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Under our Tuscan sun

Yesterday was a bit of a laborious travel day but scenic and interesting, all the same. We left Reggio after loading up the cheese and basalmic vinegar and hit the A1 again; frankly I don’t think the German autobahn holds a candle to the A1. The traffic! The entire narrow right lane is taken up with wide massive speeding trucks tearing around sharp mountain turns and through endless tunnels.That leaves one narrow lane and the center line for all the cars. It actually looks more like one of those race tracks you see on television with everyone jockeying to get one car closer to the finish line by hovering between lanes and choosing a strategic moment to make their move, darting like hummingbirds. Most cars are smallish fiat types but many are the luxurious sleek roadsters we usually only see in movies. Very few mid size cars, almost no SUVs. The police drive Maserati. Okay, that’s the road report.

We headed south of Modena, Bologna, Firenze (Florence- we will return!) and took a detour to visit with Ken and Other Vicki, our friends from Florida. They are the free spirits who spend much of their time roaming the world and when they are settled in Florida for a couple of months, Ken is the one who takes off on his tiny Vespa to ride across American and fund raise for the small school they build and support in Ecuador (many of you helped last year! Thanks again!). They have been here in Europe now for about 5 weeks wandering around, mostly in Slovenia because they heard by word of mouth (from my son, Dan-not exactly the Rick Steves of travel recommendations but hey, he’s been around with the NOMO band) that it was the best country ever. They found it exactly so and you can read a bit of Ken’s hilarious Slovenia diary here.(well, I guess you can’t- finding and pasting the link is too cumbersome for me when it’s not my computer and it’s mostly all in Italian. I’ll figure out details of posting photos and links soon.) Now they are staying in a small isolated mountain top cottage that is also owned by the people who own the olive/wine estate where we are staying for this week. We enjoyed a cozy rainy day bottle of wine, fine bread, more meat and cheese with them, exchanged stories and agreed to meet up here at Ceppetto on Thursday. Once we got off the A1 to find our place high above the small town of Monte San Savino we spent quite a bit of time lost on mountain roads. We were supposed to “at the very first stop drive through for a while very short until you are then following the signs for the Monastero Benedettino” which are plastered everywhere and point in every direction. When you finally find those good brothers,  they’ve taken a vow of silence and can’t tell you how to get the final 3 km to this place. When we did ferret out which stone wall (“follow the wall that is stone, it is sometimes the low wall and then the high wall” and my absolute favorite direction, #9, “during this way you will find a small cemetery high walls not very visible on the left and the narrow road will start climbing keep you all the way up on the right side”) we pulled into the drive of this massive estate to find one lone girl mopping the stone floor. She promptly said arrividerci.

And so, at dusk, in the cold and rain we were in our accommodations with no heat, curious and puzzling light switches, miles of just picked vineyards and a million olive trees along with some lemon and lime trees, which I subsequently put to good use after a trip back to town for gin and tonic and fire starting equipment. While we were back in town, anxious that we would never again find our way back here, we decided a nice Italian dinner in a cozy little restaurant off a side street cut through the medieval castle would calm us down and give us strength.

And since it’s all about the food: Rich dined on creamy risotto with shrimp. There were pieces of shrimp in the risotto, infused with cream and butter and wine but there was also a giant 6 inch lone crustacean perched on top, complete as it were, and as the waiter placed it in front of him we both stared for a moment and barely skipping a beat, I exclaimed, ” look! There’s his mo..” and Rich interjected “Osmolator! It’s his osmolator! Dee-dee-dee-dee!”  This trip is bringing out the carnivore in me so I had Chianti drenched beef carpaccio with melon and pinenuts. We had sides of fresh spinach and new potatoes sauteed in olive oil.

We found our way “home” with relative ease, decided to skip the wood stove for the night and just cuddle up and we slept through solidly. Rich is still sleeping and I wandered out here to our spacious kitchen with walls of glass to this view.

There is still nary another person in sight; apparently our hosts have left for a week’s holiday somewhere before olive harvesting starts in earnest next week. I’m wondering if I should be feeding the two delightful cats sitting here on the doorstep but all I have on hand is some red wine and beautiful white meringues left from a stop at a small pastry shop yesterday. And I’m having those for breakfast.

Once Rich rouses himself we will head into town and explore the “centro” which is within the original walls of the city, dating back to, I don’t know, 1400 BC. Wait, BC isn’t PC anymore; it’s BCE. Seriously, this place is not THAT old but I’ll do a little research and get back to you on that tomorrow. Ciao!

Before this gets juicy…

I go to the gym to exercise out of the heat and sun three or four times a week. This morning, while on the treadmill at the gym I spent some time thinking about bodies, mine in particular, although I was also looking around and noticing others. There’s a gaggle of middle aged Asian women who come every morning clad in what my grandmother called house dresses and flip flops. They monopolize the stationary bike section, chattering away and watching Regis on the TV. (Clearly, this isn’t like the Eastbank Club, Obama’s and Oprah’s hometown gym, back in Chicago). There is also the usual bunch of young thangs who wear lots of makeup and exercise in spandex from Victoria’s Secret and don’t sweat. In any case, if I’m not in a yoga class I try to clock 3 miles on the treadmill and then about 20 minutes on weights. This level of exertion is just barely stemming the current tide level and I imagined the tsunami if I stopped exercising altogether. My mind drifted to the fact that I’m 5 pounds heavier this year than I was last and ten pounds heavier than I was five years ago. The treadmill is really boring so I did the mental calculation: at this rate I’ll weigh 385 pounds by the time I’m 85. Great. Shades of Gilbert Grape. I’m sure my body is missing the three flights of stairs in the Chicago condo. I typically went up and down about 30 times a day and I also walked a lot more in Chicago, especially around the zoo.

The last mile or so,  I started mulling over this skin cancer issue and the business of exposing myself on the www. I’m sort of ambivalent about it because, having said I would post photos, it means I have to, well, put pictures of myself up here. And not at my best, either. (You’ll note there’s no profile picture in the sidebar and those of you who know me on FaceBook know that I look a lot like a Heron.) I’m not particularly photogenic to begin with but of course,  that’s not really the point of writing about skin cancer. Still. I think the decade between 50 and 60 is a tough one for women. Without effort I was ticking along quite nicely, in a very average looking sort of way, but now things are sagging and pooching and getting blotchy and if I think about it too terribly long it gets quite discouraging. I’m the first to agree that beauty is about inner grace and yes, it’s only skin deep but you know? It’s my skin, my nose for pete’s sake. So there you have it- the beginning of the big whine. Tomorrow, I’ll start with the series on the basal cell and Mohs surgery. So brace yourself. I’m just saying.

Sophie could care less that, with age, she is getting a bit of a ‘cat skirt’- that charming flap of feline belly that goes from side to side when she trots. She’s happy enough, eating lizards and dozing the days away, with a little chase and romp in the evenings. She and McCloud perk up about 630 or 7, have some dinner and race around. That’s when Sophie likes to go out and hunt little anoles and bring them in as presents. The best McCloud can do is snare balls of yarn. He pretends they are big rabbits he’s bringing us with all sorts of yowling fanfare so we go along with that. “Wow! McCloud! What did you catch? That’s a big bunny! Thank you so much!!” Unless it’s an expensive skein of silk/merino blend, in which case I yell, “Dammit, cat! Cut that shit out! Why can’t you catch a real rat or something??”  McCloud remains permanently baffled.sophiebed

Sophie is very appreciative of her felted cat bed and sleeps in it all the time, now that I took it off the luxe cat tree we bought at Petco. Yesterday, after they’ve stone cold ignored it for 3 months, I decided to put the cat tree out in the alley so maybe someone with a better cat would take it home. It was by the back door with other stuff going out to the garage and then, when it looked like trash, Sophie decided to use it. She spent the whole night sleeping there.sophietree

One last bit of meandering. This is a small house so I’m trying to avoid too much superfluous clutter. The bins and tubs of felt have been multiplying as I get busier felting so when I saw this pattern file cabinet up for grabs at the fabric store the other day I dragged it home with the help of my friend, Elaine.filecab(Yes, I have two calendars. One has zoo babies and one has birds.I couldn’t decide.)

It was pretty scuffed up from years of use but very heavy duty and solid (stamped Simplicity Pattern Co. on the inside) so I figured some spray paint was a good investment. Next year we’ll probably haul it to the North Carolina house and put it in the basement (A basement! Hooray! Lordie, do I miss a basement.) but for now, it’s hulking unceremoniously next to that beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright table in the study. Ah, me. But it holds a lot and I managed to get about 8 big plastic tubs out of the way.wool

While I’ve been getting high on spray paint fumes, Rich has been off on a business trip. His business trips take him to places like the Super Bowl, U.S. Open and so forth. Tuesday he went to the All Star game with those beer people in St. Louis. It’s a tough job but I guess somebody has to do it.

IMG00131(He sent me this on his Crackberry. A sea of Cardinal red…)

Onward and upward


While good little owls are busy growing ear tufts, a certain little owl is busy growing fat. All four are eating well and Wheezer and Stretch have taken on that protective air of parents. Wheezer, our foster mom, is poised for attack as she watches me in the enclosure. Soon we will stop taking pictures and start trying to teach these babies to hunt. I’ll do an update on that when “the killing field” is up and running.



wheezer(Wheezer, giving me the feathered eyeball, as I take pictures of her new foster babies.)

 “The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately,” said Owl.  
“The what?”  
“It has been raining,” explained Owl.  
“Yes,” said Christopher Robin.  “It has.”  
“The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height.”  
“The who?”  
“There’s a lot of water about,” explained Owl.

There has, indeed, been a lot of water about this past week. Rain, rain and more rain has left the porch covered with stuck-on worms (yes, it even rains worms in Florida) and my shoes, for the first time in my life, smelling absolutely rotten. This is maddening because you know me and shoes: I go barefoot if at all possible but I have one decent pair of Eccos for walking and wearing around zoos and raptor mews. Now they stink and seem to be beyond drying out.

Bud. I think this will take time. He is in very good hands up in the rehab department at Marquette Hospital and he has been loving all the e-mail with photos and cards and so forth. We all thank you so much. He has an entire bulletin board filled with interesting bits from loved ones and strangers. Bill, his nurse, brings them in and reads them to him every morning and then they get tacked up. So, really, thank you. My friend Cathy, from south of the bridge, made him a little needle felted manatee (Bud loves the manatee) and I mailed that off yesterday. 

I think this is going to take some time and it’s not clear how much time a person has- to be in the hospital, to be in rehabilitation, to recover or remake neural pathways that tell the legs to stand up! take a step! Some days Bud is more tired and wanting to nap, some days he is ready to be pushed onto the parallel bars and work on his recovery. I was talking with Abby and Dan about it and it’s curious. He had apparently achieved a delicate but stable balance, living alone in the woods and the snow with just two ancient decrepit cats to talk to. Somehow, his never ending conversation with them and his curious schedule and his constant vigilence to the bird feeders and lake view, a diet that had to be marginal, household plumbing that we can’t even discuss, biological plumbing re-routed 25 years ago with bladder cancer- somehow he and the cats have sustained each other since my mother’s death. Now it’s as though the scale has tipped, like a bad apple tossed on for extra measure, and everything is all wopsy. His thinking, his feeling, his body- all out of kilter.

He is being cared for by wonderful people and we are at that point where we would gladly sign on for this situation indefinitely (well, not Bud, but the rest of us) because we are dreading any change. Laurel and Betsy are making calls, exploring options and visiting; I will likely go next week from here to Chicago to oversee the moving company and sign papers and then directly on up to the U.P. It’s hard to not be there but I suspect it’s harder to be there and I’m recalling a post three years ago when I said my sisters were my heroes. I’ll update as things change.


Tom Waits has a song, “Emotional Weather Report” *, which is a cool grown-up version of “The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately”  and I find both fitting as I am all over the map, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes when I look back at blog posts I notice a sort of, “Which do you want first? The good news or the bad news?” quality to them.  That’s putting it kindly- they actually read like the ramblings of someone with serious bi-polar issues. Which I don’t have, but I also don’t have a good editor, so there you go.

Today’s good news is WOLs! (Go back and read Winnie the Pooh if necessary…) You know how I am completely enamored of Stretch and Wheezer, the little ESOs (Eastern Screech Owls) I care for down at Boyd Hill? Well, we have just been through nesting season with all the birds but little Wheezer doesn’t know when to quit. She kept laying eggs. Our policy is to addle the eggs so they won’t hatch because we aren’t prepared, with the human contact and dead food, to raise birds and release them into the wild. But we do let them sit eggs and mostly they seem to know when the time has come and past and then they either roll the eggs away or start accidentally on purpose tripping on them and knocking them about and it becomes obvious to one and all that they are worthless. And then they’re done until next year. Except Wheezer kept laying and that’s not really good for her, health-wise, calcium and all. So Gabe, our wonderful leader at the rehab center, got a call asking if we would foster four orphaned owlets and now we’re giving that a go.

allfourowls(Here’s the whole bundle of them. I guess that would be a clutch.)

Today was the day Wheezer and Stretch were introduced to their new brood.Their cardboard box is up next the other two boxes and there are ropes strung about to assist in navigation about the mew. Gabe weighed them all in and gave them talon polish so we can tell them apart. One is noticeably larger and one is noticeably smaller and the comical thing is the big guy looks goofy and hides behind the smallest, sort of nudging the runt forward to check things out. They really are cartoonish. Right off the bat they ate some tiny pinkie mice so that’s good and right off the bat, Wheezer showed great curiosity and gentle interest, hopping over to check them out. This is going to be a wonderful diversion for me, channeling some attention and energy into watching what happens with these fluff things.



Since I had my camera at hand I decided to make it an owlish sort of day and I took pictures of our barred owl, Phantom and our Great Horned Owl, Whoo2, while I was there. The hawks and eagle are magnificent and the vultures misunderstood, but the owls push my bird buttons.

phantomclose(Phantom has a gentle face with a lazy eye)phantom

whoo2close(Here’s a good view of Whoo2’s big owl eye. She, too, only has one good one.)whoo2

*late night and early morning low clouds
with a chance of fog
chance of showers into the afternoon
with variable high cloudiness
and gusty winds, gusty winds
at times around the corner of
Sunset and Alvorado
things are tough all over
when the thunder storms start
increasing over the southeast
and south central portions
of my apartment, I get upset
and a line of thunderstorms was
developing in the early morning
ahead of a slow moving coldfront
cold blooded
with tornado watches issued shortly
before noon Sunday, for the areas
including, the western region
of my mental health
and the northern portions of my
ability to deal rationally with my
disconcerted precarious emotional
situation, it’s cold out there
colder than a ticket taker’s smile
at the Ivar Theatre, on a Saturday night
flash flood watches covered the
southern portion of my disposition
there was no severe weather well
into the afternoon, except for a lone gust of
wind in the bedroom
in a high pressure zone, covering the eastern
portion of a small suburban community
with a 103 and millibar high pressure zone
and a weak pressure ridge extending from
my eyes down to my cheeks cause since
you left me baby
and put the vice grips on my mental health
well the extended outlook for an
indefinite period of time until you
come back to me baby is high tonight
low tomorrow, and precipitation is