The Nunnerys Go To Europe, Part III: Pisa

Ah, Pisa. You were just beautiful. And the Leaning Tower? Definitely one of our favorite sites on the trip.

The ship docked about 15 minutes away from Pisa in the port town of Livorno, and from there we took a free shuttle to the city center. After that, we weren't exactly sure how to find the ticket office for the public bus, so we followed two women we'd seen on the shuttle who were speaking Italian. We figured they either worked on the ship or were also passengers, and after a few minutes of walking, HOORAY! They led us right into a square where all the local buses stopped. The kiosk next to the stop had the routes posted, and we bought tickets to the local train station. As I've said before, public transportation in Europe is really just awesome. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful, even if they didn't always fully understand us. And eventually we made our way to the train station where we bought our tickets for Pisa and headed over to Platform 14.

But on the way there, I saw that Platform 7 had the information for the Pisa train displayed. And it was leaving in about one minute.

Pierce, blessedly, had been very adept at reading train and bus schedules thus far, and had done an awesome job of keeping us on schedule. But I was almost certain he was wrong this time. Turns out, the schedule posted on the wall was from December. And Platform 7 was, indeed, where we needed to be.

Of course, we still weren't exactly sure we were on the right train until Pierce turned to an little Italian man and said, "Mi scusi...Pisa?" When the man nodded Pierce, all casual like and with a spot-on accent, said "Grazie" and turned back to me. It was simple. Nothing impressive. But he did it with such confidence that I just fell all over myself.

"Where did that come from?" I asked with a grin.

Pierce shrugged. "Eurotrip," he said.

LOVED these Charles Dickens doors. Don't they just scream A Christmas Carol?

Pisa is an adorable little Tuscan city surrounded by high stone walls. It was quieter than other European towns, so our day there was much more relaxed than the ones we spent in Amsterdam and Marseilles. We thought we'd be able to see the Leaning Tower from far away, but it turns out it's tucked away in far corner of the city near the walls. So when we reached a dead end, we turned to our left and there it was...right in front of us. We liked sort of stumbling upon it because it was simply breathtaking. We didn't have time to get used to seeing it which made the view that much more impressive. For all it's leaning glory, it's really quite a beautiful building. As is the entire Piazza dei Miracoli.

Hundreds of people were milling around, taking photos, shopping, and lounging on the lawn in front of the cathedral. We giggled at the large groups of tourists who stood with their hands in the air, pretending to hold the tower up and decided we were much too important, much too cultured, for that. 

We are such snobs. But, seriously, all I could think of was how we'd end up on some Pinterest meme looking like we were rehearsing for a remake of Thriller. Have you seen that? It's pretty funny.

All in all, there's not much to do in Pisa but eat, pick up some kitschy souvenirs, and see the Tower. But when you're in Italy with your absolute favorite person, that's all you really need.

sixteen weeks

Hello hello and happy Hump (or should I say "bump"?) Day!

I was planning on posting about our trip to Pisa today, but it's been a milestone last 24 hours and I just have to share.

Today, I am officially 16 weeks along and so much has changed. Baby Nunnery is about the length of my open palm and weighs about 4 oz. Yesterday, I had the last part of my 1st trimester screening (a little late since we were in Europe when they originally scheduled it), and I couldn't believe how much our little sweetness has grown. During the ultrasound, I just lied back on the chair and alternated between tears and giggles as the technician moved that little machine all over my belly. The last time I saw baby Nunnery he (or she) was only about eight or nine weeks along and still looking very much like a tadpole. But he looks like the cutest darn thing I've ever seen. And I know I'm biased, but seriously. That nose?! I can't get enough of it.

The technician tried to look at the baby's sex, but he was literally sitting on his bottom inside my uterus and she couldn't get him to move. But he waved and sucked his little thumb and kicked his legs. I couldn't believe all that was happening inside of me at that very moment. I don't know how I ever will until it's time for him to be here with us, in our arms. And then I probably won't be able to believe he's actually here. Is this what motherhood is like? A perpetual state of wonder and awe? Never fully getting used to one stage before it's on to the next?

While I was watching our little one have his own little party inside my womb, I had two very strong, polar opposite emotions: the first was a maternal protectiveness I hadn't felt until that moment. When I met with the P.A. later, and she was explaining all about measurements and organs and the thickness of the skull, I was sitting there thinking, "Okay, okay now tell me how our baby is doing in comparison. Does he need a specialist? Does he have soft markers for Down's? Is there enough amniotic fluid?" Thankfully, everything measured great and apparently baby is going to be a tall one (surprise, surprise). But in those few minutes of uncertainty, I felt panicked at the thought of baby Nunnery having needs we couldn't or didn't know how to meet. For someone who has struggled almost daily with the emotional and spiritual impact of pregnancy and impending motherhood, this was a relief for me. It's so strange how I can want to be a mommy so much but still be so incredibly terrified of it, so knowing that my natural reaction was to protect was soothing.

The flip side of the protective coin was that I felt myself give in to the panicked part of my emotions and also found myself thinking, "This is too real. It's actually happening. That is a REAL baby. I'm not ready! Go back! Start over!"

People are not kidding when they say pregnancy is a wild ride. I expect motherhood will be more of the same.

In the midst of all these contradicting emotions, I remind myself over and over that children are a gift, a privilege. Not a right. Not a hobby. Not something to collect. And what follows, of course, is the question of "Why me, Jesus? What is it about me that You found fit to do this job?" There are millions of women who would give their right kidney to do this without a moment's hesitation. They've struggled through the pain of IVF and other fertility treatments and here I am, pregnant after just six months of "We'll see what happens". Please don't misunderstand my intentions as I share these feelings. I am happy. We are incredibly shaken to our cores about this little blessing. Because that's what he is. But my journey to motherhood looks very different from others...and most of the time I don't feel like I'm going to be very good at it. I talk to baby. I read to him. I sing songs. I eat well. I drink lots of water. I take my vitamins. I write him letters. Pierce and I pray over him. I cherish these moments. I will never be pregnant for the first time again. 

But just as all these good things have come naturally to me, so has the fear of failing.

And a little high five to say, "It's cool, Mama!"...I felt it.

I was playing on my phone today, looking at Pinterest and Facebook, and lying on my stomach. And I felt what seemed like bubbles in my tummy. But nothing happened. They didn't pass, even though I was almost positive it was gas...until the pressure sort of centralized in my lower abdomen and before I had time to even be conscious of the change, there was the slightest of tiniest kicks. At first I thought it might have been my heartbeat (you know how you feel your pulse in your stomach or head or fingers sometimes?). Or perhaps an air bubble popping. But no. When I rolled over to press my hands down over my stomach, I could feel a tightness in that same area, like he was bundled up right there underneath my fingers. 

I could be wrong. But even if I am I'm going to pretend I'm not. It was kind of the coolest thing ever.

I only wish, during moments like this, that Pierce could experience everything I'm experiencing. A father's role is so incredibly different at this stage than a mother's, and sometimes I feel bad that he doesn't get to see his body change or feel the baby move. But he's already such a good daddy, and I know it's only going to get better from here.

Thanks for reading along and for sharing in our joy these last few months. Right now, I know close to a dozen people who are pregnant and I love having their support and encouragement in this season. It's been challenging, but I have no doubt that when we see that little face up close for the first time all these moments of uncertainty and transition will be well worth it.

I just wish going into Babies R Us didn't make me cry! Can I get an amen?

Expecting with Heather from Finding Beauty in the Ordinary

Hi friends!

I'm so excited to start a new series on the blog today called "Expecting". Since we're expecting our first little Nunnery this fall - and let's be honest I've been feeling everything from crazy excited to scared out of my mind - I thought it would be lovely to have some of my favorite mommy and mommy-to-be bloggers share their thoughts on motherhood and pregnancy. 

Today Heather from Finding Beauty in the Ordinary - who just happens to be one of the sweetest bloggers I've "met" and mother to a bright-eyed, beautiful little girl named Eden - is here to start us off! I'm so excited to learn more about this adventure from women I admire. Thanks for sharing with us, Heather!


Hi lovely A Bundle of Contradictions readers! My name is Heather and I blog over at Finding Beauty in the Ordinary-- my own personal little space on the interweb where I like to blog about motherhood, marriage, my faith, our adventure living in a new city, and the occasional DIY/recipe! I've been married to my best friend, Joshua, since November 2006 and in August of 2012, we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Eden Grace, into the world! What a beautiful adventure motherhood has been so far!

But motherhood... no one tells you just what to expect from it. I mean, they'll tell you to expect sleepless nights, complete and devoted unconditional love for this new being in your arms, and exhaustion. Lots of exhaustion. And all of that is true. I'm tired all the time. Somedays I walk down the stairs after I've put my sweet girl to sleep for the night, and I have barely enough energy to make it to the couch.

And yet, oddly enough... I find myself missing my girl sleeping up there soundly in her crib. The inner depths of my soul aches for her and I almost want to go wake her up and catch her sweet smile with those two little teeth peeking out! After the most tiring days, I think of her. After the sweetest days, I think of her.

And that's just what motherhood is... a complete overtaking of your soul. It completely consumes you. No longer can you run to Target for a few things without wondering if your sweet babe is doing okay at home in his daddy's arms. No longer can you go out with your girlfriends without wanting to talk, talk, talk about your sweet babe. No longer does your Facebook page reflect you-- it reflects something, someone, bigger than you. Nothing will completely change you-- and change you for the good-- than becoming a mother.

My expectations going into motherhood were simple... to love my girl and love her well. What I didn't know was just how easy that was to do.

The Nunnerys Go To Europe, Part II: Marseilles, France

More from Europe on the blog today! I could talk about Europe forever, so I apologize in advance.

We flew straight from Amsterdam to Barcelona on Sunday morning, but unfortunately we didn't have the time or the money to spend getting to know the city. So even though we can officially say we've been to Barcelona, we didn't actually do very much of anything. Except pay too much for a taxi, which then took us to the wrong terminal at the port (even after we told him in Spanish (!) which terminal it was). There were some pretty incredible views on that 12-minute drive, though.

I don't want to boggle up too much of this space with tips on how to travel. After all, no matter how much you read on how to be a great tourist (or how to successfully pretend to be a local), there's nothing like experiencing it for yourself. But I do want to say this: a cruise is the best option if you're on a tight budget and want to get the most for your money. With that being said: Don't go on Royal Caribbean.

I've been on a total of four cruises in my life: two with Disney, one with Carnival, and one with Royal Caribbean. Disney is the shiz, I don't care who you are. Young or old, married or single, empty nesters or bright-eyed youngins with a brand new infant in tow. The service is top-notch, the ships are floating palaces, and the food is fantastic. They really protect their brand. And there is so much to do, whether you have children or not. Carnival is a great deal and can be somewhat cheesy, but, again, good service and decent food. Royal Caribbean was not a bad cruise. I will clarify that now. But we were on Splendour of the Seas, which is a much older ship in comparison (built in 1996), much smaller than most, and really didn't have anything to offer us by way of entertainment. We spent a lot of time playing mini-golf, I'll tell you that. There is a casino and bars and a number of lounges, but we're not really into those things. We like to either be adventurous and silly, or relax and pass out by the pool (when it's not so windy even Italy feels like England). The service was great, but the food was so-so. The ports were very far from our actual destinations (for example, the port they tell you is Rome is actually Civitavecchia, which is close to 90 miles away from Rome...meaning you must either pay for a ridiculously expensive cruise excursion to get there or risk doing the local thing and hope you don't get lost in an Italian train station). I would say if you take Royal Caribbean, go for one of the brand new ships which offer simulated surfing pools, ice skating, and all sorts of other fun things. Splendour was just your basic, run-of-the-mill cruise. And you really do spend a whole lot more time on the ship than you think, so make it worth the money (and that $12 per person, per day tax they secretly add onto your bill!).

I'll be taking questions after the lecture.

{The Chateu D'if, from Alexandre Dumas' novel The Count of Monte Cristo!}

Now...back to the good stuff!

Our first port of call was Marseilles, France. And let me be the first to admit I am terrified of the French. I've heard so many horror stories about how cruel they can be when Americans show up not knowing how to speak a word of their language (and let's be honest here: Americans are not much better with foreigners). 

But for the first part of our afternoon in Marseilles, we didn't have to worry about speaking at all. We took a ferry from the ship to the port and promptly made our way through the busiest part of the city and up towards the Notre Dame de La Garde...although promptly is probably not the best word to use. It was more like we heaved and huffed and wore out our hamstrings on the way up to the highest point of the city, where this beautiful cathedral offered stunning panoramic views of Marseilles. It was pretty much exhausting. But baby got some cardio! He was probably enjoying every minute of it, so that made me feel a teensy bit better as I hunched over with my head between my knees. 

The Notre Dame de La Garde is not the Notre Dame, even though this poor woman at our dinner table seemed to think otherwise. That one's in Paris. But it was a spectacular place, as most buildings in Europe seem to be, and the views were quite impressive. Plus, there was a gaggle of little French schoolchildren on a field trip and just hearing them speak made the whole hike worthwhile. My child will absolutely learn to speak another language. It's just too cute for words!

The path back down to the port was much easier, so we enjoyed the nice breeze and the sounds of the busy streets. We passed cafe after cafe, but struggled to decide if we would go in, simply because we were so intimidated by the fact that we had no idea what to say. Asking was not an option. We were afraid of being yelled at.


At one point we passed a creperie, and said to ourselves "Well, gosh, we can't visit France and not eat some crepes." 


So we braved our fear of rejection and thrown plates and sat down at a wrought iron table in the square. It was lovely. A street musician was playing his violin, and all around us were the sounds of people in conversation, sipping coffee, laughing. It was exactly the kind of experience you want to have while you're in France.

Until our waiter walked over to us.

He was a middle-aged man with a sort of pinched face, and he muttered something to us in French that, obviously, we couldn't understand. Before I could barely open my mouth to ask him (in French!) if he spoke English, he turned his head toward me and said, with a tiny glower, " do not speak French." It wasn't a question. It was a statement of fact. I still don't know how Europeans can pick us out of a crowd, you guys. I like to think that Pierce and I are fairly cultured, stylish individuals. In fact, I passed an Italian girl in Pisa wearing the exact same outfit as me...and I felt appropriately justified in my wardrobe choice. I mean, we are sensitive to what happens around us. We don't wear fanny packs or speak in obnoxiously loud voices. But, somehow, they always know. I'll admit we played "Spot the American" a couple of times, too, but that was because so many of us are really quite stereotypical. 

But, in this case, so were the French.

A split second after our waiter looked down his nose at us, he knocked over a glass and it shattered on the cobblestones. Karma! And then he proceeded to mutter "Shit, shit, shit" and ignored us from that moment on. It was a gift from God, I'm telling you, because not a minute later a second waiter approached us and he was much more polite.

I asked him (again, in French) if he spoke English, to which he enthusiastically stated, "Oui! Yes, I do." We breathed a sigh of relief and placed our orders. We kept the talking to a minimum and said "Merci" a bunch, so I think we did alright. By the time our food came we didn't even care because what with Pierce's Nutella crepe, my glass bottled Coca-Cola, and the most exquisite coffee we'd ever tasted, our lunch shifted into the ideal picture we'd had in our heads. I almost wanted to order a second Nutella crepe to go, but I was afraid of what the word "doggy bag" might do to that poor man's constitution.

And the next time we go back to France, I will have learned how to speak the language. I just can't handle the stress.

Next up: Pisa! Thanks for reading and following along on our little European adventure.

Happy Friday!

The Nunnerys Go To Europe, Part I: Amsterdam

Hello, hello!

We're back from Europe, safe and sound, and I think we're finally back on a regular sleeping schedule. That jet lag is serious stuff, you guys.

I suppose the best place to start is at the beginning...but there's so much to tell! The next few posts are going to be very picture/word heavy, so I hope you don't have anything else to do for the next half hour...

For our first stop, we flew out of Atlanta at 3 p.m. and landed in Amsterdam the next morning at 9:30 a.m. local time. Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted, but since it was early there we knew that having limited time in the city meant taking as many opportunities as we could to get out and explore. 

After many questions for many lovely Dutch locals, we found our way from the airport to the train station at Amsterdam Centraal and, hooray (!), to the bus that would, blessedly, take us to our hotel.

And, so, here is my first rule of thumb when it comes to traveling internationally: take public transit. It's cheap and you'll be able to find your way around pretty quickly, even if the only word you can speak in Dutch is "hallo" (three guesses what that means...). This rule also applies to Spain, Italy, and France. Or anywhere, really. Taxis are ridiculously priced and the metro will save your life because in addition to being inexpensive, it's also incredibly reliable.

Now! Onto our adventures!

Even though it took us quite awhile to get there, Pierce and I arrived at our hotel almost two hours before we could check in (another rule of thumb: make sure you schedule ample time between check-out times, flights, etc. It saved us from all kinds of stress). Once our room was ready, we promptly passed out for a few blissful hours before getting up to head out into the city for some sightseeing and dinner.

Our hotel was only two miles away from Amsterdam Centraal, the city center and the location of the most ornate and beautiful train station I've ever seen. Close to the station it's pretty touristy and there are all kinds of shops and restaurants lining the streets. It  was crowded, but I didn't really mind because I was kind of in awe that we were finally there. 

In every doorway, there stood a woman with her hips jutted out, smoking a cigarette, chatting with some passerby. We never visited the Red Light District (call me old-fashioned, but I don't really fancy seeing prostitutes sell themselves in windows), but sex oozes from Amsterdam's pores. And, to top it off, everyone smokes in Amsterdam (well, in Europe, really) and this was my only real frustration while we were there. Ever outdoors it was difficult to find a place safe from the smoke. I almost got very American on people and shouted "I'm pregnant, assholes!"

But anyway...

Our first dinner in the city was at an Argentinian restaurant (there are surprisingly lots of those there, as well as Asian fusion shops, too). I had steak and Pierce had ribs. They also brought us ketchup, which we thought was funny at first...until we realized later that every single local restaurant we ate in throughout the trip (save those in Italy) brought us ketchup with every meal...which we never used. Not only did we not want to put ketchup on our food, we also didn't want to fulfill whatever American stereotype they had built up in their minds about our eating habits. So there!

The next morning, we took the bus back to Amsterdam Centraal from our hotel and, after lots of wandering, found our way to the ridiculously long line outside the Anne Frank House. It curved around the corner twice like a snake and we realized that everyone else had also read their guidebook that morning. Apparently "Get there early to avoid a long queue" is popular advice. But it was worth it. So, so worth it.

I first read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was eleven. I was haunted by it, to say the least. She wasn't much older than me when she went into hiding, nor when she died. And she is the whole reason I started keeping a journal and fell in love with writing. My cousin Brittany and I used to talk about her all the time when we were younger, and we even mapped out a plan to save our money and go visit Holland at one point (we were twelve). Over the years, our love for her story and our passion for bearing witness to the horror of what happened during the war never wavered. But the notion of ever being able to visit got smaller and smaller as the years went on. Life just got in the way.

So when Pierce and I made our final plans for the trip, I told him that this was the one place I couldn't not see. The self-guided tour walked us through all of 263 Prinsengracht, from the bottom floor storeroom and warehouse, up through the tiniest, steepest stairs to the main offices, and finally to the original bookcase which so cleverly hid the entrance to the Secret Annex. We climbed even steeper, even smaller staircases to find ourselves standing the in the very rooms where the Franks, the van Pels, and Fritz Pfeffer stayed hidden for over two years. I saw the marks on the wall where Otto kept track of Anne and Margot's growth during their time in hiding. I touched the glass covering Anne's bedroom wall, which still has the collection of movie stars she pasted there soon after they arrived. I looked up into the attic where she received her first kiss. I stood in the hallway, looking out the window at her beloved Westerkerk, and while we waited quietly to head into the next room, the bells of the church tower started to ring. Anne's bells.

It was the most sobering, most incredible experience of my life.

And then I got to see her diary.

There aren't really any words to explain how I felt. Not just because it was her real diary in person but because she never knew how her dreams came true. How much her words would impact so many millions of people. And it was really very spiritual for me.

I only wish my cousin Brittany could have been there with us!

After the Anne Frank House, we ate lunch at a sweet little cafe on the Prinsengracht Canal and I treated myself to the ever-so-popular Holland fries (frites), which are basically huge steak fries with a glob of this glorious mayonnaise-type sauce, all wrapped up in a paper cone. They were fantastic.

Two days in Amsterdam was pretty perfect, and on Sunday morning, two days after our arrival, Pierce and I got up at 3 a.m. to get ready and make our 7 a.m. flight out to Barcelona. It was a whirlwind, but I will never forget it!

We love you, Amsterdam. 

The Nunnerys Go To Europe!


Hi friends!

In twenty-four hours, my hubby and I will be boarding a flight to Amsterdam, the first stop on our grand European adventure! I. Am. So. Excited.

Ever since we got married, we've loved to travel together. Thankfully, we've had the opportunity to go to some wonderful places together, but we've never been to Europe as a couple. In fact, Pierce has never been at all. I'm so grateful that we have the opportunity to share this world together! 

Pierce really wants to see Rome. I really want to see Amsterdam, although I could die happy if I just saw the Anne Frank House and nothing else. Her diary is the reason I started keeping a journal when I was eleven, and her story has kept me going, year after year, as a writer. Such a young woman with such an old soul. A beautiful spirit lost to the world, but not completely.

We'll spend a few days in Amsterdam and then fly over to Barcelona, where our cruise begins. After that, it's Marseilles, Split, Croatia, Florence, Pisa, Rome, and Venice! So I'm just preparing you now. There will be lots of photos. This trip will probably keep my blog going for a least a month. Just saying...

Oh, and on another exciting note: I reached my second trimester today! I can't believe it's been thirteen weeks already. Happy May to you all!