31 May 2012

Florence: A Peek at Our Watchtower

Looking back through some of our pictures has been so heart-warming for me. Totally putting some of the tired/worn-out/worried business into perspective. I am in a state of gratitude for all we are doing. Every bit of it.

Here you see a series of photos from our stay in the medieval watchtower (built in 1124!) outside of Florence. It was every bit of wonderful we had hoped for. And this is just a peek! Honestly, I can still hardly believe it myself.

30 May 2012

Venice: Fresh Memories

 I've given up writing posts in chronological order. I am currently in Switzerland, finishing packing for our journey into France, and thought I'd reminisce on some of Italy. So. Here is a few photos of Venice! Venice became a quick favorite for our family. Sure it's busy and crowded and touristy ... but there is so much to look at. Bridges and flowers and boats and shops. And to our surprise, many quiet peaceful alcoves where we felt like we were alone in the city.

We bought a CD from a small group of musicians who were playing in one of these alcoves, a concert hall for the lucky who stumbled down their lane. We plan on playing it tomorrow to our long drive from Switzerland to France.

In the busy jumble of this trip of delights, I'm finding new reminders of how the small things bring such satisfaction and joy. A car trip filled with music and fresh memories. I'm looking forward to it.

29 May 2012

Switzerland: Watch out, Here Come the Americans

Guess what? We had a Swiss Family Adventure today. While backing down a road, we backed off a stone retaining wall. The sound it made was disturbingly loud and spoke of a truly terrible situation. Short explanation? The front wheel was completely suspended in the air with the right bumper resting on the wall. To back up further would result in certain bumper/car separation. People were driving by on the little Swiss village road and either laughing or gasping in horror. But they all hurried by so they wouldn't get commissioned to help.

Fortunately, we were right by a lumberyard and working men. My pathetic high-school German was enough to convince them to help. Albeit, I think they just thought it was a silly lady who needed the battery jumped, or something simple like that. They were stunned to silence when they walked up to the scene. The pictures don't do justice to the "Oh.My.Goodness" of the situation.

But, after a minute of chin-rubbing and head-scratching, we all looked at each other and started laughing. Stupidity crosses language barriers and can ignite instant camaraderie. A jack, dolly, 2x6, 3 men and a wife got it done. And to top it all off, there is no visible damage to the car.

So again. Thank you for those prayers. It is quite evident we need them!

28 May 2012

Roma: Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain

I've yet to properly download the photos from Florence and Venice, but here are a few more from our last full day in Rome. It was a "40-minute-walk" that lasted closer to 3 hours. (You'll detect some droopy shoulders in some of these photos.) However, the sights seen are those that are fun to say ... "I've been there!"

Rome is already becoming a somewhat distant and fond memory. The children feel very friendly towards the city and a bit like its' conqueror. We arrived this afternoon in Switzerland after a 5 hour drive that really wasn't that bad at all. I am thanking the heavens above we sprang for the EU chip for our GPS. It was spendy, but it has saved the day countless times when maps and roads and exits and roundabouts all collided with foreign names and plenty of confusion.

As we drove, it was so curious to see the Italian countryside morph into Swiss Alps. Even the houses, roads, and bridges began to take on a distinctly new form. And then, seemingly around a bend, we found ourselves in Sound of Music-land with rolling green hills painted with blankets of wildflowers, towering snow-capped mountains, and deep village-filled valleys. "Oh my!" trills Jane. "This is wonnnnnderful!"

The main Swiss day-excursion initially planned has been scrapped due to a pass that is still closed. I'm a little bit disappointed ... but in a way relieved that we can just be. Plans to hike and loaf and explore for our next couple of days. This is good.

"In Him we live and move and have our being ..." 
Acts 17:28

27 May 2012

Travel Update: In Venice

We are just finishing up our time here in Venice (yes, we did the touristy/expensive gondola ride and loved it!) and are preparing for a drive through the Alps into Switzerland tomorrow morning. A little sad to be leaving Italy (and the daily gelato feastings!) but looking forward to a new pace and vistas.

I just finished composing a slap-dash email to my mother. An addendum, rather, to the "I'm so tired I can barely appreciate anything and keep on praying for us" email that I sent an hour ago. It seems I got a grip and a better perspective. Phew. For my dear ones who are reading and for posterity, I thought I would post it here.
Okay, kids in bed, showered, feeling better. Thought I should send a follow up email. First things first, we are and have been healthy!! This is a huge answer to prayer. Lucette and Jane have some massive bug bites (L in particular) that are disrupting sleep, but other than that, we are all healthy and doing well. Such a blessing. Also, safety. We've been fine at all times. No real issues at all. Even managing crowed subways and buses, the kids have done an awesome job and we've all been able to stay together. Another huge answer to prayer.

Italy. We're in Italy! It's gorgeous here, the weather is perfect and the food divine. We are continually amazed at the "fast food" that consists of artisan bread and slices of carved meat and cheese with a bottle of Pellegrino. It's Italy's answer to chili-dogs and mountain dew ala 7-11. Accommodations. Every place we have booked, so far, has been represented correctly, easy to find, and offered up by gracious hosts. Having a little home to come to versus a hotel room has been wonderful. There is even a park right next to our home here in Venice that the kids can go run around in. I would do it this way again. Very comfortable, pleasant, and practical with the kids. It's also afforded us a more "local" way to stay and view the cities we are in.

The sights were are taking in each day are so much, it's almost hard to process them in the now. I have a feeling it will take time to really sort out what we think of them and how they impact us. We rode the Venice gondola today. Peter was very pleased. He really is quite fond of the city. Also, great shopping. I really have done virtually none up until this point (not easy w/ kids in tow). I bought some luscious teal leather gloves in Florence on the Ponte Vecchio and in Venice I bought a leather handbag and a pair of shoes. Super fun.


... and then some mushy, "I love you, mom, what would I do without you" stuff. Warm thanks to all of you who continue to keep us in your prayers. You are blessing our family daily.

24 May 2012

The Trip Continues: Firenze

Our trip has continued, even though my posts took a hiatus. Power-sources being what they are (for both the computer and myself) and all. And the photos? I've got them, but loading them up requires a team effort from Pops and myself. I'm not even sure why it is so complicated, but such is many things over here!

After our whirlwind days in Rome we called Giuseppe. Giuseppe was the man we hired at the airport to take us to our Rome apartment. He was kind and honest so we asked for his card and he picked us up when our stay was over. -- "It is a dream for you American come to Roma to see everything so old, no? Ahh, and for us in Italia, we dream of coming to America where everything is so new..." Perspectives are so interesting, aren't they? -- Giuseppe took us to the location of our rental car pick-up. Since we needed the car for a good length of time, we actually "purchased" the car through an agency and then will "sell it back" to a corresponding agency in Marseille, France.

I was almost shocked seeing the car there with our name on it ready to go. Somehow it is surprising when the plans we made months ago are actually working out for us in the present. We packed into our little car, armed with maps and plenty of cluelessness and off we went. We managed the autostrada (the rest-stops have full-on delis and espresso bars) and a few hours later we drove to our watchtower in Bagno a Ripoli, a village just outside of Florence.

And watchtower, you ask? Yes. We are staying in the watchtower of a medieval villa from 1146. It is beyond fantastic. I have taken a zillion photos and can't wait to share them. Yesterday evening, we took a cooking class from our hosts who own the villa and learned how to make pasta from scratch and why eggs are not refrigerated in the stores. (If they are fresh, they are fine at room temperature for 3 weeks. Nobody here refrigerates their eggs and you purchase them off the shelf in the grocery. Makes you wonder about our eggs, doesn't it?) Needless to say, we ate very well last night and are feasting on the leftovers this evening.

Florence, the city, is gorgeous. More of an elegance than the gritty, ancient Rome. But mercy. Getting there requires a car-trip down the hill to a park and ride and a bus into the city. Their bus system is highly efficient ... if you can figure it out. We have spent a lot of time on buses, and not always heading the right direction.

And as a keeping-it-real note, I've had one full on melt-down and a mini-melt-down earlier today after a bus/laundry/dinner debacle. (It's a long story) The trip is magnificent and I am so grateful. But life and reality still exist and being exhausted in busy cities with three young children where you don't speak the language ... hard. Plus, I seem to want to feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of our trip. Feeling like I am not making the most of our time or I wasted our time at failed efforts to see/do. Feeling like this trip is a one-shot deal, so I better do it right.

However. Through a couple of encouraging emails and a word from the Lord (seriously), I am resting on this thought: "Don't look at this as a trip of a lifetime, but the trip you are taking now." Somehow, this feels profound to me. And those prayers I cajoled you all into? I'm am coveting them. Thank you.

Our last night in the watchtower. Time to finish off baths and appreciate an evening of calm in the Tuscan countryside. See there, Anna? Moments of blessing abound. 

Buona sera.

20 May 2012

Roma: The Colosseum, Friendships, & Fascinations

 On our second full day, we were astonished at all we accomplished and with the ease in which it unfolded. I chalk it up to all the prayers enlisted. We did not go inside the Colosseum on the previous day, as the pass we bought at Palatine Hill (sneaky guide book trick) was good for 48 hours and for the Colosseum. Because of the pass we bypassed a 2 hour-wait line and managed to, I think accidentally, enter through the tour-group line. Which means we were inside in all of 5 minutes. Unreal. Who gets into the Colosseum in 5 minutes?

 At some other point, I'll have to write in more detail, for there really is so much to express in the sights that we have beheld. But for now, I'll content myself with these brief photo and journal entries as concrete documentation that we are, indeed, doing all that we are!

 Right after viewing the Colosseum, we dashed off to the Church of San Clemente for a long awaited meeting. Last fall, once I knew for sure we were taking this trip, I started trolling Google and sending query emails to archeologists based in Rome (as I figured they would speak English). I spoke of our family and our upcoming trip and of Peter's love of the ancient and archeology. I had no idea what kind of responses I would receive, if any, but why not try, right? Maybe someone would feel compelled to answer and give us a few tips.

I did, in fact, receive a few kind emails of encouragement. But one, in particular, was from a man who said he was just Samuel's age when he first fell in love with all that Samuel has. He explained his profession as a professor of archeology in Rome and offered up suggestions of all that we might see and consider on our trip. From there plans emerged and a pen-pal relationship developed. In addition to his thoughtful attention via emails ... he mentioned he would be willing to meet up with us in the city, once we came. The offer was beyond my expectations.

On Friday, we met at S. Clemente and he gave us a tour rich with fact, explanation, and passionate detail. Fascinating. Peter was a bit in awe, as I think we all were. After our on-sight investigations, we all went to lunch and the Professor helped us order a feast. As lunch proceeded, we all began realizing that a true friendship was forming.

I'm still humbled that he would take the time out of his busy days for our little circus troupe of a family. We talked of future plans to meet again and possible Skype encounters. What an unforeseen blessing.

Moreover, the Professor also guided us through the Metro procedures, as we turned into confused little squirrels at the very thought. After a generous on-site tutorial and even spotting us the correct change since our denominations were too large (Italians are much less dependent on using plastic commerce as us Americans! Cash is used and expected), we made our way across the city to the Vatican.

We wandered, stared, and gawked at the opulence. And even climbed all 323 steps up St. Peter's cupola. What a view.

Again, more to come at a later date to expound upon these experiences. My grammar is poor and my thoughts muddled, but it is good to chronicle the days. And this day was perhaps my favorite thus far.

17 May 2012

Roma: Ancient City Neighborhood

The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and Mamertine Prison (where Paul and Peter were imprisoned) today.

Way too tired to write much or even notice that I am selecting some out-of-focus photos for you to view. Off to bed. Buona Sera!

16 May 2012

We Arrive: Roma

 And we made it. From a 3:00am wake-up a five hour flight to DC, obligatory layover, and an eight hour flight to Rome ... we have arrived. Bleary-eyed, weary, confused, slightly grumpy ... yet very happy. Maybe it's just the jet-lag, but we all feel as though we are functioning in a dream-like state. 

Roma? We are really in Roma?  

 Once we sailed through customs at the Fiumicino airport (oddly easy), we finagled our shuttle to take us into the city and be deposited at the door of our apartment. Yea! We dropped our luggage off at 10am, as the cleaning lady was still working and we were not to check in 'til 2:00. We knew this would be the case ahead of time, but the ensuing 4 hours were by far the hardest part so far. Tired, dirty, and completely lacking in bearings as we wandered aimlessly. The children were exhausted, but a stop at a little cafe for pizzas and cappuccinos helped to bolster morale a little.

Although, Peter did fall asleep on the table, while the locals pointed and smiled.
 Once we were finally able to meet Luca, our apartment host (and receive a generous walk-around tour), the whole family morphed into sleeping masses. Leaving me to holler and shake each one, warning of the terrors of sleepless, jeg-lagged nights. It is hard to keep exhausted people awake ... myself included.

After a forced trip to the grocery with borderline-melt-down children, we made our dinner at home. Food does always put things at rights, doesn't it?

Especially when it's super good.

Currently, we are finishing up baths, contemplating laundry and figuring out the drying-lines outside the window, and tucking the kids into an early bed. On the docket for Pops and myself? A quick run-down of the day tomorrow ... Colosseum, Forum, Trevi Fountain and (gulp) metro passes ... and into bed we go, as well.

I confess, I've already had moments of  "What on earth have I gotten us into!" ... but overall, just happy to be here. Happy to be here with my family.

Love to all.

14 May 2012

Jittery With Excitement

Eeeeks! The time is here! In a little more than 24 hours from now, we will be heading off to the airport for our grand European Adventure. Feels a bit like a dream, to be honest. My brain has been such a swirl of planning and strategizing for so many months I can hardly believe the trip is real and not just a magnificent version of imaginary play.

Our travel clothes are laid out and the bags are 85% packed. Lots of lists being made and checked and rechecked.

And the luggage, you ask? This is it, folks! the whole deal for a family of five for three weeks in Europe. All of our clothes are in those three carry-ons and three of the backpacks in the rear of the photo are the kids' carry-ons and zip onto the wheelies for when they get too heavy. In addition, Pops has a backpack, I have the little black messenger bag and the big duffel is our only checked piece of luggage (with room to spare for our found travel goodies!).

Can you tell I am proud of myself?

And so ... if you feel inclined to pray for our family, I would be so grateful. Prayer for safety, health, unity, joy, and a heart to receive all that God has plans to reveal to us. Thank you.

I'm off to finish my busy work and finish reading through the "house manual" for the flat we are renting in Rome. Here is what I am already curious about:

"Cooking machine: press and turn the throttle on the left, press the piezoelectric until the flame lights and hold for a few seconds. To close the gas, you have to rotate the yellow throttle under the sink (on the wall)."

Hoping to post while we are abroad! Stay tuned, and love to all ...

09 May 2012

A Good and Perfect Gift

 Today one of my beauties had a birthday. Dear Lucette turned nine. And with each passing year I see more of God's design revealed in her. Her tender heart, her zest for life, her verve and spunk, her grace and gentleness.

 And as she matures and grows, she is managing to retain her sparkle. Her come-what-may perspective and willingness for joy.

I admire this about her.

 This weekend we were able to celebrate her day with family and the sweet lilacs all a-bloom in the yard.

And today? The actual birth-day? We had special meals, gifts on the trampoline, and some after-dinner frozen-yogurt. All lovely. But you know what else happened today? In third grade one gets to bring something in for sharing. You know what Lucette brought? Her mama. She even wrote a post-it note reminder for me so I wouldn't forget.

Oh, dear child. You are the gift on this day, May 8.

And you are exactly what we always hoped for.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights ..."
James 1:17

07 May 2012

The First One for My Last One

It's been wiggly since Easter. This weekend provided the moment she had been waiting for. Her first lost tooth.

Can I say that it was surprisingly hard for me? Like a confirmation that my baby truly isn't a baby anymore. When the other children started losing teeth, somehow I took comfort in the thought that I still had a back-up. One more little face ... full of baby chompers ... to coddle.

Such a mix of pride, joy and a twinge of heartache to watch my children grow. I feel the oft talked about sense of wanting to freeze time so strongly. But it does remind me to appreciate what is in front of me ...

... and oh, there is such abundance.