Girl time, gelato and Greece.

If you’ve read this, then you know how I feel about my momma. And if you read this or this, then you know how I feel about my cousins. So how flipping cool is it that they just flew across the Atlantic to do some Italy and Mediterranean adventuring with me?! I just had the sweetest two weeks with mamacita and my cousin, Morgan. And my sister. Oh, that sister of mine…

I don’t believe in perfect people or perfect places or perfect travels. But I do believe with every ounce of my heart that God gave me the.perfect.sister. Ten years my junior, we’re probably not destined to be in the same phase of life at the same time…not “supposed” to have a ton in common…Jordan’s in highschool. Still a babe. And I’m….not. But that girl is as much my soul sister as my biological one. And oh my gosh, did I need some sister time.

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Two weeks with these three gals made my heart smile big…

We wined…We drank fresh table wine at small hole-in-the-wall Roman joints. We clinked bubbly [[or bubs, as we like to call it for short]] on the cruise ship, dressed to the nines, while a good ole Greek Isle view faded into the horizon. But my favorite wining was the proper wine tasting day…the most picturesque day spent in Tuscany filled up my soul. Our charming driver, Mauoro, shared his favorite three wineries with us. Wineries set amidst the olive trees with sweeping Tuscan vineyards that produce brilliant wines. But the best was no doubt, the last. Our host poured wine after wine after wine to test our pairing palates with the salad and cheese and minestrone and cured meats and aged balsamic and Grandma’s lasagna drizzled with truffle oil. It was a treat and a half; and a checked bucket list item for the books.

And dined…From Mom’s spaghetti scoglio, Morgan’s caprese salad, Jordan’s penne alla arrabbiata and ALL of our gelato, Italy is the home to ‘eat’ in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ for good reason. Don’t even get me started on cruise food. I’m still detoxing.

We walked…Mom and Morgan might disagree, but walking is just my favorite way to explore. You just follow your feet. Sometimes they find the Colosseum, sometimes they find the Bridge of Sighs and sometimes they find perfect Greek beach to cool off. I don’t know where we totaled in mileage, but I do know that walking time company with my girls was so appreciated.

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And cruised…For as long as I can remember, Mom’s been telling my half Greek cousin Morgan that one day we’d go to Greece together. As moms do, she made good on her word, and Greece we did. In style. On the Splendour of the Seas. And as much as I’ve been on a completely different wavelength for the last 6 months of backpacking, I have to admit, easy, stylish travel felt really nice. It felt like a treat. It made me feel girly and clean. It was as it sounds…splendid.IMG_1168

We explored…Temmes are used to traveling. But not this way. Not my way. My new way, anyway. Exploring without agenda feels nice and natural. When you show up in Florence and have no idea what’s around the hotel and what’s best to do, you just go find the good. It’s that simple. I loved exploring little medieval Tuscan towns and winding Venice pathways and adoring the Roman doors and finding the perfect little Greek cafe with my ladies. May as well just call us all Dora from here on out.

And rested…The thing I’ve had to learn, to force myself to accept, is that rest.is.ok. Taking a nap is good for the body and soul. Sitting on a bench and people watching is often just as culturally enriching as racing around with a tour group in the Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel might be. We walked and explored. But we also rested. And it makes the exploration that much lighter and appreciated.

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But best of all, we laughed…that sister of mine keeps me in stitches. She is as witty as they come. She does goofy accents with me and let’s me call her ‘the half to my bruise’ when we happen to wear black and blue dresses to dinner. She does puppet shows with the towel elephants and calls mom ‘Bert’ or ‘Marge’ or ‘hey lady’ [to which my mom always responds…?!]

And laughed…We laughed like only sisters can laugh. Real deep belly kind of laughs. We laughed for 14 days straight. The Italians and Greeks probably thought we were off our rockers. And that’s why I love me some sister time.

I can only pray that when we’re 90 and 80, we find some really sweet old rockers [[preferably in Tuscany, for old times sake]] and laugh ourselves out of those ones too.

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Vineyard rains and cherry crumble

More than the breathtaking views [[truly, I sometimes forget to breathe while gazing out at those snow-capped mountain peaks and lush valley fields]]; more than the viticulture lessons that I’m soaking up like a sponge; more than unabashed puppy kisses, rich Italian food, and the joy of watching the cherry tree ripen with each passing day, the last three weeks have given me the gift of solitude and connection.

Some might scoff at the idea of going on ‘vacation’ and purposefully plopping down on the middle of a mountain–no nightlife, no shops, no restaurants, no beach, no civilization, really. But for a country girl at heart–a heart who needs some work– these may have been some of the most abundant few weeks of my whole sabbatical. It’s given me what I craved while I was still at my buzzing office desk in the Seattle metropolis. It’s given me distance from the buzz, time to reflect, space to work on me and the reignited desire to reconnect my body, mind and spirit. Cheesy? Sure; I usually am. True? Yup. No. Doubt.

I’ve spent my days in a slow but unfixed routine…

I wake up to the sound of the birds, not honking cars…

I sip on coffee and savour breakfast while reading the Bible or catching up on EastLake, rather than scarfing down as much caffeine as possible while cursing the HOV lane traffic that shouldn’t be…

I practice yoga without any expectations or distractions or raced agenda. Slow flow. Slow breaths. Strong holds…

I wander out into the vines to work with my hands and nature, where my mind is free to go wherever it needs to go, without an over-saturated calendar of conference calls and decks…

It’s there that I think about God. I pray. A lot. More than I’ve ever prayed before. Maybe it’s that at halfway up the Alps I feel a little bit closer to His house? Maybe it’s the quiet that guides my heart there? Maybe it’s that I saw a snake a few weeks ago and that just screams ‘pray?’ Regardless, real, raw, prayers have been said on the side of this mountain…

It’s there that I think about boys. Boys and men. The difference between the two. The one who broke my heart. The ones who’ve filled my time. The one I think about now. The one I pray for…

It’s there that I think about my family and my friends who feel like family. I do miss them. Four months is a total blink of an eye. No time at all. But it’s enough time to miss Jessica’s graduation and Papa’s health scares and Val’s wedding planning and one girlfriend’s mama-hood announcement. It’s enough time to ‘miss’ in general. And that I do. So hard…

It’s there that I think about what’s next [[such a contradiction to my ‘be present’ prayer that I pray every day]]. Sure, Greece is next week. And then Norway. But what’s next, once I hit American soil? Where do I want to be? Why do I want to be there? How do I want to spend my time? Who should I surround myself with? So many questions. So many ideas. So few conclusions. And thus the prayer repeats…

Sometimes at the end of the day, those rains sweep in over the valley so quickly I can’t even make it back to the house before getting soaked to the bone. And so sometimes I just stay put and let the rain fall on my face.

And then when I’m too cold and wet to bear anymore, I head inside and make homemade cherry crumble.

True Life: I Live on an Italian Vineyard

This trip has been four months chock full of dreamy, surprising and delightful, but I may have found the trump card here in northern Italy.

There’s this travel secret called Help Exchange [[there are others too, WWOOF & Work Away included]]. Why it’s such a secret, I have no idea, cause it’d have been about the coolest way to spend a college summer or 4 that I could think of. [[Get ON it, Joey, Phillip, Jess & Catie!]]. Truly, it might be the greatest thing invented since wine.

In a nutshell, travelers can apply to go volunteer with hosts from around the world who need any range of help–from feeding baby goats on a farm in Australia to working on a yacht in the Med, to sous-cheffing it up at an organic cooking school in Turkey. In exchange, hosts offer a range of comforts, mostly including lodging and food. It’s pretty much a win-win, no matter how you slice it, though I suppose the richness of the experience largely depends on the host / help match.

But with a little bit of luck finally on my side, I hit the HelpX gold mine of all gold mines on my FIRST try.

Yall, I live on a vineyard. THIS vineyard:vineyard

For at least the next few weeks. I live and work and play and eat and drink on a vineyard with the loveliest Italian couple and their incredible amount of pups. Twenty years ago, Paolo and Marisa bought this little chunk of land nestled in the northern Italian Alps looking out over the Valtellina Wine Valley. They built a gorgeous home, expanded the vineyard and created a total haven up here in nature. A haven which they now graciously share with me.

From my new favorite coffee / wine perch, depending on the time of day, I have an unobstructed view of their sloping vineyard, the valley and river down below, the snow-capped peaks, almost Switzerland and absolutely heaven.coffee perch

It’s perfect timing too, cause the last few weeks have been filled with an unquenchable need to be productive. I know, that sounds crazy… ‘just relax and enjoy the dream you’re living right now,’ they say. For the most part I have, don’t get me wrong. But after four months of relative ‘downtime,’ it was time to entertain my Type-A for a bit.

And here, I find my balance.

I unpacked my suitcase for the first time. I have a room and bathroom to myself, thanks to my generous host family. I get to put my hands to work while I let my mind wander. I have ELEVEN gigantic and gorgeous playmates [[oh, as if Paolo and Marissa aren’t busy enough tending to 4000 bottles of annual wine-worth-of-vineyard AND working full-time, they’re also European champion Bernese Mountain Dog breeders…real life?!]].

I get to be in a kitchen again [[oh, how travel makes me miss this novelty]]. But I don’t get [[nor want]] to be the boss chef, cause Paolo may as well have his own cooking show too. Then we sit together, with that heavenly view, a heaping plate of authentic local cuisine, a glass of red harvested from the grapes not 10 yards away from our table [[10 yards, but 4 years prior]], and they entertain my incessant questions about wine making.food

Around the table, I’ve learned all about the year-round labor of love that producing my favorite good requires. And in June, it’s vine-perfecting-time here at the estate, so I spend my ‘help’ time surrounded by baby grapes, with Michael Buble blaring, the sun tingling my skin, all the while making the vines do what they’re supposed to do and scolding the unruly.IMG_0273-0

What a life metaphor, huh? Unruly as things feel at time, with a little focused TLC, all things grow straighter, stronger and more fruitful.

Raising my coffee cup / wine glass to THAT, from my vineyard home in Italia today, friends.IMG_0292-0

‘Growth and Grace’ takes flight

I hope to use this place to document my ‘goods’ and reflect on my ‘painful’…not for any reason other than, I believe in the power of storytelling–that it might resonate, that it might encourage, that it might bring peace. So, while I know I’ll have plenty of ‘goods’ to look forward to and have a memory box FULL of ‘amazing’s’ [reminiscent blog posts on which to come]…for context’s sake, let me just admit a few of not-so-beautiful things…

If you read this or this, you might have picked up on the fact that I’ve done some hurting lately. This past year has challenged me like none before. Sure, I’m only 26 [or am I 27? For the life of me, I cannot remember….a ridiculously perfect demonstration of my chaos these days]. But I’d bet money that I’ve lived a lot more life than most 90-year-olds. In some very good ways, and in some very painful ways.

While I’m no stranger to tear-inspiring moments, I’ve cried a lot in 2014. I’ve had cancer and been cheated on and had my family broken and watched not one, but two parents fight cancer–all in the last 5 years, mind you. But nothing, not one of those life-altering experiences holds a flame to this past year. The sparkle that once dazzled my heart and ring finger all the same, was put to rest. Not in a mutual kind of way either…the way that feels so surreal and paralyzing that one whole calendar year later and I still think it must be a dream. A dream that I’d still like to wake up from…I just know I won’t.

So I’m forced to make new dreams, I guess.

Here’s where ‘growth and grace’ really takes flight–literally.

My new dream is to learn to be okay. To be alone and quiet and still and calm. To have nobody and nothing and realize I’m still somebody who has everything. To breathe. To rest. To cry. To give myself grace when I cry too long. But to grow with each inhale and steady my heart with each exhale. I want to do yoga with the sunrise and walk along the beach at sunset. I want to fuel my body with new and interesting foods and sip wine from grapes grown on foreign soil. I want to grow closer to God and feel him guide my movements. I want to smile and know that it’s radiating from the inside. I just want to heal.

My dream for this year, this new year, is very simple. I want to feel like me again.

So, I’m going on a trip. For 6 months or 9 months or somewhere in between.

No, I don’t have every bit of it planned…probably not even half of it. I’m not sure when I’ll run out of money or how long this will feel fun. I’m not sure where I’ll stay in Bali or how to read a menu in Vietnam. I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Italy or if Germany will still feel nostalgic. I don’t know how I’ll get from Norway to Spain. But I do know that I feel more at peace over this decision than I’ve felt in a whole year. Maybe a whole 26 years..[maybe a whole 27?]. I’m doing this.

The way I figure, I know how to do the things I know how to do. I know how to make friends and find good deals. I know to dream big, but keep my safety net. I know that I want to see the Christmas Markets in Austria, but if I need to come home early for some momma time, then that’s okay too.

For the other things, I suppose I’ll just figure it out. No hostel mishap or losing my camera or flight delays compare to the confusion I’ve already felt. That, I’m certain of. So in that way, I’m guaranteed to win–already guaranteed growth.

I’m going on a trip around the world, not to run away or ‘find myself.’ In fact, I very much know who I am. I’m going on a trip around the world to bring perspective to my pain and solitude for my questions. I don’t have all the answers. But by God’s grace, I hope I’ll have a few more when I come home.

And yes. I’m smiling right now just thinking about how long I’ll stay in Italy and how I’ll figure out how to read a menu in Vietnamese.

Here’s to small wins, big gains and huge travels.

Here’s to ‘growth and grace.’