SURVIVING SMALL SPACES

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, September 08, 2017

 

Wherever I go, I am always inspired by good design. I recently took to the Croatian Seas and sailed along the Dalmatian coastline with eleven great friends. Take note of the great friends bit. If you have ever wondered if a sailing holiday is something you would enjoy, choose the friends or family you will travel with very carefully. Any moaners, selfish or boorish pals must be left behind. Young children?  Hmmm. Think about it carefully if you want a restful holiday. Aged granny and grandpa, nah. Annoying siblings, don't go there. The reason for this pickiness is that, unless you are on a Beyonce-style super-yacht, the tight living quarters are exactly that. Tight! 

My best friend and I researched the variety of ways to explore the stunning Croatian coastline by boat. We decided on renting a gulet. These are two or three-masted sailing yachts that can sleep quite a gang. We worked with an agency, saildalmatia.com, who helped us choose a gulet called Perla, a sexy lady with sleek lines and mahogany fittings that were varnished to the highest sheen, plus plenty of navy and white pillowed lounging areas.



The week on board was magical. We explored the many islands along the coastline, tucked into delicious meals on deck and in rustic restaurants on shore, and drank copious amounts of local wine. We chatted endlessly, as a group of friends from around the world are apt to do, catching up on gossip, our kids and work. We had the most incredible time, but it was also a design lesson about small-space living. There was a plethora of clever ideas in these close living quarters that could be transferred from boat to home. The births (bedrooms) on a boat are snug to say the least, and as couples on this holiday, we had to waltz around each other to get ourselves into bed or dressed. If you live in a small space, you are well-aware of the challenges.

I was thirteen when I was awarded a bedroom of my own, finally separated from my siblings. It was in a converted old bathroom. Although the room was not much wider than a single bed, I loved it for the simple reason that it was mine. But I did have to be super inventive with storage. The need for shelves and baskets are self-evident for any teenager. I hung wire flower baskets from the ceiling, without the flowers of course. These were perfect for hairbrushes, clips and makeup, the staples of any teenage girl. I hung shelves made from found wood and chains, and stuck apple crates under my bed.

On our wooden gulet, as is the rule for all boats, storage is built into every nook and cranny. On the boat's deck, coffee tables were on swivels, easy to get around. This is such a great idea for a small condo. The large wooden dining table easily sat us all comfortably because of its angled corners. This impressed one of our guests so much she is copying the design for her cottage. It’s the ideal solution to continuously bruised thighs from banging into the corners of her existing one. I love to multi-task, so for me the perfect holiday was relaxing on Perla while checking out the ingenious design elements on our floating home.

Happy sailing.

~ Debbie

 

Happy guests make for a happy host

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, July 21, 2017

 

The heat and dust of this year’s Tuscan summer has left us floating around in a dreamlike haze.  We have come to the end of four quite incredible retreats and now I get to rest and enjoy my Italian home. Nearly eighty women and a few men (included in our gourmet getaway) have spent a week with my team and I at our Tuscan Getaway.  

Our guests have laughed and cried. They have shared stories and brainstormed ideas. They have eaten everything from formal, fancy dinners to bowls of lasagna made by a ’nonna’ in the local village. They have drunk copious amounts of alcohol from the very best Brunellos and Chianti wines, to the rustic red from my own vineyard. They have not only sipped on the sweetest Limoncello but have also made their own from over-sized Sicilian lemons. They have shared Aperol Spritz in the village bar with a bevy of farmers and nursed glasses of Prosecco while opening their hearts to us all. They have roared with laughter throughout their yoga classes and behaved like giggling teenagers while rolling pasta in the cooking class with Chef Francesco. They arrived here at Villa Reniella quite unsure of what to expect and I think they have all left with hearts swollen with happiness and minds inspired for the future.  

I have received marvelous letters from everyone and I thought I would share just a few. They have all come here for different reasons – whether exhausted from their day to day lives, ticking off their bucket list with an experience in this stunning part of the world or trying to find their passion for their own next chapter. It has been wonderful to share my home and I am privileged to have been able to be part of their lives, even if for a short time.  

~ Debbie 

  
Photo:  A fabulous Tuscan lunch on the terrace.

 “I’m still in awe of how 19 women gelled so quickly so well!  It was a week of fabulousness and I am just so grateful.”
Karen
California, USA

 “The only thing to say is – this week changed my life, forever!”
Gene
Belgium


Photo: Great way to start the day – with a wee bit of morning yoga


“I am sitting at my desk at work and I am writing a list of changes that I am determined to make. I arrived at Debbie’s Girls’ Getaway unsure of why I was there. I did not know what to expect. I am a successful business woman but was exhausted and needed to get away. Never, in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this week would change my life. I inhaled the week… the food, the company of other women from all backgrounds and most of all the daily forums where we all talked and talked and talked. As I listened to others’ stories, my own next chapter began to unravel in my head. I am now on a new path. Debbie, I cannot tell you how excited and inspired I am for my future. Something just clicked for me at Villa Reniella with you and the entire astounding team.”
Nancy
Melbourne, Australia


Photo: Our wonderful staff Eve and Marianna with our fantastic guests from Melbourne, Australia


“From the moment Ryan and I stepped onto Debbie’s property, we were made to feel like royalty. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Debbie personally, along with her entire team, we knew this was going to be an unforgettable experience!
Exploring the breathtaking and beautiful Tuscan countryside, with all its magnificent scenery, enjoying the fresh, seasonal, local food, drinking the delicious wines of the region, and experiencing a week of relaxing, introspecting, and discovering all that Tuscany had to offer was amazing! We did this all without the worries of work, kids, or our demanding daily routines – we managed to leave that all behind and really immerse ourselves into living in the moment and taking in every aspect of the Italian culture.
The atmosphere at the Villa was one of peacefulness, relaxation, and enjoyment, in addition to allowing for laughter and lighthearted fun. Ryan and I managed to reconnect on a personal level, not just as ‘mom and dad’, but as ‘husband and wife’, which was truly a necessity for our relationship. Not only did we cultivate our own relationship, but we developed new ones with interesting individuals, some of whom we still keep in touch with today.  I learned a lot at the Villa, not only about Italy, but about life in general. I have taken away some important life lessons, and have already started making changes at home with respect to diet, activity, and what’s really significant from day to day, which I am sure has already made me a better person. I feel truly blessed and thankful for having experienced the trip of a lifetime at Debbie’s Tuscan Getaway and I commend Debbie for being so inspirational, for opening up her home and sharing her life with perfect strangers and for impacting people’s lives in such a positive and profound way – thank you from the bottom of my heart!  La vita è bella!”
Simone
British Columbia, Canada


Photo: What a team!


“I am now home after my week spent under the Tuscan sun at Debbie Travis’ Girls’ Getaway. I have resumed my usual work/home routine. However, thanks to you and the whole Tuscan Getaway team my attitude and in turn my life has changed for the better!

I have become much more aware and mindful of what I do, what I eat, what I feel and how I conduct my life. I have come away from my week with more self-confidence and joie de vivre (I don't know how to say that in Italian!). Increasing the level of activity with walking and swimming everyday really made me feel good both physically and mentally. When I returned home I realized that even though we ate and drank so well and so much (with such good quality of food) I had lost three pounds!
What Debbie and the team have taught me is that I am worthy of my best effort and what I give out comes back to me manifold. When I take care of myself and my needs I am ready to give the world a better version of myself. Life is feeling much more precious right now and I don’t want to waste any of it! This week has been one of transformation for me. I am ready for a new chapter. I am studying to become a trained Colour Expert so that I can soon launch a business in colour consultation, something I love and enjoy.
Thanks so much for this life changing experience, I am so grateful to you all!”
Barbara
Ontario, Canada


“It has been almost two weeks since leaving Villa Reniella. I have spent much of my time sharing many stories and pictures with my family and friends and reflecting on my Tuscan experience.  
My husband asked me, upon my return home, what my favourite part was. My reply was, there wasn't one thing or one day that was better than the other. Everything and every day was simply...PERFECT!!!  I can honestly say that I walked away feeling more inspired, grateful for the experience, more educated about the Italian culture and new friends. As I sit here writing this to you, I can't help but feel envious about the next group and wish that I could do it all over again!”
Debra
Manitoba, Canada

Summer is officially here!

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, June 23, 2017



Summer is officially here!

The summer solstice has us all celebrating as we embrace the onset of summer. Mind you, in Tuscany, the summer heat this year has been with us for months - one of the hottest Junes on record according to the local farmers here in Italy. The much-needed spring rain was just a trickle, then departed. The near-drought conditions soon bleached the vibrant green fields of newly sprouted, waving and undulating wheat that surround our property to a shimmering golden yellow. Even our hardy olive trees seemed to be gasping for a drink under the relentless sun.

I have always loved the heat. The long hot summer days of my childhood in the north of England were blissful. Memories of blue skies and no rain, absolutely no rain. This is doubtful in one of the wettest area of Europe, but in my mind those summers were perfection. Thin cotton dresses, best friends and lazy school holidays that seemed to go on forever. Lying on our stomachs listening to Mungo Jerry (google him and smile) on a portable radio whilst licking fluorescent ice lollies and giggling about some boy at the other end of the football pitch. The only miserable moments occurred as the summer sun set and I was called inside each evening by my hateful mother. She would scream into the street to leave my soccer game or rounders (a kind of British version of Baseball.) “Bed!" she would yell. “So not fair, everyone else gets to stay up." I would wail back as I was dragged inside. Of course, I wasn't the only kid to be bathed and put to bed before the village street lights came on announcing grown-up people’s bedtime! The next morning, the sun always rose, cereal was laid out by my lovely mum and another glorious day of freedom blossomed before me.

Jump forward forty odd years and unbelievably to me, I am in another country, Italy. I am still lapping up the summer with the same relish and joy of that seven-year-old. Now I get to share the great outdoors in this foreign land with others who visit our Tuscan Getaways. On their first day of this weekly retreat I guide them along the pathways that snake amongst the olive groves. We wander along the rows of vines that stand to attention in our vineyard and explore the dense chestnut woods. I marvel at their delight as wafts of mint floats up from under foot followed by wild oregano and garlic. The sheer pleasure of sharing my plot of summer paradise with complete strangers is reminiscent of ‘schools out.’

These women, who visit our annual retreats from around the world, are luxuriating in being far away from their daily responsibilities, work and even family. They shake off their woes, lose the endless noise in their heads as they abandon their everyday lives, albeit for only a week. I watch them blossom with happiness and childlike enthusiasm. They come to my getaways for a variety of reasons. Many to tick off something from their bucket list or to experience everything that spectacular Tuscany has to offer and always to revel in the comradery of new friends. They bring their often weary souls to mend and change. I would love to think it is my lovingly decorated property, or our chef’s delicious Tuscan food or even the copious amount of local wine, but I am convinced it is the sunshine and the sense of summer school holidays. The bombardment of vitamin D, the relaxation of tight winter muscles and the smiles that soften faces as the Tuscan sun guides us through each breathtaking day.

For years I had a vision of what my endless summer days would be like in Italy, in fact I began buying floaty dresses years before I'd even decided on the furnishings. I often envisioned my new life as I dragged myself through airports and meetings. I pictured myself, basket swinging on my arm as I gathered the delights from my vegetable garden, sipped wine in the hammock in one of those flowery dresses and chatted to neighbors with names such as Luigi or Giovanni. And I pulled it off. I now look forward to the endless summer months in this baked land as I welcome my guests, family and friends. Summers in Tuscany are perfection. Enjoy yours, wherever you may be.

~ Debbie

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

 

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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.