Life Review?

Yesterday, I sat on the floor of my office skimming through one of my journals. The other 19 5-subject wide ruled notebooks with 200 sheets lay scattered on the floor around me. Okay, a couple were only 3-subject notebooks. The notebook on my lap spanned from May 2002 to May 2004. I had randomly pulled it from the heap. I didn’t intend to open it but when I did, I was back at the VA in Durham, North Carolina planning to retire early. My husband and I wanted to take a special vacation—Italy for five weeks—staying at a monastery in Venice and a villa in Tuscany. Would the VA give me the time off? Maybe it was best just to retire and enjoy this trip.

I began to journal in the ‘80s when my job proved so stressful that journaling seemed to help me cope. In the ‘90s I began to take myself seriously as a writer. Natalie Goldberg (Wild Mind) and Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) touted daily longhand writing to prime the creative pump. I never bought into daily journaling. Over the years there were large gaps between entries in my notebooks.

In the journal I wrote that I had given notice of retirement to the Chief Nurse. Then I wrote questions on the last page. Will we take the Italy trip? Will I continue to write? Tap into my creativity? See more of the grandkids? Finally, I asked: What will the future hold?

That was 18 years ago.

Yes, we did go on an unforgettable 5-week vacation to Italy staying at the Casa Vacanza Madonna delli’Orto in the Cannaregio neighborhood of Venice for a week and later, at the Villa Casa Pavon in Castigline d’Orcia in Tuscany. In a rented Ford station wagon we made day trips to Montalcino, Siena, Assisi and visited the dark, cool altars inside small chapels that dotted the winding roads, stopping along the way at local markets for groceries and wine.

I continued to write, eventually publishing a book about working as a NP in a clinic in Chicago. Most of the stories had already been documented in my journals. 

I took art classes in various media over the years.

Of course, I had discretionary time to enjoy the grandkids.

When I was done reading through the journal, the sun had set, and it was too late for my afternoon walk. However, I felt a sense of comfort in this reminiscent exercise. Or was it a nostalgia trip? Or, as Robert Butler first coined in 1963, did I experience a sort of life review?

Now as I am facing my upcoming 80th birthday, the last question on my journal page still remains: What will the future hold?  I can only hope life still holds many pleasant experiences.

And maybe a trip back to Italy.

Alphabet Challenge: V

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

V: Venice

Before we headed for a Villa in Tuscany, (See: I: Italy) my husband and I and our friends, Bill and Mary Ann, had reservations to spend three nights at a monastery in a residential section of Venice. 

When we arrived in Venice, we couldn’t find the monastery. It was getting dark. We had the name and directions but no address. Thinking we were in the general vicinity, we stopped people who briskly passed us, perhaps on their way home from work. Most shrugged their shoulders as we showed them the name of the monastery on a sheet of paper: Casa Vacanza Madonna dell’Orto Patronato Pio IX

This was before cell phones so we hadn’t any way to contact the place. We didn’t see any phone booths nearby. Finally, a young man pointed to a large wooden door behind us. Our accommodations were hidden in plain sight. 

We rang the bell, and after a long wait, a nun opened the heavy door letting us into a spacious courtyard. After we registered, we each were handed two towels: a thread-bare bath and face towel. Our rooms were spartan: two twin beds, a desk and chair and a wooden wardrobe to hang our clothes. Thankfully, each room had its own bathroom and shower. 

The next morning, we shared the breakfast room with two other couples and the nuns, about six or seven, in full habit. They ate together at a long table in the corner of the room. 

On our breakfast table sat a basket filled with slices of Italian bread, pastries, packets of cheese, and fresh fruit. Butter, jam, and honey were placed alongside the basket. Over on a sideboard against the wall were glasses, cups, and utensils along with water, hot tea, a pitcher of milk and bowl of sugar. 

At the very end of the sideboard, the nuns left their cloth napkins neatly folded for reuse as they left the dining room. They laid a slip of paper with their name on top of each. 

We stayed at the monastery for three nights. During the day we hiked all over Venice. 

In the evenings, we ambled back to one of the trattorias in the neighborhood that we had scoped out during our earlier walk. 

Our lodging may have been simple but was more than adequate, and the location was exceptional.

Casa Vacanza Madonna dell’Orto Patronato Pio IX

Alphabet Challenge: I

I’ve signed onto The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge 2021.

The challenge is to blog the whole alphabet in April and write at least 100 words on a topic that corresponds to the letter of the day. 

Every day, excluding Sundays, I’m blogging about Places I Have Been. The last post will be on Friday, April 30 when I finally focus on the letter Z. 

I: Italy

I retired on September 17, 2004. On October 7th,  my husband, Ernie, and I left for Italy. We joined a tour with another couple, long time friends, exploring Palermo, Rome, Naples and Venice. The final week we rented a car and a villa in Tuscany. A vacation I had dreamed about for years.

Casa Pavon in Castigliore d’Orcia
The villa was once a monastery. Large window in the living room looks out on the valley

Memories:

  • Enjoying breakfast of Italian bread with butter and orange marmalade, tea and fresh pears (when we didn’t visit the café for cappuccino and pastry) 
  • Taking day trips to Siena, Assisi, Montalcino, and near-by villages 
  • Stopping  spontaneously at the roadside churches with varied facades and weathered pews  
  • Dining in the one restaurant in the village where we savored ribollita soup and wild boar
  • Drinking bottles of fabulous Italian wine
  • Watching the green hills and valleys from the living room window while sipping Limoncello in the late afternoon
  • Calling family back in the States from the public phone in the café while groups of Italian men smoked and played cards near-by, drowning out our conversations 
  • Watching the Italian laborers nearby setting up a hot plate to boil water for their spaghetti lunch 
  • Cooking dinner with meats, fish, vegetables and bread from the local markets
  • Loving the slow-paced life, leisurely dinners and magnificent sunsets 

Most of all these memories have, over the years, kept my husband and me connected to our friends who journeyed Italy along with us.

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