Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apparently I am a Christmas Tree Murderer

little bit of bragging rights

Torta di Mele -- Apple Cake

This is one of my favorites and I just made it for the first time myself. Italian desserts are really light and surprisingly not very sweet so not to hide the natural taste of the fruit they often put in them. Their cakes are also not as spongy as our cakes which makes them have a different taste all together.

Christmas Eve in Germany

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Latest Photoessay: The Art of Expression

This is the latest photoessay finally finished! The purpose of this essay is to capture the way Italians express themselves through their facial expressions and gestures. I love the way they draw you in by the way they outwardly express themselves. All Americans should not even try to do it because we just look stupid. It must be a genetic ability.

When I get the prints back, I will arrange them in overlapping, random order as an "explosion" of animation and expression in a glass frame.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

La Famiglia Luker

Milan vs. Real Madrid

Photos stolen from Jason.

Went with a group of friends to see Milan vs. Real Madrid. It was a great game though ending 1-1. It was quite strange to see Kaká in a different uniform back in San Siro and at the end of the game, he saluted the fans and they started singing his song again. Crazy how die-hard the fans are!

Great shot, Jason. Kaká hugging Ronaldinho at the end of the game.
We were packed in TIGHT. Unbelievable how many people were there. San Siro Stadium seats 80,000 and the game was sold out.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Asking Why

When I was little and I heard something painful or disagreeable from one of my parents, the first word to come from my mouth was always, "WHY???" Now, whenever I experience a loss or trial or feel for someone close to me who experiences a loss or trial, I find the immediate question that comes from within my heart to the Lord is "Why?" This is not uncommon, nor is this response unique to me. Rather, it is a natural response from human beings who were originally created to worship and obey God in a perfect sanctuary where they could fully know their Creator. Death and loss were never part of the picture God created and thus not part of our original design. We were created for life and wholeness, not for death or pain.

In reading through the book of Job, I came across this verse that so clearly captures a time transcending question about why bad things happen.

"WHY is light given to one burdened with grief,
and life to those whose existence is bitter,
who wait for death,
but it does not come,
and search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with much joy
and are glad when they reach the grave?"
Job 3:20-22

This question sounds all too familiar from my own thoughts as well as the thoughts of those around me. Why would God allow a child to be born with a birth defect that will make their life miserable all their days? Why would God allow torment after torment to fall on hundreds of humans in captivity all around the world? Why would He allow natural disasters to separate loved ones from each other? Why would He allow the death of those who do not know Him?

Obviously, we could go through a big philosophical discussion on the problem of pain and evil in the world. We could talk about "gratuitous evil" and hash out the particulars of divine sovereignty and human free will. While the discussion would be interesting, I think something else could be more "helpful."

I heard a speaker at a conference I recently attended rightly explain that in the book of Job, God had the perfect opportunity to explain the problem of evil. The theme of the book would have flowed perfectly -- but he doesn't. Instead, He responds with chapters and chapters telling us about His character. This seems to tell us that He knows what we need the most in difficult, questioning times is not necessarily an explanation, but revelation. We need not answers, but presence.

Another interesting thought to consider is God's absolute sovereignty over Satan. Satan does not simply act within divine permission, but he actually is acting to fulfill God's good purposes! What he means for evil, God means for good. His knowledge and wisdom of each minute detail of every one million situations of every second far surpass our knowledge OR Satan's! Satan will attempt to hinder God's people but his attempts will only fulfill God's secure purposes to make His name great. Throughout scripture and history, Satan's attempt to crush the Church have only served to further it -- often more rapidly! His attempt to crush individuals who are clothed in Christ's righteousness only serves to give them patience and hope.

Sometimes I wonder even if we had the explanation of the problem of evil if we would still struggle. Often I think how amazing it would have been to have seen Jesus, witnessed his ministry first hand, eaten with him as the disciples did. Then I remember that though the disciples spend every hour of every day with him during his ministry, they too doubted. Judas was so filled with unbelief he was willing to betray him. Thirty pieces of silver are obviously of more worth when you don't believe Jesus is who He says He is. Thomas doubted. Peter betrayed Him THREE times! I don't think having the answers given directly to us or even empirically "knowing" what our eyes don't see will help us deal when family members tragically die, marriages fall apart, finances don't add up, and the future is an abyss of uncertainty. It is important for us to wrestle with these ideas rationally since, by definition, our faith is not "blind." However, during my time living in a new culture, I have learned that the things that sound good intellectually during sunny days often seem futile and shallow during the stormy ones. Both are important.

Thankfully, God has blessed us with His word by which we can know HIM. We can have revelation and presence while we wait for His return to restore all things and make our faith sight. The truths we know are that God is sovereign. His power is beyond comprehension yet his care is intimate. He is the creator and sustainer. His purposes will be accomplished.

I love this quote from Tozer:

“With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack? Surely we are the most favored of all creatures.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Homemade Cleaning Products

This website has lots of recipes for homemade cleaning products. I have really enjoyed doing this and have had great success!!

Between the recipes here and the other blog, I've gotten a good system down. I still have not been able to figure out what to do for laundry detergent, but I am hoping to purchase some soap nuts and have them shipped to my friend's APO address in England.

For now, the best combination I have found is peroxide and the all purpose cleaner. You cannot mix peroxide with the cleaner...unless you want instant wall extension in your house. But, I keep them in two different spray bottles, and spray one and then the other. This works AMAZINGLY well as a bleach substitute. I have a pair of white sheets that I love but that get dirty quickly. I spray one layer of the peroxide and then one layer of the all purpose cleaner before putting them in the washing machine. This also works perfectly for my floors. Living here with the windows open all the time takes quite a toll on my floors. I spray the floors with the peroxide and then go over it with a bucket of warm water with vinegar, baking soda, and some tea tree oil. You would not believe how much grime I get up.

The best part is it is cheap and natural. You don't even have packaging waste and it is totally convenient.

You gotta try it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

You Guys Gotta Try This

Grilled Tomato, Brie and Basil Sandwich. A-Mazing. All of these ingredients are extremely cheap here and it made the BEST lunch. I used two slices of the bread I have been making, layered it with brie and tomato slices and then topped it with a bunch of fresh basil. I grilled it in my grill pan.

Sorry I don't have a picture. I ate it too fast. And, it didn't look to pretty because I was trying to flip it and talk on the phone in Italian. Cannot do those two things at the same time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bikes and Canaries

So, the teeny-bopper phrase, "I suck at life" actually perfectly captures my life here in Italy. I can sit and chat the night away at an aperitivo place, but don't ask me to do anything practical.

After my last fiasco at Esselunga, I haven't bothered to darken it's sliding doors until I realized last night that I had nothing to eat. Nothing. As in, I was "getting creative" 5 days ago and now my choices were some capers and dijon mustard. So, I grabbed my magical shopping bag, made a list, and hopped on my bike.

Normally, I force myself to carry a basket rather than using the cart so to ensure I don't get too much stuff to carry back on my bike. Today, however, I was feeling lazy and actually had a euro coin to unlock a cart. As I was filling my cart with everything I would need for incoming company and a big movie night at my house, I was thinking,
"How am I going to get this all on my bike?"
"...Nah, I'll figure that out later." replied my better half.
Got through the line and finally got all my bags out to my Camry...I mean bike.
"Ohhhhh crap." I said outloud to the gypsy lady begging for money beside me as I stared at the impossible task before me.
I then loaded the huge bag into the basket behind my bike and thankfully pulled out a bungee cord (cause I carry one with me at all times. Not really. I just randomly had it in a bag) and secured it.
"So redneck." I thought.
Then, I repeated the same for the front basket. By the time I stacked the toilet paper on top, I could seriously barely see over the top.
Then, I looked down and saw two more stuffed bags.
The gypsy lady stopped begging to enjoy her afternoon entertainment at this point, by the way.
I hopped on the bike and placed the two, full bags of groceries on either side of the handles.
"Okay, I can do this."
It took me a second to get on the bike and get the 75 lbs of groceries balanced...but I finally got it. And, by the way, you know you've done well if the ITALIANS are impressed by how you have packed something in!
Here I am, riding down a very posh Via Washington praying I don't die and remembering the good old days of Camries and Krogers.
Then, some Italian guy on a motorino slows down beside me and says something to me in Italian.
I thought, "Um, did he just ask me if I like canaries?? What in the world?"
Then I looked down and realized that I was wearing a bright yellow shirt and balancing a ridiculous circus on my bike of bright yellow Esselunga bags.
I looked back at him with a "you-are-such-an-jerk" look. Then, I told him I didn't speak italian and sped off.
Yea, we always dream of telling the cop "no hablo ingles" or whatever the spanish phrase is....and I finally got to do it in real life Italian style.
At least that was what I was amusing myself with while I was trying to keep my "ticked off self" contained.
Make it all the way back to my door. (I had to take the long way, by the way, because there was NO way I was going to let the bakery folks see me and tease me about it for weeks to come!)
Get off the bike and start to push it up the curb to my door. As I do, I hit the side of the curb and the entire thing falls over. I had tomatoes and zucchini rolling in the street and I was trying to convince myself that it was SOOOO funny and would make SUCH a good blogpost. Four hours later I am finally "un-ticked off" and able to write it out.

It is days such as this when a girl must make a pizza for herself with zucchini flowers and fresh mozzarella and remember that she has peace with God though Christ. As a result, her joy is unwavered by circumstances. Instead, those circumstances should draw her heart to reflecting on One who will never leave or forsake her. That is what life is all about...whether I suck at the practical things or not.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Six months here and I FINALLY feel I can express my sense of humor in Italian! I mean, it's not that good in English, but it has been killing me not being able to make people laugh...except AT me! I was having an aperitivo with some great new girlfiends when I realized this. It felt good. It felt good.

Still celebrating the small victories and still counting the red pants to keep me going....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Frugal, Natural, and Environmentally Friendly

When I first arrived here, I had to buy whatever I could find and understand. I was not able to search for healthy foods (like kefir or fresh ingredients to make bread) and I had no idea which brands of products were the best. I "made do" for 6 months but now have officially taken up the task to figure out how to live frugally, naturally, and environmentally friendly in Milan. I asked the Lord to show me these 3 things specifically and felt quite overwhelmed, thinking I could maybe achieve 2 but definitely not all 3 since they "seem" to be mutually exclusive -- especially in this city.

Then, a friend of mine walked into the tuesday night study with a glass jar of what looked like something fermented at the bottom. I jumped up and asked her what it was. She said it was "Water Kefir grains." I had never heard of water kefir and had been searching and searching for kefir and could only find little cups of it for a pretty high cost at a natural foods stand. She gave me the starter jar, which was such a blessing because the only way you can get grains over here is if you know someone who has them. You can't really buy them. I took them home and started reading more about Water Kefir. Come to find out, it is, in a sense, better than regular milk-based kefir because the ingredients cost hardly anything and larger quantities can be consumed. I have been drinking about a half liter to a liter every day and have noticed SUCH a difference in my immune system, digestion, and even energy level. The greatest thing is the only cost involved is a couple tablespoons of cane sugar and 1 piece of dry fruit each day.

As I was searching for instructions on the Water Kefir, I came across this blog:
I started exploring and realized that the lady who writes it is a young mom, previously homeschooled, who now is married with two kids. She seems to have such a great heart for the Lord and I think views her natural living style in a biblical and balanced way. Believe it or not, the theme of her blog is how to be frugal, natural and environmentally friendly! I was shocked! She has everything from information on soaking grains, to recipes, to explanations on how to make your own household cleaning supplies. The greatest part is all of her ingredients are, for the most part, basic items that I can find here!

I did the math and realized that I could save almost 50 euro a month just by using her recipes for cleaning supplies. (for me, that's big...that's like 5 aperitivos with friends or an easyjet ticket to somewhere in Europe!) I also realized I could probably live 6 months longer by cutting the chemicals. And, I can obviously be a better steward of the earth God has entrusted to us to care and preserve by using baking powder instead of formaldehyde and ethylbenzene. So, as of last week, I have completely switched over to my own cleaning products except for detergent. For that, she recommends using something called Soap Nuts but I think you have to order them from the States and, not knowing how long they last, I don't know if it would be worth it to have someone ship them over for me. I bought several plastic spray bottles at the store and am trying different things. If anyone in Milan hears a chemical explosion in the Pagano area, I'm sorry. Chemistry was never my strongest subject.

Here's what I use for my all-purpose and floor cleaner:
1 liter of water
1 c. vinegar (we can only get apple vinegar here unless I wanted to mop my floors with red wine vinegar. It works fine but I just have to go over it with a wet rag)
2-3 tbsp. baking soda
2 tsp. tea tree oil (I know tea tree is a disinfectant but I am mostly using it for the fresh, clean smell especially since the apple vinegar has a smell that I don't love)

I used it on my floors yesterday and it worked GREAT! I actually think it works better than the floor cleaner I was using.

The other big change I have made is I am now making my own bread. I had the hardest time finding bread here. The "pane integrale" or "multicereale" here is not 100% whole wheat and my stomach just wasn't handling it after 6 months. I found a great German bakery that has WONDERFUL whole wheat bread, but realized I was spending 12 euro a week on two small loaves of bread. I decided to try to make my own even if I had no access to fresh ground flour. I found spelt and kammut in the grocery store here. My dear friend, Megan, gave me her recipe and after a few tries, I finally got the hang of it! I am using olive oil instead of butter since it is much cheaper here and it turns out perfectly. I almost think the olive oil makes it less crumbly, especially since we don't have dough enhancer here. Between knowing which ingredients to use and where to find them for the best prices, I can make a loaf for about 2 euro. HOWEVER, gas and electricity bills are outrageous so I might be in for a surprise next month when I see what kind of damage using my oven every other day has done. But, I cannot tell you what a difference this has made also in my overall health and energy level. I also laughed out loud when I tried it for the first time and said, "Oh my goodness! This tastes so AMERICAN!" I hadn't realized how different the bread is here and it was so nice to have a soft, warm, honey sweetened loaf! If you haven't tried to make bread for yourself, try it! It is SO easy and really doesn't take that much time or brain juice. (trust me, I'm still battling reflexive verbs, indirect objects, this stupid "farcela" and all the different places I am supposed to insert a random "ci" and don't have much brain juice to spare.)

So, that is my latest task. I am so grateful the Lord is answering my prayers in really unexpected ways! It's certainly a challenge and can sometimes be frustrating.

Case and point: I went to Esselunga, one of the main supermarkets here, to see if they had Castile soap. I looked in the cleaning aisle and didn't see it. Then, I moved to the bath and body aisle and saw nothing either. There was an Italian grandmother standing next to me and I thought to myself, "Ah, I'll ask her!" Bad idea. I explained to her that I was looking for a type of soap that is very pure and without chemicals. You can use it to wash your body or to clean your clothes or your house. (I love how I explain things in Italian like a 7 year old.) She looks at me and says, "Oh, that's disgusting! We in Italia NEVER use the same soap to clean our bodies and to clean our floors!" (yep, big hand gestures and a "puke-like" expression on her face)
"Nooooo, Signora!" I told her I must have explained badly.
She interrupts me and says, "Come here. I'll show you."
She then takes me to the cleaning aisle and says, "okay, these soaps you use to wash your clothes. These soaps you use to wash your dishes. These soaps you use to wash your floors." She then made me smell at least 20 different bottles as she was giving me a refresher on the concept of detergent verses all-purpose.
I just sat there and held my tongue.
When the stock boy asked what was going on, the lady kindly explained, "This girl is from America and they must do things very differently there. I'm explaining to her how we do things in Italia."
Again, just smiled and held my tongue.
Thirty minutes later, I escaped the Nonna and was finally checking out.

The worst part of the story was when I was venting to Allyson later, she mentions that the Italian version of Castile soap is called Marsiglia soap. Why I did not just ask her first, I have no idea.

If any of you have any other ideas that uphold these three "values," let me know!! I'll be sure to post as I go just in case any of you wind up in Milan battling Grandmothers in Esselunga and trying to keep yourself detoxed from all the necessary Vape use.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Six Months Already?

Yes, you read right. I have been in Italy for 6 months as of yesterday. So hard to believe. I took a stroll down memory lane while laying on a blanket at Parco Treno listening to my italian friends chatting. Here are some things I remember:

1. I remember saying goodbye to all my friends and family in when what seemed like "all of a sudden" Italy was upon me. I remember a really sad last hug from the Elledges in the D.C. airport when we realized that we were not on the same flight to Frankfurt and I had to board in 5 minutes. I remember sobbing all the way across the pond with my mind spinning, though, at the same time, being so thrilled to go to the place where my heart was already firmly planted.

2. I remember the big "welcome committee" at the airport with a sign that said, "Benvenuta, Amber!" that my ragazzo, Jake, made for me.

3. I remember dragging all 4 of my 50 lb. bags up my 85 stairs with Jason. Very well.

4. I remember my first day I took the tram from my house to the Greenwiches house and didn't get lost! (which is great since their stop is the last one and it is impossible to get lost...)

5. I remember my first aperitivo night. I also remember my second when I tried to speak some Italian and I thanked an Italian guy for exchanging tongues with me.

6. I remember the first time I went into the bakery beneath my house and all I could say was, "pane," "si," and "grazie." I also remember when I was actually able to "talk" to them for the first time and the lady shouted to the workers in the back, "She can talk now!!!"

7. I remember my first day of language school....and also when I forgot to take my name tag off that said "Amber, USA" and unknowingly ported it throughout the city. I remember the first time I felt like I was able to have a real and meaningful "conversation" with someone.

8. I remember my first road trip through Switzerland and Germany and the way my jaw was on the floor of the car the entire time we were driving through the alps.

9. I remember when I learned that you have 5 seconds to drain the pasta before tossing it in the sauce.

10. I remember lots of Carrefour and Ikea runs with Allyson.

11. I remember a pretty awesome Cinque Terre trip.

12. I remember meeting a great, new friend randomly in Parco Sempione.

13. I remember riding my bike in the city for the first time. Whew. I also remember when I got the hang of it and learned to "claim my rights" as a bike rider.

14. I remember when I no longer felt overwhelmed in Esselunga and was actually able to read labels instead of "praying and placing in the basket." Who knows what I have eaten...

15. I remember the first time I prayed in Italian.

16. I remember many embarrassing language mistakes. Many.

17. I remember shooting my first photo essay with Mario.

18. I remember having over 20 mosquito bites just on my arms in June before I decided to shave a couple years off the end of my life by intoxicating my house with Vape.

19. I CAN'T remember how many gelatos and caffes I have consumed.

15. I remember when I realized Milan felt like "home." And it still does.

I know it's "just" six months...but the difference between 5 and 6 months to me is the difference between "a few months" and actually feeling like I LIVE here. Living here has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I can hands-down say has been one of the biggest blessings --if not THE biggest blessing -- of my life. I have seen God's grace in so many new ways as a sovereign protector and provider, as well as an intimate companion and guide. I am most undeservedly blessed. The verse he laid on my heart the night before I left, Psalm 73:23-24, has yet to have a day in which it was not recited...and also not seen to be absolutely true.

And the cool thing is:


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Working Through Culture Shock

My brother is studying in England for the next year and it has been interesting to see how he has gone through culture shock there. I feel like Oprah since I am always saying, "Patrick, that's totally normal." Two days ago he said he has been listening to country music on repeat all day, which he always used to make fun of, and is thinking about getting a confederate flag tag for his bike.

Here's today's example:


so.. that "cutie" english girl just started a chat with me, and then called me her "pet american"

I haven't given her the time of day at ALL


I think the "pet american" thing is not as demeaning as you think it is!

it's a very "british" thing to say


oh, okay

then I can relax, right? I was about to dump her in "Area 51"








she just told me that she adores American accents


well, good for her

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Month In Review

Well, it's about time I caught the blog up on the past month's adventures! The month of August is a ghost town in Milan as all the Italians close their stores and leave for vacation for the entire month. I was wisely advised to get out of the city lest I go crazy. 
So, the Greenwiches and I loaded down the Multipla....literally. You can't really see it here, but there was not a spare two inches of space!  

Thus we embarked on another road trip through Switzerland, Austria and Germany. The scenery wasn't bad. 

This is around the boarder of Germany and Austria, but technically in Austria if I remember correctly. 

This was our hotel. The Germans know how to create a comfortable place to stay. It wasn't stiff and formal like many hotels I have stayed in. The rooms were so comfortable with really nice bedding and the food was a-mazing. 

And this was the view from our hotel. It took my breath away every time I saw it and I stood in wonder of God's grace. 

Another demonstration of God's grace were all the wonderful friends I was able to spend tons of time with!! It was SO amazing to be with a whole group of Americans who live in Europe and are experiencing very similar things every day. 

G.I. Jane with her baby, Noah. 

Saw this on a walk and thought the girl looked JUST like Heidi from afar. 

The German houses had flowers cascading. So cute. 

Yea, I would totally live in this. Especially if it meant I could sleep on one of their down blankets every night and eat German breakfast every morning. (with Italian coffee though...)

We just went on a simple walk and were assaulted by unbelievable scenery wherever we went. 

Taylor and Josh, two of my fellow Intercambio colleagues in Rome. 

Me and my dear friend, Christie, who lives in Belgium. 

Wonderful friend, accountability parter, and the only one who truly understands my seminary jokes. She also lives in Vienna and sings opera. 

Jason and Emily...gotta watch those Neopolitans. They have good pasta but I'm told you will die from trying to cross the street before you can eat it. Might make a trip down there to see if it is true. 

Three more blessings to me: Christina, who makes me laugh and also speaks truth and encouragement into my life, Addison, her way cool daughter, and Libby-licious, her other crazy girl. 
My friend Jen who lives in Bonn and is a professional massage therapist. I totally hang out with the right crowd. Regardless of her amazing skill-set that I totally take advantage of, she is one of my dearest friends. 

Chatting after one of our German feasts. Del and Timon in the back live in Marseilles and Spain. 

Going on a walk to a German-style agriturismo. 

Amy is my artist friend who lives in Dresden, Germany and Sarah lives in Belgium with Christie.

They really liked the Jello shots. 
and S'MORES made with German chocolate and marshmallows from the States. Two amazing worlds collide. 
Check out that spread!

Sarah and Christie. 

Me and my boyfriend. 

Intercambio folks. 

WHEW. So, after all that fun, I caught a plane to Bristol, England, to spend some time with Caitlin and Artur Lieder!

Our first excursion was to lovely Bath. 

And guess what??? They have Ben and Jerry's in England! While there is NOTHIN wrong with Italian gelato, it was nice to taste some familiar flavors that took me back to my late night runs with Bekah during our college days. 

Baby Gabby. 

More of the city. 

Felt like I was in Northanger Abbey...which I finally read. 

Photoshoot for Lael. This little one speaks German like a pro. And to her "German/English ear" Italian sounded hilarious. So, the trick to getting her to belly laugh for the camera was for me to talk to her in Italian.  

We went to Erin's for a big, fat American meal of bbq ribs, grilled chicken, potato salad, peach cobbler, etc, etc, etc. It was SOOO yummy! It was nice to eat a big meal and sit around and enjoy each other's company and watch the kids play. 

Aidan is a mess! 

Joshua is really growing!

So is Gillian! 
And Lael sure loves her cousins. 
Then, we went to Wales to see Tintern Abbey. 
I took advantage of the amazing scenery. 

Totally a Papa's girl. 

Gorgeous Abbey. 

And....the grand finale. I got to welcome my brother to Europe!!!! We did not think it was going to happen since he was still waiting on his visa while I was up there waiting for him. Then, at the last minute, it arrives and he hopped on a plan. He arrived at the train station where I was waiting one hour before I left for the airport! We we so grateful for that one hour since it was much more than we were expecting. Another manifestation of God's goodness. He just bought tickets to come to Milan next week so we will continue our time together then! 

It was a wonderful, refreshing vacation for me though I have struggled a bit with re-entry. When I got back to Milan, there was NO ONE here and everything was closed. The scenario did not help my re-acclimation after being gone and immersed in english for almost 3 weeks. Now things are so much better with every having returned. Regardless, my cup was running over with the way God blessed me with the refreshing break and encouraging time with friends. 

Now, back to work!