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Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Graduation, Europe and Loss in 2017

I realize I have not posted anything new here since July of last year.  For me, 2017 was a year of joy, sorrow, adventure and pain.  Last year at this time, all of my focus was on graduating from college with my bachelor's degree.  School literally was my first priority above everything else. I figured if I could successfully graduate from college at my age (51 at the time), I would be ready for anything.  Last May, not only did I graduate from the University of Arkansas, I did so with honors.  It was a very proud moment for me.

Earlier in the year, as a graduation gift to myself, I booked a 3 week fall trip to Europe, specifically, to Germany, France and Italy.  I was thrilled not only to visit my favorite place in the world (Italy), I also planned on visiting the small town in Germany where my family hailed from, along with France for good measure. 

My happiness was short-lived, however.  My youngest brother, Jason, had been experiencing pain in his shoulder, which numerous doctors attributed to a pinched nerve from weightlifting.  He had been having trouble performing basic tasks such as tying his shoelaces, and he had fallen a couple of times.  On July 5th, as he was leaving his most recent doctor appointment about his shoulder pain, Jason was involved in a minor car accident. His left side had gone numb while driving and he ran into the person in front of him.  He was taken to the hospital by ambulance where tests were conducted.  That night, I got the news that he had a brain tumor.  Doctors had to conduct brain surgery to remove the tumor, but also, to see what kind of tumor they were dealing with.  The following week, the doctors gave my family the dreaded diagnosis.  Jason was diagnosed with the deadliest and most aggressive form of brain cancer - grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (the same cancer Senator John McCain has; he was diagnosed one week after my brother received his diagnosis.)  Jason was given 14 months to live.  I was told he cried when he got the news.  After he got over the initial shock, he announced that he was going to fight this beast with everything he had.

Jason Christopher Tillwach
Jason before his cancer diagnosis.
 Jason and I talked on the phone and texted several times shortly after he received his diagnosis.  He lived in the Phoenix area, along with my parents and another brother.  I live in Arkansas.  During one such phone call I received from Jason, I was seated in the lobby of my doctor's office undergoing tests for my own cancer scare, while Jason was preparing to undergo his second brain surgery later that morning.  My parents kept me posted on Jason's progress as he went through chemo, radiation and physical therapy.  The chemo and radiation proved difficult for my brother.  Once a healthy, intelligent and muscular guy who worked out at the gym several days a week, he lost the ability to walk.  The treatments resulted in his heart being damaged, blood clots in his leg and a significant loss of muscle mass.   It seems like the treatment for the disease was just as bad as - if not worse than - the glioblastoma itself.

In September, I departed for my trip to Europe, which shifted from a vacation to more of a pilgrimage on behalf of my brother.  I visited numerous churches and resting areas of incorrupt saints who are known for their powerful intercessions and miraculous healings.  I prayed hard and asked God to heal my brother. I even bargained for him to take me in my brother's place.  I remember sitting in the pew of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg, France, tears running down my face, begging for my brother to be saved, asking for a miracle.

It was not meant to be.  While in Rome in early October, I received the dreaded phone call from my mother informing me that Jason's condition had significantly worsened.  I cut my trip short, cancelled my remaining hotel reservations in Italy, and flew to Phoenix to spend time with my brother, who was now staying at a hospice facility.  Although I was fully aware that my brother might be unrecognizable due to his significant weight loss, I was not prepared for the other ravages caused by the cancer.  Jason - who was a radio personality in the Phoenix area for over two decades - could no longer hold a conversation.  Any attempts he made to communicate were limited to just one or two words, and those were spoken in forced whispers.  The cancer had spread to his spine and testicles; he was in immense pain, so he was on morphine.  Also gone was the mischievous light in his eyes.  Ever the jokester, Jason's eyes used to reflect his fun-loving personality.  His eyes were now dull and emotionless and resembled those of a mannequin.   Before flying home to Arkansas, I said my goodbyes to my beloved brother; I had a horrible feeling I would not see him alive again.

Jason - at his son's first birthday party.
Jason - ever the jokester...
 A few days later, my mother called me with the awful news that Jason passed away.  She was crying; I could hear my dad sobbing in the background.  I had just returned home from my daughter's baby shower.   I don't remember a lot about that weekend; I think I was in shock.  I couldn't cry.  I just remember sitting in my dark living room for the rest of the weekend, shades drawn, mourning my loss.  My brother had been given 14 months to live, but we lost him just 3 months and 2 days after his cancer diagnosis.  He never stood a chance against the beast that ravaged his body, mind and personality.

It has been five months now since I lost my baby brother.  I think of him everyday.  They say that time heals all wounds, but I don't necessarily believe that to be true. I have my good days and bad days. Some days, it is all I can do not to slip into a deep depression.   Fortunately, I am cognizant of what happens when I start to feel depressed so I force myself to get up and get moving; it's all I can do some days to physically get up and do something to ward off my melancholy.

I fully intend to start blogging again on a regular basis.  I have so many things I want to share with my readers, including new DIY projects and recipes.  For those of you who continue to follow me - even during my prolonged absence from blog-land - I want to thank you for coming back time and again.  It is most appreciated.  ♥

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Naples - St. Gennaro Festival, San Gregorio Armano and Shopping Galore

When we were in Rome, we heard that we should be very careful when visiting Naples (the next stop on our destination) because it had a reputation for being dangerous.  We were even told we probably wouldn't like it there.  In actuality, Naples ended up being one of our favorite stops on the trip.

We stayed at a hotel called Hotel Maison Degas in the historic district of Naples.  First, the location is ideal as you are walking distance from many of the sites and shopping areas there.  Second, the owners of the hotel - Francesco and Emmaneula - are absolutely wonderful.  They were very friendly and accommodating to us during our stay.  We felt as though we were visiting with friends when we stayed at their establishment.  I highly recommend them if you ever visit Naples.  You will not be disappointed.

The view of the piazza from our hotel room - Hotel Maison Degas.

Naples has some wonderful shopping.  There are lots of little winding streets filled with shops and vendors; more than you can possibly visit in a short stay.  There are also several street vendors selling their wares.  You can bargain with the vendors and walk away with some great deals. 

Anthony and Brianna checking out produce in Naples.

A butcher shop in Naples.  Yum!

One of my favorite places to shop in Naples is on San Gregorio Armeno.  There are hundreds of shops on this little street.  This neighborhood is known for their nativity sets (known as "presepe" in Italian.)  There are many variations of handmade presepes here, in many different sizes.  This is also a good location to find handmade Italian souvenirs. For doll makers, there is a shop that sells various clay and ceramic body parts if you want to make your own creations. During my visit to this area, I watched a shop owner meticulously paint nativity figures.  I also found some gorgeous mini Virgin Mary statues which I purchased and will eventually use in 3-D jewelry creations. 

The shops on San Gregorio Armeno are packed to the gills with goodies for purchase.

Hand painting nativity sets - one by one.
Doll making parts are available by the thousands.

One of the biggest celebrations in Naples occurs on San Gennaro's feast day.  San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples.  Most of the shops and businesses are closed that day; most of the city participates in the all-day celebration.  Thousands of people crowd into the Duomo Naples Cathedral to watch for the liquefaction of the saint's blood - a tradition which dates back to the 1300's.  From there, the crowds filter into the church to view the vial of blood and light candles while praying for the saint's intercession.  I was thrilled to be able to participate in this celebration.  It was quite beautiful and awe-inspiring to see so many people come together in peace and reverence.

The faithful line up to see San Gennaro's relic.

A side view in the Duomo of San Gennaro.

The faithful light candles asking for the saint's intercession.

Naples is known for it's delicious food and handmade, brick oven baked pizza.  I have to tell you - we ate pizza many times during our stay here.  It was fantastic.  Of course, it didn't hurt that a pizza establishment was located right across the street from our hotel. :)  In addition, there is some wonderful street food that is too good to pass up.  We had some tasty potato croquettes and arancini (fried rice and meat balls) made by Pizzeria Giuliano.  They were out of this world!  Last, but certainly not least, we also indulged in some handmade pastries that you really can find only in Italy.

Handmade brick-oven baked pizza!

Delicious pastries.

In my opinion - Naples is a "must see" kind of place.  I look forward to visiting again in the (hopefully) near future.  Next - a final highlight of the last stops on our trip and then back to the arts and crafts where this blog is concerned. :)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mugnano del Cardinale, Italy - The Shrine of St. Philomena

One of my favorite places we visited in Italy was the International Shrine of St. Philomena in Mugnano del Cardinale, Italy.  Mugnano is a tiny town located about 30 minutes outside of Naples.  We had quite a difficult time finding it, but it was well worth it.

This little town boasts a population of 4900 people.  It is very quaint and charming.  I had the chance to speak with several locals during my visit.  They were quite friendly and welcoming.  Crime is extremely rare in this area.  People leave their doors unlocked and kids can play outside without fear of being harmed.  It's that kind of place.  When we first arrived, it was on a Sunday, so many places in town were closed.  Several men from the area played card games outside of the community center located near the Shrine.  I enjoyed listening to their lively (Italian) conversation and watching their animated gestures and facial expressions.  Although I don't understand much Italian, I had a good idea of what was happening during their game.  They were quite entertaining.  I had a chance to wander around town before Mass and dinner and enjoyed finding my way around the little winding roads that make up this little town.

The Shrine itself is quite beautiful.  St. Philomena's remains are housed here; they were discovered in the catacombs of St. Priscilla in Rome in 1802, and moved here by in 1805 by an Italian priest.  Many miracles have been attributed to St. Philomena, who is known as the "saint of the impossible".  The shrine has on display numerous pictures and statues of the saint; they also have a wonderful little gift shop housed at the location.  Monsignor Giovanni Braschi presides over the shrine.  He is very kind and welcoming to visitors and he made us feel totally at home there.

We stayed the evening at the sanctuary and were served delicious homemade Italian meals made by church parishioners for dinner and breakfast.  As we were leaving the sanctuary, we witnessed the beginning of an Italian wedding ceremony.  It was such a beautiful occasion.  The church bells chimed loudly and could be heard blocks away. Ave Maria was also played from the loudspeaker of the church.   Local townspeople came out of their homes to view the arrival of the bride and her wedding party.  I was completely in awe of how the townspeople came together to acknowledge the wedding of the bride and groom.  This is truly the small town atmosphere one thinks of when they envision life in a small town.  I can't wait to go back.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Visiting the Vatican

As a life long Catholic, one of the places I absolutely had to visit while in Rome was the Vatican.  The Vatican itself is gorgeous.  It's huge, it's overwhelming, it's a "must see" kind of place.  My only regret during this portion of the trip is that I wore fashionable sandals instead of comfortable walking shoes at this time.  Never again.  The next time I go to Italy, tennis shoes will be the only shoes I take with me.
Not to worry - I ended up buying some New Balance tennis shoes while shopping in Naples.  What a relief to my poor aching feet!

Anyway, while at the Vatican, one of the highlights of this tour was being able to visit the tomb of Pope John Paul II.  I've adored this man for a long time and was very sad when he passed away.  This is an image of the area where his tomb lies at the Vatican.  A very large picture of St. Sebastian is displayed over the grave.

Other things I found interesting on display at the Vatican was the display of rings from past Popes and the sarcophagus' of Popes from days long past (located in the Vatican Grottoes).

And, of course, there is so much beautiful artwork and statuary to be seen everywhere in the Vatican.  Here are some of the statues that stood out to me:

And let's not forget the winding stairs:
When exiting the Vatican tours, we passed a wonderful little gift shop run by a group of nuns.  They sell all sorts of unique jewelry, tapestries, statues and other collectible and souvenir items.  We purchased several items during our visit.
Outside of the Vatican, there are tons (and I mean tons) of vendors hawking their goods and touristy-style items.  Many of the items are cheap, made-in-Asia items that you can find anywhere in most souvenir shops in Rome.  However, there was a nifty little magnet of David I just couldn't resist; it is now hanging proudly on my refrigerator door:
 Next up:  Our visit to the little town of Mugnano de Cardinale where we visited the Shrine of St. Philomena, and Naples.  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

St. Rita, Cascia and a Craft Store in Spoleto!

St. Rita of Cascia - incorrupt body

One of the things I absolutely was compelled to do when we visited Italy was to visit the shrine of one of my favorite saints, St. Rita of Cascia.  We departed from Rome early in the morning in order to catch the only train to Spoleto.  From there, we'd hop on a bus to Cascia.

While on the train, we befriended a really nice Italian girl named Eleonora.  Eleonora had a great sense of humor and really helped the travel time to pass quickly.  In fact, we had such a great experience with her, that we are all friends on Facebook now. :)

Brianna and Anthony with our new Italian friend, Eleonora.

Once we arrived in Spoleto, we had a two hour wait for our bus ride.  We took advantage of the opportunity and strolled around this adorable, sleepy little town.  And, lo and behold - what do you think I found there, down the street from the bus/train station?  A little sewing/embroidery store!!!  This little store carried tons of buttons, and a small selection of lace, trims, embroidery floss and the like.  I couldn't resist purchasing some of the unusual buttons and some lace from this sweet little shop.

Buttons galore!

Lace and trims!

Once we got on the bus, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Umbrian country side as we trekked our way to St. Rita's shrine.

Umbria - view from the bus

Finally - we had arrived.  The shrine sits on top of a mountain-top, and in order to get to the top, you can either walk up the winding road or take a shuttle.  We opted for the shuttle because it was raining quite heavily that day.

St. Rita's Shrine - Cascia, Italy

St. Rita's Shrine - Cascia, Italy

A view of Cascia from the shrine (please excuse the foggy picture - it was raining!)

The shrine was breathtaking in every sense of the word.  St. Rita's incorrupt body is encased in a glass tomb in front of the church.  I can't express the joy I felt at finally being able to visit this saint that I have loved since I was a little girl.  All I can say is - it was amazing.

Where St. Rita's body is displayed.

St. Rita's incorrupt body.

St. Rita's incorrupt body.

Inside the shrine.

Look at the beautiful artwork on the ceiling.

The altar.

After we exited the church, we stopped by the gift shop where we purchased several souvenirs.  I purchased several mini pocket statues of St. Rita (among other things) and will be using them in future jewelry creations.
The shrine gift shop contains hundreds of souvenirs of St. Rita.

Because we were short on time, we only visited the shrine for a couple of hours, so unfortunately for us, we didn't get to see everything that we wanted to.  However, the next time I visit Italy, I will definitely plan to visit Cascia for at least a couple of days in order to be able to experience all that this little town has to offer.

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