Subscribe: Lavender *Sparkles*
http://schmamy.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
Tags:
art  back  day  flickr  florence day  florence  god  italy  long  much  people  photo flickr  photo  time  tour  wine 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Lavender *Sparkles*

Choosing Hallelujah



"Whatever's in front of me, help me to sing hallelujah..."



Updated: 2017-11-21T10:07:55.462-06:00

 



Autumn Disappointment

2017-11-03T13:20:15.263-05:00

 I'm on a walk with Miriam, and the sky is a gloomy gray. For the last couple of weeks, Timehop has been teasing me with pictures of past autumn glory. Orange and red, gold, scarlet, rust, yellow, vermilion--our neighborhood a beautiful blaze of color. Today I mostly see dull, faded green and the occasional brownish-orange, nothing brilliant or spectacular.I'm not sure what to make of this. I have the impulse to try and write about it. And then instead of adding it to my to-do list as one more "should" that I'll never get around to, I pull out my phone and start dictating as I walk through the neighborhood, pushing a stroller with my daughter.It's 70 degrees today, and I'm sweating. The deliciously cool fall weather that finally seemed to have arrived for good has disappeared again. I hear someone mowing his lawn. Are the leaves actually going to change, or are they just going to let go in disappointment? I can't believe how green the trees still are on November 2. The wind kicks up, and dozens of leaves float to the ground without having revealed their beauty. Why?Too much warmth? Too much sunshine? Too much chlorophyll? I have no idea of the scientific answer, but I can't help feeling let down. The promise of autumn's beauty--the glory in the dying that I have waxed poetic about so many times--isn't showing up this year. What does that mean?It's this strange reminder in this strange new season of my life that nothing is promised. Or is that even true? Lots of bigger, eternal things are promised. I can trust the God who is sovereign over the seasons. Even when the transition is unremarkable and disappointing. Even when the beauty I anticipated and longed for falls short of my expectations.We keep walking, and suddenly I see a beautiful red tree--the kind that usually populates our entire neighborhood. It stands out all the more because of its solitary beauty; there are no other colorful trees around to distract from its brilliant red leaves. The clouds shift a bit, and above the red tree I get a glimpse of that crisp blue autumn sky I always love to see.A question surfaces: What will I choose to remember? The dull green-brown trees under the gray clouds...or this flash of crimson and bright blue?It's a dilemma I face every day--a lesson the Lord has tried to teach me countless times. It's a question as old as Eve. Will you emphasize what you have, give thanks for what has been given, celebrate with gratitude? Or will you complain, meditate on what is lacking, focus on what is not yours--what has  seemingly been withheld?The choice is always mine to make--even about something as simple as autumn leaves and brilliant colors, on a walk around my neighborhood on an ordinary Thursday morning. I'm hot and uncomfortable in my short sleeve shirt, but the breeze is blowing through my baby girl's hair. These sidewalks are uneven, hard to navigate with a stroller, but rundown houses are being renovated and given new life. The sun briefly peeks out in between all the clouds. I can walk again, after so many months of being immobile and in pain. And instead of the "all or nothing" thinking that plagues me, I'm choosing "all or something": I'm dictating this blog post instead of letting the idea disappear into the draft folder of good intentions.  But how is all this different from Pollyanna, from naivete and rose-colored glasses? Reality is also that my girl is starting to whine, and chances are good she might be full-on screaming by the time we return home, my blood pressure rising. The lack of color is still a disappointment. I'm still going to need a shower. My jeans are still too tight.It's a matter of who gets the last word. Sunshine briefly warms my face. Tiny dimpled hands grasp the side of the stroller. No matter how unspectacular their dying, these trees will still be reborn in the spring. The darkness will always be there. The disappointment is a permanent fixture east of Eden. But the light is more permanent still--the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.Related:Beautiful T[...]



Hanging and Hoping

2017-10-04T13:23:12.198-05:00

photo: Flickr/Jared TarbellWhen I was in elementary school, gym class at some point during the year included an activity I quickly grew to loathe: the rope climb. In the makeshift office area (it had once been a stage) off the gymnasium, a long, thick rope hung from the ceiling. Our class would line up in a row, and one by one, each kid had to step forward and shimmy as far up the rope as she could. As a skinny kid with noodle arms, I didn’t have near the upper body strength to reach the top. In fact, I could hoist myself exactly zero inches up from my highest reach when dangling at the bottom. It was humiliating to hang there, the rough strands of rope burning my hands, unable to pull myself up. I spent a good portion of my pregnancy meditating on 1 Peter 1, and at some point in the midst of memorizing, I remembered that old rope. I read “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” and pondered Jen Wilkin’s exhortation at TGCW16 to set your hope *fully* on God, not partially. I pictured not just the one rope but two giant ropes hanging from an impossible height. In my mind’s eye, the ropes don’t merely hang a couple of feet off the ground, with a kid-sized chair at the bottom; below them is a black hole of darkness. I picture myself suspended between those two ropes. This time my assignment isn’t to claw my way to the top; all I have to do is hold on, keep from falling into the darkness. I’ve got a death grip on each one, but I’m dangling in the middle, vulnerable, precarious. My strength can’t hold out forever. The ropes burn my hands. My fingers cramp and my shoulders ache; the muscles in my arms start to quiver. This is what it is for me to hope partially (even *mostly*) in the grace of Christ and yet also not be willing to let go of other hopes. What I can't feel or see is that one of the ropes is slowly fraying at the top--fiber after fiber breaking under the strain of my weight. It won't hold forever. If I will let go of that other rope and devote all my strength to the sure and solid one--the one anchored in the Rock that is my Savior--I can wrap my entire body around it. I can grip it with both hands, forearms pulled securely against it. I can hold it right next to my whole body, twist my legs around it, even use my feet for extra traction. If one hand gets tired, I can let go and shake it out while the rest of me holds tight. And if I grow weary and start to slip, I will not freefall into the chasm below the ropes—I will simply slide down this one rope a bit. Even if my strength should fail and I slide all the way down—there is a steadfast knot tied at the bottom, massive, firm enough to stand on. In the end, it will hold me. [...]



Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

2017-10-02T13:41:17.993-05:00

Hey, so. If GoDaddy is going to keep billing me for this domain name, I should maybe use it, huh?I don't really know what happened to this space. Well, I mean, I sort of do.   I spent nine months devoting most of my energy (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) to carrying her in a 35-year-old body that does NOT do pregnancy well.  And then I've spent the last five months figuring out how to settle back into a season of life I've not seen in a long, long time.  My days are once again full of nursing and diapers, tummy time and babywearing, walks with a stroller and troubleshooting fussing and trying to catch a quick nap. Only this time around, they're also filled with listening to a beginning reader, signing math homework, driving to piano lessons and soccer practice. It's hard to find time or space to think my own thoughts, much less write them down. Especially when I'm desperately rusty, having all but forgotten how.Today I have a babysitter. Three whole hours of a friend's homeschooled teenage daughter entertaining my baby so I can do whatever I want. Ha. Of course "whatever I want" looks like being paralyzed with anxiety about how best to use the three hours, knowing the time will fly by. It looks like fighting rejected insurance claims, calling orthodontists, attempting to summit Mount Laundry, and stressing about whether I'm going to end up paying the babysitter to be here while Miriam sleeps. But, at least today, it also looks like sitting down to a blank screen and a blinking cursor and trying to remember how to do this writing thing. Let's be honest: this blog was dying a long, slow death for quite some time before Miss Miriam arrived on the scene. And yet, as a much-beloved writing professor reminded me years ago: "Thankfully, we are people of the resurrection!"Just yesterday I came across this incredibly timely and encouraging post by Rebecca Reynolds at Thistle and Toad. She concludes:...Now and then I can write an encouraging post for five people--or I can write a post for one person who is struggling. I can wait to post until I have something important to say. I can let the gospel apply small. I can let God be God and trust Him to place my labors in the context that is most useful to him. I can live small then smaller still, encouraging my readers to do the same.   I can do all this because the gift of writing doesn't offer an identity that springs into being with a publishing contract, or with a following in the 100’s of thousands. Writing well is simply a tool to utilize in the context of an identity that was secured long ago by the work of Jesus. We have nothing to earn; we have only to wake up each morning and say, "In every small step I take, Thy will be done."So here's to fresh starts. Here's to tiny baby steps, the smallest of efforts in the right direction. Here's to awkwardness and imperfection and muscling through the anxiety to get something, anything, on the page. Hopefully I'll be back soon. [...]



Thankful Thursday: Thanksgiving 2016

2016-11-24T09:59:23.847-06:00

Well, I don't really know if I can even call myself a blogger anymore...and I'm sorry to say my years-long habit of daily gratitude lists has fallen off dramatically. But I couldn't break a twelve-year tradition, so I'm logging in this week to name a hundred gifts in celebration of Thanksgiving. This year I'm thanking God for, among His countless blessings to me, these specific gifts both tremendous and small:1. my boys' unprompted gratitude2. their incessant sound effects3. their creativity4. their love for and knowledge about animals5. their chatter at the dinner table6. dedicated, hardworking elementary school teachers7. teachers' glowing reports about my kids8. opportunities to volunteer in their schools9. the diversity of my kids' schools10. caring parents who work hard at fundraisers11. dear friends with whom I can be completely real and honest12. deep, intense conversations13. texting to keep in touch with faraway friends14. friends who pursue me15. friends who pray for me16. the way Steve just gets me, hears my heart17. the way he pushes back and sharpens my thinking18. his tremendous gift of wisdom19. his incredible patience20. his relentless servanthood21. leggings22. stretchy jeans23. fuzzy sweaters24. soft scarves25. tall boots26. antihistamines27. ibuprofen28. chiropractic care29. midwives30. water aerobics31. Jude blowing me kisses32. Elijah winking at me33. Steve doing the driving, and the fact that I feel safe with him behind the wheel34. FaceTime with my parents35. emails from my MIL36. red maples37. trees whose leaves change to multiple colors38. bright yellow gingkos39. star-shaped sweet gum leaves40. lawns carpeted orange41. iced coffee42. family recipes43. smoked turkey44. pumpkin scones45. candy cane Oreos46. hours spent reading aloud to the boys47. audiobooks48. Elijah poring over his animal encyclopedia49. Jude learning to read50. endless supply of Kindle books via the library51. a business trip for Steve on which I can tag along52. Steve's strong desire to have me join him53. Airbnb54. air travel55. a U.S. passport56. online shopping with free returns57. jewelry cleaner58. yummy scented hand lotion59. high-pressure showerheads60. mascara61. gathering with women to study God's Word62. the privilege of teaching them63. the ways they teach me64. monthly women's prayer meeting65. weekly discipleship time66. wise and loving elders who shepherd our church67. our deacons' hard work behind the scenes68. preading that consistently makes much of Jesus69. theologically rich music70. beautiful people who love the Lord and each other71. the experience of being a soccer mom to teach me about my parents' sacrificial love72. Elijah starting piano lessons73. how easy it is to access almost any music, instantly74. pizza75. toenail polish76. Jude's full-body hugs77. boys joining me for morning quiet time78. walks to school with Elijah79. the boys' love for and kindness to each other80. the times when they're eager to be helpers81. Simeon Course for Biblical Exposition82. The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference83. This American Life84. Nicholas Kristof's excellent journalism + magnanimity85. Compassion International86. loving me when I'm wrong87. inviting me to cast all my anxieties on Him88. keeping all His promises89. preserving His Word to reveal Himself and strengthen our faith90. remaining faithful when I am faithless91. evident fruit of the Spirit in friends' lives92. friends who persevere through unfathomable trials93. friends who struggle and cry out for help94. friends who hold up their shields of faith when I am weak95. people who fight against injustice96. the ability to memorize His Word97. an imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance98. His being a joyful God and inviting us to share in His joy99. the certain hope of Jesus' return to right all wrongs, make all things new, reign forever in justice and righteousness100. His dwelling with us, in us, in the meantime[...]



Bruschetta Pizza

2016-08-05T13:27:11.591-05:00

When you buy 22 pounds of tomatoes at the farmers' market and your basil bush stands as tall as your waist, there's only one thing to do: OK, there are a lot of things to do :) ...but bruschetta pizza should be at the top of the list! It's long past time for me to share one of our very favorite summer recipes. The crust can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Refrigerated pre-made crust, if you're into that. Your own favorite homemade recipe. We love this one--because it's healthier (made with whole wheat flour), it's heartier (you need a substantial crust if you're going to pile on this many juicy tomatoes), and it's full of flavor. It's also quicker than many homemade pizza crusts, due to a unique but effective method of force-rising the dough in the microwave on 10% power.You then top the crust with sausage (which is also much easier to make than you think) and mozzarella. No sauce--you're going to dump fresh tomatoes alllllll over it instead.So let's get started...Homemade Whole Wheat Pizza Crust3 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour1 tsp sugar1 tsp salt1 pkg instant yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp)1/2 cup parmesan cheese 2 tsp dried oregano2 tsp dried basil 1/2 tsp garlic powder1 cup + 2 T warm water2 Tbsp olive oil Measure flour, sugar, salt, yeast, cheese, garlic, and oregano into the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor and mix well. With dough hook (or processor blade), while the mixer is running, slowly add warm water and oil; mix until dough forms a ball. Mix for an additional minute. If dough is too sticky to roll into a ball, add a little more flour.Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times. Add a little olive oil and shape dough into a ball, then poke a hole through the center (so that it resembles a fat donut). Place dough in microwave-safe bowl and cover with a plate. Preheat oven (with baking stone inside) to 400 degrees. Fill a small glass measuring cup with water and place in back of microwave. Place dough bowl in center of microwave and heat on LOW (10% power) for 3 minutes. Let stand, covered, in microwave for 3 minutes. Repeat this procedure two more times, allowing 6 minutes for the last standing time.Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead lightly 4 or 5 times. Divide into half (for a thicker crust) or thirds (for a thinner, almost crispy crust). Working with one portion at a time, use roller or hands to shape into pizza crust.Transfer crust on preheated baking stone and bake for 10 minutes, or until crust just starts to brown. Remove from oven; add sauce + toppings and return to oven, baking until cheese melts and crust is browned on bottom (10 minutes).Bruschetta Pizza toppings1/2 lb sausage (more or less), browned and drained2 cups shredded mozzarella (more or less)tomatoes--maybe 4-6?fresh basilminced garlicbalsamic vinegarsaltWhen you take the parbaked crust out of the oven, top with sausage and mozzarella and bake until cheese is melted (we like to broil for a couple of minutes at the end so the cheese gets nice and brown).The bruschetta mixture is a loose recipe, mostly to taste; it depends on how generous you want to be with your topping and how much you like fresh basil. The photo with the original recipe was laughable, with a tiny sprinkling of tomatoes almost as a garnish. Me, I like it when I can barely see the pizza underneath the giant pile of tomatoes--probably one smallish tomato per slice of pizza! The great thing is, if you end up with too much, you can use the leftovers for traditional bruschetta (toasted slices of bread) or stick it in the freezer and use it in soup this winter.Basically, you dice up several tomatoes and chop up as much fresh basil as you prefer. Add in minced garlic (maybe two cloves for a whole pizza), a splash of vinegar, and a little salt. Mix well and spoon over individual slices of pizza at the table. This is one pizza you'll definitely want to eat with a fork. [...]



The Pursuit of a Person

2016-06-30T11:28:48.599-05:00

If I set out to become a better mother, the internet would have no shortage of advice for me. I wouldn't have to look far to come up with an exhausting list: things to stop doing, things to start doing, things to do differently; what to think, what to say, what not to say, how to connect, how to discipline, when to teach, where to teach--you get the picture.But my role as a mother is not an abstract job title. The fact that I can be called a mother at all is a function of relationship. My approach to motherhood cannot be an impersonal strategy; it is intimately connected to two living, breathing people.So while strangers on the internet, or expert authors, or even trusted friends and family, can give me helpful insights and wise counsel...the single most important priority in the pursuit of "becoming a better mom" is the pursuit of Elijah and Jude. To grow in motherhood means to move toward my sons. It happens as I spend time with them, listen to them, observe them. It happens through intentional efforts to know them better, through building shared memories and learning how to meet their needs. I become a better mom only so far as I deepen my relationship with my sons, only so far as I love Elijah and love Jude.*     *     *Sometimes in our efforts to avoid legalism, we drive into the other ditch, believing that any earnest effort to obey God smacks of self-righteous attempting to earn God's favor. Hebrews 12:14 corrects us:"Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."To strive is to run hard, to chase after, to pursue. "Run swiftly in order to catch...holiness!" And the command is accompanied by a warning: "...without which no one will see the Lord." These are sobering words. The pursuit of holiness is not optional; it is essential to the life of faith. It is not the means by which we are accepted by God, but it offers evidence that we belong to Him. But I think the core of this call to pursue holiness is best understood as a call to pursue a Person. The way to avoid self-righteous legalism is not to avoid the striving. It is to clarify what--or rather, WHOM--we are chasing.We would have no reference point for "holiness" apart from God. He is True North; He *is* holiness. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." Holiness comes from Him and is defined by Him. Our call to holiness is always rooted in His holiness: "You shall be holy, for I am holy." Holiness is not a set of attitudes or behaviors, an abstract state of being. It is the essence of His character; it does not exist detached from Him. So to pursue holiness is to pursue Him. Strive to know Jesus. Draw near to Him. It's not about a list of qualities you attain to or exhibit; it's about a Person you love and resemble. Take, for example, the practice of reading/studying/meditating on God's Word. All Christians know they are "supposed to" do this. But WHY? Do we read the Bible as part of a checklist of "good Christian behaviors," something we do to accrue points? Does time in Scripture give you a higher "Holiness Score"?No--we go to the Word to see Jesus. To know Him. This is where He is most clearly revealed, where He speaks to us. We read and study and meditate as a way to pursue Christ--a way to see His glory, to understand His heart. With this foundation, holiness is not about us. It's about looking like Him. We admire our Elder Brother, and we imitate what we see. We become what we behold. By all means, pursue holiness. But don't merely strive for an abstract state of being. Chase after a Person--not just any person; our Redeemer and Savior! Our ultimate goal is to be near to Jesus because without HIS holiness, we have no hope of seeing the Lord. It is His perfect record of righteousness that makes us fit to enter the King's presence. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord. But because Jesus' blood makes us holy, we have[...]



Multitude Monday, Take 359

2016-06-06T20:25:26.155-05:00

"...if you let something steal your thanksgiving, you let something steal your joy, and if you let something steal your joy, you let something steal your strength. ...we will give thanks to God not because of how we feel, but because of who He is." (Ann Voskamp)

Thanking God for who He is and for gifts He's recently given, including...

7867. a little boy in Honduras with the same birthday as Elijah--now connected to our family through Compassion International


7868. Elijah's excitement about writing his first letter
7869. tres leches cake
7870. an afternoon to sit and talk about deep stuff with a dear friend
7871. a holiday weekend with my mentor and her wonderful family
7872. their famous pepperoni rolls

7873. hilarious doubles game of ping-pong
7874. authentic Chinese food
7875. wisdom from a mom further along in the parenting journey
7876. the privilege of watching her boy grow up over the last 13 years
7877. my boys dogpiling on top of the big kid they adore

7878. the testimony of a teenage boy in our church, rescued from rebellion and saved by amazing grace
7879. an envelope punchboard, generous gift from a sweet friend
7880. giant salads
7881. conviction from His Word
7882. a sweet, deeply encouraging letter from the Kenyan boy we sponsor through Compassion

7883. bushes bursting with hydrangea blooms in pink, purple, blue and white
7884. Christmas gift from Grammy and Pops: Beauty and the Beast tickets!



7885. Jude every five minutes: "Mom, was that real?" "Is that real?!"
7886. Elijah's loud laughter and enthusiastic applause
7887. fond memories of singing "If I Can't Love Her" approximately 47,000 times with our high school show choir
7888. a morning walk around the neighborhood
7889. Book Bingo for the library's summer reading program

7890. grace to "beat my body and make it my slave" for a change
7891. eyes to see the gospel so clearly in Ezra
7892. twenty women gathered to study God's Word together
7893. Steve's simple but moving Scripture meditation on Psalm 117
7894. dinner with a friend tonight, long overdue chance to catch up



Multitude Monday, Take 358

2016-05-23T21:10:47.597-05:00

So...it's been a while, hmm? By special request, an old-fashioned round of the Monday gratitude list. Because, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”Thanking God recently for...7816. strawberry season7817. Jesus' glorious invitation: "Let the little children come to Me!"7818. the privilege of leading them and telling them about Him7819. an impromptu pizza date with Jude7820. memories of countless pre-orthodontist-appointment pizza lunch dates with my dad7821. peony blooms in the light of the magic hours 7822. six big bushes heavy with gorgeous peonies7823. painting with a friend while we caught up on life7824. grilled cheese with bacon jam(!)7825. boys opening my car door for me7826. the way the neighbors' white dogwood glows in the early morning7827. walks to preschool7828. friends' listening ears, empathetic hearts, encouragement7829. two-year-old sleeping in my arms during church nursery duty7830. super kind and helpful endodontist7831. sweet church friends babysitting for the boys7832. double date in Nashville7833. the neighbors' peonies7834. Northern friends' peonies to enjoy on Instagram after mine are dead and goneinstagram/christiepurifoy7835. cool morning breeze after overnight storms7836. sweet times of sharing and prayer with the women in my community group7837. VidAngel: way better movie selection, cheaper + more convenient than Redbox, *and* the ability to filter objectionable content!7838. the energetic, joyful, kind woman working at the donut shop--loving her job, loving people, loving life7839. visits from both sets of parents7840. makeshift Narnia costumes7841. theology discussions with Steve7842. bluebirds on the greenway7843. the scent of honeysuckle7844. a friend's example of staying in the fight7845. a Skype meeting with an old college friend7846. Talenti coconut almond chocolate gelato (check your grocery's freezer...oh man)7847. time to pray and prepare my heart before a meeting I dreaded7848. incredibly merciful and sweet answers to those prayers7849. our pastors' care for us7850. their families' sacrifices to free them up to care for us7851. Jude saying "Bless me!" when he sneezes7852. a clean desk--with space to actually work *at the desk*! what?!7853. re-launch of our women's Sunday School class7854. getting to snuggle a dear friend's impossibly cute grandbaby7855. boys dressing like ninjas and taking their swords for a walk on the greenway7856. Steve sneaking and swordfighting with them, to the great amusement of passersby7857. this cutie pie (who's grown an inch and a half since his October birthday!) graduating from preschool7858. five-year-olds in mortarboards7859. three quarts of rhubarb from Ohio7860. great big creamy white magnolia blooms7861. their scent surprising me as I passed under several trees7862. the privilege of intercession7863. seeing the gospel in Ezra7864. silent reading time with Elijah while his little brother naps7865. at least one friend who reads my blog and misses it when I don't post7866. summer break![...]



Compassion: A Child is Waiting...for You?

2016-05-03T15:43:23.575-05:00

Scripture makes it clear that God cares deeply for the poor and the oppressed. Do we share our Father’s heart for the poor? And if we care as He does, how can we help? The needs are overwhelming—-what can we possibly do?Extreme poverty is a massive, complex problem. There are so many issues to address--infrastructure, water, sanitation, hygiene, public policy, justice...all of those circumstances are important. Yet, as Compassion VP Scott Todd argues:"…the heart of overcoming poverty lies in developing people, and with people development you get the most impact during their childhood. Compassion’s program contains the core components of really good child development—it’s comprehensive in a child’s life, it provides long-term involvement, and it points kids to the only true source of hope, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.“When the tactical value of all these things really hit me, I understood that this Compassion thing that I was already involved in wasn’t just a cute thing to do to help out a kid. A Compassion sponsorship is actually a profoundly strategic approach to dealing with poverty. You enter into children’s lives with the message that ‘you matter,’ you introduce them to Jesus, you give them protection and opportunity, and then you watch them flourish. Then those kids grow up to be the kinds of people who change their nations. When the poor themselves become the solutions to the problems they face in their societies, that is sustainable development. So for me, the simple and practical step toward tackling poverty is to sponsor a child through Compassion."I’ve been a sponsor with Compassion International for nearly 16 years now, and it has been a beautiful gift. What a privilege to receive letters and photos, to watch Leni grow up and graduate from the program, to hear about Bahati’s dream of becoming a doctor, to have Providence tell what she bought with the birthday gift we sent. What a privilege to be a vessel of grace and truth and love to these children, to encourage them and point them to Jesus.You see, it’s not just they who are poor. I, too, am poor—to echo Psalm 34:6, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” Steve and I are not Compassion sponsors out of guilt or a sense of duty. It is our joy to extend hope to children in need because in a spiritual sense, we know what it is to be poor and needy and then to be rescued and given hope. We count it a privilege to reflect the image of our Savior, who, though He was rich, for our sake became poor, so that through His poverty we might become rich.Sponsorship costs $38 a month—an investment of about $1.25 a day. Some of you would hardly miss that kind of money; for others of you, it really would be a significant sacrifice. But it provides opportunities for your sponsored child that most of the world’s poorest children never see. We have so much to share--not just our financial resources, but our love, our prayers, our letters. And I’m confident you’ll find that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. The effects of your generosity will ripple through eternity. Our church recently celebrated Compassion Sunday, and I received packets for 16 children. My church stepped up and sponsored nine of them! That means I still have seven left--seven precious children who need someone to come into their lives and say, "You matter. Jesus loves you, and I care about you. You have hope!" Orlin ... Bright ... Ariane ... Dorvensky ... Mohammed ... Immaculee ... Jonathan. Real people in need of real help and hope. Could they be waiting for YOU? I would love to find sponsors for every one of these little ones before their packets expire and they go back onto the waiting list. If you're interested, leave a comment below with your email address, or email me at amykan[...]



Florence Day 10: Dinner at Il Latini

2016-04-01T08:03:48.067-05:00

Not only had Il Latini had come up on several must-try Florence restaurant lists, our B&B host also recommended it, saying he had been eating there since he was a kid. Since it was only a block or two from where we were staying it, we definitely wanted to eat there on our last night in Italy.Our Lonely Planet guidebook said the restaurant had two seatings and that reservations were a must. But when we asked our host if he would make reservations for us, he said they didn’t take reservations. Just get there for one of the seatings (7:30 or 9:30) and be prepared to wait 5-10 minutes, he said. We arrived extra early, around 6:45, and a few students were already standing outside. The wait staff were sitting inside eating dinner in full view of everyone on the street; the doors were locked. A crowd began to form in front, and of course since this was Italy, there was no orderly queue, just a growing mob of people ready to stampede. No one seemed to know what was going on or how the whole thing worked, and as we stood there reading Yelp reviews and waiting, we grew increasingly uncertain and nervous. The wait staff took their sweet time eating and drinking and smoking, completely ignoring the crowd.  Finally around 7:30 someone came to the door, reassured us that there was plenty of room for everyone, and said to stand back. But as soon as he unlocked it, pandemonium ensued. We had been waiting longer than anyone else except one party of eight, but after they got in first, everyone began crowding and people pushed past us. Mass chaos. Sure enough, though, the restaurant was bigger than you could see from the entrance, and everyone seemed to get in. The tables were pushed together so closely that we felt like we were eating at a table of six, with strangers. The place seemed to be filled with tourists, and it was incredibly loud. Our food was definitely not the best we had in Italy, but I think that had everything to do with our preferences and what we ordered, not with the quality of the restaurant.For our antipasto, we ordered caprese salad and were disappointed to find the mozzarella and tomatoes came with lettuce but no basil (doesn’t caprese always include basil?).As a primo piatto, we ordered the zuppa mista, eager to sample three traditional Tuscan soups, but we didn’t care much for any of them. It was mainly a texture thing for me. pappa al pomodoro // photo: TripAdvisorzuppa di fagioli col grano faro (soup with beans and farro grain)minestroneOur secondo piatto, however, was phenomenal. The agnello arrosto (roast lamb) was one of the best meats we ate in Italy.  Dessert, a raspberry tart, was not as delicious as it looked: ...but we also received complimentary biscotti e vin dolce (cookies and sweet wine) and the cookies were yummy. The really bizarre part was, it seemed like the whole “two seatings” thing was a myth. The whole time we were there, they continued to seat people as tables opened up. And when we left the restaurant around 9:20, there were plenty of empty tables and no one standing outside. We couldn't help wondering if the whole “two seatings” thing is a huge joke on the tourists! Maybe the staff/owners get a kick out of seeing a crazy mob at 7:30, and the locals know they can then just come later without all the drama?Moral of the story: go late. [...]



Italian Artisans: Alberto Cozzi and Stinga Tarsia

2016-03-31T11:48:46.387-05:00

I have to devote my penultimate Italy post to two artisans with whom I was especially enamored: Alberto Cozzi (in Florence) and Stinga Tarsia (in Sorrento). A bit out of order, to go back to Sorrento, but it seemed like a good fit to combine the two in one post.As soon as our ferry docked at Sorrento, we set out to find Stinga Tarsia. We had a bit of trouble locating the shop, but finally found the storefront and spent some time inside marveling at the incredible craftsmanship. Sorrento is well known for its inlaid wood art and furniture; the technique is called intarsia. Stinga has been run by three generations of family artisans.The artwork wasn't limited to two-tone wood designs on boxes or tables. Stinga and other intarsia shops also had unbelievably intricate artwork that looked like a painting, but was in fact wood inlay:This one is from another shop in town:The enormous wooden doors of Sorrento's cathedral are covered in intarsia panels done by Vicenzo Stinga (the father of the brothers who are currently in business at Stinga Tarsia) and another artisan, Giuseppe Rocco. We were unable to take photos, and I cannot find any to post here without copyright violation, but you can see them on the cathedral's official website here and here. *     *     *In Florence, we heard about Alberto Cozzi's shop in the "Heart of the City" walk that the Lonely Planet guidebook recommended. Florence is famous for its handmade marbled paper, and Cozzi is a fourth-generation papermaker/bookbinder. Given my general obsession with stationery, I definitely wanted to take a look. The shop was fascinating and full of so many beautiful things--paper in traditional prints, the handmade marbled paper, leatherbound books and journals, albums, pens, pencils, and other gift items. I wish I'd gotten a shot of Mr. Cozzi at work. We got to watch him stamp the cover of a leather journal for another customer. If the journals had been lined, I'd have splurged on one myself! As it was, I deliberated forever (while Steve patiently waited) before buying a small pack of marbled papers and a journal with a traditional Florentine print on the cover. [...]



Florence Day 10: Heart of the City Walk

2016-04-01T08:02:21.462-05:00

After touring Palazzo Vecchio and the Bargello museum on Wednesday morning, we grabbed lunch and headed back to our B&B for a bit of rest and to wait out the rain. Lunch was panini from I Due Fratellini ("the two brothers")--a literal hole in the wall that has been in business since 1875. Twenty-nine kinds of sandwiches, only €3 each! Not to mention a large wine selection. When the brothers saw me taking a photo of their shop as we walked away, they stopped and posed :)We'd been told to expect long lines, but didn't have to wait at all. The sandwiches were so cheap that we chose three different kinds to try. Below, top to bottom: pancetta e peperoni arrosto (cured meat with roasted peppers--note that uncooked pancetta, while translated "bacon" in an English menu, does decidedly *not* taste or feel like bacon); bresaola e rucola (cured beef and arugula--or as the English menus translate it, "rocket salad"!); and crudo, mozzarella (ham and cheese). These were all just OK because, no salt in the bread! Ugh! I don't care how salty the meat is, The Bread. Needs. Salt. The photo on the right is the view from the window of our B&B room--in the distance is Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Thankfully the rain let up after a little while and we were able to go exploring again. Unfortunately because of our pre-scheduled wine tour smack in the middle of our time in Florence, we weren't able to maximize the use of our Firenze Cards. So that's another pro tip for you: If you are going to venture out into Chianti wine country or to Pisa or Cinque Terre (there are so many interesting day trips to make from Florence), schedule that on the first or last day of your trip. Firenze Cards are only good for 72 hours from the moment of activation, so after we'd activated ours on Sunday, we essentially "wasted" all of Monday while out in the countryside and then they expired at 2PM Wednesday, when we still had several more hours available for sightseeing.So, since we didn't have time to do any more museums, we used our Lonely Planet pocket guide to go on a "Heart of the City" walk. The guidebook says:"Every visitor to Florence spends time navigating the cobbled medieval lanes that run between Via de Tornabuoni and Via del Proconsolo but few explore them thoroughly, instead focusing on the major monuments and spaces. This walk will introduce you to some less visited sights and laneways."The walk begins at Piazza della Repubblica, which was the site of a Roman forum back in the day and was also the heart of medieval Florence. The square in its current incarnation was created in the 1880s (quite controversially, as it involved displacing nearly 6000 people). From there we walked to Chiesa Orsanmichele, a church created in the 1300s by walling in an old grain market. Unfortunately many of these smaller churches did not allow photography inside, so I don't have a ton of pictures. photo: flickr.com/shirleydejongNext was Mercato Nuovo, which I shared about in my Mercato Centrale post. Apparently you're supposed to rub the nose of Il Porcellino ("the piglet"--a bronze wild boar) to ensure your return to Florence. Better safe than sorry, right? :)Palazzo Spini-Feroni, a Gothic palace that houses the flagship store and museum of shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. Chiesa di Santa Trinità // photo: flickr.com/pivariChiesa dei Santissimi Apostoli--a Romanesque-style church, one of the oldest churches in Florence. It faces Piazza del Limbo, a sunken square that was once used as a cemetery for babies who died before being baptized. The walk ended at Ponte Vecchio, so we continued across the bridge. It's so strange the way it doesn't even feel like you're on a bridge, with shops lining both sides. In the next two photos, you can see part of Cosimo ([...]



Florence Day 10: Palazzo Vecchio

2016-03-29T19:19:44.795-05:00

Our last full day in Florence began with a tour of Palazzo Vecchio--the medieval fortress built from 1298-1314 as a home for the city government.In the mid-1500s, members of the Medici family (yes, them again--you hear about them *everywhere* in Florence) lived in apartments here for a while before moving across the river to Palazzo Pitti.photo: flickr.com/fotofilippoThe first thing to note is that you should learn from our mistakes and reserve a guided tour in advance. Somehow we hoped we could just show up and get in on the Secret Passages tour, but they had no openings all day. Bummer! The first and most notable room to see in the palace is the Hall of the Five Hundred. This massive (174 feet by 72 feet) hall was built to house Florence's legislature. The walls are covered with these enormous battle scenes painted by Vasari...   Even the ceiling is covered with intricate gold molding and paintings. From there we just wandered through the rest of the apartments. I feel like the Secret Passages tour would have been really amazing, but otherwise, we'd pretty much reached our limit in terms of being able to absorb or appreciate Renaissance art. Still, there were some interesting pieces of painted furniture and other extravagant furnishings in the apartments. The maps room, with a giant globe in the center and ancient maps of the world all over the walls, was fascinating: Some of the most memorable art for me was in the Chapel of Eleonora. Eleonora of Toledo was a Medici duchess, and her private chapel (?!?) was painted by Agnolo Bronzino in the mid-1500s. What I appreciated about it was the way it seemed to recognize and celebrate the gospel in the Old Testament, the way the stories of Moses point to Christ. I loved seeing the centrality of Christ portrayed, seeing Old Testament scenes illustrated in an effort to magnify Him. When I read the  plaque in the room, there was this sense of, "Yes! They got it!":"The dialogue between the altarpiece with its Deposition and the three walls with their stories of Moses presaging Christ's sacrifice and the mystery of the Eucharist, points to the link between the Old and New Testaments." Deposition of Christ - BronzinoMoses strikes the RockThe people look to the bronze serpent for healingAfter we'd seen enough, we set off for one last strenuous climb: 418 steps up to the top of the tower. It closes when it's raining, but we made it up just in time before the drizzle started! Amazing views of the Duomo and the rest of Florence. By the time we were done touring Palazzo Vecchio, it was pouring rain, so we ducked into the Bargello for one last Firenze Card admission and an opportunity to stay dry while sightseeing, hoping the rain would taper off for the afternoon. [...]



Florence Day 9-10: Accademia & Bargello

2016-03-28T09:33:00.189-05:00

Our sightseeing on Day 9 ended with a trip through the Accademia--home of Michelangelo's iconic David. Of course I knew what this sculpture looked like, and yet seeing it in person is so much more impressive than any photo. I don't think I had realized just how huge it was: 17 feet tall! The great thing about the Accademia is that David is displayed on a high pedestal, meaning (unlike the famous paintings at the Uffizi) it's easier to admire it even with throngs of people crowding around it. As I understand it, this museum was essentially built specifically to house this one sculpture. What an incredible gift Michelangelo had. To think this was carved from a single block of marble that had previously been worked on by two other sculptors already...astounding. We continued our sculpture-tour on the morning of Day 10 with a visit to Museo Nazionale del Bargello. photo: flickr/voodooxThe Bargello is the world's most important museum of Renaissance sculpture. A visit begins in the courtyard, which is lined with various pieces.A few more Michelangelo works are here, including this small crucifix that has been attributed to him: This ivory carving was notable for how very tiny it was, yet how ornately detailed. It's French art from the late 1300s, a diptych with stories of Christ's childhood and Passion: One of the displays that most interested me was this side-by-side comparison of bronze panels by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi. The museum plaque explains:"The competition for the second door of the [Duomo's] Baptistery...in 1401, is commonly reputed to have been the event that inaugurated the Renaissance. Among those taking part were Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi, both declared equal winners even though it appears the latter decided not to take part in the assignment. The models to be submitted...had to portray the Sacrifice of Isaac... Ghiberti's composition [on the left] stands out first and foremost for the balance between the figures and the space divided diagonally by the rock, and the refined decorations on the altar which testify to this artist's exceptional talent as a goldsmith. ...Brunelleschi's relief instead shows a single space in which the figures, distributed on parallel planes, hardly fit into the frame. With the abrupt rhythm of the gestures the artist accentuates the dramatic sense of the action about to take place, demonstrating a more modern interpretation." I also appreciated this small marble relief, Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Luca Della Robbia (1439): The Bargello was the last of our museums, and by this point I had definitely reached my absolute limit. It was an immense privilege to see so many great works of art in person, and yet my limited brain could only absorb and appreciate so much! [...]



Foods of Firenze and Tuscan Legends

2016-03-27T15:29:09.340-05:00

If I'm actually going to get through Florence this month, I definitely need to combine some of my food posts :) As I mentioned earlier, we found that we did not enjoy the food scene in Florence quite as much as in Rome and southern Italy--whether that's because it was at the end of our trip, or simply because of the specific regional specialties, I don't know. Still, there were fabulous highlights (like the pasta and grilled meats in Rignana) and memorable experiences (like our dinner at Il Latini on the last night of our trip, which will get its own post next week).Perhaps the most notable thing about Florentine food is the bread: They do not put salt in it. Have you ever tasted bread without salt? I have. Repeatedly. Every single time bread was set before us in a restaurant, we kept tasting it, thinking--"maybe this place doesn't hold to the tradition." Nope. Salt-less bread. SO WRONG.Thankfully our guide on the wine tour explained this phenomenon to us before we experienced it firsthand, so we were prepared for it instead of surprised and horrified by that first bite. Apparently it goes back centuries, to the time when Italy was a non-unified collection of city-states. Florence and Pisa were big rivals--to the point that they have an old Tuscan proverb which roughly translates, "Better a death in the family than someone from Pisa on your doorstep."I can't remember the details--either Pisa was the producer of salt, or maybe Pisa had control over the port where salt would come in--but however it went, Pisa was able to block Florence from getting salt. And whatever Florence did to make Pisa mad, the result was that Pisa refused to allow the salt inland...so, the Florentines began to make bread without salt. And they stubbornly stuck to it even when they were later able to get salt. Thus, pane toscano (Tuscan bread) was born.photo: flickr.com/fugzuFoodies may argue that it is uniquely delicious, especially appropriate for use in certain Tuscan soups or as a contrast to the super-salty cured meats. I say, bread needs salt. Amen.One of the other fascinating stories our guide told us was about the Arno River. Pisa is downstream from Florence, and once upon a time, Ponte Vecchio (the oldest bridge) was the home of the meat markets. What did the butchers do with their rotten meat and scraps? Toss them in the river and send them along to Pisa. So you can just imagine how much Pisa loved Florence, receiving their smelly, spoiled meat all the time.Not only did Pisa hate the butchers of Ponte Vecchio; one of the Medici grand dukes wasn't a fan either. In the 16th century, Cosimo I had built an elevated corridor from his offices (the Uffizi) to his home (Palazzo Pitti, which we did not get to visit) on the other side of the river. This way he did not have to mix with the commoners below as he traveled back and forth. Great guy, right? Reid's Italy explains the story:  Not long after his corridor was complete, however, Cosimo found something else to complain about: The stench rising to his private skywalk from the butchers and skin tanners beneath, whose workshops had traditionally lined the Ponte Vecchio since at least the 12th century. Cosimo summarily booted out the butchers, moved in the far classier goldsmiths—and, naturally, raised the rent.Ponte Vecchio has been lined with of jewelry shops ever since--and in the end, Pisa got the last laugh. Supposedly, as the story goes, the river flooded in a really epic way and, well...Pisa just had no idea what happened to all the gold when the Florentines came looking for what had washed downstream :)But I digress. Tuscan food! On the evening of our Chianti wine tour, we wandered down toward the Arno a[...]



Florence Day 9: Santa Maria Novella

2016-03-27T17:21:10.493-05:00

Having learned our lesson the hard way by cramming our itinerary too full on our first day in Florence, we took a break in the midst of the Duomo and San Lorenzo sightseeing to head back to our B&B for a nap. Once we'd rested a bit, we stopped in to Santa Maria Novella, just down the street.photo: flickr.com/Patrick HaydenThe main crucifix at the front of the church, painted by Giotto, dates to 1290:photo: flickr.com/kotomi-jewelryphoto: flickr.com/johndonaghyThis basilica was the home of my favorite frescoes and also some fascinating art lessons.First is Masaccio's Trinità, painted in 1424-25 and said to be one of the very first Renaissance paintings to use perspective in a mathematically calculated way. What I didn't notice until after we got home and I was looking up information about this painting was the memento mori (reminder of mortality--a common practice in medieval times) underneath. Below the crucifixion scene is a cadaver tomb with the epigram "Io fui già quel che voi siete e quel che io son voi ancor sarete" : I was once what you are, and what I am you will become. photo: WikipediaThis is meant to be a morbid, ominous reminder that the viewer of the painting will one day be as dead as the cadaver portrayed over the tomb. Yet in light of the Easter season and the sermons our pastor has recently been preaching from 1 Corinthians 15 on the resurrection, I read this epigram as wildly, beautifully hopeful. It's not merely an accompaniment to the cadaver tomb, it's also an appropriate caption to the portrayal of Jesus, who says to His followers: I was once what you are (clothed in human flesh)--and what I am now (resurrected in glory to live forever), you will become! It's so strange to think that there was a time when artists did not understand or use perspective correctly. But one of the other notable paintings in the back of the basilica, Pietro di Miniato's Annunciation, is a striking example. Painted in the late 1300s, it feels "off" somehow when you look at it. Steve drew me a little diagram to explain exactly what was wrong with it . The main chapel next to the central altar, known as Tornabuoni Chapel or Cappella Maggiore, was painted in 1485-1490 by Domenico Ghirlandaio.  photo: flickr.com/kotomi-jewelryThese frescoes are among the best preserved/most complete frescoes in Florence; the wall portraying scenes from the life of John the Baptist was probably my favorite of all the frescoes we saw in Italy. I was also struck by a couple of scenes in Bonaiuto's Spanish Chapel (1365-67) that were particularly beautiful or interesting. First, Jesus pulling Peter up after his failed attempt to walk on water: And then The Descent Into Limbo from The Passion and Resurrection of Christ:Outside you find the cloisters-- many with ancient frescoes or beautifully painted detailing:photo: flickr.com/kotomi-jewelryThe Cloister of the Dead was used for burials especially in the 13th and 14th centuries:I was particularly struck by this heartbreaking epitaph. Roughly translated, it says, "After giving 16 days of happiness to her parents, she died January 14, 1843. She flew to the heavens." A Flickr user I discovered has a whole album of wonderful Santa Maria Novella photos worth checking out--I've posted a few here, but she has many more [...]



Florence Day 9: Mercato Centrale

2016-03-22T18:33:46.853-05:00

In between exploring the Duomo and San Lorenzo on Tuesday, we took a lunch break to explore Mercato Centrale, Florence's central market. Endlessly interesting, packed with produce and meats, pastries, olive oils, honey, fish, cheeses, anything you can think of. I love experiencing this kind of place in a foreign country--the colors and smells, the fascinating people and products.This vendor had a striking variety of honey flavors available to sample and buy--from acacia (very light) to melata (honeydew, very dark). We bought a couple of little jars to take home and compare.The second story of Mercato Centrale is the most overwhelming food court you've ever seen. So. Many. Choices. We finally settled on La Pasta Fresca:Steve got ravioli ripieni di burrata con pomodorini (ravioli stuffed with a soft cheese and served with little tomatoes):I ordered linguine al pesto con patate e fagiolini. It definitely seemed strange to eat green beans and potatoes in my pasta, but it was delicious. After leaving Mercato Centrale, we walked through the chaos of the open-air market (mostly leather and clothing) outside--you can see San Lorenzo in the distance.  Florence is well-known for its leather goods (I'm still kicking myself for not buying a belt while we were there!) and we found sellers hawking handbags and belts *everywhere*. Here's another collection of them at Mercato Nuovo, Florence's "New Market"--and by "new" they mean 1551.  We also did a little wine shopping--wine in Italy is crazy-cheap compared to here, and Steve wanted to bring back a few bottles. Since we've been home, Steve has been amazed at how a glass of Chianti Classico or a Super Tuscan, with their specific flavors and smells, take him right back to our trip :)[...]



Florence Day 9: San Lorenzo

2016-03-19T20:34:26.622-05:00

Not far from the Duomo, you find the Basilica di San Lorenzo, which was consecrated in the 4th century and is considered Florence's oldest church. Pope Leo X commissioned Michelangelo to design a marble facade for the church in the 1400s, but no one ever executed his design--so the rough, ugly under-layer has remained unadorned ever since.photo: flickr.com/nunocardosoHighlights inside include two bronze pulpits sculpted by Donatello (unfortunately covered and in the process of restoration work while we were there) and a lot of Medici tombs.In the San Lorenzo complex, you can pass through the cloister......and into the Laurentian Library, whose main reading room was designed by Michelangelo:photo: flickr.com/brad-darrenEstablished by one of the Medici popes in the early 1500s, the library holds some incredibly old books and Bibles.This Latin Bible, the Codex Amiatinus, was commissioned in the late 600s, probably for St. Peter's Basilica:And this is the first complete polyglot edition of the Bible: Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Aramaic, from the early 1500s:Elsewhere in the San Lorenzo complex, you find the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapels). Forty-nine members of Florence's most prominent family, the Medicis, are buried here.The Chapel of the Princes holds the tombs of six Medici Grand Dukes:The museum and crypt contain family jewels, as well as lots of relics (bones of saints...very strange/unsettling for us as Protestants, I'll admit).  [...]



Florence Day 9: Duomo

2016-03-17T15:15:18.236-05:00

Its official name is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flower), but everyone knows it as Florence's iconic Duomo. The first item on our itinerary for Tuesday in Florence was to visit the Duomo. There's so much to see in the cathedral complex that we spread it out over the course of the day--first the dome climb, then after lunch, the interior of the cathedral and the ruins below. Late in the day we returned to see the baptistery and climb the bell tower.The first thing you see amid the ever-present masses of crowds out front is the magnificent exterior.  The green, white and pink marble isn't just limited to a facade, but covers every side... ...and its detailing is amazing. photo: flickr.com/j-stone Construction started in 1296 and continued for about 150 years. While we were there, lots of cleaning and restoration work was underway (in fact, we didn't even get to visit the museum, which was closed for renovations). That was a bummer, but when you see the parts they haven't yet cleaned, you realize why the work is needed:Just inside the main church, this doorway takes you up 463 steps to the top of the cupola:After our experience climbing the dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, we were somewhat disappointed with the dome climb in Florence. Unlike St. Peter's, where the traffic in the upper section is always one-way (you never pass the people going back down), the traffic pattern at the Duomo is really poorly organized. This means people are trying to pass each other in narrow passageways like this:Total chaos and very, very slow going. There are no posted instructions or guides to help the flow, and let's face it, people (myself included) are often thoughtless and self-centered. So this means people push forward every chance they get, not realizing that they need to STOP where it's slightly wider or else they'll fill up the only spot where people coming the other direction can pass through. Before you get all the way up, you get to admire the interior of the dome with its 16th-century frescoes of the Last Judgment:photo: flickr.com/anroirThe three-dimensional feel of the paintings around the top is incredible: And some of the scenes are profoundly disturbing:You also get a great look at the cathedral below:It's really mind-boggling to think this was built in the 1300s. Designed by Brunelleschi, the dome was famously constructed without a wooden support frame, using more than four million bricks. The view at the top is impressive, to be sure. Here's what you see looking toward the Arno River: The grassy hill in the distance is Piazzale MichelangeloLooking toward the Arno River, Palazzo Vecchio is just over my shoulder; Santa Croce is to the left of SteveHere's the bell tower, at the opposite end of the cathedral:And here's the view in the other direction, looking toward the hills of the Tuscan countryside: But, truth be told, if you only want to climb a lot of steps once in Florence, you should skip the Duomo. Both the campanile (bell tower) and Palazzo Vecchio are nearly as tall, and provide basically the same views--with the added bonus of a view of the dome itself (which you obviously can't get when you're standing on it). And these are both much better traffic-wise (less crowded, much more space for people to pass each other going up and coming down).Later in the afternoon, we came back to tour the inside of the church. The interior is surprisingly sparse in comparison with the ostentatious exterior:photo: flickr.com/Francesco GasparettiUnderneath the cathed[...]



Tuscany Day 8: Traditional Tuscan Lunch in Rignana

2016-03-12T13:23:10.718-06:00

Given that I'm not a wine connoisseur, the highlight of our Chianti wine tour, for me, was lunch :) We gathered at La Cantinetta di Rignana for a lunch of typical Tuscan foods. Our group sat at a long table on the terrace and ate family-style. This was the view from my seat: Unbelievable, right? Our first course was crostini misti--slices of toasted bread with various toppings. Below, clockwise from top: Burratina di bufala al tartufo fresco (soft buffalo cheese and shaved fresh truffle); lardo (think "cold cut of pork fat"--no meat really, just the fat!); porcini mushrooms; bruschetta; and Toscano classico (chicken liver paste). I can't stay I really enjoyed any of these except the bruschetta, but I did try them all.  Our second course was tagliatelle (fresh handmade pasta) with tomatoes and Pecorino di Fossa (a sheep's cheese aged in caves). This was, without question, the best pasta I have ever put in my mouth. I could not help eating every last bite, even though I wanted to save room for what was coming next. Finally, we enjoyed tutti i tipi di carne alla brace--a platter of grilled meats. We each got to try wild boar sausage, spareribs, guinea fowl and chicken; all were amazing. This was also served with roast potatoes and a salad.And of course we got to try two more local wines with lunch, a Chianti Classico and a Chianti Classico Riserva.  After we finished eating, we had some time to wander through the vineyard before leaving. An interesting tidbit we learned: According to tradition, rosebushes are planted at the ends of vine rows not just for show, but because roses are susceptible to some of the same diseases that afflict grape vines. The roses serve as an early warning for mildew that, if left untreated, will ruin the grapes. Here's a view of the restaurant and terrace as seen from the vineyards below:September sunshine, amazing food, grapes on the vine, and my handsome husband--could a day be more ideal? [...]



Tuscany Day 8: Chianti Wine and Food Safari

2016-03-18T09:07:38.668-05:00

One of Steve's top-priority requests for our Italy vacation was a wine tour in Tuscany. We booked the Chianti Wine and Food Safari offered through Walkabout Florence--and it was hands-down one of the highlights of our trip. Even for me, and I don't particularly care for wine! Fortunately for us, September is grape harvest time. The postcard-worthy scenes everywhere we turned were made even more picturesque by the fact that all the vines were heavy with ripe grapes!  After a long, exhausting introduction to Florence, a guided tour for our second day was exactly what we needed. It was so relaxing and fun to show up at the meeting time, get on a minibus, and not have to make any decisions or figure anything else out the rest of the day--just enjoy wine and food, learn about the region's history and culture, and absorb the beauty of our surroundings. I literally have over a hundred pictures from this day, so it was a challenge to choose just a few to share with you! This minibus is smaller than the picture makes it look, I think. There were probably around two dozen people on the tour. Our guide, Martina, was everything a tour guide should be: funny, charming, knowledgeable, full of interesting stories, hospitable and quick to put everyone at ease. Listening to her all day was a delight! Many people on our tour had been on other tours and said this was by far the best.  This is the only decent photo I have of Martina, and it's misleading--she was much more cheerful and upbeat than she looks here!Our first stop was Villa Le Corti, a wine estate owned by one of Italy's most prestigious aristocratic families (Principe Corsini). After a guided tour of the historic wine cellars... ...as well as a tour of the olive mill, where we learned all about olive oil production, we tasted three Chianti wines paired with Pecorino (sheep's milk) cheese. Martina has received extensive training and certification as a sommelier, so she had lots to teach us about the wines and the art of wine tasting. In order to be called a Chianti, the wine has to be produced in the region and made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Before leaving the estate, we toured the gardens, and then we got back on our bus for a drive through the countryside on remote, winding roads. The scenery was spectacular--vineyards and olive groves, farms and churches and monasteries.Our next stop was La Cantinetta di Rignana for a traditional Tuscan lunch and three more Chianti wines to taste. That incredible meal deserves a post all its own, but here's a taste of the atmosphere at the restaurant, which overlooked this vineyard:From there we drove to Greve in Chianti, a little village where we had about an hour to wander around the piazza at our leisure. Our guide bought a variety of salumi (cured meats) from one of Italy's most famous butchers for us to taste later in the afternoon. We had fun exploring the butcher's shop, Macelleria Falorni: I'll spare you the photo of the very, very fresh rabbit for sale...but here's a snapshot of one of Florence's most famous foods: bistecca alla Florentina, a massive steak served very rare and large enough for at least four people. (We never did try it; Steve had gotten to try it on his work trip to Italy in March and not been all that impressed--and at that size, it's definitely not cheap!)My hand (which is large) in the photo for scale--and what you can't see is that it's also as thick as my thumb is long!Of course, even though we were still stuffed from lunch, I had to find room[...]



Florence Day 7: Piazzale Michelangelo (and Hitting the Wall)

2016-03-12T09:24:05.944-06:00

The only time we ventured out of Florence's main historic center (other than our group tour out in the Tuscan countryside) was to walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo, a public square and gardens on a hill across the river.photo credit: flickr.com/lukaskEveryone had said that it was a can't-miss sight, with spectacular views of the city. photo credit: flickr.com/shanelinSo for our last adventure on our first day in Florence, we wandered across the Arno in hopes of seeing the sunset from this overlook. It sounds wonderfully romantic and dreamy--yet I have to confess that sadly, this evening ended up being the low point of our entire trip! It had been a long day: an early alarm, navigating the chaotic Naples mass transit system one last time, a cross-country train ride, checking into a new B&B, touring the Uffizi Gallery and Santa Croce. In retrospect, our itinerary was a bit overambitious, especially for day 7 of our vacation. We were exhausted and overloaded. The moral of this story/the photo above? Happy smiles in snapshots don't tell the whole story. Effusive blog posts gushing about Italy don't tell the whole story. Even dream vacations are shadowed by the sin and brokenness of this world. People you see online aren't perfect--their lives aren't perfect--and the fact is, perfect, unspoiled joy doesn't exist this side of Heaven, no matter how hard we chase it.  After finally, mercifully, finding a restroom (never before had I been so glad to pay someone to use a bathroom) we staked out a spot to sit and rest on these steps. Unlike the photo below, they were absolutely PACKED with people. You could hardly pick a path through all the couples and groups. photo credit: flickr.com/bigskyredSteve was really, really quiet, and when I asked him what was wrong, he finally said, "Ten days is too long for a vacation." He was feeling weary, overwhelmed by all the newness, missing our boys...just generally out of sorts and longing for the familiar.But I wasn't exactly sure what to do with this revelation, given that we had no choice but to stay in Italy for three more days...! So we watched the sun set over Florence, but it wasn't the picture-perfect romantic evening I might have imagined or longed for. We sat in silence, tired and grumpy and disconnected. The view really was gorgeous, though: Once the sun had gone down, we used our Firenze Card passes to get a free bus ride back to our B&B. It was a long, quiet ride, and we returned to our room and crashed.Steve may have been the one in a funk this time, but I hit the wall myself a couple of days later. Never would I have imagined that ten days would be too long for a vacation, but it seems that it sort of was--at least the way we planned the itinerary. It turns out that the brain (or at least our brains) can only absorb so much. We saw SO many ancient ruins and Renaissance paintings and ornate churches with frescoes that we reached a limit where we were unable to appreciate any more.It feels almost obscene, to think of being in the presence of such greatness and not enjoying or appreciating it, but I have to admit it is true. Even Italian food got tiresome! We didn't enjoy Florentine food nearly as much Roman or Neapolitan--and while some of that might be personal preferences for certain regional specialties over others, some of it was also that we just plain got tired of pasta. Our bodies were in rebellion from lack of vegetables I think!So, lest you think we have this perfect life and enjoyed a perfect[...]



Florence Day 7: Santa Croce

2016-03-04T16:42:11.494-06:00

When I heard Basilica di Santa Croce described as "Florence's version of Westminster Abbey," I knew it was a place I didn't want to miss. Our first glimpse was the striking facade, covered in multicolored marble. photo: flickr/sidstammIt was strange to see the ornate marble front contrasted with the plain stone covering the rest of the church behind:Inside the main church, you see this view looking toward the main altar:  The main church holds six individual chapels, all covered in frescoes. Two of the most significant were painted by Giotto in the early 1300s, depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi and St. John. Incredibly, someone whitewashed over these, and they were not rediscovered until the 1800s. It gets to be overwhelming, the way every imaginable surface is covered in art. Even where there weren't actual paintings, many walls had patterns of colored marble:  The floor is covered in tombstones; you pretty much can't walk anywhere without stepping on one:photo credit: flickr.com/averainAnd then there are more ornate, prominent tombs for famous Italians like Michelangelo, Galileo, and Dante (who's not actually buried here; his is only a memorial marker): After we left Santa Croce, it was time for our daily gelato stop, this time at Vivoli (I can highly recommend gianduia). Giotto documented the life of St Francis (of nearby Assisi)and St John with emotional art that retold the stories of these significant saints. Remarkably, the works were whitewashed over and only rediscovered in the 19th century. Poor restoration attempts have lost much of the original lustre but they are still masterpieces to savour and enjoy. - See more at: http://travel-wonders.com/2014/02/25/santa-croce-basilica-florence-italy/#sthash.1oQzPfmE.dpu[...]



Florence Day 7: Galleria degli Uffizi

2016-03-03T12:06:52.349-06:00

After checking into our B&B, we grabbed a quick lunch (which was incredibly disappointing; avoid Crown Victoria at all costs--tourist trap for sure) and then set off to purchase Firenze cards. You can get these at various kiosks or ticket offices all over the city, and you'll want to bypass the one at Santa Maria Novella. All the tourists make a beeline there right after arriving by train, so the line was extremely long. (I believe we bought ours at Palazzo Strozzi, which was much quicker.)It was definitely worth spending the money on the Firenze card, as it allowed us to bypass all the long lines everywhere--including at one of Florence's most famous attractions, the Uffizi Gallery. Housed in the 16th-century offices (uffizi is Italian for "offices") of the ruling Medici clan, the museum is home to centuries of celebrated art, including pieces by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Titian, and Raphael.  A plaque at one point explained that "one of the Uffizi Gallery's most distinctive peculiarities--an approach cultivated from the outset--concerns the very concept of art history, which is seen here not as a sequence of different periods but rather as a seamless path stretching from the ancient world to the present day." The gallery is structured so that you generally follow a chronological path, beginning with 13th-century altarpieces and continuing on into 17th- and 18th-century paintings. Another wing leads you through Greek statues and portraits from the Classical era and then on to Tuscan 15th-century artists who were trained to emulate that ancient art. Not being well-versed in art history, not to mention the fact that the museum's size makes it impossible to take in everything, it was very helpful to have Lonely Planet's Pocket Florence and Tuscany to point out some highlights. Even with this guide, it was still overwhelming. I was also glad I'd read Sarah Dunant's historical novel The Birth of Venus--although fiction, it provided me with a greater understanding of and interest in Renaissance paintings in Florence. Annunciation (1333), Simone Martini & Lippo MemmiThe sheer volume of art depicting Mary was mind-boggling. I can appreciate that in the Medieval period, the only accepted subjects for art were religious...but for crying out loud, how many more thousands of Bible characters and stories are there to choose from?! Madonna of Humility (1415), Masolino--yay for normalizing breastfeeding :)In between admiring art, we admired the view along the corridors of Ponte Vecchio ("the old bridge") on the Arno River. View from the rooftop patio/cafe--with the Duomo in the backgroundOne thing that particularly amazed me was how the colors on these paintings have lasted so long. Ghirlandaio's 15th-century Adoration of the Magi and Michelangelo's early 16th-century depiction of the Holy Family featured such vibrant, vivid hues, it was hard to comprehend how they could actually be five hundred years old. Adoration of the Magi, Ghirlandaio (1487)Tondo Doni, Michelangelo (1506)I was particularly struck by the use of light in these more recent works (and by "recent" I mean "less than 500 years old"--that, in a nutshell, is Italy for you):Adoration of the Child, Honthorst (c.1620)Presumed Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, Largilliere (1710)I don't really know why I even bothered taking so many photos in the Uffizi. Of course my shoddy photography couldn't begin to capture the be[...]



AM Collection: Our Accommodations in Florence

2016-03-02T15:49:21.849-06:00

Our final Airbnb selection was the priciest of the three, yet it was still far cheaper than a hotel of the same caliber, and a far better, more personal experience. AM Collection had only been open for about six months at the time of our visit. Alberto, who was about our age, had purchased and renovated two apartments on the fourth floor of a building just off Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. It was easy to see why he has reached the "Superhost" ranking on Airbnb. He spared no expense in furnishing the apartments (which also serve as a small art gallery) and his hospitality was wonderful. The location was perfect—a five minute walk from the train station, and walking distance from all the major sights. (We used public transportation only once our entire time in Florence; one of many great things about the city is the way so much of what you'd want to see is clustered together and easy to reach on foot.) When we arrived, Alberto helped carry up our luggage, since there was no elevator. He served us espresso and sat down to point out restaurants and sights on a map he provided. We didn't see him a whole lot after that, as he doesn't live on site, but he promised to be available by phone or text if we needed anything, and true to his word, he was very easy to get in touch with. We texted him a few different times asking for pizza recommendations or help getting reservations at a restaurant, and he was so patient and helpful in answering our questions. (Sadly I did not get a picture with him before we left!) Alberto served us breakfast on a tray in our room each morning--a selection of fresh fruit, pastries, and panini. He's also a pastry chef, so the breakfasts were delicious. My favorite was the citrus cake, which he said was his grandmother's recipe. He also showed us how to use the espresso machine and milk-frother ourselves, and provided a pitcher of milk for our mini-fridge so that I could make cappuccino on the morning when we needed to leave for a tour before breakfast was served. Additionally, when we needed to leave for the airport by 7AM, he packed a breakfast of pastries, fruit, and juice for us the day before. So kind and generous. We would not hesitate to stay here again or recommend this place to others!Again, we have nothing but good things to say about our experience using Airbnb. If you're interested in checking it out, please use this link for $20 off your first booking (and a referral kickback for me :)[...]