Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Back: 2012

It's that time again...for me to be publicly accountable for how I did on my New Year's Resolutions. As a reminder here were my resolutions for 2012:  


- Be well on my way to becoming fluent in Italian.  
- Get my photography business up and going
- Have our home more Christ centered: family prayers, scripture study, FHE, etc.
- Never say no to Miles when he asks me to read to him
-Make healthy choices: eating, exercising, etc.
 
- Remember birthdays
- Once a month send a letter (as in paper and pen) to someone 



And now for the grades:


B - Be well on my way to becoming fluent in Italian.    
This one has happened partially because of my studies and partially because of everyday life.  Learning to navigate the markets, grocery stores, and church (which is 90% in Italian) has really beefed up my knowledge.  I'm not fluent but I'm working on it!

B - Get my photography business up and going
This is going...I had several paid shoots this year and I've studied and practiced and read a LOT.  I also updated my website and created a Facebook page for my photography business.  Plus I got a lot of sweet photography goodies for Christmas and my birthday. 

 
C - Have our home more Christ centered: family prayers, scripture study, FHE, etc.
This one was better than years past, but still not up to where I'd like it.  We do have nightly prayers, and weekly FHE, but I don't get as much individual scripture study as I'd like.

A - Never say no to Miles when he asks me to read to him  
We read to Miles every night before bed and he and I read quite often during the day.  Cute little guy loves to have mommy read to him.

A -Make healthy choices: eating, exercising, etc.

I hit this one out of the park.  I went on a healthy eating/lifestyle change/diet and LOST 40 LBS!  Go me!!!  I feel the best I have in ages, I sleep better, and I finally don't wince when I see myself in the mirror.  I hope to continue with it this year, lose more weight, and get in even better shape. 
 
B - Remember birthdays
I did those on FB...almost all of them.  Better, but not as good as I'd like.

C - Once a month send a letter (as in paper and pen) to someone 
I did this almost every month.  Although by "I" I mean I mailed, Miles colored, etc.  We sent cards to grandparents for Valentines, Easter, Halloween...and such.  A couple times I just had Miles color on paper and we mailed that to grandma.  I also sent postcards from our travels.  So I give myself a C because I did it, but only a C because they weren't letters. 



What were your resolutions...how'd you do? 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top Ten of 2012

Top ten moments of 2012
...in no particular order

Watching Miles take his first steps:

Bearing my testimony at church...in Italian

Bus trip to the Bern, Switzerland LDS Temple with a bunch of Italians:

Seeing the Colosseum in person:

Visiting Germany:


Seeing the scale read a # below 200lbs (first time in 6 years):

Learning to drive like an Italian

Eurochocolate Festival with girlfriends:

Seeing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower in the pouring rain

Renting a boat with friends and sailing around the islands of Procida and Ischia:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Buon Natale


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Santa

A couple weeks back we took Miles to see Santa.  He didn't cry but he did keep a really close eye on him.  And there were NO smiles.  

Miles testing out Santa's chair and bell: 


Family of three with Santa:



But when we left we did get him to high-five Santa.  :)



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Decking the halls

When we were making decisions about what to bring with us to Italy and what to leave behind, I hemmed and hawed over our Christmas tree.  We have a pretty awesome 9ft pre-lit tree that the previous owners left in the basement of the house we bought in Logan. But it is 110V, and Italy runs on 220V electricity.  I didn't want to plug it into the big transformer for the whole month (WICKED expensive!) but I also didn't want to be without a tree.  In the end, it stayed; as did all of our holiday decorations except our stockings.  I do miss having all our decorations - ESPECIALLY my Halloween stuff - but it is for the best I guess.  Our entire house (like most houses in Italy) has only ONE closet, and it isn't very big.  It holds our games, cleaning supplies, cooler, and a few other random things I just didn't want sitting out all the time.  We don't have a basement or an attic so storing our monster of a tree and my tubs and tubs of decorations would have been tricky.  Although I suppose I could have fashioned some sort of couch out of them.  I kid, I kid.  

Anywhoo...Christmas rolls around and I know we need a tree.  Well, we don't really NEED one, but I need one.  You know, with being a Christmas Baby and all.  :)  We think about getting a real tree, but trees in Italy are legally required to still have roots.  So they come in HUGE pots.  And a big pot of dirt is NOT what I wanted to have sitting in our living room...Mario is a pest and we'd have dirt EVERYWHERE.  So we went down to our friendly local hardware store to see what they had in stock.



We found one that wasn't too pricey (we'll only use it a couple years tops) but was still nice looking.  They loaded it all up for us (seriously, there are times I feel so spoiled living here in Italy...people are SO NICE) and we headed home to decorate it. We had picked up a bunch of decorations at IKEA a couple days before...all their stuff was on sale so we snatched it up!

After we got it all decorated I had to take a picture before the cats and toddler ruined it:



Our cute little living room:


The Santa on the table on the right is our advent calendar.  There are 25 little boxes and we put white chocolate peppermint kisses in them.  Miles knows what it is and every day carries Santa to me so we can eat the kisses.  

And of course it wouldn't be Christmas in the Ward household without putting some ridiculous hats on our cats.  Winston looks thrilled doesn't he?   


Last year Miles was too little to really bother the tree.  He was sitting up but not crawling.  I was a bit worried about this year, but he actually does pretty good.  He thinks the lights are hot so he won't touch anything.  But Mario...oh man, that cat...Mario LOVES playing in the tree.  He climbs it and eats it and pulls at the strands of beads.  I am always telling him to "get out!"  Miles picked up on it and now when Mario gets in the tree he runs over and yells "deh uht!" (get out in Miles' jabber language)


I spy
For my Christmas present, I got this:


We were at the local mall and there were a couple young girls with a table in the hallway selling olive wood nativities of various sizes.  I loved this one as soon as I saw it.  But it wasn't until after we talked to them that we found out they are from Bethlehem.  A charity there sends lots of these nativities all over to be sold, and the proceeds go back to Bethlehem.  It has something to do with children...but the details were lost in translation.  (my Italian is coming but it wasn't quite good enough for an in depth discussion on charities).  An olive wood nativity was on my Italy "souvenir" wish list...and now I've got one!!  

Having all the Christmas stuff up has really helped my spirits.  That and learning that my parents are coming to visit!!!!  My dad - who HATES to fly - is going to fly over an ocean to come see us.  Poor mom will have to sit next to his jumpy legs the whole time.  They get here at the end of the month and will be here for a little bit.  We can't wait to see them and show them Italy!

Friday, December 07, 2012

{{{cold}}}

It's cold here.  

Now I do realize I have people reading this blog in Germany, Utah, Maine, and Rhode Island...all of which are cold as well.  But you know what the big difference is between here and there?  Insulation.  Our house has none.  Not like "Oh man, our house has poor insulation"...literally, we have NONE.  Our house is made (as are all houses in southern Italy) of cinder block and cement.  That's it.  Oh, and tile or marble floors.  So when it's mid-40's outside it's not much warmer inside.  Sure, we have wall radiators that use gas...but they are E.X.P.E.N.S.I.V.E. to run.  If we ran them for ONLY four hours each evening our gas bill for one month would be over FIVE HUNDRED dollars.  I shudder to think about keeping them on all day!  So instead I run a little space heater in whichever room I'm in...and we layer like crazy.  Long john undies, leggings, sweat pants, two pair of socks, slippers, t-shirt, hoodie...and sometimes a hat.  INSIDE OUR HOUSE.  Because even with the space heaters going, the heat escapes so quick through the cement the temperature doesn't climb much.  We've tried to minimize this as much as we can buy covering as much floor as we can in rugs, putting all our big furniture against outside walls, putting curtains over each door/window, and keeping our metal shutters closed...but it doesn't help much.  Last night at 6pm it was 54 degrees in our house.  FIFTY-FOUR.  

So anyway...it's cold here.  

Only 102 days until spring.  


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Freezer Meals: Take 1

I've been wanting to do this for a while...but I haven't mostly because I was just too lazy to do the work: find recipes, make detailed shopping lists, and then spend an entire day in the kitchen.  

But then I realized I hate the "what should I make for dinner" dance.  So I bit the bullet and got to work.  First let me say that Pinterest is a godsend.  Seriously.  I scoured and scoured...until my scourerer was sore.  There are two types of freezer cooking.  The "make bags of stuff to heat in a slow cooker" kind and the "cook the meals and then freeze them" kind.  I love slow cooker meals in the winter, plus it seemed easier so I opted for the slow cooker version.  I looked for recipes that would work in the slow cooker and recipes that I knew we would eat.  I came up with a list of about twelve.  I pared that down to seven.  

Ok, so let me explain the process (in case there are other newbies like me) and then I'll post the recipes.  

Freezer Cooking Process:

First, decide how many meals you want to make.  Take into account your freezer size.  If we had a deep freeze I'd make 364 meals.  Ok, probably not that many actually.  Probably.  

Next, find your recipes.  I used Pinterest, and THIS website.  All the recipes I found (but 2) made two large ziplock bag portions.  Each bag is enough to feed us (2 adults and a toddler) for dinner and lunch (for hubby..and maybe me) the next day.

Make a DETAILED shopping list.  I do love lists.  But sometimes I get skimpy on the grocery list.  I'll put "tomatoes" not "6 large tomatoes" You need to bring out all your OCD on this list.  Trust me.  I had to go to the store three times because of things I overlooked.  Once you have your list, check it twice.  (ha ha...couldn't resist...tis the season!)  But seriously.  Check. It. Twice.  Be sure you have heavy freezer ziplock bags on your list.

Then go shop!  I didn't plan my shopping and prepping day for the same day.  It seemed like too much to do in one day.  (The base grocery store is 45 mins from our house...that's quite a hike) I did NOT freeze my meat when I got home from the store.  I didn't want it to thaw and then refreeze it.  Somewhere in my brain I think I remember hearing that isn't ok.  I used the packages of thinly sliced chicken breasts.  So on my recipes that's what it references.  

On your prep day, keep your recipes handy.  I started with my odd (single...not doubled, also my only non-chicken) recipes.  I was planning on one pork roast and one beef stew.  I bagged the roast, then started chopping carrots.  Almost every recipe had carrots, so I had a TON to peel and slice.  Then I moved to onions, and then garlic cloves.  Those were my most common ingredients.  After those three things were done I bagged the stew.  Then moved to the veggie soup (TONS of chopping there), and the remaining chicken dishes.  When doing the double recipes, I would chop all the veggies first (or chicken) and then split it between bags.  When it came time for the spices, I would just measure half of the spice listed directly into each bag.  The only ones I put meat in right away were the roast and the stew.  ALL my chicken ones I waited until the remaining recipes were complete except meat, then did the meat all at once.  I just filled the bags with the ingredients and lined them up on my counter until they were done.  Then I started on the chicken, adding it to each recipe as I went.  You can leave the chicken breasts whole, or chop them up.  I prefer them chopped...but it is a personal preference.  You will be able to stretch chopped chicken farther than a whole breast.  When the recipe is complete, squeeze the air out of the bag, massage it a bit to get them all marinating in their juices, and stack them in the freezer.  

Oh...and I made sure to label each of the bags; the name of the dish as well as the cooking instructions.  All of the info I found on these said to pull the bag out of the freezer the night before you want to use it, let it defrost in your fridge and cook it in your slow cooker the following day.  Cooking times will be 4-5 hours on high and 6-8 on low.  It depends on your slow cooker...so keep an eye on it!


Ok...now onto the recipes.  

Ginger Cranberry Pork Roast
1 pork roast
1 bag fresh cranberries, washed
1/2 C. fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs cornstarch

Cooking directions: add 1 C. water and cook

Cumin/Cinnamon Beef Stew
2lbs roast meat
3 C. chopped carrots
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne 
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cooking directions: add 1 C. water, 4 C. chopped potatoes, cook

Veggie Soup
2 onions, diced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 bag of frozen mixed veggies (beans, corn, peas, carrots)
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 bag frozen cauliflower
1 can diced tomatoes
2 C quinoa

Cooking directions: add 1 can of broth (veggie, chicken, beef...your choice) and cook.

Cilantro Lime Chicken
2 packages chicken
3 Tbs olive oil
2 limes, juiced
2 C. chopped cilantro
1 bag of frozen corn
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cans of black beans, drained
2 tsp cumin

Cooking directions: cook.  Serve with tortillas and sour cream

Teriyaki Chicken
3 packages chicken
1 C. carrots, chopped
1 red onion, cut into chunks
2 cans pineapple chunks
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bottle teriyaki sauce

Cooking directions: Cook, serve over rice

Chicken Curry
2 packages chicken
3 Tbs flour
4 Tbs curry powder
2 tsp cumin
2 C. sweet potatoes, cubed
2 C. carrots, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

Cooking directions: add one can of chicken broth and cook.  Serve with rice or noodles, garnish with peanuts. 

Chicken Chili
2 packages chicken
56 oz tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans
1 can great northern beans
1 can black beans
30 oz frozen corn
2 onions, diced
1 can diced green chilies
4 stalks of celery, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs flour
4 Tbs dried, minced onion
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 sugar
1 tsp cumin

Cooking directions: add a little bit of water if needed. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Truffles

All year we have been collecting items to send to our families in their Christmas packages.  Last week at the market I grabbed a large bag of chocolate truffles to send in a few of the boxes.  Then evening before last, after Miles went to bed, we pulled out everything we'd been collecting all year to sort into piles and see what we still needed to pick up so we can get our Christmas packages in the mail.  I took the truffles and put them in the appropriate boxes and went to bed.  The following morning Miles wanted to investigate the pile of boxes.  He saw the brightly colored, shiny truffles and picked one up in his chubby little hand.  He brought it over to me and pointed to my hand, which is what he does when he wants me to open something.  I thought "what the heck" and opened the truffle and gave it to him.  He took a tentative sniff, then a lick (you can tell his brothers are cats), and decided it was safe to eat.  After one, he tried for another.  I told him no, tears ensued, I tried distraction, which worked for about 2.3 minutes.  He ran back into the room, straight for the truffles, grabbed another, came to me and handed it to me.  I caved.  I am powerless to resist the chocolate-eyed adorableness.  

Fast forward to the evening.  Daddy comes home from work, we have dinner, and are playing together when Miles suddenly leaves the room.  We wait a few seconds, then hear a crinkling sound that I recognize as the chubby handed fishing of truffles out of a box.  We wait for him to return to us to have mommy open the delicious treat.  Only the sound of crinkling isn't followed by the sound of heavy footed toddler steps back in our direction.  It is followed by silence.  Which is not golden when you have a toddler.  We make a break for the other room.  

We find him, kneeling on the floor next to Grandma & Grandpa's box.  Wrapper discarded on the floor, chubby fingers wrapped around a ball of chocolate.  "CHEEEEESE" he says, accompanied by a big grin to show of his teeth, and then he pops the truffle in his mouth.  Now he looks like a chipmunk smuggling enough nuts for a family of 8 for the whole winter.  We move towards him, but those deep chocolate brown eyes glisten and another "CHEEESE" freeze us in our tracks.  With a loud giggle he jumps up and runs out of the room.  I don't chase after him to scold him...I can't...he's just too cute.  And after all I am proud of him for figuring out how to open the wrapper all by himself. 

He will never be able to do anything wrong. 

We are in trouble.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Missing

Living in Italy is great - I'm not going to lie - 
but there are some days I just miss being in the US.  

Knowing that if we needed milk/diapers/medicine at 11pm we had a number of places to go grab it...here there are no 24 hour Walgreens or Targets. 
And the comfort of knowing if Miles ever needed to go to the ER (or any of us for that matter) that we could go and not have to worry about a language barrier (most people in southern Italy, outside of tourist destinations, do NOT speak English...and the base's ER is 45 mins away).  
And being able to pick up the phone at any time of day and be able to call someone...my mom, dad, brothers, friends...and not have to calculate the time difference in my head. 
And having parks to go to where Miles can play and run and climb and go down slides and swing...we have one.  Seriously...ONE within a two hour driving distance...and it has no swings.  (but I'm grateful to even have one)
 And the variety of foods available back in the states...Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Steakhouses, Italian, Burgers, Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Fried Chicken, Sushi.  Here it is pizza, pasta, and gelato, which are all AMAZING...but sometimes I just want something different.
And Michael's, Joann's, and Hobby Lobby...oh do I miss those.  I'm not sure how I'll make it through the holidays without them.  
And Dollar Stores.
Not paying the equivalent of $5/gallon for gas...and that's AFTER our 50% discount that the government negotiated for us.  (Gas is almost $10/gal here in Italy) 
And especially now, around the holidays, being able to see/eat/do familiar things...

Today is one of those days I'm just missing home. 
 The feeling will pass.
Eventually.
Sigh.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In the mood

I believe nothing...NOTHING...can set a mood quicker than music.  At church, in a movie, for a holiday...pretty much everywhere.  I love to have Christmas music going in the background starting the beginning of November (shhhh...don't tell Nathan, he thinks I wait until Thanksgiving) until New Years.  I have many Christmas albums, but after listening to Christmas music non-stop for eight weeks by the time December 25th comes around I need something new.  So I'm always on the search for a good album...or even better, FREE or CHEAP albums.  I happened to find a few and thought I'd share.  Aren't I nice?   Santa, take note. 

(oh...just fyi: if you are an overseas friend or family, you'll have to turn on your VPN blocker to download the albums as Amazon says they are for US customers only.  We use Strong VPN, a year's membership is like $50)


Green Hill ChristmasFREE.  It's sort of like Mannheim Steamroller and soft jazz had a baby album.  It will be nice to have in the background during a dinner party. 

 Truly Tribal ChristmasFREE.  Ok this one is admittedly a little hokey, but Miles loves it...and it was free, so we'll keep it.  It's like Christmas in Jamaica with lot of steel drums and bongos...which is probably why Miles is such a fan, he LOVES drums.

100% Christmas $5.99 This one is for all those Rat Pack fans.   It is all the classics...sung by all the classics.  Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Elvis, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Louis Armstrong, Gene Autry, The Andrews Sisters.  100 sings, no repeats.  I was pretty happy when I found this one!   This album also has Dominick The Donkey (Italian Christmas Donkey) song...which Miles also loves.  So do I. 

Colbie Caillat, Christmas in the Sand.  $3.99.  I got this as a baby shower prize and I love it.  It is traditional Christmas tunes, sung by Colbie Caillat.  I love her voice and the feel of the songs.  Well worth the $3.99.

Christmas AnthemFREE. This is just a single song not an album.  It is so catchy.  Two male voices in a cool harmony. 

Straight No Chaser, Christmas Cheers $5.00.   I love this group.  It's an acapella men's group.  And their arrangements are pretty amazing.

Christmas Pickins.  $1.29.  This will definitely not be everyone's cup of tea...but my dad would love it.  It's all banjo music.  Really. 

How would you like NINETY-NINE songs for $3.99.  Seriously...99.  As in 99 red  balloons, or 99 bottles of beer on the wall.  99 Musy Have Christmas Classics $3.99.  It is a bit of a variety.  Some Vienna Boys Choir, some choral pieces, some traditional pieces.  You may not like all 99 songs, but for $3.99 I bet you can find a few you like. 

Ok, and if you thought 99 songs for $3.99 was good, my next find will knock your socks off.  Two hundred and eighty songs...yes, 280, for $0.99.  Legally.  Crazy yes?  Big Christmas Box $0.99.  This one is awesome...it is THIRTEEN hours of Christmas music.  It is mostly softer, instrumental music...you get the full nutcracker ballet performed by the Utah Symphony Orchestra, and the FULL Messiah. 


Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

EuroChocolate

About a month ago I went to Perugia with three girlfriends for the sole purpose of eating chocolate.  Seriously.  Best idea ever, right?!  Girlfriends + chocolate - kids & hubbies = amazing 36 hours.  One of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe is held in Perugia each year...and man alive it was WORTH the four and a half hour drive!!  The city of Perugia is set up on a steep hill and they excavated under some of the ruins and built escalators from the bottom to the top of the city.  So smart...and convenient for us visitors! 

The stay started well with complimentary chocolate in our rooms...and it was perfect because I like dark and Davina (my roomie) likes milk!


After we checked in we headed up to the festival to get our chocolate tasting/buying going!  You picked up this card and went around the festival getting free samples.  





The first stop was a hot chocolate booth...and the hot chocolate was AMAZING!  It was super thick...so thick that our spoons stood up straight.  


 

We saw some chocoKebab:


A picture of the girls: Me, Davina, Christy, and Jessica.


Here's a pic to get your salivary glands going:


Here's a shot of one of the streets where the festival was held.  
 

This Pinocchio statue was in one of the shops...the sign says I don't like chocolate.  
 

Self group shot...my arm is just not quite long enough


We didn't see and taste just chocolate.  We also found some awesome regional cheeses:
 

While in Perugia, we found the ever-elusive GROM.  GROM is pretty much the. best. gelato. ever.   They make it with all natural ingredients...so it tastes exactly like what it should, no artificial berry flavors or over sweetened chocolate...just pure, natural goodness.  The closest one to us in in Rome...3.5 hours away.  Sad face. 

  Feet and gelato in Perugia.






Of course since we couldn't possibly stay only one night...so we stayed overnight and went back again the next day.   The hotel's breakfast was YUMMY...yummy...YUMMY!!!


Feet in Perugia:
 


And here's some more pics to make you jealous :)
 




After tasting a bit more chocolate we decided to head to GROM one more time. 


Here's an upclose shot of my gelato...pear and no-sugar added dark chocolate.  
 

After gelato Davina and I found a red carpet...it suited us:
 


While Davina and I were letting our inner diva's out, Christy and Jessica were stretching hip flexors.  
 

This is the dungeon where they put all the non-chocolate lovers:
 

After seeing our last little bit of chocolate we decided to head to Assisi to check out the cute town on the hill and the Cathedral of St Francis.   The St Franciscan order of monks began here...pretty cool. 


Here's a view of Assisi...sitting up on the hill. 
 

We had to park down the hill and hoof it up the the city center...definitely helped work off some of the chocolate we'd eaten. 
 





The St Francis Cathedral:
 


Us out front of the cathedral.




After the cathedral we made our way back home.  We laughed a lot, had a gas-finding adventure, discovered that gas stations in Italy serve wine, and made a vow to go back again next year!