Post-covid summer 2020 at The Old Stable

The Italian lockdown that span (give or take) 8 weeks from the end of February to the beginning of May gave us plenty of time to try new things, work in the garden, play lots of music, slow down hectic rhythms, just relax and think about the things we want to do. It has also provided us with time to think about what we worry about most and what we care for. Time will tell if we are beginning a recovery or that we are heading into a much worse wave with graver consequences. I wish the post title is correct and that we are truly entering a post covid summer.. though I doubt it.

When we were ‘closed’ in our open-air and spaced lockdown bubble we developed much hope in the aftermath of the pandemic: maybe it’ll give birth to a future of a drive to sustainability, less frantic consumption, quieter rhythms, more bicycles, less pollution, more incentives for local and environmentally friendly businesses, a more aware education system and so on. I’m not here to make any political suggestions or share huge revelations on my part so I just hope that the following short bullet point update with picture speaks for itself .

In a nut shell, for us, this spring and early summer was all about learning to be more self producing, to develop resilience to change: more nature, more attention (and quality time) for the thing that we already do.

Our original colony we split (yellow hive) and a swarm we collected earlier this Spring (blue)

Here is a snap list of what is new:

  • Bees: We jumped into the deep water and started the beekeeping season totally on our own! This included learning how to split a colony, collect a swarm of bees (we did this, three times this year) and that’s on top of the basics that we still had to grasp. A steep learning curve, indeed, but very rewarding and we can’t wait to harvest some honey.
Closeup of a frame with capped brood and drone cells
Trying to find the queen to split our original colony
  • Vegetable plot: Our vegetable plot has tripled in size this year. We planted potatoes, tomatoes (lots of them!), sun flowers, cucumbers, courgettes, peppers, melons, peas, flax seeds, cabbages, cauliflower, corn and obviously lots of hops: 5 varieties that will all give us harvest this year.
  • Cats: We have two new young cats: a female kitten we nickname Ginger and a male: Nero
    Ginger has just caught her first mouse this week
  • Chickens: We had our first chicks hatch from our own hens and it’s a wonderful story as mother hen turns out to be ‘Storm’ (‘Tempesta’) – the chick from last year that lost her siblings to a falcon and her mother to the terrible storm of June last year.
‘Tempesta’, now mother hen with her three new chicks
  • Music: We played lots of music together and embarked on a tough challenge recording a tune a day and uploading it to YouTube for over 49 days in a row.
    Now, you can listen to last one, number 49 (or look for the entire play list). In the last post I linked only to the first one.
Our last tune in the family band challenge – What will be, will be.
  • English teaching: Although we managed to hold a few on-line courses during the lockdown, we had to postpone most activities and restarted around mid May. We were very happy to see everyone again, though from a distance and in the outdoors. I’ve bid before to create on-line resources and now with the pandemic it has become a real necessity. Keep tuned. I hope putting some resources pretty soon,

I guess there is still much more to write about but I’ll try to extend on specific topics soon. So that’s it for now. Hope you all keep safe, positive and resilient!

Storms of summer 2019

What a summer full of adventures, pretty stormy too, in many respects eventful to our Old Stable project. It’s been hectic and yet again when I sit down to write about it, it all looks as if time has slipped so quickly in between our fingers: so much has happened in so little time.

From an upsetting visit of a hungry fox, through a mini tornado with ghastly winds and political engagement. We had a busy summer even though we didn’t have plans for building projects (finally, we had a summer’s rest from that!). However, I did really want to clear up some of the mess we’ve accumulated in the last two years and free some of the spaces we so wish to use with the people who visit us. But it’s only in the past two weeks that we finally got to do something about it. So let’s start with a general overview and hopefully I’ll add some pictures on the way. This post will include:

  • The joys and dramas of having animals in the countryside
  • Crazy storms and their effects on the garden (and my dear hops) including a few trees that needed to be cut down. more dead animals.
  • Elena’s political activities: from volunteer to list member and finally commissioner. Completely un-planned yet so obvious it would happen eventually. This summer was a lot about that and the adjustments we need to make for it
  • ‘Io imparo da solo’ , Elena’s book about unschooling in Italian just came out in print.
  • Gearing up for next year teaching activities

Joys and dramas of having animals at The Old Stable

The idea of coming here was to be closer to nature (and family) and to enjoy the ability to produce at least some of our own food. This, at first, involved just creating a vegetable plot but animals started coming very soon after. At first, finding mice running up and down the stable (remember that Autumn of cyclists visiting?) called for a cat who did the job well and changed my initial thoughts about cats as a pet. Soon after mining the cat, came the chickens with just a few ex-industrial hens. The joy of collecting your own eggs and having your chickens follow you like pets is enormous. So is the joy of cuddling a cat on an early morning beside the fire place and having him follow you as you go to collect wood. We also collected a random rabbit, that’s a different story. However, there is a lot of drama that comes along too. As I wrote earlier in a post, we also got some 10 chicks later on to realize we’ve added three more males to our flock, resulting in: a cock fight, a badly broken leg and finally, my first attempt at wringing a cockerel’s neck followed by preparing chicken broth.

Our new flock of chickens arriving late August, our chick ‘Tempesta’ (storm) is standing proud on the feeder

Late spring come fox and pretty much killed all our chickens but one. It was quite devastating and I felt guilty for weeks for not making sure the chicken pen was closed properly that night. Feathers all scattered around the yard and around the fence, a hint of what might have happened the previous night, and only one survival walking carefully between the debris. I found only one dead chicken in the field outside our house. The rest must have been dragged to the fox’s den. It took me around a month before I headed up to Spilamberto animal market to get a few more chickens only to discover that during the empty period a rat has decided to occupy the nearly empty chicken pen and thus the new flock had strangely refused to go in it to sleep. I dreaded another fox visit and found myself another month trying to catch the rat with: traps, glue and even poison so that I can finally put the chickens in the pen again and close carefully against another fox visit. The chicken saga hadn’t finished yet… our friend the pharmacist has brought over a hen with all her 10 little chicks under her wings. She heard about our fox’s visit and she had too many to take care of and so we got mummy and children as a comforting present. We were very happy observing how mummy chicken takes care of her little ones. Mummy hen and chicks were of a different type called here ]french chicken’ (francesina): short, small and somewhat round.. they can fly and lay eggs pretty much everywhere. Little did we know that a family of falcons had nested that time in our barn

The backside of the barn where we store wood and grow hops. This year we also had a nest of falcons that happily fed on our chicks

In fact, this year we noticed that the number of pigeons nesting in the barn has dropped considerably and it took us a while to figure out why. Eventually we noticed that mummy french chicken has been loosing chicks everyday and their numbers went from 10 to just 2-3 in a weeks time. Funny thing is that the chicks seem to have disappeared during the day time. One day our middle child told us she saw a big bird looking over the chicken pen fence.. ah ah we understood , here comes our falcon. Mummy french chicken had only one chick left. A little yellow cheeping chick. His story is not over yet and you’ll find it in the next part about our summer storm and the havoc it created in our garden.

Another new arrival that brought us, unexpectedly, a lot of joy is the bee hive. Elena got this as an exchange for English lessons she gave to a daughter of our friends. I’m being taught how to treat the bee hive and how to collect honey in the summer season, I think at the end we got highly paid and we’d be happy to have more of these fun exchanges. Yes, I do most of it… Elena bring the ideas 🙂

Our new bee hive

On the drama side again, Mining the cat died this August probably from eating some poison from a different field but as I used a bit of rat poison myself in the chicken pen the month before, I still have fears and guilt feelings that it could have been somehow me that caused it. That was definitely a heartbreaking event for us and the kids. But yet again our pharmacist friend came to the rescue and brought us all the way from the south of Italy three new kittens! However, within less than a week from their arrival three kittens became two as one was attacked by either a stray dog or a fox and was found dead in the next morning. Looking back I should have kept them from the beginning indoors until they are bigger (now the two remaining stay in the stables during the night). This just adds to my guilt feelings. So all in all a summer full of dramas around the animals in our Old Stable. The rabbit btw, decided it’s all too much and has escaped. I saw her nibbling here and there in the yard together with a hare that hopped by… but since that black kitten has been found dead I haven’t spotted the rabbit and hare either.

Crazy storms and their effects

The willow in the front before being cut

Whether it’s just the fact that we are now living closer to nature or that we are more and more aware of how the climate is changing globally from media and from being more active in the area, we feel that the weather lately is going crazy and that the consequences are grave. The month of May was a very strange one with a big dose of rain nearly on the verge of flooding. The worst day was at the very end of May with a frightening storm composed of 115 km/hr winds that shaved everything on ground and showered hail as big as tennis balls. The storm only lasted 15 minutes or so but the effects were horrendous. The aftermath looked like someone cleared up the garden and combed the grass vigorously to one side. branches and leaves were scattered everywhere. It was so shocking that I dared take no pictures. My glorious hop plants that looked like they’ll be giving me endless fruit were torn from the bottom of the vine stems. It took two days to see the effect as they turned brown and shriveled on the ropes. The willow at the back had one of it’s major branches split in two.

The willow at the front (that was way too close to the building) showed a big fracture along its trunk. Eventually, we had to take it down and now the front patio lays empty.

The willow at the front after being cut down

The chickens were hit the most with three dead, probably from the hail hitting them hard. It’s how I get back to our little chick story. Mummy french hen got killed by the hail but her one and only chick that survived the continuous falcon attacks was found shivering and cheeping under a bush. We took him in and let him stay indoors for nearly a month before letting him out again.

Mining the cat (RIP) and Tempesta the chick

He and the cat became the children’s best friends. The cat sitting on their lap, the chick on their head. He got the name of Tempesta – meaning Storm. We could have been hit harder and many around us lost windows and even solar panels. Our roof stayed intact. However, since that storm every time the winds start getting stronger or the clouds begin to darken I feel the shivers and run to close all the shutters. In July we escaped to Switzerland to see our relatives, we paid a visit to a glacier in Mt. Titlis … all I could think of is how this might be the last time we get a chance to see a living glacier and how the climate is definitely changing. Man’s fault or not.

Elena’s political activities

Summer offered us another type of storm (at least in my opinion): entering politics or worst still, the local administration. We’ve always wanted to get involved more in the community and push for change (from cyclability to reducing waste, education reforms and welcoming immigrants). Elena has taken things seriously. It started with giving a hand writing a political programme for a local list that ran for the local elections somewhere early spring. Elena got very active in the environmental debate and tried to formulate a programme that will include building the long awaited Nonantola-Modena bicycle path among other things. Within a span of a few months we found Elena being selected as the commissioner for: environment, mobility and urban development in the newly elected administration which was formed by a coalition of the democratic party (PD) and the new list (Una mano per Nonantola). It’s a storm because it shuffles the way we have to approach our projects. It minimizes the amount of time we have as a family and separates Elena, in some way, from developing our teaching activities at The Old Stable. I’m restricted in writing about our experiences as a family with Elena being part of the administration as I might be accidentally giving some sensitive political information… I can only say that it’s not easy for Elena or me… and the frustration in working in the adminstration is immense. I started understanding why things don’t move much in Italy. I’ll let Elena write about it.. she really should. She says she’d write a whole book. which brings me to…

Io imparo da solo – Elena’s book about unschooling

Just before the election time (or was it in between), Elena sat down to complete a book she always dreamt of writing: a book for parents who want to know what led to our decision to unschool our children. The book has come out (in Italian, of course) and is printed by Tera Nuova. I started reading it, as I never got the chance before, and I find it quite a good read. The right humble pitch it deserves. A link to the book you can find here.

Gearing up for the new academic year

With all the storms behind us, or simmering down, at least, summer is also a good time to regenerate and pick up the enthusiasm for improving on last year’s teaching activities. This summer I had the pleasure of meeting some enthusiastic teenagers that are keen on trying new things such as role playing games and theatre activities. We are coming up with some new ideas and hope to get more enrollments this year. More about this hopefully soon (and in Italian !)

Inizio officiale corsi 2018/19

Per la versione italiana scorri verso il basso. Migliorerò il mio italiano col tempo, la vostra pazienza per favore 😀

So here we are! It’s been a year of work to sort things out but we can finally announce that our first official activities are starting from October this year!

Last year we already had our first classes of Play and Rhyme Time and Tea and Talk but our pioneer little students and their parents as well as the adults from Tea and Talk were hosted in our living room. They had to share with us our children’s mess! and had to settle with only a small table in a circle. We might miss the first year of trying things out on a very small scale however it’s time to keep things a little tidier!

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Empty class with space for our toddler students. Those who started with us last year will recognize the yellow carpet.

We now have a designated classroom with a big blackboard and plenty of space for our youngest students to roam and dance to their favourite nursery rhyme songs. The room will be able to accommodate courses during the colder winter months too!

We have arranged a calendar of courses and we hope to get them all filled with happy English learners soon!

class2
Our old style classroom blackboard. Originally the back panel of the transportation box for our bicycle.

 

For now, we offer two courses for children: Play and Rhyme Time (nursery age, 3-6 years old) and Fun Time! (elementary school age , 7-11 years old)

For adults we offer two types of courses. The first, for complete beginners (or nearly complete beginners): Chat and Laugh, which we hope gives the idea of the course’s approach: lots of fun and practical!
The second, is for the more advanced or intermediate level who wish to dive into conversation: Tea and Talk.

Finally, we are excited to try out some new workshops:
How about learning how to make beer at home, in English? with Inglese a tutta birra
Or what about doing some theatre in English?
Last but not least we hope getting some interest in an intensive workshop in communication and presentation building aimed at the professional level!

At the bottom of this page (under the Italian) we also have our first flyer with information on the courses we offer this year. If you know anyone interested please pass this on!


Eccoci qua! È stato un anno di lavoro per sistemare le cose, ma possiamo finalmente annunciare che le nostre prime attività iniziano officialmente primo di ottobre di quest’anno!

L’anno scorso avevamo già le nostre prime classi di Play and Rhyme Time e Tea and Talk, ma i piccoli pionieri ei loro genitori, e anche gli adulti di Tea and Talk, erano ospitati nel nostro salotto. Hanno dovuto condividere con noi il casino dei nostri bambini! e hanno dovuto accontentarsi solo con un piccolo tavolo rotondo. Ora è il momento di tenere le cose un po più ordinate!

Abbiamo un’aula designata con una grande lavagna e un sacco di spazio per i nostri studenti più giovani per ballare le loro canzoni preferite. La sala sarà in grado di ospitare anche i corsi durante i mesi invernali più freddi!

class2
La lavagna nuova! 

class1
La aula didattica

Abbiamo organizzato un calendario di corsi e speriamo di averli tutti pieni di felici studenti inglesi presto!

Per ora, offriamo due corsi per bambini: Play e Rhyme Time (età della scuola materna, 3-6 anni) e Fun Time! (età della scuola elementare, 7-11 anni)

Per gli adulti offriamo due tipi di corsi. Il primo, per principianti assoluti (o quasi principianti): Chat and Laugh, che speriamo dia l’idea dell’approccio del corso: molto divertente e pratico!
Il secondo, è per il livello più avanzato o intermedio che desidera immergersi nella conversazione: Tea and Talk.

Siamo entusiasti di provare alcuni nuovi workshop:
Che ne dici di imparare come fare la birra a casa, in inglese? con Inglese a tutta birra
O che ne dici di fare un po ‘di teatro in inglese?
Ultimo ma non meno importante, ci auguriamo di essere interessati a un workshop intensivo di comunicazione e presentazione per il livello professionale!

Abbiamo anche il nostro primo volantino con informazioni sui corsi che offriamo quest’anno. Se conosci qualcuno interessato per favore passa la parola!

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February-March 2018, from teaching to allotment preparation

So I missed a blog post and skipped the cold month of February. March is already midway through and yesterday was probably the first convincing sign of Spring coming. This year the winter re-bounced early in March, just as we started waking up and feeling chirpy, with a sudden drop of temperatures and it only seems now that it’s picking up back again.
So what have we had in these two months? Everything looked like moving in slow motion and the cold and somewhat wet days kept us away from any activities of building or planning.

DSC_0667
A sudden drop of temperatures gave a nice fresh whiteness to the Old Stable but we were held back with big jobs.

Most of our efforts turned out to be devoted to keeping the essentials going on, like heating up the stove and clearing up the tables, washing up and dishes. This winter turned longer than expected, and just to make it feel even longer, we have already enjoyed two waves of a nasty flu.

There is no doubt that holding classes and courses in The Old Stable are nearly impossible under winter conditions (without a proper heating system) and we are forced to rethink our strategies for taking off with our teaching projects. Our first English courses have started but these are held at the moment in the living room with little space and, although with a nice friendly atmosphere, we would rather have a dedicated space for teaching so that our kids can still go on with their own business.

Starting mid February, when it seemed as if the worst period of winter was behind us, we started planning our veg growing space and decided to go ahead with a practical approach to permaculture (or whatever you wish to call the non invasive and without a glimpse of pesticides type of farming, some may add: good luck with that!). The main idea in my eyes, (Elena can add the other bits or contradict me altogether), is that you let the natural cycle of vegetation be the sole treatment of the soil. No digging, no tilling, no weeding. Essential minerals for growing certain crops would be introduced by planting other vegetation to complement the life-cycle of materials.

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A permaculture plot in preparation, we took the practical approach of weeding just for the first year.

The proposed growing space is essentially covered with a big heap of dry straw or hay and is let to mulch. The soil shouldn’t be disturbed in any way and thus walking is only allowed in the surroundings. Ideally, a plot like this should be left untouched for TWO years before planting anything hence, our practical approach; In a few places we have weeded whatever we could and covered with hay so that within beginning of Spring we would be able to start the first planting.

 

Obviously, my mind is already gearing up for setting up our hop garden. Rhizomes are usually planted in November but the plot and climbing frame should be prepared in advance. I’ve already noticed that it’s a good idea to pre-book the hops from a nursery as early as April, sometimes they just sell out too quickly especially when it comes to the ‘trendy’ hop variety such as ‘Cascade’ and ‘Citra’.. all those IPA lovers.

Speaking of beer, the first wannabe Irish stout has been barreled, bottled and consumed by our friends and relatives, so now is the time for a new batch of something. It turned out well with a full aroma that I’ve expected but the alcoholic content and the body feel were both lower than what I intended (enough of homebrewing highbrow talk now). The take home message of these cold months is that I have realized that we really need to build a cold/hot chamber for the fermenters as temperatures up in the brewery room during winter are even too cold for making lagers while during the summer they’ll be probably way too hot. For now I’m thinking along the lines of building a box around a used fridge just like in this DIY project. Expecting parties and events this summer, and hoping to get the beer flowing I should better start about now!

Jumping to other topics of this month I’d like to write about our bicycle endeavors. We might not have written much about it on the blog or website (except in the small print down below the web page, you might notice that we mention something about limited parking places and how we would love to encourage the usage of bicycles)… anyways, we are known here sometimes as the no-car people. In fact we started promoting commuting by bike when we were in Bath and even produced this video.

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Our electrically assisted cargo bike

We try our best to commute with only bicycles and public transportation. As long as it’s between The Old Stable and Nonantola or Castelfranco Emilia, it is quite easy. But when it comes to the bigger cities such as Modena (only 13 km away) or Bologna (46 km) then things become more difficult as cycle paths are limited as well as unmarked properly and roads are trafficky. Add to this the fact that Italian drivers are not used to respecting cyclists and you get to a feeling that commuting by bike is impossible. This month we joined FIAB (The Italian Federation of Friends of the Bicycle… sounds funny doesn’t it) as we wanted to be part of a national campaign for promoting bike mobility. The best part was that we met amazing people, friendly and devoted to sharing their biking experiences. Within no time we had one member knocking on our door to get some video footage for their new local campaign and another that volunteered to show us the safest way to cycle to Modena and Bologna. Just a couple of days ago I set off with an ever so friendly and enthusiastic Mara from Nonantola to explore the way to Bologna and back. We did it in one piece, taking around two hours and 45 minutes each way. It was beautiful and surprisingly I felt safe! For those coming here by plane… just that you know there is a way to do the last stretch from the airport to The Old Stable by bike!

With a subtle twist to the bike topic (It’ll come probably at the end of this story) I’d like to end up with last week’s experience: being interviewed for the local Radio station: Radioattiva (Radio active). Elena, being the local and well connected person was approached a couple of months ago to be interviewed in an hour long radio show in Nonantola (the station turns out to be around the corner from her mother’s house). We seemed interesting people with some exciting ideas for the radio people, worth while apparently for an hour long conversation.

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An historic picture of the founders of Radioattiva back in the 70s in Nonnatola (http://www.radioattivanonantola.it)

Obviously we agreed as we could tell our stories, push our campaigns for the environment and get ourselves known to promote English lessons and the cultural association. We were asked to chose the songs (a mix of Arabic, Israeli, Irish and Italian songs we love listening to) and have a fun conversation with Paolo and Massimo, our hosts for the hour. It was sheer fun, time passed so quickly. It was just great sitting behind a professional looking microphone fitted with tennis racket looking filters and seeing all the behind-the-scene activity. We haven’t recorded the interview and I know that Elena’s mum didn’t even bother to listen to us. My mum did and probably a few bored friends. It is an internet radio and it occurred to me that probably very few were really listening nowadays to internet radio… or maybe I’m wrong? I found the story of the Radio very touching, in some way even sad. A bunch of teenagers in the 70s really worked hard enthusiastically to open a free radio station. Paolo and Massimo being part of the founding group. Then financial problems and teenagers leaving to study and get a ‘proper’ job made it impossible to keep open and the station was shut down. With eyes still brilliant the old fellas decided to reopen as an internet radio 30 years later. They love it and it seems as if they go back in time behind the controllers and the microphones, but they claim it’s hard to find youngsters as enthusiastic as they were… nowadays with Youtube, facebook and instagram there is less magic in the old style radio (and you can imagine the song of the Buggles of 79 playing in the background). And then came my thoughts of when I listen to radio… well when do I listen to radio? (and here comes the twist) : I listen to the radio when I’m driving on my own in a car. So as I’m advocating to get the cars off the road (especially those that carry only one passenger at a time) and get everyone cycling…. I might be helping in killing the very last chance of Radio broadcasting to survive.  Just a thought.

On a very happy note, as I’m writing these lines, I’m in contact with an English musician that we might be hosting at The Old Stable this summer! It’ll probably be our first and it’ll be something folky and festive. I can’t say anything before we get it all settled. But I’m hopeful that this spring will give us lots of inspiration and work for the coming months! We’ll keep you tuned.