Love Note

I get a lot of junk mail. After a perfunctory glance, it goes right into the trash can. But this piece of unsolicited mail was different. The words “Cortona, Italy” on the cover caught my eye. I paused to study what appeared to be a clothing catalog.

Soft Surroundings was the name of the company. I flipped it over. Yes…it was addressed to me. I had never heard of Soft Surroundings, and certainly had not requested one of their catalogs. However, I was intrigued. I loved the subtitle beneath the company name: my time my place my self.

I opened the catalog, a nice quality publication of 60 pages…and felt my heart rate quicken. I smiled. I knew nothing, yet, about the style of clothing within, but the note from the company founder, Robin Sheldon, won me over.

The photo shoot for this catalog took place in Cortona, Italy, located in the Tuscany region. She wrote that they returned from Cortona in love with the country, the cuisine, the warm people…and a couple named Ed and Frances Mayes. Frances is the author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I have not read the book, but the film version of the story is one of my favorites! That movie created a love and a yearning for Italy, long before my grandson chose that country as his graduation trip destination.

I can’t adequately convey how warm and fuzzy this beautiful catalog made me feel, before I even browsed through its pages. I felt loved and treasured, heard and understood, surprising emotions to arise because of a catalog. I brewed a cup of hot tea, sat in my favorite chair, and experienced Soft Surroundings.

I immediately loved the style of clothing offered. The gorgeous dresses, tops, leggings, shoes and home products are a delightful mix of boho and comfy casual…perfect for a long weekend away…or a spontaneous trip to Italy.

As I slowly thumbed through the catalog, I did something that harkened back to my childhood. I turned down corners, marking pages that contained something that strongly appealed to me. Honestly, that was most pages! How fun to spend a leisurely half hour looking at beautiful clothes and bedding, reading snippets about the team’s stay in Italy, and remembering with fondness my own trip there last year.

There was even a fun sensory page, where rubbing my wrist on the paper transferred a subtle, sensual fragrance onto my skin.

This is what I love most about Soft Surroundings and receiving it unexpectedly…it felt like a love note, a wink from the Divine. Things that I enjoy, appreciate and adore are captured within its pages…travel, and Italy in particular, a clothing style that resonates with me as I dabble in fashion design, truly lovely photography with sun soaked Italian landscapes, little stories scattered throughout the pages, which served to connect me to this company, and references to Under the Tuscan Sun, a top ten movie for me.

I didn’t request this catalog. But it seems tailored to me. It’s like a thumbs up or an encouraging hug that says to me…keep going…you are on the right path. The other thing I noticed as I browsed was that I didn’t concern myself with prices. I marked the pages of the items I loved. Prices, which are moderate, were not where my focus was. And I like that. It signals growth in an area of my life.

I appreciate this Divine love note with all my heart. I can’t explain how I received it. They must have gotten my name from a mailing list. However it happened, I am grateful for all the sweet feelings and memories and anticipated pleasures Soft Surroundings evoked. And I am excited about placing my first order. A 20th anniversary edition of Under the Tuscan Sun is even offered. It’s time to read the book that inspired the movie. And dream of another trip to Italy.

Visit Soft Surroundings HERE.

A Day in Tuscany

Day 5 of our Italy trip was spent in Tuscany. I have loved every moment of my time in Italy. The people are gracious and funny and kind. The cities are bustling. And the landscapes are stunning. However, I have always felt drawn to the region known as Tuscany, and today I had the deep pleasure of being in the heart of Italy. 

A Day in Tuscany
Here are highlights from this magical day:

Our mornings begin early! As usual, we were on the bus and headed to our first destination at 7:45. We have a rotating seat schedule. Today Elissa, Dayan and I were the front of the bus “kids”. Elissa had the section on the right, behind our competent tour director Fabiola, to herself. Dayan and I sat behind our awesome bus driver, Luciano. 

It is the location everyone wants and all will have the chance to sit in those seats. From that vantage point, the views are amazing and Fabi chats and provides additional info. Today we happened to drive along many winding, hilly, one lane roads. I squeaked, gulped or looked away more than once. And vehicle drivers, especially those on scooters and motorcycles, squeeze through impossibly narrow gaps driving at high speeds. It was exhilarating and terrifying to ride up front, although Luciano handled the big bus with ease and calmness. 

My favorite part about sitting up front was listening to Luciano and Fabi talk to each other in Italian. Fabi has been teaching us words and phrases everyday in this lilting language. I listened for words I recognized as they chatted. I especially loved when they would laugh together.  

A Day in Tuscany
A Day in TuscanyMy clever way of taking a pic of our driver, in the blue shirt, and our tour director, using the rear view mirror. It seemed a better option than looming over them from above! I promise to post a better picture soon. 

Our first stop this morning was Siena, where we walked through narrow streets to the Piazza del Campo. Twice a year the square is the arena for the Palio, a medieval style horse race. From there we visited the spectacular Cathedral of Siena. These humongous ornate buildings literally make me gasp with surprise and often bring tears to my eyes. The architecture is incredible. And as a special treat, Dayan and Elissa (and several other members of our group) bought delicious candies and cookies from a little shop near our gathering spot. I was told the treats were the best thing ever! 

A Day in Tuscany
A Day in Tuscany
A Day in Tuscany
Next on our schedule was the medieval town of San Gimignano. This village of 7,000 citizens is ancient, and looks it, with its stone walls, arches and towers. The narrow streets are cobblestone and the buildings rise up from the lanes, shops and restaurants on the ground floor, living quarters above. These towns fascinate me. I could wander around in them for days. Elissa and Dayan climbed almost 300 steps to reach the top of a tower. I hung out with my new friend Judy, from New Zealand. I loved this village! 

A Day in Tuscany
A Day in Tuscany
A Day in Tuscany
Our last stop was at the Castello di Verrazzano, deep in wine and olive country. The drive, along those twisting roads, offered incredible views of vineyards, olive groves and villages perched on hilltops. The Tuscany I have always pictured in my head was outside the bus windows today. 

The highlight of our day was the stop at the castle, where we learned about wine making and viewed 16th century wine cellars with the charming Neri, and then enjoyed a wine tasting followed by a wonderful four course meal. Once again, the chef prepared special dishes for me, without gluten, meat, sugar or dairy products. It touches my heart that they so willingly see to my dietary needs, and do so earnestly and graciously. When I say “grazi”, they beam with pleasure. 

A Day in Tuscany

A Day in Tuscany
A Day in Tuscany
Today was a special day for me. Like my grandson, I have long held a dream that included visiting Tuscany. About 10 years ago, before Dayan decided to visit Italy, I wrote out that I intended to visit Tuscany, Scotland and England, for inspiration in creating a community called Rivendell.  

And look at this. 2017 is my year of Inspiration. I am in Italy now. This fall, I am traveling to Ireland, Scotland and England. I am visiting the  countries I wrote an intention about, all in the same year, and throwing in Ireland as well. I am creating memories with my daughter and grandson in a place that has pierced my heart with its beauty. I am so inspired. And so grateful. 

When I opened Facebook briefly this morning, after boarding the bus, this quote was the first thing I saw:

A Day in Tuscany
Fabiola had just told us, in English and Italian, “A good day begins with a good morning.” My morning started out great…and the good day followed. It was more than good…it was perfect! 

Toscana Bella

Day 3 of the Italy trip found us heading north from Rome into the beautiful region known as Tuscany. Our first stop was the medieval town of Lucca with its defensive wall originally built to keep out the neighboring feuding village of Pisa. 

Toscana Bella
Although entirely different from Rome, we loved this ancient city with its warren of narrow streets. The original village was founded by the Romans in 180 BC. The 4 kilometer wall that encircles the city center was built during the Renaissance era and remains intact. No longer used for protection, the top of the wall is now covered in grass and planted with trees. It is a popular place to walk and ride bicycles. 

Our group dispersed as soon as we passed through the massive gates, everyone free to wander about, shop, and find lunch. Elissa, Dayan and I veered off to the left, in search of a cafĂ©. Dayan wanted to try an Italian pizza. We found a delightful ristorante that offered great choices for all three of us. 

Dayan’s assesment of Italian was that it was “interesting”. He declared it fresh tasting. And found it more difficult to eat than US pizzas. The crust was not crispy and he ended up folding the slices up to make less of a mess. 

Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
We were captivated by Lucca. Elissa and Dayan climbed one of the many towers within the city, the tallest one actually, with trees growing like wild hair on the flat roof. I remained below to take a pic. They had a great view of the town with its piazzas and cobblestone streets lined with three and four story buildings. Shops occupy much of the ground level spaces with living quarters above. 

In spite of the antiquity of Lucca, the little shops offer a wide assortment of goods for sale, including name brand clothing, electronic gaming systems and everything in between. We enjoyed our time in this town that offers a peek into the distant past, while providing everything its citizens need to continue living in a thriving community. 

Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
Toscana Bella
The highlight of our evening was visiting a Tuscan farm, with vineyards and groves of olive trees. Fattoria Il Poggio produces a dozen red and white wines and extra virgin olive oil. We toured a vineyard, inspected 50 year old olive trees that are considered young, and learned how olives are cold pressed to create the oil. 

We were then led to beautifully prepared tables set up outdoors in long rows beneath a protective roof, and served a five course dinner, made from fresh local ingredients, and accompanied by wine, olives and olive oil from the farm. We sat with our “family”, the 43 members of our tour group. 

Toscana Bella

Toscana Bella 

The night became magical. 

As the food was brought out, course by course, and the wine was consumed freely, shyness with each other disappeared and we chatted and laughed together, like family members reunited after scattering around the globe. Dayan tried his first glass of wine, a dry white, and wasn’t impressed. He decided wine takes getting used to. He sipped on a small amount. This young man doesn’t need alcohol to lose his inhibitions about talking to people. He is naturally good at that, and conversed easily with our table mates. 

However, some in the large group who have been extremely quiet or constrained opened up tonight and the meal was a merry event. And the food just kept coming. Our gracious tour director contacted the farm ahead of time and the chefs prepared the most extravagant five course plant based meal for me, offering gluten free bread and spaghetti and wonderfully flavorful veggies.While the others ended their meals with rich desserts and a sweet red wine, I had a delicious bowl of freshly chopped fruit. I was extremely grateful to Fattoria Il Poggio for the extra effort it took to make sure I dined healthily and well. 

Day 3 ended with a bus full of talkative people headed back to our hotel, discovering how we are different from one another, and what we all have in common. Our desire to tour this gorgeous country is what has brought us together, in time and space, and that shared interest is forging connections that feel familial. 

Tomorrow this newly forming family heads to Cinque Terre, five villages on the western coast most easily accessed by boat. It promises to be another glorious day in beautiful Tuscany…Toscana Bella. 

Toscana Bella

Toscana Bella