Runner beans just kept coming in September but the capsicums got going too and we picked our first pepper and lots of chillies.
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.
The 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.
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…
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:
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.
The hanging baskets were regularly flooded:
In 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!
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…
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!
We 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:
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.
When 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).
We 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…
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.
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!
I very much enjoyed ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ and it’s grounding in history was a nice contrast to the previous fantastical book.
The 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:
It’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!
This 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’.
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:
The 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:
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!
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:
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…
Since 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:
We 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:
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:
We 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:
We 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:
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:
Every 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.