Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Layers Between Us

Spent last week on vacation with the family. It was fantastic and surprisingly relaxing! I even had a chance to ponder life a bit. Although with 3 kids the ponderings were not solitary and always somehow connected to the potty. I think the most profound musing I had all week resulted from one of our many visits to public restrooms with the kids. I was shuffling the boys into the stall, a tight fit for 3 people. Add some sand and wet bathing suits and it was just a joy, not to mention the floor was soaked from God knows what and there were no garbages provided so it made for interesting hand washing. Anyway there was a moment of debate between a "clean sweep" of the toilet seat using some toilet paper or lining with rows of tissue instead? Nothing is simple with twin 4 year olds and so we went round and round and finally I encouraged those who can stand, do. And do not touch anything that isn't necessary. Out of the chaos came enlightenment when the boys asked, what is on the seat that they shouldn't touch? and how is toilet paper protecting them from it?

Uh, good questions. Well nasty, gross germs from disgusting pee and poop may be on the seat. And I guess toilet paper protects you because its what everyone does.

But, seriously folks...why do we toilet paper a seat? I mean really what good can that piece of tissue do? If all that is protecting us from contracting a life or death disease is a thin piece of tissue, how safe can that be? UGH!

When I wasn't playing "The Why Game" with the boys, or wiping anyone's behind, I was actually enjoying some leisure time. It helped that my parents vacationed with us. Nothing like outnumbering the kids to make for a great trip!! We spent the days at the beach, the afternoons napping, the evenings playing mini golf, riding go carts, eating ice cream, watching the sunset. It was glorious!! I was happy to get to read some books. The boys enjoyed building sand castles and surfing, the Princess loved being outdoors. Hubby and my parents enjoyed the time to relax and play too! And along the way we got to examine some of life's greatest mysteries. Summer is the best!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Magic Moments

We set up a Fairy House in our garden. I wasn't sure how the kids would react to the idea, but they loved it. Not a moment of doubt or hesitation. They got right to work picking out the perfect spot tucked under the butterfly bush because butterfly bushes are a fairy's favorite spot to hang out. They added sparkling stones, rocks, seashells and sticks to cozy the place up. And then we waited and waited to see if any fairies would move in. I told them fairies like to have their houses in secret gardens so we may not actually see them. But, we waited and watched anyway.

When they were distracted I added some tiny dollhouse furniture to the set up. Vincenzo found it right away, he was screaming with joy at the new discovery! Luccio ran over to observe and confirmed for all of us that the fairies had definitely moved in! Isabella was right on their heels and sat in the grass staring into the tiny houses with them.

Later, my teenage nephew came over and the kids couldn't wait to show him the Fairy House. I was worried that he would make fun of them or squash their magical experience. But, I should have known better. Right away Nikko reminded them of the Magic Fairy that visits Stregga's house and leaves money in a special jar. He told them how she used to leave the money for him, but now it's for them. Vincenzo has collected money from that jar and was so excited! Nikko wondered to the boys if the Magic Fairy was related to the ones that moved into our garden? Something to ponder for sure! They were thrilled at that thought.

At that moment I sat down on a nearby chair and thought about what a magical experience I was witnessing. It didn't matter that we were all covered in dirt and mulch and sweat from gardening or that Isabella had snot dripping from her nose and had spent the morning fussing and clinging to me or that the boys had been fighting over the same toy since their eyes opened that morning. All of that faded as I sipped on my iced coffee that had been melting in the hot sun for two hours. All I could think of was how grateful I am that Hubby and I are able to make it work so that I am home to raise our family and witness moments like this. This childhood magic will dissipate soon and the world will contradict innocence and they will grow up and move on and that fairy house will be abandoned. But, now in this moment I thank God for this life and the ability to experience wonder through the eyes of my children.

And then Vincenzo leaned on Luccio and knocked him over and they started wrestling and Isabella climbed onto the heap and then chaos ensued. Ah, life is good!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

July 4th has me reminiscing on my own Independence Day declared July 4, 2001. Before Hubby, before my precious babies, before 9/11 when the world was still safe and I was still single, I spent Independence Day traveling across the ocean to Italy for a few weeks on my own. I was 26 years old and it was the first time I was truly on my own. I lived in college dorms with hundreds of people and roommates, I have lived in a volunteer community with friends and roomies, but I had never really been alone for more than a few hours or at most a day. Italy was a big deal for me, it meant independence and meant finding myself. At 26 with no husband or kids I thought about things like that. That I would find myself somewhere or somehow. Like I was missing? Who knows. But, at the time it was a priority. I was on a constant quest to find Inner Peace. It took spending time in Assisi, Italy the birthplace of St. Francis for me to realize Peace was there all along.

It was such an incredible trip. It started with a 6 hour delay at JFK airport where I met some random strangers and read 2 books. Apparently Alitalia Airlines was on strike. Luckily they settled things and I got off the ground. Finally after an 8 hour flight I arrived in a new country, The Old Country, the place of origin for my Italian American roots. I had been there before but this time was different, I was on my own. So everything looked different, sounded different. I am SUCH an American. I thought everyone speaks English and celebrates with BBQs on the 4th of July. Foreign travel is always so humbling because then I realize Thanksgiving is NOT celebrated in England and the birthday of The United States of America is NOT celebrated in Italy. It's just another day and I was just another American that didn't speak Italian. I had taken classes before going so I understood enough to get around, but not enough to understand that my train to Florence made a stop and I needed to get off and change trains. Luckily an older woman next to me took pity and realized I had no idea where I was and directed to me to the transfer train. We could barely hold a conversation, but we bonded and ended up being pen pals for years. I communicated enough to figure out how to order coffee, cafe americano. But, I couldn't communicate that my nails need acrylic repair (those were the days when I had no kids and thought nothing of spending $25 a week on fake nails, their upkeep was high on the priority list, even in Italy.)

I stayed at a religious boarding house, Casa Immacoolata. My stay there had been arranged by a priest friend of mine that I used to work with. The Franciscan Sisters that run the house were amazing. They took me under their wing and advised me on how to get around Assisi and travel into Florence, etc. Assisi is a medieval Village, a walled city, one of the most peaceful places on Earth. The population is around 500, the visitor toll is in the thousands. People travel from all over to visit St. Francis's tomb. All races and religions stand near his tomb and bask in the absolute power of God and feeling of Peace. It is unreal. It took a few planes, trains and a walk up a steep hill to arrive, but I got there. I settled in.

I spent the first 2 days a bit jet lagged and cultured shocked. I wandered the town, visited the Basilica, found quiet places to read and journal. I sat in the Piazza and had coffee. I adjusted to the idea that there are no screens on the windows and its too hot to close them at night. I got over the fear of the bats that circled at night and slept without my ear plugs and sleep mask for the first time in years. I was so exhausted and so at peace that I didn't even think of them flying in the windows at night after awhile. I was lulled to sleep by their shrieking. This was a major step for me. Especially since I wouldn't even stay home alone at night in my own house.

After a few days I met people. I met Brother Barry. He was in Assisi for a Friars convention. We had a lot in common, he was a kindred spirit. We talked for hours and met in the Piazza at night to listen to music. We both had curfews. The boarding houses we stayed in were run by religious groups, he was a member of his group. We had to be in by 10:15 pm. Or the doors locked. So we laughed about that! We talked and talked for hours. He had the peaceful spirit of Francis. He stayed for over a week. On the last day his Order of Friars were meeting for Mass at the Tomb. He invited me to attend, but I didn't have an alarm clock so he told me to tell my angels to wake me in time. I laughed and said goodbye just in case I didn't make it to the 7 am Mass. At 6:30 the next morning sure enough my angels woke me in just enough time to dress and get to The Basilica. The Mass could not have been more incredible. All of those Friars celebrating together at the Tomb of St. Francis. Peace was everywhere that morning. After Barry left, I missed my friend, but I knew I would have more adventures in the time that remained. Barry and I would stay in touch over the next few years and visit with each other again in Toronto during World Youth 2002. By then I would have had my first few dates with Hubby and be on the way to the rest of my life. In Italy I didn't know that yet, but I had a feeling one morning when I visited the San Damiano Chapel that life would work out exactly as it was supposed to.

I had saved San Damiano for last. I first visited the house Francis grew up in, and some of the places in the Umbria area where he traveled and ministered. I went to his tomb daily and sat and absorbed his Peacefulness. I met a group traveling from Australia, they stayed for a few days. I met a Luca on a train back from Florence. He had visited America and thought it was great so he loved having someone to chat with about it. I became good friends with some of the Sisters that ran the boarding house I stayed in. They showed me some of the sights that were less touristy. We had gelato every night in town. They made yummy fresh food. So fresh in fact that one morning I realized there were a few less chickens in the yard. My vegetarian tendencies told me to panic, but the spirit of Francis told me to go with the flow. It was great food, great pieced together Italian/English conversations over meals.

One of the Sisters gave me a ride to Mount Subasio. Francis spent months praying there. I couldn't wait to get there. It was one of my last stops in Assisi. I was introduced to Franco, a man that worked security there and the Sister assured me he would give me a ride back into town when I was ready. I was at the top of Mt. Subasio completely alone in the woods with only Franco out that gates. I was a long way from home. I could see all of Assisi from where I stood. I knew it was unsafe walking the winding roads back into town, I had heard of things happening. And it was far. So Franco was my best option. I trusted the Sisters opinion and stayed to pray. I spent hours there. Lost track of time really. It was such an amazing space to be in. And Franco made good on his promise to get me back safely. He was such a nice guy and talked about his family and how wonderful the Sisters had been to them.

I met people of God everywhere I went in Assisi. I met Claudia and Flavia. Claudia is a true "Townie." She walks all day. Anywhere you go in Assisi, at any time you are likely to see Claudia walking. She has had hardship and life has taken it's toll on her, but she walks and she welcomes. She has an edge. She hold you accountable. She wanted to know, was I a Tourist or a Pilgrim? I think back to that question so often in life. Am I here sightseeing, just along for the ride? Or do I really want to be a part of the bigger picture, the amazement, the wonder the reality of what God has to offer. I thought long and hard before I answered her and finally I said, I guess I am a little bit of both. I wanted to go to Florence and buy pocketbooks and jewelry and I did. I wanted to take pictures of Saint Clare's preserved body. But, at the same time I was moved by it. I was in awe of the woman that gave her life to God and followed Francis in his spiritual ways and was left untouched by death. I guess I am a Tourist that is striving to be a Pilgrim. Trying to find the sacred in the everyday. Claudia and her daughter, Flavia traveled with me and one of the Sisters to Perugia. A nearby village. It is the famous sight of the story Francis and The Wolf. The Wolf had been terrorizing the people, but Francis and his gentle spirit tamed the wolf. Then the people fed the wolf and he became their beloved pet. I love that story. I loved Perugia. It was quant, lots of great little stores and tiny chapels where Francis had spent time. It wasn't as sacred feeling as Assisi. But, it was a nice spot to visit for a day.

By the end of the weeks I spent there I had met so many people and prayed in so many churches and sat and journaled in so many beautiful scenic areas. Finally at the end of that time I was ready to go to San Damiano, the place where God appeared to Francis and told him his mission. I went there on a Sunday. It was quieter than I had imagined. Almost deserted, although I am sure there were people there sightseeing. There were always people there. But, it wasn't crowded. I soaked up the feeling in the Chapel. I remember being there, but nothing stands out in my memory. Until I went walking back up the the huge hill towards town. There was a large circle in the center of the path. It was the halfway point back up the hill. It was hot and the sun was blazing. I stopped in the center of that circle. I closed my eyes and felt a cool breeze. I will never forget that Circle, that sacred space. For the first time in my life I stopped, I took it all in. I felt Peace. I realized it was in my heart all along. I knew life would unfold just as it should. All of the things I prayed for, would be in time. Not necessarily exactly like I pictured or in the timing I expected, but as it should be. When I get stressed out, overwhelmed, discouraged with life. I think back to that moment. I feel that moment and that sense of Peace washes over me. It was a sacred gift, one that I hope I can hold onto for a long time.

I was sad leaving Assisi. I felt that even though I wanted to return someday, I knew in my heart of heart that it wouldn't be the same. I will go back again. I have to. My dream is to bring my children someday. For them to experience the sacred, ancient place of Assisi. To see the beautiful countryside, the fields of lavender, the rose colored buildings at sunset. To hear the Italian language spoken as our ancestors spoke it. I want them to go to Rome and Florence and sight see and be tourists too, but, to have a spiritual journey like Assisi is priceless.

When I stood at the top of Mount Subasio and looked out at the view enjoying the peacefulness of life, I never could have known that 2 months later the United States would suffer a terrorist attack that would change lives forever. I didn't know I would be gripped with fear on airplanes in the future or afraid to be out at night in strange cities alone, I didn't know that fear would motivate me to stay closer to home and cling to a smaller radius to live life. I didn't know that type of fear would remain underlying in everything over the next years as I started a family, I didn't know I would be a mom that makes neurotic decisions in an effort to protect my children because the world is scary and bad things can happen. In that moment in Assisi, I was independent, free and at peace. I draw on that experience often. I try to fight the fear and still enjoy peacefulness. When the Evening News overwhelms me I tend to change the channel, when horrible things happen I tend to pray for a better world. And underneath all the fear I still cling to the belief that life is good. I hope someday I will get back to beautiful Assisi. For now, I am grateful for the experiences I had and for the chance to be independent, to discern what is truly important so I can treasure all of the blessings I have in life!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sesame Place 2011

We went on our 2nd Annual Family vacation to Sesame Place this week. It was fantastic!! I was worried it wasn't going to be as great as last year because we had LOVED it so much. I was afraid we would go back and it wouldn't have the same magic. But, it was even better! We booked the same hotel suite which was great because the location was so close to Sesame and they provide a shuttle to and from the park. And the kitchen came in handy when we needed to make dinner etc. And the Sesame Place Park was just as great as we all remembered. We were so lucky that my good friend Steph aka "Sis" gave us the tickets to the park! What a wonderful gift!!

I couldn't believe how much the boys remembered of the trip from last year. When we arrived, they knew which pools they wanted to stop at first and where the stores were and what rides they wanted to go on. The great thing about the Park is that its small enough that you can walk the whole place in about 10 minutes. It was crowded, but there was so much to do that it didn't matter. We saw the parade twice and the Elmo's World Show. They boys volunteered to be in the show and it was hysterical. It was a Dancing Theme show so they were up there break dancing and hookie-lauing with Elmo, LOL! Luccio was so into it that he could barely contain himself, he was dancing even during the parts where he was supposed to be sitting down. The lady next to us said it, "looks like someone has Happy Feet." LOL

We spent two days at the Park, the first day we kind of bopped around seeing what the kids wanted to do. They wanted to everything at once, but then they realized we had plenty of time so they settled in and relaxed. Luccio loved the pools. He stayed in the wading pool for hours. He met lots of little kids that immediately became his best friends! And Vincenzo was really into the rides this year. So he went off with Hubby to ride the big kid rides. Luccio rode a few times with them too, even The Rocket which is really a big ride! I was a wreck, but they loved it!

Miss Isabella did very well too, she is quite the vacationer, LOL! She really liked the shows and parade, she like the little sprinkler pools and she was happy to sit in her stroller sightseeing. She even rode some big kid rides! I was worried because we went a spinning ride with her and I was so dizzy, but she loved it! She was shouting, "Woo Hoo" and laughing!
And when she was tired she climbed into her stroller and took naps.

Stregga came with us again this year too! She loves the amusement parks as much as the kids. It was nice having extra help with the kids. And the kids loved getting extra spoiled! She gave them lots special attention and packed a bag of fun stuff to play with at the hotel. She took them into the gift shops and let them pick out a gift each day. And Cenzo loved going on the Flying Elmo ride with her. Stregga was scared, so Cenzo added to her fear by pressing the button to keep the ride up high the whole time, stinker!!! He thought it was hilarious!

Hubby had a blast too. A few times Stregga and I would look around for him and the boys and he would be in a line dancing and singing Elmo tunes. Yep, that's my Sweetest!

I just loved watching the kids smiling faces all day! It was the best! We will have these memories to talk about for years to come!