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Knowing the inevitability of what was to come – spending six weeks in a country where the language was as foreign to me as I was to its inhabitants – Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian) became my mantra the weeks prior to leaving for Italy.  You see, I feel it’s important to immediately ingratiate myself to the locals when visiting a foreign land.  When I visited France a number of years ago, Je suis désolé de vous déranger, (insert monsieur, madame, mademoiselle) je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous anglais? was my go to greeting.  With the French, I added “I’m sorry to bother you,” because a book I read prior to visiting said that knowing before hand that I was, in fact, bothering them would endear me to the French.

And so I set out on my own through the streets of Tivoli and into the shops.  After the salutation, “Ciao. Buon giorno,” I immediately followed with, “Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano,” my request for forgiveness for not speaking Italian.  This admission was received with mixed reactions.  Sometimes a kind purveyor would give me the Italian shrug as if to say “eh, no big deal.”  Other times, oh, let’s say at the Rispa (a small market) the cashier would glare at me and spin the cash register mount around so I could see what I owed, all the while speaking to me in Italian.  At Piadina Piu, the lovely ladies became so familiar with the American who apologized every time she entered the shop, they just laughed and waited for me to fumble through my order, which was the same every time.  “Cento Sessanta Nove.”  Translation: 169 – a sublime combination of greens and melted scamorza encased in a grilled unleavened wrap.  The best street food to be found in Tivoli and only 3 euros.IMG_0508

Then there were the strangers on the street, like the elderly woman who was miffed because someone had illegally parked on the narrow street and she had to move around the car into oncoming traffic (and that’s a whole other blog post).  She turned to me to express her displeasure to which I replied, “Mi dispiace, signora, non parlo Italiano.”  She just laughed as if I must be joking, and continued talking.  The only word I recognized was cavalli (horses), so I’m not sure if she was calling me a horse,horse - Copy or telling me it was easier in the old days when they rode horses, or if she was calling the guy who parked the car a horse’s ass.  All of these possibilities were running through my head when I decided to try out the Italian shrug, with the added extension of the arms and opening of the hands, which is to say, “what are you gonna do?”

My favorite daily encounter took place on the street leading to our piazza behind St. Lorenzo.  Weather permitting, this happy gentlemen greeted me coming and going from my appointed rounds with song and a “buon giorno, bella signora.”

IMG_0544And the best part: I never felt I had to apologize.

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?????????????????????????????????Dear readers, I have returned from a six week sojourn to Italy – the land of Ps – Pasta, Polenta, Prosciutto, Pomodoro, Pesch, Piadini, Pizza, Parmigiano,  Pecorino, Proseco, Piazza, Palazzo, Paparazzi and the Pope, and I have stories to tell you.  Over the coming weeks, during the time of darkness that has begun its descent upon the Pacific Northwest, I will share my experiences of village life, couture, television, food and various subjects that have yet to surface due to sleep deprivation.

To get things off to a tempting start, let’s begin with the Antipasto course.

 

IMG_0347 - Copy  A sampling at Viva L’Oste

IMG_0349 - CopyA plate of bruschetta to accompany a luscious glass of Kurni 2010 Oasi degli Angeli enjoyed at Enoteca Properzia in Spello

DSCF5008And finally, a sumptuous array served at Ristorante Sibilla sitting at the site of the ruins of the Temple of Vesta.

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Happy diners: Anna, me, DZ, and Angelo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bee on flowerWe’ve all seen the summer photos of bees in flight, buzzing around the perfect flower, or sizing up blackberry blossoms.  I know I’ve taken great delight in watching bumble bees so laden with pollen they had trouble taking flight; high on the yellow dust, drunk on the nectar.  And just recently friends from America (the other side of the Sound) were quite impressed when a meat bee invaded our al fresco dining and made off with a helping of smoked salmon nearly the size of his body.  I’m sure his friends back at the nest were equally impressed.

I’ve spent most of this outrageously beautiful summer on the property landscaping it to make my life easier in the coming years.  My buddy, Lew, keeps telling me I won’t be able to keep up with the four acres much longer.  You gotta love that kind of optimism.  But just in case Lew is right, I’ve been busy laying down tarp (biodegradable) and covering it with mulch and stone.  In the last few months, I’ve covered a number of the tiers, the side of the house, the area below the deck and down the slopes with mulch and stone in spiffy patterns that spell OCD.  I have slid down said slopes, berry thorns pushing through my jeans, and I was regularly dive bombed by an angry varied thrush when I cut down two small trees close to her nest, but nothing could stop me from what needed to be done before (according to Lew) my bones turn to dust…until today.

In the Secret Life of Bees August (who is a beekeeper) tells Lily that you have to send love to the bees to keep them from stinging you.  Now, if you’ve been reading along for the last four years, you know that I go out of my way for the deer, bunnies, and birds (that crazy varied thrush seems to forget that I’m the one laying out the birdseed every morning, the one who makes sure they, along with the deer and bunnies have fresh water everyday).  I even mow and weed whack around slugs, little tufts of grass marking their spots, safe zones for slimers.  In other words, I send love to creatures great and small on the property all the time.  But today it wasn’t enough.  Today, after four years of working side by side, one of my pollinating pals turned on me and when I wasn’t looking, landed on the mesh portion of my glove and stung me…repeatedly.  I like to think of myself as someone who remains level-headed in a time of crisis…and for the most part, I am, especially when I’m not the one experiencing the crisis.  And though I  may forget many  important facts during a crisis, the facts I never forget are those at the extreme end of warning signs for impending doom.  New prescription?  I never read the first paragraph, but flip to the back to the “may cause swelling of the tongue, blocking breathing passageway, may cause blindness…” you get the picture.  So, as I’m pulling my glove off (bee still attached) and jumping up and down, this is what’s running through my head: Didn’t Ralph tell me that Peggy went into anaphylactic shock when she was stung?  Granted, it was in the neck, but I remember the words – paralysis, ambulance…  Now, those are important facts.  Fortunately, I had driven my SUV down on the property because it had all my tools in it, so hand throbbing, heart pounding…could this be the first signs of anaphylaxis?  I drive myself up to the house and rush in. Remedies…I need remedies.  First one that comes of mind is baking soda paste.  While that’s dripping all over the floor, I search the internet for remedies and come upon several.  Wait, I need to document the damage.   This is how my hand looked by the time I got to the house. beesIt kind of looks like a Thanksgiving turkey where my knuckles used to be, no?  Okay, back to the internet and remedies to stop the PAIN…smash fresh garlic and rub the juice on the area, crush basil and rub on the area, coat with honey (how ironic).  Fortunately, I had all three remedies in stock and used them all.  The whole time I’m rubbing the garlic and the crushed basil on my hand, I’m thinking about the fresh mozzarella and roasted tomatoes I have in the fridge.  I top off the garlic and basil with a smear of wildflower honey and then I read that I should wash the area with soap and water before applying any remedies.  But of course.  And so I do, and then I start all over again.

After a few hours the pain subsided, only a few twinges here and there.  I stood out on the deck overlooking the area where the “incident” occurred and heard the familiar buzz of my attacker as I watched my glove moving slowly across the property.

Photo of Bee found at http://tx.english-ch.com/teacher/julia/home/bees/

Photo of hand found at the end of my arm

DSCF4299Last Saturday was the annual Memorial Day Parade here in Coupeville.  I take delight watching the folks in my small town cruise down Main Street in their classic convertibles, like the Girl Scout Daisy Troop retro 60’s wagon below,GirlScouts and for the past four years I’ve gotten an ample kick out of watching the Coupeville High School marching band keep the beat going and the parade moving along (even if it appears it’s to the beat of a different drummer).

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I love the fact that lions (head in hand), dogs and fish, no matter their political leanings (think about that), can come together to honor the men and women who died for their country. DSCF4307

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Did I mention how happy I’ve been these past four years watching from the sidelines?  Well, times have changed dear readers.  This year, against all I know myself to be, I found myself in the parade with this band of zany, merry women (left to right – Angie, Toni, Aurora and Mare)…DSCF4296

walking in front of Lavender Wind Farm’s intrepid leader, Sarah…DSCF4322

and behind this…DSCF4324

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kid you not.  Lavender Wind Farms was positioned right behind the equestrian entry in the parade.  Might I say there’s not enough lavender from Whidbey Island to Provence to remedy what  happened right in front of us as we marched down Front Street bearing our purple banner and spreading lavender love among the crowd.  Perhaps it was Aurora’s drumming, or Toni’s single maraca; maybe it was MJ’s (not in photo) Tibetan bells that caused the sudden and voluminous equine cleanse, but hindsight being what it is, I think it was probably due to my penchant for being in the right place at the right time where calamity reigns.  I know nothing about horses, but I believed Mare when she said, “That horse was stressed.”

The next big parade is Halloween and I guarantee, I’ll be watching that one from the sidelines.  Any parades in your town that you wouldn’t dare miss?

eagleflightI can’t say why I didn’t head back upstairs this morning after making my tea.  My intention was to tune out the world and write, but I found myself, tea in hand, walking to the deck overlooking the property.  My property sits below the house with a grand open space, perfect for birds to swoop and call to each other.  I’m pretty sure it’s the eHarmony pick up grid for my winged friends, who then set up their prenatal nests under my deck.  This year, mid-project, I had to put the all-important power washing of the deck on hold after two small, but squawking, beak sharpening Finches let me know I was on their turf.  If you’ve been reading along these past years, you might remember I had this same problem with a Varied Thrush (a Robin impersonator the size of a well-fed squirrel, who had me running into the house – before I opened the screen door). But once again, I have digressed.

Perhaps it was the moody grey sky, or the late-to-the-show birds singing in the trees that called to me; whichever it was, I am grateful, for to the right from where I stood, and just above the roof line, a Bald Eagle swooped down near the deck into the opening and through the trees. I’ve had a flyby even closer than this one (see blog post http://bit.ly/12ELEpD), but it came with a warning; this majestic fella rode the silence.  Just as my breath was coming back to me, he made a U-turn and flew back through the opening over the deck again, as if to say, “Just in case you didn’t get a good look at how awesome I am the first time, here you go.”  And I don’t mean “awesome” in the way of “cool,” I mean awesome in the way of fearsome, overwhelming, breathtaking, tremendous, remarkable, astounding, and humbling.

He’s flown from the property, but he’s out there circling the island, swooping down now and then to remind folks to take the time to turn in the opposite direction, to look up from what weighs them down, and see the majesty all around us.

Image from http://baldeagles.org

 

 

After our haunting Holland Happening experience (you saw how we turned out after exiting the Gravitron), it was time to get down to business…whiskey business.  I’m not much of a drinker – the occasional glass of wine, maybe a beer after working on the property in the heat of summer (that would be when the thermometer reaches the very rare (there are no fans left to be found at Home Depot) 80 degrees).  And here I was sitting at a table with bona fide sippers of the grain, expert in their assessments.  I, on the other hand, have never been a whiskey drinker; well, perhaps once in my youth, which is why I may be a bit put off by the spirit.  But that was a long time ago and I was willing to let bygones be bygones.

Whiskey-Before_edited-1The line up on the table in the photo to your left does not represent the order in which the whiskey was tasted, and some brands did not make the photo cut because I took the photos after the tasting when the bottles looked more like this (see below):

Whiskey-After

1)Jack Daniels Unaged Tennessee Rye, 2) Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Aged 12 Years; Bulleit 95 Rye American Whiskey, Makers Mark 46, McClelland’s Islay 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, and Laphroaig Islay 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey.

The tasters included William Bell, Bev Heising of Whidbey Island Distillery, Whidbey Island authors Mike McNeff, Mare Chapman, and Rowena Williamson, Bedford Cheese Shop Cheesemonger extraordinaire Nate McElroy, and me.  Oh, did I mention that William hosted us down at Local Grown?  Now I know how he stays so very mellow while drinking so much coffee.  (Note: This was a private party. No rules were broken.  Let me add here that the rumor Local Grown is installing a whiskey machine, like the one shown below, is not true.)

whiskeyAlong with the whiskey there were cheeses to sample and pair with the spirits. The finest among the cheese was a wedge of Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Dairy in Dodgeville, Wisconsin that Nate brought all the way from NY. You’re beginning to understand why he’s my favorite, aren’t you.  p-best-in-classWe also enjoyed Britt’s pickles out of Seattle, Fermin Iberic Salchichon, and Screamin’ Banshee Bread from right here on the island.

Nate was in charge of the pour so you know every taster had an ample sample.  Experienced tasters saw the sample to your left:9143738-whiskey-in-a-crystal-shot-glass-isolated-on-white

This is what I saw:The_simpsons_flaming_moes_02

There was a “dump it” bucket for those who wanted to walk out of the coffee shop, but I seemed to be the only one using it.  I’d like to be able to break down the descriptors used by the participants for you in accord with each whiskey, but after the first sip, I knew I’d never be able to match one with the other.  Here are a few of the words I do remember: Refreshing, light, vanilla, apples, cherry, oak, smooth on the tongue, lingers at the back of the throat, moss, smoke, hints of orange blossom (I may be making that one up).

Here are my descriptors: FIRE IN MY MOUTH! BURNING!  MY TONGUE HAS GONE NUMB! GOOD GOD, ARE MY LIPS STILL ON MY FACE?  Tasting the Laphroaig and the McClelland’s Scotch reminded me of standing in the middle of a debris burn I did my first winter on the island that lasted for a week.  Back then, I was sure I must be smoldering days after the burn was over, that’s how strong the smell of SMOKE around me remained.  I tried to listen as Mare and Rowena (the Scotch experts) talked about the peat moss used, the fire, the barrels, etc., but I was having a hard time doing that while gobbling down bread to calm my taste buds.  Thinking back on this, I’m reminded of Tom Hanks in Big when he tastes caviar for the first time.

I’d like to say I have a sophisticated palate when it comes to sampling spirits in their purest form, but I don’t.  So, here I sit weeks later looking at these near-to-full bottles of Redbreast and Bulleit Rye and the thought comes to me: I would probably like them a great deal if I used them to accentuate my chocolate truffles.  Now we’re talkin’.  I’ll let you know how that turns out.

whidbeyislandI’ll end with this note. Yesterday, May 17, marked my four year anniversary here on the island.  Thanks to all who have made my stay here some of the best years of my life.  To those who have followed my silly little blog during that time, hand-to-heart gratitude for riding along with me.

 

Thanks wipwapweb.com for the “whisky” machine.

Moe’s flaming drink from images4.wikia.nocookie.net

DSCF4222Driving the ring around the Olympic National Forest, we noticed signs that announced: Big Cedar and Big Spruce.  Well, like any repetitive advertisement (especially those in the middle of a sleepless night), you can only ignore the taunts so many times until you give in.  This time it was Big Spruce that caused us to swerve off the main road to take a look at what the fuss was all about. You folks living in California with the unrivaled beauty of the Redwood Forests will understand when I thought to myself – this better be good.  Well, Big Spruce didn’t let us down, and since he’s quite the celebrity over there in the ONF, a keepsake photo had to be taken.   And, yes, before striking his lumberjack pose, Nate made sure there were no wild animals lurking in the root system behind him.  And, yes, I was ready with my camera set to multiple shots hoping there might be.  I never said I was perfect.  But I’m darn close.  You’ll see why right here.  A stop in Port Angeles at the thrift shop revealed two brand new shirts, only one was entirely without buttons.  O ye of little faith who judged me just sentences earlier — we found buttons (half off at a real five and dime shop) and I sewed them on — before I went to sleep that same night, I might add.

We ended our trip to America by stopping at Siren’s in Port Townsend with a round of oyster shooters and shepherd’s pie (Nate), and a salad (me).  Oh, and beer. But you probably already guessed that.

I’m having trouble remembering how we spent the rest of the evening when we arrived home, and I’m certain it had something to do with ingesting gummy bears, red licorice, sugared grapefruit slices, gummy worms (a far cry from my green drinks) while waiting for the ferry.

Sunday we ventured off to the Holland Happening in Oak Harbor.  I had never been and since it was Nate’s last day and we had hours before whiskey tasting, we were up for a bit of the Dutch, thinking wooden shoes, tulips (for which the Skagit Valley is renowned); baked goods.  Oh, how wrong we were in our Dutch Baby minds.  It might have been the ferris wheel, visible from the distance, or perhaps it was the corn dog stand that said: this is not Holland, but this is happening.FerrisWheelSeat

CornDogsWhere were the Stoopwafels, the Ontbijtkoek, the Speculaas, not to mention the little chocolate Dutch shoes and Zwart wit drops guaranteed to crack a tooth? WHERE WAS HOLLAND in all of this?

The safety of the rides was a no-brainer.  Chipped paint exposing rusty hinges and carnies standing around scratching their heads as they hammered at loose bolts (even I know that’s not the tool you use); didn’t instill in us the kind of confidence that says, “I just gotta ride that thing.”

OctopusRide_edited-1And then we saw it from across the field. Like something out of a 70s remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, I could hear the Bee Gees musical scoring of Klaatu Barada Nikto rise above the smell of barbecued ribs (south Holland perhaps).  There stood the Gravitron!

Gravitron

 

Maybe you had to ride the Gravitron to experience the Holland Happening.  Worth a shot?  Well, you decide.

 

 

 

We went in all-American and came out looking like this:

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And this is why Nate is my favorite of all my children.  He’s willing to stupid stuff with me. However, he may not have considered it would be posted here at Greetings from Coupeville.

I’ll have to tell you about the whiskey tasting next time.  It’s been rainy, sunny, rainy, sunny (sometimes in the same hour) and that means the dandelions, grass, weeds, nettles, you name it, are getting the better of me.  Off to hoe and mow…gotta get everything looking just so.  Rumor has it company is coming in July, don’t you know.

Did I mention I’m going to be in the Memorial Day parade this year?  How did that happen?