1Oct
Candy corn

An Expat Shops for Candy Corn

While the expat life in Italy has presented me with its fair share of struggles—bureaucracy, language barriers, and… well, bureaucracy being the top three—food is not one of them. Italian cuisine is why dinners here can last six hours. It’s why some of our Italian friends bring suitcases full of food when they travel internationally. It’s why Dean Martin could get away with mentioning bean soup in a love song. It’s why pizza IS. No, I am certainly not suffering here.

Every now and then though, I find myself craving some processed and preservative-laden treat from across the sea, something that tastes of America! and also corn syrup! This happens every October as the leaves begin to change and their bright orange and yellow hues inevitably turn my mind to the magic of candy corn. Do you remember that scene in Elf where Will Ferrell lists the four main food groups as “candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup”? I totally agree. The whole-wheat flour and broccoli I feed my family are just for health show.

The problem is that one cannot buy candy corn here, at least not anywhere I’ve found so far in our smallish city. World-class chocolate, yes. Stripey fangs of compressed sugar-plastic that look and taste nothing like corn but are somehow still symbolic of harvest season in the United States, no. Today, however, I had the brilliant idea to search on Amazon.it. We can buy Yankee Candles and American flags through it, so why not candy corn?

Search bar

Alas. It turns out that Italian Amazon does not stock actual candy corn. However, you’d be happy to know that with a single click, one can purchase any of the following substitute items:

The most dynamic cross-stitch pattern ever, in English! (“This title not available in your country.”)

Cross stitch pattern.png

This genius smartphone game, which the product description calls both “beautiful” and “eye-popping.” (Is it just me, or does Man Boobs here appear to be lactating golf balls?)

Man boobs.png

Candy Corn Duck Tape, for repairing your HVAC systems, restraining your hyperactive children, and sealing up your man boobs in the full spirit of the season:

Duck Tape.png

Candy corn-themed crochet patterns so that you too can blend in among the European chic…

Scarf pattern.png

 …AND be the envy of your local poncho club…

Poncho pattern.png

…AND add an extra element of class to your Halloween soirée:

Wine bottle cozy pattern.png

Rarelove Sterling Silver Halloween pumpkin corn candy Heart Photo Charm Beads… which might be something you smoke for all the sense I can make out of that description, but hey—it’s on sale!

Sterling Silver pumpkin corn candy Heart Photo Charm Beads.png

Some fun tunes for your neighborhood trick-or-treat party:

Music - explicit.png

What’s that, you say? You’d prefer something less psychotic suicide clown skull fun and more happy fun? Not to worry, this super non-creepy hand-goose is here to help:

Music - happy fun songs.png
(I just listened to this song’s MP3 sample in the name of journalistic integrity, and I can now confirm with 97% certainty that it was indeed played by a goose.)

Back to literal candy corn now, on which this delicious and exclamation-point-worthy party game is based! (Please note: Game pieces neither included nor available for sale anywhere things are sold.)

Bingo - Just add candy corn.png

A candle made expressly to taunt expats with the scent of wishful thinking:

Yankee Candles.png

And last but not least, this yarn, which appears to have been thrown up on by a Dreamsicle with tuberculosis:


Yarn.png
(Who’s up for a parfait?)

So no luck buying my favorite Octoberly vice off Amazon. However, the internet is full of recipes for homemade candy corn; all I have to do is track down some powdered milk, and we’ll be in business!

Search bar - powdered milk.png

Powdered milk.png

Uh…

 

image source

30Sep
Uneven melody

Uneven Melody

We’re into the third week of the school year now, and time is a concerto played by an inexperienced pianist. Some days rush stumbling past while others hesitate a beat too long. We haven’t yet found the cadence that will let us relax into the work-family balance about which I stubbornly daydream each September, but there’s still the hope.

Maybe in October, I’ll figure out how to fit in a good workout every day instead of ducking out to the track at dinnertime on random Thursdays.

In October, the kitchen counters will not wear so much as a crumb.

In October, my brain will get along perfectly with itself and enjoy many happy hours of productivity on command.

In October, no one will come down with one of those ubiquitous beginning-of-the-school-year viruses.

In October, all four of us will go to bed on time every night and get up early every day and eat balanced diets with high percentages of kale-laced quinoa and have lots of people over to our house—which will remain company-ready at all times, naturally—and read for hours in an old-fashioned family huddle each evening because such will be the nature of our spare time.

Right? Right.

Riiiiiiiiight.

The fact of the matter is that tomorrow, life will continue coloring outside the lines as it has done since the first cave woman carved the first to-do list into her Day-Timer®. I know this like I know the spelling of my own name, but I can’t help hoping that that one of these years, I’ll accidentally step on life’s Easy Button™ and watch time unfurl itself in front of me. Why do we do that, by the way? Cling to the completely untenable idea that we will, eventually, against all odds and several millennia of experiential proof, figure out the secret to breezing through life?

Dan often tells me that I set my expectations for my days way too high, which… well, maybe he has a point. My dead serious to-do list yesterday included blogging, ironing the three-foot-high stack of clean laundry, coming up with a menu for the week, working out, and reading over a friend’s book manuscript. In the end, I… worked out.

I suppose that my to-do lists could be better termed “wish lists,” and I’m learning and re-learning to think of them as such. September is an especially hard time to keep my perspective in check though. It’s the time of year when syllabi are handed out, those crisp and bullet-pointed promises of what students will have accomplished in three months’ time. It’s when the acronym NaNoWriMo begins to pop up around the interwebs as brave souls assure themselves that they can write an entire novel in a month. (I couldn’t, but that doesn’t stop me from rolling the “what ifs” between my brain lobes each year like a prospective buyer.) It’s the time of year when I can’t help slipping brand-name office supply names®™ into my blog entries because September has and always will smell to me like the inside of a Staples—highlighter ink and pencil shavings and unlicked envelopes and possibility.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of setting goals, but the lesson I face with each new autumn is one of acceptance: Understand that “according to plan” is not a phrase in life’s vernacular. Greet each day with a preemptive dose of grace. Enjoy the happy surprises that take place outside the realm of to-do lists—snuggling sessions with my girls, emergency pumpkin pie fudge (because we can’t have our precious hand-puréed pumpkin going bad on us), piano duets, running into friends at the grocery store. Allow time and space to process the hard surprises too—neighbors in crisis, work contracts failing to materialize, children coming down with every single variation of the cold virus to creep within 100 miles of our house. Accept that perfection is almost definitely a myth, a pristine projection untouched by either the grime or the warmth of reality.

Maybe in October, I’ll remember how to relax into this uneven melody and the joy tucked in between each unpredictable note.

24Sep
Exploring the Motherheart of God

The Motherheart of God: A New Picture

I had the singular pleasure of getting to know Adriel Booker this summer over ravioli and wine in a medieval village overlooking the fields of Tuscany at sunset. (It did not suck.) She’s a stunning lady, inside and out, whose own stories of unconventional faith and expat living could have fueled a month’s worth of “Me too!” style dinner conversations if only we’d had the time. She’s hosting a beautiful series on her blog about the nurturing, female aspects of God’s character—something that tends to be overlooked, dismissed, or even denounced as heresy in mainstream Christian circles—and I’m honored to be sharing my story as part of it today:

~~~

I was nine or ten, around the age that my own wide-eyed, freckle-nosed daughter is now, when the Children’s Director at my church picked The Ten Commandments for movie night. My friends and I were not overly enthusiastic about the choice; we would rather have given our church’s bedraggled McGee and Me VHS collection another spin than watched a Bible drama from our grandparents’ generation. Nevertheless, two scenes from the movie caught my full attention. One was the Halloween-worthy arrival of the Angel of Death, portrayed by a creeping vapor that poisoned firstborn sons on the spot. (It still gives me the shivers.) The other was the moment that Moses raised his arms under a roiling black sky in order to part the Red Sea. That image snapped into my mind like a missing puzzle piece. It was the exact visual representation of everything my young heart believed about God.

Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments

The fierce intensity in Charlton Heston’s eyes, his dominating stance, the power symbolized by his arm-cuffs, even his thickly silvered beard—all of it filled in my mental image of God as neatly as if Charlton himself had graced the pages of my Bible. That God was a muscly Caucasian man in his sixties, I had no doubt. Perhaps that had already been suggested to me through Bible cartoons or maybe it was a projection of my own small worldview, but I knew exactly what I was seeing when Moses spread his arms across our church’s TV screen: Father. Judge. Ruler. Smiter. The Divine Patriarch. The All-Powerful Begetter. God.

This visual cemented itself onto my mind’s eye and didn’t budge for many, many years. When I had my heart broken as a teen and tried to find comfort in prayer, I couldn’t get past the image of God’s penetrating glare. When I got engaged to my husband and found myself yo-yoing between hopes and fears about our upcoming marriage, I felt sure that the God who waged wars and parted seas couldn’t care less about my emotional upheaval. When I entered the misty and profoundly tender world of motherhood, I felt more removed than ever from this deity with his big beard, big stick, and wild eyes. I could no more imagine him nurturing than I could imagine him putting on a pink uniform and dishing up ice cream at the mall.

Aside from deliberate sin, womanhood felt like the furthest possible point one could be from God on the spectrum of humanity.

Five years ago, however, Charlton-Heston God was chipped out of my perspective over the course of a single Sunday morning.

{Continue reading over at Adriel’s place}

image source

23Sep
Prayer is Not My Prayer Language

Prayer is Not My Prayer Language

When I began this blog back in 2007, I in no way intended to write about my spiritual life. In fact, I intended not to. Marching into the depths of my topsy-turvy faith with a notepad was a prospect so scary that I rarely even attempted it in the privacy of my own company. I planned to blog about parenthood and living overseas and maybe, occasionally, the quirks in my personality, but not spirituality. Never spirituality.

As you might have noticed, that resolution has held up about as well as a toilet paper kite in a thunderstorm.

It hasn’t gotten any less scary for me to write about my evolving relationship with God, just so you know. Blogging requires significantly more pep talking and espresso than I originally conceived, and I go into full-blown vulnerability hangover mode at least once a month. The freedom to share what’s going on behind the scenes of my heart, though, is worth every bit of discombobulation (as is the opportunity to use words like “discombobulation”), and I’m honored to the depths of my quirky soul that you’re here to read this.

Today I’m confessing to a new bit of unorthodoxy over at A Deeper Story, where I’ll join you once I’ve issued myself another pep talk or two. You bring the coffee?

~~~

“Sometimes, when people ask me about my prayer life, I describe hanging laundry on the line… This is good work, this prayer. This is good prayer, this work.”
– Barbara Brown Taylor

Rarely do I call on God’s intervening powers more fervently than when someone looks around the circle and asks, “Whose turn is it to pray?”

Mine. It’s almost certainly mine. In fact, I’ve been shirking my pray aloud duties for so many years that I probably owe the Christian community about 3,708,000 consecutive blessings at this point.

The Bible study leader or head of the holiday table knows this and looks straight at me, but I have retreated into my one and only evasive maneuver: the Preemptive Head Bow. I close my eyes and fix my face in a half-smile as if I’m already agreeing in spirit with whoever is chosen to pray. NOT ME. God, for all the love you bear me and my remaining scraps of soul dignity, make them choose NOT ME.

It usually works. Most people are reluctant to call on someone who looks to be already busy communing with God. Every now and then though… “Bethany, we haven’t heard from you in a while!” I then whisper to God the most honest expression of my soul in that moment, which is Dammit.

It’s not that I don’t know what to do in this setting. I grew up a worship leader’s kid in a Southern Baptist church. I know how to pray aloud, from the first “Father God” to the final “in your name we pray,” and I can still whip out a passable blessing under social duress. The problem is that every word of a proper prayer feels like a stumbling block in my throat. The corners rasp against my lips even as I will myself to sound ardent, bad acting made all the worse by my complicity in it.

No one has ever pointed out that my prayers tend to come out like strangulated haikus—Dear God thank you please / something on togetherness / in your name amen—but I still project my unease onto those listening. I imagine them getting together later to compare notes and plan some kind of spiritual intervention for She Who Tries To Avoid Praying. I wouldn’t blame them either. After all, what kind of Christian doesn’t want to talk to God? That’s like being the kind of chef who refuses to touch food or the kind of Red Sox fan who just shrugs when the Yankees win.

Something fundamental is clearly missing. At least, that’s what I used to think.

{Continue reading over at A Deeper Story}

image credit

15Sep
First day of school 2014

Fadeaway

This morning, the alarm barged into my dreams at what felt to my sleep-sunk mind like the middle of the night.

The girls were already dressed and waiting.

They chattered and sang all the way to the bar for our traditional first-day-of-school breakfast, and Dan and I barely had time to kiss the tops of their heads before they were off to squeal with friends and hug teachers in the schoolyard. The bell rang, the doors opened, and the resulting stampede sound of 150 kids charging to class made me laugh out loud. September school days still make me feel like a crisp current of possibility is tickling my airways.

Summer 2014 is well and truly over as of 8:15 this morning, and I’m struggling to find the proper ceremony of closure within my heart. It was a long summer for us, a gamut of unforeseen changes that left us alternately exhilarated and heavy-hearted. I didn’t numb myself this summer; I stayed awake for every minute of it, and the result is that I’m feeling tender and mighty and overexposed and reinvented all at once. I’d like to take a vacation to knead the knots of the last few months out of my muscles—not a normal vacation with luggage and an activities roster, mind you, but a vacation of quiet. A respite. Nature to look at listen to and absorb, and nothing else on the agenda. Think Thoreau with room service.

Until I get a chance to slip away though, I’ll continue to drink coffee here at my desk with neighborly snatches of conversation and roadway percussion rolling through my open window. I’ll light dessert-scented candles (the only ones worth burning, in my opinion) and woo my mind toward words for the few quiet hours afforded me. I’ll fix big, Italian-style lunches and hug my girls when they walk in the front door, dropping backpacks where they don’t belong and calling “What’s to eat?” before I’ve finished saying hi. I’ll try every day without fail to cram more productivity into the afternoon than is humanly possible. I’ll read with the girls, tuck them into bed, and resolve to follow a responsible bedtime routine for myself as well. I’ll stay up too late anyway. The alarm clock will catch me off-guard each and every morning, but that’s what the coffee’s for. I’ll walk this daily path into September until, ceremony or not, I find that summer has closed itself like a sun-faded paperback.

How is the seasonal switchover going for you? 

10Sep
Book Stories - The Meme

Book Stories: The Meme

No doubt you’ve seen it making the rounds through Facebook:

“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard or try to give ‘right’ answers, just write down 10 that have affected you/moved you/caused you to neglect your family, job, and basic hygiene for 36 hours straight/invaded your dreams/ prompted you to abandon dignity in favor of cosplay* or fan fiction/necessitated the author’s taking out a restraining order against you.”

*Not a sex act, sorry. “Cosplay” is short for costume play, which is short for dressing up like something else, which is admittedly delightful and fun but almost certainly not dignified.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve bounced up and down in your computer chair willing someone to tag you so you too can compile your list. Such is the power of the meme that one is not psychologically able to start thinking about her 10 books until she has been granted permission to do so by social media. (Please tell me I’m not the only one with a compulsive respect for pointless or nonexistent boundaries.) To the relief of my list-loving heart, I have now been tagged (thanks, Rachael!), and rather than listing my ten books as a Facebook status, I wanted to introduce them here, Book Stories style.


(Eggplant nails at Erika’s request)

1. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

When I first read the Anne of Green Gables series as a girl, I only really liked the first book about Anne’s childhood and then the three final books about her children’s escapades. The middle books about Anne’s career hopes, love interests, and coming-of-age heartaches bored me… until one day, they didn’t. I was in between college semesters and boyfriends of my own when I picked Anne of Avonlea off my dusty bookshelf and cried right through the final page. L.M. Montgomery is magic, folks. (But you already knew that.) 

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I was still a newlywed, pre-babies and only about two inches into my recovery from fundamentalism when a friend recommended Blue Like Jazz. I read it aloud to Dan, a chapter each night before bed, and it was like discovering my right to breathe. It very well may have been the first time that I’d heard God spoken about conversationally, without religious jargon, as if he actually had a place in everyday life. This book is spiritual stress relief.

3. On Writing by Stephen King

I can’t remember exactly when I snagged this off the shelf at Barnes & Noble, but I do know that it’s scarcely left my writing desk since. I only pick it up to read when I’m working on fiction because a page or two is all it takes for story inspiration to rush at me like a telepathic kid out of a haunted hotel. I should point out that my preferred genre is not that of the good Mr. King, but damned if he doesn’t make my mind itch to create something new.

4. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

I know, I know, everything about this book screams GIMMICKY! It was a crash course in entrepreneurship for Dan and I though. We got it a couple of years ago during our transition into self-employment, and while it did not catapult us into the ranks of “the new rich” or reduce our workweek to four hours, it did give us the gift of perspective. We now use terms like “batching” and “80/20” in everyday life (most often when trying to get out of housework, but still), and whenever I’m feeling discouraged about our rolling job situation, I let the FHWW remind me that we’re normal… ish. Not alone, at any rate.

5. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I’m not sure what it says about me that the book I read most frequently for the pure joy if it was a high school reading assignment. To be fair to myself, though, it’s not like I go around toting Oedipus Rex on beach vacations or cracking open The Complete Works of Shakespeare on flights. Have you ever watched the darling film Il Postino where Pablo Neruda teaches an uneducated Italian postman about metaphor? This book is what taught me.

6. Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin

Over the year and a half following our move to Italy and Sophie’s birth, depression effectively broke down all my internal religious etiquette. I called up a friend from the States who I knew wouldn’t disown me when she heard that I could no longer believe in a God who made eternal torture the default destiny for humankind. She knew exactly what I was talking about and suggested that I read Hope Beyond Hell. I don’t think I’m putting it too dramatically when I say that this book saved my faith.

7. Field Guide to Now by Christina Rosalie

Christina’s blog is largely responsible for getting me writing again back in 2007. Her way of noticing the undercurrents of art in daily life and making poetry of their prose stirs up answering instincts in me. Hers is a creativity founded on intention and delight, and this book is one of my favorite things to read in the pre-dawn hours with a notepad and pen in hand. It makes me want to live and create and then live some more.

8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

1130. That’s how many pages of small text my unabridged copy contains. And I loved every one of them. Often after work, the summer I was 18, I’d drive to an uptown Starbucks where I’d order a venti coconut frappuccino and sit in the sunshine to read… and read… and read. Dantès’s revenge is so complicated and satisfying to read that I didn’t know whether to celebrate or to cry when I reached the end. I’ll be reading this one again… next time I have an entire summer of afternoons at my disposal (ha!).

9. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

I almost don’t even want to talk about this book because it’s meant so much to me. Hope Beyond Hell is what saved my faith, but The Shack is what saved my heart. I first read it on a Sunday morning while Dan and the girls were at church. It was a day when all the weight of my fundamentalist upbringing was suffocating me, and I felt so wounded by Christianity that all I could do was lie on the sofa and reach for this book that a friend had lent me. And I met a God of love in it.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling

Roughly estimating, I’d say… oh, 99.81273% of the 10 Books lists that I’ve seen circulating on Facebook have included the Harry Potter series. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how deeply the story of The Boy Who Lived gets to us? The final book of the series came out right as we were moving to Italy, and I saved it to read in the hospital before and after Sophie’s birth. That was a frightening and larger-than-life time for me—having a baby three months after moving to another country whose language I did not yet speak—and Harry Potter & Gang’s story helped give me both an escape and the courage to stay.

All right, then. I tag YOU to share 10 books that have stayed with you in some way (even just here in the comments if you don’t want to go all Facebook-official on it). No right or wrong answers, remember, and if you have forsaken hygiene or dignity for the sake of those books, then know you’re in good company.

8Sep
Puglia beach trip 1

Seastruck

The first time I saw the ocean, I was nearly twelve. Our van crested the bridge to Quintana Beach, and there was the Gulf of Mexico stretched out below us, the vast basin where God must have dipped his brush after painting every color of earth and sky. I couldn’t tell you even now what hue the Gulf of Mexico most resembles. It’s slate gray but also moss green, sky blue capped by cloud crests, equal parts mother of pearl and loam. At first sight, I couldn’t believe such a thing existed—this expanse of creation-colored water curved to fit the horizon. I ate my wedge of watermelon that evening in the waves, salt and grit and who knows what else seasoning its pink flesh. My baby brother threw the van keys into the surf (or so we thought; we found them a week later deep inside one of the bench seats), and we were stranded until nightfall, and it was magical.

Now that I’m a mother, I have an inkling of how my own mother must have felt that night—all six of her children sand-plated and smelling of seaweed, dark tongues of water lapping up the shoreline, my father hitchhiking to find a locksmith, and no cell phone to know when he’d be back, not the tiniest bit of technology with which to distance ourselves from the deep. I also know a bit of how she must have felt when we finally made it to the condo and she still had showers to administer and salt-encrusted towels to dry and the next day’s picnic to prepare. Beach vacations are the parental equivalents of overtime.

But it is paid:

Puglia beach trip 2

We drove down south to Puglia for the first time this month and spent the better part of a week with friends at their beach house. And by “at their house,” I mean on the beach. The Ionian Sea is like liquid topaz, so blue and crystalline that simply looking at it it is a form of wealth. I was in the water about three quarters of the time that the girls were; we dredged up seashells and splashed each other silly and tracked the tiny striped fish who were tracking our toes. The other quarter of the time, I sat back in a nest of sand and filled straight up on my kids’ delight.

Puglia beach trip 3

Puglia beach trip 4

Puglia beach trip 5

Puglia beach trip 6

The sea turns children into hunters and gatherers, architects and archeologists. It draws on their genius for play and holds time at arm’s length so they can stop growing up so fast, at least for the day. It makes magic out of ordinary minutes. Admittedly, magical moments are not necessarily effortless ones, at least not for the parental portion of the family. We came home tired with slightly more than our fair share of sand and sunburns, and my post-vacation laundry pile would have been enough to make even Mrs. Walton faint of heart. I still take the whole experience as a gift though—the chance to play with my girls free of the usual time-claustrophobia that haunts me at home, to watch them at ease in their own childhoods, to see the living sparkle of the waves mirrored in their eyes, and to discover my own sense of seastruck enchantment right there in the context where I first found it.

Puglia beach trip 7

© Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.
Site powered by Training Lot.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.