Sitting in a chair in the sky…

IMG_1528When I was a kid, getting on a plane and flying somewhere was one of the most exciting things ever. My family and I didn’t do much flying back then, mind you, but we did occasionally return to the States to visit the relatives (grandparents, e.g.) we’d left behind when we moved to Italy (see *Note below for more info). 

I grew out of my childhood enthusiasm for flying by the time I hit my 20s, almost as soon as I realized that, as Louis CK puts it, I was “sitting in a chair in the sky.” I know, I know, I know, statistically it is more dangerous for me to be sitting right here at my desk than to be sitting on a plane…and yes, yes, yes, statistically it is the safest way to travel. I am well aware of all that.IMG_1523 But I think we would all agree that there is something a bit freaky about “sitting in a chair in the sky”…And so I went through a long period during which I was a bit of a nervous, sweating wreck at the slightest sign of turbulence…

Everything changed when I was diagnosed with myeloma (well, with smoldering/inactive myeloma). My fear of flying disappeared. Yep, just like that. How could I be scared of flying when I am carrying around a bunch of lethal cancer cells inside my body?

Myeloma trumps fear of flying any day. 

But not yesterday. 

IMG_2270 IMG_2334Yesterday’s flight between Boston and Munich went fairly smoothly…no problems to report. But then we got on our Munich-Florence flight and…well…mamma mia...

The pilot announced that it was overcast in Florence…but he didn’t mention the high winds that plagued most of our flight (the turbulence varied between “acceptable bumpy” and “bloody effing scary bumpy”)…The strong gusts of wind pushing on the left side of the plane (seriously, you could really feel ‘em pushing the plane to the right) seemed to want to blow us out of the sky as we were descending from the clouds towards Florence. I’ve never felt wind like that, not even when I landed once during a snow storm in Toronto, Canada. Yikes. And so, yes, yesterday I experienced a shadow of my former fear of flying…

And then we landed with a huge BOOOOOM and then a bit of veering and shaking that took everyone’s breath away…IMG_3701

But hey, we landed. 

And Stefano and I are so happy to be with our beloved kitties again. :)

I will rest for the next few dayszzzzzz (I already have plans for a get-together with friends tomorrow, yaaaay), then I’ll take a look at some of the studies that have piled up on my desktop…I really must do something about my poor, dear and verrrrry neglected blog! IMG_2306

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these photos, which I took on the island of Nantucket where Stefano and I spent three lovely days between August 12 and August 15. We rented a jeep for a 48-hour period ( = outraaaaaageously expensive, but in the end we were glad we’d done it) and, among other things, drove on Great Point Beach all the way out to the lighthouse, where we spent hours watching and photographing seals, but mostly sea birds — terns, seagulls and sandpipers…also, a cute oystercatcher (= the black and white bird with the long, bright orange beak digging into the sand) and a few ruddy turnstones (gee wiz, WHO comes up with these bird names??? ;-) )…  IMG_3047

Quick memo/bit of advice: always put on sunblock BEFORE getting distracted by the local fauna, not AFTER…Wow, ouch, what a sunburn we both got…

Okay, I have to go get the laundry off the line now, so I’d better get off the computer. Take care, everyone! Ciao! :) IMG_2500

[*Note: I was just a kid -- six years old -- when my family moved here from Massachusetts, U.S.A. So, while I am a U.S. citizen (and, now that I am married to an Italian citizen, also a permanent resident of Italy), I grew up here in Florence, where I went through the tough but very good Italian public school system, all the way through high school and 1.5 years of university. When Mom and Dad moved back to the U.S. in the early 1980s, I went with them and finished college and then grad school in North America.]


Before writing anything else, I wanted to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary with all of you. I mean…SIXTY YEARS!!! Isn’t that something??? :) And my parents are still crazy about each other and hold hands and…well, you get the picture. They are very cute together. Sooo, what else can I say but:


I’m sorry that Stefano and I are not going to be there to celebrate this important date today, BUT…guess what?…he and I will be there — there = Cape Cod! — tomorrow night (!), so we will definitely break out the (Italian) bubbly and raise a glass to these amazing parents of mine…

Ah yes, we’re leaving Florence AGAIN. It seems as though we’ve been flying nonstop all over the place lately…

But if I don’t get packed, we’re not going to go anywhere tomorrow, so I really have to get off the computer now. ;)

Take care, everyone! CIao!!!!!

Finally, some of my photos from Skokholm Island…

IMG_0585I took almost 3000 photos of puffins, razorbills, guillemots, gannets, and other bird species while we were on Skokholm Island in Wales (the first photo gives a view of part of the island) early last month (boy, time does fly!)…I’ve been going through them slowly in my free time, but right now I’m too busy (with life and work and FUN of course!) to finish this task…IMG_8413

Here, therefore, is a limited and rather random selection of my photos. As you know by now, I don’t take or post perfect photos…in fact, I don’t think my current camera (which is not a bad camera, mind you) is even able to take any perfect photos. ;-)

IMG_3616But that doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t want or need to be a professional photographer. What matters to me is to be reminded of a particular moment during a particular trip or event. IMG_8750And so I sometimes don’t even delete photos that are clearly out of focus — photos that my Stefano would delete in the blink of an eye.

No, what counts for me, unprofessional me, is the moment in which I took a certain photo. IMG_4797Or the photo has to be high on my “cuteness scale,” like the photo (second from above) of the three puffins hiding in the grass, one of my favorites so far…Or the one of the puffin (below, on the left) pecking another puffin that needed to be shooed away from its burrow…Or the baby guillemot with its cute little tilted head (next to last photo, below)…who seems to be looking at us almost quizzically.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my random selection! IMG_5787

I hope you enjoy it!

Oh, and I bet you’re glad I decided NOT to publish all 3000 photos, eh?   :D  (By the way, if you don’t know the names of some of these sea birds, other than the puffins of course!, just hover over the photos for a sec…)IMG_0639IMG_9892IMG_5932IMG_8292

Parasite in cat poop might be able to cure cancer…someday…


One of my six cats. This is Priscilla, 9 years old.

If you’ve ever thought that cats are useless creatures, think again: even their POOP might someday bring us closer to a cure for some forms of cancer. The promising, er, ingredient in cat’s poop is actually a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. A group of Dartmouth College researchers discovered when that this parasite gets inside a human being, it is able to kick-start that person’s immune system. So now they are working on a safe immunotherapeutic vaccine to inject into cancer patients (by the way, this is all preliminary stuff…More testing is needed before any human trials can begin…).

Okay, without further ado, here’s one of the many articles discussing the cat poop discovery…I know you will find it a very interesting read:

Oh, by the way, please do NOT try to create your own homemade toxo-remedy using the poop from your own cat’s litter box. Toxoplasmosis, the infection caused by this very naughty parasite, can be quite serious, sometimes even fatal!, for folks with weakened immune systems. (That said, I’ve always cleaned my cats’ litter boxes without any trouble whatsoever…as far as I know, anyway!)

Let’s let the researchers come up with a SAFE poopy parasite vaccine. No home remedies THIS time! :)

Curcumin gum!

When I first read this bit of news, I thought it was a joke:

But no, not at all. On the contrary, it makes perfect sense: by bypassing the stomach, the chewing gum system should be able to deliver more curcumin to cancer cells via the oral mucosa.

The oral mucosa is basically the skin inside the mouth, which has a rich blood supply and is quite permeable. Without going into too many details (such as first-pass metabolism in the liver and pre-systemic elimination in the gastrointestinal tract…), what happens is that substances absorbed inside the mouth enter the blood system immediately, without passing through the gastrointestinal tract where absorption is slow and subject to attacks by potentially degrading enzymes.

In a nutshell: the oral mucosa delivery system should be great for substances that are poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, such as curcumin.

That is precisely why I used to prepare a C3 Complex curcumin powder concoction using melted dark chocolate and honey. I would keep small blobs of this concoction inside my mouth for as long as possible, under my tongue (in an attempt to maximize absorption). I still add C3 Complex curcumin to our food whenever possible, and this fall I plan to experiment with coconut oil, too.

Well, how about curcumin chocolates…curcumin lollipops…curcumin candy canes? Hey, the sky’s the limit! :)

And, by the way, all my very best wishes to Dr. Nathan and her work! Hip hip hooray!

A near escape

IMG_6860Anyone who has been around puffins (= my favorite seabirds) knows that they don’t have an easy life, especially because of their main natural predators — the lazy, greedy and opportunistic seagulls.

IMG_6862I have seen gulls pull puffins out of their burrows, trying to make them drop their hard-earned mouthful of fish. And I have seen them chase fish-bearing puffins all around the colony. Some of these “pulls and chases” are successful, and the gulls end up swallowing their stolen goods…but others are not, thanks to the stubbornness of the puffin parents, desperate to feed their growing chicks.

Luckily, I have never seen a gull actually kill (and eat) a puffin…and yes, that happens…

Anyway, I thought I’d post three photos documenting a scene I witnessed last week on Skokholm Island (where I took almost 3000 photos!).

The photos show a herring gull attacking a puffin in an attempt to steal its dinner (well, probably its chick’s dinner). This is a common sight on Skokholm Island where the gulls, mainly herring gulls, hang around puffin burrows, waiting to attack the fish-bearing puffins that have just returned from the sea. IMG_6863

In this particular case, I am happy to note that the heroic puffin managed to fly off with its entire load of fish, after a very brief struggle. No harm done this time…

I apologize for the poor quality of these photos, but, as you can tell, my camera is not a professional one…

Still, it will give you an idea of what happened…


Yep, today’s my birthday. I’m 53 years old! :) I feel a bit like the puffin in my current header photo (by the way, I took that photo at Skokholm Island, Wales, UK, last week) — young, happy, confident, strong, with my wings spread out…and with a bunch of sand eels (er…bleah) in my beak…

And to think that when, in the fall of 2005, I was diagnosed with (smoldering) myeloma, I thought I’d be dead within four or five years…That’s what my hematologist told us…

I guess I’ve proved him wrong, eh? ;)

Back then, in 2005 that is, I didn’t know much about myeloma, except that it was incurable. The statistics were really scary…and, almost ten years later, they are still scary. It was only years later that I realized statistics are useful ONLY in certain contexts (medical conferences, e.g.), but to us, individuals with myeloma at any stage, they are essentially useless…We are human beings–not numbers.

This became even clearer to me after reading Stephen Jay Gould’s famous essay on cancer and statistics, “The median isn’t the message” (worth reading again from time to time…you can look it up easily online). He was diagnosed in 1982 with mesothelioma cancer, which has “a median mortality of eight months.” As he points out, most of us would interpret that as “I am going to die in eight months.” That is not the case. The reality is that statistical distributions “apply only to a prescribed set of circumstances – in this case to survival with mesothelioma under conventional modes of treatment. If circumstances change, the distribution may alter.”

If circumstances change, the distribution may alter. Indeed.

Stephen Jay Gould didn’t die eight months after his diagnosis, but TWENTY years later — in 2002.

Based on my numbers, I should have progressed to active myeloma four years ago. This is not a wild guess on my part: in 2005 a famous Mayo Clinic myeloma specialist told me I’d have to begin conventional treatments in 2010. Based on statistics, of course.

But it’s 2014 now. So I guess I’ve proved him wrong, too, and I hope to keep proving him wrong in the years to come…

Anyway, it’s already a very hot day here in Florence, Tuscany, Italy, and it’s going to be boiling outside this afternoon, so I’ve decided to take the day off, lie in bed with my cats (under the cooling ceiling fan), watch movies and eat cake from our favorite local pastry shop, the best in town, in my opinion. And this evening, more movies and more cake (and pizzaaaaa!) with my Stefano…

What more could a girl want? :D

Leaving for…what do you mean? LEAVING??? AGAIN???

I know, I know! It seems as though we just got back from Amsterdam and now (= on Saturday…yes, I mean THIS Saturday!!!), we’re getting on another plane. Why, I’ve barely unpacked! ;-)

This time we’re flying to London, where we’re being picked up and hosted by a dear friend, Paul, whom I met thanks to the blog years ago. Paul and I began corresponding via email and ended up meeting on one of our UK trips and becoming very good friends. He and his family have been to visit us here in Florence, and Stefano and I have been to visit them in London…well, just outside London, to be precise (such a lovely neighborhood!). Anyway, we haven’t seen them for about two years now, so that is going to be wonderful.

Then on Sunday Paul, Stefano and I will be driving from London to Wales where, on Monday, we’re getting on the boat for Skokholm Island. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, type the word “Skokholm” into my blog’s Search box (at the top right of this page, just above “Recent Comments”) and you will discover that Stefano and I are totally obsessed with puffins = hole-nesting auks (seabirds) with big heads and a large, bright orange beak. IMG_0345

In fact, our bird watching hobby (by the way, my blog header right now is a photo I took a few days ago of a baby bittern at the Parco della Piana, a bird reserve just outside of Florence) began with puffins, and it was all thanks to Paul who suggested, more than six years ago, that we go to Northumberland (UK)…And that is where we saw our first puffins, on Inner Farne Island…An unforgettable experience.

Anyway, Paul, Stefano and I will be staying on Skokholm Island most of next week, just as Stefano and I did last year. Shared compost toilets, no hot water, no showers, no Internet, etc. etc. etc. It sounds a bit uncomfortable but really it is one of the most amazing life experiences I’ve ever had…completely relaxing…magical. In a nutshell: I can’t wait to leave. The puffin chicks, called pufflings, have been hatching, and I hope to get a glimpse or (even better!) a photograph of one this year.

I know I’ve been neglecting my research and my blog in the past few months, and I’m sorry about that. My blog is very important to me, and that will never change. But one of my best friends recently said this to me: “I’ve chosen to live.” Now, she was referring to the little messes that she didn’t have the time to straighten up in her apartment, but that sentence really rung a bell with me…for an entirely different reason…

I can’t change the fact that I have myeloma cells in my body. I know that I can’t run away from this cancer, and I have no intention of doing so. But myeloma won’t and can’t stop me from living. Not now, anyway…(fingers double crossed!).

And so, like my friend, I choose to live my life…the way I want to live it. And I will do so for as long as possible…I will keep traveling…enjoying the company of Stefano and of my best buddies and of my cats…rejoicing for my niece who recently sneaked off to Las Vegas to get married to her longtime companion without telling us or anyone else (way to go, sweetie!!! So happy for you both, yaaay!!!)…watching the World Cup soccer games even though Italy and the U.S. are both out now, argh…finding happiness in small things, such as an unexpected visit from a good friend (also met via the blog) yesterday…and planning future trips with Stefano…

No, myeloma can’t stop me. And so on Monday I’m going to immerse myself completely in the wonderful, magical world of puffins and razorbills and Manx shearwaters and guillemots and gannets and…the list goes on…

Life goes on…


Braking in Amsterdam

IMG_0357We got back from Amsterdam the other night. Vacation over. We had such a wonderful and interesting time…loved the city, its canals, its houses, its houseboats, its cyclists…(In the first photo, you can see the floating…well, at one time it was…flower market, on the right.)

We walked everywhere. And when we got super tired, we hopped on a tram, if possible. If not, we’d rest for a while, then keep walking. But, I admit, walking and walking and walking got to be a bit tiring…IMG_0064

And so, after watching almost every single inhabitant of Amsterdam whiz around on bicycles (I mean, they are EVERYWHERE…there are even traffic lights for bikes, see photos), and figuring it would be easier and faster for us to get from place to place on a bike, we decided we’d follow suit. Two days after we arrived, we rented a couple of bikes at our hotel…but it was not meant to be…

We went outside the hotel to unlock our bikes and get on our way. Stefano got his bike ready before I had done fiddling with mine, walked it over to me and asked: “Hey, does your bike have any brakes? Mine doesn’t.” IMG_0084Sure enough, there were no brake levers on my handlebars. 

I later learned that most Amsterdam bikes work on the brake PEDAL system. That is, if you want to brake, you have to back pedal.

IMG_0044Now, since Stefano and I have always used the hand-braking system, we weren’t about to begin braking with our FEET for the first time in our lives in a city chock full of canals. I could just picture one of us or, horror, both of us sailing straight into a canal. Splash! Nope, forget it.

So we never rode a bike in Amsterdam. Not on this trip, anyway. However, I would like to add a note of appreciation for all Dutch cyclists. From that moment on I watched and admired HOW they braked. IMG_0999Hats off!

IMG_0595By the way, we could have rented what I consider to be a “normal” bike with handlebar brakes. But in the end we decided against it. Main reason: Stefano wouldn’t have had his camera handy at all times, and by the time he’d manage to stop the bike and whip his camera out of his backpack, any photo op would have probably vanished. Biking and taking good photos don’t really go together.IMG_0425

And so we walked. And walked and walked. Judging from the map that tracked our photo-taking, we walked along every single canal in Amsterdam, on both sides, from Singel to Amstel, and all the canals in between (Princengracht, Herengracht and Keisersgracht are the main ones, plus all the minor ones, too!) from start to end…and often back again several times.

IMG_1005We were in Amsterdam on the day (Monday June 23) of the Holland-Chile soccer match (is anybody else watching the World Cup?). I really REALLY wanted to watch the game in one of Amsterdam’s big squares, surrounded by Dutch fans…so we went to Rembrandtplein. The square was packed with orange-clad fans both inside and outside the bars, most of which had TV screens. At the beginning of the second half of the game, Stefano and I finally managed to find a couple of seats outside a bar…and had a decent view of the rest of the game. I was very excited, and my camera was turned on and ready to shoot.

IMG_1013After Holland scored its first goal, all the Dutch fans around us jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering. I took a few photographs, but they didn’t come out as well as I would have wished, as you can see. And then, toward the end of the game, the Dutch team scored its second goal. Well, let me tell you, the square went absolutely wild with joy–everyone was jumping up and down…lots of clapping and cheering and hugging. So exciting. And glorious. And, for us, a historic moment (= our first time watching a game in a public square…). IMG_0710

And just as I was ready to take my exciting, glorious, historic photos, a message appeared on my camera screen:

“Change the battery pack.”


So I didn’t even get ONE lousy photo. Not one. By the time I’d changed the blooming battery, things had quieted down.

This would never have happened to Art Wolfe… ;)

IMG_1056But then, later on, on our way back to the hotel, we heard loud and joyous singing as we approached one of the main canals. And there was my photo opportunity: a boat filled with young Dutch fans waving their arms and singing their hearts out. :-)

We did all the touristy things in Amsterdam. Taking advantage of our three-day “I amsterdam card,” we visited many museums (Goya, Rembrant’s house, the National Museum (not for free, but there was a 25% discount), the Amsterdam Tulip museum, the houseboat museum, the Museum Van Loon, Our Lord in the Attic, and…oh a few others… IMG_0098

Of course, we also visited the Anne Frank House, which  however is not part of the “I amsterdam” deal. Word of advice: try to get online tickets for the Anne Frank House, or you might end up spending 1.5-2 hours in a queue, like we did. IMG_0889By the time we saw the seemingly endless queue and  thought of buying tickets online, there were none left…even for the following day. So we stayed in line. It was worth it, though, of course.

That’s about it. I can’t think of anything else at the moment…

Bellissima Amsterdam!!!

Back in Italy…and off again…

I can’t believe that I’ve been back home with Stefano and our kitties since June 5 and haven’t written a post, not even a tiny post about…ANYTHING AT ALL!!! Well, a lot has been going on, and I’ve also been trying to get back into a normal routine = almost impossible right now, as you will see in a minute…

Let’s jump right in. The day after I got back to Florence (I left Cape Cod on Wednesday, June 4, arriving in Florence the following day), I found out that my Mom had been taken to Cape Cod hospital. To make a very long story short, she had sustained a new vertebral fracture (= spinal compression fracture–she suffers from osteoporosis, you see)…incredibly, unbearably painful.

The pain had begun, in fact, a couple of days before I left for Italy. Odd thing: it wasn’t located in her back, but in her rib cage area, and her main symptoms, as far as I could tell, were occasional but very painful spasms. And she couldn’t take deep breaths. Thinking that she might have bruised or even fractured a rib, I insisted on taking her to the emergency room, but she refused. And let me tell ya, when my Mom refuses to do something, she is impossible to deal with. The adjective “stubborn” doesn’t even cover it. However, since she was still moving around in the house, we all let her be stubborn…and I left for Italy as planned…

By Friday, however, the pain had gotten so intense that she finally agreed to go to the hospital. And that’s where they found the new compression fracture.

She spent several days at Cape Cod Hospital, where, after a few days, she had kyphoplasty (= basically, a procedure designed to lessen or even eliminate pain caused by compression fractures and also prevent them from worsening…a very common procedure for myeloma patients, by the way, and that’s how I knew all about it = a fact that impressed Mom’s doctor, whom I spoke with by phone, in fact…), which gradually diminished her pain to a semi-tolerable level. She is still in a certain amount of pain, unfortunately…but it’s certainly not like it was before…

A few days after the kyphoplasty procedure, just as the hospital was getting ready to discharge her and send her off to the same rehab center where my Dad spent three weeks after his stroke, a nurse noticed that Mom’s left leg was swollen and purple. And that is how they discovered she had a blood clot. So they kept her in the hospital a few more days…Sheesh!!!

The good news is that she is now in the rehab center and will probably go home soon. Boyohboy, though, it’s been really tough to be so far away from my parents. I felt and feel completely helpless…unable to do anything but speak by phone with my parents and their caregiver and, of course, with my sister, who is in Arizona. Such a drag.

In spite of all the worry, though, life goes on. It has to. I’m working, of course, though I still haven’t caught up with my backlog, sigh…I’ve met up with a number of close friends…And Stefano and I are about to take off on a couple of trips that we’d planned (and paid for!) months ago.

Our first trip will be to Amsterdam, a city that neither of us has visited before. We’re leaving tomorrow, actually, and will be gone until next Tuesday (Stefano’s cousin, and the cousin’s girlfriend, will be moving in with and taking care of our cats). Like many other Florentines, we’re taking advantage of the fact that next Tuesday is a holiday here in Florence: it’s the city’s patron saint’s birthday…St. John the Baptist, to be precise. This gives us a four-day holiday…perfect for visiting a European city (if you live in Europe, that is! ;-) ).

(Fascinating fact: did you know that Amsterdam has MORE canals than Venice? I’d have never guessed! And no, no way, I’m not going to count them! ;-) )

And then, in early July, Stefano and I are flying to the UK to meet up with our fabulous British friend Paul (whom we met via my blog several years ago, in fact). The three of us are going together to Skokholm island (Wales, UK) for four full days, mainly to see our beloved puffins. (We won’t, er, mention the fact that Italy beat England 2-0 last week in the 2014 FIFA World Cup… ;-) ).

Then Stefano and I are flying back to the States to visit my parents in early August…

So, as you can see, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.

I would like to add that, since I returned to Italy, I’ve answered as many blog reader queries as possible, but please don’t be too upset with me if I haven’t gotten to yours…yet. Just to give you an idea, when I got home I found 2400 unread messages in my inbox. No kidding. True, I’d already read many of them while I was in the U.S., but there were still quite a few that I hope to have the time to read at some point soon = this will be a slow process, though. As you can imagine, right now I have to give priority to my own (paid!) work AND, of course!!!, to the messages I get from my family.

If you have an urgent query, though, try writing to me again, or contact me on Facebook. But not until next week, after we get back from Amsterdam. Thanks!

Please note that if your question has already been answered somewhere in the blog, or if it is an impossible-for-me-to-answer question, I might not answer it at all. Try using the “Search” box option…it’s so handy that I use it myself!

Finally, let me mention that I really REALLY appreciate the kind comments I’ve received in this period. I probably won’t get to answering those, either, due to lack of time, but I wanted you to know that they make me feel so much better. So thanks and double thanks for taking the time to write comments and/or send me private messages. Much appreciated! :-)

Okay…that’s it. Take care, everyone!!! Ciao…or rather, tot ziens!!! See you next week! :-)