The Disruptive Influence

My father called me “The DI,” or Disruptive Influence, from the time I was about 9 or 10 years old. I thought it wasn’t a good thing, that it was about my being too “bossy,” as my sister calls me. I felt bad that that was my place in the family, rather than being “the smart one” or “the pretty one” or even “the troubled one.”

I mentioned this to my brother a few years ago. He said it was just that I would “cause things to happen. It was a good thing.  You’d say, ‘Let’s go to the beach!’ And off we’d go. ‘Let’s make taffy!’ And we’d make taffy.”

(I’m not sure this says as much about me as it does my family, but oh well.)

0058I think it was partly self-preservation. I like being busy. I like making things happen. I like adventure. (And obviously, since age 4 or so, I don’t like others pushing me around!)

So, in my new retirement life, the good news is that I finally have a social life. I’ve had coffee or dinner with friends or taken a class (Italian and Pilates) nearly every day. I’ve read a bunch of books, scoured Zillow every day for a house, and gone shopping (online and local).

But, I’m struggling. I’m not busy disrupting things. I’m not making things happen (or not much, anyway). I’m not having adventures (unless you count buying a house in Tuscany). I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything.

I started doing a felting craft, but without a place in mind to sell them, I’m bored. I try to sit and relax, but I’ve never figured out how to do that without a glass of champagne – and 10 o’clock in the morning is a bit early for that. I even go on hikes in Annadel, but my body can’t take that every day (as much as it needs it).

As a DI, you would think I’d get into the political scene in a big way. I did do the March and that felt good. But I’ve never been very political, except to end the Vietnam war. Now THAT was disruptive. Or maybe I should learn more about Twitter (who can keep their thoughts to 140 characters??) or nanotechnology or this But, I think my brother once called me a Luddite, so obviously this is not my strong suit.

I helped two people (and my husband) with their business plans, and that felt good. Can I do that more? How about being a virtual assistant? (Still working on getting internet in Italy, as I see it as a game-changer in that field.) Life coaching? What IS that, exactly?

I did promise myself I’d take this year to just chill, and I’ve been really good at trying that. It’s not working. I need to be what I am – a disruptive influence. And no, not like DJT or the nay-sayers about disruption in the business sector.

My personal way of being a DI is seeing things from a different perspective. Dusting off the cobwebs of fear or uncertainty or inertia. Taking a business or an idea and turning it upside down or shaking it out to see its working parts. Asking questions to get to the core, the essence, of a problem or need or issue. It is then helping to turn that into some kind of action, to help a person or an idea move from point A to where it really wants to go.

Is that a job description? Maybe. I guess we all need to be DIs in this new world we’re in. Meanwhile, I will continue my quest. Ideas anyone?

Mad Woman in New York

You’ve watched Mad Men I hope. Because if not, you won’t understand what it was like to work in advertising in New York in the 60s and 70s.

We moved to New York from California in 1962 when I was 12. father worked in public relations for a major company and could have been the doppelganger for Don Draper. He was not quite as good looking, but he had the same suave style and bad habits. We even lived in the same town that the fictional Drapers lived in.

No, I didn’t start working in advertising at age 12. But I did go into the city several times to visit my father at his office. Those were the days when a teenage girl could ride the train from Ossining to Grand Central by herself, walk to the RCA building at 50 W. 5oth Street, take the elevator to the 42nd floor, and say hi to her dad.

I loved the office. I loved the desk overlooking Rockefeller Center. I loved the typewriter. I especially loved the phone, and picked it up and pretend-talked into it every time. I vowed that whatever my life held in the future, it would involve a phone.

Uh huh. Well, in high school I had some fun with writing — stories for the high school creative writing journal (yes, those were the days), a column for the newspaper on fashion (!), and copy editor of the yearbook. I remember my first published story at the ripe old age of 15, “Last Summer’s Sand.” All about returning to a beach vacation and reliving the previous summer’s “romance.” (Read “crush.”)

I’ve written in an earlier post (“Retiring”) about college and almost getting a job writing radio commercials. And about my first jobs in advertising. It wasn’t until I moved back to New York to marry my first husband that my real advertising career started. The marriage was all wrong (even his mother said so) but the career wasn’t. I worked for a supermarket chain putting together (in those days this required excellent cutting and pasting skills) newspaper ads for the weekly specials. I moved on to public television where I did a monthly magazine, sold advertising space with cold-calling, and begged for money on air.

And then I was hired as a copywriter/producer for an advertising agency where I met the most adorable art director. The first week I was asked to produce four 15-second commercials for a bank. I had never done a TV commercial in my life (I think they thought working in public television gave me a leg up). My concept was a puzzle that was pieced together by an off-camera hand and the line, “We fit the right loans to your needs.” Pretty good, huh.

So I asked the adorable art director to create the puzzle pieces. He labored over them, but they were so well made that it would have taken the off-camera hand 30 minutes to put them together. I solved the problem, and the adorable one and I fell in love.

I wasn’t exactly Peggy Olson (see earlier reference to Mad Men), but the world I entered was very much like the show. Sexist, sleazy sometimes, rampant with kickbacks and booze and dirty dealings.

The stories are so cliche.

Three months into the agency job, my boss asked me to meet her in the ladies room. From one stall to the other, she told me that she was leaving, taking all the clients and the employees, setting up her own agency, and would I like to join her. Uh, okay. I was told by the HR director that hired me for my first job that it was because of my legs. When a later ad agency boss suggested to a client that I would be fun to work with, the client cornered me in a cloak room and, breathing heavily down my neck, offered me a red Corvette.

But I had fun too. I did some great work, won a few national awards, had one of my campaigns appear on the cover of Time magazine,  produced a commercial with Vanessa Williams (at the time, recently dethroned as Miss America for appearing nude in Playboy) (link:VD Commercial), and gained enough experience to open my own agency (with the adorable art director) when I finally moved back to California.

And that was the start of another chapter.

In Between

This is such a great week, the week in between Christmas/ Hanukkah and New Year’s. In between two of the biggest holidays of the year. In between years. In between family and friends gathering to celebrate, bookended by memories and expectations old and new.

These are part of the halcyon days. The halcyon was a mythical sea bird whose arrival heralded 14 days of calmed seas around the time it was nesting and hatching its eggs. These magical two weeks of tranquil weather came roughly on either side of the winter solstice – which occurred on December 21st.

Today, halcyon days are associated with the sweet, lazy days of youthful summer. But I prefer to think of these original winter halcyon days as the time for quiet repose and reflection. Granted, we don’t have young children in the house, so we aren’t distracted by pre-Christmas energy and high expectations. We also don’t usually (especially this year) have the busyness of a tree and tinsel and poinsettias and packages.

What we do have is the luxury of enjoying this time in a beautiful home with a sweet car full of memories provided by generous friends. Friends old and new come over to play. We spend good hours with family, watching dance performances and eating pie. We drive through the streets looking at Christmas lights, marveling at the amount of work they take to set up and (we assume) take down. We shop and stand in line with no more urgent agenda than to smile at others we meet.

And so, our halcyon days this year are even more charmed with relaxation and reflection.

We are also “in between” – both personally and as a world – as we face enormous change. Personally, we have said goodbye to a home and a lifestyle we loved, but it was time. We look forward to settling into our new part-time home in Italy and filling it with “us.”  Deborah said goodbye to a career that helped center and grow businesses small and large, losing an anchor to part of her definition of self. She looks forward to growing her self. Tim is glad to be past a year filled with health (and ladder) challenges, marauding goats and hungry coyotes, and machinery that refused to fix itself. He looks forward to the art of making art.

Perhaps these halcyon days will provide an opportunity for our nation’s new leaders – and those of other countries –  to reflect on what they have inherited and how quickly that might dissolve. Otherwise, we fear what rough seas may lie ahead.

Like many people, I always spend a few hours during this time setting goals for the coming year.  I divide the list into categories – financial, farm, professional, personal, and spiritual. Actually, my list hasn’t changed much in the 15 or 20 years I’ve been doing them – be nice to people, lose weight, etc. But it is awesome to see what goals I have accomplished (no, not lose weight). Enjoying a little sense of accomplishment is a very “in between” activity in my book.

So, during these halcyon “in between” days, spending some introspective time picturing the year ahead is exactly what the halcyon bird did. And the seas quieted, and the winds slowed, and the days were ones of quiet anticipation and new birth. Sounds good to me!

Typical Tuscan Sunday

A couple of people have asked what a typical day is for us here in Tuscany. I have told you about the festivals, which make it a “not typical” day. But today is a rainy Sunday, so I will tell you what today is like.

We still get up when the sun comes up, about 7:00. I’m usually first out of bed, and head down to the kitchen to put my coffee on and start the fire in the big fireplace. Tim makes sure there is plenty of kindling and firewood the night before, so I call on my Camp Fire Girl background and start the fire. It’s actually colder in Tomales than here in the mornings. But it is a damp cold with no central heat, so a fire is required.

Tim comes down and makes his tea. Thankfully, the giant spiders that used to greet us in the mornings seem to be either hibernating (do spiders hibernate?) or the new roof has discouraged them. Otherwise, Tim would be wielding a weapon and slaying them for me while his tea steeped.

We sit at our kitchen table in front of the fire and, for the next hour or two, read/write and eat breakfast and listen to the church bells. Tim reads books about this area’s history – the current one is about World War II, when it was occupied by the Germans after the Italians renounced fascism. I’m currently reading The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman, a novel (that last is part of its title).

At some point one of us (yes, me) gets antsy and we dress and walk up to the village. We try to take different routes through the narrow streets, imagining what life was like for Santa Fiora villagers in the Middle Ages. One of the paths winds up the hill with a lighted walkway carved into the rock and passing a waterfall, several gardens, and a little rest area with benches.

There are three churches we pass, all very old except the one the Americans bombed by mistake to drive the Germans out in WWII, killing 17 villagers in the process. Their names are on a plaque in a little square near the site. We also pass through the Jewish ghetto – ancient, narrow streets where mostly Jews lived until the Germans came and either killed or arrested them. Shortly thereafter, Italy renounced fascism and joined the Allies in fighting the Germans. (This Tim has explained to me as I am not a history buff.)

Anyway, we get up to the piazza and head to the bar/gelateria for our cappuccino, te, and internet. (Right, still no internet at the house even though the technician promised me he would be here “domani,” which means tomorrow but was yesterday and he didn’t show.) We are now known in the village and the bar owner makes our drinks before we order. Others come in and several we know, so we “buongiorno” to each other. If it’s someone we know well and haven’t seen for a few days, we kiss – first left check to left cheek and then right to right. (Getting that right the first couple of times led to some embarrassing mis-planted kisses.)

An hour of caffeine, maybe a pastry, and internet and we head out the door to shop. If we want meat (we don’t eat much), we buy it from the macelleria, bread from Crostini, and fresh pasta from Tavolo Caldi. The other day we bought a pasta machine, and today we may make fresh pasta for the second time in our lives.

Then it’s the Coop, pronounced “cop.” Think of a cross between 7-11 and the old Traverso’s. When I was in Italy before, there were fresh produce markets a couple of times a week when you bought what vegetables you needed for the week. Here (or now) the farmers bring produce to the Coop, or it is shipped in from Sicily or other warmer areas. The good news is it is all organic (or if something is not, it is clearly labeled). Packaged goods – pasta, bread, cereal – are labeled “biologico,” which means organic too. Italy banned GMOs several years ago.

(Is this boring? Blame it on the weather – it’s still raining out and I’m not walking up to the village in the rain.)

We may also stop at the banca and see our buddy Fabrizio. We used to stop in daily to see if our American transfer money had been released from the Italian main office yet. (It took four weeks, but we finally paid off the mafia laborers last Monday.) It’s not exactly like Exchange Bank. Fabrizio is in his usual sweatshirt behind his desk. The other banker bought us coffee at the bar the other day, and the bank has given us our own post office box in the bank. If you want to try it out, send us something to

Box 20

Banca dei Paschi de Siena

Piazza Garibaldi

58037 Santa Fiora, GR, Italy

Geez, we’re only to noon. (And as I write this, the noon bell is ringing!)

Time for lunch, which is most likely back at our casa. We generally have prosciutto, pecorino cheese, olives, and maybe a glass of wine if we’re Tim. Then, after this grueling morning, we take a nap (if we’re Tim) or stoke up the living room woodstove and sit on the couch reading. This is perfectly acceptable as stores don’t reopen for the afternoon until 3 or 4:00 and stay open until 8:00.

The afternoon varies, depending if we need to go to a) the hardware store in Casteldipiano, which is almost every day b) the frame shop or laundromat in Arcidosso (where I bought these cute herb jars), or c) some other destination for furniture or fun. Some days we don’t go up in the morning (like today) and instead walk up in the afternoon when the Coop will reopen (it’s never open on Sunday mornings) so we can get the ingredients for the pasta-making.

Today is different too because our neighbors have invited us to dinner at their house in the village. (They also own the farm next door which is an agritourismo.) Tim did a painting for them to thank Sandro (the Mafioso contractor) and his daughter Corinna (the PhD translator) for all their help in our transition.

Other days we’ve been entertained at lunch in the tiniest kitchen that ever held a man in a wheelchair, the Mafioso’s brother, our UK friend Linda (to interpret), and Tim and me. The table was two sawhorses and a board, about the size of a small card table. And it filled the room. Another day we had lunch at a small restaurant in Arcidosso. Tim ordered what is the signature dish in this area, Acquacotta, literally water soup. It was so good I asked for the recipe, and “mama” wrote it out in Italian for me. No measurements or anything of course. I translated all the ingredients and made it the other night. It was delicious! (If you’ve gotten this far, I will send you the recipe.)

Dinner for most Italians is 8:00 – that’s when restaurants open too. I have no idea what they do between 12:00 (or lunch) and 3 or 4:00 (when work resumes). I’ve read they eat and gossip. Kids go home from school for the mid-day meal, and go back until 6:00 I think. They study English for four years too, so they can all ask us about “Trump the fascist or Trump the stronzo.”

So, that’s it. Not that we don’t travel to other towns or cities (we’re heading to the coast this week for a night and spending two nights in Rome in a fancy hotel WITH INTERNET before flying home the week after). But what we are enjoying now is the quiet and the beauty and the peacefulness. Our go-go-go life was enjoyable too and it will be again when we get back to Sonoma County, but this is just perfect just now. CAIO!

Personal Legend

PERSONAL LEGEND – November 12-20

One of the greatest gifts of the past seven weeks has been to read. Before this adventure, I think I read one or two books a year (not counting of course Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep and blogs on farming).

It’s not that I didn’t try. I’d buy the latest bestseller at Costco (and another at “my local independent bookstore just to even the paying field), wait in an interminable line, pay with a credit card – the total was always over $200, even if you only bought one book – and put it on my nightstand. That night I’d jump into bed all excited and prop up my new book next to a very disappointed Tim. I would read the author’s intro and maybe the table of contents to see how long the chapters were, start Chapter One, and be sound asleep in the first two pages.

Here in Italy I have read 10 “books”* so far, one or two of which were dogs (no, not about dogs) and therefore I didn’t finish, and some which will stay with me for a long time.

One of the keepers is Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.

*I haven’t found an English bookstore anywhere near us, nor was I allowed to load up my three giant suitcases, two carry-ons, rug, and king comforter worldly goods with books. So I load up on Kindle at the “bar”** when having our cappuccino and te in the mornings.

**In Italy a bar is a place that you go for café in the mornings, standing up and slugging down an espresso and maybe a pasta (pastry). For a glass of wine and pasta, you go to a café for lunch. Love this country!

I digress (which friends tell me I do in telling stories).

I am sure most of my friends have read it and maybe seen the movie. For those that haven’t, there’s no point in telling you what it’s about because that’s not the point.

Okay, it’s about a young man on a journey to reach his Personal Legend. In his case it was to see the Pyramids (or so he thought!). If you haven’t read it, skip the next sentence. He gets there, but that’s not the point, and it is.

Of course the point is the journey. But also it is having a Personal Legend to travel to, and reaching that. Some (like me) may call it goals.

My great pal David always likes to hear my “five-year plans.” My great pal Deb likes to think of journeys as simply being open to the synchronicity of the universe. Different strokes for the same idea, and the premise of The Alchemist. Read it.

Years ago (back when I read more books), I read a ridiculous self-help book with the ridiculous title of “DO IT!”, complete with exclamation point and the subtitle “Let’s Get Off Our Butts.” It involved a series of questions you were to ask yourself about who you were and what you wanted out of life. (Forgive me – I was 22 at the time.) You listed the words that resonated with you in answering those questions, and then melted those down to their essence. That became your Personal Mission Statement, or Personal Legend according to Paulo Coehlo.

Bet you want to know what mine is:


Cool, huh! The nice thing about a Personal Legend is that you can check back in with it to see if you are headed in the right direction and enjoying the journey. Mine will not be like anyone else’s, thank goodness. But I know if I am not growing something (animals, food, friends and relationships, my own business, other people’s businesses, creative things, a nice home, me), I’m not happy or fulfilled.

I like dogs too. But that’s not what this is about. It’s not what you like to do, it’s the core of who you are. And it’s not just knowing that and having a Personal Mission Statement – it is having something to reach for, a goal or goals, something to keep you moving along toward a fulfilled journey.

For years, right around this time of year, I’ve listed and updated my goals. Adam will remember this. I haven’t done it for several years (same reason as the book on the nightstand gathering dust), but here is some of what I wrote in 2010:

  • Honor relationships with family/friends/girlfriends
  • Stay grounded
  • Rest/have quiet time guilt-free
  • Continue creativity – crafts, herbal products, wool, cashmere
  • Develop plan for travel/living abroad in next five years
  • Develop marketing for farmers/artisan producers
  • Hire experienced farm manager
  • Start planning for farm transition
  • Revise website
  • Remain debt-free and repay home equity loan by 2015

I accomplished most of these. Some will stay on the list (and have since 2003 when I first started this), and some new ones need to be added. But the idea is there is a list. When I get all caught up in what I’m busy, busy, busy doing, I need to go to the list and make sure the busyness is helping me get to where I want to go.

And now that I’m not so busy, I get to honor my relationships by sharing all this with you! Here’s wishing you are enjoying the journey to your own Personal Legend. Have fun!



Falling Flat

FALLING FLAT – November 2-12

I’ve often said I fall all the time. I’m not sure if that’s true because I don’t know how often friends of mine fall. Of course Tim fell off a 15-foot ladder last year and got a concussion and broken rib, and this summer Heidi fell through a 15-foot tree and landed on a Buddha statue with two broken wrists and a shattered spleen. Many years ago my brother, father, and first boyfriend fell in succession from the roof of our house, my boyfriend landing in a rose bush.

But those falls, as dramatic as they were, were one-offs. No more falling for any of them after that, or before. As far as I know.

Then there’s me. I’ve tripped coming out of Baskin Robbins and splatted me and my Jamoca Almond Fudge cone all over a parking lot (I was 42 and in a business suit). I’ve tripped over the yellow dots and splayed myself across the middle of Highway 1 that runs through downtown Tomales. I’m sure there are others, but you get the idea.

So, as I was walking along enjoying the sunshine of a beautiful day at the chestnut festival in Pianacastinaio (yes, I can say that without tripping over it), I tripped. I didn’t see it, but Tim says I was walking next to him and the next instant hit the cobblestone walk like a … lucky for him, he didn’t say “ton of bricks” or “sack of potatoes.” I landed on my face, wrist, and knee in that order and nearly simultaneously, judging by my injuries.

My glasses have four large, vertical scratches on one lens, my chin has a lovely scab which I can’t help but pick at, and my knee does too along with a delightful purplish color. But the MAJOR DAMAGE was my wrist. It hurt!

When it didn’t stop hurting after a week, Tim said it was time to get an x-ray. I’ve fallen a lot but never had any broken bones. He’s had several (including a broken finger whedn part of my house fell on it, but that’s another story), so for once I listened to him. We consulted several friends and they said we needed to go to Casteldepiano (there are few simple town names in Italy – well, except Rome and Siena and Milan) to the Pronto Soccorso – literally
“Fast Help” – beside the hospital.

We arrived at 10:00. We left at 3:00. Not so pronto, but the total cost was 74 euro, including 10 euro for a CD of the x-ray! The nurses asked me, “Trump or Cleenton?” The doctore asked, “Trump or Cleenton?” The radiologist asked too, and then said, “Trump is fascist.” But I got my x-ray and – no broken bones. Just a bad sprain. And severe depression over the election, wondering what the Italians would think if the unthinkable happened.

And then it happened.

Everyone here is very, very worried. The Italian newspaper headline this morning was Trump, a danger to Italy. It’s hard for us because we STILL don’t have any Internet except in the café, and no English newspapers or TV. Maybe it’s a good thing though.

Anyway, our Italian lives go on. Yesterday Tim got a private tour of one of the 40 geothermal plants that dot the hillsides in Tuscany with the man in charge of it, who is the partner of our UK friend. The steam that is trapped inside the mountain (Mount Amiata is an extinct volcano) is 400 degrees C. It is piped up under pressure and powers all the electricity in the region. At least I think that’s what he said.

The day before, Tim and over 600 schoolkids got a tour of the Santa Fiora wafter system. Again, amazing. The water trapped in the mountain is tapped and gravity pushes it out at 700 liters per second, flowing to all the faucets and toilets in our village and several others within 15 kilometers. He has a cool video of
it if you’re interested.

Technology in Italy is truly 21st century, even in tiny Tuscan hillside villages.

Last night we had a great dinner at our favorite pizza restaurant with UK friend, Linda, boyfriend Bruno (of the geothermal plant), and our neighbors, Sandro and
Simone. Today we went to Arccidosso and Casteldipiano eboth and had lunch at a cool restaurant that was literally carved out of the rock of the hill the town sat on. Beautifully appointed and lit, with a collection of antique copper cookware on the walls. Vino bianco for Tim, vino rosso for me, salads, and pasta.

That’s life in Tuscany!



The “Have-Nots” Revolution

I have to admit I didn’t pay a lot of attention to this election. I had a few things going on. Actually, a lot of things. But I woke up this morning and I get it. At least I think I do.

It was a modern American revolution.

I don’t know if the pundits or editors or talkies have hit on this, as I don’t have any television here in Italy and didn’t watch any before either. But I woke up with a start, thinking about their slogan: Make America great again.

This election was not about fancy rhetoric (Trump made sure of that), or insightful analyses of current economics, or well-thought-out plans for our future. (Okay, he even made a mockery of all that.)

And that’s why he won.

For the half hour or hour that people listened to him, he had answers for them. No deep thought or analysis needed. You don’t have a job? I’ll make sure the people you think stole it from you are sent back. You’re losing your house? It’s the banks’ fault and I’ll punish them. You feel like you’re being bullied by the system? Punch it in the face.

He was Dr. Phil. Or Oprah. Or Dr. Oz. Or God.

He was (and now is) a 30-minute answer to whatever problems they have. They now have the power to make their American great again, the America that promised them all they had to do was work hard and it would all be theirs. They are no longer powerless; they’ve got Donald J. Trump to do it for them. He will make America great again!

(My snide remark here is, of course he will – look what he did for Atlantic City. But maybe only a handful of New Yorkers know or care about that.)

The people who listened to him and supported him and bought into his slogan are people who feel they are themselves powerless. They are missing the inner strength to pick up the pieces of a broken life or a broken system and fix it. They need someone to do it for them, or to punish those who broke it. Like Judge Judy does.

I guess I didn’t realize there were quite so many of them.

So now what? I have no idea. But I am in Italy, and the Italians have seen this before. They call Trump a fascist. Maybe he is. Tim thinks he was pitted against a candidate that just couldn’t be completely trusted. Maybe she was. My friend from the UK says this is the downfall of America as a world leader. (She did not vote for Brexit, but sees similarities.) Maybe it is.

But what is clear to me, and what woke me up with a start this morning, is this indeed is a revolution. The “have-nots” against the “haves.” And we’d better get our moral munitions in order and our principled troops on line to ensure there will still be an America to make great again.

Because Trump is right – we aren’t anymore now in the eyes of the world.