A postcard from Liguria

Dear Sam,

 

I enjoyed reading about the difference the Free Rice game has made to so many children and it was nice to start September with some good news!

Boat trips, food and sunshine…

For us, since W left school, the autumn has become a time to take a break and, you’re quite right that by the time you read this, we’ll be on our way home from Italy.  We’re visiting Liguria, in the north west, for the first time. I’m looking forward to exploring and our plans include a boat trip to Portofino, walks around the Cinque Terre and perhaps a visit to Boccadasse where some of my favourite Inspector Montalbano series has been filmed.

Cinque Terre

Of course, I’m also looking forward to some good food.  I gather Liguria is known for its olive oil, focaccia bread and seafood and that snacks called stuzzichini are popular, so those will all be on our menu!

Stuzzichini
Stuzzichini – snacks – perfect with a glass of wine.

When we get home, it will actually be time for me to go back to school myself as I’ve signed up for some classes, including Italian. I’ll have to try to get in some practice while we’re in Italia!

Much love,

Claire

Breathing space

Pink lemonade in a glass jug wiht a vase of pink flowers

Dear Sam,

 

Yes, it certainly has been very hot here, too, so I was grateful for your tip for reviving tired bees .  I needed to put it into action when I found an exhausted bumble bee in our kitchen; I gave it some of the sugar solution on a teaspoon and after a few minutes it was wonderful to see it buzz off with a new lease of life.

Spending time with nature offers “precious breathing space” from modern life – Sir David Attenborough

The plus side of the hot weather is that we have more butterflies in the garden than I’ve seen for a long time.  I’m planning on following some more good advice from Sir David Attenborough by taking part in the UK’s Big Butterfly Count .  As he says, what could be better for us than spending some time connecting with nature.  And it can be done from a comfortable chair with an ice-cold drink…

Red admiral butterfly on lilac plant
Some good news – numbers of Red Admiral butterflies spotted during the 2017 count were up 75% on the 2016 result

Speaking of relaxing, it’s time for our annual break here at Staircase 9 17. Enjoy the summer and some family time – see you here again in September.

Much love,

Claire

Looking back, moving forward

Dear Sam,

 

Well, what a tonic it was to spend time with good friends! Oxford was looking glorious, with the college gardens and parks at their most colourful, and I loved seeing the profusion of roses everywhere. As well as reminiscing about our student days, it was wonderful to look ahead and make some plans for our blog here at Staircase 9 17, too.  It was lucky that we came across the Turl Street Kitchen when we arrived, as it was the perfect place to start our discussions, with its combination of great food and coffee and its mission to support the local community.

The blog’s Home page has a new look

I’m glad we’ve made a few changes to the format of the blog and, as this year progresses, I’m looking forward to exploring our theme of wellbeing and ways of helping ourselves by helping others. Next month, we’ll start our new Friday Food for Thought series, where we’ll post an inspiring snippet to ponder. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Dr Johnson, once, of course, a student at Pembroke himself,

“Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship.”

Well said!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

A postcard from Florence

Car on road among trees in Italy

Dear Sam,

 

Ciao from Florence!

We’re here for a few days to explore and enjoy some sunshine, good food and gelato.  I’ll take your advice and avoid plastic by choosing a cornet in place of a tub!

When I go on holiday, I like to take a book that suits the destination, so before we left home I downloaded the audiobook of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View from Librivox and it’s proving to be the perfect soundtrack to our trip.

Florence, Italy skyline
A view of the river Arno in Florence, as requested in ‘A Room with a View’.

A presto!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

The season of giving

Dear Claire,

Happy Advent! I can hardly believe we are into December. Thanks so much for all those gift ideas. What wonderful ways to do some good – and extremely handy for me, as I haven’t even begun my Christmas shopping yet!

One thing I did buy, though, was a children’s Advent calendar. It’s from a grocery store here called Trader Joe’s, and I love the concept – each door suggests doing a simple good deed, and rewards you with a piece of chocolate.

Trader Joes Advent Calendar

Action for Happiness has a similar Kindness Calendar, which is printable or shareable over social media. This one could be for anyone, adults or children, and goes all the way through December. I particularly like the 26th – switching off digital devices and really listening to others. To me it’s a reminder to be present, when it’s otherwise so easy to get caught up in all the busy-ness of the season and let what’s most important pass you by.

I liked this article on the BBC website, too, about a Reverse Advent Calendar, where you create 24 numbered compartments in a cardboard box, or perhaps re-use old wine bottle carriers, and each day add an item that you can donate to a food bank or other good cause.

These are all such nice ways for parents and children and indeed, anyone, to remember others and spread a little extra happiness in this holiday season. I would love this to become a family tradition. And I wonder if the idea could be adopted too for other traditions at this time of year, such as the eight days of Hanukkah or seven days of Kwanzaa.

I’m sure we’ll be in touch again before Christmas. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy all your upcoming festivities!

Love,
Sam

Top ten ideas for gifts that do good

Dear Sam,

Happy Thanksgiving for yesterday!

I was thinking of you and how grateful I am that we can connect through our blog, too. I was delighted to hear that being kind is so good for us – that’s definitely a win-win situation.

Talking about being kind, the season of goodwill is approaching and I’ve been pondering the gifts I need to buy. This year, in the spirit of Staircase 9 17, I’ve looked for presents  which help people as well as (hopefully) making the recipient happy. I thought I’d share my Top Ten ideas with you today:

1. Buying seasonal supplies is a great way to support charities and this year I’ve ordered some cards from Book Aid and my wrapping paper from Alzheimer’s Society.

2. As well as buying online, it’s fun to keep a look out for presents at the craft fairs and fetes that are held before Christmas in support of causes close to home.

coffee Christmas

3. Gifts of food always go down well with my friends and family, so I’m planning to get some Manumit coffee, which supports victims of modern slavery. Lots of our local shops sell Fairtrade goods, too, and I might add in some biscuits, a couple of mugs and a pretty tea towel to complete the present.

4. As well as buying from charities I try to support local ventures, which help to make the area we live in more vibrant and interesting.  We have a couple of art colleges nearby and some of the students sell their work directly, so you can find a unique gift and help someone out at the start of their career.

5. I often give books as gifts and I noticed that there is a range of paperbacks for sale which support Cancer Research UK.  I also have my eye on Stressed, Unstressed, the poetry anthology produced by the ReLit Bibliotherapy Foundation.

6. Beautiful accessories are a favourite option for my friends and I like the purses, jewellery rolls and bags made by Lua, who work with craftspeople in Vietnam.

sebon

7. I love to give and receive lotions and potions and I found some lovely soaps produced by Arthouse Meath, which is a collective of artists living with disabilities.

8. We all have people on our present list who already have everything and the ‘virtual’ charity gifts like ‘give a goat to Granny’ have been popular for some time.  I like the idea of matching the gift to the person’s interests. One year I paid for stethoscopes for use in the developing world on behalf of my doctor parents and this year an option caught my eye for booklovers: to support the work of Chawton House Library (which is at the ‘Great House’ near Jane Austen’s home in Hampshire, UK) you can adopt a book  on someone’s behalf.

9. Another idea for those who seemingly have it all is tickets for an evening out. An ideal choice is a charity concert or film screening; you can find out what’s on by searching online or contacting a charity close to your heart to ask about forthcoming events.

 

coupon

10. And finally, why not offer a ‘voucher’ for some help? It can be anything you know the recipient would appreciate, from time to help sort through a collection of photos to babysitting for new parents. It’s easy to print a bespoke voucher and you can pair it with a suitable small gift like a lovely album for the pictures or a  bottle of wine for a pre-dinner drink.

Have you made a start on your seasonal shopping? I’d love to hear how your preparations are going.

Much love,

Claire

 

 

 

 

A word in your ear

Dear Sam,

I’m really pleased to hear you had a good time in Italy – so did we! We’re just back from Sicily and I enjoyed playing Free Rice to pass the time while we were travelling. I think it’s a great idea to combine a game with such a good cause, so thank you for letting me know about it.

While we were away I also enjoyed having a bit more time for reading. For the flight, I took something absorbing but light, one of  Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, Black Sheep. Being in Sicily, I also packed one of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano mysteries, The Patience of the Spider, and it was fun to see some of the places we’d visited appearing as part of the plot!

When I’m on holiday I usually take an audio book with me, too. Recently, I’ve listened to several, including the wonderful Barchester Towers , on  Librivox – have you come across it? It’s a great source of free recordings read by volunteers, either chapter by chapter or as whole works. And, if you feel inspired to join in, you can become involved as a volunteer reader if you choose.

What’s on your reading – or listening – list for the autumn? Or, the fall, I should say!

Much love,

Claire

Language lessons

Dear Sam,

 

Welcome home! I hope you had a fantastic time in Italy?

I know you’d been learning some Italian before your holiday – did you get a chance to try it out? Following your good example, we’ve also just booked a short trip to Italy later this year, so I’ve been brushing up my Italian, too. I find that Duolingo  is a fun way to practise – have you come across it? It’s a game-based language learning system that offers a huge choice of different languages –  as well as Italian, French and German you can try out Welsh or Norwegian,  to name just a few.  Amazingly, since it was launched about 5 years ago, more than  1.2 billion people worldwide are now using it to improve their language skills. I’m also a fan because of the ethos behind Duolingo –  the belief that learning another language can open up opportunity and mutual understanding and the pledge that the lessons will always be free of charge, so that everyone has equal access to the opportunity to learn.

If, as in my case, a little pre-holiday exercise is needed, it’s good to know that according to a recent study, learning a language while you are at the gym can help you retain the new information more easily.  An incentive to  give more that just the grey matter a workout, perhaps!

Much love,

Claire

 

In the summertime

Dear Sam,

Buon viaggio for your trip to Italy.  I’m taking a break during August, too, so I’ll be back here on 1st September. I hope we’ll both be inspired by our travels and full of fresh ideas!

Much love,

Claire