Sunday, 11 May 2014

Venice with kids on a budget

Surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia! (the Lord is risen indeed!)

We hope that the season Lent led you into a joyous Easter celebration and we hope that you are still celebrating!  The resurrection of Christ from the dead is not just a celebration of His resurrection but also our own resurrection that has been made possible.  "By death He conquered death" and through Him we can share in everlasting life.  Many of us have heard this many times, but it is important to reflect on the immensity of this event.  I'm a bit ultra sensitive right now as I'm just finishing up Dante's Inferno and, man, after reading this poem, I don't want to end up in hell.  Thank God for His mercy!  Thus, we celebrate!  Not just His resurrection on Easter Sunday, but His mercy the Sunday after and goodness and wisdom and so forth for 7 Sundays.  What a joy to be Catholic!

This past month has been busy.  We were keynote speakers at a marriage retreat in Slovakia for a weekend, Tristan celebrated his first confession, and the 3 kids and I took a budget trip to Venice.  So - here is our story:

Marriage Retreat in Slovakia

Becca and I were asked to speak at a marriage retreat for the Hanusfellowship.  They are a group of couples working in fields in Slovakia such as law, medicine, politics, etc. committed to living out the Catholic teachings in their professions. Wow.  Almost everyone spoke English and there were kids running around everywhere.  That was great to see.

Rodinkovo located near Belusske Slatiny is about 3 hours from Trumau.  Friends of ours, Jaro and Zuzska arranged to get all 7 of us Bifferts to Slovakia.  Here we are taking a supper break in Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia).

We prepared 3 sessions.  The first was in two parts: our conversion story to the Catholic Church, and the second part was on building Catholic family traditions.  The second session was on the role of the wife/mother and the husband/father.  The third session was on how to raise your kids to be saints (or at least how we are trying to).
We had a break on Saturday to a bit of hiking so here we are with Jaro and Zuzska climbing in the hills and dodging ticks.

The building nestled in the hills is the retreat centre.  It used to be owned by the communists (who only left Slovakia 20 years ago) as a get-away for employees of a tire factory.  Now it is used by the Catholics who hope to purchase it for use permanently.

Kate's new friend: Zuzska!

At the end of the retreat, Jaro took us on a hike to Jaskyna sv. Jozefe (cave of St. Joseph).  Here, back in 1855 a chapel was built and consecrated in this cave.

Below: Jaro is showing Winter the bell that was installed to let folks know Mass was about to begin.

Here is the small chapel in the cave.  During the time of the Nazi invasion, the partisans hiding in these hills would have Mass here in secret.

 This is a great statue of St. Joseph.  A man of strength holding and protecting his son.

 On the way home on Sunday we had a small break at a park and the kids were guessing what these statues were of.  Benedict insisted they were boots.  Winter thought they were birds.

Field Trip to the Royal Treasury

As a part of our Church History class, our professor Dr. Fimister took us on a tour of the Royal Treasury.  The most amazing part of the tour was the incredible amount of symbolism in everything.  

This crown was worn by the Holy Roman Emperor and was his personal crown (vs. the coronation crown). The pearls on the outside are set in the shapes of lilies.  Why?  King Clovis, the first king of the Franks to be baptized, had a vision at his baptism of the lily and that all his sins were being washed away.  The lily then became a symbol of baptism and forgiveness.  The lily is still on French flags today. Inside the crown is mitar. A mitre, the headgear of a Bishop, is inside the crown but turned 90 degrees.  This symbolizes that the emperor is like a bishop and has the duty to lead people to God by wielding the temporal sword (the bishops do so via the spiritual sword).  Circumventing the top of the crown to the base is a band of gold.  This band shows that the emperor is king of the world.  And on top of the band (not seen here) is a cross to show how the emperor is still subject to Christ and the leader of His Church: the Pope.  Above the cross is a blue sapphire representing the New Jerusalem which is every man's destiny.  Wow!  Now that is a crown to live by!

The golden rose was a gift given by a bishop to royalty.

The coronation crown of the Holy Roman Emperor.  The 12 stones on the front represent the breastplate of the levitical high priest in the Old Testament.

Becca's Little Flowers Tea Party

Virtue: Love of God

Flower: White Peony

Saint: St. Agnes

We learned about St. Agnes at our third Little Flowers tea party who for the love of God refused all marriage proposals b/c she had betrothed herself to Christ. She was brutally martyred b/c she refused to marry a king. Thus, all of the girls wore veils on their heads to the tea party in honor of St. Agnes and to remind them that our love for God is like a bride loves her groom.


This week in our Dragonslayers club we worked on the virtue of respect.  We practiced addressing adults by their proper title: Mr., Dr., Father and so forth.  We practiced addressing and respecting each other and girls - as knights would do of course.
Our outdoor skill was knife safety.  We carved a pen out of wood, made ink out of charcoal, water, and vinegar and wrote with our pens.  Alas, we didn't quite get so far as to make our own paper.

and of course we roasted sausage and bacon at the end!

Tristan's First Confession:

One of the ways we mark growth in our children is through their journey through the sacraments.  The first is baptism and the second is their first confession.  All the sacraments are covenantal, give us grace from God to live holy and are thus a cause for celebration.  We've been preparing Tristan for his first confession for a while and on April 16th, the Wednesday in holy week, Tristan and I did a reconciliation retreat together.

  Step 1: The effects of our sin We began by looking at how our sins don't just affect ourselves, but those around us and the consequences of our sin keep spreading out like ripples on a pond.  Here we dropped a rock in the water and watched how the ripples spread.

Step 2: Sin separates us from God Here we hunted down a snail and took it out of its home environment.  If we kept the snail out of its home it would eventually die. When we sin we strain our relationship with God and if we sin gravely we cut ourselves off from God completely.

Step 3: Sins not confessed lead to putridity To illustrate what happens to our spirit we biked to a dam and looked at the water that was all dammed up.  It was disgusting and smelt putrid.  Unconfessed sins fester and make us an abomination in God's sight.

Step 4: When we confess our sins are washed away Here we through twigs in the water and watched them being washed downstream out of sight.

Step 5: When we are forgiven we are clean. We ended this part of the retreat getting dirty and washing the mud off as an example of what will happen to our spirit when we confess.

Step 6: Examination of Conscience An hour before confession we went to the chapel and went through a child's examination of conscience using the 10 commandments.  Tristan took it very seriously.  He wrote down his sins to confess and we prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together.

Step 7: Confession and Absolution! Tristan had his first confession with Fr. Juraj.  When he was absolved from his sins, Fr. Juraj took the piece of paper and shredded it.  Tristan felt like a million bucks!

Step 8: Celebrate To celebrate we headed off for hamburgers and french fries!  I was very proud of my son today.  He is growing up to be a real man.

The Holy Triduum: Holy Thursday

Our tradition for Holy Thursday is to have a seder meal to remember when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, to celebrate when Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist for the first time and called his apostles to be priests like Himself.

Each part of the meal represents a part of the journey out of Egypt. Egg: symbolizes new growth, a new beginning, hope. Maror (horseradish): the bitterness of suffering in Egypt. Lamb: the perfect lamb that was sacrificed and eaten to avoid angel of death. Haroset (apples, red wine, walnuts): the mortar Jews used to carry out the labor of Pharaoh. Matzoh (unleavened bread): the rush to leave Egypt and bread didn't have time to rise.

Then as Jesus did at the Last Supper, he washed the feet of His disciples.  Thus, I washed, being the image of God's fatherhood to my children, washed their feet.

The kids feet are a bit ticklish today...

Good Friday:

We worn black and went to the funeral (Good Friday service) where we venerated an actual piece of the cross that Jesus died on.  We also had an hour of silence in memory of Jesus' death.  This is also a day of fasting and for the kids they fasted all snacking and treats between the 3 simple meals.

Holy Saturday:

Austria has a tradition called 'Ratcheting'.  After Good Friday the church bells are not rung and will not ring again until we celebrate the resurrection.  Thus, on Friday and Saturday, the kids go around with these ratcheters making noise and singing songs to remind people to come to the Easter vigil (as no bells will ring to remind them).  People give them money and goodies on this day as well.

Here is what it sounds like.

We made our Easter candles and cleaned the house and prepared food for the great Easter celebration beginning at midnight!

At the vigil, Tristan was asked to be an altar boy.  This was his first Mass to serve at and I warned him that he may fall asleep as it goes very long and late.  And he did.  With a candle in his lap behind the altar.  Poor guy.  We had to take him down and he slept the rest of the vigil on the pew.

Here we are lighting the Easter Candle.

Here is Tristan doing a great job being respectful and reverent.

Here is vigil in the dark in the church before Tristan fell asleep.

At the Agape celebration after, the bells rang, the fire department started a bon fire, and we celebrated in the parish hall.

Easter Sunday

Easter morning began with an Easter Egg hunt and then Divine Liturgy at 8am.  We made up our Easter basket of our Easter candles, Easter Bread, meat, cheeses and spicy pickles and brought them to the liturgy to be blessed.

Tristan was a bit tired from the festivities the night before.  This picture completely reminds me of Mr. Bean!

Here are the many Easter baskets to be blessed and (below) all the kids watching Fr. Juraj bless the baskets of food.

And of course, all of our Easter tulips are in bloom thanks to two thousand that were planted by our gardeners last fall.

Mommy Daughter Date:

We have a few incentive programs for homeschool where our kids can choose a reward for displaying a good attitude and trying their best.  Usually they pick things like candy. A picnic with Mommy in the Schloss garden on campus is what Winter chose this time as her reward.
It was a silly and sweet afternoon!

Easter Trip: Venice - with kids (on a budget)!

Being without a vehicle limits our options of leaving the campus on a regular basis unless it is for grocery shopping.  So when our 2 week Easter break came, I took advantage of the time and bought train tickets to Venice.  Becca chose not to come as travelling budget-style with little Tyrant Kate and baby Tavi is difficult.  To get to Venice from Trumau (one way): 9 euro/kid, 43 euro/adult - a bit more than I wanted to pay but they forced to pay to reserve seats.  Otherwise the kids would've been free.
We stayed in a hostel on the mainland as it was half price compared to staying in Venice.  We booked a hostel (Hotel Colombo for Backpackers) private room for 60 euro/night.  The cheapest private room I could find in Venice was 100 euro.  This meant that we took the bus from the mainland every morning to Venice.  Which is really a shame actually... they've built a bridge across the lagoon to Venice ... it would've been cool to approach Venice like they did a 100 years ago - by water.

Day 1:
The train ride was 7 hours long.  Thank God for audio books!  These made the time fly by.  We prayed and asked God that we could have our own cabin (as our reserved seats were not in a cabin) and on the way there and back we found an unreserved cabin we claimed for ourselves.
We arrived and made the trip to Venice and arrived around 3:30pm.  Here is our first sight of Venice.

Our goal was to find St. Mark's square and to find the church where St. Lucy's incorrupt body was laid. We started the long, confusing walk through winding streets and canals and mostly just trusted the direction the crowd was walking in.

On the way to St. Mark's square we found this little church that is where the incorrupt body of St. Lucy is held. St. Lucy is one of our favorite saints and we celebrate her feast day during Advent every year so we went in and venerated her and asked for her intercessions. Below: the shrine that holds her body.

After some prayer we grabbed some licorice to get our energy up and kept trekking through the waterways.

We would've loved to have taken a gondola ride - but it cost 80euro/ 40 min.  Abit much I think.  Alas.

Venice is a photographer's paradise.  One could photograph the architecture all day.

We finally, at early evening, found St. Mark's and watched the tide slowly creeping up to the top step.

The Bible's 4 Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Each traditionally have a symbol representing them:
  St. MatthewWinged Man, Incarnation.—To St. Matthew was given the creature in human likeness, because he commences his gospel with the human generation of Christ, and because in his writings the human nature of Our Lord is more dwelt upon than the divine.
  St. MarkWinged Lion, The Resurrection.—The Lion was the symbol of St. Mark, who opens his gospel with the mission of John the Baptist, "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." He also sets forth the royal dignity of Christ and dwells upon His power manifested in the resurrection from the dead. The lion was accepted in early times as a symbol of the resurrection because the young lion was believed always to be born dead, but was awakened to vitality by the breath, the tongue, and roaring of its sire.
  St. LukeWinged Ox, Passion.—The form of the ox, the beast of sacrifice, fitly sets forth the sacred office, and also the atonement for sin by blood, on which, in his gospel, he particularly dwells.
  St. JohnThe Eagle, Ascension.—The eagle was allotted to St. John because, as the eagle soars towards heaven, he soared in spirit upwards to the heaven of heavens to bring back to earth revelation of sublime and awful mysteries.

Knowing that St. Mark was represented by the lion we made a game to find as many lions as we could around the famous square.

Below: The square looking away from basilica of St. Mark (where his bones are kept) and there are lions on top of the red poles.

Here is a small alcove outside the church.  Look closer and you'll see all 4 evangelists of the Gospels.

The Lion of St. Mark.—In the ninth century the rapidly rising State of Venice was dignified by the reception of the relics of St. Mark, transported thither from Alexandria. "Few patron saints," says Theodore A. Buckley, "enjoy a greater popularity, whether socially or locally exemplified. His lion was emblazoned on the standard of the Republic, and stamped on the current coins, while his name was identified with the pride, the power, and glory of all Venice."

Below: Here is a picture of a part of the basilica of St. Mark.  Our first night it was closed when we got there - our hopes were high to pray at the relics of St. Mark in the following days.

This video of Winter is hilarious as she dances without a care to the music playing in the square.

While we were eating gelato, Tristan jumped out and said "Hey, I hear Vivaldi!" The kids ran over and listened to the musicians playing their favourite Vivaldi pieces.

After a bit of supper and a long day, we took the boat back to the port and headed home.

The ride through the Grand Canal at sunset was brilliant.

Oh my - how can you not fall in love with this beauty!

Day 2: Murano and Burano

This day we tried to get up early and head to St. Mark's again (this time by boat) to beat the crowds and get into see the basilica and the palace armory.  We took the boat through the morning fog first of all to see the fishermen come in with their catch at Rialto.

One of the most fascinating things for the kids was watching how they lived life on the water.  Above is how the boat and crane they used to pound posts in the water.  Below are the cargo ships dropping off shipments throughout different places throughout the city.

We easily spent an hour at the fish market looking at the day's catch and some fish we had never even heard of before.

The following fish pictures are courtesy of my daughter Winter.  A good start to her photography career!

After buying a bag of beautifully salted sun dried tomatoes we tried to walk to St. Mark's.

And ... got a bit lost - as most do at some point during their time in Venice.  In fact the guide book recommends to.

Well, we got there and a cruise ship had already dropped off a few thousand tourists and the place was packed.  Reality is: young kids can't stand in line for 3 hours to see the inside of a church no matter who's relics are inside.  Alas.  So we took to check out a couple of the islands.  

First Stop: Murano - the Isle of Glass
Venice is in a lagoon with around a 150 islands. One island is just cemetery. Some have ruins.  Some have communities and fishing villages.  Some have ancient arts, like glass making, now open to the public for viewing.

Murano, known for its glass making had many shops with tons of glass art.  We tried twice to see the locals demonstrating the art and missed it both times.  Alas.  We didn't spend too much time here.  We found a park though - with free bathrooms.  This was a plus.

So we left Murano and took the boat to Burano.

Burano: The Isle of Lace

Burano is a small fishing village that hosts the ancient art of lace and they have many stores selling beautiful hand woven lace dresses, table cloths and all other kinds of things that girls would like to buy but I don't know the name of.
Leaving Murano, it was about a 1/2 hour boat ride to get to Burano.  Here is an island with some ruins.

Below: our first sighting of Burano with its leaning church steeple.

This island was a complete joy for all of us. The buildings were all of different colors, the boats too.  The people were happy, friendly, not pushy and the crowds were much much less.

Ok - I admit - there is a lot of pictures of Burano - but really, I couldn't stop taking them.  Everything was so wonderful to photograph!

After a wonderful time wandering the streets and buying some gifts for mommy we had spaghetti and clams for dinner on the ocean front.

And we headed back to our hostel.  Day 2 in Venice is complete.

Stinking cruise ship!  Go away!!!

Below: passing the Isle of the Dead, the cemetery where all are buried.

Day 3: Moment of Crisis and Lido Island

We got up early again and tried to head out to St. Mark's to see it.  Again the cruise ship beat us there and there were 1000's of people already in long in line ups.  ARG!

Above: heading to St. Mark's on the Grand Canal.  The boats on the canal are many.  The yellow boat above is a taxi.  We always rode the public transport ferries.  There are gondolas and private boats, industrial boats and canoes and public transport gondolas.  It is like a highway actually. We took a couple pictures in the square again - it really is a beautiful place to be.  Here is the famous astronomical clock.  At the top of the hour, the two pantless guys strike the clock and moon the people.  Interesting note: all the bells in Venice ring at different times so one can't really know what time it is and we can it is 'timeless'.

We lose Winter:

It was at this time that a Crisis took place that shook us all to the core.  We were stopping and taking pictures despite the ridiculous amount of tourists.  I walked the kids up the corner to see how big the line up was to get into the Dodge's Palace to see the armory and the dungeons.  Seeing the queue was too long I turned around to look for Winter and she was gone.  Panic didn't rise yet and me and the boys, hand in hand, walked back to where we just took pictures.  No Winter.  Hmmm.  We walked forward again. We were in a sea of people.  After 5 min. of no sight of Winter, I put Benedict on my shoulders to look and Tristan looking in another direction and we began to systematically go up and down the square. After 10 min. of no sight of Winter my heart began to beat faster and we began to pray more.  We have always taught the kids what my friend Les taught me at Camp Alexo: "When you're lost - hug a tree." In other ways, stay put.  We prayed that the Holy Spirit would remind her to stay put.  After 15min. we decided to break from the square proper and head down the port area to where the taxi boats are.  And there, sitting on the corner so she could watch both directions was Winter - waiting for us to find her.  I called her name and she ran into my arms weeping.  I looked to heaven and breathed a great 'Thank You'. After this heart pounding episode I lost all desire to be in a crowd.  So we hightailed it out of there to Lido.

 Below: this is picture of the square as we are leaving to the Lido island.  The corner of the building on the left was where Winter was sitting.

We arrived at Lido and were a bit surprised to find cars on the island.  Strange.  We walked the main street until we hit the beach on the other side of the island.

This day was our only cloudy day.  This was alright and the kids played on the beach for 5 hours non-stop with other kids and seashells.  I had a nap.

After heading back home and enjoying the pigeons in St. Mark's square we stayed till it got late so we could see Venice at night from the boat.

Day 4: Last kick at the can

We headed back into Venice for the last time.  Our train didn't leave till 4pm so our goal was to check out a couple off the beaten track places, eat gelato and relax.
First thing in the morning, as it was a national holiday, there was racing happening on the Grand Canal. This was fun to watch.

We made our way to the I Frari Church where there were famous Titian paintings. The Church was beautiful with incredible sculptures and art.  It was here I made the kids sit and look at the art so we could discuss what made it beautiful.

Here is the famous 1518 Assunta from Titian Below: is his famous Madonna with Child.  The picture is famous for it looks like Mary and Jesus are in 3D.

Snack time outside the I Frari.

Many folks go for gondola rides, but only a few actually have them sing!

Well, our trip is finished.  We've seen the Queen of the Sea and now it is time to head home.  We all miss mommy and Kate and Tavi.  The Adventures 4 are always glad to return home.

 And we couldn't leave Venice without buying a Carnival mask.

I took this picture of a castle in Austria while coming back on the train - anyone know where this is?  I must visit here!

Sermon From the Vineyard: Can the State force me to vaccinate my children?

This question is also the same as "Can the state force me to put my kids into public education?"  The question should actually be phrased whether the state has the 'moral right' to vaccinate or force kids into public education.  Obviously, anyone with enough guns and force could force me to vaccinate my kids. The answer to the question lies in natural law.  What is natural law?  Natural law is the law of nature that is applicable to everyone everywhere at every time.  For example: rape is wrong not because the government said it is wrong but because it is wrong according to natural law.  Even if a government passed a vote in parliament stating rape was a good thing it would have no binding effect on its citizens because the act remains wrong.  This is natural law.  Positive law are the laws passed by governments: stores must be closed on Sundays (like in Austria) is an example of positive law - binding to its citizens for that time and place.  And there is Divine Law.  Divine law is law that is revealed by God that we couldn't discover by reason alone.  We can discover by reason alone that God exists but we can 't discover by reason alone that baptism is necessary for salvation.

So what does natural law have to do with the state's right to intervene into my kids lives?

1.  According to natural law the family is antecedent to the state.  This is the key point.  Society only exists because families existed first.  If there were no families there would be no state.  It is because groups of families gathered together for the common good of the families and made a society.  Thus the purpose of the state is to support and uphold the family.

2.  Secondly, the family is a sovereign state in and of itself.  The father is the emperor of his family and has jurisdiction of his subjects.  The father (in cooperation with the mother) has authority to decide how his subjects are educated and their health is supported.

3.  A state doesn't have the right to force the subjects from another state to conform to their laws.  For example: Italy can't come into Austria and force all Austrians to be vaccinated because they fear the Italians may get a certain disease.  The Italian government has no jurisdiction over the subjects of Austria.  In the same way, the government does not have the moral right to invade my family and force my subjects to be vaccinated or be educated in a certain way.

Now there are cases when the state or the parent loses their right to parent or govern.  In this case, the moral right is on the other to intervene.  For example, if I see a father beating his child to death - I can note that he has lost his right to parent at that time and intervene and stop him.

So does the state have the moral right to force my children to vaccinated?  No.  Unless they can prove that I have abdicated my right to parent because by not vaccinating my children will ipso facto die (like in that Zombie movie with Brad Pitt).  The family is antecedent to the state.  The state has the moral right to stop an unvaccinated child from entering a certain school or a public - this is under their jurisdiction.  They don't have the right to force me to vaccinate.

The question then must be asked - what about the parents?  As parents, we are subject to the state and citizens of the state.  We are morally obligated to obey the state unless they tell us to do something contrary to divine or natural law.  Here is how it works:  if the state were trying to force my kids to worship Jupiter - this is against Divine law (as worship is due to God alone) I have an obligation as a parent to resist, flee, fight the state and to protect my children from being forced to sin.  However, if the state were to try and force me as a citizen of the state to worship Jupiter - I couldn't do it as it is against the Divine law, but both natural and Divine law tell me that it is grave sin to fight the state that I am a citizen of (hence why Dante has those guilty of treason in the lowest parts of hell) so what is my obligation in this conflict of interests?  I must resist passively.  Simply say no and allow myself to martyred rather give in or take up arms and fight the state (the first century martyrs in the time of Nero understood this).  The state has the right, for the common good of the people, to demand certain obligations.  For example: the state could legitimately insist all men go to battle for the sake of the community and we would be obligated to obey.  So in the case of vaccinating: if the state could prove I needed to give up the right to choose for the sake of the common good, I as a citizen would be obliged to obey.

There you have it.  There are many questions stemming from this and implications that are far reaching that haven't been addressed, but this is the starting place. The teaching of natural law and the families place in it is something that needs to be reinvigorated in society.  For more info see Pope Leo XIII encyclical: 'on Christian Marriage'.

For the Grandparents

Kate is cute, I agree.  However, she is also tyrannical.  We had to make a list of ways to keep Kate busy so she can feel she has a meaningful existence or else the family suffers her wrath.

Well, that is the end of our story for this month.  If you've made it all the to the end of this long blog you deserve a kiss.

Prayer Requests:

1. We are starting to look again for the means to pay the tuition payment again in September: 3000 euros or roughly $4000.  I've been able to tutor english a bit over the past year - pray that God will open up some more opportunities work.
2.  We have an opportunity to do our first real mission trip as a family.  There is a student here who works at a group home in Romania for kids and youth and with families.  We are talking about going and running a week drama camp for the kids, teaching catechism with the youth and teaching the parents about Catholic families in the evenings.  It would be a big commitment financially and time and energy - pray we make the right decision.
We would love to hear from you!

Love, Kenton, Rebecca, Winter, Tristan, Benedict, Kate, and Tavi  

Mailing Address: Schloss Trumau Schlossgasse 21 2521 Trumau, Austria  If you would like to financially support us - the easiest way is probably by paypal.  Our email is Or online via the ITI website: - in the space titled 'notes' just write that the money is for the Biffert family. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Biffert family! You probably already found out in the meantime, but the castle you saw from the train is the medieval Burg Hochosterwitz. It is in the province of Kärnten and really worth a visit (I grew up about an hour from there). My husband and I are former ITI students and I enjoy looking at your blog occasionally. God bless! Simone