We have been working in the backyard today, and it is a week since we left Cortona. What a change in seven days! People all week have been asking about our trip (and, to be honest, some of them have gotten to hear all about it without even asking!), and I have said, “you know those big events that you anticipate for a long time, that carry the burden of high expectations, that you hope to be ‘once in a lifetime’ events? Well, our trip to Italy was in that category, a “bucket list” kind of adventure–long awaited, expensive, and unique. We expected a lot from it, and it was actually BETTER than we expected.” I am honestly surprised that I can say that, but it’s true– Going to Rome and then Tuscany was somewhat magical, a once in a lifetime experience. Several things contributed to its achieving that lofty status, and I have described some of them here. Our traveling companions were gracious and enjoyable; the fellowship of traveling together was comfortable and entertaining. Our Facebook pages have reflected our enjoyment of both the journey and the fellowship, with pictures and wistful reflections on how great our trip was. And it was! Our travel went smoothly, our guides were knowledgable and helpful, our drivers were professional and friendly. We saw the city and the countryside, the volcanic hills and the coast, the majestic duomo and the humble Le Celle. We learned about culture and cooking, about legends and miracles. The accommodations were remarkably good, the cuisine was world-class, and experiencing the multi-layered history of Italy with its incredible architecture, art, and antiquities will be something I will enjoy, reflect on, and carry with me to the end of my days. But now we are home, and I have been out digging in the backyard. And I have to say, as good as our trip to Italy was, it is even better to be home. How can that be? There are a couple of reasons: 1. The relationships intertwined with our travel will not end with our vacation, and they will exist now with greater connection and vibrancy based on the experiences we shared. There are things from Italy that Nancy and I now share that draw us closer, even as our direct connection with Italy recedes a bit, which brings me to #2: our lives back here at home have been slightly altered. We will cook a bit differently, decorate a bit differently, and perhaps even think a bit differently thanks to Tuscany. We have brought home from Italy much more than some ceramic pieces for the kitchen, or balsamic glaze, or scarves or leather goods or nick-knacks with which to decorate. There is a Tuscan sensibility that has come home with us, that seasons our reflections and conversation, that tempts us from Frances Mayes’ cookbook in the kitchen, that calls us to cleaner cooking with more local, natural ingredients, that influences how we now see our backyard, and how we will spend the next season of life. It will be evident in many subtle aspects of life, from the olive oil we will use to the snappy straw hat I now own. Going to Italy was a trip of a lifetime, but so is coming home. And the wonderful fact about both of those events is that each one enhances the other. I loved traveling to Italy, and it helped me to appreciate life here at home even more than I did before; and while I love being home, I am now just a little bit more Italian than I was before. Both of those states will contribute to a fuller, richer understanding of and participation in life. May your travels bring you to such a place!