Women Running the World: A Story from Milan


Running is typically thought of as a solitary endeavour.   Or, not thought of as a good idea at all.  Until you move to London as a stranger in a foreign land, desperate for community, and you hear about this group called Women Running the World (WRW.)  Anyone can join and there’s no membership fee but they have this audacious ask that you turn up with running shoes on at 8:15 in the morning, 2-3x/week, and RUN.  

As women show up in the fall, they sort themselves into various pace groups and if their current pace is “i prefer walking, thank you very much” they join the beginners group.   What you don’t know at first is that this welcoming group is also a well oiled machine.  There are pace group leaders, beginners coaches, route masters and weekly emails longer than some US tax returns. And of course there is post run coffee.

Community forms first within the pace groups.  On the runs, heavy breathing together make you forget to be any version but your real self struggling to get up a hill.  On the couch at home with ice and rollers, the steady stream of WhatsApp group texts encourage, entertain, and expect you to be there tomorrow.   

The promise is that if you do this running together, with some commitment, you will be ready to run a half marathon in the spring. The logic being: London, the city where there’s always a tube stop in case you need to bail.  London, the city where Sporty Spice made a track suit look glam.   London, where if you can run city streets, canals, parks, and boroughs for several months and live to tell the tale, you’ll be ready for any 13.1 mile obstacle course.

This weekend was the half marathon promise.  It was in Milan.  119 women signed on. We all wore pink hats.  As a group, we were hard to miss.


The presence of prize money, the requirement that each runner be registered as part of an official running club, and a less than generous cut off time were all signs that the Stramilano Half Marathon was perhaps targeting elite runners.  Not exactly our profile.  Race day confirmed these hunches.  But even though we were the caboose in a fast race, with hotter temperatures than we had trained in, and water tables along the route running dry - we were a group of women determined to run our slogan: anytime, anyplace, any pace.  


Some people had great races. Some had really hard races.  Many had their very first ever race.  But of course it’s both about the race and the weekend.   Some already felt connected to the group before the weekend.  For the rest still lingering on the fringes, the weekend brought them firmly into a sweaty group hug.   It’s not just about running and it’s not just about women.  It’s about creating an atmosphere for this kind of moment. We need each other. Yes we do.


Since we were in Milan, many of us were fortunate to get pre-booked tickets to see the famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo da Vinci on Saturday.  The masterpiece known as “the painting that speaks” captures Jesus and his disciples at their last dinner together.  Our Saturday carb loading eucharist was filled with bread and *moderate* amounts of wine and though we love each other, there was no corporate foot washing ahead of Sunday’s race.

BUT there was THIS at the end of Sunday’s race.  A modern day example of love in action.

A sea of pink hats chanting “DARLAH DARLAH! DARLAH!” as the very last runner crossed the finish line.  She was one of ours, seized up in pain from a flared sciatic nerve but still on her feet because she was being supported by a small cadre of coaches.  The course was being cleared but given the volume of the cheering, you might have thought this was the main event.   Witnessing that moment felt like an embodiment of Jesus’ words: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” mixed with a little Spice Girls philosophy:  Don’t tell me you love me.  Say you’ll be there.

We can and do accomplish things as individuals, but there is something that stirs deep within us when we behold courage propped up by togetherness.

The individual results and details of the race will eventually fade but there are 119 women and untold numbers of bystanders who will never forget the way the last woman crossed the line.

Rinse + Repeat


All the big grocery stores in Europe seem to have at least two sizes of coin operated trolleys. This is moderately convenient until you go to return your trolley and there isn’t any of your kind to attach to and release your coin.  It’s one of those “how much is a pound worth to you” questions on whether you persist to another trolley return location or abandon cart and coin.  

Yesterday I was standing at a row of grocery trolleys and noticed that someone had solved this dilemma. They had taken their wrong sized trolley, saddled it up perpendicular to the row of other sized trolleys, and stretched the chain just far enough to release their coin.  The chain of nesting carts was broken but this geometrically-gifted shopper found a way to leave with her pound. Wa-lah!

I know this isn’t as groundbreaking as something really useful like having your trolley do your shopping for you, but it was one of those things that stood out for it’s simple ingenuity.  In my six years of scrambling around for spare change because I’d like more than a hand basket to carry my groceries, I had never seen someone have their coin and tether their ill-fitting cart too.  It was only a passing thought but it landed:  “See! sometimes the solution is right there, you just have to pivot 180 degrees to see it.”

All Moms chose their furniture carefully.  When we moved to London I bought the dining room table of my dreams and the dining room chairs of my reality.  They have dark, durable, washable fabric seats.  It’s a draw on whether more spot cleaning would be required if my children or hamsters roamed freely.

After the grocery run, I was arranging cascading bowls of fruit on the dining room table hoping to have answered the after school snack question with a visual aid.  In that process, I caught sight of my durable fabric seats and decided the ice cream to put away could wait.  I mean how much ground in chocolate can one Mom survive?  As I started to wipe down the seats, watching them magically look like new again, another thought attempted landing: “Just like you.”  

Kind of vague, honestly, but this was a situation where the possibility of negative thinking was ripe and so why complain for lack of clarity. 

That thought was unspecific enough that I didn’t think much of it until later when I was washing up.  I noticed a new hand soap at the sink.  Now I don’t have a hand soap fairy but I do buy in bulk at TK Maxx and so it caught me off guard when I saw the label on the new soap: Rinse + Repeat.  Incoming: “Just like you … all things are made new …over and over again.”  

Take in that thought on its second try and add in the smell of coconut and jasmine and you have yourself a little buzz.

Yesterday was also my son’s 16th birthday.  That by itself is a special day but then I showed up for my spinning class and realized I’d blindly signed up for bike number 16.  In case you need more information to be moved by this coincidence, there are 53 bikes and I had never ridden bike number 16.   

Some might still say “yeah, so…” (some of those people live in my house!) but when you are about 30 minutes into your workout and the endorphins are going, and you think about the beautiful life that was birthed out of your body 16 years ago, and you feel that older but still able body crushing it on bike number 16, and in comes the thought: “your body is a temple” accompanied with not just a buzz but pure pleasure … well, you believe it. 

It wasn’t a newsworthy day.  No personal productivity records were set.  I didn’t make any money and spent very little of it.   I didn’t accidentally bump into Russell Brand in my neighbourhood and have that imaginary conversation I’ve been planning.  No, none of that.  But when I hit the pillow last night and felt that quiet peace that envelopes you in the dark, it was confirmation that it had been a very good day indeed.

We think we want what people flaunt - power, prosperity, fame - when really our deeper needs are much more understated and accessible:  knowing that an a-ha moment might be right around the corner, the chance to start again and experiencing the thrill of living in your own sanctuary.   

Parenting in the age of Parent Traps and Admission Scams

“We think your son could benefit from extra help outside of school,” his teacher announced during our first parent/teacher conference at an International School in Europe.  

Blindsided by the gravity of the concern but at the ready with notepads, the PE teacher continued: “His swimming is far below standard.”  “As in, he can’t pass the swimming test?”  we asked reliving all the times we’d left him in the deep end, assuming.  It’s not like we hadn’t invested in several summers of swim lessons. “Oh no, he can swim — but his technique, particularly his breaststroke, is very poor.  We recommend you get him involved in an outside swim club.”

We did not write anything down.  But had I, I would have passed this note to my husband: “She should see you swim.”

That same year our oldest son struggled through, working as hard as he possibly could, for his worst grade in high school.  In Art.   His project from that year hangs in our dining room now as a remembrance.  And near as we can tell, our youngest son, who was in Kindergarten, was doing everything but learning how to read.

Those memories came flooding back when I read an article a few weeks ago.  In the article “The parent trap: the greater a country’s income inequality, the likelier parents are to push their kids to work hard,” the authors make the case that parents in countries with the greatest income inequality (USA, China, Russia) stress hard work and achievement over other values (like independence and imagination) which has led to the rise of helicopter parenting and an arms race for a diminishing number of opportunities.   Almost prophetically, the US college admissions scandal broke soon after.

We certainly haven’t been immune to the tendency for overdrive in wanting our kids to succeed but we’ve also benefited from leaving the nest of Seattle.  Your parenting is bound to evolve when you are doing it across cultures and in different educational environments.  When you have been a witness to models where swimming proficiency is a core life skill, where the arts are as rigorous as any academic subject and where educators have a different approach to early literacy you start to understand that every culture has their own priorities. There isn’t one ladder that everyone is trying to climb.  There’s lots of ladders and paths, enough to make it difficult to chart your kid against the others. As my husband likes to say, “the bar isn’t set."   

We haven’t shied away from the message of hard work but we’ve seen how putting more value on independence has been a fly wheel for one of our kids to internalize hard work.   And we’re aware that if not for the opportunities to take risks outside of the world of sports which was our comfort zone, we might have inadvertently lidded one of our kid’s creativity.  Above all, we’ve noticed that the exposure to other models has abstracted our children from the cookie cutter machine of what makes a winner and allowed them to accelerate the process of getting to know themselves.   The child who was trying to teach himself Icelandic a few years ago has moved on to other pursuits but how fun that he gave it a go.

Even with all this “insight,” we still don’t always get it right as parents.

That awareness came into focus several weeks ago with our son who is in the final push of studying for the GCSE.  The GCSE is a set of exams taken in the UK at age 16 after 2 full years of  study and your results determine what school and what you can study for your last two years of high school.  He doesn’t have his sights on a top school but he has marks he needs to hit to get into the schools he wants. The exams are this May and in preparation he had said yes when I suggested he take an optional, highly regarded review course outside of school over Easter break. 

After signing him up, he happened to see the receipt for the class on the desk. He was furious that I hadn’t told him how much it would cost and I was surprised that he was furious. He refused to accept what he believed to be an unfair advantage by taking a course that only the privileged could afford to buy.  He was adamant that I get a refund and that he was fully capable of self study. 

I don’t think it’s wrong to give our kids what we can, but he made it clear that we were giving him the wrong thing.  We wanted to give him peace of mind, and maybe a few extra points on his exam, but in my blindness to help him I overlooked the cost to his sense of social justice. He wanted to do his small part to keep the playing field level or at least not “pile on” more advantage. I suspect there are a lot of young people who share both his cynicism and idealism for how the system should work.

As parents we can’t always tell in the moment when our kids are avoiding something they don’t want to do or when they are standing up for something they feel strongly about.  When we heard “I’ll do it myself!” when they were three years old, we thought it was cute and gave them healthy boundaries and soon they were dressing themselves. “I’ll do it myself!” at sixteen is a bigger conversation but the potential for upside is also bigger. We backed down and he in turn has doubled down on his own efforts.

Our kids need our support and guidance, but they also need us to trust their inner voice when they hear it.  That is certain to take them further than any marginal gain a highly regarded opportunity could ever do. 

The Work of Life


The work of life
by kate ballbach

Jobs come and jobs go
The work of life, wreathed with fear and failure, never lets up
We carry a thousand yesterdays of burdens and a small army of tomorrows cares
Reaching for distraction or fast tracking connection, we blindly give away our autonomy to shiny things and notification sounds
We seek more input, or attention, while solitude waits in the wings
eager to take a long walk in the park.
She waits, through the bender and after the detox, confident she is the best algorithm to live by.
You only have to put on your shoes
And wade through the awkward silences, skipping or stomping if you please
Asking your scattered brain to slow down the pace so your head and heart can join in conversation
You are not being graded on whether that conversation is lively or barely detectable
Thank God.
It is simply noticing your body, not his or hers, but the guts and glory of yours walking for you because you can do things
Or that small patch of green grass and a few crooning birds flooding your senses because you can feel things
Or the smell of car exhaust mixed with roses because your nose knows the work of life can’t just be a walk in the park
New hope, big or small, might spring from a small screen but chances are better with a long walk in the park

Where do all the good ideas come from?

I have this app on my phone called Blinkist.  It’s one I actually pay for.  It’s an app where someone reads a non-fiction book and then puts together a 15 minute summary of its key insights that you can either read or listen to.  These modern day cliff notes are available on books covering psychology, personal growth, management and leadership, biography, science, history, and many more categories.  The summaries are long enough to make you feel like you get the gist of the book but short enough to embarrass yourself at a dinner party should you claim to have read it. 

At this point, I have way more advice on better living than I have time to put into practice.  And, a few - bless the effort - books that feel repetitive even in brief summary.  It’s led me to buy a handful of the books in full and it’s been a way better use of my time now that I took the FB app off my phone.

People have been dishing out good advice with an aim to improve individual lives and public life, for thousands of years.  As CS Lewis remarked, “There’s no shortage of good ideas.”   But I was realizing recently that my early Christian life (where CS Lewis featured heavily) taught me that Jesus’ advice was all I needed. Full stop.  I was taught to be suspicious of influences - moral guidance in particular - that didn’t originate from the church.  My interpretation was that I was supposed to put my fingers in my ears and say “la, la, la.”

I carried around that suspicion — with a sense of danger for rock musicians, yogis, and democrats.  Ironically, Purple Rain was my first R rated movie and I did marry a democrat at 21 years old.  Yoga remains a stretch.  My first job out of college - a litigation consultant for Arthur Andersen - forced me to confront other people whose advice might be questionable: lawyers and people who worked on Sundays.  

Over time, my misgivings mellowed. And morphed. My fingers came out of my ears but mostly to politely listen, still cautious.  If Jesus didn’t say it or say something similar, it still wasn’t worth much thoughtful consideration.  I continued to seek the buzz words I’d been trained to hear as they related to peace, joy, love, forgiveness, purpose, wisdom, etc.  It was like signing up for Spotify but only listening to three playlists.  For a middle aged white woman, that’s an intolerable amount of Ed Sheeran.

In this last decade, however, I’ve become fascinated in what other people - different than me - have to say. It’s maybe why I love my Blinkist app. I have this hunch that Jesus has actually pushed me in that direction.

On reflection, Jesus wasn’t pounding his chest claiming to be the best moral teacher, dishing out helpful advice.  Instead, he talked about a new kingdom where all things are made new.  His challenge was much bigger.  He said Follow Me.  You would “stay and listen” to a great speaker but his invitation was “come and see.”  As in, let’s go on an adventure.  And adventures always involve food and music and big ideas and leaving buildings.

And when I focused on following Jesus - not just reciting his words - I started to notice all these other tracks and new artists.  Which makes sense because if he is truly God and the embodiment of love and goodness - the church walls and even the scriptures (which incidentally I read now with more enthusiasm than ever) have no power to contain him.  So today when I read a full book or a packaged up summary of one, or listen to a podcast, or enjoy a great meal, or experience creation, or have a conversation  — I listen more closely as I expect that Jesus will be collaborating with truth wherever it is found.  

Thanks for listening.

Guest Post by Lawton Ballbach

Today’s post is from a guest blogger, my 12 year old son Lawton Ballbach. This weekend Lawton started writing a story for fun. He’s only written the first chapter so far, but I’m hooked! I love that he set the story in Mauritania and Morocco (and apparently Cornwall will be a third location in later chapters.) Happy reading!

Chavis Abara

Chapter 1

The day moved on slowly and so did Chavis.  The humid air attacked his lungs, making him wheeze out short subtle breaths.  His grubby pack jabbed into his weak shoulders.  Again Chavis’s mind drifted into the clouds.  It has been four years now, but Chavis was still not over it.  The flashbacks were harsh, they struck him like lightning.  Then there was her.  A tear rolled down Chavis’s face.  He soon pulled himself back together, he had to stay strong.  

Suddenly a voice echoed into Chavis’s ear.  He spun around rapidly and there in front of his was Kwame.  “Qu’est ce que tu veux?” Chavis’s voice was hoarse and croaky.  “Comment osez-vous partir.”  Kwame’s face burned with rage.  Kwame was a very vile man.  His grim teeth sprouted out of his mouth like mouldy plants.  His colourless eyes drooped downwards and his ruffled hair crawled with insects and maggots.  Kwame gripped Chavis’s limp arm tightly.  Chavis considered running but he knew better than to disobey Kwame.  So Chavis reluctantly followed.  He knew he didn’t have much left, so all he could so now was think, think until a glorious idea sprang into his mind.

It was a warm day in Rabat.  The blazing sun glistened onto the ‘Voyager,’ bobbing calmly against the Moroccan waves.  However, the inside of the Voyager was a very different story.  Jelani felt like he had millions of butterflies fluttering in his stomach.  Bryson Kenning had always make him very nervous, but never like this.

For a man in his early fifties, Kenning was very strong and very ruthless.   All of Kenning’s guards, including Jelani were standing in a perfectly straight line.  Each of them had AK-47s slung over their shoulders.  Thud!  Thud! Kenning had arrived.  His thunderous footsteps echoed throughout the Voyager.  Yelling, then a gunshot.  Jelani felt the pang vibrate through his quivering body.  Finally, Kenning entered, his eyes were gleaming with hunger and violence.  

“I presume you have what I have been asking for,” barked Kenning.  “Well, you see I …” Jelani stammered.  “Well you know what I do to people who don’t give me what I want” rasped Kenning.  And before Jelani knew it Kenning was aiming his gun straight at Jelani’s forehead.  “I know someone who can sort you out,”  sniggered Kenning.  Then everything went black.

50 years


Today is my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I was able to fly home to Seattle to surprise them for their anniversary dinner. This was the toast I gave them. The other toasts that followed and my Dad’s in particular were so much better — which only makes me so much prouder to be their daughter.


They say the path along the equator is roughly 25,000 miles. Assuming you were able to walk at a pace of 3 miles per hour for 8 hours a day it would take about 3 years to walk around the world. Ok so that’s the theory.

In 1970 (the year I was born) a guy from Minnesota named Dave Kunst set out to do just that and he became the first person verified to walk around the globe. It took him 4 years. Now that’s a college education for you.

Dave was no doubt a stud so let’s round up for the average human and call it 5 years. That means looking at your 50 years together, had you wanted to, you could have circled the globe 10 times.

Just imagine -   10 different times walking through Quito, Nariobi, Kuala Lumpur, Miami (with a little detour off the equator.) That’s how long 50 years is.

BUT Instead of circling the globe together, you have done something far more impressive over these past 50 years.  You’ve walked the path of kissing and making up thousands and thousands of time.

You have made a loving promise to stay together through times of closeness and through times of distance and you have kept it.  You have been our witness to what a committed, thriving, authentic, peace making marriage could look like.  All three of your children are trying to follow your lead. I’m half way there.

This promise to live out our days in relationship with another person is not easy.  We all know that. But we also know what it is to experience the mystery when we allow our hearts to be wedded together ... when we are still fully ourselves but also now part of a “we” ... this wholly other personality and adventure road map to discover.  This part of you that becomes more alive in the we.

You don’t take a girl from New Jersey and a boy from Kansas - who barely knew each other - without expectation that “we” will be in for an exciting ride.

The very last words Jesus spoke - his last and final promise - was this: “I am with you always.”  To be accompanied therefore is something he thought was kind of important.  That of all the parting words he could have said - work hard or chase your dreams or remember to take the trash out - he talked about company for the journey.

And while none of us could pull off something as audacious as permanently accompanying someone —- it makes me think that marriage is our closest, albeit imperfect, proxy.

The destinations and the milestones are special - and Mom and Dad you’ve had many - but it’s the fact that you had someone there with you the whole time that is the greatest gift.  And that gift doesn’t end even when your passports expire or your longest walk of the day is to the mailbox.

It’s the gift you can keep on giving each other for years to come.

So here’s to 50 years of David and Jessica and the beautiful “we” your marriage has created. We love you.


Amazon Wonder Women

A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a group of Amazon women. We are not large women. We are five women who do battle with Alexa and prime membership in multiple countries - and pretty much everything else - so our husbands can do their jobs with Amazon here in London.

While none of us knew each other in Seattle, the Seattle spider web of connections is strong and we had all been daisy chained over email and social media by various mutual friends. Three of the women are new to London this fall (the “Amazon Freshmen”), I am in my second year and Megan is in her third year AND third house in London … the original Wonder Woman wielding her way through the logistics of a providing a soft landing for her family in a foreign country.

Collectively our group is responsible for more than a dozen children. However, for the most part, none of us has met each other’s children. The reason is mostly practical. We live in five different neighbourhoods and have kids at four different schools but we talk a lot about parenting over our monthly lunches. I could tell you an Awesome Mom story about each one of them. Now that we’ve added monthly cocktails to our calendars, we’ve started to touch on Awesome Wife stories too.

We have kids roughly the same age although with my 21 year old outlier, I’ve been in the teen trenches a little longer. You’d think then I would have a few “teen parenting wins” to offer when the question came up at lunch but … no. I needed a think about.

Teen parenting wins are not as easy as sending in a mouthful of broccoli to a toddler pretending it’s an airplane. Although it makes me wonder if this tip from podcaster and writer Hillary Frank, “to wipe an ornery kid’s nose, put a sock on your hand and pretend it’s a puppet trying to give her kisses,” might have application in getting my pre-teen to remember to apply deodorant. “Ewww… even this puppet smells you….”

Anyway. I decided the best answer to the question might come from going directly to my teen source. So I casually asked my 15 year old a few days later: “So hey, I was just wondering … ummm….like….what are the things that Dad and I do well in parenting you as a teenager?” Then he did that thing where he vanished from the room. An in-the-flesh ghosting.

So not casual, Kate. I was resigned to coming up with an answer on my own when a solid ten minutes later we crossed paths again in another room. With a half smile and a full look in my eyes he said: “You let me follow my passions and you don’t let me quit.”

Ahh. Yes! I thought maybe that was a win too but it’s not always easy seeing it from the trenches. And this was a trench we’d only been out of for a short time. I wanted to ask a follow up question but I held back and let the win stand on it’s own.

I’ll tell you the details of that story another time. For now, be reminded that we as Moms of Teens continue to do great things even if they are harder to name … and sharing our stories helps to keep all our lamps burning. Thank you Megan Ainsworth MarineAnn Kerby SharmaCynthia Johnson, and Kim Stone for “adding to my cart” during this season of our shared London adventure. Xo

Le Marche: The John Doe Region in Italy you should put on your Travel List


I’m staring at my cookbook Jamie Cooks ITALY and it has me remembering I spent two weeks in Italy last summer (July 2018) that I haven’t written about yet.  If it had been a trip to Rome, it’s unlikely I would have anything interesting to add but since this trip was to a region of Italy you’ve probably never heard of - it  seemed worthy of some virtual ink … even if the details have become fuzzy with time and our folder for Le Marche is mostly a wasteland of restaurant receipts.

You know it’s a place less traveled when AFTER spending two weeks there you still say “Le Marche” with hesitation because not everyone has gotten the memo on the proper way to pronounce it.  This region on Italy’s eastern coast, bracketed by Florence in the north and Rome in the south west or mid calf of the “boot,” I have heard pronounced both “MAR-kay” and “LE MARK.”  I’m still confused.


It’s a region that desperately needs some marketing but here’s my advice: if relaxation is your goal, go here in the height of summer when Tuscany and Venice and the Cinque Terre are getting trampled by people that look like you.  You’ve come all this way for the real Italy after all.  Overcrowding doesn’t look good on any city, especially ones which make garlic sweat a public hazard.

I read somewhere Le Marche described as “Italy in miniature.”  It has it all: coast, mountains, walled cities, great food, wine you can’t say no to, but not one single thing to make it famous.  The city you fly into is Ancona.  I know, I’d never heard of it either! This does means Ryanair or easyJet for direct flights from London and I’m sorry for that or you can connect in Germany or Switzerland via Lufthansa or Swiss. Or, rent a car in Rome and drive.  There are worse things than driving in Italy - I just can’t think of them at the moment.

But remember the upside:  places that are harder to get to are harder to get to for everyone and so if you are willing to persevere, you will be rewarded.  For example, watching a World Cup game in a local bar with passionate French & Croatian supporters because the villa we stayed in didn’t feel the need to have satellite TV (and we agreed.) Or walking down to a nearby family run winery for a scheduled wine-tasting which turned out to be a full meal with wine because in Italy, food always comes first.

One of the region’s most popular grapes is called pecorino, which is tough when you have to share your reputation with the name of much more famous cheese. Pecorino wine - described as “red wine dressed in white” - is so treasured that it is usually consumed all within Le Marche. We did our part.

I’ve written a post with tips for renting a villa in Europe with rental websites I have used in France, Italy and Spain.  That list has expanded with a fourth rental website I used for our trip to Mauritius. For our two weeks in Le Marche, I was on the hunt for similar lodging. The search took a little longer.

I finally stumbled on a website called Italian Idyll run by David and Fiona Sheppard. The English couple specialise in villa rentals in the lesser known regions of Italy, including Le Marche. The website is not slick and impressive, it’s actually quite old school, but Fiona is attentive and knows a lot about the region. In truth, the unflashy website and one-to-one interaction reflects the ethos of the region.

The first house we rented was this secluded, stylish farmhouse set in national mountain park near the town of Amandola and a 90 minute drive from the Ancona airport.  You can rightly infer from the photos that we absolutely loved our stay at Casa Coletta. The house is stunning and the pool setting and kitchen/outdoor seating area were our favourite parts. The owners are clearly cooks as the kitchen was well stocked with all the right equipment and a great collection of cookbooks.  Plus a huge basket of produce waiting for us!

So with the exception of two nights at Restaurant Bella Napoli (no website because why would they need one?) in Amandola (a charming hill town of about 4,000 residents), we ate in and ate well and made very few decisions about anything. The big boys climbed the Sibillini mountains on their road bikes during the day while Lawton and I - and the local lizards - had the pool and ping pong table to ourselves. On a few cycling rest days, we had some awesome hikes.


The second week, joined by Brett’s parents, we traveled 30 kilometers west into the province of Ascoli Piceno near the town of Montalto.  The second house we stayed in is no longer available for rental as it was recently sold. In truth, it was one of our few rental disappointments as the shine and attention to details faded with the pending ownership change (which neither we nor Fiona knew about.) However, the hilltop setting with wide vistas and nearby walkable towns was beautiful and the change of location gave entirely different landscape for the boys to cycle.

It also led to a week of dining out experiences. Our most memorable was a multi-course meal at Ristorante Piceni. (Confession: we actually went twice.) The restaurant, which is also a bed and breakfast, has a fabulous outdoor terrace with a view not even the most restrained guests can help but pull out their phone to take a photo. We grabbed this one right before talking to the people on our right. As "Italy in miniature” would have it, they were the only Americans we saw the entire trip AND they happened to live in Sun Valley, Idaho where my inlaws also live. The once snow birds now turned full-time retirees have since gotten together in Sun Valley.


The light summer footprint in Le Marche means we were able to get bookings in all the restaurants we wanted to try, from a members-only restaurant (where anyone can become a member!) on an organic farm called La Biblioteca to an outdoor table at Osteria Cantina in the main square of Offida. It also means that there isn’t always a back up around the corner in these small towns when a reservation goes bust.  That happened once when we thought we had booked a table for Tuesday night, only to turn up on the confirmed Tuesday night to find the restaurant closed and our next best option 15 hangry kilometres away. 

Pizzeria Mamma Rosa, an award winning pizzeria in the middle of nowhere, cured the hangries. (Confession: we went twice here too.)

In both locations, we were less than an hour from the coast. We are terrible beach people and so we never bothered to go until our last day when we stayed along the coast for one night at the very nice Hotel Emilia. The hotel is perched high in a natural setting with views down to Portonovo Bay with a huge pool and a great lawn.

Unlike where we had been, the footprint is heavy along the coast (as you would expect in July) but mostly with Italians. We found out when we couldn’t park in Portonovo for lunch or dinner without having pre-booked parking months before … or eat without having booked reservations weeks before … but where there is a will and a smile, there’s always a way in Italy. The fish was lip smacking good. Inland was just much more our way in terms of travel … but I’m sure someone else can make a strong coastal case for adding Le Marche to your bucket list.

New Year's Resolutions

In this season of New Year’s resolutions, we set out to grow by lunging towards a goal.  Forward progress or drying out bad habits is the focal point.   We bury the past, stay mindful enough of the present but soldier on towards a new and improved future.  It’s a well worn path navigated best by the self disciplined.  At 30 days in, with energy waning, a few can double down but most of us redraw goal lines or give up.

We are primed to live with expectation but we also need a rich remembrance of our history.  While it’s not healthy to dwell on the past, most of us don’t spend enough quality time excavating it for treasure.  All of our histories are dotted with a mixture of the mundane, milestone events, and meteors of various sizes.  Your pile of rubble may be bigger than my pile of rubble but I suspect neither of us has fully mined it for what else was left there to teach us.  

We have experience with that good thing that welled up unexpectedly in a place of pain or mess or disappointment - that mysterious sense of peace or joy - that strengthened us for the road ahead.  But what about the good thing forgotten?  The good thing never identified?  I wonder when we run dry after 30 days if we looked into the well of our own life experience, we would find hidden pockets of grace - rich with fuel - to keep us living into the future with sustained energy.  

It’s a small example but someone asked me recently what ever happened to that screenplay I wrote 7 years ago.  “Nothing” was the answer.  While over the years of reflection I’ve collected some good things that came out of that investment of time and energy, it still largely looms as a failure.   This time however I heard it as a nudge - not to try to resurrect the project - but to revisit that season of my life and ask what gifts did I miss that would be of valuable service towards my purpose today - here in 2019.  

I’m certain there are more jewels to dig up from all my years but especially 1984 (the year my parents moved me across the country at the start of 9th grade as a late bloomer with braces), 1997 (the year I got pregnant when I didn’t want to get pregnant,) 2010 (my worst year of parenting) or 2013 (my first year in the idyllic but not always easy country of Luxembourg.)  Perhaps there is something my 2019 self would be empowered by in the remembering.

I don’t buy the idea that “everything we need is already there” because I think we need plans and to do lists and people to help us and keep us accountable.  But I also think we try to muscle through on our latest gas up without remembering all the reserves we haven’t fully tapped into yet.  Connecting the dots of your own life reveals all sorts of patterns you couldn’t have seen otherwise.  

The dots aren’t going to map it all out.  And there will still be loads of crazy outliers because we all roll with some non sequiturs.  But also don’t be surprised if you make out the faint outline of a crown amidst the pattern. The Psalmist boldly says: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”  That’s one of those promises if you are willing to believe that’s bigger and better than our best and boldest New Year’s resolution.

So breathe deep and know that if 2019 turns out to be your best year or a bust, you can count on there being lots of dots to connect down the road.  And psst, remember your crown.