Saturday, 22 December 2012

The first wine

Shame on has been nearly one month since I blogged. I have so much to tell you, and yet finding the time to blog has been kind of difficult recently, between work (paid...well kind of) and work on the house, school and just living in Italy, which seems to take up so much time!!

However, tonight is a very special night and therefore blogging could not be postponed until a later date. After all our hard work in the vineyard, and the understanding we were not to touch the wine until Christmas apart from the taste we had on San Martin - when all must turns to wine - we, today, went to Santo Pasquale's house and were offered this year's is now officially Christmas!!

If it is good enough for Santo Pasquale, it is good enough for us!! So here it is, a picture of the first wine we have ever produced from our vineyard. What can I say...epic!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Very proud Mum & Dad

On Monday we had Jake's first parents' evening. And, of course, it wouldn't be right if it didn't have its own Italian slant!

On the last Monday of every month, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. the 'Incontro con le Maestre' is held. It is the time at which you can go and talk to your child's teacher and vice versa about school issues.'So, how does it work?' I hear you ask. Well, you turn up on a first come first serve basis and wait your turn. 

Between walking from the main school doors to the classroom I became 7th in the queue. I should have been more observant of those other parents who usually walk with such nonchalance suddenly becoming Olympic sprinters. Methinks they had experienced the 'Incontro' before! 7th, not bad I thought, and then proceeded to wait a mere 1 hour 15 minutes to be seen. Goodness only knows how long the mum 6 places behind me had to wait. It seems an appointment system in Italy is just too difficult!

The good news from the 'Incontro', in the words of the Maestra herself, is that Jake is the best in his class in terms of conceptual understanding and work production, despite the issues of the still ever present language barrier. Amazing, who would have thought it just two months ago. So, so proud of our awesome boy.  

Playing the waiting game

Wiki quotes 'In the Christian religion, patience is one of the most valuable virtues of life.' It is therefore no wonder Italy is one of the most religious countries in western Europe...and I am learning to be very, very virtuous!! 

Some of you may have seen my Lesson of the Week post back in September. It has been given elevated status to 'Lesson of the Year'. Currently we are waiting for the following:
  • The man from the CAF (Finance Assistance Office) to confirm that our property is correctly registered at the land registry resulting in us paying less council tax. He told us approx a month ago it would be done well in advance of 16th December deadline...perhaps his idea of well in advance and mine differ slightly?
  • The window company to tell us our new windows that we have ordered are ready. The three to four weeks quoted towards the end of October yesterday became 10th December!
  • The Chimney Flue company Piemme. Our two to three days for confirmation of the quote has just turned into a week...and given our experience so far elsewhere will probably be a while longer yet.
The response to our questions of "How does this country function?" to our Italian friends: The standard shoulder shrug and utterance of "This is Italy!"  

Thursday, 15 November 2012

An unexpected visitor


It's not everyday that a beautiful Arabian horse turns up in your garden...but hey, life here in Abruzzo is full of surprises!!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Jake's Birthday!

Submarine cake English side
Submarine cake Italian side

It was several weeks ago now that Jake celebrated his 6th birthday with his first ever birthday party in Italy.

Now, I never thought that I would ever be concerned about birthday party etiquette - after holding 5 birthday parties for Jake and 3 for Josh I thought I kind of knew what to do and what the children (and other parents!!) would expect.  It never dawned on me that birthday parties might be so different from country to country until...

I gave out the invitations to the party. Sunday lunch time, 12.00. My first surprise was when two sets of parents asked me, straight faced, if I meant midnight. "What?! For a 6 year old's birthday party?!" I thought to myself, and yet, they didn't seem shocked at the idea. Now, they could have just been humouring me - this strange woman that turns up from England with her unusual birthday party traditions - but for some reason I'm just not convinced.

Then, another two mums approached me (the school run here frequently involves stopping for coffee at the CafĂ© Giardini after the drop off, where you also bump into a fair few of the other parents). "Is a party at lunchtime something that you do in your country?" they asked bluntly. "No," I replied in my best Italian, "We don't really have a set time for birthday parties, but I thought as the children have school the next day lunchtime would be best." To which came the reply "Oh, we thought it must be something from your country as birthday parties are always late in the day here." Black mark number 1 on how to organise an Italian birthday party! 

Party Table!
Pass the parcel!

The day of the party arrived, I was running around like a crazy woman making sure I had everything ready:
- cake...check
- home made pasta sauce...check
- presents wrapped for pass the parcel...check
- prizes for musical statues, and musical chairs...check

Renowned for their laid back attitude, I was pleasantly surprised when most of our Italian guests arrived within half an hour of the specified time!!

It was a hot day and the children were running around together excited about the party. However, it seems that it is not the done thing for Italian children to sweat... and yet, Italian mums dress their children up in shirts and jumpers - or winter tights and dresses, when the temperature outside is nearing 30c. Excitable children, layers of clothing and rather warm temperatures, does not bode well for sweat prevention! Black mark number 2.

So, drinks in the shade to cool down I thought and, yes, you've guessed it - Black mark number 3! It seems a birthday party is just not a birthday party in Italy without half a dozen bottles of coke, orangeade, lemonade, etc. So my British 'blackcurrant squash' was eyed with great suspicion, with most children opting for the alternative choice of water...and the mum's smiling at me through gritted teeth!

However, I think I redeemed myself with the sweet treats. This year Jake wanted a submarine cake. I made and iced the cake, even putting both a white ensign and an Italian flag on it, and piping writing in both languages to show our appreciation of our new home country. In addition, I made flapjacks and cup cakes. The mum's all enjoyed tucking in, but it seems I still didn't get it quite right - one mum brought a tray full of mini pastries from the local baker's for the children, just in case my English ways weren't quite up to scratch! Oh well...there's always next year to get it right!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

School - six weeks in...

Ok, so I've been a bit lax on the blogging front again recently, but life here seems to somehow be very hectic! Here I am playing catch up once more from the past few weeks. 

I am thrilled report both the boys seem to have really settled into school well now. Jake trundles off happily down the corridor with his friends and, more importantly for us, a smile on his face each morning. We haven't had a single tear for over two weeks (from me or him!) and each day he comes out telling us school was brilliant. After just six weeks he is coming home and teaching me and Dougie some Italian!!! As for Josh, he has made lots of new little buddies and just today I managed to spy on him for two minutes before picking him up, to see him loudly saying 'Maestra, Maestra" trying to get his teacher's attention through the throng of other children, to proudly show her the picture he had made! Such a simple thing but I had a grin from ear to ear watching it!

So, the trauma of the first few weeks has passed, although is not quite yet forgotten! What a relief! For those first four weeks (which felt like a lifetime) I was the worst mother in the world. Now when I see both of them going off to their classes and I stop to think, I am amazed by their strength, resilience and innocence combined...and unbelievably proud. We have asked a massive amount of both of them, being thrown into an environment that is totally alien, and both of them have coped unimaginably well, despite the difficult moments. 

But shame on me! I am now both very much relieved and somewhat secretly delighted to be the bystander and not the participant as I see other parents struggling to send their children off to class crying each morning...and I wouldn't change places with them for anything in the world. Oh well, I guess nobody's perfect!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Solar is underway!

And so, after a power cut, a shed load of electricians (literally), a fabulous plumbing team - Luciano and crew - a few days more than anticipated...why should we be shocked, this is Italy after all... and a few Euros more than budgeted for (for making the electrics safe i.e. worth the money!) the solar panels are up and doing their thang!! I have had the best hot showers I have had in this house for the last 6 years and Dougie has himself one happy lady. The pellet stufa (boiler) is switched off, while the central heating isn't needed, so no cleaning out and no views of smoke rising from the chimney every time we come down the driveway, even when it is 40 degrees outside.  We now pray for 'default blue' every day...and mostly our prayers are answered. I am telling you now...this is most definitely the life!!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

La Vendemmia (The Grape Harvest)

Grape harvesting is sooo important here in Italy that it even has its own word...La Vendemmia! 

And so the long awaited day of the Vendemmia arrived. On October 6th we carried out our first ever grape harvest in our own vineyard and because of the warmer than usual summer we harvested a week early.

After a lot of work over the last few months, including plenty of 6 o clock mornings by Dougie to beat the blazing summer sun in July and August(...slightly later for me as I really am no good in the mornings!), the day was finally here, and despite the running around like headless chickens in the preceding days, everything appeared to be ready. It was a real family affair, with the boys cutting the first bunches of grapes and my mum and dad roped in to do some of the donkey work!! While our adopted Italian dad and resident wine guru Pasquale told us all what we had to do. 

Before we started Pasquale said Dougie looked like an expectant father. Dougie's retort was "I'm much more nervous than that, I only waited for 9 months for each of the boys and I've waiting 6 years for this moment!" Thanks Dougie!

Between the five of us (plus two little ones) we took two and a half hours to cut and fill five 100L bins of grapes. What a beautiful sight it was when we had finished!

The grapes were transferred to the Cantina and after lunch the de-stalking machine arrived on the back of Pasquale's tractor. (At this point I should mention I have tried to upload my first piece of video footage here to show the machine in action - but without sophisticated technical team (me & dougie) are working on the problem!!!)

The Must
The pressing begins

Looks drinkable already!
The Leftovers!
Then for the moment of truth - the new press made its debut. The 'mosto', or must, was put through the wine press 3 times in the following 48 hours and then left to ferment in Dougie's shiny new 'Vinolio' until earlier this week. It has now been filtered and sealed and will be left to mature until the end of November when we will get our first taste of our own Montepulciano d'Abruzzo!!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Viva il vino!

So, not only have we had the solar panel installation going on this last week, but most of our (meaning Dougie's!) spare time over the last fortnight has been taken up with the preparations for the grape harvest, followed by our first ever wine pressing. All exciting stuff!

Picture this: 
A week before the grape harvest Dougie decides we should really have a good look at the wine press in the Cantina that we will be using for the grapes next week. Oops...perhaps we should have looked a bit earlier! A classic case, in true Reid style (for those of you who know us well) of 'why do something now, that can be put off until tomorrow?'. Until this point, we just hadn't been feeling enough pressure. One look at the spars and the top of the wine press riddled with wood worm, the pressure was now on! 

Our press went from looking like this:

To looking like this...
...just 7 days before the harvest!

Luckily, we live a few hundred metres from a sawmill. It's run by two brothers, who I'm sure think of us as the crazy English family on the other side of the railway, but they are always very helpful and accommodating! Dougie takes up one of the spars and the two semi-circular pieces that do the actual pressing and they obligingly say yes, of course they can make us new ones. Now, making wine is a way of life round here, every man and his dog has their own little area of vines, so the brothers know full well that the grapes will be harvested any day...and the crazy English people decide that now is the time to re-build their press?!

The younger brother proceeds, in the rapidly fading daylight with no electric lighting on hand, to cut the pieces by sight, until Dougie says "it's ok, it can wait until Monday." One of the brothers has already lost at least half a finger in a 'work related incident'. We decided we didn't want another one on our conscience!!

Monday comes around, 5 days to go. Dougie goes to collect the pieces of the press at 6.00pm and they haven't been touched since he left them there on Saturday night! An hour and a half later though, all the bits are cut and ready. Now we just have to plane them all and screw them into place!

Tuesday, 4 days to go, and off to Santo Pasquale's (our invaluable Italian neighbour and wine making guru, without whom I'm not sure we would have made it this far on our Italian adventure). By the end of Wednesday our press goes from this:
 To this:

    ...not bad, eh?

Wednesday, 3 days to go. Another few hours work and 120 new bolts later, the production line was complete! We could now say with reasonable certainty that we had the newest wine press in the Valley! My description of our situation at that time: All the gear, absolutely no idea!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Going Solar doesn't mean going smoothly!

And so the fitting of the solar panels has begun!! Luciano and his team of 1 arrived on Thursday morning, true to their word, to start work on fitting the solar panels. Somewhere though, there had been a 'breakdown in communication' as he turned up while we were still on the school run at 8.30! (I am sure he had said 9.30). So, they started around 9.00 a.m., knocked off for lunch at 12.00, came back at 3 (with a different team of one, who was apparently the brother of the morning assistant!)  and finished up for the day at 5! In that time the frame for the panels went up and...well I'm not sure what else!

Friday, 8.30 start and our first day of pouring rain for weeks. Unexpected power failure in the house by 9.30 and the next ten hours wondering what on earth had happened, all the while Luciano and assistant number 1 continue working from the rigged up extension lead running from the apartment (thank goodness we had mum and dad in there and not paying guests!).

So, the new 500L hot water tank is now safely installed in the shed and most of the new pipework in place. However, we had to call in the electrician (recommended by Luciano himself) and by 7 that evening we finally had power restored to the house.

Problem: The only way to restore power to the house is to isolate the electrical circuit in the boiler shed. The dodgy wiring has been disturbed by the new tank and pipework fit, causing a short somewhere. I think it is fair to say that the electrics in the boiler shed look like they were fitted by Frank Spencer.
Solution: rewire the boiler shed to bring it up to current standards at the bargain price of 600 Euros.

Hoorah, just what you need to hear to start off the weekend!! As for the solar panels, the installation should be finished by tomorrow, but without the electric to run the clever thermostatic stuff, well, we still won't be able to harness 'sun power'. When can the electrician come to do the work?...well I'm sure that will be a whole other story!!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Going Eco in Abruzzo

Ok, so those of you who have been dedicated enough to read this blog from the beginning will know that back in July we were waiting...and waiting...and then waiting a bit more...for quotes to have solar panels fitted for our hot water. Finally, the waiting has paid off!!
To give you some background info ("no, please don't" I hear you cry!), for several years now I have wanted our family to pay more than just lip-service to doing our bit for the environment. Reduce, reuse, recycle has become a bit of a mantra in our house, although, usually used more tongue in cheek than seriously.
Part of our plan though, when moving here to Abruzzo, was to be both more self-sufficient and environmentally friendly, without having to compromise massively on our day to day comforts, if at all.

So, solar panels for hot water are part of our attempt to achieve our goal. Our current pellet boiler is carbon positive, so why change? Well, to be honest, it is a bit of a grind to have to clean out once a week and then relight the fire through the summer months, when it is 40 degrees outside and you are up to your armpits in soot, in a sweltering boiler shed that is just a few (!) degrees warmer then the outside air temperature!! Besides which, it is permanently running 24 hours a day, burning pellets, creating more heat, to provide for just a few showers and some hot water for washing dishes. Using solar instead for (we hope) 6 months of the year seems to us to be the logical option, particularly when the sky is set to 'default blue' here as our friends call it!

And so after somewhat of a palava, and only quotes from two out of the four companies we had asked (this is Italy after all - you can't expect much to happen in 3 months!) last Thursday was a very exciting day. The solar kit finally arrived! 

Just the fitting to go now then!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A photo to sum up our new life!

I call this Master Piece 'Wellies in the Shed'!

News of things to come...

10 days without a post and I am feeling terribly guilty for my lack of input to the blog!! But we have been crazily busy and this is the first chance I have had to sit down and think, let alone type. I've still tried to document everything with photos though and over the next few days, stick with me, and you'll hear about:
  • The arrival of the solar panels in our attempt to go more eco
  • Jake's birthday party and the submarine cake
  • Scanno and Lago di Scanno
  • Jake, Josh and Sulmona climbing club
  • The wine press rebuild 
  • My new job
  • The Arch
  • ...and most important of all the long anticipated grape harvest

So, get your cup of tea at the ready...or something stronger if you prefer!!


Monday, 1 October 2012

Beautiful Tomatoes...the sunshine of Italy

Tomatoes, the staple ingredient of, let's say, 80% of Italian cooking and to be perfectly honest why wouldn't they be when they taste soooo amazing here. We are enjoying the fruits of our tomato harvest in salads, pasta sauces, paninis and piling them in our chest freezer ready for winter. One little treat though, home-made tomato soup (really easy)with home made bread...and I think it went down well:

If you want to give it a try this serves a good 6 people:
2 large (ish) onions
3-4 garlic cloves
A splash of olive oil
2 lb / 1 kg of tomatoes
1pt / 550ml vegetable stock
4 basil leaves
Salt and Pepper

Chop the onions and garlic and fry gently in the olive oil over a low to medium heat until soft. Meanwhile skin the tomatoes and roughly chop into a pan. Add the onions and garlic. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Blend (I find a hand blender easiest). Chop or tear and add the basil leaves and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Eat with lots of yummy bread!

As my boys are pasta monsters, I also cook a couple of handfuls of small pasta shapes and chuck it in at the end. Let me know if you try any other variations!!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Scuola and Peaches

The Peach Mountain
Aptly titled I feel, as the last week has been all about, well... school and peaches. For those of you novice farmers or preservers out there, now is the time for the late fruiting peaches and Dougie and I are 'experimenting' with different ways of peach preservation, including bottling, two different ways of freezing and, as was suggested to us at the end of last week, maybe we will even foray into drying (ooo how exciting I hear you cry!) More on the peaches shortly, but I feel I need to update you on the school 'situation' after my verbal outburst in my last but one post!

Josh has settled into his new preschool class unbelievably well. Each morning he looks for his little buddy Jacobo (pronounced Yacobo) and they chatter away to each other, Josh in English and Jacobo in Italian. Neither of them seems to notice or, more to the point, care that they don't understand each other. As us mothers of 3 year olds out there know, at 3 it is most definitely all about 'me,me,me!'

The School Run
The School Run
And so to Jake. Well, I am now on first name terms with Luigi, the school caretaker, who brings me a seat to sit on outside Jake's classroom every morning and then pops down 30 minutes later with a stand your spoon up in it treacle thick espresso coffee for me, each time reassuring me with 'its normal, its normal, don't worry he'll be fine in a few weeks'. Such a lovely man.

We have been leaving Jake a few minutes earlier each day, and day by day he is becoming less traumatised at the thought of being left. Although he still cries every day, he is crying for shorter lengths of time and seems resigned to the fact that he hasn't got a choice but to stay at school! We have (unlike some people I know that moved to a different area of Italy at Christmas) been overwhelmingly supported by the other parents. Each day they ask us how Jake is getting on and tell us everyday it will be fine in time...'Piano, Piano' is the mantra (slowly, slowly). It seems literally nothing is allowed to happen fast here in Italy - except perhaps the driving! 

Unfortunately, knowing Jake will be fine in a few weeks / a couple of months and that moving here is absolutely the best thing for us as a family in the long run, doesn't stop you feeling like the worst parent in the world for putting him through this! 

And so back to the peaches, we are inundated from every direction. We have such kind and generous neighbours that we have now managed to bottle up 15 litre jars of peaches to see us through the winter season. On top of this, we have more peaches than we can eat between us and they keep coming! More jam I hear you cry...well maybe we will do just that!!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Good from the bad.

My two favourite quotes from the episode of school day 2:

"Don't worry about crying...everyone in Italy cries, everyone is allowed to cry, we are used to it!" Jake's English teacher.

"Stay, stay as long as you want, don't worry. We had one dad who stood outside the classroom door for a month. It turns out, he was the one that was insecure and had to keep coming - his son was absolutely fine!!" Jake's class teacher.

School Day 2 is NOT a good day!

So, of course, it had to be too good to be true! Day 2 was meltdown for Jake...and for me! Poor Jake was incredibly distraught at being left in this new school, that was so different to everything he knew before, with no friends and understanding almost nothing. After an hour of trying to calm Jake down and reason with him that it was just a few hours, that it was ok to miss us, that it didn't matter if he didn't understand everything, that the other boys and girls were new too and didn't know anyone...all the while he was beside himself and telling me he didn't want me to leave, it all became too much for me too. 

Meanwhile, Dougie had been to drop off Josh at pre-school, who went happily off, and was waiting for me in the car. Queue problem number 1: As Mum (me) and son (Jake) both walk bawling their eyes out to the front door of the school - Jake in the hope that I was taking him home (I wasn't) and me in the hope of finding Dougie to stay with Jake while I regained my composure (!) I get stopped at the front door by a woman I had never seen before, but had a very stern 'I am not to be messed with' face, and flanked by the school caretaker, to be told I cannot take my son out of the is the law!  I wanted to walk 3 metres out of the school gate to where the car was parked to get my husband I explained in my best possible Italian, through the sniffles and the complete loss of any sense of perspective...but she wasn't having it! After trying to explain my position and a lot more crying, and quite frankly getting nowhere, I was told if I insisted on leaving with my child I would need to fill in the necessary paperwork (oh yes, welcome to bureaucratic Italy). "Fine," I say. "Get me the paperwork I will sign anything you want, although it does seem ridiculous as we will be back in in 30 seconds!" 

Queue problem number 2: "Oh no," she says. "Once you have signed all the paperwork to take your child out of school, he cannot come back in again!" "But I only want to get my husband," I say. "All my sons things are still in the classroom." (More bawling and emotional outburst...from me!!) It was at this very moment I wondered what on earth we had done coming here.

Queue knightess in shining armourThe very friendly, lovely lady from reception came to see what was going on. Seeing both Jake and I so distraught, and reiterating that it is the law a child can not leave the school without the copious form filling, but could she go and see if my husband was there? Si, si, si, per favore, grazie, (I love you I would have cried if I hadn't been...well...crying!) of course you can.

In comes Dougie, takes one look at me and Jake and says "I knew it was bad when you still weren't out after an hour!" So, being the calm and composed one, Dougie took Jake back off to the classroom while I took some time out to get myself together. Then we spend the next hour and a half inside and then outside of the classroom door, slowly trying to make our presence less obvious, but nevertheless still noticeable until Jake is reassured enough for us to leave him. Both of us emotionally exhausted and preoccupied as to whether our son was going to be ok, we sat in the coffee shop next to the school trying and failing to take our minds off things.

Jake's comment when I went back to pick him up from school and I asked how it was: ", it wasn't great, it was brilliant!"

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The first day of School.

All smiles...little did they know!!
Still smiling
Jake off like a rocket

The traditional Italian 'Grembiule'

The boys' new school
Mama Mia! Today was by far the most stressful and emotional day of our time here ever. Heating breaking down when it is minus 6 outside, no running water because it has been so cold even the underground mains pipe has frozen, fire in the pellet boiler 30 minutes before guests arrive to rent the apartment...none of this has even a patch on today's major event of taking the boys to school in Italy for the first time. Dougie and I both felt sick walking up the hill to school, and then even sicker when we left the boys in their respective classrooms. I had abandoned my beautiful children, both of whom I had spent years protecting and nurturing, into a world where they knew no-one and couldn't even ask the most basic questions. At that moment and for the few hours that followed, I  was the worst mum in the world. How did they cope I hear you was like water off a duck's back. For four and a half hours Dougie and I were emotional wrecks, while our children were blissfully unaware and just getting stuck in in this new and very alien environment. I have just two words to sum up how they were 'simply amazing'!!


It just wouldn't have been right to round up the summer without blogging about Ferragosta. 15th August is a catholic holiday for the ascension of Mary. In Italy this involves family, good friends and lots of food with a splash (or two in our case!) of wine for good measure...and I mean lots of food! This year we had an amazing ferragosta, and although our family were not able to share it with us, we spent the day with great friends. A big thank you to the three generations of the Conti family and to our new friends, the Sharman family, for making our day such a special one. It truly was a feast to be proud of, set up under the walnut trees! can come back and cook for us anytime, everything you created in the apartment kitchen  that we sampled was delicious. Tina...never let it be said that a barbecue is a man's domain. You put them all to shame!! Plus the pavlova was 'ottimo'!

Summer Round Up

So, this summer has been an exciting one for our family and the photos show some of the moments we have enjoyed in our new home. The delivering of the hay bale for the chickens, our first egg, making English muffins (because you can't buy them here and there is no better way to eat home made jam than on a toasted muffin with a cup of tea even if it   is 38 degrees!),  delivery of one of Dougie's new toys...yes men, that is an instruction manual he's reading!!, prettying up the home made jam and baking bread to name but a few. The autumn months are creeping up and so is the grape harvest, so I'm sure there will be many more exciting moments to come.