Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Gardens and Balconies

In Britain about eighty per cent of the population have a garden. In Italy you're more likely to have a balcony.
I've been wanting to write this post for some time, to ramble on about gardens and balconies and say something about the difference between them. I was going to try and something wise and reassuring and it was all there in my head but wouldn't come out.
They say that if you do one thing in life that will make the world a better place you should plant a tree or create a garden.
Gardens can give pleasure to many generations, trees make the planet healthier. Gardens make you aware of the beauty of the seasons, of the joy of sitting outside and resting your gaze on plants and shrubs, watching out for the first snowdrop, the first blossom, the roses, then the falling of the leaves, the lovely Autumn colours.
Some people will plant trees in their garden just so they can enjoy the blossom for two weeks, that intense moment when you feel your heart swell as Winter lets Spring take over. Once the blossom falls off these trees have just ordinary green  leaves which blend in with all the others, but oh how joyous and spectacular is their moment of glory.
My brother loves listening to 'gardener's question time' and often such gems as this will pop up in his conversation, 'Ivy isn't bad for the cherry tree, it can twine itself around as much as it likes, they said so on Gardener's Question Time.'
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden or indeed they might not even want one, their life style wouldn't allow time for tending the plants and manicuring the lawns, but if you have a balcony you can equally join in with the delight of the changing of the seasons. Winter roses, heather, cyclamens, winter pansies all are happy to brave the elements and brighten up the winter days. Primula and crocuses can be planted in the Spring to remind you that winter is over, geraniums, and a whole variety of other plants for summer which will reward you every day with their bright and joyful colours.

So what I wanted to write about originally was how we can liken ourselves to a garden or a balcony. Some gardeners, like Capability Brown have created magnificent gardens that are still enjoyed today, but they still need looking after. they are a legacy but need care and attention to carry on for the enjoyment of future generations.
A balcony is of course a more passing creation. Plants are inevitably grown in pots and they need constant care and attention, the earth needs to be changed, fed, nourished.

I wanted to liken our lives to gardens and balconies, a garden person is hoping to give joy to furture generations a balcony person is more challenged here, but can still bring happiness and joy, from friends and family who call to passersby in the street who happen to look up and notice the flowers and shrubs. It's like the saying that goes, 'the only small corner of the world that you can change is your own.'

Then today i read something written by someone very cultured who said that the whole cosmos is in a garden it is there that we can observe everything that is good about life.
I know in other posts i have written about gardens and quoted poems, but today I'm just going to post some photos and hope they will inspire you to get to work on your own small corner.

Tulip bulbs planted last Autumn have decided it's safe to make an appearance, looking forward to meeting them

Foxgloves add  colour to a garden, no effort required

Bare  trees ae a stunning addition to a winter landscape

Red berries look cheerful on a cloudy day

Someone appreciates the effort

Hyacinths can be grown indoors and then put in a sheltered spot  so they last longer

Monday, 23 January 2017

Best ever Breakfast Bars

One of my friend Anna's favourite quotes is The best decision you can make in the morning is to be in a good mood.
One great way to start the day is with a nourishing breakfast.
Not everyone has time for a leisurely breakfast so these date and honey bars are perfect.

The dates left over from Christmas were looking forlorn and unwanted, dried up and unappealing. This recipe redeems them and turns them back into their former glory, as though they have been freshly picked from a palm tree swaying in the breeze of an exotic country.

Date and Honey Breakfast Bars

For the filling

175 dates, rinsed and chopped
3 tablespoons honey
2tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 level teaspoons plain flour
120ml water

Place the dates in a saucepan with the honey, lemon juice, plain flour and about 120ml water.
Mix gently and bring slowly to the boil, stirring and cook over a low heat for about 4 minutes.
Let cool

For the oat mixture

125g self-raising flour
125g demerara sugar
150g rolled oats
175g butter, melted

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, oats and melted butter.

Butter and base line an 18cm square baking tin.
Heat the oven to 190

Spread half the oat mixture over the base of the tin and press down well.
Spoon the date mixture over the base and spread evenly.
Spread the rest of the oat mixture over the date filling, pressing evenly all over the surface.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden.

Let it cool completely for about an hour, then cut into squares and gently remove from the tin.
 This makes about 18 squares.

Once you have made these breakfast bars you can vary according to your taste,
add chopped walnuts, glace cherries or flaked almonds to the date mixture, cinnamon and nutmeg to the oat mixture, scatter sesame seeds across the top, add orange juice instead of lemon, tip in the last of a bag of currants or raisins.

Hope you like them and they give you a good start to the day
Ready to go

Ready to assemble

Ready to bake

Ready to eat and put you in a good mood

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Just be Yourself

How often do we tell each other to Take care of yourself, be yourself, look after yourself, watch yourself.'?
The short poem I quoted the other day by Emily Dickinson tells us this too
Here it is in case you missed it,

The heart is the capital of the mind;
The mind is a single state;
The heart and mind together make
A single continent.

One is the population, -
Numerous enough,
this estatic nation
Seek - it is yourself.

Someone famous  (will edit this later when I remember who it was) said that there is only one thing you can change about the world to make it a better place and that is yourself.

Eleanor Roosevelt, famously said, yes I know it was her, that if anyone makes you feel inferior you only have yourself to blame. It's one of the catch phrases of today's mini philosophy, to quite blaming other people for your problems.

It's not that simple though is it? People and situations can make us feel we have lost ourselves, that we are not who we feel we are.

I was watching one of the last of the feel good Christmas films that are so frequent on television at this time of year and it was about an angel called Tom. His job was to help a young woman who was about to marry someone who wasn't bringing out the best in her. She had found herself in a situation that wasn't right for her.
She wasn't herself anymore. She was doing things out of character, like being ruthless and hard. So Tom brought back the woman's adolescent self, and then later in the film her older self to try and remind her of who she really was, loving, caring and kind.

It all ended happily, you will be relieved to know and she marries the man that will bring out the best in her, let her be herself.

For most of us the best place to be yourself, where the best in you can shine out, should be at home and with your family and best friends.

Even small children can find this delicate state of being yourself is upset.
One of my favourite ways to feel myself is to put on music from my youth and dance away ( in private of course), or have a chat with someone who really likes you whatever your shortcomings.
Actually I've been thinking that there is enough material on this subject for a whole book and more, a friend of mine told me recently that she only feels herself when she goes back home to her country of origin. When you live in a country that's not yours it's like being a guest, maybe a welcome guest, but still a guest.

My wish for today is that you are able to bring out the best in yourselves today, the people you meet will help you do that.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

First Steps

You know when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, he said something like, 'One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind'? There seems to be some doubt about the exact wording, but that was the gist.
Thinking about the surface of the moon and the surface of the Earth, I'm sure we'd all rather be on the Earth. Soft, sandy beaches, green spongy grass, sparkling cool streams, warm fluffy carpets, so many places to wriggle your toes and feel a connection with  the Earth's comforting pull.
Babies love their toes, wriggling them, putting them in their mouths, having them counted and kissed, oh those precious little feet, brand new and perfect, unused and unblemished. Then when babies take their first steps they are greeted with applause and ecstatic cries from all who witness them.
The baby has become a toddler.
Thinking about all those lovely toddlers the world over, about to start on their journey through life, may they find smooth terrain, calm waters, gentle slopes, kind companions, hands to hold, nice friends, welcoming places, shelter and strength.

Christmas Books

The reason I have a blog is because I love writing, it doesn't matter about the quality I can just ramble on and it doesn't matter what I write it just pores out. I love writing and I love reading, they go hand in hand in a way.
Those who like cooking usually like eating, those who like acting like the theatre and so on.
I love Christmas, so when I see a display of Christmas books I am tempted to read as many as I can during the Christmas holidays.
My books are divided into three categories,
Books I keep and never lend, they are part of me and I get pleasure just looking at them on the shelves.
Books I enjoyed reading but will probably never want to read again. I will try and think of someone who might also enjoy them and pass them on.
Books I didn't particularly enjoy and wouldn't recommend to anyone. These are taken to book shops who will give you something in exchange and then sell them on as second hand books.

Here is a quick review of my Christmas reading.

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci.
This is a story about a journalist going on a train journey across America at Christmas time. I really enjoyed thinking about the vastness of America, the diversity of it's states and the people that live there. a nice enough read for a cold day.

Silent Nights, Christmas Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards
About fifteen short stories by different authors set in a Christmas atmosphere.
These were all written in good old fashioned English and short enough to read at bed time.

Mystery in White by J.Jefferson Farjeon (1883 - 1955)
Another story about a train and the snow. Another book that is a good enough read.

It's a Wonderful Life by Julia Williams
A contemporary story about modern family life in Britain. Perfect for Christmas when families and their ups and downs are in the spotlight.

Some advice that was given on a Creative writing course I did was that you don't want to waste the time of a perfect stranger by writing rubbish. I hope I'm not wasting your time, you who are reading this. Reading should be entertaining or informative or in someway enriching. So I do hope you find something rewarding in reading what I write. Thanks for reading anyway.
They will all be put away now until next year when I can lend them to friends wanting to get in the mood for Christmas.

Taking Down the Decorations

If the Christmas decorations weren't taken down by Twelfth Night then my mum would start to panic. In Italy there is no such problem, decorations can easily stay up until Easter, especially in the mountains where they make everything more cheerful and festive. At home though when school starts it's time to take them all down, so you can start cleaning in all the corners again, because let's face it while the tree and cards are up it's a great excuse not to dust and sweep quite so vigorously.

Today I took down my Christmas cards and thought how much nicer it is to write them and then put on display the ones you receive.
There's even a lovely line in 'White Christmas',

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
With every Christmas card I write,
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.

We didn't have a white Christmas but it was lovely all the same.
But to get back to the cards, I love writing them and thinking about all the people in my life,  or who have just passed through it, or maybe aren't part of it anymore, but there they are in my address book and it's a chance to tell them it was nice to have met them even though it was twenty years ago on holiday and they did make a difference to my life.

There's no song about taking them down. It's different, There are no more mince pies, the days are already longer and brighter, there are no holidays to look forward to. Taking them down though is a chance to read them once again, maybe more carefully than before Christmas, maybe notice something significant, take note of a change of address, a new baby, a career change, or just register in your heart the warm and happy greetings sent just for you. There might be a card or two from someone who you didn't send one to, so it's a chance to thank them or send a New Year card. It's a chance to reflect again on all the people who make your life better, who are part of your mosaic of ups and downs, the ones who stick by you and the ones who although you don't see them it makes the world a friendlier place just knowing they are there.
So putting up the cards is a chance to be grateful to all the people who are part of your life and taking them down is a chance to reinforce your goodwill and desire to keep them part of it.

When you've finished make a cup of tea and watch the January sunset, full of promise for a brand new year.

Happy January to you all

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year and Thank you for your smiles in 2016

Many people round the world will have been raising their glasses and making toasts last night at the stroke of midnight.

Like me, I'm sure many people will have drunk to world peace, love, health and family unity.  We all know how difficult those things are and how important and how precious.

Thanks to modern technology it is much easier to keep in touch with those we love even if they are on the other side of the world. Facebook, blogs, skype, face time, mobile phones have changed our lives and we can look at technology through the lens
of deep needs and wants. We need to feel loved and appreciated and wanted, and modern technology can help fulfill those needs. It's not the technology that's important, it's how we interact with it. It can heal and bind and keep us together. We can use technology to stay closer together.

Antonio Gramsci (1891 - 1937), an Italian Political Thinker, professed a dislike for New year's celebrations he wrote a lot about this, saying every day should be an occasion to put our lives on the balance, not just once a year, that life is a continuous thread that shouldn't be interrupted.

This is what he said, 'every morning, when I wake up under the blanket of the sky, I feel it's New Year's Day.'

Well I suppose he had a point.

On this New Year's day of 2017 I am going to share his thoughts with you and also a poem by Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)

The heart is the capital of the mind
The mind is a single state,
The heart and mind together make
A single continent.

One is the population,
Numerous enough,
this estatic nation
Seek - it is yourself.

For me though New years eve is a chance to thank everyone who helped me and gave me precious memories and just made my life better, from family and friends to the man in the toyshop, the girls at the supermarket check out, the postman, everybody who smiles at me.
So many people to thank for giving me strength, comfort, understanding, joy, love and friendship in 2016.

May every day be New Year's Day for each and everyone of you, may each morning be a chance to celebrate. Wishing you all a happy and healthy year and the chance to make happy and precious memories.

The first sunset of 2017

Italian New Year gifts

use the brooms to sweep away all the hurt, pain, resentment and negative thoughts from all the corners of your heart. Use the mini calendars to remind you to love(amare) and smile (sorrisi) every day of the year.

Two inspirational quotes:_

Let's greet this New Year which makes our friendship older without making our hearts grow older, by Victor Hugo.

Life is like a play, it doesn't matter how long it is, but how well it is acted out. May this coming year be among the best Acts of the play of your life, by Seneca