Snowboarding, Gazelles and Dog-led tours…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been fairly quiet and sedate here in the last couple of weeks. Here’s an update…

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snooooow!

We have snow! The weather has been so dull and dreary for ages but on Monday it finally snowed and whilst we were here (the last time was at Christmas when we weren’t) and it was an experience!

It turns out there’s a whole bunch of things you have to do when it properly snows: Leave your gate open lest you can’t open it the following day, get your snow shovel out and somewhere accessible, don’t put the handbrake on the car lest it freeze over and leave your car unlocked in case the lock freezes over (I assure you the last two pieces of advice did not come from a car thief, though it does seem like they could have). Then there’s a whole technique to snow shoveling. And then did you know icicles are quite nice to eat? We had an baptism of fire with the immediate neighbour giving us heaps of advice about what to do and not to do before we went off in force up the road in order to clear it with the other neighbour. It had quite a nice little community feel and if it had been feasibly possible for 4 people to snowshovel the same bit of road without getting in each others way and being told off, I would have quite enjoyed it! We had a mistra (lethal aniceed drink) laden espresso at the end to finish off – all’s well that ends well.

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This is our terrace – we should probably put the table and chairs away :-s

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And this is Sarnano at the moment taken from the front garden

Snowboarding

Then, because it was an absolutely stunning day and it had been snowing, we thought it might be an ideal time to go snowboarding, so up the mountain we went. Perhaps only in Italy would the ski-lifts be closed because of, well, snow. There was one horrible lift open though – not those nice chair lifts that you can sit on and admire the scenery as you go up, but button lifts where the lift guy shoves a bit of plastic between your legs and you’re dragged up one by one by your bottom (they should be called bottom lifts perhaps).  The next day was much more productive and all the lifts were open again so that made for a much more entertaining day. The slopes are fairly short and there’s a very limited number of them but it’s just brilliant having them only a twenty minute drive away. We got a cheap hire deal on snowboarding stuff – 10 euros a day and it was 11 euros for a day ski pass. What an absolutely bargain!

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The piste. As you can see, it’s absolutely packed. Full of people.

Woofer Guided Tours

I’m on a mission to track my walks and write up guides for tourists so on a day where it wasn’t so grim we went for a long walk around Sarnano. We were met by a random collarless dog (they all are to be honest) who led us for most of the walk. We decided he might make a reasonable tour guide – he could pick up tourists at 11am on Sundays. Alas, he was easily distracted and ran off after an hour so we didn’t get an opportunity to discuss the details.

Woofer the Tour Guide meeting us at the start of the walk

Woofer the Tour Guide meeting us at the start of the walk. We did worry a bit that perhaps he was trying to lead us to little Timmy who’d fallen down a well.

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We found some unstable looking hunting shacks during the walk

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Italy is dotted with old houses that have fallen into ruin. I want to rescue them all! It’s very sad. On the plus side, they do make for good photos.

Batfink the teenager

Batfink is going through a teenage phase. He’s not washing (well he does, but he still smells), eats all the time, sleeps all day and when he isn’t, he just acts up. He was quite funny in the snow the other day though so that made up for it. He doesn’t like people throwing snowballs at him.

 

The cat didn't walk through the snow but leapt like a gazelle.  Very elegant.

The cat didn’t walk through the snow but leapt like a gazelle. He was very elegant.

Bread experimentations

I’m still making bread though I’ve calmed down a little. I think I’ve nailed regular loaves of bread that taste ok and have a good texture and look so I’m focusing my efforts on sourdough bread.

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Latest sourdough bread attempt – I think it looks quite pretty. I can’t stop marvelling at bread – it’s just flour and water and salt. Amazing!

Sewing machine inventions

I bought a new sewing machine a week or so back so I’ve been experimenting with that. So far so good though I’ve recalled why I get fed up with sewing. It’s not the sewing per se, it’s the ironing which seems to be an integral part. The iron is surely the most futile invention known to mankind. However, it seems to be essential for trying to sew straight seams so I’ve managed to locate an iron for the purpose of that and my sewing project has thus been delayed by several days due to my lack of ironing motivation!

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I don’t really have much of a clue about sewing but I’m steadily learning! The prototype didn’t go too badly – hopefully I’ll finish another three in the next week.

I think that about sums up the last couple of weeks. Have good weeks the rest of you…

x

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Chicks, pizza and TV watching cats…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? All good here…

Cutie chicks

I’ve been feeling very rural. The next door neighbour has been rearing cutie little chickens. I’ve been watching them hatch. It’s like `One Born Every Minute` but for chickens (and with less screaming, and instead of an epidural my neighbour gives the mum sherry or vino cotto which I think is basically the same thing!).

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These chicks are a few hours old.

Bread & Beans

When there’s a quiet moment here (most moments), my thoughts turn to bread. I am in the process of making a sourdough ‘Starter’ and I’ll have a go using that later this week to try and make some bread that doesn’t have a massive hole in the middle like my last attempt at bread making. But regular bread has been going very well. Today’s efforts look reasonably professional (at least one of them does, the other two are completely burnt – note to self: don’t put bread on the top shelf of the oven)…

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Look at my “crumb” (that’s what the professionals say!)

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And what a pretty loaf I made!!!!!!!!

In other bread related news one of the neighbours brought me some of the dried yeast I’ve been searching for here, though it says on the packet it’s only for pizzas and focaccia (how does the yeast KNOW that?! If you put it in a normal loaf will it stubbornly decide not to rise?!). The pizza went reasonably well I think too.

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Apparently the base wasn’t crispy enough and the tomato sauce was too sweet. Some people can never be pleased. I very much look forward to Pane Caldo’s efforts.

I have produced a reasonable interpretation of Heinz Baked Beans. They have to import the genuine article here and it’s a rare find and only ever in the big supermarkets. They’d be more readily available and probably cheaper if I hired an actual Heinz Baked Bean chef to be on permanent stand-by, hence trying to make them myself.

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Not very Italian this dish…

The Science of Happiness

I’ve found a course! Continually doing courses is something I’ve missed greatly about not being in the UK so I was thrilled to find this font of free online courses at http://www.edx.org. I’ve picked what seems like quite a fluffy course: “The Science of Happiness” but it’s founded in years of research and studies and it’s absolutely fascinating. So now, in between thoughts about bread, I’ve been posing myself in-depth philosophical questions.

Walking

It’s been miserable weather here pretty much all of last week – overcast and constant rain. Yesterday there was a small break in the clouds so I went for a walk. One of my new year’s resolutions was to write up my walks – and so I have. I’m  hoping to translate it into Italian and see if the local Tourist Information Office would be interested. Some photo’s from the walk…

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It’s quite a remote path, demonstrated by the cute little birds nests in the hedges along the path.

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Beautiful countryside. This house has a couple of dogs outside in a not very clean cage all day. I’m considering mounting a “Free Doggy” campaign.

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Pretty woodland

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And pretty mountains.

Monte San Martino Forgetting that I’ve already been to Monte San Martino, I decided we should go to Monte San Martino. It’s a quaint little hill top village with beautiful views of the local area. Unfortunately we went there during one of the constantly rainy days so we didn’t see as much as we’d hoped.

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Narrow cobbled streets…

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And wider cobbled streets…

 

Animal watch

I know animal watch has been a bit quiet of late. Here’s the resident animal watching the film ‘Ice Age’ (ignore the mess!). He doesn’t usually watch TV but I think he quite likes animations!

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The cat took a liking to Ice Age and spent a few minutes doing his meercat impression. I think if he was a cinema goer, he’d go straight to the front seats.

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We gave him his own little chair so he could get up close and personal but not so much he would feel inclined to jump on the TV

 

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And then it got a bit scary so he retreated to the sofa for comfort.

I think that about sums up this week. I’ll report back next week – probably with with more bread updates !

x

ps. it’s been rather pretty here in the last week with our first “snow” (or at least that we’ve experienced). Here’s a picture…

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Breaks, Bad Bread Baking and Batfink

Ciao a tutti!

Happy New Year! Apologies it’s late. I hope you’re all getting off to an excellent start :-) It’s been somewhat slow here having only got back to Italy earlier this week. It’s been good to have a break and lovely to catch up with friends and family in the UK though I never get around to seeing everyone I’d like.

So what have I been up to? Well, apart from contracting what I think must have been the Plague over the Christmas period, I’ve been travelling around the UK a bit seeing some lovely areas…

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Langston Harbour in Hampshire

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Rhossili Bay in Wales

 

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Belton House in Lincolnshire

I missed Sarnano a lot but my lovely neighbour sent me lots of pictures…

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I’m gutted I missed the snow! It was all gone by the time we got back. Hopefully it’ll snow again before Spring.

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Sarnano looking like a postcard… There’s still snow on the mountains now but nothing like this.

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She even took pictures of my Batfink waiting outside the door looking very regal

Last Sunday we flew back to Italy via Bologna and had a nice afternoon and morning wandering around there before heading back to Sarnano the following day. I was expecting a house full to the brim with mould but actually it wasn’t too bad as I think the neighbour had been in and out every so often to air it.  Batfink was beside himself on our return.  I’ve never seen a cat overjoyed before but this one certainly was when we came back. It’s nice to feel missed!

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Batfink requesting permission to come along next time.

Since we’ve been back I’ve been on a bread making mission which to all intents and purposes, has been a disaster. This mission came about because I find the yeast situation confusing over here (it comes in little refrigerated packets that look like blocks of butter rather than the dry stuff I’m used to) and the local bread is quite expensive (not to mention tasteless). So I’ve been experimenting with sourdough. Sourdough is weird. It’s made with yeast that’s been collected from the air. You basically make a flour/watery gunk and leave it for a few days until it looks disgusting. This is called a “starter”. You feed it with flour and water to keep it going. It’s like having an invisible pet. Then when you want to make a loaf of bread you take some of the gunk, add some flour and water and spend hours and hours alternating between kneading the thing and waiting for it to rise. Then, once you bake it, it comes out like a very unattractive lead weight with a massive hole in the middle (or at least mine did).

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Gunk. Otherwise known as a “Starter”.

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After decades (I might have to work on my patience) of kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise it was ready to go in the oven…

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Whilst in the oven, the promising looking loaves were replaced with these horrible looking things. My oven must be haunted. It’s the only explanation.

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But hey, perhaps it was ok inside I hear you cry? No. No it wasn’t. Stupid bread.

This year, I have resolved to focus on things and get good at them rather than my usual tact of not focusing on anything and being bad at them. So. I shall not be defeated. Tune in shortly for more bread updates. Meanwhile, I would encourage you all to try making sourdough and post comments of your disasters too (I am not interested in hearing if your bread has gone perfectly) so that I have some moral support.

I think that about sums up the last few weeks.  I hope you all have a good week or so!

x

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Snow, sunsets and surprise nordic walking races…

Ciao a tutti,

How is everyone? I don’t have a great deal to update on but I do have a ton of photos! My DIY motivation has taken a severe dip so I’ve done absolutely nothing on that front. However, Pane Caldo has been making some headway on a hatch for our perilous stairway to stop the heat from downstairs escaping upstairs, and he’s been drilling holes in the walls for vents. It appears to be challenging. So far, he’s broken a drill and snapped a chisel in half.

Walking around Sarnano

I, meanwhile, have been out on lots of lovely walks locally with my neighbours. It’s thanks to this that this week’s blog is photo heavy.

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This is the beautiful San Liberato monastery

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Taken from around the Sarnano area.

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Taken from a neighbours house

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Taken on another walk from the house…

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It’s snowy!!! I’ll need to work out how to put on snow chains soon.

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Sarnano and the snow capped mountains.

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Sarnano from below

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Taken from my neighbour’s garden

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Pretty snow :-)

Random Nordic Walking Event!

Last weekend something weird happened. My neighbour asked me if I wanted to go to a `festa` in town. It would involve a bunch of people dressed as Father Christmas racing around the town. Who wouldn’t want to see that? So we got up early and headed down there……….and then I don’t know quite what happened. Suffice it to say there were no Father Christmas’s. I ended up being enrolled on a 7km race as part of a Nordic Walking Team. (Presumably this was the racing around town part).  I have never Nordic walked! It turns out that it’s actually quite difficult and by the end I was still nowhere near doing it right. However, it was a good laugh and I met some lovely people and I’m pleased to have learnt a lovely new walk around Sarnano. I might even consider joining the Nordic Walking School. Even better, I got a bottle of wine and some pasta as my “prize” (despite our team, which started pretty much first, coming pretty much last… it’s the taking part that counts!).

House History

I’ve been learning a little more about my house and have even met a couple of people in the local area that lived in the house decades ago. Apparently the bathroom used to be a small bedroom as there was an outhouse for the bathroom, the floor used to have lots of holes in so you could see the cantina (I dread to think about the horrors that could have come up!), and my personal favourite, the upstairs bedroom used to be for pigeons! I had never thought about having a room for pigeons before!

Animal Watch

Animal watch in the last couple of weeks has been reasonably active. I’m back in the UK now so I’m missing Batfink the cat. My neighbour has been sending me some photo’s though :-) Meanwhile these are some other animals from the last couple of weeks.

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This is Pippa. He belongs to one of my neighbours. He was adopted after just turning up one day. I don’t think he’s a duck because he’s gigantic but I don’t think he looks very goose like.

 

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We have a donkey farm a few miles away – who knew?! All the donkey’s are slightly different breeds. Apparently this is obvious (they all look pretty similar to me).

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This is Drago my neighbour’s dog. He hates his photo taken so this is a rarity!

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These are some rogue sheep ‘guard’ dogs. They’re called Pastor Maremmano and according to my neighbours they’re quite vicious because they have to defend the flock against wolves. They’re certainly big but I think they look quite cuddly. My neighbour insisted we take refuge behind a gate. The sheep come down from the mountains in the winter and they’ve been doing a tour of our local fields for a few hours at a time.

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Sheep on tour. I’m considering mounting Operation FreeSheep (they’ll get eaten at Easter) but I haven’t worked out where to hide them yet.

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Now I’m home for Christmas so animal watch will be less exotic for the next month. So. Here’s my Nan’s dog :-)

I think that about sums up the last week or two. All that’s left is for me to wish you all a lovely Christmas break and a Happy New Year and thank you all so much for your support and feedback over the last year! It’s much appreciated! :-)

x

 

 

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Divine Comedy, Christmas festivities and slimey fruit…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a busy week here. I’m trying out a new way of displaying photos on the blog. If you’re reading it from the WordPress internet site hover over the pictures to read the captions. However if you receive it by email, I’ve no idea what it will look like! Let me know if it works ok :-)

Here’s a quick update…

Sightseeing!

These last couple of weeks we’ve been to some new places which have been really lovely. I had forgotten how much I like exploring new areas.

A couple of weekends ago, we had an interesting coach trip to Gradara and Candelara with about 40 or so of our immediate neighbours. It was good to meet them all, though I don’t think I could tell you anyone’s name. Although if you call everyone Giuseppe you have about a 70% chance of getting it right!

Gradara is really interesting. It’s a beautiful castle that I’ve been meaning to visit for ages having driven past it several times. It’s a few miles north of Ancona. We had a guide to show us around. She spent ages and ages talking about headaches in a very confusing fashion, almost giving them a personality if you will. Or at least, I thought that’s what she was talking about until I finally established that “mal di testa” (headache) is not the same as “malatesta” (a surname). It turns out Gradara was owned for a period of time by the very influential Malatesta family and not reigned by headaches.

The castle has an interesting story attached – it tells the true love story between Paolo Malatesta and the wife (Francesca) of his brother (Gianciotto). The story is immortalized in Dante’s `Divine Comedy`. Basically Francesca is tricked into marrying the unattractive, limping, hunch-backed Gianciotto because he sends his handsome brother Paolo to propose on his behalf, pretending that he’s him. She seems to genuinely marry Paolo but he signs the wedding certificate in his brother’s name. That night, back at the castle, the curtains around the bed were pulled, all was dark, Gianciotto enters and er, job’s a good’un. Francesca, on discovery that she’s married a man with a face like a bag of spanners and the morals to match (though at least she married a clever man, if not a looker), decides to starve herself to death. Francesca, who seems to have been a very forgiving sort, didn’t seem to hold a grudge against Paolo who she immediately commenced an affair with. Gianciotto finds out, tries to kill his brother but Francesca steps in the way. She’s stabbed and killed and then Gianciotto kills his brother, Paolo.  I think that sums it up – no need now to worry about having to read the Divine Comedy ;-)

Candelara is a beautiful hill top town. The coach trip also included this too as at this time every year they have a festival where all the lights are turned off and it’s lit only by candlelight. During this, they had a `pyrotechnic display` which featured 10 regular sized balloons with lights in.  There was also a big market and an exhibition of precepe (nativity scenes).

Ferrara

Last weekend, we went to Ferrara with some friends and had a fab time. We stayed the night before in Jesi at a friend’s house and went out for a nice meal in the centre of Jesi. It reminds me a bit of London. Whereas on a Saturday night in Sarnano, absolutely nobody is in town, on a Saturday night in Jesi, everyone seems to be in town! It was standing room only in all the bars. We headed to Ferrara the next day. Depending on which website you visit or who you speak to, Ferrara is either a great place to go to or quite dull. In my opinion it’s the former. Quaint with lots of little pretty alleys, it’s got a stunning cathedral and it’s just a nice place to have a wander around. When we were there it had a Christmas market and with all the festive lights, it really did look pretty.

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It’s not really sightseeing because it’s only 5 minutes away, but I just wanted to say how impressed I am with our little village. It’s got a good sized ice-rink. I went during the day and before the Italian’s turn their Christmas lights on  (here it’s about the 8th December I think) so I’ll go back again this week and take some photo’s for the blog. I might even attempt to skate.

As an aside, I don’t know whether this is just in my area or not but today is bonfire day here. You light a fire so that the angels carrying the Virgin Mary’s house to Loreto can find their way there (no Sat Nav I suppose) and warm themselves up a bit. How sweet!

Christmas Decorations

Keeping on the Christmas theme, we bought a Christmas tree from a florist in town. It’s my first “real” tree too. I don’t usually approve of that but this one is in a pot so we can bring it in year after year assuming we don’t kill it. I hope it doesn’t grow too big. Anyway, it’s feeling quite Christmassy in the house, despite the terrible handmade tree decorations involving paper, oranges and fir-cones. I did a little better with the wreaths which I’ve been giving away as presents (I gave one to my Jehovas Witness neighbour this morning. She wasn’t in so I left it by her door. When I returned, Pane Caldo informed me that they don’t celebrate Christmas so I raced back to retrieve it. Her mother is generally on guard at the window and I have a horrible feeling saw the whole sorry business).

Paying bills

Bill paying in Italy is a mystery. You never pay the company that you need to pay directly. I made that mistake when I phoned up the water company once asking if I could pay my bill. They said, yes, of course. I asked if they would take credit card. They said they weren’t sure. I was a bit stumped and asked if I should give them the long number on the front of the card. There was silence and then they finally understood…. I can’t pay THEM, you know, the people I owe. It turns out, in Italy, you pay your bills at either the bank, at the Tabaccheria (basically a little corner shop selling cigarettes and newspapers sometimes – oh and matches, you can only get matches at a Tabaccheria rather oddly) or the post office. I still don’t know what you pay where. I generally do a circuit of all three until I find the correct one. It vaguely makes sense to outsource your bill payment I suppose, but it seems strange nonetheless!

Food

This week has been curious on the food front. The next door neighbour has a lot of cachi at the moment. Cacchi are orange apple-sized fruit that mature about now. As a short Italian lesson: cacchi is the plural, caco is the singular version of the noun. All italian nouns are split into feminine or masculine and they end in a different letter accordingly (very simply ‘o’ for masculine, ‘a’ for feminine usually). In most cases it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember whether your inanimate object is masculine and feminine – people get what you’re trying to say. But, you must never, ever, say “caca” when you intend “caco”. The word “Cacca” means another thing entirely and something you certainly shouldn’t eat. It’s the same with all kinds of fruit – if you mix up your feminine and masculines when it comes to fruit it can be very embarrassing. Anyway, apparently you should eat your caco on bread and I must say, it’s very nice. It has a consistency of jam without the hassle of having to make the jam.

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Caco on bread…

 

There’s Nespole which is another fruit (Japanese Plum for us maybe?). This one is a small orange one which you eat when it’s brown. My neighbour is insistent about you eating things immediately so when she presented a brown squidgy slime that looked positively gone off and then encouraged me to eat it, I didn’t quite know how to cope with the situation. However, it wasn’t too bad. Weird with lots of sort of big random pips in, but not bad. I’ve got lots to eat now. I’ll have to make something with them.

On taking this photo several flies flew off when I moved them. I think they might actually be mouldy. I think that's just how you eat them, like blue cheese.

On taking this photo several flies flew off when I moved them. I think they might actually be mouldy. I think that’s just how you eat them, like blue cheese.

Carrying on the food vain, I made focaccia the other day but it turned out flat and heavy, not light and fluffy like it’s supposed to. I consulted my neighbour who said I should buy some dough from the bakery. The dough is decades old, from the bakers mum. I don’t think she’s ever bought yeast because it’s a living organism and so it just grows. When you make your bread, you leave a bit of the dough to one side, add more flour etc. to it and then it grows more yeast. I do not know how to make bread using this strategy! I have a bread recipe book and at no point does it say to get a bit of someone’s dough and do ‘x’ to it. You just don’t seem to be able to buy yeast in packets here like in the UK. I kind of like this method, it’s quaint. So tomorrow, I will go to the bakers and ask for their dough (ha!).

Writing

I’ve almost finished my book! I just need to write another 3000 words or so to make it up to 70000 but I’m stuck on the ending! It’s absolute trash but I’m quite proud of having got this far.  I usually give up after the first chapter. Anyway, please send happy writing vibes, I’m determined to finish before I leave for the UK next week. but these last few words are a struggle!

Animal watch

The animal watch spot has been quiet, I know. We haven’t seen many really but here’s one I took this evening of the resident animal.

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I thought cats sort of curl up to sleep but no, Batfink sleeps like he’s had too many beers.

 

Right, that’s it for now. Have lovely rest of weeks!

xxx

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Neighbour watch, the Damp Wars and One Match Wonder…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? It seems like ages since I’ve written. I’m still here! I’ve just been doing other writing! Anyway, I thought I’d check in and give you a run down of the last few weeks.

Neighbourhood

I just want to say how much I like my little patch of Italy.  I was just trying to describe it to a friend and it all sounds so obscure. Quaint but obscure. I don’t know how much I’ve ever described the house and the setting so here goes. My house is in a little hamlet which is a 5 minute walk from the main road. In the hamlet there are maybe 5 habitable houses and one of those, mine, is split into four separate dwellings. There’s a few rustic buildings littered about too which are falling apart and have tree’s growing through the middle of them. Everything in the area used to be owned by a large farming family. “My” house is about 145 years old . My specific bit covers three floors and is over and under the next door neighbour’s section of the house in a very odd configuration. Another neighbour entirely owns a room directly underneath my kitchen. It seems strange but according to my investigations with the neighbours, it’s always been like that. There are often chickens roaming outside around the houses and there’s a couple of dogs that seem to regularly come here from several miles away to chill out on the front steps. One of them is the size of a small horse. Batfink the cat dislikes them intensely and so requires an escort to and from the house.

The community is really nice. My immediate next door neighbour is always dropping us food and fruit/veg. She’s been taking me on several tours of the area and introducing me to everyone under the sun. Two doors down there’s a really nice couple that again, give us food, lots of advice and lots of DIY support and tools (he’s a metal worker by trade). There’s a couple on the other side further up towards the main road that have offered us free wood, as long as we can clear it off the land – they’re really friendly too. Further up still, 5 minutes from the house, there’s a “forno a legno” which seems to be basically a rustic sort of bakery. That’s really nice and they give us new stuff to try rather than the bog standard (saltless) loaf of bread. They own a little corner shop as well but because it basically looks like someone’s house I’ve not had the courage to go in but I’ve recently met the owner so I’ll pop in next week. I’ve never really felt like part of a community before – in London, you basically kept your eyes on the ground at all costs and speak to no-one! I don’t think we could have asked for a nicer, friendlier area.

Out and about

We’ve had some Italian friends over the last couple of weekends which has been lovely.  Everyone seemed to like the house and the area. We tried a couple of “traditional English” meals – an afternoon tea for one of the lunches and a roast dinner with our other friends.  For my Italian friends that haven’t come across those yet, an afternoon tea generally consists of sandwiches, then scones with clotted cream (the best thing possibly in the world – alas, you don’t have it here!) and strawberry jam and then sometimes cakes. Roast dinners are usually a lump of meat (I’m vegetarian so substitute it with something else), roast potatoes, yorkshire puddings (not a pudding!) and maybe another vegetable dish covered in gravy (a type of sauce). Both seemed to work out ok!

The countryside here at the moment is spectacular with all the autumn colours. Unfortunately I didn’t take out the decent camera so the photo’s are a bit poor. I’m hoping to go out later this week when it’s sunny to get some nice ones.

Fai da te

In the DIY sense, we’ve finally finished putting up the panels around the bath using bits of wood left over from the kitchen and put some beading up around it. It’s had duct tape around the bath for ages to protect the lumpy weird concrete the builder used to mount it. So it looks really nice now in comparison, despite my bad sealant efforts.

We’ve been putting various vents in (see Damp Wars below) and finally have an extractor fan in the bathroom. We finally have a bedroom light too, something that was sadly missing when we bought the place.

Otherwise it’s been a bit slow on the DIY front recently but hoping to get back on the DIY horse shortly.

The Damp Wars

Damp continues to be a big issue in the house, mainly the bedroom. I’ve been told by neighbours to go around with bleach which kills mould spores so I’ve been doing that. A few weeks ago I spotted a bit by the wardrobe so pulled that out and it was absolutely thick with mould behind. Ugh! It’s not a nice job clearing that stuff I can tell you. It’s also got into our new chest of drawers. It turns out my “hayfever” is “mouldfever” and has substantially improved since I resolved the wardrobe issue. I’m having to go on a de-mouldifying mission in the bedroom every few days. I’ve been told you can’t eradicate damp from these old houses but I’m hoping at least that we can improve it. So, we’ve embarked on a war against damp!

All furniture is a few centimeters away from the wall to allow the air to circulate, we’re going to put vents in almost all of the rooms (according to the websites air circulation is key, and our damp meter seems to back that up), windows are open when it’s a nice day, the stufa is on in the evenings to provide “dry heat” and we’re putting the dehumidifier on in various rooms, including the cantina downstairs to try and draw as much water out of the walls as we can.

By the end of winter, we’ll be Damp Eradication Experts.

Stufa

I’ve done it! Just call me One Match Sue. So, I know that absolutely no one will be interested in my fire starting methodology but here it is anyway! I have tried all manner of fire starting methods including little wooden teepees and pine cones stuffed with bits of paper and tissue etc. The way to start a fire, in our stufa at least, is to create a little pile of tissue and card and set that alight and then start adding little dry wood twigs to it.  Fires need air underneath, our stufa has a section underneath it to collect the ash and has a little grate in that too. If you open the door entirely and let the air in under the fire, it acts as though you’ve just poured petrol on it. It’s like a fire turbo charge.

Bureaucracy  

The neighbours said that residency wouldn’t be difficult to obtain. I told them that it would. Of course it would. It’s never, ever easy here. The last two times, they have required countless documents, private health insurance, proof of savings, work contracts, letters from the language school, proof of address, ID, special stamps that you have to pay for at the tabaccheria etc.  They all thought I was lying. So it was with mixed feeling that I was able to obtain residency in about 10 minutes with just a passport. Why it would vary so much within the same region mystifies me.

However, nothing is ever simple and although I got away with obtaining my residency without having to get private healthcare insurance I then tried to register for a doctor and I apparently need it for that! My neighbour has decided that I should register myself as unemployed so I can receive free healthcare. I’m slightly concerned that means I have to actively look for a job. Booooo….

On another note, I’m annoyed I didn’t face my residency acquisition fears earlier because now, I have to pay IMU, a sort of “second home” tax, even though I don’t actually have a second home here. That came to 146 euros for 4 months. If I’d have registered when I moved in, I would have just had to pay regular tax which is 80 euros a year. You live and learn I suppose!

Right, that’s it from me. We have a horribly early start for a bus trip with 40 of our neighbours to Gradara and Candelara a couple of hours north from us. That’ll be an interesting day! I’ll report back with some photo’s in a couple of weeks.

For now, buonasera a tutti!

xxx

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Blasted beams, feng shui and sucking Italy dry…

Ciao a tutti,

I’ve just realised this is my 100th post! It feels like I must have written loads more than that! It’s like when parents can’t remember their lives before their children, I feel a bit like that with the blog. Without it, and a way of sharing my experiences, photos and rants there’s a good chance I’d be a gibbering wreck by now. But more than that, it means so much more that there are people out there reading it! Thank you all so much for following my little journey and taking the time out to write comments. It’s always appreciated.

Anyway, enough of that! How is everyone? For me, these last couple of weeks have been of mixed success…

Beams, beams, beams

The main focus of last week was beam sanding. I can’t put into words how much dust the sander makes so it was all hands on deck to try and get the house clean, tidy and dust free before the sofa was to arrive last Wednesday.

What an utter failure! By Tuesday night and after countless er, debates, about the best method of sanding beams, they were still nowhere near paint free. Pane Caldo treats the beams as though he’s restoring a Da Vinci. His approach is to caress the beam with the finest possible sandpaper. To give him his dues, it does work (eventually).  My preferred tools consists of the coursest sandpaper on the electric sander and a mallet and chisel. Admittedly, if left to my own devices the beams would probably resemble dowels right now. Anyway, the crux of the matter is that the beams are still not done. They’ll need another couple of days of work but neither of us can face it so we’re having a break from it.

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Beam close up – those annoying little paint-y divots are a nightmare.

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Beams from a distance. They need to be finished, tidied up where the plaster meets them and then waxed.

Stupid sofa colour? 

The sofa arrived as planned on Wednesday after organising to meet the delivery folk in the town centre to bring them here (does anyone else have this issue to get their post or anything delivered?). I’m generally really pleased with the sofa. The best thing about it, is that it fit through our hobbit-sized front door (albeit with the door taken off). The shop make it up in whatever fabric and colour you want so it was quite exciting to see the finished article, not least because we bought the thing well over a month ago.

We selected a sensible dark colour. Or that’s what I thought. Dark colours are not remotely sensible in this house it turns out. The dust is still settling from the sanding and so I think the sofa is already several shades lighter than it was and now has dusty highlights. I should have gone with a patchy off white colour.

The new sofa

The new sofa.

Feng shui-ing the house

Meanwhile we’ve been playing around with the sofa and the vast expanse of furniture we now have (the previous owner left us quite a bit). It’s gone well and I think the biggest success has been “writers corner”. We stuck the two (disgusting) old armchairs by the fire under the stair nook and the unused space is now lovely and cosy and used all the time.

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Please excuse the odd angle (the panoramic setting on my camera isn’t great for close-ups!), and the mess, the revolting chairs, the ladder, the duvet cover hanging up over the stairs (see below!)…The thing I wanted to show you was Writer’s Corner, below the painting. You have to imagine it in the evenings with the lights off and the glow of the fire. Cosy, cosy, cosy.

Heat retention and free cooking!

I’ve put up some temporary curtains to block off the stairway as otherwise all the heat just goes upstairs. The experiment has proved successful so I might see about making the curtains more permanent rather than stringing up old duvet covers.

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Duvet Door number two between the kitchen and living room. Number one was by the stairs in the above picture. We need to tidy up the wall where it was knocked down! That’s going to be a weekend task.

The stufa (woodburner), has been used in earnest and let me tell you, what a success! For a little thing, it does knock out a bit of heat. Our fire lighting techniques have improved. From an average of about 80 matches and several firelighters to get it going, we’re down to 2 or 3 matches and no firelighters. This week’s goal will be to get down to one match.

And then….

AND there's more!

AND there’s more!

It's now filling up a good chunk of our cantina! And I only came across 2 scorpions :-s

It’s now filling up a good chunk of our cantina! And I only came across 2 scorpions :-s

Look at all my wood!!!!! And it was only 70 euros. 70 EUROS! Bargain (I think anyway!). That amount of wood will surely see us through for the next century. There’s something nice about being able to see and control how much you’re spending on your heating. No nasty “quarterly” bill surprises. But it’s a bit disturbing to be burning so much wood – I know it’s not quite like single-handedly chopping down the Amazon but it does feel morally questionable. I’ll have to get over that of course otherwise we’ll freeze to death.

I was a bit worried that we wouldn’t cope for any extended length of time if the power went out (as it sounds like it’s likely to do during storms) as the oven and hob are both electric. However, as long as we can get the stufa going then we’re good to go.  So far, we’ve made soup, heated up curry, made eggy bread (mmm), stewed plums and made custard. Jacket potatoes will be tonight’s experiment.

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Stewing plums and making custard…

Using the stufa has worked out quite well because we can only have 3kw of power to the house at any one time and the hob uses pretty much all of that. If you want to turn the cooker hood on, then you have to compensate by turning off all the lights. I did phone the electricity company about it but the conversation was odd. It went a bit like:

Sue: My electricity meter keeps putting up threatening messages on it about disconnecting my electricity. It says we’re always x% over our allotted amount and it’s going to disconnect us.

Electric Company (EC): Yeah. Don’t worry about it.

Sue:  Really? You’re not going to charge me extra for going over my limit? You’re not going to disconnect me?

EC: Nah. Your electricity might trip but then just turn it back on again eh?

Sue: Uh huh. Could I just legitimately have more electricity please?

EC: Yeah, you could do that. You’d have to pay £££’s to upgrade and then an extra ££ for every unit of power you use on top of that every month.

Sue: Huh. That sounds expensive.

EC: Yeah. Up to you.

Sue: Well I might just continue to use more than my allotted amount and just turn the electricity back on when you disconnect me then?

EC: Yeah, good call.

Magical Water Removal Device

We’ve been sucking out all of the water from Italy with our recent dehumidifier purchase. I know the house is damp, but I can’t believe it’s as damp as the dehumidifier is making out. We have been putting it on every night for the whole night for a couple of weeks and every night it sucks out 3 litres of water. Pane Caldo believes that it’s sucking water out of the walls. I, however, believe it’s sucking water out from the surrounding countryside and through the walls. Does anyone else have a dehumidifier? Any thoughts on acceptable amounts appreciated!

The Curse of the Festas

Last weekend it was the Festa dei Morti (`Celebration of the dead`. I think festa literally means party but I think celebration is a better translation in this instance!). The Italian’s have this every year at the beginning of November to remember and celebrate the lives of their loved ones who have passed away. Last year in Camerano I  had taken my parents to the cemetery for a visit (as you do), and was overwhelmed by the number of people there not realising why at the time. Later that week there was a candle-lit procession around the town. This year, I resolved to pay a bit more attention and so planned to go on the procession. I was thrilled my fellow expat friend from Israel wanted to come with me (let’s face it, it’s an odd thing to want to do on a Saturday evening), and so we arranged to meet up early that evening and try and find out where it was and when (as usual, there was nothing online or in the paper about it – Italians appear to be born with an innate ability to sense upcoming festas). I had warned her about my curse – the fact that any festa that I want to go to is non-existent or not at the time or place I think it is (or where or when it was advertised as being I should say!). As anticipated, we were an hour late for it and had just missed it! Maybe next year…

We did have a wander around the cemetery though... I'm always really impressed with them here. They 'bury' their dead above ground as opposed to under ground like we English people do.

We did have a wander around the cemetery though… I’m always really impressed with them here. They ‘bury’ their dead above ground as opposed to under ground like we English people do.

Writing

I’m still managing to keep up with the novel writing. The goal is to do 10,000 words a week. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by mid December. Getting all the intricacies of a plot that’s big enough to carry a whole novel is a challenge. I can’t believe there are so many people out there who have managed it!

Batfink

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Batfink struggling to get comfy…

Batfink remains a cutie. You may be able to hear his meows from wherever you are in the world every morning when it’s breakfast time here. It sounds like he’s being beaten with a stick rather than him being hungry. When there’s a dog nearby, he scrambles up on my shoulders and sits there like a parrot staring the dog out and refusing to come down. But bad news, I have discovered he has worms (ugh!). Batfink doesn’t really seem entirely like my cat. For instance, he shares illicit nights with the neighbour occasionally and spends most of his time in her barn. And there was never a “here, he’s yours” conversation, only a “aw, he loves you, in the winter he’ll want to stay over night”.  I think he’s basically of shared ownership as much as anyone can own a cat. So, I’m perfectly happy to go to the vet and speak to them about his worms. But if I have a conversation with her I fear that she’ll be stunned that I would consider worms were a problem (all the cats must have them) and I don’t want her to feel under pressure to do something about it. Yet, if I just go to the vets with him without discussing it with her first, then I’ll feel like I’ve kidnapped her cat. Difficult!

Walks

I’ve been going on lots of nice long walks from the house. We’re lucky enough to live in an area that has lots of signed designated walks around wooded areas and hills. Unluckily though, it’s impossible to follow any of the designated walks. If they exist at all, many of the signs have fallen over, are confusing or point in opposing directions. I’m going to complain and offer my services to put up some decent signs.

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A picture from one of my recent walks…

Ok, I think that about does me for now. I hope everyone has splendid rest of weeks!

x

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Non essential DIY, chestnuts and Batfink the adorable kitten!

Buongiorno!

How is everyone?

Busy here again (no surprise there then!)! I fear my updates lately will become a jigsaw of pictures soon, a sort of “guess what I’ve been doing from these snaps” puzzle. The DIY bits haven’t reduced much but have been getting slightly more interesting. Batfink the kitten is a massive distraction from anything remotely productive. I’ve also been attempting to write a novel – I feel a bit guilty writing for the blog when I’ve got a daily novel target to meet! Having said that, I imagine I shall get bored of it shortly (though I hope not – I’m sure I have a book in me somewhere!). Here’s a more specific run down of current events here in Sarnano.

Fai da te (Do it yourself!

We SHOULD be doing beams. The sofa is coming in a week and I can’t even begin to describe the amount of dust that the house is covered in. Ideally it would be nice if the house didn’t look like it was in the midst of a dust storm when it arrives so finishing the beams is top priority now. And with that in mind, we have:

1. Created a chalk board in the kitchen

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For someone that hated teaching, it’s odd how much I like this chalkboard! One can never have too many plans.

2. Renovated the kitchen table and chairs.

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Before… Not an excellent picture of the tables and chairs as they were before – this was mid-scraping off the wax/varnish.

After... the table now matches the chairs which match the kitchen units. Just need to get / make some nice cushions now :-)

After… the table now matches the chairs which match the kitchen units. Just need to get / make some nice cushions now :-) Ignore the recycling bin.

 

3. Created a coat/bag hanging device out of my treasured driftwood collection before Pane Caldo burns it in the stufa.

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Works alright! One can never find too many uses for driftwood.

4. Made a note board which everybody, but one person, thinks is horrid. I’m still on the fence!

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Ok….. fine, perhaps one can find too many uses for driftwood. But it has an attached DRIFTWOOD PEN HOLDER! Who wouldn’t love a driftwood pen holder?!?!

5. Put “seasonal double glazing” on the windows. We have only single glazed windows and well….it gets cold and condensation-y here in the winter! It’s like an elaborate sort of clingfilm that you stick on to the window frame forming a gap between it and the glass and then you use a hairdryer to get it taut. It’s a genius solution – cheap, easy to do and we’ve not had any condensation on the windows we’ve done already but lots on the ones we’ve still got to do. Today, I’m writing on a particularly nasty, blustery, rainy day and the house feels warm (compared to usual at least!).

6. Bought a dehumidifier. Previously we had bought a damp meter. The rationale was that our cantina seems to be a bit damp (in fact, it’s entirely off the damp meter scale). The bedroom and bathroom need regular de-mouldifying (for the Italians reading this – please don’t make note of any of these “new” words) and the bed covers often feel damp to touch. We also have a flat roof terrace above this bedroom which has a pool of water on it all the time from the rain water – a little water feature/reservoir if you will, so it was interesting to note that the bedroom ceiling was officially “damp” too. I’ve since been measuring the dampness of everything in the house but it seems elsewhere it’s not such an issue. The Damp Reduction Plan included the purchase of a dehumidifier and  also an extractor fan to install in the bathroom. We have yet to do the latter but the dehumidifier is quite the success – I think it’s already extracted a bath’s worth of water from various rooms and we haven’t even tried it in the cantina yet!  The electrician hasn’t come yet to fix the extractor fan because, despite organising a day for him to come, I didn’t phone him every day to nag him. It’s all so efficient here.

7. Acquired/bought some wood from the next door neighbour.

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Apparently we shall need another two lots of these “larger” bits of wood. But we have a wardrobe of small branches and…

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Now all these smaller branches too (our stufa is quite small so we can’t have anything massive anyway)

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This is the stufa. That pot had water in it bubbling away yesterday – I think we’ll be able to make some soups and stews on it. Or at least, that’s my cunning plan.

8. Done almost nothing on the beams. When I say done almost nothing – we have actually put hours and hours into it with absolutely little, to no visible sign of change. There’s definitely been no change in the last few days as Pane Caldo has been hit with a severe case of ‘man flu’ and well, I have no patience for the beams. For anyone else out there taking off paint from their beams, here are some tips: 1. Chipping with scrapers can work OK to a point. Do that first. 2. Manual sanding will make you want to hang yourself from the very beam you’re sanding. 3. Electric sanding? You’ll go through a sheet every two inches. 4. Wire brush? Seems to have only compacted the paint on our beams. 5. Wire spin-ny brush on drill – speeds up the paint compaction process. 6. Paint/varnish removal goo – works alright up to a point, combined with the scrapers it seems to have been the best at getting the top layers of paint off. 7. Heat gun serves only to lose feeling in your arm.

Other Miscellaneous Items

I’ve also been on various chestnut hunting missions which have been fairly successful although I was caught out by the Italian signage system that led me into the middle of the local forest following the `number 4` trail. It pointed me up what I can only think will be a waterfall when in rains and then the signs stopped. In fact, the only signs that I did see were “don’t come in here, we’re hunting”. By that point, I’d gone reasonably far into the unknown, with no mobile phone reception and a dwindling phone battery. Even then I couldn’t stop picking up chestnuts. I think it’s an addiction.

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Mmm…… chestnuts

Also, on a cooking note, it’s been excellent having a decent kitchen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a decent kitchen myself before – it’s much nicer cooking now and we’ve since expanded our repertoire considerably from pizza and pesto pasta.

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Some very nice chocolate goo-ey cakes

One of our lovely neighbours gave us a new leaf vegetable to try. It’s a bit like spinach. They call is rape – you pronounce it rap-ay. I cooked it with some potatoes and other bits and pieces the other day and thought it was nice.  I don’t know what it is in English but it’s meant I’ve had to change my recipe naming strategy which is usually on the lines of “cheesy potatoes”.

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This is the vegetable in question.

Remember my mushroom fascination? I found an organised bunch of people that go out on nature trails and mushroom hunts. There doesn’t seem to be anything coming up now until next year unfortunately but I’ll write and try and join them.

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They had a display of lots of different types of mushrooms, all labeled with “edible”, “poisonous”. My favourite label was “suspicious”. I made a note not to eat any suspicious mushrooms.

 

Festivals

We’ve been to a couple of autumn festivals – one somewhere near Smerillo and one in Sarnano. The one near Smerillo (I say near Smerillo because that’s where we were heading to until we ended up going to another villages’ festival because I’d got the date wrong. It was seamless though, I hadn’t even realised we weren’t going to the right festival). It was absolutely heaving with people and full of food. I’ve concluded from this, and all the other Italian festivals I’ve been to, the crux of what is considered a good festival in Italy is food. There’s stall after stall of food – either of the ‘hot off the shelf wild boar kebab’ variety or different cheeses, honeys and  breads. And people queue for hours and hours and hours to get their lunch. If you go to any of these festivals, I suggest you take a packed lunch with you while you queue (alas, I think then you’d be missing the point of the festival).

Wherever we were, it had good views!

Wherever we were, it had good views!

 

And insanely long queues.

And insanely long queues…

And a great little band...

And a great little band…

And creepy stuffed people...

And creepy stuffed people attached to trees…

Batfink

I’ll give Batfink (named after Batfink the animated cartoon character who has rather large pointy ears) his own section this week because he’s so cute. When he sees me he runs up to me for a cuddle (and food, but I’m positive it’s mainly for a cuddle). We’ve come clean to the next door neighbour and have admitted he comes in sometimes, and far from minding she seemed happy that he had someone to look after him. So given he and all his fleas like to come in and sit on us in the evening, we decided to deflea him using Frontline and I must say, it’s a miracle! I’d never seen so many fleas on a cat before. Batfink was the itchiest cat ever, and you could see why – the nasty fleas were crawling all over him, his eyes, mouth, ears… ugh. Poor puss. Anyway, no more. We managed to get 20 fleas off him (all the fleas seem to come to the surface) and I imagine there were dozens more. And then….now that we’ve made him all cuddly, cute and de-fleaified – the next door neighbour seems to have claimed him for her own in the evenings!

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Batfink in a box

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Batfink on a lap

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Batfink on another lap

 

Right, that’s enough from me this week. Hope you all have lovely weeks!

xxx

 

 

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Sightseeing, kitten-napping update and mushroom identification

Ciao a tutti!

Well another busy couple of weeks here. Here’s a rundown….

Parental Check up

My parents came out for a few days to see the new house. Dad was the one that found the house on a website in the first place so I think it was interesting to see it in the flesh! It’s a pretty unconventional setup. The first couple of days were frustratingly dull and wet (the weather that is!) but it brightened up – it’s always nicer in the sun.

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Mum & Dad heading to a lookout point in the mountains overlooking Lago di Fiastra (Lake Fiastra)

 

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Last time I was there, there were lots of bright blue thistle type things. This time, there were some bright pink ones. The bees seem to like them too!

Then we visited Lago di Fiastra. Absolutely dead but still beautiful with crystal clear water.

Then we visited Lago di Fiastra. Absolutely dead in terms of anyone there compared to a month before when it was teeming with people still. I think I prefer it when there’s fewer people – much more serene.

 

Archery competition - it did look good fun though they seemed to treat it as very serious business!

We happened upon an archery competition in the lovely hill top town of San Ginesio – it did look good fun though they seemed to treat it as very serious business!

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One of the archery targets. Poor boar. I hasten to add this was a fake boar but still!

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My parent’s visit was characterised by me taking us to various festivals and markets that didn’t actually exist. This is Cessapalombo, a local town, where there was supposed to be a food festival. I don’t think we saw a single person let alone a festival. Then we went to Tolentino for a Farmer’s Market which just ended up being a small grocers store. Still, it was interesting to see the local towns!

 

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This is the Basilica of San Nicholas in Tolentino. It’s pretty spectacular – particularly the ceiling. It also has….

 

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… a lovely cloister (a sort of covered walkway around a square – I think!). But the best thing about the Basilica of San Nicholas is…

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…this huge nativity scene of the birth of Jesus. It’s a great scene – going from morning to night over the course of a few minutes with rousing music in the background. If you ever visit the Basicila, you have to go through the gift shop to find this – it’s hidden!

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We went on a nice walk between my house and Sarnano past some pretty scenery.

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This is a pic of Sarnano taken from my garden (Mum & Dad brought out my telephoto lens, thanks M&D)

Fai da te (DIY)

The kitchen is FINALLY done (ish!). The Ikea fitters came and managed to cope with the wonky walls and I’m thrilled to say we now have a working kitchen complete with non lethal cooker (the last gas one used to have a habit of burning off your eyebrows).

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Before (well, still “after” given we knocked out the chimney, filled the floor, knocked out the sink and had all the electrics done. After a week solid of plastering, myself and Pane Caldo were unable to move our hands or touch anything.

 

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But now it’s done :-) There’s still some work to be done on the tiles and we need to paint but it’s coming along. Alas, the hob itself uses all the electricity for the entire house so I need to phone the electricity company to talk to them about it and see what that entails.

 

Kittens

I have terrible kitten news :-( Three of next door neighbours’ kittens died this week after a bout of flu. Poor little things. There’s one survivor called Mimi who since his brothers and sisters have died, has been quite adventurous and always seems to want a cuddle or to play. I really hope nothing happens to him, he’s really quite adorable.

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Neve the deaf, blind, tailless cat has been trying to make more kittens.

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This is Mimi (I’m sure that’s a girl’s name?!) snuggled up on my lap. Pane Caldo has dubbed him Batfink because he has large pointy ears.

 

Funghi

I’ve been on a funghi identification mission recently and have even bought a book on it. I have hundreds of mushroom photo’s now to work through to try and identify. I think it’s probably a futile task given there’s absolutely no chance at all that I would ever eat anything that I picked, but still, it appeals to my self-sufficient ideals.

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It doesn’t inspire me with confidence in that the start of any mushroom identification article or book seems to have one sentence on what good fun it is to pick mushrooms and then several paragraphs dedicated to how dangerous it is. One article said that a number of people in 2010 died in Italy mushroom picking. However, they all went at night and fell off cilffs. Not quite as damning then for the funghi identification but I’m still not going to eat any!

 

These next few weeks should be a bit calmer – there’s no more visits planned and no deadlines to meet so the focus now will be on less DIY related things and more on creative things, at least up until Christmas.  I’ve been socialising a bit more with the neighbours which has been really nice so hoping to do a bit more of that too. My house is 100 years old. I’m actually in only a bit of it – 4 separate people own the full house it turns out. I had thought it was 3!

Right that’s enough from me for now. Have good weeks & buona serata!

xxx

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DIY updates, friends coming to stay and local fly analysis

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? Apologies for my absence! It’s been a bit full on these last few weeks trying to get the house in order and I’ve had some friends from the UK out to stay too. It’s been really good to show them the new house and area and they seemed just as enthusiastic about the place as me so that was good!

Me & my friends looking out across Lago di Fiastra

Me & my friends looking out across Lago di Fiastra. Thank you for coming girls!  :-)

I’ve been feeling quite unproductive these last couple of weeks as far as the house is concerned however, writing this post has done wonders for my sense of achievement – things are happening, albeit slower than I’d like.  I’m definitely going to keep up with the “stuff done” list if only to keep up my moral!

So we have…

  1. Built a wall where the fireplace used to be. It has been a largely inefficient process involving several trips back and forth to OBI, the hardware store which is a 2.5 hour round trip and pizza away (going there seems to always involve eating out) to pick up more cement, more render (“malta bastarda” in Italian – I can confirm that the name is apt) and more plaster (the top coat – “malta fine”). (DIY TIP: DON’T LEAVE CEMENT OR PLASTER ON YOUR HANDS FOR TOO LONG – YOUR SKIN WILL TURN INTO SCALES AND NO AMOUNT OF CREAM WILL RESOLVE IT).
We ran out of cement so have a hole in the top!

Step 1: Building. We ran out of cement in building the wall so we had a “ventilation” hole at the top for a while.

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Step 2: Chucking malta bastarda at it from a distance. Following a later skype with my father, it appears unless you’re building a mud hut in Africa, this is not how to apply it. Worryingly it was my builder who recommended this technique.

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Step 3: Top coat (ish) of plaster. We still need to do a top top coat. As er, all professionals surely do. None of the regular tips to make sure your wall is straight apply with this wall. Nothing about the kitchen is straight.

2. Filled in floor holes where various walls and fireplaces used to be using special floor filler. The below is the fireplace hole. I’m about to do a cunning paint job on the living room filled hole to make it completely indistinguishable from the surrounding tiles. Yup.

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Before….

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After… (a bit blurry – I think that helps it looks a little neater in fact so that’s good!)

 

3. Painted the bathroom and bedroom doors so it doesn’t look quite so unwelcoming going to bed/to the bathroom. I’ve done three coats now but it still needs another and all the paint is cracking at the sides. I think I must be painting over some sort of special paint dissolving lacquer (I hasten to add that I did a thorough sanding job of it first). We’re using “odourless” paint – it smells disgusting!

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Before…

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…and after: Much less gloomy eh? The doors were quite badly made and so it also serves to hide that a bit!

4. Painted a picture for the bedroom to give it a bit more colour and then promptly moved it to the living room to give that a bit more colour instead. I think it works well with my scavenged green bottle, rope and stick masterpiece.

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The locals couldn’t have been any more curious / scathing about my stick acquiring mission.

5. We put up an impossibly difficult mosquito net over the bed. I got ratty with it. Stupid mosquito net.

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Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid mosquito net…

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How it’s supposed to look…

6. Pane Caldo dug up some more tree stumps from the garden and we’re now splitting that up because it’s apparently good for fruit trees (we’ve been saving our plum and peach stones for growing – at the moment they’re in the fridge so they think it’s winter and then apparently that will encourage them to flourish when we finally take them out).

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7. We bought a TV.  And then we got it back and realised we don’t have an aerial. That was an expensive realisation because then….

8. We had an aerial put in.

9. We have a bath! The bathroom was a challenge mainly because the plumber didn’t want to be tied down to pesky dates and times. And who would? “Ci penso io” he said when asked when he’ll turn up which is basically akin to “yup, I’m on the case”. I should have tried that tactic in my old job. The job needed to be coordinated with having the builder here. In Italy, they like to cement your bath in. I did try and raise the prospect of a more English type installation but they dismissed me as crazy. I hope I never want to take that bath out and I particularly hope there are no issues with the waste pipe. He needs to come and put in the washing machine now. I have a rigid set of dependencies for the kitchen to go in and he’s decided that actually he wont come today after all. Maybe tomorrow at some point. HMM.

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Admittedly it doesn’t look at all special here (and it’s probably not) but it’s a functioning bath and I’m thrilled about it! Just need to sort the sides of the bath out now.

10. I’ve tried to tidy up the bathroom walls a bit – they were riddled with screw holes and chips and cracks from the paneling which was up before.

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Hole.

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No hole. From a distance, I think my patch job is amazing. Better even still if you’re standing outside of the bathroom. However, if you look at it in a slightly different light, it looks like I’ve patched it with another completely unrelated colour. I’m going to investigate tile paint to paint the whole lot. Has anyone used it?  Any tips?

11. We’ve started taking paint off the beams. It’s soul destroying! I think it will take years to do using my current hitting it with a mallet and scraping bits off strategy. It’s so demoralising I’ve not touched it for the last couple of weeks!

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Before (sort of). When the wall was taken down, this beam in it’s natural wooden glory was underneath so we were hoping to restore the others to a similar style. However….

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…this is the result of HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS of work on the other beam. I might have to resort to less manual methods.

12. We’ve bought a sofa. I’m really really excited about having the sofa but it doesn’t come until the end of October! Meanwhile we’re sitting on horrible armchairs and there’s only two of them.

13. I have put up a bookshelf. Not just ANY bookshelf but one in a niche which didn’t have a single straight line. It was made perhaps even more challenging because in an effort to do things cheaply, I’m using only stuff that’s already lying around the house/Scorpion Den (cantina/basement).

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Looks like a bookshelf eh? I don’t think I did too badly for a first attempt.

14. I am in the process of giving our living room tables a makeover.

Before....

Before….

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After: strategic troop planning table for local area

15. I haven’t made a decision about heating yet. We’ve had the stuffa (wood burning stove) on a couple of times and it does do a very good job at heating the stairs area. Perhaps we’ll need to sit on the stairs and just use the sofa for special occasions during the winter!

On a non DIY related note, I’ve been trying to acquire some kittens from the next-door neighbour. It’s going slowly but it is working. So far named kitten characters include: Neve (“Snow”), a two year old white male whose ear seems to be falling off and only has half a tail and Pellosina  (“Hairy but cute”!) a black and white female that’s just had kittens. I don’t know what the others are called yet but I shall endeavor to find out!

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There’s 5 kittens – this is Pellosina and her kitten. Cuties!

I met up with one someone I met through the blog recently too and had also bought a house in Sarnano a while back. It’s lovely to meet someone that’s bought in the area and has been having very similar experiences though alas, she’s only part-time here. Her house is stunning and significantly more finished than ours which has given me a bit of kick to get things done!

In rubbish house news, I completely forgot about the Estate Agent fee’s. There’s a minimum fee we needed to pay and because the house was cheap, even with a discount it’s ended up being about 10%. Very depressing!

We’ve been exploring a bit – this was a walk that started from the quaint little town of Acquasante to the top of a mountain nearby…

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From the panorama point of our walk, you can see lots of mountains. Apparently. We had somewhat of a big cloud so we just saw the base of them!

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It’s been very mixed weather of late – it was glorious sunshine when we left and it started getting increasingly ominous looking throughout the walk. Made for some good atmospheric photos though.

Wildlife watch

Deer watch: The deer have increased to an impressive five deer at the same time now. I’m thrilled Deerdrie has friends and family. It’s rutting season coming up apparently so I wonder what that will mean for the field out the back where Deerdrie and her herd spent their time. Interestingly the Italians are very specific with their deer names. Our ones are not simply “cervi” (deer) but “caprioli” (roe deer). I’m disappointed we’ve not seen any wild boar yet though. Next month the hunting season starts and they start shooting them so in a way I’m pleased that they’re keeping a low profile to be honest.

Flies. We have flies that come into the house when the doors are open – there are mainly 3 types (listed here from least to most annoying):

  1. One that clings desperately to the wall and doesn’t move. Ever. Even if you poke it.
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Does anyone know what this is?! It seems to be the least intelligent fly imaginable. You can pick them up by their wings and escort them out the building but I don’t think they enjoy that method of removal.

2. One that flies around in hexagons in the middle of the rooms.

3. One that flies around and lands on things.

I’ve been doing research on fly friendly methods of getting rid of / repelling them which include clear bags of water and I even created a (entirely unsuccessful) fly trap from a coke bottle. The house needs a lot of airing – it gets quite a lot of condensation in the mornings so one of the first things we do is to open up all the windows and doors and then we’re overrun with flies! I need fly screens!

What’s a bit odd:

I must have mentioned the issue with plugs before now. The plug sockets in this country are nothing less than absolutely infuriating. There are MULTPLE types of sockets. One requires an exhaustive supply of plug adapters and Krypton Factor style thinking in order to produce a satisfactory result. For instance, our kettle, bought in this country, requires 4 adapters in order to be used in the kitchen.

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Exhibit A

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Exhibit B: Box of plugs. Even with all these things, I sometimes have to give up on the concept of getting electricity to some things.

Right that’s it for this week – I’ll try not to leave it quite so long next time so there’ll be less of a bombardment of DIY updates and photos! Have good weeks all…

x

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