Tag: Globetrotting


T – 3 Days: A Photo Essay

Teux Deux

Dusty floors, unmade beds

Camping supplies




Ballerinas in hiding

Thirsty plants

Story time

P.S. – We leave on Friday and are a kind of busy and tired and excited that only two weeks soaking up* the great outdoors can cure. Thanks for sticking around, and I’ll see you in Scotland!

*Hopefully not literally. Of course, it did rain every single day the last time we did this… but at least now we have a waterproof tent to our names and won’t need to wear beach towels as sleep masks.


My Squalor Comes With Binder Tabs

Dust bunnies are procreating under the night stand. Ants march unhindered into the kitchen to nosh on leftovers. The stack of bills on my desk keeps casting reproachful glances in my direction. The wastebasket overfloweth, and my legs are starting to resemble cacti. Welcome to trip planning mode at our house!

Our Scotland-bound campingstravaganza (affectionately nicknamed Highland Fling) is set to start in just two short weeks, and my brain suddenly can’t be bothered with technicalities like bills and housework, not when there are tent pitches to reserve at Loch Ness. I love this kind of organized daydreaming—researching locations, reviewing accommodations, planning meals, compiling packing lists. However, it’s not fast work, and I’m already up to my ears in neglected everyday demands. (Some of them look perilously close to throwing tantrums.)

I just wanted to explain why the blogosphere will need to carry on without me for a bit. Also how the quantity of dust came to be greater than that of all life forms in the house. I’ll remedy the abject squalor situation, I promise, but it may have to wait until we’re back. The castles of Inverness await my search engine command!


Defined by Wonder

Out of all religious celebrations, my least favorite is Easter. I’d rather not get into reasons why, though lacy short sleeved dresses on the coldest Sundays in Texas history have a minor role. (Seriously, the Texan weather gods must spend three quarters of the year siphoning away stray breezes to be released all together the moment flimsy Easter dresses emerge.) Our church here in Italy does not officially celebrate Easter, but nonetheless, I prefer to distance myself from institutions for the weekend. Campgrounds work nicely. Campgrounds in Sorrento work very nicely.

Shoreline - Sunday morning 1

Our experience this year was different from last year’s in that we didn’t drive the entire coastline, stumble into any creepy processionals, or need the sunscreen, but the defining factor of our trip was still wonder. The wonder of waking up to Mount Vesuvius drifting above the bay on a floe of sky-blue mist…   the wonder of the girls running themselves giddy beneath succulent orange trees… the wonder of following an unknown path down a cliff face to the water’s edge where cats napped on volcanic remnants and boulders presented themselves for the jumping… above all, the wonder of putting our busy life on hold while we shacked up with beauty for the weekend.

Oranges in bloom

Thanks to a fitful forecast, we put our Capri plans on hold and had the kind of see-where-our-feet-take-us day we love so much. The first place our feet took us was… back inside the tent to play Curious George Uno, sneak a few chocolate eggs, and wait out a cloudburst. Admittedly, it wasn’t the worst way to spend Easter morning, but we were still glad to see the sky take its emotional issues elsewhere. After all, there were pigeons to chase! Merry-go-rounds to conquer! Strawberry gelato to dribble deliciously onto our mother’s jeans! We wound our way through the Sorrento shopping district scoping out lemons for Operation Limoncello 2010 and followed an inkling down the coast to pretend stray cats were panthers and ogle the waves, still turquoise beneath their cloud cover. Once little legs tired out, we drove down the block to Positano, so brim-full of color and bustle that we never had a chance to miss our derailed Capri trip.

Positano 2

The next day brought with it an impromptu detour to the excavation site of Pompeii. I’m glad I had the chance to be properly impressed by Herculaneum last year because Pompeii so thoroughly surpassed all previous experiences with ruins. I mean, there are ruins, and there are RUINS. Acres upon acres of stepping-stone streets, villas, tombs, bars, theaters, brothels, temples, shopping malls, gardens, and what my girls claimed as their own personal “beautiful castles.” It felt both heavy and oddly exhilarating to poke around a city where people lived 2,000 years ago. No denying that Vesuvius’s famous eruption was tragic, but getting to peek into an ancient culture without the distraction of progress felt like a gift—a head-warping, perspective-zapping, imagination-thrilling sort of gift to carry home on tired feet.

Little Miss Natalie

I know I’m not scoring points with the Spanish Inquisition here, but God is more real to me outdoors with the girls chasing butterflies or skipping over ancient crosswalks than in a meeting hall where we’re trying to make them behave like doorstops. Fresh air has a big impact on our spiritual lives, I think. Incidentally, the God we pitched our tent with—the one painting gold across the horizon and setting magpies in flight and coaxing wild poppies into the open—is the one that makes me feel religious celebrations have merit after all… though, if I’m going to be honest, I’d still take a camping trip on the Amalfi Coast, breathing in the fragrance of citrus trees and drinking up wonder, over lacy Easter dresses any day.


Chameleon Beans

I love traveling, I do. The sights and experiences we collect on our little (and not-so-little) trips feed my adventure-loving heart, stretch my sightline, and assure me that we are doing at least this one thing well with our children. Travel nudges all the sameness out of my life and fills the empty spaces with its chameleon marvelscape. It expands me, us. Yet, every time we return home, I find myself noticeably detached from life. Even little chores seem insurmountable. I stare right past the girls. My mind refuses to make decisions, preferring instead to hide under its bed binging on jelly beans. And I don’t even like jelly beans.

I don’t think it’s your garden variety post-vacation slump. Rather, I suspect it has everything to do with the introvert in me being swept away from her routines and cherished pockets of solitude. If I don’t connect with myself, I can’t connect with my family or my goals or the lid to my spring-loaded intention, and blargh, sometimes I’d really love to trade myself in for a newer model. At least five times a day, if you want to know the truth.

I’ve been troubleshooting the last two days to find out what helps get me back on track and feeling a little sheepish that I didn’t already know. (To-do lists? No. The Beatles? Yes. Early o’clock bedtime? Yes. Coffee? Depends. Harry Potter? Sadly, no.) My mind has already relinquished the jelly beans, so it shouldn’t be too long before I can tell you about our weekend getaway. Sneak preview: There was no Capri after all, but there were seaside hikes and 2,000-year-old ruins and lapfuls of lemons and assassin shrubbery. Stay tuned.

Attack of the assissin shrubbery


Latent Swashbuckler

As my last post made abundantly clear, courage is not something I come by easily. I assume God kept this in mind when he nudged single me toward single Dan seven years ago and then hid conspicuously behind a potted plant singing “Getting’ Jiggy Wit It” just loud enough for us to hear. At least, I fervently hope so. A girl could use a bit of divine reassurance upon realizing her husband considers mountain biking, racing through airports, and eating fist-sized octopi to be marital bonding activities.

Dan’s sense of adventure and gift for tenacity (sounds better than stubbornness, right?) have formed the perfect antidote to my sense of being a delicate flower and my gift for hanging out safely indoors for weeks on end. He brings out the latent swashbuckler in me, and I recognize this as a good thing. Usually.

A little less so two Sundays ago. It was the first full day of our settimana bianca—a week in the mountains nearly as important to Italian culture as a week at the beach in August (and involving nearly as much sunbathing). Some dear friends were chaperoning the girls’ naps, so Dan and I grabbed our snowboards and headed up the lift… straight into a cloudbank. Notably, we had forgotten a map.

“No problem,” said my undaunted husband. “We’ll just had straight across until we find an obvious trail.”

“Straight across the mountain?” squeaked his rather daunted wife. “Without a map? Inside a cloud that fancies itself opaque?”

“Sure. Why not?”

Because I am a gutless invertebrate, I didn’t say.

Twenty minutes later found me clinging to the snowy mountainside with the tips of my boots while trying to keep a grip on my board. Above and below me were sheer nothingness—emphasis on the sheer. In fact, the only things I could see were the perpendicular slope directly beneath my feet and Dan’s vague outline ahead. The rest of my vision had been smothered in whiteout. I hadn’t heard anything for a quarter of an hour besides my own footsteps and that landlocked fish flopping around inside my chest, and panic was turning my tired muscles to jelly. Granted, the circumstances didn’t really warrant panic… but I was raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder stories, and my imagination is nothing if not skilled.

We inched along the mountainside twenty minutes more, then another twenty minutes, then yet another twenty, and I really have no idea what I’m saying because time was swallowed up in fog along with the rest of the world. All I know is that each step was an exercise in panic-squashing bravery. And we took a lot of steps.

Want to see?

Danger Mountain

Why yes, we did cross the width of an entire mountain. In steep snow. Through blinding fog. Carrying our boards. Terrified of losing civilization forevermore and/or tumbling down a precipice onto razor-sharp rocks (this one might have been just me). With no idea that at pretty much any point, we could have snowboarded down easily.

Once we finally got a feel for our surroundings and made it to the bottom, my floppety heart decided it had racked up enough [imaginary] near-death experiences for the week. I was ready to race Dan to the cable car and spend the rest of our vacation communing with our hotel room. But then he got me laughing about our ridiculous mountain trek, and then he got me on my board again, and before I knew it, we were wrapping up a fantastic week on the slopes.

Our last morning, we found ourselves at the same starting point staring into yet another cloud.

“We have to get to the opposite side one way or another,” he said.


“And it would be so much easier to just snowboard across the top than to walk with our boards at the bottom.”


“And even if it is foggy, we at least know what we’re doing this time.”

“Sort of.”

“Just as long as we don’t lose momentum.”

“Or look down.” Or think about Little House on the Prairie. Or use my memory in any capacity whatsoever.

“So, you up for it?” asked that irrepressible husband of mine.

From behind a ski lift pole drifted an unmistakable “Na na na na na na na.”

Cable car parents

“Sure,” I answered. “Why not?”


A Miracle in Third Gear

The thing about miracles is that they fade over time. The more I run my fingers over the fabric of a perfect memory, wondering at the embroidery, feeling the threadcount of joy, the less color it has to offer until it becomes just another beloved quilt in the bottom of a trunk… and I start to forget that miracles exist. Until a new one falls bright-side-up in my lap.

Yesterday’s miracle started three Octobers ago…

Dan, Natalie, myself, and my prodigious baby bump had recently moved to Italy (after a summer that gave itself calluses fixing us up with miracles). We had a little apartment near Dan’s workplace but no car, so on this particular evening, we had taken a bus to the grocery store. We loaded the bottom of Natalie’s stroller with packages of diapers, cartons of milk, and a whole crate of mineral water before slinging as many bags as possible over the handles. My superhero husband shouldered the rest, and Natalie chattered two-year-old pleasantries while we made our way out of the store and up the hill to the bus stop—an endeavor that made me wonder if babies could pop out of their mothers’ straining neck muscles. Getting the loaded stroller and all our purchases onto the bus turned out to be something of a spectator sport, but at last we got ourselves settled in. Hard part over. All we had to do was relax and enjoy the ride home, albeit with the eyes of the entire bus on us crazy Americans and our menagerie of bags.

Two blocks from our stop, the bus took a hard left turn. In one dreadful moment, Natalie’s heavy-laden stroller fell over and our grocery bags flew down the aisle. Everyone on the bus let out a collective gasp and watched with various degrees of shock as Dan and I scrambled to right the stroller and comfort our terrified toddler. While I tried to balance Natalie on my massively pregnant lap feeling like the worst mother in all of human history, Dan tracked down peaches and jars of tomato sauce from under people’s seats. Any hope of dignity had fled the scene.

After making it home, checking Natalie over for bumps, and laughing a little ruefully over the whole thing, we came to a decision: We needed a car. Neither our produce nor our self-esteem could handle another bus episode like that (as if our impending Sophie weren’t reason enough), so we forked over €1000 for a rather old, rather used station wagon.

The idea from the beginning was that we would drive the car until it died and then get a better one. The clutch was already going, so it wouldn’t be long, but we expected to have all our legal paperwork and an Italian bank account  within six months so we could get ourselves a proper family car. Only… the paperwork was delayed. And delayed. And then lost in a governmental black hole for two years. Meanwhile, our temporary car cheerfully zipped us around town. Okay, so one side-view mirror fell off (twice), and the other had to be held on with duct tape, and the gear shift knob tore off, and the trunk hydraulics broke, and the indoor lights didn’t turn on, and some days the hand brake wouldn’t work, and the battery had to be replaced after a harrowing experience in Rome with Rachelle, and we received dire warnings about the clutch going at a moment’s notice.

However, the car was unswervingly faithful to us and our lifestyle. It took us over ancient cobblestones, up the Dolomites, along the Amalfi Coast, through Austrian Alps, into Welsh fields. It accompanied us on countless day trips, on trains and ferries and country roads, and on our fantastically insane road trip to Ireland and back. We asked more of that car than we had any right to expect, but it always came through.

This brings us to last week when Dan finally received the document we’ve been waiting on this whole time and opened a local bank account. (Hooray! we say; also, How could that take 2½ years?!) The following afternoon, I was driving the girls home from the grocery store when the clutch started sticking, then growling and nipping and digging in its heels. It abruptly refused to go into gear anymore the moment I pulled up to our driveway. I shook for half an hour afterwards thinking of what could have happened had the car died a moment earlier and felt quite sure a divine power was looking out for us. But the miracle wasn’t quite finished yet.

We found our dream car over the weekend (at an incredible price, thanks to a dealership goof). The salesman agreed to take our old car as a trade-in, and we got the call yesterday that everything was ready for the switch. We arranged for the insurance to be changed over at 6:30; the problem was that Dan didn’t get home from his business meeting until 7. And that wasn’t the only problem. Possibly more concerning than the lack of insurance was the lack of gas in the car, and more concerning still was the stuck clutch. However, we had to get the thing to the dealership, so Dan managed to jam the car into third gear and set off into rush hour traffic. Without gas. Without insurance. Without being able to drive in anything but third and neutral.

And then the clutch bottomed out.

When Dan recounted the story to me later, I had a heart attack at this point. Rush hour traffic is brutal around here, and there are no road shoulders. Even with him talking in front of me, I was sure he had ended up in a mangled heap on some roundabout with the coverless gear shift sticking through an artery. I couldn’t look as he continued telling me how he could no longer take the car out of third or take his foot off the gas, and the engine was fighting for life in the bumper-to-bumper traffic… how he made it through the big roundabout but nearly stalled navigating the U-turn entrance to the dealership… and how the car shuddered to a final stop in the one open parking spot. A miracle.

We took our new adventuremobile out for a family joy ride later, but my thoughts were still with our old car. As I saw it, the timings of the past week could not have been coincidental, and I could feel the residual glow of the supernatural touching an otherwise mundane circumstance. It was a moment for feeling the thanks I couldn’t quite articulate. And with the texture of our experience still palpable and lush in my mind, I wished one thing above all else: that I could see the saleman’s face the moment he tries putting our old car into reverse.

Goodbye old car 2

Rest in peace, sweet car. You’ve earned it.

P.S. – Hello, sexy.


Libidinous Angels

Growing up, I was never particularly fond of my freckles, by which I mean I hated them with the fire of a thousand suns. On the best days, I looked like a baby, and on the worst—for instance, after a morning of the Texas sun spreading rash-like across my skin—I looked like a lobster with fleas. Of this I was sure. “How cute!” middle-aged women at church would croon. “Angel kisses!” Yeah, an assault by the heavenly hosts, I would think. Probably the same angels that watch me pee. (Religious dysfunction, anyone?)

I stopped caring so much in high school, probably about the time I delved into makeup and black underwear and figured out that I was not entirely repulsive to the opposite gender. I started seeing my face rather than a splatter of unfortunate pigmentation in the mirror. Even now, living in a country of olive-skinned goddesses, I’m content to adorn my angel kisses in SPF 700 and look like my pale luminous self.

That being said, I didn’t realize how much tension would unwind in my heart when we entered the United Kingdom the first week of our vacation. All around us were quilt-blocked pastures dotted with sheep, paths meandering around a gentle sea, and freckles. Nearly everyone at our campground had a sprinkling of soft brown flecks, which launched my self-esteem into a musical number with dancing candlesticks and a chorus of syncopated bluebirds. I felt like I belonged. Even more, I finally saw what those middle-aged women had been crooning about. Because libidinous angels or not, freckles are kind of cute. Possibly even on me.

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