Sketching Tour in the Botanical Garden & Olfactory Journey at Aquaflor

Sketching Tour in the Botanical Garden & Olfactory Journey at Aquaflor


I am happy to announce that Kelly Medford of Sketching Tours Rome and I will be hosting a Sunday morning sketching tour of the “Giardino dei Semplici” Botanical Garden of Florence established in 1545 by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici. We think that drawing inspiration from an historic garden still used for scientific research today is a perfect way to end November during the last days of autumn weather before the cold winter season sets in.

After our sketching morning we will have a light lunch break at the recently opened family friendly Anderson Cafè that uses fresh herbs from a garden in potted plants on its counter.

We’ll conclude the entire experience with a special visit and olfactory journey at Aquaflor perfumery across the street.

Date: November 29th, 2015
Time: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Where: Orto Botanico “Giardino dei Semplici” Via Pier Antonio Micheli, 3 Florence (behind Piazza San Marco)
Price: 95 Euro per person including the sketching tour and materials + perfumery experience. (Special discount for families of two or more starting at 170 euro)
Who?: Anyone! No sketching experience necessary and open to all ages, individuals and families.

For more details, payment and to see how it works visit this link.


One of Leonardo da Vinci’s botanical sketches.



Nourishing the senses and the wonder of scent in John William Waterhouse’s Pre-Raphaelite style paintings (1849-1917).




Of Venice and Color

Of Venice and Color

Two stories within the (Instagram) frame thinking back to a recent two day visit to Venice.

Here are some unmistakable vibrant but muted colors to start the week along with Ruskin’s thoughts here:

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”

John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice

Explorers and Warriors at the Fortezza Santa Barbara

Explorers and Warriors at the Fortezza Santa Barbara

I would probably never have known about Pistoia’s renowned public preschools if I didn’t have a daughter who attended them. Over these past five years of her education I’ve been able to meet some of the delegations and educators from schools around the world who come to Pistoia to learn about its schools and educational approaches. Talking to them has always been interesting for me to hear about the differences between public preschool education where they live and here in Italy. The Italian International School, La Scuola, in San Francisco, California, my home state, is one example of a prestigious American school who from the beginning drew much of its inspiration from Pistoia and Reggio Emilia public schools as Italian role models. It is a private school, however, and I remember how one educator from a California delegation in Sausalito once told me that there they have to fight for quality public preschools. There is a recent article here (in Italian) by the Il Tirreno newspaper about educators from the US, Spain and Denmark visiting Pistoia last spring, and an interesting academic article here (in English) about a Pistoia preschool visit published by the University of Nebraska.

With my five year old daughter in her last year of Scuola Materna this is her fifth year of attending preschools here, with one year prior to that where I was able to take her to the city sponsored parent-child play space, the “Spazio Piccolissimi,” for children from birth to one year old three times a week and for three hours each time. For me this experience was a saving grace for that first year as a new mother, and will be the focus of separate post because it was much more than a parent-child play space and an example of how a city government can support new parenthood with its resources.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Italian Early Childhood/Pre-Elementary education system, the actual preschools in Italy mean two years of Asilo Nido (the nest) which is typically from 6 months old, and in some cases from one year as was the case with my daughter’s school. All of the students stay with the same teachers and classmates for the two years of the Nido while they then continue on with three more years at the Scuola Materna where they have a new set of teachers and new classmates with whom they create strong bonds before being ready to begin the Scuola Elementare, elementary school and entrance right into First Grade.

A current project that my daughter’s class from the Scuola Materna “Il Castello” (The Castle) is working on is about the medieval fortress as well as castles as its main themes. They are setting out on their yellow school bus and heading out weekly on field trips to different art spaces and areas around Pistoia to become little “explorers” and “warriors” (the esploratori and guerrieri).



Keri Smith, Rule #2 in How To Be An Explorer of The World



Keri Smith’s late night insomia scribbling before writing her book, “How To Be An Explorer Of The World.”



It was a special occasion for me as a mother of one of these child explorers to be able to come along and take photos for the morning and document the beginning of their adventure on their first field trip for the project. Another one of the class parents, art historian Martina Meloni, who works in the Pre-School Education department of Pistoia, developed the itinerary and led the excursion that day with the help of the class teachers. For me, being a guide who often works with children and families who are travelling – and who I typically only see for a few hours – this experience observing my daughter’s class project out on the fortress fascinated me as I listened to the children’s reactions and responses to various questions Martina or their teachers asked them. I was able to see up close what particular details about this immense medieval fortress captured their imaginations.

As soon as we arrived the children were given the heavy fortress key by the gate keeper to pass it around and hold it. He treated them to a surprise climb through a secret little door before we left after they had done a series of educational activities including a walking game of measurements, learning about the old horse stables and prison spaces, as well as an historical lesson in the fortress’s old chapel.

What is stunning about Pistoia’s Fortezza Santa Barbara is the spectacular mountain view just beyond the city. You could see the snow covered mountains waiting for the skiers and snow explorers on that recent chilly but sunny February day.

As the next months proceed the class will continue with their fortress project. At the end of the school year the class will host an exhibition displaying the student’s artwork as well as their observations and thoughts about fortress and castle life at one time.

For more of the historical background of the Fortezza Santa Barbara by Martina Meloni, as well as some beautiful photos of the grounds, see this article in Naturart.




This is number 12 on the list above by Keri Smith and certainly one rule to live by for all of us!



Coffee and Flowers

Coffee and Flowers


IN THE MOOD for coffee and flowers for this late February weekend.


“Live on coffee and flowers. Try not to worry what the weather will be.”

-Matt Berninger


The above is a lyric from Conversation 16 by The National that I was listening to this morning while having tea for breakfast, but while thinking about coffee. The coffee did eventually come later through the old Bialetti Moka that is so withered by time by now that it has lost its shine as any good espresso maker does with age. The results are still always the same: steaming hot, black coffee in a demitasse cup. Classic Italian caffè. This coffee in the photo was in the coffee shop, La Casetta, that I wandered into while on a walk with a friend recently during a trip to Rome. We took a sudden detour and walked inside inspired by a curiously placed rose that I wrote about here.

The flowers in the photo are in our neighborhood in Pistoia. I noticed them during a walk with my daughter after I picked her up from preschool one afternoon last week on our way to a friend’s house. Sitting calmly next to the flowers and leaves was a fluffy tabby cat with a wounded leg who was busy scouting out the street scene as we passed by and pretending to be half asleep as only cats know how.

Thinking of flowers, coffee and walks outdoors, here is a song to end the week and begin the weekend by Lenny Kravitz about his daughter, Zoe. I listened to it often when expecting my own Zoe, now just over five years ago.



Flowers for Zoe
Love for Zoe
Angels and rainbows
All kinds of things you can call your own

Gardens for Zoe
And oceans for Zoe
Jungle gym playgrounds
All kinds of things for you to explore

-Lenny Kravitz