29 December 2012

in the aftermath

Christmas fruit cake just like my mother used to make - so good!

The post-Christmas eating to excess continues. I can't blame anyone but myself, there is noone holding me down and forcing me to eat chocolate or Christmas cake. I am the author of my own demise.

New Year usually brings a healthier start for me, but why oh why can't I make it easy on myself and not over-eat in the first place?


But it all tastes so good...

A few more trips up and down the stairs must surely burn off a little?

Today I am grateful for figs, nuts and rich fruit cake. 

post gift giving

Now I can reveal two little paintings that have safely made their way to Scotland and will be framed as soon as I can arrange it. Assembling images for the NZ one was easy, but the Scottish one had me scratching my head. In it you should be able to find the flag, Ben Nevis, a castle, a loch, two salmon, some heather and a thistle, two little Scottish dogs and some bagpipes. What the little dog is doing with the bagpipes is for you to imagine... 

Oh, and of course, there are two elusive creatures occasionally spotted in Bonny Scotland, Nessie... and a pale sun! 

Perhaps more obvious to most of my readers are the Kiwi buzzy bee, a Mary-Lou doll, two "real" kiwis, the TVNZ kiwi and his cat, (the kiwi with fishing rod and gumboots), a tiki on a skateboard and jandals on the beach. Some ferns complete the icons, and the blue sky and sunshine goes without saying... :-) 

Artistically the biggest challenge was uniting the two works. Both have circular (in fact, oval) compositions, but the spaces are used differently. The colours were disparate so the Goodnight Kiwi's jacket moved more toward Scottish colours and the bagpipes, Nessie, one little dog and incidental colour in the foreground picked up the reds and yellows of the NZ composition. 

Today I am grateful for gifts received and those given on my behalf. 

23 December 2012

saint nic

Prayers and requests to St Nicholas in the church at Bari, in Puglia, Italy. To read more about St Nick follow the links on this earlier blog post

presepe and a Christmas carol

Each year dedicated people produce a different, and increasingly complex, nativity scene. The baby Jesus does not appear in the scene until midnight on Christmas Eve, and as that date approaches the three wise men are moved closer and closer to the waiting stable. 

For the last few years the lighting has become more complicated, and the viewer watches while the scene is bathed in moonlight, through to daylight. Moving parts include a mill and smoke comes from a chimney with a little help from the operator who tops up the hidden source. 

The website can be visited here, website of il Grande Presepe di Roccasecca. Click on previous editions to see other versions of the nativity scene. Many Italian nativity scenes place the manger in the stable within a cave setting rather than a building. 

An Italian Christmas carol talks of the baby Jesus lying in a stable in a cave. Here is (on youtube) "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle". The word "grotta" is cave, but here is translated as manger. 
Tu scendi dalle stelle,
O Re del Cielo,
e vieni in una grotta,
al freddo al gelo.
O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ahi, quanto ti costò
l'avermi amato!
A te, che sei del mondo
il Creatore,
mancano panni e fuoco;
O mio Signore!
Caro eletto Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà
più mi innamora!
Giacché ti fece amor
povero ancora!

Today I am grateful for creative people. 

22 December 2012

little gifts for little folk

Teddy is not quite finished, more shadow needed to make it more 3-D, and spiderman was still to have his spider added and a little shading done.

The spiderman picture was photographed in deceptive light so the paper looks more yellow than it really is.

Today I am grateful for a strong waterproof jacket.

15 December 2012


A chance conversation brought these two little sketches into being. They are really just purposeful diversions to keep my brush occupied while I am waiting for the paintings to dry. The one on the right is still wet so will dry a little paler. I am very happy with the random happenings on the left hand side door.

This evening I am grateful for tissues. 

simple is best

A Christmas theme with the simplest of ingredients.

Rosemary for remembrance, and the tomatoes and white bowl join it to make the colours of Christmas. 

I like the idea of a Christmas tree of rosemary. This was simply inside to go on the roasted vegetables, and unexpectedly formed a Christmas theme when I added the tomatoes to the bowl. Now I am looking at my very healthy rosamarina at the kitchen doorstep with new eyes and intent... 

Today I am grateful for family.

one better

There is one thing better than hearing a wonderful performance by a talented singer. That is hearing that same singer "jamming" with friends for the pure joy of making music together.

I'd post photos but it feels wrong to do so. It was a magical night, and the memory is far better than a photo can record.

Last night a friend expressed surprise that I hadn't taken photos of the singer as he thrilled the small but enthusiastic winter audience. I did take photos after the main performance, only of the informal session and I don't think I should be sharing these without permission. At the moment I was asked about the (lack of) photos I thought, but didn't say, that I wanted to treasure the memory, and not "reduce it to a mere photo".

Are photographs reductionist in some way? Is the editing process too severe when sound and emotion are part of the subject? Photographs can be evocative, but last night no photograph would have captured the joy, the pleasure and the appreciation that resonated in that ancient space.

Today I am on my own creative roll, with four small paintings on target to be completed in time for Christmas. That will make six done since I sent my other works to NZ.

I miss my paintings when they leave home, but something in the gap that they leave releases another energy, and more paintings/writings come to fill the void.

Now let's see if I too can go one step better, and paint with joy and delight :-)

Today I am grateful for happy memories.

12 December 2012

blessed, I am

What's better than hearing a tenor singing in your tree top?

Hearing him singing while he cooks your dinner, of course.


This morning I woke early, at exactly the time my exhibition preview was being held in New Zealand. How can you get opening night nerves in your sleep?


I am really happy with some creative progress today. Now I am impatient to bring into painted image and crafted text the ideas I have jotted on paper.

Today I am grateful for art and music. 

10 December 2012

a thousand words

or maybe not!

An early morning trip to the railway station had me driving back home at 7.30am. The colours of the sunrise were surreal. If I had painted them it would have looked tacky, horrible, cheap and nasty. BUT.....

Picture this:

The cold crisp air produced a translucence that was almost sickly, a lemon yellow with a mere hint of cerulean blue, made bearable only by the flush of a warmer Indian yellow tinged with rose madder descending to, but not quite touching, the horizon line.

Above, the clouds were suffused with colour, a strong magenta, with the finest strip of grey where the sun could not permeate and colour the regular puffs of moisture.

Below, jagged, foreboding, strong and steely, the mountain stood totally unrelenting, cold in hue, dark in tone, untouchable, forbidding.

The line of cold, clear light that formed a delicate and transient boundary between earth and sky reminded those below that it was a bitterly cold atmosphere; ice and frost would be slow to thaw.

Bundled up in three layers of wool and rabbit fur gloves I was snug and smug... yes, the car heater was on, set to 22 degrees.

Today I am grateful for gloves and colour. 

8 December 2012

winter in the valley

Today I am grateful for heating. 

7 December 2012

our big day

by Zacchi.

Well, today was a big big day. It's been a bit boring around here lately; since the olives were picked Mum doesn't come out to play much. And when she lets us in she just stays at the computer, and gets grumpy if I do anything to get her attention (you, know, raising my leg and waving at her, that sort of stuff) and she has cut Piccolina's rations and makes us eat separately now. It's all a bit much, really.

Well, after she got home last night she must have felt a bit guilty, having company and all, talking and laughing with her visitors and not even letting us come and sniff their legs. So this morning, miracle of miracles, she let us in.

WOW we thought, that sounds like walking footsteps, AND she has her jacket on, so we ran up the stairs barking like crazy things. We were so excited.

Big mistake. That's when the trouble started. She told us to be good, and my oh my did she mean it. She said we had forgotten our manners completely. And she went and got a bottle of water. Uh oh, in this cold weather?

I managed to stay quiet, well, mostly, and only got a few drops of water in my direction when I barked. That shut me up pretty fast I can tell you. When Mum says to stay quiet she really means it. But silly Pickle, she just barked even louder. You should have seen Mum run up the stairs. And Pickle got a shower. Well, part of a shower, because she moved even faster than Mum and the water went more on the floor, not so much on Pickle. But even Pickle understood, and we were like little angels while she put our leads on, and there was no more water even when Pickle scratched the door. Again. It looks more like kindling than paint, to be honest, but Mum doesn't seem to notice that.

So, out we went.

Well. Talk about unpredictable women! Instead of taking us the usual route she took us down the hill. I remember her doing this before, and it was all a bit too scary. I wasn't so keen, but then she started to run, and you know how I love to run. So off we went. It was pretty cool, and we got past the big dogs in the olive grove really fast. Then we got to some little yappy dogs (don't you just hate little yappy dogs?) and Mum made us go fast again, but they didn't cross the road. Pickle tried to go and play with them but Mum said NO. I just looked straight ahead, and trotted along perfectly. I know not to mess with that tone of voice. (Just between you and me, I didn't really want to play with them... there used to be a BIG dog there too, and you can't trust them not to hide and pounce out from somewhere!)

Mum started to get a bit tired after her running, so she slowed down a bit. She even thought about turning back. But I just reminded her that our friend Helen is about to run her 101st marathon, so Mum should just stop being a whimp and deal! So on we went. A moment later I regretted that, cos a huge dog came running out. But luckily it didn't come over either. Pickle wanted to go and play with it too, she's shameless, the little hussy. But Mum pulled and pulled the leash and we got past safely. (Did I tell you how much I love my Mum sometimes?)

Well, from there it was pretty uneventful. We talked to the postman, and we jumped a few puddles. Mamma mia, you should have seen the ice in those puddles. It was like broken sheets of glass where the postman had driven through. Then, a huge surprise for us, Mum took us to visit our best friend, Jackerd. He was almost as surprised as we were, but he still had treats for us.

We had a playdate with Panda and Lulu for about half an hour, and then Mum said we had better head home while her legs would still move. I see what she means. Now that she has cooled down she is not so keen on running everywhere. But back to the story. We were almost at the top of the hill again when Piccolina slowed down, she reckoned it had been a loooong walk. I could see Mum starting to agree with her, so I did my best encouraging behaviour and trotted like a champion. Then near the top of the rise I was a superstar, really keeping close to Mum's ankles and protecting her from the big big dog that looks a bit like a beagle or some other scary hound.

And soon we were home again. Now it is cold, and almost dark and it is not even 5pm. Mum looked at the weather forecast and said we don't know how lucky we are. She said if she had known how cold it was outside today we would not have set out for our walk, and now that she has seen what's coming we can forget about walking again for at least five days.

But I don't believe her. I think when she gets another email from Helen she will put on her hat and gloves and scarf and coat and take us walking again. But next time, I predict, it will be the other direction to the rubbish bin and back again... and we all know that that's not even a hop step and jump, it's certainly not training to keep up with Helen!

Mum says that today she is grateful for two little dogs who are wonderfully well behaved and really little superstars and she doesn't know what she would do without them and she loves them so much and she is going to give them lots of treats every hour... oh, you stopped believing me after "two little dogs"? Ok then... woof woof... wag wag... (just keep that water away from me, will you?)

5 December 2012

letting go...

For all the best reasons in the world I can't be at my next solo exhibition. It takes place without me.

My works will be delivered to the gallery, beautifully framed, while I am sleeping tonight. I have not seen one of these new works in a matt, let alone in a lovely frame. I hope they look as good in the real as they do in my mind. I can't see them. At least not until long after the exhibition is over, and hopefully some will sell and those I wont be able to see in their final presented form.

I am feeling rather frayed around the edges, letting go is hard.

I am a control freak when it comes to my exhibitions. I like to know how the works are framed, and I like to curate the show myself. Plans on paper mean nothing, only that the work will fit in the gallery. Once the work is in place the paintings begin to react, one with another, in unpredictable ways.

This time I am not there to read this interaction, to change, to change again. My babies have been sent out into the world without me holding their hands.

I have complete faith in the people doing all of this for me.


it is soooo hard letting go!

Today I am grateful for wonderful people on the other side of the world.

3 December 2012

the up side

"Of course you can't exhibit over Christmas then, tanti auguri, and you'll be gone for 3 months at least?"

This morning I turned down the offer of a Christmas exhibition in the main local venue. I explained why. Beaming smiles and handshakes came my way instead of pressure to exhibit.

When new grandchildren are involved, the expectation is not that you will hurry home but that of course you will be needed to help for at least three months.

(Dear sons-in-law...the good news is...)

Today I am grateful for helpful people. 

1 December 2012

Pickle says d i e t is a four-letter word

Pickle and I could both do with more exercise and less food. I am trying, a little harder than Pickle, to do something about this. Zacchi is adding to my exercise regime, being the loyal and faithful dog that he is.

The background:

Zacchi, bless him, has always been a pathetic eater. Light of frame, nervous, never hungry... it was always an effort to get him to eat at all to put any flesh on the bones under the wirey hair. And dog food, always available, held little appeal. Food from my kitchen, or Franca's left over pasta, well, that was a different story. But otherwise he would pick little, but often.

Pickle loves food. Any food. Any where. Any which way. But she doesn't (yet) steal from the coffee table unless I have really left something close to the edge and it is just way too much of a good thing right by her nose. She knows that No means NOOOO!

The situation today:

After Pickle's illness she has become terribly spoilt, and less active. Much much less active. And so she grows... and grows. And of course the more she eats, the harder it is to run up hills. I can relate to that. RUN up hills? You've got to be kidding.

So Pickle and I are watching what we eat. And Pickle watches what I eat. And what Zacchi eats. And the poor thing wonders why her tummy isn't quite as full as it used to be.

I have had to separate them at meal time; in fact, before there was no proper meal time. Pickle would eat everything I put out for both of them, and then look for more. And because Zacchi had missed out, I always put out more. Now I give Zacchi his meal apart, so it is not consumed in a few crunches.

The problem is that Zacchi eats such dainty portions, then wants to come back in, or go out, as the case may be. Then, five minutes later, he wants the door opened again. And again. In the meantime I am up and down like a yoyo, opening, closing, grabbing food from Pickle when she sneaks out to get Zacchi's...

Dear rotund Pickle, at least one of us is getting exercise even though there is cold wet miserable weather outside. Now about you going outside again... Pickle... no Pickle... you are not a cat, you are supposed to LIKE being outside barking at pigeons or chasing cats. Pickle, if I put some food outside will you go out... ?


when facebook friends leave us

Despite using it every day, I remain terribly ambivalent about Facebook. I don't like the way it takes me into other people's lives, where I may not have chosen to go. It has linked me with people I will never meet. Just occasionally something happens that reminds me how strangely remote yet touching these Facebook friendships can be.

I have made several "friends" through art on FB and feel that I know some of them quite well. Others I really don't know other than through the images of their paintings. This week one of my FB friends died, in hospital, surrounded by her family.

We have been FB friends since 2010 I think. I really didn't know her, although she appears to have been a gentle and kind person. I simply don't check many individual pages, but simply respond to what happens to be passing on my news feed when I am at the computer. I don't know if she ever checked my page. It feels wrong, somehow, to even consider going to her page now, looking back to see what notices I might have missed over the last two years.

We may have met in the Waikato a few years ago, I was never quite sure. I think that we probably did, her name and her photograph were very familiar. But as FB friends, which we became at her request, we had never exchanged personal messages, nor had we commented on one another's posts. However, we were both Waikato artists, and we were not so different in age.

This evening FB tells me that it is her birthday this week.  I didn't know that. She would have been 66 in a few days. Well over two hundred people, her Facebook friends, will be getting this same birthday reminder. It wouldn't surprise me if many of them don't know that her funeral was held in Te Kowhai this morning. If, as I sometimes do, they sleepily write their greeting as FB prompts them to, without going to her page, they still wont know.

We talk about everyone being connected, everyone in the world being no more than 6 links away from everyone else (six degrees of separation). But instead of reducing those degrees of separation, increasing connections, does FB sometimes disconnect? Do we write less instead of more, chat instead of talk? And do we rely on FB to tell us when our friends have left us?

And, when their pages continue, a place for memories and condolences, how can we bring ourselves to "un-friend" the friend that we didn't, in all honesty, even really know?

I think I shall spend less time on FB, and more time writing longer emails and visiting people in their homes. But there are one or two people I need to stay in touch with, for their sakes and mine. And FB is how it happens.  However, if you think that I am keeping up to date with your news simply because we are Facebook friends, then I have to tell you that it is not at all likely. Email me, maybe. I'm not so hard to find.

Today I am grateful for intuition.

30 November 2012

against harmful practice

Sharing a plea: click the link at the end to join/sign the petition.

Death by cool -- end Indonesia’s tobacco tragedy

Mohon lihat di bawah untuk versi Bahasa Indonesia

My name is Nadya. I'm a 19 year old student and activist pushing for better tobacco controls in my country, Indonesia.

Children across Indonesia are trapped by big tobacco. They get addicted and can never quit - some start as young as 4. And no matter what, almost every child in Indonesia is affected because most men in my country smoke. 

I’m scared about the future of our young generation so I started a network of Indonesian children that want to end the grip of tobacco on society. We are young, but we can clearly see that tobacco is destroying our future and making profits while watching us die slowly! We are taking steps to change that. Now we need our government to take steps too.

Next week, countries around the world will be gathering in South Korea to work on a plan to stop the tobacco problem. Almost every country agreed to this but mine. But this month things could all change! My president just appointed a new Minister of Health who wants the country to sign on to the treaty to stop tobacco from trapping kids into smoking. She will be introducing legislation in Parliament and if we push the president, we can get him to support a healthier, tobacco-free future for all Indonesian children. There is no reason a child should smoke at age 4. 

In 2011 big tobacco spent more than £142 million on advertising. This advertising convinces kids that it is cool to smoke but it destroys their lives. I mean seriously, if a new child is born, and they never know what a cigarette looks likes like, they would have no reason to smoke and Indonesia could start a new young generation clear from cigarettes. Click to sign the petition.


Nama saya Nadya. Saya mahasiswa berusia 19 tahun dan seorang aktivis yang menginginkan pengendalian tembakau yang lebih baik di negara saya, Indonesia. 

Di seluruh penjuru Indonesia anak-anak dijebak oleh industri tembakau. Mereka menjadi ketagihan dan tidak akan bisa berhenti – beberapa bahkan mulai merokok ketika berusia 4 tahun. Hampir setiap anak di Indonesia terkena dampaknya karena kebanyakan laki-laki di negara saya merokok. 

Saya takut kalau membayangkan masa depan generasi muda kami, karena itu saya memulai sebuah jaringan bagi anak-anak Indonesia yang mau menghentikan industri tembakau mencengkeram masyarakat Indonesia. Kami masih muda, tetapi kami bisa melihat dengan jelas, bahwa tembakau menghancurkan masa depan kami, dan mendapatkan keuntungan ketika di saat bersamaan melihat kami mati pelan-pelan! Kami sekarang mengambil langkah untuk mengubah hal itu. Pemerintah Indonesia juga perlu mengambil langkah. 

Minggu depan, negara-negara di seluruh dunia akan bertemu di Korea Selatan untuk merancang rencana untuk menghentikan masalah tembakau. Hampir semua negara menyetujui hal ini, cuma negara saya saja yang tidak melakukannya. Tetapi situasinya bisa berubah bulan ini! Presiden saya baru mengangkat menteri kesehatan baru yang mau agar Indonesia menandatangani perjanjian untuk menghentikan industri tembakau dari menjebak anak-anak untuk merokok. Ia akan memperkenalkan undang-undangnya di DPR dan jika kita mendesak Presiden SBY, kita bisa membuatnya lebih mendukung masa depan yang lebih sehat dan bebas tembakau bagi semua anak Indonesia. Tidak ada alasan apapun bagi anak-anak untuk merokok di usia 4 tahun. 

Di tahun 2011, industri tembakau mengeluarkan lebih dari £142 juta (lebih dari 2 triliun Rupiah) untuk mengiklankan produknya. Serius deh, kalau seorang anak baru dilahirkan dan mereka tidak pernah tahu rokok itu bentuknya seperti apa, mereka tidak akan punya alasan untuk merokok dan Indonesia akan bisa memulai sebuah generasi muda yang bebas dari rokok. Klik untuk menandatangai petisinya. 


Occasionally I get a phonecall from one or another of two people in England who are "just checking" to see how things are going for me. Today was one of these days. This person had patiently called at least four times over as many weeks before we connected. I was in the abbey, I was teaching, I didn't get to the phone on time. And I don't return overseas calls to my cell phone. But finally I answered. It was the same friendly concern, how am I coping? Am I "doing OK?" I admit to difficult times, but each time I answer I realise how unimportant this is. I am living a privileged and wonderful life.

These friends who call to check up on me are people I met when I volunteered at the museum five years ago. One has a house in Italy and another really wants a house in Italy. Both have partners who are not the slightest bit interested in joining them in their "Italy dreams". It seems important to them that I am still happy here, still coping.

Occasionally I might say to a New Zealand friend that I am not sure how long I will be able to stay here, and maybe I should start thinking differently about my future. This is invariably greeted with an emphatic "you have to make it work, you are living our dreams. If you come back, how can we dream of doing what you have done?" Or words to that effect.

Occasionally I wonder, is my purpose here really to give other people something concrete to think about when their own dreams are so unobtainable? My dream is to be useful, to change the world. Really I can only change myself, and hope that people around me might change too. But little by little we can make a difference. And that difference means living the dream.

Today I woke to a message from Avaaz celebrating that Palestine has finally been recognised as an independent nation. I didn't make that happen. But maybe my one tiny vote, added to so many hundreds of thousands of votes across the world, helped to bring some sense of support to a troubled people.

Australia abstained, and Canada surprisingly joined  Israel, the US, the Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands in voting against accepting Palestine as a nation in the UN. Despite this, the result gives me hope that slowly slowly peace may be achieved. Peace within families, peace within communities, peace within a nation, and finally peace between nations. 

Anything is possible. But only if we all do our part. That might be as simple as sharing a smile with a stranger, or as big as volunteering to serve in troubled places. But I do believe that sharing of resources and personal talents is the way to bring change to the world. 

So why am I here? Perhaps so I can see things differently. When you are living in an unfamiliar world you see things that you might have overlooked before. And despite difficult times, despite negative comments, despite gloom and doom, I feel optimistic that positive change is achievable.

I sit here on a rather bleak day and look at a ray of sunlight that floods a part of the valley in glorious spring yellow, defiantly ignoring the fact that winter has not yet arrived in full force. It's a day to reflect, to wonder. I am ordering my house, and with that comes time to order my thoughts. What am I really doing here? Sometimes I am  mopping up the water in the cantina, stretching my budget further and further, dealing with ticks and snakes and thunderstorms, with power cuts and price hikes and wondering why my 20 euros ($NZ 31.70) only buys me 11.3 litres of petrol. I doubt that it sounds particularly romantic to you now, but yes, I will happily stay here and live your dream. That ray of sunshine changes everything. I have Andrea Bocelli singing (third time I have hit replay, sorry neighbours), two little dogs are happy, the house is getting tidier by the hour (with computer breaks) and life is pretty good.

Is living in Italy a wonderful dream? Is the grass always greener over the fence? I read somewhere recently that it is nothing to do with the fence, it is all to do with where the grass is watered. Right now the countryside is well watered, as is my cantina as the water finds its way inside. But as I mop I think how beautiful the restored space is, how wonderful it is to be living on this mountainside, and how green, with shafts of yellow sunlight, my valley really is.

Today I am grateful for optimism. 

29 November 2012

my Christmas treat

I make a recipe at Christmas time that requires a tin of sweetened condensed milk. Here it is not a cheap ingredient, and although the recipe only calls for one tin of it, I have to buy two. The second one is just for me, my Christmas treat. (It serves to ensure that all of the first one makes it into the baking! Self discipline is NOT my middle name).

As you go through life there are certain smells, flavours and sensations that seem to have become etched into your very being. They bring back memories, they transport you to special places. Almond icing means Christmas; freshly cut grass takes me back to the hay paddocks and the smell of dusty canvas on a hot sunny day takes me to the old mail bag in Maru Maru.

Condensed milk too takes me to Christmases past, when times were tough and money was scarce... a little like today, perhaps, the same but different. But as a child I had no idea that things were so difficult financially. In my memory, our Christmas stockings overflowed with gifts.

There was always a book or two, and, if I were very lucky, sometimes more. There was always something we needed, and I remember a precious narrow case to carry my music in arriving from Santa one year. There might also be a packet of sweets, or licorice. Maybe a small piece of china, or a little trinket box, and probably some craft materials or colouring pencils. And there were the treats. Real treats.

A packet of dried figs, a whole "bought" orange with a thin thin skin, not to be shared. A (small) bottle of fizzy drink (what colour will it be?) and the best of all, a whole tin of condensed milk that I could label with my name, eat when I wanted, and have all to myself. I would put a hole in each side of the lid, and drink it directly from the tin. Slowly. Over several days. Making it last.

It is only now that I realise there was never clothing in our Christmas stockings. I guess that's because Santa knew that my grandmother and mother made all our clothes, or we could buy them at the church fair, so we didn't need anything new. He's pretty smart, that Father Christmas.

I wonder if he realised, all those years ago, how much I would still be appreciating his gifts more than 50 years later?

Today I am grateful for sweetened condensed milk and happy memories.

bad weather

Every time I think I will write a blog post thunder rumbles and I have to unplug the internet and computer. Piccolina and Zacchi think it's all a bit confusing.  

Tomorrow is not looking too much brighter.

I thought I would be blogging on, writing wonderful gems, thrilling cyberspace with my wit and wisdom... but...

Mother Nature has other ideas for me.

Just saying.

Today I am grateful for hot food and warm clothing.

27 November 2012

winter is here

Almost overnight the leaves fell off the trees, the fog rolled in and the temperature plummetted. Hibernation looks like a good option.

Two little dogs continue to make me laugh.

Sensing that winter was around the corner I stooped to check the dog kennels yesterday (or was it the day before?)  There was a loose board in Zacchi's and the plastic cover was showing signs of wear and tear. Poor little fellow, time for some maintenance.

I repaired the board, closed up the buckets against the side where the breeze was coming in, restored the rubber mats to the right place (one of them had pushed them out in hotter days) and put the car floor mat out to dry ready to go back in. I retrieved a new cover from the storage shed, but didn't get as far as assembling that over the kennels. Zacchi was excited.

I went inside, did a few chores, then looked out the window. Piccolina was installed in the newly comfortable kennel and Zacchi was looking bereft outside.

Today, I hope, the status quo will be restored. She's a bully at times, that Pickle.

Today I am grateful for warm clothes. 

25 November 2012

playing hard to get

I've been trying to phone my dad. Shouldn't be too hard, one would think. After all, he is 92. It would be normal to catch him at around 8am, breakfast time maybe.

But then my Dad is not normal. He could be out gardening. He could be out running. He could be up a ladder pruning back the overhang from his neighbour's tree so it doesn't fall on his own little apple tree - on which he has an amazing number of apple varieties grafted. (His own little joke for the next owners of the property, they will be confused for months, trying to decide what kind of  apple tree it is, he chuckles!)

I don't know how many times I have tried to catch him in the last two weeks. You see, I was wanting to say "Good luck" to him as he headed off to Porritt Stadium in search of new running records.  I wasn't sure which weekend the event was, thought it was last weekend or this weekend. ( I know, I should just google).

The last time I spoke with him he was frustrated at how slowly he was running, but happy that he was increasing the distances again, back up to about 14 kms of mostly running - after a calf muscle injury - just a little bit of walking in between.

Now I see, via a comment on FB, that yes, he was competing this weekend, happy and cheerful. I miss being there, being his support crew.

I know he will be well supported by his team mates, but that's not the same. Who will be there on the sideline, heart in her mouth, waiting for that sprint at the end, yelling
"Go, Dad, Go!!!!!!!!"?

Today I am grateful for inspirational athletes. 

23 November 2012


I was about to head to Cassino for the presentation of a new book written by a member of the English speaking group I sometimes spend some time with. It was going to be interesting, a good test for my Italian, and I would catch up with some friends. The book is Stanley Kubrick and Me (not yet out in English) by Emilio D'Alessandro.

Then I remembered that my car insurance sticker, kindly paid for me by a friend as is usual, hadn't arrived. I take the bill and the money to him and a few days later I collect my windscreen display coupon and all is well. It saves me a trip to Cassino. This year, as I was picking olives, he came and collected the money from me. Even more helpful service. Until he went out with with the coupon still in his car, and I needed it to leave the house.

I think I am in prison until he returns from places unknown and brings me my escape passage. The car is insured, but if I were to be stopped by the carabinieri it would be an instant fine, probably of about 40 euros, for not having the current piece of paper with me. I learnt this the hard way by going out without the car's libretto, papers, a couple of years ago. Until then I didn't really understand which pieces of paper were to be carried in the car and which I could file away.

In this land of breaking the rules as a daily part of living, there are some I am not prepared to risk. If there is a chance that I will be parted from my money the rules do not seem to bend my way.

Today I am grateful for a peaceful evening and a glass of wine. 

21 November 2012

head in the sand

Sometimes I am glad that I am a bit naive and unworldly.

Today I was reading a British newspaper on line and had to look up the term milf. No, there is no link posted. You can google it yourself. What is a milf? I had no idea. Apparently there is milfporn too. I certainly had no idea (and still don't really know what it is!)

Many of my English friends say that they want to leave England, they don't like what their country has become. I'm beginning to understand why.

This is the article that I read. Now I have to ask, is this true? Is it someone's idea of a funny article? What in the world really is going on?

I think I'll just go back to my own little world; it's very peaceful here!

Today I am grateful for calm. 

19 November 2012

shades of grey

Five watercolours (begun in Scotland a few weeks ago and finished five days ago) somehow didn't make it to the blog.

They are now in New Zealand where they will be pegged up with accompanying text. They are working sketches for a series entitled "Shades of Grey" - and no, I haven't read the book. 

I am also grateful for cousins who have delivered 18 watercolours to NZ in the last few weeks.

time out

I'm still here, just resting! It was a marathon week, ending yesterday with an extremely long memorial service at the German cemetery which stoically proceeded to the end despite all the rain. There would have been some pretty wet uniforms being dried out last night.


The olives were picked by an amazing international group of volunteers who climbed ladders, sat up in trees, knelt on nets and generally showed me what wonderful friends I have. We were almost a G8, and certainly were GR8.

Countries represented in, under or up the olive trees: Holland, England (via France), Belgium, Mexico, USA, Italy (bless you Franca, you saved the nation's reputation) and for New Zealand yours truly (now somewhat frayed around the edges).

232 kilos of olives produced 32 litres of green, tangy oil. Output was down considerably this year as the olives are not ripening. Many people are holding off picking waiting for more mature crops with sweeter oil, but at this stage of the year I am very grateful that mine are safely pressed.  Who knows what the weather will bring.

This year's oil is perfect on home made bread with plenty of seeds in it. Thanks to my well prepared friend who travelled a long way to help with the olives and even brought his kitchen with him!

Today I am grateful for safe travel.

14 November 2012

follow your dream...

Recently I met a delightful young tenor. Later I googled his name, and found him on Youtube.

If ever there was a good example of someone deciding to follow a dream, this is one. Being proactive is so important.

Imagine, this talent with a different personality might still be working packing meat in Texas, or worse still, wounded or lost in Iraq.

Click on the following links to follow the story:

The history

The dream

The newspaper reports

The voice.

First you need a dream. Then you must dare to make it come true.


13 November 2012

what's it all about?

Yesterday Zacchi escaped down onto the lower terraces where we were picking, and was not impressed at being caught and returned to the safe enclosure. The lower terraces are far more exciting, bordering woods, a jungle, and eventually the road.  Once caught and carried back up he growled ferociously, then vented all his fury on poor Piccolina.  It's a bit of a pattern; if I impose my will over his, he takes it out on Piccolina. There is a very definite pecking order in our house, and it is actually quite important that Zacchi reminds Piccolina of this as she is very strong and often hurts him, even if in play.

But yesterday's spat was rather extreme, so this morning at the first opportunity I reprimanded him (for continuing to bark when I had told him to stop) by throwing a little water at him, my established punishment for the dogs. He was the most well behaved little fellow after that, and didn't once try to join us down where we were picking.


Bravo, Zacchi, oggi hai fatto bene. (And don't worry, I don't cook with that frying pan, it is warped and is added to the collection of once loved cooking ware that these two share. Pickle, where is your pot?) 

Today I am grateful for two semi-obedient multi-lingual little dogs. 

in the cantina

This time it's a flood of olives :-)

sometimes I am appalled

Sometimes I am appalled by the amount that I don't know.  I wonder, what was I doing when that was taking place? Why hadn't I read that? Where was my head when I should have been more aware?

Yesterday, after a full day of olive picking, my helpers sat around sharing (wonderful) music and conversation. At one point they were talking about an author who won a Nobel Prize. Maybe I hadn't caught the name, maybe the title was a little familiar, but I had to admit that I didn't know the books they were talking about.

Thankyou again friend google, for filling in some gaps. I had to admit to myself that I didn't know anything about  Gabriel García Márquez and I hadn't read either of his two incredibly famous books.  The English translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude came out when I was a first-year student at university, surrounded by mountains of books and papers. But that is no excuse. A good many years have passed since then, and I didn't ever come across these books. The next time I get a chance I will look for One Hundred Years of Solitude, and see what it is that I have somehow overlooked for all these years. 

And why did he win a Nobel prize? For literature, of course. For me, the words Nobel and Peace are synonymous. But the pen really is mightier than the sword, so perhaps there is nothing wrong with that assumption,

The conversation about the man and his books, despite being of "my times", 
 was completely new to me. Pretty humbling, really. 

Today I am grateful for wonderful conversations. 

9 November 2012

there's no such thing as too long...

But this post on another blog is so close to the mark that I had to share it! (Click on the title below).

Thanks to the writer of "You know you've been in Italy too long when..."  on the Eupedia Italy Guide website. 

(Please note, no infringement of copyright intended, I borrowed this from a FB posting and traced it back to the website given above). 

Today I am grateful for sunshine and autumn colours.

8 November 2012


The terraces are being cleared and cleaned up again.  Whew! I might get the olive crop in after all.  It was looking doubtful for a while.

The wonderful thing is what it has done for my spirits, seeing it all clean and clear under the trees.  It was all I could manage to keep it clear around the feijoa trees.  I found it most depressing looking out at the work that I couldn't cope with myself, and no other workers could be found... well, none arrived when they said they would, and I was resigned to the jungle getting worse before it got better.

My whistling worker might have a history best not told, he may have his faults, but his cheerful and thorough approach to the work makes a huge difference in my life.  Running on coffee, sugar, and the occasional bottle of water, he works like a trojan.  Ours is a strange kind of friendship, but a friendship it really is.

Today I am thankful for the return of my helper.

6 November 2012

so you'll have to imagine

You'll have to imagine the starlings in Rome today, 

...because my camera isn't fancy.  Click on the images for a slightly bigger view, but really "you had to be there"...

The birds were quite wonderful, dancing, wheeling, soaring, diving, all in perfect harmony, but only a fraction of them were picked up by my camera.

did I ever mention...

Did I ever mention that I love living where I do?

Today I went to Rome.  You know how I hate cities, go stark staring mad in the space of a few hours. Three days (even in Paris) and I need to leave.  Most days three hours in a city is enough for me.

Well, today was a Rome day.  Or so I had planned, or so I thought I had planned. There were three reasons to go (probably described in reverse order of urgency).

Number one: I was arranging to meet a friend "when I was next in Rome", but didn't get any email replies once my trip up was looking definite. Ah well, maybe not today then.

Number two: I was hoping to go to the exhibition of Dutch masters from the golden era, but didn't arrange to go with another artist friend because I wanted an early morning start (because of reason three) and hadn't advised him ahead of time.

And number three, friend who forgot to leave with me a purchase she had made but wasn't taking home (because being wooden it wont be allowed into NZ without being fumigated and that's a nuisance).  She also managed to leave something of hers here, so at her suggestion to meet in Rome on Tuesday morning I set out, to deliver and to receive. But she wasn't answering email or text or phone calls either.

So, with 0 out of 3 things in place I was on the train to Rome at 8.13 this morning. Giving up on "travelling Kiwi friend" I sent a text to "lost in cyberspace Italian friend" and suggested meeting if he were free. Delighted, was the reply, can meet you at 5pm if that's not too late for you.  Mmmm.  Bit of a long day.  NO problem, I replied, (well, wouldn't you?) It's not too late, I have things to do in Rome.

So, what does one do in Rome? People watch, of course!  First at the station in case Kiwi friend had received my train time. No sign of her.

Vermeer exhibition alone... oh heck, why not? It will be great to see it twice.  Watch the people, look at the art, watch the people...Tick. (The best behaved Italian school children I have EVER seen were there, all of about three years old.  Imagine, at that age, having class trips to the Scuderie del Quirinale to see some of the finest paintings in the world!)

Still a few hours to kill.  Walk and walk and walk. Get on bus to give feet a break. Go back to Termini after seeing several new things (but no photos of them, sorry).  Sit down to eat something and decide that you have had enough of central Rome - after all it has been at least five hours - maybe walking near the main tourist venues was not the cleverest thing I did today.  Catch the metro.  The wonderful BIRG tickets cost 14 euros now, but as well as my fare to Roma and back these give me as much bus and metro transport as I need in a day.

(Photo: How does your garden grow? With terracotta pots and solar panels, of course!) 

Arriving too early to meet friend I wander the market and buy a book.  Time for a chair when the steps became uncomfortable (the park benches don't have backs on them there) so it was up to (shhhhh) McDonalds Italy. They have a covered balcony perfect for people watching or studying Italian... or even drinking a latte macchiato with your apple cake.

More people watching.  In this suburb the young folk are smoking far too much, and too young. The flight of the illegal market people was wonderful to see from my vantage point when the inspectors came through. All done with such humour!  About 15 men ran with Santa-like sacks made of white sheets bulging with merchandise.  They looked worried until they were off the market area, and down the steps below me.  Then they split up and disappeared at a more leisurely pace, watching but not running any more.  The flurry of activity in the market quietened, but I noticed that they didn't risk going back up again.

And then... flight really was the word. And absolute wonder and awe, as I watched for ages... so long in fact that the sun went down and I was still gazing at the birds, it was just wonderful.  The only other time I have seen such an impressive display was in Altkirch in Alsace, France, way back in September 1999. Thanks Jackerd for this link ... aren't they just magic?

And then, it was home again.  I have been out of the house for just twelve hours, but they were such richly packed hours. I do love living where I am.

Today I am grateful for migration.

5 November 2012

no go...

because a few people have complained about having to type in those terribly hard to read letters to leave a comment I disabled the gadget. (I don't like those things either).  I am now getting regular spam.  I'll give it a few more days, but will probably go back to being hard to comment on again, sorry! 

2 November 2012

half hermit, maybe?

I've been back into my writing lately, and loving it.  It's been squeezed between guests, and finally it has got hold of me properly and wont let go. A good thing? I hope so! But so were all the guests.

My most recent guest was a charming woman a few years older than me, also on her own and choosing the next "stage" of her life. She has loved Italy for longer than I have, but she chooses to stay in NZ.  Her next move takes her back to her friends and a social life that she had put on hold for a while.  It's the kind of life I thought I might be living, back when I left my marriage.  A two bedroomed apartment in central Auckland, concerts, galleries, you know the sort of thing. Running or walking the Around the Bays, listening to music, walking, beach strolls... a far cry from the life I lead on my scruffy mountainside. Everything familiar, beautiful, and on a practical level, very easy.

When I put her on a train this morning I asked myself yet again, why do I reject the "perfect life" in beautiful New Zealand? What is this strange urge to bury myself in a country where life is not easy and I am still, more than five years on, struggling to find the right words every day?

An answer hit me a minute ago.

I think that I am half hermit. Here I can hide away, ignore the world, and indulge in my art and writing. Perhaps I really don't want to be in the middle of my own culture, where I must participate and be sociable.  Perhaps I am more anti-social than social.  I like to think of myself as a big picture person, and maybe back there I couldn't see the wood for the trees.

Back in NZ I was planting myself in, planting trees to hide my home from the world.  My dream was not your normal Kiwi dream. I wonder, am I recreating that dream in a completely different way, unconsciously?

There is a sense of relief that after five and a half years of living here I have finally identified something that links my present life to the dream that I nurtured so long ago.

Today I am grateful for flashes of inspiration. 

26 October 2012

music sets the mood...

I have been listening to Ray Charles on You Tube.  It happened quite by accident, clicking on a song that a friend posted on the dreaded FB.  The song was "Cry".  By the time I had listened to it I was feeling quite down, despite the positive message in it.  I tried a few more Ray Charles songs.  No ups there.

Basta! (Enough).

Here is Julie Andrews with a much better option... I listened to this while I looked at some photos of my very own favourite things (OK, my favourite people). Now I feel much, much better.  And to add to it, there is always another song, another version... it's quite sweet, really!

Dear family, I love you all very much.  Your photos are wonderful, and videos... well, what can I say? The most recent video has me in stitches, I think I have probably worn it out.  I was almost in the same room...

Laughter truly is wonderful.

Today I am grateful for private blogs.

23 October 2012

22 October 2012

second trullo painting

Painting number two, an abandoned trullo near Alberobello in Puglia. Trullo painting number one can be found if you click here.  

Today I am grateful for visiting family.  

17 October 2012

home again

Wonderful holiday, great company, interesting restaurants, sharing and laughter... and now it is back home with lots of planning to do and changes to make.

And, quite remarkably, I did get six watercolour paintings underway, which is always good. I'll finish them in the next little while.

 Life is great!

Today I am grateful for the gift of time. 

9 October 2012

random pics from august

An evening stroll in August caught the sun going down behind this rather lovely cross just as I entered the town.

Graffiti always tells a lot about what is happening in society.  This clever play on words caught my eye... remember that this is in a second (or third) language, so has extra appeal to me.

And I never tire of sunsets, this one being quite the norm as our hillsides burned this summer.   

Today I am grateful for happy memories. 

7 October 2012


An interesting floral arrangement, one of two outside the basilica in Bari.  Wedding decorations were being set up as we watched. This was gypsophilla and small roses in a cane basket. 

 More of the interesting sculptures in the museum in the Svevo castle (Norman-Swabian) in Bari.

Our hotel near Ostuni, an oasis which felt as though it was in the middle of nowhere. We were surrounded by huge gated walls and acres of olive trees.  It didn't seem to be "Italy", more like some hacienda far from civilisation.  I'll definitely go back there again.  

Some of the wares in a shop in Alberobello... I didn't see the "no photos" sign until I had taken this shot.  Oops!

Our wait for the guide to show us around the sassi at Matera was made quite pleasant as we watched a bridal party being photographed.   The guide had to collect his daughter from school and deliver her home before he could come to us.  The horses were quite splendid, with glossy black coats, long tails and manes, and white feathers in their bridles.  I would have loved to photograph from better angles, but... I am sure you can work it out from this. 

Today I am grateful for tall company. 

6 October 2012

a good choice

On the recommendation of a friend from Bari we next visited Polignano a Mare, a small town along the coast.  It was well worth the stop, (and the home made gelato in the air-conditioned shop was a bonus!)

We wandered through beautiful white streets and houses, and gazed down at the bathers below.

 A lookout over the sea had us marvelling at the balcony... or rather the drop from it into the sea.  (Look carefully at where the archway meets the rock in the photo below). A high diving competition takes place in this town every year.  That must be absolutely spectacular.

 Another claim to fame is that Polignano a Mare is the birthplace of the singer Domenico Modugno (of "Volare" fame) and this statue was a refreshing sight after too many churches and saints and too much history for a bear of little brain.  So, the next time you are listening to Nel blu dipinto di blu  spare a thought for the young lad from this pretty seaside town and enjoy the wonderful statue.

Today I am also grateful for helpful friends.