#NomadicNordgrens January Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

#NomadicNordgrens January 2018 Travel Update

Thank you so much for wanting to share in our nomadic adventures across Europe! We're incredibly grateful to have friends and family who are interested in our journey and want to follow along!

Every month, you can expect to see...

  • 4-7 photos (there's more in this one because we're making up for Nov. - Jan.)

  • The best thing we've eaten that month

  • The most interesting thing we've done or seen

  • A quick note from Hans & Rachel

  • An even quicker note from Banjo (his lack of opposable thumbs makes typing rather difficult)

Enjoy, friends!

1. We saw The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in NYC!
2. Banjo in his Queen Mary 2 "regalia" in Southampton.
3. Our dinner companions on the QM2; Erich, Emily, Ian, and Julie.
4. Our leased car, a Peugeot 308 SW we have named "Fleur."
5. We've fallen in love with classic British cream tea.


1. Poppy, Jasper, and Banjo in Porlock
2. Reggie, Walton, and Banjo in Bath
3. Max, Mylo, and Banjo in Rushden
4. Oscar and Banjo in Ilmington
5. Lucy and Rachel in Cheddington


Now, for one of our favorite subjects...FOOD.

So far in our travels, we've eaten really well. Banjo particularly enjoyed our time on the Queen Mary 2, because he got fresh chicken and bacon from the kitchens at every meal! We've also loved sharing meals with our housesitting "hosts" as well. We have been blessed by wonderful hospitality at every turn, and we're so grateful!

Hans' favorite meal: a venison burger at the Top Ship pub in Porlock
Rachel's favorite meal: fish + chips and cider at the Bottom Ship pub in Porlock Weir

1. The view of Porlock + the surrounding fields from one of our walks.
2. The "dreaming spires" of Oxford University.
3. Bletchley Park, home of the codebreakers during WWII.
4. Advent candles in St. Dubricius Church in Porlock.

When it comes to interesting things to see and do...our brains feel a bit like over-soaked sponges. There are simply TOO MANY amazing, significant, historic, stunningly gorgeous places to visit in one lifetime! It's impossible to pick favorites, but if we had to...

Hans' favorite: our long walks on the moors surrounding Porlock in Exmoor
Rachel's favorite: anything and everything to do with Oxford

Most of all, we're really grateful that we're in a season of our lives where we can travel around Europe like this. This has been the thing at the top of our "Bucket List" since we got married, and (as some of you know) the last season of our lives definitely reminded us that we don't always have as much time as we think we do. We have been deeply thankful to have met such lovely people (and animals!) along the way, too.

There are lots of purposes to this trip, but these are the big ones...

  • Figure out where "home" is (what sort of place do we want to settle down in?)

  • Have adventures we'll still be talking about when we're 80

  • Reconnect with who we are as individuals and as a couple

  • See as much of Europe as we possibly can!

And now, the reason you are REALLY here...a note from Banjo:


Uruope smellz funee sometimez. Der are lots of doggee bumz 2 sniff. I lik it when my hoomans take me 2 pubz. Lots of nise peeple huv pet me and geeven me treets. Dey call me a purdy doggee and my hoomans say "thank you" like dey made me or sumthing. I miss my freends Randee and Oloover from the beeg boat. I doont huv 2 weer a leesh as much and dats nise. My hoomans doont let me sleeps on der bed anymoor. Boo.

It's terrific fun to relive our adventures! Hans and I keep pinching ourselves...how crazy is it that this is our life? Traveling Europe together with our dog in tow? We're so grateful for the ability and opportunity to travel, and see this part of the world that we've been in love with from afar for so long. We are determined to make the most of our time here before heading back to the States in December.

What do YOU think are some of the purposes of travel? Let's talk in the comments!

On Being Italian by Rachel Nordgren


Well, I know I said in this post that my next several blog installments would be sharing the story of where I've been in the past year and a half. However, let's be honest: it's a lot of heavy stuff. So, I've decided to mix in some lighter fare. This is so that neither you or I get overwhelmed with the weight of grief and brokenness that much of my life has embodied in the last 18 months.

Much of life is a tension between the heavy and the light, yes?

I think the good Lord saw fit to only make me 1/4 Italian, because He knew I might burn the world down if I was anything more. The taciturn German and reserved English blood that also flows through my veins does just enough to counteract the passion and fire of that 1/4 of Italian that I don't get into trouble too often.

"Too often" being the operative (and perhaps generous) term.

One time, Hans and I were in an IKEA in Chicago, heading down an escalator in the middle of the store. This particular IKEA was four octagon-shaped floors stacked on top of one another, like donuts, with the center completely open. Echoing off the walls of that atrium were the resounding, pointed, impassioned, white-hot words of an outraged Italian woman. She was unleashing a thunderstorm on her decidedly standoffish husband, hand gestures striking the air around her like lightning, the beauty of the Italian language being wielded as a force of nature.

I can only assume that she had just discovered her husband had taken a lover, or that he disagreed with her taste in table lamps. One of the two.

"See?" I leaned over to Hans and whispered, "That's what it would be like if I was full-blooded."

He slowly turned to me, stoic cornflower blue Swedish eyes wide with terror.

In college, I spent several semesters teaching a girls' Bible Study and quickly became notorious for my expressive hand gestures. Once, my girls challenged me to teach an entire lesson without talking with my hands. I sat on my metacarpals and stuttered through about two sentences before they wriggled free to make a dramatic point about the theological implications of Ephesians 2:4

My paternal grandmother was 100% Italian, and her family came to America on the boat sometime in the 1800's. Apparently, her grandmother refused to learn English after they arrived. Flat out refused. I remember my father telling me that story, and I remember laughing and saying, "Ah-ha! So, what you're telling me is that I come from a long line of stubborn Italian women?"

He let out a deep sigh and said that explained a lot.

After Hans and I moved in with my Dad, my husband occasionally witnessed the natural phenomenon known as two Italians getting in an argument. My Dad and I can duke it out with the best of them, flaring our tempers at each other like two indignant beta fish. Hans, whose unflappable German/Swedish demeanor had very little context for this sort of behavior until he met me, was pretty sure we'd get booted out on more than one occasion.

We weren't. Being Italian, our family foundations take a lot more than a shouting match to be shaken.

I cannot say with any truth or humility that one culture is better than another. That's egregious ethnocentrism and biased bigotry. My husband's stoical Swedishness may occasionally make my head ache from the centripetal force of my rolling eyes, but being married to him is also like having an anchor in the unpredictable seas of Italian emoting. To him, my appetite for resolving an argument as quickly as possible can occasionally read like I'm trying to pick a fight, but it means that nothing gets swept under the rug to fester in silence.

This, I think, is a tiny lesson in the importance of getting outside our cultural bubbles: we learn that our way is not the only way. We see the good and the beauty in the ways that other people live and love, and we respect that which we cannot fully comprehend. We strengthen our muscles of empathy and understanding and soul-modesty, and I think we become better human beings for the effort.

So, while being Italian is one of my favorite parts of myself - it's the tigers in my blood, the fire in my belly, the razor's edge on my wit - may it only lay claim to a portion of my life.

Let there be room enough left over for the girl who still has so much to learn.

Hello by Rachel Nordgren


It’s me.

I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet.

Perhaps I am stretching my own self-importance by surreptitiously putting myself in the same category as Adele, but whatever. I have Adele feels and someone on Instagram commented to the same effect, so WE GONNA ROLL WITH IT.

For some of you, this might be the first time visiting my site. For others, you’ve been around since I was blogging at Our Yellow Door. Whoever you are and however you got here: thank you for coming. Really. You make coming back to the Internet a sweet and significant thing.

Part of “coming back” means telling you where I’ve been, which will encompass the next several posts. For me, the process of writing about what happened is intrinsically linked to the process of moving forward, and even if these words are never read by a single soul, they’re necessary and healing for me to write.

When my Mom unexpectedly went home to glory in July of 2016, my entire world viciously imploded. Full stop. Everything that wasn’t basic survival immediately got put on the back burner.

Then Hans and I sold our home and moved to be with my Dad.

Then the 2016 Election happened, and something like 80% of white evangelicals voted for a person who spews rhetoric that is (among many things) racist, sexist, xenophobic, nationalistic, and demonstrably false.

Then I had a series of anxiety attacks that culminated in a mental breakdown that coincided nicely with my already-struggling marriage just about crumbling to bits.

I went from grief to grief; grieving the loss of my Mom, grieving the loss of the person my Dad was before my Mom died, grieving the loss of the life Hans and I had been building, grieving the loss of a country and a faith I thought I knew, grieving the loss of who I thought I was and the loss of what I thought my marriage was going to be.

It takes more than a couple glasses of wine and a good night’s sleep to bounce back from all that, my friends.

Different people are able to manage stress in different ways and to different capacities. I’m sure plenty of people would have cracked long before I did, and plenty more people would have been able to cope much better than I did. For better or worse, though, that season is now an inextricable part of my story.

A few months ago I was listening to the For the Love Podcast episode where Jen Hatmaker interviewed Dr. Brené Brown, and they talked about the question of “oversharing” in today’s social media culture. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation that resonated so deeply with me:

Brené: I ask myself - [in regards to] the overshare question is: “What is your intention for sharing?”
And so I think one of the things that's happened is; so I have a line for what I share. I will share what's vulnerable in my life. I will not share what's intimate in my life, because that is not for public consumption. When I share what's vulnerable in my life, when I share the stories of failure, when I share the stories, you know the first book that Penguin bought; that self-published book that Penguin bought, was a complete failure. I write about that in Rising Strong. I share that, because I never share a story, that when my healing from that story depends on an audience reaction.
Jen: That's good.
Brené: Ever. So by the time I share something with an audience, I have processed it. I have healed from it, and I am as close to being immune to what the public thinks about it as one could be.  I think what we see happening is, you know, because I believe we share our stories with people who've earned the right to hear them. (emphasis mine)

As close as is humanly possible, I am immune to what you think about that chapter in my story. I'm not sharing these words because I require your affirmation or validation in order to heal; I'm sharing because the healing has happened, and now it's time to move forward.

My healing has happened through the gifts of time, silence, space, travel, (that sounds like a movie trailer for Star Wars, but I digress) and really good people…people who earned the right to bear witness to the intimate parts of my story by staying present even when I was a flaming hot mess. They gave and gave and gave to me through a season where I had basically nothing to give in return. Grateful is too small a word.

Now, on the other side of that season, YOU are free to read my words for what they are: an offering. This is my intention: I want to offer these words to you freely, without needing anything in return.

I know some of you have wondered how I’m doing and if I would ever come back. These words are for you, because I do owe you a bit of an explanation for dropping off the face of the planet.

I know some of you are walking through seasons of your own darkness and pain and doubt. These words are for you, because sometimes knowing that someone else survived the ache is enough to give you the strength to get out of bed, or feel a sense of solidarity when you can’t.

I know some of you are anxious to hear about Hans and I’s travels in Europe. These words are for you, because how we ended up here has a good deal to do with what we went through back there.

Like I said earlier, I’m so grateful that you’re here. Thank you for giving me something to “come back” to, and thank you for reading, and thank you for wanting to see what’s next.

Like Johnnyswim says, “I don’t know what’s coming, but I know it’s gonna be good.”

July 20, 2016 by Rachel Nordgren


My Mother, Becky Clayton Smyth, went home to glory on
July 20th, 2016.

One and a half years ago today.

What happened that day, and what happened in the many days that followed, was intensely painful and intensely private. The last piece of public writing I penned was my speech at my Mother’s memorial service. I would share other splinters here and there, when the process of drawing that days’ thorn of grief from my heart didn’t consume every last bit of my energy. Most days it was easier to be silent.

I can now say that season “was” instead of “is.” Enough time and space have passed (crossing an ocean helps) that I am able to write these words as someone who has walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Grief is a permanent alteration of the soul, yes, but eventually, you get to a place where the wounds have turned to scar tissue and you can move again.

Writing here about my Mom’s death and the excruciating process of grief has not, as you may imagine, been something I’ve been looking forward to. For me, however, it is an essential element of healing, an Ebenezer, an offering to mark the point in the road where a new journey began.

July 18, 2016

My phone buzzed; a call from my Mom.

I remember exactly where I was sitting. She was calling just to check in, see how we were doing, ask how the tiny house was coming along. It had been a while since we’d all seen each other, so she asked if she and my Dad could come up to Topeka that weekend to help us paint the tiny house. Our calendar was miraculously clear; she said she’d talk with my Dad that night and get back to me.

How thankful I was in that moment to have a Mom who wanted to spend time with me, wanted to be a part of this thing Hans and I were building together. My Mother and I hadn’t exactly had an “easy” relationship…she and I were exceptionally different women with exceptionally different personalities. Most of my teen years saw her and I navigating logjams with each other. The years since Hans and I’s wedding day hadn’t been total smooth sailing, either.

My Mom and I had been talking on the phone a few months earlier, and she’d said that she was realizing that Hans was very different than my Dad, and our marriage was going to look different than theirs, and that was okay. I was learning to be my own person, to not be dependent on her approval. She was learning to let me. I’d put brief boundaries in place, needing the space to sort out my marriage and myself. We were, I hope, beginning the process of building a genuine friendship.

I hung up, went on about my day.

That night I slept fitfully, unable to rest, something within my spirit winding tight. My Dad told me later that my Mom’s pain had started late in the afternoon on the 18th, and it had grown steadily worse until around midnight, when she’d stood in the downstairs living room and told my Dad she was pretty sure she needed to go to the ER.

I remember walking into the downstairs guest room after we got back from the hospital…the room where my Mom had been trying to sleep. She’d gone downstairs so that she wouldn’t disturb my Dad if she’d needed to get up in the night. The bunched up blanket tossed aside, the heating pad lying limp on the sheets, her socks like two crumpled white fists on the floor. Small proofs of her last night in her home, things she thought she’d be able to straighten out, the ripples of her life as she left this world.

July 19, 2016

I was sitting at my desk in our home in Topeka that morning. I’d just started a new online job and I was in a video chat with two of my co-workers, training.

My phone buzzed; a text from my Dad.

“I’m with your Mom in the ER.”

Mat Kearney is right, we’re all one phone call from our knees.

“She’s having pain in her abdomen.”

I stumble through an apology to my brand new co-workers, tell them I have to go, swat the laptop shut, throw some things in a bag. I’m on the road to Wichita 15 minutes later.

I called my father in the car, called Hans, frantically texted a few friends. I looked up the hospital and called the nurses’ desk, asked if someone could make sure my Dad ate something. My Mom is his whole world, and this has not been expected, and I know he is starting to spiral. “I’m scared,” he told me on the phone. My father, who worked in law enforcement for nearly 30 years and served a tour in Afghanistan, he is never scared, but I can hear the thinness in his voice, a smallness, a trembling fragility that frightens me. “They’re asking me to sign all these papers,” he says. “They don’t know for sure what’s going on.”

I drive faster.

The day is a blur. I arrive at the hospital a bit after noon. My Mom is groggy with pain medicine. She asks me to make sure I do something with the ham in the fridge at home before it goes bad. There are friends from my parent’s small group that sit in the waiting room with us. My father frets, paces. I text my Mother’s four older sisters, parroting what the doctors are telling us, trying to distill the complicated language into something I can tap out on a keyboard.

I remember when the doctor turned to my father and I and told us that she had about a 50/50 shot. The sound of the swear word eked out of me like a deflating balloon. I stumbled to a chair, felt the violent seismic wave of shock slam into my body, ricocheting from my head to my heart, bile rising in my throat, my hands shaking uncontrollably. I watched my father crumple.

Hans arrives a few hours later, holding a vase of flowers from our garden. My Mom never sees them. They sit in the waiting room because doctors and nurses are coming and going from my Mom’s room and there’s no good place to set them in there. We call my sister; she talks on the phone to my Mom for a few moments. My Dad doesn’t want her making the drive from Topeka (in a wry twist of irony, she and Hans and I all come from Topeka in three separate cars) but I tell her she needs to, and she promises to call every half hour to check in.

Friends surround us. They come in shifts, bringing food we barely touch, praying, pacing with us. My former youth pastor, now an associate pastor at the church my parents go to, stays with us all night. I stutter out a few posts on social media, field a volley of text messages and phone calls. This is one of the few times I am deeply appreciative of Facebook. There are people from every circle of our lives, people I’ve never met, people from my online community, people from every corner of the world that are praying praying praying for my mother, for us.

Even though it feels like God Himself is silent, His people’s words buoy us in this black sea of uncertainty.

I tuck my Dad into a reclining chair to try and get some sleep, and he keeps asking for blankets. “I can’t warm up,” he tells me. This is the man who happily wears shorts in December. A running joke in our household is that my Mom tries to warm up her freezing feet by playing footsy with him under the covers at night. The shock is shivering, physically bone-chilling, all-encompassing. Every minute, each passing of 60 seconds, feels like army-crawling uphill through a foot of mud in the freezing rain.

Each time I go to the bathroom, it feels like a lifetime has passed since I last saw myself in the mirror.

July 20, 2016

They do an emergency surgery in the middle of the night to try and relieve the pressure in her abdomen. She doesn’t crash, but her blood pressure won’t stay where it needs to. We wait; they start filtering her blood because her kidneys aren’t working properly. She’s unconscious. The doctors tell us there could be a chance of brain damage.

I wander out to a different waiting room as the sun is coming up, needing a moment to try and breathe, to try and comprehend. A dear friend of my Mother’s is there, needing to get away from everyone else too. We stare out the window as the sun rises and watch tiny pairs of headlights putter along on the streets below. “How could the sun be rising?” we ask each other.How can the rest of the world be going on as if nothing is wrong, when our world has come to such a thundering halt?”

The medical team gathers my family into a meeting room. A few friends come as well, to hold us together because Lord have mercy…we are fracturing, brittle with anguish. The doctors gently tell us they’ve done all they can. We are asked to decide whether or not to take her off the machines that are keeping her body alive.

I clutch the arms of the chair I’ve folded myself onto, needing something to hold onto as the furious pitch and yaw of this absurd reality crashes into me over and over again.

This feels like a roller coaster we cannot get off of. Things are moving too fast and we don’t have time to catch up, to fully fathom what is happening. Our brains have a 48-hour jetlag, stuck in an existence where my Mother is perfectly healthy and coming to help us paint the tiny house on Saturday. Her closest sister, in age and geography, is driving from Kansas City, but it doesn’t look like she will make it in time to say goodbye.

The nurses gently tell us to say our goodbyes. My Dad, who has loved my Mom with the fiercest and loveliest of devotion for 32 years, kisses her goodbye and tells her he loves her for the last time this side of heaven. I tell her that she would have made a fantastic grandmother, that I love her, that I promise to take care of our family. I tell her I wish we’d had more time. The grief wells up from the subterranean depths of my spirit, and there is nothing left to do but weep.

The technicalities of my Mother’s death are not things that I like to dwell on. But it’s necessary for the sake of telling this story. Essentially, a gallstone came loose from her gallbladder, blocked a duct to her pancreas, and set off a horrible chain reaction of events, which culminated in all of her vital organs shutting down one after another.

She went from perfectly healthy to home in glory in less than 48 hours.

Someone finds a CD player and an album of hymns; they play softly in the corner of the room as the nurses quietly start removing the machines. The small band of friends that have gathered with us in the waiting room follows us down the hall, through the heavy doors, to her room. We surround her, a cloud of witnesses. “My Mom loves hymns,” I tell these earthly saints, “and I want us to sing her Home.” A dear friend standing next to me begins, her voice clear and pure. We hold my Mother’s hands. I will never forget the sound of our singing…it is hauntingly beautiful, sorrowfully holy, filling that thin and sacred place where heaven and earth convene. One friend watches the monitor, tells me later that he saw her heart beating when we were singing, and that it would fall silent between songs. We sing Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Come Thou Fount. My voice falters on the line, “And I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at Home.”

A little after 1 pm, she is with the angels.

The cry that rips from my body is raw, guttural.