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 success...my 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!!