Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Siesta time

We had a lovely week with Dorothy and Jean last week, managing to have some nice little trips out, including one to Bedar, which we had not been to before, and also spending lots of time relaxing outside and just chatting together. It was not ideal timing to add to our family the week before our visitors were due, but the little pups were really very well behaved, and the cats have learned to get along together, and really play well. They also share a bed and feeding dish now, until they are too big to do so any more.
So we thought that this week we should give them all some attention and try to socialize them all together. The dogs spend most of their time outside. Chris has fenced off an area where they sleep, and they only come in the house when it is too hot for them to be outside. We are outside ourselves a lot of the time anyway. Paco is growing fast and he had his second set of injections on Tuesday, so I am happy to let him out with the dogs. But they are only babies and they see him as just another plaything. At first they picked him up and I was afraid they would shake him and damage his back. But now, after a few minutes of pestering, they leave him alone. It's the much the same with Destino, but she is more feisty than Paco and she hisses and spits at them if they annoy her. But I think they would hurt her too if I left them alone. Early afternoon is the hottest time of day here, when we are all a bit sleepy, so I have been taking the cats outside then. Today the dogs bowled them around for a few minutes, but they soon got tired of us shouting at them, and flopped down on the porch again. Destino took refuge on my lap and Paco on Chris, and we all had a doze together. When Chris came in I went to get my camera and managed to get this picture of them all resting together, For some unknown reason, Chico chooses to squeeze himself behind the chair to sleep. Of course I had disturbed them by moving so they all woke up. Destino was about to get a good licking from Miki, but the crumbs Chris had left on the seat proved a more interesting diversion. Then Chico thought about teasing Paco and decided it wasn't worth the effort. When I had to come inside I brought the kittens in with me. I don't quite trust the dogs with them yet. But at least they are getting used to one another, and I am confident they will all be one big happy family in the end.
This is a picture of Destino as she is now, at three months old, and this is a cat called Bad Morrong Tarantino, who is her father, and a very handsome fellow he is too! I don't have a picture of her mother, but she was similar. So I don't know where all her grey colouring came from, but I think it may be why she was classed as 'pet' quality, and not for showing. Her pedigree describes her as 'dilute calico' and they are usually very pale. She is a soft little bundle of fluff, but she too is growing fast and is now over half a kilo, so is big enough to have her injections and other treatments. Surprisingly she isn't as 'cuddly' as Paco, who will sit and be stroked for ages, but they will both be welcome lap-warmers when next winter comes!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moors and Christians

This weekend saw the celebrations of the Moors and Christians, which is a fiesta specific to Mojacar, particularly the village of Mojacar (Mojacar Pueblo) rather than the beach (Mojacar Playa). The village is a collection of white houses, flats and hotels, divided by narrow, steep and windy streets, and it's set on top of a hill with an amazing view of the countryside and the beach down below. This expalanation of the fiesta is a direct quote from of the free papers and magazines that we can pick up in shops and resturants. "This popular event celebrates the agreement between the Catholic forces from the Kingdom of Granada who arrived on June 10th 1488, and the Arab inhabitants of Mojacar, whose Mayor Alabez met with emissaries and negotiated a peaceful settlement" Now you know as much as we did. The fiesta lasts from Friday til Sunday night, but we only went to the Friday night parade. You didn't need to know what it was about to enjoy it. The village plaza was surrounded by colourful market stalls. There were special street lights and flags everywhere, and folk were wondering about in costume. There was a lovely carnival atmosphere. Everyone was there to just enjoy themselves, including us. At around 8.00p.m. we drove to the back of the village and parked the car. It is a fairly steep, but thankfully short, climb up the hill to the plaza where we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine and watched the sun set behind the distant mountains. Then we explored the market stalls, and the narrow streets that gradually lead down to the village fuente. At around 10.30 there was the sound of blunderbusses announcing the arrival of the Catholic forces, and about half an hour later the first troops arrived at the plaza. Each group of soldiers had their own colourful costumes, banners and music, and most had a troop of pretty girls as well! The costumes ranged from quite simple cotton smocks to the most elaborate cloaks and head gear, encrusted with jewels and decorated with feathers and beautiful embroidery. It is impossible to do them justice here so I have put a selection of them in my gallery. The leaders of each group fired their blunderbus (they were all showing off the scorch marks on their arms and hands afterwards), and carried burning flares. Some were bright red and they illuminated the streets and left a trail of scarlet smoke. I love the fiesta music out here, and their were several bands marching between the groups of soldiers. When they were all assembled on the plaza, the two leaders did long speeches on the platform, presumably the reconciliation speeches, and this ended with some fireworks being set off from the roof of one of the highest hotels. I discovered a special setting for fireworks on my camera and I was pleased with the pictures I took using it. Then the people in costume mingled with the crowd, posing for photographs and talking to the visitors. Reporters and cameras were there so I expect it was covered by the local news. We went home at about 12.30 and as we walked back to the car we passed hoards of young people just arriving for the open air discos etc that probably went on all through the night.
On Saturday afternoon there were horse parades and jousting matches down on the playa, but it was thundery and hot so we didn't go down to it, and the main parade was last night when we were taking Jean and Dorothy back to the airport. That was actually quite good as we still have something new to see there next year, instead of just the same thing all over again. It was difficult to take photos in the flickering light. There was so much movement, and all the sparkles on the costumes reflected the light. But all three of us had cameras so I downloaded Jean and Dorothy's pictures as well as my own, and I have picked out the best few to make a 'Moors and Christians' folder on my gallery, (, so feel free to browse through them and get a better idea of what it was like.

Friday, June 19, 2009

'Three little maids in the pool are we..'

I'm stretching the song title theme a bit there aren't I? However the three of us (Jean, Dorothy and I) are having a lovely relaxing week together, and on a hot afternoon it is good to dangle our feet in the water. Of course the dogs didn't want to miss out, and Dorothy hung onto Paco in case he decided to jump in too. I still keep Destino indoors until she has had her next injections, and is a bit more able to fend off the over-friendly overtures of two lively puppies. We've had to rescue Paco from them a few times and I had expected him to be fine with them. Jean and I have now been right in the pool for a swim, and I think we may dip again this afternoon before we get ready to go out for the evening. The little dogs are settling in very well. They are extremely well behaved for babies, and apart from chewing up a few plants, they haven't given us any trouble. They are not fully trained yet, but we take them out as often as we can and we carry a few treats so we can reward them every time they do their business, so already we have less mess to clean up. Chris has built a fence at the side of the garage, and now he has put a gate at the other end, so they have a small run where we can leave them if we go out for a little while, and also where they can sleep at night. At first they kept escaping from it, but we have adjusted it to make it more secure, and last night they stayed in it just fine. They spend most of their time outside, as it is better for them. The two little cats get on together just fine now too, and we don't hear Destino squealing every time Paco goes near her. She is more than able to stick up for herself and makes sure she gets her share of the food etc. It is Paco who has outgrown his initial wildness, and he likes to cuddle up for a stroke. He has taken a shine to Dorothy, probably because she sits still for longer than I do, and he'll miss her attention when she goes home.
On Saturday evening we were invited to our local bar where the land-lady was celebrating her 50th birthday. There was a lovely buffet, and a live singer who sang all the old crooners songs from the 60's through to the 80's. He has a very good voice. He sings at lots of functions so he is quite well known.There was a good crowd there, and we sat out til gone midnight in just strappy dresses, and the men in short sleeved shirts. It was a very pleasant evening, and we are getting to know quite a few of the folk who go down there now.
We haven't had any long days out with our visitors, partly because we do not want to leave the pups for too long at a time just yet, but mainly because it is too hot to walk around in the sun. There have been some clouds, but the temperature has been up around 30º each day. We did drive along to El Calón to show Dorothy our old flat, and on the way we stopped at Palomares beach and had a paddle in the sea. Then we went on to Aguilas and had a drink at a street café, and yesterday we had a very nice 'menu del día' in Mojacar. This morning we didn't want to go too far as we knew we were going out this evening, so we set off to just have a mid-morning coffee at a café on the sea front, but on the spur of the moment we went inland instead to a small white village in the mountains behind us, called Bédar. The first time we went there, we took a wrong turning and ended up winding along narrow tracks with steep drops to the side, and I said I wouldn't go there again. But several people have given us advice since then, and this time we drove straight into the village. We took photos of the lovely cactus 'trees' that grow so tall from rosettes of prickly leaves. They look a bit like aloe vera but they are called 'something' americano, and they grow everywhere. Once they have flowered they die, but lots of small rosettes grow up around them. I have only ever seen them as the flower-tree is dying, but today they each had little tufts of bright green leaves on the end of their 'branches' and they looked so nice. We found a breezy, shaded terrace to sit on to drink our coffee, and the view was wonderful. You could see right across the valley to the sea. This evening we are going up to Mojacar village for the start of the Moors and Christians fiesta. I'll tell you more about that after we have been to it.
On the gardening front, things are continuing to progress well. Jean suggested that the white flower in our front garden (see my previous blog) might be a gardenia, so I looked it up on the web, and I think she is right. We also have white flowers out on the stephanotis now, so our repotting did it good. As you can see, the whole plant is covered in flowers, which, of course, smell beautiful. The ornamental gourdes I have grown from the seeds Tom's friends in Orgiva gave to me, are now quite big plants. They look a bit scorched at the base, but I water them regularly and have given them sticks to climb up, and today they have several limp yellow flowers on, so I am hoping to get some fruit soon. I think I probably left it a bit late to plant them, but we'll see.
I thought you might like to see this photo which I took when my visitors and I went for a stroll around the village. There are a lot of snails here, which surprises me. You would think it was too hot and dry for them, but there are always several on the side of the house, and on all the plants. Anyway we passed a field where, although the grasses and flowers were dead and brown, every blade was covered with snails, grouped together like bunches of flowers. I had to take a picture of them. They looked so very strange.
I am sorry this is such a long ramble, but I haven't got around to writing for several days, so I had a lot of topics to cover. I'll try not to leave it so long next time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bath time at the Perry Zoo

This morning we took the pups off to the vet for a thorough check-up. She said from looking at their teeth, that they are only three months old, not four. She gave them their first injections and wormed them. Then we asked if it would be alright to bath them as we don't really know where they have been. She gave us a bottle of shampoo, so after lunch we got down to it. Our outside sink came in useful and one at a time, we lifted them in and gave them a good scrub and hose down. Then we rubbed them dry and brushed their coats so they are a very handsome pair now. They were as good as gold last night and didn't disturb us at all. Chris got up early with them, and said he saw a beautiful sunrise, so maybe I'll join him tomorrow. They get on fine with Paco already and we are working on Destino. It's actually Paco who won't leave her alone, but I have them both in the room with me now and they have called a truce while they take their siesta. We'll get there with them all eventually.
Yesterday I had a busy morning before we went to see the dogs. I made some bread dough in my machine and then formed half of it into the longest 'French stick' I can fit into my oven. The other half I turned into a lardy cake and its lovely. I haven't made one for ages, mainly because the fat content makes it a rather unhealthy treat, but once every few years shouldn't do us too much harm! I also decided to have a go at some chutney. Pickles etc are very expensive out here, but I like a bit now and then, so I went on the internet and searched for some recipes. I settled on Hot Ginger and Chilli Chutney. It is based on lots of tinned tomatoes, but I used half tinned and half the over-ripe fresh ones I had in the fridge. These were cooked with sugar and then you blended together dried red chillis (I dried my own in the autumn sun), one and a half bulbs of garlic and lots of root ginger. I leaned over the deep jug I was blending them in and it made my eyes stream. This mixture was added to the cooked tomatoes, also blended, with some vinegar and they were all cooked up together for another hour. The result is almost a jam and it is not for the faint-hearted, but it certainly gives an interesting kick to a cheese sandwich. I shall try something a bit milder and fruitier next time. You don't always want to blow your senses away!
In the garden I am pleased to see that the little tree on the front patio is now in flower. I expected some sort of a bell shape; I don't know why; but in fact it is like a little white rose. It's very pretty even though so many of the buds dropped before they opened. The red climbing plant that we bought to go down below the back fence, is doing well. I now know that it is a Diplodenia, and ours has red and white variegated flowers. It is climbing up the sticks we put for it until it reaches the base of the fence. And the new bourganvillea, that was such a poor, weedy little thing when we planted it, is coming on in leaps and bounds. The first stephanotis flowers, round behind the fence needless to say, are now open, so we expect to have the ones round our side, open by the week end. The little dogs eat everything they can get hold of in the garden so some of our pots are going to suffer, but fortunately there is still plenty that is out of their reach.
Well the kittens are asleep on opposite sides of the room, the pups are flat out on the back porch and Chris as snoozong on the bed, so I am making the most of the peace and quiet to get a few things done. It is lovely and cool in my room at this time of day, so it is a good time for me to work, but I might just go and have a quick dip in the pool before I start something new.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Surprise, surprise!

I'm not actually sure who is more surprised, you or me! My two cats, one special and one a rescued 'moggy', were always part of the plan when we moved here, but dogs weren't. However we are really upset by the number of abandoned dogs there are out here. Some of these are from Spanish people who find themselves with unwanted puppies. They have a different attitude from us about animals and the vets refuse to put healthy animals to sleep, so they just dump them, often near a British house as they know we are more soft-hearted when it comes to animals, and we will take them and try to find homes for them. Unfortunately there are also a lot of ex-pats who for financial or other reasons, have had to return to UK, and if they cannot re home their pets they leave them at the rescue centres which are inundated with strays right now. So we talked about possibly taking a young dog in, as company for us, and to encourage us to go walking more. I know everyone thinks of me as the cat woman, but Chris has always preferred dogs, and has a particularly soft spot for Alsatians as his family had a beautiful one when he was a boy. So when we heard that there were a pair of Alsatian-cross puppies abandoned up at Cantoria, who were being cared for by the English lady who found them, but who desperately needed a permanent home, we said we would go and meet them. Of course I fell for the dark one which is a girl, (I think she is like a big teddy bear!), and Chris liked the lighter boy. They are used to one another's company and would have been very sad had we separated them, so we said we would have them both. The dark one we have called Michaela, but she'll usually be MIki, and the pale one is Chico which is Spanish for 'boy'. For strays who have looked after themselves so far, (the lady who found them runs a business so they have been on their own all day), they are remarkably well behaved and friendly. We think they are very trainable, and of course, we now have the space, and the time to give them lots of attention. Even with the kittens, they have been very good, and both the kittens stand their ground and hiss and growl if the dogs get too close. In fact the dogs get on better with the kittens, than the kittens get on with one another. When we first brought the puppies home, Chris was sitting on the floor with them and I brought the cats out to meet them. At first they both took refuge in Chris' lap and stared out wide eyed at these huge intruders. It's the first time they have shown a united front. But before long they were teasing the dogs and then hiding under something small where the dogs couldn't reach them. Both the kittens came from homes where there was a dog, so they are sort of used to them, and it seems to be making them more tolerant of one another. I even caught them feeding together this evening. You can see from this photo how much Paco has grown already. When we took Destino for her first visit to the vet, they wanted to weigh her but she didn't register anything on their scales. Even when the assistant weighed herself, and then weighed again holding Destino, there was no change, but when I got home I put her in a high sided basin on my cooking scales and she was just 460 grams, (around 1 lb). She's just a ball of fluff really, but Paco is quite a solid little body now. He weighed in at 996g, more than double Destino's weight. I can see we are in for some fun over the next few weeks, but I am sure very soon we will all be one big happy family!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Introducing the latest addition to our family

Well here she is. This morning Chris and I drove to Murcia to collect Destino, who is now two months old and ready to leave her mum. She is the funniest little thing, as light as a feather, and mostly fluff! She is everything that Paco isn't - short and round with short, stocky legs, little ears and a big round face. I had to include this funny picture of her. She is sitting on my lap and I just caught her on camera looking quite wild. Introducing her to Paco was not a huge success. Although she is only a few days younger than him, he is quite a bit bigger and she is more of a baby (Persians are slow developers. That's why she had to stay with her mum for longer than usual). She will almost certainly be bigger than him in the end. Paco thinks she is just another toy and he plays too rough. She can be surprisingly feisty and it was Destino who did the growling, but although she returned blow for blow, Paco has much longer legs so it was his 'punches' that found their mark. He would have made mincemeat of her, so we have had to separate them, one with me and one with Chris today, and we swap over every now and then so they get to be comfortable with both of us. Each day I will put them together for a bit longer and they'll soon learn to get along. When she is a bit bigger I think Destino will be more than able to stick up for herself. We have to wait for her pedigree forms to come through the post but I think her father was called Bad Morang, and she looks like him. She is going to need a lot of grooming so I will try to brush her every day so she gets used to it from the start.It has been very windy today, almost too windy to sit outside though I did manage an hour after lunch. It was my turn to have Paco and he was quite scared when leaves, papers and my wind chimes started blowing around. But it was still warm with just a few clouds. The setting sun reflected off them and gave us a pretty sunset. We haven't had many good skies since we moved off the coast so I'll put this one in. It's a pity about the cable across it, but you can't get away from them out here. I thought the clouds looked a bit like a map of UK. There is also an almost full moon tonight which I managed to catch on camera as it was rising, with the 'misty mountains' behind it. It was taken at 9.00 tonight, just as it was getting dark. I have just been out to take another one. The light from my window is just catching on the orleander in the foreground.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why stop at five a day?

I like Tuesdays. Tuesday is market day in Los Gallardos, so I stock up on lovely fresh fruit and vegetables for the coming week.Some weeks are a little disappointing and I don't see much I fancy, but I am usually tempted by something, and I like to try out some of the less familiar things too, though I do ask for advice on whether they need to be peeled, cooked etc. first. Now is the season for all the soft fruits which I love. I have been buying beautiful strawberries for several weeks and more recently, cherries, but this week I found not one, but three new items to try. I generally look to see what the Spanish people are buying, as they know when things are at their best, and today they were all buying these little red fruit, by the bagful. I thought they looked like plums, so I filled my bag and sure enough they are very sweet, juicy baby plums. The 'cherry tomatoes' of the plum world! Chris says they taste like the old fashioned Victoria plums. Next I saw these funny flattened peaches. I saw a number of people buying them so I asked an English lady what they are like. She said they are delicious but they don't keep well so not to buy too many. Well there's no chance of them going 'off'! They are so sweet and juicy, and have a lovely flavour. And finally I was looking at these little green things which seemed very popular with the local shoppers, and I was wondering what they could be. Two ladies I was talking to were wondering the same thing so I said 'Well let's find out' and I asked the stall holder how to say them - 'Como se dice?' Literally this is 'How does it say itself?' and it is the best way to learn the names of things without geting into a complicated conversation. He told me they were peritas. Well just as 'cat' is 'gato' and a kitten is 'gatito' or little cat, so a pear is 'pera' and hence these fruit are little pears. And that is exactly what they are, complete with an undeveloped core and flower. Some were going more yellow so they ripen without getting any bigger. I asked him if I need to cook them and he shook his head violently and bit into one to show me, and then gave me one to try. The Spanish are usually very helpful and if you take one step towards communicating with them, then they will come to meet you and be as helpful as they can. The fruit tasted like ordinary pears so I bought some of them as well. Then I spotted some ripe purple figs and had to have just a few as a treat for me. They are a different shape from the little ones I used to buy in England occasionally, but much sweeter. Chris doesn't eat them but I have always liked them and they remind me of Dad. Jean and I used to spend half a crown (a small fortune in those days) to buy him a fresh fig from a posh shop in Bournemouth as a Christmas present.
Of course, by the time I had finished shopping and had shown Chris all my 'finds', it was getting late so I fished the second half of last week's lasagne out of the freezer, and while it was thawing and heating through, I made a fresh salad. It's a good thing we both like salad as vegetables are not all that good now the weather is warmer. The Spanish don't use many themselves with their summer dinners and have salad instead, and we are doing the same. The sweet peppers are amazing and I always have lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes in the fridge. Add some beetroot that I bought fresh and bottled last week, plus a few gerkins and a hot pickled chilli if I can get away with it, fix two dishes of assorted fruit for dessert, put the kettle on to make a brew, and there you have it. A lunch tray fit for a king! I bet you wish your five-a-day was as interesting and easy to prepare. This is how we eat most days now though so far I am still managing to do a Sunday roast. I'm not sure I will do it for much longer. The kitchen stays hot for ages when the cooker has been on. Of course, the fruit dessert is not as varied by the end of the week when only the apples and oranges are left, but with such a healthy diet, it is no wonder people say we are looking so well.
Another adventure this morning was getting my hair cut. It had got too long and untidy, and it was making me too hot. I know an English girl in the village who goes to people's homes to do their hair, and many English folk think you should help your fellow country men (and women) who are trying to earn a living out here, but being a perverse creature, I wanted to go to a Spanish hairdresser. I didn't come here to live like I did in England, and the local people are suffering from unemployment just as much, if not more, than the people in England. So I went to a little place in a side street that I had seen with a hairdresser sign above the door. It was all shut up but a notice said to ring the bell on the house next door. So I did and I was greeted by a little old lady. I mimed having my hair cut and she called for her daughter who took me back to the shop, unlocked it and preceeded to cut my hair. We had a funny conversation as she spoke no English, and didn't always understand my Spanish, but I came out with a very good hair cut, and it only cost €9, so I shall go there again and hopefully I will know a bit more Spanish next time and be able to talk to her better.
I am sorry there are so many photos today. It all looked so lovely and fresh and colourful, and I couldn't decide which ones to leave out, so I used them all!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A step back in time

Looking at this photo you might think that it could have been taken a decade ago. It was, of course, actually taken just two days ago. I walked up through the village to the post office, and there was this lovely mule, complete with panniers, patiently waiting in the shade of a tree for his owner, who I suspect was taking his break at the tapas bar across the road. If I pan out a bit further you can see the modern cars parked all around him. Chris and I never drive up through the village if we can help it. The roads are very narrow and were not designed to carry cars, and parking is almost non-existent. Fortunately our casa is on the edge of the village and we can drive 'in' and 'out' without going 'through'! We were talking to a Spanish friend recently who grew up in Alfaix, another village just down the road from here. He told us that thirty years ago there were no cars in Los Gallardos, no electricity or mains water, and everyone travelled around on a donkey or cart. He moved away to Barcelona for his father to find work, but has now returned here with his wife and family, and he sees great changes everywhere. So I guess my photo would have a been a common sight a few years ago, and there are still a few of the older folk who follow the 'old ways'. It is one of the things that I like about our village; it still has its roots in the old traditions, and somehow the old and the new manage to blend in harmony.
Further news of our garden. First, the pretty orange shrub that we have planted in the front patch, which I referred to as 'santana' is of course 'lantana'. I actually knew that. It must have been a senior moment! Back on 21st May I showed you a picture of the shrub that has finally come into flower in its tub on our front terrace. and which I was trying to identify. Another couple, who are getting to grips with a big Spanish garden in Catalunya (my newest followers; welcome aboard Colin and Carol), have informed me that this is another Oleander. I was quite surprised as it is so different from the big shrubs over the back fence, but I can see now that it could well be from the same family. It is such a lovely colour and the flowers have a very pretty centre. It makes a change from most of the flowers out here which are often bright almost harsh colours. Here it is again, because I really like it. The strelitzia nicolai has continued to do well. It had three 'triple' flower heads on it, and it did seem to benefit from a light misting of water when the sun goes down. I'd like to repot it next year but it only has one crown so I will have to take some advice on that later on. And the stephanotis that we repotted has come on in leaps and bounds. It didn't seem to be set back at all by having a good third of its roots removed, and it obviously likes its new, bigger tub. It has new shoots all over it and is now forming big buds, so very soon we will have lovely scented flowers on it. No doubt I'll be showing you some pictures very soon.
Fortunately little Paco has decided that he is getting too big to always sleep on my shoulder. It is pretty warm for a furry neck scarf right now. I take him outside each time I go and he is getting more confident. He is becoming long and 'leggy' but he still has a tiny face and huge ears. He is a typical Spanish cat. He is very fast and follows me everywhere so I am always falling over him, but he's fun to have around.