counting blessings

I left my bubble this weekend, which was terrifying and necessary

I went to Tuscany to visit some very dear friends, I ate some amazing food

walked miles, talked the hind legs off several donkeys, hugged friends and strangers, basked in the sun, admired the amazing views

we took part in an online “how to make gnocchi” course

which was bloody funny and utterly disastrous, but Bella pulled it out the bag at the end and turned the whole thing into a delicious omelette (minus the snotty gnocchi)

whilst sitting on top of a mountain with a group of strangers, amongst the stones and earth, listening to an explanation of the how’s and why’s of grafting grapes and the necessity to grow bio-dynamically and the vision one man has for the future of wine

I realised that the dreams we have for our own futures are not always logical or even sensible but what is clear is if we are honest with ourselves we can do the most extraordinary things…….this is something that I most admired about Rick and his crazy idea’s

seemingly coming out of nowhere and to anyone else completely impossible and bonkers, but with the right amount of determination, anything is possible, because when we focus and follow our hearts, there is an energy that becomes available to us that is not something we can control, it comes from elsewhere….

After many conversations about death and life and the after life and what happens to us when we leave, I do know that all of us are connected to everything, we are everywhere and the longer we disconnect ourselves from each other and nature the worse it will become

so, get out there, get your hands dirty, do something that terrifies you, hug a stranger, eat something you have never eaten before, have a dream that is beyond you’re wildest fantasy, do something for someone with no strings attached, give stuff away, be grateful for everything you have and above all, just try to be nice to each other because you just never know what is going to happen and how much you might wish you had done things differently……….

raising hopes and beds


The original garden was a useable space but with terrible soil and a bit of a slope towards the road with a cedar at the end, the tree blocked the view from the balcony upstairs and it was hanging on the main electricity cable for the whole street, so it had to come down

Rick got the saw mill out and sliced it up with the idea that it would be used for stairs in the house..unfortunately with his passing that is not going to happen so I am gifting it to a friend who is going to make some furniture with it

Rick had started the raised bed project after I left, dug foundations, moved a lot of heavy clay and started some of the block work

I was totally overwhelmed when I arrived back, and kept looking at all the sacks of sand and stone and the unfinished raised beds (which sort of resembled giant graves) and mountains of clay in the garden and just couldn’t contemplate doing any of it, let alone completing it

having gone through an enormous range of emotions relating to Rick’s death, I’ve now had a moment to breathe and evaluate my situation, I have decided that Italy will be where I stay for the time being, after all I bought this house because I loved it, it’s where all my things are, it’s where I last shared a meal with Rick and for a brief moment it was the place that gave us both hope for the future, a common goal and a roof over our heads……

With a lot of encouragement from new friends and old, I decided to finish the project myself, I know I lived with a builder for 24 years but I never did any actual building, but I thought, how hard can it be????

I finished bed 2

I needed to cut some of the blocks but am terrified of spinning blades and electricity, it took me a few days of various consultations with men friends, some plucking up of courage and remembering what Rick would say…….Just do it Doris….I did

With bed 2 finished, I decided to waterproof the insides of the beds, and then back fill with various bits of hardcore lying around, including the old toilet and sink, prunings, ash from the fire, manure from a friend and the soil that had come out of the foundations and some bought compost

I levelled off the area between both the beds and made some steps. I used some of Rick’s old burnt chisels and files as supports, got rid of a bag of gone off cement, mixed with sand and the last of the stones

I had to put an extra course on half of bed one, because the ground level at the front of the bed was the same height as the bed and it looked all wrong…

new back bit - 1
A friend donated some lovely old bricks for me to finish off the tops of both beds

The foundations were already in for the third raised bed and just about enough blocks for 3 courses, so I did that too

I painted everything white, planted all the plants I’d been growing in my tiny propogator, sowed a lot of seed

laid a very wonky beginnings of a patio with some other found bricks

bought some bark chippings

and today I have picked my first radish…..

I have to say without sounding too boasty I am rather pleased with myself, I had a vision, Rick saw it too he started it, I am finishing it

Even with him gone, we still make a good team

I look like a midget but I'm not, he was very big
(Photo taken in 2009 after first potato harvest in Portugal)

there is no “normal” anymore

Like for many others in this area, there is no “normal” anymore, there’s  “before the fire”

and “after the fire”


for those of you that have followed our story and the one from before moving to Portugal, we have been constantly building since we married (21 years ago)…….

I had a home for a bit in the UK and then we built a new one….

which didn’t really become my home

we then moved to Portugal and rented various hovels!!

We’d been living in our new house for 2 years, but it was a building site most of the time, with no running hot water or bathroom, that was fine

I liked my outdoor bathroom and when the Rayburn was on there was always hot water on the stove top…..

We had almost finished all the very expensive and complicated plumbing which would have given us two sources of hot water

one from the Rayburn in the winter

and one from a solar water panel for the summer……….

we were two days away from filling up the tanks and testing the whole thing……

Having a home was the most wonderful thing, unpacking all our stuff which we hadn’t seen for years

getting it out, finding places for it, mounting pictures, paintings and photographs

actually being comfortable

cooking and eating amazing food from our gardens


harvesting for the winter


I had just finished making 120 litres of grape juice

we had, rather ironically just finished paying for and sorting out all the paperwork for a very expensive olive grove on the other side of the valley in front of the house, which has now exploded too……

having an actual life that wasn’t full of stress, hard labour, long hours……

I was so proud of the house, what we had done, how beautiful it was……ourlifehandmade

sadly that period has ended
that chapter of our lives was abruptly closed on the 15th October, a day and night that will forever be melted onto our hearts

please help us if you can :

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sarah-and-rick-whitehead

the kitchen

the kitchen is the hub of our home, it always has been, and no doubt always will be. I’m sure it’s that way with a lot of people. As such, it’s construction deserved due consideration, thought and work.

Back in September 2015, I made, then installed the kitchen, and we finally moved into the house at the end of October.

I had given this phase of construction a great deal of consideration, and in keeping with the overall style of the house, I wanted to make a very paired down kitchen, in the method of the shaker’s (in case you didn’t know, the shaker’s were a religious movement that originated in the early 1800’s in Manchester England, before moving to the U.S.), whose fundamental attitudes were essentially those of Quakerism. They became famed for their simple, elegant designs, built to exacting standards, that were born out of their ideology and requirements in all aspects of their life. It has been their attitudinal approach toward construction of all things that I aspire to, and adopt where I can. They didn’t shun modernity like the Amish, but held a desire for simplicity, clean lines, functionality, and no separation between form and function. In terms of the kitchen I designed it had to relate to the stairs, which were built with the same premise, and with all future cupboards.

stairs

I made a plan of all the unit sizes I required, and developed a cutting list.

So I made the kitchen (well phase 1 of it so far), and not just assembled another flat pack series from Ikea this time. I know where the kitchen itself grew, all the timber for it, and not just the things we bring to eat and drink in it. This for me is vernacular.

The construction process really began when we arrived, I had fallen a number of walnut trees for future use, then milled and stacked boards, and set them aside.

timberThey had sat and seasoned on site for years, and now their time came for reprocessing, through the thickness planer, the table saw, then the glue bench. they were glued up as wide board staves, and sanded fair. Later they were oiled with tung oil.

The panels for the cabinets are block-board I made up from left over pieces from the flooring process. Timber that grew in our forest, that I felled, milled (ripped) first at the yard in the near by town, then re-milled (thickness planed) at the farm, then re-sawed, and cut to length, biscuit jointed, glued and clamped, sanded and painted.

panel construction 1

panel construction 3

The panels were cut to correspond to the cutting list requirements, then joined by routing out housings for the shelves (of bought ply).

glue up 1Then I cut all the material for the rails, top and bottom, that finished the frame, and inserted the kick boards. each cupboard was joined, glued and screwed where necessary, then when painted, set out in their respective places, scribed to the floor, and co-joined.

setting out work top

The work-top pieces were fitted, along with a walnut splash-back.

island worktop

The butchers block is from planed and thicknessed timber, end grain up, butt jointed, glued, clamped and sanded fair. it was then screwed to the end unit of the island.

butchers block glue up 1 butchers block finished

The doors are morticed frames with a drop in back, from pine and ply.

drawers and doors b4 pegs 2

All the drawers have hand cut dovetails on all joining faces. Just glued and clamped, sanded, and riding on waxed hardwood runners. Even though there were a lot of them to do, they were a joy. They were cut with a handsaw (a stanley fatmax fine saw, nothing exciting).

cutting dovetails An adjustable square, and adjustable bevel, a chisel and a mallet, one clamp a wooden trestle and a pencil. Nothing complicated. Just setting out some lines, and cutting to them.

dovetailedA number of them didn’t even require paring with the chisel, just sawing and they went together pretty perfectly, tight with an interference fit. The half blind dovetails, for the drawer fronts I elected to rout out.

routed half blinds

The drawer and door knobs and pegs I bought.

The butler sink came out of a friend’s field.

The taps i’m making (see phase 2)

The rayburn stove was a great find on ebay, a really well spent £100, which I converted back from gas to burn wood, as it was when it was built.

rayburn

There’s a gas hob and oven, set into the island, the hob for general use, and the oven only for summer, assuming the rayburn doesn’t warrant being used at that time of year.

oven

The biggest single cost of constructing the kitchen was glue, followed by paint.

whole kitchen view 1

an odorous task

I’ve harvested the garlic and onions, firstly I want to say how bitterly disappointing both these crops are, when I lived in England I had an allotment which was heavy clay, with easy access to all kinds of manure, everything flourished, esp. the garlic and onions. I had never had a problem growing these basic crops, until, that is I came to Portugal. Despite my efforts to get nutrients into the soil, other than the first year here (land had been fallow for quite a few years), I have yet to have a successful crop, by successful I mean enough onions and garlic to last the whole year. I had always grown onions from sets, sowing in late Autumn, this year was the last year for that. All the sets I grew went to seed,

onions seedwhich made up over half my crop. The rest were plugs bought from the market and planted in early spring, these did not go to seed.

onions

So, from now on I will either try and grow my own plugs or buy from the market. Gone to seed onions do not store at all, whilst you can cut off the seed head, get rid of the head and cut the stalk up and saute in butter (very delicious), they will not grown anymore. I had to skin and chop 7 kilos of onions, with the idea of freezing them…….having been given a lot of ziploc bags recently (again, generous friends from Canada) I decided I would double bag all these onions and put them in my freezer……..bad move……i had to take them out and quadruple bag them and they still smell and are stinking up all my fruit, so they’ve gone to live in my friends, mostly savoury freezer, they said they don’t mind, they may change their minds, in retrospect, I should have wrapped them in smaller portions in tin foil and then bagged them……..the freezers here at the farm are still stinky.

The garlic again has been disappointing, I gave up with my experiment of growing my own from my own seed (see previous blog entries) and bought some teeth (as they call them here), they’ve not done too badly but again alot went to seed.

garlic

Lessons learned:

don’t grown from sets from here (they are probably not heat treated)

don’t plant too early

don’t plant too late

don’t let plants get cold

don’t let plants get hot

what a faff!!!

from plant to plate

this year we have had our first blueberries, which is very exciting, they are very happy down in the fruit meadow, so we may get rid of some of the less productive fruit (blackcurrants) and replace with blueberries,

today we had blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, such a perfect combination and only made possible by dear friends from Canada…….

pancake

As mentioned in my previous blog entry we’ve had a lot of lemons to deal with, the final thing that got made was this yummy lemon tart, definitely worth a go

lemon tart

springtime

apparently we’ve had the coldest March for 31 years and I suspect we will have had the wettest April for ages too, by the time it’s over.

riverWe’ve had a lot of rain this year, quite a lot of flooding and landslides but despite the dreadful weather, the wild flowers are amazing and my garden has never looked so good at this time of year.

arti

I sowed some peas at the same time as the broad beans, about October time and although I have never done this before, they seemed to have survived the winter and are now producing actual peas, the broad beans have masses of flower too but are looking a bit beaten down by the endless rain and then winds, but they are still alive and podding up nicely, maybe by the end of the week we’ll have some with our favourite dish….

peasbroad beans

the purple sprouting broccoli has been the plant that just keeps giving, so much that I am giving it away, it took ages to do anything, had to be staked, has got so tall but now they’ve got going, there’s no stopping it

broc

the other thing I’d never done before was to grow some winter lettuce, this too has been prolific, I kept it fleeced over for the very cold months, it’s done really well and has supplied us all winter

salad as has the coriander

coriander

which I have been amazed at as have my friends, who have all benefitted.

The asparagus, as I could have predicted has not done so well, I think I disturbed it a bit last year, so I’ve only got myself to blame, but I’m grateful for the small amounts we have had, I shall be moving the bed this year and starting some new ones, they are 7 years old after all.

Potato obsessed husband has planted almost an entire field of the things

potatoes

Aside from all the foody bits, the flowers are very blue and some are yellow and orange, they’ve been out all winter….weird

iris

hyacinthborageflowers

Now, we would like it to stop raining, please, just for a bit and only at night, thank you