Splendor of Florence

During Christmas last year, as my sister, brother-in-law, and I were catching up, they told me about a good friend, Joyce, an American in Florence whose morning walks through local gardens had inspired a small line of artisanal soaps and candles. Joyce was taken with a certain fragrance, a heady amalgam of scents that to her encapsulated Florence and all its splendor.

Since modelling in Italy (Milan) in the 70s, Joyce has spent at least a quarter of each year in Florence (and her ancestors are Florentine). For several years in the late 90s and early aughts, she created and then directed a series of cultural events that brought the best of Florentine craftsman community to the US.

Two years ago, she decided to take the next step in this artistic, cultural venture by creating a line of luxury home items, Splendor of Florence, all of which both utilize and celebrate many of the traditions of highly-skilled craftsmanship Italy is known for: soap; design; paper; and fragrance, to name some. And she wanted everything to be 100% made in Florence, start to finish.

Michele, my brother-in-law, wondered if I'd want to try a few Splendor of Florence items. Um, yes. 

"But," I warned, "I'm really sensitive to scents, so I doubt I'll like the candle. And I rarely like bergamot. Is bergamot in there?" 

"Yes, but just try them," he said. "Joyce worked for years to create the fragrance and bring her ideas of pure, local, handcrafted products to life. They are really beautiful items."

Shortly after, a generously sized box wafted alluringly onto my front porch. Inside were nestled bars of soap and candles, exquisitely wrapped (the Italians really know how to wrap things; go look at individual lemons in their grocery stores! Each is a treasure.) in thick paper and boxes whose surfaces are printed with designs inspired by the tiles and mosaics found on many a Florentine church and palace. The proprietary fragrance is called Passegiata which means a walk or a stroll, drawing on all the dreamy meanderings Joyce has enjoyed in Florence's lush gardens over the years.

 Splendor of Florence Passegiata soaps and candles

Splendor of Florence Passegiata soaps and candles

Despite my concern about lurking bergamot, Passegiata is an endlessly pleasing, unique, relatively subtle scent. A blend of orange blossoms, lime, bergamot, rose and cyprus -plants you'd find and experience in Florentine Renaissance gardens- the fragrance smells real, honest, not remotely cloying or chemically. Think real sugar versus saccharin- the difference is enormous.

 Splendor of Florence Passegiata soaps

Splendor of Florence Passegiata soaps

The soap is triple milled, solvent free, and contains olive and apricot kernel oils, which make for a very creamy and moisturizing bar for body and face, in addition to the highest quality essential oils. Each one lasts for ages, doesn't crack, and holds its scent. My shower always smells so lovely.

The candles, soy-based, are almost too lovely to burn, and the diffuser is alcohol-free which means they aren't flammable and they last much longer than most diffusers whose high alcohol content makes them evaporate rapidly. Isn't the packaging and design chic but also accessible?

As y'all know, I am deeply committed to supporting best-quality, location-based craftsmanship that values both product and producers. And I love what Joyce has done with Splendor of Florence and all the men and women she has empowered and honored by seeking out their guidance, skill, and expertise. She has truly paid homage to Florence in so many beautiful ways.

You can read more about Joyce and the artisans with whom she works here. And unless you live near any of the ten U.S. stores selling Passegiata goodies, you can order everything here. I hope you do!

Jack is 11! America is older. But wiser?

I'll never forget waking with a furious contraction at 2:20am on July 4th, 2006, having our doula tell Tom to get me to the hospital pronto when she heard how quickly the contractions were coming, plugging in my curling iron because photos, my mother telling me to put the ridiculous curling iron away and get in the car, racing across the bridge with the sky still dark, and watching Jack slip peacefully and beautifully into this world at 7:45. A race of a labor and delivery and a wonderful one. Jack was four days early, and as I listened to the fireworks that night, it seemed totally fitting he'd been born on the 4th. 

Today that baby turned eleven! And we have had a fine celebration! 

Our neighborhood comes together for a wonderfully fun morning: a decorated stroller, trike, and bike parade around the circle and to the park; the reading of the Declaration of Independence; races-both sprints and sack races- and tugs-of-war; Italian ices; and face painting. Jack won 3rd place in the older kid division of bike decorations and also in the 25-yard dash. I wore my Wonder Woman socks but did not manage to place in the Mom's 50-yard run. Alas.

 That's Jack, in the red, white, and blue top hat and beflagged bike.

That's Jack, in the red, white, and blue top hat and beflagged bike.

Then the boys' cousins came over for the afternoon, and tonight we had Jack's choice of gumbo and blackberry pie for dinner before watching Planet Earth II: Cities. (Have y'all watched any of that production? Incredible footage! I cannot even imagine how it was all filmed.) The boys decided to dress up for the occasion, and I think they looked terribly handsome.

 I adore them.

I adore them.

Hope you all had a good holiday and that you considered America's origin story, the good and the bad. We have so much promise, we have done so much right, but we are imperfect and are faltering mightily right now. We must reckon with the sinful, ugly elements in our history, with the falsehoods we purposefully perpetuate because of who those myths both exclude and exalt. We must stop closing our minds and hearts and borders, and instead toss away the fear and disregard and intolerance that both cause and result in those constrictive behaviors.

I looked around today during our neighborhood party, heard Italian and German being spoken, saw friends of African and Latin heritage. Afterwards, as my nieces, half Vietnamese, spent several happy hours being silly with my boys, as I listened to all of their pure and tinkling laughter reverberating throughout the house, I thought about how rich a place this country is because of the many and various hands that have come here and laid down so many stitches, knitting a place of cultures and ideas

There is room for so much and so many here. I can't fathom why so many act in such exclusionary ways towards others. I can't fathom why so many in our government want to take health care away from millions just to give folks who are already wealthy even more. What does it say when we ignore the least fortunate among us? When we want to actually build a wall and legislate targeted bans to keep whole countries out of ours? When hypocrisy and greed and lying seem OK and even popular in some quarters?

I thought about all of that today as my son turned 11 and this country neared the 250 mark. And although my crew, so fortunate and grateful and desirous of giving back and bettering our communities in any ways possible, felt happy all day, a piece of my heart ached mightily for a country that I am not wholly proud of right now. For a country that is letting so many of its citizens down by not educating, feeding, supporting, seeing them. 

I hope that when my boys are older and heading into more independent lives that this country will be better. Will have steered itself on a more just course. Will have lived up to what is has the potential to live up to. 

On the Eastern Shore for the long weekend

People, we are on day 3 of a truly wonderful weekend away. A dear friend has a home on Tilghman Island, a quiet place on the Chesapeake Bay, and offered it to us for a few days as thanks for my recently helping her with a project. The work was an absolute fulfilling delight, and I eagerly assisted with zero thought of any sort of payment. But when she suggested we spend some time out here, I jumped at the chance.

The news out of Washington has been so corrosive since November, and many, myself included, are starting to shrug under the daily assault of offensive, embarrassing, false, petty crap spewing from Pennsylvania Avenue (and Mar-a-Lago and various golf courses; Golf News reports that the Yam has played golf a whopping 33 times since taking office in January, and The Independent noted that he took 16 golf trips in his first 100 days [more than one a week] which is so much more than Obama ever played which is only important because Trumpers brayed and wailed about how dare the black man play golf while leading). I'm just saying. #facts

In any case, GREAT to get out of town for a bit. And Maryland's Eastern Shore is so lovely.

We have kayaked twice, churned our own butter (a woman who recently took a canning class from me told me about her Kilner Butter Churn, a simple manual hand-crank contraption that I impulse bought last week), done an art scavenger hunt in St. Michael's, and taken our car on the ferry to Oxford in search of ice cream at the renowned Scottish Highland Creamery. As a side note, the Oxford-Bellevue ferry has been running continuously since 1683, and it is too darling to drive onto a ship that can accommodate no more than six cars.

Side note: I thought Scottish Highland's ice cream was exceptionally overrated (not least because of the number of unpronounceables in the ingredient list). Locals love it, and Trip Advisor just ranked it in the top 10 in the country, so I am definitely in the minority, but... Jack agreed with me. 

We have taken outdoor showers and eaten seafood and strolled through Easton and observed just how much seagulls can poop. We have stayed up late playing games and woken up early with the sunrise. We have read and adored an only partial access to WiFi. We enjoyed a spontaneous rum and curaçao tasting at the Tilghman Country Store.

We have endured a crisis.

Oliver accidentally used "so many of the coins I have been working sooo hard for to buy levels I do not need." while tiredly playing Angry Birds Star Wars when finally Tom and I, exhausted, said ok to screen time.

I fled the 1,000-piece Cinque Terre puzzle I was working on and plopped in a perfectly weathered adirondack chair near the dock. Now I'm listening to the waves lap at the wharf and thinking that if this puppy reclined, I'd be fast asleep in no time.

Four fat gulls are preening and resting on so many copper-capped pilings. One gull is stunningly rumbled, as if it never learned that smooth feathers are the aerodynamic ones. It looks as if it got pulled through a fan. That said, we can't all be good at everything, and I rather like how he's just letting his flag fly. 

 If you zoom in, you can see the four fat gulls.

If you zoom in, you can see the four fat gulls.

I once had a fat orange cat named Puddin' who was pretty much incapable of grooming himself. He forever had a small lump of once-wet cat food dried in a fetching mound atop his nose. (He also could not jump, or even scale, a fence which is decidedly not cat-like.) Nonetheless he was a deeply wonderful cat, and Vavin (a Parisian metro stop; my mom named her), our other cat at that time, a diminutive gray and white tabby which a black nose, would help bathe him. They were so dear. Sadly, one acquired feline leukemia, passed it to the other, probably Vavin -> Puddin via bath time, and both had to be put down. It was tragic.

It is so peaceful out here. The constant ebb and flow of the water is the ultimate soothe symphony. The only flies in the ointment are the few Napoleon complex boat drivers. They are as annoying as sports car fools who gun their motors on 25 mph densely packed city streets. I always hope those idiots hit speed bumps. I mean seriously. 

Tearful Oliver has found me in my escape pod, so I must go. Happy almost 4th of July. My Jack turns eleven early Tuesday morning and we are looking forward to celebrating him. Love to you all!

 seriously, look at that bird poop

seriously, look at that bird poop