When I started this blog entry in October (yes, my completer/finisher skills had taken a bit of beating recently) we were looking forward to a long winter break, some quality family time, plenty of crappy films, lots of cake. Since then three months have gone by, and we are open for guests in just 11 weeks. THAT IS JUST NOT LONG ENOUGH! I'll grant you, we have had lots of family time, lots of cake (you should see my belly), and lots of crappy films (God bless Kung Fu Panda). But I've not managed to get much of my big project done so far – getting us energy self-sufficient with solar electricity and bio-mass powered heat. More on that later. Because I'm forgetting something, I know I am. Something important, something big...some reason why I can think straight through lack of sleep. Oh, how silly of me. I remember now.
Yes, baby Max joined us just a few days after I started this entry back in October. I won't bother regurgitating the never-ending struggle with had with the hospital staff. It's ancient history now. Needless to say V has said "enough is enough", girl or no girl, I have recorded her statement, had it witnessed in front of a notary, and locked the evidence where she can't get to it.
But Max arrived whole, healthy, with a full complement of extremities, and V is fine – that's all that counts. He was a teeny weenie thing when he was born, under 3kg (that's less than a bag and a half of sugar in old money), teeny weenie hands, teeny weenie feets, big head (not a looker I'll grant you – we have no deluded ideas that he might wine any cute baby competitions or earn us any extra cash modelling, worse luck)...I could almost hold him in the palm of my hand.
Not now. No siree. Max is now a brute of a thing. Big. Really big. Remember Insectosaurus in Monsters V's Aliens? Bigger. V has a hard time keeping up and feels like she is being sucked inside out most of the time, but that's nature for you. He's gone from a wee thing on the 23rd percentile to a monster on the 91st percentile in three short months.
V is worried that she's over-feeding him, but I'm pretty sure he knows exactly what he needs, and makes sure we know it. And anyway, how else is V supposed to get through 7 seasons of Sex and the City? I wonder if this is the correct way to subliminally educate a baby...but V is bored of ER, so I guess he's not going to grow up a doctor. Oh well...
Harv, though initially not over-enthusiastic about having another little runt to annoy him (and I can see his point), is now a major help and shows wisdom and maturity well beyond his years. Most of the time. Sam hasn't tried to murder Max yet, but to the most part is pretty ambivalent, though he does surprise us with occasional shows of very cute affection. But he gets bored very quickly, and doesn't yet comprehend that this thing that eats, poos and sleeps (in that order) is soon going to be his very own little brother, someone to play with and torment in equal measure.
All in all, we couldn't be much happier. Max is sweet natured, smiles a lot, and has trained us to respond to his cute smiles and noises rather well. He doesn't cry much, and rarely 'purple-screams', something Sam would do regularly, just for kicks. We're tired, and today we're all home with bad colds so we're feeling a bit jaded, but all in all, things are going well.
Mustn't grumble, eh?
Clear it, and they will come...
Despite having a new baby to wear us down, I have managed to get one big project finished this winter. Those of you who have been here before might be aware that well beyond the swimming pool there's an old olive grove, abandoned 70 years ago. It was so overgrown that it was almost impossible to walk through it, filled as it was with lethally spiny bushes wielding 3" wooden spines that would puncture anything short of sheet steel. Even getting the tractor near it was next to impossible. And yet, from above, one could easily see the olive trees poking up above the 3m high brush. This is no small field either. About 5ha (15 acres) by my reckoning.
And it needed to be cleared. Land that is left to go wild can soon find itself reclassified as forest, and if that happened here our ability to grow anything except trees would be lost forever. So one misty morning, armed with my tractor, chainsaws, and 15 tonne excavator (it's big, really big, and very cool) me, my friend Ettore, his brother Stefano, and his cuz Mauro set off for the bottom field to see what could do in 2 weeks.
It was carnage. Image a bloody medieval battle, with all the hacking, gouging and gutting that goes on. This was nothing like that. But imagine instead the sound of heavy machinery bouncing back off the hillside, the insistent constant whine of chainsaws, and the constant smell of diesel fumes. We worked like maniacs, often into the dark (until we realised that walking back up to the house in the pitch black was more dangerous than juggling chainsaws).
By Saturday night when we took stock of what we had done, and what was left to do, we were amazed. The equipment had taken a pummelling (the digger broke down twice and my tractor managed to impale itself on a tree stump, though its injuries weren't fatal) but we'd cleared almost 3ha and resurrected the most beautiful olive grove. Many of the original trees were long dead, but we managed to recover around 100 old trees that, with some heavy pruning, should bear fruit again in 2 or three years. We also found a couple of rows of the original frees they used to use to hang grape vines on (before they started using poles and wires like they do now), with the ancient dead vines still in the ground. We cleared nearly 200m of old dry-stone wall, with some of these walls 2m high...how on earth did they build these things? It must have taken them years! And we may have found an old spring, though we have yet to finish clearing it properly.
On the Monday we moved up the hill a little to start clearing some more rows of olives...and then the rain came. You can't work with heavy machinery in the rain, way too dangerous, especially on the kind of slopes we have here. So we packed up our tools and called it a day. It didn't stop raining for a month, and even now the ground is way too wet to risk going back there in the tractor, but give me a couple of dry weeks and we will head on down there to finish up. I think we only need a couple or four more days, and a field that once looked beautiful 70 years ago will look beautiful once again.
[I'll post some pictures here as soon as I have found them!]
And the olives?
In a word, disappointing. We only managed to press 350 litre of oil this year, a third of what we managed last year. Everyone else is in a similar boat, so expect olive oil prices to shoot up everywhere, but when we are such a small producer in the first place, having so little oil is upsetting. We should be fine...there should be plenty to go around, but my hopes of establishing strong links with one or two large buyers is on ice, as no one, no matter how forgiving, can really plan their business from one year to the next when their supply is so erratic. I will need to plant more trees and slowly build up my supply capability before I can seriously position myself as a reliable supplier.
And why was the harvest so poor? Apparently, a strong wind blew in from the sea during the flowering season, and this salty breeze damages the flowers and prevents fertilisation. Allegedly. I know I lost at least 15% of my crop during a hail storm, and this may have been an under-estimate. Plus we had the longest hottest summer in 100 years, and that stopped the olives from growing and maturing. Take your pick.
Still the upside is that the oil is lovely: nowhere near as biting as last year's, but a warm, mellow flavour that I am very happy with.
Well, Sam started school. Traumatic. The first day was hard. Leaving your screaming little boy behind is unbelievably hard, torture. It is amazing how well are programmed to protect the little sods. The pull is visceral and real, and the need to hang about outside listening to him cry in the hope that he'll stop was too great. So wait I did...and wait....and wait...and after about 3 whole minutes, he stopped. Thank God. And when, as I went back to collect him a couple of hours later, he started screaming blue murder the minute he saw me, how bad did I feel? Quite bad, actually. Again, pure programming, my genetic memory saying "don't you ever leave the carrier of your genes with strangers who might eat him or feed him to sabre-tooth tigers".
But all is fine now, of course. He loves school, is slowly starting to learn the language, and is picking up lots of annoying bad habits from some of the spoilt Italian kids in his class. To be expected.
Kim left us at the end of October. That was really hard...tears all round on that one. She had become a real part of the family and we miss here sorely. However, as I speak V is organising our 1 week of holiday and if all goes to plan, we're going over to France to ski for a week in the same town where Kim is working, so we'll get the chance to catch up with her properly.
We wish her good luck cruising the seven seas in super-yachts next year...and why wouldn't you!? Good effort.
Actually, I don't have the heart to bore you with my woes on the heating plant and solar energy front, so I'll save that one until I have some good news for you.
Meanwhile, the weather this winter has been atrocious. Not much of the lovely snow you've all been telling us about (lucky sods) but weeks and weeks of torrential rain. The Christmas break was particularly horrendous, but here is a shot I took when we did get a bit of the lovely white stuff.