Maybe it's my extreme case of wanderlust lately, but I've been thinking a lot about this terrifically diverse and expansive world we live in, and how many places I've yet to see...places I've read about in travel magazines or heard about on Rick Steves' podcast or from others who've visited there. Since I don't have the luxury of traveling much right now, I decided to add a little series to my blog: "Places I Want To Go," so you can read along and travel with me to these places I hope to visit in my lifetime. We'll find out what is uniquely special about each place and how it goes along with my theme, dreams of simple life. And one day, I'll hopefully write about each of them from personal experience!
So I invite you to come along with me to my first location...the Black Forest of Germany.
I talk a lot about my Italian heritage, but what I haven't shared much about is my other half, my mother's side of the family, which is English and German. My grandmother's family is from the Black Forest region of Germany. Besides having wonderful cherry cake, I've heard this area of Europe is pristine and unspoiled with multitudes of adorable cottages and castles amidst towering evergreens, mild summer temperatures and chilly, snowy winters. Yes, please.
Why is it called the 'Black' Forest (or in German, 'Schwarzwald')? From a distance, the large concentration of pine trees actually looks black. The nearby mountains also cast their shadows over the valleys and make it appear darker. However, there is nothing dark about it. The town at the center of the Black Forest, Freudenstadt, claims to actually receive more hours of sunshine than any other town in the nation! Here's Freudenstadt...
When I think of visiting the Black Forest, I picture a cold, snowy winter (how winter is supposed to be). I dream of preparing for Christmas by putting up a real fir tree in a cozy living room. Going for hikes in the forest just out the back door wearing mittens and a warm coat and boots. Drinking hot tea or coffee in a warm cottage kitchen by a hearth with hearty soup cooking on the stove.
I wonder what it was like for my great-grandmother in her humble home? Did she like to always have a kettle going in the fall and winter, like me? Did she enjoy a cool summer by walking outside barefoot or perhaps sitting under a tree to read a book? Most likely, yes. In the Black Forest, summer temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, and in the winter, 20s and 30s! How could you not love this place?
I also discovered that the Black Forest is known for something else: the traditional cuckoo-clock! Growing up, we had a cuckoo-clock in the living room that I was fascinated with, but I never realized that its creation had a personal history for me. Apparently there, you can visit cuckoo-clock factories and see this age-old German craft in action!
But the enchantment of the Black Forest doesn't end there...
"The forest itself is an area of heavily wooded mountains and verdant valleys. If you love nature, you will absolutely adore the Black Forest in Germany. The land and villages look relatively unchanged, as if you've stepped back in time, and when you walk through the forest, you can get an insight into what ancient Germany might have been like. Some of the houses you'll find in the villages are over three hundred years old. In addition, the Black Forest possesses a rich mythological tradition, where werewolves and witches haunt the darkness, so watch out. Fortunately, there are dwarves that live within the woods who like to help people."
There you have it. Not only perfect weather, but also dwarves.
And finally, there's Lake Titisee...wow...
Let's go for Christmas one year, OK? And then we'll return in spring to frolic in the grass and see everything bloom a luscious green. Yes, I'd like to explore my German heritage more, and the Black Forest is the perfect place to begin.
"When we live without listening to the timing of things, when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest – we are on war time, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms."
One of the most life-giving trips I've ever taken is our 1 year anniversary trip to New Mexico, because on this trip, I learned the meaning of rest. Our dear friends had given us access to their cabin in a valley in a tiny town that's barely on the map called Las Mochas. As we drove 11 hours through the dry, flat plains of west Texas and then into the green, winding landscape of New Mexico, we felt our souls take a deep breath in anticipation of a week totally removed from busy, modern life.
When we arrived, we saw that there were a few houses scattered nearby, but we didn't encounter a soul. The cabin was nestled between stately evergreens with its backyard emptying into a creek with unspoiled rushing water. On the other side of the creek, the forest trail led to fields of wildflowers.
After unloading our bags in the house, we jumped back in the car to drive to nearby Taos, a lovely, artsy little town, and strolled wide-eyed through Cid's Food Market marveling at all the unique locally-grown, organic food items, throwing them into our cart one-by-one. Juicy tomatoes, ripe peaches. Homemade granola. Sweet potatoes. And plenty of free-range eggs. We returned to the cabin, unloaded our bounty of food, and covered all the clocks with tape.
For the next week, we had no concept of time. We lived by the rhythms of nature. We went to bed when we were tired. We used only candlelight in the house after dark. We awoke not by alarm, but when our bodies rose naturally. We spent our days photographing hummingbirds, reading, and wading in the creek. The days were so long. And we rested.
Fast-forward two years, and I wonder what happened to the "me" who went on that peaceful trip in New Mexico. I so long to find her again.
A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk at the end of a long week, and in the middle of typing what seemed like my thousandth email, I suddenly burst into tears. I just sat there and sobbed for several minutes until I felt that I had cried out all my frustrations, sadness and lost-ness that had been building up inside for awhile. I couldn't articulate exactly what was making me cry, though. It felt as if simple things were throwing me over the edge. My computer freezing. Adding another thing to my mounting to-do list. Picking clothes up off the floor. I thought about calling a friend to ask for help, but I honestly didn't know what to say. I didn't know what exactly it was. So I just dried my eyes and got back to work.
This weekend, I'm reading my book, Sabbath by Wayne Muller. It's one of those books I want to read and re-read in my life and buy copies to have on hand to give to everyone I know. It says...
"Without rest, we respond from a survival mode, where everything we meet assumes a terrifying prominence...when we are moving faster and faster, every encounter, every detail inflates in importance, everything seems more urgent than it really is, and we react with sloppy desperation."
That explains the emotional breakdown over socks being left on the floor.
"There is a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking, sit down to rest for a while, then make camp for a couple of days before going any farther. They explained that they needed the time to rest so that their souls could catch up with them."
That was what I needed. I needed to give my soul a chance to catch up with me.
I'm learning what it means for me personally to have a "Sabbath rest." My husband could be surrounded by 20 of his closest friends 24 hours a day and be utterly peaceful and at rest. That is a rarity for me, and I often feel drained after being with people constantly. This is a battle within, because I love having our home open to people, I truly do. But if it's constant…one busy weekend leading into a busy work week and back to a busy, social weekend, I start to crumble and cave into myself. In fact, I utterly fall apart.
With my work, the problem is that I feel that I'm always capable of more. I've heard many people in "ministry" jobs say the same thing: I can do more, so if I can, why shouldn't I? This is not how we were meant to function as creatures. We were meant to listen to the rhythms set before us by nature, not constantly push ourselves against nature. Sitting at a desk all day with hands and head and neck in stationary postion. Shoveling in food on a 25 minute lunch break only to quickly get back to work again. Staying up all hours of the night and waking up to a blaring alarm.
"If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time – effortless, nourishing rest – can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us."
This weekend is a Sabbath Weekend. What I'm learning in this book is that there are many, many ways to celebrate a Sabbath, and it doesn't always have to be on Saturday or Sunday. We can have "Sabbath moments" for a few minutes or "Sabbath walks" for thirty minutes. The point is to celebrate God's goodness and provision and being. So far this weekend, I have sipped a lot of hot tea, propped myself on the couch with my feet resting on my husband's lap, and listened to the sounds of the Olympics humming in the background. I've sat on a big fluffy bed and read and gazed out the window. I took a walk in the neighborhood.
And amazingly, I feel much more prepared for Monday.
I admit, I still don't know how to balance my intense desire to achieve and accomplish, particularly in a work setting. But I'm still reading and learning and reading and learning, and I look forward to gaining more clarity as I go.
"Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center."
As for this gorgeous, peaceful place, I hope to return one day...
...but for now, I've got to find rest in the midst of this crazy city. The point is taking my hand off the plow, knowing I can't do it all. Knowing that God can and will work through me, that His strength will be the life that courses through my veins. And that by keeping my focus on the rhythms He gave us in this world, I can truly find rest.
"Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity."
It has been about 5 years since I was in New Jersey in the summer, a glorious time full of warm days and cool breezes. Summer there reminds me of women toting Land's End beach bags and an evening coolness that brings goose bumps and requires long sleeves after swimming all day.
On this trip, I could barely contain myself as we threw our bags into my mom's car to head for the pool. In my mind, I was 8 years old, ready to do handstands with my childhood friend Tara, and play "exploring" in the tree-covered area while our parents swam, and perhaps eat an ice cream pop (or two) while my hair dried in the sun. What would it be like? Would it be the same?
As soon as we arrived and claimed our parking spot by the woods, I heard the familiar sounds of my childhood - the diving board banging against the poles followed by a big SPLASH!, the bell of the Good Humor truck, and laughs of children sitting on the Three Big Rocks eating their pops on wet towels. Yes, it's been exactly the same for over 30 years. And I love that.
Once inside the pool gates, my mom and I claimed a spot on the grass in our usual location, surrounded by some of the same families who have been spending summer there since I was a child. It may seem a little overly sentimental or perhaps a bit dramatic to be this passionate about a pool. What is so special about it? Well, for one, it's the symbol of summer. Its opening heralds the arrival of longer warmer days, and its closing signals the start of a new school year and new possibilities. It's also colossal, bigger than any pool you've ever seen...with slides you would find at a water park, Olympic-size lanes, games like badminton and tether ball, and parties, and community, and personal history for so many people in this town.
Today, I stood on the edge of the 5 feet area and adjusted my swimsuit, about to make my maiden dive in several years. Almost 31 years after I first entered these waters, it was as if I was looking at a reflection of my own life. How many times had I stood in this exact spot, at all different ages, sizes, and good grief...bathing suits?
I dove in, feeling just like the girl in "A Moment of Clarity". I soared down to the bottom and felt my fingers and stomach brush the white concrete floor. My shadow swam along with me. We swam. And swam and swam and swam.
It was so quiet under there.
When I rose to the surface, I looked around for my mom. Not surprisingly, she was already fully engaged in her laps, the tip of her side-ponytail-braid skimming the top of the water with each stroke.
It's been so long that she and I swam together. She asked me if I would show her my freestyle, so she could be sure I "still knew how to do it." I indulged her without hesitation, taking a deep breath and showing her my most perfect 4-strokes-and-a-breath, 4-strokes-and-a-breath. When I came up for air, she was smiling.
At some point in my teens, I remember going through a stage when I declared that going to the pool was "dumb." Maybe it was rebellious adolescence combined with feeling awkward in a bathing suit, but those days I didn't want to swim anywhere near my mom and I got impatient with her, begging her to get out of the water before the last whistle blew at closing time at 7:30pm. She was always the last person left in the pool.
Today, I was chatting beside her as we swished our arms through the water and fluttered our feet, hoping that 7:30pm wouldn't come too quickly.
We began to reminisce about some of our memories here, and I unearthed one of her lessfavorable ones, which happened the last time I was here 5 years ago. The water slide. In her Jersey accent she quickly retorted, "Neva again! You know what happens when I go down that slooide!"
Boy, do I know! I'll never erase that image from my mind.
I had brought my friend Suz from Nashville to New Jersey for a short trip, and we were excited about going to the Moonlight Swim, one of several nights that the pool is open after dark for you to swim and bring water floats and listen to live music. That night, Suz and I were feeling bold and challenged my mom to go down the giant water slide in the diving tank.
I have to preface this by saying that my mom doesnotEVER go underwater due to an almost-drowning incident as a child. But that evening...for some reason...she accepted our challenge and went down that twisty tall slide in this photo, the image of which has now become legend.
Suz and I stood in the lap lanes across the pool, ready for the show. My mom climbed the stairs and paced back and forth a few times uncertainly before giving us a last nervous glance and sitting down to launch herself from the top. Then she was off...hidden from our view for 1 second...2 seconds...3 seconds....4 seconds...(seemed like a million seconds) in the twists and turns until we saw her emerge at the final turn. In a matter of seconds, her appearance had somehow completely changed from when she had started at the top: Her side ponytail was smashed and soaked. She was trying desperately to sit up but was kind of teetering on one hip, trying to keep herself from laying on her back. Even from afar, we could see that blue eyeliner was smeared under her eyes and running down her face. Her face held a look of sheer terror. Her arms were spread out to the side to brace herself before the final SPLASH.
Suz and I were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe.
The unforgiving slide then dumped her into the diving tank at full speed. We waited a few seconds, holding our breath until she finally floundered to the surface. We clapped and yelled cheers for her from across the pool. In fact, I think the whole crowd was cheering! Dawn Piccione had gone down the slide and lived to tell about it.
She emerged from the diving tank, hair matted and dripping wet and stomped across the deck with an "Are you happy now??" look on her face. She then started giggling along with us. That is one of the reasons I love my mom.
Just remembering the story today, she reminded me that she was "NEVA doing that again, so don't even ask". But that's OK. Because today I appreciate this place for what it is....and I appreciate time with my mom because it won't last forever.
The lifeguards blew their whistles at 7:30pm, just like always. I climbed the ladder out of the water and turned around to look at the unbroken, peaceful waters. We wrapped towels around our waists like two mermaids and lef the pool together, soaking wet and happy.
Simple things I love: being outdoors... being healthy... the beach... the perfect weather where it’s 75 degrees during the day and you need a jacket at night, like in california... small towns in maine... painting... the very thought of living in italy... making art for people... my brothers & sisters in india & africa... my community... mellow music like jack johnson & over the rhine... my flower garden....
"This is your life, this is your real life, and you are living it. Your life is not going to start later. This is it, it is now. It's funny how a person can be so busy that they forget that this is it. This is my life." ~ Lee Smith