As I write this blog it's a damp scene outside the window, cloud hanging low over the hills opposite and the light decidedly dim. It's the first time we've seen rain in more than three weeks though, and what lovely winter weather we've had in that time: bright blue skies, blazing sun, crisp white frosts, coral pink sunsets - the sort of weather that makes everything seem quite magical and makes one wonder at the beauty of nature.
It has been the perfect weather for outdoor working - at times a touch on the chilly side, but with some extra layers and a bit of physical work we were soon comfortable enough to be in the great outdoors being productive. We never know when rain might be around the corner in the winter (and, more to the point, when it arrives how long it might stay around - last winter it felt as if it started raining on Boxing day and didn't stop until about April, such was the relentlessness of the wet weather), so we made a conscious effort to make the most of the dry, sunny weather, and to work outdoors every day.
Of course, for all its beauty, there are some downsides to the wintry weather and at least 5 times in the last few weeks we have woken up to frozen pipes and no water coming to the house. On two of those occasions the pipes have remained frozen almost day and we've been water-less until late evening. Thankfully we've been sufficiently prepared to have filled bottles of drinking water and a large 25 litre canister for using to flush the toilet. It makes it slightly more bearable when you're prepared for it, but it's still a bit miserable not being able to wash properly and the joy when you finally turn on the tap and water does finally come out is almost indescribable. It really makes you realise how important running water is, and what a luxury it is to be able to turn a tap and have water - hot or cold - come running out.
The pipes seem to be a lot quicker to freeze this year than last winter, when they really only froze when the temperature dipped to -5C or less. This year, it seems as if a night at -2C is enough to freeze it all up. Stuart spent a day lagging some of the pipes that are exposed near to the house, and burying another short section, but that doesn't seem to have done the trick, so there must be another part of the pipe that has become exposed somewhere along the line, or perhaps the freeze is being caused by offshoots that have been added for irrigation of the mushroom logs etc. For now it remains a mystery, but with more sub zero nights forecast in the coming week it will be something we have to investigate.
|That'll mean the pipes are frozen then!
|Pipes lagged, but still freezing.
|It's very pretty though - Jack Frost is quite the artist.
Stuart spent a fair bit of time chasing around after spare tractor parts and, in the end, buying a soldering kit to mend the poor broken tractor which, all of a sudden, had started billowing out smoke from the engine. He'd managed to get the young mechanic from the local garage to come out and have a look at it, who was able to diagnose the problem and tell Stuart what replacement part he would need to get hold of, also giving him the names of two places he thought might stock the part. After much chasing around, Stuart finally got the replacement part, only to find (when the mechanic came back to look at it) that it was a new version of the old part, and the mechanic thought it would be too complicated for him to fit. To cut a long story short, after receiving advice and instruction remotely from our friend Paul (aka Granville), Stuart was able to fit the new part himself. Tractor problem solved!
Last week we held a community day here with all our friends - Donatella, Paul & Kathy, David & Sarah - coming to put in a day's work in return for a meal. It had been a while since we'd done any work on our fencing project and, wanting to give it a kick start, we decided to concentrate efforts on that. With the weather still cold, we decided to break from community day tradition and instead of starting work early in the morning and working until lunchtime, we decided to delay the start until the sun had reached the terraces, starting at lunchtime and working until the light faded.
Paul, Kathy and David helped Stuart with putting in the fencing and the posts, while Sarah, Donatella and I dug the channel (which required some re-digging and deepening in places, thanks to the rain having washed the soil back into the previously dug parts), extending it now all the way across the top of the terraces.
By the end of the day we'd made great progress thanks to everyone's hard work, and we sat down to enjoy a well-earned feed up at the end of the day.
We had, let's say, a challenging evening last Saturday - we went to a surprise 60th birthday party for a really nice guy, Loris, who we know from the circolo (a friend of our friend Luca). After meeting up with about 3 other couples in a car park in the nearby town of Chiesina, we followed Luca in convoy to the house where the party was to be held. Here, there was some form of annex which consisted of an enormous kitchen (with the largest oven and the most enormous cooking pots I've seen outside of a professional kitchen), a large room which was laid out with a huge dining table and benches all around it, and a bathroom. When we arrived the cooking was in full swing - there was an enormous tray of potatoes roasting in the oven, trays of meat resting, trays of lasagne coming out of the oven, and packets of spaghetti being readied for when there came the nod that the birthday boy was on his way. More people soon arrived, and in the end there were 19 people there, most of whom seemed to know Loris from their school days. We were all ushered into the dining room and the lights turned off for the arrival of Loris, who seemed duly surprised and touched and when the surprise was unveiled. There was no messing around and as soon as the main guest had arrived we were served a large bowl of spaghetti with tomatoes, followed by a generous portion of lasagne, followed by a huge piece of pork shin with spinach, followed by slices of roast pork with roast potatoes, followed by a slice of cream cake. I struggled to eat anything beyond the lasagne and since I mainly stick to a vegetarian diet it was quite a challenge! Stuart was similarly challenged, but managed somehow to fit in second portions of almost everything! With 17 Italians sat around one table in a rather echoey room, all talking over each other at the tops of their voices, the evening was socially a little hard going - it was so loud that it was difficult to hear enough of what anyone said to be able to understand it, and even more difficult to speak loudly enough to respond. Nevertheless, it was lovely to see Loris surrounded by his friends and family and to have been part of his birthday celebration.
The following morning was a slow start and we decided to start the day with a drive around the hills, taking in some really stunning views on the road around Massa & Cozzile.
We've put a lot of work over the last couple of weeks into cutting, splitting and moving wood for next winter's woodpile. It's quite slow-going bringing the wood all the way up from the small quarry in the woods beneath the house, but it's satisfying work and it's something that is easy to do just a bit of each day.
Stuart has also been hard at work creating a workshop for himself in one section of the tractor park. All being well, he will soon take ownership of some of my Dad's wood turning tools, and he is preparing a decent work space in which to hone his wood-working skills.
|Reggie rather likes the workshop as a sunbathing/sleeping space.
So, in the week ahead we are expecting some more unsettled weather, and a return to low temperatures as well - while I've been singing the virtues of the cold and dry weather, I'm a little less certain how I feel about the cold and wet weather that's in store next week!