Monday, February 19, 2018

Half-way to thirty

Yesterday we celebrated Samuel's 15th birthday. Can you believe he is half-way to thirty?! I just had to add a little level of dramatic flair to this post in honor of the birthday boy. Well, no longer boy, but rather young man. Being the oldest has its advantages and disadvantages and thankfully he has a very gracious spirit towards his parents. God is growing him and in his heart and it is such a honor to watch him transition and come into himself as a teenager.

Samuel is always making us laugh with his "what if" questions. His mind never stops whirling and his "what if" questions always come coated with imagination, wonder and often extreme absurdity. Last week on the drive home from the bus stop he says to me:

"Mamma, what would you think if I could make a living from home and go two straight weeks without changing my clothes?"

"Whaaa?" I respond. "Well, you can guarantee that if that happened you would NOT be living under my roof."

He runs the spectrum of absurdity to complete genius with the amount of knowledge he has about the world. I honestly have no idea where he gets all his information but his diverse interests and curiosity made him a learner topped with the ability to retain random and detailed facts. He plain just loves to learn. A quality that we can certainly applaud and appreciate.

He may not always initiate the conversation if he doesn't know you and comes across as very timid, but he comes out of his shell if you ask him questions. Just a note to readers who might meet him face to face this summer on our furlough. He loves questions and a good debate.

Photo editing by Samuel
Samuel is not one for huge parties and lots of people so we celebrated in a quiet manner over the course of the weekend. He requested spaghetti and meatballs and cheesecake for his birthday. After church, Beppe, Sara and Emma stayed for an American breakfast and then spent the remainder of the day with us.

Happy Birthday, Samuel!
We love you always and forever, no matter what! 

I made Samuel's cheesecake the day before his birthday and when he saw it sitting in the fridge he said, "I'm sure that cake tastes amazing, but I have to be honest, it is the ugliest cake you have ever made!" LOL! Much to his delight and surprise I did have intentions all along to add some homemade whipped cream right before serving to made it "pretty."

This Cookies 'N Cream Cheesecake was absolutely amazing and sure to be a repeat request!
Accessories for phone photography 
Books and music -- he is his father's son!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Soccer Season

Soccer is THE sport of Italy–even though they failed to make it to the 2018 World Cup, which is of course a complete embarrassment to the nation! But neither did the USA so they are in good company. Our kids (I should say boys because girl soccer leagues are scarce) have never had the desire to play soccer. However, that changed this year as Luca was determined to participate in some extra curricular activity with his best friend, Marco. Marco chose a5 soccer and so naturally Luca was ready and willing to finally give soccer a try. It's always more about the people and relationship than the actual thing for him.

Entering the world of soccer for the first time at the middle school level is not easy, but that did not stop or discourage Luca. This particular league of 5-on-5 is supposed to be much more tranquil and less intense in schedule and pressure than a regular size team that automatically forces you to make soccer your family's life. Luca has practice just once a week for an hour and a half at the sports center right down the street. He is able to walk to and from practices which is super convenient. Games are on Saturdays.

Suiting up with the #2 jersey in one of his games early in the season

The one huge disadvantage of A5 is that there are only 4 players and 1 goalie on the field, making it really hard to get any play time when there are 12+ players on your team. Therefore, Luca has not been called to play in the regular season games. And that is when I say "we are surely not in America anymore" because what AYSO team would ever deny any player of any skill level of at least a couple minutes of game play time? The team contains boys born 2004-2006, so the size difference between a 6th grader and 8/9th grader is no comparison and it is unfortunate they could not separate them into two teams/leagues. At this point, I could go on a rant letting my mamma bear out of it's cage, but I won't because that is not the point of this post!

The point is that Luca is improving a lot and having fun! There are a few boys in particular on his team that are very encouraging to him and he so appreciates their affirmation. When there is a non-league game, like the recent tournament for charity Luca suits up and joins his team.

On the holiday of December 8, following a recent snow Jonathan and I bundled up to watch four hours of soccer. It was in the upper 30s when we arrived but it warmed up with some sun. We were still frozen of course, but it was our joy to go and support Luca for the few minutes he played. Everyone loves Luca and he is a good sport who keeps persevering. His team placed 3rd in the tournament. Here's to finishing out the year with a perseverant attitude and continued desire to learn no matter what. Proud of you, buddy!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Team Gymnastics Comp

This is officially Emma's second year in the sport of artistic gymnastics. Last year she was able to establish a good base at her gym and with her coach but the prospect of developing further skills and increasing difficulty was going to be very limited because of what the gym was able to offer. She knew right away at the end of last season that she wanted to seek out a new gym that would really challenge her. When she got word that her coach was moving to Spain it was a no brainer and our search began.

In September she did a trial lesson at a gym that is actually closer to us than her old one and is outfitted with apparatus for vault, bars, high beam and floor. She was thrilled with the gym and the fact that three other girls from her old gym also transferred and were placed together in the Level 1 category. We were happy for Emma, not to mention the fact that we can carpool for the two days a week that attending practices requires.

Emma continues to work hard at the sport and it definitely shows. She even put together a dance routine this summer to exhibit her skills for her visiting grandparents. They loved it and were moved to tears if I remember correctly.

On December 2, Emma participated in her first competition of the year. Her gym is in a higher league than hers was last year so the new girls competed as a team having limited time to develop on all four apparatuses. Emma represented her team on floor.

She was amazing and it was a joy to watch her! Her team ended up placing 7th. The top 7 teams were awarded medals. They were shocked and thrilled and we could not be prouder. Looking forward to future competitions in 2018!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

My First "Anta"

...the birth year of Star Wars and yours truly. Hopefully my children would see the day of my birth, forty years ago as the bigger of the two world shattering events, but it might be a toss up. ;) In the eyes of Italian culture 40 is a big deal as this marks one's first "anta". From here on out I will climbing the hill of the "anta" count. I guess it's better than descending the hill!

Trenta (30)
Quaranta (40) 
Cinquanta (50)
Sessanta (60)
Settanta (70)
Ottanta (80)
Novanta (90)

You only turn 40 once and since my birthday is generally on the overlooked side of things with Christmas festivities in full swing this time of year, I wanted to host a party with friends for my milestone birthday. As expected some friends could not come due to prior commitments but there was still a good number that came for appetizers and cake on Sunday evening, the day after my birthday.

Unfortunately, we were without a car (flat tire and a missing security bold key to remove the tire) for the whole week prior so I was making daily trips on foot to the grocery store getting what I could two bags at a time. It made things a bit challenging to prepare for a big party but all in all I was able to get most everything done in advance with the forced house bounding.

For the very first time I made Sicilian Arancini, rice balls stuffed with ragù and cheese that are then breaded and fried. It might be a toss up, which is more laborious—a cake or arancini—both are a two day process and hours of work. The kids would pop in the kitchen while I was assembling the arancini and comment "you're still making those?!" Just making the 1.3kg of risotto took over an hour of constant stirring. Good thing is that I made 35 and they freeze amazingly. Oh my goodness though, it is one of my great Italian food loves and very much worth the time and effort!

Here I am celebrating on my actual birthday after a day in the kitchen. Thanks to my in-laws for the wooden tulips from Holland, Michigan! A unique bouquet of flowers that will last through the "antas" and always remind me of them.

The cake was a team effort as I baked the cakes, Dalida made the cream filling and Emma decorated it. She did a fantastic job and I absolutely LOVED everything about it from the taste to the colors to the avant-garde look. Amazing job, Emma!

Brush Stroke/Feather Cake design made out of dyed white chocolate
An assortment of savory and sweet snacks were prepared and Melissa brought her homemade apple cider to top it off. It was a very casual and special few hours spent in the company of good friends. Thank you to sweet Sara for taking the initiative to grab our camera and capturing the evening in photos for me – a gift indeed!

Happy Birthday to me!!

Emma are you taller than me?! It must be an illusion.
Party guests

After singing "Tanti Auguri" and before cutting the cake, it is Italian tradition for the birthday person to then take photos with each family unit that attended their party.

Isn't this gift unique and gorgeous?!

Thank you to those near and far who sent their birthday wishes! You are sweet blessing in my life!

17 Years and 133 Days

Seventeen years and one hundred and thirty-three days would be referring to our anniversary that we celebrated back on August 19th. A late post is always better than no post in my mind, so bear with me as I reflect on our anniversary that we celebrated in the heat of the summer.

Marriage is a gift and one that has taught us over the years that love is a daily sacrifice to put your spouse before yourself, to humbly serve the other in sickness and in health and to remember and keep Christ at the center of our marriage. We have had many anniversary celebrations in the past that have totally bombed out (i.e. a getaway with the contraction of the intestinal flu), so when we have a good celebration year it is something to treasure and delight in. Last year Jonathan was recovering from nasal surgery on our anniversary. But that's life and that's true love. And we definitely made up for it this year.

The visit from Jonathan's parents coincided with our anniversary and it was great to get away for the day to Monte Carlo, just the two of us. That sounds so ritzy and glamorous! However, if you don't have a lot of money to spend there is not much to do in Monaco apart from people watching and going to the beach. We didn't care and for once we had no agenda other than to just be together. It was so nice! Jonathan was happy to check another country off of his list. I was in Monaco 19 years ago visiting some missionary friends who lived in Menton, France at the time. It has been a while but for the most part it remained unchanged.

It was about a three hour drive to the coast. We took the scenic route through the mountains going and then the coastal highway returning. We got the best of both worlds.

Quaint Italian and French towns all along the way

It's basically just what you see in this photo.
The country nestled between the sea and mountainside.
Monte Carlo Casino
At the top of the list of places to see in Monte Carlo one would rightly guess that it would be the Casino. Anyone recalling scenes from James Bond? We were allowed to enter the lobby only before 2pm and then if you were not a high roller patron you were not permitted to step foot on the premises thereafter.

We had fun checking out the luxury sports cars from ALL around the world parked outside the casino or driving around the loop. It was truly mind boggling to see the wealth and other worldly lifestyle these people must live. We weren't envious in the least!

We had a good laugh when standing next to a Ferrari that the people near us starting snapping pictures not of the car but of Jonathan's toe shoes instead! So even the common man can attract attention in the world of wealth. 

We found a bench to eat our sack lunch and then took a leisurely stroll along the coastal city path. In our wanderings we found the rooftop location of Starbucks and spent a good chunk of time just sitting and talking while enjoying the sea view. It was the perfect unhurried day with nothing in particular to accomplish other than enjoying sweet and uninterrupted time and conversation together. So that was our 17th anniversary and before the year ends I wanted to record this special memory. Love you, Sweetie! You are the best and I love journeying by your side through life. Baci!

Port of Monte Carlo

Moving traffic through the mountainside streets
A perfect sunset at the end of a perfect day