04 July 2014

Preemptive Independence Day - July 3rd Celebration

The 3rd of July has been long known to be the actual dawning of Independence; the evening before the signing of the Declaration is really when the magic happened -- bunch of rich dudes with great hair getting together over a couple of drinks...and then a couple more...and somewhere around 2am they went out for some cheese steaks, came back to the house and put them fightin' words to paper Declaring our Independence from Europe.
Therefore, we here on this side of the world like to celebrate the real day of Independence, July 3rd, with food, fare, and fireworks.  **Ok, everything I just said is complete BS...except the part about us celebrating Independence Day on July 3rd.  In the end it has to do with the fact that it is cheaper to do on the 3rd instead of the 4th.  Anyway, it was a pretty good event especially since the whole safety aspect is really lacking here.  You really got the full effect with ashes and char raining down on you during the show.

At least they make up for the whole 3rd of July thing by starting out the show with an all-American rendition of "God Bless America" by none other than...oh wait, nevermind...regardless, Celine Dion can still sing.

29 June 2014

All About Vicenza (About Damn Time)

As we quickly approach our third Permanent Change of Station (PCS) in three years (crazy, isn't it?), we are in the throes of bidding farewell to our Italian post. Although we have had less than a year here, we have sincerely called it home and forged some amazing friendships and memories. Our family has been under one roof more often than not since moving here, and we had the joy of bringing Josephine into the world in this bella terra. 

When we moved to Bamberg, we gave you a tour of our hotel, our home, and our city. But I realize that we never did that since moving to Vicenza. We just hit the ground running, taking trips around the country and making sure life didn't pass us by. So instead, treat this post as the remaining bookend for our European tour.

For the highlight reel, let's begin at, well, the beginning. 

Within our first month, Liam broke the ginormous tree in our yard through his powers of urination. 

So maybe it was actually the termite infestation compounded by heavy winds one night... all I know is one day our son was peeing on the tree and the next thing we know, half the tree is splayed acoss our backyard. We are still waiting for Housing to repair the rolladens, holes in the siding, and destroyed outdoor light. The personal losses included a plastic beach wagon and a poposan chair -- not too shabby, given the potential for destruction. Nice work, Son.

As you'll see in the pictures we link you to once I finish my monologue, Vicenza is a beautiful city, rich with history and culture. There is a lot about the city that I failed to explore or learn, but we certainly enjoyed surrounding ourselves with it. I didn't work as hard to educate myself about Europe as I predicted (nerd that I am). In both Bamberg and Vicenza, it seems like the best education you can give yourself is found in sampling the food, strolling around the neighborhoods, and breathing in all that is life.

We had a beautiful home and yard here, even without the tree. You'll see we replaced that hole with an awesome, unclaimed outdoor chimney we swiped from the common area. Our common area had a fun little playground where Liam learned how to do this:

We even kept an herb garden going for awhile. Liam would eat chives, basil, mint, and oregano by the fistfuls almost every day. 

The area here has a lot of opportunities for exploring, like the agriturismo where we ate among the animals. Seriously. There was a donkey in the parking lot. An agriturismo is an Italian gem that should be developed in every country. Basically, you run a farm and a restaurant together, and so long as all the food and wine you serve is grown on-site, your property is tax free. Everything was incredibly fresh, delicious, and intimate. 

We found a lake about 45 minutes from our house where Zeke and Liam hopped in a kayak, Liam played with dragonflies, and he also showed just how much debris from Andy Capp's Cheddar Fries he could smear on his rashguard.

Although Liam did not attend preschool, we made fun out of learning on a minute-by-minute basis. He would practice his letters on a little whiteboard while I worked out; we made homemade playdough together and designed tunnels and bridges. (And worms. Lots of those guys.) I think the most important learning experiences he is getting lately is his time interacting with Josie. The world got a little bit bigger when she was born -- as in, it doesn't revolve just around him. Liam adores Josephine and that relationship is going to be one of his most important and influential ones in the coming years.

When my parents visited, we showed them around the main piazza (Piazza dei Signori) and then they went out on their own with Liam the next day and got to know our town more than we ever will. I would bet my parents have spent more time in the downtown area than we have!

As everyone knows, Vicenza is the birthplace of our dear, sweet little daughter. But what you may not know is that it is the birthplace of another baby we got that same week -- our 2014 Jeep Trailhawk. When Liam rode with Zeke and my parents to the Venice airport, he made sure everyone there thought he was royalty, blowing kisses and waving from the sunroof:

We may be heading to Missouri for our next adventure, but Italy will forever be near and dear in our hearts. You can see why it's easy to love this place by checking out our pictures.

Arrivederci, mia bella Italia. Grazie mille per le memorie.

27 June 2014

Father's Day Weekend: Two Odes

The first ode is to Edelweiss.  We first met Edelweiss back around Christmas 2011. (Want a refresher?) Since that first weekend, we have traveled to that haven whenever possible. I took my parents there shortly after Zeke deployed, and Liam and I managed to hop on government-sponsored retreats there almost every month of those lonely nine months without Zeke. We used Edelweiss as our pit-stop on the move down from Bamberg to Vicenza (which happened to be Mother's Day weekend). Zeke even had a last-minute stop there on his way home from the Netherlands recently. Needless to say, it was only fitting for us to use our last available four-day weekend in Europe for a trip to Edelweiss. It also happened to be Father's Day weekend, so that was a bonus.

Before we link you to some pictures of our fun little trip, I just need to gush for a moment... which leads to the second ode. When Zeke was at the resort during his Netherlands travels, he booked a spot for me to get a massage at Edelweiss. On Father's Day. FATHER'S DAY. He kicked me out of the room after breakfast, single-handedly wielded Josie in a sling and Liam on a swing, and just made me so proud and thankful that he is my spouse and the father of our babies. I am not cool or talented enough to make a photo montage dedicated to him, so I am sneaking this post up while he reads 1812 in the living room.

I did the math and Zeke has been at home with us for only 18 of the past 54 months. As in, 1.5 years out of the 4.5 years of Liam's little life. Not in a nice big chunk either, but in bits and pieces and breaths. But even with the deployments, schooling, and field training, Zeke has taken advantage of every single moment with his children. He and I are on the same page in our parenting, and he has never missed a beat when it comes to disciplining, loving, or laughing with his babies. It is never easy to be a parent, and I am willing to bet that it is very difficult to be a father to young children. Moms may have more work in the early years, but we also have more opportunities to feel needed, connected, and fulfilled.

And then there is Zeke.

Despite his being pulled from us so many times, he is a natural at being the head of our household. He makes fatherhood look joyful and inspiring. I have spied some of the tenderest moments between Zeke and Liam and it busts my heart. It is so important for Liam to see that men -- real men -- are both strong and tender, confident and nurturing, provoking and respectful. Zeke not only embodies all the traits I have wanted in a husband and father but also wears them well for our children to see. Liam will grow into an amazing man if he just sticks to following the guide God has given him in his father. And when she grows up and finds her future, Josephine will be so very blessed if she builds her life with a man like her daddy.

I would make 100 babies with Zeke if I knew we could afford the time and energy, just to watch him show some beautiful little monsters what a great man looks like.  Then again, I really want him all to myself again someday, so I'm thinking 100 babies is out of the question.

Zeke said on Father's Day, as we sipped our Chimay on the porch while the kiddos rested, that Father's Day isn't a big deal because it is just a made-up holiday. He's probably right. But you know what?  Every day we should be celebrating the gifts that wonderful parents bring to this world. So even though today's isn't Father's Day, I am celebrating Zeke, the amazing father to our children. Thank you for being you, Zeke.

Okay, enough gushing. Enjoy all the pics.

23 June 2014

The Universal Word For Animals

According to Liam, that word is ZOO. We have taken him to the NC Zoo in Asheboro, NC; the Aloha Zoo (for all the retarded, broken, or otherwise unworthy-of-fancy-zoos animals) in Sanford, NC; the Nuremberg Zoo in Bayern, Deutschland; and now the Cartigliano Zoo in Veneto, Italia.

The NC Zoo had just about every animal you could wish for in a zoo. They organized their grounds based on the continents from which the animals originated, which I always thought was very smart.

The Aloha Zoo had a one-horned water buffalo, a crocodile with three legs, several animals that walked with unexplained limps, and a few household pets that didn't meet the owners' expectations (who in his right mind thinks a lemur will be well-behaved?).

The Nuremberg Zoo was like the German supermarket (or Supermarkt, if you prefer). Full of all kinds of things that you want but spread out in a completely nonsensical way so you can't really find what is on your list. After three (wait, maybe four?) times there, we still could never find the alligators. We completely missed the lions and tigers one time. The bird section went unnoticed another time.

We did catch the penguins every time, and they were definitely our favorites. You can see why right here:

Now, for the Italian Zoo. All I can think about right now is Stefano, the seal from the circus in Madagascar. ("No, no, no, no, I am only average intelligence. Some say I'm even slightly below.")

They had some animals. Weird ones. Lots of birds. Tiny yard spaces for the different species. A lot of the animals looked pretty miserable. But it was an adventure, nonetheless. Liam really wanted to see snakes and lizards. We found lizards right at the end but no snakes. Lots of birds. A few camels. A handful of lemurs and monkeys. Did I mention the birds? Lots of 'em.

See the pictures for yourself!

19 June 2014

Venezia, Where Did All Our Euros Go?

We have lived in the Veneto region -- home to the world-renowned Venice -- for almost a year. However, it took us until last month to actually trek over to "the Floating City." We pulled out almost as many Euros as we took with us on our three-day trip to Roma, despite the fact that we planned on having only a day in the lagoon.

And we spent every last one of them within 12 hours.

Normally, we take you on an educational exploration of a city or town that we experienced, but because we didn't really go to Venice to learn anything, I won't bore you with details that we didn't even care about. Yes, there are some cool places if you want to nerd it up, like the Gallerie dell'Accademia, the Palazzo Ducale, the Basilica di San Marco, and the various islands of the lagoon that offer fun little cultural nuances... but we really just went to look around, chase pigeons, check out the glass blowing, eat some nice food, and ride on an overpriced gondola.

We took the train from Vicenza, which in itself was an adventure. Within the first few moments of our travels, Josephine managed to poop out the side of her disposable diaper (reason #562 why I love cloth diapers... rarely does that happen with them!). To get into the heart of Venice, we hopped on a cramped waterbus and rode around to the various stops until we found ourselves at the stop for St. Mark's Square. Along the way, Liam worked diligently to strengthen his immune system by sitting on the ground of the waterbus and holding onto our legs.

We had lunch at a wonderful place called da Roberto, a trattoria/pizzeria that was perched along one of the gondola canals. The service was amazing, our waiter looked like John Turturro, the food was perfection, and we had a nice view of a typical Venetian thoroughfare.

After weaving our way over to St. Mark's Square, we decided Liam should be given free reign over the pigeons until we figured out what to do with St. Mark's Basilica. The line was short, so once Liam scared a few hundred birds, we assembled by the Basilica. We never actually went inside, though, because they wouldn't let us bring in our minuscule travel pack. Our only option was to leave the bag at a random bag drop down a creepy alley... no thank you. The Basilica looked nice from the outside, and I am 99% sure the pictures we can scrounge up online of the inside will more than do justice if we want a "glimpse."

Our next goal for the day was to make it out to Murano, the island from which all authentic Venetian hand-blown glass hails. We arrived at the island and were corralled directly into a furnace/showcase hall where a man was working with a big glob of golden glass.  As the announcer explained the glass-blowing tradition, the artist twisted, weaved, and bent that glob into a Ferrari horse. Within maybe four minutes. I have no idea how he was able to create such detail or bring out such vibrant shades of red, orange, green, blue, and purple in the piece. So awesome.

Josephine demanded ice cream next, so we had to appease her. Yes, I am already blaming the baby. We sat outside near a church and let Liam chase some more pigeons before heading back to the main part of Venice. As we waited for the waterbus, Zeke and I had the same idea at the same time: Hard Rock Cafe. They had advertisements for it in every bus station and they were a success because we wound up there for dinner. Total gluttonous deliciousness. My sandwich had BBQ pulled chicken, fried onions, fried jalapenos... glorious.

Before we could leave Venice, we had to blow 100 Euros on a gondola ride. I mean, seriously. It's Venice. It was totally worth it. Josephine stayed awake the entire ride, just looking around and taking it all in. Zeke and I got to sit back and relax for the first time all day, and Liam was beside himself, giggling whenever we squeezed under a bridge or got rocked by a little wave from another gondola. When we approached the Grand Canal, our gondolier invited Liam to his stand and had him assist in moving us through the busy waterway. Liam was scared out of his wits but managed to grit his teeth and get his bearings in time for a perfect photo op.

As the sun fell from the sky, we realized the train station was still a waterbus ride away and we didn't want to be stranded in Venice for the night. Especially since Venice had swallowed all of our money. We made it to the station in time to catch the last train to Vicenza, on which neither of our children napped. We made it home just before midnight, with two tired babies, hundreds of aching bones, pockets emptied and our heads full of fun memories. We took as many pictures as we could to memorialize our little daycation -- I hope you enjoy -- check them out!

Venezia, grazie mille for a fun day. And as for all our Euros you took: you're welcome.

09 June 2014

Due Mesi di Josephine

Our little girl. Our captivating, silly, pleasant, peaceful, trusting, beautiful little girl. Josie Famosie, as Liam decided within a few weeks of her entrance into the world. Given her Italian roots here, that nickname is perfect -- it is a spin on "Famous Josie," which she already is and certainly will continue to be.

Zeke gave you the birth story from his perspective -- which was much more lucid and external than mine -- but I will recap from my viewpoint as I take you through a quick look at the past two months.

Labor Day!
The days leading up to Josephine's birth, I was feeling contractions pretty regularly, but only for an hour or two every afternoon. I made my way to 4cm without even noticing. For the Moms-to-be and Moms-who-still-remember-becoming out there, you know that is just plain fabulous. The day she was born, I started doing slightly weird things. Not out of the ordinary, per se, but things that I knew I was doing because I wouldn't have time again for 6 months or so ("or so" being forever, haha). Things like this.

That sticker goo was not going to remove itself.
Then things started getting exciting. Contractions were every 10 minutes... then 7... then 2-4 within an hour of their starting. I had talked to Labor & Delivery earlier and they told me I was instructed to ignore the standard "wait until contractions are 5 minutes apart for an hour before coming in" rule. I was to come in as soon as they were 5 minutes apart more than like 3 times in a row. They had all decided I was not to be trusted because my tolerance was too high (what are they talking about? Riding a mountain bike to my 38-week checkup is completely relaxing).

While Grandpa Marty received his daily beating from Liam, Zeke was timing me while sipping on a glass of wine and chatting with my mom. I was somewhat oblivious to the contractions but Zeke knows me well enough to keep me in line. He told me they were coming within 4 minutes of each other and we should probably pack the car. I didn't feel like going anywhere but we finally agreed to check in to L&D and confirm we were not having a baby in our bathtub. I was still at 4cm, so they let me sneak back home (but told me not to get comfortable). My nurse/neighbor/bestie of the moment (Crystal) told me she would see me within a few hours.

So we left L&D at 2000. Contractions coming home from L&D were suddenly more vicious. Zeke strapped his TENS machine onto my lower back which made for an insane experience. Waves of electric shocks through my lower back muscles confused my brain enough not to know whether to care more about the contractions or the TENS. After about 15 minutes, I felt like Dr. Yang:

We ripped off the TENS and I awkwardly stood up and paced around the room. Well, I started to pace. After three steps my water broke. Weirdest feeling ever. Time was 2100. After confirming with Zeke that yes, that just happened, I started thinking rationally... I proceeded to the bathroom and hopped into the shower. Because that makes sense. (wtf?) As I stood there, leaning against the shower wall with the hot water beating down on my back, an image flashed into my mind -- a page from a book I had been reading earlier that day, which stated, "If this is your first baby, go to the hospital when you think you are about to die. If this is not your first, go to the hospital when you start doing things but have no idea why you are doing them."

Looks like I should get out of the shower.

I yelled for Zeke, and he helped me climb into some dry clothes. Side note: If that night was any indicator for Zeke's long-term performance, if I turn geriatric before he does, he is going to be so good to me. Love that man.

We got in the car, made it there in three contractions, and in three more contractions we were up to the door, up the stairs, and within the confines of L&D. No small talk was necessary this time; in fact, our nurse didn't get to finish "admitting" us until after Josephine was born. I was at 6cm when we got there at 2150. LTC Morgan showed up within 20 minutes. I wanted to push and couldn't stop it (it was the same involuntary feeling as when you are about to throw up, no joke). She said, "Let's get this baby out!" (Then she opened the ginormous hazardous waste bag, winked at Zeke, motioned into the bag, and quipped, "For catching the baby." Classic.)

So you can imagine the rest. Push once, push twice, push thrice, and at 2237 Baby cries, Mommy giggles, Daddy grins, and she was perfect. Tiny little perfect wonder baby.

Two Months (A Day And A Lifetime Fly By)
Josie is amazing. It took her about a week to learn to trust, but once she got there, she made her niche in this family. She will never suffer from the "ignored second child" syndrome, because she has nestled for herself a unique place that has all three of us keeping her at the top of our lists. Josephine has been a traveler from the beginning, joining us on hikes and sightseeing from Day Three and doing it without complaint (Blog entries on those adventures are coming soon). Having her for a newborn has not impeded us from doing all we want to do -- Josie has enhanced every part of our days from her first moments.

Liam is in love with her, as he says on a daily basis. He asks me regularly why she has such a cute such-and-such, naming every part of her in rotation. Josephine is fascinated with Liam (shocker), and I can tell the two of them will be a pair of besties for years to come.

Her love for her daddy is adorable. Whenever he comes home if he doesn't immediately come talk to her, she gets her diaper in a wad until he does. Then she grins, blows a few drool bubbles, and goes about her babbling.

And for me? My pretty girl is an angel. She eats well, she sleeps well, she loves being held, touched, looked at, sung to, rocked, and CHANGED. Diaper changes are some of the most fun times in this house (which works out well, considering I change her 8-10 times a day or more). She doesn't cry inconsolably. Josie will cry out to receive attention, and once I come to her, she stops yelling, looks at me... and smiles. That trademark toothless grin. Then she cocks her head, brings her ear to her shoulder coyly (how does she already know to do that??), and makes one of those perfectly adorable little baby sounds.

Josie is strong and healthy. She can hold her head up with little exhaustion, she tolerates a pretty fair amount of tummy time, she can hold her head up and even assist in the abs department if I gently pull on her arms to bring her up in a sit-up position, she can hold her weight with her legs in a standing position for a second or two, and she does this hilarious double-kick-double-fist-pump combo when she wants me to pick her up.

For the stats lovers out there, Josephine was 6lbs 11oz and 20.5" at birth. Two months later, she clocked in at 11lbs 4.4oz and 23". That is above-average growth in both arenas. Too fabulous. She isn't roly-poly because she is getting so long so quickly as well. She is just plain fierce.

And for proof of that, check out these pictures. I know that's what you all were waiting for... so for reading all the way to the end, there is your reward. The first chapter of Josie Famosie.

19 May 2014

Buona Pasqua!

Zeke and I have been adamant about raising Liam (and now Josephine) to know holidays for what they should represent... not just a jolly fat man who spies on you and breaks into your home to leave you presents or a giant rabbit that roams around people's yards pooping out candy-filled eggs. We never want our kids to be confused about what really matters. Liam knows Christmas is Jesus' birthday (and Pappy's!), and he knows more than he probably should at his age about the death and resurrection of Jesus that we reflect upon every Easter.

But as you can see from these pictures, we also never want our kids to miss out on commercial fun.

When Josephine woke us for a sunrise feeding, Zeke and I stayed up and got to work. While Zeke found some entertaining places to hide eggs and treats, I stalked him with my hand-drawn map of our yard. I mean, come on. It's Liam. He performed an archaeological dig for Christmas. Of course he is going to want a map to search for Easter goodies.

The next morning, Liam reviewed the map and said, "Hey Mommy, we never got this special treat over here."
And I was all authoritative, saying, "No, we got them all."...
"But look at the map. You didn't cross it off."
"I just forgot to mark it. I am sure we got them all." (I was now no longer sure of that... but had to maintain a semblance of omniscience for the guy.)
"Okay, Mommy. We wouldn't want to leave anything outside or it might go bad."

After this little informative conversation, Liam headed to his room to grab his Zoobs and build another amazing robot creature. Meanwhile, I quietly stepped outside into the yard. Lo and behold, a Snickers peanut butter egg was still neatly tucked in one of the hiding spots. After a day in the sun, it had completely misshapen, but it was still in perfect, unopened condition. I brought it in the house and stuck it in the fridge.

And like a good, protective Mommy, I didn't force Liam to eat the abandoned candy. I ate it. Like five minutes after I put it in the fridge. The sacrifices we parents make...  :)

I hope everyone had a Buona Pasqua -- Happy Easter, giant candy-pooping bunnies and all.