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Happy Mother’s Day 2017 – Buona Festa della Mamma!

14 May

Although similar to a post I wrote last year, the sentiments are always worth repeating…

Mother’s Day is a special time to remember
how fortunate I am to be part of a long line of strong,
intelligent and loving Italian women.

Maude©Blogginginitaly.com

Paternal Grandmother Maude ©Blogginginitaly.com

Serafina©Blogginginitaly.com

Maternal Grandmother Serafina ©Blogginginitaly.com

 

Benita©Blogginginitaly.com

My Mother Benita (at my wedding) ©Blogginginitaly.com

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(L-R visiting Paris) Aunt Marilyn, Mom, Aunt Kiki ©Blogginginitaly.com

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Aunt Marion ©Blogginginitaly.com

It is also a day to celebrate
my incredible sisters, nieces and cousins, who are not only amazing Mothers,
but determined women who incorporate
the traditions learned from our ancestors as they create new ones.

To all of them,
and to the dear friends/wonderful Mothers
I have met throughout my life’s journeys…

I wish you all a beautiful day filled with love and relaxation.
Happy Mother’s Day – Buona Festa della Mamma!

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

In Memory of…

4 Dec

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Yesterday was Aunt Marion’s 90th birthday and she was throwing a party. How lucky to approach 90, still active and in full command. She had shopped the day after Thanksgiving and found just what she wanted to wear – a red wool jacket and black pants.

What birthday gift would I give Aunt Marion? The answer came easily. In October, 2013, I began writing a series of posts that traced a European trip my grandfather, Alex, her father, took in 1938. I titled the series Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather. From Alex’s letters, postcards, etc., that Aunt Marion had saved, I was able to document every step of his incredible journey. 76 years, 10 months and 10 days after Alex returned to his birthplace, so too did Len and I, being the first and only, we think, descendants to step foot in the town of Pietrabbondante, Italy.

With each post, Aunt Marion would call me or I her. How I loved those conversations. Along with several members of my extended family, I learned much about a man I hardly knew, and even Aunt Marion learned a great deal more about her father. Who could have guessed that a blog could bring so much joy?

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©Blogginginitaly.com Sharing info with Aunt Marion, my sibs & some cousins.

“I just wish I could print these all out,” she had said to me on more than one occasion.

As her 90th birthday approached , I found blog2print.com, a company that could make a book of my blogs. With guidance from a very helpful customer service, I created the front and back covers, wrote the dedication, and selected the contents. It was the perfect gift.

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©Blogginginitaly.com Dedication Page

©Blogginginitaly.com Dedication Page

Of particular note is the dedication to Aunt Marion: …my guiding light, collaborator and friend, who guarded “the bag” that made this all possible. The bag, of course, contained my grandfather’s letters and so much more that she had kept all these years.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

On Saturday, instead of celebrating her 90th birthday, we celebrated her wonderful life. Sadly and very unexpectedly, she left us just 5 days short of her 90th birthday.

I will miss her and our talks. But like the other strong Italian women in our family who proceeded her – my grandmothers, my mother and my aunts, I will remember her always and the traditions she passed on.

If only I could have given her the book.

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©Blogginginitaly.com

Sleep well, Aunt Marion. Love you.
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Father’s Day

19 Jun

To my husband Len, in honor of father’s day, a bit of a trip down memory lane. Whether fishing, boating, camping, building bikes, coaching baseball, attending school functions, going to baseball games, dressing up for Halloween, swimming with dolphins, etc.,

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thanks for being a wonderful father, grandfather, and husband!

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Ti amo,
Judy

 

 

 

A Beautiful Italian Birthday!

23 May

44 years ago, I celebrated my 21st birthday at Gino’s restaurant in Rome with a wonderful group of friends/fellow students. Shortly after, I would return to the US with my badge of honor – a driver’s license showing I was 21.

Yesterday,  I celebrated my birthday, (you can do the math!), with a wonderful group of friends at Tuscher Cafe in Cortona. Soon, I will return to the US with another badge of honor – a red, white and blue Medicare card!

Yesterday was the kind of day one would order – sunny, warm, and filled with blue skies and wonderful greetings from family and friends, near and far, including this:

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Len decided we should start the day at Tuscher with brunch and a prosecco toast – sounded good to me.

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Afterward, we went for a long walk and enjoyed vistas that never get old.

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Time for lunch – back to Tuscher for Edoardo’s new fish sandwich with fries… we split one, and enjoyed people watching as we sipped some vino.

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Feeling the need for another walk, the antique fair in town was the perfect venue. Finally, we headed home for a rest before dinner.

At 8pm, we arrived at Tuscher, (yes, it was definitely a Tuscher kind of day!) to a beautiful table and waited for our guests to arrive.

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Massimo and Niccolo took care of us as Dani and Edo worked their magic in the kitchen.

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Although the invitation said no gifts please, our guests claimed to not understand English!

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Len had already given me a relaxing day at the local spa, and Benita surprised me with family tickets to see James Taylor at Wrigley Field this summer.

Dinner began with Champaign and appertivo.

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Often interrupted for photos and toasts…

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I brought hand-made honey candles for each guest and created a bit of a game around their choice.

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First course –  spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil…delicious!

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Second course – beef filet cooked to order, roasted rosemary potatoes and sautéed artichokes. Perfect!

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Sometime after dinner and singing and stories, and feeling we couldn’t eat another thing, the lights went out…

And Dani and Massimo entered with this incredible wine cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Wow!

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After all other customer were gone, Dani, Massimo, Niccolo and Edo were finally able to close the doors and join us. Applause! Applause!

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Many thanks to all, either with me or in my heart, who made my day so special, and a very, very  special thanks to Len. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

Molte grazie a tutti, sia con me o nel mio cuore, che ha reso il mio giorno così speciale, e un grazie molto, molto speciale a Len. Una conclusione perfetta di una giornata perfetta!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Women

8 May

Mother’s Day always reminds me of how fortunate I am to be part of a long line
of strong, intelligent and loving Italian women who will always be a part of me –

Maude©Blogginginitaly.com

Maude©Blogginginitaly.com

Serafina©Blogginginitaly.com

Serafina©Blogginginitaly.com

 

Benita©Blogginginitaly.com

Benita©Blogginginitaly.com

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Aunt Marilyn, Mom, Aunt Kiki©Blogginginitaly.com

and one who still is!

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Aunt Marion©Blogginginitaly.com

It is also a time to celebrate subsequent generations –
my incredible sisters, nieces and cousins, who are not only amazing Mothers,
but determined women who incorporate
the traditions we learned from our ancestors as they create new ones.

  And though not related, I want to acknowledge the
dear friends/wonderful Mothers
I have met throughout my life’s journeys. You know who you are!

To all, I wish you a very
Happy Mother’s Day – Buona Festa della Mamma!

©Blogginginitaly.com

©Blogginginitaly.com

Ciao,
Judy

Mission Accomplished! Missione Compiuta!

12 Mar

For years in my Italian class, I was always somewhat envious of classmates who had familial connections in Italy. Being second generation, I realized that my ancestors had emigrated years ago, so I understood. Yet, were there relatives I did not know?

As we planned our trip to Napoli, my curiosity went into high gear. After several phone calls, emails and internet searches, the pieces of my puzzle began to take shape. And then yesterday, the final pieces of the puzzle were put into place.

Meet Bianca and her son, Danilo, distant cousins on my maternal grandmother’s side.

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Although it was a bit of a challenge understanding all the connections and generations, with fast conversations mostly in Italian, Bianca’s great-grandmother Fiorita is my great, great grandmother.

They were born in a tiny area of Castel San Giorgio called Santa Maria a Favore, way too small to be called a village. It seems to have only three streets, one being Via Villa, the street of their home. In the photo above, Bianca and Danilo stand on the rooftop terrace overlooking part of the expansive villa.

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The villa was built around 1835, we think by Gaetano Auria, a distant uncle and attorney.

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Gaetano’s wife, Fiorita Liguori, seems to have come from a noble family. They had no children, so they eventually left parts of the villa to a nephew, Pasquale, and a niece, Fiorita, Bianca’s and my ancestors. The villa, therefore, was the home where Bianca’s mother, Carolina (Anna) and my grandmother, Serafina, who were first cousins, lived as children with their parents and  siblings.

Pictured below are my maternal grandparents, Salvatore and Serafina, years after they met and married in Chicago. His family came from Nola, a part of metro Naples, but back to the villa.

Salvatore and Serafina, my grandparents ©Blogginginitaly.com

Salvatore and Serafina, my grandparents ©Blogginginitaly.com

This is part of the front of the main building when you enter the complex.

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Over the years, (and my order is suspect here), some emigrated to America, the villa was rented to a hospital which repurposed it, the hospital moved out, some relatives returned from America and moved in, and at some point, the earthquakes occurred, causing severe damage to the structure.

At various times, the original villa as well as the apartments were divided. Some years ago, Bianca began to restore a part of the villa, including rooms where my grandmother lived until age 16, when she, her parents and siblings, emigrated. If I understand correctly, Bianca’s family lived in the area over the arch which used to connect inside to the area on the left. The left area is where my grandmother and her family lived and the area which has been restored. It is easy to see the damaging effects of time and nature and at the same time, see the beauty and grandeur that once existed. No wonder my grandmother always loved being surrounded by beautiful things.

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I had only ever hoped to see the outside of the villa, so it was a great surprise that we were able to enter and see a bit of the restored rooms inside of Via Villa 49.

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Street door©Blogginginitaly.com

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original doors©Blogginginitaly.com

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original portico©Blogginginitaly.com

There’s even a wine cellar under this part of the building, and apparently a much larger one under the main house.

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wine cellar©Blogginginitaly.com

wine cellar©Blogginginitaly.com

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How I’d love to tap these barrels!

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wine cellar©Blogginginitaly.com

A Day of Italian Hospitality

Danilo and Bianca picked us up in Napoli at 9:30. Our first stop was Vietri sul Mare, home of ceramics and incredible views on the Gulf of Salerno.

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Next stop, the beautiful city of Salerno, perhaps too often bypassed because of the popularity of Positano. This is the region of my grandmother’s home and the beginning of the Amalfi drive. We walked along the lungo mare, through the beautiful old city, and finally up to the Duomo.

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Then on to see my grandmother’s villa before the rain began.

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This is a view down quiet Via Villa from one of the villa’s balconies.

View from villa window down Via Villa©Blogginginitaly.com

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The next photo is a panoramic view, a bit confusing but it does show the size of the property and all of the structures. Try to picture it as a closed rectangle. The open archway on the left is actually the center entrance archway and is quite large. The building with car on the right actually wraps around to meet the building with arch on the left. Ok, forget it.

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On to Bianca’s beautiful home in San Giorgio for an incredible five-course meal, all lovingly homemade, and served with conversation, smiles, and more deciphering of the family tree.

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Even artichokes roasted in the fire.

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At the house, we met Bianca’s husband, Giovanni, his sister, and Danilo’s wife, Anna Paola, who made the delicious chocolate torte. Bianca and her husband are retired teachers and Danilo and his wife both have PhDs, his as a physicist and hers in bioethics. “He works on the volcano,” his uncle Renato told me before coming, so we kidded Danilo about being able to flip the switch for tourists. In reality, he actually does monitor the seismic activity among other things, so he’s definitely a good person to know when in Napoli!

I explained to my new-found relatives that each trip we take to Italy gives us a few extra special experiences, soprattutto, above all others. Spending the day with them was certainly one of these!

Around 7 PM, Danilo and Bianca returned us to our hotel in Napoli, a nearly 2 hour drive back in crazy bumper to bumper traffic, which Danilo makes twice daily for work.

Bianca and Danilo, I am so grateful we had the opportunity to meet you, to try to untangle the family tree, to see my grandmother’s house, and benefit from your incredibly warm hospitality. We will always remember the day we spent with you and your family.

Bianca e Danilo, io sono così grato abbiamo avuto l’opportunità di incontrare voi, per cercare di districare l’albero genealogico, per vedere la casa di mia nonna, e trarre vantaggio dalla tua incredibilmente calorosa ospitalità. Ricorderemo sempre il giorno abbiamo trascorso con voi e la vostra famiglia.

Grazie mille… speriamo che ci vediamo di nuovo qualche volta!

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When I get home, I will attempt to reconstruct the family tree from my scribbled notes and assemble my siblings, aunt, and any interested nieces, nephews and cousins, to share more photos and stories. For now, I remain incredibly happy to be able to share this amazing experience. Definitely Missione Compiuta!

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

22 Dec

Another tradition we look forward to each year is seeing the city sparkling in lights for the holiday season. There is the traditional Michigan Avenue lighting ceremony; flipping the switch on the city Christmas tree at Daley Plaza; the wreaths on the lions gracing The Art Institute; and so many others. One of my favorites, however, is always Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual Zoo Lights. Each year, the displays seem to get better, and this year is no exception.

Lincoln Park Zoo, a leader in animal conservation and care, is a 35-acre zoo located in Lincoln Park in Chicago. The zoo was founded in 1868, making it one of the oldest zoos in the U.S. It is also one of a few free admission zoos in the United States.

Like so many others last night, we basked in the unseasonal warm weather as we enjoyed the spectacle at the zoo.

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Best of all is seeing the smiles and hearing the giggles of the many children, although at the zoo, everyone seems to find the child within, including Benita and me with our little friend Noah who was nice enough to pose with us.

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Zoo Lights runs until January 3. If you are in town, don’t miss all the fun things to see and do… incredible light displays, animals from around the world,

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live ice carvings, delicious food, hot spiced wine and unique holiday shopping.

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And there’s even an ice skating rink for those so inclined.

Happy Fun!

Ciao,

Judy

Christmas Traditions and Pizzelle

17 Dec

Italian families love their traditions, and our is no different. Each Friday after Thanksgiving, we buy our REAL tree, then spend the rest of the weekend decorating it and the house.

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Then, a few weeks before Christmas, Benita and I do some baking. One of our favorite things is making pizzelle, a traditional Italian waffle cookie.

Pizzelle were first made in the south-central area of Abruzzo in the 8th century.  Two small towns each claim to have originated the treat, Salle, in the Province of Pescara, and Cocullo, in the Province of L’Aquila.

Although they can be made with various flavors, we happen to love them loaded with anise.

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While the pizzelle are delicious, the best part for me is our tradition of making them together. As for Len, he’s our tester, making sure we have just the right amount of anise.

Click Christmas Pizzelle for Benita’s post as well as the recipe.

 

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Ciao,

Judy

Christmas Pizzelle

Olive Harvest in Cortona

14 Oct

Olive harvesting for many in Italy is a family affair. Italian families love their gardens and harvest their olives, like their fruits and vegetables, for their own consumption. Their olives are usually harvested by hand, producing a better quality oil.

Ancient olive trees are among the heartiest of trees – they grow well in most soils and some have born fruit for centuries. The trees even retain their green leaves year round.

Although I have walked by them for years, yesterday I finally came face to face with the first trees I would pick.

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Our friends Massimo and Daniela, and their sons Niccolo and Edoardo, have about 14 trees that were ready for harvesting. With only a handful of pickers, this was a two-day project. Len picked both days,

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As did new friends Sandy and Rudy.

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Picking olives is not difficult but it is time-consuming and at times back aching. Sometimes pickers are on ladders or up in the trees, carefully stripping the olives from upper branches,

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while other times they stand below, working branches at arms reach.

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We placed long orange nets around each tree to collect the falling olives, being very careful not to step on them.

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Sometimes, it seemed as though it was raining olives. A long plastic rake, called a pettina or manina, is used to reach tall parts or dense areas in the center of the tree. The tools are used to gently rake the olives off each branch, and as they fall to the net below, there is the sensation of raining olives. Here Rudy is demonstrating the technique.

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A few olives have a less direct path and may tap you on the head or shoulder on their way down, or even land in your shirt or pocket. I found a few after we got home.

When a tree was empty, the olives would be gently rolled up in the net and then placed in a bin.

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And off we’d go, moving the nets to the next tree. Usually 2-3 would work a tree together.

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Weather is important because if it rains, the olives can rot before they are pressed. We were fortunate. Although the skies threatened, the rain held off and gave us the time we needed to finish picking.

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Although some leaves naturally fall with the olives, seasoned olive pickers can pick olives with fewer leaves. We were all pretty careful, and tried to clean as we went along. I’m told a few leaves are fine as they impart a good taste.

Although some leaves naturally fall with the olives, seasoned olive pickers can pick olives with fewer leaves. We were all pretty careful, and cleaned as we went along. I'm told a few leaves are fine as they impart a good taste. Here I am removing any stray leaves, and here is a penny tiny snail that was clinging to one of the leaves. Picked olives range in size and color; they can be green, purple, yellow or black, and they differ from tree to tree.

Picked olives range in size and color; they can be green, purple, yellow or black, and they differ from tree to tree.

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Naturally, no matter what they are doing, Italians always take time for pranzo, or lunch. I missed the incredible lunch served in the garden on Monday, but yesterday, Massimo served us a delicious lunch at Tuscher Caffe.

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And here are some of the workers enjoying lunch:

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After lunch, Len and I returned with Daniela and Nicco for what we thought was one small last tree. However, there was still work to be done, as all the olives needed to be ready the next morning to take to the frantoia for pressing.

Working in the garage, we sorted and sorted and filled four large containers.

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Until all the leaves were gone…

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So this is what I’ve learned:

Harvesting is more than picking olives. It is a gathering of family and friends, new and old, working together, surrounded by nature’s beauty. It is a time filled with friendship, smiles, stories, and the joy of being in touch with nature. It is a tradition, passed on from generations, and thriving for future ones. And lucky for me, unlike grapes, bees don’t hang out around olives.

During lunch, and after the day was done, looking around at our tired and achy group, I noticed one more thing – we shared the kind of glow that comes from pitching in together for a job well done.

Tomorrow we go to the frantoio to watch our picked and sorted olives become olive oil. And then we get to taste it. Stay tuned for Part 2!

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And many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for giving us this opportunity – such a great pleasure and learning experience. Count us in for next year!

Ciao,

Judy

 

Celebrating My Birthday Locally

23 May

For the past several years, we have celebrated my birthday at a trattoria in Cortona with Italians and views like this:

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This year, we also celebrated my birthday at an Italian trattoria

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also with “Italians” and views like this:

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Jersey Boys, as you probably know, is the musical story of four Italian dropouts from New Jersey who loved to sing and had a dream. Their road to success wasn’t easy, but in the 60’s, when rock and roll came of age, they ranked 5th as the top recording artists behind The Beatles, The Supremes, Elvis and The Rolling Stones.

For those of you who share my enthusiasm for all things Italian, my posts from Italy will not commence until the fall. With Len moving on from his teaching position (he says he’ll never actually retire!), we now have the opportunity to trade in Italian summer festivals and crowds for the fall harvests and fewer tourists. We are so looking forward to experiencing and sharing our ever unfolding adventure.

In the meantime, we plan to experience much of what Chicago has to offer this summer.

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We’ll sip some SHERRY at MARIANNE’S, but definitely not wear SHORT SHORTS or dress like a RAG DOLL; watch the sun rise at DAWN knowing we CAN’T TAKE OUR EYES OFF [IT]; study the SILHOUETTES at the art museum; remember during sad movies that BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY – they just HANG ON or  WALK LIKE A MAN;  and finally, toast the summer farewell with a rousing BYE, BYE, BABY,  BABY GOODBYE as we are WORKING OUR WAY BACK TO YOU, Cortona!

Thanks, Len and Benita for a most memorable evening – OH, WHAT A NIGHT! I think you know WHO LOVES YOU! And many thanks to all who filled my day with birthday wishes.

Ciao,

Judy

 

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