I think when most people think of Italy, and Milan, they get a romanticized vision of everything. Cobblestone streets, gorgeous architecture, stunning scenery, blue skies, shops galore, street side cafe's and walking hand in hand. It all sounds lovely and if you find a place like that let me know, because I could use a break.
That is far from the reality here and financially, I don't think anybody, unless they have had to up and MOVE (not visit, not travel through, not vacation) to a foreign country with 4 kids and 3 adults can begin to make assumptions about what it "should" be like for us here. In addition to the overwhelming fear of our daily lives when it comes to our children, we have had to navigate life in another country, where we don't know the language, where life simply does not resemble anything you know as life in Midwest America...or America at all. The US Dollar is barely worth the paper it is printed on here. And, if you did not realize, Milan is the 15th most expensive city for expats in the world. To put that in perspective...I know many in the midwest who would cringe if they had to move to New York City because of cost of living. New York City is 27th on the list.
I am not one to ever post much about what ISN'T great if it isn't necessary, like the trials faced with Giovanni's treatment. I don't like to complain, I try to focus on the positive. I didn't post about my locker being gone through at the hospital and then left unlocked for all of my stuff to be taken overnight. I did not post about the people in the building reporting us for not recycling properly because it was never explained to us that you need to separate EVERYTHING...even food or even where we were supposed to take it each day. I did not post about navigating around piles of dog poop on the sidewalks because few people pick it up here, or the big fight at the train station that was because of us and our stroller trying to get on the hospital train. The locals all came to our defense against the much disliked "transit man" who came out of his booth to confront them all when our train arrived (this was after a shouting match on the train with him over the loud speaker).
I know that those posts would make for a good read once in a while but unless I have a big reason to address something negative...a passion, a defense of my family, a concern for someone else...I won't usually focus much on that stuff with the public. Right now is one of those times I feel, as my family has been misrepresented and someone out there thinks that we are doing things here and living it up on donations and nothing could be farther from the truth. And, this again makes Mama Bear come out.
Before I get into the "exciting" details of our time here in Milan I did want to point out that we are currently waiting on a fraud investigation on our account. There is a charge for $1000 some odd dollars that is not ours. I do not know how long to expect the investigation to go on but we certainly hope that it will be resolved soon. We fell victims to this charge (which appeared once before and then disappeared) and I acted as quickly as possible with not way of actually phoning Wells Fargo from here to get the next steps to file a report. The report was filed by Jen Hendrickson in Omaha (who is also on the account) and we hope for a quick resolution for all of us affected by the charge.
Ok...picture this. We are 7 people, 4 kids and 3 adults, living in a 2 bedroom flat. Homes and apartments in America are quite palatial compared to homes in Milan. Except for the bathrooms here, things are quite small (they like big bathrooms). Those 7 people, have just 4 beds and my 6'9 husband is sleeping on a 6'0 cot (that he insists is shaped like a banana). This is likely the reason he has had his back out for the last week and limps around like Grandpa.. I feel bad for him but we tried to find different configurations for sleeping for a while and that was what worked best for everyone. Being the loving wife that I am, I reminded him that I slept in a baby crib for 60 days so he needed to learn to love his banana cot.
We moved to this flat, in a village outside of the city in Mid-February after living in a hotel with 7 people for a month. I say we, but in reality, it was Brad, Tarah, Aria, Miles and Liviana because I was in "the box" for 6 straight days as Giovanni started his chemotherapy. Remember when you were getting ready to start college and your mom took you to Target or Wal-mart to get everything for your room. All you had to start with was a bed, desk and very basic furniture items. That is pretty much what we faced except it is for 7 people. We needed towels, sheets, pillows, comforters, kitchen items like dish towels, bowels, cups, glasses, trash cans, brooms, mops, cleaning supplies, toiletries beyond the 3 oz. containers we had, plug converters, hangers, blankets and other small miscellaneous things. There were a few things in the kitchen, which helped but I had to get inventive when I made Lasagna last week when I realized we did not have a casserole type dish. With each day you realize more things you miss and need from home. We take for granted having a home full of things when we need them. The power has gone out several times at night...where are the candles and lighter until it is restored. We still don't even have a rack to hang our laundry that doesn't take 2 days for it to dry. That can back things up with 7 people and 4 kids who go through clothes quicker than we do. There aren't dryers here so people hang things outside. We will probably find one when it is close to time for us to leave. We have lightbulbs burned out in the flat and have yet to figure out where to buy them to match. There isn't an ACE hardware on the corner and what they have at the market isn't even remotely close to the same kind.
Being outside of Milan and not in the hotel anymore means that we have to take the train to the hospital. We can see the top of the hospital from our village train station but it is a 1/2 hour to 45 minute train ride one-way depending on the time of day and a 1 mile walk from our flat to the train station. In the month of March we turned in over 240Euro in train tickets for reimbursement and that was not all of them, as I had some in my bag as well...I would say with all of them it was probably slightly over 300Euro The hospital has not reimbursed us for those. Each time I left the hospital I waited on trains, switched trains and made my 1 mile walk back to the flat. For about 2 weeks those walks were in the rain. I know, I know..."I walked up hill in the snow when I was a kid"...my point is...that is life without a nice vehicle to jump into and go home.
Food....ahhh food. This is where most of all of our expenses go. I would say easily...93% of finances is on feeding all of us. Forget all about bulk shopping, going to the store every other week of even once a week. The culture here around grocery shopping is very far from America. Refrigerators are small and freezers even smaller. Meat expires usually the day you are buying it, as they don't "stock up" on food here to have for the week. You buy for each day or each two days. Our kids go through 7 -9 boxes of cereal a WEEK and 5 gallons of milk. When I first went to the market when we were living in the hotel I thought...WOW...this is cheap. It took me getting back and realizing the horror of the currency exchange to know that it is not cheap for us and when were at the hotel I was stocking a hotel sized tiny fridge. I added up in 14 days at the beginning of March we spent 320.91 Euro on groceries. That comes out to $469.00 US dollars. See....that hurts! There really is no choice though. I am the master of creative cooking with what I have but that is easier when you are in an established kitchen with a variety of items for random, not everyday use. I don't have the luxury of going to the store and getting all of those useful items. Not only would it not make sense to fully stock a kitchen we will be leaving in a little over a month but we have to walk to market. It is about 1/2 a mile away and we can only buy what we can pull home in our pull cart or carry. Another reason we have to go each day or every other day.
The grocery market is also closed 3 hours during the day, each day and closes for the night at 7pm and is not open on Sunday. When were still in the hotel we ran out of diapers on Sunday and had not learned the Italian system yet so Brad had to take a taxi 45 minutes away to the one open Sunday market for diapers. Again...don't take for granted being able to get whatever you want, when you want it in America.
We are reimbursed by the hospital for $500. That is all! Few people realize that and some that still do think that we still should be fine on that I guess. When we moved further away from the hospital we added the train expense that cuts into our food money even more. We have to wait and wait and wait on reimbursements and when we do get them they may or may not be correct....so we wait some more. We are currently waiting and it is bank holiday time because of Easter so no office workers from Thursday to Monday.
So..what if we want to head out and about. After all, we have yanked the kids out of school..which they loved and we want them to get something enriching out of this different cultural experience. Surely we are not expected to keep them in the flat all the time. We mostly, probably 98% of the time head out in the village to the local parks and "exploring" as Tarah and the kids call it. We have a few times, but mostly before Giovanni went into the hospital gone into the city to check things out and show the kids the sights. The last few times I came home when Giovanni was in the hospital for our day visits Brad and I took the kids down to some different museums, a natural food store I had hunted down for some non-toxic cleaner (I make no apologies for that) and another time to an open air market to find them some summer clothes (that was a MADHOUSE). Each time we go somewhere it is an 1.5 hour train experience ONE WAY to get there from the time we leave the house from the time we arrive at our destination. Each time we have gone out as a group, we know we will have to eat while we are out. We are far from home, out for hours and no matter what will run into a meal time with cranky, hungry kids and frankly us too after walking and walking and walking in the heat and sun. You may think...why can't you bring food with you? Well, in America, that would work great. Get a cooler (haven't seen one of those here), get some ice (this is Europe, they don't use or sell ice) and pack lunches. I am not sure the people crammed onto the train with us (so crammed we have had to let them go by because we could not all fit, let alone with a stroller) would appreciate a big cooler even if they did sell them and use them here along with the 4 kids, 3 adults and a stroller. I guess we could get ice trays...right?...haven't seen those either and the amount of trays it would take would not fit in our tiny freezer that is divided into drawers. So...we stop at a pizzeria to feed the hungry troops. The prices seem great and cheap but then we realize again the American dollar is the crapper and they don't seem so great anymore. Although...I will admit the quality of food beats the US anytime.
We found out on January 7th that we were indeed accepted to come to Milan and they wanted us here on the 12th. It was an absolute frenzy. I was trying to wrap things up with my business, Aria was in school and we had to ALL go to Minneapolis to get our passports plus we had company from out of state with us that weekend, two days before we left. Packing for 5 months happened the day and night before we left. One checked back per person for 5 months and two seasons. I could have done a better job packing. I managed to pack myself one pair of boots and I wore another pair of boots for the trip...not good thinking. Aria had two pairs of pants (one she has outgrown) because she is a skirt/dress girl plus she wears uniforms during the day. Miles has outgrown two of his pairs of jeans since we arrived, one of them were bought in December and several of his shirts are now cropped tops. They have all grown in 4 months. Liviana's belly is usually hanging out because her shirts are too small and they are all long sleeved. Giovanni..well, he is a giant for his age and most of his pants are high waters. None of the kids have shorts or summer clothes, which is what season we are in here and it feels like it.
I hate that I have to feel guilty for trying to keep my kids clothed and not sweating. I would have to do the same thing if I were at home though. They would need shoes because their summer shoes from last year don't fit them anymore, they would still have outgrown their clothes. I do have clothes for Giovanni and Liviana at home from their siblings outgrown stacks but in those 5 days we had to get ready to leave I failed to remember to get them out and go through them for the season change and if I had it would have put us over our bag limit and cost us an arm and a leg at the airport. I am not one to buy things for myself and what I have bought has been from cheap street markets (summer tops for 8 Euro) or from knock off stores for cheapo. They were just to keep me out of sweaters during those walks in the sun and warm weather and...not to throw Tarah under the bus (she knows I love her) but her laundry skills have turned many of my clothes different colors and two things are now Aria's because they shrunk into tiny tops. Love you Tarah.
Let's see....have I bored you enough? We are boring...we aren't living it up. Brad and I have not spent time alone since early February except for a few walks to the market in the last week. We don't "go out", we don't do fun things accept with and for the kids. If anyone doubts this they can ask our babysitter. About 4 times a week we walk over to the gelato place with the kids. That is one thing that IS cheaper. We get them all a cone or cup of gelato for about 7 Euro. It is double that at home at the e-creamery by our house. They enjoy the simple things and that is pretty much all we have done with them.
I wish it was all more exciting and I wish we were not here for the reasons we are. We have put Giovanni through a life changing experience for more than one reason, we have watched Liviana decline, yet still smile and we have watched Aria and Miles miss home so much that they have stood at the train station in front of a ton of people and yelled, "Train to Omaha Please"....it was embarrassing but we all agreed with them.
We don't want to be here, we don't even want to ever come back here but we know we have to. We have not partied accept Valentines day with homemade signs, Brad's birthday with homemade signs and the day Giovanni came home. We have spent money on things we mostly needed for the kids, mostly food and a few other things....I have stacks and stacks of receipts if anyone really is THAT bored.
We have photos to take today so I must run. I spotted an awesome spot in town while were on a little free "train" ride during a festival last weekend. Liviana is having an AWESOME day and those are the things I should really be focusing on. See...this is why I don't like to focus on all these details of the reality of our life here. The kids are so, so much more important and it is unfortunate that my attention has been taken away from them to deal with too many questioning people. It is an open book. We save almost all of our receipts for anyone bored enough to go through them when we get home.
Enjoy your weekend. Buona Pasqua!
Hug Your Babies!
Check up DAY!
3 weeks ago