Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Outing

It is our family tradition to go to the Museum Center while Kevin is off of work during the holidays. Usually we go to the Tower to watch the real trains hard at work behind Union Terminal, but it was closed the day we went. We spent most of the day looking at the holiday train display and the kids all rode the train ride.

This was such a neat year for Meredith. People make such a big fuss over a baby's first Christmas, but I think the second Christmas is the best. She was absolutely in awe over all the decorations, lights and train displays!

I'm sure you can see her delight in riding in the caboose with Louie!

Afterward, the kids went to the construction zone play area; the ball room; and ran up and down in the tree house room for quite a while. Soon, it was time to leave. That time that Daddy is off between Christmas and the New Year goes way too fast...

En Garde!

Aunt Joanie and Uncle Josh got the boys swords for Christmas and it was really funny a few days after Charlie and Meredith broke out into sword fighting. They kept chasing each other around the house using pretty good form, I thought.

For all the fighting these two do, they really are the best of friends.

More Christmas Cheer!

In the afternoon we headed over to my parents. My siblings usually have something going on with their other side, so we try to get together for a little bit to have brunch, exchange gifts and let the kids spend time together.

Meredith and Gracie got matching outfits, complete with these incredibly soft coats.

Miss Maggie didn't spend much time awake, but we were happy to have her there (she was only 25 days old by then!).

Charlie became the third brother to get his own "Wonderboy" bat. He's excited to use it in his T-Ball league.

One of the favorite gifts of the day: Wack-a-Mole.

Each of the grandkids got their own Zhu-Zhu pet. Rudi wasn't overly excited about this one.

Merry Christmas!

Santa had a big surprise for the kids on Christmas morning. He hangs a white sheet in the stairway to signal that he's visited the house, but also to ward off any peeking. At just a few minutes before 8am (thankfully!) the boys awoke and were hanging out at the top of the steps. Kevin and I got our coffee, got the camera, got Meredith and let them loose.

Except, there weren't any gifts in the living room like there normally are. All that was there was a plate of mostly eaten cookies and an almost empty glass of milk. The looks on these kids' faces was of complete shock. But there was also a letter. Santa told the kids that as he was peeking around our house he saw that we had finished our basement and wanted to put gifts down there because that's probably where they'd be playing with them. Smart guy.

Downstairs, the "fireplace" was roaring and there were three gifts for each of the kids, just like Santa's last letter had said he'd leave. Three gifts, like the Three Kings: something to wear, something to read and something to play with, which is what Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh was for Jesus, right?

All the kids got a Reds shirt: Meredith, this cute capped sleeve top that looks like a girl's shirt without being pink; and the boys each got a shirt with their last name on the back, but with their favorite player's number (Lou = #27, Scott Rolen; Ben = #4 Brandon Phillips; and Charlie = #31 Jonny Gomes). They were a hit! (Sorry about the pun.)

How much fun is it that '80s toys are popular again? The boys were pumped for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. These are so different from when I was a kid--the turtles are leaner and more ripped. Meredith got a whole playset of doll stuff: crib, stroller, diaper bag and accessories, high chair, and a baby doll.

Santa also left a "family gift" of air hockey. This has gotten lots of use! Charlie has improved his skills so much that he can beat Kevin fairly easily.

For the "reading" portion of the gift, Meredith got a favorite of mine and, as it turns out, one Lou and Ben love listening to at school: Where the Sidewalk Ends. Charlie got a book about a little race car and part of the book is a race track that folds out and has a track that a mechanical car can race on. Louie and Benny both got a book of "1000 things to do" including crafts, drawing tips and a section with 3-D drawing, complete with glasses!

This is the first year Santa has brought the "Three Kings Gifts." We talked a lot about how Christmas is Jesus's birthday and not all about Santa, which they knew but it was good to reinforce, telling the stories around Jesus's birth. The letters Santa wrote to the kids were neat, and I think it helped their understanding of what the holiday is all about. They also were very excited in the "giving" part of Christmas this year. They each made gifts for each other, which I'll post more about later.

One of our favorites

The Night Before Christmas

My dad is one of six kids and on Christmas Eve the siblings take turns hosting the gathering. A big part of the evening is taking pictures. It's almost impossible to get everyone looking the same direction, as there are about 19 cameras flashing at you. This is the best one of our immediate family, taken by Uncle Hog.

There are many combinations of pictures taken and a lot of chaos ensues around the photo shoot. Below is a shot of what happened as we were waiting for Billy and Lisa to show up. You can see who the "good" ones are, ready for any photographer who wants their picture.

And here is our current family. Changes from 2009: Baby Maggie has made her debut and Billy has asked Lisa to be an aunt for our kids. Something like that.

This is my favorite picture from the holidays. The epitome of what it was like for many kids at Christmastime. Poor Mere. Yes, poor Mere, but I just laughed. Too funny. We have pictures and videos of my siblings and cousins doing the same thing.

Kevin holding his two best girls: his goddaughter, Gracie, and his little princess, Meredith.

Uncle Jeff Comes to Town

Uncle Jeff lives in DC and while he's back in Ohio for the holidays always makes a point to come down to spend time with the kids. What a great uncle! What makes him so great is that he went out and helped the boys make a snowman (actually, they informed me that it is a "scaresnow" kind of like a scarecrow). People like him deserve a special place in heaven for allowing parents to stay inside, warm and toasty, so they don't have to go out and get cold and wet!

Trip to the Hall of Fame

We wanted to make the most out of Daddy's time off of work and planned a full schedule. One of our favorite things on the list was visiting the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum has so much interactive exhibits, so it's just perfect for our family of little kids. Even though the boys know many of the Reds players, past and present, they'd rather do the fun stuff like the speed pitch, going in the "dugout" and watching bloopers in a mock "rec room," personally my favorite part.

Here the boys learned how to announce a Reds game like Marty and Joe. Fortunately, we were the first ones in that morning so they didn't hurt the ears of the fans outside "the booth." They got pretty excited!

I told Meredith to go run in excitedly with the players, but she's a hugger and grabbed this statue's leg.

The year of celebrating the 1990 World Series team is coming to a close. Kevin and I were excited to show the kids all the memorabilia from the wire to wire season; point out our favorite players; and we even got to watch the movie in the theater in a "private viewing!"

Thanks Aunt Joanie!!

Christmas Art

I like this :)

Benny says "I went to the museum" in this picture. He told me that he made the monster a coffee cup, but didn't have time to make a table. It currently resides in Aunt Joanie's cube.



Not sure why it's upside down, but it's Louie's

Wow, another one. Louie's Three Wise Men

Louie made the long snowman and Benny made the short.

Benny's candy cane

Louie's drawing--they learned about holidays around the world, which is where the Mexican flag came from. I think.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Candy Cane Bandit

As in years past, our tree is decorated only about the top three-fourths to guard against little ones' fingers. Surprisingly, Meredith hasn't touch many of the ornaments, or even the tree. This child has sticky fingers for (and because of) the candy canes. She somehow gets a hold of them (go-go Gadget legs?) and has figured out how to take the plastic wrapper off. More amazing, she likes peppermint. Not many babies I know like that flavor, but she also likes asparagus, shrimp and tomatoes, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.

Christmas, Part I

Friday marked the day that we started our Christmas celebration by heading north to Grandma and Grandpa H's house. The kids dove into all the things to do there and Kevin and I got to hang out with the big people. The kids wore themselves out and crashed and we went to bed quite a bit after that. I was awoken in the middle of the night by some screaming. The kind of screaming that is only associated with bewildered nausea, that's right, vomiting.

Apparently the bug hadn't left our family yet and Benny threw up on the air mattress he and Lou were sharing. Amazingly enough not only did Louie sleep through it, but he also didn't roll into it. My kids are not still while they sleep. I cleaned Benny up and put both he and Lou on couches, making sure to put a bowl right next to him!

The next day was much better, and even thought Ben was more lethargic than usual, everyone had a good day. We had good food, listened to good music and enjoyed each other's company, which is what it's all about, isn't it?

Mere is so smart she can read upside down!

Many, many hours of fun to come with these.

The boys have a habit of dressing like Uncle Nick.
Good thing he's a pretty cool guy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


On December 4th we had a holiday gathering with Kevin's dad's family. This year it was decided we would combine Thanksgiving and Christmas and meet on this date to celebrate. It was such a nice day. Kevin's aunt and uncle live in southern Indiana, so it wasn't too bad of a drive. They had a litter of Jack Russells, so you can imagine how excited the boys were! Meredith, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the puppies! I was so surprised. She loves animals and absolutely adores dogs. Apparently, she doesn't like baby dogs. The ones she likes are gigantic, like Zissou, Bullet, Bubba and Moses. If you don't know who they are take my word for it, they are LARGE.

Anyway, my point in telling you this is because as the day went on Benny crawled up into my lap (clue #1, as he likes to run and play, not cuddle), and he felt warmer and warmer as he sat on my lap (clue #2). He was running a fever and developed a terrible cough.

From then until today we have been going back and forth with illnesses: coughing, fever, vomiting. They haven't missed school all this time. Some days they were completely fine, but I guess the bug never fully left. It went through one and all, and although Kevin and I haven't felt 100 per cent, we haven't been as bad as the kids.

One highlight that I have to share with you was after my Grandpa's funeral. The kids seemed under the weather but not too bad. Lou definitely didn't give any signs that he was sick. We had so many nice desserts and other food items that people gave for the reception after the burial. Lou decided he'd like to have a slice of red velvet cake.

The next morning (early morning) I woke to him screaming. He had thrown up all over his room. Red. It looked like...well, I'll let you imagine. And this was after I had been telling people that I was lucky because Lou was at the point where he made it to the toilet. Ha! I jinxed myself.

Yesterday we hit our breaking point. Or, I should say, it started the night before. Meredith was cranky all evening and we couldn't figure out why. I was sitting with Louie at the kitchen table, working on his homework, when she clued us in. Puke. Everywhere. On her, on me, on the rug, on the floor. It smelled like Kings Island, when you walk by the LaRosa's shop (I need to let it be known that I really like LaRosa's pizza, but for some reason at Kings Island it smells awful). The next morning (I guess this was Wednesday), Benny woke up not feeling well and eventually threw up. Charlie wasn't going to be left out of the mix.

Fortunately, we have been granted a snow day today. It is allowing us all to take it easy and get well before going to back tomorrow (hopefully!) to have our Christmas parties at school. I guess I should be thankful that this is happening this week rather than next!

Maybe I should have highlighted this post at the beginning as not being for weak stomachs--sorry about that!

Victorian Village

Most years, my parents take the kids to a local business who puts on a very impressive holiday event, a Victorian Village. This year, with Grandpa's passing and all the arrangements, they weren't able to and so Kevin and I were able to go with them instead.

We really lucked out with the weather! It was about 40-degrees when we went, as opposed to the low teens and single digits it had been earlier in the week. We went with hats and gloves, but waiting in the long line to see Santa wasn't as impossible as I worried it would be.

It's so much fun with Meredith this year! She loves the lights and the decorations, and actually squealed when she peered into the tiny houses decorated for Christmas by the elves. I wish I had a video camera to show you how excited she was! I can't wait until the days around the 25th when we get together with family. Maybe I'll be able to take a few seconds of video to share.

They have about 8-10 houses that the employees built for the village, small enough just for kids. The first one you come to, you write a letter to Santa. Some are just so you can peek in to see the decorations. Others, you get a candy cane, hot chocolate (which is very good!), and a cookie.

They have a couple of people doing balloon hats, as seen above. There's a stable with a "reindeer" inside. The setting is so nice, with bridges going over a creek and Christmas carols being played on speakers.

We waited in line for Santa a bit longer than it took to get through the rest of the village. Like I said, it could have been a lot worse if it was colder! The kids all rehearsed what they were going to ask Santa. I think Benny might have been the only one to speak up. Maybe Lou, but Charlie and Meredith screamed at the sight of the bearded man. Kevin had to hold Meredith so that she would be in the picture!

The "small" house where Santa was waiting for us. It was deceptive because it looked just like all the other tiny buildings in the village, but when the door opens there are lots of people in there! We were given a very nice photo of the kids, just as nice as you'd get at a mall, but for free--even better! And all the company asks for is a donation of canned goods. It really is a nice event.

I changed the color to sepia because with all the unsmiling faces, it reminded me of back in the day when they took pictures and the exposure would take so long that no one was smiling by the time the photograph was taken. Just go with me on this one...

My Grandpa

Below I posted the eulogy I gave at my Grandpa's funeral this past Saturday. It was an honor to speak about someone who was such an influence in my life.

On Monday, December 6th, Grandpa had a stroke in a parking lot, fell, hit his head and in the following days slowly slipped away. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the day in the hospital with him on Wednesday. Although he wasn't conscious, it was nice to be able to be by his side, reading, talking, and watching him sleep peacefully.

Grandpa had a special relationship with my kids, and for that I feel extremely blessed.

I have hopes to update you on other areas of what's been going on in Casa Llena, so please check in the following days for posts before and after the eulogy.

Rest in peace, Grandpa. June 1, 1919 - December 9, 2010


Good Morning.

Three years ago I started a project. Once a week, my Mom and Grandpa would come to my house for lunch and afterward I would put my boys down for a nap. Mom, Grandpa and I would sit in my living room and I would ask Grandpa questions about his life, all while a video camera was recording.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to do this because my Grandpa could be a man of few words. The interview I did was mostly chronological, and at the beginning it was difficult to get words out of him, not because these memories were from so long ago, but because it wasn’t easy to talk about them. He was born in the summer of 1919 and grew up during some tough times for our country. Grandpa grew up a “city boy” living in the downtown areas of Camp Washington, Northside and Covington, KY. He told the story of how during the Depression his mom sent him down to the corner grocery with a paper sack and ten cents and told him to make sure it was filled up.

He and his friends would play baseball in between the buildings in the sandlots. They would also catch a street car heading over to Crosley Field, hoping to get a chance to see the Cincinnati Reds play baseball.

While he lived in a tenement building in Northside one of the things he loved doing with his mom was planting flowers. This struck me because as many of you know Grandpa was a master with plants. Flowers, vegetables, any kind of plant--he taught himself how to grow from seed and had them thrive. I can barely keep a poinsettia alive through the Christmas season and he kept one alive for an entire year. To think that this love of plants had its beginning in his humble background!

But it was an accidental early finding of a Christmas present from his mother Hilda that probably had the biggest impact on his life. He told the story of how he stumbled upon a BB gun in his house and he would come home from school at lunchtime to shoot it while his mother was at work, then neatly put it back in the box and its hiding place waiting for Christmas morning.

This BB gun sparked what turned out to be a lifelong love affair with nature, hunting and fishing. He was an avid duck hunter, even belonging for many years to “Ducks Unlimited” because he wanted to preserve ducks and geese and their natural habitat. He used to say that when he hunted you couldn’t find a duck or a goose with a “search warrant” in this area. Now you can’t go anywhere without seeing way too many ducks and geese crossing roads, city parks and golf courses. I guess his mission was accomplished by preserving these creatures, but after hearing him tell the stories of not seeing a duck or goose while he hunted it’s kind of sad because nowadays he would have a field day.

But in typical Grandpa-fashion, not seeing many ducks when he hunted didn’t bother him much because he just loved being out in nature. His thirst for knowledge was such that even though he didn’t see much of what he was hunting for, he did recognize many types of trees, plants and other animals, and if he didn’t he’d go to the library to look it up.

Grandpa had an 8th grade education and yet he was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He married Grandma in 1941, was in the Navy during World War II, and worked at General Electric and various places doing tool and dye work. While at GE he one of his jobs was to create the transport for a nuclear jet engine, this a man with limited education! In 1979 he retired and my Grandma passed away in 1981. For many people, life slows down after retiring and a spouse passes away.

Not true for Grandpa. While I was interviewing him, I distinctly remember him smiling more, opening up more about his life. He lived for 31 years after he retired. He took trips, volunteered, and was active in his grandkids’ lives. His dear friend Elizabeth was a companion of his for many outings. I know they enjoyed going to performances at Music Hall, seeing plays and their weekly dinner night.

This is the Grandpa that I knew, the one who built bird houses and put them up in state parks; who enjoyed fishing; who hunted, until he decided he didn’t want to kill anymore. He would cook for us, often using what meat he got from hunting. He deceived us kids by serving spaghetti with meat sauce, true “mystery” meatloaf, and most recently, although not from a hunting trip, he made “Bunny Balls” for one of our Jungle Jim days.

Grandpa was in tune with nature and I remember him stopping me from picking a flower on one of our hikes. He told me that I should leave it there so that the next person has a chance to see it. He loved flying kites and would build them from kits, then take my siblings and me to a park to fly them. One of his favorite places to go was the Krohn Conservatory and although it changes very little, each visit he would take his time, slowly going through each exhibit.

It is in nature that I believe Grandpa was closest to God. He was sure to pass that love of nature and God to his children and his grandchildren. We came to understand that God works His miracles through the wonders of nature.

Something that will always stick with me was how Grandpa knew something about just about everything and he was completely self-educated. He always wanted to learn more about the world. The latest technology failed to intimidate him, as he was well-versed in the world wide web. He loved to read and loved reading about history—whether it was local, American, world, or sports history—specifically baseball history and trivia.

He loved sports and was an avid golfer, playing on a weekly basis up until last year. He may have quit playing because my Mom started beating him on occasions. He was the number one fan for my Dad’s baseball team, even traveling to Florida to root them on at the Roy Hobbs World Series.

He cared deeply for his family, wanting to be involved in their lives. He loved the many times he and Uncle Paul used to go out on Lake Erie in Uncle Paul’s sail boat, as well as the trips he took with Uncle Paul and Alex to Nova Scotia and to Acadia National Park in Maine.

He made a point to be involved in his grandkids’ lives taking us on outings and some of us on trips. Once he took me, my brothers and sister to Kings Island by himself. We were really young and I don’t remember much about the rides, but what I do remember is leaving the park when it started raining and probably the most upset I’ve seen him when he couldn’t find his car and had four small children following him around in circles.

He and Billy went to the Rose Bowl one year and the next year he went with Joe. Grandpa was never afraid to try new things—Joanie and Mom accompanied him on a special 80th birthday trip to go white water rafting in the New River. Mom was so worried Grandpa would flip out of the raft and it ended up being her to plunge into the water instead.

In recent years he would not only keep close ties to his grandkids, he also entered into a new and special relationship with his great-grandkids. Going to their school and sports functions kept him young at heart.

If there is one thing Grandpa taught all of us over the years is: no matter what hand we are dealt in life, you can always make it into something special with the right attitude and the will to succeed. Ending the video, I asked him if there was one thing he’d like us all to remember. His response was “to always keep God in your life.”

Grandpa lived—truly lived for all of his 33, 429 days. This self-made man loved the life that God gave him and devoted his days to thinking of others and living a simple life. For Grandpa, things kept getting better as life went on. He was the “American Dream.” He lived his dream. He was a hero to us all.

Grandpa, you will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The 1st of December was covered with snow...

...and a new baby was on the way!

Magnolia Jean, otherwise known as "Maggie" was born on December 1, 2010. This is the picture Joe texted me from the hospital. We're so excited to have another girl in the family. In a matter of a couple years, the girl grandkids have caught up with the boys!

Miss Maggie was born at 11:04am, weighing 7 pounds and 14 ounces. I think she was 21 inches, but I'm not sure if that's true or if I'm just assuming because aren't all babies born at 20-21 inches?

Congrats to Joe, Erin and big sister Gracie! We're so happy to have an addition to our family!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks

For our house, it is obvious what we are grateful for on Thanksgiving: our family. We start the day off by meeting up with aunts, uncles and cousins at the local bowling alley for a tournament. Louie won the grade school division and luckily Mommy didn't bring home the two trophies she did last year (a. worst score; b. most gutter balls)!

(The pics at the bowling alley were taken with my phone because I forgot the camera.)

The kids had their own lane with the bumpers up, but it still takes some effort to get many pins down. McKenzie and Ava joined in the fun with the boys, but Meredith, Gracie and Thomas sat out this year.

Grade school division winner, Louie, with Uncle Hog and Benny

Uncle Joe, adult men's winner with Gracie the kids

Sweet, adorable, Thomas, perfect as usual, just hanging out.

Woo-hoo! A changing of the guard! Usually the men's division is won by my dad or an uncle, and the women's division is usually won by a girl cousin who played in high school. Congrats to Joe and Kasi!

Back at Mom and Dad's, Mere and Gracie chillin' with their babies.