Thursday, July 22, 2004


JULY 20, 2004
The tomato plants are really growing now, but still lots of flowers and no fruit yet!  And the basil is thriving too…it’s amazing that even though the ground is very poor, the basil plants that are in the ground still do better than the one in the pots.  I think next week I’ll buy two more, since I expect the growing season to be longer here.  I don’t want the plants I set out earlier to poop out before I have enough pesto!
We found the origins of the name Ospedaletto.  I don’t know the altitude of Ospedaletto, but it is higher than San Venanzo, and therefore cooler.  Since the air up there is so fresh and cool (supposedly receiving ocean breezes), many people came to that area the rest and recuperate from whatever ailed them, and so it was like a hospital….ospedale is hospital in Italian. 
This week we’re seeing much higher temperatures…every day it gets a little hotter.  By Saturday the prediction is for 97º!  The amazing thing is that the evenings are still cool.  I was actually cold when we were sitting outside at the gelateria the other night!  It’s usually in the upper 60’s in the mornings, which is quite nice.  We open up the windows to let the cool air in, then as the sun moves and the air heats up, we close the shutters to keep the cool air in and the hot air out.  Our thick walls are a big help with this. 
The dry summers and humid winters are very new to us.  Clothes dry in no time.  You can even hang clothes out overnight, and they’ll be dry in the morning…no morning dew!  Of course this also causes the ground to dry out, and I’m dreading my next water bill.  I need to get the plants well established, and between the dry air and the cedar trees, it seems as if all the moisture is just sucked right out of the soil.  I’m glad that I’m using mulch, but even with the mulch I’m watering a lot.
Since our yard gets patches of intense sun for short periods each day, I think next year I’ll plant the dreaded begonias in place of the impatiens.  As long as I can get the begonias with the green leaves, and not the ones with those ugly dark red leaves, it won’t be too bad.  I’m also going to attempt to plant a rose in the area where the verbena is. 
This raises another question for me…in the states fall is a great time to put in larger plants…roses, shrubs and trees.  They have the winter to settle in, then can take off in the spring.  But here, I don’t know if the damp winter would cause problems or not.  I guess I’ll wait until spring, since I would like to buy some of these water-holding crystals when we come to the states in December.  I brought one jar back with me in May, which was all I had room for, but I really needed several more.  Since roses are so demanding when it comes to food and water, I want to make sure the conditions are optimal. 
I blogged earlier about the contest they had on the SlowTalk website.  We knew what prizes we would like, and had to wait for the seven winners before us to choose.  By the time it was our turn, the prizes that we had wanted most were gone.  The apartment for a week in Venice was our first choice, followed by the apartment in Sicily for a week, then the week in northern Tuscany.  We didn’t think we had much need for a week in Rome, so we ended up taking a 4 day/3 night cooking school held in the Lucca region of Tuscany.
Our thinking was that we knew we would eventually visit Venice, Sicily, Lucca, and of course, Rome.  This cooking school valued at $2200 (for two, but still!!!!) was something that we would have never done on our own, so it would really be a treat.  At least that what I kept telling myself, since I REALLY wanted that apartment in Venice!!!
The woman who runs the cooking school, Carmelita, contacted me by email the other day.  She asked if we would be interested in taking a WEEK LONG cooking class in Cortona instead of our four day class.  This class would be at the end of August.  She told us that she only had one couple scheduled for this class, and that she would like to have at least one more couple for the company.  These classes have limit of six participants, so four would be really nice…lots of one on one time to perfect these techniques and recipes! 
Carmelita also told us that the accommodations at the Cortona location were a bit nicer than the Lucca site.  Cortona is just under two hours from here, but the Lucca location would take at least three hours, maybe longer…I don’t know the exact location.  Closer is nicer for the coming and going, but then we could theoretically visit Cortona anytime we wanted.  Lucca would have been someplace that we would have more difficulty getting to but….
Since the school in Lucca runs for four days and three nights, the schedule is a bit more intense, with not enough free time to make a visit to Lucca.  I would hate to be so close and not be able to explore Lucca a little more…we were only there for one afternoon, but we really liked it, and would like to go back.  In order to include a visit to Lucca we would have to make additional hotel reservations for X number of nights, meaning that we would be spending money that we hadn’t planned on, and also that we would have to research hotels and make a plan.  Although I love to plan vacations, this was just not what I wanted right now. 
So, as you’ve probably figured out by now, we decided to take the week in Cortona.  I know it’ll be hot, but it’ll be hot here too, so that won’t be too much of a difference.  We can take our fan with us since we’ll be going in the car, and Carmelita wrote that we’ll have all the cooking classes in the morning.  There is also a day or two free, so we might go to Arezzo, maybe even Florence for the day. 
We’ve been to Cortona, and I’m not sure there’s enough there for a second visit.  That stupid book sort of blew Cortona all out of proportion.  Yes, it’s a cute little town, but if I were going to make a list of cute Tuscan/Umbrian hill towns worth visiting, Cortona would be pretty far down my list. 
Larry and Jill’s place isn’t far from Cortona…maybe we can visit them and enjoy their pool one day.  Amazingly, the place in Cortona doesn’t have a pool! 
To be honest, I’m just blogging to kill time…to try to distract myself from what’s really on my mind.  Yesterday our son and his wife were scheduled to have their baby.  This is their second; the first is 2 ½.  The baby was scheduled to be delivered by C-section because we knew he/she had spina bifida. 
I know very little about spina bifida, although I have read about it.  It seems to be caused by a lack of something in the mother’s system....something weird like magnesium, but I can't remember specifically. It's folic acid!  If you're even thinking about getting pregnant, start taking extra folic acid!)  Why in the world a person would be lacking in this is beyond me.  Anyway, the reason I don’t know a lot is because there are so many variations with spina bifida.   A lot depends on the location of the opening. 
We do know that this baby has the opening in the best possible location, which is low on the back, but there’s still no way to know what the damage is, or what the possibilities are.  The baby will need to have surgery within the first 24 hours, and will be taken to an adjoining hospital.  We also have no idea how long the hospital stay will be…again, this will depend on the specific situation. 
Update:  I had an email from my daughter yesterday evening to tell me that Maeve Claire was born at 11:45 a.m. yesterday.  Siobhan knew what she was talking about when she said she was getting a baby sister!  I’ll wait until a little later to call Shannon’s mom to get an update.  I’m so happy, but also scared to death at the same time!  You just feel so helpless at a time like this.
We drove to Panicale today to see Margaret’s photography show.  We went the back way, rather than the E45, which was more scenic and less stressful.  The sunflowers are starting to bloom, and I found a couple of places that I would like to take some pictures. 
We had previously visited Margaret and John’s home in Paciano, which is very near to Panicale.  Panicale is the larger of the cities, and both seem to be quite popular with tourists and ex-pats. 
We found a shady (and free) place to park, and walked to the centro, through the city gates, into a beautiful small piazza.  We immediately saw a sign directing us to Margaret’s show.
Her exhibit was in a nice sized room, about half a flight down, but with plenty of light.  I’m not sure how many photos were displayed…maybe fifty.  All the pictures on the wall were framed, and there were also matted prints of varying sizes for sale.  Each picture had a small sign indicating where it had been take, which I always like. 
I guess it’s been quite a while since we’ve actually seen each other in person, although we do keep in touch via phone and email.  Margaret looked great, and her photographs were wonderful!  Italy is a photographers dream…there is just so much variety…scenery of all types, people, architecture, flowers, sunsets, sunrises, etc, etc.  Margaret has a good eye, and caught some great scenes.
A few people wandered in and out while we were there, but we did get a chance to catch up, and tried to find a date when they could see our house.  Margaret and John are always so busy…they either have guests, or are traveling, sometimes for business, sometimes for pleasure.
After John’s mother returned to the states in June, Margaret went to London for a short visit while John went back to the states to promote his book.  All of July has been taken up with preparations for the show, then the show itself. 
They brought an Epson printer with them, and the prints it produced are incredible!  These pictures are indistinguishable from those that had been done by a photo lab.   Margaret told us that the Epson’s have eight separate color cartridges, so that the range of colors is complete, and also allowing cartridges to be changed individually. 
John arrived a little later, with their current houseguests, a couple from Switzerland, whose names I can’t remember.  The man had been a crewman for John and Margaret on their boat when they sailed to Bermuda.  This was one of those friendships that just “clicked” immediately for them. 
Since Switzerland is one of our favorite places, we began to talk to the couple while Margaret talked to some visitors to the show.  As it turns out, this guy does parasailing in the Alps, and offered to take me (in tandem, of course) when we’re in Switzerland.  This is something I’ve always wanted to do!
We were amazed to discover that you could remain aloft, depending on the winds, for one hour, two hours, sometimes longer!  A new record was just set…for 10 ½ hours!!!  The man took off in Switzerland and landed in Austria!  Amazing!  I’m moving Switzerland up on our list of places to visit so that I can take advantage of this offer! 
We left Panicale around one, after deciding that the first week in September was the first time we could all get together.  John and Margaret are doing a house exchange in August with a fellow SlowTrav member, and will be spending three weeks in France.  Maybe we should look into this possibility.  It could be a good and inexpensive way to see the rest of Europe.
I spoke with Shannon’s mom today, and the baby was in surgery as we spoke.  Apparently there wasn’t the urgency for surgery, since the protrusion on her back was covered with skin.  If the spinal column is sticking out with no protection, surgery is performed immediately to prevent infection.  Since the spinal cord was covered, and since she is kicking and moving like a “normal” baby, we’re all very encouraged.  We won’t know much until after the surgery, and with spina bifida there is also the danger of hydrocephalus, and also of nerve damage later on.  Our prayers are with the baby, the parents, and the doctor.   

JULY 22, 2004

I spoke with Shannon's mom this morning, and the baby came through the surgery just fine.  the doctor said that she found NO frayed nerve endings, so hopefully, there will be no damage!  The baby will be monitored for hydrocephalus, which is common with spina bifida, but if they do notice fluid building up, they can insert a shunt.  For now, the news is good!  WHEW!


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