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I am no psychologist, or degree-holding professional. I am simply a mother, wife, and lover of life. And life has taught me that there is a force out there, greater than ourselves, which causes amazing things to happen.
But it’s not just out there…it’s right within us. The difference between people who experience magic in their lives, and those who don’t, is that the former consciously allow amazing things to happen. They focus on it. They acknowledge its existence. And what they concentrate on is what comes to life.
In this village, they say that when the Leone mountain across us wears a grey cap—when the clouds sit low on its peak gathered like a hat—it means we will have rain tomorrow.
Apparently, it’s true.
Last weekend, on Saturday afternoon, even though the skies were bright blue, the mountain, our ever-present and glorious background, wore a cap.
The husband and I watched silvery flat clouds shifting around its head, gathering into a perfect hat shape—not hovering like a halo, but softly settling on its crown. The son peered out with his binoculars from the hillside Bellavista restaurant terrace in Vercana where we’d gone for pizza and house wine.
“Yep, bad weather tomorrow,” we both concluded, in-between the daughter’s incessant babbles.
We clinked our glasses and drank away the afternoon, because that is what you do here on a weekend after 2pm—whether sun or rain.
So the following day, despite the rains, we headed to Chiavenna, just 16 kilometers away.
The old town cultural center, still preserved, winded the way typical Italian towns do, with their renovated cobblestone streets, semi-uncluttered gutters and olive-green shutters decked with rose-red flower pots.
Swiss and German tourists huddled under umbrellas, checking out the Saldi signs, but all was closed during siesta hours.
“It just can’t be SUN-day,” said my son aloud, “there’s only RAIN today!”
And he said this with an air of excitement. It was still a lot of fun to wear bright rubber boots and splash around.
But it was Sunday, and also siesta, for that matter, which meant I and my wallet would not be parting—at least not for three hours.
An aquarelle painting exhibition near the piazza by British artist Kim Sommerschield, was the perfect place to wait out the drizzle.
Beautiful sharp strokes of the familiar mountains in deep blue and sienna, the misty lake and its wildlife splashed in striking hues, and my favorite of the water-colored portraits, a Charlie Chaplain.
Next, we headed for the Palazzo Vertemate Franchi, where the daughter was far too noisy, so I excused her from the tour group and headed out to the hallways to walk amongst scary portraits of middle-aged plump women in way too much jewelry and ruffles.
When it was time for panini and aperitvi, we headed back to the historical center for snack under the now sparkling sun.
The weather here is like that, shifting from one second to the next.
Prosecco for me, succo de mela for Karsten, a birra media for the husband and latte fresco for Alex. (I found I never have to worry about bringing milk on outings, as one can always order it fresh from any bar.)
I also had bresaola, a kind of salty, dried meat from the plush Valtellina region, plated with steinpilz, a delicious wild mushroom, and sharp rucola salad.
Observing my two curious kids splashing in puddles, being fascinated by waterfalls and hidden corners, even the way they sat down on the side of a random street, just to…sit and watch the world go by, reminded me that life is for these tiny, treasured moments.
Did they understand a word the tour guide was saying in the grand palace? No.
Did they care that it was rainy weather and not “suitable” for exploring? Of course not.
Did they whine that, during siesta no stores were open to browse? No, not these kids.
They simply enjoyed what life had to offer them in that moment: lots of muddy puddles, fascinating steep steps and cobblestones, giant door handles fabricated hundreds of years ago…
…and ripples of murky water in an old piazza fountain, reflecting their own mischievous smiles.
Back at home, I continue painting my version of the Montana Leone, the forms I see in it, the colors that inspire…
…the daughter picks up my brush and messes up a corner.
I let her…
No matter that the weather is grey, or how many clouds gather at its peak, that mountain will always be beautiful, and it is the daily view like this that makes me appreciate my own sense of sight.
Every morning, we get to wake up and watch it shift forms, spreading out on the horizon “just like a volcano,” my son always says, excitedly.
We get to see it transform, and at times completely disappear into the fog…but it always returns, to welcome our days, or to say goodnight.
“It’s as if you’ve never seen it before,” my husband remarked yesterday, when I’d had an explodation mark about its current beauty.
But I agree with my Belgian neighbor, Cara, who says, “It’s the most beautiful mountain in the world!”
Mist masked the Alpine mountains, while long, low-hanging clouds sliced through their peaks this morning. They shifted but refused to pull back completely. At 10am, I pondered aloud whether to go for my daily run.
“Just go. You’ll feel much better,” answered the husband, knowing I was thinking about the weather forecast. “I don’t think it will rain.”
When, at last, the baby was asleep and knocked out enough for him to take over parenting duties, I set out.
Down the steep slope where our summer casetta stands overlooking the upper west end of Lago di Como, past a stone hedge with outcroppings of beautiful lavender where sheep graze, turning behind the town’s stone chapel with its bell tower, I cross the busy highway, and set out on a pebble stone bike lane. It curves around the lake and connects three rustic villages.
Not a soul in sight. Perfect, just like the view in front of me.
It’s Monday morning, but no one else is occupying the lake except a couple ducks. A slow start and I’m awkward in the cold, whipping wind.
I pass green shades of olive, oleander and juniper trees, low hanging branches dancing in the wind and high climbing cypress trees guarding manicured lawns. On some stone walls, Roman goddesses of marble, peer down serenely at me.
There are luxurious holiday villas, age-old Italian homes, sprawling campsites and cozy enclaves. The waves from the lake lap gently at a pebble-stoned beach. Continuing onward, I jog. No kids, no husband, no dirty dishes nagging in my mind. Only the open, welcoming path.
It leads to the next small town with its quiet harbor, and quiet promenade leading past the ferry port. My breathing taps the silence; it is calming, and so are my thoughts.
Funny how nature changes ones mood.
I think of the chores of everyday life—the washing, the cleaning, the cooking, the housekeeping. Always, someone, to look after, to cook for, to tend to. Such is the life of a mother. But I knew that before becoming one.
Today, I am grateful for one hour of silence and stillness. Just by myself and my thoughts. It’s almost surreal, my magical new home. Tucked between the Valtellina, below Alpine peaks where snow still cascades, the lake gleams now in glorious sunlight.
I thank God for bringing us here, no matter the problems and hard work it took to get us, a whole family, right where we are today—a perfect place.
I pray for peace to stay…for the strength to face each day ahead, doing all those tasks only mothers know about, to keep their home running with love and enough energy, willpower and patience.
Soon it’s time to turn around. Duties call…Baby will be awake soon, and I’ve still got the uphill run.
Eight kilometers later, I’m back up the cemetery cobblestone path, just before the bell tolls. Taking a short cut behind the old chapel, I come up on a stony, grassy slope overlooking it, and I’m now higher than its bell tower.
And if I were born in this tiny town, I’d have that campanilismo, too. It’s a beautiful place full of romance, adventure, and idyllic charm.
Turning the corner, there’s a sudden steep incline, up the road named Paradiso. I slow a bit, but do not stop.
Do not stop…
Passing the long lavender blooms, this time their deep violet color welcomes me at the end of my run. From here, on top of the hill, I can finally look back at the view of the lake from where I’ve come, see down into the distance, and know I’ve aced another nine kilometers.
Flinging open the door, I smile at the two little faces I love most.
“Mom, can we go rainbow hunting later today?” the son asks, as drops fall gently from the sky—they waited till I was indoors—and turn into a shower.
“Of course we can,” I answer.
There is a cozy fire crackling in the hearth, and the children have been playing in the warm living room. Could the day get any better?
But it does.
The laundry is washed and hung, a clean batch folded neatly and put away. The dishes are done and dried; all beds are made; the bathroom is spotless. I couldn’t ask for a better house-husband or a better place to call home.
This is what it’s like most mornings, living under the rainbow.
When was the last time you felt truly excited about being alive?
When did you last laugh out loud for no reason at all, but just because something made you really happy?
Let’s admit, these are not every day emotions. For many people, they can be more the exception rather than the norm.
And yet, why shouldn’t we be excited every day?
What really holds us back from joy?
I’m gonna guess it’s just being adults. Grown-ups don’t or shouldn’t get too excited, we think. Focus on the tasks at hand…over-think the problems…groan about what isn’t right in our world.
But kids know best that happiness and excitement just can’t be contained. My son calls it, having an Explodation Mark. (I didn’t bother telling him the punctuation sign is actually called an EXCLAMation mark!)
It usually happens just before his favorite LEGO DVD starts…he jumps around…cheers and gets all crazy…
“Settle down,” I’ll say.
“But mom! I’m just having an Explodation Mark!”
Or upon me announcing that it’s time to go to the gelato bar now—
“Settle down now!”
“But mom—I’m just having an Explodation Mark!”
Or when someone—anyone—scores in the football match…
“But it’s just my Explodation Mark!”
Well, this week, I have been having a few explodation marks of my own—and they weren’t even the kind that begin with stress and end in tears (usual for us moms, you know!)
They were the happy kind, the blissful kind, and even the jump-up-and-down kind, like my son has at times.
And I realized, it was because, recently, I have made up my mind to get more excited about life.
No matter how stressed I feel…
No matter how uninspired home chores can be…(No matter that my daughter just plopped my phone in the mop bucket and killed it.)
No matter what life surprises with or the challenges each day brings.
Explodation Marks can even be just bursts of gratitude.
Or, they can be moments of peaceful silence.
Explodation Marks can be that serene feeling, watching a sunrise
Or a fantastic thunderstorm.
Explodation Marks can be long hugs between you and your partner
Or of course they can be more than just hugs.
Explodation Marks are really saying, what my other kid has learned to say over and over again, her first actual English word:
When I hear her say it, I am reminded to always see the wow, and say it—even if only silently, in my heart and mind…but sometimes, out loud, too:
Wow, Life, I am grateful for these moments with you.
Wow, Problems, you sure know how to challenge me!
Wow, Stress, you again?
Wow, Fear, you really think you are going to win?
Wow, Nature, let me never forget your beauty.
Wow, Universe—you continue to surprise me.
Wow, dear God, you are truly amazing.
And you know what?
The more I see and say wow, the more explodation marks I allow myself, the more Real, True and Authentic, meaningful experiences come into my life.
More magic happens. More amazing people cross my paths. More serendipity. More Wow.
If you want your world to come alive, allow yourself some childlike awe, some Explodation Marks. Have more fun, and you will feel more alive, guaranteed.
Kids make the best cartoon characters. Old people too, but since I have daily access to these pretty animated kids, I’ve going to be drawing them more. With great opportunity at mealtimes to crank out some silly faces.
Check out this artwork as a T-Shirt and Pillow design here in my store :) It’s caled “NumNum”, because that’s her word for her favorite thing in the world: food.
Life has been good to me. I’ve traveled some pretty fantastic places around the world, wound up in adventurous terrain, been lost in enchanting and exotic locations, and called many of those destinations home.
But the latest has been by far, the best. The most beautiful.
Check out my new living room/terrace view:
To the left, I can see where my husband goes to work, where kitesurfers soar over the waters on windy days. In the center, the glistening lights of a little town across the lake sparkle even more in the evenings, when our living room couch doubles as a bed and we can sit/lie and and sip wine together–how’s that for romance? And to the right, the lake continues on southward, traversing through valleys that lie below a cluster of snow-capped mountains, its waters winding through towns and foothills, rippling silently into the distance.
We are still settling in, figuring out where the kids will go to school, how we will continue life in this tiny town, and attempting to learn the language. But it’s a good start, and a wonderful place to wake up to every morning. We even have a little garden that our tiny gardener has been keeping well-watered.
I thought it was timely that we got the keys to our new house on the same week that I turned 33. The day after my birthday, we moved in, began a new journey as a family. Another chapter closed; a new one begun.
Who knows what the future has in store? Who knows what’s waiting out there? I don’t, just yet.
But I’m excited to find out. Thrilled that, in this beautiful place I’ve been brought to, I find inspiration to paint, being surrounded by my loved ones–my children, my husband, and my friends…even though most of our connections are online these days.
There is beauty everywhere, and I will continue to discover it, though here in Italy one doesn’t have to look very far.
This recipe begins with a story about married life.
My married life, the one in which, from day to day, there are highs and lows, sacrifices and joys, tiny, insignificant spats, colossal problems, infused with everyday learning when you (hopefully) get better at being—and having—a partner.
Initially, we’d argued over what meat to buy for dinner, and then eventually decided on beef. But then, at the groceries last minute, I’d changed my mind to chicken. In a huff, he’d bought the beef instead, and I’d complained to myself that a single cut could cost as much as 9 euros. As insignificant as these little details seem, it can end up ruining a potentially productive, harmonious day and give everyone a very nasty mood.
The husband went to work, and I decided to marinate the beef before taking the kids down to the lake. Tossing it with an Asian-style recipe, the kind where you check what you have in the fridge and spice cupboard, I added everything together with, most importantly, that magic element that is every single Asian dish.
It wasn’t until 7pm at night, when we’d all gotten home, and I found myself thinking that something wasn’t right. The meat I’d marinated looked way too pink to be beef, but didn’t feel quite like a pound of pork either, neither lean enough to be rabbit.
“I think we accidentally bought lamb,” I said. (With a mental “oops”, because I have never, ever in my life attempted to cook lamb. Seems to be such a fancy dish, the kind that scares an amateur cook more accustomed to Asian stir-fries and such.)
“Read the label,” the husband answered. “Lamb is agnello in Italian.”
Of course, I’d thrown the packaging away that morning, so had to go fish it out of the garbage, before seeing that it was, indeed, Agnello– a delightful piece of baby sheep…and, to my dismay, that I’d unintentionally ruined it with soya sauce and honey!
But you know who rocks? Jamie Oliver. I found myself on his cooking site, and his ingredients for a delicious roast lamb were not much different than the ones I’d tossed together. Following his easy, straightforward instructions on how to oven roast a piece of meat with potatoes, I crafted my very first leg of lamb.
It was a complete surprise, how simple this recipe was. The soya-sauce and honey mixture made a perfect caramel crust, glazing the potatoes and carrots exquisitely.
“It’s the Easter lamb,” my husband joked, and we both laughed at not even realizing the timeliness of this themed feast. Accidental deliciousness.
It did turn out to be a feast. I’d served it with a fresh feld salat, tossed with sautéed mushrooms and fresh goats cheese (recipe also below), a liter bottle of vino rosso, Nero D’Avola, grilled corn on the cob and toasted baguettes.
As the husband carved out the meat, the good bits with their sweet but not too sticky flavors left me thinking that this must be the kind of dish that makes the heart sing. Makes you forget the crazies.
I turned up some jazz radio, we lit the table candles, uncorked the wine and enjoyed the glow. Is there anything more rewarding than watching your boys eat to their hearts’ content?
Today, I’ll be poring over these 46 lamb recipes from Jamie Oliver, who, did I say rocks? I hope you, too, had a happy Easter with your loved ones, celebrating the start of Spring and the return of warmth just before Summer.
There are so many important elements to a happy life, but you’ve heard them already. I’ve decided that the most important one, in terms of marriage, is being able to whip up a feast for your man…every single night.
The Experimental Marinade:
Drizzle of Honey
Dash of Salt and Pepper
Generous amount of olive oil
Fresh Rosemary and Thyme, Sage
Secret ingredient: Soya Sauce
Mix everything into a bowl, and let the meat marinate in fridge for at least 4 hours. I stuffed some of the marinade into a chunky part of the shank, which I sliced to make a pocket before filling.
Preheat oven to 400/200 degrees
Place meat on the grilling rack, with a roasting tray underneath to catch the tasty dripping juices and for potatoes later.
Pour the leftover marinade sauce into this tray
Boil potatoes (optionally leaving peels on) then let simmer for ten minutes
When potatoes are done, slice them, drizzle with more olive oil, salt and pepper, then toss them into the tray with fresh sprigs of rosemary and continue roasting
Optional: Add sliced carrots to the tray of potatoes
Continue to cook everything for an hour. Set the table.
Order your boys to sit down. Serve the salad with a glass of wine while the aromatic scent of roasted meat and rosemary fills the kitchen.
Enjoy each others’ company: quiet the kids with Grissini sticks and roasted, buttered corn on the cob (I’d added the corn to the grilling rack about the same time as the chicken)
When one side of the potatoes has been slightly caramelized, turn them over
When the lamb is done, cover it with foil and let stand for 15 minutes
Transfer to a large plate with the potatoes encircling the meat
Serve with love and watch your men enjoy
Sauteed Mushroom with Goat’s Cheese Salad:
Goat Cheese, creamy variety with a milky flavor and not too sharp or salty
Feld Salat or any salad variety of your choice
Fresh Basil leaves
Saute the mushrooms and garlic in a frying pan of butter and olive oil. And the very end, tear basil leaves with your fingers and add to the mushrooms.
On a plate, arrange the bed of salad, layer this with the mushrooms then top with crumbled goats cheese. Serve while the mushrooms are still warm, with a light prosecco and buttered fresh bread.
Happy Feasting, buona Pascua! :)
P.S. We’ve just moved back to Lombardy, Italy. Here is my new bedroom view every morning. You can’t see in this frame, but it’s magical how the bottom of the mountain touches a serene lake. What a sight to wake up to. I appreciate my life all over again and try to remind myself to always, always, always be grateful.
My one and only daughter turns one year old today.
I haven’t considered buying her a material gift, first off because she’s too young to appreciate anything that isn’t edible—and second, because she’ll be getting a whole lot of presents from relatives at the big party in a few hours (she shares the same birth date as her German grandfather).
But I have decided to do one thing, starting now: I’ve begun a journal, just for her.
My thoughts, notes and musings to her. I want to record these memories, our times together, what she knew, what she loved, what she did, what she said (and how she said it), what she attempted, and what she accomplished…how she cried, how she touched my heart, how she frustrated me, and angered me, and loved me
…and how enormously I loved her.
Of course it will be many years till she reads it, but it’s important to start recording these moments now.
As I began to write in this journal, I realized it was also what I wanted as a child. I wanted to know my mother’s reflections…I never knew of her hopes or dreams—whether for myself or for her—and some of the early years of my life are lost with no record of those times (my mom and dad split up when I was five).
But it’s okay.
I have made my way through life with experience for a teacher, and I know now that my parents both love me unconditionally. Still, sometimes, I wish there were more of my mom (in those faraway moments of 1981) to remember.
So, I am gifting my daughter something I never had—insight to her mother’s feelings, dreams, and desires.
…unspoken thoughts, meant only for her.
Whether she is 13 or 31, or 50 or past then, she will know that her imperfect mom still found a way to pursue a perfect love—the one she found with her.
And perhaps she will realize then, the incredible gift of life to my soul that she, my Alexandra, gave me.
I recently signed up for the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by CalArts, entitled Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers with Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. I’m so excited to learn about so much that I don’t know yet! I am also inspired by the fact that there are thousands of students around the world taking this course for free, made possible by Coursera.
Our first assignment in this eight-week course is to make two sketches: one, that stands for what I think art really should be, and the other, what I think people in the world think art should be.
That seems so broad, with so many possibilities about what other people think it should be. I felt stuck…I tried to sketch but could not capture it in just one picture. It ended up being a whole lot of written words in my sketchbook!
But it got me thinking, about one tiny aspect of this, and recalling a personal story…
If we talk about “the art world”, what comes to my mind are galleries, exhibitions, art collectors, auctions, and artists trying to make it up the ladder of “success”. And in that world, there are many intellectual people, many sincere artists, but also probably many that just go see art for the sake of the status, the crowd they want to be associated with—I come from the Philippines, and this was often the case, in a country where art is not “as accessible” to everyone.
I remember, as a young teenager, though I loved going to art exhibits to see the works, I didn’t really enjoy “that crowd” so much. I did not understand the mind of an art critic (definitely something I hope to learn more about in this course!), or the mind of an art collector, for that matter. I only knew that I loved to create, and wanted to learn more about creating. Plus, many of my friends were artists and it was something we did together, for fun.
Years later, in 2005, I held my own solo exhibition at the Sheraton hotel of Kamapla, Uganda. I’ll tell you that story some other time, but the particular moment that this assignment led me to think about, was when—as a result of that exhibition—the Kabaka (King of Buganda) purchased my painting. What an honor and experience.
Here is a photo of that artwork, entitled “My People”:
As it became public knowledge that the king himself owned my art, I was soon getting more phone calls, and people wanted to buy “that painting”. Of course they couldn’t have the original; only a duplicate.
And I made sure to tell them, “It won’t be exactly like the picture—it will be similar, as I can never reproduce one exactly like that one.”
No one seemed to mind. Sometimes, they didn’t even know what the picture was. They’d never even seen it, or a picture of it. They’d say, “Just paint me the one the king bought.”
I ended up selling reproductions of that painting eight more times.
Although I love this particular piece of art, only I know what inspired me to paint it, and the moment I came in contact with this tribe. Those who paid to own the artwork itself will never really feel what I felt at the time, a respect and sadness/concern for the community where this nearly-forgotten tribe lived, way up on the mountains.
So I use this picture in my assignment, not because I think art SHOULD be like my art, but to represent what the process of art means to me.
To me, the picture was a symbol of:
Exploration (both the long journey to reach the tribe, as well as the process of creating this with pastels on felt paper)
Expression (The personal process of creating something)
The power to change one’s circumstance, or one’s outlook
Life (Art should be vibrant, exciting, striking, I often use deep colors)
Awareness (Hardly anyone knew that this tribe, called the “Ik”, existed. I wanted my portraits of them to tell their story, to show their faces, fears, and dreams)
Bridging cultures (too much to say on that!)
A personal experience we can (and sometimes, should) share
I know what the painting meant to me at the time…but it became valuable to others for an entirely different reason. So if I am allowed to do so, I’d like to use this picture for both illustrations.
Thanks for reading! I’ll update about the new things I’m learning from this exciting course as we go along.