Friday, 31 March 2017

Forty Years On

A wedding anniversary can be an occasion to remember why you got married in the first place, what you love about this person, why you like being with them.
Every year my husband and I usually do something on our own for our wedding anniversary. It could be anything from a walk and a picnic, going to the cinema, or a weekend away. At the most we might have involved our children, but it really seemed to be our celebration.
This year, though we will be celebrating forty years of marriage.

When I was a little girl (I told you I'd be saying that a lot more now), the moment I realized I couldn't marry my dad, I knew I would need a husband. I was about three at the time and I remember it clearly. I knew I would need a husband to keep me safe so I could go to bed at night and sleep peacefully.
Sometimes I'd lie awake wondering what my future husband was doing and where he was, this was when I was about four or five.
It seemed to be the most wonderful thing in the whole world, your own personal protector that no-one else could take away from you.
Ah yes that was a long time ago, but nothing changes there.

Anyway, every year on our wedding anniversary, the one constant thing we were both always grateful for was our children. If we hadn't married each other, we wouldn't have had them, and a life with them in it was a wonderful life whichever way you looked at it.

Everything starts with family. Everyone starts out in some sort of family. That's where all our strengths and weaknesses come from. That is where luck comes in. Lucky are those who are born into a nice family, with nice parents. It's also down to luck where you're born, which country, which continent, which town.
The real luck though is what is in your heart. You can be born into a good family, in a big house in the country with a pony at the bottom of the garden, into a single parent family in a small flat, in a country that is not at peace, etc but the human heart holds the real luck. If there is love, then that is stronger than anything else. How does the love get there? Who puts it there' That is the question, but with love you can conquer anything. A family, with all it's faults, is the best you can get, like democracy, like monogamy, it's not perfect, but it's still the best.
You are lucky if you have love in your heart.

In one of my sons I can see my brother, in my daughter I can see my mum, in another son I see my dad. Life gave me back the people I loved and missed. I expect my husband sees his loved ones in them too. You see, they seem to have taken the best of us and that's what you hope as a parent isn't it? you want to give your best to your children.

I digress, back to the fortieth wedding anniversary.
Of course I knew it was a Ruby one so I looked up what rubies symbolize.

Rubies arouse the senses, stir the imagination and are said to guarantee health, wisdom, wealth and success in love. Wow !! What's not to like about that?
The ruby has always been associated with love and passion and in its heart is thought to lie the flame of fire that grows brighter with each passing year.

A ruby is reputed to bring its owner peace, drive away frightful dreams and help restore disputes, just like a husband..

This year it's not going to be just my husband and me. We've invited all our precious family, those who have helped us, stood by us, come to our aid when in distress, laughed with us, cried with us. Above all who like being with us, and we of course with them.

Life's not easy for anybody but to have a family is the most precious thing you can ever have.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Sorrow so great

Prince Charles is going to visit War cemeteries in Northern Italy. One hundred years ago there was fighting around the top of Italy. Many young man lost their lives, Italians, Austrians, British, Germans. Young men who were loved and never returned home.
When you walk round a war cemetery you have  a lump in your throat all the time. they are beautifully kept and tranquil, a sharp contrast to the horror that caused them to exist.
These places should surely make everyone determined that such things should never happen again.
There are books in these cemeteries where visitors can leave a comment. People come to honour their long lost relatives or to pay respects to those who lost sacrificed their lives. To a lose a loved one is a sorrow so great that time cannot heal and these cemeteries remind us of this.

Get a great attitude

My dad used to tell us a joke about having an attitude that was guaranteed to have us all rolling around in fits of giggles every single time.
It went like this in case you haven't heard it
One day a man was walking along the road when a gust of wind blew off his hat.
A dog ran out from a nearby house and ran off with the hat into the house
The man went and knocked on the door and it was opened by a man with a very cross face.
The man said in a very polite way , 'Your dog has got my hat.'
The dog's owner replied very rudely, 'I don't care if my dog's got your hat,' and slammed the door in the man's face.'
The man started to walk along the road again when he stopped and thought to himself, 'I didn't like that man's attitude'.
He went back and knocked on the door and when the dog's owner answered he said
'I don't like your attitude,'
The dog's owner spoke in a very cross way, 'It wasn't my hat he chewed, it was your hat he chewed.'
The constant retelling of this story taught three important things,
The joy to be had listening and laughing at a joke
The importance of a good attitude,
Not to knock on strangers' doors.
A great attitude in the morning will lead to a great day, so get yourself a happy, positive attitude and make it yours to keep.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Things worth waiting for

Last Autumn I planted lots of tulip bulbs. I bought them in a beautiful public park that was so large that you had to go round it on a little train or by bike. There were flowers everywhere. They told me to plant the bulbs and then forget about them all winter, no water or anything. So I did. then in January the first shoots appeared and they have been growing daily ever since and now at last they are beautiful, tall and spectacular tulips.
A whole garden in a vase, giving so much pleasure. There were twenty five bulbs and now I have twenty five tulips, yellow, pink and red. Thinking about those brown bulbs and that they had everything in them to blossom into such majestic flowers, it's a bit like us. We've got everything that is needed to blossom and give pleasure to those around us, kindness, a smile, a hug, a gentle word of encouragement, an apology when necessary, it's all there within us. The power to turn anger and hatred into peace and love. Our hearts are like the bulbs, they have all that is necessary.
Look around at all the beauty of Spring, watch the blossom float to the ground, watch the buds unfurl ( or whatever it is they do).

Happy Spring everyone.

The first shoots caused great excitement

getting taller, growing towards the sun

Taller every day

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour, William Blake ( 1757 - 1827)


Saturday, 18 March 2017

La Festa del papà, missing my dad

The 19th March is Fathers' Day in Italy, it is St. Joseph's day, the patron saint of fathers everywhere. It's on a Sunday this year, so many dads will be woken up with heart wrenching renderings of poems learned with love and repeated with adoration and devotion. We have a whole collection of wine bottles, cardboard ties, roughly modelled statues, drawings with big smiley mouths and no legs and are forever grateful to all the teachers that sent our children home with lovingly made objects, reciting poems that cause many a tear to fall.

For a long time I thought of this song by Bread as a love song for a lost romantic love, then one day I heard it on the radio as a dedication to a father who was no longer here. I had to stop the car as the tears flowed down my face, thinking of my own father. Now I always think of him when hearing this song.

Fathers used to have quite a different role to mothers. Many of my generation were told to 'wait till your father gets home.' So poor old dad would come in the door expecting a warm greeting only to find us cowering behind the armchair in fear and trepidation.

My cousins were afraid of my dad, they said he was 'big and boomy'. Looking back I can see now that his anger was of a protective kind, the anger a mother would feel if a child let go of her hand and ran into the road.
Growing up it was quite useful to be able to say, 'my dad won't let me', if I was asked to do something I wasn't sure about.
Once a friend of mine said to me, 'we all wish we could have a dad like yours'.
Thank you dad, for loving me.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Names can hurt you

Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me, so went a popular playground chant. It was used as a defence to let the bully think you were strong and unaffected by their unkind taunts.
It's not true though, is it? names really do hurt, unkind comments and remarks can harm. Insults thrown about in the heat of an argument can cause lasting damage to a relationship.
 In this day and age of modern technology even text messages and emails, comments on Facebook can hurt feelings and cause distress.
How many times have you studied a text message to try and decipher any hidden implications or searched for some badly needed sign of affection in the typed words. That must be why we use so many emoticons, to soften messages to remove doubt that we might be joking or attempting irony.
Words such as please, thank you, sorry can heal and smooth, especially sorry. It must surely be one of the most healing words that someone can use.
Insults and criticism can be thrown around on the internet, Facebook etc and do untold harm.
The same rules apply though, in this world of modern technology and instant contact, that have always concerned the human race.

There is a story about Socrates who when a friend whispered in his ear that he had something to tell him about a mutual friend, held up his hand to stop him.
Socrates went on to ask his friend to reflect before speaking to see if this gossip would pass the test of the three sieves.
Firstly was what he was going to say true.?
Secondly was what he was going to say kind.?
Thirdly was what he was going to say useful.?
The friend thought for awhile and then admitted that he didn't know if it was true, it wasn't nice and certainly wasn't useful. So what was the point of passing on  such information ?


We probably all grew up with advice from our parents ringing in our ears and tried to put it into practice.
My mum and dad used to like the expression,' it's the singer, not the song,' and would tell each other ' it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it.'
Sometimes for fun, my dad would illustrate this by telling our dog that he was horrible and smelly, in a sweet and gentle voice. The dog would look at him in adoration and wag his tail. 
Then, to prove his point, he would tell the dog that he was lovely and a good dog, but in a cross voice, then the dog would run to his basket, tail between his legs.

When animals roll over like this it means they really trust you


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Feel the sun on your face

Here comes the sun

You can feel the grass grow, the buds open as you watch them, feel the sun on your face and love in your heart, for your family, your friends, for the whole world.
This Beatles song says all there is to say about the beginning of Spring doesn't it?
So get pruning, cut off the dead leaves and branches, plant something new for Spring which will blossom and flourish, wash and pack away your winter woolies and think coats, lighten up in spirit as well, laugh at yourself, smile at yourself in the mirror, not in a vain way, a happy way, you're alright, trust your instinct but don't take it too seriously, look out for seasonal produce in the shops and ta the market, asparagus, courgettes, peas and beans, the first strawberries, make peace with yourself and your problems, read inspirational quotes and breathe in the clean spring air.

Here is a lovely Irish blessing, very appropriate for Spring and the first warm rays of sun

May the Road Rise up To Meet You

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rain fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand

Friday, 10 March 2017

Lasagne alla Bolognese, food that makes you happy

Lucio Dalla (1943 - 2012) is one of Bologna's best loved singer song writers. I've put in this video from you tube of one of his most popular songs so you can listen to it while making your Lasagne alla Bolognese.

There are so many Italian dishes that have become household names all over the world, yet, within Italy, they all come from a specific region.
The home of Lasagne or Pasticcio as it is also known is Emilia Romagna. Bologna is the main city of this region and so anything that is alla Bolognese will often be nourishing and rich. The food from this region is tasty, rich creamy sauces, tortellini, filled pasta, Parma ham, Parmesan cheese all come from Emilia - Romagna.

Lasagne is  usually one of those dishes that is described as Comfort Food. It's a perfect dish to make for the weekend. you can make it in advance, actually it's best made in advance because it creates a lot of washing up. you can't dash it off in a hurry, you have to take your time.

Here is the recipe I used, from a packet of oven-ready pasta sheets.

250g pasta sheets

 Bolognese sauce, or Ragu

300g minced meat,
2 carrots, grated
1 onion, finely sliced
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 large jar of passata
mixed dried herbs
olive oil
red wine
salt and pepper

Bechamel sauce

70g flour
90g butter
1 litre of milk

In a large pan, cook the carrots, onion and celery with some olive oil.
add salt and pepper to taste and pour over some red wine
Add the tomato sauce and herbs and cook slowly over a gentle heat for about 2 hours.
Make the Bechamel sauce by melting the butter and then stirring in the flour. Gradually add the milk and seasonings and stir over a low heat until smooth and creamy.

Butter an oven proof dish and layer the pasta sheets, meat sauce and Bechamel sauce alternatively, adding grated Parmesan cheese to each layer.
Now you can either cook it straight away for about 20 - 30 minutes at 180 or leave it to cool thoroughly then cover and store in the fridge for the weekend.
Enjoy with a glass of red wine and a green salad.

The people of Bologna and the whole region of Emilia-Romagna are  renowned for their warmth and friendliness Maybe it's something to do with all their lovely food and wine, but they are a happy lot.

Here are some random interesting facts about Bologna:-

There used to be about two hundred towers in Bologna. There are only a few left now.
There are lots of Porticos, about 30 kms of them and when it rains you can walk all over the city without an umbrella and keep dry.

Bologna University is the oldest in Europe, older than Oxford and Cambridge.

One of Italy's best loved poets taught at Bologna University, although he was born in Tuscany in Pietrasanta, Lucca;
Giosue Carducci (1835 1907). He was the first Italian to receive the Nobel prize for Literature, in 1906.

One of his most famous poems San Martino is often quoted on foggy Autumn days in the same way that Anglo Saxons might go around saying 'i wonder lonely as a cloud' when they see the first daffodils.

Here is the first verse

San Martino

La nebbia agli irti colli
piovigginando sale
E sotto il maestrale
Urla e biancheggia il mar

have a lovely weekend

Everything ready, ragù, bechamel sauce and pasta sheets and a chunk of Parmesan cheese for grating

Either let cool and cover then store in the fridge or cook in the oven for half an hour

Recipe from the packet of pasta sheets

Ready to eat

Meals that make you happy

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Festa Delle Donne

The Eighth of March is International Women's Day. In Italy it is called '' La Festa Delle Donne,' which sounds less formal and more like a party, which it often is.

This Festa is nothing at all to do with feminism, equality or a sort of Us and Them.

It is a celebration of female solidarity, female friendship. Husbands, boyfriends, sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles, nephews, etc are not threatened at all by this celebration, they know they are greatly loved and irreplaceable.

In Italy, straight after Valentine's, the red hearts and roses will be replaced by sprigs of mimosa and yellow chocolates and sweets.

If you ask most women what it's all about, what does the mimosa signify, they will probably say that they did know once but they've forgotten.
The origin is tragic and seems to have started when some women perished in a factory fire.

As the day draws nearer women might send each other messages of solidarity and friendship and affection. On the day itself, many will go out for a pizza or just a drink or invite friends round for a yellow-themed meal.

Here is one of my favourite messages that I think sums up the attitude to Women's day, I have translated it for my English-speaking friends.


Dedicated to Women

Time passes

Life happens

Distance separates

Children grow up

Work comes and goes

Hearts get broken

Colleagues forget favours you have done

Careers end

But a friend, if she really is one, is never so far away to be reached, even if sometimes it could happen, to break the rules and to not find each other and  not walk side by side for awhile

This message was sent to me with the 'clause' to pass it on to all the women who at least once or more have helped me to smile..

So to my friends of yesterday and today

When I was a child I thought you just had one friend, your best friend and that was it,
Growing up I realized you could have lots of friends

One of them you need for when you have problems with affairs of the heart

Another one for when you have problems with your mother

Yet another for talking about your children and your activities

Then there is the friend to go shopping with,
 to sit and have a coffee
to go to the cinema
to have a laugh
to go out dancing

Maybe, for some of us, all these personalities can be found concentrated in one woman friend,
for others there may be more than one

One from Primary school

One from High School

One from College or university

Other times it could be your mother

your next-door neighbour

your sister

or your daughter......

It doesn't matter if she's been your friend for twenty minutes or twenty years.....

the essential thing is that you felt they were near you in a special moment of your life

female solidarity is an invincible force...

Send this message to all the women who have a place in your heart!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Harbingers of Spring

How much there is to delight the senses, to thrill the soul, to give you hope now spring is round the corner. the first trill of the birds, bright and joyous that enters your soul and tells you of their travels. Carpets of snowdrops each one a treasure and together a truly wonderful sight.. Look up at dusk and wonder at the brightness of the stars and the vision of the crescent moon, Such happiness can be found all around you.
You might however,want to linger a while in winter, sip one last hot chocolate, another mulled wine, a brisk walk to get your circulation going. Gradually you wash and put away gloves, scarves, thick jumpers hoping they won't be needed until the Autumn.

Here is probably the most perfect poem for early spring,

To a Snowdrop, William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

Lone flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
the rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

So take your time and slow down, don't rush into spring, enjoy the snowdrops, the silhouettes of the trees, look closely to see the buds, the first carpets of bright green grass

A very happy Spring to all of you.
Snowdrops, the harbingers of Spring

Late winter, early spring sunset

One last hot chocolate, make it a special one

Hurray for the hyacinths

Here come the tulips planted in the Autumn

Dwarf hyacinths fill your days with colour and joy