Tuesday, 30 April 2013

dream home - office space

I spend a lot of time at home. It's my sanctuary, my workplace, my own personal restaurant when I can order (and of course prepare) anything on the limitless menu, my spa and beauty salon, my gallery and its also where my favourite people in the world happen to live. Of course I spend as much time here as I can! It's the best place in the whole world (for me)!

But spaces and homes also need to be functional and my house, how I have it set up at the moment, isn't ideal in every way. What it needs is the perfect office space. Here are my criteria:
Bright with lots of natural light
Organised and neat
Flexible and able to host different activities

My current office is a converted closet nook which the previous owner used to hang laundry in. It has no windows, and both my craft desk and computer desk are built into the bookcases. It's pretty great considering the space I had to work with but because its so small it does get cluttered and claustrophobic at times.
as you can see it's not the neatest or most organised of spaces

My dream office will need to allow me to:
Practise yoga
Work on my film Hick!
Relax and read books in
Work on my blog
Do other random crafting projects

Though there's no new house on the horizon at the moment I have been collecting images and inspiration for this dream space. Here are some suggestions for very small offices that could fit in a wardrobe. Maybe I could try something like that!

Adam Selwood's Basement office Ikea Hack

Modern Home Office by Austin Interior Designer Claudia Cowperthwaite

Other larger spaces.
Maybe I'd actually finish some crafts for once?

Overhead library - DREAMY

This amount of light would be nice

and a corner for wellness?

Well, I can keep dreaming for the moment. But as most motivational speakers will tell you, visualising the best case scenario and letting your mind run free is the best way to actually achieve your goals and come to realising them.

What does your ideal workspace include? If you could plan it to be anything at all what would it be like? I'd love to hear about your dream spaces.

Monday, 29 April 2013

off to Friuli - part 1

I meant to post about our weekend trip while away but completely forgot that there was no wifi available during our stay.... here's what I wrote when we were gone:


Traffic traffic and more traffic awaited us, as it did everyone, on the Italian motorway system Thursday morning. Every time there's a public holiday anywhere close to a weekend (that being any day except for Wednesday) Italians take 'il ponte' or 'the bridge', effectively meaning that they decide not to go to work on the offending Monday or Friday in between the beloved weekend and the freebie day off. That way instead of one day off for gardening or lounging around you get a full 4 to escape the city and have a long-weekend adventure. And, similarly to everything closing down come August, everyone does.

This weekends bridge is due to the liberation from German occupation at the end of World War Two.

Sera slept for most of the cars ride, and we stopped at a rest area sometime after noon to consume the picnic lunch I had packed. Deli meats, bread, mustard packets, fruit, salad (though I forgot the dressing), juice, chips, olives, cheeses.... I got a little carried away at the supermarket since it had been so long since I've had a picnic. We spread a blanket out on the grass and afterwards Sera collected the small windflowers surrounding us.

There was more traffic after our stop and we didn't actually reach La Subida until around five. Our room turned out to actually be a two story cottage house on the hillside with a gorgeous garden and adorable kitchen with a central fireplace. There was still sun and so we sat on the grass and waited for our friends to arrive.
playing on the grass outside our cottage

But now, onto the wine... We opened the bottles that they had left for us in our rooms for a pre-dinner aperitivo starting with a Fruilano Anzelin 2011; simple, honest and clean as wines go but surprisingly strong at 14%. Accompanied by olives and bruschettini we moved onto another Friulano by Carlo di Pradis with aromatic undertones of medlar fruits, and yellow plums; not at all floral but with a hint of linden berries; definitely a single step up from the Anzelin and clean on the pallet in every way.

afternoon wine tasting with friends and family

We booked dinner at La Subida's Trattoria  itself to be able to take advantage of our location and to learn for ourselves if the reviews were true. On trip advisor they ranked number one and have over 86 'excellent' reviews. The atmosphere was lovely with a nice large fireplace upon entering. We had a table in the back room in the corner and were promptly served gigantic Parmesan cheese 'lollipops', which were delicious and which of course, Sera enjoyed thoroughly.

As a starter we had the prosciutto crudo which was gorgeous, the equivalent of crispy bacon but in salumi form. I had a pasta and followed it up with a beautifully prepared and absolutely delicious tagliata di vitello. Yum!

The wait staff was friendly and very considerate to all our needs. They provided Sera with coloured pencils and a dominoes set (most of which we found in her shirt when we got back to the rom later on... little thief!).

The wine was quite nice too. We switched to reds and tried a 2008 Scioppettino di Prepotto byViarte and the Borgo San Daniele 2006 Arbis Ròs.  The Sciopettino was a ruby-violet with hints of blueberry, blackberries adn raspberries and the the ArbisRòs was a beautiful ruby red with flavors of cherries, raspberries and strawberries.  Two very fruity but not too feminine, clean wines.

To come in part 2: An awful restaurant, visiting cantinas, a cool dip in the pool, a wonderful restaurant....

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Princess Penelope

The newest member of our cloth doll collection came to life because my osteopath cancelled one day and I wandered into a crafting shop to use the hour I suddenly had on my hands. There I found a bag full of premade doll parts made from felt and wool and I was inspired. I got it into my head that I could buy the doll parts, make up dolls like the ones I love to look at on Pinterest and start up my very own etsy shop to sell them in. It would be my new career!

Hahahaha... The part of me that gets carried away was long gone already as I found myself, days later knee-high in fraying pink tulle and failed attempts at regal looking princess dresses. Another crafting disaster.

But Penelope was saved! Help was on its way in the form of a dress-making fairy grandmother! Luckily some weeks later my mother-in-law came to visit and finished up my disaster of a dress attempt and created from shards and scraps the dress you see here. The secret was creating a dress that wasn't removable. I think I'll keep that in mind for the future, after-all she's not a fashion doll.

I finished the face detail and styled the hair and now Sera has her very own OOAK princess. The only thing left to do is create her regal crown.

Needless to say there won't be an Etsy shop anytime soon.

Say hello to Princess Penelope, a wonderful testimony to collaboration in artistic endeavours.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

what's on your mind?

Since I can remember I've struggled with the inner workings of my own mind. I tend to think too much, to analyse what other people's intentions might or might not have been and to suffer from worry for the future or nostalgia for the past. I never really managed to 'live in the moment'. From experience I know that this can lead to unhappiness despite life being 'on track' or everything being ok, even good.

Even when Sera was born, when I had everything in the world I could have possibly wanted, I found it very hard to keep my mind from remembering some negative experiences I had directly after the birth and suffered some post-partum depression because of it.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon an app this past summer which has really changed all of that for me. Changed my life actually... Well, not the app itself, but the skills it has taught me have changed my life.

Created by Andy Puddicome, an x-Buddhist monk, getsomeheadspace.com and its connected app aim to teach people, through mindfulness meditation, how to actually live within their lives. To actually be present with the moment, and to train the mind to stay with the moment at any given time. For example, when you're washing the dishes, you're washing the dishes. When you're eating an apple, you're eating an apple and when you're spending time with the people you love you're actually there with them, not just physically but mentally present as well... You're not thinking about fixing up the house, the pile of work you left on your desk for tomorrow, or that conversation that didn't go well with the barista at the coffee shop this morning and what you should have said to him when he spilt the coffee all over your new shoes.

Every day now for the past 236 days now I've been sitting down to meditate, connected with my headphones to the iPod for 10 or 20 minutes. Puddicome guides you with his voice (nice British accent!) into a state of relaxation and then helps you to visualise different scenarios which you can then apply to your everyday life.

For example, your thoughts do not 'belong to you' you can watch them pass as you would cars down a road.... You don't have to hold onto the positive ones or run away from the negative ones... You can just watch as they come and go.

Or: the sky is always blue.... Clouds come an go and just block our view of it (I particularly like this one because it reminds me that its always sunny somewhere).

I love the way the meditations go because they have no religion or excessive spirituality involved with them. There are no mantras or chanting or religious icons and figures involved. It's just you, alone with yourself for a little bit each day.

I recommend trying it out if only for the first 10 days in which you only sit for 10 minutes a day. It's like a quick workout for your mind and then you're charged and ready for the rest of your day. It lets me be a better wife, mum and friend for the rest of the day as well, which the people who know me can definitely confirm!

I have, since starting with the getsomeheadspace app, investigated other sources of meditation training and mindfulness training including reading books on the subject and following online meditation seminars as well. Jon Kabat-Zinn has some wonderful books and Deepak Chopra probably has the most soothing voice I've ever hear, but more on that another time.

Best of luck with your own spiritual and self-discovery journey from a fellow traveller!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

hoo knit an amigurumi owl?

Here is the amigurumi owl I knit for Sera. I followed a pattern I found in a book by Amy Gaines; Little Knitted Creatures. He only took about a week to put together and since he was done entirely with stocking stitch it wasn't even difficult! I had intended to make some more for friends but didn't get around to it in the end and got distracted with other projects (as usual).

The book is definitely suitable for beginner knitters and has many more adorable creatures. Knitting toys is so much more fun than knitting clothing if only because it takes a little while longer for kids to grow out of toys than clothes!


wine review Wednesday

I'm skipping a single wine review today as tomorrow we're off for a whole wine tour weekend in Fruili with friends.

We're planning to stay at La Subida, with its fantastically famous restaurant and notoriously hospitable hosts. The agroturism is centred in the middle of some of the most prestigious vineyards of Collio Goriziano. It boasts a garden and swimming pool (though I doubt the weather will permit any splashing)' tennis courts, kids' playground and a stables.  Sera will have a chance to meet their horses and run around in the countryside while we enjoy the typical dishes and wines.

We also intend to visit a few cantinas in the region as well as travelling to some old medieval towns and San Daniele to eat their famous prosciutto crudo. Yum!

Check back tomorrow to see how the adventure is going!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

big girl bed

We're starting to think about transferring Sera to a big girl end and as I write this she is having her first nap in on the mattress I've set up on the floor for her. She didn't take any longer than normal to fall asleep but the real test will be when she wakes up.

The truth is its been almost a year now that she's been able to climb out of her crib by herself so really we should have done something a while ago, but instead I lowered her mattress in the crib all the way to the floor. This wouldn't have been possible with a regular crib but we were lucky that a neighbour had lent us her Stokke Sleepi oval shaped one and so all I had to do was remove all of the hardware... But it does mean our daughter effectively sleeps in a cage.

We haven't wanted to make the switch because its convenient to keep her in a crib. It means she has to call out for us at night instead of just walking through the door and hoping into our bed. I'm worried that when we take it from naps to full-nights I won't be able to convince her as easily that the mattress is the best place to sleep. In the crib she didn't really have a choice.

I opted for a mattress on the floor firstly to avoid waking up in the middle of the night to her thumping off the bed and second,y because we don't actually have the space requirement for the toddler or single bed until she's out of diapers. The space I need is still taken up with the changing table. Maybe I'll get a cute toddler bed this summer when we move onto panties!

But looking ahead and hoping that she won't always be on a mattress on the floor I love some of these ideas and styles:
how adorable is this?? http://www.klevering.com

another amazing loftbed for an odd-shaped room

free DIY plans for this loft bed at http://ana-white.com/

Pasta e Zucchine

I've got spring fever so here's my first spring recipe for you. It's so super simple and if full of flavor! It's healthy and in no way heavy on the stomach. It's perfect as a primo you plan to eat with a light second dish such as grilled chicken or fish.

Pasta e Zucchine couldn't be simpler to prepare.  Here are the very few ingredients you'll need:

3 large zucchini
400g pasta
1 handful of fresh basil leaves
1 handful of parsley
2 cloves of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
80g of Parmesan cheese (the real kind really is much better than the powder... for all of you not living in Italy)
ground black pepper

optional for alternatives:
cream cheese (Philadelphia)
Pancetta affumicata a cubetti
speck a cubetti


First slice the zucchini. Then get your water ready and bring it to the boil for the pasta. In a large frying pan heat up some olive oil and roast the garlic in the oil until it's blond. Throw int he zucchini slices and cook. In the meantime, start cooking your pasta according to the package instructions or until al-dente. Make sure you have salted the water! When your zucchini are almost cooked, add 2 tablespoons of the water from the pasta to the fry pan, remove the garlic and add some chopped parsley and basil. Drain your pasta and throw it into the fry pan along with some grated parmesan cheese and pepper to taste.  Serve hot!

Some alternatives for those of you who want more flavor:

  • Meat lover? As your garlic is cooking cook up some pancetta or speck cut into cubetti but if you do, lay off on the salt you add to the water and to the dish at the end of cooking.
  • Love basil? Add a spoonful of pesto to the frying pan when you're towards the end of cooking, just as you add in the cooking water. It will add a nice kick but not cover the flavor of the zucchini.
  • Want a more creamy consistency? Add one tablespoon of cream cheese to your sauce when you're almost done and the zucchini are cooked. 

Buon Appetito!

Monday, 22 April 2013

ikea hack diy earring display stand

Hello you crafty readers. If you're anything like me you're always losing things or misplacing them and jewellery is no exception. For a while I've been thinking of tackling this project and I finally found the time to do it so thought I'd share it with you.

What you'll need:
  • 1 ikea TOLSBY double sided picture frame in white (I picked it up for €1 but I'm not sure if that was a promotional price).
  • >10x15cm scrap of plastic mosquito screens
  • scissors
  • hot glue gun
  • Remove the frame from its packaging and remove the paper and plastic inserts.
  • Screw the base to the frame
  • Cut the screen to match the size of one of the plastic inserts
  • Slide the screen into the frame
  • Glue with transparent hot glue from the back of your earring holder on the inside of e groove where the screen is inserted.
  • Wait for glue to cool
  • Arrange earrings
  • Display


Now Is the Right Time
What is it that you're waiting for? It's probably exactly that thing that you will regret not having done if you one day realise you never did. 

I've been thinking a lot about time lately and my relationship to it. I practise mindfulness meditation every day and since I've started it's really changed my perception of time. Every time I sit to meditate I'm reminded of one very true fact of life, that the moment is all we have. Now is all we ever have.

I have loads of things that I'm probably putting off in my life. It's funny, sometimes we don't even know what those things are unless we sit down and really think about them but when we do we realise what our priorities are.  Now is the right time for me to sit and think about it.... what's it the right time for you to do dear reader?

Now IS the right time... go out! Do it! 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Baby Sign Language

Sera Signs 'Eat'

Being English mothertongue in Italy means having people comment on how lucky you are to be bilingual.  I am lucky, I learnt Italian pretty quickly from just spending time here and it's a lovely language. I can't imagine having not have learnt it.

I was a bit worried however in how to hangle Sera's bilingualism.  Obviously, being exposed to me on a daily basis meant that she would learn English first, but what would happen with Italian? Some specialists say that the household should be completely bilingual with each parent speaking their own language, but that wasn't going to work for us.  Fabri and I had always spoken English with one another because I met him back when my Italian was barely comprehensible, let alone fluent.  It wouldn't have been natural for him to speak English to me and Italian to her.  And we certainly couldn't start speaking exclusively Italian at hoe because I'm already difficult enough to understand in my own language!  So we opted for English-only at home and Italian when out with friends. Exactly as we did before baby.

I read a few articles on the subject and they all said that Sera would be a late talker. They said that because she would be confused about which language to use she wouldn't say anything at all until age three or later and that I should be too worried because it would probably be because she was bilingual. When we met with friends and the subject would come up they would ask how we were going to 'handle' it as if it was going to be some sort of a problem.... So I started to think it might be (there's my insecurity again!).

Anyhow, being proactive, I decided to look into baby-sign language for a bit of a language-skills booster shot and I'm so glad that I did! Not only is Sera currently making full sentences in both English and Italian, she knows the sign language versions of 20 or so songs!  She started communicating her needs and wants very early because thought eh language centres of her brain weren't yet developed to form words she could sign for what she wanted.

This is down to the fact that early on, at around 6 months we introduced the sign language and at 9 months when she first started signing she developed a passion for communicating. Sometimes bilingual babies arrive at frustration before they have enough tools to communicate and it stunts the development for another year or so, and then they prefer to listen and keep their little lips shut.

Here are some resources that I used and recommend:

Sing and Sign -We bought both DVDs and still sing the songs today
Baby Sign Language Site  - Really nice site to get you started off
Sign About Books - We have My First Signs and the Going Out books and they're wonderful! In fact, they're currently Sera's favorites because now she can read them to us by looking at the signs the kids in the drawings are making!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

savings for a rainy day

It's been storming and pouring since yesterday in Milan and the weather has gone back to those end-of-winter blues so part of our family outing today included some retail therapy.  Last week I heard about a temporary Accessorize outlet shop outside Milan  in Bovisa-Masciago so I asked Fabri to take us there in the hopes that I could get a head start on my new spring look.  I normally don't buy stuff from their regular shop because I find the prices a tiny bit steep, but I've had luck in outlets in the past so off we went for the half-hour trip from home. Here are the items I bough with their original prices:

Original prices for a total of €185,80 on clothing/accessories

Original prices for a total of €29,70 on jewellery
Clothing, accessories and jewellery combined would bring my regular Accessorize total to €215,50.

What I actually paid: €37,00!!!

That's a savings of €178,50 or 81%
 I don't think I need to say anything else.

the Accessorize temporary outlet can be found at:

via nazionale dei giovi, 14
20813 Bovisio Masciago (MB)
tel.: 0362590568

Wonderful FREE apps for toddlers

How many of you have iPods, iPads or iPhones?  It seems that nowadays there really indispensable tools in a parent's arsenal of activities for their kids.  Sera uses Fabri's phone or my old iPod motsly only when we're in restaurants, and our iPad when we're at home, but only on special occasions (like Sunday morning when I don't want to get out of bed at 6:30am!)

Here's are a few of our favourite free apps:

Friday, 19 April 2013

Harmonica and a Cause

A few years back I decided I wanted to learn how to play the harmonica.  I did some looking about online and came upon JP Allen's website and DVDs on how to learn and followed them for a while, making definite progress before I put down the harmonica again and haven't played now for over 2 years. Almost every day I say to myself that it's something I'd like to get back t doing.

But this post is about something else.

I recently got an email from JP (I'm still in the mailing list cause I think he's a great guy and teacher) about an accident that he recently had while on a harmonica retreat with his buddies. It seems that on a nature hike two of his friends, including Hal Walker, his first harmonica teacher, were swept out to sea when a large wave hit the cliff they were standing on. It was unexpected and unpredictable.

Sadly, one of their friends, Ash Phua Chuan Chin couldn't fight he current and drowned. Hal on the other hand was miraculously saved and is currently recovering in hospital.  

The organisers of the retreat have set up a fund on IndieGogo to raise money to ofset Hal's medical bills as he cannot play his music currently which was his main income befre the accident.  If you'd like to help out you can visit the page here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/harmonica-hal-walker-emergency-medical-fundraiser

Hal Walker

I'm planning on making a contrubution mysef and digging the harmonica out of the drawer in my office today. Life is too short to continue putting it off.

I've copied and pasted the story of the accident here for you to read as well:

Hello Harmonica retreat friends,
I wrote this the night after the accident to send to some friends.  I thought I'd share it with you to fill in Greg's beautiful account.  My recovery has been slow.  My body was hit quite hard and some lasting symptoms are concerning me... but it's quite a story isn't it?
I'm sorry that the week ended in tragedy.  May Phua Chuan Chin rest in peace and may his family find peace.  Love to you all, Hal
I'm writing you on my 47th birthday to let you know how grateful I am to be alive and to have you in my life

As you know, I have been in Hawaii for the last week.  Yesterday, I had a near-drowning experience and today, it is literally a miracle that I'm alive.  Tonight, it's been very difficult to sleep, so at this point it's a fairly terrifying miracle; but it is a real miracle... I'm looking forward to feeling the reborn, thank you God feeling of having this miracle in the past.

My good friend JP Allen and I have been leading a Hawaiian Harmonica retreat this week.  Despite some lingering TMJ/jaw issues, it's been quite wonderful.

Yesterday JP, myself and 2 retreat participants were walking along the huge mountains of Lava at one place along the ocean.  We hiked a hidden path behind Ben Stiller's mansion to get to this other worldly place of black lava.   I was actually feeling quite good because there has been significant improvement in my jaw pain of 6 weeks in the last couple days.

At one point, the four of us stopped on this wide bridge of lava that was overlooking a 15 foot round pool of water.  The waves would travel down a wide canal, go under the bridge and then would spout up in this pool like a dragon.  It was very beautiful to look at.

None of us sensed that we were in any danger.  We were on dry lava.  We looked back and saw some very large  waves coming and we stood awaiting the show that we would be viewing.

As we stood there, waiting to see the wave... very suddenly and unexpectedly, a huge wall of wave struck two of us from behind and within a split second I was submerged in water, being sucked under the bridge and out into the ocean.  I was underwater for an extended time, when I came up for air, I was quickly struck again.  At some point my head hit a rock and I was thinking, "Oh yeah.. this is what happens when you're being pummled by waves and the current."  I gasped for air a couple more times as I could feel myself being pulled out into the ocean.

Finally there was a calming of the big waves and I could see JP. He was calling me to take off my shoes and pants and start swimming toward him. I was shouting in terror, but trying to follow his directions to stay calm.  It seemed like a long 20 yards that I had to swim to JP and the current was such that I had a feeling it wasn't making a diffference.

I was mainly thinking that I was going to die and that Hallie was going to have to face this.  I was thinking about how exhausted I felt and wondered how long it would be before I would have to give up.

then a wave pushed me in the direction of JP and I found myself hanging on to the side of a lava wall. JP tried to hand me a long stick and I grabbed it, but soon we lost our connection and I went under again.  Finally, we connected again with the stick and JP dragged me to an easier entry spot to land. Miraculously, a wave pushed me at the right moment and I found myself laying on lava with JP hovering over me... "Keep moving! there are more waves coming! you gotta move about 10 more feet. I was plastered to the rocks with lungs filled of salt water and totally spent.  I was dead weight.  I felt like I didn't have an ounce of energy left, but fortunately, I was able to move about 10 feet away from the edge and Greg had called 911.

It seemed like, Fairly quickly, the rescue people had arrived.  When they showed up, I learned that the other guy, Ash, had not made it.  JP had seen him floating face down out into the ocean.  Our sense is that Ash was struck in the head and made unconscious on the fall into  the water hole.  Ash was a wonderful and lively 62 year old man from Singapore.  He was a smoking cessation counselor and had dreams of using the harmonica to inspire people to quit smoking.  He gave us all lessons in the health benefits of using a rebounder/ small trampoline to gain good health.

I laid there in my underwear unable to move but sensing that I had survived. they were sending me a helicopter to life flight me to the ambulance.  I soon became very cold and was shivering and panting for air. At one point another huge wave came and these rescue guys were all holding me down, the wave hit us and I screamed in terror as it moved us all a couple feet.

Eventually, they hooked me into a metal crate and the helicopter flew me up over the cliffs to a parking lot.  I could see out of the corner of my eye a spectacular view as I was being transported, but that was not my concern.

Pretty soon the ambulance guys confirmed that all my vitals looked good.  I was panting for air and they were encouraging me to take deeper breaths to clear out the salt water and to avoid pneumonia.

In the hospital, I was shivering and in shock. they took x-rays to see the water in my lungs, after several hours they felt like it was ok for me to be released.  JP and Greg and JP's partner, Caru arrived after a long interview with detectives.

I was glad to see them and I burst into tears when they arrived.  We have been talking non-stop about the miracle that I had made it.

I was quite beat up by the rocks... my whole body is covered in minor cuts and abrasions.   I lost my glasses and my iphone in the water, but I am in one piece.   When we got back to JP's, we could see that the helicopter's were still looking for Ash.

I am left with some very frightening images that keep playing over and over in my head.  i'm hoping these will subside before too long.   We got home and JP spent a couple hours cleaning my wounds with hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and Noni fruit.

So that's the story...  I looked death in the face and it was terrifying.

I'm heading home soon.  I'll look for you when I get there.

Love, Hal

Baby and Toddler Swim Class

Every Friday afternoon I wake Sera early from her nap, force her to eat a banana and pack her into the car, rain or shine, to head off to her 'Cuccioli' swimming class. It's a pain, it's exhausting, it's in the middle of nowhere (well, not in the middle of nowhere, in Linate airport's sports centre CRAL), its at an inconvenient time of week and I always feel annoyed right before we go but we LOVE it. Or, to be precise, she loves it and I love that she loves it.

Now she's at that adorable phase where she can anticipate things when I tell her in advance about them, remember that I told her hours later and then tell her daddy about what happened when we were there. Swimming is a favourite topic of discussion.

We started the course just after her first round of vaccinations when she was a little over 4 months. Boy was she so sweet! It took me a lot longer to get used to getting in the water with her than it did for her and she was absolutely a natural. I had to get over my fear of accidentally drowning her by slipping or something. (I actually still have that fear even though she now runs around the pool by herself and happily swims underwater completely unaided by me) The staff at the pool we go to are fantastic and really help on a psychological level as well.

Sera seems to be a bit of a prodigy in the pool. She's the only one in her class who dives under the water to pick up the diving fish toys and she has no fear about jumping off the edge, or running, ful speed down a floating mattress.

Maybe I'll be able to live out my dreams of becoming a synchronised swmmer through Sera one day! Do you think it's too soon to think about it?

For more info about toddler swim classes in Milan visit the CRAL website:

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Restaurant Review: Trattoria della Gloria

I was lucky enough to go out to eat with Fabri and a good friend of ours on Monday night. Sera stayed happily at home with her italian grandfolk and we went off!

Upon arriving at Trattoria della Gloria on via Pichi in Milan we were greeted by the owner who promptly seated us even though were were 45 minutes early for our reservation. The adorable lace-covered menus were placed in front of us on the cream and wine checked table cloths and Fabri proceeded to study the wine list while I have a look at our choice of food.

There was jazzy funk playing in the air and wonderful smells wafting fromt he kitchen. The whole restaurant only has 40 or so seats and so was intimate, but didn't feel crowded even later when it was packed.

The menu had a good selection of different antipasti, primi and secondi without much repitition to the styles of food. We opted for a burrata for the three of us to share with homemade bread as our starter.  In terms of wine we started off with a Rubrato Aglianico and later moved onto a Barolo.

I ordered the wild asparagus spaghetti alla carbonara for my primo and was happy with the choice. The presentation was lovely, the ingredients fresh and flavorful and my only criticism could be that the whole dish could have been slightly saltier.

Fabri and I both wanted to try the meatballs for secondo, but I knew I would already be full by then so instead I ordered some goats' cheese balls instead and we shared both. The meatballs were gorgeous and I'd have them all to myself the next time we go back.

Yay for Trattoria della Gloria!

Trattoria della Gloria
Via Pichi, 5 (angolo via Borsi)
20143 - Milano

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Wine review Wednesday

If you're living in Italy you find that sooner or later you start to learn a bit about wine. How could you not? With the huge selection of fantastic flavours on the market here and the country being carpeted from head to toe with vineyards of grapevines growing in neat rows wine is hard to avoid. Even if you never leave the city you're in, Italians are so accustomed to wine on the table at mealtimes, and believe so strongly in its benefits to your health that you're bound to develop your own wine culture.

I'm not the expert in my home, my husband is, but I thought that this recurring feature of the blog could help in my journey to learning more, and being more mindful of the wines that we're currently drinking anyways.

That doesn't necessarily mean that we're opening 20 bottles every Wednesday, but I'll write my inexperienced view of a wine or two that I've tasted during the week.

Starting with:

Wine: Bolgheri Rosso
Producer: Michele Satta
Vintage: 2010
Zone: Tuscany

Colour: ruby red tending towards mauve
Aroma: raspberry, plum and blackberry with undertones of leather and tobacco, but still quite sweet.
Taste: really drinkable, smooth, fruity but not overly so, still a strong and fresh flavor and plesant, elegant aftertaste
Grapes: 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, 10%Syrah, 10% Teroldego

I really enjoyed this wine. It was the only bottle we opened with dinner and was right up my alley as I lean towards fruitier wines rather than fuller, more masculine flavours. It was accompanying stuffed zucchinis and artichokes as well as a dish of polenta and mushrooms and I Have to say that although it went well with the polenta and the zucchini it didn't compliment the artichokes as well. The producer suggests it with meats however and rich sauces and I have to agree that it was probably the menu that was the problem and not the wine.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Self-Interview: "Hick!", My Day Job

I don't currently earn an income. I haven't for ages now. I'm lucky enough to have a primary breadwinner in my household so I can concentrate on raising Sera, taking care of our home and pursing my hobbies and interests.

I do however have a self-imposed day job and have been working for the same company now on the same project for coming on 4 years. I have no boss, which most people would like, but I don't earn anything either, which most people wouldn't find as nice.  I'm at my computer for several hours a day working working working.

The project is called Hick! and it's an animated 3D short film.  It's an on line collaboration with artists from all over the world and me at the helm. What I get out of it is much needed help in the creation of the works, what they get is feedback, exposure and work under a director. Everyone is a volunteer and adds what they can for as long as they can and then moves on. What follows is an interview with the part of my person that is the artist, filmmaker, director and producer of the project:

Q. Back in 2009, why did you first decide to create an animated short film?
A. In the summer of 2009 I had just finished Animation Mentor, an online intensive character animation school based in San Francisco and was trying to figure out what to do next. I'd been interviewing for animation jobs here in Milan with little success. The 3D market here doesn't call for specialisation of that kind and instead hires 3D generalists, which isn't what I wanted to do with my life. I went to Annecy, France for their annual animation festival that June and realised tat although here in Europe there weren't the huge studios like Disney or Pixar, I could still be an animator on a smaller scale and on my own terms. I was inspired!  My brain started churning for an idea for a short.

Q. Where did the idea eventually come from?
A. In all honesty, I don't know! I was in an airport in transit back to Montreal for the summer and suddenly the whole film came to me in a flash. I had a half hour and wrote it out right there in the departures lounge. It's changed very little since.

Q. Did you always plan to invite other artists to collaborate?
A. It's a huge undertaking to create an animated short film.  At first I planned to do it all by myself but the script wasn't really conducive to that. The film has 13 characters in it which means 13 times the development resources were needed. Also, right from the start I was pretty specific about how I wanted it to look, and I'm neither a character designer nor a rendering specialist. I knew I would definitely need help sooner or later.

Q. And how did you find that help?
A. Online! The Internet is a marvellous thing! Soon after I started production I started to look for my character voices. I found them on Voice123 which is this amazing site to find voice over artists looking to expand their portfolios. Then I found my character designer, Lorenzo Milito, on facebook through friends of friends. He was brilliant in bringing the characters to life.  After that I stumbled upon Devils, Angels & Dating which is a similar online contributer's film and its director Michael Cawood gave me some tips on how to get started... including how to use Dropbox for file sharing and Ning for network communications with all the project members.  Help can be found in loads of forums as well. It's important for me to keep up on the recruitment side of the project as well as the production side to keep everything running smoothly.  Today the project boasts 252 members, though not all are active.

Q.What stage are you at now?
A. It's an exciting phase for the project as we're finishing up the 2nd round of character rigging, getting through the texturing phase and finishing all the scene layouts. It's hard to put dates or time-scales on the project as it's all volunteer based. I don't feel right giving strict deadlines, but so far it seems to be working out ok.

Q. Have you ever been discouraged?
A. Almost every day! I find the hardest part of this project not being the actual work but the motivation. It's hard to wake up and put yourself in front of the computer every day when there's no one to check what you're up to and there's no check in the mail! There are only 2 factors keeping Hick! alive. One is that I feel I have a moral obligation to all the artists that have worked with me and dedicated so much of their precious time and the second is that I believe in the content of the short. I have become friends with the characters, as wacky as they are, and without my constant trucking on, they won't ever really come to life.

Q. What will happen to Hick! when it's finished?
A. I'm hoping to submit Hick! to animation festivals such as Annecy.  Maybe we'll win a prize or two. In my dreams, having worked on this film will lead me to writing and producing others. Maybe Hick! could be picked up as a series.... who knows?

More on Hick! and my journey as a film-maker to come. Stay tuned!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Pasta alla Norma

The recipes you'll find on this blog will never be the original versions or classic versions of the dishes their names after. Cooking in Italy is tricky because if you don't get it exactly right (and that's exactly how 'nonna' used to make it) then no matter how tasty the dish is your critiques will never let you heathen end of it. I've gotten past this by always modifying recipes to how they suit me best and not how they've been done traditionally.

Pasta alla Norma for example is a Sicilian dish traditionally prepared with fried eggplant but I find the whole coating the eggplant in salt in a colander phase and then frying really tedious. I also find that no matter how well you rinse eggplant prepared in this way the salt seems to really stick regardless. Salt is bad for you right?

Frying ditto. The first times I made this dish I didn't have frying oil in the house so fried in olive oil instead... Which works ok, but is a waste of money as olive oil loses a lot of its properties when heated. My kitchen also doesn't have a fan to suck out the air from cooking so I try to avoid frying wherever possible.

The solution is baking the eggplant while you're preparing the other ingredients and throwing everything together at the end as a sort of composition to be mixed on the plate. It's easy to prepare, tastes great, is a modern version of a dish most people enjoy anyway and is hands-down healthier.

Here's what you'll need:

2 eggplants/aubergines/melanzane
400g pasta
Ricotta Salata
500ml passata di pomodoro (tomato purée)
1 handful of fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt


Preheat oven to 210 degrees. Wash the aubergines well and cut off the tops. Cut in half, then in slices then in strips and arrange on a cookie sheet/oven tray which you have covered with oven paper (for easy cleanup... Who wants to waste time on that?). Drizzle olive oil on top, sprinkle with some salt (go easy! Most of the salt in this dish should come from the cheese!) and pop them in the over, for about 20min. Keep an eye on them though because you should be turning them frequently enough that they're cooking evenly and also not drying out. If they begin to look crispy add a bit more oil and turn down the heat! While they're cooking get your water boiling for the pasta. In a saucepan heat up a tablespoon of olive oil, throwing the garlic and let it become blond. Then pour in the tomato purée and adjust to your liking with salt and pepper. In the meantime use a large grater to grate your cheese and set aside. Towards the end of cooking throw in half of the basil and stir well. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions or until al-dente (the best way is to taste every few minutes). When your pasta and eggplants are ready prepare on the plate. Pasta, sauce, eggplants cheese and more sauce. Garnish with the remaining basil and enjoy!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Kid Art - To keep or to bin?

Every parent has been there at some point... What to do with your little angel's masterpieces?

Should you devote a room in the house to them?
Bin them as soon as they arrive?
Make a photo scrapbook for them and put the originals 'in storage' (generally meaning they're being stored at a recycling facility).
Or maybe an entire wall? The above photo comes out of Vogue and sure looks lovely!

It's a real dilemma... And becoming more of a problem in our household as Sera is starting to bud into a little VanGogh. Here's some strategies we've used or tested:

Last holiday season we used quite a bit of Sera's art as homemade wrapping paper. It went over very well so we've continued the trend through to birthday, new baby, and housewarming gifts as well.
There's an app for all you iPhone users that hopes to resolve the problem of archiving the kids' work, Artkive. I haven't personally been able to use it because the whole idea is to take photos of the artwork and then get rid of them. it has lots of options to add the date and to use for more than one kid but what ended up happening in my case was i still couldn't bring myself to throwing the originals. I've effectively managed to double the problem!
Letting the little one be creative digitally. This strategy works because kids are fast learners and can figure out a way to be creative in almost any form, you can stored loads of digital info nowadays without losing precious square meters in your apartment and its mess-free. It does have its downside as well. No computer or iPad program could ever compare with the delight children feel when they've actually created something they can see and touch. That's why parents for generations have been investing in fridge magnets for prime display positions in the house. I think that digital artwork should be a compliment to and not a replacement for finger paints, potato stamps, wax crayons, craft glue with tissue paper and rainbow coloured markers.

What about you dear readers.... Have you got any creative ways to display, preserve, store or filter your kids works? Do tell!

Shells on Uncooked Salt Dough - 2013 SJL

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Le Cornelle

It's Saturday, family fun day, and we've spent the day at Le Cornelle, a 'parco faunistico' (modern term for zoo) not far from Bergamo in Valembro. The drive is about 1 and a half hours from Milan and definitely doable for a quick day trip. We were also blessed with the first officially springy feeling weather of 2013; sun, 21 degrees a d a slight warm wind.

A rock with a soul
I'm not a fan of zoos in general because I don't think it's fair to keep animals in cages or away from their natural environments. I can't imagine that they have a very good quality of life. On the other hand there are a lot of zoos that help to maintain species. Le Cornelle for example is home to a pair of white lions, result of a very rare genetic combination of his ancestors passing down the recessive while keeping their typical lion characteristics until his finally both parents passed on the white gene to him. If they were to have cubs those cubs are guaranteed to keep the recessive genes alive.

Parrots of all colours!
Of course, all this is irrelevant if lions in general don't even make it to the next generation. Will there even be zoos when our children have children? If I think too hard on the subject I start to feel that tickling nausea in my stomach. I get very upset thinking of all the damage we've done as a species.

But back to today's adventure.

Le Cornelle was opened on 100,000 square meters of parkland in 1981. It's home to thousands of animals of 120 different species. It's stars are the white lions mentioned before, elephants, crocodiles, giraffes, giant turtles  and birds of all the colours of the rainbow but we enjoyed the monkeys the most, as usual.

It's a lovely stroll stopping at the various cages and habitats and getting to know the animals a bit better. It was perfectly setup for everything to be visible from a toddler's viewpoint as well, with glass walls set up at their height, which was much appreciated by everyone's sore arms.  We were grateful for not having to lift Sera every 4 minutes to see.

In terms of a financial standpoint it's not a cheap day-trip but we didn't take advantage of the many well-appointed picnic areas and instead went to the self-service restaurant. I think if we were to return on another occasion we would plan ahead and bring our own food. For two adults and a two year old we ended up spending 45€ on lunch. This was a big surprise considering we only had hot-dogs, fries and chicken nuggets. The parking cost 3€ and the tickets which we bought in advance online were 11€ each per adult (12€ otherwise) Kids under 3 enter for free

We managed to see everything and have lunch within 4 hours but weren't going at a super slow pace. After the tigers we put Sera in the stroller and she promptly fell asleep. There are lots of kids' play areas scattered around with slides and swings so we probably could have stayed longer had she not conked out.

All in all I think the ticket price is fair and you get your money's worth. The park is lovely and though some of the animals are in cages that seem a little too small for them you can see that they're making an effort to improve things in general.

Yay for Le Cornelle!!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Mix Tape Nostalgia

If you were born in the late 70's, as I was, then you definitely remember mix tapes. Up until I was in my late teens, CDs weren't rewritable and didn't even exist before 1982!  You couldn't record onto a vinyl record at home so tapes were definitely the way to go.  I remember spending hours sitting on the floor of the family den with gigantic headphones on and my finger suspended, ever ready, over the record or pause button waiting for the exact perfect song to come on the radio. It was, after all the only place to pick up music for your mix tapes.

How will my daughter ever understand something like that? Waiting, song after song for the perfect moment to hit record, knowing that if you just got the magic combination of songs compiled onto one magnetic strip the object of your teenage crush might might just notice you.  'Hey, Timmy, um... I made you a mix tape.'

With access to MP3s and who-knows what else when she gets to her teen years, music is already instantaneously available and therefore has lost a lot of it's value. It's impossible to attach any sentimental value to something that seems impossible to lose, and therefore you never really have it in the first place.

Already my own relationship with music has changed dramatically and I can't put it down to the sheer fact that puberty hormones haven't coursed through my system for over 15 years. Today for example I was on the treadmill a the gym and realised that they have Internet access so I logged onto Grooveshark and started to listen the the Indie playlist. It's basically a really really huge mix-tape compiled by a computer.  As I listened I realised that though I may have really liked some of the songs, but there's a very very good chance I'll never hear them again. Not having a pen and paper to mark down the names of the songs, and honestly, with the notion in the back of my head that they're so easily 'findable' I'll probably never look for them again. The next time I play the indie playlist the computer will compile a different selection of songs for me. The moment is gone.

This would have never happened in 1993, the peak of my music listening prime. Back then, my only access to new music would be the handful of FM radio stations that we had programmed in our car. Back then, if there was a song I head once and liked I would strain my ears patiently at the end of the single to hear its name spoken by the DJ's lips. Then I would memorise the combination of artist and song title and hold that info in my mind for the next Saturday afternoon free in order to sit by the radio and hope that the DJ mentioned it again in the 'up next' list of songs. If I was lucky I'd catch it and have my very own copy, if not, I'd have to settle with hearing it occasionally through the airwaves. But once I did have the song on tape it was 'mine'. It had become my music, inserted in order to be played over and over and over, always the same, always in order (and if my timing was bad, always overlapped by the DJ's I to or exit).

Even when CDs came out they weren't personalised compilations in any way. You couldn't decide the order if the songs and they didn't even have themed compilation albums till much later. If you wanted to share music with friends mix tapes were the only way. CDs couldn't compare.

I truly miss those days. Of course having everything digitally has its obvious pros, but on a tactile emotional level things will never be the same.

My most nostalgic memory of tapes was the first time I came to Europe on my own. I was 18 and remember packing my carry-on bag with my Sony Walkman and 22 tapes. I was afraid my luggage would get lost and I'd be separated from my precious music. I almost didn't have space for anything else in the bag and that was ok.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

I made a "Waldorf" doll

It's a year now since Mimmi's become part of our family. I almost feel guilty about not organising a birthday party for her... But you know how it is with second children. They don't get nearly as much attention as the first does and they're lucky if they even get a baby album or if anyone notices when they take their first steps.

Happily we don't have to worry about recording milestones with Mimmi.

The idea to make a Waldorf style doll came to mind some months earlier, in the dark, cold evenings of winter 2012. Sera and I were frequenting at the time 'tempo per la famiglia' a group for new mums and preschool tots to get together and play organised by the Comune do Milano, and one of the lovely teachers there was passionate about Waldorf dolls. Naturally, Fulvia eventually discovered that I like making children's toys and that I was quite good at sewing so she lent me some books from the 80's with illustrations and how-to's.

I'm a modern girl so the black and white books piqued my interest but just wouldn't do. I went online for more info and research, half thinking I couldn't be bothered to find the supplies. But then I came upon a post on Pinterest about a wonderfully talented doll-artist named Juliane Strittmatter (check out her blog here) who was offering online e-courses and that she would send you everything you need in a cute little packet and en teach you how to make the doll from scratch and by hand... No machine necessary. I was sold.

It took 8 weeks to bring Mimmi to life. I got blisters on my fingers while stuffing her and making her nose and strained my eyes completely while tying to embroider hers, but the hardest part was her hair. Initially Sera found the doll as I was working on her so I crocheted a hat for her until the hair would be done.

The hat went down well as Sera liked to put it on and pull it off again and I slaved away on this really intricate crocheted wig for Mimmi t have on her head.  And I've never crocheted before.

Months passed and finally the wig was complete and I proudly squeezed (should have been slid, but probably didn't follow the instructions properly) it onto the doll's head! Hooray for Mommy! Nope. Sera promptly began to cry... full tears, face squished up in a knot and wailing at the top of her lungs.

I was about to cry as well!!  I'd spent so long on that wig! For 2 whole days I fought with Sera over it (well, if you can call it 'fighting'.  Toddlers are really tough to fight with) hoping that she'd cave in and see things 'my way' and learn to love the horrendous carrot red wig I'd spent so long in making. She didn't.. tears tears tears... and then I realised that it was one of those things where my own selfishness was preventing me from being a good parent and so I gave in and put the wig away.  

Mimmi was bald for months. 

Lanar, Via Nino Bixio 7 - 20129 Milano
And then I found a cute tutorial online about yarn hair and simply looping it and sewing it on to make a style. So I went on an adventure to this fantastic yarn shop in Milan Lanar and fund a wonderful blend wool with some natural straw fibers in it as well... In Sera's haircolor.  It was perfect.

I got home and started right away on the new hair which only took about a week of sitting in front of my favourite TV shows in the evenings while doing and -Voilà!!- Mimmi as we know and love her today was born!