October 07, 2015

Florence for Mother's Day

One place Ted and I really wanted to visit before leaving Italy was Florence (or Firenze, as it's called there). We had spent one day there in 2013 but left feeling there would be plenty of time for a return visit to do justice to the many sites in this beautiful city. Bwahahaha!! Two years later we had to scramble and make an effort to get there, but it was worth it!

I wish I could say we went as a family, with our children soaking up all the culture and being excited to see museums bringing to life the pages and pictures from art and history studies. But. Only one of our offspring was interested, even eager, to go to Florence! So we agreed that Charis would accompany Ted and me on an overnight trip!

Tobin and Arden (who I had really hoped would choose to accompany us) stayed with a friend. When they insisted they really didn't want to go, we decided we would take them at their word and not risk bringing along potential whiners and feet-draggers, lol. Our friends Anna and Alaina Z agreed to stay with our younger kiddos in our temporary living facilities and earn some extra spending money. (And I think they truly earned it, lol.) It was SO nice to leave early in the morning to catch the train and NOT be lugging little ones, strollers, diapers, pull-ups, extra snacks, and so on! FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEDOM!!!!!!

Ahem. Here are Charis and I on the fast train as it's pulling out of downtown Naples. You can tell it's early because we're both wearing our glasses, lol.

We arrived mid-morning and found our hotel fairly easily, dumping off our bags so we could be free to begin sightseeing. First stop: the Academia to see The David!! And other great sculptures and some early instruments...very cool for us.

Then a yummy lunch...followed by the baptistery, the palace, crossing the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) to another palace, capped off by an amazing dinner and a well-earned good night of sleep, and Day 1 = done!


Ponte Vecchio

We will miss mozzarella di buffalo!!


Day 2! Another full day trying to squeeze in as much as possible before we needed to catch the train back to Naples. We started with the bell tower at the Duomo before the crowds got too crazy. As we made our way there, we discovered it was a marathon day...good thing we started early! How fun would it be to run the streets of Florence?! At 7 months pregnant, I wasn't too eager to try it out! Hard to believe I had run a marathon 7 months prior...I huffed and puffed my way to the half-way point (approximately) of the tower, then rested while Ted and Charis climbed the rest of the 402 stairs to the top!

Then off to the museums...first the Uffizi...

...the Bargello...

Dante's house...

San Marco...

...and finally, the basilica of Santa Maria.

And then a dash to the train station (after some more gelato and shopping), and we were able to crash on the ride back to Naples! We packed in a LOT in those two days and made some wonderful memories. What a way to spend Mother's Day! I'm so grateful for the time and experiences I got to share with Ted and Charis.

September 13, 2015

Leather Factory Tour

Another place I wanted to visit in person before leaving Italy: the Sims Leather Factory! This factory is very close to the Naval Support Site and has been owned by the same family for several generations. Their leather is famous in that the dye goes all the way through the leather--it isn't simply sprayed on like most other places. It was fascinating to learn about the process, a great field trip for the kids who were able to go. (Some had to attend Missoula Children's Theater rehearsal during our scheduled visit, but my girls and younger boys came with me on the tour.) And at the end...shopping at a discount! Leather gloves for me, Charis, my mom, and my mother-in-law.

Blurry...it's an action shot! Zaden is helping place the wet pieces of leather onto the...thingie...!

Hands-on learning! We see how they measure and cut the needed shapes.

Montecasseino Abbey

About halfway from our house to Rome sits the abbey at Montecasseino, where St. Benedict established a monastery in the 6th century. Much of the building was destroyed in 1944 by Allied bombs and rebuilt after the war.

I don't know how many times we drove past the exit and said, "We MUST go there!" And because it was relatively close to home, we kept putting it off, thinking surely we'd get there easily enough...but time kept ticking away and we had yet to make the trip. So when we saw that our church was planning a May outing to the Abbey as well as the town of Roccasecca, birthplace of St. Thomas Aquinas, we immediately signed up so we could be sure to squeeze in this opportunity. The abbey was mentioned at least twice in Charis's history studies, and we always love bringing history to life!

It was an all-day affair, so we decided to leave Zaden and Seanin with their favorite babysitters, Hannah and Tuba. They even got to spend the night, since we weren't due to arrive home until late. We were so very thankful not to have to drag around the little guys, as there was a lot of walking and we were able to actually listen to the guides and enjoy the details of the day. The best part was sharing the day with dear friends from Il Faro! We miss our bilingual church family!!

13 on the 13th

On April 13, 2015, we added another teenager to the family! Tobin Michael has joined his sister as one of the ever-hungry teens of our household! Since the countdown was on to get us out of the country, I had to keep expectations LOW for any kind of party, but really all Tobin wanted was the chance to hang out with his friends anyway. So we brought cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches to the homeschool park day and let them have at it along with football and whatever else the boys ended up deciding to do. I had a ministry meeting that I really needed to attend while this was going on, so unfortunately, while this was a great event for Tobin, I have no pictures to prove that we actually did invite people to join us in celebrating our son's birthday! So here are a couple of photos by the fabulous Mackenzie Neer of Neer and Far Photography, which we had taken just before we left Italy.

Tobin is growing into a handsome, witty, intelligent young man. It is amazing how much he has matured in the three years we were away from the U.S. We are proud of him and the growth he is experiencing in his faith and look forward to seeing how and where God will lead him!

September 08, 2015

Spring Cleaning

I don't have any pictures for this post, but something major that happened in the spring...the week of March 9, 2015, to be exact...was something that we had both looked forward to and stressed out about for a number of months. It was time to ship the household goods to the States!

This involved a major, major overhaul of our house! I don't know how many boxes and bags we donated to the thrift store or to people who for some reason wanted what we didn't. We sold a few bigger items but mostly just kept shoving things out the door. It was so freeing! The actual pack out went much faster than we anticipated; the folks had told us it would take 4 days, but it really only took about a day and a half to pack everything, and then they went ahead and loaded the truck on that second day, too.

I kept out many of my kitchen items, not really thinking through the timing of when I might see things again on the other side of the ocean. (Oh, well, we needed more silverware anyway...) And since it was early March in Naples, we kept all of our clothes since it was freezing inside our house but going to be wicked hot before we actually made the move in May. I kept out the school items we would continue using and shipped the rest; kept enough toys to keep the littles occupied and shipped the rest; kept out enough books to keep us from going mad and shipped the rest.

And then came the loaner furniture: a bed and dresser for each person, a table that seated 6, a table that seated 4, 9 chairs, 2 love seats, 2 chairs, and a coffee table.

That was it.

In a three-story, open floor-plan of a house with all tile floors, our nearly naked house was loud. I mean LOUD. Lego Duplos bouncing down the stairs had nothing whatsoever to cushion those sound waves. The furniture was cheap and light enough that even Zaden could move it handily all over the main floor. Love seats were pushed together to make a ship, and I'd be lying if I told you the kids never flung themselves from one cushioned seat to another, despite dire warnings.

You'd think with so much less stuff in the house it would be easy to keep it clean, to continue on with our school routine having way fewer distractions. Not so. We quickly learned that the lack of horizontal surfaces meant a severe work space shortage, both for school tasks as well as cooking. The few toys that we did have always, ALWAYS ended up strewn all over the floor like plastic land mines. And the lack of Toy Variety meant the number of meltdowns increased exponentially throughout the day.

In desperation we borrowed a small TV and blu-ray player from a kindhearted friend who obviously did not want to see me check myself into mental health. Between that and trying to squeeze in as many day trips and friend meet-ups as possible, we survived the subsequent 8 weeks or so before we then moved into the temporary lodging in preparation for our final out. WHEW! Strange, though, how the bare house quickly became a new normal for us. It was truly freeing to not be weighted down with so much STUFF!

August 14, 2015

Venice with a Friend!

After I got sick and had to sit out a day trip to Venice, Ted and my friend Carla hatched a scheme to get me to be able to experience this lovely city before our move back to the States. The weekend after Easter was really our only option when it came down to the wire, so we grabbed some cheap plane tickets and left Naples EARLY Sunday morning for a girls' trip to remember!

We arrived at our hotel around 9am, and the congenial proprietor allowed us to stash our stuff there early and gave us tips for navigating the city and finding his personal favorite restaurants. We had a full day of exploring, starting right after breakfast! Aaaaahhhhh....caffe e cornetti, how I will miss you!!!

We toured the Grand Canal listening to Rick Steves' audio guide, getting off to explore various places.

Inside the doge's palace. I believe they said this was the largest meeting room in Europe? It could hold 2600 people! Can you see Carla standing waaaaaaaaay over there?!

The palace is in the background to the left; this view is from St. Mark's Cathedral.

After an incredibly yummy dinner, we got to attend a Vivaldi concert with the musicians dressed in period costumes! It was fantastic!

Monday morning we went to the islands of Murano and Burano. I loved the colorful houses on Burano!

See my lovely glass necklace? One of my favorite finds! It came from Murano, famous for their glass-blowing techniques and products.
All too soon we had to head back home, but since our return date happened to be Tobin's 13th birthday, there was still a huge draw to get back to my family! I cherish the time I got to spend with Carla, talking and praying together as well as exploring this amazing, historical city. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to experience it for myself, not just vicariously through Ted's pictures!

August 13, 2015

Last Missoula Performance in Naples

Our kids loved the opportunity to be involved in the Missoula Children's Theater productions during our time in Italy. We had never heard of this group before, but it was a BIG DEAL whenever they came to town! Auditions are held on a Monday morning, with rehearsals running every day until show time, which was Friday night for us. The older 4 kids got to participate in several different shows each, and while sometimes they were disappointed with the roles they got (and occasionally with NOT getting roles), each show was fun and unique and always a good learning experience. The last performance for our crew was "Beauty and the Country Beast." Afterward, as usual, we went out to eat with several families involved in the performance. It was a bittersweet experience at Da Baffone, one of our favorite Italian pizzerias, knowing that we wouldn't be around for the summer performance!

The whole cast and crew! You can see what the directors have to work with! It's really quite amazing that they can coordinate this many kids in such a short time to be prepared for a production that includes singing, choreography, and memorized lines!

Kenna was one of the animals this time, third from the left.

Arden as a cowboy! He always seemed to get roles that included painted-on facial hair, lol.

Charis (in the blue dress) was one of the not-so-nice sisters, a rather out-of-character role for her, but she got to enjoy the rehearsals with several of her friends, which always made for good fun.

Tobin--the only boy not in costume--was an assistant director this time and enjoyed having a different role in the production.

July 18, 2015

Easter 2015

In addition to our annual Easter cookie-making and Resurrection Eggs traditions, this year we enjoyed celebrating a Seder supper with our church family, led by our friends the K family, who celebrates annually because Carla is Jewish. It was the first experience for most of the folks within the Il Faro church community, and the first for our own kids as well, although Ted and I had participated in several Passover or Seder suppers earlier in our marriage. It was a meaningful, special evening shared with our church family the Thursday before Easter.

On Easter Sunday, we had a lovely service at church and then spent most of the afternoon at a wonderful Italian restaurant built over ancient ruins--the floor in the main dining area is glass so that you can look down on stones, walls, or pathways from centuries ago! The food, served in multiple courses, was amazing, and it was wonderful to fellowship with other families from church and not have to cook or clean up, lol.

Easter cookies

Ted played bass with the praise team that morning.

The boys' table!

Me with my dear friend and ministry partner, Joyce

Ted and I have a thing with kissing-under-arches pictures. :-)