Advent music

While I am not at all against Christmas music before December 25, I have been in search of some good Advent music to combat the commercialism a bit (and as a single girl the onslaught of “I need to be in love at Christmas” music.)

While searching for playlists online I’ve been disappointed to only find those with highly orchestrated symphony + choir pieces, or with music like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” which has nothing to do with Advent (and almost nothing to do with Christmas…)  So, for your listening pleasure I’ve assembled a playlist of my own with songs that speak of the waiting and longing that leads up to Christmas morning.


I’m sorry for the very low quality screen shot of my iTunes window, but I couldn’t figure out how to make a playlist that you could actually access on iTunes or Spotify or whatever.

Not all of them are totally Advent, (and yes I know there are 4 of the same song), two are just pretty instrumentals, and two are general worship songs that can be sung year-round, but they all have a sense of waiting and needing and reflection that I need right now.

In the hecticness of the season take an hour and sit with a cup of coffee, or tea and a cozy throw blanket on your lap and soak up the marvelous lyrics from these fabulous artists.


I will say that for my favorite Christmas albums I love Phil Wickham’s “Songs for Christmas” which came out a couple years ago, and my all time favorite Amy Grant’s “A Christmas Album.”  (My cousins bought me this on tape when I was in elementary school and I WORE OUT the tape by high school.  Of course then I went to CD and now it is all digital!)

Enjoy!  Let me know what your favorite Advent songs are!


Advent thoughts

Over the last couple years, especially after discussing with my friend Rachel in Rome, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the season of Advent and preparing for Christmas.  When I was small we went to a church that celebrated Advent, but as a family we didn’t do much with it, but I’m feeling more and more lately the pull to be more Christ-centered in December.


Not living in the US actually makes this a little easier, I think.  Just now in the first week of December are lights going up and stores decorating with lights and tinsel.  Most Italians will decorate their tree as a family tomorrow, the 8th, which is the holiday of the Immaculate Conception here, and then keep it up through Epiphany – January 6.

My friend Sarah pointed me to a website with daily readings for Advent, which I’ve been enjoying.  Check it out: Table of Scripture Readings for the Story  (scroll down on the page for the table of readings.)

I’ve also been using the “Good News of Great Joy” reading plan on the You Version Bible app on my iPhone.  There is great devotional content with scripture readings.

It has been good for my heart to remember in this season that Christ was sent as a gift for me – not because I am so awesome, but because I am so sinful.

So sinful.

SO SINFUL I need a Savior to bear the burden for me.

Focusing on my sin and need does take a little of the twinkle out of the Christmas lights right now, but it also makes the arrival of Christ on the 25th all the more meaningful and joyful.  THEN I can shout Joy To The World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

The change of season, or what not to wear

I know that many of my midwestern friends are scraping frost off their windshields this morning, but here in Florence it actually has become spring. (Yeah!  don’t know if I could handle another grey day.  “Under the Tuscan Sun” only applies to summer.)

In America you can pretty much wear whatever you want, when ever you want.  I had a friend in college who went barefoot to class, even in the winter in Illinois.  Generally if it is going to be hot, pull out the shorts and tank tops!

But in Italy, even after nearly a decade of living here, I spend the spring and summer frustrated and often over- or under-dressing by Italians standards.  Last week there was a day that reached 80*F/26*C – glorious, sunny, marvelous – and the Italians were still wearing puffy winter jackets and scarves.  Because it was still April.

The mystery rules are in play at the other end of the year too.  Last October I wore a skirt to church, with bare legs because it was HOT still, and MULTIPLE people, not just the opinionated grandmas, stopped me to ask why I wasn’t wearing pantyhose.  (Because hose add such a layer of warmth?)

My Italian friend Rosaria chided my American co-worker for wearing ballet flats without socks – or at least some pantyhose – on that hot day last week.  I’m close to Rosaria, so I asked once-and-for-all what the heck are the rules for dressing?!?  Or what is the date you are allowed to

1. not wear socks

2. wear a sleeveless shirt

3. wear shorts

Rosaria explained to us that it is not a date precisely.  Basically, if the weather is warm for 10 days in a row, THEN you can start wearing spring (not summer) clothes instead of winter clothes.  Because less then 10 would just be a weather fluke, but 10 would mean the season is actually changing.  But what about two 80* days?  Sweat to death?  The answer was “yes.”

Sigh… don’t know if I’ll ever get the hang of it.  Being blonde, blue-eyed and of Swedish descent I’ve always said, “I may never look Italian, but maybe some day I’ll look European.”

Still yet to be seen…

8 dicembre // December 8

its a girl dec 76

Well, today is my birthday =)

In Italy December 8 is a holiday (l’Immacolata // Immaculate Conception of Mary Day) so it’s been nice to have the day off of work most years since moving here!

Traditionally in Italy l’Immacolata is the start of the Christmas season here, so it is a HUGE shopping day, and also the day that many families put up their tree together.  In that vein I’ve invited a few friends over to help me decorate mine, then go out for Mexican.  (I know, I know, I live in the land of amazing food and I chose Mexican… but it is hard to find here, and often expensive when it’s found, so it is a treat.)


The first pic is the sign that my dad put up in front of our farm house on the day I was born.   Oh the days before ultrasound when boy/girl was a big surprise.

In Italy they have a cute, if a little more subtle, way to tell the neighbors about a new arrival.  A pink or blue bow shows up on the door to the apartment building, sometimes with a name written on it.  This little announcement for the birth of baby “Adele” showed up on my street last week.

A Roman Thanksgiving II

The Thanksgiving we hosted for our Italian friends in Rome was a hit, as always.  There were about 170-180 guests and they all got a hot plate of tasty traditional American food AND some history, fun, and a message about thanking God for all he does in our lives.

My friends Steve and Brian provided some entertainment with this video called “The Hunt” – check it out!

(you’ll notice at the end there is some footage of our prep.  Everything, everything was made from scratch!

There was a photo booth, where everyone could become a pilgrim or Indian for a bit.  The yellow signs say “I love Turkey” and “Happy Thanksgiving”

I was back being Queen of the Kitchen, so missed the majority of the program as I was directing our wonderful crew of volunteer waiters out the door with steaming pans of turkey, stuffing and potatoes.

Important part A of the night was the turkey – the Show Turkey as we call it – because while we cook 6 turkeys the day before, one is cooked on the day of the event and left whole, to be paraded in front of the guests. 

In years past we’ve had friends get their picture taken with the turkey!  In Italy they eat turkey, but it is never served whole, Norman Rockwell-style, but sliced in to parts at the butcher.

Important part B of the night was Thankfulness, and where our thankfulness comes from as followers of Jesus.  Our friend Raul gave a great message and told some of his personal story.

I am so glad I was able to go back to Rome to help with this wonderful event!

A Roman Thanksgiving

I just spent 6 hours peeling potatoes, dividing up mashed potatoes, chopping pumpkin and carving a turkey – it must be Thanksgiving!

I grabbed a train from Florence to Rome this afternoon to help out with the annual Rome ministry’s Thanksgiving extravaganza.

The team is expecting nearly 200 Italian friends, which is always exciting.  I’m looking forward to seeing many of my Roman friends that I haven’t seen since moving.

We’re serving the food family style this year instead of buffet like in the past, so I’ll be in the kitchen keeping food warm and directing pans of food out the door.

Please pray for the Italian students like Luca, Giacomo and Linda that are taking a lot of responsibilities this year, and also that the Italian guests that come would have open hearts to understand that our thankfulness isn’t about food, but about our Great God!

I promise to post pictures!

A warm fall recipe for you

I’ve been taking a cooking class for the last few weeks and thought I would share a recipe with you.  My class is very informal, taught by the friend of a friend in her own kitchen.  There are usually between 5 to 8 of us, women of all ages, and all Italian except for me!

It has been a language AND cultural lesson as I learn Italian phrases for simple things like double boiler = bagnomaria (Mary’s bath.)  Also there is whole new vocab of cuts of meat – who knew there was a difference between turkey hip and turkey thigh?  I thought I had my poultry cuts down.

Measuring is also new, partly because our teacher measures by handfuls and fingers ie, two fingers of wine in a dessert, but also because everything is measured by metric measurements.  While this is not at all a surprise – I have been living in Europe for years – in my day-to-day personal cooking I still rely heavily on the measuring cups I brought from the US.  And even when I go to the store or the market I’ll ask for “enough salami to make three sandwiches” instead of an actual weight, like 70 grams.

But I digress… you probably want to get to the recipe!

I will confess that the pictures are from the internet – not mine, because I ate mine up before thinking I would need to document it.  But I wanted you to have some idea of what it would look like.  Similar recipes were called “timballos” or “parmiganos” but my teacher called it sformato, so that is what it is to me.  Others described them as vegetable custards, which would never describe this.  I think it is one of those dishes that can vary widely by region.

Sformato mean unshaped or unmolded, because sometimes they are flipped out of the baking dish before serving, but I think casserole style is fine.  It could also be made with zucchini or mushrooms in place of the eggplant.

Also note that the measurements are by no means exact.  I think you can be VERY flexible with your measurements and still end up with something very tasty.

Sformato di melanzane – Eggplant & Rice Casserole

1 med eggplant, washed and sliced into ¼” rounds

3 cups rice (basmati, regular, or brown)

1 small onion, chopped and sauteed in a bit of oil and water with salt until very soft

6 Tb olive oil

breadcrumbs (about 3/4 cup divided)

2-1/2 cups tomato sauce (plain)  (passata vellutata in Italy)

2 eggs, beaten

parmigiano cheese, grated

7 slices of cheese: ementhal, provolone, or fontina (not fresh mozarella) cut into small (not tiny) pieces

**I tried about a cup of ricotta because I didn’t have those cheeses, and it was awesome too!**

Directions:  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F

Cook the rice according to its regular directions.

While that is cooking, grill the slices of eggplant (I used a grill pan – no oil or seasonings)  and saute the onion.

Prepare a medium size, deep-sided casserole dish by oiling the bottom and sides and sprinkling breadcrumbs to cover.

In another bowl mix the eggs with the tomato sauce, adding a Tablespoon of oil and some salt and pepper for taste.

Once the rice is cooked, mix in the sauteed onion. Now you are ready for the layers.

Take the slices of eggplant, sprinkle with a small pinch of salt on ONE SIDE, and place the slices in a layer on the bottom of the casserole dish.  Pour over half of the tomato mixture, making sure it is even.  Cover with all of the rice, spread evenly.  Cover rice well with grated parmigiano, and then half of the other cheese of choice, spread randomly.

Add another layer of lightly salted eggplant slices, parmigiano, and other cheese.  Cover the cheeses with the tomato sauce.  Sprinkle the top with more breadcrumbs, and a drizzle of oil.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden on top

If you make this please let me know how it turns out!