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Italian Holiday

My Sweet London

Lana Hawk

So if you know me, you know I have this thing for London. It's my favorite. Favorite city in the world and probably always will be. I will always say yes to London. So when Adam surprised me with a trip to London for Christmas I was pretty darn excited. My favorite holiday in my favorite city with my favorite human, YES. I know not everyone shares my sentiment for London. My love for the city is a lot of sentimental/nostalgic love for a city that played a major role in a  life-changing six months. My time in London years ago was a short six months, but I learned a new appreciation and love for life and culture outside of my tiny, Midwest, American bubble. There is so much of the world to see and those six months opened my eyes to all I could experience and know if I took the time to go. Just go and see. Listen and experience life from a new perspective. A pretty great lesson if you think about it. So often we want to be seen and heard, our side to be understood, but more often than not, we need to stop shouting for attention and stop to listen. My way may be great, but that doesn't mean it is the only way. America is wonderful, but we can always learn something new from other cultures. For example, full coverage bathroom stall doors. Seriously, the US needs to get it together in this department. Also, cheese. Good, quality, affordable cheese. If I ever run for public office my platform will be based around these two important topics. 

Back to London. I have now been to London three times since my "gap year" back in 2007-2008 and every time I still love it. All my favorite memories come rushing back to me with one glimpse of a red telephone booth or double-decker bus. The nights out with my roommates, dinner and a walk around Covent Garden, sunny day strolls along the Thames, major wipe outs in train stations, commuting horror stories, and the general buzz of the city. I love all the tourist sites, but more than anything I love just being there in the heart of London. The best Christmas present I could ask for is a husband willing to take me to my favorite city just because. We didn't do any major tourist things, we just went. We walked. We wandered. And it was perfect. If it was my last time in London, it was a good one.

A few pictures from our trip.  I didn't take nearly as many as I normally do because I was enjoying the city. 

Arrivederci Firenze

Lana Hawk

Today was our last day in Florence. A bittersweet one for sure and still weird to think our time here is done. Traveling is such an odd thing because often times you visit a place, fall in love with it and the people, admire the beautiful things it has to offer, and then you leave, often never returning. I have been lucky enough to return to a number of places, but many, including Florence, I may never see again. The places and experiences change you, move you, mold you, and therefore stay with you. However, isn’t it a bit sad to think you may never return? It is a comfort knowing Adam and I experienced this together and discussed a lot of the practices and routines we want to bring back home with us. We can take a piece of Florence and re-create it as best we can in our home in Denver. Comforting and realistic. We are so lucky to have had the last 6 weeks here in Florence. We have seen and experienced so much including cooking classes, day trips, language school, and a glimpse into the daily life of Florentines. Irreplaceable memories. We know we are unique in our ability to travel for such a long period of time and we don’t take it for granted. We are thankful for our chance for this sabbatical in Florence. So, to celebrate our time, a list of the wonderful things we will miss about Florence.

  • Our fresh made pasta bought at the market everyday, especially the lemon ravioli. So yummy.
  • Inexpensive, but very delicious cheese, fresh bread, and wine. Oh the cheese. The wine. And that dang ciabatta al formaggio for 2 euros upstairs at the central market. You are what dreams are made of.
  • Long walks through a city rich with history and culture. The heart of the Renaissance. Just walking the same streets as Michelangelo and all the ninja turtles.
  • The art and museums. We didn’t do as much of the touristy sightseeing this time around, but we did take in a few more museums. It is amazing to walk through the Uffizi Gallery and see works of art like the “Birth of Venus” under a ceiling equally as beautiful because you happen to be walking around an old palace. Statues everywhere including works by Michelangelo. Not something we have access to in the suburbs of Denver.
  • The Arno River is another favorite. I love our walks along the river, over Ponte Vecchio and the adjacent Ponte Santa Spirito. Always so pretty, despite the crowds. If you ever find yourself in Florence, watch the sunset from Ponte Santa Spirito, not Ponte Vecchio. Less people, better view of the sunset AND you actually get to see Ponte Vecchio. Plus, our favorite gelato place is right on the southwest corner of the bridge. So win, win.
  • The charm found in all of the piazzas throughout the city. It feels like around every corner you run into another piazza. The big ones like Piazza della Repubblica, Piazza della Signoria, and Piazza del Duomo are wonderful, but if you get a bit further into the city you will find others smaller in size, but high in charm.
  • Intentional time with Adam. It is easy in the busyness of life to be with people and near people, but not have quality time together. This trip has been wonderful for us in the way of intentional, quality time. Dinner at the table, long walks, morning runs, and quiet evenings. Lots of time to dream together of the life we want to build in Denver. We will have to be very purposeful in protecting time for us as we head back to “real life”. 
  • Europe at your fingertips. A short train ride away we saw the Dolomites in Bolzano, the waterways of Venice, and the towers of Siena. Throw in a short plane ride and we were in London. Everything is accessible over here and reachable within a few hours. Different cultures, cuisines, regions, countries and languages all within reach. I just love it.
  • Our little local coffee shop, Cafe Dolce Amaro. The owner greeted us every time we came in and memorized our order by the time we left. It was fun having a local place to visit, a friendly face to greet us, and good cappuccino. Side note: apparently if you order drinks heavy on the milk in the afternoon in Italy, you give yourself away as an outsider. Italians drink cappuccinos in the morning and espresso the rest of the day. 
  • Did I mention the food? Cheese, wine, fresh pasta. Yeah, top of the list.

So there you have it. Florence in a few bullet points. Off to Barcelona for a few days and then we head back to the States. We are excited to see friends and family, start house shopping, and get settled back in Denver.

Ti amo, Firenze! Grazie e Arrivederci! Hola Espana!

Wandering Venice

Lana Hawk

We arrived to Venice late and navigated our way to the hotel via vaporetto water bus and a walk. Thanks to Hilton Honors and a nice bank of Hilton points, we spent two lovely nights at the five star Hilton Molino Stuckey in Venice for free. Our room was pretty darn amazing and located off the main island, it provided stunning views of the water and the rest of Venice. After settling in, we grabbed “dinner” in the executive lounge before heading to bed. 

The following morning we sat for a quick breakfast before taking the hotel shuttle across the canal to St. Mark’s. We met a lovely American family while waiting for the shuttle and enjoyed having a nice chat with them during the shuttle ride. It is always nice to meet anyone who speaks English, a break from hearing all Italian, all the time! 

Our first stop was St. Mark’s and it was well worth the visit. This was the only tourist stop on our Venice list and it should be on yours as well. The church is free to enter which is a welcome change, but no pictures are allowed inside. Probably best because no picture would really do this place justice. The church is covered wall to wall, floor to ceiling with mosaics. Gold mosaics sprinkled with biblical scenes and characters across the massive interior. Tiny tiles creating vivid images. The light streaming in creates quite the glow on the gold tiles and solidified St. Mark’s as one of the most amazing church interiors I have seen in Europe. The floor, also mosaics, rolled like the waves on the sea surrounding Venice. Truly amazing and nothing like anything I have seen before. 

We then paid the 5 euros to go upstairs to the museum and take in the view from the balcony. It is worth the 5 euros just to get the view and use the bathrooms, as Venice is severely lacking in the latter. You will also get to see a few of the mosaics up close, a better view of the ceiling of the church, and the original Horses of Saint Mark, also called Triumphal Quadriga. The Triumphal Quadriga were thought to be from the 2nd or 3rd century AD and brought from Constantinople in the early 13th century. They are interesting to see close up as they have markings you wouldn’t see from far away. The view of the square is also worth a look as it is the largest gathering place in Venice. After viewing the church, it was interesting to consider the cost of building a church like St. Mark’s. So much time, effort, and money for a community of people to support. Where did it all come from? Who did all the work? And what were the unintended consequences of a construction project that large? History nerd questions and the kinds of things Adam and I discuss in places like this.

My favorite part of Venice, and most other places, are the things I find when simply strolling and wandering. This was how we spent the rest of our day. Wandering through the narrow corridors, exploring various waterways and bridges scattered throughout, and weaving in and out of stores full of all kinds of lovely things. In the midst of our wanderings and because of Adam’s thorough research, we identified a restaurant we wanted to try for dinner. After a bit of trial and error, we found Ai Mercanti and made a reservation for that evening hoping we would be able to find it again! We spent the balance of the afternoon exploring Venice and stopping every ten yards for pictures before taking a break for a cappuccino and, later, hot chocolate. 

Venice is such a unique place. We didn’t feel like we needed museums or sights checked off a list. We just wanted to see the city and explore. The character of Venice is found in the side streets and tiny cafes tucked away in hidden courtyards. These hidden gems are often found in seemingly forgotten corners of the city. So magical and endearing. Also, a bit on the creepy, eery side at night. 

With a little effort and Adam’s navigational skills, we made it back to our restaurant for dinner. It was truly one of the best meals we have had on this trip and reasonable in price Beef cheeks and polenta for me and stuffed pasta for Adam. Delicious!

A brisk walk brought us back to our hotel shuttle and back to our warm beds. The next morning we set out for London. After a walk, water bus, airport shuttle bus, plane, and train later we made it to London for our Merry, Happy Christmas.

Happy New Year

Lana Hawk

What a year! The end of the year is always a bit bittersweet. Each year brings triumphs and failures, laughter and tears, joy and pain. As I look back on 2016, I am overwhelmed with all the opportunities the year brought with it. Without a doubt, "The Year of Travel" or something far more clever, would be an appropriate title for our year. Adam and I saw everything from LA to NYC to Boston. The Pacific NorthWest including Seattle, Vancouver and Whistler, the US Virgin Islands and a pizza boat, London, Paris, Rome, Amalfi Coast, Florence, and Venice. Plus an endless number of trips to see family and friends across the US. We also went through career changes in the midst of the travel. I left full-time teaching to pursue other creative endeavors starting with Lana Marie Photo. Adam began executive coaching with Resources for Leading and continues to help people in Denver save money on real estate. We sold our condo and then took off for this 7 week sabbatical in Europe. A busy year, but a good one. We continued to focus on reading more, using our time wisely, and staying healthy. We spent the year dreaming about the future, discussing plans, and working on us.

As we look into 2017, we continue to have dreams and plans, but we also have our goals to help guide us through a new year. I know New Year Resolutions can be cliche, but I love the refreshing restart a new year brings. A fresh beginning to focus your attention moving forward. Here in the Hawk household, big and small goals are something we are constantly working towards, but for 2017 I do have a couple things I would like to focus on throughout the year.

POSITIVE-FOCUSED MORNING ROUTINE

Here is usually what my morning looks like. Alarm goes off. I groggily reach for my phone which doubles as my alarm clock and press snooze. I lay there for another 4 minutes until my second alarm goes off. I always have to set a second alarm. Sometimes I hit another snooze, other times I grab my phone and shut off the 2-3 alarms set to go off in the coming minutes. I then proceed to scroll through all the social media apps on my phone. TimeHop is usually my first stop because I love those memories. Then Instagram, followed by Facebook and Snapchat and usually finishing up with Apple News. Throw in email, full of unneeded subscriptions and you have my routine. When all is said and done, I have successfully wasted 20 minutes of my day staring at my phone and the virtual lives of others. Not exactly the way I want to start my day. I want my mornings to be a refreshing start to the day. Something that fills me up and lays the groundwork for a day of purpose and direction. Despite my love for social media, it often has adverse effects. Social media instantly puts thoughts of comparison and inadequacy in my head. What a way to start the day right? Jealousy and inadequacy. At various times throughout the last several years I have stopped using social media for a time and that has been beneficial, but don’t often stick with it. My habits with social media are what need to be addressed and changed. So 2017, here we go.

The overall goal is to start my day without a social media binge. No phone, no social media. Once I get a new morning routine down, I will begin to work through the social media habits for the rest of my day. So, how do I accomplish the change? First, no phone as an alarm clock. The phone is going to go in another room plugged in for the night. Old school alarm clock here I come. Second, the main reason I do the social media thing in the morning is to help ease into my day. Mornings aren't my strong suit, so easing into them is better for me. But, 20 minutes is excessive and the content isn't great. I will keep several options close to help with the change. Whatever book I am reading will be kept nearby and Savor, a daily devotion by Shauna Niequist. The devotion is short and easy to digest. I love the idea of starting with a bit of truth without exploding my brain. Then, I can greet the day a bit more confidently. Following this, I would like to keep the first hour or two of my morning reserved for coffee, reading, and/or Jesus time with a side of writing. Journaling used to be one of my favorite things and long ago I allowed it to drop off my radar. The impact of busy-ness. So there it is, a morning routine to start my day off with a bit more purpose and less mindless scrolling.

SIMPLE CLOSET CURATION

For some, this may seem silly or unnecessary, but in a society that continually bombards you with buy more, wear this, you need this, sale here, spend more, and on and on and on it is something I think is important. This past year has been a big one in helping me realize simple and less is in actuality more. With less stuff and less clothes, you actually get to be more creative and focused on things that do matter. I often get caught up in the messages thrown at us from media that persuade me to believe I need more. Even if a shirt doesn’t suit me or I have nowhere to wear it, I still NEED it. You NEED another graphic tee in your closet. NEED. No thank you, I have a million as it is. So, my big focus on 2017 is to simplify my closet into a wardrobe of high quality, ethically made items I love. Now, this doesn’t mean throw everything out just to buy ethically produced items. It means narrowing down my closet to items I love and wear first, and then moving forward focusing on brands I can be proud to wear and support.

For the last couple years I have found myself struggling with the idea of fast fashion and the consequences the industry has across the globe. My minimal knowledge of sweat shops, unfair labor practices, and unethical practices of large companies has been something weighing on mymind. I know enough to feel I should do something different, but not enough to present a clear argument. So, 2017 will be focused on learning and researching these issues as well as doing my part to make a change. Spending my money on businesses that support women’s rights, fair trade, ethical practices, and are transparent about their production. In a world where we rarely know the source of what we buy, I want 2017 to be different. So, here is a handful of ways I am going to tackle this goal.

  • Shopping Fast. Over the last 5 years, my shopping habits have changed quite a bit. I no longer buy just to buy and a lot of that has to do with budgeting. I have a monthly personal budget which naturally reins in my shopping. However, even with the budget, I still fall into the trap listed above. Just wanting a shopping fix or to buy something new. So, for at least the first 3 months, yes three, I am not going to buy any new clothing, accessories, etc. Nothing. Not even Goodwill, thrifted finds. This will help me better understand my style, my current closet, and my desire moving forward in this process.
  • Define Style. As a 30 something, I still find myself looking all different ways for style inspiration. There are an endless number of styles and this is where my shopping gets a bit jumbled. Instead of focusing on my style and what naturally draws me in, I end up buying a wide variety of things that often end up thrown out in the end because they don’t suit me. So, using a few resources I found online, I am going to narrow down what I truly think my style is to help me have a bit more focus moving forward.
  • Closet Purge. Once I have gone on a fast and defined my style, I will go through a big closet purge. Not in the hopes of replacing donated items, but truly cleaning out and moving forward. This won’t happen until February or Marchish depending on housing, so it will give me time to tackle some of the other steps and evaluate what I am wearing, what I miss, and what I completely forget I own (and therefore probably don’t need)! Living out of a suitcase the past few months has some perks and one of them is the realization that less isn’t all that bad.
  • Research, research, research. I have already started this process, but research will be a huge part of making this year successful. I need to research ethical brands and companies that provide high quality clothing without the unintended consequences and impact on the well-being of others. I know several brands already, but this list will be important going forward.
  • Build a wardrobe of basics. Once I start shopping again, building a wardrobe of sold basics will be key. I started this in 2016 and have most of what I wrote in a list months back, but I will continue to focus on this in 2017. Instead of buying trendy items, finding high quality, sustainable basics will be the focus.
  • Document my journey and connect with others. There are many bloggers out there focused on sustainable fashion and simple living. I would love to continue to document my journey here and connect with others for inspiration along the way. This blog and this book (her blog is also good), have been huge in helping me see the value of quality over quantity and experience over stuff. Simple lesson, but one I continue to learn and lean into. I am excited to make this process a focus for 2017. 

There you have it. My two goals for 2017: Establish a Positive-Focused Morning Routine and Curate a Simple Closet. My desire for both is that the goal isn’t the end, but on my way to accomplishing my goals I hope to be challenged and live differently. By simplifying my surroundings and incorporating a positive morning routine, I hope to use my time and space to focus on what truly matters. Big dreams and goals for 2017. What are yours?

A Day in Bolzano

Lana Hawk

We arrived in Bolzano by train midday and made the short walk to check-in at Hotel Feichter, a simple hotel recommended by trusty Rick Steves. Our host was German which was our first taste of the Germanic roots of the Tirol region. Our room was simple and clean on the third floor with a balcony looking out over the mountains. The view did our mountain-loving hearts good. Always good to see some snow capped mountains.

After getting a few restaurant recommendations from our host, we head out for lunch. We ended up grabbing pizza at a local restaurant. Our waitress unknowingly gave us the challenge of deciphering the regular menu which featured not one, but two languages we didn't fully understand. We declined her offer to fix the problem with an English menu, and instead tried to interpret what we could of the German and Italian descriptions. We ended up with two large pizzas covered in familiar ingredients and left very full! Wandering through the city we were immediately struck by its beauty. German influence was also clear in the buildings and the backdrop of the mountains made for a nice change from Tuscany. Bolzano is a quaint little village with buildings resembling most of the ski villages in Colorado. I think we found a bit of the inspiration for villages like Vail! We found narrow pedestrian streets, charming buildings, and mountains rising sharply in the background.

In our wandering, we completed the Rick Steves' walking tour to get sense of the region's history and a feel for the city. We also made a stop at the Christmas market, not our last stop, for some hot chocolate. Melted chocolate in a cup is pretty much perfection on a chilly afternoon/evening. We called it an early night and headed back to Hotel Feichter.

The following morning we made our way to the cable car up to the resort town of Oberbozen. Another quaint town made up mainly of resort chateaus. It was quiet and the view from the cable car was well worth the 12 minute ride. We then grabbed the next train up to Klobenstein. Our tiny, narrow gauge train was just the cutest mode of transportation and we loved weaving along the mountainside up to Klobenstein. The train took us through the countryside past gorgeous mountain homes and resorts. The mountains were a sight to see all their own. They rose up sharp and clear from the rolling hills in front of them. Reminiscent of the Rockies, but completely different at the same time. 

While in Klobenstein we wandered a bit farther through the town to the earth pyramids, a 30 minute walk beyond town. These pyramids reminded me of Bryce Canyon and offered another unique view as they are located just in front of rolling hills, small villages, and the mountains. Amazing. We enjoyed the view and the stroll back through town. We made our way back down the train and the cable car into Bolzano for a late lunch and an evening stroll. More hot chocolate at the Christmas market and more mountain views. 

We love Florence, but Bolzano was a nice change and well worth the visit. Bolzano's Christmas market took Florence's Santa Croce market to another level. Booths were more festively decorated with a larger collection of items for shoppers to explore. As well as the hot chocolate. Have I said this before? It is amazing. Melted chocolate with a dash of milk. The only time I have had anything like it was in my last mug of Swiss Miss. Oh wait, definitely not. Powdered chocolate mixed in hot water is clearly not the proper way! I did have a mug of hot chocolate at Angelina's in Paris 5 years ago with my friend Kari and it was pretty darn close to perfection. So throw in an adorable Christmas market and general cheer around the holidays and you have a winner. We grabbed a later train out of Bolzano and headed to Venice for another whirlwind stop on our little Christmas holiday. Venice coming soon! Until then, pictures below from Bolzano. Just remember, as is usually the case, no picture does this place justice. 

A Merry, Happy Christmas

Lana Hawk

This year, we celebrated the holiday season in Italy with a last minute decision to add London into our Christmas Day plans. London was a surprise add on to our Bolzano/Venice trip. Adam had the brilliant idea to surprise me with a trip to London. We have both been several times before, but he knows how much I love London. We don't need to see Big Ben or walk by Buckingham Palace again. We've seen most of the sights in London on every "must see" list, but London is different. London isn't just on my travel to-do list. More than just another city on my growing list of travels. It is more than just a city to me. My time there was life altering and sometimes I have trouble believing it really happened. I grew up in London and learned more in 6 months there than I did in 18 years of school. Knowing all of that and being the master of plans and surprises, he found cheap flights, booked a hotel on points, and changed our itinerary for a whirlwind 48 hours in London. A memorable Christmas indeed. 

On Christmas Day in London, the city shuts down. A city built around a public transportation system of trains, the Underground, and buses stops completely. Nothing runs unless you are lucky enough to grab a black cab around the city. We woke up for a morning workout and a quick breakfast before setting out for Christmas service at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), my old stomping grounds. When I lived in London back in 2007-2008, I often made the the journey up to HTB for a little Jesus time on Sundays. I loved the church and the authenticity of the people I came across in my time there. I also came to know the art of Charlie Mackesy. Still a favorite. 

Our walk to HTB was just over a mile and a half through the city. We strolled from Victoria Station through a nearly deserted London. We saw very few people or cars during our walk. We enjoyed the quiet morning and arrived early to the church. Before the doors opened, we stood near the doors and enjoyed being surrounded by British families. We just listened on the chatter around us enjoying the accents and general Christmas cheer. I do love those accents. Once we were seated, a lovely British woman in her 70's (she told me her age at least 3 times) sat down next to me. She arrived with her sister and brother in law but sat up near us on her own. We chatted for the 15 minutes leading up to the start of service and it was wonderful. We chatted about the weather, her family, holiday traditions, her home village, Christmas pudding, and Jesus. She was full of life and spunk and we were basically best friends by the time church was over. Seriously. She has been on her own for over 26 years after losing her husband and she was full of joy. We parted with a hug, two kisses on the cheeks, and a happy Christmas. My London-loving heart was just overjoyed. I could have chatted with her all day and been perfectly content. One of my favorite parts about our conversation was her love for Jesus and her joy at seeing a full room of worshippers on Christmas morning. It was truly something special to celebrate the birth of Jesus all the way across the world with unfamiliar faces, but the same Christmas carols and spirit. One body, no matter the distance.

After church, we walked another mile and a half to our Christmas lunch reservation in SoHo. We went outside the traditional lunch and opted for Cinnamon SoHo, an Indian restaurant. Our set menu included 4 courses, all equally delicious and satisfying. Our original plan for Florence was to feast on pasta, but Indian food was a welcomed change from our current normal.

Our lunch ended and we continued with our strolling. We took a lap through Leicester Square and my personal favorite, Covent Garden. The streets filled with people in the afternoon bringing back the normal London-buzz. Lots of tourists were out taking in the sights by foot and enjoying the city sans-public transport. Since we were in an English speaking country, the next logical stop on our itinerary was a movie. Obvious choice, right? We went to see Rogue One right off Leicester Square filling up most of the rest of the afternoon. It was nice to hear a bit more English and rest our feet and legs for a bit. Plus, Star Wars is always better than no Star Wars. Am I right? So good. Thanks to my brothers for forcing me to watch Star Wars so many times growing up. I mean, SO many.

We wandered a bit more, as we tend to do, and eventually made our way back to our hotel for an early night. It was a new kind of Christmas, but we loved the day. What a treat to be in one of my favorite cities in the world for Christmas for the SECOND time in my life. If ever I was to use #blessed, now would be the time, but I won't. Instead I will leave you with a few pictures from our day including the one featured above. A giant balloon drop at HTB to celebrate Jesus' birthday. Everyone loves balloons and what a way to say Happy Birthday. So Happy Birthday Jesus, thanks for another great party. 

Not Your Grandmother's Craft Market

Lana Hawk

We recently took a few days to explore a bit outside of Florence. In researching where to go, Venice was at the top of our list, as well as the mountains. Northern Italy provides the opportunity of seeing the Dolomites or the Italian Alps. After researching destinations, Bolzano quickly rose to the top. It made the most sense cost and route wise and provided us with a peek into the Dolomites. So we booked a cheap, Rick Steves' recommended hotel and we were on our way. I must say, we chose well. The perfect blend of mountain and city, Italian and German. Complete with a Christmas market and local arts/crafts market, the latter of which I am going to share with you now. More to come on the rest of our Bolzano stay soon.

The Christmas market has all the charm. Festive booths lined with boughs of evergreen and lights. Red and white striped roofs bringing to mind every Christmas movie you have ever seen. Booths offered Christmas ornaments, fuzzy slippers, steaming hot chocolate (just melted chocolate in a cup), apple strudel, and mulled wine. There was even a small carousel, train, and shetland pony rides. Certainly festive and something to see. We definitely indulged in a few treats in our couple days in Bolzano. But past the Christmas market, a few blocks north and east from Piazza Walther you would find a much smaller artisan market. Not as fancy or festive. There were no ponies or snacks. No melted chocolate. Just booths full of the masterpieces created by local artisans.

Gold, silver, and leather crafted by hand into jewelry. Sculptures made of tiny bits of scrap metal in discarded cans. Hand dipped candles next to homemade soap. Clothing made by hand to be multi-functional. Leather shoes, wallets, and belts. Clocks and silverware reworked into one-of-a-kind jewelry. Knitted hats and scarves next to beaded necklaces. Stall after stall of items made by the artisans working the booths. It is easy to see their love for their craft in the way they talk about it with those visiting. Many sat between the booths hammering away at their next and latest creation. Never stopping, always creating.

Behind the ordinary booths were people creating something new. Sharing their art with the world. Life isn't always about the flashy lights and perfect exterior. It isn't about the massive number of followers or visitors in this case. More often than not, it is about the heart of a craft. An artist doing what they love and offering something beautiful to the world. Don't get me wrong, I love the charm of the Christmas market, but just as much, maybe more, I love the devoted artists braving the cold to share their creation. I found myself returning more than once to walk through the stalls to soak in all the creativity and passion. I love creating and sharing with the world. If I can offer something beautiful and unique to the world, just like these artisans, I would consider myself lucky.

Lots of editing from our latest adventure. Updates and recaps coming your way soon! Sorry for the iPhone pictures, most craft markets and artists don't want people taking pictures up close of their merchandise. Didn't want to offend anyone! 

Morning in Fiesole

Lana Hawk

As mentioned before, we took two weeks of language school. Despite it only being two hours a day, it seemed to fill our days and prevented us from doing any day trips during those two weeks. Having finished up language school on Friday, we decided to use our weekend to take a short trip out of the city to Fiesole. This little hill town was recommended to us numerous times as a great way to get out of Florence and experience some beautiful views of the surrounding area. We did a quick look up on the bus schedule and figured out what bus to take and where we needed to go. A short walk later and we caught our bus for Fiesole.

Just the bus ride up was well worth the 1.20 euros. We saw little vineyards, another small town or two, and sweeping views of the valley and river. Once to Fiesole, the views continued. The town is quiet and not much in the way of "sights", but we enjoyed our walk up to the terrace with a great view. We could see all across the valley, all of Florence, and much of the surrounding hills. The pictures don't do it justice as there was a bit of a haze over the valley. We continued our walk up to Church of San Francesco. It is a tiny little church at the top of the hill. We basically had the place to ourselves and enjoyed looking in the tiny church and missionary museum full of souvenirs of missionaries from all over the world. A quirky little collection, but still interesting to see. The church itself wasn't spectacular in design or decor. It was simple and small making it even more endearing. The walk up is slightly uphill, but not very long nor very taxing. 

After seeing Church of San Francesco, we made our walk back to the main square to see the Fiesole Duomo. Another old church, another little town. Kind of funny to realize these small churches, often hundreds and hundreds of years old are everywhere. It isn't necessarily unique over here. It's just normal. Over the last couple years, we have been to Belgium, the Netherlands, and now Italy. Those three countries have an abundance of old churches. Each is slightly unique, but also very similar. They start to blend together which is unfortunate. I often have to research to remind myself which old church is in a photo I took. So much history in every corner of this continent. 

After stepping into the Fiesole Duomo, we took a walk through the town and discovered much of the place was quiet and closed. People are off for the holiday or simply closed for the day. With nothing more to see, we headed to a cafe by the bus stop to warm up inside with a cappuccino. We had a few minutes to sit in the sun and enjoy the view down into Florence before hopping on the return bus. It was a quick trip, but a great way to get a different perspective of Florence and the area. If you find yourself in Florence for a few days, Fiesole is worth a few hours to escape the madness of Florence!

The Trouble with Convenience

Lana Hawk

Convenience is everywhere. Our world is full of ways to make life easy and efficient. Drive through fast food. Order ahead and pick up. Mail order groceries with recipes included. Automatic, monthly Amazon orders. Automatic payments. Instant coffee. Companies are created with the sole purpose of making our lives more convenient and efficient.

We can order items and have them delivered the next day (or same day). We can access information instantly and communicate in a million different ways with people across the world. It really is amazing. Unfortunately, I don't think convenient necessarily means better.

Our current Italian situation is a simplified existence. A small, versatile wardrobe. An apartment with the essentials, but no frills. It is simple, but it is certainly not convenient. We have had to break a bit of our "instant gratification" mindset, and I have found it to be a welcomed change.

If we want food from the grocery, it requires 1+ miles of walking plus carrying the groceries the .5+ miles home. No giant shopping trips or Costco runs. No car means the heavy lifting falls on us.

We made sure to book an AirBnB with a washing machine, but there is no dryer making the washing process a bit different. Our machine takes 1.5 hours to wash (and that is one of the shorter cycles) plus a 10 minute spin cycle to help get rid of additional moisture. Then, clothes require at least 24 hours to dry on our drying rack which is proudly displayed between our loveseat and refrigerator. Not exactly a quick process. It requires a good bit of planning to have the clothes you need in the coming days. 

Another appliance our little apartment lacks is a dishwasher. They packed a two burner stove top, a microwave, and a toaster oven in the kitchen, but the dishwasher didn't make the cut. So, after every meal, we hand wash the dishes and pans before dinner is complete. What we have found is with two of us working together, lacking a dishwasher hasn't felt much different. It takes a few extra minutes to clean up meals, but we often tag team the washing and drying and often use less dishes than we would at home. Not a bad switch.

The thing is, we aren't in an undeveloped country, yet we find life here isn't all about fast, efficient, convenient living. Things take time, effort, and planning. In the historic part of town there is no one stop shop for food, toiletries, electronics, and clothes. Sorry Target. You go to the market for fresh ingredients, the grocery for packaged foods, specialty shops for additional ingredients, and other stores for clothes, etc. There is a single department store and no mall. You walk, search, do your research, and try another store if needed. Even restaurants aren't convenient. Most close in the afternoon and don't reopen until 7:00pm for dinner service. So your options are limited if you want an early dinner or a late lunch.

It has been an interesting pace of life which is changing our perspective ever so slightly. We aren't as rushed, we are more prepared to make regular stops at the market and grocery, and we aren't overly concerned with speed and convenience. Coffee isn't grab and go. Our food isn't a one stop fix. It is subtle. It is small, but the difference has impact.

When I am surrounded by convenient options, I find myself more annoyed with inconveniences or slow processes. Waiting in line, slow Starbucks drive through, long grocery lines, traffic. Basically the whole waiting thing drives me nuts. Especially traffic, just ask Adam. Drives me nuts. But, what I am starting to realize is that the frustration stems from the expectation of speed and efficiency. I expect it to run smoothly and quickly, so when it doesn't, I am frustrated. Here, I expect a slower pace, longer lines, or frequent steps, and more time because of the pedestrian life. For me, more conveniences mean I naturally expect a faster paced life. More convenience translates into less patience. Weird right? I hurry more and busy myself because of the convenience mentality.

I love shopping for fresh ingredients from the market where I can grab our favorite ciabatta al formaggio (cheese bread) upstairs and fresh pasta downstairs. I like walking to the store and enjoying the fresh air as we shop for Christmas presents. So I find myself wondering about life in the States. How do we make this a reality at home? How do we stop the hurried, busy, all-about-the-convenience life at home?

Maybe we walk to the grocery or to get coffee. Maybe the farmer's market becomes our norm. Maybe it means finding local shops to support instead of always ordering off of Amazon. Maybe it is surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate a slower pace. It may be a subtle change, but for me, for us it is important. I'm grateful for instant access and communication, but I love the idea of simplifying life, even if it means dropping a bit of instant gratification.

Can't

Lana Hawk

Can't. I can't go. I can't do that. I can't learn it. As a teacher I heard it all the time and admittedly use it frequently in my own life The word implies an inability exists, but can't is often used to mean everything from I don't want to I don't know. Which is interesting when you think about it.

How does this connect to Italy? Well, this morning in language school we learned about three verbs: can (potere), able to (riuscire), and know how to (sapere). Switch those to the negative and you have can't, unable, or don't know how to. Italians tend to use riuscire and sapere far more than potere in the negative formItalians only use can't under very specific circumstances. Can't means you are physically unable to do something. "I can't speak in Italian", would only be used if you literally had no voice or better yet, no vocal cords. You can't speak. You don't have the physical ability to make sound come out of your mouth. Can't isn't used because you are scared or because you don't have the desire to do something. You physically can't and you have no control over changing the outcome. You may not know how to speak Italian, but you have a brain and a voice so you CAN if you try. Interesting right?

I will be honest, I don't love everything about the Italian language. It sounds pretty, but it is definitely difficult to learn as an English speaker. There are masculine and feminine nouns with articles changing based on the masculine/feminine and singular/plural nature of the noun. So for one word, there could be 4 different ways to say the. If you are talking about a male cat, the article is different than if it was a female cat, male cats (plural), or female cats. Plus verb conjugation based on the subject (I, you, he/she, our, they). And don't get me started on the newly learned possessive adjectives. My brain hurts just thinking about it. Now, in reality, Italian may not be the HARDEST language to learn, but for me it has proven to be a bit difficult in the beginning. And I learned Japanese over 6 years of high school and college. 

What I do love about the language is the small nuggets of truth hidden throughout the language. I find that in America, we throw around can't a lot. We try to teach kids not to say it, but we are a culture of can't users. When you really think about it, the word shirks responsibility and has a strong negative connotation. You can say you can't go, when really you don't want to try to make it work. You can't solve a problem, when really it is hard and you don't want to try/learn/engage. 

I struggle the most with the can't mentality with running. I am currently running consistently for the first time since the fall of 2014 and it hurts. I'm tired, my legs are tight, my lungs don't like the whole endurance deal, and I don't LOVE running all the time. I have good days, but on bad days it is purely a mental game. I have a lot of I can't do this running through my head. The reality is it hurts, my legs are tired, I am slightly dehydrated, but I am able. I have the legs and lungs and strength to do it. I'm just letting myself think I can't. It is different. I need to learn to change the talk in my head and get rid of the can't mentality for a more positive outlook.

I am tired, but I can finish this run.

I don't know how to speak Italian, but I want to learn.

I don't know how to solve this problem, but I'm using my resources and trying to figure it out.

I'm not sure how to help, but I am willing to do what I can.

I have the intellectual capacity and physical ability. We have the brains and resources and ability. Take a hint from the Italians and be honest with yourself. Are you unable or just unwilling? I hope moving forward I lean into a willingness to learn, grow, continue on instead of losing the mental game with a can't mentality.

A Festive Florence

Lana Hawk

Buon Natale from Florence! I love Christmas. I love the build up, the decorations the endless Christmas music, lights, snow, wrapping and giving gifts, the whole deal. Oh, also buckeyes. Can't forget the buckeyes. Peanut butter and chocolate is always a winning combination. Being in Florence makes the build up to Christmas a bit different. To help with the change, I brought a Christmas banner from Target and we bought a small wooden tree from Tiger (the cutest store out of Denmark). Although both are adorable, they don't QUITE feel the same as pulling out my huge bins of decorations and decorating our tree. I just love looking at all of our ornaments and thinking about when and where we bought them or what they mean. From about middle school on, my parents have given us ornaments each year. They usually coincide with events of the year and include everything from a swimmer to Big Ben and a Mini Cooper. We also love to buy ornaments in the different places we travel to each year. A small reminder of our adventures displayed proudly on our miniature tree! I usually bust out the tree and decorations as soon as Thanksgiving ends and leave it up until well into January. No shame in enjoying the cozy, glowing lights for as long as possible.

Another favorite Christmas activity is watching Christmas movies. We knew this would be a necessity in the packing department and we packed a large selection of movies. We have all the favorites with us including Home Alone 1 and 2 (the only ones that matter), Elf, Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Holiday. We also brought all the Harry Potter movies for a Christmas Day marathon. New tradition? I think so. In our little place, we pull up a couple chairs, set up the laptop, and cuddle on the love seat to watch our favorite movies. A great way to celebrate Christmas abroad!

Despite the lack of a Christmas tree and all of our usual decorations, Florence definitely doesn't lack in the Christmas spirit department. The city is full of lights, trees, decorations, music, nativities, and general merriment. We can walk just about anywhere in the city and find some source of Christmas spirit, even Christmas music in ENGLISH. It does my Christmas-loving soul good to soak it all up every time we step out of our apartment. So, even though our tree and decorations are packed away somewhere in our storage unit, all it takes is a quick stroll to find a bit of Christmas joy and spirit all over this city!

So for your Wednesday enjoyment, a collection of a festive Florence and Christmas all the way in Italy. Buon Natale to you and yours!

Reflections on the Arno

Lana Hawk

We have quickly settled into a pseudo-routine here in Florence. With language school added to the mix last week, we tend to follow a general schedule. We head to language school for a couple hours in the morning, stop by the Santa Croce Christmas market for a snack, and walk back to our place. Then, usually we go for our daily run before cleaning up for the day and eating lunch. In the afternoons, we often go to a cafe to sit for an hour or so and read. Cheap cappuccinos are hard to pass up! We may do a little shopping, go on our own little Florence excursion to a museum, or simply go for a walk. Our afternoon strolls are definitely a favorite of mine. It is always fun to wander a bit and see new nooks and crannies in this beautiful city. It is equally fun to begin to figure out the layout of the city, see familiar places, and know our way around the city. I am not so great with directions, but I am starting to remember different routes through the city, correct turns to get home, or just simply locations of some of my favorite stores. I am figuring it all out, a little slower than Adam, but it is coming.

Another favorite part of our afternoon walks is the Arno River. We often find ourselves down by the water, walking across Ponte Vecchio or a nearby bridge, and enjoying views of the river. Because of the early sunset, we often catch a sunset while down by the river. Colorado is great for a lot of outdoor adventure, but one thing it lacks is pretty bodies of water to admire. A reservoir here and there or a small neighborhood pond, but nothing like the Arno. Growing up around the water, I have grown to love it more than most. Not really sure why seeing it makes a difference, but it does my water-loving soul good to take strolls along the river. On this particular afternoon, we not only caught the sunset, but also a very still day on the water. Few ripples or disturbances making for a crystal clear reflection on the water. Beautiful!