I’m a planner, an organizer, and a calendar maker extraordinaire. I have four kids, which means a fun-filled crazy, busy life. If I don’t stay on top of all the practices, assignments, to-dos and errands they crawl on top of me, and smother me.
However, despite all of my color-coding and lists, I have to remember that I am not the one in control.
On a family trip to Italy we needed to check out of our apartment in Florence prior to the proprietor’s arrival to make our train to Venice on time. We dutifully took out our trash, stripped our sheets and dropped our keys in the drop box.
We rolled our suitcases thumpety-thump down the cobblestone streets to the metro, took the metro to the train station and boarded our train, surprised to see an entire class of Italian school children filling our car and our seats. I spoke with a lovely teacher whose English was even worse than my Italian. We exchanged tickets, but couldn’t figure out how we all had the same seat assignments. Together we searched for a conductor, who just as the train began its departure told us to sit tight. We’d sort it all out en route.
We situated ourselves in corners and nooks, plugged in our ear buds and flipped through books until about an hour into the ride when the conductor came to punch the tickets I’d ordered months ago on the Eurorail website.
“Ecco.” Here you go. I presented ours to him, proud of my Italian expression.
He shook his head with a sneer. “These are for tomorrow.”
“Today is Wednesday. These are for Thursday.” He said briskly, not feeling my panic, my pain, and my well-executed plans in a tangle.
“How- how could that be?” The words tumbled from my mouth. My brain churned. He pointed to the date on the tickets, which were indeed for the next day. I grabbed my travel file and frantically flipped through the itineraries. I turned to my hubby and gasped in a stressed whisper, “How did this happen? I don’t understand? Where will we stay in Venice tonight? We’ll be a day early.”
“You cannot continue to Venice.” The conductor’s voice was freakishly flat for an Italian.
Silently he pulled out his calculator and typed in seemingly hundreds of numbers. Eventually he turned the display to me. “This is your fine for riding the train without a proper ticket. You must depart at the next stop - Bologna. You may use your ticket tomorrow to get you from Bologna to Venice.”
A lengthy list of questions from me to the train worker didn’t clear up any of my concerns. The fine was enormous. We knew no one in Bologna and had no hotel booked for our four children, my mom and ourselves. We’d forfeited a prepaid night in Florence. Not to mention the blow to my ego that I’d majorly botched our travel plans and let my family down!
My stomach was like a pulverized pizza. My face hotter than the Tuscan sun. My hands shook like our train car on rickety tracks.
We paid our fine, gathered our group and got off the train in Bologna, the beautiful city of Bologna, home of robust spaghetti alla Bolognese, one of the oldest Universities in Europe, an active political community and ancient basilicas.
In Bologna we stayed in the nicest hotel of our trip, complete with luxury air conditioning and an all you could eat breakfast buffet piled high with Italian pastries and made to order cappuccino. We witnessed a heated protest by impassioned university students, noshed on zesty pizza margarita (for a fraction of a price of what we paid for it in Florence) strolled through the historic university and visited the crowning jewel, San Luca.
San Luca, named for Saint Luke, as in the gospel writer, sits at the top of approximately 300 steps covered by romantic porticoes supported by 666 arches and overlooks the lush city of Bologna from its hilltop perch.
On a 70 degree, sunny day breathing in the architecture, gazing at the sapphire blue sky, marveling at history dating back to the gospels, intoxicated by a strong spiritual presence and surrounded by the people I love most in the world, I couldn’t imagine anything lovelier. Then, two young boys pulled out their violins and played an impromptu hauntingly beautiful concert in the grassy area outside the church, providing the soundtrack for my moment.
My planner said I should be in Florence that day. I thought I was supposed to be in Venice that day. But God knew, there was no place on earth better for me on that day than in Bologna.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11 MSG
Tell me below - where are you planning to go this week? Where will you let God take you if only you let Him?
Let’s be honest – travel wears a girl out. Overnight flights, train rides, crowding into hostels or strange hotel rooms, long days of working, exploring and walking plus late nights making sure you don’t miss one single thing all add up to longing – craving – aching for a cup of coffee.
But no worries! Coffee is abundant and decadent everywhere you go (even abroad). You just need to know what you’re looking for and how to order it.
First – when you’re on the road, ditch your Starbucks habit goodbye. Now don’t raise your fingernails at me in a cat hiss. Few things make me happier in the morning than a venti Estima with a shot of mocha and room for milk. However, when in Rome or Paris or Nashville or Atlanta. Embrace the culture!
If you’re in a new town, find the local coffee shop, the one with the menu handwritten in chalk on a blackboard. Ask what they’re specialty is. Observe the locals. Are they all drinking iced coffees? Maybe you should try one on this hot summer day. Is the house specialty a chocolate monkey as it is at JoZoara in Nashville? You’ve gotta try one. It’s like a chocolate, banana, peanut butter milkshake with your daily dose of java all swirled into one. Phenomenal! At Kofenya, in Oxford, Ohio the house drink is a Walk in the Woods. They might know something you don’t. Why not give one a sample?
If you’ve wandered further away from home, embrace the coffee in your new land. Most of the world drinks coffee too, but usually everywhere else it’s STRONG! Order café in France, espresso in Italy or Spain and you’ll get a shot of espresso in an itty bitty tiny white porcelain cup. It’s strong, robust and will wake up your taste buds, then your brain. If you’re used to a venti back home, you might want to order two, or drink one first thing, and another later along your journeys.
Me, I’m a “with milk” kind of girl. So in France I order a café au lait. In Italy I get a cappuccino. When in Spain my daily order is a café con leche.
I also prefer a little sweetness. Don’t look for Splenda, Equal, Stevia or Sweet N Low – those chemicals are bad news and hard to find in foreign lands for good reason. Use sugar. It’s natural and it’s sweet.
Next -- your budget. Order your coffee TO GO – a emporter (in French), porte via (in Italian), para llevar (in Spanish). You’ll save a small fortune, and maybe even be able to afford coffee again tomorrow morning.
If you absolutely can’t stand a Styrofoam/plastic cup OR need a minute to look at your map or reapply your lip gloss or text a friend, order your coffee at a counter or standing up at a café table. Don’t be fooled by the charming waiter pulling out a chair for you. He may think you’re cute, but he also knows if he gets you to sit, you’ll pay two to four times as much to drink your coffee. Who knew sitting was such a luxury?
We’re a bit like coffee ourselves. Some of us are dark or light or tall or short. Some of us are strong or sweet or hotheaded or cool. God created sassy versions and frothy versions and simple and dependable versions of people. But we’re all delicious. Don’t forget that.
Now that you know how to do it, go and open your eyes and taste buds to the rich, frothy sensation of a coffee, wherever you are. Sip. Enjoy. Repeat.
When I walk out here, the first thing I hear is silence. In the midst of my crazy-wazy life filled with the ting of a text, the zing of a message, the chimes of a call, the voices of my family, the din of the TV, the to-do’s calling to me in my head, I walk out here and there is the absence of all that noise.
I can close the door from the house to the porch, so no on even knows I’m here. Nobody follows, and for a moment I am alone – alone with my thoughts, my heart, and my Creator.
And He has such incredible surprises for me. After a moment or two of me trying to regain a normal breathing pattern, one that isn’t stressed, or hurried or worried, I realize it isn’t silent out here at all.
I hear the rustle of a squirrel scampering through the woods. An unseen bird calls shrilly to a friend. The friend whistles back. A woodpecker rat-a-tats the bark of a tree.
The earthy smell of soil mixed with the sharp tart scent of leaves heated by sunlight fills the air. The warmth of natural sunlight soothes my skin after the mechanical blast of air conditioner running through my house, my car, the mall.
Here – away from the artificial noise and manufactured smells and machine powered air – there is peace. Reds and pinks and yellows and oranges shade the sky with spectacular sunsets. Light filters in dusty streams through branches. Greens so bright, they almost appear lit from within stagger along my line of sight.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely attached to my iPhone and my Mac. I’m thankful for AC on a 93 degree steamy summer day. I love my car, my house, my family and the mall. But sometimes it’s all too much. Sometimes I need a retreat. And here it is, steps away from my life.
Here, I can contemplate what God’s calling me to do today – who He needs me to forgive, what He wants me to let go of, how He wants me to trust Him, how I can be an example of His love. Here, there appears to be a path right through the woods that leads to Him.
I cannot stay out on my porch forever. I need to live my life and do that forgiving, letting go, trusting and loving God calls me to do. Not to mention those to-do’s that still need to be to-done. But, I can find a moment to come out here and get refocused, refueled and refreshed.
Do you have a special place to find a moment of peace and clarity? Where is it?
1. Happiness is contagious.
When I walked in the park and everyone was waving giant Mickey Mouse hands and blowing bubbles and grinning for photos, it made me skip and smile and wave and say “please” and “thank you” and want to stay in that happy spot forever. I overheard a little girl say, “Mommy, the thing about Disney is, everyone is smiling and that makes everyone else want to smile.”
As I walk through life, I will strive to carry some of those Disney smiles over into every day – to pass on some waves and skips and watch the wave of happiness flow.
2. A little bit of magic goes a long long way.
Rushing past Cinderella’s castle on the way to a certain ride I saw an extravaganza. Mickey and Minnie laughed. Princesses waltzed. Captain Hook swooshed his sword, all with music and fireworks. It felt like a surprise party being thrown for me. No matter how many times I looked at park hours, reviewed rides and attractions, no show could have delighted me more than this. Later I bumped into Peter Pan, literally. There he was sitting crisscross applesauce on the ground, playing with a leaf. He asked my son if he knew how to crow. They stood up together and “caw caw cawed” at the top of their lungs. Despite all of my scheduling and planning and reserving and double-checking for our trip, I could never have arranged a better meeting of my five-year old's hero.
How can I surprise someone today? Something little? Something big? An email, a note, a treat? I’m thinking already, but can’t tell. It would ruin the surprise, but I can’t wait to delight someone when they least expect it.
3. Even when we’re doing exactly what we want with our lives, we need to take breaks.
Do you love your school? Your job? Your boyfriend? Your best friend? Your family? If you are blessed enough to say “yes” to even one of these questions, you still need to take breaks from that thing, to appreciate that job/school/relationship/etc..
Eighty-degree sunshine tickling my shoulders on a January afternoon, music in the air, rides swirling around me, I could think of nowhere I’d rather be. But after walking from Frontierland to Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and back to Tomorrowland in time to use my FastPass, and after winding my way through stanchions, shooting lasers at aliens and spinning in tea cups, I realized it was 2:00 p.m. and we hadn't eaten since 7:30 a.m. (because we wanted to be at the park when it opened). WE NEEDED A REST -- to sit and sip something cold and snack on something salty and reenergize and take deep breaths. It’s the same with life. I need to inhale and exhale and savor where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished. I need to spread out my map and figure out where I'm going next.
4. Even when something is fantastic, there is always room for improvement.
As a child I went to Disney. It was an incredible vacation I remember the details vividly. The monorail seemed like the coolest possible mode of transportation. I actually got to work the controls on the Dumbo ride. The Haunted Mansion made me almost pee my pants. Pinocchio hugged me during the parade. Today the monorail, Dumbo ride, Haunted Mansion and Pinocchio are all still there, but Disney didn’t decide to stop at magically memorable. Now you can meet Rapunzel from Tangled. Now a Jack Sparrow so realistic, it's eerie, peeks out of a barrel on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride . There are fast passes to move lines faster and Epcot and Animal Kingdom and and... Disney didn’t stop at good or great or even spectacular. They continue changing, improving and growing. I need to keep going to – to never settle for good enough.
5. Savor the moment.
I started planning our trip to Orlando in September. I spent hours on Expedia. I ordered tickets and booked hotels and reserved plane tickets. I counted down to the right month, week, day, hour till take off. And then, like the bang of fireworks at the closing ceremonies each night at the park, the trip flashed brilliantly, and was over. I vowed not to let it get away from me. I walked leisurely through the park, stopping and enjoying the miracles around each corner, read the giant pages of the Pooh bear book on the honey pot ride, bought ice cream bars shaped like mouse ears and let the cool vanilla ice cream drip onto my tongue. The trip is over, but not the memories. Just as I still remember the details of my visit to the Magic Kingdom as a kid, my kids will remember theirs.
What am I doing today that I can savor? A snuggle with one of my children, a rich, hot coffee in the morning, a sunset pink and orange clashing with the gray winter sky. What will you savor today?
Laura L. Smith