An Anniversary and a Party


It seems like we party a lot.  But not really.  It is just what I write about.  (What?  Do you want me to write about doing laundry?)

In September, we were completing our 7th year of being here.  That date coincides with the duck sagra that our little town of Montagnano has.  The sagra is not well run.  Seating is especially difficult.  No matter how many times I explain about how popular this one is and how we need to get there early, inevitably, some part of our group shows up late and puts us right in the crush.  It’s just not fun. 

The pizza sagra is the same way.  This year I figured out that we could get take out.   All our friends were too busy to join us at the pizza sagra so that was what we did.  Really much easier. So for duck I decided that we could get take out duck, I could make some sides, have some friends over and we could sit outside in our yard and enjoy a nice evening.  The sagra runs for two weekends and since we only have so many plates and glasses I decided to divide our friends in to two groups

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I was able to borrow a table and had it set for 8 for our first group.  The roasted duck lends itself well to Asian inspired side dishes. 


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Hence the bamboo and Asian beer bottles as vases.


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Hmmm, roasted duck. 


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The last guest left at 2 in the morning.  Yes, I think we enjoyed the evening much more than if we had gone to the sagra.


The next weekend I decided to follow more of a harvest theme, sort of a Thanksgiving with duck instead.  Weather forced us to eat inside.  And for some unknown reason I didn’t take a single picture. 


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Afterward two weekends of dinner parties I sort felt like this guy.  The duck take-out bag.  A pirate chasing a chicken?  




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Currently there are three flocks on the property.  This is ‘the girls’ flock.  These arrived as chicks at the beginning of summer and have grown into this fine group. 

Then there is Lecia’s flock which is headed by ‘mean girl’ (a survivor from the girls’ flock of 2 years ago) (she bosses everyone around and pecks!) and Lecia and Costantino’s 3 chickens that are cousins to Richard’s chickens.  (It is really hard to tell them apart).  And of course, Richard’s chickens who have been having an extended stay at Auntie Martha’s Holiday Hen House. 


Now you would think with all this property that these 3 flocks could find enough room to roam.  But no!  While Richard’s flock remains in their pen, the other two hang out by our house. In late afternoon, Richard’s flock is allowed out to stretch their legs and I can supervise them.   They tend to really wander off so sometimes they don’t even get to come out.  Because, if we want to leave I have to go in search of them to get them back to the safety of their pen before we leave.  That can take a half an hour to an hour sometimes.  Meanwhile, all day long, Lecia’s flock and the girls’ flock alternate marching up and down from the horse paddock to the olive groves.  Through Nerone’s yard with a side detour through my garden.  (My garden has really suffered.)  It’s like the changing of the guard! 


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The mulch used to be in the bed not all over the walkway.

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There are naps in the middle of the day at the olive tree by Nerone. 


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Nerone, the good dog, calmly watching over it all. 


I did not complain.  Lecia and Costo decided to relocate both of the flocks that they care for closer to their house.  So now after a few weeks of re-education they are no longer changing the guard all day long.  Instead, coming out only in the late afternoon and staying near that end of the property.  It is a good thing, since a number of unknown folks have taken to walking their dogs on the property.  Sometimes without a leash!  (You can imagine how Nerone feels about that!) 

Richard’s flock is supposed to be leaving.  After that I will finally try to put my garden back together again.  In the meantime let me know if you need some eggs….

Plant of the Year


It is very hard for me to choose.  I had so many good ones this year.


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These airplane plants were started from one that picked up in Nice in the spring of 2013.  When I moved them out this spring I almost killed them by not hardening them off and exposing them to too much sun.  (Note to self:  in the spring gradually move these plants out.  They don’t like cold or direct sun.)  Anyway these plants should definitely get the ‘come back plant of the year’ award.   


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These have also made a comeback after being devastated by chickens.  Richard’s group of chickens loves the blossoms and eats them.  They were pretty well stripped of blooms a few weeks ago.   Since this picture was taken one of the other flocks of chicks that roam the property devastated them again.  They pulled all the blossoms off but spit them out!  Slowly they have come back yet again. 


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Just down from the impatiens is this pot of 3 coleus.  It still looks really good.  The ones at the front in other pots started to get scraggily so I pulled them out and replaced them with pansies and a lettuce plant.  

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This portulaca was a real star too.  Just blooming every sunny day. 


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And I like this pot with a number of volunteers;  it is a real mish mash of colours. 


All in all I had a pretty garden this year, thanks to my friend Jules who brought me a box of Miracle-Gro from Great Britain. 

I like this time of year


because food from one season overlaps with the other. 


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We still have really good melon and figs but…


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kale has started too.  We have also had some great asparagus and strawberries both of which were NOT FLOWN in from South America or Africa but were from northern Italy. 

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So I’ll take this chance to scribble something about the weather.  Summer was not that hot.  Maybe a total of 20 days when the temperature reached 90 degrees.  It rained about every 10 to 15 days.  That is a good bit of rain for summer time here.  Normally there is a stretch of 30 to 45 days of no rain at all.  And the rain continues to fall.  Just this past week (Oct. 9) Genoa and maybe the Cinque Terra were hit by heavy, fast rain that caused flash flooding.  People died and a number have lost their houses. 

Otherwise I have been wearing a sweatshirt when I walk the dog in the morning since the first of September.  We are sleeping with only one window partially open.  There is a lot of pollen that is bothering both Ben and I but the rains wash it out and that helps.  And that’s about it for the weather report.

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A sunset sky.

Good steak in Foiano


In early September we were at the good steak festa in Foiano.

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We decided to go to Sunday lunch.  Much less crowded. 


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Steaks were really good.


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Here is the wait staff enjoying their meal. 


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Thanks big white cow.  It was a nice steak. 

I used to be a tree…


Guest Post: By Ima Birch

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and suddenly I became a pencil post, riding around in someone’s car.

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Then drilled and cut and screwed together.

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Some nice man named Richard came to help put me together.

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And the cute man at the plumbing supply place who likes to practice his English cut some pipe into rods.

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And a closet was born.  I think I liked being a tree better but I could have ended up being a fence post or outside in the weather so I guess being part of a closet is okay.  And these folks got a closet for  100 Euros. 


Martha writing now:


I had been haunting second hand stores and drawing plans for months for something to act as a closet. 

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There was this piece.  Absolutely gorgeous but HUGE.  It would have taken up an entire wall in either my office or Ben’s.  Too big for our bedroom. 

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There were pieces like this, less expensive, more utilitarian but still 400, 500 Euros.  I really don’t want to spend a lot of money buying furniture for our ‘furnished’ apartment so I kept drawing plans. 


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They looked like this and when I started pricing conventional lumber to make it, well each piece would have been 15 to 20 Euros a piece. It could have cost 180 to 240 Euros for just the lumber. I looked around for optional sources.  In the US I had made our headboard out of bamboo.  Why couldn’t I find something like that here?  Nosing around enough garden centers I found the pencil posts for only 2.50 Euros each.  15 pencil posts were only 37.50, the screws, rods and fabric brought the cost up to 100 Euros.  A pretty good solution.   And the fabric is much prettier than it photographs. 

Feelin’ Local


And we’re back after a long absence from posting.  Can’t really explain why…just got busy and never seemed to have enough time to sit down and write.  I like to have a block of an hour or two of time to write.  Our September days just didn’t allow that.

But, this is about feeling like a local. 

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I have written before about the water ‘huts’ that have opened around Monte San Savino.  Selling filtered water from the town.  It is better quality than what comes out of our tap and it is chilled and it is fizzy.  Flat/still water is available too.  I am too tight to buy the liter size bottles with attached caps, instead I recycled wine bottles. 


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But I did buy one of the plastic bottle carriers.  We usually go to the water hut that is by the trash cans in the center of Montagnano.  (that booming village that we live near)  Sometimes there is a line of one or two folks and I have a little chit chat with them.  And then later I might see them and when they acknowledge me I get a little thrill.  And Ben will say, ‘Who’s that?’  ‘Oh, just my water hut bud’. 

If I was really a local instead of driving to the water hut I would ride my bike.  Yeah, right!  Not on the road in front of the property and not up the hill if I came in the back of the property.  And I don’t have a bike.

But I digress.  I was in the local post office the other day.  The post office also serves as a bank.  Some of them have two counters, one for postal things and one for banking.  The ladies who work in the post office switch around.  Sometimes banking.  Sometimes postal.  Sometimes in Monte, sometimes in Marciano, sometimes in Alberoro.  So you never know who you will see where.  But most of the women know me.  While I was waiting, at the counter, there was a man, Italian, about 40 ish acting like a 3 year old having a temper tantrum.  He was really being rude to the woman behind the counter.  She was getting more and more upset.  She finally walked away.  I considered leaving because it was so unpleasant but I really needed to get the piece of mail off since it was our request for absentee voting ballots.  I was next in line and I was sitting down.  Of course Mr. Important, (I’m a lawyer, you know and I need to be in Perugia in 30 minutes)  (Well, honey you should already be on the road to Perugia not hanging around a piddly little post office in Alberoro trying to send complicated pieces of mail and oh by the way can you stay OFF your cell phone for a minute!) continued on his rant.   Her co-worker stepped in to fix the situation.    The co-worker got ugly man back on track.  The original employee came back and tried again to finish his transaction.  The co-worker finished with the person at her counter.  My turn.  I stepped up.  Giving up my seat.  The co-worker looked at my letter and indicated that the other employee will have to handle it.  But,  since a good 2 minutes had passed between ugly man and the other employee, he had to cause more problems.  So co-worker stopped talking to me and went to help him.  I waited patiently.  Finally, the two of them got ugly man fixed.  Much to the relief of everyone waiting and he was off on his way to Perugia. (one of the many folks who absolutely fly down the two lane road like they are on the autostrada.  Wish I could say that I saw him later stopped at one the speed traps but nooo.  However, the odds are great that  he got stuck behind at least one farm vehicle)   So co-worker looks at my letter again, the crowd that has now built up and since the woman who was verbally abused has once again walked off she figures that since the letter  is going to the US, 2 Euros should cover it.  I hand over money and escape too. 

The next day I am back in the post office, this time to pay a bill.  The lady who took my letter asks ‘Do you remember yesterday?  The man who was here? And your letter?’  So we discuss the man, because I know the adjectives to use to describe him.  And she is so proud that I come out with the correct things to say and the correct gender endings for the words.  Well, anyway, my letter was heavier than she thought and she had to put more postage on it but she sent it anyway.  She knew I would be back, do I mind giving her the money for it? 

A few weeks back, Ben and I were in our doctor’s office talking with him about getting invalid status for Ben.  (this topic deserves a whole post by itself.  Look for it later)  The doctor referred  to an office in Arezzo.  I asked where is that?  The doctor said ‘You know.  By the old children’s hospital’.  I can’t imagine what my face looked like.  And I realized I wasn’t going to get anymore info from him; I would just ask someone else.  Later I realized that he was treating us like we had lived here for years and years.  What he said to me was the equivalent  of me saying to someone in Raleigh, ‘you know, you turn by the NCNB in Cameron Village.’  Well there hasn’t been an NCNB in Cameron Village in 15 or 20 years. 

After thinking about all these things, I realize maybe we should feel like locals.  We are starting our 8th year of living here.  And while I still feel like a fraud because my language skills are still so bad.  And still we don’t have any real truly Italian friends.  (I rationalize this by acknowledging that we still live out  from any village or town and that we are not really part of daily life with anyone every day like folks who live in a village are.)  But, I’m sure the employees at the Esselunga have talked about us ‘You know, the crazy old Americans that come in…he sits at the bar and listens to something with earphones and she shops and then comes to collect him.  Sometimes I’m afraid she might drive off and forget that he was there.  He doesn’t always come.  That’s why I ask her where he is if I don’t see him.  Make sure she remembers…’ 

So locals we are.  A few weeks back, Ben and I toasted another fun year completed here and to many more in the future.  And if you haven’t planned to visit maybe you should. 

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I used to post a lot of sunset pictures.  Where we lived before I saw a dramatic sunset most everyday.  Now trees block my view so I don’t really see a great sunset, but every now and then catch a glimpse of what I know is superb, but by the time I could get to someplace to see it, it would be over.  So here are my glimpses.

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Tomatoes, To-mah-toes, ‘maters

No matter how you say it, I love them.  I wasn’t aware of how much I did love tomatoes until a few months after I married my first husband and he said “ Do we have to have tomatoes or tomato sauce tonight for dinner?”  I’m sure I looked shocked!  What???? It’s summer, we are supposed to eat tomatoes.  Then he went on to say that he could always tell what time of the month it was because all of a sudden, every meal would contain tomatoes in some form (fresh, sauce…) and a starch (potatoes, pasta, bread…).  I didn’t realize that either.  Well, those hormones that controlled my dietary needs have long since flown the coop but every now and then I still have this very strong urge for tomatoes and a starch.  So the other night it was home made potato chips to go along with sliced tomatoes. 

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A few nights later it was

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pizza from the pizza sagra, with fresh chopped tomatoes on top of it.


Why am I so focused on tomatoes?  Well they are growing all around us here. 

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Look at this one that weighted over 2 pounds.  I saw this at the Indian man’s fruit and veg stand.  And the other day I saw 2 large semis going past, filled to the top with freshly harvested tomatoes, on the way to becoming sauce.  Just like these.

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The other fruit and veg vendor that I shop at is full of containers and containers of them.  These are roughly 35 cents a pound.  I bought some and made the tomato jam recipe that was in issue #130, Aug/Sept of Fine Cooking magazine. 

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The ‘jam’ turned out okay.  I probably will like it better in the middle of winter when I don’t have fresh tomatoes coming from my garden. 

I have 3 plants, 2 of which are doing very well.  One beefsteak and one cherry.

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They have an honored place to rest, by the TV.

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And slice up beautifully. 

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The cherry variety are served in their own little bowl.

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And I have a tomato dish towel… so maybe I do go a little tomato crazy. 




Fabric Binge


Ohhh, I admit it.  I am a closet fabric hoarder.  I gave away a huge amount before we moved here.  And if fabric stores were easier to find or if the giant one that I know of outside of Florence would sell retail as well as wholesale I would have a lot more fabric here.  Fortunately those ‘ifs’ probably won’t change.  So I restrict my visits to the one fabric store in Arezzo and try to just buy fabric when I have a project in mind. 


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So I went in looking for a piece to use in the kitchen and got the one on the far left.  But then the one in the middle with the circles was nice and heavy and was screaming at me that it would be good for making window ‘quilts’ for winter.  And of course how could I turn down the blue remnants.  I could make summer tops out of those.  The paisley, well it was just so pretty. 

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Hmmm, blue and white cotton.  Who could refuse?  My fabric haul was 35 Euros.  Of course I did not use the piece that I went into the store for, finding an alternate choice that I hauled back from the US in my small stash here.  I am still pondering how I am going to construct and hang the window quilts.  I did make 2 blue and white tops and have one left to make.  But that paisley is still just sitting around looking pretty.  Don’t know what I’ll do with it…


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