Tag: Miracle

17Jan

Frequent Over-Analyzer Miles

Vacations are always tricky terrain for me. My overly analytical brain drives itself dizzy reminding me that I need to make every moment count but that I shouldn’t lose myself in the process but that I shouldn’t take precious time away from family to recharge but that I shouldn’t neglect my writing but that I should be out living so that I’ll actually have new writing material but that I need to take care of my introverted soul so that I can enjoy these moments I’m living but that it’s selfish to claim time for myself when we have such limited opportunities to spend with the people and places we came to see but, but, but, but, but. Basically, there’s no winning this one. (Anyone else get way on trips? Please say yes.)

Last week was especially intense, and as we’re gearing up for another stretch of absolute insanity—which will hope-beyond-hope land us all back in Italy together—I’m trying to figure out how to process all of it in triple time. My working strategy involves a little bit of running and a whole lot of peanut butter M&Ms. Other suggestions welcome, though I can’t promise restraint when it comes to M&Ms.

The jury is still out on whether or not my mental processing methods work, but one aspect of this trip stands out in my mind in stunning detail. All of the upheaval and impossibility and hair-pulling bureaucratic situations we’ve faced over the last few weeks have made the perfect backdrop for divine intervention. We’ve been racking up miracles like frequent flyer miles over here, and it’s the best possible way to start this year—assured in my own heart, for whatever it’s worth, that we’re not alone.

It’s a good thing I feel this way because we still have some pretty big hurdles to clear before I can get on a European-bound plane. If I weren’t able to trust that everything will work out, I might end up resorting to self-medication. Scarfing down peanut butter M&Ms, for instance. Can you imagine?

Just ignore the arm sticking into it

(Don’t feel like you have to answer that last one.)

24Dec

Of Stupidity and Love

This week has taught us two things above all:

  1. Don’t be stupid.
  2. God’s got our backs.

Perhaps I should back up. The expat life comes with a unique set of challenges, and probably the biggest of these is getting all the right permissions to live and work legally. It’s never easy navigating Italian bureaucracy, but the change in Dan’s work situation this year put us in a particularly complicated spot. To make a long story short, we were given until this past Tuesday to leave the country… preferably after figuring out a legal way to return.

The last few weeks have been insane in a way I couldn’t really write about here. At any given time, we were trying to coordinate with at least three government offices, each of which had limited and arbitrary opening hours, and none of which would cooperate with the others. It seemed impossible that we would have everything we needed—documents, official approvals, and money for plane tickets—by this week, and we had to learn to live in the tension between frustration and hope.

But last weekend, everything merged into the fast lane of divine intervention. Dan got some last-minute work that paid for our tickets, the government offices moved at a speed we’ve never seen before to get everything approved and stamped, and at 9:00 Tuesday morning, we picked up the final document we needed to get our new visas. By 11:00, we were packed and on the road over the Alps to Munich.

Reading lessons in the back seat

It might not make much sense to drive a full nine-hour day (much less a full nine-hour day through snow storms) just before a transatlantic flight, but we’d found an amazing deal on tickets departing from Munich, and we had friends there willing to let us crash for the night. And as it turns out, there was a third reason to fly out of Germany that someone bigger than us knew all along.

We discovered it at 6:00 the next morning while checking in at the airport. “I’m sorry,” the check-in attendant said kindly, “but I can’t print your boarding passes. The little girl’s passport is expired.” Dan and I answered simultaneously—“No it isn’t!” After all, we had both double-checked the passports, so there had to be a mistake. The attendant was right though; Natalie’s was expired by a few months. Our hearts sank into our shoes as the woman recommended we find an embassy. Even if the embassy hadn’t already closed for the holidays, an expedited passport would still take a few weeks, and we couldn’t even legally return to our home in Italy for Christmas. It seemed like all of the miniature miracles of the weekend had been for nothing.

But another attendant overheard what was happening and went to make a phone call. When she returned, she told us, “There is one condition under which you can leave. If you are trying to return to your home country and have never been residents in Germany, we are not allowed to keep you here.” I barely restrained myself from jumping up and down  in the wave of pure, giddy relief. If we had tried to fly out of Italy, we wouldn’t have been allowed onto the airplane, but since we just happened to be in Germany… wow. Just wow.

Waiting on our flight

The expired passport did cause extra hassles during boarding and again for our transfer flight (and this is where I reiterate the “Don’t be stupid!” moral of this story), but in the end, we were allowed to return to the States, our carry-ons overflowing with a sense of the miraculous. We were then able to pull off the surprise of the year knocking on my in-laws door. Getting this chance to be with family for the holidays is what we wanted above all, and I’m under no illusions that we pulled this off ourselves. Our being here is a gift—a crazy, intense, gorgeous gift that leaves no doubts as to the giver’s love.

Natalie loves every minute at the beach

Happy holidays from Florida!

11Dec

Out of Hibernation

The sun is channeling her inner bear these days, rising in a fogged stupor to growl at the world for a few hours before slinking back to her cave. Even the rain is half-hearted, and Christmas decorations are trying in vain to look like they belong.

I need to stop letting December catch me off guard every time, but this year is especially disillusioning. Dan’s switch from a salaried position to freelance work has been a wonderful thing, and we’ve watched a series of small miracles unfold over the last few months as he’s been offered projects that make him light up. However, we went through a hell of time to get here, and we still haven’t found stable ground. The last thing I want to do is throw a pity part when we have so much to be grateful for… but not being able to attend family Christmases or shop for gifts this year makes me want to join the sun in hibernating.

Of course, I’m still a mom and a wife and a teacher and notably not a woodland creature, so the mark of this December is putting one foot in front of the other in the dark dawn to the leaking coffeepot and then inhaling cappuccino steam with a cinnamon candle if I have time or scalding sips with a hairdryer if I don’t. (Usually the latter, but only because I love the snooze button too much.) It’s taming the school-traffic-work blitz with Sufjan hymns and baking cheese bread with my girls when I’m inclined to despair. It’s training myself not to panic when I check the mail, intentionally setting aside the problems I can’t fix. It’s fiercely loving this little family of ours, stumbling into prayer, and trusting, despite the impossible view from here, that we’re on the right path.

And sometimes, it’s taking a Sunday morning to catch up on desperately needed sleep, play Legos with the girls, sneak handfuls of caramel corn when no one’s looking (shh!), and remember to come out of my cave walking on my hands:

What does your December look like so far?

27Nov

Year of Plenty

I don’t know how to describe this year. I keep trying to find words and coming up just short of unintelligible emo lyrics croaked over a wailing guitar. I realize that after the upheaval of 2007, this is saying a lot, but we’re nearing the end of our most challenging year as a family to date. It seems that every week since July, there has been some new circumstance beyond our control, and we’re currently dealing with some things we never would have imagined having to face. It all compresses on our mindspace, pulls us thin.

And yet, despite huge losses, we haven’t gone without. Even in the midst of betrayal, injustice, and good old-fashioned misfortune, we have always had enough food and love to go around.  I keep trying to weave our circumstances into the cosmic net of suffering, but when I take a step back, all my raveling ends connect to the simplest reality: plenty. Every fall from security this year has landed us in unexpected provision, and somehow, impossibly, we have always had plenty of what we truly need.

That’s what we opened our house up to celebrate last weekend. A group of friends who have been like family to us, who continue to overfill us with companionship and kindness. A house large enough to host them, to invite the sprawl of Thanksgiving in to linger. An enormous turkey which had the whole supermarket talking and barely fit in our oven. Side dishes and laughter and everyone at the grown-up table and Cheers! in an overflowing circle. Plenty.

 Our eighth turkey together... awww

I’m especially thankful this year for impossible provision, for these chances to re-learn the whisper of miracle, for far-flung hopes, for the beautiful souls buoying us, and for hunky Italian poultry named Luigi (naturally). What are you celebrating this year?

3Oct

The Rest Laid Plans

My calendar says I’m at work teaching businessmen the future tense right now, but in actuality, I’m stretched out on our living room couch with a post-cappuccino buzz and a glowing sense of… survival? victory? impending insanity? Whatever it is, it’s much more pleasant than I would have anticipated Friday afternoon when this all started…

Our trip had been going almost too well. The girls and I had pulled out of the driveway a full minute ahead of schedule, ready with our individual lunchboxes and sun-dappled tunes, and the traffic gods had smiled on us. I’d been nervous to do the 4 ½ hour drive solo with the girls, but just past the halfway point, I was finally relaxing into the easy rhythm of the road, daydreaming about my upcoming date night.

That’s when the alarm went off. I didn’t even know our car had an alarm until it was shrieking at me and pulsing bright red letters on the display: “STOP! STOP! STOP!” I stopped. Hoping it was just a glitch or maybe something easily solved with violence, I consulted our car’s manual. “Low oil pressure—Do not turn on the engine!!!” Well poo.

I had never arranged for roadside assistance before, much less in a foreign language, but two hours, twenty-five phone calls, and one entirely justifiable crying jag later, the girls and I found ourselves high atop a car carrier exiting to The Middle of Nowhere, Emilia-Romagna. “We’re having an adventure!” I cheered while secretly wondering if we’d have to spend the night fighting off wild boars and vagabonds in the surrounding forest.

Collage - Atop the car carrier

“All the mechanics are closed for the weekend,” the roadside assister chided as he deposited our car in a parking lot, strongly implying that a more responsible driver would have broken down during normal working hours. “I’ll take it somewhere Monday,” he concluded, taking off his work vest and getting halfway into his own car before pausing. “Want a ride to the train station?” Oh yes, thank goodness, yes.

The train station was tiny and already emptied out for the weekend, but I had enough coins for the automatic ticket machine, and the girls nearly launched themselves onto the tracks for joy. I have to admit, trains are fun. They’re relaxing and exciting all at once, and passengers have no responsibilities apart from reminding their overly delighted daughters to tone down the shrieking and jumping please for the love of all that is holy and sane. We read stories and ate chocolate muffins and weren’t stranded in the forest, and for the entire duration of our ride to Bologna, I felt nothing but optimistic.

I might not have been so glib had I realized that the Bologna train station is basically a mile-long zoo dotted with ticket machines that don’t work and shifty-eyed loiterers and train conductors that slam the door in the face of desperate mothers running up with two young children, four bags, and assorted accessories. Thanks in part to Ms. Conductorzilla, we missed our connecting train by a matter of seconds, and in the process, I mysteriously cut my hand and managed to strew objects all over the platform. It was not the brightest moment of my life to date.

However, I pulled it together, found a bandage, purchased tickets for the 9:45 train to Milan, and took the girls out for a leisurely dinner at McDonald’s. Date night plans were pretty much shot at this point, but at least the girls and I had plenty of time to relax over Happy Meals and maybe do a bit of sightseeing before catching our train. We settled down at the table with our food, and Natalie asked me to check the tickets. I obliged, but they said exactly the same thing that they had every other time I’d checked: “Arrival – 9:45.”

Wait.

Arrival?

Oh no oh no oh no oh no. There on the other side of the ticket, the side I had somehow managed not to see up until that point, was clearly stamped: “Departure – 8:40.” I didn’t breathe as I checked the time on my phone.

8:37.

Well damned if we were going to miss a second train that evening. I dumped everything I could from the table into my purse without bothering to zip it, grabbed every bag and child in sight, and began to run. Mercifully, the restaurant was only a block away from the station, but once we got in, there were crowds of people to navigate (while shouting “Excuse me!” in whatever language came to mind) and then two separate flights of stairs. I was dragging Sophie along at top speed and trying not to cry from desperation when it suddenly registered that the girls were laughing. Not just laughing but guffawing. Sophie was laughing so hard that she doubled over, and that’s when I realized she had lost two rather important items on our dash down the stairs: 1) pants, 2) underwear.

Both girls promptly fell over from laughing so hard, and I couldn’t tell whether I was laughing or crying as I sprawled on the floor trying to get Sophie presentable again, and it felt like an eternity before I had collected both children and luggage (my bearings being long gone), and we lunged onto the closest train without checking, and it hurt to breathe, and I didn’t see how I’d survive if we had gotten on the wrong one after all that.

Miracles were on our side though. Not only were we on the right train—and with a generous thirty seconds to spare—but we were on the right car and standing directly in front of the right seats. The entire way to Milan, the girls and I dissolved into giggling fits while I fished individual fries out of my purse and reminded my brain to stuff the What Ifs. We got plenty of looks from other passengers, but when one has just done the impossible and gotten her hysterical, semi-clothed  children and their dinners from a restaurant onto a train in two minutes and thirty seconds, one doesn’t tend to value dignity quite as highly as she otherwise might.

Collage - Making it to Milan

I dropped the girls off with their beloved Uncle Mike and caught the last train of the night up to Lake Como, arriving at the banquet just after midnight in smudged jeans and who-cares hair. It wasn’t exactly the Cinderella evening I had envisioned.

But then again, I hadn’t envisioned how deliciously relaxing it would feel to hold hands with my husband under the stars with a good glass of wine and the whisper of water over rocks… or how luscious it would feel to sleep the next morning away in a king size bed… or how perfect a simple carpaccio would taste for breakfast lunch on the waterfront… or how complete I would feel the next evening when the four of us were together again, walking hand in hand along Milan’s navigli.

Collage - Loveliness

The only thing that really cast a damper over my weekend was knowing I’d have to get up ridiculously early this morning to take public transportation to work. It felt especially overwhelming last night around 1 a.m., having just arrived home and wanting nothing so much as to put a hold on responsibility. Here too, though, the chaos of upended plans rearranged to reveal miracle, because when an all-day bus strike was announced for our city, being car-less and reliant on public transportation got me exactly what I went to Lake Como to find in the first place: a day of rest.

29Sep

Chicken Glitzle

I wasn’t going to write this week. I had made peace with that, or as much peace as a woman can have while digging around in her bottomless purse for an inhaler while trapped in the fast lane (metaphorically. mostly.). However, despite the lists piled around my ears (not metaphorical, these), I can’t seem to close my computer right now and dash away. Perhaps it’s best to go with instinct on this one.

So here’s the scoop—The sky has been falling steadily on us for the last several weeks, and sometimes miracles are the projectile du jour, and sometimes bad news pelts down like a hailstorm of cinder blocks. I’ve done a lot of ducking and a lot of internal pep talking, but mostly I’ve been working my brain down to the bone in an effort to help us survive the next month or two. It remains to be seen if this will make any difference or not, but I have to try.

The worst thing for me about living each day “di corsa”—on the run—is that I check out of my own life. I’m not the marathon runner in our family, but I imagine that this is what it feels like to get into that mental groove and see nothing beyond but a finish line. I have my blinders on and my focus given fully over to effort, but the glaring problem in this scenario is that I don’t see a finish line. I only see a falling sky.

I am probably employing just a tad more drama than our situation actually warrants, but I’m surprisingly bad at Zen when worries compound and I can’t get out of the fast lane to examine them properly. I’m distracted and rushed and knotted up and pretty thoroughly disconnected from All That Is Important.

So I’m skipping town. I’ve been invited by none other than my business-tripping crush to be his date at a banquet on Lake Como this weekend, and I’m going to put on my best impression of elegance (maybe in the back of the closet?) and pretend to be a celebrity for one glitzy evening, and hopefully, as the mood shifts from Chicken Little to Cinderella, I’ll be able to plug back into my own story.

And if it doesn’t work… well, every banquet needs a drama queen, right?

27Aug

How to Pray [If You’re Me]

Weigh butter and chocolate on the little kitchen scale gifted two years ago by a friend who understands how your heart-language is pooled in the creases of your hands. Double the amount needed. Pause, and triple it.  Swirl the lumps into liquid over simmering anxiety as your future fades in and out on the fringes of heat waves. Swelter wordlessly. Breathe the fragrance deep.

Brownie-making - 1

Sift in sugar and salt with a shaking hand. Unclench fingers along with illusions of control, and pour in a generous freeflow of vanilla steeped long months in an old medicine bottle, its brown pharmacy glass as familiar to you now as the life you ache not to leave. Stir in flour and watch the textures morph and meld, ever shifting toward goodness.

Brownie-making - 5

Slide triple-heavy pans into the oven to swell and stabilize in the pressing heat as you tackle the grand mess left behind, knowing that every last angle will soon come clean. Wipe away sweat and trickling fear.  Sideswipe batter into your mouth. Remember other kitchens you have created in, other spillovers of grace from your own half-written story, and wash your way down to the marble-smooth surface of trust.

Brownie-making - 7

Wait in the front row as baked chocolate offerings cool on the countertop. Imagine the faces of your intended recipients and exhale gratefulness. Whip together butter and sugar and tingling drops of peppermint into frosty decadence, and spread with a hand that has learned lavishness. Top chocolate with chocolate, and catch molecules of hope on your tongue.

Brownie-making - 8

Dissect your labor of thanks and arrange it bite-size on a recycled platter, a shabby but heartfelt gesture for the men who are giving your husband the financial backing to chase his dreams.  Rest assured that they’ll understand the language of brownies. Tear ripples of aluminum foil and seal a wave of joy in with the gift as you dare to believe that the wide miracle fields stretching ahead are as true as the simple ingredients you hold. Feel, earnestly to the brink of bursting, and for once, find no need for words.

Brownie-making - 10

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