Monday, December 27, 2010

A Walk in the Sunshine

We actually woke up today to find a trace of frost on the grass where Chris takes the dogs first thing, but before long this had gone and there was sun shining from a clear blue sky. Unfortunately at this time of year, none of the morning sun gets into the kitchen, so it was chilly in there. I am glad enough of the shade in the summer so I shouldn't complain. It is actually one of those days when it is a lot warmer outside than it is anywhere in the house, so we decided to make the most of it and go for a walk. We knew that part of the pueblo regeneration scheme was to build a new sports centre up near the big swimming pool at the top of the village. Last time we looked it was a half-finished shell so we thought we would go and see what progress had been made. Well, we were actually very impressed when we found it was almost finished. The building is a big, white modern structure and in big letters it says Pabellón Municipal, Los Gallardos. This means town pavillion. When we got up there we found the grounds were almost complete as well and the men were busy painting the lines for parking spaces. Through the open door we could see a reception area, cloakrooms and a very large hall, and we believe there is also a gym. The side of the building is one of the perimeter fences of the pool and the changing huts have gone, so we presume there are now changing rooms inside the new building. To the rear, what looks like a strip of sandy soil is actually a steep bank, and up above that there is a big football pitch. You have seen several photos of this on earlier blogs - in particualr the San Isidro fiesta which partly takes place there. It was an aweful gravel pitch that must have been painful to play on!, but now it is covered in an all weather surface that looks like grass. Again men were busy painting the lines, and fixing a high net to the fence behind the goals. It has made the pitch look so much bigger. The Los Gallardos team are doing quite well and they will now be able to host visitors matches which they couldn't do before. There are lovely new flood lights at each corner, and where there used to be steep steps dowm to it that served as seating for spectators, there is now a concrete slope and we think there will be proper terraced seating there soon. Chris had to walk on the new surface to try it out! There is a flat area above the seating banks, with a small club house, and from there you get a lovely view of the new pitch with the misty mountains making a dramatic backdrop. Further back from this there is a multi sports pitch with nets for tennis, basket ball and five a side football, and also a small court that we thought was for badminton, so for a relatively small village we are going to be very well supplied with sporting facilities.

To get to all this we can now walk to the top of the village and cross the rambla on a new road that was built last year, through a tunnel under the motor way and up a slope on the other side. It used to be a winding road around the outside of the village and then a rough track up to the centre. The road has been open for use for a while now, but today workers were back building a retaining wall below it and it looks as though they will be smartening up the sandy track that used to be the only way across the rambler, and which is still used by workers on the farmland further round the rambla. These workers on the wall turned out to be women and they were were tickled pink to see me taking a photo of them. We walked back this way instead of taking the new road back into the village, and we carried on around the rambla. These horses are usually in their field there, and around them are fields of well-tended olive trees, and fields prepared ready for the new seasons sowing of vegetables. When I looked back from the rambla I saw this nice view of the village church through the grasses. We climbed the steep bank that runs along the rambla and came out half way down the village in a little alley that runs beside the Post office. We were surprised to see it was open, not least because it had a sign on the door clearly stating that 'This office is closed to the public from 24th December to 1st January'! Anyway, when we got home I popped straight back up there and posted a card to Oliver. It isn't his birthday until 7th January, but I might not get another chance with the three kings celebrations coming up soon.

After our walk I put the oven on and soon got the kitchen warmed up. Then after lunch we sat outside in the sun with our books and had a lovely relaxing afternoon. Of course I took my camera with me on our walk and this afternoon I have taken a set of photos that I took spanning the whole view at the top of the village from our side of the rambla, and used them to make a new panoramic picture. This is now at the end of my blog in place of the rather unseasonal beach picture. I was concentrating on making sure I had clear markers in the pictures for joining them up, and I didn't notice that I had too much sky in all of them, and not very much ground, so one day I'll go up there again and have another go! In the meantime I have posted this one, because those of you who have been here and seen it,. may be interested to see all the changes that have been made.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Christmas Everyone!!

Well Christmas day has been and gone. I hope you enjoyed yours as much as we did. It was quiet, and I did miss the family, but it was a lovely relaxing day, and I managed to talk to all the boys at some stage. Skype is a wonderful thing at such times. Some of the boys were out and about at their respective partners homes, so I had to use my mobile to talk to them, but later I 'skyped' Mike and Jim and was able to talk to the grandchildren as well. Then I did a video call to Jean where she had three of my sisters, Grace, Brenda and Dorothy, with their husbands, and a friend of Brenda's, so we had a good old family chat face to face which made my day. Here the dogs got us up at our usual winter time of 8.00, so while Chris sorted them out, I fed the cats, put our meat in the oven and prepared as much of the dinner as I could. By then the sun was out and we sat out by the pool drinking an aperitif, with the dogs impatiently waiting for the biscuits they knew I had in my hand. We then walked down to the bar just down the road to wish all our local friends a Happy Christmas. By the time we got back our dinner was almost ready. We had a full traditional Christmas dinner which we much prefer to the Spanish custom of eating fish on Christmas Day. The emphasis is on big family get-togethers with copious amounts of food at Christmas. As well as fish, they cook huge soup/stews and of course, paellas.

In our bid to try to integrate into the Spanish community more, I am trying to make better use of the village shops. I tend to only use the farmacia and corrreos (post office), and one of the general stores when I run out of something, but on Christmas Eve we went into the local butchers and spent an interesting hour watching little Spanish ladies ordering 50-70€ worth of meat, and each one gave specific instructions as to how they wanted it butchered. Then Chris had to hand the bags down to them because the counter was too high! The only turkey we saw bought was cut into joints and each one was chopped into big chunks, so they obviously stew rather than roast it. The special meat that they don't have in the shop anywhen else, was cabrita or 'little goat', presumably what we would call kid. They were whole in the glass counter, and each one was cut in half and the legs chopped into about three inch pieces. Then he deftly gouged out the eye balls before chopping the head and adding it to the pile of meat! He used his slicer to separate the ribs, and anything that was left was chopped. We also saw whole rabbits chopped in a similar way. This meat is often used in paellas.They don't roast much except on a spit, as many houses don't have an oven. When it was eventually our turn, we bought a few cabrita chops to try, two fat chicken crowns and some beautiful fillet steak, which is also fairly rare out here. Most of the cows are up in northern Spain. It took a lot of our time but it was quite an education, and the meat is excellent, much better than supermaket meat!

Once we knew we had our meat sorted out for the next day we went down to Garrucha to browse the Christmas market. It was lovely wa
lking along Garrucha promenade. The wind was 'brisk' and I was glad of my jacket, but the sun was out, the sky was blue and it was so beautiful. But as you can see, there were not many people about, and even the market was quieter than it is other weeks. I think for many of the local people, the families were already gathering, and their shopping was probably done earlier. I didn't want much but I bought fresh peas, a few sprouts (probably imported for the British because they don't grow here) and the most delicious, fat and juicy dried dates that I have ever tasted. I asked for 'un pocito' which means 'just a very little' and the man on the stall insisted that I tried one. I think he knew I'd buy more if I tasted them, and I did! I didn't need to buy oranges although the market stalls had loads. This seems to be a very good year for them. The little orange grove next door is dripping with fruit, and soon they will be falling and rotting which greives me to see. The owner lives in Murcia, and she doesn't come here to pick the fruit although she hires men to keep the trees in good order. When I talked to her on her last visit, she told me I was welcome to go in and pick some. A lady comes in most weeks to water her patio plants, and sweep up, and she has a key to the main gates, but this year I think I can reach enough across the fence to supply our needs. And now she has told me to pick them I shan't feel guilty if I do! Here is just one of her trees by our fence, and there are loads more like that.

The green zone at the back of or house has come alive with birds these last few weeks. Last Friday, we had some rain and the noise out there the next morning was amazing. There must be a host of insects down there for them to feed on, and we were visited by a huge flock of starling-type birds. I don't know if they actually were starlings, but they sounded and behaved very like them. Every tree and bush was full of them, and every now and then they would all take off and fly around a bit, and then all settle again. They only stayed for a couple of days and then moved on. Maybe they were refuelling before flying north. When I was quite a little girl, although mum never bought fizzy pop for us, and the only soft drink we had was orange squash, I somehow managed to collect enough Vimto labels to send for a little book called 'The Vimto book of Knowledge'. I can see it now. It was just a flimsy little pink paper book with blue writing on it, and it contained lists and random facts and for some reason I loved it. One list was 'collective nouns' and the one that has always stuck in my mind was 'A murmuration of starlings'. I loved the sound of it, and it describes perfectly what we had out the back of us last week.

My Christmas really started last Sunday with a lovely carol service at church, and then on Wednesday when my craft group had their Christmas party. We met in the hall as usual and the organisers had bought champagne and crisps and ordered four dozen mince pies from me. So we had our break early and then spent a hilarious half hour trying to get everyone to sing the twelve days of Christmas with actions for each day. At 1.30 we went to a local bar/restaurant and had a lovely meal together. These folk have become very good friends, especially the ones at the 'front' end of the table where I was also sitting. The first lady on the right owns my local craft shop and I go to a scrapbook club there once a month. The others sitting closest to us, also go to the shop classes.

Also, I am glad to report that I now have my new glasses. I was a bit taken aback when I first put them on and couldn't read anything on the card she showed me. It was very blurred and I could see everything twice. The two eyes just couldn't focus together. She told me to persevere for a few days and go back if I still wasn't happy with them, but I am pleased to say that I can now see quite well. As Chris said to me, I have been one-eyed for so long, the muscles needed time to start working properly again. The optician did tell me that she had done 'the best she could' for me but I would only have 60 % vision in my right eye (not the one I had surgery on) and that probably I have a cataract growing on that one. I was surprised as, when I asked at the hospital, they had told me that it was fine. However I can now see a very distinct diference in the colour vision with each eye, the newly operated one being clear and bright, and the right one being much yellower, so I sure she is right, but hopefully I will get a year or so out of these glasses before I have to do anything about it!

And finally here are three picture that I have made using individual photos of our animals. With the addition of clip-art headgear, and a bit of help from my photo editing programme paint-shop-pro, I made these pictures and used them on some of my Christmas cards. So I didn't put them on my bog until I knew every one had had their cards. Happy Christmas from the Perry Zoo!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Busy Week

Today I have plenty to tell you about, so I will try very hard not to use six words where one would do, but you know me ... I also have quite a few photos of my day out in Granada so I will share them out through the later paragraph which has no pictures of its own.

Well, I'll start with Tuesday which was our church Christmas Fayre at the Palms, - the bar/restaurant where we used to hold our services. This went very well. There was a good turnout, with a mixture of friends from the church, and folk who live in Urcal and use the Palms as their 'local'. Rain threatened to put an end to the table-top sale, but fortunately it just about stayed away for us. For my contribution I had made ten Christmas tree decorations on bangles, using bobbin lace. They were pretty and I was quite pleased with them. I used all different coloured threads and displayed them on my lace-making pillow, and I'm pleased to say that I sold all but one (which is now hanging on my tree!). They took me a day to make each one, but the worst part was that, after the lace was done, every one had an average of twenty ends to sew in! After the sale we gathered in the restaurant to sing carols and Christmas songs. Julie, the lady in red on the right, (not the one playing the piano), has come recently to our church. She is a trained singer and still has a very powerful voice. (Family might like to know that she told me she knew Sir Malcom Sargent quite well and had sung with/for him several times). She had gathered a group of her neighbours and others from the church, to form a singing group, and they led us on Tuesday. They had only had time for a couple of practices but they did everso well. Julie's husband accompanied the singing on his guitar (which he made himself!), and he was joined by one of their neighbours who played both a clarinet and a violin. Julie herself sang one of my favourite Christmas songs, 'Oh Holy Night', as a solo with the singers joining in the chorus, and it was beautiful. After the singing most of us stayed in the restaurant and we enjoyed a traditional Christmas dinner together. It was lovely day, especially as Chris came with me, and I think he enjoyed it too.

The next day I was up at dawn, ready to get the bus to Granada. Fortunately there was a pick-up point at the edge of the village so I didn't have far to go. Granada is quite a long drive, about three hours, so we made an early start. This was our annual outing for my Wednesday craft group. On the way we could see the distant slopes of the Sierra Nevada, white with snow, and the air was decidedly colder than we are used to. As we approached the city centre there were a lot of Guadia in evidence and they wouldn't let us go any further because of a 'manisfestación'. We took this to be a demonstration or political rally, but our driver soon found a route around it and dropped us in the main street. There were an aweful lot of people around and masses of police too, and they seemed to be centred around a small theatre, where there were several television cameras. It turned out to be the funeral of a very famous and popular flemenco singer. They say there were about five thousand people there. We couldn't get through the crowd and had to cross the main street and edge our way through the people on the other side, who were standing on walls and benches trying to get a better view. We had a lovely leisurely wander around the shops which is quite a novelty for me these days. I think it is the first time I have been in a departmental store since I came out here! When we arrived the sun was shining, and the glare made it quite difficult to keep track of where everyone was. I was with Yvonne who runs our local craft shop, and we were with a group of eight others who all tried to stay more or less together. One of them knew her way around so it seemed like a good idea to keep her in view! We came to an open plaza where the sun was making a rainbow in the fountain. There was a big nativity made out of white lights wound on a metal frame.It didn't look much in daylight but we were looking forward to seeing it lit up later. At lunch time we went to Corte Ingles, which is one of a growing chain of departmental stores in Andalucia. We had a very nice 'menu del dia' in their restaurant and then we walked around a craft market in the plaza in front of the cathedral. As we came round one corner we were greeted by this beautiful view of snowy mountains in the distance and lovely old street lamps and a church spire in front of them. We got chilly so we went into a hotel and had a lovely drink. It was hot chocolate so thick and rich that you could almost stand the spoon up in it, with a good measure of brandy in it, and it cost all of 2€ each. That was a nice surprise in a city centre hotel. We were expecting to pay nearer to five euros. We walked up through all the little alleys of Morrocan style bazaars that surround the cathedral area, and saw shops whose windows were entirely filled with the characters that the Spanish use to make their nativity scenes. These bear no resmblance at all to our traditional stable with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, a few shepherds and the kings. In Spain their nativity scene, which is called a Belén, can take up the space of a large dining table, and it includes people from all aspects of village life. I took a few photos of the shop windows so you can see the detail of these figurines. In the centre of the craft market there was a public Belén in a big tent, so we went in to see it. I took several photos but they are a bit dark, and far too many to show here, so I'll just put on the one of the actual stable, to show it really was there, but there was everything else as well from the orange groves to the goat herd with his animals, to the children playing in the street and somewhat bizarely a figure refered to as the 'crapper' who has just relieved himself in the river. Apparently a traditional Belén is not complete without him! As it began to get dark, we walked back through the streets to see the lights which were very pretty. We saw the white-light stable lit up, and there were lights in the fountain with strings of blue lights in all the trees atround it. At seven o'clock we were all back on the coach and heading for home. It was a lovely day out.

I couldn't have much of a lie in on Thursday though I would have liked one, as I had an appointment at the hospital with the eye specialists. He was pleased with the condition of my eye after the cataract operation, but he gave me a very perfunctory sight test, and then handed me a prescription to take to an optician. We went straight on to one, and fortunately she tested me again. She said that the doctors are too busy, and she always retests people before making them new glasses. It's a good thing she did. She put together the lenses on the prescription to show me, and I couldn't see hardly anything through them. Anyway, I am going to keep the same frames that I had before. Last time I paid out for very expensive flexible frames, and I am so clumsy that I thought it would be a good idea to continue using them. While they are being made I am using my older glasses which are less than useful, so I am even more blind than usual. I particularly can't focus on the distance between me and my computer screen so if I have missed any spelling mistakes, I apologise. You know what I am like about spelling and grammar, but I really can't see what I am doing here.

Having recieved some more last-minute orders, I had one more mince-pie session today and made another seven dozen. I bought the last jars of mincemeat in the shop to make them, so when they were done I took my table down off its stilts, put away the scales, cutters and rolling pin, and said definitely no more! I have made a total of 51 dozen. Forty of those were ordered and the rest were given away, or broken which we will eat, and I did actually make a couple of dozen for our own use. I expect some people think I am mad, and perhaps I am, but even more so because I actually quite enjoy making them. I have got a sort of a rhythm to it now, and with my music on, and the cooker warming up the kitchen, it passes quite an enjoyable morning! When I ran out of mincemeat I still had a small ball of pastry left, and again I heard Mum's voice in my ear saying "I'll just make a kill-me-quick for dad's tea" as she rolled out the pastry remnant and spread it with jam, then rolled it up and popped it in the oven with whatever it was she had made the pastry for. Why it's called a kill-me-quick I have no idea. I don't even know if it was a generally used term or just one of mum's, but I do know that I never throw my end bit away. I make a kill-me-quick too. Today I used my marmalade with a few pieces of the ginger I preserved. Jean was asking me about that as I had forgotten to say how successful it was. Actually it worked very well. It was a bit tedious, taking over a week to make but the resulting preserved ginger in syrup is very good, though if I continue to eat a few cubes every time I go to the fridge, it isn't going to last very long. It is a pity that I have such a sweet tooth, but I was pleased at my monthy diabetic checkup last week, to find that my blood-sugar count is the lowest is has been since I came out here, so I must be doing something right. I was also quite pleased today because I wore last year's trousers for the first time this year, and all day I have been hitching them up, so a little of the weight I have lost, must have come off the right places!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sunny Spain I love you !!

Folks out here are starting to complain about the cold, but we are just enjoying the late autumn sunshine. Yes it is a bit chilly in the evenings, so we make sure the windows and shutters are closed at sun-down. If necessary we change into trousers and socks for the evening, and we've even lit the gas fire for a few hours if we settle down in front of the television, but it's not far off midnight now and I am only wearing a skirt and tee-shirt, and my halogen lamp is providing more than enough warmth in my craft room. We have had a few days of much needed rain, but the days in between have been lovely and sunny. We have both enjoyed relaxing in the garden. We still eat our mid-day meal outside whenever we can, with the back porch providing shelter from the wind. On Thursday I spent all afternoon out there doing my lace, and I only came in when it became too dark to see what I was doing. You can see in this picture that the sun is low and is casting long shadows, but it was lovely to be outside without feeling too hot, or too cold.

The wet days were a good opportunity to get on with making mince pies, and they are all 'done and dusted' now. Here is one mornings work. That's eleven dozen there, but altogether I have made around forty-two dozen. Most are ordered. There were some inevitable breakages which Chris and I have eaten!, I've put some in the larder for us, and the last few will sell at our Christmas get-together for church on Tuesday. We are going to the bar/restaurant where we used to meet for our Sunday services. Eileen, the owner, has organised a small table-top sale around the pool for the first hour, and we have one table to sell items for church funds. Then we are putting that away and singing some carols, and then all having a Christmas dinner together. It should be a good day and I am looking forward to it. Last night I went to a candle-lit carol service at the church in Turre. This is where we meet each Wednesday for our craft group, and we are always invited to the carol service so we like to support them, but I have to say it was very 'ordinary'. There were pretty candles all around the room (no health and safety here!), the words were on a screen at the front, the music was recorded, and it was just carol, reading, carol, reading, with no talking between them, and not even an opening or closing prayer. It was nice to join in with the old favourites, but I didn't come away feeling I had been at a special occasion. I guess that's the way they like it, but I bet ours will be a lot more relaxed and congenial. Our proper carol service is on the morning of the 19th, because we wanted it to be in our own building for our first Christmas here, which is why we are going to the Palms on Tuesday.

I spent a nice afternoon on Monday, putting up my Christmas decorations. I love doing the tree. All the decorations are carefully stored away in tissue paper, and as I unwrap each one, it reminds me of a family member, something I did with the boys, a special occasion, or just something I liked and bought. We have had the same tree for about thirty years! Jim and Michael were quite small boys when they went to South Harrow with me on a bus to buy it, in the days before we had a car. Every year I used to buy one new decoration (sometimes more!) and, of course, sometimes one was broken and had to be thrown away, so now it is fairly laden, but everything is so special to me, and I love having it by my chair to look at for a few weeks each year. We don't have a lot of other decorations apart from candles, but I still get out the nativity set that I made from felt and cardboard, many, many moons ago. It is battered and stained, but I wanted the boys to be very clear about the reason we celebrate Christmas, and the nativity set had pride of place every year. I can't bear to part with it, even though it is well past its best. On our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Chris took me to Arizona. This was partly to visit his brother who lives in Phoenix, but also so we could fulfil my dream of going to the Grand Canyon. While we were there we visited a tiny church, high up in the mountains, near a village called Sedona, and in their shop I bought this Native American nativity. It took my fancy with the angel on a teepee, and the wolf and buffalo standing by, so now that sits on the hall table under my candlesticks that spell out the word Joy. I don't think many of the retired Brits bother much with decorations out here, but I shan't give up on mine until I am too old to go up a ladder to fix them.

Of course, pretty things hanging from the branches of a tree are a big attraction for the cats. Luna simply will not leave them alone, so she is banned from the sitting room unless I am in there with her. Paco is usually outside in the day time, and he hasn't shown much interest in the tree so far. But Baggins and Arwen have started to come out of my room to spend the mornings on a more comfortable chair in the sitting room. They were a bit non-plussed when I moved the furniture to make a space by the window for the tree, and the only place for the foot-stall (Baggins favourite seat) was right next to it. I thought that might be tempting fate so I swapped it around with my mahogany root chair. Arwen sat on it and gazed at the decorations, but she knew I was watching her, and in the end she moved away. Then Baggins sat there, his eyes round with interest and in the end the temptation proved too much, and he had to investigate. He moves slowly but once he has his claws into something he can't retract them and I thought he might pull the whole lot down, so I made him get down. He turned his back on me and sulked then, but soon they were both back in their normal state - asleep, and so far they have left it alone since then!

I have a busy week this week, with the Christmas Fayre on Tuesday, our craft group annual outing on Wednesday, and on Thursday I go back to the hospital for an eye test and hopefully a prescription for new glasses. Our outing this year is to Granada. I don't particularly want to browse the shops for anything, but I am looking forward to seeing how the city is decorated for Christmas. It is a long ride in the coach, so I have to be at the pick-up point for eight in the morning, and we won't back until between ten and eleven at night, so I'm glad my hospital appointment the next day isn't too early. I expect I had better go and get some beauty sleep now, so I'll bid you all Good-night.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

In the Bake House.

The great mince pie bake is going well, with about twenty-two dozen done so far, and more pastry in the fridge ready for the next session. Last week we had our meter changed so we are now on the 'cheaper rate at night' tariff for electricity. The hours are more generous that they were when we were on it in UK. The cheap rate runs from 11.00p.m. til twelve noon the next day. We put the washing machine, dish washer and pool pump on when we go to bed now, but the cooker is our most power-hungry appliance, so I am trying to get most of my baking done in the mornings. I don't know whether any of you watch the programme Nigel Slater's suppers. It's not something that I make an effort to see, but I quite often pick it up almost by accident, and some of his dishes are quite interesting, though some are rather strange. This week he did an interesting meal of beef cooked in beer with onions and mustard, served with a big dollop of apple sauce, so I gave it a go on Friday and it was really nice. He also made a cake with raisins and mixed seeds in, and the extra ingredient was a fair amount of grated raw beetroot. Well, I have always enjoyed carrot cake, and we are both fans of beetroot so I decided to have a go today. It was a sloppy, very pink mixture, as you can see from the empty bowl, and it took a long time to cook. It said to let it stand for at least twenty minutes before turning it out; then as soon as it had cooled enough I just had to cut across it. I was expecting a deep rich red cake, so I was very disappointed to find that it didn't look any different from an ordinary fruit cake - just a nice golden brown! Where did all that colour go? When it was properly cold I added the lemon icing that was a part of the recipe, and I must say, the piece we had for tea was very nice so I'm glad I gave it a try. You can see a few of my mince pies behind the cake. I didn't do a proper session today as we had to go shopping first for animal food, so I was late starting. But I wanted some pastry to make an 'apple' pie for tomorrow, and I used the rest up on mince pies. It isn't really an apple pie because it is made with quince from my friend's tree. We don't get cooking apples out here, but the quince are quite 'tart' and they make a better pie than eating apples do. Apple pies were a favourite back in UK and with that lovely big bramley tree in the garden, I made them quite regularly. I was so sad when, almost the first thing our buyer did, was cut the tree down. We were grateful for its shade as well as its fruit, so its her loss.

We have had a chilly, wet week here, but it seems mean-spirited to complain while all the folks back in UK are struggling with arctic conditions. Some of our days have been lovely and sunny, but as soon as the sun sets, the temperature drops, and it is that time of year when it is often warmer outside than in the house. I walked up to the post office yesterday and the wind was freezing, but our back porch was really sheltered and both yesterday, and today, we have been able to sit out there to eat our lunch. The thermometer, which is on the porch wall but not in direct sunlight, was showing 18º around midday. We have learned that the secret is not to allow ourselves to get cold, so before tea, we close all the shutters, and light the calor-gas fire in the main room, and I change into trousers, socks and slippers. That way we keep quite comfortable all evening. The nights have been down to 6 or 7º this week but the forecast says it will only drop to around 14º next week, with 21º in the day time, so that will be good. Of course you can't beat having a couple of cats curled up on your lap for warmth. I have just upset Luna and Baggins by turfing them off so I could come down to my room to do this!

I have featured my two fluffy cats, Arwen and Baggins, quite a lot just lately so I thought I'd give Paco and Luna a bit of space today. As it gets cooler, they choose to stay indoors more and this week I found them curled up together on a chair. They looked so comfortable together. Luna is pretty easy with all the others and the dogs don't bother her too much, but Baggins and Paco don't hit it off at all well. It's probably because they are both males, and males are notoriosly teritorial. Sometimes they will each curl up on a chair in the same room and be fine, but if one walks too near to the other, then they growl and when they fight there is fur flying everywhere. I usually shut them in separate rooms to cool off. Anyway, here are my two campo cats. Luna is just six months old so she is still quite a baby, and she just likes to be close to someone, and if she can resist the temptation to play with their tails, all the others put up with her, but she gets on with Paco the best.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas has come early

I am a very lucky girl, because last Saturday I received my Christmas present a full five weeks early. I had persuaded a rather reluctant Chris to buy me some very expensive storage shelves for my craft room. This was partly because my room was getting very untidy and overcrowded, but my main reason was that I have a stash of lovely papers specifically for my scrapbooks. I have been collecting these for several years and I am really grateful for that, because they are difficult to buy out here, and although I can buy them online, they are heavy so the postage is excessive, and because of their size, they tend not to travel well. I like to make big scrapbooks so the papers measure 12" x 12", so I can't print my own either. I have a thing about papers, so much so that sometimes I don't even want to use them; I just like looking at them and touching them. (From reading a variety of craft forums and blogs, I find that there is a whole band of crafters who feel the same!). I do use them however, and up until now they have been stored on edge, in a big box under my desk, and it grieves me to find some have got dog-eared, or even cat chewed! and I really wanted somewhere better to keep them. So when I saw this purpose built storage, I knew it was just what I wanted. When it arrived last weekend, it was in three huge cartons that couldn't realistically be stored anywhere until Christmas, and Chris wanted to open them to see that everything was there, so the only sensible thing to do was to open them up and assemble it. So here it is, installed in my room, with my book shelf on top of it, and the plastic boxes that used to be on top of that, now neatly tucked into the corner on the floor, where they are much more stable and useful. The storage unit was self-assembly, and for once we got what we paid for, a very robust set of shelves that won't warp under the weight of paper. It all fitted together perfectly, and there were more than enough screws and other fixings, and it came complete with a lidded box to fit each shelf. On one side the shelves take A4 size boxes, some deep and some more shallow, and on the other it takes nine boxes all designed to take 12x12 papers. So I then spent a lovely afternoon sorting all my papers into colours and designs, and within a day, all the new boxes were full! So I may not now have a present to open on Christmas morning, but I am more than happy with my new tidy room, and safe collection of papers.

As you can see my room comes complete with two furry friends! They are nearly always in there with me. Baggins does venture outside as long as the dogs aren't just outside the door, but he soon comes back in and if I am in my room, he is there too, usually sitting as close to me as he can get. He is nearly sitting on the computer now, and when I am at my desk, he climbs on there and plonks himself down on my papers and ink pads. It's a wonder I ever get anything done. I draw the line at sharing my table with him when I am doing my lace. Tangled bobbins are no joke, but he is very disgruntled when I turf him off and make him sit somewhere else.

We spent one morning this week doing some gardening. We did a very radical pruning of the jasmine that grows on the front wall. The wind caught it and blew it down, and we could see that the trellis behind it was rotting and breaking up, so we have cut it almost to the ground, just keeping a couple of new shoots. Now Chris is going to paint the wall behind it and put a new trellis up, and I'm sure it will be back as strong as ever by the spring. My flower is still out, despite the cold winds and rain we have had. The other flower buds I mentioned in an earlier post, have finally opened. They have a head of these lovely, long, orange bells, and as there are four heads on it this time, we will have flowers for quite a few weeks. I have a friend at church called Jasmine, and it is she who gave me both these plants. This week I went to a coffee morning at her house. She holds several throughout the year to raise funds for the church. I made some calendars to sell using photos I have taken locally. I didn't sell many but every little helps and I shall try to sell a few more at church this week. As we arrived at Jasmine's house I was struck by this lovely chumba (prickly pear) that was growing by her swimming pool. The fruit are usually a greenish yellow, sometimes with a little pink, but I have never seen one with these lovely deep red fruits before, and there were so many of them too. Personally I wouldn't want a chumba that close to my house, nor in a position where I could accidently rub up against it, but it was beautiful.

This week I started my big mince pie bake. This is something else that I do to raise some funds for our church, and last year I sold around 25 dozen. I am hoping to get up to about 30 dozen this year. I have orders for 12 dozen already before I have asked anyone if they want them, so I have bought up enough ingredients to make about 35 dozen to be on the safe side, because none of it will go to waste even if I don't need it for this time. I did get seven dozen made yesterday, and the pastry for the next seven, because it needs to rest in the fridge overnight before it is used. I am taking some of the first lot with me this Sunday because I usually make cake when it is my turn to do the teas and coffees after the service,and I've also made some order forms, so people can taste before they order, and then they will know what they are like. Hopefully they will like them and I will get some orders, but I also get quite a few from my Wednesday craft group, so I am sure I will have more than enough to make it worth while.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's Here!

Waiting for my cactus flower to open was a bit like waiting for the kettle to boil. You just know it's not going to happen until you look away! So yesterday I made a point of not inspecting my plant at first light, as I had been doing, and sure enough, when I went out for my Spanish lesson in the afternoon, it had popped, and was beginning to open up. Of course, by today it was fully open, so here it is. It's not the most beautiful flower in the garden, but it is pretty spectacular all the same. I took this close up of one of it's petals to show the pattern of fine red lines and the tiny hairs along the edges. I suspect, if I could bend down that low, (which I can't!!), it would probably smell similar to rotten meat. It is like the big dessert flowers I have seen on television whose only aim is to attract flies and other insects, down into the dark centre. It is a huge flower for such a tiny plant and I am really pleased to have it in my garden.

This Sunday was another of the local Lace Days. This time it was at Huercal -Overa, which is the town where I go to church, so I didn't book to go as a guest, but when our morning service ended, I walked around to the hall and spent an hour there while my friend Sylvia who shares lifts with me, had a cup of coffee with our church friends. Then she picked me up as she drove passed on her way home. The format was much the same as the others I have been to. There were the usual dancers on the stage. I took a picture of them because I do love their colourful dresses. Then a group of quite small girls got on the stage. I had to smile at them. They put so much energy in to it and obviously enjoy performing. The little lass on the end (with the lilac sash) was having a bit of bother. They did a lively dance with lots of shaking of their hips to rattle the metal coins on their sashes, and every time she 'wiggled' her sash slipped a bit lower until it was round her knees. She didn't know what to do and was in danger of having a tumble until a mum stepped forward and tied her up again. I managed to get to the trade stalls before they packed everything away, and I bought a really fine steel crochet hook; so fine that you can't see it has a hook on it. This is to help me incorporate beads into my lace. Pam is going to give me a lesson soon so I thought I had better be prepared. There was lots of lovely work being done by the ladies at the tables. I particularly liked the length of lace that this lady was making, so I asked her if I could take a picture of it. Beautiful isn't it?

There was also a display table where anyone from the host group could show their work from the past year. It doesn't have to be lace. There is usually some very good knitting, crocheted lace and tapestry on display as well. At this meeting there were also a few other crafters demonstrating and I was particularly taken with this man who was busy making miniture ratten chairs. The smallest ones were only about one centimeter square for their seats. He had big workman's hands with thick fingers, and I was amazed how well he could handle these tiny pieces. I did wonder how he came to be there, but then I realised that he was also making beaded bobbins. Here are some he had done. They are very pretty, but much chunkier than we use, and I would not like them on my work pillow. But the Spanish workers are used to fatter bobbins and I am sure they would use them quite happily.

My youngest son Ben is enjoying having some free time between his open University courses, so he has been writing some new songs. I promised him I would post a link to them on here so I'll give it a go. Just click on the link below.
'I will be there when you're cold' is his newest song, but for the family (or anyone else who is interested) I would recommend 'Time to Give' and 'A different kind of love'. If you just like the piano there is a video of his first 'classical' composition just called 'Fast piano playing', or on guitar instead of piano there's another of his songs called 'First cut'. He also does some good cover versions of Queen and Counting Crows songs. You'll find links to all of these down the side of the page when you click on this link. I don't usually advertise for him, but it is so long now since the family saw any of the boys, and I thought you might like to see what he's been up to.

We were able to sit out on the porch to eat our lunch again today. The weather is being very kind to us, and even when there is a cold wind blowing at the back of the house, the porch area is quite sheltered. Today it was hot sitting there and we didn't stay out for too long, but it is good to make the most of it, while the sun is still shining. So I'll leave you with this photo. I was just finishing lunch when I looked up at the sky and saw this 'kiss'. It made me smile, so I hope it does you too.