Our Personal Saudi Jungle...

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Well, we've been in Saudi for a little over a year now.  Never were there truer words than....time flies.  It's been a very busy year!
Today is my darling husbands birthday and I thought a post bragging about how amazing he is was in order.  He's really worked hard on our house and making it a home...
When the hubby first moved here our yard was nothing but dirt, dirt and more dirt.  With 3 months of living alone on his hands, he got busy with the yard.
And what an achievement!  My green thumb husband has turned our yard into a garden paradise!  Our banana trees are producing bananas, the veggie garden is coming along again, and the flowers and grass look wonderful.  Not to mention, our chicken coop with our resident 3 chickens, who give us fresh eggs almost daily.
Whenever I go outside or come home from work, I feel peace wash over me.  All the colors, all the green, it just makes my heart happy.  We may not get to live in a fancy compound...but we sure do have a lovely home.  Thanks to my husband. :)

So, here we go...photos of then and now. 

our lovely Saudi gate.. :)


Teaching in Saudi Arabia...part 2

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Well, I've been teaching now for almost 3 months.  I've gotten back into the groove of teaching, but hands down, this is a totally different experience!
There's so much to talk about, though, and I'm not sure where to start.  
Let me share some of the unique bits about teaching at an international school in Saudi Arabia.  Even though we are teaching according to American standards, the grading is different.  E for exceeds expectation, M for meets expectations, A for approaching expectations, B for below expectations.  It's made my grading interesting.  
All students are required to take Arabic classes twice a week.  They have PE once a week and Technology (aka computers) once a week.  Since the lower elementary is so big, they've had to alternate Art and Music per grade.  So, kindergarten gets Art, first gets Music, second gets Art and so on.  Kinds stinks that my own daughter in kindergarten doesn't get to have a music class.
The students get a morning recess, lunch recess, and an afternoon recess.  Which, is very different from when I taught in Vegas.  The elementary kids just got lunch recess.
The most interesting part for me is teaching Social Studies.  The texts are American of course...and so, here I am, teaching American history to 17 students who have never set foot on American soil.  But, we have some really great discussions comparing where they are from and what life is like in America.  The kids get really excited to share about their own countries and they love hearing me tell about life in the States.
Of course, this difference of cultures has really made an impact on how and what I teach.  I spent a week teaching my class a new group of vocabulary words...they all knew them...knew what they meant and how to use them in a sentence.  But when it came time for the test, most did not do well.  I didn't understand...until I realized that the sentences used in the test referred to things that these kids had never heard of.  One sentence talked about cheerleaders at a game.  Another mentioned a barn.  I had 10 kids come up to me asking what a barn was!!  I was shocked!  But then thought...well, where in Saudi are they going to see a barn??  The kids really have a hard time comprehending a lot of the curriculum because it refers to things they just have never experienced or seen.
My entire class is Muslim.  And they love telling me things about their culture and religion.  Some of my kids are anti-pork (of course) and you should have seen their faces when I said how much I love eating piggies!!!  It was a riot.  I think they really get a kick out of how different we are.  

Anyway, that's just a few things I've encountered in the last few months.  
They may not celebrate Halloween here, but I gave my students a "Pumpkin Day."  Everything was about pumpkins and I even had them gut the pumpkin and paint them.  (yes, you can get pumpkins here, though they are the small ones)  This was a first for most of my students and they had an absolute blast.  Made me feel good to give them a chance to experience something new.
Here's a few shots of them getting their pumpkin on!

I also survived parent teacher conferences...most were pretty easy.  One rough one...but, well, I got through it.  One parent even gave me a Guide to Islam book.  I thought it was nice that he wanted to share with me.  ;)  
A week or so ago, I had a student tell me (during the middle of a lesson) that he needed to go and pray. Okay, now, I had no idea how to handle this.  I kinda just ignored him and continued on.  The next day, same thing.  I was really worried that I'd get in trouble refusing to let him pray, but I mean, this just isn't something I've ever had to deal with in class before!!!  After talking with the counselor, I was told that he could pray during recess if he wanted, or before school in the mosque on campus.  (until that moment I had no idea we had our own mosque!)  So, yeah, that was something new.

Now that the weather is FINALLY cooling off a bit...I've noticed a few other strange things.  Such as: giant snow coats, mittens, hats, sweaters...wait, where do we live???  But that isn't the icing on the cake...the best was this the other day at school:
Student: "My mom said that I can't go out to recess today."
Me: "Why?"
Student: "It's too cold outside." 
Me:  "I'm sorry, what??"
Student: "It's too cold."
Me: "Too cold??  Seriously??"
Student: "Yes, that's what my mom said."
Fact:  It was 70 degrees outside....
Must be a side affect of living in Saudi for too long...  ;)

So, now I'm getting ready to finalize report cards and wrap up the first semester.  Then it's a fab 2 week holiday break in Budapest!  
More teaching tid bits to come soon!

Almalfi Coast, Italy

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Time to wrap up our trip to Italy.  This was the final part of our journey...meeting up with family in beautiful Positano.
upper right and lower middle are the views from the house.

The hubby, girls and I were still in Mennagio, so we needed to catch a couple of trains from northern Italy to the south.  The day started off fine...we got a ride to the train station and then...waited.  The train was late.  Really late.  Once we finally got loaded and moving Matt and I realized we were barely going to make our connecting train...if we made it at all.
So here we were, pulling up to the train station...we have three large suitcases, a couple of carry on's, a back pack, two kids, and their little rolling luggage.  We stood at the ready and bolted as soon as the doors opened...
And when I say bolted, I mean we flat out ran!  I had a death grip on Lily basically dragging her along the station and yelling at Sara to keep up.  Sara is crying as she's running.  Matt is behind us...pulling a crap load of luggage...which at the moment one bag decided to lose both of its wheels.  We keep running, keep dragging...and we actually make it.  By all of 2 minutes.  Now, we weren't the only idiots running through the station to catch this train, but I'm sure we made the most commotion.  Could we have caught another train?  Sure...at some point, but we wanted to get to Positano before it was the middle of the night.  We still had to get our taxi to drive us to the house.

All said and done, we made it all the way to the house in Positano.  My mom and stepdad and Aunt and Uncle were waiting for us.  The house we had rented was incredible with a killer view.  The only downside is that Positano is very, very hilly...so lots of hiking up and down stairs.  Ah well, it worked off the pasta and wine!  :)  
a few of the rooms and the two patios of the house.

The rest of our trip was spent touring the Almalfi Coast.  The highlight of the week was taking a private boat out for the day.  It was our baby girl's birthday (already 4!) and we wanted to make it special.  (seeing as how her sister got to spend her 5th birthday at the top of the Eifel Tower).  The boat ride was amazing.  We all felt like superstars relaxing on the nose of the boat as we skipped across the water to the Isle of Capri.  We toured around there a bit and then spent more time just jetting around the coast line.

upper middle and lower left are in Capri.  Other shots from Positano.

We stopped to do a bit of swimming, but found that the water was already occupied...by jelly fish.  My poor mother got stung but good right on her wrist.  That put a little damper on things...but not too much.  We sang happy birthday to Lily while anchored in the Mediterranean Sea.  That was pretty awesome.
Another highlight of the trip was this amazing amazing restaurant we found.  This place has been owned by the same family for over 30 years.  They send a car to pick you up and bring you to the restaurant.  It's a fixed menu, so you get what you get.  But, oh my, what a feast!  Everything was so good.  It was a three course meal with wine included.  Each course included anywhere from 6-10 plates of different dishes.  They grow their own veggies right outside the restaurant.  It was so good we went there twice in one week!

We spent time shopping, went to Ravello, and chilled on the gorgeous beach.  Even rented a stand up paddle board and took the girls out on the water.  Positano is just so beautiful and we enjoyed every day.  It was a wonderful way to end an incredible 5 week trip to Italy!  Can't wait to go back next year! :)       

all of these photos were taken in Ravello.


Cinque Terre, Italy

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After seeing photos of Cinque Terre, I just knew I had to see it for myself.  It was very close to where we were staying in Lucca, so we decided another day trip was in order!  
Be prepared to walk when you go!  There are trains connecting the five towns, but there is still quite a bit of walking if you really want to see the sites.  

I wish I'd done more research before going....totally would have brought along towels and bathing suits.  It was another hot day in Italy and man, that water was beyond tempting!!  We let the girls wade in the water a bit and our little one looked just like a local in black short pants and no top!  :)
The towns were quaint and lovely.  We had an enjoyable meal overlooking the harbor of Vernazza.  I really wish we would have had time to stay into the evening, I have a feeling its a place that comes alive at night.  A bit of a rushed trip, but still glad to see that I got to see it with my own two eyes!  

Back to Lucca for the night and then we'd be heading back to Menaggio for a few more days....this trip sure was going quick!  ;)

Pisa and Lucca, Italy

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During our trip to Italy, we were lucky to be able to travel around and see some of the nearby towns.  My mom and step-dad rented a house in Lucca and we joined them for a few days.
Lucca is a large town, actually, but when you get inside the old walls, everything becomes quite tight.  We were so lost trying to find the apartment when we got there.  Thank goodness for nav on the iPad!  The house they rented was lovely place tucked away in the old town.
We wandered the streets a bit, ate at some nice restaurants and sampled the local gelato.  The next day we ventured off to Pisa!

I must admit that caught my breath at the first site of the Leaning Tower.  I mean, when you see pictures of something your whole life...and well, there it was!  It is so beautiful.  
Total tourist trap of course.  Tourists everywhere.  I took some amazing photos, but we weren't allowed in the tower.  Ok, well, adults are...with a tour only.  No way was I going inside and leaving my poor girls to stare up at us with longing.  So we settle for touring the Baptistry and listened as a man sang to show off the incredible acoustics.  My sweet baby girl was so moved, she asked Grandma, "is that God talking?"  Actually brought tears to my eyes.

As wonderful as Pisa was...we didn't spend very long there.  Barely half a day.  It was hot.  Overcrowded and overpriced.  I'm sure there are some lovely places throughout the town, but with the heat...nobody was up for meandering around.  
It made for a very nice day trip and we drove ourselves back to Lucca for dinner and a nice night in the lovely flat.
quaint Lucca

more of Lucca, and a pretty little wine shop!  :)



Venice, Italy

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The winding streets, the Grand Canal, San Marco's piazza, the gondola's....yeah, it doesn't get much more romantic than beautiful Venezia. 

I was fortunate enough to have visited this lovely city once before with the hubby on our one year anniversary.  We had heard mixed reviews about it and we weren't sure what to expect.  Well, we loved it.  Only three days, but it was just right.
Therefore, I wasn't hesitant to return when I knew my mom and stepdad would be in Italy with us.  With the help of the amazing owner of my house in Mennagio, we were able to book our train travel to Venice from Como.  Through Hotels.com I found a nice room for the night.  We were set to go.
Up early, walked down to the ferry landing.  Took the ferry across to Varenna and walked to the train station.  Caught a train to Milan, then from Milan to Venice.  The train ride was nice, the girls played on my iPad and mom, stepdad and I played Scrabble on mom's iPad. 
We arrived mid afternoon.  Not sure where the hotel was located, my stepdad decided to just hire a water taxi.  The man was very friendly, called the hotel, got directions...and off we went.  The ride was so fun...if we'd been on the Strip in Vegas, we would have been those goofy tourists with their heads sticking out of the top of the limo.  Snapping pictures along the way....and just 10 minutes later we were at our hotel.  

The girl who worked the front desk was so nice and upgraded our room.  We walked into a mini palace.  It was something!  Black walls, red and white Murano glass chandeliers, red covered bed...lets just say it kept us talking for a few hours!  We were in a nice location close to San Marco's piazza. 
Dropped off our bags and headed out! 
Found a nice restaurant to eat lunch...but ended up costing us $200 Euro...okay, so THAT was not a fun bit.  We headed to the piazza and since my stepdad had a bum knee, mom, me and the girls headed to the clock tower.  Well, stepdad could have gone with us...the stairs to climb up were closed, so everyone had to take the lift.  The girls were so disappointed (so were me and mom!).  Ah, but the view was incredible...just breathtaking.  Such a small city, but so unique.

The kids and stepdad went back to the hotel later that day and mom and I went for a quick drink so we could see Venice at night.  So pretty.

The next day mom and stepdad headed off for some couple time and I took off with the girls.  We took a gondola ride...which they totally loved.  The got the giggles every time the guy had to duck under a bridge...so, yeah, they were laughing every minute along the way.
Then we took the ferry along the Grand Canal.  Found the same restaurant where Matt and I had dinner one day and sat down for a nice lunch.  

The up side...it was tons of fun sharing this with my family and the girls.  The down side...it was really crowded...and hot.  I totally recommend going when it's not peak season.  But would I go back again...you bet.  :)

What is your favorite thing about Venice?



Friday in Ikea in Saudi...

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A couple of weeks ago we went to Jeddah just to hit up the Ikea there.  It was a Friday...we left that morning and got ourselves to the underground parking at about 4:15pm.  Since it's Friday (holy day), Ikea won't ope until 5pm.  We had a problem with the car that caused it to overheat and spit radiator fluid all over the ground.  (that got us some looks)  Matt headed off to find an auto parts place and left me waiting with the girls for the doors to open.  
Let's just say, I'm never going back to Ikea on a Friday again.  It was chaos.  Pure chaos.  There were so many people...at one point I lost Lily in a sea of black...and about 5 mini heart attacks till I saw a figure draped in black holding her hand and walking her over to me.  How did she know she belonged to me?...yeah, we were one of a handful of families that were westerners.  (that should have been my first clue)  I was near tears when Matt finally showed up.  It was insane trying to get through the store and actually get what you needed.  Top that off with the fact that we were all starving...and the damn restaurant was closed.  It took Matt over a half hour to run downstairs and get 4 little wraps.  In the end, we managed to get what we came for and after a 30 minute wait to check out, we were back on the road. 

everyone waiting patiently to get into Ikea...


Bellagio and Varenna

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I'm am going through my photos and I'm overwhelmed....I can't believe the amount of things we crammed into 6 weeks!  We were a busy family, that's for sure!
So, here's a quick post about two of the most famous towns on Lake Como.  Bellagio is infamous of course...the movies have made this place glamourous.  It truly is a lovely little town...lots of little alleys to take you up and down.  Restaurants and shops tucked here and there.  The town is small, and it doesn't take long to see the whole of it.  Unless of course, you stop at all the shops along the way! (or for a glass...ok, bottle...of wine)  We found an amazing little wine bar tucked away along one alley...floor to ceiling wine and beautiful stone.  The wine was fabulous with a side of salty Italian cheese and prosciutto.  I had been to Bellagio once before with the hubby on our one year anniversary trip.  We had a blast wandering around.  This time, I had so much fun with my girls...we sat outside at a little cafe where they ate a delicious risotto and mommy sipped white wine and used the cafe wifi to message daddy...then we'd stop for gelato and wind our way back to the docks to catch the ferry home.

Visiting Varenna was just as beautiful.  Personally, I think the view of Varenna from the water is the most stunning on the whole lake.  The colorful houses, the church, the flowers...stunning.

When the girls and I first went, I had no idea where I was going.  I assumed it would have a piazza near the water like Mennagio.  So, we when got off the ferry...well, we just started walking.  We found our way along the road and then through back alleys and ended up in the piazza.  Which is not located near the water.  But it was a beautiful area with large trees and a stunning old church.  After some water and gelato we headed off again.  We cam upon a path that led us along the water and past quaint little restaurants.  We picked one, parked ourselves outside, and sat down to enjoy a lakeside lunch.  It's beyond peaceful.  We went back twice more with my mom and stepdad and when the hubby got there. Each time we ate somewhere new...but always near the water.  
It made for such fun times...just hopping on the ferry in the morning...a 20 minute ride across the lake and then just getting lost in the narrow paths throughout the towns.  Can't wait to go back...


Teaching in Saudi Arabia

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Well, I mentioned in a previous post that my life has taken a monster turn.  I accepted a job at the international school and I am now teaching 2nd grade! (oh and assistant coaching girls volleyball!)
Let me tell you a bit about the school.  It's an international school that teaches according to American standards.  We have quite a mix of kids...including kids from Saudi, Pakistan, India, Canada and the States (and more).  It's a nice school and they will soon be building a brand new one at a new site.  Since women can't drive, they have buses (like the ones for airport transfers) that go around and pick up the teachers from the compounds and our neighborhood.  It's nice, but stressful because I have to make sure I'm ready in time!  They pick us up right outside our front gate and the girls get to ride with me...love that.  :)  

 In this photo: Pix of the outside of school.  Notice the concertina wire?  The big blue door is the outer entrance where we have a guard on duty.  Those are the buses that take the teachers home.  Like the green lawn?!  :)

So, here's how it all went down:
When I went in for the interview, I had every intention of telling them no.  I had no desire to go back to work full time.  My youngest is only in school half a day and I wanted to spend the afternoons with her...she's growing so fast!  However, once they both started school and the little one was home alone in the afternoons without her sister...well, I realized pretty quick that neither one of us was going to be happy about that arrangement.  She was bored to tears, and I'm sorry, I love my baby...but I can't entertain her every day for 4 hours straight!
Now, that's not the main reason I took the job...the hubby and I went back and forth (okay, I rambled and he just listened) for three days straight...and well, I just couldn't come up with a good enough reason not to take the job.  The principal was literally begging me...they were desperate for teachers...the second grade classes were already too large.  So, I gave in.
Here's the part where once again I wish I had been smarter about leaving things with family when I packed up the whole damn house.  Leaving some of my teaching supplies would have come in really handy...I mean, I haven't taught in 5 years...and now, here I was, taking a job and I have nothing to start with.  I'm coming in after the year has already started, to a smallish classroom, and literally nothing to put on the walls or get organized with.  That was slightly overwhelming.  
Thank goodness for kind coworkers...they loaned me bits and pieces of stuff to get my room to look semi decent.  I was just sick thinking about all the lovely books I have locked away in a storage unit...so, safe to say, my class library is pretty pathetic.  But, again, fellow teachers came to the rescue and I rifled through my girls stock of books and pilfered those I knew they wouldn't miss...much.
my room before....

and after... 
I've never had real windows in my classroom before...so love the bright sunshine!  

I spent a whole week trying to get back into "teaching mode."  I downloaded First Days of School to my kindle to refresh my memory.  As I sat in my classroom it was like a tidal wave washed over me and everything started to come back...like my discipline plan, how I used to start each day, class rules, etc.  I surfed the net trying to find some of the things that used to be a staple in my room and see if I could download them.  (found a killer website called teacherspayteachers.com, where teachers post things that they have and either offer it for free or for a minimal charge....so thankful for that site...found a ton of stuff that I could use)
After a week, I was feeling pretty good.  Got my class list...chatted with the teachers who had the kids prior and felt like I was ready to go.  My first week with the kids would only be 3 days long because of a holiday...so that was actually good because we spent that time focusing on behaviors, class rules, etc. The downside of that first week was that it included open house.
But, I made it through the open house and met all the parents.  Now it was time to get down to buisness. 
My students hard at work baby!  Proud home of the Yanbu Stallions! 

The first week went well.  We practiced routines and got ourselves on track.  Not to mention I needed to figure out Moodle and prepare for Virtual School.  (more on that later)
With all that being said...am I happy I took the job??  You bet.  It has made life here so much more interesting and I feel involved in the community.  I love that I can see my girls whenever I want and we even have lunch together sometimes!  It's so much work...I forgot all about the daily life of an elementary teacher, but I'm happy.  :)
the kids playground at recess and the hard court area (bottom, middle photo).  Our "class pets."  These wild kitties are loving fed each day by me...I can't help it...the get right to the window and meow through the glass...too cute!  And a few more shots of the school grounds. 

What about you?  Do you think you could teach in a foreign country?


Lugano, Switzerland

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We took many side trips during our time in Italy.  This was one of the girls' favorites.  (must have been the huge playground and fun cable car ride)
Lake Lugano is only a 40 minute bus ride from Menaggio.  Couldn't ask for an easier side trip into Switzerland from Italy.  We just walked down to the bus stop from the house and off we went.  (my mom was with us for this trip)  The ride was nice with beautiful views of the lake.
I had spent some time trying to figure out what to do while we were there and I found this awesome place called Monte Tamaro.  It showed a park for kids, cable car ride, and a killer view.  The trick was figuring out how to get there.
Sure, it was easy catching the bus...but from there we had to take a train and then walk.  We got a little worried at the train station because I couldn't figure out how to buy the tickets.  It took me the better part of 20 minutes and some broken Italian to get the right ones.  We then parked ourselves out by the tracks to await the train.

The train ride was a quick one...10 minutes, but it was a really cool train with one of those self-cleaning bathrooms.  Then, there we were standing outside the train station and trying to figure out where to go next.  Luckily we spotted a small sign across the road with Mont Taramo written on it and an arrow pointing off to the left.
So, off we went.  We literally had no idea where we were going, but thankfully there were signs to direct us.  We found the place with no problem.  A bright red building.  Oh, yeah, and the huge cable car flowing from it.  
The ride would take us 1500 meters (roughly 4,920ft) up the mountain.  We were lucky and it wasn't very crowded...only took about 15 minutes to get the tickets and get into the car.  It was another hot day and the inside of the cable car was quite warm.  But...as we ascended...the weather began to cool and by the time we were at the top...it was bliss. 
There was a huge playground for kids, a nice little restaurant and a guy outside playing music.  We had a light lunch (and some vino) and then went for a walk.  There were horses, ponies and cows just roaming around a small lake.  Not far from there was an old stone bridge that gave you breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains...you could even catch a glimpse of Lake Lugano.  After I got my fill of taking pictures, we hiked up a nearby hill...it was so beautiful and so green!  More pictures and then back down to let the girls hit the playground.  

My mom and I just sat back and watched and just enjoyed the scenery.  Afterwards we took the cable car back down, walked back to the train station and headed back to Lugano.
We didn't spend much time in the town (we were pretty wiped)...but we walked around a bit, got gelato (of course), saw some neat shops and waited for the next bus back to Como.  The lake was really pretty and so very green!  We stopped at a park where we saw the cutest area with books that said "Park and Read".  You could just pluck a book off the cart and plop yourself down on the grass and read.  Great idea!  Saw some men playing a game on a giant chess board as we walked along the edge of the lake. We would have loved to spend more time...of course, I thought I would be heading back here when Matt arrived...but that never panned out. 

It was really a lovely day and glad that I waited for my mom to go so that we could enjoy it together.  Great day trip!  :)



Welcome to Lake Como, Italy

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6 weeks in Italy is a long time to try and blog about...at least, not like I did with the Egypt and France trip.  So, I'm going to do my best to just talk about the highlights of the trip and not so much the day to day.  
I'm blessed that this was my second trip to Lake Como.  Six years ago I visited this beautiful piece of Earth with my husband.  We were celebrating our 1 year wedding anniversary, and we stopped in for the day in Como on our way to Venice.  We took the slow ferry ride to Bellagio and just enjoyed wandering the streets.  It was a wonderful time and it really stuck in my memory.  
So that's why, when the time came to find a place to spend the 5 weeks of Ramadan, Lake Como came to mind.  I was trying to stay as far north as I could in hopes I could escape the heat.  I knew that Florence and everywhere south could be wicked hot in the summer, and well, I have that here in Saudi...no interest in melting in Italy!
I spent weeks searching for the perfect place (meaning one that was in our budget).  I surfed VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey and lord knows what other small sites.  I almost don't want to share where I found this gem because I want it always available for me to return.  :) 
First let me just fill you in a bit about this gorgeous lake.  Lago di Como is home to many small towns and villages.  The major players are Como itself, Bellagio, Varenna, Menaggio, Tremezzo, Lecco, and Colico.  There are others such as Aregeno and Lenno that have wonderful little things to see too.  It is surrounded by beautiful green mountains where you can spot random homes and towns and wonder how in the world they built those up there!  There are wonderful trails for hiking and you'll always see road cyclists braving the traffic and steep hills.  The people are very friendly and very proud of their lake.  It has made such an impact on me that I feel I left a part of myself back on that lake.  
After all my searching, I found the perfect house.  Let me just say, the best part about this house is the owner.  You could not ask for a better man to help you with ANYTHING while you are staying in his home.  Fabio was amazing and I can't thank him enough for everything he did for me over the weeks.
The house itself is just has wonderful.  Coming in at a young 500 years old and situated in the historic Castello above the town of Menaggio.  (pronounced Men-Ah-Jo)  Its nestled among other homes and we came to know the neighbors very well.  The girls played with the neighbor kids and we even got invited to dinner a few times.  (A-mazing)  The house was two stories and had some lovely views of the lake (ok, we weren't on the lake, but I didn't care...I wouldn't have wanted to stay anywhere else)  Menaggio has a beautiful piazza right on the lake front.  A beautiful park with playground and even a merry-go-round.  It's by far my favorite town on the lake and I'm so, so glad that we stayed there and not anywhere else...
So, let me walk you through a typical day for me and the girls while we were there alone... (before my mom or Matt arrived)
We'd wake in the morning and the girls would start playing with their princesses right away (yes, we dragged 20lbs worth of princess figurines with us...best idea I've ever had).  I would head to the kitchen and cook up some eggs and pancetta (it's all about the pork baby).  We'd eat breakfast and talk about what we wanted to see that day.  First we would head to the grocery store to get food for dinner and snacks.  I'd grab my little rolling shopping bag (best thing I bought during the whole trip) and we'd head...down.  
The house is uphill from the main piazza...so, down we would go.  You could either take the steps or walk down the cobble stone path.  The girls loved taking the stairs...so, down we would go...155 steps (yes we counted them)...and then walk a bit more to the store.  We'd stop at the market that just sold veggies and fruits first.  Just remember...no self service!  You point and ask and they grab and bag.  My Italian got good enough that I could ask for almost any veggie/fruit in Italian, and if I couldn't well, they would help teach me.  From there we would head to the regular grocery store...nothing fancy, but we had fun picking out new things to eat each night.  (pork, pasta, pork, pasta...oh yeah..and wine, wine, wine!)  
Then it was back UP to the house.  I would indulge the girls and walk back up the 155 steps carrying the damn grocery bags.  Lemme tell you...I didn't feel bad about eating tons of pasta...I worked it off every day!! (I should also mention that 9 times out of 10 it was HOT outside!  and humid...so yeah, so much for escaping the damn heat!...no AC in the house either...thank god for open windows and breezes!)  Groceries put away and then back DOWN.  (see, almost all the stores close from 12-4...so you better get what you need early!)  We'd walk all the way back down to the piazza (taking the cobble path)...and head over to the ferry landings.  We'd have picked a town and we'd get our tickets, jump on the ferry, and cruise across the lake.  I just loved it on the ferry, the breeze was so cooling and just staring at the water, the mountains, the towns...so serene.  
And there we would go...to visit Como or Varenna, or maybe Bellagio...or Tremezzo or Argeno.  We'd wonder through the towns...eating gelato and for the most part having a grand time.  (no, the kids were not angels for 5 weeks, but let me tell you, those girls were amazing...aside from a few blips here and there, they were just a blast to be with...and we did ALOT of walking...)
We'd ferry back home...and walk back UP.  lol...what a workout.  They'd play while I'd cook dinner.  After dinner we would Skype daddy and tell him all about our day and how we couldn't wait to cheer him on as he tried to hike up the street.. :)  Then after they were tucked in bed, I'd pour some wine (okay, okay...I have another glass of the wine I'd opened while cooking dinner)...and curl up on the couch and read a book with the Olympics on in the background. 
Some days we would just chill in the house, the girls would play and I would take my lunch, glass of wine and my book and sit out on the little terrace.  I'd wave to the neighbors and the tourists wandering through the Castello...it was so peaceful.   
It was beyond wonderful and I truly enjoyed every single day.  I'll talk more about the other towns in a future post...  :)      

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