Spring Break Stingrays

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We just got back from a very relaxing trip with the kids to Treasure Cay in the Bahamas.  We traveled with four other families and it was a blast!  My kids have been spoiled and now say they always want to travel with other kiddos!

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This beach definitely lived up to its title of a top 10 beach in the world!  I loved it so because the sand was like white flour and the water was glowing turquoise.  But the best part was how quiet it was!  No resorts and very few people around!  There were chairs and umbrellas out on the beach and there were always some available.  No getting up early to snag a chair here!

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I think this is a good destination if you want a perfect, absolutely gorgeous, quiet beach.  If your family likes to have lots of activity, shopping, or entertainment- this is probably not the destination for you.   We rented a condo (via VRBO) in the Bahama Beach Club and loved that the condos all faced the pool and the beach.  It was a lovely view and if you sat on your screened porch, you could see all that was going on.

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We had one chartered boat expedition that came highly recommended and then we planned to take a boat on our own, visiting the different islands, for several other days. It was pretty breezy the week we were there which made for great weather and no bugs!  But if did make the ocean water choppy and the women especially did not love the boating as much as just staying in paradise.  So we ended up having 2 boating days total and I have no regrets about that.

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Having said that, my two most favorite experiences did occur on the boating trips.  First on the chartered tour, we went out, fished for our lunch, and were taken to another desolate island where they cooked the fish for us.  It was so delicious, but the most amazing thing were the stingrays!!!!  The guides told us they were friendly so we had no fear petting them and letting them “pet” us!  Having just read The Soul of an Octopus, I was in awe and amazement the whole time!  Truly the highlight of the whole trip for me!  Only when we returned home did my husband talk to several people who have been stuck by stingrays.  I am so glad we didn’t know those stories before the experience!

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Whenever I have a unique encounter with an animal, I google that animal’s spirit meaning.  I love animals, and I have been told (and believe) that they are here to help us along this earthly existence.  This is what I read about stingrays on one  website:

If Stingray has come swimming by you today;

Stingray is letting you know that everything is now in place. You have the knowledge, you have the means, you have the tools and you have the skills ‚Äď now get busy and get on with it. Everything you have worked toward is open to you so stop hesitating. Have faith in your abilities and follow your inner guidance.

Hmmm… this message is probably meant for me but I’m still not entirely clear what “it” is ūüôā

Another thing I loved was when the adults went for a short boat ride.  We found a small desolate island and we all jumped in the water and swam to it. It was just so nice- the clear water, the clean sand below, and there  were a lot of big conch shells so I took one (its very imperfect- not all shined up like in a novelty shop) and brought it home.

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For the most part we relaxed and read and talked and ate:)  We either grilled dinner or we went out to one of 3 places.  As always, the kids preferred to have dinner at home all together in one condo while the parents went out to eat every other night.

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Because it is a fairly remote place, they have to import everything in.  There is a small grocery store but it is pricey.  Luckily, we had lots of advice from others who had been on ways to prepare and pack ahead.  And that is what I have listed below because some have asked:

  1. We were told to pack (in checked luggage) liquor and food because we all had our own full kitchens and groceries are quite pricey on the island, as most everything is brought in. This was very stressful for me to plan but now I feel like a pro. Our group had a loose plan to eat in 3 nights and eat out 3 nights.  Our airline charged $25/checked bag under 50 pounds.  So at 3 o’clock in the morning as I was packing the cooler, I realized it was more economical to check two bags as opposed to paying $100-$250 for an overweight (over 50 lbs) suitcase. I ended up having one suitcase with things like a medium sized plastic liquor bottle, small box o’ wine, coffee, 2 cans of tuna fish, peanut butter & jelly, seasonings like baggies of salt, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic cloves, dry pasta, protein bars, tortilla wraps, and oatmeal packets. The soft Yeti cooler (which we also planned to use on the boats during the week but did not end up needing) was packed with frozen tenderloins, cans of crab, frozen shrimp, turkey lunchmeat, sliced cheese, frozen bacon & sausage, frozen lasagna, frozen pizzas,  and frozen hamburgers.  Let me just say if you had heard me shlepping those bags up and downstairs at 3 in the morning to weigh on my bathroom scale, you would have heard some words!!  Never did it occur to me to bring the SCALE downstairs…  Some things I bought like packs of crackers/chips/club soda did not make the weigh in.  In the end, was it all worth it??  Yes, it was!  Each fun fruity drink from the swim up bar was $10 so the luggage fees were recouped almost immediately.  And we certainly did indulge and let the kids order some fruit smoothies, too ūüôā

 

2. Things we bought from the little grocery store were: bread, eggs, milk, club soda, and a couple snacks.

My family had a blast and especially loved traveling with other families.  Adam and I would go back- it was just so beautiful and relaxing.  Although I’m not sure the kids would say that.  They feel they kind of “mastered” the island and would prefer to explore somewhere else.

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Grasmere Gingerbread

IMG_6759.JPGBecause today is¬†St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been thinking about our trip last summer to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. ¬†I expected to feel¬†an immediate connection with Ireland, as I’ve always known about my ancestors immigration from Ireland and my dad’s family is your pretty “typical” Irish Catholic huge family.

But the place I immediately felt at home was actually in Lake District, in the county of Cumbria, England.  The mountains and the water reminded me of Smith Mountain Lake, here in Virginia where we have always had a vacation home.

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I also love all things¬†Beatrix Potter. ¬†She lived and wrote & illustrated here. ¬†They had a precious little shop featuring all her books and trinkets. ¬†As a child my sisters and I had children’s china featuring her sweet characters and my couple of Easter decorations look very much like they could have some from her illustrations.

IMG_6732.JPGI loved touring William Wordsworth’s English home. ¬†It was so English- go figure! ¬†The fabrics, the furniture, the style- so charming! ¬†And I have always loved English-style gardens so walking through the beautiful, tidy gardens was so relaxing.

IMG_5318.JPGWe had a¬†delicious lunch and I will never forget my mom and Mary Fowler running to Sarah Nelson’s for their famous Grasmere gingerbread. ¬†The mouthwatering smell led you to the tiny, little shop.¬† The recipe is top secret and it was delicious! ¬†Not at all a cake-ey gingerbread but a very sweet, crumbly texture¬†that goes perfectly with a cup of tea.

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We bought a few pounds of it and I had a little piece every day after we returned home with hot tea around 4pm.  But when it was gone, I started researching online for a recipe.  The best I could find was from some kind of thread where an old lady mentioned she had a little souvenir paper recipe book that mentioned a Grasmere Gingerbread recipe.

So the other day I tried it and it is a good starting point! ¬†The texture was just about perfect. ¬†My family loved it but I still want¬†a stronger ginger flavor so I’ll keep tweaking it and then share once I think it’s good to go.

Painting Class

IMG_8340.JPGI have been taking another painting class- this time acrylic- and I am learning all kinds of fabulous things about myself! ¬†For example, I do not take risks, I am sometimes paralyzed by indecision, I am afraid of making a mistake, I focus too much on the end result instead of the process, I don’t enjoy playing in the mud (because of the inevitable clean up- duh!), and¬†I am a perfectionist and maybe even a control freak. ¬†Awesome. ¬†Luckily I have a wonderfully patient teacher who loves the challenge… of me.

Painting is not easy for me but I am starting to make some headway. ¬†Often either with my clients’ homes or my own home, I know what kind of artwork I’d like to see in the space but I have trouble actually finding¬†it- and in the correct dimensions. ¬†I thought it would save time and money if I could just create it myself. ¬†Easier said than done ūüôā

I recently¬†finished a piece I hoped would complete my daughter’s bedroom (picture above). ¬†It was nerve-wracking waiting for her to see it. ¬†I really wanted her to love it. ¬†I watched her eyes when I showed it to her and she gleamed! ¬†I felt so proud and happy!

Then Adam suggested hanging the one below in our bathroom. ¬†I would choose something larger but I have to admit it does add something to¬†the room.¬† I’m going to have to buy some more canvases this week!

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

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My sister has the prettiest Hydrangea!

My kids are just now in their second week of school and it is still as hot as the dickens (what does that even mean?).  So, before the crisp, full-of-pumpkin fall arrives, I want to write some highlights down.   This summer was so GREAT: so happy, so sad, so full, and so complex.

CELEBRATING     The end of school this year was something incredible. When we moved here 5 years ago, probably our biggest focus was making sure the kids had an easy school transition. We met with a professional and she recommended we not overthink this but simply find out where educated parents send their kids to school.

Well, as one child is beginning her last year of middle school and the other is beginning last year of elementary school, I received the gift of confirmation that we made good decisions.  We want our kids to do well in school, and they do very well, but it is of higher importance to us that they are kind, respectful, grateful, and receive the support as they figure out who they are and how they want to contribute to this world.

Two women (one friend, one teacher)¬†came up to me at separate times, but on the same day, to tell me of their L.O.V.E.¬†for Davis. ¬†One told me how funny and well-mannered he is and the other told me what a great guy in the classroom he is. ¬†She kept coming up to me and saying, “I just love that boy!”

The next day Adam and I had to separate to attend two awards ceremonies at the exact same time, one at each school. ¬†I was so proud of Davis’s straight A’s all year as well as some other accomplishments that hadn’t come so easy for him. ¬†But when he and another little girl from his class were awarded the Citizenship Award, I felt such immense joy that¬†he is thriving right where he is.

I signed Davis out and together we raced over to Mary Fowler’s school just in time to see her receive some awesome scholastic awards, as well as a HEART award. ¬†My girl is a hard worker but that HEART award is still up on the fridge! ¬†Adam was stopped by 3 different teachers who told him: 1. your daughter is so very special, 2. your daughter’s personality is just so FUN! ¬†She is a great student but she is also funny and social- just a delight to be around, and 3.¬†I hope my 2 year old daughter grows up to be just like Mary Fowler!

I was kind of floating that morning. ¬†Adam took us all out to a family brunch and I could hardly talk because I was¬†processing my fears/concerns/worries to the reality that my kids are just fine… thriving, really.

Because I can worry with the best of them, I think I may begin listing my fears on paper so I can later write down examples that may help alleviate those fears.

 

DECORATING     Just this week, I got around to visiting two different friends who hired me to help them with some work on their houses.  What validation it is to see these beautiful spaces.  Both projects felt so clean and calm and refreshed.

Sometimes when I look through magazines I start to question if I really know what I’m doing because I have zero¬†desire to do big-time, crazy-expensive projects like the ones you see featured in magazines. ¬†My favorite projects are normal families who just want a crisper, calmer, simpler, but well-designed, pretty space. ¬†And seeing the completed spaces added to my confidence.

Additionally, one of my neighbors has hired me to help with a larger scale project and it so far has been so gratifying to help her get more bang for her buck than she expected.  We are still in the very early stages of planning and budgeting but this kind of work is fulfilling to me.

 

EATING ¬† ¬†¬†Once school started, I was hell-bent on making sure we continued having¬†family dinner together every.single.night. ¬†I knew once after school activities started it would be hard but I still really want to try our best to have dinner together, around the table, followed by some kind of family game. ¬†Nothing crazy- sometimes just 15 minutes. ¬†The key to my success was going to be planning ahead. ¬†So I wrote out the simple meals we would have each night. ¬†And if it’s a crazy day/evening, that means I have to plan ahead for a crock pot meal. ¬†Planning.

It is worth it. ¬†Sitting at the table together makes the kids talk so much more than they would if we were in the kitchen moving around, some sitting, some standing…

Afterwards, I usually have to drag everyone to play Rummicub or basketball or football, but 2 minutes in, EVERYONE is on board!  It is worth it.

Davis chose golf and theater for two of his activities this fall. ¬†And he also wanted to order Blue Apron to make dinner for the family 2x a week! ¬†For me, this is an expensive option to my normal monthly¬†grocery budget, but I am viewing this as a cooking class for him to justify the cost ūüôā ¬†One other potential benefit: we didn’t have a choice of delivery day; Friday was chosen for us. ¬†So, while most Fridays we order or make pizza, we will be replacing that with some pretty special meals by Davis! ¬†I think it will be great!

Tomorrow is our first delivery so we’ll see how it¬†goes!

 

EXPLORING ¬† ¬† This summer involved some exploring! ¬†And I’m talking about exploring of the travel¬†and spiritual¬†kind.

In June we spent some time at the lake with family and friends.  I always love seeing my family and the addition of friends who now have a place at the lake added a fun dynamic!  The kids and parents all had a blast together!  My kids have much younger cousins, who they love, but having friends the same age to play with is a different kind of fun!

Truth be told, I was a little anxious because soon after was our trip to the United Kingdom. Mary Fowler’s school planned this and my parents have always wanted to go to Ireland so my sweet husband sent me and Mary Fowler on another European trip, less than 3 months apart. ¬†I owe him!

What is really awesome is that my mom had some big things she wanted taken care of that she and my dad kept procrastinating about. ¬†So this trip was a wonderful motivation. ¬†They got done what they needed just before we were driving to the airport. ¬†And more change for them was to come. ¬†I have wonderful parents but they have always struggled with some forms of “taking action.” There has been something about this trip that has helped with this dynamic. ¬†And I notice a lightness in them.

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Not to mention, this trip was just so special in so many ways.  I wrote all about it with pictures in a photo book.  We were kind of exploring our English and Irish heritage and I know I came away with a better understanding, and even more curiosity!  Because I was the designated photographer for my parents, I completed the book really fast and sent them their copy.  Then I quickly made the Italy book, too.  Getting my pictures in print form has always been one of my passions.

We had another very relaxing and soul-filling family beach trip with Adam’s mom. ¬†We are water people. ¬†I love it when Adam and I take walks together. ¬†And playing in the ocean with the kids- all together, then jumping in the pool for a little play¬†before going in for lunch or dinner- it’s just a nice daily¬†rhythm. ¬†I took pictures, though not as many as last year and I look forward to making that book.

Spiritual exploration is constant for me but¬†there this summer held a couple of family¬†illnesses –Several of my aunts and uncles were suffering with uncertainty in their health¬†and my beautiful cousin who I have always looked up to was undergoing treatment for lymphoma¬†and two tragic deaths that literally took our breath away. ¬†¬†¬†The first was the kind-hearted dad of one of Mary Fowler’s friends. ¬†His death had Adam and I asking a lot of questions and opened up a lot of conversation. ¬†Attending his funeral was a gift. ¬†His family is very special. ¬†Mary Fowler was with us and I imagine it will¬†be one of those major life-altering¬†memories¬†for her and for us.

The second tragic death was a young man in high school. He is the stepson of one of my sweet friends.  His funeral, too, was a gift.  The family was so honest and loving and strong.  The masses of people, most especially children, attending this funeral was remarkable.  For these kids to be a part of this will promote life and light and good.  It also reignited my desire to attend this particular church.

 

LOVING     This summer I loved that I felt more present.

I love that my kids and I played tennis together.

I love that I played in the water more with my family.

I love that we spent a lot of time together as a family.

 

READING     When I was little I remember my mom and my aunt Debbie taking us to the library regularly over the summer.  My mom can read about a book a day so we would pile our arms full!  When I take my kids (usually kind of begrudgingly) I walk in and feel such excitement and hope!  All these books!  All free!  So much to learn about!

My kids are not usually as excited as me.

I can’t¬†remember everything but I try to take pictures of what I’m reading. ¬†Mary Fowler had to read The Book Thief and The Outsiders over the summer so I read The Book Thief, too, and really enjoyed it. ¬†She also has really enjoyed NO FEAR Shakespeare (for school). ¬†She said it really helps you understand and makes Shakespeare enjoyable! ¬†So that may be helpful to someone with kids.

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Book Thief  5 stars

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The Little Paris Bookshop  4 stars

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My grandmother wanted me to read this and it has surprisingly stuck with me.

The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly 4 stars

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I really liked this one and may need to purchase. I tried several of her suggestions and I really need to post about them.  I was shocked at how well my kids responded!

Cleaning House 4 stars

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I borrowed this from a friend and read during the Ireland trip- really good!  I actually watched a movie on Netflix called The Fundamentals of Caring that I thought was similar and better.

Me Before You 3 stars

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After You 2 stars

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To Heaven and Back 5 stars

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A Man Called Ove 4 stars

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The Language of Flowers  5 stars  This would be a great book club pic!

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Davis really loved Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Sawyer.  We read them aloud.  He also loves graphic novels (cartoon-strip-ish books) on his own.  I have never liked graphic novels or comics for that matter??

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Well, that’s a wrap of the highlights of summer. ¬†I do plan to continue my weekly digital scrapbook pages but I am so far behind that I may do summer and then try the little Instagram Chatbooks for the daily mundane? ¬†I have started a totally private, no following/or followers family insta site and supposedly every 60 pictures it can be printed into a Chat book for $6

I don’t know if it will satisfy me but we shall see…

 

 

Playing Hooky

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We had a family wedding in the Outer Banks this past weekend so my parents asked us to join them for a week at the beach, making it a little vacation.  Having kids still in school makes me pause, but as a kid, I remember loving it when my parents took us out for special occasions.

Each fall, our family would fly to Florida (St. Petersburg, Sanibel Island, Orlando, etc.) and we would miss a week of school.  It felt special:)  My sisters and I would load up our backpacks with schoolwork and baby dolls- usually never opening a notebook.

However, my kids are not so enthusiastic??  They are a bit nervous about missing school work.

The highlights of the week for me include:

playing tennis with my parents and my two monkeys

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walking on the beach (and even jogging with Mary Fowler!)

my dad’s daily bloody marys and perfect soft-shell crabs

playing cards (500 Rummy)

laughing so hard as¬†Davis tells¬†us¬†his¬†secrets to great hair:) “A lot of shampoo and conditioner… I’m talking a crap-ton.”

Mary Fowler doing my hair and nails for the wedding- I looked great!  So proud of her!

going to my cousin David’s house for dinner and the kids playing with their cousins just like I used to do!

both kids loving all over their dad while throwing the football on the beach

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and definitely spending time with my aunts and uncles- Anne, Kerry, MaryAnn, and Danny…¬†I cannot get enough of their stories growing up.

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I hope that one day my kids treasure these moments¬†like I do ūüôā

Venice

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My daughter and I traveled with a tour group through her school to Italy.  I had never been, but always wanted to go so I think I may have been more excited than her! Our first stop was Venice.

We arrived in time to¬†make our dinner reservation¬†– I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but it was in a kind of trendy industrial, re-done warehouse. ¬†The parents ordered ¬†wine and beer, and we had a set menu of first course: pasta (this was pretty typical of each dinner), second course: lemon chicken and salad. ¬†And then dessert, which here I believe was tiramisu.

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We were told there are some snow-capped mountains and some marble-topped ones.
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I thought it might be neat to have a picture of perhaps where my Carrara marble came from:)

 

The next morning we were up early to beat the crowds to the ferry. ¬†As you probably know, there are absolutely NO cars or trucks in Venice. ¬†It’s really neat to not have that normal automobile background noise. ¬†This particular day was overcast which made for great pictures with my big camera:) ¬†But it was a little bit chilly.

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We started off in St. Mark’s Square (¬†12th Century ) and our teacher told us about the architecture and¬†then we had some free time. ¬†We were told to go exploring- that Venice is full of mystery and intrique with all the canals and stone walkways. ¬†He just suggested we keep coming back St. Mark’s cathedral that to keep our bearings and not get lost. ¬†We also managed to find the Venice Hard Rock Cafe:) but just for a Tshirt.

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This mosaic is amazing!

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The girls found gelato and just had to have it before lunch:)

After we were on our own for lunch, we met up to have a glass-blowing demonstration on the “real” way Murano glass is blown.

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Besides glass, Venice is also known for their lace-making and masks.

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Hindsight, I wish we had spent more time exploring.  And I do think I would go the same time of year- not hot! And we were told it was not busy at all!  Usually it is packed.

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The Moorish architectural influence.

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We were told usually there are no gondolas parked like this ūüôā ¬†Usually they are all in use.
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So beautiful. ¬†I’m so curious about those who live here- would love to see¬†how they do their daily life of work, grocery getting, etc.

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My overall thoughts… I do think I would like to go back to Venice. ¬†I do think I would go in the Spring again, not summer or winter. ¬†And I would plan to stay there and have some kind of water transportation lined up so I could explore more than just the St. Mark’s Square area.

My daughter said she does not feel the need to go back to Venice. ¬†My guess is that, because it was our first stop, the kids were a little uncertain and nervous¬†about all the warnings and preparations we gave on pick-pocketing, getting lost, etc. ¬†The kids got¬†WAY more comfortable as the trip went on… really by our next stop in Florence. ¬†So I wonder if¬†her feelings would have been different if it wasn’t our first stop.

You may also enjoy reading about Vatican City

 

 

 

 

Vatican City

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My daughter and I just returned from her school trip to ITALY!  I had never been but always wanted to go so I was possibly more excited than she was!

One of my favorite places was Vatican City. ¬†Probably because I’m Catholic. ¬†I could not help but see everything through my father’s eyes. ¬†While I wax and wane about my “church-organized” religious beliefs, he does not seem to. ¬†I had tears in my eyes many times imagining what¬†he would be feeling. ¬†I hope he visits the Vatican someday.

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Throughout Italy I found myself taking photos of the brick laying patterns.  Most of the bricks I saw were this longer, flat shape.

We arrived to the walled city in the morning and we were told that visitors who aren’t part of a group must wait in line and that it wraps around the whole city. This was one place our tour guide was very clear that we were to stay together because there is only one correct way in and out. ¬†He mildly joked that the other way out would be to jail. ¬†Not funny:)

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the Vatican wall

As you enter, you are herded through the Vatican Museums. ¬†They are all very intricate and beautiful. One of my favorites featured this long “hall” where the barrel vault ceiling was a work of art.

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On either side walls, there were painted maps. ¬†These were done before aerial shots and surveying… amazing. ¬†I loved the greens and cobalt blues.

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There were also very old tapestries.

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From here we were led out to one of the pretty courtyard gardens.  These were built to allow green space and quiet reflection for the Popes.

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Here our tour guide used one of several informational stands highlighting¬†the important details of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. ¬†This was helpful because you are not allowed to talk or take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel because it is¬†a holy space. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. I enjoyed being reminded why the frescos are so famous.

The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected.

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I’m a rule follower… not my photo

The last guided spot was St. Peter’s Basilica.

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It was surreal to stand¬†in front of St. Peter’s Basilica with my daughter where I¬†have seen the Pope speak so many times.

It was breathtaking. ¬†I love buildings and architecture so naturally I was overcome and amazed by the beauty I saw. ¬†The amount of intricate detail was overwhelming. ¬†I tried to imagine the tradesmen doing their work in the 1500s ¬†but the sheer vastness of the detail was more than I could wrap my brain around. ¬†My eyes could not rest. ¬†Everywhere you look there are more domes with ceiling treatments, more columns, more mosaics… and the gold! ¬†It was truly beautiful.

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the Holy Doors

I am Catholic so I was invited to walk through the Holy Doors which are only open every 25 years during Holy Years. ¬†The Pope is allowed to declare additional¬†years Holy Years and Pope Francis did that for 2016. ¬†On one hand, it is simply¬†walking through a separate doorway. ¬†But for me, I¬†felt overcome by emotion… it kind of felt like my chest/heart was lifted up to my head-level. ¬†One of my dad’s aunts (who is now deceased) was a nun and I definitely thought a lot about her while I was here.

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St. Peter’s Basilica

We live near Jamestown and the early settlements of America beginning in 1608. ¬†St. Peter’s Basilica began construction in 1506 and opened in 1626. ¬†The difference in ornateness is staggering.

Afterwards we were left time for lunch and time to do some shopping.  So of course I bought my whole family (and any Catholic friends) Rosary beads.  You could have them blessed and delivered to your hotel.

Most days we grabbed a prosciutto, cheese, and basil sandwich but this day I went with a bulgar wheat salad and it was so tasty!  The kids had gelato for dessert every. single. day:)

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What a special place.  I felt so much emotion here.  And I am so excited about the current Pope Francis.  Next stop Rome!