Italy, Touring Florence

Oh, where to start? With the daily itineary, of course…

That “drive to Florence” part, that takes 3+ hours. We must not have left on time. And it must have taken a little while to get us all off the bus and to the meeting point because we had about a half hour for lunch before we had to meet for the museum tour. We’re no fools… there’s a great looking sidewalk cafe just down the block 🙂

In fact, it seems there’s always a great looking sidewalk cafe or a gelato store just down the block. Very dangerous to one’s diet…although I came home 2.7 pounds lighter than when I left so I guess the walking compensated for the pasta, gelato and wine.

This would be a great time to share a picture of the motorcycles and motor scooters lined up along the square in front of the sidewalk cafe. Interestingly, it was “Piazza San Marco”, but very different than the “Piazza San Marco” in Venice. And I don’t remember seeing a church in honor of St. Mark but there must have been one there somewhere…or there wouldn’t have been a square. Anyway, back to the scooters.

I wanted to give a little push and see if they’d fall like dominoes, but the temptation passed quickly. Scooters have several advantages in the cities of Italy, including:

  • They fit on streets where cars and trucks don’t
  • They can weave in and out of stalled traffic
  • They can “split” the lanes of stopped traffic and get to the front of the line at intersections
  • They get the equivalent of 50-90 miles per gallon which is important when gas costs over $8 per gallon.
  • They park in much smaller spaces than cars and trucks
  • They park on the sidewalk if they want to

After lunch, we toured the “Gallery of the Academy”, an art museum associated with the University of Florence. They have a lot of really big, really old, paintings. After I got past “how the heck did they paint something that big”, they all started to look alike. They have a lot of really big, really old, statues, including a bunch of Michelangelo originals. Amazing work, but again they all started to look similar after a while. There are some really odd things displayed along side the good stuff that kind of detract, at least I thought so. Sorry, no photos allowed. They have a bunch of really old, kind of old and not so old copies of the originals made by various art students over the centuries. Hmmm, they look a lot like the originals, at least to my untrained eye. They have a copy of “David” that I could take a photo of, which was good since my art teacher friend Debi Oswald asked me to get a photo of “David” for her. Here you go Debi… he (the copy) really is pink with blonde hair.

One thing that makes Michelangelo’s works stand out is the fact that he did not work from drawings or models. He selected his stone based on what he envisioned trapped inside it then chipped away the pieces that weren’t part of his vision. Wow.

The museum also had a temporary exhibit with a bunch of really old musical instruments. Some of them were pretty cool. I fixated for a while on a Stradivarius violin that was an awesome piece of woodwork. I have no idea how sweet or squeaky it sounded, but the craftsman who put the wood together did a fine job. No photos allowed, of course, which is unfortunate because I think you’d enjoy seeing just how fine the woodwork was. Oh well.

I found plenty of art to enjoy after we left the museum, including some really cool doorways, doorknobs and doorknockers.

Maybe one of you who paid closer attention than I during their college psychology classes can explain why I found the doorways to be more artistic than the paintings and statues. Or maybe we can just enjoy a nice bottle of Merlot while pretending to explain 🙂

Just down the street from the museum is Il Duomo. The Cathedral. In Florence this is the Basilica di Santa Maria del fiore (St. Mary of the flowers). It includes the largest brick dome EVER constructed. The basilica took 140 years to build. I understand why, and so will you when you see the pictures. Hold on to your seats…this is amazing. The north side:

The west side, which contains the main entrance and faces the Baptistery of St. John:

The campanile (bell tower):

And, the south side:

I took a lot of photos inside and outside and you can see them all, if you want, using the link below. However I would like to share three particular photos, the inside of the dome:

The arches of the naves:

And, the votive candles:

No, the couple wasn’t part of our tour group. No, I don’t know them. No, I don’t have a model/subject release from them. However they so embodied the spirit that I needed their picture. I lit a candle there too and Teresa may have as well. You, my friends and family, were in my thoughts and prayers throughout the trip, not just when I lit a candle.

Outside the church to the west was the Baptistery of St. John. Back in the day, it was opened once a year and all the babies born during the previous 12 months were baptized. An unofficial census count.

The doors to the baptistery, also known as the “gates of paradise” are amazing, depicting 10 scenes from the bible including:1. Adam and Eve 2. Cain and Abel 3. Noah 4. Abraham 5. Isaac with Esau and Jacob 6. Joseph 7. Moses 8.Joshua 9. David 10. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. (1 and 2 are top left and top right, continuing through 9 and 10 bottom left and bottom right). Go ahead, click on the picture to view it in full size, or save a copy and zoom in to check out the panels. They’re fantastic. It took Ghiberti and his craftsmen 27 years (!) to make these beautiful doors.

If you promise to come back to the blog, I’ll provide links to more information on Il Duomo and the baptistery.

As we continued our tour, I found several other artistic features of the city. Even the garbage cans, sewer covers and port-a-johns at construction sites are worthy of notice:

We saw many examples of reuse and recycling. Old buildings become the foundation for the new, or are incorporated into the new. I found it particularly unsettling to sit in buildings that still look great and function as designed after 800 years or more when I have grown so accustomed to our throwaway culture where buildings aren’t expected to last more than 50 years or so. This tower fits very well with its new neighbors.

Here’s a fine example of a street sign. Unlike Venice, Florence did not have an additional sign with arrows pointing toward the nearest piazza, only the name of the street the sign faced.

A few blocks south of Il Duomo is the Piazza della Signoria. This is another fun place to play around with Google maps. While in satellite view, zoom in to street view and check out the statues. There’s another “David” here for Debi:

As well as a copy of Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine” and other classic sculptures.

Frankly, I appreciated these copies much more than the originals in the museum. Why? I could walk right up to them, study and photograph them from any angle. If you ever go to Florence, I would strongly recommend skipping the museum and enjoying the copies. Unless, of course you want to see the paintings.

After a brief stop to enjoy some excellent gelato and appreciate the artistic wooden ceiling at Vivoli, it was time to walk some more.

We found a store devoted to Pinnochio:

A store where I bought a very sharp necktie to wear at our concert in Rome, a wedding dress store, where I took some pictures for Sami:

We filled our water bottles at the straw market, where we bought a nice Italian leather wallet for Matt and a very nice Italian leather poncho wrap for Teresa.

All shopped out, we headed back toward the bus. I took a few pictures of the small vehicles (they have to be small, because the streets are so narrow) for Matt:

Before we got back to the bus, we saw what may be my favorite doorway of the trip:

In a previous life, when I shot film, I felt lucky if there were one or two shots per roll that I felt were worthy of printing. Those shots that I really liked and really wanted. I think I’m better than that now, in terms of what I like and want and keep, but I rarely print anything. This next photo may be the one (out of over 1600 taken on this trip) that I print.

When I tossed a coin in his case, I don’t know if he thought I was paying for the privilege of taking his photo or appreciating his music, but the smile we shared will remain with his song in my heart forever.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at the Hotel Mediterraneo where they had installed a neat ramp on the stairs to make it very easy to get roller-suitcases up the stairs.

To the left of the hotel, you can see the umbrellas of another sidewalk cafe where 6 or 7 of us may have consumed a few bottles of “vino rosso” and “vino bianco” while the sun set.

If you want to see all of the photos I took in Florence, you can view them on Flicker.

Italy, Touring Venice

I’ll start the narrative for Day 2 by clarifying that travel days are tough. Day 1 of the journey actually encompassed two calendar days, one of which we spent on a plane and jumping time zones and the other touring Padua, with very little sleep in between. The rest of the days in my chronicle will be full calendar days, in Italy’s time zone.

The last thing I did each evening was take a picture of the next day’s itineary with my phone. These were posted somewhere in the hotel lobby. Sometimes I had to retake the picture the next morning to get a clear copy. I’m sure that had NOTHING to do with wine consumed the evening before!

A quick warning…I took 297 photos “today”. I’m only going to feature a few of them in the blog. I’ll delete those which need to be deleted and post the rest as a slide show on Flickr with a link at the end of the blog for you to peruse as you wish. If you’ve got a question about any of them, feel free to comment here on the blog and I’ll try to provide clarification.

Our bus driver Allesandro took us to the port of Venice where we boarded a private water taxi. We had several different ones during the day but they all looked similar:

And our tour guide Elisabeth reminded us often to wear comfortable shoes:

The ride from the mainland to the Venetian islands was a bit rough but nobody got sea sick.The perspective from the water was interesting and gave us a feel for how large the area is. If you haven’t spent any time with Google maps, this is an interesting area to explore. Make sure to switch between map and satellite views. We saw everything from cruise ships:

To car ferries, naval special operations ships and merchandise delivery service boats:

Churches, hotels and parks:

Even the garbage gets transported via boat:

Our first stop was at the Ferro-Lazarini glass works on the island of Murano.

Where we saw an artisan make a vase and a horse:

Of course, there was plenty of time to shop! I think Andy suspected I was taking a photo in this showroom:

Since they are afraid someone might copy their designs, photos are discouraged in the showrooms. I don’t think these give away any secrets:

Elisabeth encouraged us to use the (free and clean) rest rooms at the glass factory. While I was waiting for everyone to finish, I found a few interesting architectural photo opportunities:

After Murano, we headed to the main island of Venice for a walking tour along the grand canal and to Piazza San Marcos and the Basilica of St. Mark. Along the way, we passed many hotels and restaurants:

Crossed a few canal bridges:

And learned about the Doge’s palace:

where trials were held with the convicted crossing the “Bridge of Sighs” where it is said that their sighs of desperation were audible as they glimpsed possibly the last daylight of their life out of the two windows on the bridge:

before spending the rest of their life in the very secure prison:

Everyone is told to not feed the flying rats (aka pidgeons). Alas, this instruction is followed about as well as the “no photos” instruction:

There were times I wondered if carrying multiple lenses along was worth it…these shots of statues on top of pillars scream “yes, it was worth it”!

This shot of the bell above Piaza San Marcos also required a long zoom. The mechanical hammer swingers were fun to watch at the top of the hour:

Our “meeting spot” in the piazza was always in front of the Campanile (bell tower) across from the Basilica of St. Mark:

Fortunately the stairs are closed and there is a lift (elevator) to the top for “only” 8 euros (about $10.80) each. The view is well worth the cost of the ride to the top:

But, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. The trip up the Campanile was after our tour of St. Mark’s, so let’s look at a few scenes there. The first thing you notice is the marble:

Then, if you can manage to pay attention to where you’re walking, you notice that the ground water is pushing up through the sidewalk in a few places (thank you Ann for lending your reflection to make the puddle more interesting):

If you’re not careful, you risk whiplash from constantly looking up, then down, then up, etc.

Did I mention there’s lots of marble? And arches?

The arches above the basilica doors are quite ornate:

And the arches inside are even moreso:

This church was confusing… there were some signs that said “NO FLASH PHOTOS”. There were some signs that said “NO PHOTOS”. Yet about 1/3 of the people touring were taking photos, many with flash. So, I took photos too.

The water is pushing up into parts of the church too, so they build little bridges for tourists to follow and keep our feet dry.

At every church we visited, we spent some time in prayer for friends and family, lighting a candle where permissible (churches with fresco paintings don’t allow candles in an attempt to help preserve the paintings).

After our tour of St. Mark’s, it was time to follow the #1 recommendation for visiting Venice: get lost. We walked down many streets that looked like this one:

And saw many canals that looked like this one:

We stopped for lunch at Osteria Leon Bianco and found a seat in the courtyard. I enjoyed a pasta w/ meat sauce dish and Teresa enjoyed a lasagna dish which she raved about for the remainder of the trip.

After lunch, we walked some more, and got un-lost in time for a 3:00pm rendezvous with friends for a gondola ride. Believe me, there’s nothing romantic about cramming 6 people into a gondola…but the price of 120 euros (about $162) for a 35-40 minute ride was best shared, so 30 of us took the ride in 5 gondolas:

And got to see Venice from a different perspective

I wonder what the description was when they applied for that building permit? After the gondola ride, it was time to get lost again. We found stores selling masks for Carnival

And stores selling Ferrari “gear”

I checked out a sharp black shirt sporting the logo for Matt … 58 euros ($78) sorry Matt, it stayed on the shelf. We found a piaza (square) well off the beaten path where a few cute little kids were having a blast with the public fountain.

It was time to find our way back to Piazza San Marco for 6:45 mass in the Basilica of St. Mark. Fortunately I had a good guide:

Who soon had us back in front of the Campanile

We were prepared to sing the mass parts in Latin, but they were spoken (in Italian). We were prepared to sing several selections from our concert plus a 4-part “Holy” for the opening. Unfortunately, the church organ was broken. Our most capable director Laurie Polkus exhibited her skills in flexibility and we sang opening, communion and closing songs acapela.

After mass it was time to get lost for another hour or so.

We found some yummy gelato (Italian ice cream) and wound up enjoying a bottle of wine listening to 3 or 4 orchestras who took turns playing in Piazza San Marco before meeting our tour group for the boat and bus ride back to our hotel.

To see all of today’s photos, visit the Flickr slide show.

Italy, the journey begins

On Tuesday October 16th, after many months of practices, planning meetings, fund raising, etc. 27 members of the adult choir of St. Anthony on the Lake Parish (Pewaukee, WI) and 22 travel companions departed for Italy. Their pilgrimage began like all trips from St. Anthony’s, with a prayer circle in the narthex of the church, led by our retired pastor and spiritual director for the trip, Fr. Joe Hornacek.

 

We packed into rented “party limo buses” for the trip to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Fortunately the dancing pole was well hidden and the champagne flutes were empty although the group was pretty sure it was five o’clock somewhere… The international terminal at O’Hare is nothing to write home about and unless you must pass through, avoidance is recommended. After a long flight on a British Airways Boeing 777 and a short layover at London’s Heathrow airport, we were on a BA Airbus 319 bound for Venice, Italy. Everyone with a window seat was treated to a wonderful view of the Alps which separate Italy from Switzerland.

No luggage was lost, money was converted to euros with little pain and we met our tour guide Elizabeth and our bus driver Allesandro for the ride to Padua. You’re right…a long flight, a short flight and a several hour bus ride makes for lots of sitting.

Padua, Italy is the city where St. Anthony, the patron saint of our parish, died and our pilgrimage for the day was to visit the basilica built in his honor. While the size of the church was apparent as we approached,

We were not prepared for the beauty inside. As the basilica is decorated with many “fresco” paintings, and it seems that many tourists don’t understand the meaning of “no flash photography”, no photos were allowed inside the basilica. Next best thing? Scan a post card… The main church:

And, the chapel enshrining the relics (tongue and lower jawbone – he was considered to be a great preacher) of St. Anthony:

As we found out quickly, streets are narrow and there were many opportunities to walk where the bus couldn’t go so we began to stretch out the cramps from plane and bus right away.

This provided many opportunities to see interesting architecture and artifacts…and take a photo or two 🙂 For example, the city seal is embedded in the sidewalk every 100 meters or so. Its a brass or bronze disc about 10 centimeters in diameter.

There were interesting buildings like this one:

And public bathrooms (WC = Water Closet) which were best avoided (you’d think since you have to pay to use them they would at least be clean…but no):

In the center of Padua is a lovely park with a large fountain and many flying rats (aka pidgeons):

Streets near the Basilica were busier and had more kiosks, both on the sidewalk:

And right in the middle of the street:

Despite the uneven cobblestones and insane drivers (“red lights are optional and the white stripe is a suggestion” – Elisabeth) many people ride motor scooters or bicycles and we saw all kinds:

There were plenty of arches like these to catch my lens:

And I’m sure this triumphant arch led to something important at one time although today the area behind it is used for tourist bus parking:

I was surprised at how many ways there are to spell Padua…

In the evening we took the bus to Mestre, for a wonderful dinner at the Antony Hotel and a much needed night of sleep.

So, there you have it, the first day of our tour. Please let me know what you think of this method (blog narrative) of sharing my trip photos. For those who want the old “overload method” here’s all the photos from Italy Day 01, travel and tour Padua.

Make The Trend Your Friend

There’s an old saying, “The trend is your friend”. I’m not sure where, when or how this saying originated but it is probably related to Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of physics: “Every object continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless compelled to change that state by external forces acted upon it.”

When applied to weight loss and health enhancement, I find the law to be applicable, because our state is a result of our behavior, and our behavior is largely a result of habits. Until we are compelled to change our habits, our behaviors won’t change and our state (health, weight) won’t change.

We’ve all run into someone we haven’t seen in a while and heard “you haven’t changed a bit”. Sometimes they’re being kind, and sometimes they’re pretty accurate. Because we experience most of the changes in our lives in increments too small to easily observe, we need an objective external measure to provide a true reflection.

One of the measures important to this stage of my journey is my weight. I know, its just a number. An arbitrary number at that, and only one of many that need to be understood in relation to each other in order to have a good picture. But it is a number that is easily obtained and whose history is easy visualized. And, for this stage in my journey, its a pretty good measure of progress. So, I track it.

Since most of us are impatient creatures, it is important to look at the short term. So, I pay attention to today’s weight, and the default view on Lose It! is a week. Over the past week, I’ve done well, as you can see below:

Its also important to look at the long term, in order to understand where we’ve come from, and whether we’re heading in the right direction overall. A one year trend helps with this:

Hmmm, as you can see, I’ve made significant progress over the past year and things appear to have been “stalled” for approximately the past 6 months. With the data, I can look at various ranges to see what was going on with varying levels of detail. For example, look at the past month, which shows a disturbing pattern…

 

Looking at the past three months exposes an even more disturbing trend:

I’ve got to admit it is awfully tempting to look at those lines and note that low and high weights in the range are separated by less than five pounds. I know I’ve said it before, some days I feel like I pee more than 5 pounds away in one trip to the necessary room. Not a big deal, right?

Well, I need it to be a big deal. If every time I gain a few pounds in some social celebration the new high is a bit higher than the last one, and every interim low between highs is a little bit less low than the last one, the ultimate trend is not in the direction I want it to go. This needs to stop and it needs to stop now. My task this week is to make sure the second half of Newton’s law applies to continue this week’s downward trend. I’m following my program and there’s no social celebrations coming up until 7/4. I need to build the momentum and roll through the 4th without a “social celebration bump”.

Are you with me? Make the trend your friend!

Do As I Say…

There are a few pieces of wise advice I remember hearing more than a few times from my Dad. Two in particular come to mind this morning:

  • Always use the right tool for the job, and,
  • Do as I say, not as I do

Well, OK, I don’t know if I ever heard you say “Son, use a real edger!” and I can’t say for certain that I ever saw you try to use a string trimmer to edge your driveway or sidewalk. But I know you had a real edger (it was green and black) when we lived on Denton Ave. and I’ve struggled enough trying to use a string trimmer to edge so I gave up a few years ago.

For fathers’ day, my extremely perceptive family picked up on my hints and I got a Black & Decker “edge hog”. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The right tools for the job!

A half hour in the hot sun and my driveway and patio are edged like a pro would edge them, with the help of the edge hog, my electric tornado and a nice heavy duty extension cord. Thanks for the advice Dad! Your driveway and walk next week?

FTC 16 CFR, part 255 Disclaimer: The Black & Decker “edge  hog” link above is an affiliate link to Amazon.com. If you click the link and buy the product from Amazon, I may earn a few cents. I only link to things I use and truly believe are great products, in hope that someone who reads my blog will also find them useful. This is not a significant source of income for me and the few cents I may earn does not in any way influence what I link to.

Hope Dies Hard

One year ago today, I started using the web site http://www.loseit.com to change my life. Right up front, I need to thank my lovely wife Teresa for recognizing Lose It! as something I might be interested in. She sensed I wanted to change, knew I had tried a few things that weren’t getting the results I was hoping for and realized this site had potential to work for me.

The Lose It community – Lose It is way more than a web site or a smart phone app – has many facets. One is a series of “badges” for successes. Some of them seem rather random, others clearly designed to help motivate toward a specific goal. Today I achieved the goal of logging daily for 52 continuous weeks, and earned the “Die Hard” badge.

LoseIt! Die Hard badge for 52 weeks of continuous daily logging

One of the many things I have learned is that for me to be successful as I adopt a healthier lifestyle is that I seem to have a poor (or maybe just selective) memory regarding what I eat and drink. In fact, I just realized I forgot to log the orange juice I had with breakfast and jumped online to do so before I have an extra serving of something later thinking I have an extra 167 calories in my daily plan. The Lose It tool which helps those of us with a problematic memory is logging. And, to help develop the habit of logging, Lose It awards badges:

  • 3 days: Keep It Up
  • 2 weeks: Regular
  • 4 weeks: Dedicated
  • 8 weeks: Committed
  • 24 weeks: Hardcore
  • 52 weeks: Die Hard

I get it, and I got it. Its displayed proudly with the others on my Lose It profile page, and above for anyone who ventures here to see.

When I first joined Westwood Health & Fitness, I had a simple goal…enhance my cardio capabilities enough to survive a High Adventure week at the BSA National Sea Base with my son Matt and other scouts and dads from Troop 24. Goal achieved, and we had a great time. Fast forward a while to spring 2011. I had a goal to lose 21 pounds so I could ride the zipline at Utah’s Olympic Park on our vacation in June 2011. After starting Lose It, I did lose 21 pounds, and I did ride the zipline. Then I wanted to be lose 26 pounds by our 26th wedding anniversary a few weeks later. Goal achieved.

Then I went out on a limb. Double or nothing so to speak. I hoped I could lose 52 pounds by my 52nd birthday, and began thinking about my long-term target weight. By that time, I had begun to realize that a number on the scale isn’t really much of a goal and doesn’t provide much satisfaction or motivation. Maybe that’s why I missed the 52 goal. In fact, I’m still trying to get past 45 pounds. It seems I’ve stalled here, gain a pound, lose it. Gain 2, lose 3. Gain another, lose 2. Gain 3, lose 1. Etc.

I mentioned that Lose It is a community. Anyone who is just using it on their smart phone (there are both iPhone and Android versions of the app available in addition to the web site) is missing the best part of Lose It, the community of friends. People who are there with you. Who have similar hopes and struggles. People who have similar goals and are working along side you to meet them. People who have made their goals and want to help others. People like Belle, who has made some incredible changes in her life, lost over 265 pounds and starts every day sharing a joke and ends every day sharing a motivational or inspirational quote. People like Cheri, who cheer *\o/* everyone on. A few family members who are getting healthier along with me, a few “real-life” friends, who joined after seeing my success. And people like Debi, who posted something really profound a few weeks ago that I’ve been thinking about almost constantly ever since.

“If you really want something, you’ll make time for it. Otherwise you’ll make excuses” – Debi O.

That morning I had made a comment about it being too cold to ride my new bike and my schedule being too busy to get to the gym so I was just going to have to try to get some extra steps in that week. As I look back on the past 4.5 months – the time I’ve been “stalled” at my current weight – I can see I’ve made a lot of excuses. You may have even heard me make some of them.

  • I’m traveling this week and its hard to lose weight eating in hotel restaurants.
  • I’ve got meetings every night and won’t be able to get to the gym this week.
  • Its too cold/windy/rainy to ride my new bike.

This past weekend, I didn’t use any excuses. We went camping as planned even though the weather forecast was for overnight temperatures near/below freezing. And I took pictures of the snow on our tents and smiled. I hiked the west bluff trail at Devil’s Lake state park even though it was cold and rainy and my knee hurt.

Over the past year, I didn’t use any excuses about logging. If I was away from my computer, I made notes and logged when I got back. When I got an Android phone, I got the app and started logging wherever I was. I earned that Die Hard badge.

And, now, I’m setting my next target…I will have that 50 pound badge before the end of the month. No excuses.

What are you making excuses about in your life? Leave me a comment, or drop me an email if you’d rather talk about it privately. Stop making excuses. Stop hoping. Start doing. Start succeeding. Want to make some healthy changes in your life? Join me and Teresa and Sami and Jon and Belle and Cheri and Debi and over a million others on Lose It.

The Easter Special – A Blessing of Thorns

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her shoes as she pushed against an April gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like a spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor auto accident stole her ease.

 During this Easter week she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren’t enough, her husband’s company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose annual holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What’s worse, Sandra’s friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would enable her to empathize with others who suffer. “She has no idea what I’m feeling,” thought Sandra with a shudder. “I should be thankful? Thankful for what?” she wondered aloud. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?
 
“Good afternoon, can I help you?”
The shop clerk’s approach startled her.
“I . . . . I need an arrangement,” stammered Sandra.
 
“For Easter? Do you want beautiful but ordinary or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Easter Special?” asked the shop clerk. “I’ m convinced that flowers tell stories,” she continued. “Are you looking for something that conveys ‘gratitude’ this Easter?”
 
“Not exactly!” Sandra blurted out. “In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.” Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, “I have the perfect arrangement for you.”
 
Then the door’s small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, “Hi Barbara . . . let me get your order.” She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped . . . there were no flowers.
 
“Want this in a box?” asked the clerk. Sandra watched for the customer’s response. Was this a joke? Who would want rose stems with no roses!? She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.
 
“Yes, please,” Barbara replied with an appreciative smile. “You’d think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn’t be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again,” she said as she gently tapped her chest.
 
“Uhh, “ stammered Sandra, “that lady just left with, uhh . . she just left with no flowers!”
 
“Right . . . I cut off the roses. That’s the Special . . . I call it the Easter Thorns Bouquet.”
 
“Oh, come on, you can’t tell me someone is willing to pay for that?!” exclaimed Sandra.
 
Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling very much like you today,” explained the clerk, “She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery. That same year I had lost my husband, and for the first time in my life, I had to spend the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel.”
 
“So what did you do?” asked Sandra.
 
“I learned to be thankful for thorns,” answered the clerk quietly. “I’ve always thanked God for good things in life and never thought to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when the bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important. I always enjoyed the flowers of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God’s comfort. You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we’re afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others.” Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. “I guess the truth is I don’t want comfort. I’ve lost a baby and I’m angry with God.”
 
Just then someone else walked into the shop.
 
“Hey, Jim!” shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.
 
“My wife sent me in to get our usual Easter arrangement . . .  twelve thorny, long stemmed stems!” laughed Jim as the clerk handed him a tissue wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.
 
“Those are for your wife?” asked Sandra doubtingly. “Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?”
 
“No . . . I’m glad you asked,” Jim replied. “Four years ago my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord’s grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from ‘thorny’ times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific ‘problem’ and give thanks to Him for what that problem taught us.”
 
As Jim paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, “I highly recommend the Special!”
 
“I don’t know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life,” Sandra said to the clerk. “It’s all to fresh.”
 
“Well,” the clerk replied carefully, “my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God’s providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don’t resent the thorns.”
 
Tears rolled down Sandra’s cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. “I’ll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please,” she managed to choke out.
 
“I hoped you would,” said the clerk gently. “I’ll have them ready in a minute.”
 
“Thank you. What do I owe you?” asked Sandra.
 
“Nothing, “ said the clerk. “Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year’s arrangement is always on me.” The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. “I’ll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you’d like to read it first.”
 
It read: “Dear God, I have never thanked you for my thorns. I have thanked you a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to you along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of your rainbow look much more brilliant.”
Disclaimer: I don’t know the origin of this and apologize to the author for sharing it without permission. Thanks to my friend Warren K. who shared it with our choir.

Friends Share

Good friends share good recipes. Here’s one of our favorites, Zesty Vegetable Enchiladas. Hope you enjoy them. Have a recipe you’d like to share with me?

 Zesty Vegetable Enchiladas

1 1/3 cups water
½ cup dry lentils
¼ teaspoon salt
8 – 6 inch flour tortillas
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 ½ teaspoon chili powder or ground cumin
6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese w/ Jalapeno peppers, shredded
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise & sliced
1 – 14 ½ oz. can chunky chili stewed tomatoes.
(note, I prefer to use a jar of medium salsa instead of the stewed tomatoes).

In medium saucepan – combine water, lentils & salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, simmer 20 min. or till tender. Drain w/ cold water. Set aside.

Meanwhile wrap tortillas and heat them for 10 minutes in oven heated to 350 degrees F. Spray 2 quart rectanglar baking dish with nonstick coating.

In a large skillet, stir-fry carrots & chili powder in hot oil about 2 minutes. Add zucchini, stir fry for 2-3 minutes or till crsisp-tender. (Add oil if/as necessary). Remove from heat. Stir in lentils, ½ of undrained stewed tomatoes (or salsa), and ½ of cheese.

Spoon veggie mixture onto tortillas, dividing evenly. Roll up tortillas, place seam side down in prepared dish. Cover w/ foil. Bake 8 min. Uncover and bake 7 – 12 min. or till heated through & tortillas are crisp.

In small saucepan heat remaining tomatoes, spoon over enchiladas. Top w/ remaining cheese; bake 1 min. or till melted.

Nutrition information (each):

473 cal.
20g. fat, 38 mg. chol.
22 g. protein
53 g. carbo,
7g. fiber,
762 mg. sodium.

RDA:

54% calcium
34% iron,
117% vit. A,
35% vit.c,
18% thiamine,
29% riboflavin,
20% niacin

But It’s A Dry Heat

As mentioned a few entries ago, I’m traveling for work again, this time I’m in Phoenix, AZ. They say the heat is tolerable because it’s a dry heat. Frankly, coming from Wisconsin, temperatures in the 70s to low 80s are tolerable in March, even if it wasn’t dry. This trip I’m lucky to be able to spend a little time with our dear friends Pat and Robin who moved here in retirement when they’re not traveling. They picked me up early Monday morning for a quick hike in the South Mountain Park then got me back to the hotel in time to clean up and get to my first conference session.

The weather was perfect, the companions great and I took a few photos, which you can see here on my Picasa site or here on Google+ I bought a new tool for this hike. If you’ve ever done any hiking with a camera (other than a point and shoot) hanging around your neck, you know it gets heavy and uncomfortable. I found a pair of backpack camera straps on Amazon.com (not an affiliate link, I get nothing if you click through other than the satisfaction of knowing I helped you find a great product) and they work very well! The camera’s weight was borne by the backpack straps on my shoulders and offset by the weight of my hydration backpack. I hardly knew the camera was there.

Pat and Robin are both looking and doing great. I’m happy to say that I was able to keep up with them no problem and never got winded even though my maximum heart rate on the hike hit 174 (average 142, and over 600 calories burned according to my heart rate monitor). About halfway along our hike, Pat asked me if I still enjoyed geocaching. Hey, wake up! I’ve got the geocaching.com app loaded on my phone, let’s see if there are any here. Well, I’ll be darned, GC10KPG Kiwanna City View was about 54 meters away. We all smiled and said “that’s no coincidence, that’s a sign and we’re going geocaching”! It wasn’t a difficult find but I was careful to check all the rock crevices for scorpions and snakes before scrambling to the find. Below is the time/distance/elevation graph of our hike.

This afternoon I gave a presentation on using personal mobile devices in the workplace which went over very well. Tomorrow after the conference, I’m having dinner with Pat and Robin before flying home Thursday.

Until next time, peace be with you!

Its a Matter of Perspective

Last night, Wisconsin got wallopped with a few inches of heavy wet snow. About 30,000 customers of the local utility were out of power. My sister noted that this was the first time in 14 years of living in their current home that the power has gone out, and made the best of it with romantic candles and a toasty warm fire place.

After Matt helped me clear the driveway, I headed out into the yard and beyond with my camera. I had a few objectives, one being to try out a new lens I bought recently. Its a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens. It is used to take close up (1:1 to 5:1) images. I confirmed that it is impossible to shoot this lens freehand and very difficult to shoot it on a monopod. Next time, I’ll take a tripod.

Ice and snow clinging to trees made a great subject for the new lens. I also wanted to get a bit of exercise, so I walked a stretch of the Ice Age National trail that runs through Hartland. Its a favorite place of mine…one that I should visit more often. Apparently I was the second person who thought it would be a great place to walk today.

Like these photos? You can see more from my morning in my Picasa album or on Google+

Have a perspective you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below, or on my photo album. Thanks, and have a great day!