The well tended garden

 

Our friends, Tania and Keith have a large yard, part of which is devoted to a vegetable garden.

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It is well laid out, with gravel paths, fenced off to keep inquiring dogs and other critters out.  The fence also acts as supports for the plants.

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See that patch of corn?

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No tomatoes yet.  I think he planted a little later than I did.  But I was the grateful recipient of….

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Yellow Squash!!!!! Oh my it was good.  This picture makes them look small but they were both bigger than my hand.  I had the smaller one the first night sautéed with onion and a bit of butter.  Ben got one tablespoon full.  I ate the rest.  I cooked the larger one the same way the next day and shared a bit more with Ben and the the day after that we had yellow squash quesadillas.  Those two squash are among the best things that I have eaten in a long time. 

Random Shots

 

 

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Ida found these bits of the cypress trees that fell several years ago that have not been used.  She arranged for Costo to move them over.  She sanded them and now they provide extra seating.  She is a clever chicken!

 

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I saw these lillie types almost choked by weeds but still blooming. 

 

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Chianina beef lunch at Menchetti.  Very tasty and tender.  Like stew beef on toast with the potatoes, onions and carrots on the side. 

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Laundry hanging out to dry in a brief sunny period. 

 

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Give Ben, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and bread… he’ll make his own bruschetta. 

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Fritto Misto from the seafood place in Sinalunga.  (fried calamari and shrimp)

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 Dead center, a Tuscan Swallowtail butterfly.  This is the first year I have seen them down here.  I used to see them all the time when we lived at a higher elevation.  Maybe it is because the butterfly bush is so big??

 

 

Beep, beep, beep

 

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Rolling pot hole repair. 

This was Nerone’s spot.  Every now and then he would feel the need to dig a hole or two.  Just deep enough to twist your ankle on.  I finally got around to filling the holes in.

And look at this

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Right there!  In his spot!  A CAT!!!!!!  He would not be happy about that!

 

Tuesday, July 19 is the anniversary of when he came to live with us, 5 years ago.  We do still miss him a lot.

Football

 

or soccer.  What ever you want to call it.  The last game that Italy played in was Saturday, July 2.

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ohhh, seating with a handy shelf for wine.

 

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Giorgio manned the grill.  Hamburgers and sausages this time.

 

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Standing for the national anthems.  We were a real United Nations group, French, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, Swiss, Canadian and American. 

Sorry, no pictures of food.  Italy lost that night.  The Ida and Martha Catering Company is closed now.  We will not miss catering meals for 15 to 20 people out of our little kitchens in the heat.  Ben and I will miss having the company and enjoying time outside.

And Ben and I enjoyed watching the games so we caught some of the others, including the finale on Sunday the  10th.       I think my friend Barry will approve. 

 

Retirement

 

It is no secret that I turned 65 this year.  The ‘normal’ age when people in America retire.  On Facebook, I have seen that a number of my high school class mates who became teachers have retired.  There have been dinners and celebrations.  I’m happy for them. 

A few weeks ago, I was at a social event talking with a 15 year old Italian student.  From her innocent eyes I know I looked old.  Not grand mother old, (bits of my hair are purple you know, not real Italian grandmotherly)  but teacher old.  She asked where I taught.  I replied that I was retired, I did what I damn well pleased.  She looked a little shocked at that.  Not that I look that young, just the concept that I looked like I should still be working, but wasn’t.  I hoped from the way  I was dressed she could tell that I was not some rich American, who had landed in Italy for fun. 

All of this led me to think about retirement.  And my long time friend who is retiring from teaching.  I think.  For some reason she doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.  Maybe she is one of those who is scared of the change.  What will she do in August when she doesn’t have to start getting up at the crack of dawn, drive her long commute, maintain a post of vigilance and struggle to keep order in her class room  of uninterested, unmotivated, unruly teenage students?  What will she do when she no longer has anyone to impart the years of learning, the wisdom of seeing the bigger picture and being able to draw parallels to today?  What will she do?  My answer, ‘whatever she damn well pleases’.  So if this means she wants to stay in her house and read all day she can.  If she wants to go out to walk through a park or visit a museum, she can.  No longer will these activities have to be relegated to the weekends, holiday breaks, summer vacations.  She can do these things whenever she damn well pleases.   

Ben and I took my parents as our role models for retirement.  When my father was first able to retire, he did.  Before he turned 65.  So did we.  Ben was 62 when he stopped working, I was 56.  We moved here.  And for a few years before Ben’s physical condition started to be an issue we did pretty much what we damn well pleased, within our budget.  Now with more physical limitations we do less.  But we are still able to enjoy ourselves every day.  I am grateful that we have this time together.  That I have this time so that if I want to sit in my garden and watch lizards chase each other around the tree trunk I can. 

On the other hand we have friends who are older than we are and have been retired for a number of years, who maintain a large two foot by three foot monthly calendar, with 4” square blocks for each day so they can fill in all their scheduled activities.  I also know that on their last trip abroad, they faced a very steep learning curve.  As in the past, they had oodles of activities planned for each day but were lucky to get through 1 or 2 a day.  Doing about 1/4 of what they had hoped to do on the trip.  And besides the physical limitations that are beginning to slow them down, I hear of their many colds, allergy attacks and other minor illnesses.  Within a week or two of arrival of the many friends who commute back and forth between North America and Italy, I hear, ‘Oh, we can’t, I have a horrible cold.’  Now we are not house bound or quarantined .  We do get out every week at least once a week, ( I am out much more often than Ben).  We just don’t have the colds and minor illnesses that all these friends seem to have.  (touch wood)  Just saying…

Another friend who is just turning 65, has been working part time as a school guidance counselor for a number of years now.  I asked him if he was considering full retirement and his response was that he liked what he did, it was not overly demanding, his work schedule allows for 4 day weekends every week and a day off during the week.  He doesn’t need the money.  And ‘I also like having a partial structure to my week.’ 

Our friends who have to maintain a calendar for activities, partial structure.  those are the parts that I don’t like, the parts that stop me from volunteering or doing something… that commitment, that partial structure, the completely full days.   As we transition back to America, that way of life, I wonder what will I do with my time?  I won’t have a garden anymore, only a deck.  Very close to where we live is a large university arboretum that I could volunteer at.  The pictures of the volunteers look like folks I would want to be friends or work with.   Also,  I have found that the Food Bank of Raleigh accepts walk-in volunteers so that is on my radar.  It would be really nice to find someone who still has a yard but just can’t do the light ornamental gardening that I am able to do and will miss so much.  I won’t mind tootling by every day or two, to do a little watering, dead heading, light weeding but PLEASE no grass cutting.  That is my quandary, how do I find this person? 

And maybe that is why I have been giving retirement so much thought.  Because of my friend who is about to retire but refuses to talk about it, but also, because when we move back to the US in December we will be entering a whole new part of retirement.  How will our lives change?  What will we be doing with our time?  And oh my GOSH!  I won’t have a garden anymore.  Just like no longer having to go to work everyday I will be giving up the responsibility of maintaining  a garden and checking on it everyday.  I guess it’s like we are retiring all over again, retiring from our life in Italy to a new life in America.  (I have already started my new blog which I am not yet ready to make public)  (And I know that I will be giving up my tee shirts and jeans look, wearing my overalls more (much to many folks dismay) and dressing like Frankie on the Netflix show Grace and Frankie)  

So as I try to congratulate my friend on retirement, I am also saying to her and myself  that for everyone, retiring in America is different, that each of us has to find our own way, that it helps to think of retirement as an opportunity, an adventure, a new start on life.  Sure it is a time of change and uncertainty, of unease about the future, not sure of my plans time…but OH MY!  LOOK AT THE POSSIBILITES!

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A whoop dee dooo bird (the Italian name is something like Huppa) looking for possibilities. 

The garden in June

 

Since I won’t have a garden next year I am trying to enjoy this one to the fullest.  Sitting out each night (when it isn’t raining!)  looking at it and having a glass of wine while I do.  I realized that I didn’t have to buy as many plants this year as I have in the past.  A number of plants wintered over.

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These begonias and airplane plants spent the winter in the garage. With a little care and fertilizer in the early spring they popped right back. 

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Same thing for these.  I am cutting the airplanes off as they develop and sticking them in the ground near the gazzinas.  You can just see a row of them at the bottom of the picture below.

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The gazzinas are really doing well.  They also wintered over well.

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Finally a day lilly has appeared.  The cardinal and pink lobelia have just about swallowed it up. 

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And in the middle of it all, the FIRST tomato of the year, June 18th!

Happy 4th of July

 

Drive safely and I hope your fireworks don’t get rained on. 

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Butterfly Bush

 

This is the third year that many of the bushes in my garden have been in the ground.  And as I have written, we have had lots of rain this year.  The Butterfly Bush just could not let the Bottle Brush outshine it.   The Butterfly Bush patiently waited for the Bottle Brush to finish.  Had they both bloomed at the same time I am not sure what the bees and butterflies would have done.  ‘Insect Wars!’ 

Like the Bottle Brush, the pictures do not do justice to it.  When you first see the garden, your attention is drawn to the almost electric color blue.  And so much of it.  So here is the Butterfly Bush in its full glory.

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As you can see the bush is HUGE!  Richard and I did not prune it back as much as we could have.  So I have been freely cutting the branches which were too close to the crape myrtle.  Luckily, this large vase, from the villa on the property, was damaged and was in the trash pile.  I rescued it and with a little duct tape made it safe to use again.  I needed a large vase.  When Ida and I talked about it, she revealed that she had not liked the Chinese beer bottles that I used as vases for a while.  But this is acceptable.   As cut flowers the stems last a long time and will continue to open rather than die. 

All this came from a live root slip that I bought at the Esselunga and just stuck in the ground.  It is a very fertile valley. 

New things from Esselunga

 

There is a term in the IT industry, ‘early adopter’ and I know there is one in grocery industry too for someone who will buy a new product to try it, especially if it has a tag calling your attention to the fact that it is new. 

You know, I’m one of those.  Recent new products

 

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A really nice bamboo handle knife.  Total splurge!  I didn’t really need a knife but the handle is so nice. 

A teeny little container  of shelf stable cream that has curry in it. (cream, not coconut milk)   It is so small, maybe 2 ounces, so not enough to be a sauce more of a condiment.  I might have to break down and look at the manufacture’s web site to see how they suggest using it.  (update: I opened it.  Very Indian curry.  Did not use it)

Potato chips with a ‘heart of ginger’.  They are a summer flavor.  Suggested to have with ‘lo Spritz’, a type of drink to have before a meal, more popular in the summer, served with ice cubes in it, sometimes sort of a wine cooler, sometimes premade, sort herbal or even cough syrupy, can be both alcoholic (usually strong) or non alcoholic.  The potato chips are outstanding.  And do go well with a glass of wine.

Heinz BBQ sauce.  Yeah, what’s so special about that?  Well Esselunga is sort of ‘Goldilocks’ about BBQ sauces.  Eighteen months ago they were carrying HP BBQ sauce.  Really good.  I want to get another bottle.  Gone.   Stonewall Farms BBQ sauce instead.  Snooty and expensive.  What did Goldilocks say when something wasn’t ‘just right’?  Evidentially Stonewall Farms wasn’t,  so now it is Heinz.  I’ll have to try it and if I want another bottle rush back to get it before Esselunga moves on to another brand.

Maldon Smoked Sea Salt.  It was not expensive.  I will have to try that soon.

 

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A few weeks ago I bought this Turmeric tea.  I didn’t like it.  But if I wanted to dye something yellow/gold that would be my go to choice. 

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I am thinking that my cousins who own a sub/pizza place in Ocean City, New Jersey would like to try this.  What a labor saver, sliced peperoni surrounded by cheese.  If you are in OCNJ check them out  http://voltacositalianfoods.com/index.htm

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These are not new to the market.  They are a mosquito repellant.  I remember that when we would vacation in Italy, I would buy these and take them back to the US.  Are they available in the US now?  About what do they cost for a box?

 

The horrors of the shopping trip was learning that the deli section has discontinued (for the summer) carrying store brand hummus.  If ever there was a summer spread or more deserving snack for summer it is hummus!  Yes, I know that the expensive organic brand is still available but I liked the store brand much better.  And yes I know I can make it.  Since I have figured out that I can freeze it, I might just go ahead and make a batch next week. 

So that is the fun we are having here in southern Tuscany.  It continues to rain every day at least once a day.  Sometimes buckets and buckets.  I feel sorry for the tourists.  Sunny but not hot.  It may have been up to 80 degrees one day.  We have not had the windows open yet but I am running a ceiling fan at night just to move some air around. So happy that I don’t have to cut grass.  So tried of laundry all over the house trying to get it dry.

Weather update: Rain finally stopped in mid-June now it is comfortable to hot each day but cools off nicely at night.  We are finally sleeping with the windows in the bedroom open.

Every Four Years

 

No not the olympics, but the UEFA Cup.  (pronounced You Aaaa fa) 

This is shamelessly lifted from their site.  http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro/

UEFA EURO 2016 competition format

For the first time, 24 teams will particpate at a EURO final tournament following a qualifying campaign played under the new ‘Week of Football’ concept.

Contested every four years, the UEFA European Championship has been showcasing the continent’s top talent since its inception as the UEFA European Nations Cup in 1960. It consists of a qualifying competition, play-offs and a final tournament.

Qualifying
The qualifying round, featuring a record field of 53 nations, is made up of nine groups of five or six teams, who contest home and away fixtures. The nine group winners, the nine group runners-up and the best third-placed side will qualify directly for the final tournament. The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest play-offs to determine the last four qualifiers for the finals.

For the first time, qualifying takes place under the new ‘Week of Football’ concept, which sees games played from Thursday to Tuesday. Kick-off times will be set mainly at 18.00CET and 20.45CET on Saturdays and Sundays and 20.45CET for Thursdays, Fridays, Mondays and Tuesdays. On double-header matchweeks, teams will play on Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday. Each day of the ‘Week of Football’ will have eight to ten matches.

©Getty Images

Action from the final of UEFA EURO 2012

European Qualifiers match dates
MD1: 7/8/9 September 2014
MD2: 9/10/11 October 2014
MD3: 12/13/14 October 2014
MD4: 14/15/16 November 2014
MD5: 27/28/29 March 2015
MD6: 12/13/14 June 2015
MD7: 3/4/5 September 2015
MD8: 6/7/8 September 2015
MD9: 8/9/10 October 2015
MD10: 11/12/13 October 2015

Play-off match dates
First legs: 12/13/14 November 2015
Second legs: 15/16/17 November 2015

Final tournament
For the first time, 24 sides will contest the UEFA European Championship. The inaugural final tournament in France in 1960 was a four-team affair, expanding to eight in 1980 and doubling in size again in 1996 to 16.

As hosts, France qualify automatically for a tournament that takes place between 10 June and 10 July 2016. They will be joined by 23 qualifiers and the teams will be drawn into groups of four, with the six group winners, six group runners-up and the four best third-placed teams advancing to the round of 16 when it becomes a knockout competition.

Regulations
The regulations of the UEFA European Football Championship, 2014–16 competition were approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in Bilbao, Spain in December 2013. The regulations were initially drawn up by the UEFA Administration before being submitted to the UEFA National Team Competitions Committee. They were then forwarded upon that committee’s approval to the UEFA Executive Committee for ratification.

©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.

Last updated: 29/02/16 17.01CET

 

As you can see, this current tournament has been going on since 2014….  These are country teams, not privately owned teams.  While the players may change the private team that they play for over a two year period, they do not change the country that they play for.  So unless there are injuries, the team that played in 2014 is the same as the team that will be playing in this tournament. 

The whole thing is a big deal here in Europe.  We watch BBC World News.  I have seen a crawler on the BBC News suggesting that employers should be more lenient about work hours during the UEFA Cup.  (Say it with me now,  You Aaaa fa!)  And Ben and I noticed that the BBC, which is not showing the games, but has developed an app  so that ‘you can follow the progress and keep track of your favorite teams’ has what must be a very expensive ad to promote this.  The ad is set in pre-revolutionary France in a Versailles type palace with the young king unlocking a cabinet to carry out the trophy, passing through a room full of period costumed actors with giant portraits of soccer players on the walls, out to a waiting crowd to display the trophy.  When we watch this ad, I just wonder about the cost of it,  the location, the costumes, the number of people, the rights to use the players image…. and this station is not even showing the games!!!!!!

Anyway, we got together as a village (as the owner of the property that we live on likes to call it) to sit outside and watch the game.  It was easier for Ben, for Ida and I to somewhat host it in our garden rather than in theirs.  We all pitched in with food and drinks.  Big tables appeared.  We hooked the TV up to our antenna and a wonderful night was had by all.  Non-villagers, John, Richard and William were allowed, but only because they had Irish connections and Italy was playing Ireland. 

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John and Richard straggling in…

 

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A spirited game of beach volley took place while cooking was going on.  The ground is uneven in this area so it was better for Ben to be in his wheel chair. 

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Giorgio tended his giant grill and cooked a huge amount of meat. 

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Hmmm, pancetta

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A polite pause for national anthems

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And the games get under way.  (yes that is a 13 year old carrying beer)

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By the time the food was done it was dark and the flash doesn’t really work on my camera.  Cleaning up this morning I found this, Ida’s creation.  The fruit salad must have been in it. 

Oh and Italy lost.  But they were already in the round of 16 so they play again on Monday night.   I know in America we would get together for a sporting event but would that be outside?  As a village?  Pretty sure this is one of the fun things that we will miss. 

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