Sunday, January 22, 2023

Tentoumushi and a Ladybugs Luck

 Ladybugs … I’ve been thinking about them so much. I recently edited an article about how they bring good luck. This isn’t in a usual sense though. According to legend, they actually remove the bad luck from someone, retain it in one of their seven black spots, and let the person they’ve landed on live a life that is “less sorrowful.” The article said this is called Tentoumushi as featured in the show “Bullet Train.” Anyway, the thought of lessening someone else’s sadness, well, that’s beautiful. When I die, I hope people will see ladybugs and somehow remember me.

I edit about 13,000 words every weekday—that’s roughly 26 articles a day and 130 a week (give or take). I’m a bit inured to this by now and it takes a lot to impress me, but the article about ladybugs did just that and brought back a memory.

I was so young. My mom always did my hair, and I laughed later thinking those tight ponytails could give me a free facelift. My mom had put me in a darling blue dress because some ladies had decided to come over. I loved listening to them talk about adult stuff, so I sat quietly, hoping to be part of the party—and eventually get a cookie my mom had set on a plate. The conversation topics kind of blended together until one lady said, “She’s so sick.” Then she whispered, “You know her mom was sick first.” I noticed the woman’s spotless shoes and perfect hair.

“I had no idea.” Another woman gasped.

“Well.” The speaker’s immaculate shoes tapped under the table. “She always said she wanted to take on her mother’s sickness—so her mom could get better. Now her mother is dead and she’s dying too!”

“You don’t think—“

“Oh, yes I do!” she replied. “I think she took some of her mother’s sickness from her, but not all of it! And that’s why she’s so sick now.”

My mom didn’t say anything, always pretty quiet unless she talked about her love for God. I studied her, that beautiful dark hair falling in waves around her face. Dear God, could I please look like her someday, all Italian and gorgeous? 

(My stunning Italian mama.)

I smiled at my mama and suddenly wanted to ask her about this mysterious conversation. Sure, I thought some dumb things as a kid—that sleeping with a certain blanket could make me beautiful or that people could get pregnant by touching their boobs to a guy’s chest—but even I knew you can’t take someone’s sickness by willing it into yourself. My six-year-old mind whirred. Couldn’t they just pass it along through their genes or something?

When I got older, I learned about hereditary illnesses (like everyone else), but the humanities always interested me more, especially the concept of sin eaters or how people try to hope that one being (even a ladybug) can take away sickness, sorrow, or even sin. I think people just want to define and quantify everything about suffering, pain, or guilt. It’s easier to wrap our heads around something if there’s a reason for it—and especially if there’s a solution.

I know it’s incredibly stupid (just like my early notions about reproduction), but the other day, I sat on my porch willing a ladybug to fly over and take my sorrows. I rested in front of our four-foot tall “welcome” sign, truly believing something would happen. Surely God would see me in this time of weakness. He’d do something to help take away the pain or the thought that I’m in a death spiral, fighting until it’s time to see my son in Heaven.

I sat in the bitter, snowy cold, looking through tears, wondering why life has to be so damn hard. “God,” I whispered, “today I need help being strong. It’s getting harder the longer I’ve had to fight. I’m tired.”

The wind swept through leafless, barren trees, and a chill came over me, so strong I forgot the pain from cancer. That’s when our welcome sign fell over.

“Seriously,” I groaned. “Not the ‘sign’ I’d hoped for.” But when I went to pick it up, I found something it’s been concealing: a little painted rock. I gaped because that rock went missing almost two years ago. After one of my worst bouts with radiation, a nurse came over and said, “I made this. I didn’t know who to give it to until now. I want you to have it.” I stared at the beautifully painted designs and thanked her—having no idea it was her last day working in the melanoma unit. But after I brought it home, someone moved it, and I couldn’t find the rock for years.

So, today, on this incredibly cold winter day as I grasped for hope, I held that rock to my chest and sobbed. How fitting that a nurse who lessened my pain gave me such a sign of lasting peace. I traced the black dots, little eyes, and intricate designs on the painted rock: my ladybug. “Thank you, God. For letting me be alive to fight another day.”

Who knew that a gift from almost two years ago would wind up being my miracle for today? Life is so beautiful.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

My friend just passed away. The amazing Layton Funk.

 I just found out that my friend, Layton F Funk passed away. He was the most amazing, inspiring person. 

After first meeting him, I wrote about the experience. It later got published in the Island Park News and then a book. When I gave him copies of the publications, Layton beamed, just saying he was so proud of me. But the truth is that I was so proud of him—just to be his friend made me feel like the luckiest person in the world. 

And now, as doctors are saying I will have much more than two years, I look back and have to give a bit of that credit to Layton, for encouraging me to keep going when my treatments felt beyond bearable. I’m so lucky I found him that day as I browsed online…fortunate he let me be his friend.

He’s one of the people who completely changed my outlook after my diagnosis. It’s so hard to believe that he’s gone. 💔

Here’s the original post I wrote about him:

Sometimes we meet people who profoundly influence our lives—and they might not even know it. That’s how I felt when I met Layton Funk.

After cancer interrupted my life, I browsed Facebook and simply found Layton’s profile; he seemed inspiring...and so interesting. We started talking and eventually decided to meet up sometime. But meeting someone in person is always so much different than talking online, and I was really nervous.

When I entered the building, I mentioned who I’d come to visit, and everyone around raved about Layton. 

It took quite a bit to see him though—COVID-19 has put so many obstacles in everyone’s lives. Both wearing a mask, Mike and I had to wash our hands for the appropriate time (as someone watched us), then we donned plastic gowns, took a COVID nasal swab test, washed our hands again, sanitized, then waited behind a glass screen.

“I’m so excited,” I told Mike. “He seems so awesome online.”

Then Layton simply rolled into the room, and I immediately smiled. He joked with us right off the bat, being far more witty than I expected, and the hour-long conversation that followed has moments I’ll never forget—he even let me play my violin for him. 

Layton is quadriplegic. He was in a car accident in Idaho over a decade ago, and now he lives in Utah, where he’s made his entire staff fall in love with him! 

We talked about everything from his identical twin, our love of superheroes, board games, and his advice about how I can handle terminal cancer. 

We were told to stay behind the glass, but at one point Layton talked about his room. So, we repositioned the “straw” that he uses to move his chair with, and then he broke us out of jail and led us on a secret mission to his fortress of solitude.

“Just act like you own the place,” he told us, grinning. And we strutted past the desk, like nothing was amiss! The staff didn’t even look up—and we actually reached his room! I could hardly believe it. But I guess that’s just what happens when someone like Layton leads you on an adventure.

He has an ENTIRE walk-in closet filled with the greatest superhero collection known to man. “Holy crap!” I whispered. “This is...AWESOME.” It was like walking into Narnia, but different because I saw a bunch of Supermans instead of Mr. Tumnus.

We sauntered back to the meeting area—with the glass barrier—and this time someone from the center followed us, probably a villain on our scent.

At the end, I asked Layton how he does it. He had a completely normal life until the accident. I just can’t imagine what he’s gone through over the years. This handsome man, who’s still young and has endured unfathomable trials...

“I’ve been able to help so many people through this. It’s my purpose.” 

Tears brimmed my eyes because I’ve never met someone that positive and strong! He went on to explain how life can bring the strangest miracles—even if they don’t seem “good” at the time. His eyes sparkled when he spoke and for me the world changed. I still can’t imagine that kind of strength—but I’m proud to know someone who does.

“I’ll come back! We’ll play board games.” I promised, BUT that doesn’t mean I’ll let him win! 

Even after Mike and I left, I couldn’t shake the experience. Layton completely inspired me. His positivity and kindness are humbling. I can hardly wait to get back there so I can beat him at Monopoly!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A True Example of God's Love

 "I'm a pretty quiet person," the man said. "But I want to tell you a story ... And I'm really nervous." This phone call shocked me because "David" is the quietest person I know. He and his wife, "Bev," are so fun and down-to-earth. They're the kind of people you can call with any issue, and they'd be there without judgment--no questions asked. But David was right; he doesn't say much. In fact, I've only heard him say a few words at a time. And now, this gentle giant wanted to tell me a story?

I closed my laptop. I'd just been reading dozens of messages in response to an old post that started trending this weekend--it's about the day I stopped believing in Jesus when an assistant pastor did an exorcism on me. Anyway, yesterday one woman even said my post is "dangerous" because it encourages people to doubt Christianity. "You will be accountable for all of those lost souls!"

I shivered, thinking about her judgemental words. I don't want to be called dangerous because I encourage people to think for themselves. I shook my head and brought myself back to the moment. "I would love to hear your story," I told David, more grateful for the distraction than he knew.

"When you first got sick," he said, "I started thinking about how much time I've wasted. I've never faced a real problem, not like what you've been going through with cancer." He paused, and I knew this must be hard for him. "And so, 250 miles from home, on the road to Scout Moutain, I decided to make a change." He cleared his throat. "Elisa, I started praying for you, and I never stopped."

"That's ..." I didn't know what to say because this was a huge deal. Sure, David doesn't normally share much about himself, but even I knew he wasn't religious. "Thank you," I finally said. "That means so much to me. I can't believe you've been praying for me!"

"I'm getting ahead of myself." He exhaled into the phone and gathered his thoughts. "When ... your book came out, I bought it because I knew that would somehow help. And then I just suddenly felt like I should tell other people about it. I felt so bad for everything you were going through being sick all the time. And it kind of became my mission; I could help by getting your story out there ..."

Tears filled my eyes. "Seriously?" I couldn't imagine this tall, quiet man telling people about my story. It must've taken a lot of courage because he's normally so shy. "Wow," I said, speechless.

"Yeah." He laughed. "And now, I've told so many people about it that I can't keep track anymore. And the weirdest things started happening when I decided to do this. People would just come up to me and ask if I knew of any good books! They would almost just come up out of nowhere!"

"You made my whole year." I laughed. "This is so amazing!"

"The strangest time was when a lady at work told me she ran out of books to read. There we were in full bodysuits, and I told her all about your book ... People would come up like that, or I'd hear about people fighting cancer, and I'd tell them about you and how positive you are ... One lady told all of her friends about it because they read too." He chuckled about all of this, and I sat amazed.

"You and Bev are so wonderful. I can't believe how kind both of you have been through all of this." Bev has sent me care packages or messages telling me she's thinking about us. Their son has come over and brightened our youngest kids' days. And now this from David.

"But I never wanted to tell you about it," he said. "I just wanted to do something in the background to help--without you ever knowing. And then, I just felt like I needed to call you ... like you needed to hear this for some reason."

I thought of the daunting emails I'd just been reading and suddenly wanted to thank David for everything. "You know, my book has made it to the bestseller list several times. I bet you were a big part of it!"

"I'm not sure about that, but I really have been telling everyone here in Wyoming. Your book did a lot of things for me, but it was hard to read the parts about Christians saying they thought you were sick because of your sins."

"I want to think they were trying to be helpful, but it was still hard."

"In the past, I went to church even though I never really followed. But I started to see some changes in myself this year ... I just got baptized."

Excitement lit his voice, and I wanted to celebrate too. It doesn't matter that we believe different things; I'm so glad he's found God. "That's awesome!" I said.

"I don't know exactly how to put this, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that I've been praying for you this whole time, and somehow through all of this, I've gotten closer to God. His love isn't about judging people, it's about being kind without asking for anything in return. And that's what I've tried to be. I really never wanted to tell you about any of this, but I thought maybe you needed the encouragement, and you needed to know that our family loves you guys."

I could hardly stop crying. "I'm so grateful for you and Bev--and for your whole family." I pictured Bev, spending time to teach me different art techniques over the years. Then I envisioned tall, quiet David, bravely pimping my book to strangers, and it just made me so happy. "That was amazing," brave, kind, WONDERFUL--I didn't have the right word, "of you to tell people about my book."

"I really went outside of my comfort zone," he said. "Oh! And I've started writing songs! One is something I pray every night. Can I send you one of the songs I wrote? It's just that reading about your experiences with God and your family out in nature reminds me of what I wrote."

I could hardly believe I talked to the same David we'd spent so much time with before my diagnosis. He's a devout Christian now, he's practically my agent (smiling!), and he's writing music?!

"Yes! I would love to hear it."

We gave each other updates on our lives, work, and my health. And with a grin on my face, I told him how much the call meant to me. "Thank you so much for calling," I said. "That was pretty amazing timing."

"Yeah, I just wanted you to know that I found Jesus, and I've been praying for you."

I hung up the phone and sat for a long time, just wondering over how miraculous life can feel sometimes. David is right; the best way to show God's love isn't through judgment and cruel words; it's through the sort of compassion and kindness that doesn't ask for anything in return. He and Bev are such examples of God's love. Wow! Who knew that's the reason I have so many new readers in Southern Wyoming.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Delta Showed Such Kindness—This Made Our Trip Exceptional

 My eyes widened because I’ve rarely seen a plane so massive—with 42 seats! “I’m all by myself,” Trey said. “I’ll be okay. But I’d wanted to sit by Mike.”

I looked at his ticket: 42E. The rest of us sat in row 41. “Tell you what.” I smiled. “I’d just hoped for some alone time.” I feigned surprise. “And I’m sitting right by Mike. Would you mind trading?” He didn’t need to sit alone for almost 10 hours.

So we traded, and I got much more than I bargained for. The lady next to me complained about everything. “Why are we in the back?” she asked the man next to her. “Don’t they know who I am?”

Was she famous or something? “I love the back,” I said, trying to help her see the bright side. “We’re not too far from the bathroom.”

“That’s part of the problem!” She flipped her hair and set her designer purse on her lap. “I don’t want to put my purse on the floor back here!”

“You know,” I said a bit softer, “I think these seats are normally for crew members if we hit a rocky patch of air. I feel bad we took their seats. At least we have somewhere to sit.”

At this point, the woman resolved to hate me. “I want an upgrade!” She said it so loud, obviously hoping the stewardess with blonde hair could hear. “I want an upgrade!”

Ruby and Sky turned around not long after this. “Mom, you’re the one fighting cancer.” Ruby’s eyes darted to the woman on my left. 

“You should be up here by our family,” Sky said. “One of us can go back there.” 

“I’m all right,” I said. “It’s nice back here.”

“So much for an upgrade!” The woman next to me gawked, like I had leprosy, then she put in earbuds and leaned away.

It wasn’t long into the flight when Mike came over. “You should probably walk around,” he said. “You don’t want to get another blood clot.”

I nodded. Mike is the sweetest, most thoughtful man. He held my hand and helped me walk to the back area. “I wish my doctor could see me now.” I laughed. “But she said if she couldn’t stop me from skydiving …”

After a moment, Mike said something to a stewardess in the back. She was honestly one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen in person. “How was your trip?” she asked. 

I’m not sure why, but I felt like telling her our story. “I’m fighting cancer,” I said. “Friends and family paid so we could take this trip to Italy because it was the biggest thing on my bucket list. It was life-changing.”

After telling her everything, I burst into tears. “I’m so sorry to cry,” I said. “I’m just so happy we actually got to go. I wasn’t supposed to live this long.”

She wiped tears from her own eyes. “There’s a seat open at the front of the plane. I want you to take it.”

My mouth fell open. “Oh! That’s okay. I want to be by my family. Just send me a friend request on Facebook! That’s all I want.” I smiled brightly because this woman seemed like the sweetest person on land or air. 

“Okay! But then I’d like to give you TWO seats up there, so someone can sit by you. I insist.”

I could hardly believe it because I’ve only seen things like this in movies. Plus, my dad always flies first class—even holding diamond and platinum status. He’s told me all about the fancy seats, and I’d devoured every detail, thinking I’d never see them.

Indy came to sit by me first. She could walk behind the seats there was so much room! “We have a footrest.” She giggled. And we even got a free gift: handmade purses in the seat pockets. They came with chapstick and all sorts of fun beauty supplies.

“This is so exciting!” Indy squealed. 

Each person got a opportunity to rotate up, and at one point, when Danielle the stewardess had checked on us again, I turned to Mike and cried. “They’re so nice,” I said. “People are so wonderful!”

He took a sip of his free wine. I couldn’t get over how fancy this was! Complimentary FANCY snacks. FANCY drinks. Curtains?! Reclining seats. This. Was. Living.

“Did you hear the woman in back? The lady who was complaining?” I asked him.

“I think everyone heard her,” Mike whispered. “You should’ve seen her face when she realized you got upgraded.”

A little while later, Danielle came back. “I sent you a friend request, and I’ve been reading some of your stories. They are so touching!”

This woman, a real-live angel, had totally made my year. “We’ve arranged for you to go to the Delta Sky Lounge for your layover in Cincinnati, that way you and your family can rest and get a nice meal.”

“I can’t believe you’re doing all of this for us,” I said. “You’ve made the end of our trip unforgettable. Thank you! Thank you so much.”

The sweetest woman, Patty met us at the gate and treated us like royalty. She led us around and ensured we made it flawlessly through customs. Then she brought us to the lounge and gave me a huge gift! “People like you and your family are the reason we love our jobs.” 

I wiped tears from me eyes. “We didn’t do anything though. It’s all of you who have been so nice to us!”

She asked if she could get a picture, and everyone kept talking about how exciting the trip had been. Even when we got back home to Idaho the kids talked about everything that had happened. “It was amazing!” Indy said, clutching her purse to her chest.

“I think so too. I feel like that entire trip from start to finish was just somehow charmed. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

“I’ll never forget it,” Trey said. “I’m so glad we got to go to Italy.”

“You’ll learn about Pompeii in school next year,” Sky said to Indy. “You can tell kids you’ve actually been there!”

My phone dinged. I’d just gotten a message from someone who helped fund the trip. Their mom died from cancer, and even though she wanted to visit Italy, she never got to go. “Your pictures warmed my heart,” the message said. “My mom would’ve been so happy to know someone else who’s fighting cancer got to take this trip.”

And so we rested in our own beds. My heart felt full to the brim. I met so many amazing people, and I just hope the family and friends who made this possible know his grateful we are. We truly had the trip of a lifetime. Maybe my friend’s mom was looking out for us … every step of the way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Who are we to judge, anyway?

Trey is such a philosophical kid. I knew that even when he was a toddler. Other kids would be racing toy cars, hugging dolls, making choo choo noises, or even fighting with each other, but Trey would simply sit, quietly observing everything like a wise, old man. Because of this, I really wondered what he’d think about Italy—especially the brutal history of the colosseum. 

“If you became a gladiator and had to fight someone who was truly evil … would you kill them if it was your only chance of survival?” I asked.

He thought hard.

“Well, would you do it?” I reiterated.

“If I could make that decision so easily, then how could I be trusted with anyone’s life—good or bad?”

I leaned back, taken off guard just letting his words sink in. “But what if they actually were evil?” I asked.

My fourteen-year-old shook his head. “I don’t know what circumstances made them who they are. It would never be my place to take someone’s life. So, no. The answer is ‘no’—I would NOT kill them because it’s not just killing someone; it’s erasing all of the things they could’ve done. It’s taking away what only that specific person could add to the world. What if they could change the course of … everything, and I just ruined that chance? Plus, who am I to say they’re really bad anyway?”

This was one of our first conversations in Italy, but it stayed with me the whole trip as Trey, Mike, and I jammed everywhere we went. I fiddled while Mike strummed chords on the mandolin and Trey played lead on the ukulele. But each place we jammed, no matter how beautiful, ancient, or serene the scenery looked, I kept thinking about Trey’s words.

I guess this hit home because at two different points during my journey with cancer, I almost stopped getting treatments. Thank God I didn’t because I would’ve missed out on so many things like jamming with Trey in Italy. This is just a reminder that no matter what you might be going through, don’t quit fighting. Life is worth it.


Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Meeting a Real-Live Angel in Italy

 The morning had been a whirlwind of excitement. I went to an Italian laundromat, got a free coffee from a man who owned a shop across the street, and made a couple of friends who were also washing their clothes. I don’t know how, but at the end of the last spin cycle, a young man and I cried over cancer, hardships, and the beauty of fulfilled dreams.

“Go after whatever it is that you want out of this life!” I said. “Don’t wait until you’re almost 40. Because you could end up like me, and it could almost be too late.”

He nodded.

“You won’t forget?” I asked.

“I’ll never forget this,” he replied.

Mike came in with the kids and didn’t even seem surprised to walk in and see me and this man with tear-filled eyes.

“How was lunch?” I asked everyone as they helped put the clean clothes into their packs. 

“So good,” Trey said. “I just love Italy.”

They’d all gone to lunch and a farmers market while I washed our clothes—the caveat being that we’d visit a famous synagogue in Milan that afternoon.

But later that day, everything seemed against us. We couldn’t get there by foot, a train couldn’t take us, and none of the taxi drivers could fit six people and a wheelchair into their cars. I closed my eyes and prayed. “God, if I’m really supposed to see this synagogue, please send an angel to help us.” It sounded silly, praying for an angel, but God can do anything if it’s meant to be, right?

I gingerly stood from my wheelchair and went up to a taxi driver. He couldn’t understand English or my Italian. So, I’m still not sure why, but I started speaking in Spanish. My mouth fell open when he responded—he’d actually understood every word!

“¿Seis personas?” he asked, and I nodded. Within moments, he’d moved heaven and earth to get us a cab. When I thanked him, he kept talking in Spanish. I wondered what my Spanish accent sounded like to that Italian man. How hilarious!

Anyway, when we got in the cab, I knew the driver was extraordinary. I sat in the front by him, and he explained that he didn’t speak English. Although I could understand him quite well, I couldn’t speak much. Despite that, I somehow explained that we wanted to visit the main synagogue in Milan—one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

His eyes widened. “Potrebbe essere difficile.” It could be hard. “Ci sono un sacco di polizia e sicurezza lĂŹ.” A lot of police stay around the synagogue to offer security.

But we decided to try anyway, and luckily, when we got there, the policemen even let the taxi driver take a picture of us in front of the building!

Our whole trip to Italy seemed life-changing to me, but when I stood in front of that synagogue, I felt the sheer power of God. 

Sometimes when I’ve played my violin, I get so lost in the music that I can almost feel God‘s presence around me. It’s so peaceful and intoxicating. It doesn’t have the constraints of religion or bureaucracy. It’s just me and God, a simple being worshipping her creator. And that’s what it felt like standing in front of that synagogue. Emotion filled my eyes as the taxi driver took our picture because I knew for some reason I was supposed to be there.

After we got back in the cab, the driver gave us an amazing deal to bring us to our hotel. Mike and I nodded, deciding to take him up on his offer—after all, he’d somehow gotten our picture in front of the synagogue.

On the 45-minute drive, Mike and I spoke with the driver in Italian. He worked with us, helping us understand every word, and this interaction became one of my most treasured memories. We told him about our family, and he reciprocated by sharing stories about his beautiful, accomplished daughters who are truly making the world a better place. The conversation became such that my soul glowed just as brightly as it had in front of that synagogue.

Toward the end of the drive, I absolutely knew we were destined to meet that man. I wanted to tell him I prayed for God to send an angel to help us, but I didn’t know exactly how to say all of that in Italian. So instead, I introduced myself and then asked for his name. 

“Angelo,” he said. The Italian word for angel!—and chills ran up my spine. The whole day made sense: How hard it’d been getting to the synagogue. How impossible it seemed catching a train and finding a big enough taxi. 

Sometimes when “obstacles” fill our lives, it’s simply an opportunity for God to point us in the right direction.

After hearing his name, Indy gave him a coin with an angel cut out of it. “An angel for an angel,” she said. Then Mike told him all about my ongoing battle with cancer and the fact that friends and family paid for us to go on this trip. 

Angelo’s eyes welled with tears. “I am so sorry,” he said several times in Italian. “So sorry.”

When he dropped us off at our hotel, I asked for him to wait just a moment. I’d brought a copy of my memoir, “Two More Years,” to give to someone special on our journey, and I knew it was him. I handed him the book, finding it hard to speak because he’d been so exceedingly kind and given us far more than a simple trip to a destination. And I knew we would never, ever forget him.

Later, I saw that he’d sent me a message on Facebook. He’d told one of his daughters about my memoir, and she’d already begun reading it and translating it to him in Italian! There are times in my life when I look back in complete wonder. I know I’ve had some really hard things happen, like experiencing the death of a child or fighting terminal cancer, but the good far outweighs the bad. I meet the most exceptional people. And just like this taxi driver, I’m so fortunate to have angels all around me. Even when I’m experiencing hard days, feeling sick, and fighting a battle the doctors say I will lose, I know now that I will always strive to remember God’s blessings. It’s easy really because the people God has put in my life are a constant reminder of His goodness and love. 

So, that was one of the most beautiful days of my life. I met an angel who sometimes works as a taxi driver, and now that we’ve connected on Facebook, I feel that I have another lifelong friend. Who would’ve thought such a beautiful day would all start with an Italian laundromat?!

Monday, January 9, 2023

Skipping Through Italy from Pompeii to Sorrento

We left Pompeii slowly because the sun had set, and at one point, we used our cellphones as flashlights. If anyone thought it was hard pushing me in the wheelchair during the day, this became almost impossible at night. We finally made it out a bit after they'd closed and apologized profusely in Italian for being the last people to leave. 

The guard waved kindly. "Stai bene," she said (you're okay). Then the woman grinned as if understanding how life-changing Pompeii can be.

"We might miss the train," Mike said. Almost immediately, he and the kids started running uphill toward the station. Mike pushed me so quickly, amazing me with his resolution, and I glanced back, wishing we could camp amidst the ruins and just soak in the beauty of the star-filled night. 

"It's gone." Mike huffed when we reached the top of the hill. "I just watched it leave." He seemed so deflated as he hunched over and placed his hands on his knees, breathing hard. "Another train will come, but we'll have to wait hours."

The kids didn't complain, but they did seem disappointed. "Is there anything else we can do?" Ruby asked. "Could we try for a cab ... or something?"

I checked my phone, but I didn't have service, and no one else seemed to be around the station except our family.

"There is another train," Mike said after a minute, "I know how to get there ... but it's over 10 miles away."

My eyes widened, and that's when Ruby took the opportunity to really shine.

Ruby is my oldest daughter, so strong and hardworking. When she gets it into her mind to do something, that kid will move mountains just to accomplish her goals. I still remember when she told us she wanted to become a tattoo artist. She was only 17, and I didn't expect her to devote her heart and soul to it for years, sometimes spending over 80 hours a week working at the shop and drawing samples for clients at home. That kid is unstoppable, headstrong, and ... likable. We always say she's such a heartbreaker that we don't worry about her when she dates someone; we worry about the people she brings home. She's just "that girl."

Anyway, as Mike told us our options, I watched Ruby's mind whir. "We can do this!" she told her siblings like a reincarnation of Joan of Arc. "Do you want to sit here for hours? Or do you want to run through the city with me and catch that other train?" 

I still don't know how she did it, but everyone jumped on board, thinking that running 10 miles was a grand idea. And, after a moment, we rushed through the streets leading to Sorrento. This might sound straightforward, but the wheelchair started rocking as everyone shoved me along. I began thinking of it as a poorly constructed plane or rocket that can't withstand lightning speed. 

The kids got tired after several miles. Shocker. I couldn't believe they'd made so far. "Elisa, how close are we?" Mike asked.

I pulled out my calculator and figured the distance with an average of under 3 miles an hour. "Well, if you stay at this pace, you might make it to the train station with 6 minutes to spare. We're only a few miles away."

"Kids!" Mike hollered. "Skip. Let's all skip."

"Yes." Ruby nodded. "Skip!" 

And everyone did! With Ruby in the lead--the Pied Piper of Sorrento, I'm sure the locals thought we were half-mad, five frantic people skipping and sporadically pushing a redhead in a wheelchair.

"It's ... so ... beautiful," my words came out joltingly because that's what it feels like when someone skips and pushes you at the speed of light. But Sorrento WAS glorious--so much prettier and down-to-earth than I would've ever imagined. It's not too far from where my mother's family lived in Italy before they came to America, and it felt surreal seeing it at night with all of the nightlife and everyone laughing right after we'd pondered death at Pompeii: the perfect dichotomy.

Emotions overcame me as I gazed back at my skipping children and my husband, who has stood by me through so much more than cancer ... He's held my hair as I've thrown up in the toilet after treatments. He's rubbed my feet when I've suffered the kind of pain I only knew from childbirth--it's the devastation cancer wreaks when it's gone into your bones and eaten your nerves. He's stayed with me through bad choices, crying fits, and so much more. But seeing his joy as he skipped and looked at every one of our kids--and then down at me--that joy moved me to tears. 

Ruby continued on, courageously leading everyone in a place so close to where our ancestors hailed from, and somehow, I felt that if they could see us, they would be proud.

We did actually make it to the train with only a couple of minutes to spare, and all of the kids acted as if they'd just won the Olympics. A couple of passengers stared at us quizzically, and we could not stop laughing.  

"This might be my new favorite memory," Trey said, "skipping through Italy to catch a train."

"Mama, you're right." Indy took a bite of a complimentary cracker a train attendant had given her. "Sometimes bad things can turn good if we just look hard enough."

I hugged Indy and winked at Ruby. In that moment, my heart just felt full to the brim.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Is Pompeii Worth Seeing? A Tourist Perspective.

 Some people died clutching belongings while others died holding each other—or simply themselves. I’ve thought about this often, especially at parties when some new-age philosopher will ask something like, “If you were in a natural disaster—and you could only save one thing, what would it be?”

No one heeded the earthquakes just years before, and 2,000 residents of Pompeii (up to 16,000 people in all, counting surrounding areas) perished after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

It’s odd to think some of these victims’ final moments have been immortalized. I read about it in elementary school and never forgot. The whole place just seemed so curious … morbid … and yet so beautiful in its agelessness. 

Somehow fighting cancer, that’s one thing I’ve pondered, not being forgotten. But we’ll all be forgotten someday. We can’t even see the “end” of our ever-increasing universe. The speed of light is even slow when compared to how long it would take to reach what we foresee as “the end.” Yet, we worry about being remembered. By whom? Everyone we’ve “known” will have passed away within a century after we die.

And yet people worry about the silliest things. If a waiter forgot their soda. If their haircut looks nice. If their husband put the dishes away. If people are impressed by their new car.

What really matters?

Still … Pompeii is so much more than a philosophical catalyst. And when Mike and I went through the once-majestic city, my soul ignited with passion—and I watched the same thing happen to Sky. I can’t run or sprint or skip, but I wanted to rush everywhere, exploring each home, courtyard, orchard, temple, and the 20,000-seat amphitheater. But I can’t. Most of the city is wheelchair accessible, and Mike pushed me across the bumpy walkways. I would get up from time to time when Sky skirted down a road and told me I should “come check it out.” 

Sky ran and discovered exactly in the way I would’ve if I were in better health. She jumped and hollered, talking with so much animation about the new things she’d just found. At one point, when she led me to an amphitheater—that Pink Floyd actually played in for a documentary in the 1970s—I watched her and tears filled my eyes. I’m just so proud of the curious, content person she’s become. She’s only 18, but she’s already starting to accept who she is and who she wants to be. I really saw that in Pompeii as she reflected on the ancient past and what she wants for her own future.

At one point, the sun began setting and although we’d seen casts of the deceased in the museum at the top of the hill, we hadn’t found any in the city which stretched much farther than what’s shown in history books.

“These streets,” Sky said, “it’s just unreal to think how many people have walked these same streets and how advanced they were back then.”

I nodded. “You know I’m not Christian anymore, but it is strange thinking this is how the world looked when Jesus was alive.”

Just then, as Sky helped me along the street, she paused. “Wait! I think we found one.”

“A cast?” I asked, and she nodded.

I pushed myself out of the wheelchair and walked across the rocky street. Everyone else had gone far ahead to where a huge colosseum rested. But Sky and I stayed behind, pondering every detail.

In that moment, fate rewarded our patience, and we stood in front of a cast, feeling so much emotion. The man had died in obvious pain, you could tell by the way his body contorted around the large object he held. “Do you think it’s a vase?” I asked.

“Or a baby,” she said.

I felt bad that the cast showed so much, we could tell he’d been a man—a tall, skinny man. Vesuvius had left little to the imagination, yet I couldn’t pull my prying eyes from him.

After facing my own diagnosis, seeing someone’s traumatic death from almost 2,000 years ago sent shockwaves through my body. I wondered what his hopes and dreams had been. But even more than that, I wondered what he held in his arms. Was he happy to be remembered in such a way? And how will … how exactly will I die when the time comes? Will I be hooked up to machines or at home? Will I be remembered for longer than several decades, and will it even matter?

I’ve always heard days before someone dies, they know it’s coming. People say they’ll often talk about death or reach out to the people they love most. I think that’s a reassuring lie we tell ourselves to make it seem like we have a semblance of control. It’s unnatural to know the time of our demise. 

That’s something modern medicine has partially stolen from me. But it gave me the ambition to visit Italy and inspired me to live with intention.

I thought about all of this as we studied the man’s cast in front of us, and Sky must’ve had similar thoughts because she stood mesmerized as well.

Our family spent almost three hours amongst the “ruins” of Pompeii and only saw a portion of the city: homes, roads, gathering places, art from the time, bathhouses, kitchens, and even writings perfectly highlighted by moss. Yet, it will remain the most wonderful place I’ve ever visited (even topping a Jamaican bioluminescent lagoon Mike and I once swam in).

Anyway, it’s rare for such a tragedy to yield beauty, but that’s what I’ve decided to hope for in my final years. I want to be like Pompeii. I want my sickness and trials to yield something good. Even if I am only a speck in time—I’ve found something to give me peace. I hope to make the best of my time, spending quality moments with the people I love.

Friday, January 6, 2023

His ‘Piccola’ Friend

Amazing gelato shops and pizzerias dot the streets of Rome, but only one truly stole our hearts …

“Indiana,” I said, as she helped me do the dishes from breakfast. “I brought these for you.” I handed her a bag of coins that had angels cut out of them. 

“What are these?” she asked.

“They’re angel coins.” I paused because they meant more to me than she realized. When I first got diagnosed with cancer, a thoughtful friend mailed those to me. “If you really like someone during our trip here in Italy, give them a coin.”

She nodded, tucked the bag into her pocket, and we prepared to leave for the day.

The morning and afternoon seemed filled with discoveries around every corner. The streets buzzed with people taking pictures of ruins and beautifully renovated buildings. It honestly felt unforgettable, but still, my favorite memory happened that night.

The man in the tiny shop barely spoke English, and we tried our best in Italian. “Gelato?” he asked Indy and Trey.

“Si,” Indy practically squealed. 

The man grinned, making the skin crinkle far across his cheeks like ripples in a stream. And I couldn’t help but grin back. He seemed to embody everything kind and good in the world. He’d probably seen so much in his years—haven’t we all?—but instead of letting that harden him, he’d become gentle and wonderful. “Size?” he asked in English. 

“Molto grande!” Indy said, and everyone laughed because “very big” (as she’d just said) wasn’t on the menu.

“Oh!” The man chuckled like an Italian Santa. “Molto grande?” 

“Per favore?” Please. Indy’s eyes widened as she pled.

“Okay … Okay …”  He laughed so hard. “Quale?” He pointed to a few different flavors.

She tapped the glass in front of the tiramisu.

“Non per te.” Not for you. “Piccola.” Small. He pointed to Indy. “Piccola.”

We looked at each other. Not understanding. “Piccola?” Indy pointed to herself. “Si!” She pointed to herself. “Grande” She pointed to the ice cream, spread her arms wide, and gave a charming look. 

He wouldn’t give her tiramisu, but he gave her four huge scoops of the other ice creams. Then he gave Trey a big bowl too. Trey is so shy and darling. Everyone thinks he’s much older than he is because he’s 5’10” and only 14. “Grazie mille,” Trey whispered and glanced up.

We went to the door where my wheelchair rested against the wall. Mike set it up on the cobblestone walkway outside of the shop, and the man looked out the door with so much concern. I’d seen him watching how I stood in the store, and I knew he wondered what was wrong, but I couldn’t fully tell him about my battle with cancer or how hard I’ve fought to live. I couldn’t even explain how my biggest bucket list item was going to Italy with my family and how generous people had made this possible. Isn’t that how it goes; we all have a story to share, but no one really knows all of it except ourselves?

He pointed to my wheelchair and placed his hand over his heart, as if somehow trying to express sorrow for what we might be going through. 

“Arrivederci, piccola,” Goodbye, small. He waved to Indy.

“Arrivederci, bello,” Goodbye, beautiful. Indy giggled when she said it, and the bellowing laughter from the man was worth more than almost anything.

The shop closed after we left, and we got to our apartment in record time. “Oh, no! I didn’t get to give him a coin!” The thought hit Indy too late. 

“You can try tomorrow,” I said.

“Our train leaves before the shop opens,” Mike said.

“But I’m his piccola friend,” Indy responded.

The next day as we passed the gelato shop, I noticed Indy sticking something at the bottom of the door.

“What are you up to?” I asked. “Slow down, guys. We don’t want to lose Indy.” Mike pushed me in the wheelchair, and the kids moved in a line with us. In fact, that’s how we went everywhere from Milan to Florence to Rome, Naples, and Pompeii. 

I got out of my wheelchair and struggled to pick up the paper Indy had stuck in the door. “Sei amato. Piccola.” Then she’d taped an angel coin to the paper. I thought about her words “you are loved,” and I hugged her so hard. “He’ll like this so much!” I said to Indy as we continued toward the train station. And as I looked at my family, I thought that Mike and I have the best kids in the world. I’m so grateful we got to see Italy with them.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Our First Night in Rome — The Roman Apartment

The train that night, for Christmas Eve, pulsed with anxious energy. Trey said it reminded him of the Polar Express. Attendants came through and gave each of us a little treat like Edmund’s Turkish delight in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and I couldn’t get over the magic swimming around us, so thick you could literally taste it.

We spent a lot of hours traveling and sleeping on the train—and I absolutely loved it. After that particular train stopped, Mike set up my wheelchair and helped me onto the platform. “Look,” I whispered to Mike and pointed at the kids after I sat down. All of them had such wide eyes, filled to the brim with excitement, but the two who seemed especially elated were Sky, who enjoys history, and Indy, who adores the movie “Roman Holiday.” 

“Rome,” Sky said, a mature solemnity in her 18-year-old voice. Her blue eyes sparkled as if she’d just vowed to live an even more intentional life.

Indy squeezed my shoulder three times for “I love you.” She did this little hop-skip, too, that I adore. “Mama, can you believe we’re visiting the same city where Audrey Hepburn came?!”

“It’s amazing,” I said, and Mike chuckled because Indy and I have watched “Roman Holiday” together more times than I’m willing to admit.

Trey wanted to find our AirBnB apartment because the sooner we dropped our backpacks off, the sooner we could eat authentic Italian pizza. “And I need to use the bathroom,” Ruby said. 

So, it became a rush. We tried to save money by having Mike and the four kids walk everywhere while Mike pushed me in the wheelchair. But the cobblestone was a bit aggressive, the family seemed tired, and I got the kind of stone massage no one hopes for. All of our worries dissipated when we looked to the left. There, tucked amidst apartment buildings, the chaos of a modern city, and more people than New York, we spotted the Colosseum. 

“It’s … It’s just right there,” Sky said, immediately taking pictures. “This is so cool.”

It’s hard to describe what that type of ancient building can do for one’s soul. You start thinking about the people who have been there. The people who have died amid its walls. The Caesars, gladiators, peoples, and kingdoms that have risen and fallen with time. And the travelers, like me and my family, who will continue to visit because it’s so enormous and profound. In fact, it’s hard seeing something that brutally majestic and realizing people built it so long ago. One might even say it “feels” infinite, but—or course—it’s finite like we all are. 

Someday it will be gone like the people who made it. Like we all will be … That’s the thing about Rome. You’re just walking around, traversing a busy city, or eating incredible food, when suddenly you stumble upon an excavation site where they found more ruins. Rome is a treasure trove of wonder, art, and an opportunity for reflection.

We finally stood in front of our “apartment,” but the door loomed, a massive drawbridge to a dungeon. “I really need to use the bathroom now,” Ruby whispered.

“I’m trying to hurry. But I don’t know how to open this thing.” Mike wiggled the doorknob which appeared tiny in contrast to the looming door. He kept fiddling with it for a moment longer, and to our surprise, a tiny door opened within the massive door. Inception!

“It’s like a movie!” Trey said, absentmindedly strumming his ukulele. I swear he even slept with that thing.

Anyway, so many incredible things happened in Rome. I loved hearing the bells from the church down the road. I reveled in the dilapidated apartment we rented, with so much character and charm. Some of the lights didn’t work, the floorboards would come up when you walked, and there were big bars on the windows, but none of us will ever forget it—or it’s 10+ locks on the front door! Indy even went around taking notes about the apartment “for her future self,” so she can one day tell her children what it was like when she was a child.

I need to write a little bit more about Rome. I honestly feel like I’m still trying wrap my head around it. I’m so glad we didn’t go for a regular tourist experience. Mike brought us to places where people actually live, and we got to see what real life is like—or at least have a glimpse of it. Anyway, ancient architecture, art, beauty, and intrigue aside, the people we met were absolutely unforgettable … Isn’t it interesting how it always comes back to people and connections?

Tomorrow will be a fun post. 
I want to tell you about a man we met who sold gelato and how Indy started giving strangers little “angel coins” along the way. This is when the trip started to get exceptional.


Wednesday, January 4, 2023

These Pictures Showed Eerie Foreshadowing

My cousin, Farrah Pendray, is the most gifted photographer. She just posted this story with my engagement pictures from 2014. 💓

From Farrah:

Today, I saw something I never anticipated when I took these pictures. As an artist, I am most comfortable when I’m expressing myself in an creative way, but I also like to tell stories with my photos. They should be accurate and true to the person I’m photographing. I’m sure that comes from my work as a family history consultant. Looking back on our ancestors and their stories, can help us learn so many things about families and ourselves. I guess with that experience, I viewed these photos and reflected on the challenges that my cousin, Elisa, has gone through in the last couple of years. 

She was diagnosed with stage four melanoma and given two years to live. These pictures were taken a few years before that diagnosis. Mike is her husband and has faithfully rescued her over and over through his actions, love, and I’m sure a shared fear at times. 

I love seeing how these pictures represent Mike and Elisa. Notice him picking her up and removing her from the oncoming danger of certain death. If only to give her a little more time. These pictures perfectly capture the relationship between Mike and Elisa, as Mike has struggled to rescue her from what looked like certain death—the doctors only giving her two years to live—and Elisa SMILING and putting full trust in Mike and God, while she is suffering and tied to a chair (now sometimes a wheelchair) she is laughing and smiling and in complete control of her emotions. Mike is still picking her up and taking her to magical places that help her to escape the danger of the oncoming train. 

I love Mike and Elisa very much. They mean the world to me. I look to them in their example on how they live life, and how they face trials, that I might be more heroic in facing mine. If you want to learn more about Elisa‘s battle with cancer and her awesome family, you can find her at She has many published books and a wonderful blog. Her family just returned from Italy, and she’s currently sharing their comical adventures. Even one that takes place in a train station. 🚉

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

What Does Michelangelo’s David Really Look Like?

 Florence is hard to describe because it’s so beautiful. Streets spider-vein around, all seeming to lead to one central location: the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. People visit, watching street artists, eating gelato, and discussing the fun items they discovered at surrounding shops. But, as always, our adventures became somehow hilarious. And no matter how hard I try to be “fancy,” we end up having a real-life moment that is hysterical.

I waited outside the art building, unable to go in because of our music cases (some kind of safety concern). I honestly felt fine with that because I loved watching people go in and come out after seeing Michelangelo’s David. So I sat in my wheelchair and watched as people trudged in … glum, bored, eager, or just filthy rich. When they came out, it seemed they’d been touched by the hand of God himself, brought back to a gentler, humbler state of being. After so many individuals came out, I could hardly wait to see Mike, Trey, and Indy’s reaction.

Ruby and Sky had gone off into the city alone. Since Ruby is a tattoo artist she decided to find the best tattoo shop in town to get a matching tattoo with Sky: wine glasses. (It went so well that after seeing Ruby’s work. The owner offered Ruby a job in Florence!)

Anyway, Mike stepped from the building first, looking completely shocked and amazed—as if he’d stood under a rocket ship and somehow survived the blast. 

That sculpture of David must be one hell of a thing. 

“He is big … As tall as our house. Elisa, it was … amazing. I can’t describe what I’m feeling. Just imagining one man carving that by himself … And it’s in such perfect condition after all of this time.”

Then Trey came out. He pulled his ukulele from his backpack and started playing it. “That girl just looked at you,” I said. Trey is like a California surfer boy from the ‘60s. 

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I made eye contact.”

I stifled a laugh and readjusted my position in my wheelchair. “Where’s Indy?”

At that moment, poor Indy stumbled from the building. “Indy? Are you okay?” 

“Mama … “ She stared blankly ahead, looking but not seeing. “He was naked. Haven’t they heard of Adam and Eve—even they knew to put clothes on. I was fine with the six-pack. But that was gross.”

Mike started pushing me across the cobblestone so we could get gelato. “Was he seriously as tall as our house?”

“Yeah.” Mike showed me a picture he’d taken. David’s toes were about eye level, and he seemed completely skewed. 

“Well …” I couldn’t pull my eyes from his schmeckle. “I can see why they didn’t name this David and Goliath.”

“I kept asking if we could leave,” Indy said. “But Dad said it was art.” She paused. “Yeah! Scary art!”

So we went to the grounds of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and had a gelato just like one of my favorite uncles recommended. (When Uncle Roger recommends something, you should do it because that man has taste!)

Anyway, Trey, Mike, and I jammed in the piazza (or square). People took pictures and videos probably feeling nostalgic since Mike had learned the “Tarantella” for a moment like this. It felt wonderful knowing we would be part of a good memory for so many tourists—and a local artist who sat by us as we played. 

When Ruby and Sky came over, showing us their tattoos and raving about their experience, I knew it was an unforgettable day for everyone. No wonder people say Florence is the most beautiful city on earth. It’s definitely up there for me.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Busking to Use a European Bathroom!

“I'm related to the Coglione family," Mike said to the bartender, and the man almost fell over, laughing so violently.

"That means ... testicles," he finally coughed out the words. Then his eyes grew wide as he poured another drink. "Oh! You must mean Colleoni. Coll-e-oni." The pronunciation sounded barely different to my American ears, but apparently, it's pretty drastic to a native Italian. "That sounds close to a well-known mafia family here in Italy. Maybe don't be telling people you're related to them."

The next day, we prepared to visit Trento where the testicl—I mean—Colleoni family hails from. 😉 But transporting a woman in a wheelchair and rousing four people (who are 21 years old and younger) takes time, and we missed our train by two minutes. 

Mike parked me against a wall in the Milan Central Station, and the kids piled all of their backpacks around my wheelchair like some sort of pyre. "I'll be back. I think the next train to Trento doesn't leave until later tonight. We might just have to skip it and go straight to Florence." 

So, Mike left to get tickets sorted, and about twenty minutes later, Trey whispered, "Mom, I need to use the bathroom."

"Me too," Indiana said.

"So do I," said Sky.

Ruby appeared to be the only one who DIDN'T want to visit a European bathroom.

"It costs money here," Sky said. "A euro per person to use the bathroom. And they have bidets."

Everyone looked horrified. Bidets could be fun, though ... right? RIGHT?

I dug through my pockets and cursed under my breath. Mike had taken all of the money with him on accident. 

"Mama, what are we gonna do?" Indy asked. "He might be gone for a long time."

I remembered being a homeless street musician in Hawaii, and the dilemma became fun. "This'll be great. Can you guys put my violin case in front of me?" I'd brought my electric violin to Italy with the hopes of playing it on the streets of Rome, but the biggest train station in Milan seemed even better!

I played the first song that came to mind, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and I really had to put my soul into it because although my electric violin isn't a silent one, it's still fairly quiet. I watched as people gathered around and started listening. As the crowd grew, magic filled my fingers and soul, and the words to the song appeared in my head. Yip Harburg's lyrics felt so true at that moment. 

I couldn't believe we'd made it to Italy. Despite anything going "wrong," it had a beauty all its own:

"Where trouble melts like lemon drops/ High above the chimney tops/ That's where you'll find me ... Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds fly/ And the dream that you dare to, why, oh why can't I?"

At the end of the song, my four kids stared at me with such happiness displayed on their features. "You made money!" Trey said, dumbfounded.

"We can use the bathroom," Sky almost squealed.

And when I looked in my case, I realized we'd made seven euros—even more than expected.

Sky took Trey and Indy to use the bathroom, and Ruby stayed by me. It seemed like missing our train had opened the door to grand adventures! 

A man walked past, whistling "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," and I stole the chance to jump in on the fiddle. He glanced back, shocked, and spoke in such passionate Italian. 

"Mi dispiace," I said, apologizing. "Io Americana, e non capisco." I'm American, and I don't understand. "Puoi rallentare?" Can you slow down? 

"Wait? You're American!" He studied me. "But your smile ... That smile is Italian."

I giggled because Italians are THE BEST. "My mom's family is from San Giovanni in Calabria."

"That makes sense. You're a middle Italian!"

"Middle Italian?" I paused. "Che cosa?" What?

"You're part Italian! My family is from Southern Italy too."

Right before Mike and the kids came back, another man approached Ruby and me. "Your music ... is wow. Bellissima." He kissed his fingers and spread them into the air as if he'd just tasted the best meal in Milan. "But you are brave, signora. You can play over there, away from la polizia. But you chose to play RIGHT by them!" He pointed to the sign not too far from our heads. "I like you." He laughed with such joy. "I do." He flicked a couple of euros into my case and walked away, mumbling. "Musica vicino alla polizia." Music near the police. "Mamma mia!"

So, our second day in Italy was filled with excitement too. We got to eat fancy food in a well-known Italian train station, bought a belt in the fashion capital of the world, played music for the police, and earned enough money to use the bathrooms. Plus, I hope my kids will never forget how we made an adventure out of thin air. I honestly believe every moment can turn into something magical if we just dare to search for the good.

The next day we headed to Florence--and I have to admit that it's one of the best places in the world. I'll write about that tomorrow.


Sunday, January 1, 2023

Our First Night in Italy and a Lost Bag

 “You’re feeling hot,” Mike said. We’d been waiting at the baggage carousel so long that we missed our train to Zurich. 

“I think they lost my bag,” I said. 

“We should probably stay the night in Milan,” Mike whispered before glancing back at our four kids. “Do you think they’ll be sad if we don’t get to see Switzerland and Germany?”

I blinked, unsure. And I felt like such an idiot. I’d brought so much medication in my carryon that the security officers in France did a full pat-down. She even felt UNDER my bra—they’re really thorough in France. But…I’d left my emergency medicine in my main bag—the one they lost. Without those steroids and antibiotics, I could end up hospitalized in a foreign country. And this fever didn’t look good.

“I’m sorry about this. I should’ve brought all the medicine on me. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“It’s okay,” Mike said, putting his hand on my shoulder. “You need your clothes and everything too. It’ll be okay.”

We decided I’d roll on over to the baggage claim area—thank God for my wheelchair—while Mike fed the kids and told them about my lost bag and our new itinerary.

The missing bag line for Air France stretched for eternity, and I grew hotter by the second; apparently flying over the ocean isn’t the easiest when you’re fighting cancer. I’d make a TERRIBLE astronaut!

Finally, I got closer to the front, and I listened as people yelled at the customer service representative. “I have my fanciest clothes and my best swimsuit in that bag. And you lost it?” 

I know it’s wrong, but although I felt for the woman, I didn’t understand why she yelled at the poor representative. AND, selfishly, I got excited that I could understand what she said in Italian!!! (I know that’s not… angelic…being happy about linguistics when someone else is upset, but understanding even a little bit of Italian IS awesome.)

I started taking Pimsleur Italian in 2020 and got serious about it after my diagnosis. I ALWAYS wanted to learn Italian, but I put it off before I got sick. I put so many things off. In 2020, I figured doctors gave me two years to live; I better learn Italian fast. Mike and I did so much with it that we even became affiliates through the learning app where we can help other people learn languages (more about that here: ), and apparently watching movies in Italian with English subtitles helped too.

Anyway, the person in front of me cried to the representative because Air France lost their ski equipment, and they’d miss their entire Christmas holiday with their family. I couldn’t imagine how devastating.

“Mom, are you okay?” Sky asked and I nodded. Sometimes when everyone else is busy, Sky remembers to check on me. She’s grown into such a caring, compassionate woman, and it’s been surreal watching her inner growth the last several months as she’s experienced more of the world.

The customer service rep called us over at that moment, so Sky wheeled me to the front desk. The depleted representative looked beyond exhausted. I studied his green eyes, and instead of complaining about my bag, I used my Italian to ask him how he was doing. He seemed genuinely surprised. And despite my fever and pain, I mustered up the brightest, biggest smile because this exhausted man was having an AWFUL day.

“Bene.” Good. “You-a have-a lost bag?” he asked. “I speak-a English. If that’s-a easier for you-a.”

“You’re awesome,” I nearly squealed. “English is great!”

“You have-a your luggage number?” 

I dug through my fanny pack, and he proceeded to go above and beyond.

“We can get it on the next flight from France. It will be here in a few hours. Does-a that work-a for you?”

“Perfetto!” I beamed.

The machine in front of him fritzed. It’s different from the electronics we have in America. He immediately opened it toward me, like the steampunk maw of a crocodile, pushed a few wires back in place and spun a couple of gears. Then he shut it.

“Wow!” Sky and I said, staring at the machine and then each other.

“You like-a?” He laughed so hard that it echoed around the room. “I-a do it again?”

Before we could leave, the man asked, “Ma’am? Why-a … Why are you two-a so happy? We lost your bag. Everyone one else … “ He motioned to people in the room. “Are … how do you say … pazzo?”

“How can we be upset?! We’re in Italy! We’re actually in Italy,” and then I giggled, “and we get to meet people like you!”

He blushed and waved at us before placing his hand on his heart. “You two-a were the best part of my week-a. Grazie.”

So we caught the shuttle and got a room nearby where Mike brought Ruby and Sky out for a beer (since people can drink at 18 in Italy). Trey, Indy, and I immediately fell asleep, so grateful friends gave us this trip as a gift and just hoping my fever would abate. 

I’ll never forget that sweet man in customer service or our first night actually being in Italy. Despite a lost bag and a fever, it was the most wonderful night. I just couldn’t believe one of my biggest dreams had come true!

Here are some pictures of us at the airport and the train station. Trey was so cute with that ukulele; he brought it everywhere.

I’ll post more tomorrow about our adventures in Italy. All of it seems so surreal.