We rang in the 2016 New Year with a fireworks show that rivals any I’ve seen in Alaska.  Lacey’s sister Michelle and her husband Rob lit off a pallet of grand finale firework-cakes and had a bonfire and drinks and it was wonderful.  I as I write this, I am looking forward to a similar bash in 11 days.

The 2016 New Year celebration was respite much-needed, being still shy of mid-way through the expensive and painful lesson each do-it-yourself oriented newlywed couple learns for themselves when they decide to high five each other and build their own house.  I write this from the cozy nook Lacey calls the loffice, taking its name from the merging of one small corner of living room into office.  Though I could, and likely should, take the time to write a book for foolish newlyweds entertaining the insanity of home-building, with Chapters I might name There is no such thing as an honest plumber,  An inspector’s life is to ruin yours, Time and materials mean bend over, Cheap lumber is seldom less expensive, and Why bamboo hates Alaska, I likely will not find the time.

As a kindness, luck found its way to our inbox in early Spring, right as we were at the end of our frayed emotional ropes and desperately needing some hope.  We finally caught an unexpected break and were able to purchase upgraded airline and Celebrity Cruise tickets for a 10-day Mediterranean sojourn in early June for about 1/3rd the normal price.  God bless Costco Travel.  It was the promise of a real vacation that kept us going and we finally finished our financing and moved into our homestead home on Lacey’s birthday, April 1st, having passed the most grueling marital stress-test any couple can endure.  Lacey immediately went to work unpacking and turning this giant rectangle into a cozy sanctuary from the stresses of the world.  I am so lucky to have a wife who takes pride in the presentation of her home, instead of seeing cleaning and decorating as some kind of Sisyphean torture.  Having survived the building process, and the moving-in, and though I am embarrassed to admit it, the continued uncertainty I feel when reaching for one switch in a bank of four, I realize now how well suited to one another Lacey and I really are.  We speak the same love language and spend most of our time belly-laughing at each other and the world around us, or doing trivia, or playing cards.

The one upside to doing almost all the work but saving no money is that the house is filled with special touches most contractors would never care enough to bother about, and it is in those we find much joy.  There is a custom sliding track door carefully built into the half wall at the top of the stairs as a built-in baby gate.  Our bathroom has extra loops of in-floor heat to keep toes cozy when on the throne.  Our kitchen has room to spare in the refrigerator and freezer.  There’s a special nook for my piano.  The pantry makes storing and later finding food a breeze.  We are pretty blessed, and people have been generous with their compliments.

After just enough time to feel moved in we embarked on Lacey’s third and my first trip to Europe.  You have not flown unless you have flown Condor and been courtesy upgraded.  That airline still wants you to look forward to flying, and for good reason.  When we sat down in our courtesy upgrade, we each found a goodie bag with blanket and toothbrush, eye pillow, cotton slippers, magazines, a bathrobe, a mattress and an iPad.  Those last three may be fiction, I’m not sure…  I did enjoy several airport scotches before I sauntered onboard.  After a thorough inspection of my eyelids we arrived in Rome.  What no one tells you when you arrive is that you may be exiting the subway in the shadow of the Colosseum and Roman Forum.  Literally.  I’m no Nolan Rylan but even I could have thrown a baseball through the 4th story arches from within the shadows of the subway exit.  I felt like I entered Rome through the Colosseum, the size of which can only be appreciated in person, much like Michelangelo’s David, or the inside of the Duomo in Florence.  Though I missed the cattle-call that has become the Sistine Chapel, I did see enough astonishing relics of ancient history by the end of the trip to marvel at my own indifference to them.

We ran the same starting lap as the Olympic Torch carriers in the Panathenaic Stadium.  We climbed the acropolis of Athens and walked up through the Propilini to the Parthenon and the Erectheon with its floors still standing on the backs of seven stone and vestal Virgins.   We climbed the stairs and stood on Mars hill where Paul called out idolatry and other sin.  We stood also in the Ephesian Theater, on the very same sounding stone as Paul when he was run out on a rail to the deafening chants of “Great is the Goddess Diana of the Ephesians!”  We learned how the great marble blocks used to build ancient Europe were carved and quarried with nothing more than silk and olive oil.  Fascinating that, as well as how they spin the silk.  German airport employees and their waggling of assault rifles, groping inside my underwear and lost luggage notwithstanding, the kind and genial nature of people is my favorite part of travel. While we missed the bombing of Istanbul by only a handful of days, we spent our time impressed with the hospitality of Turks, Greeks, and Italians alike.

The highlight of the trip is my memory of our time in Naples, good ol’ Napoli, and a short road trip that is forever seared into the marble slabs of my memory in a way neither bottle in front of me nor frontal lobotomy could ever erase.  Where to begin…

For as long as I can remember, I have been prone to motion sickness.  If I am at the helm or wheel, it seldom rears its ugly head through the scenery and consumes me, and the view from the seat directly behind the driver of a massive Class A tour bus is both panoramic and preventative medicine for people like me.  But, by the time I arrived in Naples, the last stop of our voyage, I had relaxed my militant vigor and exertions to be first in line to the bus so that I could pick the safety seat.  It is easy to take things for granted.  Every tour before this had been a half an hour through the wineries of Santorini, or the back streets of Mykonos or Crete.  What harm could be done?  Let someone else have the good seat in the massive… wait, is that van our tour bus?  Babe, we have to hurry!  Too late.  Fifth in line. Fifth couple that is.

Where once we enjoyed large seats, air conditioning, and panorama, now I enjoyed a window the size of a matchbox, and tinted to keep the upholstery from fading in the scorching Vesuvian sun.  It’ll be okay though, how far away can it be?

The first words of our tour guide were “Welcome to the Amalfi Coast driving tour, you are about to see breathtaking views of the Italian coast on the most serpentine and labyrinthine road in the world.” An hour in, I had a fever of 103, and it was 90 degrees outside so I’m proud to say I made it all the way to the Hotel of St. Peter, $5000 euro a night, before the tiny person that lives in the glands of my mouth began pumping saliva and shouting wildly into my mind “Abandon ship, save yourself!”  It took 17 hours to reach Amalfi, Lacey says only 2 but I know better.  The return trip, roundabout through the winding Milky Mountains took another three days, and I somehow survived to tell the tale.  Somehow.

What I now know, but didn’t at the time, is the importance of certain food safety.  The dining on a Celebrity Cruise is on a level not exceeded by any restaurant I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy, so it’s easy to forgive myself the assumption that the clean and fresh looking fruit in our stateroom was exactly that, clean and fresh.  The ship had picked up fruit in Turkey, and I like my father before me, consider it a point of manly pride to eat kiwis skin, hair and all.  So the day before our arrival in Naples, I had eaten the one thing that would later prevent me from seeing the City of Pompei at the end of the most interminable day of my life.  Instead, I literally sat in the street gutter of a taxi cab roundabout in front of the entrance to Pompei, dry heaving Ecoli and praying Jesus would take pity on me and send a meteorite to crush my skull and call me home.  Lacey didn’t get to see Pompei either, so worried was she for my awful state, as I sat like a beggar and prayed for death to take me.   I have promised we’ll go back someday.

After the cruise we spent a glorious two days hiking the colorful vineyard trails of Cinque Terre.adlib-cinque-terre
We both leapt from cliffs into the cerulean waters of the Med.  We ate at a restaurant in Rio Maggiore that WILL boast a second Michelin Star before too long.  And we ended our trip with another two days becoming numb to the splendor of Florence’s utterly endless antiquity.  Lacey’s Aunt Jackie, a lighthearted firecracker, lives in Florence and arranged dinner with friends in a house built in 1200AD, as well as a private tour with a talented tour guide.  Jackie was instrumental to our enjoyment of Florence.  It’s one thing to see the statue of Perseus holding the head of Medusa in the Piazza adjacent to the Medici Palace.  It’s another thing to see it with someone who explains the entire bronzing, sword and all, was done in one revolutionary casting and if you’ll look closely at the back of his head, you’ll see the face of the sculptor who had brazenly left his own visage as an artist’s signature.  A face carefully woven into the locks of Perseus’ curly hair in a way that was clearly a beard and moustache, but only if you happened to notice the eyes peeking out from behind the wings of his Helmet.  There were endless details we would have surely missed without Jackie’s gift.  Lacey’s knee held up splendidly to the hiking and walking, I kept pebbles from the walkways of my favorite ancient monuments, and we came back with memories and pictures to sustain us for years.

The summer and fall have been busy for our business, we were able to take a trip to see my father in late July for a few short days and capture footage of his amazing house in the Wyoming Bighorns.  Lilly and Alera are doing well in school.  Lilly ran Cross Country in the fall and will likely run track in the spring.  Alera will be doing dance all school year as well as Volleyball in the spring.  She has even begun parking and driving my truck around the homestead, and I am encouraged at how mature she is when behind the wheel.

Lacey has our house decorated in the most Christmas-y fashion and each day coming home feels especially magical.  We are all well, and for the most part, thriving.  We hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.