ROSEMARY – The Next Big Thing

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, May 19, 2017


My farming adventures began five years ago on a hillside in Tuscany. The rundown property (big understatement) we had just purchased came with a hundred acres and 1000 olive trees. Even though the restoration of the centuries old buildings was years from being completed, harvesting waits for no one.  I immersed myself in the camaraderie of farming with family, friends and neighbours, as we threw down nets, climbed ladders, picked olives and relaxed under the majestic trees, soaking in the last of the sun with a bottle of vino at the end of blissful but exhausting days of olive picking. For me, this first experience of working the land was exciting, exhilarating, absolute heaven.

I was soon racking my wee brain for alternative crops to grow on our sunny Tuscan slopes. The long, hot summers are extremely dry and water, or lack of, is often a problem. Grape vines do well as a few others have discovered - just kidding - we sit among some of the world's best wineries.  Lavender on the other hand is not typically grown as a crop in this area, (think of Provence and its endless rows of this glorious plant), yet the climate is similar. Why not here? I said to myself. 

Spade in hand plus Luciano, my long-suffering farmer, and off we shuffled, planting 20 long rows of baby bushes down a south facing stony hillside. The lavender bushes flourished. I now have more lavender than I can handle. I dry the fragrant flowers and fill silk bags, which I tuck lovingly under pillows for our guests.

Lavender’s natural oils are found in the base of the stalks. They go through a small distillery at a local farm, and drop by drop we extract the oil, which is then bottled. One drop will gently relax the atmosphere in a room, or the tiniest trickle on a pillow will have you melt into the deepest sleep.

The rest of the plant and the flowers are infused over several months in our own organic olive oil to create the creamiest, most delicious lavender body oil.  I started selling the oils on-line and to our guests at Villa Reniella to great success, and, as a typical entrepreneur, I was ready for my next venture.

Rosmarinus Officinalis, or rosemary to the rest of us, peaked my interest when I noticed several bushes the size of mid-sized cars growing on the property. Hmmm, I thought, mind whirling. Now what is rosemary good for apart from a sprinkling on a leg of lamb and to flavour the most scrumptious roast potatoes?  It may be on everyone’s spice rack but I was astounded that this bush, which is part of the mint family, has been used for centuries for just about every ailment under the sun. It’s now having a massive resurgence.  Packed with iron, vitamin C and vitamin B6 these herbaceous woody leaves can be sprinkled over food, infused in water, or their oils rubbed over your body. There are some impressive benefits to our health. As a congestive stimulant rosemary is said to improve memory, help us focus and even increase intelligence. Stress and anxiety, which burdens us all at some point, are relieved with just a few whiffs of rosemary oil. Rosemary has been used as an anti-inflammatory for centuries and I have to say that I agree with our Roman and Egyptian cousins. Working the land is painfully hard on muscles and joints and I now pour rosemary oil into every hot bath. Within minutes I can feel the aches and pains dissolve away. 

I have been astounded though at its success as a stomach healer.  We have many guests who arrive in Tuscany bringing with them regular upset stomachs, bloating and the rest!  We infuse branches of rosemary in jugs of fresh water and suggest the ladies drink as much as possible. Within a couple of days, they have all gleefully announced that their stomachs are calmer. 

This list of benefits goes on, from constipation and relieving bad breath to pain relief and even the stimulation of red blood cells. And, there is one treatment that is getting a great deal of attention. Hair growth or lack of it, is a worry for us women as we become menopausal. For the lads, balding always seems a humongous issue. Mind you, I would rather have my man thinning on top than with a ‘rug’ - please guys don’t - just don’t!  The cosmetic companies have jumped on the rosemary bandwagon, and there is now a plethora of shampoos, gels and tonics all claiming to be a remedy for hair loss.  I have yet to catch my old man, Hans, secretly rubbing the rosemary-flavoured gravy destined for our roast lamb through his scalp, but you never know what goes on behind closed doors! Actually, I have noticed that his locks have been rather shiny and luscious lately.

There are many claims to the magical properties of rosemary, lavender and olive oil, and many are still being researched. On a personal level I feel healthier having them in my life and knowing that they are organic, freshly produced and not synthetic, which is the case of many essential oils on the market. I am proud to take part in producing these simple oils, and so thrilled I can share this bounty with everyone.  I am keeping a diary of comments from those who have tried the lavender and rosemary oil so if you do purchase some from our website please let me know how you feel!

Have a wonderful spring everyone,
~ Debbie

Every Picture Tells A Story

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, February 03, 2017


Pictures mean so much to me. I should have invented Instagram, but I didn’t! Every picture really does tell us so much. Here is a wee recap in pictures of my 2016. I travelled to Barcelona, Germany and Koh Samui off the coast of Thailand. Back and forth like a uneventful bus circuit between Tuscany, London and Toronto. I was groomed and fluffed in make-up rooms across the country. I’ve smiled and chatted to television hosts for countless interviews. I’ve launched my very own Pinot Grigio and a furniture line and not forgetting my first documentary series, La Dolce Debbie. I spoke to magnificent crowds doing my best to inspire the next generation of working gals. I’ve shaken hands, kissed babies and smiled and smiled. I’ve become a farmer producing organic olive oil plus our own lavender and rosemary products.

At Villa Reniella we’ve entertained hundreds of wonderful guests at our retreats from all around the world and held our first gourmet retreat with men – the less said the better!! The highlight of the year has to have been celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary to my most special person, Hans. My best friend Jacky was my bridesmaid alongside my nieces (I could not afford bridesmaids the first time around) and we partied all night with my dear boys, my brother and all our closest friends. One of the happiest times of my life. It was a good year and I am truly, truly grateful.

~ Debbie

 

The Joy of Giving & Receiving

Tuscan Getaway Team - Wednesday, December 07, 2016

 

The Joy of Giving & Receiving

 

I’ve spent the last few weeks filming holiday specials for the Marilyn Denis Show. I have permanent spots of glitter on my face that dazzle wherever I go and my head is already buzzing with endless Christmas tunes on a festive loop in my wee brain! I have given away holiday prizes, jumped from behind Christmas trees for surprise makeovers and demonstrated how to make a centre display from last year’s balls! I love it all. It’s the simple pleasure of witnessing happy faces as they receive something special, however big or small. My own festivities are still a few weeks away but the thrills have come early this year, not just from all those television segments but from the influx of heartwarming emails I have received from so many of you.

 

These have been about our olive oil. This is the time of year that our Tuscan, homegrown, organic, oil lands on doorsteps across the country. It has been a long wait. Guests who have visited our Gourmet week in May or the Tuscan Girls’ Getaway over the summer have wandered through our magical and ancient olive groves. They have all been waiting patiently as autumn finally comes around. They’ve followed on Instagram the many pictures of us up in the trees surrounded by nets as we harvest the juicy olives. They have seen the plump olives tumble from crate after crate into the huge vats that will squeeze the elixir into the most delicious, fragrant extra virgin olive oil. We then fast track the bottled oil directly to your door… and then we wait… the exuberance I feel when I see the photos and the notes sent as the oil is tasted in your own kitchens is immeasurable to me. I feel like a proud mama. The freshness is unbelievable and the flavour brings back memories of strolling our Tuscan land. The aroma of the earth; wild garlic, artichoke and asparagus alongside a peppery blush that is only experienced with the freshest of olive oils. Those olives were hanging in the Tuscan sunshine just 3 weeks ago!

 

My delight comes from sharing our little piece of heaven through this superfood. This year has been a bumper harvest, there are still bottles left so if you haven’t ordered, don’t leave it too late - it is ‘from farm to table’ at its very best.

 

Here is one of the many letters I have received. This is even more special, as it is a child who loves and appreciates the oil so much.

 

 

Thank you so much for this delicious olive oil. This is the first time our family of 9 has tasted such fresh olive oil. We just love it and my little guy of 13 was so delighted as he is our salad dressing chef! I wanted to surprise him at Christmas but decided not to wait for Christmas and surprise my little man, we opened our first bottle and were so ecstatic about the delicious flavour. Tell Debbie to look after those olive trees as I am sure we will be ordering again next year.
~ The Arsenault Family

 

'Picked by my family...
... enjoyed by yours.'

 

Happy lip smacking hols everyone!
Debbie Travis

 

 

PICKED BY MY FAMILY…

Tuscan Getaway Team - Thursday, September 29, 2016

 

PICKED BY MY FAMILY...

 

             ...ENJOYED BY YOURS


My fascination with olive oil began five years ago when we bought an organic farm in Tuscany. Even though our rundown pile of buildings needed years of renovation, the olive harvest from our 800 trees waited for no one. As complete novices we rolled up our sleeves, threw down nets so large they could have caught a live tuna and climbed rickety ladders precariously balanced against olive branches full of ripe fruit. Some of our trees are just 10-year old babies, others are 800 years old and I am sure that every knurly, massive branch can tell a tale or two.

My family and many friends arrived with much enthusiasm as we naively tackled our first olive harvest. We picked, enjoyed wine soaked al-fresco lunches and napped in the autumn shade under these majestic trees. It was a fun and a beautiful way to spend time with good friends and family and now as each October appears on the calendar we look forward to surrounding ourselves with familiar and some new faces to share the experience and help pick our bounty.

We only produce about 900 litres of oil a year and we are thrilled that so many of you are coming back to us year after year to purchase it. Thank you! This year, we will be shipping our delicious and super healthy extra virgin olive directly from Tuscany to your homes in order to avoid the delays and breakages we experienced last year with Canada Post. We will do all we can to get the oil to you before the Christmas holidays as it makes for a superb gift and the oil is so fresh. It is tangy and slightly peppery and the colour is a magnificent, vivid green.

The olive harvest is romantic, but hard work, yet you can’t help but become interested in olive oil when you are part of the entire process. I am continuously learning more and more about this superfood. Yes, it is an ancient, very healthy food but the industry is also sadly ripe with corruption and scandal.

Here are the PROS and CONS of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

 

 


 

THE AMAZING, WONDERFUL PROS

Olive oil is the juice from the olive fruit. Extra Virgin Olive Oil from honest Italian (in my opinion the best is Tuscan) or other growers from a multitude of countries has a complex and fresh taste that tickles the back of the throat with a delicate peppery flavour. Fats make food taste better but it must be the right fats. The benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil are unrivalled. It will improve your health in many ways and control weight and increase your longevity. It is the cornerstone of the so-called Mediterranean Diet - lots of fresh local vegetables, legumes, fish and most importantly - olive oil. It must be genuine extra virgin oil which is unprocessed and so contains a range of healthy phytonutrients which lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Olive oil has been proven to be a natural way to reduce inflammation, diabetes and osteoporosis. Yes, you can cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil to about 420F. Organic Extra Virgin Oil is superior to non-organic because the trees have not been sprayed with pesticides.

 

THE FRIGHTENING CONS OF OLIVE OIL

There is immense corruption in the olive oil business especially many of the household brands in your local supermarket. Sadly, this is very true – where there is money to be made, corruption will raise its murky head, and the Olive oil business in Italy alone is worth billions annually. I have blogged about this before, but please, please read Tom Muller’s book Extra Virginity or just google extracts of his message online. Also take a look at last January’s CBS 60 Minutes’ report on the Italian oil industry – a really eye opening piece on the scandal that is happening now in the olive oil business.

Shop wisely by looking for a harvest date on the bottle. Do not accept the loosey goosey ‘Best by Date’ - the oil often will go rancid long before it reaches this date.

Where does the olive oil come from? Double check it is not ‘packaged in’ for instance, Italy, while it is actually a blend of many oils from a variety of places. Or even worse, not olive oil at all but a dyed and flavoured sub-standard oil. Many of your best known olive oil brands are being investigated for selling fake Extra Virgin olive oil. These once trusted companies are being accused of passing off lower grade olive oil as Extra Virgin Oil.

SO WHAT DO YOU BUY?

On that scary note what do you do, what do you look for? Firstly, please do not give up on the wonders of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Try and buy directly from the producer. Visit your local Italian, Greek or Portuguese neighbourhoods and you will often find oil imported from small farms in these countries. Read the labels. Where is the oil actually from? – not where it has been packaged.

Is it cold pressed (a process that mechanically squeezes the olives at a temperature of below 27 degrees Celsius), which is how our oil is produced, or has the oil been extracted by chemical processes and heated, a process that eliminates most of the beneficial components of olive oil. Is there a harvest date? Honest oil producers will state when the olives were picked – you should avoid using olive oil that is over 24 months old.

Is the oil in a dark glass container? Oil does not like natural light and should never be stored in a plastic bottle – sorry. I have seen many olive oils on fancy websites and in the newly popular ‘olive oil shops’ and they have elaborate, descriptive labels with a variety of flavours. Be aware of oils infused with lemon, champagne or other flavours because these usually are covering up an unhealthy oil made from a highly processed vegetable oil.

Most importantly trust in yourself – buy the oil in small quantities until you can taste it. Swirl it around your mouth like a fine wine and judge it for yourself. And only buy extra virgin olive oil since refined olive oil lacks the all-important phytonutrients.

Lots of love
Debbie

 

Just Married

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, August 26, 2016


 

I am alone on my Tuscan hillside. It is quiet. Blissfully quiet. So unlike a week ago, when every nook and cranny of my property echoed from an abundance of chatter. There was a vibrant mix of screams of naughty laughter from 20-year olds mixed with emotional conversations from long lost friends and endless chatter as the next meal for this large mob was discussed.

 

There are times in your life when everything just comes together. The stars are aligned, the house is in order, and everything is right in your world. I JUST GOT MARRIED AGAIN!!!! Nope, I haven’t just hooked a 25 year old Argentinean body builder (oops, did I just share that fantasy?), no, nothing like that, but I have just renewed my vows to my hubby of 30 years, Hans. Our original wedding was held in the North of England in a picturesque village near where I was brought up. The setting was an ancient abbey surrounded by the most breathtaking English countryside. It was a beautiful, memorable wedding – very simple as we had little money. There were no bridesmaids nor a formal meal, but it was a great day surrounded by our large family and friends. Sadly both of our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, nephew and a few friends have passed over the last 30 years, as is the way of life I suppose, but thankfully many of our friends who were at that first wedding are still part of our lives today, and they have all just left my place in Italy.

 

All that remains of that mad, marvelous time is a mountain of laundry, an empty fridge, ravaged vegetable garden and a sad looking wine cellar. They also left me with a swollen heart. They came from around the world to celebrate & to drink copious amounts of plonk. Our precious sons, who were just a dream 30 years ago arrived from different parts of the world, Africa and North America. I packed 35 relatives and friends into Villa Reniella. People bunked up, beds were dragged across courtyards, local hotel rooms were taken and old friends put up in the village houses of new friends. Somehow everyone found a bed, if not a pillow and everyone was fed with meals which would have made any army garrison proud.


 

 


 

 

As the date approached for our 30-year reunion, we began to feel rather silly about a soppy service of how ‘in love’ we are, so we decided to be even sillier. We had a ‘happy hippy’ wedding – how mad is that? At our age! Everyone was told to come dressed as a hippy and the imaginations sored. There were embroidered waistcoats over psychedelic caftans, flowery dresses, beaded headbands and flowing wigs – and that was just the men! Brits love fancy dress parties (costume parties) and the Italians jumped in with both feet, most of which were bare. One Canadian took the invitation of ‘fancy dress party’ literally and came in black tie. But a quick drag through a bush, tie transferred to the forehead and a bit of backcombing and he looked like he’d stepped out of the movie Easy Rider! Some donned afros and waved the obligatory giant doobie – made of paper of course!

 

We held a Shaman ceremony with the beat of a drum, chanting, smudging and feathers – you have no idea how this is not Hans’ style, but he loved it. Well until the Shaman spits on you but that was fine, she was our good friend Esther and her husband Rupert who are the most extraordinary, spiritual yogis and healers.

 

We dined like kings under the stars and danced as free-spirited hippies to the iconic sounds of the 60’s and 70’s. The music was finally unplugged at 6am when the effects of the limoncello began to fade, and we started to feel our stiffening, not so young bones.

 

It’s good to be silly, it’s a blessing to be happy and it’s rather groovy to be married for 30 years.

 


 

 

 

 

 

A VERY EMOTIONAL DAY

Tuscan Getaway Team - Monday, June 27, 2016

 

 

Today is June 24 – well not when you’re reading this, but when I wrote it. It’s always been a very special day to me. Not because of someone named Jean Baptist but my hero, Josh. It is his birthday – my first born. A child’s birthday is always emotional for a parent – all those memories, but today was packed with a lifetime of intense feelings for me and not just me, but for most Brits. We woke this morning in Tuscany to the daily chorus of two fat roosters and numerous gossipy hens, plus the poetic chatter of what has become our resident builders. After 5 years of renovation, a handful seem to have forgotten to depart the premises. Since there is always 'stuff’ to do, they just turn up every day at the crack of dawn.

 

So anyway we were all ready to wake up our beloved boy, who now resides in Geneva, when all our electronic gizmos lit up the bed. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to lovingly say goodnight to your cell phone (I have 2), iPad and laptop instead of the bloke you’ve been married to for nearly 30 years, but sadly in my house we cannot break the habit. Lights were flashing from inside the duvet as the BBC news flashes were, well, flashing. Britain had voted to leave the EU. A terrible decision for so many, especially the young. We started our day as expats in Italy, with one son working in Europe... to S&%#T I never thought would happen, which I am sure was going on in every bedroom across Europe. The uncertainty begins. Of course as the selfish human beings we are – maybe just me – we immediately think how it will affect us. If the pound collapses, which it did, but so did oil, prices could make sending money over for our ludicrous, out of control renovation in the UK a little easier to our status in Italy.

 

As I Skype my son singing happy birthday and field calls from numerous friends, family and business associates about Brexit, my electrician comes racing into the villa with a beaming smile as wide as the now widening English Channel. He had been hanging three of the most glorious, glass chandeliers under my long metal pergola. Now I know I am shallow, but I had to flee the best wishes my darling Skype call and panicked phone calls and hurtle outside – third massive emotion of the morning. The lights were magnificent; the oversized glass drops glittering in the morning sunshine. One day my children will hopefully get married under those lights plus this summer we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and there will be legendary party under those glistening, shimmering chandeliers. It is going to be a difficult and tumulus few years as Britain moves forward on the emotional and sad departure from the EU. The unknown is always scary but I have to say, I do love my outside chandeliers!!

 

EVERY HOME TELLS A STORY

Tuscan Getaway Team - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

 


 

I am not a particularly spiritual person but I do believe that homes have a soul, a spirit. I also believe that we are just fleeting guests within the walls of our homes whether we live there for a couple of years or a lifetime. The front door that we enter and those walls that protect us are an integral part of the chapters of our lives. Everyone of us has a lifetime of memories, blissful, painful, heartbreaking, funny, fearful, happy and they are as much about what happens amongst our family, friends and work as they are about what we remember under our roofs. I bet you can remember the tile in the bathroom the first time you bathed your new baby or the chipped kitchen table around which just about every emotion took place. That favourite armchair in the living room, where you once rocked a heartbroken friend when she told you about her husband’s affair, those bunk beds smothered in ninja duvets that bore many secret whispers when you finally tucked in the kids for the night. Funnily enough, when I think of my childhood home in England, I strangely always envision the steamy kitchen and the ironing board. My mum always seemed to be ironing.

 

Today I left my home in Montreal, where I have raised my children, for the last time. Our house has sold faster than expected so I delayed my flight back to Italy to pack up the entire house. I am now sitting on a flight to Florence. Even though I am surrounded by hundreds of passengers, I feel isolated, quiet. Tears slowly role down my cheeks as I sip my 3rd glass of Prosecco. I am in a vacuum of emotions, racked with memories.

 

The movie on the screen in front of me blurs and my own movie begins. I see tables. Our long pine kitchen table surrounded by lemon yellow, Philippe Starck chairs. The fancy dining table that with the help of extra benches I could squeeze 20 around and of course the indestructible, lengthy, garden table packed with bodies of every age and plates piled with barbecued foods… these tables seem to tell the best tales. I see friends, lots and lots of them and so many children.

 

There was always so much laughter, so much food and of course so much wine. I see the Sunday lunches as we crammed around the kitchen table with pots and pans piled up around us, the mess so memorable… but no one really cared.

 

I see family dinners with homework books shoved to one end of the table while the four of us shared our day over the ‘oh mum not again’ shepherd’s pie… but no one really cared.

 

I see the many Christmas’s with family and friends from up and down the street. I see the famous Christmas Day fire that outdid the flames on my plum pudding… but no one really cared.

 

I see my brother’s hysteria as we sat around the coffee table in the ‘posh lounge’ as we opened our crazy and unique presents from our beautiful granny back in Lancashire – half eaten packets of biscuits, used lipsticks & crocheted bed jackets that gave us more pleasure than any fancy gifts. I see the two roasting tins sitting on the counter, one with a 14 lb dressed turkey in it, and the other filled with a 14 lb naked baby as we all revelled in the hilarity of the pair. I see the dinners that my old man attempted over so many evenings when I was so so exhausted after a day’s filming, that were, well ‘his’ cooking… but no one really cared.

 

I see the last minute dinner parties where we were all just too bushed to dress up, some of us in our PJs… but no one really cared.

 

I see the impromptu concerts on my staircase of countless friends’ children – ‘budding dancers and singers’ as we laughingly numbed the pain with countless bottles of wine. I hear the knocks on the door at 10pm as girlfriends – these overwhelmed mothers, clutched a bottle of vino saying they would kill a child if they did not walk away for a few minutes. Oh, those evenings draped over the big leather chairs as we moaned about procrastinating husbands and failed grades… no one really cared.

 

I see kids’ parties filled with childhood games that morphed into teenage parties with noisy sleepovers. I see the parties that the boys held when we were out, yes I know exactly what went on!

 

I see the kitchen table awash in some elaborate school project with paints and glues that always left their mark… no one cared.

 

I see those quiet moments sitting in the garden with my hubby, when we finally relaxed knowing our boys were safe and happy asleep upstairs – homework doubtfully finished. I see the solitude of myself at 5am, perched at the kitchen table with a house still sleeping as I tackle another page of a book I was writing.

 

I hear so much laughter and so much chatter. But I also hear the growing pains of two young boys, the highs and lows of a couple trying to survive the challenges of a growing business and a marriage. I hear my own mother’s voice as I scream at my kids and I hear the bedtime smiles as we say goodbye to each day. Looking back, it is just about the memories that took place within those walls… who cares about the bits that went wrong.

 

This is a movie I will never forget.  Like the generations before us, we were just guests in this house and now we leave it for another family, as we move onto our next chapter, our next home.

 

Debbie

 

​LA DOLCE VITA

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, March 18, 2016

 

 

La Dolce Debbie, the documentary series about my journey renovating an ancient property in Tuscany comes to an end this week. I have to say my heart is full. The response has been overwhelming. I’ve received thousands of emails from viewers who have shared their dreams, their joys and pain and their hopes for tomorrow. This documentary has hit a chord with so many of you. You have told me that you have laughed and cried in your own living rooms. You have watched with your husbands, children and some have even made Tuesday night at 8pm ‘girls' Tuscan night’ in your own homes.

 

This is my 5th television series. My TV career has very much been a journey through lifestyle programming. I began with a ‘how-to’ paint video which begat 200 episodes of a ‘DIY’ show, followed by 5 years of ‘reality’ and design. Next came a ‘challenge’ series and then the big mega, over the top ‘network’ design show. All were fun and thrilling to produce and host, but this little 3-hour documentary has been different. I actually began my career in television in England, working on docs. Truthfully, they were intensely boring, especially for a girl in her twenties. Talking heads chatting away about desperately serious subjects. They were always aired at strange hours until they eventually disappeared to be replaced by the infomercial. Happily, we are beginning to enjoy the new type of documentary – the docu/soap, especially since reality TV has become more and more staged and our senses have grown dulled.

 

At first I wasn’t enthused to make La Dolce Debbie. I was in my own world in Tuscany, knee deep in the renovation and the mud of my construction site. Did I really need a camera crew following me around? Then my thoughts changed. It was the magic and often the hilarity of the day-to-day events that I shared with friends that made me realize I should attempt to capture this sweet life. There I was camping inside the stonewalls of this ancient property. Half the roof was missing, I had no internal doors and a one-burner stove to both cook on and to keep me warm. What plumbing there was I shared with the numerous tradesmen working on the property. Now, I could have made an epic on just these guys and their array of wild personalities or the nightmare of working with the ‘Comune’ or city hall where I begged for permits weekly. The stories extended to the everyday life in my village. Here for example, is one of the many stories that I realized I just had to share…

 

One morning, I started my busy day with my usual long list or ‘to-dos.’ I headed for the post office and stood in line with what seemed like most of the village. No one cared that the queue was crawling at a snail’s pace – a geriatric snail. Alberto, one of my elderly builders, also waiting, chatted away to me in such a fast Italian that I couldn’t decipher a single word. As you know, my Italian is way below basic but he didn’t really care. He was telling me a fascinating tale about god-knows-what while he was waiting to buy a stamp, one stamp! As we crawled out of there hours later I somehow ended up in his little truck hurtling down a dirt road, through a gate and into his vineyard – everyone seems to have their own vineyard in Tuscany. After smiling appreciatively at his juicy grapes, I was invited into his home for coffee. His wife Silvia, resembled a succulent plum in her patterned apron that every ‘nonna’ seems to wear around the house. An hour later as I was trying to work up an excuse to leave, she proudly whipped up the most delicious lunch of countless dishes and of course several bottles of vino, actually quite superb homemade wine. I mean you can’t be rude so I tucked in. All meals must then be washed down with a wee digestivo followed by a quick nap on his white plastic chairs on the loggia (a kind of balcony.) Two hours later I was gently woken by Alberto. Wiping the drool from chin I climbed back into his truck to be dropped off with exhuberant hugs at my car still sitting outside the post office. By the time I returned to my construction site, the sun was setting and the builders were long gone. Another day in paradise, another ’to-do’ list barely touched.

 

I realized that these daily experiences that were so enchanting, so Tuscan, should be shared. So I agreed to a small crew following me around my little world in the heart of Tuscany. I was never really confident that the viewers at home would embrace my journey, but they have, with open arms. Not only did they watch, but I have been so touched by so many personal, emotional stories sent to me as they dream of their own next chapters. I have loved every minute of this epic renovation – and thank you for letting me into your homes so that we could all dream together.

 

Debbie Travis

 

 

HELLO AGAIN OPRAH

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, February 10, 2016

 

 

LA DOLCE DEBBIE airs on OWN Canada 16th Feb 2016 at 8.30 PM

 

I am convinced that life is just one big circle. I find it truly amazing how people and events constantly pop back into your life. In the last few weeks I have been having conversations with childhood friends who were at my wedding 30 years ago, and with whom I had lost touch over the decades. They are all now coming to celebrate our 30th anniversary with us this summer in Italy. So excited. Full circle!

 


 

Several years ago I got ’the call’, and by ’the call’ I mean one afternoon a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show rang me. They wanted me, yes me, to come to Chicago and be a guest on her show. I remember every minute of the thrill of that journey to the Harpo studios, the gorgeous hotel we stayed in, the dinner the night before with the producers and recording voice-overs in a booth, with Oprah doing the same in the adjoining one. But the very best of this entire experience has to be sitting next to her on those iconic ‘yellow' chairs. I was giddy and overwhelmed. My knees shook so much that she actually clutched both of them and told me not to be so nervous. By the time the cameras were rolling it was like sitting with a girlfriend chatting about paint colours, stencils and decorating for the whole hour, one of my most memorable hours. She held up some of my decorating books which shot up to the top ten on Amazon, which of course was fantastic but really it was about just having a good time. I was lucky to be invited back onto The Oprah Winfrey Show many times and now, all those years later, I am thrilled to be back on her very own network, OWN with my new documentary series La Dolce Debbie.

 

OWN is the ideal network for this series. The six-part documentary is not a renovation show; it’s about building dreams. It follows my dream of renovating an ancient ruin in Tuscany (after watching Under The Tuscan Sun countless times) and turning it into a beautiful haven where like minded women can come and share their dreams and their next chapters. I hope that this series inspires everyone watching into making their own wish list come true. It may not be today or even in 10 years, but keep on dreaming, working hard and stay passionate about everything you cherish and I promise, that next chapter will happen.

 

Talk about coming full circle - I began my television career on WTN, the Women’s Television Network which eventually became W, part of the Corus Network. The Painted House ran for 14 seasons and changed my life. It was also the first of its type, a decorating show! I cannot count the times that people told me that no one would be interested in a TV show about ‘doing up’ homes – on primetime! Well this little show was a hit and so much grew out of it, from the books, newspaper columns and products. So thank you Corus for all the support, it is wonderful to be back in your family.

 

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, December 23, 2015


 

“The mystery of human existence lies in not just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

As I am saying goodbye to 2015, I would like to share what I have taken out of the turbulence and atrocities of this year. It is simplicity. The joys of a simple life. I have a busy life but it is the simple elements of the everyday that give me the greatest pleasure. The long Skype chat with my sister over mugs of coffee as if we were in the same room together, not on different continents. Or a quiet glass of wine under one of my ancient olive trees in Tuscany doing nothing just nothing. The simple life puts things in perspective, helps us see the opportunities and provides the inspiration for better days. It is the way you look at life. Yesterday I chatted with an elderly lady as I was heading out for some Christmas shopping on the jammed streets of London. We were both staring at an overhanging tree of the most delicate, pink, cherry blossom. Below the tree was a bed of daffodils in full bloom. Not so remarkable, except for the fact that in a few days it will be January. It is so warm here in the UK that nature seems to think it is spring. “Global warming” I loudly exclaimed. “That’s right dear ” she said “ I’m going to pick a load of those free daffs and save me some pennies!” Such proof of the ‘glass is half empty…’ There is always a sunny side or silver lining and it usually is simple. A memory came to me as clear as the glass towers of central London towering above me. This image of long ago brought back feelings of sadness and fear. I saw myself as a small five year-old girl crouched in a small, dank cupboard under the stairs of my school. It was only my second day at Rochdale Convent, a junior school run by nuns. Later on in that first year I would come to realize that some of them were kind, but many were unhappy and bitter and it took very little to enrage them. A chatty little girl was all it took to light the wick of their fury. It guaranteed an explosion of words and forthcoming punishments. Sister Renata, or Sister Squashed Tomato as I soon gleefully nicknamed her from her resemblance to this fruit. She seemed to have magical antenna that would constantly home in on me whether I was sitting at my battered wooded desk enlightening some lad next to me with another of my adventures or perched on a wall helplessly giggling with my gang of nobbly -kneed girlfriends. She had the instinct of an excited hound as she clipped me around the head and laid out the punishment of the day. At this moment, on only my second day of my early school years, I found myself in the broom cupboard under the gigantic Victorian staircase of this converted Victorian manor house. Once the tears dried up and my snotty face rubbed off on my purple school cardigan I remember distinctly taking in my surroundings. In reality it was a musty cupboard filled with dank mops and buckets and brooms. My thoughts were not about bitterness or revenge of this hateful nun, but on how romantic this ‘ den ’ lit by one hanging dusty light bulb could be. I remember thinking what a thrilling bedroom I could make out of it. It was so small I wouldn’t have to share it with any of my annoying sisters ... it would be all mine. I would paint it lavender and slide a mattress on the floor under the slanted ceiling. I would borrow my granny’s glass chandelier that was so sparkly it could be in a princess’s ballroom. I would ask my daddy to install a shelf where I would keep special things that no one else, especially my sisters, could touch. Even imprisoned in a cupboard under the stairs a little girl’s imagination can soar. Thinking back, perhaps this punishment was my introduction to the world of design? There is always a sunny side or silver lining and it usually is simple.

 

   

 

I have simplified my life in living in Tuscany even though it’s just as hectic but in different ways. It is those quiet times that are priceless because when you embark on simple moments your mind opens up to endless ideas and solutions to our problems. These pictures are captions from this summer that are simplicity in its purest form : - a group of boys playing cards at a beach restaurant on the Italian coast while their parents enjoy a long lunch. Picking plums with my nieces early in the morning while everyone else sleeps in. Making pasta at one of our cooking classes at my Tuscan Getaway (the simple action of rolling pasta opens your mind like nothing else) and caught in a traffic jam on my Tuscan road by a shepherd and his sheep – the simple life really is about not just staying alive but finding something to live for.

 



Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and many simple and happy moments in 2016.

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Debbie’s newsletter is a peek into her life between London, Tuscany and Toronto – running her television company, Tuscan Retreats and living life to the fullest.