27 November 2011

elections here and there

It has been interesting watching elections, or non elections, in my two countries.

In Italy there is not a single elected politician in the actual governing body. Will there be any obvious changes in my daily life? Somehow I doubt it, but time alone will tell.

In New Zealand the well established democracy provided some interesting scenarios. New Zealand First staged the "impossible" comeback, and will be adding some sparkle to the daily grind of politics. The Green Party set a world first, by being the first Green party in the world to obtain over 10% of the vote. A former pupil came close to taking the Auckland Central seat and will be in parliament as a list member.


It has been windy, but today is glorious. I am electing what to do, today, tomorrow, and ever onwards. I am enjoying family, and once again contemplating my life. Will I become more nomadic? Should I have a base in New Zealand as well as in Italy? Or should I simply accept that my time in NZ is over, and plan as though I am an Italy-based nomad?

I value my freedom, my independence, and my quiet times. When I go to the city I am so glad to get out again. Am I a hermit, after all?

Today I am grateful for family and choices.

22 November 2011

savouring the spoils

Imagine this: liquid green-gold pooling on a white plate, fresh, slightly peppery, rich and full in flavour, beautiful in colour, tantalising to the taste buds.

Add a crusty slice of local bread, cooked in the wood-fired oven, and dipped into the new pressing of oil.

Simple perfection!

Optional extras? A slice of cheese, a glass of fine red from the enoteca, and some company.

Life is good :-)

Today I am grateful for
well educated tastebuds.

21 November 2011

absolutely amazing...

I have just read this post, The magic of the Yartsa Gumba, and a bit about Tibetan Tummo, by Tali, and had to share it!

For those of you scared off by the more spiritual and reflective writing maybe you would prefer to scroll down to her description of the amazing caterpillar plant. But I think the writing about self and journeys is also well worth reading. Perhaps it reflects where I am myself, although I am not at the exploring the world with curiosity stage.

Home is best for me, with family as close as is possible in this shrinking world. And home is my mountainside village. I just have to figure out how to pull the family closer...

Yesterday I was completely bowled over by amazing cloud formations. Photos coming when I have time to upload them.

Today I am grateful for my true friends.

olives picked

...and the grand total is 192 kilograms. Now to see how much oil that produces.

The weather for picking was amazing! Unseasonal, glorious autumn days. The hillsides were alive with happy pickers, all at the same time. The true magic and romance of picking olives in Italy; as the truth is often very far from the romantic notion it was an absolute delight this year to hear such happy busy-ness all along the valley.

One friend, in his late 70s or early 80s, told me from the top of his ladder that he is only going to do five more seasons because the job is a bit much for him on his own, his 120 trees. I have thirty, and after the first season of doing them alone I have called on helpers every year since. Food for thought in there...

Today I am grateful for a successful harvest.

15 November 2011

book review

When Cancer Hits by Britta Aragon

How does one begin a review of a book with a title that pulls no punches, the peaceful blue of the cover disrupted by the words in bold red print "WHEN CANCER HITS"? I was a little reluctant to open the book. The subtitle is kinder, "your complete guide to taking care of YOU through treatment". In smaller print I was pleased to read "Alleviate side effects* protect from common carcinogens * manage stress & worry * prioritize self-care * prevent recurrence".

When I finally dipped into the book, handling the quality paper and admiring the layout. I liked the feel of it. Almost reluctantly, as though the subject was too risky to handle, I began to read. Britta Aragon writes with a disarming honesty and charm, and I was pulled immediately in to her story. A cancer survivor, and then a carer for a family member with a different cancer story, Britta is well placed to observe and to advise.

The contents of the book don't disappoint. It is a warmly written, practical guide to coping with cancer. There are valuable snippets of advice on everything from lip balms to coping with chemotherapy changes. The writer's personality comes through, supporting the patient sympathetically with her well researched and good humoured advice. it is clear that she is speaking both from experience and from the heart.

Alongside tips for patient comfort are many words of caution about the products we use today. The author supports her claims with research which is in itself interesting for the cancer-free reader who is seeking to make life-style changes.

I have read the book right through, but still like to dip into it. There is so much information there than I can't remember it all. It is a book I will refer to again and again, simply to choose healthier options for myself. It is most certainly a book I would gift to anyone who had cancer.

But the title? For me, it is too hard-hitting. But then, I guess, so is cancer.

another blog for you to read

Tonight instead of writing much I read another blog I like to follow.

Artist Tali Landsman is also a traveller who makes wonderful comments about life as she observes it. In her "About me" on her website she writes:

I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and part time in Kohukohu - a small beach town on the North Island of New Zealand.

I am addicted to traveling, and I use my travels to expand my horizons and to teach me about myself and about the world we live in.
I often translate my impressions and travel experience into art.

In today's post she is in awe of the splendours of New York's Central Park in it's autumn clothes. The photographs are stunning.


Me? Well, today I managed to visit a friend in a huge hospital near Rome. I am very glad that I did. He is looking much better than I expected, and hopes to be home in a couple of weeks. I have promised to be at the celebratory festa. He has always been a kind and gentle support person in the background of my Italian life, and his illness reminds me how we should express our feelings more often and let the people we care about know that they are special in our lives.

Today I am grateful for skilful surgeons and good hospitals.

11 November 2011


A pomegranate for breakfast today.
They are a bit dry this year, but still beautiful. Pomegranates have lovely stories attached to them. Did Eve really eat a pomegranate? Quite likely, I would say! Here in Italy (and other countries) it is believed to have powers for fertility.

My favourite story is that of Persephone and the seasons. there are much nicer versions than this one but for now I can't look for them, Wikipedia will have to do.

OK, it's back to the picking, there are more trees to do. It is a light crop this year, some trees wonderfully laden and others bare.

Today I am grateful for the magic of Greek legends.

10 November 2011

excuse me if there are fewer posts

But it's olive picking time!

Today I am grateful for warm temperatures and clear skies.

9 November 2011

food for thought

Today's lesson was about what and when to eat; in particular, which foods should/should not be eaten together. I'm absolutely fine with the five meals a day thing, that is normal for me. I suspect that my portion sizes are a little generous though. However, key points were on what should and shouldn't be eaten together, and that GMO products should be avoided at all cost. That rules out anything with corn in it here in Europe.

Tuna, a ground eater, is also risky it would seem. Certainly that wont be hard to give up as lately the quality of canned tuna available here has gone to mush, as has the tuna in the cans.

Bananas, part of my staple diet, are also suspect and apparently don't suit all people. I have run out of them so will consider not eating them for a week and see what the difference is.

I have already reduced the amount of dairy food I eat, as I feel better without it.

Listening to my body tonight included lots of gurgling as I enjoyed a wonderful couscous turkey and vegetable dish. I am not sure it is that kind of listening I am supposed to be doing!

Today I am grateful for good quality food.

8 November 2011

on breathing

Often we forget to breathe well. I am as guilty as any one of you might be. But breathing is an essential exercise, not merely the thing that keeps us ticking along. I am learning about how much we can do to improve our wellbeing.

This is the (umpteenth) start of a new, healthy me!

I do a daily challenge which is proving quite useful, for example it might be as simple as "roll your shoulders backwards and forwards five times" or "put away three things".

I am getting back into action (ie, walking better and further) after foot and knee injuries.

I am learning about breathing and nutrition.

I pulled out a photo of my Dad taken in January 2007 when he had just won 6 gold medals and set a heap of records in the Oceania Games. I remembered how my mother got fitter as she got older, not slower. I see a milestone birthday on the horizon.

Time to get moving, I think!

Today I am grateful for fascinating comversation with kindred spirits.

7 November 2011

a colour on a map

Tonight my evening meal was cooked by my young Polish guests. It was an Hungarian dish using eggs, peppers, onion and I'm not quite sure what else. It was both flavoursome and delicate, wholesome and light. But when it comes to flavour... the Polish ham that they shared with me at lunch time was a real delicacy! What a treat! (Apologies to the vegetarians out there, but... YUM!)

I am enjoying learning a lot about Poland; it is a country I know very little about other than how much it was devastated and then divided by WWII. Many, many Polish visitors come to Cassino, and one thousand of them lie forever on the slopes of Monte Cassino. But a love of peace, sharing and learning is what is motivating the two who arrived here this morning.

No painting today, but lots of talking, planning and thinking. Often the most telling words slip out almost unnoticed. When we were talking about the post-war changes to the Polish borders (when families were divided by a line that didn't exist before the war) the young man, pointing out former boundaries, said "a 'country' is just a colour on a map". I guess, if you live with family split by an artificial divide, that is so true.

Today I am grateful for gentle visitors.

6 November 2011

outdoor painting again

Today, contrary to expectations, it was fine, warm, and eventually sunny. The photo shows folks in jackets down in the shade, but up in our sunny heights we were soon peeling off layers of clothing.

I didn't paint as well as I would have liked, but it was quite a social time which was nice. I am really lucky to be included in this group. I am the grandma of them all I think, there must be a good 10 - 15 or more years down to the next in age. We are an interesting mix of nationalities, although most are Italian graduates from the art academy in Frosinone.
(This photo by Carla, posted on FB).
Some bright and bubbly characters make it a cheerful group. The conversations do test my Italian, but today the two "single by choice" managed to communicate with lots of laughter and discussion about the relative virtues of men and chocolate before the painting began :-) The project we are involved in is aimed at taking live art into the smaller towns in the region.

The effect this frequent outdoor painting is having on my style is that I am becoming much looser with my brushstrokes and quite strongly impressionist. I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I will certainly leave things at a point that is less perfect than I used to prefer, but my main critic, my picture framer, sends me home to correct them! As I value his eye I do as I am told, but then not every painting makes it as far as his eye...

Above is today's beginning. I think I will enjoy finishing it.

Today I am grateful for my camera safely returned to absent-minded me.

5 November 2011

not finished yet

It's not finished yet, but at least I can see some progress - and anyone who doesn't think there should be a butterfly there doesn't know the subject of the painting :-) I'll probably add two more.

It's a quarter past midnight and the wind has come up. I think that the bad weather "they" promised us "è in arrivo" - I hope that the extra plastic verandah over the dog kennels stays in place, I didn't attach it terribly well.

Today I am grateful for an obliging picture framer.


Resolved to get fit a few days ago, so I set out walking today and managed a good walk before the rain came.

Bonus? Put my hand in my famous (infamous) rain jacket pocket and pulled out two paint brushes I had forgotten were there. I'd worn the jacket at an unexpectedly cold outdoor painting event. Almost as good as buying new brushes... score!

Best part of that? Not everybody has paint brushes in their rain jackets, and I like that fact!

The jacket has become my symbol of independence. I bought it in a Kathmandu sale shortly before I left NZ, specifically for over a winter jersey when riding my bicycle here in Italy. It's loose, comfortable, and rolls into a small space when travelling. It's Gore-Tex, Paclite, and it's RED!

A tactless suitor (no, not an Italian) told me to "lose the jacket" because he didn't like it. I kept the jacket, not the suitor :-) Apparently it is the type of jacket that middle aged English women wear when they go walking. All power to the sensible ladies, I say!

Spot the Kiwi... the day the paint brushes went into the pocket :-)

Today I am grateful for energy.

4 November 2011

from way back...

It's time I finished this one. I no longer have the photographs of the flowers that I was working from, and I can't remember what some of my lines were for. It will be interesting for me, if not for you, trying to figure out exactly what I am painting in the tangle of flowers and stalks. The figure, at least, is finished. I'll work a little on this between other serious painting efforts. It certainly brightens up my stairwell, and now is bringing spring into my autumn studio. (Mmmmm... I should really be painting autumn I guess!)

Today I am grateful for my big tubs of paint.

no real post today

Sorry, no real post today. I have some deadlines to meet. It's been a bit of a domestic day.

Washed the dishes.
Did some washing.
Touched up a painting.
Walked the dogs.
Paid some bills.

And now I have to do some work.

That's life!

Today I am grateful for exercise in beautiful temperatures.

3 November 2011

woohoo I was dancing :-)

(and better still, so was the 80 year old who can barely walk unaided while she decides about an operation).

Today was the 80th birthday of a good friend's mother. I wasn't sure I would make it to the festa, but in the end I decided that people are more important than other things, so abandoned all thought of work and set out for Cassino and beyond. I arrived in time to eat some great food at the long table under the loquat tree, and of course the cake! It's huge, I said to my friend. It was only 12 eggs, she replied. That reminded me that the Christmas cake another family makes has 40 eggs in it. It's a different world, it really is.

The music was playing, the aunts and uncles were all there... and I danced a very fast waltz on the cobblestones with one of the uncles.

The sun was shining, all that was missing was another generation running about underfoot.

It's nice to know that some traditions are still very much alive.

But this post is supposed to be about butter. You see, there are things that Italy does absolutely brilliantly, and then there are... well, life must have balance, mustn't it?

And so recently my wonderful travelling friends bought me some butter in Holland. Vegemite and olive all are a bit tricky together, and Italian butter... least said, soonest mended. Suddenly I had three butters to choose from. But which one is best of the three? I have promised to report in.

The three are (if I am reading the packets correctly) Botergoud, Gezouten and Lurpak.
(Later: I wasn'treading them correctly. The second one is Albert Heijn, and all are gezouten, salted).
The first one I tried was Botergoud. The taste sensation was wonderful. Then I tried the others. I didn't quite get the same effect from either of them. But, remembering Proust, I decided that I needed to be a little more scientific than this. It was surely just that this was the first butter that tasted like NZ butter that I had savoured in eight months.

The next day I tried another one first, Albert Heijn. It was good, almost as good as the first one, but maybe lacked that wonderful creamy after-taste that the first one surprised me with.

In between my taste testing I found myself reaching for the incredibly easy-to-spread Botergoud. That was purely a convenience thing when the bread was soft and squishy.

Now, several testing days later, I think that it is almost a tie. If I had to rank them it I would have to eat more, to be sure, and at the moment I am trying to limit the amount that I savour each day. Tiny little testing cubes of toast or bread. Butter. And now some Vegemite.


Today I am grateful for Marcel Proust's writings, and butter.

you know you live in italy when...

You know you live in italy when you go to visit a friend in hospital and the only park you can find is near some roman ruins. This is the town side view of the amphitheatre at the foot of Monte Cassino.
This one has a protective fence around it, but only because you have to pay to go in and see it properly!

How old the culture of this country is, even if politically it is about the same age as New Zealand.

Today I am grateful for the patient's happy smile.

2 November 2011

150cm wide, 50cm high and a comment

I posted this painting on Facebook last night. I value comments from artists and people who know this place, and also people who might just happen to like the painting although with a subject this particular I think it possibly has little relevance to many people. Occasionally I seek specific critiques from artists whose opinions I respect in case I have a blind spot in my own vision, or when I am stuck with something and don't want to face that I have to re paint a part, so I seek that external push.

This comment on FB, from someone who used to live here but now lives in Rome, makes all the angst and attention to detail worth while :-)
Bello bellissimo, come vorrei che tutti vedessero questi luoghi con gli occhi pieni della magia con cui tu li dipingi! Grazie Kay

Now for a few days sorting domestic things, (like picking olives and eating pizza) then it's back to the easel again!

Have a happy day, I am going to! (PS, I did a ten minute watercolour sketch this morning, a quick birthday card for an 80 year old ... oooooh how I love watercolours! Can't wait to be back in that peaceful zone again!)

Today I am grateful for positive comments.

harsh treatment

Gone are most of my stylised trees. I'll be back later, hoping to finish it completely tonight. Not easy, being this drastic, and I liked the playful version with the trees about to roll off the canvas. But this is a serious work... and I need to make the rest of the trees realistic too!

Big big sigh...


I am excited about where natural instinct is taking my painting when I let it! I can feel some fun works coming :-)

Today I am grateful for resolve.

1 November 2011


I've been a bit slack with exercise lately. I'm not too bad at running up and down the stairs, but along the road? The dogs would tell you that I am slipping up badly.

I phoned my dad tonight. No reply. No worries, I thought, he'll be out running. I tried later. Yes, the chirpy 91 year old replied, I've been run-walking for two hours and ten minutes. You see, he has got some records to set. Some young things have been coming up the ranks and breaking some of his earlier ones.

We talked about his progress. No, he's not running nearly as well as he would like to. He has slowed down. His physio gave him some advice, but not trusting it entirely he tested it out. He has good reason. At 50 he was told to give up running, it was not good for him. At 63 he ran his first marathon, and at 71 his first track event. His medal haul is a heavy stash. It includes world event golds and silvers. But in this instance the physiotherapist was right. He needs longer breaks between his training runs. So he runs longer distances, but only every second day.

The doctor (when he was 50) was wrong, he chuckles, reflecting on his disobedience. You've got to take a chance or two sometimes... nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Be careful, I'll quote you on that, I reply. He chuckles again. Life is good. Then he says, perhaps after he sets those new records he'll retire. Neither of us believe him. And a few sentences later he admits that he has no intention of stopping. He will just keep on running.

But for now, his eyes are on records. Good ones. Ones that will stay in the record books for a while.

He is listed in World Famous Athletes. I'd say it's well deserved. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

I hope you've bought yourself new shoes, I say, making a resolve to at least put mine on again tomorrow. I remember saying (often) that I still have plenty of time. I don't need to run my first marathon until I am 63.

I guess I'll have to at least run as far as the first lamp post tomorrow. Those years are flying by far too fast.

Today I am grateful for my inspirational father.

saints, souls, and sinners

Today is All Saints Day, and tomorrow All Souls Day. I'm not too sure what I think about All Souls Day, it is outside my own education. But this morning I read about Steve Job's last words as he moved through into another world, saying "Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow" which gives food for thought even for sceptics. Then later in the day I was reluctant to leave the station at Cassino after saying goodbye to young friends. Something made me linger. Was it a roaming soul, seeing two Kiwis racing to their train with a minute to spare, that had suggested I turn back to the station?

I asked if they wanted the train to Rome, then ran on ahead to ask the guard to wait while they got their bags down the underpass and up the other side. They'd possibly have coped without me, but I think that by the time they had worked out which was their platform they would have made it up the steps just in time to see the train disappearing into the distance. (I didn't notice that one was wearing a Crusaders shirt until they were safely on the train, and we then managed a short conversation and got their tickets stamped before they were on their way).

One of the young couple I farewelled is, as far as I am concerned, my niece. But in Italy, technically, and probably also in NZ, as my Italian friends pointed out, she is nothing to do with me, there is no blood connection. If she is "nothing to do with me" as was so bluntly suggested, why did I have tears of excited anticipation as her train arrived, why was the hug between us so warm and why was I so sad to say good-bye, blinking back the tears again? Kith and kin, kin and kith. I don't think it is important to know the difference, because yesterday and today there was none.

But I digress. So, thinking again of saints and souls, I wondered why the word "sinners" fell out onto my keyboard and into the title of this post.

One of the first things my young Catholic husband taught me, forty years ago, was that Limbo was a place, and I could hope to go there but not to Heaven. Limbo, it seemed, was reserved for good Protestants and bad Catholics, those who could not reach Heaven. I dismissed the idea back then and haven't given it much thought since, until today. I still prefer to think of limbo as a dance, that incredible test of balance and flexibility, rather than a world of mis-placed souls. Even this, though, is related to death and the life cycle. Perhaps it is appropriate to research it today after all. And tomorrow, as I see on the bill-boards in town, even local government will be praying for the souls of the departed.

I think it's time the dogs walked me. One of us needs to get some exercise and fresh air.

Today I am grateful for good weather.

good morning world

It's a busy time. Soon my volunteers will be picking the olives, but there are a few things to do first. One of them is book in with a press somewhere. I think closest is best this time.

Last night was a very quiet night in Atina; I suspect that the festivities closer to home might have been more fun. Never mind, it's good to get out and about too. I was, of course, resplendent in witches hat, lace gloves, and black and red garb. I resisted the temptation to black out a tooth. And no, you DON'T need a photo.

Here is what Burnt by the Tuscan Sun has to say about Halloween (she's fast becoming a favourite blog in my cyber life).

It's 1 November, All Saints Day, a public holiday. The church bells have just been ringing out across the valley. It's time to head downstairs. Today it's off to Cassino with my visitors, and then back to the grindstone tomorrow.

Today I am grateful for young folk asleep downstairs.