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Tuning in to the Rhythms of Tuscany

I can’t seem to tire of the Tuscan landscape. I have been here for two and a half weeks now and am still in love with the rolling hills, the textures and the vibrant colors of this region of Italy. Deep greens, golden fields and silver wisps of leaves surround me. As you drive, or walk, throughout Tuscany you see amazing landscapes such as this, that have been manipulated by man for centuries.

The curved rows of plowed, mustard-yellow fields are of the semolina wheat used to make pasta (that I am eating too much of!). By the end of June, most fields are plowed with bales of wheat rolled and waiting.

I adore the ever-present groves of olive trees, like these just outside our window. The Frantoio Franci olive oil company is  in walking distance to our vila. These are younger trees that are not producing usable olives just yet. Off in the distance, are older, more rugged trees with darker leaves, that are being harvested.

We are awakened each morning by the sound of tractors and the yips from the workers’ dogs who accompany them. The red ladders and three-wheeled mini pick-up trucks are often back in the fields after siesta—when the temperatures drop again and it is easier to work. Siesta, which is approximately from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is completely understandable to me now. With temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s critical to slow down—especially when working outside. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed during this period as well. There seems to be no option but to take life slowly in Italy. When we first arrived in the province of Siena, I was concerned by the fact that there was no wifi in our villa and it was hard to come by in the village. I had an article to finish about Autism. I managed to do it on a dialup modem—but it was a looong and frustrating process. I couldn’t Skype with my boys. Email was hard to check. It felt like I was adrift. Once the story was in, I relaxed and started to breathe deeply and became more in tune with the rhythms of this world that are intrinsically linked with its landscape. My siestas became endearing to me. Here’s a typical siesta:

I sit in the local piazza. I notice a grandfather making amusing faces at his grandson as he buys him a gelato before heading home. I hear the adorable singsong voices of children who say papa! as they run home. A woman smiles and makes fun of me, calling me an “Alaskan” since I prefer ice cubes in my drink. I notice a momma bird feed her baby bird bread crumbs on the piazza floor.

I see a momma cat and her kittens hide in the shade of chairs.

I watch bees harvesting nectar from the potted lavender bushes and hear the bells chime from the convent on the hill above the village. A Vespa whines in the distance. I take a bite from my panini of prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese and think how marvelous it is that I haven’t once looked at a cell phone text or read an email. This won’t last, of course. But I am so thankful to have been given this temporary taste of freedom from my addiction to the Internet and with the need to keep up with all things and all people all the time. I give in and tell myself that my boys are just fine without me for a brief time. I pull out a map and start to plan a day excursion to another village. I begin to think about dinner—the obsession with food is quite contagious in Italy. And by the end of an hour, I head back home. Perhaps boring for some, but for me, being in the moment and present in my surroundings is a gift. I want to bottle it up and take it home.

When we arrived at the end of June this was just another green field with rows of leafy plants. Within two weeks, like so many of other fields in this region, it literally burst overnight with bright yellow and brown heads beaming up towards the sky. Driving past later in the afternoon, I shot this picture from the car window. I didn’t have time to stop with another car close behind me on a winding two-lane road—but I couldn’t resist the urge to capture their newly emerged faces. These proud, tall sunflowers seemed to scream “Smile, Damn it!”

And I did.

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May 20, 2012: A Day of Mystery and Beauty

Yesterday was the first solar eclipse in Gemini, the first solar eclipse visible in the United States, in 18 years.

According to http://SpiritualTherapy.wordpress.com, “astrologically speaking, eclipses are powerful events that shake up our usual sense of balance, intensify the energy field, and often bring breakdowns and breakthroughs that allow for change to move through our lives.”

I’m not sure if it was the influence of the solar eclipse in Gemini (with my birthday this week), or if I was just lucky, but yesterday was a good day. In fact, it was one of the best yet with my boys. Here’s how it started:


After much wrangling, I managed to push the boys out of the house for a morning stroll, looking for shells, on the beach. It was beyond wonderful as I walked, free of my boot/cast, feeling the warm sand on my toes. Even though we were having a chilly, over-cast morning, the warm sand, and sweet conversation about shells, felt delicious.
From there, after a lunch playdate, we took a drive south to Palos Verdes while my youngest napped. As we drove, the haze and fog lifted and inspiration hit. After driving south all the way past Trumps Golf Course, we turned around and parked at Abalone Cove. The little one woke up, looking at the yellow flowers and the ocean beyond and exclaimed, “Awesome!” I quite agree.
To get down to the cove, we had to hike down a narrow, winding path, that provides the most amazing views of the famous stretch of waters—now world-known from scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean. Do you recognize it?

Its beauty is so overwhelming that I kept pinching myself and thinking this could be in the South of France, the Caribbean, South Africa, Portugal, Italy…You get the idea. Every time I stopped to snap a picture, I transported myself elsewhere and got the instant JOLT—the feeling of being on vacation. Where else can one get that feeling, then taking a drive or a hike along the coast of California?
JUST another stroll on an average Sunday.
The best part of being in Abalone Cove is that it is literally teeming with life. It’s tidal pools are filled with sea anemones, crabs and snails. Watching my little guys explore, discover and scurry up rocks made me happier than I’ve been in ages. This is what kids are meant to do.
What is it about boys and rocks?
Want to feel like a kid again? There’s nothing better than exploring and discovering life in a tidal pool. My heart soared as I watched and listened to my boys exclaim: “I found one! Look at this!” when pointing to sea anemones, crabs or snails. What a day. So full of life, color, vibrancy.
On the way back up the cove, we discovered a nursery school. Seriously. In this remote cove in Palos Verdes, you can send your children to an open-air classroom where they scurry down to the cove and explore, every day. Can I go back in time and attend?? My inner little girl stomped and screamed, “I want to GO!”
Wouldn’t you like to go to class here too?
Yes, this is in America. Wow, I want to play too.
One last look goodbye before heading back to the car.
May 20, 2012 will not be easily forgotten. Later that evening, while in the car, I shot this amazing picture of the solar eclipse with my phone. What a lucky girl I am!

Laguna Magic

Blissful Laura.

There is nothing like a quick get-a-way with a girlfriend to refresh your soul. And what better place on Earth than Laguna Niguel? Seriously, how lucky am I to be barely an hours drive away from such insane beauty. I’m realizing that it’s critical to take time away from the kids with an old friend—even if just for an afternoon, like we did. My girlfriend from London is in town and I wanted to immerse her in the Laguna magic that is reminiscent of Nice or another Mediterranean seaport towns. Its dramatic cliffs and coves and ever-changing winds, weather and moods, can lift anyone’s spirits. Since she is an artist, I knew she’d love the views and colors by Dana Point.

View of Dana Point

So we drove through town and went to The Ritz where the best views can be had. It’s quite nice to be able to enjoy the view from the patio, and chat over a cup of coffee. I’m not sure if many people realize that even if you can’t afford to stay at The Ritz, you can pay for parking and have lunch, or a drink at one of the hotel’s outside lounges or cafes and soak in the outstanding views.

Life has been incredibly stressful lately, and not being able to exercise has been taking its toll. (I tore a ligament three weeks ago.) But as the clouds finally began to shift, I took off my boot/cast, sat back and watched the sun peak out from under the moody fog and literally felt lightness seep into my being.

Sometimes all you really need in life is a different perspective and a change in venue.

Of course, a bit of drama and a good friend makes it all that much better.

And why is it so magical to breathe in a mix of salty sea air and fragrant tropical flowers?

Putting physical distance between you and your regular routine, helps you see through the entanglements.

As I drove back in the heavy traffic at 4 p.m. I was content, stress-free and couldn’t wait to see my boys and get back to my role as mommy. (But wasn’t it delightful to just be a girlfriend having girl-talk for one lovely afternoon!)

A Mother’s Legacy: Wildflowers

Queen Anne’s Lace

As some of you may know, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. It’s such a crushing disease as it creeps into the mind of the person you love and robs them of the essence of who they are. Little by little it picks up speed, like a ball rolling down the hill, and all you can do is sit by, breathless, as you watch the person you love slip away. My mother is now in a facility more than 2,500 miles away and since I can’t see or talk with her, I’ve decided to write each day until Mother’s Day about her and the legacy she leaves behind for her four children. Anyone who knew MaryAnn Roe, knows how she lost herself and her worries when she gardened. I learned about wildflowers, such as Queen Anne’s Lace, and gardening, from my mother.

Orange Nasturtium

She inspired me to always make wonderful bouquets from the wildflowers, or any blossoms in our own garden. Orange nasturtiums were one of her favorites, and she marveled at how enormous they grew in California, as they couldn’t manage to expand in the heat and humidity in her North Carolina garden.

Butterfly Bush

Even just two years ago, when her mind had slipped dramatically into the worsening phases of her disease, she would wander around and around her front and back yards weeding, picking up sticks, watering her plants and marveling at the butterflies and hummingbirds that would visit her butterfly bush. While she couldn’t utter how much peace her garden brought her, it was evident in her face and through her continued ability to somehow manage to take care of her cherished plants.

Marigold

I loved her creativity when it came to her bouquets. In fact, mom gathered gardenia and magnolia blooms from our yard in North Carolina, put them in coolers, and transported them to Atlanta where I got married 12 years ago. On each table she created graceful, fragrant bouquets that no one knew were handmade touches from home.

Magnolia bloom

Mother’s infectious love of gardening inspired me to visit every botanical garden in almost every city where I have lived or traveled to. I loved being able to take her to the Kew Gardens in London, the botanical gardens in Atlanta, Duke Gardens in Durham, the gardens at the Getty or sending her pictures from gardens in Lisbon, Madrid, Nice, Budapest or Kauai. (I will dig up pictures from those trips at some point!) I may never become a green thumb like mom, but I’m sure I’ll always think of her when I see a bouquet of wildflowers.

A Mom’s Legacy: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Photo by: Barb Hale

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

From the Kitchen of MaryAnn Roe

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2  tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 3 cups cut rhubarb
  • 1 pie crust mix
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Courtesy of: PublicPhoto.org

Directions:

Combine sugar, tapioca, salt, nutmeg, orange juice and rhubarb. Place in 9 inch pie pan, lined with pastry. Top with strawberries/rhubarb mix and dot with butter. Cover with remaining pastry (pie crust).

Photo courtesy of Coconut Recipes

“I prefer rolling pastry, cutting stripes and making a lattice top.  If you cover fruit completely with pastry, make air vents,” wrote my mother on her recipe card. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes.

This is my absolute favorite summer dessert that my mom used to make. There’s something wonderful about the sour mixed with the sweetness. ENJOY!!!

Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind

As many of you may know, I used to live in London and traveled quite a bit. I moved back to California in the summer of 2008, when 7 months pregnant. Southern California is a great place to be when you’re sleep deprived and in need of sunshine and fresh air. But lately, I find myself starting to get that twitchy foot. The itch that, in the past, would make want to purchase a last minute rail ticket for a weekend excursion to somewhere in Europe. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss my old life at all. I really do believe that I was supposed to go through this mess: this divorce, this single motherhood thing and that it’s all part of a plan. It’s forcing me to grow and realize my inner strength and  I have embraced that better things are yet to come. BUT, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes need to GET AWAY.

Now that I’m regularly sleeping through the night, (isn’t it marvelous when your child finally lets you??) I’m feeling the urge to hit the open road. I crave getting into my car and driving for long periods at a time with no real destination. I recall reading Ann Tyler’s book Ladder of Years where the main character, a 40-year-old mom, took a walk and just kept walking until she moved to another town altogether. I loved it. (Although I adore all of Ann Tyler’s books.)

Don’t worry, ya’ll. I’m not about to do that. But I realize that I need vistas. I need to explore. It’s always been a part of my DNA. My Ex hated that I rarely planned or structured our trips beyond arranging a house swap or renting a flat or house somewhere. I liked to meander and discover things—to sit at cafes and people watch or talk with a chatty local and get the low-down on where to go that evening. I miss spontaneity. In college, I’d take off and drive from Georgia to Maine with no set stopping places in between. I’d stop where it felt good to do so. I naturally gravitated to journalism as I liked the constant change of scenery or new voices. As a child, I wandered in the woods and horse trails. I love discovering by happenstance. With that said, I’m literally and financially too grounded to take off as a single mom of two kiddos.

But I’m realizing that I can still get a little bit of that flight feeling by opening my eyes wider and exploring closer to home. By being present and taking in my surroundings or taking short excursions with the boys, we can explore. So, I’m rarely without my camera these days. I’m far from a photographer, (and none of my pictures were taken with special lenses or have been touched up in some way) but I find that shooting pictures of the beauty that surrounds me in Southern California reminds me there are things to discover in my own backyard. It helps ease that yearning for an excursion I can’t have right now.

There will be days ahead for faraway travel. But for now, I’m going to keep drinking in my sun-kissed part of the world. When I take pictures and look at them later, I’ll remember to thank God for second chances at a new life. I am grateful to stay put at the moment. I am grateful to have the time to create and discover what beauty surrounds and lies within.

Wide Open Spaces for the Holidays

 

I originally posted this last Thanksgiving when I packed up the boys and hit the road—in my attempt to make the most of our solo Thanksgiving. This year, although we are staying home and having the Turkey Day with friends, I found myself gravitating to the countryside. I took my youngest, who is fighting a nasty cold, up to visit the horses in Palos Verdes. After screaming for almost an hour, he instantly calmed down when seeing the horses.

“Why are they so sad, mommy?” he asked when looking into one’s big eyes.

“They’re just soulful.” I replied.

“Yup. Sushful.”

But you know what? He was calm for the rest of the afternoon.

Kids really do need wide open spaces and soulful faces.

I hope you enjoy this post.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

L. x

**

It takes the shape of a place out west 

But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed 

~ Dixie Chicks 

This Thanksgiving weekend I packed up my boys and headed North toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I needed to get out of this town. I needed to breathe. I needed a vista. I needed to distract and cheer up my children. I needed to run far away from the insanity of my life and recent disappointments. So when my oldest did a report for school about a small cowboy and ranching town in the shadow of Mount Whitney, I got the idea. Why should we stay in LA where we have no family? Why should we be alone during the holidays just because I’m on a small budget and can’t travel back East?

As my son researched Lone Pine for his report, I realized that we had actually driven past it a few times on our way to Mammoth. My soon-to-be Ex skis, and we were always in a hurry to get to Mammoth for that reason. Before my son’s report, I didn’t know that 400 movies had been filmed in the area, mostly westerns, but also parts of Gladiator and Iron Man. The majestic beauty of the Sierras amongst miles of ranch land is an amazing backdrop for movies. We had driven through the small Indian reservations and the towns of Lone Pine and Bishop, but never stopped along the way before. Who knew there was so much to discover that is virtually free to visit? This time I stopped along the highway with the boys and we explored the historic fish hatchery;  Manzanar museum where Japanese-Americans were held as prisoners during WW 11; the adorable Beverly and Jim Rogers Lone Pine Museum of Film History; and the Laws Railroad Museum.

This trip was all about slowing down (which is mandatory when traveling with a three-year-old!) and getting off the beaten path. We didn’t stay at a fancy ski resort, but at a modest motel with a breath-taking view. We walked through town and talked with the locals at the drug store, mexican restaurant and Subway where we discussed various topics from Elvis verses Justin Bieber, to teenagers today, to crazy temper tantrums—as my three-year-old showed off his tantrum antics in all places! My only big splurge was riding boots and a horse riding lesson for my oldest. Before I left, I called the chamber of commerce for horse back riding referrals. They directed me to a horse trainer in Bishop who is well-known for training champion jumpers. She was kind enough to give my son a lesson. In fact, the three of us visited the Millpond Equestrian Center in Owens Valley north of Bishop twice to feed and chat with the horses (and dogs and one precocious kitten!).

The one-hour drive from Lone Pine to Bishop, that we did twice, was my favorite. The views are nothing short of spectacular. The youngest napped as William and I sang songs and I breathed in the beauty of the white-capped mountains bathed in fields of gold. As I looked ahead, or in my rear-view mirror, I began thinking of the power of letting go. There is power in not engaging in crazy behavior by others (if any of you have experienced that!) and saying no by moving forward and away from it. Most importantly, there is power in seeking honesty and beauty wherever you can find it.

During my drives I often thought of my lovely, new friends—all single moms who are struggling so much right now. I so wish that you all could have taken a similar trip. There’s something about wide open spaces. It not only lets you breathe deeply, but somehow it helps you expand. I could feel myself trusting the Universe again. I could actually feel hope start to fill my lungs by the second day I was away. Pictures tell a story so much better than I ever could. Here’s my journey. I left Los Angeles blue, confused and with a heavy heart from recent hurts. As I rose in altitude, so did my spirits. Who knew there were so many lessons to be learned on the road?

Extreme pressure is transforming. Hang on. You’ll rise above all of this.

Elk, or Reindeer Crossing? Magic, wonder and mystery may still cross your path.

Kindness heals. Your children know kind souls when they meet them.
Face whatever comes toward you, but don’t forget the bigger picture and the better focus for your life.
Try new things. (And keep your chin up when you do!)
Get off the beaten path. Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own.