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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

I’m becoming jaded by the news and I don’t like it. I detest the ugliness, racism, misogyny, lies, and disregard for the environment in our country today and it makes me feel hopeless. I don’t understand why people intentionally ignore facts, excuse blatant wrongs, hurt each other, and don’t take responsibility for their actions. I don’t understand why adults ridicule traumatized children. This country needs a big dose of Dr. Phil and/or God right now, but I have to focus on something else for a minute. I have to, or else the anxiety becomes my whole world. I have to focus on good, beautiful things that I love. Here are some of them.

  • My husband, for so many things, but his hand on my hip as we sleep is something that makes me love him all the more. I’m a light sleeper and I have a lot of bad dreams. Most of the time, when I wake up, Marty is there, a reassuring presence who makes everything alright. (Even if he is snoring loudly.)
  • My boys, individually and all together. They’re so unique, I love talking with each of them alone. And then, when they’re together, it’s like having a heap of puppies romping through the house, except the puppies shoot dart guns, play baseball, and creatively insult each other.
  • Fuzzy kittens. Enough said.
  • My neighborhood party store. Brothers Steve and Randy know me and sell me my weekly MegaMillions ticket on my runs. It’s like Cheers, but not a bar.
  • My theatre. Well, not my theatre. My niece thought I owned it, but no, lol. It’s a place where I’m accepted and I can be myself. I can express myself. A nice place to be.
  • My penpal/dear friend, Sabrina. She lives an ocean away, but is such a kindred spirit. And she puts up with my crappy Italian.
  • Music. It gives so much meaning to life. Hamilton, Pentatonix, and Lindsey Stirling are my current obsessions.
  • Writing. I have an outlet. I’m sort of good at it, but still have a lot to learn. This week, I completed a novel on Bessie Blount, the real one, not the sleazy HBO version. Accomplishment.
  • Babies. Babies are my heart, my joy. Incredible innocence. They’re a promise that life goes on.
  • My church. My church is progressive, including people of all races and sexual identities. I love that.
  • London. London is my dream, my hope, my destiny. I’ve never felt more at home anywhere in the world. Six years now… it’s been too long.
  • Italy. Italy is life to the tenth power. I can’t wait to get back.
  • Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Can’t help it, I adore them.
  • History
  • My therapist, Renee. She’s listened to me for seven years now and I adore her. Most of the time. Not when she’s telling me something that I don’t want to hear, but I know it’s for my own good, but, yeah, she’s awesome.
  • Ireland. Such fond memories of an impossibly beautiful place where I went with some amazing people.
  • Genealogy. I’m a sucker for historic records and long-ago grandparents.
  • Easter candy. Right now, this is an essential part of my diet.
  • God. I saved the best for last. Prayer is essential in these times of confusion/craziness and God remains my rock, every day. My spirituality keeps me centered, grounded, and keeps me sane.

Take some some time and reflect on what makes you happy. Leave it as a comment if you like. I’d love to hear what you love.

Until next time, a presto.

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It’s been a long week. Crazy long. I had Monday off, but that didn’t really make a difference. Nothing in my normal schedule had changed much: work from 8:30-4:15, rehearsal from 7:00-whenever, so I was tired, but that’s not why it was long.

Have you ever noticed that bad things happen in clumps? It seems to go that way. This week, it was death.

For those who don’t know me well, I work for a church. Death is a part of the job. When someone passes away, I’m usually the first person that the family speaks with on the phone. The people who have died since I started the job in February have all been people who I didn’t know personally, so while it was a sad thing to make the arrangements, it didn’t affect me in a way that it would if I had known them. That changed last Friday when a dear lady gracefully succumbed to cancer. She had only been diagnosed a few months ago; she went fast and on her own terms. She was a force, a strong and lively personality who touched everyone around her. She will be missed.

This week, I also attended one of the saddest funerals I have ever been to. There were three of us there to bury the ashes: the pastor, my coworker, and me. That’s it. The deceased were a husband and wife with no children and no family close by. I won’t give more details, I didn’t know them and don’t think that they would appreciate me telling all I know, but it made me sad that we were the only ones there to lay them to rest. They should have had someone there who knew and loved them. We did our best, but I still felt like I was intruding on a moment that wasn’t mine.

Another lady, an elderly church member, also passed away this week. I didn’t know her, but it was heart-wrenching to talk with her daughter on the phone. Hearing someone else’s pain makes you appreciate the ones you love.

Our sweet neighborhood cat, Charlie, had to be put down this week. Charlie was an old man, I’m not sure how old, but it was more than 15 years. He was here when we moved in in 2001 and used to bring us “presents”: decapitated chipmunks, bird carcasses, etc. You know, gifts. He had a loving home two doors down with a wonderful family, but made it his business to wander the neighborhood, even walking through our house occasionally to visit. My kids grew up with him, we kept our own stash of kitty treats for him, and we loved him like our own, even when he ate one of the baby sparrows from the nest in our vent. He was the next best thing to having a cat of our own, he felt right at home in our yard. It’s better that he is at rest, he was hurting and sick, the time was right, but he leaves a hole in our hearts in this neighborhood.

And, finally, I found out yesterday morning that my great-aunt had passed away as well. Aunt Alma was a spunky little thing who probably weighed 80 pounds soaking wet. I saw her often when I was little, but until recently, I hadn’t seen her in several years. We had a great catch-up time about a year and a half ago when another great-aunt of mine died and then  we sat with her at my cousin, Kelly’s wedding last summer. Aunt Alma was the last of the old guard, that generation of my grandparents that is embedded in my memory with that Italian side of the family. She was married to my Great-Uncle John,  my grandpa’s brother, and she was an integral part of la famiglia: the family.

Aunt Alma was Italian, the same as Uncle John. They defied my great-grandmother, who had picked out another wife for him. Arranged marriages were common in Sicily, where they were from, but Aunt Alma and Uncle John were having none of it here in the United States. Their successful marriage was long and happy with children and grandchildren to fill their days. Aunt Alma had a good long life, but her death was quick and took us by surprise.

So, tomorrow, Monday, starts a new week. There will be a memorial service and a funeral, not to mention that I have rehearsals and a show opening on Friday night. It will be busy, but hopefully, there will be no deaths. I’ve had about all I can do this week.

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I don’t know about you, but I can more fully understand an experience after I’ve had a while to process it. It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of something, good or bad, and try to assess right then, but I’ve learned that better understanding comes after an experience has had time to stew for awhile. I had the incredible opportunity to visit Italy last summer, exactly a year ago, and so I’ve been going through everything that we did there as well as the photos.

A year ago yesterday, my mom and I spent our last night in Rome. We had had a long, hot, day visiting Pompeii and Naples (mind-blowing, by the way) and wanted to spend a relaxing evening before driving to Florence the next morning.

At the time, I was eager to move on to Florence, excited to see what would come next. Rome was overwhelming, but in a good way. There was just so much to see and I knew we’d never do it a bit of justice in just three days. I think to truly experience Rome, I would need to stay for a while, sit with a glass of vino at a sidewalk café day after day, wander the streets with no goal in sight, and just feel the rhythm, the pulse, of the city. Being independently wealthy would help with that.

I love big cities; I adore the energy that they hold. They have personalities all their own and Rome is no exception. Rome is just so big, in so many ways. There is some sort of order, but not the kind that’s in London, Dublin, or Sydney. The centuries of tumultuous history that have made it into what it is today are still there, everywhere you look. Scooters fly by the ruins that mark the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Egyptian-influence mixes with Greek. Morning and evening rush hour zooms under the magnificent Roman wall still surrounding much of the city. Modern life goes on, but pays its respects to the events and buildings that have been the foundation of the Eternal City since its very beginning. It’s a crazy paradise.

Roman wall

Roman Wall

 

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The Coliseum and Roman Forum

Rome was patient with us. My mother had had to fight jet lag for the first time ever, an unpleasant experience for even the most jaded traveler. We had a fabulous guide, though, Lynne, who provided us with equally wonderful local guides during our time there and that made it all the better. We learned to walk boldly into the crazy traffic to cross streets, (Chin up, chest out, shoulders back, no eye contact with the drivers, and GO!) to see Vespas that tore down sidewalks and zipped in between the throngs of tour buses and cars as the norm, and became accustomed to the constant beeping of horns.

I learned particularly quickly how to dissuade all gypsies, some aggressive, with a hand up and a firm, “No, grazie”, before walking past them and holding my bag close, hand on the zipper, nothing in my pockets. (“Gypsy” is sometimes seen to be a derogatory term, but it includes all of the scammers that hang out to pick pockets or swindle people, especially tourists. The term used to be used to describe only the Roma, but there are many different nationalities of people whose main occupation is to steal in Europe. “Gypsy” seems to cover them all in Italy.) We had successfully navigated the bus system, getting off at a stop relatively close to the Coliseum, walking the rest of the way, and then making it back to our hotel the night before. We paid the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café Rome to eat and get a t-shirt for Oldest Child. We saw many of the treasures of the Vatican Museum, walked through and prayed in the stunning Sistine Chapel, and began to make friends in our tour group. Our first three days had been busy, to say the least.

 

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Basilica

Visiting the Vatican, its own independent country but completely within Rome, walking over the spot where St. Peter is reportedly buried (THE Peter, the fisherman, the one who walked with Jesus, who saw him risen, that one), standing in St. Peter’s Square, the place that’s on my television every Christmas Eve for midnight mass even though I’m not Catholic, yeah, those experiences still floor me. I can’t believe I was there, in the middle of all of that history. Religious or not, the volume of the priceless art alone is enough to give one shivers of glee. Throw in the religious significance and it can reduce you to a puddle of joy.

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View from the Vatican

 

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Remains of a temple in the Forum

Anyhow, on that last night, we found a nice little outdoor café/restaurant for dinner. Outdoor cafés are all over Italy, some are expensive, many are very reasonable, and I really think that’s a fabulous way to experience the country. The people-watching is spectacular. We had quite a bit of free time to do as we liked, something that I think is important on a tour. I’m learning from the Rick Steves’ philosophy of going where the locals like to go in addition to the popular tourist hangouts, a very rewarding experience.

The night was warm, but not too hot, and the waiter was very nice. I tried ordering completely in Italian (I had been getting bolder with my language skills) and laughed when the waiter repeated my order back to me in English. I teasingly shook my finger at him, chiding that I was practicing my Italian and that he wasn’t helping me. With good humor, he graciously listened to my broken Italian and spoke slowly the rest of the time so that I could understand. I found that to be the case in many places, especially in our hotel in Roma. The front desk staff all seemed to be amused by my attempts, but not in a mean way. If I was struggling with a word, they would gently say the English version and then the Italian after to help me along. I’ve always tried to be helpful with those who speak English as a second language here in the States, but that experience has taught me to be even more mindful of the language barrier.

The wine came, the food came. Everything was delicious. My mother and I talked for a long time, a luxury with our normally busy lives at home but in Italy, everyone makes time to talk, everyone takes the time to visit, especially in the evenings during the passagiata. The passagiata is the walk that people take in the cities and towns, usually around a piazza, or city square. People visit, have an aperitif before dinner, (Italians eat dinner late.) and generally relax after a day of work or play. It’s a lovely idea and a wonderful time to watch people. The entire evening was spectacular and although I was ready to leave for Florence, I felt a stab of regret that I had leave Roma so soon, just as I was getting to know her. The sensory overload that descended on me when we first drove into Roman traffic that first morning was just starting to make sense. I wanted more, I wanted to wander without a schedule, to accidentally find treasures that I hadn’t read about and I plan to go back one day and do just that. Well, with a Rick Steves guidebook and map.

Now, those who know me know that my true love is London. There are places where people know that they belong and London is it for me. but Rome and her sister cities have so much to offer that I want to keep coming back. I don’t think I could ever live there, I crave order and timeliness on a daily basis and while Roma has its own sense of order and time, it would be too overwhelming. I would need to take breaks from the energy, but I know that Rome would always leave me wanting more, never running out of marvels. It’s like a rich dessert: a little bit will satisfy, but you will keep making it because it’s so good. There will always be a reason to return.

Pieta

Pietà

This is just the beginning of my memories of Italy. I condensed Rome into just over one thousand words, no easy feat, especially when I could have filled a small book with just those three days. For such a short time there, it planted a long root in my soul that will continue to come back long after I think it to be gone. Well done, Roma, well done.

A presto.

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I love airplanes and airports. I mean, I really, really, love them. My head spins around like Linda Blair’s when we pass Detroit Metro. We live under a flight path and when planes fly over our house, I wonder where they’re coming from. Who is on them? What are their stories? Are they on holiday? Business? Have they just been, or are they going, to somewhere they’ve always wanted to go? The possibilities are endless.

It’s no secret that I love to travel, and I think that’s a big part of my crush. Airports are exciting places! There’s so much to look at, so much to see. Overpriced restaurants, designer shops, tacky souvenirs, and cool fountains abound. The first time I saw a Burberry store or a Jimmy Choo shop was in an airport. Of course, I could never in a million years afford to buy anything, but it was fun to pretend that I could.

The thing is, if you’re in the airport far enough to see all of these wonders, YOU’RE ACTUALLY GOING SOMEWHERE. ON AN AIRPLANE. That’s so cool. I always want to ask everyone where they’re going, since everyone past security is a passenger. It used to not be that way. On my trip to Ireland back in 2001, Mr. Marty Man, Oldest Child, and Middle Child walked me to the gate. We all simply walked through the metal detector and went, no questions asked. A few short months later, our world was turned upside down with 9/11 and, well, now my brother gets pulled out for the “special screening” machine and we have to take off our shoes. I don’t mind, though. There are bad guys out there and safe is good.

I love the airplanes, themselves, too. Not in a mechanic sense, but airplanes get you places fast, unlike cars. Now, there are some good things to be said about road trips, especially if they’re with the right people, but I am not one of those who enjoys the journey. Mechanical problems that can strand you, other stupid drivers, stopping for gas, stinky feet, staying in crappy hotels on the way, no, thank you. I want to get to where I’m going, as quickly as possible and an airplane is the quickest means to an end. I know, they’re no picnic to ride on for long flights. They’re cramped (it’s a dream of mine to get bumped up to first class with leg room) and crowded, and the bathrooms leave much to be desired, but I can make it across the Atlantic Ocean to my favorite place in the world (that would be London, in case you’re wondering) in less than seven hours. If I were to get in a car and drive for seven hours, I can end up in some nice places, like Springfield, Illinois, but if I really wanted to get to Springfield quickly, an airplane would get me there in about an hour and a half. Convenience.

After I went to Australia many years ago, I thought I had my fill of airports. Trying to sleep on the floor of the Auckland, New Zealand airport for seven hours waiting for our flight to Sydney was almost unbearable due to the fact that we had been traveling for almost twenty-four hours and it was the middle of the night in the airport, so nothing was open. Those were some looooong flights and layovers, for sure. When we got back, I thought I would be happy if I never saw an airport again, but it was only a couple of weeks before I felt the yen to travel again. I wouldn’t get on a plane again until my honeymoon, five and a half years later, but I felt that itch every time I passed the airport. Just for reference, Detroit Metro is visible from the freeway, I94, that I travel on a lot.

When Mr. Marty Man and I flew to Miami on that honeymoon, the magic happened all over again. Somewhere in those years, I decided that travel was going to be a crucial part of my life and, luckily, it has been. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to many places in my life and I would love to make it more. When a plane flies over, I feel that pull, that tug to wherever that plane is heading, off on another adventure. It’s led me to Florida a few times, Australia/Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Ireland, the UK, and Italy. I also have a stamp in my passport for Amsterdam, although I was only in the airport for a layover, but it look cool.

My primary target is Europe. Marty Man would like to see more of the US, where we live, and that would be okay, but I absolutely adore Europe. The history alone is enough to make me cry, and it has. It humbles me to say that I stood in the Sistine Chapel, a masterpiece of art, with tears pouring down my cheeks (which, incidentally, does not help with the humidity issue) at the sheer beauty of the place. I have been floored at the majesty of Westminster Abbey. I know there are people who are similarly affected by spots in the U.S. or Asia, or lots of other places but for me, Europe was always the place I dreamed about since I was a little girl. It has not yet disappointed. (Well, maybe the toilets in Rome. They were pretty gross.) There’s something about walking down a street that has been a street for over 2,000 years that does something to me. There’s something about being in the exact place that my ancestors came from that connects me on a spiritual level. There’s something eye-opening about having the realization hit you that there are other perspectives in this world besides the one from your own country and wondering how that fits into the international dance of give and take. Travel is education.

Why am I postulating on this? Oldest Child is in the UK right now for a study-abroad session through his college. As I write this, though, he’s actually in very good hands with my friend Sabrina, close to Venice, for  his off weekend. He is learning things there, gaining experience that he could not get at home and for that I am grateful. And just a teeny bit jealous. Well, maybe more than a teeny bit, but I’ll get over it. Anyway, his being there is why I’m thinking about this right now and I’m so happy that one of my kids has caught the travel bug like his mama.

I’m always looking for my next chance to fly. If you ever get the chance, take it. Don’t be scared off by the unknown or different, for things that may or may not ever happen to you. Take the chance, take the risk because chances are it will be just fine and you’ll learn something new while having a blast. In the meantime, I’m going to continue gazing at the sky and dreaming of my next adventure.

A presto.

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I’m jumping on the review bandwagon for the end of 2015. My train of thought won’t be terribly long, just a little recap of this year.

2015 was alternately awesome and difficult at the same time, although many of the difficulties had a role in pushing some of the awesome things forward. Let’s start with the not-so-good, shall we?

Crappy Things About 2015:

  1. Depression. This was a bit of a tough struggle this year. I think a lot of it had to do with my current job situation, but a supportive family and an awesome therapist got me through the worst of it. Depression is no joke, though. If you can’t shake feelings of hopelessness, self-loathing, or defeat, if you have a case of the blues that is just not normal, or you have a desire to hurt yourself, please set up an appointment with your doctor immediately. He or she can point you in the right direction for you to get some help.
  2. Job Frustration. There are a lot of good things about the place where I work, it’s the line of work I’m in that brings me down. Much of the parenting I see makes me fear for the future. Don’t make excuses for kids’ bad behaviour. Have them acknowledge their mistakes, fix them, and move on. Stop looking for someone else to blame. Hire (or watch) Super Nanny to build some parenting muscle and to put accountability where it belongs.
  3. Religious Extremism. Yeah, ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever you want to call them) is a top contender here, but so are religious groups closer to home. It horrifies me to see people who identify as Christian call for violent measures to rid the United States (or the world) or people who practice a different religion, who come from other countries, or who are just different in general. That isn’t what Jesus preached and that’s not what I stand for. Do we need to get rid of the bad guys? Yes, but the wrong people are being targeted. Maybe we need to review the First Amendment instead of being so hung up on the Second Amendment. We may be one nation under God, but the right to practice any religion is protected here. Anything else just divides this country even more than it already is.

Really, those were the worst parts of the year, at least for me. There were only three major categories, but each of those was enough to negatively affect my life. Now on to better things.

Awesome Things About 2015:

  1. Italy. My mom took me to Italy last June and it was fabulous. Hot. Very, very hot, but fabulous. We learned a lot of valuable things, such as the gypsies throughout the country make the pan-handlers in Detroit look like amateurs and that they don’t take kindly to being told off. The traffic in Rome is deadly and Italians are extremely patient with foreigners trying to speak Italian. The gelato, REAL gelato, is amazing, as are the wines.

337We saw priceless works of art that made me cry for the sheer beauty of them (La Pietà, the Sistine Chapel) and walked where the apostles did. It was an experience of a lifetime that I can’t wait to do again someday, except the next time I go, I will spend more time with my dear Italian friend Sabrina.

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2. New Career Opportunities. More on this in another post. Good things are happening!!!

3. Oldest Child Went to College. I miss Oldest Child. I miss him terribly, but he is very happy where he is. College life agrees with him. He has always been independent and he’s had a fairly easy time navigating dorm life. A parent wants a child to be happy and he is. That makes me happy, in a bittersweet kind of way.

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4. Theatre. I love my theatre, the Players Guild of Dearborn, to be precise. Last spring, I got my first non-musical role in To Kill a Mockingbird and was able to be the assistant director for The Miracle Worker this past summer-into-fall. My theatre family is wonderful, patient with me, and I’m so lucky to have found them. I’m looking forward to 2016.

5. My Family. I’m a lucky girl. Next week, Mr. Marty Man and I will celebrate nineteen years of marriage. We have three boys who never cease to amaze us, even if they can frustrate us now and then. (Or more than that, depending on the day.) We have our health, we have jobs that take care of our family, and we love each other. That in itself, my friends, is a reason to celebrate.

 

Happy New Year to you all!

 

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I’ve been on a bit of a holiday from things: work, home, and, yes, writing. (Actually, I have a summer job, but that’s my fun one and I don’t really consider it work. I enjoy it too much!) I did actually plan to try and write a bit when I was in Italy, but there was just no time, so now I’m jumping back in. I do want to try and finish the novel that I’m working on, at least the unrevised bit of it, this summer, if possible, but first, a blog post. I won’t bore you with all of the details of my trip, but just a few highlights.

I was in bella Italia, beautiful Italy. The flight was long, cramped, and boring, so I’ll spare you the details. We were fortunate enough to immediately get our tour group’s bus from the airport to our hotel in Rome, driven by the talented Carlo, our driver for the week. An Italian motorway gave way to increasingly smaller city streets, passing through buildings covered in graffiti. I thought the graffiti would go away once we got into Rome proper, but that was not so. In fact, it seems the only way to not have graffiti on your building in Rome is to build a locked gate around it, but then the gate will have graffiti. I found it extremely surprising that a city with a heavy tourist population would have so much vandalism. A lot of it is political, but still, graffiti is ugly no matter where you go.

If you don’t look at the graffiti, Rome is beautiful, in a chaotic way. There are no traffic rules. Absolutely none. Seriously, if there are rules, no one is following them. I don’t even know why there are lines on the road. Tiny cars veer in and out from between large trucks and busses while scooters rule any in-between spaces and even sidewalks. Crossing the street almost gave my mother heart attacks, but we followed the advice of our local guide, Elena: “Shoulders back, chest out, don’t look at the drivers, close your eyes, and GO!” She was right. Roman drivers can sense even a small inkling of hesitation and will keep going if you pause before crossing. It’s kind of like being a teacher. Still, everyone seems to take it in stride; it’s the way things are done. And in the midst of all of this chaos, beautiful ruins, thousands of years old, are scattered through the entire city. Public water fountains flow with water from the ancient aqueducts and the Coliseum seems impassive to the tourist busses that rumble by.

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View of Rome

Rome is extremely walkable, as were all of the cities, if one holds their purse close, closed, and zipped. Gypsies, or Romani, are everywhere, selling cheap crap or trying to scam naïve tourists into taking pictures for 5 euro or taking a rose, after which they get very close to you and say, “Give me money.” If one avoids the heavy tourist areas, or just flat out ignores them, it’s not a problem, just annoying. In the areas by our hotels, we walked around quite comfortably and safely, even at night.

Vatican City was amazing. Although Oldest Child had immediately given me his copy of The DaVinci Code as soon as I decided to go to Italy (as an inspiration to sneak into the private collections), the amount of historical treasures that were actually on display was dumbfounding. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and priceless works of art are all on display, no need to go hunting behind the scenes. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming and brought me to tears with the sheer passion of the work painted not only on the ceiling, but the walls. Silence is enforced there and prayers are said. Michelangelo’s most famous Pieta (he carved several) is on display in St. Peter’s Basillica, more beautiful than I had ever dreamed. I got to be inside of St. Peter’s Square, a place that we watch on Christmas Eve and Easter every year, jammed to the gills with people. It was nowhere near as full as it is for those holidays, but it is an immense area. I’m not Catholic, but I could have spent days in the Vatican.

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St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

We took a day trip from Rome to Pompeii, the town that was buried by ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The amount of work that has been done and how much of the original town has been uncovered is astounding. Private homes, shops, wells, and, yes, brothels, are all still there, some looking as if their owners could come back at any moment. Our guide, Enrico, took us everywhere that he could, throwing in as much humorous information as possible and making sure our group saw all of the important things. There is actually a lot more of Pompeii that remains buried, but Enrico seemed confident that it would stay covered. The expense would be just too great and the important buildings had already been excavated. Still, walking the same streets that were once a real place, not a tourist attraction, was humbling and eerie. There were three casts of victims on display: a baby, a man and a dog. Even though they were only the molds of those unfortunates, the bodies have long since decayed, it was emotional to see the horrified expressions still evident after all this time. If I had to choose one word to describe Pompeii, it would be “haunting”.

After three days, we bid a fond “arrivederci” to Rome and moved on to Florence for a change of pace, but once we got there, our pathway to the leather factory we were to tour was blocked by a medieval football game. Apparently, it’s a really big deal there and gets quite rough. One of the most famous squares, or piazzi, was completely blocked off and there was a huge police presence, which our tour director sweet-talked us through. To make a long story short, we did get past the (fun) craziness and got to our wine-tasting, pizza dinner and leather tour on time.

We had a lot of free time to explore in Florence but also got to take a day trip to see the towns of San Gimignano and Siena, both nestled high in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Both have kept most of their medieval buildings and are, rightfully, very proud of them. We quite happily wound our way through the ancient streets, admiring both buildings and landscapes alike. Both of those towns are places where I would gladly go back and spend a lot more time exploring more of what they have to offer.

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City wall of San Gimignano

Venice was next, after a quick stop in Verona to see “Juliet’s balcony”. (FYI, Juliet was a fictional character. The play, by William Shakespeare, was based on warring political families in Verona at the time, but it remains a work of fiction.) Venice was stunning at first glance and remained so throughout the time we spent there. During the daytime hours, there were throngs of tourists to elbow through, and some particularly despicable Gypsies, but there were no scooters threatening to kill us, no busses to dodge, just water taxis and gondolas gliding up and down the narrow canals between homes and churches. In the evening, after the day-trippers leave, Venice is peaceful and breathtaking. Our hotel was across a large canal from Piazza San Marco, so we had to take a water taxi back and forth, an experience in itself. When it came time to go to the airport, we went by water taxi. It was fabulous!.

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Venice

The best part of Venice, however, was that I got to meet my friend, Sabrina, for the first time. We had started communicating almost a year ago online and she was able to meet my mom and me there. We had a wonderful afternoon, just walking around, talking, and getting to know each other. Hopefully, we’ll get to meet up again in a couple of years, perhaps in London. The sooner, the better!

I was given a great gift in this trip, and I have my mother to thank for that. My world was expanded, my appreciation and respect for another culture increased, and I found that while I’m not even close to being fluent in speaking Italian, I am a fairly functional tourist. My next trip isn’t quite in the works yet, we are sending Oldest Child to college next month, after all, but I’m looking forward to what ever adventure comes my way

Ciao!

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A dear friend of mine from my teenage/young adult years shared that he is going to be a grandfather later this year. It’s a wonderful thing, of course, but the thought of grandchildren provokes a sense of disbelief. Eeks! A grandfather??? Already? Then I began to think. Both my grandmother and mother were only two years older than I am now when they became grandmothers. (My mother still hasn’t forgiven me for that.)

I can’t imagine it, though, being a grandparent right now. In my mind, I’m still some awkward youngster who has her whole life ahead of her, but the years say otherwise. Forty is the new thirty, true, but time is gradually slipping away. There is only a matter of time before some cute little thing is calling me Nonna. (Not Grandma, not Granny, Nonna. I’m going all-Italian on this one.)

In the meantime, this passage of time makes me aware of things in my life that I want to accomplish but haven’t yet, otherwise known as a “Bucket List”. I don’t know if the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came up with the name or if it had previously existed, but I first became aware of it when the movie came out in 2007. The movie is about two terminally ill men who set out to do everything they want before, well, kicking the bucket. The idea of a bucket list took flight and now it’s a fairly common term. I’ve thought about it a lot, but haven’t really ever sat down to write one out. Part of the hesitation is that I don’t really want to think about dying just yet, but really, we don’t know how much time we have left. I could be lucky enough to live well into my nineties, or God forbid, I could meet with an accident tomorrow. However it turns out, I have been very fortunate to have done many things in my life that were incredible and that I’m so glad I got to experience: marrying the love of my life and becoming a mother tops the list. Traveling to other countries, graduating from college, performing on stage, and being a published author are all on that “Done” list, but there are many more things I want to do before I’m finished here.

1. Live in London at some point before I’m too old to enjoy it. I fell in love with that city even before I actually visited three yeas ago. Ancient Roman ruins, rich history, never having to drive, it lived up to and exceeded my expectations and I want to experience it more and more.

2. Learn to play the violin well. I have a violin, my brother gave it to me and during each summer, I make an effort to learn to play on my own, but life just keeps getting in the way. Baseball, running kids places, not wanting to subject my family to the squawkings of a beginner, these are all stumbling blocks. I adore the violin, though, and someday I’ll actually make it a priority.

3. Become a full-time writer. It’s no secret that writing is my passion and I would love to be able to do it for a living. This is one item that I am actively working on, with a children’s novel written and a historical fiction novel halfway complete. Now, all I need is an agent to take a chance on me. Getting there…

4. Travel to places that I’ve never been. I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve been to Australia, Hawaii, Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, with Italy to be joining the list in couple more months. Canada doesn’t count, since I can be in Windsor in about 15-20 minutes and they don’t stamp my passport. When my children are grown, I hope to be able to travel even more, specifically Europe, to do more family research and to soak in history. Learning the stories and seeing the artifacts and legacies that people in the past have left behind is something that thrills me beyond belief.

5. Learn more languages. I am working very hard on Italian right now, with the help of a dear friend in Italy, and I can decipher some French and Spanish, but I would like to be fluent in some other languages, preferably by immersion, which leads to travel… I’m sensing a theme in my list.

6. Make a good change in the world. I don’t care if my name is remembered for anything in particular or not, but this world is so messed up in a lot of places that if I can just do something to make it better for others, than I will be happy.

This isn’t a complete list, by any means, but these six things remain constants in my mind. Will I complete them all? I don’t know. It would be satisfying, of course, but as those items are checked off, I have the feeling that more would take their place and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Staying active and curious is a great thing in life. I see people who take the attitude that life just sucks and there’s nothing they can do to fix it. They stay in a job that they hate and don’t try for something better. They don’t go anywhere, they don’t have hobbies that challenge them, and seem content to be miserable and let everyone else know that they are miserable. I don’t want to be that person. I think a Bucket List gives me something to strive for, something to challenge me in every way, something that will keep me contributing to society for a long time.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s something on your Bucket List and why is it there? Challenge yourself, set a goal, and try your best to get there. I’ll let you know how mine turns out.

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