Thursday, September 10, 2015

I fancy something rich and dark

"I need a coffee!" - how often have you said that? How often have you emailed or called a friend and finished off by saying "we really must catch up, let's get together for a coffee"? Or as a very famous movie star once said "come up and see me sometime" - I'm sure she was talking about coffee.

How did it all start? Legend has it that in the year 850 a goatherd (a lonely goatherd?) in the hills of Ethiopia noticed that his herd became a bit friskier after eating the berries of a certain shrub. After trying the berries himself and experiencing their wonderful effect he then shared his find with the local monks who declared it the work of the devil and threw the beans into the fire. But after retrieving the beans, putting them into water and drinking the brew the monks then proclaimed that it was a miracle and continued to drink it to help keep them awake during their evening prayers.

The first coffee houses were opened in Mecca in the 13th century and soon became places of social interaction - chess and backgammon were played there, gossip was exchanged, singing, dancing and music were enjoyed - and all for the price of a cup of coffee.

Coffee shops are still centres of social interaction. You can visit any coffee shop on any given day and see groups of friends catching up, business people with their laptops, job interviews in progress, students relaxing after an exam or study, couples ..... and lots of first dates.

What makes a place your favourite coffee shop? For me it's a combination of things - when I walk in I want to smell that rich, warm inviting aroma of coffee brewing. I want the staff to welcome me, to be friendly but not intrusive. I like the lighting to be a bit dim, the furniture comfortable - couches are a bonus, they give the place a cosy feel. I like to see a selection of food on offer and it must look fresh, inviting. A decent selection of current magazines and the morning paper is a must.

I can sit in my favourite coffee shop, or any coffee shop for that matter, on my own, and feel very comfortable. I blend in - I don't have to have a companion. I can sit and read a book or simply watch the world go by.

My favourite coffee, a cappuccino, in my favourite coffee shop is a work of art. The perfect cappuccino - which takes its name from the cappucin monks, the layers in the cup representing the different layers of the monk's habit - is made up of 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk and 1/3 froth. The barista is the artisan.

Let's begin: the coffee takes about 20 to 30 seconds to flow from the machine into the cup and it is rich, dark and syrupy, not bitter or burnt. It has a reddish-brown crema that sits gently on top. The milk for my cappuccino is steamed to the right temperature and has a creamy, velvety texture. The barista pours this hot foamed milk over the shot of coffee resulting in a thick creamy foam forming on top ....... and I am treated to a sprinkle of chocolate. When I finish drinking it, it leaves a coating of crema on the inside of the cup. And the taste in my mouth is exquisite.

So - what do you say? Let's get together - let's have a coffee.

Life is good.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The year of turning 60

Yesterday was my friend's birthday. Not just any friend .... and not just any birthday.

My dear and almost oldest friend Julie celebrated her 60th - a milestone in anyone's calendar - and together with her loving family and friends old and new, we enjoyed a night of fun, reminiscences, soothing background music (well she is 60) and delicious food. Her beautiful husband Peter, aided and abetted by their two gorgeous children organised a couple of surprises to add to the excitement and joy of her special day.

Julia and I met in primary school - year 3 - and were inseparable all those years through to year 7. Once in high school our circle of friends expanded yet we remained close even though new and different girls came into our lives. And the fact that one of us had the freedom to explore and enjoy adolescence while the other was subjected to a strict Sicilian upbringing was at times challenging. But friendship is about accepting and through those sometimes difficult years Julie was always an ally. I'm sure there were times when she didn't get it - hey, neither did I - but I always knew that she was there for me.

Over the years we came and went. We left school, worked in totally different careers, married, travelled, eventually had babies, moved houses, wouldn't see each other for years and then a phone call and we would reconnect.  Although our paths went in different directions yet at some point the Universe would arrange for us to get together again, stay for as along as needed and then move on.

In recent years we have both lost a loved one and it was like losing one of our own. When you have a friendship this their family becomes your family too. So the loss of a mother or a sibling is as heartbreaking for one as the other.  

Julie has been back in my life for a couple of years now and what inspires me about this vivacious, bubbly woman is her generosity. Julie lives the adage "a friend in need is a friend indeed" and willingly and instantly gives of herself when she knows that someone is doing it tough. She heard about an organisation called the Pyjama Foundation which arranges for volunteers to visit children in foster homes and through the beauty and magic of books, provide them with friendship and a constant in their otherwise uncertain lives. She became a Pyjama Angel and recently was honoured at a celebration dinner when one of her "children" got up to thank her for her friendship and for introducing him to the wonders of reading. I wish I had been there.

Last night I watched as Julie enjoyed her night - mixing and mingling, sipping her champagne like a lady (hehe), looking fabulous in her blingy clingy dress (looking good for 60 Jules) and just .... beaming. I watched as she soaked up the love from each and everyone of us as we helped her to celebrate this very special birthday for this very special lady.

Life is good.

With dear friends Moya (left) and Julie (right)
We're not getting older, we're getting hotter

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Size does matter

We have a man shed - one of those aluminium (strong and durable of course) custom made, perfect fit sheds with a window for fresh air and two doors for easy access. It's been a long time coming, this shed, and the preparation and planning was meticulous and precise until the final execution or should I say, erection.

I have to agree with Rob on this and say that yes, we did need another shed. When we bought the house it came with a tiny garden shed at the side and it barely has enough room to hold the lawn mower and a couple of garden tools. As a result the double garage has become the storage shed, so much so, that we have room for only one car (mine) and Rob's has had to sit outside in the weather. We did need another shed.

Now as you know - you don't just buy a shed and plant it in a corner of the yard where there happens to be a space. No, no, no. This is a project in itself - where to put the shed. Obvious sites are rejected with a patronising explanation as to why it can't possibly go there - reasons ranging from access issues to proximity to the house.

Once a site has been chosen then the fun begins - well for Rob it did anyway. Brochures were pored over and hours spent on the internet researching places, prices, styles and the all important size. Because when it comes to sheds my friends - size does matter. But nothing seemed to suit - those off-the-shelf numbers just weren't cutting it and finally Rob decided that this was too important to just make do. It had to be right, it had to fit the space, it had a job to do - it had to be custom made - a no brainer.

The rest pretty well fell into place and the shed builder - chosen with care and a lot of research - was able to assist and guide Rob through the next stages of shed acquisition - concreting, power supply and finally the delivery and installation.

Rob preparing for his man shed

What a day that was. The excitement was palpable and I almost felt sorry that Rob had to go to work and was not able to hang around and watch while the miracle unfolded. I'm sure he knew at what point each screw and fixture was coming together and could envisage the structure as it grew and developed until finally .... he had a shed.

The past two weekends have been a series of trips to Bunnings and Masters, buying shelves, plastic crates, little storage systems for screws, nails and other little bitsy things. And finally this weekend Rob has had fun installing shelves, emptying the garage of tools, boxes and other stuff, organising and rearranging in his shed.

A place for everything - and everything in its place .... for now

There is a little bit left over that didn't quite fit but with clever shelving and rearranging in the garage he has been able to accommodate them and we can fit in both our cars. Happy days.

Last night I noticed that the mower was sitting out on its own, sort of homeless. There didn't seem to be a space for it in the garage and the new shed is quite full. Maybe it goes in that space in the middle and Rob will just move it out when he needs to go in and work there or look for something. Yes, that's what he'll do.

Last night at dinner (mini lamb roast with vegetables and mint sauce) I casually asked about the mower. "Oh - I haven't told you what I'm doing have I? (Pause) I'm getting another shed....."

Life is good :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A sense of camaraderie and pride

Where is your Tupperware drawer/cupboard? Mine is under the oven (now a new oven, 11 functions no less - very intimidating ... but I digress). When we left Dahlia Street I actually culled quite a bit of "tupperware". I put the word in inverted commas because it wasn't all real Tupperware. I had some fakes - take-away containers, some cheap plastic things that were out of shape and often lid-less and quite a few items that I wasn't using anymore.
Now my Tupperware drawer is organised, tidy and is a mixture of the real thing and some imitations.

Why am I telling you this? Well - Rob has been asking me for ages to bake him a sponge cake. Now, modestly speaking, I'm pretty good at making cakes (ask my family) but a sponge? Uh - no. So for ages I've been trying to sidetrack him, throw him off the scent. I even convinced him that really, it wasn't a sponge cake he wanted, it was a madeira cake. Yes Rob - it is a plain cake.
But with a new oven comes new enthusiasm and a desire to try something .... new. So onto and voila - "Easy Sponge Cake". I was ready for the challenge.
I am happy to report that now Rob has his sponge cake - finally - and can eat it too. I was so pleased with the end result that I posted a picture on Facebook for all the world to see. And said sponge was proudly and unashamedly displayed on a Tupperware cake storer (I think that's what it's called, but am happy to be corrected). And not a new ansty-fancy one either - no new shades of pastel or vibrant fluro. It was the old, or should I say 'classic' yellow that was once the colour of Tupperware.

My friend Trish noticed and commented. And got me thinking. Everyone knows Tupperware. I don't know about you but I am regularly bombarded on Facebook with requests to 'share' pages that depict old Tupperware items. It was even a topic in a Seinfeld episode - remember Kramer and the 'burp'?
There's something comfortable and familiar about it - nostalgic. One of the first toys I bought for Hannah and Alana was the Shape-O ball - and they love it. Just as Ford Festiva owners have a sense of camaraderie and pride (apparently) when they see another Festiva on the road, so too do Tupperware users.
Oh yes, I've been tempted by imitators over the years - who hasn't? - with their fancy promises and claims of keeping our sandwiches fresh and our muffins moist. But has anyone yet come up with anything comparable to the meat marinator, the lettuce saver, the chicken storer thing and the olives container with the middle bit that lifts up and brings the olives out of the oil and brine? I'm sure the answer is NO! And if they have, well ... pfft
Tupperware - worthy of its own space in the kitchen, be it a drawer or a shelf in the cupboard. Tupperware - worthy of being labelled so that it doesn't get lost in the lunch room or mixed up with someone else's container. Tupperware - worthy of being sold exclusively in your own home while we sip on champagne and taste food that has been kept fresh in a display set that the hostess will win if everyone buys up big and books a party.
I know it's expensive, I know that there are other products that may do the same job but really has anyone ever heard of a D├ęcor drawer?

Life is good.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

In the midst of life .....

I'm not one for new year's resolutions - why put myself under that kind of pressure? Instead I have chosen to set goals - realistic goals, do-able goals, achievable goals. And not a lot of goals either - again, why put myself under that kind of pressure?

Now I won't bore you with the details. Do you really want to read how I plan to live a healthier lifestyle - exercise daily, eat clean food and rid my system of sugar? No - I didn't think so.

But I will share with you my intention to stay in an attitude of gratitude every day - with God, the Universe and the angels. Airy-fairy? No, not really. Just grateful.

I can list off in my head any number of things that have me in this state and while obvious they are not by any means of a lesser blessing. On the contrary - health, fitness, the love of family and friends, a loving partner, my adorable grandchildren - healthy and growing beautifully, a beautiful home in a beautiful place, a loving puppy (although she is 8 years old now - getting on, isn't she?), a job I love, colleagues who make my work environment joyful - I can go on and on.

But today I feel most grateful for the blessing of my mother. My mum - a woman who gets on my nerves, who drives me crazy with her ideas and stubbornness, who gives advice when I don't want it (or need it for that matter!), who does and says things that leave me gobsmacked and wondering what planet she is visiting today. My mum - the woman who leaves fresh milk, bread and fruit for us to find when we get back from holidays, who brings over chicken soup when she knows I'm not well (yes - chicken soup), calls around regularly to see how we are, who rings when I forget to, who has supported me through a marriage breakup and a new relationship, who accepts my friends, who adores my kids (and they her) and delights in her great-grandchildren.

This woman who had never heard of gluten free until my girls became gluten intolerant, will now cook her famous crumbed chicken with GF breadcrumbs and keeps GF pasta in the pantry as well.

My mum surprised and delighted me last year when she agreed to accompany me to Perth to meet up with Rob for a short holiday after his stint in one of the mines where he trains in Western Australia. I was concerned that she might baulk at having to travel at night (don't ask me why) and that we would be arriving in Perth at midnight. For some reason I thought that would faze her. But not at all. When I rang to inform her of the flight schedule she asked "What are you going on about? It's all part of the adventure Silvana" (!).

We holidayed well together and she joined in willingly on the wine tour, trying out different foods, trying to keep up with us on walks, taking great pleasure in the WA wild flowers and scenery. My greatest buzz was watching her on the flight back home - Rob was able to upgrade us to business class with his points. She took to that like a duck to water.

Recently my kids and I bought her an iPad for her birthday. We thought it would be a good way to keep her interested and stimulated - you know, keep her brain active so that she doesn't get bored. Any doubts I may have had about our idea went out the window the  minute she unwrapped the gift, took the iPad in her hands and asked how to switch it on. And we haven't looked back since.

I'm sharing these little snippets with you because yesterday I attended the funeral of my best friend's mother. My girlfriend Maria had texted me just after Christmas to let me know that her mum, Connie, was on life support. That in itself was a shock. I kept in touch with Maria daily by text, rang the family every couple of days to offer my support ... and prayed. I really thought she would pull through. God knows the woman was as stubborn as my mother. In fact they are both Scorpios and their birthdays are only 3 days apart.

But she didn't. And yesterday I watched as a family laid their mother to rest. It was heartbreaking. Maria brought the church to its knees with the most beautiful eulogy that I have heard given at a funeral in a long time. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren paid tribute to their Nonna with wonderful memories of special times and special traditions.

After the service I found Maria and hugged her as I have never hugged her in all the years of our friendship - 55 years. We have known each other for 55 years and the first time we met was through Connie. Our mothers were talking outside the year 1 classroom on the first day of  our first year at school.  Maria was shy and clinging to her mother's dress, I was confident and cool - after all I was a kindy graduate so I knew the drill. Connie said to me "Why don't you go and talk to this little girl?" meaning Maria. So I did ... and the rest is history.

I've thought about this a lot since Connie's passing. And I've thought about my own mum a lot too. And how lucky I am to still have her. No doubt she will continue to bug me and boss me around (well she'll try to). And no doubt I will react. But I have a feeling that my reactions now will be slower, that I will allow stuff to just go by me and that I will cut her a bit more slack.

In this new year of sadness for my best friend, may I help her to honour the memory of her mother by cherishing what I have. Thank you to God, the Universe and my guardian angels for the gift of my mum - stubborn, hard working, generous and kind.

Life is ever changing.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A woman of a certain age

Layering - the art of dressing in layers so that as you warm up or cool down you can either take off an item of clothing - e.g. a cardigan or a scarf - or add an item - e.g. a longer sleeved top, a cardigan or a scarf. Layering - the art of dressing for the menopausal woman.

It came home to me this morning as I sat in church. While adding my croaky voice to that of the very sweet sounding choir as they sang their repertoire of uplifting hymns I happened to glance down at my bag. Sitting just inside the zip was my red pashmina - warm and comforting - and jutting out next to it - where I had placed it not two minutes ago - was my white fan.

When I had arrived I was wearing the  pashmina and appropriate gear for a coolish Sunday morning. Two readings and two hymns down and I had peeled off the pashmina and fished around in my rather largish bag - too big it turns out when I want to find something in a hurry - to look for my fan.

Then followed the menopause tango - a layer on, a layer off, a layer on, a layer off - repeat until .... well until you feel comfortable again. aarggh!!

Life is ..... hot, then it's cold ...... hot again ..... cooling down...... :-)

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Alana and Hannah - new borns
Just under twelve months ago I entered a new phase of my life - grandparenthood. Now, up until then, when engaged in conversation with a grandparent I was ...... polite. I would listen politely as they described to me how cute their little grandson/daughter was - how they giggled and gooed, how clever they were to grasp at their fingers, how they recognised them and smiled as they walked in the door, how fast they could crawl etc etc.

I would listen in bewilderment as they told me how 'funny' their grandchildren were - how they did this and that and "oh gosh, I could just sit and watch them all day". What?? Really? All day?

How can watching a baby be .... funny? interesting? worthy of telling and retelling? All babies smile, crawl and grasp at hands - why is this clever? Get a life.

What I didn't realise is that they did have a life - the life of the grandparent. And what a life!

Now - I find myself stopping innocent passers-by and regaling them with little snippets of information about my grandchildren - my twin grand-daughters Hannah and Alana.

Like the time I attended the funeral of my sister-in-law's father. It was in the little township of Nobby on the Darling Downs and after the very moving and emotional service we all gathered at the local church hall for the wake. The room was filled with family and close friends and I knew none of them save for my sister-in-law's immediate family.

But from across the room I spied a young mother, sitting on the stairs leading up to the stage, feeding her new born baby. I made my way over to her - a woman on a mission - and smiled. "How old is he?" (he was wearing blue, that's how I knew it was a  boy), "he's lovely," (he was), "is he good?"

And then I started. I couldn't stop. The words just poured out of my mouth. "I have twins .... identical .... girls. Well, I don't (laugh), my son and his wife actually have them ......" and it went on and on. How gorgeous they are, how much joy they bring me, how I sleep over once a week to help ..... on and on and on.

The young woman sat, and listened ..... politely, And I could see in her face the question - "who is this woman?" I suddenly came to and made a hasty retreat. I looked around and desperately tried to find my sister-in-law Debbie so that I could (1) hide and (2) confess. I had to get it off my chest and bring her in the loop so that when she later heard about a deranged woman ambushing her cousin/friend/whoever, she could make an impassioned plea on my behalf and explain that I am a new grandmother and please - could they just cut me some slack?

Mirror image - who's who?
Look - I make no apologies. I am a grandmother. And I love it. And one day when you're a grandparent too - if you're not already - you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. In the meantime - listen politely as I tell you about the time they ......