The News

Back when I was in the business world (yep, can you believe it? Over a decade of experience in the financial industry right here), we had TVs set to the news in our lobbies and we listened to the talking heads all day. That was when I realized how discouraging the news can be, and I started not to pay attention to it.

When I stopped working outside the home to care for my boys full time (and home school now, eek!), I stopped listening to the news altogether. There is a whole, long, drawn-out story about how much I did NOT care about the presidential election in 2012 (something about having a child in the hospital for months that sort of makes the rest of the world fade into the background), and after that I paid no attention. I mean, I live in this world, but do I really need to know what’s going on in other countries? Or even in the rest of *this* country? It’s depressing! It’s discouraging! Why do I want to hear about the evil of humanity, on repeat ad nauseum?

A little over a year ago, my sister Alli told me, “You need to be informed on current events.” To be fair, she wanted to have a conversation about what was happening in our world and I had no clue.  After some pondering, I decided that she was correct, and I started listening to a news podcast called The World and Everything In It every week day. I’ve been a subscriber to WORLD magazine for years, but if I am truthful I would say that I read about half of the magazine about half of the time, so it wasn’t doing me a lot of good. Besides, news in magazine form like that is bound to be dated. I needed current events, currently!

Since I started listening to the WORLD podcast, I am now equipped with more knowledge of what is going on in the world, and can be a much better conversationalist (just ask my sister). Not only do I know what is going on, but I also know more about our government and the leaders therein. I’ll give you one practical example: Can you name the Supreme Court Justices? Before I started listening to the podcast, I couldn’t have named one. Because of the podcast, I *knew* why it was a big deal to conservatives when Antonin Scalia passed away earlier this year. (Thank you, WORLD!)

Because I am better informed and the current events of the world are brought to my mind on a daily basis, I have prayed more in the last year for our nation, its leaders, and other people throughout the world (the persecuted church, those who are displaced, those who need a Savior, etc.) than I ever have before in my life.

I am thankful for what the people at WORLD are doing, and I want to share that you can get a FREE three-month trial subscription at WWW.GETWORLDNOW.COM. I listen to The World and Everything In It podcast through my podcast app, but WORLD has its own app you can use as well. If you’re like I was and you’re sticking your head in the sand, here’s an opportunity to become a better conversationalist, citizen, and prayer warrior.

Still Anne

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The good news is that when I read Persuasion, I’m still Anne.

The bad news is… well, there is no bad news. I finished Persuasion and could hardly stand to part with Anne and Captain Wentworth. It’s fascinating how many details I’ve forgotten from these books. Has it really been that long since I’ve read them? How could I forget how masterful Austen is at capturing the emotions of her heroines? The use of blushing cheeks at the very least is a detail that I noticed for the first time in this re-read.

I think Persuasion is often undervalued because it is currently countercultural to submit to authority. Anne is the perfect example of one who submitted, suffered (there is no denying that submission has a cost), grew, and ultimately conquered heartache through her submission.

Much as I love Lizzy, Anne is the Austen heroine with whom I most identify (Elinor Dashwood takes a close second place in this category) – similarly to how I identify more with Emily than with Anne in Montgomery’s works. Something about the autumnal feel of these books resonates  in my very soul. Anne is a heroine who keeps her counsel, yet feels things keenly. She understands what it means to be rejected, yet she perseveres in what she knows to be right.

Plus, who can possibly resist a love story that hinges upon the receipt of a letter?

Just Call Me Mrs. Gardiner

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My friend Heather texted me recently to let me know that she was rereading Sense and Sensibility, and I suddenly felt the urge to re-read Austen. It’s probably been two years since I’ve read any of her novels cover to cover, so I decided to re-read them all, starting with Pride and Prejudice, then working in order of which I like best to the one I like least. So I’ll be reading them in the following order:

  1. Pride and Prejudice
  2. Persuasion
  3. Sense and Sensibility
  4. Emma
  5. Northanger Abbey
  6. Mansfield Park

I’m blessed to own a copy of her minor works, and my mother-in-law gave me a copy of “My Dear Cassandra” for Christmas, so I think I’ll read those as well. I also own three different biographies of Jane herself, and while I’m not sure I will re-read them all, I think a re-read of one is in order.

(Please just know that as I’m typing this I have a slap-happy grin on my face. All of this Austen immersion makes me positively giddy!)

I finished Pride and Prejudice earlier this week (and have already begun Persuasion – insert sigh of contentment here) and was shocked at how much better it was than even I had remembered. The characters delight me, and although my perspective on the whole thing has changed drastically, I was still utterly entranced in the story itself and laughed aloud many times.

When I say that my perspective has changed, I mean that I no longer see myself as Lizzy. Please don’t think me morose – I’m most decidedly not – but I’m certainly “ever so much more than twenty” years old now, and much as I might wish things were different (although I wouldn’t go back to twenty years old if you paid me many millions of dollars), I’m just not the heroine of that particular story any more. (You know what I mean, right? When you read a book and you ARE the heroine? I’m not the only one, right?) And I almost think I like Lizzy more now that I have a few years on her.

What really struck me, though, was how much I identified with Mrs. Gardiner, Lizzy’s aunt. She isn’t an OLD aunt; she’s probably 35 or 36, and has four small children. She plays a small but pivotal role in the story. The reason I appreciated her so much this time, though, was because she spoke the truth in love to Lizzy, pointing out an error in judgment that helped our dear heroine to adjust her trajectory just enough to alter the course of her whole life.

You all know how I dearly love to give advice, so this moment in the book where Elizabeth listens respectfully to her aunt made me sit up and pay attention. How did Mrs. Gardiner exert her influence? Well, first of all, she had already built a relationship with her niece. She knew Elizabeth, and loved her, and Elizabeth knew that she was loved. Secondly, she had the conversation in private. Thirdly, she said her piece, then let Elizabeth make her own choices. Lizzy knew that Mrs. Gardiner was a wise advisor and that her judgment could be trusted, so she listened, and Austen tells us this conversation was “a wonderful instance of advice being given on such a point, without being resented.”

If we want to influence others, then, we should be like Mrs. Gardiner and build relationships, give sensitive advice in private, and once we’ve given our advice, respect others enough to allow them to make their own decisions.

Continue Wholeheartedly

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I’ve fallen off the blogging bandwagon in a major way, but I wanted to post a quick check-in on the 90-Day Bible Reading Challenge. How’s it going? If you’re keeping up with the challenge, then you should be in the book of 1 Kings right now.

We read these accounts of lives and they are a span of a few pages – sometimes less. It boggles the mind to think of how quickly lives pass. Even so our own lives in this day and age. Solomon’s life always makes me sad. He had the world – literally, in 1 Kings 10 we learn that he was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth – and yet, He did not follow his own advice in chapter 8.

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This verse hit me in a major way today. What a promise! He keeps his covenant of love with His servants! Praise be to the Lord! But wait – “…keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.” Whoa! When I saw that word “wholehearted,” I was reminded of Brene Brown’s book and what she says about those who live whole-hearted lives… Blessed be the thought! Wholehearted living doesn’t just bring success… it brings obedience and the covenant of love with our God.

What a gracious reminder to continue wholeheartedly in His way.

90 Day Bible Reading Challenge

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Last year around this time, I took the plunge to read the Bible in 90 days. I gleaned so much from that experience that I decided to make it an annual tradition. Today, I am finishing up a Bible study at my church and I challenged the ladies in my study to join me in reading the Bible in 90 days. Twelve ladies signed up for the challenge, and we start tomorrow*! (If this is something you’re interested in joining, comment below and I will email you a reading plan!) I’m going to be forthright: this isn’t for everyone. It’s a fairly extensive commitment. I’m talking about 30-45 minutes of reading each day! However, I do find that those cutesy little phrases that personal trainers use often apply in areas like this, so I’ll just leave you with this thought: If you want results you’ve never had you’re going to have to do something you’ve never done.

I’ll be blogging periodically about this challenge, so stay tuned!

*The odd start date (Tuesday, November 17th seems random!) is due to us completing a Bible study today and starting another at the end of February… we are squeezing this challenge in between studies).

What We Saw There

A fountain in the Versailles garden

A fountain in the Versailles garden

In my senior year of high school, I purchased (and listened to over and over) Chris Rice’s cd Smell the Color Nine and a line of lyrics from the song Life Means So Much still rings in my ears: What if no one wants to read about me when I’m gone?

We saw amazing things in Europe. We saw historic monuments and castles and cathedrals and ruins. We witnessed living art in the form of music and gardens. We experienced so much celebrated, historic beauty that my mind reels just thinking of it. As we walked through Versailles and the Sistine Chapel and the Coliseum and looked at the Mona Lisa, I kept thinking about the people who had created these things, and how all of mankind seems to want to leave a stamp on the world. We want to leave a legacy of some kind… we want to be remembered.

I do not believe that is inherently a bad thing; however, it struck me that no matter how long-lasting our legacy might be, or how celebrated our creations might become, we are all still as dust. I doubt that the creators of the Versailles gardens made it their aim that those who walked through the garden would be pointed heavenward. I’m completely sure that the men who designed and built the temples in ancient Rome did not mean to point me to Christ. Yet, all that I could think about as I walked through all we saw was how eternal my God is. People are born, they live, then they die, but God has always been and will always be.

What we saw in Europe served as a reminder to me that whether or not anyone cares to read about me when I’m gone, I want to live in such a way that will point others to what really matters.

Barcelona

Our cruise ended in Barcelona, so we spent a day touring the sights there. I’ve not ever studied Barcelona, so I was ignorant of what awaited us. The Hubs had taken a class in college about Barcelona architecture, so he was excited to look at structures he’d studied.

Our first stop was the Sagrada Familia. I had heard of this basilica, and our tour guide in Rome had talked about how it was her favorite thing in Barcelona. Personally, I thought it was a massive monstrosity. This building is Gaudi‘s interpretation of gothic architecture, but I thought it was reminiscent of something you’d see in a Tim Burton film. It’s been under construction for over 100 years, but supposedly it will be finished in 2026.

The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia

We walked past the Arc de Triomf. There was a huge festival of some kind going on in the park there. It seems that everywhere we went in Europe something was happening to make it extremely busy!! We saw the Casa Mila several other structures.

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

My favorite by far was the Santa Maria del Mar – probably because it’s actually old. Had a difficult time finding it because there aren’t any major roads leading to it… we had to walk through a labyrinth of alleyways between ancient-looking buildings (which housed businesses and shops at the ground level but seemed to be residences in the levels above) in order to get to it.

Santa Maria del Mar

Santa Maria del Mar – Isn’t the photographer cute?!

Out of all of the meals in all of the countries, our dinner that night was my favorite. Of course, I didn’t take a picture of it, but we went to Cera 23 based on Trip Advisor reviews. Once again, we had to walk through a labyrinth of alleyways to get there, and we were a little uncertain of the part of town – it felt a little like “the hood.” When we walked in the front doors, it looked like we had walked into a bar. Fortunately, behind the bar was the dining room and we had the best experience! I ordered ceviche as an appetizer. Oh, my. It was by far one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and my favorite food from the entire trip. I wish I’d taken a picture of it, but you’ll just have to trust me – it was delicious. The red onions were fresh and crisp, the fish tender and mild, with a hint of cilantro in the lemon broth. I wish I could eat it again right now (and it’s early morning!).

 

Cruise

A Mediterranean Cruise?! Yes, thank you, I think I will!

We embarked on the Norwegian Epic for a quick, 4-day cruise with ports of call in Livorno, Cannes, Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona.

First night on the cruise

First night on the cruise

The first morning, we did the shore excursion to Pisa and Florence via a bus. This was a long day with lots of walking.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Palazza Vecchio

Palazza Vecchio

After a few days filled with lots of going, we decided to skip the shore excursions in Cannes and Palma de Mallorca. We stayed on the ship and relaxed!

Reading poolside on the ship

Reading poolside on the ship

Playing chess on the cruise ship

Playing chess on the cruise ship

Fancy Dinner Double Date

Fancy Dinner Double Date

French Riviera from the ship

French Riviera from the ship

We have decided that we like cruises.

Rome

We had a whirlwind tour of Rome!

We booked a tour of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum with Maximus Tours and it was definitely a highlight of our whole trip. Our tour guide’s name was Daniela and she was engaging and informative. We definitely recommend this company to anyone who is planning a trip to Rome. The tour began at the Vittorio Emanuele II monument and took us past the Piazza del Campidoglio. We walked up Capitoline Hill, which was where they held their parades. Processed with Moldiv

It thrilled me to think that I was walking on the wide, shallow steps designed by Michaelangelo!

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My heritage on my dad’s side is Italian, so Roman history resonates with me – these are my people on some level. Who knows?! Maybe I’m descended from Romulus himself.

Drinking fountain from Roman aqueducts

Drinking fountain from Roman aqueducts

I had never heard of the Vestal Virgins before, but I was enraptured to hear their story. If you’ve never learned about them, they were priestesses selected at a young age to serve for thirty years.  In a time when women were less than second class citizens, the Vestal Virgins held an elevated position within the Roman society.

Courtyard of the Vestal Virgin's living quarters

Courtyard of the Vestal Virgin’s living quarters

 

I loved seeing the Arch of Titus, which served as a model for other triumphant arches throughout history.

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If you’ve seen The Gladiator, then you have a pretty good idea of the type of entertainment the Colosseum afforded citizens in ancient times. I was fascinated to learn that in the middle ages the Romans (who had been evangelized and now saw their ancestors as pagan) pillaged the Colosseum for its brass substructure, and that is what caused its pock-marked appearance that we know so well. (Oh, and the “Colosseum” is actually the Flavian Amphitheater!)

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The next day, we toured the Vatican. Or I should say, we toured it as best we could. The Pope held mass that day, so it was an absolute madhouse. We went into the Sistine Chapel and entered the courtyard of St. Peter’s Cathedral, but there were thousands of people there to hear the Pope so we didn’t get any further than that.

Fountain in the courtyard of St. Peter's Cathedral

Fountain in the courtyard of St. Peter’s Cathedral

We were in a hurry to get to Civitavecchia to embark on our cruise, so we ran through the Pantheon (it was also packed).

Pantheon

Pantheon

We walked to the Trevi Fountain, but it was under construction so we didn’t take any pictures there. We went to the Spanish Steps before heading to port.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

I didn’t take a picture of the gelato (I had coconut and it was as good as they say it is) I ate, but I did take a picture of the potato gnocchi.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi

I have to give my Nonna a quick shout out here. You see, she taught me how to make gnocchi and sauce when I was a girl. I don’t make it often (it’s a lot of work and a lot of calories), but I do know how to do it. Well, this gnocchi was delicious. And it was just like Nonna’s. Now you know. If you want authentic Italian food, you just go to my Nonna’s house. No need to travel to Italy, thank you very much!

Versailles

A highlight of our trip was Versailles.

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Me at Versailles

The only problem was that it rained. Thankfully, there were peddlers of umbrellas (and selfie sticks! And souvenirs! And random, cheaply made baubles!) everywhere we went all throughout Europe. Versailles was no exception, and we obtained an umbrella (which consequently leaked and broke after only one day of use).

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We took a delightful tour of the Chateau. Our tour guide reminded me of some of my college history professors. Although he didn’t say so, he seemed exactly like a local history professor who volunteers to guide English tours of the chateau in his spare time. I was able to sneak a quick snap of him talking about one of the tables that belonged to Marie Antoinette.

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You can’t tell from the picture, but he had hair reminiscent of Doc Brown’s in Back to the Future… or Beethoven. Either way, I assume he did it that way on purpose. He was hilarious, but since English is his second language there was a bit of a barrier and he had a thick accent. Some of our party had a difficult time understanding him, and therefore most of the group didn’t laugh at his jokes, which caused him to ask us, “Do you understand?” as if we were a group of three-year-olds. Really, he delighted me.

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He talked a lot about the furniture and furnishings, and the habits of the kings who lived there (“only in the summertime,” he admonished us, “and that is why it is a Chateau and NOT a palace!”). We were privileged to see lots of rooms on the tour that are not open to the general admission guests, such as the private dining rooms, offices and meeting rooms, as well as the king’s closet (what we would call the toilet) and the king’s bathroom (literally, the room where the king bathed). After he would bathe, we were told, the king would lounge on a couch for half an hour.

View of the courtyard from the king's private chamber

View of the courtyard from the king’s private chamber

We also got to go into the chapel, which was astonishing and breathtaking.

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Our tour guide told us that the organ still works, and that they sometimes have concerts there. (What an experience that would be!) It was in this chapel, in front of this very altar, that Marie Antoinette married King Louis XVI.

Ceiling of the chapel

Ceiling of the chapel

We were fortunate that just as our tour ended, the rain let up and we were able to go into the gardens.

View of the gardens from the king's private chamber

View of the gardens from the king’s private chamber

According to our guide, the kings (Louis the IVX, Louis the VX and Louis the VXI) who lived there had very little time to actually enjoy the gardens.

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I’m not sure why, but a lot of the fountains were not running the day we were there; perhaps because of the rain. We did find this one that was running, though!

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Versailles was my favorite part of Paris! I’d love to go back and spend more time going through the main areas of the chateau (we zipped through the hall of mirrors and Marie Antoinette’s chambers, but the pictures did not turn out well because of the hordes of people) and the garden.