Sunday, December 27, 2009


Spencer and Ross are ready!

You work so hard to get to Christmas Eve, it is just wonderful when it arrives. I know Laura did the Lion's share of it, but we all helped to make some part of the dinner. We have a family tradition that we know goes back at least five generations of making a formal, several course, Italian meal on Christmas Eve. We all agree that the most important part of it is the antipasta course.

Stuffed Zucchini made by Grandma Gloria~to die for!

Jim made the red peppers!
The trick is to eat everything...
just not too much of it.

The antipasta was followed by a pasta course and then a main course of roasted chicken and vegetables and Tiramisu (Mormon style, no coffee no alcohol!) for dessert. After dinner we had a family devotional about the birth of the Savior with a special program that Robert had compiled from Luke 2 and with hymns interspersed between the sections of the scriptures. It was a beautiful and meaningful experience. Here in Italy Christmas is all about the birth of Christ (what a novel idea!) and there are beautiful nativities everywhere. Tomorrow night we are going to one that is in a town near Gaeta and is a living nativity.

Christmas Eve the boys were so anxious for the next morning and opening presents. They were told they could not go downstairs until 7:30 am. By 6:00 am Rossie found his way into our bed where we somehow held him at bay until 7:30. We laid in bed and listened to the Christmas bells at a nearby church ringing out to welcome the Savior! Both boys were awake by about 4:00 but Santa is smart at this house and leaves their stockings in their beds for them to go through so everyone else gets a little more sleep.

Don't you just hate it when someone takes
your picture on Christmas morning?
I like this one it is nice and dark and blurry!

The other rule they have is the parents and grandparents get to be downstairs first and so we could watch them come down. It was pretty cute! They got more Legos than I have ever seen in one place and they played all day 8 hours straight.

Spencer and Ross left Santa a letter.
Here Spencer is reading

Santa's computerized response
Geesh, everything has gone techno!

Some of the loot!

Warms a Gramma's heart!

We have a very nice breakfast and then just lounged around all day. We talked to our other kids and it was a perfect day! Jim's mom said it was the best Christmas she ever had! I am glad she is having so much fun!

So tomorrow, Presepe Viventi; Sunday, church and Laura and Robert's 12th anniversary and I am going to make them an apple pie! Monday we are leaving for our traveling up north to Pisa, Cinque Terra, Venice, Verona and a few other places. There are exciting times to look forward to every day around here! Christmas in Italy is very fun!

Celebrating Christmas With Carolers

The house was ready

Don't you just love candles and what they do to a room?

Once we returned from Gaeta we started to help prepare for Laura and Robert's friends to come over for a caroling party on Wednesday evening. We made a bunch of goodies, straightened up the house, etc and then they all arrived. We had put out luminaries all along the walkway of their section of the complex and and it was just the right amount of cold without rain...yay! If you are wondering where all the rain is over here in Europe. Several families came and joined us as we walked around caroling, it was so much fun. Afterward we came home for hot chocolate, cider, gingerbread cookies, and a bunch of other things that will make you want to start eating. Here are some of the photos.

The bakers did a great job!

The goodies all ready for the party.
Her little kitchen tree is cute with plasticware
sprayed silver~

I love this hutch that use to belong to Jim's grandmother
and how Laura painted it red to give it some pizazz!

Santa waiting on the Porch

Another Santa in the collection!

The Luminaries

The Singers were well received through the complex!

It was a lot of fun!

Gaeta Can Be Scary

Gaeta from Old Town

Most travelers have probably never heard of Gaeta, Italy from our neck of the woods. I never had until Laura arranged an overnight get away for Jim and me a few days before Christmas. We have been spoiled rotten in the travel department by Laura and Robert who have planned out everyday and have worked on all the details. Nothing like living with your tour guide and getting every detail taken care of. It has been seamless and we have not had to worry about a thing.

So off we went to Gaeta last Monday in Robert's car with our trusty GPS, aka Susan, without a care in the world. We drove for about an hour and half and then arrived in Gaeta. A beautiful, sleepy, little, beach town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The problem was that as we approached our accommodations we seemed to be really quite far out of four miles out in the boonies. But Laura is a real professional at setting things up so we just proceeded a long until we came to this sign that said San Travino Villa (or something like that.)

We turned into the short driveway and nearly rammed into a metal, locked, 8 foot gate in front of the car. We both looked at each other and shrugged when the gate started to open and this rather scary man started saying something to us in Italian. That was the first moment we realized we needed some help.

Jim was pantomiming sleep, snoring etc. and the guy just kept talking in Italian, grinning and shaking his head, nodding and giving very mixed messages. The guy who, by the way was toothless, really dirty and wearing some really funny shoes with no socks beckoned us in and we drove down this little steep hill and parked on the side of the property. The guy closed and locked the gate behind us. Hint number 2 something was amiss.

Jim disappeared into the large building which he later told me was a restaurant that was obviously not functioning. Jim did not come back for some time. The thought crossed my one will ever find us here, not in a million years.

Inside, Jim handed the guy our reservation info and a phone number. The man called the number and got into a big argument and hung up on the other party. Soon Jim convinced the guy we would leave and check things out further and be back...NOT! Fortunately he complied and let us out of the gate! Whew!

We drove on down into the town and found a parking place and tried to figure out what to do. We did have the presence of mind to bring a cell phone but we could not get Laura as they were shopping and the cell phone was...hers! Jim was frustrated but I started to truly get scared.

I cannot tell you how freaky it was to not be able to communicate with a soul, to not even know how to say hotel in Italian, to need a restroom and not have a clue how to find one, etc, etc. We went into a little gelateria, coffee, bar, deli type place (trattoria) and bought a gelato and sat down to get ourselves better situated and make a plan. We stuck out like sore thumbs and I felt so conspicuous as the entire place was full of locals all looking at us!

In the church we often refer to the scripture, " If ye are prepared ye shall not fear." This first hand experience taught us that the opposite is also true.

Finally we did get Laura on the phone and we found out that the real place was not far from where we were. Inadvertently, the wrong place was written was one she checked on but that was closed for the winter. The funny toothless man must have just been a caretaker or something during the off season. The whole experience was pretty disconcerting but this is one thing I learned in addition to being prepared. Anyone that lives in a foreign country and doesn't learn the language makes me nervous. Why would someone put themselves at such a disadvantage and not do anything about it? It defies all logic!

So we landed up having a marvelous time in Gaeta. Our hotel was lovely and had a perfect view of the Gaeta Bay right across the street. The people at the hotel desk spoke English and it was just fabulous! Our room was upgraded to a suite which was very nice and we enjoy a nice nap, then went downstairs for a really good meal about 8:30 pm. We slept in a little and then met some people from Virginia at the breakfast buffet. That was fun. It rained non-stop from the minute we arrived until we left but we didn't mind. It was still beautiful, peaceful and a nice retreat.

We are going to send Laura and Robert there for an overnighter while we are here so we can watch the kids for them, as a special thank you for all they have been doing to make this a nice time together. Here are a few photos. Sorry no photos of the toothless man!

An alley where we found a complete community, shops, church, pharmacy, law offices, a kitchen remodeling place, a soap shop, groceries, tobacco shop, etc. It was so neat. The residents live above their shops.

Jim loved the alley community

View from one of the cliffs!

Gaeta Harbor

Park in one of the piazzas

One great shop in town and I
managed to find it!

Moby Dick's...Whaaa....?

All too soon it was time to go home!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Blessings of Comfort and Joy

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Behind the green door where the
branch meets for church!

Ross welcomes us in!

Jim holding a darling little girl named
Samantha at church on Sunday.

Merry Christmas everyone! I am so far behind on my blogging but I am determined to catch up very soon. Last Sunday we had a chance to go to church with the kids. It was our first time visiting their congregation and going to their branch was really delightful.

They go to church in Caserta which is a town north east of their home. It is a medium-sized town and one of my favorites. Heading away from Naples does wonders for a town and it is cleaner and more relaxing and just a fun place to visit. It is not on most tourists "to do" list which makes it an even more authentic and wonderful experience.

One thing I loved about their branch was that the people were so friendly and accommodating to us. There are about 1/2 Italian and 1/2 English speaking people in the branch. They have head phones and that was our first time experiencing that. It was great. One of the elders just did the interpreting when someone was speaking was about 1/2 and 1/2 time for each language. Another thing I loved was walking into the church meeting area (which is a floor that is leased in a tall old building) and it was like coming home. Everything was familiar and that felt good after being in a foreign land for a few weeks.

Laura and her friend sang a beautiful Christmas duet which was a treat for us as we had not heard her sing in church in a long time. And Relief Society was amazing and very spiritual with the whole lesson being taught in Italian and a sweet lady sat right behind us and translated the whole thing. We are looking forward to going back this week.

The Kids

Reggia or Palace at Caserta

After Church we were heading to the Palace in Caserta which is called the Reggia. This place is absolutely a must see as far as I am concerned. This palace was built in the 1700s by the King of Naples and was designed to be like the Palace of Versailles but just a little bigger! This Palace took 10 years to build and was only used formally by the king for one year before he replaced his dead brother as the King of Spain.

Last time we came I fell in love with it and decided it was worth climbing the immense staircase again. Here is the first flight. At a right angle to it is the second set of stairs exactly like it. The entire stariway, both sections was sculpted out of one piece of marble.

Italy the land of a million stairs!
When you get to the top you are half way into the Palace Rotunda

In this beautiful building the acoustics are amazing and when we got to the Rotunda there was no one there. Our family gathered around and sang some Christmas songs and we sounded awesome. I am saying that only because the building made us sound that way, if you know what I mean. Laura and I sang a couple of duets..I have never had so much fun singing before. Our voices were just ringing through the whole place very loudly. We sang Away In a Manger and Hark the Herald Angels Sing at the top of our lungs. My favorite touring moment so far.

Some passersby stopped to listen. I was totally embarrassed but hid behind our daughter's skirts who is the real singer. It was so neat for me as I have always wanted to be able to sing but never had the talent or the nerve. We also had lunch in this neat part of the palace as Laura brought us a little simple picnic.

Rossie having his sandwich.

This Palace has the most gorgeous ceilings. This one is still my favorite. The first time I saw it it literally took my breath away. I love this! This one got to me more than the Sistine Chapel because it was the first frescoed ceiling I had ever seen with my own eyes. The pictures do not begin to tell the tale. The other part of it that I adored was I could view it in solitude in this room with just our family. I am not a big crowd person and I feel that being jammed in with lots of others is very distracting.

This is what I climbed the stairs for ~ I have never seen
a more beautiful fresco than this one!

Some ball gowns of the time
on display in the huge ball room!

I was flat out coveting this!

So, OK, there are 1200 rooms in the palace and I could go on and on but instead I will take you outside to the beautiful gardens to see the waterfall.

This is a view of the Reggia from the waterfall. While we toured the palace and rode the shuttle to the waterfall, Robert and the boys walked up to the waterfall from the Reggia, we got there first, it is a long way. During WWII they use to land small planes in the water here. The Nazis took over the palace for a time during the war. Fortunately, it has been returned to the Italians, its rightful occupants.

Caserta Presepe

One of my favorite views.
Check out the skin and bones dog!

Presepe means Nativity in Italian. The Caserta Reggia had one of the most beautiful we saw. This is a huge presentation of the Nativity featuring people from all walks of life around the main event, Christ's birth. In Italy you can buy these sculpted figurines all around the country during the celebration of Christmas. They are very expensive. We settled for some great photos instead. Practically every chapel and cathedral in the country has one. This one was our favorite. It is very large and the Presepe is surrounded by a glass encasement. Most figurines are at least 12 to 14 inches tall. They are extremely colorful, very detailed and true works of art.