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Via Munich (a great airport), I arrived in Florence around 12:30p EST today, Tuesday. Elia (sister) and Leone (new nephew) picked me up, and immediately I fell in love with little L. Newborns are just the cat’s meow, especially when they have perfect lips, a cleft chin and are related to you.

More than twelve hours, one nap, two meals, a trip to the market and some wine later, I am finally in bed in my rental apartment, just down the block from Elia’s. My mom was here for twenty-six days, until yesterday; when I entered this place and found her notes and leftovers, coffee and gluten-free items, the adaptor shed’d left for me and the hair dryer hanging over a towel rack in her signature, looped-cord fashion, I felt her presence and wished she were still here.

How odd to overlap with your own mother in a singular apartment on a different continent. How strange and familiar to see her handwriting in a kitchen to which neither of us may ever return. How funny-sad to consider that our planes may have passed in the cloud-smocked skies somewhere between here and there.

Both of us came to do what family so often does: to help, to tend, to love, to be with in the moment. And today was so lovely in all of those respects.

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El made me lunch while Leone napped and I briefly crashed. She concocted a glorious spaghetti with artichokes sautéed with garlic, parsley and white wine (above). I changed Leone’s diapers, held and sang to him, helped bathe him, made a salad and some dessert for dinner tonight.

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Michele, El’s husband, arrived home just after we returned from an epic trip to Esse Lunga, a grocery store, laden with bags. He popped Prosecco and we “chin-chin‘ed” each other happily.

He cooked his homemade pumpkin ravioli after we enjoyed appetizers of mozzarella di bufala, sundried tomatoes, and smoked salmon with toasts and creme fraiche. I face-timed with the boys, missing them dearly when I saw their sweet faces.

We took turns with the baby, just three weeks new and oblivious to adult schedules and patterns of time. It was easy and delightful, and suddenly, plum tart still in the oven, we realized the hour, and I realized my fatigue, and I kissed everyone Buona Notte and headed back to my empty apartment, an experience I’ve not had since I was a bachelorette in New York more than a decade ago.

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Perfetta!

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Love: for my husband, sons, extended family, dear friends, home, pets, blog, readers, health and good fortune.

Gratitude: for all the help I kindly received today, my family, great babysitters, amazing books, having an empty seat next to me on this overnight flight, J.Brand jeans.

The warmest of wishes to you all!

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People, the State Department’s 19th St, NW, passport agency should be knighted. It is a shining example of just how beautifully and efficiently a government agency can and should run. I arrived at 8:15, and I was home before noon, new passport in hand. To a person, not one single employee -via phone or in person- could have been nicer or more professional. Smiles, kindness, help. It’s everything the post offices and DMVs are not. Thank you!!!

Because of all this, I was able to run home, walk Percy, visit with a friend (who’d come to walk Percy for me), eat lunch and tidy the house for my sweet family. I made the boys’ beds and left them and T love notes. The dishwasher is purring, the bird feeder is full and my teeth are newly clean.

I am ready to head out and then sleep my way to Italy by way of Germany. Last night was rough. Poor J was up all but two hours or so. His tummy ached, he was crying. “Please don’t go, Mom.” I think the anticipation was infinitely worse than my absence will actually be. I’ve heard from carpool this morning that he was fine and from his teachers that though he teared up slightly, he then resumed being his regular chipper self.

Whew! Will write from Italy! Ciao!

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Today was a whirlwind of packing, playdates, quality family time and all the requisite madness therein. I sent pies and cranberry sauce to my in-laws’ house (y’all, you CAN freeze fruit and pecan pies. I do this every year. Many people have asked and have seemed thrilled about the positive answer. So yes, go forth and bake and freeze!) and heard from a few readers and friends making Nanny’s cranberry sauce and/or her pie crusts. That means so much to me, as if bits of Nanny’s memory and legacy are spreading into the world like a just-blown dandelion.

Jack has been so sad about my departure and tonight simply couldn’t hold back his tears.

“Mom, it just won’t be the same. We sit by each other at Thanksgiving every year, every year! I wish you wouldn’t go. I am so sad.” His eyes filled, his lips quivered, his face flushed and he ran to me, my arms outstretched and waiting. He is such a sweet and darling soul. We snuggled for an hour, looking at old photo albums including the one from his first Thanksgiving.

He was four-and-a-half months old then and had just started trying rice cereal. I’ll never forget me holding him at the family table, everyone smiling on this first grandbaby. I fed him a spoonful of cereal, and immediately he shoved his foot in his mouth, cereal gushing in between and around his little toes. He couldn’t have cared and just kept eating. We all laughed with such joy and delight.

He still shines. He radiates, really. And I will miss him dearly, even though I am glad to be going to meet my nephew and have learned from experience that breaks are never a bad thing. I tucked him in but the tears returned and so we moved to my bed, where T was researching something or another. J told us about a child at school who isn’t always kind to a classmate and also doesn’t listen well to others; we tried to give him advice, to praise him for his sense of justice, to hug him tight. Then back to his bed where I rubbed his back and promised to check on him later and in the morning before I go.

We started a journal over the weekend, J and I. We’re going to write back and forth to each other about anything and everything. He promised to write while I’m away.

“Mom, I can always tell you everything. Anything! Please don’t go.”

My heart hurt, and part of me felt grateful that I still have much to do. Distraction never really stops being an effective coping method.

Keep your fingers crossed for me tomorrow, y’all. That I get my passport and to the airport in time. And that my boys don’t feel too sad this week, but instead have a ball with cousins and aunts, grandparents and uncles, Tom and friends.

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I feel so goddamn jolly today, y’all. I made pancakes for Oliver, bread for Jack, three pies for Thanksgiving -part of my leave-behind as I won’t be with my boys :( – and a pain bagnat for me. I discovered a new French bakery, Fresh Baguette, which despite the corny name is lovely and the baguettes both fresh and infinitely better than those from Le Pain Quotidien or Whole Foods. I exercised! Finished the puzzle! Got passport photos taken and a head shot made (see About Me)! Started a journal with Jack, bought a toy dagger for Oliver (the reward for such good listening), did my hair! Christmas is coming! Cards, carols, garlands, parties, trees, ornaments, wreaths!

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Thanksgiving pecan pie

And now Tom is cooking dinner, going all lobster and Le Bernardin while I drink yummy Zinfandel and watch The Little Mermaid with the boys. I can recite the movie word by word throughout. Jack didn’t believe me at first but I recited for so long that he became annoyed and agreed that I could and please would I stop. Heh. The songs are fabulous, and by the way, it’s an infinitely better film than Frozen. Just gettin’ that dig in…. I wish I could really sing, because I would belt shit out all.the.time.

I started packing in a very slight way and then put that aside. Packing blows. Especially if you don’t know if you’ll actually be able to make your trip. HAH! I’m sure the whole passport debacle will work out but still.

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Gabrielle Hamilton and passports have little to do with one another except that during the twenty-one hour span that commenced last night at 7 and ended today around 4, I saw and spoke to Gabrielle Hamilton, she signed my copy of her new cookbook and I realized that my passport expired in June yet I need it to leave the country on Monday.

You can imagine that the latter is the lame duck in the “which one doesn’t fit” game.

Sigh, it is always something. However, I feel immensely grateful that I a) realized this today rather than on Monday and b) live in Washington because c) was able to make an emergency expedite appointment for Monday at 10:30am. The process is said to take 3-4 hours from start to finish, so if you don’t think I’ll be biting my nails in the cab out to Dulles later that afternoon, you’re wrong. Immense waves of relief will rush over me as soon as I successfully check my bag and get my boarding passes.

Y’all keep your fingers crossed for me!

Last night was so much fun. Tom and I went with friends to a local restaurant, Buck’s Fishing and Camping, for a dinner celebrating the release of Gabrielle Hamilton’s new cookbook, Prune. (The event was organized by Politics & Prose, a tremendous independent bookstore here in DC.) It’s a compilation of recipes from her restaurant, and I love that it’s basically a bunch of sauce-spattered notes bound in a magenta shell. It’s the kind of book from which I think I’ll learn a fair amount and I am excited to jump in.

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Prune cookbook

Gabrielle looked just like she does in her pictures which sounds as if it should be obvious, but you know how some people in fact do NOT resemble their photos. That is just weird. Anyway, it was a lovely evening. The bubbly was flowing, the lights were dim, people seemed truly enthused to be there. Once we’d sat, Hamilton gave a brief discussion of the book and later took a few questions.

Mrs. Student here had been thinking about how much I wanted to talk to her. I had to let her know how seriously I enjoyed her memoir (Blood, Bones & Butter), wanted to ask about a particular element of it and also thought I might throw in the fact that not two weeks ago, we ate at Prune.

Because I don’t eat lamb and didn’t feel interested in the rabbit leg, I’d had less solid food than perhaps advisable in the presence of freely-flowing booze (each course was paired with a matched wine). Perhaps because of that or perhaps because I was just really enjoying myself, my hand shot up -SHOT UP- when she inquired if there were any questions. My tablemates, 90% of whom I didn’t know from Adam, were wildly supportive of this. I found their waving arms and cheers of “She has a question! She has a question!” very sweet if not slightly odd. Maybe they’d had a few glasses too.

Gabrielle called on me, I stood up and smiled and proceeded to let her know that my question was actually a three-parter that included two comments and one query. Nerd.alert! Swear to g, someone said, “Only in DC” which, frankly, I took as a compliment.

I told her about our visit to Prune, praised her memoir as masterfully crafted and asked if its structure -particularly around the arc of experience with her mother-in-law- was premeditated or if she’d discovered it during the writing process. “Well, as I mentioned, I have an MFA and yes, this was planned very carefully. Every word was intentional.” Even more impressive really.

One of her sons is named Leone, so after thanking her, I said, “Oh, and Part 3, I have a new nephew named Leone.” A collective laugh swelled when I started in on point 3, but hey, I raised my hand quicker than lightning. Today it seems possible that my knowing the name of her son may have seen vaguely stalker-like, but alas.

On our way out, I stopped by to thank her again and she was so warm and wonderful and thanked me for my question. In fact, look how she signed my book:

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3 part questions!

I floated home!

Tonight, when there was nothing more I could do about my expired passport, I started making a beef stew. It was cold today, and stew just sounded perfect. Comforting. Hearty. Midway through I decided to make potatoes to go alongside. I boiled these until al dente, sliced and fried them until golden and then topped them with rosemary, salt, pepper and a generous dollop of crème fraîche. Divine.

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golden potatoes with rosemary and crème fraîche

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