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. :-)

July 17, 2015

End of March 2015 Highlights

So I've already posted a couple of March highlights...the ones with lots of pictures, lol. We finished the month with Lucan's 6th birthday and a PWOC ladies' retreat in Formia, Italy. I know I have more pictures of both of these events, but I think they are still on my phone, which is upstairs...and since I am writing this 2 days after giving birth, I am not inclined to run upstairs and get the phone at this point! But I am motivated to catch up on blogging so I can be sure to chronicle our recent highlights!! And if you are on Facebook, you will have already seen what we've been up to, anyway, but meanwhile...I have to keep plugging away here, because I prefer to organize things chronologically!

We had a simple party for Lucan at one of the playgrounds at the Support Site, inviting friends to join us for play time and a picnic lunch. We brought cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches to share. Since Lucan's actual birthday was the day that Charis and I left with the PWOC ladies for our weekend retreat, we had our family celebration the evening before. Ted met us at the playground and we swapped vehicles and kids, and Charis and I enjoyed two nights away with both old and new friends in a gorgeous hotel in Formia.

Happy 6th Birthday, Lucan!

That's Charis running along the rocks!

Carla and I roomed together, and our three daughters had a room together as well. What a fun time! Our speaker was so very good...each session was just wonderful. She spoke on various women in the Bible and was just so passionate about God's Word, it was infectious. We enjoyed small group times as well as wonderful meals and time to visit. The weather was beautiful, and the whole experience was a blessing. It was hard to believe that it was a year ago at our last ladies' retreat when we heard the awful news that Chaplain Keith had suddenly passed away...

Boys' Trip to France

Another highlight for March 2015 was the long weekend trip Ted took with Tobin and Arden to France! While we had hoped/planned to do a huge family road trip encompassing Normandy and Paris among other places, that dream burst when the transmission on our Suburban died last summer. We waited 100 days for the repairs to be complete, but the added expense of the part having to be shipped overseas, plus the lost time, made us realize that we were going to have to revamp our plans. So instead of all of us going, we decided to let Ted take the older boys to share some quality time and make some great memories. What an opportunity for homeschooling history buffs!

The boys flew to Paris the Thursday before Ted's birthday and drove a rental car to Bayeux. They got to see the Bayeux Tapestry--amazing!! Then Friday they spent touring various places around Normandy. While I'm definitely bummed that I didn't get to go, I know this trip meant so much more to Ted, being such a history lover, and I'm thankful he had the chance to share the experience with our older boys. Friday evening they drove back to Paris so they could be ready for a full schedule on Saturday: the palace at Versailles, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. (Don't you think they could have squeezed in a few more stops, lol?!) And then Sunday was travel-home day. I think they got their money's worth out of those plane tickets!!

Arden by the palace of Versailles
The Louvre
Mona Lisa!
Hard Rock Cafe--a dinner worth waiting for!

Tobin and Ted in front of Notre Dame

July 14, 2015

The Caves at Pertosa

One of our spring outings was to a natural wonder within 100 miles of our home in Italy: Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta. Some friends of ours had recommended it as a good family trip, so we reserved a time with an English-speaking tour guide, packed a picnic lunch, and headed out for the day.

It was fairly cool underground, but not overly so; still, it was good we had jackets! Not only did we get to see some fantastic stalactites and stalagmites, but we also got to ride in a boat through a good-sized portion of the caves! Tobin especially liked that part and took a turn pulling us through on the ropes just like our tour guide was doing.

After our tour, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the grounds and then headed home. A fun adventure for the whole family!

July 13, 2015

Kenna Turns 8!

Another highlight from February was Kenna's 8th birthday! She wanted a Frozen birthday party (not surprising), so we obliged with a gorgeous cake by our friend Titti and games like "Pin the carrot nose on Olaf" and "Make your own Olaf" (racing to unroll a roll of toilet paper around a volunteer "snowman"). Kenna enjoyed having a number of her friends attend the party at our house, and later that evening we had our family gift-giving time, with her present from Mom and Dad being a dirndl from Germany that we had purchased when we were there earlier in the month. We got it a little big, so hopefully she can wear it for a few years, at least!

Beautiful, silly, fun friends!

Happy birthday to our girl!!

Crocheted mermaid doll from Charis

Loom knitting book from the brothers

She loved the dirndl that Charis and our friend Shauna picked out in Garmisch!

July 12, 2015

February 2015 Road Trip: Venice & Germany

Road trip! First we drove to Aviano AB in northern Italy, first stopping by the port where our cruise from which our cruise had departed so we could collect my toiletries/jewelry chest that we had inadvertently left behind. Praise God it was intact! That was the good news...the bad news was that I was getting hit with a horrible stomach bug that wiped me out for 5 out of the 7 days of our vacation. I missed getting to see Venice with Ted and the kids. Tobin actually wasn't feeling great either, so he and Arden opted to stay with me in the TLF to help keep an eye on Seanin, since I was in no condition to really care for a baby, but it would have been difficult for Ted to navigate the train and all the walking with ALL of the little boys. The Venice travelers had a great day, and it was fun to see their pictures when they returned! It was the first day of Carnivale, so there were some interesting costumes!

Carnivale costumes in San Marco Piazza

It was a beautiful, sunny day, but very chilly! Charis and Lucan pose on a bridge overlooking the Grand Canal.

Zaden and Lucan and a lion...close to St. Mark's.

It was a "stretch," but Ted made it to the top!

This was a street...with a name...and addresses...and even Kenna could touch both sides!
The next day we drove to Garmisch, Germany, to stay at the Edelweiss Lodge. Somehow I had mixed up my dates (I had made the reservation nearly a year previously!), and our room wasn't actually reserved until starting the next night. Thankfully, they were able to find us a comparable suite, but it did involve me having to move everything out of one location and into the next the following day, with my stomach still giving me issues while I was watching little boys while Ted and the older kids went skiing/snowboarding. Ah, well...being sick in a resort in Germany is better than being sick at home...I guess?!

Since we had planned this part of our vacation to meet up with a couple of families from Naples, it actually WAS better than being at home! I was thankful to be able to rest and just hang out with Shauna and Carla at various times, and our kids enjoyed spending time together playing games, watching movies, or swimming.

Tick one off Ted's bucket list: snowboarding the Alps!

Kenna's first time on skis...she loved it!

Charis, Jasmine, and Faith in the hotel pool

Tobin and Zaden
I spent parts of my sick days working on a digital scrapbook album of our marathon adventure/Greece trip, so that was something that was satisfying for me to be able to do, and I did enjoy being in the lodge looking out over the beautiful snowy scenery outside! The last couple of days I felt well enough to leave the room for a couple of outings. One was a dinner date with Ted at the restaurant we had enjoyed during our previous visit. It was during this meal that I learned German meat loaf is, in fact, a large hunk of what looks like fried Spam. *shudder* Thankfully the soup, potatoes, sauerkraut, and apple strudel for dessert was more than enough to fill me up!

For one of the days, the B family and we drove to Dachau to tour the concentration camp, a difficult but (I think) important experience. The younger kids were young enough that things pretty much went over their heads...they weren't too happy about walking around the outside portion, as it was bitterly cold despite the sun. But the museum part was at least warm, although definitely sobering and sad. It's hard to imagine such unspeakable cruelty...and yet so many forms of injustice and oppression still exist all over the world. A good reminder for us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute" (Proverbs 31:8).

Walking through the entrance/guard house

A reconstructed bunker...hard to imagine how many bodies would have had to share this space for sleeping.

On a happier note, Ted decided to spend our last full day in Germany taking the kids sledding so that the non-skiers could enjoy some snow time! I stayed in the lodge with Seanin and was perfectly happy with that arrangement, but I'm so glad the kids got to enjoy the day on the mountain with Dad!



Charis & Zaden!

Time for hot drinks!!

January 2015 Highlights

Looking back and trying to recount our highlights...since I failed to blog regularly this year...January doesn't seem terribly exciting! We cleaned up the mess from the burglary that had happened while we were away on our Christmas vacation, but mostly I remember just being very tired and all of us battling various germs of the season.

So, since there isn't anything terribly exciting for this post, I will at least share the pregnancy announcement video we put together. We used an idea from another large family, whose video we had watched a few years ago, and we shared some of the (many) comments we received about our family as we were out and about during the days of our Mediterranean cruise. It was fun to make and even more fun to share our news about baby #8!

May 20, 2015

Cruise: The Depressing Epilogue

We are so very grateful for all the adventures we got to have on the Mediterranean cruise, for the places God allowed us to see and explore that we would have had a difficult time getting to otherwise. We thank the Lord for the time we had together as a family to make memories together.

After 12 days of massive activity, we were exhausted and ready to head home. We knew our travel day might be a little stressful, but we were unprepared for what greeted us when we arrived at our house. We knew something was wrong immediately as we heard the "click, click, click" of the house alarm that indicated it had been going off long enough to run the battery down. When our breaker tripped a year and a half previous while we were on vacation, we heard the same noise when we returned and found everything in our fridge and freezer ruined. So we were on the alert immediately.

But this time it was worse than power issues. Muddy footprints, open doors and windows, items thrown all over the floor, and the strong smell of cat urine told the story: we had experienced one of the negative aspects of Napoli life, a break-in and burglary.

It was a surreal feeling. I remember having the thought, "We can't have been robbed--the big TV is still here!" And yet it became clear that other things were, in fact, gone. God's gracious hand prevented it from being so much worse than it actually was. As we pieced together the evidence, we figured out that the break-in had occurred a number of days prior to our arrival (as proved by the utter ruin of everything in our fridge and freezer, the cats having moved in and made themselves at home, the extremely cold house, and the alarm battery having died). Apparently the alarm went off long enough to annoy a neighbor, who yelled at Ted for "allowing" the noise to go on for so long. Gee, thanks, Signor, for your help. :-/

The items taken didn't value more than approximately $3000 total. Unfortunately, a number of them had more sentimental value than monetary value, such as the guitar Ted had had for 20 years, plus his violin from childhood that Charis had been learning to play. While I had some of my most valuable pieces of jewelry with me on the cruise, I lost several necklaces that simply cannot be replaced, such as the made-to-order cross necklace that contained the middle ruby from my grandmother's engagement ring, the ruby Ted had taken out so he could put a diamond in the ring for me to have for our engagement. Charis's jewelry was also taken, as was the Wii (all components except the sensor), some bottles of homemade wine given as a gift from a new Italian friend, Bose speakers, and I'm forgetting what else at the moment. We also lost probably $500 worth of food in the deep freezer and fridge because they flipped the breaker, probably trying to turn off the alarm.

At any rate, we had much to be thankful for, including the fact that we hadn't been at home when the event happened AND the fact that the thieves never returned to clean us out, which they definitely could have done since a number of days passed between the break-in and our arrival. We had a mess to clean up, to be sure, but good friends swooped in immediately to help take care of the food mess and sweep and mop the main floor anyway.

Over the next days we did a LOT of laundry, as we not only had 12 days' worth of dirty laundry from the cruise, but Ted and I also had to launder every item of clothing that had been in our dresser drawers, since the thieves emptied out the drawers and tromped all over everything with their muddy shoes. Additionally, we had to locate the various sources of cat urine and either wash/clean/disinfect or, in some cases, get rid of ruined items (such as a few beanbag chairs that were beyond saving).

It was a rather depressing way to end such a lovely vacation, and certainly not how we would have chosen to spend the remaining days of the holiday season with Ted's mom visiting us. The drama didn't quite end there, as we realized we had left a small toiletries bag at the cruise port in the chaos of making sure we had all our people and suitcases--somehow we all forgot about the little red chest that, unfortunately, contained the rest of my jewelry and some special souvenirs we had accumulated during the trip! The good news is that after a number of phone calls, emails, and severe headaches, we were finally able to pick up the chest in person a month later!! Ted's mom likewise had multiple problems getting home to Denver from Italy, having to spend the night in Rome and then also having to track down her suitcase, which went missing for nearly a month as well!

But we can say without a doubt that God is good all the time, and while we were sad about some of the items with emotional value to us, ultimately we realize that all material things will pass away. This world is NOT our home, and everything we have is a gift from God, who gives and takes away according to His plan. We spent time praying for those who broke into our house, that they would find God alone to be their provider and their salvation and seek to know Him. And we praise the Lord, too, for protecting the hearts of our youngest, who never did experience any fear or distress as a result of what had happened but rather seemed to just accept it and trust that no "bad guys" would return to harm us or take any more items. (Although Lucan did spend a couple of weeks blaming the "bad guys" for taking any of his items that he happened to be missing at the moment, such as his flip-flops or stuffed animals!)

May 17, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 11 (Messina, Sicily)

Adventure-wise, this was a fairly low-key day. But we had some fun at breakfast! After we had placed our orders, we handed out envelopes to the 6 older children, telling them this was their Christmas surprise but they had to figure it out for themselves. Inside each envelope was a slip of paper with a picture on it...

...a spider,
...an octopus,
...a squid,
...an 8-ball on a pool table,
...a magic 8 ball,
...and a hand of crazy eights.

Grandma J's eyes got really wide as she realized what message we were giving, but she didn't say anything out loud. Charis was shortly behind her, and a happy gasp escaped from her as she asked, "Are we having another baby?!" Slowly, one by one, the kids realized what the pictures had in common, and it was delightful to see their reactions and know that they were truly excited to hear that another sibling was on the way. I honestly had been wondering if anyone would figure it out earlier, because my clothes were honestly getting tighter and tighter even the week and a half we were on the cruise! But it seemed that Ted and I had kept the secret pretty well!

After breakfast we were ready to head out. This was another wandering-around day. We thought it would be nice to go inside a church on Christmas Day, so we set our sights on a large domed church at the top of a hill, navigating toward it as best as we could. We reached it and learned that it was a shrine, not a church! But it was a lovely building and situated in a location that gave us fantastic views.

We didn't have long in this port, and so we simply made our way back down to the main square, where we bought a couple of little souvenirs and ducked into the back of a Christmas mass that was finishing up in a beautiful cathedral.

It was a brief stop, but I guess at least we can say we set foot in Sicily during our stint in Italy!

Mediterranean Cruise: Day 10 (Malta)

Christmas Eve, 2014...

This was an incredibly cool port to come into! The walls were reminiscent of Rhodes, but we saw so much more coming in, I guess because of the shape of the port. It was a bright sunny day, and we were eager to explore without an agenda like we did in Rhodes. We did discover once we were off the ship that the weather was deceiving--strong winds were COLD and made us wish we had bundled up more. The cold affected me a lot more than I wanted it to, especially since we got cheap tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus.

Our first stop was the craftsman's village. Though many places were understandably closed for Christmas Eve, we did get to watch some men heating and shaping glass as well as a man who showed us the beautiful and delicate skill of silver filagree work. Amazing! We puttered around the shops a bit before getting on the bus again. Some of us had to ride up top--brrrr! Beautiful views, though! Prickly pear and rolling vineyards...using the bus gave us a feel for how big the island is--we think of it as a tiny little dot on the map, and yet it's quite expansive, definitely large enough for multiple little cities! We went to Mdina, the "silent city," and walked around the walled streets for awhile looking for a reasonable place for lunch. We gave up and opted for ravioli at 9.50 a plate. Oy! As it turned out, the manager must have cut us a family deal, because he only charged us 50 euro total!

After lunch Tobin begged to see the "dungeon museum," which turned out to be way too disturbing for Arden, so I took him and Zaden outside to wait. It was a very tiny version of what I remember of the London Dungeon--figures set up to recreate some of the medieval horrors and plagues. Sometimes reading history is quite enough! We don't need to bring everything to life! Charis said she wished she hadn't gone in and that she hoped Lucan didn't understand everything he saw. Tobin had been so reluctant and mopey about everything else we had done that day that I hoped he would feel good about getting to do something he really wanted to do, but the experience wasn't what he expected. Still, he at least knew better than to complain since he had asked for it!

We went straight back to the port from there, to everyone's relief. We settled little boys in rooms with Grandma and Charis for naps, put the others in Ted's room with a movie, and then Ted and I went back out (me with my coat this time!). We stayed on foot, taking the lift up to the city of Valetta. We saw the shooting battery where they usually fire the cannons at noon and 4:00, which would have been cool to see, but as it was Christmas Eve, all was silent. We wandered around the streets a bit, looking for a few particular things. We wanted a Christmas treat for our dinner servers, so when we found a specialty treat shop, we got ourselves some wonderful gelato and a box of beautiful Christmas cupcakes for our guys. Then we really focused on finding a Maltese cross for our "cross wall," but it was impossible to find one all by itself! On decorative plates or gaudy shields, yes, but no plain, simple cross! We finally got an unpainted square plaque for our cross wall as close as we could come. Then we headed back to prepare for dinner.

Christmas Eve dinner was wonderful, if a bit sad, because of knowing that our crew friends were serving us instead of being with their families. :-( We tried to express our appreciation when we gave them the cupcakes, but it's a poor substitute, I'm sure.

Crazy kids climbing the walls--but we pinned everyone down in one cabin after dinner to do our advent calendar. It wasn't quite the picturesque setting one would hope for, but hopefully it will stick with them.