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  • Writer's pictureCamellia Phillips

Reflecting on Two Years as Sicilian Homeowners

Updated: Jan 16

It is hard to believe that just over two years ago, on December 22, 2021, we officially became Sicilian homeowners.

In many ways, it feels as if so much more time has passed. In these two years, Marco lost both of his parents. I left my career of 20 years and started a business. We decided to put our lives in Brooklyn on indefinite hold and move across the Atlantic to the hillside village of Melillithe place where Marco's father grew up.

We never could have imagined such a dramatic change two years ago. But as I shared when reflecting on our first year as Sicilian homeowners:

How often do you get the opportunity to go after something big enough to change your life? And how often do you take that chance, despite the risks?

The past six months have been a whirlwind of travel, family visits, logistics, paperwork, and even renovations, which I will share in the coming weeks.

But for now, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the marvel of this single moment and everything it means.

Current State: Not What You Might Expect

When you tell most people in the US that you're moving to Sicily, they picture ancient villages, beautiful blue water, hot sun, incredible food, and long lazy afternoons on the rooftop terrace.

Well, yes, all of this is absolutely true. It is beautiful here. Every street and every stone tells a story. I cannot stop myself from buying mountains of fresh, delicious produce every week. Our rooftop terrace is stunning and much of the year the weather is gloriously warm (especially if you like it on the hot side).

Image of the author standing on her rooftop terrace overlooking Mount Etna, with the narrow street beside her house filled with scaffolding.
Our rooftop terrace is a work in progress

But our current reality is a bit...different.

Last year was our first experience of winter in Sicily, so we knew what to expect. Our stone house, built into the hillside, is like an icebox. These naturally cool houses are a blessing in summer and a bit of a curse in winter.

So we made solid plans to upgrade our heating with new mini-splits and a pellet stove (stufa a pellet). We also shipped over a couple extra boxes of our old wool sweaters that had ended up in my parents' storage in Colorado. I got myself a giant heating pad for hugging. And we bought an extra warm blanket to put under our comforter.

Of course, in Sicily, you must always expect the unexpected. This past summer we discovered a crack in our facade where water had been seeping in. So we added a full facade repair and renovation to our agenda.

Because of our plans to spend August, September, and October in the US, we needed to schedule the work for when we returned in November. Like all renovations, you never know how a project will go until it's already in process.

The Warm Room

Today, we're about four weeks into the work and nearing the end. As I write this, I am sitting in our bedroom marveling at the magic of even a sliver of natural light. The massive scaffolding in our little street and the work itself has required the house to be sealed up tight, shutters closed, and rooms cave-dark. For a couple of weeks, there was even plastic over the shutters, fully sealing us in. But as of the last few days, we can now open the shutters in the bedroom!

Ah, I missed you, natural light.

We have also nicknamed our bedroom "the warm room" because it's been the only room with any sort of heating for these past four weeks. With the facade work, all of the old mini-splits got removed, leaving us with our one plug-in oil radiator.

At first, we moved the radiator between our office/studio and bedroom. But after a few days, we decided to keep one room warmer (instead of two rooms less warm) and took up full-time residence in the "warm room."

In our temporary physical discomfort, we have laughed a lot. Laughing is much preferable to getting annoyed. Plus, after spending two months this summer living in the woods of Washington State without running water, we have perspective.

Image of a pellet stove with a roaring fire.
Our new pellet stove.

We are also so excited about how things are turning out. The facade looks incredible. A few days ago, we got our new pellet stove installed on our ground floor. It is not only warm but surprisingly beautiful and the flame is entrancing.

Within a week or so, we will hopefully get our new mini-splits (heating and cooling) installed. The giant scaffolding filling the street (and keeping the shutters closed) should also be gone shortly.

All to say, within a couple more weeks, we can finally start our "normal life" here in Sicily.

What Makes a Rich Life?

Earlier this year, some writing friends turned me onto a new Netflix series called "How to Get Rich." Despite the cheesy-sounding title, this show isn't about actually getting rich. It's about identifying what makes a person feel like they are rich.

Sure, plenty of people feel rich when they can buy big houses and cars and still have big bank accounts. But for most of us, feeling rich is much more modest. For example, maybe a person feels rich when they can cover all their monthly bills, save money each month, and still help their parents out financially. Maybe a person feels rich when they don't have to work weekends to cover the bills.

The show's host helps people figure out what makes them feel rich. Then he coaches them to better align their income and spending with their long-term goals.

In watching the show, it wasn't the financial coaching that stuck out. It was the question of:

What makes a rich life for me?

As we've gone through this year of enormous transition, that question has stayed with me.

Especially with chronic illness, a rich life isn't about having the biggest, most impressive possessions or adventures.

For me, a rich life is about having the luxury to find meaning and comfort in the day-to-day. I feel rich when I can rest when I need to without worrying about losing a job or damaging a career. I feel rich when I have affordable and consistent access to medical care and don't have to live in fear of losing that access. I feel rich when I can buy as much fresh produce as I want.

Our life in Sicily is simple. We have good food and good people around us. We have access to nature and history at our doorstep. We have daily routines that give us space to think and create and rest, too. This, for me, is the richest life I can imagine.

Gratitude for the Small Things

For us, this rich life in Sicily is made of many tiny things.

Shivering while cooking stew and laughing about how the house feels like a refrigerator, a literal stone ice box.

Then, a few days later, sitting in front of our stufa together, basking in the simple beauty of flames and heat.

Dashing up to the roof one night to marvel at the lava glowing on Mount Etna.

Running into our friend Rosanna at the grocery store and, when she offered us a ride up the hill, stocking up on our favorite canned corn.

Laughing with Giorgio, the cheese and sausage guy, at the weekly outdoor market.

Image of the author holding up a giant lemon that is almost as big as her head.
Gigantic lemon!

Learning new Italian words from the muratori working on our house.

Trying out a brand new dish the owner of our favorite restaurant in Ortigia created. (Delicious!!)

Walking along the sea when I declared that I needed "some time by the water."

Being able to rest when I have a migraine, with no guilt or pressure or apologies to anyone for being sick.

Trying to figure out tennis scoring with Ziu Angelo and accepting his gift of what may be the biggest lemon on earth.

Having a masseuse and fisio who both personally care about me and my health (and who I can see without fighting an insurance company).

Spending New Year's Eve and New Year's Day assembling furniture and watching a marathon of the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Image of Gandalf the Grey from the Lord of the Rings with the quote: "A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to."

It has been a long, tumultuous, often difficult, and always unexpected year. But here we are, officially full-time residents of Melilli, incredibly content to be starting our lives in our home in Sicily.

Two years ago, when we closed on our house in Sicily, we never could have imagined being here full-time already. But as Gandalf says, I can't help but think we arrived exactly when we meant to.

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Jennifer Stevens
Jennifer Stevens
Feb 07

Ha! I can totally relate to "the warm room" (thanks to you and your radiator recommendation). Also, holy lemon! Can't wait to get back to Italy for the produce. Love reading your blog!


Jan 02

You two are amazing. We are all loving your life adventure. More, more more...❣


Jan 02

I love this! I love you! I'm so happy that you have identified and OBTAINED what gives you a rich life! You deserve it! ❤️


Antoinetta Silicato
Antoinetta Silicato
Jan 02

I smiled while reading your story. I'm in Castelmola and while relating with some of your experiences, others of mine are quite different. Enjoy your life in Melilli.


Jan 02

Thanks to people like you and support of Facebook groups, my husband and I took the plunge and purchased a small apartment in Giardini Naxos. We have been visiting Sicily for forty year as my husband has family in Messina. We have totally renovated the apartment (still a work in progress) and we are so happy with the results. I love being able to just sit and look out at the ocean and learning how to practice the art of dolce far niente. I wish we could be full time residents but for now we are back and forth (kids, grandbaby, elderly parent). I am sure we will meet someday as we have mutal connections. Thanks for your inspiration!

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