Only those who have known me for a while know my educational background.  I was a late bloomer.  I did not get my 4 year degree in business (from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC with a great study abroad program here in Italy)  until I was 40 years old.  After that I went on to get a 2 year degree in hotel and restaurant management (from Northern Virginia Community College) and then went on to get a Master’s level certificate in Event Management (from The George Washington University).  Throughout much of my adult life I spent a good bit on money on tuition and books and fees and all that.   And I did work in the hospitality industry.  I spent my time in kitchens and in an office selling catering and in classrooms teaching catering.



And now I sometimes think of those things, and classes, and money when I walk out the door announcing to Ben,


“I’m going to serve chicken breakfast!”







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Richard’s chickens were over for an extended visit while he was traveling. 



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‘Mean Girl’ over for a visit.  She can’t understand why they can’t come out to play.  We must have been about to leave the property.  They were not allowed out unless Nerone was in the yard to guard them.    ‘Mean Girl’ is the one surviving chicken from the flock of 2 years ago.  She has about 3 inches in height and 5 pounds of weight on Richard’s chicks.  So she picks on them.  Hence the name ‘mean girl’.  Richard’s chicks run over to me for protection when they see her coming.  But after a few pecks just to establish herself she pretty much leaves them alone and is content to roam around with them.   When they are loose.  And she is also content to wander into their pen when she can and eat their food, examine their roost, just make herself at home. 



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One night, Nerone alerted us to the presence of something near the chicken pen.  So from then on I had to secure them every night by lashing a chair to the gate.  They also have a house with a door that they can go in to roost for the night that is secure.  That is where all this egg laying goes on.  There were a lot of eggs.  3 a day!  




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But you know what?  I’d rather have these chickens running towards me demanding breakfast or snacks or protection than dealing with a parent who wants to have a blow-out party for their 13 year old but goodness knows it can’t cost that much!



Richard’s chicks have gone back home.  I hope they had a good time.

First off, I missed celebrating the anniversary of the day I became an Italian citizen,  February 9.  And then I missed my grandfather’s birthday, March 1.  But I have managed to realize that I could redeem myself by remembering that today is my father’s birthday.  He would have been 99.  So enjoy a bit of my Italian history.


This is an updated version that some of you might have read before.  Most everyday, I remember the ancestors that enabled me to be able to ‘live the dream of Italy’ full time. On my grandfather’s birthday, I like to remind others of him and all the folks who either by choice or not immigrated to America and helped to make it into a strong country.

Saturday, March 1, 2014 was the anniversary of my grandfather (nonno), Antonio Iaccarino’s birth. He was born in mille otto cento settantotto or 1878 so he would be 136 years old. His parents were Ferdinando and Maria D’Esposito Iaccarino. I know they also had 2 daughters, one, Concetta, (my Zia or aunt) who was 4 years younger than my nonno and another that I never met, Josephine who lived in Connecticut.

In 2003 I began researching my grandparents’ lives so that I could apply to become an Italian citizen. In the process of this research I have learned some things which have brought me closer to my nonno who I never met. He died before I was born. I always think of him when I hear the Simon and Garfunkle song that starts “I left my home and my family when I was no more than a boy, in the company of strangers…” My nonno was only 12 when he joined the merchant marines (Marina Mercantile Italiana). Whether he joined willing or unwilling I don’t know. I do know that at that time he and his family were living in a room or rooms in this house in Meta, Italy.


I have found this house because very dear friends, Tonino and Carmella Romano spent hours researching old town zoning records. It seems as if the town fathers in Meta like to rename and renumber streets all the time.  Only their tenacity helped me to find this place.

So my nonno went to sea. He signed on as a mozzo (a cabin boy). Fortunately, his seaman’s book is still in our family. The entries are handwritten in script that I can’t always read and understand. (Someday perhaps…) So far, I know he was promoted, learned great skills that he would use later in life and four languages besides his native Italian. From the log I can tell that he returned to and left Italy a good bit. Stamps in his book show that some of the places he went to were Greece, Liverpool, England, Marseille, France, and Odessa, on the Black Sea. Can you imagine sending off your 12 year old son and for the next 19 years only seeing him periodically? And he comes back with stories of places he has been to and things he has seen. This is the view leaving the port of Naples that I am guessing is relatively unchanged even today.


He did not always leave from Naples. Meta, the town south of Naples, where he lived was at the time a fairly large port and had a ship building facility. Today it is not. It is a small town with a nice sandy beach and a bedroom community for surrounding towns like Sorrento.


Even though Sorrento and Positano have been popular tourist destinations since the late 1800s prosperity did not arrive until after World War II. Before that, a large number of people of all age groups emigrated from the area to the United States and South America. But our family name, a very common one still remains in the area.

From my nonno I think I have inherited my interest in other languages besides my native tongue. I do hold it against him that he did not allow Italian to be spoken in their house in America. My cousins have told me that he would scold my grandmother (nonna) if he caught her chatting with her friends in Italian (after they moved to America). He would say “We are Americans now, we will speak American”. (Italian men do so love to declare, dictate and proclaim, don’t they?) So my father never really spoke Italian. He never passed that on to me.

I also know, that from my nonno, the spirit of travel and adventure passed directly to my father and then to me. My passport is never locked up in a safety deposit box. I like to have it near me so if the opportunity to travel arises I can just go. And I have a very cooperative and loving husband. After I finally got my Italian citizenship he didn’t mind when I packed us up and moved us to Italy.

So little by little with research, the help of friends and the memories of my family I learn about my grandparents. Today or when ever you think about it, please raise a glass of wine or a mug of coffee to my nonno and nonna who had the spirit and sense of adventure to try something different and create a new life for themselves. Most Americans have ancestors that emigrated. I have been lucky enough to be able to trace mine and fill in some of the blanks. If you have any interest in your own background you should try it.  You learn about the past and look what it led to for us.


Buon Compleanno Nonno!   And Buon Compleanno Daddy!  And thank you from all of my heart!

(I wrote the post last fall, right before we left for our trip to the US which is why I over looked publishing it.  But now I have updated it with spring pics too.  So it is a ‘before and after’)


It has been a busy month.  The garden suffered during the storm, losing 1 big cypress and 1 olive tree.  Dinah and Allen had given me a Crepe Myrtle for my birthday but I had not bought it before the storm, preferring to  wait and buy one in bloom so I could be sure of the color.  And then I wanted to wait for the heat of the summer to be over before  putting it in the ground.  Finally, Richard had some time so he and his roto-tiller agreed to come over and help me expand the flower beds and get a few plants in the ground.



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Before we started.  The crepe myrtle is about in the center of the picture still in its pot.



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This visitor didn’t mind that the garden was a mess.


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Richard, hard at work.  This is the new part of the garden, which is now much sunnier.  He tilled it up and we planted the crepe myrtle (far right) and the butterfly bush, moved the big pots which are for vegetable growing over.  (They were in the middle of a grassy area.  Here,  Costantino does not have to cut around them and I don’t have to drag the hose to them.)  


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This bed by the door was crowded with iris.  Very few of which bloomed.  We dug them all up and Richard tilled this bed too.   Soon it will get Spring bulbs.  (We all know how I love those daffodils)  Next summer it will have free standing pots with annuals in them.


Below is the new, expanded bed.



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Hydrangeas in the ground, out from the tree and grouped together. 


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Here’s where the iris moved to.  I have covered them with bird netting to protect them from chicken scratches.    I would really like to put something in the side of the bank to stop erosion, like liriope or mondo grass or something.  But it is hard to find those plants and when I do they are just too expensive for me to buy the 15 or 20 that I would need.  Daylilies are available but again, very expensive, 10 to 15 Euros a pot. 


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The improved bed by the door.  See the pots hanging on the house…


The overall look is not that dramatically different but now everything that needs to be in the ground is.  And the ground is good shape for next Spring when planting begins again.


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A positive note.  These impatients were the ones in the pots hanging on the side of the house (see photo above, different plants in there now)  when the storm hit.  They were pretty much reduced to naked stalks with two or three leaves.  They have made quite a comeback haven’t they? 


The Update:  What it looks like this spring


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This spring the garden has ended up with a purple/blue/yellow theme to it.  I think that will change for summer to reds/pinks/oranges. 


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I’m irritated about the daffodils.  Not how they were planted (you did a fine job, Thane) but the color they turned out to be.  I really don’t think I bought normal, plain yellow ones.  I really like variety and thought I had bought variety not normal…..  Oh well, there will be room in the bed on the right this fall to add some variety.  Where the empty black pots are these…


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hosta are going.  I was so tickled to find these as bare root starts at Lidl (a grocery store).  Generally hosta are hard to find and expensive.  These were 1.29 Euro for 2 roots and some packs had 3 in them so for less than $8 I have all of these.  They will fill that space  nicely and return year after year and eventually I can divide them. 


The blue blooming plant is a Lithodora.  You’ll have to look it up online if you want.  I had never seen it before.  It is also a perennial.  Ideally suited for rocky soil, hot sun and deer resistant.  It will spread to become a low mounded shrub.  Now this was expensive, 5.50 Euros, almost $8.  If it does well and survives the winter which it should then I’ll go back next year for some more. 


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The iris that we moved are all doing well.  (towards the middle of the picture is the lower new bed of them) Some are blooming.  The ones that we didn’t move are blooming too.  More than last spring.  I don’t know if it is because of all the rain, or that there is more sun on them now or all the plant food they are getting now.  But they are doing well.


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And so are all the pansies.  (I don’t know what possessed  me to buy those burgundy/yellow ones.) 


That’s the garden update.  Richard is coming over again with his roto-tiller and he is going to run it through the bed again.  I have been adding leaf mould to it and there was a nice crop of grass that will get turned in to it to improve the dirt.  Unless it is too expensive I plan to lay out weed block fabric and then cover the area with mulch of some sort.  Hopefully that will reduce chicken scratching as well as weeds.  And slowly, as I find them I can fill the bed with perennials and bulbs.    I am lucky to have a space that I can dig and develop.  Look for more garden news in the coming months. 

I have started reading more and more books on my tablet, getting them from my library in the US.  (I still pay taxes there, thank you very much)  One book  that I just finished was Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux.  It was about China in the 80’s, before this giant growth and prosperity that the country has experienced.  I visited China in the early 90’s when much of it was still pre-boom.  I think I spent 3 weeks reading this book.  We were moving, I was exhausted, not much time for reading.  The entire time, reading it, I CRAVED Chinese food.  Well, the only good Chinese food that we know of is at least 30 minutes away outside of Siena.  There was no way we were going there.  What Esselunga offers, fresh not frozen egg rolls, already made fried rice was not acceptable.  So as soon as I had a free afternoon I made egg rolls and dumplings.


Using wrappers from Himalaya in Arezzo (the same brand I used to buy in the states) I whipped up a cabbage/carrot filling.


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Had to use sliced green beans instead of bean sprouts, the wrinkled kind of cabbage which I can’t remember the American name for anymore, here it is verza instead of Napa cabbage, carrots, some Chinese rice wine, a little soy. 


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They turned out really well and have taken a place of honor in the freezer.


The dumplings had sausage in them too but were not as much of a success.  Alright, we choked them down and will eat them again but the egg roll skin was too thin to be a dumpling wrapper.  Maybe next time I will make the dough for dumplings from scratch and try them again. 


So we had Asian food, Thai, Chinese, a mix of Thai and Chinese, (I have no boundaries when it comes to Asian food.  I will mix and match throughout the whole meal.) for a whole week.  Now I have calmed down and we are only having it once a week.  I have moved on to Moroccan.  Who knows why?    Not because of what I am reading, recently finished Dearie a biography of Julia Child, (set mostly in America and France) Buddy (How a rooster made me a better family man) by Brian McGory (set in America)  and currently reading The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, a Flavia De Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley (Set in post-WWII England). So I have no idea where this Moroccan business is coming from.  Thank goodness Ben is happy as long as a plate appears in front of him.

Well, a craft project.


Renata, the woman who moved from down here made a great show (more than one time) of taking me around her half lit/fully shuttered apartment showing me things that she was going to ‘leave for me’.  Some of which included a sofa!  Really could have used that.  A toaster oven, had no desire for that.  The fireplace set, and on and on.  I murmured encouraging phrases to all of these.  Somehow when the great move came (a two parter as you might recall) I received none of these things.  But she did leave behind a  lot of little almost ‘American country’ types of things.  None of which I wanted.  Most of those I packed up and took to my favorite resale place.  And they happily took them. 


I did keep some framed pictures.  So one rainy day, when I was tired of pushing furniture around and unpacking boxes I decided that I would do something fun instead.  And I made this…


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An actual cork board. 


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I have always wanted one of these when I saw them in shops but I would never buy one because I thought they were over priced.  Now I know why, this took over 8 hours to make.  And that does not count wine drinking time!   It is just hard to cut those corks.  I guess if you did it for resale you might have better craft knives but I didn’t.  Anyway it is made, the frame was free, somehow I accumulated corks and the glue cost 6 Euros.  And I am happy with it. 

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Yeah, one of Ben’s Lenten breakfasts.  Ciabatta toast, smoked salmon, 3 scrambled just laid eggs.   Now what exactly is he giving up?   The salmon on the side is for the dog.  Who is sure that he is entitled to it. 

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They are not the right shape but they are just grated potatoes.  (Package says there are onions in them but I don’t taste them)  Of course they are best when fried but they are not bad baked.  And of course they come from Esselunga. 


Very tasty!


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