Monday, March 20, 2017

SHARE 2017

I think it is safe to say that we have now established an annual family tradition with our participation in the SHARE Family Education Conference in Hungary. This week is hands down one of the most anticipated weeks in the year for our family, and for 85 other families too as this year’s registration was full in a matter of days.

Why do we keep going back?

For the relationships, the feeling of belonging, the encouragement, the learning, the pool and the list goes on. Samuel described it as a “family reunion.” Families return year after year and so the people start to feel like a second family. The kids know the hotel like the back of their hand because the location remains the same every year. If you could see the joy that pours out of our children as they are surrounded by other MKs you would understand why we desire to prioritize this conference. This feels like "home" to them and they absolutely thrive and are so encouraged as they reconnect with old friends and make new ones. For our kids who have no Christian friends and no youth group this gathering is even more cherished for them.

My good friend, Karilyn (Mom of Claire). The most generous of friends, who always makes me smile, listens and  just loves the Lord! Oh, and we are always exchanging travel tips and good finds.
We are so thankful that ALL of us were able attend this year, as Jonathan’s health has been unpredictable over this past year. Unfortunately, we all got hit with bad colds (including Mac!) the week prior and in fact I lost my voice the day we traveled to Hungary. I did not fully regain my strength until returning home. That was such a bummer to have to lip sync during worship for the first few days. Jonathan held up well for the first three days before taking a nose dive with gut pain that confined him to bed the rest of the week. Most likely it was something in the food or the fact that he was in the course of another treatment to kill off parasites and they decided to fight back. He was able to get some pain meds from the in-house doctor that helped take the edge off allowing him to drive us 9 hours home by the end of the week.

The kids and I soaked up every moment of the week. Emma shared a room with Claire, while Samuel and Luca had an adjoining room to her brothers. We only saw the kids in passing throughout the week.

Samuel spent a day in Budapest with the teens for an “Amazing Race” competition. In groups of 5-6, they raced around the city seeking to complete their twelve tasks. It was an educational experience as most of the tasks involved historical landmarks.

For example, they had to count the shoes along the Danube River that are placed there in memory of the Jews who were forced to jump and drown in the river.

Count the number of bullet holes in a wall that were made in the 1956 uprising.

Find a “SHARE 2017” lock on a cage full of locks.

Accurately count the 1500 Jewish Stars outside a Synagogue, and the list goes on.

They had time to stop for an ice cream too and this is the ONLY picture that Samuel actually took on his Amazing adventure for the day.

Emma participated in the Talent Show once again. This year she performed a gymnastics routine as a four some. Months and months of coordinating across three time zones took place through Skype to pull this off. It was a sheer delight to see the girls perform! 

Emma, Claire, Lenna and Abigayl

They are already thinking about next year and have changed their Skype chat group name to “SHARE Dancers 2018”. (No assumptions being made or anything about next years expected attendance!) The video doesn't capture the full synchronized routine, but you will get the gist.

Luca was always running out and about with friends or perfecting his pool table skills. He also was able to get assessed for some sensory processing concerns. We found the resulting information to be very helpful and will continue to seek ways in which to better equip him and help him.

Kyle and Luca

Although three families from our agency where on furlough this year and unable to attend, we were happy to have three first time SHARE attendees from our agency that joined us. It is always wonderful to expand out network of friendships through various regions within our organization. One of those families was from our own Italy team, so it was great to have some extra special time with them as well. In total there were 6 families from our organization and we enjoyed our traditional Thursday night pizza together at a local restaurant. We got in on a good deal of half-price food nationwide since it was “Gluttonous Thursday”. (It is similar to “Fat Tuesday”)

Ladies Tea...colleagues from Central Europe and Italy
Luca's SHARE teacher and fellow laborer in central Italy.

The drive home was either laced with tears or deep in sleep for our kids. The M family caravanned with us to the Italian border so at least Luca and Emma got extra friend time in the car. An emotionally charged week, ending with emotional good-byes. 

Life of a MK is so tough, and yet I don’t think they would trade their experiences for anything.  The countdown is already on for next year, but in the meantime texting, video chatting and emailing will keep these kids occupied and connected with their life long SHARE friends until they meet again.

Claire and Emma 

Goodbye Siófok

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Fourteen in February

Samuel, you might have thought that I forgot to commemorate your birthday this year since it is now over two weeks past. Never fear the post is finally here! One of your great virtues is patience with others and you have certainly displayed that with your mother. Thank you!

You are now fourteen years old and you have made our first year of parenting a teenager more than fabulous and less scary than we imagined! Yes, there are challenges with the changes and the occasional unexpected hormonal eruptions, more hard life questions etc., but you have maintained a mouldable heart that is willing to listen, that seeks counsel and is most of all growing in your relationship with God. Life is not easy having no Christian friends at school and constantly having to swim against the flow. We are so proud of you and the great courage that it takes to just walk out the door each day. You are leading your siblings with your wonderful example and we are learning from you too.

Passionate about music, especially Hans Zimmer instrumentals
Keeping to the music theme for this year is a new set of headphones
This year has brought you joys and hardships, one including a sick dad in which you have had to step up to the plate and carry a heavier load. Thank you for helping me and being willing to serve. My heart melts every time you see me carry groceries of whatever, and you quickly offer to take it off my hands saying "Mamma, you shouldn't be carrying that!"

Just like your grandpa, Papa--you LOVE cheese cake!

You are a loyal and true friend that is always seeking the best for others and seeing the best in them. You never give up on people and always maintain hope that God can turn things around. Trials will continue to come in your life, but having a hope and faith in God and his plans is something we have been so encouraged to see you believe and cling to recently. He is growing and maturing you into a man of God, which gives us no greater joy to witness as your parents. You are so special in so many ways making you our most favorite first born son!! And yes, you will roll your eyes because you are our only first born son...but you are still our favorite in that category!

Our tenderhearted son, we love you to pieces...always and forever, not matter what!!


Diavola pizza from Superstar Pizza was your meal request

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.