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Gratefully Grateful *20*

17 Jun

It has been a while since I published a Gratefully Grateful post.  I’ve sat down several times to do it but for some reason just couldn’t.  And it’s not because I haven’t had anything to be grateful for lately.  It’s actually quite the opposite.

I’ve spent time with wonderful people (Mom!), visited beautiful places, eaten delicious meals, read interesting books, taken lots of memorable photos and planned exciting future trips.

But I’m happy to be back here today and share some of my favourite images of the last few weeks.  I really do love looking back on these posts and remembering the little moments and details behind them.

So…

Here’s to the end of the school year which is (slowly) coming to an end.
Here’s to sultry hot summer days and melted gelato dripping down my kid’s arms.
Here’s to the copious amounts of fresh local seasonal fruit that has taken over my entire fridge.
Here’s to upcoming rock concerts that we’ve been waiting for ages to attend.
Here’s to soon being able to spend lots of homework-free days and nights with my three favourite little (big) people.

IMG_7880The perfect combination of bright yellow farm equipment and vibrant red poppies.  With the addition of the world famous Barolo vineyards in the background.  IMG_7981A dapper young lad on his way to lunch at the famous Slow Food restaurant Boccondivino in the small city of Bra (Piemonte).  He loved it by the way.IMG_7816Another gorgeous rose arrangement in the beautiful Villa Porta Bozzolo. IMG_7810I give her less than a year before she’s taller than me.

IMG_7904Now this is my kind of chapel.

Have a great week folks.

Gratefully Grateful
*1**2**3**4**5*,*6*,*7*,*8*, *9**10**11**12**13**14*,*15*,*16*,*17*,*18*,*19*

Blago 2014

2 May

IMG_5870-001One of the things that I love most about blogging is the community of like-minded fellow bloggers that I have met over the years.  I have blogger friends all over the world who write about everything from design to food to fashion to sewing.  These creative souls have become an important part of my life and a support network that inspires and encourages me to no end.

So you can imagine how ecstatic I was when a few of them arrived in Italy a few weeks ago to attend a little face-to-face event called Blago that I organised.

I came up with the Blago concept after attending The Hive Blogging Conference last year and realising that I really loved spending time with all these creative and amazing women that I have been friends with online for years. It’s great having these online friendships but even greater when you can take it into “real life”.

So a few days after arriving home from The Hive I sent out the first Blago pitch to some of my favourite blogger pals. Luckily I received really positive and enthusiastic responses from all of them immediately.  My idea was for us all to meet up here in Italy to spend a few days visiting Milan Design as well as the lovely lake region that I live it.

And because I’m a big nerd I named the event Blago which is a mix of the words lago (lake in Italian) and blog.  I figured if you’re going to organise an event with fellow bloggers you’ve got to come up with a catchy title (and hashtag too – check out #blago2014 on Instagram!).

IMG_5869-001And of course being a blogger also meant I needed to come up with a cool official invite to the event.  Luckily, I LOVE that kind of stuff.  Like seriously love it.

After a lot of contemplating and looking through my stash of craft and sewing supplies I decided to make a linen envelope (the leather version failed miserably).   I used a really pretty Max Mara linen with map print for the outside and a gold linen for the inside.  I even added a little tag which I always find makes a hand sewn item look a tad more professional.

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Inside the fabric envelope I included an invite with the official Blago logo (designed by the talented Judith who was an attendee) and a little bag of my favourite Italian candies.

I’m a lover of anything to do with snail mail so I was so excited to get these into the mail and to their destinations (which actually took longer than expected due to the fact the local post office accidentally sent half of them back to me).

I’ll be back soon with more details about the actual event (which turned out to be a big success).  And yes, I am already mentally preparing the next Blago get-together (and it’s going to be a good one!).

 

Gratefully Grateful *15*

23 Apr

Radio silence over here for the last week.  I’ve been enjoying time with family and friends in the land of chocolate, waffles and square pillows (Belgium in case you hadn’t figured it out).  I can’t even think about how much chocolate that has been ingested into my body the last 7 days (or french fries for that matter).  But it has been good.

Easter was a large family affair with a house full of happy cousins running around my mother-in-law’s house and garden.  And (as I mentioned on IG) it has been sunny EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Now that my friends is not normal.  Not in the least.  But I’ll take it and am extremely grateful.

This (last) week I’m grateful for:
IMG_7024…beautiful hiding spots for the Easter Egg hunt.
IMG_6886-001…a day visiting the cemeteries from World War One in Flanders Fields. And teaching my kids that ever important poem that all kids in Canada have to learn by heart.IMG_6377…fancy cocktail umbrellas that I put in my flower bouquets and mocktails. (yeah, I prefer mocktails over cocktails)

Enjoy your week everyone!

Gratefully Grateful *1**2**3**4**5*,*6*,*7*,*8*, *9**10**11**12**13*, *14*

Gratefully Grateful *11*

24 Mar

I’m going to be brutally honest and tell you the thing that I was most grateful for this week.  It wasn’t the gorgeous sunny hot weather or the plethora of breathtaking spring blossoms or even scoring a stack of beautiful vintage photos at my local mercatino usato.  It was actually take-out Indian food.  Yes, after living here for 13 years and only having pizza as an option when I’m not in the mood to cook, a fabulous Indian restaurant opened less than 10 minutes from my home.  On Friday night I popped in, ordered enough food to feed an army and walked out with my brown paper bag full of tasty Indian goodness.   It was scary how excited I was.  I love living in rural Italy but I have missed foreign foods and the convenience of having delicious food cooked for me (again, besides pizza which I also love).  Sometimes those little things make such a difference.

This week I’m grateful for…

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…my husband who agreed to fold 20 origami rabbits with me.  Okay, for me (I was busy watching New Girl).

IMG_5640…the fact he still comes up and sits really really really really close to me.

IMG_6046…forsythia bushes covering the local landscape.  They’re on their way out now but those almost fluorescent yellow bushes covered in blossoms sure know how to get a girl’s attention.

Have a great week!

Gratefully Grateful *1**2**3**4*, *5*,*6*,*7*,*8**9*, *10*

Gratefully Grateful *10*

16 Mar


Spring has definitely sprung here in Italy.  There are blooms and blossoms in every shade of just about every colour as far as the eye can see.  Bright yellow forsythia bushes, magnolia trees with massive paper white blossoms, lemon yellow daffodil flowers, dusty pink cherry blossoms, fuchsia camellia bushes and soft violet crocus flowers that the cover lawns and fields of grass.  It’s totally worth the itchy watery eyes and constant sneezing that started last week and will most likely continue for the next few months.  Being a lover of colour makes Spring my favourite season of the year.  Thank goodness for antihistamines.

This week I’m grateful for…

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…these delicate pink Camellia flowers in my friend and neighbour’s yard.  I look forward to seeing them every spring.

IMG_5946…getting to celebrate the Danish Fastelavn (Carnival) with friends.  Although I don’t want to think about those poor live cats that they used to put in the barrel years ago.
IMG_5901…online art courses that my daughters can enjoy in between the hours and hours of homework and studying that they have to do every single day of their little lives.

Wishing you all a great week ahead!

Gratefully Grateful *1**2**3**4*, *5*,*6*,*7*,*8*, *9*

Moroccan Snapshots *1*

12 Mar

A few images of my latest trip to Morocco…

IMG_4819-001Arriving at Menara Marrakech Airport.IMG_4840-001Lovely little carpet shop along the side of the road. Regretting not buying one.IMG_4854-001Handmade Berber carpet with Berber sheep (in the wind)

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Delivery truck that was teetering back and forth from the height and weight of those sacks.  A bit scary to drive behind.IMG_4861-001

My dream car.  Pink back-window curtain and all.IMG_4869-001

He wasn’t as sweet as he looks in the photo.

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Our first tagine of the trip.  Eaten on a quaint little outdoor terrace under the hot sun overlooking the atlas mountains.  Nice.

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Typical Moroccan painted metal door (with small stone village in background) 

I’ll be back with more snapshots soon!

Days For Girls

6 Mar

IMG_5806A few months ago I was poking around online and came across a site for the grassroots non-profit project called Days For Girls. From the second I read their action plan, and subsequently their entire site in that first sitting, I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of.

Days For Girls was founded in 2008 by Celeste Mergens after working in a Kenyan orphanage and noticing that the girls weren’t educated about their menstrual cycles nor equipped to deal with it (no feminine hygiene products available to them).

This feminine hygiene program’s motto is: Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.  Their vision is for every girl and woman in the world to have feasible access to quality sustainable hygiene and health education by the year 2022.  Like I said before, I’m on board 100%.

Days for Girls volunteers produce reusable menstrual cycle kits.  The program has already sent kits to over 60,000 girls in over 60 countries worldwide.  These kits last approximately three years and have literally changed the lives of many girls and young women who before had to skip school and/or work due to their menstrual cycles.  This in turn has resulted in lower school drop-out rates in many areas as well as a lot less lost income for days missed at work.IMG_5817

Days for Girls is also very active in helping set up local sewing cooperatives and teaching the local women how to make the kit components themselves.

After writing back and forth with their International Chapter Liaison Cindy Murdock I started up one of Europe’s first Days For Girls teams.  So, I’m now official and couldn’t be prouder!  I’ve been busy cutting, sewing and gathering supplies for kits and luckily I have a fantastic group of friends who are happily getting involved and helping me out.

A project that helps girls and women in need and that involves sewing?  A match made in heaven for me.

If you are interested in becoming involved or donating supplies contact Days for Girls here (or look here for a team or chapter near you).  If you’re living in Italy or even Europe and would like to help out my team by sewing kit components or donating supplies (cotton, flannel, ribbon, miniature soaps, new cotton underpants or facecloths) contact me at VareseItaly@daysforgirls.org.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

Varallo, Piemonte

26 Jun

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This past week-end we decided to continue our exploration of the neighbouring region of Piemonte.  Over the last months we’ve visited the surrounding vineyards of  Gattinara, the small city of Vercelli and the quaint little town of Moleto.   We are always so surprised at how many lovely little spots we come across within an hour of our home.  And we wonder why in the world we haven’t been visiting these places over the last decade.  Then we promptly remember that with 3 small kids there were actually whole week-ends that we didn’t even manage to get all of dressed and out the door let alone to go visit a nearby town.  In any case, we are really enjoying these week-end trips and have a growing list of places we eventually want to visit.

On Sunday morning we woke up to a gorgeous, clear day and headed out towards the small town of Varallo (pop.7400) which is situated on the Sesia River and at the foothills of the Alps.  IMG_9255

We had a short 1 hour drive to arrive from Lago Maggiore and the kids were so excited to hike up the famous Sacro Monte di Varallo which is known to be the oldest in Italy.  Founded in 1491 the Sacro Monte houses 45 chapels, the basilica and over 800 painted statues.

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We were expecting a long 3 hour hike up a mountain but in the end it was a short 20 minute stroll up to the small plateau where you could visit all the little chapels, the basilica and enjoy the panoramic views over the town of Varallo below.

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I’m always so surprised at how interested my kids are in the history and stories behind these places.  They spend ages studying the frescos, reading the information signs and asking questions of every kind (thank goodness Papa is there to answer most of them).
IMG_9291After a very warm walk in the full noon sun we decided to head down into the town for some lunch and a little more exploring.

IMG_9329After a short search for a good typical restaurant we arrived at La Sfinge which ended up having a really lovely outdoor terrace looking over the Sesia River.  My daughter was in heaven when they brought her a wooden platter with various local cheeses and jams and my husband enjoyed his (wintery) meal of Polenta with Porcini.

After lunch we strolled around the very quaint (and quiet) little town and looked in all the antique shops which sold everything from clothing from the 1800s to every tool needed for working wool (which this area is famous for).  Slowly, large black clouds started to cover the skies and we just made it back to our car in time to avoid a downfall.

On our way back home we were driving through a small village and the kids started noticing people dressed in medieval costumes everywhere.  We stopped and quickly asked what was going on and someone told us that the yearly palio was about to start.  A palio is a sort of town event where all the different neighbourhoods compete against each other.  Sometimes it’s a horse race (Siena), sometimes it’s various physical competitions and sometimes, as in this case, it was a parade where all the different neighbourhoods dressed up in their special colours and period costumes.

IMG_9404As you can imagine my son was super excited to see all the armoured guards, knights and soldiers.

My daughters on the other hand admired all the beautifully dressed princesses, queens and maidens.IMG_9390And the rain stopped just as the parade started and started up again as we were slowly driving away.

It was one of those days where luck was on our side.

If you’re ever visiting Piemonte I would strongly recommend the Valsesia area.  There are many lovely little towns and castles to visit and world class hiking trails and rafting available.

Moroccan Purchases

26 Apr

Whenever we get back from a trip people are always so curious as to what sort of souvenirs or items we bought while traveling around.  We don’t usually do a lot of shopping on our family vacations (because we all know how much kids LOVE to shop)  but we always try and bring back a few keepsakes for ourselves and gifts for friends and family (read here and here to find what we purchased in Japan).

And of course in Morocco we had to check out the world famous souks off the Jemaa El Fna Square in Marrakesh.  The kids loved getting lost in the winding narrow alleyways full of  interesting shops selling everything you could ever imagine.

I have to admit I’m not a big fan of bargaining and bartering about prices (although I am good at it!).  I’m always scared of offending the shop owner and /or getting colossally ripped off.  In any case, I’m pretty sure we we paid way too much for some of the things we purchased (you can always tell when they quickly agree to the first price you offer).

1-IMG_7804These babouche are by far my favorite purchase.  They are so bright, colourful and actually quite comfortable.  One shopkeeper told us that they are made out of camel leather and are hand-stitched   The kids each picked out a pair for themselves and some pairs to bring back for good friends.  We paid between 5€ and 7€ a pair ($6.50-$9).  Quite a bargain for something so unique and typically Moroccan.  Only downside is that they have a very pungent and distinctive smell.  One of my kids suggested it could be what the inside of a goat’s bowel would smell like.  Over the last months it has improved a bit but it’s still there (despite my constant spraying of Sandalwood perfume).

1-IMG_7829And of course we couldn’t come home without a tagine.  I would have loved to bring back one of the beautifully hand painted larger ones that are available for purchase everywhere but we just didn’t have space in our luggage.  So instead we picked out some of the smaller versions which are usually used for salt/pepper/cumin.  The kids bought some to bring back to their teachers and I brought some to use here at home.  We paid anywhere from 1€-3€ ($1.50-$4).

1-IMG_7837As soon as I saw a tiny shop which sold tassles of every kind I was like a kid in a candy shop.  They had every size and colour imaginable and were available in everything from cotton to velvet to leather.  I ended up buying three leather ones (€2/$2.50) which I’ll use for key chains or to hang on hand sewn purses and bags  and a whole bunch of tiny little cotton ones in the loveliest colours  (0.15€/20¢ each).  I wish I’d bought so many more.

1-IMG_7813The souks of Marrakesh are famous for their leather goods.  You can get beautiful purses of every style and colour (and quality).  I found several purses which I loved and didn’t end up buying due to the “smell factor” that we had with the babouche slippers.  The kids bought these sweet little 3-pocket leather wallets above (3€/$4 each) and a few leather bracelets (3 for €2/$2.50).  There are many many styles of wallets, bracelets, purses and belts to choose from.  Just be careful for quality and how the leather is dyed or painted.

1-IMG_7845You absolutely can’t go to Morocco and not buy their world famous Argan Oil.  These oil is made from the kernals of the Argan Tree which is endemic to Morocco.  It is used for both culinary and cosmetic purposes and is said to have many healing and medicinal purposes (aging, rheumatism, acne, scarring).  We stopped at a Women’s Co-op in the Atlas mountains and bought a few little bottles to give it a try.  I’ll let you know if it changes my life.  I paid about €7/$9 for a small 40ml bottle.

1-IMG_7879I also picked up this gorgeous rag rug while we were traveling in the Atlas Mountains.  I saw it hanging outside a tiny shop at the summit of one of the mountains we drove over on our travels and I knew it would be perfect in our home.  I was tempted to buy the large version but lack of suitcase space made it so that I left with the smaller version (€10/$13).  It looks perfect in my son’s lego corner of our livingroom.

All along the mountainous roads we came across men selling these crystallized rocks that they found in various mines and caves.  My kids fell in love with them and ended up using some of their travel money to purchase some for themselves and friends.  We were told they were all naturally coloured.  In any case it’s quite impressive to open the dull black stones and find these beautifully coloured crystal insides.  Everyone who comes to our house has to admire these stones before getting past the front hall.  They cost between €2 and €4 ($2.50-$5.50).1-IMG_7855We also bought some painting pigments in one of the many spice shops.  These vibrantly coloured powders just need to be mixed with lemon juice and are great for painting or dying cotton clothing (see here what the kids painted). These pigments are sold by the gram  and we paid about €3/$4 total for all of them.

Have you ever been to Morocco and purchased anything special?

25 Jan

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The other day I was frantically driving the kids from one activity to the next when all of a sudden I found myself alone and with a free hour before having to pick up the next child.  Usually I would spend the time doing the grocery shopping or some other errand but it was such a gorgeous day that I thought I’d go down to the lake and enjoy the views.

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This spot is literally 5 minutes from where I dropped my daughter off for her guitar lesson.  It was a bright sunny day and the mountains were clearly visible in the distance.  I sat there and soaked in the heat of the late afternoon sun and took in the stunning views.

1-IMG_5366I don’t know about any of you but sometimes I’m so busy with going about our daily routines and chores that I forget to stop and appreciate the beauty of the place I live in.  Sitting here on this little deserted beach looking out at the choppy lake and admiring the snow capped mountains gave me some peace of mind and let me re-connect after the chaos of taxiing from basketball lessons to theatre class and then rushing home to start dinner and finish homework.

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I know it’s not always easy to find these moments but when we do it usually has a lasting effect on our well-being and tolerance of getting through these busy days of ours.  Do you have a favorite place that you go to have a moment alone?

Buon week-end a tutti!

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