Friday, October 21, 2016

Ken Follett in Milan

This week Milan has enjoyed a series of interesting events about all sorts of topics. The magazine Panorama (sorry, no English page here) is organizing a tour of Italy and it was our turn.

I signed up to hear Ken Follett speak and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's a pic I took at the event.

It's important for writers to hear other writers speak. We can learn a lot. However, that's not really the reason to go. We need to remember that we are in the world and we have to stay connected. I don't write only for myself - I write for my readers. Now, I have a very small fraction of the readership that an author like Mr. Follett has (thanks to all 5 of you), but I am interested in hearing what you would like to read.

This is why I put an email list sign up on the page. You can type in your address now and be notified when I post.

In the comments today, let me know what you're interested in finding when you come by to see me.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

October Reading List: Yard Sale Books

Don't you love yard sales? All those things priced so conveniently. All those treasures changing houses. It's a lovely tradition that not all countries share. Italy, for example, does not do yard sales.
So I guess you can imagine that I don't go all that often.

For those of you who have never heard of a yard sale, these are sales that people hold privately to sell their own belongings at a 90% markdown. Some people set their stuff up in the garage, and call them garage sales. The unofficial verb would be "to go garage sailing". You don't need a permit or other type of authorisation.

Outside the US, I'm sure you have second hand shops, or maybe you just donate your used items in good condition to charities. Maybe you could find a bookcrossing point to get something to read free.

I've been to several sales already this year, and here are a few of titles I picked up.

Mad Merlin: garage sale.
When I started it, I thought it was just another take on the King Arthur legend. Boy, was I wrong! The author integrated all sorts of mythology and the story is impeccable. Merlin is the main viewpoint character, and the author developed him into something really unexpected.

The Bait of Satan: thrift shop.
A Christian non-fiction book about the consequences of offence. This book explains how getting offended and holding grudges messes up relationships. In modern times, offense is very common and we are seeing the damage to our culture.
To give you a concrete example, let's think, for a moment, about the idea of forgiving yourself. Have you ever done something that was stupid or that resulted in tragedy? You know that the longer you hold that against yourself, the worse your self-esteem will become. You will even pass this mindset to your family! Forgiveness is necessary for a happy life in general.

Roots: table outside a shop in Milan.
The sign on the window says to leave books you've finished reading. (I really need to take something down there.) Anyway, I watched the new mini-series last spring in the US and when I got back to Italy I found this book waiting for me. What a nice coincidence! (Or gift from God, depending on your perspective....) I want to read it because I haven't studied this part of history as closely as I would have liked to. I am a firm believer in knowing where your roots are.

What have you been reading?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

September Reading List: Wattpad and Goodreads

I like to read different types of media, and I love to try out different platforms.
So I have accounts on both Wattpad and Goodreads.

For those who don't know, Wattpad is a platform for writers to share what they've written and create content for their readers. I posted the Italian version of the Coma short story I wrote two years ago because it is no longer available on the Giallo Milanese website. You can find the English version here on my blog.

I'm working on a new story and today I wrote 640 words.

Goodreads, on the other hand, lets you write reviews about books that you've read, and you can keep track of what you are reading - and what you would like to read in the future. As usual, I'm currently reading three different books: two paper books and a digital version on my phone. I also have another ebook on my tablet that I have barely started.

Here they are:
The Three Battlegrounds by Francis Frangipane
This year, I've read quite a bit on Christian subjects. This book is an eye-opener on spiritual warfare. I haven't finished it yet, but I am taking notes. It contains descriptions and explanations of biblical references that I had never understood until now.

Fervent by Priscilla Shirer
Another Christian book - this one is about prayer. I enjoy listening to the author speak (on YouTube) and I think these strategies will help me get more organized in my prayer time. I need to remember what I ask for so that I can tell when I have results.

Lancejack by Phillip Richards
I downloaded this from and I am enjoying it. It's a character-driven science fiction story about a war on a distant planet. I usually read this story on the bus going to work, so maybe I'll finish it before too long.

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins
I know I need to read this book, and I will. And when I do, the time will be right.
I keep up with this writer on his blog, and he follows me on Twitter. :-)

Check these books out on my Goodreads page, and let's be friends.
What are you reading today?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

On Being Discontinuous and Busy....

Sometimes it happens. You interrupt an activity that you like (blogging) just for a bit, you think. And then months pass before you get into it again.

Well, I'm back.

In the past year, I've become a grandmother, I've worked a lot, I've learned how to paint (sort of), and I've started working on my novel (again). I want to sound encouraging because it can be frightfully depressing to think about the things that I want to do, but never get around to.

Time management is one of the keys. I've started using a site called Toggl to keep track of what I really do during the day. I'm discontinuous and distracted, almost the point of being jumpy if I hit the coffee pot too hard, and from a business angle, I'm tracking the hours I spend on projects and other important activities. I have found that I can, after all, find time to write so please check back in a week or so. I'm putting together a new reading list.

Too many interests can also cause erratic writing behavior. One of my favorite pastimes is watching TED talks and in the last year I found one that led me to Puttylike. Here, I found out that I am perfectly normal. Passionately curious people who like to learn will enjoy both of these sites.

And what about dreams?

Most people have some sort of dream, a secret thought that they hope to dedicate time to one of these days. I have found that many people talk themselves into believing that there are good reasons why they don't succeed. I am one of those people.

I started with questions and then I tried to find positive statements as answers. I don't want to use negative wording. I've heard people say that if an activity is important, we find the time to do it. I'm not sure that it is completely true, because I often feel a wave of guilt coming on when I consider the implications of that statement. Life gets in the way, and I'm convinced that my dreams are important even if I'm not actively working on them at the moment.

And so are yours. Don't give up.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Summer Reading List - Homework

Stories and summer go hand in hand. Teachers assign summer reading, vacationers cradle novels as they bake on the beaches, and airport bookstores offer all sorts of options for passing the time after take-off. It was summertime when I read my first novel in Italian, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.

My approach was to sit down with a book and a pencil and underline the words I didn't know. If I could understand the gist of the story without these words, I would continue reading, but if I was missing too much. I would put the book back and get another one. Finally, I found one that was OK. I could understand enough to figure out what was going on.

However, when I started looking for a dictionary, I was appalled! We were staying with my inlaws in a house that belonged to other relatives who did not own any sort of reference books - and this was long before Internet and wifi - so I had to ask the mother-tongue Italians I was with to define words that I didn't know. That turned out to be quite entertaining.

Think about it for a minute. Do you know the true meaning of every single word you read? I've been speaking Italian for almost 30 years now, and I still learn a new word occasionally. That summer, armed with my pencil, I would ask about meanings of obscure words and my father-in-law could answer every question. My husband couldn't though, so just for laughs, I would to to him first. As I worked my way through the book, I learned what a ciuffolotto is and why my closet could be defined as farraginoso, in addition to a thing or two about Italian grammar.

The Italian language has different past tense verbs for the "near past" and the "far away past". In English, I can say I ate a piece of chocolate cake yesterday or that I ate it two years ago, but in Italian I would technically have to use two different words for "ate" that reflect their respective time periods. I say "technically" because people don't often use the far away past tense when speaking. It is always used in writing, though, and that was one of my biggest obstacles in reading The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Now, of course, Italian verbs aren't a problem, as I discovered last year during the Giallo Milanese literary contest (read Coma here on my blog). It's about that time again. The game starts in September!

This summer I'm planning to read one book on Internet marketing (I haven't decided which yet) and to finish How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp. What are you reading this summer?  

Monday, July 13, 2015

EXPO 2015 - What is a Universal Exposition anyway?

Shows, food, discussions and lots of people are all going to converge to hopefully bring a much needed surge of business to the local economy. We're counting on it, I'd say, but there is more to it than that. Universal Expositions are actually fairs to promote international tourism, industry, design and exchange. If you want more history, I suggest you hop over to Wikipedia for a quick brush-up.

What is EXPO Milano 2015? 

Tourism, farming, food, music, art, architecture: these are the more obvious themes of this year's Expo. Pavilion styles reflect cultural differences with a definite slant in expression towards food and perception of natural resources. Several countries have independent constructions to illustrate their commitment/contributions towards the world's food supply. Many have interactive tables or video games to let people playfully explore topics like crop production, sustainability and innovation.

Argentine beef salad

Feeding the Planet...

Italy is the perfect place to talk about food, and the choice of this theme for Expo 2015 was a stroke of genius. Italian food is renowned worldwide; the myriad of styles, flavors, and available dishes is mind-boggling. Each pavilion along the Cardo (the main north-south avenue at Expo) are lined with small restaurants where they serve Italian food. 
Eataly, a huge supermarket that deals in authentic Italian food, has it's own area with several different regional restaurants. They've made "Made in Italy" an adjective phrase that denotes not only the place of origin of a food or object, but also an implied concept of quality. "Made in Italy" food is good, authentic and special. It's a source of national pride. 

Farming, harvest and distribution of food in the face of rising world population is a humbling problem. I saw moveable vertical gardens, ideas for crop rotations and desalinization plants for desert irrigation systems that could provide remedies for hunger and poverty. 

Cultural expression through food frequently helps us identify and understand other cultures. I've eaten Chinese spring rolls with chopsticks, and torn off pieces of Eritrean injera bread to sop up different types of stews without silverware, as is their custom. I'm so used to the idea of a fork that it's hard to think of doing it another way, but that is part of the beauty of trying new dishes. 

Spices, coffee, cocoa, rice, cereals, fruit and legumes: at Expo they're called Clusters. These pavilions group together different countries that share the same crop. They have chocolate scuptors, courses to learn how to make great coffee, and excellent rice dishes. And that's only what I've actually seen so far. Every day there is something new to learn.

...Energy for Life.

Where else could you see unfinished particleboard on the sides of pavilions?

Recycling, reuse, donations, green technology, smart glass and plywood: materials and technology used to build Expo pavilions reflects this part of the theme. In addition to food related issues, our planet's growing population uses resources, and we are going to run out of something sooner or later.
Learning how to reuse materials and, in my opinion, getting over the idea that if something is wrong if everything we own isn't brand-spanking-new otherwise will help us live longer with the resources that we have.

The rusty brown of CorTen steel contrasts well with the white tarpaulins shading the Decumanus (the central east-west thoroughfare), and many pavilions have orchards, meadows with wildflowers and typical plants. The Rice Cluster is surrounded by rice paddy flowerbeds, and I saw honeybees and butterflies at more than one place. The rooftop terrace of the Russian Pavilion is simply covered with grass. The resulting atmosphere is peaceful - and it's not to say that there are no people. Thousands of visitors are there on any given day, but I always have an impression of peace and quiet when I'm there.

The Belgian Pavilion has an aquaponics installation: huge round wheels on top of fish tanks that use the rich fertile water to grow plants and raise fish for human consumption. Truly remarkable, and self sustaining with just a little care, I think these units are perfectly suited to modern life, though I admit I'm not sure I'd want one of my own.

Belgian Pavilion Expo 2015

As you can see, this year's Unversal Exposition in Milan, Italy has got a lot going on. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May Reading List: Food, Food, FOOD!

Farinata with an interesting white wine at the #Eataly Pavilion.
That's all everyone is talking about right now.
I live in Italy, and Italian food is ... well, do I really have to explain that?

The main reason that food is on everyone's minds is that Expo2015 is all about food, so it seems obvious that this month's book list should discuss the topic.

How many cookbooks do you own? At last count, I think I had between 40 and 50. Some of them are really small paperbacks, and some are nice big treasures with lots of pictures. A few were given to me as gifts, and one or two are legacies from grandmothers.

My favorites?  They're oldies but goodies.
The Microwave Guide and Cookbook by General Electric Company.
La Cucina, edited and adapted by Myra Street with a wine section by Serena Sutcliffe.

Chocolat by Stephan Lagorce is absolutely fabulous!
Of course, my copy is in Italian.

This very creatively packaged book looks like a wrapped chocolate bar, with a label listing its weight, storage instructions (keep in a dry place at a temperature between 16-30°C/60-86°F), and even an expiration date.  It covers everything from recipes to tasting instructions.

Aside from my paper cookbooks, I also pull recipes off the Internet whenever I need something specific, and I mix and match recipes to form my own original concoctions. This process has led to the creation of a whole range of Cookie in a Mug recipes, which I'll share with you next month.

However, not all books about food are cookbooks, though, and I wanted to mention a couple that I've read about nutrition and food-related topics.

Modern society has a lot of problems in dealing with food: waste, nutrition, wholesomeness, and excess consumption are the main ones. Did you know that it is possible to be obese and still be malnourished? We don't eat the right things and we eat too much of the wrong things.

These two books will point you in the right direction. The only catch is that you actually have to follow directions to get results.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan
The Family Nutrition Workbook by Patrick Holford

Please feel free to mention your favorite cookbook, or book about food, in the comments.