Best Thing

“All I want to have is all that you can give me
And I’ll give right back everything I’ve kept in me
Cause nothing ever felt as right as this does right now”

– The Best Thing by Relient K

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Of course our lives aren’t perfect.  Nobody’s lives are.  But after fourteen and a half years of marriage, it’s become more and more clear each day that there is no other person in this world that I would rather be with.  We truly were meant to walk this road of life together and I could not be more grateful.

So… You can imagine my relief that no one picked him up as he tried to hitchhike down this Tuscan road.

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We kept it low key today and decided to embrace the heart and beauty of Tuscany.

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So we took a short train ride and then walked down gorgeous Tuscan roads till we came to enjoy a delightful lunch at this villa and vineyard.

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Our appetizer plate was delicious and our first indicator that this would be a meal to remember.  Our gracious host explained the significance of each bite and it was the perfect medley of Tuscan goodness.

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Our second course was a tasty meat pasta dish.  It was about fifteen steps up from the box pastas that I make at home and inspired me to someday try my hand at making authentic pasta.

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Pardon this picture of our main course, because there is no way it can do justice to the tenderness of the pork or the savory taste of the spinach and white beans.  Also, I took the picture after I had started to eat and then decided to snap a quick picture as an afterthought.  Which would explain the pool of the vineyard’s home grown olive oil just hanging out next to the spinach waiting for me to dip my traditional tuscan bread into it.

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Our meal ended with these delicious almond cookies and custard.  They were probably the best cookies and custard I’ve ever had or will have since you just don’t seem to finish up meals in the States with such delights.  I should also note that during this incredible lunch, Jeremy and I also had the best time just talking and sorting out life.  As I mentioned before, ours has its challenges.  Trying to find the right balance of work and home and marriage and kids and everything else that is going on can be exhausting at times.  But through everything, we both agreed that we were very much thankful for it all.

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After our delicious meal, our host (who has a name, but for the life of me I can’t remember it) graciously gave us a tour of the special rooms where they make their dessert wine.  He proudly shared that it was a ten year process and then showed us to the attic room where they stored their barrels.  We learned so much about Tuscany from this man.  He was so passionate about his job and the pride he had about maintaining and operating this incredible vineyard made me think we should all be so driven to do exactly what we love in life.

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Speaking of the vineyard, we ended our time with a delightful walk through it.

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The contrast of the landscape with it’s fall colors was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.

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Granted, I’m sure it’s prime is in the summer, but fall was absolutely magical throughout the full fifteen acres of the vineyard.

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And once again, I’ll end this day full and appreciating the incredible beauty of this vacation.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Tuscany before we head out to our next destination.  But today truly was the best thing I could have asked for and I’m so thankful to have gotten to spend it with my amazing and incredible husband.

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These Streets Will Make You Feel Brand New

Today’s adventures happened after about 12 hours of much needed sleep.  Jeremy woke up early to fulfill his dream of riding his bike in the mountains of Tuscany.  He ended up climbing over 3,000 feet in about an hour and a half on his 19 mile ride.  I took a more leisurely route and slept in as much as possible.  Oh, and also I prayed for Jeremy a lot and thankfully he was safe riding and living out his dream.  Afterwards, we both met up for late breakfast and then caught a train to Florence.

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Florence is pretty much amazing, for the record.  We visited five years ago on our first European cruise.  We love it then, though were pretty limited with time.  So you can imagine our delight at returning and getting to spend a full day of adventuring there.  We’re big fans of walking and probably spent most of our time just exploring the many beautiful streets.

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While hanging out for a few moments and enjoying the warmth of the sunshine in this square, I noticed these girls feeding the birds who would land right on their hands.  Being a big fan of feeding the birds (probably thanks to my love of the Mary Poppins song of the same name) I commented to Jeremy that it would be my dream to be able to have wild birds eat from my hand.  To which he promptly replied that that exact same scenario would be his worst nightmare.  We got a good laugh from it and it made me smile because that is the beauty of our marriage I suppose.  We are the same in many ways, but it’s our differences that make us who we are and they also give us some good laughs.

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We walked and walked till finally we got to take in this iconic view.  It was just as beautiful as the first time we saw it and funny enough, we ended up walking the same streets to find the same gelato place that we had first visited.  For the record, if I were to be completely honest, I would disclose that when in Italy, gelato is a daily occurrence.  And gelato confession is good for the soul.

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Speaking of food, we found the coolest market called Mercato Centrale Firenze to eat at for both lunch and dinner.  And while I should have been more adventurous, I just opted for what was most delicious and that was a vegetable crepe made by these incredible ladies.  Jeremy was a bit more fun with his artichoke stuffed chicken and then fresh buffalo mozzarella for dinner.

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Probably the highlight of our day was visiting the Uffizi Gallery.  Jeremy and I are huge fans of art and art museums so that is usually where we end up when we travel.

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The Uffizi was an incredible gallery to visit.  We loved the art, but it was also the other intricate details of the building that caught our eyes, like this incredible ceiling.

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Throughout the gallery there were many religious pieces to appreciate and enjoy.  I loved the vibrancy of this piece and the colors in real life were just incredible.

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Another ceiling shot.  Just absolutely amazing and so beautifully detailed.  I think everyone should have this be their #ceilinggoals, right?  Thankfully all of the camel poses from my yoga classes made staring at these paintings quite comfortable.  I knew there was a reason for that particular pose and I found it here in Florence.

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We truly loved the time we had wandering through the halls of the Uffizi.  An absolute must if you ever visit Florence.  My conclusion would be to go the the Uffizi and then wander up and down the streets because they truly will make you feel brand new (pardon my post title borrowing lyrics from a song meant for New York.  For some reason it was stuck in my head while we were wandering today.  The streets of Florence did make us feel pretty awesome so, there you go.)

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And at the very end of our day, while finishing up another gelato with Jeremy that was big and expensive (I’d like to blame the language barrier for me not realizing that a big cone equals big scoops of gelato and that sometimes they hide the smaller cones towards the back where you don’t see them) but worth every Euro we hopped back on our train and headed back to our hotel.

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Overall, Florence was an absolute delight and the perfect way to spend today.  Thanks for following our adventures and we will look forward to what tomorrow will bring.

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Safe and Sound

So I thought I should give a few disclaimers for my next eleven or so days of blogging. First off, we are on vacation in Italy so I will be sharing our adventures. If you’re not a fan of vacations or Italy, then you might not want to follow which is totally fine. I love to blog about our vacations and life really for that matter, because if I didn’t, I would never remember all the different things that we did. Secondly, this might seem strange, but when I go on vacation, I never bring my big DSLR cameras with me. You might think that I would since I work as a professional photographer, but really that is the reason that I don’t. When I’m on vacation, I like to be on vacation, so funny enough, the pictures you see will have been taken on my old iPhone 5C. And finally, if you’re wondering, one of my favorite things ever is to travel with my husband. And that is what we save for and do and this is the beginning of our adventures…

So, we have arrived safe and sound and are in Montecatini Terme which is a beautiful part of Tuscany in Italy.  On Thursday, we took a red eye out of JFK and flew into Milan arriving on very little sleep but with great excitement to be back in Italy.  My incredible husband rented and drove the tiniest midsize car I’ve seen for four hours through incredibly beautiful towns and snow covered mountains and finally we arrived into Tuscany.  We dropped our bags and the car off at the hotel and caught a quick nap before venturing out to explore.

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As we walked, I marveled at the beauty of the fall foliage in contrast to the many palm trees that they have here.

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It took us about four minutes to fall in love with the town we are staying in for the next week.  Italy is an incredibly beautiful country and we cannot wait to just soak it all in.

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We got pizza for dinner, and I had to smile when I noticed the napkins had a sweet reminder of home on them.

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Speaking of home, I guess that’s another disclaimer I should mention.  Our kids are currently at home, with Jeremy’s parents and while we will miss them, I know this time will be so good for us as a couple.  I’ve learned over the years that anything we invest into our marriage ultimately benefits them, because it strengthens our whole family, so it’s kind of a win, win.

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So that mostly wraps up our first day.  It’s currently 8:11 pm here and I am heading  to bed to try to get used to the new time difference as quickly as possible.  Thank you for sharing in our adventures and goodnight for now.

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A Force of Good

Yesterday, just after Living Room (our Sunday night small group for teens) started I realized that I didn’t have a working can opener which meant that I wouldn’t have pumpkin for my pumpkin muffins which would have rendered them completely useless.  So I called up our awesome neighbor Gina and she invited me over to use hers.  As I walked into her home I noticed that the news was on.  It took me about two seconds to register that there had been another shooting.  And when Gina filled me in briefly that it has been during a church service in Texas and that there were many casualties including the pastor’s 14 year old daughter, my heart just absolutely dropped.

I walked back home in despair for those people and that church and their community.  And I finished my pumpkin muffins and fed them to the awesome teens that came to our group last night and then I shared with them how God wanted to do great things in their life.  Our lesson last night concluded with the idea that their approach to life was kind of like when it was the 4th of July and you got to hold those small individual sparklers.  I told them they could live their lives only about themselves and their sparklers but in all reality, it would be kind of small and it would go out quick.  Or, they could lay down their own sparkler and instead go and be a part of God’s “Fireworks” or His plan which was something bigger and greater than they could imagine.  I compared it to the incredible display of fireworks (which probably cost thousands and was much bigger and lasted much longer than a single sparkler) that we witnessed this past summer in Seattle captured as best I could in the picture below.

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But when they all left and our own kids were safely tucked in bed for the night, my mind started reeling.  I could feel the sadness and depression sinking in as I read article after article on the church shooting that had occurred earlier that day.  I wondered how it was possible that this year, news of shootings seemed to be a bit of the norm.  I grieved for the many lives and losses and wondered how it would be that those families would ever move forward.  It felt for those moments like the bad things in the world were just bigger and that life truly was overwhelmingly sad and scary and unpredictable.

But somewhere in the middle of the night I woke up to the realization.  Yes, I could be easily depressed every single day about how horrible the bad things in our world were.    Or, I could do something about it.  I could be a force of good.  I could look for ways to love the world every single day.  It could start in my own heart and in my own home, but then I could spread it out to others and spread it out to the world.  And with this thought and in this moment, I felt the sadness start to fade as it was replaced with the beauty of hope.

Life is not about us holding our own little sparker.  Life is about being a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves.  And that is my encouragement for myself and that is my encouragement for everyone reading this right now.  And also, I know for fact that God loves you and He has a greater plan for your life than you could ever dream.  Yes, this world is broken and the problems and the heartbreaks just seem to keep coming.  But Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  

Truth for today.  Take heart because Jesus has overcome.  And go and be a force of good.

 

Bella Smiles

My childhood memories of the dentist’s office include the cool fish tank in the waiting room, the taste of the fluoride rinse, and getting to choose a prize from the treasure box at the end of each visit.  My dentist Dr. Mark was a wonderful man and I’m so thankful that my parents were able to get us good dental care.

My adult memories of the dentist have not been as pleasant.  When we moved to Long Island ten years ago, Jer and I both spent quite a bit of time trying out different dentists and having some pretty awful experiences.  Thankfully, just over a year ago, we finally found a wonderful dentist, Dr. Sal at Bella Smiles.  He currently has two offices, one in Nesconset and one in Riverhead.  We visit the Riverhead location.  It’s such a nice, clean and beautiful office and just has a warm and inviting feel to it.

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The kids and I came right after school so Christian worked on his homework while we waited.

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The sweet receptionist offered us coffee or tea while we waited.  If I were a coffee or tea drinker, I would have totally had one.  It’s just nice little touches like this that make me enjoy this office so much.  On that note, the bathroom was really cool as well and had a fun basket of toothbrushes and mouth rinse.  I would have taken a picture, but thought it might be a bit strange to take my camera to the bathroom, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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Melissa, our friend and dental hygienist called us in shortly after we arrived.  She is just so sweet and friendly and is absolutely amazing with the kids too.  She told them everything that she was doing and made the visit fun.  Ellee loves the dentist and I know that Melissa is a big part of the reason why.

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The other part might be the television with the kids shows that she gets to watch while she gets her teeth cleaned.

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And the final part of that might be when Melissa has her “kiss” the suction tool which clears all of the water in her mouth.  It’s a fun and she giggled each time.

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We all had cleanings and check ups today.  Thankfully Christian was willing to wait patiently while his sister had her turn.

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Once the cleaning and fluoride treatments were finished, Dr. Sal came in to do the exams.  He is just so kind and has such a calming presence.  If you have ever had a fear of the dentist, Dr. Sal is certainly someone that you would want to see.  I’ve definitely been there and for me, I have much less anxiety about dentists since we’ve been gone to Dr. Sal at Bella Smiles.

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Bella Smiles also has a treasure box and when we were all done, the kids got to pick out a prize.  Melissa also threw in a pair of gloves which Ellee was absolutely delighted about.  If you are local and in need of an amazing dentist, I would highly, highly recommend Dr. Sal at Bella Smiles.  His office is so friendly and every member of his staff is wonderful and so helpful.  I know that our family is very thankful that we are able to go there.

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Another perk with Bella Smiles is that it is located right behind the Panera Bread in Riverhead.  So, after our visit, we headed there for an early dinner.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, most all of us received a good bill of health.  Christian has a small cavity that we will get filled in a few weeks.  I’m thankful for a good visit and again, if you are in the area and looking for a great dentist, give Dr. Sal a call!

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