Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm thankful for...

As a kid, I remember singing these songs, not just in church, but in school as well. Most schools don't allow this type of music anymore, unless they're parochial schools. That truly saddens me. More and more it seems we're pushing God out, doesn't it? We're forgetting where we came from and turning our backs on our Heavenly Father, the One who created us, and loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to save us all. While I can't begin fathom that kind of love, I do know that I'm thankful for it.

Thanksgiving is upon us, which seems hardly believable, as I think it was July and then I blinked and it became mid-November. Time is flying, which it certainly tends to do the older I get. But let's not talk about my age, okay? I'd rather talk about the blessings, both big and small, for which I'm thankful.

You know a person could go on and on about the blessings in his/her life, which would make for quite a lengthy blog post. What I'm gonna do, in the interest of time, yours and mine, is to think of things I'm thankful for that begin with each letter in the word "thankgiving." Deal?

Let's see... I might have to put my thinking cap on for this. Here is my "thanks" list, in no particular order...


"T" = TELEPHONES (I'm still amazed that I can talk with friends & family who aren't sitting right next to me), TATERS, TURKEY (Wouldn't be Thanksgiving without one... sorry to all you non-turkey eatin' people), TWO-YEAR-OLDS (now that I no longer have any), TRUMPETS (3 people play 'em in my house), TRUST, TENTS (Camping would be so much less enjoyable without them), TURTLES, TOES (It would be kinda hard to stand/walk without 'em), TANGERINES, TELEVISION (sometimes), TRASH TRUCKS (that haul away my trash), TRAVEL, TARGET (the store), TOASTERS, TOAST, TYPEWRITERS (Yeah, I know... how archaic of me!), THOUGHTFULNESS, TEAMWORK, TALENT, TINTO DE VERANO

"H" = HAPPINESS, HORSES (I don't ride, but I am from Kentucky, HANKIES (especially when I really need 'em), HELLOS ('cause that usually means I'm running into a friend), HARMONICAS (Like the way they sound), HOME (It's where I hang my hat & love on my family & they love on me right back), HELPFULNESS, HOLIDAYS, HARRY (CONNICK, JR.), HONESTY, HUMOR, HILARITY, HUMILITY, HEARTS, HAMPERS (the kind you put dirty clothes in), HERSHEY'S, HAIR (Even if it doesn't look great every day, I have some, it keeps my head warm and I'd miss it if I didn't have it), HANGERS (on which to hang my clothes), HAMMOCKS (I don't have one, but aren't they cool?) HGTV, HEROES

"A" = APPLES, ANGELS, AMERICA, AWESOMENESS, AUNTS (I have some good ones!), AORTAS (Can't live without one... literally), AIRPLANES (particulary ones that are in working order and take off & land on time), ALABAMA (I've lived there), ACTIVITY, ARTISTS, AIR

"N" = NIECES (Mine are pretty special), NEPHEWS (I only have one), NICE (people mostly), NINCOMPOOP (Not really... I just think the word is funny), NARNIA (♥ those movies!), NESTLE (as in chocolate), NICKNAMES

"K" = KIDS (particularly my own), KITES, KNEES (that still work), KRISPY KREMES (Hello!), KISSES, KINDNESS, KITCHENS, KIDDING (all in fun)

"S" = SENSES (The five we have are pretty dadgum awesome & I'd sure miss 'em if they ever went away), SISTER SCHUBERT'S (These are yeast rolls that are heavenly... really!), SNACKS, SUNSHINE, SILLINESS, SLEEP, STAMPING (like cards and such), SELFLESSNESS, SNOW, SANFORD & SON, STILLNESS, SUNRISES & SUNSETS, SURPRISES, SINGINGS SONGS, SOAP, SHAMPOO, SANDWICHES, STUFFING (the kind you eat), STARS (the kind in the sky mostly), SPECIAL SKILLS, STARBUCKS, SPAIN (I used to live there), SOLDIERS (for their bravery & sacrifice), SPORTS, SPORTSMANSHIP (the good kind), SACRIFICES (made for my benefit), SWEET TEA (Nectar of the gods), STOVES, SANGRIA

"G" = GOD (He's my Rock and He rocks!), GRAVY ('nuf said), GIRLFRIENDS (I shudder to think what my life would be like without 'em), GRANDPARENTS (They love us like crazy, even when we're brats, & they help make up our DNA, which could possibly get them thrown off my list, so let's just stop there.), GOOFY (You know, Disney's Goofy... ♥ him!), GIRAFFES (I just think they're cool), GIBRALTAR (Think "Rock of Prudential" here. I still can't believe I've actually been there!), GERBER (as in baby food... our boys ate lots of it), GRACE (Need some of it every day), GOODNESS (Strive for it every day), GIFTS (giving & receiving)

"I" = IRISES (the flowers that bloom in the spring, as well as those in my eyes), INDIANA ('cause I have family living there), INVENTIONS, INTUITION, INCOME, ICE (You really appreciate it when you can't get it!), INK, IKEA, INTERNET, IN-LAWS (They made my husband & they're pretty nice to me too.)

"V" = VICTORIES (like when my basketball team wins, or when I overcome a personal struggle... one extreme to another), VACATIONS, VACCINATIONS (What a blessing! Well, after they're over), VASECTOMIES (Just sayin'), VANILLA (ice cream, scented candles...), "V" GIRLS (Sorry, it's a private kinda club, and I really can't elaborate, 'cause not everyone is in the club), VALENTINES (especially mine), VINO, VISITING (family, friends & places)

"I" = "I" again? Geez, this one was hard the first time... let's see... ILLINOIS (where I currently live), INCLUSION (Iso much nicer than "exclusion"), INTELLIGENCE (my own, although sometimes lacking, and that of others), ICE CREAM, IDEAS (especially good ones), INSPIRATION
"N" = NAPS (one of the all-time best things invented), NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (the movie, which is hilarious & often quoted in our home), NATURE (Isn't it wonderfully amazing & beautiful?), NUTELLA (Getcha some!), NEIGHBORS (when they're nice), NOSTALGIA, NEWLYWEDS, NATIVITY

"G" = GRAPES, GUITAR HERO (I like to watch others play... I stink.), GEORGIA (I met my husband there), GARAGES (especially in the winter), GAMES, GIGGLING, GOOGLE (Love looking up info), GRAVITY (It keeps me from floating off Earth's surace), GENTLENESS

Whew! I've had fun making this list, but I'm telling you, I finally just had to make myself stop adding things because it was simply taking over my entire day. Isn't it great to have so many things for which to give thanks? Who knew? I challenge you to come up with your own list. You'll be amazed at the endless number of blessings you have in your life. Happy Thanksgiving and thank YOU for reading my blog!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sticking Out Like a Sore Thumb

I'm gonna share a few photos with you, and I want to look at each one carefully to see if you notice a particular pattern. Go ahead. Look! I'll wait here...

You're not done yet. Keep looking. I'm still waiting.

Yes, there's a point to this.

Relax. You're almost finished.

Okay, no more pictures. I promise. What did you see?

In each photo there was one person or thing that stood out among all the others. When this occurs in my neck of the woods, you might just hear someone describe that one unique person or thing as "sticking out like a sore thumb." Familiar phrase?

Now let me ask you this... Have you ever felt like you stuck out like a sore thumb? Have you ever found yourself in a place or a situation where you felt like you stood out among all others? How did it make you feel? I was recently put in such a position and at the time it struck me as being the most embarrassing, hilarious event.

Oh, did you want me to share my experience? Sure... why not? Get ready to be entertained.

It was a Saturday afternoon and our boys needed haircuts in the worst way. No kidding. They were shaggy dogs and we'd put off the deed long enough. As luck would have it, my hubby had to go into work for a few hours, so I had to take the boys myself. That wasn't an issue, but the place we'd previously gone for haircuts is closed on Saturdays (I know... can you believe it?), therefore we had to seek out another barber/salon.

My husband told me about a place located relatively close to our house, so the boys and I decided to try it out. We found the salon, noticing the sign outside read "Kingdom Cuts." I'd never heard that name before, but it had a religious ring to it, which was cool with me.

I opened the door to the salon and the place was quite literally jam-packed with people, and all of them were African American men. (I'm getting tickled all over again as I tell the story. ☺) Every head turned and all eyes were on me and my two boys, all of us as white as can be, and clearly sticking out like sore thumbs. My immediate thought was, "I am in the wrong place. They can't cut my kids' hair here." And what was my husband thinking, telling me to come here in the first place? Only these things happen to me! I'm sure of it!

Now I realize that haircutters are trained to cut all different types of hair, but realistically, how often would you say that a haircutter in this particular establishment cuts the hair of shaggy, blond-headed boys? I figured not real often, so I turned around and started to leave, however, this man followed us out to the parking lot and asked us to return. I commented that they looked very crowded inside (And they were!), but he assured me they could fit us in.

Well... what was I to do? I mean, seriously? I didn't want to offend the man and appear to be snooty or racist. I will admit to you that I didn't really want to go inside, but it had everything to do with feeling out of place and in unfamiliar circumstances, nothing more. Well... and the fact that I didn't want anybody to jack up my kids' hair. I have to live with them, you know.

So... we went inside, sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. That's how crowded the place was. I made small talk with a couple of the patrons, who told me they were regulars. One guy said, "I saw you open the door and then turn around to leave." I said, "They looked really busy." He then said, "I figured it was because you thought you were in the wrong place." I said, "Well, that too." He and I had a good laugh over that.

Turns out those boys got the best haircuts they've had in a very long time. I couldn't believe it! When we left, I told the gentleman who cut their hair that he'd done a fabulous job, and he said, "We'll see you next time." Next time? Hmmm... Will I take them back there? I don't know.

I had to return to the salon later the same day, all because my oldest son had left his cell phone sitting in one of the chairs. When I walked in, all eyes were on me once again, and I said, "I was here earlier - " and they looked at me as if to say, "Yes, we remember you." I'm telling you, it was like an SNL skit. They had found my son's phone and returned it to me.

While I was definitely outside my comfort zone, and stuck out like a big ol' sore thumb in Kingdom Cuts, I actually enjoyed the experience and have laughed and laughed about it ever since. I'm considering taking the boys back there for future haircuts.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Homemade Frosted Sugar Cookies... Are they really worth the effort?

I'd planned on baking yesterday in preparation for my younger son's classroom Halloween party. He'd requested sugar cookies (with frosting) in the shape of pumpkins. No sweat. I had it covered, or at least I thought so, until I went to gather ingredients from the pantry and refrigerator. I quickly discovered I had no Crisco, an absolute necessity for my beloved and much-revered sugar cookie recipe, the one my family has been baking for generations. First of all, I ask you, how does any self-respectin' southern woman get by without some form of "shortnin'" (a.k.a. lard) in her cupboard? I seriously need to get my act together.

Mind you, I'd only been to the grocery store at least 3 times this week already, but I'd failed to add Crisco to my list of items to purchase. If it's not on a list, honey, it simply doesn't exist in my world. I will never, ever remember to purchase anything not on the list.

So... I had to go pick up Crisco and decided to go to Dierbergs real quick (By the way, there's no such thing as real quick in Dierbergs because they have way too many tempting goodies.), and I really should never have gone there, except I'd already been to Target, Schnucks and Wal-Mart earlier in the week, and since the commissary is a little out of the way, and all I needed was Crisco, I opted to go to Dierbergs. Let's just say I spent a considerable amount of time there and left approximatley $150 poorer. But I got Crisco!
Before heading home to begin my day of baking, I made a quick stop at the Starbucks drive-thru for a Pumpkin Spice Latte, my all-time favorite beverage at Starbucks. It's a seasonal item too, so I have to take advantage of its availability while I can. Keep in mind that I moved here just 3 months ago from overseas, where the Starbucks on base (which really is sort of Starbucks wannabe) did NOT offer this favorite beverage of mine, so you can understand how excited I am to be back in the Land o' Plenty where such things can be purchased and enjoyed, at least for a couple of months before it goes away until next fall.

I purchased my Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte, even tipped the drive-thru employee, and was about halfway home when I decided it was time to sample my beverage. I took a sip and quickly surmised it was NOT a Pumpkin Spice Latte, but a Skinny Caramel Latte. It wasn't even the right size, but I hadn't noticed in time to do anything about it, and I didn't have time to turn around and go back. I had baking to do... pronto! You know what they say about the drive-thru anyway (Cue Joe Pesci's character, Leo Getz, in "Lethal Weapon 2").

Note to self: Either go inside to order or check my order BEFORE LEAVING the drive-thru. I drank the Skinny Caramel Latte, but it just wasn't the same experience.

I baked cookies all afternoon, but had to wait until they'd cooled before frosting them. My son didn't want them to be jack o'lanterns, thank God! He just wanted orange pumpkins with green stems, certainly saving me from a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I kept having to take breaks to run taxi service for both boys 'cause that's what I do. I'm thinking I have a bright future in taxi driving at some point, since I get to drive all over town and have learned the streets quite well.

I walked inside my oldest son's school at 9pm to retrieve him from the gym after basketball practice and discovered I had cookie dough and frosting all over my shirt and one wrist. Hmmm... I only have like 5 aprons, but for whatever reason I can never remember to put them on when I'm working in the kitchen. I even have a couple hanging on the back of the pantry door, for heaven's sake.By the way, this is not a photo of any of the 5 aprons I own, but I do love bacon. Am I speakin' to anybody here?

I finally finished the cookies around 10pm last night. They were time-consuming, but looked dadgum good and tasted even better.They were a hit at my son's party today and he seemed very pleased. Several kids asked if I'd made them and others commented they looked "awesome." I suppose in this convenient world of ours, where we can drop by the bakery and pick up already-made cookies, it surprises folks when we actually make something ourselves. One little boy asked for seconds and later thirds of our pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies and said, "These cookies are amazing!" Of course he said that about the pizza and everything else served too, but still... I beamed and handed him that third cookie. Yep, homemade frosted sugar cookies are most definitely worth the effort!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Breathe in and breathe out and SLOW DOWN!

I thought I was prepared. I really did. I had volunteered to provide homemade cheesy chicken corn soup for my son's school as they were hosting a staff appreciation luncheon that day. I'd made the soup the night before, so all I'd have to do is reheat in the morning before dropping it off at the school.

I also made these fabulous pumpkin apple streusel muffins for Bible study as we take turns bringing food, and it just so happened to be the day our class was responsible for the grub. (By the way, both the soup and muffin recipes are courtesy of Southern Living. Need I say more?) I made the muffins the night before as well because I wanted to be ahead of the game and avoid rushing the following morning. It was a great idea in theory.

The next morning I got up and heated the soup in the crockpot. Mmmm... it smelled so good! The muffins were packed away in a Tupperware carrying case, but I ate one to be sure they were tasty, and they were, indeed, tasty. All was going according to plan until...

I showed up at my son's school, reported to the office and asked where I should deliver the soup. The office staff looked at me as if I had two, maybe even three heads. "What? What is it?" I wondered. One of the secretaries smiled and said, "We're not having a staff appreciation luncheon today. It's at the junior high." Seriously? I had taken my soup to the wrong dadgum school. I'd have bet good money that I was at the right school. What's wrong with me?

I had to backtrack and drive to my other son's school, driving very slowly because the crockpot was quite full and I didn't want it to spill, all the while realizing I was running behind and my perfectly detailed plan was beginning to unravel, slowly but surely. I dropped off the soup and then began to make my way to the church, stressed that I was going to be late. Of all days too! I hated being late, especially when I had a responsibility to be there on time with my delicious muffins that everyone was surely going to enjoy.

I was wasting no time driving to the church. In fact, I was driving a tad faster than I should have been, and it turns out I wasn't the only one who noticed. Yep, you guessed it... I got pulled over by an officer of the law. Just fabulous! I sat in my vehicle waiting for him to approach, wondering what he was gonna say and if I was gonna get a ticket. I was mortified that he left his lights flashing. Why do they do that anyway? People were driving by and glaring at me like I was a criminal, a fugitive evading the law. Or maybe I just felt embarrassed because I was so busted, although that's probably a poor choice of words. At least he didn't have the siren going too.

The policeman told me I was going 44 mph in a 30 mph speed zone. I searched my mind for a good excuse, but couldn't come up with anything that sounded convincing. He asked for my driver's license and proof of insurance and took both back to the cruiser to do whatever it is policemen do when they pull someone over for speeding. I guess they run a check on your vehicle to see if the person has other violations or something. I also think it's a great intimidation tactic, but again, I was feeling embarrassed and so busted, remember? And by then I was also thinking I was really going to be late for Bible study.

Bible study! Perhaps God will take control here and have the policeman cut me some slack because He knows I was headed to church for Bible study. Shameful, I know, because I was clearly in the wrong, but I had such good intentions that morning. I felt so defeated. I was just trying to be helpful, but I was also trying to do too much. I sat in my vehicle waiting to hear my fate (ticket or no ticket), when the tears began to fall. I kept willing myself not to cry, but just couldn't help myself.

By the time the officer returned to my vehicle, my sunglasses were all fogged up and my nose was running, and I couldn't stop the tears. I know he was probably thinking I was emotionally unstable or something. He gave me a warning only (Thanks be to God!). I told him I was glad he pulled me over because it was my cue to slow down. The officer looked like he was totally thrown off and he told me that sometimes we overextend ourselves and need to take a break. The poor man! I'm sure when he went to work that morning he had no idea he'd be counseling motorists.

I meant what I said about being glad I was pulled over by the police, and it wasn't to gain favor or pity because I'd already gotten off with a warning. I really do need to slow down and stop rushing like there's no tomorrow. So I'm trying to learn from my experience. I'm learning to breathe in and breathe out and SLOW DOWN!

Oh, and for the record, all that rushing around got me nowhere. I was late to Bible study and most people had already eaten by the time I arrived, therefore I had lots of those fabulous muffins left over. One word... humbling.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Motivation, where are you?

People, it's been over a month since I've visited here, and this is MY blog. What's wrong with this picture?

I've been attempting to get my house in order. Yes, I know we moved in more than two months ago. No, I don't have everything squared away yet. This has been the all-time slowest organization job ever for our family! We still have pictures and window treatments to hang, bins to organize and rooms to decorate. I'm so indecisive about everything. I think I need a professional to come in and just make all the decisions for me.

And the longer this process takes, the less motivation I have to deal with it all. I need some want-to-it-tiveness. I need some creativity. I need some know-how. I need some wine. I need some HELP! Anybody?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

School has started

School has definitely started.

Wanna know how I know school has started, besides the fact that I have to get up at 6:30am so my kids can leave the house early in the morning and stay away until late in the afternoon? I'll tell ya how I know...

I know school has started because of the MOUNDS of paperwork that I've had to fill out, giving me a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome in the process. Seriously, do we not live in a technological age when this stuff could (and should) be done electronically rather than by paper and pencil? And think of the number of trees that could be saved!

I also know school has started as a result of the multiple fundraiser information sheets that are currently littering my kitchen countertops, each of them suggesting my kids sell their hearts out so they can score big bucks for their school/Scout program/band program, as well as earn fabulous prizes for themselves if they sell a certain amount.

We just moved here. Who do we ask to buy this junk? And that's pretty much what this stuff is ~ JUNK... overpriced junk at that. Most of these organizations don't offer an online purchase option, therefore we can't send the information to our family and friends in out-of-town locations. I really don't want my neighbors running the other direction every time they see our family approaching. My kids are involved in 3 fundraisers already, with a 4th one beginning today. Who has time to do this fundraising stuff? We have precious little family time as it is, and I prefer to spend it doing something other than peddling cheap merchandise. Let's just cut to the chase here. How much money you want and to whom shall I write my check?

Another indicator that school has started is the numerous organizations that are begging for my involvement. OMG... It's so awesome to be wanted! Wait... I know what that really means. That's code for "Sign up and get sucked in." And if I'm the only person to sign up, that means I've just volunteered to be the coordinator. Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong. I'm more than happy to help in most organizations, but it's completely overwhelming at times. These days I'm very cautious when it comes to volunteering.
I've had it! You hear that, school PTA/band/Scouts? I'm officially stressed out and beyond overwhelmed. UNCLE!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Next stop... Italy!

No, I'm not going to Italy again, but I realized I hadn't finished sharing photos from our cruise in June. The first stop on our trip was Monaco and the second found us docking in Livorno, Italy. Look toward the top left side of the map, and right above where you see "ITALY" in red, you'll notice Florence and the Arno River. That's where we toured, with a brief stop in Pisa as well.

Never having been on a cruise before, we were more than a little clueless about how to do everything. We wanted to make the most of our port stops, particularly those in Italy, so we could see as many sights as possible in the short amount of time the ship would be docked in each location. We'd heard about a reputable private tour company and eventually booked tours with them.

The tours are quite expensive, and whether our van held just the 4 of us or was at full capacity (7 people plus a driver), the cost was going to be the same. We talked to friends who had sailed recently and they recommended checking out this cool website where we were able to correspond with other passengers in hopes of finding 2-3 people interested in joining us on these excursions, thus lowering the cost for each of us. That's exactly what we ended up doing and before we knew it, we had a full van for each tour.

Of course the idea of traveling with total strangers seemed a bit out of our comfort zone. I mean, seriously, we didn't know these people from Adam! What if they were weirdos and it was uncomfortable? It's a chance we decided to take, and we couldn't have been happier with our travel companions.

From the port in Livorno, we traveled to the city of Florence, capital of the Tuscany region, with our driver, Arten, who was seemingly very knowledgeable about the area.

This is a replica of Michelangelo's "David." We would see replicas of this statue many times during our tour in Italy. We saw the real deal at the Accademia Gallery, however, we weren't permitted to take photos, although I saw lots of cameras flashing anyway.

This was a big square located on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Florence. Vendors were there selling various items to tourists.

One of many gorgeous views of the area

The Arno River runs through the center of Florence.

There wasn't a view I didn't find beautiful.

Another beautiful view

It thrilled me for the boys to be seeing places like this at their ages. I'd never even been on an airplane, and had rarely been out of my home state of Kentucky when I was a teenager.

This is a closer view of one of the bridges over the Arno River. The Ponte Vecchio is a unique medieval bridge with shops built along the sides. We walked across, but only window shopped as it's a very expensive area. Arten even told us not to purchase anything there because it's so over-priced.

The cathedral, called the Santa Maria Del Fiore Church is pictured in the background, on the far left. We got a close-up view of this beautiful structure.

Zooming in on the cathedral

Could you get used to seeing sights like this every day? I believe I could.

This is our driver, Arten.

The boys check out the views below.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... We are easily entertained! We even found the cigarette machines intriguing.

I'm sure people were thinking how we were just silly American tourists, taking photos of photos. I couldn't help it. I'd just ducked into this small restaurant to use the facilities when I saw Rhett and Scarlett. I do love "Gone with the Wind," don't you?

Got Nutella? Nutella is popular where we lived in Spain too, but I didn't know what it was for the longest time. It's a delicious chocolate-hazlenut spread and I understand it originated in Italy, which makes total sense that we should see this big display of it here. Here's a little Nutella trivia for you from Wikipedia (in case you're interested)... "Under Italian law, it cannot be labeled as a chocolate cream, as it does not meet minimum cocoa solids concentration criteria." Oh, and the 5th Annual World Nutella Day is scheduled for February 5, 2011... really! Don't forget to mark your calendars!

Moving on...

I'm such a people watcher. This lady was standing in her high heels, chatting on her cell phone, and I wanted to see if she was really going to get on this motorcycle and ride away. She did! How does one do that in a skirt like hers? You go, girl!

We visited San Miniato (St. Minias on the Mountain) Church, constructed during the 11th century.

A tour group was listening to the gentleman in the long robe speak. I liked his socks and sandals.

The view beyond the San Miniato Church

Inside San Miniato... It was very difficult to get good photos as the lighting is very dim, and I'm not the best photographer.

Very serene


Here we are with our excursion companions. We toured with the same three people for two days.

This is the crowd of people waiting to get inside the Accademia Gallery, where we would see Michelangelo's original statue of "David."

I didn't take this photo, but found it online to show you because it was of personal interest to me. These panels illustrate the biblical story of Esther, an Old Testament heroine. I had just finished a Bible study called "Esther: It's Tough Being a Woman" by Beth Moore. By the way, if you've never had the opportunity to participate in a Beth Moore study, I highly recommend you give one a go. She's awesome!

At some point during the day we stopped and had pizza (Hello! We're in Italy!) for lunch and it was magnifico!

The tall, slender structure is Giotto’s Campanile (Bell Tower), located in the heart of Florence. It's part of a complex of buildings that make up Florence Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe.

This is the Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St. John), also located on the Piazza del Duomo. According to what we were told, many notable people were baptized here during the Renaissance period, and until the end of the 19th century, all Catholic Florentines were baptized here.

The Santa Maria Del Fiore Church (also known as the Duomo) was being cleaned and under maintenance during our visit.

The cathedral is quite impressive in size and beauty.

I love the aerial view of the Duomo! I didn't take this photo, but borrowed it from a website, giving credit to

Gorgeous architecture!

Artists set up camp near the cathedral, trying to sell their work to tourists.

"Pinocchio" is seen everywhere in the area, as the fictional story of the wooden puppet who longed to be a real boy originated in Italy.

Walking across the Ponte Vecchio (Remember the medieval bridge with the expensive shops I told you about?) and doing some heavy-duty window shopping. That's all we could afford to do.

The shops were gorgeous and simply oozed money.

A view of the Arno River taken from the Ponte Vecchio

Mmmm... gelato!

Naturally pizzerias were plentiful, and these two had great curb appeal.

The Palazzo Vecchio serves as the town hall. And guess what stands in front? A replica of the statue of "David," of course. ☺

This is a photo of a photo of Fattoria di San Michele a Torri, the winery we visited, which was unplanned, but we had the time, so we opted to stop. Wine? Oh, alright... twist my arm!

Touring the winery

After the tour we were given the opportunity to sample some of the wine. We weren't driving; Arten was driving. Wine? Don't mind if I do!

These guys aren't in to wine. Never fear! They have hand-held electronic games with which to entertain themselves.

We weren't sure if we'd have time for one more stop (an important one) before returning to the ship. We kept our fingers crossed, and as luck would have it, we had about 5 minutes to spare, so Arten pulled into in this parking lot to see what lies behind this wall.

We literally ran so we could get a view of this. Wondering what you're seeing? Look at the building on the very end.

We're getting closer...

It's the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

We hastily took the photo that everyone takes when in Pisa.

Sure wish we'd had more time for photos here, but when I said we had 5 minutes, I wasn't kidding. We did well to get these photos.

Now the boys will have the memory of being here, and photos to go along with it.

We had a jam-packed, fun-filled day with Arten and our new cruise friends. Our feet ached and we were hot and tired, but it was so worth the time and money invested, as we saw so many wonderful places. Thanks to Arten for his knowledge, safe driving skills and friendly disposition. It was time to rest up for the next day's adventure... Rome!