January through March, 2006


January 1
The year ends as I imagine it began... with us peering out at a display of fireworks, spitting in the air far off in the distant sky. This year, even little Mugnano fashions a splash of lights and a barrage of fireworks at midnight.

Far to the left, we glance at the fireworks of Penna, then Orte, then Bassano in Teverina, then Chia, then Bomarzo. Once upstairs I can also hear the blasts from Giove and Attligliano. It's a sorry place that does not greet the new year with fireworks at midnight, ushering in new hopes and dreams and even a few resolutions.

Little Sofi hates the fireworks. A fine mist wraps the village in its hoary cloak, and the gravel is wet under foot, but Dino steps outside to see what's going on. I watch the world around us light up from the doorway and the noise reverberates like shots barreling through the valley as if we're in a war zone. Our little dog cries at my feet, taking little comfort in the fact that the noise will continue for another twenty minutes, or until everyone runs out of fireworks.

So what will this year bring? I'm told it will be my best personal year ever, and I look forward to it. I wish the same for Dino, although I'm not a wishing kind of person. I believe that what is meant to happen will happen, and just hope that his year is blessed with happiness all around.

After a good night's sleep, we walk up to mass. There is a superstition that has to do with the first person you encounter in the new year. This year it's Nando, who's out in the street helping Giovanna's husband. Red plastic interlocking bins cascade down to the street from the front window.

They're taking on a complete restoration of the little house, and this is how the rubble will get from the top floor to the street. They must be doing a lot of the work themselves, although Stefano will be the muratore.

Terzo steps out from his front door to tell us that Dottoressa sent her greetings to us yesterday, during a visit to the borgo. And Nando's wife leans out over the front balcony window to wish us "Auguri!" as does Gianfranco and Luigina's husband from their cantina. One by one, people pop their heads out of their houses and cantinas to wish us "Auguri!" as if they're part of an advent calendar and today is THEIR DAY!

The auguri's continue with everyone we meet. We are embraced with hugs and kisses by people we least expect, but that's fine with us. We're feeling happy today. Don Cirio is our priest, and he sings as if he's standing on a cloud today. If a human being could be an angel, he is what I imagine it would look like.

You know, the homily is the time when we mostly daydream. But on this day, I try to pay attention to the words. "Which words can I single out?" I say to myself. "Let's try to make some sense, to get the drift, of what he is saying." And then he tells us that he wants to talk about a very important VERB! Mamma mia! What do our neighbors care about VERBS?

"Dire is a very important verb," he tells us all, with that wonderful cherubic smile. And I listen as I remember listening years ago at a concert in Symphony Hall in Boston, where the remarkable Artur Rubenstein played Chopin. Someone told us when we were first learning the language to "catch the drift" of what a person is saying, and not worry about all the other words in between.

I'm carried aloft by his drift, as if the words are twinkling notes from a piano, for I don't remember what the verb means. "Later," I tell myself, "I'll look it up." I wonder why this is such an important verb?

Dino hands out a few Babbo photographs to people he sees, but we've agreed not to distribute the remaining gifts. If children are to receive gifts, they must be here to greet Babbo in person. So we'll take out the candies and put the remaining gifts away for next year...

I prepare lentils and sausages for pranzo. Eating lentils on New Year's Day is an Italian tradition. The lentils are shaped like tiny coins, and we've been told signify money. So we surely eat them with gusto. Italians think that if they eat lentils on New Year's Day, they will be rich.

In the afternoon it rains, and I sketch away until I'm tired, then take a little nap. It's a lazy day.

January 2
I forgot all about Don Cirio's verb, "dire" yesterday. But in the shower it all comes back to me. "Dire, dire," I tell myself. "Whatever does it mean?"

I sit down at the computer and take out the dictionary. The word, "dire" means "to talk, to say, to tell or to call". I let that sink in. So perhaps he is telling the lumachese (snails) of Mugnano to talk more, or perhaps even to have more to say.

Why not take a verb a day, or even a week, and work it every which way? That might be a fun way to move further along with the language. I've always loved what I think is the ability of the Italians to speak so poetically and philosophically. You can do it, too.

So here are a few ways to use the word, "dire": "per sentito dire" means "by hearsay",
"stando al dire" means "according to his words",
"detto e fatto" means "no sooner said than done",
"dica pure!" means "go ahead!" or "speak up!",
"dire bene di" means "to speak well of",
"dire di no" means "to say no",
"dire di si" means "to say yes",
"dire la sua" means "to have one's say",
"dire male di" means "to speak ill of",
"dirla grossa" means "to make a blunder"...

Then it dawns on me that the reason it's taken so long to learn the language is just that. So many tenses, so many twists and turns of the language. So my new year's resolution will be to use a verb a week, and try to use it many different ways. Because there are so many fewer words in the Italian language than in English, each word can mean many things.

And so I fear I'll break my new year's resolution even before I've begun...

Before the day turns into night, I'm on page 68 of my sketch book. These exercises are marvelous. I'm drawing and sketching all manner of flowers and vegetables. By the time I finish the book, I'll be on page 100. I hope to have a whole menu of ideas by then. Perhaps this week I'll even move to the studio and put a few of the designs on small plates, plates that we'll take to class on January 11th to be fired. I'm sure I'll finish the book before then.

So it's time to take out the new heater and see if Dino can get it to work. The heater and the scanner are ongoing challenges for him. He is so good at these technical challenges, that I'm sure he'll figure them out, or we'll return both the heater and the printer as "lemons" and get new ones.

I'm laughing thinking how strange it would be to take something back to a store and tell the owner that what we're returning is a "limone", but when I look up the word "lemon" up in the dictionary, it refers to a car that is a lemon as "catorcio", which translates to "a piece of junk". Perhaps the translation is a good one after all...

January 3
It's a beautiful day, so let's do a little work in the garden...

January is the month for cutting back trees, thinning them out, cutting back plants, readying the garden for its spring burst. Dino takes out his weed zapper, but the ground is too wet. The sky clouds over, so perhaps it is not such a good day to work outside.

I spend a lot of time on the new web site copy, and hope that it will be ready soon for us to switch over to the new format. There is also time to do some sketching, and somehow the day just flies by.

Tonight we are invited to the Gasperoni's house for cena. The centerpiece of the meal is a fagiano, or pheasant. Enzo captured and shot the poor thing, then skinned it. Rosita made a lovely thin broth, with small thin squares of pasta, served with grated cheese after an antipasto of mixed spreads on crostini.

Next we were served the fagiano, which tasted quite a bit like chicken. Rosita topped the pieces of the fagiano with julienned carrots and other vegetables. It looked very nouvelle cuisine! This was very delicious, and was followed by sliced turkey and peas with prosciutto, then our steamed persimmon pudding and Shelly's fruit crumble.

Tiziano was put to work whipping the cream, which tired him out because there was no beater. After a long time with two spoons, I went out to the kitchen to tell him we'd have the cream just as it was.

Earlier, Shelly brought out little jars of homemade mostarda to serve with the fagiano. I have wanted to make Mostarda (a la Mostarda de Cremona) but don't know how. She tells me that what is needed is the essense of mustard, not the mustard seed, and that it can be ordered specially through a pharmacia. So Roy will ask Vezio, his pal in Bomarzo, to rustle some up. Shelly's mostarda was made with figs, and what a great idea! I think Tia will love making them with her apricots as well. This is a very good idea. Stay tuned...

The news in the village is all about the new pavement. A number of people are trying to get a petition together to allow cars to return to park inside. What a shame! After all the money and time spent to beautify the borgo, the inconvenience of it all is stirring up some unhappiness.

Enzo thinks that when things are too tranquil that someone has to stir something up, and perhaps that is so.

We are hopeful that the borgo will not be open to traffic, but more than that, we do not want to be a part of a divisive movement in the village. We hope that we can remain apolitical. That won't be an easy task.

On a more fun note, I ask Enzo and Tiziano who will be on the festarolo committee with me, starting right after the San Liberato festa in May. They think Anna Cozzi and AnnaMaria, Gianfranco's wife, along with Mario, Tiziana's father. We don't know whom else.

So as I can see it, we'll all have great hair, and Mario will be the driver for anything that needs being done. Anna Cozzi is the village paruchierre and Mario is the husband of the woman who owns the only store in the village. He's always running around in his car, waving and smiling. So what will I stir up on this, my first festarolo experience?

Don Luca will read the list of members at the festa in May, but I want to get going before then, so we'll find out soon who else will join me on the committee. It will consist of anyone in the village whose birth date ends in the number "6". Might as well jump right in, for I certainly can't avoid it. And I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve...

January 4
I have some new ideas for my ceramic plates. So I'll be drawing more veggies today. As a young girl, I remember mugs and plates with little surprises in the bottom when I've finished eating. So little beans and peas and things at the bottom of soup plates will be fun. There is so much to learn and explore!

Yes, it's time to make soup. And it's also time to put away all those holiday decorations. Except for the lights on the terrace, I'm tired of looking at them.

I do want to get up to Graffignano to find out more about that Sippiciano property. It will be a good exercise for us to rummage around the Comune there and research plot maps.

We watch a documentary on the miracle of San Gennaro in Naples. Such a strange happening this is! The producers want to find out if the miracle is indeed a miracle.

What is believed is that once a year a cardinal takes out a relic of Saint Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. While standing at the altar of the Duomo in Naples, he holds the relic, an elaborate vessel with a glass window.

The "miracle" is the act of the saint's "blood" liquefying behind the window as it is turned upside down by the cardinal. The congregation claps and cries. What the documentarian believes, is that the "blood" was mixed some years ago with a chemical found in the lava of the nearby Mt. Vesuvius. For otherwise, the "blood" would not liquify.

We are left with the question unanswered, but in my mind it has me thinking of Friday's special mass in Mugnano, where the reliques will be taken out one by one. This is my favorite mass of the year.

January 5
I'm sketching again, and now I have larger sketches that we may sell separately. I'm working away at them, because I want to add things I sketch here and there to the web site. So Roy works on the scanner.

The day disappears, a headache looms, and I'm not remembering much. So I go to bed early, and Roy is still working on getting the scanner to work.

Earlier in the day, he met with a client in Amelia on a kitchen project, and wants to give some work to Mauro, the village muratore, so translates a preventivo and takes it to him to bid.

January 6
We walk up to mass, and it is very cold. Sofi stays outside, because in the warm sun with her fur "coat" she is plenty warm enough.

Giuseppa, Giuseppe's wife who sits in front of us, greets me and asks me if I will be the Befana tonight!

Definitely not! I'd need a nose like a witch and a boil on my face. With all this Babbo Natale action, the neighbors think I'll chime in as the beloved "befana". All over Italy are contests on this day for the ugliest Befana. The whole idea of it all does not appeal to me.

My headache is a little better, really much better, and I sketch for most of the day. Roy works on the web site.

For pranzo, we eat a grilled pork loin, homemade apple sauce, carmelized onions and chocolate cake. It's really good, especially since we don't eat until about 3PM. We love eating later in the afternoon, especially on Sundays.

Just after six, we leave Sofi in the kitchen and walk up to the Epiphany service. Roy takes his Confraternity bag, and dresses along with about six others. Don Luca arrives, and tonight the other Giuseppa asks me if I'm the Befana tonight. They think it's very funny. I guess it is.

I love this service, especially the hymn to San Liberato. Miriam sits next to me in the place where Roy usually sits. The church is filled only with women, except for Livio. All the other men are in the Confraternity.

The turnout of the Confraternity members is not very good, but Dino and Enzo are there, as they always are, along with Alberto Cozzi, Federico, Mauro and Gino.

Vincenzo chants his glorious namings of the reliquaries. Federico hands the statues one by one to Alberto, who shows each one to us, and then turns it over to Mauro, who replaces it on the back altar. We have many, many of them. Some day, I will record the whole list. Fingers, bones, pieces of body parts, they are all there. The whole idea of relics is a strange thing. But we bless them, every one.

While sitting in front of the altar, Don Luca has a chance to look around, and his eyes are drawn to the statue of San Liberato. He has an "epiphany" on this day, an epiphany I will recant later...

On the way home, we laugh about the goings on in the sacristy after the service. We feel such a part of this family. It is as though each of us is a little petal of a flower, embracing one another on this, and every day. Bless you, little Mugnano.

January 7
On this cold and clear day, I think I'm going to spend the entire day in the house. But it is not to be.

The morning is spent cooking...a new soup with potatoes and celery and carrots. It's very interesting and tastes great.

But the afternoon is spent in Tenaglie, for the muratore there contacted the man who owns the house we want to look at, and we have an appointment with him.

I love the house. It is very close to the one we're in the middle of selling, and has even a better view of the ruins of the Caparra family. The house is practically a tear-down, but there are more than two long rows of mature olive trees, and many fruit trees. In a tiny garden are what we think are lovely roses and a pergola.

What I love the most about the house, which is about 150 square meters, is the little building which houses the outdoor pizza oven. It is the most romatic looking little doll house kind of a structure, on two levels, but the rooms appear to be only child height. The structure is stone, with an antique cotto roof.I can just imagine roses growing up the side of the structure.

Inside there is nothing much to save. So although the neighboring Tenaglie house is ready to move into, this is a "teardown". Before we're through, the owner tells us his wife also has a house to sell. Would we like to see it?

"WOULD WE!" We follow him around and down a hill to a marvelous three-story casale, on more than two hectares of land and 70 olive trees, plus many fruit trees. This house is a dream, perhaps one hundred years old. So you'll see it on the site, soon.

He invites us home to meet his wife, Ernesta and have coffee. Sofi guards the car. Inside, we meet Ernesta as well as her aunt and uncle, and all sit around a beautiful fire and have coffee. Well, Dino and I have coffee.

I make the mistake of calling the wife by her name, and realize later that that is not the right thing to do. I should have called her Signora. In American fashion, I wanted to let her know that I paid attention when we were introduced, and thought I was paying her a compliment.

Oh, well. Later I'll explain that in America it is polite to refer to someone by their name. And then I realize, what a silly custom this is!

Anyway, she is very kind, and tells us about the house she has to sell with her cousins, all of whom want to sell. We look forward to seeing them all again, and to putting both the properties on the site.

We hear that Tenaglie is a quiet village, with mostly older people. We'd like to work with people to purchase properties in this village. We think it is very good place to live.

For our work, or rather Dino's work of Project Management, learning who the local workers are, and having more than one client in the village, will work for everyone. He's waiting to hear back from the local muratore about a project for the first Tenaglie house, and perhaps there'll be other projects to manage.

We've agreed that Roy loves this work, and I'd rather be painting. So there's plenty of work to go around.

On the way home, we stop at an excellent market in Guardea. This is such a good shopping town. Inside the market, I want a ham hock for tomorrow's soup. I don't know what to ask for, so tell the macelleraio that I want a pork bone to use for soup.

He nods his head, and moves to a huge piece of pork "flesh" (hi, Judith) where he skillfully carves away from the far end. We see a huge joint facing us, and then watch him cut away what we realize is just what we want.

I ask him what it is called and he tells me it is a stinco, or shin bone. I'm really looking forward to cooking tomorrow. And before we leave the market, we find girasole seeds for bread. Earlier, Dino purchased faro grains for me. And we also find excellent borlotti (cranberry) beans. This will be great soup!

We arrive back home and Mauro arrives for a short visit on his way up the hill, to talk about an Amelia project. He and Dino will travel to Amelia on Monday afternoon so that he can see the project to quote on it. Mauro tells Dino that he'll be gone to the mountains with Francesco Perini the following week, but ready to go to work the next Monday. I ask him if he'll be skiing, and tell him not to break a leg. So he jumps out of his chair and runs to the ferro (iron) staircase to "knock" and runs back like Groucho running across a stage.

Dino tells him that in America we "knock wood". In Italia, it's "knock ferro". Well, until pretty recently, there was very little wood used in Italy, so the use of ferro for this superstition makes sense.

I'm finally able to sketch a few flowers tonight, but am distracted after Mauro leaves, and fix the borlotti beans so that they'll be ready for tomorrow's soup with faro. The beans must soak in water all night. This is a good thing to know about cooking all dried beans, except perhaps lentils. And the Italian grandmothers say to never add salt when cooking beans, for it splits the skin. The skins on these beans look like wizened fingers after too much time under water no matter what. But holding out on the salt makes sense to me.

We're still working away on the web site, and now I want to spend more time on the food pages. We have a lot of recipes to include, and now I want to go through the notebooks I have and include a good representative sample. Where do we stop? I suppose I can keep adding and adding, as if I'm making the famous Tuscan soup, ribollita.

There's so much to learn, and probably only about twenty or thirty years to learn it all....

Overwhelmed at the though of living that long, I get up from the desk and its time to go to bed and read for a while. After this afternoon's coffee, I plan to read for a long time...

January 8
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has announced their annual awards, and Rome is the winner for its law banning fish in bowls. We understand that fish are driven insane by going round and round...Wouldn't you do the same? Or do you feel you're going round and round in your daily "grind?"

Here's the award:
Progressive Country of the Year award:

"In the past two years, cities throughout Italy have passed a series of animal welfare laws that rival those of any other nation and set the standard for how humans should interact with the animal world. Most impressive was this year's Roman law banning fish in bowls, halting the practice of giving animals as prizes at fairgrounds, requiring dog owners to walk their dogs four times every day, and banning tail-docking for aesthetic reasons.

Last year, Rome passed a law levying stiff fines for abandoning a companion animal. Turin, in Northern Italy, passed a law requiring dog walks three times per day, and a law passed in Reggio Emilia in 2004 banned the boiling of live lobsters. The city counselor behind the Roman law said, "It's good to do whatever we can for our animals who in exchange for a little love fill our existence with their attention. The civilization of a city can also be measured by this."

When you come back as a dog or a cat, don't you want to wind up in Rome?

We walk up to mass on this very cold morning, and the group is small. For many weeks, Luciana has not been in church. I hope she is all right, just spending time with her daughter during the coldest months. She remains absent.

After church, Enzo tells us that both Rosita and Tiziano are in bed, "horizontal"...He thinks it's funny, and I ask him if he'll do the cooking. Buon pranzo!

We bid a "c'e vediammo" to Ivo, who returns this morning to Parma, but he'll be returning soon, to do some work on his mother's gravesite. We never did get together with him this trip. Next time.

On the way down the hill we're invited in for coffee with Vincenzo and Augusto. On our way out, the Festarolo committee, consisting of Federico, Antonella Cozzi and Marina arrive to ask for the monthly donation for the village festas. We're always happy to comply.

Back at home, I spend the next three hours making a faro and ham and borlotti bean soup. What a lot of work! I'm not sure I really like it after all, so tomorrow I'll take it out again and play with the ingredients. I see why Candace and Franco played with their version of faro soup on Christmas Day. But it is an interesting experiment.

We have fillets and baked potatoes for pranzo, and eat late. We both like eating late...around 3PM. Where does the day fly?

Roy works on the web site and I work on sketching, larger sketches of flowers.

Later tonight we watch My House in Umbria with Maggie Smith, and I am drawn to the subtle painting on the doors. Yes, I'll paint our inside doors this spring and summer. First we'll have to take the doors off one by one and strip them...Roy likes this idea. I still want Livio to advise us regarding our front doors. They need to be restained, but I am hoping that the darker stain that Anselmo so carelessly dashed on the doors a few years ago won't destroy the original castagno (chestnut) stain.

It's time for me to do some work on the site, so Sofi and I come up our bedroom while Dino watches TV. We're going to be behind posting this month, but it's because we are not sure of how the journal on the new site will post.

January 9
On this lovely day, Tia arrives for pranzo. We serve a soup of farro and tomato, and it is very good, although I'd like it to be thicker. Tomorrow when we serve it I think it will be just right.

Dino rushes out early for a meeting with Mauro and a client in Amelia. So Tia stays and we walk around the property, talking about the roses and the bulbs. We then sit with catalogues and decide on roses that she wants to buy. She likes to buy her roses "bare root" and plant them in the coldest days of winter. So she'll go to Michellini with me to pick out some good ones soon.

January 10
The signing of the compromeso for one of our properties takes place, with Duccio standing in for the actual owner. The signing takes place in Attigliano, and I decide not to attend, thinking there will be too many people in attendance. So Dino and Duccio drive on.

I start a loaf of bread with sunflower seeds on top, but it is only after the bread has been in the oven for almost twenty minutes that I remember that I did not add salt. So I open the oven and spread salt on top. What a strange thing for me to forget to do!

We hear no church bells announcing the funeral of Angelina, the 92 year old woman who is the aunt of Marieadelaide. We don't know who she was, but probably would have been able to recognize her.

Roy calls me from Attigliano to tell me that the funeral has taken place, and the procession already begun. So Sofi and I walk down to the end of the path to wait for her and her cortege to walk by.

In front are the women, my colleagues in Cattolica Accion, holding sprays of fresh flowers wrapped in clear plastic. I see them sneak a look at me out of the corner of their eyes. Many give me a nod.

But while I wait for them to walk by, so that I can say goodbye, a man drives up and I put my hand out to tell him there is a funeral coming. He drives up to the planters near Giustino's and walks back to me. Thinking that I am waiting for him, he starts a conversation. But who is he?

No, I am not the daughter of Donata. She is waiting for him in Mugnano, So he walks on. Just then, Tiziano and Rosita drive up. The car is now behind Enzo and others on foot behind Don Luca. I ask Tiziano who the Angelina was, and I don't recognize her family name. Nor do I recognize anyone in the group except Marieadelaide.

So Sofi and I walk home, and finish preparing pranzo for Duccio and Dino and me. I prepare a chocolate cake, the same recipe I have prepared dozens of times. But I don't add the third egg. There are two eggs in one container and a container of six sitting next to it.

I bring both containers out to the counter, but am distracted again before I open the second package. Even though the mixture looks strange and not puffy enough, I don't realize that one egg is missing.

When the cake comes out, it is denser, and perhaps a little crustier. What is going on with me? I feel a bit distracted, but otherwise am fine. So I take the soup out from the loggia and put it on the stove to heat. Its consistency is thicker, and I think just right. So fixing the meal proceeds apace.

With an hour or so before Duccio arrives for pranzo, I sit and sketch. Tomorrow is my class day, and I so look forward to painting again.

Duccio arrives and we have a lovely time, hearing about Duccio and Giovanna's trip to Jordan. Before he leaves, we all take a look at the ruin that is the far wall before San Rocco. I want the huge boulders replaced on the front of the wall, but Stefano thinks they are too fragile.

I want a more ancient looking wall. We'll see what we can do. But that will all have to wait, at least until Spring. For it is too dangerous to work on a wall with wet earth. Let's hope we don't have torrents of rain in the meantime, or we'll have a real disaster on our hands.

I'm thinking of our cemetery plots, and it's time to contact the mayor again, and secure our spots in the new area of the cemetery. Surely after all this time has transpired, he will have found some space for us.

January 11
I'm so happy to be back in class, but first we have the rest of the day...

This morning we drive to another kitchen supplier, one who can find the French country sink we are looking for for a client. So we have them spec two designs after working with them.

We return home for a quick pranzo. I'm designing new square kitchen tiles to have as part of my repertoire, and I finish the design just as we drive off to class.

Tonight I paint two lovely trays with artichoke designs, and an antique looking trim. I also paint another small plate with a previous design, one that I like very much.

I don't know where all the plates are that I painted during the last class of the year, but just as I'm ready to leave, Monica shows them to me. All but one needs work, so I'll finish them next week. But at least two of them were damaged by being touched by people while we were on Christmas break. The good thing about these ceramics, is that I can just paint the designs again.

Tonight is very cold, and it appears to be close to a full moon. Perhaps tomorrow morning Sofi and I will work outside. There is a lot of cleanup work to do in the garden, and January is a real cleanup month.

January 12
The bright sun is lovely, although the temperature remains just above freezing. Sofi and I step out onto the terrace this morning and it feels almost balmy.

We all drive north to Terni. I have had another dose of forgetting. Last evening, when leaving class, I forgot to take both sketchbooks as well as my architect's ruler. During the night, all I could think about was that silly ruler. And when I looked around for my sketchbooks and could not find them anywhere this morning, I felt instantly tired. I have no memory at all about what transpired when I left class. I am usually so precise about remembering details that I'm mystified by my actions, or lack of them.

Dino to the rescue. He puts his arm around me and tells me we'll drive back to Terni to pick them up. And when we arrive at the studio, Marco welcomes us and shows us that they are all sitting right by the tiles I'll paint next Wednesday.

We take Sofi for a walk and then she takes a nap in the car while we eat at the Indian Restaurant. We are its only customers. The owner tells us that he's thinking of opening a Maharaja restaurant in Viterbo in March. Roy later tells me, "Thinks so! In March?" How funny that all sounds. Perhaps he is superstitious. The man tells us he is looking for a location just outside the wall. We'd certainly welcome the addition to our area.

We drive home through Capitone and Amelia, and Tony and Pat call us, asking if they can come for tea. They arrived in Lugnano this morning, and the house is so cold that they'd welcome a short visit sitting by the fire.

So we welcome them for a visit, and before we know it the sun has set and we're relaxing for the night.

Dino calls Mauro to check in on his preventivo, but Mauro answers in a groggy voice. He is in the hospital, and has just had his appendix taken out. Puor troppo! So his family vacation next week will have to wait.

January 13
We meet with a kitchen supplier and agree on a new design for a client, and its the best design we've done yet, including one of those fabulous farm sinks made out of a composite similar to travertine marble. Mauro is in the hospital, so Roy is trying to work with Mauro's teammates to get a bid for the muratore work. The client is understanding, and luckily preoccupied.

Today is lovely and cold but in the sun on the terrace it is almost balmy. I spend most of the morning in the studio and finish painting a white chicken pitcher. It is so much fun that I think it will be our signature chicken pitcher, if it comes out well from the forno. So the next time we're in Deruta, we'll pick up some more pieces to paint. You'll be able to see them on the site soon.

What you can see on the site right now are my latest designs, two plates of a leafy flower design that will become our regular plates, unless we sell them out from under us. Each one will be a little different.

Since the weather is sunny each morning, I'm going to be out in the studio painting from now on. We still don't know what's wrong with the electrical system out there, but in the sun I don't need the new heater.

I'm also working on some new 4" tiles, to keep around in the event people want hand painted designs for their kitchens or bathrooms. Perhaps we'll take a few to our suppliers, to see if they'd like to keep them around for samples. Lemons, pears, olives, the standard stuff, as well as some more elaborate designs. Those will be on the site soon, as well. I am in heaven.

January 14
We'll have pranzo today with Franco and Candida at out favorite local restaurant, NonnaPappa. Sofi loves the place, too, and they love Sofi. We've planned this date with Franco and Candida before they return to San Francisco for six weeks.

We offer to start their tomato seeds for them while they're gone, and they'll bring some tiny fingerling potatoes back to share for our each of our gardens. It is fun to compare notes of our garden successes and fiascos. This year, we'll all try to plant those delicious tiny potatoes from San Francisco. So let's see what success they have bringing them back. First things first.

But this morning I am drawn to a story in a Carol Field cookbook, In Nonna's Kitchen, a book I refer to often. Since I was not alive during the years of WWII, that time seems like a strange almost romantic period to me, one we learn about only through an occasional book or film. But today I learn about a grandmother who served her family of four a meal, all from one hard-boiled egg. They were that destitute. It seems hard to believe.

So what does that mean to me? I stand at the table and read the three pages of the story. Originally, I intended to look up a recipe for chicken broth, just to see what it said. Instead I learned oh so much more...

And I'm left with a feeling of sadness all day. Sadness for the people of this country, who worked so hard just to survive during the war. Here in Italy, they were years of abject poverty. Many of us will never know what it was like to not have even a piece of bread to eat, or heat on a cold night.

I'm drawn to make the food entries of our site simpler. For people who want to experience the real Italy, the part we love the best, I'm hoping to share the simplicity of a meal with friends and loved ones not complicated by the trendiest treatments. Can I do both? I'll be thinking of that for the next two weeks, while we slog forward toward the end of preparing the new site.

This morning, I'm able to paint three more little plates in the studio. This next Wednesday, we'll have a number of finished plates to take to class to be fired. With the six pieces left from before Christmas that need repair work on their edges, we'll have many more to show by the time the new site is up.

Dino walks up to Mauro's house to bring a get well card with Sofi's photo on the cover, and hears from his father-in-law, Tonino, that he's up and walking around the hospital, but that on Monday he'll have his tonsils out. We hope he'll be home soon and feeling better before too long.

Pia and Francesco stand at his car at the edge of her property across the street, and Dino walks over to bring the photograph cards that Phillip and Donna made for her. This year, Phillip and Donna have reproduced a box of ten wonderful cards, plain inside and with their wonderful photographs on the covers.

One of the photos was taken on Pia's land, with an old motorino in the midst of a field of mustard seed. It's quite wonderful. Pia explains the story of the photo to Francesco. Later, Dino tells me, "Francesco called me Roy!" Maybe he'll even call him Dino one of these days...

Candida and Franco arrive, and we drive to pranzo with Sofi nuzzling Candida and I in the back seat. Candida shares a story about passing her driving test yesterday in Orvieto, a story so sexist that I realize that Rome was the perfect place for us to take the test more than three years ago. And even then I almost did not pass, due to a completely sexist view on the part of the examiner. But that is a story for another time.

It is good to see Fidelia, her mother, Rosa, and her father, Pepe, at the restaurant. They all love Sofi, but Sofi sticks right by my chair, even when their Jack Russell Terrier, Fidelio, comes by for a friendly sniff. Did she forget that Fidelio relieved her of her virginity some two years ago under our very table?

After a slow afternoon and tasty pranzo, we drive home and then drive up to meet our friends again in Orvieto. They agree to take us to a jeweler friend, a man who can repair my engagement ring, which has split in the back. We'll take it in again next week when he can solder it.

We say c'e vediammo to Candida and Franco, after agreeing to get their seeds started in their den under grow lights while they are gone. Tonight the moon is full, so in another month we'll be planting fifty or so seeds for us, and the same number for them. With seeds, it's good to plant plenty, for who knows how many will "take". Franco tells us that their fava beans have not done well, for only two have survived their planting over a month ago.

Our favas are peeking out of the earth, spreading their leaves, and since we've planted them in both the upper and lower tomato "patches", we'll have plenty of fertile soil in late April, when the favas are picked and the tomatoes are planted in their places.

With the knowledge of a really full moon tonight, I'd like to plant agretti seeds, so perhaps we'll do that tomorrow. Agretti is a spring green, like a grass, but very tasty, especially when brushed in a pan with olive oil and garlic and a sprinkle of vinegar. This is the month to plant it, to have it ready in April.

Dino and I take turns at the computer, each day and evening, working on the new test web site. With Alex's expert hand guiding us from afar, we hope to have it ready by the end of the month. But there is so much work to do! And I keep coming up with new concepts that I want to include. It is a good thing that a web site is an ever-changing vehicle for sharing information. For the more we learn, the more we want to include.

Good night, dear moon. Luna piena, smiling down upon us, let us have a good night's sleep under your watchful eye...

January 15
Sweet Sunday. Yes, the sun is low on the horizon, and the moon watched over us last night. So we're off to mass, with Sofi staying warm in the kitchen.

Once in church, we're finding that hugs are in order wherever we turn. So a greeting, a handshake, a hug, are given to almost everyone in the little church. This is truly like a little extended family.

Don Ciro arrives, and while we're waiting for mass to begin, the sheet of announcements is passed out. San Antonio d'Abate, the patron saint of farm animals, will be celebrated on Bomarzo! For the three years we have lived here, the feast was celebrated with a bonfire outside the church. Is it possible that Mugnano has been forgotten this year?

I ask Livio and Giuliola, but neither of them have an answer. Tiziano and his parents arrive, and they know nothing new. So I cajole Roy to ask Don Ciro after the mass. More than ask him, to tell him how important it is to maintain this tradition. The gears start to work in my brain, and I ask Dino when Don Francis flies back to the U S. "Wednesday," he tells me, although we're not able to reach him, for none of his telephone contact numbers work. We have emailed him, so expect to hear from him soon. We know he is doing a retreat in Verona. So if we speak with him, we'll tell him it is an emergency, and we need him to arrive on Tuesday and give the blessings at our church. Then we'll take him to the airport for his plane on Wednesday. That's if he calls or emails...

Outside the church, the parishioners are all in a buzz, standing around in the sunlight. First, Mauro (the shorter) is not happy with Tiziano, who did not want to read this morning, because he has a sore throat. Then, I mention San Antonio and everyone around takes up the charge. Why not a blessing in Mugnano? What about Brik and Sofia and Ubi, and Vincenzo's lamb, and Pippa....?

Don Ciro comes out of the church and he is swamped, with me at the helm. "Speriamo!" we tell him about Tuesday evening. He is merely a messenger, but promises to speak with Don Luca. "Speriamo! Speriamo!" the villagers chant.

And then there is the issue of the catena, or chain, closing off the borgo to cars and trucks. Two petitions have been taken around. Carla has one, with nineteen signatures, to let cars and trucks back into the borgo. We are dismayed.

But then Tiziano tells us that Laura, Francesco's wife, took around another petition, to leave the catena in place. Fifty-five signatures are on that one, and we did not have a chance to add our two. Or Lore and Alberto's, who will also sign. So the mayor will come to a meeting at the end of the month to hear what the people have to say. All this energy is good for the heart, good for keeping warm on a cold day.

And so we walk home, past Italo in his cantina, past Terzo and Nando sitting stiffly facing South in Mugnano Scalo next to the fountain. Then past Donatella's mother, a scarf over her shoulders, standing silenty in a pool of sunlight and leaning against a building across the street from her front door.

On the way up to church, we noticed that a red chair was abandoned right in the middle of the arch to the ancient entry into Mugnano. Dino takes out the camera and drives up there for a shot before driving to Il Pallone, our Sunday supermarket, to pick up a chicken.

How's this for a "property of character and charm"?

I had plans of planting agretti, and starting on the de-leafing of the roses, but it is too cold today. So instead I paint three little plates in my studio. By Wednesday, we'll have many to take to class. We're back in business...And with a trip to Deruta during the next week to pick up larger plates and tiles, I can count on painting three or four pieces each day, at a minimum.

The agretti will have to wait.

Oosten arrives for a short visit and a glass of wine. He'd love to turn his little garden and shack at the back of San Rocco into a holiday studio. Perhaps that will come true. Right now, he's teaching kindergarden in Norway and is happy there, but misses Mugnano.

We'll miss Don Francis this trip, who is to fly out of Milan in a few days. His friend Sal calls to give us an update. But I am somehow confident that we will find a priest to perform the blessing of the animals on Tuesday evening.

Speaking of animals, the word has come down that Brik and Tex have had a monstrous fight outside the cemetery. Tex is Shelly and Claudio's fluffy white Maremenna dog. Brik is the "mayor" of the village. But Brik escorted three women to the cemetery this afternoon, and Tex was loose from his usual chain. It is fair to say that "all hell broke loose".

Carlo, the archer, was seen giving an injection to Brik, or Oosten thought that was what he was doing. We never found out who is Brik's master. Instead, we think he belongs to everyone in the village. We are surely sorry about the fight, and hope both dogs are healing well. The women in the village hate Tex, for he has a tendency to follow them and sniff in the most impolite places. So war's a brewing...

Stay tuned.

January 16
It's almost too cold to be in the studio today, for the sky is overcast and grey. Without the bright sun of the past week or two, I've decided not to paint this morning.

We drive off to Orte to pick up a kitchen cabinet sample, and then meet with a client in Amelia, who encourages us to follow him to his marble craftsperson. We know the man, who has fashioned marble counters for a previous client. And so we help our client to pick out just the right piece of marble, in the correct thickness, to do his kitchen. He'll have the craftsman make a grand sink for him as well, instead of ordering it from a kitchen fabricator. So we make sure that the joints will be done in a characteristic way. We hope to start on this project soon. Dino will be the project manager. I just go along here and there to put my 2 cents in on the design side.

We have a meeting with a notaio in Orte, one we have heard about. We want to have an initial meeting with her to make sure that all the costs are spelled out correctly for our client and to give her the initial paperwork.

But after an hour's wait, we get up to leave, and finally are ushered into a conference room. When the notaio arrives, without even an apology for making us wait, she sits down at the end of the table as if it is a throne and puts up her arms as if to say, "eccociqua!" or "here I am!"

In less than two minutes, we determine that she is unable to go to Attigliano for the Atto (final step of the property purchase), so the meeting is for naught. We leave there and get a lead on a notaio in Orvieto, and call him, so we'll figure it out soon.

We're worried about Brik and decide to drive up to the borgo in Mugnano to speak with Livio and Giuliola about Brik and also about tomorrow's blessing of the animals.

They're happy to see us and invite us to sit with them in their cozy and warm kitchen. Brik was taken this morning to the veterinary hospital in Terni by Antonella Fosci and Carlo. We hope he is all right. They confirm that Tex is a sweet dog, and it was just an unfortunate encounter between the two male dogs. Since no one really "owns" Brik, they confirm that the entire village embraces him.

But the news about tomorrow's blessing of the animals is not good. Don Luca is out of town. And last year the bonfire was held in front of the church because the new pavement was not yet laid down. So now if we have it it will have to be somewhere other than in front of the church. The news gets worse.

With no conversation with Don Luca, there will be no blessing of the animals in Mugnano. It will have to be in Bomarzo, as planned. With Don Francis now in Milan, leaving on Wednesday, he's too far away to step in, either.

So when Livio and Giuliola find out that I will be on this next year's festarolo committee, they clap their hands with glee. For NEXT YEAR, there will be a return to the blessing of the animals, in a very special way.

We end the evening with a silent prayer for dear Brik, and wonder if someone will take him to Bomarzo tomorrow....

January 17
We drive to Rome with Sofi, to download some special Mac software from Giordano, and to take him to his birthday pranzo. First, we take Sofi for a visit with Valerie, who loves spending time with her and will keep her for a few hours. And then we find Giordano's office.

When we take him for pranzo, I tell the owner that it is Giordano's birthday, so he is surprised with a little dessert with a lit candle. The pranzo is so very tasty, pasta all around and then abaccio, grilled baby lamb on a wood fired grill before his birthday surprise.

After we take Giordano back to work and pick up Sofi, we realize that we must drive right to Bomarzo to reach the blessing of the animals in time. It has been announced for 5:30, and we arrive just a minute early, to find the blessing already in progress, a big fire in the little square right at the turn to the Comune, and Don Cirio smiling and waving his holy oil all around. We step up to the front right next to a sweet big white dog, who has no idea what is going on.

Before we know it, the benediction is over. Just in case, we drive to the borgo in Mugnano, but there is no fire, so there will be no benediction this year. So we drive back home for our own little fire in the fireplace and a cozy evening.We did not see Brik, so wonder if he is in the hospital. We are sure everyone in Mugnano is praying for him.

January 18
The day begins with rain. Here in this part of Italy, any rainstorm is a dangerous event this year. There has been so much rain this fall and winter that the earth is seen putting up its weary arms and hollering, "I can't take it anymore!"

This morning, an important wall holding up part of the town of Amelia collapsed...60 meters of it. The wall withstood 3,000 (yes, three thousand) years of rain. But at 7AM it had enough.

So what we know is that there had been a construction crew with scaffolding standing in front of the former wall for over two years. Two archeologists were hired to work with the contractors. Tiziano tells us on the phone this afternoon while we're sitting in a parking lot viewing the action, or non-action, that the archeologists may have created some problem behind the wall, causing a schism in the wall and a domino effect on the 2,300 year old wall.

Or perhaps the archeologists advised the contractor, who did not pay attention to their warnings. Archaeologists are put on these kinds of jobs for this very reason...for the protection of important historical structures. There is a lot of finger-pointing going on, and when we see Tiziano on Friday he'll tell us more. It is very sad news.

This morning, we were on notaio business, still searching for the right one for our client's property sale. Yesterday, the notaio in Orte could not help us. This morning, we drove to Orvieto for an appointment with another notaio.

I like the building where the notaio's office is located very much, and can imagine taking clients there to close their property purchases. Once inside the huge wood and iron front door are three gracious flights of marble stairs, with views to formal Italianate gardens as eye candy while we climb.

Inside, we have a long wait, although we have an appointment. But there is a marvelous drawing of an iris on a wall, so I stand sketching it while Dino waits. When we're ushered inside, we are told that the notaio will not agree to drive to the seller's apartment for the "atto" or final contract signing.

So we leave, make more calls, and come up with two more notaios. We agree to meet with a young man in Terni, who agrees to come to Attigliano as we've asked. And strangely enough, he bought his practice from the man who acted as the notaio some thirty years ago on the same property!

Dino deals with the notaio business while I paint away in class. The two trays with artichokes are finished, and they are wonderful. There are also two more small plates.

But in tonight's "cache" to go to the oven is one large chicken pitcher and eight or nine smaller plates. Four more plates remain there to be finished next week, as well as a tea pot. The design has been sketched, and it will be ready for the oven next Wednesday. Tomorrow, we'll drive to Deruta for more plates.

After a short "show and tell" at Tia and Bruce's on the way back, I'm back on track with coming up with a design for their plates. My designs are too elaborate for their every day dishes, so I'm going to simplify and have some ideas of what I can do to make their plates simple and very special.

Depending on what goes on tomorrow, I may even have sketches finished on Friday morning, when Tia picks me up to drive to Michellini to pick up some winter roses. I want to replace the polka rose in the big terra cotta pot in the lavender garden with a Madame Gregory Staechlin, a pink blowsy rose with a paler pink on the inside of the rose. It's been a rose I've loved for years. So this is my choice.

Sofi sat in Tia's kitchen chewing on an osso bucco bone. I do not like her to have bones. They turn her into a wild dog. So she chews on nylabones at home, and her disposition is always sweet. We divert her away from the bone with a piece of cheese and she's back to being a sweet dog again.

So we drive on home and settle in for the night.

January 19
We take a day trip today, starting in Deruta to pick up pottery to paint. We still buy small lots to paint, for I continue to experiment with styles and shapes.

Because we leave the house late, it is noontime when we arrive in Deruta, and our searching for new suppliers don't bring us to anyone we feel good about. So we return to Vania, who is closed until 2:15pm.

We return to the Bottega we like, and have pranzo while Sofi guards the car. Vania opens, we look around and pick up a few things, then drive to our other supplier, who agrees to make two 29cm plates as a test. Poor Tia and Bruce have waited six months so far for their plates. But we have to come up with just the right design. I have a plan. So the plates will be ready to paint in two weeks, then it will take another ten days to get them painted and fired. So perhaps they'll have a valentine surprise.

From Deruta, we travel north to Perugia and across to Tuscany. It is now 3:30, and with the sky low in the horizon, the cypress tress cast their long shadows on the green carpet of hills and valleys.

We drive on past Pienza, and take photos at little towns and on hillsides. Then we drive home as the sun lowers and the sky turns light blue grey and then dark blue and then we're arriving as the tower of Mugnano is lit and welcoming.

We've had a lovely day.

January 20
Twenty-five years ago today, Dino and I had our first business dinner. It was a dinner that turned into a date. Twenty five years later, we look back on those years, and are amazed that we are still fairly young and have shared so much together.

Tia arrives mid morning. We have planned to drive to Michellini for roses. She drives and Dino stays at home with Sofi and works on the web site.

Lucia, Luciana and Tiziana are all at Michellini when we arrive, and it's always a pleasure to visit the vivaio and work with them. We come away with only five roses: three for Tia, the Madame Gregorie Staechlein for a long wall behind the lavender garden reaching down toward the Rosa Banksia and a Pink Cloud, a rose bush to replace the polka rose in the lavender garden.

This Pink Cloud rose will become quite large, although it will soon be planted and will remain in a large terra cotta pot. I envision it growing like a small tree, bushy and full amid the field of lavender. Lucia promises me that it will be spectacular. The color looks dark for a "cloud", but we will see.

The Madame Gregorie rose, the one I really can't wait to see in full bloom, will be planted nearby, spreading over the fence in all directions like a buxom woman hanging over a balcony. The fence is quite ugly, a wire square mesh held up by castagno poles every two meters or so. The rose will obscure the unfinished look of the fence. Although the rose will only flower once, probably in May, I am expecting it to be fabulous. And the green leaves will remain. Speriamo.

I make bread from scratch, a loaf that I started early in the morning, and also a cece bean and pasta soup. I soaked the beans last night and although we don't eat until 2PM, everything comes out fine. I'll post the soup recipe on the site, for it is amazing. The recipe comes from three different recipes, and a few ideas of my own. We think it will taste even better tomorrow, but there's hardly any left.

We have no plans for tomorrow, so I expect to be out in the studio, painting, for most of the day. Roy is excited about "getting inventory ready", so I suppose I am, too. My hope is that we will bring six or seven pieces each week to class, and finish another one or two. Next week I plan to finish my tea pot and am excited about that. I suppose everything goes into inventory. I can always paint another...

January 21
We're surrounded by fog this morning. It's too cold to paint outside. Roy drives to Soriano to figure out about our health ID cards for this year, and I work on the web site. We are bleary eyed working on the site, but hope that everyone likes the changes and new information. Soon it will all be behind us.

The day is cold, cold, and I'm happy to stay at home all day. Between writing and sketching in front of the fire, I'm happy.

Tomorrow we'll have a late mass and celebrate our second patron saint's day, San Vincenzo. It's funny that we are such a little village and have two patron saints. I think San Vincenzo was the original saint, and a hundred or more years ago San Liberato edged him out, so to speak. There will be a procession, and I wonder if I'll have a role since I'm now a member of the women's group. Without my blue scarf, tho, I'm really not the real thing.

We'll see.

January 22
It's the feast day of San Vincenzo, and at 8AM blasts of fireworks crack and whoosh and bang! right below us in the valley to welcome his spirit and tell the villagers its time to celebrate. Although we'll have a procession and late mass at 11AM, there won't be much in the way of village celebration. Perhaps next year when I'm on the Festarolo committee things will be different. I'm already tired just thinking of it.

Sofi stays in the kitchen and Dino and I walk up about twenty minutes before the mass. Cars line the street, probably for the musicians in the band.We heard them tuning up in front of the house for the past hour or so. Marina invites us to walk down to the school building for sweets, but we're not hungry. Instead, we'll walk to church, and Dino gets ready to change into his confraternity costume.

When we enter the church, the Bomarzo adult choir is congregating near the front left aisle, taking up several rows of benches. I'm still not realizing what is about to happen. The church is filled with deep red gladiolas, and the silver reliquary of San Vincenzo stands on the center of the altar. Dino steps forward to get changed.

Behind me, Serena, Mauro's wife, walks up to me and takes me by the arm. She hands me my blue AC scarf, and ties it around my shoulders. "Today," she tells me, "You will take the bandiera for A C and walk with it in the center of the procession, for it is your first time." I am not ready for this blessing, but move forward in a daze with Serena, and walk with her into the sacristy, where Dino stands talking with Mauro. Mauro gives me a kiss. He is able to walk, and is slowly getting better after his two very recent operations.

Serena takes me over to the back of the sacristy, where the A C bandiera on a long shiny silver pole leans against a statue. She gently takes it out and explains to me that the ribbon is probably one hundred years old. The color is a lovely pale egg blue, with silver embroidery. I am not sure what it says, but later we will take a picture and I will study it. Vincenzo walks over and affirms that it is very, very old. Everyone looks at it respectfully. Serena tells Don Luca what I will be doing and he is "Happy. Very happy."

She and I walk back out to the church, and I greet a few friends before the start of the mass. Luciana is sitting down, and it has been so many weeks since we have seen her that I walk over to her and take her hand. She shows me a black eye under her dark glasses, telling me that she fell in her house, but she is better now. She has been staying with her daughter in Castiglione in Teverina. It is good to see her back in the village.

I am missing Felice and Marsiglia, but their son Renzo is here from Bomarzo, dressed in his confraternity costume, along with about fifteen other men. There is a good turnout today.

The mass is wonderful, with the big Bomarzo adult choir taking up at least a third of the benches, and the women of the village taking up the rest. The few men who are not in the Confraternity, including Tiziano and Livio, stand against the back. The choir is a very wonderful addition, and the notes and voices rise up and over the arc of the roof and down again, seeming to hold me in a kind of embrace. These days, I am no longer frightened during the mass. I breathe more slowly and speak and walk and sing during the mass as if it's all a kind of procession. Each of us in the church moves slowly and sings mostly in tune.

Just as the mass finishes, Serena motions to me and I follow her forward.We stand, waiting until Don Cirio has finished. All eyes are on the choir. Everyone but me seems relaxed. Each person I glance at is reverent and serious, for they have performed this same mass all their lives, and know what to expect. My eyes well up with tears and I try to think of something else to keep my mind off what I am about to do. The tears fall, but I catch them with a handkerchief before anyone notices. And then the Carabieneri we refer to as The Little Prince moves over for us. Beside him is another policeman, then Tiziana, the Vice Mayor and Stefano Bonori, the Mayor, in the front row.

Serena and I step onto the altar as the Confraternity members move into place. The bandiera is handed out from the sacristy and Serena hands it to me to take out of the little church. Once outside, she tells me to stand in the center, and leans the pole over my right shoulder, the bandiera hanging behind my head. The women of the village stand on either side of me, in two lines. In front of me, Alberto Cozzi, as Priori, stands and then walks back and forth, making sure everyone is lined up correctly. Dino is ahead of me at the front of the procession, holding one of the two tall lanterns.

The band starts to play, and each of us steps slowly and confidently, on the same slow beat. I look straight ahead, my head slightly raised, to keep the tears from spilling down my cheeks. The cold rod feels wonderful in my ungloved hands. I leave my gloves in my pockets, for I want to feel the metal against my skin, to remember every moment.

As we walk slowly down and around the bend and toward Giustino's house, I reach two fingers of my left hand across the silver rod and over the edge Iolanda's gold bracelet. This is a bracelet I treasure and wear on special occasions on my right wrist. She is with me today. Today I am also very sad, for Leondina is not here and I really miss seeing her smiling face, standing at her door. We walk by her house and I am sad. I see her daughter, Vincenza, ahead of me in the procession, and later I will give her a hug. At this moment, I realize that it is time for another of life's passages for me. Gently, gently, we are blending into the village as if we are two of its own. Adopted, perhaps, but truly two of its own.

The procession ends, and I am to stand on the altar, next to Enzo, who holds a huge crucifix. When the benediction is given, I am to raise it, and Enzo smiles at me telling me, "When I raise Jesus, you raise your bandiera." On cue, I do as I am told. Then the parishoners line up to kiss the reliquary of San Vincenzo, and Serena takes the bandiera from me, so that I may do the same. She solemnly hands it to someone to take to the sacristy, and my job is finished.

Dino and I walk down the hill side by side, and soon it's time for pranzo and a quiet afternoon, with oh so much to think about.

Tiziano arrives later for tea. The news about Brik is all right. He has been staying inside Pepe's house after a week at the vet in Amelia. So we bring up the subject of his fight with Tex, and Tiziano tells us that although Brik does not have an official owner, he is the dog of the neighborhood, so in a way this is as official as any. We think that Antonella Fosci will be getting him a license. We hope that he will be all right.

Tiziano thinks that Claudio and Shelly should get a muzzle for Tex, on those occasions when he is let off his long chain at their property. But we all know that they won't do this, so hope that the two dogs won't cross paths again. If they do, one of the dogs will surely be killed.

Tiziano also tells us that the situation in Amelia is probably that the archeologists were working on a part of the inside wall that was not fortified, and the wall gave way. But these archeologists are favorites of the superintendent, so won't receive any punishment. Somehow the town will have to find money to repair the wall. We talk about the keystone for the arch above the red chair. See our last posting for the photo. The chair is gone, and the keystone, the stone in the center of the arch that holds it together, is slipping. The right side of the wall is no longer straight. So if the mayor does not take action soon, we will have another Amelia crisis. We'll see if we have previous photos of the arch, and will write a letter to the mayor. Tiziano has agreed to tell his cousin, Tiziana, about the problem. He thinks it can be solved with a kind of brace below it as a temporary fix.

We talk about the San Antonio d' Abate blessing of the animals, and at the end of the procession yesterday, Don Luca apologised to Dino for the lack of the blessing in Mugnano the other day, but felt that for one dog, it is not possible. One dog! So this December, we'll make a long list of the dogs: Brik, Basquia, Sofi, Ubik, Enzo's dog, even Tex, who won't come, and then there's Vincenzo's latest lamb, and scores of cats. Homage to a patron saint is called an omaggio, and San Antonio d'Abate is the patron saint of farm animals. So we're sure to have the tradition return to our little village next year.

We talk about our wall tragedy above the path leading to San Rocco, and Tiziano reminds us that the wall undoubtedly collapsed because the Comune, who is responsible for maintaining the path, is responsible. The path has dropped, and so the wall gave way. It makes so much sense. So we'll have another thing to write and talk with the mayor about. This time, we have photos of the path and the wall before the collapse. So the comune will have to find a way to fix the path and the wall. Now that Oosten owns the property behind the church, he must have a way to get to it. So in the coming months we'll have yet another project to take on and push forward.

January 23
Dino agrees to finally check out the heater, and he gets it working. I'm able to paint in the studio for the morning and early afternoon. The heater is quite good. But it is so cold today, that by 2:30 my hands are like ice, and I have to come inside.

Mauro is supposed to meet with Dino and a worker in Attigliano, so we will see. There is no sign of Mauro all afternoon, so tomorrow Dino will track him down.

January 24
The heater in the studio is working well, so I spend a few hours painting. Dino tracks down Mauro, to talk about a client's project. On these cold days, I can't face working in the garden. So I paint until I'm bleary-eyed, them come inside and sketch and read and write. Dino spends most of the morning on the site, after taking a blood test.

Mauro's associates who are the tile layers arrive for a meeting with Dino, and leave with a promise for a bid in two days. It's so cold that I spend a lot of time standing in front of the fire, and am bored with TV, so spend most of the evening absorbed in a new book.

January 25
The morning is cold but sunny, so the heater is turned back on and I'm back in the studio, painting. Sofi loves to be outside, mostly lying around catching rays while I paint inside the studio with the door ajar. Dino drives to Amelia for a client meeting, and I make a pear torte with two huge ripe pears while he's gone. The torta is still warm when he arrives home for a quick pranzo before our customary Wednesday afternoon in Terni.

The ceramics are packed, nine of them, and we're able to get into class early. So I put four hours in, and am able to finish an elaborate teapot and a few other items, including cleaning up a few things that we transported from home. The smalto is still a problem. Most of the ceramics we dipped in class come out better than those we dipped and painted at home, because there is less transportation before the pieces are fired. But some of the pieces that were transported just from Terni to Deruta also show problems.

We return home with about eight pieces, all lovely, but almost every one has one problem or another. We love the pieces just the same, so when you come for a visit you'll probably be served on one of our treasures. I'm not ready for "prime time" yet.

I don't think we should plan for a spring show. Perhaps the Villa Lante show in the fall is more realistic. Slow and steady, slow and steady. It's a fascinating process. The weather is a factor, and the cold temperatures I'm sure have something to do with the smalto not adhering as well as it should.

I'm feeling less pressure these days to get many pieces finished. Since we are not happy with the smalto, or undercoat, on some of the pieces, we've decided to continue slowly. I continue to teach myself, with Monia lending a hand during class for a minute here or there each week. She does not have any real guidance regarding the smalto, just responding by shrugging her shoulders when I mention it. One of these years I suppose we'll figure out what the solution is, and by then perhaps we'll have our own kiln. But many, many other things will come first.

I've been researching what to plant in the row across from the main lavender field where we planted three peony bushes five or more years ago. At the time, we thought that the peonies did not seem to like the spot, so moved them two years later, and could not find anything better to take their place. We've tried new things every year. Nothing seemed to work. At least two of the peony bushes survived in another spot. But when I look at peony catalogues, they're what I really want to see...hedges of glorious peonies.

So I want Mario to come back and dig a big trench, taking out all the old soil, and then plant three large peony bushes there again. Friends tell us to just plant them and forget them. Sometimes they take years to take off. But I remember one as a child next to the garage. It was totally ignored, I don't think it was ever watered, and grew beautifully. The best vivaio for peonies in Italy, perhaps even in Europe, is right down the road from Il Pallone, one of our favorite markets. So I'll break it to Dino one of these days and we'll go back for three bare root plants this next week.

January 26
We wake to an email from our great friends, Donna Pizzi and Phillip Thompson. Take a look at their great photos, especially Number 4, taken across the street from our house before Pia cleared her land. You can buy a selection of their photographs on note cards, just published. Tell them we sent you. They live in Portland, Oregon.

Dino drives to Civita Castellana for client business, but Sofi and I will have none of that. Last night when coming to bed, Dino sent me off to dreamland with sweet compliments of my painting style. Check the website to view some of the latest pieces.

So of course I'll paint today. After an hour or so, it's so cold I have to come inside the house, but bring a jar of smalto, to stir it up at room temperature so that I can make repairs. I can't figure out why it is so cold in the studio with the heater on all morning.

And then Dino arrives home and tells me that this morning on his way out, he went into the studio to turn on the heater and found a dead bird on the counter. After disposing it, he went on his way. Dead bird? How could it get in? The front window is closed almost completely. A bird could never get inside that small space.

So Dino walks out to investigate, and returns laughing. We never closed up the back window! There is an old grate sitting outside, but plenty of room for birds to fly in. So Dino will find a piece of the obscure roofing material and will mount it front the outside, just to keep birds and critters outside.

This afternoon, Dino calls DMV in California for me. My license renews in March, and I tried to renew it in November. DMV. They make red tape in Italy sound simple. In November, I could not renew, nor would they take my photo. But now I am to come in and take a vision test and a photo. We call them, saying we won't be available until November, so they finally agree to extend my license for a year. I'm sure when we arrive in November there will be some kind of mixup. So will I abandon my U S driver's license? I have no interest in taking a driver's test, so perhaps this will be one more reason to give up a connection to the U S. I have mixed feelings about it.

Tony and Pat arrive for pranzo, and we drive off to the Chinese restaurant in Viterbo. It is really not bad, but how could you ruin spring rolls (rolatini privavera), Won Ton Soup or Hot and Sour Soup? Their version of rice is not the sticky kind, which makes chopsticks a kind of joke. We are served a chicken dish with almonds and also a crispy pork dish. The pork dish is very good. The chicken is good, but with not much taste. But no fortune cookies! With only three tables full in the restaurant, it's certainly not a "hot" spot for pranzo. But we like the change.

Dino drives us around Viterbo, and we stop at one of the larger churches in the centro storico to take a look. With several popes during the 13th century guiding all Christendom from Viterbo, there is much to see in this small town. We'll post some information on the site soon.

I'm thinking that we should have a section on the site of words and phrases used often by newcomers to Italy. That means things that have to do with settling in, making a home ready to live in, doing the ordinary things like getting power turned on or finding a plumber. While it is cold, we can start that. But once the weather turns warm, we'll have much less time. I'm also being prodded to do some real writing (the book), but there is research to do and I'm finding all kinds of reasons not to do it.

Dino drives off for a meeting with a supplier in the afternoon, and I do some sketching. I come up with a man who I've seen in a book about Raphael. He is a grotesque, and Dino thinks my interpretation of him is a winner. So I'll work on him soon. But I'm looking around for ideas for the tiles for our outdoor sink.

Remember that project I've talked about for over two years? Now it's time for me to design and paint the tiles. I think I'll start to map the designs out on paper tomorrow while it's still very cold outside. We're debating whether the design should be big, so that the designs can be seen from far away, or more intricate. I favor the intricate, because the tiles are to take a back seat to the flowers, unless a person is close to the sink. I think the design will be of my grotesque women, very bawdy with curves and curls and intricate flowers and leaves. I'll take the designs I've researched and tweak them to become my own designs.

That reminds me. I want to revisit the artist in Bomarzo who has her own ceramics shop and kiln. Taking the ceramics up the hill to be fired is far more reliable that driving them to Terni and then to Deruta. So in the next week or so we'll see if she'll let me fire some things there, and what kind of arrangement she will want to make. Sometimes the answer is right under our noses.

January 27
I cannot sleep, so get up before 7AM and sit at the computer to start of the dictionary for the web site. I am able to put a couple of hours in, creating and working on the list, until my hands and legs are really, really cold and get up to take a hot shower and get dressed. There is no heat to speak of in the bedroom. This will be an ongoing project, with help from Dino on many of the words and phrases.

Dino and Tiziano drive off to Alan's property in the morning. Tiziano wants to do some walking around the property and to do some measuring if any artifacts have been found. Penna is one of the places where he has been given a grant to document.

Do you remember the book, The Man Who Planted Trees? Well, Tiziano is a little like that man, in that he intends to walk almost every inch of the Tiber Valley in our area, documenting history and helping to preserve the ancient stories of this land. He is a remarkable young man, and is providing a very valuable service to the people of Italy and of the world who will want to come here to learn about the area's history.

Sofi and I stay at home. I map out a few tiles, and start to design the whole garden sink project. I think I'll first do a general design, then map it out and only then get into the detailed intricate work. Roy will love doing the measurements. I love the drawing and the dreaming. This really needs to be finished by May, when the flowers in the garden are at their best. I think that is a reasonable goal. What a delicious project!

Yesterday, Tony told us that he calculated that they spend about Euro 30 per day for heat. So I've been thinking about getting a stufa, or little heater, to be installed to the left of the fireplace. I've seen people heat them with pellets. Today and tomorrow, we'll research the prices of stufas, and see if we can find a characteristic little one for our kitchen. Last night, Dino confirmed that most of the heat from our fires in the fireplace stream right up and out of the chimney. So we need to find one, and now is the time.

It rains while Dino and Tiziano are at Alan's, and Sofi and I stay inside by the fire. Dino returns to tell me that they did not find any artifacts, but that Tiziano was able to rule out the area. He and Dino walked around the property and up to the top of the property where Alan and Carlo were working to repair another landslide due to the heavy rain this winter.

After pranzo, Roy and I drive in search of a stufa, one just the perfect size for the spot to the left of the fireplace. Before we are finished, we have traveled as far south as Vetralla and as far north as Lugnano. We have stopped at ten (!) places that sell stufas, but have not found the one that is right for us.

So tomorrow morning, we'll drive south to Civita Castellana. That town is known for its ceramic porcelain factories (mostly for toilets and sinks), but it is an industrial town, and we intend to comb it like Tiziano combing the Tiber Valley for ancient artifacts.

What we have agreed is that we want a pellet stufa, one that has an electrical starter and burns pellets made of a kind of decomposed wood material. It is ecologically good and economical. I'm also looking for something characteristic, in either ceramic or cast iron. We'll have more to report tomorrow.

At home, I do some drawing. I am sketching a plan, as well as a few ideas, for the tiles for the garden sink. By now, Dino agrees that we'll demolish the existing sink and rebuild one from scratch, using the same old marble sink, but nothing else.

The base will probably consist of cement blocks with my ceramic tiles mortared on top. The design will consist of some kind of flowering vines, with a characteristic grotesque border or top and front detail. Yum.

Is it the damp weather? I don' t know, but muscles in my right hand and forearm are starting to feel a dull ache, something like the persistent ache in my right shoulder. Is it arthritis? I do a search online for hand exercises, and next Tuesday we'll visit the doctor to see if he wants to refer me to a specialist.

Dino thinks I do so much drawing that it may be a kind of repetitive thing. But the years are beginning to creep up on me. And Ruby warned me that if I am to have any physical things to watch out for, it is arthritis. How strange! There is no arthritis to speak of in my family.

We are waiting anxiously to hear back from our web designer, for we can't move forward to finish our new site without his counsel on some of the more technical aspects. Let's hope he can give us some time this weekend.

January 28
I spend the night working out the sink tile design, and am not much farther along than I was when I went to bed. But I am excited about the project.

The morning is cold, and there has been no snow. We are wondering when our one-day-a-year snowfall will arrive. In past years, we have always had snow in January. Perhaps we will have no snow this year.

Just as we're about to leave after pranzo in search of a stufa, Mauro arrives with his preventivo, followed closely by Sergio, who is the tile layer, with his. I like Sergio, who tells me to wait for the snow. The winter is not over yet. I have to hold my breath to not ask him to look at our garden sink, thinking all the while of him laying the finished tiles on the surround below the sink. Just before Mauro arrived, Dino and I walked over to the existing garden sink, and talked about how it will work.

We all drive to Civita Castellana in search of our little stufa, after everyone leaves. I've lost count, but think we have found the right one at about store number 20, but there is something I don't like about the inside ventilation pipe. Dino tells him we have to go home to measure, and then we drive around the corner to the main Orsolini showroom to number 21.

We are told at the receptionist station to take a left and then a right, where we'll find an assortment of stufa samples. We walk around blindly, and then, when turning around to face the direction we've just come from, we see it. It's a very small stufa, dark brown and black ceramic, in a kind of French style, with curved legs. There is one little chip on the ceramic door.

We wait almost ten minutes for a salesperson, and when a young woman arrives, we ask her about it. She tells us it is a good model, and quotes us a price. The model is the only one in the showroom. We tell her that the price will have to include IVA (the dreaded 20% tax on almost everything in Italy). She thinks it's a problem. But since she did not say it will be impossible, we send her back to her boss to see if they will sell it to us for that price. Either price is very good, but we are on a roll.

It is only when a new salesperson named Michela, returns, and asks us if we can speak English, that we think we have found what we have been searching for. She agrees to the price, but is now worried. This is the last of three that they have had, and they cannot order any more. If we want it, we need to come back on Monday afternoon so that a technician can look it over. There are no instructions included.

She asks us to come to sit down at the front of the showroom while she looks at a few other catalogues, and then we hear the real story. This stufa has been in the showroom for eleven years! Two others were sold, an orange one and a bright red one. But this one has stood there for all of eleven years, collecting dust, one candy rapper and one spent cigarette butt.

We must have it. What a lovely and sad little piece of cast iron and ceramic! So she places a sold tag on it and her name, and on Monday we'll return and will make sure everything is fine with it (what can go wrong?) before having someone lift it into the car. Stefano or Mauro and Enzo will install it. What we like best about it is that it vents to the back, so we won't have a tall chute of black tube running up the interior wall of the kitchen. It will vent right out the side of the house, and then an insulated pipe will run up to another little chimney. The little stove has finally found a home.

At home, I sit on the couch and imagine it in its spot to the left of the fireplace. We have made a good choice. Now we'll have to figure out who is going to install it. This will be another project, but project is Dino's middle name, if you know what I mean.

We drive home and settle in, and Sofi sits with me while I do a little sketching and then a little writing, and then it's time to go to bed, do a few exercises I've found on the internet for my hand, and then drift off to dreamland, while Roy watches movies on TV.

January 29
With the month almost finished, we have an appointment with new clients to talk with them about finding a new property. The days are full of surprises, with new adventures around every turn. We are certainly never bored.

I am wishing that I had started drawing and painting a decade or so earlier, but perhaps our lives were so different then, that I would not have found the time. But now the days are growing shorter, and I am wondering if my hand is starting to tell me that I am giving it too much of a workout with all the sketching and painting.

As it is, I have not played the violin for months. I really miss not playing, but it hurts my shoulder too much to play. So the music stand remains right next to the window facing the lavender garden, a reminder of how much I miss playing. I do know that the twins will grow up so quickly, and before I know it they'll be almost ten, and hopefully one or both of them will want to play the violin by that time, and then it will be theirs. What better legacy for Uncle Harry to have?

We walk up to church on this misty morning, for a mass with Don Cirio, and before the mass even Vincenzo gives me a hug on his way up the aisle. With Marsiglia at home with a sore throat, Felice comes to church looking a little forlorn. He sits on the aisle where he and Marsiglia have sat recently, and I regret not having him sit with us.

After mass, Tiziano takes us across the piazza to the Barberini palazzo, the building known as the Orsini palazzo. Sandro wants us to look at his work, and we are met by one of the sisters, Elsa, who shows us around.

The place is really quite remarkable. We are shown perhaps a quarter of the building. I had thought it had been turned into several apartments, but it has obviously not. She takes us through a few rooms, and when I comment on the crests on the fireplaces, she shows us even more rooms. When I ask her if we can come back and take photos of the crests so that I can paint them, she answers, "Why not?" The reason for our visit, a look at the floor tiles, brings us to ask her if we can see them. But they are covered in cardboard, perhaps to seal them. We then have a discussion with her about what material is used on them to cure them, so that they won't get as dirty as they would with olio d'lineo. Even with Tiziano there to translate, we cannot figure it out. So we will ask Sandro this next week to explain.

In one of the areas, she is proud to show us two new bathrooms, across from each other and separated by a little opening of about a meter or two in width. When I ask her why there are two bathrooms in the same spot, she tells us that the palazzo is big, so they need to have multiple bathrooms. Perhaps when the building has been fully restored, we will understand. The bathrooms are beautiful, just the same, fashioned in taupe colored tiles.

After pranzo, we drive to Amelia to meet with new clients near the Teatro. Their home is lovely. She is keen on finding a country property near Amelia, with land and buildings to restore. We don't have what they want within their budget, but will start a search.

I'd like to be home sketching, and we drive home on this gloomy afternoon. Before I know it, I'm laying out a plan for the garden sink tiles. Dino helps me by drawing the piece in perspective on graph paper. This is not my forte. I seem to blank at calculations, my vision clearing as soon as I am left to sprawl on the page and watch my hand spring to life as petals and shoots and stalks and buds and flowers emerge from the pencil.

By the time we go to bed, I've sketched small and large samples. I'm not quite there. But soon...

January 30
With the dawn, I look forward to rising. The sky is grey, but I am drawn to the large pad of paper waiting for me. Yes, it is as though it is telling me that yes, the design is ready to appear.

And in the next hours, that is just what happens. Before the day is done, I will have sketched out eleven tiles. I need approximately 25, and some of those will be repeats, a few without designs.

We are ready to pick up our tiny wood stufa from Orsolini, and after a pranzo of tomato bread soup, using our bottled tomatoes and basil that has been marinating in our best olive oil for months, we drive off, with Sofi at home to guard the kitchen.

The little French stufa is a perfect design for us. Although we'd like a pellet stufa, they are so ugly and also so expensive (starting at Euro2,000), that this will be a good alternative for the next year or two. Even if we decide to plunk down the money for a pellet stove now, the designs are so ugly that we could not find one in any of the twenty plus stores we visited this past week. So we're happy with our decision. They wrap our little orphan, who stood in the showroom for eleven years before we came along, and we drive home with it.

Dino and I bring it up the front steps, and it fits just fine. Tomorrow Dino will find Stefano and see if he can steal some time this next week to install it for us, the tube running straight out the side of the house and up, next to the chimney. Unfortunately, we don't think we can connect it to the chimney, but perhaps Stefano will have a better idea.

The temperature is not cold this evening, so we don't lay a fire. I work on some sketches while Dino works on the web site, knowing that Alex will be available later this week to hopefully finish some of the technical aspects. We won't be ready for the first of February, but perhaps for Valentine's Day we'll be ready to unveil our new site. Speriamo!

January 31, 2006
So it's the last day of January, and although the morning is cold, the afternoon is sunny and lovely. On our walk up to the borgo to see Dottore Bifferoni to get prescriptions, we pass eight or so neighbors, packed tight as sardines on the bench next to Donato's house. Donato's delivery truck boxes them in but no matter. It is sunny, and they squeeze in, not even noticing us until we greet them as we walk by on the far side of the truck.

At that moment, they all seem to spring to life. It is as if they're in the audience of a quiz show, and everyone is told "look asleep!" And a few minutes later, "Wake up!" The requisite, "bella gionata's" and "bell sole's" are thrown out and we volley back. Then we continue our walk up the hill.

The dog named Brick meets us, and he is a real mess. Stitches and bare skin appear on a ring around his neck and also on his hindquarters. He seems spry, however, and comes over for a buss. Carlo's son is there with a special petition for us to sign about officially making Brick the neighborhood dog.

Now if you recall, more than a week ago, Brick and Tex, Claudio and Michelle's huge Maremenna dog, got into a terrible row, with Brick very badly hurt. Carlo stepped in, and we thought he and Antonella Fosci took the dog to a private vet in Amelia, where he stayed for a week, before returning to the village. With no official owner, no license and no proof of shots, he was not allowed to go to a regular public vet.

So a group of concerned citizens got together to petition to the mayor to make Brick an official dog of the borgo of Mugnano. Dogs in Italy are not supposed to be allowed "off leash" in public areas. Brick has never been on a lead, nor does he even have a collar.

I don't know what will happen to Brick's "status", since Brick has been the unofficial mayor of Mugnano for as long as we can remember. He greeted us in September, 1977 when we first stepped into the village, leading us around and making us feel welcome. Since then, he has meandered all over the village and the adjoining pieces of land at will.

We can see Claudio and Shelly's point. Tex is not allowed off leash. So Brick should not be either. Tonight Dino told me that Brick has even gone onto Claudio and Shelly's property, with Tex on a chain, unable to reach him. No wonder Tex wanted to get to Brick. And so one day, with Tex off his lead, he traveled just next to their property to the cemetery, where Brick had led three women of the village on their daily walk. Cue the music of "Gunfight at the OK Corral...".

Sofi stayed on the property today during our walk, and is obviously unaware of all the dog talk these days in the village. If we ever needed a blessing of the animals for the feast day of San Antonio d'Abate, it was this year...

We are the third in line to see Dottore Bifferoni, who arrives right on time for his weekly hour. Since we only need refills of current prescriptions, it takes no time at all, nor does he ask anything about our health. I am still not sure about having him as our doctor. He seems to be a competent country doctor. But if something more serious arises, as it has in the past, I am not sure that I want him to be our "captain".

I know that the doctor in Soriano who is supposed to be the best around is very busy. So don't know if it's a good idea to join a practice of someone who has little time to get to know his patients. Am I making any sense? Isn't the reason we want to go to him because he is very good? That would make sense that many people want him to be their own. In the next weeks, I will convince Dino that we need to learn more.

On the way back down the hill, Maria (the Sarda) tells us that she switched to Bifferoni from Dr. Fagioli (known as Dr. Bean). Dr. Bean was always too busy for conversation with her. She thinks a doctor should be like a priest, and get to know his "flock". She wants a conversation. Are we any different?

Stefano the muratore arrives to look at our sweet little stufa, and he'll install it within the week. Tomorrow when I'm getting my toenails done in Orte, Dino will pick up the supplies. It's possible the work will even be done in the next few days.

Stefano plans to tie the little stufa right into the chimney of the fireplace. So after he leaves, Dino knocks off the bottom pepperino shelf under which it will sit, leaving the other shelves where they are. A black pipe will be run inside the fireplace and up into the flue. I'm sure it will look fine. Then Dino and I will repair the paint on the wall. I may even paint a detail on the back wall. This is exciting news.

Earlier this morning, we all drove to Sippiciano to Daniele, our parrucchieri (hairdresser), and the road is still closed at Bomarzo, so we drive through Attigliano and Alviano. Once there, Daniele tells us he is working alone, for his findanzata is now working as a receptionist at a big hotel in La Quercia near the Duomo. We'll stop by sometime to take a look.

That reminds me. Donatella appeared at the salon to say hello, looking like a twenty-something, all dressed in black, quite wonderful, with a black faux boa and some kind of black short pants over tights. She has a slim figure, and although I'd think she's a little long in the tooth for such an outfit, it looks quite good on her. But that's not what I want to tell you about.

She tells me that Ingrid and her husband are almost prisoners in their lovely villa in the countryside outside La Quercia. There have been so many robberies that they won't leave their property after dark. They are frightened and remain poised in their home with a gun!

I am shocked hearing both that there are so many robberies, and that they are waiting with a gun. Donatella tells Dino that every Italian in the countryside has a gun. And now there is a new law that gives people permission to shoot anyone who appears on his or her property to threaten to do them harm. Is this another American custom the Italians have embraced?

I fear it is not the Italians they are after, but the Albanians, who roam the countryside, appearing to be friendly but after dark descend, just as they did with us. We refuse to let this thinking rule our lives, and feel secure here. See our Archives for mid May, 2003 for our own experience.

Tia worked on the first of her roses this afternoon in the beautiful weather. She hopes to have them all done this next week. So perhaps if it is lovely later this week, we'll get started on ours. I remind her that tomorrow in ceramics class I'll work on two test designs for her. I have an idea that I think will work well. We'll see if they like the bowls. If they do not, we'll like them and will use them ourselves or sell them to someone else.

I have fifteen tile designs finished for the garden sink, including a special row at the top with two cherubs (called putti) and ribbons and roses and only need a couple more. So we'll buy the handmade tiles in the next week so that I can paint and fire them. I'd like to have the sink done by March, but don't know if that will be possible. At least the tiles may be finished. Then we'll see who will build it and who will lay the tiles. I am truly feeling like an artist now.

As the month ends, although a long winter's nap continues, I am hopeful of many things, and already see the first signs of Spring just around the corner. Perhaps before the next month is through, we'll have published our new web site and will have the tiles for the sink finished. Dino promises me we'll buy the three peony bushes this next week, and that means that Mario will come to do any of the heavy winter pruning and digging we'll need to have done in order to get ready for next month.

See our Garden Calendar and Garden section for more specifics about the garden.


February 1
I'm awakened by the sound of birds and a bright blue sky. What a wonderful way to start a new month, a new beginning! Let's work on the roses!

Sofi and I walk down to the path, and finish clipping the leaves from four Lady Hillingdon roses, growing against the tufa front wall, before it is time to come in and help Dino with a project. Well, we don't finish the entire grooming, but we clip off all the leaves.

Tomorrow we'll return to finish the fifth and then walk back to eye each one, clipping off deadwood, crossed stems, and getting ready for an explosion of blooms in April. These are wonderful roses. See the photos of them on the photos section of the site. Tomorrow we hope to work on at least the roses on the front and side terraces.

While I sit at Giusy's for a pedicure, Dino picks up the supplies we'll need for the stufa project tomorrow. Stefano will arrive in the morning and we expect a real mess in the kitchen. He'll bore into the side of the fireplace like a beetle gone amok, but when he's done we'll have the stufa venting right up into the fireplace flue. Speriamo.

While we're working on the roses, Luigina calls up to me and asks me if I'd like some fresh eggs. I walk down to meet her and she hands me four, still warm from her chicks. Wish we could have them for pranzo, but it's already noon and we have something else cooking. So we'll have them tomorrow. How sweet Luigina is! I ask her what about eggs for her, and she tells me she'll have plenty tomorrow.

Later tonight, when we're backing into the parcheggio, Dino points across the street to the abandoned chicken coop and tells me, "We could have our own chickens. If we took over that coop, we'd just be walking across the street to collect our very own eggs now."

I remember that he had no interest in raising chickens when we first bought our property, for there was a chicken coop where my studio is now. He's still not interested. I like the idea of the fresh eggs. I just don't like the idea of making friends with little creatures who will someday turn into a meal. It's enough to make someone a vegetarian.

I have had a headache for two days, and am not very excited about class, and that's not like me. I don't have a migraine, but the headache persists as a low droning kind of ache. I think it's because of the change in weather. Bummer. It's beautiful outside and I can't really appreciate it the way I'd like. Hopefully with another icepack tonight, it will go away.

My history this past year or two has been remarkable, with very few headaches. Let's hope my decades of migraines have finally come to an end. We'll go back to the hospital in Perugia in March, so hope we have good news then, too.

We pick up a finished teapot, two candlesticks and a number of plates from class. So take a look at the photos and see what you think. Unfortunately, the two bowls I paint today as tests for Tia and Bruce do not get to be fired, because at the end of the session I realize they need some smalto repair. So it will be another week before they're fired and two weeks before they're ready to be seen.

While I work in class, Dino picks up a folding table with a handle to use at mercatos. I am having second thoughts about selling my ceramics. Unless the smalto situation is fixed, I don't know when we'll be ready to sell in any quantity.

I do realize that there are problems with transporting the items to Deruta after class. Each one comes back with a problem. So the answer is to either have our own kiln or to work with the woman in Bomarzo. We'll have to visit her again soon. I'm not ready for the kiln just yet, nor do we have a place for it. Ultimately, it should be located in a little room behind the studio. But I am not sure if we can obtain permission to build one there.

February 2
Yesterday at Giusy's, we talked about spirituality. Holding a conversation solely in Italian, I tell her about an experience on Sunday in church.

Sitting during the homily, I started to think about God as if He (I see God as a He although I know many women see God as a She) was lonely. I wondered whom HE talks to, what His life is like. Does he ever get depressed, angry? Are there things He wants to learn?

I tell her that when I'm in prayer, I don't ask for anything. He knows what I don't have, what I miss, what my anxious moments are, but I think asking Him for something is not what I ever choose to do. If something is to happen for me, or for those I love, it will happen if He wills it.

Giusy thinks the idea is interesting. Considering that I still don't understand everything that she is saying, we do quite well bantering back and forth. So the conversation continues...

Today, I tell her that I remember starting my own religion at about age six, probably as a result of what was going on around me, or not going on around me, at the time. Called evannism, it consisted of God and me, just talking things out.

Giusy and I continue to speak about Catholicism and about religion in general. And Giusy, who is very spiritual herself, agrees with me that no matter the cloak of one's particular religion, it gets down to an individual's relationship with a higher being or spirit.

I write about this in the journal, because, well, the journal is my journal!

Today, my headache is gone. It is a new day, and the birds tell me it's a lovely one. It is not as warm as yesterday, but clear and cold. We think Stefano is coming to install the stufa, but when he calls at just before noon to tell us he can't work here until late, we decide to eat pranzo.

I make a soup with sautéed minced onion in olive oil, chicken broth, frozen peas and broken up bits of pasta, and it is actually excellent! A recipe from Jamie Oliver tells me to put in mint, but our mint is gone. So I use dried tarragon and dried marjoram, one half teaspoon each. The pasta is regular pasta, broken up into one-inch pieces and half cooked before popping it into the chicken broth. I wait until the pasta is added to drop in the frozen peas, because overcooked peas are really terrible.

With grilled crostini covered with a swirl of olive oil and grated parmesan melted on top, we eat happily. Dino grills radicchio and spedinis of chicken and sausages from the macelleria in Attigliano, but I am too full to eat much of it.

There is always something new, and we like to figure out ways of using things we already have, like the frozen peas and parmesan and broth. But we have still forgotten to use Luigina's four fresh eggs from yesterday. Tomorrow they'll still be fresher than anything we pick up in the market.

We walk up to the mass for the blessing of the throat, on February 2nd of each year. It is a sweet mass, and we're back home before Stefano arrives. In about an hour, he's drilled into the wall and the whole room is covered with a fine powder.

He splats a white cemento on the hole to finish it off, and tomorrow afternoon, after we buy a few more supplies to finish the job, he'll return and hook it all up inside the chimney. This is a remarkable and inexpensive way to install the stufa, and we so appreciate Stefano's superb craftsmanship. He is a joy to have working on our projects.

February 3
We wake to a very cold and foggy morning. It looks as though it will never clear. Dino has an MRI this morning at the hospital in Orvieto, so we arrive early and even though we're there before 9AM, our number is 64.

Dino needs to have a colonoscopy this Spring, so we make an appointment and also pay for it today. That way, when he has the procedure he won't have to wait. And when you're about to go in for a colonoscopy, you don't want to wait, if you know what I mean. Since they found a few polyps the last time around for him, he's scheduled for this March. I have another year until it's time for mine again.

His MRI takes just half an hour, and then we're traveling across the gorgeous Orvieto countryside to Montefiascone. Below Montefiascone, we spot an antique shop that also does restorations, and stop to take a look. We think we find four lovely kitchen chairs, but I am not sure. So we'll measure tonight and perhaps take one of our existing kitchen chairs there to measure against them. And of course we'll tussle with them for a great price. Or pass them by. Fa niente.

We buy the tubes we'll need for the stufa project in Viterbo, and there's just enough time left to stop at the peony vivaio in Vitorchiano. Yum. We pick up three medium sized ones...These plants are priced like truffles. My intention is that they will grow side by side in a kind of hedge. The fellow who sells them tells us that the variety we've chosen is known to flower prolifically.

He also tells us something interesting. In October, when the leaves have pretty much fallen off, feed them. Don't feed them at all later in the year. Perhaps that is why our peonies didn't do anything. So with no food this spring and summer, perhaps the three original ones will recover.

We'll add that information onto our planting journal for the month of October. Once our new site is up (this month some time for sure), we'll have a monthly calendar to check off. Hope that helps a few gardeners, and hope it reminds me in time to do the things we should not forget to do each month.

Back at home, Stefano arrives around 3:30, and although Dino bought just the right supplies, one of the tubes is aluminum colored, not black, and he thought it would not show. But it does. Stefano tells him to just paint it, so that's what he'll do.

Before he goes to work, we take him out to the garden sink, and he advises us to use fewer tiles on the bottom supports, so we won't need any half tiles. That will look prettier and also be easier for me. So when he and Dino are working together inside the fireplace on the stufa connection, I'm redrafting the sink, and liking the design very much. I might begin the painting as early as next Wednesday, depending on whether Monia has brought the handmade tiles to class, and whether they are the right price.

As Stefano finishes, we tell him to take his pick of my hand painted Mugnano plates. We really want him to have one. He wants one with my initials on it, and I'm thrilled he'll have one. He leaves with instructions for Dino to not to fire up the stufa tonight. So Dino takes off for an errand in Amelia, and will return by way of the hardware store with black paint.

I can see the black pipe shooting diagonally into the side of the fireplace, and at first want Stefano to block the pipe off so that we won't see it. But if we need to do some cleaning in a year or so, that will be difficult if it's all cemented in. I sit for a few minutes having tea from my newly painted ceramic tea pot after Dino leaves, and rather like the authentic look of the pipe. It is such a short piece that I no longer mind it.

The eyes and the brain are such interesting parts of the body. In just a short period of time, it is easy to get used to something new. And now I'm thinking of putting in a short pepperino shelf next to the shelf above the stufa, for Dino's scotch and a few other liquor bottles. The shelves above the stufa will now be only for ceramics. We later compromise on no new outside shelf, and only a bottle or two.

I take a pass at drawing a pot with roses for the four remaining tiles for the garden sink. Dino would like a tromp l'oeil effect on it somewhere, but I don't like the way a pot with roses comes out. It looks too contrived. So I'll give it some time. In the meantime, if the weather is good tomorrow morning, Sofi and I will do more leaf pruning of the roses.

February 4
Today Tia invites a number of her women friends for pranzo. Bruce is out of town. So Dino and Sofi stay at home and I drive to Tia's. This is probably the third or fourth time I have driven since we have owned this car! I know it sounds strange, but our life is so simple and we share so many things that when we go out together Dino always drives. Once I'm out in the car, I don't feel especially liberated.

I join Terry and Helen and Nadia as Tia's guests today, and Tia is a great host, as usual. I have not gabbed with a bunch of women since my lavender lunch last July. Women always have something to talk about, and although we have very different backgrounds, we find that we have plenty in common.

I have done quite a bit of thinking about raising chicks, and although agreed with Dino that we won't do it, can't resist asking the other women what they think about bird flu and what they think about raising chickens. This is not the right group to talk about farm animals, so after an agreement that we have no control over the bird flu, we move on to other subjects.

By the time we leave, it is as though we've each peeled back a layer of ourselves for each other. Personalities are so interesting, and each of the women is complex and intelligent. So there is a lot to learn from, as well as about, each one. In a mixed group, there is seldom the opportunity to have the kind of discussions that women can have when they get together. The dynamics are just different. Not necessarily better; just different. And today, interesting.

After I leave, I stop at Coop in Amelia for some shopping, wanting to roast vegetables tomorrow in a little olive oil and herbs in the oven. Oh how wonderful they would taste if we had a bread oven! I'm not holding my breath about that one. We'll need to sell a couple of houses before we'll be able to put a new roof on the loggia and put in the bread oven there. In my dreams we'll use it all the time...

Every time I draw out the schematic for the garden sink, we take another look at it. And then in the redrawing, the sink gets taller. So now we're at 81 tiles...I rework the design and now will need to design some new elements. The process is so very interesting, and I'm very happy that we're taking our time, figuring out just where each of the designed tiles will be placed.

When I arrive back home, Dino tells me it's time to christen the stufa. He's spray painted the rest of the tubing black inside the fireplace, and it looks fine. After adding wood and a little paper to get it going, the stufa draws as it should. And then we see smoke. But for the first fire, the smoke is not too bad.

We'll have a couple of additional fires before the little thing settles down. But after an hour or so, we stop putting in wood and it cools off. Was there heat? Yes. A lot? No. I think it will work fine just the same. And it surely looks wonderful.

February 5
A special blessing goes out on this day to the family of Joy Thompson. Joy's maiden name was Campagnoli, and she was the loving daughter of Ernestine and Fred Campagnoli. Joy passed away yesterday after an illness.

The year we moved here, Joy and her sister Julie and mother Ernestine arrived here for a visit. We ate pranzo on Dino's grandmother's fine china and laughed all afternoon. I write about the china because, by some strange coincidence, the plates were of the same china pattern that Ernestine and Fred had when they were first married. When the three women walked into the kitchen, where we served pranzo, Ernestine laughed out loud. And then we did, too.

Here are two photos. One shows Julie and Joy on our bed, the other with Ernestine in the garden. We treasure these photos and hope you enjoy them, too.

February 6
Yesterday we spent a lot of time thinking about Julie and Joy and Ernestine, and also of Freddy, the girls' brother and Ernestine's son, who we forgot to mention yesterday. Since Joy had been ill for some time, the news was not a surprise.

This morning after reading the sad news from Julie, we leave for church. The little church is full, with Lore and Alberto returning, as well as Augusto and Vincenza and many others who do not return every week. Lore is expecting deliveries and their architect friend, so will be in Mugnano for a week.

We've invited them for pranzo, and although we think Alberto does not like the idea of eating at our house, we think they'll come. I attempt to fix authentic Italian food when they come, with a little twist, but he is such a traditionalist that I can see his eyebrows twitching, although he is so very proper and polite that he would never say anything.

We pick up Sofi after church, and drive up to Pissignano, the monthly antique mercato we like so much. The town is just north of Spoleto, and even if we don't buy anything, which is the case today, we see friends and love seeing many unusual items.

Maggie is there, and Dino asks her about how difficult it is to exhibit. I turn my head and roll my eyes silently in horror, for I cannot imagine exhibiting here. But Dino wants to. Perhaps I'll let him do it once. And unfortunately that means I'll have to be with him.

We run into Patricia and her husband Bassam, who are always looking for special furniture pieces to add to their antique business. But we stop at the porchetta truck for sandwiches instead of having a big meal. I want to cook a pork roast and roast vegetables later, so encourage Dino to do this. The sandwiches are excellent and the meat very lean, but it is so filling that I cannot eat much of mine.

We drive on to Montefalco to a shop specializing in the linen fabric that Umbria is famous for. The shop opens at 3PM, so we stop at a bar for coffee to wait until it opens. While we're there we run into two women from Southern California with a tour guide.

We take his information, because these women are in the midst of a weekly cooking tour, and we always look for short cooking classes for friends in the area. Short classes are difficult to find in spans of less than a week, and we later learn that conducting the classes is not a moneymaker unless it is of a five day duration.

We find the shop, and wait until it opens. Giuseppina the shop keeper, helps us to pick out a lovely and characteristic linen damask fabric, and agrees to have the shop sew a runner the perfect length and width for our hall bureau. While they're at it, they agree to seam the rest of the fabric into a wonderful tablecloth. And so I of course must purchase more, to make the low drapes to fit under the kitchen sink.

The fabric is 120 cm wide, so one meter will be just what I need. We think it will be ready in two weeks, so it will be a good excuse to return. Then it's time to drive home in the cold afternoon light, the sun hurrying to drop below the horizon as the light turns to pale orange and then in an instant, to icy pewter.

But we're not hungry when we arrive home, so the roast and vegetables will be cooked for pranzo tomorrow. It's been a lovely day, experiencing one of the day trips we like so much. The countryside, especially as the sun drops low in the sky, is the colors of the fabric, a persimmon-y orange and that pewter grey again.

We are collecting quotes for our business to use on the web site, so stop at Tony and Pat's for a short visit. They return to Ohio until mid June, and I offer to put some lettuces and rughetta and herbs in pots for her, so that when they arrive they can just walk outside the kitchen and have their kitchen garden all ready. It will be fun to do, starting the seeds in May.

While we're sipping tea and hearing about their adventures with the Comune, we ask them if they were to speak with someone in the U S who wanted to purchase property in Central Italy, would they recommend that they contact us? If so, what would they say about us? We know that Tony would tell us how he really feels.

Tony does not hesitate:

"I'd tell them you know everything about this area. You know even more than the people who live here, people who have lived here all their lives."

Thanks, Tony.

At home, we continue to work on the web site, but we're edging so very close to being ready...It's all up to Alex, now.

Today, Monday, Dino wakes up early to the alarm. By the time I'm up and dressed it's 7:30, and Mario is already here starting to work on the big cachi tree by the kitchen window. I think it is going to be incredibly cold, but instead I have to take off my coat. The sun on the terrace is warm, and without a wind, it's a beautiful morning.

Mario finishes pruning the cachi tree, leaving it for maximum shade. Then he moves over to the gigantic laurel tree, which reminds me of some kind of fantasy creature, all arms and shoulders and very tall. Mario's up in the ladder, all monkeylike, snipping and snipping. But he does not have his moto-sega with a motor. Some of the branches are very big. So he climbs down and rushes off to the next town, where he has his little machine.

Once he's back, he does not really use it very much. It is a monstrous thing, an electric powered saw that I won't let Dino get near. The ladder reaches up, up into the tree, and Rosita is out on her balcony, looking down at the tree she loves.

She would love it to be round. Motioning the shape lovingly as if she holds a baby in her arms when I ask her, she is not thrilled that Mario is cutting it lower than she'd like. I have to tell her that in spring she will get her wish. Dino tells Mario that when we can afford it, the tree will come down and instead we'll have a proper loggia with a higher roof that will come out onto the terrace. Right now, that project feels like its not likely to happen for at least two years, perhaps more.

When he's finished, the terrace has a mound of laurel clippings, almost as tall as me. Dino will be stripping the clippings of leaves and cutting them small to use next year as fire starters.

Mario moves from tree to tree, clipping here and there. He knows what he is doing, but I don't really understand. He does not clip back to a bud. He just clips, leaving three inches or more past an intersecting branch.

I am much more relaxed now about pruning our trees. During the first few years, I hovered like a hen, nagging and pointing and holding my breath. I was a real bore. Now I shrug my shoulders, knowing that he knows what he is doing, even though he is like a bull in a china shop.

Mario does get me steaming when he reaches the special plum tree, for he wants the three main braches to open up more, and breaks through a joint between two of them. I had suggested that we put a rock in to encourage that growth, but Mario asks for a piece of wood from the cuttings he's already finished.

He fashions a kind of slingshot from a sturdy branch with a "y" at an intersection, but as he moves the branches out, he damages a joint. "MARIO!" I yell from about 20 feet away. And then I turn around and walk into the house. I can't watch. This is one of the two special fruit trees we purchased in northern Umbria a couple of years ago. I can almost hear it sobbing.

Mario tells Dino that Bruno in Attigliano has a kind of glue for trees that will repair the problem. I stay inside fixing roast vegetables and the pork roast. When things are in the oven I reappear, and Mario has clipped the rest of the fruit trees and is now working on the olives.

I don't want our olive trees to get tall. They're too hard to reach that way to pick. He's pruned the big olive so that it will grow some this year, and tells us that next year he'll cut it back. No one has had many olives this year, so when we ask him what to do to produce more this next season, he tells us not to worry.

He's impressed with our fava crop, for in the lower planting area Felice placed three seeds in each hole. In most of the holes, three plants have come up. But in the upper planting area, only half of the holes have plants. Go figure.

We're to clip the nespola trees ourselves, and Dino wants to plant the peony bushes himself. That's all right with me. So before noon he's finished, and Dino walks down to his car to help him with his tools and also to give him a budino di caki from the freezer. Roy places it on the bumper of his car.

Twenty minutes later, Mario calls to speak with Dino. He can't find the budino. Dino looks down on the street, but can't find it. So I ask him if he's going to look for it. I let him take another, in the event he doesn't come across the one Mario can't find. And five minutes later Dino is calling, laughing. He just ran over it on the bridge to Attigliano.

"Ran over it!" I exclaim. "I thought it was a plastic bag," he replies. And I am thinking, "Do men aim at plastic bags in the road?" So Dino takes the new one to Mario and Maria. When he returns, he reassures me that he was not the first to run over it. Sigh.

I continue to clip roses, and by the time we sit down to eat, I have finished clipping all the roses on the front and side terraces. That makes twenty-five so far. I'm about half way there.

While watching the clipping of the laurel tree, I thought I noticed a nest way up in the tree. But I see it on the ground and am sad. A number of robin looking birds are flying around, not very happy. So I ask Dino to put his gloves on and place the nest back up in the tree. He chooses to put it in the nespola tree on the front terrace, thinking the birds will find their way to it.

But I think this is a territory thing, and they will ignore it. Luckily, there was nothing in the nest. How difficult the life of a bird. I hope I don't come back as one in my next life. Or a tree. This life is challenging enough.

Dino forgot to ask Mario about the lemon tree, so he calls and Mario will come back after pranzo. Some of the higher leaves have wind burn, although we have covered the plant. I fear that wind has blown under the covering.

I'm back to the design of the garden sink, but when Dino hears how many tiles I'll have to paint, he thinks we'll have it ready next year. I don't agree. The calculations of it are as interesting as the design, especially with the matching tiles, designs that move from one tile to another, and the two front corners. I'll paint them in sections, working from bottom left to top right. I love this project!

We drive to Viterbo to Gianpiero, Sofi's new vet. We don't have to wait more than fifteen minutes, and he is quite wonderful. As of 2006, there is a new law that all dogs must have a chip, so we find out where to take Sofi for it, and in another two weeks she'll have her chip.

For today, it's a quick checkup and one injection. Now she's ready until June. He cuts her nails and tells us that no, she is not overweight. Perhaps her fur coat has made her look heavy. But when I hold her, she does not feel any different.

Sofi shakes like a washing machine going through the ringer stage, but is a good dog, and happy to be home again. On the way, we discuss a new plan for the lemon tree. Mario clips back the burned leaves from the frost that found its way under the material that is used to shield the tree. He shakes his head and frowns, telling us it must be kept in the little cave nearby.

But that is an impossibility. The tree is almost too tall to fit, the pot is too heavy, the way there very unstable and Roy is against the idea. He tells me later that there must be something we can do. "What do all the people who own lemons planted in the ground on the Amalfi coast do?"

On the way home, I'm fantasizing again. This time I fantasize out loud, imagining a kind of structure like a flimsy guard shack that will fit over the tree, but be taken off and folded up after the danger of frost has past each Spring. We're getting closer.

February 7
One of our very dearest friends, Margaret Flaharty, is close to death. She has battled the big "C" for many, many years. This has been a difficult week for us, and today the most difficult yet. Dino speaks with Pat, a best friend for almost six decades, and if we could send strength by our voices, we would do that. Margaret lays at home with hospice care, resting.

This morning, we drive to Deruta to pick up terra cotta and to Perugia, to track down my migraine doctor at the hospital. He is not there, so we drive across Perugia to another hospital, and track him down in the stroke ward. Luckily, he happens to be right there, and comes out to speak with us. On the way out, we realize that if either of us has a stroke, he is the very best doctor to have by our sides. So we will keep his cell phone number, hoping we won't ever have to use it.

His office has been transferred from one hospital to another, so we'll call later to make an appointment for March, to update his treatment of me for migraines. This done, we stop at a favorite tavola calda by a little manmade lake for pranzo, and then drive across Umbria to Tuscany, for a meandering trip home on picturesque back roads.

We drive to Cetona as our first stop, but there is a funeral taking place in the square and we can't drive through, so we turn around and drive to San Casciano di Bagni. I've wanted to return since reading Marlene Di Biasi's book, A Thousand Days in Tuscany, which I liked, especially for the recipes.

We look for the café, but are not sure if it is the same one, so walk up the street. There is a shop open that strangely sells painted ceramics from Vietri Sul Mar. We walk in and speak with the owner and his mother, who also own the bar and enoteca across the street.

After a conversation, we ask him about Marlene, and he tells us she now lives in Orvieto, which we know. He thinks she is a little strange. I defend her, although I don't know her, commenting that she is "artistic and creative" and he agrees, shaking his head. She is probably too flamboyant for him.

He encourages us to follow him to the bar, where we take little cups of coffee and a sweet, and it is really a beautiful bar. This bar has been open for two years, so he tells us that the bar in the book is Bar Centrale, the first one in the square. Next door to Bar Centrale is a restaurant. We'll surely return to try it out, even though Marlene is nowhere to be found in this town anymore.

Dino's been encouraging me to get my book going, but there is a research component that has me stumped. I need the approval of our village priest in order to pursue this avenue. I'll write the letter and see if Tiziano approves the translation before taking it to Don Luca, probably together with Tiziano after mass next week.

The Tuscan countryside is so very beautiful, and even on these dull winter days, the dusty sky hanging low over rows of cypress and solitary stone casales make one want to dream. Sheep grazing in the meadow, flashes of emerald green when the sun surprises us low on the horizon with a shaft of light across the land, are symbols of richness beyond compare. But we have our own dream-come-true in tiny Mugnano, so this is a joy to behold as we pass by on this day.

It is only when we arrive home and receive an email about Margaret that we realize how few hours she has left. So we hold Margaret and Patrick and Ann and Mark and Karen close to our hearts, and blow Margaret a kiss to send her on her way.

I go up to bed with a sore throat, wondering if a flu is not far off.

February 8
Last night, I had the most wonderful dream about Margaret, and about all of us. It was a dream that stayed with me and remains with me still.

In my dream, I joined so many people who love Margaret in blowing rose petals to light her path toward heaven. Petals were everywhere. The petals were soft and pale and also vivid and red. The petals were large and small. Breezes blew them everywhere. Everywhere.

Margaret wore a warm red sweater, her lips were crimson and glowing and her mouth wide framing that deep laugh of hers we all love.

She waved and, as if she were dancing, fairly danced along the petals until she was out of sight.

There is a piece of music written by a woman who died young of cancer that I love. Her name was Eva Cassidy. In the dream, we are all silently singing one of the verses:

"Mornings in winter
the glowing fire
lights up your face in yellow and gold
I see your sweet smile
I hear your laughter
You're still beside me every day
'cause I know you by heart
'cause I know you by heart."

Here's a grand photo of her taken by Paul Fillinger:

The view is somber, the winter telling us it's time to stay inside, to reflect. We need to find comfort and postpone a pranzo here tomorrow for Lore and Alberto. They are very understanding.

The day moves on silently, as if the world around us is in a whisper. News from our friends in the US reminds us that each moment is precious. So Sofi and I take a walk on the loop below our house, and she is joyous just at the thought of it. Before I can put her harness on, she's like a little jumping bean. Perhaps this is just what Sofi needs, too.

Once out on the path, she knows just where to head. I won't put her lead on unless I see there are cars around. We arrive at the first fountain, and Brik sidles up. He makes a small growl at Sofi, who responds as if she's saying, "Geez, I just wanted to say hi!" His back looks as though it is healing, but has a long way to go. He doesn't follow us on our route, deciding to stay near the porchetta truck instead. This is market day, if you could call it that.

Market day in our village consists of the porchetta truck plus one other, a man who sells pots and pans and bottles of soap powder. In nicer weather, a man arrives to sell jeans and polyester dresses and underwear. The fruit and vegetable trucks stop by on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, and Italo the fish man arrives on Fridays; but not today. So we continue on our way.

We've said hello to Terzo and Rosina and the only other person we meet is Vincenzo. He's walking down the hill toward his campo as we march up the steep incline back toward home. Tomorrow, I'll bring along a plastic bag to pick up things people strew as they drive along.

This is something I can't understand. Is it a spoiled male thing? Italian males are known to be coddled by their mothers. Do they think someone else will thank them for throwing cigarette wrappers and empty plastic bags on the road? Italian women are known to be immaculate. Their houses sparkle. Lore spends almost an entire day each time they come to Mugnano, cleaning every surface, including washing the walls. The thought of it is incongruous.

When we arrive back, we are met by Dino, who stands on the terrace at a big plastic bin, clipping short lengths of wood. Each year, after the winter pruning has been done, he collects all our big bins and, one by one, fills them with neatly clipped pieces of kindling. They are set aside for the following winter. It is an annual custom, and one he enjoys very much.

The exercise would drive me nuts. But it's practical and very helpful. Sofi and I find ourselves soon inside, and I'm working on the design of the garden sink project, drawing yet another plan. I think it is almost finished. But this time, I'll add some of the curving ribbons I so love.

We eat our simple chicken broth and pea soup for pranzo, and then pack up to drive to Terni for class. I pick up a tiny rooster pitcher. It comes out of the forno just fine and is very cute. Today, I ask Marco how much he'll charge for the tiles if we buy them from him for the garden sink project.

But his price is 65 cents vs. 45 cents in Deruta, so I tell him I'm sorry but we won't buy them from him. We'll buy other things, and leave with two good paperback art books on drawing and painting instead.

Before the session is finished, I've completed the two test tiles, two soup bowls and two dinner plates for Tia and Bruce and two plates that have sat in the back room since before Christmas to be finished.

For the dinner plates, I've painted one big red pepper on one, and my flower motif on the other, also in a large scale. We'll see if they like either of the designs. We'll also hand them the two soup bowls, with scattered beans inside one and peppers inside another.

So we'll pick up most if not all of the tiles from Deruta soon. Now that I know they're the correct ones, I can move swiftly along. Monia tells me her oven is not the one to fire my tiles, but she knows of one. So perhaps starting next week, we'll bring tiles that don't need painting except for smalto, in small numbers.

These are ones that she will fire and we'll ask her to dip others that I can paint at home. My hope is to finish the tiles before the roses are blooming in May. That gives me about ten weeks. It's an excellent goal!

I've decided that Sofi does not need a sister. Having another dog would complicate our lives. Now, if we go out, we usually take Sofi with us, and she is easy to put under my arm. She stays in the car or comes with us. But with another dog, although she would have a playmate, taking two changes the dynamics markedly in a negative way.

The answer, we think, is to take her out more, to take her for walks, and to find someone with a dog Sofi likes to play with. Dino does not want another dog.

The day ends with us thinking about our dear friends and holding them close to our hearts.

February 9
Our first email is from Patrick, telling us that dear Margaret is still alive, after a week of not eating. She's not ready. So we blow her a kiss and think about the day ahead. Margaret remains in our hearts as the hours pass.

We wake to a cold and foggy morning, and I suspect it will remain cold. Sofi is now anxious to have our morning walk, and by about 10:30 the fog has cleared and I'm putting on my warm boots.

Once we reach the path, there is a bright sun, so I've opened my coat to luxuriate in the fresh smells and the air around us. We see a single bearded iris, popping up ahead of time, and will snap it off for the house when we return.

By the time we reach the break in the road, Brik saunters down the hill from the borgo and leads us on our regular walk. Sofi is so happy to see him she does her sniffing dog thing, so excited to be near him. Can a dog have an expression? He has none, and the way he swaggers he's not about to show his cards...

When at an intersection, Brik can jaunt straight ahead to his girlfriend's house, but he chooses to lead us all the way home. And when we reach our path, he follows us part way, stopping to lie down on the gravel facing the sun.

Sofi and I move into the house and come out with a couple of biscuits for him; still no expression. And when I look down later, he is gone. I think we'll see him daily, if I know Brik. I'll be sure to keep a few biscuits in my pocket...

Because it is warm, I work on more roses. The Madame Alfred Carriere is such a huge rose, that it takes me a few days to finish it. I follow Sarah's instructions to clip at about three nodes above the lateral branches. But what about the horizontal branches? I'm not sure, so I'll just play with it, hoping I do a fine job. But this year I'll note what I do in a garden journal, following it during the season. If I remember...

Dino wants to eat a Joe's Special for pranzo, and brings back some ground sausage as well as ground beef. Other ingredients? Onion, garlic, frozen spinach, a dollop of olive oil, 6 eggs, fresh presemelo, salt and pepper. It's really quite simple, sautéing the meat first, then adding the spinach and then the eggs. I add some mild Tabasco drops and it's really very good.

I prune more roses in the afternoon, and when Sofi won't stop barking, I walk to the top of the stairs to see Augusta and Giuseppa standing at the gate. I heard them sitting on the step there earlier. We fashioned stone benches at the foot of the path for them to sit in the sun, but somehow they like this spot better occasionally.

I love seeing them sit there. When the weather is nicer, I'll be sure to invite them in to sit on the terrace whenever they like. But I think they like these two spots, which are like their own private landscape-with-view.

I work on the ceramic design for the sink again. It is really a complicated project. And Dino works on the web site. Later in the afternoon we have a phone consultation with a web consultant, and come away from the meeting with some research to take on in the next days.

Tomorrow I'll sew up the new linen fabric from Montefalco to hang under the sink. The shop called to tell us that the table runner and tablecloth are finished already. So we'll drive back up there to pick them up on some day when we also drive to Deruta to pick up the tiles for the sink project. Dino and I are working on a scheme to finish them by mid-Spring. Speriamo.

As we slip into bed, our thoughts are with Margaret, and with Patrick. We're strewing flower petals in Margaret's path, just in case, as we drop off to dreamland...

February 10
I'm not much for statistics, but here's one I find interesting, from the MSO Census of the U S Govt.: "According to the 2002 Economic Census, the U.S. had 195,659 full-service restaurants (i.e., restaurants where customers generally are seated, served by wait staff, and pay after eating). Of this total, 17,415 were Italian restaurants; 17,395 were Chinese; 15,112 were Mexican; and 19,281 were restaurants with some other ethnic specialty.

Why do I find this interesting? If the subject for the census was an Italy economic census, there would probably be almost as many restaurants, but at least 99 per cent of them would certainly be classified as Italian. I think there must be at least 12,000 restaurants in Italy, where eating and food is a national pastime.

But if you ask an Italian, a restaurant serving Sicilian food is a world away from a restaurant serving Piemonte cuisine. This is what they call a varied prepared and served specific to a region.

So I've asked our good friend and economist, Duccio, what he thinks. I'm sure he'll have a funny answer.

What I find really hilarious, is what the rest of the restaurants call themselves, if they are not Italian, or Mexican, or Chinese or some other ethnic specialty, more than 126,000 are...American? Huh? We're not taking fast food takeout here.

Yes, we miss food from other countries. But it is a small price to pay for living here. Stay tuned for what Duccio uncovers... This morning, I sew the curtains for the area below the kitchen sink, and think of Margaret with a smile. She and Patrick were here for our first Christmas, and on that visit I attempted to make a muslin slipcover for an old chair in our bedroom, by taking the old slipcover and trying to match it. (Bad idea.) Margaret stood by me, and oh so gently tried to guide me. And it was then that she told me that she had worked in a fabric store. What a wonderful cheerleader she was!

While they were here, I was able to sew the floor to ceiling flimsy curtains that hang in front of the door to the upstairs balcony. We laughed as I sewed and she pinned.

So I think that Margaret has decided that she's going first. She wants to pave the way, just as she always has as far as I've been concerned, but then I have only known her since our wedding day. I have a photo of me meeting her at the reception line, so thrilled to finally meet the woman I'd been hearing about.

She'll be up there, nodding her head and laughing at our antics, all of ours. She'll be pushing and cajoling us on when we're not sure if we are ready to take on something. She'll be hugging us from on high and lighting up the sky with those gorgeous eyes and enormous laugh. Oh how fortunate we are to have known and loved Margaret.


I finish sewing and after a pranzo of prepared gnocchi (really quite good), we drive off to Montefalco and Deruta. The runner and tablecloth are ready. We miss the turnoff, and find ourselves wending our way through the Umbrian countryside from Todi to Bastardo (I know, it is a funny name, isn't it?) to Casale (where Dick and Pat Ryerson have a house) and then to Montefalco.

It takes only a minute to pick up the package, but a while to maneuver our way on back roads to Deruta. We ask Vania where we can purchase the tiles I'll need for the garden sink project, realizing that we can find them for less than the 45 cents apiece we'll have to pay at Mondo Ceramica.

She tells me that the industrial tiles we want (they must be 15 cm square or less, so we can't buy handmade tiles) are made in a tiny town near Assisi. We take out our map and find the town, but we have no idea what specific place we are looking for.

So after a few false starts, we find ourselves in an artiginiale area, and Dino walks up to a factory door and talks into their speaker. They let him in and try to tell him where to shop, but then one of the men stops and tells him if he goes to the back door, knocks and asks for Jacopo, that he'll be shown in and we can buy 100 tiles for €10 cash!

Si certo is what we're thinking and after a minute of clanging on the metal door, it slides open and a gruff looking man with a three-day beard and rumpled coveralls and coat lets us in. The warehouse is huge, and someone comes back to find the tiles.

There is very little light, for it is almost 5PM and there is no need to turn the light on for a €10 cash sale. The man climbs up on top of a pile of boxes and counts out the tiles. He asks us if we'd like 120. Sure. It appears there are 60 in a box.

So a woman brings the tiles out to the car and Dino is told to go back to the office to pay. It costs €12 this time but we are happy, even though it's very dark when we arrive home and we're all tired.

I'm reworking the design and drawing a big urn for the design above the sink now. It will be overflowing with roses. But now that we have the tiles, I'm only giving myself until Wednesday before class to finish. If I can get 20 tiles finished a week, we'll have them finished in just over a month...

We're packing, well, putting a few things in a valise, for tomorrow's overnight. Tia is to arrive early, and then we'll drive off to Marielisa's to drop off Sofi for a night and then to Tivoli for an overnight with the Italian branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society. I admit I'd rather be home working on the roses and the sink project, but we'll meet new people and see at least part of the famous garden in Tivoli.

February 11
Tia arrives and we're packed and ready. So on this lovely cold and sunny morning we drive off to Marielisa's to drop Sofi off, and then take a slow route around Rome to Tivoli.

I don't know what I expected of the town of Tivoli, but the town is full of tourists, even on this winter day. It is only later that I realize that it is Carnevale, which might help to explain the crowds. We find the restaurant, and next to it stands Villa Gregoriana, but a tall building we'd surely like to check out is covered in scaffolding.

As soon as we meet Carol, the Italian branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society chair, she apologies that the scaffolding seems to have been raised as a coincidence just before we arrived! She looks crestfallen. We are sorry for her disappointment, but are able to look over the side of the cliff at the Villa's wild grounds, and did not expect to be able to get closer anyway.

We meet new friends who live in Genoa, Sicily, Tuscany, Umbria, Pulia and even from Rome. Many of the participants are from England, one from Australia, one woman from Pennsylvania, the three of us from California, and almost half of the participants are men!

There are about thirty of us, a nice number, and everyone is very friendly. Gardeners are generally a friendly bunch, and we settle in for the beginning of 24 hours or so of talking and sharing garden experiences.

The featured speaker for tomorrow morning, a talk about roses, will not attend. She has fallen and broken her shoulder. We're to be given a talk about building a garden on a sandy beach in Italian this afternoon, and joke that we'll probably miss it. Or if we go, and there are questions afterward, we'll ask, "What did you say?"

After pranzo, some of us walk across town to Villa D'Este. I had no idea. I really had no idea it was so glorious. Dino drives the car so that we'll not have to walk afterward, and we meet him just as the group is entering.

The first things we notice in the courtyard are the lemon trees in pots, for they are tightly wrapped in a white cottony fabric similar to cotton batting, but heavier. The material is stapled. This makes a lot of sense, and we're later told to check out some of the bigger agri- garden stores for it. That definitely is the solution for our lemon tree.

First, we walk through the main level of the villa itself. The walls are covered by what Dino refers to as "fear of empty walls". I have him take out the camera and take some close-ups of grotesques and tromp l'oeil, covering walls and ceilings wherever we look.

Everyone except Marius and us head right out to the balcony and garden below. We take our time, for we are not in a rush, and stroll from room to room. The empty rooms are so full of life that I'm apologizing to the painted eye candy surrounding us that we can't stay for the hours it would take to give the rooms the respect they deserve.

And then it is time. First, at an open doorway, we look out through a balustrade to a hint of a real evergreen work of art: the garden itself. Dino steps out first, and I see him stand right at the edge, looking down, down, down.

For the next hour, we stroll down and around and up again. Wherever we look are exquisitely maintained green cypress and box and grass. And the crowning glories are the waterfalls. We learn that they are a system of self-propelled water courses, a never-ending stream of them.

The weather is perfect for this walk. It is crisp and clear, the afternoon sun low in the sky casting ghostly shadows with its yellowy grey light. I stand in silence on a tightly packed path, turning my head to look left, and then right, at perfectly designed borders, the final resting point of my gaze upon a statue, or a waterfall, just as Sarah had counseled us.

"Design your paths to end at a feature, pleasing to the eye," she told us when we'd spend hours talking about our little plot of land here. "A special pot, a bench, a statue, to capture the eye will delight you and your guests and be something to remember." And so it is here.

Dino loves the waterfalls, the massive several-story high sculptures and rushing currents, so exuberant and phallic and "look at me!" in all their brashness. I think they're great, too.

But I mostly love the "sense of place" that I feel standing quietly by myself, just listening to the sounds. I feel completely serene, my eyes closed so that I can remember it all. And then I open my eyes and turn my head to the left or the right and stop as if I'm taking a photograph, memorizing what my eyes capture. Later, when writing about it, or just dreaming about it, I will be able to hear the sounds of the birds, the rustling cypress trees, the gravel underfoot.

Dino stops at a huge terra cotta pot near the villa, and sees the crest of Berti in Ripabianca. We buy our handmade garden pots from Carlo Berti in Ripabianca, a town just south of Deruta, but these are not from Carlo. We imagine a family feud like the Mondavi feuds in California, the craft of pot-making distributed to different members of the family who live in the same town and compete with each other. We don't know if its true, but it makes for interesting imagining.

Tia has walked ahead with other members of the group, and we meet up again near the villa. We reach our car and drive to the hotel, a four-star up above Tivoli.

A wedding has taken place here, and a hundred or so guests meander around as we check in. We have a drink with other members of the group, while sitting in a large space with a bar in one corner. It's a strange configuration, not very conducive to conversation, so we've decided to take in the talk, and walk down a hallway to the room we'll have our meetings in.

We understand more than we think we would of the talk. It's really quite interesting to see the before and after slides, and there are a few that are quite lovely. After the talk, Dino tells me he'd like some of the things we've seen planted on the far bank, but I've not taken many notes, other than to write down that the ice plant is one I have always thought of as supremely ugly. Tia agrees, and writes on her page, "NO!"

Maurizio, the young man who gives the talk, is delightful, and we're able to speak with him later. He is unassuming and charming, and Tia wants to get him together with her garden buddy, Michael, so we'll probably see him again.

We have cocktails and dinner with the others in the group, and before we know it it's time to turn in. Getting to know these friendly folk is really enjoyable, and Carol's husband John and I engage in some spirited bantering about the state of America and the age-old quandary of rich versus poor in the world. We don't find a solution...

February 12
With the morning comes a talk of a Mediterranean garden given by someone who owns a local vivai. Now Dino educates Tina and I that a "vivaio" is a person who owns a vivai, or nursery for plants. We always spoke of a nursery as a "vivaio". Now we know. Thanks, Dino.

The talk over, we all banter about the political situation in the Italian branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society, but do not volunteer to take on anything. What a surprise! We offer suggestions, but agree that whatever they choose to do is fine with us. We all support Carol, and don't really care if the group gets larger. The thought of splitting the group up into two or more chapters does not sound like fun. It is the travel to different parts of the country that the members so enjoy.

There is some talk about the annual meeting, which will take place in the south of France in October, and our ears perk up. South of France. Fall. This is just what we want to do. So we'll call Angie as soon as we get back and will drive up for a week, after the major gardening has been done for the summer.

We have pranzo with the group and drive off to pick up Sofi. "May I be candid with you?" Marilisa asks me the moment she sees us.

"This dog is frightened of everything! You need to socialize her more. have a dog party! She loves people but it is dogs that frighten her."

On the way home we all speak about this, and I've agreed to take Sofi for walks at least once a day. And if we can get Basquia to play with her in the borgo where there is no traffic, I'll try to go up there and sketch while they play. We'll try to find Ennio this week and see what he thinks. Basquia must be lonely, too.

Sofi seems so very happy to be with us. She is also happy not to have all that hair. With her wonderful cut, she dances around like a puppy. We're happy to be home, and it feels good to settle in. Tomorrow we'll have planting to do.

But we arrive home to a message from Patrick. Margaret passed away on Saturday evening, peacefully, surrounded by her family. Sleep well, dear Margaret... Here's one of our favorite photos, with our dear friends Margaret and Patrick, who were the masterminds of our going away party in June of 2002:

Our hearts go out to dear Patrick and his children. With the passing of Bob Kemp, Jim Bolen and now Margaret Flaharty, Camp Royanee has lost three memorable fun-loving and spirited friends. News of Margaret's passing will appear this week in the San Francisco Chronicle.

February 13
We receive a funny postcard from Duccio and Giovanna. They went to Jordan in December, and the postcard took quite a while to get here, don't you think? Duccio is yet to have the definitive number of Italian restaurants in Italy yet, but thinks they're up in the hundreds of thousands. That's an Italian for you.

Today is a pruning day, but there is quite a bit yet to finish. I also need to plant seeds, and tomorrow will be the day. Dino also promises me that he'll plant the roses and peonies, too. There is some talk about composting, and he won't add the laurel leaves to compost, telling me there is some kind of poison in the leaves. It's good to know he's carefully considering the composting. Whatever it takes.

So I look up rose clippings on the internet, and nowhere can I find anything about putting rose leaves in compost. Sarah Hammond told me unequivocally to throw any rose leaf or thorn or cutting in a bag and throw it all in the garbage. Out of love for Sarah, we continue to do that, but Tia tells me she burns the rose clippings, and for now I can't find any reason to dissuade her, other than Sarah's horror.

This morning, Sofi could not wait to get her walk, but I waited until mid morning, because it was very cold. It felt good to walk, just the same. And I've about had it with the diagram for our garden sink. Until I get further along with the bottom part of the painting part, I'll let the top design sit.

While I'm finishing my schematic, Dino calls up to me to tell me that Stein and Helga are here from Norway. He bought Karina's house, and they're here for a week. We invite them in for tea, and enjoy their company so much. Dino offers to translate for them with Enzo Rosati, the plumber, who speaks an arcane dialect that not even the locals can understand. I think it's very funny that Dino will take on the role of translator for a stranieri. How far we've come!

Enzo agrees to come tomorrow, or at least that's what Dino thinks he's saying, and he'll take him down to have a look at Stein's plumbing issues. We have a talk about building on their property, for two little outbuildings are there that would make great guest quarters. But they tell us that Shelly cautioned them that these were built without permits. Stein has a great attitude. He tells us,

"The door is never completely closed in Italia."


With the stufa doing its job, we have extra heat for the afternoon and evening. After some smoke at the beginning, the little stove settles down. This was a good purchase, and now that we've received our electricity bill for January of over €300, it will have to do a much better job...We're thankful the worst of the winter is over. Speriamo.

February 14
On this beautiful day, we spend much of it in the garden. Sofi sniffs around, I clip roses and Dino, well, Dino takes on all kinds of tasks. Today is the day we decide to plant the peonies and the two new roses. But I'd like to move one that has not seemed happy, so we methodically move from one thing to another. While Dino's gone with Enzo Rosati to Stein's around noon, I decide to get the greenhouse ready for the seed project. It's still too cold to start them there, but next month we'll move the tomatoes and whatever else I start to their home until they're ready to be moved into the ground.

But I look up to see an enormous grasshopper, and shriek with surprise as I run out. Rosita is on her balcony, and wants to know what's going on. I try to explain what the creature is, but she can't figure it out, asking me if it's a grillo (cricket). It's a grasshopper, a cavaletta (little horse?), and by the time I find the word in the dictionary she's inside preparing pranzo.

I put in another load of laundry and also fix a chocolate cake in the shape of a heart. Today is the day of lovers, but we're in love every day, and it's a nice thing to do. We also have tuna salad sandwiches. For some reason, I woke up thinking I'd like to have one, and it must be nearing Spring, for in the warm weather we love tuna fish sandwiches.

I know that the seeds are somewhere, and also we have supplies of other things to augment the growing of the seeds. So I find them all and decide to soak the seeds for 24 hours in some kind of solution that looks a little like blood. Tomorrow I'll dry them off and plant them in little plastic containers. I think I'll plant around 60 or so, which is more than last year if they all come out. I think tomorrow I'll plant a few more with out soaking them, and see if there is a difference.

The rose we are moving, Jean Des Fleur Jeaune, was one Sarah planted years ago, but it grows as though it thinks it's a ground cover, so we move it to the wall above the lavender, and edge it forward to grow over the wall and downward. Since many of the roses seem to be settling in, we add a few more wires to the area above the lavender field and will grow the various roses up and across.

The more I learn about roses, the more I understand about guiding the shoots horizontally so that there will be more, and larger, flowers. Three or so nodes off a lateral are where I cut, and that makes sense, too.

The Madame Gregory Steachlin is planted near the peach tree, its many very strong shoots guided like a fan across the fence I really don't like. I look forward to the rose covering it. There is much to clean up, but we're doing it bit by bit. I clip more roses, and am close to being finished. But I really have not cut back any of the roses as much as I should, so I like to revisit each plant a few times to see if there is more to clip before the growing season begins.

I'm not doing any painting until tomorrow night in class, and then I will be painting at home and in class to get the tiles finished. And if Tia and Bruce like the sample plates, I'll get going on their set, too.

On this day I am extremely tired. Sofi and I walked this morning, so I should have a lot of energy, but I do not. That reminds me. I took a plastic bag with us on our walk, and filled that with debris, found another empty plastic bag and filled that and also filled an empty milk carton. Before returning home, we took them to the garbage.

Whatever do people think as they drop empty cigarette boxes, Kleenex, empty bags, papers on the ground as they pass? Mugnano is not perfect, neither are its residents. I don't know if it is the Mugnanese who are behaving badly or strangers passing by. It is certainly strange behavior. But I take it in stride, for what else can I do?

February 15
The sunny days are over, replaced by a cloudy sky. The view is dirty green, dirty grey, dirty brown; the air is heavy with moisture, but it won't even rain.

Our hearts are heavy. It is too cold to walk, and I don' t even know what happens to pass the morning. Oh yes, I'm drying the seeds I soaked yesterday, mixing a brick of cocoa-something in distilled water and preparing little containers to use as their beds.

Then I label each container, poke a tiny hole with a bamboo stirrer and drop each seed inside and label each section with the type of heirloom tomato seed. With a little more of the wet mixture on top, they're ready for Roy's light setup. For the next six or eight weeks, they'll have sun all day and night.

For every thing there is a season under heaven. With Margaret's death, we console ourselves in the garden, planting new roses, tending old plants, and today planting new seeds. A time to be born, a time to die...

Do you remember the Far Side cartoon of one chicken turning to another and saying, "When it's my turn, I hope I go without a lot of running around?"

Margaret died as she lived, with a quiet grace and dignity. We are sorry that we won't be able to attend the celebration of her life on Monday, but we will surely be there in spirit.

This afternoon, we drive to Terni to class. The first two tiles for the garden sink project are finished, and are they ever beautiful! Roy is surprised and thrilled by my reaction. I'm able to paint five more in class, and Monia pours smalto on another five and will fire the ten this next week. I am confident that I can finish the 81 tiles by the end of March. "I think I can. I think I can..."

Dino intends to put the before and during and after phases of this project on our new web site. So yes, you are tired of hearing about it. And yes, we intend to have the new site up before the end of the month. Alex assures us that we can do that. So not another word until the day...

I have a headache, and we end the day quietly, after a stop at Tia and Bruce's for cabbage rolls and photos of their trip to Lapland at Christmas. Yesterday and today I feel really tired, so perhaps that has something to do with the headache. Will we really ever figure out what causes these demons?

February 16
Rain! Finally we have rain, although it is a skimpy rain, its wetness unsure of it's footing. When Sofi and I step out on the terrace the drops seem delicate, hesitant, almost apologetic. No need to apologise! We're so happy you've decided to return! And with their return, my headache is gone.

With the need to water abandoned for a short while, I make a pot of espresso and Dino works on fixing the transparencies for our new web site. These transparencies are images of a few of my designs, and including them is what I think will make our site so very personal.

Although Dino tells me that I don't give myself enough credit for my artwork, I love the designs, and it makes me smile to see the first one, in a transparency, floating to the left of the copy on the test home page.

Dino studies the codes Alex has used to insert the transparencies, and once he understands them, he'll transfer some of my other designs as well. I watch over his shoulder as he works on the codes, and my eyes glaze over. Instead, I pick up Sofi and we walk back downstairs.

After coffee, Spacese arrives in his giant ape; (is there such a thing?) and Dino takes off with him for Stein's house in the valley below us. He returns in just a little while to take me back with him. Sofi stays here while we drive down onto Via Molla and stop right at the gate.

The property is as lovely as I remembered, with the stone terrace framing a grove of olive trees. In a way, it is a nicer view than the view from our property. Our view is expansive and bright and open. This view is gentle and sloping, with a clear expanse heading down the Tiber River toward Rome.

Once inside the house, Stein and I look out from the little wood framed bedroom windows and share our dreamy thoughts about the peacefulness of the land, the soft grey of the olive grove gently caressing the view.

Downstairs, Stein and Helga and Dino and I laugh about the four of us: Stein and I are the dreamers, Dino and Helga the two practical ones, with their feet on the ground. "But where would we be without our dreams?" I ask Stein and he nods.

With dreaming in mind, Stein asks us "What to do with the kitchen?" But he has just shown us four of the most delicious blue and white tiles from Spain. They are old, thick handmade tiles, and of course the kitchen should be designed around them. I can't wait to copy them, so I suggest that I do, and they are both delighted.

Before we are through walking around and checking on the downstairs bathroom and agreeing about where to have the storage and how high the cabinets should be hung in the kitchen, we're sitting down at a gateleg pine table and sharing a creamy cheese from Rome and Helga's homemade dark bread.

They'll come to our house for pranzo tomorrow, just before they leave for Norway. And as we get up to leave, their painter from Rome and his wife arrive. Mario is also a woodworker and jack-of-all-trades. She is a house cleaner. So they'll paint the kitchen walls a light grey-blue and we'll continue to talk about the tiles.

Soon Dino and I will pick up some test tiles, thick handmade ones. For agreeing to lend me his tiles, I'll gift them a finished tile. They may or may not want me to hand paint more tiles for them. No matter. I am drooling at the opportunity to paint a new design. Actually, they have so many lovely things that my mind is full, wanting to paint this, paint that, paint, paint, paint.

At home, I fix a pasta for pranzo, and we eat an Umbrian pasta in the test bowls I painted for Tia and Bruce. We've all finally agreed that Tia and Bruce need very large plates, but the handmade ones we've painted are too heavy in the size Bruce demands...29cm. So they'll look for something more light-weight. Hand made Italian ceramic dishes are out for them. We'll keep the matching bowls as well.

Our friendship remains in tact. I'm actually relieved. I do not relish the idea of a large commission of forty pieces or more. Now I can get back to work on the garden sink project. And after seeing Stein's tiles, I want to paint them as well.

So let's talk about the bowls. I love eating out of them. So we'll have more of them. They are friendly, Italian, have the feel of a bounteous feast, a casual meal eaten around a round table. Friends laughing, passing baskets of bread, pouring glasses of wine, and of course we'll need to have a set of plates and bowls all our own...

I have been painting small plates, ones we're now using for salad and desserts. Now that we have seen how wonderful large plates and bowls are, we'll have some of those as well. For what do they take except time? How fortunate we are that I can paint!

Now that we have met a house painter, we may ask him if he wants to paint our inside hallway leading from the ground floor to the first floor. I think I either want to install a kind of chair rail going up the stairs and around the walls, or have a painter do a stripe treatment where the wood would be. Now that we have the experience of painting faux walls that actually come out well and don't look too phony, I want to paint the bottom of the hallway and stairwell myself.

I've decided on a pale grey-taupe faux for the bottom, and a pale yellow for the walls going upstairs. The chair rail or strip for a delineation will have a gold stripe detail and be painted in a very pale blue-grey color. It may sound strange, but I can picture exactly how it will look, especially with the pale brown and taupe-y-grey original terrazzo flooring.

When to begin? Why not March? With the tomato and flower seeds still pushing up their shoots then, it's too early to do much work in the garden. I can only paint so many tiles at home for the garden sink project if they are to be fired each week by Monia after class. So why not take on another project, too?

Time's a wastin'. Life is just too short. And with a continuing pain in my shoulder, I'm sure I have arthritis. So while I can still move my arm, while I can still paint, I'm going to create, create, create until I'm out of breath and bleary-eyed.

Did I tell you that I also want to repaint all the interior doors of the house? I want to take them back almost to the bare wood and then add a wash and then a soft design. We'll have to buy the dvd of My House in Umbria, for Maggie's doors had the most wonderful painted design. I'd like to use them for a base concept, then create my own design.

The good news about what I want to do is that none of these projects cost very much money. They are all labor-intensive, and if done well, the finished product will be just wonderful. I see myself fairly waltzing from room to room in lovely weather, with the windows wide open and our gauzy curtains blowing, glancing at the doors and the hallway as I pass by, humming, humming.

Do you sing to yourself? I do...all the time. Some times I sing the last song I heard. Sometimes it is one of the four hymns we sing each Sunday at mass. Last week I found myself singing, "Happiness is a warm gun" by the Beatles. How awful! I HATE guns. But the tune is so catchy. So I've changed some of the lyrics. Try singing this instead of the despicable original lyrics: "Happiness is a warm sun. Happiness is a warm sun. I know it can do me no harm, Cause happiness is a warm sun!" There. I feel better. Don't you? Hap-pi-ne-eh-hess is a warm sun." p> On CNN this morning, there is so much talk about Dick Cheney shooting his friend by accident, and then more news about abuse at Abu Ghrabe prison and the government's hesitancy to do anything about it. What is it about people who love to take potshots at people they don't agree with politically?

I'm definitely not a republican, but these days I don't think I'm a democrat either. With what's going on in Iran and Iraq, the idea of democracy has really lost its luster for me. Are we selective believers in democracy? Democracy when it suits us? I'm becoming more of an Italian every day. Last night I read this: "Italy is a country whose laws are turned upside down...In Italy, the absence of absolute power has not prevented its absolute corruption. Italian political life is about co-operation and consensus. As Gore Vidal observed, the genius of America was to separate State from religion. The genius of Italy was to separate the State from the people." What? "Some argue that the Italians thrive on the absence of strong central government, rather than despite it...they prosper despite their politicians, rather than because of them." This is from Lisa St. Aubin De Teran's Elements of Italy.

I'm like a little bird outside, just busily going along doing my jobs, keeping out of the way of people who want to shake things up. How things have changed!

On the way out this morning, I saw Rosina on her balcony. I called up to her and told her that the word I was trying to say yesterday was "cavaletta" (grass hopper).

She did the most amazing thing. She leaned over forward, clutching her knees and then slapping them, her mouth wide open in acknowledgement. It was as if she was trying to get a sound out of them. "Oh, grasshoppers! I could only think of crickets. Of course!"

We both laughed and then Dino and I continued down the steps to the car.

Later this afternoon, Dino measures for the fluorescent light he'll install in the guest bedroom for the seeds. "I need ten meters of cord," he tells me, but this is Thursday afternoon. Stores are closed. He calls around and around and finally it is OBI in Viterbo that will be open. So off he goes.

We figure out how to put transparencies on the web site, so I spend time scanning images of different sketches. Dino returns, and before we have turned in for the night, he has brought the big folding table upstairs with all the seedlings and set them on the long table under a fluorescent tube, temporarily suspended between two bookshelves flanking the front guest bedroom window. Any guest visiting before the end of April will have to share their room with our precious seedlings.

February 17
From a cold and overcast morning, the day turns magical. It is that kind of day that one wishes she could make time stand still. And it is the kind of day that brings sadness. For our friends Stein and Helga return to Norway this afternoon, and Dino tells me they are quite sad when he follows them to their house to get ready to leave.

The day begins with a commitment from us that we'll finish the details to get our new web site launched this weekend. Launched. Let's chill the prosecco! Alex has been masterful in navigating our route...

I send Dino to Attigliano to pick up a few things for pranzo. It will be a kind of a celebration

After a little cleaning, I'm far more interested in getting the seeds planted in the guest bedroom window. Dino finished the lighting last night, and the whole production moves upstairs after I mix a barrel of new soil with our coconut fiber potting medium. Medium. Do the coconut fibers offer some kind of experiental chanting while all is rumbling under the topsoil in their little plastic pots? Will they dance by themselves under the light of the silvery moon?

Seventy five tomato seeds now sleep in their little pots, twenty-six of them planted from dry seeds without pre-soaking, and the other forty-nine soaked for 24 hours in a special bloody looking liquid purchased specifically for them. I've labeled each section by its variety, and hope to be able to detail which ones "take" and which ones don't.

In previous years, all started out well. But with no real lights above, I'd turn the trays so that they'd all get equal sun. But in doing that, my grid changed and I could not remember which plant was planted where. This year, with a long fluorescent tube above them all, I'll not have to move them. Speriamo.

So what have we planted? All heirloom tomato varieties: Gold Medal, Black Russian, Black from Tula, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Annie's German Green and a furry kind of pink tomato called Peach. 77 tomato seeds in all.

On this day, I've also planted white and pink Datura, two Cruel plants (white flowering things that are called Cruel because they capture moths at night and release them in the morning to spread pollen). Then there are blue sweet peas, white sweet peas (I love these flowers), campanella, lupin, lobelia, foget-me-nots and even a pot of dill from Denmark.

Depending on how things work, we'll plant more things next month. And by the end of March, we'll be able to move all these plants out to the greenhouse. Then at the end of April they'll be planted in the ground. Sadly, we don't think Felice will be involved. But perhaps he'll stop by for a visit. How quickly he has lost his ability to get around.

We hear that Marino cuts Stein's grass, and perhaps we'll change and ask him to cut ours as well. We like Mario from Attigliano a lot, but it's time to find someone in the village.

Pranzo is lovely, but too short. And before we know it they're gone. Helga will be back with a friend in March, and we'll be checking in on their house while they're in Norway. We hope to use their worker to do some painting for us when he's finished with their painting project.

The sunny afternoon turns windy, but it's warm enough to open the window in the kitchen. With the cachi tree bare limbed, I am reminded of the day of my father's funeral almost sixteen years ago. It was a day in late April, the temperature in Boston a record breaking eighty-something, but the trees still bare. He died on what I think was the first earth day. Earth to earth. The melancholy remains deep in my subconscious, and our thoughts remain with Patrick and his family.

As the day ends, Sofi snuggles in my arms by the TV. Tomorrow we'll drive to Candida and Franco's to start their tomato seeds for them, and rig up their lights. When they return in a few weeks, we are hopeful that there will be little shoots waving to them from their tiny planters to welcome them home.

February 18
We can tell that it will be a beautiful day, for behind the white clouds is a bright blue sky. But when we open the door, it is quite windy. Before I'm fully dressed, Stefano arrives to drill a hole in the side kitchen wall to vent the gas. Enzo asked us each year since we bought the property to install this vent. Its installation is required by law. As usual, Stefano performs a precise job.

So the tubing is called "male and female" because, I suppose, one fits inside the other. For some reason I cannot comprehend, they need two females joined together. I laugh at the thought of what that would be called, and Stefano is temporarily stumped at how to connect them. But before he spends even a minute figuring it out, Dino returns with a tiny torch that roofers use to join tiles...He learned about this gadget from Bob Smith in California. Bob Smith uses it to kill weeds on contact.

Anyway, Dino shows up at Stefano's side with the torch, and Stefano looks up as if to say, "McIver, I knew you'd have just the thing I'd need!"

So female to female are joined, the copper cap is installed, and the job is finished. We show Stefano the first two tiles for the garden sink, to be sure that we're finishing them correctly, and we are. I am very proud of them. They make me smile just to look at them.

We leave for Orvieto, and for Candida and Franco's house, where we start the seedlings in an upstairs den. They have all the supplies we need, except for a spritzer, so we find one at a garden shop on the same street and Dino just has to buy the one he sees. It has a great big EVA emblazoned on the front.

That done, we walk up to the town, for Saturday is market day. We stop at a jeweler to see if we can find earrings for my birthday. We like the jeweler very much, but can't find just the right thing. I realize that what I want are small gold Italian coins.

He agrees to make them into earrings if we can find them. So now we are on a real search. He shows us cufflinks that are lovely, to be converted into earrings, but they are too expensive and not quite right. From market to market, we'll now be on the lookout for small gold Italian coins....

The mercato is wonderful, and we buy part of a rotisserie-fired turkey breast with wonderful herbs to eat for pranzo with fennel and eggplant. On the way home, I see Mary Jane Cryan's new book on Tuscany and Viterbo, so we pick it up. I almost forgot that we must pick up Dino's hospital test, so we drive there and in a minute he returns with a huge envelope. All seems fine.

As we arrive home, Dino tells me that today is both Giustino's and Felice's birthday. So this afternoon, we'll walk up to see Felice and Marsiglia and bring them a bottle of bubbly. I really miss not seeing them and hope that they are all right.

After pranzo, we do just that. On the way, Giustino's garage is open, and he sits there in the unlit room with his nephew, Gino. We walk in and wish him a happy birthday. He cannot see anymore, and tells me he does not know who I am. So when I tell him he seems to pop up from the big old and cracked leather barca lounger like the little man on the San Francisco Examiner movie page. He is so happy we have stopped by to see him.

Since he's harmless these days, I bend down and give him a kiss on both cheeks. For such an old guy, the skin is as soft on his face as a young boy. I can tell this kiss is just the present he'd like. I then give Gino a hug, and we walk up to the borgo. For those of you who recall my early days in the house hiding from Giustino's grasp, his feebleness is almost sad.

The borgo is silent. With no cars inside, it is immaculate and almost eerie in the fading afternoon light. Dino walks in front of me up the narrow front stairs and rings the bell.

Inside, Marsiglia waves down to us, and tells us that she'll get Felice out of bed. We tell her no, that we've just brought a little present for him, but not to disturb him. She tells us that he's been in bed for four days, after a visit by Dr. Fagiolo (who we refer to as Dr. Bean).

"Felice! Compagnia!" she calls up to him. And in a minute he's shuffling down the stairs in his scoop neck undershirt and woolen slacks. He is very surprised but so happy to see us. And for the next half hour he tells us stories and we laugh.

A few minutes after our arrival, Italo rings the bell and joins us. The three of them are a very funny trio. Felice brings out a dress shirt, and the entertainment consists of watching him try to put it on. He is so dependent on Marsiglia these days, that he starts to put his arm in one sleeve and then changes his mind. He hands her the shirt, takes the cuffs of each arm of his undershirt in each hand and holds out his arms like a child so that Marsiglia can dress him. All the while he's smiling like a Cheshire cat.

The scene is so endearing. He hugs his wife and she laughs at him and hugs him back. Marsiglia wants to make coffee, or tea, or serve us wine, but we tell her no thank you. Dino then tells her that he wants gelato...chocolate gelato with a banana and chocolate sauce on top. Italo agrees.

That silliness completed, we discuss Felice's health as though he's a prize steer out in the barn. He has congested lungs, and Marsiglia tells us his pressure is high. So he's staying at home these days. How quickly, how quickly he seemed to go downhill. We fear his days in his orto are finished.

Dino tells him that today is a very important day in Mugnano, for two heroes have their birthday today. Giustino is 94, Felice is 82. Felice tells us there are 13 years difference between them, but we don't know if we have the years wrong, or if it is Felice's math. Fa niente.

Felice is certainly a hero to us. What we do not know, just as we are having our little visit, is that Atilio, the kind man who owns the abandoned chicken coop across the street from our house, slips from life. His Mugnano house is just down the path from Felice and Marsiglia's.

We walk home and have a quiet evening, wondering if Felice will be well enough to attend mass tomorrow.

February 19
The sky is blue and cloudy, but the clouds move quickly, for the wind is wild. We walk up to mass and there is a small group. Vincenza and Augusto are there, and get hugs from us. But Felice and Marsiglia are not.

Tiziano is also not there, and Mauro the shorter seems not happy to have to be a reader, looking around hopefully until he sees Enzo at the back of the church, alone.

Don Luca tells us about Atilio's death, and that there will be a funeral tomorrow at 3PM. We think he tells us that the funeral will be today, but it is only later that we hear that there is never a funeral on a Sunday. So that when we walk up in the afternoon to find the piazza bare, we feel very dumb.

But in the church, after the news about Atilio, I ask Augusta if that is the same man who owns the polaio (chicken coop) across from our property. She takes my hand and tells me yes, and continues to hold my hand as we leave the little church together. He has lived in Rome for a few years with his wife, who is also not well. I so liked them, not knowing them well but greeting them twice a day as they stopped to feed the chickens when we first lived here.

Rosina walks down the hill with us, and takes my arm. She laughs again about the grasshopper and the cricket, telling me that she could not think of the word when I asked her what the creature was. How far we have come.

We pick up Sofi and drive to Viterbo. Dino wants us to buy a new vacuum cleaner, but no stores are open. So we drive to the monthly antique mercato, and walk around. There are four beautiful chairs made of carved castagno (chestnut), but they have damage at the joints, and are expensive, so we pass. Perhaps one day we will have someone make characteristic kitchen chairs. I want them to have some kind of detail, but be fashioned from castagno wood. Or perhaps we'll just keep the ones we have. It is not really important.

We make a half-hearted attempt to look at coins, but don't have any idea of how to go about purchasing gold coins to be made into earrings. Will this be an exercise that we abandon? Perhaps, but it will be a fun adventure.

We're unable to reach Patrick by phone, so leave a message, but are able to speak with Terence and Angie and even Nicole and then Adrian and Jed. How fun it is to see Dino's face when he hears Nicole on the other end of the line. Talk again is about Margaret, her bravery, and about Patrick. They remain in our thoughts. It appears most of the family will attend Margaret's funeral tomorrow.

We work on the website, and I am very tired, so take a nap in the late afternoon. While working on the site in the Archives, I see that Dottoressa thought in 2003 that I had arthritis at the top of my spine, and that is what may have caused my headaches. So Dino and I agree that we will both get prescriptions on Tuesday for the specialists in Perugia. My neck, as well as my right shoulder, are now constantly in some sort of pain.

Dino tells me that if I have arthritis, that there is nothing that can be done for it, but at least I will know. He thinks that I might need a pin for my shoulder, and tells me that Uncle Harry had a pin inserted in his shoulder some years ago, and it took months to heal. Perhaps it is a violinist's malady. But I am also a painter, and the thought of not being able to paint for six months or a year is a thought I don't choose to dwell upon.

. February 20
We wake to a cold morning, after a night of thunder and lightning and lots of rain. Margaret and Pat and their family are in our thoughts as preparations are made for Margaret's funeral today in California. We will attend a funeral in our own village for Achile, a man who owned the pollaio (chicken coop) across from our land. He died on Saturday in Rome.

At just before 3PM, we walk down to the parcheggio, and it is just as the church bells mourn for Achile. How strange that the same bells that ring out the greatest joy are used to cry out the most mournful sadness. Today, the bell sounds almost like a bleating lamb. The sound stretches the echo of the bell so that it reverberates within the very hearts of the people in our tiny village. As we reach the bottom step, the hearse drives up the hill. We step onto the street and the cancello (gate) closes. We make a sign of the cross as the hearse passes by.

Achile's is a small funeral, and his wife is not here. She is not well enough to make the trip from Rome. We remember seeing her with special walking braces strapped to her arms when she climbed out of their little car to see her little chickens when we first lived here. It must be terrible to be so far away from a loved one on the day of their death. But their son arrives, and after the service, as we are all walking down the hill behind the hearse, Roy speaks to him and he shakes our hands. We send our blessings to his mother.

We must be getting old. I am starting to understand more about life's passing. Our lives represent mere specs of time on the universal landscape, and so days and weeks and months and even years pass and then we are returned to the earth. It is inconceivable to think that each of us can make a difference, but then we know that we can.

So on this day, I take a few moments to think of people who are no longer with us: Isabel, Jim Bolen, of course Margaret, my parents, Roy's parents, my grandmother...

Whatever is "it" like, after life is over? Don Luca speaks of eternal rest, and of paradise. And of this life, I see that the things that upset us are really not worth getting upset about. But how should we fill our days? Does it even matter? I don't know, but with the passing of time I understand more fully that today, especially this moment, is worth cherishing. It will never come again.

Sofi and I check on the little seedlings in the guest bedroom before coming to bed. For this is a time to live, and a time to die. We wait, and in a few days the first shoots will start to appear. Earlier today, I read something about the importance of getting one's hands in the earth.

How alive I feel when I pick up a clod of damp earth in my hand! To think that a plant can grow from a little seed, nourished with water and sun. I so appreciate these miracles, and each year the experience of growing a living thing brings me such joy.

Italians love the earth. They feel a strong connection to it, and a love of the earth and the things they cultivate. I don't know why food tastes better in Italy than anywhere else I've traveled. There is a reverence here, even for a sunny day. And so it is that I turn in, put my arms around Dino to hold him tight, and bless another day.

February 21
Last night Sofi cried out as thunder rolled across the valley and sparks of light flashed against the old chandelier above our bed in the moonlight. She settled down after a while and when we rise at about 8AM she is still sleeping.

We drive to Orvieto to check on Candida and Franco's seeds, give them a little spritz of water, and make sure everything is all right. Because it is raining hard, we decide not to stay around the town. Instead, we stop at Orvieto Scalo and shop at Coop, picking up a roast chicken, a celery root and some other goodies for pranzo.

At home, Dino tries the stufa and is not happy. Smoke billows around the kitchen, so we open the window and close the door to the hallway. This gets Sofi outside, but she is happiest to stay inside and sleep, like an old dog when the weather is rainy. I love the little stufa, and once it gets going we'll have good heat for the rest of the day.

After pranzo, Dino drives up to the borgo to the doctor, to get prescriptions for our visits to the hospital in Perugia. We'll both go to see doctors for our bones soon. Lore calls, and we catch up on all the latest local news. They'll be in town on Saturday for a few days. Saturday is Alberto's birthday, but we don't know if he'll come by for a drink. I think I'll make him some kind of elegant cake just in case.

February 22
By the end of the evening, seven seeds have stuck their tiny heads out of the little pots in the guest bedroom window. That's quick! Only five days! I'm imagining needing a machete to cut through the brush in the next month at this rate.

This morning, after another healthy storm and thunder and lightning, the rain stops enough for us to get into the car to drive to Tia and Bruce's for pranzo. Dino has his work clothes and goggles with him, for he and Bruce will try to repair a glass vase from Murano that fell over in their house a year or so ago. Repairing glass? Don't go there.

Although the ground is wet, Tia's work in the garden really shows. Her garden workers have fashioned a lovely curved tufa wall and after they have taken out a forest of bamboo, the view of Amelia is breathtaking. We walk out to survey the project, and the dogs play around in the muddy earth. I had no idea how lovely this part of their property is.

I've been trying to call Tia, but their phone lines aren't working. When we arrive, she tells us that someone from the telephone company arrived all flustered. They said, "We've been trying to call you for days and have not been able to reach you!" How funny is that. Of course. The phone lines were down. They seemed miffed at her.

Bruce grills fillet steak sandwiches and we have a blood orange and fennel and arugula salad. Very tasty. The talk is all about vacuum cleaners and espresso machines. Bruce is the expert on both, with all his up to date information on the stock market. So he tells us about the most innovative vacuum cleaners, but we're not ready to buy a robot or a €2,000 job.

For years, the talk about vacuum cleaners has been about vacuum cleaner bags...They are like the little cartridges for espresso machines...the real money is made in the bags and the cartridges. So Dino thinks he's really smart by buying a vacuum cleaner that won't take bags. It has two cartridges, and is self cleaning. Since I'm conveniently allergic to dust, I relinquish all decision making in this area to him.

We drive the back way to Terni over a strada bianca, or white road. Just as we take the first turn from their road, the sky clears and the Umbrian hills are alive with shiny facets reflecting off hundreds of ancient olive trees. Although the car windows are closed, we can almost smell the fresh air of the meadows as we pass by. A soft mist floats above us and by the time we reach the Superstrada, the sky is a bold blue, the clouds a brilliant white. Today, while I'm in class, he researches all the big stores in Terni and is happy with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner he winds up with. Our old one is ready for the rubbish bin.

There is great news in class. Every last tile is beautifully painted and fired. So these tiles will not give me any trouble. By the time today's session is done, at least ten tiles are sent to be fired. We take home another ten or so and line them up to take a photo of our work in progress. They'll be on the site soon under "projects" in the photos section.

February 23
We can find twenty pomodori sprouts today in their little pots! In six days! It must be the fluorescent tube that shines over them 24 hours a day. This is the first year we've tried to use a tube, instead of a little grow light. In past years, Marilyn Smith has used these tubes in California, and tells us that her success rate has been over 100%. Only Marilyn Smith can have that kind of success rate. But anything is fine with us.

Dino asks me what part of growing tomatoes is the most exciting, and I must say it is this. What an amazing thing life is. To think we can almost call up these little seeds to sprout almost at will, with just a little water and a little soil or potting medium.

I love the first sign of the shoots: they're tender pale green, so delicate and tentative. I see them rise up awkwardly as if they intend to grow bent over. Once the seedling rises about three centimeters above the soil line, however, I notice a kind of loop, as if it's having a real stretch for the first time. And then, when I'm not watching, the loop opens up and a silent toot celebrates its entry into the room. How marvelous!

We wish them a happy and healthy and very juicy life. Soon we'll return to Orvieto, to check on Candace and Franco's seeds.

Earlier this afternoon, during a soft rain, I open the bedroom window to hear the rain and the birds. Roy sits at the desk during a phone meeting with Celeste, and I notice a fat robin on a branch of the side cachi tree, chirping its heart out. I vaguely hear birds these days, but it is because the windows are closed. So as soon as I open the window just a little, the whole ambience of the room changes.

And the smell of fresh rain wafts in through the open window. I stand and look out across the lavender field to San Rocco, and start to imagine the next step in our garden planning.

I have wanted a formal Italianate garden as long as I can remember. In an old English garden magazine, I see clipped Quercus Ilex balls grow stiffly above straight trunks. They are right out of Alice Through the Looking Glass. So in my initial plan, I want to have a number of them. I also want more grey and dark green globes of evergreen box and other plants, in different sizes, as though randomly scattered.

When I show the photo to Dino, he suggests that we move the apple tree and the olive trees from the middle bank of the third garden, and instead have two rows of those trees framing a path to San Rocco.

Just in at the end of the path, next to San Rocco, we'll put a special stone statue. And the apple and olive trees will be moved up to the top bank. Also on that bank, in front of the ancient tufa cave, will be our memory garden; specific trees and plants planted in memory of those special to us who have passed away. And one will certainly be planted in dear Margaret's name.

Sarah dear, I think I have it right. But do let me know if we're off track. I would not dream of altering Sarah Hammond's original design without her nod of approval. Perhaps its time for Sarah and Alush to plan a trip here to see first hand. I really miss them, miss laughing with her, miss her flitting around the garden, miss her taking her Italian books up in her arms and going up to bed to study them...She tells us they're happy in New Mexico and that gives us great joy.

This morning we drove to Viterbo to pick up some garden pots and look for pots to grow potatoes in. Weird, you say? Well, we find a great deal of information on the internet, and one site tells us that growing potatoes in pots is a great idea. We think so, too.

Raised garden beds are so much easier than bending over to do all the work. This year we'll only grow enough potatoes to last us for a while, for we don't have a really dark cool place to store them in. And this will be fun, especially the digging up part.

Yesterday, we bought a bag of special little potatoes in Terni, but we're waiting for Candida and Franco to return from California, when they'll share some of their special potatoes with us from their trip. We love sharing garden ideas and stories with them, for they are not so much more knowledgeable than we are...yet. The best news is that they are also great fun.

Dino drives off to Viterbo again, for he loves to drive. And he calls me on the way back to tell me not to worry. A big truck has jackknifed on the steep hill to Bomarzo, and he's about ten cars back above the truck.

"I'm going to get out the car like everyone else and see what's going on, " he tells me. I can imagine him talking with other "sidewalk superintendents" about the right way to upright the truck. But he arrives home about thirty minutes later, telling me he turned around and came home through Orte instead .

Patrick calls, and tells us that there were over two hundred people at Margaret's funeral on Monday. We are not surprised. We are just sorry we could not have been there. He remains in our thoughts and in our hearts.

February 24
Today, 37 seeds have popped up, but I am not so full of life. Last night's headache remains, and I spend most of the day in bed, with Sofi by my side in her little bed, just keeping watch.

Dino sees Francesco across the street and asks him about the jackknifed truck last night. It took until 11PM to clear the road! It's a good thing Dino turned around. Francesco is working on Pia's gate. A new design has been added to the back of the gate, so that people cannot see in. It is a steel design and makes the cancello look less pedestrian. Pia is clearly making an effort to make her place look characteristic and special.

Dino takes on the web site like a conductor with a major orchestra. After midnight, he's tweaked and organized different elements and is ready to show me the latest iteration. I slide out of the tall bed and take a look. There's so much to see! You'll see what I mean in two days.

Earlier, after Duccio told Dino on the phone that he finished the book we lent him on "How to Act Like a Pope", Dino wants him to read The Accidental Pope, by Ray Flynn. I'm interested to hear what Duccio has to say. His opinions are always fun.

After a hug and a trip to the kitchen for another ice pack, it's back to bed.

February 25
Have I written that I've been forgetting things? Last night in my dreams the forgetting took on monumental proportions. Perhaps I had a fever as well as a headache. I saw images in my subconscious with squares of black blocked out where information should be stored. So in a conversation with Dino, we agree to speak with my migraine doctor late next month about whether I should have some tests to see if I am really forgetting at a faster rate than normal.

This morning, I am feeling somewhat better, and we drive up to Oriveto to water Candida's seeds and to take a walk to the weekly mercato. The roast turkey vendor is not around, but we're able to pick up a glorious bunch of long, long yellow tulips, 20 for Euro8.

On the way back to the car, we run into Walter Branchi! He is looking elegant as usual. These days, he's no longer living in the countryside, but in an apartment just above us on the Corso. He tells us it is fine, except for the caccierata(chattering and gossiping) each afternoon during the passegiatta. And that's probably fine, too, unless he's trying to take a dolce fa niente (afternoon nap).

He's still composing music, although the vivaio is still being run by someone else. Next May, he hopes to have a special music concert in his favorite church in Orvieto, and if he can receive permission to play there, he surely will. We will keep in touch with him, and he suggests we get together with him after Candida and Franco have returned. I'd like to get them together, because Candida wants to hold music concerts on their back terrace during good weather, and it would be good for him to see it.

We drive to meet up with Rosario, the glass artist, with Bruce's broken glass vase. His studio is outside Celleno, and we have a difficult time finding him. So he meets us on the road and he and Dino stand at the back of the car, Rosario leaning over the "patient" and Dino asking questions. This is the same piece that Dino and Bruce tried unsuccessfully to repair on Wednesday.

Dino thinks Rosario will have to melt part of it down, heat it up, but Rosario tells him the opposite is true. He will use cold water and a specialized tool. It will take a week. So without knowing the cost, Dino wraps it up and hands it to him. We'll go to the studio in Viterbo, perhaps next weekend, with Bruce and Tia to pick it up. We drive on to Viterbo to Ipercoop for a roast chicken and some lasagna, then home for pranzo and the last work on the web site before launch.

This afternoon's count is 42 seeds! That includes 34 tomatoes and 8 for the sweet peas, but otherwise the rest are for tomatoes. The laggards are the Black Russians and the Black French Tulas. It's time to check in with Marilyn to see what she's up to this year.

I prepare four pears poached in red wine, in the event Lore and Alberto come for a visit. But they do not, so we'll make plans with them tomorrow to come by for dessert after pranzo.

By the time I'm ready for bed, the tomato count is up to 52!

February 26
This morning, we count 53 tomato seedlings, plus seven pots growing various seeds from packets of sweet peas, and couldn't be more thrilled. The Black Russians and Black French Tulas are still taking more time to find their way to the top of the soil than the others.

We have learned from experience that it really does make a difference to use a fluorescent tube above the growing seeds. Grow lights in bulbs, placed strategically, just haven't work as well. So it's worth the extra effort to rig up a light and probably hanging chain that you can adjust as the seedlings grow into plants. The seedlings we've planted for Candida and Frank soon after we planted ours have not shown any growth. So we're encouraging them to put in a fluorescent tube as well when they return at the end of this week.

I find two boxes of pills in the armadio in the bathroom marked, "Shoulder pain, September 2003". I'm going to try them, for they don't expire for a couple of months. The pain in my shoulder is intense. I don't want to think about doing anything about it...yet.

After mass, Lore tells us that they could not come by last night, so we'll just have to eat the poached pears ourselves! They'll stop by for a drink some time this week. Dino wants cece bean soup for pranzo, and I'll make it this noon, varying a recipe from Jamie Oliver's Italian cookbook. We also have roast chicken from yesterday and sautéed carrots, but the real surprise is our own broccoli. Take a look!

I remember George Bush Sr. telling the world when he was President of the United States that he hated broccoli. I'm sure he never ate it directly from his garden, sautéed with garlic and olive oil and a little pepperoncini, the way the Italians prepare it. It's really special, tender and tasty.

We're ready to launch the web site today, waiting only to hear from Alex that he's completed all the technical work on his side. This has been a very good experience, for we've had a test site to work on for two months.

With Dino and I providing the copy, photos and designs and much of the leg work and Alex providing the technical guidance and performing the most complicated tasks, we've been a good team. Alex has been a great teacher, giving us examples with codes that Dino has implemented. Do tell us what you think after it's launched.

Life offers surprises for us mid day. First, we're out of cece beans. So I make a chicken soup instead. Then, we realize that Alex has not made the changes to the site, so we won't launch today. We'll save the prosecco for a day. But the third surprise is a wonderful one. It's the poached pears. Dino puts a spoonful in his mouth and rolls his eyes as he turns his head toward me.

"You've made poached pears before, but never like this!" Yes, they are quite sinful. I have an idea of how to make them even more sinful.

I'll post the recipe on the site later this week, but here it is in a nutshell, for those of you who don't need a lot of specifics: Peel the skin off as many pears as you want to use (I use a vegetable peeler), put them in a baking dish with sides 2" high, pour a good amount of red wine on top of each, then caster sugar, then grated orange rind, then a couple of cloves and a cinnamon stick. Bake them in a preheated oven at 350 degrees, basting it now and then until they are soft, about 45 minutes. You can set the pears aside on a counter, or put them in the refrigerator until ready to use once they're done (not more than a day or so).

Take out as many ramekins as there are pears to serve. A pear needs to be able to sit in each ramekin, straight up. First, put one or two After Eight mints, or melted sweetened chocolate in the bottom of each ramekin. Then sit the pear on top.

In the meantime, heat the wine sauce remaining from the cooked pears in a small pan until it reduces to a syrup. Pour the syrup over the pears and put them in the oven to heat through.

They will be very hot by this time. Take them out, let them cool for ten minutes or so, then serve them on plates, right in the ramekins they were cooked in.

Dino works more outside on the front terrace, cutting up wood from the laurel tree so that he can get the terrace cleaned up. We are tired of having a war zone outside our front door. It is a beautiful day, with the sun playing peek-a-boo behind a partly cloudy sky. I am so happy with the seeds that I want to plant some more. This time, I'll plant estragon (tarragon) after I see how much room we still have on the table under the long light.

I painted three tiles for the sink project last night, without using the tracing paper, so think I'll paint one or two more this afternoon, in the kitchen. Dino has fired up the little stufa, and it is toasty inside, so Sofi will keep watch while I paint.

I'm able to paint three tiles tonight, so tomorrow we'll try to smalto a few more with the smalto from class so that I can paint more before Wednesday. It's time I get back to designing the tiles for the top of the sink. The more I learn about my ability to paint, the easier it is to figure out what the design will look like. I'm reading a Peter Beales rose book, and the more I see, the more ideas I have for the rose design. By the end of the evening, we're at 55 tomato seedlings....

February 27
I sleep in while Dino takes Stefano down to Stein's to do some minor work. He tells me later that Stefano is brilliant. He methodically searches for problems and solutions. For instance, they could not find the source of the drain for the water tank. Stefano walked around and looked for a tile not replaced perfectly. Once he took that tile up, he found what he was looking for. Later, Dino used the same tactic to locate another spot, a source for water problems in the downstairs bathroom that I remember Kari had years ago when she owned the house. The solution looks simple, and probably not very costly.

Back at home, 59 out of a possible 81 tomato plants have risen to the surface. I have not had the conversation yet with Dino regarding where they'll all be planted in the garden. But I detect a little mildew. I think this may be that I mixed potting soil with the sterile potting medium (what a dope) before I realized what I was doing when the seeds were initially planted.

So after a chase on the internet, I've decided that I'm going to make a little camomile tea spray, and that means taking out my ceramic flowered teapot and having a spot of tea as well. But that "ceremony" will take place later. The British are oh so civil, with their spots of tea. I heard yesterday that English teatime is 3PM, but I'm more likely to take tea at around 5. Sometimes Dino even joins me.

I'm in a painting mood, but we have no tiles ready to paint. So we shake up the smalto in the jar from class, and Dino fixes a plastic tub in the kitchen sink. I mimic Monia splashing the solution onto the tile as if she's throwing out a tub of water. This time, however, I carefully aim. The first tile looks perfectly covered; the next few need a little repair work later. I take a tiny sponge and wipe the white smalto off the four sides of each one.

Monia tells me that if smalto is to be added to a side, it should be added later, and that she'll do that before she fires the tiles. Now I'm ready to do two more 15cm tiles and one 20cm tile. The larger tile will be a design copied on one of Stein's old handmade tiles in blue and white. I am interested to see how this comes out. The design and colors are really lovely.

I'll have ten more tiles for my sink project to take to class for firing and one larger one in blue and white. Since it is still cold, I can paint in the kitchen on the table with the wooden stand. The process is really not messy, so if I work on newspaper I can take everything up in a minute or two for a meal.

Dino completes the Table of Contents for the web site, and we wait to hear from Alex so that we can launch.

February 28
There must be some mixup. We are ready to launch our web site and with the 9-hour time difference between here and California, Alex thinks he's launched the site, but when we wake up it is not active.

Twelve hours later we're limping along, with Dino admirably uploading and downloading page-by-page, file-by-file. We had a deadline of launching before today. An ad appears in La Cucina Italia, a popular Italian cooking magazine, and it will be on newsstands today. Sigh. Our ad appears in the back of the new March issue, in case you want to pick one up.

Late in the day, while Dino leaves his post at the computer to drive to Stein's to meet with Spaccese to do some electrical work, I sit at the kitchen table and paint. Today, I'm painting blue and white tiles, with handmade test tiles as well as industrial tiles, to see how we can match Stein's lovely old tiles that he'd like to use in his kitchen. On a break, Roy mixed up some of our own smalto, and we have two more tiles to test that I paint this afternoon in the blue and white design.

We'll take them to class tomorrow to have them fired, and they'll be ready in a week. Stein's friend Helga arrives next week for a week with a girlfriend, and I'd like to have them done so that she can see them in the house and perhaps even take one back for Stein to look at. Whether or not they'll want me to make tiles for his kitchen, it is a good exercise, and I really love the design. You'll surely see the designs on a number of things soon.

The day is really lovely and warm. With windows open and birds singing all around, Sofi wants to spend time outside, and I don't blame her.

Our pomodori are amazing. Sweet peas grow in seven pots, lobelia and two cruel plants have shown their shoots, as well as 59 pomodori. The count has not changed from yesterday, with the exception of the second cruel plant. I wonder if there is another name for the cruel plant, and if it is really as good a plant as we are told. I am not as good a gardener as I'd like, for painting is my first priority, but I'd like to dabble a bit and see if I can successfully grow a few things from seed. And I'm quite fascinated that a plant can capture a moth and release it to pollinate other plants. I suppose it's a plant version of Elmer, the prolific stud basotto of Marielisa's who is also Sofi's father.

MARCH 2006

March 1
Today is the mass of cenere, or ashes, and the beginning of Lent. I rise at 7AM to fix a little espresso before we leave for the Duomo in Bomarzo for 9AM mass. The mass in Mugnano will be held at 5PM today, and we'll be in class at that time. So this will be an opportunity to see what a weekday mass in the Duomo is like. I expect to see a lot of people.

Sofi waits in the car in the parking lot near Duccio and Giovanna's while we walk up the steep drive to the Duomo. There are two paths we can follow to the main church, and we take the low path, the one that winds its arms around the medieval town. The sun tries to find its way past a few persistent clouds, and Dino remarks that the pastures below us seem to glow as spotty sunlight casts yellow patches on a verdant green meadow. How happy the birds sound, and how loud!

In the far distance to our left, the hill town of Mugnano sits like a hen warming its chicks. Directly below us, the strada bianca winds like a serpent back and forth after it passes Clara's house. What a lovely drive that is, with old olive groves, tiny tufa shacks and little ortos carefully tended by people who live nearby. Perhaps like Candida and Franco, these ortos are owned by people who live in a borgo, but want a spot of land where they can grow vegetables and flowers. There are no gardens in the borgo of Bomarzo.

The borgo is practically deserted as we arrive, and we find ourselves walking up the circular staircase to the front of the Duomo with only one woman in our view. She bids us a buon giorno and we nod, as Dino opens the front door for us to enter an almost empty church!

A cast of regulars appears, about twenty of them, and they all sit in the rows beginning about five back on the left facing the altar. We sit on the right side, at the aisle on the fifth row. Cacciarata, or gossiping, continues across from us, sounding vaguely like the female chorus in Music Man ("Pick, pick, pick a little...") until the start of mass, where Don Mauro appears, wearing sneakers under his white vestment.

The reader is a woman who seems to know everything that is going on. Actually, the group is a group of friends, including one familiar man, who we think have a great love of life, and great love of this church.

We recall walking around the borgo a couple of years ago, and on this one particular day, we came across two women who were so divertita (amusing) that they offered to show us a special view. To do this, they instructed us to peer through a hole in one of their old wooden cantina doors. It was only a joke, but one they had great fun with. They were sure we were tourists.

We think at least one of the women is in this group. And when the mass is through, Rosita's friend walks over to us to ask why we don't attend the Sunday Accion Cattolica sessions.

Dino tells her we don't understand the conversations, and she presses, as she should, to see if she might convince us to return. On the way out, Dino tells me he should have told her that Rosita told us the meetings are not important, but what a commotion that would create! No thank you. No one else from Mugnano attends, so we think that is reason enough not to.

During mass, a loud electric fan to heat the church drones out Don Mauro's voice. Don Mauro is prone to whispering during part of his homily, and he speaks so quickly that it is impossible to hear him, never mind understand him. AND THEN HE SHOUTS WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT HIM TO!

He waits until the sound of the fan stops, and then decides to raise his voice. The sound of his voice booms up and around the apse...boink! boink! boink! from pillar to pillar like a shooting bee-bee gun. Sigh!

We drive to Orvieto, to check out Candida and Franco's pomodori seeds, but they are definitely not getting enough light. We stop for coffee and to pick up the March issue of La Cucina Italiana, but our ad is not in it. So we are wondering if our ad is only in the American edition, or if there is an English edition that would also include English-speaking Europe, and perhaps Australia. So we email Don Salter in England to ask him to bring one with him next week.

If for some reason our ad does not appear in the American edition, so be it. We hope that it does, and will check around with our friends in the U.S. Pat Ryerson advertises her little olive oil plates, so she'll know.

Class this afternoon is full of fun. There is a lot of work to do, but Giovanna brings spumante and plenty of desserts. I have a taste of the Easter cake (?) and ask it its all right to eat, since I've taken ashes this morning. All the women tell me, "Fast tomorrow!"

That reminds me. Years ago, when I first became a Catholic, I remember proudly "wearing" my ashes on my forehead each Ash Wednesday. Today, Don Mauro gives each of us a sprinkling of ashes with four fingers of his right hand and thumb dusting the ashes on top of each of our heads. It makes me feel like a bunch of tulips freshly placed in a bowl of water. I sprinkle a little white sugar in our vases of fresh flowers at home, to keep them happy and fresh longer. So what's with his "sprinkles"? I was hoping for a thumbprint on my forehead as a badge of honor.

Some of my ceramics painting in class from last week's work looks wonderful. A few tiles have the wrong color flowers, so evidently I used some lilac color by mistake. So I'll use these tiles for other things, or for presents. Now I know that I will definitely change the design above the garden sink. And once the tiles come back next Wednesday of the blue and white test design, I'll be able to see if we should incorporate some of the blue design at the top.

I paint a tray for a client and also a mug, possibly for Paola's new house, of a grotesque woman on one side, and a fire design on the other. Monia has a full car tonight; it is so full of ceramics from other students that we have to take a few uncooked tiles home. She advises us to take Stein's blue and white tile to Mondo Ceramica in Deruta to have them come up with the formula for an ancient looking smalto that will simulate it, so we will do that. I'm excited to work on it, and will use a variation of the design on his tile on new things I paint.

Yes, our new web site is up, and the emails announcing it will go out tomorrow. We're both happy to be able to move on to our next projects, and this one has been a long time coming. Thanks to Bob and Alex Kalsey for designing our first web blog in 2002, and to Alex for taking on much of the technical wrangling on this one. Dino and I enjoyed the work, with Alex guiding us when we needed it. Let us know what you think.

As we get ready for bed, the number of pomodori sprouting has grown by one to 60.

Once in bed, I pick up Judith's book on Italian colonialism, and am riveted by the horrific information it contains. Dino asks me not to write about it in my journal, but the thoughts of it bubble up in my consciousness like a créme caramel on the stove ready to overflow.

Do you really want to know that the Italians were the first to use chemical weapons on other people? The book is Italian Colonialism, and it is edited by Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller. Perhaps it is better that we keep the image of Italy as quirky and dreamy as we once knew it. Twist my arm to hear more...No wonder I can't sleep.

March 2
What a lovely morning! Sun pushes its way through every space in the partly opened shutters as if reaching out to me and pulling me from the bed. Dino wants to drive to Deruta, and I'm itching to paint old looking tiles, so let's go!

First we shop at a place for lampshades, and also for those ancient electrical cords that are run outside the wall with porcelain fuse boxes. Expensive, but characteristic. We order six lampshades for the chandelier over our bed. We've only been without lampshades here for seven years!

Then its on to Deruta, and Mondo Ceramica, where Francesco gives us some great advice regarding our smalto. We purchase a small amount of rutile, which we will mix with a tiny bit of smalto and drop it on with a paint brush after the tile has been painted, like dirt or sand, to give it added texture. This is all an experiment to make the tiles look older. And he gives us some small throw-away tiles to experiment with.

We get a lead on a jeweler who works in gold, and she is in Spello. So we pick up a few unglazed pieces from Vania and then rush onto the superstrada, only to stop short at some kind of traffic mess. We are near an exit, so meander through back roads to the town, arriving in the rain just as the clock tower tells us its pranzo time.

The shop we are looking for is open, and they even have a gold lire coin, I think it's a miniature reproduction of a 100 lire coin. There isn't a woman on the front of the coin, but the coin is dated 1981, the year of our marriage, and I like that. The artisan who owns the shop only works in the shop during the morning, and she'll call us tomorrow. We're hoping she'll cast two identical ones for us, and fashion the simple earrings we've been hoping to find.

Yes, our life is all about journeys, and I'm looking for earrings to wear every day. Dino wants me to have them to celebrate my (gasp) 60th birthday in a couple of weeks. So I'm not about to deter him. What a guy!

We stop for pranzo, after feeding Sofi with food from a gastronomia, at Osteria de Dadda in Spello, and this is a charming little spot. With an order of crostini to share and pappardelle pasta with cinghiale and glasses of a little house red wine, we're feeling like celebrating. Our web site is finally ready, and that's something to shout about.

We don't know if our ad will be in the March issue of La Cucina Italiana, which has been the reason for the rush to get the site ready by the end of February. So when we arrive home, we find out that it is. Now if we can get Candida and Franco to bring one when they return next week, that will be great.

We take a few photos in the restaurant, and then a photo of a rainbow on the way home, for we've decided to do something new with the journal. Since the journal is all about our Italian experience, expect to see photographs on the left column next to the journal as each month progresses. These photos will be photos we take of things we see that we like. But they will not remain after the end of the month. They will not move to the archives. So it's another reason to check the site often.

We hope to add new things every week, and there is always so much to add. For instance, we have not added any restaurants, and everyone wants to know about good trattorias on their trips to Italia. Piano, piano. We have lots of time.

March 3
We wake up to a message from our dear friend, Sarah Hammond, who's agreed to be our mentor on the design of the memory garden. She has visited here twice, loves the land as we do, and so this new project begins.

It's early, just after 7AM, and my usual inability to sleep allows me to get up and enjoy a quiet hour unraveling cobwebs in my brain. Margaret and Jim and Isabel and Iolanda, your special garden is starting to unfold.

I drive to a pranzo today at Helen's with Tia and a few other women including Nadia and Lorraine, Patricia and Olivia. Dino stays at home to fix the fried ham and cheese sandwich he misses ordering from Joe's in California.

I take the Which Movie Star Are You? quiz forwarded to me by my pal Peggy Murphy, and as a prize, one of my ceramic tiles. The winner will be the person who guesses the greatest number of matches with today's guests.

So pranzo is fun, and Helen wins the prize. The quiz has us laughing at ourselves, and comparing ourselves to: Madonna, Kathryn Hepburn, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Liz Taylor and Grace Kelly. Could you guess that I'm most like Katherine Hepburn?

Francesco arrives to pick up Lorraine and offers to help me if I'm having any trouble with my ceramics, so it might be a good idea to check in with him soon. It's too bad that Lorraine is in England so much with her present contract, we'd like to see more of her and of them. It's fun to see Olivia again, and of course Patricia.

Back at home, I spend six hours painting while sitting at the kitchen table. I admit I do a little TV watching out of the corner of my eye. Tonight, we watch Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. I wonder how old these series are. The ER series we watch, a series that is repeated so often we know the dialogue, is six years old! We also watch 60 Minutes, and this show is at least a week old. Fa niente. The only current information we seek on TV is the weather, and find that unreliable, too. None of it really matters to us, anyway.

On one of the tiles I paint, there is a little putti, or angelic figure. I am amazed that after watching Monia in class that I am able to paint flesh tones, and the little one's face doesn't look bad. It will be interesting to see how it looks after it has been fired. Let's take a before and after photo, to see what the difference is in color and texture intonation. Tomorrow Dino wants to visit the young woman at her studio in Bomarzo. She's hardly ever there, but if she is going to fire some things, perhaps she'll agree to fire some of ours.

March 4
On this cold morning, we get up to take Sofi to Viterbo for her chip. We think it's a big deal, and that there will be long lines of Tedesco Pastori (German Shepherds) and other huge dogs who'll want to lunge at our little one. But when we arrive we are the first, and we walk down a steep driveway to an office in the shade of two enormous Umbrella Pines. These trees must be at least one hundred years old. They are remarkable.

Dr. Cio takes us in, and tells us that he loves basottos (Sofi's breed). He has standard basottos himself. The chip is a tiny thing, given in an injection right under the skin. So Sofi does not even feel it. Then he walks to his computer, where he types the data into the system. Now Sofi is a legal dog. She can leave with her long nose held high.

We stop on the way home at Elena's ceramics shop in Bomarzo, and she agrees to fire my ceramics. She fires tiles about twice a week, and tells us she will fire tomorrow. So this afternoon and evening, I'll paint and paint. I am very excited.

For the rest of the afternoon and evening, Dino works on small tweaks to the web site and I paint and paint, loving every minute of it. By the time we go to bed, I'm ready with every tile we have smaltoed, and rather bleary eyed.

March 5
We're awakened by a wind so wild I'm wondering if we need to "batten down the hatches". Rain persists, off and on, so we cover the trays of painted tiles to take them to Elena in Bomarzo to fire.

First, we drive up to mass, and stand huddled against the doorway until Livio looks over from his house next door and sees us. It's ten minutes before mass, so we're unfashionably early. He arrives with a big smile on his face and unlocks the front door of the little church, just as Loredana appears around the corner, wearing her raccoon coat and tyrolean hat. She's full of conversation, from the moment she appears on the steps to the church with her throaty, "Buon giorno!"

We're surprised to see them, for their shutters have been closed. We thought they had returned to Rome, but yesterday they drove to Arezzo instead, picking up two lovely carved wooden pieces to be cleaned and then hung above the beds in the bedroom of the newly restored Mugnano house.

Alberto arrives behind her, but late enough that she's already seated between Dino and me on our little bench. He sits against the back wall, along with Tiziano and Enzo and Valerio. Tiziano has been sick for ten days with a sore throat, so will not read this morning.

Don Cirio is the priest, and talks about Noah and his ark. We have suitable weather for this homily, and I think about the five cats outside the church when we arrived this morning. I don' t remember ever seeing so many cats before. Perhaps it is the rainy weather.

The woman we call "the cat lady" who lives above us, asks us if we have seen her bed sheet. She thinks it blew off her clothesline and wound up somewhere on our property. Dino deflects her offer to walk down, and tells her that he'll look for it and bring it to her before pranzo. So when we arrive home to pick up the tiles, he quickly searches behind the gardener's cottage and finds it.

We drive the pink sheet up to her, and I'm surprised that even Dino is able to navigate the narrow street. Stairs poke out here and there, a wall curves in an unfriendly way, but he is able to drive almost up to her door and back again. While backing up, Ida sees us, leans out her window and waves wildly.

Elena and a fellow Dino thinks is her husband are in the ceramics shop in Bomarzo when we arrive with our tiles. She wears a long white coat, the same coat an Italian doctor or a butcher would wear. Today, the large vase she was painting yesterday stands inside the open door of the forno. Today's bake, we presume.

Now that our tiles are here, she wants us to leave them, and tells us they'll be ready in a week. Then she tells us she'll try to have them ready by Friday. It doesn't really matter. I'm about to take a short break from painting, beginning again on Tuesday or so.

On Wednesday, I'll begin to paint a more elaborate design on several of the tiles, and will need Monia's counsel. I'm hoping I'll do the work I need help with in class, and the things I can paint myself I'll paint at home and fire here. It is an excellent plan, and very practical. It depends on the result of this firing. We'll see.

A friend from the U S wants to give a gift certificate for my pottery to a friend, so I'll design one. The mechanics are Dino's project, the design, mine. I'm truly moved that she thought enough of my work to want to give something to a friend for a special birthday. So we're now offering gift certificates. Email us if you're interested with the dollar amount, and we can work up one for you.

Dino loves my cece bean soup, so I prepare some for pranzo. Bruce calls to ask us what our strategy is for watching the Academy Awards. I tell him it's sleep for a lot of the afternoon, followed by an "all nighter". The pre-ceremony events begin at 11:30 PM, the actual awards ceremony begins at 2:30AM. Since we don't know much about the actual films and don't get to see them until they're out in DVD, we're hoping we'll recognize most every one.

Bruce scoffs at our idea, telling us he'll tape them. But tomorrow morning, we'll drive to Civita D'Agliano early for some special bread, and then to Orvieto to leave off freshly baked grain bread and some other goodies for Candida and Franco. They are expected to return home later in the afternoon from California.

We'll also bring some homemade soup. I remember how difficult it was to find open food shops when we arrived here from our US trips. And we could never find good bread at the hour we wanted it. So we're hoping to have our good friends arrive home to find a few treats.

After pranzo, I take a nap, and while Sofi and I are dozing, Helga and her girlfriend arrive for tea. They are staying at a nearby hotel, and have not even visited Stein's house yet. I will surely see them this week. At least they will have hot water, thanks to Dino and Stefano and Enzo.

We go to bed for a couple of hours, setting the alarm for 2AM to watch the Academy Awards. I have not been able to sleep, so it's easy to get up and take Sofi to sit on the sofa in the kitchen by the TV. The three of us watch until 5:30AM. Except for the silly Italian commercials, in which "talking heads" sit on a red sofa in the shape of a stylized mouth and yak about the winners and losers, it is the same show that everyone sees in the U S.

March 6
Italian talk show hosts are so very predictable. The men are of two types: serious with furrowed brows, wanting us to know they are intellectuals, and boffo types, usually balding with paunches. The second type is usually matched with young women either baring breasts or a great deal of cleavage and smiling through full botoxed lips.

Last night during the showing of the Academy Awards, the commercial breaks on SKY TV, our satellite channel, included a cast of five: one "intellectual", one nominee for best foreign language film (from Italy), whose crestfallen face was shown as he lost, one quasi-comedian, one young beautiful woman with a clip board, whose job it was to read email comments just in, and one tall slim man, totally covered in a clingy gold material so that he looked just like an Oscar. We were quite happy to not understand much of the conversation, and thankful that the breaks were not too long.

This morning, we leave and drive to our favorite panificio to pick up some WWF bread and a dark grain bread. We stop on the way to Orvieto at Baschi for caffé and a few treats for our friends, and then stop at their house in Orvieto to check on the pomodori seedlings and to drop off treats to welcome them home.

On the way out of the village this morning, we passed the falegname truck we've been trying to locate. Quickly, we read off the telephone number on the truck, and when we arrive back home, Dino walks up to the village to try to find him. We want him to look at our front door to see if he can refinish it. He will stop at our house tomorrow "prima pranzo".

This morning, we received an email from a couple from New Mexico, who saw our ad and wrote, "When we grow up we want to be just like you!" It's enough to put a smile on our faces all day.

We often wonder about people who love everything Italian, and dream about living here some day. And then I recall our mantra to our friends, "Dare to dream." And then, "dare to live your dream." With dreams, all things really are possible.

It reminds me of Dino's response to people who won't buy lottery tickets. He tells them, "My chance of winning is infinitely better than yours. For I buy a ticket." In that vein, we encourage you to dream, and to embrace your dreams. If we can make our dream come true, so can you. It is really that simple.

March 7
Sun, sun, sun! We're greeted by frosty weather, but you would not know it by stepping out onto our terrace. The sun is bright on our South-facing property, and Sofi can't wait to be outside running around.

We drive to Orte to see Giusy, and while I am having my monthly pedicure, Dino and Sofi scout around the town.

I love Giusy. She puts up with my terrible grammar, and encourages me to speak about Italian life. She looks at the cover of the Italian Colonialism book I am reading, and asks me if the book is about Libya. Her answer to the terrible things the book contains is to compare the Italians in the 1930's to the Germans.

Yes, the Italians could have "done it first", but tells me that then the Germans picked up the idea of committing some of the same atrocities (beginning with gassing innocent people) and raised the "art" to an even higher level. In the book, the Italians who defend their actions act like spoiled children: "He hit me first!"

On this day, Giusy compares my feet and my body to an automobile, and I feel instantly old. Parts wearing out, I think she's saying, and I respond, "Well, at least tell me I'm a Jaguar, and not a Fiat Punto!"

That reminds me. Jeremy Irons is pitching automobiles on TV, and you would not believe which ones...Fiats! His voice over tells us that it is not where we are going that is important, but what we see along the way. I think he should be driving a beat up Fiat Cinque Cento and waving out the driver's side window at us.

How funny this is. So he's not saying anything good at all about the Fiat. He's saying, who cares if you are even riding a donkey. Take a look at the scenery. And oh, yes, don't smell the exhaust.

This afternoon, we make a "house call" to Franco and Candida's to help them install the florescent light for their tomatoes. I am relieved to see that one new brave little seedling of ours has sprouted, but the other 59 or so are still hiding in the dim light.

There is some problem with their transformer, and although we help them to rig up a metal clothes rack to suspend it over a table in their study, we can't get the light to work. So they'll have to pick up a new light. I think their tomatoes will be just fine, even if they are a little late making their entrance, Mr. DeMille.

We are presented with the issue of La Cucina Italiana with our ad, as well as a few fingerling and other potatoes from San Francisco, and this week we'll get "chitting" to plant them. Yes, we're going to be planting our potatoes in big pots instead of in the ground, and Candida offers to store them in their magazzino for us this summer.

We think we'll ask Felice if we can use his magazzino in Mugnano instead. We have no cool dry place to store potatoes. And yes, it is probably easier to just buy a bag of potatoes when we need them, but this is ever so much more fun.

For pranzo, I fixed a broccoli soup, and it was surprisingly good. The tender broccoli is from our garden, and when I clipped a small basketful, I also took a look at the cauliflower, and their plants are forming lovely little white balls inside deep green winter coats. The jackets seem to be whispering to their little buds, gently holding them in an embrace. I would never believe that I would be enamored of cauliflower, but if you grow your own vegetables, you'll know just what I mean.

We drive back to Mugnano for a visit with Ivo and Nadia at their house in the borgo. This is our first visit to their house, and we have a lot to talk about, comparing muratores, wood workers, iron workers, etc. But what I am surprised at is that Ivo owns the little house and garden on the turn going down to Acqua Puzzo that Karina and we both wanted to buy. He and Nadia will restore it one of these days.

Nadia paints and does art projects for fun, so we agree that some time when they are here for an extended period, we'll paint together. When she tells me, "Magari!" (If only that were so, or I wish it would be true.), I tell her "No. Sicuro!" (It will happen.)

We look forward to getting to know them. The word about Felice is not good. He has had tests and we will have to visit him the first chance we get. He has been ill for a few weeks now. Yes, Ivo is sort-of related to Felice. Let's see. Ivo's mother and Marsiglia were sisters.

We also talk about the families of Mugnano, and yes, there are few. Dino tells me "There are only three degrees of separation in Mugnano." And after Ivo helps us to understand that Augusto, who is married to Vincenza, Ivo's sister, was also born in Mugnano and is related to Anna and Vincenzo and Alberto Cozzi, we nod that we understand. We tell him that Tiziano is helping us to create a Mugnano family tree. The subject may not be very interesting to him, but it certainly is to us. And we so enjoy getting to know the families in our little village.

Later, Dino and I agree that Ivo and Nadia's house is a special one. It's location, directly at the corner of the piazza, gives Nadia an excellent "window" on the square as she watches their little Andrea scamper across to the house of another Andrea, Andrea Perini, who is the son of Francesco (the vigili urbani) and his wife, Laura.

Years ago, we watched a huddled over ninety-something woman sitting in her high balcony overlooking the piazza, as if she sat in the Parco Royale box, and the goings on were on the stage below her. We did not know Ivo then, nor did we have any idea that we'd stand at this same balcony, looking down at the village. Sadly, this woman passed away a few years ago, and the house was passed on to Ivo. So at least the Mugnano family legacy continues... Back at home, I'm intent on painting a stema, or crest, for the village of Mugnano. Before I'm ready for bed, I have designed one and have painted two little bishop's plates with the stema. It is a complex design and takes a couple of hours for each plate, but I like the result.

We'll take them to Elena to fire later this week, so they'll be on the web site soon. Oh. This morning, Dino took three more plates to her to fire, and she and her husband were just getting ready to load the oven with our tiles and plates. So we hope by Friday, or even Thursday, we'll have more to show.

March 8
Gee it's cold this morning. There's another little tomato shoot winking at the sunlight, so we're up to 61 pomodori plants with possibly ten more or so to either come out or stay seedlings forever. Dill, lobelia, cruel plants, sweet peas are all doing well, and now that Candida and Franco have given us special potatoes from California, we'll be adding them to the sun window so they can "chit" before planting them in planters in the orto.

We're out of the house before 9AM, stopping at the Titty bar for caffé and then Narni Scalo to scope out a little seedling greenhouse to replace the one in front of our permanent iron and glass one on a raised earthen bed. The present one is one we've used for a year, and we keep our lettuces and arugula there.

It has a zipper and two different covers that roll back, really quite ingenious. But there is a rip in the front of it, so for less than €20 we've decided to replace it. Tia tells us there are new ones at Lidl. But when we arrive, there is just a boxy plastic one, so we pass.

Next stop is the lamp shop, to pick up the shades for our bedroom chandelier. That done, we're on the road to Spello, to meet Catia, the goldsmith.

We're not sure why we were called in to her shop, except that it is good to meet Catia, who is the owner and master designer. She appears to formulate much of her designs on an elaborate computer, but the handwork seems to be done by another woman in the shop. Catia is physically disabled and works most mornings from a wheel chair.

While we are there, Francesca and Catia look over old coins with us, poured out on the table from a big glass vase like nectar from an ancient vessel. We agree on a 10 lire coin with a face that is known as Mother Italia...quite a lovely profile. So the earrings will be the same size as the coin, but fashioned from gold in a "lost gold" kind of wax mold. Fascinating. She shows us pieces of the wax after the casting has been completed. We think they'll be ready in a week or so.

Spello is such a lovely town. We park in the borgo and walk around, strolling by large trees and lots of birds. But mostly the town is silent. I can hear Sofi's little nails clip, clip on the asphalt and her nametag twinkle when we walk. It is that silent.

Dino is into photography these days. We take the camera everywhere, and you'll see evidence of his new hobby on the left side of the journal as the month progresses. But the photos won't appear in the archive once the month has passed, so check in often to see what he stops to photograph for our daily journal.

This web site is now a labor of love that we can work on almost side-by-side. Or at least the work will appear side-by-side. It's more about sharing our Italian experience, and the more we share, the more we appreciate what we have. Yesterday's experience standing on Ivo's balcony reminds us yet again of the preciousness of each moment. And Dino's interest in capturing some of these grows with each click of the camera.

A local policewoman stops us as we drive around to find the top of the town after meeting with Catia. The back road is closed to traffic except for residents with permits, so she directs us around another way, but tells us we won't be able to park. School will be out soon and the mothers will be taking up the parking spaces while waiting for their children. But then, she does not know about Dino's parking karma...

We drive around, as instructed, and Dino drops me off at Dada's, the trattoria we went to last week, where I'm to wait for him. Inside, Donatella looks at me with a combination of shock and delight.

"Eva!" she calls out. I cannot believe that she remembered my name. "Donatella! Buon giorno!" I respond. And she gives me the best table in the house, while I wait for Dino. He's by my side in less than five minutes, and for the next hour, we eat bruschetta, tagliatelle with leper (wild hare), and sip on a little red wine.

Let's talk about bruschetta: It is fixed in many ways. But mostly, it consists of bread that is only lightly grilled or toasted, so that it barely changes color, on both sides. Today, the bruschetta consists of toppings that could also be types of thick soup: spinach and pancetta, bean, mushroom, and a couple of plain slices with olive oil and rubs of garlic and sprinklings of salt. Try this at home when you can't find anything to cook and the bread is past its prime.

The waitress arrives to spread paper mats in front of us with sepia photos of a man called Dada looking strangely out to space. We ask the significance of Dada on the front. She tells us that Dada is the designation of a man who drinks all the time, usually ending up umbriaco (drunk). De Dada is a mode de dire, or figure of speech meaning "the drinker", and is also the name of this trattoria.

While we are sitting there sipping a glass or two of house red wine, a woman arrives and says to the waitress, "Dove mettere?" or, "Where would you like to put us?" We like that. It makes her sound like a lapful of laundry.

Today is the festa degli donne, or women's day. and all over Italy women are given branches of yellow mimosa flowers, known in California as acacia. Evidently Italians are not allergic to this weedy plant, or to its heady pollen.

Roy and I practice the phrase, "Ho travato un forno", or "I have found an oven" to bake my ceramics. We will tell this to Monia in class, and she will probably be relieved, for each week I load up every spare space of her car with my tiles and other pieces.

After pranzo, we decide to have caffé and a dessert at a bar in Spoleto, on the way back to Terni for my afternoon art class. So we stop, and Dino takes a few photos, before getting back into the car and driving on to class while Sofi sleeps in my lap with her head on the window ledge.

But what's this? Monia is sick? And what is Marco telling me? I have blotches on my ceramics? Last week's ceramics have all been fired, but we need one piece to give as a gift this weekend. So can we drive this afternoon to Monia's in Deruta to pick it up? Si.

Dino rolls up his sleeves and dips a number of tiles in the big vat of smalto in the back of the room where we hold our class, and then we pack them up in the car and drive back to...Deruta. Once there, Monia is easy to find. But what's this about what Marco said about my tiles?

What Dino and I thought was carbon was really black dry paint dust. So there are tiny black blotches all over every piece I have dusted...every piece. I have to laugh. At least we have plenty of tiles. And the designs are quite good. And the piece we want to give as a gift this weekend has been finished perfectly. So we take a look around Monia's studio and get back in the car to drive home.

Sofi is really tired. She loves to be with us, but is still anxious in the car, so I don't think she relaxes very much on these daytime jaunts. She's always wondering if we're going to leave her. Now that we're pulling in the parcheggio, she's relaxed and happy to be home. As are we.

A surprise greets us on the floor of the parcheggio as we drive in. A bunch of mimosa, held by a scrunched piece of aluminum foil, lays on the pavement. In honor of Women's Day, someone has brought this by. Whoever could it be? What a thrilling gift! I have no idea. Could it be from Maria the Sarda?

Dino works on his photos and I work on last night's two stemas tonight, trying to take the black dots of paint off the designs. We have not heard from Elena in Bomarzo, but she'll have a scare when she takes the pieces out of the forno and sees all the black dots...We should call her.

Dino has confirmed with the notaio that everything is "tutto a posto" (everything in its place) for Friday's atto, or"close". He then calls the muratore in Tenaglie again, trying to shame him into giving us a quote for Don's work that needs to be done. "Monday" he tells us. It's a good thing we have a backup quote, and that Don is not in a hurry to begin.

We're getting responses from our web site emails, and the activity on our properties is picking up. So we expect to be busy this spring with a flurry of activity on the real estate front. It should be fun.

Tomorrow we'll do a walk through on the first Tenaglie property, and we are looking forward to seeing Don again.

March 9
Yesterday morning just before waking, I could swear I heard my name. It was the Italian pronunciation, "Ehe-vah-nah", and the voice seemed to come from the doorway. But no one was there. What a strange feeling. I could not recognize the voice. I wondered if I would hear the voice again, but have not heard the voice since. Perhaps it was just a strange dream.

This morning is very cold, and spritzy. Sofi does not want to go outside, and neither do I. I am so very tired. Because I don't really sleep at night, some days I am really tired. And today is one of those days.

So Dino goes to the walk through with Don and Duccio at Don's Tenaglie house, and I stay home with Sofi and paint. Dino returns to tell me everything went swimmingly.

When the three of them were in Montecchio to open a bank account, Dino took them to the Comune, and thought Don should meet the sindaco (mayor). Luckily for Don and the boys, Dino found him with his back to the door and knocked. The sindaco welcomed them all in, and was very congenial. It's good for the sindaco to know this new part time resident, and it's good for Don to know him, too. And the retelling will be a lot of fun for the folks back in Ingleterra.

When Dino returns, we decide to drive to Viterbo to the IPERCOOP to shop. While we are there, we wait in line behind Maria who works for Giustino and offer her a ride home. She is very sweet, and otherwise would have to wait for a bus for a couple of hours. We're happy to give her a ride.

But Sofi is not so happy. She does not like Maria, and surprises us by getting quite nasty. She leaps into the back seat, and we think she's going to snuggle up to Maria. But instead she bares her teeth and Maria starts to bat at her with her purse. Not good. We're in the middle of the underground parking lot, and I tell Dino to stop and get Sofi, but he wants to move the car. Feathers are flying and somehow Sofi leaps back into the front seat, while poor Maria's eyes glaze over.

Things calm down, and Sofi stays in my lap, while we try to make conversation on the way home. I am so sad about Sofi's behavior. This is the first time she has acted this way. Yes, she needs to socialize more. I can hear Marielisa ragging at me. It's just not so easy to get to Basquia each day to arrange play times for them together. We'll have to find a way. Otherwise, Sofi is happy as can be. So things settle down, and before we know it we're pulling into the parcheggio.

This afternoon I continue to paint, and Dino takes about ten pieces to Elena to fire and picks up a bunch from earlier in the week. I can see the improvement to my painting week by week, and although there are a lot of black spots on the pieces due to the carbon mixup, the pieces all look quite good. Some I'll redo, some I won't.

I am satisfied that Elena does a fine job with the firing, and she seems to want to continue working with us. The latest smalto we purchased from Mondo Ceramica in Deruta is opaque, and for some pieces it makes them seem more antique. I don't think I'd use it for everything. But Stein's handmade tiles look wonderful with the blue and white design on the opaque background. I'm feeling much more comfortable with the whole process.

While Roy drives back and forth to Elena's studio in Bomarzo, the doorbell rings and it is Maria the Sarda. Yes, the flowers were from her, on Woman's Day. How sweet. Sofi and I walk down the stairs to the gate to thank her and chat for a few minutes. She dropped the same flowers by last year, and it was very thoughtful of her. I really appreciate the thought.

I fiddle with tomorrow's menu, and nix fixing abacchio brodetato, substituting a pork roast, roast fennel, homemade apple sauce poached pears in red wine and a few other treats. Since we'll be attending the atto, or close, at noon, I'll have the morning and afternoon to cook.

But for tonight, I'm getting in bed early with a book. Perhaps it is the book, Italian Colonialism, that is keeping me awake. So I'll start a George Eliot book, Romola, set in Italy unless the other book settles down.

March 10
A rainy start to today bodes good fortune. So we are wishing the same for both Don Salter and the family who will sell their country house to him. Before we leave to meet the notaio and the translator and the client, I prepare some of the dishes we'll eat tonight. We're looking forward to a real celebration.

The notaio is late, but we arrive at the apartment in Attigliano where the transaction will take place. I'm expecting a scene out of Monsoon Wedding, with every relative huddled in the room, neighbors standing in doorways...But what we find instead moves me deeply.

The husband, Arterio, meets us at the door, and he is quite regal looking, tall with grey hair and a kind smile. Since I did not meet him earlier, this is my first time in their home. Rosalba is there, and I give her a hug, then meet Lilly's cousin. Sitting in the chair by the fire is the dearest woman, who sits and faces me as I walk into the room. Her name is Fernanda, and she is the wife of the couple who are selling their property to Don.

I step over to her, and Fernanda raises her arms up to hug me in a childlike embrace. I reach down to hold a woman I've fallen instantly in love with. She takes my hands in hers, and the rest of the room disappears. Although she is tiny in frame, she is larger than life. Rosalba sits by her at the corner of the fireplace, and a chair is brought up next to her. I sit down, and we hold hands while everyone else positions themselves around the table.

Fernanda tells me that she is so very sad on this day. She was born in the Tenaglie house, as were her four brothers, her father and her grandfather. She has not seen the house for seven years, when the new roof was installed. Clearly unable to walk, all she has these days are her dreams, and they are many. She will never see the house again. All her days are spent in this apartment, and it is now her whole life.

So as the notaio, Gian Luca Pasqualini, reads the words on the "atto", or deed, and Donald and Duccio and Stephanie follow them closely, Fernanda's eyes fill up with tears and she presses her right hand to her heart, to tell me it is beating, beating...quickly, quickly. Her left hand holds my left hand and my right arm rests firmly around her little shoulders. Immediately to her right is the little fire, with two small logs gently warming the room. But she is so very sad. Her eyes open like moons and she tries to drink me in thirstily for comfort.

"You have your dreams now, and you must have many sweet dreams of the house and of your life there." I tell her. And she nods her head and looks at the floor, as if remembering back flashes of family and love and the passing of time.

The notaio remembers the room. He is a young man, younger than we, and remembers two earlier transactions in this very room. One was the sale of half of the house to Fernanda's husband, we think, and one was the sale of the garden plot to him as well from a cousin.

The mechanics of the transaction are quick and there are no surprises. Dino has done his homework, checking all the details in advance, and Duccio has done a fine translating job as well. Donald is very pleased, and moved by Fernanda as well.

He brings out a shopping bag of treats for her, including a painting of his town in Durham, England with an image of the oldest Romanesque church in Europe, and well as some English treats and a few postcards of Roman artifacts now located in England. How thoughtful he is, and how pleased he has made her. It takes away some of the sadness to know that the house will be owned by a gentle man. Don's daughter, Katie, will arrive this afternoon, and he promises to take her by for a visit with Fernanda.

Before we leave, Fernanda makes me promise to come back to see her. We certainly will soon. And so we all leave, going our separate ways. with Duccio, Don and Katie arriving this evening for a celebration. Here is a picture of Fernanda and Don, just after the transaction was completed. We are sure he will cherish this photo, as will we.

March 11
It is a jeans kind of day, and for the first time in months I'm donning jeans and also a velour turtleneck. We're going to be showing a couple of properties and on this rainy morning I'm sure to put on shoes that will navigate any murky terrain and a warm coat. Sofi comes with us, but stays in the car.

We view one property and it is lovely, but there is a house too near to make the spot completely tranquil. The client is looking for much more land, not wanting to see anyone around "Unless I want to!" the she exclaims.

We know of a property we have seen that we think she will like, but cannot show it today without an appointment. We take her to a road ringing the property and stop for a view from the road of a row of tall cypress trees and an uneven path. A "private property" chain blocks our way, and we would not think of barging in on the owners without calling. So we place a call and will have to return on Monday for an official appointment when the owner will be available.

We bring some just picked jonquils to Marsiglia, tied with a ribbon, and a card, and Dino and Sofi wait in the car by the catena to the borgo, while I cross the silent pavement and ring the bell. "Who's there?" she calls out.

She and dear Felice are sitting down to an early pranzo, and so I only stop to hand her the flowers and apologise for missing her birthday yesterday. The hugs and kisses tell me that she's very happy to see me, only sorry that Dino and Sofi are not by my side. Felice does not look well. She tells me he has had a fever again, and she has to prod him to eat. But he tells me he is well. That is Felice. Sempre felice.

I give him a hug and tell them we'll return tomorrow morning after mass for a visit. It is very important to visit them often on these cold days, and they so love the company. At least she does. I don't know if Felice is really aware of what is going on, although he clearly beams at the sight of us.

Leftovers are a treat today, and Dino loves leftovers. After pranzo, I take a nap, and then Dino takes a nap, while I prepare a saffron and ricotta torte to take tonight to Candida and Franco's. I prepare it so that it is still warm when we leave. Sofi stays home, although she is always welcome there. She's not happy, but we think it's better that she stay at home tonight.

We meet Tia and Bruce and drive them to Orvieto, where our hosts prepare a memorable meal. What stands out is the fish course, and an orange rind flavored salt. Franco tells us that the recipe is from Marseilles, and the shrimp frozen from a special and reliable fish market. We all agree that shrimp that is fresh frozen can be delicious, and that this shrimp is not from Italy. For we all agree that we have never eaten good shrimp in Italy. It is too mushy, or too tiny. This fish is incredible, as are the caramelized endive surrounding it. Bravo Franco and Candida!

We forgot that in this remarkable house that the some of the tufa walls surrounding it date back to the Etruscan times, if not before. Franco turns to point to the wall behind me. "This part of the wall is about a thousand years old...this part is medieval and that part is about one hundred years old." On the floor near the entrance to the living room is a thick glass panel, the same kind of glass panel that is seen in museums to view artifacts below ground level.

Looking down, we view a rectangular cut in the earth reaching down more than two levels. This is a project Franco has worked on for months, during which he has dug up barrel after barrel of dirt, searching for....he and we do not know what. But he tells us that has stopped. More digging looks dangerous. Underneath another part of the house he is sure there are evidences of Etruscan civilization. This part of Orvieto is the oldest part of the town. We'll have to get Tiziano up here to do some investigating.

We leave Candida and Franco with promises to take a trip to Spello soon. We've missed our jaunts with them, and now that they're back it's time to plan some fun. The night is cold, but we drive home under a clear sky, and say goodnight to Tia and Bruce, agreeing to see them, too in a few days. It's been a fun evening and it's good to spend time with Tia and Bruce again, as well as with our hosts.

We're hopeful that rain has stopped for a few days, and look forward to starting some more seeds. It's mid March, and tomorrow we'll have to check our books and calendars to find out what things to start this month...especially with a full moon rising...

March 12
In my usual non-sleep mode early this morning, I hear Sofi awaken and stand by my side of the bed, waiting to go out. That's unusual, so I take her downstairs and open the door. What a wonderful sight greets us!

I know there's an almost full moon somewhere overhead, but the sky is clear and very cold. In the dusky light just before 6 A M, we're treated to a virtual painting facing us that is the Tiber Valley. I stand with my head leaning against the doorway, taking in the silence of it all. And yet it is not quiet. Birds are busy, busy and noisy, noisy. But the horizon of pink wedged against layers of deep and purply blue hills reminds me of a question I asked Candida last night about living here.

"What is the one thing that most speaks to you about your life here? Is there a place you think about, a place you see yourself standing when you're far away and thinking of being here?" I ask her. At the dinner table, we've been talking about how much we love living here, and how different life is from life in the U S. Others at the table stare at me blankly. Candida does not know what to answer. So someone asks me the same question. And I answer without skipping a beat:

"I see myself walking from the front door onto the terrace in the moonlight and feeling the silence around me. It is an almost indefinable sense of place." And in only a few hours I am treated to this very same sight.

I've been thinking about the rose growing on a gorgeous pergola I saw in a magazine yesterday, a Pierre de Ronsard, and in my non-sleep mode I've fantasized my way from one end of the property to the other, placing the rose here and then there and deciding that the white iceberg roses against the front fence haven't really spread as I thought they would. They're little bush roses, and I'm wondering how this rose would look interspersed between them. I'm not sure it's the right rose for that area. Sarah will tell me I'm sure...

What I do know is that the seventeen pale green glazed terra cotta pots of varying sizes that we picked up in Viterbo for a song will display newly purchased round box. I love round boxwood, clipped and jolly, and envision the pots sitting in different groupings on the gravel.

I loved the idea of gravel and box in 1997 when we first bought our property and sat with Sarah for hours imagining how it would look. And I love the box now. Sixty or so round box stand like sentinels planted in earth around the property, most of them ringing the front terrace. And this spring there will be even more.

Even thought the windows in the bedroom are now closed, I can hear birds clamoring. They seem to love this early morning light, as do I. Later in the day I will be dragging, but for now I'm singing in my heart while Sofi snoozes next to me in her little wicker bed and Roy catches "z's" a few feet away.

A few hours later the sun is bright, and although it is cold we are warm as we walk up to mass, leaving Sofi on the terrace. We're the first to arrive in the church after Livio, but one by one our neighbors appear, each one smiling so very warmly to us and wishing us a good day.

Don Luca is today's priest, and I ask Tiziano right after mass if today is the day we should confront Don Luca and ask him for a letter of introduction to the special library in Bagnoregio to begin our research on San Liberato. Tiziano will not be available to do the research with us until April, but that is fine with us. It will take us that long to get the letter.

We're standing right in front of the doorway when Don Luca appears, and Tiziano asks him if he will write the letter. "You write it, and I will sign it!" he says with a nod. This priest is very matter of fact. He is an excellent delegator, an excellent manager. Si certo!

As he walks to his car, Tiziano and we laugh that we'll write a letter saying how wonderful we are and give it to him to sign. We are joking, but we are also laughing to think the request would be so easily granted. This next week Tiziano will write the letter, and will bring it to church on Sunday for Don Luca to sign.

We stop for caffé at Marsiglia and Felice's and he is better, but not back to the old Felice we once knew. We stay for a while, and when we leave Marsiglia presents us with a torte made from plums and tells us to give Sofia a little kiss from her. We'll come back to see them in a few days if Felice is not well enough to take a walk to see us.

On the way home the sun is out, and my latest ceramics are ready, so Dino picks them up while Sofi and I survey the garden. Every peony bush has survived! Roses are starting to grow, lavender is doing well, bulbs are getting ready to burst, and the peach and apple trees are starting to bud.

I knob a few peach blossoms off the branches, so that we'll have larger and sweeter fruit this year. How very delicious these peaches are! I want to throw up my arms in joy on this lovely morning with Sofi scampering, birds singing, and a tractor lumbering down in the meadow. Thank you, dear Lord, for another beautiful day.

March 13
Pink clouds greet us early, and by the time I'm up Dino has left to have the car serviced in Viterbo. The sun has me itching to get new seedlings started, but first I have to research the fertilizers and root inoculants we have purchased from Golden Harvest Organics.

So I start to read about the natural fertilizer, C-spray mineral supplement with kelp, coconut fiber potting medium and the endomycorrhizae root inoculant. Their web site is in case you want to read about their products online. I'm confused, and so will consult with Dino, the family chemist.

Outside, an ape struggles up the hill. Our roses are looking wonderful, with tiny leaves in evidence everywhere. For the first season in years, our rose arch looks as though we'll have a successful season. Although the temperature is cold, this is really a garden day. The ceramics will have to wait.

Where does the time go? I putter around the garden, amazed at the size of the fava plants, the mere site of them a work of modern art. It's time to get going on the c-spray and the fertilizer, which is mixed with water and should keep the fruit trees from disease. Or at least that is what the description tells us.

We mix all the potions and I drop on some tiny root inoculant grains onto the plants, then spray with a mixture of C-spray and water. In a day or so I'll spray with the fertilizer mixed with water. It will be interesting to see if these changes make a difference.

I stop to email Marilyn and Bob Smith to see what "over the top" planting they've done, and she emails me right back to tell me they planted heirloom seeds in mid January in the greenhouse, expecting to put the tomatoes in the ground around mid April in Glen Ellen, CA. 132 plants. That's more than double our count, right about what I'd expect from those dynamos.

We need some ongoing gardening help, really some ongoing weeding, now that Felice won't be able to help. Tomorrow we'll visit Felice at home, and start the process of finding someone to work about ten hours a week. First, out of real respect, we'll ask what he thinks. Then if he does not have a plan for us, we'll put the word out in the village to have our neighbors advise us on who should work here.

My shoulder tells me I'm not able to weed, and Dino agrees. I can work on the roses, and I think I can clip the boxwood and putter around. But the heavy duty weeding and hoe work is something I'll not be able to do well anymore.

We show two properties to a client in lower Umbria, a client who wants to find a Contadina to work on her new land, if she takes the larger parcel. Contadinas are not easy to find. Many of them have given up work in the country, and younger men just aren't interested in working the land. If the client wants the first property, we'll ask neighboring owners for advice.

We feel good about both places we've shown her, and will bring her back with her husband this weekend. These are two very different situations. The first has a remarkable view, is a beautiful piece of land, but will take a lot of work just to clear the land and the house will need to be torn down and rebuilt. The second is in move-in condition, but is more money, and has less land, so there is less work that needs to be done. The process of buying a property certainly is an interesting one.

While waiting for the person who is to show us the property, we sit on the side of the road and watch a very old woman emerge from an olive grove across the road with a red basket full of greens. She is right out of a magazine, wearing a flowered babushka and house dress in a floral pattern right out of Ralph Lauren, but these clothes are authentic ones of a cheaply made cotton. She covers her dress with an old ragged cardigan sweater. Her remarkable legs are birdleg thin, bowed like an old cart from the weight of her bending over for eight decades or more in the garden.

A few minutes earlier, we drove up to the car waiting for her, thinking it was the person we were to meet. Inside, a freshly coifed woman stared back at us. When the old woman crossed the road to get in, the driver hardly helped her. Clearly she is not a contadini type. Oh how I wish we had taken a photo of the old wizened woman. Perhaps we'll find her again. She's a wonder.

While walking the first piece of land, we first see a lovely hellebore plant growing wild just in front of us and then spot cinghiale tracks, very definitely cinghiale, with one set of tracks heading toward a stream. On the other side of the property, I see something that looks like a bouncing plant. We guess it's a porcupine. Later Dino tells me it was probably Artie Johnson from Laugh-in, that decades-old TV program that was such a hit in the...70's?

And while walking by the little pool on the second property, we spot a pheasant slowly walking toward the stairway. Dino is too slow with his camera to catch the bird, who just hops out of sight. There's always something to see in the country, if one keeps their eyes open and ears alert.

We come home and do some planting of seedlings: red cabbage, lupine, cilantro, cannula, and two more datura seeds. The datura seeds we planted earlier did not take, even when I cracked them.

The day remains sunny and cold, but spring can't be far away. On our drive, flowering cherries and almond and peach trees dot the landscape. I imagine the months and the flowers in bloom. First we had the nespola trees in bloom during the holidays, then the viburnums on our property in flower from dark blue pods to pink buds opening to white flowers in February and March. Now it is the fruit trees. We'll be followed soon by the first buds of spring as the days grow ever longer.

March 14
There's no hot water, nor is there heat this morning. Later, Dino tells me that there was none late last night, either, but he thought the condition would go away. Huh?

We drive to Sipicciano and in an hour or two I'm a new blond again. I investigate my roots closely in the mirror while waiting for Daniele to begin, but can't find much grey. So what's the grey all about? I know the hairs are thicker, but do existing hairs get thicker and greyer at the roots? Or do entirely new hairs grow in? What a mystery life is. Later in the day I burn my finger while grilling something for pranzo, and am fascinated by how quickly the skin repairs after changing texture. The body is an amazing thing. Too bad we don't appreciate it as much as we should...

I will say that I'm looking forward to my 60th birthday on Thursday. Age doesn't seem to make any difference to me, other than my parts are beginning to wear out.

Dino and Sofi and I drive back to the village and up to the borgo upon leaving Sipicciano, where we come upon Pepe Fosci wearing metal crutches. He fell a few weeks ago and injured a muscle in his leg. This is so uncharacteristic of this tough man. He'll be well in no time. I am sure of that.

We walk to Felice and Marsiglia's and her sister in law has just delivered vegetables from Franco's vegetable truck, where we'll buy a few things on the way out. She leaves and we consult with them, asking who we should ask to take Felice's place tending our garden for a few hours a week. He is not sure.

Marsiglia seems to be more aware of what's going on, but she does not know of a perfect person either. We all agree that we'll consult with Enzo Gasperoni and then maybe Pepe Fosci to see what they have to say. Antonio Monchini may also have an idea, and perhaps we'll email Paola about it. We spread a few hugs around, and Sofi gets a kiss from Marsiglia, then we wish them a buon pranzo and walk back across the piazza.

After picking up a few salad fixings from Franco in his truck, we walk home and Dino feeds the fruit trees with a special spray to protect them from spring bugs and infections. I do a little weeding in the raised bed, and pluck all the rest of the broccoli and a cauliflower, to sauté with olive oil and garlic for today's pranzo.

I take a walk around the garden and look at the fruit trees as well as the tiny shoots emerging from the bulbs we planted a couple of months ago. Soon they'll all be in flower. I see a jonquil just ready to pop, so next week we'll document our first spring flowers.

Enzo arrives and shows Dino that all that is wrong is that the hot water heater needs a little...water! It's as simple as that. So the water's back on, and I prepare pranzo before Dino walks down to Stein's to meet with Stefano on a little project. The day is lovely in the sun, and I'm going to paint some more, before we drive off for a few errands in the afternoon.

I'm aware that the moon is full, so there's no time to waste planting a few more things this month. I'd like to believe Felice and Vincenzo that the timing of the phase of the moon does not matter, but since my successes are nothing to brag about, I'm superstitious and put a few more plastic pots in the window with potting soil and special sprays and fertilizer (all natural, si certo). No more tomatoes have shown their shoots, so there are about seven little empty plugs looking lonely.

What will I plant? More flowers of this and that, a few herbs, nothing unusual.

I get in bed early with a good book, or at least I hope it will be a good book: Romola by George Eliot. Set in Renaissance Florence, I'm conscious that this will be a long slow read. The next thing I know I'm only on page 4 and I can't keep my eyes open. Buona notte.

March 15
I'm up and dressed before the 7AM bus arrives in the village, and Dino is ready soon after me. We're on the road early for Perugia, x-rays and medical histories in hand. Wednesday is the day our specialist will be at the clinic in Perugia. Dino tells me he's sure we don't need an appointment.

We're on the E-45, and having a discussion about the A-1 vs. the Superstrada, or SS roads. He tells me that SS stands for Strada of the State, and Superstrada is a sopranome, or nickname. The A-1 is a private road (! ) and the SS are state owned roads. That is probably why the A-1 is a toll road and is always in good shape, and the reason why the SS or superstradas, especially the E-45, are in bad condition. Italy is in bad financial shape, and so are its secondary roads.

So last night the first of a couple of debates took place between Prodi and Berlusconi, and the news station we watched felt that Prodi came out the winner by a slim margin. Who knows what constituted "winner"? Prodi seems like a nice enough guy, he did a good job when he headed up the European Union when it was getting started, but many people think he won't be better than old smiley, Berlusconi. We'll have to study it, and will get back to you when we know more. The elections are in April...

I'm recalling a telephone conversation with Lore yesterday, in which she described the people of Mugnano as being easy to take offense. She and Alberto try to keep to themselves. When I tell her that we want to involve the people in the village in finding us a replacement for dear Felice, I can tell she does not like my idea. We want someone who is not afraid to work or bend down or be reliable. And I'm thinking we'll have some difficulties finding someone as wonderful as Felice.

At the clinic, Dino takes a number. When it is his turn to pay for the procedures, he is told he needs an appointment. So we walk over to the doctor's office he wants to see, and after a while we find him in between patients. Yes, we do need an appointment, and he cannot take us today, so we'll come back in a few weeks. That leaves the rest of the morning to scout for a faucet for the garden sink and another faucet for the loggia sink. Perugia is a big city and a good place to shop.

We find a lovely brass faucet for the garden sink at an unexpected place that sells outdoor fountains. The head is the head of a grotesque birdlike figure, and the whole thing will take on a lovely patina. What is best about it is that it has a cartridge mechanism. I know I am getting into a lot of detail here, but Dino really has a thing about cartridge faucets. You'll have to ask him if you don't know what he means. He's happy. I'm happy. On we go.

We find a faucet for the loggia at OBI in Perugia, but Dino wants to look some more and we can pick one up at OBI in Viterbo. It's still early, so we drive on to Montefalco, and eat at the Alchemist, a trattoria where Pat and Dick Ryerson love to eat. We've been looking for the book called An Appetite for Umbria, and they sell us an autographed copy. Their trattoria is one of the featured restaurants. If you like Italian cooking, and want to try some easy and unusual recipes, buy the book. You can find it at: Buon appetito!

Patrizia greets us, and Dino orders porri (leek) soup (wonderful), we have a thin pork carpaccio with shaved Parmesan and rugghetta and balsamico, and I have the most wonderful scrambled eggs with fresh asparagus from their garden. Taking thin asparagus pieces that are snapped off, steamed for a minute or two and then swirled in beaten egg with freshly cracked pepper cooked in a little butter or olive oil is a wonderful lunch or small dinner idea. We stop at that, for we'll have coffee and dessert somewhere else, but on the way upstairs we see some rounds of cheese that look caracteristico.

We ask about them, and they are cheeses flavored with saffron. Sounds interesting, until they ask us if we want a taste. It is marzolino, made with sheep's milk during the month of March. Remember it, because it is awful. Just awful. The taste of the cheese stays with us for hours....An acquired taste, I suppose. Surprisingly enough, I have just read about it in the book Romola.

We arrive at class at around 3, and for the next four hours I'm painting away, taking some guidance from both Marianna and Monia on smalto repair, painting shadows on faces, painting stone pillars...

I finish the second cup of a pair, and they don't want to take it to Deruta to fire it, for they are afraid it will be damaged in the transportation. So I sit holding it in the front seat, with the armrest up between us, locking Sofi in the back seat while she whimpers. We arrive home with not much damage to the cup, and I can repair it before we take it to Elena this weekend in Bomarzo to fire. From now on, we'll smalto and paint all cups at home and take them to Elena to fire.

We settle in at home, and get ready to pack for our trip to Ravenna tomorrow. While I was in class, Tia called to tell Dino that every dog in the Terni canile has the incurable disease spread by mosquitoes. Marielisa told us one of her dogs had it and she gave it shots and it is fine. Our vet is not concerned, but we know of a few people whose dogs died from the bites.

We're concerned, but Sofi stays close to home and perhaps her non-mixing with other dogs has an upside here. Wonder if this is a concern in the U S. Marilisa advised us to use citronella on Sofi's ears and top of her long nose. Our vet in Viterbo is not concerned. But we will remain vigilant.

March 16
I remember sending flowers to my mother on my birthday each year since my teens, and admit I miss this custom. She has not been around for more than eighteen years, and I still think she's about to call up with one of her funny sayings. Life with Hildegarde was anything but boring. Bless you, mom.

We're out of the house by 6AM, driving North on the A-1 to Arezzo, East to San Sepulcro and North on the E-45. Our destination is the town of Ravenna, located on the Adriatic coast below Venice. Although Italy is a narrow country, there are mountain ranges in between, and many circuitous routes. "Six of one, half dozen of another" is a phrase Dino utters like clockwork, whenever there are two very similar choices. We have no idea if this is the easiest route, but find out later that it is.

With a short stop on the way right after entering the A-1 for caffé and a cornetto, we arrive in Ravenna at 9:30AM. I think this is pretty remarkable, considering it rained the entire way. The hotel, Albergo Capello, ( is located in the traffico limitato centro storico, so we park at Piazza John Kennedy and walk from there. Dino even carries Sofi's wicker bed under an arm. On the corner of IV Novembre around the corner from the hotel is an impressive Mussolini-era stone building, the permanent marketplace.

As soon as we've dropped our things off in room 103, Sogno Aramanto, we return outside with our umbrellas to check out the indoor food marketplace. It reminds us of the permanent markets all over Rome, with gorgeous radicchio, mushrooms, herbs of all kinds, beautifully displayed meats and spices. I'm imagining stall owners here hundreds of years ago wearing colorful tunics and chatting with customers while standing on the same sawdust-strewn marble floors. We walk around a little after leaving the building, but it is really wet. Sofi is a good sport, dodging puddles that are lake-sized to this little dog.

Our quest is for artisans, and for artisan shops that sell supplies for mosaics and other arts. Right outside the famous Basilica of San Vitale is the shop we are looking for: annafietta. It's web site is: www.

Inside the shop, Simona helps us to locate special mosaic glass for Candida, as well as a cutting tool. We phone Candida, and find her at her class in Rome to discuss the options. We leave there with treasures for her, so already consider this trip a great success. It is not even 11AM!

Back at the hotel, we want to find a simple place for pranzo where we can eat fish, but most restaurants are closed on Thursdays, and guess which day of this week today is...

The concierge tells us the best fish is in a town on the coast south of Ravenna called Milano Maritima. Since we're at an hourly parking lot, we think this is a great idea. Tonight we have a number of restaurants in town to choose from, and she tells us we do not need reservations.

It's still raining, and we've fed Sofi, so we all get in the car and drive south. The town next to Milano Marittima is Cervia, and we find ourselves driving across a canal in Cervia to make our decision between four restaurants that have been recommended by...a local surf shop owner!

We walk down a little alleyway to Trattoria all'Orto da Bruno. Inside, there are plenty of tables, and we find ourselves seated against a wall near a table of women laughing and having a great time. Everyone in the trattoria seems to be having a great time, or is it just my birthday and am I so happy to be at a fish restaurant? I really miss eating wonderfully fresh fish. Perhaps I just miss the great New England fish of my childhood.

We have a lovely white wine (Albana) from Romagna. Used to drinking full-bodied red wines, this is a change. But with fish, chilled white wine is perfect. Muscles and Clams in a light broth are heavenly. I don' t remember much of the rest of the meal, but as we get up to leave I ask the women if they come here every week, and they tell us this is the first time they've all been together.

I think we're going to leave, but they convince us to stay for a taste of limoncello, and before we know it we're toasting them and I'm inviting them to my lavender lunch in June.

Here I am clinking glasses with Bruna Ventura, while Simona, Barbara, Sabrina, Denise and Paola look on. They tell us they work at the Autogrill on the A1 Autostrada between Bologna and Florence. How funny this chance meeting and how full of fun these women are. They tell us "si certo!" they'll come to my pranzo in June.

We're both feeling very mellow, and I'm not sure I'm up to a big meal tonight, so we drive back to town for a rest while the rain continues. Tomorrow morning we'll view all the basilicas, including Apolloniare, south of town.

We have a snooze, feed Sofi and Dino takes her out for a walk. He's going to scope out places to have dinner. When he returns, he tells me about an enoteca he wants to try. So while Sofi guards the room, we take a walk around and find ourselves at Ca' de' Vén.

This is a real surprise. Inside the place looks centuries old, like a kind of Schroeder's, the old San Francisco restaurant that is no longer open, with dark wood paneling and bottles of wine standing on shelves all around the room. A checkerboard floor and marble countertops help to make this place definitely a place of "character and charm". The waitpersons are all friendly, and the people who eat there appear all to be locals.

With another bottle of white Romagna wine, also Albana, I try some scampi, while Dino opts for tornedos. He can only take so much fish...

This has been a fun day, even with the rain, and we look forward to viewing the basilicas tomorrow and driving back on another route. I admit I'm a little worried leaving Sofi in the room alone, and we slink back in through the lobby of the hotel, silently sneaking up the stairs to our room, hoping no one sees us. Upstairs all is well, with a "fare una festa" from Sofi and a night's sleep in this grand room.

O.K. So I can't sleep. I'm thinking of painting similar frescoes to those in this room all around our bedroom. They'll be painted just under the ceiling in a border about eighteen inches deep, possibly with grotesque designs patterned after those in the Orsini palazzo in Bomarzo that I love. I think we'll ask Stefano if we can borrow a little scaffolding, but Dino tells me it's inexpensive enough to buy, and I spend the night working out how I'll teach myself to paint the designs within bordered cornice, and begin to work out how I will paint them.

Once the garden sink project is complete, and the tiles for the back of the loggia sink are painted, I'll start on this. But I have a sinking feeling that there will be some bad news about my shoulder and imagine I might need a pin. That will put a real damper on my painting, so for the next week and a half until my doctor's appointment, I'll paint like crazy. Perhaps at least I can complete the garden sink project.

What an adventure this life is!

March 17
Sun greets us, and with visions of painting frescoes fresh in my mind, Dino takes shots of all the frescoes in the room. Trips out of town are almost always fodder for creative thinking, and that's as it should be.

After breakfast, we move the car and Sofi sleeps in the back while we do our basilica walking. First is San Vitale, and we are taken aback by how marvelous this place is. Before coming to Ravenna, I thought these basilicas would contain wall-to-wall mosaics, but there are many fine frescoes on walls of these buildings as well.

The Church of San Vitale is an exotic mix of eastern geometric patterns on the floor and Christian iconography around the walls and ceiling. Here is a sample of the floor patterns.

The building is circular. We're taken by the sight of marble floors containing the same geometric patterns that Dino loves, somewhat reminiscent of Escher (or should I say Escher was reminiscent of San Vitale?). In the morning light, the walls and dome twinkle, colored glass jeweled mosaics sparkling everywhere we look.

From there, we walk to Mausoleo Galla Placidia. This is a mausoleum that is an unremarkable looking stone building on the outside, but a treasure trove inside. This tomb of Placidia is full of brightly colored mosaics in tribute to this woman who, in the two decades following the year 450AD, was recognized as the power behind the imperial throne. This mausoleum contains what is thought to be the first depiction of Saint Peter holding the keys to heaven.

There is a mosaic art school nearby. We are told it is run by Luciana Notturni who teaches five-day courses in traditional and contemporary mosaic in English. But mosaics are not what we're all about, so we move on. There is good shopping on Via Cavour, so we pick up a few things, but move on to see the Domus of Stone Carpets just 100 meters from San Vitale.

The Domus is a modern frame work, an underground space located 3 meters below ground level, containing mosaics of a Byzantine palace dating back to the 6th century AD. This monument was inaugurated within the past few years to celebrate 1600 years since the time that Ravenna became capital of the Western Roman Empire.

Sant Apollinare Nuovo is a also a nearby basilica, founded by Theodoric in the 5th century as an Arian church, a branch that did not believe in Christ's divinity. One of the earliest mosaics on the left wall shows twenty two virgins wearing golden embroidered tunics, following the Three Kings and the Virgin Mary enthroned with the Holy Child on her lap surrounded by four angels. Whew!

After walking around for awhile, for that is what we love to do in new towns, exploring side streets, looking at architecture, colors, ornaments, flowers, we decide to check out of the hotel and drive down the coast toward Rimini and eat fish again. Yesterday's was really memorable.

Dino wants to buy The Divine Comedy, and since this was an important town to Dante, we find copies of the three books at a bookstore around the corner from Dante's tomb. Amazingly, they are in English. So we add these to our growing library.

Evidently we did not get in any real trouble last night regarding Sofi (she was probably very quiet and just went to sleep until we returned from dinner), but it's time to move on. So we pack up the car and drive South to the Basilica of Saint Apollinare in Classe.

We're delighted again. After passing a tall bronze of Julius Caesar pointing possibly toward Milan (?) we enter an enormous building with more mosaics and an extraordinary altar of marble. I am drawn to cameos high up on the walls of famous priests, and one has a pope's cap on top. I think his name is Johannes, so when we arrive home I take a look in our popes book. Here's the story about him: John X (914-928) was bishop of Ravenna when elected Pope. He was closely associated with the Roman aristocracy as well as the Berengar, then king of Italy. His election was partly due to the advancing army of Saracens in Southern Italy. He was an energetic pope who organized a league of the Italian states. With the aid of the Byzantine fleet he defeated the Saracens at Grigliano in 915.

Shortly afterward, he crowned Berengar emperor in St. Peter's. He attempted to bring Croatia and Dalmatia within the sphere of Roman influence; in 923 he succeeded in restoring relations with Constantinople. Her rebuilt the Lateran, decorating it with sumptuous paintings. In 927 a revolt broke out during which Peter, John's brother and closest advisor, was murdered. John was deposed and imprisoned, where he died the next year, "probably having been smothered". Now back to our trip...

Goodbye Ravenna. We next find ourselves back in Cervia, looking for a parking place on the street. We come upon a fishermen's marketplace. It looks like a club, an association, where men dressed as if they've just left their fishing boats pass us and walk through the swinging doors to a crowded room. Dino wants to go inside.

But will they admit us? I'm a little hesitant, but Dino feels secure enough that he leads me inside. We're allowed to stay, and this time I don't have a problem being in the middle of the room. The room is full, and everyone is having a good time.

The food is very inexpensive, and so good that we each eat an order of steamed mussels and then frito misto. Of course we also have a bottle of white Romagna wine. This time, we have house wine, which is quite good. We'd be sure to go there again, and recommend it as a "must" L'Avventura experience.

The sky remains clear, and we set our sites on the S3. This is a mistake, and only after we realize we took this same route driving back from Pesaro last year when we said we'd never take it again. Mai. Bumpy and curvy two-lane roads, trucks, slow traffic, and more bumpy roads.

Did I tell you I left my little borsa in class last Wednesday? I was sure Dino picked it up when he packed up all my plates, but when I looked for my sketchbook to take on the trip I could not find anything. Two sketch books, my folder with all my drawings for the garden sink, all my tissue tracings, my paint, the mug I finished with the woman on it.

For several hours on Thursday morning my stomach turned, although we both realized it was for naught. But when Dino called the store, Laura told him it was right where I left it. So we stop in Terni on the way home, and March welcomes me, telling me "Via, via!" or to go right ahead to find it in the back.

We're home before the sun sets, and everything looks fine. It was a wonderful trip. But it is so good to be home.

March 18
There are warnings of a big storm moving our way from Spain, but for today the birds are busy, especially in the bay laurel tree on the front terrace. They love this tree, and until we install a larger roof on the loggia their home will be safe.

The day passes uneventfully until afternoon, with not any time to paint. But we meet a new client in Tenaglie after pranzo, and take photos of a house and olive grove very near Don's property. It has a similar view of ancient remains of a settlement that once belonged to an important family in the area. The stones and vegetation are all that's left. But what's the story? We'll have to find out.

An old man we've seen before walks down the hill toward us, his ears quite large; so large, in fact, that they're the image one is left with later of the sight of them along with his broad smile and woolen cap. He is Eugenio, and wants to know what's going on.

After taking photos of the house and olive grove, where we also notice fig and cherry and noce and albicocce trees, we stop to take a look at the lovely little garden in front, with old roses, two large peonie bushes, a little stone out building with a lemonaia on one side and a pizza oven on the other. There are even few little stairs leading up to a door through which one can enter to store...what?

The little building is a mystery, but a charming addition. At less than €90,000, this is a charming property, but one that will need a restoration of at least half that much again. We will list it this next week on the site.

We drive to Bomarzo for 5PM mass, for tomorrow Dino wants to watch the first Formula 1 race of the season. Don Luca and Don Bruno stand outside the little church, and Don Luca asks us why we are there. Dino tells him Formula 1 and Don Bruno opens his one good eye wide and smiles a broad smile, agreeing that it will be an exciting season, especially with Ferrari's new driver.

Inside, Duccio is seated in the front row, so we sit next to him. He greets us and then tells me that he is to read during the mass. "When Don Luca asks you to read, you read!"

The reading is a long one, and of course Duccio's pronunciation is impeccable. At the end of the mass, Duccio gives us a set of Don's keys, and we agree to meet next weekend when Giovanna returns to Bomarzo with him.

It's back home for an hour or so, and then Candida and Franco arrive for Tia's party. After a "show and tell" with her treasures from Ravenna, they give me a very special book for my birthday. It is a first edition of a book with illustrations I can use for my painting. I love it.

We drive to the Carleni in Amelia, for a gathering in one of the rooms set up just for Tia's party. We are the only people in the restaurant, but there are about a dozen of us, and the food is quite good and beautifully presented.

It's a good thing I'm sitting down, for Kathryn, the owner of the restaurant and one of the seated guests, asks me if I'd like to make bread for the restaurant. Huh? Dino and I agree that it's difficult to find good bread in our part of Italy, but tell her that when she returns from Sri Lanka we'll bring her some WWF bread and flour and if she likes it she can arrange with a local baker to bake the bread for her. She agrees that this is a good idea. We're happy to help. But in no way do I want to make bread for a restaurant! Well, if we had an outside pizza/bread oven...

It's after midnight when we return home, and the sky tells us storm's a brewing.

March 19
By the time I'm up, Dino is already lounging on the couch in the kitchen, the TV making the sound of the "zzzz-ing" of those little trucks called apes (bees) that all contadini use to drive around the countryside. Dino and Formula 1 are a weekend inevitability during spring and summer months and the sound of the race cars seems to strike a chord with all Italian men.

Candida and Franco arrive after the end of the race and Sofi joins all of us on a jaunt to the town of San Gemini. We have seen signs that there is an antique mercato on this day, and we think it is the town's first. By the time we arrive it is late, after 11AM, and it is as though the mercato came and went in our absence. One man has some of his castoffs in a lonely spot in the square, but the remaining booths are in an entryway.

I see three wonderful drawings of arabesques, and I'd love to have them as examples to draw from, but they are €70 each. The woman kindly allows us to photograph them, but Dino has left the camera at home. She is from Perugia, so when we travel there next week we'll visit her in her shop.

I see a lovely yellow linen cloth at another table. This table is covered with old embroidered linens, this cloth lying at the bottom. But the price s €1,500! The woman who owns the items agrees with me that it's too pricy to put on a table. This is a strange setup. We think it is not a mercato to go out of our way to revisit.

The town is beautiful in an old Umbrian way, and it's time to walk around the little streets and alleyways. We'll come back to take photos, but today it's too early to stop for pranzo at the restaurant we like here, so we drive south to Terni to Maharajah, the Indian restaurant, instead.

As usual, we're the only people in the restaurant. The food is not bad. I especially like the curry. But it is the change of cuisine that we all enjoy the most. The weather continues to be misty, so we drive back home for coffee before Candida and Franco leave and we get ready to go to Viterbo to the Cattedrale for our anniversary mass.

We park close to the square where the mass will take place, and hundreds of people join us in the huge and austere Cattedrale. Today is a special family day, and on the Sunday closest to the Feast Day of San Giuseppe each year, a special mass is held in honor of the anniversary of marriage. This year is the 25th anniversary of our marriage, and although the actual date is in September, we have our first celebration today with a few hundred others.

Annivesaries celebrated are for the 1st, 25th, 50th, and 60th years of marriage, and the mass is celebrated by Bishop Leonardo? Don Luca is also in attendance and when I take communion from him, he calls me "Eva". He must be reading the journal. The "Little King" is also there. He is one of the carabinieri from Bomarzo whom we recognize, and we greet him. Otherwise, Don Luca is the only other person we know.

Rain descends in buckets as we leave the church. We drive home to call Terence and Angie to hear more about their new home in San Francisco. They'll move in a month, and the house sounds wonderful. Dino is especially happy that they will move back to San Francisco, and to a "neighborhood". We think they'll all enjoy life back in San Francisco, especially since Angie is now working as a court reporter for the City. What interesting turns life takes!

March 20
The big storm never arrives.

Dino spritzes almost everything outside, including fruit trees, roses, boxwood, with the special fertilizer we purchased when we were in the US a few months ago. He tells me he has a goal to turn the old hedges of boxwood into healthy plants. They were yellowing when we purchased the house, and never seemed to really look healthy.

Enzo and Tiziano have been mentoring us in our search for a person to come in and tend the garden, now that Felice is not able to work. Their first recommendation, Marsiglia's brother Gianino, is too busy, but tomorrow they'll speak with Nando. Nando. What a great idea. We think he'd really enjoy puttering in our garden and weeding. I'm able to putter with the roses and the box, but my shoulder tells me that heavy gardening is a thing of the past for me, at least until my shoulder heals.

Dino and I agree that the bottom of the garden sink structure must be two tiles wide, and not one as first designed. I am very pleased with that, and am able to easily modify the design.

After studying my graph of the layout, I paint another ten tiles, and we'll take them to Elena tomorrow to fire. It's almost time to get Stefano and Luca in to build the sink, so we'll look for him and tell him to schedule us in during the next weeks. I'll be ready!

Dino takes a drive to Amelia and signs up another house with a new client. We'll return in a few days to take photos. With a wonderful inventory, we should have a busy spring and summer. Take a look at our properties if you have not done so recently: click away... "/realproperty/properties.php"
Pat Ryerson emails us that "Everyone is looking for houses in Italy.

March 21
It rained a misty drizzle last night, and the land in the far valley surrounding the Tiber is like a lake. The mist remains, but Elena is in her studio, so we drive up all our unpainted ceramics (around a dozen pieces) and I sit in the front seat with the cup balanced in my hand. We have brought some smalto in a jar, and I add some smalto to it in the shop. Elena tells me she'll make sure the piece is fine before it is baked.

Elena is getting the shop ready for Pasqua, and complains that there is not enough room. Her shelves are full of tiny ceramic egg dishes filled with colored candles. It is a wonder that she takes the time to paint these tiny pieces, which sell for practically nothing. I'm reminded of the old saying, "We lose money on every sale, but we make it up in the volume..."

It is good for me that she has an oven, and at about €1 a piece to fire, it is good for me and good for her. Her business must be pretty good, for we see the inventory changing on the shelves. But we never see anyone in the shop. The business of it all is just a mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, we received a bill yesterday from Terni for our annual garbage tax of about €150. But we don't live in the province of Terni, so there is no reason we should pay this. Or should we?

After we leave Elena, we drive up to the Comune and visit with Sr. Curzi, the tax man. He thinks the paper is sbagliato (wrong) and tells us to go downstairs to see Sr. Ivo to fix it in the computer. The mystery brings us all back to 1997, when we first purchased our house. Stefano the realtor arranged to get us a codice fiscale, or tax ID card. In order to purchase property in Italy one must have a codice fiscale. A codice fiscale is similar to a social security or ID card. In this case, it sets you up to buy a car, a house, and generally pay taxes. Everyone who lives in Italy must have one.

What we figure out is that the address our realtor used was the address of the real estate agency in Attigliano. Curzi tells us the bill is wrong, but Ivo tells us that the bill is correct, and we should pay it this year but give them our new address. When Dino is in Terni with me tomorrow, he'll try to track down the correct office while I'm in class. There is always something strange and mysterious regarding bureaucracy in Italy.

I fear that if we pay the tax once in Terni, we'll never escape paying it. What is strange is that our correct address also appears somewhere else buried in the invoice. So the address used for obtaining a codice fiscale is an important one, "One that cannot be changed," per Sr. Ivo. We are sure that this will be a long and convoluted story before we are through.

We drive to Viterbo to price two pieces of thick iron to act as plates inside the firebox in the kitchen. The shop will cut them to order, and the price is realistic, so we'll return there soon. Although we are just about finished with fires in the fireplace for the year, Dino wants to get the firebox in shape. I know I'll thank him next winter.

After pranzo, Dino walks up to the doctor in the borgo for a prescription, and runs into Stefano. Stefano asks him about Stein's drain, and they agree to open up the floor and dig up the roots instead of trying to snake out the drain. Dino also tells him that we're ready for him to build the sink in the garden, and that we want it finished before Pasqua. He raises his eyebrows, for he is always over-booked. But hopefully we'll have our sink finished by the beginning of May. I'd better get moving with the rest of the tiles.

I continue to paint whatever is left in our inventory, and that means one special tile full of roses that I'll finish in class tomorrow and three Mugnano plates. I like the style of the stema for Mugnano, and the more I practice with it, the better it will get. Right now, the stema appears only on bishops plates, those flat plates with curved insets in the middle.

The other day, Candida and Frank advised me to find lavender oil to rub on my forehead to help me sleep. That and a glass of warm milk with honey at night. On the way out of Viterbo we stop at an herbalista, and pick up a vial of lavender oil, so I try a little on my temples, and before we reach home I'm ready for a nap. Perhaps it is a coincidence. If getting a good night's sleep is that simple, I'll be very happy. We'll see.

March 22 Spring is here, and the buds on the trees are beginning to open. The bulbs we have planted are opening, too, with those near San Rocco the bravest. I see them with their heads bowed, as though they're trying to get the energy to rise up and face the sun.

Tomatoes are thriving in the guest bedroom window, along with an assortment of potatoes (better get them in pots soon) and vegetables and flowers, all started from seed at the full phase of the moon...

Dino mails a Pasqua package to the twins, while I work on the latest design of the garden sink. After pranzo, we drive to class in Terni, where I finish painting the main tiles to be used above the sink in the garden. The seven tiles comprising the main design of the structure are now completed, and this week the tiles will be fired.

I think we're in the home stretch, but want to redo a set of tiles for the top of the structure that will be used as a kind of cornice (frame) around the pillar and vase of roses. It's great fun.

Many of the others in class work on elaborate vases or platters with medieval designs bordered with grotesques or arabesques. I'm constantly amazed at the quality of their work and as I work beside them week by week, I'm gaining confidence that I can execute these designs as well.

After I've finished the garden sink, and then the tiles for the loggia above that sink, I'll move on to these elaborate designs. But don't expect to see one of these designs until late Spring or early Summer. I'm not in a hurry, so why should you be?

While I'm in class, Dino drives to the Comune in Terni to try to make sense of what happened with the garbage bill from Terni. The office is closed, but Dino is not deterred. He rings a bell and a man welcomes him in. They sit in an office and work to unravel the circumstances under which we received a bill from a province that is not our own.

What the two men surmise is that the address given on Dino's codice fiscale was the address for the realtor in Attigliano, which is in the province of Terni. The address of service is correct. So we are to pay this bill. It is perhaps a billing service that has issued this bill. But before we pay it, we'll look at any past bills that may represent the 2005 year. These bills usually represent past service. So if we've been issued an invoice from our province of Viterbo for the same service, we'll not pay it. Welcome to Italia, bureaucratic heaven.

I take that back. Italy is slowly catching up. I remember the local geometra telling us a couple of years ago that we were able to gain a permit for our sewer connection far earlier than any Italian could, because the Comune was embarrassed that the Italian system is archaic, compared to what we are used to in the U S.

On the way home, we realize that we do not have a prescription from our doctor for my appointment tomorrow in Perugia. We stop in Chia, but have just missed him. So we stop in Bomarzo, and he has hours tomorrow morning. We'll get our prescription then.

In the Italian medical system, one's local doctor recommends a specialist and then writes a hand written prescription. We make the appointment ourselves, either in person or on the telephone, and on the day of the appointment, we arrive first and present the prescription to an office called CUP, where we are logged in and pay for the service. The amount may be around €16or €37. Then we wait outside the doctor's office and are called in sequence.

Italians hate lines, but are getting better about queuing up. When we were first here, at a counter Italians would flock to the window, oblivious of who else arrived first. That is mostly a thing of the past, except in places like Naples. One night when waiting for the doctor in Bomarzo, a woman stood outside the doctor's office, out of turn. She asked each person if she could enter in front of them, to no avail...until she reached us.

Telling us she only needed a minute, that she had to get home, we agreed. Then we waited for twenty minutes while she chatted away inside. We were told she was from Naples. "Never trust anyone from Naples," they exclaimed. We consider ourselves forewarned. I'll remember that tomorrow when I'm at the doctor's office in Bomarzo, almost wishing she'll try the same stunt with me again, so that I can deny her.

March 23
The property is beginning to look like Green Mansions, with weeds everywhere. We really need help. So Dino calls Mario to ask if he'll do some heavy duty weeding with his hand zappa and he tells us next week. We think we'd scare anyone off who might want to work in our garden, so if it looks good when someone starts, that won't be as overwhelming.

I walk around the garden and try to think of a way to make it less work, but weeds are weeds. We'll put in a new gravel path to the gardener' cottage where tufa steps have been since Sarah was here. That's a small change, and there will also be gravel on the path in front of the garden sink. Dino's new deal is to burn off the weeds with his little zapper. It will work well on gravel. But in the earth we'll have to weed the old fashioned way. And I'm not able to help with heavy weeding anymore.

Dino tells me he'll drive to the doctor in Bomarzo to get my Perugia prescription while I make his favorite cece bean soup. What a guy! He runs into Nando, who tells him he cannot take on the gardening work, but sits with Escano while waiting for the doctor and Escano recommends Silvano Spaccese. What a great idea! When Dino gets home he calls him, and Silvano is in the hospital again, but will be out this next week and will come by to talk. I think by this time that we need to ask Pepe what he thinks. Pepe and Silvano are cousins. We'd like to have someone local to work here before calling on Enzo's friends in Giove. So let's see.

I've redrawn the garden sink design again, and now that we will have two tiles wide across the front pillars, I'll need to repaint eight tiles with smalto on the sides. That's not a problem. I can use the tiles I've already painted to make trays framed in wood or iron.

Dino wants to take the A-1 to Perugia, probably cutting across somewhere in Tuscany. He's bored with the same old E-45 trip. We have plenty of time, for my appointment in the hospital is not until late in the afternoon.

The trip is longer than if we had driven the E-45, but it is an interesting drive. We encounter some rain and very dark clouds, but nothing substantial gets in our way. Once just outside Perugia, we find the OBI store and they have the faucet we need for the loggia.

I also see seeds for iceberg lettuce, and Dino loves that old fashioned kind. He loves it with a sliced quarter of a head on a plate, drizzled with pieces of blue cheese and vinaigrette dressing. This is a very old fashioned salad, but one he loves. So we'll grow a few heads of iceberg. You know, even unfashionable things come back. I think we'll have a long wait for this one...

We arrive at Monteluce hospital for my visit with Dr. Alberti, and he's right on time. He speaks a little English, and we agree that I am doing very well. With the exception of not being able to sleep, we all agree that for the present my migraines have settled down to one every couple of months.

That is remarkable. In fact, we agree that my headaches now coincide with barometric pressure, especially the changes of the seasons. Dino tells him he wants to get a barometer, and Dr. Alberti says, "Why, you have one right here!" pointing at me.

We don't make an appointment, for there is no reason to return until at least fall. If my headaches increase, we will call for an appointment. If not, I think we'll wait until we return from the US next December. What progress we have made!

We ask him what to take for sleep, and Dino asks him about the lavender oil. He says, "Why not Tiger Balm?" with a laugh. Instead, we tell him we have a prescription for Valerian, an herbal pill, and he thinks that's fine. But he just bristles at the thought of using anything homeopathic.

We drive back through Deruta, and stop at a few places to find a rope designed terra cotta tile to use as a border or cornice of my garden sink project. We can't find what we want anywhere. I'm not sure what to do. We may not have a frame around the top part, but that will make the edges more vulnerable. We have to decide in the next week, for it will have an impact on how I deal with the sides of the tiles before they are fired.

We make an appointment to take photos of a new property in Amelia tomorrow morning, and settle in to watch a little of the World Champion Ice Skating Championships in Canada. But I've taken a couple of valerian and am getting drowsy. Speriamo.

March 24
We were expecting a clear and sunny day, but instead it is overcast. So we drive to our appointment in Amelia this morning and meet Giannino (he was born in January, so is named for the month) at the house. Giannino is a friend of the owner and works the fields to harvest the olives and grapes. We ask him if he has any siblings, and he has one, Maria. We're disappointed, thinking her name should be Augusta or Aprila.

We know of people here named for numbers (Primo, Secondina, Terzo...) and now names for months. But those people are all over 60. Now that there are name books in Italian, will we lose those characteristic names that make us think that naming babies has been considered an afterthought?

On the land are some of the oldest olive trees we have seen, and there are more than one hundred of them. The vines are established, too. This is clearly a property for someone who wants to work the land, or who wants the privilege of harvesting their own olive oil and grapes.

With a Southern exposure the view of the countryside is seen from almost every spot on the property. In addition to a four bedroom two bath home, there are two outbuildings: a former chicken coop and a building to house the pizza/wood oven. Two large cantinas are reached on the ground level.

The property is 3.5 kilometers from the center of Amelia, on the road leading toward Orte. So access to other towns and to the A-1 and train service from Orte are excellent. We expect to have the house listed on the site in a day or two.

Our roses have arrived from Peter Beales in England, and in addition to our order is a gift rose, a Bonita, which is a lovely pink ground cover rose. I'm hoping Dino will choose to plant them today or tomorrow. But he wants to drive to Spello to pick up my earrings tomorrow morning and it is misty this afternoon, so we will see.

On the way home from Amelia, we stopped in the borgo to see Pepe. We drove up and saw him slowly maneuvering on his crutches. He is weeks away from being able to use his leg. But we asked his counsel about a gardener, and he thinks Silvano Spaccese will be an excellent choice.

We hope to hear back from Silvano this week. In the meantime, the weeds will, well, they'll continue to grow, and we'll try to dig away at them a little at a time. I'm feeling a little like Jack and the Beanstalk, unable to do much and relying on Dino. Dino's really hoping we'll find a solution soon.

I find a few hours to paint, and tomorrow I'll lay out all the garden sink tiles in the new formation and renumber them. This project takes methodical thinking, and although I enjoy the process, I'm ready to move on to something new.

So tonight I do some sketching from Franco's fabulous book. This is a book about medieval beasts, and the illustrations are quite amazing. Some of the beasts are also imaginary, and I like those the best. They'll be wonderful on big platters and even on smaller plates. Oh how I love to draw!

Tiziano comes by and translates the letter for Don Luca to sign to gain us entry into the library in Bagnoregio. We're really getting to the next step on our research for San Liberato, after all these months of writing and thinking about it. After we've exhausted their information, it will be time to get into the Vatican Library, which is more difficult, but not impossible. We have a few leads. We're all ready to begin.

We ask him about the national election scheduled for the beginning of April, and we are surprised that he thinks Berlusconi would be the better candidate, but that Prodi will probably win. We don't know what to think, except that after learning how the votes were counted in the last election in Mugnano, we think we live in another century.

The earrings are ready, so we drive up to Spello to pick them up. We consider other routes, but determine after consulting our map book that the road through the outskirts of Spoleto is the easiest route.

Once reaching this lovely town, we find Francesca and Catia both inside the shop. Francesca ushers us back, and the earrings sit like little frightened orphans on her workbench. They are lovely and perfect, with the exception of where they sit on my earlobe. But that's my problem, so the next part of the adventure is to find someone who'll pierce holes higher up on my earlobes.

When I was about twelve, I was determined to have pierced ears. It was a sign of achieving adulthood, I suppose. The place to go was Dr. Wixted's office in a nearby town. Now he was a nice enough old guy, but he scared the hell out of me. Tall as Fred Munster with the same kind of carriage, his long arms looked menacing, like the arms of an octopus. When he came near me he looked down upon me as though he was ready to gobble me right up.

Dr. Wixted had another thing to contend with. He was not always sober. So when he pierced my earlobes on that Saturday, the holes were not even with each other. His nurse then shuffled him off and put another hole in my right earlobe herself. But the holes were still too low.

So now that harrowing event is coming back to haunt me again. We leave Spello after thanking both Francesca and Catia and wonder where we will find proper piercing...and I don't mean in a piercing studio...

We drive back home, for we have lots of work to do in the garden to make it look less wild when our guests arrive for pranzo on Monday. Dino drops Sofi and me off and drives to Bruno's to pick up more soil.

After pranzo, Dino starts some garden work, while I work on redoing a row of the tiles. I want to finish, in the event Elena is finished with my other tiles and we can fire these. So by the time I go up to bed, I've completed more than six of them. I'm bleary eyed.

Today I note that the sky is heavy, and I feel a mix of depression for no reason and a real hankering for sweets. I learn later that this is a sign that a mighty migraine is just ahead. Remembering back to my meeting with Dr. Alberti earlier this week, I don't pick up on it. But during the early morning hours, just after midnight actually, my head starts to pound. And before the morning light I'll have a full blown migraine to deal with.

I'm writing this entry a few days later, and want to note it down, for it is a good way to gauge future migraines. On the internet I do a search for barometric pressure and migraines, and what a lot of information I find! All along, I have felt that an unknown something was causing my headaches. It felt like something in the air that I could not pin down; something I could not seem to describe. And now the change in barometric pressure I am sure is exactly what they are all about.

I would like to find a barometer. Perhaps there is a site on the internet on which I can get a reading with each day to warn me...and if the reading is a warning, then what? I'm not sure what to do then. A wind machine?...a humidifier? At least I know now what is causing them. I can begin a search for ideas.

So if any of you reading this have any ideas, let me know. It may sound strange, but knowing is what counts for me. Knowing means I can search for an answer. For more than thirty years I have had this unknown...the cause of my migraines. And now I think I can find the solution.

March 26
Dino gets up, and I ask him if he'll go to mass without me. When I take another ice pack from the freezer and walk back to bed, Sofi knows something is wrong. She stays in her bed near me and just watches out of the corner of her eye. What a sweet dog!

After Dino leaves, I get up and take a cold shower. My body temperature tells me I'm about to melt. Then I get dressed and try to do some work in the garden, but I don't get very far. At the church, Tiziano brings Dino the letter for the priest, but he will not attend mass today, so Dino is left to ask Don Luca about it. But Don Luca does not arrive either. Instead, Don Cirio arrives with new hymns, and is early, so he conducts the group in a sing along. I'm sorry I missed this.

Dino returns, and before very long there is a ring on the doorbell. It is some strangers who speak English!

Dino closes the front door and invites them into the garden, for they have come to check out the village, for they have seen it from a distance many times and want to know more about it. When in the village earlier, they were invited into Bruno's house for coffee, and although Bruno does not speak English, he tells them to come and see us.

I take a deep breath, trying to ignore my headache, and follow them out to the garden. They are a very nice group of travelers: Janet from Ohio, Adrien from Oregon, Sharon from Iowa and Stanton who is living in Korea and is the brother of Janet. When you read this, we hope you are enjoying your Italy trip!

After they leave, Dino drives to Elena to take her my tiles to be fired, and the tiles from last week won't be ready until tomorrow, for they are being fired now. He does some grocery shopping at Il Pallone, the only store open on Sundays, and also drives to Bagnaia to pick up some homemade ravioli from a pasta shop open each morning. Today's ravioli is stuffed with carciofi (artichoke), and I fix it with a jar of heirloom tomatoes sautéed with fresh sage and a little olive oil.

I spend a lot of the afternoon and evening in bed, with Sofi right by my side. But first I follow Dino around as he plants the new roses. I feel as if a vise is twisted on my skull, but I have asked him about the roses, so I really can't abandon him now. He does a masterful job, and when he finally finishes in the garden I'm already in bed.

It's Dino's turn not to be able to sleep tonight. But before coming to bed he calls Terence and Angie, and their house is ready to be put on the market and looks great. Real estate has come a long way in the United States. We are able to take a tour of the house online and it really looks wonderful.

March 27
I am groggy, but my migraine is almost gone. Yes, it is really gone, and the sky is clear. When taking a few things out to the serra I see Rosina leaning over her balcony, eating a piece of fruit. She looks wonderful leaning over the railing, and greets me with joy, telling me that it is a beautiful day. Yes, Rosina, it really is.

There's a lot to do, for we have guests coming for pranzo. We give up expecting that the garden will be pristine, and Dino gets a call from Elena that the tiles are ready, so he gets ready to drive off to pick them up.

As the gate opens, Lore and Alberto drive by and stop. I walk down to greet them with forbice (cutters) in one hand and a stalk of rosemary and Sofi on the other arm. Dino gets out of the car and we walk over to Lore's open window. They are here for a week and we'll see them later, we are sure.

Dino leaves, and Sofi and I enter the kitchen so that I can prepare cece bean soup and get some other things ready for pranzo. We're ready early, and join Dino in the garden to do some raking and weeding before our guests, Carol and Gil Gove, arrive. Luckily, they are late, for they forgot to turn their clocks ahead on Saturday. So we have a chance to relax a little before they arrive. And when we sit on the two new chairs on the terrace, we talk about the fact that we hardly ever sit still.

So we talk about how important it is to enjoy each moment, and agree that in this warmer weather we will make sure that we take lots of time to just sit and relax. Even in paradise one has to stop himself from taking in too much at once...

Carol and Gil arrive, and while we're having a leisurely pranzo, the phone rings and it's Mario. He'll come on Wednesday morning to do some weed wacking and heavy weeding. But ten minutes later, he's ringing the bell, and Dino stops eating to walk out to the property with him. Mario wants to cut off a bottom branch of the apple tree. I don't know what he tells him, but he leaves, knowing some of what he'll do on Wednesday.

After pranzo we all decide to walk up to the borgo. The sky is cloudy, but it is a lovely day. We hear voices down below, and Augusta and Giovanna are sitting on the stoop right at the front gate. I can see Giovanna's head through the hole made by the original hole in the iron gate that was fashioned to slip mail through. We'll be sure to alert these women before we open the gate. I love having them sit here.

We walk down and introduce them to our guests after opening the gate, and ask if they don't like the seats we put in at the foot of the path. It's cooler here in the heat of the day, but yes, they like those seats, too. I'm wishing we had cushions for them, and then am distracted. Sofi has scampered way down the path, and its time to follow her.

Before our walk is through, we've met Lore looking for their cat, Felix, and been invited to their house for a visit. We've introduced our guests to Italo and Candida and Marsiglia and Felice and Giustino and Maria. Luca and Stefano wave from the job they're working on near Donato's and Sofi runs over for a scratch from Luca.

Livio greets us from the side door of his cantina, where he's working on a newly restored door; Franca, Laura, Giuliola, Elena and Maria sit on a bench watching little Andrea try to terrorize Sofi, and we are taken on tours of Lore and Alberto's new house. Then we stop at their "old" house for spumante and cookies and a conversation about Sienna, near where Carol and Gil are staying.

Carol and Gil leave after a final walk around the garden, during which time I take a few photos of the little flowers in bloom around the fruit trees. We settle in for a quiet evening of no work and no ceramics and no cooking. The little time we spent in the garden today was so joyful that I'm looking forward to tomorrow, to spending some glorious time puttering around.

Oh. I'm going to plant some arugula seeds tomorrow. It's the wrong phase of the moon, so I'm going to test it. Felice and Vincenza think planting under the phases of the moon is not important, so we'll see. If the shoots don't come up in two weeks, I'll just plant some more then.

March 28
We sleep in, and it's ten o'clock before we're out of the house and on our way to Viterbo. We stop for caffé in Bomarzo, and I drop in on Elena to see if she and her husband want to take a coffee with us at the nearby bar. They do, and when we're standing around, I ask her if she will paint plates for the Park of the Monsters down the road. She tells me the design is copyrighted! The road to the park is partially closed, for there is a frane (fallen walls or earth) and buses have to park at the intersection, and people have to walk down the hill to the park. With all the rain this year, it is no wonder.

In Viterbo, we do a few errands, nothing dramatic, but Dino can't wait to get home for pranzo, for we have some cece bean soup left. He really loves it. I see that I've posted a recipe for the soup, but have come up with an easier version that is just as tasty. Yes, I'll post the recipe on the site this week.

The wind whips up, and Dino takes a few tiles to Stefano to cut a center hole in them for the faucets, but he does not have a drill bit small enough. So Dino drives to Orsolini to find one and winds up driving to see Franco in Lugnano who cuts them instead. Franco is our marble guy, and I love any excuse to stop in to just gaze at him. Sigh!

While Dino is gone, I lay the tiles out on the gravel terrace and determine how many I have left to paint...twelve, with twenty two plain white ones as well. I've repainted at least a dozen, but we're close to being finished. So when Dino sees Stefano on Thursday at Stein's to do work there, he'll schedule the building of our little "taj mahal." I'm getting sick of it already, but it has been a good learning experience, and we're sure will look fine when it is done. The wind is wild this afternoon, and although there are a few drops of rain, any storm passes us by. And no, I have still not planted the arugula. The days just fly by!

We've rescheduled Mario for Thursday, for he has to be watched like a hawk. Yes, I'll let him cut the bottom branch off the apple tree, but I'll be right there to watch his every move. The tree is budding, and the plum tree is budding as well, although the older peach tree is in full flower. I can just taste the peaches!

March 29
I have to update the planting calendar for April. The days just fly by. But it will have to wait until tomorrow, for today we're off to Perugia to the bone doctor and later will have ceramics class. We now need 12 painted tiles and 22 blank tiles to finish the garden sink project before it's built and tiled.

Altogether, there will be 89 tiles, but I've repainted over a dozen of them so far for various reasons. Let's see if I can knock off most of the 12 tiles in class during the four-hour session. They'll be simple ones, copies of others I've done before, and I have the templates all ready to go. Whatever I don't finish I can finish at home and take to Elena to fire.

I'm ready to move on to the blue and white design for the smaller loggia tiles and then start on some of the stemas and grotesque designs on plates and platters. So as soon as we can schedule Stefano and Luca in, we'll have something to show. It should not take more than a couple of half days once they've begun.

We've already paid for our appointment, which makes me think that we should pay for our appointments at the time we make them. That way, we won't have to wait at CUP to pay before we see a doctor. It's only taken us three years to figure that out...

Dr. Pennacchi tells Dino that he has a couple of herniated discs, and that has been the cause of his pain. He no longer has the siatica kinds of pains, but the doctor thinks the only solution to these pains is those same painful epidural steroid injections in his spine. This time, however, the doctor recommends three of them, only a few weeks apart. We'll have to see what our American doctor friends think of all this, and perhaps will go to see another doctor in Orvieto. "I don't know what I was expecting," Dino tells me in the car later. I am sorry for this news. But for now, we will wait.

For me, there is a possibility that I will need a pin in my shoulder. He agrees with me that the pain is caused by muscles, and not by bone. So the previous x-rays in 2003 and 2004 show there is very little wrong with my shoulder or upper arm. Instead, he gives me a prescription for a sonogram, which makes sense. We'll get one in Orvieto, and think Franco has an orthopedic doctor he recommends there, anyway. I'm not sure we'll return to this doctor.

The doctor is a good doctor, claims he is the same age as Dino, and wants to talk about the wonderful trip he took to California, where he thought San Francisco was paradise, and could not get over Clint Eastwood as Mayor of Carmel and the elegant garbage bins and how perfect the town was. Ah yes, we remember that, too.

But we want a younger doctor, one who is up on all the latest technology. So I later do a search on the internet, but what I find is pretty complicated surgical jargon. I've had a headache all day, so that's enough for me for now. Is it possible that one glass of wine last night and a couple of pieces of cheese could make my day a living hell? Seems so.

Back to Perugia, we have pranzo at our favorite Tavola Calda by a manmade lake, and the food is not that good today. Then we drive back to Terni, and I'm not really into the lesson today. I know we need at least 30 tiles smaltoed, so we pick up an apron at COOP and I get a lesson from Monia in how to do it. And in the next hour or so, I'm turned into a kind of assembly line worker, but this time I'm all by myself. We'll see how good I am when the pieces are fired at Elena's.

I smalto 36 pieces, including four for the two rubinetti, or faucets, with two extras just in case. We have trays to shelter 24 of them, and Dino finds room for ten more on the back shelf of the car. We leave two to be cooked by them and returned to us next week.

But there is disappointment with the things Marco has taken to be fired locally. They determine that the things from class will be fire locally instead of being driven by Monia back to Deruta each week. But of three white tiles that were fired of mine, only one comes out all right. The others have a problem with how they were cooked. Other things have problems, too.

Luckily, the tiles of the roses in the big pot that are the keystones of the garden sink project were not fired with them. Marco tells me they will be ready next week. I am not happy, and then am relieved. At least we know what we are getting with Elena's firings.

We leave early, and return home. On the way, I have a conversation with Dino in which I offer that we can pay a little more for a more regular gardener, and it would be a good idea if he gardened less. Any of the heavy gardening should now be done by someone else. I think he's fine with that. So we'll see what happens with Silvano Spaccese, and if he cannot do what we need, we may get someone from Giove.

I return to bed early with an ice pack, knowing tomorrow will be a new day.

March 30
It's a lovely clear day, with wisps of clouds, but a beautiful blue sky. Birds tell us its time to wake up, and we are driving to Orvieto for an appointment for me at the hospital for a sonogram and then to Civita Castellana to see if we can find a top border for the garden sink.

It will be two weeks before my appointment nearby for the sonogram, and now it's time to speak with Franco to find out who the doctor is who he thinks is great. I want another opinion on my shoulder. On the internet, I research new technology regarding pins in shoulders. Metal does not seem so progressive, but I cannot understand the technical jargon. I think we need a sports doctor. The search begins, but not with any particular sense of urgency.

From Orvieto, we drive to Civita Castellana to find border tiles for my sink project. But we cannot find what we want, either painted or unpainted. There is one more place there we did not visit, so perhaps we will return. If we don't find anything else, we'll return to Deruta and buy the border at Mondo Ceramica and I'll paint a design.

We stop at the Coop in Soriano before pranzo, and I did not remember what a good market it is, and how close it is to us. Then we're home, and one of the things I fix is agretti, a green that looks something like grass but has more texture, and I sauté it with garlic and olive oil and put a splash of vinegar on it at the end and Roy likes it. So do I.

After pranzo, I spend a couple of hours repairing smalto on plain tiles that are to go to Elena today. She will bake on Saturday, and has lots of room. So Dino takes up 21 tiles. I paint almost ten more and then we are almost out of smaltoed tiles. But the design is almost finished! I want to redo a few tiles, and will see if I can smalto with the two small jars of smalto we have from class. If not, we'll do more on Wednesday.

Stefano comes by to confirm that tomorrow he'll pick up Dino to work at Stein's, digging up some flooring and repairing some drain problems. Dino gets ready to put on his project management hat, and will spend most of the morning there, with me hopefully standing by in our garden to make sure that Mario doesn't do any damage while he does the weed wacking and digging that we need done. It will be good to have him here just the same.

March 31
Today doesn't feel like Friday, but it does feel like the end of March, with birds singing and fog surrounding us on these early mornings.

I awaken to the sound of Mario and his weed-wacker just after 7AM. I am sorry for the noise in case any of our neighbors are sleeping, but this is the country, and people rise early here.

Thanks to the pulling and pushing at the doctors office on Wednesday, my shoulder is in pain. And so it begins: the long process of a sonogram and then rehabilitation with possibly an operation to place a pin in my shoulder and then exercise; exercise to get my arm in shape again.

But for now I can paint and putter, and so I will, happily.

Dino's off with Stefano to dig out the drain in Stein's house. This house was originally owned by a good friend, and she always had drain problems. So we're making sure that Stein has a bathroom downstairs that he can use, and this is a very messy job. Roots have taken over and I'll leave it at that. So Stefano will jackhammer away and when we're through we'll have put in a new sink and redo the floor and the room will be finally in use again.

Dino had a funny encounter with the folks in Terni about Don's water meter in Tenaglie. He read the meter, or at least he said he did, but the number Dino came up with was somewhere around 900 and the last time the meter was read, the folks in Terni indicate the reading was around 500. For four years the house has hardly been used. So the other day Dino went back to reread the meter, and evidently the meter was turned around, and what looked like a 9 was really a 5. That's more like it. Life sure is funny.

By the time Mario is finished, Dino has returned from Stein's and our property looks wonderful, with only one flower chopped off at the neck with his weed-wacker, and a big bunch of wild fennel for him to take home to Maria.

So we're wondering if we're better off just keeping Mario twice a month, instead of getting a regular gardener. He works like a demon, and works faster than anyone we know. We'll see...

I paint six more tiles, and my garden sink project is finished, with the exception of any new tiles that need to be repainted. At least the painting part is done. So if all is well, and we are talking at least 35 tiles to be fired in Elena's oven this week, we'll be ready for Stefano to build the structure.

It is a good thing we did not buy border tiles, for Stefano tells us they won't protect the structure. We'll need marble or pepperino as a top ledge. So we'll drive to see Franco when the structure is finished, and have him cut a white marble ledge for the top.

Am I finished painting? Not at all. We have ten handmade smaller square tiles, and I'll smalto and begin to paint them tomorrow. We determine that we'll need ten or eleven tiles wide by four tiles high for the space above the loggia sink. I have the design, and love it. It's another all my own. And after seeing what Elena is up to, I'm inspired to move on.

We take the last two dozen or so tiles to Elena to fire, and she is creating a set of forty or so special plates and vessels with stemmas of the five contradas and pro loco of Bomarzo for the sindaco. This is a really big commission, and her design is wonderful. I ask her about her business, and it is surprisingly good. She is a very sweet woman, and I certainly wish her well. She has loved ceramics since she was a child.

When I tell her I have painted for one year, she is very kind and encourages me to keep on painting. I don't know if she is being kind or if she thinks I have talent, but she surely shows talent herself. I tell her I am doing a kind of stema for Mugnano, and she'd like to see it, as well as the sink project, when it is finished. Si certo, it will be fun to have her come by with her husband.

We drive to Amelia to meet with a new client, and he is a very kind man whom Dino has met before. I think his property is one for an Italian weekend Contadina who may live in Rome and want a weekend getaway. Not a traditionally characteristic property, the ancient olives and grape vines will surely appeal to someone. We are just not sure if they will appeal to the traditional buyer from America or England or Australia. But we're happy to help.

We're looking for an excellent fallegname (wood worker) and have had bad luck with every one we've used. So after doing a bit of searching, we encounter one in a nearby town who we like a great deal. He'll stop by in the next ten days to see the kitchen table, but refers us to someone who is more of a painter to refinish the front door. What a nightmare this door is becoming!

We drive home as the sun begins to set and Sofi sits guarding the gate. With joy we look forward to April's arrival in a few hours, and to fiddling around in the garden tomorrow morning.

C'e vediammo!

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