Saturday, December 1, 2018

Emma's Fourteenth Birthday

Fourteen - November 2018
photo credit: Samuel
Our beautiful daughter is growing into such a lovely young lady and we are so proud of her. If you know Emma, you know that she has a smile that lights up a room, radiating joy and love to all whom she greets. People often comment or ask her "Emma, you are always smiling! How?!" 

She is one of the most genuine and honest people I know (maybe a little too blunt at times) but you never have to wonder where she stands on issues or with you. I have my little box of letters saved from you, all doors to greater conversations, and I am so thankful that you don't keep stuff hidden or locked inside. It is a blessing to us as parents that you open up your heart--crazy teen hormones, amygdala speak and all!

Emma, you have a compassion and heart for others, always seeking to help, serve and be an encouragement to those around you. It's no wonder your classmates constantly reach out to you for private tutoring help. You find it a joy to help them and it is becoming more obvious that God has gifted you in a unique way--you would make a remarkable teacher!

You cannot go a day without reading your Bible and praying. It is your habit before bed each night, no matter how late or how tired--you just must! Truly it has been a joy and inspiration to see you faithfully reading. You received a coloring journal Bible for your birthday from Munga and Gramma and it was the best gift. May God's word continue to be treasured and penetrate your heart as you grow in your love for Jesus and walk faithfully with him.

This year you have continued to grow and develop your passion for music. From the piano to ukelele, guitar and now electric guitar aspirations, your voice is an added beauty to everything you play. Maybe this coming year will be your "big debut" for your family to hear. We are so proud of you for taking voice lessons and the courage it takes to be vulnerable in that way. Again, we are so excited to see your growth in this area. Keep up the great work! You are amazing!

Thank you for your grace towards your Mamma in taking nearly a month to write this birthday post! Your special day was on November 4, and even though it was a long holiday weekend we spent it quietly at home and celebrating with just us and our church family. It was what you wanted in the end instead of a party with friends.

Your birthday cake request was for an Italian cake. So I made Pan di Spagna for the very first time, filled the cake with Italian Vanilla Crema and chocolate chips, then covered it in "the good" buttercream, and topped it with a chocolate ganache and sprinkles. You were right, it was one of the best tasting cakes I've made.

Your brother, Samuel, gave you a special gift by doing a photo shoot of you on your birthday weekend. Thank you for being a willing model. It was a special bonding time for you both and warmed our hearts to see you together. Photography and nature are so relaxing and stress relieving for him, and adding your company just made the experience all the more life-giving. Samuel returned with much enthusiasm ready to edit pictures of his beautiful sister. Here is a sampling...

Emma, we love you so much more than words can say! You are special, treasured, and loved always and forever, no matter what!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

One Year of "Insieme" (Together)

"Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven."

One year ago, we officially launched "Insieme", the first Christian Evangelical Church in Caselle.

[Well, technically it is the 2nd, as we did have a church plant going from 2010-2012, but that dissolved with circumstances out of our control.]

During our furlough, Jonathan began our presentation with much enthusiasm about there now being an evangelical church in Caselle. The audience's reaction was generally the same everywhere we went...silence...or maybe a softly spoken "Amen". Of course, we would have loved to hear hoops and hollers and loud shouts of Amens! Those came after the explanation that, as far as we know, in the 2000+ years of our city's history this is the first presence of an established evangelical church in our community. When you stop to think about that, it is sobering and exciting at the same time. There are thousands more towns and cities that still have no gospel presence. The need is SO great here!!

We began our services when the Italians we have been ministering to began to ask and desire to see a church established. Everyone was all-in from the beginning and the enthusiasm and participation have not diminished. Our first service on October 1, 2017, was a humble beginning. Since then we rejoice in three baptisms, new regular attendees, occasional visitors, and that we have an Italian man already sharing the preaching ministry! This is ALL God and it is our joy and great privilege to see GOD building his church.

We are excited to see all that God will do in our second year...

We host the Sunday services in our home. This is our multi-purpose taverna room.
Jonathan teaching from God's Word. 
Baptisms: June 17, 2018 
Baptismal service with many first time guests in attendance.
A gorgeos day for outside baptisms and fellowship on our front porch.
And as always, plenty of food...
...and cake.

Agape meal to celebrate the one year anniversary.

A beautiful and encouraging day to have 2 long prayed over and anticipated visitors join us.
If there is something to celebrate, there is a reason for cake!
4-layer spice cake with cream cheese frosting. It's fall y'all!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

NEW Piggies

It has been a very long 10 months since our beloved "Mac" passed away, and the kids have been anticipating getting new guinea pigs. There was no point in getting new piggies, when we would then have to find someone to care for them during the summer and we would miss out on the fun and bonding time with them while they were little. So you better believe that acquiring guinea pigs were at the top of our priority list when we got home, right after stocking the fridge with food.

Learning from our past experience with Mac, the kids immediately declared that we needed two piggies because they would live longer and be happier. Who couldn't resist the double dose of cuteness?! Two piggies, therefore mean having adequate space for them to live in, and so we ordered the perfect piggy palace that also met our tight space restrictions. Jonathan spent a good 3.5 hours building this piggy dream home.

 Our tri-level Piggy Palace sits perfectly in our kitchen corner 
After school on Tuesday, September 11, we went to a pet store in Torino. We called around to several stores prior and this was the one with the most selection available of guinea pigs. It was love at first sight when we saw the copper-colored guinea pig. He was the smallest of the brood and a must have for us all. Desiring to take home two guinea pigs, our choices were to choose two females or a male-female combo. According to the research done by our kids, they said that male guinea pigs are more interactive and bond better with humans. Therefore, two females were not an option for them. So even though this choice poses a certain intervention in the coming months so we don't start a guinea pig farm, it will be worth the cost. The other straight haired guinea pig that captured our eye was the one with the white and beige body and grey eyemask. She was a little bit bigger than the other and so pretty.

Double-cuteness and Double-trouble
The choosing was super easy but the naming was much more painful! Surprise, surprise that everyone is much more opinionated than they were seven years ago. Eventually, everyone realized that there are some hills not worth dying upon and names were finally suggested that everyone could live with. So without further ado meet...Rambler and Cocco. Rambler is the little brown one and Cocco is the white one.

It has been nearly two weeks since we brought them home and their personalities are now becoming more evident. Rambler is living up to his name and loves to talk! He squeaks for his food, talks back to me when I am in the kitchen and is the voice for Cocco. His noises are adorable and rumbles with delight when he gets some petting and loving. Cocco, on the other hand, has not muttered a word as far as we can tell. She likes her quiet and dark spaces and is much timider. She is intelligent and speedy fast and was the first to discover how to use the ramps in the cage. Rambler was not happy at first when she would disappear and he couldn't find her. But now he has it figured out too and they make for a crazy wild pair in the mornings when they play and run up and down the ramps. 

We thought to weigh them after their first week home and Cocco was 10.2 oz and Rambler was 8 oz. They are tiny for sure and are estimated to be about 60 days old. 

We are in love with our new furry little friends!
The box we brought them home in. They were pretty frightened.
Rambler fit in the palm of my hand
Rambler reminds us of Mac
Happy kiddos
Cocco may be quiet but she doesn't fight being held
Putting their size into perspective with this photo

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

School Begins Again

There were a whole lot of memories made and blessings received over the course of our summer in the United States. Did I share a single one? Nope. Will I? I hope to, but I cannot promise anything at this point. So I think it best, for now, to just pick up where we are currently in life and move forward. 

Last you read, the school year was finally over. And here we are mid-September posting about the school year starting again. We returned to Italy on September 7, and all the kids started school on Monday the 10th. The weekend was full of running around picking up book orders, supply shopping, finishing up summer homework and working through jitters and jet lag.

This is the first year that our kids are all attending different schools. Three different cities. Three different means of transportation. Three different schedules. It sounds chaotic and honestly, it feels chaotic until we get used to the new norm.

All the kids have had a good first week and a half of school. They are still on a provisionary schedule meaning: Luca is done at noon for the first two weeks; Emma was done at noon last week and 1pm this week and most likely next week too; Samuel is done at 1pm and is also looking at another week of the same. Once all the professors are in place, the weekly schedule will then be set for classes, and then they can resume their full days of school that will be until 1pm or 2pm (depending on the day and school).

10th Grade
Liceo Classico - Torino
Samuel has returned to the known quantity of his high school, classmates and professors. He will have a couple of changes in teachers but other than that he has just picked up where he left off. The bus stop did switch drop-off locations in Torino so that threw him the first day back, but he navigated his way to school successfully even if going a roundabout way to get there. I take him and pick him up from the bus stop in Caselle every day.  

9th Grade
Liceo Scientifico - Ciriè
Emma had a fantastic start at her new school. She has quickly made new friends in her class and is so thankful for how God worked everything out for her to switch tracks and schools at the last minute. She now travels on the train with a whole slew of friends from Caselle. For now, Emma walks to the train station in the mornings (12-minute walk) and I pick her up on her return home. If the weather is bad, she will need a ride to and from the station. 

7th Grade
Scuola Media - Caselle
Luca struggled to get all his summer homework done over the summer months, but once school started he was super motivated. After his first day of school, we spent about 7 hours completing his one grammar/reading comprehension book that he was to bring in the following day for correction. We worked non-stop to get it done and then, of course, the professor did not have time to correct it. (Insert eye roll and sigh). Hopefully, we can work on his procrastination tendencies this year. He has had a lot of entry tests these first weeks. He too is happy to see his friends again. Thankfully, Luca can walk to and from school making that one less trip out in the car for me.

We pray this year will be a wonderful year of growth and maturity for our kids, a year to deepen their dependency on Christ, make new friends and have fun while learning!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

It's Over...finally!

"School is finally done!" Those were the words of Emma yesterday as she finally received her official final marks for Terza Media (8th grade). Of course, before I share those results you need to know a little more about the process. Samuel wrote about his final exam experience last year, but of course, Emma had some different twists to her experience. (For the record since I never updated his post, he received a final grade of 10)

First, Emma took her State Invalsi Tests in April instead of June. These are standardized tests in math, Italian and English. Poor Emma had to complete these exams during the week she had her leg cast. The 90-minute exam time was pushing her limits of comfort but thankfully she only had to go to school for the exam on those three days and no regular lessons. The results of these tests factor into a percentage of her final grade.

Secondly, it was about one month more or less before the end of the school year when Emma came home with the news that her professor told her she would need to prepare for an interrogation on the ENTIRE year's literature program. Just she and one other classmate named Giacomo. To be honest I was ticked because Emma has been working SO hard all year and was at the top of her class. Why add a whole other level of pressure to an already stressful period of time leading up to end of the year tests and final examinations? It was a twisted form of a compliment I learned after telling others about the added requirement for Emma. The universal response was "Ah, the prof wants to give her an exit grade of 10!" Ten being the highest mark you can get.

Emma faced the challenge with wavering levels of anxiety having had the interrogation date set and then change several times. The day she was prepared to be interrogated, the prof decided there was no time and postponed it until after the weekend. This is a typical occurrence and so you can understand why our kids often leave the house full of anticipation and anxiety for an interrogation that may or may not happen. "Always be prepared" is a motto to live by in Italian schooling. Finally, when she and Giacomo were interrogated it lasted about an hour of having to alternately answer questions on authors and literary works. She did amazing and received a 9 for this added interrogation!

School ended on June 8, and the end of the year program had her being recognized for her 3rd place finish in the Kangourou Math competition held in March. There were 30+ eighth grade participants from the two middle schools in Caselle. Luca too received an award for finishing 5th out of 60+ participants that included both 6th and 7th graders for his category. I don't know where they get their mad math skills from!!

Most of Emma's classmates with their Italian Professor on the last day of school
Emma and Luca both received their final semester grades on Monday, June 11. Both did wonderfully and we are so proud of them! That day Emma also received her "entrance to examination" grade. She was the only one in her class to receive a 10 heading into the exams. And to top off the day of excitement, Emma decided that she wanted to switch high schools from linguistics to scientific. Another story for another day, but with just 10 days left before leaving for the USA it was a scramble to find a school with openings and make the official switch for her.

Since Emma already completed her Invalsi tests earlier in the year, her written exams began on June 12 and only included one day of Italian, one day of French/English and one day of Math. Of the three essay choices given for Italian, she was thankful to see a literature related topic allowing her to draw upon her recent interrogation studying making the five pages much easier to write. These days of written exams were no less filled with stress even with her top entrance grade. Actually, I think she was more stressed because of the high mark and not wanting to bomb out on the written exams. Poor girl, threw up multiple times on the first two written exam days. The school even had to call me on the first day, asking me to come and check on her bringing along some saltines and fruit juice. Oh, the stress! We were just as ready for exams to be over with as Emma.

With no time to breath after the conclusion of written exams on Thursday, Emma had to immediately be ready for her oral interrogation the very next day. Of course, the upside was that she could just be done with it all and not have to carry continued stress and studying into the next week and a half like many others had to. Emma was not required to write a thesis like Samuel, however, she did still have to make a comprehensive and cohesive connection from all 10 subjects to one main topic. She like Samuel chose The Cold War Era for her topic.

Oral Examination
The oral exam is a State Examination open to the public, so we were allowed to observe her interrogation. Emma may have been the only student that either allowed their parents to attend or that even showed up in support of their child. The boys even came and it was a joy to witness Emma's confidence and ability to communicate in Italian, English and French over a wide range of subjects. Each professor and even the Caselle School President posed questions to Emma. To me, it seemed much more intense than Samuel's as he worked from his powerpoint presentation and did not have to field as many questions or even discuss each subject in the end. Emma had to pass along her artwork and technology drawings from all three years of middle school, had to play a piece of music on her recorder, was given a paragraph from a poem to read aloud and then asked to give a paraphrase and her opinion of whether or not she agreed with the poet's thinking. From what Emma observed of her classmates' orals, hers was on a higher level, as it should have been for someone looking to graduate with a 10.

The video below is her playing the Italian National Anthem. When asked about her selection and why she didn't choose a song in English, she responded: "Because I love Italy!" They were left in wonder as to why, but it clearly sums up where Emma considers home.

Extreme delight and relief--it's over!
(Notice her seabands on her wrists that she wore to help with nausea-LOL)
So all this to share that Emma did receive her final mark yesterday with her result being a 10!!!

We are so proud of her! Not because she received a ten, but rather to have seen her growth and maturity over the course of this past year, her perseverance, desire for excellence and her determination. She is a friend to everyone and is so well loved by her classmates and professors.

Proud of a job well done!
We laugh every time her friends walk or ride their bikes past our house and yell "Ciao, Emma!" at the top of their lungs. Granted they are all boys who do that, but they are courteous enough to yell "Ciao, Kleis famil-ee" now and then too. We know that she will maintain contact with many of her middle school friends, especially since she knows of seven that are attending the same Scientific High School next year.

Flowers from Dada

Cake from Mamma

Brava Emma!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Choir Concert Way Back When

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....Oh, sorry. Let's begin again. A long time ago, as in this past December, Samuel performed in a Christmas concert with his high school choir. Singing was a new venture for him that caught his attention at the beginning of the school year. He joined and participated in the choir all the way through the first semester but the reality of the situation was that it made for a very long Thursday as he didn't get home until 5:30pm and generally he had a lot of homework to complete for his Friday lessons. By the beginning of the second semester he decided to back out along with nearly half of the group that they started with in the fall. Commuting an hour each way to and from school is tough and I honestly don't blame him. It is no small feat to balance studies and extracurriculars unfortunately. 

We are so proud of Samuel though for courageously stepping out of his comfort zone and discovering something that was enjoyable for him. We since have learned of a gospel choir here in Caselle so maybe that might be something for him to check out next year that would be closer to home.

Samuel added his baritone voice to the choir and his director was happy to have another male voice in a choir and school where there is a female majority. Samuel even had a solo in a song (that his director ended up joining to make a duet during the concert).

We had to chuckle because the concert did not have a lot of Christmas to it. Well, there was Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas" sung with an Italian accent. But that was it. I mean what can you expect when there are not really any Italian Christmas songs in their musical heritage? Apparently there was a Japanese Christmas song, but who knew? It was a very eclectic range of pieces from "Give Me That Old Time Religion", "Drunken Sailor", Japanese and several African tribal songs.

On this particular night the student choir of about 30 students was joined by alumni, staff and professors. Anyway, enjoy the pictures and video clips. (Samuel's solo is in the first video)