Williams Weekend

Editor’s Note: Post contains video. View at the website for best experience.

Buddie’s 25th Reunion was last week at Williams, and I’m sufficiently recovered from the epic drive home to write about it.

We attended the 15 and 20-year reunions, and this one was the best so far. In part because the children are older and that makes it more relaxed and interesting for everyone, and in part because we didn’t cram all five of us into one dorm room. (This year we had a whole wing of five rooms to ourselves.)

Buddie’s parents drove down from Vermont to spend the four days with us, which means we’ll have gotten time with them three times within 3 months, which is a great benchmark to reach.

Buds loved his time at Williams, and his college friends are splendid folks. Added bonus that we like all their chosen partners, too, so it makes for a fun gathering.

We left early on Wednesday for the first-leg drive to Buffalo, NY. (It was also Bud’s birthday, so the karmic payback of making Yessa spend 11 hours in a train for her birthday in Italy.)

Loaded up and ready to head out.

The quick drive over from Buffalo to Williamstown gave us time to check in then wander around campus on Thursday. (The full festivities didn’t begin until Friday.)

Buds lived in “The Old I” (stood for “the old infirmary”) for part of his Williams tenure. He lost his room key so he would climb in this window to get in his room.

Buds looking at the window he used to climb into.

We headed to the gym and wrestling room to see what had changed…not much.

The indoor track.

Buddie’s mom brought a cake to celebrate his birthday.

It’s says “46” and “25.” Perfect topping for the weekend.

Mary’s almost been caught by all three grands.

After a rather painful night in the dorms, we headed out to the Mass MOCA Museum in North Adams, MA.

(Note to self for the reunion in five years: Rent a house off-campus with college friends. Staying on-campus was fun and easy, but not comfortable. Do not forget the horse-hair blankets and slippy sheets.)

A quick breakfast snack together.

MOCA was fantastic. More time to explore would have been wonderful. We can do that in five years.

The grands trying out VR for the first time.

The musical art room.

Hanging out before the next exhibit.

Buds and Buster went down to Spring Street for a Magic Tournament on Friday night, which they both loved.

Telling us of their adventure.

Peter, Sarah, Ellen, and Eric were Buddie’s best college friends. Ellen didn’t attend the reunion, but we got to spend time with all the rest and their families.

Playing games.

Dining hall meals

Walking in the parade.

We swam in the pool. (Sarah was a college swimmer, so we all enjoyed the pilgrimage with her.)

Buds and I got in a workout.

We enjoyed exploring the new Sawyer Library, which was stunning.

I loved the various carols for all different types of studiers.

There may have been attempts to crush each other in the movable shelves.

The joy of being on this beautiful campus as Buds and his Williams tribe shared stories, pointed out buildings, laughed, and reminisced, it was delightful.

Buds, Mike, Peter in front wrestled together. Eric in the back.

They’ve all known him since before me:

The first time I met the gang in NYC in 1994.

Peter served cake at our wedding.

Sarah and Ellen wore those huge lapels with a smile.

We heard a hilarious story from Eric when he and Peter went to the grocery store in the small town I grew up in. They got asked if they were models because not many men dressed like them in our town.

Williams folks at our wedding.

And we’re all still here, 25 years later.

I watched the 50-year folks with special appreciation this year, and Buds and I visited with some 40-year alum. You don’t know what life holds, but having good folks with you along the way; that’s what matters.

One last note, we drove straight home after the reunion, setting a new family record 18-hour drive. The children, Chip The Dog, and I held the previous 17-hour record. Buds was proud to be part of this new record-setter.

See you in five years, Purple Cows.

All the alum from 1992:

Buds on the bottom right in a gray-looking shirt.

Belle Meade Civil War Experience

The classes at Belle Meade (the plantation down the road from us), are always so well done.

This time was especially fantastic. Gorgeous weather, wonderful re-enactors, fun activities.

Great explanation about women’s roles during the Civil War.

These faces.

Roll those bandages for the front lines.

This dress…

Then we learned about communication in wartime before cell phones and satellites.

Flags and telegraphs

Explaining the process.

Practice decoding the flag shorthand.

For you to try at home.

At this point, Buster and Monkey sat under a shady tree to tell each other stories while Yessa and I learned about the infantry.

The dedication of this Belle Meade gentleman; He did a fantastic job, and the kids loved it.

After the program was over, we headed down for Monkey to get her allergy shot, and I caught one last photo.

Yup, he’s taller.

Lovin’ this life.

Dancin’ At The Symphony

The Nashville Symphony has a fantastic education department, and we have taken advantage of their offerings multiple times since we moved here. They send out a list of free school concerts each year, and we homeschoolers are included in this generosity.

The one we attended last week was “Dancing Through The Centuries.”

Waltz, Polka, Hoedown, Minuet...something for everyone.

Waltz, Polka, Hoedown, Minuet…something for everyone.

This is a great example of one of our adventures where I miss Buds. He’s been leaving for work early and working so hard. We had to send him this puppy pile picture so he knew we were missing him in the early hours on this day we’d be heading to the symphony.

Best way to start the day, if Buds were here, too.

Best way to start the day, if Buds were here, too.

Even Waffles joined the fun.

Even Waffles joined the fun.

The homeschoolers always get to sit in the loge boxes on the sides. Yessa wanted to see if we could get seats higher up, but they were already filled with students, so next time we’ll get there earlier to see if we can get higher or closer.

We love the loge boxes.

We love the loge boxes.

And our friend Roger was playing, which always helps us feel connected to the music.

Another great aspect of the Young People’s Concerts is that the symphony adds in an extra hook to help keep us entertained. For this concert a male and female dancer came out in stunning costumes to demonstrate several of the dances as the symphony played. I was so entranced I didn’t get any pictures of them, but it was beautiful.

Additional bonus, people who didn’t arrive in a bus always get released first.

Oh, and as a funny aside: Much like a new friend will say, “Oh, you are from Chicago. I know Sally Jones from there. Do you know her?”

When we’re out at an event with students who arrive in buses, Yessa and I are always looking for Nashville cousins to happen to be on a field trip at the same place at the same time. We’re perpetually hopeful we’ll see them.

Yeah for live music, kind people, and delightful, free adventures.

The Residence

In Tennessee the Governor’s Mansion is called “The Residence.”

Last weekend we had the opportunity to tour The Residence in all its Christmas splendor.

Due to the volume of folks coming to visit, we parked at a local church to take the free shuttles to and from the mansion.

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Security checked us in before we loaded the shuttle, and the head of security came on the shuttle to share some information with us before we entered the house. He’s worked at The Residence for 17 years, through 4 governors, and he told us this governor, Republican Bill Haslam, was the most down to earth, and his wife, Crissy, loves having the public tour the home and loves doing these Christmas open houses.

(Wikipedia also tells me that Bill Haslam is worth around $2 billion, making him the richest governor in the United States. Interesting…)

The theme for the event this year was “Made in Tennessee” and there were TN products all over the various decorated trees.

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We started the tour at the grand staircase in the front hallway, and the guide made sure we knew about the six little trees under the stairs, each decorated for a Haslam grandchild.

Getting things started.

Getting things started.

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After the initial introduction at the grand staircase, we were free to wander at will on the first floor, out into the back yard where the petting zoo was set up, then down to Conservation Hall.

A personal nativity set of The First Lady's.

A personal nativity set of The First Lady’s.

We were told she unpacks and sets it up herself.

We were told she unpacks and sets it up herself.

We learned TN has 96 counties.

A hand painted ornament for each county.

A hand painted ornament for each county

Artwork by an artist from that county.

Artwork by an artist from that county.

Looking at the ornaments.

Looking at the ornaments.

The rooster on top of the tree is laying an egg...that's not how roosters work.

The rooster on top of the tree is laying an egg…that’s not how roosters work.

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In Conservation Hall there were vendors selling a few TN products. We purchased some ginger cookies, which made Buds realize he wanted to take molasses cookies for the cookie exchange at work this week. (Made by Yessa and me, they were delicious! )

Yum.

Yum.

TN artist

TN artist

The children each had the chance to make a leather bracelet, and we saw the woman who told us about wool at Belle Meaded at a homeschooling event this year, and she said she remembered us, too. (So kind…and the copper-head helps.)

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This brave man letting hundreds of children swing a mallet at his hand.

This brave man letting hundreds of children swing a mallet at his hand.

That's the wool woman in the background.

That’s the wool woman in the background.

Another attempt at a family picture:

The book tree behind us is a Guinness record attempt for the tree made with the most books. Over 13K.

The book tree behind us is a Guinness record attempt for the tree made with the most books. Over 13K.

We all had a great time, and even The Buster said to me, “Mom, I’m actually enjoying this.”

His enthusiasm doesn't totally shine through in this photo.

His enthusiasm doesn’t totally shine through in this photo.

High praise.

What A Grand Visit!

I’ve probably used that title before because it is so fitting on so many levels.

Buddie’s folks squeezed time in for a trip between having their bathroom remodeled and before the children and I left for Iowa. Their timing was also perfect for helping to celebrate birthdays.

As always, many fun outings with them. This time it included a trip to the Tennessee State Museum and the downtown farmer’s market.

We always take this shot.

We always take this shot.

We found Snapes' Mother.

We found Snapes’ Mother.

Bird's eye view

Bird’s eye view

The TN mummy

The TN mummy

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Checkers chance

Checkers chance

We laughed about the naked people on a plane. Great movie title.

We laughed about the naked people on a plane. Great movie title.

Learning together.

Learning together.

Toasting to delicious ice cream.

Toasting to delicious ice cream.

We tired him out.

We tired him out.

The following are a lovely assortment of photos Buddie’s dad took and shared with us. More good times and birthday fun.

Buds took this one.

Buds took this one.

Birthday outing

Birthday outing

She created a cat named "Pig."

She created a cat named “Pig.”

It's happened...again.

It’s happened…again.

Final Jake snuggles

Final Jake snuggles

The throne at the museum.

The throne at the museum.

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Light 'em up!

Light ’em up!

The whole crowd.

The whole crowd.

An outing for Cousin O's birthday gift.

An outing for Cousin O’s birthday gift.

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Another in a long line of superb visits.

Dyed In The Wool

The crew and I headed to Belle Meade this morning to experience some of the work involved in living as a settler.

We had the opportunity to churn butter:

Butter and the chance to try it on pita bread.

Butter and the chance to try it on pita bread.

Monkey takes a turn.

Monkey takes a turn.

As an aside: Thanks to Family Movie Night from a few weeks ago, Monkey was able to point out to me that Mr. Butter had a voice a lot like Pee Week Herman. Cultural reference for the win!

We watched the spinning wheel in action:

So many different types of yarn to see.

So many different types of yarn to see.

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Ms. Spinning Wheel had samples for us to feel from the typical items: wool, flax, and silk, but she also had bamboo, corn silk, and baby camel.

We got to play with the old-timer toys:

Old Fashioned Games

Old Fashioned Games

This is the point where Buster grabbed the jump rope with wooden handles and asks, “Why do they have nunchucks for little kids to play with? Oh, wait, it’s a jump rope.”

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Jacob's Ladder will always be fascinating.

Jacob’s Ladder will always be fascinating.

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Mr. Blacksmith was glad for the cool day.

Mr. Blacksmith was glad for the cool day.

Ms. Beth, the sheep lady, was the person we listened to for the longest. She talked to us about sheep shearing and their wool, and also about dyeing the wool. As fate would have it, I just finished a murder mystery about Indigo Dying yesterday, so many of the facts Ms. Beth shared felt familiar.

Showing us the way the wool looks after being carded and rolled.

Showing us the way the wool looks after being carded and rolled.

We learned about the origin of the phrase “dyed in the wool.” As Ms. Beth explained it, when wool is dyed before it is spun into yarn or cloth, the color goes clear through and won’t change. If it isn’t dyed until later, the color is on the “outside,” not all the way through. So if you are a “dyed in the wool” homeschooler, that’s what you are through and through.

We learned about the roots and plants used to make dyes.

These skeins were dyed with indigo.

These skeins were dyed with indigo.

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In the photo above, the skein Ms. Beth is holding was dyed with madder in its pure form. All the rest of the skeins of that group were also dyed with madder, but by adding different acids or mordants, Ms. Beth achieves the array of colors.

The entire process.

The entire process.

There was a demonstration about the process of doing laundry back in the days when water had to be hauled from the creek.

Makes laundry look fun!

Makes laundry look fun!

I asked the children if laundry would be more fun for them if I wore a long dress to reenact the olden days. They were not interested.

I asked if it would help if I wore a bikini while they did laundry. (Don’t ask why I asked. It’s because the image was cracking me up. If you aren’t sure why I’m doing something, just assume it is to make myself laugh.)

Yessa replied that that would only make a difference for Buddie and it wouldn’t be because he was interested in the laundry. (That child always gets the winning point.)

This Anne of Green Gables image:

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made me think of the bonnet that Nonni gave Monkey that she loved to wear when we’d go on special outings like this one.

Yessa in the bonnet.

Yessa in the bonnet.

The Buster brought a book along for when he was tired of the activities.

The Buster brought a book along for when he was tired of the activities.

These two.

These two.

There was one type of harvest the settlers at Belle Meade didn’t mention.

Freshly-baked kitten.

The dough before rising.

The dough before rising.

After your kitten dough has risen. Perfect for frying.

After your kitten dough has risen. Perfect for frying.

Thanks to my crew for heading out with good spirits.

Dappled sunlight.

Dappled sunlight.

Italy Trip – The Complete Recap.

You’ve been patient.

I’ve spluttered these posts out over months and months.

I’ve worked my way through the stages of grief and we can finally put these sweet memories to bed.

He was zonked.

He was zonked.

Someday, when I’m reading back through this splendid trip, I’d like to be able to do it in order, so for my own benefit, here’s the trip chronologically:

Italy Trip – First Day Complete – Originally published September 24, 2015.

Our Day In Boston- Italy Trip Day #2 – Originally published October 2, 2015.

Italy Trip – Day #3- Overnight Flight and Istanbul Airport – Originally published October 3, 2015.

Italy Trip- Day #4: Time at the Milan Expo – Originally published October 6, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 5-7: Lake Como, Part 1 – Originally published October 10, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 7-9 Lake Como, Part 2 – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- Lake Como- Extra Photos – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 9-13- The Dolomites- Part 1 – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- Days 9-13- The Dolomites- Part 2 – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip- The Dolomites- Extra Pictures – Originally published October 11, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 13- 15 – Venice- Part 1 – Originally published October 12, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 13- 15 – Venice- Part 2 – Originally published October 13, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 1- The Apartment – Originally published October 17, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 2- First Day Errands – Originally published October 17, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 3 – A Playground? Don’t Mind If I Do! – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 4 – Museo Galileo – Originally published October 30, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 15-21 – Florence- Part 5- David…Here We Come. – Originally published October 17, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 22 – 25 Inside The Walls In Lucca – Originally published January 10, 2016.

Lucca Funk – Originally published January 13, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 26 – 34 – Our Lucca Farmhouse – Originally published April 30, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 26’ish – Let’s Visit A Shell Of A Monastery – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 27 – San Gimignano – Originally published June 16, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 28 – We Say Goodbye to The Grands and Spend The Day In Lucca – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 30 – Lucca Farmhouse Day Trip to Barga – Originally published May 3, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 30’ish – Let’s Visit A Cemetery – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 31 – Our Lucca Farmhouse – We Take A Cooking Class – Originally published April 29, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 32 – A Lucca Farmhouse Day – The Magnificent Ordinary – Originally published October 26, 2015.

Italy Trip – Day 34 – Cinque Terre – Originally published June 23, 2016.

Italy Trip – Lucca Farmhouse Wrap Up – Originally published May 5, 2016.

Day 34- Italy Trip – Travel To Ischia – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Day 35 – Italy Trip – Funny beginning to our day in Ischia – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Italy Trip – Days 35 – 41 – The Island Of Ischia – Originally published June 15, 2016.

Day 35 – Italy Trip – Let’s Find A Beach In Ischia – Originally published October 29, 2015.

Italy Trip – Day 39 – Pompeii – Originally published June 16, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 39 – Pompeii Video – Originally published June 19, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 48 – Sicily – Originally published June 19, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 44 – Ortigia – Originally published August 12, 2016.

Italy Trip – Days 44 – 47 – Agrigento – Originally published August 12, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 47 – Let’s Go To The Beach! – Originally published August 14, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 47 – 49 Terre Di Himera Agriturismo – Originally published September 2, 2016.

When I was a kid – Originally published January 13, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day 49 – The End – Rome and Home – Originally published September 7, 2016.

Italy Trip – Day # Last – It Is Finished. Originally published November 16, 2015.

Extra posts:

Good Choices – Originally published November 18, 2015.

Let’s Drink All the Coffee! – Originally published October 22, 2015.

Shuttered – Originally published October 20, 2015.

Italy Trip – The Stories That Make Me Guffaw – Originally published November 18, 2015.

Fracture Me – Originally published December 5, 2015.

Forty-eight posts and I still haven’t done it justice.

Thanks for reading.

Family photo at Lake Como

Family photo at Lake Como

Italy Trip – Day 49 – The End – Rome and Home

This is it. Our final stop on the Italy Adventure. It’s taken nearly a year, but shortly the write ups will be complete.

Our arrival in Rome was exciting because we picked the angriest cab driver we’ve ever had. His anger didn’t display itself at us, but rather through his driving. Luckily it was late at night, so the streets were quieter, but my heart was pounding the whole ride, and I kept thinking of the Knight Bus scene from Harry Potter. Jump to 1:10 to see the exciting part.

We literally had a little old Italian cross our path and I feared for her life.

The angry cabbie poured out our quivering flesh in front of our really big door, and we found our splendid host, Massimiliano, waiting for us.

The exciting thing about our Rome home was that it felt like we were staying at a really eccentric Grandma’s house. Here’s the official listing, and here’s our tour with commentary:

What might be this little box in the corner of the kitchen?

What might be this little box in the corner of the kitchen?

Cheese grater? Very large veggie steamer? Salad spinner?

Cheese grater? Very large veggie steamer? Salad spinner?

Just your standard Torture Chamber washing machine!

Just your standard Torture Chamber washing machine!

I swear to you it felt like Massimiliano’s grandma had just died the month before and he cleaned out her clothes and started renting the place out. Or, as Monkey likes to say, the Rome was her favorite apartment because it felt so “homey.”

The family photos wall...in our bedroom.

The family photos wall…in our bedroom.

The Mary Poppins light.

The Mary Poppins light.

Photos of Grandma's dead relatives.

Photos of Grandma’s dead relatives.

Grandma likes a cluttered kitchen.

Grandma likes a cluttered kitchen.

Grandma had lots of glassware.

Grandma had lots of glassware.

Grandma left all her umbrellas and canes for us to use. Kind Grandma.

Grandma left all her umbrellas and canes for us to use. Kind Grandma.

We shared our bedroom with the perky-breasted one.

We shared our bedroom with the perky-breasted one.

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I was sitting on the bed above on a video chat for work one afternoon, and one of my bosses said, “I feel like you will be reading people’s palms after we get off this call.”

Monkey loved her cozy space.

Monkey loved her cozy space.

A semi-cozy nook for reading.

A semi-cozy nook for reading.

We did love staying here. We were in the Trastavere neighborhood in Rome, which was an excellent location. There was a cafe right by our front door. A little grocery store/veggie stand was right across the street. The large grocery store was about 17 blocks away. The tram stopped directly in front of the apartment. And we were high enough up that the apartment was quiet, although the rumble of the tram was noticeable at first.

The "Thank you Santa Maria" wall we walked past on the way to the grocery store.

The “Thank you Santa Maria” wall we walked past on the way to the grocery store.

The Santa Maria wall from the picture above lead to some interesting conversations. There was a little shrine with a statue of the Saint behind glass. People would write their prayers on little slips of paper and slide them behind the glass.

After the prayer was answered, they would create a “thank you” plaque and have it put up on the wall.

Many, many prayers, and a great deal of faith.

Because we were close to the end of our trip, we made sure to grab some great tours for these last few days.

We were waiting for one of our tour guides to find us:

Waiting for Valentina.

Waiting for Valentina.

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Family selfies are hard.

Family selfies are hard.

Valentina took us through the Coliseum:

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Dice and gambling have been around for a very long time.

Dice and gambling have been around for a very long time.

She was a treat!

She was a treat!

People sharing their passion for a subject makes it fascinating.

People sharing their passion for a subject makes it fascinating.

The holes show where the marble "wallpaper" was removed from the walls.

The holes show where the marble “wallpaper” was removed from the walls.

So much history.

So much history.

The Coliseum had canvas tarps to block the sun.

The Coliseum had canvas tarps to block the sun.

Then Valentina took us UNDERGROUND!

The Basilica di San Clemente is built on not one, but two previous houses of worship, including a pagan temple. It fascinating to wander through these ancient areas.

No pictures were allowed underground, so you’ll have to trust me. It was amazing…and dark…and a lot spooky.

Valentina wrapped things up with a trivia game to see what we remembered from the tours.

Valentina wrapped things up with a trivia game to see what we remembered from the tours.

On another day, we trekked to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain to toss in our coins to ensure our return.

The Pantheon is fascinating, and we sang some as we walked around inside. It’s a building designed to have singing inside it. From the Rome.info website:

However, the Roman Pantheon in its present state allows us a glimpse into the marvelous and stunning world of Roman architecture. The dome would have been gilded to look like the heavenly sphere of all the gods that the name Pantheon evokes. The oculus was an engineering gem of the Roman world. No oculus had even dared come close in size to the one in the Pantheon. It is still lined with the original Roman bronze and is the main source of light for the whole building. As the earth turns the light flows in to circle the interior making the viewer aware of the magnificence of the cosmos. The oculus was never covered and rain falls into the interior and runs off the slightly convex floor to the still functioning Roman drainpipes underneath. (The oculus is the hole in the center of the roof.)

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The Trevi Fountain:

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We had a different tour guide for The Vatican on another day. The Vatican was crowded, and having a private guide allowed us to bypass lines and large tour groups. We pushed about 45 minutes past the Buster’s point of tolerance on this day, but everyone did their best.

It was crowded.

It was crowded.

The amazing art everywhere.

The amazing art everywhere.

The most human looking lion you will ever see.

The most human looking lion you will ever see.

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Buster is about done at this point.

Buster is about done at this point.

I was fascinated to learn that in St. Peter’s Basilica the priests didn’t want the paintings to fade over time, so they had all of them done in mosaic tiles.

Rome was a great place for feeling comfortable and relaxing for all of us. Buds and I had some lovely walks. The children slept well, and we all took a deep breath as we prepared to head home.

One last cafe outing.

One last cafe outing.

One funny story I want to remember in a few decades: We were taking the tram to meet up with one of our tour guides. The tram driver made such an abrupt stop that people flew around inside the tram cars. It was one of those universal moments that connected all the people inside the tram. People grabbed onto each other for support and to protect each other.

Once we were all sure we were fine, there was a bubbling up of laughter and shock as people relived the moment.

At the next stop, three or four of the folks who got off the train went up to the front of the train to the driver’s cab (which is not accessible from inside the tram), and gave him a grand telling off. The driver got out of his cab, gave them his perspective in no uncertain terms, and then they all wrapped it up and went on their way.

What was fascinating to me was the difference in tenor and cadence compared to an argument in the U.S.

There was never any sense that things would escalate or get out of control. It was both women and men yelling at the driver. The driver was doing just as much hand-waving and yelling as everyone else. It was like watching a pantomime of an argument. Everyone wanted to express their opinion…then they were done.

The end of our time in Rome was a little anti-climactic.

Our flight to Istanbul was leaving very, very early in the morning, and because of recent terrorist attacks, we expected extra security. This meant we stayed at a hotel by the airport on our last night in Rome.

Final packing up of the backpacks.

Final packing up of the backpacks.

The hotel was attached to the airport so we boarded the train for one last ride to the airport.

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The Leonardo Da Vinci Statue at the airport could be seen with his upraised arm slightly in the distance.

The Leonardo Da Vinci Statue at the airport could be seen with his upraised arm slightly in the distance.

On the long walk between the hotel and the airport, we passed this same person’s space a couple times.

A dry, safe space.

A dry, safe space.

Such a reminder after our 7 weeks of paradise that we had been living in a fairytale.

Our last Italian sleeping spots.

Our last Italian sleeping spots.

Buster's apple juice at dinner in the hotel.

Buster’s apple juice at dinner in the hotel.

The odd apple juice color and our last supper in Italy at the hotel, which served American-esque food, was a clear reminder that we had left food paradise behind.

The hotel pool required swim caps, which kept slipping off their heads.

The hotel pool required swim caps, which kept slipping off their heads.

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A few last family pictures.

A few last family pictures.

Ready to load.

Ready to load.

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We stayed overnight in Boston in preparation for a very early flight to Nashville.

Eating at the Mexican restaurant attached to the hotel was a bit of a shocking return to American food, but we managed to enjoy ourselves.

You're not in Italy any more, Buds.

You’re not in Italy any more, Buds.

One last flight, here we go:

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And we're back.

And we’re back.

Here we were at the beginning of the adventure:

Whole Foods for dinner.

Whole Foods for dinner.

And here we are at the end:

We look the same, but we're not.

We look the same, but we’re not.

We were grateful to be home, but oh, what an adventure it was.

Can’t wait for the next one.

Italy Trip – Days 41 – 44 – Ortigia

We arrived late at night in our first apartment in Siracusa (Syracuse), Sicily. Stumbling off the train, miming our need for a taxi, and Buds showing the address on his phone, the kind, non-English speaking taxi driver bundled us all into his taxi on this dark, rainy night, and off we went.

We were all laggy from the long, long day of travel and subsisting on saltine crackers and no water for the last several hours. It was with an air of disbelief when the cab pulled into the empty courtyard of a church and indicated with gestures that this was where we should disembark.

“Are you sure?” I asked Buds.

How could he be sure? It was dark. It was late. We were trusting in the kindness of strangers once again, and as it always had been, it was the right decision.

We were on the Island of Ortigia, on the Island of Sicily, in the city of Syracuse.

Let’s take a digital look at where we were:

Italy, with Sicily in the very bottom.

Italy, with Sicily in the very bottom.

Just Sicily. Notice Syracuse on the bottom right.

Just Sicily. Notice Syracuse on the bottom right.

Zoom in on Syracuse.

Zoom in on Syracuse.

Ortigia is the upper snaggle tooth of the witch’s mouth underneath the c in Syracuse.

Zoom in on Syracuse to see Ortigia.

Zoom in on Syracuse to see Ortigia.

The taxi driver pointed down an alley to the right of the church courtyard. With repeated motions he indicated that was the way to our first Sicily home.

Later we were to understand how close we actually were:

Ortigia Apartment

The kind owner was waiting for us. She had stocked the kitchen with food we needed for a late night meal and an easy breakfast in the morning. A quick tour, and then she left us to settle in.

The first apartment.

Lots of pictures in the link above which do a fantastic job of showing the apartment, so I’ll not give my normal exhaustive tour. A few highlights:

The alley from the church courtyard to get to our doorway.

The alley from the church courtyard to get to our doorway.

The kitchen that gave us the vision for our new kitchen.

The kitchen that gave us the vision for our new kitchen.

He matched his shirt to his chair, which I'm sure helped his productivity.

He matched his shirt to his chair, which I’m sure helped his productivity.

The toilet was so tall even my feet wouldn't touch the ground, hence the helpful chair to use as a footstool.

The toilet was so tall even my feet wouldn’t touch the ground, hence the helpful chair to use as a footstool.

The water was fine for drinking everywhere we had stayed, but I thought this water dispenser we found in an alley over from our apartment was cool:

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With only 2 full days here, Buds got us out on a tour our very first morning in town.

This was a walking tour with archeology student Enrica and she was great. The children had about 3 hours of walking in them on this first day. Buds and I took a tour with her the next day where we got to just absorb all the history we were surrounded by.

We started with the Temple of Apollo.

Overlooking the Temple of Apollo, built before 550 B.C.

Overlooking the Temple of Apollo, built before 550 B.C.

History.

History.

Duomo di Siracusa

Duomo di Siracusa

The amazing thing about the Syracuse Cathedral above is that it began as a Temple to Athena, and the inside and parts of the outside show many of the original features of the temple.

Saint Lucia is the patron saint of Syracuse, and we also toured her church just across the courtyard from the Cathedral. In her church we saw the Caravaggio painting explained in this Wikipedia post.

Also on this tour was the glorious moment when Yessa asked me how St. Lucia got three arms.

Our beautiful setting for lunch:

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The next day Buds and I toured alone. We took a taxi to the Archeological Park, and Enrica took us around this place she knew so well for several hours. This website has a great write up about the three main areas of importance we saw: The quarry, the Greek Theater, and the Roman Amphitheater.

The Archeological Park- looks a little like Pompeii.

The Archeological Park- looks a little like Pompeii.

The map of the park.

The map of the park.

Erika led us through the quarry first.

Yup, looks like an ear.

Yup, looks like an ear.

The Ear of Dionysus

The Ear of Dionysus

Yup, looks like an ear.

Yup, looks like an ear.

The lines from the hand tools of the slaves who mined these walls are still visible.

The lines from the hand tools of the slaves who mined these walls are still visible.

This locally famous plant...

This locally famous plant…

Appears on lots of columns and decorations.

Appears on lots of columns and decorations.

We started at the top, looking down into the amphitheater.

We started at the top, looking down into the Greek Theater.

Obligatory shot.

Obligatory shot.

Notice the teepee shaped building in the background. We’ll visit it later.

The bubbling "fountain" at the top of the Greek Theater where patrons could get a drink.

The bubbling “fountain” at the top of the Greek Theater where patrons could get a drink.

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The elite families had "box seats" with their names on them in the front row at the amphitheater.

The elite families had “box seats” with their names on them in the front row at the amphitheater.

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These are plants.

These are plants.

Enrica picked up a few pieces of pottery off the ground and told us they were from a certain archeological age. No way of knowing if it’s true or not, but it sounded good.

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Buds and I decided to walk the couple miles back to our apartment from the tour. This gave us a chance to visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Tears. We visited respectfully, but still found ourselves in jaw-dropping awe at the curious space. It was beautiful, in its own way, but it would not be a soothing place of worship for me.

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One of the evenings, Buds and I settled in the children in and popped around the corner to a tiny restaurant that served delicious food and wine and seemed to only be open due to the interest and whims of the jovial owner. We told him to bring us whatever sounded good to him, and we loved it.

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We wanted to go back the next night, too, but he wasn’t going to be open because he wanted to be with his family instead. Can’t argue with that.

Whenever Buds and I talk about Ortigia, we always speak in reverent tones about “the light.” The light here was so golden, so beautiful, it makes my heart ache to think about it.

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It was really bright, too.

This was Buds attempting to take a picture of the rest of us, but since he couldn’t tell what the screen showed, we got this squinty-eyed selfie:

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One of the afternoons The Buster and I wandered around in the church at the end of our alley.

For a small church by Catholic standards, it had many beautiful pieces, too.

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I love the comfortable homeyness of the priest’s glasses sitting on the side table, ready for the next worship.

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This statue/coffin/display would be carried through the streets on holy days. In the following picture you can see the metal slots at the bottom where the wooden posts slide in to be lifted onto the worshipers’ shoulders.

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And since we haven’t had many pictures of Monkey so far, here’s a reminder that she was still taller than Buster during this trip.

She's not taller anymore.

She’s not taller anymore.

This was a perfect beginning to our Sicilian Adventure. From the little cafe where Buds, Yessa, and I (and maybe Buster) would grab an espresso and a croissant each morning, to the golden light that greeted us by the Cathedral, to the gelato shops we tried out by the center fountain, this is a town Buds and I hope to return to.

Grannie Comes For A Visit

Mom settles into our regular life with us so easily, I sometimes forget when she’s here that she doesn’t live with us all the time. We did do a couple touristy things on this visit, just to be sure she didn’t feel we were keeping her prisoner at home, chained to the laundry basket. (She kindly takes on folding laundry and litter box cleaning when she’s with us. Not being able to smell can be a blessing.)

Celebrating Monkey's birthday.

Celebrating Monkey’s birthday.

At the Frist.

At the Frist.

The car exhibit was intriguing.

The car exhibit was intriguing.

Making some art together.

Making some art together.

Water colors are fun.

Water colors are fun.

Joined for lunch by Buds.

Joined for lunch by Buds.

The whole family was glad she was here.

The whole family was glad she was here.

She's willing to learn about Magic.

She’s willing to learn about Magic.

Started out reading together.

Started out reading together.

Ended like this. The boy can still sleep anywhere.

Ended like this. The boy can still sleep anywhere.

Another great visit in the long line of visits and trips. I recognize how incredibly blessed we are for this time.