookout. Double trouble. I will be wearing sweatpants for the next month.

By the time the family left at 9:45, I was dead to the world. My body was exhausted in so many ways and I could barely make it upstairs to bed. So what did we do on Sunday? Headed to the zoo with the neighbors! Why not just make it a completely insane weekend?!
However, I got to talk with Stephanie, another adult, while the kids played and that was a welcome activity.

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I think we saw a total of eight animals during the time we were there because we had to stop at each statute and play on it. But it wore them out so we dealt with it just fine. It is so wonderful to have kids three houses down the street that get along so great with Ri and Mario. They will be spending a large chunk of the Summer together, Zi am sure.

By Monday evening, Jon and I were spent. Ri had another game on Monday afternoon and Jon got just as involved as I did as coach. We left the game, had two of Ri’s friends over and hosted the neighbor kids for Mario. I told Ri and Mario that dad and I better be sainted for all we do for them.

They both rolled their eyes … but then jumped on us with big hugs. They know.

Mario my clown

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What other face can a boy exhibit when facing down a massive python?

This picture brought a huge smile to my face and reinforced in me the need to be silly in this life. Just let down your guard and let yourself laugh.

I can tend to be too contemplative at times thinking about the what we are going to do on the weekend, where I’m going to volunteer next, how we’re going to finish projects. It’s peaceful to let all of that go for even a minute and just fall over in laughter. Mario creates these moments for me with his antics. I’d be made of stone if I didn’t crack up at him.

I can’t wait to see what he comes up with at the gorilla exhibit.

It’s 90 degrees – why not head to the zoo?

Reminder to self: avoid zoo when it’s 90 degrees, humid and packed.

I had originally planned on the Katy Perry movie with Maria and her friend but that was yesterday when it looked like rain all day. There is something in me that just will not allow me to go to a movie theatre unless it’s pouring rain or unbearably hot. It didn’t seem unbearably hot when we biked over to pick up Janira so I asked if they’d rather hit the zoo. When they said yes, I ran with it. But after two hours of zoo walking and hardly any animal sights, I was kicking myself. Air conditioning, popcorn, Goober’s, and a movie sounded much better.

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The train was a nice break and we spotted a mama moose and her baby. Nothing like the thrill that Sarah and Jorge felt when they looked outside of their tent in Yellowstone and spotted moose in their natural habitat a couple of days ago but hey, we will take what we can get in Columbus. The girls
mostly loved all of the stone statutes throughout the zoo. Janira begged me to take their picture each time they climbed on one.

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We searched and searched after seeing the elephants in Asia Quest for the Dippin’ Dots stand – we were all craving that “ice cream”. It is a strange little food but the chunks of Oreos perked me up enough to walk back to the exit and out of the zoo. The girls found a photo booth on the way out and begged to get their photos. God, technology bums me out sometimes. I remember sitting in a photo booth with a girlfriend, inserting 50 cents, and having to create two or three poses immediately without knowing if both of your heads were in the picture or you looked ridiculous. When I swiped my Visa, it charged me $5 and then you got to adjust your faces perfectly and get your pose ready before the camera clicked. The girls knew no better and thought it was awesome but I waxed nostalgic about it as they waited for the pictures.

By the time three hours had passed, we were ready to hit the road. Unfortunately, so we’re the rest of the visitors who had been at the water park (thunder had closed the park). Perfect timing. Nothing like jamming your body next to other sweaty, unknown bodies. Between that and the heat, I’m lucky I didn’t go off once. The girls were really good, though, which helped keep my nerves calm!

Jon, meanwhile, took Mario to Grandma Ionno’s house for a few nights of sleepover. He’s only been asking about going for six days now. When he woke this morning, he beamed when he realized this was the day! He loves him some grandma and grandpa time!

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Don’t leave us, Autumn

We are getting down to the last few weekends where you can still go outside in a sweatshirt and shorts (or jeans for those cold-blooded folks), view a few remaining leaves on the trees, and feel the warmth of the sun on your face.  I can’t stand to be inside on these weekends because I know in a very short period of time, I will be relegated to the house staring out the windows at the bleak, frigid, bare-treed world. 

The cousins ready for a train ride

We woke up on Sunday to a balmy 59 degrees (most mornings nowadays are in the high 30s) and I over-bundled the troops for our morning stroller ride.  We hit Giant Eagle for something different and its close proximity to CVS where I needed to develop pictures.  Jon and I bought a picture frame collage when we bought our new furniture for the house a few months ago and the frame has a bunch of different sized frames that look really cool in the spur of the moment.  However, once you get home and are forced to fill 2.5 x 3.5 and 4×4 and 3x 3.5 it is a different story.  I think I have spent  over 4 hours at CVS trying to correctly develop pictures to fit in the frames.  It is driving me batty.  And yet I won’t give up (although I did feel like throwing the collage frame out the second story window one night at 1 am).  But I digress…

Mario got a chocolate muffin and Maria got a chocolate sprinkle donut at Giant Eagle (Mario said “Why do you get chocolate donuts when you don’t like chocolate?!” Maria’s response “I like chocolate donuts – who wouldn’t?!).  After Giant Eagle and CVS, we headed home reading Berenstein Bears Moving Day.  Yes, I stroll them and read them a book held by Maria who does a great job turning the pages and holding it just right so I can read the words.  As we approached home and the sun peered through the few remaining leaves of the big oak trees, I decided that I would brave it and see if my niece and nephew wanted to head to the zoo with us.  My sister-in-law agreed to let them go and Maria and Mario screamed with excitement. 

Having fun on a statute

We got home and packed pretzels, raisins, and fruit roll ups for the trip.  We grabbed the library movies we had rented earlier in the week, and we were off to Hilliard to pick up M&M’s cousins.  We packed everyone in the truck, fastened seat belts, and headed north to zoo land.  I thank the heavens that I only have two kids but if I had four, I would be able to crank it out.  I packed those kids in the car in less than a minute and that’s with buckling seat belts, too.  I have become a pro. 

We arrived at a quiet zoo with parking close to the entrance.  When we entered, everyone grabbed a map and began to review as if they knew what they were reviewing.  We decided to head to the Petting Zoo first.  Of course, it was closed.  The barn was open so you could see the goats but it’s not the same as being in the pen with them.  We decided to head to the North American region and come back to the Petting Zoo. 

Watching the polar bear

One of the coolest sites of the day was the polar bear exhibit where you can go underground and watch the polar bears dive into the water to play or catch fish.  Two polar bears jumped in while we stood underground, and the kids got to witness them playing and swimming around in the water.  They were darling.  We tried to hit a playground after the polar bears but it was closed, too.  The kids were upset and began with the whiny complaints (“This zoo is awful…”).  I explained to them how lucky they were to be able to come to the zoo and how a lot of kids don’t even get that opportunity.  Maria understood it immediately but the rest of them failed to comprehend at all.  Nonetheless, we continued on to the bobcats, pumas, and moose and their minds were promptly diverted to how cool those animals looked. 

The metal statutes were a big hit for the kids.  They loved to climb on them and swing from them.  We hit one of those at almost every new geographical location.  The bird sanctuary was a bigger hit than I thought it would be.  They searched for birds throughout the sanctuary and when they found one they made a mad dash to the chart to see what kind of bird it was.  After the bird sanctuary, we hit another playground and it was closed, too.  This even pissed me off. I get that they close the playground areas at a specified time each year but really, on a day that is 60 degrees?  More disappointment on their faces when I told them it was closed.  I think it was disappointment and exhaustion from walking for two and a half hours.  Tension began to rise in the two groups of siblings, also.  Giovanni had found a feather and Mario wanted to touch it.  Gio refused.  Mario begged.  He still refused.  At that point, Maria walked up to him and pointed her finger scolding him about how selfish he was being and how he needed to learn to share.  Alana hurried up to defend her brother and tell Maria to leave him alone.  Maria proceeded to tell Alana that Mario would not share his toys with Gio if Gio continued to act selfish.  Alana said that Gio didn’t care.  And yes it kept going just like that for another minute or two before I interjected.  What would spark up 4 and 6 year olds after an exhausting day at the zoo?  McDonald’s Playland!  Let’s go kids!  

Tunnel Fun

My kids are used to the Playland because of our trips to and from Cincy where the McDonald’s Playland acts as a rest stop half way in between Columbus and Cincy.  Their cousins are not used to McDonald’s Playland because their parents do not frequent such establishments.  Aunt Mary is a lot different from Aunt Carrie.  I could care less about the dangers of such playlands – germs are good for kids in order to build up tolerance.  Heck, I never worried about germs as a kid and I turned out healthy.  But Aunt Carrie is polar opposite.  I am sure it sickens her to think about playing at McDonald’s.  I respect her for that – I sometimes I wish I had a little more of her style in me – but if the kids are with me, we will head to these types of places because they are cheap and the kids like them.  Heck, they spent a half hour running around and exhausting themselves so that when 9 pm came that night, they should have been out cold (Maria was knocked out; Mario was just getting a second wind). 

Finally, we ended up at Joann Fabrics to look for vases and flowers for the house.  I could not believe how good the kids were at that place.  They had every opportunity to run all around the store when I was looking at flowers, but they stayed by my side or within earshot of me.  I was very impressed, and because I was so impressed, I let them each buy a little something.  They helped me select flowers for the dining room and tried to find me some artwork for the room.  Nothing would do the trick so I made an impulse last-minute buy of two flower pictures.  I got them home and decided against them immediately.  Oh well.  I do like the flowers we bought. 

We got home at 6 pm and helped Jon with the remainder of the garage cleaning.  He had worked on clearing out the garage while we went to the zoo – no small task since we threw every piece of junk and unnecessary item in the garage when we moved into the house.  To my surprise, after we were done, he asked if we wanted to go to Bob Evans.  Heaven.  I had been craving their pancakes for weeks.  We loaded up and headed down to Bob’s for pancakes and dinner rolls with butter and mashed potatoes.  Thanks, Mother Nature for giving us such a beautiful Autumn day.

Boo at the Zoo

Maria and her goat

I had heard from a few friends that the zoo has a fun “Boo at the Zoo” event in honor of the Halloween season.  I thought Maria and Mario would enjoy it since we had not been to the zoo for a year and they would be able to not only see the animals but gather treats at all of the treat stations.  I was right. 

Mario and his goat

We got to the zoo at 10:30 in the morning thinking that we would leave by 1 or so in order to get a nap later in the afternoon.  We left at 5:30 pm.  The kids had a blast in their costumes (especially Mario who strutted up to anyone who glanced at him and shouted “Spiderman!”).  The weather could not have been nicer.  We got the treat of seeing a polar bear dive into the water right in front of us.  A mama and baby elephant fed on hay together.  A huge rhino walked by us.  The kids petted a snake (they could not wait to come home and describe the event to dad who is not fond of snakes)!  We even found the barn and petting zoo.  The petting zoo had a score of baby goats for the kids to pet and comb.  Maria loved combing and brushing the babes.  She has got the most gentle demeanor around babies – human or animal.  Mario liked their tiny poop pebbles thinking they “looked cool.”

Maria and her baby elephant

We watched the bats being fed in the bat cage (bananas and apples) and my observant Maria noticed three little white bats at the corner of the room that looked like newborn babies (or it could have been a different species of bat).  Nonetheless, Maria again proves that she is like her father – able to see the tiniest of things that most people overlook in their hurried lives.  She makes me breathe and slow down.  Unfortunately, we went to the reptile house next so I slowed down to see the snakes and lizards. 

We ate a healthy lunch of zoo pizza, hot dog and french fries at the Zoo Eatery.  While we were eating, they played a clip about Africa and Mario perked up “That is where mom wants to go, Ria!”  I have dreamed of Africa since seeing “Out of Africa” with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford years ago.  The land reeks of beauty and depth and richness.  I love Alexandra Fuller’s books of her childhood in Africa.  Something about that country penetrates me.

Spiderman heading down the slide

After filling ourselves to the brim with grease, we headed off to the zoo playland, which both kids surprisingly enjoyed (usually one of them gets bored quickly).  Maria played mother hen to Mario watching his every step and guiding him in the correct direction when he veered awry.  At one point, some older boy began to push his way by Mario to get through a tunnel, and I saw Maria take the boy’s arm and thrust him back.  Little does Mario know how his sister protects him and has his back.  I have a feeling this protective sister will remain throughout his life (watch out girls). 

Super Girl heading down the slide

We ended our visit by petting a rat and hugging Biscuit and Gravy from Bob Evans (yes, the kids knew who they were – that is a bad sign!).   I allowed each of them to get something little from the gift shop – Maria got a stuffed animal penguin that we named Pipi and Mario got two plastic cheetahs.  On the drive home, Maria wrapped Pipi up in her Super Girl cape and told Pipi how happy she would be at her new home.  Mario smashed his new cheetahs together and made them kill each other the entire way home. 

I got home and sat on the couch.  M&M soon huddled over to me wanting to continue to play.  As I tickled their feet and smothered them with kisses, I thought to myself “this is a perfect day.”  I wish I could bottle that feeling up and open it up when I need it (like tonight when I am fighting a bunch of deadlines and trying to get everything together).   I am working hard on changing my thinking when I start to go down this path of worry and anxiousness.   This weekend, I could have been in a worried, anxious, irritable state based on some situations at work.  But I knew I needed to change my thinking from worried/anxious to grateful in order to keep me up on the mood elevator, and keep me enjoying the weekend with my family. 

Maria was not lcosing her eyes because she was scared of the snake!

There were times I slipped and started down the worrisome path, but each time I caught myself and guided my thinking back to grateful (look at these awesome kids of mine, look at my kind hubby, look at my great family and network of friends…).  When I can find grateful, I can find stability and peace.  And I can go to bed at night just a little more uplifted and hopeful of what is to come (which tomorrow is more Halloween candy so yippee!!!).

Mario braving it!