The Joy of Being Buffy Haglund’s Sister

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

My sister is visiting, and as usual we are having so much fun together that all the ills of mortality have fallen down into a deep well far out of sight. She is invariably cheery and makes the best of every situation.  This is a quality that I deeply admire.

The amount of time we spend giggling and comparing our separate versions of the past (she is six years my junior) is great for the soul.  There is something about laughing out loud with Buffy that is healing and exhilarating at the same time.  We both love to eat, so we spent two hours in the grocery store yesterday.  However, when we went to prepare dinner, we found we’d not planned with our heads.  We had: Baked Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Grape Tomatoes.  My husband was very nice about it, probably glad that we were allowing him to eat with us at all.

Today I gave her a makeover.  She is already gorgeous, so after the makeover she was a knockout.  I told her that she’d better not steal my husband!  Neither of us is rolling in the dough at the moment, but we had fun using her Christmas gift cards and shopping the sales.

We love all the same TV shows and movies and could watch them for hours, trying to figure out what’s going on in the cop shows and whether we or the producers have missed the crucial part of the equation that makes the episode understandable.

To come:

A do it yourself spa  day with massages, facials, and pedicures.

Making lunch for friends

Visiting Talbot’s in Murray

Reading and discussing my novel  (Buffy is very straightforward about this)

Cleaning and organizing my office

Don’t you wish you had Buffy for a sister?


Magical Mystery Tour: We Have A Winner! Your Turn Next . . .

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in contest

Lu Ann Worley is the winner of a special prize chosen for her during my journeys in Tuscany!  She answered correctly the five trivia questions taken from Cankered Roots, the first Alex and Briggie mystery.

If you missed the announcement, I am having a Magical Mystery Tour of all my published mysteries prior to the release of Foggy With a Chance of Murder at the end of April.  From now until February 28, you have the opportunity to answer five trivia questions from Of Deadly Descent, my second Alex and Briggie mystery.  It takes place in one of my favorite places on earth that isn’t Italy.  Oxford, England.  Alex is trying to find heretofore unknown cousins that she has traced to Oxford.  These cousins will share in her own inheritance, so when people start dying, she finds herself again a suspect.  Deadly is the favorite of many of my readers, not only because of its setting, but because it introduces the Divine Charles–perfect, eligible, English gentleman who has a yen for Alex.  This is a great introduction to the series, even if you didn’t read Cankered Roots.  Envelope please . . .

The questions are:

1. With which Oxford College is Charles affiliated?

2. How many children does Charles’s brother Frederick have?

3. What is the clue that finally tips Alex off as to the identity of the murderer?

4. Give one earlier clue that Alex observed, but didn’t understand was related to the case.

5. What is Dr. Daniel Grinnell’s tie to Oxford?

To win a special gift bought by me in Tuscany last week, send answers to my website: http://ggvandagriff.com/contact, where these questions will also be posted.  There will be a drawing for the winner on Feb 28th, at which time he/she will be announced on this blog, along with five more questions taken from Tangled Roots. 


Arrivederci Firenze! Mille Grazie!

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

Actually I leave tomorrow at dawn, but wanted to get my final post in today.  I didn’t quite achieve my writing goal, however I got far enough into the winding up conflicts that I have all the last chapters outlined.  Also, had an industry pro go over my first 75,000 words and she gave me lots of good direction, and thought I was off to a good start which was a relief (after all the starts I’ve made on this novel!)

David critiqued my query and did an equally good job.

Yesterday was one of the most fun days I’ve spent.  Adriana and I spent most of it together as I was the only guest and Betta was gone.  We talked seriously, jokingly, and finally by 9 pm were pretty silly.  She took me out to the burbs where I could spend much less on a gold charm for Betta’s necklace.  She  also surprised me by buying about a year’s supply of dark chocolate.  We decided that somewhere on the way home I was gong to turn into a chocolate bar!

Today’s tasks just include organizing expenses, packing, and seeing the Palazzo Vecchio and hopefully the Bibliotecha Nationale for my A & B book and time travel book.  There will be tearful good-byes although I think I’ve convinced Adriana, at least, to come for a visit in the US.

This trip has been more than I ever expected.  Not only has it inspired my writing, but it has inspired my view of the world, and my own relationships with other people.  The kindnesses shown to me by people I will never see again have inspired me to be more Christlike and less selfish.

I hope to come again someday with my whole family.  It is a truly life-changing adventure!


My Big, Fat Italian Birthday Party

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

My hostess, Elisabetta, was kind enough to invite me to her own home for the birthday party of her son, Cosimo.  I felt like I was in an old Italian movie.  All that was missing was the accordian music.  There was the grandmother, dumpling shaped and dressed all in black, her gray hair waved in finger waves by her face and drawn back into a braided bun.  And, of course, she had no teeth.  All of this was very satisfactory until I realized that she was only two years older than me (who came in jeans and a turtleneck).  Oh, my! 

Then there was the wine.  I felt so bad, because I think it was bought especially for me.  There was also champagne.  They already think my religion is strange, so I didn’t dare tell them that it was because of my religion I didn’t drink, but they kept pouring me wine and asking me to just take a sip. I felt really sad to disappoint them.  But they were so happy and laughing and telling me everything that was happening on the television (which was on the whole time we were eating.)

Eating brings me to the amazing food.  First there was a kind of vegetable potato salad that the grandmother made.  Then there was spaghetti with mussels and shrimp (yummy!) as especially requested by Cosimo.  Next, there was spinach tortellini with tomato sauce and fresh cheese. That was when I reached my limit.  I told E. to just box the rest of mine up and I would take it back to the b & b.  She thought this was funny.  (Of course, everything was funny to her because of the vino).  Next was the main course: barbecued steak.  Cosimo kept putting the biggest one on my plate, but of course, I couldn’t eat it, so I kept putting it back on the platter.  Then they insisted I try just a bite with fresh lemon.  Ugh!  I don’t recommend it.  Finally, the piece de resistance: the torte.  I couldn’t turn that down.  It was a vision—kiwi, grapes, oranges (blood and regular)all on a delicate pastry crust overlaid with sweet cream sauce and then gelatin to make it shiny.  It was a lovely, happy meal.

I’ve been sick with a sore throat, so I had to miss my last Sunday at church, and haven’t gotten much writing done, but I forced myself out on the streets today to do my final shopping.  Friends and family, you have some lovely Florentine gifts coming!  I realized how important it was to push myself past the pain in my joints if I’m going to stay mobile.  I definitely felt better after I came home than I did before I left.  Also—this is hilarious—some Japaniese tourists, thinking I was from Florence, asked me directions, handing me their map.  The old city is so confusing, but I actually managed to find the spot where we were standing on his map to show him that he was quite a bit off course.  Morgan, stop laughing!

Have done everything on my list except to visit the Palazzo Vecchio.  Unfortunately, Briggie and Alex are going to have to find a way into the Medici Library.  They wouldn’t let me in today, so I have no idea what it looks like, but it is huge.



Why All Florentines Will Go To Heaven

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

This blog has been full of posts about the kindness of strangers that I have met with in Florence, but I think that last night must take the cake.

It started with the opera that didn’t happen.  The taxi dropped me at Senshall Theater in a part of Florence that is new and chic, where I have never been.  The theater looked like a Nuclear Power plant, which should have been my first clue that something was “off.”  My second clue was that the stage was filled with all the instruments of a rock band and a very advanced technical system was on display immediately inside the doors to the theater.  Clue #3: Everyone was dressed for a rock concert.  This wasn’t going to be The Magic Flute as I knew it, that was for certain.  Then I remembered that nothing about Mozart had been mentioned anywhere.  It was very late for me.  I nearly dozed off, despite the chatter.  When the concert or whatever it was, still hadn’t commenced thirty minutes late, I obeyed the little voice in my head which had been telling me to go home to bed.  I was feeling steadily unwell, and the idea of a rock concert was not at all appealing to me at that moment.

So I went out to the lobby to ask for a taxi to be called.  Well, you never saw such a furor.  Italians:  “Why do you want to leave the concert?”  Me:  “I’m not feeling well.”  Italians:  “Ah!  You need a doctor!  We will call a doctor.” Me:  “No, no, please no.  I will get better.  I just need to sleep.”  Reluctant promise to call a taxi.  A few moments later, beaming Italian approaches me. “You go outside to wait! I get for you Milano25!”  “Milano 25?” I repeat.  “Si Si!  Go. Go.”

Milano 25 turns out to be the most famous taxi in the world.  Before you find out more, let me just say that that little Italian man at the concert hall gave me the best gift he could under the circumstances, all because he was so terribly concerned about the Signora who was too unwell to go to the concert.  It is a gesture I will never forget.  In the night, I received the title to my Crazy Ladies Book: The Only Way to Paradise. In the last chapter, MacKenzie will say, “There is only one way to Paradise and that is love.  I found love in Italy.”

Now, before you do another thing, go to http://bit.ly/g217UN to read about my latest Florentine guardian angel.


A Red Letter Day for 2011

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

I felt the sun HOT on my back!!  Yes, I know that it’s the beginning of February and that just a few days ago, I was complaining about the Siberian Wind, but nevertheless, it’s true!  And Italy does NOT, as I supposed when I planned this trip, have a Mediterranean climate.

I have been confined to quarters with my nose to the grindstone since Tuesday morning.  Today, which started at 5 a.m., my writing went surprisingly well, with the consequence that I was drained by noon. – So, I rewarded myself for all my hard work with a sandwich at Robiglio’s (my corner cafe of which I have become very fond), and a bus trip over the river and through the woods to the Piazzale d’Michelangelo.  That is where it happened.  I was sitting on the steps, contemplating the most beautiful view in Florence–that of the city itself dominated by the red brick dome of the Duomo, when suddenly, my back was warm.  Isn’t that one of the most divine sensations?

I took the opportunity to ponder my novel and where it was headed.  MacKenzie, who started out as way too vanilla for my taste has very nearly gotten out of hand.  Daily her situation becomes more dire,, and I’m hoping to salvage her moral principles before I head home next week.  I probably need to take the computer down to Robiglios again.  I hear passionate Italian voices all around, and it’s like opera.  I don’t care what they’re saying (unless it’s a furious argument), it’s music to my ears.  Presto!  Inzpirazione!!

Speaking of which, tonight is my special treat–I am going to an opera in Italy!  After years of listening to Luciano on my boom box, I am finally going to the Italian Opera.  However, it is Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and I can’t recall if it’s in German or Italian.  Obviously, I’m hoping for the latter.

Another thing that makes it a Red Letter Day is that I was unceremoniously dumped by my busdriver who decided his shift was over, and I found my way home ON FOOT from the train station!  The maze of streets is impossible to describe.  If I could, you would realize that I am a heroine indeed!

Here’s hoping you all have Red Letter Days as well!


This Book Had to Be Written in Italy

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

The people here may not understand economic principles or democratic government in the same way Americans do, but they know how to love each other.  At least, the ones I have been privileged to consort with do.

Utah is beautiful in its own unique way, and I love it, but Tuscany is so soothing, and familiar that it’s like a beautiful quilt of oranges, apricots, silver greens, and apple greens that just wraps you up and coddles you.  The famous discovery of the Renaissance artists and scientists—perspective, is Tuscany’s gift to the world.  I needed that artistic perspective for my novel, and for all the novels that will follow.

I needed to be loved by Betta and Cosimo and Adriana, and by the stranger in the street who was my good Samaritan.  I needed to become intimate with Rogilios, the patisserie on the corner where I sometimes write and sometimes buy the goodies that Betta, Adriana and I like to eat.  I needed to experience pasta with tuna fish!

And tomorrow, I am going to take a break (if the weather remains fine) and take the number 12 bus to the end of the line and watch the sunset on Florence before my special treat—the Opera!


It’s Much Nicer Than a Garrett in Paris

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

This is one of the happiest times I can remember.  I came to Florence to write and to fulfill my therapist’s wish that I become “confident in my competence.”  The first week was all about acclimating myself once more to Florence—feeling its energy, being comfortable on my own, and establishing a rhythm in this spouseless, childless existence.  At the end of week one, I was quite homesick and hadn’t done much original writing, only editing.

However, yesterday and today have been different.  My book has taken hold of me, and everything is coming together.  I owe a lot of this to my environment.  I wrote a piece to go in the front of my book that attempts to explain how I feel and how lucky I am.  It also helps immeasurably that the sun is shining.! 


In this novel, four women find refuge in the little heaven that is called Residenza Betta in Florence. Though they are figments of my imagination, the Residenza is not. Elisabetta, her son Cosimo, and his lovely Adriana are all very real and very dear to me. They are my second family, and I miss them when we are apart.

“Betta” insists on mothering me, though I am the age of her own mother. An act that typifies her is when she went to pick up an opera ticket for me on her motorscooter in the rain, that I could have gotten for myself. She feeds me, she scolds me, she surveys all my purchases to make certain I haven’t been cheated.

Cosimo is now in another hotel, learning his trade, however he could make much more money as a gorgeous Italian actor, and so I tell Adriana, his fiancee to keep him away from Hollywood.

The lovely Adriana is a 21st century incarnation of Renaissance artist, Fra. Fillipo Lippi’s, atypical Madonna model. She is fair with beautiful brown eyes, as well as being very tall and slender. My son took one look at her and said, “If things don’t work out with Cosimo, I’m your man.” We tell each other our secrets and giggle together like sisters.

I write this in this happy house that has given me so much pleasure in Florence.

G.G. Vandagriff

February, 2011


To Be Honest—Today Had its Ups and Downs

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

Literally.  I visited two cities on the tops of hills and was climbing up or down the entire day.  After the weekend with Morgan, it was a little much, and I’m afraid I od’ed on ibuprofen, but it’s the only thing that saved my life and prevented homicide against my peppy  tour guide.

The first place we visited was just plain amazing, and even with the pain I was in, I was totally entranced.  It is called San Gomignano and has extremely steep streets leading up to medieval skyscrapers!  I am not joking.  From a distance, you see all these towers on top of a hill!  The buses and cars aren’t allowed, so it was very quiet with us early tourists.  The thing I hope I remember forever is the incredible view.  Tuscany is gorgeous at any time, but seen from a lofty hill with fog still wafting through the valleys, orchards and vineyards while presided over by periwinkle sky and lovely warm sun (remember it’s January) it’s absolute heaven.  I discovered a very humble watercolorist with a huge talent.  His prices were so modest, and his paintings so minimalist and capturing Tuscany so perfectly, I wanted to buy his biggest one and have it sent home.  But better instincts prevailed.  With all of David’s photos we have no room to properly display it.  I did buy three tiny little reproductions (you couldn’t tell them from the originals, I swear), and boy Sandra and Alana are you ever in for a treat.  I could see both of you sitting against that fortress wall, painting and painting and painting.  The landscape changes continually with the weather, the light, and the season.  I think you’d both better book some rooms and stay for a year, build up a portfolio and have a show!

After we left this little place (which seems to have no source of income), we went to Siena, best known for its twice a year Palio, where all the houses of Siena buy horses and hire jockeys, rig them out in their “house” colors and stand in the middle of the town square and in all the windows looking out on it, as the horses race three times around the huge courtyard.  Dirty play is encouraged.  It is all very dangerous and the Sienese seem to adore it.  I purchased a flag and patch with a dragon on it for grandson Jack, thinking he could ride his rocking horse.  I also got a book for him with pictures and the whole history.  But then I went and lost the flag somewhere.  Dag nab it!

I passed my “free time” by eating buschetta, soup, and my first gelato of this trip.  I then visited souvenir shops and bought postcards (I have no faith in myself with the camera) and the things for Jack, and some Tuscan cookery books.  Then, to my immense relief I spotted a Pharmacia across the square.  I hobbled over there and bought ibuprofen and sat down to take it with a cup of hot chocolate.  By the time the tour was set to begin I was in better shape.  I truly enjoyed the beautiful Siena cathedral.  It’s gorgeous gothic exterior is good enough to eat, but the inside blows your mind.  It looks like it was imported from the middle east.  It is black and white striped marble!  One row of white, one row of black on the walls and columns.  It is also the only catherdral I have ever seen without a crucifix at the altar.  There was an amazing library with illuminated manuscripts and lovely Rubenesque frescoes.  The gift shop was in a church, heavily decorated with gold, which was a surprise.

I thought once I made the tortuous trip down the hill to the bus that my troubles were over.  I felt significantly improved after the 1 1/2 hr. drive back to Florence.  However, once aboard my trusty city bus, there was a orange sign that said something about Lorenz il Magnifico—my stop.  Troubled, I asked the bus driver, who apparently knows no history, for he dumped me off at via Leanardo da Vinci.  There it was,  night in Florence, and me completely lost in a quiet neighborhood.  I met one of those charming young Italian men, who tried his best to help me with his computer, but acknowledged that getting from there to Via Poliziano was a virtual impossibility, even if I could walk.  I did what any woman would have done in such a crisis.  I bought a chocolate bar.  Exhibiting the tenderness I have come to expect these young men to show to aged women, he gave me a gift, a beautifully packaged little bunch of dark chocolate candies.  No Sir Lancelot this time, but I felt more confident, heading for an obviously busy square in search of a taxi.  I was finally reduced to entering a restaurant and asking for them to call one for me.  My hero in the white cab arrived, and after money changed hands, I was duly delivered to 9 via Poliano,where he even got out of the cab and opened the door for me!  As soon as I was upstairs, I began to boil water for a huge cup of cammomile tea and simultaneously called my husband.  Pledging not to fuss over me when this trip began, he congratulated me for my presence of mind.

Tomorrow I am planning a day working on my novel while lying on my heating pad.  At some point I will have to venture out to the market for sustenance, but that can be delayed as long as possible.  Elisabetta very kindly bought me cornflakes (which I secretly loathe) but which she mistook for muesli (which she had never laid eyes on before).  If I eat a lot of yogurt and a bowl of cornflakes I will make it til one o’clock, and hopefully my body parts will be restored.

I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY JUST AS MY MIND GETS FIXED, MY BODY HAS TO GO!!!!! Kindly register my complaint with the universe.

Two items of interest:

Tomorrow on http://ggvandagriff.com/contest, the first of the Alex and Briggie trivia questions will appear, as I begin the “magical mystery tour.”  The winner will enter a drawing and after two weeks, I will choose a winner to receive a souvenir from Florence — a scarf, a bit of jewelry, etc.

Also, tomorrow on Whitneyawards. com, we will see if Pieces of Paris is chosen as a Whitney Finalist. (I have no fingernails left)

I Know I’m Late, But I Have a Good Excuse!

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff   in Uncategorized

Morgan, #1 son has been here!  I saved all the best tourist sites for our visit, so I am absolutely worn out with sight-seeing, and very sad to see him go.  He is such a great son and so much fun to do things with.

I worked until he arrived Friday afternoon and then we met at the train station (which is a feat—the Florence Santa Maria Novella train station is an absolute nightmare).  We negotiated all the fun little backstreets on the way to the Ponte Vecchio (the bridge with all the gold shops) and then dined at my favorite restaurant The Golden View.  Morgan was smitten right away with Florence which surprised me, because he is a very 21st century kind of guy. The next morning we saw the Academie where Michelangelo’s David is displayed and he loved it almost as much as I do.  We had lunch, and then for some reason, I was out for the count.  We were supposed to meet for dinner after he went to the Ufizzi (the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings anywhere) and I had a nap.  But I couldn’t wake up!  So he went back to his hotel (he insisted on staying at the Hilton by the airport!!!!) and ate in the executive lounge.  This morning we met for church then had a 2 hour Sunday lunch that was lovely.  Afterwards my favorite site—the Pitti Palace—where the Medici dramas took place.  It figures greatly in a future time-travel book, so I was investigating very carefully.

Falling in with Italian habits, we then went to a cafe for hot chocolate and talk until they closed.  Then we came back to Betta’s and talked until time for the last shuttle to his hotel.  He leaves in the morning.

I am supposed to go to Siena for the day, but that depends greatly on whether I can connect up with my tour which leaves from a corner of the train station (which is like a manic trapazoid and as far as I can tell has nothing one could call a corner.)

It was good for me to have Morgan here, because I walked a lot more and strengthened and stretched my muscles which have been giving out on me.  Hopefully I will spend lots less money on the taxis!


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