Saturday, July 23, 2011

Days Full of Memories

So, I've been on this cleaning rampage lately. In an attempt to get some stuff out of my house for a garage sale, I figured why not look through this area and that area to see what we really don't need anymore. This turned into a large scale reorganization project as well. Every item came out of the understairs storage, was looked through and inspected for its worthiness to remain in our abode, then either replacee in it's new home or placed on the unending heap of garage sale treasures. The office closet got a good looksie too, and many of my beloved craft items that have been sitting around waiting for me to get another wild hair to finally work on them...not gonna happen, folks. Items are in the process of getting rearranged in that abyss. We cleaned out the toy area (just couldn't talk Ethyn into getting rid of his beloved train table-oh, and how I have tried NUMEROUS times). Many of my knicknacks are going to find themselves without a home this coming weekend for sure. But one of my last projects was to clean out that ever increasing game closet.

Now, you must understand...I am a gamer. I don't mean those electronic headphone with mic kind of computer gamers. I am one of those board game and card game collectors. I LOVE playing games with the kids. We used to do family fun night every Friday where we would pull out a board game after some crazy fun supper (usually pizza picnic in front of a movie) or we'd play a game on the PS3. I preferred the board and card games. So, I found myself removing all the games that we have had tons of fun with and struggled to which ones would remain in our home. It was like parting with those really cute baby clothes when you weren't really sure if you really wanted to be done having a baby (or for guys, those beloved tools). But you know someone else would probably get better use out of them, so you just have to wrench your heart right out...well, you get the point. It was agonizing. I did managed to get to the way top shelf in that closet and remove a few things we just don't need to keep, like a light cover that we took off 8 years ago, a candle stand (that I still don't know why I bought in the first place), and a sink drain handle. And then there was this odd box, that I figured must be my wonderful husband's.

After he got back from a meeting, I thrust the box at him with a "this junk is yours, look through and get rid of it" look. After careful examination, though, it appeared to not be junk. At some point in our attempt to organize, we figured we'd put these music cassettes, VHS videos, and some old C and 8mm video camera tapes together in a box and stick up somewhere "safe." Well, we junked the music, and some of the videos, but had no clue what was on the video camera tapes. I pulled out the C-tape cassette and headed upstairs to the only working VCR we own.

So, I put in the first tape and pushed play. Moments later, I was watching a video of my husband and I dancing at our wedding reception. We rewinded it to see more, like the little chubby cheeked girl climbing up her daddy to be held, another chubby cheeked little girl carrying around a toy guitar while she jammed around, lots of family and friends who came to wish us well, toasts...and then the dances. A skinnier version of me and my husband all gussied up, swaying to our song. Then, as my father and I took the dance floor, the tears started to flow.

My dad has been gone for almost 4 1/2 years now. But even shortly after his death, my life was business as usual. He lived far away that we hardly ever saw each other, and my life wasn't filled with daily conversations or emails with him until his last three months. Being diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer that was terminal, with 6 months to live, I had a few trips to see him and much more regular conversations with him. Over 10 years, our relationship was pretty strained. The distance between us had nothing to do with miles but instead everything to do with heartache. I loved my father, but there was much about him that I didn't like. We had our disagreements, even our all out arguments, and at one point it was more of the "let's be done with this and move on" rather than express our true feelings. That was not easy to do...for either of us. I was the boy he never had, a tomboy true to my core.

Near the end though, my father and I made peace. He was able to tell me how proud he was of me, of how great a mother I was. He confessed the hardship in his life, the choices he regretted. So though that was not the same man who danced me around the floor at my reception, the man I stared at through a shean of tears, the memory of the man who held me before his brain surgery and told me he loved me was what I really saw.

We also got to see Mark and his late mom dance on that tape. Kayla cried. We miss her so much, though you'll never see my husband blogging about it. Oh, the tea parties she used to have with Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Smith (aka the two oldest girls). Tyler wasn't much into tea parties, more just destruction of grandma's house.

We even got a chuckle out of our wedding party dance when Kayla and Caitlyn both joined us, and Ethyn piped in "when am I going to be in the movie." Um...not so much kid. Not even a twinkle.

We watched a few other tapes too. Got to see my brother in law Scott singing our beautiful song. Oh, what an amazing voice he has. Thank you, Scott, for singing. We didn't watch too much, as I knew I would break down again when my mom sang. So off to see what else was on the tapes only to find Caitlyn's happy mug on a few. Oh, yeah, you know those are playing at her grad party. Bwahahahah.

We ended our week with a family fun night of making homemade pizza...which wasn't too bad mind you, and some games on the living room floor. At one point, the four kids and I were playing Ruckus together. Sheyann asked if dad wanted to join us (he was reading the newspaper on the couch above us when Ethyn replied "he's in his news." We all busted out laughing. We played some Blokus, and then the kids played a bunch of games of Ruckus before we sent them all to bed at 11pm.

What a great bunch of memories!

Friday, July 8, 2011

One Year

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my grandmother's passing. It's hard to believe it has been a year, though I know we went through so many holidays without her. After 52 years of marriage, Grandpa celebrated his first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Years, first Valentine's, her birthday and their anniversary without her. Some were harder than others, and of course tears were shed.

I stopped and gave him a call last night after all the kids were in bed (so the house was quite and I could actually hear). It was great talking to him, remembering Grandma and all the wonderful things she used to do, or say. She used to take my sister and I to the mall and out to eat when we were kids. She loved doing that. I didn't care about the shopping...I loved just sitting on a bench (preferably with an ice cream cone) and watching the people pass. Grandma and I were both people watchers (I am convinced I got this gene from my grandmother, as neither my mom or dad seemed to possess it). We would sit, not really saying much, just licking our ice creams and watching as people pass by. Sometimes we would make up stories, or laugh about something silly.

One of my grandma's favorite things to do was count ribs. It didn't seem to matter how old you were, grandma never passed up the opportunity. Last year in April was my youngest son's first time meeting Grandma and Grandpa Stephens. We went out to eat on his 3rd birthday. He had a blast while we were visiting, and loved the rib counting immensely.

Grandma, We love you and miss you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Forward...On My Face

Growing up in a southwestern city, in one of two states in the USA that does not subscribe to the Daylight Savings Time malarky...I can't help but say this is one of the worst days of the whole year. I agree with my dear sweet friends who think that this "gentleman" who made up Daylight Savings did not have kids, nor did he consider the ramifications of changing schedules. I realize it seems like a good idea at the time (in the Fall when you gain an hour), but when you are stuck with the accounting nightmares of a 23 or 25 hour day AND your children (who are currently fighting some unknown viral infection) lose yet another precious hour of's actually rather moronic.

Now that my undies are in a bunch, I'm going to go attempt to get some shut eye before one of my sicko kids hollers my name to get them something. :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Home and Rested

Well, we are finally back from Italy, and hopefully readjusted to our current time zone. I slightly earlier than normal bedtime last night as well as sleeping in this morning may have had a little to do with it.

The flight to Amsterdam was quick, and rather uneventful. We got breakfast…if you want to call it that. A couple sandwiches (one with orange jam and the other with cheese) and a little something to drink – emphasis on the little.

It has been a very long time since I have gotten off an airplane on the tarmac, and never have taken a bus to a gate. We didn’t have much time in between when we landed and had to take off again to do much other than rush through the airport, get through passport check and to the next gate. I was getting a little hungry, so I made Mark go get me something to snack on while I was supposed to go into the gate…but they wouldn’t let me in because we were together – I should have told me I didn’t know him. :)

The flight from Amsterdam was long…9 hours. Mark ended up watching Red while I tried to rest…it’s kind of hard to sleep when the big guy next to you keeps laughing every 10 minutes and jiggling the seats. I gave up and read for a little while. Then I decided to watch a movie too. I first watched Unstoppable then watched Nanny McPhee Returns. I like the idea of getting to watch your own movie while you fly instead of having to watch the same thing everyone else is. You could play games too…he he he. Least to say, Mark and I had a good time on the flight home, but we didn’t get much sleep. I did finish reading Twilight though, which I just started last Friday on my flight to Italy. We landed, went through passport check, got our bags, tried to find the car, then headed home to Rochester.

We got a very warm welcome from the kids, including a couple “welcome home” pictures done by the kids. And it was super nice to come home to a clean house with all laundry and dishes done (I even think the bathroom was cleaned), dusting done, vacuuming etc. I love it when my mom watches the kids at our place. :)

What a trip! I loved being in my own bed, with my own pillows…and waking up to my kids in the other room. I didn’t care to wake up to all this white stuff falling from the sky though. What a rude awakening. We did head to church, which was not very full at all, for a good message from Pastor Paul…but more importantly, CHOIR WEEKEND! I love it when the choir sings. It is so uplifting, so inspiring. It feels so great to worship God with other believers, raising our voices to heaven to praise Him.

I thank the Lord for the days He gave me, the beautiful things I was blessed to see this past week in Italy. God Bless you all!

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

It’s early Saturday morning, just after 6am to be exact, as I sit here at the Marco Polo Aeroporto in Venice, Italy, waiting for our plane to begin boarding. Good news is it is at least at the gate. Mark says it’s a puddle-jumper. I don’t really care…it’s too early in the morning. If you know me, you know that rising before 7am is not my idea of a great start to the day. But up at 3:30ish, to get showered, call the kids, and out to the bus by 4:52am so we could check in and do the whole luggage, security, etc stuff was obviously a necessity. This flight was not my choice, I can tell you that much. But at least the bus was cool…I’ve never seen a bus that flexes in the middle so it can make turns. We nicknamed it the bendy bus. :)

Our last day in Venice was nice. The sun finally decided to make it’s appearance in Venice, which made for a very pleasant day. We checked out, stored our luggage there, and headed to the Accadamia first for more art. There were supposedly no photos allowed in here, but it was not posted and tons of people were taking pictures in front of the attendants without being admonished. Mark took a few pictures, however we didn’t get them loaded into the computer last night. Again, it seemed more of the same few scenes painted in slightly different ways by a number of artists. I loved seeing the frescos, as they are an extremely difficult medium to master. As we were walking through, Mark asked if I would have come to Italy back in high school (at the peak of my artistic expression) if I would have followed that route more. I’d like to think that it would have definitely inspired me more, maybe would have kept me in the graphics design program longer. But when you are single and parenting, paints and canvases are not high on the list of things to buy.

After leaving the Accadamia, we headed for yet another art museum…the Peggy Guggenheim. It was slightly expensive, in comparison to the other places we have seen, at 12 euros a piece. But the art at this place is definitely different than anything in the other museums. It was like hitting a time warp and being transported from the 1500s to 1900s. Most of the painting and sculptures in the Guggenheim were Cubism and Surrealism…not much in common with the Sistine Chapel. :) It was nice to see something fresh. We came to a spot that had two paintings, and I had to laugh. One was of a red rectangle, with a darker red and orange rectangles around it. The other was orange of two different colors with bluish purple squares inside. I told Mark if I could have shown this to my dad, and told him that this was considered art (worth lots of money) he may have been slightly more supportive of my career choice in high school.

Leaving the museum, we headed toward our very last destination…the Rialto Bridge, for a little shopping, some photos, and a couple kisses. :) I was told I couldn’t shop inside the bridge, because it was too expensive…aw, shucks. But a couple free kisses, that I think I can handle.

It didn’t take us long to get back to the hotel to grab our bags and find out where in the world we needed to go in order to get to our next hotel on the mainland. By our very last day, Mark was pretty good at getting us around…I gave up caring. I took Rick Steves’ advice and just accepted that I was going to be lost most of the time. We hiked our way back through the maze of alleys and bridges to the buses in order to get to the mainland, and our Friday night hotel in Campalto. That was a trip! I’m just going to say we got off slightly too early, had to trek with backpacks and suitcases another kilometer, and then attempt to figure out where in the world the Feel Inn was. We were passing by a building when I happened to look up and see the name, and told Mark three times to look up. Yeah, we found the hotel…sort of. We next had to find the main door, which was not easy. And then panic set in when the door was locked tight and it was dark inside. Good news, after about 10 minutes (and Mark asking some old guy outside the bar) we rang the doorbell and were let in by the receptionist.

The rooms were upstairs, along with the receptionist. We were given three keys – one for the room itself, one for the door in the hallway, and one for the outside door that was locked. That was definitely odd. Our bed and the rooms continued to get progressively smaller, but the bathroom this time was the biggest. We got settled, relaxed for a little bit, then decided to head out for the bus tickets for the next morning and a grab some supper. Ha…people in Campalto speak less English than anywhere else we were. We barely understood the guy in the tabachi shop getting the bus tickets, and the guy at the restaurant didn’t speak a lick of English…and he wasn’t serving us for an hour and a half. So we headed back to the hotel room, sulking and hungry, and stopped at the little pizza shop at the corner. I love pan pizzas…but this was hands down the best pizza I have ever had. Brick oven, thin/traditional curst, pepperoni and mushroom, fresh mozzarella cheese. I had just finished my first piece, and Mark was eating his fourth piece. I had to take the rest of the pizza so I could get more.

With a full day of flying ahead, we are looking forward to seeing the kids again…and getting to sleep in our own bed. It’s been a great week, with lots of memories. I can’t wait to bring the kids here some day. Next time though, I’m definitely learning a bit more Italian before I come.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two for One

We didn’t get a chance to post much about yesterday’s day here in Venice…so this post is a two-for-one special (which the Venetians would probably charge you 5 euros for). So I’ll start off with yesterday, February 16th.

We slept in a bit, as we were both somewhat tired. After a light breakfast of powdered croissant and orange juice, we ended up getting to the termini at 10:23 (the next train to Venice was at 10:30). Instead of rushing to find the right train (Mark’s idea) we caught the 11:30 (my idea) and decided to catch another little breakfast snack at the McDonald’s (sugared/frosted donut for me and blueberry muffin for Mark topped off with a small coke) before boarding the train. Mark had to sit by a grumpy little asian looking girl who did not look very pleased to be next to such a broad, arm-rest stealing American gentleman. But I insisted on the forward facing seat, and we were across from each other.  Still, Dramamine is a blessing I count these days!

If you have ever been to Venice, you know (and understand with sympathy) the story that follows. Upon arriving in Venice Santa Lucia train station, we headed over the bridge and into the narrow streets and alleys of Venice. The rain was coming down pretty good (neither of us have waterproof jackets on or an umbrella at this point). We wandered around, getting lost in the maze of tiny streets that seem to go nowhere, surrounded by tall buildings, soaking wet. Why, do you ask? Because Mark thought it would be better to happen upon a hotel rather than attempt to actually book one and then try to find it. I’m not sure either option is better than the other, having gotten lost in this city with a map and an idea where we are actually going. So…carrying our backpacks and pulling our suitcases (that are not waterproof either) through the streets, carrying them over bridges that we happened upon, in many different directions, I finally lost my patience. Mark broke down and bought an umbrella, and after the third hotel that quoted no less then 100 euro a night, I nicely demanded he find a hotel quick before either walked off or beat him with the bags. Soon, we were able to happen upon a little place called Hotel Tivoli. It’s cute, and at 60 euro a night, Mark’s happy.

Since it was already getting late by the time we find the hotel and attempted to dry our jackets, my hair, and a few items from our bags, we headed out to the Frari church. We only had ½ hour so we quickly walked through as we listened to the Rick Steves’ audio tour I had downloaded on my ipod from itunes.  This thing is really coming in handy! Mark’s favorite pieces here were this beautiful clock that was made of one single piece of wood and the painting above the main altar by Donetello. I happen to be much more of a painting person myself, but I really enjoyed seeing Donetello’s crypt and the ornate carvings.

Rain, rain, rain! We left the Frari before we could get kicked out as the place closes at 6pm. Armed with our umbrella, we figured we needed to find a place to eat soon, as my tummy was kind of grumbly. We passed a cute little restaurant, and as we were looking at the menu to see if I would want to eat anything on the menu the gentleman inside stepped out to tell us “no cook yet, half an hour.” Okay, then. We decided we really wanted to go to this place, so we walked around for a little while and stop in a couple shops. On our way out of one shop, I cut my finger on the umbrella when my glove got stuck (I still say the darn thing attacked me) and we ended up going back to the hotel for a bandaid. I know…I’m a total dork.
We luckily made our way back to the restaurant (no small feat for us at this point in our trip). We were the only customers sitting in the Antica Osteria at 6:45pm, which is still very odd for me. The idea that Italians eat so much later (and so much more) than most Americans, just doesn’t make sense to me.

Our dinner was wonderful though…and chalk full of more first. The antipasta (appetizer) Mark ordered was thinly sliced octopus (a first for me for sure) with peppers, celery, olive oil and some greens. He thought it was pretty good, and I even tried some, but the cold octopus was something neither one of us was really expecting. I ordered the spaghetti con promodoro again, and shared some with Mark, as my prima piatta. While it wasn’t as good as the one in Florence, it was still very delicious. Mark and I shared the secondi piatti pesce of grilled sea bass (don’t ask me the Italian name of it though, it was way too long). I have never had fished grilled and served with its skin on, so that was definitely different. But once you get past the “how do I eat this or take the skin off, hey its mouth is still open, and look at the slightly browned eyball” issues, the bass was scrumptious…the most tender I have ever had in my life. I love broiled walleye, but this was better! Mark ordered the mixed grilled vegetables for his side, and I ordered the French fries (go figure)…but no ketchup in site. As if this wasn’t enough, let’s order a dolce of Tirolese with layers of chocolate…hard brick on top with cake, cream, cake, cream and cake, surrounded by redi-whip puffs and all sprinkled with cocoa powder. Little too rich for me…okay WAY too rich for me. That and it tasted a day old and from a box. Oh, all the while, we had some naturale water to drink along with the best wine I have EVER had – Fior S’arancio Vino Spumante Dolce. I could definitely become a bit of a wine drinker if this is poured (or a drunkard if this is on tap)…yummy!

After finishing our wine and water, we headed back to the hotel to hit the sack for a fun filled day of site seeing. Least to say, when Thursday arrived and the alarm went off, we were still a bit too tired to actually get up. We finally got moving after 8, and hurried up with a shower to make our breakfast at 9am. Upon checking in, we were told breakfast was 8-9:30am (and she didn’t look like this was a fuzzy time of ending either).

We finally left the hotel close to 10:30, and headed back to the train station to catch a water bus (known as a vaporetto) down the Grand Canal and listen to the Rick Steves’ audio tour. Imagine bus stops and buses in a large city, now put that all on water and use a rope to connect the bus to the stop while people get on and off. It was a cold morning, which I was not completely prepared for. And putting that with being on a boat, I ended up buying a funny looking hat to keep my head/ears warm. Then I attempted to huddle behind my broad husband to stay warm.  Mark took a few pictures while I listened to the audio guide and looked around. All I have to say is one set of headphones for the ipod just doesn’t work the greatest…definitely recommend the splitter so you can use two headphones! The 45 minute ride (actually I think our driver was going much faster and it only took 35 minutes) took us “slowly” down the canal to every stop as we took in lots of sites and hurried off at the San Zaccaria stop. I still feel like I’m on the boat!

We made our way back to the stop before by foot, St. Mark’s Square, and stopped first in Doge’s Palace. WOW…this place is huge. The armory, the halls, the prison – all the art and architecture were gorgeous, but by the 20th room I was cold and felt like we were never going to get out of this place. We finally made our way to the end, and stopped in the cafeteria where Mark had a small sandwich and I had a honey croissant and a hot chocolate apparently made the Italian way – which is more like eating hot chocolate pudding than drinking hot chocolate American style. At least the honey croissant was good!

We headed into the Basilica, with its beautiful mosaics. No photography is allowed in most of the places that we have been recently, so there are only a few pictures to put in here. We decided to head into the Treasury and pay the extra 3 euro per person to see some ancient artifacts that were brought to Venice when the city of Constantinople was sacked. Mark’s opinion was that it wasn’t worth the 6 euros…my response, “at least that didn’t get pickpocketed.” Since I failed to download the Basilica audio tour, we just wandered around and checked out the church. Even the floor was covered in mosaics.

With the church behind us, we headed to the Correr Museum (another non photo museum) which is made up of a lot of Venetian art as well as artifacts. We felt like we kept starring at the same painting…the virgin Mary with baby Jesus, with a variety of saints next to them, and in a variety of positions with the baby (which for the most part looked like a small version of an adult). It was interesting to see how different artists painted the same scene. Over all though, my favorite piece was something that looked like a large wood carving. It was in a glass case, which was not illuminated. But it looked very intricate. Once Mark found the light switch and turned it on, you could see the detail even more, and it was breath-taking. Oh…but there’s more. Next to it, Mark noticed there was a map of Venice, and thought the piece I was looking at must be a press. Sure enough! And that just made me even more amazed at this beautiful piece. Someone had to hand-carve all the details (down to the gulls in the air, and the waves) of this work.

Being almost 5pm, we were on our way out of the museum to wind our way through the “streets,” over bridges, around buildings, back tracking and finally finding the right direction to our hotel. I talked Mark into getting me a coke to go with my snack of Ritz and peanut butter we bought back in Florence. Then off he was for his daily snooze, and time for me to write.

We’ll be on our way soon for supper, now that it is after 8pm. He’s getting hungry, so off to feed the lion. Arrivederci!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Praise the Lord for Rick Steves’ travel books!

We are officially on our way to Florence via “the fast train” thanks to a self-service machine that actually takes credit cards, the Rick Steves’ Italy 2001 Appendix, and a kind information desk person. It was a little intense for 10 minutes after we bought the next ticket and only had less than 30 minutes before the train left. But here we are, seated (backwards no less) while I attempt to compose this entry, and condense the last 24 hours into one little post.

Valentine’s Day was AMAZING!! We had a long and fun walk through the streets of Rome to meet our tour guide for the Vatican tour. My original reaction to Mark’s inquiry of wanting to see the Vatican was “not really, I’m not Catholic anymore honey…that place doesn’t interest me that much.” Boy, am I glad that we went. We got to see a lot of art work in the museums, get a small sense of the magnitude of the Vatican Empire, and be amazed at the beauty of the Sistine Chapel. By the way…it apparently doesn’t matter what language you know, “no fotos” means no photos…but nobody really listens anyway. And it is quiet funny to be shushed by a bunch of Italian guards in the Sistine Chapel. :)

We stopped to have a little lunch before we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. Um…this is what they call pizza. Mine was slightly plain, bread with mozzarella, mushrooms, and funny looking things Mark referred to as hot dogs (I didn’t eat them).

Then off we went to the Basilica. Yep…small ant like feeling inside would be the best way to describe it. It was absolutely beautiful, from the ornate floor with its vibrantly colored marble all the way to the mosaics at the very top of the dome. Yes, folks, we went all the way up on the spiraling, angled stairs. All 545 up (and I am not including the 4 that I took to go into the little nook to take a picture), and then back down again. The view from the top was incredible…seeing the entire city and all the other things we saw yesterday from a different view. The 10 euro workout was pretty good too…my calves still hurt.

Back to the hotel by taxi (now that was interesting, less horrifying than I thought it would be though) for a little rest before the adventure of trying to find a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. Mark managed a snooze while I worked on the computer (are you sensing the pattern). Then we got dressed up a little and headed out for a nice place. After about 30 different turns (only 6 of which I think were right), we finally found this cute little Taverna de Scalla. Mark insisted on sitting outside, under the heated umbrellas. It was a quant little eatery, with pretty decent food. We had the Valentine’s Day special, which is still way too much food than any human should ever eat let alone me. I ate a little of the antipasta fried vegetables (I can now say I have had eggplant), nothing of the prima piatta Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, half of the secondi piatta veal with potatoes and mushrooms (I can now say I have had veal as well), and a couple tastes of the dolci of real chocolate cake with strawberries, whip cream, chocolate drizzle and sprinkled powdered sugar (can you RICH?). All this was served with a white wine right away and champagne with dessert, followed by an “Americano coffee” for me and a lemoncello for Mark. We finished a large bottle of natural water while we were there too! I felt like exploding, I was so full.

Exhausted, cold, and very stuffed, we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. We called the kids just after 11pm our time (4 pm in the States) to say hello and give our love. The little man was sleeping, but got to hear that everyone is doing great. We are so glad they are in good hands while we are gone. Thank you, Wally & Teresa and Nana, for taking such good care of them!

I just want to share one more thing…as I left the Basilica yesterday, I was just in awe of the wonders, the sites I had seen so far. The weather was beautiful, the art was magnificent. I left with a song in my heart and on my lips… “Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty.” While we were inside the Basilica, there are a couple areas that are roped off for prayer, one with curtains. There are no pictures allowed in those two areas, but you can go in and say a prayer. Mark asked me if I wanted to, and I told him I was very lucky to have an amazing faith that allowed be to pray anywhere…even on this side of the ropes. While at dinner, Mark asked if I thought people needed to go to these huge place to feel like God is bigger than they are. I told him I think people need a place to go to feel His presence, a place to put Him if you will to make Him more real. I don’t understand that, because I know He is always there, everywhere I go, whenever I need him. I don’t need a kneeling bench or an altar. I don’t even need a cross. And the Church is not a building, it is the people…the group of believers who gather in His name to do His work. While I see all these Things creating by others, most to magnify themselves or someone else, I see the beauty that God behold for each of us…as long as we are ready to love Him.

God Bless!

Mailing some postcards at the Vatican...I hear their postal service is one of the best in the World!

Got a good picture of Mark in the Basilica...

Going up the Dome...all 545 stairs!

Inside the top of the dome, the mosaics are beautiful!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Our Version of the “Caesar Shuffle”

Our second day in Rome was our first official sightseeing day…and what a day it was. The weather upon our departure from the hotel was gorgeous, meaning sunny and with only a slight breeze. By the time we reached our first destination, my jacket was untied and scarf loosened and Mark removed his jacket altogether. Those awesome 11 or so hours of sleep the night before left us both very refreshed and ready to start a full day of walking.

The Capitoline Hill was first on our list, and quiet breathtaking. Mark kept calling it Wedding Cake…Mark’s tour guide from Friday, Marco, said the Italians refer to it that way because of all the layers and “cake topper” of the horses. We enjoyed a self tour of the museum, and were able to get up to take pictures of many buildings around it, including the Colosseum. We did not go to the Musei Capitolini – the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit made the line way too long for my interest level. Don’t get me wrong, wonderful artist and all. But I have ALL of Rome sitting in front of me. Need I say more? Oh, and while we didn’t go in, I did get a picture of the Santa Maria in Aracoeli…glad I didn’t have to climb those stairs.

After trying to remember where all we were going to go today, we decided we should just head to the Colosseum for our next stop. We were discussing where to get a ticket, and having to backtrack to the Palatine Hill to get the ticket (so we didn’t have to wait in the horrendous line) when we were approached to take part in a tour. No, grazie. Then the wonderful conversation of “do you want to do a guided tour?”, “no, not really,” “why not?”, “because I don’t. Why do you?”, “Yeah, I think it would be fun” occurred before the next one could approach us (guess which one of us wanted to tour). So we say “Yes” and off we go to join a group for 32 euro.

That same 32 euro got us into the Palatine Hill and the Forum with a free guided tour. While we took lots of pictures, even a couple of our tour guides, and saw some amazing sites, the highlight of my day may just have been the conversation right after the one above with the person “hooking us up” with the tour. She asked us where we were from and Mark told her Minnesota, she said that she guessed he was American, but that if I had been walking alone she wouldn’t have approached me because I could pass for Italian. One of our previous conversations was that I was “in fashion” and he was not, and he was totally going to get made for an American while I could blend in. :) Ha ha ha…that chic made my DAY!

Lots of fun today…and lots of exercise. We must have walked at least 400 stairs today, each, and over 6 miles with all the to and fro inside the Forum and around the Colosseum. My calves are burning even though I am sitting on the bed with them up, relaxing while Mark takes a little snooze (priorities, I tell you…he sleeps, I blog). :)

It’s time to freshen up and go eat “supper”…at 8pm. I think this is crazy, by the way, for people to eat so late. But after all the walking, a light breakfast, a small snack with half a coke, three bites of a not so great chicken (or so the guy said) sandwich, and half another coke, I’m up for this. Besides, it’s lunch time back home.

Tomorrow will be a fun filled day of the Vatican tour and the Catacombs.


Ripa Hotel, in the "seedy" part of town

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It’s All Alien (Greek) to Me

I love to spend time buried in a book, immersed in information...being able to spit out the information on the other language. But I have come to the conclusion that one semester of French and two years of Spanish way back in junior high and highschool did not help much when trying to communicate in Paris.

The nearly eight hour flight did not prepare me for the culture shock of arriving in the Paris airpot, attempting to find my way to a different terminal, through a passpot and security check (that was odd). During the flight, the pilot would come over the speaker and tell us how the flight was going, when we could expect dinner, a snack, etc...then a polite French rendition of the same information was given by on of the attendants. There were a few words that I recognized, some I even knew the meaning of. But it was like listening to an alien language.

I purchased my first coke in Europe in a cute little pastry shop named Paul at the Paris airport. I even managed a quiet, "Parlez-vous anglais, s'il vous plait?" ...which equates to being able to order a small coke (woot woot), a distilled water (because there is also a sparkling variety), and a croissant. Yum, yum! I've listened to countless people around me talk, laugh, and French. I pick up a word or two here or there, but the talking is so fast that I haveno idea how I could ever learn this language to actually be able to carry on a conversation. I feel like I am in Star Trek and have gone through a wormhole, been dropped on another planet in a far off galaxy surrounded by a lot of human looking aliens and an alien language.

I did have a good laugh, and thought of Caitlyn, when I heard a French woman answer her cell phone by saying "Oui, Oui"...very familiar to the English teenager version of answering the phone (especially when it is one of her parental units calling) and saying "Yeah." I'm sure you will fit right in here, Caitlyn. :)

Growing up, my sister took French and I took Spanish. I remember learning Spanish and asking my father what languages he knew. He would rattle off several sometimes, but mainly just say the only one he didn't know was Greek...and then he would say "and it's all Greek to me."

I am now in another foreign country, immersed in another culture with a different language. I know a few words, and might even be able to understand a sentence here or there (thanks to Rick Steve's phrase book...and Chris and Caroline Church for lending us the French/Italian/German version). But I'm still looking around yet again as people all around me talk, laugh, and argue in Italian. I'm guessing I may even get to see a teenager answer their cell phone with a "Si, Si."

I am hoping I will return to the States a week from now with a little more than a couple sentences of Italian in my repertoire (and a million photos on my laptop). If not, I'm falling back on the old family's all Greek to me.

Bon giorno de Roma!
Mark's CIT graduation w/Flavio, Andre Singarelli, and Nicola

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Time To Savor

In the last two weeks, my life has been sprinkled with dozens of little moments that create an "awe" in my spirit. Two weekends ago I was blessed to take my teenage daughter for a weekend away, just us...lots of great conversations, a great pedicure and a bit of fun at the local amusement park. I had prayed that our weekend away would really help her to grasp the importance of owning the "wait to date" philosophy that we have for the kids. Lot of great material to go through, with some very sound reasoning, yet nearing the end of the weekend she was still holding to her stubborn desire to "negotiate." I feared that my resolve would waiver and I would give in to her. But the Lord sprinkled me with an "awe"...and I am still amazed at the words I was able to speak into her spirit. And all along, it was not just me but others speaking these same words to her.

She is worth so much more than a compromise. The price that was paid for her was a hefty one.

The Lord tells us to "flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside their body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have recieved from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." 1 Cor 6:18-20

That verse was among the many things we heard, read, talked about that weekend. But it all came back at the end, before we headed for bed, I heard her voice a very profound I have cried to the Lord myself. "I wish You (the Lord) would just give me the answer to what I am supposed to do...just tell me already."

My answer...He has. The fellow at Winter Camp, the lessons we covered...for her. You want it in writing? Here's the Bible. Here's His love letter to you. To me. To all of us.