31 May 2011

Roses in the Vineyards

This past weekend, in our little corner of the world, we had "Cantine Aperte" or Open Wineries to enjoy. About 40 wineries in our province of Abruzzo opened their doors for folks to come and sample their wines, their food and their hospitality. I went with my husband and some friends to see our beautiful countryside on glorious, clear, warm days and get to know the wines in our region better. 

Many of these wineries are family owned and handed father to son or daughter down the generations. Wines were shared proudly and information was given so that we could appreciate the subtleties we might miss otherwise. This grandfather, in business with his two daughters, posed with obvious pride with his granddaughter who gave us the tour of their winery and has decided to pursue their business as well. She was a delight.

They had items  showcasing their hands - on approach to wine making and aging in bottles rather than casks. Their label is added at the end by the 80 year old grandmother who first decants the wine to another bottle to eliminate any sediment. Now that's a family affair. I thought about how wonderful it is to have a business that the next generation can get excited about and work alongside elders while developing their own passion and expertise. 

One of the things I noticed as we went from winery to winery were the roses planted either at the end of each row of grapevines or, at least, in the vicinity. Do you know why these roses are planted in or near vineyards? It turns out that roses are susceptible, but more so, to the same type of fungus (powdery mildew and downy mildew) as the grapevines. If the roses show signs of disease, the vines are quickly treated (with sulfur or copper sulphate) lest they become infected, too. An elegant early warning system. Roses also attract beneficial insects that prey upon the insects that are harmful to the grapevines. Plus, of course, they're beautiful in their own right.

The soil and grapevines are monitored scientifically, nowadays, making the roses probably unnecessary and there are some who say that this tradition is based on a myth. But the tradition persists in some vineyards and certainly adds an extra touch of beauty. What a lovely tradition.

What a lovely weekend.

30 May 2011

Sun Tea with Mint

To continue under the category of simple pleasures, I've been brewing sun tea in jars and adding fresh mint to it.

It's easy: fill the jar with cold water and add tea of your choice. I make mine with 5 black tea bags,  3 fruit tea bags and a good handful of fresh cut mint. My husband uses 6 green tea bags, 2 fruit tea bags and a handful of mint.

Then, simply sit it in the sun for a couple to a few hours.

Next, remove all the bags and mint (they can go into the compost) and refrigerate.

To serve, add a slice of lemon, a sprig of mint, some sugar or honey, or nothing at all. It's a delicious and refreshing drink for spring and summer. Enjoy!

Do you have any favorite variations?

28 May 2011

A Simple Pleasure

My variation on caprese panini:

To the usual fresh mozzarella, fresh, sweet, juicy tomatoes and fresh basil (middle shelf),

add fresh arugula liberally on open faced Italian bread lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil:

Then, simply enjoy. Follow with fresh cherries (it's cherry season here):

Ahh, life's simple pleasures.

What's pleasurable in your life these days?

25 May 2011

My Top Twenty from Two Years in Italy

Two years ago I moved to Italy with my Honey. My life has changed in both subtle and dramatic ways as a result. It has been a grand adventure.

The top 20 things I've learned:

1. Making friends is the glue that holds life together and international friends are fun.

2. To think globally rather than nationally is not just a good idea, it's vital.

3. Italy challenges me in every way possible. If I don't understand, I need to dig deeper. Still don't understand, dig deeper still. Give up my preconceptions - see in a new way. Learn a new language to make understanding possible.

4. Learning a new language for the first time in my 60's is difficult. Finding a good teacher makes it possible. Finding a kind and encouraging one is golden. Thank you, Marcello.

5. Clothes can be dried outside without a clothes dryer and smell better, too.

6. Fresh, locally grown food tastes better, costs less and is better for me and the planet.

7. Bidets are great sinks for 4 year olds.

8. Growing basil, rosemary, hot peppers, celery, chive, mint, parsley, oregano and arugula on my balcony tastes better, saves money and is better for me and the planet.

9. Growing lavender helps the beleaguered honey bees, smells good and gives me fresh potpourri.

10. Natural rising is one of life's great pleasures.

11. Discovering more about my natural rhythms and having more relaxed time makes for better sex in my 60's. Afternoon delights are just that.

12. Good neighbors are a gift of pure grace.

13. Italy delights me in every way possible- the people, the food, the national parks, the sea and mountains, Rome, Venice, Assisi, Florence, Sienna, Sardinia, the sweep of history, the ancient architecture, the amazing art and so much more...

14. Locally grown wines from our region of Abruzzo - Montepulciano (red) and Trebiano (white), are delicious.

15. Fresh, local olive oil is surely a gift from the goddess.

16. A good woman's club is a great way to integrate into an area.

17. Having easy access to Europe for travel to Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, and The Netherlands (so far) is a wonderful way to expand my mind, deepen my understanding, and bond me to fellow travelers on this journey of ours.

18. Exposing grandchildren to all this expands their world and minds as well.

19. Running three times a week keeps me healthy and lets me eat more of this uniquely scrumptious food while maintaining my weight.

20. Blogging keeps me more aware of the blessings I have. It forces me to put this journey into words and share it. For the responses I have received and the relationships I have developed, I am truly grateful.

22 May 2011

The Gift of Kindness

Kindness, I've discovered, is everything in life.

Today, in small separate acts of kindness, two of our neighbors came to our door with sweet gifts. Some beautiful white iris and delicious red wine. One to nourish the body, both to nourish the spirit. Kindness gives pleasure and connects us gracefully one to another. I'm grateful for these friends, their gifts and this reminder. 

20 May 2011


Have you ever been in an area with an energy that is palpable if inexplicable? While touring the Palatine Hill on a recent visit to Rome I came across ruins of the Vestals or Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome and had that experience.  I knew nothing of these women but felt their presence, like echos calling me. I spent time among their remnants and then decided to learn more about them.

In ancient Rome, Vesta was the goddess of the hearth and home and the Vestals were the priestesses of Vesta. They tended the sacred fire inside the Temple of Vesta that was never allowed to go out and from which all Romans could draw fire for their hearths. They existed from about 700 BC to 394 AD "to devote themselves to the study and correct observance of state rituals that were off- limits to the male college of priests." (Wikipedia) Besides conducting sacred ceremonies, they were included in state decision making and became an influential force in Rome even serving on College of Pontiffs, made up of the highest ranking priests, as their only female members.

The girls were chosen for this role between the ages of 6 - 10 and served for 30 years; ten years to learn, ten years to serve, and ten years to teach. Unlike Roman women of their time, they had extraordinary freedom, safety and respect and lived independently in luxury. They enjoyed a place of honor at public ceremonies and were free to own property, make a will and vote. Vestals could give evidence without taking an oath because their word was trusted absolutely. Although they were allowed to marry after their 30 years, few did as they would lose their status and independence and be subject to their husbands.

Artist rendering of the house of the Vestals (from Wikipedia):

As Christianity gained prominence and promoted the idea of one, as opposed to many gods, the Vestals were disbanded. There role in protecting Rome for 1000 years and being seen as fundamental to the continuance of Rome was over. 

There's something about reading of women in history who had unique and essential roles and respect that breaks my heart when they lose it. Reading The Mists of Avalon was like that for me, too. Maybe that's what I experienced in this place of the Vestals history. This trace of their energy now gone. I felt it. I grieve this lack of recognition of the feminine contribution in our current culture. How long will it take?   How many girls and women silenced or ignored when their voices are so important?

16 May 2011


Venice is a world apart. In Rome, when you step on the grounds of the Vatican, you leave Italy and
enter an entirely new state, the Vatican state. So too with Venice, but for a different reason, more like
entering a different state of mind.

For instance, did you know that Venice has no cars? I didn't. Four days in a city without cars is a
tranquil and relaxing experience quite different from other cities. Residents and visitors either walk or
take a water taxi, public or private, to get around. They run frequently and everywhere. And
"everywhere" in Venice is lovely with an old world beauty that is utterly unique and altogether
enchanting. I felt increasingly serene in my time there.

I hardly know where to begin to describe it. Venice consists of over a hundred islands. The water and
canals that separate them lend to the romance and mystery that make Venice magical. Add to that the
art, architecture, history, music and carnival that Venice is famous for and the magic happens. Venice
is a feast for the eyes so intense that it's hard to know where to look next and swooning is common.
When's the last time you swooned? Multiple times daily? Such that I intended to take some photos to
commemorate my visit but ended up with over 400 of them! I kept saying "oh, but this is so beautiful".

Something about the quality of the light as it reflects off the water, and the shimmer the water gives to
the buildings, the boats and the people next to it actually changes perception so that I could see in a
new way. It must be why art has flourished here for centuries. I had a glimpse of that feeling artists
must get when they see, really see, and want to capture their vision in art to communicate it to others.
The colors of the buildings, the grand architecture, the colors of the trees and flowers, the way water
and light enhanced them was thrilling. Being able to stop and appreciate anything that caught my eye
because I didn't have to be vigilant of motor vehicles or bothered by their noise was remarkably
freeing. It encourages slowing down, rewards it at every turn.

When the fellow who runs the B and B where we stayed was giving us hints of how to enjoy Venice,
he said: "Walk without a map, get lost, follow the twists and turns wherever they take you and then
appreciate wherever you are. It's perfectly safe to do this and a gift to give yourself." It was great
advice, a great way to see this bella cittá.

How about a city that rewards you for being present to what's around  and savoring small moments?
Remarkable. A world apart: Venice.

08 May 2011

Happy Mothers Day

I received this email from my daughter today. It filled my heart with joy and I wanted to share it.

8 May 2011

I am so grateful to have reached this stage of my life and to have developed the wonderful relationship I now have with my mother.  Many mother/daughter relationships in this world seem to be fraught with challenges and turmoil and I would never exclude my relationship with my mother from that category.  My mother and I are very different beings with different personalities, priorities and preferences and this of course led to challenges within our relationship.  But when it all comes down to it I think my Mom and I are more alike than different and our priorities are so much the same – to stay connected with ourselves, our families and our friends even as we explore the world and all that life has to offer. 

Family is so important to my Mom that she moved 3000 miles across the US when I started to have children because California was not the heritage she wanted to share with her grandchildren – her roots lay in the Northeast and that is where she wanted to return to and share with the next generation.  With this move came the drive to reunite the women in our family, so she started a sacred circle 7½ years ago giving the women in all generations the chance to heal, bond and love.  Those family priorities manifested again when I had my daughter and my parents moved 2000 miles to a foreign country and culture in order to develop a solid relationship with Kamala while she was young.  As our family gathered this February to support the Breast Cancer marathon and to hang out, I realized that family truly is one of the most important things we will ever have and that staying connected with and supportive of our families is what life is all about. If we can’t spend our time, money and energy doing that we are missing out on a lot of what life has to offer.  Thank you Mom for instilling this in me!

The other great lesson I have learned from my mother is the importance of staying connected to ourselves.  I love seeing how many lives my mother has lived in just the short 65 years she has been around – the jobs she has held, the places she has lived, the hobbies she has explored.  This is such a great model for me when I feel stuck  – like wondering if I will ever live a life again without a baby attached to my breast or a toddler pulling on my leg or a child whining for my attention.  Her life helps me see that each is a phase and each phase will pass and the point is to enjoy that time for what it is and pay attention to when we are called to shift to something else.  I marvel now especially at how much more my Mom is finding out about herself and her passions and how much she is getting to experience the fullness of life with energy and enthusiasm.  Thank you Mom for be a model on aging and living!

And perhaps the greatest treasure my Mom has given me is her friendship.  It has been wonderful to find the levels on which we truly connect and get to explore and experience them with her – hiking, reading, running.  My Mom has friends for every occasion and interest – those to shop with, those to exercise with, those to dine with, etc.  I am grateful to be on that list and to share special times in life as friends together.  Running the half marathon together was a tribute to the importance of and dedication to family, friendship and ourselves that we share and I cherish the memories and photos of us raising our joined hands together!  Thank you Mom for the gift of your friendship!!

I love you Mom.  Happy day to you!!

Thanks Kelly, from the depths of my heart. Being your mother is my favorite role so far. I love you and honor the great mother you've become. I cherish our friendship.

And Happy Mothers Day to my blog friends! Days like today make it all worthwhile.