Two men and a boat, a turtle and a pineapple!

 

On Thursday our friend Alessandro phoned to ask if we would like to go with him to Baratti Bay, where he has a small house near the beach. Baratti is famous for its Etruscan heritage and unspoilt coastline so, although the forecast was a bit iffy,  I was thrilled. I love being by the sea, whatever the weather. As I child I could never  sleep the night before setting off for the seaside and the same happened this time. I counted every hour between 3 and 6am but filled in the time happily running over my holiday outfits in my mind, to make sure I had packed enough pairs of sandals and shorts.

golfo-di-baratti-1

Beautiful Baratti Bay

So, we met up on Saturday morning, did some shopping for essentials such as pasta, prawns, salumi and wine, then set off for the coast. The drive takes about two and a half hours through amazing Tuscan scenery and lots of sharp bends. Alessandro drives fast and by the time we arrived I was quite queasy, since I had been in the back seat, but a glass of prosecco and a prosciutto-stuffed schiacciata soon sorted that out.

Before we ate though, we had to admire every inch of Alessandro’s beach house. His family had been lucky enough to buy a plot of land about 1 km from the unspoilt bay of Baratti nearly 40 years previously and now there was a delightful, small cottage set in lush gardens. It had all a man could want, two small bedrooms, a kitchen- dining room with fridge that cooled beers in minutes, two static caravans in the garden (one for sleeping in and one for storage) plus two sheds, an outside shower and, wonder of wonders, a long green tent-affair that covered the Vaurien. This last was our main reason for being there. Alessandro has been lovingly restoring the 4m sailing boat for months and Guido wanted to give him a hand with the final painting and varnishing. Alessandro unwrapped the layers of tent and he and Guido hauled the little boat out into the sunshine. Named Moby (Alessandro’s nickname for his wife and no whale connotations at all), it was very cute, with its white hull and wooden interior. We all admired it for a while.

Baratti 3

 

Alessandro, The Moby and … me, overseeing the work from the sun lounger!

The men began to examine the finer point of the design and discuss the sails and rigging. At this point my admiration was overcome by two things – my rumbling tummy and the need to find a toilet. I was a bit confused, because on first investigation of the house I had not noticed a door to the bathroom. I had probably overlooked it in my excitement of being by the sea. Off I trotted to search for a loo. The house plus garden was not exactly huge, so it was strange that I couldn’t see anything that even vaguely resembled a lavatory. I even peeked into the outside shower – only a tatty dressing gown and some old bottles of shampoo lurking there. Finally I had to interrupt a lively discussion of grades of sandpaper needed to achieve the perfect finish. Alessandro rewarded me with a warm smile and indicated the path that ran around the side of the house. There I found what I had taken to be the wooden tool shed. Oh dear. All was soon clear. The house did indeed have all a man could ask for. I, however,  am a woman and this was my first experience of an outdoor toilet, apart from on camping holidays. Apart from meeting a rather shy lizard and several dead spiders, the experience was not too bad though and, feeling much relieved, I went back to find that the men had left the boat, for now, and were rustling up lunch.

Lunch was delicious. Then the men got back to work. Several hours and a good sanding and layer of varnish later and the men realised that I was champing at the bit for my first glimpse of the sea. Leaving the men to wrap Moby up again, I went to change into my bikini. Alessandro kindly offered his protection factor 30 sun cream and, since all I had found in my cupboard the previous day was a small squidge of protection factor 20, I took him up on the offer. This would be the first sun my pallid skin saw this year, so it was best to be safe. Guido came to get changed too and yelped when he saw me. Puzzled, I peeked into the small mirror on the bedroom shelf and saw a white mask looking back.

“Don’t worry, it will soon blend in,” I reassured him as he left the bedroom, trying not to laugh. Unfortunately that was not the case. In the end, even when I had scrubbed my face and body with a rough towel there was still a subtle layer of zinc-white remaining. Zinc plus mozzarella skin – not a good combination!  When I dared to go outside two men turned innocent expressions on me (Guido had obviously briefed Alessandro about my predicament) and they managed quite well to stifle their giggles. I hid in the car while Alessandro locked up. Or rather tried to. And this is where the turtle comes in. It is a furry turtle of lurid green hue and guards the great wad of keys needed to unlock every shed, caravan and door. Shouldn’t be hard to find, we thought.  An hour later my zinc-white had sunk in enough for me to look human again, so that when I found the keys I got a hug from their owner. After looking in all the obvious places but also checking the fridge, the cupboards and the loo-roll store, I had finally decided to check the shower room, even though I didn’t think anyone had been in there. One green turtle smiled up at me from between the bottles of shampoo.

“Oh yes”, said our host, “I remember now, I went to check that the hot water was working for when we get back!”

Baratti 4

Alessandro, hard at work in his  socks, in case he trod in varnish!

By the time we got ourselves sorted on the lovely beach, a rather pleasant breeze was getting up and a thin veil of cloud was slipping across the sun. I lay down and began to relax.

“Let’s go and see where I am going to keep the Moby when she is ready,” Alessandro suggested. Off we traipsed along the beach. The bay is truly spectacular, fringed with a natural park full of  windswept umbrella pines. At this time of year it also has a lot of algae, which lined the edge of the beach and since I did not much fancy walking over that with bare feet, I kept to the wet sand where possible. Often that was not possible, so I had to plough through the soft sand. The short walk seemed a lot longer than it had when Alessandro first indicated our destination but I am sure it did wonders for my thigh muscles. By now I was ready for a swim. We trekked back to our towels and I dipped my toes in the sea – bliss.  Also, cold.

Both men declined to swim. They were not hot enough yet. I glanced up at the sky, very definitely cloudy now, and wondered if I could chicken out too but, I am British after all! So off I set bravely, until the water reached my tummy and then I threw myself into the waves to avoid a long period of torture. I surfaced with the darn seaweed on my head. In fact bits of it floated all around me and when I put my feet down the bottom was slimy with it, so I pulled them up again quickly. I swam a  few metres, until a long tendril slid along my thigh, then turned tail and got out as fast as possible.

Why is it that when you get out of the sea your flesh seems even whiter than it did before you plunged in? The men, with their Italian skins, were looking quite tanned already! I lay back down and shivered. Thankfully our time had run out on the parking metre so we had to head back home or put more money in. I admitted to being cold and gratefully ran to have a hot shower the moment we reached the house. I did not care about spiders or mosquitoes – it was blissfully warm. Instead of a slinky evening outfit I pulled on a tracksuit and even some socks and stood very close to the BBQ that Guido had lit while Alessandro did a little more varnishing.

That evening was just magical. We cooked fish and prawns over the BBQ, listened to the birds and cicadas serenading us and drank some delicious wine, while talking about so many things and discovering more about our fun and interesting host. When we went to bed Guido and I had a fit of the giggles as we thought back on the day and tried to negotiate fitting two sleeping bags on a rather small bed. Even our nocturnal excursions to the outside toilet were fun. We went together, him clutching the torch to light our way through the garden and on our way back to bed were treated to the spectacle of a night sky free from city lights. Saturn and Mars danced among the other stars and the scent of jasmine was heady in the dark.

Baratti 2

Guido and me by the BBQ – Yummy prawn and fish.

The following day we woke to a storm. First the distant rumble of thunder and then a real downpour. Since no work could be done on Moby in this kind of weather we decided to plant the top of the delicious pineapple we had eaten the previous evening. Guido informed us that if the top is planted a new plant would grow, so we gave it a go and if it works Alessandro said he will soon have a small plantation. This first spiky experiment was christened Alain and he was certainly well-watered.

The sun came out again after lunch, so with perfect working conditions the men sanded and painted merrily, while I lay in a sun lounger and directed operations. We all had a great afternoon and the day ended on a perfect note when we drove to the Calidario thermal spa for a long soak in the warm waters while watching the sun set.

Calidario Terme Etrusche, Venturina (LI), Toscana, Italia, Europa

Calidario Thermal Spa

On Monday, Alessandro kindly sent me off with Guido (who would much rather have stayed to help him) to the beach while he finished with the boat. He offered us the use of sturdy mountain bikes and Guido cast me an uncertain look. He has been trying to get me on a bicycle for 26 years and is convinced that I do not know how to ride one. Not so – I used to cycle perfectly well but since the age of 12 have had no inclination to do so. Today however, 1 km under the hot sun by foot did not seem very tempting, so the bike was a sensible option. Guido sped off and I wobbled after him. The hem of my shorts somehow kept getting caught up on the seat and the seat was VERY uncomfortable on my nether regions, especially when I found out why we had mountain bikes. I had never ridden a bike with gears before and it took me a while to work out which order to use them in. The track was dusty, uneven and full of tricky stones to negotiate. To my surprise I found myself really having fun (but don’t tell Guido or he will insist of going out together again and there are far too many hills near our house for someone who only has downhill legs!) I raced a few lizards, chatted to butterflies that kept me company and smelt the wonderful aroma of the coastal undergrowth.

All went well until we got to the beach itself. Some twit in the council had decided that putting a slippery rubber slope down to the sand was a good idea. My flip flops slipped from under me and I was so worried about doing damage to the bike that I held on to that and fell under it, breaking the offending flip flop and scraping my knee, not to mention damaging my dignity. The bleeding stopped after several minutes of being rinsed in the waves and I began to see the funny side to everything. After all, this was absolute proof that I was not too old. Who ever heard of a child coming back from a bike ride without a graze or two?

All in all, it was a splendid weekend away and I am looking forward to going back to Baratti when it is time to launch the Moby. First Alessandro has to learn to sail, but that will be another story!

 

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Her Wonderful Ways

Today I want to introduce you to writer Val Poore. I met Val in real life for the first time at the London Book Fair in April but already felt as if I knew her well. She was every bit as lovely as I had expected from our previous contact through Facebook, e-mails and twitter. She has lived a fascinating life and written some wonderful memoirs about it, which take the reader from African adventures to life on an historic barge in Rotterdam. These books, the “Ways” series, are full of gentle humour as well as describing her unusual life styles. She has also written an award-winning children’s story, “The Skipper’s Child and a very funny novel “How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics”.

Val London Book fair

Val and me at the London Book Fair in April

Hello Val, thanks for taking the time to talk to me here. I love reading your books and blogs, which never fail to lift my spirits.

In “African Ways” you, your husband and two young girls left England to live in Africa. What prompted your decision and were you worried about taking the girls there before you left?

Oh yes, Tonia, I was very nervous about the whole endeavour to begin with, but since it was my idea, I couldn’t back down in the end, could I? The truth was we were experiencing serious financial difficulties with our business in England at the time (1981) and this coincided with one of the coldest winters in years. My youngest was just a tiny baby, and the effort of keeping us all warm, healthy and in funds in a flat with no heating just got too much for me. I am quoted often as saying “I don’t mind being broke, but I can’t cope with being broke and cold,” so it was my drive to go somewhere warm that resulted in us moving to South Africa. My ex had family there, hence the choice, but I do admit I was worried about the whole apartheid situation. Luckily, our journey took us to the farm in KwaZulu Natal where we lived for three and a half years, and there, we were barely aware that apartheid existed. The people we lived among were country people and farm workers and that’s how we saw them. My kids played with theirs, and they taught me so much about farm and country life. I loved it there!

I think you were very brave but what a wonderful experience it must have been. You now live in Rotterdam, on a barge. You describe your reasons for adopting this way of life in “Watery Ways”, “Harbour Ways” and “Walloon Ways”. I know how cramped it can seem sometimes when living on a sailing boat and yet am in love with the handy storage spaces and the way it makes us whittle down our possessions to eliminate the superfluous. Can you tell me what you love about living aboard.

In many ways, I suppose life on a barge is similar to sailing in that you have to be careful with space and resources. Water, for example, is always limited, so you get used to being very sparing with it, but it’s not nearly as cramped as it is on a sailboat. I would say barge life is more like living in a mobile home, and apart from the fact it’s on the water rather than the land, the benefits are similar. I love travelling somewhere and waking up to a new outside world, while inside everything is familiar and as you know it. The other things I love are the sound of the water slapping against the hull and of the ducks and swans pecking weed or other edibles at the water line of the barge. I also enjoy the painting and maintenance (yes, I really do). I’m always planning improvements that will still be in keeping with the historic exterior of the barge (it’s 118 years old!). Actually, I just love it all and admit sometimes that it’s almost an unhealthy obsession!

Watery Ways

I really love the sound of water lapping at the hull too. There must some downsides to life on the water. Some of your blogs are very funny to read, although I am sure that you did not laugh at the time, when you fell overboard, lost your oars or had to rescue a crazy cat from the harbour. These make great stories to tell later but have you ever been tempted to give up and move to a “normal” house?

Ah yes, where would my blog be without all these dramas? And yes, they are always funnier in hindsight. But to answer your question, I do live in a normal house part of the time, Tonia. I have done for a few years now and that’s because my partner doesn’t want to live on the barge anymore; he finds it too small and restricting. So we have a small house in the country where he stays most of the time. He also has a flat in Rotterdam but is not there all that much. When I’m at work during the week, I stay on the barge and I go to the house at weekends. Which do I prefer? Well, there’s no contest as far as I’m concerned, but I accept being on terra firma part time for his sake.  Actually, the little house is lovely and it’s in a beautiful part of the country. I love it there too, so it’s fine, but I am not tempted in the slightest to give up my barge!

You also teach English, help out with exams and are involved with several projects. How do you find time to write?

I don’t have much time to write at all, but somehow it gets done. I’m not quite sure how! My job is very demanding as I teach English for Academic Purposes at our university here in Rotterdam. I also teach online academic writing courses too, so I only really get to write at weekends. One book a year is what I aim for but I rarely manage it!

Do you ever have moments when you cannot write or struggle for inspiration?

No, oddly enough I don’t. It’s funny, but give me a keyboard and a screen and I can write. It might not be what I want to produce, and the finished product will probably end up completely different, but I never have a struggle to write when I want to. That might also be because I don’t write by hand either. I started with short stories and radio plays in the 1990s on a very old PC and I know I’d never have written a thing if I’d had to write them longhand. I just don’t have that kind of patience.

How did you start writing your books? Was there any particular event or person that inspired you to put pen to paper, or should I say fingers to keyboard?

Tonia, before I came to the Netherlands, I’d never written a book and I didn’t even know if I could, but I read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and his descriptions of the canny, clever French country people reminded me so much of South Africa, I knew I wanted to write my own memoir about living in my beloved KwaZulu Natal. I started by putting the chapters on a blog, and I received so much encouragement from my lovely readers, I made it to several chapters, each of which was on a different theme. When I’d finished, I pulled it all together into a book.

Do you prefer memoirs or novels, to write or to read?

That’s a hard one! I love memoirs, but I am fairly selective about them. I definitely prefer travel and boating memoirs to those about personal or life issues. But I read a lot of fiction too. My favourite genre of all is detective fiction, especially the series by Deborah Crombie and Donna Leon. I can sit up all night and read those! I also like literary fiction for the beauty of the writing itself.

 Is it true that “How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics” is loosely based on your own experiences?

Yes, it is true and the basis is not so loose either! In truth it’s almost a fictional memoir. Yes, I know that sounds odd, but let me explain. The actual plot and storyline are fiction, but they were just the vehicle on which I could hang my very real experiences of trying to run a smallholding and being self-sufficient back in the 1970s. I really did live in the stables on my very eccentric mother’s property (which is what Maisie, the main character does), and the events concerning the sheep and other animals are all true. There’s probably more truth to it than fiction although I enjoyed the creative freedom that making it a novel gave me.

Eng Eccentrics

You are always so encouraging and helpful with other writers. You have helped me out of the technological mire on several occasions. What would you say to those people who believe that one should treat other authors as rivals?

My first reaction is to say ‘Oh No!’ and that’s what I genuinely feel. It’s an interesting question, though. I don’t honestly see how anyone can be a rival in writing. We are all different and everything we write is unique to ourselves. Even if we are in the same genre as other writers, their books are never going to be the same as ours unless they have plagiarised, which is something completely different. So no, I would never, ever regard a fellow writer as a rival. Far from it; they can be a tremendous support as I’ve personally witnessed. It’s like everything in life, isn’t it, Tonia? You get what you give and I get so much pleasure and real friendship from others. We all help each other. That’s more important than book sale figures and status. Well, it is to me, anyway.

I feel the same way. My question was prompted by a comment I received the other day, which took me by surprise. You have summed up just how I feel about supporting others. Thanks so much for joining me here today. I still have hundreds of questions for you and am sure my readers will too. The answers to some can be got from reading your other memoirs but I know that you will be happy to answer any questions here too.

Thank you for having me, dear Tonia, and I’d be very happy to answer any other questions. I’ve really enjoyed answering yours and I’m looking forward to reading your next novel too! Hint hint! When is it coming out…..?

“The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow” is with my publisher right now so keep your fingers crossed!

Find out more about Val Poore

 Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Poore/e/B008LSV6CE

Blog          http://vallypee.blogspot.it/

Skipper's Child

Writing, the Fire Within her Bones …

Steph

I am delighted to welcome Stephanie Parker Mckean here today. She is the author of several books, including the delightful “Bridge” series featuring reluctant writer/investigator Miz Mike. Miz Mike is pure Texas, forever getting into pickles in spite of minding her own business and the books are completely addictive.

Steph bridge

The first thing I have to ask you Stephanie, is how much of Miz Mike is based on you?

First, thank you for inviting me. It’s so much fun to visit with you. I love your writing. “Song of the Cypress moved me to tears, and “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” made me laugh and gasp. Your book of poems, “Poppies,” is also enchanting. Now about Miz Mike, I tried to make her unlike me. For example, I love snakes. Miz Mike hates them. That’s superficial, but it’s one of the differences. Like Miz Mike, I’m a Texan and proud of it. Don’t ask me why – it seems to be something we’re born with. A lot of us have Texas Flag shower curtains, bathmats, towels, shirts, lawn furniture, and Texas-shaped stepping stones in the garden. Like Miz Mike, I’ve tried to make room in my life and heart for those some label “misfits.” Clint Flavors is a good example. Some say he is “a fry short of a Happy Meal,” but I’ve written him into the stories as a bit of a hero. Like Miz Mike, I love animals and adventure. Some of my real life past experiences, like having been sexually abused as a child, work into the stories. For example, Miz Mike’s mission to find and rescue the kidnapped child in “Bridge to Xanaudu” gained impetus from the fact that when I was living through that torture as a child – no one intervened. Everyone minded their own business.

That is awful Stephanie. How anyone can hurt a child or animal I just cannot understand at all. You are such a strong person, to have overcome those experiences and be able to use them in your writing and by doing so, help others. I have never been to Texas but after reading your books I really want to go there. You now live in Scotland. What do you miss about the USA and how do you find life in the UK?

That’s a good question! I miss the Texas heat! I love Texas summers when it is over 100F for days at a time with no rain. I miss the food. Oh, the food! I send myself to sleep at night dreaming about eating again in a marvellous Bandera, Texas restaurant, the OST. You go through the buffet and fill up your plate as many times as you want with delicious Mexican and Tex-Mex food. I miss the convenience stores with restrooms on every block…it’s embarrassing to go on a road trip here in Scotland because there are so few public toilets. I have to stop along the road and look for a tree. When I’m really desperate – I don’t even have to have a tree! I miss the longhorn steers and horses and cowboys on Main Street and the Texas Flag flying high and proud at ranch gates even out in the middle of nowhere. I miss all the wild animals: possums, ringtails, raccoons, deer, armadillos, turtles, toads…I even miss the smell of skunk! I miss the convenience of jumping into a pickup truck for a 200-mile trip and getting there in three hours. Here, it takes more than three hours to get 100 miles. I miss showers that spray water from one end of the tub to the other and get you wet all over at one time (as opposed to the “power showers” here where the shower curtain only covers half the distance of the tub because the water won’t go further than that), and having light switches and electrical outlets inside the bathroom so you can plug in hair dryers, etc. I miss the friendly cowboys and cowgirls who never meet a stranger and want to hear your entire life story – if you’ve got time and a hankering for telling it! I miss the “y’alls” and “fixingtos,” and might not even cringe at the “ain’ts by this time!” That being said, Scotland is an all together lovely country and the folks here are warm and kind-hearted. They are a lot like Texans!

Steph scotland

Well, I want to visit Texas even more now! Did you always want to be a writer? Was there anything else you could have ended up doing?

There are many things I have done to support my writing: painting signs, working as a waitress, teaching in a Christian school, cleaning businesses, gold mining. But all I have ever wanted to be since childhood is a writer.

Can you tell me a bit about what inspires you? Where do you find the magic?

Now that I’ve become a Christian, God inspires me. I honestly could not write another book without His blessing. For example, I’m working on Miz Mike #7. I have a scene where she gets stuck in the clock tower of an old church. I had never been in a clock tower, and had to guess what it would be like. The next day after I had written that scene, a worker called to say he needed to fix the clock. He let me climb up into the tower with him. Amazingly, I had written it exactly like it was – except I went back to that scene and added more dust!

You have lived through some very terrible events in your life. I know that your belief in God has helped you enormously. Were you always religious?

That’s a good question, Tonia. No, I was raised as an atheist. My father would not allow us to go to church and we had no Bible in the house. We were kept isolated from other people so we wouldn’t realize that other families weren’t like ours, and to make it harder for us to report the abuse or escape from it. I’m thankful to say that out of the seven atheists my parents attempted to raise, they have a zero success rate! We have all found the Lord and experienced His healing in our lives. I thought the worst day in my life was when my husband was sent home in an ambulance to die, my mother died and I couldn’t plan to attend her funeral because my husband was dying, and our sweet sheepdog fell down and couldn’t stand up again and had to be put to sleep. It was God Who got me through that day. Then my son Luke was killed in a plane crash on November 17, 2013, and that is the historic worst day of my life. Without Jesus’ strength and comfort, I couldn’t have made it. Mother’s Day was extremely hard this year. Being in the UK, it’s Mother’s Day for me twice because it’s on a different date in the U.S.

Steph Luke

I do not share your strong faith, although I like to think of myself as a spiritual person, but I am very glad that you have your beliefs to help you through those tough times. Your husband, Alan McKean, as well as being a minister, is also a writer. How does your daily routine work? Do you have separate writing spaces and do you help each other edit what you have written?

Alan is a minister, or pastor, and writes intriguing historical time travel books. We work across the desk from one another. He doesn’t have much time for writing with all the meetings and visiting, but he will be retiring soon. Meanwhile, I do edit his books for him, then we send them to my sister Vicky Potter, who is a professional editor. She does the real edit for us. We are blessed to have her on our team!

Steph and Alan

I know that you love animals and read somewhere that you used to have a lion as a pet. Is that true?

Goodness, yes! And lions are NOT pets! Wild animals should stay in the wild. Ebenezer was 250 pounds when my father brought him home in the back of the station wagon. He was fun to play with and take on walks. But by the time he got up to 450 pounds, none of us could manage him. I had a crush on a guy from college named Ed. Ed came to see Eb one day and I boldly walked into Eb’s cage to pet him. Eb suddenly became a lion. He lunged at me, grabbed my stomach, flung me down on the ground and bit into me. Ed grabbed my feet and jerked me out of the cage. “I’m sorry if I did that wrong,” he panted, “I’ve never rescued anyone from a lion before!” I never saw Ed again and I still have scars from the bite marks on my stomach. (It’s okay; they blend in with my stretch marks!) We also had raccoons, a fox, a jaguarundi, monkeys, snakes, and a skunk. The fox was a great pet. I still miss her.

Incredible. What a story! Another passion of yours is rocks. Can you tell me about that?

One of my earliest memories is when I was four and we lived in California. I loved to pick rocks up and carry them around. Mom would say, “Put that rock down! When you drop it on your toe, don’t come crying to me.” Sure enough, I would continue carrying it around until I accidentally dropped it on my toe. Then I would sit by myself in the corner of the yard holding my foot in my hands and crying until it quit hurting. When I was five, I built a rock and cactus garden. I climbed up the hills behind our house and brought home cactus and rocks. When I lived in the Texas Hill Country, I learned to do rock work. I put rocks around our house, our rental house, and the garden centre. I even built rock walls on landscaping projects for other people. I miss rock work. I hope I can get back to it someday while I still have the strength to hoist those 70-pound bags of masonry cement and pick up big rocks.

At the top of your blog are the words “Writing, the fire within my bones ..”. These words resonate with me. Can you explain what you mean by that for the readers please.

I’ve had around 150 rejection slips over 45 years from various publishing companies. It was so discouraging that I wanted to stop writing. Sometimes I felt like hitting my head on a concrete block wall until something broke! But every time I said, “I quit,” I couldn’t quit. That’s actually a Bible verse from Jeremiah 20:9. The “weeping prophet” faced so much abuse from speaking God’s Word that he decided to quit: “Then I said, I will make no mention of Him…But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones.” That’s the way I feel about writing. Even if I were to never sell another book (which I hope won’t happen!), I could not stop writing. It’s my life’s dream, and I hope, the gift God has given me to use for Him.

Thank you. I feel the same way about writing and just love the quote and your explanation, My last question is about Miz Mike. Is our favourite crazy, quirky, feisty heroine going to finally find true love and live a peaceful life? In Scotland maybe?

Oh! What a great last question. Let’s just say that Miz Mike #6, “Bridge Back” should be out by the end of this month. She is back in Scotland in a mystery-romance-suspense that I hope will have readers rolling on the floor with laughter! Book #7 is called, “Bridge Home.” I think I must leave the answer there to avoid spoilers!

I cannot wait to read “Bridge Back”- I always laugh a lot at Miz Mike’s pickles so know I will not be disappointed. Thanks again Stephanie, for joining me here. If anyone has been inspired to learn more about Stephanie’s work, you will find some links below.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Blog – https://authorstephanieparkermckean.com

 

Interviews with Inspirational Women.

I am very lucky to be able to count as friends so many amazing women. Some of them are friends from years ago, while others are new ones who I know only via social media. Some are rich and successful, others struggle to make ends meet while following their dreams. All of them are strong, supportive, talented and an inspiration to me. All of them have been there for me when I needed them, in one way or another. So, I decided to interview them and share these lovely ladies with you over the next few weeks.

One thing which links them all is a passion for life and warm, loving personalities. Some are writers, some artists and others business women or housewives. All of them have a unique story to tell and most of them live what some people might consider to be unusual, even eccentric lives. This ties in strongly with a writing project of mine, called Uniquely You.

Importati Telefono 1549

Here is a bit from Uniquely You

What gives me the right to write this? What makes me think I can give advice to anyone? Why would I want to?

This book started as an idea I had, when imagining how it would feel to be a grandmother one day. I started to think about how nice it would be to be able to share some of the things I have struggled to learn over the years, with my grandchildren. Not that anyone can teach you how to live – we all have to find our own way and make mistakes in life, that we then learn from. It is part of the growing process. However,  if I had known a few techniques for grounding myself and finding inner peace when I was younger, it would have helped a lot. So that is what made me decide to start writing Uniquely You.

It has been a long process and spanned several phases in my life. When I started writing it I was very happy, feeling strong and in control of my life. A year later I was crawling, painfully, out of a dark place in which I had become lost. Me – who set out here to impart a little encouragement to my future grandchildren or anyone who might need help in finding their way to living a unique and joyful life! Rather complacently, it then seemed to me, I had imagined myself to be in a strong place, recovered from the insecurities and worries of youth, a place from which to dole out gentle advice and well-tested, life-enhancing strategies.

I had certainly had a humbling experience and had seen how vulnerable I really was. I’d had all my beliefs challenged and had to really fight to use the techniques for living well, which I was so blithely set on recommending to others. It is easy to see the right way to live when one is happy, healthy and economically secure. Easy to preach then!

I had spent months being unable to put into practise the things that I know do really help one live in a better, happier way. However, maybe this set back was needed to make my words have more impact. Everything I had written was true. One needs to make a very real effort though, in order to be able to shift mindset in the dark times.

So, what happened to send me on this dark, downward spiral? A bit of everything really – unexpected financial insecurities, serious health issues in the family and almost losing one of the people I love most to a heart attack, to mention just a few.

Life continues to be a challenge but I am rediscovering the ways to help myself through the bad times and am grateful to have been forced to face my own shadows in order to come to a greater understanding of who I truly am.

 

The Importance of Perspective

 We all view life from our individual perspective. Ask any policeman and they will tell you that witnesses, although they may have all been at a scene at the same time, will give testimonies that differ. They will describe the same event but the details will vary. This happens in every moment of our lives. How many times have you talked to an old friend who laughingly recalls something that you do not remember at all or only vaguely. This is because each one of us pays attention to the things that interest or attract us and remember only those parts that have meaning for us.

We do not have the immense overview of the universal consciousness (I could use the words God here, universal spirit or energy source) that is capable of seeing everything, all time and every miniscule detail at once. Instead we see our own version of each second of our lives. This seemingly simple idea actually has far-reaching consequences. The human race is only at the beginning of its search for understanding. We have made huge steps forward in scientific and philosophic discoveries but have as yet only uncovered a fragment of the enormous mystery of existence.

If we take this idea, of each of us having a uniquely individual view on life, and really examine it, we will notice that we already have a tool to help us live better and more fulfilling lives. Just as we can learn to appreciate art or literature by studying them in depth; the more we know about the artist’s work and life the clearer their art becomes and the more we get out of it; so with life. The more we learn about our way of viewing life in general the easier it will be to focus our attention onto what pleases us.

For example, what at first may seem like a deep disappointment or tragedy in our lives often, with hindsight, is seen to have been an important pivotal moment.  Maybe you did not get the grades that you needed for the university course that you had planned to take. Maybe the person that you thought was the love of your life told you they were no longer in love with you. At the time, these events probably caused great sadness and unwanted changes in your life. Gradually you move on, make new choices, find new loves. Then one day, looking back on your lives, you are hit by a remarkable understanding and think “Thank goodness that happened!”. You might bump into your old love by chance, see how badly they have aged, find you have nothing in common anymore and realise what a lucky escape you had. Or, as you set of for work, in your exciting and challenging job,  you realise what a waste of your time that university course would have been. Often these big, pivotal moments are those that change our lives for the better.

So, our perspective can change completely, with the passing of time or simply when we look at things from a new point of view. Knowing that, is the key to creating our own pivotal moments. We can do this by concentrating on what we want, training ourselves to see, do and feel the things that make us feel good. Instead of being cast down by what seems a blow to our plans, if we make an effort to find something positive in the situation, we can change or enhance our  viewpoint.

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A few years ago I was struggling to come to terms with something that was very painful to me. My adorable dog had died unexpectedly and I simply could not see the slightest positive aspect to this. One day I went to the beautiful spot where she is buried, cried my eyes out once more and then went for a long walk. Everything looked black to me right then. Even walking, which has always given me such pleasure, was not the same without her. I berated myself as I walked. How was it possible that I was unable to change my thoughts. I should be able to practise what I preach and not wallow in my sadness like this and yet I still couldn’t see anything bright. On the lovely path that I was walking I came across rubbish that had been tossed away there and felt angry about that too. However, as I began to settle into the rhythm of walking, I thought about how much joy my dog would have felt if she had been there with me. I imagined her running into the undergrowth, her tail spiralling madly behind her then racing back to me, full of the joy of being out together. Slowly my mood lifted as it usually does when I walk in nature. On my way home, as I passed by the rubbish I had noticed before, my eye was caught by a small clump of pale cyclamen growing amongst the mess. This was one of my pivotal moments. The rubbish still annoyed me but now I was able to change my mood by concentrating on the beauty growing within it. This is the kind of exercise that, with careful practise and repetition, can change the way you live.

You need to find a memory that brings you joy to counterbalance the sadness. You need to find some small thing of beauty to focus on instead of what is ugly around you. Then, gradually you can clear away the rubbish, plant new flowers, smile at a lovely memory and you are on the way to healing yourself.

Of course there are some things in life that are extremely hard to get through. The death of one’s parents or hearing that a friend has a serious illness are hard enough to bear. Coping with the untimely death of a child or partner are things that are almost impossible to even contemplate. I do not think that any words can help at such times. In fact it is only time that will allow such great wounds to heal. However, for the lesser problems that we encounter in our lives we can alter the way we feel by changing our perspective and focusing only on what makes us feel better. It is not an easy exercise. In fact I do not believe in telling anyone that life is easy and change can be immediate. Like most things, this exercise of looking at life in a different way takes time and practise. However, what I can guarantee is that it is possible. Step by step, making choices each day to deliberately concentrate on what makes you feel good instead of what is worrying you, you will feel a change in your way of living. It will start to become easier for you to shift a bad mood. You will find yourself laughing more and with your laughter influence those around you in a positive way too. This is nothing miraculous, just a good use of our ability to make choices. If you think about it, you have the power in your own mind to choose a better way of living.

That is what this book is all about, choosing the life we want to live.

The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. Henry Miller

This is such a beautiful quote and so true. By concentrating on anything in detail we cannot fail to be stunned by its complexity and by what we would usually have failed to notice. However, whenever we concentrate too much on the things that worry, sadden or hurt us we cannot fail to enlarge them and give them even more importance than they already have in our lives. A problem will not go away if you ignore it but it is equally true that worrying about it will never help you to solve it. Any difficulty you have in your life should be considered carefully so that a solution can be found. If you cannot find a solution immediately though, the best thing you can do is put it to one side in your mind and turn your attention to something positive. Often a solution will come to you as you sleep, once you are not constantly fretting about it.

When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer disease at the age of 83, he was obviously not happy about it. It was a blow to us all and the cause of a lot of rethinking about our lives and future as a family. However, being the remarkable man that he is, my father’s comment was that he was not worried about it. He said, “If worrying could do some good, I would worry but since I know it will not help, I choose to think positive.” Amazingly, although we were all very concerned and there were problems to be overcome, there were also aspects of this illness in its early stages that I could not have imagined. My father became much more demonstrative with his family. It had never been easy for him before to show his emotions but now it was as if he felt free to do so. In a certain way it brought us closer than we had ever been.

It is also important to realise that you are not alone in any struggle that you find yourself in. So often we can think that others around us are living wonderful, carefree lives while we battle with one problem or another.

Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sadHenry Wadsworth Longfellow

Be aware that every one of us wears a mask. If you scratch the surface of anyone’s memories there will be dark shadows. Some chose to wallow in their despair, others to ignore it, neither of which help much. Others still will decide to look deep within their inner sorrows and hurts, see what is at the root of them and face up to them. By facing our shadows we can begin to understand them and overcome them as they lose their grip on our subconscious.

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 

I have just shared a photo on Facebook, entitled Rock Bottom; a very curvaceous rock indeed, which brought a smile to my face this morning and confirms my love affair with stones of all sorts. My friend, fellow Sunpenny author, Stephanie Parker McKean commented on the photo immediately, as I knew she would. She makes rock sculptures in her garden and finds choosing and handling the stones therapeutic. So we share a passion for pebbles!

My poor, long-suffering husband puts up with my obsession. He is used to me shouting out as we drive along, “Stop, I saw a sign to an Etruscan tomb over there!” Or poring over a map before a day out and squeaking in excitement, “Look, there is a dolmen just off our route, shall we stop?”

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Me and my sister-in-law on a dolmen in France

Being Italian he has seen so many Roman ruins and Etruscan artefacts that he is quite blasé about them and has no wish at all to stop and explore but … he loves me and, usually, indulges me.

When we bought our beautiful old ruin (the Leopoldina farmhouse in need of restoring) I stood inside the cool, empty shell and absorbed the mellow atmosphere of a house that has been well-loved through the centuries. The walls seem to have absorbed the love and just being there makes me happy.

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My adorable old ruin

This was not so for many a house that we visited before we bought this place. In several old houses I could not wait to get out as they really gave me the creeps. I believe that objects, especially natural ones, which surround us will indeed absorb our emotions and store them in some way for posterity.

Shell bowl

Children’s treasured gifts

I collect pebbles on beaches and have several pots filled with these tiny treasures, most of which were carefully chosen gifts from my sons when they were beach combing. We also have some stunning crystals from around the world. My favourite of these is the huge amethyst cave, which I called Merlin’s Cave and used to weave stories around when my boys were small.

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Merlin’s cave

When you want to complement someone who has your complete trust and is always there for you, you call them your rock. My rock is Guido. He might not share my passion for dolmens but he is always there for me, even when I feel caught between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes.

There is a story in “A Whisper Around the Mediterranean” about our “seagull rock”. This enormous hunk of obsidian has guarded our fireplace ever since Guido wrestled it from a cliff in Lipari, risking his life when a seagull, who had been sitting on the ledge where the rock lay, objected to this human pretending to be a bird. Somehow Guido managed to cling onto the ledge when the gull flew off in a big huff. On winter evenings, when we sit around the fire and make plans for the future, that black rock keeps us company, reflecting the flames in its shiny surface.

Seagull rock

Seagull rock