Category Archives: Bucket List

The second happiest day of my life…..

The second happiest day of my life…..
November 27th, 2014 Our Catholic Wedding Ceremony

November 27th, 2014 Our Catholic Wedding Ceremony

On Friday, the 4th of August, 1983 I married the love of my life in Clearwater, Florida. Rev. Comer of the Clearwater First Methodist Church presided over the ceremony. My dear friend and co-worker Susan Miles attended this church and suggested it for our ceremony since we were not able to be married in the Catholic church because I had been divorced.

For 31 years I attended mass and took communion against Catholic doctrine. My children were all raised Catholic and received all sacraments on time. I love the tradition of the Roman Catholic religion and felt as Catholic as the person sitting next to me until it was time for communion. When I would approach the priest, I would hold my hands out to receive the host and say “amen” just like everyone before and after me….but I felt the priest had to know that I was living a lie. I was NOT the dutiful Catholic I pretended to be. I felt guilty and ashamed and alienated.

In October, 2013 I attended a retreat at our parish called Christ Renews His Parish or CRHP pronounced “chirp” by past attendees. The weekend was life changing for me. The most important revelation was that I had been Catholic since my Grandmother had baptized me when I was 6 weeks old.

After the weekend, with the help of Deacon Dan Scrone, I navigated the required paperwork and became a legal Roman Catholic. All my sacraments were validated and I was a true Roman Catholic.

My dream was to be married in the Catholic Church so that when I received holy communion, I could do so with the same pride and intent as every other Catholic.

God was certainly busy putting all the desires of my heart into action before I was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in April, 2015. I thank Him every day for placing my church family deeply into my heart. Their prayers and support during the difficult time ahead after that CRHP weekend would be invaluable.

Thank you my sweet Jesus!

It's official.....

It’s official…..

Our happy family

Our happy family

Baby “G”

Baby “G”


In just three weeks, give or take a few, according to God’s will, you will greet the world with a huge cry and your Mommy and Daddy will witness a true miracle. You come as a blessing and a testament to their love for one another.

You must be able to feel the love they have, and all of your family have, as we anticipate your arrival into the world. Mommy, Mimi and I have been preparing your places in each of our homes so that when you arrive you will be safe and comfy and yes, a little spoiled.


You have so many family members who can’t wait to hold you and see you. Great Grandpa Lugi, Aunt Cathy, Aunt Mary and Aunt Missy, Cousins Jack and Matt are planning trips from Cleveland just to meet you. Others, like your cousins who live close by,too many to list, are excited to meet you and can’t wait to be able to play with you and babysit you when Mommy and Daddy need to get a night out.

I just want you to know how much you are loved. I dream about you every night. You are a special ray of sunshine in my days, and you haven’t even been born yet.

I am praying that your arrival is smooth and without too much trouble.

God is gracing us again with an angel right here on earth.

Thank you Lord!

A field of sunflowers

A field of sunflowers

Who doesn’t smile when they see the face of a bright yellow sunflower?
I told my friends on the trip to Tuscany the only picture I really wanted was one standing in a field of sunflowers, and they came thru for me.

One day we agreed to venture down the dangerous white road (dry gravel road with a 30 degree grade) to visit some of the nearby towns. Along the way we spotted fields of tall sunflowers stretching their large faces toward the sun.

When we found a perfect field we turned off the highway onto a ribboned path between two flowered fields. A farmhouse sat nested in the flowers to our left. We were definitely trespassing. And I believe we could not have been the first carload of American women to do the exact thing.

No place to turn around so the girls directed me back out.

Tower of the Truffles – Torre del Tartufo

Tower of the Truffles – Torre del Tartufo

Torre del Tartufo - Arezzo, Italy

As we walked the grounds just minutes after we arrived my friend Lisa quietly admitted she was thinking on the plane…”it is such a long trip, what if I really don’t like this place? Judi, this is truly the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever seen. I am coming back for my 60th.” Within five minutes she was already planning to return.

That is the feeling that I felt my first trip with Kelly in 2010 to Tuscookany’s Casa Ombuto which is located just a thirty minute drive from Torre. Both locations are wonderful with spectacular views and restored villas that make you feel as if you are living a true Tuscan lifestyle.

Tuscookany staffs each villa with about six people. The manager, Barbara is the perfect hostess and sees to your every need. She dines with you several times and makes herself available to arrange a trip or answer travel questions. There are two housekeepers whom you seldom see. They tidy your room daily and do your laundry if requested. There is a groundskeeper you might see pruning the bushes or stoking the wood fired hot tub. Of course there is your Chef and their assistant. That is it. And, after dinner, everyone leaves the villa. The only sound you might hear is that of a wild boar.

This trip we took the Seven Day Italian Course. While this sounds like an intense amount of cooking we actually were only in the kitchen about four hours a day for four days. The rest of the time we spent relaxing by the pool, having massages or site seeing in the towns nearby.

Barbara greeted me with hugs and tears. She was pleased to see me return and made certain I was well taken care of. She placed me in what is known as the “honeymoon suite”. It is a very large room with a fireplace and an iron canopied king bed. All of the bathrooms are marbled floor to ceiling with large wooden beams that remind you of the rustic barn like feeling of a true Tuscan building.
The floors are stone and several large windows that are kept open allow the mountain breezes to waif through your room day and night. No air conditioning is needed in the warmest of temperatures.
This is truly a slice of heaven on earth.

Poolside at Torre. The honeymoon suite has the four windows with white curtains.

I do……

I do……

Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Christopher Garrity

Eight months have passed since that autumn day in October when our beautiful daughter, Lindsay became Mrs. Matthew C. Garrity. Much like the last eight months, the wedding we had been planning sped by quickly. Even now I reflect on it and an image pops into my head of a small detail. I wonder if I will forget those special touches that marked the occasion unique and so very “Lindsay”. Yet we all have those moments etched in our minds. Points in time when life took on a greater level of meaning and happiness. October 2nd, 2010 was one of those days.

Matt and his father, Jack Garrity.

Tom had entertained the groomsmen at our home where they relaxed around the pool, played cards in the man room and donned their classic black tuxes for the wedding. It was befitting for the groom and his groomsmen to spend the morning in that room. Tom was in his glory.

The groomsmen celebrate!

Lindsay had asked me to spend the entire day at her side. Gladly accommodating, I was with my daughter-bride and her maids at theTPC Clubhouse that can be viewed from our back door. We had taken over the ladies locker room.The TPC staff lavished us with endless champagne and trays of light hors d’oeuvres and fruit and cheese as friends and relatives dropped in to make a delivery or offer help in some way. Margot, our friend and wedding photographer was busy snapping away while Andrea, the make-up artist and Grayzna, our hair stylist prepared the beautiful maids. All the while, Lindsay’s lace dress hung from the chandelier, awaiting the moment when she would don the one element that would set her apart from every other person at the wedding. That dress that had been kept secret from all but the bridesmaids and their Mothers for several months.

A tender moment captured

At one point there was a knock at the door. Audrey answered and In strolled Blake, Matt’s cousin and one of his Best Men holding a wrapped box and a letter. He handed Lindsay the gift and waited for her to open it, a camera for the honeymoon. Audrey read the letter from Matt aloud as we all melted! His words were touching and sweet and full of love. Blake gave Lindsay a hug and told her he would see her at the church and returned to groomsmen. Then Audrey left to deliver Matt’s special gift, a beautiful watch to remind him of the day and a letter full of love and promises.

The morning sun was peeking through puffy white clouds that turned a dark grey by noon. There had been big plans for The Lawn behind the TPC Clubhouse after the church ceremony and prior to the reception in the Ponte Vedra Grand Ballroom on the second floor of the Clubhouse a Spanish revival architecture building that although was built in 2009, appears to be hundreds of years old. There had been no rain for several weeks and there was no more than a twenty percent chance. But, around 12:30 the skies opened up and it poured for half an hour, just long enough to turn the lawn to a soggy green sponge. Certainly no place for a soft white bridal gown and maids in trailing yellow-gold bobbinette, not to mention the guests in those stylish stilettos. The wedding coordinator made the decision and informed the Father of the Bride there would be no hot air balloon champagne toasts or outdoor bar.The guitar player would join the harp player in the grand foyer and the bars and high boys set up on the gallery overlooking the foyer. It is written that a bit of rain on your wedding day will bring your marriage good luck.

Our floral designer, Liza Chung is an accomplished stylist and had outdone herself with Lindsay’s wedding design. The bridal bouquet and bridal party bouquets arrived in two huge baskets. Lindsay’s bouquet burst with blush peonies, creamy white roses, cala lillies and gentle cymbidium orchids. The blunt cut stems were tightly wound with cream colored ribbon held with pearl headed pins. The maids bouquets were a smaller version of Lindsay’s. Liza is truly an artist.

A white stretch limo would pick up the bride, myself and the maids after delivering the Groom, his future Father in Law and his groomsmen, that included Matt’s Father as best man to the church a short five minute drive away. As we waited for the limo to arrive Margot captured amazing images of Lindsay and the Bridesmaids and me around the picturesque clubhouse. The rain had freshened the air and we felt like we were floating on a cloud in anticipation. Visitors to the clubhouse stopped and smiled when they saw us. Who doesn’t like a wedding?

The Bride and her maids.

Liza and her “divas” motioned for us to come up the grand staircase and take a peek at the site of the reception. When we opened the door I could smell the flowers. The huge rustic iron chandeliers were draped with ropes of small pearls. The tables varied in design so as not to overstate. Some tables boasted four foot tall glass vessels filled with pearls and bursting over with huge sprays of blush peonies, roses and cymbidium orchids with the soft golden glow of waves of votives beneath. Other tables held glass blocks filled with glass gems and holding trails of cymbidium orchids and more votives. Some tables were centered with a collection of clear wine bottles topped with flickering tapers and more blush peonies, cream roses in bowls. In the middle of each table was a small wooden toy bi-plane with a gold number painted on it’s wings. The theme was flight and adventure in keeping with Matt’s proposal and the stunt plane. At the end of the dance floor was a smaller sweetheart table with crystal bowls brimming with peonies, roses, and orchids. The soft glow from the candles that covered the table was angelic. Two place settings set side by side where the bride and groom would eat their first meal together as husband and wife. When the doors were flung open welcoming everyone to the reception it would be magical.

The sweetheart table

Finally, our carriage arrived and the girls carefully stepped into the limo with their bouquets. Lindsay and I were the last to enter. Matt’s desire was coming to meet him at the beautiful church where they would speak their vows and begin the adventure of their lives as one. She was on her way to say….”I do”.

Seven Mile Drive Canopy

Seven Mile Drive Canopy

In May, 1993 Tom and I borrowed from every source we could to purchase the lot and contract a custom home builder to construct our “dream house”. When we moved on the street not one tree was planted along the Seven Mile Drive hill. But, the hair stood up on my arms every time I drove up that hill and looked out over the beautiful golf course and winding creeks that make up The TPC at Sawgrass and I admit all these years have passed and I still feel that way.

The street looks a lot different today. The empty lots have been filled with gorgeous homes and children have grown and families continue to grow larger. It is a wonderful place to live.

Recently, when the trees had bloomed and the canopy was again complete I took this picture of the hill. I hope you enjoy it too.

Yoda, the stunt airplane/the proposal

Yoda, the stunt airplane/the proposal

An entry from my personal journal November 28, 2009

Grandma and Grandpa Zitiello traveled from Cleveland to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their Florida family. Normally they would stay in Cleveland to be near Cathy and her children, Mary and Missy, Tom’s three sisters. But, we had convinced them to make the trip south this year.

Tom and I had a secret to keep. Certainly it was difficult, but, we realized the importance of containing our excitement and remained tight lipped.

Each day we awoke to the question; could this be the day?  Lindsay had no idea of  the life changing event that was about to happen. She continued her routine, work, eat, meet up with friends home for the holiday and of course being with Matt. The air was filled with anticipation.

The ring was due to arrive on Tuesday so we knew from that day on it could happen. Thanksgiving Day came and went and the Grandparents were starting to discuss their return trip. Maybe they should leave sooner to avoid the holiday traffic. Of course Tom and I constantly plotted to persuade them to stay.

Saturday rolled around and Lindsay and I were preparing a picnic lunch for she and Matt. They had planned to spend the day together in St. Augustine, nothing unusual for them. I made sure there was a nice bottle of wine to go with the turkey sandwiches. She left with the scrumptious basket around 10AM to meet Matt.

Shortly after she left the house the phone rang.  It was Matt asking if we could have all the relatives from both sides of the family at our house at 3PM. Today was the day. I agreed and immediately called Publix Bakery for a congratulatory cake. The doorbell rang and it was the florist with a huge arrangement. The card read “To the future Mrs. Garrity, we love you so much! Can’t wait to be there to celebrate with you. love, Samantha and Audrey.” All arranged from San Francisco. Phone calls were made, family invited. Everyone was wondering what was happening.

Back to the lovebirds.

Matt and Lindsay were en route to St. Augustine. Just south of Ponte Vedra Matt  pulled off the road and told Lindsay he was giving her an early Christmas present. She would need to be blindfolded and he placed the black rolled napkin over her eyes and tied it behind her head. She was laughing while trying to guess what it could possibly be. Just a few months before they had gone to the Jacksonville Beach Air-show. Lindsay had remarked she would like to one day ride in a stunt plane. Little did she know, today was the day.

They arrived at the St. Augustine Regional Airport and Matt escorted Lindsay to the prearranged area where  pilot Craig Fordham and stunt plane “Yoda” stood waiting. Matt said, “Merry Christmas, you are going for a ride.” Lindsay was helped into her parachute and into the rear seat on the airplane by pilot and crew and before she could refuse they were taking off down the runway heading north toward Jacksonville Beach.

The airplane is a training plane equipped with cameras on each wing, the nose and the tail.  The pilot and passenger have headphones so they can communicate with one another and also the ground crew and air traffic control. Throughout the flight the pilot asked Lindsay how she was doing as he looped and spun his was along the sunny beaches of St. Augustine and Jacksonville all the while capturing her reaction on video.

Suddenly Matt was speaking to her in her headphones. ” Are you enjoying your wild ride?”  he asked. “Yes,” she said.  “This is crazy.”  ‘Would you like to take another wild ride with me?  Will you marry me?”  he asked. “What?” she said, screaming in delight. “Yes, oh yes.”  The pilot also came into her ear saying, “Would you like to go back now?” “Yes, please “,  she replied as the cameras rolled capturing her tears and surprise.

Back at the hangar the ground crew was preparing for Yoda’s landing and had a camera crew to capture what was about to happen. Matt went down on one knee as Yoda approached. Pilot Craig helped Lindsay out of the plane and she ran to Matt and the ring box extended to her.  He placed the platinum solitaire diamond on her left hand ring finger and they embraced in a romantic kiss.

After several pictures Matt and Lindsay left St. Augustine airport and went to the park to eat their lunch and share some private time. On the way they phoned the parents to tell them the good news. When Tom and I heard the phone ring we BOTH picked up the telephone.  “Mom, Dad, I am marrying Matt”  Lindsay screamed into the phone.  We told her we were very happy for them and we loved them both.

The Garrity and Zitiello family began to arrive  at our house as well as Matt & Lindsay’s friends and some of their parents. The bottles of champagne were on ice . When they finally arrived we all rushed to the front door to greet the happy couple with congratulations and many hugs and kisses.

After things calmed down Tom raised a glass of champagne and gave a wonderful toast to the future Mr. & Mrs. Matthew Christopher Garrity, followed by a toast from Jack Garrity, Jack Sherrod and Blake Sherrod. It was a beautiful day. I know the Grandparents will never forget being there to share every moment of it.

Matt had shown both his creativity and his romantic side  in a beautiful way.  And, one day, if God blesses them with children, they will be able to watch the engagement proposal of their parents right before their eyes!

We are certain Matt loves our daughter and she loves him. What more could a Mother and Father ask for their only daughter?

We love you too Matt Garrity!

Born on St. Patty’s Day

Born on St. Patty’s Day

It was Wednesday, March 17, 2010  St. Patricks Day when a litter of Yellow Labs were born in nearby Callahan. Just two days later, at a charity function for Project SOS that I attended at the request of my friend Pam Mullarkey, I found myself shouting out the winning bid of $500.00 as two huge pictures of a pup resembling Marley appeared on the large screens at either end of the Marriott ballroom. I had unexpectedly purchased the pick of the litter!

Pam explained it would be 8 weeks before I could take possession of my prize, and actually that was perfect. I needed time to figure out how I would explain our good fortune to my husband Tom. Our dear 14 and 1/2 year old Bunker (dubbed the perfect dog) had passed away just a few weeks before. In a very weak moment I had made a life changing decision to bring this little pup into not only our home but our hearts.

Lindsay and Matt had discussed buying a dog. I suppose that is what a young couple in love does, sort of a trial run to see how they will handle actual babies. They can observe the nurturing skills of the other and access the pros and cons of this major commitment. I would  have written a check in donation to Project SOS regardless. The way I looked at it was the kids got their puppy in the process even though they were not included in the decision. But, I knew Lindsay would be happy and I know Matt loves Lindsay, so if she is happy Matt will be happy.

I immediately reached for my cell phone and shot off a text to Lindsay with the news. Normally my text messages to the family seem to linger in the black beyond for many minutes, often hours before my phone signals a response. Not this time. Within seconds she had answered in total support of my decision and with many questions like, male or female and are you bringing it home?

The breeder told us we would be able to pick the puppy in just a few weeks. As soon as the pups could be separated from the Mother Mrs. Mullarkey would bring some to our house to decide. There were six pups to choose from, four yellow and two black, three females and three males.

Duffy, our 2 and 1/2 year old yellow lab, (purchased to push Bunker to live just a little bit longer) was suffering from a broken heart since his mentor and best friend had passed away. He had never been alone before, and stuck by my side each day convinced I would leave him too. Duffy had terrorized Bunker when he was a pup. He would nip at Bunker’s ears and climb on his back, all in play but very annoying for a 94 year old (in dog years) guy. Bunker would take it for a time then inevitably give him a growl and a nip that would send Duffy squealing under the table. Perhaps this would be the solution to mend Duffy’s broken heart.

Duffy inspects the potential additions to the family .

Finally the day arrived when we would make the pick. Pam arrived with three puppies, one black male, two yellows, two males and one female. We played with them all and found it difficult to make a decision. Louis was tempted to buy one of the irresistable pups for Brooke. But, after a phone call to her Mom asking permission, he was jolted back to reality with an irrefutable “NO”. We continued to watch the pups interact and discussed the possibility of black or yellow, male or female. Finally a decision was made and the puppy was marked with a spot on the tail with a black permanent marker . Out came the camera and shots of the happy family were posted on Facebook announcing the new addition.

The Garrity family

The baby had to be returned to his Mother for nurturing and weaning. He would be able to come home permanently in a few weeks. Great. This gave me time to explain to Tom we were going to be the puppy grandparents.

A grand-dog is a huge responsibility. When the parents of said puppy work, much like an actual baby, the grandparents are relied upon to care for the infant whilst the parents bring home the bacon. This involves potty training, I mean house training, making sure the puppy get frequent walks and  watching to be sure he does not chew up any Kate Spades, Gucci bags, chairs or furniture in general.

Tom had been away at Duke for all of these weeks since the Project SOS fund raiser till now. The grandmother clock was ticking in the family room to the time he would return and I would be forced to confess what was about to happen to our peaceful home.

He actually took it quite well. I don’t know if it was because he had been away so long or was he genuinely happy to have a pal for Duffy? I know Tom really missed Bunker too. Plus, as a grandparent….you can always send them home with the parents. He seemed to tolerate the whole idea. GREAT!

The large dog crate appeared from the garage and was dusted off and set up in the family room. Dog toys and leashes began to appear. Even Duffy wondered what all the preparation was about. But, there was one important thing that had not been decided. What would they name this little yellow ball of fluff with feet that smelled like popcorn and that distinctive puppy breath? Well, after much investigation and discussion we all agreed any dog born on St. Patrick’s Day should have a fitting Irish name. Plus I believe Garrity also applies here. We all loved “Finn” and Finn Garrity it was!

Now Finn actually has a bit of Marley in him and Duffy is getting a taste of his own medicine. He is taking the nipping and the climbing on pretty well. Just a few weeks after Finn joined the happy family, and the rules had been clearly explained to him. ie. no getting on the couch, only eating once per day and no begging for people food, he showed that he was much like any other child…going to test us.

Taken with my I-Phone from the kitchen where I was preparing dinner

“Does she really see me?  Will she make me get down?  It is so comfy on this sofa with all these great pillows with fringe I can chew and relax on.  Oh and Duffy is not allowed up here to bother me.”

"I just need a little bit more food, I am not quite full"

Anyway, life has changed once again. The happy family is adjusting to the addition, even the grandparents. Finn is growing quickly and I hear he is wearing a black bow tie to the wedding in a few weeks.

Life is good being Finn Garrity!

Good friends, good wine, good eats equals good times.

Good friends, good wine, good eats equals good times.

Torta della Nonna - Grandma's Cake

Time could not pass quickly enough for the return of my cooking/traveling companion/friend Kelly and her lovely family to Seven Mile Drive. They had stayed on in Europe traveling to Naples, Sorrento and Florence for a week longer than I.  But, I was excited for her to arrive home.

My cookbook from Casa Ombuto was getting plenty of use. Each day I would prepare a breakfast buffet just like the one we had at CO and then a luscious recipe, like Grandma’s Cake or Tuscan beans for my family. They certainly were enjoying my newly acquired talents.  It was all so delicious and I knew Kelly would be as excited as I to share our culinary skills with a

Z'breakfast-eggs, fruits, yogurt and granola, cheese, salami and freshly baked 5 grain bread

mediterranean dinner party for some of our closest friends.

We met on Tuesday to prepare the menu. We chose Eggplant Caviar, Bruschetta and Antipasta for appetisers. For our first course we chose  Casarecce’ Pasta with speck and saffron; Basil, green beans, fresh tomato and mozz salad with a light dressing plus baked goat cheese salad. For the main course we decided on Roast Pork Loin Arezzo Style with Chunky Olive Oil and Parmesan Mashed Potatoes. We would finish with a light dessert of Zabaione and Strawberries. Each course would have a pairing of regional wines to compliment the flavors and we would finish with after dinner liquors: Limonciello, Amaretto d’Saronna and Frangelica. With the menu set,we agreed who would prepare which items and we were off to the Fresh Market to shop.

It was important that our friends get a true feeling of what our experience had been so we agreed we would prepare a sit down dinner, meaning table settings for at least 20 of our friends.  This could be challenging for most, however, you must remember, Kelly works for Williams Sonoma. I seem to recall her saying some weeks she actually owes them money when the mark-downs have been exceptionally tempting. So, we pulled the dining room table and chairs into the kitchen for the final 6 settings, visited the buffet holding all of my table cloths and napkins for the perfect selection and then raided Kelly’s kitchen for additional glass and bakeware.  We had a plan and it was coming together nicely.

We agreed to prep as much as we could. On Thursday we shopped and Friday we spent the entire afternoon together cooking. Some might find the idea of entertaining 20 dinner guests to a sit down dinner a bit intimidating but, Kelly and I were up for the challenge. In fact, we agreed we were having fun even during the preparation. Oh,and let me tell you I wish I had an application that could record the aroma in the kitchen to share on this blog! (Maybe we could invent that Matt?$!) We plugged my I-Phone in to the kitchen Bose to hear Andrea Bocelli belt out  “La voce del silenzio”. There  is something to be said for the smell of garlic and pork roasting along side cippolini onions in balsamic vinegar that just exudes Italia. We felt as if we were back at familiar Casa Omboto once again.

There is one element of our dinner party that was a true blessing to us all. On Wednesday I got in touch with Liza Chung, the brilliantly creative florist for Lindsay and Matt’s wedding. She had prepared a trial centerpiece for them a couple of weeks ago and had graciously brought it to the house for us to enjoy. This centerpiece was over the top gorgeous. ( I don’t wish to give any of her secrets away, so I will not include the picture in this post. Just stay tuned for wedding pictures after October 2nd.)  We loved having the scent of the flowers in the house but, like us, fresh flowers drop their petals, wither and die. The beautiful 3 and 1/2 foot tall glass vessel had been sitting in the living room waiting for Finn to send it toppling over. I phoned Liza to find out when and where to return it. She explained she had a meeting on Friday at TPC and would swing by and pick it up, asking what time would be convenient for me.  I explained I would be cooking all afternoon for a dinner party.  “Ohhhhhh…” she said.  I could hear a sparkle in her voice as she told me she would drop by late afternoon. Around 6 Friday evening Kelly and I had set the tables, the water and wine were chilling and just a few last minute dishes were warming in the oven when the doorbell chimed to “The Wedding March”.  It was Liza and her son with two of the most magnificent floral masterpieces I had ever seen. Liza had put a pic of them on Facebook the day before and I commented “I loved dahlias”, one of the main flowers of the design. They placed the beautiful gold vessels on the buffet , and were on their way, the perfect compliment to our culinary masterpieces.

By seven-thirty Kelly and I donned our clean Casa Ombuto aprons as the guests began to arrive with bottles of rich Tuscan wines in hand. They snacked on appetizers and drank chilled Prosecco until we were ready to share the main course. Our friend Michele led us in a beautiful blessing then Kelly and I explained each dish. We opened the buffet to our guests and smiled at the “oohs and aahs” as they loaded their dinner plates and headed for their seats.

In true Zitiello tradition, the wine was poured and Tom offered up the first toast, explaining what a wonderful experience Kelly and I had shared. He explained the trip was a dream of a lifetime but, better yet, one we could all benefit from….Munga!

It was a beautiful evening with great food, great wine and even greater friends.

Thank you to our teacher, friend and Chef Laura Giusti of Casa Ombuto, who was in our hearts and on our minds the entire week.  We miss you so Laura.

Heading home…

Heading home…

My personal journal dated June 18th, 2010

Today I took the  7:50AM vaporetta from St. Marks Square to Marco Polo Airport  where I would embark on my transatlantic flight home.  As our boat traveled along the Grand Canal, we stopped for additional passengers, some tourists, some locals catching a ride to a stop up the line perhaps on their way to work. It took about an hour and a quarter to make our way thru the smooth waters.  The weather was pleasant and the sun was shining on the beautiful buildings along the canal.  I was heading home after thirteen wonderful days in my very favorite place on this earth…..Italy.

It might seem odd to some I have taken such a liking to this place. But Italy has truly captured my heart.  I love everything about it.  I love the culture, the ageless beauty of it’s varied architecture, the food and the people so warm and hospitable.  I love the art that until I came here  had only seen in books or movies. I love the fact that the Vatican, the center of the Roman Catholic Church, is located here and that St. Peter is actually entombed in the catacombs beneath the cathedral.  I feel like I have traveled to the heart of my faith.

Francis Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun” wrote, “Italy has proven to be inexhaustible. To take the gift of a new and very old country – a whole other sphere of language, literature, history, architecture, art: it falls over me like a shower of gold.  The giving, the fun, and the spontaneity of everyday life here shock me and return me immediately to a munificent state of being.”

After taking care of my duty free paperwork at the airport I was sent thru Italian Customs then security and boarded the A330 Alitalia Airway carrier that would return me to my reality. As I was fastening my seatbelt, the flight attendant asked me if I would mind moving up a row. I agreed and gathered my belongings. The flight was full and I could hear the pleasant attendant attempting to rearrange seats at a special request. A 35-ish guy was asked if he would take the aisle seat next to me. He reluctantly agreed.  As he sat down he explained with an Italian accent he was a bit irritated to be asked to make a change.  He made this flight often and always went online early to select his seat in the last row so he could be comfortable and relax on the eight and a half hour flight back to the States.  The flight attendant who was in her late 40’s, was obviously flirting with this passenger not only because he was extremely handsome, but because she needed his seat in the back of the plane for someone else. She promised to supply him with all the beer he wanted throughout the flight. He smiled and told her “My name is Daniel,what is your name?”  “Gloria”, she said,  “and I’ll be taking care of you until we land in Philadelphia.”  Their eyes met and he fastened his seat belt, explaining to me why he hated to be asked to make the seat change.  He asked me if I was Italian?  I answered ,”Sono Americano”.  He said I heard you say something in Italian. I admitted an Italian friend had been correcting me and “grazie” was probably the only word I spoke with the correct intonation.  Was he flirting with me?  We settled into our seats for the long journey ahead of us.

My I-Pad on my lap, I began to read a book as soon as I was able to turn it back on. Daniel was intrigued by the I-Pad and asked me to show it to him.  As I began going through some of the apps he saw my wallpaper picture of a gondola decorated for wedding making it’s way under a low bridge in Venice. “Oh, Venice, I am Ventian and that bridge is very close to where I grew up. “Oh”, I said, “from my favorite city.”  He explained he was born here but now lived in the States.   I asked where he lived.  He told me he was a musician and he lived in Orlando.  I told him I was from Ponte Vedra near Jacksonville as we continued to get to know one another. I thought to myself he must be the Italian Bon Jovi, he was THAT cute.  But, he later explained he was a cellist and had worked mainly for Mickey Mouse. He belonged to a small group that traveled the world playing for events upon request.  He had recently performed in Dubai for a wealthy businessman. He was happily married to a Puerto Rican girl for thirteen years but had no children….yet.

We discussed politics and the differences in both our governments and our perspectives of each over the next several hours as Gloria continued to pour our cocktails. He told me that Italians view our election of Obama as a maturing of America. That they view America’s basically two-party political system as impossible.  Italy has over forty parties to choose from. And he discussed the communistic rule of Italy. All of this was fascinating to me. I felt I was getting a very honest viewpoint from this individual. I cautioned myself to realize this was just one persons opinion and not necessarily that of the majority. Before we knew it, we were preparing to land in Philadelphia.  It seemed the perfect ending to my perfect trip. Getting some true insight from an Italian.

Arriving in Philadelphia, we were herded through US Customs and had to declare our purchases.  The beautifully boxed and wrapped watch was opened and searched.  I was asked to show the receipt and had to pay the duty of $129.00. I certainly hope he likes it!

The layover from Philadelphia to my connecting flight that would whisk me to Jacksonville was three hours so I settled in at my gate and read The Story of Edgar Sawtell.  I was beginning to get weary.  But, the plane boarded on time and we actually landed ahead of schedule where my sweet husband was waiting just outside baggage pickup to take me home.

Remembering the embrace of the couple on the platform at the train station in Florence, I lingered purposely in Tom’s arms as he kissed me hello.  Then we were in the car and heading in the direction of home. So much to tell him, that I couldn’t decide where to begin. So, I sat quietly in my seat next to him answering his questions.  It felt good to be home in familiar surroundings, good to be home with the loves of my life.

Traveling is wonderful, but I have a wedding to plan and there is truly no place like home.