Beginning of 2022, the year we get Stuck

It’s not a good thing to avoid writing a blog post just because one finds it difficult to write something positive, finds it difficult to share the dwindling enthusiasm, hard to invent some exciting news to announce…. But I haven’t written till now, exactly because ‘all of the above’. Start 2022 and we’re stuck somewhere, gosh and it’s so hard to get unstuck!
There is so much I can write about chickens, bees and cats. Even my hops didn’t provide an excuse as they couldn’t be used, lately, as the brewery is out of order until the renovation work is completed.
So here I am breaking a new record of not writing a blog post. Even WordPress has stopped trying to remind me or encourage me to come back.

In our teaching arena we are still suffering from a long crunch: it has been a very long period that we can’t reopen group activities. Be it the endless covid restrictions, our students’ fears to come to group lessons, everybody’s tiredness from on-line meetings (I can’t blame my students, who don’t absolutely need it, for not being eager to join an online lesson after a long day of working or studying ‘remotely’. After all, we do market ourselves as a place to learn while relaxing). Lastly, due to our endless and just-got-very-stuck renovation work. Apart from not getting much income, we truly miss our work!
Our most missed groups are Tea and Talk and seeing kids laughing, singing and dancing with their parents.
However, we are lucky to have a bunch of devoted, loyal and encouraging individual students that come to visit us at our building site and sit in the cold and messy teaching room or spend the time on the computer. Honestly, they give us lots of pleasure and , on the positive, thay managed to reconnect us with individual teaching (we used to discourage our students from individual lessons so that they can communicate with peers and practice in groups… but now we found the advantages on knowing our students better in one-on-one lessons).

The ‘Eco-bonus’ / 110 renovation saga

The renovation project I’ve only mentioned briefly in a few of our previous posts was supposed to have been completed in November 2021. I guess I was right not to write much about our plans as it all seemed too good to be true: a government initiative to encourage households to upgrade their energy efficiency class by paying back 110% of the funds to homeowners (yes, we read the fine details and it ends to be more like a 90% refund and a big boost to the banks, but still, it’s very generous) who embark on a renovation project for installing external insulation, double glazed windows and that can include other improvements such as an upgraded heating system and/or solar panels. We’ve included in the renovation project also anti-seismic ‘chains’ but kept interventions to the minimum so not much inner building is required.

Honestly, our old stable needs it! We can barely keep the bedrooms in winter to above 16C, and that’s the only two rooms we have a stove to heat with, the rest is sometimes below 5C.. (like a big fridge). We have big losses of heat from the old windows that are basically a wooden frame and a single pane of thin glass. Any intervention that can improve this situation is a very big plus. Our teaching room is cold and tiny. In the winter it prevents us from hosting bigger groups at a reasonable comfort.

So in short we were all in for the risk of starting a renovation project with four children around and the saga begins…
As we are very eco oriented we wanted to choose a company that will provide us with bio materials: hemp for insulation and sustainable clay materials for the external plastering. We contacted a big firm that had good reviews on their materials and recommended by many who work in the sector (I’ll expose their name if we have to take them to court) . Since there is a lot of paperwork involved in applying for the governmental refund initiative, we wanted to get them to cover most of the work (including the anti-seismic chains and preparation for window installation). It took us months to prepare the project with all the requirements from the governmental agencies, where nobody is really sure of what is needed. However, it took us even longer to negotiate a contract with the owner of the building firm which would provide the materials and workforce to do the work. At a certain point, we nearly thought of ditching the idea until we finally signed at the end of August. Soon after, the firm provided us with a builder who came rushing to put up the scaffolding before the actual project papers were submitted to the council (which caused an unpleasant fight between the coordinator of the project and the builders and his boss – the firm with whom we just signed). Then came palette loads of insulation material and our garden is like you see in the photo from early September. Our gas pipe gets disconnected so they can insulate the external walls… “no worries, you’ll have it all back and running end of November!”. Two weeks of work and the builders already put up 16 cm thick insulation blocks all around the ground floor, they rip out the back door, we block the exit with tables during the night and try not to leave the house un attended. The coordinator comes, gets upset with the builders not following proper health and safety protocols, writes an e-mail, gets angry on the phone with the firm’s boss and from there things seem to escalate and get even worse. Meanwhile, I have to somehow put the door back on my own… not easy but ,miraculously , I managed to find a solution. For now we can leave the house in a very twisted way: crawling and squeezing between scaffolding posts.

The saga continues when the window sills that the building company has ordered are all the wrong size and the builder cannot install them together with the window frames for the window installation company (who’s doing all they can to bring us new double glazed windows for Christmas) We say: “Hey, no problem we’ll stiff upper lip from end of November to after Christmas without windows…”
Then no one from the building company comes at all…. and we don’t know why. Luckily, the other companies involved are all super efficient: we get the new heater (but can’t connect it before the external insulation is completed), we get the solar panel frames on the roof and a new electric box, all ready to be hooked up as soon as the scaffolding is adjusted to align with safety regulations… even the window company phones to say: “Hey guys we can come and install your windows before Christmas…. as long as you have the window frames installed by the builders.. how’s it going, btw?”

Hemp panels soaking wet

We call the firm’s engineer but there is no apparent reason for the delays… “yeah, no worries, we are working on it, all fine”. While others suffer from delays due to backlog of material orders, we have everything in our garden-come-building-site. No one cares to tell us what’s going on. What’s the delay for? We just get angry replies (as if we did something wrong) and complaints that our coordinator is asking too much about health and safety, “oh, and maybe the anti-seismic chains will cost you 6 times more than stated in the contract… it’s all your fault! you got us the wrong measurements and you should pay for the scaffolding for all the time we haven’t worked”.

Christmas comes, New year and still nothing to get us unstuck. Rain comes and the eco-friendly hemp panels get all soaked and start to rot. Wind blows and pockets of water in the packaging causes some of the palettes to tip over. We ask for help getting the materials to a safer condition, for some covers, no answers.

bales of insulaion materials tipped off from wind and rain

The best we get is: “It’s your fault for not wanting to pay the extra for the chains” but they’ve never even asked us to pay anything or ever given a quote for the ‘new’ chains. I try myself, with my half cooked Italian, to speak to the director of the company, get him to soften a bit and give me reasonable arguments for why things are stuck… mainly how do we get it going? Nothing doing, I get a string of verbal attacks and complete irrational arguments that I can’t even reply to.

Inner hemp panels drying in a sunny spell at the end of January

At the end, Elena called a lawyer, and we started negotiating on legal terms. threatening to withdraw from the agreement since their part is not being fulfilled. At least we have things on paper… for any future litigation. I must say that, it seems like muscles might work because we finally got a few replies. At the same time, we decided to take the situation more in our own hands and opened the palettes of material on our own. We tried to dry as much of it as we can in the sunny spells that the end of January sometimes offers. We’ve worked for a few days in a row, Elena with the baby on her back, at times. Children helping with everything else. The saga continues but at least we have the hope of getting over it, either by finding an agreement or by ditching the company and asking for compensation. We desperately need this project over and done with. We want to get unstuck!

Getting unstuck?

I can’t possibly finish a post with sounding so depressed. I know we’ll look at this period later on and laugh. As usual, these episodes create more friendships, more family stories to tell at dinner parties. We fight together and bond.. or collapse. So far so good. As I write these lines, a new Spring wind is blowing and something seems to be moving. Work opportunities are looking like opening up… (I’ll definitely post about this soon), our lawyer seems to have done a good job as we started getting phone calls from a window sill provider, saying that he got an ok to continue from the ‘big boss’… but really!? I have to see this happening before I start celebrating.
Finally, we just planted three trees: An apricot, an apple and an almond tree that already has its first buds nearly opening.
We’ll get unstuck! and I hope writing more often.

Summer highlights in and around The Old Stable 2021

So here is a brief update on all the things that happened in and around The Old Stable during the last summer.. an update on our ongoing projects.

The uncertainty that the first lockdowns brought in respect to covid regulations, forced us to slow down when it came to group courses and planning teaching activities. Not only that, but we barely mentioned here in our blog space that we added a new member to our family last February, our fourth child Clio. So, we were definitely on slow burners last year and during the summer too. However, there is always a bright side to look at. We had plenty of time to pursue small passions from cultivating barley for our first ever 100% homebrew, lots of music and decluttering the place towards the big renovations that have practically started as I type these words. So here in a nutshell with some pictures:

  • We planted a small plot of barley in the spring – harvest was around July-August and the first time I try to malt from scratch
  • Two new chicks hatched in late summer.. we were very happy until three days ago a fox came for a visit and ate mummy hen and the two chicks that insisted sleeping on a tree rather than safely in the chicken pen which I still religiously close each evening since the last fox visited.
  • Lots of hops this season, too much in fact, can’t cope with all that brewing

School year 2021/2022

Maybe a final look at our red shuttered Old Stable

It’s been a VERY long while since our last update (nearly a year). I wanted to write and update as soon as things were certain. However, as far as bureaucracy goes, it really did take a long while. So here we are, just at the beginning of the school year, to find ourselves starting (finally) our long planned renovation works at the Old Stable. The scaffolding hasn’t been pitched up yet but we are officially a ‘building site’ and works should be carried on as far as mid to end of November 2021. Unfortunately this means that all group courses (apart from Online lessons) are suspended and we hope to pitch up for a January 2022 fresh start with a well equipped and refurbished classroom.

I’ll be posting here shortly with what else was going on last summer. For those who want to keep their English active during our break, we have some online treats awaiting.

è passato MOLTO tempo dal nostro ultimo aggiornamento (quasi un anno). Volevo scrivere e aggiornare non appena le cose fossero certe. Tuttavia, per quanto riguarda la burocrazia, ci è voluto davvero molto tempo. Eccoci dunque, proprio all’inizio dell’anno scolastico, a ritrovarci ad iniziare (finalmente) i nostri lunghi e pianificati lavori di ristrutturazione alla Vecchia Scuderia. Le impalcature non sono ancora state montate ma siamo ufficialmente un ‘cantiere’ e i lavori dovrebbero essere portati avanti da metà a fine novembre 2021. Purtroppo questo significa che tutti i corsi di gruppo (a parte le lezioni online) sono sospesi e speriamo di iniziare un nuovo gennaio 2022 con un’aula ben attrezzata e rinnovata.

Pubblicherò qui a breve con cos’altro stava succedendo l’estate scorsa. Per coloro che vogliono mantenere attivo il loro inglese durante la nostra pausa, abbiamo alcune prelibatezze online in attesa.

October 2020

Autumn skies of 2020

The academic year has started with anticipated hiccups and, in fact, the courses that we intended to open in October had to be cancelled (apart from two small groups) before they even started. As I’m writing these lines the general mood is that a second lockdown is imminent. After a summer devoted to bee keeping, chickens and brewing we are now winding down and restarting to concentrate on developing our online presence. As the pandemic lingers on world-wide we thought of trying to see the positives (ha ha) and focus on things we could do online with our teaching as well as going back to some of our original ideas when we first came here . This means that it’s back to weaving projects, home improvements and music. So, here is yet again a scattered overlook of our past-summer and autumn planning dotted between garden, animals, local politics (Elena is finally out of the administration!), building, using the bicycle, gearing up for online teaching and some very exciting personal news.

Animals, cats – lost and found

I’m starting with cats, so you can immediately enjoy some cute cat pictures but actually there is a nice story to it too, hopefully a suggestion on how things will develop this coming year.

We had a few losses of cats since our first adoption as we moved in. After our first cat was found dead hiding in the old pizza oven (could have been some poison he had eaten) we adopted two more kittens: Curiosaky and Mascherina.

Curiosaky and Mascherina (white face and front legs) as they arrived at the Old Stable

A few months later, the female cat (Mascherina) climbed under the car of one of our evening course students and was found dead on the road the next morning. She left Curiosaky alone (who truly seemed depressed when Mascherina left) so we soon got another male kitten to let him take care of.

Nero, the black kitten arrived to us ill, fragile and with a cold, not a great start for the winter season. In effect, I think Nero owes his life to Curiosaky who adopted him immediately, we think that for Curiosaky it was a present to get a new friend after Mascherina’s departure.
Since then we added Tibs, a female kitten to the family, but Curiosaky and Nero always remained best friends.

Curiosaky adopting Nero, providing him with warmth to combat his cold

We were afraid that as they grow up they’ll start behaving aggressive to each other and got Curiosaky sterilized when he was about nine months old.

Then late last June, Curiosaky just disappeared, with no idea of to where he could be going or how. We hardly had anyone coming with a car and since Mascherina had gone we’ve been taking extra care when people drive in or out. We knew cats can go for a period of up to a few weeks to search for adventures (though Curiosaky was sterilized so there was less chance fot it to be that long). We were pretty desperate he’ll never be found. The kids had dreams of seeing him and it was difficult to have these talks where you lay down the facts and the reasonable probability of him coming back alive.

Tibs joining the family music sessions

At a certain point, we even contacted a family that had claimed to have had seen a similar cat in Nonantola, which they adopted for a short time, but then somehow they claimed it had escaped (and we just thought that they changed their mind on handing him over to us). After four months of hoping for the best, we all got to grips (even the kids) with the fact that either he got runover by a car, hunted by a fox or dog or was adopted, somehow, by a new family.

Curiosaky’s first night back, slightly frightened but definitely him

Then one day, just out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago, on an early evening when the sun had just started setting, Elena hears a recognisable meowing from the bushes behind the chicken coop. Curiosaky had returned, slightly frightened, skinny (so probably not adopted by a family) but the same Curiosaky. He was accepted immediately by Nero and Tibs but let to settle in a corner. Maybe they also couldn’t believe their eyes and felt a bit doubtful it was really him.

So he is back now, and hasn’t left since. Got back to his habits of climbing on the front door and peeking through the windows, meowing more than the others for attention and food.

I do hope this a sign for things to come. It’s been a period for everyone where it seems that good things are being lost. Maybe even for ever. But somehow I hope this story is a sign that somethings will come back. Let us hope!

Autumn is here, the leaves are falling and leave an orange, red and yellow carpet in the garden. The chickens love pecking under it to find some juicy insects. Our flock has grown to 17 heads, 3 of which are roosters and I dread the time I’ll have to keep the male number lower… we intend to do it in time for the coming Christmas dinner. I know I can do it like I did it the first time. But, honestly I started getting emotionally attached to those creatures, and it’ll be tough. They are the best animal one can have: they eat all your scrap food, provide you with lots of eggs and quality compost for the vegetable plot, they do not require that much work and economically speaking I’d say they are the most profitable. Don’t forget that the crowing sounds remind you that you live in the countryside and, just that alone, makes me wake up with a smile. If you ever think of starting with live stock, get chickens and you won’t regret it. We might be getting, as a present, five more chickens next week!

Elena’s political adventures, from my point of view

One of the reasons I haven’t been writing much lately is that Elena had embarked on a roller coaster experience in the local politics from June last year, and it seemed that everything I would write in public or would say might be scrutinised by someone with a political agenda. In fact, I was pretty much asked to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, all I really wanted to write about was those political adventures and how they affected our family project – it was too much of a big impact to let it slip away. It felt false to write about something else and ignore the burning part inside me… so I just left it alone and focused on blog posts that promoted our teaching activity. Now, however, Elena has quit the administration work and although there is some sense of bitterness from frustrating experience, we are all relieved, I feel I can write about it. Obviously, from my anti-politician point of view. I hope Elena doesn’t mind.. being so careful not to push political buttons.

Just to make it clear, I never got a trust worthy impression from any politician, they’re ambition to be part of the governing administration is always doubtful to me (is it the love of power? the crave for ‘respect’? or just the fact that they don’t have any expertise and couldn’t do anything else that made them go into administration?). Yes, surely there are people that come to politics because they really want to make a change or push a certain agenda until it is passed (this obviously is why Elena wanted to have a go at it). But seeing the dirty tricks and the sometimes impossible compromises they have to make in order to advance on their agenda seems to make them become untrustworthy .. they claim it is because they have to play their cards well. When it comes to being vague on certain issues or aligning or being silent when there are decisions made against their own beliefs – In my opinion, that sounds the alarm bell and calls for dumping them in the political recycling bin when the first red line is crossed. Take it for example when the 5SM aligned with Salvini and stayed silent on his anti-immigration advances, that burnt their credibility, in my eyes, immediately (though I already suspected they’ll be up for a coalition with the devil before election day). These politicians have no excuses.

As for the local experience, as I see it post mortem, since Elena is not the type that would compromise with such terms.. I couldn’t see her survive for more than a few months when she just started. She did much better than I expected but the cost to her sanity, as well as the price on us as a family was quite dear, when troubles started coming out, she was asked to keep silent and to see if there is scope for improvement or dialogue (no there wasn’t!). Hearing the inside stories of how the administration is run, how decisions are being made and how information is deliberately hidden from members within the administration and from the public made our blood boil. On some of these issues, it even seemed at some point, that not making these issues go out to the public is actually like being part of the crime. From letting the police making urban planning decisions, not listening to experts on urbanisation issues (oh, yes, I know that listening to experts these days isn’t very popular), actively trying to shut out local societies and organisations from receiving information or being allowed to participate in dialogue to voicing racist and misogynist views within the administrational meetings. I really think that the public should know exactly who they have voted for and make these politicians liable.

Elena entered in June last year, in a very positive way her political adventure with the municipality of Liliput

Elena had lots of ideas to promote and worked hard on planning a bicycle path that would connect Modena and Nonantola, as well as for plans for post-covid emergency cycle lanes, soil preservation for the general urbanisation plan that is due to be submitted this year. That was a lot of work and contacts with urban planners and strategists. Nothing of this got materialized, there was just too much inner resistance from the Mayor and her co-workers. It looked like, even though this has been clearly stated in the coalition’s electoral programme, that everyone within the administration was in effect against any idea to promote cyclability and they had never even surfaced that back to their political parties. In general, the strategy seems to be hiding vital information from everyone and settling things within the group of counsellors.. obviously, within closed doors and with only another counselor from her political list, Elena was outnumbered. Elena was kept being attacked on the fact that we are unschoolers, as if she was undermining the political programme by this, she was silenced on her published book, anything really that came from her was hushed and marginalised. She got insults during meetings and I’ve learnt a great deal of Italian machoistic attitudes which I just couldn’t believe still exist and that are still accepted. I don’t even think the people who acted this way even realise how ugly it is or how ridiculous they are. Bottom line, none of the people in the administration seem to have expertise and/or ability to take decisions in their field of responsibility, they don’t even listen to the hired experts. Anyhow, this all ended mid October this year when both Elena and the vice Mayor had resigned together just because it was really impossible to work under these conditions anymore. I doubt Elena will ever tell the details of this adventure, probably wanting to let the civil list have a fresh new try with creating a future coalition. But for me this is all to show that no change is possible in the local arena if the very basics of dialogue are not changed fundamentally.

Plans for home improvements – the 110% energy governmental incentive

Since our inner insulation work to make up the teaching room and guest rooms was completed nearly two years ago, we haven’t done much in terms of building. The barn still remains the day-dream go-to place. It needs so much work that we can probably do anything with it: that pub, cultural centre, textile workshop and what not. However, our own home and stable suffers from the lack of proper windows (all single glazing) and with hardly any insulation. Anything that would improve on this could cost us a fortune. News is that, fortunately, as part of a European push to cut down on emissions, lower urbanization expansion and to help the building sector in these troubled times, there is a national incentive to fund 110% of home improvements that upgrade the energy efficiency in two levels – practically paying home owners to upgrade. Our farm house is currently on the upper limit of the G grade, which is very low but not too low that basic improvements won’t be significant. After we consulted a energy technician, it seems that with just external insulation and changing the window fittings, we could jump the two required levels for a 110% lending scheme. Obviously, the banks that absorb the long term refund want a fair share and thus, in reality, the 110% funding schemes turns out to be more like 90% funding for the homeowner directly. It’s still a great deal of help, and knowing that you pay 10% while the state provides the rest is a great feeling. Honestly, I think it’s a great way of providing work for builders, and really making home owners take that big step in making their houses more energy efficient. After three winters of struggling to maintain 17 C indoors as well as having leaking windows when it rains… I can tell you that we can hardly wait to see if we can go ahead with the project. I’m still warry of it not happening at all, there must be some small detail we haven’t understtod or taken in account. So far we have a team of a builder and energy consultant that are taking care of the small details, planning and legal part. We’ve got the details from the bank and quotes for new windows and doors. But I won’t party before it’s all done.

Meanwhile, we inherited Elena’s mother in law’s old kitchen that is planned to be replaced by a new one. So we were delighted to fit it in our old space. It feels like having a totally new kitchen.

Rounding up – cycling, online teaching and some personal news

10,00 km on our Urban arrow cargo bike

We’ve turned 10,000 km on our cargo bike since it was bought in 2016. In reality we’ve done most of it (round 8,800 km) from the end of 2017. So that is nearly 3000 km per year, not including the errands we do with our ‘normal’ bicycles. 4 years without a car!

I’ve been saying for ages that we should add online materials for our students… this becomes a necessity during the pandemic. We’ve been rediscovering the potential of online teaching as we revert to individual Skype/Zoom lessons. But also the long forgotten video materials that can be used effectively as a support for our students in general. So it’s less talking from now on and starting to produce these videos we have been thinking about so long. Keep tuned!

Turned out to be a long post, so here is some personal news if you got all the way through to the bottom. Here it is: We are expecting a new baby girl next March and we are all very happy! The Old Stable project is expanding its membership. So far Elena and baby are doing well, we could just recently start feeling her kicks.

Collecting honey from the previous year… hoping the next year gives us more!

Hoping the new year brings lots of excitement and satisfaction. In the Jewish tradition on new year’s day it’s custom to dip an apple in honey to wish for a new year full of blessings and honey.
Jewish New year, falls after the end of summer after honey is collected so it nicely reflects nature’s gifts of the previous year.

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!

The Old Stable during the coronavirus crisis – March 2020

It hasn’t been long since I wrote but yet things seems to have changed so dramatically since then. The coronavirus crisis was just beginning to unfold in our territory a few weeks ago and it was difficult to imagine or accept that things are going to change drastically in such a short time.
As I’m writing these lines, we are in the midst of a nearly total lock down of our region.

Hey, don’t blame me! Covid-19 is not the bird flu!

At first, we all rose eyebrows when half baked measures were put in place by the national and regional governments (only schools to close but not big ones, then theatres and cinemas to close but bars and pubs were OK to be kept open).. slowly the half baked measures turned a little absurd: yes, we can hold classes but the distance between people should be around 1 m… I was invited to an interview in a company for a short consultancy contract and was asked to keep a mask on, while everyone else in the room could walk freely).

Probably when the real emergency and it’s impact on the national health system started being perceived by the government and then somehow explained to the people, it was clear that only a harsh isolation and social distancing strategy can help curb the peak of cases and ease the pressure on the hospitals. I guess that many around us (to the anger of those who abide to the guidelines) still don’t understand the importance of keeping the social distancing rules for the benefit of us all and many have hopes that it will be a short period (the more I read, I understand that this might well become a new norm with only partial relief and then closure again). It has become nearly a national unification slogan: IO RESTO A CASA (I stay at home). If you are not in Italy now and think that this is all alien, just wait a bit. My bets are it’s going to hit us all.

Having our own chickens that provide us with fresh eggs is a great satisfaction, especially during the coronavirus crisis. They are also great intelligent pets

As for dealing with the social distancing and isolation, we are fortunate to: have already adopted an un-schooling approach to education, live in the countryside, have a big garden, own chickens and make our own bread.

Our vegetable plot, preparing for planting

We still have to go out to buy food but we really minimize this by sending only one of us adults and going only once a week for our vegetable shopping, preferably avoid supermarkets and buy from what remains of the veg market on Wednesday. We also do the shopping for my mother-in-law and leave the bags at the gate – exchanging just a short conversation outside and with a big distance between us.

The new compost system

So what do we do in The Old Stable? well as far as teaching goes, although we had to shut down completely all activities, we try our best to get the most out of online teaching. I don’t think it works well with our children classes who really need the contact and physical movement (I found that I can do a few songs with movement but tough to keep it going for an hour). I also feel bad to keep children even more time in front of the screen when they are, most probably, already overwhelmed by online teaching imposed by the state school. With the adults it seems to work and it’s important to keep that constant exposure to English. I use the zoom platform and share my screen with the students while I open a word document. It’s an interesting experiment as there are actually advantages to online language teaching: by typing as they speak (and they can see what I write), I can actually maximize the amount of student speaking time. The flip side is that I decrease student speaking opportunities as it’s impossible to make them work in pairs and over hear their dialogues to collect comments for a feedback stage. It’s the third week we’ve being doing this… so let’s see how the students feel.

Using a combination of a super efficient manual lawn mower and a scythe prevents us from being reliant on electricity or fuel for working in the garden

Apart from the fear of getting someone vulnerable that we know sick, the worry about the post -crisis economical situation and work opportunities or getting the virus ourselves, I think that we really do see a lot of positive sides to this crisis.

  • We have much more time in the garden. With the extra motivation to become even more self reliant, we have started to prepare extra plots for planting and growing our own. The hops are starting to sprout from the dormant rhizomes beneath and the bees are starting to go out to collect pollen from the early blossom.
    I’ve upgraded our compost system to include two extra mulching basins all from old vine poles that were given to us last year to burn in the stove (The wood is treated, so we couldn’t do that!)
  • Things that people used to laugh about (we even laugh about ourselves) started proving useful, like using the scythe and a manual lawn mower! No electricity and no fuel. I am actually amazed by the capabilities of the lawn mower: it can really cut easily and evenly. The scythe is good for the really tall grass we left to grow too long or for the difficult corners that the lawn mower can’t reach.
More time for music!
  • We have much more time to play music! We even started a challenge where we record daily a tune and post it on Youtube… here’s the one of Day 1:
  • We have more time to reflect in general, think about how to evolve for the new life that is bound to start after this international crisis
  • On the philosophical level: there is much less consumerism, less air pollution, less non essential waste in this period. Will it be an opportunity for everyone to reflect on this and maybe change their habits?
Our middle child, reflecting on the world from the best place possible

We hope we all come stronger from this crisis. Keep you posted soon!

Phrase of the month: Keep Calm and Carry On

La frase del mese: Keep calm and Carry onMantieni la calma e vai avanti
Ascolta la frase qui sotto:

Keep Calm and Carry On!

In a nutshell – (principianti)

to keep (v) – mantenere: (keep, kept, kept)
Calm (adj) – calma
to carry on (phrasal verb) – continua fare qualcosa. (Carry, carried, carried)

Don’t worry about the news! just keep calm and carry on!

A: Yesterday, I saw a thief getting out of a shop!
B: What did you do? Did you call the police?
A: I was scared for my life! I just kept calm and carried on walking!

Una frase coniata in Gran Bretagna durante la seconda guerra mondiale per un poster del ministero dell’informazione in caso di invasione nazista… leggi piu sotto in Inglese per capire perché ho scelto questa frase.

A little more…

Back in 1939 when Britain was on the break of war with Germany, The Ministry of Information (MoI) came up with slogans to motivate the public in case of dangerous developments. The slogan wasn’t actually circulated that much during the war, but enjoyed a revival during the early 2000s. Much was written about how the slogan became a fashion trend and how it has been used in the past 20 years.
I chose this slogan because there is a sense of emergency and public panic surrounding the Coronovirus outbreak.

Further reading…

Other people have written much better than me on the topic and I think it’s worthwhile investigating a little more. Especially around the overuse of the phrase 🙂
Bellow are some further readings I’ve enjoyed.

  1. The actual history of the slogan and the poster from the University of London:
  2. On how the slogan enjoyed a revival during the early 2000s icluding a nice reference to a book about how people feel nostalgic towards things they have never experienced!
  3. Recently, about how the slogan might have originated during the first world war exactly to address the panic surrounding the Spanish flu!

New year’s resolution 2020 and updates

I’ve broken my record with the longest period in which I do not write or update our blog. Even WordPress has started sending me suggestions on how to keep the flow going. There were a few reasons that kept me from writing but it’s definitely no good excuse. Now that we are in the midst of the Coronovirus mania, it’s probably a good time to show a sign of life and restart our online sharing. I hope that the following thread will shed some light on our long awaited developments.

Looking at the horizon, somewhere before the winter season

As the title suggests, this post should be mainly about New Year resolutions… I know that resolutions should be made on a regular basis without the need to wait for that dead period between Christmas and the changing of the numerical indicator of the year. However, that is what was on my mind at the time of starting this post (yup, that was nearly three months ago!) so I’ll start here with a list that I had been working on since. For me, sharing it in public means that I am voluntarily held accountable if I do not follow through (that is the only reason I can see for telling everyone about my resolution). Here is the list with some tangible objectives.

  • Write more frequently on the blog, (obviously!) – ideally once a month, at the very least. I’d like also to use facebook more regularly with posts such as ‘song/word/phrase of the week’. Not just for getting more online presence but to actually give our students the opportunity to interact more regularly also at distance.
  • Develop some on-line materials for our English teaching activities.
    This could include short videos or pod casts, short quizzes and short reading comprehensions. Let’s start simple with a short video/pod cast by the start of Spring.
  • Write more about the connection between our musical adventures and our approach to teaching and learning a new language.
  • Be more supportive (or as Elena puts it: less judgmental) with Elena’s political adventures. My main objective here is to keep silent both at home and online… so if you see me start a rant on how politicians deserve a kick.. stop me.
  • On the side of experimenting with self production: I’d like to build an extra bee hive and prepare all the necessary wooden frames for honey storage. There is not much time left as this should be completed by the beginning of the Spring season.
  • Make more beer! (see updates below)
  • Arrange our first English summer camp – June 2020…

As for updates and what has kept us busy in the last few months (last post was at the end of November 2019). I’ll stick with bullet points to organize this better.

Curiosaki with his new friend Nerrottolo. Putting the photos of our old cats would have been too heartbreaking
  • We suffered a big loss with the death of Nonna Margheritta, Elena’s grandma. It was a pretty tough period for all.
  • We suffered losses of two cats, both run over by cars. It was a big trauma but we still have Curiosaki and found him a new friend.
  • Elena’s political adventures are not as simple as we thought it to be (or at least I haven’t expected it to be that bad). There is a toll on our family life but after the first three months we have still decided to do our best to help Elena complete a few personal tasks. Often the price for being in politics doesn’t seem to pay off. Elena is required to keep a low profile on many fronts and as a consequence I’ve also had to cut back and stay away from any social activism. My fuses are shorter and I can’t hide my frustration as well as Elena can. I’ll cut this point short to adhere to my new year resolution above (resolution number 4).
  • We branched out to teaching in a small company in Nonantola. It’s a lot of fun! With mixed abilities but all very enthusiastic and collaborative.
  • As a consequence to the new course in Nonantola, Elena had to start taking two of our kids to the violin lessons in Bologna. Now Elena follows the little one with his violin lessons and started playing the violin too! That’s a huge step forward for integrating everyone in our musical education efforts.
  • Winter has been mild in temperatures and little rain fall. Maybe it’s our climate alarmism but I fear a hot summer with tropical storms as we had last year. The batch of chickens that had replaced the flock that suffered the fox and storm has grown and they have just recently started laying eggs (nearly 9 a day!). I care for them deeply and hope they survive the coming summer.
  • We had mice in the attic (yes! in our brewery!) We found out that they probably nibbled a hole through the cement around a gas pipe and then entered the inner insulation that we installed two years ago. Hole is blocked by we are still looking out for them. The brewery has been cleared, infected malt sacks been given to the chickens and now it’s ready for a thorough clean before we start brewing again.

So that’s it for now… I hope coming back here soon with more updates and photos.

Babbo Natale is coming to town, Venerdi 20 Dicembre 2019, 17:00!

‘Father Christmas’ o ‘Santa’ (se lo conoscete in quel modo) verrà a The Old Stable con una missione speciale! Vuole condividere le sue canzoni inglesi che canta costantemente con i suoi elfi e renne quando si prepara per il suo giro annuale sulla sua slitta. Ma soprattutto, vuole sentire tutti i desideri non materialistici che avete per questo Natale in arrivo! I suoi aiutanti saranno qui per darvi una mano a scriverli o spiegarli in un disegno. Dopodiché, Babbo Natale ascolterà la tua spiegazione e farà del suo meglio per realizzarla. Aiuterà se lo dici anche ai tuoi genitori 😉

Father Christmas or Santa (if know him that way) is coming to The Old Stable with a special quest! He wants to share his English songs he constantly sings with his elves and reindeer when he prepares for his annual ride on his sledge. But most of all, he wants to hear all of the non-materialistic wishes you have for this coming merry Christmas! His helpers will be here to give you a hand in writing them down or explaining them in a drawing. Then Father Christmas will be listening to your explanation and make his best efforts to make it all come true. (It will help if you tell your parents about it too 😉

When? Quando?

Friday 20th of December! from 17:00
Venerdi 20 Dicembre da 17:00

Where? Dove?

In The Old Stable, via Imperiale Est 41, gaggio di piano, Castelfranco Emilia

How much? Quanto?

It’s FREE!

Attenzione: si prega di registrare gli interessi qui sotto (posti limitate)

October month activities in The Old Stable 2019

We are off to a good start of the year, and it’s a pleasure to write about it!

Leaving aside the upheavals of having a wife that is immersed in local politics head to toe, exactly when it is time to role up the sleeves to get the academic year started, we had a nice turn up for our first week of courses. If you are wondering about the open day that took place at the end of September, the turn up wasn’t that high but those that came showed a genuine interest and most took up courses with us on the day. It was more of a chitchat and showing around our unique countryside atmosphere in the classroom.

Old Stable groups 2019-20

So what have we, so far?
Our hit from the very first year: Play and Rhyme Time is running on Mondays, Elena is having this one and so I’m a little bit missing on the fun.
New are two adult beginners courses of Chat and Laugh on Mondays and Tuesdays (and we thought that we will only have children!) – those are proving very satisfying. We really appreciate people coming over to our classes after a long day of work and so make the best to make it fun and relaxing.

Our new parking sign after the willow tree had to be taken down.

On Tuesdays we have one relatively small Children’s group (Fun Time). They consist of children in the early ages of primary school and we get to sing, play card games and just have fun in English. Thursday is one of my favorites, not only because it’s nearly the end of the week but because I have a small group of D&D players in secondary school and high school. It’s hard to get them engaged in reading and writing (hopefully I’ll report on their progress soon) but the spirits are good and I can see that they are slipping into the fantasy world. I see this (getting them interested in old style role playing games) as a goal by itself, nowadays with all the play stations and on-line gaming opportunities (nothing against it, but I still think the face to face encounters are better).

Last but not least on Thursdays is my Tea and Talk group. A bunch of young to middle aged adults who come here for the joy of speaking English and having fun. Sometimes, I feel embarrassed that I get paid for this job, it’s so much fun!!! This year there is a higher turn over to the Tea and Talks course and it seems things just flow with the group. This gives me inspiration to think about how we can make it even better and I really hope launching our students-blog project soon (yes, I hope getting our students contributing to our blog in some way). Writing is definitely an essential tool to get one’s language skills advanced quickly (I for my share, admit not doing enough of this in Italian. When I do make the effort, I do feel the improvement quite immediately)

New external course with CEMI, Bologna

We are proud to launch our first external course starting January 2020! We will be hosted by our Children’s music school in Bologna!

CEMI, Bologna is both a Suzuki and traditional music school catering children and their families and has recently moved its premises to the church of San Donnino in Bologna after a long period in which it struggled to rent a decent place. So excited to being part of their project! please read here more, especially if you know of anyone in the area that might be interested.
Our open Day in San Donnino will be on Monday, 16h of December.

Gearing up for Christmas! (so soon?) – 20th December

Santa is coming to the old stable : Saturday 20th of December!

Don’t get me started, I know Halloween was just here a month ago with all its commercial greed. Am I already going on about Christmas?! Well, yes, but hold your horses (reindeer). For Halloween we dedicated a lesson or two to introduce the Anglo-Saxon culture and get our students to know some spooky related vocab. Very few know the stories behind Halloween or why people carve Jack’o’lanterns out of pumpkins (it wasn’t originally so). So we did our best to give the cultural background,

For Christmas we are planning to do something special. We are inviting the English father Christmas to our stables. A few of his helpers will hold a workshop on writing a non materialistic wish lists and Christmas songs! Fancy that. Save the date: Friday 20th of December! Not just for our current students. More soon….

Looking for more?

We are still building up our networks and have left Fridays for the occasional private lesson or maybe even more groups to open this academic year. If you know of anyone interested, please do not hesitate to give them our contact.