09 November 2012

Settling into autumn II

It's that time of year when a pot of tea gets cold before it's finished, when laundry takes days to dry, when you can't wait to burrow under the feather duvet at bedtime. You savor every minute of sunshine, and every night that you can see the stars. I used to love autumn best of all the seasons, but after eight winters in Florence I realize this may have had something to do with spending the previous thirteen years in southern California. November is notoriously rainy here, and I think even simply the dread of strings of rainy days can dampen my spirits. I am always more creative and productive when the sun shines—a tendency that finds me in the studio even when most people are out enjoying the lovely weather.

After posting 'Settling into autumn' a few weeks ago, I realized that I'd barely mentioned the change of season and the new routine our household has settled into (hence this followup). School began in mid-September, but it always takes time for things to get organized; the kids only got their permanent schedules and started following the full orario in the second month! For my daughter, who is at a liceo artistico (a high school with an emphasis on visual arts/design), this means six-day school week. Having classes on Saturday is pretty typical in Italy, and while we were lucky that her middle school offered an option with Saturdays free, there's no escaping it now. For me, it means an extra day in the studio, which of course I don't mind, but I do emphathise with the students. At least my daughter spends part of her Saturday in front of an easel. One thing is for sure: between the two of us, we're getting a lot of studio time.

Because of All Saint's Day on November First, not only did the kids finally have a 'real' weekend, but a four-day weekend at that. We stayed in Florence for a couple of days before heading to Montepulciano, the small hilltop town where my parents have a cozy second home.

Other than the fact that it would be our only chance to visit this fall, another reason for the trip was so we could focus on the novels we're writing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). As we discovered last November, Montepulciano is the perfect place to make progress on the 50,000-words-in-30-days challenge. {A few notes on last year's writing weekend in Montepulciano can be found here.} 

It turned out to be a lovely weekend. By the time the two-hour bus ride had ended, I'd left everyday pressures behind and allowed the novel to work itself out a bit. Once there, we streamlined meals, got out for a daily walk around the town, did a bit of 'gardening' on my parents' little terrace...and made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to sustain our writing sessions/sprints {recipe here}.

I am still more comfortable with writing non-fiction (and even generally prefer to read non-fiction), but I found the process of working on the novel last year to be quite fascinating. After writing basically nonsense for the first several days, in an attempt to keep my hand moving across the page (as Natalie Goldberg counsels), a phrase came out of nowhere toward the end of the first week: "One thing was sure: she was not afraid of color." Not the most graceful of sentences, but that one line shifted my focus to a new character who intrigued me so much that she became the fixed point around which all of the other characters revolve. It drove home the importance of (to quote Natalie Goldberg again) 'showing up to write'...of going through the motions until you find that all of a sudden you find yourself immersed in the story. Last year's character is still with me, and in fact I am building on much of the material I wrote last November.

Since returning to Florence at the beginning of the week, most of my time in the studio has been spent with the found poem project I had begun last spring. And let me say that fine-tuning these approximately fifty-word pieces makes the NaNoWriMo average of 1667 words per day seem easy! I hope to put them in the shop some time in the next week or two, and will post some photos here as well.


One thing I do welcome at this time of year is the produce: tart pomegranates, crisp, fragrant apples & pears, juicy citrus fruits—and persimmons! I picked up a box of them yesterday; they make such a delicious, easy snack or dessert. I don't think the sun is going to grace us with its presence today (and induce me to photograph them), but I've included a few photos I shot of the persimmon trees in the garden across from my parents' home in Montepucliano last weekend + one I took during a visit to the Rose Garden a few weeks ago (to help me recall the intense scent of fallen/overripe/split persimmons under the laden tree, but I love the late afternoon light in that photo also). {This link leads to a persimmon print that I offered in my provisory shop last year, and includes a few musings on persimmons + a couple of ideas for how to serve them.}

Yesterday I also brought home the ingredients for vegetable soup—another happy tradition that marks this season. Though it's cold enough that it smells like Christmas at night now, the past few days have been more like those signature golden days of October, but today's grey sky makes the idea of soup very appealing. I thought I'd share my version for those of you also experiencing 'soup weather' {recipe here}. I credit the mother of my friend Tessa Kiros for inspiring the use of pumpkin in my vegetable soup. Incidentally, Tessa continues to write cookbooks that are a treat to look through, dream with and cook from; the latest one, Limoncello and Linen Water, was released in Australia and the UK last month. (The American edition is due out next spring, under a different title/with a different cover.)


One final note: After having gotten into the habit of introducing one item for my shop each day of last October, I decided to continue the 'visual calendar' concept by posting a little something every day of November as well. If you happen to be looking for a recipe for chocolate cake or stew, are in need of a book recommendation, or want to read what we usually do with our Halloween pumpkin, please have a look here.


  1. We are having a rainy autumn in Spain too but it is quite welcome after a dry spell that lasted months. Your photos are beautiful. My favourite season used to be the summer but it is autumn now, never mind the inconveniences. And cloudy days are the most creative for me. It's fun to see how different we can be and yet so close in our endeavours.

    1. True! I really enjoy hearing how other artists work best, the season(s) for which they feel the most affinity, etc. I am surprised at the change in myself actually, especially since I continue to be drawn to autumn's colors, produce, etc. I think it's the lack of light/sun that I'm finding harder every year... Still, there are wonderful/special aspects to every season, and I try to focus on what those are depending on where we are in the year.
      Wishing you much creativity!
      - Lisa


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