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Well, the big day finally arrived! Graduation ceremonies for the class of 2011 took place at 4pm on Tuesday June 14! After a brief morning practice, caps and gowns were donned and then, there we all were, sitting in the bright sweltering sun at the high school football field, as we watched our middle son Michael and our Italian daughter Francesca along with their Irvington classmates, walk across the stage at Tak Stadium and accept their high school diplomas. We cheered and applauded as they moved the tassels on their mortar boards from left to right, in recognition of their newly graduated status, just moments before they were tossed them into the blue limitless California sky.

Four years of high school for Michael seems to have rushed by, to say nothing of how the past year with Francesca seems to have evaporated. Both kids now exude a profound sense accomplishment and happiness. Michael is ready to move on to new beginnings and looks forward to his freshman year at UC Riverside, and Francesca, I think, is ready to return to Italy.

These last few weeks with Francesca have been especially special for me. She seems more at home with us and very comfortable in her own skin. There is a new found maturity about her. It is quite an accomplishment to spend a year with an American family, attend high school in an unfamiliar environment, participate in school dramas & finish off a year long Senior Quest project which culminated in an oral presentation made before a board of teachers and parents. She has done all this in a language, that just a few years ago was still unknown to her; a language that frustrated her and brought tears to her eyes when she couldn’t understand the lyrics to an American pop song. But now, after spending a year in a foreign country that before she had only seen depicted in films and tv, she is completely fluent in the English language and the American lifestyle. Yes, I’d say she has a lot to feel good about. She has accomplished what she set out to do and she has done it with great aplomb and the reality of it is just now sinking in. She returns to Italy in one piece, nurtured and loved by our family, but she I can’t guarantee that she is the same person she was when she arrived on our door step. Sorry Vittorio and Tonia! This experience of living in another country changes you. It settles under your skin and alters the fabric of your being. To know that you have accomplished this seemingly daunting task and done it well, gives you the confidence to tackle the slings and arrows life inevitably puts in your path. It also gives you the confidence to design new challenges for yourself and pushes you to do the next great thing.

So graduation day came and went. The remainder of the week we enjoyed catching up on sleep and the fact that we don’t have to get up to do car pool. Hallalujah! The graduates have been writing in their year books and spending precious moments with friends they won’t be seeing for quite some time. Francesca disappeared for an entire day at the Mall with her friend Emily and Michael has been hanging with his friends at the pool. Friday a big group of us spent a day at the Beach and despite the relentless fog and mist of Santa Cruz we jumped into the rolling waves and played in the sand at Manresa Beach. Hey, it may not be Maui, but its the only beach we’ve got!

Saturday we threw a big joint graduation party for seven Irvington Seniors. It gave us a moment to sit back and finally relish and cherish this moment of great accomplishment. Another milestone. Hats have been all tossed into the air. Horizons are limitless. New challenges to be determined!

7 friends all graduating Irvington High School: Class of 2011

We have a full house again. Ryan is home from college and our home is bursting with new energy. Francesca and Michael are done with high school. Their official last day was last Thursday, but they continue to return to the high school to turn in books and attend practices for the commencement ceremony which will occur tomorrow, Tuesday, June 14th. It is a truly bittersweet moment for me as we wind down the school year. For me it is always sad to see that another year has come to an end and to realize that the kids have grown up a little bit more. It is sad also to know that our well established routines will be evolving yet again as we head into the summer months.

Kyle is not the little boy he was a year ago when he started 7th grade. Some how during the past year he let his hair grow long like Justin Bieber and his ipod is now permanently attached to his ear and he has developed friendships with girls – not girl friends mind you, just friends that are girls! And Michael! I swear it was just yesterday morning, that he was signing up for Freshman waterpolo… and now he is college bound and ready to start making his way in the world. As if that weren’t enough, three years at Chico have somehow melted away and Ryan is now a SENIOR in college! He is gainfully employed this summer, which required the purchase of new shoes and pants and the discarding of his flip flops in order to operate a cash register and punch a time card to help pay for law school. Even more bittersweet for me is the fact that we are facing the looming departure date of Francesca. She returns to Italy and Locorotondo on the 26th of June. Kyle, bless his heart just the other day said “mom, it is going to be so weird when Francesca’s room is empty and she isn’t here to make brownies for me...I’m going to miss her!

Our family has had an eventful year filled with ups and downs and meaningful moments. There have been moments of change and self awareness; moments of confusion; moments of clarity, as well as moments of bonding. We are an opinionated family, so yes, at times there have been a few tears, fireworks and escalated voices, but always tempered with deeply caring calmer moments of insightful discussions and comprehension. I am so glad that we have had this time with Francesca, because it has made our family better and in many ways closer.

It is funny how life can move  along at a safe and comfortable pace and then all of a sudden you are confronted with big changes that are painfully hard to swallow. I would prefer instead to bottle these precious fleeting moments and squeeze my kids tight enough to keep them from growing up and changing. But, unfortunately you just can’t do that. Life keeps happening. Things keep evolving & people move on and away to pursue new dreams. All my kids are making their way in the world. Some are returning to Italy, some are going to college, some are entering their teen age years and others are preparing to go to grad school. They are all growing up to be interesting individuals, and with out getting too maudlin, I just wanted to say how proud I am of my kids. Things are changing for us, but I know that new experiences are right around the corner and I can’t wait to find out what will happen next!

Francesca's Grad Night Poster : a slice of her life!

Michael's Grad Night Poster : a slice of his life!

We had an awesome spring break road trip to southern California!

Day 1: Leaving at the crack of noon we loaded up the car and headed south to Pismo Beach, stopping at wineries in Passo Robels along the way…

Day 2: Slept in, had a big breakfast and then hit the beach! Francesca and I took the sands of Pismo in a racy little dune buggy and fetching pink helmets. The boys opted for even racier vehicles and tore up the dunes in ATVs. Fantastic views, hills of sand that stretched as far as the eye could see and an afternoon spent riding mindlessly around the beach, made for an exhilirating afternoon.

Day 3: Slept in, had a big breakfast and then headed for the Hollywood hills. We arrived in L.A. late afternoon. After checking into our scary hotel in downtown Hollywood we took off to find the famous “Walk of Fame” where all the stars’ stars are set into the sidewalk, and where the infamous Chinese theater is home to the handprints and footprints of the screens brightest luminaries. We toured Hollywood homes at dusk and ended up at Piccolo Paradiso for dinner for a very nice Italian dinner.

Day 4: Slept in, had a big breakfast (are you sensing a theme here?) and then made a mad dash through L.A. traffic to the Warner Bros. Studio for a back lot tour. We slid into our studio golf cart just in the nick of time to start our two hour tour, and what a tour we had! In the words of Barney Stinson…it was legendary!!! We saw the set for Friends and even snuck into the Big Bang set (that is, after much begging and pleading with our tour guide.) We were in awe to be standing in front of the famous stair case and the apartments doors that belong to Penny and Sheldon. Can you say unbelievable? We also saw lots of Harry Potter paraphernalia, costumes and even got sorted by the actual sorting hat used in the film. We were sad when our tour ended. Then it was back into the car to cross through more L.A. traffic to Anaheim, home to the happiest place in the world – Disneyland!

Day 5: Up early this day, but still had the big breakfast and then we were off to Disneyland! Needless to say we covered the entire park backwards, forwards and sideways and enjoyed all the rides! To name drop just a few, we rode Pirates of the Carabbean (where we saw Johnny Depp three times thank you very much!), Big Mountain Railroad, the teacups, Space Mountain & Finding Nemo  Oh, yes and there were hats involved…Mickey Mouse Sourcer hats and Minnie Mouse ears, ’cause they just kind of work and are really necessary in the happiest place one earth. By the end of the day, we were pretty tired campers and our legs felt like spaghetti. So we headed back to the hotel & the pool for a late night swim and a hot tub!

Day 6: We took on California Adventureland! Best part of the day…Tower of Terror, which we did twice (because that is just how we roll), Souring over California in hang gliders and The California Screaming Roller Coaster that actually did a 360 degree circle. We loved it! We finished the day having dinner at the Rain Forest Cafe and a fine viewing of fireworks over the Magic Kingdom.

Day 7: We wrapped up the L.A. part of our springbreak trip and departed for for Riverside, due west of L.A. to check out UC Riverside where Michael plans to attend college in the fall. After a marathon college tour of the campus we were sold! Michael is very happy with his choice.

Day 8: Taking the long road back home! Arrived back at the ranch and boy, was Sinbad happy to see us again! Home sweet home!

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• Senioritis!

The kids are starting to feel it! Seniorits that is! With only a few more weeks until graduation and Quest almost completed, the kids are starting to feel antsy and a little squirelly! Most of the graduating class by now has made a decision as to where they want to go to college and high school is just starting to seem down right dull and boring. They are ready to move on out and start their new lives outside the Irvington campus. At the moment it seems that Michael is coasting to the finish, having made up his mind to attend UC Riverside in Los Angeles in the fall. He would rather strum on his guitar than pick up his Pre Cal book these days. Francesca continues to amaze us with her good grades and dedication to her studies, but unlike graduation for American high school students that means new schools and new beginnings, graduation for her means the end of her sojourn here in the States and her inevitable return to Italy to continue on with one more year of Italian high school. (In Italy high school last five years, instead of four as in American schools). So Francesca’s case of Senioritis may not be quite as grave as Michael’s!

But as the school year winds down, both kids are more interested in attending proms, senior balls and yes, even Senioritis the variety show that the seniors put on each year to poke fun at teachers and life in general at Irvington. Michael got in the act and along with several other water polo players put together a dance routine that included strutting his stuff to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”! (Video included below for viewing pleasure.)

Last weekend the kids gussied themselves up for Junior Prom. Michael and Casey attended Casey’s prom which was held at Chabot Space Observatory. Casey looked amazing in a long silver ball gown and Michael matched her with handsome tux with silver accents. Francesca attended the prom of her AFS friend Sisi, who hales from Brazil across the bay in San Mateo. Lucky Francesca, got to float her way through the prom on a boat that sailed San Francisco bay all the way under the Golden Gate Bridge. Magical nights were had by all!

Senioritis…I think we all have caught a little of it. The short term cure for the common Seniorits, you ask? Well, a Spring Break Road Trip to southern California for starters. So, that is exactly what we are doing. Hitting the road for the week visiting Pismo beach for some time on the beach in dune buggies and ATVs and then driving on down the cost to L.A….Hollywood and Disneyland! Check in for posts from the road and to see how the cure is working!

Wow! So, the Mirabile’s have entrusted us with their sweet young daughter for the year and look what happens! After eight months with the Muldoon’s, Francesca has definitely undergone a few changes! But have no fear she may come home a little transformed, a little more poised and worldly, and perhaps a little more edgy, but believe me I will make sure she cleans off the makeup before she boards that plane back to Italia! All joking aside, this has been a fantastic year for both Francesca and our family and we have had a wonderful time together. Francesca has embraced our lifestyle and has amazed us with her intelligence and her effortless ability to rise to the top of her high school class academically, scoring high points on her SAT tests and achieving a 4.0 grade point average for her senior year. She has fit in beautifully at the high school, embracing the drama club and teen life at the school. Her English, which was pretty flawless to begin with, has gotten even better if that is possibile, so that now she speaks the language better than we do! And, as if that were not enough, during her entire time with us she has only gotten sick once! She has only just recently come down with a spring cold, proving herself to be human after all! Amazing girl!

Despite her cold however, Francesca powered through the final nights of Irvington’s spring punk rock musical “Starmites.” She worked behind the scenes helping with makeup design and application. (Hence the fantastic makeup work that she exhibits above!) The show ended last night, thus ending the 36 year teaching career of Linda Jackson, Irvington’s drama instructor and director. Ms. J. is one tough cookie. Fortunately (or not!) for Francesca she got to experience first hand what it is like to work with this demanding and yet inspirational instructor, first during the fall semester when she landed the roll of Scrooge’s School Master, and this spring as a makeup artist. I have to thank Francesca for her enthusiasm and initiative to get involved in drama at Irvington, because it gave me the opportunity to work with Ms. J as well and participate in the productions by designing posters and play bills. Such a refreshing change for me from all the swim events and baseball games that have filled my days previously!

March is always a special month for me. If you didn’t know by now, or if you have been living under a rock, it is the time for my month long birthday celebration! March started out rather blustery and cold and so most nights, after home work was completed, found us we cuddled on the couch as we watched episodes of  “Big Bang Theory” and more recently “How I Met Your Mother“. We made chili, baked muffins and made chocolate chip cookies to keep us warm. Plans are being hatched for Junior and Senior proms. Casey asked Michael to her Jr prom with a warm pizza from Pizza Hut with “PROM” spelled out in M&Ms. Of course he said yes. Francesca also has received an invitation to go to Jr. Prom with her fellow AFS gal pal Sisi from Brazil. We had a thrill in the middle of the month when a teenager (thankfully not one of our own) ran into the fire hydrant across the street causing a geyser to erupt and cause neighbors to run into their yards to gaze in wonder and awe at the sight of thousands of gallons of water erupting into the sky. Baseball is also underway and Pat & Kyle are busy with practices and games. Kyle’s team finally had a big win on Saturday, thus breaking a rather depressing losing streak, and I’m sure the team is going to rally and continue to get better and better from here on in.

The nicest part of the month of course, for me at least, was going out with girl friends for lunch at P.F. Changs, having a special birthday lunch with my husband and partying with  family members at De La Torre in Pleasanton. On my actual birthday, we stayed in and Francesca prepared for me a pasta of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, or as I like to call it “pasta della Francesca”  and a chocolate cake. The top of the cake she decorated as the Italian flag…and by golly, the cake was really tasty!

It is a little bittersweet as our year with Francesca begins to wind down. It seems that the end of June is approaching much too quickly for my liking and the day when our girl must return home. There is one small consolation, however. I am busy planning our trip to Italy in August when we will be reunited with Francesca and her family and friends in Puglia. So, we may be saying goodbye to Francesca in June, but she is going to find that it will be very hard to leave us permanently! We will always be there for her and she will always have a place in our hearts and in our home, as will all her family and friends back in Locorotondo. Not only have we gained a daughter, we have gained a new family!

Ok, fasten your seat belts…and get ready for an amazing ride. The next two months are going to be filled with a whirlwind of activities, as we celebrate the birthdays of two eighteen year olds & a thirteen year old,  junior proms, senior proms, graduations, Grad night, and have a blow out graduation party, as well as go on a week long spring break trip to L.A! Hollywood…here we come!

It sure did fly by, but boy did we have fun! We celebrated Valentine’s day by making homemade pizzas and even a Nutella chocolate heart shaped pizza. The Nutella must have gone to our heads, or maybe it was the episode of Pride and Prejudice that we were watching, when mysteriously “Darcy” appeared spelled out in raspberries on our delectable chocolate pastry! We celebrated the big V day with a family dinner, presents, candy hearts, balloons and Snoopy greeting cards.

Over the long President’s Day weekend the kids and I drove through the Santa Cruz mountains and down into Carmel where we played on the beaches, gazed out into the ocean and waved to the sea otters that belly rolled in the surf below us. We took 17 mile drive and meandered on over to “Hogs Breath Inn” where we had lunch “Clint Eastwood” style. The wait was long, but the atmosphere, despite the chilly temps, was warm and inviting sitting on the patio next to a stone fire pit. We journeyed on to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where we oohed and ahhhed over the jelly fish, sea horses, kelp forests, penguins and flamingos.

Oscar Sunday found us gussied up in black tuxes, fancy dresses & tiaras as we toasted the winners and rooted for Colin Firth and his film “The Kings Speech“. Jenny and Vic Langford joined us and Jenny even made gold shiny stars with Colin’s face emblazoned in the center to celebrate the occasion.

In February we discovered “Big Bang Theory” and the entire family is now hooked on the show. “Our whole univers was in a hot dense state, then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started…ok now you have me singing the theme song….I digress!

March came in like a lion this year, with windy showers, preparing us for April flowers. One of the nicest things that blew into our lives the first weekend in March, all the way from Rome, was Francesca’s older sister Graziana and her friend Marika! It was quite a heartfelt and teary reunion at SFO when the sisters greeted each other after almost 6 months of separation. Ryan came down for a visit from Chico and our lovely large extended family filled our house to the brim! There were bowling tournaments, pasta dinners, Thai take out, a viewing of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” at the Paramount theater in Oakland, a trip to Half Moon Bay and the beach and a whirl wind tour or San Francisco, the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately, the bridged was swathed in clouds and veils of rain, but still we caught glimpses of the famous red girders poking up through the mists of San Francisco Bay. We finished our day, as all days should be finished sipping chocolate sodas and frappacinos at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in Girardelli Square. Ahhhh, contentment…and the month of March is off to a good start! Stay tuned for more March madness!


• yosemite bound

Last weekend we high tailed it out of town and headed for them thar’ hills! Yosemite hills to be exact. We stocked up on food rations and hiking boots and took off on a California adventure road trip.

I want to take a second out to say, Hi mom! and Hi Mirabile family! I write this blog to keep an account of our time spent together with Francesca but more importantly so that our families, that are far away, can follow along as well. My mom and dad live in New Jersey and haven’t been able to visit and meet Francesca yet, so I like to keep my mom up to speed with lots of pictures. I also know that it is really difficult for Vittorio and Tonia to have their daughter so far away and so I like to post a lot of pictures so that they can see that Francesca, (who may not be writing home as much as they would like) is alive and well, and having a great time!

Yosemite is about a four hour car trip from Fremont. We left late Saturday morning, stopped for lunch at In-&-Out Burger and were up at the Jenny and Vic Langford’s cabin just outside of Yosemite by mid-afternoon. The Langfords have a sweet little vacation house in Pine Mountain Lake, which as the name suggests, is settled nicely into a hill, surrounded by pines with a view of the lake. We enjoyed a late afternoon hike around the lake and later feasted on big bowls of homemade pasta I brought from home. We watched a movie and then settled in for the night. The kids all bunked together in the large downstairs den and Pat and I got to sleep on a large blow up mattress upstairs in the living room in front of the fire place. It would have been quite romantic, if not for the seven other people with whom we were sharing the house! None-the-less, we all snuggled in quite nicely and morning came rather abruptly for the teenagers, when Vic woke them up at the crack of 8:30 opening windows to let in the brisk mountain air to get them moving and ready for our jaunt into Yosemite park.

The drive into Yosemite is spectacular and especially so during the winter. We eagerly looked for the first signs of snow, still very much a novelty for us Bay side dwellers, and practically jumped out of our seats when we began to see our first snow drifts, which soon turn into giant mounds higher than the car which we were driving. We oohed and ahhhed as we drove down into the Valley and got a look at El Capitan! We slipped and slid our way up the treacherous path to see the waterfalls, trying very hard not to fall into the frigid icy streams. The kids played in the snow, threw snow balls, attempted making snow angels and had a grand time. We reveled in the majestic vistas, the waterfall which is one of the largest in Northern hemisphere, and shear beauty of the perpendicular cliffs that make Yosemite an amazing place to behold.

Toward dusk, after treating ourselves to hot chocolates, we loaded ourselves back into the car and drove the twisty treacherous road back down the mountain into the Sacramento Valley and headed back home to the bay area and Fremont.