Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trying to make sense of it

This past week has been really tough on most folks in America. The horrible tragedy in Connecticut touched all of us in ways we could not imagine. No one could have guessed that a mere boy, who was  in kindergarten not that long ago himself, could go into an elementary school and murder 20 innocent children. Who could have known that he had murdered his own mother in her bed before he made that dreaded trip to Sandy Hook Elementary School to begin his slaughter? We might have known he would take his own life. That seems to be a growing trend in incidences like these.

This tragedy will be with us for a long time. As soon as I saw President Obama's face on the television, the thought struck me that he looked exactly like President Bush looked on the day of 9/11. The victims were like those in Oklahoma City, in Aurora, in Tucson and the Amish School in Nickel Mines - they were all innocent people going about their daily lives when they met their untimely deaths.

How can we make sense of this? I don't know if I will ever understand how the human mind works. I do believe that there is evil in the world, and that people can become evil and do evil deeds. I do know this: God gives us free will to make our own choices. He allows us to make decisions regarding our lives. Perhaps Mrs. Lanza's decision to try and take care of her son instead of getting him the help he needed was a bad decision. Perhaps she should not have had those guns in the house in such close proximity to her troubled son? Those were my thoughts, as I began to hear about Adam Lanza's troubled existence.

We struggle to find answers. We try to make sense of what happened. We talk about gun control and video games. I believe we have the right, as our Constitution promises, to bear arms. We use guns in our society for protection, for hunting, for competition. I believe we must continue to enforce our laws regarding guns. I grew up in a house with guns and so did my husband and our children. But there were never any accidental shootings and especially none on purpose. That is because we were taught to respect not only the guns, but also the sanctity of human lives.

It was said that Adam Lanza spent countless hours in his basement playing violent video games. I really am ignorant of these games and what they entail, so I really cannot opine on them. I do believe what I read over 20 years ago, however. I read an article that predicted a desensitization of the coming generations due to the graphic violence in movies and television. And that was a long time ago. I worried about my children, and decided it was my job as a parent to control what my children saw. I knew it was impossible to completely shield them from society, so I tried to balance what they saw with reality. I taught them the value of human life.

That comes to my point: I believe what causes many of our problems today is, to coin an old phrase,"the breakdown of the family." We can blame it on working women, divorce or anything else we want, but I believe that no matter what circumstance people find themselves in, if they are good parents, they are good parents.  If their child needs help, they find help for him. They find a way to teach their children right from wrong, to keep them in their sights, and know what they are doing.

God gives us these children for a short amount of time. He allows us to have them so that we can teach them and guide them and love them. We are to show our children the unconditional love God has for us, and discipline them with love. It is our responsibility not to raise them as "friends" but as responsible Christian citizens of this country and this world.

So back to our tragedy- We will not understand Lanza's motive because he has gone to meet his maker now. We must strive to bring comfort to those who have suffered loss, through prayer and support. We must vow to value each human life and teach the coming generations to value life also.

The Hebrew prophet Micah writes: "Ah! you plotters of iniquity, who work out evil on your beds! In the morning light you carry it out for it lies within your power."  That verse really hits home, doesn't it? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

My "Advent"ure with Mary

My husband loves Christmas more than anyone else I have ever known. He will start listening to Christmas music as early as October, and watching Christmas movies as soon as he can. It's not that he wants Christmas gifts- he just simply loves Christmas.

I love Christmas too.  But, I think I love Advent even more. I love thinking about Mary, and how the angel visited her to tell her she was to have a son. I have always wondered if she felt confused and lonely, and unsure as to her future. The great thing about Mary to me is how she blindly trusted God and let him take control.  Every year I try to remember and reflect upon how her faith and obedience to God's plan for her became his ultimate plan for us all.

I know what others say about how we "worship" her, and nothing could be farther from the truth. We revere her - God revered her too. He chose her to be mother of his son. She was the one that was chosen out of every woman who ever lived to be the mother of his son. How can we not give her our love and respect?

My journey with Mary began long before I converted to Catholicism. Even as a child growing up in a Southern Baptist home, I always wondered why we only talked about her at Christmas. I almost got in trouble once when I was about 6 years old because of my little "devotion" to Mary.

We were in a Sunday School assembly right around Christmas in my little hometown church and the preacher came in to visit. He gave us an opportunity to ask questions, and it was the opportunity this shy little girl was waiting for. I innocently asked why we never mentioned Mary except at Christmas, and even though I have no recollection of how he answered me, I do remember feeling that I had brought up an uncomfortable issue.  Instead of making me forget her, it made me more interested in her.

Somehow, I got a statue of Mary when I was a kid. When I think of it now, I realize it is something of a mini-miracle. I was in a tiny town in South Carolina with no Catholic church and especially no Catholic  gift shop anywhere near me.  But I had that statue in my room for the longest time. I just looked at her and thought about how special she must have been to be the mother of the son of God.

Of course, now I realize God was preparing me for my conversion to Catholicism. I know he knew already that I would meet and marry an Italian Catholic boy and I would convert with my first child, my son, in my womb.

He knew I would need his Mary in my life when I faced my hardest trial. She lost her child and so did I.  Her loss became our gain. Because of her loss, I will see my child again.

"Savior of the nations, come; Virgin's Son, make here your home. 
Marvel now, both heav'n and earth, That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood, by the Spirit of our God
Was the Word of God made flesh, Mary's offspring, pure and fresh.

You, the Father's only Son, Have o'er sin the vict'ry won. 
Boundless shall your kingdom be; When shall we its glories see? 

Brightly does your manger shine; Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o'er cloud this light; Ever be our faith thus bright. "

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Are we meaner than we used to be?

I'll be so glad when this election is over, and I almost feel the same way about football season at this point. It seems that politics and football bring out the worst in people. I cannot believe some of the ugly and personal remarks I have witnessed both on television and on social media this political season. It seems some people think social media gives them license to just be mean-spirited about the person they oppose. Never mind the issues, just trash the person.

It is not right, in my book. Gone are the days when people really sought to educate themselves on the issues, and discuss them rationally. We should really know what we are voting for when we go into that booth. It is vital that we look past the party and the personality, and try to discern the man or woman we think will represent us best in our state and in our nation.

Same goes with football. People are so mean about other people's teams. I am a great believer in rivalries. I think it is healthy and American to have sports rivalries. Haven't we seen enough already with two dead trees, and a so-called "fan" who is now a registered sex-offender for behaving like a jerk after the national championship? You even see little league parents getting into fist fights at their children's games.  I'm sure there are countless other examples, but these were fresh in my mind.

I read the news daily about children being abused, tortured and killed by strangers and even their own parents, in some cases. There are "gone missing" cases every day and our children are being bullied to the point of suicide.

We as Christians are called to show Christ to others in our lives. As Catholics, we are taught to "be Christ" to others. I try not to say too much on Facebook and Twitter about politics, although I do post about my favorite football teams!

Maybe someone might call me a chicken, for not stating my opinion on politics. I will say this, I am a Catholic and a Christian, and as such, I am pro-life. So my voting is very influenced by that issue. I believe in taking care of the poor and marginal, which is what my faith teaches. I try to be as Christ to all, and fall short every day of my life. But I try.

I pray that we as a society, will return to some sense of decorum and integrity. I hope we can learn to love each other, but if not, I hope we can at least respect each other's right to our own opinions, and learn to tolerate our differences.

Peace of Christ.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Aaron's birthday poster for 2012

This week, my precious son Aaron turns 29. He is such a joy to his father and me. We are both SOOO proud of the man he has become. Like his father, he works hard and like his father is to me,  he is a wonderful husband to our sweet daughter-in-law, Anna. Aaron had a great example in his father of what a Christian husband should be, and he is following that example daily.

I remember clearly the day he was born. He came on his due date, which I am told is rare for a first baby. I have forgotten the labor, and any pain I may have experienced. I only remember the first time I laid eyes on the precious baby God had given me. We spent our maternity leave together in our little apartment in Downey, CA where we lived when Aaron was born. I sang to him and read to him every day, and I will never forget those first days we had together.

We had a little old black and white TV we had gotten from my older brother. The dial was broken so you had to change it with a pair of pliers. Aaron laughs every time we tell that little family story. His dad brought home a rented color television so we could watch all the Christmas specials and movies that year.

Aaron was joined by his sister when he was 2 years and one month old, and he loved her fiercely until the day she died.  He was her champion and her very best friend, and he loves as much today as the day she was born. Being Aaron, he has been a source of comfort and support for his mom and dad in the days since we lost our beloved Lauren. Our little family unit was always strong and tight, and has remained that way, even through our grief.

My two favorite boys. 

Aaron was a typical boy, rambunctious and full of vim and vigor, but always, always a great joy to us. He really never gave us any trouble at all. He has made us prouder than I can get across to him. I can't tell him enough. Graduating from Ole Miss and embarking on his career and into marriage, he has shown himself to be everything we ever hoped he would be. He is a very talented musician (which he gets from both sides of his family) and he loves music and sports.

When Aaron was a little boy, I always surprised him with a little hand-made "Happy Birthday" poster on the refrigerator. It would say, for example, "Happy 9th (or whatever year it was) Birthday, Aaron!" and I would decorate it to the best of my limited ability. (I am certainly NOT an artist!) He would always look forward to that. I haven't been able to do that in the past few years since he has lived away from home, so this is his "Birthday Poster" for this year.

So, "Happy 29th Birthday, Aaron!" We love you more than words can convey...
One of my favorite pictures of Aaron and me. Cotton Bowl 2009

Monday, October 8, 2012

October surprise

October started off with a big surprise for us! Lauren's sweet childhood friend Brittany and her husband Job had a baby girl and honored us by naming her Lauren Grace.  We were so humbled and honored by her choice. We are so excited to meet her soon! 

Job and Brittany are very special to us for many reasons. When we moved to Senatobia, our son Aaron was in 8th grade, and Lauren was in 5th grade. They were not happy about moving again, and let us know about it. We had moved to Memphis 3 years earlier, and they had adjusted to that move, and now here we were moving again! We wanted land and to build our family's "dream house" and Senatobia was the place we had chosen to do it. 

Aaron and Lauren made friends the first day they went to school in Senatobia. Aaron met his lifelong friend Gene, and Lauren met her lifelong friend Brittany! After a week, they were completely at home. Lauren and Brittany seemed to be inseparable after just a short amount of time. Brittany spent a lot of time in our house, and Lauren in her house. 

Aaron and Job became friends later in high school (they went to different schools) and ended up as college roommates at Northwest. Lauren and Brittany were still in high school, but Lauren had it in her mind that Job and Brittany should meet. She felt like their Christian values, their outlook on life, and just their personalities in general would make them a smart match. Aaron was not so thrilled at first. He didn't think his friends should date Lauren's friends. But Lauren (in her quiet little way) persisted until Aaron finally agreed. Job and Brittany hit it off, and THEY were inseparable! 

Brittany got her degree in nursing and Job began to pursue a divinity degree to become a preacher. 

Their journey as a married couple began after Lauren died. They honored Lauren at their wedding with flowers, and a sweet mention in their program. They had a son Reid, and when they discovered they were pregnant again, they decided not to find out what the baby was beforehand. 

Brittany called me the morning of Oct. 3 to tell me the baby was here and what her name was! I was overwhelmed. 

Last week was a great week. I spent Monday with our scholarship recipients and then found out about Lauren Grace. We feel very blessed to have these wonderful folks in our lives. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My scholarship kids, and what they mean to me

 Aaron and Lauren in Las Vegas in 2003
Lauren's graduation photo

This Monday will be one of those bittersweet days for me. We will have our annual scholarship reception and banquet at the college where I work, and my daughter's scholarship recipients will be there with me at the reception. They are both very sweet kids. I have had the opportunity to get to know them a bit already. 

Hannah, a sophomore, is a soft-spoken young lady who had a terrible accident when she was in high school. Her sister graduated with my son, and her brother with Lauren. She made a full recovery, thank God. She is a section leader in the band, works part time, and maintains a good grade point average. She is very sweet and loving towards me. 

Ryan is a freshman. He is very active in his youth group and in the BSU at school. He is very polite and always friendly. He seems to be a very happy young man. 

I think back to when our scholarship was endowed and our first recipient was chosen. It was such a hard time for us, but looking back, I had no way to know how much happiness these young people would bring me back then. 

We have had great kids to receive our scholarship, and it makes me happy to know that we helped them in some small way. I have bonded with all of the kids who received the scholarship over the years. 

So I salute Amy (in law school now); Paxton (working on his Master's in Music), McGhea (working in his field of computer science), Jordan (still studying nursing) and of course Hannah and Ryan, still in school and still participating in our band. 

Monday, I will remember my sweet Lauren and be thankful that her memory remains alive in such a special way. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Two guys I adore... and not the ones you think.

I was trying to watch Fr. Robert Barron's "Catholicism" on EWTN the other night, and desperately trying not to fall asleep. I am really interested in this series, and will probably end up buying it one day. So I wasn't falling asleep out of boredom, I was falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion. It was only a couple of days after we returned from Italy, and I was still trying to adjust.

I roused myself when Fr. Barron began to talk about John 6, the so-called "Bread of Life" discourse. We have been hearing a lot about this lately in Mass. I love John 6.  Fr. Barron talked about how many of Christ's disciples left him because they could not live with what he was saying about eating his body and drinking his blood. But Peter stood up and said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Fr. Barron said the other disciples followed Peter and we have been following him ever since.

To me, that is when Peter's formation as the first pope began. Jesus had said that he would build his church on the rock (Peter) and if you think about it, our basilica, named St. Peter's, is built on that rock, since it is Peter's bones under the altar. It is Peter's church, and today his descendant Benedict sits in his chair in that church.

I like Peter. I thought a lot about him when I was in Rome. I like that he had a temper, and that he screwed up a time or two, but he went on to become the leader of the Church. I have a special place in my heart for him.

I thought a lot about St. Paul when I was there, too. To walk on the streets where he and St. Peter walked was truly overwhelming. To be where they had once been is just surreal to me still. When I think of Paul and how he overcame his former life to become one of the greatest apostles, I just know there is hope for me. I really love reading his writings and Peter's as well.

I can't decide which one I love the most, and I am glad I don't have to. Fr. Barron talked about how there are Petrine and Pauline Catholics, but I think I want to remain neutral and accept both of these great men for what they are - amazing.

 St. Peter (at St. John Lateran Church) You can usually recognize him, because he has the keys. 

St. Paul at St. John Lateran Church

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Growing in Grace (I dropped my lunch today)

I recounted this incident on Facebook right after it happened, but I will repeat it just the same.

This was my post:

"So, I was walking across the street from the parking lot to my office when the bottom of the Bath and Body Works paper bag I was recycling for my lunch bag gave way and my lunch went everywhere. I picked all of my lunch up, piece by piece off the ground and stuck it all in my gym bag until I could get inside. Someone said, "What a way to start the day!" I was actually really calm about it, because the thought struck me that I at least had a lunch to pick up. So, thank you Lord for the food you have given me today. And I pray for those who don't have anything to eat." As of this writing, 52 of my friends "liked" my post. 

I really kind of surprised myself, quite frankly. Usually,  I get really mad over little things like that, and have been known to utter a curse word I shouldn't utter on occasion. In other words, I don't have much patience with little things like traffic, dropping things, stubbing my toe or hitting my head. I am still mystified at why I reacted the way I did, but I am grateful I did. 

In retrospect, I hope that I am growing in grace. I have prayed that I would, and maybe the Lord is answering that prayer. 

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to ask forgiveness of a stranger (well, she is in my Zumba class, so she is not a complete stranger.) A while back, she and I had a little run-in at Zumba. Without going into details, I will admit I lost my patience (and my temper) and said something sort of mean to her. I didn't like her (or so I thought). I apologized, and she immediately apologized for what she had done, and then in the midst of our conversation I mentioned Lauren. As it turns out, she runs a hospice. She is also a grief counselor. Long story short, I told her I would be willing to talk to a grieving parent if I am needed. What a gift! I asked God to grant me opportunities to help others who are grieving. Those of us in the same "club" understand each other, and there were others who helped me. 

I hate to talk in cliches, but as I have heard it said in the past, "God isn't finished with me yet." I certainly hope not. I hope He will give me lots of opportunities to grow in grace. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Final Reflections on Italy

Our trip last week to Italy was truly the trip of a lifetime for us. We have been married for 30 years, and this is only the second trip we have ever taken that did not involve a family visit or a business trip. The first trip was our honeymoon!

There are so many facets to the trip for me that I can hardly begin to name them. Spending time with Richard in a relaxed and fun atmosphere where we explored and discovered a new place was exhilirating and refreshing for us both. That was the primary benefit of the trip, but the other benefits were also great.

My Catholic faith was also refreshed and renewed. To be in Rome, where our faith actually began (after the Lord ascended) was so awesome. I truly understand the history of pilgrimages and why people take them. To stand before the tomb of Blessed John Paul II and pray or gaze upon the works of Michelangeo and Rafael was such a surreal experience. In sharing the experiences with friends and family, I have finally begun to realize the intensity of my experiences.

One of the things that stayed with me throughout the entire trip was what Lauren would have thought about it. She loved all things Italian, and was particularly proud of her Italian heritage on her dad's side. She was all set to study Italian when she got to Ole Miss, but that was not to be.

As is everything else for a grieving parent, life-changing experiences that you have after you lose your child are bittersweet. I like to think that Lauren knows what we are doing and that she knew I really dedicated this trip to her. I hope she knows I was always thinking of how she would react or what she might think of what we saw.

Hopefully, one day I will return to my beloved Italy. It is, to me, the most beautiful place on earth.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sat., Sept. 8/Sun. Sept. 9 : The Long Journey home

Our driver was not picking us up until 10 am so we decided to take one last walk around Firenze after breakfast. 

We had walked before dinner last night through the park along the Arno just to see what things looked like in the opposite direction from what we were used to. It was a nice neighborhood, and along the Arno were little outdoor bars where one could sit and enjoy music, a sandwich or other light fare and wine. 

We ate at the little bar next to our hotel, walked back down the Arno and then came in for the night. 

Our walk this morning included some window shopping in a guitar shop for RT, and a look at the outside of an old church called Sante Famiglia (Holy Family). We ducked into a shop that featured unfinished furniture and plenty of paint, and other materials for crafts. So we got a taste of what the area where we were staying was like. 

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time to go through security, grab a sandwich and get on the small CityJet to Paris. They made us check our bag, which RT hates. One interesting thing is that we got to the gate and the took us on a shuttle for about 30 seconds to the plane. That was weird. 

The airport in Paris turned out to be exactly as my friend Fr. David described it: something of a nightmare. We arrived into some sort of a tunnel with no signs or monitors pointing anywhere, and the security guy was no help at all. We finally figured out that we had to go down a couple of ramps to the terminal. We were in terminal 2G and after running to the info desk we found out we needed to be at 2E. They should be pretty close to each other, right? Uhm, think again. You had to go OUTSIDE to the shuttle and go all around the airport past every other terminal and the train pick up to get there. They were opposite of each other. 

We got to the terminal finally and checked the monitors. Our gate was K49 which meant nothing to us, so we ran to another info desk and got pointed in the right direction. We ran around the corner to the passport area and stood in line to get out of France, and then stood in line to go through security to get out of France. We ran to our gate and the  guys at the gate asked us security questions too. After a minute we finally got to the plane. I would have to agree with Fr. David whole-heartedly. Worst. Airport. Ever. It is completely unorganized. 

After a long, long, long plane ride, complete with three movies, lunch and snack and plenty of turbulence, we finally made it to Atlanta. We texted our son immediately, who texted back that Ole Miss was beating UTEP. That made RT really happy! 

Our Global Entry made coming back into the country so much easier. We got to come through the diplomat’s entrance. We got our bags, but they made us put them back on the conveyor for the plane to Memphis. 

We went to the Sky Club to rest for a few minutes and then got to the gate for Memphis. The plane took off a little later than expected, and finally we got back to Memphis, got our bags, got the shuttle, got our car and headed back to Mississippi. 

It was a long day, but we were happy to be home. We settled in and after being up for probably 24 hours, finally went to sleep. We got up too late for mass unfortunately,  but met our kids for Sunday brunch in Oxford. Resting today and back to work tomorrow. 

 The little airport in Firenze was so cute. 
 Last meal in Italy! Even their airport food is good.
 Worst. Airport.Ever. 

Coast of France- Heading out for the long trip over the ocean.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fri., Sept. 7 My date with David on my last day in Firenze

This morning, we waited in trepidation after breakfast for the tour driver to come, having missed the tour yesterday. A couple of phone calls yesterday and a fax from American Express seemed to have worked out the issue, but one can never be sure. At 8:40, the driver came into our mad, tourist-filled, bus boarding lobby and walked straight up to me  asking if I was Signora Tallo. RT was outside looking for him. I replied “Si”, and he said, “Prego.” After a week here, I knew it was time to go. 

RT found us and we drove to the bus station at Santa Maria Novella to find our tour. The guy who met us there looked like he could have been Lino Rulli’s younger brother. He looked us up on his iPad, found us and told us to wait. 

A short time later a couple walked up and the guy was wearing, of all things, a University of Alabama hat. The Crimson Tide is everywhere, I guess. Turns out they live in Atlanta. RT and the guy had a friendly exchange about SEC football and then the rest of the folks and our tour guide showed up. 

We drove in two mini-vans across the city to the Piazzale Michelangelo! (This made it the third time RT and I had been there, but it was still cool to see.)  We went back down the hill through the areas we had been yesterday, and finally ended up at the Academia, where David lives (or rules!) 

The tour guide was explaining a lot of the history of the city as we were going along, and when we got to the museum, there was Signori Rulli again to check us in and give us tickets and radios to hear the guide. We skipped the line (my favorite thing) and went right in. We got to see some beautiful old musical instruments including several Stardivari violins, cellos, harpsichords, dulcimers, horns and pianos. 

Then we went into the art side to view some beautiful paintings, panels and sculptures. We made our way through until beautiful David appeared around the corner. He stood there majestically in the center of an area where you could walk around him and admire him from every angle. He has a stone in his right  hand and his slingshot over his left shoulder. Ready for battle, the tour guide said, but I always thought I could imagine Goliath on the ground waiting to have his head cut off. 

We finished the tour through the room of plaster sculptures for a break in the bookstore and a look at someone’s idea of a joke. It was a copy of my precious David, but he was looking pretty funny. I said it was a replica of David by Michel Redneckio.  After this, we then proceeded to the end of the tour. 

Walking through the streets, he pointed out a home where Leonardo Da Vinci had lived and showed us the “headquarters” belonging to the Medicis. That one family produced two popes and two queens of France, along with very high government officials in Fireneze long before the unification of Italy.  

Our guide left us at the Basilica of the Santa Maria del Fiore, or as the Florentines call it, Il Duomo (the Dome). It is the third largest church in the world behind St. Peter’s and St. James in London, according to our guide. It is Gothic style with a Mediterannean flair. There was no line, so Richard and I went inside. Once again, we were overwhelmed by the beauty inside. 

We made our way back through the Ponte Vecchio to a side street where we found a restaurant and had some excellent food. Then we walked the long way back to the hotel to rest before going out to dinner, and do some last minute things like printing boarding passes! Tomorrow we head back to the good old USA! I will miss Italy, but I do look forward to getting home. 

So I say Ciao, Italia! I know I will return to you one day. 

 Lino Rulli's little brother. (If you don't know Lino, please google him!)
The replica of David by Michel Redneckio
 The Medici building. 
 The place where Da Vinci lived for a brief time. 
 Il Duomo- I could not get the whole building in my frame. I wanted to show some detail. 
 Looking up into the dome.
When they tell you to cover your shoulders to enter a church, they mean business! You don't, you end up in a hospital gown! 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thurs., Sept. 6, The accidental tourist’s guide to Firenze

Today started off with a bang, as we hoofed it back up the hill and the massive stairs to Piazzale Michelangeo to meet our tour bus. Trouble was, our tour bus was at our hotel to pick us up. The miscommunication was on the tour company’s part, as it turns out. I made my first Italian phone call on a public phone to find that out. Our paperwork told us to go up the hill, and the bus driver was told to pick us up here. We decided to try again tomorrow. 

We walked all over Firenze, I believe. We were gone from the hotel for 6 hours, and RT racked up 12,000+ steps on his pedometer. That is usually his allotment for one whole day. On the way we saw a Lutheran church, which reminded me of my sweet daughter-in-law.  

We went to the big open market and bought a few souvenirs. On the Ponte Vecchio, (old bridge) we saw jewelry store after jewelry store with beautiful jewels and gold and silver. Of course, I wanted something, and of course RT bought it! He got me a cameo from the south of Italy that just happened to be on sale. Since it was silver, it did not break the bank at all. 

We visited a beautiful church called Orsanmichele, which would not allow photos inside. It was magnificent! There were beautiful statues outside. As I was remarking on the church, an elderly Italian lady walked by and said, “molto bello!” 

We had a great pizza in the central city area, and enjoyed a coffee and pastry on the Ponte Vecchio. 

We saw some of the places we will visit in depth on the tour tomorrow. We are looking forward to going inside the massive cathedral in the center of the city, called the Duomo, and to the museum that houses David. That will be the highlight of our visit here. I saw the reproduction in California as a child, and I have always wanted to see the real one. 

We came back to the hotel to rest and recuperate from all that walking and actually got on the WiFi here. We were able to straighten out the tour problem and talk to our son, Aaron also.

Headed to dinner in our hotel and then to get some rest for tomorrow, our last full day in Firenze! 

The Lutheran church we found for Anna.
Il Duomo, which we will visit tomorrow. This is no indication of the size of this place. 

Shoppers in the open market

The Church called Orsanmichele, which was beautiful.

One of the many jewelry shops on the Ponte Vecchio. 

Wed., Sept. 5 Firenze on Foot

 David's bronze brother in Piazzale Michelangelo
 The Italian countryside
 Our friends on the train
 Firenze from the top 

RT at the madness that is Termini Roma

(This post is a day late because of no wireless in the hotel.) 

Today was our travel day to Firenze (Florence), and it proved to be a long one.  Bidding our wonderful Rome hotel arrivederci, we took the metro two steps to get to the Roma Termini (train station) in order to board a Euro Rail train for the 1 1/2 hour ride to Firenze. We got to the Termini and had no idea where to go next. After walking for some time, we came to the Customer Service desk where you took a number and waited. After about 40 minutes, the man took approximately 40 seconds to tell Richard we needed the train to Milan (which stopped in Firenze and Bologna along the way) and it was at Track 9. (I was disappointed that it wasn’t Platform 9 3/4, quite frankly.)

Once we located it, we ran upstairs for a quick sandwich. We got back to the track to discover the train was running late. After a great deal of speculation, we and some other travelers asked the conductor (or whatever he was) and he said it may not have been track 9 after all. The train was delayed because another train from another company had broken down in front of it. Great. As it turned out, it showed up about 5 minutes later on Track 8.

The train ride across the Italian countryside was magnificent. It looked exactly like I thought it would. We sat across from an elderly lady and a younger lady and a beautiful baby boy. They did not speak a word of English. 

Once in Firenze, we took a horribly loud, jerky, bumpy bus ride across to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Mediteranneao. We got checked in and decided to go exploring. We walked along the Arno River until we got to the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) which will take you into the city in one direction, and to the Piazza San Niccolo and the Piazza Michelangelo. 

We climbed a set of steps that made the Spanish Steps in Rome look like  a doorstep. There had to be 300 of them. On the way up. we found a public rose garden that had become the home to several bronze works by an artist called Folon. 

It was a long climb, but the trip was worth the prize at the top. We got a view that was unbelievable. Michelangelo was born and lived some of his long life in Firenze and the city is very proud of him. We saw a bronze David dedicated to him. I hope we will see his actual sculpture while we are here. 

While in the area, we discovered a beautiful church called San Salvatore al Monte alle Croci, which my friend Fr. David will have to translate for me. I do know it was Franciscan, however. It was very different from the churches we had seen in Rome. Not as ornate, but beautiful in its own right. It actually reminded me of some of the mission churches in California, which were all founded by Franciscans.

We were able to grab dinner (delicious pizza) across the street and then began the trek back to the hotel. 

Tomorrow we have a tour, so after walking for hours today, we are ready for a rest. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tues., Sept. 4, Rainy Day in Roma

Today was the day I had been waiting for. We had purchased a tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica online before coming to Rome. The Skip the Line tour is the only way to go. We took the Metro to the area near the Vatican to meet our tour. The Metro turned out to be very much like the Tube in London. We call them subways in our country.

We met our tour guide Frederica and began the tour promptly at 9 am. (The hundreds of folks standing in line did not look too happy with us.) After going through the metal detector, we started the tour which was unbelievable. Our tour took us on the Long March through the Candelabra Room, the Tapestries and the Maps rooms into the area where you find works by Raphael, many of which were housed in the old papal apartments. There is a room dedicated to Constantine with works that celebrate the passing of Rome from the pagans to the Christians. The Raphael Rooms include a large painting of King Jan Sobieski liberating Vienna, the Immaculate Conception Room, and then you are headed toward the Sistine Chapel. I have no pictures of it, because you are not allowed to take them. In order to enter, you must have your shoulders and knees covered, and the security takes it very seriously. 

Michelangelo has captured the the story of man on that ceiling. It is really unbelievable. From the creation of man to the Last Judgement, Michaelangelo painted the frescos alone in the room.  

Of course, my favorite part was when the tour guide reminded us that this room is where the cardinals elect at new pope. We saw the door that the pope goes through to the balcony after choosing one of the three vestments hanging in the “Crying Room” (Small, Medium or Large) to put on before being revealed to the people. She showed us where the white smoke is emitted. 

From there, we made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica, the cornerstone of the Roman Catholic Church. We could hear a choir singing in the basilica as we were walking through. There we saw the Pieta, Michelangelo’s first major work. We walked past the tomb of Blessed John Paul II, and my heart nearly stopped from the sheer knowledge of where we were. The Main Altar was magnificently adorned and underneath it are the bones of our first pope, St. Peter.  Frederica reminded us of the story where Jesus told Peter “upon this rock I build my church.  The early Christians built their church on top of the bones of St. Peter (the Rock). That simple sentence really blew me away. 

After our tour ended, we took in lunch at a restaurant recommended to us by our favorite desk clerk, Alessio. I had my first carbonara there, which was delicious. We had truly planned to go back to St. John Lateran to find the Holy Stairs, but were not able to as Roma had other plans. It rained heavily for the rest of the day. We waited for our Hop on Hop off bus because we still had today to use it. The only place we could sit was up top. After a miserably rainy ride across the city, we were in no mood to walk from the Colosseum stop back to St. John’s so we stayed on until we got back to the Spanish Steps, which is close to our hotel. I have climbed those 139 steps every day since we got here. Richard counted over 16,000 steps yesterday and today has 12,000 or so today. Since I am that much shorter than him, you can add probably 25% more to that for my steps. 

Tomorrow we say Arrividerci to Rome and head to Firenze on the train. I did not see the Holy Stairs this time, thanks to the rain both days. I figure that means I’m coming back again... 
 La Pieta by Michelangelo
 The tomb of our Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II
 The Main Altar of St. Peter's- Underneath this altar lie the bones of St. Peter the Apostle. 
 End of the Tour with Frederica
Leave is to us Catholics to build the largest church in the world in the smallest country in the world. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Monday, Sept. 3 Labor Day in Rome or “Hop on, Hop off.”

Nothing like watching LL Cool J, Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas dubbed in Italian before going to sleep. 

Our Mini - Pilgrimage continued today. 

We woke up and after breakfast we headed to the Termini to catch our Hop on, Hop off bus. We rode across the city until we got to the Colosseum and the area of ancient Rome. Our bus stopped in front of the Arch of Constantine. It was awesome to think of the emperor who brought Christianity to the Roman Empire, by legalizing Christianity.  To see the Colosseum is almost surreal. We were awed by the structure and its magnificence. It was built in 80 A.D. To see a structure that old took our breath away. 

We found a quaint outside restaurant across the street from the Colosseum, where we enjoyed our first Roman-style pizza. Then we began the walk to visit the church called San Giovanni in Laterno (St. John Latern). Built in 318 A.D., it became the first church in Rome where once persecuted Christians could worship openly and legally. In Medieval times it was the seat of the Catholic Church and remained so until St. Peter’s Basilica was completed during the Renaissance.  It was really beautiful inside with impressive statues of the 12 Apostles and St. Paul. The 2000 year old bronze doors originally hung in the Roman Senate. We prayed in this church before going back to the Colosseum area. We enjoyed a thunderstorm and a cup of gelato on the way back to the Colosseum. 

We walked through an area where the University of Rome is excavating a part of the northeast slopes of the Palantine. We walked up to the top of the hill and discovered a hidden treasure in the Church of St. Bonaventura. Its facade was plain, but inside was another story. We are slowly discovering that every church in Rome is magnificent. Walking up the hill to the church were the Stations of the Cross built into the outside wall. 

Walking back to the Arch of Constantine to grab out bus, Richard decided to be photographed with his beloved Ole Miss flag. Then, it was back on the bus and back across the city to the Triton Fountain, which is around the corner from our hotel. 

We came in and decided to rest a bit before dinner. We may return to the Spanish Steps this evening to check out the shopping and find dinner. 

Tomorrow, the Vatican and the Holy Stairs, which we missed today because of the storm! 
 The Colosseum
 Richard in St. John Lateran
 The 2000 year old bronze doors at St. John Lateran
 Hidden treasure: the altar and tabernacle at St. Bonaventura
St. Bonaventura Church

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sun.Sept. 2, Bella Roma

Sunday, Sept. 2-

They brought around breakfast about an hour and half before we landed in Rome. I saw the sunrise over Italy, but I was so far up I could not see what Italy looked like. We came into Rome and through the Passport Authority and found our driver. His name was Pino, but of course I thought he said Lino, and I got really happy! I thought that was a good omen, but Pino did turn out to be awesome. Even thought he did not speak much English, he did identify a few landmarks, which I could usually translate from Italian to English. Not because my Italian is any good, I could just recognize them. 

In the airport, RT found out that there was a difference in Italian coffees and Caffee Americano. We got for 2 Euros = 2 tiny espressos. We made our way from the airport to the Hotel Anglo Americano and checked in early. While we were waiting, we enjoyed our first complimentary breakfast.

After getting settled, we were on our way to explore. The first stop was the Trevi Fountain- well- known to most Rome visitors. We threw the coin in so we could come back again, like every tourist does. 

  Fontana delle Naiadi
 Mass here was beautiful.
Spanish Steps- It was sprinkling a bit.

We discovered the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs and after a quick trip to McDonald’s (yes, really) for a bottled water, we made our way to mass at noon. What an experience to celebrate mass in Italian. Even though we did not know most of the words, our bilingual masses at St. Gregory’s came in handy. Hearing Spanish every Sunday really helped us recognize some of the Italian we were hearing. I began to cry at Eucharist, because it struck me that we are truly the Universal Church. I was doing the same thing my brothers and sisters all over the world were doing. It was so overwhelming!

We enjoyed lunch and came back to the hotel to rest for a little bit. Being up and traveling for 24 hours straight was very tiring, so we took a 2 hour nap before heading to find the Spanish Steps. We walked around in that area for a good while, had some gelati and made our way back to a quaint family restaurant. We could not get past the first course and soup. That was plenty to eat. 

Now back at the hotel to upload the blog and get some rest. 


Day 1 Italian Voyage- Getting there

Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012

We began our trip from Memphis to Atlanta at 11:40 am and had a good flight complete with internet. We ate at Qdoba in ATL airport and were unsuccessful in getting an international cell phone plan. We did get a landline plan so that we could call our kids while we are there. Our cell phones will be on airplane mode for a week. 

The Delta flight to Rome began at 3:40 pm. Our in-flight entertainment for the first three hours consisted of nothing, since the system would not work. They rebooted it at least three times. The only thing we could see was the trip map which showed that we were flying up the east coast from Atlanta to Boston and making a sharp right turn headed straight toward the ocean. About 6:15 p.m. CST, the sun was setting. It was beautiful. A few minutes later I could see nothing out of the window. 

There was no internet, which left RT wondering who was winning the Ole Miss vs. Central Arkansas game. Guess we’ll have to wait until we can get on Twitter tomorrow morning. He was looking forward to tracking the game along the way. 

Our dinner was chicken and rice, salad (I got all of RT’s cucumbers, since he hates them), cheese and crackers, a roll with butter, a blonde chocolate chip cookie, Dinner conversation was listening to the liberal Democrat non-practicing Episcopalian lady and the South American Catholic doctor, (who claimed he only goes to church to take his children) drone on and on.

The third reboot was wholly unsuccessful, so we decided to take a nap, which was wholly unsuccessful as well. They served us turkey and cheddar on a roll and Milano cookies later in the evening, which we both ate. (Weight watchers is out of the question on this trip, I am discovering.) 

No movies, no music (my iPhone was low on battery) and a couple of puzzle books and a SkyMall magazine kept me company. In my haste, I forgot to pack my book.

They fed us a nice breakfast just before we landed, but that did not stop us from eating the free breakfast at the hotel!

On time and ready to go!

With no internet or movies, our entertainment was watching ourselves cross the ocean.
We're here!

First glimpse of Italia under cloud cover.