Some Things I Learned in Bellagio, Italy

Twenty women and one brave man from around Noth America: Seattle, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Utah, Toronto, Southern California and good old South Cakalacky, settled in Bellagio, Italy for a week of Art, Faith and pure Italian Goodness. Well, at least that is what I thought we were going to be there for. Me, of little faith, failed to realize that God had been orchestrating this event from the start. I’ve been home for a couple of days now, and I can’t stop thinking about all that happened. Please let me share a few insights.

* Art comes in many different forms

As the Bellagio Men’s Choir sang for us on our closing night, I got goosebumps listening to the men of all ages sing songs about their special village. There was the woodworker in town who worked with his son making spoons, bowls, toys and other wooden items. Many of the ladies on the retreat delved into the creative art of photography. Each photo represents a memory or a story that needs to be told. I love this guy peering out of the window, I assume looking for his loved one to come home. I love the whimsy he has about him. So what’s the big deal about art Mary? Our God is the first and great Artist, Creator, Father of Song and all beautiful things. He created us in His image, so we too, are artists. 

*Truly, Laughter is good medicineI know, I know…I am the last person on earth who does not know how to take a selfie. On this particular night, ten of us had a table by the shore of the lake for dinner. Stories were shared, lots of pictures were taken and some funny moments happened. (Brownie, brownie, brownie, Soup!…you had to be there.) So after dinner we decided to walk around town and then thought of the ingenious idea to airdrop our photos to each other. Gathered together in front of the church, we waved our phones around to get a signal, then Poof! names started popping up…Stacey, Mimi, Sissy, IPhone2 (Uh, yeah that would be me) and JaNana. Who in the heck is Ja-Na’Na’? (Oh, and you have to say it in your best rapper voice., with your head cocked to the side and hands in a weird yo yo way. JaNaNa. It does not rhyme with banana, but sounds like JaHeyHey!) Any way, we kept thinking that some rapper dude must be vacationing here too. Also, it was fun to say. But Guess what?! Do you see that sweet, quiet woman, grandmother to two darling little girls?!? That’s JaNaNa! We busted a gut right there in the middle of town. And it felt so good. A few women have been going through a tough season of life. You’d never know it by their smiling faces, but one confessed that she has felt dead for the past 10 years or so. And here she was with a bunch of strangers laughing her heart out….and she felt sooo good.

*Don’t DelayOnly a week before our planes landed in Italy, this couple decided to join us. They were living the harried life that most of us live. Long hours of running a medical practice, raising three sons and doing the day to day crazy. Until one day their life was shook up a bit. A very dear friend of their’s was dying of cancer. This couple decided to gather the old group together to remember the good times and to say good-bye to their friend. Over a potluck dinner at the man’s home, the wife shared with the group that although having 20 or so people over for dinner while her husband is in his last days here on earth was a bit overwhelming, she knew that the time was now. Yes, please come over and visit. Don’t delay. Those two words wouldn’t leave Beth’s heart and mind. With Tim sound asleep beside her, she said “Honey, remember last year when I shared with you about that art and faith retreat in Italy?” Tim mumbled “Sign us up.” There were two openings left in the retreat, they found people to watch over the practice in their absence and seven days later, they were on a plane to Italy. Beth knows first hand, we can’t delay. We can’t wait for the house to be remodeled, or the perfect sofa or more time or when the house is clean. She confessed that she and her dear husband had taken too long to take some time off.  Their sweet friend went home to be with Jesus just a few days after the gathering of friends. The funeral would be happening while Beth and Tim were in Italy. Say yes to lunch. Invite someone over for coffee. Tell the people most special to you how you feel about them. Sing. Dance. Live with joy. Don’t delay

*Gnocchi with Bolognese requires timeThat looks pretty awesome, doesn’t it? If I say so myself it was DeLish! The gnocchi was pillowy soft, melting in your mouth. The bolognese is very simple, but requires time. Each step must be honored in order for it to be so yummy. Vegetables must be cooked alone in the olive oil until soft. This takes time. The meat needs to cook until all the water evaporates. This takes time. The wine, white or red, whichever bottle you have opened, must cook until the alcohol evaporates. This takes time. Then finally, you add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. While stirring often, cook on low heat for 4-6 hours. That is a long time. Home made gnocchi? No problem! Cook potatoes, mush through ricer, cool, add flour, egg, nutmeg, knead, roll, cut, poke n’pull, drop in boiling water, swim to surface …Presto! All done! No problem. In our split second information world that we live in, we forget that the good things in life take time. Relationships require time. Being well studied in school requires time. To learn a new skill or heal from a hurt or pain requires time. Take the time.

*Fresh is Always Best

 Before we started cooking, Elizabeta, took us to town to buy the ingredients for our dinner. First to the butcher for fresh ground meat. The grocer picked the perfect tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. The bakery wrapped up a beautiful loaf of bread. Of course, we stopped in a neighbor’s yard for rosemary, basil and oregano. Which all fit perfectly in the adorable basket I carried. Sooo cool! We cheat ourselves when we choose to take the easier option like fast food or half present relationships. The gas station food is quick but it depletes our bodies of nourishment. Going to church on Sunday’s to get our ticket punched, then leaving it all behind Monday through Saturday, leaves our souls depleted of the everlasting nourishment we were created to have in order to thrive. Pop culture, new age mysticism, even ourselves can’t and won’t ever be able to fulfill that great hole in our heart that can only be replenished by Gods love. We need the fresh, unaltered truth of God’s Word to continually, daily, moment by moment renew and revive our souls. 

This week in Bellagio was so much more than just stickers and water colors. I’m still getting teary eyed when I think about all that God had planned for me. 

Thanks for dropping by!

Random Wow Moments in Italy


  We arrived with the sun on Christmas morning. Wow. Immediately I am stunned by the beauty of the land. Have you ever flown over the Midwest in the US during the summer? I’m always awestruck by the patchwork patterns of the fields below. Here in Italy I’m blown away by the never ending land of green. Where are the subdivisions? Large shopping malls? Huge interstate systems? Now don’t get me wrong…I love Target, but there is beauty in this green. It breaks my heart to see acres of woods being torn down to be replaced by cardboard-like homes and parking lots.

Which brings me to another wow moment. Yes, I know, there are many modern apartment buildings and I’m sure many urban developments in Italy, but here we are in our Italian apartment, built in the 1400’s. Please let that sink in…built 600 years ago. What will our homes look like a thousand years from now? The 8 houses they just threw up in about two weeks time around the corner from my home in SC,  what will they be like 100, heck even 10 years from now? Is there quality in the workmanship today?

As we were planning for this trip, I must have heard a hundred times…”Try to blend in” and “Wear black”. Yes, it’s true, black is the national fashion color. But you know what? It is ok to be different too! After fretting for weeks before the trip about what I was going to pack, I realized it isn’t about what you wear. It didn’t matter if we were wearing black head to toe…people knew we were NOT Italian! They may have mistook us for Australian or New Zealanders, but never Italian. Wear what’s comfortable and a big ol smile!

 On the whole, Italians don’t have a weight problem. You won’t find a gym on every block but yet they have it figured out. They walk…everywhere! 

  Simple, fresh food. We have our markets too, but unless we live in California, we don’t have this variety. The grocery stores are set up much different too. From what I could tell, the aisle for chips held about five different varieties, instead of the hundreds we can choose from here in the states. The checkout line was just that: a place to pay for your goods. We were not ambushed by the soda, candy and trash magazine companies. If our apartment kitchen is an example of most Italian homes, the storage is small, so you need to make wiser choices for that space.

 Meal portions are of appropriate size. Why do American restaurants feel the need to oversize our plates? The dishes were simple. You knew what you were getting with each menu item. It was a beautiful thing.

 Art is EVERYWHERE! Touring the Vatican and St. Paul’s Cathedral gave me a headache. My head ached from too much information, too much history, too much beauty and too much of too much!

 Everywhere you look is something interesting and beautiful. Many doors were 20 feet high with intricate carvings, the floors we walked on were decorated with beautiful tiles and even the lampposts were colorful and fun.
 My mind was blown away thinking about how a duomo like this one in Siena could be built without cad drawings, fine laser machines to cut and large scale equipment to move the pieces in place.

As we went on our behind the scenes tour of the duomo, we saw the tools that built this amazing church…a hammers and chisels. Wow.

 Taking the dome tour offered us a rare view point which left us all in awe.

 You have to climb the stairs… 550 of them

 to see this view.

 Forgetting about trying to get from point A to point B, we took a left turn and visited Montepulchiano on a whim. Santas on Motorcycles! Come on, this is great! I love the adventure of the “Unplanned-plan.”

 Have you ever had a hot Nutella crepe made right before you on a cold winter day, with the chocolate melting on your chin and the powdered sugar falling on your black coat? It is THE BEST! My heart got all jittery as I went from one stall to another. I saw handmade knits, leather belts and wallets, fine crochet jewelry, chocolates, cheeses, pickeled and stuffed olives. We sampled area wines and beers and kept warm with a hot cup of vin brule’, mulled wine.

 Go up that side street? Yes! Otherwise,  we would’ve missed a gorgeous Tuscan sunset.
 Our last night in Italy ended perfectly with a surprise find in this jewel of a wine shop. The owner made us feel as if we were long time friends. At any moment I knew he was going to invite us to his house for dinner. He cupped Mary Claire’s face with his hands and said “Bella, how old are you?” M.C. answered “23”. He says “Good enough. We need to marry my son!” Mary Claire quickly replied that she already married the dude over there. All was good. Delicious wine was poured. Then we all hugged and kissed good bye.

Ciao, my friends! Until we meet again.