Sunday 30 November 2014

So that was Sunday? Nothing like we planned it!

Well, the days of me starting my Sunday blog posts with 'we had a lie in and a slow start to the day' are not only a distant memory, but I don't think they will be featuring on this blog for a long while yet.

I was oblivious to Helen getting out of bed this morning - that is until I heard Reggie whining at around 7:10am. I thought he was telling us he needed the toilet, but when I turned over to tell Helen I'd get up and go and see to him, I realised I was alone in bed and the whining was because she was already downstairs and in the process of putting her wellies on and unlocking the door so that she could take him out.

There was no return to sleep though - by the time Helen had fed the cats and got Reggie outside, the whining had been going long enough to rouse me completely from any form of slumber so it was an early start to Sunday for everyone.

The plan for today was to make a start on, if not do ALL of our Christmas shopping. Ambitious? Of course. Too early? Well, yes, for me - Christmas still seems so far off here, which is not helped by the mild weather and the five hundred other things and jobs we have to think about and do. I just don't feel prepared to start with it all yet, but deep in the dark recesses of my mind I know that it's now only a few weeks away, and if not done soon, Santa won't be making any trips on our behalf to a number of households back in Blighty. I therefore reluctantly agreed with my wife that it would be time well spent getting on top of this task today, especially as it was forecast to be wet (although it never quite turned out like that).

Considering we had such an early start, I'm not quite sure what happened to the morning. We let Reggie have the run of the living room and garden as the door was open all day. He chose mainly to spend his time collecting shoes and toys on the sofa and chasing cats while I called England on the Skype phone to speak to Mom and then the kids. Helen, meanwhile, cleaned the bathroom and tidied the living room and kitchen area - at least as much as is possible when there is a force as powerful as a dog working in direct opposition to all cleaning efforts:

Reggie's collection of 'toys'.
We asked him to tidy his room...

After that, we did some doggie training on the lawn for a while until Reggie got tired of sitting and staying - and then it was lunchtime, with not a single Christmas present purchased.

Lunch was a simple affair of toasted bread with Tuscan liver pate and fontal cheese. We've finally realised that it's way quicker to toast bread in a dry griddle pan rather than use our (brand new) Italian toaster, which takes and eternity to toast bread (in fact, it's so slow that it dries the bread out to a tooth shattering crunchiness long before it gets around to colouring it). This isn't because we bought a cheap toaster - it's a Moulinex - all toasters we've encountered in Italy have been the same, so we figure that they're made this way on purpose so as not to draw too much electricity (considering the 3KW standard domestic supply in Italy) - but I digress.

After lunch and after doing the washing up (come back Tess - please?!), we finally had some peace and quiet as the puppy was asleep, snoring in his crate. We quickly switched computers on and the Christmas shopping commenced - but not for long! By the time my computer had finished all of its updates and we'd got our heads into it and made a start browsing, Reggie was waking up and in need of a toilet trip. After that, he wouldn't settle in the living room without one of us being there, so no sooner had I switched the PC on than I was switching it back off again to leave Helen battling with her list while I played with Reggie and attempted to continue my Christmas shopping on my tablet next door. It was a lost cause though - Reggie wouldn't afford me the kind of concentration required for the task at hand so I gave up. Helen wasn't far behind me in throwing in the towel after attempting to order a couple of items and failing because of issues with credit card addresses and website pages not functioning properly.

The day was wearing on rapidly, and Reggie's antics wearing thin (also rapidly), so we decided to take him out for a walk near the San Lorenzo Hotel - there's a nice quiet lane that runs along the other side of the river from the road where we knew he wouldn't be distracted by lots of other people and dogs. In fact, the only real distraction was somebody's used tissue that he picked up and almost ate until Helen gallantly stepped in and, risking contamination, pulled it from his mouth (which she followed up with much hand wiping with the wipes we'd brought out with us for the purpose of cleaning up mucky puppies). Why, oh why, must puppies be obsessed with eating paper, cardboard, tissues and other unsavoury substances?

Ready for a walk.
Before 'tissue-gate'.

By the time we got home, both cats were indoors (having set the cat flap to incoming traffic only before we left), so Helen went to put the geese to bed while I collected firewood and built a fire for the evening and Reggie collected his own pile of firewood to take onto the sofa before he finally passed out next to me.

As if butter wouldn't melt...

As dinner time approaches for our four-legged friends and Reggie has just awoken to the sound of the cat flap, I'll put this post to bed so that we might have half a chance of getting an early dinner ourselves this evening, and maybe even snatch an hour of TV before bedtime.

Saturday 29 November 2014

It's all about the dog (pretty much)

My day started at 4am this morning. Hmm. Well, at least it was two hours later than yesterday's moonlight call, but this morning's starry toilet trip was heralded by a full-on big-belly woofing that rocked the house - there was no element of doubt as to whether Reggie had simply barked in his sleep or whether he really meant it: he really meant it. As I leapt out of bed and struggled in my sleepy daze to find some clothes to pull on, Stuart suggested I simply put his warm dressing gown on, so I grabbed it from the back of the bedroom door and sprinted downstairs, pulled on my wellies and took Reggie outside. While I waited for him to do his business I felt thankful both that it was dark and that we have no close neighbours - last night I had stood in the garden wearing a back-to-front hoodie and tonight I was standing in the garden wearing a dressing gown and wellies. It's all glamour here on our farm.

After Reggie had done plenty of toilet business (without wanting to go into details, I felt vindicated in having left my cosy bed - he really had needed to go to the loo), we both traipsed back up the steps and he settled back down in his bed, while I headed back to mine.

Three hours later and it was time to go through the whole routine again - except this time I also threw in feeding the cats, letting the geese out (and replacing their sawdust), feeding Reggie and taking him for a walk up and down the drive (and this time I managed to find some jeans and a right-way-round hoodie to wear while doing it - it was daylight by now, after all).

By the time Reggie had had a little play in the garden with his tennis balls, Stuart was just starting to wake up. We had breakfast and some coffee then got ourselves and Reggie ready to go into town. First we drove to Chiesina Uzzanese to refill the car with methane, then we drove back into town, parked up on one of the quieter side streets and headed to the stationery shop to collect Reggie's new name tag. The tag looked great and we put it straight on his collar. We half expected him to hate the new jangly sound it makes when he walks/runs and to try to get it off, but he seemed totally unbothered by his new piece of jewellery.

From there, we walked over to the bridge and dropped down onto the tow path. Reggie met lots of new dogs today - there were a couple that he just sniffed, a few that he completely ignored, and one or two that he seemed to want either to play with or to attack - our doggie behaviour radar is not yet sufficiently up to speed to work out whether his growling and attempt to lunge towards them is aggression or playfulness. We even walked past four cats, all of which he completely ignored. Why on earth can't he be like that with our cats?!!

We had a good walk along the river, and practised calling him with the whistle to come - he seems to love this particular training, and the sight of him coming charging towards you with his little ears pinned back and his tail waggling is an absolute delight. By the time we'd done that, though, we were conscious that he must be getting a bit tired and HOT. The sun was out this morning, and we were baking in our jeans and hoodies - it felt like a warm spring day, or even early summer, it must have been 20C at least. We took Reggie back to the car for a drink of water before loading him into his travel cage and journeying back home.

On the way back home we decided to stop off at Amanda's to see if she had something we could have for lunch. Time had marched on to almost 12.30pm and we were going to need to have some lunch before facing the supermarket shopping trip. We picked up some breaded calamari and some roasted potatoes from Amanda, with instructions to put them both in a hot oven to warm them through, then headed home.

Before doing anything else, I opened up the apartment to switch the oven on to warm. We still don't have a functioning oven in our house - Sue has given us a phone number for a guy who fixes things, and we keep meaning to get him to come and have a look at it, but when you have a wood to chop, wood to split, fences to construct, terraces to clear, a dog to train, office work to do, geese to clean out, cats to herd and so on... these things tend to slip to the bottom of the to-do list. (We need to get it sorted out before Christmas though!)

We let Reggie play with his ball in the garden while we waited for lunch to heat up, then put him safely (if noisily) in his cage while we ate in the glorious warm sunshine on the patio and started to put together a shopping list.

After taking Reggie out for a pre-emptive toilet trip then putting him back in his cage with a chew, we headed out to do the supermarket shopping. Once again, we did the double, stopping first at Lidl. When we pulled into the car park we noticed a collection of scouts (what is the collective noun for scouts? a woggle of scouts maybe?) around the entrance, all wearing yellow plastic bibs. Today appeared to be some sort of charitable giving day either in the whole of Italy or maybe just in Tuscany - when we'd been out with Reggie earlier, we had passed a gaggle of middle-aged folk standing outside the Coop wearing plastic bibs and standing next to what looked like food collection boxes. I'd also seen some pictures on Facebook of similar activity going on further south in the region. As we went to enter the shop, the scouts asked us to take a plastic bag for charitable donations. Since they were of school age, we asked them to explain in English (good practice for them, after all) what it was all about. They said they were asking people to buy food 'for the poor' - and said that they wanted flour and biscuits. To be honest, I've a feeling that 'flour and biscuits' wasn't exactly what they were after, but we took a bag anyway, and added a large bag of biscuits to our shopping trolley, which we subsequently thrust back at the scouts on our way out of the shop.

Next, we headed to Esselunga. On the way, I said to Stuart 'you realise that we're going to get nobbled by charity people here as well, don't you?'... but when we pulled into the car park, we were surprised to see a decided lack of yellow-bibbed charity collectors. We collected our trolley and headed into the shop - where of course the gaggle of yellow-bibbed volunteers were waiting. We took another bag from them and duly bought another large bag of biscuits to add to their collection of groceries.

Once we'd completed the shopping, we loaded the car up and headed back home to see what damage Reggie had done to the house while we'd been out (we weren't really expecting any, as he'd been in his cage, but you never know with this naughty pup). Of course, the house was in one piece and even peaceful and quiet when we got back, so we unloaded the shopping and got Reggie out to give him a proper training session in the garden.

We spent a good hour or so practising 'sit', 'stay' and 'come'. He really started to get the 'stay' command, which was brilliant progress. It's truly amazing and gratifying when you actually see some learning starting to happen. After a while though, he started to get distracted, so we let him play with his tennis balls for a while before putting him inside when the light started to show signs of fading.

With Reggie safely in his cage, the next objective was to get the cats safely indoors then put the geese to bed. I went out to call the cats, and Florence quickly came running across the roof of the woodshed. I scooped her up and put her safely indoors. Next, I called Lucca. Nothing. I called him a few more times, but there was no response. So I turned my attention to the geese.

Since Nick and Tess built their fantastic new ramps, the geese have spent their days alternating between the top terrace, their favourite (middle) terrace, and the lower terrace, and this evening they were on the lower one. It therefore took a bit of coaxing (i.e. lettuce-trail laying) to get them to move onto the correct terrace to be able to get them into their house. They eventually got there, but I had to go back for more lettuce in order to get them to cooperate and go into their house for the evening.

Once the geese were safely shut away, I turned my attention once again to Lucca. Stuart - who had been dismantling the construction that he and Nick had made as a temporary Reggie-proof gate for the steps before the fencing had been finished - packed his stuff away and joined me in calling Lucca and searching up the terraces, behind the woodpiles, along the drive, around the (former)rubbish shed - everywhere, but to no avail.

As the darkness started to descend, I became increasingly distraught. Inside the house there was barking, barking and more barking, and poor Florence's face was pressed up against the (locked for safety) cat flap, desperate to get away from the noisy monster. Meanwhile, I could neither see nor hear any signs of Lucca and had visions of him having packed his little knapsack and left home to get way from the barking ogre - but little did he realise that there are far more dangerous animals out in the dark woods. Just as I was entering absolute and utter despair (with full-on chin wobbling), I heard a faint 'maiooow', which was getting closer. I ran back towards the terraces and there was little Lucca coming down towards the house - FINALLY! I scooped him up and gave him the biggest hug I thought he would tolerate, before taking him safely indoors and giving both cats some treats.

With all animals safely inside for the night, we felt more than ready to settle down with a drink - tonight's weekend treat is Aperol spritz, with vegetable fajitas for dinner in front of the fire.

And... Relax.

Friday 28 November 2014

Progress of a different kind

My day started at around 2am this morning. I was sleeping soundly when something woke me up. I turned over to go back to sleep when the noise happened again and all of a sudden it hit me: 'CRIPES, Reggie needs the loo!' I jumped out of bed, pulled some clothes on and sprinted downstairs to take him outside to relieve himself. He looked a bit surprised to see me, but seemed pleased, and accompanied me quite happily out into the garden. It was as we reached the bottom of the steps and Reggie started looking around for his ball that I realised two things. One: I had my hoodie on back to front, and two: he had probably just been barking in his sleep. Nevertheless, he managed to squeeze out a wee, and we both plodded back up the steps to the warmth of our respective beds.

Next thing I knew, my alarm had gone off - twice - and Lucca was scratching at the bottom of the mattress trying to wake us up. Once again, I leapt out of bed (a little less enthusiastically this time), pulled on some exercise clothes, and headed downstairs to feed the cats, take Reggie out into the garden for more toilet duties, feed Reggie his breakfast, let the geese out for the day, and eventually to get the bike and turbo trainer out.

Today was a Lanciole work day for Stuart, so he wasn't far behind me in getting up and sorting out all of his tools for the day ahead. While I started my exercise, he gave Reggie a run around in the garden before sorting out a packed lunch and having some breakfast. At about 8.40am, Stuart left for the day, leaving me home 'alone' - or alone as you can be with two cats, two geese and a dog.

After a shower and some breakfast, I turned my attention to my first task of the day. A couple of days ago I had received an official letter inviting me to have one of those three-yearly tests that we women know is a necessary evil, but which we would avoid (like the plague) if there was any viable alternative. Here in Italy, rather than you making an appointment for a convenient date and time, an appointment is made on your behalf and you are simply sent a letter telling you when to attend. First of all, I was amazed by the efficiency of the system - I'd registered for my health card less than two weeks ago - but more to the point, I'd already had one of 'those' checks before I left the UK earlier this year and I neither required nor fancied the indignity of another. Since the appointment made for me was for 2nd December (just a few days away), there was nothing else for it but to telephone the number given on the letter and explain that I didn't need the test at the moment.

I did some preparation by writing out some sentences that I thought would be helpful, then dialled the number and held my breath. The line went straight through to a recorded message, so I hung up before trying again a couple of minutes later. This time, I worked out that the recorded message was telling me that all the operators were busy at the moment, but that I should hang on until someone was free to answer my call. So I held, and within 60 seconds there was a real Italian-speaking person on the other end. 'Here goes,' I thought. I managed to get my pre-prepared sentences out and, much to my amazement, they seemed to have been understood. I understood that the person on the other end was asking for my name and date of birth, which I gave them, and then they were telling me that they would arrange to call me for the test once again in the standard three years' time - April 2017. I was dumbfounded. I appeared to have done exactly what I had set out to do! I thanked the person on the other end of the phone profusely before hanging up and fist-pumping the air. I was thrilled to have completed my first ever telephone call entirely in Italian, and having achieved what I wanted!

High on my success, but with no-one to tell, I turned my attention to work, followed by a toilet trip for Reggie, and so the rest of the morning went. I had a quick chat with Sue when she called mid-morning, and a lovely long chat with Allison at lunchtime.

The afternoon went much as the morning had done (work/Reggie garden trip/work), and before I knew it I could hear the car drawing up outside and it was time to shut the computer down and go and help Stuart unload yet more logs from the car. I then put the geese to bed while Stuart put all his tools away and, with the cats safely indoors, we got ready to take Reggie out for a walk in town.

We drove to the main square in Pescia, then walked around the back streets of the town and along the river for a bit until we felt that both Reggie and we had had enough of a walk for one day. Reggie met two dogs today that he simply sniffed noses with - we were proud of him! Of course, there were also two or three that he growled/barked at, but progress is progress! Town was quite busy this evening and we could tell that he was relieved to get back to the car at the end of the walk - he was happy to jump into the car if not actually happy to go into his travel cage of his own accord.

When we got home, we gave Reggie his dinner, gave the cats their dinner, then opened a beer, lit a fire and settled in for a quiet night and the start of a much needed weekend.

Slow (as predicted), but still some progress

When the alarm went off this morning we could hear the rain pouring down outside. I don't think it had stopped since last night. The sound of the rain and the coolness in the bedroom made us both want to hunker down for a while longer, but there's nothing like the thought of potentially having to clean up puppy poo to focus the mind into heaving yourself out of bed - so Helen did exactly that, first feeding the cats, then taking Reggie for his morning toilet trip then feeding him and releasing the geese. After all that, she got back on the turbo trainer for the first time in a couple of weeks.

By the time she got back in, I was still procrastinating under the duvet, knowing that there was no way I was going to be working on the fence in this weather. In between drifting in and out of sleep I considered what else I could do with the day, but each time I drifted back off to sleep before coming to any firm conclusions. Once Helen was out of the bathroom though, I had no more excuses and it was time to get up.

After breakfast, we both took Reggie for a walk along the drive and a bit of training. He has a good grasp of the whistle now and no words are needed to call him, just a toot on the whistle and he comes charging from one of us to the other, his ears pinned back in the wind and his lead dragging behind. He's much better with his training on home turf though, and still gets hugely distracted when out in the big wide world, but small steps for a small dog and overall we're happy with his progress in the short time we've had him.

After a play with his ball on the lawn, Reggie went into his crate and seemed to sleep for most of the morning, while Helen started work in the office. In the meantime I was trying to push on with the fencing in between showers - the persistent rain had turned to showers, but it was still slow going. However, as the morning crept on, the weather brightened and by lunchtime it was sunny enough for us to sit outside for an al fresco lunch. We were both feeling a bit weary from our last few weeks of activity and had a slow lunch, even following it up with coffee, Italian style.

When Helen went back to the office, I decided that I should turn my attention to some form of gate mechanism to keep Reggie out of the kitchen area and the office, where the cats now eat and sleep of an evening. I stumbled across the old 'secondary glazing' window panels in the woodshed (having kept hold of them just in case I could find a use for them). There were four pieces, which I joined all together with hinges, and then attached the whole lot to the end of the sideboard (which now forms the end of the kitchen island). The hinged pieces thus made a concertina-type arrangement that we can open fully against the island (sideboard) or stretch across to wall, closing off the kitchen and the cat flap and allowing the cats (hopefully) to feel a bit more secure and safe as they come and go. They have clearly been missing that feeling of security of late, which seems to have been causing them to stay away from the house more than usual, so hopefully with this in place they'll learn that they can come and go safely during the day.

Reggie/cat safety gate.

The cats have taken up residence in the office.

That done, I went back to fencing and before the light faded, managed to finish the run of fencing down in front of the apartment. When the church tower over in the village chimed 4pm, I knew that it wouldn't be long before the light would start fading, so I took Reggie out to play on the lawn and went back to work to see if he'd entertain himself outside while I replaced the wobbly trellis on our patio with a proper piece of new fence. Reggie did largely entertain himself - charging around and finding things to chew, including the teddy bear that we found here when we moved in. 'Casserole Ted' now has his stomach on the outside of his body, and think his days are numbered. In fact, the only reason he survived to tell the tale was that Lucca appeared on the steps down from the terraces and sat there, a couple of steps behind the fence, watching Reggie go absolutely nuts trying to get at him. You could have been forgiven for thinking that Lucca was watching a game of tennis, his little head rhythmically going from left to right watching Reggie: with the use of doggie treats, I would call Reggie away from Lucca and get him sitting at my feet - but he soon worked out that if he ran at Lucca and then came back to me when called, he'd get a treat. He did this repeatedly for three or four minutes and each time he was quieter until eventually he stopped all noise altogether, not even a growl. This was great progress and Lucca just sat and watched from the safety of behind the fence, so I figured it a healthy progression.

Shortly afterwards though, while Reggie was happily continuing to disembowel teddy, Lucca obviously felt confident enough to cross the fence and head indoors. I hadn't seen him do it, but Reggie clearly did - and chased him back across the fence. So, it looks like there's still plenty of work to do on the cat-dog relationship front.

When the light faded, Lucca came in without too much encouragement, which was a huge improvement over last night, and Florence was already indoors safely behind the Reggie screen.

With the geese fed and put to bed, we took Reggie out for a short walk around Pietrabuona before heading to Amanda's alimentari for some basics supplies and heading home whereupon, after feeding his face, Reggie crashed out and we got some peace at last.

So time for a fire and some dinner now and maybe, dare I say it an early night.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

And then there were two (plus animals)

It was departure day today for Tess and Nick - two weeks have been and gone, and today it was time for them to resume their travels around Europe in their campervan. I think all of us were a bit sad that their stay had come to an end, they settled in so well and had become part of the furniture around here - they not only worked hard and helped us out enormously but were also truly great company.

Yesterday was mainly spent pushing the Reggie-proof fencing further forwards (extending the fencing to the patio-level terrace, with a gate to access the steps up the terraces and another gate to go further along the patio-level terrace, as well as bit more wall repointing. By the time Nick and Tess clocked off at 3.30pm, the fence and gates were tantalisingly close to being finished, and the garden wall was looking great:

Another Nick-special.
Fencing tantalisingly close to completion.
Smart-looking wall.
(Well, half of it anyway!)

We had another great evening together last night - after Helen had got back from her Italian lesson in town, the four of us enjoyed a delicious meal of Tuscan sausage and beans, and chatted, sipped wine and were entertained by Reggie until gone midnight.

So after the late night last night, Nick and Tess arrived for breakfast at around 9.30am, then spent a good hour or two trying to sort out a new return flight for Tess - the outcome of the job interview she had here (via Skype) last week was that she has been appointed as a clerk to one of the judges at the court in Wellington (NZ)! The downside is that she now needs to return to New Zealand two weeks earlier than planned in order to get back in time to start her new job, hence lots of complicated to-ing and fro-ing between airlines trying to find the most cost effective and least unappealing way to get back from Europe (most options involve one or two stopovers and 20-30 hours travelling time).

So while Nick and Tess spent the morning on the phone and internet, Helen worked in the office and I went to carry on with the fencing outside.

By the time lunchtime came around, Nick and Tess had sorted a new flight, packed their van, tidied the apartment and stripped the linen from the beds. They were pretty much ready for the off, but we fed them lunch one last time before they headed off to Turin.

Over lunch, we were really touched to be presented with gifts from them - we felt that it should have been the other way around with all the help they've given us, but it's great to know that they enjoyed their two weeks here as much as we enjoyed having them. Staying put for two weeks in one place (AND slogging hard every day, often in the rain) seems like quite a commitment for a young couple trying to get to see as much of Europe as possible in just a few months, so we were really pleased to hear that they had enjoyed their stay. They had written us a lovely card, and presented us with two boxes of porridge oats. Yes, oats! We'd been telling them about our attempt to find some a few weeks ago, and how we had been devastated to find out that porridge oats are simply not available here (having been looking forward to hearty bowls of porridge for breakfast in the winter) - except it turns out that if you look hard enough and not in the place you'd expect them to be, you can find them!! They also gave us a really beautiful piece of abalone shell, all the way from New Zealand! The shell is already in a Reggie-safe place and will be a lovely reminder of their stay with us.

After lunch, we milled around outside while Reggie played for a bit and Nick got shots of all his pieces of handiwork (the fence, the gates, the goose ramps, the repointed wall, the wood pile...), and then the time finally came for them to leave. We said our goodbyes and waved them off to continue their big adventure, and they left us to ours - the progress of which will undoubtedly slow down significantly now they've left.

Reggie, Helen, Tess and Nick.
And they're off. We're sad to see them go, but hope they have some fun adventures ahead.
Reggie will miss his friends - who have been here since he arrived.

Reggie loves his tennis ball.

At about 3.30pm, I made a trip into town: gates hinges, yet more fence posts and a cordless reciprocating saw were on my shopping list and once I'd acquired all of them I returned home - just as the daylight was starting to fade.

Lucca inspects the new fence posts.

After an hour's work, it was too dark to do any more, so as Helen went off to Goose Island clutching a pile of lettuce, I packed my tools away and then helped try and find Lucca - who, after being barked at just as he was about to enter the house, had disappeared and gone into hiding. With foxes and other predatory creatures in the woods, we like to have the cats on lock down/house arrest by the time it gets dark, and by this time it was definitely dark!

With the help of a torch, I found his shiny eyes in the wood pile and went to get him, but he made a run for it and hid under the car. A game of cat and mouse (or cat and man) ensued, with Helen and I trying to use cat treats as a lure, but whenever we got close enough to him he made a run for it. I was just on the verge of giving up when I finally got close enough to grab him and carry him indoors, his claws firmly embedded in my shoulder. I expected him to resist as we got closer to the house, but he happily allowed me to carry him into the office, which now doubles as the cats' dining room.

Once both cats were safely indoors, we headed into town to take the disruptive Reggie for a walk. He's still hugely distracted in the town, and walks largely with his tail wrapped firmly between his legs, but we did manage to get him to sit a couple of times which is progress.

As we approached the last stretch of the walk along the main piazza, the rain came down heavily, so we ducked under a shop canopy only to find Donatella next to us feeding the parking meter. We chatted to Donatella for ten minutes or so, and she kindly lent us a 50m lead so that we can test Reggie's recall next time we're walking along the river (or even along our drive).

As Donatella dashed off for pizza, we dashed back to the car and got pretty soaked in the process (as it was quite mild, we hadn't even worn coats, just hoodies and jumpers, so we were soaked to the skin - as was poor Reggie of course!).

When we got home, Helen gave Reggie a good rub dry with a towel before giving him his dinner, then we peeled off our sodden clothes and put them in the dying room, fed the cats, lit a fire and settled down to write the blog while the water heater kicked in to warm the water for a shower.

It's going to be a shock to the system this evening without Tess and Nick here, as we're back to cooking meals from scratch each night rather than using meals we've preprepared from the freezer AND we'll have to wash up afterwards!!

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Is it really almost December?

Helen was up for animal duties at 6.30am this morning - Reggie seems to be able to make it through the night until the early morning, but we daren't push is further than around 6.30-7am, just in case. So after feeding the cats, taking Reggie for a toilet trip, letting the geese out and attempting to take Reggie for a walk (he wasn't interested at that point), she came in to lay the table up for people-breakfast. Once breakfast was done with, we all went out into the warming morning: I got Nick and Tess to turn their attention to fencing while Helen and I drove into Pescia to attempt to finally acquire my health card, having translated and filled in the form that Helen returned with last week after acquiring hers.

We went straight into the now familiar CUP - which once again was nice and quiet - and were soon seen by a friendly woman who spoke no English. I asked to register for my health card and shoved the form in her direction, hoping that this would be all that was needed. She asked a couple of questions and wanted to know what doctor I wanted to be registered with, then spent a while talking to her colleague about us and asked for Helen's work contract. She took one look at the first of about 20 pages and handed it back, happy, then printed out my temporary card, handed me the form showing my registration with the doctor, and that was that!

We popped into a café for a quick cappuccino before heading home to start work.

By the time we got back, Nick and Tess had dug the remaining post holes for the fence and had a wheelbarrow full of soil to dispose of. Nick suggested they take the soil into the goose enclosure and use it to form a solid earth ramp for the geese - to replace the plywood ramp which they seemed unlikely ever to use of their own accord.

Once they'd carried all the soil up and realised they were quite a way short of being able to make a ramp, they asked if they could cut into the top bank to make easier access to the top terrace so that they could then use the soil taken out to complete the lower ramp. Well, who was I to stand in their way?! It was certainly a job that needed doing, and it had been on my list of things to do for quit a while, but I couldn't see when I'd get around to doing it, so it was a perfect opportunity to have it done now - and a great job they made of it too. After they'd finished, we gave them some lettuce to try to tempt the geese up their lovely new ramp. It worked... eventually!

While this was happening, I started concreting in some fence posts (in between doggie toilet trips and helping move the geese around) until lunchtime arrived: we enjoyed a Ligurian-style salad of potatoes, green beans, mozarella and olives in heaps of pesto in the balmy late November sun.

After lunch, Nick and Tess turned their attention to post concreting while I turned my hand to log splitting until the sun went down.

After the guys went to the apartment for showers, Helen and I took an especially needy Reggie into town for a good walk - which seemed to do the trick and he spent most of the evening sleeping, only coming out to play for a couple of hours after we'd finished dinner, with the cats safely in bed.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Warm weather returns!

The weather forecasters seem to have had trouble predicting the immediate future of late - each time we check the forecasts, the weather for the following three or four days has changed completely. I was therefore surprised when I got up at 7am this morning (to see if little Reggie still had a dry bed) to find that the temperature outside was very mild. Maybe today's forecast was going to be spot on after all: warm and partly cloudy.

Reggie's bed was indeed dry, but I think that 7am is his upper limit for time without a loo break. I put the lead on, and as soon as the door was opened he charged down the steps to the lawn - had he been fully grown, the way he took me unaware and slightly wrong footed this morning could easily have toppled me, but thankfully I gathered my composure in time to avoid a slapstick moment, he went to do his business then charged back to the house (this bit I was prepared for as it's his usual routine).

I fed the cats and let them out then released the geese and covered Reggie's cage with his sheet again in the hopes that he would have another snooze then climbed back into my own bed again. However, it seems that, while we've pushed Reggie's morning toilet trips out to a respectable time and done away with the 4am alarm calls, we've now got a situation whereby he's had enough of being in his cage by 7am and so instead of the usual couple of whimpers followed by peace and quiet, Helen and I lay there looking at the lovely chestnut beams and original tiles that make up our bedroom ceiling while Reggie took his whining to a whole new level - it was about as close to singing as I think he could get. It didn't take long before we both decided to get up and take him for a bleary eyed walk along the drive followed by a play session with his ball on the lawn before putting the espresso maker on the hob.

Reggie attempts to grow.

We abstained from breakfast though, as last night Nick and Tess had knocked on the door on their way into town to sample another of Mimmo's Cinghiale Bosco Burgers and offered us a breakfast of bacon and eggs - now that was an offer we couldn't refuse!!

We whiled away the early part of the morning quite pleasantly until they came upstairs clutching breakfast ingredients ready to cook. More coffee went on the stove and we drank mugs of coffee with perfectly poached eggs and bacon with toast - such a treat!

By the time Tess had washed up (both Tess and Nick are saintly in their constant insistence to attend to washing up duties), it was already 11am. Helen and I had a pile of possible jobs/errands/tasks to do today so had to prioritise, and Tess and Nick were planning to go and look around the antiques market in town before making a trip to Montecarlo.

We left the house with Reggie in the car and headed into town - we figured that, as the weather was so pleasant, we should take him for a walk along the river in Pescia, so we parked the car near to Chris and Sue's house and walked down to the river. Reggie seemed to love the grassy river banks (and the wall alongside it) but was still quite wary of the traffic in town. 

After a good half an hour, we piled back into the car and headed to the pet shop - we needed another clicker or two, some more treats for training, and some form of safety for him while in the car. Donatella had offered us their old seatbelt attachment that they no longer use for their dog, but we wanted to check out travel crates for longer journeys. By the time we all piled back into the car, we were stripping off coats and jumpers and almost wishing we'd worn shorts and t-shirts!

We took Reggie into the enormous store with us after firsyt making sure it was OK with the staff - we knew it would be, as we've seen many dogs in there before (trying clothes on!), never mind the number of dogs we've seen in OBI, Mercatone Uno, IKEA and the rest. At least if Reggie had an 'accident' inside we'd asked permission for his entrance so we felt more comfortable - although Helen did need to dash outside at one point as he started whimpering - but all he did when he got outside was bark at his own reflection in a car door.

We left with a new travel crate and a bag of other goodies then headed for a quick dash into OBI for some wood before heading home, Reggie sleeping in his new crate.

On the way home, we stopped off at Amanda's to grab something for lunch before she closed. I have no idea where she finds the time to cook all of the delicious stuff she sells, as well as run the shop. Despite it being half an hour before closing (and Amanda apologising for not having much left), we had a tempting choice of home-made lasagne, sausage and chicken kebab skewers, half a roast chicken, ragu, baby squid stuffed with seafood in a tomato and garlic sauce, or tripe.

We opted for the squid as it has been quite a while since we ate any seafood. We asked for a small amount of tripe too as we'd never tried it before and as since it's so popular (and traditional) here, we thought it must be worth trying at least once (despite it not really holding much appeal!). You'll be pleased to heat that we walked out without any tripe - instead, were gifted a portion of cioncia. Amanda told us we could try the tripe any time, as she often has it, but insisted that we try cioncia instead as she doesn't cook it all year round. Cioncia is a traditional dish of Pescia (we had no idea there were any dishes associated with the town) and is a beef stew but made only with meat from the cheeks and head. It looked amazingly rich, and she was keen for us to try it and let her know what we think.

We got home, feeling hungry as it was gone 2pm, only to find that no water would come out of any  of the taps in the house. Clearly, our day had been going too well! We decided to have some lunch before tackling the water situation, so sat on the patio and ate our squid stuffed with seafood in a tomato and garlic sauce along with toasted Tuscan bread, as advised by Amanda. It was delicious! A little while later, somebody else had a taste - and thought is was delicious too:

Lunch was over all too quickly - we had a water issue to sort out, after all. While Helen tended to the ever-needy Reggie, I took a small hand trowel to start tracing the water pipes outside to see if I could locate the problem. I could tell that the water was still coming up from the meter OK by turning the lever valve at the water storage tank outside - which meant that there was a problem somewhere between there and the house, but the pipe only appeared here and there for a few inches at a time.

Half an hour later, I'd got my head around the route of the pipe and figured out that there was an air lock in the system that was stopping the water in the main house (this all tallies with the strange squeaks in the pipes that our friend Q identified as dolphins in the water tank having morphed into the sort of noises made by either whales or walruses over the last week). I'm not fully sure as to how the plumbing works, but after a little while the air lock was obviously released and the water flow returned. So for now the disaster has been averted, but I suspect that the services of a plumber will be required at some point in the near future to look at the no doubt crazy DIY plumbing job here.

After that, Helen took the new post spade and set about digging some more fence post holes while I pulled on the chainsaw trousers to make a start on cutting up the pile of wood that was big for Tess to tackle with the chop saw last week.

As the fuel ran out in the chainsaw and the light faded, Helen helped stack the logs I'd cut then went to put the geese to bed while I herded the cats and tended to the dog before lighting the fire, writing the blog, helping cook lunch for tomorrow and soon trying the cow head stew (which I'm sure will taste much better than my description makes it sound!).

So a much better day today than yesterday - far more enjoyable and something more akin to the perfect balance we'd started to settle into. Tomorrow promises to be another warm day with a chance of more fencing progress and maybe even some wood splitting which I can't wait to get into again!

Saturday 22 November 2014

Playtime pup

Last night's visit to Pescia was a mixed success. Reggie coped well with his walk around town, but when we turned up at Mimmo's porchetta truck, he became very scared - scared of the bright lights and scared of the strange people. Michelle was also there - she'd just popped down to bring some of her home cooked biscuits - so we had a chat with her while deliberating over what to order and trying to reassure Reggie and keep him at a safe distance from the scary truck. Mimmo had a special wild boar (cinghiale) burger on the menu tonight, which sounded tempting.

While Nick, Tess and Stuart ordered up two cinghiale burgers and two spicy sausage panini, I took Reggie off to the safety and quiet of the car. He jumped into the boot and settled himself down amongst the shopping bags, looking a little more comfortable than he had done outside - so I sat with him, and ate my spicy sausage panino while perched on the edge of the car boot. Stuart had ordered the cinghiale burger and offered me a taste - WOW. All four of us agreed that this was simply THE best burger we had ever tasted. Nick and Tess were so impressed that Nick ordered up a second round - in the end he plumped for a porchetta panino, but it was a close run thing between that and another cinghiale burger. Tess wondered if they could import Mimmo and his truck into New Zealand...

Ciao Mimmo!

Is this the best burger in the world?

Once all the pork products had been dispatched, we clambered back into the car feeling very satisfied and made our way back up the hill. Reggie took a little coaxing to come out of the car from his safe spot, but once he realised he was back home, he soon perked up. As we poured a glass of wine eat and tried Michelle's chestnut cake and shortbread biscuits, Reggie found his play mode again. He spent the next couple of hours collecting 'toys' and flitting from one toy to another - his pile of toys at the end of the evening comprised: two steel toe-capped boots (each dragged to his toy pile by the laces), one slipper, one purple pig toy (a real doggy toy), one rope toy (another real doggy toy), half an empty cereal packet, the brush from the dustpan and brush, and a stick from the pile of kindling. He had a great time playing and seemed to have forgotten the trauma of the scary porchetta van.

We finally all retired to bed after a pre-bed toilet trip for Reggie and hoped we could stretch out his overnight toilet trip to a little later in the morning.

Reggie was good as gold through the night, and Stuart managed to eke out his early hours toilet trip to 6.30am - progress! I got myself up at around 8am to take Reggie out for a short walk up and down the drive.

After breakfast, it was time for Reggie to experience true freedom - with the fencing and gates all beautifully finished yesterday, the coast was now clear (or rather secure) for Reggie to be allowed into the lawned area of the garden without his lead on - and to experience full on puppy play time without being yanked by his lead or having any restrictions.

He LOVED the garden. He ran joyfully round and round, skidded across the grass after the ball, did some big-dog barking, chased after us, chewed grass, played tug-of-war with the ivy trailing up the olive tree, and looked truly happy.

After about an hour's play time, he rehydrated with a cup of tea before coming back indoors for a rest:

Our weekends over the last month or so seem to have become somewhat more mundane than they used to feel - for the last several weeks running, after the anticipation of the weekend has come the disappointment of 1. no longer being able to indulge in a lie-in (thanks to having geese duties as well as dog duties) and more importantly, 2. having to fill our weekend days with chores such as supermarket shopping, cooking, washing and cleaning. Today was no different, and so it was that next on the agenda was to write a shopping list and then head into town for the weekly supermarket shop.

We crossed our fingers that Reggie's garden playtime would have been enough to quieten him down for a couple of hours and headed out, leaving him and the cats home alone for the first time.

Before heading out, we dropped off a map of the area with Nick and Tess, who were planning to do a bit of local exploring today, and maybe try out one of the restaurants in Sorana for lunch. Having been here for a week and a half this would be the first they had really seen of our valley, so we hoped they would enjoy it.

Our first stop in town was Atum, the tool shop. Stuart had ordered a reciprocating saw and a new blade for his chop saw - but neither of them had arrived yet (despite having been told last weekend that they would be ready to collect on Monday), so we went on our way and headed next into the main square. We went into Franco's, our favourite coffee shop, for a cappucino and some delicious pine nut biscotti to fortify us before hitting the supermarket.

The supermarket trip wasn't too bad really, and at 1pm it was as quiet as it gets on a Saturday - but it's never going to be one of our favourite pastimes and never top of our weekend wishlist!

With the shopping loaded into the car, we headed back up the hill to find out how Reggie had fared on his own. Of course, he was fine - although we took him straight outside for a toilet trip for good measure. We had a late lunch of leftover soups (having overestimated portion sizes of both Tuscan bean and leek and potato during the week) then took Reggie for another walk along the drive and another short play on the lawn.

By the time we'd done that, it was 3.30pm - the weather was gloomy (misty with low cloud), but not actually wet, and we knew there would be another hour and a half of daylight left. There was only one thing for it - try to eke something productive out of an otherwise unsatisfying day - so we both went and changed our clothes, Stuart mixed up a bucket of mortar, and we spent the next hour and a half doing some more re-pointing of the garden wall.

The bucket of mortar ran out just as the light was starting to fade, so we packed the tools away, I put the geese to bed, then we got the cats in and headed along the drive to stretch Reggie's legs again before settling for the evening.

Dinner tonight is vegetable fajitas, and maybe (who knows) we will even get an early night and chance to open a book before sleep! (Then again...!)

[With thanks to Nick Maskell for most of today's photos!]