After we moved to Italy, when everything changed for us, my father's health took a turn for the worse. In October of 2004, I travelled to the states to visit my parents, and to help relieve my sister's burden of care in some small way. I remember the time I spent with my parents in every detail. The apple tree which got cut down in the front lawn by the local tree care company, the new Nikon D70 I bought to take pictures for the website (I used it to take this blurry picture -- I am SO glad I did that), bringing my dad to his doctor's appointments and trying to figure out how to balance heart disease with kidney problems -- no easy feat.
More than anything, I remember trying to cook rich, good tasting food that he would find appealing, a job which had consumed my mother's time when they would be by themselves. I tried to get my dad to talk to me about what he was feeling, but he did not want to do that. He kept so much to himself. I wish I could have convinced him to let it out. Oh, well, he was the way he was.
I cut his hair for him. I sat and watched the History Channel and Rachel Ray and Emeril with him. And I left him and my mother there, and travelled back to Italy. My dear friend Michele came all the way from Philadelphia, picked me up in Milford and brought me back to the airport as I wept, so scared to say goodbye. Michele sat with me and ate nachos and drank beer at Newark Airport and made sure I was ok before I boarded that good old 10.30 pm Alitalia flight back to Malpensa (God I miss that flight -- too bad they cut that one out). After that she drove all the way back to Philly alone. She did that more than once for me. A kindness that a friend in need will never forget.
I could never appropriately relieve my family's burden. I have never been around enough. That is one of life's regrets that comes with the choices I have made. When people ask me what it is like to live my dream, it is moments like this which come time mind and make me think that even dreams have consequences. It is this part of living abroad which can make a person feel so damn inadequate. The regular visits, the occasional checking in, and the after-hospital care has all been in the hands of my sister. That is something for which I will always be thankful, that she has shouldered that responsibility, and continues to do so.
I am so grateful for the memories that I do have of the small moments. Because a year later, I arrived just in time to be with my father as he transitioned out of this life. Tonight I miss my father more than words can say. But he is here with me. Now.
I love you, daddy. Thank you for all you gave to me, for all you tried to impart in me. It will never be forgotten. I am very grateful to have had you and to still have mom well into my own adulthood. I pray that you at peace and enjoying some good venison in heaven, although I don't know if hunting is allowed up there!
I made it for tomorrow's breakfast but Micha made me cut a piece for him for dessert this evening. He loves everything out of Gina's book, and this cake is no exception. It is a simple, lovely cake, extremely healthy since it is made with olive oil, and fits just about any occasion, I think. In fact, I am enjoying a piece right now (Micha made me do it....)
Gratitude is sometimes a tricky thing. It can be a challenge to be grateful when we are tired, weary and feeling that it's been awhile since things have gone well.
We wonder if there is any way to start climbing back into happiness and contentment.
I love this old ladder, which a very talented guest from Germany photographed during the week that he and his wife stayed with us. We found this ladder in the barn. I always wonder how many generations used it to get hay out of the loft or to pick fruit. It does not look that strong, really.
But old ladders are funny things. They may look rickety and worn, but they have not made it this far without having been much stronger than anyone thought they were. And when we are feeling down, and like we really cannot do anything right anymore, it's really time for us to start climbing and finding new ways to access the joy in life. Life is full of "old ladders" which help us start again. A telephone conversation with a trusted friend might be the old ladder to help us climb out of our panic or fear today. Or getting a note from someone we love. Or just remembering to look around and see the good around us which is in bounty. Nature is a great old ladder to help us forget our worries.
When you are on an old ladder, don't doubt your footing. Rest assured that the ladder will carry you as it has others before you. Hold on, and reach your goal of being grateful and happy. Even if things on the ground don't seem so great at the moment, things will get better if you just climb slowly.
We hosted breakfast inside this morning, a sure sign that fall has arrived in Piemonte. Another sign are the foods we are starting to see, such as gorgeous porcini mushrooms. If you drive from Acqui Terme to Savona in Liguria on the old route through the hills, you will find trucks on the side of the road, laden with these wild mushrooms, the hunters eager to sell their ware. Peperoncini are ripening and waiting to be dried, to make my friend Letizia's peperoncino infused oil .
The skies fill up with purple clouds, some passing quickly, some releasing their fury. The farmers are outside, trying to determine the exactly correct moment da vendemmiare. I walked Max a while ago, making mental notes of all the things I would like to do. So many things.
The entire region is one big Sagra, or celebration, of food and wine and harvest and life itself. Acqui Terme celebrated the area's produtti locali all weekend with a street festival, each booth highlighting a gastronomic delicacy from the area, from porcini fritti to polenta con gorgonzola. With wine, of course. What street festival is complete without wine? Next weekend is the oldest Palio in Italy, the Asti Palio, where the horses run through the town square. CHEESE, the Slow Food biannual extravaganza is also next weekend. And in between, small towns throughout Piemonte celebrate in small, sweet ways. It is a wonderful time to be here.
But soon all the festivals will be finished, the guests will have left, and we will go into our quiet time, where we can sleep in and work at our own pace, preparing for winter's arrival, making foods that satisfy.
So, anyway. These are the things I meditated on during my walk with Max today:
Develop a very personal style. I am reminded, through our guests I suppose, that our live is indeed a fulfilling but simple one. We truly live by the rules of nature and have little space in our lives for fanciful things. I think I have, at an unconscious level, fought this in some ways, but I am coming to accept that this is how it is now. There are moments when I look back on this life and I can pick moments where there were big cars or complicated jobs and huge wardrobes. As I was walking with Max today, I was thinking about my own personal style -- I don't know that any piece in my old huge wardrobe ever really reflected how I wanted to look or who I truly was. So I am on a bit of a mission now, to sense and feel fabric and fashion which suits the woman I have become, the person I see myself as. I would love to learn how to sew well, and maybe have come to an age where I have the patience to learn how. I see women in my age group with great personal style and wish to get there myself, in my own way, at my own pace. I see a place for my new buttons in my own fashion.
Simplicity enhances creativity. It is a country life, this one, yet it is a modern country life, connected to the world with satellite and DSL, a life where we know what is happening but one where we do not do as much partaking as we maybe once did. Despite the relative simplicity of our lives, we find ourselves tremendously busy -- with plans, work, creative initiatives and ideas. Simple does not mean being bored, it means not being complicated. Life is more straightforward for us now than it has ever been. We host guests, we cook, we clean, we chop and gather firewood, we garden, we walk the dog. We seem to like it that way.
Remember that stuff is nothing. Things have lost priority. Stuff no longer counts. Shopping does not give me a lift, in fact, it does the opposite. I like nice things, but am happy to wait for them or strike them from the list of possibilities completely if necessary, and to make do with what we have. In Italy, people will reuse a grape twice -- once to produce wine, a second time to distill grappa. This is a basic Italian life philosophy, and I am thankful that I have gotten to live it in real time.
Use your things and enjoy them. I am no longer waiting to use my silver -- my guests eat breakfast with silver very day. Same thing with all of my fine linens. What on earth would I wait for, until I am dead and can give everything to my niece and nephew who would in turn save it all for their kids? They can still have it all when I have transitioned out of this life, but my silver will be a bit used, as it should be when things are handed from generation to generation.
Give thanks. Remember that loving is an active sport, not a passive one. It takes work. Being thankful is an act of love.
So much for today's walk. This is the reason I love the fall so much. It brings such thoughts out.
My dear friend Meg has a very sweet dog named Lucy, as many of you know. Please see picture above, taken at our home in October 2005. It was the first time I ever met Meg, Lui or Lucy. We became fast friends. But they also had a big impact on us.
Because six months later, we got Max. And life has truly never been the same. So much sweetness in one creature. Oh, it was challenging at times (like when he would steal the guests' underwear out of their suitcases, or tinkle on their luggage -but only when he was really little), but the laughter and joy he brings to our lives is irreplaceable.
So, thank you Meg, Lui. Thank you, Lucy, you sweet thing.
And thank you Max. For all of the music you bring to our lives every day.
My friend Gina DePalma has written a post over at Serious Eats about lavender honey, together with a great recipe for Lavender Honey Spice Cake. She talks about the Piemontese Lavender connection and about Baur B&B as well!
oak marbles, oak leaves, rosehips and queen anne's lace
the first results of my ceramic button experiment...
... and a couple of more.
I spend most of my time learning.
For example, I thought that we had some of the weirdest looking, biggest acorns here in Italy. It was only after reading this post by Francesca of Fuori Borgo that these things I find on my oak trees are not acorns at all, but rather a type of wasp nest. They are beautiful, and I am going to start collecting them, as Francesca has been doing for years.
Francesca is also a crochet artist and embroidery artist and food artist and makes the most beautiful things, some of which she sells in her etsy shop . I had the idea to maybe compliment her work by making some buttons the she could use in her creations. I have photographed the test buttons here, and know now what I have to change to make them a little more usable. It's a fun little project, and has opened my mind to new ideas and uses for clay.
Now, Francesca did not teach me how to make pesto, I have been doing it myself for years, but she reminded me through her post that pesto is beautiful and should be made in abundance and photographed. This week we will harvest our 40 basil plants and freeze enough pesto to enjoy it at least once every couple of weeks in the cold winter months -- bringing memories of summer to our palates.
So thank you, Francesca, knowing you virtually has enriched my life! When things calm down, I will make it over my hill, and hopefully you will make it over yours, to meet somewhere in the middle.
With a grateful heart, I welcome the first touches of fall back to our lives. Our B&B is full of guests, something I did not think would be happening in 2009 when so many suffered so much financial loss. I am rethinking breakfast with autumn fruits in mind. The weather is still warm, the pool is still being used, and the change of seasons gradual. I look forward to walks with Max, wearing socks again, the smell of rich food in the kitchen.
Instead of flowers, I arrange acorns and rosehips in the vases for the rooms. The mornings start a bit later, the days end a bit sooner. It's the time of year when I inevitably feel the cycle of life's presence. It is a beautiful, retrospective time of year.
It started late last week, with Moscato and Brachetto. It will continue with Cortese and Chardonnay, and then the reds will start. Heavily laden tractors are everywhere, people picking on every hillside.
It's the most beautiful time to be in Piemonte. And this promises to be the best vendemmia of the decade. The region is buzzing with positive excitement about the quality of the grapes. Long, hot summer weeks and little summer rain made for perfect growing conditions....
I completed three pieces of art which I donated to the auction for Cowgirl Cure, my friend Gina DePalma's organization for Ovarian Cancer Research. The pieces were bid for and won by guests which are staying with us this week.