Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy 6th Birthday Bubba!

Well, Bubba's sixth birthday party{and first party with school friends} was a success! The kids all seemed to really enjoy themselves, Bubba had fun, the cake and goodies were devoured and the pinata was smashed, so all in all, it went as well as we had hoped for!

His party was last Saturday and luckily the weather stayed gorgeous. {If I had to give only one compliment about Italy, it would be the weather is amazing. For over 3 weeks now, it's been in the upper 60's, low 70's with clear views of the mountains. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing and there is a slight breeze. It is truly perfect.} It never did rain like the forecast showed. Saturday was spent with friends, Sunday was a lazy day at the house. We played with new toys, had a NERF gun fight and took it easy.

Obviously Monday and Tuesday he had school, then Wednesday was his actual birthday. They are allowed to bring homemade treats, so we opted to spend Tuesday evening making dirt cups. Wednesday morning I volunteered in his classroom; we ate dirt cups and talked about life-cycles of plants. Wednesday evening we had quesadillas with refried beans, nachos and grapes for dinner (birthday boys' request) followed by a Skype session with Nanaw and Papa while we sang Happy Birthday and dug into more dirt cake.

The birthday boy wasn't really sure what he wanted for his birthday but he ended up with a ton of cool gifts that were very ''him''. Games and accessories for his leapster explorer, a few nerf guns, a board game, several books, a scooby doo backpack and the "big" present from mom and dad: a new outdoor slide.
I get that this seems like a ''toddler'' present...but take a second look at how BIG this slide is.... for some reason, all the kid slides we see since being in Italy are this big. Rather that the typical Little Tikes slide with 2 steps and a platform, they have 5-6 steps, then the platform. This slide is taller than bubba at the base and it supports up to 176lbs! The kids love it!


in all honesty, it's a joint gift for Bubba and Pooks (whose birthday is mid May). All four kids wanted the thing, but we had to rationalize it a bit. While I love my kids and I would like to say ''Oh cost isn't an issue''...realistically, cost is an issue especially when outdoor toys here in Italy are so costly! Not a single place online would ship a slide (and honestly none of the US stores had such a big one to ship) so we bought one from a place just down the street. Because of the sticker shock, I'm just gonna share the price (tacky I know but we were floored!) This bad boy was €143....roughtly $185.00. FOR A SLIDE! Hence why it's a joint gift. Is it worth every penny? Yes it is extremely solid, made by a reputable world known Italian brand and the kids have a lot of fun on it. But it's definitely not something I would have just bought on a whim. Oh and here's another fun tidbit, the Chicco outside playhouse that the kids really, really, really wanted was €495 or about $645.
Much to their demise, that one stayed at the store.  We are however on the hunt for a gently used one (though as you can imagine, they sell fast over here!). So basically if you're reading this as somone who is PCSing to Italy...bring all your outdoor toys. If you think you might want some before you get here, buy them stateside. Even if you change your mind once here or you don't have the room, you'll be able to sell it in a heartbeat!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Who knows how to make a monster dance party??

I know it's been over a week with no new post. We're still here, still having fun and enjoying Italy! We've just been super busy. Next week Bubba turns six (on the 28th) but this weekend is his party.  And I may be more excited than he his since he chose a ''monster'' theme! And because I like to do as much as possible homemade, well it keeps me even busier than usual. I've been using my phone during the day and pinning ideas on Pinterest, then using the evenings to make those things. While I'm not ready to share any sneak peeks yet, I thought I would share the birthday boys pinterest board:
 *Bonus points if you can figure out what show (without googling!) the title of this post came from :)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The best breakfast date

Sunday morning, B got up and got the kids breakfast and allowed me to sleep in. When I finally woke {not by choice, by B almost literally dragging me out} Sissy was the only one left at the table.

"What is she eating?" I asked while I added cream and sugar to the cup of coffee that B thrust at me in an effort to ward off all grumpiness.
"Well, I can see that...does she have milk in there?"
"Yeah. Cause she's eating cereal. With milk. All the kids had bowls of cereal for breakfast...she's on her third bowl." B said in a tone that read ''DUH".
Now Sissy eats cereal almost every morning, that's not what surprised me. What surprised me was several things: One, she was at the table in a booster seat and not in her high chair. Two, she had milk in the bowl...I always give her dry cereal in her bowl and sippy cup of milk because I just assumed it would be too messy and too easy for her to spill. Three, there was no mess and four, she was on her third bowl!

How did I not know that my 17 month old daughter could eat a bowl of cereal with milk, using her spoon? {Because I never even offered it to her is the reason}It hit me like a ton of bricks: she isn't a baby anymore. She is most definitely a toddler. A toddler who is capable of more things if I give her a chance to try. A toddler who is learning and discovering new things that she likes and new things that she can do, everyday.

I was suddenly immensely proud of her.

So, I poured a bowl of cereal myself. Grabbed my coffee and had breakfast with my big girl. As I sat there I was able to look at her, I mean really look at her and I realized that I cannot put into words just how much I love my kids. All of them. I didn't even know it was possible to love another person, as much as I love my children. And I don't know how to explain or why but the love you feel for a daughter is different than the love you feel for a son. It's not that you love one more than the other, that's certainly not the case as I love all my kids more than I can even is just different. And I am glad that I was given an opportunity to experience it.
And I think the above two photos are my all time favorite photos of us together. B snapped them with an iphone but even with sleepy eyes and bedhead hair, I just love them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Milk stands

Italy constantly surprises me...I feel like I never know what to expect. It is obviously very different that the United States but I was surprised by the differences just in grocery shopping {out on the economy}. Here is a quick list of things are so different:

-every afternoon, almost every single business {except the malls} close for 'resposo'. It's an afternoon break...that lasts at least two hours. Business hours on signs in Italy look like this: 9:00-13:00, 15:00-18:30. Note that even closing shop for resposo doesn't mean that they open earlier or close later. Restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations...they all do this. So living out in a small village like we do, well your SOL if you run out of toliet paper at 8pm. Should have planned better. And if it's a Sunday, well you are really screwed as the smaller stores, aren't open at all. 

-a lot of stores, will not take debit cards. It's cash business or no business my friend so you better make sure you have euro before you go to pay.

-milk and eggs are shelf stable items here...the dairy coolers are full of cheese, yogurts, some butter and cold cuts. Some places do have refrigerated milk but it's not a big selection and you pay for it. Look at the shelf nearest the cooler, you'll find it there.

-things come in much smaller quantities. You won't find ''club sized" bulk items here. In fact, you can rarely buy a 24pk of soda; they are sold individually. Milk doesn't come in gallons, but in liters. 1 liter and 1/2 liters to be exact. Eggs come 4 or 6 to a carton. 

-you know how in the states they are really pushing being ''eco-friendly" and shopping with reusable shopping bags? Well if you haven't hopped on that bandwagon, do so before coming to Italy. Here everyone uses the reusable bags and for good reason....each plastic grocery bag will cost you .05-.10 euro. I even stopped at a small toy store/gift shop and they charge as well, not just the ''chain'' grocery stores. 

-you will not find stores like Wal-Mart, KMart,'ll find grocery stores, pharmacies, clothing stores, beauty shops and toy stores but the ''super'' stores are few and far between. The mall does have a store called Emisfero and it's the closet thing to a Wal-Mart that exists. Except you have to walk through security to get in and any other bags you have, will be sealed in a larger plastic bag to prevent shoplifting. 

-similar to shopping at Aldi, most grocery stores will require you to insert a .50 cent or €1 to unlock it from the other carts in the corral. Not a bad idea but it does mean you need to be prepared. 

So knowing all this, remembering that grocery shopping in Italy has to be planned and is not something you can do on a whim, has been a bit hard for me. I am used to going ''oh we're out of x, y and z, let's run to the store kids.'' But now if it's too early, we can't go. If it's resposo, we can't go. If it's after dinner, we can't go. If I can't find change to get a shopping cart, we can't go. 

Knowing all of the above is why I was shocked to find out about these bad boys:
That very poorly taken photo is an automatic milk stand. There are two refrigerated vending machines under that awning and in them, you can buy milk {either whole milk or 4%, no 2% and no skim} as well as several types of yogurt, cheese, butter and creams. I had heard about them from a Facebook group and last week made it my mission to find one. Apparently the one we stumbled upon is pretty high-speed. 
For one, It's actually on the farm. In the above photo off to the right you'll see hay bales. Next to the hay bales, are the cows.  I was fortunate enough that when we stopped the first time, the ladies working were there. One (who spoke English..yay!) approached me and was asking about the van. When she heard we were American, she chatted up a storm. She was excited about us having FOUR kids and no wonder we needed a van. (not common in all!). She was also kind enough to show me how to work the machine as well as explain how the whole thing works. Every single item in the machine, is made/comes from this farm. There are cheeses that only they make, that you cannot find anywhere else but this machine. It is apparently a franchise in terms of the machines and labeling (as you'll find other stands with this logo around) but the actual product is local. The milk is pasteurized as well, which I'm more comfortable with for my family. 

And the other reason I say it's pretty high speed is due to the above...while there are milk stands everywhere, not all are pasteurized. Not all sell other items either. Some you have to take your own bottles and then you dispense the milk into the glass bottles that you brought. This vending stand however, has the milk in 1L paper cartons. It's €1.10 a liter (which is about 1/4 of a gallon). It would come out to be about $6 USD/gallon. Surprisingly even the "cheap" milk on post is $3+ a half gallon so not only is this cheaper, but it tastes AMAZING. So much better than the milk from the commissary. This milk from the farm is fresh, it's organic and when we buy it, we're literally helping our neighbors. What's not to love about that!? More excitedly, the boys love the idea that they are drinking the milk from the cows that are right there. They could see (and smell) and hear the cows...when I explained that the milk in that machine, came from that cow, well I've never seen them SO excited to drink milk.

We buy them two at a time and it lasts about a day. Luckily, it's right by Bubba's bus stop so it's easy to get more. And want to hear the really crazy's open 24 hours a day AND the plastic bags are free! Convenience in Italy...who knew!? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I cannot wait for spring break 2012!!!

Should I add a "WOOT! WOOT!" or would that be too much??

I have never been one to make "Spring Break" plans. Not even in high school nor college did I vacation during spring break. It's just something I never thought of doing. I'm not into the party scene and spring break seems like it's meant for people who party hard. I am not a stereotypical spring break co-ed, I have no desire to go to Cancun or Corpus Christi, never want to be so drunk that girls gone wild seems ''fun'' and could care less about beads.

Up until this year I had all four kids at home so we could have spring break any ol' time...B put in a request, got the week off and boom, vacation without the crowd. Last year my parents visited us in Texas during their spring break and Sea World was INSANELY packed, the riverwalk was crowded and I just wasn't up for that. I mean, we lived there. Why deal with the crowds when we could go on a boring Tuesday and have the place to ourselves? (and coincedentally, it wasn't spring break week in Kansas but it was in Texas).  I am not a fan of crowds and waiting but we did it and we survived it and we all did have fun.

 Well fast forward to this year. Bubba is in school now and we live in Italy. All of Europe is a hop skip away and well, Spring break just got more appealing. I was toying with the idea of going on a mini-vacay somewhere...I just hadn't figured out where yet. We have yet to get our tourist passports {we have official military ones as of now} so going out of the country isn't an option {at least not legally an option}. Well about the same time I started thinking of places to go, my good friend Amy posted a link of Facebook to the most adorable Tuscon B&B, nestled in a farmhouse. It's a farmhouse in Tuscany with a vineyard, a pool, a playground, goats and other animals for the kids to see, a pizza night, a welcome buffet and you have our own little apartment with a kitchenette. It's 20km from Florence, 60km from Pisa. Breakfast-provided, wifi-provided. To say I was jealous as I hopped around the website would be an understatement. Seriously adorable, seriously affordable. I suddenly wanted to go but I hated the idea of crashing their vacation.

As luck would have it, the next day we ran into her and her husband and we all got to talking about it. They urged us to book an apartment the same week and go to Tuscany with them. Can you imagine their family of 6 with our family of six, in Tuscany?! It took us all of about 20 seconds to say ''YES!". It's a no brainer! The place is about 3 hours away, our kids get along great with their kids, all the adults hit it off from the start...we were ready to book.

Until we remembered, B hadn't put in a leave request for work because we hadn't thought about going anywhere for the week. The weekend dragged on forever while we waited for Monday to roll around so he could request off. Adding to the anticipation was the fact that we went out to dinner with the Brock family sunday night. Amy gave me a Rick Steves guidebook to Florence & Tuscany with the words ''no pressure". By the end of dinner we were telling B to really try to persuade his boss, and that if she was reluctant to grant him leave we'd drag all 12 of us down to his office.

Got the word back monday afternoon: Tuscany is ON! I am so so excited. For many reasons but one of which is silly. On my 'bucket list of Europe' is to get a picture of me (forced perspective) stepping on the leaning tower.
source: google images
Only one more month!!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

17 Months!

 Today Sissy your are 17 months old! I cannot believe you are almost a year and a half...seems crazy! Especially since you are the baby of the family. You are more and more toddler every day. I will be the first to admit, you are spoiled rotten. I don't know if it's because you are a girl, because you are the youngest or because you are the fourth one but I know, we let you get away with way too much! Most of the time you get along with your brothers, listen to mom and dad and stay out of trouble but every now and then, you get a little wild. You'll slap a sibling just to give him a kiss, you'll throw dry cereal all over the living room then look at me and go ''uh oh!" like you had no idea what you were doing. At 17 months old you...

  • finally weigh 20lbs! I weighed you on our home scale so it's not 100% accurate but good to know that you are growing. {at your 15mos check up, you weren't even on the charts for weight...skinny mini!}
  • still in a size 4 diaper, wearing 12-18mos clothes and size 4 shoes
  • are talking a little bit more. You're not nearly as talkative as peanut was at this age but you do say Elmo, Mom/Mommy/Mama, hi, bye, ciao, boo-boo milk {when you want to nurse), bubba, Lo-Lo, banana, nanaw, papa, uh-oh, i love you, dink {drink}, want dat!, and nose.
  • are learning body parts. you know: eyes, nose, mouth, hair, head, belly, booty, feet, toes and fingers. 
  • love to walk backwards. You think it's the funniest thing so you laugh, then your brothers laugh which makes you grin and walk further
  • are FINALLY, FINALLY sleeping through the night and in your crib. From 8pm-7:15am without waking!
  • love to give hugs and kisses. to me, daddy, your brothers, the dog, stuffed're very loving!
  • are still nursing. First thing in the morning, before nap and before bed are definite. If we're at home and you're board you'll want to nurse more often. 
  • still refuse to sit in a shopping cart and/or stroller. I can wear you or you'll walk holding my hand. 
  • use both your spoon and fork to feed yourself at all meal times and now want a napkin as well. 
  • have very, very curly hair and you like to wear ''pretties'' in it. You did go through a phase of ripping them out but now you bring them to me and want to wear them. 
  • in the last few days have been using the potty. You'll drag your little potty out, tug at your diaper so we'll remove it and you'll sit, and sit and sit. Twice this weekend you pee'd on it and earned 2 m&m's.

 Sissy you are a ball of energy and some days I can barely keep up! I am really glad that we are finally settled into our house. You have your own room, your toys and it's a lot nicer to be able to let you have that freedom to run and play (versus the hotel). You are my little toddler now and I can tell you'll be a handful!