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Today is cleaning and chaos and closure as I get ready for my departure tomorrow. I’ll arrive on Sunday morning to hug my Grace and her dad who is still my close friend. Her adventure this week will be to start school, mine will be to discover Rome and the surrounding areas. On Friday, Grace and I will hop on the train after school and head to Umbria, to a small town called Orvieto. I have a one night reservation at a nice hotel in the heart of the old city, and we’ll have some mom and daughter time together which will be really nice, I think. I may write more entries during my travels, or I may not. I’m just going to do whatever the heck I feel like doing, so there! Ciao, cari lettori!

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orvieto, 60 miles north of rome

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OMG. That was hilarious, sweaty, and fun. It’s hard to believe that playing two chords alternately for the duration of a song could make one perspire profusely, but when the teacher is leading with a bunch of other musical stuff and singing at the same time (Horse with No Name) in your living room and it’s 80 some degrees with no AC, the pressure is on to keep up and the sweat begins to flow. Then I had to lead with some improvisational notes while he played chords in the background, and dang, at moments (maybe 2) it sounded pretty good! I have to thank my Henry for getting me ready with a month of lessons over the summer. And for certain family members who might mock my sense of rhythm, Mr. Jimmy mentioned that it was a strong point and applauded my strumming efforts. This week’s practice song: House of The Rising Sun. Now off to Qigong class with Master Wu.

The smell of grape jelly kept wafting across the bikepath during my run today. Big purple grapes in the undergrowth just off the path were hanging ripe and full and just filling the air with that sweet and familiar smell. It reminded me of unwrapping the plastic wrap on my PB&J when I was a little kid and getting a whiff of the Welch’s. yum.

I’m sure it would be nice for my readers if I gave an eloquent chronological reflection of the past week, but somehow time just doesn’t seem to be the organizing factor in these thoughts. So I’ll be jumping around a bit, and just hoping that there’s some sense to all of it.

On Saturday Jack and I drove a loaded car to UConn and carried all his stuff up 6 flights of stairs. Here’s a picture of him and his roommate, a really nice nursing student named Larry:

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The grimace on Jack’s face sort of sums up the morning – though everything went well, and in fact the big guys carried the really heavy stuff, it was hotter than a sauna and Jack hates that. Shirts were off after the first climb up the stairs (their shirts, not mine…), and I said my goodbyes at about noon after the sherpas had reached the summit with all the bags, lamps, stereos, etc.

After leaving my big guy, I drove on down through Connecticut for a rendezvous at a hotdog stand. The highlight of the drive, besides the AC in my car, was going over the Frog Bridge in Willamantic. I felt like I was in The Wind in the Willows, or a Beatrix Potter illustration.

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Look at that dangling leg! Very cool. Here’s the history:

The “Battle of Frog Pond” was an incident in 1756 around the time of the French and Indian War. The citizens of Windham (Willimantic is located in Windham township) were awakened in the middle of the night by a tremendously frightening racket just outside of town. Assuming the worst, they seized their arms and prepared for the impending Indian attack. When morning arrived, the armed villagers marched in the direction of the noise only to discover that the nearby pond had dried up, and the area was littered with hundreds of dead bullfrogs. The frogs that still lived were heading to the Willimantic River in search of water. Thus, the fearsome sounds that had plagued the citizenry the previous night had not been Indians but rather bullfrogs “fighting” for water. The pond was renamed Frog Pond, the story spread throughout the towns and colonies, and the legend was born. The story is apocryphal, and most likely well embellished by local color. Nevertheless, the town has recently erected a Frog Bridge to commemorate the incident, featuring frogs atop spools of thread. Giant sculptures of frogs atop spools of thread adorn a bridge next to the mill. The thread spools are included in the bridge’s design because Willimantic was, at one time, known as “Thread City.” The American Thread Company had a mill in Willimantic on the banks of the Willimantic River, and was at one time the largest employer in the state as well as one of the largest producers of thread in the world.

The town of Willimantic has now given the four frogs official names. They are now Willy, Manny, Windy and Swifty. The names Willy and Manny combine for Willimantic. Windy is for Windham. Swifty is a reference to Willimantic, which is Algonquin for “the land of the swift running water.

After a hotdog break, John and I went to the Mark Twain House in Hartford, where I forgot to take any photos at all. Great story of life there, great stories about life written there. I enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the best things was the way Twain reflected on the spirit of the house, words that express what I want to feel in my home:

“To us our house was not unsentient matter—it had a heart & a soul & eyes to see us with, & approvals & solicitudes & deep sympathies; it was of us, & we were in its confidence, & lived in its grace & in the peace of its benediction. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up & speak out its eloquent welcome—& we could not enter it unmoved.”

I love that…

Now I’ll jump over the ocean to comment on daughter Gracie. She’s been hot, bored, and lonely, but roused herself from lassitude to get to the AC in the local museums. I can only hope their heat breaks by Sunday morning when I arrive at the aeroporto di Fiumicino because I don’t think the appartemento needs another heat source (me) when it’s already 100.

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classic! thanks for the great photo, r.

Not too badly out of sequence after all, not too reflective either. Some days, it’s “nothing but the facts, ma’am” with a web of thinking and feeling to follow. My house is quiet like a well trained dog this week, patiently waiting for the next command. I have that feeling you get when you dive into cool clear water and find yourself relatively weightless. There’s no resistance here, very little friction, with just one body moving through the last 24 hours. It’s peaceful, smooth, clear. Mmmmh.

I was There, and now I’m Here. Last month was Grace and Henry and Jack getting ready for departure to life adventures; today is me, back at the empty house with those three packed off successfully, facing my own adventure and a dirty house. It’s magical, exciting for them and for me, and full of possibility. Grace’s adventures are perking up, and next weekend I’m off to Rome to be with her during her first week of school. Henry is mesmerized at Pitt – first day of classes have immersed him in the world that he’s been waiting for most of his life. Jack has auditions tomorrow and is already under pressure, but his roommate is a good friend and the weather is supposed to cool this week. I had the best of companionship this weekend, visited the Mark Twain House in Hartford and had a boating tour of the Thames River in Connecticut. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. Hallelujah.

Honestly, I’m too damn tired to write much of anything today, so I’m putting some music on, cleaning my house, taking a bubble bath and putting myself to bed with a great book and clean sheets. Amen to that. I’m happy, content, loving my life, and fully satisfied. Look for lots of pics and stories tomorrow. It’s all a prayer.

Speaking of friends from first grade, Chris isn’t the only one who has that status: my childhood playmate and lifetime friend Kathy was also part of our neighborhood and school gang. Now she lives in Maine with her partner Lenora in a rambling old home that’s got everything from chickens to door pulleys, and their lives follow the same un-patterned architecture of work and relationships. These women put their time and money where their hearts are, and I love their creative energy. Instead of experiencing the feeling of compassion for people in need, these two take them into their home and shelter them. They feed them. They find them jobs. They are love in action.

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kathy and lenora

Now that they’ve got an empty nest (their son left for school a few years ago) like I do this year, they’ve had interesting stories to tell that make me realize that parenting doesn’t end when kids leave home.

Here are some little details about Kathy from when we were kids:
-skinny and freckled
-walking down the sidewalk one day, she told me about a great book called The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Thanks for opening the world of Narnia for me, Kath-
-we tried to write a book together one summer in her cool basement. We made an illustration of a bloody finger beckoning from the window of an old house. I know we talked about it a while back, but I still can’t remember the plot.
-her mom was young and wore a bikini. This was very cool to me.
-Kathy was always can-do. You could talk about any topic, and she could jump right in.
-She would fix you with those blue eyes and ask the piercing question, the hard question. For a pleasant, well-mannered, tiny child, you still just knew not to mess with her.
-Kathy is a great listener, and remembers everything, and she’s been like that since she was a kid. The term steel trap comes to mind…

Of course, there’s so much more, but that’s enough for here.

A few months ago, Kathy asked me if we could get together so she could see Grace before she left for Italy. It had been some years since Kathy had actually seen my daughter just through flukes of scheduling. So we made one plan that fell through, and another, and finally, the week before Grace was to leave, I decided to just drive all the way up there for a visit. Grace and I left early in the morning and met the gals for breakfast at this interesting restaurant that’s all about eggs. An artist friend of theirs was having a yard sale, so we went there and picked up some great stuff, including an old set of highball glasses that sported gold rims and the names of different international cities, including, of course, Rome. And then Lenora gave us a great driving tour of Portland, while Kathy did the narration. It was a perfect morning. Thanks, old friends! Can’t wait to see you in November!

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kathy and lenora with grace and me

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I started first grade with one of my best friends 40 years ago. Last summer I saw Chris one week before he started his training and diet regime to get fit and stay alive (top photo, at Faneuil Hall in Boston). The next time I saw him was last Friday, 2 days after hitting his goal weight (bottom photo, with my boys). I almost died when I saw him, he looks so great. His face looks the way it did in 5th grade (ok, a bit older). This man left a longtime career to go back to school and now teaches geography to 8th graders. He jokes about having lost a whole 8th grader this year in weight. I think he’s a hero, not just to me but to all those students who witnessed the changing of a life. Thanks, Christopher. You are ever an inspiration, dear friend.

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One to go. I have safely deposited Henry at University of Pittsburgh, and just returned from that adventure a couple of hours ago. Grace is still in Rome, wishing she could escape her father’s watchful eye, no doubt. Now it’s Jan’s (oldest son) turn to head out to University of Connecticut on Saturday for year 2 of his college career. The house is quiet but I’m feeling pretty turbulent with the whirlwind of packing and unpacking, buying, buying, buying, air travel and goodbyes.

Short term plan: focus on hour by hour needs over the next couple of days. Get Jack to Uconn. Sleep the rest of the weekend. Wake up on Monday fully refreshed and ready for new adventures and perspective. More soon…

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in the airport to pittsburgh, making the all-important shopping list

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one of the newest dorms on campus, great view from the 7th floor

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typical henry outreach…

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almost like home…

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taking a break to make some music

Mom and Dad renewed their marriage vows during a Catholic mass on Saturday when we all gathered to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in northern VA. It was very moving – Here’s a photo of the bride and groom with Father Joe. Had a great time seeing my sisters and brother. I’ll fill in the details and post some photos later.

Tomorrow morning Henry and I fly to Pittsburgh to get him situated at Pitt. Let the adventure begin! More later, when I have time to tell some stories. This weekend is likely to be a crash and burn after the week I’m having. I can’t wait.

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5 out of 6 siblings, at an irish pub the night before (where else?!)

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the other one (sorry you couldn’t join us, sis!)

Feels like every bit of my life is caught up in small eddies that are swirling across the next two weeks. Easy to see how one can lose sight of the ground during a period of activity this intense as I fly to anniversary parties, deliver one child then another to college, and, ahem, work full time. But I’m keeping my feet firmly planted, and most of the vortices are small, light, and even delightful in their own way, more like the potential for a storm than the real thing. Trying hard to stay in the present moment so nothing slips by me unnoticed. I’m hopeful I can find a signal during my travels to DC and Pittsburgh over the next 6 days so I can report on my family party. I’ll keep you posted. Or rather: I’ll keep posting, maybe. Or something like that…