An Update on the Landscape Plan Very Slow Progress

This is the longest. most painful process we’ve been through yet.

survey tool

Given the slope of the property, having a good landscape plan is very important. We need to have various levels and will need plantings to soften some of the slope.

We first started in earnest on the plan during our visit in May, when we met on site with a landscape designer, Paula, and our geometra, Jimmy. We thought we were making progress on the plan in July when we had another site visit. Little progress was made until late September, but it looked then like we were ready to get it all put together..

Wrong. Now it’s November and we still don’t have the terrain map Paula needs to design the landscape. The latest holdup was caused by Jimmy not being able to get the special gps machine used to work out details terrain plans. Apparently, it’s in very high demand.

Finally, this week, Jimmy was able to produce a CAD file with the terrain. (You can get a feel for the steepness of the slope, especially behind the house where the contour lines are very close together.)

Detailed Terrain Map
Detailed Terrain Map
Click image to enlarge

Now the holdup is that Paula works only on paper and neither she nor Jimmy seemed to want to get what we had printed. Fortunately, Kevin stepped in, contacted the gps guy who had done the measurements and produced the CAD file, and got him to deliver a pdf version.

Kevin will pass that off to Jimmy and Paula to get printed on a large format printer.

So we’re not out of the woods yet.


Survey tool image: Copyright: phatthanit / 123RF Stock Photo
Terrain map: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Tiling and a Whole Lot More With Some Great Photos of the View

It’s been about 3 weeks since we received any photos. Anne asked Kevin if work was progressing, and he responded with a bundle of photos showing a lot of different projects underway.

The front of the house is looking very nice. Work is continuing on the retaining wall up the hill.

Front from Kitchen Side
Front from Kitchen Side
Click image to enlarge
Base of the Retaining Wall
Base of the Retaining Wall
Click image to enlarge

Tile is going in the kitchen area of the main room and on the marciapiede that surrounds the house.

Kitchen Tile
Kitchen Tile
Click image to enlarge
Tile Along the Back
Tile Along the Back
Click image to enlarge

The terrazza tile is done, and the views from the terrazza looking southwest are wonderful.

From Terrazza Looking Uphill
Terrazza and Roof Tile
Click image to enlarge
Southwest from the Terrazza
Southwest from the Terrazza
Click image to enlarge

Inside, the stone wall is grouted and the heating control box is connected to the underfloor tubes.

Interior Stone Wall Grouted
Interior Stone Wall Grouted
Click image to enlarge
Heating Pipe Connections
Underfloor Heating Pipe Connections
Click image to enlarge

Also, the interior is being prepped for painting, some of the bathroom fixtures are in, and utility connection boxes have been set in the ground outside.

Here are all the photos of the various projects underway.

All images: Copyright © Our Big Italian Adventure

Finalizing Our Lighting Selections Fixtures and Placements

We spent part of two days during our July trip looking at lighting at SMAL, a lighting distributor. We walked away with two issues: we couldn’t find suitable lights for some locations and the total price of what we selected was too high.

After we returned home, we did a lot of searching online to find substitute lights that were more affordable. Having a selection in place was a plus; even if we weren’t going to use a SMAL light, we had something to guide us in our search.

We focused on and searches at to identify some possibilities. After a few days of work, we found most of the lights we need. We ended up with about a 30% cost reduction from the original number. (Even after our searching, we had trouble finding suitable replacements for the low voltage cable lights in the main room. We liked the look or what we had selected, so we stayed with our original choice despite the higher cost.)

Then this activity went dormant for a couple of months, until last week Kevin asked us for our final lighting list. He wanted to know what to order from SMAL and for us to order, for delivery to him, lights from the other sources.

We put together a packet with purchase lists and diagrams showing where each light is to be placed. Based on the list of non-SMAL lights, I went online to make the purchases.

Fortunately, about 80% of the lighting we found was from Amazon. Fortunate because would let me order from the US for shipment to Italy. The other sites wanted a credit card with an Italian billing address. So we asked Kevin to order those lights himself.

Final Lighting Selections
Final Lighting Selections
Click image to see details

All lighting images: Copyrights held by maufacturers and/or distributors of products

How I Plan to Become Fluent in Italian in 18 Months (While Living in the U.S.)

18 month challenge

It’s time to get serious about learning Italian.

Eighteen months from now Emma will graduate from high school and leave home for college. At that point we are going to sell our house in Chicago and spend as much time in Italy as possible.

I don’t plan on being one of those Americans who relies on everyone else to speak my language. After all, a huge part of Our Big Italian Adventure is enjoying the people, and you can’t exactly do that if you can’t talk to them.

Ed is already way ahead of me. He has been studying Italian on his own for a couple of years now. He is disciplined about learning grammar and verb conjugations, which I am not. Also, he does Skype lessons twice a week with his Italian teacher on italki. It’s a great deal. He spends one hour talking with a native Italian speaker for only $15. I plan to do this, too, once I can string together more than one sentence.

The one thing I have going for me is that I (used to) speak Spanish. So many of the words are similar that I can understand a fair amount if someone is speaking slowly. Where the wheels come off is when I try to speak Italian. I open my mouth and Spanish is all that comes out.

So, I’ve given myself a challenge: I will be able to speak Italian by June 2019. Other than a trip or two to Italy between now and then, I will have to accomplish it while living and working in the U.S.

Here’s the plan:

Take a class:

I am taking a weekly Italian class at the local adult ed program. I didn’t sign up for the absolute beginner level because I didn’t want to spend the next six months learning to say, “My name is Anne. I am a woman.” So, with a little trepidation I signed up for level 2.

I’ve actually been to about four classes so far and I’m no worse than most of the people in the class. I enjoy it but have concluded that I’m not going to get very far just by taking this class. It’s not immersive or demanding or frequent enough. What it has done is give me a much-needed nudge to get started, and it’s given some structure to my study.

Add an online course:

The one I am trying is Duolingo. It’s free and it’s kind of fun and addictive because it’s structured like a game. Every time you give a correct answer it plays a little trumpet fanfare sound. As you complete a section you earn “Lingots”, though I am not sure what you’re supposed to do with them. It also tracks how much you learn and how long your streak is (days studying in a row without missing a day). You translate words and phrases from Italian to English and vice versa and it repeats them until you get them right. For me it’s a good supplement to the other things I’m doing, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own.

The other online course I tried is Italianpod 101.  I found it kind of annoying for a couple of reasons: first, because the dialogues are too short and there’s too much focus on English translation. Second, the two people who do the dialogues keep up kind of a goofy banter (in English). I guess it’s to keep things light and fun, but I could do without it. Plus every lesson starts with about 30 seconds of opera music before the dialogue. I don’t like having to sit through that.

Increase my vocabulary:

Ed turned me on to an awesome app called Anki. Anki is a spaced repetition system that helps you memorize things. It’s like flashcards on steroids. If the word comes easily to you it doesn’t show you the word again for a while. If you have difficulty, it will keep showing it to you every few minutes or days until it has driven that word deep into your brain. I love it. I have learned hundreds of new words in the last couple of weeks just by using Anki 10-15 minutes a day.

Another tool I use is Word Reference, which is an online Italian-English dictionary. I keep the site open on my computer so I can quickly look up words with all their various meanings and usage.

Train my ear:

I need to develop my ear for the language, so I listen to all kinds of things in Italian, usually when I am driving around or waiting in the carpool line. One of the first things I’ve tried is “Teach Yourself Italian” by Vittoria Bowles. I like the no-nonsense approach to learning the basics. I don’t have the book she references. I just listen to the dialogues and repeat as instructed.

News in Slow Italian is a weekly podcast about world news. The site has lots of other tools for learning the language and there is a subscription fee, but I listen to the news podcast on my phone and that doesn’t seem to cost anything.  It’s challenging to understand everything but they do speak slowly enough for someone at the intermediate level to follow along.

I also found a TV show called “A Good Season” on Acorn TV about a family of winemakers in the Trentino region. It’s in Italian with English subtitles. I tried to watch it without looking at the subtitles, but at this point I can barely understand anything. They talk way too fast. The great thing, though, is that I can keep watching the same episode over and over and then maybe I’ll start to get it.

Acorn TV is a subscription service like Netflix but with foreign shows and movies. It costs $5.00/month but there’s a free trial available. There are some great shows from England, Australia and other countries. If you liked “Downtown Abbey”, you should check out “A Place to Call Home.” But I digress.

Practice reading and writing:

At this point I am mostly using the exercises in the textbook from my class to practice reading and writing. I am on the lookout for some easy texts to read.

Take a week of full immersion:

I am considering going over to Italy for a week in January just to take a course. I would go by myself and take four hours of group lessons and one hour of private instruction each day. I may even be able to stay with an Italian family to make the immersion complete. My Italian teacher has recommended that I not go to a big city where most people speak English.  In smaller towns fewer people know English and they are much more patient with Americans practicing their Italian.

So, that’s my plan. If I can sustain all of this I should be able to make decent progress toward my goal. I think the key will be to do something every day, even if only for 15 minutes.

A (Major?) Wrinkle in Our Schedule

It looks like electricity is going to shock us again.

Shock from electricity

Our first problem getting electricity to our site was our need to put an access pole on our neighbor’s land. After a €1500 payment (extortion), we finally got this approval.

Now we hear that our electric connection is yet to be made, even though we started the process to get installation in November of last year. Kevin says the utility says it will happen in 30 days, but I don’t think anyone thinks this is credible.

This causes some immediate problems, plus it may affect the possible completion date of the house.

Francisc needs “real” power to test the electrical systems, particularly the pool and the solar and photo-voltaic panels. Plus he needs power to continue installation inside. So far, he’s used generators, but they won’t work for these purposes.

As he often does, Francisc came up with a solution to the short-term problem. Somehow he was able to get a “construction connection” under his name. That means the systems can be tested and the work can proceed.

Still, without the permanent connection, the house can’t really be finished. A couple of weeks ago, Kevin gave us a 90% probability it would be finished in December. That’s looking very optimistic right now.

Shock image: Copyright: joebelanger / 123RF Stock Photo