Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bad Words



"Back. To. School." Me, to Timothy (after warning him that if he didn't stop annoying me I was going to say three REALLY bad words).


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Destination: Unknown



Yesterday I was in our dining room (which isn’t so much a dining room anymore as a place to stockpile dorm supplies) when I stopped to take it all in: piles of towels, books, and cleaning supplies were stacked between a dorm refrigerator, a nightstand, and a giant, foam mattress pad. To say that chaos reigned supreme would be an understatement, but I also knew that in the next few weeks the piles would get higher, the boxes would multiply, and the pathway through the room would get even narrower; in other words, things would get worse before they got better.

And I was okay with that because these past few months, as we helped Jonathan maneuver through the college application process, we learned firsthand that things could get worse before they got better. We also learned that sometimes a journey wasn’t as straightforward as you had planned; that detours along the way muddled things; and that your final destination was not necessarily your initial destination.

Since forever, we’ve known that Jonathan wanted to attend UGA. With his excellent SAT scores (which were comparable to his brother’s who was accepted there for early admission) and with his better than average GPA, we figured it wasn’t so much a matter of him getting in as it was whether he would be accepted for early admission, or deferred until regular admission. Well, we figured wrong and he was denied.  Outright.  We were in total shock. Had there been something wrong with his application? Did they not receive everything? Did he not mention enough clubs, activities, community service projects? Did the fact that he had a job help or hinder his application?

And on top of everything, we felt vulnerable because we hadn’t fully explored any other options. 

So . . . we were faced with a roadblock. Once we could think clearly again we realized the roadblock was really a crossroads, and we just needed to discern which road to now take: let UGA go and apply elsewhere, or appeal the decision and plead our case. But if we let it go, would that be giving up? Would we regret pursuing an appeal, or regret not having done so? Or maybe it would be wiser to switch gears and move in an entirely different direction? We had plenty of questions, but no answers. In the end, we decided to explore all options; we would appeal the decision using everything we had, and see where it took us.  

So Jonathan obtained glowing letters of recommendation from his manager at work and his high school teachers. His uncle, who is a doctor practicing in Athens and who is also a member of the faculty at UGA, wrote the most heartfelt letter describing Jonathan’s character and strong work ethic. Even the past president of the University called down to the appeals office and expressed his support of Jonathan. Of course, nothing was guaranteed. And because the committee didn’t meet until sometime in June (the exact date was a secret), when Jonathan graduated from high school he still didn’t know where he would be going.

In the meantime, we had to proceed and commit to a Plan B. Early in the fall Jonathan had been accepted to several colleges, so we started taking a closer look at each one. Just in case. We visited campuses, and during one visit Jonathan found one he liked. A lot. But once we returned home Joe and I had some serious misgivings. I won’t go into them here, and I won’t even mention the university because we know some people who go there and like it, but we knew it wasn’t a good fit for us. Again, it wasn’t an easy decision mainly because Jonathan liked it and thus made our job as parents much harder as we stood on our principles and said no. So we kept looking.

By mid-June we were still playing the waiting game when I left for a 10-day trip to Italy. Then one evening I received a phone call from Joe who read me the letter from the review board stating that they had decided to uphold their original decision.


Denied.

Again.

I’m not going to lie. I was angry (how could they?), frustrated (what more could we have done?), and I felt betrayed (after all, UGA was my alma mater). I was teary, worried about Jonathan ,and upset that I wasn’t there to talk to him. But as I paced that hotel lobby in Sorrento, I took a moment to consider something:  here I was, vacationing in Italy, staying in one of the most picturesque towns on the Amalfi Coast, and wasn’t the world a big and beautiful place? It’s all right there at our fingertips – within our grasp – but we have to remember to see the bigger picture and not allow the confines of neighborhoods, cities, or even college campuses hold us back.

In other words, it was stupid – STUPID! – to place all our hopes and dreams on one little blip on a map.

So, the question: where was Jonathan going to college? Interestingly, GCSU (Georgia College and State University) was never on our radar and yet, today, here we are. And I must say that after all the uncertainty we’ve been through, touring that campus was the only moment of clarity we had during this entire process; in fact, when we arrived in Milledgeville for a campus tour, the bells from the only Catholic Church in town were ringing. A sign? I honestly don’t know, but I’ll take it. And we’re all in a good place. Jonathan has met his suite mates, he has his schedule, and while he still plans on transferring to UGA at some point, for this moment – right now – he is right where he needs to be.

I’m still not sure what these past several months have taught us (other than humility, flexibility, trust, perseverance), but we do know what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. There were so many times we had to surrender, pray, and continue on without seeing the road ahead which, for those like us (who like to put things in order, make lists, and map out plans), made the process messy and not how we would have chosen it to be.  

J. R. R. Tolkien once said that all who wander are not lost, and we have learned this to be true, for no matter how many bends, switchbacks, road blocks, detours, and U-turns we encountered on the road we were still heading somewhere.

After all, every journey has a destination, whether or not we know where it is.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The eHow on eBags



In the months leading up to our trip to Italy, my sister and I discovered the versatility of packing cubes.


Whether you're checking a bag or simply using a carry-on, packing cubes allow you to maximize space in an organized, efficient way. By rolling and placing like items in an assigned cube (tops, bottoms, outerwear) it is easy to look for an item without displacing the entire contents of your luggage.


And the system works. I not only used the packing cubes to help me pack for a 10-day trip to Italy using only a carry-on, but I also used them recently for a family road trip in which I used a duffel bag as a suitcase. You know how it is with a duffel bag -- things slip, slide, and lump together -- but the packing cubes kept everything organized and (most importantly) wrinkle free.


(fyi: the packing cubes I used are called eBags, and you can purchase them here.)




How to pack a duffel bag so that things don't slip, slide, and bunch together?
Use packing cubes!


I used four  packing cubes to keep things organized on a recent trip to the Chesapeake Bay:
1 large for tops
1 large for bottoms
1 long one for intimates
1 medium one for hair supplies (travel hair iron, shampoo, conditioner, round styling brush)

I also used the packing cubes in early June for a 10-day trip to Italy using only a carry-on.
The eBags kept everything organized.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

All's Well that Ends Well (And if it Doesn't End Well, Don't Say a Word)



In our ongoing vacation of hitting the road without any definite plans -- and after yesterday's overload of potato chips and chocolate while visiting Herr's Potato Chip Factory, Hershey's Factory, and Hershey Park -- today we decided that something historical was in order. So this afternoon we arrived in Bedford, VA to visit the National D-Day Memorial Museum.

At the welcome center, we learned that admission included an optional 45-minute guided tour. The boys, who are all about museums (insert sarcasm), said NO to the guided tour, but being responsible parents burdened with the awesome task of educating our children, Joe and I ignored them and said YES to the guided tour.

Now, as parents, sometimes we make good decisions; in fact, MOST of the time we make GREAT decisions, but today wasn't one of those days.

Don't misunderstand. The memorial was reflective, symbolic, and extremely moving. Our guide was friendly and informative. But the weather was sweltering, we were standing in an open field, and while the guide was telling lots of great stories that under normal circumstances would be wonderful ... the fact was that the heat melted us into puddles of inattentiveness. 

After just 15 minutes of freely dripping sweat, our entire existence was reduced to a single, solitary thought which dominated all others: "Oh-my-gosh-it's-so-hot!-Oh!-There-is-a-breeze!-Oh!-It-went-away!-Gosh-darn-it!-It's-soooo-hot." 

It was so hot that I did a very tourist-y thing and walked around with my polka dot rain umbrella for the meagre shade it offered.

It was so hot that at one point I stopped to put my hair in a pony tail and happened to notice that our tour guide wasn't even sweating. He was 77 years old and looked fresh as a daisy. I mean, how was that even possible? It was most annoying.

An hour into the tour -- a tour which was SUPPOSED to last 45 minutes but, from the look of things, was destined to last another half hour -- I whispered to Joe, "The boys are going to be so mad at us."

And they were, except by the time we got back to the van they were too hot to say anything except "air conditioner" and "water".

And their inability to string together a coherent sentence was a good thing because Joe and I we were too hot to put up with any smart-aleck remarks.





The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia — the community suffering the highest per capita D-Day losses in the nation. The Memorial honors the Allied forces that participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 during World War II. With its stylized English Garden, haunting invasion tableau, and striking Victory Plaza, the Memorial stands as a powerful permanent tribute to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of D-Day participants.  The Memorial is encompassed by the names of the 4,413 Allied soldiers who died in the invasion, the most complete list of its kind anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Because of Caravaggio


In Rome there is a church, Santa Maria del Popolo, where you can see two of Caravaggio’s masterpieces: The Conversion of St Paul and The Crucifixion of St Peter. Caravaggio is known for his chiaroscuro painting technique which uses subtleties of light and dark, often highlighting his subjects by a bright light of which the source is unknown.

Entering the side chapel where these two painting are displayed is almost like entering a Caravaggio painting itself. The chapel is dimly lit, and as your eyes strain to find light within the shadows the timer on the recessed lighting suddenly clicks on and you are drawn into the wonder, beauty, and movement of both paintings.

Caravaggio can be very dramatic.

Last summer I came across a Caravaggio painting where I was not expecting a Caravaggio painting to be – in Kansas City, Missouri.  Hanging in the European art wing of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of art, St John in the Wilderness is one of the few Caravaggio paintings in the United States.  As I stood in front of that unexpected discovery, as I explored the feelings evoked when art, history, culture and travel collide, I knew that within a year I would return to Italy and bring with me some family and friends.

And today, here I am nine days away from a trip to Italy.

Traveling with me will be twenty-two women (family members and friends) who, whether they realize it or not, are off on this grand adventure because Caravaggio -- with his passion, drama, and stark portrayals of life -- led me out of the shadows of dreams and into the light of reality.


Caravaggio, Conversion of St Paul, 1601