What would this cost in the US?


Sometimes I think about these things.

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3 peaches, 6 pears, 2 tomatoes (one is from my garden) for under $3.


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Three, beautifully ripe, ready to eat that day, pears for less than 60 cents US.

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Post cataract surgery eye drops 45 Euros, roughly  $50.  And this was without any insurance plans or copays or whatever hoops one has to jump through to get drugs in the US.

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4 ornamental cabbage 10,00 Euros or $11.20

16 pansies 8,50 Euros or $9.50.

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 Two delicate, sweet heads of romaine lettuce less than .50.


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Large, scary Halloween spiders on the outside of the house, Totally FREE!


We will be in the US in the next few weeks so I guess I will be able to answer my question.  Friends arrive to take care of Nerone so he is all set.  We plan lots of eating and visiting.   So I might not be posting as much but I’ll catch up.






I’ve got the good stuff


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Freshly pressed olive oil.  It is so special and different. 


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Our friends Tania and Keith are exporting it to the US.  Time to get your order in how.


Let the knitting begin


Here in Italy, our main source of news is the BBC.  While I don’t watch it every day, this past summer it has been hard to ignore the growing and serious crisis happening in many European countries with the influx of immigrants.  My grand parents (like many of yours) were immigrants.  My Grandfather left home, by himself, at the age of 12.  Every time I see a young child slogging along on a forced march or being plucked out of the sea, tears form in my eyes.  I felt like I had to do something.

Back in July, even though it was hot I knew that cold weather would be coming soon.  Those little children would need hats.  So I turned to the internet and looked for easy crochet lessons.   As a child I had crocheted.  I remember enjoying it and finishing some items.  I bought a crochet hook and some yarn.  I watched videos.  I looked at step by step instructions.  And I couldn’t figure it out. I reached out to my favorite crochet folks, daughter Maria and friend Melissa.  They tried to help but could have replied back to me in Greek and I would have understood it as well. 

Back to the store for knitting needles.  While crochet might be faster, knitting is easier.  So I taught myself how to knit again.  As a child I had tried knitting but was a little too tense/tight to be successful at it.  I don’t remember ever finishing any knitted project.  I do remember that my stiches were very tight on the needle and were hard to work with and that I could not stand that my mother could knit very well and took so much enjoyment from it and I didn’t. 

I did try to honor my mother when I bought yarn.  The directions that I was trying to follow were written by an American.  I had no idea how much yarn to buy because weights of yarn and amounts in the skein differ from Europe to America.  But I did know from my mother that it was very important to buy from all the same dye lot if you want the color to be the same throughout.  So I bought 6 skeins.  Surely enough for a hat or two.  And I bought in a color that I didn’t like.  Just in case I created a masterpiece and was tempted to keep it, it would be easier to give away if I didn’t really like the color.  It was also about the color of a top that my mother had started knitting for herself (when I was in high school) but ran out of yarn before she completed it.  Until she died she carried in her wallet a little piece of that yarn trying to match it so she ‘could finish her top.’ 

Well the knitting began.  I had plastic needles that were awful.  I kept dropping stiches. A dropped stich creates a hole in the finished product.  I changed to bamboo needles.  Very nice to hold and while I still drop a stich or two, it is not as many as it was.  And when I drop a stich I still don’t know what to do to fix it. (I’m sure there is some internet tutorial about that)   

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I find, that like my mother, who took up knitting  to pass the time while waiting for me to finish dance class or this lesson or that lesson, I too can pass time while waiting with Ben for this doctor’s appointment or that doctor’s appointment.  And my goodness, I also find it relaxing!!!!!  And I’m enjoying it. 

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Oh nooo, am I becoming my mother?????  My first hat.


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Here is my production so far.  The first attempts in the lower right corner to the latest in the upper left.  You can tell how quickly I became bored with the color and had to buy something different and then had to learn how to switch from one yarn to another. 

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Think of these first ones as having a ‘Jamaican bobsledder/Rastarifarian’ vibe.  They are roomy to accommodate waayyyyy more  hair than I have.

Finally, I realized that the internet probably had a pattern that I could follow so that maybe they would look more hat shape. 

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The last three, (pictured on the top row, 3 pictures above) look like hats and are close to being child size.  And notice my bold use of color.  But I still have 2 more skeins of the aqua/green to use up. 

This week, hopefully I will meet up with someone who is working with a church group that is working with a group of immigrants and give away the hats and the bags of clothes that Ben and I have cleaned out of our closets.  My hats may not be perfect but they were made with love, care and concern for these folks who have had to leave their homes and start over.  It isn’t much, but it’s the best I can do right now. 

And from a book that I read early in the summer which I am sure led me to knitting…..

From A Life in Stiches: Knitting My Way Through Love, Loss and Laughter by Rachael Herron

At least in knitting and writing-these essential parts of who I am- I can always go back and fix things.  I know how.  It makes me bold.  And it’s a comfort to know that when I knit badly or when I write poorly, I haven’t really lost anything but time- and even that time has changed into something; knowledge.  Every time I fail, it hurts like hell.  But I know more than I did before I tried. 

And knitters are a hardy lot, aren’t we?  We keep clicking along, one stich following another, mistakes noticed and often fixed.  We keep going, just as writers keep putting words on a page, whether we’re filling journals or writing novels.  As Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, has said, small actions repeated over and over, lead to astonishingly large results-stiches become sweaters, words become books.  Many knitters added together become a community, and I do believe it is the best group of people in the world.


Early September Random Pictures


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They did taste a little bit like bacon.  From here in Tuscany, not France.


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Dinah and Allen a long long time ago


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Margaret and Annalisa at Allen’s party


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How many people does it take to write a check in Italy?


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Flowers from Duckappaloosa!


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Look what a good dog I am.  Not even barking at the stranger.  In Civitella.

An Absolutely True Dog Story


Nerone has always made sure that we knew that he WAS NOT the SAINTED SIENA, who moved over with us, even though from appearances they could have been brother and sister.  He would not like to know that they share many characteristics.  They both liked/like to roll in the grass.  They both liked/like to lay on their backs on the bed or couch.  They both liked/like eating dinner at a certain time.  And they both liked/like going to bed around 10 each evening. 

When Siena lived on her own on the ground floor of our house in Virginia she would start a little before 10 letting me know that ‘if that other dog (Hawthorn, whom she could not stand, so he lived upstairs with us) was going to be traipsing through her space to use the yard he needed to do that so she could get her beauty sleep.  After all, she got early each morning with Ben, while Hawthorn lolled around upstairs’….and on and on.  Now at 10, Nerone comes in and starts grabbing at my shoe trying to get me to take him out.  (When Nerone wants something he does a ‘Lassie’ impression, tugging at my shoe, “Come QUICK!  Timmy fell down the well”  But it can mean, my water bowl is empty, my food bowl is empty, I can’t get in the bedroom or I neeeeeed to go out.  It takes some sleuthing to figure out.  For the most part that is his main way of communicating with us.

The other night, Nerone had gone for a nap in the bedroom to wait until I would agree to take him out.  Ben and I were in the living room watching The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  Colbert was doing a ‘great swami’ sketch reminiscent of ones that Johnny Carson used to do.  Colbert said something along the lines of “I hereby decree that dogs will be known as cats and cats will be known as dogs and they won’t know the difference.”  Well, if Nerone had been shot out of a cannon from the bedroom he couldn’t have arrived any faster.  He was standing between the two of us, looking from Ben to me to Ben to me, his head on a swivel.  “What is this that you are watching?  Say it’s not so!”  It took quite a while to calm him down and to explain  that it was a joke.  I felt like Leonard trying to explain sarcasm to Sheldon.  Nerone still had that ‘ohhhh, I don’t know look in his eye.’ 

Since then he has been waking us up (and probably our neighbor Ida too) with this call of the wild wolf howl even though he remains sound asleep.  Or if he doesn’t howl, in the middle of the night he is climbing into bed with us.  So did Stephen Colbert give our dog nightmares?

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One of his non-nightmare poses…, not a care in the world.

Riding with Italians and an Irish man


Our car is 10 years old.  It doesn’t have that much mileage on it, a little over 100,000 which is not a lot for a Fiat.  The guys over at Boninsegni maintain it for us but every now and then something breaks.  It’s a 10 year old car.  Things happen.

So Ben and I were off to the fabric store, trying to get there before they closed for lunch when I heard the car making funny noises.  And then it started acting like I had a flat tire but I didn’t and more funny noises and smells now.  Of course, at lunch time.  I made it to the fabric store parking lot which of course was now closed so I missed that and missed any help of them calling ACI (Auto Club Italia, the AAA of Italy) for me.  So I had to do it myself.  Yes, I know we have lived here a long time, speaking face to face in Italian is one thing, over the phone something else, even worse with a cell phone.  Nothing to do but try.  It is not unreasonable to ask and there is even a menu pick for English when you call ACI, but I kept getting men who wanted me to spell my name and give all sorts of other bits of info instead of just taking my ACI card number.  When the card number is called up in their system everything they were asking me is there!  Why not just start with the card number?  Anyway, I finally got a woman, first thing she said was ‘what is your card number?’  Bingo!  ‘Now, what’s wrong and where are you?’  So simple.  ‘We’ll send a truck.’

Truck arrives.  It is obvious to the truck driver and me that Ben will never manage to get in the cab of the truck.  So the driver shoos me back in our car and hoists it on to the flatbed truck.  So there we are riding down the road like the Queen and Prince Phillip in a golden carriage.

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Well not quite.  Anyway, we are in Arezzo and the tow truck driver refuses to take me to Boninsegni in Camucia.  saying my towing benefit only covers 20 kilometers and Camucia is further away.  So we are taken to the Arezzo Fiat dealer.  Fortunately, George and Jules are floating around Arezzo at the same time and swing by to pick us up.  The dealership is closed for lunch.  They have no idea when they will get to our car. 

We make it home and I send off a quick email to our guardian angel at Boninsegni, Nicola.  He responds…’Send the dealership an email and tell them my tow truck will come and pick up your car.  I won’t charge you for that.’  True to his word our car makes it to Boninsegni in Camucia.  The very nice service manager who knows to speak slowly over the phone with me calls and explains the problem and we agree on a price and they start to work.  A few days later, Nicola emails, ‘your car is fixed.  I will come by your house after lunch tomorrow and pick you up and take you to your car.’   

Now let’s just stop here and recall that Nicola was who we saw after Ben’s unfortunate incident with our first car, when we just walked into the dealership for advice.  Before I could even explain, Nicola was the one who immediately said ‘Martha, I heard what happened last night.  I was just going to call you.  How can we help you?’  And there in his hand was our phone number.  Tell me where except maybe a small town in America would someone who had only lived in the area for less than a year be treated so kindly, so thoughtfully and so well?  That simple act made us Boninsegni customers for life.  Yet even now, years later, we are still being treated like royalty.  And let me not over look the time he came to rescue us when it snowed.  Please click on the link to read about that adventure.



So Nicola comes to pick me up.  He tells me about his travels.  When he sent the first email and made arrangements for our car to be moved, he was in Hong Kong.  The day before when he made arrangements to pick me up he was in Frankfurt, Germany at the yearly car show. (So not only is he providing excellent customer service, he’s doing it while traveling internationally)  We talk about Chinese food.  At this point we are driving on a single lane country road at 40 miles an hour.  Not a straight country road but one with curves and hedges.  Ohhh, round the curve and here’s a tractor.  Ohhh, round the curve and here’s someone coming straight at us from the other way.  I love Nicola but he is one of these folks who turn their head and LOOK at you while driving and talking.  Which is fine if you need to make a point, but when you’re just talking about Chinese food….

Anyway, we arrive.  I thank him profusely, arrange to send my Chinese recipes and restaurant suggestions.  Pick up my car and make it home.

A day or two before the car fell ill I had been up to Florence to drop off Ben’s application to renew his passport.  We are traveling in November and his passport expires in January.  He might could have traveled on it but since we are flying through another country before we reach the US, maybe he could have been refused.  And anyway,  I figured it would be easier to renew it here in Italy than to try to renew it in DC.  The day the car died, the embassy emailed that his passport was ready.  Chatting with Richard and John about going to Florence, we worked out a day when I could ride up with Richard and he would drop me off at the embassy.

In all these years I have never ridden in a car with Richard driving.  I am usually driving him in our car or John is driving us in our car.  Never Richard driving when I am in the car.  As we are riding I keep reminding myself that Richard has lived all over the world and driven all over the world, in cities whose names I can’t even pronounce let alone think of driving in.  We are in their new car.  Richard has not yet gotten the Tom-Tom, GPS, whatever thing mounted on the dash.  As we are flying down the autostrada he reveals that he doesn’t really know where our first stop, IKEA is.  Okay, no problem.  I can get you there.  We arrive and do a blitz shop and then set the GPS for the embassy. 

Now instead of flying through IKEA with a cart we are flying along city streets in a car and  I’m holding the the GPS so that Richard can see it.  He has to chat on the phone.  The new car has this feature of cutting off  when you are stopped at a stop light.  Which is a bit un-nerving until Richard explains that if you take your foot off the brake and it is stopped or some combination of actions it cuts off and then starts again when you press the gas. Any way sweet Irish woman on the GPS is giving us directions which I swear have us going in circles.  Richard is waxing poetic about all the wonderful parties that he has been to at the US Embassy and is following the GPS woman when I screech at him about the limited traffic zone that she (Irish GPS woman) was directing us to drive into.  Entering a limited traffic zone without being handicapped or without the exemption sticker carries a pricy, pricy fine.  (that means there are 2 zeros behind the first number which is greater than 1)   It is only a block or two so I get out to walk the rest of the way.  And Richard flies off to meet John.        

So in a week’s time, I have ridden in a golden carriage, been treated like royalty and discussed dinner parties at the US Embassy in Florence.  That’s the spin my mother would have put on it. 

How about a picture of Florence?

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Taken outside the embassy looking across the Arno.

The car is fine.  One day last week I drove Richard to an obscure resale store and managed to get there with out GPS Irish woman’s help.  We used a map! And didn’t drive like a bat out of hell because it was raining and the Italians were slipping off the road in front of us because slowing down is just so wrong…..

And I know I am fortunate to have wonderful folks who look after us and help out when needed. 



What now?


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Always a question when you open your shutters in the morning and see scaffolding? 

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And here’s Costo with some giant beam and Leeka telling him something…

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There was a truck in the yard.  (so that is where that vehicle went that I heard early this morning….)  And the beam went flying in the air.  Turns out that William was somewhere on top of the scaffolding driving the crane.


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Costo seems to be trying to insert it in the house.


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Closer, closer…


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Well, it went in.  And since that went so well the next day they did another one.  So the roof is secure now.  We hope. 

End of summer garden pics


It’s been a long time since I posted any pictures of the garden.  I just know you have missed seeing it.

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My crape myrtle had a lot of blooms but it is just not as full and leafy as I would like.  Of course that might be…

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because the butterfly bush right next to it is sucking all the life from it.  I have already schedule Richard for pruning next spring. 

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The elephant ear forest looks okay.  It has been very hot and dry here this summer.  Anything being alive and blooming is only because I have watered and watered. 

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This is a new variety of vinca for here.  At the nursery, there were only 3 plants left and I didn’t think I would like the color but once I got the plants in the garden they really brightened up the place and look good.  I’ll definitely look for these next year. 

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The impatience look good as do the hostas.  In related garden news, in less than a day, 3 of the 8 chickens in the 2 flocks that are on the grounds (not any of Richard’s chickens) were beheaded.  Now the chickens are no longer allowed to roam free and are under tight security and away from my garden.  So I will no longer have to burst out of the door screaming ‘no chickens in the garden’ and throwing water all around.  The hostas and impatiences will not miss them. 


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The bottle brush is blooming again.  I’m real tickled with that.


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And this pink perennial lobelia finally decided to bloom.  The two red ones have been blooming most of the summer. 

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I have pulled up the coleus from 2 pots in the front and put in blue pansies for fall and winter.  Also pulled up some tomatoes and set out some lettuce. 

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I have a large number of airplane plants and I am thinking of putting them in the ground to see if they make it through the winter.  I got the start for these plants from the ground at a hotel in Nice a few years ago.  And I know that it gets colder here than in Nice but I just can’t absorb all these plants into the house.  It is either in the ground or wintering over in the garage.  Maybe I’ll just try both.  I really have a lot of airplane plants. 

Okay, that’s the end of the garden tour. 



Good Steak in Foiano


We discovered this steak sagra a few years ago and really enjoyed the steak.  Then we figured out that they did a Sunday lunch.  This year the weather was just right so we gathered a few folks and off we went.

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The nice thing about this sagra for us is that it is easy to get Ben to it and the pavilion where it is held is light and airy. 

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There were two different choices of steak, the usual thin cut steak from just a basic beef cow or the pricy Chianina (or Fiorentina) beef steak.  We decided to get the pricy one which was cut in front of us when we ordered and given numbers, 74, and 53.  The 2 steaks cost us 35 Euros and were about 2 pounds worth. 

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Steak being cut.

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This sagra has its own wine with the name of the sports organization that hosts the sagra.

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Our friend Allen enjoyed a hamburger.  Not just a hamburger but one made from Chianina beef. 

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My steak.  The picture was not taken from the best angle.  It was much better than this picture looks.  Both Ben and I brought some home and we got two more meals from these steaks, so 3 meals of steak for two people for 35 Euros was not bad. 

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This sagra also serves baked potatoes and baked onions.  So easy to do with a big wood fire.  Don’t understand why more sagras don’t serve this.

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Of course, Tania and Keith’s very outstanding truffle balsamic and extra virgin olive oil make anything taste good.  Olives will be harvested soon.  Take a look at their site so you will be ready to order  http://www.lartedellolivo.com/

Ida, Mushroom Hunter!


We finally had a little rain.  Ida, our neighbor was all excited!  “Mushrooms!  Martha! Mushrooms!”  She was off to hunt in the woods.  A few hours later she returned.

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Why she had to be in full ‘camo’ I don’t know.  Like the mushrooms were going to run off if they saw her coming?


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Anyway, it was quiet a haul and she got the really cool stick for her son. 

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