Monday, June 27, 2011

And We're Off!

It's 1am, and I'm listening to one of our guys playing the guitar softly outside on the front porch of the Bible school. The diversity of these students is inspiring to me. I am surrounded by talented, kind, gracious young people who will have productive, influential lives. We're been blessed getting to know you're "children."

Tonight was our last chapel and our last meal as a complete group. Clay talked to the students about hard work - marriage takes work, job success takes work, anything worth anything takes work - rarely do stars align without some sort of God-given ability to produce. Clay is such an example for young men. He makes life better - more fun, more meaningful, and more interesting - for me and A-C. He is a joy to be with. Your young men have been fortunate to watch his example and grow close to him. Now I picked him, so you know I'm partial, but my, oh, my he is wonderful. And your students appreciate him and have told him so. Sometimes it's tough for guys to express themselves in words, but I've seen almost every single guy show appreciation to Clay for this opportunity to study abroad. These young men that we've gotten to know are prize-winners in my book! The gals, too, of course, but I'm just saying that it's tougher for guys sometimes to be expressive, and I truly admire it when I see that trait in young men.

The girls on this trip have taken A-C and have treated her like a little sister. I just told a couple of them, "You'll know this one day: when someone is kind to your child, it's like they've been exponentially kind to you, so thank you for being so precious to my daughter." I cannot express how fortunate Clay and I feel to have had your daughters be such examples for ours.

After our meal tonight, we watched a slide show that A-C pulled together all by herself; this was the first time that Clay and I had seen it, so it truly was a surprise to everyone. She did a great job with power point! After that, Josh (guitar) and Luke (lead singer) made up a song that was hilarious and accurate and that poked fun at a few of us, but we ALL loved it and demanded an encore at the end of the festivities. Jessica H. pulled together a slide show from everyone's favorite photos, and we enjoyed that together. Then Lucas and Reed got up to poke fun at everybody - we all got raked over the coals - gently, of course! The last activity was a "play" activity - Lucas talked everyone into going out to a field and playing a game and getting gelato...never too much; Lucas was voted "Most Likely to Spend Money on Gelato," by the way.

We have three students - Tara, Will, and Chelsea J. - that are leaving in about an hour for Rome. Their plane flies out early, so Jeremy will drive them over in the HU van with all their luggage; they won't have to train anywhere, which will really be nice for them. It'll be weird without 23 students at breakfast in the morning. I guess this is the last post. It's that time. These three are heading out first, but we'll all follow them tomorrow during the day. Our train leaves at 3:00 for Lake Como; we'll spend three days there relaxing and not thinking or planning for a bit, then it'll be back to the real world!

We have stored up such precious memories with this BAT group. When I need to go to my "happy place" every now and then when life gets stressful and demanding, your students will be a part of that for me! Italy is so rich with art, food, people, and history; we've learned, we've grown, we've experienced... We have ALL been blessed by our June in Italy, and I know we all have special memories and "happy places" to go to when we need them! Thank you for having the trust and confidence in us to allow us to be a part of your kids' (not really kids :) ) lives for this time. They've grown in many ways, and so have we. It's been a privalege to be a part of the journey for each of them.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Sundays are special with people you've grown to love...almost intimate, you could say. We each shared our favorite verses from the Bible this morning and told why each was meaningful to us. It's risky opening up and being vulnerable, but sharing a piece of oneself is a risk worth taking. We've loved getting to know these students.

Today was also a day of classes, but tonight was just fun. Our group went up to the HUF villa and ate pizza with those guys. Mona cut fresh tomatoes and added basil, garlic, and olive oil--goodness, I had four spoonfuls. I'm not even a tomato fan back home; I guess it's the freshness. Tonight at HUF, Dr. Ganus and Mrs. Ganus were present, and Dr. Ganus gave a devotional for us about being salt of the earth. Hearing him speak is such a privilege. He has been instrumental in getting the international programs started (he was president of HU when the villa was purchased in 1984) and growing at Harding, and many, many lives are better because of his influence.

After the pizza, Robbie had arranged for a concert right there in the villa. A group of woodwinds (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto sax, & tenor sax) and a percussion guy entertained. They opened with In the Mood, followed by An American in Paris and a few tango melodies. The musicians were people about the same age as our students and were inspiring. Just the thought of being entertained in a villa outside of Florence on a Tuscan hillside sounds like a dream.

Back at Avanti, the crew is studying for finals tomorrow. Luggage will be shipped and it will be the last day of studies. We head out Tuesday. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost over!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pictures from Pisa and Cinque Terre & Free Time

Here are some favorite pictures from Pisa and Cinque Terre.

On Friday night and Saturday the students had free time, and that means we did, too! Most of the students went out on the town and celebrated Festa di San Giovanni in Firenze with the townsfolk seeing fireworks at Piazza Santa Croce.

The Beasons went to Perugia (south of Florence but before Rome), a university town with beautiful shops and restaurants, and then we spent just a bit of time also in Deruta on Saturday morning. I've never seen such pottery--goodness, the shops just lined the streets... Their windows were a bit overwhelming-absolutely full of beautiful ceramics-vases, kitchen ware (plates, cereal bowls, napkin holders, olive oil & vinegar containers, salt & pepper shakers, pitchers, spoon rests) lamps, tiles, display bowls, figurines, wall art, etc. I thought I was dreaming a very happy dream surrounded by such loveliness!

One store that we went into was especially nice. The kindest man owned it... My Italian (zippo) was only a tiny bit worse than his English, but Clay has really picked up the language and enjoys practicing. Well, he made a new friend. So much so that the owner actually took us downstairs to his workroom for a demonstration. After he showed us what to do, he motioned for A-C to scoot up beside him and try her hand at shaping the clay. She had fun and did a very good job with his assistance. After she was done, he let me have a turn. Let me just say that a pro makes it look easy. He even let me mash the pedal to spin the wheel and said, "Rapido!" I rapido-ed a bit too quickly, and he laughed and after about ten seconds motioned that my clay was about to go flying off the potter's wheel. "Problema, problema..." He helped me form a little small dish, "Dificile si?" (difficult, yes?) and then told Clay that it was "foto" time. We all got a good chuckle. What a fun experience; I've never gotten to try pottery, and cool was it that A-C and I got to try it in the ceramics capital of the universe!

After we made our purchases (ouch), we knew the bus back to Perugia would be a while, and so we strolled and waited outside in the breeze. The owner came out and talked with Clay for a while and then motioned for us to follow him. Well, Clay told him all about Harding and BAT and our students and no telling what else. He took us to a nice little park (with gorgeous ceramic tables and benches, of course), bought a new type of pork sandwich for each of us, and went on his way. What a sweet man! He made our Deruta experience so special. The pottery is gorgeous on it's own, but each time I look at it, I will remember what a fun time we had together--laughing at ourselves, meeting a kind friend, exploring something and somewhere new... THIS experiencing new things, art, food, and PEOPLE is what we'll all remember with extra fondness.
I know the BAT students will come home with similar stories... Each time they go out to eat, they tell us about someone they met or got a recommendation from about something they need to see or do. This summer is making our world smaller, more approachable, more available, and more enjoyable for our students. We are ALL broader for having taken advantage of this opportunity... I hope I'm not referring to our backsides, although I'm anticipating much walking/jogging upon our return in the heat of July; the food has been SO tasty!

Tonight's special dessert back at Avanti was chocolate cupcakes in honor of Shane's birthday! I missed the candles, but here's a good picture of Shane turning older.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pisa and Cinque Terre

On probably the most could-be-beautiful-post, my camera is acting up again. If I can get it to open tomorrow morning, I'll post pictures. I'm just too sleepy (midnight right now) to mess with it!!! Let me tell you, though, in words about our last group trip that ended with a safe arrival back at Avanti.

On Wednesday morning early, we caught a train to Pisa. We walked 30 or so minutes to the Leaning Tower, took our cheesy holding-up-the-tower pictures, and had a little free time to eat our sack lunches gazing at the Field of Miracles (contains the tower, the cathedral, and the baptistry-gorgeous).

After we caught another train, we made our way up to the Italian Riviera--the place where Italians and Germans regret that Americans have discovered their beautiful secret (although the tourist dollar is probably appeciated). The Cinque Terre literally means the "five lands," and my, oh, my is this place special. We arrived about mid-afternoon yesterday and wandered around our town. There was a cute little jewelry shop on the street (yes-the one street!) that some of the girls found in Vernazza (town #4 of the 5), so shopping was among the activities. We ate a delicious dinner last night at Tratoria da Sandro in Vernazza. We visited this place four year ago, and it was fun to see the same people running the family-owned place.

The students had a free day today and didn't complain a bit. We've kept them SO busy this month; we felt like if we had just one month, we'd keep them huffing and puffing and that they could sleep at home! Today was great from start to finish----There were pretty little flowers in our cappuccinos this morning, and the breakfast gave us a great start. There are hiking trails that link all the towns together-some easy, some hard. Some of the BAT crew hiked and saw the best views of their lives, while others relaxed on the beaches in Monterosso (town #5) and jumped off the cliffs into the water back at the Vernazza waters. (No injuries!) Some shopped and strolled and beached and hiked, fitting in all there was to do.

Today's lunch for the Beason family consisted of spaghetti with tomato sauce for A-C, for Loren a pesto creamy sauce (best pesto I've ever tasted-pesto originated in this region of Italy, so you know it's good) over a swirly-linear-type pasta that I've never seen before...the waiter said it was regional (the name of it escapes me), and Clay had a seafood platter specialty (I'll say "special"--caught right from the sea!). The food here was wonderful. The beauty here is indescribable - from the colored houses just poking out of their cliffside cut-outs, to the rocky beaches, to the shutters flown wide open, to the laundry hanging from the high buidings' pulley-laundry lines, to the Italian ladies looking out from their windows at the hords of people taking over their villages during the summer days ... for so many reasons, the Cinque Terre is a jewel of a place.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday was FULL!

Rosa fed us chicken tortellini soup last night, which was perfect because a couple of our girls are a little under the weather and chicken soup always helps; I think they should sleep more, but I'm sounding a bit "mother-ish," so I'm knocking it off... Rosa also sliced gorgeous tomatoes with mozzarella cheese and basil (we're in Tuscany, after all) and we had bread and fruit. This was after she cooked pasta, pork loin, green peas, and salad for lunch. Oh - flan was for dessert. Good grief. Dessert??!?!?! It's way too good. I wish I didn't like sweets, but that's a different subject...

This morning, the student-athletes had workouts (first 3 pics) and then came back to Avanti for another wonderful meal - our favorite pasta was recommended, so Rosa make it again for our "primi" - Italians eat pasta with nearly every meal for the first course! Wow. It's called 7 P pasta - it has 7 ingredients and each one begins with a P. I'm going to try it when we get back home; it won't the be same, I'm certain, BUT it'll be fun, and I'll give a shout out to the pasta fans to come over to eat...that is when I get up enough courage to try to imitate Rosa's recipe! We had other stuff, too, but the pasta took the cake (chocolate cake was for dessert - I stayed away).

Afterwards we headed into Firenze to meet our tour guide Veronica for a walk through the Uffizi gallery. Oh, goodness! At the risk of sounding extremely nerdy, I get chill bumps just thinking about all the master's works we saw today! Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, etc. Comparing the Medieval art to the Renaissance art was interesting and fun (I hope for ALL). I thought that our guide wasn't too long, wasn't too short; I know that it's healthy and smart to expand our knowledge, so I was pleased with the students' respect and courtesy shown to the tour guide. She truly did a great job. A couple of students even asked questions. We're fortunate to be able to listen to people from whom we can learn instead of trying to figure out everything by ourselves! The last picture posted is a group photo on a balcony at the Uffizi. I'm trying not to be too annoying about the group photos, but we're heading to Pisa and Cinque Terre tomorrow, so they'd better get ready for some more! At least I warned them at the beginning of the trip about my "feeling a group photo!" They've been sweetly and politely humoring me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday in Scandicci

It's been a good day at ol' Avanti - feels like home now... We've (some of us) done laundry and gotten ready for the week, we've worked out, we've had classes, and we've had a little ping-pong battle, too. We have chapel in ten minutes, and the Bible class will wrap up our day. We head into "town" tomorrow to go to the Uffizi as a group. We'll have a guide show us paintings and sculptures by the masters right in the middle of the Renaissance city.

I love hearing your students pray at mealtimes and during chapel. They continue to be thankful for this experience, for you parents, and for the growth they are going through. I love getting to know your students. It's a pleasure for me and Clay to get to know this diverse group. It's hard to believe there's only one week left in the program. But let's not talk about that just yet!

Your Students Arrived Back Safely!!!

Whew!!! Everybody's here and has had a good (???) night's rest. All groups have had adventures to tell about -- train issues, bike tours in Paris and Munich, and hostel experiences... We'll have a picture show tonight, and the groups will tell some stories.

We had a great lunch today; Rosa knows what she's doing. I see some Italian recipe cook-flip books around here for 10 euro. If you're a mom who cooks and are interested in one of these, tell your BAT student to pick you up one; it's for a good cause, and we all can attest to the quality of the recipes! After we ate together today, Clay announced that supper will also be at Avanti, and I overhead a couple of students say, "Oh, good - this is my favorite place to eat!"