Sunday, May 28, 2017 Writing Retreat in Tuscany

I knew I would love it, and I did.
9 days of writing to prompts by Cary guided by the Pat Schneider book: Writing alone and with others

8 people sitting around a circle, writing, then reading, then reacting. I feel so enriched after this experience. If living means receiving sustenance and getting exercise, my mind has been fully alive this week. It is rare, if ever, in our day to day lives that we get to receive such insights into the inner thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a diverse group of people. I heard those thoughts, feelings, and experiences through well-crafted written pieces. We even discussed submitting our pieces for Cary to put into a book. One of my pieces is published in this blog post: What you would see if you were here.

The purpose of the workshop is for writers to "find their voice." Each writer necessarily gets to be part of the process of the others finding theirs. I just can't conceive of anything more enriching than that: finding my voice and helping others find theirs. 
Here is a sampling of the prompts that would get us started writing:
  • The truth is ...
  • Why reading?
  • Is this the right room?
  • Write a love letter, letter of complaint, or letter of resignation using only one syllable words
  • Looking thru the keyhole ...
  • Describe a time you escaped ...
  • What do I want?
We wrote for 15 to 20 minutes on each prompt, then whoever wanted to read aloud did so and we would all discuss their piece. Usually everyone read, but you were free to "pass" and we all took advantage of that at least once.

Residence Le Santucce, in Castiglion Fiorentino, Tuscany, Italy

Reflection of the view from our workshop space

Our workshop space
The setting was like in a dream world. Outdoors overlooking a view of Tuscany. The weather was perfect. Cool enough for a sweater much of the time, afternoon sun making you shed that sweater. We had morning sessions from 9:30 to 12:30, then free time until 4, when we met again for 2 hours. During our free time we usually got together at a local restaurant for a meal.

One day we all piled in a van, driven by Alfeo, the owner of the Residence Le Santucce where we all were staying and where the retreat is held. Alfeo joyfully shows us around. This is his neighborhood. His family has been living here for so many generations that he can't count them - he just says "forever." We skipped the afternoon session and took a road trip to Assisi, immersing ourselves in beauty. That trip needed a separate blog post: More beauty per minute than is safe ... Assisi

The next day it was back to writing. It felt really good. I wrote a lot. It almost tired me out. At the end of each day, Jim was waiting ...
Jim and I would share some wine on our private terrace at the end of the day.

Then we would join the group for wonderful meals at local restaurants.
While I wrote, I didn't worry about Jim. He enjoyed just being in this delightful place. I think he appreciated having me out of the way so much of the time so he could just relax and do whatever he wanted, including making plans for the rest of our trip. We planned a month here in Italy and Croatia. The writing retreat is just the first week. And, of course, we were together for meals. 
Louisella and Jim at breakfast. Louisella is the daughter in the family that owns Le Santucce. 
The rest of the breakfast room. Louisella always brewed American coffee, but she would also make you a capuccino or expresso. She laid out a full table of goodies every morning: pastries, fruit, yogurt, meats and cheeses. 

I rarely refer to myself as a writer, so why did I come to a writer's retreat? Because I can. Because I like to write. Because I know Cary Tennis (we graduated in the same class at Nova High School in Fort Lauderdale), Because it's in Tuscany! Because I respect and admire Cary's writing so much. Because I had been to a short workshop with Cary in Florida and knew how non-threatening the process is. Because maybe, just maybe, I am a writer.

Friday, May 26, 2017

More beauty per minute than is safe ... Assisi

Do you want to take an afternoon off and go on a road trip to Assisi? Alfeo will drive.
Alfeo is the owner of the Residence Le Santucce. He is an engineer by trade and he is responsible for restoring this beautiful old monastery to its current condition. Thank you Alfeo!
Norma is Cary's wife. They run these workshops as a team. Cary is the workshop leader, the writer, Norma does everything else. We count on her to translate our desires into reality, and our English into Italian. Here are Alfeo and Norma collaborating:

After our writing session in the morning we all pile in his van and take a day trip to Assisi. I am still in disbelief about the ancient wonder that is our "home" medieval town of Castiglion Fiorentino. I am about to learn that there are many such towns in Tuscany.
I'm shaking my head as I think about how to describe this ... it's just so unbelievable. We left after our morning session of writing, and before we returned to the residence at near midnight, we had:
  • Seen a beautiful lake - Tasimeno - with a boat taking tourists to islands in the middle of the lake and restaurants, playgrounds, and shops along the shore
  • Visited the church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli This is a large church housing a small church. The small church is where St. Francis di Assisi lived and died
  • Visited Assisi - the ancient, holy, town on a hill where St. Francis is from
  • Went inside the Basilica di St. Francis in Assisi where he is entombed and where there are medieval painted frescoes by Giotto depicting the life of Christ and St. Francis
  • Visited Cortona - the town on a hill made famous by the novel Under the Tuscan Sun
  • Visited a Monastery called Le Cella built into the side of a hill, surrounded by gardens and pine forests
  • Visited the Church of Santa Margarita
  • Had dinner Italian family style, at Restaurant Nessun Dormo in Cortona

Lake Trasimeno
Cary Tennis watching a trail of thoughts scurry by on the shores of Lake Trasimeno

Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli PG. In the valley below Assisi. This is where St. Francis died. Inside the Basilica is the tiny church of St. Francis. The one he restored, over extreme objection from his wealthy father, after a mystic vision where he saw Jesus telling him to "restore his home." You are not allowed to take photos inside, but you can see a picture and read more here. This is the most sacred place of the Franciscan Orders. I loved the tiny church.

Then came Assisi

There's a lot of sights crammed into this tiny town, and every one of them could be a framed work of art.

Every which way you looked you were served up an exquisite, frameable, work of art. And that doesn't even count the "real" art. The world renowned frescos by Giotto. We saw them but could not take photos. See the website Basilica Papale di San Francesco d'Assisi for more.

Entrance to Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi
Before we leave Assisi, I want to show you a picture from the parking lot because it was remarkable how many RVs we saw.
We did see RVs quite a lot. The closest one is a Hymer - just now coming to the US

But wait! There's more ...

After Assisi, we piled back in the van and Alfeo drove us to Cortona, the town made famous by Frances May in Under the Tuscan Sun.
First stop in Cortona, Basilica Santa Margarita at the top of the hill. Lucky I caught a photo of Margaret in her namesake!
Next mind-blowing sight: Le Celle monastery, just outside of Cortona.
Our group L-R: Norma, Cary, Kelly, Jessica, Joanie, Alfeo, Margaret, John, Chris, Jim

By the time we got to the town of Cortona, I really thought my mind would would explode with all the beauty that had been crammed into it that day. And, Cortona is a jewel. 
Here is the view to the north from where we parked the van in Cortona 
And, here is the view to the south

Also to the south ... Lake Trasimeno?
A side street in Cortona
We ended the day with another delicious Italian meal at the Cortona restaurant Nessun Dorma. All I am capable of saying is "Wow."

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What you would see if you were here

note: this started out as one of the writing assignments in the workshop.

Is that a volcano in the distance? I don’t think there are volcanos around here, but it is a decidedly pointed peak and there is a fluffy white cloud above it that looks like a puff of smoke. I can see the peak clearly from my vantage spot on the terrace of the residence Le Santucce in the peaceful, medieval town of Castiglion Fiorentino.

The cat lives here. I’ve always had a soft spot for calico cats. The mottled orange, black, and white colors are a work of art.  I try not to get too close because I tend to be allergic to cats, but I can’t resist a short scratch behind the ear as he jumps up to sit beside me on the cushioned love seat. I envy this cat with such a home.

Looking toward the “volcano”  a lush, green valley stretches out. I wonder how much of this land is farmland. I do’t see any obvious signs, no rows of cornfields like in the American midwest. No furrowed fields lettuce, or tomato plants like in California. But the land definitely appears well-tended. Maybe it’s just too far away to see the rows.

A small plane flies overhead. I wonder if the pilot is out for a joy ride, just appreciating the beauty of the land? Or, is he or she on a mission? Places to go people to see? If I saw a small plane flying over fields in the states, it wouldn’t be long before it would be spreading pesticides. I like to imagine that there are no pesticides used here, that would mar my image of the pristine landscape before me.

A bell rings behind me. That is the bell in the tower of the castle. The castle is built behind not one, but two walls.  Thick, stone walls that must have taken decades to build. The walls circle a hill and the castle is on top of the hill. I wich I could see it from the air. If Jim could fly his drone here, I expect it would be an amazing sight. There goes the bell again. I understand that each town has a bell with a unique ring. You know you’re home when you hear your familiar ring. Did the people who lived here 1,000 years ago hear that same ring? As an American, it’s hard to fathom being in a place that has been continuously inhabited for 1,000 years - perhaps 2,000. I Google’d Etruscan time period because I heard that this place dates back to the Etruscans. Unbelievably, I see 768 BC - 264BC. That is well over 2,000 years.

The town lies within the walls up and down the hillside. Narrow streets wind their way around with the stone buildings forming solid walls on either side. Walking along the street of this town is like being in a canyon. There are a few side canyons, even smaller pathways leading up or down from the main street. An occasional door and window indicate a home or a shop. I’m so curious as to what lies behind those doors. I feel like I’m on a movie set. The movie that comes to mind is Chocolat, set in a medieval French town and starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche.

The Residence Le Santucce is partway up the hill and there is a road leading up to the outside entrance. This is the side where I sit and where the view is. But the “front” door is the one that opens to the narrow street thru town. We’re told that this home was little more than rubble after World War II, and the current owners did all the work to restore it. And, what a beautiful job they’ve done! I look at the rock wall in front of me and wonder how long it took just to build this 12 foot long piece. It’s real rocks, not something you buy in a kit at Home Depot! There are small rocks and larger rocks, rocks place vertically and some more horizontal. There is some kind of grout in between to hold them together, but still the rocks are placed a bit like a puzzle. It had to take days, months, years, to put it all together. I imagine that building structures like this is a lifetime pursuit, not a job that must be completed by a certain time. I’m reminded of a book I read called Pillars of the Earth, about the construction of churches throughout medieval Europe. Not only was this a lifetime pursuit, but multiple generations of lifetime pursuits! I wonder what it’s like to have such a different concept of time. No deadlines. No clocks. Lifetimes.

Speaking of pillars, right in front of me are trees that are at least 5 stories tall, and very thin, like sentinels. I believe they are called Cypress, but that confuses me because I am accustomed to a different kind of cypress - the kind that grow in a swamp in Florida and they have “knees.” These are very different Cypress indeed. They are icons of the Italian countryside.

I’m in Italy!

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We're in Italy!

Do you think this picture is a painting in an art gallery? I hope so. I took the photo in the garden overlooking Florence, and with just a few clicks in Snapseed, I think it looks like a painting deserving of a gallery showing! More photos here.
After 2 nights in Florence, we've settled into the small medieval town of Castiglion Fiorentino for a full week. Life is slower here. And we are slowing down with it.
The WiFi and cellular data are slow also. We probably won't be doing any kind of live video. Our T-Mobile iPhone and our PIxel phone with Google's project Fi service are both working, but the best option is the local cellular provider Telecom Italia, or TIM. We bought a sim card for our European Mobile Hotspot (thanks Don and Kim) and we've already run thru the 10 Gigabytes we purchased. Surprisingly we discovered that there is a TIM store located right here - but when we visited, we found they were closed for lunch ... from 12:30 to 3:30.
We are adjusting to the slower pace here. We like it. You can see lots of pictures in our photo album.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

We're Downsizing

From this

37 foot, diesel,Gulfstream Endura 2007  Super-C motorhome with 2 large slides.

To this

21 foot, Roadtrek 210 Popular 2011 gas camper van with no slides

We did it!

And Sunshine State RVs in Gainesville, Florida made it so easy. What we expected to be a 2 month process took 2 days! It helped that we had seen the recommendation by  Mike Wendland of He did a Facebook Live report from Sunshine State RVs a few months back. At the time, we put that on our list as the first choice for buying a Roadtrek. We also heard glowing reviews from people we know in the Florida chapter of Roadtrek International. So, when they had the model we were looking for, and they would take our old motorhome in trade, all we had to do was write a check and clean out the old rig. It also helped that they treated us like royalty. They didn’t know we were coming, we’d never spoken to them before, but when we walked in the door and Sheila greeted us, she noticed the Geeks on Tour cap and asked, “Are you THE Geeks on Tour?!” Then Nick chimed in, telling us that Sheila is their resident geek, and she talks about us all the time. They had us at Hello! We were hooked on Sunshine State RVs! Flattery will get you everywhere!

The cleaning out is what took up the 2 days! That was work. But, it’s all done now and we have our new (to us) Roadtrek parked in our spot at our townhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That was the number 1 reason for the move. We want to spend part of the year living in that townhouse, and there is no place to park a big rig. Once we found a storage lot for $200/month. Next time we needed it, even that wasn’t available. With the Roadtrek parked right outside our door, we’ll be able to take off on a moment’s notice.

How can you fit all your stuff in that tiny RV?

First of all, we won’t. That’s what the townhouse is for. Now that we are not fulltime RVers, we don’t need to carry everything we own with us. We will still be spending 1, 2, or even 3 months in the camper at a stretch – but that’s still a much different thing than fulltime. We are entering a new chapter. We aren’t living on the road. We are adopting a new attitude … we’re camping. We will be going to work at the various rallies around the country. We will be able to get there faster in the Roadtrek. Instead of our normal 200 miles/day, we should be comfortable with 400. Both of us will be able to drive. Only Jim drove the big rig.
Second of all, you’d be amazed at how well designed the Roadtreks are. There is a place for everything you need. If you’re familiar with the Harry Potter stories, it’s like Hermione’s endless purse. When you open the door and go inside, you feel the magic of entering another world. We don’t feel claustrophobic, we feel cozy. There is a pull out counter/desk that can be used with the driver’s seat turned around – Jim’s office.

And, in the back, there is a table that can be put up in front of the couch; Chris’ office. At night, the table becomes the base for making the couch into a queen size bed. It’s just a push button to put the couch down. Or, if we want to leave it as a bed, Chris just uses a lapdesk.

And, yes, it has a bathroom. It’s behind that mirrored door on the left in the photo above. It’s tiny but functional.
image        image

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

We are so thoroughly jazzed by all the possibilities that are opening up to us by traveling in this small rig.
  • We can go to National Forests, and county parks that don’t have big sites.
  • We can explore a possible campsite without knowing what’s there. Realize that, in a big rig, you need to know how to get out of a place before you can venture in!
  • We can look at each other on a Friday afternoon and say, let’s go to a Florida State park this weekend, grab the keys and go.
  • We can even say, “Let’s take the Roadtrek down to the beach and cook dinner there tonight.”
  • We can explore that dirt road on public property and just pull off for the night.
  • We can camp at friends’ with smaller driveways!
So much less stress in a small rig. It will be our second car when we’re home.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2017


This was the reason we crossed the country at the time we did. The SKP (Escapee) ACRE (All Chapter Rally East) rally was scheduled for April 26 to May 2 in Sevierville, Tennessee. We were booked to do some of our seminars there.

We made it in good time and first taught our 6 hour "Learn by Doing" smartphone photography class. We only had 4 people, but they learned a lot!

Then we taught our main seminars on Google Photos, Google Maps and Smartphone basics. It was a nice size rally, lots of good food and entertainment. A good time was had by all!

Here's the shared photo album we set up for our photos as well as anyone who wanted to add some pictures: Link to SKP ACRE photo album

There was a pretty good Verizon signal here, so we were able to do our weekly "What Does This Button Do?" online class. We set it up in the conference hall and invited anyone who wanted to come watch - so we had a live audience as well as our online audience for our topic called Google Photos: My Favorite Things

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