Days of Donkeys and Wine

February 21, 2013

How beautiful to see a lifelong dream coming true!

My friends Diana and John, who hail from Montana, had schemed and dreamed for years about how to make a life in Italy. Then in 2006, they bought a country property in Sicily (about 30 minutes from my village), complete with an army of olive and almond trees, and a roofless farmer’s house. They would arrive on the island for a few months every year to toil away on the house, staying till their money ran out. Then they’d go home to work some more at their jobs.

Italy makes you sharpen your wits. They battled the Italian bureaucracy and eventually nabbed residence permits and a power line to their property.

We drove out to their house last week as afternoon ripened into evening and clouds boiled in the sky. A chill wind rippled the olive leaves as we rattled up a long driveway. Then our eyes feasted on this:

A renovated stone house in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

A view of the back of the house.

A stone house renovation in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

A view of the front of the house. From left to right: Diana; Cynthia, a neighbor originally from Malta; and my husband, happy that he has no olives to take care of…

The house is still raw inside, but all the original stonework will remain untouched: niches, shelves, and horse-tying stones.

Sicilian Stonework in a Farmer's House, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicilian Stone House, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicilian Stone House, copyright Jann Huizenga

Diana and John plan to live full-time in Sicily, raising donkeys and making wine. After years of patience and persistence, their dream is close. Real close.

Complimenti, amici. Auguri!!!!


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Three Stripes of Color

January 31, 2013

Passing by this wall today, I was reminded that in Sicily, when you renovate your house, you don’t just pick an exterior color and slosh it on.

Your neighbors get to weigh in first.

You paint three color samples on a wall, then wait a few weeks for their feedback.

Stripes of Color on Sicilian Wall, copyright Jann Huizenga

In this case, the owners obviously (!) have their heart set on bright yellow, but the exact hue is up for negotiation.

A few years ago, my mason painted swaths of ripe peach, yolk-yellow, and Parmigiano on the side of the house facing my neighbor S’s house.

“Don’t choose the garish yellow,” S said one day. “Ti prego.” Indeed, it was she who would be most affected by the color choice as she stares right out at a large blank wall of my house.

“Which do you like best?”

“The light yellow.”

So Parmigiano it was. I was happy to let her choose the color of my house, as good neighborly relations are key to my survival here.


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Settling in Sicily: The Long Decision, Part IV

May 23, 2012

You asked for some more snippets of my New Life.

Here they are, with my compliments of the day…

Storage space in limited in the New Life, so pots and pans and bowls are stacked high on shelves.

My fridge is just a waist-high pull-out drawer. Love it! Nothing bulky to block the view from the kitchen.

My dishes are either flea-market finds (chipped & cracked) or from the remainder bin at the local supermarket. My motto: no dish or cup or glass over 1 euro.

I splurged on a few pots from Caltagirone, Sicily's ceramics center.

My heat source. (Sicily can get raw in the winter.) Dryers are not used in Sicily, so the radiators function as my dryer when it rains.

I couldn't believe when the electrician showed up with a huge box of outlet covers--I had my choice of about 35 gorgeous colors, and of course I chose green.


A hand with a menorah--found in the Moroccan desert--dangles from my closet door.

My narrow balcony holds a spindly olive and a puny orange tree.


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On the Skids in Sicily

March 9, 2012

Near the end of my house renovation in Sicily, I was so broke that I begged chairs that friends and acquaintances were tossing out and shopped the Modica flea market (the last Sunday morning of every month on Corso Umberto I) for doorknobs, lamps, and dishes. Even my garbage men knew to sift through their trash for the American lady.

I furnished the salone last. Its centerpiece is a skid. As in Skid Row.

Shamelessly scavenged from la strada.

(Brutta figura, Sicilians would say.)

I lugged it down to Giuseppe, my neighborhood carpenter, and asked him to give it a real good sanding. He did, and it shines.

Then I threw down a couple o’ cushions, filled up a bowl with oranges, added two found objects (Grim Reaper scythes), a pile of books, et voilà.

A bona-fide living room.

At night I light swarms of candles, and the skid looks like a million bucks.

Do you decorate with found objects?


Read more about my life on a shoestring in Sicily here.



Giuseppe, a fine Sicilian carpenter

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Restoring a Damp House in Sicily, Part 16

November 30, 2011

I don’t know about your Big Dream, but mine was born in a flash when I laid eyes on Europe as a teen. I gotta move here, I thought.

A decade or two passed. There was always some excuse: too far, too expensive, too late, too early, too impractical, too scary, too risky, too crazy. Too, too, too. There was marriage along the way, and it was too hard to convince my husband. The dream remained nothing more than that. A fantasy moldering in a dark corner of my mind. Another decade passed: 9-11, my mother’s death, more gray hair.

You try hard to push it away. To pretend a dream is just not that important.

Then came the day “when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (Anais Nin)

But it was a slow flowering; there were long delays and growing pains. That frequent feeling of What in hell’s name am I doing? What don’t I just go back to where I belong? 

I was looking through photos the other day and found this. It caused a small feeling of horror.

My kitchen 2009-2010:

Renovating a House in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

But I’ve learned: it is so worth letting yourself bloom.

There will be tears, fears, the gnashing of teeth. That’s inevitable.

Push through it and grow.

What a gift to yourself.

What are you waiting for?


My kitchen 2011

Restored House in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

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