Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Winter's on its way!

It was almost a shock yesterday when I realised that we are only a month away from Christmas. There is none of the pre-season hype here that you get in UK. The supermarket has added boxes of loose raisins and sultanas to their fresh fruit counter, along with the navidad sweets which are also sold by weight. They are either lumps of marzipan which are lovely, or small cakes of compressed ground nuts which aren't sweet enough and are very dry. That is the extent of Christmas in the shops that I visit regularly, though I did spot a few decorations lurking on a shelf in the ferrateria, and I expect the toy shops have big displays, but you only see those in the larger shopping centres, and we don't have one of those near us. I am trying to persuade Chris to take me to Granada one day to see the decorations there. I have been told that they are very good in the big cities. However, there is no getting away from the fact that Winter is on its way. It is quite chilly first thing when we walk the dogs and we have both used a light jacket this week. Last night I even put our thinnest (4.5 tog) douvet on the bed instead of the double sheet we have used up til now, but we were both a bit too warm. I think we will be glad of it very soon now though. Like we did in the flat last year, we notice a big drop in the temperature as soon as the sun sets, at about 6.15 now. Then it's time to find a jumper and some slippers, because if we do get chilled it's hard to warm up again, and bare stone floors are cold to walk on! But the days are still mostly sunny and it can be quite hot around lunch time. Mostly it is very comfortable to sit out in for a few hours around mid-day and we have started to sit out to eat our meals again while we can. I don't mind it being cool enough to need a jumper. It's the blue skies that provide the 'feel good' factor and remind us of why we moved out here.
I am very pleased to say that my new cooker arrived as promised, on Saturday morning, and at 6.30 that evening we had a call to say a man was on his way to fit it. That's excellent service for Spain. I was impressed! So now I have a posh oven with touch panel controls that I am still learning to use, and a hob with five rings that all work!! Of course, I had to put it through its paces. so I did a full roast dinner on Sunday, and on Monday I made bread, used up the left over old loaves on a bread pudding and a bread and butter pudding, and baked a victoria sponge and a date and apricot loaf! I used to love having proper baking sessions like that when I had hungry teenagers to feed. Now some of it will go in the freezer, and I won't need to bake again for a while. But it was lovely to use an oven that does what it is supposed to, and a full hob so that I don't have to keep swapping the pans around to try and cook everything together.
After lesson two in lace making I have completed my second book mark, which this time is all holes so it looks a bit more like proper lace. Apparently I have now learned the only two stitches there are, and making anything more complicated is just a question of learning how to combine them in different ways. So my next project is to make a circle of lace to edge a small cloth, which is a combination of solid blocks and holes. I wound the bobbins to make it today but there wasn't enough time to start it, so Pam is going to try to come to the group next week to start me off, but it is the day before she flies to England for Christmas, so I may have to wait until she gets back. I am enjoying doing it and it gives you a great sense of satisfaction to finish something, however simple it is. Pam, who is teaching me, learned it herself at evening classes in England and she said that for the first year she only made samplers, and only used white thread, so she decided that if she taught anyone, she would make sure that everything they made was functional and interesting, hence my two coloured bookmarks and now a lace cloth edging. So watch this space. I am determined to keep going until I can make that fan!

Friday, November 20, 2009

My lucky day!

Yes, it must be my lucky day. Why? Well this morning Chris and I went down to Mojacar to visit the ferreteria, or hardware store, as we have worn out our yard broom cleaning up after the dogs, so we needed a new one. The ferreteria is an amazing warren of narrow aisles packed with a huge range of goods from pots and pans to cleaning materials, garden equipment to high tech electrical goods, and I love wandering around there. Anyway, we found the broom we wanted and then Chris decided to buy me a new cooker! The one I have is useable, but the seal is poor so I lose a lot of heat from round the door, and, when I use it for a long stretch, it overheats and leaves me with burnt offerings. But as I tend to use my remoska or halogen cooker in preference to the main oven, I was managing. But the hob I have is driving me to desperation. One ring won't light at all, one is very tiny so only good for keeping things warm; it takes an age to actually heat them, one is too big, designed for a large paella pan, and it is so fierce that it burns everything, which just leaves me with one properly useable ring, which is very frustrating when cooking a meal. Chris didn't want me to change to an electric one as it is so expensive out here, and I do use the hob a lot, so the new one is still calor gas which means I have something to use even during the frequent power cuts that we get. It is stainless steel so I should be able to keep it clean, and it has five rings! Yippee! My current hob appears to stand alone, but it shares a control panel with the oven, so they both had to be replaced, so now I will also have a hopefully more efficient oven, which is electric. It has a clever touch panel for the controls so there are no nasty buttons to trap grease and dirt, and it has a sideways opening door. All the Spanish ones seem to have drop-down doors and I hate leaning over them to retrieve big pans from a hot oven. Although this is Spain, where things happen in their own time, they have promised to deliver the oven tomorrow morning and fit it in the afternoon. I do hope it happens; then I can cook Chris a special roast dinner on Sunday to say 'Thank you'.
In between Christmas card making, scrapbooking and ATCs, I have managed to do some more of my lace and I finished 'Sammy snake' in time for my next lesson last Wednesday. Pam showed me how to finish it off, and then I took all the pins out, and she put him in a clear plastic book-mark sleeve. He's not perfect, but as a first attempt, I am quite proud of him. Now I am doing a srip which is all regular rows of holes, so more like 'real lace'. This week we had some visitors at our sewing group, from a small village just up into the mountains. There was a young English speaking couple who are trying to organise day trips to their village to see traditional crafts, and they brought a young Spanish couple with them, who do some of the work. The girl brought lovely peices of embroidery she had done on a cloth, all in tiny chain stitch, with a very pretty crocheted scalloped edging. She also made frilly aprons for the bar staff to wear at village fiestas. The young man decided to model one for us. He was such fun, and he reminded me very much of our Michael. It must be the hair and the cheeky grin. The other thing the girl did was bobbin lace! Her bobbins were plain wood with none of the pretty beads that the English have on theirs, and she used a handmade wooden stand instead of a 'pillow', but her work was beautiful. She had used fine gold thread and red beads to make a bracelet, coloured thread to make artificial flowers, and this beautiful white fan. Apparently all lace makers make a fan sometime in their career. I just loved it, and my 'teacher' Pam said there was nothing too complicated in it and I'd be making one by the end of the year (next year that is!), so there's something worth aiming for!
Our street continues to be the 'Rocky road to nowhere', and we are thoroughly fed up with the mess, and the uncomfortable walk across rocks and sand every time we want to get to the car. But yesterday they did start levelling it off. The bulldozer has been up and down a few times and there are no longer many piles of mud down each side, and we can leave our grounds without crossing ditches or mountains. A long 'snake' of black rubber has appeared today but we don't know what it is for. This is what it looks like today, and we continue to watch the proceedings with interest and anticipation.
We may not have much of a garden ourselves, with just a few patio tubs of dog-eared (or dog-chewed) plants in, but the roses at the front are gorgeous again. There are eleven blooms out on the apricot one this week. Also we get to enjoy the lovely trailing plants that run riot all over the house next door. The deep pink bourganvillia is out, the pale pink incarvillea, that I talked about in an earlier blog, has woven it's way along our fence and in and out of our little potted trees, and the bright orange vine that they cut down so ruthlessly last spring, is again in bloom. It all looks so lovely so I took a couple of pictures today. You'd never think we've only had a couple of days of rain sice last April, would you?
Now I am getting back to my card making. I want the English ones ready to post by the beginning of next month so I only have a week left to do them in.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Never too old to learn something new!

I have always been very interested in lace making. Out in Cyprus we used to visit the village of Lefkara, where the women sat on their steps, each with a pad on their knee, and their fingers would be busy with the bobbins while they chatted together. It looked so complicated, and I always wondered how they managed to work and talk at the same time. I love all the beads they use to identify their bobbins, and have often looked at the bobbins on the wood-turning stalls at craft markets, but thought it was probably beyond me. Years ago I bought a starter kit, but trying to master something so intricate from an instruction sheet was just too much, and I soon lost patience with it. I now go to a little sewing group on a Wednesday morning. We do all sorts from knitting and crochet to cross-stitch and embroidery, and a few of the ladies bring lace making. When I went and chatted to them I was told that one lady, Pam, gives lessons for beginners so I asked her to show me. Yesterday I had my first lesson. Pam lent me a set of bobbins and a pad, and started me off on the basic stitch. Apparently, when the Spanish ladies start to learn, the first thing they make is a length of white 'bandage'. I am pleased to say that Pam is a little more imaginative and she started me making a book mark called Sammy snake, who is purple with a yellow stripe down his back. It is her standard starter pattern. I am deffinitely a visual learner, and now I have been shown how to do it, I am finding this quite straight forward. Next week I am going to learn how to put holes in it! After that it will get a lot more complicated, but I shall stick with it if I can. It is a craft that is very popular with the Spanish ladies, and we will have the opportunity to visit exhibitions of their work from time to time.
I am a great lover of fresh orange juice and I have an ordinary hand held juicer which is fine when I want the juice of half a lemon for a recipe, or something like that. But Jonathan, who enjoyed grapefruit juice when he was out here, will tell you that it is hard work when you want a glass full. I used to have a fancy electric juicer but it was too big, too much work to set up, and a real pain to clean afterwards, and in the end I put it in a charity shop I think. So this week, Chris bought me a very simple electric juicer. You still have to hold the fruit on it manually, but the motor takes all the hard work out of the squeezing, and a quick rinse under the tap has it clean again. It's amazing how much more juice it gets out of each fruit, than I ever did by hand. Now the new season of oranges is just beginning, I think we'll be drinking a lot of vitamin C this winter.
P.S. We thoroughly enjoyed our lemon meringue pie!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What a view!

Hello again. I really didn't intend to do a blog today, but I have been playing around with some photographs. I downloaded a free thirty day trial of a program that 'stitches' together photos to make a panoramic view. We have some beautiful views around here and I thought it might be useful. I need a lot more practice but this is my first attempt. It is the campo where we walk the dogs each morning. First thing it is very beautiful and still. You can't hear traffic, or machinery, just birdsong, and the dogs panting as they run back to make sure we are still with them! This picture doesn't do it justice as I took the set on a misty day when the layers of mountains had almost disappeared. I just wanted something to play around with. I will try again on a clear day. At the minute the whole area is beginning to green up after the first rains. There is wild thyme in flower all over the place, making patches of lilac mist amongst the scrub. You can smell it as the dogs run through it, and I love it. (I have just looked at this on the blog and the big photo looks very blurred, but if you click on it, it comes up clear).
We are having the big drainage pipes layed outside the house today, so we quite hopeful that the road may return to normal soon. This picture was taken from the window of Chris' office. I did a supermarket shop this morning and we had to carry everything up along the mud from the car. Roll on the day when we can park outside our own house again!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A night of laughter

Do you remember the comedy duo Cannon and Ball? Well 'Ball', Bobby Ball that is, came to our neck of the woods last week, at the invitation of our church. Chris and I went, and we took my friend Sylvia so she didn't have to drive in the dark. It was in the tennis club near to where we meet, and there was a good crowd of church members and their friends there. Bobby was so funny; he had us all in stitches. And in amongst the jokes he gave a very powerful testimony which had quite an effect on a lot of the people there. In one joke he gave an interesting mnemonic for the Bible - Believers Instructions Before Leaving Earth. I asked him if I could have a photograph taken with him in return for posting his message on my blog, so here it is. The message was simply that Christianity has little to do with going to church, which is just the fellowship side of it. It is all about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I can't argue with that!
The saga of our road in turmoil continues. We are no longer fenced in by a mountain of broken asphalt, but we now have a mud mountain instead. Up until Friday afternoon we had a very deep trench down the centre of the roadway. At first we assumed they were laying new mains sewerage, but we now know it is flood drainage. There are several large round holes with a mesh cover, evenly spaced down the road, which lead to huge pipes. So next time we have a real Spanish downpour, there should not be the usual river right across the street; just the gurgle of water rushing down below, presumably being carried to the rambla at the side of the village. The men do not work at the weekends, but fortunately they filled most of the trench in before leaving on Friday, and they flattened a 'pass' across the mound of mud to give us better access to our gate. There was no work today either as this is a national bank holiday, but no doubt they will resume tomorrow. The sooner the better as far as we are concerned. We won't be sorry to see an end to all the noise and dust.
There are a few interesting things happening in the garden. Several plants that bloomed in the spring are having another go now, which is an unexpected bonus. The roses are still in bloom. We've had continuous flowers on them for six months now. Early in the year I bought a tiny rosette of prickly, spotted leaves, at a friend's coffee morning. I put it in a patio tub, and the prickles were ferocious enough for the dogs to leave it alone. It is now a big rosette of leaves, with a tall stem of flower buds coming up from the centre, that gradually hang down like slim orange bells. The oranges are beginning to ripen and I have bought the first of the new season's fruit in the market. This lovely bunch of oranges is on a tree in our neighbour's garden, but as it is hanging on our side of the fence, we reckon they have our names on them. I am trying to be patient and leave them for another couple of weeks, but they will be on top of my fruit bowl very soon now.
This is also the season of bugs! The dogs go mad chasing gerasshoppers in the field where we walk them, and several dragonflies have been hovering over our pool. When I got into Sylvia's car to go to church on Sunday there was the biggest, brightest green, grasshopper on the car door handle, that I have ever seen. It was at least four inches long. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me at the time. But I did have it handy when I found Destino investigating this beetle yesterday. I have no idea what it is, but isn't it amazing? The false face is quite something. Each foot was covered in tiny hooks so he could hang on tightly to most surfaces. Funny how I can handle fellows like him quite happily, and he was a a good size too, but a spider that size would have had me running for cover! I rescued him from the cat and set him on the wall to make good his escape. He hadn't hurt me so I saw no reason to hurt him. I took Destino indoors, so I presume the beetle lived to see another day.