Growing Green

Runner beans just kept coming in September but the capsicums got going too and we picked our first pepper and lots of chillies.

Sept - beans, peppers & chilliesThe single remaining pear that had been hanging on for dear life got blown off in a mega storm.  Small but full of flavour.

Sept - pear

Our tomato plants were still looking fab at the beginning of September and although cropping had slowed down we were still picking enough tomatoes for our salads and meals every day.

Sept - tom plantsThe plants seemed so vigorous and had been cropping so well, I had high hopes of them continuing to yield well into October, as usual but unfortunately the storms and the rain were too much for the plants and by mid month they had developed blight and we had to pull them all up.

As the weather deteriorated, we feared for things rotting in the beds so harvested the rest of the carrots and beets etc the first week of September.  We got 2 small pumpkins this month too.  It was so nice to still be picking fresh salad in September!  Even when the lettuce was all gone (2nd week of the month) there were plenty of fresh greens (sorrel, rocket, nasturtium leaves, fresh herbs, young chard & beet leaves) to pep up a simple dish of shredded cabbage.

Sept harvest

Sept - salad & beetsThe last day of the month we harvested this lot from the garden: marrow, courgette, chillies, handfuls of sorrel and 2 kilos of runner beans!

Sept - marrow etcSept - last runner beansSept - sorrel

And look at all the fresh herbs for my kitchen:dill, parsley, purple basil, small-leaved basil, chives and garlic chives, thyme and lemon thyme, rosemary and sage…

Sept - kitchen herbs

Steve managed to get the dried beans from the top of the poles and now we a have a good supply of seeds to sow next year:

Sept bean seeds

The tyre wall got a battering from the storms this month, bringing most of the sunflowers and some of the cosmos plants down – and though it was nice to have the splashes of colour in the campsite (yellow sunchokes, pink purple cosmos, orange marigolds, red zinnia, blue lobelia…) everything began to look tatty and untidy.

Sept - storm aftermathThe tomato plants got a battering too – see how the stakes are all askew!

Sept - storm aftermath 2

The hanging baskets were regularly flooded:

Sept - flooded hanging basketsIn the end I emptied them out and transplanted the many lobelia seedlings that had self-sown into trays.  We’ll see if I can nurture them through the winter…  Also potted up a ginger root that was starting to shoot and a few days ago it developed it’s first leaves!

Sept ginger plantAnd the avocado stone that had sprouted in the compost and was potted on now looks like this!

Sept avocado plant

 

Nature Watch

September arrived in dramatic style – a huge storm with thunder, lightning and lashings of rain.  You’d think we’d be used to it by now but it still left us reeling somehow.  The first 2 weeks of the month was wet more often than not.  The sun did come out occasionally – sometimes long enough to get our hopes up, but never long enough to truly dry everything out.  By now the water table was really high & there was nowhere for the water to sink down into so every time it rained there were waterfalls all over the site.  The stream, usually empty and silent, looked like you could white water raft in it!  The sound of that running water was a constant feature in our last few weeks on site and I never quite got used to it.  I would wake up in the middle of the night in the caravan and think ‘what’s that noise?’ and then I’d remember…

Sept - stream

Thankfully the sun came out for 3 days straight from 15th – 17th September so that was our window of opportunity for drying out everything before packing it away in the basement or at our house.  And the last week of September was mostly glorious – as I type this I realise that it has been well over a week since it rained last which frankly is a record for this season!

Anyway, even I’m getting bored talking about the bloody weather so let’s move on.  Here’s a grasshopper I capture on camera in one of it’s stages of development – look at it’s weird, newly-hatched wings!

Sept - grasshopperWe saw and heard loads of birds this month (though no Goldfinches came for the sunflower seeds this year): Golden Orioles, Bee Eaters (Steve saw a big flock of them one day swooping over the campsite), Swifts, Swallows, various Titmice and Warblers and birds of prey, Fly Catchers and the Eagle Owl was back hooting in the neighbourhood.

It was definitely the month for funghi – the odd mushroom in and around the campsite and plenty elsewhere in Montenegro on hikes we took in the national parks this month:

Sept mushroom 5 Sept mushroom 1 Sept mushroom 2 Sept mushroom 3 Sept mushroom 4

Baking & Making

September’s challenge was to buy as little food as possible, use everything from the garden that we could and run down the stores in our cupboards. Unsurprisingly runner beans featured in every meal!  I cooked another fabulous Indian feast for our guests, with flatbread made from chickpea flour.  Healthy salads from the garden and veggie food featured highly in September’s menu.

Sept - indian niteWhen the blight set in on our tomato plants I was mostly miffed because I had envisaged lots of green tomatoes in October that I could turn into chutney.  In the end I got 800g of useable toms and this was just enough to make 5 jars of green tomato chutney.  This time I used a recipe provided by my friend Berni, whose chutney I had tasted earlier in the year and found it’s likeness to Branston pickle astonsihing.  It was truly scrummy and I hoped to make a batch as tasty.  I think I succeeded tho we won’t know for sure for another 3 months!  The chutney has a lovely dark colour (red wine vinegar and brown sugar) and a delicious sweetness (cranberries).

Sept - Berni's GTCWe picked this giant mushroom whilst walking in Lovcen National Park at the end of September.  We pored over our field guide to identify it – checking gills (free or attached), colour of flesh when bruised (yellow or not), smell and colour & texture of cap…

Sept road trip LNP 6

 

It seemed to be an Agaricus genus but the only thing that didn’t conform to our book’s description was it’s size (26 cm diameter!).  We suspected it had grown out of a big pile of manure to reach such dimensions but to be sure we did a spore test.  We detached the stem and left the cap, gills down, on 2 pieces of paper one black and one white – the black would show up any white spores if present and the white paper the brown spores.

Mushroom spores

 

When the spore test was satisfactory we cut a quarter of it and sauteed it with butter and garlic and ate it.  If we were still alive in the morning I resolved to make a risotto from the remainder.  And here it is – the most mushroomy risotto ever!

Mushroom risotto

Reading

I very much enjoyed ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ and it’s grounding in history was a nice contrast to the previous fantastical book.

Seb Faulks bookThe book describes a world I knew little about – America in the late 50’s – and the backdrop to the story was as interesting as it was well told.  The key characters have back stories of lives in the Foreign Office and journalism that took them to grim times and which Faulks reveals here & there, so we can see what has helped to shape the men they have become and the society they holds them.  There are many layers to this narrative – a glitzy, party-filled outer layer of froth and fun in the diplomatic life, whilst underneath lurks darker stratums of grubby secrets, and individuals drinking to forget and survive…  The Nixon/ Kennedy fight might be a metaphor for the battle between Charlie/ Frank and the sad truth seems to be: do they ever really ‘win’?

This book is about love: love borne of loyalty, the passing of time and tied with blood bonds; love that passionate and urgent; love of children and parents.  And it’s about dying: the slow disintegration of humans soaked in alcohol and misery; the wasting away of human life through illness and the loss it leaves behind; death in war and of relationships, morals, meaning…  Faulks writing is accessible, beautifully descriptive at times, detailed and perfectly paced.

After this brief interlude from Murakami I was ready tackle the imposing tome that is IQ84:

IQ84It’s a testament to it’s power and addictiveness (and to the weather which afforded me plenty of hours confined to a caravan, reading) that I raced through this trilogy in a matter of days.  The cover notes proclaim it to be: “A work of maddening brilliance” and I certainly concur.  It’s hard to know what to say about this book without just gushing superlatives.  All of it’s 1300+ pages are flawless.  The big themes are as wonderful as the little details (I still recall his description of Aomame’s hideous grimacing face and love the fact that he took time to draw this picture for no apparent reason, just because he wanted us to know this about her…).  It’s fantastical, magical but so easy (and a delight in fact) to suspend all disbelief and just go with the story.  This is a remarkable author that I trust – he does not let me down and I gave myself over to his mystery and immersed myself in it utterly.  My only fear as I entered the last stages of the book was that it would not end the way I wanted it to – but I was wrong to worry, it ended perfectly & everything felt complete.  I was both elated and devastated to finish it.  The characters are phenomenal – I especially love the way Murakami introduces misfits and makes us admire them.  Not for him a book of beautiful people – oh no!  Human flaws, both physical and emotional are bared and embrace here – like the repulsive Ushikawa, whom I have great affection for.

This book is brilliantly crafted – so, so clever and deep and yet always connected to the mundane and the real – the details of individuals doing exercises, preparing & eating food, washing & dressing themselves, having sex are meticulously narrated as we’re grappling with the significance of 2 moons and The Little People.  Go read this book. Now.

And now for something completely different!

A D Miller bookThis is a brilliant first novel and a captivating read.  Based in Russia, it provides a fascinating insight to the country and the people.  Miller’s descriptions sucked me right in – the details about the food, the clothes, the buildings, the people, the weather – I felt immersed in it all, like I was right there, shivering.  Yet his writing is simple, economical – he manages to capture the sense of something in a few short words:

“The confused September sky reminded me of a black-and-white television set that hasn’t been tuned in”

Miller’s writing is clever and engaging – it feels like a love story, full of hope and promise and yet you just know that’s not the whole story, you can literally feel it.  And the climaxes are full of corruption and deception that you didn’t want to see earlier but seemed inevitable when they were revealed – something that seems to echo Moscow itself…  I especially loved the way the book was written as Nick’s confession to his fiance, but since we never get to hear her judgement of his story and what happens next, we are left wondering if love really conquers all.  The incompleteness of this, a fragile but crucial scrap fluttering in the wind, somehow makes the novel even more ‘full’.

Work

Rain stopped any major projects at the campsite.  That, and our lack of enthusiasm probably as the novelty of being there was wearing very thin.  We had planned to finish the project started with Ian back in June and build a level, concreted area for the tables and chairs but the weather was too unpredictable to guarantee we could get the work done and we put off half of our planned volunteers as we didn’t want lots of mouths to feed with no jobs to do, so we decided to ditch that plan.  Also Steve was experiencing some discomfort in his ribs – cracked or badly bruised the doctor has diagnosed – and he needed to take it easy, rest a lot and not overly exert himself.

Steve fitted locks onto our new security doors and installed an extractor fan in the basement to help dry it out.  He also spent time trying to fix the many annoying leaks in the basement.  We did a bit of work in the garden – potting things up to take back to the house over winter, tidying the raised beds…

But the main work was dismantling our life at the campsite, packing everything up and storing it in the basement or taking it in van loads back to the house.  Thankfully we had Joe and Becky to help us. Our last 2 volunteers of the season joined us when we were at a real low – our long-awaited end of season party had to be cancelled and we were truly sick of the weather and the discomfort of it all.  These 2 young people, both from the USA and in their early 20’s, were fabulous.  They forgave us any grumpiness and mucked in willingly with all the tasks.  They kindly looked after the campsite for a night so we could escape to the house for an evening just to BE, to re-group, get a good night’s sleep and brace ourselves for the last big push.

Although the weekend the guys arrived was soggy, by Monday the skies had cleared and we had 3 days of (mostly) sun so we had a chance to air everything before packing it away.  Slowly but surely in 3 days we stripped the campsite back to it’s bare bones…  Gazebos were dismantled and stored in the attic, sofas were carried and the good ones stored at the house and old ones stored in the basement, which Becky had emptied and scrubbed.  The bottle windows were stored away in the basement and we endured chilly nights in the kitchen as a result but these has to go in before tables and chairs could be stacked beside them.

The biggest challenge was moving & storing the new platform Guiseppe had helped us build in June.  Each of the 3 pieces weighs a ton.  Frankly I was dreading the mission but with the strength & enthusiasm of ‘the kids’ (as we affectionately called them!) it wasn’t half so bad.  The first day we moved the platforms up against a stone wall, facing the sun to fully dry out and removed all the spiders and ants nests.  By day 2 they were dry and clean enough to store and we managed to get all 3 in the basement, propped up on bricks so they wouldn’t get wet if the basement flooded.  Here’s a pic of our dream team (minus me, who’s taking the photo!) manhandling one of the platforms on its journey to the basement:

Sept - Joe & BeckyThe final days were spent packing up games, books (stored in the caravan this year where they would hopefully remain dry and free from mould), art stuff, kitchen stuff, mattresses, soft furnishings, bedding and tents.  We got ruthless with our tents & mattresses and threw some away.  There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing to the rubbish dump and the house and hours of carrying boxes and furniture up and down stairs – it was exhausting work but made so much more bearable with the extra hands and cheerful smiles of Joe & Becky and we tried to spare Steve too much heavy lifting where we could.  The fridges were dismantled, cleaned and stored.  The cooker was scrubbed and carried to the basement.  Solar lights were dismantled, signs unscrewed and stored.  The list of jobs seemed never-ending.

Thursday 18th September Joe & Becky took the tents down we’d pitched for them, aired & packed them away whilst I did the final clear up in the kitchen after our last breakfast together.  The van was loaded with the last of the stuff and we left, hugging warm goodbyes.  Steve took the kids to the bus station in Carrie’s Landrover Discovery (on loan to us for a few weeks while she was in the UK) and me & Daisy drove the van home.

For Steve and I, the work continued for a few days whilst we unpacked and re-packed, worked our way through the mounds of washing (duvets, pillows, throws, cushion covers – all needed to be laundered and aired before being packed away to avoid mould setting in over winter) and cleaned the house from top to bottom.  At some point in the last week of September, everything was finally done and most things packed away behind the bed on the top floor:

Sept mattresses & tents etc

Play

Matt’s visit to Monte in September was a welcome distraction and a chance to relax a little and have some fun.  It was all very last minute, a quick decision to come o to us from Slovenia, and a lovely surprise.  He arrived at the campsite at 4.00pm on a Monday afternoon… and we started drinking loza!  It was a fun, alcohol-fuelled evening of catching up with news and swapping stories and Matt phoning all his local mates to surprise them.  This is SUCH a classic Matt look!

Sept - Matt

We ate, drank, laughed and generally enjoyed each other’s company until Matt finally crashed out in the basement.

We gave him the use of the van and the keys to the house and spread the word about his visit.  An impromptu party was thrown at our house on Wednesday night.  Our mate Jim was staying at the campsite and kindly offered to mind the site for us so we could go to the party and stay over.  It was a cracking night.  We all ended up on the top terrace watching a big storm approach whilst necking margheritas and various other cocktails:

Sept - Matt party Sept - Matt party 2

In a way, the timing of the party was perfect.  We were due to have our joint end of season party with the Monty B gang at the campsite 3 days after Matt left.  Predictably the weather was AWFUL and we had to cancel but since most of the people we wanted to party with had been at Matt’s do, it wasn’t so much of a loss.

The really good times in September came in the last 10 days.  We wallowed in the luxury of being back in the house, sleeping in a big bed, no longer disturbed by a frightened and restless Daisy as had been the pattern of the last few weeks/ months.  Daisy was much calmer back in a ‘proper’ building, with a bed upstairs she could crawl under if the thunder and lightning freaked her.  And we loved the fact that when it rained we said: ‘Oh it’s raining’ in an nonchalant way, not fretting about leaking tents & soggy guests.

It was bliss to lounge on comfy sofas, to watch TV, to enjoy all the ‘naughty’ delights of being back on the grid – dishwasher, deep fat fryer, electric kettle, toaster…  I’d had enough of cooking so Steve took over and we lived off food from the freezer, chips and toast.  We were tired to our bones. We lounged about the house doing next to nothing and still felt exhausted.  Our daily walk with Daisy left us dead on our feet – we crawled back to the house and flopped.

As our strength came back and the sun came out we decided to make the most of good weather and having use of Carrie’s Discovery, which was SO comfortable to drive and could accommodate Daisy in the back.  Steve had never been to Lovcen so we took a day trip up to the National Park and Njegus mausoleum.  Here are some of the stunning views from the top…

Sept road trip LNP 1 Sept road trip LNP 2 Sept road trip LNP 3 On the way back down we stopped off & had a nice walk and found the giant mushroom.  Here’s me, happy to be in the fresh air, the beautiful natural surroundings and the sunshine:

Sept road trip LNP 4Since the weather was due to be gorgeous for the next couple of days when we returned that evening we made a plan to go on a longer road trip.  We got up early, packed the cool box with salads, cheeses and sliced meats, shoved some warm clothes in a bag, grabbed Daisy’s bed & some food for her and thermal sleeping bags for us, packed everything in the Discovery and drove north…

First stop was Crkvice where we climbed up to an old fort:

Sept road trip Crkvice 2 Sept road trip Crkvice 1We had a picnic lunch next to a war memorial near Grahavo and then pushed onto Biogradska Gora National Park, via the breathtaking Moraca canyon.  We arrived at Biogradska at 5pm, rented a cabin for the night and went for a hike around the lake before sunset:

Sept road trip BG 2 Sept road trip BG 1Another picnic supper, this time in our cabin, which was FREEZING!  We were SO glad of the thermal sleeping bags.

The next morning we headed off to Kolasin for hot drinks and breakfast.  It was misty when we left to head east to Prokletje, but promised to be a gorgeous day once the sun had burned through the clouds.  The drive from Kolasin to Andrijevica was stunning:

Sept road trip K to A Sept road trip K to A 1We finally reached Plav around lunchtime and then drove around it for ages, getting frustrated by lack of road signs.  Eventually we ended up in Vusanje, the furthest point we could go before we had to take to foot.  Although I desperately wanted to go hiking in the Prokletje mountains, this was not the time – I resolved to come back on a hiking & camping trip with me girlfriends next Spring.  So, we enjoyed a picnic by a stream with the impressive mountains as our backdrop:

Sept road trip Plav 2 Sept road trip Plav 3And then headed off back to Plav to walk by the lake:

Sept road trip Plav 4 Sept road trip Plav 5We started the long journey (5+hours) back to Herceg Novi mid afternoon.  We took the fast route this time, not the scenic one, and came back past Biogradska where we stopped off at a restaurant by the banks of the River Tara:

Sept road trip Tara 1It was a fabulous mini break and we fell in love with Montenegro all over again…

Feelings & Musings

Feelings have been mixed this month.  The overriding feeling was one of weariness – weary of the weather and the constant worry about tents & soggy sofas and things getting trashed by storms, tired of putting a smiling face on and being cheerful and just exhausted by 5 tough months living on the land.

Despite guests continuing to come this month, we were still disappointed – another party cancelled, less guests than we needed or hoped for, projects left unfinished.

The guests that did stay were all wonderful and helped raise our spirits a little.  We even had a games night or 2:

Sept - dice nightEvery cloud has a silver lining they say – for us this was the fact that the toughness of the season made us re-evaluate so much.  On return to the house we had some fabulous brainstorming sessions, thrashing out new marketing ideas for next year and being more resolved than ever to throw all our resources at making our little business work. This blog is a key marketing tool – or should be.  So, this is the last post of it’s kind and tomorrow I begin revamping the site to attract more visitors to us.  Posts will be short & pithy and on message – as a real blog should be, not a diary of our monthly trials and tribulations!  No more moans and groans here dear followers.  Just lots of interesting info on camping, glamping, themed events, visiting Montenegro, living off the grid, eco retreats etc…

The return to ‘normality’ in Topla just reinforced how blessed were actually were – what a gorgeous house we have to retreat to!  How lucky that I have income coming in from my coaching and management development work to see us through the tough times and loyal supporters who will give me work in the UK if it comes to that.  How exciting that Steve has real opportunities to earn money here teaching English.

Right now we are somewhat refreshed (though I still feel like I have more sleeping to do!) and energised about the tasks ahead: re-vamping the website and blog; creating new and attractive packages for our guests; finding inventive ways of leveraging more income for us and more value for our guests; more determined to sell our green credentials and clothing-optional angle but that’s what makes us so unique and that’s what our guests have been telling us they love and generally marketing the heck out of ourselves!  We have articles to write and sell, search engine optimisation to do, new agencies to link with to promote us, new badges to boast on our website.  We have a level eating area to build, volunteers to recruit and networks to build.  Next year we will be better organised and prepared for all eventualities than ever before.

Right then, better get cracking on all this work! See ya.

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Growing Green

August’s reasonably good start brought some sunshine for the garden. In fact, there were actually a few occasions (very few!) when I actually had to water our veg, fruit trees and flowers because 3 or 4 days continual heat was actually drying out the ground & causing plants to wilt! Due to the ridiculous amounts of rain falling, my usual daily routine of watering had been mostly discarded and when I resumed it for a while, I realised the ensuing neglect – beds full of weeds, flowers badly in need of dead-heading… The daily interaction with my plants usually provides plenty of opportunity for tending, tweaking, caring – note to self: pottering in the garden IS required, whatever the weather!
Runner beans continued to crop fabulously – it became a running joke amongst guests eating with us: “What are we having with the beans today?!” Turns out that Jenn’s fabulous bean structure (which has withstood all manner of weather and really proved it’s worth) was a little too high after all. We had to resort to ‘kids on shoulders’ to pick the beans near the top!

Aug - Kids picking beans
Tomatoes were also in abundance and we’ve picked kilos more this month. The plants started to look a bit forlorn as lower branches died off but most are still growing vigorously at their tips. It’s sod’s law that those plants with smaller stakes to support them have outgrown them and those with huge stakes have barely grown a quarter way up, so I spent many hours in the garden in August, swapping stakes, re-tying and tidying dead leaves. I also fed them well with diluted compost tea and comfrey stew at their roots.  You can tell what kind of summer we’re having when I tell you that we’ve continued to pick lettuce all month, along with a few radish and plenty of rocket.

Aug - salad

We haven’t bought a single lettuce from the store for months! And I’ve even sown more lettuce seeds this month which I would never normally do.  See below for more lettuce, tomatoes (note the bowl of toms in boiling water at the back ready to be skinned and processed), chillies, courgette and of course… beans!

Aug - chillis etc
We pulled most of the carrots this month and all of the onions – 35 kilos of the eye-watering beauties!

Aug - Steve & onions

Aug - onions
Courgettes continued to crop really well. Local beans provided a tasty handful every other day as did fresh chard. We picked most of the Spring onions and chillies really got going this month. Herbs have been a little disappointing, especially the basil which seemed to romp ahead at the beginning of the month but has stalled a little – the purple & the small-leaved basil has benefitted most from the weather conditions, it seems.

The tyre wall is looking less fabulous – I think July was it’s peak month this year. August saw the sunflowers take off but they have struggled in the wind and storms. Cosmos has generated lots of green foliage but not all plants are flowering – probably due to lack of sun. Petunias have suffered from lack of dead-heading and are looking straggly and unkempt. Zinnia clearly needs more sun than it’s getting – it’s leaves have even developed a mildew! Lobelia continues to provide the startling dashes of blue and Marigolds are really taking off all over the garden, their piercing orange especially dazzling in the fading light of dusk. Nicotiana plants have taken over but now are mostly foliage and little flowers. The only bonus of the damp month is that Pansies have continued to flower their heads off and their delicate petals variously striped with purple, yellow, crimson are a joy.

In the orchard, the pumpkins and butternut squash plants really took off. Seems like some have fruited too early – we picked our first pumpkins at the end of the month as they were as orange as they were ever going to get. Neither were very big but tasty nonetheless.

Aug - pumpkin

Maybe now that I’ve removed the early fruit the plants will concentrate on making more. I also spent a few hours weeding and top dressing the orchard, particularly feeding the areas where the squashes were growing so I’m hoping this will improve our future crop. The roses are struggling in the garden (they seemed to be being ruthlessly munched by some critters) so they also got a good dose of compost and goat poo around their roots.

Gazania & Violas line the edges but have suffered from not being dead-headed regularly; Geraniums are more foliage than flower; Petunias, Snapdragons & Marigolds have faltered and Sunflowers (improperly staked and then battered by storms) haven’t come to much…

Nature Watch

Mother Nature revealed some beautiful sights this month.  The ‘Supermoon’ of August 10th was impressive (much more so than these photos convey!)

Aug - Supermoon 1

Aug - supermoon 2The Perseid meteor showers between 10th and 13th August were not as impressive as last year due to the fullness and brightness of the moon, but Steve saw a couple of crackers that moved slowly enough to be traced across the sky.

Steve spotted this cute frog hiding in the rosemary bush:

Aug - frog

We’ve seen Hummingbird Moths and the majestic Hawk Moths this moth as well as this beautiful furry moth (found sheltering in the bathroom cabinet!):

Aug - moth

But mostly Mother Nature has brought us drama and crazy weather – we’ve had huge storms (caravan-shaking events that scared Daisy so badly she jumped up onto our bed, startling Steve awake) with deafening  thunder claps & impressive lightning (limbs of trees have been brought down all over the place!); crazy winds; even some hail and most of all unbelievable amounts of rain, falling relentlessly for hours on end at times…  It has been indescribably soggy and with the water table rising so high, the land is not drying easily.  So much water lying around, then followed by periods of intense heat have provided the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and horse flies.  A ‘Clegg’ as the Scots call them (what a ridiculously inoffensive name for such nasty critters!  Sounds like a gentle Yorkshireman…) is a truly awful thing – dive bombing any moving targets, hunting for blood.  The trick is to stay still (and then actually they are quite slow and easy to swot if they land on you) but with 10 of them buzzing and swooping maliciously, one’s instinct is to flee!  Daisy walks have got shorter this month as more & more paths and walkways became overrun with them.

The flies and mozzies did however attract the Spotted Fly Catchers to the campsite and it has been a joy to watch them and the Swifts and Swallows swooping for food (from the safety of the campsite kitchen with the mozzie coils burning furiously!!).  We’ve caught lots of glimpses of Eurasian Golden Orioles – sunshine flashes across the campsite to the tree just beyond.  And we’ve heard, thought not properly see Bee Eaters high above us…

Baking & Making

The focus this month has been using and processing all the produce from the garden. Most meals have contained runner beans & tomatoes in some form or other! I’ve made more jars of tomato sauce and roasted, cherry tomatoes with roasted garlic for our winter pantry.

Aug - Homemade tomato sauce

Chopped tomatoes are a staple for lunch either in a salad or on day-old bread for homemade bruschetta. With aubergines cheap and plentiful this month, I’ve made Mellanzone alla Parmigana a couple of times, which uses up loads of fresh tomatoes. Though Steve confesses to not being overly keen on the purple-skinned veg, this is the only dish with them in that he will happily have seconds of. With plump red chillies and cherry tomatoes in abundance from the garden, it was clearly time to make chilli jam – doesn’t look much different from the tomato sauce in this shot but it packs a mean punch and that’s even before it’s matured for it’s minimum 1-2 months… Gulp!

Aug - chilli jam
Although runner beans are fabulous as a side dish, the days got too hot for a while for stews and casseroles so I’ve used runner beans in salads quite a lot – I slice them thinly and cook until just past crunchy and then serve them either with roasted beetroot or with diced red peppers. What I love about these 2 dishes is the visual effect of dark green and purple/ red. I’ve made up a yummy dressing to go with the beans too: a dollop of ren (horseradish, but seemingly not as hot as in the UK), a dollop of mayo (or natural yoghurt), a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive oil. I’ve variously added fresh chives and dried dill too.

When I discovered a recipe for Runner bean and Courgette chutney online I found a way to use the veg we had piling up in the stores:

Aug - courgette & runner bean chutney
It looks like more of a picallilli-type preserve and I’ve no idea what it tastes like but when we can finally enjoy it in 3 months time I shall report back!

Steve has been baking his own bread and had made some might fine loaves.  Here he is modellling the fetching pinny gifted to us (I have an ‘Eve’ one to go with his ‘Adam’!) last Xmas:

Aug - Steve's loaf

With income so low, I’ve been very focused on keeping our costs down this month so there’s been lots of veggie food, using up existing stocks of chick peas, split peas, couscous and lentils. Guests have been erratic and unreliable in August so we stopped trying to plan ahead for meals until we had bodies on site and it has been a particular pleasure of mine to rise to the challenge of creating meals for people from what’s on site at the last minute.  I now have a new toy which I’ve yet to put fully through it’s paces…

Aug - mandolineThis mandoline was a kind gift from bezzie mate Katie Squirrels – she reckons it’ll revoluntionise my veg prep!  We shall see…

Reading

I have enjoyed so many books by Margaret Attwood, that I was delighted to see one I hadn’t read, ‘The Edible Woman’, show up in our library.

Edible Woman

It was a very different book from many other of hers I had read – written back in 1965 it seemed to represent an emerging talent, not a developed one. The style seemed muted, the writing almost too simplistic and repressed but Attwood is a talent, and was way back then, so you understand at the end of the book that it’s all part of the point. Marian’s telling of her life seems straightforward and mundane at first – especially compared to her colourful room mate Ainsley. Her acceptance of her very dull relationship interestingly built up a frustration in me and this is itself very clever writing as it leads the reader to really relish the strange twists and turns that take place and rather think of them as far-fetched (which I did a bit, to be honest) you welcome the process of her breaking free all the more by having been stifled. It’s hard to explain the power of this book – it’s not particularly exceptional writing, and the characters aren’t mind-blowing but it builds to something important and as the novel drew to a close I felt hugely satisfied and like I finally ‘got it’. And the character, as muted as they may have been have really stayed with me – I can think about this book now many weeks on and remember so many details about them, it’s quite startling. I know I’ve said this before but the bigger an impression a book leaves on me, the more I rate it…

I wouldn’t have picked up another Ian McEwan book had not it been for Jim (our most regular guest/ now friend and owner of the Miata) insisting that it was worth it. I had read ‘Solar’ last year I think and hadn’t rated it at all. Jim concurred that it wasn’t one of his best and encouraged me to give ‘Atonement’ a chance. I’m so glad he did. What a wonderful book! What exceptional writing!

Atonement

McEwan creates memorable, rich characters whose lives one can immerse oneself in so fully, so fast. I read this book in a couple of days, so caught up was I with the people and the events and not wanting to leave the words unread for longer than I had to. His descriptions of the war and the humans that fight in it, mop up the wounds of it and generally endure and suffer it are stunning. His writing is both raw and beautiful, explicit enough to draw you in and almost make you gasp but implicit enough to let your imagination fill in the gaps. The story is clever and compelling – from the outset he drops the hints of things to come which will change everything for everybody and you are hooked – puzzled, intrigued, yearning for more. As the cover proclaims (and I concur) ‘A magnificent novel’. And a heart-wrenching love story.
Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’ (brought to me from Sweden by Annika via Jim) is equally magnificent – in completely different ways.

Kafa on the Shore

This guy is a genius at taking the reader on fantastical journeys that weave spells, break rules, defy logic and bemuse. The subject and writing style couldn’t be further from McEwan, whose tale is rooted in the grit of human reality and it’s weaknesses and whose prose is clever, subtle and evocative. Murakami’s style is simpler, more straightforward but no less powerful from being direct. The writing is almost childlike and I’m left wondering whether this IS his style or whether it’s shaped around the central characters of a young person and a simpleton…? It is a bewildering book in that as I think back on it now I recall the bonkers twists and turns and surreal events (that do NOT seem that far fetched somehow – or rather you realise that immersing yourself in his wonderful creation requires you to suspend judgement and just enjoy) but I can also bring to mind the interwoven passages about classical music, history and other very interesting subjects that are crammed in to surprising places. If I had to sum this book up in a word it would be: ‘full’… It is packed. Bursting. There is craziness, plenty of sex, weird and wonderful characters, love in all it’s forms and on and on… And yet at the same time not over-done or over-complicated or over-engineered. Just right. It is remarkable how seemingly disparate events and people converge to make a romping good story with the right amount of question marks to leave one reflecting long after it’s ended. I absolutely relished this book and almost threw myself into his ‘IQ84’ immediately after but decided I needed a calmer interlude and went with ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ instead, another wonderful donation from Jim. To be reviewed next month.

Work

Progress against projects has been patchy this month to say the least. We only had 2 volunteers this month, Simon & Laura who joined us for a week. Laura diligently took on the task of finishing the gazebo cover for the structure over the new platform and hand-sewed the ties to hold it to the frame. Here’s the finished product, being tested by the wind…

Aug - finished gazebo

Shame we didn’t manage to get any photos of them working on projects, but here’s a nice pic of us with them before they left:

Aug - Laura & Si
The week that they joined us was one of the hottest of the month/ year so far, so we couldn’t actually get much done beyond a few hours in the morning and the late afternoon as the heat just sapped all our energy. Simon & Steve did have a session in the stream on the top plot one morning though, felling a few big Bay trees that were growing across the stream. Their work opened up the area beautifully – shame we didn’t take a before & after picture really – and provided us with a few loads of winter fuel.

Steve managed to finish building the bin store wall:

Aug - bin store wall
Steve finished placing the last few tiles in the mosaic and we both spent some hours grouting it. It’s back-breaking work, especially for me – my body can’t tolerate me doubled up so low and I’m so wary of further damaging my back that I can only do a bit at a time, but the results are very encouraging.  Photo next month when it’s totally finished…

Another storm, another gazebo cover ripped to bits…

Aug - Torn gazebo

So Steve was back on his sewing machine, working his magic, patiently and with care. Thank goodness for his skills – we’ve saved ourselves a fortune by sewing sheets up like this and can’t imagine how we deal with the shade issue frugally and successfully otherwise…

The worm compost needed some serious attention after the layer of small stones at the bottom of the bin had got clogged by compost falling through, preventing the bin from draining properly and making the compost too wet.  Steve discovered it full of maggots, with the worms about to drown completely in a foul-smelling stew at the end of July and had dug a lot of it out and dried it out.  Now it was time to empty the entire bin, sieve the gravel (we got a barrow & a half of worm compost bagged up from this worthwhile process) and re-build it.

Aug - worm compostWe also decided to empty the compost loo chambers at the end of the month.  The manure had been rotting down for over a year and was ready to use – a good time to feed the garden which must have had lots of nutrients washed out of it by the excessive amounts of rain.  Doesn’t it look fabulous!

Aug - compost loo manureThe good thing about the rain was we really got to see the weak areas in the building for water ingress.  Usually we return to the campsite in the winter to find various leaks in the basement without being entirely sure what caused them.  Here’s Steve’s solution to one of the leaks (we hope!):

Aug - fixing leaksThe trusty Honda water pump packed up mid August.  Luckily we’ve hardly been using any water because we’ve had so few guests so there’s no panic about filling the tank at the moment but getting parts for the pump can be awkward and best sourced from the UK so it was time for Steve to try and diagnose the problem, order parts and then test his theory.  Here he is patiently pulling apart the motor:

Aug - Steve & water pumpHe’s diagnosed the problem as a faulty fuel pump. which has now been ordered and will be delivered to us by Carrie (our most frequent, reliable and obliging mule!) soon.
The 3 coaching programmes I secured last month began in August so I had a few trips to Tivat but all is going well and at the end of the month I was asked to commence an additional coaching programme, so it seems I’m doing something right… I’m really enjoying the work but it is very challenging mentally to switch from chief cook & bottle-washer to professional consultant!

Play

This month fun times have been few and far between but we have had our moments. We took advantage of Simon & Laura being on site to leave the camp one lunchtime and not return until the following evening. Steve had a tekkie afternoon back at the house whilst I did some coaching and then we had plans to join our friends Fi & Dave for the evening. Sadly Dave got sick that afternoon so the original plan of him picking us up in the RIB fell apart but we took a boat to Rose instead (getting to the Marina early for ice-cream at café Do Do and the full people-watching experience) and Fi picked us up from there.

We joined a bunch of folk dining at Colin & Jane’s for the evening, where they had arranged for a chef to cook for us all. The food was nice and it was fab to have a night off from cooking, but I wasn’t overly impressed and his Indian dishes Steve declared were not as good as mine! We met up with Jas and Tats and little Isak, who is 2 now and quite a character and also enjoyed the company of Jas’ sister and her hubby and a couple of other friends. It was a lovely evening but the bug that Dave had seemed to spread among the men – strangely a male-only bug?!  So people peeled off reasonably early.  After we took Jas’ sister and family back home we returned to Fi’s place in Zanjice and enjoyed some early morning hours of chatting and laughing.

The next day was chilled and thankfully Dave emerged, feeling a little better so we got to enjoy some time with him. We visited Jas and the gang and cooed at his amazing new development – a beautiful stone renovation in a nearby village. Eventually we could postpone the trip home no longer so Fi dropped us off down the hill and we caught a boat back to Herceg Novi. The power went off across the entire bay on our way home so when we eventually made it back to the site (after being stuck in traffic to the border for nearly an hour!) we did some star gazing with Simon & Laura on their last night with us, joined by a few guests and all of us enjoying the lack of light pollution which made the sky and the stars even more impressive.

A bunch of our local mates joined us for a BBQ in the middle of the month – Toma & Ankica & her friend from Belgrade, Maja, Aleksa, Jelena & Nikola… It was a lovely evening – good food, good company and very relaxed.

And a few days later finally some local friends actually camped with us for a night! Lara, Ben, Oki & Nora hired one big tent and Alena, Ched and Ognjena hired another. We had a BBQ together with our guests/ friends – Jim & Annika – and had a chilled evening (once the kids were in bed!) sitting round a bonfire (yes, fires in August! It has been THAT wet!!) and sipping Port. The best thing was that the following day they didn’t rush off but enjoyed a lazy morning with us – a late, slow breakfast sitting in the shade and enjoying the nature all around. The kids were in their element amazed by flowers and bugs and butterflies. It was wonderful to spend some quality time with Alena and Ched, who we rarely get to see these days and little Ogi is adorable!

Aug - Lara & Nora

Aug - Ogi & DenAug - Ogi

Feelings & Musings

August has been another difficult month, with challenging weather and far fewer guests than we need to make this feel like a business and not just a ‘hobby’. We did get busy for a while – we even had one or 2 days when our chalk board was finally full of names, with guests numbering in the late teens.  But most folk only stayed for a day or 2 en route to the mountains or back home and as quickly as the place filled up, it emptied out again.

Martin & Sharon joined us at the beginning of August for 2 weeks and it was great to have the continuity of at least 2 guests every day. They came bearing gifts – honey, t-bags and real ale for Steve, chocolate and biscuits for us both and treats for Daisy – and were super low maintenance guests with their own transport and cooking for themselves. Fillip, from Belgium stayed with us for nearly a week too – the longest he’d ever stayed in a campsite, and ate with us every night and with Jim & Annika returning on & off and Jonathon and the kids coming back for a couple of nights and a lovely Belgian couple, Michael and Eva staying for 5 days too, the place did have a buzz to it for a short while. And the weather was fine – mostly. Enough for Martin & Sharon to get a great tan at least and not feel too cheated.

But it didn’t ever really settle enough for us to relax and believe that summer was finally here. A stonking hot day was followed by a cloudy one, the humidity was unbearable at times, the storms kept coming out of nowhere and we had to be ever vigilant of sofas left uncovered, hammocks and cushions exposed. Even reefing the gazebo covers didn’t help – the night the storm ripped the cover on the main sofa area the covers were drawn back but not tied in and the wind was strong enough to blow it open and shred it.

Stress continued to build in August. Many people who had booked simply didn’t turn up, even some who had booked a tent hire didn’t show up and we wearied of preparing tents and bedding for possible no-shows and resorted to only erecting tents when people actually arrived. Less people ate and drank with us than in previous years so the chance to make amends for poor footfall by upselling food, beer and wine was lost. Any tent we did put up we fretted about leaking and ended up upgrading some guests for free rather than risk a lesser tent not being weather-proof.

The excessive amounts of rain meant that even after dry days the evenings could be damp and the sofas were soggy and not pleasant for socialising on after dark. With so much water around the mosquitoes flourished – every day we and our guests got covered in bites from tiger mozzies and tiny black mozzies with especially stinging bites, that added to our irritability. And in mid/ late August the horse flies arrived with a vengeance to compound the misery.

The traffic at the border was a nuisance for us and our guests. There were at least a couple of weekends when the queues of cars backed up for many kms and our guests had to risk overtaking or sit in traffic for hours. The horns from frustrated drivers, stationary in their cars for hours on end, disturbed the peace of the campsite and probably kept our guests awake at times although folk were nice enough not to complain too much. We stopped leaving the campsite from Friday morning onwards, ensuring we had fuel and food to last us at least 3-4 days.

We have mostly felt fed up, worn down, irritated, anxious and frustrated with the occasional moments of happiness. The story for August is not a particularly happy one and I’m sure it’ll send my mother-in-law rushing to text us with concerned enquiries (relax Pam, we’re OK really) but it’s how it is. Business in Monte and in Croatia is reported to be 30-50% down on last year, so we’re not alone with our struggles and we’re trying not to take it personally. With fewer guests, we’ve had more time to reflect, make new plans, consider our marketing strategy and key tasks for the autumn/ winter and to get on top of our paperwork and spreadsheets on an ongoing basis. Not for us this autumn the mind-numbing task of entering all our receipts and guest information to analyse our incomings and outgoings – we’ve done it all as we’ve gone along. So, we’re well aware of what a terrible season we’ve had financially and of the task ahead.

Despite all of this we’ve held our nerve and tried to remember how lucky we are overall. This is the first bad summer in 8 years – it had to happen eventually. It doesn’t negate all the wonderful times on sunny days we’ve had before and will have again I’m sure. We still have each other and our health – things that we must never take for granted. In the last week of August when we 3 rattled around the campsite on our own we embraced the fact that we have this beautiful space to ourselves and laid in the sun, lapping up the rays, feeling lucky to be able to be so decadent (well actually only Steve and I did the sun bathing bit – Daisy mostly retreated under the caravan for shade!). We’ve had time to read books, do crosswords, play Scrabble and due to funds from my ‘real’ work we are not concerned about surviving the long autumn/ winter ahead. Our affairs are more in order than they’ve ever been – we’re up to date with our accountant and company costs, whereas in previous years any profit we made from the summer seemed to be swallowed up in the autumn when we paid off all our salaries, accountancy fees and taxes. We have better information about our costs and how to manage them and each year we get smarter at saving fuel etc.
We’ve also got better at contacting people soon after their stay with us to ask them to write reviews on key websites that help promote our business and we’ve had some wonderful reviews this season. These and the kind things that people say or write in the Guest Book help to buoy our spirits and make us realise that we are running a unique and wonderful place that is enjoyed by many and treasured by some and for that achievement we should be very proud. Whatever the weather.

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