Battling vs. Catching a Legendary

This past week was perfectly summer – lazy days scrap-booking and gardening, an evening on the beach with Angel, home cooked dinners with Charming, and time to update my Summer Productivity List to give myself more to do… in a couple of days, anyway.  For now, this week is Legendary week, and I’m coming out of the closet about more than smoking cloves.

Legendary.  It’s the theme I coerced my yearbook kids into doing this past year.  Think medieval knights, lords and ladies.  Our staff interviewed kids to find out what had made this school year legendary and discover what the word meant to them.  Teenagers associate legendary with pride and accomplishment.  At Kecoughtan High, this yearbook was Legendary, helping us sell out and feel that high after seeing something to completion and finding in yourself a job well done.

That’s why I make these To Do lists in the summer time.  The tasks aren’t legendary – fixing my bumper, reorganizing all storage locations, deep cleaning the shed – but they bolster a healthy link to a productive lifestyle.  For my life to be legendary, there’d need to be little children inside waiting for Mama to tuck them in.  Little creatures to invest in like my brother’s family.

That’s why I started playing Pokémon Go, actually.  It was a welcomed distraction in lonely evenings, and a steady mental companion with sufficient tasks and goals to keep me playing during the dip in the winter months.  We all have some hobby, and the more room for growth, the more incentive we find to motivate ourselves.  While my uncle was golfing in sunny Florida, I was slow rolling through the cold streets of Downtown Hampton spinning Poké Stops, catching imaginary creatures, and investing in my character.  Some devour news articles, read to their children, attend a weeknight service, or workout.  I train.  At Planet Fitness and at Pokemon Go gyms.

By spring, the occasional special event offering double points or double candy (a very, very good thing, like Doublemint gum) weren’t enough.  A basic principle of the game is that trainers (players) train at gyms to glean rewards.  There are three teams, three colors.  We can virtually battle to take over and defend Poké gyms.  I’d seen Truslyder in all the gyms near my house and concluded he must live near me.  We were both on Team Valor, the red team.  I made it my personal aim to get to Level 37 before Truslyder did.  That had me playing strong almost until Italy.

Why am I blogging about an alternate reality game?  What growth could there be in running a battery-draining app on my Android?  The game came out a year ago, and as an Anniversary special, the developers released a couple of the Legendary Pokémon.  Despite some serious tech glitches, the effect has clearly revitalized the game.  The competition is strong.  The game changed.

We all saw it coming.  We’d been waiting for the legendaries.  That’s why my students cited things like prom and graduation as their legendary moments from high school.  They wait for it.  They work for it.  They are even willing to pay for it.  Like those legendary memories, introducing the Legendaries to Pokemon Go requires Trainers to come together and play like the game originally intended.

One of the newer features of the game is raids with five levels of difficulty.  You go to a Poké Gym which is located on an actual location in Downtown Hampton, for example. If you’re on your own, you can take on a Level 2 raid maybe, but for the harder ones with better possible rewards and stronger Pokémon to catch after the battle, you need other people.

This weekend, I told Charming I wanted to find Truslyder, maybe put up a poster at the library gym that said, “Do you want to be my raid battle buddy?” and sign it Joycraft4.  My avatar looks like Charming, so I assume anyone who still played enough to know my Trainer would think I was a guy.  Not a very effective strategy, though.  But I had a lot of respect for the guy.  Not only did he catch up to my level in just a month, but he disappeared for a couple of weeks in the spring and then, suddenly, Truslyder had Pokémon from all the different regions in the gyms around our house.

You have to go to the places to get them.  Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, South America.  I was envious.  Seriously.  Then I went to Italy, and I didn’t play the game for a couple weeks.  I lived.  I experienced.  I socialized.  I drank coffee with locals.  I came back, and I didn’t really care about Pokémon Go so much… until the Legendaries were released.  I’ll admit, I was new to the game in September, so I don’t really know what a Legendary is.  I just know everyone wants them.  They are rare.  The developers made us wait a year for a shot at just a few of them.  Then, they go and multiply rewards, too?

Battling a Legendary isn’t easy.  The game suggests a group of twenty actual, real live people convene at the same location during the same time window and choose a team of six virtual creatures to battle the Legendary bird, like a Lugia or Articuna, in order to defeat it for a chance to then catch it like you would a Pokémon in the wild, just with really decreased odds.

Charming and I wound up in Fort Monroe on Saturday night and battled a Tyranitar with a handful of other locals the game had brought out to the waterside.  One invited me to a Facebook group for players in the area.  Sunday afternoon, word was out that Legendaries were available, and Charming and I followed a lead in the group chat that led us to a stream of raids, caravan style.

It was incredible.  Dozens of people would pull into parking lots empty only moments before.  They’d pour out of their cars and leaders would emerge like Steven, clearly respected and obeyed, who arrived with a trunk full of cold water for anybody there.  It was incredible.  We fought together. We won rewards.  Some of us caught the Legendaries after, most of us didn’t.  So we’d keep driving to the next raid spot, battling together, and trying again.

I caught my first Lugia and my first Articuno, so I was just in it for the fun after that.  Monday was the last day of the special event, Charming was working, and I wasn’t intending to play.  I was running errands in Peninsula Town Center and ran into a group battling an Articuno there.  I was hooked.  At the next raid, I finally met Truslyder.  We live two blocks apart.  We work out at the same gym.  I saw a post on his Facebook page from the same run Charming and I did two weekends ago, Night Run Nation.

That was a pretty epic scene for me, on Mallory St. in Phoebus, meeting my longtime mental competitor.  By today, I’d established a three day streak of teamwork with Kapnkurch as well.  The three of us hit a couple more raids together this afternoon… because Pokémon Go continued the events a couple more days.  And we thought we had our lives back last night.  Kapnkurch has been teaching me how to make Curve Balls and Excellent Throws to improve my chances of catching the Legendaries.

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I think I’m at a twenty percent catch rate.  Catching a Legendary is the hardest part.  The odds are against you.  You have to fight and invest, and you have to want that thing more than the obstacles in your way.  The Legendary is often elusive, but you gained rewards from fighting with your teammates despite living with the one that got away.

I can write about Pokémon in a blog about growth because I saw my world get bigger and smaller at the same time this week.  I totally geeked out.  I gave in to that part of myself that enjoys riding the highs of exciting accomplishments, and the environment was enhanced by the energy of countless other humans enjoying your same, exact pursuit.  I met people like Truslyder who loves to travel.  We were in the Milan airport just weeks apart.  I met people like Kapnkurch who reminds me of my old friend Josiah back on Geek Squad in college, incredibly smart with an equal patience for my endless questions.

When I was throwing raspberries and balls at the Lugia, I saw my picture of a Legendary life.  The one with a husband and children of our own in a house we made a home together.  That picture has been on my radar a lot longer than this one year anniversary event was for Pokémon trainers.  They came out in droves to catch a dream.  They didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to get something Legendary.

I didn’t even really know why I was out in the heat catching this Legendary thing only that it had become so big in my mind.  Like my picture of a family, a decades old pursuit, an elusive happy ending unfit for the annals of fairy tale literature.  Only in this battle, I’m on my own.  I’m fighting one on one, throwing hope and faith at a Legendary future knowing full well my efforts will only go as far as the animations and coded odds will allow.

The most legendary moment for me in the last week wasn’t catching a creature at all.  It was getting out in the real world and seeing the product of social media to organize raid teams and conquer the peninsula game.  It’s been fun to be a part of something bigger than myself, which is what my legendary dream is all about, after all.

There’s this moment after you defeated the raid boss and you’re staring at this moving, diving, flying bird, almost praying you’ve thrown the right ball to catch him.  It’s the moment when you’re on the last ball.  We trainers have a theory that it’s impossible to catch a Legendary Pokémon on your last attempt.  You know you’re going to fail, but you throw it anyway.

Then you move on to the next raid, the next chance.  Battling a Legendary isn’t easy, but you do that in a team.  I’ve had a lot of support on my journey toward a future where I would make a great wife and mother, but catching the Legendary… that’s the hard part; it’s the part you do on your own, and alone, the odds rarely seem in your favor.

A Princess Can Slay a Dragon

I’m writing on my back steps right now, a box beside me serving as a mouse pad stand.  I can be flexible and compromise and avoid conflict, despite my inclinations.  My neighbor enjoys a good cigar on the front porch often, and tonight he picked a soundtrack with a beat that stole my focus until I packed up and moved writing night out back with the buzz of the AC unit.

We are each so different and unique.  Around me are subtle remains of my twin nieces’ third birthday party – the new cushions I bought for the occasion, a juice box carton that missed the garbage, and remnants of a pink balloon.  Two days ago, their family and friends gathered at my place like we did last year and the year before that, only this time, I specified princess costumes as a requirement.  Kat loves Sofia and Tessa loves Elena.  Mom and I dreamed up a pretty elaborate party across phone lines, then carried out all the decorative scope Saturday afternoon.

My most cherished cake as a child was the year Mom stuck a Barbie in two 8-inch rounds and frosted a pink dress over her body and the cherry-chip layers.  I decided to double the order, and I made each girl a cake with her favorite princess.  Even as toddlers, they know what they want.  When they showed up at the party in the cute dresses I’d bought them in Rome, they saw everyone else had princess dresses.  They wanted them, too.  I could count on that.  Some things are just human nature.

Mom and I had counted on that, in fact.  She showed up as the Fairy Godmother and wove a few quick fancy tales into the dialogue until the twins made their wish for princess dresses, and, Bippity boppity boom, I showed up with the girls’ Sofia and Elena dresses, perfect matches to the cakes I’d prepared.  You didn’t need to ask which girl whose dress was whose.  They grabbed correctly, and their mother and I whisked them away to the bedroom to change while guests started in on pizzas from Anna’s, my go to place for pie in Hampton.

We all have preferences.  I can’t begin to evaluate how Tessa came to choose and identify with Elena nor Kat with Sofia.  If Gabrielle shows them two dresses, the girls rarely pick the same one.  It’s inherent, our natural desire to identify with things – colors, animals, numbers, even princesses.  Yet, as predictable as is our predisposition to select favorites is the unpredictability of our developmental whims and desires.  As a girl, my favorite colors were pink and purple, but the preference evolved to a soft blue over time.  Again, I can’t tell you how or why that happened.  But I love blue.

And I can’t begin to surmise why Tessa refused to wear the crown or the jewelry or the shoes – I would have had the whole get-up on in three minutes flat with little help from my mom.  Playing dress-up was a cherished past time, and even at three, if I were to be a princess, I was ready to be the real deal.  Kat was more interested in playing with the necklace elastic than putting on her dress.  The twins had been predictable in their expressed desire for princess dresses, but their unwillingness to cooperate while changing and the refusal to don certain items caught me by surprise.

Because they are unique from me and from each other and every little girl at that party.  There were no duplicate costumes.  Snow White, Queen Elsa, Belle, and more were in attendance for this celebration of these two original creations, sculpted by God using microscopic pieces of my brother and sister-in law.   This was the first year Gabrielle opted to sing two separate Happy Birthday choruses, one to each girl, and I favored the idea.  It makes sense.  They share a day, they share blood, they share family.  But they don’t share preferences and quirks and skills and attitudes.

We navigate through preferences in daily life when it comes to how to spend a Saturday, where to eat, what color to paint the kitchen, or how to choose the next Netflix series.  Given a day off alone, there’s little tension, living in a sphere within a sphere like the sculpture in the Vatican.  But step out of that sphere into the real world and you encounter humanity; humanity has its own preference.  My neighbor preferred to spend this warm summer night listening to music outside.  I can’t blame him for his preference simply because it inconveniences me or interferes with my preference to write creatively without manmade distractions.

At three years old, the girls throw temper tampers and rage like they did at the party, and we don’t question their character or mental health.  At thirty-four, I’m expected to manage the failure of unmet expectations without throwing a fit.  Tessa would turn to this sweet man on the next porch without hesitation, emboldened by an innocent passion that’s unbridled and honest: “Stop it!  I want quiet.”  She commands, and often, the outer sphere complies.  Because she’s three.  Her personality is developing, and it’s still malleable and flexible, and the world around her adapts to optimize her growth.

I might have quickly considered and instantly dismissed asking if my neighbor wanted to borrow some headphones, but maintaining a good relationship with him is more important than the preference to write well in my favorite spot.  Why then, with people like Charming and my mom, can I not make the same wise choices to decapitate the temper dragon?  Unfortunately, I think they’ve seen me act more like a toddler who didn’t get her way than I’d like to admit.

Preferences.  This morning, I took eight tests.  They weren’t required.  It wasn’t for a degree program or certification.  It was for a full psychological panel.  I’ve always had trouble sleeping and turning my brain off, and from the way that I write, I doubt it comes as a surprise to hear my mind explained like a race track where all these cars keep going around and my job is to connect them all.  I guess I thought the tests would be harder.  Most of paper tests duplicated questions.  If the computer simulator flashing numbers tested attention, then in hell, that’s the test everyone with ADHD is taking for eternity.

I’ll get the results in two weeks.  Maybe I’ll have some great diagnosis that will help me change the medication I take to combat insomnia to something gentler.  I don’t know what to expect, exactly.  By the fourth test, I could guess the scorers could already make some conclusions about me.  I have a bad temper.  I get angry and don’t express that anger well.  I am not thinking about suicide.  I do not think everyone in the world is out to get me.  I worry a lot.  I don’t hear voices that others don’t, and I’m not more special than everyone else.

As I poured over the questions, each forcing me to select the best option given, my choices were limited.  Is this statement false, slightly true, mostly true, or very true?  There was a whole test based on my own preferences, as in which of two given options did I prefer.  My nieces couldn’t take this test, I know, but what would their results reveal?  Mine could wind up landing me with the label for some fancy mood or sleep disorder.

If we subjected toddlers to the scrutiny of mental health in our ever-present need as a society to diagnose, treat, and produce positive contributions to society, then our entire three year old population would be comprised of bipolars and schizophrenics taking anger management classes and being forced to say goodbye to their imaginary friends.    No, we let children dream and grow, and their lives are a little more like fairy tales.  There’s often magic, and their worlds adapt to their needs and wants.  If they cry or scream at the right moment, their circumstances will change by the efforts of their parents – like Gabrielle, a fairy godmother without the title, trying to satisfy her three children’s wants and needs.

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At the twins’ party, Cinderella made an appearance for the third time, but only JJ had seen her when I’d dressed up for my students at school.  Kat said, “Are you Auntie La La?”  I explained that I was Cinderella and didn’t know where La La was.  “She’s changing in her room,” Kat replied, convinced Cinderella was someone else.  I always loved putting on a costume, from when I was as small as they are now.  I gave them a fantasy world, a princess party that drew them out from the sphere within the sphere into an alternate reality where surprise visits from Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother were possible, where little princesses and knights could slay a dragon piñata, where Charming captured the joy and delight on camera.

I’m not entirely certain my results were accurate today.  After an afternoon with toddler princesses, my optimism is rekindled.  Somewhere along the way, I decided to identify with blue and butterflies and pizza and technology, and that temper that taunts a toddler was never truly tamed.  After this weekend, I believe I could slay that dragon.  My nieces remind me that anything is possible.

When in Rome…

This is summer.  Balmy air draws warmth from my arms when the breeze caresses my skin.  Neighborhood birds squawk, nothing more.  I sit with my red wine and think and write, my most cherished past time.  Just two weeks ago I spent the longest day of the year in Italy; the sun has long since disappeared tonight.  Days are getting shorter.  Summer won’t last.

People might wonder how single teachers in their thirties spent their two months of freedom.  First, it is freedom.  I can’t speak for us all, but my mother and I would agree that it is freedom.  When you teach like she taught me to do, your kids and preps and lessons and ideas for making them all better consumes you August through June.  Kecoughtan High School defines me during the school year, and I find my mind circling back to students and colleagues readily long after the dismissal bell rings.

The freedom I find in summer is in the absence of constant investment.  It takes its emotional toll, even when the students give back like they did this year, my best in ten years of teaching.  For ten months, their needs are a top priority, and bells don’t constrict the pervasiveness of that responsibility.  Teaching virtual summer school online is a smart way to make some extra cash, but you don’t foster the same depth of relationship with these phantom students.

During the summer, I can recharge.  In my twenties, I always picked up a part time job just to experiment; unfortunately, I’m not as young as I used to be.  I spend the free days doing all the things that are left neglected the rest of the seasons.  I call it my “Summer Productivity” list.  I have the mental and creative energy to scrapbook, crochet, garden, eliminate junk piles, reorganize the shed, and read a book not off a required reading list on the beach for three hours if I want to.

Back from Italy and my holiday weekend with Charming, I’ve had about a week of official summer.  I finally sat down with my yearbook and read my students’ signatures, wiping clumsily at tears.  I’m teaching writing remediation half days this week at a local high school, and I was reinvigorated by the chance to bring my A game and power through an effective review with some new kids.  Despite my waxing nostalgia for Italian soil and the stories I’ve yet to write about my family, it was good to be reminded that I picked the right career.  I fit easily into an unfamiliar classroom, quickly establishing rapport and expectations, ultimately covering far more material than I thought was possible.  It was good to be in the classroom.  For a few days, anyway.

My Italy scrapbook is my top priority.  I sense an urgency to complete it while the anecdotes are still fresh, so I am able to do the details justice.  Each day, I research and write the captions for another day of my trip there.    The last time I took on a project of this magnitude, it was at the end of last summer.  Charming and I had broken up because I wasn’t sure I could wait for him to make a greater commitment to us.  I opted to knock the “Year With Charming” memory book off last summer’s to do list.  It seemed a bit masochistic, recording every tidbit of our first year together that had ended so abruptly.

In fact, working on the scrapbook ultimately led me to renege on the break up and reconcile with Charming a week or so later.  I wanted more memories with him.  Countless hours spent with our romantic love affair playing out before me as I arranged and narrated every moment brought me closer to him.  I was convinced he was the one even if he wasn’t there yet.

Almost a year later, I should say I’m still waiting.  But there’s a new scrapbook summer obsession vying for my attention, and I’m not really thinking about the waiting anymore.  A friend of mine from the church Charming attends in Silver Spring cautioned me about my view of the months ahead.  Living day to day life with Charming while he took classes in Norfolk for the summer would either lead to an engagement or a final breakup.  When we reach the two year mark, either he’ll know I’m the one or that I am, with some supernatural assurance, not the one.

Italy gave me new life.  It was just ten days, I know, but I made them count.  The collective sum of moments could fill a scrapbook as large as my year with Charming.  I lived.  Over there, I wasn’t waiting for anything.  This was the great thing I had been waiting the longest for, even longer than I’d wanted a second chance at marriage.  I’ve been losing myself, every day, in the photographs and ticket stubs cataloging my epic journey to foreign soil that resurrected qualities I thought lost decades before traveling abroad.

Like my classroom consumes me while school is in session, each current scrapbook undertaking takes me under.  I wish I had twenty-four consecutive hours to binge-scrapbook the Grand Tour of Italy and click on the order form in Shutterfly.  When I’m not able to work on the captions, I’m thinking about what I might add.  My friend from Silver Spring, the one who advised me not to look at this summer in such extremes, sent me a book called, “Wait and See”.  I’ve read a few chapters, and it resonates with me.  Though we’ve not talked often, she reads my blog, and she felt compelled to bless me by sending me a copy to assist me on my summer journey.

When I picked it up today, the title didn’t make me cringe.  I think it happened somewhere between Rome and Capri, but it was suddenly clear.  As clear as Mt. Vesuvius during sunset while I was writing my blog post two weeks ago was the acute awareness that I wasn’t waiting for Charming anymore.  This is our summer.  What will be will be.  Wait and see… okay, but I’d rather document life in Italy than sit and think and wait for what might happen.  I was truly alive there.  I wasn’t a teacher or a girlfriend, not really.  I glimpsed myself, stripped down to the borrowed watermelon, cotton pajama set one of my girls had lent me, and I saw a hope in my own reflection that had been absent days before in my own vanity mirror.

My gym mentor Chuck asked me why those moments sneaking a clove or sharing an espresso with a stranger in Italy were so important to me.  They were stolen minutes, unplanned and unexpected, and there was zero judgment and complete freedom.  I could free speak about my Protestant faith while nursing a little cigar.  It wasn’t a paradox.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

The problem is, I’m not in Rome anymore, yet the longing to do as the Romans do remains, fighting for breath and grasping for a hold on the controlled existence of day to day life back in the States.  If I am to be a childless woman in my thirties, one who’s not a teacher for a couple of months, then let me be an Italian-American relishing in the life-changing encounters I had in the homeland of my ancestors.  Charming inspired me to make the bucket list that led me to that EF tour.  Somewhere, somehow, without my notice, I stopped waiting.

And yes, my deference towards him has changed, but I can only imagine Charming finds himself unburdened in the shift of my obsessive focus away from marriage and children and toward a potential calling to write a book about my family’s Christian heritage.  When I was in Rome, the personal application for doing as the Romans would do led me to do something quite contrary: miss seeing the Pope bless the people and go visit a Protestant church instead.

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Maybe that’s when I stopped waiting.  After dropping the group off at the catacombs, after Pasquale made our bus into my taxi and left me with just a fifteen minute walk.  Our group would tour the Colosseum that afternoon, but I was seeing it right then.  Because I was free.  I was on my own.  I was making choices I wanted to get to live with, starting with Chiesa de Valdese.

I thought, When in Rome! And the answer was simply, Live.  This sentiment continues to fight the All-American, normal, daily, routine counterattacks.  I think I’ll let it do its worst.

Freedom without Fireworks

There were no fireworks tonight.  Well, there were.  There are.  I just can’t see them.  Thursday, I was in Italy.  Friday, I was in Hampton.  Saturday, Crisfield, MD.  Sunday, Alexandria, VA.  Yesterday, Silver Spring, MD. Now, finally I’m writing on my front porch, later than usual as we tried to catch the fireworks at Fort Monroe after a long drive, settling for mere bursts in the rear view mirror as we drove home instead.  Now, they sound continually all around me, noise without the enchanting reward.

Home. After Italy, it still feels like home.  The last time I left home for more than a week at a time it was to visit my family in Syracuse then return to Nashville by Christmas Eve.  That time, it didn’t feel like home; it smelled like another life.  I had feared my new roommate, Charming’s cat, might alter the typical wave of fragranced air, but a familiar fresh scent greeted me.

Home.  The country of my ancestors embraced me as somehow familiar, as though absent custom made, Capri sandals and Italian soil, I hadn’t fully known myself at all.  In the Bay of Naples, it was as though I could own certain aspects of myself that are oft shielded on the Eastern Shore of the Atlantic.

Yet, I hadn’t been back from my educational tour of Italy with my students for sixteen hours and we were headed straight there.  After twelve days apart, we were looking forward to a romantic getaway up the Chesapeake.  Charming had made reservations at a bed and breakfast near Smith Island.  With my handful of waking hours, I washed clothes, made calls to my summer school students, repacked my suitcase, snuck in a visit with my brother’s family and a workout with Chuck, and headed down to Charming’s temporary abode for the summer while he’s taking a class in Norfolk.

It made sense to leave from there, so I dismissed the donut still adorning my Honda Fit from the unfortunate flat at church the day before I left for Italy, and I kept the speedometer under 55 mph through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, not a difficult task during rush hour.  We transferred luggage to his car then set off for our weekend away.  The beauty of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was lost on me, commiserate to the twenty-eight hours awake while returning, jet-lagged and exhausted.

We arrived at the B&B well past 10 pm to find a party in the living room.  We double checked.  We were in the right place.  We set our bags down at the door.  Charming poked his head into the room.  We were greeted by a Greek woman with hugs and platitudes, handed thick slices of chocolate cake and glasses of Lambrusco, and we gathered this was the owner’s seventieth birthday; she was celebrating with all the weekend guests.

It wasn’t the weekend we were hoping for, that romantic getaway after time apart to rejuvenate and reconnect.  Still, on the heels of Italy, I was entertaining this optimistic worldview where incorporating the interruptions and unexpected turns leads somewhere worthwhile. I said, “Saluti,” and drank up.   We hadn’t been sitting with the impromptu party goers five minutes before one asked why we weren’t married.

In Italy, I met a lot of people: those on our trip, our guides and driver, and locals along the way.  In English or Italian, the question about marital status is equally imbedded in introductions after the age twenty.  I tired quickly of that very question, posed the same way oceans apart, only with Charming sitting next to me, none of the quip retorts would come out.  Or maybe it was the jet-lag or exhaustion or the wine or a sugar coma.  Maybe it was all of it.

This was one of the ways in which I felt I was more myself in Italy.  I didn’t have to be a single woman in her mid-thirties without children.  I was a teacher and a traveler.  For a week and a half, I largely escaped from my own self-imposed prison of perceived loss.  I found it easy to maneuver away from questions about Charming and children in both languages. I didn’t want to waste any moments in Italy on worry or doubt.

On Saturday morning, we contemplated but appropriately dismissed a nap after our first breakfast at the inn.  The constant conversation, facilitated by our hostess with a most personal attentiveness, drained me of the tiny energy reserve I’d accrued in the hours after our arrival.  But I’d made the most of Italy on a similar lack of sleep, and I was determined to maintain that commitment to adventure.

We snapped pictures on the ferry to Smith Island, took an hour self-guided golf cart tour around the island so small we needed only half that time, enjoyed a slice of Smith Island Cake, and made it back in time for Charming to take a nap before the Freedom Fest, Crisfield’s Fourth of July Celebration.  While he caught a few winks, I looked through our pictures.  I was surprised to find I liked the way I looked in most of them.  Unusual.  I lost another six pounds in Italy, nineteen pounds total since March.

I ate so well in Italy, pastas and pizzas of every genre.  How did I do it? Five to eight miles of walking, maybe, but I think it’s about what I did differently, ejected from my daily routine.  I had a light breakfast every day.  I drank tons of water.  I didn’t eat after dinner.  Basically, it’s all the things my gym mentor has been repeating like a mantra for over a year.  When I say that I could own different parts of myself in Italy, part of that was discovering a willingness to be flexible, to adapt for best survival.  My weight has been a battle since I hit thirty, yet it took only a week in a foreign country to see the wisdom in Chuck’s words and smite my stubborn pride, habits, and routines.

While Charming slept, I slipped out on the front porch for a clove, being careful to put it down when a couple left the inn so as not to encroach on their freedom from secondary smoke.  They left, and I missed Italy, where my pack of cloves, these tiny black cigars, led me to the most interesting conversations with locals I never could have imagined.  In the States, it’s practically a scarlet letter.  There’s no stigma about smoking there, rather it was a social meeting place.  I will remember Andrea and Pasquale and Pepe, random Italians who each taught me something about their regions I wouldn’t have found in a travel guide.  Even my greatest vice, I was able to own in Italy.

We got to see fireworks that night, at least, even if we missed them tonight.  The next morning after we prepared for departure, we exchanged another morning of conversation around the gluten-free breakfast table.  Politics, professions, but no religion.  I miss that most of all, I think.  In Italy, being an Italian-American Protestant was the breeding ground for deep conversation.  I think back to high school, where it was weird to be a born-again Christian, and I marvel at how, on the other side of the world, in a Catholic country, my unique faith was contrarily celebrated.

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Our weekend concluded at Charming’s in Alexandria for a night, then we began the holiday festivities with a barbecue with some friends in Silver Springs Monday, spent the night with his family, enjoyed our freedom on the lake this morning, and afterward visited his grandma for lunch.  When we drove back to Norfolk and found my car, I had another flat tire.  I may have cussed, I’ll admit, but I was laughing as I did.

Because things just happen.  The unexpected happens.  And sometimes you don’t really know what’s best for you until you let go and let life.  For me, that’s letting go to God, too.  Our weekend wasn’t what we planned, but there were countless gifts along the way.  Smith Island Cake, a ferry in Oxford, a winery in St. Michael, and good ole Bugsy’s Pizza in Old Town Sunday night.  Dinner with friends.  Fun and food with family.  A long drive with an inspiring audio book narrating our trip.

Flat tires and talkative hostess happen.  I’ve been clashing a bit with Charming since I got back, and I wonder if it’s not that there’s a part of me that’s different… that I’ve been enticed by the peace and comfort of an existence where you go with the flow.  My roommate in Italy, Jeana, would remind me of that nearly every night after something had gone off kilter with the schedule or infuriating WiFi.

Our tour director from Rome, Stefano, said that Italians work to live, while Americans live to work.  I enjoyed the pace of a life where there was always time to linger over a clove or a coffee with a new Italian friend.  The moments I didn’t plan for in Italy most impacted me.  I owned my womanhood, apart from my absent family, ecstatic to be a teacher traveling with my girls abroad.  I owned my stubbornness, giving Chuck the opening for an I Told You So he didn’t take and lost five pounds in the process.  I owned my faith, unashamed to be a born again Christian and proud of my family’s Waldensian heritage.

The flat tire tonight.  The missed fireworks.  The Greek grandmother I never knew I had.  It’s okay.  I’m okay.  I’m writing at home on my front porch like I’ve done for the past 122 weeks.  And for the first time in a long time, God’s gift of a grand tour of Italy credited, I’m okay with being me.