Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Goodbye 2009

I can't believe it is nearly a week since Christmas. Where has it gone? We haven't done much in that time though I have spent some time in my craft room. I have a couple of birthday cards to make for January, and yesterday I put the finishing touches to the memory/scrapbook I have been making for Ben. I gave it to him with just five pages in it on his 21st birthday. He will be 23 in February and keeps asking when it will be ready. So now it is. I have had such fun making it and now I am ready to move on to similar ones for Jonathan and Tom. I don't think I have so much material for theirs though. Ben was involved in so many activities and clubs, and did well in all of them so I had plenty of photographs, but I have quite a folder full for the others as well, so I'm sure I'll manage something for them.
I have also done some more of my lace. I got myself into a right pickle with it before Christmas, but this week I have painstakingly undone quite a length of it, and I am now back on track. I bid for, and won, some lacemaking equipment on ebay. Unfortunately the seller only posts to UK, so I had to have it sent to Michael's address, and he will forward it on to me. Lace making is done here too, of course, but supplies are not easy to find. Ocasionally they have special lace-making days where you can buy some things, so I shall try to go to one this year. In the meantime I hope what I have bought is in good condition, and I shall use that.
The Wii fitness game is fun though I am not very good at it. My hand-eye coordination is useless so the controls sometimes baffle me, and balance and stamina are both things I need to practice and improve on. But it is easier to make a fool of yourself in the privacy of your own home, and there's a comfy chair to sink into when you need to stop. So hopefully we will both benefit from using it regularly, and have some fun at the same time.
Our post office reopened for a few days between Christmas and New Year and we got some more cards that didn't quite make it in time. It was nice to hear from Chris' family in America. We haven't seen them since we went out to Arizona for our twenty-fifth anniversary in 2004. We also got Ben's card which gave us a good laugh. (He posted it on 17th Dec and we received several posted after that date, but his must have got to the bottom of a pile, and didn't quite make it to us before the Post office closed). His cards had two badges on it, "Most marvellous Mum" and "Super cool Dad", and he said we had to promise to wear them and put a picture on my blog, so here we are, enjoying the mid-day sunshine out on the back porch.
When the wind blows in UK it usually has a chill factor that makes quite a difference to how you feel when you have to go out in it. Here that can also be true, but we also have 'hot wind' and that is what we have today. We woke up to hear my windchimes nearly taking off the wall, and various things hurling about in the yard. But when we took the dogs for their run it was almost like being in the track of a powerful hair drier. It wrenched the car door out of my hands as I opened it and nearly took it off its hinges, and it was all I could do to walk against it, but we were too hot in our little light jackets and ended up carrying them and walked along in just a tee-shirt, (and trousers of course!). The dogs still had a good race around but Miki didn't like walking back to the car when it was blowing straight towards us. It is blowing more gently now and the sun is shining brightly so it is a lovely day. I was so glad to get some washing out yesterday. I had to double peg everything, but by the time the second load was washed, the first one was dry. The week before Christmas was the first time since we have been here, that I hadn't been able to dry my washing outside the day I did it. Although I inherited a tumble drier with the house, I have no intention of using it, but we really have nowhere suitable to dry clothes inside. But after a week of rain, we were running out of some things so on Christmas Eve I did an emergency wash and we ended up with undies hung like decorations on every hook and ledge in the guest bathroom. It took them nearly four days to dry! so it was with some relief that I got the rest all done and packed away again yesterday.
Now all that is left is for me to wish all my readers and followers a happy, healthy and peaceful 2010. Let's hope the economy picks up a bit, the unemployed find work, and the tension everyone seems to be living under these days will be eased. Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Christmas

A Very Happy Christmas to all my followers! I hope you all enjoyed a relaxed and peaceful day, as we did.The weather this year did not match that of last Christmas when Jonathan was with us, and we sunbathed all afternoon. We have had high winds and very heavy rain for a couple of weeks, but on Christmas Day we woke up to clear skies and a lovely sunrise. We did not take the dogs for their usual walk as the rain has made it very difficult. I tried to walk the 'girls' around there the day before and quite literally got 'stuck in the mud' several times. But we sat out on the porch with them to eat our breakfast and the thermometer showed a balmy 17º as early as 7.30. A row of little birds sang their carols to us out the back. We got out the binoculars I bought Chris for his birthday, and we could see that the trees were full of sparrows and the birds on the wire were similar to starlings. They chattered and sang for ages which was nice. Although there are plenty of birds around in the summer, they don't sing when it is so hot, so we enjoy listening to them at this time of year.
I bought a large 'jumbone' for each of the dogs, which I thought might keep them occupied for a few days. I was wrong! Chico and Miki had eaten theirs in less than half an hour. Foxy had a bit more of a problem and we had to shut her in the house/bed that Chris is building for them, so she could enjoy it without the others pinching it. They were very frustrated and stood pawing at the door, but Chico soon gave up and Miki sat guard just in case a bit came within her reach. Their house hasn't got a roof yet but it is almost finished, and being between the two sheds, it will be quite sheltered for them.
We bought a Wii fitness for our Christmas present. It was me who wanted it but hopefully Chris will have fun with it too. So we were busy all morning getting that set up. Now I must make sure I use it regularly and try to shed a few more pounds (quite a few actually), and get much fitter generally.
Our little local bar was open for a couple of hours at lunch time so we went down for a free glass of bucks fizz, and wished everyone a Happy Christmas, and then we came back to cook the dinner. We were hoping to eat it outside as it was still lovely and warm, but the wind started up and the clouds were gathering, so we used the dining room for the first time since we came to live here! A turkey would have been too much for just the two of us, so we had a nice fat chicken with all the trimmings. Needless to say we then both fell asleep and when we woke up it had started to rain. And boy did it rain! It was very noisy as it spouted off every corner of the roof and splashed on the tiles below. Unfortunately whenever it rains our television goes off; we lose all all satelite signal, so we had to make do with music in the evening, and I had another go on the Wii. I also managed to speak to all the boys at some time during the day, using skype. What a godsend skype is. It is so lovely to be able to chat to family members, especially when it is an occasion such as Christmas, without worrying all the time about the bill you are piling up. I put just under £10 on my skype account every three months, and for that I get unlimited calls to any UK landline so I can even call those who don't have a computer with skype on it.
Today Chris went up a ladder to look at the satalite dish and he found a cover that was broken. So he has temporarily covered it with a plastic bag and so far the television has stayed on today despite more rain, so maybe he has found the problem, and hopefully we will be able to obtain a more permanent solution.
The Spanish traditionally have a big family gathering on 'La Noche Buena' which is The Good Night, or Christmas Eve to us, with lots of eating and drinking, and this just continues the next day, with the children geting some gifts from Santa. They don't have Boxing Day so normally today everything would be going on as usual, but as it fell on a weekend this year, many places stayed closed and it was very quiet everywhere. Of course thier main celebration comes on 6th January or Three Kings day. There is more eating and drinking and gatherings of the clans, and adults give one another gifts, and the children get at least three gifts, (one from each king) and these will be their main presents. So we now have a few days of normality before New Year's Eve, and then a few more before Three Kings, so it will be hit and miss when shops etc are open, and a fair while before we are really back to life as usual.
We are waiting to see whether work on the road progresses at all during this time. They are getting on with laying the paving blocks but it is slow work. Last week a lorry delivered stacks of blocks to our bit of the road, red ones on one side for the pavements and black down the other for the road. They will all be layed on the same level with no kerb, but both sides will dip slightly into the centre of the road to guide rainfall to the new flood drains. Having seen the state of the roads in the recent heavy downpours, you can appreciate what an asset the new drains will be. I walked over to the bank on Thursday, in the road parallel to ours, and the rain was like a river the whole width of the road and right up over my feet. There was no option but to paddle across it, and do your best to duck into a doorway if a car drove down. Unfortunately until the blocks are laid, our new drains are too high to take much of the water but they helped a bit, and our road just had a little stream down the centre, so you could walk up the sides on 'dry land'.
When I have published this I am going to post a new folder on my photo gallery, so do feel free to pop across and get a glimpse of Los Gallardos in December.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An angel to watch over me.

Yes, the village has put up it's Christmas lights which switched on for the first time last Tuesday. They stay on from around 6.00 in the evening until 8.00 the next morning! For such a little place, they are really very good. There is a big 'Feliz Navidad' (Happy Christmas) across the bottom of our road where most people enter the village, and then there is a lovely blue angel on each lamp-post. They stop at the post before our gate because the workmen are just installing our new lights. The rest of our road has star banners across it with tiny flashing lights that make them sparkle. I've included this picture of them although the quality is not very good, because it shows our road as it is now, with just a layer of concrete right across, and odd bits of pipes and cables sticking up around it. Yesterday they did start laying the brick paving at the top but I don't think they will get down to us by Christmas. Still, we can see it will look very nice when it is done. Over on the other side of the village there are banners across the street showing a little church and trees, with sparkling chaser lights that make it look like it is snowing. They are very bright, and we can just glimpse the first of these from the back of our house.
In my last post I showed you my little nativity sets and mentioned that the Spanish have a much more elaborate scene. Well, when I was out walking with Miki the other day, I came across this Nativity all set up on a little table on someone's front porch. The photo is so 'busy' that you can hardy see it so I have also split it into two halves so you can see some of the figures more clearly. I love the little pink pigs, and the children playing in the street. You could tell a whole story just from looking at it.
To finish off our decorations, Chris helped me to buy this lovely poinsettia. Isn't it beautiful? We have put it on our front porch and it should last for months if last year's is anything to go by. If the nights get any colder we may have to bring it indoors at bedtime, but it is fairly sheltered out there so it should be alright. It has gold glitter on it's flowers and a collar of red foil. I walked around the village yesterday and I found small poinsettias planted in every patch of ground, all the planters around the village, all around the plazza, and on many people's window sills as well. They looked lovely and colourful, on what was a rather grey afternoon.
Because it was a cloudy day we had a more interesting sunrise yesterday. In fact it turned into a quite spectacular one. It almost looks more like a sunset doesn't it, but I can confirm that it was definitely taken at around 8.00 am.
By last night the clouds had turned to rain and we had steady, heavy rainfall all night. It has filled our pool up again! It was so cold and wet today that we took pity on the dogs and let them indoors, so I have Miki curled up on a rug in my room this afternoon. Considering they aren't used to being indoors, they have been very good, and they soon settled down, but they like to be with one of us. In an empty room they just prowl around and I don't trust them not to eat the decorations - or the furniture - or even the cats!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Watch a baby day be born.

I have a huge amount of music on my computer (enough to play for 8 days straight off without a repeat), and usually when I am working down in my room, I have it on, on random shuffle, so I have continuous music without having to change a CD, and it also means I get to hear the more obscure songs, as well as the popular ones. But one of my favourite singers is a non-traditional folk-style singer called Melanie. She first became recognised after appearing in the American festival Woodstock back in 1969, and she is still recording today. There is one song that I rather like the imagery of called 'Baby day'. Some of the words are .."We were meant to see the beginning of the day. I feel it was planned to live just this way. Take you an apple and take you a song, and watch a baby day be born"... Well, with three young dogs wanting their morning walk as soon as they wake up, at this time of year we get to see the birth of quite a few 'baby days'. The nice thing about it is that they are all different. We never know what we will see as we round the corner at Hueta Nueva, and face the mountains behind which the sun will rise. It has been a bit cloudy some days this week which adds another dimension to the early rays of sun. So here are just a couple of baby days that we witnessed the birth of this week. Lovely, aren't they?
Last week I was busy writing Christmas cards when I heard the doorbell ring. This is a rare occurance but I thought at first it might be my new supply of fairtrade tea arriving, and then I remembered it was a bank holiday out here, so there would be no postal delivery. Anyway it turned out to be a Spanish lady with her little girl, and when I slowed her down I realised that she was asking me to buy tomatoes. So I went to her car where her husband showed me a boot filled with small boxes of lovely tomatoes. I bought one, and there were 6Kg (that's about 13 lbs) of tomatoes for €4. They probably look a bit green to you but all the Spanish people buy them like that in the market. It is only us British who go for the red ones, and it makes sense really because the red ones only last a few days before they are too ripe, and they start to go mouldy and wet, even in the fridge. So hopefully these will keep better, though I must say that, after just one week, they are all red now. I put a dozen or so big ones in the fridge for salads and the rest are in the larder. Now the majority of Christmas preparations are done I shall make lots of soup for winter tea times, and also some red tomato chutney for us, and to sell at the next church coffee morning. The man kept kissing his finger tips and telling me they were 'buenos tomates' and he was right. The ones I used this week were lovely. They have a really good flavour.
My main jobs last week were to get my UK cards posted, and to make mince pies. Well I got the main cards posted but I then had a couple of sets of ATCs to post. They are for organised swaps so there is a deadline for them, and one lot needed to be posted quite urgently. We had to smile as we were watching the news on BBC and the man said that it was the busiest shopping day for Christmas gifts, while here in Spain it was a Bank holiday. In fact it was a holiday on Sunday (Constitution Day) and another holiday on Tuesday (Immaculate Conception), so being Spain, they take the Monday as a holiday too, so for three days we had no shops and of course, no post office either. So on Wednesday, while I was at my sewing group, I dispatched Chris to post my ATCs, but he said the post office was still closed. On Thursday I went up myself to find a group of elderly Spanish folk grouped around the door, and some not very happy English ones who were clutching big piles of mail for the UK. One man said the girl had gone to get the key, but she never came back with it. I also learned that the little girl who runs our office single handed, had been ill and there was no cover for her. Friday morning, I had one last try and this time the door was opened, but inside there were two relief workers who had no idea what they were doing. They had three boxes of unsorted mail on the floor, so all the people without a mail box who just call in the post office to collect their letters, were getting a bit frantic. I walked away from the chaos and drove to Mojacar post office. This is on the playa right in the heart of all the English homes, and it was heaving. There was a queue a mile long. Chris took one look at it and went off to do his shopping, and in true British style I joined the queue. The Spanish don't understand this concept and just come in and walk up to the desk in front of everyone, but sometimes the assistants will tell them they must wait, and others just serve them anyway! I finally crawled closer to the counter, and when there was just one person in front of me, their computers crashed! They wouldn't serve anyone else because they couldn't weigh the letters and packages. In desperation to get my ATCs posted I went and argued with the man that I knew exactly what stamps I needed. I had posted the same package every month and it was always the same postage, and I really needed to post it that day. In the end he very grudgingly threw the stamps at me, and my package was duly posted. Only time will tell whether it reached it's destination on time.
After that I turned my attention to the making of my famous mince pies. I say that because I had built up a reputation at home, for making good mince pies. I always use the pastry recipe in a Marks and Spencers cook book that Eve and John gave me many years ago, and it is a bit special. The little church I attend here, is still meeting each Sunday in a restaurant while the lady who owns it is cooking lunch for her patrons in the kitchen next door. It smells lovely, but is not conducive to a service, especially when she drops a pan lid on the stone floor just as we are celebrating communion, or when she burns the potaoes and sets the alarms off, so grateful though we are to her, we are desperately looking for premises that we can rent for our sole use. We did have a place lined up but that fell through, so we are still looking, but we are hopeful that we will find somewhere very soon. When we do, we will need a fair sum of money to pay a deposit and to furnish it and equip the kitchen etc. So we have started a special fund and we do various activities to raise funds. So I thought, 'stick to what you know you can do', I'll make mince pies to sell. I let slip this plan at my sewing group and was immediately commissioned to make four dozen for our Christmas dinner this coming Wednesday, and then I was given individual orders for a further eight dozen. So over three days I made eight batches of pastry, which has to rest in the fridge over night before it can be handled. I have also been buying up jars of mincemeat everytime I see a new delivery at the little English shop in Turre, and by tea-time yesterday I had made twenty-seven dozen pies! if you are wondering what that looks like, here are most of them. I had already delivered four dozen, and there were about a dozen breakages that Chris and I will have to eat. How sad!! As soon as they were cold I packaged up the orders I had taken, and I took the rest to church this morning, where they sold out in minutes. I have made €50 for the church funds so I am quite happy with that. Now I just have about twelve more cards to make for friends in the village and at the sewing group, and I will be finished.
During the evenings this week I put up some decorations. I have our big tree with all its decorations many of which have survived since the boys were little. They all loved our tree and so did I. There is a millenium bear, a big red treble clef for Ben, a glass ballerina for Emma, ones that the boys and I have made, I can't bear to part with any of them. Each year I introduce one new thing, but there isn't room for much more. I also have my various nativity sets from the little cloth one I made twenty years ago at least, which is getting a bit 'sad', to the big white Mary and Joseph I made with cloth and polyfilla when I saw it done at a craft show, and the native American one with a tepee for the stable, and bison and a wolf for the animals, that I brought back from our holiday in Arizona. I also have lots of candles that come out each year but rarely get lit because I don't want to spoil them! So now it is beginning to feel more like Christmas, and I love it all.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wall to wall carpeting??

Hi again. Well the men were as good as their word, and by9.00 this morning, they were laying a wall to wall 'carpet' of wet cement outside, (and right up to) our gate, so we were virtual prisoners for a while. To give them their due, as soon as they could, they did put down a few boards from our garage gate, up towards the village. So we still couldn't get down to the lower end of the village where the car is parked, but at least I could take my Christmas cards up to the post office as planned, and start them on their journey. I managed to have all the postal ones ready to go in one lot which is nice. I have made over 90 cards this year and most of those were for overseas, (I still have a dozen or so more to make to complete my set for local delivery), so the little girl in our post office looked a bit taken aback when I gave her this huge pile of envelopes in assorted colours, shapes and sizes! The total bill was €55, which sounds a lot, but considering there were a couple to America, a couple for Australia, and one for Cyprus, several containing letters and/or ATCs, and a few packages of more than one card, I didn't think it was too bad. I was expecting it to come to more. You can see why we don't send presents home; the postage would exceed the value of the gift, but I enjoy making the cards, and it is no good making them if you aren't prepared to send them, so hopefully I will be brightening up a few homes in the next week or so, and then it's all worth-while.
This morning dawned rather grey and cloudy, but I risked hanging out my washing. I had to double-peg everyhting because it was so windy, but I'm glad I did as it was dry in a couple of hours. The wind also blew the clouds away and by lunch time it was warm and sunny again, so here we are enjoying an after-dinner ice-cream out on the porch.

Tomorrow morning I have to go without breakfast and be at the doctor's for a blood test by 8.30. I had one last Friday and it showed that my blood sugar levels had risen considerably so I am now taking a tablet every day for diabetes. I have been on the diabetic register for some years now, but up until now I have managed without taking medication. I was disappointed with the result as we have a much better diet out here. The things I used to eat at home, that were bad for me, but I really enjoyed, such as chocolate and cream cakes, barely exist out here, and when you do see them they are exhorbitantly high-priced. On the other hand, the good foods such as fruit and vegetables are plentiful and comparitively cheap. But that obviously wasn't enough to control the diabetes. So tomorrow I have another test to see whether the tablets are helping. It was very strange here. At home they used to take two or three phials of blood, send them off to be tested, and a week later I would go to the doctor to discuss the results. So last week I rolled up my sleeve to be ready, but he just pricked a finger, sucked a drop up with a capilliary and read the result of the tester, said 'high' and pointed at the doctor's room next door! The village 'nurse' is a young man who doesn't speak English. Fortunately my doctor, who is Arabic, does!
Well I am off to my Spanish lesson now. They are still laying cement below our house, so I will have to walk up into the village, round the block, and back down, to get to the car, so I had better get going. I'll add some photos when I get back, before I post this on the web. Hasta luego!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Billy goat gruff!

On Monday we were sitting outside with the animals, just soaking up some autumnal sunshine, when the dogs suddenly jumped up and ran to the fence, barking their heads off. When we finally quietened them down we could hear what their more acute hearing had picked up much earlier than us, the dull jangle of animal bells. Around here this usually means goats, and sure enough, a local goatherd had brought his flock (I suppose I mean herd!) to the green zone at the back of our house. It is pretty rough under-foot, but they were clambering everywhere, some quite close up to our fence, and were duly stripping all the trees there. We can't fathom the rights and wrongs of it. The land is public but the trees are privately owned, but the herdsman had no qualms about letting his animals eat them! There are lots of goats here but the meat doesn't appear in the main supermarkets etc, so we presume they are mainly kept for their milk, cheese-maiking etc, though I am sure their meat is eaten by the farming community. They are mostly very well cared for, and come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. The goatherd gave us a friendly wave and kept his dog a safe distance from ours, so we stood and watched them for a while. They seemed to favour pomegranate trees! There were some lovely young kids skipping about among the adults, and then this big 'Billy goat gruff' came and stood below us, gazing up with impassive eyes while I took his photo. With his long beard and those lovely curly horns, he's a handsome fellow isn't he?
This isn't Spanish news but I thought I'd share the picture with you. I bet you all remember 'Five boys' chocolate bars. They were a real treat for us weren't they? Well here are my 'Five boys'. They were actually all in the same place at the same time on Sunday, and they managed to get a photograph of it for me to prove it. They had actually all arranged to go to a rock concert together in the evening, and then they decided to go in the morning and all attend the service at Jim's church. A long-standing friend of Jim's also went with them, and together with Jo and the family, they went out to lunch together and then on to their concert. It's the first time they have all been together since my 60th birthday a couple of years ago, and it sounds as though they had a really good time. So here they are outside Jim's church in Pendeford.
When we walk the dogs each morning, we watch with interest, the start of work on the track for the new AVE (Alto Velocidad Española) or High Speed Spanish train to you and me. It will cross the land where we walk and for the past few weeks they have been fencing off the land and bringing in the heavy machines that will clear it. They have already flattened out a wide swathe and are now removing a small hill! The digger fills up lorries which travel the new track and deposit the earth and rocks at the other end. We are wondering if this is ready to make the embankment. They will have to tunnel under the main road or build over it, so there will be lots of shoring up to do. There are three lorries doing this circuit run and they are filled in just a few minutes, so with them driving up and down all the time, the new track is getting very compounded and firm. And each morning a tanker also drives up and down it, spraying water out, we assume to lay the dust and help with the settling of it. It will be interesting to watch the site develop, but I'm glad I don't live in the house you can see behind the diggers. That's a bit too close for comfort, and not quite the tranquil retreat the owners thought they were buying!
We had a horrid day on Sunday with rain and very strong winds, but we are back to sunshine again now. When we had lunch on the porch yesterday, it was 22º, and our thermometer is in the shade. But as soon as the sun goes down, it does get cold. We actually wrapped up in our blankets to watch television in the evening. It's the Spanish way to deal with draughts, and saves lighting fires. The only trouble is, that whenever I snuggle up like that, I fall asleep, and miss the programme I sat down to watch! The arrival of some late afternoon clouds meant that we had a beautiful sunset yesterday, so I took a photo of it. I haven't done many 'skies' for a while, so I thought it might be time to pop one in here.
At last I can report some real progress with our road. They were laying concrete just a block or two up from us today, and when I talked to one of the workmen, he told me they will do our bit in the morning. As it is laid from wall-to wall across the street, we will be prisoners in our house tomorrow, until it has set a bit. They will put walking planks down in the afternoon. I still find it a very strange way to work. You'd think they'd do all down one side first, and then the other, but as I've said before, this is Spain, and they don't do anything the way we might expect them to. Anyway it will be worth it to have all that dust covered up. It's a long street and it will take them ages to cover it all with little paving bricks, but at least we'll have a hard surface to walk on while they are doing it.