An Ongoing Exercise In Dismantling Self-Doubt

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” ~C.K. Dexter Haven, The Philadelphia Story

This week, my therapist and I began working on my ever-present self-doubt. Self-doubt, I’ve only recently come to acknowledge, has played a big part in my life. It’s not that I always felt confident or comfortable in my skin or my actions. I didn’t. But, through trauma, I became so adept at pretending to be sure of myself that I honestly bought my own fiction. I maintained this alternate sense of self that existed completely disconnected from my true self. My persona was a cardboard standee I would place in front of people, somehow absolutely convinced that they took my bravado at face value and would never peer around the side of the 2-D cutout I’d presented to them to discover there was nothing there to back it up. In fairness, I think some people figured out that my insides didn’t match the outside I presented to the world long before I understood that I had been play acting for others most of my life. Their superpower was being comfortable enough in their own skin to recognize an imposter when they saw one. My superpower was pretending I was perfect when, deep down, I felt like shit scraped off a shoe.

In my therapist’s office the other day, we did some guided meditation to address my lifelong self-doubt. First we did a basic relaxation technique, starting with visualizing my happy place. From there, she asked me to conjure up a meeting place, a place where I would feel completely at ease. I envisioned a warm, cozy room inside a log cabin house with a fireplace, a plush sofa, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows through which my view was the surrounding mountains in their fall splendor. When I was good and comfortable in that mental space, she asked me to invite my self-doubt to join me there. Self-doubt, my imagination decided, arrived in a dark cloud that obscured the sun and dimmed the room, making it feel chillier. She asked me to give the dark cloud a name, so I named it after the place where my self-doubt originated in my early youth. I was required to sit with my self-doubt with a neutral mindset, neither allowing it to overwhelm me nor allowing myself to ignore it. And that’s as far as we got in my session before we had to end for the week, but even that small effort made me consider my self-doubt in a new way.

I wasn’t born with self-doubt. Self-doubt was thrust upon me at a young age, the result of incessant criticism, which led to an understanding I was not good enough or worthy of respect, attention, or love unless I did what others thought was best or wanted. Self-doubt is what I got when I tried and didn’t reach the mark others thought I should. It’s what happened when, instead of being told, “You’re human and humans don’t always get it right and that is okay,” I was informed, “You should have known better” and admonished “You’re embarrassing yourself.” I have since come to understand that my relentless perfectionism is a by-product of continually being told I could and should do better, rather than being gently reminded that life is a process and you learn and grow over time. I wish I had heard more thoughtful “Go easy on yourself, you’re trying” and less demeaning “Everybody knows THAT.” The perfectionism I ended up with in a useless attempt to be good enough for everyone else (in order to believe I was good enough in my own skin) was backwards.

The truth is when you feel good enough in your own skin, you don’t have to be perfect for anyone else to appreciate you. You live your truth and know that you screw up sometimes but you also get it right sometimes. From that place, you learn to forgive yourself and others for the crime of human frailty. It’s challenging to think of myself 10 or 20 years ago, when I was 150% convinced through my perfectionist mindset that I was mentally healthy the way I was. I was throwing down that cardboard cutout of a perfect me as reality and challenging others the way I had been challenged. It was misguided, but it was all from a place of deep hurt and misunderstanding. I didn’t know who I was. I only knew who others thought I should be. And so, with my own sense of self dampened and obscured, I became full of self-doubt that could only be lessened by my attempts to be perfect at everything and for everyone.

Self-doubt is insidious. I know it plagues even the most well-adjusted among us, but it’s such a pointless place to work from, whether that place be a waiting room we occasionally occupy or the impenetrable fortress we inhabit. I’ve come to the place where I can acknowledge it’s a shame that I didn’t get better messaging as I was growing up, but I’ve also come to believe it’s incumbent upon me to give to myself the grace and forgiveness and gentleness and kindness I did not receive back then. It’s up to me to lift that dark cloud. No one else can do it for me.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
      Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

A poem by Shel Silverstein

Signs of (mid)Life

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

While my dental hygienist, Betsi, was preparing her torture tools for assault on my teeth and gums this morning, I spied a hummingbird moth out of the picture window in front of me. I don’t see them often, so I got up from the chair, still wearing my purple paper bib, to get a closer look. It was hovering around clusters of small, late-summer flowers. I studied it for a few seconds, noting the striping on its body and the speed at which its wings moved to keep it aloft. Betsi told me she sees them in the flowers outside that window on occasion. I told her I hadn’t seen one in a couple years. I sat back down, put on the cheap, protective sunglasses she handed me, and tried to settle into my happy place for the cleaning. I kept thinking about that moth, though.

This evening, when I went to take the trash out, I noticed from the corner of my eye something buzzing at the garage window. I am not a fan of any sort of insect in our house or garage, but I am especially not a fan when they are large or noisy enough to draw my immediate attention. I’m even less of a fan when I am the only one at home to deal with them at the time. I walked closer, already planning how I would aid in its necessary exit, and discovered it was another hummingbird moth. How odd not to see one for years and then to see one twice in one day. I opened the garage door, turned off the lights, and waited for my light-seeking visitor to fly away.

I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe in destiny or fate or soulmates or divine intervention of any sort. But I do believe in the power of life’s chaos and the doors it opens. If you are really paying attention as life swirls around you, you begin to notice life offers directional signs. We don’t always see them because we aren’t always looking. I have been guilty of not paying attention to them most of my life. For decades, I went along in my inner bubble, fully convinced I knew who I was and where I was going. I was wrong, though. That false image of me burst eight years ago and, since then, I’ve undertaken the tedious process of observing my behavior, questioning it, ameliorating it, or at least acknowledging it on some level, and learning from it. I’ve also started noticing my surroundings more and paying greater attention to my senses, especially my intuition. Intuition helps you to see signs.

With the second appearance of the hummingbird moth today, my curiosity led me to read up on it. I learned that hummingbird moths are considered a lucky omen. A swarm of them is said to have been seen flying across the English Channel on the day of the Normandy landings in June of 1944. I also read:

“A moth represents tremendous change, but it also seeks the light. Thus, moth spiritual meaning is to trust the changes that are happening and that freedom and liberation are around the corner.” (Dictionary.tn)

So, there is my sign. I saw a hummingbird moth today, on two separate occasions in two different locations, during a time of tremendous change in my life when I find myself looking for the light. I’m going to consider this a good omen. I’ve been wondering since we left the boys at school a few weeks ago how I would get through the transition from stay-at-home parent to, as my friend, Kathy, prefers to label it, “lady of leisure”. This morning, I woke up still curious about my future plans. Then, a couple moths told me to trust the changes and know that freedom and liberation are here. All of a sudden I’m not so worried about what I will do next month or next year or next decade. Yeah. Life is different now, but different doesn’t have to mean bad. What if, and hear me out on this, what if my next twenty years are my best years? It could happen. I’ve been surprising before.

Oh. And I still don’t like bugs. But I’ve decided moths are more okay than the rest.

Bringing New Life To An Empty Nest

I fell off the blog wagon this summer, partially due to life (son’s graduation, travel, house maintenance, family priorities) and partially due to feeling too emotionally scattered to write. I never run out of opinions to share, but I do run out of energy to deal with the jumble of unrelated thoughts in my head. Overwhelm. That is what does me in. To write, you need mental space and time with your thoughts. And because it was such an emotional summer for me as I careened towards the empty nest my husband and I now inhabit, I checked out. Focusing too long on the grief in my heart was not where I wanted to be, nor where I felt I should be as my youngest embarked on his exciting new adventure. I kept telling myself I would break down and navigate the tangled web emotions I was cycling through in background mode in due time. I suspect that time is coming soon.

What happens when you have too much time and a label maker

In the meantime, though, I have been celebrating the good. Our sons are moved in at school, settled into their study routines, and making the most of their college experiences. Thing Two’s transition has been seamless. I don’t think he missed one orientation workshop or opportunity to make new friends. Thing One has been reunited with his college sweetheart, and all is well in his world too. A thousand miles away, we are finding empty nest life kind of refreshing, honestly. Sure. It’s quiet at home, except for the barking of our sporty dogs, but we’re finding ways to distract ourselves. We’ve begun the digging out from underneath the clutter that accumulates when you spend 21 years putting your nuclear family ahead of everything else. We’ve also been meeting up with friends for long-overdue dinners and trying new things, like pickleball. We have relished peaceful nights picking shows we want to watch and enjoying them with a glass of wine and a couple chocolate truffles. So, all things considered, we’re settling into this new phase of life, to quote Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

With all the newly regained downtime, though, I’ve been doing some reflecting. Our satisfaction with our journey in this life comes down this: we make choices, and our ability to negotiate our expectations about those choices versus the reality those choices bring determines our general level of satisfaction. We chose to have children. The expectation was , if all went well, they would eventually move on to create their own lives, make their own choices, and navigate their own expectations. That has come to fruition, and we are grateful for it. In the aftermath of their departure for their own adventures, Steve and I have new choices to make. What do we want our lives to look like now? What will we choose to prioritize going forward? Yes. There is some grief in giving your children to the world, but there is joy there too. The most important thing I can do is recognize my choice in this moment. I can choose to feel superfluous now that I’ve retired from 21 years as a full-time parent or I can choose to find my next adventure. I can wallow in the vastness an empty and clean house or I can find something new to occupy the space left in the boys’ absence.

To that end, may I introduce Puppy-To-Be-Named-Later, scheduled for a late October arrival.

This little guy

Life is full of decisions. There will be plenty of time to imagine my next career move later. For now, though, I will fill our empty nest with puppy breath, tiny barks, and dog hair and I will occupy myself with frequent walks, potty training, and breaking up raucous scuffles. It might just end up feeling like the old days, when our sons were young and needed me, all over again.

A Day In Santorini

Santorini. Thira, if you prefer. Even if you don’t know her name, you recognize her from photographs of her whitewashed cave houses intermingled with striking, blue-domed roofs set against the Aegean Sea. She is iconic. Her stunning towns sit on the clifftop precipice of an ancient, sea-filled caldera of a volcano that erupted in 1620 BC. She is a photographer’s dream because it is nearly impossible for her to take a bad picture. I was over the moon when my family agreed to take a cruise to visit a few Greek islands because they have long been on my wish list. And the morning our ship floated into the caldera, my family and I were on deck to take it all in.

Approaching Oia

Our first stop was Oia. The English pronunciation of this village name is Oy-a, but the Greek pronunciation is Ee-a. Either way you say it, nothing can prepare you for what awaits you when you arrive. All the photos you have seen pale by comparison. The white buildings provide a stark contrast to the sea below. The outer streets of Oia village (although it’s hard to call them streets when there are no cars) are lined with restaurants and shops. We found shop after shop with Greek ceramics, clothing, and artwork, along with the requisite touristy shops with more standard souvenirs. The Greeks are open to some respectful bargaining if you want to try it out.

It’s only when you head south, closer to the caldera, that the view opens up to the sea and you gasp. It is everything you thought it would be, but you know your photos won’t adequately portray what you are witnessing.

You traverse narrow, cobblestone pathways, winding up and down past hotels and personal homes, separated from passersby with colorful gates or doors. This is not the place to bring large, wheeled luggage unless you’re sure you will have someone to help you with your bags. Most lodgings possess patios with sea views, and some have shaded trellises or small plunge pools so guests can keep cool. As you stroll by vacationers casually lounging on their sun-soaked patios, you suspect that the lack of privacy is a small price to pay for the privilege of staying here. No one seems to be bothered by the looky-loos. How could you be?

Oia is a selfie paradise. Around every corner is another gorgeous backdrop. Hubby snapped this keeper of me.

Can I stay? Please!

Our next island stop was to a local winery. We sampled a white, a red, and a sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes, along with some Greek mezes. All of this with a view. We quickly purchased a bottle of the sweet wine to carry home. It’s port-adjacent, and that works for us. We also picked up some boxes of baklava and Greek candy to try because it seemed prudent.

After finishing our wine samples and devouring our snacks, we headed to Fira, Oia’s big sister. Oia is the sleepier of the two main cities people visit on the island. While she has her fair share of shops and restaurants, it’s Fira that is known for nightlife. We were only there for the day, so nightlife was not on our radar, but shopping and food were. Fira, like Oia, is comprised of carless walkways meandering up and down in between plentiful shops and restaurants. So many choices and so many stairs! We were grateful it wasn’t raining because those cobbled walkways and stairs would be a slippery nightmare in the wet. Luckily for us, it was a sunny, warm day with not a drop of rain in sight. Welcome to summer in Greece.

We had gotten a recommendation from a local for a specific restaurant and decided to give it a shot. The restaurant was aptly named La Scala (Italian for The Stairs), so we had to go. The restaurant, like the one in this photo, had a lovely patio with a view of the sea. We were early for dinner so we were seated immediately. Our server, a lovely, young Greek woman made our night. Even if the food had been horrible, which is most certainly was not, she would have made our choice worth it.

Once she got us settled with beverages, she came to take our orders. As you can imagine, most Greek dishes sound Greek to us, and Luke was the first victim who had to order. He ordered traditional Greek Moussaka but, unfortunately for him, he pronounced it “MU-sa-ka.” She pretended she didn’t understand what he said, which made him repeat the mispronunciation. She looked at him and said “mu-SA-ka.” Then she gestured for him to repeat it. Terrified, he paused, and then correctly repeated after her, which earned him a kudos from her. When it was Joe’s turn to order, he wisely said, “I’ll have what he’s having.” She had a great laugh over that. All three of my companions ordered the Moussaka, while I tried a Greek pizza that came recommended. Steve and I shared a Santorini salad, which is a decidedly better version of a Greek salad you might find in the US, if you love capers, which we do. When the server came to clear our plates, she looked at Luke and asked if he enjoyed his….she paused to give him the opportunity to pronounce it correctly. He looked at her, laughed, and affirmed he did and left it at that.

When we left La Scala, we headed to the Santorini cable car in Fira for our trip down the cliffside and back to the tender that would return us to our ship.The sun was setting on our day in Santorini. And what a sunset it was as we prepared to say goodbye.

And when we had returned to our ship and decided the day could not become more magical, in the darkness as we sailed away, it did. Who knew Santorini, so beautiful by day, was just as incredible by night.

Life At Sea

Endless sea and sunset

Before I jump into the activities and adventures we did and had in our ports of call, I thought I would clear up the notion of a Sea Day. Until I took my first cruise, the idea of days at sea with nothing to do troubled me. I thought I would be bored. I assumed days floating at sea would be a waste of time and money. Many of my friends who have said they would never take a cruise vacation claim the “wasted days at sea” as their reason. I get it. I felt the same way until I had a day when I had nothing to do, no one to answer to, nowhere to rush off to, and the freedom to do exactly and only what I felt like doing. How many days do adults get like that in their busy lives? Not many.

A day at sea allows you to truly relax. It does not mean you will lack for things to do. Many cruise ships are like floating theme parks with water slides and zip lines and climbing walls. Cruises on Celebrity are aimed more at an adult crowd, though, so their sea day amenities are more about pools, spa treatments, casino time, and fine dining, but the lack of children tearing through the passageways and screaming and splashing at the pool more than make up for that. Cruise directors load the day with potential activities for those who want more and are looking for distraction. There are lectures and art classes, wine tastings and friendly on-board competitions (passenger versus crew pool volleyball and putting tournaments, for example). There are movies and games and ship tours too. At night there are karaoke sing-offs, live music performances, theater shows, comedians, and plenty of opportunities for dancing. If none of that appeals, you can read a book or nap in a deck chair facing the sea or play cards or watch for sea life. We enjoyed searching for dolphin pods and seeing them race and jump and flip alongside the ship. If you get bored at sea, you have no one to blame but yourself.

One activity that costs extra but is well worth the investment is a behind-the-scenes ship tour.Our tour took us through the galleys and into the belly of the ship where food is stored. We learned about how the ship processes recyclables and waste, does epic amounts of laundry, plans their shopping, and stores the food for the journey. On our ship, there were 1500 people employed for food preparation and service alone. We learned about what cruise life is like for those who live on the ship and work in its service. We visited the engine room and learned about what powers the ship and keeps it running smoothly and on time. The final stop on the tour was to the bridge where we learned about what training the captain and officers undertake for their careers, as well as how they bring these huge ships into port. It was fascinating.

When we finished our ship tour, we grabbed some lunch, gawked at the desserts, and then went to a wine tasting with premium wines and cheeses. After that, we sat on deck and enjoyed the view and the peace and each other’s company until it was time to dress for dinner and head to the Raw on 5 restaurant for Joe’s birthday dinner choice….sushi. We topped off our day with some silent disco because why not?

If the notion of a sea day or two on a cruise, where your every need is catered to, vexes you, perhaps it’s time to reassess your priorities. Do you not deserve a day where you don’t have to cook, clean, or care for anything or anyone other than yourself? Have you not earned a day or two with no obligations and thoughtfully prepared, delicious meals served with whatever cocktail calls to you? Come on. Live a little. Become reacquainted with yourself. When the sea day is over and you wake the next morning to find yourself in another exotic port of call, rested and ready to explore, you realize this is why you took this vacation. You’ve let yourself go in the best way possible.

The silent disco is a vibe

A Colorado Avalanche Legacy

Our little Joe

We are an NHL family. My husband and I have been Colorado Avalanche fans since the team first came to Colorado from Quebec in 1995. During the Avs’ 2000-2001 season, I became pregnant with our first child. My due date, based on my best guess memory of my most recent menstrual cycle, was calculated to be July 26th, 2001. The hockey season progressed alongside my pregnancy, and the Avalanche were killing it. Thanks, in part, to team captain Joe Sakic’s phenomenal scoring year (118 points from 54 goals and 64 assists), the Avs completed the regular season with 118 points, winning the President’s Trophy. Steve and I were over the moon. Hockey is fun to watch, but it’s a lot more fun to watch when your team is showing up in a big way.

Scrapbook page I made during Joe’s first year as an Avs fan

The team entered the playoffs and we did not miss a game. I was still working as a technical writer and editor for the National Renewable Energy Lab and started my day in the office at 6:30 a.m., but that did not stop pregnant, tired me from staying up late so as not to miss any of the action. When we progressed to the championship series against the New Jersey Devils and were down 3-2, to put on a brave face knowing we might lose our shot at the cup, I told Steve it was okay if we lost because then at least I would get some much needed sleep. But, we didn’t lose. We came back from that 3-2 deficit to win the series and the Stanley Cup on June 9th, roughly seven weeks from my due date. When the clock ran on out on that last game and the jubilant Avs players threw their sticks in the air and flew off the bench to celebrate, I screamed and jumped up and down like a crazy person for minutes. My heart was racing. I was over the moon. When Steve and I finally were able to soak in the win and relax, we went to bed with an early alarm set so we could wake up and drive downtown to pick up Stanley Cup Champion merchandise.

In 2011 with my guys at a game

On the morning of the 10th, we drove down to the Sports Castle on Broadway and picked up our gear and began trying to figure out if we’d be able to attend the Championship parade on Monday. Later that day, we took the light rail downtown to see a Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field. It was 90 degrees when we got to the ball game. I was feeling a little off, which I attributed to my pregnancy, the heat, and my lack of sleep the night before. At some point, though, I became aware that my water was definitely leaking. We decided to go to the EMS at the field to get their opinion. There were two EMTs there, both male. They inquired about my due date and asked if I was having contractions. I told them I didn’t think so. They took my vitals, noticed I was not soaked down there, and dismissed my concern as an overreaction by an irrational pregnant lady. I didn’t appreciate their cavalier attitude, so I called my midwife. She told me to get in a cab immediately and meet her at the hospital.

The boys with Bernie in the age of Covid

At the hospital, I measured 3 centimeters dilated and 50% effaced. I was in labor. Because my due date was still seven weeks out, the doctor made the decision to stop my labor. They medicated me to stop contractions, checked me into a room, and told me they would have an ultrasound tech check my amniotic fluid levels the next day. The ultrasound revealed too much fluid had been lost, and the doctor ordered Pitocin to stimulate labor again. I panicked. We hadn’t even had a baby shower yet. The nursery was not finished. I had no car seat, no onesies, no diapers, no nothing. The midwife, doctors, and nurses said we would have time to gather all that up because our infant would likely remain in the NICU for 6-8 weeks. It was a lot to absorb, but it was what it was. We made our peace with it and tried to remain positive.

I watched the Stanley Cup parade from the hospital. Labor was induced around 4 p.m., and our five-pound son was born at 12:31 a.m. on June 12th, a little over 48 hours after the Avs had won the Stanley Cup. As soon as I heard him cry and knew he was breathing, I inquired how long they would be keeping him in the hospital. The nurse (and I will never forget this) turned to me and replied, “Oh no. This one goes home with you.” Our son had scored 8/10 on the APGAR. I had gotten my conception timing wrong and we, thankfully, had a fully cooked baby after all. Steve and his parents went shopping to buy baby gear. I was told to pick a name for the birth certificate because we would both be released into the world the next day.

Joe in his Sakic sweater watching Gretzky offer post-game commentary

We decided to name him Joe as a nod to Joe Sakic, and our son’s tie to Colorado Avalanche history was cemented. We’ve attended hockey games with our sons since they were infants, sometimes as a family of four and sometimes with my Avs fan father-in-law who would always buy the boys the something at the game. Joe went to his first Avs game on October 31st, 2001, when he was five months old. Joe has always had Avalanche gear, onesies and toddler rompers gave way to t-shirts and sweatshirts. For his first birthday, my sister gifted Joe an adult-size Joe Sakic sweater, which we held onto until his 18th birthday.

An Avs doll (Matt Duchesne) hanging out at our house

Steve and I watched every game, save one, in the Avalanche playoff series this year, missing just the first game in the Stanley Cup series because it played out while we were asleep on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. Joe refused to miss that game, however, waking up at 2 a.m. to watch it in his cabin in the Joe Sakic hockey sweater he had hauled to Europe from home. We woke up at 4 a.m., ahead of our planned flight home from Rome, to catch the final period of the second game in the Stanley Cup series in Italian. Twenty one years and fourteen days after our Joe was born, the Colorado Avalanche, helmed by Executive Vice President and General Manager Joe Sakic, won their third Stanley Cup two days ago on June 26th. Yesterday, I took our grown sons to a sports store to buy us all Stanley Cup championship gear. We’ve come full circle.

On 6/26/22, our son’s namesake, Joe Sakic, hoisted the Stanley Cup a third time, this time as General Manager

Watching Avalanche hockey with our sons over the past two decades, both in person and on the television, has been a priceless gift. These games are family ritual, this team part of our family identity. And this Thursday, I will finally get to attend a Stanley Cup parade here in Denver and I’ll get to do it alongside my Joe. I’m not sure what the legacy of this year’s Colorado Avalanche team will be, but I know the legacy the Colorado Avalanche organization has created in our family.

All the small things, indeed.

If our family has a theme song, this is it now and forever. Go, Avs!

My Stock Market Took A Plunge

There are dramatic moments in your life you never forget. Most people my age will remember exactly where they were when the Challenger exploded or the planes hit the Twin Towers. Maybe they even can recall, as I can, the elation and sense of possibility they felt when they watched the Berlin Wall come down. I had one of those memorable moments today. I was sitting at our kitchen island working on my laptop when my oldest said, “The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.” I turned slowly to look at him. My expression must have landed somewhere between disbelief, disgust, and dyspepsia because then he followed up with, “They did. I saw it on my news feed a little while ago.”

I knew it was coming. I’ve known for a while now. Still, I was not prepared to have it knock the wind out of me. Nor did I expect the tears would come as quickly as they did.

I know there are women who tonight are going to bed saying prayers of gratitude to their god for this ruling. I know they think this will save innocent lives. I know they feel a wrong has been righted. I know they will rejoice about it in church and with their friends and family. They will celebrate. I don’t begrudge them their right to feel vindicated. They’ve waited a long time for this.

I wish I could find reason to rejoice in this, but I cannot. Tonight I am going to bed with the understanding that a majority on Supreme Court believe a woman’s life is less important than the life of a fetus. And don’t give me chat about how this is just a course correction because Roe. v Wade was unconstitutional and this should be a states’ matter anyway. I get where you are coming from with all that. It’s just different for me. To quote American Idol’s Randy Jackson, “You see, dawg, for me, it’s just the mere concept that the government can determine and force my reproductive choice, or any choice, well, that’s gotta be a big no from me.” My entire life, I had rights my mother and grandmother did not have. I had them when I woke up today and then they were gone by lunch. Poof!

It’s just hard because, while I know my value, I just realized the government has reset my worth.

Ciao, Roma — Hello, Mediterranean

On the morning of June 11th, it was time to say goodbye to Rome. We had a shuttle arranged for 11:30 a.m. to take us to our cruise ship at Civitavecchia Port. Although we wanted to get to Greece, we didn’t really want to leave Rome. We decided to wake up early and soak in as much last minute street wandering as we could before meeting our ride.

Buongiorno, Roma

Very few people are out and about on Roman streets at 7 a.m. on a Saturday is what we discovered when we opened our balcony doors that day. This was not surprising as people were still out getting gelato and socializing on the streets below us at midnight. We packed our bags and took to the quiet streets. First stop had to be to our coffee place and then we were off to Trevi Fountain again.

Alone at the fountain

Although Steve and the boys had all previously taken the opportunity to throw a coin in the fountain to assure their return to Rome, I hadn’t braved the crowds to get close enough to do it yet. So, with coin in hand, we wandered the last hundred feet to the fountain to find it, for the first time, uncrowded. I had Luke snap a quick photo of me in front of it and then I tossed my coin in. Done. This meant I would certainly return, which eased my mind. From there, we took off in a new direction to discover the Spanish Steps.

The Spanish Steps were created to make the travel up the steep hill from the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom to the Piazza Trinití dei Monti at the top easier. The 135 travertine steps are the widest and longest staircase in Europe. They were not busy that morning, save for the people who were having others photograph them in various poses, photos we assumed would be gracing Instagram pages shortly. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the steps, but I figured you can’t go to Rome and not see them. So, we did. None of us posed for a photo on them for our Insta pages, though, deciding instead simply to enjoy the walk up.

While on our mission to extract euros from an ATM, I snapped photos of details in Roman architecture. I enjoy the small details placed on Roman buildings, intricate facades, imposing doorways, ornate door handles, window baskets filled with flowers. We miss these things in the United States, plopping down endless suburban streets filled with identical homes in HOA-approved colors. It’s all so banal. We have no flair.

I had one last thing I wanted to accomplish before we headed to the cruise port. I had, on our first evening in Rome, spotted a standee cutout of my favorite F1 driver. I only recently acquired a favorite F1 driver after watching Drive to Survive on Netflix in preparation for an upcoming trip to the Monaco Grand Prix next May — fingers crossed. I adopted young Charles Leclerc (he hasn’t requested a restraining order for me yet but he may eventually consider it). I decided to cheer for Charles because reminds me of my oldest with his green eyes, stubbly facial hair, and sweet nature, and he is from Monaco, making him Monagasque (a term I recently discovered exists and relish the opportunity to use). Now, like any mother, I get angry when Charles does not finish a race despite his flawless driving because his car fails him. I’ve tried to take this up directly with Scuderia Ferrari, but they won’t answer my calls. Still, I decided to take a selfie with my adopted son Charles because this is likely as close as I will ever get to him, especially once he gets that restraining order.

Steve tries out the infinity veranda

Eventually, we made our way northwest through the Italian countryside to the port in Civitavecchia. We had jumped through hoops to get to this point, having to pass Covid tests, upload vaccine cards, answer health questions, and swear a blood oath that we were not contagious with anything, but we had made it. We passed through the final embarkation procedures without trouble and boarded our home for the next seven nights, the Celebrity Edge. Our first stop after completing the mandatory safety briefing was to our staterooms. We had booked AquaClass rooms, Celebrity’s spa class, a slightly upgraded experience just below the suite class. Our rooms had the new Infinity veranda, which basically means we had a wall of windows at the back of our cabin that lowered halfway and became an in-room veranda.

We unpacked our bags and decided to tour the ship. I took the boys up to the pool deck and they took off on their own explore from there. We all met up at the buffet for a late lunch. After eating and some more exploring, we headed to the Sunset Bar at the back of the ship to claim a table. We wanted to get a good viewing spot for when we set sail. Steve and I grabbed some Aperol Spritzes, Joe got a Stella, and Luke had a Coke, and we waved goodbye to Rome as we headed south along the Italian coast on our way to the Cyclades.

For the finale to our first ship day, we booked a table for something called Le Petit Chef. We were seated at a table for four set with white linens and white charger plates. There was a set meal for dinner and, as soon as our wine was poured, the lights in the restaurant dimmed and a projection appeared on our table. Basically, the projection used the white tableau as a movie screen and on every table in the restaurant a story played out of a young chef who met a girl and fell in love. Together, they cooked for us. As soon as the projected chef finished preparing the food, servers brought plated food to the table and set it down on the chargers and the food became part of the scene. It’s hard to explain, so I am sharing a couple photos of different scenes on our table, along with a short video. Gotta say it was a pretty touching story as the young couple grew from the spring of their lives to the winter of them. Four courses, four seasons of life. I could have done without the reminder of my own place in the fall of my life, but it was a unique experience I am glad to have shared with the people who mean the most to me.

Next up: A much shorter post covering a quiet day at sea for Joe’s 21st birthday

Touring The Roman Forum, The Colosseum, And The Vatican Museums

Our local coffee spot

For our first, and admittedly only, full day in Rome, I booked us a couple tours so we wouldn’t miss must-see attractions. We all wanted to see the Colosseum and the boys were adamant about going to the Vatican. After grabbing to-go doppio espresso shots and a couple cornetti from a store helmed by the friendliest shop manager ever, we walked towards our tour meeting place near the Roman Forum.

Again, I have to admit that I remember next to nothing from my time studying ancient Rome in college. In my defense, when I studied ancient Rome, it was through the Classics department where I spent my time reading Livy and Virgil in Latin. I wasn’t mapping the Forum Romanum. So I was happy to have an actual Roman tour guide lead us through the ruins, some of which date back to 42 BC. The Forum was a gathering place. It began as a marketplace and over time morphed into much more, serving as central location for public elections, speeches, trials, and religious ceremonies, as well as business dealings. The Forum, the heart and soul of early Rome, expanded in size over time to nearly 5 acres. Walking among the ruins was awe-inspiring. Seeing the Arch of Titus, the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, was pretty cool too. The the view from Palatine Hill was worth the trek up there in the 90+ degree heat.

I think the least notable part of the Forum tour was the Temple of Divus Julius, the final resting place of Julius Caesar. I mean, I don’t know what I expected after 2,000 years, but the dull mound doesn’t exactly rival the Pyramids of Giza. I guess, in the end, it really doesn’t matter how important you are because you will end up a pile of ash just like everyone and everything else. And how many people of Julius Caesar’s importance or notoriety have there been among the multitudes of people since the dawn of upright humanity? Not many. Even the most notable of us today will be forgotten soon enough. It’s a good reminder not to take life too seriously.

After the Forum, we walked to the Colosseum to see what that was all about. Our Italian tour guide was brilliant. She was extremely knowledgable. I was happy that Luke spoke up and answered questions she asked. When she told him he should read SPQR by Mary Beard and he told her he already had, she was visibly impressed. At any rate, stepping foot inside the Colosseum was an experience. You can’t imagine the size and scope of it until you are there. It’s massive. There were elevators underneath the floor, operated by slaves, of course. Pretty cool way to make a wild animal appear on the Colosseum floor back in the day, I bet. The engineering was crazy. The tour guide debunked some of the myths about the gladiators, mainly that they weren’t exactly hardbodied like Russell Crowe in his Oscar-winning film and that many of the gladiator battles were more WWE than battle to the death. It was all about spectacle, and who the hell could tell what was really happening on the floor of the Colosseum from the nose bleed seats without binoculars anyway? The Colosseum was for entertainment and while some of that entertainment meant loss of human and animal life, not every event in the Colosseum was bloodsport.

When our tour of the Colosseum ended, we were starving. We’d not eaten since breakfast, and it was 1:45. We had to be at the next tour location for the Vatican by 2:30. So we high-tailed it to the Metro station, figured that out in a jiffy thanks for our time riding the Tube in London and the Metro in Paris, and made it to the meeting point by 2:15 with enough time to grab some Cokes and a couple bags of chips to hold us over.

Our tour guide for the Vatican may have been the most enthusiastic guide we had in our 11 days of travel. He was what Americans would term a stereotypical Italian, the type from the movies. Animated and over-the-top, full of gestures, and passionate about every last thing. I swear he knew every single item in the expansive Vatican museums, and he would talk ad nauseam about every item we passed by that grabbed his interest. So thorough he was, in fact, that we were all exhausted before we’d even reached the Sistine Chapel. Luke actually nodded off while we listened to him explain the ceiling of the chapel before entering. There are no photos from the Sistine Chapel because none are allowed. I will say that I was deeply moved by the artwork in that room. I will never forget my time there.

If I’m being candid, overall, I was a little bit disgusted by the Vatican museums. The artwork stored there is impressive, but it bothers me that a religious group holds that wealth and keeps it rather than using it to help the poor. I can’t help but think Jesus would agree with me. Just saying. Still, when the tour was over, we bypassed the museum gift shops (figuring they didn’t really need our money) and walked to St. Peter’s Square because it seemed like something that had to be done.

Then it was off to get dinner at another recommended place. We were told Hostaria Romana was a place locals frequent because it’s known for its Italian comfort food. Fried rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, and cheese, were offered up as complimentary starters. The bread just kept arriving. We had the freshest melon with the leanest prosciutto we’ve ever had. Then we devoured our pasta (even I ate pasta because the flour in Europe is vastly different and doesn’t make me ill) and shared the best tiramisu we have ever eaten. Dining al fresco in Rome. Is there anything better? Judging by our faces in these photos, I think not.

We waddled back to our rooms without using Google Maps because we were becoming that familiar with the area around the Arpinelli Relais. Although we were excited to be starting our cruise to Greece the next day, we were already missing Rome. When you book a trip to Rome, you may think you are going there to visit, but what you’re actually doing is inviting it to live rent free in your heart forever. It just happens. É la vita.

When One First Meets Rome

After missing out on sleep completely on the overnight flight from Denver to Munich, I was dying to get to Rome. While a layover in Munich is not a hardship because there are pretzels and Haribo gummi bears to be scarfed down there, Munich is not Rome. And, as I learned when I finally stepped foot in Rome itself, Rome is unparalleled. It reminded me of Paris without the fuss. Something about it being wild and chaotic, ancient and yet modern, made it more accessible somehow. I fell in love almost immediately.

I had rented two rooms at a guest house a stone’s throw from the Fontana di Trevi. When our airport shuttle driver turned from the chaotic main streets onto narrower side streets where the sideview mirrors were nearly clipping pedestrians, I started wondering if I had made a mistake choosing the Arpinelli Relais instead of a larger, more well-known hotel. My fears were unfounded. We were met by a lovely Italian gentleman who helped us move our bags into a small elevator that had to be as old as Rome herself, and then showed us to two well-appointed rooms (one with a charming balcony). There were bottles of Chianti waiting for us there, and then the gentleman sat down at a table long enough for a large Italian family and proceeded to map for us dining and sightseeing recommendations. Italian hospitality at its best and so much more personal than a large hotel. We already felt we belonged. This wasn’t a hotel. It was a home away from home.

With our check in completed and our first bottle of wine emptied, we took off on foot for an explore. First stop was Trevi Fountain, a whole two-tenths of a mile from our lodging. I was surprised at its size and how crowded and popular a location it was. It was a challenge to capture a photo that wasn’t loaded with giddy tourists and lounging Italians. It’s right in the middle of a popular area filled with gelato shops, so it’s no wonder the area is consistently packed.

Knowing we were a two minute walk from this fountain and could easily return, we opted to head to the Pantheon. I didn’t know much about the Pantheon. Honestly, I didn’t know thing one about the Pantheon. I knew only that the Pantheon was not to be confused with the Parthenon in Athens. I was blown away. I had seen photos of the exterior with its columns because our youngest is somewhat obsessed with all things Western Civ and he has spoken to me about the building and even shown me photos discussing its architecture. But holy crap, Batman. People obsess about the Colosseum, but the Pantheon is something else. Originally built in 27 AD by Marcus Agrippa, burnt twice and rebuilt finally in 120 AD by Emperor Hadrian, it is the best preserved ancient Roman monument that survives. The best part about the Pantheon is that there is no cost to enter it. No tickets to be bought. Just walk up, get in line, wander through the epic doors, and have a look around. It’s phenomenal. The dome is 142 feet in diameter, and light inside the building comes through the oculus in the ceiling, which is roughly 24 feet in diameter. It has functioned as a Catholic Church since 609 AD. And did I mention it’s amazing? Photos cannot capture its magnificence.

We gawked at the ancient Roman edifice for a while and then decided it was time to take one of the dinner recommendations passed along by our host. We chose to continue walking our way through the city.

The Italian gentleman at the guest house told us about a couple authentic, Roman restaurants, places where for a fair price you could try local specialties that were excellently prepared. He also told us the restaurant to which we were headed did not take reservations but always had a line before opening at 7 pm. We arrived at Da Enzo al 49 at 6:45 and there was already quite a long queue. It was long enough, in fact, that we debated looking elsewhere. But we had walked thirty minutes to the Trastevere neighborhood for this, so we decided to cross our fingers and wait it out. We were in luck. Once the waiters had busted through the line in front of us, we were given one of the last available tables on a patio adjacent to the restaurant and were quickly greeted by an efficient waitstaff. It was clear this restaurant had a system. We ordered Aperol Spritzes and a couple appetizers, including Carciofi all Giudia (fried artichokes). For dinner, we each ordered pasta dishes. Luke and I opted for the house-made gnocchi with Bolognese sauce. Joe had the Roman classic cacio e pepe and Steve stuck with a carbonara. It was amazing, and as much as we might have enjoyed lingering a bit longer we saw the rest of the line that had been behind us, hungry and waiting for their shot at a table, so we finished up and headed back to our rooms.

Once it was dark, we stepped onto the balcony and noticed the streets below us were still teeming with life. We decided we had enough energy in us for a quick walk to view the Colosseum at night. We were treated to this spectacle.

And with that we called our first day (well, half day) in Rome a wrap and headed back to our comfy beds for a hard-earned rest.

Next up: The Roman Forum, a tour inside the Colosseum, and the Vatican Museums