Thursday, February 2, 2017

First Gymnastics Competition

Let's do this!
Emma has been wanting to do artistic gymnastics for the longest time. Her best friend, Claire, had been giving her tips and stretching challenges for nearly a year and a half before Emma was able to start training at a local gym. It was so cute to see how-to videos come through text messages and to hear the girls video chatting regularly with Claire coaching Emma through different moves. Thank you, Claire for being an inspiration and amazing virtual coach from Ukraine!

Getting final tips from Coach Lara before floor routine

Usually new students are not allowed to compete in competitions until they have completed a full year of training. Therefore, you can imagine our surprise when Coach Lara told Emma after two months that she thought she was good enough and ready to participate in her first competition in January. Emma was elated with the news and continued to push herself in the gym week after week.

She has been twirling around, throwing up her arms and holding poses at random times all around the house over the past couple of months. The constant banging on the floor is a steady reminder of her practicing jumps and moves in her room. No matter. It has been a joy and sheer delight to see her embrace this sport whole heartedly and see her pursuing her dreams. It has never been about anything other than just having fun and doing something she is passionate about.

Girls from her club-Fenix Nova Gym
This past weekend she participated in her first competition in Castano Primo, which is a suburb of Milan. She participated in the individual competition for the Junior Corallo Level, basically the middle school level for beginners. There were a lot of gymnasts! She completed all three events of trampoline, beam and floor in back to back rotations.

...perfect landing!
She was so calm, composed and confident for her first time in front of a crowd. I think she gets her performance bone from her dad because she did not appear nervous at all! We stood back and watched in awe wondering how our little girl grew up so quickly!

Beam routine

Filing out for awards ceremony
Participants for her level
Allieve and Junior "Corallo" level from her club

She was glowing with excitement on the success of her first competition and so happy with her participation medal!
Here is a video of her performances. She wants me to note that the music got cut short on her floor routine, so that is why it looks like she didn't finish with the music.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

In Pursuit of My Italian Driver's License

One might find it baffling that in the almost twelve years that we have lived in Italy, never once have I sat behind the wheel of a car to drive here. The excuses were obvious in our first term: with three little ones that meant delayed language acquisition; living in a city build on a hill with narrow streets and driving stick shift--um, no thank you; one car and one driver was sufficient for our family life and ministry at the time; it costs too much [about 1,000 euro] and honestly I was just plain scared to drive here. However, as the years have passed, our kids have grown, I have gained more confidence in the language, our need for two drivers in the household is very much needed, especially with Jonathan's health being so unstable these past few years, and since we now live in a more tranquil city I am not as scared as I once was.

In March of last year I started to attend driving school receiving special permission from the school to do a partial registration. That meant that I could attend classes 2 times a week and start to get a handle on a whole new world of vocabulary before heading off to the US for the summer. I had great intentions of studying over the summer, but instead I got a whole lot of practice driving being the sole driver for our family all summer. When we got back in September I resumed my regular attendance in class, completing my official registration in October. That is when my 6 month clock started to tick in which time I need to have obtained my license or else be forced to pay every fee twice over to start the process over!

My instructor was really good and made class interesting
The first phase of passing the theory exam is by far the toughest. No special consideration is given to non-native speakers or to those who already possess a drivers license from another country, so you just have to buck up and study hard like every other Italian. Rules of the road, signs, first aid administration, insurance intricacies, license specifications, number of points incurred against your license for various road violations, motorcycles including clothing and motor details, trailers, all parts of the car including the motor, brake system, suspension etc., and the list goes on and on and on.

List of license categories. Eight of these needed to be known in detail including cylinders and kilowatts permitted for each category of motos, motorcycles and quads. 
Who goes first?
It isn't just the information that is technical, it is the way in which the test questions are worded. They are designed to trip you up on purpose, which is all the more of a challenge for foreigners. The positive thing is that you have access to all the possible 8,000 test questions. The down side is that you have to work through 200 sample quizzes of 40 questions each to see them all. You are only allowed to miss 4 out of 40! I think I got through about 120 in the book and some on the computer.

When I started to consistently pass more than fail, I signed up to take the exam. You get three attempts to pass and even though I was not completely confident I figured I was close enough for my first try. Remember the clock is ticking?

The test is administered at the "Motorizzazione Civile" in Torino. After meeting our instructors at 9am they drove eight students from our school to the testing site. We had to wait nearly two hours for our testing slot along with about 40 other students. It was a miserable wait of anticipation. I had been up since 4:45am since I couldn't sleep so my brain was already full and swirling from studying since the wee hours of the day. Finally, we were called in and given 30 minutes to answer 40 questions. I took my time and was done in about 20 minutes. I felt fairly confident when leaving and only felt uncertain about maybe two answers. But never know.

The results were printed and posted on a bulletin board. I had to wait for the mass of people to clear before I could find my name and finally see that I had passed! What a relief to pass and a bonus to accomplish on my first attempt! Hallelujah! So thankful for God getting me through this phase.

So what is next?

Now I get my driver's permit and will have to complete 6 hours of drivers training before I will be permitted to take the final driving exam. I'll post when I have license in hand!

*Driving back to Caselle, I see that my instructor is not wearing his seatbelt. He is excluded from being belted in only when he is in the passenger seat with a student driving. So basically one works their butt off to obtain their license only to earn the right to do and drive how they want. Viva Italia!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hard Headed

On Wednesday our youngest son gave us quite the scare. We have been reflecting and processing the whole incident nonstop the past three days. So I better get it all written down while emotions are fresh in my mind (although I don't think I will soon forget).

Twice a week our kids carpool with two other families to and from Leinì (10-15 minutes) where they attend chess club and gymnastics simultaneously. This particular day was our day to pick-up the kids. It had been a long day out and about getting things done and I had very little food in the fridge, so my dear husband suggested we just leave early and pick up some pizzas for dinner. As we were just entering Leinì we got a phone call from Luca’s chess instructor. He said, “Can you come get your son?” I said, “Yes, what happened?” He offered very little information through his shaky voice and just said, “He hurt himself.” I reassured him we were minutes away and would be there soon. When we pulled up I saw one of the moms running down the steps of the Guardia Medica* trying to flag us down. I jumped out of the car while it was still moving because surely this was not a good sign.

Top floor: chess club
Bottom Floor: Guardia Medica
*Guardia Medica: Is the place where one can go after regular office hours to see a doctor on call for non-emergent situations. We have had to use their services several times in the past to avoid going to the hospital or waiting until the next day to see a doctor.

When I got up the steps I saw Luca standing with his head wrapped in gauze and ice and blood all over his hands and neck. We locked eyes and that is when he began to cry. He was holding it all in until we saw him. I held him while I listened to the explanation of what happened. Luca was being chased by another kid and slipped while he was running, slamming the back of his head into a cement pillar in the middle of the room. He remained conscious but succeeded in putting a fracture in the pillar where he hit. 

We saw this a week after the yeah, that is more than a hairline fracture in the wall! All the more grateful for God's protection. No wonder his instructor was SO rattled.
They immediately brought him downstairs to the Guardia Medica and although the office was closed until 8pm, there was someone present to let them in and give them first aid supplies. We were told that he would need to go to the Pronto Soccorso (ER) to get it glued. They offered to call an ambulance but from past experience of being with someone when they had a heart attack and waiting 20 minutes for first responders, we knew it was best and quickest for us to drive ourselves. We made a call back to our friends in Caselle to ask them if they would retrieve the girls.

Thankfully we were very familiar with the quickest route to the hospital in Ciriè from the many trips that we made there while living in Leinì. I rode in the back with Luca and he was crying out in pain with every bump and turn in the road. It was scary to think that he might have a neck injury. He was so scared and kept asking if he was going to die. We prayed with him and told him Jesus was with him, that we would do everything and anything to make sure he got the care he needed, and that he was going to be okay. Then he became worried about his interrogations at school the next day and that he would not have time to study. So many thoughts were racing through all of our minds.

When we got to the ER he was immediately taken for registration and evaluation by a nurse. As we sat down we looked up at the receiving window and saw Luca’s teacher along with her daughter. What are the chances of the timing of that?  She was deeply concerned for Luca and immediately put his worries to rest about school telling him not to worry about his interrogation. It was an encounter for Luca to note that God cares about all the big and even little things in his life.

He got a "Coraggio" sticker (You can do it!)
As the nurse unwrapped his bandages and took a quick glance she noted that he would probably just need some glue. She rewrapped him and put a fresh bag of ice on before we proceeded to the waiting room. We waited about 30 minutes before Luca was called back to receive care. That is great for Italian ER standards! The nurse told me she would need to shave his head to get a better look at the cut. Upon completion of the task she said “la colla non basta” (glue is not enough). I went around to look and that is when my stomach flipped. I restrained my deeply disturbed reaction in front of Luca and immediately called Jonathan back into the room who was making a phone call. I left him with the honors of documenting the injury. The gash was about 6 cm long (3”) and deep.

Luca had stitches once on his foot, so he knew what was coming and reacted with silent tears streaming down his face. I promptly took the seat offered to me on the other side of the room just to ensure that I would not be the next one on the floor. 

Jonathan stood by Luca as he courageously endured the procedure and I cheered him on from a distance. It was heart breaking as parents to hear him whimpering and wincing through the numbing process. The doctors complemented him on his bravery, saying that he was much tougher than boys they have seen that are older than him. We think he received 5 stitches but the doctor forgot to count. I guess it is not necessary for their documentation. I have since tried to count but they are running stitches so not sure how to count those. In any case there are plenty enough!

My precious brave little boy
From there we had to go up to radiology to get x-rays done on his head and neck. The hospital was pretty quiet with all department receptionists gone for the day. We waited in an empty waiting room for someone to get the call and come out to retrieve Luca for testing. It wasn’t too long of a wait and then we were off to the pediatric ward so that Luca could receive the imaging results and final look over by the doctor there. Only one parent was allowed back to the waiting area, so Jonathan accompanied Luca. I waited in a separate waiting room for two hours and just about went mad with boredom and hunger. My phone had almost zero battery and I had nothing else with me to read. There were no magazines on tables, no coffee machines, no snack baskets, no nothin’. I really need to keep an emergency food kit in the car!

Wandering the halls of the hospital we stumbled on this lovely site of mold. Nice, huh?!
We are so thankful that Luca did not incur any fractures. The x-rays did show that his normally curved neck vertebrae had been jolted into a straight line. Therefore, he will need to wear a neck brace for one week. The doctor gave him a full examination to ensure he did not exhibit signs of a concussion and he passed with flying colors. What a relief! On our way out we had to stop by the ER one more time to get a neck brace. They did not have child sizes since the pediatric orthopedic office was closed for the night, but thankfully we had one at home from one of his prior and similar incidents.

Set and ready to go home!
We picked up Emma around 11:15 and when we got home we had to get some dinner for the three of us who were beyond starved by that point. Three times during the night I got up to check on Luca. He awoke the next day quite perky and showing great signs of resiliency in his recovery.

So much to be thankful for!
  • It was our night for pick-up and together we had left the house early and arrived just shortly after the accident.
  • The Guardia Medica is in the same building as the chess club.
  • Our friends were able to pick up Emma and care for her all evening since she did not feel comfortable going home without us.
  • Samuel was at home and remained calm. He said: “I now realize that I am not mature enough yet to care for this big house on my own. I am so thankful for everything you do!”
  •  Maestra Tania was there at the ER relieving Luca of his school worries. 
  •  It was a reasonably good health day for Jonathan, which was such a blessing.

Quotes from Luca:
  • “Wherever I’ll go, wherever I’ll be, emergencies will happen to me” (sung in song).
  • “It’s a miracle I’m alive!”
  • “My life is based on pain.”
  • “I am so thankful that you are here for me” to Mamma and Dada.
  • “I’m glad I have a hard head.”

We have seen an increased measure of tenderness from Luca these past few days through his prayers, affection towards us, and general joy to be alive. The Lord will certainly continue to use this traumatic experience to help him recall God’s protection, faithfulness and care over him. And even though he sometimes gets embarrassed when we share his story, we remind him how it gives us opportunity to praise God and share Jesus with our friends.

Bracing for Change

Emma finally got her braces on Monday. It was a mixed bag of feelings wanting to have her teeth and bite fixed, but at the same time wishing it didn't have to come with the pain of braces. Oh well, such is life for many junior highers. She looks adorable and is getting used them day by day despite their annoyance and frequent need to brush her teeth. The time frame for her treatment is 18 months. Don't worry Emma time with fly! Em-brace the change!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why must going to high school be so complex?

I dare not presume that with this post I will be able to adequately explain the complexity of choosing an Italian high school because we are currently in the thick of the learning process ourselves.

"Terza Media" (3rd year of middle school) is almost said with a shudder in every parent's voice here as this is the final and crucial year in which your 13 or 14 year old must choose what he wants to do with the rest of their life. It is almost like choosing a major and university in the USA if we had to equate it with anything. Not that you can't switch a major or university at that, but the length is almost always effected by changes. Thus, the choice of where one will spend the next five years of high school is no small decision. We are in the funnelling process of narrowing down a decision for Samuel.

Step 1: Know Possible School Options

  • Professional instruction and formation (3/4 years)
  • Professional Institute (5 years)
    • Industrial-Craft Sector
    • Service Sector
  • Technical Institute (5 years)
    • Economic Sector
    • Technological Sector
  • "Liceo" high school (5 years)
    • Classical
    • Scientific
    • Human sciences
    • Artistic
    • Linguistic
    • Applied Science
    • Socio-economic
    • Music
The obvious choice for Samuel was "Liceo" as this is considered college preparatory.

Step 2: Choose Type of Liceo

For a while Samuel was leaning towards a scientific high school or even linguistic. It is helpful to be strong in many areas, but also hard when trying to narrow down your highest interest. However, as we began to talk with more people and conduct our own research we started leaning towards a Classical high school where a well rounded education, strong in many fields would better prepare him for a university setting and leave the door open to pursue a career of his choice in any of the above fields when he has some more time and maturity to make those choices.

Step 3: Research Classical Liceos

This is really where the stress starts to set in. We live outside the city limits of Torino so we have to weigh accessibility into our school selection. How many trains, trams, metros, buses, walking is realistic for a 14 year old boy to navigate on his own when he has no sense of direction? Can you hear my mamma's heart pounding yet? The nearest Classical high school is downtown Torino. The nearest Liceo of ANY kind is 20 minutes away, just to put this into perspective. Our city only has school facilities through middle school. This certainly is not uncommon and many kids have to travel a good distance to pursue their education past middle school.

15 km (9.3 miles) will take 45-60 minutes depending on traffic

Some school websites are great (usually the private ones) and you can find all the information you need in one spot. Others are completely horrible and make you want to throw out the option just because of their website. Italy is a bit behind in the world of technology so it isn't a surprise, but honestly if the state schools are reliant on recruitment methods then they really need to step up their game in web appeal. (Rant over)

We have researched all Classical high schools within a 20 km radius and our top two choices are based on location, traveling expenses, regional ranking, and "Saturday free" options (many high schools still require a 6-day school week).

Step 4: Visit Schools

Schools have a very limited number of "Open Days" in which prospective students and parents are allowed to visit and learn more about the school. You have to be very strategic in scheduling your time and visits. So far we were able to visit one school in December and another this coming weekend.

We chose to travel via public transportation so we could get a sense of what that might look like on a daily basis for Samuel. Thankfully there is a coach bus line that runs from Caselle right to the main train station of Torino, which then only requires a 2-block walk to arrive at the school. The one way trip took us 45 minutes.

"Hurry Mamma!! You have the tickets...stop taking pictures!"
The 2-hour admissions presentation at Massimo D'Azeglio was very professional, informative and left us with a good impression. It was relieving to us to actually see and hear about the school in person. This school was founded in 1831 and has a long history of tradition and distinguished alumni.

So there are no athletic fields or stand alone school facilities that immediately give one notice that this is a high school, but what can you expect for an old school located in the heart of an old city? What it lacks in grandeur is reconciled in the fact that it is close to many university facilities and historical sites and museums will make for accessible field trips.

A daytime view
School hallway
Even Samuel was beaming after a tour and separate presentation to the students.

Lest not you think our choices are complete by merely selecting a school, now he has to narrow down which scholastic track within this Classical school he wants to pursue. Traditional, Science, Cultural/Humanities, or ESABAC (dual diploma in Italian and French). All will include a heavy load of Greek and Latin.

Step 5: Register and Apply

On January 16, registration opens at which time you better have a good handle on where and what you want to do. You are allowed up to three selections of schools, listing them in order of preference. The school will receive your pre-registration and make the final selection for class openings after the final term of middle school grades and exams are complete. Exams take place the week after school is out in June where the student has to complete both written and oral examination over the entire years worth of material studied. The exam results will then determine your acceptance and placement. We should know by the beginning of July where Samuel will go in September. Lots of academic pressure in this culture, it's just too bad well educated students have very little future for work in this country. (That's another discussion for another time.)

So, that is how you choose an Italian high school...I think!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Holy Grail

I don't know what has motivated Luca more in learning chess, whether it is the pure joy of playing the game or the pursuit of a "coppa" (trophy). We have known of his high level of spacial-visual abilities for a couple of years now and are so glad that he can utilize and strengthen those gifts through chess. Last year at school his class had 8 lessons on how to play chess taught by a local chess club instructor.  There was a school tournament in May that you can read about here from Luca's perspective.

Upon his success and subsequent invitation to participate in a chess club, he also competed in a larger scale chess tournament in May (which I never blogged about). Ooops! It was his first time ever to play with a timer which was super nerve wracking and stressful that really threw him for a loop.  Even for me as an observer it got me stressed out as the room was quiet other than this constant *tip-tap-tip-tap* from 25+ games being played at once. It was a great learning experience with many tears and joys along the way, as he won 3 out of 7 games. He SO wanted to win a trophy! I mean really, who wouldn't? Check out the size of those...

Some games he was out in less than 1 minute and others he and his opponent both played their full alloted 15 minutes. The tournament lasted over four hours and was emotionally exhausting for me as I coached and encouraged Luca through each defeat and victory. We were so proud of him for participating with his limited experience. But it definitely served as fuel to the fire for the game.

If you pushed your game to the max time limit all the other players who finished their games would come and watch. No pressure! He won this particular game!

In October, Samuel and Luca both joined the Chess Club in Leinì where they play 4 hours a week. In addition, Luca's fifth grade class is having another 10 chess lessons at school this year. Samuel originally taught Luca how to play the game and is working on his game in order to keep up with his brother. He goes less frequently due to his school homework demands, creating a bit of frustration with Luca's ever growing competence in the game. However, Samuel is doing well too and we are just as proud of him for adding this extra curricular to his schedule this year.

Over the span of the fall term the club conducted an interclub tournament. Luca knew the reward would be a trophy for each level of players, and he was working so hard to achieve his goal of bringing home a trophy. The results were posted each week. He must have gotten confused on the categorization because he thought he was further down the list in ranking. He was so surprised and happy that yesterday his coach Luigi presented him with the 2nd place novice trophy. We have named it "The Holy Grail". Congratulations Luca! His coach said he has made remarkable improvements and expects him to win his school competition.

Now Luca has his eyes set on being one of the top four players of his entire elementary school so that he can compete in a regional elementary school chess tournament in Torino next spring. He not only has to be good at chess but also has to have good conduct at school. More than once he has said he is going to study and get high marks on his tests so he can be chosen to participate and represent his school in the chess tournament. If there is a competition and trophy involved this kid is all over it!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Giving Thanks with Italians

It seems like this entire year has been sprinkled with disappointments time and time again. We have had to cancel more commitments, special time with friends, and conferences meant for refreshment and encouragement for our family almost every time this year all due to the Lord choosing to allow physical suffering of health for my husband. At times it has been exhausting, discouraging and extremely frustrating as you can imagine.

BUT GOD...has used this past year especially to draw us deeper into himself and closer in our marriage, to trust in his unfailing love, to persevere through trials, to become more grateful, and to depend fully on him, not boasting in our strength (for we have none) and seeing how he has made us strong through weakness all because of his amazing GRACE. Life and faith lessons we are so grateful for.

For the first time ever we found ourselves completely absent of American colleagues for the week of Thanksgiving. We made a last minute decision to back out of the All Western European conference with our mission due to Jonathan's health situation. Our teammates departed for Greece without us and what could have left me sad and bitter was by God's grace turned into joy and gladness as we saw the great opportunity to celebrate our special holiday with Italians instead.

We extended a dinner invitation to many of our current and ex Bible study students and were happy that our table was filled with 21 of us in total. Everyone was so excited and honored to share in our special holiday tradition. Thanks to Hollywood, Italians are fascinated and very curious about this feast that includes a whole cooked turkey. I pulled out all the stops to make it an authentic American Thanksgiving feast, which meant I was preparing for over a week doing a little bit each day.

Keep in mind there is no canned pumpkin or pre-made pie shells or any other time saving short cuts found in the US. But cooking from scratch is what I know, so in reality those things were not missed. I am so thankful I have an extra refrigerator and a deep freezer or else it would not have been possible for me to work ahead, especially when having to cook two turkeys!

I have to share one funny cultural story...everyone wanted to participate by bringing something to the meal, but I found myself in great difficulty trying to assign dishes as every dish is uniquely American.  In the end, someone brought drinks and whipping cream, another a green salad, another cauliflower, another promised clementines but ended up making them into a crostata instead, and another brought a fennel and orange salad along with cookies, even though I assured them all I had dessert covered. I had originally asked for a side dish of green beans, but everyone refused when I proposed the request because you don't eat green beans now. They are "out of season" they told me. However, you can still buy them fresh in the store from a local farmer, so I was really confused. At first I was thinking, "fine I'll make them myself" because who doesn't eat some form of green beans at Thanksgiving? But then I changed my mind as I wondered if they would even be eaten seeing as I would be violating the Italian rule of eating seasonally. Despite our green bean-less side dish, here is what was served...

  • 2 - 13lbs. Turkeys
  • Stuffing (regular and gluten free versions)
  • Gravy
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potato Casserole
  • Apple Sauce
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Pomegranate Gelatin
  • Green Salad
  • Cauliflower
  • Fennel and Orange Salad
  • Yeast Rolls
  • Pumpkin Pie (2)
  • Apple Crumble Pie
  • Chocolate Muffins
  • Clementine Crostata
  • Cinnamon Cookies

What a wonderful unexpected opportunity to share of God's goodness and faithfulness with our friends. So thankful Jonathan was feeling well enough to actually enjoy the festivities, share of the historical significance of Thanksgiving prior to the meal and to be able to talk about his faith throughout the night. Truly the evening could not have gone better! And unfortunately, these are the only few pictures I have to share with you from the evening....

The only thing I would change for next time is to serve this meal in the afternoon. Feasting at 8:00 at night is pretty tough on the digestive system. haha! However, I fear that cannot be avoided when entertaining Italians. After our guests departed and clean up was completed at 1:30am I went to bed with a full tummy and full heart!

Thank you God, for your strength, faithful provision for our every need and dear friends.