Spring walk, spring thoughts

Up in our little corner of Italy, we’ve almost forgotten that it’s winter. Days are warming and the bulbs I planted last November are valiantly pushing out their tender buds in a burst of colour.

Seeing them reminds me that winter never lasts forever. No matter how cold, harsh or dry the days, eventually the spring warmth and gentle rain awaken the earth.

We’re still waiting for the rain. It hasn’t rained since Christmas and the forest is tinder dry. Nevertheless, spring’s urge has woken the forest flowers and in some places, they carpet the dry, leaf-strewn soil under parched trees. May the rains come soon.

Daffodils dance beside the road.
Reflections on Lago Nero
Majestic cedar. It’s about 80 years old but we can’t get to it. It’s behind the gates of an old monastery.

The Little Princes’ Valley -Walk with me

Another Sunday and another of the walks in the mountains I’ve been enjoying so much! I wasn’t going to write about this walk, but the sheer beauty of the place and its uniqeness compared to my other walks convinced me that it’s worth mentioning and certainly well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We started off on a paved path in Gressoney St. Jean, which soon became a sandy road. The path runs past these beautiful houses with their resplendent flowers and wooden walls, so typical of this Walzer valley tucked away in the north of Italy. The path rose quite quickly into a larch forest, becoming narrower and more tortuous, the shady trees and light breeze providing a welcome coolness in contrast to patches of bright sun.

Once again, my attention was captured by the flowers… and the butterflies! So many bright jewels flitting by!

This was the day I learnt that my companions weren’t infallible. We took a bit of a detour because no one could remember with certainty which path we had to take. Was it 11A or 11B? We took the 11B path for ten or 15 minutes before deciding that we should go back and take the 11A. We climbed higher and higher with some debate going on and a fair amount of questioning of passers by. When we reached a meadow and stone huts, consensus was reached that we should have stayed on the other path but we would be able to find tbe path and join up with the other one. So we struck out across the meadow, passing the huts and climbing the hill behind them, looking for the path. Fortunately, the path became clear as we neared the top and we were off again, stopping briefly to munch on wild blueberries, exquisite little bursts of flavour such as I’ve never had before.

Decluttering in 2019

It’s strange how things come together even when you have no real intention of making resolutions or decisions. A few days ago, I watched the first episode of a new documenetary series on Netflix. Something about decluttering with Marie Kondo. For those of you who don’t know, it seems she is a tidying guru who not only inspires a following in Japan, but also in the United States, which is where this series is filmed. I was fascinated. Although she comes across as a slightly supercharged cleaning genie with a permanent smile, there were a few things I liked about her suggested methods.

I’m not a particularly untidy person, but I’ll freely admit that my life and my home could do with a good declutter. Her enthusiasm and that of her guests, made me question what I could do to improve my life this year. I’m not really one for resolutions, so let me state clearly that this is not a resolution. Its a statement of what I want to do this year, and a kind of plan as to how I can achieve it.

I considered the clutter in my life. Marie says she prefers to tidy according to categories, and not just areas of the house, although sometimes an area can be a category, such as the kitchen. The first category she focused on with her guests was that of clothes. I liked what she said. She suggests taking all of your clothes out into the middle of the room before deciding what to keep and what to throw or give away (preferably give away if it’s at all wearable still). The trick is then to hold each item and if it gives you a zing of joy, keep it. If not, out it goes after you’ve thanked it for the use it’s given you. I know, it sounds silly, but an attitude of appreciation never hurt anyone. Finally, the items are folded and put back in their drawers or hung in the closet.

I was inspired! Did you know that you can fit more items in a drawer by folding them and standing them up? And that if you stand them up, you can see every t-shirt, making choosing what to wear an easy glance through the drawer? Last night I folded my t-shirt drawer and now it looks like this.

And my cupboard shelves look like this.

It feels wonderful! I’ve also started a bag of clothes to be given to charity and I’ll be adding to it as I continue.

There is still much to be done though. There are so many areas needing a good declutter. I’ve decided to make this the year of decluttering. I want to take time to focus on a different area each month and write about how it goes and what I do. So what are are the different areas I can identify? Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Clothes – January
  • Computer
  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Books
  • Teaching resources (what to keep and what to let go of?)
  • Sewing cabinet (don’t know how I’m going to do this one!)
  • Garage (that’s Mr.B’s domain but maybe with a little bit of help… he actually does keep it amazingly tidy)

But there are also other categories to consider and for me, those are

  • Mind
  • Heart
  • Spirit
  • Body

I’m tired of having a mind filled with the cacophony of daily life and the continual clanging of social media. I want to change the way I think.

I want my heart to be pure in intention, love freely and give freely where I can help others in any way.

I want to have a pure spirit in my dealings with others, both loved ones and acquaintances. I want to believe the best of others and give the best of me.

And finally, I want to treat my body with the respect it deserves, decluttering from all the unhealthy foods I’ve been eating and eating healthy foods as well as exercising more.

Golly! I can see that this is a tall order. Can I do it? Yes! Calmly and quietly, one step at a time, I think I can. If you have any thoughts or advice, feel free to tell me in the comments. Have a great 2019!

10 things I like about living in Italy

  • I’m not afraid to go out at night, even if I rarely do.
  • Food is fresh, seasonal and delicious.
  • Everywhere is new and exciting.
  • Summers are long and lazy.
  • Food festivals, patron saint festivals, summer festivals.
  • The mountains are half an hour away and the sea is two hours away.
  • Christmas is cold and snowy.
  • Snow.
  • Swimming in the local lake in summer.
  • Forest walks
  • Mountain walks
  • Snow shoe walks
  • People greet you in the village

A year of blessings 2018

Last year I shared my blessings jar at the end of the year. This year I did the same thing, but I took photos.

This is what a year of blessings looks like.

Some blessings were extra special…

But all were special in their own way.

Some were sobering reminders of the fragility of life…

Some were exhilarating reminders of the joys of life…

Many left me feeling loved…

And grateful…

“Now, I wonder what glories, grace and treasures 2019 has to show us,” she said as she turned her face to the setting sun.

I’m thankful for every person that blessed my days in 2018. May they all receive double the blessings in 2019, and may I remember to bless others every day in 2019 too.

BBC Radio 2 Word Challenge

It’s a simple challenge. Use the words given over three or four consecutive days by the lovely Vanessa Phelps on her early morning show in one scintillating sentence (her words, not mine). Here are the words for this week: egress, coracle, fecund and flimflam. I turned it into a 50 word story. What can you do with it? Share in the comments if you like, or share a link to your blog. Have fun! Oh, and if you listen to her show tomorrow morning at around 6am UK time, you should hear some lucky listeners reading out their sentences.

Robert manouvred the coracle awkwardly towards the narrow egress of the little port, heading doggedly towards the fecund ocean beyond the break, all the while muttering scathingly that the stories of a reavenous sea monster were utter flimflam. He would find the fish they needed. He was never seen again.

Snow hike

Nothing could be better than getting a late Saturday night message that says, “Do you want to go walking in the mountains with us tomorrow? ” I will admit, I hesitated before replying because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It never is, but the feeling of achievement when you get to your destination and the beauty of the walk is well worth the effort.

Bluest of skies contrasting with pristine snow.

This was only my second walk with snow shoes and the first was relatively easy, with long, flat stretches and a small climb in altitude. Not so for the second time! We stopped in a parking area of the village and had a short, steep walk to the start of the trail. I was already tired and I hadn’t even put on my snowshoes! When we started walking, the going was relatively flat and open. it was a beautiful, sunny day and though the air was crisp, the sun warmed us as we walked. Around us, the snow lay deep and heavy on the fields, sparkling iln the morning sun. I’m always amazed at how soft and powdery snow can be when it’s fresh, and the snow was about as fresh as you could get.

My snow shoes.

We started out eagerly, following a narrow trail forged by the early birds. Around us, there was a profound quiet such as you only get when the snow lies thick on the ground. An occasional soft thud signalled the falling snow from an overhead branch. The only other sound was my deep breaths and the chattering of the leaders, who obviously had no problem with shortness of breath.

What a stunning backdrop!

Friends make life better!

Forest snowdrifts

Icy river and snowcapped rocks

As I walked, my snow shoes collected the snow underfoot and seemed to get heavier and heavier. I had to stop regularly to tap my feet together and dislodge the snow. Just when I was getting to the end of my tether, we came towards a group of houses where we stopped for a short rest. Grateful for a drink, I admired the view before my friends chivvied me along the path again. Imagine my dismay when someone said, “That was the easy part. Now the hard part starts!”

Coming up to the houses. A welcome rest.

My heart sank. I briefly considered telling them I would wait at the houses for them. If it weren’t for the fact that someone was sure to volunteer to stay behind with me and I didn’t want to spoil the walk for anyone, I might have done that. As it was, I bit my tongue and slogged on. The gradient increased steeply and we passed through a forested area, zigzagging sharply in order to climb quickly.

Up, up, up. Am I falling behind?

Take that photo now because I’m not sure I’ll make it to the top!

A number of times I thought I couldn’t lift my legs another step, but it’s amazing what you can do when you have no other choice. I slogged on slowly with Lino behind me, encouraging me all the way and finally reached the lake where the others were already pulling out sandwhiches and flasks. I loved the applause they gave me! I did it! I grabbed my lunch and sank to the ground for a well-deserved rest.

Looking across the lake.

Pristine alpine beauty.

Snow-capped rock.

Lunch on the trail.

The break was all too short and before long we were heading down the trail again. Why is it that you seem to move so much faster on the homeward trail? My biggest problem was trying not to slip or fall on the steep slope and my knees and thighs shouted their displeasure at what I was doing. At one point I did slip. I put out a hand to save myself and, plof, my arm sank into the snowdrift up to my elbow. My face came up with snow all over my glasses and my knees were covered in snow too. Pity no one was close enough to take a photo. It made me smile though and when I told the others they said that everyone falls at least a few times.

Trying to get the snow on my shoulders.

When I arrived home, I could hardly lift my feet to get up the stairs. Would I do it again? You bet!

Thoughts on a train trip

Embed from Getty Images

I love train trips! Even the short half-hour trip to Chivasso to visit beloved grandchildren and daughter has a charm of its own. Slowly the train accelerates, wheels click-clacking with hypnotic regularity. I gaze out of the window at field and forest, cocooned in the warmth inside the coach.

Muffled conversation lulls my senses and I slip deeper into the moment, noticing the deep green of newly planted fields and the bright glow of spring sunshine. Lifting my gaze, I’m awestruck by the distant Alps. Powdery peaks line up as far as the eye can see, anchoring me in this place, this moment. There’s Monviso, one of the highest peaks, towering over Turin. A hawk hovers over a newly turned field, perfectly balanced in the morning air, while a coven of evil looking crows struts the field, pecking and squabbling. The track beats the rhythm of my destination like a simple repetitive prayer. My heart aches with the sheer beauty and oneness of it all.

Then, the familiar curve as the line enters Chivasso. The coach leans to one side. Brakes screech as it slows..until…..finally…….. it stops. Doors hiss and airlocks release with a thud – slide open. We’re there. Down the steps, through the underpass, up the other side.

Celebrating 2017, Welcoming 2018

Happy New Year everyone! May 2018 be a year of love, success, joy and peace for all of you.

An Old Irish Blessing

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Usually I can’t wait to finish the year and start a new one, in the hope that the new one will somehow be better than the old. This year was different. At the start of 2017, I made a “good memories jar” and throughout the year, I added slips of paper with special memories of all the good things that had happened to me.

This was the cover of my jar, with images of things that are special to me.

Last night, I opened the jar.

And throughout the evening, we chose a slip and read it to each other. So saying goodbye to 2017 was a very pleasant trip down memory lane and 2018 was welcomed in with hope and joy. This was the best New Year’s Eve ever!

What New Year’s Eve traditions do you have? Share them with us in the comments.

I am Malala. How one girl stood up for education and changed the world

I’ve been wanting to write a review of this book for quite some time. This is the version of her book which was written in collaboration with Patricia McCormick and specifically for the pre-teen and teen market. When I bought the ebook, I chose this one on the basis of a review by a teacher who had read both versions and rated this one as having less errors and being a more pleasant read.

The book starts with a prologue in which Malala remembers the fateful day of her shooting and the question of the shooter: Who is Malala? Although she doesn’t remember the actual event (she has been told of the question), her life and the book are an answer to that question: I am Malala. Her reply resonates through the book and through her campaign for girls around the world to be educated.

The book follows a chronological order which is easy to follow. I particularly liked the way her voice comes through in the writing. I could picture the child and the life she had. The bond with her father is also evident in the way she talks about how he encourages her to study and about the school for girls which he had started. The photographs at the back of the book made me feel as if I was getting to know this amazing person and her family.

She deals with the arrival and rise of the taliban in the area in a very matter of fact way. Nonetheless, I was shocked and saddened to see how relatively easily they became powerful and there is a sense of the citizens being let down by their government. No one did anything until it was too late.

For those of you who are teachers or parents, the discussion section at the back of the book is excellent and provides thoughtful questions and prompts on themes raised by the book.

I enjoyed reading this book and would certainly recommend it to both adults and adolescents. If you’re interested in reading the book, you can find it here.

If you’ve read this book, put your opinion of it in the comments.

If you have an autobiography or biography to reccomend, let me know in the comments.

Happy reading!