Another short note then back on the road

My wonderful sister asked if these recent posts are being composed now or if they were written while I was in Europe. The answer? These are primarily what I was scribbling in my journal each night while we sat in bed in our pjs, with a few edits for left out words or additional thoughts. Mostly, though, you are getting them “as is.”

Also, I learned on Monday morning that I passed my comps. I cannot describe to you how it felt. I had a friend “on hold” in IM to “wait” with me while I checked. My hands were shaking and I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I didn’t seriously doubt that I would pass the exams, but there’s always this chance, and they’re pass/fail, so there’s no middle ground. The last two years have been very trying for my whole family — not just me — and I was afraid I’d put all of us through this just to see the word “fail.” Seeing the “pass” in the online report was just about the best thing that’s happened this year.

Well, other than going to Italy.

And spending a storybook week in California.

Even with some rough, rough patches along the way I would have to say that this has been an incredible year. God has blessed me indeed.

So . . . here’s Tuesday in Florence. And hold on, because this was an interesting day.

Tuesday

We spent this morning with Sheila’s friends Tosca and Paolo and their beautiful grandson Vanni. Oddly enough, he looks a lot like my nephew did when he was a baby. Tosca and Paolo are wonderful. He sang and played with the baby and very proudly showed us Tosca’s paintings and pictures of their family. We are going there for supper tomorrow evening.

After we left we walked to an area with shops to find some lunch. D Woodroof had recommended a couple of pizza places. We went to the second one we tried because the first one was closed. When we sat down, I looked at the photograph on teh wall next to me and saw JT Hill’s name! AHH! I go halfway around the world and see a photo taken by one of MY student workers! How bizarre is that? Found out that RS (the Harding in Florence director) had arranged for the HUF students to have their photos hung for display in several local restaurants and we just happened to choose one of those places for lunch.

After lunch, we returned to the Bible School an packed our bags. We walked to SB’s apartment for a short visit and some apple juice, then headed to the bus stop. When the bus arrived, none other than RS himself opened the door and grabbed our bags to put them on the bus. He helped us find a quicker bus route to the downtown area and also helped carry our bags to the next stop. How wonderful!

When we got to our final bus stop it had begun to drizzle. So — there we were, two women carrying two bags each , walking in the rain on this beautiful scenic drive close to downtown Florence. Our directions were poor so we walked quite a while in the wrong direction before Sheila could find someone to ask for better directions. We still weren’t sure so she asked someone else. Finally, we headed back the other way and by now it wasn’t drizzling. It was RAINING. We found a way to stack the bags and use our umbrellas but it still very awkward and WET.

After a while, Sheila went to scout out the area to see if she could find the elusive convent we were scheduled to stay in the next two nights. I stood with all four bags with my big HARDING UNIVERSITY umbrella in the rain.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

At one point I figured she was never coming back and that I would be there at night, be mistaken for a bedraggled prostitute, and confirm my mother’s worst fears about me. 🙂

FINALLY Sheila returned and the mystery of the elusive convent was solved.

We were on the wrong side of the street.

We had passed the convent four times without knowing.

Yeah.

Throughout this, I’d done a rather remarkable job of keeping my bags stacked, under the umbrella, out of puddles, and somewhat dry. Just as we got to the gate of the convent, the bags toppled and fell into a deep puddle.

I thought I was going to swear in a convent in front of a nun. This would not be a good thing.

Oh well — it all worked out. Got the bags up and inside, got a room with an amazing balcony, rested a bit, and then hung things to dry.

We set off again, walking the hill to the Piazza del Michaelangelo. We arrived just in time to see a breathtaking sunset over the city of Florence. The beauty combined with my fatigue brought me to tears. It was the most amazing combination of natural and man made beauty I have ever seen.

When the sun had set, we walked back down the hill and found a wonderful little trattoria and bought some food for supper — polenta, risotto, and grilled tomatoes. It was a wonderful end to a tiring but beautiful day.

I keep thinking about Grandmother. She would have loved to have made this trip with us if she could have. I believe she is somewhere, proudly watching her granddaughters on this journey, but OH! — she would have loved to be here with us too!

And once again, there are too many pictures to embed into the text so I placed them in another online album.

Monday (still in Florence)

Monday AM

I am very thankful for three rather American things this morning: Excedrin, my stretchy yoga band, and my iPod. I awoke with very definite beginnings of a headache but it is just about gone now due to medication, stretching, and the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack.

Today we are going to make a few stops in Scandicci, have lunch with David and Debbie W, then spend the afternoon/evening with Julie W and her family. We are going to visit a medieval town not far from here — can’t remember the name — but it will be a good opportunity to take pictures.

I keep thinking about how much Grandmother would have loved to be here and see this. She was such a lover of learning and new experiences. I am thankful for having that example, and I hope that a small part of me communicates that same love to my children and others in my life.

What is life for if not for living fully?

Monday PM

If a day can be perfect, this one was. After some errands in Scandicci — almost 15 euro for postcard stamps and two bus tickets! — we had lunch with David, Debbie, Rosa, and Rosa’s granddaughter Esther. Rosa has become rather famous in Searcy because of her years of cooking for the Bible School. Lunch was wonderful — absolutely wonderful! — and it was good to spend some time with David and Debbie. David has learned enough Italian to tease little Esther and she loved the attention. He is such a good man; reminds me of his father.

Esther and Debbie also had a language connection. Esther showed us all that she had learned the Italian alphabet in sign language. From my rusty memory, most of it seemed the same as ASL, but there were a few differences toward the end of the alphabet.

After lunch, Julie W picked us up and we drove to San Gimignano for the afternoon. It is an 11th century city that is still lived but also has beautiful little gift shops. We spent about 3 hours walking up and down the ancient hilly roads and looking out over the Tuscan countryside. I took so many pictures, but I don’t know if any of them captured the beauty of the place. Julie treated us to gelato from a shop that has won worldwide contests. Their chocolate is said to be the “world’s best,” and it just might be!

Weather is clear: lower 50’s with a brisk wind. I’m glad I threw in my turtleneck at the last minute.

After our time in San Gimignano, we went to Julie’s house for supper. Another amazing meal! Julie’s husband Luigi is from southern Italy and she prepared foods from that area — a wonderful combination of eggplant, potatoes, bell pepper, and tomatoes, bread with olive oil, three kinds of cheese, and a wonderful dessert. Delicioso!

Julie’s children — M,D, and J — are beautiful children with open hearts. It was easy to see the love between Julie, Luigi, and their children.

A wonderful, wonderful day.

Tomorrow we will be in transit again as we move to the convent in Florence. I think Sheila is looking forward to the quiet, but I have enjoyed the hustle and bustle around here and at Julie’s. What an experience, though, to stay at a convent! I have visions of the Sound of Music!

There are too many pictures from this day to include them here, but they are available in this online album.

Short note then back to Europe!

I made it to Knoxville and back safely and think that comps went OK. They were written comps and have to be read by three faculty members, but I should find out in a week or so if I passed or not. If I’ve learned one thing in this process it’s that it doesn’t help to worry about a grade after completing a project. It’s in the readers’ hands now and it will be what it is. Hopefully all I have left is wrapping up the two classes I’m taking this summer. Then I’ll be able to reclaim about 10 hours a week. Huzzah!

I have a week and a half left of work before getting 3 weeks off. I will treasure every minute of it.

Now, back to Europe:

Sunday in Florence

After our overnight train ride, we arrived at the Bible School in Scandicci around 8:30 AM, just in time to quickly change clothes and hop in the car with David W and head to church. We stopped at a neighborhood pastry shop and met up with Robbie S, Mona Lee G, and Kyle T. How spoiled am I to be halfway around the world and yet see people I know.


(The Florence Bible School — home for 3 days)


I am now sitting in church and I see Harding grads Alex C and Ben L to my right. Julie W is a few rows back. Harding’s connections to Florence run very deep.

(Florence church of Christ building)


(Recent Harding grads Ben and Kyle. This was the only time I was able to introduce Sheila to other people in Europe!)


It has been wonderful to listen to men — in another language — encourage their Christian brothers and sisters and praise the same God I love. I can grasp just enough to hear words of God’s love for us, our love for Jesus, and our need to stay strong and serve others.

The building is beautiful. The singing from this small group is magnified tenfold by the domed ceiling and hard floors with wooden pews. The baptistry is sunk into the floor and there are columns and pseudo columns around the room.

An amazing time.


(Inside the building)


5:00 ish

We had lunch at the HU villa with Robbie, Ben, Alex, Mona Lee, Kyle, and a Chinese woman named Flora who lives in Prato — about ten miles from here. She spoke very good Italian (which was an odd visual for me) but no English. Food was excellent and the company was some of the best in the world. I am so glad to be here. Now I know I will apply to be a faculty sponsor for the summer program so I can bring my family here. I understand why Sheila lost her heart here.


(A Robbie S painting in progress.)



(My lifelong friend/mentor Mona Lee!)


10:30 ish

Just back from supper with Sheila’s friends Sergio and Christina. Once more, a wonderful meal full of fellowship, but very different from lunch. Christina used to study the Bible here at the school but never took English lessons. So instead of conversation in English that even came around to Harding politics (like lunch at the villa had), tonight’s was all in Italian (which I don’t understand) and about things I couldn’t discuss anyway. Still, it was wonderful to see the Italian part of Sheila. Of course I’ve seen her ask for directions from people the last couple of days, but this was seeing her — listening, discussing, joking, laughing . . . It’s always good to see someone doing what they love, and connecting with the Italian people is what Sheila loves.

Tonight, after two nights of sleeping in my clothes — one on a plane and one on a train — I will finally get to wear pj’s again. Wonderful. And tomorrow — a shower! Pure joy!

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