Happy happy happy

After 3 weeks of rainy, cloudy weather, few words are necessary to explain how happy my garden is making me right now…


Memories of boxes

Stu celebrated a milestone birthday this week and his memories of some of the special birthdays he had during his childhood prompted a few of my own birthday memories…

My memory isn’t so good that I remember exactly what ages I was on these birthdays but I can distinctly remember that I was young.  I was a child.  I was safely enclosed in a warm loving home with my parents and my 2 sisters.

I remember cold weather in May.

I remember a cold bedroom.

I remember windows that ran wet with constant condensation; thick bubbles that gathered weight then wriggled down the glass to sit on the window sill.

I remember Mum sending me into the bedroom to mop up the lake of water that pooled on the wooden window sill.

I remember my sisters and I laying under warm blankets and discussing how we might ever have the strength to creep out from our cocoons and brave the cold air in the house to get ready for school.

I remember how an urgent screech from our mother made the decision for us and how we’d run from bed to cupboard to gather our school uniforms, then from bedroom to living room to get dressed.

It was supposed to be warmer there.

But I remember a living room which promised warmth but never delivered.  The oil heater seemed to take forever to emit anything that remotely resembled heat and we’d stand in front of it with our arms wrapped around us as if this might keep our trembling nightie-clad bodies warm in the meantime.

I remember 3 birthdays in particular.

One year, I received a music box.  It was small, white or cream in colour and had a gold clasp.  I remember winding the little key at the back of the box to summon the music, then opening the lid to peer inside.  My eyes widen even now as I remember the first time I saw that tiny perfect ballerina as she slowly turned around in her glorious pink tulle.

Another year, I received a beauty case.  I seem to remember that the case was pale pink but it may well have been another colour because all I really remember is the incredibly luxurious pink silk lining on the inside.  There were compartments and pockets everywhere and I remember feeling suddenly grown up and elegant as I considered where I might put the lotions and potions and beauty tools that any decent 10 year old keeps.

Another year, I received a sewing box.  It was yellow, floral and happy.  It was a beautiful and feminine thing.  It went to school with me; it went to sewing lessons with me.  It made me feel capable; it promised great things.  It would also witness my utter lack of sewing prowess.  I quickly learned to use it as a casket, a place to bury things.  In it I would hide pieces of material that I’d cut wrongly, hems that I’d puckered and endless tangles of threads that I’d matted.

I still have the sewing box.

It contains things that have nothing to do with sewing.

Now, it is not lost on me that my 3 most memorable childhood birthdays have involved boxes.  While I don’t believe I have a box fetish, it may be fair to say that if I was to suffer from one at any point in the future, I could blame it on my parents…


3 Roosters?

So Horris the Rooster has developed a problem…

Over the last week, he has been attacking me.  Hackles up.  Jumping at me.  Stabbing me with his spurs and beak.  It’s been quite confronting behaviour from our little bantam rooster who has been so docile to date.

Having had a peaceful and respectful relationship with him for a couple of years now, I decided that the problem had to be my NEW garden shoes.  So one morning I decided to test my theory.  I put my OLD garden shoes on and headed out to the coop.  Horris left me alone.

The next day, Stu decided to extend the experiment.  He took my NEW garden shoes out to the coop and put them on the ground inside the coop.  Horris reacted.  Hackles up.  Jumping at them.  Stabbing them with his spurs and beak.

So the problem WAS my NEW shoes!

The next day, I went out (in my OLD shoes).  Horris reacted.  Hackles up. Jumping at me.  Stabbing me with his spurs and beak.

So the problem WASN’T my NEW shoes!

It was time to resort to chicken discussion forums on the internet.

I read that Horris may consider me to be a threat to his hens or a competing rooster (!?).  I’m not sure if this is a compliment.

I also read that, since he never attacks Stu, he may consider Stu to be the dominant rooster (!?).  Stu thinks this is a compliment.

Admittedly, I am more ‘hands-on’ with the hens than Stu is.  I pat them, pick them up, etc.  So it is quite possible that Horris worries about me touching them.

The recommended solution to an aggressive rooster is to “re-home or roast”!

Since we are incapable of killing and eating anything that we’ve come to know (and since Horris is such a midget and incapable of drawing blood), we’ve decided to ‘wait and see’ just in case the problem is actually Spring and his territory/breeding hormones have kicked in!


A puzzle solved

When we were doing our major internal renovation work in 25 November 2013, I posted about a strange spiritual experience that we’d had.

At the time, I assumed the presence of a ghost in our house.

Well, a year after this event, we learned who this ‘presence’ might be…and it’s only now that I’ve been able to write about it…

We share a common wall with our neighbour’s house. Our neighbour and his wife no longer live in the valley but spend every day out here in Spring and Summer.

In December 2014, our neighbour, his wife and sons walked up the valley to share a slice of pannettone and a glass of moscato with us.

It was a particularly cold afternoon so we wasted no time in welcoming them into our home and ushering them into our dining room.  Stu lit the fire and soon the little room was glowing warm.

As the conversation turned to our renovations, we casually mentioned the ‘presence’ that we’d felt the previous year.

Immediately, our neighbour’s wife became emotional and announced with utter certainty that “Bertina era qui” (“Bertina was here”)! She asked us to wait while she rushed to their summer house and when she returned her eyes were red and her cheeks wet.

Her trembling hands held a photo of an elderly lady and a remembrance card as if they might crumble at any moment.

Then she sat down and told us about Bertina. Bertina was a deeply loving woman who used to live in our house with her husband. They had no children and used to treat our neighbours’ children as their own. Our neighbours’ son remembers Bertina reading stories to him and giving him special treats to eat. The entire family remembers Bertina’s smile. She smiled constantly and generously. She smiled through a sour husband and a hard life. She was still smiling when she died at the age of 102.

Having shared our neighbours’ precious memories and felt an even stronger presence of the woman they treasured, our dining room that day seemed a little warmer.

The words on her rememberance card will stay with us always:

“Il mio dolce sorriso rimanga per sempre nei vostri cuori”

(“My sweet smile remains always in your hearts”)


After an extended break from all things normal, we are back on deck and rearing to go with all things garden and renovation!

My last post was in late October 2017. Since then, we’ve survived a trip to Australia (planned), returned to Italy for 6 weeks to ‘baby’ our house through a particularly brutal winter and another trip to Australia (unplanned).

Our winter experience was quite extreme.  First, we had a deep snowfall in December which quickly turned to pack ice and forced us to walk in and out of our valley.  When we finally built some confidence to attempt our driveway, our car slid backwards 20 metres on the ice!  I have truly never been so frightened in my entire life…and am still not sure how our car didn’t end up in the creek!  Second, Russia cruelly sent us some icy weather from Siberia and temperatures plummeted to minus 10-14!  This happened while we were in Australia (the second time) and we spent several anxious nights biting fingernails while we worried about our pipes freezing.  Luckily we have some very very special Italian friends who selflessly braved the conditions to put our heating on for us..and thus save our pipes from freezing.

Now, the first blossoms of spring are budding and we are carefully watching the almond and plum trees which are always the first to burst out.  The jonquils and hyacinths are already blooming and the tulips are close.  The birds are flitting and singing as they urgently start a cycle of new life.

Nature is tempting us outside to revel in new life…


Cheese, cheese…and more cheese…

Bra, a small town about half an hour from us, hosts the famous and highly reputable bi-annual international “Cheese” festival.

The festival is promoted and supported by the Slow Food movement, an international not-for-profit association which promotes the production of food using traditional methods and in harmony with the environment and ecosystem.

The movement is particularly strong in Piemonte where its founder, Carlo Petrini, established the only Slow Food university in the world (located in Pollenzo near Bra).

Embarrassingly, we’ve never managed to make it to “Cheese”.

But 2017 was our year.

It was also the year for many others.  Ten years ago, the 3 day festival attracted about 150,000 people; in 2015, it brought 270,000 people and this year approximately 300,000 people enjoyed its delights!

Needless to say, it was hugely crowded but quite spectacular…

I liked the colourful and aromatic Sicilian pecorino that had been infused with saffron, while Stu preferred the 18 month old seriously disintegrated and smelly cheese from the Valle d’Aosta.

We both drooled over the cold gorgonzola dolce, which was served in an icecream cone…

Old wins out every time!

The change of season (and a bad back!) has given me an excuse to spend some time on my computer…so this is my first post for an embarrassing 3 months.  My deepest apologies to those readers who have been waiting patiently as well as those who weren’t so patient and have specifically asked me when I will blog again!

On an uncomfortably hot day during this last hot summer, I decided to organise our winter bedding.  I emptied all of our blanket crates and stripped the beds.  Within half an hour I stood gazing at a mountain of doonas, blankets and throws that were piled high on the spare bed.

In truth it wasn’t that bad but any pile is utter anathema to a minimalist.

I got tough.

I decided that the old woollen queen doona had to go.  We had had it for at least 10 years and had stopped using it several years ago because it was too heavy on our leg at night.

I also decided that the 2 single doonas that had been cut from 1 queen doona had to go.  Fitting these ill fitting doonas into their doona covers had been a constant challenge for me.  In use, they had swum around inside their covers, gathering momentum, until our poor unsuspecting guests would wake cold and uncomfortable, their torsos weighed down by a lump and the rest of their bodies exposed.

Soon I had a nice little pile of bedding that any minimalist would be proud of.

But now I was faced with another issue: How would I store this bedding?  Could I discard some of the horrid plastic crates?

When we purchased this place 8 years ago, we had found a certain old tin chest hidden under various detritus in the shed.

I love all things old and I had decided that day that I would restore this treasure of history one day…but like many tasks here I never quite got around to it.  The distraction of all things garden and renovation is strong indeed.

Now I finally had the reason to restore the old tin chest!

It was huge and deep and all of the bedding could find a home in it but it had been exposed to the elements for many years and was dirty, dusty, worn and rusty.

Like a woman possessed, I started my long-promised restoration and, within a matter of days, I had managed to strip, sand and repaint it.  It’s not a thing of immense beauty but it is a thing of the precious past.

It is perfect on several levels: for the storage of bedding, for the character of the house and for the fact that I’ve now been able to donate several plastic crates to Stu…