Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Exploring Sicily

Time for a Family Vacation

The season of Easter is finished, Pentecost has been celebrated and now it is time to grow as a family. A couple months ago I went to confession and my spiritual director stated that he believed it was not good that I take little budget trips with the kids and leave Rebecca at home. He insisted that even if it costs money, I need to honor my wife and take her on a vacation she would enjoy. (Becca doesn't enjoy mini budget trips with 5 kids). So I took the council to heart and booked us a trip to Sicily!  Enjoy our story - we begin where we left off last time: Celebrating Easter.

50 Days of Easter

To celebrate the Easter season we tried to do something celebratory every Sunday of the season:

2nd Sunday of Easter: St. George the Dragonslayer

It is our tradition to celebrate St. George (as he is Tristan's patron saint) with a knight's feast.

Thus we celebrate with roast duck, honey butter and sweet bread and fresh fruit. It was also Divine Mercy Sunday so Becca made a Divine Mercy cheesecake to help us with the celebration.

 And of course, the feast wouldn't be complete without the knighting of the men by Princess Winter.

Little Flowers

During the Easter season, Becca continued to train the girls in virtues. Here are the girls as they learn about the virtue of charity.

Every virtue has homework, a colour, a flower and a treat. Becca works hard to have all the colours and virtues and treats match symbolically by colour.

 3rd Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday

Now admittedly, we got a bit confused and celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday on the wrong Sunday, but none the less, we did celebrate it!

We had a symbolic dinner and walked through the text and meaning of Psalm 23 as a family. We had shepherds pie, the sheep, the gate of the sheep pen, the shepherd's staff, and sheep's wool (popcorn).

and don't forget the strudel representing the wolf's claw prints as we remember that Satan is always seeking to destroy us and to convince us to sin. If we stay behind the gate of the Holy Mother Church and listen to Holy Father Pope Francis we will be safe.

 4th Sunday of Easter: Ice Cream Sundae Sunday

This Sunday we celebrated with multilayered ice cream sundaes. Nothing super symbolic on this day - just enjoying each other and feasting.

5th Sunday of Easter: Jesus breaks bread with the disciples by the sea

Here, on this cold and rainy Sunday, we went to the river's edge and under a bridge to stay dry, we read through John 21 together. We broke bread and ate fish (pickled herring) like Jesus did with his disciples. And recalled Christ's call to Peter, our first Pope, to "feed my sheep and tend my sheep."

 6th Sunday of Easter: Tristan's First Eucharist!

This was an incredible day! We celebrated Tristan receiving the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ for the first time in the Holy Eucharist. I was very proud of my son as he was very 
pious, reverent, and respectful. 

We celebrated in this way: 

We decided to share the celebration with our friends the DeMeo's whose son Johannes was also receiving his first Eucharist. So Winter and Kate helped bake a triple layer cake with both their initials on it. 

Tristan wore his new suit for the first time on a very hot summer Sunday.

We began the journey by walking and praying the Stations of the Cross in Gumpoldskirchen. Here there is a beautiful hike in the hills and Tristan and Johannes led us in prayer at the stations.

Then we made it back and before Holy Mass we went for confession with Pater Edmund.

We had a private Mass with just Pater Edmund and our two families. Pater Edmund gave a great homily for the boys and it was a beautiful Mass.

Wow! My son is growing up. The next step will be in a few years still and then we'll be celebrating his confirmation.

The family minus one. Tavi slept at home through the whole event. Alas.

Then we feasted! Ribs, beer, wine, salads, friends, sunshine ... who could ask for anything more?

We feasted in the DeMeo's backyard just a 8min. bike ride from the ITI campus.

Rock Climbing with the kids

One role of the father is to always be pushing his kids to higher heights, greater feats, to get out of comfort zones, and to move to higher degrees of trust. This can all be done with rock climbing. Thus, I jumped on the opportunity to take my three oldest climbing when a student offered us a children's climbing harness.

Tristan went up first and climbed up well. However, we should've practiced repelling first as he was very scared coming down.


 It took a bit of work to get Tristan down as he didn't know how to bounce off the rock face with his feet. So when Winter went next we made sure to train her how to repel first.

 And next it was Benedict's turn. He did very well and when his little arms couldn't reach the next hold I simply had to just pull him up till he could.

Yup! That's Benedict reaching the top!

 Little Flowers Tea Party:

Here are the last 5 weeks of Little Flowers Tea Party.  We had a blast this year learning about virtues and discussing practical ways to incorporate them into our everyday lives. Winter, Anna and Magda were sad that we were done for the summer and kept asking when the next Little Flowers would be. I hope to start the second Little Flowers "Wreath" this coming September.

Obedience: St. Joan of Arc
Flower: Carnation
Theme Colour:White

Piety: St. Cecilia
Flower: Forget- me- Not
Colour: Blue

Humility: St. Catherine Laboure
Flower: Violet
Colour: Purple

Industry: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini
Flower: Daffodil
Colour: Yellow

**Last but not shown in pictures......
Truthfulness: St. Brigit of Sweden
Flower: Narcissus
Colour: Orange

Atrium: Good Shepherd Catechesis

Every week the kids go to Catechism classes with the community. Here is Benedict's age group and his last class before summer. The classes are run with the Montessori philosophy so there are many interactive stations. Benedict was pleased to show us his work and the different stations.

 Preparing for Rock Climbing

The opportunity arose to take a rock climbing course in rescues during night climbing. I'm not too proficient at all my knots so I spent a morning with Jaro learning my knots and trusting them as I rappelled myself down from our apartment floor.

 Graduation 2014

Graduation is always a wonderful celebration when families all come to see the graduates. All stress is gone and we have a great evening celebrating together.
Here is a song that the kids prepared in Kisi Kids: Winter and Magda were the leaders.

Rock Climbing in Slovakia

The rock climbing course date arrived and Jaro and I backpacked into the Slovakian wilderness and began to gear up to climb.  I haven't really climbed in a couple years so I was eager to test my skills.

We spent the first half hour practicing various knots till we were quite familiar with them.

Here is Jaro my Slovakian friend. These Slovak folks are a pretty cool race of people. I haven't met a Slovak I haven't liked a lot.

Then we climbed till about 7pm when we stopped for supper.

 I honestly was quite pooped by the time supper was done and was getting ready to call it a day when I seen everyone gearing up again for the night climbs. Sheesh! These guys are hard core!

We practiced a night rescue where we had to set up a belay system to raise the injured guy up to ourselves to do potential first aid on him. At 1am I called it quits and slept under the stars. Jaro stayed and learned to rappel both yourself and the injured guy down.

Our Little Chef: Benedict makes the family dinner

Benedict has been helping Becca make dinner for the past year. Finally, he decided he was ready to cook on his own. So he made the entire meal on his own for the family and everyone thought it was delicious!

Benedict's 2nd cooking video: Kombucha popsicles!

Dragonslayer Campout: 

To end the year for the St. George the Dragonslayers club we decided on an overnight hike. The date didn't work for all the boys so we may do another one in the fall. We just went to the forested hills behind Baden where there are some old Roman and medieval ruins. Here is the crew: Clement and Benedict Kelly, Winter (though not officially a part of the club we allowed her to join us), Tristan and Benedict, myself, Jaro and Juraj and Jacob.

I had a great opportunity on this hike: we stopped at a hutte for a beer and a snack. A lady sat down with us and began talking - she found it very interesting that we would take the boys backpacking. The conversation led to why we're here and she was delighted that we had 5 kids. She stated that her friends and herself only have 1 or 2 kids so that they could have more money to buy more things and they aren't happy. I answered that I was a rich man because I have 5 infinitely precious children. She insisted that this message get out to all of Austria. The conversation then led to the question: 'why are we here?' and 'what is my purpose?' It was an excellent opportunity to live out and share our faith!
Here is the tower we hiked to. An old medieval look out tower.

Our tradition is to always have a chocolate bar to celebrate the end of our hike. Here we are doing so at the top of the tower.

We camped at the base of the tower.

 The hike was just one night and we packed up and hiked down to the trailhead and made it to Mass just on time Sunday morning.

 Becca's hobby: Sauerkraut and Kambucha

Family Vacation: Sicily

Here is our wonderful journey through western Sicily. The journey began with negotiating a place to stay. We wanted a place on the beach for the kids and we insisted on having a vehicle. We tossed up driving down (23hrs) for a few days, but ended up getting tickets for 40 euros to Sicily and an apartment on the beach with a 7 seaters volkswagon for 100 euro/night. This was a great deal (considering it costs at least 60 euro/night to stay at hostel with my family). 
We left on a Wednesday and were gifted with a free ride to the Bratislava airport (an hour away). This was a joyous gift as getting family to the airport in Slovakia with all our luggage using public transportation would have been quite stressful.

Our arrival was a miracle. One the way there was a major traffic jam on the highway. We were not moving and time was ticking. We prayed and called back to ITI and asked others to pray. We arrived finally and rushed to the check-in. The lady was just closing up. She said if we had been 2 min. later we would've missed the flight. We rushed to security. Here they began going through our luggage and throwing away all our shampoo and newly purchased bottles of sunscreen. I blew up and told them we didn't know you could only carry 100ml bottles. They stopped and let us keep almost everything. Then, as final call for our flight was being announced we rushed to the gate and one of the boarding passes was missing. It was lost in the rush somewhere. So after a kafuffle we were allowed on the plane and were the last people on. Whew! We made it!

Day 2: Selinunte

We stayed in a villa where there were several apartments in an enclosed area. I didn't have the deck overlooking the ocean that I so wanted, but we were right across from the beach and this was perfect. The kids woke up very early and began swimming in the pool right away.

Then we went to the beach for the first time. We stayed in a town called Tre Fontane on the Mediterranean coast of Sicily. The beach was great for families as the water was shallow for 100ft out into the sea.

 It isn't tourism time yet so we were generally the only ones on the beach most of the week we were there (except on the weekend).  Tristan and Benedict loved hunting for 'treasures' on the beach, Winter loved playing in the waves, and Kate loved laying in the water and letting the waves wash over her.

Here is the beach with our villa right behind the sand dune.

After a wonderful morning on the beach we headed off to the Greek ruins of Selinunte. The ruins here date back to around 410 BC and used to be one of the richest and powerful cities in the world. It had over 100,000 inhabitants when it was sacked and torn apart. It was discovered by a Dominican monk in the 16th century. The temple was the main highlight for us. It was awe inspiring as one got up close. We've never seen ruins so old before.

And the kids have never seen wild cacti before.

and we learned our lesson! Even though you aren't touching the big thorns, there's lots of little hair like thorns that get all stuck in your skin. We spent some good time pulling out many little hair prickles.

After this we walked to the Acropolis where we find the centre of the city. Here Winter, Tristan and Benedict are climbing the outside wall to get into the area.

This is the view from the Acropolis. Stunning, eh?

Our tradition is to always have gelato in Italy every day. But today we went for granita (flavoured crushed ice). 

A cool car we found on the home.  Which brings me to our first mistake: not having a navigator. We thought we could just purchase a map in Sicily. I asked the owner of the villa and he just laughed at me. Well, this first day it took a bit to find Selinunte, but we did it. It took 3x as long to get back.  Why? Signage. Some signs were broken in half, others were pointing wrong directions, some were folded in half, others were so faded from the sun you couldn't read it till the last second and most frustratingly - sometimes there was just no sign at all.

Day 2: Erice

We began our day with a workout on the beach just like in the workout shows!

And then a cool dip in the sea.

In the afternoon we travelled to the medieval town; a walled village on top of a mountain. It was great to drive up to the top of the mountain on this long winding road and to see the sea spreading out underneath you. We arrived without the troubles of yesterday and had some good old italian (sorry, Sicilian) pizza to start off our adventure.

Erice, on top of Mount Eryx, watches over the port of Trapani. It is 750m above sea level that includes two Norman castles and so many Churches (around 60) that it is called the Mountain of God.

Here is the Duomo, the Mother Church at the entrance to the city. And beside the Church is the bell tower of course - so we climbed it and what a spectacular view!

Climbing down the  tower.

View from the tower of Erice.

Entrance to the Church.

One of the entry points into the city.

Bell Tower and Church from another view.

As we walked the streets of Erice there were many artisans and unique shops.

We checked out different Churches and offered up prayers for various friends and family. We also went into this old monastery of the Holy Saviour. It was built in the 13th century and suppressed and confiscated in the 1800's.

In one of the Churches there was this very small stairwell. Crazy.

A map of the streets of Erice and (below) the streets of Erice.

Our favourite Church was San Giuliano. It has been the only Church we've seen where the main Marian icon was the one of Mary nursing baby Jesus. This is Becca's favourite icon.
Madonna del Monte (Mother of the Mountain)

La Madonna di Custonaci con I Santi Ignazio di Loyala e Franceso Saverio (Mother Mary with St. Ignatius and St. Francis)

We walked through the whole City and finally came to the highest points and the two castles. What a stunning view!

After leaving Erice we motored on down the coast to Marsala to see the place where they mine salt from the ocean. Here we had a picnic supper and watched the sunset over the ocean.

We were too late to have a tour so we don't exactly how the mining worked. There are windmills and sections of the ocean walled in where the salt gathers. At a different time of the year one would see mounds of salt in this area.

Day 3: Erclea Minoa

This day found us with another beautiful day of sunshine. We again spent the morning on the beach and went to Erclea Minoa beach in the afternoon. 
In our villa area, the apartments are on the left, eating areas on the right and the pool down further on the right. Just outside the gate is the ocean.

Every morning the bread man, fish man and vegies man would come by in their trucks and sell us food. What a joy to great fresh fish, and freshly baked bread every morning! Here is the fish man with last night's catch.

In the mornings, as it wasn't tourist season yet, we were often the only ones on the beach. This was a wonderful time when we prayed together and worked out on the beach. When we prayed the rosary this day, we had the kids make a rosary from stuff they found on the beach. Winter's:


The veggie man and his truck.

The kitchen of our apartment:

In the afternoon we made the drive to Eraclea Minoa. This was an ancient Greek settlement founded by King Minos in the 6th century BC. Here is the remains of an old sandstone amphitheatre.

After a short, hot visit - we went down to the beach and then we realized that we forgot our beach umbrellas.

On the west end of the beach by the cliffs there is a mud that the locals use to reinvigorate the youth in their skin. Tristan and I took off 10 years in 10 min.

Here Winter and Benedict demonstrate how to bring the youth back into your skin's complexion!

Winter and Benedict the mud monsters.

That night we bought fresh shrimp and squid and made a beautiful dish with garlic and tomatoes. The kids had fun breaking off the heads of the shrimp and their tails.

Here is the outdoor grill where I fried up our fresh fish for dinner.

Day 4: Corpus Christi

We found a Church to go to on this Sunday, but when we arrived Mass was just ending. There was another Mass an hour and a half later, so we just hung out at a park until then.

and truly, after 3 days of exploring we all needed just a nice day on the beach.

This evening, after a dinner of jumbo prawns, we went for gelato on the beach. The perfect way to end a hot day.

 Day 4: Lido Scala Dei Turchi

This place is named after the Arab and Turkish pirates who used to hid out from stormy weather here. It is here that the Sicilians were mining and after fleeing from being attacked never mined here again. We set up camp on the end of the beach that was a bit rocky for the water was warmer and there were minnows and crabs to catch.

We learned a few things today. Don't rush out of the house. Put on sunscreen before you leave and eat lunch too. For trying to get sunscreen on 5 kids that are sandy in blindingly hot sun and to then to try and make meat and cheese sandwiches on a sandy beach - well, it wasn't working so well. By the time we finished the ordeal, Becca and I were ready to go.
However, we came to see the 'Stairs of Turkey' so we had to at least check it out.

At first we thought the rocks would be crazy hot, but they were actually cool to walk on.

We had never seen anything like this. The smooth stones and grooves, the violent white and blue.

Day 5: Day at the Beach

After that hot, stressful, we had yet another beautiful day so we decided to spend the next day close to home. We napped, enjoyed the beach, read books and napped some more. Here are a few pictures of Tre Fontane and the area where we were staying.

The highlight of our day was filleting and cooking up octopus and squid.

If you are wondering how on earth you fillet an octopus, watch the following:

Or how to fillet a squid, watch this:

We purchased on octopus and 7 squid - so each of us could fillet our own squid. It was very exciting!

Our dinner on the grill.

Bon appetit!

After cleaning up, we headed to the beach for our nightly snack.

Now, this probably doesn't make a lot of sense, but we all had a chocolate bar right before bed as our family time on the beach. Yup. Good memories.

Day 6: Last Day

We had to do this at least once whilst here in Sicily: that is, have a Sicilian breakfast -  an ice cream sandwich - literally. For breakfast we received 2 scoops of gelato on a soft hamburger bun. Delicious! It's Grrrreat!

City Centre of Tre Fontane:

Watching a man fishing while we have breakfast.

An olive grove:

The vegetable man in his three-wheeled truck.

These were behind our complex ... I'm not sure why...

We left Sicily rested, connected as a family, well fed, and at the right time. Thank you Fr. Juarj - this was exactly what we needed.

Reading List for the Summer:

Toward the Gleam by TM Doran
Catholic Boys Guide by Fr. Lachance
Purgatorio by Dante
City of God by St. Augustine Skin Game by Jim Butcher City of God by St. Augustine

For the Grandparents:

Music Recital:

This is Winter's friend Margi. She is a student here and came twice a week to play with Kate during crazy times at the house. She became Kate's best friend and joined us for dinner every week. Kate would walk around the house pretending to talk to her on the phone. It was very cute.

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. 3. That we would find a solution to our schooling. We would like to homeschool Winter and Tristan this year and not do both an Austrian and a classical curriculum with the kids. It was very hard on Winter last year doing both and this year Tristan is being forced into the school system. Further, the system is highly feminized and is run by someone who supports the gender equalization program that the EU is putting out. We are asking for exceptional permission to homeschool with the promise that we will be out of Austria in two years.

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 kenton@biffert.com. Or online via the ITI website: https://www.iti.ac.at/support/donate.html - in the space titled 'notes' just write that the money is for the Biffert family. 

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