Tag: Home

21Mar

‘Cause There’s Beauty in the Breakdown

[Photo of the first sunset of spring over the walls of Assisi]

In nearly thirteen years of marriage, Dan and I have moved five times and have lived out of suitcases three different summers. Each time we gear up for a new transition, I read a book about decluttering to try to offset my frugal “But we might need that someday!” impulse with the pure glee of tossing items I will no longer need to dust, iron, or trip over in the storage closet. This time, I picked Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up because I like being approximately a year late to online parties and also because I wanted to start using the phrase “This does not spark joy” every time my alarm goes off in the morning.

Yes, we’re headed for change once again. In an attempt to out-epic all previous summers, we will be living from suitcases for a few months while we catch up with loved ones and eat our weight in fresh salsa in the States, and then we’ll be moving from our little Umbrian city to the sprawling metropolis of Milan.

More of our heartstrings are caught up in this move than in others before it. Perugia has been our home for the last nine years. It’s the city we know best in the world, and it’s almost impossible to imagine no longer getting coffee at the bar up the street or going for runs at the park down the hill. When Natalie and I attended junior high orientation last month, I hovered Mission Impossible-style above the surface of grief, trying to modulate my emotions so I wouldn’t make a scene in front of all the friends and neighbors we are about to leave. The girls are taking it even harder.

We have a host of compelling reasons for the move though, and our sadness at leaving our current home is woven inextricably with happiness about our new one. Work and church and family await us in Milan, and the fact that we’ll be able to see the Alps on a clear day doesn’t hurt either. We know with certainty that it’s time for us to move on.

This brings me back to decluttering. I’m going through our clothes and books and knickknacks trying to determine what will bring value and joy to our life in Milan and what would only be a weight. I’m no natural at this, mind you. I fretted earnestly this morning over throwing out threadbare socks that I haven’t worn in years. (We won’t discuss the shoe situation at all, thank you kindly.) The biggest item I’ve had to evaluate, however, took only a quarter hour of soul-searching before I admitted that it has been dousing me in self-reproach rather than sparking my joy like it used to do. As Marie Kondo would say, this blog has served its purpose for me and deserves to be let go with respect.

I can’t tell you how reluctant I am to put an official stop to this writing that I’ve kept up off and on since 2002. Blogging has given me a voice when I’ve felt most alone and has connected me to priceless communities of people. This is where I’ve chronicled the early years of parenthood and the complicated shifts in my faith. So much of who I am is poured into this online space where so many of you have invested as well.

Our self-employment contracts have increased dramatically over the last year though, and my busyness is only going to ramp up over the coming months. I’ve caught myself many times wanting to spend a precious free hour working on a writing project with deep significance to me and then remembering that I haven’t blogged in ages, reasoning that I should get this up to date before tackling any other project, and ultimately giving up on the idea of writing at all that day. It’s become a lead-plated cycle of dispassion and guilt, a far cry from the creative outlet that blogging used to be.

I want to say goodbye to Perugia well, and I want to start our new life in Milan well. Holding onto this blog for old times’ sake will help me do neither. Therefore, with an almost exact blend of the excitement and heartache I feel about our upcoming move, I’m publishing this as my final post here.

Thank you all for the time you’ve invested in my blog. I can’t thank you enough for your friendship, and I’d love it if you continued to keep in touch on Instagram (@bethany_bassett) where I will be documenting every funny misadventure of the coming months. Here’s to spring and to hard-good changes and to bestseller buzz phrases that nevertheless lead to joy.

With much love,
Bethany

2Oct

Going Medieval

One sleepy Sunday morning two summers ago, we were driving through central Italy with friends when one of them asked to stop by a pharmacy. We pulled into the nearest town, though we weren’t sure if we would find any pharmacies open on a Sunday. What we certainly didn’t expect to find were barricades across every road leading to the town center. Our curiosity up, we parked on the outskirts and walked the five minutes to the city center (this is central Italy, after all) where we found an open pharmacy after all, plus seven hundred more barricades and a chatty barista who filled us in on what was happening.

We learned that we’d just happened to pull into Bettolle (“Bay-TOLL-ay”) on the one day each year when they commemorate the burning of their castle by a rival town and their subsequent reconstruction in the 16th century. Following lunch, the town would be gathering in the main square for a medieval parade, after which teams from the five town districts would compete in a Race of Revenge. In this race, teams of two must run laps around the historic town center balancing huge wooden urns on stretchers. Then, competitors dressed in man-tights must race to climb greased 5-meter-high poles and put out the fires burning on top.

We didn’t stick around for the festivities, but I later read the day’s results in a local magazine:

“There was a winner. Maybe two. In fact there are some who say there were three winning districts. Others say nobody won. Others, instead, insist that to be beaten is now a dried-up technicality of the rules which are too intricate and groundless and which don’t take into account the possible uncertain results that are inevitable in such a complicated race.”

A more Italian summary there never was.

Our region of Umbria is full of ancient hillside towns that celebrate their heritage with similar events, and the four of us finally got to attend one this last weekend. Friends from the nearby town of Gualdo invited us to their Giochi de le Porte on the condition that we cheer for their district and that Dan wear tights for the opening parade. (Sadly, I could not be there on Friday to see this magnificence.)

As charmed and delighted as I am by the idea of these events, I was wary going into the weekend. You may recall from previous stories such as that time the number machine at the health center broke and that time the national soccer team played in our neighborhood that crowd mentality in Italy causes a particular strain of strain for me. I am an introvert and an American; my personal space bubble is dear to me. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to spending my Saturday and Sunday getting up close and personal with strangers’ elbows, and had I known that a passerby would additionally lock me in a full-on boob grab, I might not have had the will to show up. (I’m still shuddering.) However, if I hadn’t braved the crowds, then I would have missed out on one of the most colorful and captivating experiences of our eight years in Italy.

Banners and crowds 1 Read More »

23Sep

Pumpkin Spice Laxity

The weather got the memo that today is the first day of fall, and I responded by indulging in one of my precious Pumpkin Spice Latte packets. If your refined coffee sensibilities are recoiling in horror right now, you might need to step back from your screen for a breather while I admit that my granulated Starbucks experience was just what I needed on this gray-clad morning. (Expats gonna expat…)

The girls have been back in school for one week now, and we’re slowly figuring out our dance of schedules for the fall. The fact that Dan and I both work from home makes coordinating much easier, but it also means that we’re not always home when we’re home, and figuring out who’s taking care of what, when, takes some trial and error. Having my right hand out of commission for three months also adds to the fun. I keep looking down at my grace note tattoo in an attempt to remind myself that it’s okay our home life is in its eighty-fourth consecutive transition phase. We’re cultivating flexibility and dodging boredom, and neither is a habit I’d actually want to see go.

Other habits remain frustratingly elusive. Getting up even one minute earlier than responsible parenting requires me to hasn’t happened yet this month. In the fantasy realm of good intentions, I’m the type to rise before dawn and harness the creative magic of those pre-breakfast hours. In practice, however, I’m deeply committed to my pillow between 11:30 at night and 7:30 in the morning. So far this year, there has been neither idea compelling enough nor caffeinated beverage strong enough to tempt me to join the 5am club, but my good intentions will not go down without a fight. You’re welcome to pray for our collective sanity once I summon the courage to change my alarm.

I may not be getting up at a respectable time, but I am writing again on a daily basis—with frequent appeals to my grace tattoo—and I’m hoping I’ll be able to share some of what I’m working on soon. Writing is such a delicate subject for me. Just mentioning that I have projects in the works threatens to tip the day’s balance toward fear again, and I’m often one sharp exhale away from succumbing to the shame-mongering voices that plague all of us who create. I have goals for this fall that feel like home to me though, and so this is where you can find me each morning, duking it out with myself in a desk chair.

There are a lot of areas of life relegated to the back burner right now… or, more truthfully, off the menu altogether. Housecleaning is a dusty memory. (See what I did there?) We haven’t been keeping up well either with friends and neighbors since coming home from our trip, and our tackle-eventually list has literally piled up around the margins of our house. As usual, I’m frustrated that I can’t do it all. The superhero myth is a difficult one to set down.

At the same time, there’s relief to be found in transition times. Nothing about our life right now says status quo, so we’re free to hold our loose ends loosely. It’s not hard to imagine that next month I will start waking with the birds, and the month after that my writing day will require only the briefest of stare-downs with fear, and the month after that the windows will get washed. It’s the first day of fall, and anything is possible. Even the notion that we’re already okay.

What is life looking like for you all these days? Are you ready for fall yet?

5Feb

That Kind of Week: Three Vignettes

The plumber our landlord always calls, whether due to some personal connection or plain ol’ thriftiness, came by last week to replace our crumbling sink pipes. We now have new pipes and a slow flood. While we wait for the landlord to return our calls (did he flee the country, perhaps?), we keep hanging sodden bath towels outside to drip under equally sodden skies. I think there’s probably a verse in Ecclesiastes that speaks to this.

The previous time that the plumber was here, he replaced our cracked toilet seat with one that has rusted-out hinges and slips sideways off the toilet when you’re not careful.

We are quaking over his return even as we pray for it to be soon.

/ / /

I realized during a sudden bout of filing that we were missing one of Natalie’s grade reports from two years ago. Fortunately, we live right across the street from the school district headquarters. Unfortunately, the school district director came out of her office just as the secretary was about to hand over a copy of the missing grades.

I think I can sum up the school district director in one sentence: Her first move after landing the position three years ago was to outlaw birthdays and parent participation in the schools.

This is not a woman who allows people to pick up copies of their children’s grades all willy-nilly. No, I’m only allowed to have a copy if I first go to the military police, “denounce” the grade report as missing (i.e. – stolen), and receive an official report from them confirming the theft.

I’m still not sure whether I’m more inclined to laugh myself silly over the situation or to become a cat burglar. I mean, really.

/ / /

Eleven years ago, I flew Iceland Air for the first time on my way to visit Italy. The seats did not come with movie screens, but there were radios built into the armrests. After consulting the in-flight magazine, I tuned to “Icelandic Children’s Music” because it was a genre I hadn’t even known existed. Two minutes later found me teary with laughter and Dan perplexed.

In vain did I search the in-flight magazine for the artist’s name, and in vain did I comb through Amazon MP3 samples later that summer for the song, so when I located it on Spotify yesterday, it was as the unearthing of a long-lost treasure.

For your listening pleasure (watch at least to the 45 second mark, though the 2 minute range is better):

According to the Stammtisch Beau Fleuve glossary, “The lyrics of Prumpufólkið [generally translated ‘The Farting People’] were written by the comedian Jón Gnarr, who also performed the dozen or so sound effects on that song. In 2010 he was elected mayor of Reykjavík.”

That might be my favorite thing I’ve read ever.

24Oct

Our Ordinary (One Day 2014)

I am not an avid Instagrammer. I wish I were, but my days get busy, and I forget to be noticeful, and even when I do snap a picture, nine times out of ten I put off posting it because writing on my phone still feels to me like eating with chopsticks once did. (My fingers are creatures of habit on par with aging hobbits.) Perhaps this is why I was so eager to participate in Hollywood Housewife’s One Day project this week, documenting my ordinary, unembellished Wednesday on Instagram. The concept grabbed me both because I love being able to look back at the daily life of our family in its various stages and because I imagine some of you are at least a smidgen curious about what passes for “normal” here in expat-entrepreneurland.

Wednesday morning, therefore, I woke up and started snapping photos (not necessarily in that order) aaaannnnddd… did not manage to Instagram a one. In fact, I didn’t even have a chance to follow friends’ #OneDayHH streams, so full did my day become. However, I still have the photos, and if you’ll forgive the fact that these are coming a few days late and without any fancy filters, I’d love to share what passes for an average Wednesday around here.

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30Sep

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.

24Jul

Normal is the New Normal

“I’m going to beat the everloving pants off this whole reentry thing,” I determined last night, laying myself down to sleep at the ridiculously responsible hour of 10:30.

We had been home only a few hours. Seven weeks’ worth of suitcases lay where they had been dropped on our dusty floors. All of my grand plans to keep up with writing throughout our trip were wadded up in one of them, no doubt, wedged somewhere between the dirty hiking pants and the souvenir chocolate. (Because: Switzerland.) I couldn’t see even the faintest, horizon-bleared end of the to-do list in my mind, but it didn’t matter. For once, I was going to prioritize my own post-trip sanity. No more spiraling into the scheduleless void. I would settle back into the cushion of my own blessed mattress, get the best night of sleep I’d had all summer, and wake up early enough to write my way back to normalcy by breakfast.

Cue mischief-portending Danny Elfman track.

At first, I couldn’t sleep. The bed felt strange. I had too many elbows. The sheet was too warm; taking it off was too cold. I dozed off a few times only to wake up in a disoriented panic wondering whose furniture was looming around me in the dark. And where had the door disappeared to? My brain rocked around wildly for a while and then began to settle down for the night. In fact, I was finally making some real headway into sleep when someone began knocking on the bedroom door. A certain six-year-old someone whose brain was cooperating even less than mine.

“I can’t manage to sleep!” wailed Sophie. “What if I never fall asleep? What if I’m awake all night?”

“No, no,” I soothed. “Let’s just get you back to bed. I’m sure you’ll be asleep before you know it.”

Five minutes later… “Go back to bed, honey. You’re not going to fall asleep any more easily by getting up like this.”

Ten minutes after that…“Have you tried counting sheep yet?”

And an hour after that…“Here, just get into bed with me.”

And an hour after that… “Maybe you should try your own bed again.”

The kid didn’t fall asleep until five in the mother flippin’ morning. It was the worst insomnia of my life, and it wasn’t even mine. By the end, I was lurching into her room like a blindfolded zombie to offer grunts that I hoped were conveying equal parts compassion and “Go the F**k to Sleep.”

It goes without saying—though I will anyway—that my pastel-tinted Morning of Rejuvenation did not happen. Dan pried me out of bed with a stiff coffee a little before 10, and I had to remind myself that everything I accomplished from that point on counted as a victory. Toothpaste located and used? Score! Self showered by lunch? Bonus! Vacation laundry sorted and pushed in general direction of washing machine? Fifty points for me!

It hasn’t been the day I’d hoped or planned, but I’m sure there’s a life lesson somewhere in there. Expectations make great target practice, for example, or Children can smell productivity. The truth is that I don’t mind how things turned out in the end. I had to take an adjustment in perspective and an extra coffee or two, but it hasn’t been a bad day. The bags got [mostly] unpacked. The four of us [mostly] enjoyed each other’s company. I’m getting a chance to string some [mostly] coherent sentences together and feeling [mostly] sane to boot. If you consider that the goal for my day was a return to normalcy, then perhaps the unpredictability of normal life, with its dust and insomnia and total lack of regard for best-laid plans, is just what I needed.

Well, that and about sixteen hours of make-up sleep tonight. I mean, really.

Insomnia e-card

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