Category Archives: garden

Il Giardino

It is that time of year. The time for planting. All the surrounding farmers are hard at it. The winter wheat is already high.

The construction crew came last Monday to finally cart off the rest of the debris from the work. Now I can clean the terrace. Luther and I purchased two nice wood planters 80 cm long by 40 cm deep. I was going to put three tomatoes in each but changed my mind and ordered another planter so they can be two to each planter. These are the tomatoes I started as seeds. My house sitters helped tend them. They look good.😊

I also bought some grass for my pond. The fish, Quo and Qua, seem to like it.

The vivaio I found north of us (nursery) has lots of nice plants. Here is first my haul.

I have planted most of them.

Jalapeño and two basil plants
Sage. I have bad luck with sage.
Three lavenders. All my others died. No idea. Why. I got a white one too.

These are the orphan tomatoes. I think I’ll keep one but the other four will be adopted by my friend Elizabeth for her orto.

Happy to get everyone launched. Next up…flowers!

IrisUmbria

My friend Doug and I like to go to the Iris farm over in the Niccone valley every spring to admire the blooms and lovely gardens. It is called IrisUmbria. It is open on weekends in May.

Casale – main farmhouse – and upper fields.


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As an addendum to my Trip Report on Albania. Many people said they’d never go after reading it. I didn’t mean to put people off. The people are so very nice, the prices are so very low. The food is good. Fresh seafood is wonderful. The towns very pretty. The beaches are pristine. If you hike, the Albanian Alps are amazing and attract a lot of hikers. I feel for the people there. They had a very hard time so are a bit behind the rest of the former communist countries who didn’t live under as cruel a regime as the Albanese. It is so near Italy. We will go back, this time to a beach off season. It is just next to Greece and it’s beaches just as nice and at way less than half the price! Give it a try. Another thing that is of interest is that it is not Schengen. This makes it a place to go if you’re trying to do the Schengen shuffle. I will write about the Schengen Shuffle soon.

Doings

Time to do an update on doings in Umbertide. Normal every day errands like grocery shopping can be more interesting here. This day I was shopping with a Monk, he had a jacket over his robes but still had his sandals plus a warm wool hat. I saw he was perusing the toilet paper…because even a Monk needs toilet paper I guess.

We also ordered another pallet of pellets for our stufa. While I was standing next to the checkout window I noticed this ad for poultry. You get 10 one day old chicks if you buy a 20 kg bag of feed.

Sunday, friends who have moved away were back and we were invited to join them for lunch at Calagrana. Of course we accepted and were so happy to be a part of the looooong table of about 20. I knew nearly everyone there so it was like a big family event. Much fun and good food.

All my gifted bulbs are coming up. I don’t know what these are but they are the earliest bloomers. Such a pretty deep purple. I cut back all the ferns and I could see the furry fiddleheads all curled up ready to grow. I weeded all my beds (Jill 😁). Those weeds just keep coming back but they look good now. And I added four bags of soil to the bed with the olive tree which had a lot of settling and I could see the olive tree roots. I hope it is happier now. I did all the final preparations for spring in the gardens. Brushing off my hands for a job well done!

I ordered some tomato seeds from a website with hundreds of heirloom varieties. And I bought some trays to start the seedlings. I haven’t ever tried this before. I always just bought plants. I wanted some different varieties and they just don’t have a lot of variety of types here. We shall see if this was a lesson in futility!

I have been very busy up on the terrace this week other than the gardens since we had a really nice day yesterday. Mostly we have had a lot of rain just about every day. After the construction, of which much took place outside, the surfaces were covered in cement dust.

Then I scrubbed all the pavers on the floor of the terrazzo. You could hardly see the color of them through the dust. I’m sure there is still dust there but they are much better. I also washed off all the chairs which were filthy and the table top and all counter surfaces and around the fireplace and oven. What a mess. And a lot of work. I still have another half of it to do but it may need to wait a bit.

The reason for the wait is an upcoming trip next week. What exotic place will we be visiting this time, you ask? Well it is the United States. Yep. We have not been back for five years. So it truly will be an “exotic” place. I think we may be in for culture shock.

It is not a “for fun” trip. We are finally going to empty our storage facility which has become quite expensive. Much work. It is important that I am successful but I’m feeling pretty good about it now.

My local cousin has a friend who will take my antiques. Sadly no one in our family wanted them and I don’t want to ship them. I have some new stuff which I will give away for free on the FreeCycle network. What I want to keep will be shipped over with an international shipper. They will help with inventory and valuation. A person can ship their own household goods over here duty free for one year. Obviously I am far beyond this time so I have to play customs duty of 34% of the value. It kind of stinks I have to do this with my own used stuff. I will need to look into every box and be sure I want to send. The cost of shipping plus duty makes me want to limit the amounts. Thing is, I left my favorite things there. I assumed I’d move back. It is the biggest mistake I made when we moved here to keep it in storage. Things I don’t want will be donated and finally I’ve got an appointment with NOVA Junk to come pick up all that is left.

I am bringing some really big suitcases. I will put some things into them like my paintings and art that I own (that will fit) and also all my Christmas ornaments. I will wrap well in bubble wrap and hope for the best! I also have silverware. I’m thinking of bringing that in my carry-on. I read the TSA webpage and it “should” be allowed but as we all know, the TSA agent makes the decisions. Makes me nervous. I will also, naturally, be doing a shopping trip for some things I use here. Stuff that is expensive or not of the quality I like, or just can’t be found here. OTC drugs, vitamins, aluminum foil, hominy, canned hot peppers, chili powder, chocolate chips, pecans. Not much really.

I will be pretty busy and a little stressed (ya think?) but I will feel much better when I am done. I have not made any plans for social things during this time because I don’t know my schedule. I am sorry I won’t be able to see my friends. We will see family who live nearby for a meal sometime.

I will be writing about my impressions of the U.S. I know I am in for sticker shock big time. But I am also very interested to see what things I notice, that make an impression with my new eyes. It should be interesting. Stay tuned! 📺

Busy week

Mundane things we got done this week. Some good, some not-so-good.
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I forgot to mention that we had a call from our Polizia Municipale on Saturday. They had a citation for us and had to deliver it. We said we were home so he came by to our house with it. (So weird that they do this.) Turns out we were on vacation on our cruise when this infraction occurred so that meant it was our house sitters. They did tell me they went to the Adriatic coast and that is where they got this speeding ticket. Luckily it wasn’t too much over the limit so no need to ask for their drivers license info so we can say who was driving. No points involved. We paid the fine and will wait to see if we get any more to decide whether we will bother with asking them to repay us. Sometimes it’s not worth it.
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Monday we spent 3 hours at the ginormous Perugia hospital waiting — and 15 minutes of that time was for procedures. Ugh. I’m getting an orthoscopia of my sinuses and had to do pre-op tests and an interview with the anesthetist because I will be asleep for the procedure. So that’s done. Now I wait to find out the date for the procedure. I just hope it’s not on Thanksgiving or just before since we are going to Thanksgiving lunch at Calagrana with friends. Here is the waiting room…tick…tick..tick. ⏰

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Tuesday I drove to Sansepolcro in nearby Tuscany for my, much needed, haircut. I love that little city. It’s in the upper Tiber Valley just like we are. They are right up at the end of the valley where the big mountains start. The town has just over 15,000 people so just slightly smaller than Umbertide. It was a gray day and I had a little time so walked a little into town from the gate and took a few pictures. None are very good. The town has all their Christmas lights up already.

V

I may be wrong but it seems like the people in Sansepolcro dress more stylishly than in Umbertide. I think I’m right though. Umbertide is a working class town for the most part and Umbrian to boot. Tuscany is, well, you know, Tuscany, so it is a little more posh. 😁
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Wednesday brought a meeting with my architect, Irma. I think all the details are nailed down now. She and I will go to the Falegname (cabinet maker) Nicoletti here in town who will custom build our cabinets.  I will pick the color then. I’ve already chosen the countertop color and the color for the floor. Still must chose appliances, sink, faucet but that should be it. Today we decided to replace one narrow cabinet with a wine rack. The work won’t start until January which is pretty perfect actually. We will be here. We won’t have any guests. Hopefully it will be done before we go home to the US for the first time in four years in March.  Here’s the plan before. Today we decided on cabinets that lift up rather than open normally. And the narrow cabinet on the left will become a wine rack. 

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Thursday, I worked in the gardens in the morning. I cleaned out and cut back the lavender and a big pink flowering plant that got huge, also the hostas and the ornamental grass I planted. There is still more to do but it’s better now. I also planted all the bulbs that my friend Jill gifted to me. Lots of flowers this spring! Won’t that be something to look forward to?

At a little after eleven I left to meet my bestie, Jen, in Passignano sul Trasimeno for lunch. It’s a pretty lakefront town. I think there are about 8,000 people and it is on the main train line. My friend lives in Foligno and doesn’t like to drive so this worked for us both and I love the lake. Here are some pictures from around town.

Along the lakefront promenade

Pretty park along lake

Along the lakefront promenade

Part of the old castle fortress above the town

Glad these aren’t my stairs

Somebody likes wine

Castle fortress built on a cliff

We ate at Trattoria Pescatore. This place, like most restaurants around the lake, specializes in lake fish. Some of it is regional and specialized like they catch and eat eels, usually made into stew. I’ve had it and it’s actually pretty good. The food is very good. I had risotto with zucca and scamorza. That’s risotto with puréed winter squash and the smoked cheese they make here. Very good and perfect for a one course meal – rich. Jen had the Tuscan soup. It was a bit chilly so the food was quite warming. Here is the restaurant interior, very snug and cozy, and my risotto.

In summer they have a pretty shady garden area. It’s right in the Centro Storico. This photo is the walkway outside covered in vines.

Lago Trasimeno is the fourth largest lake in Italy and the largest on the peninsula. In summer it’s very busy and all along the shores are camp grounds and discos which close in winter. Pretty tacky. In winter the area is quiet and tranquil.

Tomorrow, Friday concludes the week with my Italiano class. It was a productive week!

Lunch with a friend

Managed to pay for the refrigerator today. Luther went back, repeatedly (three times) to get the bill to pay. Italy is the only place I’ve lived where you’ve got to chase them down to pay them. The thing is, we buy our appliances from a store here in town called Formica. Family run and they will get anything you want. Yes, you pay a bit more for it but they bring it, set it up and if there’s ever a problem make sure it gets fixed. Plus you support a local family and store. And yes, you’ve got to chase them down to pay them! But it’s all good.😁
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I had lunch with a new friend in Assisi today. What a cool location. The hotel, named Borgo Antichi Orti has indeed got an ancient vegetable garden. It sits beneath the basilica of St Francis. The lunch was nice and meeting my new friend for the first time was great.

On the way to lunch I got stopped in a random traffic stop. These are common. The Carabinieri hold out what everyone calls a “lolypop” looks like one, it is red and means pull over. They check the cars papers and your driving license. This was a first for me. Luther has been pulled over three times.

Here is where we ate lunch. The glass doors were the restaurant and looming above was the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi. Amazing.

Scorpion – first one I’ve seen in this apartment. Rocky was playing with it. Luckily they are not dangerous here. But still creepy.
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Today was a rainy day, the first one since back in the spring. I like the occasional rainy day. I puttered about the kitchen, using up ingredients I bought to make random things. First, I parboiled and peeled some Roma tomatoes from the Saturday Mercato so I could make more of the delicious butter sauce.

Then I spent a looong time chopping 3 bell peppers, 4 cucumbers and 2 onions into tiny dice to make sweet pickle relish. You can’t buy that here so I’ve taken to making my own. Now I prefer it to store-bought. It is easy to make but there is a lot of chopping!

Last I roasted some of the recent tomatoes from my garden which, as is expected, aren’t as good a summer ones. When you roast them with olive oil and slivered garlic it makes a delicious sauce and resurrects a poor tomato. This was dinner tonight. Felt kind of Greek. I liked it but it isn’t a keeper.

We’re havin’ a heat wave 🎶

Yup. Italy is one of the countries in Europe that’s getting slammed the next week or so. I was feeling especially sorry for the tourists in Rome and Florence. Man is it HOT! 🥵 They predict 40s starting Monday. 42C Wednesday — that’s 108F. Compound it with crowds of sweaty people and waiting in-line (no shade) to get into the sights it will be miserable.

It is natural for people to want to see the “Big Three” major sights (Rome, Florence and Venice) especially on their first trip to Italy, but I strongly advise against it in any hot and high season. Especially this year with an over abundance of tourists after Covid. So what if you’ve got to wear a jacket? It’s so much better than what is going on here now. I was talking to my Italian teacher yesterday and she got rather worked up about it all. She is adamant that Italy needs the tourist dollars, and it does, but why can it not be spread out into regions with less crowds and just as amazing things to see? Not to mention you’ll see the REAL Italy. These mega tourist destinations will be a very sad initiation to Italy. There are so many undiscovered places. Tuscany is always overrun. But Umbria, Le Marche, Abruzzo are all wonderfully uncrowded and all in the center, equally easy to reach. Go to the “Big Three” in winter, late fall, or early spring, and in summer the countryside and small towns.
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In our new apartment we are getting used to managing the temperatures. I open the windows at night when it is this hot at 10pm-ish. And leave them open all night. I’ve got fans in every room pulling the cooler night air in. I watch the morning temperature closely and shut all the windows and shutters when it hits 80 outside. It stays fairly cool inside. It doesn’t get above 80 when the temperatures outside are mid nineties. The fans help a lot. At night we decided to move upstairs to the sofa bed. There are two AC units up there but that’s a big room with no doors and open stairwell to the downstairs so it doesn’t get terribly cool. But better than downstairs. Also, a bonus, it’s very quiet in that area.

Today I got out early (for me) to the market. I bought a bounty of veggies. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, arugula, cucumbers, potatoes, squash.

Believe it or not, between us we eat about 30 tomatoes a week.

Another thing I have to do is figure out how to make meals in this heat. Italian kitchens are usually tucked away from the main living areas. That’s good and bad. Our kitchen has a door to shut it completely off. Until today I thought that was stupid. I also have a very big hood that really pulls the heat out. So shutting the door, opening the windows and using the hood keeps it mostly cool and isolates the heat in that room. I still try to cook early, while it is cool, for dinner that night.

Today, when I came back, I roasted three tomatoes with garlic and I pressure cooked cannellini beans. Our dinner will be pasta, tossed with this sauce, beans, basil, pecorino cheese and bread crumbs. Served room temperature.

I also made pesto. I have four plants and they are all doing very well. I keep it producing by snipping the branches just before they bloom. I go down to the two itty bitty leaves below the big leaves. This allows those small leaves to grow and it doesn’t get rangy and ugly.

Remember my puny tomato plants. They are heirloom American tomatoes. A gift from my friend Joanne. Just look at them now! They look a bit messy. The basil is beside the olive tree. There are three tomatoes and a jalapeño plant. The tomatoes try to encroach on the pepper so I keep them tied up. I figure the tomatoes will ripen when we are on our cruise in August/September. My luck! My house-sitters will benefit.

I have a post half written about our upstairs kitchen reno. That is upcoming. Keep cool y’all! And Buon fine settimana! A la prossima!

It’s July alright.

The heat has finally hit. It could, and probably will, get hotter but this is hot enough for me! In July Umbertide is really jumping. Jumping as much as it ever will. All the people with holiday homes in the hills around here are back. And all the people who rent rooms, villas and apartments are here too. The bars, markets and restaurants are full. Supermarket parking lots have a plethora of license plates from all over Europe. On certain days it’s like grand central station when the weekly rentals change over and everyone new is buying groceries.

It’s really no wonder that so many people come. Although Umbria is not famous like our next door neighbor, Tuscany, it is just as beautiful. It is quieter with less tourists, an oasis of Italian food, wine and beauty. This picture was taken on a farm just outside the Umbertide city walls. The girasole, sunflowers, are a big crop here for their oil, but also a big part of our July landscape. 🌻

Posted on the Umbertide Facebook page. Photo by Pietro Migliorati.

Here are a few terrazzo pictures. First one is of our fish, Qua and Quo, who are increasingly more friendly because they know where the food comes from. The rest are garden pictures and the new rug. Captions below the pics. As always click for larger versions

Qua and Quo – at breakfast
Margarita. Italian for daisy.
Lavender
Dwarf Japanese maple
Tomatoes! Can’t wait!
Baby jalapeño
I swear the olive is twice it’s original size!
New rug and pillows. Finito!

I sat outside all day yesterday. There was a lovely breeze. I just need to get Pino, the electrician, back for some outlets and lighting outside. Oh and to fix the lights that don’t work.
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All y’all stay cool!

The Arezzo Antique and Flea Market

Today I met up with friends at the Arezzo antique/flea market. A huge venue with a really diverse selection of things for every want and every taste. It is the first Sunday of every month and the Saturday prior. It was a beautiful day. The forecasts were for storms and rain. But we saw nary a drop. And the temperatures were perfect.

Arezzo is about a 50 minute drive from Umbertide. The city is in Tuscany and is said to be the most affluent in that region. It has a population of around 100,000. The city center is an amazingly beautiful city. Known as a city of gold and high fashion, it was home to artists and poets. It was originally Etruscan and later Roman.

The market itself sprawls throughout the city. I heard more American English being spoken than I have in years. I was reminded by one of my companions that this was, after all, Tuscany. The biggest magnet to American tourists. So close to Umbria with all its treasures. But I am ok with that. Let Tuscany keep the crowds! Here are pictures of the market. Luther asked for the book stall pictures. He didn’t come because he loses interest in these things rapidly.

Seats from an old cinema
Loved this carved stone chess set

We stopped for lunch at Cavour 42 Trattoria. It was a very pleasant place. The outside tables were in a pretty covered arcade. There was a cool breeze blowing through and it was quieter and calmer than most places in the market. I enjoyed my lunch but it wasn’t great. The company I had made it perfect. Doug brought Georgia, his dog, and there were lots of other dogs including a sweet pitty at the table opposite. We had a nice Rose from Chianti.

I didn’t buy anything. All three of us have new homes to furnish so it was fun. I did see some things I liked. I’ll go back again. Maybe I can get Luther to come next time!
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We have been blessed (?) with a mourning dove nest on our terrace. There are finally two chicks. They are looking like they are getting close to fledging. We try to not scare them.

Finally I have the funniest little teeny stunted hydrangea that came up from left over roots. It has bloomed. My hand in photo for reference to size. Plants are amazing.

Buon weekend, and happy Fourth of July to all! We have a group of Americans coming for lunch that day. It will be fun!

Shelves, sofa, things!

My cabinetmaker Paolo, works slowly. I’m not in a big hurry. It is a good thing I’m not because it has taken since February so far! He finally finished two of the three things I had asked him to make. I just went and looked and it doesn’t seem I took pictures of the supports for some shelves the sellers left sticking out of a wall when they removed, and took the shelves. These supports are iron and embedded into the building so they couldn’t easily be removed. They were also ugly. If I were the sellers and had shelves custom made to fit onto these supports I – Would. Not. Have. Taken. Them! But that’s just me. So, of necessity I needed to replace those shelves. They had to be thick because the supports actually insert into them. Paolo finished these shelves last week and installed them. I also replaced some other shelves the sellers took in a small space. It is a good place to store things. Kind of a pantry. One thing remains to be finished by Paolo, a custom built corner cupboard in the hall from the front door. He says he will be finished by next week with this piece.

I really don’t have enough “stuff” yet. I suppose over time they will fill up.
The space is narrow, but still works as a pantry.

A woman who lives just outside of Umbertide is downsizing at her house. She advertised some things and I bought a few. I can use the crocks and urns for flowers if I want, and they are pretty. I still need some decorative things especially for my bookshelves. I paid her a visit today. Their house has a spectacular view. They are up in the hills to the west of Umbertide. The view is of the entire city and also our big Monte Acuto and other big mountains to the east. I just learned the old name for the big mountain is Montaguto. Aguto is an archaic way to say acute just like Acuto. Here is their view. They lived here for 25 years and have now moved back to the US – Maryland. They return here twice a year. She says less stuff is better when they aren’t there all the time. Here is the view. Click for larger picture. You can see it better.

I bought a pretty group of hooks for coats with grapes. I didn’t get a picture. I still have to mount it. I also got two antique crocks (American). I had some back home. They are very useful as well as pretty. One of these will hold my utensils in my new kitchen, if ever I get one!

The others are purely decorative. She said they were Egyptian.

Finally, after many delays, we got our outside sofa. First I received an email saying delivery would be between such and such date and such and such date. A week in duration. Well that came and went. So I got a phone call. They would come Monday. Monday came and went. No sofa. Another call on Tuesday. They would come Wednesday. Sigh. Well, a guy did show up all by himself. I had paid for delivery a casa, and assembly. Riiiiggghhhttt. I asked him why there weren’t two people. He shrugged and said “it’’s Italia”. He said if he complained he wouldn’t have a job. Poor guy was so sweet. He was apologetic he couldn’t assemble it. But he did take it out of the huge box and brought it up piece by piece. Watdaya do? So we spent some of our anniversary and the day after assembling the sofa. Picture.

I like it a lot, which is good! And it will be nice to watch the sunset. It faces west. Speaking of anniversaries. June 21 is a special day. First, it is the Summer Solstice, happy holiday to all the Druids and Pagans out there! And for us, it is our wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary to us! Finally for me, I retired 10 years ago on June 21. Never a better decision was made. 💕

I also had an excellent adventure yesterday but I will save that for a future post. Ciao for now!

Qui, Qua and Quo

I bet you’re wondering what this will be about. 😉 Those words are Latin. And they happen to be the Italian names for Huey, Dewey, and Louie — Donald Duck’s nephews. And now, they are the names of our new fish 🙂. Of course we don’t know if they are male or female but that doesn’t really matter. To me Qui, Qua, and Quo are not gender specific. At first they stayed hidden but this afternoon I went out and fed them and they came up to eat. I have always had a small “pond” with 2 or 3 fish. I had not gotten the fish yet and noticed the water of the unfinished “pond” had mosquito larvae. The LAST thing I wanted. Qui, Qua, and Quo already took care of those!

I finished the pond yesterday after gathering a ton more rocks out in the mountains. There is a quarry and at the entrance are lots of nice rocks. Then, I added my little fountain. It makes a pleasing noise.

Finished “pond” with fountain.

Here are other pictures of the flowers and plants. They are doing Ok. One or two seem to be struggling. I also have a “vegetable garden”. I was gifted by my friend Joanne with three tomato plants, heirloom tomatoes grown from seeds from the States. I hope they produce! One seems to be doing well, the other two maybe not so well. And I’ve got one jalapeño. Plus all the herbs.

Next to the pond, ferns, a hosta and ginger which is a ground cover. Also an impatien for a bit of color.
More ferns and a survivor hydrangea. Plus petunias.
Lavender, daisy, more ferns.
Vegetable garden.
Herb garden.

My little lemon tree is super happy here. I’m amazed at the number of baby lemons! I counted 25 but it is still blooming and I assume there will be more.

We are headed for a heat wave, our first this year. We will see how this house is in the heat. So far I’m closing it up by around noon. Closing the shutters keeps it dark and cool enough. Now is the time for more salads for dinner. We both like them. Last night we had a delicious Greek salad. I bought arugula at the kilometer 0 market which has a nice bite and fresh sweet tomatoes which offset that bitterness. Dressed with good olive oil, lemon juice from my tree, oregano and feta. Perfetto!

Buona domenica !