Wow… what a whirlwind this past year has been. It was probably one of the hardest years of my life, which comes with losing a mother. But at the same time, it was the best year I’ve ever had. So many miracles and blessings around every corner.
Some of you might have read my post entitled "MANIFESTING MY DESTINY" about how I manifested the house in Italy into existence, with just sheer faith and determination. If you haven’t I suggest you read it before this post. Nothing could stop my laser focus and no one could tell me it was impossible. I just knew it was on the cards and the plan was to retire to my little farm house with a big fig tree and watch my grandchildren grow up. In the quiet hillsides of Tuscany, I would write the memoir I always dreamed of and would continue writing cookbooks.
But at no point did I ever envision opening a cooking school. I repeat…. IT WAS NEVER PART OF THE ORIGINAL GAME PLAN !!! Only on arriving in Italy in June of this year, did the idea even present itself. And once the seed was planted it took root in the soil. And I watered it daily with loving thoughts and marveled at the way all the tiny minuscule details just fitted together. DESTINY was steering this ship.
Before my late mom passed, she had asked me to plant a plum tree at the pool, so she could watch over me from its branches. The day I arrived in Italy, the old owner of the house was showing me around the garden and I stumbled on a tree with green fruit. I thought it was a peach tree, but he said it was SUSINA. I had no clue what that was, so I used googled translate. Upon discovering, that it was indeed a plum tree I burst out into racking sobs. Danile was a little surprised and shaken by my outburst, but I assured him all was good and well. This was a sign from my mom that she was close by watching over me.
I spent the first month alone at the house feeling it out. Saul and Jade, who still hadn’t seen the property, were only arriving in July. The owners had left me a small wire bed, one towel, a sheet and a pillow. There was no furniture or kitchen utensils, but I felt rich beyond measure. My heart was overflowing and every day I would dive into the swimming pool and swim laps, staring directly ahead at my mom’s plum tree. I would gorge myself on sweet, ripe and juicy plums and I could feel her right beside me.
But I was curious about the old caravan so I started digging, to find out more about the owner and its’ history. As it turns out, the owner Zia Ina (Aunty Eddie to her friends and family) was one of 3 sisters. She grew up in Italy, but fell in love with a British man and went to live in the UK in 1958. Unfortunately she was unable to have kids. She bought a rundown local bar in town and opened a restaurant called the “JAM POT” where locals were served drinks in jam jars. Yes, she was way ahead of the Mason Jar craze. She served Italian food with a local English flare and was written up in countless magazines.
She did all the cooking herself and was holding out hope that her sisters would join her. Instead, she caught her husband having an affair. Heartbroken, she bought a caravan, packed up everything and headed back to Italy. She bought a piece of land just outside Lucca, parked her caravan and put down roots. The caravan had a bathroom, kitchen with a small table and a pull out bed. She lived in this caravan for many years until she could afford to build a home. She eventually built a gorgeous house and years later added a swimming pool but she kept the caravan as a reminder of how far she had come.
By the time we bought the house the caravan was 50 plus years old. It was rusty and broken down, but I wanted to know more about the incredible strong woman who lived in it. Her family described her as a lightning bolt. She was full of energy and not afraid of hard work or ruffling feathers. She spoke her mind and was happiest in the kitchen. She loved to cook and would host huge dinners at the pool with mountains of delicious food. She refused to let age get the better of her. In fact, in her mid 80’s she was adamant that she herself, was going to cut the hedges around the swimming pool with a set of garden sheers. She completed the entire hedge and 3 days later died of a heart attack, in her sleep. Her family said I reminded them a lot of her. The way I spoke and talked with my hands and I felt a connection to this powerhouse of a woman.
Over the next month I would swim laps every day in the pool overlooking the caravan and plum tree. I felt like the spot where she parked her caravan was Porta Fortuna (good luck). And it didn’t hurt that my mom’s plum tree was right next to it. I would have conversations with my mom and Zia Eddie and Hashem, and together we dreamed up some really grandiose plans. By the time Saul arrived in July, I informed him that not only were we remodeling the house, but that I was in fact going to build a cooking school too.
But I am blessed to have an extremely supportive and loving husband. He might think I’m crazy but he always backs my idiotic hair brained schemes. Without him, Italy would have been an impossibility, so I was really excited when he gave me two thumbs up. I had to make sure that I stuck to the budget originally set for the house. But I’m an ex accountant, so I decided I would work my magic and get the numbers to work.
I met with many contractors during the summer and settled on 2 to cost out the entire project. The first was a headstrong woman, Tiziana, who reminded me of my mom. I remember telling her the story, in my broken Italian, of the plum tree and tears welled up in her eyes. We had an incredible connection and all the people on her team at Arkhitettando were fabulous. She always made sure there was a bowl of plums on the table when we met at her offices. I adored her but she was a lot pricier than the other company. And I was counting nickels and pennies.
The other company had done work for my Israeli friend and had renovated her villa into a 12 room bed and breakfast. They did a fabulous job and the truth is that I liked both teams. But after 3 months, the time had come to pick a contractor. I called Saul and my in laws to ask for advice, but everyone said the same thing. You need to decide Melissa. We don’t know what’s involved with the project and we cannot make a decision from a distance.
Oh crap. Thanks a lot guys. It’s all on my shoulders. If I pick the cheaper one and it ends up a disaster with costs coming from the back end, it’ll be my fault. If I go with Tiziana we’ll definitely go over budget. So I did what any sane human being would do in this situation. I asked my mom for help. Send me a sign I pleaded.
That morning the architect from the other company had brought over an engineer to discuss removing some walls. The woman introduced herself to me as Leonra (my late mom was Eleanor) and around her neck she had a diamond necklace with the tree of life but to me it was a plum tree. I started crying, but before I could tell them the job was theirs, I noticed another necklace with a charm. On it was the word “NO”. No no no no no no way… Freaky stuff. So I asked her to flip it over, and sure enough the other side had the word “SI” on it. My mom had sent me 3 clear signs (Lenora, Plum Tree, No) and so without any hesitation I picked Tiziana and her crew and I am so glad I did.
It’s like I won the lottery. Her team (Gazi, Nathaschia, Jessica, Mich, Liliana and Tomasso) have done the most incredible job on the house so far. The designs for the cooking school far exceeded my expectations. It is magnificent. They managed to bring my dream to life. In August I left them with the keys and a definite game plan. When I returned in November I couldn’t find anything wrong with their work. The house will be complete in February and I am so excited to see it. They are taking away the caravan and will start the build out of the cooking school in March after the rainy season. I’ve included some photos I took of the caravan to document it.
I also asked my contractor to keep parts that were salvageable so I could hang them in the school. Literally an hour later after that conversation, I went into Lucca, and in the window of a coffee shop I found an exact replica of the caravan. With the exception of the red and white stripe awning it is identical to Zia Eddies one. Coincidence…. I think not. It is pure destiny.
In November the plum tree was stripped of leaves and bare of fruit, but a few green sprigs of new leaves poked out from the dry branches. The baby fig tree I planted, that is part of my original manifestation is there to keep it company.
My mom is alive and well in the tree and to honor her memory I am calling my school “SUSINA CUCINA” or in English the “PLUM KITCHEN”. I cannot wait to bottle some plums and fill JAM POT’s with them. I will be opening the doors of the school in early June 2018 through to the end of September.
So now you know a little more about this gorgeous miracle that arrived at my door. And I cannot wait to make memories with you in this very special spot that destiny brought me to. Looking so forward to cooking, drinking, eating and celebrating “LA DOLCE VITA” with you.
I hope my story inspires you to dream big dreams, to expect the unexpected, to open your mind to the possibility of miracles. Realize that the Universe has wonderful surprises, miracles and blessings around every corner. You just need to be open to receiving them.
May the road rise up to meet your feet wherever they wander. May you only encounter green lights on the journey ahead. Thank you for being in my community, for following along and supporting me. Thank you for the kindness and generosity you show me every day. You are such a huge part of this dream. Grazie mille. Wishing you love, light and blessings xxx Chef MM