Monday, March 31, 2008

Driving Me Crazy

Do you remember those drivers education videos that we had to watch? People walk out in front of you, cars are double parked, there are confusing traffic lights, and cars pull out from side streets without regard for stop signs.

That is Rome... everyday. The drivers are crazy. I have never seen so many cars double parked.

The Romans have an interesting technique for pulling out onto a major roads from a side street. They wait until there is a tiny break in traffic. Rather than pulling out quickly in front of you, and being on their way, they pull out just enough so that you can't get by. Forcing you to slam on your breaks and stop quickly. Once they confirm that you've stopped, they will then pull out slowly in front of you and proceed to drive slowly for a few minutes just to prove they've gotten the better of you.

The highways are equally tricky here and they make the autobahn look like a go-cart track. The fast lane is basically for people going around 100 + miles per hour. We've found people that we know were going around 120 mph.

I am a pretty good driver in these situations, which I think is a result of my time in France. Although a will give the French credit for being quick (they would never use the pull out technique above) and relatively safe.

My in-laws were here the past two weeks and they couldn't believe how crazy it was, but they felt that way about France too. Once, as I was going around the Etoile, the huge round-about at the Arc de Triomphe, they were practically panicked and definitely had white knuckles. They said they would never want to drive here.

Fortunately, not everyone feels that way. My mom drove our car in France and I'm sure she could handle it here too. She's lived in Chicago for the last ten years and can handle herself around "the crazies". I'll probably need another c-section with this baby and they tell you not to drive for 6 weeks afterwards, so she'll have to drive me around a little. Did any of you have c-sections? Did you wait 6 weeks last time?

What is the hardest driving you've ever done? Where people are the most aggressive? Have you all ever driven in France or Italy?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Positively Thrilled!

I have been waiting for 7 weeks to tell you all about something that happened during my blog break (while my Internet was being hooked up).

Photo from the February 7th, 2008... and yes, the dark line is the "am I pregnant? line" and the lighter one is the "test line". So, not only pregnant, but VERY pregnant, according to the test.

I'm 12 weeks and 2 days and due at the beginning of October. B and I are so excited about it and we're sure Love Bug would be too if she had any idea of what was going on. This was not really planned since we had just arrived in Italy and hoped to be more settled before another miracle happened. And it truly is a miracle! We got pregnant with Love Bug after more than two years of trying and lots of praying.

Please keep us in your prayers for a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, and a healthy Mom!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How an Easter Side Dish Became an Easter Dinner for Nineteen...

Last week my husband's boss invited us all over to their house to celebrate Easter. We bought all the ingredients to make a few pans of my favorite potato casserole and planned to head over to their place mid-afternoon on Sunday. Then his boss called last Thursday to say that his daughter was in the hospital with a kidney stone. My husband decided to step up and be the impressive new guy and invite everyone over. Yes, everyone... spouses, kids, for a grand total of 19 Easter guests.

I went to Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night to make sure I had all morning Sunday to prepare! I'm glad I decided to do this. Despite Easter Vigil Mass being over 2 hours, it is definitely worth it and is one of my favorite masses of the year. There is a bonfire at the beginning, which is shared as everyone lights their candles around the church. The readings and music are always the best and most moving. I thoroughly enjoyed myself this year, even though we spent a lot of the beginning in the dark and I had to console Love Bug through it.

Easter dinner at our place went amazingly well after we bought two big hams, stuffing, green beans, and tons of pineapples for my husband's pineapple casserole. Everyone had a great time, loved our place, and it gave us a chance to host our first get-together here. We love to have parties and this was a great first, of what will probably be many, parties here in Rome. Here are a few pictures of the fun:

Most of the girls gathered around the table...

Love Bug doesn't want to have her picture taken... but Mommy tried!

And the men were in the Living Room...

Why is it that men and women separate at these things? We also had people in the kitchen and children running around the house. It was a full house and a lot of fun.

And if you're interested, here is the recipe for one of the side dishes we served (which was also the dish I planned to take to the original gathering). I got it from my Mother, who got it from someone else. None of us can take credit for it's creation!

Potato Casserole
Heat oven to 350 F

30 oz. frozen potato cubes, small (or you can use hash browns)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped fine
1/4 lb. melted margarine (1 stick)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup crushed corn flakes
4 tsp. melted margarine (1/2 stick)
... and pepper to taste

Thaw potatoes and then mix with green onions, margarine, cream of chicken soup, sour cream, and salt. Pour mixture into a 9 x 13 pan and spread evenly. Then sprinkle with crushed corn flakes, and drizzle with the margarine (4 tsp.). Bake at 350 F for 45-60 minutes, usually closer to 60 minutes.

Enjoy! And I hope all your Easter celebrations were as good as mine!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Love Bug's First Easter Egg Hunt

Love Bug went to her first Easter Egg Hunt. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we had a great time!

Love Bug is greeted and gets a lollipop while waiting for the Easter Bunny.

Yeah! The Easter Bunny!

Mommy explains the hunt to Love Bug, so she knows what to do...

"Pick up the egg..."

"Oh, I get it now, Mommy!"

Putting her eggs in her little pink bag...

My husband's co-workers participating in the Bunny Hop Race. Yes, some people fell, some people got hurt, and yet the little kids in the race made it unscathed.

A very happy girl is ready for Easter!

Monday, March 17, 2008

The 2008 Rome Marathon

Here are some pictures of the Marathon. For more info about my husband's time, etc. see my post from yesterday.

One of the arches over the raceway... at kilometer 36.

Our cheering group poses for a picture... Love Bug and I are in the bottom left.

Here he comes!

Finish at Piazza Venezio and around the Colosseum.

This man was running near my husband the whole race. Every time we saw him the whole cheering crew would yell, "Go, Caesar, Go!"

The Marathon Man with his medal.

After the race... Love Bug is distracted, but we're both very proud of him!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Marathon Man!

My husband did a great job at the Rome marathon today! He ran it in just over four and a half hours, which is about what he planned. He only walked once on the second to last hill for about a half mile, but other than that, ran the other 25 + miles! Love Bug and I are so proud.

I'll post more tomorrow and put some some pictures, but just wanted to let you all know and thank you for any prayers you said for him.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

That's love...

Me: Honey, I love you a lot.
B (my husband): Now how to I know that? (In a joking tone.)
Me: I would've booked a flight a long time ago to take Love Bug home until our search for a new place was over and we were moved.
B: What do you mean?
Me: You've heard how loud they are upstairs. You're the only reason I'm staying... now, that's love.
B: (laughing)

So, no, the neighbors have shown no improvement and it now seems that it will be someone else's problem in a few months. We will be getting out of our rental and into another place once we find something that we like (while investigating the noise level thoroughly). We've talked to a lot of people, both Italian and American and all have agreed that this is not a good fit for a stay-at-home Mom with young kids. Wearing their hard shoes on hard wood floors just doesn't work when we need nap times, and neither do their hours: roughly 7:30 am to 1 am the next night. They wake me up and my husband up (and he is a very heavy sleeper) around 7:45 am every morning and if we can manage to get to bed before they come back there, we can get in about an hour or two before they wake us up with their fighting and/or other (intimate) activities that I care not to talk about.

In happier news, the Rome marathon is tomorrow. My husband is all ready for his first marathon. He's got his energy packs and bib (number) laid out with his clothes, warm-up suit, band-aids, and vase.line. He's got spiffy new red shoes that he's been breaking in, so we should be able to find him by looking for the shoes. Given how long Love Bug can last at these types of things, we're going to head over to one part of the course at noon tomorrow to see him around mile 20, then at mile 22-23, and then the finish, mile 26.2. Pray for him and think happy and fast thoughts for him tomorrow!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Health Care in the United States (actually France), part 2

Read part one of this post here...

I have seen the movie, Sic.ko, and while I don't particularly like Micha.el, I do agree with much of what the movie says about health care in France...

It really is that good.

We were not in the socialized medical system in France, since we did not pay French taxes. But, most of our friends were part of the system and I have first-hand knowledge of many French families and their situations. They weren't just wealthy families who could afford private health care. We had friends from the lower middle class. People who lived in studio apartments and didn't have much for extra luxuries, especially not private medical care. In other words, we had a broad view of people and situations from which to draw conclusions about France's universal health care.

Almost everyone I talked to was happy with the system in France. The thing I obviously heard about the most was childbirth and obstetrics, since most of my friends were around that age. Not only did they have all the same tests that we have in the States, they actually get more specialized ultrasounds with an obstetric radiologist. They also have better postnatal care, with uncomplicated births staying in the hospital for 4 days and woman who have had c-sections staying in the hospital for a week. Cost is not important in the length of the hospital stays- patient health (mother and baby in this case) is paramount.

My husbands job is very concerned about the Americans who work for them and our health care while we're living overseas. They will pay to send you back to the United States if a serious medical issue comes up while you are living overseas. From most countries where we could live, being sent back for even minor surgery is expected. But that's not always true in European countries, especially France. We knew two different people who were treated for cancer there. One woman, after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer that was spreading, stayed even though she was perfectly fine to travel. She explained that the hospital in her French neighborhood was a well known cancer treatment center and people came from around the world to use their new treatments. This is further proof that the care we received there was not at a lower standard that what we would've received in the United States. I had my daughter there and had a great experience as well.

People always ask me about two things regarding the medical care in France. First, they ask about private doctors and "don't you have to pay extra to get good medical care?" Public doctors, who charge the same as what the government will reimburse, are very good. Having gone to a few of them myself, including a dermatologist and family physician, I can say they were professional, very knowledgeable, and many did fellowships with hospitals in the United States or United Kingdom. Most people I knew had regular doctors (who are completely FREE) and all still received an amazing standard of care. Public hospitals (again FREE) are the same standard of care as we have the United States and I assure you, are very nice.

Private doctors can charge a little more than what the government will cover, and the patient pays the balance. They may become private because they have more experience, but often they just charge more for being in a better neighborhood, having a nicer office, or speaking a second language for those who can't speak French. They also get the privilege of practicing at private hospitals. Private hospitals are amazing- with gourmet chefs, extra comfortable linens, private rooms, and they often have massage therapists and beauticians on staff.

The other thing people ask is about cost. Yes, the French pay around 40% of their income as taxes. This sounds high, until you realize that Americans pay around 25% to 30% in taxes and if you are wealthy, even more than that. When you add the cost of your health insurance premiums (which come out of your salary before you even get your pay check) and co-pays, emergency room cost, and dental cost, which are usually not covered well by insurance, most Americans spend another 10% of their salary, on average, for health care. Suddenly, our costs look very similar to the French. And they have other amazing social programs. Help with daycare costs for working mothers, and special tax breaks for having more children. If you own a small business or are a small farmer, the French government helps you out with subsidies if you have a bad year. They take pride in small business, family, and their tremendous social programs.

But don't worry... those who work hard and do well are still allowed to be wealthy. My husband has a few high school friends whose parents are doctors or own successful businesses. I've been to their 5 or 6 bedrooms homes, with pools in the back, and seen their 3 or 4 cars parked in the driveway. Being socialist does not mean taking from the rich and giving to the poor. It simply means that everyone is taxed at a slightly higher rate, so the government has a cushion to protect those who fall on hard times.

Susan had comments on my last post about socialized care in Germany and the issues there. I recommend going to the last post and reading what she has to say- she clearly knows the issues in Germany and what troubles they are facing. I've also heard about some issues in Canada with waiting months for treatments. These are definitely things to consider and read with care. As for France, I have to respectfully disagree with anyone who says it isn't working there. It really does work. Carrie had a post about universal health care, inviting discussion, and I hope this will answer concerns of some of her commenters that universal health care has never really worked. It does, but obviously all the elements have to be there.

Now let me just say on thing before you go crazy- I'm not saying the French have it all figured out. Some things they do are infuriating and they have plenty of problems in their country and goverment. I'm also not saying that we should immediately switch to nationalized health care, but I just want to illustrate that in one place, the system runs smoothly. Just some food for thought. It will definitely be on my mind when I vote in November. What do you all think? What scares you about socialized medicine? Do you think we should at least provide care for children? What obstacles must be overcome before we attempt this?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Works-for-me-Wednesday: Great cake idea

I can't take actual credit for this idea... it's not mine. But I use it a lot and have found it so useful, so I had to pass it on.

This idea is based off the fact that I often use a mix to make my cakes and then make the icing myself. It still has a homemade taste, and requires a lot less work! As I'm mixing up the cake mix, I keep just a few pinches of the powder mix in the bag. I save it until I'm ready to pour the batter into the pan(s). I use butter or butter-flavored Cri.sco to coat the pan first and then I sprinkle the leftover cake mix powder around the bowl. When it's done baking, the cake slips out of the pan(s) so easily, but has none of that ugly white residue from the flour.

I do have one homemade cake recipe that I use occasionally. It is for a chocolate cake, so since I don't have a cake mix, I use cocoa powder. As for what to use with vanilla cake, carrot cake, or spices cakes, I don't have a secret yet. Anyone have ideas for that?
Using cake mix as a flour substitute works for me! Visit Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer for more great ideas!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Health Care in the United States, part 1...

As promised, I have been thinking a lot about health care, since I was thrown back into the American system last fall. This is not political writing, just my impressions of our system, as well as the socialized system in France. If you are inspired, please share your views and I'll be happy to read them with an open mind and heart. Every one's opinions are important, it's what makes our country great, and I want to hear what others have to say about socialized medicine. It's important in the election this fall and something we all need to look at openly...

So, here's my story of my medical care in the United States:

The day we arrived in the United States was pretty uneventful, but I do remember Love Bug crying more than usual. I just thought she was tired. By our second day, she was fussy, not eating, and just generally seemed to be in pain. I tried to call doctors in the area for an appointment, but had trouble. I heard things like, "we aren't taking new patients" and "you have to have a baseline physical before you can come in for sick care... can you go to your regular pediatrician?" No, lady... I can't go to my regular pediatrician, because he's 3,000 miles away in France.

Finally, we gave up on calling pediatricians since it was getting late and we went to the emergency room out of desperation. We were charged $241 for the visit and another $264 by the doctor who NEVER EVEN SAW US or SPOKE A WORD TO US. A nurse practitioner saw Love Bug and doubled checked with the pediatrician before giving us a prescription. What was the horrible diagnosis that require $500 in medical care?

An ear infection. And the $500 was not covered by our insurance because we have to meet a $1,000.00 deductible per year for the Emergency room before they will pay anything. Since we were living in France, with socialized health care until the day before, we obviously hadn't met that deductible yet.

Fortunately, we live comfortably and can afford this. But what about those who can't? $1,000.00 is a lot for most people. $500 for an ear infection is obscene. What about those who are poor, who have no insurance, and don't know anyone who makes a living wage?

Well, the even better news came a few weeks later... we hit our deductible! I was told to have a flu shot, so I headed to the local grocery store/pharmacy for mine. They were offering the pneumovax (for pneumonia) as well, and since I had suffered with this a few times in my life, I decided to get one. Well, my arm started aching an hour later. By 9:00 pm (6 hours later), my whole arm was red, hot, and swollen... as well as sore. We decided to go to the emergency room, since no clinics nearby would treat this kind of thing (they handle ear infections, bronchitis, etc. only). It was a bad reaction to the vaccine. I waited for two hours before I was only seen for 5 minutes. My bill came a few weeks later for almost $600. Since we only needed $500 more to meet the $1,000 deductible, our insurance covered $100 of it. Gee, thanks...

I also had my teeth cleaned and had two fillings done with a local dentist who was a approved provider with my insurance. For the cleaning and x-rays I was charged $120, and for the fillings, I was charged $180 and $165 dollars respectively. These were fair charges based on the area I was in at the time. My insurance only paid $14 for the cleaning and $28 for each of the fillings. I brush and floss regularly, but was blessed with our family trait- soft enamel. Dental health is being paraded in the media as "vital to physical health, especially of the heart". But not vital enough for my insurance to cover apparently. Oh, and by the way, my x-rays weren't covered since I had had them one year earlier. They only cover dental x-rays every two years.

Again, we are okay and could cover these expenses, but what about the families who can't? I don't have some obscure insurance... I have blue c.ross/blue sh.ield.

Obviously, we need something better. I'm not convinced that socialized medicine will work on a large scale in our country, because we are so lawsuit-happy with malpractice, but I would like to at least see some pilot programs for children. No parent should have to decide between treating a child's illness or putting food on the table. I'll post part 2 of this post later this week, about experiences with socialized medicine in France. You can judge for yourself. Their system works well in France, but would it ever work here?

Friday, March 7, 2008

At the Park...

Love Bug's favorite place in the world is the park... any park, as long as they have baby swings and a slide. Here are some pictures of one recent visit. I usually take her myself everyday, but this was a weekend so Daddy and Nana (my Mom) were with us too.

The swings are her favorite. The moment we get to the park she starts pointing at the swings and screeching excitedly. I think it's funny how upright she sits and holds onto the front just like this every time.

The slides are definitely a close second. She will gladly plop down feet first and take off before the catcher at the bottom is even ready. Her smiles are huge as she slides down and she has no fear about it.

Peeking through the play structure...

Another peek... she was having so much fun playing peek-a-boo with Nana so Daddy could take a picture.

We start heading home and she cries. The only way Daddy can calm her down is to put her on his shoulders for a ride!
Do your kids like the park? What is their favorite thing there? As for us, I think Love Bug will gladly move anywhere in the world for Daddy's job, as long as there is a park nearby. I think we'll have to put in a swing set anytime there isn't one.
And she will also certainly love roller coasters like her Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Backwards Works-for-me-Wednesdays: Cutting your toddlers nails?

Love Bug is 16 months old and hates when I cut her nails. I have to work on it all day when I can catch her or wait until my husband gets home and have him hold her while I do it. I do it quickly and have never cut her, so I don't understand why she would hate it so much.

Does anyone have any advice for cutting her nails? A way to get her to sit still? A game so she'll think it's fun? Anything would help!
Need some help yourself? Stop by Rocks in my Dryer, hosted by Shannon, to get some advice!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Help... Really Loud Neighbors!

Please help us! We love our new place, but have found our upstairs neighbors almost impossible to live under. Keeping in mind that we have all hardwood or marble floors in our building, here is what we hear daily from their place:

7:30 am- They are getting ready, drawers slamming, dropping things.

8:15 am- They all put on hard-soled shoes and continue to wear them until they leave an hour later.

Around 9:30 am- The cleaning lady arrives and proceeds to clean the whole house for the next three hours, moving furniture with LOUD scraping, vacuuming under it, and then moving it back. She comes every day... Monday to Friday.

Noon - 2:00 pm- The family comes home for lunch and we have a chorus of chairs scraping and kids running up and down the halls in hard shoes.

2:00 - 4:00 pm- This is supposed to be a mandatory rest period every afternoon and the kids are fortunately back at school, but the Mother is often loud.

5:00 pm- The kids arrive home and proceed to run up and down the halls for two hours.

10:00 pm- The kids running before bed, sometimes waking Love Bug up in the process. When confronted about late nights they claim to always put their children in bed by 9:30 or earlier... ha ha.

1:00 am (or 2:00 am on weekends)- Dad stomps around for 15 to 30 minutes before getting in bed.

Not only is this difficult to deal with, since we would prefer a nice long stretch of 10 hours to sleep at night, but it also cuts into Love Bugs naps on many days. The constant noise is an assault on my ears, but can also make life difficult for a stay-at-home Mom. So, given this level of noise, we finally complained and someone from the building management called the neighbors for us. Their response was that they were sorry and would try to be better.

Our hopes were quickly dashed! Around midnight we heard something coming from our bedroom as we headed off to bed. They were fighting above our bedroom... loudly... really loudly. Also, to our surprise, there was a third voice other than Mom and Dad (we have also heard them at 9 or 10 pm)... it was there older son, who is ten years old. Ten... yes, TEN! Not only were they fighting with a ten year old, but it continued until after 2 am. Let me assure you that pigs will be flying in a frozen hell before I am ever going to fight with my ten year old. I will be a fair Mom, yet, the dictator of my house, none the less. So, this explains the constant running by their other child, a four year old boy... they clearly have no control over either of them.

We are hoping to move to another place in a few months and have started looking, but until then what do I do? Any advice on how to handle this? How to muffle some of the sounds? How to ignore it and sleep anyway?

I also need advice on how to handle my own anger over the situation. Don't be too worried, because I'm pretty intimidated by them (their fighting and loudness makes them seem very confrontational and scary) and I'm not the type to confront someone or start a fight. I just need your prayers for forgiveness. The noise makes me mad and I sometimes treat my family badly because of my anger. I also don't play with Love Bug as much when we have a bad night and I'm tired. While I'm angry at them for being so loud, I can't help but feel angry at myself for letting them ruin my home life.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Step One... Unpack and Get Organized

We have been working on getting everything organized and in place over the last few weeks. I wanted to share some pictures from beforehand so you could see how much we've progressed. I'll post the after pictures at the end of the week.

This is our Living Room and Dining Room... notice the piles of boxes and hoards of baby stuff looming.

The kitchen is not too bad, but you can't see the crazy unorganized drawers and cabinets. I'll have to post pictures of those now that they look so pretty.

Our room isn't actually looking much better, but hopefully it will by the end of the week!

Love Bug's room is pretty bare here, but at least it's put together.
I'll post more pictures of how organized we are at the end of the week.... hopefully I won't be lying when I say organized. Anyway, check back tomorrow too, because we do have one issue with our new place and we need some help!