Birthdays

 

I know this seems to be a reoccurring theme this summer.  And it is not going to seem like it, but this is really about Grace’s mother’s 100th birthday.

Wayyyy back in June, when we were starting to celebrate Ben’s birthday, the morning after picking up Maria and Spring, on our way to France, after we loaded up the car, after we loaded Ben in the car, Maria and I tried to fasten the booster car seat for Spring in to one of the back seats of the car.  The seat belt mechanism would not click.  At this point, it is HOT!  I am getting more and more frustrated (I haven’t even written about what it took to find this car booster seat).  It is getting later and later.  The house is all sealed up, locked up, shutters closed, pretty dark inside.  Maria says, ‘it’s like there’s something down there.’   I’m looking at her and thinking ‘what?????’ no one sits back there except Nerone!  Okay, I’ll go find something to dig around in there.  So I open up the two sets of doors, turn on a light or two, fumble around in the dark and wonder what I should bring out.  A screw driver could work but then I remember a silver letter opener that I have.  It was given to my parents for their 25th wedding anniversary.  Sharp, pointy, just the thing.  I take it out to Maria and say ‘Try this.  But be careful.  It was an anniversary gift to my parents.’  Maria takes it and says ‘Oh, Hattie’ my mother’s name.  (Maria lived in the same state as my Mother, knew her and would go to visit her.  Maria also came over to help when I was packing/closing up my parents’ house.) Maria pokes.  The seat  belt clicks.  I look at her.  She looks at me.  I say, ‘you know, sometimes when I can’t get something to work, I just sort of channel my father and then I figure it out.’  And she says, ‘ I think your father’s hand was guiding me.’  We decide that we’ll just take the letter opener with us to France, just in case it happens again.  But it didn’t.

So my Mother’s birthday, was this past week.  She would have been 101. Ben, daughter Annalisa, and I observed it a week early at the lobster festival.  Grace and Gian Carlo were there with Grace’s Momma, and Grace’s son, daughters and grand children.  To the group, I proposed a toast in honor of my Mother.  She always enjoyed lobster.  She enjoyed eating outside.  She would have enjoyed being with family and friends.  What better way to honor her. 

And now finally, we are getting to Grace’s Momma.  She turns 100 on August 28.  But since she has moved back to Italy, her birthday has been celebrated at the first of August to accommodate the grand children and great grand children’s work and school schedules.  Saturday, August 1 we celebrated Josephina and her 100 years.   

She is still very active and alert.  In June, Ben and I met Grace and her Momma in Sinalunga for lunch.  I pushed Ben out of the car and watched as he tootled over to the table and then I went to park the car.  By the time I parked and turned around to check on him, there was 99 year old  Josephina pulling a chair out for Ben and helping him to get seated.  It was a Kodak moment.

Back to celebrations for Grace’s Momma.  Grace and Gian Carlo threw a big party.  There was so much good Italian food, lots of wine, a DJ, karaoke, dancing.  The local priest came and delivered a blessing.  The Mayor of Marciano (where Grace lives) came and presented Josephina with official greetings and best wishes for the day.  There was cake.  There were fireworks.  A great way to celebrate a fine life and a woman smart enough to know that she should live with her daughter.  (But I did not take a single picture)

So I guess what I am rambling around to is that while everyone is still here with us on earth, we will happily celebrate a birthday.  (I mean who doesn’t love a party?)  And then, when you are no longer here, we’ll still celebrate! So cheers to those who we can reach out and hug and cheers to those who we can only hug in our hearts.

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The letter opener on the scarf that Maria knitted for me from yarn that I gave her from my mother’s stash. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take out the papers and the trash

 

“Or you don’t get no spendin’ cash.”  Do you remember that song?   Much to everyone’s dismay it was the song for most of June.  I have this, and I am sure it is annoying, habit of spontaneously singing little bits of songs.  And I get stuck on the same song sometimes.  I think that these songs reflect my mood or a an issue that is occupying part of my mind.  And trash was a big issue in June.

In towns such as Lucignano regular trash pick up outside your door happens.  But for us ‘country folk’, to get rid of trash and recycling , you load it in your car and haul it to a collection of bins.

 

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trash cans sagra festa posters 001

From the left, the small, yellow one is for used batteries, the white one for paper, two grey metal ones are for non-recyclable trash, green one is for cans and plastic.  There is also a bin for glass.  Here in our little neck of the woods these bins are emptied regularly.  And trash blowing around or attracting bugs or other animal life is not a problem.  It really is pretty easy to just throw a bag of trash or the recycling in the car each time we go out.  Probably far easier than remembering ‘Oh, I have to set the trash out tonight.’ 

In May, we received a letter.  Door to door trash service is going to start.  Ida (our neighbor) and I read the letter together and were rolling our eyes over that.  Really?  Someone is going to drive all the way up here to get trash from 3 households?  Ida did not receive a letter, because even though she registered months ago when she moved in, no one at the trash agency had processed the registration.  The letter said that I needed to present myself at part of the town government building before July 4 to pick up my ‘kit’.  One afternoon I duly presented myself so that I could stand in line with 3 other people.  We stood in line at least 15 minutes before one of us was called in.  Much eye rolling and exclaiming happened among the three of us still waiting.  I mean, it is just trash! 

Finally I am called in.  It seems that the two people working are each doing one on one consultations about the new trash procedures.  ‘Oh,’ my consular says, ‘you have an Italian last name but a foreign first name!’  Then a lot of rapid fire, local dialect.  Most of which I don’t understand.  And I’m sure she can see the confused look on my face.  So she takes me around the room, starting with questions, one of which is ‘does my household use diapers?’.  Well the word for diapers is very similar to the word for laundry and the word for sandwiches, ‘panino’.  More confused looks (yes we eat sandwiches) but somehow I figure out that she means diapers and am able to answer no.  We move on and she loads my arms with rolls of plastic bags in different colors, a big stack of heavy paper bags that are almost as tall as I am and this very small rectangular trash can with a lid that is about the size of a US gallon of milk, then the key, a chart with the days that each type of trash will be picked up and I am supposed to sign that I have received all of this.  My consular has decided that she is not going to try to explain all of this to me.  I should be upset about this but I know that Ida will help me and it is far easier to do that.  So loaded up, I sail out the door in record time giving false hope to those still waiting that they will be able to do the same.

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At home, I show all this to Ida.  The little brown container is the funniest thing I have ever seen.  It is meant for the wet trash.  But it is so small that anyone would be lucky to get the rind from two cantaloupes in it.  Italians, typically eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables.  This little container will not be big enough for the food trash produced by one meal.  We are both shaking our heads. 

A few days later, after going from one office to another, Ida is able to have her consultation.  She gives me the scoop when she gets home.  Most of the bins pictured above, beside the road, will be going away.  They really are going to come up to our door to pick up plastic, paper and mixed.  We will still have to drive to a collection point to drop off glass and organic/wet garbage.  Those 2 bins will need the key to be opened with.  I forget to ask and no one has mentioned when this is all going to start.  The owner of the property has been to pick up his ‘kit’ but I have not talked to him to know if he worked out whether or not someone is really going to drive all the way up here to one place or from building to building…..

Since these questions remain, I’m still singing the trash song.  Aiming the line ‘and tell your hoodlum friend outside that you can’t go out and take a ride!  Yackty YACK, Yackty Yack,…. Yackty YACK, Yackty YACK…. Yackty YACK, Yackty YACK…. Don’t talk Back!” at Nerone who knows that cats are hoodlums but they can drive? and why would he get in a car with a cat?????

 

Now aren’t you glad that I put that song in your head?

 

 

 

Heat, Gloom, Bugs

 

I was reading an article in The Washington Post recently about how Europeans feel about America’s love of air conditioning.  Here’s a link if you want to read it.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2015/07/22/europe-to-america-your-love-of-air-conditioning-is-stupid/

A large part of Europe has been experiencing a heat wave this summer.  High temperatures in the 90s to 100 started at the end of June and have continued on with out a break.  For us, normally, there is a two week period in August when it is that hot but otherwise it is usually in the 80s during the day and mid 60s at night.  And for us here in Tuscany there is only a small period of humidity each day between 4 and 6 PM.  For most of the time the heat is dry. 

We lived in North Carolina and Northern Virginia.  Hot, humid places in the summer.  We have not been back to the US in the summer for several years now.  I really had forgotten about heat and humidity until we were in France, right at the beginning of the heat wave.  The wonderful place where we were staying is on a peninsula  with a salt marsh.  It was a little humid there.  Ben’s daughter, Maria, did not think it was as bad as New Orleans but I thought it was pretty bad.  The mosquitoes were bad too.  There was no air conditioning except in the big grocery stores and there were no fans at the house we were staying in.  And there were no screens on the doors.  It was a locked garden with a high fence around it, so at night we could have slept with the doors open if there had been screens on them.  And I would have been running a fan for sure.  I longed for air conditioning. 

Back in Italy and the heat continues.  What the article doesn’t mention is that many houses in Europe have both interior and exterior shutters.  Both of which can be used to control the temperature inside.  I don’t mess with the exterior shutters but I do open and close the interior ones by how the sun moves around the house.  First thing in the morning, the sun pours in the 3 windows on the side of our house where the bedroom and kitchen are.  (Added benefit, the sun pouring in the windows does help to wake me up, especially in the winter.)  So when those first hot rays hit me, I stagger up to shut those 3 sets of shutters and windows.  When I finally get up again, I close the two sets on the back of the house because by mid-morning the sun is hitting those.  By 1:00 or so, the sun is starting to come in the 3 windows on the other side of the house where Ben and I have our rooms and the living room.  If I haven’t already closed those then it is time to do it.  All the while, contrary to common sense, the windows are closed too.  So essentially we trap the cooler night air inside all day, recirculating it with ceiling fans.  Then finally open the windows and shutters back up around 7:00 PM or so.  But for the better part of the day, we walk around in a twilight existence. 

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Which is actually a little depressing.  But when you come in from the heat of outside you really do feel the difference. 

At the Esselunga last week, I watched Italian women, as soon as they walked in the air conditioning, reach in their purses (stylish of course) and pull out a long scarf to wrap around their neck.  Protection from ‘l’aria’.  Italians are so afraid of any cool temperature or moving air.  Fortunately, for us, the Esselunga is wonderfully cool.  So we enjoy shopping without scarves.  As I was bagging up our groceries, I realized that I had spent about 1/4 of the total purchase on things to fight mosquitoes.

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I feel like the whole summer has been spent slathering chemicals on our bodies.  In the morning for me it is sun screen.  Applied again, later on if I have sweated it off, especially on my face.  Then as the day goes on it is bug wipes and bug spray.  Even though Ben is not outside that much, I wipe his legs down every day with a bug wipe.  (note the always on bug light in the first picture above) The occasional mosquito will wander in.  But they will not be chewing on Ben!

Nerone had to use vacation time when he went to the ‘spa’ while we were in France.  And now with this heat he is only ‘working’ part of the day.  Fortunately, his chicken friends are not here now so he doesn’t need to protect them.  And even cats lay low in this heat.  So he doesn’t feel too bad about being inside lying under a ceiling fan for most of the day. 

And Nerone might be taking vacation time again in the fall.  Note the maps in the picture above.  We are planning our fall trip back to the US.  Looking for a dog/house sitter while we are gone.  If you are interested please send me a message.  Otherwise, Nerone will need to go back to work in this heat so he can take time off later when we are gone.  Two spa visit for him this year….  or new friends staying with him?

 

 

MISSING from the garden in July

 

Just as June ended and we were leaving for a week to go to France it turned unseasonably HOT!  Mid to high 90s everyday.  For here that is hot.  And it also stopped raining which is normal.  So I sold my soul by offering to Lekka and Costantino that I would look after their chickens for the two weeks that they are away if they would look after my garden, which meant watering everyday.  I also asked Richard and Ida to pitch in too.  The team effort worked well, no plants died from lack of water.

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However, this big hydrangea, that was part of my compensation for working 3 weeks on the wedding of the year, DISAPPEARED!  I am really upset about that. It was just waiting for fall to go in the ground after I move the iris to make room for it.  And I really don’t have 50 Euros to buy another big showy plant like that.  

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This one day lily bloomed and then some of the ones that Richard shared with me bloomed too.  Those were planted on the top of the small bank (above the iris)  to help hold the soil and should spread nicely. 

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The butterfly bush is covered with blooms and has attracted better butterflies this year.  I guess it must have gotten good reviews on Trip Advisor.  (hee hee)

 

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These hydrangeas are doing well.  I am thinking that I might look into a drip irrigation system for these. 

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My first tomatoes were ripe when we came back.  I am afraid that these are the only two big ones that I will get.  The plant seems to have developed a virus.  They made good Bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches though. 

 

 

Shots from Sagras

 

We have been to a number of sagras.  Here are a few shots from some.

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This is ostrich

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I was pleased to see how they have expanded the menu to include more ostrich dishes.  An antipasto with ostrich, 2 pastas with ostrich sauce, a tasting plate of ostrich meats, ostrich meatballs or cubes, filet of ostrich, cut steak of ostrich, ostrich liver with beans, ostrich burger with fries, ostrich sausage and a pizza with ostrich on it which Annalisa tried.

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She thought it was tasty, sort of like beef filet.

The next week, we were at the first night of the goose sagra in Ruschiello. 

 

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This is a very popular one that is well organized. 

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First you get a sheet and the instructions say, using a toothpick, push a hole through the number of items that you want.  (hmmmm, hanging chad?) 

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There are a number of goose dishes, two pastas with goose sauce, roast goose, steamed or boiled goose, goose neck that is stuffed with goose meat sausage.Then there is something called ‘onions of goose’ in a casserole?  But that is listed right above the watermelon gratin, (Cocomero in Gratella) the fried watermelon and the stuffed peas.  All of which are joke items on the menu.  So I can’t be sure if ‘onions of goose’ existed or not.  And looking back I am not entirely sure that we were really supposed to make holes in the paper with toothpicks or not.  Anyway, after figuring out your order then you get a number and wait for it to be called so that you can place your order. 

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We did all of that and since it was still early we waited a bit before being seated and had a beer, allowing Annalisa to walk around and look at everything. 

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The inside of the tent where we were eating had this great hand painted frieze wrapped around in it Bayeux Tapestry fashion. 

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Annalisa was delighted with her goose, which was pronounced very tasty. 

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After wards, we stayed a bit so that she could go dancing.  But she and I both decided that the lead singer was nothing to write home about. 

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Even though his merchandising folks would have you think differently.  Yes, underwear that says  you are thinking about him is available for sale.  

Lobster sagra the next night was a bit calmer.

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Ben was ready with our new lobster dish towel. 

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There was a seafood stew.  Very good

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Gnocchi with a lobster sauce.  Not that good.

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Fritto Misto, fried shrimp and calamari.  Very good

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And the spiny lobsters.  Very good.  Served differently this year, with three sauces instead of the compounded butter that was served in the past. 

Afterwards we stayed to watch the dog demonstration

 

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The folks at the lobster sagra could not do enough to accommodate Ben and his wheelchair.  The folks at goose could have been a little more helpful and please don’t make a face when you see you have to seat someone in a wheel chair!

 

 

 

 

The Last of the 2015 Extravaganza and 4th of July

 

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Two birthday cards arrived in Italy before we left for France and many more were waiting for Ben when he came home.  Thanks to everyone who sent one.

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We were crowded in the car on the way up but even more so on the way back since we added 1 person and 2 more bags and the cool wooden veg boxes that Maria found.

Maria helped drive and we got back in relatively good time and humor and able to go to Tania and Keith’s annual 4th of July event.

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George played the guitar.

 

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There were fireworks and sparklers.

 

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‘Lady Liberty’ made her appearance.  In Italy her motto is “In Vino We Trust”

 

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The next day we were able to take in a sagra. 

Before Maria and Spring left for Rome, on their last night here, we had one more gathering to toast Ben, yet again, with everyone here in Tuscany. 

Wednesday morning, the daughters left to go to Rome; Maria and Spring to fly away on Thursday, Annalisa to help them get to the airport.  Before the crack of dawn, they all hauled out to the airport only to learn after Annalisa had left them that their flight was canceled.  Maria and Spring were forced marched all around the airport and finally at 3 in the afternoon taken to a hotel for the night.  They finally arrived home a day late.  Annalisa returned to us in Tuscany and has been busy spoiling Nerone. 

It was a great event and I think this one picture says it all.

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It was a celebration that he won’t forget anytime soon. 

 

 

 

 

Sagra and Festa Posters

 

A lot going on

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La Capte, France

 

This is the town that we stayed in for a week, to celebrate Ben’s birthday. (If you want to see the house we rented check out this Air b and b listing.  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1005122)   It is a really great little town on the southern coast of France.  The town reminds me of going to the beach when I was a child.  It is a few streets of houses that were all built in the same time period, no high rises, no mass development, lots of mosquitoes and noisy, noisy sea gulls.

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It is a peninsula  with a salt marsh in the middle that is a nature preserve for flamingos and other birds.  The sea is shallow, warm and very calm.  A great beach for anyone who is not a fan of crashing waves. 

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Lots of cute one or two story houses.

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Lots of tropical foliage.  Well maintained and well run town.  Garbage was picked up right outside our door.  After garbage pickup, someone swept, by hand using a broom, the streets and sandy area in front of the houses.  There was a weekly market on our street.

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bens b day in France, 2015 136

The produce at the market was great but so is the produce at the fruit and veg stand a 5 minute walk from where we were staying.

 

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Great bakery too.  And 2 butcher shops that made prepared food also.  The only thing that was disappointing were the two restaurants that we ate at.  Neither was outstanding. Acapulco, the lesser priced of the two was far better than La Bastide. 

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Did I mention the bakery?

 

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Or the bottles and bottles of rose wine?????

 

It is truly a great little town. 

Spring in France

 

This is Ben’s grand daughter, Spring.  She is 5 and attends a French immersion charter school in New Orleans.  And we are the grand parents who took her to France first! 

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Her first real French croissant.

 

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Her first dinner in a French restaurant.  Meeting her cousin Siera.  Ending with a Kinder Egg.

 

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Trying to decide if she should cry or just accept the situation.  I wish I could write this was the only time that it happened.  Who knew it was soooooo hard to be a 5 year old?   And how do all my friends who post FB pictures and ohhhhh and gooo over their grand children do it?  I suspect it helps if you see the grand child more than every few years and if you see them in their own setting rather than dragging them half way around the world. 

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What?  You want be to be in a picture AGAIN!

 

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Don’t bother my Mom!

 

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Nooooo, I don’t want to have my picture taken.

 

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Oh, well, maybe if my beach time is in jeopardy….

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At last a nap

 

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Thank goodness for tablets and movies.  It was a long car ride and she was crammed in there with not much of a view.  And she was a real trooper.

 

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Back in Italy, Maria tries to organize to pack and realizes all that Spring has acquired. 

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‘I’m crushed by the weight of my child’s possessions.’

 

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We all enjoy the roast beef sagra with our friend Lud.

 

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And being silly with Mom in the sunflower field.

It was great visit and we look forward to the next time we see each other again. 

Sagra and Festa Posters

 

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Struzzo is ostrich

 

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Another one of our favs, lobster!!!!!

 

French Tales will resume soon.

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