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I know you all know me. I can be more than a teensy bit too disciplined for my own good and the well being of others. Right away, I want to put the myth of Helga the Punisher to rest. Helga is one of my alter-egos, or multiple personalities if you will. I’m betting right now you are all imagining me in my thigh high black leather boots, a Frederick’s of Hollywood designed Tyrolean maiden costume, blond braids looped over my head, cigarette holder clenched between my lips cracking a bull whip over the heads of my three fellow travelers. “You vil get up and see ze sights Schnell!”

Nothing could be further from the truth, honest, just ask ’em.

In all honesty I’ve planned this trip as a vacation, not the Bataan death march through cultural treasures. When the Sistine chapel closes 15 minutes after we entered because the Pope wants to throw a party, I just shrug my shoulders and smile and say “it’s an adventure”. When the kid’s lose interest for the day in the Accademia I say who can blame them. Seeing THE David in all, and I do mean ALL, of his glory, who can top that?

This is not about ticking off the treasures of Italy the way some mountaineers bag peaks. It’s about food and wine, heavenly coffee and losing yourself in this foreign place too. I feel like I’ve fallen face first into a pile of wonderful. I don’t want to get up. So I roll around in it. With abandon. We eat gelato for breakfast – ok we didn’t really do that. But the food is so good, and people eat every meal like I eat at holidays…with conversation, wine and lingering. I want to cry because I’m so happy, but I’m so happy I don’t want to cry. So I just smile real big inside.

Somehow I’ve managed to save enough money to not worry about the little details that have thwarted my other vacations. I can say yes so much it starts to feel like I mean it. Oh, do I mean it!

So we visit Botticelli, and Titian and Veronese and Michaelangelo and cathedrals to God, but we also visit cathedrals to food and living well. Plus it’s sunny during the month when it’s supposed to be the rainiest. I’m thinking Global warming is looking prety sweet right now. I won’t recognize until I leave Italy and enter Switzerland why it’s so different here. I haven’t seen a single Starbucks or McDonalds in either Rome or Florence. Nobody is any the worse for wear.

At this point of the trip we are in Florence, my most favorite place in the world, with some of my most favorite people in the world. Why has it taken me 30 years to get back here?

The flight – aside from Oldest NOT sleeping – is uneventful. We pop through customs in a flash and roll out – with all luggage in our hands – to meet our taxi. I’ve traveled for business many a time, but I’ve never been met at the airport by a tiny placard bearing my name. I’ve always thought that was so cool, and indeed it was.

Our taxi driver speaks decent English in a way I will come to know quite well over the next few weeks. You can hear the translator wheels turning as he speaks with his adorable Italian accent. I’ve been learning Italian on the side for months now, but I’m too shy and tired to give it a try.

We are delivered to the hotel and they allow us to check in a bit early and take breakfast in the dining room. I couldn’t ask for better because they have eggs in addition to about a million other tasty things I wouldn’t expect. After a shower I attempt to rouse everyone to head out for the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Houston, we have a problem. Danielle has become the walking dead.

I’m of the school that jet lag is to be met head on. You adopt the time zone rhythms as soon as you arrive substituting your old ones immediately. This is great in theory except for the zombie part. I put Oldest down for a short nap. She whimpers in protest when I wake her, but it’s for her own good, RIGHT?

We head out to see the sights dragging a zombie along for the ride. Here is where the resurrection part arrives. In addition to the stresses of the day before, I’ve been in near constant contact with Marc who has contracted the Martian Death Flu and really shouldn’t travel. Thanks to sheer force of will and a pharmaceutical bill the size of the GNP of a medium sized developed country Marc has resurrected from the dead. His head did not explode when the cabin pressurized and he’s actually looking sort of spry. This is an illusion fueled by the most excellent and plentiful cappuccino taken at breakfast.

Pressing on slowly we sign up for a tour of the Colosseum that is recruited when we arrive looking wilted and clueless. There are several young people who act as scavengers for the main act – a seriously funny Italian man who proceeds to make us laugh for an hour about the goings on at the Colosseum before it became a historic site. The stories are brutal and resemble current day American life in ways that make me uncomfortable to contemplate.

I am – in fact – the only one of the four of us who remembers anything about the tour or the day. The rest of the group insists that they saw nothing and went nowhere because they were sleeping.

The next day – and this is where the dog poop comes in – we head out after breakfast for an 11:00 am tour of the Vatican with Sophie our Irish tour guide. We make our way along narrow streets that seem to be filled with dog poop and itty, bitty little cars. There isn’t much room for people on these streets. There is plenty of dog poop that has had a passing acquaintance with a shoe. This is not the easiest way to begin a day and we are thrilled to arrive at the Vatican in time, without additional show decoration. The tour is very informative. The kids magically (no, it’s really the magic cappuccinos) now on the new time zone are enjoying themselves. We do a little retail therapy for them. Each of them come away with jacket what has that European flair. Neither of them takes the jacket off again except to shower.

They fall head over heels in love with Italy. My master plan is working…..

OK, so I’m going to try and describe our trip in detail over the next few weeks as things gel in my mind.

Our first night of the trip was spent at the Chicago Double Tree Inn, where we sit toothbrush-less because our luggage is in transit over Boise, Idaho. And here is why. It took us 5 freaking hours to drive to Seattle because some one decided that the first, portentous day of our trip they needed to drop a load of enormous plastic pipes on the only stretch of road between Portland and Seattle. The one, the only, legendary I-5.

Prior to that we had fairly flown up the highway. We stopped in Olympia to enjoy a Starbuck’s interlude in their own Starbucky backyard. Then it all comes to a creeping, crawling halt. They are predicting doom and gloom on the radio – it will take hours to open the road. I am laying a green brick on the seat of the car. My trip, my trip! I’ve planned and saved for years. Waahhhhh.

As we creep and crawl along it’s clear that things are moving better than expected. Within an hour we pop out the other side and continue our mad dash for SeaTac airport. We drop the rental car and head for the American desk where we check in and the boarding time shows as 2 hours later than the original flight departure time.

OK, just breathe.

Lucky for us, Mr American Airlines rebooks us pronto on a flight leaving in 45 minutes. We check our bags and run for security and some how manage to scoot onto the plane before the doors close. Frankly, I am amazed. I had planned on rolling into Chicago, eating something at the airport, cruising to the hotel luggage in tow and crashing early. Big doings the next day you know.

When we arrive and head to baggage claim lo and behold only one of our bags made it. Oldest girl has nothing, and all of our toiletries are packed into, what I am lovingly calling the sarcophagus, and checked. No toothbrush, no wonderful moisturizer which lets me look my 50 years after applying, not the 95 I appear when I get off the plane. The sarcophagus – narrowly missing the 50 pound limit – is a rolling duffel the size and shape of Tut’s final resting place, but not so pretty.

I am not a happy camper. I am also thinking that if this is the direction the trip is headed I am in deep yogurt. I am told I can come back and get the luggage or have it delivered within 24 hours. Uh, I am not going to BE here for 24 hours so scratch that. I opt to ride the shuttle back and grab the luggage when the flight arrives. Imagine the suspense as my luggage is literally the last stuff to come off. But it does come out. I roll back to the hotel with the sarcophagus and Oldest daughter’s luggage. Victorious!

I go to bed after transforming myself back into a 50 year old with moisturizer. The alarm goes off early the next morning. The wretched spirit which had hovered over us for that first day evaporates. The trip begins in earnest.

We did it! Flew to Italy, made like the Italians and flew back all in one piece. It was even better than I could have hoped for. The food, fabulous, the accommodations, fabulous, the sight seeing, fabulous!

The time of my life, spent with my most favorite people. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to have these two weeks with my kids who are soon to fly the nest.

I’ll never forget it.

I’m delighted to say the weekend was productive. While I didn’t sleep as well as I would have liked, I was relaxed and happy. I cleaned and shopped and knit and cooked. All my favorite things to do. There was enough time to do everything. I have completed the to-do items on my list so now it’s just down to writing down the items I need to throw into my bag when the time comes.

I finished the sleeves to the Lovely Lady Oriel. Blocked them too. Started the scarf and found I don’t have enough yarn to do what I want to do. So I’m swatching on the fly and thinking I’m going to switch to size 17 needles. The two strand garter stitch I am using is too hard and thick to be a wrappable scarf. If I alternate the smooth yarn and the Lumpy Bumpy in stockinette it’s too soft. Trying garter with just the lumpy bumpy is leaving too little yarn to make a scarf. So I’ll swatch with 17 inch needles to see if the extra space makes it softer and more wrappable, plus using less yarn and allowing me to make a scarf of length.

This was supposed to be an easy project so I could have a hat for the trip. HAHA. The best laid plans of mice and men.

It’s the best news ever. I have benign fibroadenosis and an intraductal papilloma. Both of which are benign growths. The doctor asked me to follow up with a surgeon when I return from Italy to discuss removing the papilloma. But I’ve got time to do that later. When I return from living my one wild and precious life.

So anyway it’s less than a week till we leave and I’ve got a ton to do, but I’m up to the task, and so is my poor eggplant breast – so named for the bruising which I may see in my future.

So I’ve had a funny lump in my right breast. Nothing detected by my mammogram in May. But it was still in the back of my mind. Why the heck is that THERE. So I scheduled another mammogram and that was today.

I thought it was going to be like other mammograms I’ve had. In the door, wham bam, thanks for letting me smash your boob, see ya in a year.

Not this time.

This time I got an ultra sound, and a biopsy. Something called Intraductal Papilloma. So I’m going to have biopsy results come back next week. I hope to have great news and all signs point that way. Living and breathing till then…