Italy was the first country in Europe I traveled to 11 years ago as a single adult. Not surprising, I immediately fell in love with the landscape and culture. Two years later I went back, hoping to capture the same good vibes, and it didn’t happen. Disappointed, I took Italy off my list and only traveled to new places that I had yet to experience.
Until this summer.
Husband had never been to Italy, so we agreed to spend half of the trip in cities that I had visited and half of the trip in uncharted territory. The landscape and the culture were back, sucking me into lingering dinners in quiet piazzas and drinks anywhere there were stairs to sit on.
My paramount discovery was Rome. I’ve heard you either love Rome or you can’t wait to leave. But I was smitten. Romans live among the art and history that surrounds them. Statues constructed during the time of Julius Caesar are still standing in the elements, not covered in glass or roped off to the public. There is a sense that if a Colosseum built in 80 AD can survive earthquakes and war, you don’t have too much to worry about. Life is good.
One of my quirks is that I dream in the language I’m surrounded by. Within a day of arriving in Italy, my dreams were in Italian. And even though I’ve been home for several days, the Italian in my head still continues. This trait is typically annoying, but right now I hope the dreams stay in Italian for a bit longer so I can image I’m still in Rome.
My father was born in the wrong era. In the 1970s, he and my mother built a house in the country, far away from people and noise. Then came the horses. There were cows at one point too, but they wore out their welcome by running through the fence one too many times. Mowing the front pasture wasn’t an easy task – it was 20 acres. But dad would climb on the tractor and spend an entire Saturday cutting down the fescue. And if a fence needed to be examined in the back fields, dad would climb on a horse and ride off with tools in his pockets, just in case.
As long as I can remember, my father has loved the land. He secretly sees himself as a rancher and enjoys converting pastures into natural prairie grass to help the wildlife prosper. (There’s a hunting advantage for him as well, but we won’t talk about that part.)
When I went back to Kansas for a visit recently, dad wanted to show me yet another plot of land he purchased, directly next to his farm. We bump-bump-bumped around the fields in his pickup, and he showed me all of the tree clearing he had done to open up the fields for new crops. While I dread trying to manage a farm long-distance one day, seeing my father’s happiness and excitement about the land made the tour a little less worrisome. But I’ve got big shoes to fill.
It is suddenly the middle of summer and I have missed two months of “Happiness Is …” posts. Thankfully I’m chronically organized and upload my photos to the cloud by month so I never lose track of when images are taken!
In May, Husband and I decided to look for Irish colonies that were settled with the help of Bishop John Ireland in south central Minnesota between 1876-1881. It was considered a great success for the Catholic Church at the time. Today the settlers are buried in churchyards like this one at St. Patrick’s. It was interesting to read the tombstones and wonder how these immigrants handled the struggles of farming in a new land and discrimination from their Scandinavian neighbors. It was a history lesson, yet didn’t feel that far removed from the same issues America and other countries are debating today. My hope is the general population will remember this country was built on someone taking a chance, getting an opportunity, settling the unsettled, and creating a new place to call home.
When you live in a condo building, you can put your head down and mutter “hello” as you pass fellow occupants in the garage, or build relationships with your neighbors. Husband and I have gotten to know many of our neighbors over the last year and have reaped the benefits of being part of the community. One of the many benefits of knowing and trusting people that live close to you is getting built in cat-sitting services. We regularly watch neighbor kitties, and in turn, they watch our cat when needed. This is Brutus, who now talks to me and lets me scratch his back because he recognizes me as part of his community.
On Saturday, February 27, the Twin Cities broke a 120-year-old record. It was the warmest day recorded since 1896, topping out at 58 degrees by mid-afternoon. After months of cold, the sun and warm air felt like a gift as husband and I walked around Lowertown Saint Paul.
In 2016, I am starting a new monthly photo project called, “Happiness Is …,” a focus on stories that bring joy to my life.
For New Year’s Eve, Husband and I decided to drive Highway 61 and see what we could find along the way. After rambling from Minnesota to Wisconsin, we ended up in Dubuque, Iowa for the night.
Dubuque’s Main Street was active with college students ready to party, but Husband noticed an establishment a block away from the activity that looked more our speed for a post-dinner cocktail. We decided to check it out.
The Lounge was nearly empty when we walked in, but quickly began to fill with locals who knew the bartenders, particularly “Mary,” a tiny white-haired woman who could barely see over the bar rail. She turned out to be the owner.
When Mary learned that we were from Minnesota, and had picked her bar over the rest because it looked like a place we would meet friendly people, she wanted to give us something to remember her by. Mary proceeded to reach into the cooler, set this small milk jug on the bar, and give us her knock-out smile.
“Apple Pie” is Mary’s homemade liqueur, and without much effort you can taste warm apples and a crumbled brown sugar topping. Her gift was gracious and kind, and not quickly to be forgotten.
This scene was the most current recreation of a-day-in-the-life-of-Minnnesotans I saw at the Little Log House Pioneer Village over the weekend. Calling all cars! Find out more about the history of this property in Hastings, Minnesota, which has 45 historic buildings saved from demolition.