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I don’t think I would have gone to Venice if I hadn’t had a crazy thought five years ago that woke me at three o’clock one morning.
I was used to wacky, middle-of-the-night thoughts, but not like this one. Usually I created mental memos such as, “Send Aunt Becky’s birthday card by Tuesday, or it won’t arrive in time.” In my head I would respond, “Okay,” and fall back asleep.
Other times the thoughts came fragmented like, “car insurance.” Those were the ones I hated because I’d lie alone in the darkness wondering, “Am I behind on a payment? Or was I merely dreaming about a late-night commercial with some dancing lizard telling me I was paying too much for my current coverage?”
When I discussed these annoying, sleep-robbing thoughts with my sister-in-law, Sue, she responded, “Welcome to menopause.” Then she told me that she keeps a notepad and pen by her bed and another one in her purse at all times. “That way, if I do go completely insane, at least I’ll have left a trail for the medical community to follow, sort of like bread crumbs.”
Taking her advice, I put a notepad by my bed. That’s why I can still remember the persistent thought that woke me and set this adventure into motion. The 3 a.m. revelation was simple: “You’re not done yet.”
That was it. I wasn’t “done.” Done with what, I didn’t know.
I wrote down the thought, but then, instead of falling back to sleep, I considered all the things I had started but never finished. The list was long. Very few events in my life had unfurled the way I had thought they would. I was too old to start over but too young to roll over and play dead. Such is the muddle of midlife, I told myself. I shouldn’t elevate my expectations this far along in my quota of years. I should be winding down, right?
But at 3 a.m. that particular spring morning, I wasn’t “done” yet. And I didn’t know what that meant.
Sleep wouldn’t return, so I slipped out of bed and made a cup of tea. The sound of the newspaper thumping against the front door of my condo told me the world around me was waking. In a few hours I would leave for work. During the hectic pace of my position as a checkout clerk at Abbot’s Grocery, I would scan dozens of cans of soup and tomato sauce. I would weigh Red Delicious apples (code #4782) and dripping bundles of romaine lettuce (code #4623). I would say, “Have a nice day” more times than any human should have to say that phrase, and I would forget any thoughts that had come to me in the night.
Then, in the wee hours of the next morning, the same thought returned and woke me again. This time I sat up in bed and said aloud, “What? What isn’t finished?” All was silent except for the whirl of the ceiling fan over my bed.
I fell back asleep. My unremarkable life continued at its usual pace for two more weeks.
Then a letter came from Sam, a friend from college who was now the director of an international mission that was based in Europe.
Jenna, would you consider traveling to Venice in July? We need someone to cook at our mission leaders’ retreat. You keep coming to mind. We were given two comp airline tickets from the U.S. so you can bring a friend. The retreat is only for four days. You may stay at the palace the remainder of the week at no charge. Please respond ASAP.
I read the note again. Venice? Why me? Why now?
I wasn’t a very good cook. Sam knew that because I worked on the kitchen staff one summer at a camp he and his wife ran in Austria. But that was during college. A life-
time ago. Sam and Austria and cooking all happened when I was young and naive and had lofty plans for my life. Then I fell in love, and, ignoring advice from friends and family, I spontaneously got married. I had a beautiful daughter and an unwanted divorce all before I was twenty-seven. That was when my life grew small.
Now I was being invited to be part of something outside the small boundaries of my broken, limited life. And in Europe, no less. Was this the unfinished business?
Sam’s invitation stirred something deep within me. I realized that no matter what age we are, a profound sweetness glides over the human spirit when we are included in a small circle by an old friend. It’s a humbling thing to be chosen.
I cried for the first time in a long time, and then I called my sister-in-law. Sue was the friend I chose to take with me to Italy.
She was coming up for air after the worst two years of her life. Because she never had been to Europe, she understandably was hesitant about leaving home, but she finally agreed. We left behind everything familiar about our lives in Dallas when we boarded that airplane and flew to Italy.
Neither of us expected the transformations that began in us during our week in Venice. Our luxurious makeovers started with morning walks to the panetteria, where we bought our daily bread. Our nails were “manicured” by eager pigeons that we fed from open hands at San Marco Square. Instead of cucumber slices over closed eyes, we opened our eyes wide inside the grand, Byzantine churches and drew in the scent of honeyed candles. We meditated on God and life while listening for the echo of footsteps on the ancient tiles.
So much changed inside both of us on that trip. Sue and I look back and refer to that summer as the summer we were ambushed. Neither of us saw the blessings coming. They just came—and kept coming—and bowled us over.
Sue now has a term for what happened in Venice. She says we were “victims of grace.” I like that. Both of us had been victims of a lot of other stuff over the long years. How sweet of God to make us victims of grace when we were old enough to appreciate what that gift cost Him.
Yes, we were transformed in Venice. We both are convinced that what happened to us never would have happened in Dallas. Not that God can’t change a heart and a life in Dallas—or anywhere else—but they don’t have gondolas in Dallas. And for our transformation, we definitely needed a gondola.
Posted March 14, 2013
I loved this story of Jenna and Sue as they discover the charming characters and history of Venice, Italy.
They enjoy cooking for a group of men that are staying at the same Palace that they are staying at. Along their journey, they discover
more about their relationship with each other and with God. They realize that if they just "show up"..that God will help them.
Jenna and Sue enjoy staying at the Palace including sleeping on the rooftop and shopping at local vendors ( and learning more about
speaking in Italian.)
I loved the parts about goodness and mercy being a part of their adventure.
A very good read!
Posted February 17, 2013
Jenna and Sue are sisters-in-law and they are set and ready for adventure. Sue spends her days caring for her husband Jack after a debilitating accident. On the surface of things, she’s a happy girl but under her joyful exterior beats a heart in pain. She’s angry at God for allowing the accident when He could have stopped it.
Jenna is a divorced woman. She has gone through counseling and knows the tricks and rules to help her but still she struggles. She was asked by an old friend, Sam, if she would come to Venice and serve as a cook for a retreat Sam was putting together. Of course she says yes. She invites her sister-in-law to come too because well, Sue can actually cook. They spend a week in Venice, cooking and touring the sights.
SisterChicks in Gondolas by Robin Jones Gunn is more than a good story. It’s more than the story of Jenna and Sue’s wild ride through Venice, complete with mattress surfing down three flights of stairs. It’s the story of God ruthlessly pursing His children.
I have read several other books in this series and each one is a blessing. Each one has a little tidbit I need to know. There is so much teaching about God in the pages, I almost think I need to start underlining.
This is not a new book, it was released in 2006, but it was new to me. If you’re looking to get lost in a good story, get lost in this one. If you’re looking to read a good book and learn, read this one.
Posted January 14, 2013
Over the holidays, I did a lot of reading. The book that I was nearly finished with when I had to return to a more standard schedule of work, school and sports was Sisterchicks in Gondolas by Robin Jones Gunn. I was intrigued by the title. I had recently finished reading The Girl in the Glass, which had also been in large part set in Italy, when I selected it to read.
Sisterchicks in Gondolas follows the story of Jenna and Sue, who head to Venice to cook for a mission leaders' retreat. Jenna's friend from college was organizing the retreat and asked her to come and cook for the group. He offered her two complimentary airline tickets and the opportunity to stay on at the villa where the retreat was being held for the remainder of the week after the four day retreat was complete. She brought along her sister-in-law Sue to help with the cooking and to share in the experience. This journey to Venice turns into a spiritual journey that leaves the women feeling transformed and 'victims of grace'.
The book was well written and entertaining. I enjoyed the experience of Venice through Jenna's eyes. I watched as they fell into a daily routine and pushed their own boundaries of comfort. I liked their references to earning 'badges' for the various adventures, including sleeping on the roof and later, mattress surfing down the stairs. It was really great to watch these women's relationship with each other, themselves and God develop as they lived life in Venice. Jenna even renewed a relationship with a woman that she worked with years ago, through one of the mission leaders at the retreat.
I was a little bothered that after spending chapters exploring a seven day visit, the author tried to summarize the next few years in last five pages. Whereas it was nice to learn that they continued on their Sisterchick adventures, spreading laughter and bringing gifts where they went, it was just too much info in five pages and felt forced. Simply summarizing with the perspective that they carried on their adventures and spread laughter and shared gifts, would have been a smoother ending.
Otherwise, though, the book was enjoyable and I would recommend it.
As I continue to read stories set against various cities in Italy, I will soon need to plan a trip there. I will of course include Venice and Florence on my journey, so that I too can share in the sites and sounds that the women in my recent books have experienced.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah for the review.
Posted December 22, 2012
Totally fun book! I love it!
SisterChicks In Gondolas by Robin Jones Gunn took me totally by surprise, in a very good way. I was hooked from page two of the Prologue. At times it could have been written about me. (mid-life crisis, memory loss) Sue tells Jenna to keep a notepad by her bed and one in her purse at all times, so she can write down things as she thinks or dreams about them so she won't forget. I laughed out load so many times it put a smile on my face. Oh to be able to go on a real SisterChick retreat.
I was also blown away by how much this book also "talked" to my soul.
Here is an example from the book. All the new experiences, tastes, encounters and small challenges were displays of how God could care for Sue more than I ever could. My job wasn't to diagnose her or counsel her or try to teach her anything. We were students together. Equals in every way. Sue and I were victims of grace.
I felt as if I'd just been shown my place---a clarification of my role in our friendship. I had places deep inside me that I needed to examine and that needed healing, too, but Sue was not trying to fix those in me. All I had to do was be here and receive the grace that fell on me.
Wow, that says it all.
I give this book a 5+ out of 5. SisterChick In Gondolas is book full of truth that I won't forget.
I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah and Blogging for Book for my honest opinion.
Posted December 13, 2012
What a delightful book! I felt as if I were there with Jenna and Sue...as least I sure wanted to be.
We are there to cook for for a small retreat group. Besides experiencing Venice through their eyes, we are also privy to listening to Malachi's bible reading. Another gentlemen is from Kiev, and Jenna and his wife have a connection, yes a small world.
Can you just picture these two slaughtering the Italian language? Way to funny when they end up with a bunch of nectarines, instead of 2. Watch what they do with the mattresses....besides bringing them up onto the roof and sleeping there. Ah sleeping outside...now I hope there aren't any bugs out at night there. Didn't read anything about bug lotion. The idea is marvelous!
Turns out Jenna really knew what she was doing bringing her SIL Sue....Jenna couldn't cook, and Sue can! Also so loved the relationships they established with the locals at the Bakery...ah Lucia, and Paolo's.
This is a really great feel good read.
I received this book from the publisher Multnomah, and was not required to give a positive review.
Posted December 11, 2012
Do you need a mini vacation with the best kind of girlfriends? Often, I look for a good book that will take my cares away and bring me to a far away destination of warmth, fun and laughter.
Robin Gunn is knowing for writing the SisterChick series. This series has Sisterchick friends who go on journey to discover a little bit about themselves, their friendship and relationship with God. I had the opportunity to review Sister Chicks in the Gondolas and what a great book this is!
You will find yourself laughing, crying and empathizing with Jenna, a single mother who longs for a vacation. Sam a old friend, now international missionary invited Jenna to cook at their leadership conference in Venice. He also offered her a second ticket to invite someone of her choosing. Immediately, she decided to offer the ticket to her sister-in-law, Sue. The two are best of friends and Jenna knows that Sue has to go.
Sisterchicks in Gondolas! - Robin Jones Gunn
The two set off for their adventure only to discover some hiccups along the way. Not everything goes as planned, but the women learn to trust God and allow him to lead them in every moment. The women discover that God is good and in times of trouble, his mercy will lead them.
If you have never been on a Sisterchick adventure, I invite you to take part! Any of the Sisterchick books are funny, thoughtful and heartfelt. You will leave changed and wishing one day that you will live a Sisterchick adventure. These are quick reads and lots of fun!
Set off for your world adventure! The Sisterchicks are waiting!!
Posted January 30, 2007
This book was a great book to show people how two people become friends . In this book Jenna was invited to go to Venice for a week of cooking for a small retreat group. She decided to invite her sister-in-law Sue. Sue said yes and they went off to Venice. They stayed in a palace with seven other men from around the world. Their goal was to cook for them and to clean the house. Sue had a project she wanted to taste all of the gelato flavors and Jenna was their to help her. Although Sue was passing through some rough times Jenna helped her forget a little. They had trouble everywhere because they heard new words that they haven`t heard before. The men gathered every morning and heard Malachi say some words out of the bible and everyone liked that. One of the men¿s name was Sergei asked Jenna and Sue to come and visit his wife to make her laugh but Jenna new his wife Deborah. One morning Sue finds a bird and she names it nectarina. She makes a nest for it and feeds it. Jenna and Sue where alone in the palace for three days and they had decided to go out. They went to a lot of places and they also gave Lucia a letter written in Italian telling her that they were leaving. They ate more gelato each day and they saw some kids feeding birds corn so Sue decided to try it and the boys showed her Sue was having fun. Jenna was taking pictures of Sue to show her brother how happy she was they also got on a gondola and met Matteo which was their last day their. What I liked about this book was that they had a great time in Venice. I also liked that Malachi read to everyone of the psalms. I liked that sue got to get out a little more and that her husband was happy. I also liked when Jenna and Sue were sliding on the mattresses it was funny, but the best part was when Steph got their and she joined them. What I didn¿t like about this book was that Jenna didn¿t ever get to see the gondolier again. It would have been nice for Jenna to meet a new guy in her life so she won¿t be alone. I would recommend this book because I really liked how Sue and Jenna got closer to each other and became like sisters. I would also recommend this book because it showed me how valuable my family is to me even tough my family is falling apart. The theme of this story was that even though your hurt you have to have a little fun. In this book Sue was hurt because her husband was in a car accident and she didn¿t get out much and this trip helped her get better. The symbol of this story was that its not gods fault that things my happen to you. That doesn¿t mean that you have to stop believing on him but to start all over and forget what happened. This book showed me how to love the person I loved the most and to believe in god even thought I¿m in rough timesWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Sam, head of an international missionary based in Europe, invites Jenna to cook at a leaders¿ retreat in Venice he also gives her a second free ticket so she can bring a friend. Jenna muses that she had not heard form Sam in years and that the one time she came along as a cook she stunk at it. However, something inside her says this is right so she plans to go and knows immediately who she will invite to travel with her from Dallas for a week at a fifteenth century restored palace. She asks her sister-in-law of three decades Sue who has been her best friend of about the last five years to accompany her. --- In Venice, Steph meets the sisterchicks as they eat gelato in Campo Apostoli and escorts them to the extravagant palace they are staying. The two American visitors easily fall into the soft warm lifestyle of gondolas while making pastas for the retreat¿s attendees. As Venetia enters their hearts, they gain courage to live life to the fullest something neither has tried in a long time out of fear of failure and self pity and ridicule. --- Die hard fans of the series or newcomers will enjoy the latest sisterchicks tale. The pairing of two middle age women is fun as Jenna and Sue are genuine friends who take Venetia by storm as they have several adventures and escapades while readers enjoy their guided tour of the canals. Though obviously somewhat like the previous five tales, SISTERCHICKS IN GONDOLAS is a fun gambol that as always cherish the loving friendship between women. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 12, 2013
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Posted April 3, 2009
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Posted August 26, 2010
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