All posts by Laura

Laura is Nora Roberts' personal publicist. She can be found on the Nora Roberts and JD Robb Official Fan Pages on Facebook as well as on Instagram.

Tuscany – Day 21

A stay home day is just fine. Chain Saw Man gets very busy through the morning, and this time two trucks are spotted in the general vicinity on what we’re now calling Chain Saw Ridge. And he’s at it again today. CSM is no slacker.

Neither am I as I appear to be Griffin’s Race, Jump, Pratfall partner. I hold up my end, but still have time for puzzling. Making progress, and Kat is making serious progress in that area. She and Jason head to the market, and Griffin’s satisfied to hang with the rest of us. Kayla lures him outside for a race, but he spots his trucks inside, so in we go. He has several Mario figures—his new hero, perhaps displacing Blaze and that gang. Down the sliding race track with Mario, time to sleep for Mario, time to wake up and slide for Mario. Mario is very busy for awhile.

Grandkids, toys and a view. Photo by Kat.

A little lunch when the shoppers return, Kat makes cookies and BW takes his drone on its longest journey yet.

Perfect cookies cooling. Photo by Kayla.
Cookie alignment. Photo by Kat.

We have discovered the Italian brand of Fruit Loops. Kayla decrees them okay, and undoubtedly healthier than the real thing. Griffin loves them—but often requests the purple ones. Kayla questions this preference as to her pallet they’re all the same. Later at dinner, Kat will do a blind taste test, and proves Griffin is correct—or at least she and Griffin share the same taste buds.

The breezeway lives up to its name. Photo by Kayla.

But before dinner, we all clean up and change. Kat and Griffin visit my room as Kat’s booking a little fun time for the girls. We’re going to make silver jewelry, instructed by a local silversmith. Griffin doesn’t know a bed that isn’t made for bouncing on or jumping off of. Kat and I take turns—as directed—helping him take the big jump from the chest at the foot of the bed to the floor.

Somehow he decides it’s now my turn to jump. Unexpected! But he doesn’t object when I sort of sit on the chest, and assists me in my version of a jump before he switches to Hide and Seek. He hides—in my closet, every time. Oddly, I never find him.

Then they’re off, and I hit the showers.

We’re booked for dinner at 7:30. Just before 7, Jason tells me Griffin’s fallen asleep—small wonder. He gets his brief nap before Kat carries his limp self out. We’re armed with Italian Fruit Loops in case of crankiness, but though zoned, he’s surprisingly non-cranky.

Filling the space with a late nap. Photo by Kat.

We arrive right on time at the restaurant the driver recommended for pizza. The cook/host/owner/part-owner (?) seems surprised we arrive on time, but gracious—any table we like as none of the outdoor seating’s yet occupied. We sit, order a bottle of water, and observe what’s essentially Main Street in a small town. A car parked across the narrow street scrapes the stone wall of the building on his way out. He appears unconcerned.

People sit and chat at the wine bar next to us, others walk by. Another guy walks past our table into the kitchen/bar, and it becomes clear our place is a two-man operation, and this may be the owner.

The menus have English names for the pizzas—like Body and Soul, Nice Pesto. Jason uses his phone to translate as the descriptions are in Italian. They also have a handful of appetizers, and Kat picks one—a kind of puff pastry turnover filled with tuna with caramelized onions on top. She’s hoping Griffin will go for the tuna.

Pizza with ricotta, fresh tomatoes, pesto. So going with Nice Pesto on this one. Photo by j a-b.
Pizza with ham and cheese. Photo by BW.
Margherita pizza — which can fill the Body & Soul. (I don’t know, this was a guess. ~L) Photo by j a-b.

I won’t call the service slow. I’m going with very, very laid back. Friendly with it when we eventually order. The tuna deal, pizzas, more water, a bottle of Chianti.

While we wait, another car slides in to park across the street, bumps into a pole. Apparently no big deal. I assume the cars parked or moving are locals as through traffic isn’t allowed after 8–and it’s already well after as another starts to slide next to the building, clearly texting while doing so. And somehow she avoids mishap.

Bells chime on the hour and the half from the bell tower across the street. At nine—I don’t know why—they chime like mad things.

Group selfie. Photo by Kayla.

Griffin absolutely goes for the tuna. The pizza’s delicious, and very sloppy. Kayla solves this by folding pieces in half. I go for the lift by a fork until I get it up method. Kat finally succumbs, with apologies, to knife and fork. However you get the job done, it’s pretty damn good. Griffin agrees, though when he takes the piece I offer, most of it slides off the crust. He likes the crust. And the purple Fruit Loops.

For a kid wakened from a nap, hauled into the car, packed in a stroller, parked at a restaurant for more than two hours, he’s remarkably chill. Maybe his sense memory of his first year and a half of life’s clicked in. Scotland, Ireland, California, Hawaii, Montana, New York—there may be more in there. In any case, he’s a most excellent traveler.

We miss the sunset, but catch the final dramatic red blush with the growing moon sailing overhead. And head home for cappuccino. Kat wants to try making it, and does a very fine job.

Last light. Photo by j a-b.
Evening show. Photo by Kayla.
Sunset paparrazzi. Photo by Nora.

From the looks of the sky this morning, I expect another pretty day. I’m going to work out, and consider it training for any upcoming races and jumps.

Nora


Bruce’s countryside video.

Tuscany – Day 20

Jason, Kat and Kayla head out to Pisa, and Griffin invites me to sit and watch a morning video. It’s a clear day, and will be hot—but not quite the triple digits hot. The boy doesn’t notice his mother’s not there for awhile, then he gets up, wanders into the kitchen. I know he’s looking for her. He’ll usually call out: Mommy? Where are you? But today, he just looks. Then one of the cleaning crew comes in—she has dark hair like Kat, worn pulled up as Kat often does.

I can see for an instant he thinks it’s Kat, then realizes, nope, not Mom. But he decides she’s worthy of attention. Since the pandemic, he’s been very wary of strangers, but he likes the look of this one, so follows her around, chatters at her. She’s amused and chatters back. The toddler English and the adult Italian don’t seem to matter in this cheerful conversation. Then she walks over to our dining room Start/Finish line, and he assumes: Race, and gives her butt a little nudge.

Dormant bath in wall with green. Photo by Nora.

She is even more amused, and I’m delighted when he doesn’t back off when she crouches down, touches him and they converse in their different languages.

I race with him as she’s busy, then Grandda joins. Now it’s chase and catch Grandda time.

But when the second housekeeper comes in, he decides she looks interesting, too. And when the pair of them start up the stairs, he’s happy to believe this is a race. Up the stairs. Race Up! So up we go, trailing the two housekeepers into Kayla’s room.

They work around him as he jogs in a circle, babbles, then climbs on the bed to jump and bounce. We have a fairly dignified pillow fight on Kayla’s bed, pretend to sleep. Back down he finds one of the buckets with cleaning products interesting, and I must explain: That’s not yours. Fine then, back to videos and the occasional race. Then a break to play trucks before lunch.

I puzzle and BW reads while he eats.

He’s truly good as gold and very entertaining throughout the day.

It’s a long trip for the adventurers, and they bring back many stories and pictures. After the drive, lunch—which given the rest they think should’ve been reversed.

[Presenting photos from Pisa, captions from Laura. Any errors are mine. ~L]

Alfa Romeo. Photo by Kat.
The Tower. Photo by j-ab.
Fallen Angel. Photo by j a-b.
A pano of the entire Piazza del Miracoli. From l: Pisa Baptistry, Pisa Cathedral, the Campanile (Leaning Tower). Photo by j a-b.
The crowds around the tower. Photo by Kayla.
Dramatic biblical moment. Photo by Kat.
Pisa Mandevilla. Photo by Kat.
Coat of arms. Photo by Kat.

The climb up the Leaning Tower is circular and tilted—with my tendencies toward motion sickness and vertigo, I suspect I wouldn’t make it. Kat has a little trouble, and from the interior pictures I can see why. But they make it to the top and the spectacular view. And after time admiring it, documenting it and regaining some balance, down again.

Look WAY up. Photo by Kayla.
The view from the Tower. Photo by j a-b.
A selection of bells at the top of the Tower. Photo by j a-b.
Intrepid climbers overlooking Pisa. Photo by j a-b.
Looking down into Pisa. Photo by j a-b.

On the way back they spot a winery that looks like a castle—and we may adventure there. Though Kayla doesn’t like wine, she’d like to visit a winery here. I like wine, and would also enjoy a visit.

For dinner we just raid the fridge and pantry—there’s plenty to go around.

And it’s time to Chase And Catch Grandda again.

Mother/Son Chillaxing. Photo by Dad.

Then sit outside in the shade of the back yard, relax while Griffin plays with water, pouring—intensely—from pitcher to bowl, through the net bag that held a kind of Ferris wheel toy, and all over him.

Pre-bed pool time. Photo by Kat.

An evening swim for Kat and Griffin, another spectacular sunset.

Silhouettes in setting sun. Photo by j a-b.
Sunset with flower. Photo by Nora.
Filmy clouds post sunset. Photo by Kat.
La Luna is growing. Photo by Nora.

Cloudy and cooler this morning. Chain Saw Man was busy earlier, but must be taking a well-deserved break.

I’ll get my workout in, then I suspect plans will depend on the weather.

Nora


In today’s #randomkatness

Nine-spotted moth spotted by Kat.

Plus this beauty.

I’m going to call this #randomhatness. Photo by j a-b.

Tuscany – Day 19

BW gets a glimpse of a little yellow tractor disappearing into a thick swath of cypress on the western hill. CSM’s in there somewhere.

Post work out, I hear the squeals and cheers of racing. Today’s track is around the dining room table with competitors Kayla and Griffin. It’s pretty sweet to watch my oldest and youngest play. Before long, I’m drafted onto the field.

At one point Kayla tells him she needs a break and sits. Oh, the sad! No whining, no vocal objection. He simply hangs his head in a moment of mourning silence before I distract him back into the race with just me.

It’s a hot—triple digits hot—hang out Sunday. BW does some droning, Jason’s checking on his house—big rain storm back home. There’s racing and videoing, a new puzzle to puzzle, hide and seeking, Mario Carting and Mario Partying.

Temps. Photo by BW.

Danger Guy dangers himself off the game room sofa onto the tile floor. A hug and Mommy stroking’s all he needs before he’s back in business with a new game. Crash The Nana—with pillows. I execute many dramatic fake falls which pleases him.

Shade time. Photo by Kayla.

Cooking starts to happen. Scrub and quarter potatoes with a sharp knife—thanks, Kat—figure out conversion for oven temp—thanks, Jason—gather herbs, mince garlic, grind some pepper, slide big ass pan in the oven.

Family dinner. Photo by BW.

BW’s drafted to make a salad, Kayla a cheese board. Kat will handle the broccoli. Jason’s assigned to make some fries—we have frozen—for Danger Guy. And we discover, unlike at home, these won’t cook in the oven—translation from package instruction says fry in oil. An attempt to subvert this with the oven fails. We have sunflower oil, so Jason fries, Kat steams (the broccoli), Kayla creates, BW tosses. I stir up potatoes, slice some bread, some tomatoes—add fresh basil, pepper and olive oil there.

Delightful plates. Photo by BW.

And indoor meal tonight due to heat and bugs. And it’s all more than fine. A lovely family Sunday dinner in Tuscany. After which BW makes cappuccino and the gang cleans up.

BW-made capuccino. Photo by Kayla.

It’s pool time. Out of the blasting afternoon sun, an evening swim sounds good. Knowing the water temp won’t meet my standards, I will observe and document. Kayla’s reaction doesn’t surprise, but she eventually inches herself in.

The hard part – getting in. Photo by Nora.
Nearly there. Photo by Nora.
Everyone’s adjusted to the water. Photo by Nora.

We examine the room near the pool—another bedroom we didn’t need, but haven’t looked over. BW finds one of my In Death books inside. Nice.

Excellent reading choice. Photo by Nora.

As the sun goes down, so does the heat. It’s breezy with it, so very, very pleasant.

Sunset show. Photo by Nora.

Bedtime—but I place a couple puzzle pieces first.

Today, Danger Guy stays with Nana and Grandda while his parents and cousin adventure off to Pisa. BW and I have been there, done that, so we’ll give Griffin a day of adventuring at home. I hope Danger Guy takes it easy on his nana’s heart rate.

Chain Saw Man’s busy, and some bird calls out—a hoarse call, like it has a cold. Not a cloud in the pale blue morning sky.

I’m going to see about getting a short work out in before I step up for Nana duty.

Nora

Tuscany – Day 18

Morning mist. Photo by Nora.

First, for those of you wondering why we don’t/hoping we will walk down to see what Chain Saw Man is building, an explanation.

We’re on a hilltop here, overlooking the valley with more forested hills to the east and west. CSM is somewhere—best we can tell—on a ridge to the west, within one of the dense forests. We can’t see him, only hear.

No way to walk down anywhere from here as the first step would be a doozy!—which is why we have stone walls to prevent tumbling off the hill. Plus he’s not `down’ there, he’s over on another hill somewhere. I can see a vineyard on the top of the hill to our right—the west—and what looks like a dirt road going down, but even with all the sounds of building, we never see any movement.

Don’t know where he is, and there’s a lot going on over there this pretty Sunday morning. Sawing, hammering, and the first time I hear the sound of a vehicle. A tractor, maybe? A small bulldozer? Not sure, as it’s just not visible. I just heard a tree go down, and I was looking in that general direction, but didn’t see one fall.

Anyway.

Command Center request for an actual photo of the huge rosemary plant mentioned back on the first day at the villa fulfilled! Nora provides scale. Photo by Nora’s iPad.

After work out, I join the family for a pleasant time in what’s sort of our sitting room/Griffin’s play room. The cleaning crew’s doing what must be their Saturday ritual, and that’s thorough, so we’re staying out of their way as much as possible. Kayla appears late morning as she’s spent some Face Time with her guy as he and his family are leaving for a cruise and they won’t be able to talk for about a week.

Busy boy. Photo by Kat.

We think to visit the shop in the village, then make a quick hit on the market for fresh strawberries and what Kat needs to make cookies.

Daddy stays back with Griffin, and off we go.

Sadly the shops are closed. I guess Saturday isn’t a big hunt through shops day in Barbarino. So with Kat as our driver and tour guide we head to the big COOP—like chicken coop. There are two—one big, one small—we want the big one as there’s a better chance they’ll have Kayla’s oat milk.

We also score, to our satisfaction, chocolate chips, and to my pleasure, two bottles of Veuve.

Unlike the shops in Barbarino, the COOP is a madhouse. It’s interesting looking for specifics, identifying flour, brown sugar and so on when it’s not in the packaging you’re used to and in another language. Like a hunt, and we become skilled hunters.

Home we go, me to make frozen margaritas, Kat to make cookies.

The reason for margaritas needs no explanation, but the cookies?

Griffin is fond of Chips Ahoy—only the chewy ones, red package. He’s used to being offered a cookie or two daily, so his parents brought along what they thought would last through our Italian adventures. However, there are more of us offering those cookies (often as bribes, of which I am a firm proponent).

He’s running out. We have substituted what he calls cookie cake—some sort of Twinkie looking thing without the filling but with tiny chocolate chips. This was Kayla score, but she shares. Kat’s decided to try to reproduce cookies that meet Griffin’s Chewy Chips Ahoy taste bar.

I’m going to make strawberry margaritas for Kayla and Jason, and for me, a purist, regular. BW can have either. I need cookie-baking Kat’s guidance on the machine to start. But soon I’m juicing and measuring (mostly eyeballing as measuring tools are scarce) slicing and blending. And produce pretty strawberry margs while Kat makes the world’s smallest batch of cookies (it’s a test batch, after all).

Then what I consider a real frozen marg. And I fear I’ll never use margarita mix for anything but marinating chicken and fish again. Fresh is so much better.

Hummus plate for Kayla courtesy of Kat. Photo by BW.

In her cook’s mode, Kat makes hummus for Kayla and presents a lovely tray. BW, Kayla and I sit out, BW and I with our second margaritas and some cheese and crackers, Kayla with her hummus tray, and enjoy the view and the sunshine.

Inside, the kitchen smells like fresh cookies, and a few sit out cooling—bigger than the standard Chips Ahoy. Back in the sitting room we learn Griffin took one from Daddy, had a bite, made a disillusioned face and handed it to his mom.

But then went back, took Daddy’s cookie, had some more. I’m too full of margaritas and cheese for cookies, but BW had one. Kat has another culinary success.

Lovely day. Photo by j a-b.

It’s game time. Kat v Kayla on the ever-popular Mario Cart. Danger Guy is dangering on the sofa below the screen. I take the other sofa and a bat nap.

We plan to try the other restaurant in the village—recommended for its pizza. It doesn’t open until 7:30, so we head out about 7:15. Griffin plays a game with me and Kayla, closes the gate behind us, guards it. We pretend to beg to come in. He opens it a crack, peeks out. This keeps us entertained.

Peeking through. Photo by Kayla.

We also discover the old door across the road sort of built into the wall of the hill isn’t locked. Inside a kind of small cave are big old wine jugs and baskets. I don’t know why.

Door. Photo by Kayla.
Old bottle recepticle. Photo by Kayla.

Shops still closed in the village, and we learn our intended destination is fully booked for Saturday night. We go next door where we had dinner Friday, elect the street patio area.

Kayla and I are going to split a salad to start—what I thought would be a smallish Isalada Mista, that turns out to be huge with tons of roasted veggies. We make a spare plate of tons of roasted veggies to take home for tomorrow’s Sunday morning omelettes (by Kat).

Then there’s pizza, pasta, wine. We don’t lack for conversation. Kayla remembers I can find a song containing almost any word you can throw out. My father could do it. So words are tossed, and Kat says I’m faster than Google. But, I admit, chocolate stumped me. Jason Googles and finds many. None of which I recognized.

Cappuccino, lemoncello—and then they bring us a complimentary dolci, a pretty crepe with many forks.

Dessert with forks. Photo by Kayla.

On the waddle back, we make a reservation at the other place for Tuesday night, so we’ll now compare food and service.

The view of the sky, that thumbnail moon, the red glow at the horizon, from the parking lot is just awesome. Which may be why they have a platform you can go up to to enhance that view.

Home for a last sit out and bask for me, then bed.

Rosy horizon. Photo by BW.
Evening family shot. Photo by BW.
Day is done. Photo by j a-b.
Kayla-approved shot by her Nana.

We plan a Sunday dinner at home tonight. I’m going to make roasted, herbed-up potatoes—a crowd fave. We have salad makings, broccoli, cheese, bread, left-overs.

I may write awhile after my work out, or sit and read—or watch what I assume will be more Mario Cart competition.

What I think was a big gray cat just dashed up and away. At least I hope it was a cat as I only got a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. We’ve seen a little black and white one in the bushes outside the gate, so I’m going with another cat.

Chain Saw Man continues his work, and I think everyone else is still sleeping.

I predict another fine day in Tuscany.

Nora


And in today’s #randomkatness (cooking division):

A boy with his fishing pole in front of the moon. Food art by Kat, photo by j a-b.

Tuscany – Day 17

Before I work out it’s time for some morning video amusement with Griffin. Then I discover Kat’s making Eggs Benedict—a BW fave. Some round Italian type bacon will substitute for the usual Canadian, AND she’s making Hollandaise sauce from scratch.

Eggs poaching. Photo by Nora.

I must watch the process, and use her phone to memorialize some of it.

The result is lovely, and BW decrees YUM.

Finished product. Photo by BW.
Kat’s plate with tomatoes and rice. Photo by Kat.
And a side of sliced strawberries in a lemon rind bowl. Photo by Kat.

Well past time for me to head down to my outdoor gym. Water bottles for weights day, and Tony Horton on my Beach Body app. While I’m lifting I hear the thunder of a plane. A BIG plane that sounds like it’s about to land on the roof of the pergola.

So I step out in time to see—farther away than I’d have guessed—some sort of fighter jet streak by and over the western hills. Back to Tony, a quick one with Shaun T to cap off some cardio, back to Tony for some core mat work, then finish up with Autumn for stretches. Good session!

Up to charge my tablet as 90 minutes or so of streaming eats up batteries.

A slice of cold pizza with Jason and Kat in the kitchen as we discuss plans to go into the village for dinner tonight. Then up to change.

Pretty day, temps rising again, but I don’t mind. I consider setting up to work awhile, or hanging out and watching the Mario Cart competition. Mario wins. And when the game ends I decide an hour’s work is now the thing.

I spot a man and woman outside the gate. It looks like she’s taking pictures of the hydrangeas as they stand and discuss something. She’s carrying some sort of packet, and they’ve come in two cars. Up the steep road they walk. Huh.

Before I go out, I see her come back, with two other guys. Big discussion right outside the gate, then she walks off a distance—like you do when you’re measuring. Discuss, discuss. I have no idea what that’s all about, maybe a property line dispute. Who knows.

Kat, Kayla and I (mostly Kat!) finish the puzzle! Hurray!

Punnily enough, they finished! Photo by Kayla.

I go to work. It’s nice and quiet again.

Plans are to leave about six, and it’s about five-thirty when I surface. I’m going to change into something cooler for dinner, then I hang with Kayla for awhile while everyone else is pulling it together.

You can’t drive to the restaurant—the narrow street forbids car traffic after eight, and we’ll surely be beyond that when we’re done. I go with Jason and Griffin (Griffin considered driving but was denied) and the others lead the way.

It’s a pretty drive to the parking lot outside of Barbarino. Steps lead up—or a ramp for Stroller Boy—and to a sweet little park, then down that narrow street of the pretty village. BW and I see a shop—closed by this time—lovely little Tiffany style lamps I have no idea where I’d put, but just so lovely. And a little accordion. All sorts of things stuffed into the shop.

We must go back when it’s open.

A little shady respite. Photo by j a-b.

The restaurant Mr. Google told us opened at six doesn’t serve until seven-thirty, but the next one down—where we’ve gotten take-out—welcomes us in. And back to a patio with a beautiful view. Umbrella must be adjusted for shade as the sun is blazing.

Under the Tuscan Sun (Could NOT resist). Photo by BW.

Our server has about as much English as we do Italian, but we manage to order water and wine. The menu’s a little bit of a struggle as we have our vegetarian and our allergic to meat and shellfish diners. The good part is there are numbers representing allergies beside every dish.

Mine’s easy: Spaghetti a pomodoro.

Nora’s plate. Photo by Nora.

Before our mains, another server brings out a round of bread, sort of like a small, sauce-free pizza, with a dish of what turns out to be vodka red sauce. It’s pretty wonderful. So is my pasta. Griffin’s fries must’ve been as well as he sure enjoyed them.

Appetizer! Photo by Nora.
Griffin’s plate. Photo by Nora.

It’s a really nice meal, and we have the whole patio to ourselves throughout. So how about some cappuccino and some dolci? I say yes.

Kat and Kayla learn BW can make cappuccino on the coffee maker at the villa. This brings joy.

Capuccino. Photo by j a-b.

Complimentary limocello, and it’s wow.

The walk back is welcome after that meal, and the view from the park is great.

Stone house, open air roof. Photo by j a-b
A longer shot. Photo by Nora.
Sun lowering over carpark. Photo by j a-b.
Stone ducks in sunshine. Photo by j a-b.
Keeping watch. Photo by Kayla.
Breezy family shot, Photo by j a-b.
A shadier shot. Photo by BW.

Back home and it’s sunset time. Then pj time for me and Mario time for all. While the games rage, Griffin decides it’s chase Nana time—with his lawnmower. Around and around we go, from game room—jump—to sitting room and back around—jump to game room. At the finish line I’m instructed to go again—the lawnmower’s on my heels.

A boy and his mower. Photo by BW.

A wheel comes off. Nana fixes.

Jason attempts to tag me out as BW takes over his controls. But Griffin’s declares a three-person chase. Then does his pretend fall routine. Oh No! I help him up. When I pretend to fall, he helps me up. I think we’re both doing the pretend fall routine as we need to catch our breath.

Jason comes up with a run around Nana game, and Nana’s grateful for the reprieve.

I step outside, and GOD, the sky! That rose line bleeding at the horizon, a spreading canvas of indigo above with a perfectly carved crescent moon sailing on it. I have to get my tablet.

The grand finale of the day. Photo by

Everyone comes out. It’s the first we’ve seen the moon—Griffin’s a fan of the moon—as it’s waxing. And the thumbnail of white just hangs over the hills for us to admire. Griffin and Kayla have conversations. Griffin’s completely smitten with Kayla and often gives her heart eyes. It’s adorable.

A slice of La Luna. Photo by Kayla.

Couldn’t ask for a more perfect end to a really good day.

This morning a mist hangs over the valley, and as I sit it spreads and rises until the world’s a white cloud. I can hear Chain Saw Man down there and wonder how he can see what he’s doing.

Gradually, mists roll back a bit until the eastern hills look like they’re floating in a white sea. Minute by minute the valley peeks through—hints of green and gold—and blurs of blue show in the sky.

Chain Saw Man is VERY busy this morning. Sawing, hammering. Without the mist to muffle it, the sound’s clear again.

I hear someone stirring in the house, so it must be work out time for me.

Nora

Tuscany – Day 16

The gang has plans, and they fill me in when I’m done working out. A trip to the village of Certaldo—about twenty minutes away—and a ride up a funicular to the 13th century Etruscan-era town high on the hillside. The funicular portion  makes me hesitate. Just how high is it—and is walking an option?

Walking is, though it’d be hot and steep—and the ride, I’m assured is only a couple of minutes.

Okay then, we’ll give that a try.

The drive’s nice. The opposite way from where we came in, so new views of vineyards climbing and hills doing their rise and fall. We squeeze through what we’re calling the ghost town. Lots of buildings, no people and wind and turn our way—our two-car caravan—to Certaldo and a car park.

Funicular view. Photo by BW.

After a bit of time, we reason out the pay box, opt for the 8 Euro full day deal as the hourly rate’s just too complicated for us.

A short walk to the ticket office and the funicular—mask up, collapse the stroller and pile on the already crowded car.

This is Griffin’s favorite part of the journey. We go up, up, up!! And it really does only take a couple minutes, which is great for Nana as this is NOT her favorite part of the journey.

The view. Photo by BW.

Worth it. Beautiful old buildings with portions of failed stucco revealing old brick. Brick streets so narrow we’re surprised to see a few cars. But people live here, work here at the restaurants, the museums—and yippee!—the gelato place.

I love the pots of flowers hung right on the brick like art or in window boxes—and more pushing their way to the sun right out of the brick street. It’s steep, and obviously chosen for defense rather than convenience.

Flowers in available space. Photo by BW.

The palazzo museum—our goal—isn’t open yet, so why not lunch? We choose a sweet little place with tables right on the skinny sidewalk. And on a steep slope.

Lunch in Certaldo. Photo by BW.

Our server’s young, pretty and speaks excellent English. It’s a fine way to while away the time for the opening hour, cool off a bit—it’s very hot again—and sit under half umbrellas—they butt right up against the side of the building—with a solid blue summer sky above.

Refreshment. Photo by BW.

People climb by as we eat, most with kids—so likely tourists like us—or with dogs—maybe locals.

Lunch. Photo by j a-b.

There are big, old wooden doors, most with intricate detailing, more flowers pushing their way under red tile roofs. And quiet.

Who’s there? Photo by Kat.
Detail of door. Photo by Nora.

When we finish, our server asks where we’re from, and we learn she’s from right there. It’s quiet, we say, and she agrees. Yes, quiet, and boring.

And I expect it is for a young woman, as life is likely that quiet and work most of the time.

Kayla and Nora in Certaldo. Photo by BW.

On we go to the palazzo with its clock tower and flairs. Inside it’s lovely and fascinating with frescos, painted ceilings, steep steps, a dungeon!—A small dungeon that must’ve been very depressing. The governor’s private chapel, with saintly frescos. 

Photo by j a-b.

There’s a screen with a video on a loop of a festival in Certaldo, and it looks like a crazy, fun time. I hope our pretty server enjoys that when it comes around.

Family pano. Photo by j a-b and company.

There’s a garden courtyard outside, and we set up a group panorama, and climb some skinny, steep stairs to what might’ve been a battlement. Wonderful views, and no hint of invading forces.

Palazzo Pretorio. Photo by Kalya.
Palazzo Pretorio in Certaldo. Photo by Nora.

More steps up to an art gallery, and down into an echoing little church with a tabernacle, frescos—one of which Jason dubs Bluebeard, because he has one.

Incredulita San Tommaso by Pier Francesco Fiorentino with onlookers. Photo by BW’s phone.

Our time there turned into pretty much a private tour, which made it only more enjoyable. quiet is definitely the word of the day.

Art by Giampaolo Talani – a local artist. Photo by BW.
Another by Giampaolo Talani – who put himself in a lot of his art. Photo by BW.

Out we go and down the steep brick street for a stop for gelato. Kayla opts for the cola-flavored Italian ice and Jason for a tropical-flavored—which he says tastes like it looks.

Mail call! Photo by BW.

Blue.

Well. Photo by BW.
Well as planter. Photo by Kayla.

We finish our treats before we go in to wait for our ride down. Much less crowded on the return trip, just us and a family with two little girls. Griffin also enjoys the down part, and gives the girls the eye (sort of like a teenage boy might eye a couple of pretty teenage girls, pretending he’s NOT looking).

Afternoon view. Photo by BW.

We drive back—and the boy falls asleep in the car. Kat sits with him as he takes his well-earned nap.

Kayla’s back at Mario, and chalks up a thirteen #1 winning streak on her races. When Griffin wakes, Jason and Kat join her for some competition.

We’ve decided on Pop’s Pancakes for dinner. This is my father’s recipe, handed down generations. We believe we have everything necessary to make this happen, as it was on the potential menu for awhile.

I discover my gang has picked up condensed rather than evaporated milk —it calls for both regular and evaporated. Hmm. Kat googles, and finds I can use about half the condensed and add more regular to substitute.

There are no measuring cups or spoons in this kitchen. One big measuring pitcher, so eyeballing is required for the dry ingredients. And that’s when we discover the box of baking powder we’d previously seen in the pantry does not contain baking powder packets (how it comes here) but pretty little drink umbrellas. Who would hide drink umbrellas in a baking powder box? We are displeased with them.

And this is a problem.

Once again, Jason comes to the rescue by driving to the grocery store (which isn’t around the corner).

Meanwhile Kat preps strawberries, blueberries, makes bacon.

We find a big enough pan—I’d normally use a griddle—for cooking the pancakes.

Jason returns, and we estimate 3 heaping teaspoons as about one and a third packet. Here’s hoping.

Heat the pan, ladle in the batter—I can do three at a time if I’m careful with the flip. I make strawberry, blueberry and plain.

We have the butter and syrup to go with them. Kat makes me a pretty little fruit bowl of strawberries and apricots, and a little bacon sandwich since I’m not a big pancake eater (sorry, Pop!)

They are a success!! I think Kayla ate three—don’t know where she puts it. And if we make them again, we’re better prepared.

Another glorious sunset to cap off dinner.

Sunset study by Jason.

During clean-up, the kitchen island becomes a race track for Griffin. I get a car and join. Kayla sits at the island and becomes part of the course. Jason and Kat time the laps to avoid crashing the drivers while they do the dishes.

Then Kayla begins to call the race, which is thrilling for the boy. The police car wins!

Again, the boy says, and we’re off.

Grandda joins about the time Griffin’s decides both his cars should fall off the cliff on each lap. Oh no! Try again, and hilarity. More hilarity when Grandda takes the red car and drives it off the cliff. Now it’s screaming hilarity. Again and again.

Our boy is pretty easily amused.

It’s beyond bedtime, so Kayla gives the one-more-lap warning. He draws that one out, gives a subtle attempt at another. But when Mom and Dad scoop him up, he retires from the field gracefully.

I take my last glass of wine outside to enjoy the gorgeous night, then also retire from the field.

A pretty morning, and Chain Saw Man’s building something down there. I think I see a small structure in the trees, but it’s too far away to be sure. But the sound of building carries up.

Work out time approaches. I’m going to see if anyone else is up and about.

Nora

Oleander. Photo by Nora.

Tuscany – Day 15

The cloudy start. Photo by Nora.

A cool, breezy, cloudy start turns into a beautiful day. My new workout spot and water bottles do just fine. As I’m finishing up with stretches, BW comes out with his drone to take some aerial shots. Apparently, in one of them a very tiny me is doing a split-leg forward fold.

The villa from above. BW is at top of the stairs, guiding the drone. Nora’s near the bottom of the stairs in split forward fold.

Everyone’s up and about, the daily cleaning crew’s on the job. I place a few more puzzle pieces before heading up to change.

Jason, BW and Kayla are heading out maybe to see a nearby ghost town, and a dome of some sort. I’m going to work awhile, and Kat wants a day at home. When I join her, there’s a bit more puzzling and hanging out time with the best dil in the history thereof and my youngest grandkid.

Then the gang’s back with stories of skinny, bumpy roads, going off road, amazing views and vineyards. They skipped the ghost town this trip. Lots of lots of pictures to show off—and lunch happens. Kayla makes a very pretty cheese board—just the thing!

The gorgeous day. Photo by j a-b.
A dome. Photo by BW.
Snapping the vineyard views. Photo by j a-b.
Photo shoot. Photo by j a-b.
Change of photographer. Photo by j a-b.
Grapes on the vine. Photo by Kayla.
Kayla’s new charcuterie creation. Photo by Kayla.

More game playing, more puzzling. How about a Bellini—don’t mind if I do.

Maybe a little more work since the puzzle’s reached the point of the all white llama and it’s making my eyes cross.

Getting closer… Photo by Kayla.

When I start to shut down, the screen freezes. It won’t let me save the work, won’t let me back up the work, won’t even let me just exit. SHY-OAT! (Griffin’s work for SHIT!)

But who is right here but my personal IT whiz. And Jason saves the work, my nerves and the day. Whew.

Kat and Jason are taking dinner orders, going to the market, getting take-out. Since Griffin has no interest in going with them, he stays back with us. Kat is his person, so it’s a very good thing she can go off without him.

One view in Barberino. Photo by Kat.
Another view in Barberino. Photo by Kat.

At some point he surfaces from his video and asks: Where’s Mommy?

Kayla says: Oh, she’s at the store. She’ll be back.

He accepts, and also accepts her challenge to a race.

We have many races and chases and jumping and hiding. Kayla becomes his person, and when she says she’s going in for water—and because the bugs are devouring her—he just takes her hand and says: Go back.

This doesn’t mean, in Griffin-speak, go inside. It means go back to what we’re doing, sister. Which is racing.

I get water for both my grandbabies.

She does manage to sneak off after a bit, and I become his person. And that person’s grateful he’s tired of racing so we can play other games. Sit on the grass and pick clover, crumble dry leaves. I catch on to the new Breezeway Game where he stands on one side of the glass, positions me on the other, and we put our faces close, laugh and squeal, then switch places. And do it again. And again.

Jason and Kat are back with food. We’re trying a hot dog for Griffin who is very picky about hot dogs. The first hot dog he ever had happened to be organic, and he very much liked. Jason picked up Oscar Meyer thereafter, and the boy was like: What is this? Are you trying to poison me? I don’t believe this dog was organic—and had cheese inside.

He was just fine with it.

We’re all just fine with our choices, and finish up right before the glory of the sunset. The best one yet. A long slow drop of the sun behind the western hills, a long, long spread of rosy light along the horizon, and such a lovely glow in the sky.

Sunset, Jason edition.
Sunset, Nora edition.
Nora capturing the sunset. Photo by j a-b
Post sunset glow, BW edition.

Even after the sky goes dark, that thin line of rose holds and holds.

This morning I grab a sweater before I come down—good thing as it’s another cool start to the day. There’s a blue, cloudless sky, and hammering down where Chain Saw Man is doing whatever he’s doing. A dove calls, insistently.

I don’t know what plans—if any—there are for today. Well, I plan to do a little laundry after I work out. I need Kat—who’s already done some—to show me how to work the washing machine. Other than that, we’ll see what comes.

Nora


Today’s #randomkatness (or the many skills of #katgyver)

Kat’s whetstone. Photo by Nora.

Tuscany – Day 14

The clouds roll in, roll out, then in again while I work out. The temperature’s dropped easily twenty degrees. Those clouds thicken so the sky’s layered with gray clouds. The rain comes.

After my workout, I find most of the gang in the kitchen. Kayla reports seeing a tree fall, so now we know Chain Saw Man’s direction. He was busy yesterday, and I hear clunking down there this morning.

Cloudy expanse. Photo by BW.

There’s some MindCraft with Griffin and his iPad, then some Mario Cart in what we’ve sort of made the game room. Kayla lets Griffin design her race car, so she ends up with an egg cart with rainbow wheels. As Griffin says: It’s so cute! And she’s victorious!

I do a little puzzling as the rain comes and goes.

It’s time for Kayla to make her boyfriend’s family’s Italian Eggs. I elect myself official photographer as she follows the instructions from the video step-by-step. It’s a fun breakfast/brunch/lunch dish. She does a fine job, and shares with BW and Kat.

[Please note, here in the Command Center, I guessed at the captions/steps. Any errors are on me.]

First, the bread. Photo by Nora.
Sous chefs at the ready. Photo by Nora.
Eggs in pan. Photo by Nora.
Add the latte. Photo by Nora.
Soaking up the egs. Photo by Nora.
The delicate flip. Photo by Nora.
Finita! Photo by Nora.
Grandda and Kayla approved. Photo by Nora.

And all approve.

Kat adds a tomato and basil to hers when she comes in after finding a four-leaf clover. Wherever we go, if there’s grass, Kat will find four-leaf clovers.

Kat’s additions. Photo by Nora.

During afternoon puzzle time, Kayla makes a lovely charcuterie.  Also delish.

Kayla’s creation. Photo by Kayla.

There’s puzzling, reading, gaming, lazing through an off and on rainy day—and one where Kayla and I put on hoodies. It’s really cool, Laura, I swear! [Ed note: Laura has her doubts, but will put them aside for now.]

I give Kayla her choice of vegetarian rice dishes I figure I can make here. She stops me at number one. Spanish beans and rice. Okay then.

It’s kind of fun hunting through the spice cabinet to see if I can translate or recognize. Then a list of what else I could use, if available at the local market.

The pool area. Photo by BW.

And back to puzzling. We’re making progress on a puzzle that’s harder than it looked. A little pool time for Kat and Griffin. I’m delighted he’s really enjoying the pool.

Thank goodness, not a cupcake in sight. Photo by Kayla.

Sun’s out, time for the market. Back at the ranch, I gather and begin to prep. Which means opening a bottle of red—for the pot and the cook.

And going out and cutting some flowers for our table. Pretty!

From the garden. Photo by Nora.

Today I try a cleaver I find in the drawer. Surely this will be sharp. But no. Once again, Kat becomes KatGiver and hunts up a sharpening stone from the wild. She will take care of this issue.

Jason serves as sous chef when needed—BW makes a pot of plain rice (here Kat is unschooled as she grew up with rice cookers, and was sincerely shocked years ago when she learned I didn’t have one.) The plain rice is to sustain the rice-eaters as we go.

I chop, mince, sauté. It’s interesting that the beans come in boxes, not cans. Easily biodegradable/recyclable boxes. Nice touch. And they found Tabasco at the market! Score.

A pot full. Photo by Nora.

I have BW taste—the rice in my dish is not yet cooked. My fault for following a new-to-me recipe (Mine’s at home and not in my memory bank) and putting the whole thing on the lowest setting after it’s all together. I figure the lowest setting on this range means it can keep a dish moderately warm for days.

I turn it up.

Table gets set, bread sliced, the pasta from last night in a bowl for me—the non-rice eater.

Beans & rice a la Nana. Photo by Nora.

And a fine meal is had.

No sunset to follow as the clouds are back.

Proof of clouds. Photo by Kayla.

The men are left to clean up as it’s racing time,  and Griffin discovers a new, LONGER route. We chase over the grass, over the terrace, through the open doors of the breezeway, onto grass, around the villa, down the steps. And back.

Many times to his great delight.

We have a jumping game, with turns. He’s getting good at the concept of turns. Kayla’s turn, Griffin’s, Mommy’s, Nana’s.

Somehow he and Kayla become a team, and she teaches him to crouch down by the corner of a wall, then they can jump out and scare me and Kat. Then Griffin yells RUN!! Many times. Hide and Seek, more racing. Many times. Then more times, until Kayla begs for a water break.

The men, who’ve done a fine job cleaning the kitchen, declare tomorrow is take-out day. Fine with me.

This morning is very breezy. Hoodie time on the terrace. I have no idea what Chain Saw Man is building, but no saw today. Just the sounds of clunks and clinks.

Lots of clouds over hill and valley, but some long blue stretches and the light and shadows are just lovely. It may rain so we’re likely to have another day at home—all good. If too breezy and rainy, I may set up and work a bit inside, find a good spot for that.

Right now it’s quiet—I may be the only one up. I have to decide where to get my workout on.

Nora.

Tuscany – Day 13

A full house for awhile with the cleaning crew and the gardener. I got an earliest start experimenting with water bottles as free weights. Not bad—but the big still water bottles are a little wide for smallish hands. Have to modify some lifts because I can’t get a solid grip for things like upright rows.

Early start, early view. Photo by Nora.

Next round, the slimmer sparkling water bottles.

I expect the quiet man who came to water the plants wondered what the strange woman was doing playing with big-ass water bottles on the lawn. But he made no comment.

Kayla and BW take off for the village with the many towers. [Ed. note: San Gimignano] Jason, Kat and Griffin will meet them. I opt to stay home, avoid the very real possibility of car sickness due to snaky, windy roads.

Before too long things get pretty quiet around our Italian homestead, so I set up to work.

While I do, the two groups meet up, explore the medieval village—I can see the towers from where I sit. Jason and Kayla climb the many, many, MANY steps to the bell tower. I’m told you’d think you were at the top, but no. More. Then ladders. But they reached the top and got their reward in the view.

La Torre Grossa. Photo by Kat.
A view from the top of La Torra Grossa. Photo by Kayla.
The wide view of the town. Photo by j a-b.
Mind your head. Photo by j a-b.
A girl and her uncle. Photo by j a-b.
The way down. Photo by j a-b.
J & Kayla are up on the right. Photo by BW.
Piazza della Cisterna. Photo by a stranger with Jason’s phone.
He just can’t help himself. Photo by BW’s phone.

Kayla wore shorts—short ones—so had to don a kind of clear plastic skirt provided at the church for entering. Apparently Griffin was disturbed by this. I might have been, too.

They have lunch. I have chips while I work. If I’d had Cheez-It’s it would’ve been just like home.

Non Cheezit lunch. Photo by j a-b.

It’s hot. I like the heat so it doesn’t really bother me, so I’m surprised to learn it hit 101.

Just as I decide enough work a strong wind comes up. Feels like a change is a’coming.

The gang returns with many pictures and stories about steps, a toy store full of toy weapons (!), crystal staffs, armor, steep hills.

Images from inside the Duomo in San Gimignano:

Photo by Kat.
Photo by j a-b.
Photo by j a-b.
Photo by BW.
Photo by j a-b.
Photo by j a-b.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by j a-b.
Photo by Kat.

A brief respite before all but BW and I head to the near village and the grocery store—which was, it seems, packed and confusing. Now we have fresh Italian bread (for the upcoming Italian Egg Breakfast), and plenty of supplies. This includes rice as Kayla, Kat and Griffin yearn for rice. I am not a fan myself, but know how to make many dishes that include it.

Head in a niche. Photo by Kayla.

For tonight, I’m going to make a pretty simple pasta—oil and herbs. We’ll have a salad and garlic bread. It takes no time to discover the knives are pretty dull, the range top complicated, and we have no garlic press.

But we work it all out.

Boil pasta (reserve a good cup of the water before draining), thin slice some garlic and sauté in olive oil—add a pinch or so of crushed red pepper. I have the rosemary bush, and there’s potted basil in the kitchen. Oregano in the spice drawer. Drain the cooked pasta, dump into skillet with the garlic and oil, add herbs, salt, pepper. Let it sauté a minute or two. Add pasta water and simmer and stir till it absorbs.

For the garlic bread I basically mince and squish the garlic because no press.

And the oven, we discover, has no setting for broil. It has one for grill, Jason tells me, so we try that. Does the job.

Table set by many hands, citronella candles the gang picked up at the store lit. Let’s eat.

Despite the strangeness of the kitchen and tools, we have a good meal.

Finished product. Photo by j a-b.

Gelato to follow. I can’t manage it tonight, but I’ll dig in later.

No racing tonight. Griffin takes to the pool instead with his mom.

When I walk down, I can hear him enjoying it before I see them. And when I do, Kat—who’s a smidge or so shorter than me—says she’s standing on her toes as the pool’s a steady five feet. But it’s fun anyway, and breezy.  It’s not heated, so they may be the only ones to take a dip. Even baking all day, the water feels pretty chilly when I stick my hand in.

Chillaxing in the pool Photo by Nora.

I am seriously not a fan of ‘bracing’ pool water, and can have my fun watching others splash around in it.

And here’s the sunset. We enjoy it tonight from the lower terrace just above the pool.

Day is done. Photo by Nora.

A little puzzle time, then bed.

Chain Saw Man’s busy again today. And it’s much, much cooler.

I think I’ll work out on the grass by that lower terrace today—little change of scene.

Nora

Tuscany – Day 12

My first full workout in a week! Toe’s still a bit swollen, but coming right along. Fun to work out on the grass, with the Tuscan hills as a backdrop. My companions are stirring, getting breakfast, morning conversations.

The sun shifts, so I shift the monitor back into the shade.

It seems a fine day to set up at the terrace table and work a bit. At some point Kat—maintaining her crown of best dil in the history of dils—stealthily slides a little bacon sandwich toward my elbow. (Very careful not to make eye contact!)

Opening scene accomplished!

Hydrangea display. Photo by Nora.

Kayla’s hungry, so I demonstrate, step-by-step—how to scramble a couple of eggs. Apparently, I have a special touch with this cuisine basic (or everyone claims I do.) And veggie girl enjoys breakfast for lunch (or any time at all).

Time for lazing around. Kayla’s going down to the pool, Griffin’s playing trucks, Jason’s doing a crossword. And someone has the bright idea of making frozen margaritas. We happen to have what we need, including a blender.

It’s a very strange multi machine, and takes some doing to find the base, figure out how to work it. It’ll also juice the limes!!! This is an amazing contraption, even though Jason has to look up some of the instructions on-line.

The complete set up. Photo by Nora.

This becomes a group project. And we are very self-congratulatory when it all finally works.

Now to blend. Photo by Nora.
A Girl and her Margarita. Photo by Nora.

More pool time for Kayla, and I think I hear her talking to her boyfriend. His family made us a video for their famed Italian Eggs. This will be on the menu later this week.

“How shall I put the elders to work?” thought the young one. Photo by Nora

Kayla and Griffin play an outdoor jumping game, with her subtly teaching him about taking turns.

It’s very hot, tipping at about 100, and the mosquitos are hungry. They seem to enjoy Kayla’s sweet blood in particular.

Griffin and I have a racing game in which he’s changed the rules so it’s more like Tag. I’m game. Kayla and Mommy must join in. Then it’s Hide and Seek. Griffin tends to hide in plain sight, but we play along. Now Daddy must join in. Shortly it’s back to racing—wherein I go in to make myself a drink—and Grandda enters the field.

Nothing like a happy, energetic kid herding a group of adults.

Immersed in conversation. Photo by Nora.

Inside awhile, maybe we’ll start the llama jigsaw puzzle. Daddy and Griffin continue to race. I think the game has many varieties when it’s down to two players.

Puzzle time! Photo by Kayla.

Plans for dinner are:

Jason, Kat and Griffin will go into the village, scout out menus. I’ll make a salad.

Yet another mission accomplished so we sit out at our long table, enjoy the easy meal at home. Plans formulate about visiting sites, taking a day trip to Pisa to see the tower.

We watch another beautiful sunset.

The final rays of the day. Photo by BW.
Post sunset glow by Nora.
In the secret competition held in Laura’s head, Kayla won Sunday’s sunset shot. It’s the small things that entertain, right? Photo by Kayla.

More puzzle time, then off to bed.

This morning while I sit out, catching up on the world with my iPad, I hear a chainsaw running from down in the valley. Sound really travels here. It’s six a.m., so someone got working early.

Since I’ve heard the saw on and off, and the sound of wood thumping together. I can’t spot the busy beaver down there, but somebody’s building something.

I’m going to gear up and work out—maybe use a couple of big water bottles in addition to my bands for resistance work. Could be another work-for-a-couple-hours day (or not). It’s so wonderful just sitting here in this spot, looking out at the dusty green, muted golds, the so distinct rows in vineyards, the silvery green of olive groves. I like the gentle roundness of the hills—they’ve been here a very long time—and the shapes, also distinct—of the cypress topping them.

I will get a pillow for my butt today—this chair is hard!—but it’s not a tough place to work.

Nora