Monday, May 30, 2016

Drew's First Day of Kindergarten

Before we left for Italy, this happened!

My beautiful boy ready for his first day!
I was supposed to stay with him the first day.  I considered not taking the little boys with me, but since Judah might be able to go to the school too when they have a spot, I thought it would be good for him to see it.  Bobby just stayed in the sling with me.  Drew liked it a lot.  They had a lot of puzzles that are all new to him, and he is in a puzzle phase right now.  He didn't talk to the other kids much, but one time I heard a girl tell him something in German about the play-dough being big or something.  Drew looked at her and just scoffed, "I know!"  First day was only 1 hour, and the next day was two hours and I left him there most of that after I went over paperwork with Frau Grau.

Judah insisted on having a backpack too.
We've been gone a lot this month and June doesn't look much better, so he's been in and out, and I hope that doesn't cause him any trouble.  I know it will make adjusting take longer for sure.  His biggest disappointment has been the music school.  He was looking forward to it the most, but when he actually went and didn't know any of the words to the songs, he was very sad that he "didn't even get to do music!"  Poor guy!  I know it's hard.  However, he made an American friend on the third or fourth day and that has made all the difference.  It may slow down the language learning a bit, but at least he doesn't feel quite so isolated.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Italy Part 5: Final Day

The next morning, being that our van had missing windows and we had a ten and half hour drive home scheduled for the next day, we had to find a repair shop to give us some kind of temporary fix.  We talked to insurance and repair places and had an appointment in the afternoon.  Our original plan had been to go to this Italian "food court" of sorts, the Uffizi, and Santa Maria Novella Pharmacia.  We thought we'd try splitting up for the museum, since that was really for the kids and I, to let the guys take the van in.

The "food court" style food was perfect for our group.  Everybody could get the kind of food they wanted.  After that we walked past the Duomo to get the big kids, Bobby, and myself to the Uffizi so the rest of the group could take the van into the shop.  


They got us mostly there and made sure I knew where I was because our phones have crazy roaming when out of Germany so my GPS wouldn't be at my fingertips exactly and we split up.  This is the first time I'd been on my own with children while traveling in another country.  I usually rely pretty heavily on Brian for the navigating skills because I am distracted with the kids.  So, no phone, no husband, no problem, right?  I'm not going anywhere really.  I knew where the museum, the shopping area I was interested in if we had enough time, and a gelato place was.  I was supposed to try to find WiFi when it was close to meet up time and see where to meet.  The big kids were very excited to find some of the paintings we'd been studying in the museum.  I was excited to see how much they could remember from what I taught them and have them teach me about all the mythology behind many paintings and statues.

Approaching the Uffizi where the statues are out in the square
And the Uffizi was closed.  A man selling his own paintings told me that the government museums are closed on Mondays in Italy.  Didn't know that!  We were all very disappointed because Tuesday we were headed home.  This was our only day in Florence for sight seeing on this trip.  Time to make another plan.  We first looked at all the statues in the square.
The David

Then we went back to the Duomo because we knew where it was and the kids hadn't seen the inside of it yet.

Selfie of kids with one amazing ceiling

The ceiling is my favorite part of the Duomo.

After that we went to the shopping area with a bunch of huts.  I rarely get to shop at my leisure on trips, so this was a treat.  I was able to get several gifts there.  Then we went back to the "wall of chocolate" place to get the kids gelato.  A tight squeeze into a bathroom with a diaper change later, and we needed to find something else to do to kill some more time.  Santa Maria Novella was a memorable church to me from our previous visit to Florence and I got a map up on my phone of it while using some really awful WiFi.

Santa Maria Novella costs money to get into, but it is worth it.  Giotto's crucifix is there hanging in the middle of the church, not at the altar like you might think.

Giotto's crucifix
The kids enjoyed trying to decide what century the paintings were from and what style they were.

In the cloisters, Bobby was not happy to be separated from me even for a second.
I checked my phone and the guys were back and ready to meet us about the time we were finishing up.  The church and accompanying museum took about 2 hours at a very leisurely pace.  We met them outside the church and went to hit our one last thing on our list, Santa Maria Novella Pharmacia.

Inside Santa Maria Novella Pharmacia
Mother's Day was slightly usurped by Isaac's First Communion and the traumatic window incident.  All was made right though when Brian bought me my Mother's Day gift here.  I picked out a different scent this time around, and we got some of the potpourri that the whole store smells like since that is Brian's favorite smell in the whole world.

This store is in a scene in one of the Hannibal movies, FYI.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Italy Part 4: Florence and Isaac's First Communion

This day had some serious potential.  I mean receiving your First Communion in Florence IN San Miniato from your godfather with the monk that prayed for you exactly when you were born as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This day had potential to be a very memorable and special day.

I'd say that it lived up to that potential for sure, but not AT ALL how any of us had expected.

First, we said good bye to our friends in Perugia and loaded up the van to head to Florence to our new apartment where we'd stay for two nights.  We arrived and unloaded our stuff into the apartment and got pizza to eat in the apartment before we had to get ready for the big event.

Bernardo and Godfather Brian

As is always the case, I have trouble getting people ready for big, important events when everyone has to look nice.  I don't want to get anyone ready too early or, you know what happens, someone messes up their outfit or spills on it or something. So I typically wait just a hair too long for all the unexpected diaper changes and hair repairs and missing socks that happen.  So we were running late.

Awaiting Communion

I should mention that we had the priest with us and only one other person was actually coming to this Mass, so you may be thinking, "What's the big deal?  Can't start without the priest!"  True.  True. However, we had the main chapel at a Benedictine monastery in Florence booked for 4:30pm with another public Mass to follow.  

Receiving First Communion

Problem number two was that we had to drive.  I had asked many times if this was a good plan, if the van would fit in the parking spots available, etc.  I am always nervous driving or parking this beast inside a large European city.  I was assured it was possible and would be fine.  Brian would be driving.

Well, the GPS took us to a one way street and told us to go the wrong way.  It was a short street, and, oh, how I wish we'd just done it, in hind sight, of course!  Then there was only one other option that didn't involve driving all the way around the hill, making us later.  That option was an alley that wound up the hill that holds San Miniato with walls on either side.  My eyes may have gotten big at this point.  I definitely started praying.  I forgot to mention I was riding in the back of the van on the floor because we had taken out the back row of seats for the trip not thinking about needing the extra seats when Isaac's godfather rode with us to the church.

So I am praying on the floor in the back of the Beast as the priest and the husband try to navigate up this narrow, walled road as it gets narrower to the point of the vines on the walls were brushing up against our van.  And I'm thinking that we could get stuck where we literally cannot go any further and have to back down this winding, narrow alley or we might scrape the van up pretty good or something when we come to a fork in the road.  We had to make a turn that made us all pause.  The priest and the husband decided it was the only way and they'd try and make it.  As we are ooching around the curve, I see a tree stump sticking out of the wall right outside the window and I open my mouth to yell, "Stop!" when a crazy loud sound rang through the van.  The middle two windows shattered into a million safety glass squares.  All the kids start crying and screaming, the most hysterical one being Hannah.  I climb forward to make sure no one is cut or hurt, especially Bobby.  Then the back window shatters and glass piles right where I'd been sitting a second before.  I assess the situation and decide, "I must make the screaming stop first."  Hannah was the most hysterical and also the most easily reasoned with child, so I talked her down and then everyone else calmed down very quickly after I got Hannah to stop screaming.  We got the glass off of Genna's lap and I said, "What do we do now?"  We ended up making the turn by doing many back ups and having the priest get out of the van and guide.  We parked and quickly tried to shake off the whole thing to pull together as a family and make Isaac's First Communion a priority for the next hour or two.  The van could wait.

Isaac and his godfather

As we walked up to the church, the children kept talking about the accident.  Drew said, "I want to cut down all the trees in the world."  Hannah wondered aloud, "How could God let this happen?"  Isaac was worried about the van.  Judah parroted Drew's sentiments.  I talked with Isaac on the way up, reassuring him that everything was fine.  No one was hurt badly. (Genna and I had a couple of scrapes.)  Now was the time to put the traumatic incident behind us for a short while and focus on the important event of the day.  I also mentioned to him that this will firmly cement this day in his mind forever since trauma has a way of sticking with us longer than happy memories.

Since we were now very late, about 20 minutes, we had to be moved to the chapel upstairs as to not interfere with the next scheduled Mass in the main chapel.  Bernardo, the Abbot, who prayed for Isaac the hour he was born was able to attend the first part of the Mass, but had obligations at the next Mass in the big chapel downstairs.  It all turned out just fine, if you don't count the fact that we had no windows on one side of the van, of course.

The homily was beautiful.  The Mass was heaven on earth as usual!  We counted our blessings while trying not to dwell on our losses.  And my oldest son, whose sweetness steals my heart, received Jesus into his body for the first time ever.

The lighting was bad in the church and so Isaac's arm band didn't come out in the pictures very well.  My Aunt Carol used her machine to embroider it and I hemmed and added the elastic.  It says his name, the year,and "First Holy Communion" on it.

Bernardo talking to Isaac after Mass

Our family with Florence in the background

And, I can't leave you hanging without seeing the damage.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Italy Part 3: Assisi

Day three in Italia, we took a short drive into Assisi.  We parked on the outskirts a bit in a large lot and took a bus over to St. Francis' Basilica first.  This basilica is actually two churches in one.  The downstairs is the biggest one with several side chapels and amazing ceilings.  The upstairs chapel is the one with the Giotto frescoes that tell the story of St. Francis.  I spent some extra time looking at the frescoes while everyone else made their way outside to feed the kids packed lunches.  I also went to the gift shop and ought a book on Giotto and all his works in Italy.  Can't wait to read that with the kids!  I also got a San Damiano crucifix for Isaac's First Communion, and some unique medals and tao crosses for each of the other five children.

There was a medieval festival going on when we were there.  Old Town verses New Town, or something like that.  They hang flags and wear scarfs the color of the town they support.

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi

Lower Church

Lower Church

Heading up to Upper Church

View Outside the Upper Church

View Outside Upper Church

Entrance to Upper Church
While walking through the streets of Assis, we found this picturesque corner that Bran photographed, when I took Bobby and plopped him in the middle of it for another picture.  He rarely is in any of these traveling photos unless it's in the Ergo, but I had been giving him a brief break from it and it seemed the perfect beautiful corner for my beautiful littlest guy.

He, on the other hand, didn't love the idea.

We made our way to the Taverna dei Consoli for lunch.  I had chosen this restaurant in advance for it's Trip Advisor reviews and because truffles were a specialty here.  None of us were disappointed.  The gnocchi with truffle sauce was a favorite for all.  It had been a hot walk over from the basilica and the big glass of spritz (Filled with ice!  Ice is hard to come by in Germany.) was just what I needed to begin my meal and cool off.  They were very family friendly and had plenty of room for us which is a rare occasion in Europe.  When our two families eat together we often need "a restaurant all our own."  We had plenty of space. There was no changing table for the baby in the restaurant, a common problem in Europe, but otherwise we had nary the complaint.

Truffle pastas for lunch with a spritz
Off on a very short walk to St. Clare's basilica, we enjoyed the cooler temps from the downpour while we were eating lunch.  It was just drizzling when we left the restaurant which was no problem.  St. Claire's basilica has St. Francis' famous crucifix and St Claire's relics (even her hair!) and body there.

Basilica of Santa Chiara

The pink striped facade is similar to Orvieto's basilica.

A side chapel wherein hangs the San Damiano crucifix.

This crucifix is the crucifix that spoke to St. Francis and told him to rebuild his church.

Kneeling in front of the crucifix

Relics of St. Claire, St. Francis, and St Rufino

More relics

St Claire's body and tomb

After St. Claire's basilica, we stopped for some gelato to reward the children.  Bobby was starting to recognize what gelato is and reaching for it when I have some.

So then we are trying to cath the bus back to the part of town where our vans were parked in order to make it to the Saturday vigil Mass at Santa Maria degli Angeli.  However, we ran into someone we knew from our parish back in Maryland.  Such a random chance meeting was welcomed, but we realized too late that it would made us miss our bus, and, consequently, most of Mass as well.

Santa Maria degli Angeli

Santa Maria degli Angeli has the cell St Francis died in and his first chapel.  It is a beautiful church, but we couldn't help bu t notice how mauch blank space is on the walls still.  It is such a glaring contrast to most of these old churches in which every square inch is covered in frescoes, stained glass windows, statues, and paintings from the floor up.

Here's the original chapel just plopped right in the center of the church.

Inside of that little chapel

This pew was definitely all our own.

We went to have dinner at Umami to have beers and burgers.  They have very creative burgers here.  Mine was ever so slightly less well done than I prefer, but not so much that I couldn't handle it.  We had to sit outside because they had reservations filling the inside, but they were quick to accommodate us, and the service was very good.  The older children really enjoyed their unusual hamburgers as well.  We had planned to head back over to Santa Maria degli Angeli for a rosary, but dinner took too long and we missed it.  It was a late night and everyone was exhausted.  We went home and carried little kids in to bed.  We didn't even change the youngest two's clothes.

Seated on the deck and very glad it wasn't raining anymore.  It did get a little chilly for some who had insisted on not bringing a sweater.

Santa Maria degli Angeli at night when walking back to the vans.