When last we talked, my scrappy band of weary travelers had just emerged from the cocoon of a weird little hotel in Schiphol Airport and were ready to take on the last leg of the journey. So, the story of Day Two actually begins with our evening flight into Florence which was flawless – except for the fact that it was the exact moment I began having about one thousand second thoughts. I questioned my judgement in choosing a place so far away, in staying so long, in going at all. Swarms and swarms of doubts gnawed at my stomach and my happiness.
I don’t know how you handle the big, internal No’s that want to swamp your yea’s. I guess I don’t know even IF you have problems with pesky No’s like I do, or if maybe you have a fantastic trick that works to dispel them upon contact. For me, the only thing that works is to gut it out and talk myself off the ledge by remembering why I’m saying the Yes that I’m saying and that Yes’s rarely go uncontested and that there will be moments like this, but they do not mean I’ve made a mistake. By the time we landed, I felt better, but I knew everything would not be okay until we were safely lodged in my Florence apartment.
—-> Here’s the part that would be really boring to you about a cab driver and 32 euros and our airbnb hosts being a little late while we stood on a crazy busy street with our hoards of luggage, looking for all the world like The Clampetts Take Italy. I don’t want to bore you with the details but I also don’t want to forget that those two things happened, so now I can move on.
I love my apartment! It’s smack dab in the middle of the most bustling and (in my opinion) beautiful part of the city, Piazza de Signoria. It has soaring ceilings, incredible hardwood floors and huge, heavy doors that creak when you open them. There are old, paned windows that push out wide, letting in the fresh, fall air. I have a little terrace outside the kitchen and living room and my very own Nespresso machine cranking out perfect, morning espressos. This morning I awoke to the sound of church bells and happy chatter from people below. Oh, it’s just joy I tell you. Joy, joy to be living in the heart of this magical city. And I know that Belle danced through the streets of France, but I still feel a little like her here. Like a more wrinkled, more American version of Belle, living in a more Italian version of France. The comparison breaks down a little, but it still feels like it works somehow.
Since we arrived at night, I didn’t have much context for what was in the neighborhood of our house . I was SO excited to go exploring, but I didn’t want to go alone, mostly because my sense of direction is on par with my sense of long division. Everyone else was sleeping off jet lag, but I still snuck into Josiah’s room and asked him if he would go on an adventure with me. He was so tired and I’m not certain he knew what he was agreeing to, but he said yes. Now, he didn’t say yes because he wanted to go, or even to going…he said yes to me. I really adore him.
We raced down the long stone stairways of our apartment (which is the whole second floor of a beautiful old building in the heart of Florence) and then pushed the heavy, black doors out into the Florentine morning. The streets were already filled with people shopping and drinking coffee in quaint cafes and tourists snapping photos of Neptune in the piazza (Michelangelo called the sculpture of Neptune a waste of perfectly good marble, which is really snarky for a renassaince man, right?) We walked along the cobblestone streets, trying to take it all in – trying to comprehend a world where gelato stores are open at 8 a.m. and centuries-old statues dot the landscape. We found a grocery store and bought essentials: pastries, cheese, proscuitto, Nespresso pods and eggs. Josiah used my GPS to navigate our way back to our apartment, because I couldn’t A) understand how to read it and B) was too busy looking at ALL. THE. THINGS! Remember, this was my first glimpse of Florence in the daytime and I now certainly and absolutely believe in love at first sight.
We made it back to our place, cooked some lovely little breakfast sandwiches to eat on the terrace with more espresso while listening to the church bells chime through the courtyard behind our apartment. You know how moments get lodged in your memory and you realize you’ll probably still be talking about them in heaven? Yeah, this was one of those. And it’s funny, because it didn’t involve museums or landmarks or any of the seven wonders of the world – it just involved me, my son and a small journey off our well-marked map.
Later in the day, when Stef and Tori got here after a 40-hour trip (it felt a little like they were crossing the finish line of Amazing Race when we met them in the piazza outside) we went to lunch at a little restaurant across the alley from our apartment called GustaVino. We shared delicious food, a bottle of wine and ended the meal the Italian way: With icy cold shots of lemoncello. Tori and Stef then left us to catch up on badly-neeeded sleep while Josiah, Tess and David and I went to do a gondola ride on the Arno river.
These boats are a relatively new addition to the Arno, and only run through September. It was a cool and different way to see the city, while our tour guide served glasses of prosecco and told us about the history of the things we were seeing. I’m always reminded in these moments that America is still so, so new. It’s like we’ve barely just taken the price tags off our furniture, while Italy is worn and weathered in the best possible way.
After the boat tour, the Metcalfs and I did a little shopping and then shared a meat & cheese board on a terrace overlooking the Ponte Vecchio and the Arno River. Such an amazing place to sit and visit and remind ourselves that hey! We’re here! With the evening still young, we decided it was time for some real, Italian pasta (all three of us had ordered salads for lunch) so we wandered happily, looking for a choice that seemed right for us. I cannot explain to you how many restaurants, bistros, cafes and bakeries line every street and alley in this city. They are everywhere and it can feel overwhelming – like anything you pick might mean you’re missing what you should have picked. We finally landed at Trattoria Borgo Antico in Piazza San Spirito. Our meal started with a copper tin full of warm bread and a dish of spicy, purple olives. Maybe I haven’t mentioned this: I adore olives. ADORE them. So after those beauties showed up at my table, it wouldn’t have mattered what came after them. But what came after them? House made spaghetti carbonara with truffles. Cooked perfectly al dente, with a rich, buttery sauce, crispy pancetta and dotted with truffles, it was unbelievably delicious. One thing to note about European restaurants: they generally have lovely outside seating, but you’ll likely be near someone who is smoking, and in America we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be around strangers who are permitted to smoke. I’ve come to associate the smell of cigarettes with European vacations so I don’t have a serious aversion to it, but I know plenty people who just can’t enjoy a meal while the smoke wafts over their pizza. I say it’s a small price to pay for the perfect plate of pasta served al fresco, but that’s just me. Bottom line: This isn’t America and it doesn’t need to be.
After pasta, we were winding down. It was a long day with lots of walking and navigating and we were tired and ready for home. This was a good day. A good, good day that I will remember for always. I read a meme this morning that said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” And, yes, I think I believe it. I can’t begin to tell you how much money this trip is costing me and I’ll be honest: I’m spending money that I should be saving for my old age. When Steve got sick, so much of my financial picture got hazy and I started quite frantically saving and storing and making plans that seemed solid and secure. I was wise and careful and…fearful. But when I decided to say yes to this adventure, I also decided that the return would be worth it, that moving toward the unknown would actually create a more secure future in ways I won’t even fully know until I get there. So far, every single penny has paid me back in some beautiful way.
Okay, that’s it. I’m going to stop writing about day 2 and start living day 3 (which, if I’m honest, already started with a phone date with my beloved so there’s truly no way this day can be bad! Also – it’s my birthday! Double win!)
If you made it this far, thank you for reading and caring and not wanting to smack me with spaghetti for posting so much. I love you.
I’ve decided I want to write recaps regularly as I move through this month of adventure, but I don’t want to write too fussy, you know? I just want to write and not worry about being a writer or I’ll put off writing and then I’ll forget altogether. So bear with me or skip the posts marked “recap”, K? If I decide to try to be a good writer instead of an efficient one, I’ll let you know.
DAY ONE: Weird Things Abound in This Great Big World of Ours
Day One of my Big Fat Italian Adventure begins in Portland, Oregon at 8:00 a.m. and ends in Schiphol, Amsterdam at 8:00 am. The first leg of this trip involves Tess & David and Josiah. Tori is also coming – but she took a different flight that traverses a whole lot more of the globe than ours. I ran to Starbucks while my kids woke up and got ready, and I ran into this weird little French/Vietnamese bistro in a strip mall and bought a breakfast sandwich there. Whatever you might be imagining right now about the wisdom of merging those two cultures into one sandwiches, you’d be right. It was not pleasant, but for some reason, it felt like the right way to launch a day of globetrotting.
Cliff took us to the airport which was so kind of him and snapped this photo as he drove away and it’s already one of those photos I know will always be dear to me. (Josiah had just jumped through the big revolving door and missed the photo.)
Our flight from Portland to Amsterdam was ten hours and ten hours is a long time to be squished into a seat, hurtling through the air at unnatural rates of speed.
SEE? Josiah came too! The in-flight entertainment selections included a documentary that I had really wanted to see and that would be really great news except I watched a full season of Real Housewives of New York instead. It’s not culturally enriching, but it does make me really happy for my comparatively drama-free life.
We landed in Amsterdam at 11 pm our time and 8 am airport time. Our flight to Florence is only 90 minutes so it would seem that we’re going to make it with our hope and happiness and sanity in tact, except – plot twist! – we have a twelve-hour layover here. And “here” is Schiphol Airport which is almost impossibly hip and cool, but we are TIRED. And CRABBY. And not the good kind of crabby, the “Why did I ever agree to this?” kind of crabby. We wandered the airport in an aimless stupor for about an hour, searching desperately for any horizontal surface on which to rest our crabby heads, but alas, other savvy travelers had beaten us to them. We ended up finding a little hotel in the airport that was equal parts weird and wonderful. We got rooms there, where ‘rooms’ = ‘sleep pods”. Tiny climate-controlled spaces comprised mostly of a bed with excellent linens, cool lighting and a see-through bathroom. We booked our sleep experience for four hours, which was very expensive and very, very worth it.
Upon waking, we visited Starbucks yet again (before we got Euros, so one small coffee + one small tea + international transaction fee on my card = $12 American dollars.) One thing I’ll say about Starbucks: they’ve nailed consistency. The first sip of my coffee felt like home and at that moment, while immersed in the great unknown, a little taste of home was exactly what I needed. We next visited a little Dutch bistro where my kids had dutch babies and I had another weird little sandwich, but this one worked somehow. Now, we’re reading, recapping and waiting for our next and last flight. In fact, this will be my last flight for a month and if I’m honest, I’m feeling…exciety. Some mix of excitement and nerves. Can I do this? How will everything work? Will I love this place as much as I did the first time? So many emotions, plus a fair amount of tiredness – but I do feel ready. Ready to see what’s next, to remember that His voice is clear and real even when my circumstances aren’t. I’m ready.
And as I sit in this airport, surrounded by all kinds of languages and accents and people, I am nearly overcome with the beauty of this big, weird world of ours. It’s breathtaking, really, the way we flow together and apart, moving in and out of common spaces and creaky corners, hoping to catch a glimpse of beauty and life and truth. Because really, it’s those three things. If I have a soul-deep awareness of those three things, then I can lose everything and still have everything. Beauty. Life. Truth. You may want to add love to the list, but I suspect that love IS the list.
So, here I am 5900 miles from all that I know best, but already seeing the ways He came ahead of me to decorate the walls of this world so I’d spot ‘home’ when I saw it. His goodness has gone before me, I know it for sure. He left His fingerprints all over the place.
Next stop, Florence.
It’s been awhile, yes? I know. I never call, never write. I’m sorry. Life has been full and busy, but more than anything, I’ve been holding words close to my heart for the past few months. Sometimes you feel ready to chisel your thoughts into the stone of social media, and sometimes you don’t. Recently, I just haven’t.
Today, though? Thoughts! I’m sharing ’em!
Remember when I launched Project Yes to Life? It came on the heels of my husband’s death when I was reeling with uncertainty and lacking in courage. I read a book that caused me to commit the next year of my life to saying YES to hard things, scary things, exciting things. Some people pushed back a bit and said, “But saying the right ‘no’s” is important, too. And yes. They are correct. In fact, in order to say Yes to anything at all, No to something else is usually necessary. But I have in the past, used No as an excuse to stay stuck and so for me, for 2016, YES was the right word. And I used it, y’all, I really did. I said Yes to all sorts of things including – a six-week sabbatical from my job in 2017. My job graciously allows a sabbatical every seven years. I took one right after Steve died, though it maybe didn’t fit the definition exactly, and I’m taking one now, having just passed the 15-year mark at Westside. I’m now on Day 6 of said sabbatical and I have to say: it’s going great!
My goals for this time are a little squishy right now. Mostly, the plan is to regroup, refresh, probably write, take in new sights and sounds, see the world and Jesus and life from another vantage point. The vantage point I’ve chosen for my time is Florence, Italy. Ever since my first visit in 2011, I’ve wanted to go back and spend significant time there. I had it in my heart to go when I retired, but when I got rolling with the whole Yes situation, I decided I needed to do it now. I booked an apartment last December, and have been waiting anxiously, second-guessing, anticipating, regretting, hoping, dreaming ever since. It really has been a roller coaster of “I’m so excited I’m doing this!” and “Why the heck am I doing this?”
But, now, on the brink of stepping off the map of this city I’ve called home for the past 23 years and into the great unknown, I am nearly 90% Yes. I am nervous, for sure. But I am ready. I am so, so ready.
I’m hoping to document my time away on the blog or Facebook or something that will some day provide me with evidence that I really did do this thing, but I’m also not promising anything right now. I want to live in the day and in the moment and in the gelatto. So, we’ll see. Please don’t be mad at me if I don’t post much. And please don’t be mad at me if I do. Please don’t be mad at me in general. I know what an extraordinary gift it is to be able to travel and to have a job that gives me the time to pursue this dream, and I think there is enough dream-fullfilling power in our Great God to satisfy all of us. All I know for sure is, without Him none of this would be possible and I am so, so thankful.
So, follow along if you’d like to see more pictures of cappuccino than you know what to do with. I hope to share them and to share some bits of what I’m learning, feeling and experiencing as Project Yes to Life goes to Italy.
I love you.
This morning a tattered piece of paper fell from my journal – a prayer I wrote during my husband’s battle with ALS, when I felt my son, who was 11 at the time of diagnosis, was overwhelmed by the sorrow of the situation. I’ve since prayed it so many times over so many different areas of my children’s lives. Praying it always gives me peace, so I thought I’d share it with you, with the hope that your children feel safe in the storms that they face and that you feel safe as you watch them sail.
A Prayer for Josiah
Lord God of Hosts, who is strong like You, Lord? Your faithfulness surrounds You. You rule the raging sea; when its waves surge, You still them. Psalm 89:8-9
The worries of the world rise and rage like a storm
I want to calm it
Or take his place
Or steer his boat
But these seas are his to sail.
Remind me that he is not alone
Because You, O Captain, are strong for the storm
You are surrounded by Your own faithfulness
You, encircled by You, encircling my boy in his boat
You are there when the waves rise
You are there when the waters roar
Before he calls, You answer the winds
Peace, be still
Worry, be quiet
Chaos, be calm
And when he forgets to call, or refuses to call
When fear or pride keeps the words caught in his throat
Knuckles tight around the wheel,
Speak to the storm in him
And give him ears to hear
A heart to respond
And courage to rest.
I have a few questions I ask myself – some daily and some weekly – to make sure I’m emotionally healthy and aligned with God’s purpose for my life on any given day. My overly analytical tendency is to think too far forward and forget to find meaning in the moment, so building a quick self test has been really important.
The handful of questions are very basic. They measure things like how peaceful I feel, how obedient I’ve been, whether or not I’ve stopped to listen to Him and others, etc. But recently I added a question to the metric and it’s made a very big impact on how I view my life’s purpose. The question is this:
Are you having fun right now? If not, why not?
Seriously. That’s the question. And before you yell at your computer screen that sometimes life is hard and suffering is important and we gotta do the difficult, let me say: I agree with all those things. I’ve had a pretty immersive experience in dealing with sadness and doing hard things. But I also believe that those seasons should not be the norm. When the battle is over, we should go on home. And home should – at least in some small way – be fun, or maybe we’re doing it a little bit wrong. Fun should not be the once-annual byproduct of having cleaned up all the messes and eliminated all the negative ingredients. Fun should be had in the very middle of the messes and in rebellion to the negative elements that want to sink our happiness and steal our whimsy.
I have a job I adore, a family I would die for, friends who make my life more rich and full than I ever could have imagined, an amazing boyfriend (**see footnote) and grandkids that are so cute they make my heart do backflips. Most importantly, I am alive in the right-now, right-here good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The seasons of sorrow have been real and treacherous, but they have made me more compassionate, more wise, more rich than I was before. So much is good and right and beautiful in my life that I’m beginning to believe if I’m not having some serious fun living it, then maybe I have bought some kind of of lie that the other shoe is about to drop, or other people have it better or I’m too busy (*see other footnote – it’s a footnote kind of day) to really enjoy it right now or any manner of excuse-making we do when we’d rather stay stuck than change.
It certainly doesn’t need to be your life motto, but it is becoming one of mine: If I’m not having fun, I might be doing it wrong.
Have a really fun Monday!
*I just read this article by Eugene Peterson about The Unbusy Pastor and it was like the best sort of punch in the gut.
**It’s still feels wonky to say “boyfriend” at 51, but “gentleman friend’ seems yet stranger. In fact, let me honestly state that dating is the most weird, whimsical, outrageous, controversial, risky thing I have ever done, and I do not love risks. My life would be so much more ordered and calm and predictable without it but it would also be exponentially less fun and full and happy.