My First Friends, My Cousins

19. It’s not the number of my old soccer jersey. 19 isn’t my house address. It’s not my lucky number. 19 is how many grandchildren my grandparents Gino and Millie had. They had six children, all of whom got married and created 19 total grandchildren. Those grandchildren have created 41 great grand children (two more on the way). We all still get together for holidays and special events at each other’s homes. It’s crazy, loud and overcrowded but I love it.

cam wedding

My cousin Tony and his beautiful wife Cam’s wedding.

We lost our grandparents in 1992, my senior year of high school. It was pretty devastating for me. Luckily they visit me in my dreams a lot. When things get really hard I will ask them (in my head) to visit me. Sometimes it takes days or even weeks but they always show up. The dreams are always happy and usually have a very clear message. I’ve been begging for a visit for the last week or so. It hasn’t happened yet but I know they will show up soon. Our family lost someone in late February for the first time since 1992. We lost my uncle Paul, who was also my God Father. His passing hit all of us very hard. He was too young, only in his 60’s, and a great man but it was more than that. We will miss him dearly but it was also a dose of reality. We are going to lose family members and that sucks.

grandma and grandpa

Grandpa Gino and Grandma Millie

But this post isn’t really about loss as much as it is about what we have. 19. Although there is probably at least a 15 year age difference between the oldest grand kid and the youngest, we all grew up together. I spent hours and hours playing with the cousins closer to my age and hours on end babysitting the others.

cousins

12 of the 19 at Christmas a few years ago.

I’ve been dragged by my ponytail down a hallway, locked in a closet while babysitting and witnessed the collapse of an 8,000 gallon above ground pool with probably 15 kids in it and another 10 nearby (a whole other blog post). There’s been broken bones, trashed houses, heads slammed in windows over Kool-Aid and so much more. It might sound crazy to you but I wouldn’t change a thing!

There has also been a lot of play dates, sleepovers, weddings, birthdays and holidays that were absolutely amazing. The 19 of us aren’t just cousins, we are friends. The girls, who are greatly outnumber, have done girl trips and fun nights out. We get together the first Saturday in December every year for what we call “Ravioli Night.” Sixty to seventy of us gather at my aunt and uncle’s home to make homemade ravioli, a family tradition. We make some to eat that night and freeze the rest to eat on Christmas Eve when we all come together again. The adults are definitely outnumbered by all the great grand kids ranging from only a few weeks old to 22. It’s complete and utter chaos… and fantastic!

ravioli night 2017

A few of the great grandchildren at Ravioli Night

cam shower

A family bridal shower.

We celebrate each other every chance we get. Two of the 19 have moved away for jobs but the rest of us live within about a 10 minute radius. We take care of each other’s kids and each other when needed. And really, it’s not just the 19 of us. In our family, there seems to be no generation gap once you hit a certain age. The adult cousins are on the same level as the 60 something old aunts and uncles, which is awesome because we have all become friends as well. Our spouses were all in for a shock when they first started coming around but they are integrated into the madness of a large family now as well. All of us always have each other’s backs.

italian fest

Trying to get a family photo at the Newport Italian Fest.

I was reminded just how much we take care of each other when my uncle got sick in February and then after he passed. I wouldn’t change my big, loud, crazy Italian family for anything in the world. The 19 of us are so lucky to have each other and we are lucky to have so many loving children, aunts, uncles and of course our parents.

Antiquing in Ohio

My friend Amy and I were suppose to go on a weekend trip to Antique Alley in Richmond, Indiana but a foot of snow ruined those plans. So we improvised and created our own antique trail.

We started the day at Antiques Village in Dayton, Ohio, which is only about an hour drive from my suburb right across the river from Cincinnati. This 800,000 square-foot mall has over 350 booths. I have never seen so much Pyrex in one location and it was all reasonably priced.

pyrex

This booth had mostly Pyrex. Several other booths had Pyrex as well.

Every booth was setup so that we could easily move through it an see all of the merchandise. It took nearly two hours to walk through the entire antique mall. We loved seeing the old toys, furniture, games, decorations and albums. It was like taking a walk down memory lane. Although we really enjoyed seeing everything in the mall we only made one purchase since we both live by the theory of if I don’t have a specific place or use for it, I’m not buying it.

ornament

Amy purchased this fun ornament for only a few dollars.

Next we had lunch right down the street from the antique mall at Chappy’s Social House. We chose this strictly based on location but we’re so happy with the choice. We both got a shrimp po boy and cheesy mashed potato casserole. The french bread is from Sam’s and amazing. The mashed potatoes are homemade and seriously delicious.

lunch

Lunch at Chappy’s

Our next stop was the Ohio Valley Antique Mall on Dixie Highway in Fairfield. This mall features 550 dealers in the 85,000 square foot mall. This mall is also fantastic but some of the booths are overcrowded making it hard to see everything. We spent at least 2.5 hours here. We did leave with a few more items though.

Amy chose the game because she had fond memories of playing it at her grandmother’s. One of my husband’s favorite movies is Pinocchio and he loves listening to records. He will enjoy sharing this with our 3-year-old granddaughter. I bought the old valentines to decorate with. We both spent less than $15.

You would think all of this shopping would be enough but we weren’t finished yet. We headed to the Valley Thrift just down the street from the Ohio Valley Antique Mall. Amy found a cute bag of gnomes to decorate her plants with for only a few dollars.

gnomes

Even though our legs were tired we made on more stop at the nearby Goodwill on Dixie Highway. I bought an adorable Minnie Mouse helmet, that looks as if it was never used, for $4, for my granddaughter to use at our house when she rides her bike with the neighbor kids. I also got my daughter a nice hoodie for just a few dollars.

minnie mouse

We decided 10 hours of shopping was enough and finally headed home. We actually discussed spending the next day on the Kentucky side of the river hitting the Fort Thomas and Florence Antique Malls but we were deterred by the pouring down rain and chose to clean our homes (making room for new stuff) instead. Hitting the antique malls in Northern Kentucky is definitely on the list for a future day of shopping as well.

Do you have a favorite antique or second-hand shop? What is the best item you have ever found at one of these shops?

 

Daughter Diagnosed with Celiac

 

celiac word abstract in wood type

My daughter Andi was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease, just before her 18th birthday. This diagnosis was a long-time coming. Andi had suffered from migraines since she was 9-years-old. They were so bad that she was hospitalized several times. She broke her elbow the first of three times when she was 10. She broke several other bones over the years doing things that would only cause a bruise on someone else. She suffered from joint pain since she was about 9, something we attributed to playing soccer. She was the only 14-year-old I knew who got croup several times a year. Sinus infections were a normal part of life since she was about 6-years-old. Andi’s iron and vitamin D levels were extremely low her entire life requiring her to take supplements, which didn’t seem to increase her counts. She just got used to being tired and anxious all the time. We saw neurologists, ear nose and throat doctors, allergists, orthopedics, etc… Every healthcare provider treated each symptom individually.

A little more than two years ago, the stomach issues started. She was vomiting a lot. I would take her to the doctor, she would say it’s a viral infection and Andi would barely eat because her stomach hurt. She would start to feel better so she would start eating normal again which would result in puking again. We would go back to the doctor to be told the same thing (I don’t blame them, none of us knew what to think at first). The doctor ordered x-rays and a multitude of blood tests. Other than confirming that she had low iron and vitamin D we still didn’t have answers. This vicious cycle went on for nearly six months causing Andi to miss at least 25 days of school her senior year.

 

Finally the doctor decided to test for Celiac. I was skeptical but desperate so I gave the go ahead. I thought she would have suffered stomach issues her whole life if it was Celiac. I also didn’t realize that all of the health issues she had dealt with her over the years were symptoms of this autoimmune disease. Another blood test was ordered to specifically test for Celiac, known as tTg-IgA and sure enough it was positive. In fact, her numbers were one of the highest her doctor had ever seen. Next they scheduled an endoscopy with Gastroenterology so they could confirm the Celiac diagnosis and see how much damage had been done. The diagnosis was confirmed and we were told that every time she ingests gluten her chances for stomach cancer increase.

From that day forward we started her gluten-free journey. It required a LOT of education. Gluten is a protein found in barley, rye, oats, and wheat (BROW). You would think these four ingredients would be easy to avoid but as we learned, they are in EVERYTHING. We have to read the label on every single thing we bring into our home. Gluten often acts as a glue to hold food together. Luckily we were able to meet with a nutritionist who specializes in Celiac Disease. She gave us a lot of literature and went over everything we needed to know to get started. It’s not easy but we managed (I will write about going gluten-free in the near future).

Celiac disease word cloud

After nearly two years of being gluten-free, Andi’s health has improved greatly. No more migraines, joint pain, broken bones, croup or just feeling blah all the time. And for the first time in her life, her iron and vitamin D levels are normal.

Follow the blog for future posts about having a daughter with Celiac and her gluten-free journey.

 

 

 

Living it up in Chicago

I love Chicago! I love how busy it is. I love riding public transportation and walking every where. I love the shopping and the museums. I love how close it is to home. And I really love the food!!

I had only been to Chicago for work so this was the first time I was able to take my family. To make it even better, we got to visit one of our favorite families – the Konc family. The Konc’s used to live a few doors up from us and since we have kids around the same ages we all became very good friends. Then they moved to Minneapolis. So we flew out to see them and explore Minneapolis. Then they moved to Atlanta so we drove to Atlanta to visit them and explore the city. And now they live in Chicago so we packed up the car and drove to Chicago.

konc fam

Holland, Elliot, Roman, Andi, Joey and Winston – Friends for Life

We spent the first night at hotel in Lincoln Park. We arrived in the mid-afternoon so we decided to check out the hotel and freshen up. My son Joey has trained and worked for a circus since he was about 10-years-old. We had heard quite a bit about CircEsteem in Chicago so we scheduled a visit for him. While he was there, we drove around and let Andi take pictures at places that are in the show Shameless. It rained a lot that night so we decided to grab dinner at a diner close to our hotel and call it a night.

The next day we hit the Museum of Science and Industry. We spent several hours at this amazing museum. There were a lot of hands-on exhibits that even entertained me, my husband and two teenagers. My favorite part though had to be the U-505 Submarine. It’s a real submarine. My husband was in the Navy so it was amazing to see something like this up close.

That night we headed to the Konc’s homestead where we spent the next three nights with Amanda, Deacon, their four children and two dogs. The live in the Wrigley Field neighborhood. This neighborhood is really cool! I noticed the amazing architecture as we walked around. The Cubs Stadium was obviously my favorite. The neighborhood is also filled with cute shops, restaurants and bars.

We visited the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) and walked out on the Skydeck ledge. The view from the ledge was beautiful. Heads up though: the wait to get to the Skydeck and the ledge can be extremely long. We waited about 90 minutes to get to the Skydeck level and then about another 30 to go out on the ledge. It was worth the wait though.

skydeck

Hitting Millennium Park is a must. Cloud Gate (the Bean) and the Crown Fountain are extremely unique and worth seeing. This is also a fun way to spend an afternoon without spending any money. The Shake Shack is a great spot to grab lunch and is right across the street from the Bean.

We also visited the Lincoln Park Zoo after having breakfast at Yolk. The zoo is small compared to Cincinnati but it’s free. We have also made it a tradition to visit the zoo every time we visit the Konc’s. BTW, Yolk was delicious too.

zoo

We rode the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. I was a little nervous about this but it was actually a lot of fun for all of us to be in the cage and look out over the water together.

The Art Institute of Chicago was inspiring. I will be honest though… the adults enjoyed this much more than the children. Andi, who is 18, and Holland, who is 15, pushed for this to be on our agenda but were done after the first hour. The boys were only into it for about 30 minutes. It is a very large museum and took quite some time to get through but I had hoped they would enjoy it as much as I did.

art museum kids asleep

We enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Portillo’s one of the nights. This was definitely our cheapest meal of the trip but one of the tastiest. I had a Chicago style hot dog and fries. I probably could have eaten two hot dogs but I didn’t want to wait in line again. This place gets really busy and is not a sit-down kind of restaurant. You wait in line, order and then wait for your number to be called. You want to send one member of your party to grab a table while the rest of you wait. It is absolutely worth the wait.

We also got Chicago style pizza one night and I honestly can’t remember where it was from. It was good but it was not Giordano’s. Giordano’s is definitely my favorite place to get pizza in Chicago. Note that there is usually a wait there as well but you can order while you wait.

All of the activities were a lot of fun and the food was great but the best part was being with our friends. Honestly, we can just sit around the house with them and have a great time. The next time we visit, I want to hit the River Walk and take a boat tour!

 

 

Learning to Say Yes

People talk about learning to say no all the time. You don’t have to volunteer for every school fundraiser, be on every work committee or give money to every walkathon. It can be really hard to say no, which is something I had to learn to do. But it’s even harder to say yes. I’m not talking about saying yes to running the school bake sale or hosting a benefit. I’m talking about saying yes to help.

yes

Most of us have had a crisis in our lives, whether it is a death in the family, a car accident or an illness, and have heard the question “what can I do?” from our friends and family. They might even be more direct by offering meals, to go to the store for you, be a taxi for your kids or even clean your house. And we often say “no, that’s okay” or “I’ll be alright.” But you know what, it’s not okay and it’s not alright. There are times we need to just say yes.

My son Joey was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Langerhans Histiocytosis when he was 10. He had to undergo major surgery, spend months in a wheelchair and receive steroid treatment. Dozens of people offered to help and I often found myself saying that we were okay. But the fact is, we weren’t. Luckily there were people who insisted on helping anyway. They brought food, games to keep Joey entertained, took my daughter places and helped however they could.

histio warriors

Histio Warriors Supporting Each Other

In September of 2015, my step-son was in a terrible car accident and spent three months in the hospital. He was in critical condition for the first three weeks, two hours from home. My husband and I stayed in the Ronald McDonald House while my two teenage children were two hours north trying to maintain some type of normal life.

helping hands

This is when I learned to say yes. I knew we needed help and luckily we have tons of friends and family who were willing. People took care of our kids, brought them meals, sent us meals, made sure my kids got to school and my daughter got to work, and did absolutely anything we asked of them. People who we didn’t even know very well helped our family. It was truly amazing.

It was hard to accept the help at first but we quickly realized that we had to. We also learned that people weren’t making empty offers. They truly wanted to help us and they didn’t expect anything in return.

Whether you have a child in the hospital, a parent who passed away, or surgery for yourself, say yes when friends and family offer to help. And when they ask “what can I do?” be honest. Tell them you need someone to go to the grocery, do your laundry or make a meal. Learn to say yes.

Slow Cooker Freezer Meals Making Life Easier

You may remember the post I wrote a few weeks ago – “My ‘First’ Meal Prep.” My son Joey and I prepped 10 crock pot meals in two hours using a meal prep plan from Stockpiling Moms. This was a great money and time saver! So we tackled another meal plan and prepped 20 slow cooker meals in 2.5 hours.

prep

The 20 meal plan stated it would take 4 hours but between Joey’s help and the things I learned with the first meal prep, we were able to save 90 minutes. We enjoyed all the meals from the first prep but found that some didn’t go as far as we had hoped or didn’t have enough meat. We wanted to be able to have dinner for four (two teenagers and two adults) and lunch for two the next day. So I do suggest increasing your ingredients if you’d like it to go a little further.

The Healthy Beef Stew was fantastic but had more veggies than meat so next time I will add more meat. Honestly, we found the Cheeseburger Soup a little bland at first but I just added a can of Campbells’ Cheddar Cheese Soup and it was perfect! The Sausage with Peppers and Onions was our favorite. I did add a jar of Classico Tomato and Basil.

Joey, my 15-year-old decided to tackle the 20 meals on. Unlike last time, I printed and looked over each recipe before we started. Since I am the only person in my house who will eat Mushroom Barley Stew or Stuffed Peppers, I decided not to make those. Instead I replaced those with a couple recipes of my own. The stew and peppers sound delicious though so I will make those for a few friends some time. Looking over the recipes first also allowed me to substitute a few ingredients to cater to my family.

This time I purchased all of my meat from Premium Elite Food (also known as Buck’s) in Latonia. Buck Buchanan, the owner, hand selects all of the meat he sells. I received excellent quality meats and it was actually cheaper than buying it at Kroger. I do suggest calling Buck’s at least three days in advance so he can prep your order. I placed a Clicklist order with Kroger for the rest of the items. I did increase, sometimes even doubled, the meat and ingredients for each meal. I spent about $120 on meat and $60 for the other ingredients (I did have most of the spices, which I get from Colonel De’s). Each meal will have six to eight servings. That’s about $9 per meal.

joey-prepping

I picked up my Kroger order on a Monday and my meat order on a Tuesday. Tuesday night I reviewed the recipes one more time and put them in categories according to the type of meat it called for. I then labeled all of my bags with the recipe name and cooking instructions. I placed the printed recipe on top of its corresponding bag, which also helped a lot during the prep. This was much easier than having to constantly look at the computer. We prepped the meals on Wednesday night.

We started by setting up all of our can goods, spices, vegetables and measuring tools. We started with the chicken meals, then the pork and then moved on the beef. This allowed us to keep the meat safe in the refrigerator until we were ready for it. Joey ran meals to the downstairs deep freezer as they were prepped. I also had Joey brown the ground beef while I prepped other meals. That was a huge time saver.

chicken

My family just finished the Maple Bacon Pork Loin. This is a pork loin wrapped in bacon and covered in a maple honey sauce. It was absolutely amazing!! It was seriously delicious and the house smells so good. Everyone gobbled it up along with peas and homemade mac-n-cheese.

bacon-wrapped

Preparing freezer meals saves my family time and money and cuts down drastically on eating out and picking up fast food. Stockpiling Moms offers several Meal Plans including vegetarian plans, crock pot meals, oven-ready dinners and even gluten-free plans.

Do you have any meal prep tips to share?

 

 

My High School Senior Looks Back on her Four Years

Four years ago, when Andi was an 8th grader scheduling for her senior year, I wrote a post called Transitioning to High School. This inspired Andi to write her own post called Andi’s Version of the High School Transition. I showed her that old post last night and she decided to write an update (I suggest reading the original first by clicking here):

Well my mom’s bloggies, I made it thru. I should have been scared when i wrote that the first time. High school was scary, I probably was scared and just lied. In general, I was afraid of the upperclassmen and what everyone would think of me. I wanted to be cool and popular, unlike myself in middle school. I tried too hard and was intimidated by other girls in my grade and the grades above me.

Beginning of junior year i realized that it didn’t matter what they thought of me and I stopped wearing makeup everyday and trying to look stylish all the time. I learned to love myself more. Now that i am the “headmaster” (as my past self called it) of the school i realize that when I was a freshman the seniors probably didn’t care about what i wore or how i looked bc I sure as heck don’t pay attention to the freshman. I also realized that nobody is going to remember that one day I went to school without makeup and greasy hair. I learned to embrace the way I look. I wish I could tell my freshman self all of these things because she’d probably poop her pants if she knew I don’t wear foundation every day to school, heck sometimes i don’t even wear makeup around the boy I like. When I think about my freshman and sophomore self I don’t hate it, I just wish she didn’t hate herself.

As far as classes go I’m still taking Spanish. I moved all the way to AP, and let me tell you, lamp is not el lampo. Spanish is definitely difficult. I stopped taking journalism after freshman year because I wanted to take other classes & it wasn’t really my forte. If you are sending your child into high school next year I definitely recommend taking regular classes & ignore the pressure for AP, ESPECIALLY regular social studies courses. AP world would be the death of your child. AP English is really no biggy as long as you already understand grammar because they don’t really teach that in AP.

Even though I was annoyed about how worried my ma was about me going to high school, I’m thankful for it because there were times I was happy I was her little princess. 

Yes, I was teary eyed when Andi sent this to me last night. It shows how much she has grown, not just physically but as a person in the last four years. She’s a young woman now. She plans to major in social work at Northern Kentucky University this fall. She might even minor in Spanish…