Tuesday 30 June 2015

Feeling hot, hot, hot.

I understand that there is a bit of a heatwave going on in the UK at the moment. Believe me, we feel your joy-mixed-with-discomfort. This (below) is our current 10-day forecast. As we said in the last post, some like it hot (and it seems we have even hotter yet to come)!

It was another work day here for both of us. I waved Stuart off to Lanciole again this morning, feeling worried about his well-being. He looked and sounded utterly shattered after having done a full day's strimming in the heat there yesterday, and to say he wasn't looking forward to going back for more would be an epic understatement. Nevertheless, he slumped off to the car this morning, fully kitted out in long jogging bottoms, gaiters and safety boots (as if it wasn't already hot enough).

Thankfully, he managed to get away from Lanciole part-way through the afternoon - but instead of relaxing when he got home, he went straight off to the goose enclosure to give it a much-needed strim before heading off to the woodpile with his chainsaw for yet more hard graft. By the time he threw the towel in, a towel was what he really did need - there wasn't an inch of him or any of his clothes that wasn't drenched in sweat.

After a cold shower (cold water was all that was available never mind the fact that he probably didn't want a hot shower anyway), he retired to the patio with a chilled beer, and not long afterwards I joined him before heading off for a mammoth watering-and-weeding session on the veg terraces - which in turn had me dripping in sweat!

Tonight, we will be feasting on a courgette & pancetta risotto made with home-grown courgettes and the first of our home-grown onions (planted by Mum and Dad back in March). Yum!

Courgettes and cucumbers.

One day's harvest.

Prosecco with cucumber and mint. Our new house cocktail.

This little lady hasn't made much of an appearance lately, but she still appears from her hiding spot in the wardrobe for her dinner every evening and a cuddle before bedtime.

Sunday 28 June 2015

Some like it hot

We owe you a bit of a catch-up today, so here goes.

We didn't do much worthy of note on Friday, it was a work day in the office for me (punctuated with a lovely phone call from Allison at lunchtime), and Stuart did various chores around the place, including picking up another set of used tyres so that we can get on with completing the steps in the middle of the terraces and so that we can finally make a flight of steps for easy access to the lowest of the veg terraces, rather than having to scramble around the side through the ever-re-growing bramble and bracken.

At the end of the day we took Reggie out for a walk in the evening sunshine alongside the river in Pescia.

Saturday was a busy day.

We started the day with a trek around the supermarket. We went first to Lidl, but on driving around the car park and finding no spaces whatsoever, as well as some utterly crazy Italian parking that had pretty much blocked in the people in the real spaces, we decided we would head to Esselunga and do all our shopping in one hit. The reason for the more-crazy-than-usual parking situation was that a lot of the parking spaces in town were out of action today, as the town was preparing for 'Nottambula', a kind of festival that was due to take place in the evening. More on that later. Anyway, we dragged ourselves and our trolley around a very busy Esselunga (we hadn't managed to get out of the house until mid-morning, so we'd well and truly missed the quiet morning slot) and once we'd finished we headed to the Phillips house to do our two-daily check on the chickens. By the time we'd filled up their food and water containers, collected the eggs and driven back up the road it was nearing 12.30pm, so we ate lunch straight away, in the shade of the garden umbrella.

After lunch, it was well and truly too hot to give Reggie a walk, so that would have to wait until the early evening. Instead, Stuart and I donned our work clothes and headed out to the drive, hedge trimmers (his & hers) in hands.

The end of the driveway in particular has become very overgrown recently - in fact, you couldn't even see the house number properly - so we wanted to tackle that. It really needs strimming for a proper, neat finish, but it was so overgrown that it needed an initial trim with hedge cutters first. We therefore headed straight to the end of the drive and started cutting, gradually working our way back down towards the house. By the time we'd finished, the drive certainly looked a lot wider, with brambles and other vegetation cut back. It still needs going over with a strimmer to really tidy it up, but it's a good start.

With the temperature in the the 30sC, we were both drenched in sweat by the time we'd finished, so we each had a quick shower and changed before heading out with Reggie for the walk we'd promised him. We took him up to the cava track, and he had a good run around.

It was getting on for 6.30pm by the time we got back, so after feeding Reggie and the cats, and making sure they were all safely separated from each other, we headed straight back out again. Last year we missed Nottambula as we were otherwise engaged, so despite feeling like we could happily stay at home for a quiet evening, we were determined we would go and see what it was all about this time around.

Nottambula is Pescia's version of a Notte Bianca (literally white night) - a kind of festival in which all the shops, bars and restaurants stay open all night, with lots of special meals laid on, special deals in all the shops, lots of live music, stalls and entertainment.

Knowing that most of the usual parking spots were out of action, we headed straight to Chris and Sue's to park there, and then walked back into the main square. It was still quite early in the evening at this point, and a lot of things were still being set up, but we could tell from the enormous main stage in the square that things would be buzzing later on in the evening.

We decided to call in at Bar Pulter for an aperol spritz to try and get ourselves into the right mood. We'd never seen Bar Pulter so busy - there were 3 or 4 additional staff on, and still they were rushed off their feet. We sat there a while, enjoying watching the world go by at a hectic pace, before paying up and moving on.

We wandered through the streets - which by now were starting to get busy - and headed over the bridge towards the cathedral. It was just as we were approaching another stage outside the cathedral, which was just about to burst into life with a performance from some dancers, that we spotted a figure we recognised: Alex's Dad, Byron, had come down from his apartment to watch the goings on, so we went to say hello and keep him company for a while. Byron has been a jazz singer all his life, so he is no stranger to live performance and the three of us watched the performances on the stage, which varied from dancing to singing acts, while enjoying a glass of wine from the café. It was good to see Byron as we know he is alone for much of the time and we can't help but want to offer him some friendship. He seemed to appreciate the company even though we only stayed for a couple of drinks - we left with the promise that we will see him again soon.

By the time we left, darkness was falling and it had gone 9pm, so we hurried back to the car and back to the house to rescue Reggie and to cook a very late dinner.

After a late night (well, late for us, and certainly later than usual) last night, we were lucky enough to be allowed a lie-in by all of the animals. The cats pestered for their breakfast as usual at 6.30am, but once I'd sprinkled some biscuits into their bowls, they were happy enough to settle back down again, and it wasn't until 8.30am that they started stirring again.

Over breakfast on the patio, we decided to go and walk Reggie as soon as possible as the day was already feeling hot. We also decided to drive further up the valley than we usually do (partly for a change of scene but also as we thought it might be a degree or two cooler up there), and to try a walk that my Mum and Dad had done back in March (or at least part of the walk).

We parked up just outside Lanciole and set off along a forest path, following directions written by Mum and Dad. By and large, the directions were very accurate and we didn't get lost, but we did realise that walking around these parts in March is a very different experience from walking around these parts in June - and we wished we had brought a machete, or at the very least some secateurs!

We battled our way through the undergrowth and finally came out onto a tarmac road which we followed to Croce a Veglia before following the road all the way back to Lanciole (there was no way we were going to fight with the undergrowth again on the way back!).

Not only was the temperature scorching but it was the longest walk we have ever taken Reggie on - we kept stopping to offer him drinks of water and eventually worked out that he would only drink out of the travel bowl if we put it down on the floor for him - if we held it for him he simply wasn't interested (talk about high maintenance!). It was a beautiful walk, and we look forward to coming back again and going a bit further - but next time we will leave out the overgrown section and park on the road that leads to Croce a Veglia!

We didn't get back to the car until 12.30pm (what is it they say about mad dogs and Englishmen in the midday sun?!) so headed straight back home to get Reggie - and ourselves - indoors out of the heat.

After some lunch, we both felt exhausted and overheated and couldn't face doing any outdoor work. In the end we both fell asleep on the sofa for an hour (how old are we?!). After that mini-siesta, we decided to go into town again with the sole purpose of eating ice cream.

We parked up just outside La Barrachina, bought our ice creams and sat on a bench eating ice cream and watching the world go by - ducks swimming up the river, children splashing around, people walking dogs.

And so there you have it - a hot, hot day, but then hot days are a good excuse for an ice cream, so who are we to complain?

Thursday 25 June 2015

Goose watch

Once again there's little to report from our day today: Stuart went up to Lanciole for the morning, and I spent the day in the office. We walked Reggie along the San Lorenzo path this evening so that we could combine his walk with a visit to the Phillipses' chickens. Because there are private houses (and gardens), the odd car, the odd cyclist and the odd jogger along the San Lorenzo path, we have to keep Reggie on the lead. This is becoming a bit of a nightmare though: he knows that along the path there are three different spots in which he meets other dogs (in their gardens) plus a house where there are usually a couple of cats to pique his interest. This means that from the minute we set out, he pulls on the lead, desperately trying to get ahead and find his "friends". It's noticeable that once we've passed all of those distractions he pulls a lot less. Anyway, his pulling is both awkward for us and uncomfortable for him - so we're wondering whether we will have to strike that walk off our list, which is a shame.

Anyway, the main point of note for today is a goose update. Since it seems that Mrs Goose really is sitting on a clutch of eggs, but hasn't moved for several days (at least not that we have witnessed), the advice from Backyard Chickens was to try to get her off the nest for a short while to move around, have a drink and some food before letting her back on it again. The advice was to put the food and water immediately outside the house, get her out of the house and close it so that she couldn't get back in again, before letting her back in after 30 minutes or so.

Stuart duly went up to Goose Island this afternoon to do some goose husbandry. After hissing at him (up until now, the female has never hissed), she staggered up off the nest and wobbled to the door - well, after 5 days or so sitting down, she probably had pins and needles never mind the fact that she almost certainly hasn't been eating or drinking properly! He managed to shut the door and left the goose enclosure just as she was having a good long drink of water. 30 minutes or so later, he went back to re-open the goose house and found her splashing around in the pond having a good bath. When we next looked though, both geese were back inside the house, with Mrs Goose firmly back on the nest.

We are told that we need to try to make getting Mrs Goose off the nest for 20-30 minutes a daily routine so that she eats, drinks, bathes and gets her circulation going, so it looks like that will be a new daily task for us for the next few weeks at least! We don't know exactly when the eggs were laid, but the incubation period is around 30 days, so we estimate it could be another 2-3 weeks. We'll keep you updated!

Wednesday 24 June 2015

More eggs?

After an appalling night's sleep (appalling for numerous reasons, which included my mind refusing to switch off, excessive heat, a cat lying on my legs (clearly oblivious to the excessive heat, or else trying to punish me), strong winds, thunder, lightning and very heavy, very noisy rain), this morning was a bit of a slow one for me. Nevertheless, I managed a short burst on the turbo trainer and was at my desk working by 9am. Come mid-morning, though, Stuart was chomping at the bit to go out into town to run some important errands that required both of us to be there.

First stop was the bank to pay a bill from the engineer (or was it the geologist?) who came to look at our house when we were investigating the possibility of an extension. Hmpf, we'd thought all of those bills were all done and dusted. Anyway, after that, we headed into Montecatini to the mattress shop we visited almost exactly a year ago when we needed to replace the mattress in the apartment. We'd noticed that they were having a sale on, and decided it was high time we replaced our own mattress, after months of both of us waking up with painful backs. We therefore went straight in and ordered a new mattress which will be ready to collect in a couple of weeks.

It was then back into town to give Reggie a run along the river. It was nearing lunch time by now, so the river bank was blissfully quiet and Reggie was able to bound along freely without fear of meeting people, dogs or scary bicycles. He had a good splash in the river as well - he seems to be getting braver about going in the water these days, he loves a good paddle and this time even got in up to his shoulders.

Our final stop before going home was at Amanda's - Stuart went in to offer her some of our surplus courgettes to sell in her shop. At 2kg, she gave us €3 for them - not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme, but it's good to know we can do something useful with our surplus crops!

Finally, we made it home for lunch, after which it was back to work. I headed back to the office for the rest of the afternoon, while Stuart toiled on the veg terraces, putting down more ground cover and planting the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes that Donatella was kind enough to donate to us when we saw her yesterday.

The banks of the veg terraces are around 3/4 covered now. Not very pretty, but when we have lavenders and all sorts of colourful plants planted in the banks they will look better!

We almost have a full-sized cucumber!

Aubergines & peppers.

As the time neared 6pm, it was time for us both to pack our work away for the day. Stuart went to make a quick check on the geese - over the last few weeks we have been a little less stringent about putting them inside every night. To be fair, this started out as an oversight, but after it had happened a few times and they seemed fine, we have started to leave them to their own devices. Whether this decision will come back to haunt us at some point I'm not sure, but so far their perimeter fence has not been breached (although Reggie has given it a good chew in places). The geese have left us with a bit of a conundrum recently though: we had assumed that Mrs Goose had stopped laying eggs some way back at the start of May, and indeed we had stopped even checking for eggs. Mr Goose's behaviour has calmed down enormously, and he is a shadow of his former 'come-anywhere-near-me-and-I'll-give-you-a-bite-to-remember' self. In fact, he has returned to being a mild-mannered, slightly timid animal - so much so that it's even safe to venture into their enclosure with bare legs and without a stick to fend him off. We had noticed that Mrs Goose was sometimes still sitting on the nest though - but didn't think much of it.

A couple of weeks ago, Stuart went in to change the bedding in their house and discovered that there was an egg in the nest - so we left it there to wait and see what happened. Over the last several days, we have noticed that Mrs Goose is no longer coming out of the house at all - Mr Goose can be seen wandering around the enclosure, quietly honking to himself, but without his sidekick. After asking for some advice from the 'Backyard Chickens' internet forum, it was suggested that the female goose had become broody - if a female becomes broody and sits on an unfertilised egg, it can eventually lead to death as she literally won't move (for food, water etc.) until the egg has hatched... which it clearly won't do if it's not fertilised. The advice was to try and get her off the nest, remove the egg, change the bedding and hopefully she would 'get over it'. So Stuart went up there this evening to see if he could shoo her away from the nest. On opening the back door to the house, she was duly startled into getting up - whereupon he saw not one egg, but six or seven! So, it's back to Backyard Chickens for more advice from the experts (or at least from people who are more expert at it than us)! Watch this space!

Monday 22 June 2015

Peas & Beans

Today has been pretty unremarkable - office work for me, a trip to Lanciole to check on the state of things up there (after not having been for more than 3 weeks) for Stuart. We didn't even make it out for a dog walk, although Reggie got a long session of tug-of-war in the garden this evening.

We did harvest these incredible courgettes though - how one of them grew to the size of a marrow without us noticing it and picking it before now, I don't know!

We are running out of courgette recipes!

We are also collecting eggs from the Phillipses' chickens faster than we can eat them:

We expect to collect another 14-20 tomorrow - we're being overrun!

Tonight's dinner, though, involved neither eggs nor courgettes but some home-grown peas and home-grown broad beans. Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe for pea and broad bean bruschetta, we use the lovely fresh-flavoured mix of raw peas, raw broad beans, mint, grated parmesan and olive oil (with a bit of lemon juice and some seasoning) all whizzed up in a blender as a zingy pasta sauce. It's the sort of dish where you can almost feel the goodness as you are eating it.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Quiet change in scene

Today, we decided that a quiet change in scene was due, so after being allowed a lie-in until 8am by our furry friends, and having a leisurely breakfast, we headed into Pescia to give Reggie a walk. We parked up at Chris and Sue's and walked with Reggie along the path to San Lorenzo and back. For some reason, the San Lorenzo path always proves tricky for Reggie when it comes to cars, but today he was a superstar and didn't lunge at any of those that passed us, even those that sped past at a speed that seemed a little unsuitable for a quiet narrow lane with a couple of pedestrians and a dog pinned up against the wall. He still has some way to go to get over his issues with cyclists though - it seems that, in his mind, 4 wheels are fine, but 2 wheels are definitely not.

After returning from San Lorenzo we went up to Chris and Sue's house - I went to check on the house while Stuart went to check on the chickens, refill their water and food containers and collect today's round of eggs. With the chickens laying around 6-7 eggs each day, we have more eggs than we know what to do with at the moment, and we're only a third of the way through our chicken-caring duties!

We then came back home for an early lunch - more of yesterday's potato, bean and courgette salad with mozarella, olives and pesto, made with both potatoes and courgettes fresh from the vegetable plot. Oh and a couple of hard boiled eggs to accompany it.

After lunch, we finally decided that, for our change of scene, we would pay a visit to Montecatini Alto and try to find the photographic exhibition that our guests Diane and Ernest had told us about. We gave Reggie a bone to keep him occupied, then set off for Montecatini Alto.

We climbed through the steep streets to find the old church housing the exhibition and spent an interesting hour looking at all the photographs. The exhibition is a comparative of 'then and now' photographs of the little hilltop village. Each old photograph is displayed next to 1-2 more modern equivalents, with the old photographs ranging from the late 1800s to around 1914, and the more modern ones anything from 1940s through to 1980s and 2010s. We were immediately struck by just how little anything had changed. In many cases they might as well be the same photograph, with just one version in black and white and one in colour. There were exceptions of course, such as the beautiful grand old hotel that was demolished to make way for a hideous monstrosity in the late 90s - which stands out like a sore thumb on the skyline of the little village and which itself is now empty, abandoned and decaying, after apparently having been seized from the Mafia (yes, really) a few years ago.

After the exhibition, we wandered back down through the streets of the village, trying to avoid the main square which was now bustling with tourists, then made our way back to the car.

Montecatini Alto's quieter streets.

Since we were close to Montecatini Terme, we decided to take the opportunity to pay a visit to Obi to look for some bits and pieces that we needed for the apartment. Each time we have guests in the apartment we ask whether there is anything missing - anything they wished they'd had available but that wasn't there - and we now have a short list of items that we need to add. Top of the list was a garden umbrella. While the fir trees provide a lovely shady spot on the guest patio, the shade doesn't actually last very long, and we have often seen guests with their chairs pinned right up against the screen on the patio, desperately trying to seek the shade. We therefore made a garden umbrella our priority for today, and left Obi with one umbrella and stand. We didn't do so well on the other bits and pieces, but were happy to settle for the most important one today.

We then wended our way home, spent a couple of hours on the patio in the evening sun, before coming indoors for dinner and a quiet night.

Saturday 20 June 2015


The events of the last few days - us losing a good friend and the world losing a good person - are never, ever going to make sense, but for the last couple of days we have gone about our routine tasks as best as we can, feeling somewhat numb: office work, dog walking, chicken tending (& egg collecting), supermarket shopping, terrace strimming, lawn mowing and getting the apartment ship-shape for our latest set of guests, who arrived - all the way from Norfolk, by car - this afternoon.

We’re trying to take something positive from what has happened this week – of course, there’s nothing positive about what’s happened at all, but if we can learn anything from it, even the slightest thing, then that will be a positive. We are already talking about making sure we make time to take a break from our routine to rest and recuperate and really making sure we look after ourselves in amongst all of the day-to-day tasks. We've also realised how important it is for us to move our Italian comprehension/speaking abilities on, and we hope to try and address that in some way, shape or form in the near future.

Alex was a great advocate of permaculture and was, for us, something of a role model - we were always in awe of what he and Donatella had achieved since they moved here, often tapping him for tips and advice. In honour of Alex, therefore, today we bring you some photographic evidence of our own crops.

We promise to return to our usual blog regime in the near future.

Lily growing wild on the terraces.

Lily + view.

Gratuitous shot from the guest patio.

That's our compost station. That's a pumpkin growing from it - from the seeds of a pumpkin given to us by Alex & Donatella.

Borlotti beans.


Broad beans.




Onions & shallots.



Forest of potatoes.

Prolific courgette.


Today's harvest! (You'll be glad to know that the potato thief didn't get all of the potatoes!)

Walnuts. (Cheating slightly here as we didn't plant these...)