January through March, 2012

To read the CURRENT month, go to ITALY JOURNAL

We post to the journal several times a month, so if you'd like to be notified each time we post, send us an email: evanne@lavventuraitalia.com

January 1
If you don't think that it gets cold in Central Italy - here's a shot of our garden hose - (horizontal water!)

With a cold and sunny start to the new year, we begin to walk up to church, only to have Rosina tell us that mass is at 10 AM today. So we get in the car (many friends and relatives are still in the village, with no parking near the borgo ), and drive to Attigliano for a caffé. Only one bar is open, and it's quite good.

Back at home, we park and walk up to mass, where I leave a space at the end of the aisle, soon taken up by Rosita, aka Nonna. Her face is lit up and I'd love to wish her a big auguri, but the first hymn has already begun.

After mass, Rosita is surrounded by well wishers, and that is when I tell her she has a new smile on her face and ask her if she is contenta (content, or happy). She beams as she responds: Molto!!

Alessia and the babies are still at the hospital in Terni, for the girls were quite small, 2.3 kg (about 5 lbs.) each. Babbo Natale will surely add them to his list for next Christmas Eve.

We stop at home to pick up the car and Sofi and drive to Il Pallone. Nando's Bar is open, but the market is closed. No matter. Yesterday, Dino picked up sausages from Pino and for pranzo we eat them with lentils (I remembered to soak them overnight) and three colors of peppers, onion and fennel that were sautéed together in a padella (frying pan). Lentils are a tradition on New Year's day, and they signify money to come one's way in the coming year. Magari! (If only that were so!)

Dino prunes the branches of the plum tree and most of the cachi (persimmon) tree on the front terrace. (He tells me I've been writing it incorrectly all this time.) Up on the ladder, he's in his element. He loves this kind of work, and it provides us with lots of firewood starters for next year.

January 2
I need to pick up nastro (ribbon) and a bit of fodera (lining) for the outfits for the baby girls and fabric for a matching scarf for Mama Alessia. Dino tells me we need to renew some ACI (Automobile Club of Italy) documents for the main car and to go to ASL (Health Service) for a dispensation for his possible glaucoma. Armed with the necessary documents and the fabric I want to use for the outfits, we drive to Viterbo.

I pick up just what I need and Dino does his errands, including a stop at the sewing machine store, while Sofi and I wait in the car. Today is our 9th wedding anniversary in the Catholic Church in Italy, although we have been married for more than thirty years. I'd like to celebrate, so in our silly fashion, we eat at MacDonald's. Since every day is a celebration of our lives together, it's a fun thing to do.

Back at home it's too cold and misty for Dino to work on the terrace and there are so many photos and edits for him to do before posting the December journal that he agrees to sit down with the photos and catch up on the new software so that we can finish and post. Friends worry; Annika from Sweden even sends us an email to ask if we are all right. So that tells me that people do read the journal. Va bene.

In the afternoon, I work on Cesar's painting, doing a bit of dabbing on the sunflowers and leaves, then move everything aside to work on the little girls' dresses.

Hours later, I'm pinning and pinning and have done most of the preliminaries for the little dresses and matching scarf for Mamma Alessia, so take out the machine, in preparation to sew. Well, we're out of straight pins, although we have several hundred pinned already on this and that. But it's quite dark now and Coro practice is in half an hour, so that's it for today. No need to set up the machine. Let's take a break. A domani. (Until tomorrow...)

January 3
It's really warm and lovely this morning, although there are plenty of clouds up above. Dino tells me we need a new heavy firebox. Perhaps all the fires we have made over the years have deteriorated the one we have. So we begin at Asti & Fallimenti, where there are always bargains, but no luck. So on we drive to the big Fonderia Viterbese with its very elegant showroom, finding just what we want at one third the regular price.

While Dino arranges to pay, I see a really wonderful small cast iron flying pig with wings, also of the same black cast iron, and must have it to paint. I love wings of all kinds, and it will probably sit on the steps outside the summer kitchen. We'll ask our friends at KLIMT in Viterbo what paint will be best to use on it. Add that to my list of projects..

Back at home, I work on the albero geneologico di Mugnano (the village family tree project) and after cutting and pasting in an excel chart, the numbers don't jive. So I'll ask Dino to work on it to see what he can figure out.

He's intent on building a wooden housing for the wood storage in the parcheggio, and leaves to pick up some hardware items, after I have give him approval of the size. It's a project he'll love, and since I love him, Come no? (Why not?)

I'm pulled these days in at least three directions: Cesar's painting of sunflowers, the baby outfits for Tiziano and Alessia's new girls and of course meals to fix, not to mention the family tree project for the village. Life is like a dance these days. Oh, don't forget Coro practice, which will probably happen several times a week before the festivities at the end of the month in honor of one of our patron saints, San Vincenzo.

We've turned off the freezer in the summer kitchen and moved everything in it to another freezer. Let's fix something for pranzo from there...probably chicken and potatoes. In the meantime, the freezer will defrost...

January 4
Will Stefano Jr. arrive today to fix the cracks in the front hallway? Dino does not want to prepare the hallway for his arrival, fearing he'll not come at all.

I work in the studio on little dresses for the new babies in town and a scarf for Alessia, their mother. Since I'm designing them myself, I'm frustrated that the dresses are not finished, but will continue to add things until they look wonderful. The scarf is another matter, and comes out well. Sorry, but we only have one photo of one dress, and not a photo of the mother's scarf.

With plenty of leftovers to eat, this time sausages and sautéed peppers to be served with my favorite celery root and fennel and potatoes baked in the oven with grated cheese on top, we eat a delightful pranzo.

Dino finishes the December journal and posts. He has purchased a new software, one that complicates his usual photo montages, but after a while he's finished. We took our time posting, and have heard from more email friends who are worried. Sorry.

Tonight there is Coro practice and it is late, but for an hour I sing with my friends, sitting silently as each one offers her own opinion about what we should sing and how we should sing it. These Italian women have very strong characters, and I'm reminded that Sofi has a strong character, too. I love them all, yes I do!

January 5
Dino drives early to Orvieto with Frank and Candace's car, first to the hospital for the results of a glaucoma test, and all is well there, although he'll need to continue taking daily eye drops for the rest of his life.

I follow an hour or so later in Pandina with Sofi, who is scared to death to be in a car with me. I'm thinking it's because she's used to being in my lap or by my side. She huddles in her sherpa bag on the backseat.

We meet Dino outside the parking structure where the car will remain for the next couple of months, and drive right home, for Stefano Jr. is expected, si, certo! (yes, of course!)

He arrives and begins work on the bottom level of the hallway, which we have primed with taped plastic cloths on doors. Dino makes a shopping list for materials and drives to Orsolini in nearby Attigliano, while Stefano works on.

I'm dreaming of pinkish brown walls in two shades, with a rail in between, and the larger paintings done of a few of our neighbors hung on these walls when they've been painted. The current four small framed prints will probably move to the salone. Sofi and I stay in the studio, out of Stefano's way.

While we stopped for caffé earlier, I saw a headline on the newspaper that worried me, but does not apply to us, although it does apply to homeowners who have residence permits. Nevertheless, it's important news:

ANSA.it > ANSA English > News
Youth unemployment tops 30% - Highest level since 2004
(ANSA) - Rome, January 5 - Almost one in three young Italians is unemployed in the highest youth jobless rate recorded since 2004.

According to the latest figures from the national statistics agency ISTAT, the rate of unemployment between young people aged from 15 to 24 was 30.1% in November.

The rate was 0.9% higher than October 2011 and 1.8% higher on a year-by-year comparison. It was the highest monthly rate posted in Italy since January 2004. Italy's overall jobless rate was 8.6% for November, a rise of 0.1% compared to October and 0.4% higher on a year-by-year basis.

Percorso:ANSA.it > ANSA English > News -
Govt re-evaluating 200-euro residence-permit levy -
Measure seen by many as hitting some of Italy's poorest people

(ANSA) - Rome, January 4 - The government said Wednesday that it is re-evaluating a controversial new 200-euro levy on residence permits for migrant workers in Italy.

The measure, which is due to come into effect at the end of this month, was approved by Silvio Berlusconi's center-right administration before the media magnate was forced to resign as premier in November by Italy's debt crisis.

Premier Mario Monti's emergency government, which approved a tough austerity package that aims to balance the national budget by 2013, initially left the levy in place.

But Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri and International Cooperation Minister Andrea Riccardi said in a statement the move was being reassessed after complaints from many quarters that it would hit some of the poorest people living in Italy.

''In a time of crisis that hits foreign workers in our country as well as Italians, it is necessary to verify if its application can be changed on the basis of the foreign worker's salary and the composition of his or her family,'' the statement said.

With our house turned upside down, Dino tells me he lay awake last night worried about all the cracks in our house, and we agree that it is primarily caused by a group of muratores (contractors) in Giove, who put a new roof on the house before we moved here full time. They put far too much cement on the structure, and the integrity of the structure has begun to be compromised. He seems to have a solution...

Stefano works away diligently, and in the first couple of hours we see a real difference. It's possible we'll have him repair more cracks. I'm really looking forward to seeing the new paint detail, which Dino and I will do as soon as the intonico (plaster) dries.

Meanwhile, there are garments to finish for the babies and a detail for Alessia's scarf; one I think we'll finish after she tries it on.

Dino has researched a new satellite navigation system, and they are on sale in Viterbo. The purchase of one will not be any more than all the money we spent navigating on our iPhone on our last driving trip to France, which caused substantial roaming charges on our telephone bill. Yikes!

Can't paint in the studio today, for the house is in pretty much of an uproar with everything moved out of the hallway, including the wonderful painted floor cloths made for us while we still lived in the U. S.

I work more on the little outfits, making them more like Baby Gaga style. Come no?

Dino has no idea what I am thinking about regarding the painting for the families of the village. He drives me a bit crazy with his negative thoughts, when what I need is encouragement. So I'll let him be for awhile, until I have it all mapped out. That may take a trip to the priest, Don Daniele, to research the marriages here over the years....

Stefano stops work for the day after 5 PM, and won't return until Monday, due to the holiday tomorrow. Va bene. In the meantime, Dino comes back with a new navigation system that was on sale, and it will be fun for him to play with. It will also save us money on our next trip to France, speriamo.

January 6
This is the day of the befana, as well as one mass and the blessing of the reliquaries (relics of saints) that live in our main church. There are quite a few here. I've heard stores of people selling relics, and if you look online, you will see lots of places where they can be purchased, although the Catholic Church strictly forbids their sale. Here's a bit of information on relics and their history, thanks to Wikipedia:

In religion, a relic is a part of the body of a saint or a venerated person, or else another type of ancient religious object, carefully preserved for purposes of veneration or as a tangible memorial. Relics are an important aspect of some forms of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Shamanism, and many other religions.

The word relic comes from the Latin reliquiae, meaning "remains" or "something left behind" (the same root as relinquish). A reliquary is a shrine that houses one or more religious relics.

Since the beginning of Christianity, individuals have seen relics as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God. Since Christians during the Middle Ages often took pilgrimages to shrines of holy people, relics became a large business. The pilgrims saw the purchasing of a relic as a means, in a small way, to bring the shrine back with him or her on returning home, since during the Middle Ages the concept of physical proximity to the "holy" (tombs of saints or their personal objects) was considered extremely important. Instead of having to travel hundreds of miles to become near to a venerated saint, one could venerate the relics of the saint within one's own home.

Roman Catholic classification and prohibitions.
Saint Jerome declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are."

There are three classes of relics:

First-Class Relics: Items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, skull, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr's relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Also, some saints' relics are known for their extraordinary incorruptibility and so would have high regard. Parts of the saint that were significant to that saint's life are more prized relics. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary's right forearm is especially important because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian's head may be his most important relic. (The head of St. Thomas Aquinas was removed by the monks at the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova where he died). If a saint did a lot of travelling then the bones of his feet may be prized. Current Catholic teaching prohibits relics to be divided up into small, unrecognizable parts if they are to be used in liturgy (i.e., as in an altar).

* Second-Class Relics: An item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, rosary, book etc. Again, an item more important in the saint's life is thus a more important relic. Sometimes a second class relic is a part of an item that the saint wore, known as Ex indumentis ("from the clothing").

* Third-Class Relics: Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth, though in the first millenium oil was popular; the Monza ampullae contained oil collected from lamps burning before the major sites of Christ's life, and some reliquaries had holes for oil to be poured in and out again.

Back to life in Mugnano, I have a question. Does it seem strange that meatloaf is one of our favorite winter treats, served with gravy, roast potatoes and broccoli? The supermarket in Il Pallone sells polpettone (like a large oval meat ball) meatloaf ready to cook, and our pranzo today is quite good, along with some good local red wine. I'm buzzing later while finishing one of the babies' dresses.

The service of the blessing of reliquaries tonight is very interesting, especially with dear Dino in his confraternity costume while standing on the altar with Fabrizio and Mauro and Don Daniele. This is Don Daniele's first blessing of the relics, but Vincenzo reads the important passages in a Gregorian chant. Although he's in his early 90's, he knows just what to do. How could one not love this dear man? I surely give him a big hug after the service ends, and help him walk toward his daughter Anna's house nearby.

Dino wants to ask our friend, Don Francis, the meaning of the service. Are we blessing the relics? Don Francis emails us back with the following:

"I never heard of an annual ceremony of blessing the Relics! How interesting: I would think that the Relics should be blessing the people, not the other way around! D. Daniele is probably being overly cautious about the authenticity of the relics because they lack the official documents of verification with the seal of whatever authority allowed the pieces to be cut off and put inside the reliquarie".

Many bone fragments from the catacombs were treated as "relics of martyrs" (hence: San Donato...) when in fact they may have come from simple Christian burials. Also, some relics may have come from tombs that, for one reason or another, were thought to contain an important person and were rediscovered long after that person's death. Problems arise if there is no inscription on the tomb, but maybe someone had a dream or a vision... In Spain, the ancient Roman tomb that is supposed to have been that of St. James (Santiago) may in fact have been the tomb of a famous heretic executed at the end of the fourth century!!!! Of course, that you cannot say to a true Spaniard!

Back at home in front of a lovely fire, we settle in and watch movies for the remainder of the evening.

January 7
...Mugano cats enjoying the winter sun!..

Beautiful sun greets us again, and we look forward to the new day. I'm on a new morning regimen, one that began yesterday, of putting on makeup and doing my hair the way Dino loves it. Come no? The morning races by, with me also funtioning as Dino's quasi-barber, using his special equipment as he counsels me up close. His hair is so short that it's fun. It's so pleasant spending time on the terrace that I'd love to spend more time there, although the babies' dresses are "waiting for their closeup" and one is yet to be finished. I spend my time making tiny pink rosebuds to adorn the dresses, and they come out quite well.

It's a good day to do laundry, for the sun is warm on the terrace, and we do laundry on weekends, when the cost of using electricity is quite a bit lower. One learns the rhythm of their town or village here and we all seem to be in sync, although many women wash clothes daily by hand.

I'm reminded of an event that took place in Genoa some years ago. The G8 leaders were to meet there, I believe in a special yacht in the harbor, and Silvio Berlusconi, then the Prime Minister, told the people of Genoa a few days before to be sure not to hang out their laundry on the day of the meeting.

As if thumbing their nose at their leader, the locals all did laundry on that morning and hung laundry from every possible spot. This was a case when bella figura (to make a good impression) backfired to the sound of laughter from many of the residents.

Mario Monti, the new Prime Minister, stroke a decidedly serious tone when standing alongside French Primier Sarcozy at a press conference last night. We're surely on a more determined track to recover from Europe's financial challenges, although those of us living on dollars here embrace the euro's decline.

We make reservations for our Spring France trip, including the art workshop, so I'll not worry so much about what I want to do to tone down some of Cesar's painting to enhance the sunflowers and his face, leaving most of the rest as subtle background. It takes a special talent, and although I'm reading about the technique, would feel better getting counsel from an expert, and David is surely that. He confirms that I can sit with him on the morning I suggest.

January 8
It's another lovely morning. Are you tired about reading about it? Come here and see for yourself.

We are up early and walk up to church for a sweet mass and the young South American priest officiating. He lives somewhere in or around Viterbo, and does his best to overcome the language differences between Spanish and Italian while teaching us important lessons. Today, he reinforces the gospel.

I sit next to Rosita, whose new smile remains. She now has what she has been praying for...new family members in the form of grand daughters, who spend their time in her bedroom with their parents these days. Enzo and Rosita are truly loving grand parents, and when I ask her if they cry, she tells me they are quiet and content. What a blessing!

Back at home, I work some more on the second little dress, and soon we'll be ready to visit the new family. In the meantime, there's a fish pasta to fix from the frozen delicacies we purchased recently in Viterbo. I make one of Dino's favorite salads, to go along with a red fish sauce (using one of our jars of tomatoes from the larder) and hot pepper seeds and carmelized onions and a bit of butter. It's a bit watery, since I put the frozen fish right into the sugo instead of letting it defrost and getting rid of the water. No matter. Dino likes the pasta a lot. Va bene. I think the frozen fish is a bit tough, and we balance that against glasses of local rose wine, which is a bit more powerful than the delicate version we purchase in France.

Is this a bit like the national character? I'm not so sure, after reading yesterday of the French drivers' penchant for rear ending unwitting drivers. No matter. Italian and French people are full of spirit, and I think that's a good thing, not that I'm about to judge either one.

With plenty of vino under my belt, I'm looking forward to an afternoon nap. Dino wants to attend a recital in Bomarzo this evening after dark. Va bene. It should be a very good group from Viterbo, and will be held in the Comune in Bomarzo, a building we love.

We drank a heavy rose wine from Southern Umbria at pranzo, which left me with a headache and a long nap, meaning we did not attend the concert, instead enjoying a lovely fire and movies on TV.

January 9
Young Stefano arrives early. Sofi tries to help him to repair and replace the damaged intonico (plaster) here and there on the hallway walls leading to our bedroom and the studio, until I pick her up and take her to the studio. "Buffo!" ( little owl) he calls her. She's happy next to me in the studio anytime.

Our dishwasher has misbehaved after 8 years. It is a SMEG, so should not be a problem. The repair man is called, for last night after we started it it continued to run and run. In the middle of the night, Dino went down to stop it. This happened once before...I think 8 years ago...You know what that probably means. If it costs more to repair it than purchase a new one, we'll get rid of it.

I've been thinking of my current painting on the easel, and considering doing a kind of dark wash on the areas underneath the sunflowers. Perhaps I'll try it. How bad can it be?

In the meantime, I work on the dresses instead, creating five little sequined hearts on the more tailored outfit. Sewing sequins is more fun than I thought.

Young Stefano continues to work on the walls, and the good news is that all the moisture in the salone (living/dining room) on the front wall was indeed cured some time ago when the senior Stefano worked his magic with it. The house is no longer "like a tree". (We were told after we bought the house that it was like a tree, absorbing moisture from the ground directly, with no foundation underneath! We've since fixed that, confirmed by today's revelation.) Time for some good news on this sunny day.

Sofi is not well, trying to hide and shaking. Is she afraid that we will take her to the vet in Viterbo? I make a little chicken broth, add a little vial of Enterogermina, but she is not interested, nor will she eat her breakfast treats.

It is only later that she is ready to eat, and does eat all the liquid and the little pieces of chicken in her bowl. The medicine should do the trick soon. Afterward, she spends a little time outside in the warm sun, but is happier upstairs in her bed in the studio next to me. Lets sew some more sequins!

Tonight there is an early Coro practice, and we'll practice music to sing on San Vincenzo's big day, January 22nd, when the vescovo (bishop) of Viterbo will participate. Oops! Federica calls to say it is cancelled. Va bene!

The blessing of the animals on the feast day of San Antonio d'Abate is next week, but since it is only in Bomarzo, we will not attend, although dear Sofi is feeling much better. The big dogs scare Sofi, so unless the blessing is resurrected in little Mugnano we'll stay away. If you're around, the grand celebration and fire is in Bagnaia on the 17th of the month, in the square you'd reach if you were to visit Villa Lante.

January 10
The little dresses are ready for their first fitting, so we arrange to visit the family this afternoon, without Sofi, as they have dogs. In the meantime, Dino wants to drive to Viterbo to find Sofi a new gabbia (cage), although during a test a week or so ago when we left her free in the house, she was fine on her own, not really moving from the couch. I'd rather have it that way, but Dino is adamant.

I iron the living room curtains against the front window, for have agreed to shorten them so that they do not lay on the floor in pools, French style. Sigh. While Dino will do the sanding of the intonico, I'll rework the drapes. Since I'm allergic to dust, this is one project I won't work with him side by side.

It's a lovely clear day as we drive off to Viterbo, with Sofi wearing her maglietta (sweater). She's one cute dog. We find her a new gabbia (cage) and drive home for pranzo.

Tiziano and Alessia's twins, Erina and Rachele, are 13 days old today! We drive down to the Gasperoni house, where both sets of nonni (grandparents), Tiziano and Alessia and the babies greet us. Well, the babies don't greet us; Rachele is asleep, but Erina lays in her mother's arms, not making a sound, but so sweet looking.

Here is a photo showing Erina in her first (unpaid) modeling job with the little dresses. She's later held by Mamma Alessia wearing her matching sciarpa (scarf), although we don't have a photo. Sorry.

We visit with the family. Everyone looks tired and at the same time supremely content. The babies are angels, not crying but waking up every three hours for a bit of nourishment.

Sofi welcomes us back at home, and in her first test in the gabbia while we were gone, she moved it about three feet closer to the door! At least we know she cannot push her way out of it. I'd rather have her free in the house, but Dino is adamant that she be in the gabbia when we are not there. I agree...for now.

Dino is feeling fine, so fine that he raises the new firebox for the logs up to rest on the andirons and builds a magnificent fire. I love it! Bravo, dear Dino!

January 11
What day is it? The days all seem to run into one another, not that it matters. We love every day here, and this morning there is not a cloud in the sky.

Yesterday I ironed the drapes for the front window of the salone and this morning will pin and sew the hem so that they don't sit on the floor, French style, as they have. Sigh.

Dino meets the other Dino at Stein's house and stays while his new stufa is installed. Stein will arrive on Monday, and this will help to keep him warm. We're hoping he's feeling better, and plan to see him as much as possible and to watch out for him. He's like family to us. Sofi will be over the moon with happiness when she sees him.

I want to work on underpainting shadow for Cesar's painting, but first pin the first set of drapes for the salone. We won't know for some days if the length is correct, but no matter. I'm on to painting. AvantiLet's go!

I stop after an hour to research underpainting. Being mostly self taught is really a challenge, but a fun one. So I do a kind of a wash with ocra gialla (yellow ochre), and when it dries I will continue to modify the technique, perhaps with some white in some areas where light strikes the subject at its brightest. It's all still a bit of a muddle, but interesting.

After pranzo, we wait for the dishwasher repair man. Dino sands the recent intonico work in the hallway, while I read upstairs, being somewhat allergic to dust. Sofi joins me. I'm really interested to paint the hallway, hopefully doing a test of the two colors in a day or so.

At 5PM, Sofi guards the house while we attend a trigesimo (30 days after her death) mass for Marsilia in Bomarzo. Renzo and Angela wave to us when we turn around in the church, and after mass we greet Angela, who thanks us for attending, while Renzo meets with Don Daniele.

The women who sing and must be in the Bomarzo Coro have amazingly strong voices. We join them when we know the music, and afterward decide to drive to shop at Il Pallone for tomorrow's pranzo. Then it's back home in front of a lovely fire and another sweet evening.

January 12
I was wrong. The dishwasher repair man is to arrive this morning instead, but an hour after his intended arrival there is no word from him. Dino continues to work on the hallway, patching a hole and soon we will paint. The repair man calls with explanations of sickness but will arrive this afternoon. Magari!

We test the two colors of paint for the hallway, and they are not good at all. Italian paint shops do not put a dab of the paint inside on the top of the can, so Dino does that for us. He also takes a photo of the two color samples on the wall and prints it. We can't return to Viterbo, because we have to wait for the repairman. Time to work on the albero geneologico di Mugnano for a bit.

Upstairs the recent underpainting has not dried, but looks a bit smoky due to the paint mixture I used. Let's let it wait another day. In the meantime, I need to work more on the Mugnano family tree, deciding how many trees will be in the final painting. Ten families make up almost 500 of the almost 1,000 names we've collected. Is that a large enough representation?

For my idea, it is the families who connect by marriage that represent the community over the years. Until around 1960 the village was cut off by the Tiber River and there were plenty of marriages between neighbors. There still are, with residents loving this little place in the sun.

I sit and read for a bit, a book about a couple who purchased a place in France and their adventures. All the while, birdsong serenades us and Sofi drinks up the sun on the terrace. After pranzo, I surely return to the studio to work on the village family tree.

We return to Viterbo, pick up another two paint samples, and one is quite good. It's too late to return tonight for more, so we'll do that tomorrow. I work on the village family tree project, checking names of spouses with people born here. It's a long process, even before beginning to map out the painting.

January 13
With more computer work reconciling family names in the village, I'm looking forward to the big picture, but cannot grasp it until I understand the marriages between the larger families.

Sun reigns supreme again, with Dino doing major winter clipping work outside on tree after tree. Later, he'll sand inside, finish prepping the hallway, and test more paints.

With yet another trip to the paint shop in Viterbo, we have what we think are the correct colors for the hallway. Back at home just before the sun begins to set, Dino will try again. Just before leaving home for Viterbo, MarieAdelaide called out to me to tell me that Coro prova is tonight. Va bene. In the meantime, I'll work on the tree project, returning at the end of the "G's" in the alphabet.

I never do make it to Coro, but they are a forgiving bunch. Tonight we rest, for tomorrow will be a day of taping and more prepping and painting, with me painting the darker color on the bottom and Dino taking the pale pink at the top, in addition to the white soffitto (ceiling). Don't confuse that word with soffritto (fried onions and bacon, the dictionary tells me). But what about frying chopped onions and carrot and sedano (celery) to make a base for many dishes? I thought that was soffrito.

If that's not confusing enough, here are a few more found nearby in the dictionary:

  • sofflare is to blow or whisper
  • sofflare sul fuoco = to stir up trouble or to blow
  • darsi una sofflata di naso = to blow one's nose!
  • sofflatóre= a glass blower
  • in una soffio = in a jiffy
  • sofflóne = a spy!
  • sòffoco = sultryness
  • soffiitta = a garret, attic
  • soffriggere = to fry lightly; to mutter
  • soffrire = to suffer
  • sogghignare = to sneer
  • Had enough?

    January 14
    Another lovely sunny day begins, prepping the staircase against the wall with a roll of tape connected to plastic sheeting, about four feet wide. What a brilliant idea! I've not seen it in the U S, but of course it is there somewhere. This was purchased at the paint store in Viterbo.

    Dino gets out the ladder and paints the pale pink, while I get on my knees and paint the darker color at the bottom. By the time it gets dark outside, I've done the first coat against the stairs and a bit next to the door, while Dino has worked wonders above, using a ladder flat against another ladder, lying horizontally with one end on one step of the ladder and the other end on a parallel step of the staircase.

    I'm not sure how he plans to do the very highest spaces, for we've been working with brushes, not the easier rollers, although they are available. For some reason, Dino wants to use brushes. Va bene. I like working with him, although Sofi is not sure what is happening.

    We take a break in the middle of the day. I've made a great casserole dish for pranzo with: leftover chicken and rice, sautéed caramelized onion, sliced spicy green olives and their fragrant oil, ricotta cheese, gorgonzola cheese, a splash of rose wine and grated parmesan cheese on top, cooked in a 350 degree oven for half an hour or so.

    I've been looking at the painting of Cesar and am not sure I applied the right underpainting; it looks too brown. Perhaps I'll mix up a batch that looks a bit more shadowy gray. The worse that can happen is that I will have to paint over it. That's one of the forgiving things I love about painting with oil paints.

    Dino does not want me to return immediately to paint a second coat of the deeper pink paint on the wall of the hallway, so I check in with you and do some work on the tree project for the village.

    January 15
    Will we do the mid-month post right away? Probably not. Sorry.

    We're up to our ears in paints and paint prep. Dear friends are arriving: Don Francis, on Wednesday for one night, after our dear friend, a Lutheran Minister from Norway, Stein, aka Pietro, arrives on Tuesday. Now we hear that Tomas, Stein's son, will arrive tomorrow, and Dino will pick him up at the train station in nearby Attigliano. So we hope to have most of the preliminaries here finished and supplies put away for a few days. This is a good place to utter: Magari! (If only that were so.)

    At mass this morning, Sorella Grande ("big sister") Rosina reminds me that there will be an important Coro practice tomorrow evening, to prepare for our feast day next Sunday, when the vescovo (bishop) will participate. I don't think he's been to our little village before; he is fairly new in this position in Viterbo.

    Nonno Enzo is here, and after mass we greet him, asking how things are at home. His smile is over the moon. When I ask him if he is tired, he tells us no. When the babies sleep, he sleeps. I'm sure it's not the same for either grandmother or Alessia, the girls' mother. That also means Tiziano is tired as well, for I think they all sleep in the same room these days.

    We drive to Il Pallone, and have caffé at the new bar, since Nando's is closed for vacation. I love this bar! It's sophisticated and stylish, more like a bar one would expect in Milan.

    Afterward we shop for groceries, including a pork fillet that Dino will grill and have with homemade apple sauce. I love making this applesauce, for I make it using my mother's Foley food mill to press out the cooked apples. It is at least 70 years old, and still works perfectly, reminding me of watching Mom make it when I was a young child.

    I've been thinking of more philosophical things these days, including trying to discover who I really am as a person. I believe I am the same person I was more than sixty years ago, when I look today at a black and white photo of me that is displayed in our bedroom.

    I was about three or four at the time, sitting on my knees in the sand as water from the sea danced around me. I loved making sand castles, and looked up at my father, I think, with joy. It is that inner self that I can identify with, although life has had many ups and downs since that photo was taken.

    There is plenty of painting to do, but we do not return to it until after pranzo. Dino works on the ladder to paint the soffito (ceiling), while I paint the darker pink closest to the floor. I'm really thinking we need wainscoating between the two colors, in a kind of taupe to work with the old tumbled travertine floor tiles. Dino can paint a gold strip on that. We'll see...

    All over the news is a story about a cruise ship that ran aground off the tiny island of Il Giglio on Friday. We think we know the ship's purser, who was one of the heroes, and was taken off the ship in a winch with a broken leg. here's the story:

    Cruise captain 'panicked' but the ship's purser was a hero

    Death toll reaches six as Costa Concordia's captain is accused of abandoning ship with 230 still aboard
    January 15 -ANSA

    THE SINKING of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Italian island of Giglio continues to dominate the headlines as the death toll mounts and claims emerge that the ship's captain was "showing off".

    Francesco Schettino has been questioned by Italian prosecutors on suspicion of manslaughter and abandoning ship after at least six people were killed in the accident off the Tuscan coast on Friday.

    Costa Cruises, the owners of the wrecked ship, said on Sunday that it appeared the accident was caused by "significant human error". It added: "The route of the vessel appears to have been too close to the shore, and the captain's judgment in handling the emergency appears to have not followed standard Costa procedures."

    It is now being claimed that Schettino was "showing off" by navigating close to the island in order to salute a friend. According to The Daily Telegraph: "It had apparently become a long-standing practice for the Costa Concordia to sail close to the island in order to greet its inhabitants with a siren from the ship.

    "The tradition appears to have begun when the wife of a former senior officer lived on the island and he would take the ship close to Giglio to greet her."

    The death toll rose to six on Sunday when three more bodies were discovered on board the vessel. A further 15 people are still missing.

    The ship's purser Manrico Giampetroni was winched to safety on Sunday 36 hours after the disaster. He was trapped on board after he broke his leg as he helped evacuate passengers on Friday night.

    The Guardian reports: "Giampedroni emerged as one of the few heroes of the tragedy amid reports that the captain and other crew members panicked and mounted lifeboats ahead of passengers."

    The Times says that Schettino has been accused of abandoning ship because he left the ship "while there were still some 230 people aboard - including two newborns and four disabled people who were not rescued until 2am".

    No, the purser was not the same man as the purser we met on a cruise from Barcelona to Rome a number of years ago. We had been robbed just after having a meal at a restaurant in the area, and the purser at the time on our ship helped us mightily, since all our money and our identity papers were stolen. He now works for the Costa Line.

    January 16
    Paint; paint; paint! We're a flurry of activity, and in between, Dino drives to Viterbo to pick up more paint. Meanwhile, all the news is about the cruise ship run aground. See above.

    Dino picks up Thomas, Stein's son, at the train station. He'll pick his father up tomorrow, who is remaining in Rome one more day. We look forward to seeing him!

    I don't attend Coro tonight, instead doing more paint prep and cleaning up, then watching TV.

    January 17
    I'm determined to start our heirloom tomato seeds in January, for those started then in past years seemed to do the best. I know. You're thinking: "What's with them? Yet another project on top of all the others?" It's our answer to the proverbial, "What will you do all day?" said to us by our friends in the U S before we moved here full time in 2002.

    Dino paints a second coat of most of the darker pink paint I painted yesterday, then changes clothes to take me to dear Giusy for a pedicure.

    I'm researching seed information, and hope we can find some seed starting pots locally that are made of sustainable materials. I think Dino can find them in Orte while I'm with Giusy.

    It's wonderful to see her again, and I'm in and out right on time, which is a miracle for her. She's very happy with her life, and that makes me happy, too. I show her the burn on my hand and she sprays water on it from an atomizer, then puts gentalyn beta cream on top, followed by a bandage. Telling me to do the same tonight and then tomorrow it will be much better, she moves on to give me a great pedicure.

    Dino picks me up and we return home after picking up a seed starter kit in Orte Scalo. The mixture I've read about to start the seeds is only available there in a huge bag, so I've asked Dino to pick up what we'll need from Bruno in nearby Attigliano.

    Where to set up the seed potting frame that Dino purchased while I was with Giusy? Well, I suggest right inside the balcony door, and since we face South/Southwest, it's ideal. We'll rig up a light for it as well, so that the seeds will get at least 8 hours of sunlight a day, even on bad days.

    We also picked up four dozen little starter vases, and that will be more than enough. Even though we begin with more seeds than that, they don't all germinate.

    We hang up the rose colored drapes in the front hallway, and they look fine. The color is an amazing match with the lower color on the walls.

    I make our first cece (garbanzo) and pasta soup for pranzo, and it is delicious, served along with bread toasted with olive oil, garlic and salt.

    Dino returns to painting the upper walls of the hallway a pale pink, while I catch up with you. In a couple of hours we'll drive down to visit Stein and his son; then Dino will take me to Coro prova (practice) for an hour. I have organized all the music we will sing on Sunday, and enjoy these sessions that are no longer than one hour these days.

    It's so cold inside that I put on boots, having adjusted to the fact that we do not put the heat on during the day. Late each day, Dino starts a fire, and that brings us heat in the kitchen, where we spend a lot of our time during the end of the day. My fingertips feel frozen as I write, but we are ending the month in a week or two, and then Spring will arrive soon, at least we hope. I love these days, just the same. Is it because we are alone together with our little dog, each doing our own projects, with no outside challenges facing us?

    January 18
    We rearrange the studio in preparation for an overnight visit by dear friend, Don Francis, who is driving from his home near Isernia to a retreat in Northern Italy. We're like one of those inns in medieval times for him, stopping along the way and be fed and nestled into bed for a night.

    Arriving as the sky turns dark, we sit around and have tea for a while, before he brings in his overnight bag and a gift: special roasted coffee from his area. We remember that it is quite special, and look forward to making it soon.

    But I've soaked lentils and Dino has purchased special salsiche (sausages) from Pino in nearby Attigliano, so we feast on those, a salad and our wonderful (budino di cachi) steamed persimmon pudding, lit with a flame over a bit of brandy. We opened two special bottles of our red wine from Languedoc, and surely we'll return this spring for more. In front of a wonderful fire, there is much to talk about before settling in for the night.

    January 19
    We see a death notice in Mugnano this morning. Pepe Castellani was a wonderful neighbor who made excellent white wine. He moved from Mugnano a few years ago to live in Attigliano in house with out stairs as his wife was an invalid. She died not long ago and he died this morning at the rest home in Bomarzo. His funeral is on Saturday.

    Don Francis leaves mid morning, after special croissants made by Tre Marie that came frozen. We've only to heat the oven and let them bake for twenty minutes. Stuffed with an albicocca (apricot) filling, they're very good.

    We drive to Viterbo for a round of errands, including buying 20 meters of wainscoating for the hallway that we will paint and attach, but do take the time for an afternoon nap. It's cold.

    Last night I did not attend Coro practice, but Rosina warns that Friday night is a very important rehearsal and I don't dare miss it. Va bene.

    January 20
    Oh. 31 years ago tonight Roy and I had our first kiss; a kiss that sent shock waves and lit off cannons and fireworks in the sky. What an adventurous life we have had together, still so in love after more than three decades. Having settled in to our lives here, we look forward to more and more adventures together and the blessings of the days as they come and go. What a life this has become!

    Francesco calls to tell us we must complete our census by this weekend. What does that mean? Dino will tell me when he returns. He's gone to Colle Amerino Vino Cooperativo outside Amelia to purchase prosecco for Sunday's celebration of San Vincenzo and then on to Viterbo to purchase other supplies.

    The burn on my hand has not completely healed, so I continue to add special cream and take it easy. Outside, skies are cloudy and a bird chirps now and then. Wonder which birds here don't fly South for the winter?

    I'm reading a book in my Kindle, and am aware that there are a number of misspellings in a couple of books I have read. How is the data transferred? Does it have to be retyped? If not, if there were not misspellings in the original, how does this happen? It's not important, but I wonder if there is more that is changed or missing in addition to misspellings. One day, I'll ask my pal, Al Gore's internet. Today, I need to tend the sweet fire in the kitchen fireplace. These days, we have fires in the morning as well, for the temperatures outside are quite cold.

    Thanks for being patient while we are late in posting for the mid month. We'll post once this month, for the first time in recent memory. Sorry.

    January 21
    The day is quite cold. We venture out to pick up one more storage piece for the hallway, narrow and tall. The house is so small that storage is at a premium. It works well with what we have.

    January 22
    This is the feast day of San Vincenzo, one of our two patron saints. Yes, a village of 80 people needs two patron saints. Come no? Well, at one time this village had several hundred residents, but who knows where they all lived, probably huddled together in the borgo.

    On this day, Dino leaves early to get ready to feed the band from Bomarzo, the Banda Polymartium, their snack, mid-march around the village. I walk up a bit later, for a rehearsal 30 minutes before the start of the mass. Afterward there is a procession, including Bishop Lino, which is a real honor for this tiny place.

    When the kind bishop presides at the mass, he has such lovely things to say about Mugnano. We're known as a village having lots of spirit, a lovely architectual face, and a devout heart as big as the Mediterranean.

    After the procession and the reception at the Orsini Palazzo, which is quite wonderful and characteristic of its 16th century beginnings, I ask Don Daniele if we did all right. He responds with a smile, telling me that he is proud of us and beams, and that is enough for me. I find Dino and we greet a few people; then walk home to little Sofi, who has been frightened we are sure by the fireworks at noon and the noise. She seems fine, albeit a bit more affectionate than usual.

    Just before walking home from the festivities, we came across Cesar and took a photo of him. He tells us, we think, that he will be here until April, and I let him know I am doing a painting of him and invite him here for a look. I'd love another chance to look at his features up close.

    Here is a photo montage of this morning's events:

    January 23-30
    Where have we been? Well, down for the count with an influenza, and on this Saturday we're just emerging from its heavy mantle. With lovely sun outside, we're doing laundry, hanging up a new temporary bar in front of the backstage area of the hallway, and slowly regaining strength. There's nothing much to report of the past week.

    Each day I've looked at Cesar's image, not having the strength to return to it. No matter. Sofi has been a champion, staying at my side no matter what temptations have tried to lure her outside. She's a very good girl.

    January 31
    Slowly returning to life, there is not much sun, but we drive to Viterbo for a visit with our good doctor after purchasing another test paint for the hallway trim. It looks good.

    Dino has had a rasping sound at night in his lungs, and our good doctor checks him out and tells him he has had a bit of a bronchial problem and prescribes medicine to take. That is all.

    I ask him again for a recommendation for a gynecologist, and there will be one joining his practice soon. I'll remind him by email to find out more. I've had some pain, but only at night, and it's not a big deal, I don't think.

    We have pranzo at MacDonald's, and it is fun, then drive home and take a leisurely nap. Skies are grey and it is cold, inside and out.

    I begin the seeds with the biologic "pills" (compressed peat) purchased recently at Spazio Verde in Terni, but we do need a grow light, for otherwise the plants will grow long and spindly, reaching for the light. Dino is not thrilled, but relents. We'll hopefully purchase one tomorrow.

    Looking forward to whatever comes our way next month, we hope all is well with you, too.

    February 1
    All is well on this cold day, with not much to report. Sofi's appointment here with Silvia will be postponed another week or so, until we have better weather.

    There is no sighting of seeds, for it has only been a day, and there is hardly any sunlight. We do need a light for these seeds growing inside the balcony doors in the little serra, and tomorrow will surely pick up a good one.

    February 2
    Dino is adamant about posting the journal for January, although I'd rather return to Viterbo for a light to help the new tomato seeds to grow in a healthy way. I do an edit while he brings more wood up from the parcheggio and then turn the computer over to him. Perhaps it's a good day for cece (garbanzo) and pasta soup.

    Agreeing to do our posting this afternoon, we do drive to Viterbo after all mid morning, and do pick up a light for the seed growing to begin with gusto, speriamo, although the light we purchase will need a bit of wiring first to make it work. The length is good, and perhaps this afternoon Dino will work on it.

    We stop at KLIMT for advice on the painting for the village, and are advised to use multistrata (plywood). Looking for a good test piece, we drive to Luigi Legno and bring home a small piece of piopo (poplar), which I think is not right, but what do I know? It's very light weight, and will have a frame behind each panel (3 or 4 panels that will be 1 meter wide by three meters high each). We also want to build it for the possible insertion of "l.e.d." lights. I'm happy to do a test on this small piece, painting the image of a tree or two to see how the lighting and shadows may look. I'm intending to paint in oils. We'll see.

    Back at home, I fix a bieta (swiss chard) and rice soup in a chicken broth, and it's delicious. This is another of those days when nothing will satisfy quite like hot soup.

    Later this afternoon is the blessing of the throat service in the village church. We've each had our seasonal virus, but perhaps this blessing will help to insure that we do not have more colds or influenzas this winter. I'm surely hoping for a warm and sunny Spring. Aren't you?

    Dino wants to hook up the little heater for the studio, but it needs a special adaptor. What is wrong with this country regarding its electrical appliances? Each one seems to need a special adaptor, and there are numerous kinds. While I set up the ironing board, Dino looks for the adaptor, and then will hopefully move on to the light for the seeds, which will need special wiring as well. It's a good thing he's very handy. Bravo, dear Dino!

    This is what we see from inside the church doorway later, looking out at the snow.

    February 3
    More snow! We awake to a lovely blanket of snow, in some places even more than an inch of it, outside our window. From our bed, the tall nespola tree has a visitor for a few seconds - a little bird that looks like a robin, popping from one dusty white leaf to the next.

    Here is some of what Dino sees with his camera:

    The forecast is for more of the same. In other parts of Europe, people have perished from the storms. Might as well get used to the heaviest weather of the winter for awhile.

    Inside, I want to paint the wood trim for the hallway, so begin while Dino gets the journal ready to post for January. I finish the first set of boards before pranzo. Instead of taking a nap afterward, there is so much excitement in the air that we encourage Sofi to snoop about outside. She's not sure she understands the snow, but it keeps descending, as the flakes seem to grow in intensity.

    With the boards dry, I paint the second coat as Dino walks outside to take a few more shots. At the front of the terrace, he looks down at Francesco, cross country skiing down Via Mameli. There is so much white that a picture will not do him justice, so take our word for it. This is truly an adventure; an adventure that is supposed to continue for several more days at least.

    Stein calls to check in, and he is well, with food enough for a few days. His house guest did not arrive...stuck in Oslo! I do not remember a snow like this in all the years we have been in Mugnano. Before, simply a dusting on one day a year. This year will be one for the record books, at least in our little village.

    Snow continues, with us huddled inside in front of a lovely fire in the kitchen, after I paint a second base coat on the eight long sheets of wainscoting that rest on saw horses in the salone. Otherwise in the room, all is covered with sheets of plastic.

    Dino bravely brings up more wood from the parcheggio as we snuggle and watch t v until it's time to turn in.

    February 4
    It's difficult to tell the difference between the palest gray sky and snow covering just about everything. I'd expect to see smoke coming from the Gasperonis' chimney, but perhaps they are afraid of smoke affecting the girls.

    There is SO MUCH SNOW!

    We both want to move forward on the wainscoting trim in the hallway, so I spend the morning painting a layer of gold stripe and one of the darker pink. This afternoon, after a hearty pranzo of lasagne, I paint a second coat of both, for the paint dries pretty quickly. Dino wants to put it up on the walls, but I want to do a final touchup in the morning first.

    The trim is "over the top", as if we're in a highly stylized villa, but why not? Think: strawberry Tuscan pink, palest pink and gold stripes over a taupe background. Come and see how it turns out for yourself!

    Dino thankfully keeps a fire going all day in the kitchen, bringing up more wood now and then. Skies are a dismal gray, and we just know more snow will be on the way. Not even Dino wants to go out driving in it!

    I wonder why children of Mugnano, or even adults, are not inspired to build snowmen or a fort or other snow sculptures with all this snow sitting around. Is it mostly an American tradition? I'll have to ask and will let you know.

    Whoops! Here's a local snowman; how jolly!

    While I paint, Dino sits with Sofi in the kitchen watching the movie "Armageddon", of which I have no interest. I hear all the yelling from the monitor in the kitchen, while I happily work in the salone. What is it about men in anxious situations who feel the need to yell and order each other around? Yipes!

    With several loads of laundry done and left to dry on racks in the studio, I look forward to another movie and watching tv with my two best pals. I'm dreaming of Spring and flowers, and wonder if we should paint the base of the fruit trees with a white substance, or is it just paint? We'll have to ask Bruno soon. That reminds me: with ten hours of light from the new installation, the seeds remain dormant.

    February 5
    A walk up to church is in the plan, for we won't be able to find a place to park with all the snow congregating around, and of course no snow plows around. Don Daniele arrives with a ride from a friend in Bomarzo who has a 4 X 4 vehicle. There are less than ten of us in the church, and I find myself singing a solo during Communion; one that Dino praises me for. The hymn is "Acqua Viva", and I like it quite a bit.

    Nonno Enzo sits with us, and afterward he and Dino flank me as we hold each other up while attempting to walk down the somewhat steep and schivole (slippery) street. At the fork, he turns down Via Mola, and we walk back home on the level Via Mameli.

    A few folks are out, and later when we brave the road and drive to Il Pallone for groceries, a group of neighbors are sweeping the snow off the shady road leading down the hill, located just above the spot where there used to be a garbage pickup.Mille grazie, carissimi!

    February 6
    A less than memorable day here, for we stay inside and do a bit of gluing of the wainscoting. Otherwise, it's Dino bringing up wood for the fire and doing a lot of ....nothing.

    February 7
    Dino wants to drive to Brico in Terni, wanting to replace the bathroom wall heater and also look for a chop saw. We leave early and roads are clear, although snow and storms are expected from Terni to Mugnano on this day. Hopefully they'll hold off until we return.

    We find a saw for Dino as well as a wall heater for the bathroom, both on special promotions. But it's the drive to and from Narni and Terni, through the valley, that is so remarkable.

    If you come here, do drive through the secondary roads from Orte through Narni Scalo to Terni. On the way, with snow covered hillsides throughout, I'm drawn by fortresses and monasteries more than one thousand years old. With their crennalated towers and lovely pale yellow stone facades, it's somewhat like driving through a movie set, expecting Lady Gueneviere to arrive shortly atop a beautiful steed.

    On earlier visits, we've tried to gain entrance to a couple of what we believe to be monasteries, but they've been closed up with no entry possible, nor any signs to help. We'll continue to look.

    We're a week away from Terni's celebration of their patron saint, San Valentino, and I have no idea what the town plans. All around are corny stuffed animals for sale and bright red hearts, but nothing looking particularly authentic.

    After a hearty pranzo and a little tv watching, we take an afternoon nap while we try out the new heater in the bathroom. It needs new batteries, but we're hopeful.

    February 8
    The heater in the bathroom is still not functioning perfectly, and although yesterday I thought the price was so good we should purchase another for the bedroom to warm the room up before going to bed; now we may find that this bargain was no bargain after all...

    There is a bit of blue sky behind clouds above, but snow continues to melt. I work on the Fosci family tree, deciding it will be the family tree I will paint as an example of the larger bosco (forest) representing all the Mugnano families, but there are many questions remaining. Perhaps Paola and Peppino will work with us next weekend on athe names and dates.

    February 9
    After French Toast for breakfast, started last evening and soaked all night in milk and cinnamon and resting in the frigo, quite tasty, we drive to Terni to Brico to take back the heater. What transpires is a bit silly; a worker takes a remote from another box and hands it to us. Dino opens our box and plugs it in to an outlet to be sure, and it does work, so we leave happily. But then, what will happen to the next poor soul who picks up the box with the cranky remote?

    Snow continues to melt, and we drive home after Dino picks up another couple of things at the store, including a bag to catch the sawdust from cuts made by the new saw and an angle guide that will be used to measure the exact angle of any cuts to be made for the wainscoting. Perhaps Dino will become a woodworker. I hope not. Any falegname (woodworkers) we see have at least one finger missing.

    Last night I had another bout of retching, and wonder if I have something not right going on in my lungs. Twice in one week is a bit much, don't you think? It's brought on by coughing and becomes quite ugly. The next time we visit our doctor I'll ask him.

    Back in plenty of time to make a sauce with sausage meat, sage, onions, dried mushrooms soaked in a bit of broth and a jar of the tomato puree made last summer, we feast on it and then Dino brings up more wood. He's preparing to make a frame for wood storage in the parcheggio, but wants to wait until our current supply of wood is gone. So I wonder...how long will it take to get a delivery of wood at this time of year? Will we run out? Not to worry. There's always the heater.

    I'm finding myself more interested these days in reading and resting while enjoying the fresh air and the sun on the terrace. I'm also becoming a lot more silent, loving the nearer as well as farther bits of nature in my view. I do love the sound of silence, asking for very little for myself, but so sad about the state of violence and hate in the world.

    Are we close to a nuclear war here? If Israel strikes Syria, or if Syria attacks Israel, Italy appears clearly in the path of the fallout from any nuclear explosion. Not able to do anything much about it, we mention it to eachother and vow to appreciate each and every moment; each and every day. We surely do.

    February 10
    Snow! More snow falls in big soft flakes when we awake; the kind that sticks. I'm not sure when the snow began last night, or this morning, but it continues until late morning, and then reemerges mid afternoon, with at least several new inches of white. We have certainly never seen anything like it in our years here and it brings joy to our hearts to be living in dear Mugnano. Dino takes the camera outside and snaps some photos, including a few of Sofi, although she's a fast mover and it's difficult to take a photo of her looking at the camera.

    In one shot, there is an interesting reflection of the house from one of the big glass bottles on the terrace.

    We use the last of the oatmeal for breakfast, and watch a movie. Meanwhile, a couple from Norway who plan to arrive late in the month and have a vacation home near Guardea, hope they can drive without catene (chains). We very much doubt it, although ours are still in the back of the car.

    Dino plans to stay put for several days, and I worry about him falling when snow turns to ice. We're both very careful these days, and unless things change, Sunday will be the first time we have not gone to mass in all the time I have known Dino. I have no idea when or if he will put on chains. We'll let you know.

    I bake a wonderful pasta for pranzo, using a new bottle of our tomatoes and yesterday's leftover pasta. The satellite dish turns the screen on the tv black, and Dino walks outside to see if snow resting on it needs to be cleared. We will hopefully soon be back in business.

    At just after 4 PM here, I finish taking out the tray of planting and seeds and replanting them in the same tray, in the same sequence. Only one seed has begun to germinate, for the soil was packed too solidly and there was little heat, too much moisture, but a bit of sun. Fa niente. (No matter.) I finish it off with a fine spray of quite warm water and recover the top.

    This time, we hope to have both heat and sun, for I've turned on the light in the baby greenhouse near the balcony to give the seeds a good start. Each morning, there will be heat from below as I move the tray to just above the radiator in the studio, turning it once every morning.

    We have heat here in the house from about 7 to 10 A M. After that, the tray will be moved back to the spot just behind the doors to the balcony, where they will have sun, augmented by a fluorescent light for at least twelve hours a day. There is still plenty of time for the seeds to germinate, for we will certainly have eight weeks more of probable frost, due to the recent weather here.

    Dino is in bed reading, and perhaps resting, and Sofi snores sweetly by my side in the studio as I let you know what is happening here. For the first day in recent memory I am not tired, although I'm not quite ready to return to painting.

    These are certainly the days of our lives, although we dearly miss our San Francisco family. Italian bureaucracy being what it is, puts a small damper on this joy for a minute or so, as someone calls to collect a small four year old bill for our ADSL service. That does not make sense, for while we had ADSL, it was paid automatically from our bank account.

    Dino and the woman argue; the woman tells him we should just pay the amount; Dino insists that we have something in writing first that will explain it in detail. A day or so ago, the same conversation ensued, so we received a fax telling us that we owed €0.48 (48 euro cents!) This time it's another amount, and if we owe it we will pay it, but there is no record that we owe it. The adventure continues, but since we no longer use the service, we are not too worried.

    I am still waiting for my Italian Citizenship to be granted...It's been almost three years! At least Dino has his.

    February 11
    With signs of more snow on the ground and in the air, we're settling in to a winter wonderland reminiscent of my New England childhood. Dino is a bit weary of it, but still has no interest in putting chains on the car when he drives to nearby Attigliano to shop.

    The day is spent cleaning snow off stairs to the parcheggio and watching tv, as well as doing a few loads of laundry to be dried on drying racks in the studio. Sofi gambols about outside, but remains happier by my side.

    All around Italy problems abound, with deaths due to the storms and cold weather and icy roads. The news is all about weather these days, and we watch Italian tv, understanding it more and more as the years meander by.

    February 12
    I'm sure it makes no sense to go to church on this day, since last Sunday there were no more than seven of us, and I fear sliding on the uphill or downhill parts of the pepperino pavement just before reaching the borgo.

    Dino is surprised, dressed and ready to walk up to church, so convinces me instead to drive with him to nearby Il Pallone for breakfast and shopping at the market, that is open on Sundays. Just as we reach the intersection at the foot of the hill, we see Don Daniele sitting in the passenger seat as a friend with a 4 x 4 drives up to the village. I feel a bit guilty for not attending church...just a bit. Sofi is with us, remaining in the car while we shop.

    We are able to take the Bomarzo hill, for there is plenty of sun, resulting in lots of snow melting on the roads. We surely will not take it on the way back, however. The Bomarzo hill is very steep, and where there is no sun it will be quite icy.

    What a lovely sight! With more snow overnight, even the coppery oak tree leaves are laced with snow. We're sure footed when we walk, making definite steps to keep us from slipping. There are no photos, for roads are a bit dangerous, so we'll leave it to your imagination.

    Hardly anyone is about. We do see other cars without catene (chains), but not many. Those with heavily powered engines smugly race by on the Superstrada from Bomarzo to Vitorchiano as I roll my eyes.

    Armed with plenty of groceries for the next several days, we drive down to Orte and then join the A-1 up to Attigliano on the way back. The trip is longer, but safer...Until we reach the Mugnano hill.

    On the lower straightaway, the road is fine, but just at the curve, we face Mario Fosci, followed in another car by his father, Peppino. We all wave, but are nervous. We need to pick up a head of steam to navigate the shady (icy) hill. About 1/3 of the way up, we can't gain traction, and Dino puts the car into reverse and we move backward until we can find black asphalt and begin again. No luck.

    Third time's the charm, for Dino decides to put on chains, and just as he's about to finish putting the first chain on, Mauro and his son, Salvatore, drive down the hill and stop nearby to take the chains off their car. Mauro shows Dino how to put the finishing touches on the chain, and tells him he can probably get up the hill with only one tire wearing a chain. Va bene. Speriamo.

    We do make it up the hill, and while Sofi and I take one of the bags of groceries inside, Dino studies the chain mechanism on the tire. I learn from Dino that chains are not to be used on good roads, so Mauro stopped before he saw us to take his chains off the car at the foot of the Mugnano hill. I think it's a strange phenomenon that causes people to put chains on and off, on and off, during bad weather. I hope they're easy to put on and remove. Let's see what Dino has to say.

    Back at home, the sad news is that Whitney Houston is dead, found in her hotel room on the afternoon of the Grammys. You'll know more about it before we do...

    On a happier note, I fix chicken saltimbocca (jump in the mouth!) with fresh sage leaves from pots on the terrace. It's really delicious! Yes, the recipe follows:

    Chicken Saltimbocca

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded thin
  • 8 large sage leaves
  • 4 thin prosciutto or cooked ham slices
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. flour
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Sprinkle chicken with grindings of pepper and salt to taste. Place 2 sage leaves on top each chicken breast half. Top each with 1 prosciutto slice; press to adhere. Spread 1/2 cup flour on a plate. Coat chicken pieces lightly in flour on each side.

    Melt butter and oil in large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken, prosciutto side down; cook for four minutes. Turn chicken and prosciutto pieces over carefully and cook just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to warm platter and cover to keep warm. Reserve pan.

    Whisk wine with remaining 2 tsp. flour in small bowl. Add broth and lemon juice to same skillet; bring to boil. Add wine mixture; whisk until sauce thickens slightly; about 30 seconds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve.

    It's time for a nap, and to do some reading. There's no need to rush about anything. The sounds we hear are sounds of snow melting outside, with hopefully not a lot of ice to remain when temperatures drop in the afternoon. Sofi dashes about on the terrace, spends a bit of time lolling in the sun, but is happier by my side, licking the snow off her front paws.

    Earlier she snapped at dear Salvatore, who came to pet her when Mauro helped Dino to put a chain on a front tire. Perhaps she is beginning to forget things, but she loved Salvatore when she was just a puppy; I'll be sure to reacquaint them when weather warms up a bit. He's a dear boy, and there's no reason for her to snap at him. Sorry, Salvatore. She does not mean it.

    February 13
    Last night was really cold; we were even dressed in many layers while sitting before a fire while we watched tv. Luckily, there is plenty of sun and blue sky when we awake.

    I move the seeds to the front window in the studio where there is heat from the radiator below, but see no signs of germination. Let's be patient. The soil is fluffy and we should see signs of life really soon. Speriamo.

    Dino is ready to build the frame for firewood storage, and drives to Viterbo to research the wood. But first he calls our repairman for the frigo in the summer kitchen, for it has lost it's temperature ability. It's two and one half years old, so should be fine. The repairman will arrive tomorrow morning, but tells Dino to unplug the frigo and plug it in again as a test. We'll see.

    Sofi is happy to wait outside on the terrace for Dino's return, while I prepare the pork tenderloin; we purchased one on Sunday and Dino wants it cooked in the oven instead of grilling it. Sigh. It will be tasty just the same served with our homemade applesauce after chopping sage, rosemary, garlic cloves and lemon peel and mixing it with salt and pepper, rubbing the mixture into the roast and drizzling olive oil all around.

    I then place it into a roasting pan, drizzle more olive oil and cook it for an hour on low heat. Then I turn the roast over, pour a glass of white wine over it, increase the temperature to 200 degrees celsius and return it to the oven until the wine evaporates. I let it sit for ten minutes or so before slicing and serving it while making a pea puree to sit under the sliced pork. We have chutney to serve with it and the homemade apple sauce. Yum, don't you think?

    Here's the simple recipe for pea puree:

    Pea Puree

  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed (about 10 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. walnut pieces
  • Combine all ingredients except the Parmesan in a food processor and puree. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady drizzle. Transfer the pea puree to a small frying pan and heat until heated through.

    Stir in the Parmesan and place the puree immediately on a warm plate below whatever meat you choose to serve.

    I turn the seeds again in the studio window and look out at the field of white, but there is not a sound around. A few birds fly low in the valley, but otherwise all is still, which I love. It's a dreamscape, and for this dreamer life could not be better.

    Dear friend Stein asks Dino to drive him to the train this afternoon; he is freezing cold in his house nearby, and will spend a night or two in a friend's grand palazzo in Rome before returning to an even more frigid Norway. All over Italy, temperatures are low and accidents abound. I say a prayer that all will be well with dear Dino on his jaunts.

    He stops on his way to Viterbo at Tartuaga and finds an excellent frame for the bottom of the wood storage at a reasonable price. It's ready after pranzo, so he picks it up before driving Stein to the train. Here at home my fingers feel like ice as I check in with you. Brrr. Let's make a fire in the kitchen. Not even Sofi wants to be outside today.

    Tonight we watch The Bodyguard on satellite tv, in sad reminiscence of Whitney Houston, who passed away all too soon...The memory reignited the passion we hoped would bring her back. I suppose now she will always be with us, but the news is so sad. Let's say a prayer for her soul.

    On a lighter note , Dino tooks this pic in Bomarzo - perhaps it is a sign that the temperature might be rising...

    ... or not!

    February 14
    On this Valentine's Day, we wake to find the pipes of our house frozen, with no water to take a shower or wash a dish. Dino takes the little old wall heater in the bathroom out back to heat them up. I don't remember a day in my adulthood when I did not take a shower or a bath, so I suspect this is one for our bodies' record books. Fa niente.

    Dino adds another piece of wainscoting to the wall, telling me it must dry for a day before adding any wood putty or painting the edges.

    I make a Valentine's Cake for dessert, hot and soft inside and in a heart shape. Sofi seems content to stay by my side, no matter what I do, and no, I don't feel like painting in the studio.

    We have box of dry ingredients for a Chinese Curry, and cut up the leftover cold pork in julienne pieces, marinate them and add a cup and a half of Greek sour cream to the sauce while spicy rice cooks separately, serving everything together in a warm bowl for each of us, with cashews on top and soy sauce on the side. It's really, really good.

    Across the street midafternoon, Francesco opens Pia's gate so that a truckful of firewood can be dropped off inside, while Marino stands on our path. He's chatting with Gigliola and Livio, who sit warming themselves in the sun while sitting on our original front stoop. Italians are a curious sort, enjoying watching the little adventures of life as they roll on by.

    For me, I'm reliving another disappointing St. Valentine's Day. We are so in love and enjoy so much of our lives together, but on this day each year there is too much anticipation on my part, perhaps because I am a dreamer, and no matter what I do, the day seems to fall with a thud.

    I've made a Chinese main course that is at once excellent and a surprise, added by sliced fresh and fragrant oranges and sour cream to enhance it, with fortune cookies on the side. Although the dish and the warm chocolate cake made in the shape of a heart are a treat, the meal is help up by an angry Dino who argues with people on the phone about an old (2008) ADSL bill after somewhat ignoring me throughout the morning.

    San Valentino in nearby Terni is revered on this day, but here I think it's better to let the day just pass us by each year. Otherwise, all is well and happy here. Don't worry. We're just fine, and I consider this just a momentary "bump in the road". Sempre avanti! (Always forward!)

    It's time for a nap, and perhaps we will post, for I have singled out photos for Dino to post, and hope that he will. With one happy seedling poking out of the soil, I'm hopeful we will have many more in the next days. I'll let you know, for sure.

    February 15
    With just one seedling poking up in it's baby greenhouse in the studio window as it gets warmth from the radiator below, I note a couple of dots, that may in fact be seedlings, to appear in a day or two. Not to worry; even one plant will be wonderful, although I expect we'll have plenty of heirloom tomato plants.

    In a day or so, I'll plant some bocca di leone (sweet pea) seeds in sterile potting mix.

    We have not yet posted, for Dino is in Viterbo, picking up the wood he'll need for his firewood shed that he'll complete in the parcheggio. He's anxious to get the shed ready, so that he can call for more firewood to be delivered. It's so cold and icy these days that we anticipate using wood much later in the Spring than usual. It's beautiful here, just the same.

    For fun, Sofi and I play on the front terrace, where plenty of sun shines and creates lots of heat. I clean up the six large wisteria planters of dead leaves as Sofi suns herself while sitting against the house.

    The frigo repair man is supposed to arrive before pranzo, but who knows if he will? Dino is picking up a roast chicken for pranzo in Viterbo as well as the wood, but Sofi and I will look out for the repairman in case he comes early. Ha!

    At noon, Dino has returned with a pollo arrosto (roast chicken), but there is no sign of the repairman. I move the box of seedlings to the serra next to the balcony doors, and when I remove the top I see more little green pokeys..perhaps four in all. The heat in the morning surely helps them to get started, and now they'll have sun, augmented by a fluorescent tube a few inches above them until we go to bed.

    He has found even a better source for his wood in Viterbo, and will pick it up tomorrow. Here's some Italian news:

    Rome (CNN) -- Italian prosecutors Wednesday asked a court to sentence former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to five years in prison if he is found guilty of corruption charges.

    Berlusconi is charged with bribing a British lawyer, David Mills, to secure favorable testimony in legal cases. Prosecutors requested prison time as they summed up their case against him Wednesday, and the three-judge court is expected to issue a verdict by late February.

    The former premier's lawyers have argued that the statute of limitations in the case has expired, and Mills' conviction in the case was overturned in 2010. And even if convicted, the 75-year-old Berlusconi may never serve time due to appeals and his age -- under Italian law, judges can suspend sentences for convicts over 70.

    The 75-year-old Berlusconi dominated Italian politics for a decade and a half before resigning amid a financial crisis in November. He has survived a series of political, corruption and sex scandals over the years, involving allegations of embezzlement, tax fraud and bribery.

    In addition to the Mills case, he also faces trial on charges that he hired an underage prostitute and later tried to pull strings to get her out of jail when she was arrested for theft.

    Monti says Italy 'understands' No to Rome 2020 Olympic bid

    'I had to reject a magnificent project', premier says 15 February, 15:53

    (ANSA) - Strasbourg, February 15 - The Italian public understands the hard economic facts that led Premier Mario Monti to scratch a bid for Rome to host the 2020 Olympics, Monti told the European Parliament Wednesday.

    "I had to take a difficult decision (to reject) a magnificent project, and there was a lot of disappointment" Monti said.

    "But I have the impression that public opinion has understood (why I did so)," he added. Monti failed to give the bid his required endorsement Tuesday, citing financial risks at a time when crisis-hit Italy is enduring tough austerity measures.

    February 16
    Three seedlings, two in the same little space, and four little green dots that may become seedlings, appear this morning when I put the little green box atop the heater in the studio window. Dino has gone to Viterbo to pick up the wood for his parcheggio project, and although one would not know it by looking up, the revista (forecast) is for sun.

    I love the adventure of not knowing if or when seedlings will "take", with each peek at them a possible new addition. I move my fingers lightly over those three stretching to find the sun, as that is like a gentle mother's caress, I have read.

    Late in the afternoon, there is another seedling that has popped up, and three little dots to hopefully become seedlings tomorrow. Speriamo. (We hope so.)

    The day has been warm enough that Dino has worked for most of it in his shirtsleeves, although I have needed a sweater. Together, we built most of the wood storage shed, and it is quite carina (pretty). Tomorrow morning a new load of wood will be delivered, to be dropped haphazardly into the parcheggio from a truck. Since we had a load of wood delivered on December 23rd, we must be having quite a time with lots of wood burning. Since weather has been cold with plenty of snow these past weeks, I'm not totally surprised. Thankfully, it is lovely today and we're expecting even warmer weather tomorrow.

    Dino has a blood blister on his little finger, and I must remember to make sure that it does not get infected. The blister happened when he was working with the wood today.

    While we work, several women who live in the borgo sit on our stone benches right outside on the path, laughing and enjoying the sun. MarieAdelaide calls me over and tells me about Coro practice on Monday and a pizza cena (dinner) on Tuesday. I tell her I won't go to the dinner, but in a while Serena calls to me and persuades me to go to the dinner. She'll even pick me up and take me herself. She first asks me why I won't go, and when I tell her that I have trouble understanding everything that is said at these dinners, she reassures me by telling me I can sit right by her side. Since she does not speak English, perhaps she'll try to help me. How could I say no to that?

    As the sun moves across the sky, the temperature drops and Sofi and I move inside, after bringing tools up to the cucina estate (summer kitchen). I've done what I can for Dino on this project and he's happy. It was fun, and so am I.

    We watch t v, and Dino goes to bed quite early, at 8 PM. I close up the house, catch up with you, and follow him a bit later, hopefully to read before falling asleep. All is well.

    February 17
    Bright, beautiful sun greets us early, and Dino moves the car to make sure there is plenty of room for the wood to be dumped.

    Inside, ten lovely tender pomodori shoots stretch up to be seen, inside the tiny greenhouse. Next to it are two dozen little pots made of peat moss and such, containing the same mix but piselli odorati (sweet pea) seeds, several in each pot, instead of tomato seeds. I so enjoy watching this little miracle of life unfold when planting seeds at the end of winter.

    So many people are tired of winter, a feeling even my Coro buddies in the borgo share; I love each day here, no matter the weather.

    I prune the fifteen or so white Medilland roses above the parcheggio, including three in pots, and my hands are a mess with nicks from thorns. While cleaning out the areas surrounding each plant, no matter how careful I am, they are little devils. Can you hear them snorting, "Ha! Ha!" to each other every time they nick me?

    The wood is delivered, 11.5 quintali (a quintali is 100 kg ((about 220 US pounds)) ), and I pick up the wood, piece by piece, and bring it to Dino, who places it strategically inside his wood storage box. The wood placement must be preciso (precise), for otherwise it's brutto figura (makes a bad impression), and Dino surely does not want that!

    He wants to build a wooden wall between the two sections, and has the wood, so Sofi and I move upstairs. It's time to feed her and to prepare pranzo; on this day it's ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, in a butter and sage sauce, with plenty of grated cheese on top. There's plenty of lettuce, blue cheese and walnuts for an insalata, so we have that, too.

    My back is tired from bending over to prune the roses, but we need to finish the wood stacking, so I give Dino ten minutes or so after we've cleaned up the kitchen dishes to work on the wall, then join him again. Better finish before the temperature drops, although it's been perhaps 24 degrees Celsius or so in the sun this morning.

    At the end of pranzo, I check the seeds and move them next to the balcony. The count is up to seventeen! We'll certainly have plenty of tomato plants for summertime feasting.

    I return to help Dino with the wood stacking after pranzo. This time, I suggest we use a wheelbarrow to move the wood right in front of where Dino stacks it. So until we're out of all the big pieces, I drop each one into the wheelbarrow until it is pretty full and then pick up the two handles and move it slowly over to Dino, catching my breath while he stacks.

    I think it must be time for the sun to go down, but when I've done all I have the strength to do, only the little pieces are left that will be stacked behind the house to use in the pizza oven for pizza nights. He remains to finish the back wall and yes, it is a pretty little structure.

    I'm sure he's wanted it all the time we have lived here. So check that off our list. Year by year we're slowing down, and I'm hopeful that this will be the last year of any major work, unless we have money to spend and it's fun. Isn't it time we sit and watch the world go by? Would we know how?

    One of my favorite TV programs is Grandi Progetti. It's all in English. The host takes us through major restoration or building work for individuals or couples, and each of the projects takes up to a couple of years, although the entire project is shown in one installment.

    I find inspiration from these programs, and now have a fantasy of extending the house even behind the giant olive tree with a glass wall that leads to another cottage in the upper area where the peach tree now lives. It's just a fantasy, but fun to dream about. We really don't need the extra space, although more storage would be good.

    Through ancestry.com, I've found a bit of information about my grandparents on my mother's side. Both were born in New Brunswick, Canada. I wish someone in the family would want to take on the project of finding our ancestors. My mother told me that one of her ancestors was an American Indian chief. I'd think that was crazy, except that I have no hair on my arms, which is a characteristic of American Indians, I have been told. What to think?

    February 18
    Twenty-two seeds greeted us when we awoke, and a couple of hours later, after some time with heat underneath, we are up to twenty-five. Abbastanza per noi (enough for us) I muse, knowing there will probably be more, but I'm happy. I separate a few of the seedlings that appear in the same space (I admit I dropped a few extra seeds in the event they don't all germinate), and hope I have done this delicately enough. They all seem fine. We'll see.

    Outside in the garden, I cut back the four plumbago plants. They are my favorite, and why not? Their flowers are pale blue. While I'm at it, I cut back all the sweet peas in the front terrace planters, noting that tiny leaves appear down near the surface. Cleaned up, all looks actually pretty and, perhaps more accurately, hopeful. This is a hopeful time of year, and growth all around seems to echo the promise of spring. Even the weeds...but at this time of year they are easy to pull up, especially those on the gravel, for they were airborne and dropped, only to root above the nursery cloth.

    Sorella grande (my "big sister") waves from her closed bedroom window, looking out for she hears Marie and I talking. Marie hangs over her terrace on the top floor where she does laundry, and likes to talk about our roses, especially those she sees from her house. She's a sweet woman, and it's fun to laugh and smile happily with our neighbors. Yes, we're very happy here.

    Dino continues to work on the roof of the tiny building to store wood, and I suggest we drive together to decide what treatment we will use for the top. It's sunny and a great laundry day.

    Twenty-two seeds are popping out of the seedling serra, and there are only a couple with doubles. We will surely have plenty of heirloom tomatoes this summer, unless a natural disaster strikes. There is no sign of piselli odori (Sweet pea) seeds germinating, but then it's only been a day.

    Dino finishes the wooden roof for the wood storage, and although we drive to Orsolini in nearby Attigliano, we don't find the perfect material for a roof. Obi in Viterbo has it, but Dino tells me there is no rush. The wooden top will protect any wood for the next week or so.

    I weed in the gravel, but it's tiring work for my back, My hands are full of red marks from cutting back the roses above the parcheggio, and I'm weary.

    I fix wonderful pasta with red pepperoni and butter and grated cheese and four or five cubes of basil from last year's freezing for pranzo. There are thirty-eight more basil cubes, and I decant them into a Ziploc bag, then put them back into the freezer. Until we have fresh basilico, these little cubes will work well. If today's pasta is any test, it will be successful. The pasta is really tasty.

    I had said that I'd prune the Lady Hillingdon roses on the front path this afternoon, but I'm just too tired. Was it the wine, or am I just tired from yesterday and this morning's gardening? No matter.

    Just before we take a nap, there are thirty(!) seedlings, with one possible failure. Once could hardly ask for more, and all the varieties are doing well. By the time we go to bed after watching several hours of Whitney Houston's funeral on t v, there are thirty-one definite seedlings; a truly bumper crop? Stay tuned.

    Bless you, Whitney.

    February 19
    "A foggy day in Mugnano town..." with temperatures not too bad, we drive up to church and all is well. Today's mass is for dear departed Elisa, Donato and Caterina's mother, and the whole family is there. Don Angelo is our priest, and lets us know that the cenere (ashes) mass will be this Wednesday at 4 PM. Va bene. Five of us in Coro sing our hearts out, and afterward Dino and I drive to Il Pallone for colazione at our new favorite place, on the other side of the supermarket.

    "What's for pranzo?" Dino asks, and I tell him it depends upon what is freshest for sale at the market. I love making short ribs in the wintertime with a rich red sauce, and the package just looks up at me hopefully. "Sure, why not?" I say to myself, and also pick up a bag of apples for more applesauce, not that it will be served today, but maybe...

    At home, Dino makes a fire and puts the finishing touches on what I now call Pepe's house. Do you recall that yesterday he asked Dino if he could live in the space on the right, with firewood stored in the left? Pepe's small, but not that small.

    Before church this morning, we ran into Paola, and I asked her if we could come up to meet with she and her father about their family tree. She'll call us this afternoon, and we'll check to make sure we have all the information for their tree, and then I will paint the tree out as a sample of what the "albero di Mugnano" will look like as a prova. Afterward, it will be a gift of love to the family.

    Thirty-nine (!) seeds have begun to germinate, more than we can use, we think, but all is well on the indoor gardening front. We have not heard from Paola, but if we don't meet for another week or so, that is fine, too. I can move forward with what I have for now.

    After a nap, Enzo and Maria arrive for a Festaroli (village event committee, of which Dino is a member). Sofi and I keep out of the way and once it's over we return to spending a quiet evening.

    February 20
    Short ribs are on today's menu, and they're cooked for a couple of hours with a jar of our own tomatoes, over papardelle noodles. Tomorrow we'll have them again, and they'll taste even better, after melding together for 24 hours.

    Tonight is Coro practice, and all except Serena and Anna are in attendance. It only takes an hour; then I'm back with my best pals in front of an abundant fire in the fireplace. Yes, winter is long, but I'm a happy hermit here, cuddled in for a long winter's nap.

    February 21
    Under cloudy skies, we awake and get dressed. Only one piselli odorati (sweet pea) seed has germinated, but in the little portable tomato serra next to it, there are more than forty seeds that have germinated! In a week or so, I'll put the larger ones in individual pots; pots that can be planted right in the ground. At that time I'll separate any doubles.

    I've emailed Candace to tell her we'll have plants for them when they return in April. For how many tomatoes can two people eat? We don't put these heirlooms up in the summertime, finding that we can purchase excellent and ripe San Marzano tomatoes in a special nearby market then. These heirlooms are better for slicing and enjoying their luscious flavor and colors just as they are.

    It's a pedicure day with dear Giusy, and it's always wonderful to see her. She and I pick out a pavone (peacock) color, really a dark green, for my toenails, and she also gives me a coat of it on my fingernails. Come no? (Why not?) This is the last day of Carnevale, and it matches the colors in my wool cardigan. I will surely wear this skirt and sweaters tonight.

    Back at home, Sorella grande leans over her balcony and tells me that we'll all meet at the fountain tonight at 7:15 P M. Va bene.

    It's now mostly sunny, but I'm a bit wary of doing a lot of gardening today with my spiffy new nails. So I sit for a bit in the sun on the terrace with dear Sofi; afterward heat up lasagna that Dino purchased this morning and make a salad. Tomorrow I'll return to gardening with gusto, clipping back as many roses as I can, including the Lady Hillingdons on the front path.

    I hear birdsong all around me. Every once in a while, a small tractor or a three-wheeled ape zoom about. Otherwise, it's so tranquil here.

    As of this afternoon, there will be fifty-two (!) heirloom tomato plants...in only forty spaces!! So quite soon we'll transplant them into larger spaces; pots made of peat moss that can be sunk right into the ground. There is no change to the piselli odori (sweet pea) plants; perhaps they need a longer germinating time. No matter.

    Time for a nap and a bit of reading before leaving my two best pals for a girls' night out, Carnevale style, with the other members of the Mugnano Coro, the Bomarzo priest and perhaps Angela and Rafaele, the two music masters from Attigliano who help us during major religious festas.

    Dino and I have a conversation about the Fosci tree that I will paint, and we have a piece of wood for it, but until we meet with the family after church on Sunday, I won't begin it. I will also need to map out where each person is to be located and where and when the marriages to other Mugnano people are to be placed. It's a bit complicated, but fun.

    Serena picks me up for the cena at La Lanterna in Vitorchiano, along with Rosita and MarieAdelaide and my sorella grande, Rosina. The meal is more fun than I imagined. I have gained more understanding of the language, and my pals are helpful. There is a lot of laughter that I do not understand, but it's the nuances that I don't pick up. Like modo de dire (figures of speech), that are so common in this vernacular, try as I might I just don't fit in completely. I really need to spend more time with these women, just talking. It will come, or it will not. No need to fret. Living here is fun just the same.

    What strikes me most about these women is that they are forces of nature, telling me it's important to give my opinion, right or wrong. I think they must be a judgmental lot, although I love them as if they are family, and because it's important to me not to judge, I sit back quietly. When asked, I tell them "Sempre seguiro" (I'm always following). I think that's not the correct tense, but they understand, even if they don't agree. They often nod their heads.

    I'm home before midnight, but there is lots of chatter in the car. We all think we've been overcharged, so tomorrow during Coro practice (if there is one), we'll probably have a session full of arguments. Four people were not to pay, and that means eight of us paid for twelve people. Va bene. I ate very little, but was told I owed €31. We'll see what happens tomorrow. Did the two women who paid the bill eat for free? Was there some larceny in the collecting of money by one or two Coro members for our meals? I'll rely on the others to work it out...or not.

    Dino tells me that a friend who moved back to Australia always wanted to pick up the tab when a bunch of us went out to eat, for he told us he always made money at the end. Sigh. I roll my eyes, but will not judge, no matter the final outcome.

    Dino goes to bed, while I sit at the computer and research tapestry designs. Angela wore a lovely tapestry print jacket tonight, and I asked her if sometime I could take some photos of it, for I wanted to use the design as a template for hand painting on silk fabric. I will make her a hand painted silk scarf as a present. She likes the idea. It's possible I already have the designs I want to emulate at home in books, but download several designs from Al Gore's internet, just the same. It's after midnight, but for some reason I am not sleepy. Wonder what that means, or what will it mean tomorrow?

    February 22
    Lent has begun, and tonight there will be another Coro practice. But we have a busy morning dropping off cleaning in Vitorchiano, stopping at the doctor's office for prescriptions, taking Sofi to the vet for a rabies shot, to clip her nails and check her over. She's fine, we leave for OBI and pick up sheeting to use for the new wood house in the parcheggio, and Sofi snoozes in the car while we pick up a pollo arrosto at COOP.

    At home, she is dazed, has a warm nose and after a bit of pranzo, lies like a lump in my arms until I set her on the couch next to me. She follows me upstairs as I check in with you and move the pomodori plants to the little serra just inside the balcony. We picked up larger peat pots this morning in Viterbo, and it's already time to move the seedlings. Tomorrow will be a better day to do it, for in an hour we'll go to church for cenere (ashes). Sofi remains very lethargic, but I recall that's normal. What a sweet dog!

    There's Coro practice this afternoon, and I'm expecting fireworks. But neither Federica nor Giovanna are in church for the ashes, and I'm wondering if they are feeling guilty. On the way home with Dino by my side, Giovanna stands outside her house. There is no Coropractice, for I'm told Federica is nowhere around.

    Sofi rests on the couch next to me for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Perhaps it's best if what I give up for lent is any hint of judging others, although I try to practice it each day. Life is so much sweeter this way; yes it truly is.

    February 23
    This morning, we're greeted by fifty-eight tiny seedlings on the windowsill, some pushing the top of the little serra box. But there are still no more flowers in the nearby set of pots.

    Sofi is a bit quiet still, but appears more awake.

    Silvia arrives with tiny Lisa, a three-year old canikin (miniature) of Sofi, who is a nano (small). She has given birth to five babies, who are at home, but she's fine let around the terrace as Sofi goes through the stress of having her hair stripped, done by a kind and gentle Silvia. Sofi is probably a bit lethargic, due to yesterday's injection, but looks much better. In this photo, Sofia is in the foreground and little Lisa is in the background.

    This is a great opportunity for me to do the first clipping of the Lady Hillingdon roses on the front path. After a couple of hours of clipping the five plants on this lovely warm day, I am just exhausted. Meanwhile, Dino finishes the top of the roof of the wood storage unit, one that Luigina describes as "Spettacolo!" Dino asks her if she wants to see it when she walks down Via Mameli past our house to feed her chicks. She is such a sweet lady.

    I have yet to make more of the biologic growing medium for the plants, but will try to, and to repot them, this afternoon. I'm not for pushing myself these days, for it's just not necessary. I do, however, keep my mantra in mind of not judging others, and the thought sits right in my consciousness as I meander through the day, as if an angel sits on my shoulder and flaps her wings a bit each time I behave in an especially kind and sincere way.

    Dino shows me where a box of the special discs of potting medium is located, and while Sofi enjoys the sun after pranzo, I soak the discs in just a bit of hot water until they almost miraculously turn into a soil-less soil mix.

    Not realizing I should do this next part in the shade, I take some of the new pots made of peat moss and transplant a tiny leaflet from any squares with two germinating seeds and arrange them properly in their new homes; homes that will remain so until they are planted right in the ground, as they are.

    What results is sixty-two (!) seedlings, each in their own pot or in one of the original sections of the little serrawith its own plastic top, to keep moisture inside. I mark the number two times on each pot of those transplanted into their own containers. If I don't have a lapse of memory, I'll be able to inventory and control how many of each plant we're growing. So when we give some away, we'll know which ones, not to mention the sequence in which we'll plant the ones we keep here. No, Dino, we'll be keeping more than one dozen. You'll be happy later about this; I'm really sure.

    We take a nap and Dino gets a call from a friend who wants him to do a project for him, so he leaves and tells me he'll be an hour...or so. No matter. I pick Sofi up and put her on the bed (Dino hates this, sorry dear one). While she sleeps atop the covers by my side, I read a book and watch the sun descend outside the West window.

    We get up from our naps and the seedlings are just fine; the possibly fragile ones have been sitting under the light in the serra next to the balcony doors and now reach up toward the light. All is well.

    February 24
    Lots of sun greets us, as well as the 62 tiny plants in the serra. Sofi is a bit lethargic, but as the morning wears on she gathers steam, able to do her "monologue" while resting her backside atop a partially deflated soccer ball.

    We try to view the Best of Show at Westminster Kennel Club 2012, but the video is not ready. We do see Cinders winning best of Hound breed; it is a wirehaired dachshund, like Sofi, although is not a mini, which is what Sofi is. She's very sweet these past days; perhaps it has something to do with her grand new look.

    I want to pick up some more primroses, for they are solid and strong and look beautiful in the planter hung against the house. Recently, they're at €0,50 (fifty euro cents) apiece, so let's pick up more until the herbs are ready to be put in the pots near the front door. Come no?

    Dino is back to painting the hallway, which pleases me a lot, and of course I get involved with the lower parts of the walls and the detail work on the wainscoting. Perhaps he wants to be finished before we have a visit from a Norwegian couple who come to their nearby house several times a year. Good idea!

    We drive off for errands and pick up several primroses, but they are all that's left at the market. We will continue to look for more. Primroses are our focus outside until late April, when most of the garden comes to life.

    The post office is too busy to wait to pay a bill. We like the ability to pay many bills at the post office, but I can't remember if one can do that in the U S. Am I that out of touch with what goes on in the land of our births?

    I do a bit of gardening, working on a rose that grows on the wall of the cave but it's time for pranzo so ciao for now...

    On the way home, we see a wonderful shirt (of Antonio's?) hanging as a scarecrow on a pole at Giuseppa's garden. Wonder if it is a deterrent?

    February 25
    There's plenty of gardening on the terrace to do, and many roses to continue to clip. But this morning we're expecting a couple to visit on the way to the airport, and I make a lemon breakfast cake to serve them. But back to the garden...

    Although we've used eggshells in the garden for years after rinsing them out to deter slugs and snails from gliding across them (ouch!), we've just learned to add crushed eggshells to the bottom of planting holes, especially for tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. These plants are susceptible to blossom end rot (don't we know that!), caused by calcium deficiency.

    Although it's most often caused by improper watering, it's good to make sure these plants have an ongoing amount of calcium, for when the shell break down, they nourish the soil, thereby nourishing the plants. What a great idea!

    A funny but true fact is that you can start your seedlings using eggshells themselves as pots! Imagine eating a boiled egg after slicing the top of the shell off; then eating the rest. What's left is a perfect container. Then you can plant the seedlings, inside their little pots, right in the garden.

    One thing to remember from all this: Just as it's a bad idea to learn the Italian language from another straniero (non-Italian), don't use my musings as the gospel in the garden. Just take what you want, and blow the rest away with a kiss.

    Today is one of those memorable late winter days; one that reminds us how lovely this place is when even a little sun appears in the sky. Everything seems so fresh and new, and even a little time spent on the terrace raking leaves makes my heart sing.

    Our dear guests arrive for an hour or so, and we do wish they would spend more time here. They are very dear people, gentle and kind and loving; what more could one ask of a friend?

    Dino has an idea for a water storage tank behind the house. He tells me it will hold 1,000 liters of water and will also add water pressure; something we could use. On those summer days when there is no water, we'll have it right by our side. It's time for Dino to do his exceptional research. Sofi and I can just watch him in awe.

    After pranzo I want to spend the next warm hours outside, but better take a nap; we're not as young as we used to be, and it will give us an extra spurt of energy later.

    February 26
    A foggy day, in our little town...or at least that's how it begins. We walk up to church, with Sofi no longer in her gabbia (cage), for she remains on the sofa, waiting for our return. I always hated to see her locked up when we went out. Now she is a mature doggie, and it's not necessary. Finalmente!

    After mass, Dino does a giro (walk around the village) to collect for the Festaroli committee, of which he is a part. I walk with Nonna Candida to her house, the Fosci house, where Pepe and Paola and I sit with Nonna by the fireplace and they make additions to our copies of their family tree. This is the tree I will paint as an example of the giant set of quadros (canvases) with the family trees of the major families of the village.

    What's wonderful about this one, is that it will be a gift to the Fosci family after I present it to the Ecomuseo folks, for they will be paying for the supplies and I will do all the work. Well, I'm hoping the final set of canvases will be adorned with lights. Paola tells me that her brother, Mario, will help to make this a reality. The project will be complicated but fun. Speriamo.

    I ask about Fulvia, who is married to Mario and is expecting their first baby very soon. It is already four kilograms (about ten pounds) and they are sure it will be a boy. His name will be Alessio. Nonna Candida laughs that then she will be "Supernonna", not bisnonna (great grandmother). Ha!

    Pepe drives me home, and before we leave the house, we laugh with Paola that our being together will give the villagers an opportunity to gossip about us; it's as if they will decide that we are having an affair. "Come no?" we laugh, as I take his arm and he leads me to his car. Just to make sure, we kiss each other on the cheek as I leave the car when we reach our house.

    Back at home, Sofi greets me with her customary fare una festa (the dog makes a party when seeing its owner). Yes, life here is a festa.

    Dino arrives home a bit later, and it's time to make the pepperoni e salsicce (peppers and sausages) in a red sauce to have over pasta. We eat it for pranzo with small bowls of homemade applesauce instead of over pasta, for tomorrow I might make a pasta to bake with all the other ingredients. Yum.

    I read that sweet pea seeds germinate from 10 to 28 days, but so far only one has found its way to the top of the soil. What to do? They were planted earlier this month. Let's look back and find out when. February 17th was the day they were planted, to be exact. So let's be a bit patient and keep the soil moist.

    February 27
    Last night we taped the Academy Awards, and watched them this morning, enjoying the show but not knowing much about any of the films. We'll probably see them, or most of them, through SKY TV, our satellite subscription service.

    There's nothing new in the plant department, other than to say the first piselli odorati shoot has experienced some kind of trauma. It's the only seed that has germinated, and it germinated right away, so perhaps it is another seed, just in the packet by mistake. We'll see. I'm thinking of dumping all the earth and seeds in the center of a planter or two in another month or so. They'll either come up or they won't. Not to worry.

    I work a little on the terrace, while Sofi conducts her monologue. If you don't recall, there is a partially deflated soccer ball that she loves to ride as she calls out to me to make sure I am watching her, and it seems to massage her backside. So I call it her monologue, reminiscent of the name of the play (please don't be offended), "The Vagina Monologue". Sorry.

    I fix another pasta dish for pranzo; this time with sausages, pepperoni, mushrooms, and the basil cubes that have been resting in the freezer for just such a use. I use four in the sauce with a jar of our tomatoes from the larder, and Dino thinks I should use fewer cubes, but I love the decided flavor of the basil, so it's fine with me.

    Dino wants to change the angle of the wainscoting from the mezzanine to the top floor, so there is a fair amount of measuring and sawing and testing and gluing to be done. I'm looking forward to being finished with this project, but am not sure if or which things will then be hung on the wall.

    While I'm dreaming, I watch a show in Italian about castles in Italy, and what I see in many of the frescoes is a leaf treatment that I particularly like. It's not the leaf treatment of the cedro (Cedar) tree, of which we have several in Mugnano. But it is that of characteristic frescoes, including family trees of important Italian families.

    Because an artist almost always gets to fashion a unique and personal perspective in a painting they create, I'm about to make a change in the leaf design on the big Mugnano triptych. I think it will result in a prettier design, and the trees will not be cedro, but something more characteristic of paintings done centuries ago, and prettier. What's strange and wonderful is that it's similar to the leaf design I love that appears in the fabric of six dining room chairs here.

    You'll see when I finish the Fosci family tree. Hopefully I'll begin drawing it shortly. It depends on information to come back from Paola any day. If the final work for the village turns out wonderfully, perhaps I'll do something similar on the staircase walls. Wait for at least a year to learn about that...

    February 28
    I know you know that it's leap year, so there will be another day tomorrow before this month comes to an end. Is it possible that a leap year day portends something worth remembering?

    We drive to Viterbo this AM for some shopping. When we arrive back in Mugnano, we find a dear little rabbit waiting for us at the side of our road - just across from our gate.

    She (?) follows us into our parking area and before we know it she hops up 12 stairs to our front garden! Dino picks her up and gently lowers her into the field across from our parcheggio. We haven't seen her since, but name her Celeste, just in case. I admit a part of me would love having her for a pet and a playmate for Sofi. We'll see if she returns and figure out that then.

    I do a bit of garden weeding and can really feel it in my back, to the point that after telling Dino I have not had a migraine in a very long time, one creeps up my back to my shoulders, then my neck and grabs hold of my head as though there are pincers holding tight. Sigh.

    I watch TV with Dino and Sofi and turn in early, after taking a migraine cocktail of medicine. The night is quite wild dream-wise...

    February 29
    Dino rises early and leaves for a meeting with a muratore (contractor or stonemason) for friends who are here part time, but returns back before Sofi and I are out of bed.

    On this leapyear day, I garden a bit again, but would rather stay in the shade. A bit groggy from last night's medicine, there's not much to report.

    Dino puts up more wainscoting, and he and I agree on a few details. He wants me to paint the doors a taupe color, with the other colors recently painted in the wainscoting as color details. At first, I think the taupe is too dark; after thinking about it a while, I love the idea. Piano, piano (slowly, slowly). There's no reason to rush. Might as well take a nap while you read a bit of Italian news courtesy of ANSA to end the month. zzzzzzzzz

    Calabrian health officials 'skimmed 20 mln euros' - 30 officials defrauded State, police say
    (ANSA) - Reggio Calabria, February 29 -
    Health officials in the southern Italian region of Calabria siphoned off some 20 million euros of public funds for personal gain between 2007 and 2010, police said Wednesday.

    Police said the 30 officials could face charges of defrauding the Italian State.

    Italy not out of debt crisis yet, warns govt. -'Still risk of contagion' says junior economy minister

    (ANSA) - Rome, February 29 -
    Italy might be on the right track but it is not out of the debt crisis yet, Junior Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli warned on Wednesday.

    "There's always the risk of contagion (from other countries caught up in the eurozone crisis)," Grilli told Sky television.

    "Our situation has improved. We have given a strong signal of change, but we haven't finished and it is necessary to implement (the measures). "The situation is fragile".

    Premier Mario Monti's emergency government of technocrats passed a 30-billion-euro austerity package of spending cuts and tax increases in December to restore market confidence and put the country on track to balance the national budget by 2013. It is now trying to push a series of structural economic reforms through parliament.

    ANSA.it > ANSA English > News

    Yacht, horses among assets seized from Neapolitan mafia

    Camorra clan hit in eight different regions
    (ANSA) - Florence, February 29 -
    A luxury yacht and 17 horses were among 41-million-euros worth of assets police seized from a clan of the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, in a big operation on Wednesday.

    The assets were seized in eight different regions - Campania, Tuscany, Basilicata, Lazio, Sicily, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Umbria - from the Terracciano clan, a sign that it has expanded beyond its base in Naples.

    Wednesday's operation involving around 200 officers stemmed from an investigation by Florence police, who believe the clan is highly active in loan sharking and prostitution in the Tuscan provinces of Florence and Prato. The police also seized 44 companies, 31 properties, 31 vehicles and two safes.

    ANSA.it > ANSA English > News
    Ferretti, Lo Schiavo win Oscar 'for Italy'

    Pair take Art Direction Academy Award for Scorsese's Hugo
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 27 -
    Francesca Lo Schiavo devoted her third Oscar "to Italy" after winning the Best Art Direction Academy Award with her husband Dante Ferretti on Sunday for their work on Martin Scorsese's Hugo.

    "This is for Italy," Lo Schiavo said in her speech to accept the award for the duo's contribution to Scorsese's 3D picture about an orphan boy who loves working with clocks.

    It is Lo Schiavo and Ferretti's third Oscar after they won in 2005 for The Aviator, another Scorsese movie, and three years later for Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd.

    "I'm Italian, Italy is the country I belong to, where I grew up, so it was natural for me to thank and salute my homeland once I was on the stage as well as Martin (Scorsese)," Lo Schiavo told ANSA when asked about the dedication.

    "The most beautiful of the three Oscars in undoubtedly that last one. Actually, no it's not. It's the fourth one, the one that hasn't come yet".

    Berlusconi blasts prosecutors after Mills case timed out
    Former premier says he has 'nothing to repent'
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 27 -
    Former premier Silvio Berlusconi has reiterated allegations that he is being persecuted by leftwing prosecutors after accusations he bribed British tax lawyer David Mills were timed out at the weekend.

    Milan prosecutors had requested that Berlusconi receive a five-year prison term for allegedly paying Mills $600,000 to hush up evidence in two of the ex-premier's previous trials.

    But judges ruled on Saturday that they could not hand down a sentence in the trial because the statute of limitations had elapsed on any eventual wrongdoing.

    Media-magnate-turned-politician Berlusconi has consistently maintained his innocence in this case and a series of other trials, saying he is being targeted by politically motivated judges.

    "I have nothing to repent," Berlusconi, who resigned as premier in November with Italy's debt crisis in danger of spiralling out of control, said in an interview published Monday by daily newspaper Corriere del Ticino.

    "My persecutors should be ashamed of themselves. Since I started out in politics they have never stopped making up trials based only only calumny. "(It is) a media-judicial mud-slinging machine, a campaign of defamation on an international scale that has still not stopped.

    "On the contrary, since I resigned from the government, the judicial attacks on me have increased".

    Some of Berlusconi's political opponents said that if he wants to prove his innocence he should renounce having the case timed out and keep fighting the accusations.

    Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, who was a close ally of Berlusconi's before the government collapsed last year, said on Sunday that the fact the case had been timed out left "a bad impression" even though Berlusconi "may not have done anything". The former premier is also on trial in three other cases.

    One regards allegations he paid for sex with an underage prostitute and used his power to try to cover it up, another concerns accusations of fraud at his media empire and the third regards alleged involvement in the publication of an illegally obtained wiretap.

    He could also face another trial after Rome prosecutors requested this month that he be indicted along with 11 other people for alleged fraud at a subsidiary of his Mediaset broadcasting empire - Mediatrade.

    In more than a dozen past cases, the premier has never received a definitive conviction, sometimes because of law changes passed by his governments, while some other charges were timed out by the statute of limitations.

    Fuel costs flaring in Italy
    Unleaded 1.82, diesel 1.76 per liter
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 24 -
    Fuel costs are soaring in Italy as high as 1.82 euros per liter for unleaded and 1.76 for diesel, trade daily Staffetta Quotidiana said Friday. The cost of unleaded gas is rising by an average of 4.9% every month, according to national statistics agency ISTAT. Petrol costs spiked in January, up 17.4% on the year from 15.8% in December.

    Diesel costs are skyrocketing, up 25.2% over the year, the highest rise since July 2008.

    Fiat must reinstate fired workers, court rules -
    Automaker to appeal to Supreme Court
    (ANSA) - Potenza, February 23 -
    An appeals court in Potenza ordered Italian automaker Fiat on Thursday to reinstate three employees fired in 2010 for allegedly preventing non-striking workers from doing their jobs at Melfi in Southern Italy.

    "Fiat considers their conduct unacceptable," the company said, vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court. "We will continue our efforts to prevent the recurrence of such conduct". The three men involved, Giovanni Barozzino, Antonio Lamorte and Marco Pignatelli, are representatives of the FIOM union, which has resisted Fiat's campaign to revamp working practices in Italy to boost productivity.

    Fiat had said the men could only be on its premises if they stayed in a room away from the production lines and limited their activities to union business.

    The trio, whose salaries were being paid during the dispute, refused, saying they wanted to ''earn our bread like every family man does and not be paid for not working''.

    They were fired after they allegedly blocked a robot arm supplying production lines, forcing 1,750 Melfi workers to down tools.

    The incident came during a strike by 50 workers against planned cutbacks and longer hours.

    Fiat denies union claims it has violated Italian labor law.

    Shorter divorce rules OK'd by House committee
    Separation cut from three years to one, panel recommends
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 23 -
    The House justice committee on Thursday approved shortening the length of time Italian couples have to be separated before being able to get divorced.

    The committee recommended pre-divorce separation be cut from three years to one, or two where underage children are involved.

    The move was hailed by divorce lobbies who have long argued the separation period was too long.

    Scientists to rerun speed-of-light experiment in May
    Neutrino research may be flawed because of instrument problems
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 23 -
    The experiment that stunned the science world last year when it seemed to show particles could travel faster than the speed of light will be rerun in May after experts admitted the original research could be flawed.

    Scientists have said there were two "anomalies" in the instrumentation used to measure the speed of neutrino particles travelling from the CERN laboratory in Geneva and the Gran Sasso underground particle physics laboratory in central Italian region of Abruzzo.

    "New measurements with short-pulsed beams are scheduled for May," CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said in a statement.

    Physicists have said the anomalies do not necessarily invalidate the original findings, which called into question a central thesis of Albert Einstein's 1905 theory of special relativity which says that nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light.

    Case stiffens against Costa captain who left ship
    Schettino now also suspected of failure to communicate properly
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 23 -
    The case against Francesco Schettino, the commander who left the Costa Concordia cruise liner before many of his passengers on the night of the January 13 disaster, has stiffened with prosecutors adding another crime to the list of offenses he is suspected of.

    Judicial sources said on Thursday that Schettino had been informed on Wednesday that he was under investigation for failing to communicate properly with the maritime authorities.

    Schettino was already being probed for multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship and adandoning those in need of help.

    On Wednesday prosecutors put seven more people - four ship officials and three other Costa Cruises employees - under investigation for suspected crimes linked to the disaster, in addition to Schettino and his deputy Ciro Ambrosio. ANSA sources said the land employees were Costa Cruises Vice President Manfred Ursprunger, the head of the company's crisis unit Roberto Ferrarini and fleet superintendent Paolo Parodi.

    On Wednesday divers found eight more bodies in the half-sunken ship, taking the number of confirmed dead up to 25, with seven passengers still unaccounted for.

    On Thursday divers resumed efforts to recover four of those bodies, which they were unable to pull of the wreck after spotting them on Wednesday.

    The body of five-year-old Dayana Arlotti was among those found on Wednesday. She was on holiday with her father, whose body has not yet been found.

    ANSA English News
    Provocative bartender causes a stir.
    Enthusiastic male clients causing havoc.
    (ANSA) - Milan, February 22 -
    Well-known for her sexy attire, a 34-year-old bar owner in the town of Bagnolo Mella near Milan could face early closings imposed by town authorities due to disorder caused by clients arriving en masse nightly.

    Male clients from up to 100 kilometers away frequent the bar "to have drinks and to see me," said the bar owner Laura Maggi. Police report frequent complaints of poorly parked vehicles and vandalism in front of the establishment.

    "It is not the bar owner's fault. The men are the ones with the weakness," said Bagnolo Mella mayor Cristina Almici, who admits that she would not allow her husband to frequent the venue. Opening hours, presently until 8.30 pm weekdays and 1 am Fridays, risk being reduced.

    "I never expected anything like this," Maggi told ANSA, whose Facebook page has 13,000 followers and features photos of her topless on a beach, dressed as sexy Santa and wearing only a bra behind her bar.

    Ship seized off Somalia coast not forgotten
    'Italians must return home', says Terzi
    (ANSA) - Roma, February 22 -
    Efforts for the release of crew members on the Italian oil tanker Enrico Ievoli being held off the coast of Somalia by pirates since December 27 "have not ceased," Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi told the Senate on Wednesday.

    "Quiet negotiations should not be mistaken for distraction," said Terzi. Terzi spoke to a Senate committee about the pirate-seized oil tanker and diplomatic efforts towards the release of two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen last week.

    It is "imperative" that the marines held in India and the sailors aboard the Ievoli return home soon, said Terzi.

    Piece falls off Temple of Jupiter in Pompeii.
    Yard-long plaster chunk detached, frescoes not damaged.
    (ANSA) - Rome, February 22 -
    A yard-long piece of plaster fell off the ancient Temple of Jupiter in Pompeii on Wednesday, the archaeological superintendency said. The portion broke off from the external face of the east wall of the cell of the temple in an area without frescoes.

    Supervisors at the site said they had already collected the fragments and would reattach them on site. In late December a pillar collapsed in the garden of the House of Loreius Tiburtinus, famous for its extensive gardens and outdoor ornamentation, in particular its Euripi, fountains that feature many frescoes and statuettes.

    At the end of November the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO and the Italian government agreed to join forces to restore rain-damaged Pompeii after several recent collapses.

    UNESCO said it would work with Italy over a nine-month period to rebuild villas and other parts of the famed Roman site that have collapsed over the last year.

    Under the deal, UNESCO said it would provide expert advice to the Italian government on how to upgrade conservation.

    In November 2010 there was a collapse in the House of the Gladiators which drew criticism from UNESCO and the European Union.

    It was followed soon after by a collapse at the famed House of the Moralist, spurring further criticism from international conservation groups.

    In October there were another three minor cave-ins, including one at the House of Diomedes, after a fresh bout of heavy rain and an outcry when an eight-square meter section of a wall fell near the Nola Gate.

    Pompeii was destroyed when a volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Vesuvius buried the city in ash in 79 AD and it now attracts more than two million visitors a year.

    Polemics about looting, stray dogs, structural decay and poor maintenance have dogged Pompeii in recent years.

    March 1
    With sun streaming into the bedroom from the southeast, I walk to the window. Reaching up to open the window, the day is so lovely it just takes my breath away! Then, breathing in while raising my arms to the heavens, I smell the sweet fragrance of greenery and flowers on this dewy morning, hearing countless different birdsongs telling me the little ones have been awake for hours. Let's not waste a minute more of it!

    This morning Dino and I continue to work on the wainscoting in the hallway. He purchased yet another tool, a band saw, and uses it to cut angles of the various pieces of wainscoting. Afterward, the pieces are glued to the walls; then wood putty added at the joints. I'll repaint any detail by hand. We take our time with it. The result is quite over the top and perhaps silly, but I love it, dreaming we're living in an ancient palazzo as we go about our days. Well, why not, if life here is a dream?

    March 2
    Joan called last night to invite us to cena tonight, and we're sure it will be fun. This morning after working for a couple of hours on the wood, I paint another coat of darker pink on the bottom walls, while Sofi languishes outside and Dino drives off for appointments and errands. Birdsong, ever birdsong, serenades us, but there is no sign of little bunny Celeste. Perhaps it is for the best. I do hope she is well and happy.

    I have no idea where we purchased our bulbs, or when, but located just before the steps to the hydrangea plants, a dozen or so tiny dark blue iris have popped up. Take a look!

    I really should resurrect the garden book that I once used to add particular information regarding: things to plant, when they were planted, the results, and other details. It's around here...somewhere.

    After fixing and eating pranzo, I leave Dino to watch a tv program while Sofi and I meander about outside. There is a lot to be done, just to clean up from the winter, so bit by bit, day by day, we taken on an area or so, mostly pulling weeds, of which there are many, and then some.

    There is still plenty of painting to be done in the hallway, including the ceilings, but for me it's time I settle down on the design of the Fosci family tree, as an example of how the larger painting project will be done for the village.

    Before I know it, it's time to leave, so the three of us drive to our friends' lovely house outside Montecchio, where we come upon friends and neighbors named Blanche and Bruno, and of course, our hosts. Joan is just an angel, refraining from complaining and doing all the little things to make the evening such a wonderful one. Patrick, ever the ebullient host, keeps our glasses filled to the point that I'm a bit bleary eyed when we reach home.

    Everyone seemed to love Sofi, who gamboled around the house joyfully, although she probably thought if she sat under our feet each one would feed her some of our delicious treats. Smartly, no one did (except for me, just a smidgin, and that at the end). Oh, sure, I can hear you saying.

    The host couple lives mostly in Ireland, and has had a somewhat trying time of it with their property here. Most of our other foreign friends here have felt the various Italian bureaucratic challenges to be surmountable. Our prayers go out to Patrick and Joan for easier lives here in the future, and Dino will do all he can to help whenever he is asked.

    March 3
    On this really lovely and clear day, we drive to Viterbo after gassing up the car with metano and pick up Gesso di Bologna at KLIMT, our favorite local art store. We're told the Fosci painting, and the much larger one for the village, can be done on lightweight plywood after applying a few coats of this gesso. Dino tells me we have the right wood at home, and the next step is to locate it and have a frame made behind it before applying the gesso and beginning the painting in oils.

    We pick up food for pranzo and return home while it's still lovely outside. I'd like to eat outside, but Dino would rather not. So after pranzo, Sofi and I stand at the bedroom side window guiding Dino as he cuts a few limbs from the giant nespola (loquat) tree just outside; they hide his view from the bed.

    I'm back to the tree project, while Dino naps. I take a look at the Fosci family tree and design the look of the tree, waiting for Dino to find the proper piece of wood to use to paint upon.

    It's difficult not to be distracted by our spring trip to Languedoc, France, and everything I read about it looks great. But back to the project at hand...well, perhaps not.

    Skies clear, and with laundry hanging outside on a drying rack, I rake a bit on the terrace and it's time for reading and a nap.

    As the skies grow dim, I transplant four more pomodori (tomato) seedlings, and all is well.

    March 4
    It's Sunday again. We drive up to church for a mass with Don Daniele and a young man who is beginning his divinity work, who stands beside and assists him. In addition is a piligrimaggio of young people from Bomarzo, and the priest's homily is directed mostly to them. It's quite sweet.

    Afterward is the usual Sunday drive to shop and have caffé and sweets. I pass on the sweets, wanting to stick to a macchiato (espresso with a stain of foam).

    The rest of the day is spent at home, weeding, gardening, refreshing the little pots in the serra inside the balcony doors and doing a little reading. Wind and clouds appear south of Orte, and Dino and I walk around the property to secure everything for a potential thunderstorm. But nothing much happens. It's a good day.

    In the afternoon, there is a ring on the bell, and Roberto the Carabiniero arrives to tell Dino he is to appear at the Questura to have his fingerprints taken, either tomorrow or Tuesday. Then he can pickup his Italian passport.

    There's no word on mine, but he tells me that if it is up to him, I would have it, after remarking with a big smile that Dino is good and I am cattiva (bad)! Perhaps Dino will ask at the Questura tomorrow, when we go. I'll be sure to have all my documents at hand.

    This citizenship process has been a real drag for me. At first, we thought we'd have a big party for everyone in the village to celebrate. Now I just want the process completed. It has been three years and counting and there's still no word.

    On a happier note for him, my brother and Marti will celebrate their third wedding anniversary tomorrow (if my dates are correct). I wish them well, and with the magic of email cards, it's not difficult.

    Sofi and I gambol about the middle garden, and there are lots more tiny iris flowers.

    How about more photos? No, per Dino; we have plenty. Try to use your imagination...

    March 5
    Dino drives to Viterbo to pick up his Italian passport (now he'll have two!) under colorless skies, while Sofi wants to stay in her bed, her stomach gurgling. I take her out and she gets sick; then wants to stay in my arms. She's happier upstairs, but faces against the wall. Surely something must be wrong. It's heartbreaking.

    My heirloom tomato seed project continues successfully upstairs, with some seedlings showing two sets of leaves and reaching almost eight inches tall! Even the smallest ones seem happy, encouraged by at least twelve hours of sun or added light each day. I've marked numbers on the sides of the pots to indicate the variety of tomato inside each one, so that when they are planted in the ground they will be planted by variety, not that it really matters.

    March 6
    The weather is warm, and more tulip leaves appear in various parts of the garden. I really need to dig out that garden journal book!

    While I'm at it, it's time to clean out the bookshelf in our bedroom, so let's organize it by author. Seems we have many we will never read again, so I set those aside for Dino to peruse and organize them on the bed alphabetically.

    We'll take the ones we no longer want to a book swap or to friends who have two rental units for their guests. I need a little help on the top shelf to clean it out before returning the books, this time in order, so lets see if I can find a stepladder. The fact that I'm allergic to dust is ignored for now.

    Dino helps me after pranzo, and the project is a good one to have finished. We did note that there were a number of books we'd like to read again.

    There is no news about my citizenship, but at the office in Viterbo where Dino checked, he was told to be patient; all seems to be going well. His fingerprints taken, his passport is ready. There is no word about mine. Sigh.

    Sofi is not feeling much better, but at least she can walk around and follow me while I pull some weeds, helped marvelously by the long weeder that Dino purchased for me last week.

    March 7
    Little Sofi is back to full strength, and a mostly sunny sky helps her to want to frolic outside.

    I weed for a while, and thanks to Dino's new tall weeder, I can weed while standing straight up. What a wonderful tool! I make a pork loin roast for pranzo, of course served with my homemade applesauce. We can't wait to return outside, but do want a bit of a nap.

    I continue to research Languedoc market towns for our trip later in the spring. The tastes and sights in Languedoc are a treat, and we so enjoy our trips spent visiting special outdoor markets all over the area and returning to our rental to enjoy the bounty, especially the wine.

    Let's not get carried away...living here in little Mugnano is a dream, especially enjoying the things grown in our own garden. There will be lots of our heirloom tomatoes to feast on this summer, so don't expect us to wander far from home then.

    Glicine (wisteria) now covers the entire front of the bottom floor of the house in spring and summer and fall; that helps to keep the hot sun at bay then, especially since we face south/southwest.

    March 8
    It's International Women's Day, and in celebration, Maria rings the bell and presents me with a bouquet of mimosa flowers on their stems. How dear of her! She walks into the garden and we talk a bit. She asks me if I am happy and I tell her I am, and that I am a dreamer, so this place is paradise for us. She tells me the word is a sognatrice and so yes, that is what I am. What a marvelous way to be described!

    But first, Sofi and I do a passeggiatta around the Mugnano loop, and although I have a camera, somehow its setting is wrong, and I can't fix it. So you'll have to take my word for it. Go ahead. Be a sognatrice and imagine it!

    This is the first time in memory that I don't feel the stress walking uphill, so let's try to do it at least once a day if we can. If not, va bene; let's not worry about it.

    Spring is in the air. Under a cloudless sky, Sofi scampers down the hill and around the loop, and we greet neighbors in their campos. We see Peppe's ape(three wheeled tiny truck with an open back) parked, and he's helping Silvano to cut down a few trees. Oh, how a camera could capture the event, with Peppe holding onto a rope and pulling, while Silvano stands above him, up on a knoll, sawing the trunk.

    But just then, Peppe stops when he sees Sofi, his little pal, and there is time for a lovely embrace before he returns to help Silvano. We're off again with a wave, and come across Cesar's mother, who is facing us and doing a walk in the opposite direction. She's lovely.

    All is mellow as we round the steep bend, and at the straightaway there is Nando walking toward us and then, at the bus stop, my two "sisters", Sorella Grande (Rosina) and Sorella Piccola (Anna), slowly exit a car. Rosina has taken Anna for some medical treatment, for she is still walking very slowly after a fall. After kisses all around, Rosina helps Anna walk home.

    After a hello to Luigina outside her front door, we watch Dino slowly exit the parcheggio, and greet him as he leaves. He's back in an hour or so, but not before Sofi and I walk around the terrace and the garden to look at tulip leaves popping up and a few anemone flowers. The large peony bush in a pot shows signs of growth. Could there be a lovelier time of year than spring?

    Oh. I can't remember which tulips were planted where. Is there a map somewhere or do we just wait until we see them? It's never too late to begin the garden journal...

    Inside I finish the chart of Languedoc markets in the Aude and Herault, and it's quite elaborate, yet easy to understand. Now if we only knew which specific places we'd like to visit in this part of France, although we love them all.

    I find the invoice for the bulbs, so know that we have parrot tulips, muscari and ranunculus as well as tiny iris. We've seen the tiny iris, but what about the larger iris? We've had iris for years, but will they bloom this year? If not, we'll surely divide them this summer. Let's make a calendar note, dear Dino.

    We talk about installing a large water tank at the back of the house, to increase water pressure and to be used in the summertime when water is occasionally scarce here. Dino has spoken with Enzo, our hydraulico (plumber), and he'll stop by to discuss it with us soon.

    Have you ever been stung by a "stinging nettle"? Yikes! Nettles grow in our garden, for they are weeds, and when I am weed pulling I sometimes put my hand on one without realizing it. That happened this morning, and the sting was quite strong and lasted about an hour. I hear nettles make great soup, but no thanks.

    March 9
    Oh, how marvelous the day reveals itself before us!

    Sofi and I take a giro (walk around) the loop below the house, and I am sorry I do not have the camera. There is so much to see. Perhaps I will return tomorrow with Sofi and the camera and show you then.

    On our walk, I have a feeling in my chest as if I have breathed in a magical perfume. I so love this little village and its people; in almost every case, at least someone in the household has a Mugnano heritage in their family going back several generations or more. I think I love it most because the neighbors love it so and because there are very few non-Italians; those that have places here also have a reverence for the authenticity of the place.

    Gianfranco now has Felice's orto (kitchen garden), and as I walk by it there is a door open to the left of the road and inside a splendid lemon tree, bearing hundreds of lemons, bathing in the morning sun. He stands nearby and walks up to us, telling me that he'll take the tree out at the first of April, unless there is frost.

    It seems a bit early to me to take his tree out, but what do I know? Our lemon tree is sheltered in a white nursery cloth right out in the open, and when it is unveiled sometime in April it will probably be nothing to be proud of.

    We miss Felice so; if he were still alive he would counsel us on the lemon tree; and many other things. Now we must fend for ourselves, relying on neighbors or the internet for counsel. We hope we are learning and yes, it is an adventure here for us, to be sure.

    We have wondered for years about Gianfranco's dogs; have they been caged, and is that why they bark so much? I ask him if his dogs are caged, and he tells me no, that there are three of them and they are fenced and allowed to run in the space. I know that they are hunting dogs, but don't know if he hunts. That's a mystery to be revealed some other time. I have never seen them.

    I pick up a few lovely wild flowers, which Maria tells me are the fiori di broccoletti . When we reach Anna's house, I see an open window and call out to her to ask how she is. She and Maria come to the door and invite us in. We enter for a minute or two, with Sofi in my arms. Sofi lies there like a rag doll, bored but putting up with this pause in our walking adventure.

    It's customary to offer caffé to anyone who comes to visit, but I decline and soon we are on our way again.

    There is a joyous-ness here in this village, perhaps captured best by Luigina. This morning, when I ask her how she is, she answers, "Va bene, grazie; per il grazio di Dio" (Well, thank you, by the grace of God).

    Back at home, we find Dino in the middle garden, cutting the shoots of the fruit trees he's pruned recently. He's an organized guy, and has a rectangular green plastic lug, one used by farmers in their ortos, into which he places precisely cut pieces inside, to be used later as fire starters.

    Sofi jumps up for a kiss when I'm checking in with you, and has plenty of burs in her little beard, which need to come out. I gently take out what I can, and use a special comb later. It's no wonder...she sticks her nose into anything she finds interesting and smells good to her on our walks.

    It's time for more gardening, more weeding. There are more lucertole (lizards), but none that Sofi sees...yet. She loves to chase them.

    March 10
    Two giros in a row...perhaps Sofi and I are into a good thing, walking the loop below our house each morning.

    I take the camera with me, but Gianfranco's lemon tree is closed up behind an old set of doors. Sorry...perhaps we'll take a picture tomorrow or on Monday. Otherwise all is lovely, including the worn down and old little stone buildings on the stradabianca (white road).

    Our tomato seedlings look great; I'm hoping that when we're gone for a couple of weeks next month that someone will be able to take care of them; when we return we'll plant them in the ground and of course give some away to Candace and Frank.

    The locals are a bit suspicious of these varieties of ours...at least until they taste them. We don't want to infiltrate the character of the village with something strange, but then, they are so tasty. Better keep them here and invite neighbors in for a taste instead.

    For us, the silence, and then the sound of farm tractors are as glorious as the classical music I play on our satellite music channel when I write. The sound of the music seems to embrace me gently and I am filled with love and contentment.

    At the window are eight little seedlings in peat pots; seedlings that did not fit inside the two larger trays of pots that sit inside the balcony window in the little serra.

    Dino has pruned the fruit trees, and painted the bottoms of those in the outer garden, as well as the peach tree, one that has tons of flowering buds.

    The apple and the plum don't show much growth, so we need to do some research on what we are doing wrong. We should have plenty of fruit on each tree. But will we remember when it's time?

    March 11
    Another lovely day dawns, and above us a cloudless sky smiles down upon us. We drive up to church, and Sorella Grande, Nonna Rosita and I are the only members of the Coro, making a few mistakes but singing our hearts out. Don Angelo is our priest, and with him an adorable young altar server, who is not quite proficient but reads when it's his time. We all love him, and Don Angelo as well, for being such a kind mentor to him.

    We see Paola, but she has not read our emails. I remind her that we're waiting to hear about a few of her ancestors to do the Fosci family tree. In the meantime, we will stop work on the family tree project. Again, let's not stress. A friend told us years ago, "Don't sweat the small stuff; and it's all small stuff." We think that's great advice. If you take his advice to heart, you'll surely enjoy life more.

    Sofi waits at home while we drive to Il Pallone for groceries and breakfast, and back at home we present her with a new toy, Bella Blue, with which she dashes outside and is immediately covered with sticky bits of wood and grass. It's obvious my grooming has not been perfect...I do need to get out the blower for the gravel on the terrace. That time will come.

    I remind Dino that we should probably drive to Spazio Verde and pick up a large bag of osmocote to feed the roses; we have many roses and it will last the whole season, I suspect. He agrees, but tomorrow he'll drive to Viterbo for new tires. The ones on the car are all right, but he is very conservative when it comes to tires, and thank goodness. We'll have new ones for our trip to France next month.

    When did we plant our tulips? The internet tells me before the first frost, and Dino tells me that he and Cristina planted them last fall. Let's look. I'm wondering which kinds we bought and planted. Can't seem to find that garden journal...

    I find that we planted 32 next to the summer kitchen and they are parrot tulips. Dino reminds me that he and Christina also planted tulips on both sides of the path to the middle garden during the last week of October. We've seen tulip leaves there, too. Once they blossom, I'll write down which ones are where, perhaps in a new garden journal. I know that's true, for I've just found the packing slip for the tulips!

    March 12
    This morning, we drive to Rome, for I am having problem with a tooth and it is time for our semi annual teeth cleaning with our wonderful Dottore Chiantini. Dino texted him last night, and amazingly, he can take us right away.

    Afterward, we eat at MacDonald's. What? Well, I like their wraps, and we seldom stop there. We don't want to take much time, for we also have shopping to do on the way back at Mervyn LeRoy, to pick up more pink fabric to make a backstage set of curtains.

    After we drive up the Mugnano hill, MarieAdelaide and Augusta greet us while sitting on our stone benches outside the parcheggio as we arrive home. I ask MarieAdelaide if there will be Coro practice tonight and there will not. "Purtroppo!" (too bad!), I reply, and we all laugh.

    March 13
    We're to have our chimney cleaned, for there is too much smoke in the room when we have fires, and Dino called last night to schedule the appointment. This morning, he takes everything out of the firebox, as well as the short curtain at the top, and it's time to replace the curtain. I check around in the various storage places, but we don't have any fabric that is just right. I measure and we'll pick up something the next time we're in Viterbo. In the meantime, I can make the curtains for backstage.

    What is the word "backstage" all about, you wonder? Well, it's an area at the back of the front hall, under the stairs, where we store dry food and cleaning materials. We have a curtain in front of it, so I think of it as backstage, as if we're in a theatre. Come no? (Why not?)

    Sofi and I take a giro(walk), greeting our neighbors here and there. Anna is a bit better, but there is no sign of the lemon tree. I see Gianfranco in his ape after we have completed the bottom part of the loop and wave, but it is too late. I also don't have the camera. No matter.

    Dino sets out the solar powered light for the cave, and he'll install it soon. At night, there will be a soft glow there, illuminating the large green bottle and the orange tree that sit in the ancient tufa feeding trough.

    I have quite a headache, from the dental work done yesterday, so take a headache medicine cocktail and will try to stay out of the sun.

    It's difficult to do. Dino sets up the light for the cave, and one of my dreams is to sit in the little area right outside it, where there is shade both in the morning and afternoon hours. We have the huge stones for benches, but must wait until Stefano returns and finishes the roof of the serra and takes away all the construction materials from the space. It may become my favorite part of our property. Stay tuned.

    A mailman arrives for signatures, and part or all of our requested permits have been approved. Dino will meet with the geometra in the next days to see when Stefano can proceed. I'm holding my breath.

    Today is no day for major garden work for me, so after pranzo, I return upstairs to take a nap. I'm hoping later that Dino will take me to the fabric store in outer Viterbo to pick up a piece of blue damask to replace the green fabric that hangs just at the fireplace opening, to guide smoke up the chimney instead of into the room.

    With the chimney work to be done tomorrow, it will be good to have a fresh piece that works with the room to replace what we have. What's that about a headache?

    We drive to Viterbo and I pick up a piece of blue fabric to be used as a fireplace inset at the top of the opening, to encourage smoke to waft up instead of out in the room. I'll sew it tomorrow, but tonight sew a wonderful fabric to use in the same spot during summer, when there will be no fires. Dino loves it, as do I.

    March 14
    I sew the fabric, but am not crazy about it. Perhaps we'll find fabric I love in France on our next trip. We are able to have a fire, and the fireplace works just fine.

    I garden a bit, but have a headache from the dental work. So the afternoon is spent resting with an ice pack. No matter. Skies are blue and the tomato plants are all fine.

    A fellow is to come for a meeting regarding a property to develop in the outskirts of Viterbo, but calls and asks if he can come tomorrow morning instead. Va bene. March 15
    The fellow arrives and we have an extended meeting regarding his property in the Santo Sisto area of Viterbo. It's something more for Dino to work on with him than me, but of course I will write about it as things develop. He's hoping to build two large agritourismos on his property, and a sulfur bath will be one of the offerings.

    So what's about those baths in Viterbo and environs? Well, no one can "own" them; we are told they are all free to develop. Years ago there was a fight between two parties who own separate pieces of land in Viterbo and both have sulfur springs. So our new friend will offer therapeutic baths as part of his offerings. Dino may get involved and if so you will be able to read about it and see photos on this site.

    For the first time, I notice dear friend Serena Bevilacqua on Facebook. She's a marvelous chef, specialized in making desserts, and works with her father at Castello Santa Maria, a place not far from here that we've written about often and love.

    We've just arrived home. Well, Dino dropped Sofi and me off and returned to the geometra to talk about Stefano's work that will begin next week. It's really exciting!

    I turn on SKY classical music and hear C. Saint Saens: Carnevale Animali (Carneval of the Animals) and it takes my breath away. What is being played is "The Swan", and if there is ever a piece of music that I could identify with, this would be it, stirring me like no other music in this world. Not that I look like a swan. Ha! But it does make my heart soar.

    Dino picked up a better light for the cave earlier today; one that is not motion activated. We're hoping it will do what we'd like it to do.

    Dear friend Stein tells us that he is to be operated on this next Monday, and should be here by the end of next month, along with his friend, Helga. Our prayers continue for our dear friend's recovery and good health.

    March 16
    On this birthday morning, Sofi and I take a giro on the loop ( 1 km) below the house and come across dear friend Peppe. He tries to hold Sofi while I take a photo of them, but she's not in the mood. I try one anyway...

    I take photos of some of the little things that make this village so characteristic and special to us. Each little building has a memory of its owner, a story to tell. We would love to know them all.

    Dino fixes me a marvelous pranzo and presents me with a lovely bouquet of tulips. What a guy!

    It's a really lovely day. I prune a few roses just a bit and Dino puts up a better light in the cave. When Stefano finishes his muratore work, we'll have little stone benches to the right of the cave, where it will be cool to sit in the summertime where it is shady for most of the day.

    We can't extend the roof from the pizza oven to the two huge wooden pillars several meters in front of it, but we can make a pergola there with wooden beams and bamboo; then grow wisteria over it. After Stefano finishes putting up the beams, Dino and I will do the easy finish work.

    In the meantime, here's a hint of what to expect from the wisteria growing over the pergola in the middle garden over the peperino table.

    I sew the backstage curtains, and now the hallway is bathed in a strawberry pink. Dino still needs to paint the upper walls the paler pink and the ceiling beams white, but it's looking very good. I wonder how it will look with paintings of our neighbors hanging on the walls over a background of pink and taupe paint? Stay tuned...

    Dino is bummed! He wants to watch the opening race of the Formula 1 season and found that the TiVu Sat box that he uses to watch the Formula 1 races is not working. He's not able to watch the practice or the race this weekend, unless a miracle occurs. Sorry, Dino. We'll find a way...

    A headache looms strangely, with stress to my shoulders and neck. Could it have been caused by the gardening today? The day ends quietly, with me going to bed with an ice pack to rest against my neck. Does this mean I'm beginning to show my age? Not on your life! I feel younger and happier than I could have ever imagined.

    March 17
    We begin the day with fog, but no matter. The tulips continue to grow, and soon at least one will be ready for me to do a painting of tulips with a real model. Late last October we planted lots of them. It's fun to watch them change day by day.

    While I'm out there, I do my bit of weeding, for hundreds of weeds grow just as fast as the flowers. Tiny muscari are also sprouting, but they're mostly too small to show real features.

    I put the sewing machine away, for there's nothing to sew right now. Aside from keeping the tomatoes watered from the bottom, there's not much to do. The pots made of peat are wonderful, but we'll need a package of larger pots for about eight seedlings, which are in the tiniest of pots. By the time they're ready to be planted, right in their pots, they'll be far too large for these tiny pots, and it's too early in the season to plant them outside.

    I use the table in the studio to set out all the maps and charts for the Languedoc market days, deciding which markets we'll go to and on which days. On our trips there, it's a delight to attend special markets, where the freshest of food and lots of crafts and especially fabric are sold. Why are attending markets such a favorite thing for us to do there? Well, much of the food is a bit different from that offered in Italy, and it's quite wonderful.

    I'm reading a book about life in a French village, and although I gag at the smell or taste of liver, fois gras, if made well, is supposed to taste quite good, with barely a hint of liver smell or taste. I suppose it would be a good thing to try there. Perhaps I'll get up the courage.

    March 18
    I have a wild migraine early this morning; it's strong enough, even after taking my migraine cocktail medicine, that attending church will not be a good idea. The pain is quite intense. Dino thinks it's the change in the barometric pressure, for we're to have rain in the next days. After decades of migraines, I have no idea what to do to prevent them. There is plenty of wind outside, which could contribute to the migraine. Even the sound of the wind against the house hurts.

    Dino is up and dressed early, to watch the first Formula-1 race of the season, today in Australia. The sound of the humming engines is not something my head handles well, so let's change the sheets, put them in the washing machine and go back to bed.

    Weekends are the washing times for laundry here, for the energy costs are less on weekends, and compared to the cost in the U.S., it's very expensive here to use power. During the winter, it could cost us a couple of hundred dollars a month or more for the very little we use.

    The wash is ready to be hung on a drying rack outside just before Dino drives up to church. No, I won't be going with him. Instead, since I've change the sheets on the bed, I lie down with an ice pack, with Sofi by my side.

    March 19
    A tiny bird lights on the windowsill while I stare out toward Chia, for the town's lights are still on, although it's clearly light outside. My headache just won't quit, despite taking another difmetré tablet and an ice pack at 6 AM. Life goes on.

    I'm better a few hours later, and have breakfast with Dino before he drives off for a meeting in the vicinity of Viterbo. There is a short clip on t v about Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter, Artemesia, who were both Baroque painters of some note. I especially love their treatment of light and shadow on draped fabric, but then you know that.

    The day is very windy and gray, although the first tulips planted last October are growing and showing very interesting color intonations of white, pale pink and green. Will the blossoms be full enough before we leave for our trip to photograph and paint?

    Will we be able to find more "French tulips" in France? We have never been able to find exotic tulips in France before! The ones we have here are called "parrot tulips", and we purchased the bulbs last fall from somewhere in Northern Europe. What are "French tulips", anyway?

    Well, the internet tells me that French tulips are long stemmed large tulips...The ones I love are the parrot tulips, I admit, for they have ruffles or unusual edges and color intonations. I read we're to dig up the tulip bulbs in June and replant them in September. Let's see if we remember to do that. I think October is fine to do it here, too.

    It appears that Dino is going to get involved in a new adventure concerning...GoldWing motorcycle touring around Italy. He does not even ride a motorcycle. Has he ever? I don't think so. I roll my eyes, until he tells me that the type of motorcycle to be used is not a loud one. Don't imagine the two of us on a motorcycle together...please! Well, if it's only in your imagination, so be it. Let's change the subject.

    On the second day of our French trip I'll be doing a paint workshop with my painting of Cesar and his sunflowers. Having concentrated on his face before, I'd like to take a stab at painting one of the flowers and leaves, to see how well I do. To get the best advice from David, the teacher, I think I should show him my first attempt on my own. Perhaps while Dino is away this morning and it is gloomy outside, it's as good a time as any to take out the paints.

    I do more research for our trip instead, and map out where the markets are on which days while we're there. It's fun to plan for a vacation, don't you think?

    I'm not feeling that well, and a headache creeps up, so I do not attend Coro practice. This, too, will pass. Speriamo.

    March 20
    Last night a headache persisted, with ice packs on the pillow. But this morning is beautiful, so let's try to ignore what's going on behind my eyes.

    Dino waters a bit; the tulips and those surrounding them. Then it's time to leave for Bomarzo and then Spazio Verde, where we think we can pick up a large bag of rose food, to last us until the fall. We also need food for the fruit trees, but Dino wants to purchase that from Bruno in Attigliano.

    Spazio Verde may be a spectacular looking place, but only has small boxes of rose food. So we'll wait, and buy the food our friends at Michellini recommended years ago: Nitrofosca Gold.

    We then drive to Orvieto and Dino brings Franco and Candace's car to Mugnano while I drive ours. I never drive anymore, and Sofi does not like to have me behind the wheel. But she stops whimpering after a bit and I make it home. I'm a bit smug as Dino walks toward me, for I backed into the parcheggio perfectly the first time, without maneuvering forward and back again to fit into the small space. Dino gives me a nod of approval.

    The loquat trees are dirty, for they blossom in winter and by the time spring comes around, the blossoms are dry and spent, falling on the gravel below on the terrace and making a real mess. I rake up a lot of them; then suggest to Dino that we take them off the trees before they fall now and in future years. We'll see.

    I don't feel all that well, so return to bed with an ice pack after pranzo. I don't feel like doing much of anything, so probably won't. I will say that yesterday I suggested to Dino that I stop writing the journal, but he convinces me to continue.

    I recall that once a month or so, one or more of you writes to tell me you enjoy living an Italian life vicariously through our words and photos. Each time I hear from someone whom I don't even know who loves reading the journal it moves me, so perhaps it's worth continuing. What do you think? Is there anything special you'd like to read about or see photos of? I'm all ears...

    After a long nap, Dino drives off to pay for new wood beams that Stefano will install, and hopefully tomorrow we'll hear the sound of men happily working on the terrace for a couple of days to do a few small projects. They'll also put a liner into the fountain; a fountain they built a year or so ago. We've not turned it on yet, and it will be fun to see water coming out of the spout soon.

    It will also be great to see tiles on the roof of the serra (mini greenhouse); I've wanted to return to do gardening work there for a long time, but the heat is so intense there in the summertime that I can't spend time inside it. We'll take down the old shade we have and put up a new one, cleaning out all the miscellaneous junk we've stored there over the years. Spring cleaning will begin tomorrow with...spring!

    Da Vinci's lost masterpiece may be found

    By Alan Duke, CNN
    March 14, 2012 --

    Da Vinci's lost masterpiece may be found


    * Researchers think they've found Leonardo's "The Battle of Anghiari"
    * Pigment found on a hidden wall match "Mona Lisa" paint, they say
    * The mayor of Florence wants the Italian government to approve more study
    * The wall is in the Hall of the 500 of the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of Florence government

    (CNN) -- A Leonardo da Vinci mural unseen since the 16th century may have been found hidden behind a fresco painted by another artist, art researchers in Florence, Italy said Monday.

    Da Vinci painted "The Battle of Anghiari" on a wall of the Hall of the 500 of the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of Florence government, in 1503, but the masterpiece was lost during a restoration project 50 years later.

    The theory is that when artist Giorgio Vasari created his mural "The Battle of Marciano," he erected a brick wall in front of da Vinci's plaster wall, effectively preserving the older masterpiece.

    "They told us we were looking on the wrong wall, that it was just a legend," Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi said at a news conference Monday, where researchers revealed the discovery of paint apparently matching pigment from Leonardo's "Mona Lisa."

    Da Vinci's work was commissioned to commemorate the Republic of Florence's victory over Milan in the battle on the plain of Anghiari in 1440. While da Vinci was believed to have not been satisfied with the result, in which he used new techniques, art historians said it was a much-studied masterpiece in its day.

    Museum finds earliest 'Mona Lisa' copy

    The research team is led by the National Geographic Society and University of California, San Diego's Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology, in partnership with the City of Florence.

    "In name of the City of Florence, I ask the Italian government and the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities Lorenzo Ornaghi to authorize us to verify how much of the masterpiece is there and if it's worth it to bring it back to light," Mayor Renzi said.

    Researchers were allowed to drill six holes through the newer mural to reach the second wall. Since they chose sections that had been restored by later artists, the holes did not damage Vasari's original work.

    Are there more lost Leonardo works?

    An electron microscope identified chemicals in the paint as similar to black pigment found in brown glazes on da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and "St. John the Baptist," according to Professor Maurizio Seracini, who is working with National Geographic.

    Scans also shows flakes of red material unlikely to be on a plaster wall and beige material that "could only have been applied by a paint brush," the researchers said.

    An air gap between the hidden plaster wall and the newer brick wall suggest that Vasari may have tried to preserve da Vinci's mural, they said.

    "These data are very encouraging," Seracini said.

    The National Geographic Channel will present "Finding the Lost da Vinci," a documentary on the project, Sunday, March 18.

    Wonder if you've seen it? And last month, here's more related news:

    Museum discovers earliest copy of 'Mona Lisa'

    By Bryony Jones, CNN -
    February 1, 2012 -- Updated

    The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, has revealed what is believed to be the earliest copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa."

    Story Highlights:

    Prado reveals earliest copy of 'Mona Lisa'

    * Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, reveals discovery of earliest known copy of 'Mona Lisa'
    * Image is thought to have been painted around the same time as Leonardo da Vinci's original work
    * Portrait will be unveiled later this month, before joining temporary exhibition at the Louvre, Paris

    (CNN) -- The earliest known copy of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" -- thought to have been painted at the same time as the original masterpiece -- has been discovered at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

    The work offers art-lovers a tantalizing hint of what the model for the world's most famous painting really looked like.

    Conservators found the portrait hidden beneath layers of black overpainting during restoration work on a picture initially thought to have been a later replica of the "Mona Lisa."

    The restored version shows the same woman that Leonardo depicted, against a landscape similar to that shown in the background of the original, which now hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

    And while the features of Leonardo's subject have been dulled by centuries of dirt and layers of cracked varnish -- which are unlikely ever to be removed -- in the recently-rediscovered copy, she appears fresher faced and younger than her better-known "twin."

    News of the find was revealed at a symposium at London's National Gallery, linked to its blockbuster "Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan" exhibition, and reported in the Art Newspaper.

    "This sensational find will transform our understanding of the world's most famous picture," the Art Newspaper reported, adding that the underdrawing found on the Madrid version "suggests that the original and the copy were begun at the same time and painted next to each other, as the work evolved."

    Miguel Falomir, curator of Italian painting at the Prado, told a press conference at the museum expert analysis suggested a strong link between Leonardo and the artist who painted the copy.

    "The painting was done in the painter's own workshop," he was quoted by AFP as saying.

    "It is absolutely consistent with Leonardo's work," he said, but he added: "It is a work in which Leonardo himself did not intervene."

    The painting is expected to be unveiled to the public at the Prado Museum later this month.

    It will then go on display at the Louvre in March, as part of the "Leonardo's Final Masterpiece" exhibition, which focuses on his work, "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne."

    In Rome, Centuries' Worth of Vatican Secret Archives Revealed

    The Vatican Secret Archives were established four centuries ago to house the Holy See's official documents. Spanning 12 centuries and occupying a cumulative 50 miles of shelf space, the Archives' contents range from the quotidian to the controversial.

    Through September, the Capitoline Museums (Piazza del Campidoglio; 39-060608) will host "Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archive Reveals Itself." The exhibition will feature 100 documents of historical and cultural interest, which will be shown outside the Vatican for the first time.

    The selection of letters, manuscripts and codices document the political and spiritual power wielded by the church throughout the Middle Ages until the late 19th century. Though mentions of contemporary scandals are conspicuously absent, there are centuries' worth of papal ruthlessness to behold.

    Visitors to the exhibition will find the record of Galileo's conviction, the case against the Knights Templar and the order for Martin Luther's excommunication. Tamer pieces include letters from world leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, and publications of church dogma.

    Judge bars consumer, environmental groups in Italian cruise ship inquiry

    By Barbie Nadeau and Michael Martinez, CNN March 3, 2012
    The cruise ship Costa Concordia lies stricken off Giglio on January 22.


    * Judge in the Costa Concordia case admits Giglio island and a civil agency as injured parties
    * The captain and 7 more employees are being investigated
    * Skipper Francesco Schettino wasn't wearing his glasses, first officer told investigators
    * Schettino couldn't adjust instruments because he couldn't see, first officer says

    Grossetto, Italy (CNN) -- A judge on Saturday barred environmental and consumer groups from participating in a criminal court investigation into the wreck of cruise liner Costa Concordia that killed at least 25 people, attorneys said.

    But the judge allowed the island of Giglio, whose waters were where the ship ran aground in January, to remain as an injured party, said attorneys who participated in Saturday's closed court proceeding. Italy's civil protection agency was also deemed an injured party Saturday, attorneys said.

    The injured parties can present evidence and request additional analysis of any element of the investigation, attorneys said.

    Meanwhile, Prosecutor Francesco Varusio confirmed that ship captain Francesco Schettino is being investigated, with allegations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, abandoning ship, failing to report an accident to the coast guard, and destroying a natural habitat against him. Giglio is a protected park.

    His first officer, Ciro Ambrosio, and six other officers both on the ship and from the firm Costa in Genova are under investigation on allegations including manslaughter, shipwreck and failure to report the accident, Varusio told CNN.

    Ambrosio's attorney, Salvatore Catalano, provided CNN with a copy of a court transcript of the interrogation of Ambrosio, in which he tells prosecutors that captain Schettino wasn't wearing his glasses when he set the parameters on the radar system.

    Ambrosio also told the prosecutors that during the voyage, Schettino asked Ambrosio several times to adjust ship instruments because he couldn't see, the transcript says. Schettino was in command of the ship at the time of the accident, Ambrosio told prosecutors, according to the transcript.

    "Schettino was in denial about the gravity of the situation," Ambrosio says in the transcript. "He asked us not to tell the coast guard how serious the situation was.

    "He didn't want us to contact the coast guard about the accident," Ambrosio also says in the transcript.

    When asked by CNN about Ambrosio's statements on the transcript, Schettino's attorney, Bruno Leporatti, declined to comment.

    The ship's owner, Costa Cruiselines of Genova, also was allowed Saturday to remain as an interested party in the preliminary hearings, but not as an injured party, the attorneys said. The company is allowed to remain in the proceeding because the eight persons under investigation are the firm's employees, the attorneys said.

    Judge Valeria Montesarchio, who presided over the near five-hour hearing, will rule on March 9 on when the ship's black box will be opened and analyzed, attorneys said.

    The next hearing is set for July 21 in Grosseto.

    Saturday's court action was a preliminary hearing and is akin to a U.S. grand jury investigation, also a closed proceeding.

    The tribunal, which marked the second preliminary hearing so far in the catastrophe, was held in the Moderno theater to accommodate many of the 4,200 passengers and crew who are named as injured parties.

    Attorneys participating in the hearing told CNN of what happened behind the closed doors. More than 70 lawyers and 20 passengers and relatives of the missing attended the hearing.

    No one has been charged in the Costa Concordia incident, though charges are expected, attorneys added.

    Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, the consumer advocacy group for Italy's tourism sector, said the judge on Saturday barred environmental and consumer groups. Rienzi's group has joined two American law firms -- Proner & Proner, and Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik -- in representing several hundred passengers in civil law suits against Costa's parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines, of Miami, Florida.

    On Thursday, the prosecutor temporarily suspended the DNA identification of the latest eight bodies found aboard the shipwreck last month. Families were notified on Thursday that a court-appointed expert must be present because of the manslaughter investigation. The expected resumption of the identification efforts wasn't immediately known, attorneys said.

    One of those eight bodies is 5-year-old girl whose identity has already been established without confirmation by DNA testing, authorities said.

    The cruise liner ran aground January 13 when it struck rocks and turned on its side off the Italian island of Giglio.

    Seven persons remain missing in the incident, and a total of 25 bodies have been found, authorities said. The total death toll is estimated to be 32 persons, officials said. Of the 25 bodies found, 18 have been identified, authorities said.

    Giulia Bongiorno, an attorney representing 67 Italian and German passengers who were aboard the Costa Concordia, told CNN that she made a formal court request that the black box data be analyzed from the moment the cruise liner started registering data -- prior to leaving the port of Civitavecchia -- to determine whether the officers and crew followed proper procedure and to determine at what point and under whose command the ship deviated from its route.

    Bongiorno was also the attorney who represented Raffaele Sollecito, the boyfriend of Amanda Knox, who were both convicted in Italy in the murder of Knox's roommate, Meredith Kercher. Sollecito and Knox both successfully appealed their convictions last year and were freed.

    Sergio Amerotto, 67, a passenger on the Costa Concordia, said he attended Saturday's hearing because he is seeking to bring to justice those responsible for the tragedy.

    "We are here so those who lost their lives did not die in vain," he told CNN. "We need to understand who is responsible for their deaths. The captain did absurd things, but the black box will reveal who else acted irresponsibly."

    Barbie Nadeau contributed from Grossetto, Italy, and CNN's Michael Martinez from Los Angeles.

    March 21
    The first day of spring arrives. Sofi and I do our walk around the loop, but there is not a lot of activity going on. We do come upon Giovanna and Federica and Federica and Enrico's little son, Edoardo, in his carriage. He seems fearless, his beautiful and penetrating blue eyes staring across at me. I apologize to Federica that I have had a migraine headache for a few days, so did not attend Coro practice last night. No matter; she tells me there was none!

    Back at home, there are weeds to pull and gravel to rake. Before I realize it, it's time for pranzo. This is the best time to go to the post office here, for it remains open for a bit but all the customers are home for pranzo. Dino mails a small box with presents to the twins for Easter, and it costs €31. to mail it!

    I'm thinking the girls might like to receive the money in dollars instead, but we have included a bit for each of them. The next mailing will be for their First Holy Communion, which takes place the day after Dino's birthday next month. It appears we can watch the ceremony on the computer, for there is a camera in the church that remains on at all times, although we would love to be there in person. An invitation arrives in the mail and it makes us a bit nostalgic, but Terence calls a bit later and Dino perks up, loving these calls from our thoughtful son.

    The silly in me wonders if the girls can wave to us in church when they are there...It will be Sunday evening here when their First Holy Communion takes place at the church, and perhaps we'll watch the mass each Sunday evening to see them.

    After a late pranzo and a bit of weeding, Sofi and I get up onto the bed and I read, while Dino sits in the next room at the computer. In a bit, he drives off to pay for the wooden beams to be used in our upcoming project and then tries to find Enzo the hydraulico (plumber), to see what size pad should be poured under the water tank that will sit behind the house. We're waiting to purchase it, although Dino has found the best local source, until we are sure of the correct footprint.

    Dino is so good about those details and is extremely reliable, as opposed to Stefano the muratore, who always has too much work and juggles all his projects, keeping no one completely happy. That includes us; we don't have much for him to do, perhaps a few days, but we've waited a year and just when we think he's going to begin, he's not.

    Dino is helping a friend who wants to set up Gold Wing Motorcycle touring in Central Italy for Americans. If you are, or know of someone who is, a Gold Wing aficionado, email Dino here and let him know you'd like to know more.

    March 22
    Spring has been here for only a day, and yet it is so lovely here, with flowers emerging from the ground everywhere and flowers on fruit trees prolific all over the village. Is it that way where you are? Although I was born on a day at the end of winter, I think of myself as a spring personality, always hopeful. I recall being that way even as a child.

    On this beautiful morning, Sofi and I take our giro (walk around) on the loop below our house early. The usual suspects are about and wave. At about the half way mark, Dino turns up in Pandina to greet us, on his way to pick up some of the wood beams to begin the next project, regardless of whether Stefano will arrive or not.

    There will be a wood roof below the characteristic old matonelle (roof tiles) above the serra (greenhouse), and the existing steel and translucent panels will be thrown out...(butta via!)

    Before Sofi and I left for our walk, Dino and I talked about how far the beams should extend near the pizza oven. They've been cut long, so do they extend past the huge cross beam? I did not know, but palombelli (curved ends, like the shape of a dove) have been cut on the ends of each beam. We also discuss the glicine (wisteria), whose buds are opening so rapidly we're sure to have a wild explosion of pink and white flowers in just a few weeks. What joy!

    While we're at it, let's talk about the verb: buttare (to throw; to waste (e.g., time); to give off (e.g., smoke). Then there's buttargiu (to demolish); to swallow; (fig.) to discredit; to jot down; buttar via to throw away; to cast aside; to ooze, secrete; to throw oneself; to let oneself fall; buttarsi giu (fig) to become downcast.

    There we go again, with the use of one Italian word meaning many things. It's part of what makes the language so complicated to learn.

    Everyone wants to know about the drama in Toulouse, France, where a young man has repeatedly killed soldiers and children. By the time you read this, you'll know if it's a terrorist situation. It's all over the news. So very sad.

    I suppose being a sognatrice (dreamer) helps me during situations like this. Even though the perpetrator has done terrible things, I've learned not to judge my fellow man. Why? I don't know why people do what they do, so why judge them? It makes one's life so much more pleasant, don't you think?

    Judging others is very stressful, and I'm not about stress these days, perhaps partly due to the migraine headaches I've had almost all my life. The pain is not worth it.

    We've just returned from our lovely walk, and Sofi is snoozing in her little wicker bed beside my chair. I think the walk tired her out. Va bene.

    Dino wants to do as much of the outside work himself as he can. He paid for and brought back the castagno (chestnut wood) beams, and takes out his table saw to saw a channel right through the middle of one part way before installing it over the six narrow steel "t" beams atop the serra. He's pulled off all the translucent plastic sheeting panels that were installed with silicone, and Stefano arrives after pranzo to consult with him for a couple of minutes.

    Stefano tells us he's waiting for his two muratore pals, Guerino and Cesare, to join him at his other site; then he'll come here. The project he is working on is a new roof, and with rain expected this weekend he surely can't ignore the job.

    I pull weeds and more weeds and more weeds, while Sofi scampers around chasing lucertole (lizards). It's spring, and that means Sofi will be busy for months chasing the little creatures.

    This afternoon is the blessing of the house in Mugnano, so we work outside while we wait for a priest to arrive. Who will it be? It's Don Daniele with Livio, and the priest is quite serious. We ask him to bless Sofi as well and he shakes a poof of holy water on her as she blinks and turns away. He's probably tired from blessing house after house after house here.

    Deacon Livio smiles through it all, as he usually does, enjoying seeing the former front steps transformed into a fountain in the "secret garden" when the blessing is finished and we show him the painting of Felice, explaining that he was Renzo's dad. Kisses to you, dear Felice in heaven.

    Dino and I continue to work outside after they leave, and stop only at around 5:30 PM for Dino to drive to Attigliano to pick up more supplies for this current project. Removing the panels stuck on the steel with silicone was not as difficult as we first thought. Perhaps by tomorrow's end of the afternoon, at least the first five beams will have been installed and screwed into the steel affixed below them. Stefano will then add the rest of the wood and guina before laying the tiles that lay waiting for him just behind the structure. When will that be? Not till next week, we fear.

    Rain is expected this weekend, but no matter. I've taken out anything in the serra that could be damaged by rain. Roy is sore and tired, but thinks a good night's sleep will be just what he needs. Speriamo!

    March 23
    It's Friday, and although we'd love to see Stefano working here, doubt it very much. Let's think positively. Sofi and I take a giro, during which I pick up wildflowers to give you a glimpse of spring in Mugnano.

    Back at home, tulips are growing and other little flowers as well.

    Dino continues his wood project, making channels in each of the beams he brought home in the past days. I steady each beam as he uses one of his electrical saws to cut through it. Afterward, he raises each one above a long piece of steel and then screws each beam in place.

    I'm catching up with you while Sofi shouts out in a high-pitched whine. "Mamma Mia!" Dino exclaims as she races after a cat that got into the house. So much excitement for this little village!

    Dino returns from a short trip to nearby Attigliano to the hardware store for more supplies. We continue to work on the beams, and before the end of the day, all but one have been installed and screwed into place.

    March 24
    No walk this morning, for we're preparing for Stefano to arrive with the rest of the wood. He arrives early, and while I empty the serra of its contents, he and Dino bring the beams up to the terrace. After a few minutes of consultation, Stefano leaves.

    It's up to us, now, but Dino has an appointment, so I tell Dino that I can paint all the wood with anti-tarlo (anti-woodworm) protection and he sets up the sawhorses. Then he and I bring up each beam, and I paint them all, on both sides, before he returns. It feels good to do the work. Woodworms and other termites beware!

    When Stefano was here, he realized that in a couple of the castagno (chestnut) beams, large ants have chewed away. On one major beam, most of the interior of its top has been eaten away! We have saved all the sawdust from the recent cutting in a bucket, and Stefano tells Dino to mix that with a container that Dino has of Vinavil (liquid glue) and apply it; then sand it down when it's dry. MacGuyver (aka Dino) to the rescue!

    The sky turns colorless and it's a harbinger of rain, purtroppo (too bad). On top of that, there is something wrong with the latest batch of laundry in the washing machine; it has not been wrung out. Try as I might, I can't see any control to turn the machine onto wring only, so we'll have to wait until Dino returns to find the manual and fix it. Weekends are days for washing here, for the electrical costs are much lower on those days.

    We're not in the mood for a walk, so I think about reorganizing all the tomato plants growing in their pots, by type. Next week, depending on whether the roof of the serra is finished, I'd like to move the tomatoes out there for the next few weeks before they're ready to put in the ground. Some of them have almost grown too tall for the serra shelves inside the house, and they'll grow completely by natural sunlight in their temporary home. But instead of doing this, I fix pranzo...

    The beams that Stefano has brought need anti-tarlo (anti-woodworm/termite) liquid painted on them, so Dino sets five beams up and I paint them on both sides; then Dino sets them up to dry against the house. After pranzo, I paint the next four, and since the sky is cloudy and air is humid, they'll take the rest of the afternoon to dry. We'll be in Viterbo for a while, so when we return we'll put them all under a tarp, for it should be showery tomorrow.

    March 25
    At church this morning, only Rosita and I represent the Coro. Va bene. Dino has a giro afterward for his committee, so I walk home and take Sofi for a giro of our own on the loop. It's lovely.

    Pasta and meatballs are on the docket today, with more work outside in the garden. Dino and I walk around to discuss where the folding garden tables will be stored, as well as a new idea for the inside of the serra.

    With a real roof, I'll surely use the little structure more, and since intonico will be applied on the two stone inside walls, why not put up some of those tiles I painted when painting tiles was my passion? I lay out the measurements for the window, and find just the tiles to use as a surround.

    Tony and Pat are here for their spring visit, and we invite them for tea (it is raining a bit, so weather to sit inside) and Sofi is happy to see them, lying on the couch just behind us in the kitchen as we catch up with each other.

    The shower was not enough to do much of anything, but ends with a clear evening.

    March 26
    We work on a book of ideas and maps for our trip next month to France. Since we're such an organized duo, we go over the information together and realize we're in great shape. But there is a nursery in the town we will be staying, so I do a bit of research to find it when Dino leaves to find one more First Communion card for our second grand daughter, mail the gifts to them and also find Stefano, the murature, to tell them we want insulation on the serra roof. We're hoping he'll start tomorrow. Magari! (If only that were so!)

    Earlier Sofi and I took our giro on the loop below the house, and I took a bunch of photos. Hopefully Dino will want to share some of them with you. He's the website technician.

    Take it away, Dino!

    There is a dish of pasta and meatballs and sauce, ready to bake in the oven with freshly grated cheese on top for pranzo. We purchased a large quantity of meatballs for yesterday's pasta, and there's plenty left for a good meal today, along with a salad and panna cotta for dessert.

    The weather is fine, with a clear but almost colorless sky, and we think rain has left us for now. I've taken photos of our blossoming tulipani (tulips) and will surely paint some soon. I love parrot tulips, as you can tell. The ranunculi are getting ready to bloom. Are they all white? I can't really remember.

    Dino has left to do his errands; he so loves being out in the car! He'll surely love the driving trip to France. We've downloaded lots of programs to listen to on the road. Right now, Sofi snoozes on her side in her little wicker bed next to me. She is so at peace; witnessed by her little snoring sounds, her paws crossed delicately in front of her on the pillow.

    I'm looking forward to painting on our trip, as well as sketching, after taking the art workshop in Lodeve. Let's see what David thinks of the work in process of Cesare...

    Each time I walk into the summer kitchen, I look down to imagine Celeste at my feet, but she never appeared again. I do miss not taking her in as a pet rabbit, yes I do. We have never seen her again after that first time last month, so perhaps someone else has fallen in love with her. She remains in my thoughts.

    Cristina is expected later this afternoon, hopefully free of her bad cold. She'll take care of the garden while we're gone, we hope. Other friends may stay here for part of the time, so don't even think of invading while we're away! Thanks.

    Dressed in the most beautiful turquoise pants and top, covered by a paisley over-garment, our gardener Cristina arrives while Dino is out buying parts for a new faucet outside the serra. She's getting over a virus, so after a big hug for Sofi, she and I sit for a while and relax until Dino returns. We go over the garden with her, and it's quite simple. She loves being here, and the feeling is mutual.

    There is a bit of tending to the tomatoes after she leaves, and then we relax for the rest of the evening. Let's hope there is good news on the muratore front tomorrow morning.

    March 27
    What a lovely morning! There's just time for a look at our marvelous tulips (no, the black ones have not appeared yet) in both areas of the garden before leaving for Orte and a pedicure with dear Giusy.

    I'm finished early, and we look for Stefano at his last known job site (Guarino and Cesare tell us their project is finished and he should be on our way to us soon...) Magari! (One can only hope so!)

    Back at home there is no sign of him at first, but about a half hour later, Stefano and his sidekick, also named Stefano, arrive in their truck. Yes, work will be done here today. It is like a miracle, but one that we don't know will last. Dino thinks that if the insulation is built on top of the serra (greenhouse), that we can put the tomato plants out there this week to acclimate before they are put in the ground at the end of April.

    But work is short lived, for they suggest copper covers to protect the beams from woodworm/termites before the insulation and the rest of the roofing is installed. So Dino drives off to Viterbo to have the copper cut, returning with them just as it is time for pranzo. Thanks, dear Dino!

    Stefano has left in his truck, leaving Junior to hang out and do little projects while he waits for his boss. I roll my eyes to myself, wondering if this is the last we'll see of them for the day, for the week. Let's stay positive and not judge anyone.

    They do return, and work doggedly on the wooden panels for the roof, the underlayment panels that are grooved so that they lock into one another. Once they're all in, Stefano will cut the ends of the panels so that they hang 20 cm past the structure itself. They leave before the end of the day and will pick up the rest that is needed for the job tomorrow morning. I try not to be skeptical.

    This afternoon after they leave, we drive to Viterbo to check out their bamboo screens for the 2.7 meter wide expanse. Soon, little plants, we hope you'll live in the serra on a shelf until it is time to plant you in the ground, where you will surely thrive and bring us those wonderful and colorful tomatoes we love to eat in the summertime. We have plenty, so there will be plenty more to give to Candace and Frank upon their return from the U.S.

    We find bamboo screens, one 1.5 meters wide and one 1.2 meters wide, so hung side by side inside the front window of the serra, they will be perfect. They are a blue-grey, and could not be a better color. I'm sure the color will fade in the strong sun, but that won't be a problem.

    We're home just in time to feed Sofi and for Dino to drive me up to Coro practice, although we agree I'll walk home.

    Nothing has changed; the practice is a mix of chattering to decide what the arrangements will be for next Sunday (Palm Sunday) and which pieces will be sung. These are strong women. The one male member does not say a lot, but somehow he gets to do a solo and I try not to laugh at his strong but wavering voice. Why was he chosen to do the solo? And why do we need a solo?

    On the way home, Giovanna and Sorella Grande Rosina have plenty to say about his singing, but I can only laugh out loud. What difference does it make? Why should we judge his voice? If he wants to sing and be a member of the Coro, why not?

    I laugh all the way home, and then it's a lovely end to the evening with my two best pals, Dino and Sofi. Life here in usually tranquil Mugnano is so sweet that there is nothing really to complain about. Let's all enjoy our lives here. It's the best medicine for any arrows that are slung our way, don't you think?

    March 28
    Mario arrives with the sun to weed-whack the grass in the far garden and on the front path, although the local association of farmers owns the path. The five Lady Hillingdon roses in pots against our front wall next to the front path will be easier to reach now, to feed and water. With bark now making a bed near the tulips in the middle garden, there is less for him to whack. So there is no fear of him cutting down the flowers. Phew!

    Stefano arrives and needs glue for his muratore work, so Dino drives to Attigliano to pick it up. While he's there, he also brings back the water tank, which is light blue and tall and round. Stefano will prepare a cement pad for it behind the house, now that he has seen it. At the same time he'll probably cement the small channel at the top of the serra just under the roof.

    What's up for today? I'd love to make a ballet skirt for Giusy's granddaughter, but think that will have to wait. I open the door to the balcony and roll down the screen, so that the tomato plants will have their first taste of direct air and sun. They are so very healthy!

    More weeding is on the agenda, as is a walk with Sofi. The pale pink glicine (wisteria) flowers on the balcony tell me this will be a memorable year for them. Should I feel as if we are on a Southern plantation? Not having been on a plantation except in my dreams while watching Gone With the Wind, I'm not sure.

    By 9:30 AM, we've finished our giro, as Dino walks up to May Elin's garden to make sure that Mario does what he needs to do there before she arrives this weekend. It will be great to see Olav and May, and have a brindisi (toast) to them on Sunday in our garden.

    The two Stefanos continue to work, adding cement at the inside at the top of the serra to deter topi(mice) and adding insulation to its roof before installing the coping tiles. I can't wait to get in there with the tomato plants, once they have taken their scaffolding out of the little room.

    Dino thinks it will be at least a few weeks before any intonico is applied to the inner walls. In the interim, I stack the tiles that they will put up on the walls, in the summer kitchen. Since the serra will be a kind of workshop for me, even the broken tiles I've painted will find their way onto different places on the walls.

    Might as well, or they'll lie around in a box somewhere, just taking up room. They'll remind me of the days when I loved painting ceramics, despite the challenges I had when dipping them first. It's the main reason I switched to painting in oils, in case you don't know from earlier journals.

    It's pranzo time, and so warm that a salatone (big salad) is perfect. There are open rectangular spaces at the front of the serra just under the roof, and Dino cuts wood afterward to fit between the beams. Thanks. I doubt even lucertole will find their way inside now, except when the front window is open.

    The Stefanos return, and install the beams in front of the summer kitchen. It is really hot and sunny this afternoon, but compared to what the temperatures are like in summer time, it's not bad at all. When summer comes, we'll have shade in front of the house, and that will surely be a blessing, especially if you are here then!

    Dino works inside the serra, figuring out how to hang the new shades. His idea is different from mine, so Sofi and I let him be to try it his way, instead catching up with you and enjoying the shade inside the house.

    I'm so looking forward to putting the pomodori plants in the serra, but now want a screen for the front window, since wasps want to come inside and build nests. Several of them have come in while we were there this afternoon, with one just hanging on the inside of one window pane, as if he's stuck there. I ask Dino to spray inside to deter them, but he is not interested in what I have to say. Sigh.

    Dino and I work more on the shades and shorten them to the correct length. The wasps seem to get the message, for the place is empty by the time we leave.

    The muratores leave for the day, and we've told them they can arrive at 8 AM tomorrow to lay the roof tiles while it's not too hot. We'll see. Then it's a trip to Viterbo to buy bamboo sheets to put over the top of the new beams in front of the summer kitchen.

    We're not allowed to have a real roof there, so are hoping that the bamboo will do just what we need to block out the sun from that area while the glicine grows over and around the top and forms plenty of leaves. If it rains, we won't be hanging out there anyway, so for now at least we think it's a fine option. Dino comes up with the idea to put wood planks on top of the bamboo, just over the existing beams; they won't really show at all and make sense.

    Sofi got sick in the car while waiting for us to shop for five minutes on the way home. We think she's all right, and seems all right, but a bit quiet. On the other hand, I have real pains on my face around my mouth, so take a migraine cocktail and will go to bed early with an ice pack. Perhaps I had too much sun today, for it was quite warm. Sofi rests with me, too. Good girl!

    March 29
    Today we drive to Fimucino Airport in Rome to pick up our great friends, Mary and Don. We're quite concerned about Mary. Let's think happy thoughts.

    The two Stefanos arrive right at 8 AM and begin work, with Sofi wagging her tail to welcome them. It is cool enough for them to wear sweaters as they begin work, but with blue skies and plenty of sun, things will change quickly, we are sure.

    Dino drives off to Lugnano to have a special screen made for the serra to fit in the window, and hooks to use to hold the shades up when we want full sun there on the tomato plants. Surely we'll move them there today.

    He returns with the pieces of the frame, but no screen! He paid for it but it was not put in the bag with the other things. Dino thinks we have a piece of screen here. I'd like a gray screen, and the one that was to be inserted in the frame was brown, so it is just as well.

    Stefano reminds us that it is characteristic of Italian women to be jealous and gossipy, and that makes me sad. I don't want to be the cause of anyone's jealousy here, or of anyone feeling badly in any way as a result of something I or we have done. It's not easy to be a strainiero (stranger; one not born right here), and that's the only thing I can think of that is negative about living in Italy. But then, is it much different anywhere?

    March 30
    Stefano Jr. begins work on the intonico (plaster) work inside the serra; it will soon be called our workshop; Sofi's and mine. There is no sign of any wasps inside this morning, perhaps with the roof making it cooler inside. We've decided to leave the wall toward the borgo the rough tufa; it will look more characteristic, with only the back wall and the area right under the roof with plaster, to close up any holes.

    Dino drives to Attigliano to pick up a few things for Stefano. This saves a lot of time; otherwise Stefano would be driving there and not working. As soon as he returns, we leave, wondering if the two of them will really work here this morning and afternoon while we are gone. Or will they move on to another job? We can only leave our trust in them and hope.

    They are here when we return, and do return after pranzo, but Stefano Jr. does no more intonico work inside the serra for now; instead he's doing other little projects and helping his boss.

    When I joke with Stefano Sr., he responds with an Italian modo di dire (figure of speech): Quando il capo non viene, le topi balli! (not sure of the exact wording, but it means, "When the boss is away, the mice dance!")

    We move one tray of pomodori to the serra as a test, although have not put the shades back up. Tomorrow we will surely do that.

    The younger muratore leaves a bit early, to go to the dentist, he tells us, but the boss stays until 7 PM, to finish the tiles on the roof of the summer kitchen, a project begun a year or more ago.

    Today he also finishes the intonico on the chimney for the pizza/bread oven and puts three characteristic tiles on the top. So his roofing projects here have been finished, although a cement pad for the new water storage tank in back and the lining for the fountain remain unfinished.

    Tomorrow we'll put the shades back up in the serra and install the bamboo mats to cover the roof of the terrace in front of the summer kitchen, since we are told we can not have a permanent roof there.

    It will provide us with the shade we're looking for during the sunny summer months. We will certainly use the area quite a bit, but this time without the need of umbrellas. Now the mats will rest atop the lovely beams just installed.

    Glicine will also frolic above and around the beams and the mats. We look forward to the flowers, now that other plants in the middle garden have already flowered.

    Dino sets up four sawhorses and lays nine beams across them; another two rest nearby against a plum tree. I paint anti tarlo (anti-woodworm/termite) liquid on three sides. The liquid dries quickly, or perhaps it just seeps into the wood right away. I'm able to turn them over and paint the fourth side of them in no time at all. Now they're ready to be used on top of the bamboo screening on top of the beams. Soon the glicine that has been growing there for two years will want to compete with the older ones we have in the middle garden. It's all a dream.

    March 31
    The day begins with fog. We expect it to clear in a few hours, and it does. Laundry begins, the blue bamboo shades are installed in Sofi and my outdoor studio (previously known as the serra) and the pomodori plants are moved inside there, now that Dino has rigged up a brace for the shelf. Later, part of the shelf will be taken out and used for shelves where the tufa walls stand just as they are.

    I will paint there, and Sofi will rest by my side. But the real surprise is the new "room" underneath the beams outside the summer kitchen. It will have just enough shade for anyone to feel restful there, with plenty of filtered sun when we want it.

    After pranzo, Dino returns to his project with the bamboo mats, and Sofi and I are there to help. It looks fine when it's finished, and the little flies think so, too. I admit I never thought of this area as a congregating place for them. Sigh.

    While I catch up with you, Dino stays busy, making the frame for the screen for the window in the new studio. After a bit, we SKYPE with Marissa and Nicole and Angie and Terence, too. It's a lot of fun, and Sofi sits on my lap watching the screen and wags her tail, just loving the commotion.

    A bit later, we leave to meet Don and Mary at I Gelsi for pizza; our first of the year. And then that's it for the month, with plenty to look forward to next month and so many buds thrilled and ready for their close up. We'll take more pictures next month to show you. Thanks for checking in!

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