Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond

How lovely the Statue of St. Vitus looked that morning on the Charles Bridge in Prague…

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Morning ritual

A friend has been posting a painting a day. Such inspiration to get creative! Her theme this month is coffee and tea. So, as a little tribute to her theme, this is my morning ritual…how I love cappuccino!

The day after La Befana…remembering Vladimir

vlad_bench_wThe day after La Befana will always be the day we put down our beloved Vladimir, who had been gravely ill with intestinal cancer. Five years ago on a sunny January 7th, his time was up and my heart still cries a little.

Vladimir, “so dignified and pure of heart” as our brother-in-law, Eddie, wrote, will be forever etched into my life and soul. Our beginnings here in Italy were made all the more wonderful with his presence.

An excerpt from my book, The Field Stones of Umbria, describes his last two days with us:

He spent the last few days of his life resting in the gardens, in the sunshine. He had stopped eating again, and this time we knew it was the end. The day before we put him down, I sat with him in the Japanese garden for an hour. We listened to the horses in the field, the sheep and their bells in the hills, and he watched the birds with his usual intensity.

A large woodpecker landed near the bamboo, and he leaped off my lap. Even though he couldn’t eat and was down to nine pounds from twenty, his instinct as a great hunter flashed for another moment. He was poetry in motion and I momentarily forgot that he was about to die.

The next day, when it was time to go, I found him in the lower meadow near the stream. I picked him up, his poor skinny body weighing nothing, and he draped himself on my shoulder. We walked all around the grounds, and I talked to him about the fields, the stream, the olive trees, the meadow, the lavender and rosemary, the bamboo and Japanese maples. I told him that all of “his nature” would miss his beautiful presence. He touched his nose to my lips, our secret kiss that we’d coveted for 12 years.

It was time to go. Pavel and I didn’t talk on the way to the vet. What is there to say? You have to do this, and there’s no turning back.

I held him while he was going under, Pavel at my side, both of us crying. The roller coaster of emotion had taken its last uphill climb. Our vet was amazing. Vladimir didn’t feel anything. He died peacefully. She cried with us.

We remember all of his antics, his playing, his purrs in the night. He still kisses me in his secret way. But most of all, we see his beautiful eyes gazing directly at us—questioning, understanding, loving, and connecting as no other animal has ever done.

Vladimir. So dignified and pure of heart.

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I want to be in Italy when I’m 80

A caravan pulls up to our neighbor’s house and the music starts. Bells are ringing, people are singing and shouting joyous greetings. The house is lit up with all the outside lights (which is very special here since electricity is so expensive!) to welcome the local bandwagon of people, gifts, and good cheer.

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This Christmas Eve mission? To visit each and every house in this tiny valley where someone (or more) is at least 80 years old. And there are a lot of them! At least 20 people out of a population of 100 or so.

I stand on the terrace and watch and listen. My heart fills with joy, I smile. And I think to myself, I want to still be here when I’m 80.

Merry Christmas to all.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

Reflections on the Vltava River, Cesky Krumlov, in Bohemia, Czech Republic.

The sky smiled up at me

The sky smiled up at me

Menopause humor: don’t leave home without it

If you can’t find your menopause humor at home, try looking under the rug—you probably swept it there. If you do leave home without it, you’ll find yourself grinding your teeth at every stop light, freaking out in the dairy aisle because they don’t have the brand of milk you want, or seriously considering tripping the 20-something, infinitely perky secretary—with her clip-clapping high heels on the tile floor of the workplace cafeteria—and gleefully watching her cottage cheese and tomato salad go flying. What a great image. Except that I could never do this because it would be tripping up the last faint image of my former self oh so many years ago. I have to hang on to a tiny part of my past, of the vibrant young woman who was ready to take on the world. And who did in so many ways. Before this. Before menopause.

It’s National Menopause Awareness Day. Leave it to us baby boomers to create an awareness day of something that’s been happening to women since the dawn of people. Gosh how we love to talk about everything that’s happening to us, as if it’s the first time this has happened to anyone! But okay. It really is a good thing to raise awareness of this phase of a woman’s life. Especially if it helps women (and men) seek advice and get their hands on as much information as possible. More important, awareness programs let us know we’re not alone with horrible symptoms that are driving us and our loved ones stark raving mad.

When I went through the worst parts of menopause (and I’m still going through some rough patches of post-menopause), there were times when I truly thought I was going crazy. Confusion, anxiety, crying spells at the drop of a hat, and unbelievable anger dominated my life. I kept telling myself that all of this was normal, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I have an older sister who listened to me and described her symptoms, so I knew what to expect. I knew there would be hot flashes and night sweats, I knew I’d crave anything salted and vodka, I knew my sex drive would go down, I knew my memory might start failing. I was totally prepared to experience all these symptoms.

What I didn’t know was how strong the force and profundity of emotions, especially the anger, would be. This storm of rage took me completely by surprise. I’m no stranger to rage; as a child and teenager, I watched my mother’s generation spawn a lot of angry women fighting for equal rights. And there were the angry outbursts at family gatherings, which truly puzzled me at the time. I remember wondering why everybody was so mad. As Dee Adams says, “If you don’t get it, you ain’t there yet.” Well, now I get it.

So there I am, having had a fairly calm character most of my life, and all of a sudden, everything is pissing me off. Royally. You name it, I was getting mad. I started to understand why so many women around 50 have nervous breakdowns or give up on life. Even my sister, who inherited our dad’s humor genes, went through a couple of years of not laughing much; she was just pissed off at everyone and everything. Well, I said to myself, this won’t happen to me. Uh-uh. I’m calm, I’m a nice person, I’m trained as a psychologist—I can handle any emotion that comes up. Yeah, right. None of that mattered. I didn’t want to analyze my feelings, look at my motives, or talk anything through. I wanted to throw dishes. Lots of them.

One night when things got particularly bad between my husband and me, the delicious thought of a two-year old’s tantrums came to mind. I’d had enough of hot flashes, night sweats, confusion, a new-found clumsiness (I’m an ex-ballerina, for god’s sake, and I was bumping into walls). I’d also gotten scared to death when I realized I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t care about my husband’s feelings, I didn’t care about trying to have a good life, I didn’t give a damn. This was worse than anger, this was how suicides happen. I decided I’d better sit down and write about what I was going through.

I fantasized that I was doing family therapy again. I listened to the menopausal woman’s anger, frustration, lack of self-esteem, and depression. I listened to her husband wondering why he was doing everything wrong. I listened to the kids wondering where their loving mother had gone. I concentrated on the family members first for my fantasy advice. To help them with coping strategies, I started coming out with statements like learn to disappear,  learn to cook, humor her–listen to ’70s rock, think of menopause as your houseguest who has stayed way too long, and think of a two-year old’s tantrums.

Then suddenly, it all seemed so funny. A two-year old’s tantrums. Yes! That was me! So, before I killed my husband or he killed me, I found humor in this crazy situation and had to write a humorous book on menopause. It developed into a “guide” for the husbands, kids, and animals of the menopausal woman. My father always told us that his humor got him through the roughest times of his life. I listened to that nutty little voice inside of me and transformed a lot of insane thoughts and angry feelings into a 10-step guide for the family members to survive HER menopause.

Believe me, I know that menopause is serious. It’s bigger than most of us and proves that the Body Snatchers do exist. It’s important for everyone to be informed, to seek help, to stay healthy, exercise, meditate, to do whatever it takes to get through it. And once you’ve done all that, it’s even more important to find your inner menopause humor, and don’t leave home without it!

Late summer

As I wrote in “The Last Firefly”, the season continues to move on. And since both the lavender and fireflies are gone, I’ve said goodbye to that header photo and replaced it with a late summer one.

This summer has been beastly in Italy. Our hottest since 2003. We’re watching the crops dry up and die, animals that don’t normally come down this far into the valley are desperately searching for water, and we’re living like cave people inside our shuttered house every afternoon. I don’t dare venture out until early evening.

In spite of the intense heat this year, late summer brings its own beauty and gifts. Local garden ingredients for making Ratatouille and glazed apples for desert.

My basil looks like a forest this year as it laps up the sunlight and heat.

The fields are rolled, leaving tracks that look like waterfalls…I can’t get enough of this scene in our little valley.

The sunflowers enjoyed the heat a lot more than I did!

And the biggest gift of all: a second blooming of my white roses.

Her true love

Today would have been my mom’s 84th birthday. It’s the second birthday since her death, and some of the wind is still knocked out of my sails without her.

Thinking of her today, I remembered all that she loved, and there was a lot. Her family, her piano, her dancing, her ocean.

But most of all, her true love was her magnificent horse, Negro (the Spanish pronunciation “naygro” meaning black). She rode and jumped him with abandon, as she did life, up until she was about 74 years old.

These 3 photos were taken on her 70th birthday. Happy birthday, wherever you are, my sweet mamma.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Merge

This week’s photo challenge is about merging two diverse entities. This photo is not photoshopped. I took this photo through one of our wrought-iron gates looking out onto the morning light in the trees.

Through the portal

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong

I’m standing on a tiny dirt road in the Italian countryside…