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May 2015

How we've kicked off the big trip. [Cliffs Notes: We're TIRED]

My first tip for those of you considering European Travel with your family is to go for a long enough time that the first three or four days of jet lag, bad weather, intestinal issues, and disoriented children can be written off as "Just Getting Used To Things". I decided to make some use of myself during this problematic time by sharing my wisdom with all of you - the rest of my crew is at the Carrefour looking for car seats and Imodium. Ahem.


After I whined for a week straight about packing, we finally got on the airplane. And it wasn't terrible. Well only a little bit. When the lady at the gate yelled above the din of the hordes of travelers gathered that families with small children may begin to board, we had to beat our way through the dozen Older German People [Sans Small Children, Natch] who immediately got in line and I thought to myself, "Oh right! This!" 

But the flight itself was manageable, if also very long and very boring and mostly uncomfortable. Molly was the only who got any sleep, seeing as how she scored herself a nice dark window seat and zonked out for the last three hours of the flight. 

Frankfurt Airport, however, where we spent a brief layover, was the Absolute Pit of Hell. My parents had warned us of this fact via email and when I mentioned it during a conversation with a friend who frequently travels to Europe she said, "Oh. I'm sorry." But I am a patient and understanding lady when it comes to people I don't live with and felt certain that we would Carry On. 

But I was the one tearing up with Unholy Righteous Indignant Anger in security because OH YES for whatever reason, after deplaning and riding a tram thirty miles to the other end of the airport, we got to go through security. Again. And these people. THESE PEOPLE. They were horrible and rude and without a drop of sympathy anywhere in their beings. Getting through airport security is an exercise is losing one's dignity in any airport, but Frankfurt has taken it to an entirely new level. I cannot adequately describe the scorn and contempt with which we were told to take out ALL our liquids and ALL our electronics and why yes INDEED the sleeping utterly-exhausted three-year-old would have to be removed from her stroller, PATTED DOWN, and walked through the scanner. And if her mother walked an extra two [TWO] steps to place her BACK in the stroller, ignoring the commands to HALT! HALT! from multiple venomous security agents because she herself needed to go through the scanner, she would INDEED be chastised like a child, and her fury made fun of by a man of Goering proportions who must have nothing better to do with his life than hassle mothers of small children who just got off a ten-hour airplane ride. "Ma'am, if you just LISTEN to us and FOLLOW DIRECTIONS everything will go SMOOTHLY," a prim and possibly possessed woman snapped at me. All I could do was Glower and Seethe, but trust that I did both of these to the utmost of my ability.   

The tears didn't come, however, until a security agent, after cycling our carry ons through the machine another two times because we hadn't taken everything out properly, gazed upon our children's water bottles [Funtainers, for those taking note for future travel] with something like horror. THEY CONTAINED SOME WATER. Note! Of the three bottles containing scary water, only two of them were selected for closer inspection. An expressionless woman gingerly held the two bottles at length and took them to first a pair of uniformed men and then a manager type who then directed her to a Special Testing Room where the water in the bottles was to be tested for Top Secret Bomb Making Agents (I am assuming). At this point I fairly screeched, "LET THEM HAVE THE WATER BOTTLES AND LET'S GO" whereupon my clearer-headed husband responded, "Do you want these people to think we're GUILTY of something?!" 

Eventually the offending thermoses were returned to us and we were told we were free to leave and BY GOD I AM NEVER GOING BACK. I actually really do have a VERY high tolerance for Bullshit and People Who Are Just Doing Their Jobs, but I have never been made to feel so stupid, so imbecilic, so utterly like a piece of human garbage. In relating this trauma to my parents my father said, "Not hard to see how those people became Nazis, isn't it?!" Which was said somewhat in jest and ordinarily I would have found it within myself to at least ACT like this was an indecent thing to say, but as it was EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING MYSELF, I congratulated myself on my observations and VEHEMENTLY AGREED.

Well! That's over with!

Now we are in Italy. And you guys. I am in love. The last time I was here I was pregnant with Jack and everything is totally different and exactly the same. When I think of this place I usually think of the time I spent here as an unhappy to moderately less unhappy teenager and all the ways my experiences here contributed to my Hated Anxiety Episodes, the things I didn't yet know about myself, the boys I had crushes on, how much I wanted to LEAVE and BE A GROWN UP and STOP BEING SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. I don't so much think about Italy itself, specifically this smallish suburbanish not-too-interesting-for-tourists part of Italy that was, for quite a while, the place I was "from". The way the houses look, how the stores close in the afternoons, the fish shop and the cheese shop and the meat shop and the bread shop, the language, the mountains (oh my God, the mountains, I cannot wait until the weather gets better so I can instagram the crap out of the mountains), the pace of life, the driving, the old buildings mixed in with the new, the way it is all so familiar and also so incredibly different from my own life. 

Last night we went to a bar (so in Italy, the bars are more like coffee shops that serve drinks and also gelato and cookies, so basically the best places in the world) with old friends of my parents. And I used to go to this bar often in high school. It looks exactly the same. The same daughter of the owners was still working there (and has her own child and is probably the owner now) and she recognized my parents and we all had gelato (I had mango cheesecake TO DIE FOR) and it was twilight and the town was quiet, but also sort of buzzy like a proper Friday night, and I couldn't help being nostalgic. But I don't think it's JUST nostalgia, not least because I don't HAVE a lot of nostalgia for this place! I wanted to leave so badly! My parents lived here for THIRTEEN YEARS and act like I know all the places and people they know and I'm always, "Dudes. No. I was here for my angsty teenage years and ESCAPED ASAP. I remember none of this." But it appears that I remember the pace of life and the tastes and the views and apparently I have really missed it. 

And thank God we're here for two weeks because the first few days haven't been ideal. Jet lag is doing its best to render my whole family useless, including myself. The weather is TERRIBLE. (It looks to get better right when Phillip and I go to Paris, and then possibly go back to terrible when we get back.) We wanted to go to Venice today, but the idea of marching around Venice in the rain sounded miserable so we headed to a larger city market this morning (not as big or busy as I remember - my dad says the huge influx of big American-style everything stores is hitting the markets and small shops hard) (this is where they're at right now) (I'm sad I'm not there). It was wet and gray and blah, but we made up for it with cappuccino and sweets at my parents' preferred pasticceria and a tour of the cathedral. My kids were enthralled with the church and it wasn't even the sort of church you'd make a point of visiting. Even this regular boring not-tourist-town church had frescoes and statues and oldness and I loved that they were so interested in all of it. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be the only nice day for the forseeable future, so we're going to try it tomorrow. My sister and brother-in-law and 10-month-old nephew fly in tomorrow afternoon and join us in this house - I haven't even told you about the house! That's for another post, I guess. Too much space wasted by the evils of the Frankfurt airport. We're also hoping to go to the beach one day and a small town on a mountain lake my parents particularly love. Other than Venice not a lot of "important" sight seeing and this is honestly fine by me. Just "living" in a town is its own experience. It's not like my kids are dying to do anything other than open every Kinder egg in sight. 

I'm posting all my pictures to Instagram (/mighty_maggie) if you like that sort of thing. Unfollow if it's not! So far it's been a fun and stress-free way for me to document the trip. I used to collect every bit of paper and take a million pictures for scrapbooks that I never ended up making. Now I'm instagramming and the kids are writing in their journals every night (BLESS my former-grade-school-teacher mother for taking up this responsibility so far!). 

I think I'm going to go take advantage of the rainy day alone time to sprawl on my bed and read... exactly what one should do on her European Vacation, yes? 

I need to go this far away

My parents are already in Italy. They are poor travelers (and freely admit this, not breaking blog policy here, HI MOM!), but it sounds like the flight went mostly well and getting the car and driving to Practically Podunk, Italy went ok too. My mom's email this morning said they spent most of the first [rainy] day at their favorite coffee shop where the owners remember them and want to see the kids and I'm feeling sort of sad about that. My mom and dad lived in this town for 13 (I think?) years, and only moving back to the US when Jack was born. I know they want to be near us and their now hordes of grandchildren (I already can't imagine living far away from MY hopeful future grandchildren!) but I sort of feel like Practically Podunk is home for them. My dad, I think, would disagree. He always says he's American and feels most comfortable in America, but there are no Italian-style cafes where they live now. No good bakeries with fresh bread, no weekly markets, no lifestyle of evening strolls and cappuccino in your regular bar. I can still see my parents living there and being happy in their Italian farmhouse, my mom's flowers, my dad's weekend road trips, the dinners out, the knowing how to get around Venice, the friends they still have there. I feel bad (sad? mournful? wistful?) that they moved. (And happy too.) 

I finally got out the suitcases. I packed a week's worth of underwear for every family member in a ziploc bag. I divvied up the activity books, crayons, markers, and stickers amongst three backpacks. I've almost found sandals for everyone. I'm doing laundry. I have a general packing list. We have kid headphones and car seats and as of this morning we have a will and health directives. Not a necessary item, perhaps, but one we've been meaning to do for YEARS and now we have it and if our Paris plane crashes into the Eiffel Tower, at least our family will know what to do with the millions of dollars we have hidden under the mattress. 

I haven't flown overseas since Jack was born and I'm starting to dread the trip. I hate small closed spaces. I hate confinement. Everyone does, I know, I am not a special snowflake. At least the way the seats are situated we are only sitting with each other, no strangers with whom to bump elbows. Although I can see scenarios where I might prefer a stranger to my own kid. 

I bought tickets to Matilda. Thank you, wonderful London reader, for your recommendation and instructions on how to get from Stansted to Southwark. I have printed out every single airline and hotel and otherwise logistical confirmation email, boarding pass, and ticket. I wrote down how to get from the Paris airport to our hotel. Phillip SAYS we will have data plans for the phone but WHO KNOWS. I'm very much a Have A Folder Full Of Everything I Could Possibly Need sort of person. I'm super fun. 

I think... finally, after the insanity that has been our Spring, I am ready to get on a plane to anywhere. I want to go away. I want to not think about school or the bakery or what's going down on Twitter or my church obligations or who I haven't emailed or talked to or where I'm supposed to be tomorrow or what I'm supposed to buy or pick up or mail or clean or ANYTHING. I want to stop THINKING. I want to get on the stupid airplane and get myself to Practically Podunk and then *I* want to spend a full week sitting in an Italian bar drinking cappuccinos and listening to people have conversations I don't understand and don't need to worry about. I will be a tourist in England, but in Italy, at least for that first week, I want to relax my shoulder muscles for the first time in months. 

A few thoughts on Pants, Fit Of and the chances of losing children in the London underground

The FPC is here because we have a wedding cake tasting tonight and another tomorrow night and there are a lot of little cakes and bowls of fillings on all of the surfaces. And between this (passionfruit curd!) and the crazy meds and running errands instead of going to the gym, oh and also PLAIN TIRED, there is a lot of angsty sighing when it comes to choosing a pair of pants to wear each day. Oh, pants. PANTS. Or should I say "pants". What's really working for me these days is a nice sack on top and something soft and stretchy on the bottom. Like... pajamas.

But then this morning I saw a tall, slender, elegant looking lady in the Target underwear section, holding up a piece of shapewear and eyeing it critically. And I thought, Well. There's no hope for ANY of us, is there. 

I have probably never been in a more confident state of mind, happier with who I am and who my people are, how things are with my family, really, and my PANTS. MY PANTS have the power to take all of that confidence and happy-with-self-ness and make me want to crawl into a hole of shame and doubt. How does that even WORK? 


Katie has... (wait I have to ask, hang on...) Chocolate cake with a whipped ganache filling and chocolate sour cream frosting OHMAHGAWWWWWD. Cookies and cream filling. Passionfruit curd. Coconut frosting. Cream cheese frosting, raspberry filling, carrot cake, white cake, lemon cake... YOU WISH YOU WERE HERE DON'T YOU. EFF THE PANTS.

Europe is only going to exacerbate the pants problem, but I'm finally in the place where I can't wait to go. I need a VACATION. Right now it's a big spin of what we need to buy and what to pack and all that, but it will be SO NICE to get away from the stupid calendar for a bit. No bakery deliveries or pick ups to worry about, no back and forth to school, no homework, no piano practice, no who's working late or who has a dinnertime meeting... We've been go go go since the end of March and NOT going sounds SO NICE right now. So nice. (Except for the part where I GO to Paris sans children. Yes.) 

Thanks for the Matilda recommendation - I am totally buying those tickets ahead of time. HAVE MY HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS, WEST END! I AM COMING FOR YOU!

Oh, and Phillip told his parents the other day that if we were going to Syria, say, their level of panic over theft of both money and children would be appropriate, but since we are NOT, maybe they could dial it back a bit. Because they are wonderful wonderful people, his dad just sighed and smiled sheepishly. I shall still mentally prepare to ask my in-laws to allow my children to run free at London playgrounds and for regular anxiety attacks (THEIRS) whilst managing the kids in the underground. 

(I told my FIL this story about my brother getting "lost" in St. Mark's Square - he lost US (too busy feeding pigeons), but my dad had an eye on him and watched him feed pigeons while throwing up his head every few minutes or so to shout, "MOM!" Basically letting him get good and nervous until my dad "found" him. But my FIL did not think this was funny AT ALL. "You need to get LEASHES!")

Excuse me, I believe my tasting services are needed (PASSIONFRUIT CURD).