Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Dirt Where Happiness Grows

I visited a goat farm in Umbria. 

I'm not sure how a city girl like me keeps finding herself on goat farms but my third time to meet goats seems like two times too many for someone who doesn’t particularly love farms.

But attired in my multi-pocketed goat-coat and my very sensible goat-farm shoes, I had traveled across the ocean and was ready to meet the goats. 

Since my previous encounters were with goats outside of Atlanta, I couldn't help wondering if Italian goats would be any different than their U.S. counterparts. 

Maybe more polite? {No butting in.} 

Maybe clean-shaven? {No goatees.} 

Maybe more honest storytellers? {No goat-tales.}

{You know I can't resist making some goat puns!}

So early in the morning {before I'd even had my coffee} I boarded a bus for the one-hour drive to the town of Orvieto outside of Rome to meet the goats. 

Sophie our tour guide promised us a stop for coffee as soon as we got outside of Rome's busiest traffic, but it seemed a long time coming when I was dreaming of smelling the aroma of coffee. 

It was worth it though since even gas station coffee is elegant in Italy. 

I loved how a uniformed man with a jaunty red hat made our cappuccinos as we stood at the convenience store counter to drink them. 

So after being duly fortified with coffee, we were on the road again to see the goats. 

Sophie told us how she had just spent an entire month staying on the farm and couldn’t wait to introduce us to her baby goats.

As we approached them, the goats saw us coming and rushed eagerly to the fence to greet us {or maybe they just noticed Sophie}

But I felt as if they were acting a little too familiar when we'd only just met, sniffing pieces of my hair, licking it, and nibbling the pockets of my goat coat {that sadly, held no treats for them}. 

From my vast experience with goats on two continents, I can assure you that Italian goats are definitely quite frisky, don't hesitate to whisper a goat-load of sweet nothings in your ear and then leave you all alone to run off with the rest of the goat herd.

{It reminded me a lot of dating.}

We went to see the goats inside the barn and the farmer’s wife brushed by me with a huge bale of hay.

As I watched her tend to the goats, it looked to me like a difficult life, busy from morning to night with little chance to get away from the farm.

When Sophie told me the farmer's wife had been a city girl working at a business in Rome but traded her office job for life in the country, I thought about the courage to change course.

I thought about how willing {or unwilling} I am to go in the opposite direction of where I think I want to be.

I sometimes resist change because what's knocking at my door doesn’t look like what I've visualized. Or I'm reluctant to reset my plans because I'm just so sure I know how my life ought to look.

But maybe it's more than that. Maybe it's a matter of response. 

Maybe we're more adaptable than we think to our outside environments and what needs recalibrating is what's inside our hearts and minds.

I think sometimes God invites us to sift through the dirt in front of us -- the difficult and uncertain and complicated things in our lives -- to find the deeply rich soil where the seeds of a good life are planted and already tenderly growing.

Maybe that's where the holy ground is. 

Maybe there's more than one way to find happiness and contentment.

Isn't it true that what's sometimes so hard can offer us joy, fulfillment and peace in much different ways than we could possibly imagine?

Over the ridge and across the rolling hills from the goat farm is a castle that's for sale. 

We asked the farmer's wife if she was going to buy it and she laughed and shook her head.

I don't know if she wishes she lived there instead of her goat farm, but she works the dirt in her little corner of the world, raising two young daughters in the country and selling goat cheese to local restaurants.

I think the goat farmer's wife has discovered the secret to a satisfying life.

Our group packed up the goat cheese she'd prepared for us and headed to the winery across the dirt road where a grape-grower was hosting a wine tasting for us.

This immediately raised this goat expedition to the top of my list as the favorite of my three goat adventures.

And speaking of packing, I decided my goat coat {with all the pockets} might come in handy in the future sometime so I put it in my suitcase for the trip home, but I left my sturdy goat-farm-flats behind in Italy. 

No need for something so practical to clutter up my shoe shelves.

Besides, I'm hoping three is the final number of goat farm visits for me. Maybe that's the end of this goat-tale for me.

But now that I'm back home, I think so fondly of those baby goats in Umbria and wished I could have stayed longer. 

Kidding! {But of course I’m kidding.}

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When in Rome

I never really wanted to visit Rome. 

I love Paris since it's so pretty and I enjoy quieter parts of Italy, but Rome is such big city, difficult to navigate, with a reputation for a plethora of pickpockets. 

I was worried about traveling there. But I signed up for a foodie tour of Rome last summer when the idea seemed much more enticing than it did a couple of weeks ago when I packed my bags to leave in the middle of March.

The tour leader arranged our accommodations in apartments in the Monti neighborhood, sandwiched between the Forum and the Colosseum.

It couldn't have been a prettier spot. 

My first afternoon, I wandered around the corner from my apartment, and stopped short when I looked up and saw the ruins of ancient Rome right in front of me.

I suppose Romans have grown so used to these pieces of the past that are part of their daily landscape that they barely take note as they go about their normal lives.

But as a first-time visitor to Rome, I was more captivated than I expected to be.

The entire city tells the story of humanity. 

The monuments, the cobblestone streets, the crumbling walls, the ruins that have have been built, rebuilt and built again. New buildings constructed on old foundations.

Century after century, through wars and bitter struggles, what remains is the evidence that the people of Rome have continued to have hope and the courage to persevere, despite extremely difficult circumstances.

The churches on just about every corner confirm the faith that has woven the hearts of humankind with the divine aspirations of God for us, from the beginning of time.

Some churches looked so ordinary on the outside, I couldn't imagine how they could contain the soaring ceilings and house the magnificent art inside. 

Like the non-descript and practically hidden away church of St. Peter in Chains that holds the sculpture of Moses by Michelangelo.

Even though I couldn't take photos on my very limited and heavily supervised 15-minute visit to the Sistine Chapel {with more people than I could imagine crowded into such a small space}, there was spectacular art in every church to take pictures of.

Many of the churches open their doors without admission fees, inviting visitors inside to contemplate God, consider the art and experience what residents of Rome have the joy to behold every day.  

And of course there was the food. I was on a foodie tour of Rome, after all. 

I was a novice foodie compared to the other tour-goers, whose vast knowledge of Roman gastronomy provided lively conversation around the table. 

I didn't have much to contribute to their tales of high cuisine and culinary adventures from around the world, and sometimes I wondered what I was doing there, but I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I timidly tasted a plate of crispy curly chicory topped with anchovies, ate pasta with lamb sauce, and even tried a forkful of wild boar. 

But I drew the line and declined the slices of dried goat meat. Especially since I’d just petted them the day before on a visit to a goat farm in Umbria. 

{Don’t worry, they weren’t the same goats.}

I savored every crispy leaf of an entire fried artichoke {which is extremely difficult to make look appetizing in a photo}, dug into creamy bowls of pasta, and on one of my free days, I even revisited a restaurant from the tour for a second plate of their zucchini fries spritzed with lemon.

And there were cappuccinos. A lot. I had one every day, sometimes several times a day.

Coffee is a work of art in Rome.

Even the convenience store and gas stations serve a gorgeous cup of coffee.

I'm a girl who likes a grande mug or two {or three} of American coffee every morning, and I did yearn for it from across the ocean. Rumors that Starbucks will venture into Rome are stirring up the locals.

But by the time I left Rome, I'd grown used to my foamy cup of steaming coffee and learned to enjoy the smaller serving of deliciousness.

So I really did love Rome.

By the time I boarded the plane back to the U.S., I realized there's so much to appreciate in a city that's been around for a few thousand years that I can't possibly see it all in just a day {or even ten of them}.

So maybe I'll even return someday. To live as the Romans do for a short time, drinking their cappuccinos, eating pasta and soaking in history.

I definitely want another fried artichoke and a plate of zucchini fries.

But absolutely not the goat.

I'm visiting with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

All Roads Lead to Rome This Spring

I’ve never traveled during the spring. 

My family always vacationed in the summer when I was growing up, and when I was in college I didn’t really get a spring break. 

We had a week off from classes but were required to stay on campus for a conference. Back then all I could do was dream about the beach and wait for summer.

So I suppose that's why March doesn't strike me as vacation time, but next week I’m leaving for Rome.

I’m joining author Elizabeth Minchilli and her daughter Sophie who are hosting a food-centric tour of Rome.

When I discovered this trip last summer I didn’t realize Elizabeth’s book Eating Rome, had been sitting on my bookshelf for more than a year. 

I bought it when Amazon suggested I add it to my order to qualify for free shipping, even though I didn't plan to visit Rome. But I changed my mind after leafing through Elizabeth's beautiful photos of her lovely Italian lifestyle.

Now I'll be stepping into its pages, living as the Romans do {for a few days anyway} in a neighborhood apartment, visiting eateries and sampling food.

I’ll also be taking a day trip to Orvieto, one of the most beautiful medieval cities in central Italy with a spectacular cathedral.

Where I’ll also be visiting a goat farm. Again.

It just doesn't seem that long ago that I was visiting with some goats in Georgia so I'm wondering how this city girl keeps ending up on goat farms.

This will be my third visit with goats and really, I'm not that fond of them. 

The Rome itinerary advised us to wear clothes and shoes we don’t mind getting mud or goat kisses on. 

Which as you can imagine sent me into a tizzy. None of my shoes seemed goat-farm-hardy so I bought a pair of very unattractive low-heeled sort of loafers. 

{Even writing the word loafer makes my high-heeled heart cringe a little.} 

But Sophie Minchilli cheerily wrote me that she couldn’t wait to introduce me to her goats. So to take my mind off my shoes, I bought a jacket with lots of pockets that I thought might come in handy for holding little treats for the goats {or maybe a granola bar for me}. 

I'm calling it my goat coat.

And all I could think was, here we goat again. 

{And yes, of course there will be more goat puns!}

Then there's the food, since this is a foodie tour, after all.

Our agenda has us shopping at a local market for ingredients and then spending an afternoon cooking a Roman meal.

I’ll be visiting the oldest bakery in Rome, stopping by a neighborhood pizzeria for fried zucchini blossoms and stuffed olives and tasting Roman cheese, along with gelato and espressos. 

{Did somebody say Italian coffee?!}

I’ve got tickets to see the tourist sites of Rome, too. 

I'm staying a few extra days to tour the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, the Colesseum and Forum and I’ve booked a tour of the palace of Livia Drusilla, the wife of Caesar Augustus.

It's recently been opened to the public after years of work by archeologists and preservationists. 

It's hard to believe frescoes on the walls date from the first century.

Just a few months ago, for the first time I heard Brad Gray, a teaching pastor and historian speak for an hour on this one phrase in Luke’s gospel: “In the days of Caesar Augustus.” 

I sat on the edge of my seat as he described the historical, cultural and geographical aspects of Roman rule and its impact on the people during the time of Jesus' birth. 

It was fascinating and so much different than I'd imagined and now I can't wait to see it.

My grandfather, Louis, is standing far left and my grandmother, Victoria, is standing, second from right.

But most of all, on this second trip to Italy, I’ll also be thinking about my Italian grandparents and great-grandparents. 

In Rome, I'll be a little closer to the southern areas they came from than when I was in Milan two years ago. 

I’ll listen to the language they must have spoken, eat foods that must have been so familiar to them, and see the land where they came from.

I’ve got my camera ready. I have fresh notebooks to jot down my thoughts. 

And I'm hoping for a fresh spring breeze to blow across my wintery, worn out spirit. 

I want to see God everywhere I look in that ancient city because he is everywhere, especially in the same city where the apostles Peter and Paul walked so many centuries ago.

So I'm ready for a spring break.

And I can’t wait to share it all with you when I get back! 


I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart.