"called to build the kingdom first through the romance and adventure of our home..."


Roo's 4th Birthday | Grocery Store Party

"Because I love going to the grocery store and talking with you!"
- Roo, almost 4

"Full of life." "Boisterous." "Marked by exuberance and high spirits." "Energetically cheerful and noisy."

"...a word used to describe someone spirited, loud, and slightly out of control — like someone with a spring in their step and a song in their heart singing to strangers on the street."

I remember sitting in the hospital bed in Gaithersburg, MD staring at the baby boy we had just met and needed to name. We had a short list of choices, with an almost definite decision. 

Rocco Neil Morris. Roc for short. 

I loved the meaning, especially given my father's strong German and Italian lineage: "German and Italian origin, derived from Germanic elements 'rohon' meaning 'roar, battle cry'; or 'hrok' meaning 'rest, repose'." Battle cry and rest.

Yes, given the season we were in; given my pregnancy; given cancer; given our place in the story it had felt perfectly right to my and Caleb's heart almost the whole pregnancy. Not to mention the many beloved verses and hymn-lines about "Christ the solid rock," or the way he would specifically come alive and dance inside me when "Hey, Mama Rock Me" would play on the radio.

And then he was born.

I tried to say "his" name to him and it just wasn't right. The beginning of our relationship and really paying attention to him and who he is. Hm. He just wasn't Rocco. We consulted our list again. "Crew Neil Morris." "Caleb Neil Morris Jr." Cal for short? Junior for short? "West/Weston Neil Morris." No, for some reason these names are all names we love but they aren't for him. We could feel it.

As Caleb and I simultaneously scrolled through name lists online, I happened into one titled "Old Hollywood Cowboy Names" and Rowdy was the only one on that list I read out-loud to Caleb. "Rowdy Neil Morris." Caleb loved it. I said it and felt like what butter looks like when it melts in a pan. Everything had just clicked on. I then went on to look up the official definition of the word. The first that came to mind was wild, naughty-ish, unruliness. And, even though it's not the first definition that will come up when you google, the first link I happened to click said "Rowdy: boisterous, full of life."

Full of life. 

I definition-hopped for a few minutes longer and said the name out of my mouth, while looking at him. No battle cry. No juxtaposition. Just life. Just a cheerful spirit, filled with exuberance. Rowdy, full of life. I think it every single day. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it in full." John 10:10

I think I'm a broken-record mother waxing poetic about her child, but I try to choose my words so carefully, so honestly, so accurately. Rowdy's tender heart, emotional depth, peacefulness and flexibility, and really his love have opened up our lives to so much more. Caleb and I get to love each other more because of Rowdy. We didn't feel "held back" by having him, but like he flipped on the light-switch in a few dark rooms of our souls. He quickened us back to ideas and dreaming and "what could be...!" instead of "what are we supposed to do."

He melted us. We're soggy cookies for this guy.

As I was brainstorming ideas with him about his 4th birthday, a birthday he has been looking forward to actively and verbally since last June, he couldn't make up his mind. A pirate party. A Lion Guard party. A pool and shark party. A Paw Patrol party. A dinosaur party. "Actually, actually, I changed my mind, mom!" he's say.

Until one day he woke up with complete clarity: he wanted a grocery story birthday party with a monster truck cake. I thought he might change his mind again, but after three days of unwavering decision I told him I'd do it. But first: "Why do you want a grocery store party??" Without skipping a beat, while jumping on the bed, he said: "Oh! Because I LOVE going to the grocery store and talking to you!"

A few weeks ago I was working out some ideas in my head that Caleb and I had been discussing about priorities, guilt, and being a good mom. Rowdy heard me say something along the lines of "It's okay to be a good mom, and not be the best mom..." I hadn't finished my thought but from the other room he interrupted with a panicked shout: "But mom! You ARE the best mom!!"

I'm going to miss every bit of who he is at this stage. How he walks around the house in just his basketball shorts, if Caleb is just wearing basketball shorts, or in the buff if dad is too. How he pushes the elevator buttons but always checks first "This is 5 [or whatever floor we're going to], right?" He doesn't want to make a mistake. How he talks and talks and talks and talks and wants story after story after story after story (sometimes I might miss this more than I enjoy it in the moment. But I only had it coming... ;) The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!) How Summer will wail on him and he'll be trying very gently but urgently to ask her to stop. "THAT IS NOT VERY NICE SUMMER PLEASE DO NOT SCRATCH MY FACE PLEASE SUMMER." How he loves cold, cold water. How he falls asleep with his hands clasped, all cherub like. How he is not a drain-er but a fill-er. How he tries to come up with more distances and measurements to describe his love for me and Caleb, just like Little Nutbrown Hare. (One of my favorites was "All the way to the top of a giraffe and back!" And I told him I loved him all the way to the top of a giraffe AND an elephant and back.) I love this human being. I loved making his little grocery store party, and monster truck cake. I've loved every single day for four straight years with this delicious-minded, lean-and-lanky, old-soul, dearheart child.

We wrapped his presents in paper grocery bags! Inside was all plastic food ;)

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One of the best parts of the day: We opened the door to let Rowdy see his party room... and Summer was seeing it for the first time too! These pictures of her coming up from behind and then swooping ahead kill me. And then Rowdy focusedly, seriously taking in every detail. Later when I asked him what his favorite part of the day was (after we had done everything, including bike rides! cake! presents!) he said "When I got to see my grocery store for the first time." 

He played then, and has continued to play for hours in his room. That's all my mama heart wanted! To see him happy and enjoying himself! And he really did! Total victory! Maybe next year he'll get to have some friends over ;) 

 And than kCindy, Caleb's mom, and Hosie, his sister, were in town for the fun! I love getting to share any part of life with family and it was quite meaningful to have "a grandma" in town. Cindy and the whole family drove from Oklahoma to Maryland (no small task!) a couple weeks after Rowdy was born, and then Cindy came out to MD for his first birthday. She made the birthdays of all her kids so special, and I know they felt so loved by them... she inspires me to want to make my kids feel extra-special on their birthdays! We love you! And thank you for all your help getting the party set up!

Party Details / Aka: I Should Be Sponsored By Amazon Prime
(The party decor was basically all his gifts, and our groceries! Ha!)

  • Signage: I designed them myself and had them printed through PosterNinja, my new obsession! Can't say enough good things!
  • Hats / Soda Jerk Cap from Amazon
  • Carts / One for brother, one for sister! Mama ain't dumb!
  • Art Smocks for Cashier Aprons / So much cheaper than actual aprons...
  • Plastic food / As cute as the wooden Melissa&Doug options are... I just went for budget-friendly ;)
  • Vintage Pricing Labels / Free download!
  • Market Stand / A few of the other ones I was looking at were between $100-$200! No way! $65 even felt frivolous, but it really was our "big gift" and it won't be a throw-away/use-once piece for us.
  • Play Kitchen / GoodWill find for $10!
  • Bunting / Target $1 Section -- I also wouldn't mind be sponsored by that little nook ;)
  • Publix paraphernalia / The night before Roo's party I was at Publix buying groceries to use as decor, and I told the cashier what we were doing. She immediately grabbed stickers, plain paper bags, coloring books, crayons, and just gave them to us to use for the party! The few employees who overheard were so excited and I promised I'd come back and show them pictures! 
  • Old 50's Commercials / I had YouTube videos of old Coke, Campbells, etc commercials playing in the background! 

Father's Day 2017

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
[Or maybe when just your wife and kids are watching.]
― John Wooden

(Towards the end of Summer's pregnancy I had stumbled upon a few of those "one second a day for a year" videos. As I laid in bed, again, while Caleb kept our family nurtured and well, I thought about how much I'd like to get a second a day, or perhaps a few seconds a week, on video of all Caleb does. I also realized how much I value the not-nearly-enough videos we have of my mom. To see someone move, and walk, and bend... gosh, I didn't know how much I'd miss seeing the way my mom drove a car or sat in a chair and then rose from it. But I do.

I had planned to give this to him on his birthday last year, but I didn't have as many video clips as I wanted. So I changed plans to Father's Day. THEN I get a new, enormous iPhone and I have so many clips I couldn't use them all! But here is a four-minute window into life with this wonderful man, who makes us the happiest three every day.)

Dad-Caleb is one of my favorite (probably Top Two) versions of Caleb. He's not only the best dad I've ever known, but the best parent. He's just SO good at this. And he believes in it. I think it's okay to highlight someone without giving a boatload of qualifiers and caveats, so I'll make this short: this has nothing to do in anyway with anyone else. I'm not minimizing or putting-down or intending to make someone feel bad for being different than this. Whether you don't want kids, are afraid to, are trying to and can't, wish your spouse did, and then on and so forth. I'm just telling about who Caleb is, and why I love it. We're all different. We all have our things. And these are some of Caleb's best things for our lives.

Caleb wasn't afraid to become a father. He was not just excited to share that part of our lives together, he was eager to. He was hoping we'd be able to have kids early in our marriage and he spent many hours anticipating what it would be like to get to know and love OUR children. He wasn't just willing, he wasn't assuming we'd do it at some point but "not for now", he wasn't worried about how we'd keep pursuing all of our "passions and interests" after becoming parent. There was an enormous faith, steadying peace, and God-like-ness about his longings to be a dad. He always spoke with fervency that life wouldn't "end" once we had kids, but it would open up and begin again.  He was adamant that the babies would not take away from "us" but would add to our joy and connection. That "foolishness to the world" type of logic. "When you are weak then I am strong" type of stuff. Love casts out fear.

The God of The Universe decided that life, home, paradise, and everything would be better -- better to Him and heart! -- with a family room full of His children. That it was good if He was a Father to not just One, Jesus, but to many. He began, and continues, to gather His children with language all throughout scripture of rearing, teaching, feeding, delighting, comforting, holding, emboldening, correcting, shaping, enjoying. God insisted that at all costs experiencing the relationship of Parent-And-Child is worth it. Up to the very life of His perfect Son. Up to His own life. Let the little children come to me, for such belong the kingdom of Heaven.

On a core level it's tough to understand why He would "go through all the trouble" when His existence was perfect before. Love. Relationship. Intimacy. It's the most powerful "stuff" of the universe and beyond. And Caleb has this heart of welcome, and ability to have perspective on "the hard parts" of the magnificent, bowl-you-over role of parent. He is a diligent, selfless man. He does work hard for us and with us. But he has given us "not just the gospel of our God, but his very self." He has given us his childlike sense of wonder, his "yes!," his tenderness, his silliness, his attention, his care, his effort, his ideas, his music. He makes being a mother a seriously marvelous experience for me; as well as being a wife WHILE being a mother. He makes being a child magical, adventurous, and sweet. He doesn't love any work or mission or passion or calling more than he loves the three of us, and we feel it. He makes sure we do, too. In fact, he believes all other callings and missions and joys pass through the doorway that is our family and are not separate entities.

So, as a family, as we're called to serve and give to others in order that they may be pointed to God, we get to do it together. Caleb has never even hinted at us being the "ball and chain" or "life-sucking family back home." This is rare. This is beautiful. This is good. And it was in him long before we met. I'm merely the receiver of this gift, and the one who gets to flourish in its nourishment. I'm the one who stands inside the door with the bouncing babies while we hear him approaching...and, at last! reunited all-together again.

It is a joy to be able to say, without hesitation, that I am not a lonely, stifled, or ignored woman. I feel like my hearts-cares are known, and taken care of, and that I'm seen by him. I feel like my creativity and strengths are fostered. I feel like I'm a part of a true team, and not overwhelmed or overrun with imbalance. (In general and overall... there isn't a human alive that doesn't have "its moments" with any of these). This is a testament to Caleb's quality as we've been through some seasons of rigor, change, loss, struggle, and testing.

Thank you for doing anything with us, anywhere, and not listening to what "they" (those who bash children/parenthood. There are lots of lovely and wonderful "they's" out there too!) say... not letting perception, ego, challenge, being kind of crazy people ;) or anything else stand in the way of embracing us with your whole heart and life. Thank you for your vision, the one that began when you were just a boy yourself. Thank you for who you are when only we are watching. You are a good, good father.

I hope many get the chance to learn from you whether they have biological children, fostered or adopted children, or just choose to engage other people's children in a tender, loving way. You;d never toot your own horn, so I just have to every once in a while.

This is a hard post for me to write, and I'm tempted to just say "Happy Father's Day to the best dad ever!" because I know so many other sorts of reports and stories. The best words I can find to sum up my heart here is: "If these days are an outward delight, praise God. Celebrate and enjoy. Share the goodness with others. And if they are not, praise God. Celebrate and enjoy. Remember they're brief. Remember there is a long tomorrow and that long tomorrow is right in the face of our Father. It's right in His goodness. It's right in His arms." - @enjoyinggracestoryco

Europe Trip | Day 4 | Tuscany

"The Tuscans have the faculty of
making much of common things
and converting small things
into great occasions"
(Henry James)

From watching "Under The Tuscan Sun" with my mom in middle school, to hearing (every single) Food Network show reference "the wine and fields of Tuscany," to the "Everybody Loves Raymond" episode where they visit they area, to mom's personal stories, to the early years of web-surfing and finding pictures of Chianti to save as my computer background (set in a grid pattern, that cut off the images on the right side of the screen) I feel like Tuscany has been a place since childhood that has called for me. 

When we officially booked this trip Caleb said he wanted to do a driving day through Tuscany to see "the green grass and pointy trees and rolling hills." My heart holds vivid, momentary snapshots of this day that are too many to write about, and just so perfect it made me want to cry. One example: an old, tan wrinkled woman in a long sleeved, ankle-length black floral dress, with a red and yellow apron, thick grey hair rolled like a mother duck in her nest on her head, sweeping her dusty porch off with a wooden-and-straw broom. Colorful clothes hung across the porch rails, lemon tree branches rebelled by sneaking through their other sides. We buzzed passed her as her house was perched on slim shelf of stone along a curvy mountain "highway" road. We were in the dead-center of this countryside, and kept meeting village after village, up steep slopes, wiggling back down (like the popular dance party song lyrics: "How long can you go? Can you go down low? All the way to the floor?") -- down all the way to the floor, and then we'd lift the nose of our rental car back up-up-up! and find ourselves sailing into another hill, another pile of hills, another field of flowers, another vineyard, another crumbling castle look out. For hours we drove, stopped, photographed, loaded back in the car, found coffee, drove, photographed, found water, photographed, got back in the car, found pizza, drove, photographed, again and again.

It was nearly impossible to narrow down the pictures to the few I posted here... but hopefully you'll get the idea. I know I'll never be able to forget it.

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Copying from my Instagram post about the thermal baths in Saturnia: "One of our favorite family-friendly places we went was the Terme di Saturnia thermal baths. The hot springs are about 99° F and bursting out of the earth like a dozen enormous fire hoses. I loved the legend behind them: 'According to the Etruscans and Romans, the Terme di Saturnia were formed by lightning bolts, thrown by Jupiter. During a violent quarrel between the two mythological deities, the bolts thrown towards Saturn had missed, causing the formations.' Beauty and fascination aside, the water is REALLY good for you! Full of dissolved sulphur, carbon, sulphate and a number of other earthy minerals. 'The baths are well known for their therapeutic properties, offering relaxation and well-being through immersion.' It felt fantastic -- like a hot tub in the next dimension. And the kids played hard in the water and sun... which almost always leads to the best, deepest naps. It was a lovely, quiet ride out of Saturnia! 🙈😂 (Oh! Almost forgot: it's completely free to park, play, and spend all the time you want!)"

The color of the water was spellbinding!!

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We ended our day chasing the sun to the water. If you've been around for a while, you know that I love to actually see the sunset. Watching the sun set outside is one of my favorite parts of life and we had a lot of making sure that happened every day of the trip. We took the road out of central Italy that would get us to the Mediterranean Sea coast fastest. 

Laughing until your stomach cramps and your cheeks burn. What's the name for that? A bite of food so good you close your eyes and go "Mmmmm" subconsciously. What's the word for that? Anyways, I'm looking for that word. This hour was just exhilarating for us. Flying down the road, loudly moaning as I wailed to Caleb "I can't believe we're passing wheat fields in Tuscany at golden hour and we're not stopping!!" He'd always say, "Do you want to stop? We can stop! Are you sure?" "Yes! I want to be on the water for sunset. I want to see the colors of the ocean. Keep driving...waaaah! It's golden hour in Tuscany and we aren't stopppppinng...!!" 

The GPS showed that we were getting close and we realized there was a mountain's shadow cutting off sunlight sooner than we were planning for. "Be safe but go faster! Go go go but don't crash us but get that sun!" We whirled into a tiny seaside town, turned left, and I practically rolled out of the car like a stunt-double. The pleasure of my eyes rose and gained in thrill and I just wanted to run and shout and cry and hug the vital organs out of my people. Aka: adrenaline was rushing hahah. 

We parked next to these creepy, beautiful trees framing the coast and then kicked sand in a completely deserted beach (it wasn't until we were pulling out that we said "Hey, where are the people? Is it safe here? OH well! We're fine!")

Rowdy's favorite book right now is "The Diggin-est Dog," so he got into character and started pawing sand into the sun's eyes. I vacillated between giving Caleb the camera and grabbing it out from his hands while "screaming" "LOOOOOK AT THE COLORSSSS!"

In hindsight I should have brushed, or fluffed, my hair or put on lipstick or something. We were all matted from the hot springs water that had dried in the car... but I was too delirious and Tigger-like to care. What a scene we must have been. Skipping and running into the wind with arms wide open and just being happy on a no-name beach in Italy together. The kind of "crashing down onto you happiness" you can never plan for, but are always kind of looking for. A gift of a moment and memory. And worth it's weight in jetlag, toddlers on red-eyes, and spilled wine at dinner to share it as a whole family.

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Up next: Florence!

Europe Trip | Day 3 | Genoa Area

"What is the fatal charm of Italy?
 I believe it is a certain permission to be human..."
(Erica Jong)


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I wrote about the night we arrived to Portofino on my Instagram: I don't even have pictures of the evening, but the night we arrived to this old port were a few of the best hours we've ever spent together. It was drizzling after a day of heavy rain, *just* about fully dark with street lamps and globe lights shining on the empty, glossy streets. We parked higher on the hill and rumbled down with our suitcases through three-foot wide walkway alleys between sorbet colored buildings. After finding and checking into our hotel we went out into the night to choose which ocean-side, candlelit atmosphere we wanted to wreck, I mean, eat at ;) The first place we tried was booked solid for the evening, but the host recommended a nearby pizza cafe. We ate the best cheese and bread of our life while drinking a bottle of Prosecco (the best of our life). Pizza and pasta finished off our meal, and once the bill was paid we sat on a bench watching the kids play tag and splash in puddles on the plaza, mischievously daring us with their eyes as they made fake-attempts to run into the Mediterranean Sea. Aside from the "glug" of boats bouncing in the water, extremely murmured clinks and conversations, and noise of our children at happy play, it was completely quiet. Mountain quiet. Misty moon in the sky. Caleb and I sat on a bench, head leaned on head. "These are the moments." "We'll remember this forever." "What could have been more perfect?" "How is this real life?" "We've been dreaming of this."

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We woke up the next morning to blue skies, perfect temperatures, and a breakfast of mimosas, croissants, butter, fruit, and meat on the patio. The groups of taxi-boats, cruise shippers, and trains of day-travelers hadn't arrived yet. It was another nearly empty experience of the town. I've seen the timeless photographs of celebrities in the Clark Gable/Vivien Leigh/Elizabeth Taylor Era, when the town had a new revival as the luxurt vacation destination to the stars! I read a number of travelers prefer Portofino to even well-loved and beautiful Cinque Terre. We were not disappointed. The sorbet colored buildings, the cleanliness, the service, the charm, the old wooden boats, the gasp-worthy trees and plants, the yacht boats framed by mountains... oh it was delight every moment!

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After our morning we headed down the road a bit to another delicious town in the Genoa area, Santa Margherita. We had driven through it to get to Portofino the night before and we actually made a game day change to the line-up so we could stop and explore it more! I don't remember reading about it, or hearing of it ever before (though I'm sure I did... it just didn't "compute"). But wow!! A slight architecture change, a much bigger city than the small port of Portofino (say that ten times fast), food food food options galore, the canals running between mountains and the shore, an seemingly unending paths to walk to go into the heart of this town, or line it in gold, or see it from afar. We stopped for lunch first and we were serenaded with church bells! The rumor we heard was that they were out of the church steeples for cleaning and upkeep, and they were displayed on a closed-to-cars road where bell-ringers performed every hour. It was remarkable and magical! Then a BAND came marching down the street! Dare I compare such a place to Disney? ;) But the bright colors, perfectly time and dreamy music, the landscaping... what a place! And a real city at that!

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Summer lost her mind over this daisy she found on the ground. My mom's favorite flower <3

And our social Roo. He was a little "buddy" starved... he mustered up the courage to go play with the Italian children across the street. I loved it. Different languages, being strangers, and being nervous doesn't matter when you're a child playing tag. I was proud of him and tried to learn from him. "Just step out there and do it."

I'm planning to do a whole food post because it felt like an entire stand-alone experience! And I'm already writing more on these posts than I meant to! But hot dang. Everyone was right. THE. FOOD.

I love this picture because I feel like it could be from 50 years ago or yesterday. Our favorite travel buddies.

The kids had eaten two meals, played hard, and were ready for naps! We snuggled them into the stroller and with the sounds of the bells in the distance they were both asleep in minutes. This gave way to one of our best memories as a couple. We spent almost three hours wandering the city, hand in hand (sometimes stroller-in-hand/camera-in-hand ha!), talking and admiring and feeling all alone for a bit. Caleb couldn't believe the little old castle right in the bay, we shook our heads in wonder at the curb appeal on every single building, and repeated our gratitude. Dear memory.

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The last stop of the day! Our hotel for the rest of the trip: The Grand Hotel in Montecatini Terme! 

This will always be a favorite Rowdy freeze. Skipping ahead, probably talking (definitely talking), and thrilled for the next adventure. We spent most of our trip going on a bear hunt, or narrowly missing dragons thanks to him.

We loved our hotel! The service was everything in keeping with the country's tone: warm, quirky, and very intentional. There was an old-fashioned elevator that might have been the best part of the whole jaunt for Rowdy haha!

After settling in we went back out to the downtown to find dinner. If Santa Margherita reminded us of Disney, Montectini had a Dr. Suess vibe! Playful, happy, and inspiring!

Summer is really in the "Do Everything Big Brother Does Stage" (that's like a decades long stage, right?) She threw her first little coin into the wishing fountain!

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A continued moment of candor: To give substance to what was a very happy, kid-friendly, adult-pleasing, better-together trip I feel like I have to acknowledge Summer's night. She had done so well all day, playing in the streets! napping in the stroller! exploring the town square! pal-ing around with Roo! But her strength wore out at dinner. She was like a piglet who binged on Halloween candy. All of it. It was definitely our "worst" meal of the trip as far as behavior goes haha. Caleb scarfed his food, then spent most of the meal outside with her, and I helped Rowdy focus and finish eating while I ate too. Every 15-30 seconds for ALL of dinner she just... screamed. It was a mess. We blew out of there as fast as we could! Sorry Ricciarelli Pizzeria and patrons! Haha! We walked back to our hotel assessing the evening, and making plans to avoid that kind of "fall apart" again. One major mistake was to be somewhere crowded. We went there because, duh!, crowded places are generally the best! But we learned we had to eat ahead of crowds, or just find second-best so Summer could have room to roam around. 13-23 months really are probably the hardest age to travel with. We can't just give her a show on our phone to get through the meal (like we can with Rowdy if we need to). She's mobile and curious, but can't talk or communicate well. She has such a short attention span, and such an explosive "end of her rope." And this age is just a plain busy one. Move move move, buzz buzz buzz, wiggle, grab, climb!

All that to say, we did it! And being one step ahead of her most of the trip really made for a wonderful vacation. She was a happy girl having our attention and being able to run around and play often. The couple blips came to an end, no damage done, and we were all the more prepared for the remainder of our travels. Which! Was exciting to us when she really didn't have another meltdown like that the rest of the time. Normal tired-fusses or hungry-demands, but those were quick, easy fixes. I'm proud of her and so happy we were able to get through her rough hours together. And I'm most happy that she was one of the best parts of the memories of this trip.

For example, once back at the hotel her and Rowdy walked through the foot-stones in the garden over and over and over.She was laughing at everything he did, in that delirious-hilarious point of tiredness. Rowdy's closed-lip smile and peachy cheeks when he made her laugh were to die for. The night ended with their sweet play echoing in the courtyard. A moment I'll always treasure.

Up next! Florence!

Europe Trip | Day 2 | Palace of Venaria

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
(Giuseppe Verdi)

This second day was our only rainy/poor weather day of the trip... and I'm actually really glad we got to see it! As we drove south from the Alps to the Northern Italy Coast we looked out our windows adoringly. Caleb couldn't stop talking about the towns "nestled" into the hills, "tucked" into the land, and "perched" on the cliffs. The fog puffs rolled in and out and it all felt cinematic and brooding. We loved it.

However, we had to make sure we made the most of the day! Honestly, Caleb and I could carry on with any travel plans in the rain. Rain jackets, umbrellas, and darting in and out of buildings is no problem. But the kids. It's another story when little ones are slipping, cold, strapped-in, and uncomfortable! I wanted to make sure we still "experienced Italy" but indoors. Palace of Venaria it was! (I was inspired by Naomi Davis who has taken her kids into many castles/palaces/tours while traveling.)

I'm SO glad it rained.

Otherwise we may not have stopped and made an indoor solution work. And this was one of the best memories of the whole trip. It was not crowded in the slightest, the kids could roam around the big rooms, and then run around the Galleria Grande. I was happy as a plum to take our time enjoying the splendor (snapping pictures furiously) and Caleb inspected the doors, trim, and engravings in awe. 

There are 54 rooms to go through (I don't think we hit them all! haha But we did at least a few dozen!) filled with history of the home. It was built in the late 1600's by Charles Emmanuel for, what I can tell, basically a bragging right and "honor" for his wife, Marie Jeanne Baptiste, Regent of Savoy.  It was all the rage. Buying towns and building manors. It was also his hunting lodge *straight line mouth emoji* It turned into a military hub during Napoleon's era and was used as a training facility by the Italian government much after.

But now, happily, the gardens and buildings are restored to their former glory... and glorious they are! The art and building detail was head-spinning. Like walking through Tuscan Pemberley.

This item on display was one of my favorite parts of the visit: an enormous hand-drawn family tree. The intricacy and printer-like quality...!

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When I shared a picture from this visit on Instagram, a few people asked me how I took such a great picture while traveling. The quick answer? We had ton of time, no crowds to fight, and I wanted to! Haha The longer answer is, well, you know "the best-laid plans of mice and men..."  Just because a mama is hopeful doesn't mean "it" is going to happen! My general rule of thumb for travel pictures with the kids is: setting and characters. Meaning, I'll take pictures of the places and the stuff ("the setting") all on its own, and then try to get the kids against a wall or on a bench or anywhere, really, during that day. I know I can compile these images together for an album, or, say, a blog post, to tell the story of the day. I don't HAVE to have the kids in all the stage-setting shots, since Lord knows they're probably face-first into the stroller basket looking for a cookie. "Never try to make a happy child happier!" And certainly never try to make a happy child upset haha!

If I've been able to do both things I start to gain traction and courage and think about getting the characters IN the setting. If anyone ever offers to "take a picture of the four of you" I always say yes (we had a number taken this trip... and a couple were perfect!!). Then once the kids have been documented I sometimes let myself try to get a shot of just Caleb and I that isn't a selfie. Practically speaking, this means I'm manning the camera and he's manning the kids for the most part. When I've gotten what I want (or things are starting to fall apart and I'm needed), I put my camera away and turn that part of my brain off. And for me, since I am a photographer, having my camera out and being in "picture mode" doesn't take me away from the present. Truthfully, when I'm even taking pictures with my phone I feel that pull away from the moment -- tapping a screen and seeing it through a flashcard size window. But when I am using my camera it's almost a tool to focus in on the moment; to absorb the scene. Maybe how some journal about a travel day or listen to certain music to set the tone/memory in place. I believe what I'm doing is useful and good for our little family history; something we and our kids and hopefully their kids! will look back on someday and I also find it personally fun. Anywho, there's the long answer!

I was worried we wouldn't get pictures of us "in the setting" and I couldn't stand it because everything was SO beautiful. I took a few of Rowdy playing, and then selfies in a mirrored door... but I needn't have worried! There was pleeeenty of time for pictures, and even setting the camera aside in the Galleria Grande.

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This is the exact view you see when you push past the curtain doorway to enter the room. We stopped in our tracks and my heart began to race. Overwhelming in the grandest, most inspiring ways.

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We spent about 20-30 minutes in here! The kids played tag, rolled on the floor, looked out the windows, and enjoyed their echoes. We could not BELIEVE that no one else was in here!! Other groups walked through and I saw maybe two people snap a picture. But no one stopped. Everyone just walked through like a hallway. I guess when you're from Italy and you've seen it all, this ain't much? I don't know. We were enthralled. Right before we were ready to go I thought Caleb and I should try to get a pretty shot. This was the luckiest iPhone selfie ever. One try!! (Caleb had been so sweet, too. He grabbed me up in a big swaying hug and burst out "This is so romantic!" I love his easily-moved, affectionate wonder. That's part of why I wanted a "real" picture of us to remember. It had been a "real" memorable moment not just as a family, but as a couple. He brings out the softie in me ;) And even convinced me to be in front of the camera solo. *horrors* it didn't last long but... that happened?

As we walked out we chatted about how many little royal Savoy children had done the exact same thing our kids just did and how, no, I don't need a souvenir hand towel from the gift shop. Two villages and a palace will do. 😘

Ps. They host an actual Grand Ball here! Look!

Up next! Portofino & St. Margherita!