Winter wonderland, attack dogs and cultural evenings…

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? It seems a while again since I’ve written so here’s a quick update.

I went back to the UK for a flying visit. Everytime I go back I never seem to be able to catch up with everyone I want to.  Anyway, before I get to UK stuff, let me tell you about my airport stresses! My weather app had been threatening snow the day before I was due to fly but I didn’t believe it. It had been far too sunny and lovely the proceeding days. And in fact, as I went to put the cat out at 3am (after he insisted that my neck was the only comfortable place to sleep in the entire house), there was no snow to be seen. Four hours later, there was a foot of snow which kept growing throughout the following day.

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Winter Wonderland… I cleared this road.

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And I cleared this road… and there’s another road….

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I did not have my coffee on the terrace that morning.

Now, apparently the snow clearing guys do clear the roads but the day came and went and there was no sign of them. My wonderful neighbour, phoned up everyone that she knew in the comune to get the snow clearers out the following morning so she could drive me to the airport. They did not come! In the end myself and my amazing neighbours cleared the snow from my house to the main road in a joint “get Sue to the airport” effort (hmm, that doesn’t sound like they like me but I think their intentions were good rather than wanting to get rid of me!). Just as we finished, the snow clearer came! Anyway, suffice to say I made it to the airport in the end.

The first couple of days of my visit were spent tirelessly teaching my parent’s new puppy to bite, bark and chase people. It was a slow and laborious job but someone had to do it. (I don’t think I’ll be invited back anytime soon).

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This is Molly the Attack Dog contemplating her next move.

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And this is Molly the Attack Dog in action. Who needs toes anyway?

Then I was in Leamington Spa (henceforth known as L’Spa) to check how Pane Caldo has been getting on in his new non-Italian habitat and how he’s coping with having to get up before 11am.  I’m going to have to review my stereotyped opinions of things north of London that aren’t the Lake District or Scotland. L’Spa is nice with lots of green spaces and shops. It has a large bowling green which makes me want to take up bowling. We popped up to Lincoln for the weekend and went to the beach too before heading to Warwick, a few minutes drive away from Leamington Spa.

 

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One of the many parks in L’Spa

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Erm, somewhere on the East Coast (I admit my geography is bad. However, did you know 85% of British people don’t know where Sheffield is?). Twas windy and cold but lovely!

 

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This is a pretty bit of Warwick. Warwick is an odd mix of absolutely beautiful, and brutally ugly.  I can’t remember what was surrounding it but it could very well have been a block of ugly unkempt flats.

Back in London my DIY mettle was tested when I had to re-hang a door and fit a bath panel in my flat there. I quite like DIY I’ve decided. It’s nice to feel a bit “handy” and all you need is a few YouTube videos and equipment. Having said that, I would not be remotely surprised if the door and bath panel have since fallen off. Luckily I have nice tenants that don’t like telling me if there’s problems. Result.

So now I’m back in Italy. The plan for the next couple of weeks is more DIY – painting the kitchen and finishing the beams (oh the beams).

I made a terrible mistake – I accepted the offer of “free wood” which was basically the remnants of a few small trees. I really like getting wood – it appeals to my hunter/gatherer instincts I think (less hunter, I’m a vegetarian). I even bought massive secateurs for the occasion and everything. However, after maybe 3 hours of chopping up branches, I now resemble Pop-Eye, only the bulging muscle is on my lower arm instead of my bicep.  And whereas Pop-Eye can lift trucks, I can’t even lift a pen without yelping. I ended up with just a wheelbarrow of wood. I could get a wheelbarrow of better and dryer wood without ruining my arm in about 10 minutes wandering up the road. Still, never look a gift horse in the mouth (Italians reading this – good luck trying to work out what that phrase means!).

I’ve been planting things too – the neighbour has given me a number of apparently difficult-to-kill plants so hopefully I can keep them alive. I’m attempting to grow peach and plum trees too – I don’t hold out a lot of hope!

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Yesterday my friend invited me to watch her perform some aria’s (opera songs to you and me) which was interesting. It’s not my kind of music but it was very impressive and I’m really proud of my friend, she was brilliant. After, we went to a restaurant here in Sarnano which I didn’t even know existed! So all in all, a good night.

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It was a good opportunity to see Castello della Rancia in Tolentino which is a bit of an unusual castle to be honest (it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, not even on a hill)

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The castle is a museum and the upstairs was dedicated to theatre… this is a mask from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”. You’d have to pay me a lot of money to wear that. I think I’d have to boil my face after.

 

My bread making continues… This time burger baps…

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With a bean burger – burgers are one of those things I miss from the UK. Italy still has some work to do on their veggie burgers so I made an ok attempt at bean burgers. I can’t wait until it’s BBQ weather!

 

Today, I’m going to be experiencing comedy at the local theatre.  Now, I don’t wish to do myself down but I’m not going to understand a thing – I think it’s all in dialect! I’ll report back.

Meanwhile, I’m off to get ready.

Buonasera a tutti and have wonderful weeks!

x

 

 

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Paying in forward, naming your wind and dissolving hands…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone?

I found a great blog recently of a fellow expat from New Zealand…KiwiGirlAttemptingItalian and I was inspired by her recent “Pay it Forward” post. It’s basically a scheme to get people doing more nice things for each other. Here’s the blurb, sneakily copied word for word from KiwiGirl!

“I’m participating in the “Pay it Forward” Initiative: The first five people to comment with “I’m in” will receive an absolutely brilliant surprise from me at some point during the calendar year of 2015  – anything from a book, a ticket, something homemade, a postcard, absolutely any surprise!

There will be no warning, and it will happen when the time is right and I will find something that I believe would suit you (after reading your blogs) and make you laugh (or smile).

But there is a catch – you must make the same offer to five other people. :)”

So is anyone in? Write “I’m in”  in the comment box below!

Visit

I had friends to stay this weekend – I had a lovely time with them and discovered a new walk and a little garage museum! We were just passing in the middle of nowhere (it’ll be interesting to see if I can locate this place ever again) and a guy invited us into his garage to see his Beetle and wow, this man collects everything. Not only was there a perfectly preserved Beetle, but farming equipment from decades ago, motorbikes, cameras, radios, clocks, gramophones… It was all perfectly laid out and he enthusiastically went through most of it!

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Some of the farming stuff…

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One can never have too many clocks and we even had a demonstration of the gramophone. It was great – and nothing like listening to a crystal clear and somewhat un-atmospheric CD!

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The Beetle looks in better condition than my Nanmobile.

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Beautiful landscapes

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And more beautiful landscapes….

 

Le Rocce

I think it’s called Le Rocce at least- who knows?! Nobody seems to know about it, but for ages I’ve been driving past the mountains wondering what the rocks are that are sticking up – it looked like an old ruin. So this week I went to investigate.

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It looked like they might be doing some work in there… I feel though it’s a bit of a challenging restoration project.

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It does look majestic though. I would love to have seen it back in its day.

 

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As pleased as I was to finally see these ruins, I was much more thrilled to see this little creature – a black squirrel! In fact, the woods here are devoid of squirrels in general –  contrary to UK woodland, so what a pleasant surprise!

 

It’s definitely moving towards Spring – the weather has been a bit warmer, and you can hear the scuttle of lizards now when you walk anywhere outside. Having said that, it’s due to snow tomorrow and Friday so perhaps the last week or so has been an anomaly!

Garbino Winds

I’ve been learning about wind this week. It’s been windy here before and the neighbours call it the “Tramontana wind” but a couple of days ago, it was a different league entirely. It was scarily strong. There’s been trees knocked down, landslides and avalanches.  They called this one the “Garbino wind” because it was warm. I thought it was a cute local thing; naming winds for goodness sake. But I’ve researched it and it’s a real thing! The Garbino wind comes from Africa which is why it’s so warm.  Anyway, it was an interesting, blustery and slightly nerve-wracking day as I waited inside to see if my roof would stay on! On the plus side, my washing dried in about 15 minutes as opposed to 4 days sitting on a clothes horse upstairs (Admittedly I had to go and collect the washing that had been dispersed within the surrounding area)!

DIY

I’ve been continuing on the DIY streak but have had to take a short break whilst my hands recover! The stuff you use to plaster with has some sort of skin-eating nastiness in it and I’d spent all day with it on my hands trying to build a corner to my wall and fill in some gaps above the beams.

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I’m quite pleased with it. It’s quite difficult to build a corner.

I think that about sums up the last few days! I hope you’re all having good weeks.

x

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Distractions, Opera and Carnivale…

Ciao a tutti!

Well what a difference a couple of weeks makes…Pane Caldo has gone back to the UK to work for a while :-(  I shan’t be too soppy, lest he read this, but it’s not the same. But I’ve had the following distractions:

Everybody needs good neighbours: I’ve hardly eaten at home since Pane Caldo left. I think I’m the local charity case and no matter how much I say “no, really, I’m fine”, my neighbours are insistent! So that’s been nice. I’ve not really felt too lonely, in fact, often its been far from it. The problem is the Italians cook lots of stuff – they have a prima piatti (pasta dish) and a secondo (meat usually), a contorno (veg) and then a dolce (desert). Which is of course not a problem in itself but it is when it’s my turn to return the favour and herein lies the problem: a) I can’t just double up on what I usually eat for lunch – crackers and cheese is hardly a fair swap for someone used to eating 4 courses at lunch, b) Even if I did go ‘all out’ and try and do multiple courses, I have a limited supply of electricity to the house so using the oven and hob at the same time can be a challenge and c), Most of what I cook is “Italian” but I can hardly serve my version of Italian food to a genuine Italian. Oh the shame!

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Look at these lovely home-made treats the neighbours brought us for Carnivale (Shrove Tuesday)

Stealth Cat: I thought the cat might be an ideal Pane Caldo replacement so I thought I’d let him stay in overnight (he usually sleeps in the barn with the other cats but he does whinge about it). But he’s a bit hormonally charged- all the cats here are at the moment, it’s like a feline soap opera. On top of that I think he’s just reached puberty. Anyway, he seems so overcome with glee about being allowed to stay in at night that he can’t contain his emotions and bites me. So I put him out. And then we do that again the next night. Although he’s started getting wise and starts off at the bottom of the bed like a good cat and as soon as I turn the light off he edges up to my head and starts biting my shoulder. As though I wouldn’t notice that! I think he thinks he’s being stealthy. He’s the only cat I know that meow’s to have a cuddle.

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Pretending to be an innocent non-biting cat

Opera: My favourite distraction has been going to see an opera – it was called Giannis Schicchi by Puccini and it was in a pretty little theatre in Amandola. It was a lovely evening and it was nice to do something a bit out of the ordinary, for me at least! I even understood it, though the explanation from my friend first helped I suspect!

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Look at the beautiful ceiling! And I was in a box!!! A BOX! I felt like the Queen.

DIY: My main source of distraction has been DIY though. I think ‘The Sanding of The Beams’ last year sapped all DIY motivation out of us. Anyway, I have managed to claw it back and have tiled the kitchen and have been doing a bit of plastering etc. I’ve certainly got a lot to be getting on with over the next few weeks.

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I’m not sure the tiles particularly go with the kitchen but they were in the Cantina when I bought the house so I thought might not. I have a million tiling tips for anyone interested. My first one is: Don’t bother tiling.

Out and about: I’ve also been out and about. I went to a Carnivale celebration in a pretty little hill top village called Castignano with my neighbour which was good fun.  In comparison to the very organised and impressive one I went to last year in Fano, this one was complete chaos. Nobody in the parade paid any attention to what they were supposed to be doing. It was mainly a collection of odd looking adults and children wandering down the road but it was a good atmosphere.

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Carnivale in Castignano

 

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This is the view from the church at the top of Castignano

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And on another little trip I went to San Ginesio which is just a few minutes away from where I live and finally went into the church …quite a pretty crypt

Bread making:  And of course there is always bread to be baked. These are yesterday’s efforts. I left out salt in one (unintentionally) and the “Popovers” stuck to the muffin tin and had to be levered out with a spoon. Not my biggest success to date.

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Dirty Dancing: My most confusing distraction has been getting propositioned by a 70 year old. I’m 34. I assumed he was being fatherly and looking out for me, but no, it turns out he wasn’t. Is that flattering or insulting?

I think that about sums up recent events. I hope you are all having a good week.

xxx

 

 

 

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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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