Spring Break – Pisa

Let’s be honest, driving vacations can be very stressful at times. In our case, trying to navigate in unfamiliar territory usually leads to some kind of… how shall I say it… disagreement. Driving to Pisa from Rome was no exception. I had not mapped out where the best parking lot was to visit the tower of Pisa beforehand, which irked John, and trying to follow the signs to parking in Pisa was near impossible. To add to the stress, there are zones within the city where only residents can drive and we were quickly approaching that area. Although we had no way of knowing exactly where it started. We finally spotted a public parking lot and stopped, hoping it wasn’t too far of a walk to the tower.

Well, it turned out to be the best place we could have stopped. We didn’t have to take a bus into the old city. It was a short walk along the city wall and we were there. And so far no ticket from Pisa, so we must have managed to avoid the residents only zone :) .

And here we are… the leaning tower of Pisa.

I must admit that I had pictured it being taller. I think that when you are there, seeing it in person, it doesn’t look as grandios as it does in pictures because you can see it in relation to all the other buildings around it. Still… it was pretty cool to see it in person, and it definitly is leaning!

Memorizing Scriptures

At the start of this year as I was contemplating what goals we should set for our family, I felt impressed that we should start memorizing scriptures. I was inspired by Elder Richard G. Scott’s conference talk “The Power of Scripture“.  To help us get started we used a 21 day Bible verse memory challenge that I had found online… seemed as good a place to start as any.

The first verse it had us memorize was Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee…”

The girls have really taken to memorizing scriptures. I thought it was something they would resist at first, especially the older ones, but they have been excited to learn each new scripture. 

About 3 weeks and 3 scriptures in, I was sitting in the kitchen and asked Lauren to take something down to the basement for me. I was waiting for her usual response that she couldn’t go down by herself (she is scared to go anywhere by herself, even her own bedroom) when I heard her say “Sure mom” and then repeat to herself “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee…” as she started down the steps.

I was shocked. My mind started thinking over the past three weeks and how much better Lauren was sleeping at night. She used to stay up hours past her bedtime, afraid to go to sleep (even though she shares a room with Emily and has a nightlight and a string of christmas lights). Now she was going to sleep much easier, sleeping more restfully.

Elder Scott said “Great power can come from memorizing scriptures. To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change.”

How grateful I am for our new found friendship! What a blessing memorizing scriptures has been for our family.

Spring Break – Pompeii

I have to say, that all of us really enjoyed our day in Pompeii. We got up early and drove to Pompeii from our apartment in Rome. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive, so not too bad of a day trip. We had no idea how big the city was. There were so many streets to explore and buildings to see. Most of the buildings were in ruins, but some like the baths were amazingly intact. It was a great glimpse into how Romans lived in 79 A.D.

Porta Marina

Here is Lauren in front of the original city gate. Before Mt. Vesuvius errupted the sea came up to this point, and ships were docked here. You can see that there is a large and a small entrance to the city. During the day they were both open to admit traffic into this busy Roman trading city, but during the night only the smaller entrance was left open allowing for better security.



Temple of Apollo

This is a typical Roman style temple with space for worshipers outside in a courtyard. The temple was high off the ground and only the priests were allowed inside. The bronze statue is of the god Apollo and is a reproduction of the original, which is housed in the National Archeological Museum in Naples.

Fish and Produce Market

You can tell from the frescoes on the wall that this was the market were the people in Pompeii came to buy their food. In the glass cases in front of the frescoes are plaster casts of Pompeiian people who were buried in the ash.

Baths of the Forum

Fast-Food Joint

Looks like we Americans didn’t invent fast food after all. Right across the street from the Baths are these marble food counters. In fact, most Romans didn’t cook for themselves in their tiny appartments. The holes in the counter are where pots of food would have been placed.


House of the Faun

This was the largest house in Pompeii with 40 rooms covering a whole city block. Here Emily and Lauren are looking at a floor mosaic of the Battle of Alexander.

The streets in Pompeii are built of basalt paving stones. The center of the road is raised to allow water to run off into the gutters.  Everyday the streets were flooded with water to clean them. There are small white stones, ingeniously inserted randomly between the large stones, allowing people to see the road after dark.

The Amphitheater


The Forum 

Pompeii’s commercial, religious and political center

You can see Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

Good-bye Pompeii!

Spring Break… RomeDay 3

Day 3 started at the National Museum of Rome… yawn. I think the Vatican Museum overloaded us with Roman sculptures, and it was hard to get into the ones here. They were nice, just very similar to all the ones we had already seen. 

We had a quick look at the sculptures and the old Roman money and then head out to look at some of the churches in the area.

This is the Santa Maria degli Angeli church. It stands where the Baths of Diocletian once stood. In fact the curved brick wall where you enter the church is one of the remains of the ancient bath complex.

The church inside is beautiful. It is the size of a football field and seven stories high.

Next we headed to see the Pantheon. It was originally a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods but early in the middle ages was turned into a Christian church.  It is also the final resting place of the artist Raphael and Italy’s first two kings.

Don’t they look like they’re having fun.

The final church we went to look at was the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. This is the French national church in Rome. This church is well known because the artist Caravaggio helped in the decoration of it. There are three of his wonderful paintings found here; “The Calling of St. Matthew”, “The Inspiration of St. Matthew” and “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew”.

When we arrived in the chruch, there was quite a crowd gathered around to see the paintings, but the corner where the paintings were found was extremely dark making it hard to see them very well.  I had read in one of our books, that you can sometimes find a little “vending machine of light” in churches such as these. (You put your money in, and the light  around the picutres turn on for a few minutes.) Sure enough there was one that nobody had seemed to notice. We headed over to the box, put our money in, the lights went on, and everyone gasped. They could finally see what they’d come to see. 

After torturing the girls with so many churches, it was definitely time to get a gelato.

Just a few more things to see before we’re done here in Rome…

Victor Emmanuel Monument (Italy’s first king)

Trajan’s Market and Imperial Forum

Next stop… Pompeii

Spring Break – Rome Day 2

Our first stop on our second day in Rome was to the Vatican Museum. The apartment we were staying in was not far from the Vatican so it was just a short bus ride to get there… still packed, but nothing like the subway.

We have found that it definitely pays to do a little research before you go on vacation. In reading about the Vatican Museum, we learned that it was a good idea to buy your tickets and reserve an entry time online before you go. So we did, and boy were we glad! The line to buy tickets was HUGE… and we just walked on by… right up to the front door… right into the Vatican… no line… no waiting… BEAUTIFUL!

The Vatican Museum is the papal palace turned museum filled with ancient artifacts, classical sculptures and Renaissance paintings. There is quite a lot to see.

There was so much to see that it left us quite exhausted. Here we are taking a break before we head in to see “la piece de resistance”… the Sistine Chapel.

Okay, so you aren’t allowed to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel, so I don’t have any. Even though EVERYONE else was taking pictures, I chose to be good. But I do have to say one thing, I was completely underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel. Maybe it’s because they were herding us through like cattle, and we barely had time to look at anything, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

Next to the Vatican Museum is St. Peter’s Basilica. That was our next stop.

While the Sistine Chapel did not live up to my expectations, Michelangelo’s Pieta most definitely did… just so beautiful…

At this point it had been a long morning of walking around and looking at art and sculptures, and Lauren was in full tantrum mode. Her feet could not walk anymore. She was going to die of hunger. John threw her up on his back, and then she was back to all smiles.

The girls with one of the Vatican City guards.

St. Peter’s Square

Lauren.. sad that dad put her down and ready for lunch.


Here we are after lunch, enjoying our daily gelato.

Castel Sant’Angelo

After lunch, we walked around a little bit, did some souvenir shopping, and then headed back to the apartment to rest and take it easy for the afternoon.

After our rest, we headed out to find a place to have dinner and then do a night walk trough the city.


John and Sara in front of the Spanish Steps.

We will always remember the Spanish Steps. This is where a tricky street vendor gave the girls roses, telling them they were free for them because they were such beautiful girls. Then he went over and harassed John for money. The girls tried to give back the roses, but he wouldn’t take them. John tried to give him a couple euros, but he said it wasn’t enough. Finally, he took the money, grabbed two of the roses back from the girls and went on to harass someone else. Persistant, unrelenting street vendors… definitely our least favorite part of Rome.

The Trevi Fountain


More gelato. We need to keep our energy up for the night walk :)

A second-century column in the Piazza Colonna.  It depicts the victories of Marcus Aurelius over the barbarians.

Looking out from the portico of the Pantheon.

St. Peter’s Basilica at night

Spring Break – Rome Day 1

 If you are considering going to Rome, may I offer you some advice. DO NOT go over Easter, unless you like being packed into subway cars like sardines and coming out drenched in sweat which may or may not be your own. Just sayin’…

Other than that we had a fabulous time :)

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was simply beautiful! In fact a few of us even ended up with a little bit of a sunburn.

Our first stop was the Roman Colosseum. In order to save some money and avoid the lines we stopped at the train station and got the Roma Pass. The Roma Pass covers free public transportion and free entry to many Roman sights for three days. Unfortunately, the person at the ticket office gave us some miss information and told us that the kids would get in free to the coleseum so we should just buy them 3 day train tickets instead of Roma Passes. Well, once we got to the Colosseum we found out that the kids were not free, and we found ourselves needing to buy tickets, and that meant having to stand in a really long line. Fortunately, one of the employees took pity on us and took us to the front of the ticket line.

The Colosseum was a great place to begin. It’s one historical site that all the girls had heard of and they were so excited to see it in person.

From one of the windows of the Colosseum you could see the Arch of Constantine (the Roman Emperor that legalized Christianity.)

From another window, you could see the Roman Forum in the background.

After the Colosseum, we found a little restaurant and had some lunch. We may have spent a little too much time at the Colosseum, because the girls were exhausted and we still had to see the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. On the walk to the Forum we bought the girls some gelatos to help keep them going. Then we found some nice ruins to sit on while we enjoyed them.

The girls were not nearly so interested in the Forum. There just isn’t enough of it intact to capture their interest. It’s hard to imagine all this rubble being the center of Rome.

Palatine Hill was a little more interesting for the girls as there were active archealogical digs that you were allowed to go and see. The following picture is of the hut believed to belong to Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

One last picture from Palantine Hill before we head to the apartment to rest. It’s been a long day.

Spring Break – Siena

Time to tackle spring break. We saw SO much during the two weeks the girls were off school, that it’s going to take quite a few posts to get it all documented.

We started off spring break by getting in the car and driving to Siena, Italy.  It’s about a seven hour drive, without stops, so we made it just in time to check into the Villa where we were staying the night. It was out in the country side, just a little ways outside of Siena. Now we needed to find some dinner. The manager of the Villa suggested a restaurant in an old castle not too far away. Sounded cool, so we thought we’d give it a try. The area was quite ‘interesting’. This midieval castle, which was in serious disrepair, had been turned into apartments. No, these were not luxury apartments. They were down right scarry. I was totally creeped out walking through it, and ready to find somewhere else to eat, but alas, there was nothing else around. The restaurant ended up not being inside the actual castle, but right next to it. Inside, the restaurant was really quite nice. Everything was in Italian, so we had no idea what we were ordering. We ended up ordering way too much food. It was definitely authentic Tuscan cuisine. I can’t even tell you what we ate, because I don’t know. Some of it was really good, some of it we had to force ourselves to eat. Kudos to Emily for finishing all the liver! (Sorry no pictures of the scarry castle Frown )

The villa where we stayed

The next morning we headed into Siena. It is a very beautiful old city. First we saw the church of San Domenico which honors the life of St. Catherine. In the church they have cases that house her actual thumb and head. I find this whole idea of relics a little bit creepy. The girls were totally grossed out.

Next we headed to Il Campo, the city’s main square. It is really quite amazing. The city tower is Italy’s tallest secular tower and the Fountain of Joy (Fonte Gaia) by Jacopo della Quercia was beautiful.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant right on the square and had some authentic Italian pizza.

The highlight of Siena for me was the Duomo. Wow. Breathtaking. The church dates back to 1215, and inside you find statues by Michelangelo and sculptures by Bernini. With it’s stripped walls and dark blue ceiling, it is definitely different than any of the churches we’ve seen so far.  I have to say though, that my favorite room was the one that houses the the illuminated music scores. What can I say, I love books.

We finished our tour of Siena by hitting the gelato stand, and we came to the conclusion that during our stay in Italy it was manditory for us to have gelato at least once a day.

Next stop… Rome.

Gasteiger’s House

Sunday April 3nd was a surprisingly warm and beautiful spring day, and seeing how there was no church due to general conference (which we couldn’t watch until later in the day), we decided to check out the Ammersee area. Ammersee is a lake about 30 km west of the Starnberger See. While we were there, we stopped at the Mathias and Anna Sophie Gasteiger’s House. It’s another place that is covered by the Bavarian pass. Mathias Gasteiger was a sculptor and Sophie Gasteiger was a painter. Their house still contains the original furniture, and displays some of their original artwork. It’s not a big house, so it was a quick stop, but the grounds were amazing with all the flowers in bloom. That’s were we spent most of our time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It seems very strange to see your husband off to work and put your kids on the bus on Thanksgiving day. Actually…. it’s sad. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I just love getting together with family and enjoying a wonderful meal, but most of all I love just hanging out…visiting… playing games… I love that.

I got up early today to make the girls a little Thanksgiving lunch. They were sad to go to school today too. Hopefully this will make it a little bit better.

 The mini pumpkin pies did turn out delicious (if I do say so myself… I’ve already eaten my fair share. John will be lucky if his is still here when he gets home. :) )

To all our friends and family, we want you to know that we miss you and we hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

O Canada!

Today I’m going to say  “eh?” a little more often. I’m going to pronounce “bag” and “flag” in that way that only Canadians can. I’m putting on my big red sweatshirt and belting out the Canadian national athem. Why? Because today I am a Canadian citizen once more! Actually as of 2009, but no one bothered to tell me they changed the law.

You see, I was born while my parents were attending university in the US, making me a Canadian citizen born abroad. Only there was this crazy law on the books that if you were a Canadian citizen born abroad between 1947 and April 15, 1977 (that’s right James, had you been born a few weeks early you would have been in my same predicament!) you lost your Canadian citizenship at the age of 24 if you were not residing in Canada. That was a sad day for me as I was living in Michigan at the time.

But in 2009 they reinstated the citizenship of all those who lost it under the old law. So today I am Canadian once more.

Break out the Nanaimo bars! It’s time for a party!