Bellagio, Italy

It's damp, gray, and snowy here in the Northeast this month and I'm happily procrastinating on the wedding to-do list tonight. My future MIL can attest to the fact that I sat on her couch for four hours on Sunday working on lists and itineraries and liturgies, so there is no guilty conscience over here.

Instead, there are double chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies cooling in the kitchen, a candle flickering on the coffee table, a freshly shoveled driveway, and sunny photos to savor.

This past summer Michael's sister and her fiancé decided on a destination wedding in Bellagio. It was beautiful and picturesque: like something out of a storybook. Church bells and cooing doves in the rafters were the first morning sounds. The nieces and nephew ran about practicing their 'Ciao's.' The views of all the little lake towns from a kayak in the early, misty morning were worth the early morning wake-up. Jumping into the lake to explore hidden waterfalls did not result in the loss of the kayak or oars, as was feared. The bride processed through the cobblestone streets with her family on her way to meet the groom. Dancing went late into the night. Sunday morning consisted of walking into the town square for Mass. Family meals were eaten by the waterside each night.

What the photos don't capture are the plentiful, non-picturesque moments which kept us grounded in reality: such as arriving jet-lagged and cranky after dealing with motion-sickness + the back of a bus + unbelievably curvy mountain roads. The first hour of our time in Bellagio was spent walking in circles trying to find the hotel, only to be told that it had been a hundred yards away from us the entire time. The littles ones spilled gelato all over their wedding clothes minutes before the procession and under our watch. There was the elderly gentleman who didn't speak English, but smiled and held out a bandaid when he saw my torn, bleeding heels. And the hundreds of beautiful stone step which make Bellagio famous became increasingly painful with every trip up and down, making it worth the time to limp the long way around at the end of each day.

But just as Pope Francis said in his statement today for World Communications Day, life is a story waiting to be told, with everything depending on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If I look at all of it, the good, painful, beautiful, and the stressful, with joy, my favorite moments become the ones with the mishaps and allows me to count it all a blessing.

When you visit Bellagio, however, pack the comfiest, most worn-in pair of shoes you own.


Lost on Dial Mountain

I keep saying that I’m happy to get out of my comfort zone. Michael keeps taking me at my word, so it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when on an early October Saturday, with the sunlight filtering through the changing maple and poplar leaves, I was convinced that I was doomed to wander through the Adirondack parkway forever walking in circles.

With enough supplies to last a week, we had set out for a hike, the sun barely over the horizon, reaching the mountain ranges just in time to snag a remaining spot on the roadside. Confident in our maps and in our ability to tackle our chosen route we started down the first miles of a dirt access road which we knew would lead us to our trailhead. As the miles slipped under our feet, we pulled out the map to compare it to the various trail headings we were passing. While the map directions were somewhat similar to the headings, all resemblance stopped there. Not sure which ones to follow, we kept on, just to see what was behind the next bend in the road. Slightly frustrated, we knew we were losing valuable daylight hours. Finally we rounded a bend only to see the access road disappearing into a lake. In that moment we were certain of two things: we now knew where we were on the map, and we had missed our trailhead. This left us with two options. Hike those miles back to where we had started, or set out on another trail hoping to intersect it with an alternate route to the summit.

We picked another trail, and started off. Before going a hundred yards, the mid-west native who gets lost as soon as she loses the horizon line, was completely turned around and we found ourselves in the middle of the woods with no trail in sight. Cue the first panicked moments.  Trust me when I say that pine trees all start looking the same after about the 100th one. Michael’s calm presence of mind slowed the panic and we decided to stick with the original plan: back we went until we found the original trail, a few hours poorer and a little winded with our 5-mile detour.

Three hours of steady hiking found us hiking up and down several smaller peaks and climbing through a varied terrain of pine, maple, oak and birches. The beauty around us was enough to take your breath away, if the hiking itself hadn’t already done that. It was right about that time that I started to reach a breaking point. My knee was acting up and it seemed that no matter how many baby peaks we conquered, we weren’t getting any closer to our goal. As we reached a particularly cold, wet and rocky patch, I looked up over our heads, and the mountain rose in front of us, dark and never-ending. I didn’t know how much longer my knee was going to hold out, and in that moment realized the mammoth task we had of going back down the mountain. Cue the second panicked moments.

Envisioning night falling on us lost on the mountain, never reaching our goal, I was ready to sit down right there and start bawling. The tears started coming, and just as I was about to bury my head into Michael’s shoulder for a good wail, I realized there were voices coming towards us from the trail ahead. There was hope! Someone was coming back down….the end had to be near! Pulling it together so I didn’t look like a complete wreck, we kept at it. And suddenly, just beyond that bleakest of moments, the summit was there. The trees cleared and we were gazing across miles upon miles of peaks and valleys. The colors varied and changed across the horizon, looking as though God had tipped a paint box over the ranges. The wind whipped at us, and eagles soared over the pines. It was a wild, raw kind of beauty that tugs at your heart. It was there, waiting, but you had to conquer the mountain before finding it.

Content to sit and soak it in, we knew we had to return to reality, and quickly, since daylight was fading fast. The all-too familiar dirt road held its own kind of beauty as we stumbled upon it in the dusk: it took everything in me to keep from kissing it! Safe in the truck with night quickly falling around us, we drove back through the ranges toward Albany, taking the beauty of the mountains with us.



The things I want to remember:

Fall slowing coming to life in the Northeast. Meeting at Home Depot on a Friday after work. Lying crammed on the floor side by side learning how to grout a tile floor. Canning a bushel of apples late at night: hovering over the canner to ensure nothing exploded. Realizing it was the last name-tag Sunday that we have to write different last names. The scent of cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. A nine-foot San Damiano cross unexpectedly showing up at the office on the feast of St. Francis. Mums and pumpkins sprouting on every porch and stoop. A hike up a mountain: not giving in and turning around. Oversleeping and forgetting to pick him up to run errands. Saturday morning at the Farmers Market. Roasting pumpkin seeds coated in olive oil, because, italians. Celebrating his twenty-ninth year of life. Our first dinner-and-movie date. Organizing closets. Washing the blankets, anticipating cooler evenings. Flying back to my cities. Stopping at the favorite coffee shops. Weddings at tiny country churches. The groom's non-stop smile. Eight adult siblings crushing each other close for that family photo. The catch in everyone's throat as the bride walked up the aisle. Catching the last flight to Albany. Leaves scuttling across the parking lot. Learning how to glue wainscoting to a wall. The first snow fall. The laughter of trick-o-treaters.


Early Morning on the Lake

Before falling asleep on Sunday night, Katie and I discussed whether we wanted to get up in time to watch the sunrise. We knew that if we left that decisions till morning it would be far too easy to stay slumbering. The decision was that no matter how we might protest the early morning wake-up, we were going to grab our blankets and go to the dock.

The loons woke us up with their haunting cries across the water (or rather, frightened us awake!). We stirred, mumbling"But it's so cold!" and debated whether the effort was worth it. For about a minute and a half it it looked like the pillows and comforters were going to win out. Somehow...don't ask me how, we managed to leave our warm beds to stumble down the cabin steps. The minute we found ourselves settled into adirondack chairs, blankets tucked in around us, we realized it was worth every lost minute of sleep. The combination of heavy mist swirling over the water, the call from the loons, sounds of the canoe bumping against the dock, fish jumping at water bugs, and the stillness and quiet of those early morning hours were so beautiful it almost hurt. It was pure magic.
The coffee steaming in our mugs didn't hurt things either.

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