Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Griffin's Continuing Recovery

Tonight our ward had a game night at the junior high where they played kick ball and had a large inflatable obstacle course for young and old. It was an enjoyable evening, still about 90 degrees at 9 p.m., but bearable once the sun went down. Griffin really wanted to participate, but we're ever cautious of his activities while he continues to heal. Determined to go, he came out dressed like this (this is afterwards once he had showered and was in his pajamas).Who can argue with a kid like this?

Happy Birthday, Maggie!

Maggie turned 15 today, officially, although Ian couldn't stand it anymore and told her what her present was on Monday. By the time I got home from work at 11:30 a.m., they had already opened it up and had friends over playing Rock Band. It hasn't been quiet in the house since! As you can see at the bottom of the picture, her friends have come over and been bringing wigs and costumes to rock out in.

Here it is, 10:30 at night, and we still have a basement of teenagers.

But let me talk about Maggie. Except for the sibling rivalry between the girls, Maggie is full of life and laughter. She is a joy to have as part of our family. Even her friends commented this afternoon that they love it when she's around because she laughs at everything (and her best friend, Anna, said that being in our house had the same effect on her as she laughs whenever she comes over). Her dad and I love that we tell her a joke and about 15-20 minutes later, we hear her laugh and say, "I get it!". She is so loving and tender with Griffin and a good listener to Ian. She sets an awesome example of modesty for Ellie and all her friends. When it was 107 in Italy and we were sweating, I said to her, "Maggie, you don't have to wear 2 tank tops under your shirt. It's okay." She responded, "Mom, modest is hottest, and if that means literally, then that's okay." I couldn't believe it. She tries so hard to do the right thing and is always aware of the influence she has with others by the choices she makes and the example she sets. We love you very much, Maggie, and are grateful to have you as part of our family.

P.S. I'm locking you in the house for your 16th birthday!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's Done!

After weeks of being in "remodel" mode, the living room is finally finished. John spent nearly 12 hours replacing the lights and, thanks to the kindness of our friend, neighbor and electrician, Doug, they work! (If any of you watch the show Monk, I was sure our house was going to turn into the house he purchased.) Once you delve into the bare bones of your old house, you find all sorts of things that need repaired. I chose not to know and not to find out any further what could possibly be behind the walls. While they finished up the lights, I got the curtains up and am so very pleased with the final result. I guess I'd have to be honest and say there's some paint touch-up work to do, but that will be done without rush.

Living in Utah gives us the distinct advantage of adding a holiday to the work schedule. Thursday the 24th was Pioneer Day. Our local ward celebrates every year at the house of one of our neighbors with an enormous breakfast. They provide all the pancakes you can eat, and everyone else brings something to contribute. This family has a tree house, trampoline, zip line, swingset, basketball court, and lots of room for tables and chairs to be set up. It's one of my kids' favorites of the year, so we were there bright and early. John, unfortunately, is never able to attend since his line of work doesn't allow for the 24th off. We ate until we could eat no more, then headed home to rest it off until lunch when I had a promise to keep for Griffin. During his brief hospital stay, he begged and pleaded to go anywhere else, but mostly to Carl's Jr. (Not for the food--for the playland.) I told him that if he could just hang in there, I would take him on Pioneer Day. So still full from breakfast, Griffin, Maggie, my friend Cherise and her mother Joyce, and I headed off to the playland. I let him play for about 20 minutes while the rest of us "ate" and then we took off for home where I dropped he and Mags off so Cherise, Joyce and I could make a dent in the missionary shopping for Cherise's son who was leaving the next week to India for two years.

Maggie had her birthday "party" that night which consisted of a banana split bar for her and 8 of her friends followed by night games at the local junior high and a sleepover at her friends' house. It was the easiest party we've ever done and I'm thinking it's a new standard for everyone--you can eat here, but then leave! She received one of her presents, a new set of scriptures. She'll get her main present Wednesday for her birthday. Ian knows what it is and can hardly stand it. He keeps telling her that she wants it early, but she's not budging, I'm sure because of his anxiousness.
Griffin still has quite a bump on his head. He tried to use it to his advantage today when it was time to get ready for church. Unfortunately, none of his negotiation tactics worked and he had to go to church with the rest of us. He seems to be recovering, although he said that his head still really hurts. He's in desperate need of a haircut, but since that involves touching his head, he's off the hook for now.

Ellie surprised me this morning by walking in after her shower and saying, "Feel how smooth my legs are!" to which I replied, "Tell me you didn't shave your legs." She had. She said she was tired of Maggie always saying the same thing and she couldn't compare hers. Now she can, and we've welcomed her into the world of shaving for the rest of her life. She said, "Well, no one told me THAT!" It's a cruel world, isn't it.

Ian is in full swing with the student council. With Sophomore Day less than three weeks away, they've been meeting every other day to get things ready for the new school year. I can't say that I've ever seen him happier. It's been such a good experience for him.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Promise Me You Don't Have Any Leeches!

I can't believe I have to use this graphic again. John and I took some time to go out Friday night to get new light fixtures for the living room when we received a phone call from Ellie. Griffin was going down the hill on his scooter and had fallen off. He was scraped up a bit, but Maggie had been able to help him using all her girls camp training. The problem was he hit his head and Ellie was sure he had a concussion. We figured she was overreacting, but told her we would be right home. (Fortunately, Lowe's is less than a mile away.) He didn't even pull the car in all the way joking that one of us would be on our way to the hospital.

When John checked out Griffin's head, he looked at me and said, "Um, we need to get him to the hospital. Feel this." I assured him that I didn't need to feel anything but would take him. He said, "No, you have to feel this." Even as I was touched the edge of the goose egg, I could tell it was bad. So we were off to the hospital with another head injury, different child.

Griffin was really worried about what was going to happen. As we encountered each person, he would pitifully ask, "Do you have a needle?" to which everyone could answer, "No, I don't." That was followed by, "Are you going to use leeches on me?" Now, where this came from, I can't tell you, but he was convinced that leeches were somehow involved in his treatment. He also would ask if he was going to die. They were able to reassure him that this was probably the one place they could help prevent that, so he didn't need to worry. The evaluated him and took him in a wheelchair (the highlight of his stay) for a CT scan where they confirmed a fractured skull. As they debated whether or not to keep him overnight for observation, they realized his anxiety levels were so high that he would probably recover better from home. So I got the night shift and was on duty to wake him every two hours to see if he could answer simple questions. The only one that worried me was the 4 a.m. awaking because he couldn't tell me much and the answers were coming out as gibberish. It took about 15 minutes of trying to rouse him to a sufficient level of consciousness, but once we got there, it was clear that he was okay, just really tired from all the activities and injury. I, on the other hand, didn't sleep at all that night (yes, I was really fresh and firing on all cylinders for Maggie's BYU interview).

He stayed home from church yesterday where we re-enacted Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty (granted, on a smaller scale). He still has a headache, which we certainly expect, and a diminished appetite and activity level, but seems to be mending well. I only hope he'll get back on his scooter again--this time with the helmet he's supposed to wear when riding it.

I guess we've achieved our hat trick of head injuries with the kids. Only Ian left. Maybe I'll make him walk around with a helmet 24/7.

Weekend Warriors!

As I mentioned in my last post, Cherise put up wainscoting in the living room while we were gone. There were just a few pieces that needed to be installed, but the weeks after we returned from Italy were so busy, we just couldn't get around to it.

One of the afternoons was taken with a visit from Mandy and her kids to Utah and a trip to Chris' house in Draper to swim in his little pool. It was the perfect day to swim and we had a good time. Tabitha was happy wearing her bathing suit, but not in the conventional manner. Chris showed us around his house now that he's finished the basement into an apartment, and I'm so impressed with his talents and abilities. He is the best parts of his dad.

Another of the projects was a wedding cake for someone in the ward. Now I don't claim any talent in this field, but I was able to help make the bottom layer "forms" out of Rice Krispie treats and do the initial layer of frosting that would be covered by fondant. That's all I did, and provided moral support for Cherise while she did the hard stuff. But the result was beautiful!

Once the reception was over, Cherise was able to help me--or, quite frankly, finish--with the last two boards. I knew that the schedule would be tight as Maggie was to have her annual interview as part of the BYU family study of teenage girls and their parents. Part of it was to be videotaped, and the living room was in no state to be filmed. That gave me Thursday and Friday to paint with her appointment on Saturday at 10 a.m. I'm happy to say that shy of the fireplace wall which we couldn't decide what color to paint, it was finished and looked magnificent. There are still a few things left to do, but the room is livable again.

Coming Home

We gathered at the Aero Bus to catch our flight back to the U.S. We were all on the same connecting flight from Bologna to Paris, and from there would go our separate ways. Outfitted in our orange travel shirts--and taking home two more suitcases than we started with (just from 4 to 6)--we prepared for the 10-hour flight from Paris to Houston. While waiting during our three hour layover, John and I toured the duty free shops in the terminal, determined to spend our last Euro. My favorite store was the Godiva chocolate store where I picked up some candy for the kids and an amazing hazlenut hot fudge for myself. As we were given our seat assignments, we realized that no one was together. I figured the person next to Griffin might be willing to trade their seat after about 10 minutes, but an Air France rep came and made sure to re-assign our seats so that there were 3 together, 2 together and 1 single. I was the single of the day and prepared myself for the long flight. Fortunately, this leg was easier than the one coming and I made it through with flying colors--and after watching 4 or 5 movies. Once we made it into Houston and through customs (with all our luggage), we headed to the Marriott where we were greeted by the following beds.

Griffin was fascinated by the mirrors in the bathrooms and the "eternal" nature of his reflection.

We enjoyed some dinner via room service and slept comfortably until the next morning.
One of the lowlights of our trip happened the next day as we were going through security. Not using my brain was the culprit. (No, I didn't yell, "BOMB!") I had neglected to pack the Godiva sauce into my luggage, but kept it in my carry-on. As the security woman explained to me that I couldn't take it on the plane or could check it through, I just about broke into tears (I did later when I was telling Mom the story). If I was going to check it, I'd have to go through the whole security line again. I had to leave it there and watch her put it in the trash. John tried to console me by saying we'd get some more online. (I have since found out that they don't make that available in the U.S. I should have checked it!)
Our trip out was delayed by an hour, so it gave me some time to take Griffin to the NASA store in the terminal. Griffin was thrilled with his new space shuttle toy, and the girls were happy to get some magazines in English!

I must admit, I was happy to read a paper as well.
When we arrived home, my friends had cleaned the house, placed fresh flowers around, done the remaining laundry that didn't get finished, put food in the fridge, and installed wainscoating in the living room (that was a paid job). We were exhausted, but in a good way. It was probably the most wonderful vacation I have ever had, and may ever have. I loved seeing my parents and my brother and sister and all the extended family. I'm sad that Chris' family was unable to attend, as well as Kim (although I'm so proud of where she is). I hope someday our kids reflect on what a once-in-a-lifetime experience they had.
Most importantly, I'm grateful for those who helped us get there and for the advice I received to have my surgery prior to the vacation. I was able to do everything pain free for the first time in years. To me, the whole trip was a miracle!

Days 11 through 13: Bologna

For the rest of our vacation, we stayed in Bologna. On Saturday, we enjoyed the street vendors that were set up for Italy's Gay and Lesbian parade (Sunday) and bought most of our gifts for friends and family. (Kevan and Terri were kind enough to have bought Griffin a replacement camouflage hat from there the day before.) That night we had a great dinner on the other side of the city. A group of us went out shopping and John and Griffin went home a different way, only to find that they were going in circles, but they got some good pictures on their journey!

On Sunday, we attended Sacrament Meeting again and then our family (except Maggie) went back to Pat's for more video game playing and lego-building.

The town was kind of nuts with the parade and festival going on, and probably was in the TMI category for the kids. We weren't able to get back until late because the city had closed down the streets for the parade and the bus dropped us off on the outskirts. Fortunately, we found ourselves on a corner by the previous night's restaurant and were able to make our way home. But boy, there were lots of police cars and even police helicopters out! Maggie had been taken care of by Mom and Dad and the Griesemers, so the rest of us went to our usual restaurant for dinner. On Monday, the little ones and John and I decided to go find the leaning tower of Bologna before John went to the Ducati tour with the Griesemer fellows. There are two towers next to each other. After one was completed, the foundation collapsed, so they built another next to it. This tower is the tallest of the middle ages.

Upon our arrival there, we paid the 3 euro a piece to climb to the top. I think until the day Griffin dies he'll be able to tell you how many steps up and how many steps down we walked: 500 up and 500 down for a total of 1,000. Unfortunately, Ellie didn't make it as she fainted about 1/3 of the way up. It was hard work getting to the top!

A view of the leaning tower from inside the taller tower

We ate at a great restaurant that night, a favorite of Jessie's from her last visit. And then we packed for the start of our two-day trip home. I was sad to be leaving as there were so many places I wish we could go back to and stay longer. I guess I just need to set a goal to get back.

Day 10: Ducati!

Ian and I joined a few of the others for the Ducati factory tour. I knew this would be a really cool place for Ian to get a shirt or jacket, and I was right. He found just what he was looking for and even wore it for his senior portrait.

I have to say, I wish I came home with more than a shirt, but I guess after recovering from major surgery due to a simple car accident, a motorcycle probably isn't the smartest choice right now. But maybe a scooter . . .

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 9: Montombraro

Although it was another day of train travel, this was a day of rest and relaxation for most of us. Pat was taking us to see his house in progress in the countryside of Montombraro. (This is where Bob Dole received his life threatening injury in World War II and where the Italians held back the Nazis.) Unlike the other days where we took trains that were meant for farther travel, today we took a local train. The outside had certainly been "funk-ified" with some local color.

Robby and Griffin enjoying the scenery out the train window

From the train, we grabbed a bus that would take us the rest of the way. While we were waiting, Maggie had a chance meeting with one of the locals. Of course, she doesn't speak Italian and he didn't speak English. She was a little weirded out until I came and sat down, and even happier when the bus came.
One of the scenes we came upon in our travels was this beautiful field of sunflowers. I've never seen anything like it. It just didn't seem like the flowers that people grow one or two of in their gardens could be so beautiful. When we returned to Bologna that night, I saw one of the street artists painting just such a field. I wish I had found out how much he wanted for that painting, but this picture (taken by Kevan) captures the feeling.

On this day, there was a group roofing the house. I wish I had pictures from inside the house, but I only took the exterior and views from the inside. (Kevan took some; see Terri and Kevan's blog on the sidebar.)

Some of the flowers on the walk up to Pat's property

The exterior

The view from the back of the house which is all windows

The side view from Pat's bedroom

After we toured and "ooh-ed and aah-ed" the work in progress, we walked down to the park so the kids could have a little R&R.

When Pat finished up his business with the flooring guy, we walked over to the little resort that is their neighborhood pool. Complete with restaurant, pool table, ping pong table, and water slides, we spent the rest of the day playing in the water. Unfortunately, we all paid for it at the end of the day with sunburn. Ellie spent most of her time on the water slide (when it wasn't closed for a really long lunch) and Griffin surprised all of us by putting his face in the water over and over and over again. It's a huge accomplishment for this little one, enough for me to say that he might finally be ready for swimming lessons if he's not afraid to get his face wet.

After swimming, we made our way back to the bus and to the train to take us back to Bologna. Not surprising to anyone was the reaction of Robby and Griffin.

Friday (Day 10) would be an off day for almost everyone as the Griesemer group would be coming back from Venice and some of us would be going to the Ducati factory for a tour.

Day 8: Venice

It was another early morning, but for this trip, Pat promised a quick tour of the city and a visit to his favorite mask maker. (There were masks everywhere, but he promised that the one he would take us to had the best quality. He delivered on his promise as all of ours made it back to Utah without a scratch.)
Since it's near the water, there was a steady breeze throughout the day. It's amazing to me how much heat you can handle with a breeze in the air. It's like being in Utah versus Pennsylvania: the humidity kills you. You can take 105 degrees with 15% humidity a lot better than 90 degrees with 85% humidity. So we were off to see the streets--and waterways--of Venice.

The train station opened up onto the Grand Canal. It was so hard to believe we were standing in Venice!

We also went on the Scalzi Bridge to get a couple of pictures up and down the Grand Canal. I guess as with any big city, sometimes the side streets, or canals in this case, are prettier than the main street.

As we headed to San Marco or St. Mark's Basilica, we walked through the narrowest of streets and up and over the side canals, occasionally finding a gondola (which we understand are really expensive, up to 100 euro ($150) for a ride that could only fit 4.

I think I could have window shopped there all day. Every store front was filled with beautiful masks, clothes, or souvenirs. There were fruits stands throughout as well, and boy were they tempting!

And sometimes, just around the corner, you'd find the strangest thing!

And then, we were there. The mask store! I could hardly believe my eyes when we went in. It was so small, but every inch of wall space was covered with the most beautiful and elaborate masks used for Carnival.

(I made sure to buy a beautiful photo book of the costumes people wear. They are breathtaking!) So we started trying them on.

Seth bought this one

This is the mask for doctors. It came about during the plague when doctors had to tend to the dead. They were able to fill the "nose" with aromas to cover the horrible stench and it was believed that it would prevent the doctor from catching the disease.

This is one of the masks I bought. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. We also bought a red sequined mask with a handle, a white eye mask for the girls, and John got one like a jester. They're all stunning.

From the store, we headed off to St. Mark's. The Basilica is amazing and I found out after we left that the interior is almost all gold. I knew that we weren't planning on doing any tours--and Griffin was counting on this fact--but I really wish we had seen it. (I have since bought a book so I could have some pictures.)

This square is known for its friendly pigeons. They have no fear and will land on you if you have food. Even with my extreme fear of birds, I thought I'd give it a try. In theory, it was a great idea. In reality, it was this.

They are nuts! They just came at you from everywhere. Some of us were braver than others (namely me!).

On Pat's hands

On John's head

On John's arm

After leaving the square--and the pigeons behind us--we headed toward the Bridge of Sighs.

This bridge connects the courthouse with the jail. It was named by Lord Byron and comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of Venice before their imprisonment.

Now it was off to take a water taxi! Pat headed up the negotiation process since there were so many of us (16). We loaded into one that looked just like the boat in the third Indiana Jones movie and made our way back to the Grand Canal.

We had about 45 minutes until our train left, so we took advantage of this little shaded area with a fountain. So we enjoyed gelato and the shade while we got some souvenirs. John took the girls to get t-shirts and I got a small ceramic mask for the Christmas tree and a Venetian flag (red and gold with a Griffin on it) for Grif's room.

Terri and baby Joshua

Terri feeding Gabriel gelato

While I was gone, Griffin made his way into the fountain to cool off. It was what he later called "heaven." As I watched him in the fountain, it made me think of him playing in the fountain in Montreal last year on our trip to the International Fireworks Competition with the Chris Hopkins family.

Venice, 2008

Montreal, 2007. The same outfit except for the shoes!

We caught our train with no problem and headed for home. Unfortunately, we had a small situation when we got to Bologna. I thought I had left my phone on the train when we got off and asked Ian to run back and get it. As I waited for him, the doors to the train closed and I started pounding on the doors yelling in English that my son was on and needed to get off. Of course, no one understood me. Ian was on the other side of the doors pounding as well. After a few moments of panic and trying to figure out what we would do if it took off with him on the train, the door opened and he got off. (He later told me that after pounding for a bit, he saw a button that would open the doors, so he pushed it.) I realized that I did have my phone (it was tucked in a little bag), but we had left Griffin's hat on the train. He was devastated, but we were all relieved to at least have Ian with us!

We ate at a different restaurant, enjoying a bit of the Euro 2008 tourney. Ian ordered a pizza and was surprised to get the following:

Day 9 would take us to visit Pat's home-building site in Montombraro.