Wednesday, April 27, 2011


when my parents came to visit us a few weeks ago and they brought me a few "real simple" magazines. my favorite recipes always come from this magazine so this week i made 2 of them, with a few revisions of course.

mushroom and gruyere tart
recipe here

  • added sausage (hubs needs meat)
  • only put mushrooms on half (hubs doesn't totally dig 'em)
  • used edamer cheese instead of gruyere (don't have gruyere here)
  • used a regular yellow onion instead of a shallot (didn't feel like buying a shallot when i had plenty of good onions at home)
it was so good and i think i'm going to use puff pastry instead of pizza crust all the time (so easy and delish!!!)

of course my presentation is not as beautiful as "real simple" but it sure tasted good
asian chicken with broccoli
recipe here

  • didn't bread the chicken, just cooked it in olive oil first and then dumped the veggies in with it to saute (breading is too much work and i felt like you wouldn't even be able to tell in this dish)
  • used broccoli instead of brussel sprouts (neither one of us like those little guys)
  • added carrots (had some in the fridge that needed to be used)
  • used apple cider vinegar instead of rice wine (didn't make a difference)
  • didn't use sesame oil (couldn't find it here and it probably didn't matter either)
  • added sesame seeds (cause they're yum)
  • used chili powder instead of an actual chili pepper (didn't want to buy one)
i think my revisions make it as simple as possible because before it was pretty involved.

it was perfect for both of us who were totally craving chinese food.
i will make both of these again, probably with even more variation (it's in my genes to not truly follow any recipe, thanks mom and grandmother).

Monday, April 25, 2011

easter weekend!

this was a great weekend. saturday morning, all us avanti people got up and drove to bologna for a youth retreat (youth being anyone 16 to 30ish). all our friends we have made at other retreats were there and it was a great time of fellowship and encouragement. the speaker was franco verardi, the preacher in taranto where eric and jessica recently moved. i had never heard him speak before and he did a great job. that morning he talked about our lives and our priorities and in the afternoon he talked about the temptations of jesus and how important that is to our relationship with him.

after the lessons, a group of us took a walk through bologna since most of us had never been there before. the whole day was a great time and so refreshing to see all of our friends and be encouraged together.

everyone at the retreat
lesson time
we need to be united
our good friend lucca
some of the girls
some of the boys
main piazza of bologna
gelato time
we came back late saturday night because we all wanted to be at florence church sunday for easter. church was great on sunday, we had our usual monthly fellowship breakfast together before church and then jeff hopper was here from the states and gave a great sermon.

sunday night, we had an easter cookout at the bible school and it was another wonderful time for just getting to spend time together and relax. debbie and david had some family friends visiting so they were there, keith and christy smith came with their kids, danielle and luli came, and kyle and his family friend phyllis who is visiting came.

we grilled out
we painted eggs
we talked
we ate
later that night 8 of us played apples to apples and we had so much fun. i haven't laughed that hard since my parents were here, and it was a really great end to the weekend!

hope you all had a happy easter as well!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

a few good men: ryan's students

okay. so earlier laura did a brief round up on her students so i figured...why not give you a brief overview of mine.

(valentino & i in the boboli gardens during a lesson)
valentino has been my student since my first month at the bible school and he & i have become very close. his entire family comes to the bible school for english lessons and they are always participating in whatever event we try and host there (also, laura is teaching his youngest daughter olga). he is an art professor at the art institute in florence and is also an accomplished artist in scandicci & florence. we always have a good time together and he has blessed my life immensely. we are studying the life of christ through stories that i have translated from an italian children's bible. he could be one of the happiest people that i know and i look forward every week to seeing him because he encourages me so much.

(alessio & i studying in the library at the bible school)
this is alessio. he and i started studying this semester and we meet every monday night after our bible study at the bible school in scandicci. he is 23 years old and is a musician. he's the lead guitarist for a local band called quiet after the storm. we are reading through 'blue like jazz' together and both learning a lot in the process!

(gabrielle & i at the bible school)
gabrielle is also one of my first students. he is 35 & an architect in florence. he is a fun guy and we now get to have lessons every week at the mcdonald's very close to our new apartment (it's because he likes going there, honestly). he is very much a beginner but we both enjoy our time together and he has also helped me a lot with my italian. i'm very thankful for our friendship. we are also using the same lessons that valentino & i are are using as we study through the life of christ.

(florjan & i at the festival of the nations at the university of florence)
this is flojan (florian). he is 29 & completing his masters degree in computer science at the university in florence. he is albanian and was introduced to me by ermenita (our wonderful coworker & friend at the bible school). we have been studying since the end of last semester and he & i study both italian & english. we will speak in italian for an hour & then do our english lesson. he is brilliant and has really helped me look at things in a different perspective and challenged me to be prepared for every one of our lessons. i look forward every week to getting together with him! we are studying 'blue like jazz' by donald miller, but we never stay on topic because of the questions that he has, but i've grown to love our tangents because it allows me the opportunity to listen to him work through these biblical concepts for the first time.

the rest of my time i spend participating with two other projects: 'the gathering' & the thursday night conversation class at the church.

(eric smith teaching the thursday night conversation class)
on thursday night, we teach 5-8 students 'conversational' english using the the bible. it has opened the door for new one-on-one students. we are blessed to have several capable teachers so i am in a rotation with peter mcgraw & angela withrow. it has been a fantastic way to meet people and has also forced us to use more conversational italian which has been a blessing.

('the gathering' has become one of the main things that laura & i prepare for every week)
this is one of the main reasons we came to italy: finding a way to reach young people. every church in the country is asking the same thing of avanti workers: can you help us evangelize the youth in our city? this event is laura & i's first attempt at doing just that. i know laura gave a larger definition of what the program is but i ask that you keep this in your prayers as we try and make connections with these university & high school age students.

this week, i will start with a new student, alessandro, for the first time. he is a 22 year old university student that came to our conversation class last thursday night from scandicci. i am looking forward to studying with him and getting to know him better! laura and i are both so thankful that God has put these people in our lives and we ask that you continue to pray that he will use us everyday for His glory & that the people we come in contact with will see Him & praise Him (not us) for what is happening at the church and bible school.

laura's students (just in time for the end of the semester)

i know it's ridiculous that it has taken me this long to post about my students, but that's just how it goes. time is slip sliding away from me here and i forget to take pictures of them and...blah blah blah, life is busy.

anyway, here are my lovely students from this semester.

chiara is a student at the university and she is so much fun. she loves passogigante (our friend samuele's band that we go see all the time) so we always have fun with her at their concerts. we like to go to the market or movies together. she is a great snowboarder and went all the time in the winter. we are reading "blue like jazz" and studying the life of Christ together in our lessons.

olga is a sweet high school student. she can come off as shy at first but as i've gotten to know her she has really opened up and we have had a lot of fun together. she has come to several devo's and concerts at the harding villa with us. she is going to thailand in june for 6 months to study and i will miss her. we are studying the parables of Jesus and reading "blue like jazz" in our lessons. her sister, mom, and dad all study at the bible school and we love them all, her family is actually having ryan and i over for dinner next week!

sweet olta is one of the most tender-hearted people i have ever met. she is from albania and is here for university. we got to be a part of the international student festival at the university with her and she has also come with us to many events at the harding villa. we like to go visit her at the university because it's very close to our apartment and she lives in the dorms there. she has been very involved with our gathering group and i'm so thankful for her friendship. we are studying the life of Christ and reading "Christ in the coffee shop" in our lessons.

roberta is a sweet mother of 2 little girls who stays home with them. she is a beginner in english but she is an incredibly fast learner. she studies so hard and is so encouraging to me. she is so busy with her girls because her husband works all the time so we haven't been able to spend time together outside of class, but hopefully now that the weather is nice we can do somethings outside together. we are studying the creation and proverbs in our lessons.

SARA (middle)
sara is always making me laugh and she is so sweet and smart. i feel like she is always giving me gifts, just last night, she gave me a giant chocolate egg for easter (which we had to break with a hammer because it had a surprise inside). she works for an american company that i can't remember the name of and i can tell she is a very hard worker. she has recently wanted to learn to cook and takes baking classes so we always talk about baking and share recipes. i always have something at the apartment for her to try, and she has also come to all of the cooking schools so far. we are also studying the life of Christ and reading "blue like jazz" in our lessons.

i did have 2 more students but they have cancelled until next semester because of school or work.

i have been so blessed by these sweet women and am so thankful for these friendships, i think if/when we come back to america i will have to continue our lessons with all of them on skype. a few months ago when we thought for a short time about moving away from florence i got emotional thinking about leaving these women (and that was only after 4 months). i love them dearly and am so blessed by our time together each week. please pray for all of them and their spiritual growth.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

dinner party and aquarium road trip

saturday night we hosted our first dinner party in italy, but i think it was actually our first one ever. we had jonathan shackelford, his girlfriend simin, their friend stefano, and emily. even though our apartment is tiny, we had a great time and i hope they did too. i made "real simple" pesto and radish crostini, martha stewart's roasted chicken and potatoes, and my own strawberry shortcake recipe. we sat around and talked and laughed at zoey and then we all went to the passogigante concert downtown. ryan and i really loved it and i am looking forward to more time spent with these friends.

preparing in our tiny kitchen
dinner friends
then sunday after church, most of our church went to the nearby town of livorno to their aquarium. we caravanned there and stopped at a park to eat the sack lunches that the people living at the bible school had so wonderfully prepared for everyone.

praying for our lunch at the park
some of the picnicking adults
then we piled back into the cars and made it to the aquarium. it was a great time of fellowship for everyone and i know all the kids that were there absolutely loved it.

sweet matilda
in awe of the stingrays
fish faces
shark mouth
romance at the aquarium
the group on the boardwalk in livorno
it was really good to do something as a church outside of the church. we were very encouraged by the day together!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

weekdays with italians

this week we had the opportunity to hang out with 2 of our favorite italians: valentino and mario.

this week all the national monuments of italy are free to everyone because it is "cultural week", and on wednesday ryan's student valentino suggested that they walk around the boboli gardens in florence for their lesson. of course ryan accepted and invited me and we had a wonderful afternoon in the gardens together.

the beautiful boboli gardens
this was the citrus garden, all of these are lemon or orange trees
me and ryan
ryan and valentino
there was an archery stand and ryan had never shot a bow and arrow before so valentino insisted that he try. he was really good! (valentino called him "ryan-hood" for the rest of the day)
then on thursday for our avanti visitation we went on a little trip to a small town about an hour away from florence called reggello with mario, one of the patriarchs of the church of christ in florence. we wanted to spend some quality avanti time with him. ermenita had read about this restaurant there and mario is a connoisseur of sorts when it comes to good food, so we really wanted to impress him. he has also been EVERYWHERE so i think they were trying to find a place that he possibly hadn't been before.

needless to say the food was (dramatic pause for emphasis) INCREDIBLE. so worth the drive from florence! we had wild boar pasta and fried seafood (strange for a place in the mountains but they claimed theirs was good and oh my goodness, it was the best i've ever had)

the restaurant: osteria masaccio...go there, everyone, now!
the group at lunch (mario is the one in the blue shirt in the back right corner of the picture)
the ladies of avanti (always ready for a photo)
the church
after lunch we walked through the church there and then got back in the cars and drove through a beautiful little woodsy town called vallombrosa. there were just forests of beautiful pines that almost remind you of a national park in (dare i say) arkansas, perhaps blanchard springs. there was this 1000+ year old pond for frog and fish mating. in fact we discovered these really cool looking clear tubes of frog eggs all over the pond (i know i'm nerdy but they were awesome).

the pond
then we drove back to florence in time to prepare the usual thursday night simple supper and bible study. it was 2 great days and a really great way to get us back into the swing of things after having to say goodbye to my parents. thank you valentino and mario!

Friday, April 15, 2011

oh the places you go

in the past month we have hosted 2 very special different guest couples, traveled to stia with the harding students, bid farewell to the best HUF student group ever, had an art lesson in the piazza of the duomo, had a picnic and a cookout, witnessed 2 baptisms at our church, and gone to an art show of one of our students, all while maintaining our normal "avanti" routine.

we have been going pretty much non-stop for the past month so that is the reason for the lack of posts lately. allow me to catch you up.

1.) we went to stia, italy with the HUF group.
robbie so graciously accepted our self-invitation to join them and gave us a tour of this area that we will never forget and would have never been able to do without him. we stopped at an old (like 1000 a.d. old) monastery.
we toured a 100+ year old wool mill that is now an amazing museum (run by a woman who spends her free time traveling in the third world giving villages looms and teaching women how to support themselves and their families with the art of weaving, really cool). not to mention i may get to learn weaving from her this summer, but that's another story.
we ate lunch at a 700+ year old grain mill.
we ended the day on top of an old castle and bid a "see you later" to gretchen and clayton and the rest of their wonderful group.

2.) jonathan and leslie jerkins were with us for 2 1/2 days and in that time we gave them "laura and ryan's off the beaten path (kind of) tour of florence" we'll probably write a tour book of florence, just saying, look out rick steves. leslie has documented the rest of their adventure on her blog. she was such a trooper and somehow this is the only picture i took while they were with us (i think jonathan took all the other pictures).

she is taking advantage of the pregnant seating on the bus :)
3.) i got to take an art lesson from mine and ryan's favorite artist, alessandro buccoliero, in the piazza of the duomo. that was such a cool experience that i hope to continue after i get good at the techniques he taught me. he's so talented, kind and patient and his stand is part of our tour of florence.

that's him and i down in the left hand corner, he brought me a little stool and everything
4.) we had a picnic in the park with a lady at our church and her daughter and another lady and her son
and a cookout with the eirharts (the husband was once robbie's assistant of the HUF program and is now the director of the georgetown international program in florence and the wife is a sweet friend who has come to all of our american cooking schools)

the whole cookout group minus emily (taking the picture) and anna-maria and max (nap time)
the eirhart famly
nature walk...yes, they live here
5.) we had 2 baptisms at our church, a sweet lady named viviana who we met at the ladies retreat and her boyfriend fabio. sadly, they do not live in florence, they live in northern italy, so they aren't able to worship with us on a regular basis, but we are thrilled for their decisions and are praying for their strength and growth!

6.) we went to the exhibition of one of our students whose illustrations were chosen to be in a book that has been published. go clizia, we are so proud!
7.) we hosted the 3rd american cooking school. another success. menu...thanksgiving. sorry no pictures or video this time because we were all to busy to photo anything. oops, i'll try harder next time.

8.) my parents stayed with us for 10 AWESOME days!
to break it down:

san lorenzo market
people watched in every main piazza
suntanned in piazzale michelangelo
gelato, gelato, gelato
cinque terre
san gimengnano
cooking school
birthday cookout at the bible school
lots and lots and lots of incredible food
chill time in our apartment
built shelves
repaired bicycles
read real simple
visited our artist
visited our metal artisan
cooked together
AMERICA concert
bike rides
taxi rides
bus rides
train rides
boat rides
car rides
dune buggy rides...

it was one of the most fun times of my life.

there are plenty of gorgeous and normal pictures on facebook of our trip and let's face it those can get boring so i'm going to sum up the trip with my 3 personal favorites which i think do a better job at that than any. it's been a great month and i will be better at updating from now on, enjoy!