Saturday 28 February 2015

Lunch with a view

We all had a lovely time with the Phillipses last night - the best tasting eggs and chips we'd ever eaten (eggs courtesy of the Phillips chickens, cooking courtesy of Sue) - along with great company as usual. Even Reggie was well behaved, and we managed just about to stick to our intended curfew, saying our goodbyes at around 11.40pm. We did well to restrain ourselves from staying longer, but it still made for a later night than usual, so it was with a weary head that I stumbled out of bed this morning to go and see to all the animals before starting on some exercise.

The fresh air soon woke me up though, as is usually the case, and I never cease to be amazed by the view from our patio - it makes me feel glad to have got out of bed.

Exercise and shower done, Stuart and I headed off into Pescia to do the weekly supermarket shop, leaving Sheila to a slightly slower morning with a cup of tea and Reggie for company. This week's was a bigger supermarket shop than usual as we have two helpers arriving on Monday, so will be catering for four of us for the week (indeed the fortnight) ahead. As we trundled around the aisles in Lidl, I was surprised to turn around and hear Stuart speaking to some people. It turned out that an elderly Italian couple had stopped him to ask for cooking advice! They had seen him put two trays of brussels sprouts (cavolini) in his trolley and wanted to know how to cook and serve them! Clearly brussels sprouts are not a staple of the Tuscan diet, and Stuart was more than happy to share with the couple our recipe for what we like to call 'Christmas pasta' - a pasta dish we make with sautéed brussels sprouts along with pancetta, chestnuts, and either goats cheese or salad ricotta (which is a hard version of ricotta which tastes similar to feta). I know that brussels sprouts divide opinion almost as much as Marmite - so let's hope the couple turn out to be in the brussels sprout loving camp rather than the haters!

After Lidl, our trip around Esselunga was far less eventful and we left without having passed any of our culinary tips onto any of the local community.

We went straight home, unpacked the shopping and collected up Reggie and Sheila to head out for a walk along the refuge track. The morning was lovely and bright and sunny, and by the time we'd been walking for a few minutes we were all sweltering in the layers of clothing we'd brought out with us. Spring really does seem to be on a roll here - the woods and verges are covered with crocuses and well as other cheery splashes of colour.

When we decided that Reggie had stretched his legs sufficiently, we jumped back in the car and headed to Montecarlo. Montecarlo has to be our favourite place to visit in the local area - it's a quiet and pretty fortified village in a hill in the middle of the plains. This means that there are stunning views all around the village and it is the most beautiful place to walk around and a lovely place to have a quiet drink or lunch. We'd visited Montecarlo the last time Sheila stayed with us, back in July, and she had said that she would quite like to go back again this time. Since the last time she was there, Stuart and I have discovered the lovely La Terrazza restaurant - a friendly and welcoming restaurant serving great food and with a dining room with simply stunning views. We decided that it was time to introduce Sheila to La Terrazza. They have always been happy for Reggie to come in with us (we have visited with him twice before), and today was no exception, so we had a table for three (plus dog) next to the window.

We shared an antipasti starter, and followed that with an enormous pork cutlet for Stuart, and enormous pizzas each for Sheila and me. Reggie had a few crumbs of bread and some doggie chews that we had brought with us. For the most part, he was very well behaved indeed - there was a growl at one of the staff, but he soon calmed down and spent most of the time lying in the sunshine on my coat.

After a very satisfying lunch, we ambled back to the car, taking in the views on the way. We were quite surprised to realise that you can see as far as the Abetone mountains from Montecarlo - while we were enjoying mild spring-like temperatures, in the distance was a very large, very snowy mountain. (The photograph isn't great, but you get the general idea.)

We arrived back at the house at around 3.30pm - as we were driving along the main road in the valley, we went slowly in order to get a good view of our house and how the terracing is looking these days. We were quite pleased with what we saw! As well as the terraces beneath the house having been revealed (which are still somewhat obscured by the tops of the trees at the bottom of the hill), the little bit of tidying work I've done on terraces 10-12 above the house have really squared things off and made it look a lot more well defined.

Having seen all that on our way home, what else could we possibly do with the rest of the afternoon other than don our work clothes and get out there to do more work? Stuart concentrated his efforts on creating some more smart-looking steps in the terrace above the house, while I took the hedge trimmers down to terrace no.7 beneath the house to finish clearing that one, and make a large dent in terrace no.8 as well. I carried on working until the hedge trimmers ran out of fuel - by which time the light was fading, the temperature was dropping and my energy was flagging, so we both called it a day, packed up our tools and retired indoors to join Sheila and Reggie by the fire.

Tonight is Sheila's last night here with us (on this trip at least) - the time seems to have gone very quickly and we will all miss her when she goes back to the UK. She will probably be heading home for a well deserved rest as she has worked so hard on her so-called 'holiday' with us! From tending bonfires to weeding, raking, moving wood, collecting fire wood, cleaning, tidying, washing up and dog-sitting, you would hardly call it a relaxing holiday, but we've really appreciated the help and hopefully she has enjoyed herself.

So tonight will probably be a fairly quiet and relatively early evening - with maybe a cheeky round of Aperol spritzes to round off Sheila's holiday.

Friday 27 February 2015

Fun filled Friday... (for some).

This morning I had planned to take Mom into Pescia - nothing new there, except today we planned to make the journey by bus, and that definitely is new.

After breakfast, Mom and I both turned our tablet PCs and our attention to finding out the bus times. As you might expect, this wasn't an easy task. We did find timetables of a sort, but we also found lots of conflicting information about the running hours of the buses, and before we knew it ten o'clock had been and gone, leaving us with little time to walk into the village, wait for a bus and then do anything useful in town before attempting the return journey to get home in time for lunch - so we gave up on that idea, left Helen and Reggie in the office and headed into town in the car.

We walked along the river and into town in the warm late morning sun and meandered towards the piazza, stopping at the pet shop en route to buy a tick removing tool as the pair of tweezers we've been using at home just aren't cutting the mustard and Lucca has amassed a collection of several over the last couple of days. I'm seriously considering getting a GPS tag for him (and Florence) so that I can work out exactly where it is he's going to collect so many! Anyway, the pet shop only had one set of tick tweezers (pinza per zecche) left on the shelf, so I grabbed them - only when I got home and opened the packet did I notice that the back of the packet rather sweetly describes them in English as 'Tweezers for Twicks'! 

With tweezers in hand, we headed for the Piazza and ginseng cappuccinos in Franco's coffee shop. As usually happens, one turned into two, the second accompanied by little pine nut biscotti. This was a very restrained choice as we were sitting only a few feet away from the glass counter displaying a huge selection of delicious looking cakes and biscuits and we had both spent the time it took to drink the first coffee gazing at the offerings. I think sometimes not being fluent in the language is a help, as the language barrier today definitely also acted as a calorie barrier - had I known what all these amazing looking cakes were called I'd have done a bit more damage!

After coffees, we went across to the farmacia to buy a blood pressure monitor. As you'll know if you've read recent blogs, I've been to see my doctor here a handful of times over the last few months. Each and every time, as a matter of course, he checks my blood pressure - it was rarely checked in the UK, but whenever it was, it was always 'fine' (whatever that meant, I had no understanding of what the numbers meant at all). However, each time I've had it checked here, it has been around 140 over 86. When the doctor first told me this, he looked at me like I should know what that meant - my blank expression told him more than my Italian vocabulary ever could, and he said 'less salt'. Admittedly, we had been living a little like we were on holiday through the summer and there was definitely room to reduce our salt intake - which is exactly what I did, and got back to normal eating double quick.

Rather disappointingly, on each subsequent visit I was met with a similar reading and the same line of advice. Since we eat fresh food, cook all of our meals ourselves and I've stopped adding salt to most things, I so figured I might be suffering from a bit of white coat syndrome (having a higher blood pressure when in the doctor's surgery) and that testing my own blood pressure at home would be a sensible thing to do - especially as Mom informs me high blood pressure runs in the family.

After leaving the piazza, we crossed the bridge into the Santa Maria quarter and decided to investigate the shop called Giannino. It has a rather small exterior, but after peering inside a while back while walking the dog, it seemed deceptively large and intriguing, so as we were dog-free this morning, we ventured inside. It turned out to be a department store selling everything from clothes to fabrics to bed linen and even door mats over three floors - nothing compared to a Macy's or House of Fraser, but considering its location, a surprisingly large store and today a very busy one! We'd walked in on sale day and walked out after enduring a lengthy queue for the till with a rather nice turquoise jacket (for Mom) that had been reduced by about 90% to €5!

As it was now almost noon we called it a day in town, went into Lidl where we acquired six bottles of Prosecco for the princely sum of €2.79 per bottle and some dog food for our ever growing puppy before going home for a steaming bowl of spicy chick pea soup.

After lunch it was a change of pace and a change of clothes as it was time to put some work in outside while Helen spent an hour finishing her office work for the day.

Mom headed first to the wood pile to trim some of the bits of tree strewn about the place before taking a rake to the lawn to try and get up some of the gravel that had revealed itself once the green green grass of summer had receded.

I busied myself with making some steps up to the upper terraces while keeping an eye on the dog. A little later, Helen appeared in her work clothes, and then quickly disappeared with a fully fuelled set of hedge trimmers in her hands onto the lower terraces to continue clearing terrace no.7 below the house. We whiled away the afternoon until the sun disappeared around 5pm and had packed up our tools by 6pm as darkness threatened.

This evening we're going down to the Phillips house to be sociable for the evening before Mom returns home on Sunday. We've been told there is an 11:30pm curfew as the boys have school tomorrow morning, so we'll see just how that goes - it won't be the first time there has been a curfew, but it would be the first time we've stuck to it!

Thursday 26 February 2015

Pruning, pruning, pruning.

Yesterday's rain blew over during the night and left us with an overcast but dry and mild start to the day, so after breakfast my focus returned to the olive pruning.

Helen, of course, was in the office as usual, and as I disappeared up the terraces and out of sight with my trusty Felco secateurs and pruning saw, Mom entertained herself with giving the apartment the once-over ready for Monday's guests (another set of HelpX helpers), collecting firewood for this evening and dragging a whole pile of branches to the wood pile from half way along the drive - a job I'd been meaning to do for weeks since leaving them there after felling my first trees but all I've done is drive past them so far.

My pruning was interrupted by someone hammering their vehicle horn as they approached the house down the driveway. As I got closer I could see it was the UPS courier. He's only visited once before and that time he asked me to meet him at the end of the drive as he had no idea if he'd be able to turn his van around once at the house. This time, my sign on the gate indicating that there is turning space at the house obviously did the trick - so that's two couriers and the postal service now happy to drive to the house! I think the problematic GLS courier will be too tough a nut to crack, but we'll take what we can get.

I signed his electronic device as he was talking about my phone - I couldn't quite follow him but told him that the land line wasn't working but this didn't seem to be what he was saying. Either way, the transaction was done by then so he hopped into his van, turned and left me standing there with an envelope marked 'extremely urgent'. I searched my mind for what it could possibly be - as far as I knew we had no orders outstanding, and as I walked towards the house opening it, a feeling of impending doom descended on me - this could only be bad news surely? Yet another costly bureaucratic hurdle to got over?

To my surprise and enormous relief, it was far from bad news - it was our tickets for Paolo Nutini's appearance at the Lucca Summer Festival in July, courtesy of Mom and my brother Lee as an early birthday present. For those who don't know, Lucca is a beautiful walled city 18km from here - we go there fairly regularly and always make a point of taking visiting friends and family there as, for us, it's much more beautiful and certainly more relaxed and peaceful than either Pisa or Florence. Each summer they hold a music festival in the large piazza which attracts all manner of international acts that play to a small number of ticket holders. I'd be surprised if the piazza held more than two or three thousand, so it's a really intimate gig for all concerned. Last year saw Stevie Wonder and the Prodigy play, this year's line up includes Robbie Williams, Mark Knopfler, Billy Idol, Elton John, The Script, and Lenny Kravitz, and when it was announced last week that Paolo Nutini had added a date in Lucca, we couldn't resist.

I went back to my pruning until lunchtime neared. Helen was on a Skype conference call, so while Mom babysat the dog to ensure he didn't rudely interrupt the call, I went down to see Amanda to grab something quick and easy for lunch - I left with some freshly baked home-made lasagne.

After lunch it was back to work for all until around three o'clock when Helen clocked off from the day job and we all piled into the car to take Reggie for a walk. Today we decided to try and find another quiet track just beyond Vellano that our friends Donatella and Alex use to walk their dog Ray. As instructed, we parked the car and found the track and once sure there was no one else around, we let Reggie off the lead to stretch his legs.

Reggie had a wail of a time until he accidentally inhaled a dog treat - Helen had given him a treat for having come to her when she whistled and called him, but he hadn't even stopped to chew before cantering off again. Remember your Mum always telling you not to eat and walk/run at the same time? Well Reggie clearly didn't listen. He coughed and spluttered and tried to shift it, but to no avail, so we were left with no choice but to turn back and get him some water to try and soften the blockage. We turned back knowing there was a water fountain near the end of the track.

It wasn't long before Reggie's repeated attempts at hacking up the biscuit were rewarded (sorry if you're reading this while eating your breakfast), and he was soon back to his old self again. That was until we crossed a small stream. We had crossed the exact same stream going up the track only ten minutes earlier and he hadn't blinked an eye, but for whatever reason on the way back he took great offence to the babbling brook and had a good bark at it, only stopping when he was sure it knew who was boss.

We were soon back at the car and enjoying the views as we drove down the road through Vellano back towards home.

When we got home, Helen and I went back up the terrace for a couple of hours - I went back to pruning and Helen went to work with her hedge trimmers and saw, cutting back acacia and bramble. We busied ourselves until 6pm when the light stated to fade and Reggie - who had been busying himself by chasing around the terraces and woods - had collapsed in a heap near to me.

After putting the geese to bed, we retired to the house where Mom had already got a nice toasty fire going and set about settling ourselves down for the evening.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

All change

I say 'all change' because the weather put a stop to play today, as did our late night with Steve, causing the equivalent of an emergency stop on any progress with outdoor work.

We all woke slowly if at all this morning - Steve knocked on the door to say his goodbyes and head off Rome-wards at 6.10am, following which I headed straight back to my pillow and duvet. Helen dragged herself out of bed at 7.15am to go and do the rounds of the animals and attempt some exercise, and by the time breakfast came round, we were all present in body, if not so much in mind. The late night seemed to have taken the wind out of all of our sails, and that combined with some strong gusting winds, grey skies and a smattering of rain made for a very lethargic start to the day. It was only later when I contacted Alex further up the valley near Vellano that we found out that the winds we experienced here first thing this morning were nothing in comparison with what had been going on just that short way further north of us - so much so that Alex and Donatella barely slept a wink and we heard reports of trees having fallen and blocked roads near to the village of Aramo further along the valley. We can only assume that the hill behind us sheltered us from the worst that mother nature had to offer on this occasion.

After breakfast, I decided it was time to tackle the ever growing to-do list we have scribbled on a piece of paper that has been pushed around the kitchen worktop for days in favour of tree pruning.

First on the list was to call the septic tank guys in Pescia again. I had called them two weeks ago, when they said they would come the following day, but they didn't turn up, and still hadn't come to view the problem, so my hopes were low. Nevertheless, I thought I'd give them a second chance before trying someone else since, as far as I can tell from the equivalent of the Yellow Pages, they are the only people in Pescia that offer the service of tank emptying and where possible we like to keep money in the local community.

I called and explained that I had called two weeks ago and asked when they were coming to visit. I was then handed on to the guy I had spoken to last time, and after asking him to repeat himself a couple of times, I gathered that he said he'd be here in half an hour (at least that's what I thought he said).

Feeling I was on a roll, I thought I'd try calling Izet again - this is a guy who has helped Sue and Chris in the past with the moving of large items as he has a flat-back truck. A few weeks ago, I met Alex in Pescia to attempt to collect some large 1,000-litre water tanks but I had to leave empty-handed because they turned out to be too large for our Fiat Doblo. I'm hoping Izet and his flat-back truck can help (for a fee of course!). I'd had no luck in getting through to him when I last called, and this morning was no different - there was just a pre-recorded message from the mobile operator telling me that he wasn't available.

I was therefore more than a little surprised when ten minutes later he called me back. I used most of my Italian vocabulary to get me to a point at which he had agreed to help collect and deliver the tanks, but after that where I ran into trouble and ended up telling him that I would ask a friend to call him to arrange the finer details. I then burdened poor Donatella with the task of calling him to seal the deal. (Thanks a lot Donatella!)

I was now feeling like I was making some real progress this morning and was turning this ship steadily around.

I have to say that I had very little faith in seeing the septic tank guys at all, never mind in as little as half an hour. Sure enough, an hour passed, but then I heard the unmistakable sound of tyres crunching on gravel and a couple of guys in high-vis jackets rolled up in a little Opel Corsa - it was the septic tank guys!

I took them to the fence outside the apartment from where you can look down the two terraces to the problematic tank. Here, the disconcerting act of sucking in air through the teeth and rubbing chins commenced - the international signal for some bad news coming my way! Knowing very little about septic tanks, Helen and I had discussed trying to re-start the tank with a new batch of enzymes but decided that getting the thing pumped completely and starting from scratch was the most sensible solution as we definitely need it sorting before any paying guests arrive. However, it soon became clear that, according to the experts, the tank was beyond pumping. Not only that, but they said that its current location is not good, that rain would be adding to the problem, and that we are in danger of losing a large chunk of our recently uncovered terrace by way of a landslide as the tank is now full and overflowing! They recommended a brand new tank, and suggested burying it in the ground alongside the house (on the 'extension' plot that we are no longer planning to extend on). So the worst news possible, really, and we're expecting a hefty quote (preventivo) this weekend, open receiving which I'm sure we'll be doing a bit of our own type of air sucking in through the teeth!

After a lengthy discussion with these guys which lasted an hour, they left me to my day.

After lunch, I chopped a bit of wood up before going indoors to sort out the to do-list for the afternoon.

Helen decided to admit defeat on office work at this point, thanks to tiredness and a headache making staring at a computer screen particularly difficult, and instead to join us on our errands - especially when she learned those errands included hitting Bar Pulter for a coffee.

Helen, Mom, Reggie and I therefore piled into the car and, after getting some much needed fresh air by walking Reggie the length of the track from San Lorenzo to Pescia and back, we parked the car in the piazza in town and headed for a caffeine hit in Bar Pulter.

With coffees dispatched, our next stop was the bank. Today's mission was to try and register for internet banking. It was 3:25pm, the bank had been open for 25 minutes since lunch and would only be open for another 25 minutes before closing for the day.

Fortunately, there was only one person ahead of us when we went in, and we were soon called over by Gianguido, the smiley guy who speaks pretty good English. After explaining we wanted to set up internet banking, he set about bashing away on the keyboard, disappearing to collect printouts, stapling the printouts, highlighting bits of the printouts, making phone calls, giving someone our mobile number, writing on envelopes, disappearing off for an electronic key fob then asking me to sign numerous pages of contract, sometimes three signatures per page. What an effort! All this took about 20 minutes, but at least it looked like only one of us was going to have to do this for both accounts... or so I thought! How foolish of me. He then announced that mine was done, and he now needed to do the same for Helen. This brought frustrated sighs from the people who were by now waiting in the queue behind, but we felt slightly better about the situation when we realised that another couple had been at the other counter for longer than we had (although clearly this wasn't any comfort to those in the queue!).

After Helen had signed her name the 15-odd times that were required, we were taken into an office to be shown how to log on and start our internet banking. We were also asked to sign some declarations to inform the bank where some of our recently transferred savings funds had come from (anti-money-laundering? or just Italians' love of paperwork?) before we finally escaped the now empty (and firmly closed) bank and headed off to pay the electricity bill at the tabaccheria.

With that done, we decided enough was enough, and as it was now almost 5pm we would head home - but not before stopping at the petrol station to buy some antifreeze and paying Frateschi's a visit to ask about replacing a tyre on a wheelbarrow wheel (turns out you don't replace the tyre, you just buy a whole new wheel for the princely sum of €14). As well as the new wheel, I also left Frateschi's with a packet that had been delivered there for me... my replacement batch of LIVE worms had arrived for the wormery!

When we got home it was all hands to the pump to round up the cats, take the dog in, feed all of the above, put the geese away, collect wood for the fire, start the fire, peel the sprouts, write the blog, test the internet banking (which kind of works, in that we can each log into our accounts, but doesn't actually display anything - no balance is shown, no transactions are shown - we are hoping that this is just because it takes a couple of days for the information to filter through...) and settle down for what we're planning to be an early night.

After watching me do it for days, Florence and Lucca tried their hand at olive pruning this morning.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Porridge delivery!

When Reggie started whining in his crate for the second time this morning (after already having been up for his morning toilet trip with Helen and had his breakfast), I got up to find Helen outside on the turbo trainer in the rain - the weather folk had it right and today was damp as predicted.

After helping Helen bring her equipment inside, I shovelled down a bowl of cereal and disappeared off to work in the apartment shortly after 8am - before Mom had even risen. The reason for my prompt start today was that we have offered to put up an old friend of mine, Steve, for the night as he's driving from England to Rome. When he suggested dropping in to say hello it seemed too good an opportunity to miss as I haven't seen him in ages.

But before Steve could rest his weary head in the apartment, I had a bit of work to do - at the start of the day today the bed was standing up on its end, the mattress was in another room and the bedroom was full of tools, wood, plasterboard, boxes of screws and sawdust... I had work to do!

The plasterboarding of the walls didn't take very long at all - perhaps half an hour (but you wouldn't expect anything less than from a former plasterer I guess) - then I had to cut the wood to size for the shelf tops, it's a little hard to explain, but the photograph will paint a thousand words:

I got as far as I could then swept up before dropping the bed back into place and going back upstairs to make a huge batch of our spicy Moroccan chickpea soup, some of which was for lunch today, and the rest of which was for the freezer in anticipation of having extra mouths to feed when we have another set of HelpX helpers with us next week.

While I messed around weighing out the cooked chickpeas, Mom went to work on a pile of onions and a bulb of garlic and it wasn't long before the room was filled with the smells of garlic, onions, cinnamon and other delicious spices.

After lunch, Helen went back to the office and Mom and I went downstairs to clean up and make ready for our guest.

As the rain started to slow and the sky slowly brightened, we shut the door to the apartment and went back upstairs to wait for Steve to arrive. I knew he was late leaving Birmingham last night and that his original ETA was midday today, but that was before he'd done any driving.

At 3.30pm, the long awaited phone call came from Mr Marles, he was only 14 miles away!
Within half an hour we had spotted his van driving up the main road out of the village below us, and a few short minutes later a very weary Steve clambered out of the van. He had set off from Birmingham at 8pm last night and had only stopped for fuel and coffee along the way - that's quite some driving! He brought with him a mammoth 11.5kg of porridge oats, for which Helen and I are very, very grateful (we can suspend the rationing of porridge for the time being!).

That's what 11.5kg of porridge oats looks like!

After I'd made Steve another coffee and had a quick catch up, I showed him down to the apartment so that he could crash out for a few hours while Helen, Mom and I went into town to walk the dog.

After a good stretch of everyone's legs along the river banks we drove back up the valley with darkness quickly descending so that we could out the geese to bed and feed our four-legged friends before sorting out dinner plans for the evening - plans that all hinge on Steve. If it was me down there having missed a night's sleep driving I'd have a 'do not disturb' sign on the door by now and would have no plans to resurface until tomorrow morning, but that's me!

Monday 23 February 2015

A dose of sunshine to banish those Monday blues!

With Helen back at home after her trip away, this morning started when she resumed her animal duties at 7am.

I lay in bed and contemplated getting up as Reggie (who was now back in his crate so that Helen could exercise without having to keep running round the corner to make sure he wasn't jumping the fence) was having a bit of a whine. He obviously didn't whine for long though, as when I next looked at the clock an hour had passed!

Once Mom had surfaced after a slow start thanks to a less than perfect sleep, we had breakfast and got ready to head over to OBI to buy some wood and plasterboard. We left Reggie and Helen at home and set off on our way.

The weather was so lovely and sunny that we had to switch the heater off in the car and open the windows. It really was a beautiful morning and it was hard to believe we're expecting a full day of rain tomorrow.

Once I'd found out where the trolleys for large items lived, and handed over my identity card in return for one, we went and loaded three large sheets of plasterboard onto it. For a moment, it almost felt like old times, except this time it was Mom helping to load the plasterboard rather than my friend and workmate Dodge.

We squeezed through the tills with the enormous sheets of gypsum, loaded them into the car then went back in for some huge pieces of pine (for shelving). With all that strapped to the roof bars and my trolley returned in exchange for my hard-fought-for identity card, we hit the road as the clock hit noon.

It was lunch time when we got home, and you'll be pleased (or not) to hear that we ate on the patio outside today. There was a cool breeze, but the sun was just warm enough to make it pleasant.

I had planned to spend the afternoon doing some work in the apartment (fitting the plasterboard to the new wooden stud work in the bedroom), but the weather was just too good to be inside so I canned that idea and went back to pruning olive trees. While I did that, Mom lit and tended a fire on the first terrace to make a start on burning the olive cuttings that are strewn all over the terraces from last week's efforts.

An hour or so later, Helen emerged into the sun with hedge trimmers in hand and headed up the terraces to push up onto terrace no. 12 (that's terrace no. 19 if you count from the lowest one we've reached beneath the house).


At the top you see the beginnings of the clearing of terrace no.12 above the house.

It's a long way down.

As the afternoon drew rapidly on, one by one, we called time on our day's work: Mom took Reggie indoors to light the wood burner while I burnt the last of the pile of clippings, then took I Reggie for a walk around the woods while Helen finished up on the terraces and Mom collected the evening's firewood.

By the time Reggie and I got back to the house the fire was alight, wood piled next to it, and Helen was putting the geese away. As the sun sank towards the horizon, we were treated to a spectacular red sky - the photo below just doesn't do it justice.

Tomorrow promises rain - which is hard to believe after the last two beautiful days we've had - and a visit from an old conference colleague of mine who is en route to a job in Rome.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Home on the range

When I got up this morning (at 3.50am) I was in Bristol and the temperature was -1C. By late morning I was in rural Tuscany sitting in the sunshine in a t-shirt, and by mid-afternoon I was on the terraces working up a full-on sweat. It's been quite a long day!

My morning started with my dear devoted parents driving me to Bristol airport at 4.30am - Dad had to scrape ice off the car before we set off and we all hurried from the car to the terminal building to get into the warmth as quickly as possible.

I've had a really lovely trip to the UK - it has been wonderful to spend time with my family and to catch up with some of my friends who were kind enough to make the trip from Oxfordshire to Gloucestershire (Allison), Oxfordshire to Bristol (Jennie, Becky, Lena and Kath), and to cook me a delicious dinner (Louise). I have been showered with hugs and cuddles from my gorgeous nephew and nieces and have really enjoyed catching up with my sister, brother-in-law and of course Mum and Dad. The strangest thing about the whole trip was how normal everything felt - after not having been in the UK for 9 months, I felt as if I had slipped back into UK living almost instantaneously. Of course I missed our little piece of Italy, Stuart and our menagerie immensely, and as sad as I was to leave my UK-based loved ones, I really looked forward to coming home.

So, after a busy but smooth flight from Bristol to Pisa, I was greeted by the smiling faces of Stuart and Sheila at the arrivals gate, and in the car was Reggie's gorgeous little face too. I wasn't entirely happy with the level of enthusiasm with which he greeted me - he did seem pleased to see me, but no more excited than he would be at any other time when he'd been sitting in his travel crate for a while, so was possibly just excited at the prospect of stretching his legs rather than seeing me. Hmmpf. Never mind, I was excited to see him.

Once I'd said my hellos to Reggie and loaded my case in the car we set off homeward bound. The weather was clear and sunny (which wasn't what I had been expecting - the forecast for today had been for rain), the distant snow-capped mountains looked beautiful as we drove eastwards and I felt very happy to be back.

Rather than heading straight home, we parked up in Pescia and let Reggie out to stretch his legs after patiently sitting through the drive all the way to Pisa and back.

We parked on the Lidl side of the river and started our walk along the bank. We hadn't gone very far before we bumped into a young woman walking her dog. As usually happens, Reggie wanted to say hello to the dog, so we stopped and let the two dogs sniff each other, saying 'buongiorno' to the dog's owner and running through the usual set of small talk: male or female? is he/she a puppy? how old? It wasn't long before the woman said she'd met us before - she works with Mimmo at his truck! She introduced her dog as Lola, telling us that Lola was 9 months old. The dogs looked friendly and playful, so she suggested we let them off the leads and allowed them to play. This was Reggie's first full-on unrestricted play with another dog and the pair of them tore around joyfully - jumping, running, somersaulting over each other and not batting an eyelid when they crashed into our legs, nearly bowling us over in the process. This went on for a good five minutes and we joked that we needn't even walk Reggie afterwards, his playtime was so energetic. We eventually dragged Reggie away from his new girlfriend though, and carried on with our walk along the river.

Reggie and Lola.

We continued walking along the river for a little way before heading towards town and Piazza Mazzini. The weather was so beautiful that we decided to sit outside Bar Poulter with a coffee - it wasn't long before we were peeling off layers of clothing and sitting in t-shirts and still feeling overdressed.

After our coffees, we headed back to the car and back up the hill. We stopped at Amanda's on the way to get something tasty for lunch. We opted to share two portions of lasagne and two portions of baccala in tomato sauce, along with a side dish of peas.

There was a welcoming committee for me when I got home: Florence and Lucca both came to sit on the stairs (at a safe distance from Reggie) and look down at us in the kitchen. (I'm not sure they really were excited to see me, but that's how I'm choosing to tell it.)

"Welcome home!!"

By the time we'd finished lunch, the rain still hadn't come (and it didn't look like it was going to). That could mean only one thing: it was time to change into work clothes and head for the terraces.

While I headed up to the uppermost terraces above the house with the hedge trimmers, Stuart headed for the olive trees for more pruning, Sheila headed for the garden and flower beds for weeding and tidying, and Reggie amused himself with a bone. We worked at our various tasks for a good couple of hours before the tiredness started to nag at me and the sun started to drop behind the hill, signalling the start of the rapid drop in temperature and time to pack up and head inside.

This evening, I'm looking forward to an Aperol spritz and an evening by the fire, followed by an early night - happy to be home after a lovely mini-break.

Saturday 21 February 2015


As is now our custom on Saturday we we're up and out of the house heading for the supermarkets before nine, having fed and released all of the animals...including ourselves.

Overnight the clouds had rolled in and so we drove down into a rather grey looking Pescia with very ominous looking clouds gathering further up the valley north of us in my rear view mirror.

In true whirlwind style we were in and out of the first supermarket in under forty minutes having left with a full trolley which largely contained vegetables (Helen, you can look forward to sprouts, a squash based Thai curry, and artichoke gnocchi amongst other things next week).

As we pulled into the car park of Esselunga we were greeted with a fuller car park than I've ever seen! So full was it (the car park is so huge it will never be short of spaces) that we had to park two rows further away than normal and it was still before ten in the morning, I stated it must be an overflow of people parking for the market in the centre of wrong I was, the shop was busier than at Christmas, there was clearly something going on today that I was clearly oblivious to, at one point there was an actual five trolley traffic jam at the end of an isle that took sometime to clear, Mom managed to narrowly avoid the pile up with our trolley but I still got stuck in it and was last to leave even with trolley or basket, fortunately it was all without incident.

It was gone half ten before we escaped the shop, a good half hour later than we'd normally be leaving but despite that it was still good to have the task of shopping behind us and we drove back up the valley towards home facing ever greyer skies.

After quickly throwing the shopping bags indoors we headed back out to the refuge track near San Quirico to allow Reggie his usual romp around the woods before the precipitation started and as we got back into the car the rain finally started falling, by the time we were back at the house it was falling in earnest, right on cue according to the trusty weather app.

While I unpacked the shopping mom collected another four crates of firewood exclaiming 'it's no wonder you look so thin with this kind of daily routine!', we then sat down to our tasty bean dip with bread, carrots, celery and of course the ubiquitous cup of tea while the fire got going.

After lunch and with the fire slowly heating up I headed down to the apartment to do a bit more carpentry while mom got the vacuum going in the house and kept an eye on Reggie so that I could achieve something productive with my time downstairs.

Around half three I ran out of wood having made good progress and locked up the apartment before going upstairs to tinker with another little job for an hour, I won't go into detail as it really was a little job but not really worthy of mention, I only do so as it's one that my wife will be glad to see done so I will save it for a surprise tomorrow when she gets home.

Tools away, cats in, geese in, it was time to settle into a bottle of wine while dinner got underway, which tonight is a dinner of rare occurrence in this house but one that will have been chalked up twice already this year and that's beef for dinner along with some form of potato and kale.

So a very busy day and a productive one despite the weather's best efforts, while tomorrow promises more of the wet stuff the morning will be taken up with a return trip to Pisa airport to collect Helen, we've all missed her dearly and we're looking forward to celebrating her return with Aperol spritz, well maybe not immediately on her return as she lands mid-morning, some might say that would signify an alcohol problem.

Friday 20 February 2015

A change of pace but no less productive

We had something resembling a lie in this morning, neither Lucca or Reggie acted as the alarm clock today so when I opened my eyes I was surprised to find it was eight o'clock, a very welcome gift although I assume it was an unconscious one on their part, in more ways than one.

The morning that followed was a leisurely affair to begin with, a couple of mugs of tea while catching up on emails and communicating with Helen back in England over the internet before we decided to sit and have breakfast.

After breakfast and braving the tepid shower I made a dash to Amanda's for a bag of onions and some fresh bread and dashed back home again to start on cooking our Tuscan bean soup, an extra large batch as not only was it for lunch today, but a large batch was destined for the freezer for the coming weeks as we have helpers due again early next month from NYC.

After getting a kilo of pre-soaked cannellini beans simmering with four litres of stock, I needed to do some holiday rental administration as yesterday we took a booking for May meaning May is now largely fully occupied downstairs in the apartment so it looks like it's shaping up to be a good year if things continue in the same way, fingers crossed all of our efforts are going to pay off.

In between letting the dog in and out for either a bark or the toilet (I have a real appreciation for how much he slows down any office work now Helen) it took me until midday to get that part of the day done and I went to finish the soup with the help of the trusty food processor before sitting down with two steaming bowls of it (not both for me I hasten to add) and some lovely fresh bread (most of which I did eat), Mom having worked up an appetite by taking it upon herself to clean the upstairs of the house for us, a job we've done somewhat half heartedly of late as we've been rather preoccupied with the work that needs doing outside (so thanks mom!).

With the soup dispatched I needed to head to the Doctors surgery for a repeat prescription, for those that don't know, the door of the surgery is magically opened to sometime around lunch time as technically his ours start in the village at 1 o'clock but he always arrives at 14:15 prompt  regardless of this (post three course lunch I would imagine), so either you arrive early at around one o'clock and wait for the hour and a quarter knowing that you'll be seen at 14:15 and be on your way shortly afterwards or you take your chances and turn up sometime after one and wait in line, previously I have done the former but as lunch was a bit late today I didn't arrive until half one, happily though there were only two people in there, both of which I soon realised were together, so second in line, result! but by the time Alex and Donatella walked in around 14:40 the waiting room was full, the first time I've seen it like this and that must have put them around tenth in line, I didn't envy their wait as the first couple before me had been in with the doctor for nearly twenty minutes before reappearing.

After getting what I went in for and chatting briefly with Alex and Donatella I left for home to collect Mom and the dog so that we could head into town for a walk along the river.

After a shady and slightly chilly walk up and down the river banks we put Reggie in the car and parked in the Piazza so that we could have a coffee, as we parked up we bumped into Alex and Donatella who must have only just escaped the surgery, after introducing them to Mom we chatted briefly before both heading off our seperate ways although with similar agendas, drugs (of the prescription variety) and caffiene.

Mom and I sat in an unusually quiet Bar Pulter for half an hour and sipped on Cappuccinos while we people watched as the odd person came for a quick shot of coffee and young school children came in for ice creams.

After not one but two cappuccinos each we left to head home as it was now gone four and the fire needed starting soon as the evening's battle with dropping temperatures was on the cards.

When we got back I was pleased to find I had 'caught' two cats, before leaving for town I had set the cat flap to accept incoming traffic only and at some point while the three of us were out both had realised there was no mouthy dog around and had gone indoors for a nap in a warmer place, so after saying hello to them and removing a tick from Florence's temple I went back to pruning olive trees for an hour or so whille Reggie tore around the terraces thoroughly wearing himself out and Mom amused herself by fetching fire wood and lighting the fire before coming out with a rake to try and clear up some of the mess I was making.

Yet again I got lost in the job of pruning and darkness was almost fully upon our hill when Mom called out to tell me there was a cup of tea waiting indoors, so I put the geese away and took Reggie back inside with is tongue hanging out of the corner of his mouth, fed the cats, fed the dog and tapped out this blog post before retiring to the now warm living room for a glass of red and to make a start on dinner.

Thursday 19 February 2015

The prune-a-thon continues!

As spring has decided it has waited quite long enough and that by whatever means necessary it is going to push winter out of the way and take its turn it's become a race to finish all the pruning, it's US vs MOTHER NATURE, except today our own trees would have to wait as Mom and I were off to Lanciole for the day.

After breakfast and making lunch we loaded the car with dog and tools and went up the valley along the now familiar route along the valley bottom dotted with its paper mills, it really is the best commute to 'work' I've ever had and today was especially so as the sky was again crystal clear, the journey does have a little room for improvement sometimes though as occasionally it's marred by the appearance of an artic truck coming in the opposite direction with no intention of giving way, not a regular occurrence fortunately and we didn't have to contend with one today either, we did however encounter a team of guys felling trees alongside the road and we were stopped and made to wait as a tree fell right across the road in front to the sound of a chainsaw buzzing, 'this is going to be some time' I thought.

Fortunately I was wrong, no sooner did those words cross my mind a tractor appeared and shifted the whole lot out of the way and we were waved through, I love Italy for this kind of thing, In the UK that would be a closed road for 24 hours and a lengthy detour but not here, just drive through the debris and make sure you don't hit either the tractor or the guy with the chainsaw, no problem!

Once there and the tea was brewed we got a fire started to continue burning the heap of already pruned wood and I left mom tending the fire while I went with pruning shears in hand to finish the last of the cutting by trimming the five remaining olive trees and so the day was whiled away in glorious sunshine to the distinct smell of burning olive leaves with only a short break for lunch in the middle.
Beautiful views towards Crespole

I'm a fire starter...TWISTED FIRE STARTER!
It wasn't long before we were loaded and heading back down the valley home having finished all the pruning up there now and made a good dent in the burning too.

When we got home we sat on the patio, tea in hand and made another dent in the last of yesterday's fresh cantuccini biscuits as Reggie lazed in the sun after his exertions in Lanciole.
After tea I rounded up the cats, Florence as ever was completely obliging and I thonk she actually expects to be carried indoors of an evening like it's just too much trouble to walk in herself, Lucca on the other hand is less happy about the whole affair but fortunately didn't out up much of a fight this evening.

With the cats safely indoors I spent an hour or so pruning our own Olive trees while Reggie had free run of the terraces and spent his time split between gnawing on the remainder of yesterday's bone and barking into the woods surrounding us, asI type he's just dragged his tired body off the sofa and onto his bed on the floor looking very much like he's crashed for the evening.

A pooped pooch in Lanciole

Mini olive grove...PRUNED!

So a fairly straightforward day today
but one that should see us all sleeping rather well this evening as we approach the end of the week and the end of this little warm spell, rain's due the weekend before the sun makes a reappearance and the temperature increases yet a couple more degrees next week.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Hit the ground running

Yesterday morning Mom and I took Reggie into Pescia for a walk, the weather couldn't have been more different to the day before when she arrived, the forecast predicted a clear warmer front coming in for a few days and it wasn't wrong, clear blue skies and warm sunshine accompanied our walk along the river and the sun had some real warmth to it, I for one was feeling over dressed in a T-shirt and light fleece, the T-shirt would have been just fine.

After a leisurely walk we put Reggie into the car and went for coffee in the nearby coffee shop, not one I'd tried before but I was told by Helen that it was 'OK' and indeed it was, two good cappuccinos later we went back up the valley home to make a start on lunch which today was a reprise of the spicy Moroccan chickpea soup we made last week and an hour later we all sat down to steaming bowls of spicy soup with fresh crusty Tuscan bread.
As lunch was a bit late it was about two o'clock before we had finished and while Helen went back into the office for another hours work Mom and I sat on the patio drinking tea in the warm sunshine.

After tea we got changed and went to work for the remainder of the afternoon, first job was to move the huge pile of wood from the lawn to next years woodpile so while mom loaded the wheelbarrows I ran them to and from the wood pile, that done, mom got to work weeding the herb gardens and sweeping the patio while I made a start on pruning the olive trees on the terraces, we only have forty or so but it's a labour of love and a job that needs some thought and careful cutting, especially as it's all new to me, I'm told that even experienced pruners will only cut around ten trees a day so there's four solid days of pruning at least in front of me.

It wasn't long before Helen appeared and went up to the top terrace behind the house and made a start cutting back the small acacia trees, with it really feeling like winter is on its way out there's a sense of urgency creeping in to get on top of the outside before the greenery starts growing in earnest which will keep us somewhat busy into the summer months.

As Mom and I packed up for the day Helen reappeared from the house with her trusty hedge trimmers and disappeared back up the hill for an hours trimming before coming in to join us in the house to finish packing for her return trip to England the following morning.

After the animals were indoors and fed we settled down to a dinner of artichoke gnocchi which was delicious, even if I do say so myself and now a firm weekly favourite of ours and will be on our menu for as long as we can get our hands on the beautiful Italian artichokes.

After a busy day it was an early night for us all, retiring at ten for the evening with a prompt start in store the next morning to drop Helen at Pisa airport.

We all arose early the next morning (this morning) and were in the car with Reggie before eight and after filling up on methane were west bound on the autostrada for the trip to Pisa during which we all admired the snow covered mountains to the north of us, not only were the marble mountains of Carrara under glistening snow but also the high Apennines above the Garfagnana valley where the ski resort of Abetone is situated.

After a teary goodbye in the departures lounge of Pisa airport we left Helen in the security queue and got back into the car to head homeward bound.

Half way along the autostrada we took the exit for Lucca and decided that on such a lovely sunny day a walk around the city up on the fortified walls was in order and after parking in the usual car park we took Reggie past the market and up onto the relatively quiet walls.

After half an hours strolling in the morning sunshine (which was about half the circumference of the city wall) we took a short detour into town to a coffee shop for a couple of cappuccinos and a light breakfast in the form of a prosciutto crudo pannini, now feeling fully refreshed we hopped back onto the wall and finished the loop before going back to car to head home for lunch.

Before getting back to the house we stopped off at Amanda's alimentari in Pietrabuona to grab something for lunch (pork and olive stew with rosemary roasted potatoes) and then sat out on the patio to eat it in yet another beautifully warm afternoon, so warm that Mom even caught a bit of sun burn, in February!

After lunch and a cup of tea with some fresh Cantuccini biscuits straight out of Amanda's oven we got changed and went back to Olive tree pruning for the afternoon and as I pruned Mom followed behind collecting my mess up and piling it up ready for burning and we whiled away the afternoon  like this until the sun went down over the hills opposite around quarter to five at which point we lit a bonfire to dispose of the olive prunings.

While the last of the fire embers died out mom collected wood for he evenings fire and lit the wood burner while I put the geese away and and rounded up the animals for the evening, a job made considerably easier due the the fact that Lucca was already indoors this, yesterday he gave us the run around for about twenty minutes before Helen got her hands on him to bring him in, I'm not sure whether he'd spent all of his energy today catching and killing a bird but one of our feline friends had left us a neckless present on the bedroom floor for our return back from the airport.

As the fire got going and I tapped away to bring you this post while Reggie snores on the sofa next to me with his feet twitching away while he dreams of whatever it is dogs dream of, in this case most likely of his prosciutto bone that he ate on the terraces this afternoon.

So with the first two days of Mom's holiday behind her she's hit the ground running and the help has been greatly appreciated as Spring doesn't appear to waiting for no one! 

Monday 16 February 2015

Family reunions

This morning started with the realisation that we made a rookie error yesterday. Somebody left a black plastic bin liner full of rubbish outside the house. To be fair, I don't think either of us meant to leave it there, but it just kind of got forgotten about in amongst the activities of the day. Won't be making that mistake again:

The beastie that has been stealing Reggie's football and attempting to steal his blanket must have thought all its Christmases had come at once last night. That's certainly not the first thought that went through my mind this morning though, and I had to add litter picking to my list of tasks to complete before I could set up my bike and start my exercise for the morning.

After that, my morning was a lot less eventful. I got my head down to plough on with some office work while Stuart cleaned the bathroom, washed up, swept - oh and took the rubbish to the bins - in preparation for his Mum's arrival later this afternoon.

After an early lunch, therefore, he headed off for Florence airport, leaving Reggie and me to an afternoon of work interspersed with jumping up to let the dog out/in/out/in and so on.

Happily, Sheila (Stuart's Mum) had a much less eventful trip over this time than she did when she last came back in July (when terrible weather meant her flight had to land in Milan, which was then followed by an arduous coach trip to Florence), and not long after 3.30pm, as Reggie and I were taking a walk up the drive we were met by the car coming in the opposite direction. Time for Reggie to meet Nanny Smith!

After the usual volley of barks, and a few looks to us for reassurance, Reggie seemed to take an immediate shine to Sheila, licking her hands and offering his chest for a good scratch.

We all retired indoors so that I could get a little more work done while mother and son caught up over a cup of tea and Reggie continued to bond with his latest house guest.

We all headed out at around 5pm to take Reggie for a proper walk along the river in Pescia. The day was much milder than it has been of late, but there was a very stiff wind, which made us all pull our coats tight and thrust our hands into our pockets. After a good walk up and down the river bank, we put Reggie back into his crate in the car and popped into Bar Poulter for a quick drink - Aperol spritzes all round (well, Sheila is on holiday and I will be on holiday later this week... what more excuse do you need?!).

We then headed back up the hill to the house, Stuart went to put the geese to bed (in the dark), I lit the fire and we all settled down to an evening of catching up over Tuscan sausage and beans in front of a warm fire.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Super Dog!

Our kind animals gave us another Sunday lie-in again this week. I suspect that was partly because they could all hear the rain hammering on the skylight and none of them really fancied going out in the cold and wet. Nevertheless, I got up at 8am to take a reluctant Reggie out into the garden for his first toilet trip of the day and give him his breakfast (about which he was altogether more enthusiastic).

I got a good soaking while seeing to the geese - I hadn't cleaned their sawdust out for a couple of days, due to Mr Goose's aggressiveness, and not only did it need cleaning out, but they needed some fresh sawdust as well. This involved lugging the enormous bag of sawdust from where it lives underneath the tarpaulin at the side of the house up to the goose terrace and goose island. Once there, a fresh batch of sawdust had to be manhandled out of the bag onto the floor of the goose house, then spread around. By the time I'd finished and got back in the house, I was covered in a soggy mess of rain and wet sawdust. Stuart was unimpressed by the fact that I'd grabbed his coat as I went out of the door, and it was therefore his coat that was covered wet flecks of sawdust. I swear I didn't do that on purpose though...

After a lovely hot bowl of porridge, we decided that we'd made a mistake when we went to the pet shop yesterday. We had looked long and hard at the coats section. I can barely believe I am saying this, but, yes, we looked at dog coats. We had eventually decided to give them a miss though, both because winter seemed to be on its way out and because Reggie (even at 18kg) still has some growing to do. However, having both witnessed his extreme reluctance to budge from the front door step this morning, we agreed that rain does not seem to be his favourite thing.

We therefore hopped in the car and headed once more for Montecatini and Arca Planet. This time we went armed with the information that we'd been missing yesterday: Reggie's size. He measures 55cm from the base of his neck to the base of his tail, and this piece of information allowed us to make an informed decision as to which coat would be the most suitable for him.

Thankfully, amongst the pink hoodies, studded jackets and camo-coats there were some more sensible options that we felt were more in tune with our (and Reggie's) lifestyle. We ended up buying him a reflective, teflon-coated, wind-proof, rain-proof hiking jacket. Yes, a hiking jacket:

This time, in a desperate attempt to assuage the guilt (slightly), we left the pet shop with a packet of a new flavour of 'Catisfactions' for Lucca and Florence - the same cat treats that are sold as 'Dreamies' in the UK.

We drove from Montecatini to Pescia and parked the car next to Lidl then took Reggie for a walk along the river. We were slightly disappointed that, by this time, the rain had dried up, so there was no need for Reggie to wear his new coat. Hmm. Never mind, we were sure there would be plenty of need for it in the future.

Off we went for a walk, but this time, instead of walking our usual stretch of river, we walked south down the river - a stretch of the path we have never walked along before, and which we enjoyed immensely. The river was really raging today after the rains of yesterday, and the three of us watched in amusement as two ducks were swept along on the waves. We couldn't work out if they were having great fun, imagining them shouting to each other 'woooo!! look at me!!', or whether they had actually wanted to go in the opposite direction and were being swept further and further from their intended destination.

Anyway, with those distractions, and the distraction of walking a new section of path, we had been walking for a full hour by the time we got back to the car - pooch thoroughly pooped!

We headed home, but not before stopping off at Amanda's to buy something nice for lunch. Today we chose a serving of pork and olive casserole with some roast potatoes. Delicious, and such a lovely treat - it's like having someone else make a home-cooked meal for you.

After lunch, I settled down at my computer to do some work on updating our website while Stuart headed upstairs to start the clean and tidy-up before his Mum arrives tomorrow (converting what has become the cats' room back into the guest room) and then tackle the tricky task of cutting his own hair. It might not quite be Nicky Clarke, but he always manages a decent cut, which never ceases to amaze and inspire me (it doesn't quite inspire me enough to take a pair of scissors to my own hair, but still it's very impressive, not to mention thrifty).

At around 4pm we decided that, since Reggie had been napping pretty much since we got back from our walk this morning, we should take him out for another breath of fresh air. It still wasn't raining, but we decided to put his coat on him nevertheless. He looked like Super Dog!

We walked up the donkey track and back again, then retired back to the house where Reggie was relieved of his coat (although I think he really quite liked it) and we settled down to our evening - starting with a glass of wine and the sampling of the marinated garlic we made last night. The verdict? Not quite as good as the ones we've bought from the supermarket, but pretty close. We've uploaded the recipe to our website here if you're intrigued or tempted!

Now it's time to settle down for some dinner followed by a bit of TV and an early night before the start of a new week.