Friday, December 30, 2011

A Year in Review

Another Year Over....

Well it has been a busy month, and I have had so much going on, that though I have had lots to write about, I have had no time to do it.  I will start by recapping the year and in the next few weeks will chronicle some of the last month.

January 1st, 2011 - While having a lazy morning in bed, we came up with an idea, that we should sell our house and move to Italy.  Mark could finally spend sometime working on his own artwork, something he had been hoping to do for years.  We had a beautiful walk on the beach with friends, one of whom had a place for rent in Italy.
New Years day over, we were swept back into the day to day of life.  Children and I doing lessons, Mark to work and soon January was over.

February brought snow, and a snow day for friends, which meant a snow day for us.  I kept busy knitting, the children kept busy with lessons, and Mark kept busy with work.

March brought the end to the soccer season.  Mark headed off to visit his parents and I took the children for a fun filled visit to Vancouver.  We went to the aquarium, the science centre, Granville Island, and in general just ate our way around our favourite places in Vancouver, while having a long overdue visit with good friends.

April, Mark celebrated his birthday.  I started getting geared up for the market season, as well as family birthday season and the girls began practicing the May Pole dance for the May Day celebration.

May was busy as usual with parties, celebrations and the beginning of the markets, as well as visitors from abroad. We rounded out the month with two birthday parties on one weekend.  Finn rode in the Timbits Challenge and the girls celebrated a combined birthday with a big Bollywood party.

June, a good friend offered to take all my children so Mark and I could go out for dinner.  I told her it was a bad idea, Mark and I generally cook up crazy plans when given the time.  That night over burgers at Pink Bicycle, we hatched a plan, sell the house, leave the job, head to Italy.  Live the dream we had been dreaming for many years.
The house went on the market 3 days later.

July came and brought warm summer days, the house sat in the slow market.  We busied ourselves, keeping the place clean, going to the beach, visiting with friends, playing in the sprinkler and pool, Mark working and me potting to get ready to pack up my studio.

August the warm weather continued, the house continued to sit in the slow market, we took the opportunity to frequent our favourite spots with friends. And the dream began to fade, and change, was there another way, how could we make this happen.  Just then, in came an offer.  We sold the house and began packing.  The possession was quick and we were excited to get on our way.

September was a blur of packing and teary farewells, as we headed out on the road to Vancouver and Calgary to visit friends and family.

October we shipped our boxes and boarded a plan off to Rome.  We arrived to warm autumn sun, and beautiful views beyond our imagination.  The first few days were a bit rough as we adjusted to time and cultural changes.  The busy two months behind, the emotions of the journey had time to set in, a few tears were shed.  I felt timid and challenged by the language barrier.

November we began greater exploration of our surroundings, the girls got involved in activities.  We rode on the Maestro della Chianna, we went to Siena, Florence and Arezzo.  We picked olives and discovered our love of Olio Nuovo.  Mark busied himself with work, art work!  We worked on our Italian, got more familiar with the grocery stores and in general the day to life of living in a small Tuscan town.

December brought the promise of good friends visiting.  The excitement in our house was electric.  Crafting began.  We made a count down to christmas, we hand made ornaments for the tree, popcorn was strung, and Secret Santa gifts were planned and executed.  We met new local friends, and old friends arrived.  We spent a few days in Florence, a city that has captured my heart, exploring galleries, and palaces and learning about the life of the Medicis.  We bought scarves, ate gelato, drank coffee, and gazed at the beautiful lights and Christmas displays.  We said a sad arrivederci to our North American visitors and then welcomed a wee black lab puppy to join our journey.

Christmas was beautiful, we spent Christmas Eve with friends in Florence, and on Christmas day we introduced our Sicilian neighbours to pancakes and the meal we call 'Brunch'.  Late in the afternoon, we drove to Canadian friends, where with 21 people, originally from Canada and the USA, we celebrated Christmas Dinner in fine Italian form, plenty of wine, food and laughter.

Next week I begin the new year with a part time job working in an English preschool.  The children will continue to busy themselves with lessons, Mark will continue to busy himself with art work,  and we all look forward to the adventures that lay ahead with this coming year.

From our family to yours, we wish a very happy end to 2011 and a joyful beginning to 2012, we hope your year is full of Love, Happiness and Adventure.

Tanti Auguri!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Count Down to Christmas

Each year I make an Advent Calendar for my children, they call it a Countdown to Christmas. The one pictured above is the calendar for this year. They all helped to make it this year. The sports paper in Italy is printed on pink newsprint, so it make a very lovely paper to use, plus the children had fun paper macheing people on to each ornament.

Here are some pics of previous calendars.



One year I filled little take away boxes. Some years I can't remember what I did, but I know I did it, my children would never let me forget. Each day holds a piece of chocolate or some other little treat. And it is not about the treat, they like the counting down and they like the tradition. Each year in November, I am reminded that I need to make my countdown, and some years when I see the inexpensive ones in the shops, or even the expensive ones, I am tempted to buy them, but I just can't bring myself to do it. And really, making 25 or 100 little containers can sometimes be tiresome, it is a tradition they are not willing to part with, and I don't I am either.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Olio Nuovo - Seconda Parte

Mark spent the week heading up each day to our friends olive grove to help pick olives. The goal, 500 kilos by friday when an appointment was booked at the frantoio (oil mill). The minimum that they will press is 500 kilos. A good yield is 18 to 20%. Finn went with Mark a few of the days, his new hobby, collecting shells, and not the beach kind!

We were all very excited about the possibility of heading over to the mill and seeing the process of how olives become oil. On Friday afternoon we got the call, the olives were about to be pressed. I hurried the girls out of the house and channelling my inner Mario Andretti, sped across the valley to the oil mill. When we arrived the olives were already in the granite wheel grinder, but we were able to tour around and see the whole process.

The olives get dumped in the chute and then the olives go up a shaft and air blows over them to remove any leaves and twigs.

The olives are weighed. Mark and the gang came in at 504 kilos!
The olives get sent through another blower and down the chute where they go into the first stage of mulching.

Then the mulch is put into the grinder where huge granite wheels crush the olives and pits.

The next mixing stage where the oil begins to separate.
Then it goes through two stages of centrifuging, in the second centrifuge water is added which helps to separate the oil.

Then it is poured into containers, ready to eat. It was a great experience to be a part of this process, the mill was very noisy but smelled amazing with the aroma of fresh cold pressed olive oil!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Olio Nuovo (New Oil)

I have had some people tell me that November is their favourite time of year in Italy. The air is heavy with the smell of burning olive branches, which is a sort of sweet smokey smell and provides for the most beautiful sunsets. And it is the time when all the new oil comes out. The oil is fresh and almost grassy tasting. It is very green.

We went up with some friends to their olive grove on the weekend to help pick olives. The minimum amount that is required for pressing is 500 kilograms, which will apparently make somewhere close to 50 litres of oil.

First you need to spread nets around the base of the tree. You try to make sure there are no big holes or gaps. Then you start picking and dropping the olives down on the nets, trying not to squish them as you move around. There are a type of machine arm that shakes the olives from the branches, but we were picking the old school way, by hand. We sent a few children up the trees with little plastic rakes, other people were picking from the lower branches and two adults were up ladders, reaching the olives the children could not reach.

I really enjoyed this experience. The work was hard but there was such a great community feel, it made the day go by much more quickly. We stopped for lunch around an open fire, where sausages were grilled. Then back to the picking. The next step is to gather the olives into a pile and then pick out as much leaves and twigs as possible.

Then the olives are bagged ready to go to be pressed. It will take most of the week picking every day to get 500 kilos.

We will go with our friends when it is time for the pressing. I love the idea of knowing where our food comes from and the process necessary to get from tree to table. I know I wouldn't want to be a full time olive picker, but I really enjoyed the day with friends, I even got to climb a tree and I know my children had a lot of fun too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ho bisogno di imparare a parlare italiano

I need to learn to speak Italian.

I was warned that it can be challenging to learn to speak Italian when we are not working and our children are not in school, so we are not forced into learning and we rely on English for our day to day communication.

So I have taken some advice of seasoned expats on how to learn to speak the language. First, go to the bar (the place for coffee) each morning. Listen to the people, speak as much as you can, read the papers and watch Italian TV. It was even suggested that we watch Italian soap operas, as they are easy to follow and the language is simple.

So, after many years of no TV, we went out and bought one. Okay, partly for the language, but partly because we do like to watch movies, and it is not fun on a small laptop. So in the mornings I have been turning on Italian cartoons for our children.

I have started frequenting the 'bar' (the place for coffee). I look through the Italian papers and trash mags that are there. I am figuring out more words each day. On my way home today, I stopped in the giornale shop and picked up some Italian mags. I figured a good way would be to look at magazines I like to keep me interested and I can work on translating what is written. I got a bit over ambitious and picked up a beautiful knitting magazine. I'll have to see how I make out with that.

For now I will do some Rosetta Stone and I will hold off on the soap operas. Baby Steps.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Roadside Madonnas

Sounds like a good band name.

You may have noticed in my last post, I posted a picture of beautiful Madonna. You often see these Madonna shrines along the roadsides as well as in alcoves on the side of homes and buildings. They are beautiful and diverse. I have begun taking pictures of some of the ones we see.

The word Madonna is an old Italian word that translates to 'my lady' it was used to describe a noble or important woman and historically has been used in reference to the Virgin Mary.
These shrines are meant to give spiritual relief to passersby, as well as to protect the inhabitants and their belongings. They are often placed beside fields as a way of blessing the land and praying for it to be very fertile.

I will post some of the ones we have seen. Some are simple, some painted, some more ornate, some with fresh flowers, some with plastic. They are really very beautiful. I will continue to add to the this post, as I add more photos.
On the road to Monte San Savino

A beautiful Maiolica Style Madonna near our house.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

When in Rome...

...Or at least take a Sicilian with you. Or any Italian would likely do. But I now have a lovely Sicilian friend, so I took her. Where you ask, grocery shopping of course. And a Sicilian erborista, even better.

I went grocery shopping this morning with my downstairs neighbour. We muddle through conversations half in Italian, half in English. Her English is much better than my Italian, I must admit. But it is so much easier to navigate your way around with someone who speaks the language. I then asked her about more natural products than what is found in the regular supermercatos and I knew of the name of a chain of natural grocers called NaturaSi, and I asked if there was one in Arezzo and she said no, but something like it and she took me there. It was great. There were lots of natural products. Lots of selection. Peanut butter with out hydrogenated oils and sugar. Almond butter. Rice vinegar, ginger, and the list goes on.

Still a few things left on my 'please to bring to Italy', but at least I now know where to go to get miso!

I have learned a number of things the hard way. The internet on mobile phone continued to ding me, until I signed onto a plan. Tada!!! And, I now know not to buy books in English, they are ridiculously expensive and ships here, and it is free if you order enough. Don't try to top up your mobile online with a foreign credit card, it is futile, and it will likely take a couple hours to figure that out.

Don't bring West Coast vegetarian cook books to a mediterranean country. Many of the ingredients will be challenging if not impossible to find. Not to mention the food here is so amazing, you might was well do as they do, and eat local.

I found avocados today. Another ahha moment for me in the produce department. I also found frozen berries. I am continuing to buy many varieties of cheese and will start noting the ones we really love. So I know what to look for when I return to the store. In the meantime, we are really enjoying all the various cheeses.

I posted the Madonna photo at the top because I really like it. There are many Madonna's and I am contemplating doing a whole series of them, as well as a laundry series, I just love seeing all the laundry hanging out the windows etc.

I must run, there is much pane e formaggio to be eaten.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Items Wanted on Journey

Packing up a family of six to move half way around the world can present some challenges. Most of which are to do with what to bring and what to leave behind. The cost of shipping, not to mention the hassle of all the stuff, can be challenging if not daunting. When travelling with small children or children who are reluctant to move, means you need to bring somethings that you may not have, just to make the transition easier on them.

I decided for myself, I would bring a few of my favourite cook books. While packing to move I set aside some of my cookbooks to go through. From there I would figure out which ones to bring and which ones I would just take a few recipes and put them in my newly acquired Moleskine recipe journal. I also put in the box a few of the new mugs I had just made. I wanted some hand made touches to make us all feel a little bit more at home when we arrived.

In the madness of moving, said box, went missing. I mean I know where it is, it is in storage, but where in the storage room, I am not exactly sure. (My box of shoes made a similar journey, sadly I was able to easily locate them before I left.) So, on my last day before I left Victoria I ran into Russell Books, where I had some trade-in credit and quickly grabbed two of my favourite cookbooks as well as one new one, meant to challenge me.

These are the books I brought;

What I failed to take into consideration is that our West Coast vegetarian diet is heavily influence by Middle Eastern, Asian and Central American cooking. Did you see mediterranean on this, no I didn't think so, which means, many of the ingredients are hard if not impossible to find in a small town Italian grocery store. Perhaps destiny was trying to tell me something when my box of cookbooks made their way into storage.

I had a pretty nicely stocked kitchen in Canada. I enjoy cooking. I have pots and pans I really like, a kitchenaid I love, some nice little tools, and some smoking knives. The knives came with me and let me tell you, it is worth it. I love having good knives around, it seems to make cooking all that much easier. I did pack a box with my pans in the event I feel that I want them sent to me. In the meantime, I am making do and still enjoy the cooking. I love all the fresh ingredients and I love being forced out of the box, and the bit of rut our dinners had become. I know my children are missing three sister burritos, but they don't seem to be complaining, so all is good.

However I decided I would put together a list of things I would happily accept if someone is coming this way:

1. Maple Syrup - you can get here but in small expensive quantities.
2. Peanut butter - the kind that is only peanuts with a bit of salt.
3. Some sort of cilantro (coriander, coriandolo)
4. Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce.
5. Frozen fruit, (okay, obviously I don't want someone to bring that)
6. Measuring cups and spoons. (I am too lazy to keep looking for them, I know they are here)
7. Vanilla Rooiboos tea.

Wow, that list is a lot shorter than I thought it would be. Okay perhaps I could add to it later. Either I am adjusting well, or not thinking well. I hope it is the former.

I could make a long list of the items that I was grateful that I brought along. Books for the children in English, toys, my knives of course, my knitting, craft supplies for the girls and most importantly, my favourite mug, which I carried on!

Oh what a tangled web we weave....


Parental Warning - The following post is not suitable for young or impressionable minds.

I have often wondered what, as parents, we are thinking when we begin to introduce the likes of Santa, The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and for our family, the Pumpkin Fairy. We tell our children not to tell fibs, yet we spin this magnificent web of deceit yearly with them. Is is to carry on some sort of 'magic' or is it to buy us some good behaviour. 'Santa only comes to good girls and boys'.

I began to wonder if this was the right path when my oldest daughter began to ask questions. I dug myself deeper and deeper into a hole. She questioned the tooth fairy and I typed elaborate notes and printed them in a size 4 font, so it looked as if it was done by small hands. I gave the fairies names and signed the notes. They sent messages from the other fairies. And then the 'brilliant' idea of the Pumpkin Fairy. I heard it from someone or somewhere, you get the children to put all the crap candy they get at halloween into the magic pumpkin and the Pumpkin fairy takes it away and leaves a nice gift. So now I was exchanging the candy my children got for FREE in the neighbourhood for books that I purchased. A somewhat flawed plan I will admit.

Fast forward to us now in Italy. A country where Halloween is only beginning to sink in. No grand schemes of going door to door to collect stuff I don't even want my children to eat. But my children want to know if the Pumpkin Fairy is coming. Yikes!! What have I started.

The children really felt the need to participate in Halloween, so we went to the local market and bought some beautiful zucca to carve and light with candles. And really that is the part of Halloween I love the most. Then we bought some random mystery candy from the grocery store and performed a Halloween meets Easter sort of celebration where the children wandered around the garden collecting candy.

The candy turned out to be not fantastic, so everyone happily dumped them in the 'magic' pumpkin and I now find myself scrambling for creative gifts from the Pumpkin Fairy.

On a side note, when my oldest found out that the Tooth Fairy and Santa were me, she was devastated. She cried on and off for about a week. It was awful and I felt terrible. I tried to sell it to her that she could help carry on the magic with her younger siblings, but that didn't seem to smooth over her feelings of disappointment. And I brace myself as each child gets a bit older and will soon discover the truth.