Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Birthday boy with his waffle!
On Saturday Gianluca got to learn how to play kick ball out at an end of the year party for Mason's class. He even jumped in and played with the parents when they played. I was very impressed. He thinks it's kind of a silly sport but he joined in anyway, which was nice.
Brazil vs. Italy. Italy dominated!!!
Birthday hike in Discovery Park. Beautiful day.
The weather was so beautiful for his birthday yesterday and today is really quite ugly outside. I'm grateful we had such a nice day to celebrate him.

The last week has been full of events. Friday was Gianluca's cross town scavenger hunt to celebrate his birthday, which was a tremendous success. Great fun was had by all. On Saturday we drove out to Arlington for a end of the year party with Mason's class. There were three AFSers there, the same ones I took to Portland so Gianluca had lots of company. I was really impressed when he jumped in to play kick ball with the class and the parents. He's so willing to participate, which is really cool. He's such an easy going guy, which I really love and appreciate. On Sunday we went to the AFS picnic and the weather was pretty bad. Before we went we visited the grandparents in Bothell and introduced Gianluca to Costco. It was great to meet some more of the AFSers at the picnic, and their host families. I think we have a great bunch of kids this year. Everyone seems really engaged and ready for adventure.

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks since Gianluca arrived. He has been very busy since the beginning. Now this week it's like the wind went out of the sails and there is pretty much nothing to do. Yesterday was his actual birthday and we went over to my sisters and joined with some of the family to make a nice breakfast. Then we went over to Discovery Park for a short hike. He finished his afternoon up with tennis practice and then we came home for dinner. I decided that he needed to see "Role Models" on the eve of his birthday so we went out to the video store to get it. We had ice cream and I was the one laughing as many of the jokes in Role Models are out of context for him. I think he liked the movie however, so that's good. I realize the movie is highly inappropriate but I love the humor in it. What can I say? There is still a teenager inside me.

This week Mason is hiking with his class in the Cascades so it's just Gianluca, Miku and I here at home. Tonight Gianluca is going to a Mariner's game with some friends, which should be interesting. Right now we're watching the US Open, which is something I can honestly say I have never done.

School starts next week, something I know Gianluca is ready for. In the few short weeks he has been here his English has improved tremendously. I think he's going to do well at school.

I start my preceptorship on September 13th at the UW. I'm terrified and at the same time kind of sad to close the chapter on not working and being back in school. I've enjoyed my flexible schedule the last 18 months. The whole 8-5 thing is going to be tough for me.

Noah is settling in finally in Norway and is really having an amazing time. His family there is just what he needs and he really appreciates them. I do as well. We are so fortunate to have them in our lives.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gianluca's 17th Birthday Cross Town Scavenger Hunt

The birthday boy.

Hope he made a wish.

Today we had Gianluca's cross town scavenger hunt for his 17th birthday, which is this coming Monday. We had four teams of five, driving in cars around the city, completing tasks. I've only included Gianluca's team because there are so many photos. I think everyone had a great time and Gianluca will hopefully remember this birthday party fondly. I know I had a great time.

One team member had to ask a random stranger for a piggy back ride. Kali stepped up to the challenge and this nice lady helped us out.
Our team in front of Roosevelt High School where Gianluca will attend.
Each team member had to run one lap to form a full mile. Gianluca was fast!
The team had to wrap one team member into a toilet paper mummy and take a photo of a stranger with a dog. This lady was very sweet to help us.
The team in front of a public library. One team member had to register and obtain a library card. Patrik stepped up and now he's a card carrying member of the Seattle Public Library.
Down at Shilshole Bay.
One team member had to eat a banana split with a tasting spoon.
One team member had to buy a flower and give it to a stranger. Gianluca made her day!
Our team at the famous Gum Wall in Pike Place Market

Thursday, August 26, 2010

And He Makes the Varsity Team!

What a great week we have had. On Saturday we drove down 1-5 and made a stop at Mt. St. Helen's to see the volcano. On the trip I had Gianluca, my son Mason, Max from Germany, Gabriel from Brazil and his host brother Rohan, who is also one of Mason's best friends. We had a nice drive down and after seeing the volcano headed south to Portland. In Portland we stayed with one of my dearest friends, Monika, and her family. The five boys enjoyed swimming, playing video games, watching horror films and just generally hanging out together. We took some time to drive out to the Oregon Coast, just south of Cannon Beach at Oswald State Park. We had a lovely afternoon at the beach. On our way out of town on Wednesday we stopped to do some school shopping and had a fairly hilarious time in Target. Mason decided to try on the maternity jeans which was a great source of laughter for us all.

Today Gianluca had his tennis team tryouts for his high school and made the varsity team! I was so PROUD of him. I mean he plays it kind of cool, makes tennis look easy, but seriously, he's an amazing player. The coach was happy to have him and he scored one of only four available spots on the team, beating out some ten or so other players who will now play on the junior varsity team. Very impressive! The only problem was that the coach was speaking so fast that Gianluca didn't really understand that he made the team. I had to explain to him once we got to the call. Once he figured it out he was very happy. He worked really hard today to earn that spot and I'm grateful that he'll have the opportunity to be a part of a team.

Tomorrow we are having a cross town scavenger hunt in cars to celebrate Gianluca's birthday. He'll be 17 on Monday August 30th. We'll take a lot of photos and post them as soon as possible.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Great First Week

Gianluca has been here one full week and it really has been full of some pretty fun stuff. It's hard to believe he's only been here a week and I am amazed at the difference between the shy young man that I picked up on Saturday and the one who is with us now. Not that he is a different person, it's just that he has really opened up and bonded with our family is a real organic way. It's wonderful to see his big smile. My heart swells when I see it because it tells me he's getting comfortable and trusting us more.

Gianluca is so very similar to my youngest son, Mason, that it's been challenging for them to find common ground and connect. So, last night I asked Gianluca if he'd be willing to go with us to the park and play some tennis with Mason. He was very gracious to do so and I tell you it was HILARIOUS. I laughed so hard, Mason really did try, and of course Gianluca was patient and chased after A LOT of stray balls. I think this simple exercise really did break the ice because it was awkward and laughter was abundant. I think laughter does a great deal to bring people together.

Today Gianluca and I went to take his sports paperwork into his school so that he can try out for tennis next week. We were able to see only a small portion of the school but what we saw was really beautiful. I have never been in this school before and the architecture really impressed me. I have no idea whether the academics are as much to marvel at, but I'll wait to place judgement once Gianluca is actually attending. After going to his school we went down and dropped my car off to get the oil changed and walked down to get a cup of coffee and look in shops at U Village. It was a nice walk. Then we went to AT&T and Gianluca got a simm card for his phone, so he is officially wired! This is great because it gives him more freedom to roam the city and explore. After U Village we went to see a play, "Guys and Dolls", performed by local teens, one of which is a friends son. It was really great. I don't think Gianluca understood much but the music was fun for him and it was a true cultural experience. Tonight I made pesto pasta for dinner and he was so excited. He, for the first time, ate a big helping (actually two) and I was thrilled. I've been a bit worried that he's not eating enough, but now I know it's because I'm probably not making things that he likes. I'm really not a very creative cook, so in that respect I may fail him occasionally, but I'm doing my best.

Tomorrow morning we are headed to Portland. We'll be taking Max (from Germany) and Gabriel (from Brazil) as well. It should be quite the experience for me in a car with five teenage boys! I think I can handle it.

All in all, Gianluca's first week has been very successful. I'm really pleased with his progress with English, but more importantly I'm just thrilled that he is such a wonderful young man who we are all quickly coming to love.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

He's a TENNIS player!

Yesterday I bought Gianluca a tennis racket for his birthday. Originally I had planned on giving him snowboarding lessons but when we went to the sporting goods store I realized that he was eyeing the rackets and I asked if he would prefer the racket for his gift and his face lit up! I figured why give him a gift that he MIGHT enjoy when I can give him a gift I KNOW he will enjoy. Those are the best gifts.

When I woke up this morning I called my friend Julie and asked her if her son Julian would like to play tennis with Gianluca and she graciously arranged some court time at her country club and we headed over to Kirkland. It became quickly clear that Gianluca is an AMAZING tennis player. Truly. I love it when my kids excel at something and really embrace it. Watching Gianluca I could see in his whole being that tennis brings him a great deal of joy. As a host parent this is a moment you hope for, a time when you see what brings your new son or daughter satisfaction. We want the same things for our own children but we have been instrumental in helping them discover their passion. With an AFSer it's all new. Like your own children you then are charged with making sure that they can realize their dreams. So clearly Gianluca will play on a tennis team while he is here. That is clear.

We finished up the evening with dinner at Tutta Bella with my friends Geoff and Lisa and their kids, as well as their exchange student, Gabriel, from Brazil. The pizza was excellent and Gianluca was incredibly hungry after two hours of tennis. He earned ever bite of that pizza!

All in all this was a very satisfying day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Great Beginning

Gianluca was a professional by the end of the trip. He did amazingly well.

Here he's just getting loaded into the boat and I know he was nervous. You could see it on his face. But he overcame that fear and did it. So proud of him.
Getting started. Jeevan, myself, Kali and Gianluca
What a crazy group!
Gianluca met some new cousins today. He met Calista and Annelyse!

Today marked Gianluca's second full day with us. Our family has packed in so many events these last few weeks of summer and Gianluca has been kind of thrown into the mix. The upside is that he's getting to do some pretty cool stuff right off the bat, which although it may make him tired, I think he's really enjoying it. On Sunday we woke up and made waffles with fresh raspberries and cream, and some bacon. Then we went down to Pike Place Market to look for gifts for Noah's host family in Norway. After that we drove out to see the family at the grandparents house. This was all very overwhelming for Gianluca, I'm sure.

Today was a fabulous day filled with adventure. Today is my sister Karen's 40th birthday and we had the opportunity to go kayaking on Lake Union and Lake Washington. Gianluca had never been kayaking and I could see that it made him nervous. He was willing though, and embraced it. Once out in the water it took almost no time at all for him to be comfortable and learn how to maneuver his boat. He did great and what a rite of passage it was! It was also the first time that Grandma Carol had been kayaking and at 71 she did great! Tonight we picked up another AFSer, Max, and took him with us to Alki Beach to celebrate Karen's birthday with a good old fashioned weenie roast and smores. We saw a beautiful sunset and shared excellent company with friends and family. Gianluca and Max even joined in on a frisbee game with Noah and Mason.

What made me most happy was that I saw a lot more smiles on Gianluca's face. He seemed much more comfortable today and he really accomplished a great thing with his kayaking. I think he's going to have a great year with many new experiences. He's got a healthy curiosity and he is very brave. That's all he needs.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Funny Story

Gianluca met Kali, Jeevan and Jordan
Gianluca gave Dhania some cheese and then she fell in love with him.
Picnic at Greenlake

Funny story. So today Mason and I got up early to finish preparations for Gianluca's arrival. I asked Mason to clean out the car and I gave him a spray can of carpet spot cleaner. An hour later we got in a very clean car only to discover that Mason had used the entire can of cleaner and the car was TOXIC. By the time Mason and I got to the orientation we were both sick from the fumes. Thank goodness Gianluca's "zia", Valerie, showed up to introduce herself and rescued us by driving Mason and Gianluca home so they would not have to be exposed to the fumes. She stayed and had a lovely visit with us and I prepared our picnic for Greenlake and then she piled all the kids in her car once again and we drove to 7-11 for Slurpee's. On a hot day a Slurpee is the best! She then drove them the rest of the way to Greenlake so that they could be free from exposure. By the time we headed home the smell was a little bit better but it was still pretty overpowering. We had a nice little picnic at the beach, thoroughly overwhelmed Gianluca with mostly MY talking, and it quickly became apparent that he was exhausted, so we headed home. He has showered and fallen asleep. He was a very good sport with our loud, obnoxious family (okay, I'm mostly the loud one). I think once he gets to know us he will be able to better appreciate our way of being. We can be awfully silly! At the park he was able to meet my sister Karyn, my niece Kali, Kali's boyfriend Jeevan (who will go to school with Gianluca) and one of her best friends, Jordan.

It was very hot in Seattle today and I'm not a fan of this heat. I'm hoping tomorrow is a little cooler. Tomorrow we will go to Pike Place Market to pick up some gifts for Noah's host family and then we will head out to Bothell to see the grandparents. Noah will say his farewell to his grandfather Fred and his grandmother Nancy. I'm sure it will be a bit sad.
Welcome to Seattle Gianluca. Roberta and Mauro you have a lovely son. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Finished the Room!

Okay, I finally pretty much finished Mason and Gianluca's room.
Mason says it looks like a girls college dorm room. What do you think?

I have way too much on my plate and I'm feeling the stress of it for sure. I have to finish cleaning the house, finish all my classes for this quarter, go to a birthday party tonight for my sister and my brother-in-law who are both turning 40 and then tomorrow we finally meet Gianluca and bring him home.

I have to admit I'm nervous. You want so much for your student to feel at home, not like a house guest, but like this is their home. You have no idea if there will be a good connection until you actually meet. I know I'm a good person, but how do I know Gianluca will like me and my family? I have no idea why I am feeling so insecure about it, but hopefully tomorrow all of my fears will be lifted and we'll adjust well. I have heard from Gianluca's AFS "Auntie" Valerie who says he is such a sweet boy. She adores him. So there you! I adore her, and if she likes him then I know I'll like him.

I'm really enjoying reading all the AFS hosting blogs. Keep up the good work people and I hope your initial adjustment period goes well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gianluca Has Started His Journey!

It's Wednesday night here in Seattle and I'm sitting at my school just having finished writing a paper on HIV/AIDS. As I was writing my paper I was aware that back in Italy Gianluca and his family have said their goodbyes in Rome, and he has begun the first stage of his journey. I'm sure he's sleeping now, as well as his parents. In his mother's mind she is probably worried about what this year holds for him. She is certainly sad that he has fledged from the nest, not to a university or his own apartment, but across the Atlantic Ocean and clear to the other side of the United States! This must be distressing for her and I feel her distress quite acutely as I realize that my own son will depart next Tuesday for his year in Norway. I wish I could give Gianluca's mother a warm hug right now and assure her that I will do my best to care for her son while he is with me. So I'm sending you a cyberhug Roberta, with the wish that both of us can be strong for our sons as they venture out into the world, to grow and shine. It's a brave thing for a mother to do, but it's also an act of grace. Our children are our hearts. Letting them go is NOT an easy thing to do. This takes me to one of my favorite poems:

On Children
Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Safe travels Gianluca. We are looking forward to meeting you on Saturday.

Warm regards and much love to Roberta and Mauro. I will do my best.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What does it mean to be a host parent?

This photo is of my daughter Ilaria, son Noah and my Norwegian daughter Siril (CC).

I have been contemplating what it is that exchange students look for in a host parent. This is a big question really, and obviously the answer comes from the unique qualities and expectations of the student, but it can be a heavy question. Most students want to experience a new culture, new family and traditions and they don't want to travel across the globe to only find that their home is identical to their life back in their own country. The chances of things being identical are of course quite slim but it does remind us host parents to just be ourselves and not try to be like their parents back home. We are guardians and loved ones, but we are not their parent. I've never tried to be the "parent" and most of my students call me Nina, not mom, but a few have called me mom and although I don't require it, I don't mind it.

For me it's important to just be there for them, to show up and participate in their lives, to make sure they know that I will listen with unconditional love. What I want for my own children I share with my exchange students. I want them to do what they love, explore the things that they are passionate about, be safe and content, and to strive to be good global citizens. Hopefully this is what Gianluca will learn from me, that I am not trying to be his mother away from home, but that I am an advocate for his happiness and what he can bring to the world. I like to think of myself as someone who champions the youth of the world. They have so much potential to do good and what they need more than anything is to know that we believe in them.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ilaria Leaves for Scotland

Today my daughter Ilaria left for Scotland. She'll be gone until next July. I'm going to miss her so much but I'm so proud of her and I'm excited to hear about her journey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Farewell Party

Today we had our farewell party for Ilaria, Noah and Kali. Tomorrow Ilaria leaves to Scotland. Next up, Gianluca will arrive on August 14th and then Noah leaves August 17th. What an adventure.