I gravitate toward doing what I’m good at.

 

Maybe more than most people.

 

Dolphin-kicking underwater. Talking too much in meetings. Eating cereal for dinner. Being friendly. There. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a solid list.

It’s comfortable and often fulfilling. I feel confident and empowered doing what I am good at. Sure, I can’t find my way to a new or familiar place. I can’t sing. My mind isn’t able to rest without resolving a conflict. And there will never be a wedding at which I don’t cry. But really, I can do anything. I’ll just put lots of energy into my good stuff, like typing fast emails.

I quit my job, got married, and booked plane tickets to leave U.S. comforts and travel the world. My husband, Joe, and I packed up all of our belongings into what seemed like hundreds of boxes and carefully planted them throughout the city at several very loving family member and friends’ homes. A spreadsheet is dedicated to tracking where our soccer cleats, wedding gifts, and board games are stored.

We journeyed to Rome and met the Pope! Which was downright unbelievable and hard to describe, even as I’m typing this a month later. We gave him a prayer card we wrote for our wedding. And I’ll never forget the surprised smile on his face and the two English words he spoke to us, “For me?”

 

We ate a lot of pizza.

New kinds. By accident.

 

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Drank some smooth red wine. Saw the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, and three of the four famous Basilicas.

We met up with a childhood friend who is in Rome studying to be a priest. He shared fascinating facts about the city, architecture, and history. We enjoyed gelato and got drenched in the rain from chatting all evening in Saint Peter’s Square.

After Rome we traveled six hours via cross-country train. Joe and I had arranged to help at a Bed & Breakfast buried in the jagged peaked mountains of Northern Tuscany. The B&B housed its own vegetable and herb garden where we would work. I might also do some light housework and clean up after mealtime. Easy, breezy, beautiful. Covergirl.

The hosts were wonderfully charming and welcoming. I felt at home at Settimo Cielo, a paradise in the mountains of Northern Tuscany. I knew immediately that it would be a life-changing two weeks.

Throughout our first days, I found plenty of new things to work at and learn. All things I wasn’t very good at. Cooking, gardening, dogs, chicken coops, getting up early, mopping, making a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, and blowing out candles before drifting to sleep. 

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Despite my internal turmoil, our hosts, Karen and Jim, did so much to recognize my efforts (and Joe’s). They continued to reassure and encourage me. I wasn’t able to express how much their praises meant to me at the time.

 

It’s not that I had never failed or done poorly at something before.

 

I had certainly done my whopping share. It was just a piling of different things, including stereotypes of what a woman should be. She should certainly know how to mop and cook.

Joe was widely familiar with smart gardening techniques, foods not to let dogs eat, and cleaning out chicken coops. He even conjured up an egg dish we all raved about. I struggled to roll dough for the pie crust.

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Even though no one seemed to notice and everyone was kind enough to say the pumpkin pie was brilliant, my inner-self had something different to say about my performance. I wanted to feel confident in what I was doing and produce gold standard results.

A few days passed and I tried my best at window cleaning and planting marjoram. Despite never doing those things before, the windows did let in more sunlight and the marjoram looked almost in the right place. 

It wasn’t until I spoke with Joe that something came to light. The most important aspect was trying new things, whether I’m good at them or not. I could have said ‘no’ to making a pumpkin pie once I learned Italian supermarkets didn’t sell canned pumpkin, evaporated milk, or pre-made pie crusts. But instead I said yes. And it was a marvelous time.

That was my biggest lesson from Northern Tuscany.

 

Just to say ‘yes’ and try, even when I don’t feel confident. A lot of incredible things came out of those efforts. More lavender in the garden with our own landscape design. An organized, labeled storage room in the basement. A fresh pie. New dog friends.

Beautiful changes can happen when we branch into foreign territory, whether we are abroad or right at home. Although it was an uncomfortable feeling for me, it was strengthening. It helped me realize that I can do so many things in this world.

I might not do everything as well as I hope. I might struggle and fall and be humbled. Several times over.

But that’s part of what makes us feel alive, isn’t it? Stretching out our heart to a loved one who has hurt us. Paragliding off the edge of a volcano. Raising our first child. Playing the piano in front of a crowd at a sister’s wedding. It’s those little, uncontrolled moments that can touch our souls and get our blood swimming.

We are lucky to have opportunities that can make us feel this way.

 

They are a gift and a part of our journey. They make us feel alive. Sometimes they unexpectedly greet us on our neighborhood walk or we may actively seek them out. I’ve got those daredevil friends who search for destinations to skydive and swing off large suspension bridges.

But we should make a point to do more new things, shouldn’t we? Even small ones, like renting cross country skis for a morning or calling up a friend after months. We could all benefit from doing a little more ‘new.’ Of dipping our toes a little further in the water. I know there are people out there who do this really well. And for that, I admire them.

What is something you’ve done in the last few weeks that has felt foreign?

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Be sure to leave a comment first.
Then head over to our Photo Gallery to view pictures from our time in Italy.

 

48 Comments

  1. WOW! You are both so inspiring! Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. You made me feel like I was there with you for a moment. I often stay in my comfort zone and you have challenged me to step outside and learn and experience something new. Best wishes!

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  2. Awesome post J! It sounds like you and Joe are having a blast!

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  3. Amazing Jenna and Joe! Nick and I will continue to keep you in our thoughts and prayers! Am so happy to have a glimpse into your journey this far.

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    • Shauna, Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging comments! 🙂 They really mean so much to us and help to propel us forward. We are so happy we can share our journey and that there’s wonderful people that want to be a part of it. Hope all is well with you and Nick. Thanks again for reading along!

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  4. I love how Pope Francis responded to your beautiful prayer! And I love the spirit of this post even more!!! Praying for you guys and looking forward to the next read!!❤️❤️❤️

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    • April, Your comments warm my heart and make me feel empowered! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and the piece about Pope Francis! It was really incredible. Thanks so much for reading! 🙂 Tell Jacob we say hi!

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  5. I am glad that you both are enjoying yourselves and learning new things. Continue to enjoy your time and I’m excited to hear more about your journey! Sending prayers and love. Enjoy! 🙂

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    • Dana, Thank you so much for your thoughtful and sweet message! Thanks also for reading along. Best wishes as you complete your time at Grand Valley and continue with the big and amazing way you approach life!

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  6. Beautiful words, beautiful pictures, and two really beautiful people inside and out.

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    • Michele, Thank you so much for your very kind comment. 🙂 It really boosts me! I appreciate you taking the time to read our story and leave a note. Have a wonderful week! 🙂

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  7. Wowza! I’m so excited to hear all about your adventure around the world, but even more to see what God is doing in your heart and lives together. We haven’t talked in years, but I’m very thankful for friends who choose to be vulnerable and share their stories with me – whether it be in person or through the web. 🙂 I’m looking forward to your future postings! Until then, prayers are coming your way for safe travels and more wonderful adventures!

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    • Claire! 🙂 What a wonderful and uplifting surprise to read your message! Thank you SO much for reading and for leaving such a positive and encouraging note. God has blessed us so much and we hope we can follow His plan and make a difference. Joe and I both appreciate your prayers so much. We will be praying for you too. Sending a hug and thank you again! 🙂 It is truly great to hear from you!

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  8. Very cool! How brave and daring. May God bless you both on your wonderful adventure.

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    • Thank you so much, Uncle Jeff! 🙂 I am so touched you read our post and took the time to leave such a kind comment. Hope you and the whole family are doing well! Have a great week!

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  9. Beautifully created. Thought provoking. Inspiring.

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    • Janece, Thank you so much for taking the time to read our post and leave such a meaningful note. 🙂 I value your input so much! Thank you again and I hope the skiing has been fabulous!

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  10. My dear Jenna and Joe~ It was an absolute delight hosting you at Settimo Cielo! You made such a difference, not only with the sheer hard work you carried out so efficiently, (despite your inward doubts Jenna!), but in who you are. You have left a wonderful footprint of yourselves at our haven in Tuscany, which means so much to us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. May you continue with your important journey to explore more of this beautiful planet and it’s fascinating people~ no better way than connecting directly, seeing, experiencing different cultures, ways of life for yourselves! You are an inspiration Jenna and Joe. We love and miss you….come back soon!XXX

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    • Karen, Thank you so very much for reading our post and leaving such an incredibly touching note. We continue to reflect on what a life-changing and amazing experience we had with you and Jim at Settimo Cielo. Thank you for all of your kind words and continued encouragement. Our conversations pushed me forward in sharing my writing; thanks for giving me the needed confidence boost. I hope everything in Northern Tuscany is as beautiful and lovely as always. We miss you and will definitely be back!

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  11. Thank you for taking all of us on your adventure! We are never too old (or young) to step out of our safe boundaries and discover the world around us! Looking forward to the next part of the journey! =)

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    • Lori, How great it is to hear from you! 🙂 Thank you so much for reading along and taking the time to leave a wonderful note! It means so much to us and I am really happy to hear you enjoyed it. I hope you and your entire family are doing well! I understand there’s some wonderful spring weather in Michigan 🙂 Enjoy!

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  12. I’ve been married 24 years. We are still deeply and passionately in love. You two are learning great lessons that will serve you well….trying new things, working in what you aren’t naturally good st, supporting each other and learning together! Joe, you are truly blessed !!

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    • Brooke, Thank you so much for your thoughtful note and for reading our blog! It means so much to us! We really do have so much to learn and recognize that everyday 🙂 What a wonderful and mysterious gift marriage is. We are so blessed to have found each other. Thank you again for your note and we hope all is fantastic!

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  13. So inspiring, Jenna and Joe!!! Getting little chills just sitting at my desk reading about your adventures 🙂 My thoughts and prayers are with you both; keep posting!! Sending love your way!!

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    • Katherine! 🙂 Thank you so much for your incredibly kind note and for reading! It means so much coming from you. Thanks for your endless support of us! You are so awesome to us. I see you’re having fabulous adventures out west. 🙂 Enjoy and we will be in touch! Big love and hugs!

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  14. Eloquently put Jenna! Thank you for sharing your journey and that have been inspired by it. Looking forward to the next post!

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    • Adrienne, Thank you so much for your very kind and encouraging note! 🙂 It brightened my day to read this! I feel blessed to share the journey and appreciate so much the support. I hope all is going well within Mercy Health and in all aspects of life!

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  15. We met Joe through our dear friends Ben and Rose Jonaitis. What a loving and caring guy! We knew he would choose someone special to share his life. We are looking forward to reading about your adventures, and watching you grow closer to God and each other. Travel Blessings to you both.

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    • Thank you so much, Frank and Beth! 🙂 Your note really means a lot to us. I am certainly lucky to be married to Joe! (You described him well). We hope all is well with the both of you and want to thank you again for reading along!

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  16. So now I’m jealous. Married 54+ years and got from Maine to Nevada.
    That’s it. And you guys didn’t even invite me to go along with you.
    Anyway keep enjoying yourselves, I am looking forward to hearing about
    “touring the world” next Jan.
    More Later,
    Grandpa Thayer

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    • Hi Grandpa! 🙂 Thank you so much for reading about our travels and leaving such a wonderful note! You and Grandma did and gave so much in life. To us as a family, and to everyone around you. You have loads to be proud of. We are so happy we can share this with you. We look forward to spending time with you in August! 🙂

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  17. Jenna your descriptions of people, places and activities are exciting and so vibrant. You have great verbalization skills. What is most amazing to us oldsters is the ability to have your lives unfold before us via modern technology. Thank you for letting so many people have a peek into your exciting adventures. Hopefully we can also take a leap of faith and do the same in smaller ways:-)

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    • Gloria, What a thoughtful, positive, and touching note. 🙂 Thank you for sharing that! Your encouraging words really mean so much. We are so blessed to be able to share this journey with others and learn along the way. Thank you for joining us and reading along! It makes us so happy.

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  18. So inspiring! Thank you for sharing, I look forward to following your adventures!

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    • Thank you so much, Keri! 🙂 That means so much coming from you! Thank you for reading along and I hope you and your family are having a happy and healthy March. 🙂

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  19. Very excellent web site. Wish I had one. Maybe you can help me build one.,, When you decide to return home, that is… Maybe next year??
    More Later,
    Grandpa Thayer

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    • Hi Grandpa, Thank you for your compliments on the website! It took quite a long time and plenty of frustration, so I am definitely no expert 🙂 I would be happy to help with a website in whatever way I can! Hope you’re having a great week and happy early St. Patrick’s Day! Love you, Jenna

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  20. I love that both of you are out in this world touching the lives of others but letting others touch your lives as well. You are inspiring me.

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    • Maria, Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging comment! It really means so much. I remember talking so much about adventures and living big. I hope you are achieving all that you desire! 🙂 You deserve it.

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  21. Thank you for allowing us to follow your journey. You are both an inspiration. I can’t wait to see and hear more.

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    • Chris, It means so much to us that you read our post and took the time to leave such a kind note. Thank you for your encouragement and reading along! 🙂 Have a wonderful week!

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  22. Your stories make me think about how rewarding it could be for your hosts to share their lifestyles with foreigners who are willing to try and learn.

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    • Ben! 🙂 Thank you so much! It’s so great to hear that and to hear from you. We are lucky to be meeting people who are open to teaching us. Hope all is well! We should Skype again soon!

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  23. I know Joe….and how “ingenious” he can be…always dependable…always “there” when needed most. But I’ll come to know Jenna too…through this travelogue, if nothing else. I too am a “vagabond” in many ways…throughout the years of my life. So, I applaud Joe and Jenna…for striking out…capitalizing on opportunities, being cautious (common sense prevails in most cases)…careful…and carefree. Enjoy the world…it has lots to offer.

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    • Thank you so much, Randy! 🙂 That really means so much to us. Thank you for sharing and following along with us. We hope to continue to capitalize on these opportunities, being careful at the same time, like you mention. Hugs to a fellow vagabonder! (I’m guessing you’ve read Rolf Potts’ book?)

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  24. This is amazing! Hard to believe (and not at all) you’ve had so many incredible experiences and memories so early in your trip! Can’t wait to hear more. Keep exploring, and continue sharing your journey!

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    • Thank you so much, Faith! 😀 I was so excited to read your note. Thanks for sending it with such positivity and encouragement! Miss you lots and hope all continues to be wonderful for you!

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  25. Keep up to Good Work(s)! Hi Jenna, I’m the Joe your Joe used to ‘work’ with, from the East side of the State B4 they hired another new Joe in Detroit (if he didn’t already know – tell Joe, the new guy is Retired Johnny M’s Nephew [& speaking of Nephews & Nieces my #40 [another J = Juliet] was born two days ago!])… Seriously, have fun making all these neat connections. Teresa and I recently spent a couple weeks in the middle of the Pacific. Two weeks later I can only recall two discussions of any magnitude. One with a farmer and his wife who grow Teresa’s commodity; the other with a random couple in a hot tub. The husband took a promotion in his job with the military, to a place (relatively) not to far from where you are now. The wife… it turns out she also just quit the place all us Joe’s work(ed) at (which means there might be an opening in Honolulu, if he’s interested in returning to work for the Evil Empire of I.T. Dysfunction :)… The world is an amazingly varied & sometimes very small place – Make the most of it! & Thanks for Sharing!! XO – J&T.

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    • Hi Jose, Joe and I were so happy to read your note. The connections we make whether home or abroad are so interesting and often eye-opening. Thanks for the tip on the job! Joe will have to consider that; it sounds like a pretty nice location. 😉 Thank you so much for reading and leaving a note! 🙂 – Jenna

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