As I sit in my airport hotel reflecting on my house hunting trip to Italy I feel tired both physically and emotionally. I drove 21 hours, saw 13 houses all in 5 days. There were so many highs and lows. The obvious low being the house I loved on the internet and loved in person BUT the house was essentially on a cliff (despite me telling the estate agent I wanted at least 2 hectares of arable land), the realization that this house was not for us was crushing.
There were a few little highs but there was always a negative that could not be overcome - lovely house but the area seems depressed/run down.
The ultimate high took a long time to come but it did in the form of house number 13, this house has no website and the only way I learned about it was when I was sent a Word document with a few pictures from one of the many estate agents I was working with. It looked good so I decided to see it - it was amazing but not perfect. This trip has taught me that as I grow older no house will be perfect because perfect to me is not perfect to someone else. Here are the highlights:
So I am left pondering the question posed by my husband - is this the dream house? Does a dream house have to be ‘perfect’ or could it be 75% perfect but with a way to make it 100% perfect? The conclusion I come to is that CAN it be 100% perfect and I believe in this case it is my dream house. The things you cannot change (the location and land) are perfect and the the things that are not perfect (the house/outbuilding) can be changed. Time to book our return as a family in 3 weeks….stay tuned
I am off to Italy on Sunday with my dad (when you are 77 and retired you can just head off on these fun trips) to look at 12 houses in 4 days. Buying a house in Italy, from what I have been told, typically takes around 6 months from making an offer to moving in. I thought we should just sell up here in the states and head to Italy with our little guy and a few bags and look once we are there. My sensible husband thought it would be better to move there once we have found the house and made the offer, less disruption and ambiguity. I quickly got onboard with this new strategy and within 2 weeks of this new decision I booked a flight and have 15 houses lined up to see.
We are lucky in that we have a pretty good list of requirements for this dream house and I am pretty excited about the houses I will be seeing. The 2 biggest factors for us in choosing a house are that it must have at least 2 hectares of land and a large kitchen, ideally with a fireplace and sitting area. The need for at least 2 hectares of land, which must be mainly arable and flat, is a great way to weed out loads of homes. We are keeping the search limited to the areas of La Marche and Umbria which also helps keep the list of homes down. Umbria has many more times the number of homes for sale as La Marche but this is not surprising given the number of expats with second homes who apparently are looking to sell.
As I prepare myself for my trip I am reminded of the things I learned about home buying in Italy from a nice Italian man who I spoke to in May 2017. He told me that when buying a house in the Italian countryside your first offer should be 70% of the asking price. Houses in Italy can be listed with more than one agent. You can work with one agent who can arrange viewings of any house available on the market (including any house listed through any other agent). Once you are registered as a client of an agency though any house that they advertise you must see through them. This can get very complex when you are a client with 2 agencies and both of them are selling the same house. In a case like this you let them fight it out, usually they will agree to split the commission.
In typical ‘me’ style I decided to do my own research and am now working with about 5 different estate agents, I love making my life complicated!
Stay tuned for several posts next week on my house buying process from Italy!
Wow, how amazing does it feel to quit a job because you are moving to Italy...well only amazing when you have a back up plan clearly. In preparation for moving and quitting full time work I have been trying out various freelance websites like peopleperhour.com, Upwork and Fiverr. I created profiles on all of them in the past few months to see what kind of work was available and for what kind of money. I am both impressed and surprised by the results!
I first put myself on Fiverr, this is an ok platform but my experience is that there is more spam and in general the contract values are really low given they are based on discrete ‘gigs’. I then came across peopleperhour, this was better in the sense that the jobs were better and the rates we better but there were not lots of them. For me there were maybe 5 - 10 potential jobs a week although many of them were not suitable as the rates were too low. Onto Upwork - I am laughing at this now but I think I tried to get approved on Upwork for maybe 10 - 12 months, I must have applied about 20 - 30 times by changing my profile etc. In December I was finally approved and this opened my world to really great opportunities!
Fast-forward to January I have 3 really interesting jobs for 10 - 20 hours a week each! Good hourly rates, no commuting and interesting work. This is why I decided to quit my actual job full time VP of Sales role, no more people management, politics and commuting. I feel a new sense of freedom and ownership of my life. I also realize I might have over committed myself by having three jobs, I am clearly still dazzled by money but I think this slow transition will be good for me. By the time May rolls around (when we are planning to actually sell the house) I hope to be down to two jobs and then come August I will say goodbye to all of them. It is scary to not earn any money because you fear you will not be able to start earning money again when you are ready but I think that this process has shown that it is possible. I hope when we are settled in Italy that I am ok with just having one job for 10 - 20 hours a week, I just need enough to have a nice life - I need to get the American mentality of EARN AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE out of my system :)
Some of you may have read a previous blog about my love of the Italian agriturismo but for those you who have not heard of an agriturismo it is an independently-owned farm used partially for accommodation purposes. This means that this might be a place with one room/ apartment or 20, it really depends.
We have finally decided that we will put our home on the market in May and have made the rather brave assumption that come August 1st we will be bound for Europe, house free! We have yet to figure out where to fly, where to buy a car (or move our car - a new idea I need to explore) but we figure that this process to buy or collect our car will take about a week. So come the 11th or so of August we are ready to experience agriturismo life and so far the plan is to stay in various agriturismos until November. We are going to start with a 2 week stay in the Alto Adige region which is where you will find the stunning Dolomites, the stunning Northern Italian Alps.
Wow, is it hard to find a place in this region that actually has availability in summer! We love to go to this region to experience the summer hiking, fresh air and stunning mountains. Our first choice was to stay in a lovely sounding town called Castelrotto which is the largest town in the Seiser Alm region which is largest high-altitude Alpine meadow in Europe but alas for our budget everywhere is booked. After more research done, on my husband’s part we have landed on the town of St Magdalena. Check out this picture - not a bad place to stay huh! And, yes, this is the view from the place we are staying.
One great thing about these places in the Dolomites is that they often throw in these activity cards. For this particular location the card is called the DolomiteMobil Card which offers free use of public transport, free entry in over 80 museums, guided excursions and alpine tours, free use of the local swimming pool and free rides on the Seceda funicular! What a deal - can’t wait to get there!
Apologies for the silence for so long, life got the better of me. Also when you decide to move to another country your list to things to do becomes SO much longer. I am in the the process of trying to find a home for over 30 orchids as I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars heating my greenhouse this winter when I will be moving to Italy this year. This is just one of many tasks I am trying to tick off the list. Here in Seattle we have had some bad weather these last couple of months and we lost a lovely ornamental evergreen which was a good 30 feet tall, it is still in the garden along with many branches….more tasks.
With the start of the new year is the start of the real planning which is exciting, some big decisions and larger questions are:
The list really does go on and on. Some people might be overwhelmed by this but frankly I am pumped. I am going methodically check each on of these off the list in the coming weeks and months so that when it is time to go we will be all set.
My husband and I are lucky enough to be away on our first trip alone since having our son 2 years ago. We decided to head to Mexico as flying to Cabo is an easy flight from Seattle. We decided to come back to an amazing hotel which we have visited several times before. Rancho Pescadero, which is several miles outside of Todos Santos seems to value the concept of farm to table. They have an amazing Garden Restaurant which serves food which it seems is 100% made from scratch. They grow most of their own vegetables in a lovely garden of about 1/4-1/2 acre. They have just planted the crops that will see them through the winter. They are lucky enough to grow almost anything they need through our winter months.
I love all the various salsas that they pair with the various meals, everything has such a simple but fresh flavor. Ceviche is another delicious treat with the fish caught that day and paired with simple ingredients: lime juice, cucumber, avocado, red onion and tomatoes.
We have spent our first two days reading books, eating, drinking, swimming and playing Yahtzee of course. This time doing essentially nothing has made us ask ourselves, 'why are we waiting until 2020 to move to Italy'? The obvious answer is 'we need to have enough money' but in the last two days I have thought to myself, 'is it ever enough'? I have been conditioned to save and save and if I am honest with myself do I know when I will feel like I have 'enough'?
Doing some research on cost of living in Italy I came across this site: https://transferwise.com/gb/blog/cost-of-living-in-italy. Which clearly states that the cost is EUR 33,996 for a family of four to live in Milan (excluding rent). We are a family of 3 and plan to live in the countryside!
With this time to think things through and do a little research we have decided that 2018 is the new 2020! We will hope to leave the US in the first half of 2018, buy a car and caravan and vacation around Europe until November. We will then head to an Italian town like Todi, Spoleto or Perugia and hibernate, learn Italian and start the property search with the hope of buying a property so we can move in by the Spring/Summer 2019!
Wow, this feels great to make plans which are imminent!
As you might have read from an earlier blog post I pick my tomatoes, remove the stalks and freeze so that when I am ready I can make one big batch of tomato sauce which I will can and use throughout the winter.
We have had our first rain of the autumn here in Seattle and the temperature outside is a cool 55 degrees F so it is time to make the sauce!
This years tomato crop was not as good as in previous years so I suspect I will not get more than a few liters of sauce, darn!
Here is my process for making tomato sauce:
Canned Tomato Sauce
First I start by dumping all the frozen tomatoes in the pot, just to defrost them and getting them cooking takes 3 - 4 hours so make sure you are ready for almost a full 8 - 10 hours of cooking.
You need to reduce the total volume by 60%, crazy I know but tomatoes have so much water and you need to cook this off so you are left with tomato goodness.
Once you have cooked down the tomatoes to a thick mixture it is time for you put them through a food mill. My food mill has three options from the biggest holes to the smallest, I use the middle option. Once I am through with this process I always find that I need to cook down the mixture a little bit more. You know it is ready to can when you don't see a separation of water at the top and tomato sauce. I have included a lot of pictures to help you with this process.
When it comes to canning you need to boil a pot of water, make sure your jar are sterilized. I use quart size jars and before adding the sauce you need 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Fill the jars with the sauce leaving about ½ at the top. Put on the seal and lid and then process in the boiling water for about 45 minutes, leave them for an additional 5 minutes with the heat turned off before you remove them.
You should have a winter's supply of tomato sauce!
It is tomato glut season and I am lucky to love tomatoes! The weather is getting colder here in Seattle and we have had rain for the last 3 days. This weather makes me think about the cold rainy winter to come and that in turn makes me think about soups and stews, YUM!
With that in mind here is my recipe for an autumn treat:
Roasted Tomato Soup
Put about 2.5 pounds of tomatoes, 2 roughly chopped onions and about 6 - 8 garlic cloves (peeled) in a large bowl
Add about 6 tablespoons of olive oil and make sure that everything has a good coating. Once coated dump out the contents onto a baking tray. Cook in the oven on 450 degrees F for about 20 - 30 minutes, they are finished when the look nice and caramelized!
Once they are done in the oven dump them into a pot add about 32 ounces of stock, 2 - 3 bay leads and about 3 - 4 tablespoons of butter
Cook for 20 - 40 minutes or until the contents has reduced by ⅓, you want a thick mixture.
Remove bay leaves and then use an emersion blender to create a consistent mixture. Add cream to taste (I added about ¼ cup), salt and pepper….Enjoy!
I have been growing orchids for a good 4 years and it is such a rewarding activity. The excitement I feel when I see an orchid about to bloom after waiting sometimes up to a year is pretty awesome. I have added to the collection a lot over the years and have about 40 orchids now. I heat my greenhouse to about 55 degrees F in the winter which does restrict the varieties which I can grow. I don’t grow Phalaenopsis orchids as they cannot handle as they cannot handle temperatures this low.
I have a lot of success with oncidium orchids and grow may different types. When they bloom WOW do they bloom with sometimes 3 - 5 flower stalks covered in bloom.
Oddly enough I do not use any fertilizers at all. I use a timed irrigation on them in my greenhouse which sprays the entire plant, leaves and all. My goal is to create as natural of an environment as possible for them and the greenhouse gives them the level of humidity that they need.
Here are some pictures of my favorites!
After waiting about 3 years I was finally able to get this stunning Cypripedioideae orchid (Slipper Orchid) to bloom and then it bloomed for a second time in less than a few months, lucky me :)
After the moles ate all of my stunning oriental lilies this year I had a lot of space that I needed to fill. I love cut flowers so after doing some research I decided that I would give Dahlias a try. Did you know that the dahlia was declared the national flower of Mexico in 1963. Also, quite surprisingly, the tubers were grown as a food crop by the Aztecs, I love Wikipedia!
I have always been so impressed when seeing the striking massive Dahlias at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show that I used to go to every year when living in the UK. What always amazed me about Dahlias is that they are perfect, you can stare at them for minutes and still not find a malformed petal.
At the local garden center in Woodinville I was given the choice between close to 100 Dahlia options and frankly I had no idea where to start. In the end I bought a mixed package of Dahlias which had a label indicating that they were good for cut flowers. I also quite liked the idea that I would have no idea what the flower would look like until it bloomed.
WOW, was I not disappointed with the different types.
I am totally addicted to these stunning flowers and now I need to find out if they grow well in Italy too :)