Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tantrums, Time, and Truth

You know the fit that a child throws when they are forced to share, or comply with a request from their parent that they don't want to heed, or give back something they have taken that doesn't belong to them but they feel altogether entitled to?

Yeah, I've been throwing one of those lately. (mostly internally, since its frowned upon when a child does it but would be downright horrifying for an adult to indulge in.)

Something about returning from a once-in-a-lifetime, 12 days of romance, kid free trip to Europe, and being instantly greeted by real life, has thrown me headlong into an "Oscar the Grouch" kind of mood.

Real life is kicking my butt.

Laundry.
Groceries.
Discipline.
Exercise.
Bills.
Toilets.
Yard work.

Those things all had to be restarted, as if from scratch, after 2 1/2 weeks out of town.

Which is just plain unfair.

But, on top of that, it seems we have been in a full blown "how much extra craziness and drama and calamity can we cause before we start back to school?" phase. And the answer is...A WHOLE LOT.

Skulls nearly cracked on bottoms of swimming pools.
Eyes accidentally sprayed with laundry detergent and requiring an hour of saline flushing.
"Accidental" urine aiming malfunctions, resulting in a child's ARM being peed on.
Flooding of a bathroom, with the cleanup using every single towel in the house. (19, to be exact)

Yes...I am suffering from a severe case of European postpartum.

Because I never had to ask the question "Did you pee on her arm on purpose, or was it an accident?" while I was in Italy.

I'm totally in denial that it's only a matter of weeks before I start back to home-schooling for another year. I'm irritated that time seems to be marching on fast-forward. I can hardly fight the longing to sit on my couch and watch movies while painting my toenails and eating chocolate. All. Day. Long.

I am pitching a full blown fit.

When kids do it, we recognize it instantly for what it is.

Selfishness.
Rebellion.
Irrationality.

It's easy to see it in a kid's tantrum.

But I don't want to see it in my own.

And there-in lies the problem.
I want to call it "European postpartum" rather than good old-fashioned selfishness.

I want to say the kids have been extra out-of-control, rather than admit I have been extra irrational in my expectations of their behavior.

I want to believe that the summer actually did fly by on fast-forward, thereby justifying my foot stomping at the arrival of August, rather than admit the truth; time is moving as it always does, but I am rebelling against what the forward march requires of me.

Ick.
I'm a big baby.

I need someone to look at me and say "You're being totally irrational, and selfish, and rebellious, and you need to snap out of it right now."

Okay.
I heard you.

I'll be happy to help you out with the same pep talk if you need it.

Because the truth is we all experience the blasts of selfishness and rebellion and frustration.

If you say you don't...I think you're also experiencing denial.

Take a deep breath.

Take another step.

Repeat as needed.

This morning the Word has spoken, and this is what He says to me, and to you:

"Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

"Why am I discouraged? Why is my soul downcast? I will put my hope in God!" (Psalm 42:5)

"I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken..." (Psalm 16:8)

"You, O Lord, are a shield around me. You are my glory, and the One who holds my head high." (Psalm 3:3)

Don't just breathe in and out. Don't just muscle through your steps.

Breathe in His promises.

Walk His steps.

And know that we all have the selfish, rebellious, irrational moments.

And still...still we can trust His promises.

"Thank You, Lord, for Your Word that doesn't fail, even when I am stomping and complaining and pouting. I am grateful for Your grace, and it's unfailing work in my life. Your mercy is enough for today, Lord, and new again tomorrow. Thank you. Amen."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Sound of Music


You know the opening scene from “The Sound of Music?” Where Maria is twirling on a hilltop and singing about the living, breathing, singing hills all around her?

Yeah. She was totally right.

Heath informed me, with a typical amount of lecture in his voice, that Maria was singing about the Austrian Alps, not the Swiss Alps.

I told him they were all alive, and all singing to me…and then I sang a few bars of the song at the top of my lungs, just to embarrass him. I would have done some running and twirling as well, except we were sharing our particular hilltop with fifty other hikers, and my public spectacle-making only extends so far.

But, in all seriousness…the Alps, people. Saying they are spectacular doesn’t do them justice. There aren’t enough words.

We took a train to the top of a mountain near the Matterhorn, where we were able to see for miles. We were above the timberline, which means there wasn’t enough oxygen for trees, or even grass, to grow. Walking up the short ramp to the observation deck left us both breathless. That’s how thin the air was. And it was cold.

Like, 45 degrees cold.

In July!

We stood for a long time, just gazing around us (and trying to start breathing normally again, instead of gasping like a couple of wimpy American tourists), and then we started hiking down.

The trail was single file, and Heath kept stopping to take pictures anyway, so I had time to listen as I hiked.

And I heard the Lord, there on the mountainside.

It started out small, barely a stirring in my heart. But as I walked it grew, until I had no choice but to stop, and to listen harder, and to really hear what He was saying to my soul.

“Do you see the mountain?”



‘Yes, Lord. It’s covered in snow. Its cold and forbidding and barren of green, void of life. I see the mountain. It frightens me with its loveliness, and with its danger.’

“Walk a few steps more.”

And so I did, and then a few steps more, and as I descended the mountain slowly, carefully picking my way around rocks in the path, the landscape started to change.

Now it wasn’t only rocks and dirt and cold blasting wind.

A few patches of moss appeared.
And then a few sprigs of grass.

And, shockingly, defying the odds of freezing temperatures and thin, oxygen deprived air, flowers poked their heads up, straining toward the sun. Pure white, shades of purple, and deep yellow dotted sparsely over the terrain, and I was charmed…but still I walked.

And then. Then I rounded a corner.

And there was a stream. Trickling happily along, tripping over rocks and sand. And on its banks…oh the colorful array of flowers here I beheld.



I stopped. His voice was stirring again.

“Do you see the stream? And the flowers?”

‘Oh, yes, Lord. Beautiful. This is much better than the mountain. So much more alive.’

“But, the stream was once the snow. The mountain waters the flowers.”

I sat down a few steps beyond the stream. A lump had formed in my throat, and I wanted to take a moment to process the words spoken to my heart.

The snow on the mountain, that makes it so forbidding, treacherous, even deadly…without it, there would be no stream, and no flowers.

The flowers grew here because there was water and more oxygen.

BUT…if not for the freezing temperatures above that kept the peaks capped in snow, and if not for the thin, lifeless air where trees couldn’t grow to absorb the melting drifts…

Without the deadly, cold, isolated mountain, there would be no life here where I sat.

And the lump turned into tears, and they trekked silently down my cheeks as I raised my eyes to the mountain again.

This is the same as our lives, isn’t it?

We embrace the air that is easy to breathe, and we celebrate the flowers and streams and the lovely sights and sounds and smells that go with them…

But we shy away from the cold, lifeless places; the hills too hard to climb, the bleak, isolated moments where we can barely catch our breath and nothing can shield us from the cold wind.

But…BUT…the lifeless, cold, barren, suffocating places…

 Its there that we FIND HIM.

And HEAR Him.

And SEE Him.

He is the sound of music, alive on the mountain, singing to our lonely, dying hearts.

The wind blows icy sometimes, and travelers are weary, footsore, starving, breathless and afraid.

But He is not absent.

We must have the snow.
We must feel the wind.
We must embrace the lifeless steps.

Because those shape us, and mold us, and when we descend a bit…then a single yellow sprig will shoot up.

And then another…

And another, joined by white blooms, and shades of purple…

Until we are once again walking by a trickling, bubbling stream, and we could pick a bouquet of the flowers we find there, and we can breathe easily and fully…

But we must not forget the mountains.

Because there are some behind us, yes, but there are more in front of us.

That is life.
That is the walk.
It’s His plan, and it’s singing to us in the hills.

The cold, the desolation, the fear, the hurt, the confusion, the loneliness, the pain…
It is necessary.

It is how there can be life in the other places.

Wherever you find yourself today, whether cold, bleak mountaintop, or sparsely adorned hillside, or lush green valley, I pray you will hear what He is saying, and understand.

The hills ARE alive.

HE is the music.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

WIFI Woes


You know what Venice could really use?

This is a question I began asking when we first arrived in Italy, with regard to each place we have stayed. There have been varying answers over the last week and a half. In Sorrento, I quickly observed that there was a desperate need for an interstate, or at the very least a two-lane road! In Rome, there was a significant deficiency of asphalt. In Bologna, there was a total absence of public restrooms. (and, while we are on the restroom subject: you know what all of Italy could really use? Decent toilet paper.)

I have been muttering this question, (which is really just a cover for some good old fashioned complaining) to my husband since we arrived in Venice two days ago.

And the answer is…

Working WIFI!

Seriously. Though our lovely hotel claimed to have wifi access, and we were even granted the log-in codes to use it…it never worked. Not once while we stayed there.

My irritation with this problem knows no bounds, and is outdone only by the fact that the train we are now sitting on (and will remain sitting on for the next 4 hours as we journey into Switzerland) also doesn’t have WIFI.

What. The. Heck.

How am I supposed to Facetime with my kids?

Or text my friends?

Or post pictures on Instagram to make everyone jealous?

Or blog about all the things Italy could really use?

Or text my friends?!?!?!?!?!

My husband thinks this whole crisis is comical. Which he has the luxury of thinking, because he has a company cell phone with international WIFI of its own.

I’m snarling at him from behind the screen of my laptop.

He doesn’t notice because he is busy surfing the web.

So, in an effort to stop thinking about the fact that I cannot reach out and touch my world, I will instead dwell on the WIFI lacking gem we have just left.

Venice.

Sigh…

Totally different from Rome, and, I have decided, equally magnificent.

The hotel where we stayed was once the summer palace of someone rich, as most of the hotels in Venice are. Our taxi drove us right up to the entrance. And before you yawn and say “so what? Don’t all taxi do that?” let me add another detail.

It was a water taxi.

In fact, the only vehicles we saw while we were in Venice were floating ones.

It is a city unlike any other in the world.

Speedboats and gondolas share the same water.

Crumbling buildings are connected to grand palatial estates.

There are churches on every single canal.

There are shops and restaurants and gelato cafes everywhere you turn.

Venice is famous for a few things; canals and the gondolas that maneuver them, obviously, but also for glass making and for hand-sewn lace.

We took a tour of a glass making facility. It was fantastic to witness the ‘masters’ at work. And they ARE masters. It takes 25 years working in the glass blowing trade to become a glass master. They earn their title.

And we walked through at least 50 shops where little old ladies with gnarled hands and thick glasses were sewing in a corner, making lace scarves, or dresses, or earrings, or tablecloths.

I was charmed.

I wanted to buy everything I touched.  (If Heath weren’t blissfully lost in the wonders of WIFI, he would give me a skeptical glance that reads, “I’m pretty sure you DID buy everything you touched.”)

Yes, I bought hand made glass, and hand-sewn lace, and I also bought an Italian leather handbag, because I NEEDED a safe way to transport my glass and lace…

I am in love with Venice.

It’s a different love than my love for Rome, which is filled with ancient history and a deep-seated love for preserving and remembering it.

Venice is all about art. And beauty. And decadence. And love.

And also, a supreme need for some good old-fashioned American WIFI!!! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When in Rome


I have decided that Rome is my favorite city I’ve ever visited.

True, I haven’t been to a lot of truly remarkable cities around the world.

But still, even little southern girls are allowed to have a favorite city…and Rome is mine.

We had quite an aggressive list of things we wanted to see when we arrived, and not a lot of time to fit them all in, so we did a whole lot of fast walking, speed reading, and sweating.

It was magical.

Imagine, if you can, what a typical downtown might look like. Busses, taxis, people, crosswalks, and all the rest. Now add in Italian architecture, balconies on every single window, cascading plants on every single balcony, people on the streets talking in loud, animated tones…

This is Rome...

And then, in the midst of all the modern hustle and bustle, you round a corner…

And a giant, 2,000-year-old building is in front of you, proudly defying the test of time, reminding all who pass by that things have not always been as they are now.

This is also Rome…

I was breathless. Not from all the walking we did in order to see the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Vatican, and everything in between, but from the sheer enormity of the history all around me.

I mean, I saw the Sistine Chapel.

And the place where Julius Caesar was cremated after being betrayed and murdered by Brutus.

And the first chariot racetrack.

And the tomb of the great painter, Raphael.

And the place where historians believe Peter, the apostle, was crucified.

I walked where Nero walked. (and, because I am nothing if not Patty Bausum’s daughter, I prayed against the evil that no doubt found residence in the home of that wicked, depraved scum bag.)

I walked where gladiators walked. (and, because I am nothing if not a movie buff, I knew exactly what had happened there. (“I’ve seen Gladiator,” I remarked to my husband.)

I entered the same tunnels where first century Christians may have sought refuge from persecution, and I saw a grave marker with the earliest symbols of faith in Jesus Christ. (and again, because I am Patty’s daughter, I cried.)

We bought a book on the street and at every single moment possible, I sat down and read about what we were going to see. And then I gave Heath the abbreviated version. (because he didn’t want to read every single word, but he wanted to know all that I had read.)

I also stopped at every information sign and read every word. (because I am nothing if not Dan Bausum’s daughter!)

So, basically, I spent the day as a history teacher. (because I am nothing if not Dan and Patty Bausum’s daughter!) J

Ah, Rome.

It had its downside, like every city. Cobble stone streets are torture on the sandal- footed, and on bus and taxi shocks. More than once I leaned over to whisper in Heath’s ear “You know what this city could really use? Asphalt.”

Also, because it’s a very large city (duh, its been around since ‘a long time ago’ BC) it was confusing as heck trying to figure out which bus or metro line to take. Thanks to the cobblestones and all the walking (seriously, you have no idea how much and how fast we walked) I was footsore and grumpy about our frequent state of “where the ‘demon’s lair’ are we?” and that may or may not have translated into a good old fashioned glare off between me and my husband…

But it doesn’t matter. All the cobblestones in the world won’t change my opinion.

I love Rome.

I am sorry to be leaving her. But we are headed into the Tuscan region, and I am certain I will find more things to love in the next town.

But its going to take a lot to outdo my favorite city in the world.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Caution Cone Chaos


In my life, there are a dozen disasters a day. Seriously, my house should be surrounded by caution cones,.

Bathroom mishaps.

Lunchtime spills.

Lost toys.
Lost shoes.
Lost keys.
Lost children.

One minute there will be peace and harmony, and the next someone will be screaming because they were bashed in the head by a sword.

I have grown used to the chaos…okay, that may be a lie. I have grown accustomed to dealing with the chaos…that’s not really true either. How can I say it??

I have come to expect the chaos. There.

Most of the time, however, I associate the wild, crazy, every single flippin’ moment cacophony of chaos with my children. Because, in large part, it seems that they are the instigators of it.

Shockingly, I have been proven wrong.

We left them in Indiana, you see, and we came across an entire ocean for a romantic, relaxing, one-in-a-lifetime trip in Italy.

And the chaos followed us here.

I won’t try and explain it all. That would make you have a nervous breakdown. I’ll just give you the highlights.

Flights delayed.
Airport dashing.
Sleepless night.
Lost luggage.
Lost US.
Lost souvenir bag.
Spilled coffee.
The worst ferry ride ever which included 50 people vomiting from seasickness (yes, I was one of them).
More dashing (this time to catch a train rather than a plane)

And now you’re caught up.

Disaster has followed me to Italy.

Rude.

All my expertise in expecting and dealing with the chaos has been tested, and let me tell you, I haven’t been batting a very strong average.

I broke down and cried in two airports.
I am the spiller of the coffee.
I looked at my husband and said “Stop talking to me!” right before I started throwing up in a barf bag.

Enough said.

Still, as is true in my regular life, it hasn’t ALL been calamity.

We ate dinner in an ally of a small Italian town, with street musicians performing right behind us. We drank Italian wine, and ate home made pasta, and everyone around us says “chow” and “prego” and there are mountains and lemon trees and pizzerias and an abundance of little, old Italian men playing cards…

After the coffee spilling, and after the vomiting, but before we lost a souvenir bag, I stopped at a shop and had a pair of sandals made.

Made. For. My. Feet.

On the street.

In Italy.

Coolest thing ever.

The man making them was at least 150 years old, and he was adorable. Someone else who worked with him measured my feet and told me to come back in 20 minutes…

And now I have hand made Italian shoes.

So see? Not all chaos.

As I sit on a train bound for Naples, and I take stock of the past 4 days, I have come to this conclusion.

We will have at least half a dozen catastrophes a day for the rest of our stay here.

Maybe realizing and accepting and anticipating them will help me be more relaxed when they happen.

(and my husband murmurs “please God”)

The other thing I have concluded is that chaos doesn’t follow my kids.

It follows ME!

Double rude.

I should really come with caution cones surrounding myself! And a sign around my neck that says “will likely trip, or spill something, or trip AND spill something, or break down crying, or get lost, or lose something else, or get lost AND break down crying, at any moment. The faint of heart should not approach.”

When we get to Naples we will make a mad dash for a train bound for Rome.

We will probably miss the train.

But then we can eat pizza in Naples, which is where pizza was first invented, I’m told.

So there is a silver lining after all. (although, lets be honest, there is NOTHING silver lined about puking in a plastic bag on a boat surrounded by 50 other puking people.)

Look out, Rome, here I come, caution cones and all.