can't you see the sunshine….

How does the deck look?

Oh, thanks for asking. It looks so good, I think. I am so glad it does since we are using more than before.

This is how it looked in early June.

Taken 7/20. Look how the elephant ears have taken off.

Doing the jungle thing….

Starting this week, our building is going to be pressured washed. Hopefully, I will be able to cover the plants that can’t be moved and they won’t be sprayed with some toxic wash.

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Travels in France with BK and Jim, Part 3

Be sure to read parts 1 and 2 first.

I want to explain about the locks and how to go through them. Just in case, from reading these canal barge posts, someone decides to go rent a canal brage and go cruising.

As canals (and rivers too) meander through the countryside there are hills and valleys. A lock is on the body of water and raises/lowers a boat from one height to another to get it through the hills and valleys.

This is a lock that is not yet full. The green fence like things at front and back of picture are the gates of the lock. Which are either opened or shut depending on what you want the lock to do….fill or drain. For the part of the canal that we were on there were lock keepers who moved these gates. Not all canals have lock keepers so the boater has to crank the gate too.

Here’s the boat gradually rising. See the rope tied to the shore. It helps to stablize the boat as the water fills the lock.

When a boat enters a lock that needs to fill, the boat is sometimes 10 or 15 feet below the level of the ground surrounding the lock. That means that someone on the boat has to throw the line up to someone on shore so they can tie the boat off. Ben was always driving. Jim was always on shore. Line throwing was up BK and me.

Here’s Jim giving me a lesson about how to gather the rope up so that I can throw it up in the air 10 or 15 feet to him. Note my deluxe turquoise gloves.

Here’s BK pulling the rope tight as the boat gradually raises. Note her purple gloves.

Lock filled. Ready to go. Note there are other boats in the lock.

Ben driving. Ben seemed to mistake leaving the locks as the start of the INDY 500 and would gun it out of the lock! I was at the back, eating diesel fumes and using a mop to push us off from other boats and the lock walls that Ben’s surge of power would sashay the boat into. There were over 30 locks. That’s one reason you don’t go far each day.

Each day we would reach a point where clambering on and off the boat, throwing ropes, tugging and ‘mopping up’ Ben’s power surges was just too much. So we would stop. Note my deluxe green hands. The gloves bled when they got wet!

That’s the story about locks.

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Travels in France with Jim and BK, Part 2

Make sure to read part 1 first.

We had an afternoon, night and morning in Carcassonne. It is a walled French city. It dates from before 100 BC. They do a big sound and light show just outside the city walls in the summer. The famous dish in the area is cassoulet. Duck, pork, beans……It is a heavy dish. Ben and Jim both enjoyed it. The next morning after a visit to a lively, local street market we were off to find our barge.

Some how, some where, I must have read an article about taking a barge through the Canal du Midi.

The canal connects the Garonne to the Étang de Thau on the Mediterranean and along with the 193 km (120 mi) long Canal de Garonne forms the Canal des Deux Mers, joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The canal runs from the city of Toulouse down to the Étang de Thau near the Mediterranean.

Strictly speaking, “Canal du Midi” refers to the portion initially constructed from Toulouse to the Mediterranean – the Deux-Mers canal project aimed to link together several sections of navigable waterways to join the Mediterranean and the Atlantic: first the Canal du Midi, then the Garonne which was more or less navigable between Toulouse and Bordeaux, then the Garonne Lateral Canal built later, and finally the Gironde estuary after Bordeaux. (Thanks Wikipedia)

So, yes indeedy, I signed us up to rent a barge and spend a week on the canal. And I know that each of us would say that was the best vacation that we have ever taken. We rented from Le Boat Of course BK and I looked at boat plans and discussed sizes and rooms and manuverabilty and on and on for weeks ahead of time. We finally decided on a 3 bedroom barge. Two bedrooms with a sink in each one (This will be important later) and bath were in the back, a living area that could be opened like a convertable car in the middle and one bedroom and bath in the front.

Jim on the left, Le Boat guy in the middle and Ben on the right. Getting the scoop on the boat. Kitchen is behind them with the bikes above. Steering from that chair. The sliding cover is open.

We loaded up with groceries and maybe, some wine. Got our “driving lesson” and were walked through the first lock and then we were off.

We covered 30 miles in a week. That was all we expected to do. Taking a barge is Slow Travel at it’s best. (Look for another post about canal locks)

We had wonderful meals, either on board or at a local place.

We stopped here on Sunday. It was French Mother’s Day. BK and I were given flowers. We had a great meal. They told me what to do with the fava beans.

Our days were determined by the rules of the canal. Boat movement had to stop by a certain time. Locks closed for lunch or the day in the late afternoon and that was it. The boat could go no further until the lock opened. We did have a guide for the canal to let us know where towns were easy to access by bike, restaurants, locks. That sort of thing. Oh, and I almost forget, where the local bakery truck would come down to the canal with fresh croissants and bread. Just in case you needed it.

There were signs along the canal. “Vin du vente”. “Wine for sale” Of course, there was much screaming and arm flapping…”PULL OVER! PULL OVER! There is wine for sale!” My intrepid friend BK visited all those winerys with me. HMMMMM

Our days were spent leisurely, cruising the calm, green canal. Rarely seeing another boat.

Remember this was late May, before Americans invade and way before Europeans start to vacation. I would not want to take a cruise like this in the early spring when it can be rainy and cold. And not in late June, July or August when it could be hot as the dickens. Late spring, early fall, the time to take this sort of cruise.

Ben mostly steered. Jim handled the ropes for the locks (more in part 3 about locks) BK and I handled the ropes for the locks in the boat. All of us just completly relaxed and had great fun.

Sometimes we would stop and pull to the side of the canal for lunch. This was after one of those times.

When we got home and had the film developed and printed, BK sent me her copies with a note that said “I am never handing you my camera AGAIN! There were 20 pictures out of 24 of just this!” Seems it was a very senstitive shutter button. Or perhaps my shutter pushing finger had been sampling local wine……

In the late afternoon, we would pull to the side. Stake the barge and start to cook dinner or walk/bike to a nearby local place.

Note the laundry flapping on the left

After an evening or so I noticed that every night when we stopped BK had laundry to hang out to dry. I really didn’t think this was odd. BK and Jim are very good at minimal packing. So, she needed to wash some things…..Cleverly, she had figured out that in the morning if she put clothes in the back bedroom sink with some soap, as we swished down the canal the clothes would gently wash. At lunch, she would move these to the middle bedroom sink with rinse water. So by the time we stopped it was a quick wring out and on the line to dry. I was impressed.

Our last night on the barge and I hear BK exchanging harsh words with Jim! This is very rare. She emerges from the back of the boat, ranting “LOOK at this! Every day I have had to wash while he had CLEAN clothes in his suitcase that he didn’t even unpack!!!!!!” Other than that, it was a wonderful time, spent together and one that we all cherish especially now. So very glad we did these trips while we still were able.

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France with Jim and BK, Part 1

I did not travel outside the country until I was 30. On that first trip to England with my first husband, we saw an older gentleman who had obviously saved for his wonderful trip. He was in tears because he could not manage the long, small stepped entrance way to Westminister Abbey. Right there, on the spot, we both decided that we would not wait to travel. Traveling outside the US was physically demanding. Waiting until we had more resources or time and hoping that we would still be in good enough shape to travel was a risk. One that we decided not to take.

I acknowledge that trips anywhere and especially out of the US are a position of privilege. However, let it be noted that we lived very frugally the other 50 weeks of the year. Rarely eating out, going to movies or having cable TV or new clothes every season. It was a trade off that we choose to make.

Now after that long ramble, let’s start our story about our France trip with Jim and BK in May and June of 1997. Some of these pictures were taken by BK and some by me. We lived in northern Virginia and Jim and BK lived in North Carolina. They drove up the night before we left. So on my birthday, we were off to Dulles airport. That was a different time wasn’t it? We sat waiting for our plane, celebrating my birthday with champagne and lobster canapes. The British couple across from us was appalled.

We flew into Paris and had 3 very full days and two nights there.

Jim discovered that sometimes European bathrooms were very compact!

View from our hotel window

Well, of course we had to visit the tower.

We crammed in a lot in those three days.

After, yet another 2 hour dinner, on the third night we boarded a sleeper train for the south of France. France, like much of Europe, has a very good train system. My preference would have been to have taken a day train to see all the wonderful countryside. Alas, time constraints forced us to travel at night and to spend one night in a sleeper cabin. All 4 of us.

They are both too polite to say what they were thinking….”All 4 of us are sleeping in here……”
Yeah, she told me that it was small. I guess I didn’t beleive her.
I don’t want to hear any crap! I told you people about this…..

All the more reason to travel while you are still able. I could possibly climb up into that bunk today….it won’t be pretty.

We made it through the night to our early morning stop in Albi. There Jim, BK and I toured the Toulouse-Lautrec house and museum. (no luggage lockers at train station so Ben remained there with our luggage. A year or two before we had been through the house together) (This was my summer of Toulouse-Lautrec. Earlier in May I had to the Art Institute of Chicago and seen a visiting exhibit of his work. In Paris we had been to Musee d’Orsay and seen his works there. I wrapped up the month with a tour through his house in Albi.) From Albi we took a local train to Carcassonne. I’ll stop here. Look for part 2.

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My Vivian Howard Tale

Vivian Howard is a chef living in the eastern North Carolina town of Kinston. She and her husband, Ben, were living and working in New York City when her parents offered to help them open a restaurant “as long as it was in Kinston” where Vivian “swore she would never go back to.” They came back, opened several successful restaurants. One of them, The Chef and The Farmer is a farm to table restaurant using year round products from local farms. She also developed and starred in two PBS series, “A Chef’s Life” and “Somewhere South”.

When we were living in Italy, somehow, through some magic, I was able to watch the first PBS series “A Chef’s Life” on the TV in my kitchen. Watching that brought back to me the North Carolina that I realized I missed. It was easy to fall in love with and admire Vivian. She is bright, smart, ambitious, great in the kitchen and very human on camera. And she has this great laugh. She just enjoys herself.

Lately, we have been watching reruns of “A Chef’s Life” and “Somewhere South”. And I have been thinking about Vivian. Before the library closed I was able to check out her giant cookbook Deep Run Roots. It has been very handy.

Truly, I have been thinking about her. By watching her shows we got to know her family, the farmers she works with, her restaurant family. And I worry about them. Her Momma, Miss Scarlet is a delicate little bird. I would hate for her to get sick. And who is buying all those tomatoes that she got Warren to plant? And she probably had to lay staff off. Has she been able to film new episodes of “Somewhere South”?

So I guess Vivian has been with us the whole time. But now the library is asking us to return books. And I know there is a waiting list for her book so I have given it back.

But look, I was able to preorder and pick up a book. We’ll miss you Vivian but I have something else to read now…….

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Sometimes I surprise myself

I went to a very good high school and received an outstanding education. Not that I ever used any of it… I find recently, that every now and then some snippet of that education or some experience that I have had just pops out of my mouth before I am even aware of it. A few months ago it was a detailed explanation of what an amobea is. Just last week, in casual conversation, a friend mentioned that she used Tiger Balm. Of course that was enough to start me off with a short bio of Aw Boon Haw and a description of his gardens in Hong Kong.

Aw Boon Haw developed and sold Tiger Balm. Sorta like Ben-Gay or Icy Hot. Not as fragrant. He was so apprecative of his sucess that he built a sculpture garden on the grounds of his home in Hong Kong.

Ben and I and our good friends, Jim and BK, visited Hong Kong in late February, early March of 1996. I can remember that one Sunday morning, Jim and BK wanted to go to church and they had figured that all out. I don’t remember what Ben did, but I know that I made my way alone to Aw Boon Haw’s garden. (Probably because of media influence, wandering around Hong Kong by myself was not an issue for me. Ask me to make a comparable trip in New York and I would be terrified. Go figure)

Well, after chatting with our Tiger Balm aficionado friend about Aw Boon Haw’s garden I had to look it up on the internet and search out my pictures of it. So here are the few pics (remember this was the time of film, which involved getting it through airport xrays without it being destroyed) from my visit to the garden.

The garden and house are in the city. Hong Kong is very densely populated. This is a lot of space for a garden.

The house and the gardens are very traditional. And then…..

This appears.

It is as tacky and garish as you can imagine.

Look, I could have taken a tour.

Or battled with this guy.

Or gone to a wedding.

I opted for photographic evidence that I was there.

My internet search revealed that within a short period of time of my visit, the gardens had been sold and no longer existed!!!!!! I am really kind of sad about that. But happy that I got to see them and years later I can recall a special Sunday morning wandering through Hong Kong alone.

Haw Par Mansion, better known for its public gardens known as Tiger Balm Garden or Aw Boon Haw Garden, was a mansion and gardens located at 15, Tai Hang Road, Tai Hang, Wan Chai District, Hong Kong. The Tiger Balm Garden was demolished for redevelopment in 2004” Thanks Wikipedia

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Well, have you done anything else?

So, we are taking an exercise class using ZOOM. From an instructor that we had been taking classes from through parks and rec here. Each time, at the end of class, our instructor askes ‘what have we been doing?’ “what are our plans for the weekend?’ Anything, to get us to chat. I had already mailed it off, so I could not have a ‘show and tell’. But I had made an Exploding BOX!

My cousin’s son and his wife had a baby boy. The child was named after his grandfather and also after his great, great grandfather. The great, great grandfather was my grandfather. You know, the one that I write about every March 1….The one who immigrated from Italy. Well, of course I had to mark this child’s birth.

Now, I love younger folk. You know, folk who keep all their pictures on their phones. But I am old school, I like printed pictures. You know, pieces of paper that you can stick in a frame and hang on a wall. I have a lot of those hanging on my walls. I walk by them and they make me smile and remember that person or time or whatever. So I made the child an Exploding Box of photos.

In February I had taken a class at the library about making exploding boxes. I had to think about it for a while. And have a major scratch around in my archives. I had to take pictures of the many pictures that I have hanging and then have those printed. I managed to get the papers I needed before stores closed. I picked an assortment, a travel theme and an ocean theme. I knew I could decide later. Always best to have options.

The box ended up having his photos of his great, great grandparents, his great grandfather, his grand parents and his parents and sister. I did not expect the thumbnails that the photo printing service provided but I think they worked well inside the box lid. I am really tickled with how it turned out.

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Well, have you been doing anything?

My goodness, yes!

I like to bat my ideas around for a bit before I take action on them. After I finished mounting and displaying some of my Mother’s jewelry I realized my Father had a lot too. You can revisit the post about my Mother’s jewelry here

I found that my Father had a collection of gold basketballs that he was awarded as the coach of a city league basketball team. These are just too cute. Some made by Josten and some made by Balfour.

I was showing these to our friends Pat and Debby and their comments made me realize that since I had so many of them I needed to show them with movement, rather than just mounted. It took a long time before I came up with the idea to make ‘graphic novel’ mounts. It took even longer to find the right size canveses. I found these great little canvases at our Dollar store. So here it is




These are hung on the opposite side of the windows from my Mother’s jewelery.

My assistant, passed out from over work.

That left all my Father’s US Army insignia and medals. Those small canvases were just what I needed and they would fit perfectly under the window.

I’m real pleased with how these have turned out. It is nice to be able to see things from my parents each night before I go to sleep.

And I have been knitting. Most of my knitting is donated. I don’t knit anything complicated. But I added these little bows to this scarf which makes it just a little bit different. A little more ‘girly’.

Stay safe. Go wash your hands and keep your paws clean.

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Spring Flowers

My daffodils started blooming in January and are still going strong. That might change if the temps stay this warm. It is in the upper 70s today.

This the established bed that has some good variety to it. The pink centered ones have been replaced this week by these white ones.

The bed I started last fall, the bed where the tree I had to buy is planted, has done very well. Lots of variety.

Just a bright note of cheer.

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March 1, 1878 March 1, 2020

This is an updated version that some of you might have read before.  We were able to  ‘live the dream of Italy’ full time because of my grandparents. On my grandfather’s birthday, I like to remind others of him and all the folks, who either by choice or not, immigrated to America and helped to make it into a strong country.  If you are interested in more than my story I urge you to watch the series on PBS  While I don’t think that my grandparents had the same type of experience that happened in big American cities I think they had some of those experiences.

Sunday, March 1, 2020 is the anniversary of my grandfather (nonno), Antonio Iaccarino’s birth. He was born in mille otto cento settantotto or 1878 so he would be 142 years old. His parents were Ferdinando and Maria D’Esposito Iaccarino. Besides my grandfather, I know they also had 2 daughters, one, Concetta, (my Zia or aunt) who was 4 years younger than my nonno and another that I never met, Josephine who lived in Connecticut.

In 2003 I began researching my grandparents’ lives so that I could apply to become an Italian citizen. In the process of this research I have learned some things which have brought me closer to my nonno who I never met. He died before I was born. I always think of him when I hear the Simon and Garfunkle song that starts “I left my home and my family when I was no more than a boy, in the company of strangers…” My nonno was only 12 when he joined the merchant marines (Marina Mercantile Italiana). Whether he joined willing or unwilling I don’t know. I do know that at that time he and his family were living in a room or rooms in this house in Meta, Italy.


I have found this house because very dear friends, Tonino and Carmella Romano spent hours researching old town zoning records. It seems as if the town fathers in Meta like to rename and renumber streets all the time.  Only the Romano’s  tenacity helped me to find this place.

So my nonno went to sea. He signed on as a mozzo (a cabin boy). Fortunately, his seaman’s book is still in our family. The entries are handwritten in script that I can’t always read and understand. (Someday perhaps…) So far, I know he was promoted, learned great skills that he would use later in life and four languages besides his native Italian. From the log I can tell that he returned to and left Italy a good bit. Stamps in his book show that some of the places he went to were Greece, Liverpool, England, Marseilles, France, and Odessa, on the Black Sea. Can you imagine sending off your 12 year old son and for the next 19 years only seeing him periodically? And he comes back with stories of places he has been to and things he has seen. This is the view leaving the port of Naples that I am guessing is relatively unchanged even today.


He did not always leave from Naples. Meta, the town south of Naples, where he lived was at the time a fairly large port and had a ship building facility. Today it is not. It is a small town with a nice sandy beach and a bedroom community for surrounding towns like Sorrento.


Even though Sorrento and Positano have been popular tourist destinations since the late 1800s prosperity did not arrive until after World War II. Before that, a large number of people of all age groups emigrated from the area to the United States and South America. But our family name, a very common one still remains in the area.

From my nonno I think I have inherited my interest in other languages besides my native tongue. I do hold it against him that he did not allow Italian to be spoken in their house in America. My cousins have told me that he would scold my grandmother (nonna) if he caught her chatting with her friends in Italian (after they moved to America). He would say “We are Americans now, we will speak American”. (Italian men do so love to declare, dictate and proclaim, don’t they?) So my father never really spoke Italian. He never passed that on to me.

I also know, that from my nonno, the spirit of travel and adventure passed directly to my father and then to me. My passport is never locked up in a safety deposit box. I like to have it near me so if the opportunity to travel arises I can just go. And I have a very cooperative and loving husband. After I finally got my Italian citizenship he didn’t mind when I packed us up and moved us to Italy.

(Who is that Lady in the distance?)

Recently, I was part of a conversation about ‘how many folks knew the name of a cousin of one of the their grandparents.’  On my mother’s side of the family I could say that I knew the name and I have a picture of the woman, sitting with my great grandmother (and her chickens!).  On my father’s side, I don’t even know the names of all his brothers and sisters.  And as his children die that information will be lost or much harder to find.  The point that I took from this discussion was that in a very short period of time this knowledge of family is lost.

Now I am climbing on my soapbox.  The story of my grandparents’ migration is because of choices that they made, a story of a fairly easy journey with a very happy outcome.  Everyday, around the world, we see stories of families being forced to flee because of war.  Their journey is not easy.  Their greeting is not with open arms.  Time will tell how their migrations will end.  Time will tell how many of them will remember or know the name of their own cousin, much less the names of previous generations.  I urge everyone of you reading this to examine your attitudes and thoughts about the current migrant crisis.  Do some research and remember how America was built on the backs of immigrants.  Immigrants who just might have been your relatives.  Remember the ‘Golden Rule’ that many of us learned as a child.  Wonder that if your ancestor had not have made a migration you might be not be enjoying the freedoms and comforts that you have now.

I’m off my soapbox now.  Little by little, with research, the help of friends and the memories of my family I learn about my grandparents. On Sunday or when ever you think about it, please raise a glass of wine or a mug of coffee to my nonno and nonna who had the spirit and sense of adventure to try something different and create a new life for themselves. Most Americans have ancestors that emigrated. I have been lucky enough to be able to trace mine and fill in some of the blanks. If you have any interest in your own background you should try it.  You learn about the past and look what it led to for us.

Buon Compleanno Nonno!  And thank you from all of my heart!

late february 2016 026

The Grandparents in the late 1940s.

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