29 August 2014

It's finished and we are free to flush!

Today the contractors finished the installation of the new septic system!

This has been probably the most critical job we've done. The new system covers both the house and the rustico and includes black water, white/grey water and storm water.

The contractors spent the last few hours of today smoothing and tamping down the earth in the disturbed area. Now we need to dump a few loads of gravel on it to avoid a bog when it rains.

Unfortunately, despite a lot of money being spent, we don't have much to show for it!

We will just have to be happy in the knowledge that we can shower and flush with utter confidence that it is all flowing well and in the right direction...


28 August 2014

The septic job just gets bigger and bigger...

The project to install a new septic system continues...

This week the contractors returned (after Ferragosto) and launched immediately into destroying yet more of our yard! Obviously it needs to be done in order to lay the new pipes with the correct fall. However, every time the digger rips a slice of earth out it also rips our hearts out!

We have to keep reminding each other that once this is done we are free of septic worries and free to pretty up the area...no more blockages, no more digging, no more disruption, no more destruction. It will be a good feeling.

There is a labyrinth of pipes and tubes under the area. It's a total mess. Previous owners have each done their own "improvements" and there are used and disused pipes everywhere of all types (well water, storm water, septic, gas, electricity). This makes digging slow and risky. There is also buried rubbish which also has to be uncovered carefully just in case it's not rubbish!

Before Ferragosto the digger broke our main water pipe from the well (see posts on 12th & 13th August) and yesterday it broke it again. On both occasions we have had to make urgent calls to our plumber who, thankfully, has come out within hours to re-connect it. We place absolutely no blame on our contractors though. This job is a nightmare.

Above: Before the pipes were laid

Above: After the pipes were laid


27 August 2014

There is hope yet!

Italians love their topiary.

I have always met specimens of topiary with a mix of wonder and hilarity. Why exactly does one do this to perfectly acceptable trees?

So it is with personal shock that I announce that I have fallen into the 'Talian Topiary Trap.

For some time I've been having ugly thoughts about a box tree in my garden. It has 5 twisted trunks, is 6 feet tall and lopsided. To be totally honest, it's a lump. An ugly blob. A blight on my delicate cottage garden.

On my 5km morning walk yesterday morning I noticed that someone had made a nice topiary job on a multi trunked blob and made it into something quite elegant.

So yesterday afternoon I took to my tree with the saw, cutters and clippers. I will expose the trunks, remove the greenery off the lower half of the tree, then even up the canopy into a nice rectangle.

Unfortunately I can't finish the job this year because too much change may traumatise the tree...but at least it's on the way to becoming a beautiful and loved part of my garden.

Above: As it looks now

Above: I am working towards something like this

Above: I am NOT working towards this!


25 August 2014

The long neglected fienile is loved

Stu has finished restoring the front window of the fienile!

He replaced the upper wooden beams and the lower stone wall a few weeks ago and has now finished the window itself.

Since this lower fienile space will be a work and garden shed, we do not need to install glass in the windows but still need to retain security and some weather insulation.

We decided to re-install the old security bars and old wire mesh and add insect screens and shutters. The shutters were taken from the house, where they have been a constant source of annoyance because they weren't on all of the windows! Since our house windows are small and we have no need to darken our rooms, we have now removed all of the shutters and will re-use them elsewhere.

Our stronger and prettier fienile is now feeling like part of the house...

Aove: Stu re-installs the window bars

Above: Stu trial-fits the unpainted and uncovered window frame

Above: Stu installs the newly painted and wire/flyscreen-covered window frame

Above: The finished job, complete with a pair of old house shutters!


23 August 2014

An old lady is sharing our lives

This week we are looking after an old dog. An 18 year old dog.

Sassi struggles with life. She gets tangled in chair legs and falls on uneven ground. She whimpers for help when she's stuck. Just like an old lady, she relies on others to help her through the final days.

We are treasuring this time with her. She is reminding us how short life is and how precious youth and health.


22 August 2014

A dictionary can always bring you down

For years I've been learning Italian...but just when I think I'm good enough my hopes are dashed by the dictionary.

Whenever we've needed to get our plumber, we have an arrangement whereby Stu digs whatever holes he needs and the plumber does the technical work. We hope this saves us money but we suspect it doesn't.

Anyway, every time the plumber comes, I remind him that Stu will dig the holes. "Stu scarica la buca", I say, mustering my best language and negotiating skills. The plumber never flinches; he just tells me where Stu should dig the holes.

This morning, we were driving into town when we saw a sign "Divieto di Scarica". We've seen this sign many times before and I have always interpreted it to mean "No Digging". Stu asked me what it meant. I encouraged him to look it up in the dictionary we keep in the car rather than translate for him.

Stu opened the dictionary, flicked a few pages and announced that "scarica" meant "unload" or "discharge" or "dump".

Suddenly I felt hot. My face grew very red.

For years I've been telling our plumber that "Stu would discharge into the hole"!

One can only wonder what he thought Stu was discharging into the hole!

21 August 2014

Fearlessly facing the enemy

There are things that go bump in the night in our chimney! Stu's chair is close to the fireplace and every evening there is a clamour far too close to his chair that causes him to jump out of his seat.

These beasts that terrorise us in the night are ghiri (otherwise known as dormice). They are a cross between a squirrel (bushy tails) and a possum (big eyes) and are really very beautiful.

This morning we found further evidence of the creatures that haunt us.

We'd woken early and headed downstairs for breakfast. Our spoons were in hand and ready to plunge into our porridge when I heard a noise.

"Shhh!" I snapped at Stu.

In response I received a tirade of abuse about how I'm always finding things wrong and imagining noises. But I was utterly confident that the noise I'd heard was real and new...and very close.

After a few spoonfuls of porridge I heard the noise again. Before insisting there was a noise and risking another tirade, I analysed it. The noise was inside the house and it was moving plastic around.

The next time the noise came Stu heard it too. We both dived up, leaving our porridge to congeal in our bowls. He headed outside while I headed into the downstairs bathroom, sure of my earlier analysis.

In the bath, along with bits of pipe and plastic bags of fittings associated with the new septic system, was a small furry creature.

I yelled. Stu came.

"I think it's a rat!" I screamed at him.

Always worried that small things will climb up his leg, Stu put his own safety first and ran to the shed to get a ladder. He returned and positioned the ladder so that he could see inside the bath from an elevated position. Picture big man trembling on ladder.

When he peered over the side of the bath, he saw a bushy tail and announced from his podium that it was a ghiro (always a good thing when the only other creatures of similar bearing are mice and rats!).

We stood in the bathroom repeating over and over again: "What do we do now!?", "What do we do now!?", "What do we do now!?".

Our initial ideas for eradicating the creature were similar but also poles apart. Stu thought I would get rid of it. I thought Stu would get rid of it.

Our next ideas involved brooms and buckets.

Our final ideas were completely in sync. We would wait for our friend to arrive (who was due within the hour).

We locked the creature in the bathroom and ourselves in the kitchen...and waited.

When our friend arrived he put on a pair of leather gloves, picked the beast up and released it outside.

Simple. No ladders. No brooms. No buckets. No panic.


Hedging our bets

Four years ago we planted what he hoped would become a hedge.

In our ignorance we planted 10 little box seedlings too far apart and they have never joined up to form the desired hedge.

So this week we purchased 10 more little box trees and planted them in between the others.

Our hedge is now looking a lot more like a hedge.



20 August 2014

In homage to our humble nuts

Yesterday we wandered down to the back paddock in search of a piece of our lawnmower that had managed to come loose and throw itself into the forest.

We stomped and stamped around hoping our feet would find it somewhere under our little grove of 6 hazelnut trees. Instead we kept stepping on little hard things that were far too small and round to be the desired metal part.

When we parted the grass and peered down we found hazelnuts!

Unlike the professional hazelnut farmers around here (who supply to Ferrero Rocher in Alba!), we "harvested" our crop by grovelling in the grass on our hands and knees!

Needless to say roasted hazelnuts will be on the menu for the next few months...as well as a trip to the lawnmower man...



19 August 2014

The first of the fienile garden beds

Since the contractors installing the septic have finished making a mess on the fienile side of the system, we are free to "pretty up" the fienile for the first time.

Stu has been creating garden beds along the front of the building and already these beds are "pulling" the fienile and the house together as we dreamed.

He bordered the garden beds with rocks, laid a path and created a ramp into the shed. Then he filled the garden beds with good soil and mulch.

Now I have the perfect excuse to buy more roses and lavenders!



18 August 2014

Something wonderful always happens

A few days ago, I posted about a 93 year old lady who believes that if you go outside "something wonderful always happens".

Today, when I went outside, this wonderful thing happened.

This wonderful thing sat on my finger for ages. In fact, after a good 20 minutes in its company, I had to gently reposition it on a leaf in order to get on with my day's work!


17 August 2014

Enough is definitely enough!

I have made almost 100 jars of jams, relishes and sauces.

Now the fruit trees and vegetables are tiring after their generous and hectic months. The leaves on the fruit trees are turning and the vegetables are wilting.

The weather is cooling (12 degrees last night!), telling us to slow down and relax for soon a hard winter will be upon us.

I love living in a place where every season talks to me...reminding me that time is running out and encouraging me to make the most of every day.

Above: Spring

Above: Summer

Above: Autumn

Above: Winter


15 August 2014


When I worked, many of my suppliers were European companies. I remember being annoyed every time August came around because these companies would suddenly shut shop and leave their clients unsupported. I never understood how valuable the August holiday was to Europeans until I lived in Europe myself.

In Italy, we celebrate Ferragosto on 15th August.

"First proclaimed by the Emperor Augustus in 18 BC, the feriae Augusti originally lasted for most of August and was a time to rest after the hard work of the summer harvest" (www.italymagazine.com). Over time it developed into the one-day celebration of today.

After months of tending vegetable plants, picking fruit, and making jams, relishes and sauces I can well understand the need to "rest after the hard work of the summer harvest"...


14 August 2014

Something beautiful everywhere

I find it easy to decorate a rustic country home.

Here is a bird-themed nook in our loungeroom.


13 August 2014

There are white tops where the big yellow things are!

The work on the new septic system continued all day yesterday and this morning until our contractors were rained out at noon.

Yesterday they dug the exit trench, then prepared and positioned the inspection points and pipes before connecting all of the components. The exit trench took considerable time because they had to dig very carefully in order to avoid the main gas line. We knew it was there but not exactly where! When they found it, they chose to dig around it by hand to expose it properly.

Today, under threateningly dark and heavy clouds, the contractors cemented the top of the main tank for extra protection. They also took the opportunity to cement around the gas line and were able to bury most of the system before heavy rain started. Rainwear kept them dry while they buried the remainder of the system and hosed thick clay off the digger's tracks. At noon they loaded the clean digger onto the truck and wobbled their way down a partly underwater driveway through a dripping forest.

Since next week is Ferragosto they will recommence work the following week...

Above: Digging the exit trench

Above: All main parts in position

Above: Cementing the top of the main tank and covering the exit trench

Above: Washing the mud off the digger in the rain

Above: Our new septic system partially installed...and our new clay bog...


12 August 2014

Something wonderful always happens

Recently I read of a 93 year old woman who believes that "if you force yourself to go outside, something wonderful always happens".

These words had a strong impact on me. At 93, she must find it hard to tackle life. At that age, even forcing herself to go outside is probably an achievement.

Then I wondered about the accuracy of the words for people younger than 93. I thought about the best things that happen to me and they do more often than not happen outside. It might be a dark cloudy sky rolling into the valley, it might be scores of butterflies dancing on our wildflower field, it might be new buds on my roses or it might be lizards chasing each other in the sun.

I think this lady is right. When the rest of your world seems boring or sad or lonely, go outside, where "something wonderful always happens".

The big yellow things have been buried!

We were very excited to hear from our geometra that the muratore would arrive this morning to start work on the installation of our new septic system.

They arrived at 9am as promised and two very tired people met them outside (we have had two sleepless nights due to meowing cats hunting dormice around the house!).

Their truck carried a small backhoe which they offloaded quickly then started to plan the days activities.

In no time at all the digger was underway and they were searching for the exit tube into which they had to connect the system.

This tube proved hard to find as it was deep underground but they eventually found it, puncturing it in the process.

They then started digging the large holes for the major components of the system. We had warned them beforehand that we had no idea where critical services were buried, including well water, electricity and gas. The digger operator picked away carefully ("delicato"). It wasn't long before he found a pipe which proved to be water from the old well and was dry. A little later he found an old orange septic pipe which was full of mud and even later still a red electricity tube that contained no wiring. Comfortable in a new confidence that enough had been found already he continued to pick away.

Suddenly we heard a twang then watched as a powerful fountain of water spouted from a newly uncovered tube in the hole. Realising immediately that our precious well water pipe had been severed, Stu ran to turn off the well pump while I dashed inside to call our plumber.

The plumber arrived a couple of hours later during siesta (!) to re-connect the tube.

In the afternoon the digger operator finished digging the large holes under the guidance of the muratore. To ensure that the holes were the correct depth to allow fall on the various incoming and outgoing pipes, the muratore set up a laser level. Once the holes were properly levelled and ready, the muratore drove away in his truck to get a load of sand while the digger operator "landscaped" our driveway and lawn area with the excess dirt.

On his return, the muratore shovelled a layer of sand into the holes and flattened it on the bottom before again checking levels then lifting the tanks into place using the bucket of the digger.

Once in place, the tanks were filled with water to prevent them from collapsing under the weight of sand which was then poured around them and hosed with water to help it to settle and provide maximum support.

It was at this point that I became concerned. I came out of the house to see both workers reading the instructions on the tanks! It seems that, while they had installed many IMOF systems in the past, they had never installed one so deep. The depth had been necessary because of the poor fall on pipes from the rustico. We had previously had a bad experience with the rustico pipes being blocked so we knew our options would be to have a deeper septic or install a completely separate septic for the rustico. Obviously a deeper septic is the cheaper option. The instructions stated that a protective cement top had to be put over the tanks if they were to be buried at a depth greater than 20cm. Our tanks qualify.

Before they left at 8pm last night after a hard 11 hour day, the tanks were in place, filled with water and supported by sand.

Tomorrow they have another day of digging channels and laying and connecting the incoming and outgoing pipes...

Above: Before...

Above: During...

Above: After...

Above: Measuring the depth

Above: Watering the sand in