Tuesday, May 25, 2004


MONDAY, MAY 17, 2004

Our stay in the states is almost over. The past four weeks seem to have rushed by; although I think the fact that I was sick for the first two weeks had something to do with this feeling. We haven’t gotten to see nearly as many people as we would have liked. With Art working at the track and me being sick, we just didn’t have the time. Today we had lunch with our friends Ron and Becky, and then went to see “Troy” with Brad Pitt. I know there are lots of other movies I should have seen…movies like “Monsieur Ibrihim”, or the third installment of “the Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but time has run out, and I just wanted to see how wonderful Brad looked….would you be surprised if I said he looked like a Greek god? He really bulked up for this role, but not to the point of grossness. Since I am definitely an “arm” person, I really enjoyed admiring his physique, and the movie wasn’t bad either…not quite as good as “Gladiator” but still entertaining.

Tomorrow I have an eye doctor appointment…I still need to have my eyes dilated, and I need to have one on the tear-duct plugs replaced…do you know about these? For those of us who wear contact lenses and are over forty, these are really great…my eyes are so much more comfortable now that I’ve had the plugs. Art’s eye doctor doesn’t really approve of them, but in my opinion, Art’s eye doctor is a sadist who likes to see other people suffer. I’m glad my doctor recommended the plugs to me, and so far, I’ve been very pleased.

This morning I went to get the results from my colonoscopy, and it was good news…just one tiny polyp, which is now history, and I don’t have to have another test for five years. So far this trip I’ve had a pap smear, a mammogram, an eye exam, a colonoscopy, bought new contacts, refilled all my prescriptions, had my teeth cleaned and gotten my hair cut! I didn’t have my cholesterol checked, but I’ll do that in December. I’ve been too bad and I know it, so there’s no point in hearing the bad news confirmed by my doctor. I’ll start exercising when we get back to Italy, and hopefully I’ll be five pounds lighter when we return.

We can’t wait to get back home…Wendy says our patio looks wonderful, and I’m dying to finish planting the back yard. I need to put up a new clothesline in the back…the one we have is too short….I hope we can figure out what we need to do to install the hooks in the walls of the house, and I hope they’re strong enough to hold the wet laundry!

Last Thursday Nicholas and I flew to North Carolina to visit with my son and his wife, and more importantly, my granddaughter! She’s two and a half, and of course she’s the cutest and smartest two year old around! Frank continues to speak only Spanish to her, and she is quite bilingual. She does a pretty good job at keeping the two languages separate, but every once in a while she’ll throw in a Spanish word in the middle of a sentence. We really had a nice visit, but Nicholas discovered that taking care of a toddler is VERY tiring. By our fourth day, he was ready for a vacation from his vacation! Siobhan loved having him around, and wanted to play hide and seek constantly. She loved it when he scared her by popping out of his hiding place. She loved having him dress her up in all her dress up clothes, and she really loved the Snoopy doll he brought for her.

Saying goodbye on Sunday was tough…we told her we’d visit her in her new house in Tampa, but that won’t be until December or January. I did have to assure her that Art would come too…every day she asked in her most concerned voice, “Where’s Grandpa Art?”, and every day I had to explain that he had to go to work, but that he would see her soon. I don’t think he should miss any more trips to see her…she’s just too cute, and we all know how quickly they grow up. By the time we see her next winter, she’ll have a new brother or sister, so I was lucky to get this one on one time with her, and also to have Nicholas with her.


We’re back home! And guess what? It’s STILL raining! And not all that warm, either! This is wonderful for the plants we put in the ground before we left, but we were sure that the rain would be over by now and that it would be much warmer. We went to the garden center yesterday to buy more plants to finish up, but every time I walk outside it starts to sprinkle.

Today San Venanzo is celebrating the Ascension with a procession. The route is lined with wild flowers and pictures on the streets make with flower petals. The scent is unbelievable…I think the white flowers are jasmine, and I wish I could remember the name of the yellow flower…it grows wild everywhere. The women were out early this morning creating the designs, and luckily the wind and rain held off.

To backtrack a bit, we had an interesting trip home. We left Louisville on Thursday, flying first to Detroit, then directly to Rome. The plane to Rome was a new one, with screens on each seatback, and a choice of movies and music. Usually I try to sleep a little on the eastbound flight, but this time I was completely unsuccessful. Art did manage to catch a short nap, which is unusual for him. The crew was very nice, which is always a pleasant surprise on Northwest.

We (I) managed to fit everything in the allowed number of suitcases, meaning we didn’t have to buy another suitcase, or pay the $110 surcharge. We bought lots of “stuff”…. spices like cayenne pepper, cumin, celery seed and lemon pepper. Brownie mix. Cornbread mix. Powdered sugar. Vinyl coated shelves. My favorite mixing bowl. Hair color. Vitamins and prescriptions. Cold medicine. Throw rugs for the kitchen. A small round table. For Wendy, coffee creamer, marshmallows and a gas powered wine opener. All of it seemed to be small, but when put together, we filled four large suitcases, two carry-ons, plus a large purse and a computer bag.

I had to rearrange the suitcases…one weighed NINETY pounds after my first packing! If the suitcase weighs more than sixty five pounds it will be assessed a surcharge, so I moved some stuff around, and I think they all ended up weighing around sixty pounds each. We still had quite a few clothes in the states. Some we brought with us, and I made a list of the ones that are still in Louisville so that we don’t bring too much with us next December. Art bought two pairs of shoes, and with his size twelve feet, those took up a fair amount of space!

Our flight was delayed for almost in air in Detroit, but we made up most of the time and arrived in Rome only a few minutes behind schedule. As luck would have it, Wendy arrived right on time, but our luggage did not! Somehow, two of the four checked bags were still in Detroit. We had to file a report, and they told us the bags would arrive the next day and would be delivered to us. One of the missing bags was the hard-sided one, with most of the “stuff”….the spices I can’t find in Italy…the kitchen gadgets, scented candles, hair color, etc. They told us the luggage would arrive tomorrow and would be delivered to us.

The drive home was tiring, especially since I had no sleep on the plane. Amazingly, once we hit Terni, I really perked up…now it was starting to look like home! Wendy dropped us off, and we started to unpack the suitcases. One good thing about the missing suitcases is that we didn’t have to worry about fitting everything into the car! Oh, and we also weren’t overloaded with so much stuff to put away! I started a load of laundry and we looked over the mail.

Art wanted to take the car to Ford since we had noticed some oil on the garage floor the day we left…don’t you just love how that always happens? Anyway, Wendy and I had talked him out of that, and we had also talked him out of going to the bank to convert our money. While we were in the states we had wired money to our dollar account at Cassa di Risparmio in Ponte San Giovanni. This account is for dollars only, and costs €50 per year. The advantage is that we usually get a better exchange rate at this end, and also we can convert only what we need, if the rates are not favorable…of course, the rates haven’t been good since we got here last September! This is the primary reason we made sure to register for absentee ballots!

While we were in Italy, Wendy had gone into the bank to close our checking account there. Our mortgage was on automatic payment, but since we opened the PostalBank account, we haven’t used it for anything else. Cassa di Risparmio has more fees than the PostalBank, and it just didn’t seem to be worth keeping. When Wendy told Corrado that we wanted to close the account due to the high fees, he offered to reduce the fees by half, and also to get us an Italian credit card…something we had tried (and failed) to do at the PostalBank. Since the PostalBank seems to be very good for some things and very bad for others, we decided to keep the Cassa di Risparmio account for now…we think that having a relationship with a “real” bank my come in handy some day, and will be well worth the (smaller) fees we’ll pay.

The exchange rate on the day of our return was $1.19, and went up to $1.20 later in the day. Art was scared to death that it was on the rise, but we now had to wait until Monday afternoon and hope for the best. When you are talking about thousands of dollars, every penny makes a big difference! When we converted $21,000, first the bank took a small fee for receiving the money. I don’t know if U.S. banks do this or not, but we first encountered this situation when we rented an apartment here two years ago. I hate it, but it’s just a fact of life. Anyway…With just under $21,000, at the rate of $1.198, we ended up with €17,500…so this is something that has to be taken into account. You can’t just think dollars for euro, because you WILL get hurt! The good news is that when we went to the bank on Monday the rate was back to $1.19. It’s always a gamble…you never know when it’s going to go up, how long it will stay up, or why.

On Saturday, the weather was gorgeous! As previously mentioned, it had been cool and very rainy while we were gone. This was great for our newly planted garden, but we had really expected to come back to warm weather. We tell people that our weather is like northern Georgia or southern Tennessee, but it’s really not. The winters are very humid, which make the milder temperatures FEEL colder, and we’ve had an awful lot of rain…maybe this is why the “green heart of Italy” is so green!

We had planned to stay home all day on Saturday, in anticipation of our luggage being delivered. When no one had called by early afternoon, Art called the airport, and after three calls, the bags had finally arrived, BUT…they wouldn’t be delivered until Tuesday! The company who picks up the luggage from the airport then gives it to a courier company, and they didn’t work on the weekends! Pooh!

We drove down to Marsciano to restock at the Coop, then stopped in Ternana’s for some pizza. Four weeks is a very long time to go without one of Marco’s pizzas! We had brought some small gifts for everyone, and they were so excited! The kids seemed to like the toys, but the hats we had brought for Pino were even more popular…with the kids, that is! Rita and Marushka loved the horse themed earrings, and Marco seemed to like the belt buckles Art had selected. Marco had asked Art to bring him back a belt buckle, because he collects them, so we were happy to oblige.

Luckily for all concerned, we were there very early in the evening when business was slow, so we got a chance to visit, and then Rita invited us for lunch next Tuesday! I was floored…this is the only day these people have free, and they want us to come for lunch! Needless to say, we accepted. Now I have to figure out what to take…flowers? Wine? Maybe something baked, but what? Chocolate chip cookies? Maybe brownies? I’m still thinking about it.

On Sunday morning around nine, the phone rang, and it was someone asking if we would be home to receive our luggage! Yes!!! And it arrived safe and sound, completely intact, around 1 o’ clock. I felt like a kid in a candy store, looking at all the things I had bought…some of which I had forgotten about, so it was almost like Christmas! Art was especially glad to see the other new show he had just bought…I had separated the pair, and we both wondered whether he might end up with only one shoe.

As I said earlier, the streets of San Venanzo were decorated with pictures made of flower petals, to celebrate the feast of the Ascension today. Just outside our door we had a large cross made from the bright yellow flowers that grow wild along the roads. I can’t remember the name, sorry. Jasmine was also used to make some of the designs…this was obvious by the strong scent that filled the air. I walked around town taking pictures of the various designs…they were located along the route the procession would take after mass. I took the pictures in the “best quality” mode on my digital camera, so I think they’ll be too large to post, but I’ll try later.

The streets were blocked off for several hours, and once we heard the procession beginning, we went outside to watch. At the top of the hill the priest had stopped to say some prayers, then they moved towards us. In the courtyard in front of the volcano museum a small altar had been set up. A chalice had been made with flowers on the ground in front of the altar, and two little girls dressed in white with golden angel wings attached stood waiting. The procession seemed to consist of only men, beginning with the men who carried the large statue of Jesus on the cross, followed by more men, then a man carrying a large speaker, then finally the priest, who was wired, and whose voice was being broadcast over the speaker.

The priest said a few prayers at the altar, and just as he was finishing, it started to rain. It had looked threatening all morning, and had sprinkled briefly a few times, but now it seemed more serious. We went back into our house, and the procession continued down the street, back towards the church. I’m not sure whether there were any further services or not.

We started to work in the garden several times, but it kept trying to rain. Finally later in the afternoon it cleared up, and I was able to plant some of the things we had bought on Saturday. I also worked some compost into the dirt…it’s hard to believe how bad this soil is…I mean, it’s just DEAD! I’m hoping that all my planting isn’t in vain! By the time we finished, it was dark…or maybe I was just forced to stop by the darkness. We had a quick dinner of tuna fish sandwiches and called it a night.

Today, Monday the 24th, we took the car to Ford. Everything seems to be okay, so for now we’ll just keep a piece of cardboard under the car to see if the leak continues. I was amazed at how quickly they took care of us…we just drove up, told them our problem, and the whisked the car away. In less than 30 minutes the mechanic was back with the car. We also asked about the latch for the hood that had been ordered in MARCH!!! They say it will be in next week, but that remains to be seen.

We then had time to check out a few places for an outdoor grill. The ones here are made of concrete and have chimneys…of course you can get the standard American style grill, gas or charcoal fired, but I’d love to get one of these barbeques…it’s almost like having a piece of furniture on the patio! So far, we haven’t found one we like at the right size AND the right price. We asked Marco if he knew of a good place to buy one, and he recommended Gran Casa. We had been by there this morning, but most stores aren’t open on Monday morning, and Gran Casa was closed as expected. We did see a large selection of grills sitting in their parking lot, so we’ll go back later to see what they have.

We met Wendy at the bank later on, then stopped at the garden center to buy a few more plants. We checked out a place that Wendy had told us about for garden furniture, but they didn’t have the tile topped tables that we (Art) want. We then headed back to San Venanzo, where our first stop was Mauro’s office. We wanted to pay him the remainder of the money we owe him…then we discovered we had misread his bill, and we still have a balance. It’s not much, and he told us not to worry about it. Our financial situation right now leaves much to be desired, but we are trying to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

The day was incredibly beautiful, and it was a joy to work in the garden. I bought some rosemary, oregano and basil and put them in pots. I bought a large bush, whose name I can’t remember…Acuba? Something like that. Anyway, we had one of these plants in the states, and the will grow in the shade, so we thought it would be perfect for the large pot we want to put next to the house. I also bought some impatiens to go inside the ring of convalleria I planted yesterday, and some verbena for the area next to the patio. This area gets sun in the afternoon, and I’m hoping it’s enough for the verbena. I want some color, and it was a toss up between the verbena and petunias…and yes, the do have “the wave”! As with every garden this will be a work in progress, as we find out what works and what doesn’t. The biggest problem with small gardens is that you never have enough room to try out the new stuff you see. And of course for me, not being able to have my McCartney rose, with no hope of having a rose of ANY type, was very sad.

If you’ve never heard of the McCartney rose, I highly recommend it. The fragrance is unbelievable! I only believe in roses that SMELL like roses, and the McCartney roses will fill a room with their perfume! Sherry and David have given my rosebush a wonderful new home in their front yard, and they say it’s VERY happy there.


The man who put in our patio stopped by yesterday….Armando had offered to pay him for us, but Art wanted to thank him personally for his work. I had never met him before, so it was nice to meet him. He did a beautiful job on the patio. The amount of stones we had turned out to be exactly right…I was hoping it would turn out like that, since I didn’t know what he would do if he ran out while we were gone. Armando had asked him to cement the walkway between our garden and his building. Of course it’s much less messy now, and Armando’s wife won’t have to worry about her clothes getting muddy if the fall off the line.

Well, I’ve rambled on, as usual, and what started out as the end of our U.S. visit blog has turned into our “back in Italy” blog. We did enjoy our stay in the states. We stayed with my sister this time, and really enjoyed her company. She is in the process of buying our mom’s house, and has already moved in. Things are still in boxes, but she made amazing progress in the short time we were there. Her biggest project now is to get her other house ready for sale. This house is a ninety year old, three story farmhouse, and just getting it presentable and clean is a big job. We are hoping that it goes up so sale soon, so that we can close my mom’s estate.

This location was much better for Art than if we had stayed with my daughter. She lives way out, and with Art having to go to work during this trip, Terri’s house was not only closer, but also offered more options. To get to Churchill Downs from Angela’s house via the expressway can be a disaster if there is an accident on I-71…there are no exits for miles, and he would have been trapped. He really enjoyed his time at the track, but was ready to leave by the end of our last week. The money was nice, and the tips during Derby week were wonderful….and this year, Art actually picked the Derby winner!

For me, aside from being sick for 2+ weeks, the visit was wonderful. I got to drive, and go to Target. I got to watch Oprah and HGTV. We both got to read the newspaper everyday, and could understand the news whenever we turned it on. I was able to take care of a lot of business over the phone…things that just aren’t possible from Italy, or would be very costly. You can’t dial an 800 number from Italy, and for many companies all they list is an 800 number. I updated our address information and new insurance information with as many people as I could think of. We use my sister’s address as our mailing address in the states, and now that she is in her new house, everything needs to be sent there. As anyone who has ever moved knows, there are so many people to notify.

We then updated our driver’s licenses, and registered to receive absentee ballots for the November election. These will be sent to us in Italy as soon as the ballots are decided. Art got a new International Driver’s License from AAA, to carry him through to our December visit. He is suppose to take the test for the Italian driver’s license within one year of residency, which would make him due in October, but neither of us thinks that is possible…the book is large…..maybe 10” by 12”, and about an inch thick…and of course it’s all in Italian. For now he’ll try to get by with his U.S. license, and if we get stopped, he’ll plead ignorance and then decide what to do.

I sold my car while we were in the states. When we moved here at the end of September, we knew that we would return in mid December for a six week visit. The small insurance premiums made keeping it a cheaper option than having to rent a car. When we got ready to come back in January, that didn’t seem to be the prime time to sell a car, so I kept it until this visit. I was hoping to sell my car right before I left for North Carolina, and luckily it worked out perfectly. The car was a 1994 Acura Integra that I had bought new. It only had 78,600 miles on it, so I got a nice price for it


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