Wednesday, June 26, 2013

BIG BIG News for our family!

Back in January I posted about the hard time we were having in Italy, medically. The kids have had asthma flare-ups and problems every single month (at least one child/month has been to the clinic for wheezing/coughing).  So since January, Ron has off and on applied for jobs that would get us back to the mid-west or Texas. Texas isn't very close to family but all of the kids did great medically in San Antonio so it was still on our list. We knew it this economy it might not happen, worst comes to worst and we would have to return to San Antonio in December 2014 and he would go back to work at his old office. Not ideal but not horrible either.

In March, he applied for a position at the Space Center in Houston. This position is a pay grade higher than the one in San Antonio and his current position here. It's also not the same job, but rather in a related field. So when April arrived and along with it was a call for a phone interview, we were excited but didn't get our hopes up. In May when we hadn't heard anything back we assumed he wasn't selected. So imagine our surprise when he got the phone call in June saying that he was their selected candidate and if he wanted the position, it was his!
Even though we went back and forth the entire month of May as to whether this was really something we wanted to do: cut our time here short and move to a city we have never even visited, we realized that in the long term this was best for our family.

See, Ron and I had made a decision years ago...I want to be a stay at home mom (and he loves that) but supporting a family of six on one income isn't always easy. I agreed to move as often as needed if it meant accepting a job he was interested in and that paid more...while our kids were young. Once they were old enough to really make friends I wanted to settle down. So we've moved (a lot in the last 7 years) but he's had great opportunities (overseas assignments are rare as a civilian in his field) and now we're ready to put down roots. This job at the Space Center is one he can see himself in for awhile, he loves that he'll be working for NASA and the pay is good.

Even though it cuts our time in Europe short we think it's for the greater good. If we pass on this opportunity and stay in Italy until December 2014 that means returning to San Antonio, to a job that Ron chose to leave to come here. It's less money than what the job in Houston pays as well and as much as people say 'It's not about the money' when you have one income supporting an entire family, it is sometimes about the money. I don't have a college degree (I withdrew from college classes at the beginning of my junior year when I found out I was pregnant with Ryan. A decision that I do not regret. I love being able to stay home and raise my kids! I was majoring in 'early childhood education' and I kinda do that everyday now so it's worth it to me) so it's not like he could take the lesser paying job and I could go to work; I could get a job but it would be minimum wage and not worth the daycare expense.

So yes, we're giving up on some amazing travel opportunities. Yes, Italy has been amazing for educating the kids about how other people live, the history of other countries and the differences. It's awesome that my 2 year old can tell the difference between the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower and knows she has been to both. But let's be honest my kids are 7 years old down to 2 years old...even if we stay another 18 months, they aren't going to remember much about our time here.

And while I didn't get to do everything I had hoped to, I am leaving without regrets. I have matured so much over the last few years. Twenty-one year old Shannon would have never in a million years even considered MOVING overseas. And I did that. And I realize that while I didn't do everything on my list, I did a lot in 18 months while toting along 4 kiddos. This was a list I made back in November 2011:

  1. I want to see all the touristy Italian icons: leaning tower of Pisa, the Colosseum in Rome, Venice, the vineyards, Tuscany, Cinque de Terre, I want to see the works of Van Gogh and Di Vinci.
  2. Travel to Spain, Germany, France, London, Ireland, Croatia and Greece.
  3. Learn how to make authentic Italian foods. Top of the list is lasagna, homemade sauce and real know, not from a Classico jar.
  4. Become mostly fluent in Italian {after 5 years of Spanish in High School, I'm hoping I'll ''get'' it}
  5. Learn about, sample and drink the wine!
  6. Take the boys to a real soccer futbol game
  7. Become friends with as many locals/neighbors as possible; help give Americans a good name :)
  8. Ride on a Vespa! Preferably on a cobblestone road
  9. Become more open-minded about my food, try new things and encourage the kids to as well.
  10. Remember that we will get homesick. I will wonder if we did the right thing. And remember that this opportunity won't last forever, make the most of it and leave with little regrets. 
and what was done...

  1. I want to see all the touristy Italian icons: leaning tower of Pisa, the Colosseum in Rome, Venice, the vineyards, Tuscany, Cinque de Terre, I want to see the works of Van Gogh and Di Vinci.
  2. Travel to Spain, Germany, France, London, Ireland, Croatia and Greece. Also went to Austria and Slovenia.
  3. Learn how to make authentic Italian foods. Top of the list is lasagna, homemade sauce and real know, not from a Classico jar. *Alfredo doesn't even exist in Italy, ha! And while I haven't learned how to make, I buy the sauces and already made lasagna from the italian grocery...and it is delicious*
  4. Become mostly fluent in Italian {after 5 years of Spanish in High School, I'm hoping I'll ''get'' it} *anyone stationed here will ''get'' this one...high expectations! but I definitely know more now than I did 18 months ago*
  5. Learn about, sample and drink the wine!
  6. Take the boys to a real soccer futbol game
  7. Become friends with as many locals/neighbors as possible; help give Americans a good name :) *We don't really have Italian neighbors but I have made friends with Italians, including the owner of the farm that our milk machine is located*
  8. Ride on a Vespa! Preferably on a cobblestone road
  9. Become more open-minded about my food, try new things and encourage the kids to as well.
  10. Remember that we will get homesick. I will wonder if we did the right thing. And remember that this opportunity won't last forever, make the most of it and leave with little regrets. 

In the long run, this is best. I know that. We will be moving in August...yeah, you read that right. We have less than 45 days left but we do plan to make the most of it. We are planning on going to Slovenia and Croatia over the next 4 day weekend. If it doesn't happen, I won't be upset but if it does that would be wonderful!

Whats really wonderful though, in the grand scheme of things: We'll be able to buy a house and settle down, finally! We'll establish roots and give our children a ''hometown''. And we won't be living in Houston, we'll be in a suburb to the south that has an exemplary rated school district. Europe is amazing but this feels like it's going to be pretty amazing too!

Monday, June 24, 2013

I now have a 1st grader and a 2nd grader

Where does the time go? I mean really. I cannot believe that the school year has ended already! While I remembered to take the boys' photos, you'll note a few differences. Like, they don't have shoes on. Of course they wore shoes to school but the ones from the beginning of the year no longer fit. I mean both boys went from a size 11.5 shoe to a size one and that's staying in the same brand (Converse All-Star). My boys may be small for their ages but they each grew quite a bit this year.

**Please ignore any typos (shoe 1 shoe...really!?) it's almost 10:30pm and I'd have to redo the whole thing**
Now granted, I didn't do a very good job of sizing up the photos, I should have stood much farther back but alas it is too late now. (And I can't even fake it and have a redo because I buzzed all their hair off!) Needless to say, they grew up a little this year!

{Flashback} Nanaw and Papa visit Italy: Sirmione, Lake Garda

Okay while Nanaw and Papa were here we did Marostica, Bassano del Grappa, Nove, Pisa, Venice, Lucca, Tirrenia, Garmisch-Germany, Innsbruck-Austria, Verona, then Vicenza and then we went to Sirmione/Lake Garda. Ironically, out of every place we went the last town, Sirmione was their favorite place! And I can't argue that. I love Sirmione. It's tiny but it offers everything that one thinks of when they think of Italy. Roman ruins? Check. Castle? Check. Gelato? Check. Fantastic Food/Wine? Check. Amazing view of water and mountains? Check. And as a bonus while it is a tourist destination, it isn't cheesy touristy crap everywhere. It's quaint and pretty. It was hotter than H-E-Double Hockey Sticks the day we went but being by the water makes it cooler.
 I'm gonna go on a tangent here for a second...You know when you're visiting somewhere and you want a photo of everyone in your party in front of a landmark/monument and you ask a stranger to take your photo and they are all ''Oh Sure, sure!" and take couple just in case someone wasn't looking or blinked and then you do the same for them, and it seems like a great exchange but then you get home and realize that while everyone in the photo is there and looks nice, they CUT OUT THE MONUMENT you were trying to get the photo in front of?! In this case I'm referring to the Castle behind us. But it happened in Pisa (leaning tower), Venice (Realto bridge) and San Antonio, TX (the Alamo). I appreciate the willingness to take the photo, don't get me wrong but it's always a let down when you see it later.

Anyway, back to Sirmione.

One of the things I love about Italy/Europe is the uniqueness of the doors. I take photos of doors everywhere we go because one day I want to either make a collage or hang photos of nothing but all the neat doors we have seen while overseas, in the entry/foyer of our house. Sirmione has no shortage of neat doors! These two happen to be neighbors.
 Five minutes into Sirmione and we've already bought fresh fruit from a stand, we've been in a Castle, we walked past no joke at least 6 gelaterias, we've seen great doors and we come out to the beach side. Beautiful clear water with a mountain view...I just love it!
 Nanaw insisted on a photo of all of us in front of the view...
Mad props to the random German teenager who took a photo and didn't cut out the view!
So we walk up the path that curves around the beach, up through the park and then to the very tip of the peninsula that Sirmione is on, to the park and the museum of the Roman Ruins. Now our family had already seen the ruins but nanaw and papa had not. We opted to just relax in the park area, get a snack at the bar and let Nanaw and Papa enter the museum/ruins alone. This proved to work out great because they really enjoyed the ruins and we really enjoyed the break from the heat. Nothing like sitting in shade of Olive trees.

Self Timer photo :)
At this point Logan commandeered my camera and snapped photos of all of us..
 After a while, Nanaw and Papa returned {a bit sweaty} and we rode the little tram back down the hill.
 At this point we enjoyed some gelato and then we went on a boat ride. We did the boat tour and it was about 1/2 an hour with us and one other family and the "Skipper" who told us all about Sirmione and Lake Garda.

 He even let the boys drive the boat for a bit...

 It was really neat to see the remains of the ruins from this side!
 The 'Skipper' stopped the boat out here and killed the engine, just to show us all the tiny bubbles that were coming up the surface. Lake Garda has many natural hot springs and it was cool to see and feel how warm it was. Sissy probably didn't understand 1/2 of it but she seemed to enjoy herself!

 The tour ended on the opposite side of Sirmione, the side with the Castello. The boat guide explained to us that the Castle of Sirmione is the only remaining castle in the world to have it's own {still function able} port.
 Overall, it was a great day and I can see why it ended up being my parent's favorite stop. It's just a nice relaxing little town and it's easy to see it all in a day without feeling rushed.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A realization, Father's Day and Desenzano

One thing we learned after our spring break in Paris, is that while we can all agree sightseeing is fun, it is difficult for us without a car. Europe has great transportation, don't get me wrong! Between the buses and the trains and the cheap(er) airfare, travel can be enjoyed fairly easily. What Paris taught us is that with the ages of our kids (or maybe the sizes of our kids) public transportation isn't easy. The underground metro was impossible to navigate with a stroller and it was a lot of steps for little legs. The day we went sight seeing without a stroller, Ron and I were exhausted from carrying Maggie (and even Connor) as they got tired. My kids are big sleepers. Even Logan who is six, will nap for a little bit in the afternoon. So by mid afternoon, we needed that stroller. When it started raining, we realized walking everywhere isn't much fun (especially when it rains the day you didn't take the stroller). When the kids were utterly exhausted and we wasted 2 hours trying to get to the police station, I wished we had had a car. My kids are young but more so my kids are small. Ryan is in the "less than 3rd percentile" for his height. Short means short legs. And while he didn't whine while we were out and about, his legs were sore the next morning, which made it hard to get up and go.

Once back home from our trip to Paris, Ron and I decided that we ALL did much better with short weekend car trips, than we did with long trips relying on public transit. While driving in Italy isn't always easy, the benefits outweigh the negative aspect.

So we've been thinking about where we might want to go this summer. The plus side of being a furloughed government employee is the short work week. We talked about Slovenia/Croatia coast line, Milan, Lake Como, Bolzano for 3 day weekends and decided that we will try to squeeze in a few local trips too. 

Last Sunday was Father's Day and it was the day before Ron's birthday and he decided that we should go to Lake Garda, but not Sirmione (which we absolutely love). After looking online, he chose Desenzano del Garda. So we set out...

It was an hour and 15 minutes away and a very easy drive. It's a beach town and we learned that hard way, a very very crowded beach town at 11am on a Sunday. But it was gorgeous, the temperature was cooler and watching the boats made up for the crowd. We went off the beaten path, decided not to swim but to explore and had fun!

I didn't take very many photos, I was too busy holding hands, eating gelato and spending time with the best man a girl could ask for to be a Father to their kids.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Throwback Thursday!

 I just LOVE my curly headed, chubby cheeked, happy little Pookie!
Logan, March 2008

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Connor about gave me a heart-attack today!

Connor gave us the scare of a lifetime today. **let me just say, everyone is FINE now**
We had been playing outside. Today was the last day of school, it was a half day as well, so we came home and filled up the kiddie pool. Connor is not a water baby. He would rather take a bucket and dump all the water out of the pool and that's okay. He was in the pool for maybe five minutes, went down the slide a few times and then wanted a snack. 
He's sitting there, eating chex mix in his lawn chair when all of the sudden he grabs his neck with his head cocked to the side and just starts bawling while screaming ''it hurts! it hurts!". So I immediately think he had to have gotten stung by a bee. But I look all over his neck, no bite, no scratch, no redness. I start asking him questions: Does it hurt on your skin or inside, like your bones? He says '' I don't know but it hurts". His head was really bent over, so I tried tilting his neck to the other side...bad idea. He started screaming louder. 

Let me interrupt myself here by saying that on Sunday, Connor had a fever of 103, goopy green eyes and needed his inhaler...virtually out of nowhere. He was wheezing, coughing and burning up. I treated him with motrin/tylenol, gave him his inhaler and he calmed down. Monday I took him to the doctor and he was put on an oral steriod for his cough, as it was caused by his wheezing from his Asthma. So on Wednesday morning he was checked again and he sounded much much better. Doctor said to finish up the 5 day course of steriods to be on the safe side but that he was doing great.

So when today he is clutching his neck and screaming, my first thought was ''Oh shit, meningitis". I immediately yelled at everyone to strip off their swimsuits, go inside, go potty and get dressed as quickly as possible. It was 4:02 at this point and our health clinic on post closes at 4:30. I did not want to have to take him to the Emergency Room downtown. So I called the nurse at the clinic and she was hesitant ''The doctor is confident that Connor was doing better yesterday, maybe he pulled his neck playing outside, give him Motrin and rest''. I said ''No''. The way his neck was bent, I just knew something wasn't right. I said I could be there in 10 minutes, she said to bring him in. I left my house at 4:06 and was at the clinic by 4:13...I live about 12-15 minutes away but drove like an Italian and cut that time in half. To make a really long story shorter, it wasn't meningitis. 

It took two doctors but they finally said ''We think it's an acute dystonic reaction to his oral steroid medication." They were honest as they weren't sure. Neither doctor had ever heard of anyone having such a reaction after an oral steroid (only after anti-psychotic drugs or anti-nausea drugs) but since the treatment for this dystonic reaction is a high dose of Benadryl, we really had no reason not to try. If it was what they thought it was he would be better in 15 minutes or less. If it wasn't, then we would have to go to the ER for x-rays. So Connor got a big ol' shot of Benadryl. 

10 minutes passed and he was still refusing to move his head and the crying was now worse from the shot. 

20 minutes passed and Connor (who had been crying because of his shot) had snot running down his face. He immediately sat up and said ''I need a tissue'' and when doing so, had straightened out his neck. For over an hour; his neck was so bent that his left ear was touching his left shoulder and he would not stop crying. Luckily after this one shot and a full 30 minutes later, he was back to normal. We do have to give him Benadryl around the clock for the first 24 hours, just to make sure it doesn't reoccur before the prednisone works it's way out of his system. And he's done taking that. His lungs still sounded clear today so it's not an issue that he didn't take the entire treatment.

I was trying to stay calm, cool and collected but I was freaking out! Seeing him and knowing that he couldn't control his own neck, seeing how scared he was, made it really hard. Luckily Ron was able to meet me at the clinic and watch the other kiddos and I was able to devout my full attention to Connor. 

Once home, he changed into his superhero pajamas and was back to fighting crime. He's still pretty slow moving, still pretty moody but he's okay, he's home and while it might happen again, we know that it is more annoying than dangerous. (I'll be honest, I did NOT ask what would have happened had I not brought him straight to the clinic). I think I lost five years off of my life today, but he had it worse. 

Throwback Thursday

In honor of hitting 900 blog posts and almost SIX years of blogging, I'm going to post an old picture of the kids or of a trip/holiday, each Thursday. Not a lot of explanation, just a photo and maybe a line or two. It's Throwback Thursday people...Time flies!

Our little family
July 4, 2007 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

{Flashback} Nanaw and Papa visit Italy: Vicenza

Okay so when we last left off, we had all spent the day in Verona. But we were all super on each other's nerves and I needed a break from, well everyone. So the following day I took just my parents downtown to see the sights of Vicenza. It was really nice having a day with just them, made me feel all grown up playing tour-guide to my parents.

We live in a suburb (or ''village'' would really be a better term) of Vicenza. As a city, Vicenza prides itself on it's architecture, most of which was designed by or build by Andrea Palladio. We actually live right down the street from one of his lesser known Villas (it is still a private residence).
So all my photos from this day are all mixed up (no clue why) and because it's been almost a year, I can't really remember what order we did things in but here is what we did...
We went downtown to the Teatro Olimpico. This theater was designed by Andrea Palladio is one of only three Renaissance theaters remaining in existence. To say it is old is an began in 1580 and it is full of history. The "big deal" about the theater is this: it is the oldest surviving stage set still in existence.
  The gardens outside are very pretty as well...I love the ivy growing all over the buildings.
 Inside the Teatro Olimpico...
 The set is painted to look three dimensional when in fact, it isn't at all. There is not a path leading to the distance, it's just a painting. The detail in the theater; from the carvings to the set design to the ceiling is just breathtaking.
 The ceiling:
After visiting the Teatro, we grabbed a quick lunch. Another famous Palladian work is just south of downtown, it's called "La Rotunda''. Taken directly from Wikipedia: 
In 1565 a priest, Paolo Almerico, on his retirement from the Vatican (as referendario apostolico of Pope Pius IV and afterwards Pius V), decided to return to his home town of Vicenza in the Venetian countryside and build a country house. This house, later known as 'La Rotonda', was to be one of Palladio's best-known legacies to the architectural world. Villa Capra may have inspired a thousand subsequent buildings, but the villa was itself inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.
One of the people who were inspired by the Rotunda was Thomas Jefferson. My kids recognize the Rotunda because it "is that building on the back of the nickel." Thomas Jefferson's "Monticello" as well as The Jefferson Memorial, all take inspiration from the Rotunda.
The structure itself is set just south of town, on a small hill that overlooks much of the Veneto countryside.
From the front steps of the Rotunda, you can actually see to Mt. Berico (which is where we ate dinner the night of their arrival).
We had planned our visit on one of the mornings that the Rotunda is actually open. Most days you can pay to be on the grounds, some mornings you can pay an entry fee and see inside.
 Photography was strictly forbidden and only the first floor was open to the public but it was pretty impressive. Every room is covered in floor to ceiling murals. Very ornate.
  A few architectural details that I liked (I love all the unique doors in Europe).

 We ended up back downtown to finish out the day. We ate gelato (twice) and explored the main roads and back alleys. We even found an Asian grocery store and picked Ron up a few goodies. I didn't take my camera or very many photos with my iphone as I have been downtown before.

 And my favorite photo that I feel captures downtown best....
Ponte San Michele, a cobblestone walking bridge that is adorable.