The Season of Letting Go

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Also known as Advent and Christmas 2013.

This has been the best Christmas for our family in several years. Maybe ever.

Our Advent was full of most of our usual traditions and activities. Some were let go of due to the ever-changing shift in what is age appropriate. I just didn't think I could squeeze hand and foot reindeer out of the kids another year. Our schedule was a bit busier with Jack’s soccer schedule continuing right up to Christmas and that meant fewer nights at home as a family. We added a few new things and embraced old favorites.

For the past eight months, Jeff's schedule has been much more regular than it has been in nearly two years. This is a huge help in planning and just plain old life living. It also means that he has been able to attend the kids' events, parties and other activities with us. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were nearly perfect. One of the biggest reasons was that I let go. I worked really hard this year to not worry if I didn't get all of the cookies made (no candy cane cookies this year) or that Christmas cards didn't happen or that the kids didn't get to shop for gifts for each other until Christmas Eve.

For me it was bigger than that. I'm a huge tradition girl. It's important to me to maintain traditions for our family so that regardless of where we are any given year it still feels like our Christmas. I've always clung to the things we do; new PJs, opening one gift, lasagna dinner at home and reading Luke 2 before bed on Christmas Eve.

The thing I realized this year is that clinging so tightly to traditions that I love has left me sad and lonely the past few years.

Some dear friends hosted an Open House on Christmas Eve and we went. It was slated to run from 1-6 which was perfect in my mind as that would still give us time to come home for our dinner and evening events.

These people have become like family as we’ve lived life and explored Europe together. It was a loud, joyful evening topped off laughter, gifts and food. Just like Christmas Eve should be.

Listen, I left our house that afternoon determined to stick with doing it all (including feeding my family lasagna because that’s what we do every year. Yes, I’m a slow learner.) As the hours passed, we realized we needed to head home to wrap up our day. We were all full in the best possible ways.

We came home and enjoyed the rest of our Christmas Eve traditions, deciding to save lasagna for Christmas lunch. Christmas day was full of gifts, movies, FaceTiming loved ones and a quick stop next door for prossecco and panettone.

It has struck me over and over the past few days that sometimes I cling so tightly to the things that connect me to the past and our extended family that I miss all the goodness that is right in front of me. While all of those things of old are great and have huge value, there’s just as much value in embracing the ebb and flow of the new, especially with the life that we are living.

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Well, then.

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So, there went October. Here's the thing about living in Italy. We're actually living in Italy. That means that work demands (or in my case, volunteerism) get crazy.  Soccer practice and games take place.  Friends throw parties and we have a tire blow on our way to Austria for the day.  (That was today's dose of real life.)  

The fact is, we've been in survival mode for the past two weeks.  Life has been crazy busy and I've been working hard to stay off the computer when the kids are home.  

Here I am.  

October came and went along with my 31 days…and I'm ok with that.  Even though it didn't all get put in writing or caught through the lens.  We lived out each day.  

Sometimes barely squeeking by but that's life. In Italy or in Seattle.  

Now we start stepping toward the holidays.  For November and December don't just mean Thanksgiving and Christmas but several big birthdays (10, 60 and 70!) with a few others thrown in, a visit from dear friends, travel, a few additional projects all along with the usual merriment.  

It will be good but it will be full and I want to choose each step carefully.  

Biking

Taking a break

I didn’t grow up regularly riding bikes.  Yes, I knew how but it simply wasn’t
something that we did regularly.  Much of
this had to do with how hilly our neighborhood was but beyond that I’m not
really sure why biking wasn’t part of our days. 

Aside from one wobbly attempt in Guam in 1999, my bike-riding career ended when
I was 9.  I liked the idea of riding
around town but couldn’t get past the wobbly, somewhat out of control
part.  I even had a great, European
looking cruiser that Jeff bought me when we found out we was moving to Italy. 

And yet it sat.  It
got to the point that the kids thought I didn’t actually know how to ride
because when they would head out on bike rides with Jeff, I would stay home.

One day last year Jeff convinced me to go for a ride while
the kids were at school.  It wasn’t
pretty.  There was a lot of wobbling and
I was scared to death every time a car drove by but deep down, I liked it.  

Then winter came and my bike retreated to the attic.   You know where all bikes spend the cold
months. 

Yet, I still couldn’t escape the images of how riding a bike, as silly as it
sounds, is so much a part of European life. 

There are the local grandmas riding around town as they check errands off their
list.

Our butcher’s wife as she loads up her cooler full of meat,
places it in her bike basket and hits the road to make deliveries.

The moms and grandpas who put a small pillow on the little luggage
rack on the back of their bike, have their (grand)child hop on and ride
home.  

My family and I on our bikes getting some exercise and enjoying the sun.

All summer my bike sat, save for the few times Jeff used
it. 

As the summer came to a close and the heat subsided a bit, I
was finally convinced (read: pressured) by my family to join them on a Sunday
afternoon ride.  I told Jeff that he had
to be responsible for watching the kids because I couldn’t focus on them and be
safe myself and we were off.  


We rode down to the bike path, passed the train station and onto some back
roads.  We stopped a long the way to pick
figs and wild berries. 

We commented on the sunflowers and unending rows of
corn. 

At one point I was so into the ride that I just took off…leaving
my family in the dust (those big wheels on the cruiser helps!).  The feel of the wind blowing through my hair the
sun beating down on my face was just what I needed.   

Six miles later, we were home and I was hooked. 

These days you can find me riding bikes to school with the kids and a few weeks
ago rather than walk or drive to the next town over for a quick stop at the
produce stand, I grabbed a backpack and jumped on my bike. 

Just like the locals.

 

Ring the Bells

February 2

There are many aspects of our life that are exactly the same
as they were when we lived in the states. 
We have the same furniture, I cook mainly the same things, our habits
are essentially as they were two years ago.

The one thing that is sure to remind me that we are in fact living
in Italy is the sound of the church bells. 

While the ringing of the church bells is traditionally done
as a call to prayer, we also view it as a very practical way to know what time
it is. 

I don’t notice them each time they ring, nor are we home all
the time.  But we almost  always hear the first bells of the morning ring
at 7:00 am.  Time to get up and start
your day.   (My personal rule for the
weekends is that I don’t get out of bed until I’ve heard the bells.)

Typically I hear them around noon.  Yes, this is a reminder to pray but I also
often think of it as a way to remind the community to wrap up what you are
doing and prepare for lunch.

The final bells we hear are around 7:00 (time for dinner!) and 9:00 which
signals the end of the day.

I love the tradition and the rhythm.  

There are some days when the bells ring at unusual times.  Today was one.  When I heard the bells ring at 2:45 I knew
that there must be a funeral taking place in town.  And just as I sat to write, the bells rang
again signaling the end of the mass and the beginning of the procession to the cemetery. 

While the gentle nudges to shift focus during the day are
nice, I think learning more about the specific types of prayer, Praying the
Hours or Liturgy of the Hours, would be really interesting.  It seems like it would be an amazing practice
to begin.

 

On Laundry

So, there goes the 31 days thing.  I came down with a nasty head cold late last
week and just couldn’t put together a decent thought.  Seeing as I have never been one to write posts
in advance, there just was no way I was going to get a post up.  Throw in a few technical glitches and well
here we are.  I’m giving myself grace and
moving on.

To get back on track today I’ll share about one of the less glamorous aspects
of living in Italy. 

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Laundry.

One would think that the process of making sure your family
has clean clothes would be the same all over the world.  Or at least throughout the first world. 

You would be wrong. 

We were given a washer and dryer to borrow during our time
here. However, they aren’t the massive, efficient machines of America.   Both are much smaller than those that we are
used to and the dryer doesn’t really dry it just takes most of the water
away.  Plus, because of the way the electricity
is wired, we can only run one at a time. 
Which is a challenge when you have laundry for five. 

Thankfully, we had gotten used to almost always hang drying
our clothes while we were still in Colorado so the transition to that was
easy. 

Making it all even better is that we not only have a huge laundry room which
makes it easy to have three drying racks up and in use at all times but we have
a balcony off the laundry room.  Which
means we have the view above whenever we move the racks outside (which is
almost always). 
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There is nothing like catching a glimpse of the sunrise over Austria (yes, we
can see the mountains of Austria from there) as you hang laundry at 6:00 on a
Monday morning.

My sister said it best when she told me, “I’ve never enjoyed doing laundry as
much as I did on your balcony.”