Monday, August 31, 2009

Hail Princess Destino !

This week I finally received Destino's pedigree papers, so she is now officially Destiny de la Sagra. (For some reason they anglicised her name. She is really Destino, Spanish for destiny). 'De la Sagra' means Sacred. The breeding house she came from was called Persas de la Sagra, (Sacred Persians), so all their kittens have that after their name. So she now thinks she is a real princess and I have given her a crown for the day! For her throne she has chosen my big ceramic bowl, bought in Spain one holiday many moons ago, transported to England and now back where it belongs! It is on the little table under our window, so she can sit there and watch the world go by, and when she is tired she can just curl up inside it. She looks very comfortable. Paco would look very uncomfortable in it. He is long with a firm, lean body, and he prefers to lay out at full stretch for his naps, though he did obligingly open his eyes for the camera.
While walking the dogs this week I found another new flowering shrub. I've no idea what it is but I call it the thorn bush. One day we walked by a group of them and they were bare, except for the wicked thorns all along the pale branches. A day or two later, the whole plant was a mass of really pretty white blossom. Just another of the little surprises that make our morning walks so interesting.
I decided to do a bit of DIY this week. We have some rather nice faux-cane dining furniture on our porch, where we sit for all our meals. It is actually 'plastic cane' woven on a sturdy metal frame. Of course the constant heat takes it's toll on the plastic which gets brittle. The main body of the chairs is still fine, but the plastic that lashes it to the frame had started to break. The loose ends were an open invitation to teething puppies to chew, so they have been getting rapidly worse. The row along the top of the chair backs must have worn before, because the previous owners had done a very good repair job with nylon cable ties. You hardly noticed it at all. So when I went to the Chinese Bazaar in Turre this week, I bought a few pack of these ties and set about mending all the frayed edges of the chairs. I must admit I did a pretty good job, and the chairs are now as good as new again - until the next time!
We had a short break from our Spanish lessons during August, but we went back for the first lesson of the new term this week. Paco, our teacher, had been to England for the first time, with a group of cycling friends. They rode their bikes through the Cotswolds and the South Downs. They were glad to have Paco with them as he speaks such good English and he was pleased that everyone understood him. I asked him what he remembers most about England and he said 'It is so green' and there are so many cows!' Apparently all of them came back with loads of photos of cows. It is something you only rarely see down here in Southern Spain, though there are more further north. It rained on him nearly every day and he couldn't get over how quickly the weather changed. He said they had to keep stopping to put their raincoats on, and then to take them off again. It is interesting to hear someone talk about the things that we took for granted, but I remember the intense green is what struck me most the day I returned from Cyprus after three years away. We certainly don't have much green around us here right now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lights in the heavens

And God said, "Let there be lights in the heavens to separate day from night". These pictures were taken just as the moon was setting and the sun rising to herald the coming of another day. Getting up with the dogs between half six and seven means we often see the sun rise. Some mornings it is almost too dark to put out their breakfast which they eat before we go for a quick walk. Then they wait while we have our cuppa before they get their long walk. The system works quite well for us all. Sometimes the sunrise is pearly lilacs and pinks, but the last couple of weeks have started with some low cloud and the sun rise is more red and orange with a dark layer above it. We have been watching the moon wax and wane, and here it is on the 'wane' part of it's cycle. We should see plenty of stars from the village at night, but we have surprisingly good street lighting which often makes the stars harder to see. Anyway they have mostly gone by the time we get up again, all except for this one bright star which this week has hovered above the thin moon, and it is a lovely sight to greet us each morning. Of course the camera can't do justice to it, but it's better than nothing.
On Monday we waved Jonathan off at the airport. I had got quite used to him being around and it seems very quiet now. On his last day we thought we would go out for lunch. He wasn't flying until 8.00, which meant leaving here around 5.30 to get him to Almeria two hours before his flight, so he would miss out on an evening meal. We didn't fancy driving down to the sea as it is at its busiest this month, and the traffic can be quite bad, so we went in the opposite direction, up in the hills to Bédar, (the little white village in the background of my previous village view photo). We sat on the roof terrace of a very nice restaurant from where we had a view right across the valley and down to the sea. It was the one where we had coffee with Dorothy and Jean on their last day. We had one of the nicest simple meals we've had so far, on Monday. I would definitely go there again.
A couple who live in northern Spain and who follow my blog, were able to tell me that the pink flowering shrub all over the campo, (see the picture in my previous posting) is tamarisk. As soon as they told me I thought 'I should have known that'. I love all the flower names; oleander, jacaranda, frangipani, tamarisk. Don't they just conjure up pictures of tropical landscapes as soon as you hear them? They are familiar to me from the many novels I have read about life in distant places, but it is so great to be able to match them to their actual flowers. I am learning new ones every day.
Today, being weekend again, we decided not to risk the campo at Huerta Nueva for our walk in case they were out shooting again, so we drove up to the back of the village. It turned out to not be ideal as much of the land was 'privada', and there were several loose dogs around so we didn't let ours off their leads. I keep Foxy on a lead anyway as she decided to take off last week and wouldn't come when called. We were ages coaxing her back, which disturbed the other two who are very good at staying quite close to us. So I have bought one of the long retractable leads for Foxy and it gives her enough freedom to roam, without her being able to do another disappearing act! We walked up near the village sports centre today, and from there I took these two rather nice views of the village. If you look at the one I posted last time, taken from Huerta Nueva, this time we are standing behing the village at centre right of that view, looking in the opposite direction. Our villa can not be seen on either of them. We would be over on the left behind the square white building I think. (Don't forget, you can click on each picture to view it full screen. Then click on the green back arrow to return to the blog. If you click on the cross to turn it off you lose it all!).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Spanish supper

As Jonathan is only with us for a couple more days, and I knew I would be doing a traditional roast for dinner today (Yes I still do most Sundays, even when it is just the two of us. Old habits die hard!), I decided to make us a proper Spanish supper last night. And what could be more Spanish than paella. Non of us are great fish fans so I did carne solo (meat only), which is actually more traditional except on the coast. Rabbit is the really traditional meat to use, but, although I have some in the freezer, I forgot to thaw it in time, so I used chicken and pork with a little choritzo and morcilla, or black pudding. I used Valencian rice especially for paella, loads of garlic, real saffron from the market to turn it yellow, and red peppers, sweetcorn and corgettes to give it some colour. I put the pan on the table Spanish style, so we could help ourselves. Then I made a big jug of sangria, and we all tucked in. It was very nice, though I do say so myself. We sat outside with our wine until quite late and then Chris and Jonathan went in to watch football! At least it was a good win for Arsenal which will keep the men in the family happy.
This morning we were up at 6.30 as usual, and we saw a lovely orange and yellow sunrise. After our cup of tea we loaded the dogs into the back of the car and set off for our usual long walk with them. We take them to a place called Huerta Nueva which means New Orchard. It is a newly built urbanisation which comes under the umbrella of Los Gallardos, but it is separated from the village by the main road, and a long unfinished street. Basically it is a group of houses and apartments which would have been a completely self-contained community if the shops and bars on the original plans had been built. Unfortunately for the residents who had already bought properties there, the work petered out when it was only two thirds finished, so there are lots of empty plots of land, and no amenities at all. It is a long walk, but it is possible to walk, into the main village from there, so that's what they have to do. In the mornings we drive through all the housing to the top end where it opens out into fields and campo, which is where we walk the dogs. But when we got there today we found we couldn't use the usual route. There were several parked vans and trucks around, and from each one, there emerged two or three men, a dog or two and guns. It was obviously a big hunting group, maybe hoping to catch a wild boar. They will certainly get some rabbits. We saw a few around and they won't all make a lucky escape. So today our dogs had to stay on their leads and we walked them around the urbanisation. We drove all round it once when we were looking at properties, but we knew it wasn't what we were looking for. But, had it been finished off properly, it could have been quite nice, and it may well have some more done to it when the market picks up again. In the centre there is quite a lot of 'empty' land, which has been taken over by wild vegetation, and in the centre of that we were surprised to discover a really attractive ornamental pool. There was a small island which had a lovely reflection in the water in the early morning light. The water was very clear, but there was, of course, a haze of flying insects hovering on the surface. We saw lots of pretty bushes just coming into pink flower. They are probably considered to be a weed as they are very prolific, but I like them, and I am trying to find their name. There were lots of nice seed heads which I had to take pictures of. They are often just as attractive as the actual flowers. This little shrub was covered in tiny yellow thistle type flowers. When you see the cracked, parched ground around it, you have to wonder how any of them survive.
I took this view as we walked back down to where we had parked the car. The orange houses in the foreground are part of the Huerta Nueva urbanisation. Up in the hills you can see the little white village of Bédar. It is very pretty but the drive up to it is a bit 'hairy'. Between the two, the group of white houses centre left of the picture is part of our village, Los Gallardos. Hopefully the men will be back to work tomorrow so there'll be no more guns, and the dogs can have their proper run again. Maybe it is something we will have to contend with every weekend now. We shall have to wait and see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Granada, Granada!

Here I am again, with my second post of the day. Jonathan has been with us since late June, and mostly he has been just relaxing, and unwinding, before he returns to England to look for work, a flat, and more opportunities for his bands. That was the purpose of the visit, and he has enjoyed his 'time out'. He has done a lot of swimming, up in the big village pool and in ours, and has also done some gardening work for us, and enjoyed a couple of days and evenings out with Mike and family. But we did promise to take him to Granada City before he goes back and we nearly ran out of time as he is now going home earlier than he intended, on 17th, next Monday. This is partly because the air fares are going up every day, and also because there is suddenly a lot going on for one of his bands and he needs to get back to be a part of it. So yesterday we got up and gave the dogs their long walk, and then we had a quick breakfast and hit the road. It is a 2½ - 3 hour drive so it was late morning when we arrived in Granada. We have never been to the city but Tom loves it and he was able to give us some useful advice and maps. It is a lovely city with some fine architecture, and lots of flowers, plazas and fountains to break up the rows of tall buildings. We found the cathedral, but as we didn't have a lot of time we didn't go inside. That is something we can do on another visit. All around the cathedral area there are narrow lanes of small 'tourist' shops and long alleys of Moroccan bazaars selling silk kaftans, leather goods, jewellery, pottery and spices and teas. The colour and smells were lovely. The wider roads had canopies spread between the tall buildings which provided wlecome shade without making it feel too enclosed. Jonathan managed to find the gift he wanted for Chloe and something for himself with his birthday money. Then we sat at a nice shady café on a plaza and had lunch. Although it was by now the hottest part of the day, we decided to follow a footpath that Tom had told us about. It wound up through narrow cobbled streets through the Moroccan quarter. There was a Moorish influence to many of the buildings. One house, with an Arabic inscription around the arched gateway, had this lovely tiled courtyard. The roads were too narrow for cars to use, so I'm glad I don't live up there. We fortified ourselves with ice-creams half way up, and at the top we were rewarded with magnificent views over the valley to the Alhambra palace. There was a man up there playing a guitar and singing Spanish songs, and another who was using a magnifier to paint intricate pictures onto smooth stones which he then made into pendants. We sat on the plaza for a while and had a cold drink and then made our way back down the lanes to the car for the long drive home. We were back around seven and the dogs were ecstatic to see us. We have never left them for that long before, but at least they had one another for company, and they now know that we will come back.
We all liked Granada. I guess it will take a few more visits before we really know our way around, but we have had a 'taster' of what it is like. I shall of course be putting some photos on my gallery very soon. (I'd better go and do the weekend shopping first), and also the dog-walking ones I promised in a previous blog.

Family time

Hi everyone. I have been too busy to post a blog for a while so today, as I am covering two very different subjects, I am going to do two blogs. Make the most of it. I don't know when the next one will be!
We have just spent a very pleasant ten days with Mike and his family. They always come to this
region for their summer holiday, usually to Roquettas del Mar, just the other side of Almeria city, so this year they came to stay with us instead. It is good that we have enough space to put them all up as well as Jonathan, without too much upheaval. It was, of course, very hot for their visit, but they seemed to cope with that very well. They were able to enjoy the same things that they would usually do, a trip to Mini-Hollywood, which is a theme park in the Tabernas dessert where the spaghetti westons were filmed, a day at the water park which Jonathan also enjoyed, as well as trips to the beach, meals out etc. The boys just loved going in our pool and they are both very water confident. Oliver did his ten meter badge at home before he came, but by the time he went home he had swum 90 meters straight off; that's three lengths of the big village pool. And Finlay, who is not quite three yet, swam a whole length without stopping, with his arms bands on. They were allowed in our pool at any time as long as there was an adult outside with them, and they enjoyed swimming after dark with the under water light on. Most of the time they were very good with the animals and vice versa. It took a day for the dogs to get used to them, but they have never encountered children before, and they are two quite noisy boys. We kept an eye on Chico as he is big, and he did bark at Oliver once and upset him, but Oliver had startled him, so it was understandable. Finlay chased after Destino whenever he could and Oliver took a real shine to Paco who let him haul him around all the time. It was Jonathan's birthday on Monday, so on the Sunday night we had a proper tea-party which he shared as a belated one for Mike whose birthday was a fortnight ago. We had nibbles and a cake and everyone enjoyed it. Then on Sunday we all went out to dinner at a nice restaurant in Mojacar. The boys were not a problem as Spanish families all go out together quite late, so they are used to children in the bars and restaurants. They were tired by the end of the meal and started to play up, but it was very hot and very late, and we soon got them home to bed. On Tuesday Jonathan went with them to a beach near San Juan and they had a lovely time in a fairly lively sea, jumping off rocks and body-surfing. Unfortunately Michael jumped onto a sea urchin and got spines in his foot. He pulled what he could out straight away, and I managed to remove some more with tweezers when they got home, but one went right in deep and I couldn't get to it, and it is now giving him a lot of grief and he can't walk on it, so hopefully he will seek medical aid for it. They arrived home safely on Thursday.
We have continued with the same walk routine for the dogs and we now let them off the lead for most of it. They do come back when they are called, though Foxy is easily distracted by cicadas in the bushes, and needs to be called back more firmly. Today we had to keep them close to us as we could hear gunfire quite close by. We have them on leads as we get back near the car because of the field of goats grazing there, and today we saw three men and a lad with guns, presumable after rabbits. So we may have to find an alternative route at the weekends.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Short back and sides

We have had Jonathan staying here for a couple of months over the summer, and he has thoroughly enjoyed the sun, and swimming in the pool. He has done a couple of odd jobs for us, and this week we thought we'd make use of his tree skills. The lovely bourganvillea outside the kitchen window had outgrown its space. We were warned that it can grow very fast. It was blocking the gate to the run where the dogs sleep at night, making it difficult to lock them in at bed time. Also the flowers were dying, making a heap of papery bracts to be swept up each day. So Jonathan has cut it back hard, taking off many of the dead flower heads, as well as all the trailing branches. It looks so much better, and has made the side alleyway much easier to navigate. It will probably shoot again soon though. Then he trimmed a tall thin tree, also in the sideway, right next to my washing line. It looks a lot tidier but there was a huge amount of debris. Fortunately we have a big basura bin outside our gate which is emptied most nights, so we put it all in there and it has already been taken away.
The dogs are now waking up at 6.30 every morning so we have established a good regime. We get up as soon as we hear them and quickly give them their breakfast to stop them barking. We give them a very quick run, and then go home and have our cup of tea. Then we put them all in the boot of the car and drive them to somewhere 'off-road' to give them a proper walk. It is a lovely time of day, when it is still quite cool, and everywhere is so quiet. We rarely see another person, and the views are beautiful. I finally remembered to take my camera with me this morning, but it was actually a bit cloudy so the views were quite different from usual, but still very lovely. I am going to start a new folder on my gallery called 'Walking the dogs' and I will add to it whenever I see anything worth writing about. Today we could just hear the distant jangle of 'cow-bells' and eventually we spotted a huge herd of sheep and goats, grazing on some very tough, dry grass, while their herdsman kept watch from a nearby hill.
We keep the dogs on leads as they are not used to other dogs and are still wary of strangers so we are not sure how they will react when we do meet other dog-walkers on our rambles. Also most of the campo land has goats on it at some time, so the ground is covered with goat pellets which the dogs would eat if they were not on leads so we can keep them moving. Chico and Miki are strong so Chris takes both of them and I have Foxy, who, although she is much smaller, is actually the most active and eager to run and explore. She is used to running free in the campo and I am not sure she would come back if I let her off her lead. We have bought proper safety restraints for the dogs when they are in the car, which clip on to their harness and go into the back seatbelt fastners. They have learned to jump up into the boot by themselves now, and the restaints mean that they have to sit still, so they travel very well and safely. They are enjoying their long walks and so are we. It will be interesting to see how the landscape changes when the rains start up again. They are tired when we get back home, and settle down very well for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On a lighter note ...

On Sunday I went to church in a pretty green dress. Many people commented on it, and it made me feel good. Was it a new dress? No. It was in fact one of my oldest ones, and it has been so close to going to the charity shop on numerous occasions, because for at least the last five years, I haven't been able to get in to it. But I always loved it, particularly the colour, and at the last minute I would rescue it from the throw out pile and hang it in the back of the wardrobe, 'just in case'. Well now it fits me again, so I am really glad I kept it. I lost a stone in weight while we were in Thailand, but gradually I put most of it back on out here. But this summer I have made a real effort to lose some again, and I am just a couple of pounds lighter than I was this time last year. I have been doing a little light exercise before my morning swim, but unfortunately my airwalker gave up the ghost this week, so I can't do that any more. Also the hot weather makes it easier to eat less, and hopefully I will be so used to it that I will continue to have smaller meals even when it cools down again. I am thinking about replacing the airwalker with a Wii fitness, but I haven't quite decided yet.
The dogs are helping us to establish a good regime of earlier nights and early mornings, but they are waking up just a little earlier each day. It was 6.30 the last two mornings, and I refuse to get up any earlier than that. They are very good all day, and hardly ever bark, but when they wake up in the morning they do bark until we get up and feed them, and then take them out, so it is difficult to ignor them. Yesterday it was still a bit dark so we were able to watch a lovely pearly sunrise. There was just enough light clouds to make it look good. Once the dogs were fed and walked, Chris and I set about rearranging the patio area to make it easier for us to hose down and clean up after the animals. We have also created a larger open area for Oliver and Finlay to play in. Mike and Pippa are arriving tonight, at around 11.00, and they are here for ten days. Two small children and five young animals will either be great fun or a recipe for disaster! We moved some of the larger plants to more secluded places where they will not get knocked. Jonathan pruned both the palm trees for us and they look much tidier. Then we washed the whole pool area and finished off with a swim. This lovely dragonfly came to share the pool with us. He was quite big and looked bluer than this in the early morning light.
By 8.30 we were sitting down to breakfast! The dogs, tired out again by now, flopped down around me. They have several toys but the only things they play with are an old bar mat from the Oak, tied in a knot, and a stone and three pieces of broken flower pot. They had one piece at first and they fought over it so much, I actually broke a pot so they could have a piece each! They sit and bite on them for ages. I know Foxy has lost her baby teeth because I found one of them, and I guess the others are teething too. You can see in these pictures how much they have grown. Chico is the size of a female Alsatian now, and Miki isn't far behind him. Foxy is much smaller. She hasn't grown to fit those enormous ears yet! I don't think she will ever be very big. We took her to be spayed this week as she is the oldest of the three. It will be Miki's turn next month and then Chico's. It's too expensive to have them all done together. Now I must go and relax outside and wait for our visitors to arrive.