Category Archives: Musings

US and European work

I am enormously interested in what is going on in the US job market. Having lived in Germany in the ‘90s I worked in a German bureau. I learned that the Germans work very hard when they are working. They are the most productive people outside maybe Japan. Yet they work only 37.5 hours a week with 6 weeks vacation a year. I also saw they worked when they worked, and when they didn’t, they had a life outside of work. They started at 9 and they left at 5. They took a 1.5 hour lunch with coffee breaks in the morning and snack breaks in the afternoon. They didn’t work weekends. They took all their vacation time. In other words, they worked to live their lives and enjoy themselves and their families. I thought this was brilliant. And when I returned to the States I refused to work ridiculously long hours. My bosses didn’t like it, and maybe I didn’t get promoted, but I was fine with that.

Now I read that people in the US are reassessing their work lives. After Covid allowed them more freedom to work from home and lose the long commute they have decided maybe there is a better way. Is this the silver lining from Covid? Maybe so.

I had a comment on this blog which prompted this post. She seemed to think people were being incentivized to stay home by the current administration. But those incentives have expired. I truly believe that corporate America is getting a wake-up call. They can’t continue to abuse and underpay their employees. And give them no benefits. Like the restaurants, retail and service industries routinely do. People have realized they have options. And power to them, I say! Corporate America can afford to pay their employees, (without which they cannot operate) fairly.

The restaurant workers are an excellent example. I hope the accepted system in America must be changed now, because restaurants cannot get staff to come back. The restaurants pay super low wages ($1.50 an hour sometimes) because they expect their customers (!) to pay the wages of their employees. How arrogant! And no wonder they can’t hire staff. They need to pay a living wage with benefits like any proper job should have. It works in Europe, it will work in the US. They need to bite the bullet and add a service charge to the menu, and raise prices to pay the wages of their employees. No tipping. People do not tip in Italy. You can round up the tab if you want but that’s about it. It is not expected. Increasing pay, benefits and compensation is what is needed.
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This is not to say the Italian system is better, because it is not. So many problems here. Unemployment among the young and very well educated population is awfully high. The young & educated are leaving Italy for other places where they are valued and hired. They don’t want to go, but they have no choices. The system does not encourage entrepreneurs. They actually penalize those with more than 50 workers. It has become a contract economy. The employees are contract workers. The taxes are very high. I am not an expert. But these are the things I have learned.

And in Covid news…as of yesterday all workers must show the Green Pass as proof of vaccination or they will be laid off. Alternatively, they can pay and have the Covid test every 48 hours but this would take a lot of time and they have to pay for the tests themselves. It has come down to, do you want a normal life?
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So this past week we have been readying for our first guests in a long time. I don’t remember when we had our last guests. It is fun anticipating them and getting ready and planning their time here. It is Luther’s brother and wife who live in Virginia, and their daughter and her husband. Of course, I’ll be taking pictures and doing posts.

Ciao, ciao, ciao.

Bells…near and far

Since my friend, Jennifer and I visited the bell foundry in Molise I have been thinking about bells a lot. I’ve always liked them…been fascinated by them. When we lived in Germany, in the small villages they were always evident, telling the time so no need of a watch…as a matter of fact, until 50 years ago, most people didn’t own a watch so the bells served an important purpose. When we returned home to the US I really missed hearing them.

The foundry was super interesting, and in my investigation for this post I found this nice little video about the Campane Marinelli – Pontificia Fonderia di Campane.

Marinelli foundry.

Before we moved here, and after our return from Germany, we lived in Alexandria, VA, outside of Washington DC. It was founded in the 1600s. There are still many of the original churches in town and they all have their bells. Usually just the one to call to service.

In Arlington, near the Iwo Jima memorial, there is the Netherlands Carillon with it’s 53 bells. A gift, in thanks, from the Netherlands to the US for the liberation of their country from the Nazis. It rings the Westminster Quarter everyday and visiting musicians play it as well. It is played like an organ, with pedals and keyboard.

Then there is the National Cathedral in Washington. It has a full 53 bell carillon too. But to me the best thing is that it has a full set of Peal Bells. I have always been fascinated by this tradition. The Cathedral has ten peal bells. These are rung by a group of Ringers by pulling ropes. Each person has a rope attached to one bell. They are rung in mathematical sequence and are not melodic. This is because each bell can only be rung once every two seconds due to the swing of the bell, the hit of the clapper, and the return of the bell to a position to be pulled again. I won’t go into all the interesting things about “change ringing” it is quite the feat, and art. You can google it if you’re interested, and the National Cathedral site has a nice write up. The tradition originated in the cathedrals in England. So, there are some bells in the US, but not the really personal village church bells like in Europe.

I know you are all wondering what this has to do with Italy, right? Well, in our town we have, so far as I know, three active Catholic Churches, all of whom have bells. [The town seems to have at least eight Catholic churches when I googled but I’m not sure they are active with congregations etc.] We are between two of these churches so we are treated to the bells many times a day. I’ve been here seven years and I still don’t understand all of the ringings and why they are rung when they are rung.

One of the most historic buildings in Umbertide is the bell tower on the edge of the piazza which is all that’s left of San Giovanni Batista (Collegiata), an old church which was hit by bombs in 1944. It has four beautiful bells that now ring for the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’, the town’s main church, which is associated with the Chiesa San Francesco in Piazza San Francesco. Construction of the Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’ began in 1559 and it is a unique round building. The four bells in the tower of San Giovanni ring simultaneously for Sunday Mass at 11 a.m. and for High holy days and Saints days. They make an amazing, and to me, joyous cacophony. One of these bells also rings the hours of the day from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. …for those who forgot their watches. 😁 I tried to video the bells ringing but as usual, I was flummoxed by them. One never seems to know the schedules and they change for no apparent reason.

San Giovanni Batista – the bell tower is all that’s left.
Chiesa della Madonna ‘della Reggia’

The church behind us is called Chiesa Parrocchiale del Convento di Santa Maria della Pietà built in 1481. It also has four bells. Unfortunately the note that one of them has is very flat. To make it worse they play “tunes” on them. At noon and at six p.m. every day they “sing”. They also ring a different tune for masses etc.

Chiesa Parrocchiale del Convento di Santa Maria della Pietà

This church also rings the bells for funerals. Each of the four bells, starting from the highest (and flat) one, toll slowly one after another. Then pause and begin again. Over and over. It is mournful and sad. Someone told me they ring them longer, the older the person was, who died. I looked it up and did see this could be true… “ traditional ringing calls for the funeral bell to ring six times (twice three times) for a woman. The bell would toll nine times (three times three) for a man. Then, the bell would ring one time for each year of the deceased’s life.”

The church behind us also rings a bell precisely at 7:30 a.m. every day. For the last year or two, it has been one bell ringing 33 times, then pausing and ringing 33 more times. Yes, I counted. I’m usually still in bed at 7:30 🙂. No one could tell me why they rung this way. I did figure it could have been Jesus’ age. But why twice? On Saturday, October 3, the bell changed! It still rang at 7:30 but only 30 times, and only once. Please tell me why!?

I guess you all can see I am fascinated by the bells. I freely admit it and it is an ongoing fascination. There is much I don’t know, and much to learn.

This is a video I found while researching. It is of the bells in the church behind us.

Sounds

From our apartment we can hear many sounds. It’s not annoying at all, it is just the sounds of life in an Italian working town. I enjoy it.

This morning, as I was standing in the kitchen, I realized I was hearing the sound of a lawn mower! “So?” You say, “It is not an unusual sound”. But it IS here. It is a sound so familiar from living in suburban US neighborhoods that I hardly noticed it, until I realized I never hear it here. Or certainly not the ubiquitous background hum of hundreds of them in a grassy neighborhood in the US. It’s something I hadn’t thought of until today.

Another thing I never hear here, and I certainly do not miss, is the sound of fans. Intake fans, exhaust fans, air conditioners, heat pumps. I hated it when we lived in the city. Even the ever present fans in our homes pushing the air through all the ducts and vents of our forced air heating systems. Forced air heat isn’t a “thing” here. Almost all homes are heated with gas hot water radiators. Or they are heated with wood or pellet stoves. Quiet systems.

So…what am I hearing now? Well, from the front of our house, I call it the “town” side, I hear the sound of the morning rounds of the little street sweeper. It is a small vehicle that can fit through our narrow streets. It spins and twirls across the piazza. Cleaning up after the partying of last night. There are trucks making deliveries on the piazza. And the sound of the construction in the apartment next door. From Bar Mary downstairs I hear people calling “ciao” to Irene who works the morning shift. And calls of “Ciao Angelo” to the Alimentari owner. Irene is constantly shifting the chairs and tables, returning them to their proper places. They scrape on the stones. Later the Briscola players will come. Old men pensioners, who spend their days playing cards. The games can get heated, and loud. 🃏

From the “country” side of our casa, I can hear the bird songs. There are chickens nearby and I can hear them clucking loudly as they lay their eggs. The rooster, who I heard every morning, is no longer needed, and has gone into the cooking pot I presume. The dogs, kept penned up on the farms nearby bark. Little kids call out from a playground beyond the copse of woods. The starting gun of the fishing contest scares the pigeons who roost on the roofs and they fly, en mass in big circles, their wings whirring until they settle again.

Thanksgiving – let’s give thanks 💕

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. In Italy, the holiday doesn’t exist except sometimes in the American and foreign community. In any event, there can be no big celebrations here this year with friends, because gatherings aren’t allowed. Having a non-pod member into your home is also taboo. I say pod — all people in your normal household are your “pod”.

As you know, we are celebrating on our own. A normal Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and all the trimmings. I’ve even got a small container of frozen cranberry sauce left.

We ordered our turkey last week. From our local EuroSpin supermercato. These are the bargain basements of food stores. They all have the same pattern. The center of the store is canned, boxed, and bottled goods. Cheap, and I don’t buy any because they have off brands and the quality can be iffy. BUT around the middle, along the walls are individual stands owned by independent contractors. They provide produce, cheeses, prepared foods, bakery goods, meat and fish. These people have great stuff. Here, we get our turkey from the butcher. Italians like turkey but never, ever whole! We carefully explain we want — tacchino femmina intera. Turkey female whole. Here they have two sizes…male and female. Male is 15 kilos and up (~35 lbs+) and females 6 kilos and up (~15 lbs+). My oven can barely fit a smaller one. So we asked for it to be as small as possible. We picked it up today and it weighs 7.1 kilos or 15.6 lbs. This should be enough for us and the friends we are sharing with.

We are celebrating it on the Thursday, not that I have to do it on the exact day… yet… I want to. I’m needing that right now. Things in their proper place and time. The normality of the Before Times. I’m going to miss my sister this year. We try to celebrate at least one holiday together. We usually fly to the US. But this particular year we had planned a Windstar cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon. It would have encompassed Thanksgiving and since it’s an American line I assume they would have had a “turkey with all the trimmings” dinner. Sigh. Maybe in a future, unseeable now, it will happen. But meanwhile we celebrate how we can. And we stay safe, and we keep our families safe. We’ll always have Paris…ooops wrong movie! 😁

The fact that we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving like normal, doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t stop and think of what we ourselves have got to be thankful for. And we have a lot. Think on it. We’ve got food. A bed to sleep in at night. Running water. Toilets.  Plus first world extras like WiFi and computer… and wine or booze (probably). There are hundreds of millions of people in this world who do not have the basic things. They are hungry most of the time, they sleep on the ground or floor. They don’t have plumbing or clean water. We are the winners in the lottery of life. So, let’s stop our kvetching and remember WE are some of the lucky ones. Let’s not forget. And let’s be thankful. And hopeful.
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I’m heartened to see more State Governors are mandating masks in the face of enormous numbers of cases. Keep Covid-safe everyone…Andrà tutto bene 🌈 and Happy Thanksgiving. 💕

Here and there…pandemic thoughts

In Europe the virus is making somewhat of a resurgence. France has become the new hot spot in Europe. As for Italy, we had 642 cases here yesterday, that is even with the numbers on May 23. It had gotten down to only 100 cases a day at one point. So, there is cause for concern. In my last post I made an error. The Italian officials have closed all of the Discotheques. The spread here, as in most other countries, is due to the young people flauting the rules, gathering in big groups, no social distancing, and no masks. The new cases everywhere are overwhelmingly among the young. But then, they bring it home to grandma and Mom and Dad who tend to get much sicker. I just heard we have 4 new cases in Umbertide. Kids who vacationed outside of Italy and brought it back.

In every country, people experience this pandemic in different ways, depending on what they do for a living, where they live, their race, etc. If they are poor and live in crowded conditions, must work, and have no health care, they have it much worse than someone who is say, a professional, perhaps a white collar worker allowed to work from home who still has insurance and income.

From a Washington Post article…
“Not everyone is experiencing the same level of stress, and everyone’s pandemic struggles differ. Any “essential” worker exposed to high-risk conditions day after day has more urgent concerns than someone merely stuck at home and missing out on summer barbecues.“

“No question, epidemic fatigue or pandemic fatigue is real. We are experiencing it,” Markel said. “But throughout human history, there have been terrible pandemics and contagious threats. Every civilization, every nation, has come through to the other side. And we will, too.”

I do know about epidemic fatigue. Just about everyone I know has it. Here in Italy we are a bit freer to do things, but everyone feels the threat of the virus, and has the fear of another lockdown. It kind of looms over us. The US hasn’t gotten there yet. They’ve got a ways to go but I see a downward trend so that’s a good thing. Still, that damn virus will loom over us all. Until we get a vaccine. But humans are pretty adaptive and resilient. Amazingly so. We will get through this…as long as we stay careful until then.

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Dinner out tonight. With new friends. We went to San Giorgio in the Piazza. It was nice to have a good amount of time to get to know each other better. Here are pictures of what I had to eat.

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I scored two big, fresh Porcini mushrooms yesterday at the market. They are destined to become tagliatelle funghi for dinner tonight. I adore these big meaty mushrooms. It is not possible to cultivate them, they must be gathered from the wild.

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Stay safe everyone. Now is not the time to let down our guard.🌈 Andrà tutto bene…

This is why I moved here…

So, we went to Tuscany, Montepulciano, with Susan and Gary for a superb lunch. Our favorite place there is La Grotta, situated at the foot of the hill town, next to the Church of San Biagio. We have been numerous times and wanted to take Susan and Gary there. Montepulciano is about 1 hour and 10 minutes from us. As we sat on their beautiful terrace in the impossibly perfect weather I reminded myself that this was why we moved here. Unforgettable.

Not to make you hungry or anything…

The table was overlooked by the magnificent church. I kind of liked the bit of blur in this focus.
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Our primi.

Secondi.

 

Real Estate in Italy

Real estate in Italy is a totally different animal than in the US. Reasons why:

  1. it is not a good investment. You will be very lucky to recoup your money from purchase and any renovations you do.
  2. you cannot be in a hurry to sell. We are told allow average of 3-5 years to sell here.
  3. Italians and Americans have very different ideas about houses/apartments. What should be in it. How much you should pay for what’s in it.
  4. Italians inherit property over centuries. They all have multiple houses. They do not have mortgages. They do not buy houses because they do not need to. They are house rich and cash poor.
  5. The market is stagnant. Or actually declining.

I tell you this because we have listed our house. Not because we aren’t happy here. It is my dream house. It is just the way I want it. But, being realistic, we are aging and a house on the fourth floor (American), third floor (European) is not optimal for aging in place. There is no possibility of an elevator.

Today we had a nice, young Italian couple look at the apartment. Normally we get English and Americans looking. We have listed at two agencies, one British/international, and one Italian. The couple seemed to like it. It is interesting because all the Italians we know say an Italian would never buy this place. One, because it is too expensive. And two, because it is not to their taste.

I beg to differ on both points. First, we paid €20,000 more than we are asking (!) and we put another €65,000 into its renovation. So, perhaps we paid too much. But getting it with all the bells and whistles for only €230,000 is a deal. Second, we renovated and furnished it with all Italian finishes and products. Our kitchen is manufactured by Pedini — a well known Italian kitchen designer. Our furniture is all purchased here. It is Italian in every way. But maybe a bit more sophisticated Italian than many Umbrians are willing to embrace.

This all said, I am in no hurry to sell. I will be very, very sad to move away from here. And I am not sure where we will go. It all depends on what is available elsewhere when we sell. I have many new friends here in Umbria. A nice support system, and I would miss them. I am loathe to leave it. Except…and it’s a big except…Umbria is not what I call Stranieri (foreigner) friendly. We cannot get a Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to stay) for more than a year, commonly 2 years elsewhere. We are told we cannot apply for the EU Long Term Residence Permit, supposedly available to all foreigners after 5 years of Residency. Why? It is an arbitrary decision by this region. And no recourse that we know of. So, moving from here could facilitate these things for us. A real conundrum.

Of course, I don’t expect to sell anytime soon. So we aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Rest assured, I will continue to write on NancyGoes from whatever location we land in, in Bella Italia. In case you’re interested here is our listing.

Trip report – Back to the USA

Another trip report so you can ignore. I do these for myself and my friends and family.
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Ah. Just back from a trip to the US of A. It was a busy one. Impressions on my first day…the first day is always a little surreal. Everything is so big! So fast! So tidy (at least in the ‘burbs). So expensive! So expansive! Tooooo many commercials. Toooo many drug ads.

We had done on-line shopping before going, which I had sent to my sister (thanks Cindy!). She brought all my loot to our meet-up in Annapolis. Chili powder, some clothes, kafir lime leaves, lemongrass paste (Thai food here we come!). Lots more hot sauce 😋. Then we did some shopping at the drug store and grocery. Not much this time. Travel sized items, pens and pencils (cheaper there), deodorant, gorilla super glue, binder clips, scotch tape, Saran Wrap, peanut butter, picnic salt and pepper shakers, cheddar cheese… lots of goodies. But now on to a few trip details.

We took the train to Fiumicino near the Rome airport to Pascucci Porticciolo a small hotel with a Michelin one star restaurant of the same name. It’s always fun to have a night with good food before a trip. The trip was uneventful and we arrived at 1:30PM at Washington Dulles airport. It was hot and we are not used to it what with the very cold spring we’ve had in Umbria.

Our first night in the US was not far from the airport at the Hyatt in Reston VA. It’s an OK hotel. The carpets are well worn and a bit dingy in the hallways. The curtains in our room sorely needed attention or replacing. The systems are all old. Bath is very dated, nicer towels would’ve been good — the room was adequate in space and the beds were comfortable and had nice linen. Price was over $300 for the one night we stayed. I didn’t think the cost to value was close at all. We went to dinner at PassionFish. I remember it from before we left. Decent seafood. I had oysters on the half shell and crabcakes. Unseen in Umbria. Miss those!

Next day we were off to the nuptials of our niece Rachel. They were held in Baltimore, a city near my heart as I went to college there. Rachel had asked us, as the couple she knows who’s been married the longest, to speak during the ceremony. I loved the wedding. Not religious, presided over by Uncle Paul, Alex’s Uncle. Alex is Greek and so there were some Greek traditions incorporated. Sarah, the maid of honor, placed crowns connected by a white ribbon while they did their vows. After the vows, and the kiss, they walked out to the music from the Dating Game. So cute and fun. The reception was nice with an 8 piece band called the Bachelor Boys. Great dance band. During the bands off time they played Greek music on the stereo system and all the attendees learned the Greek dances. Men dancing together, women together. It was fun. Anyway, I’m super happy for Rachel and Alex and I’m sure they will have many years, and many adventures together!

Pictures courtesy of  Rachel’s FaceBook photos. The Happy Couple!

Rachel and Sarah, Her Maid of Honor – Lovely sisters.

After three days of Wedding activities we drove the short drive to Annapolis. On our way out of town we stopped at the address where I had lived during my MICA year. John Street on Bolton Hill. It was still unrenovated after 50 years. A big surprise. It was fun walking the old neighborhood.

My old house.

We had a really nice VRBO house rented just half a block from Main Street Annapolis. My sister and her husband drove the furtherest from Central Virginia to join us for a short trip.

From our front porch. Every passerby chatted with us!

Maryland state capital viewed up a narrow street.

We ate and strolled the town. Shopped and one day we did a voyage aboard a beautiful schooner called Woodwind. 72 feet, five sails. We had pretty good wind and sailed the whole time getting up to about 10 knots.

After that nice visit with my sister and Bill we headed back to northern Virginia where I visited our storage. I wanted Cindy to have a key as she’s going to oversee my cousin coming to take some family antiques. My goal is to slowly empty this space. I will probably ship some things to Italy. But I’m giving away a lot. Some old friends, Carlo and Mary, stopped by to pickup one of the German schranks we brought back from Germany where we all lived for a time. It will have a good home with them. And we had a nice dinner together at Vermillion.

The three days in Alexandria were busy. We stayed in the Kimpton Lorien Hotel and Spa. Of all our hotels, this was the best. They get it all right! We had a lovely dinner with Luther’s brother Mike and and his wife Anne at Magnolia. We so seldom see each other, just the four of us, so it was nice to catch up. I had a lovely evening of cocktails with my “Cook” Book Group of friends. We go back more than 20 years. Such fun to be outside on the beautiful deck and the Aperol Spritzes and conversation flowed. Such intelligent and thoughtful women. I love and miss them.

Photo courtesy of Ellie Thayer. Our group! We missed Lynn, Pam and Christine.

And I had a nice tête-à-tête with another old friend and walking buddy of mine, Rosemarie. So nice to see her. It had been a while!

We left from Dulles non-stop to Rome but were delayed when the airport was closed due to lightening strikes. Returned home to our wonderful house/cat sitters from Toronto. They had a lot of rain, unfortunately, but they made the best of it and the end days were fine. I think they had a good time and best of all, they really loved our boyz Rocky and Simba. Mark and Liz, you are always welcome to come back!

Glad to be home in Italy’s Green Heart!

See the tree, how big it’s grown…

We brought the Christmas tree that we bought the first Christmas we were here inside for the season. It lives out on the terrace throughout the year except for December. This is the 2016 tree. it is sitting on the floor.
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And THIS is the itty, bitty 2014 tree. It is sitting on a stool to make it taller. That’s no longer necessary!
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Here is our town tree all lit up.
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Today was an exceptionally foggy day. And, unlike many days, it lasted all day. I braved the cold and went out to see what sort of images I could get. I thought they would look better in black and white. Very atmospheric. Here are a few. Click for a larger version.

This is la Rocca or our fortress with a smoking chimney in front of it.
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The bridge over the Tiber.
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Road along the river.
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Interesting tree.
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The town walls and houses above it from across the river.
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And finally, a lone fisherman.
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Thoughts on my recent visit to the US

I’ve been reflecting on my trip to the US. I must confess, I do not miss living there. The random things that I noticed:

  1. The restaurant servers all want to not only serve me my food, they want to be my best friend!
  2. Prices have either really gone up a LOT, or I am too used to Umbria prices. Gasp!
  3. Sales people are very helpful and friendly.
  4. There were a TON of rats in DC.
  5. I knew there were a lot of commercials for pharmaceuticals but it has gotten MUCH worse. I read only two countries allow this, the US and New Zealand. It was relentless.
  6. There was nothing on the news except for the election.
  7. There is a building boom like nowhere else in the world going on, at least in the DC area.
  8. Virginia is The most beautiful state 🙂
  9. Autumn is as pretty as I remembered it to be.
  10. I still love Chesapeake Bay oysters better than any others!
  11. Coffee is still really bad there…compared to Italy that is!

happy to be back in Umbria!