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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Memories are made of this.

Isn't it strange how the oddest things can take us back along memory lane? Today, instead of one of my lazy 'quick and easy' dinners, I made a chicken and leek pie. I made it in a deep dish so I dug in the back of the cupboard and found my old pie chimney, which hasn't been used for many a long day. As we were eating our pie I was telling Chris about the pies Mum used to make for us, and how I loved her pie chimney which was a black bird with an open beak for the steam to escape. Mum often made pies; I guess it was a good way to stretch the meat to feed a big family, but it gave me my love of pies and anything pastry, which is still with me today. When Jean and I were the last two 'children' left at home, I was the acedemic one who actually enjoyed sitting in my room studying and listening to radio Luxemburg at the same time! Mum never understood that but she was pleased that Jean was more domesticated, and she put her efforts into making sure she knew how to budget for a family, and how to prepare and cook a good meal for them. I was happy to be let off the hook in the kitchen, but somehow I still managed to learn a lot of mum's cooking skills, and many things are still done her way. And a little thing like a pie chimney can bring back memories of a kitchen smelling of good cooking, and of mum standing at a hot stove. God bless you Mum. Gone but never forgoten!

As well as using many of mum's tried and tested recipes and methods, I also like to experiment with new ideas, and try ingredients that either were not readily available in Mum's time, or that she thought were too difficult to bother with. So today I am trying my hand at preserving ginger. At the market today I bought some beautiful fresh root ginger. It was really fresh, firm and juicy, and I wondered if I could preserve some of it before it goes stale and wrinkly. The preserved ginger that we usually buy is, of course, stem ginger, but on the internet I found a recipe for preserving root ginger so I am giving it a go. It is a lengthy process which will take several days to complete. Once the roots are cooked thay have to be steeped in syrup which then has to be drained, boiled, cooled and used again, several times. So you will have to wait intil my next blog to find out how successful it is. Not wanting to waste anything, I kept all the peelings and poured boiling water over them and made a very strong, delicious ginger 'tea'. Another little memory trigger as, on our 'holiday of a lifetime', Chris and I used to sit in a little bar in Bangkok with a pot of ginger tea that was literally boiling water poured over shavings of ginger, and the longer we left it, the stronger it got. The one I have made is pretty firey, so I will have to dilute it if I use it again.

I seem to lose track of the days out here, but I have just realised that tomorrow will be two weeks since my cataract operation, and I am managing quite well to do things around the house. I have to limit my time at each activity as my eye soon begins to feel strained, and I am still struggling outside, both with the bright light and the lack of distance vision, but at the rate the days are whizzing by, it will be no time at all before I have new glasses, and all will become clear...I hope. I wonder if any of you forgot to change your clocks at the end of October. I hate clocks that don't tell the truth, and I always reset my bedroom clock and watch before I go to sleep, and make it the first job when I wake up, to go round the house putting all the others right. But this time it struck me how very few clocks there are in this house to alter. Apart from the one beside my bed, there is really only one in the sitting room which has panels of flower fairies on it, and is more for decoration than use as I can't see the small face on it very clearly. I guess its a sign of how unimportant time is to us now. How lucky we are.

In my last blog I told you that I was waiting for two buds to open in the garden. Well I'm still waiting. I know what the first one will look like, but as yet, the second one is a mystery. The bud is growing and getting fatter every day, but you will have wait for a while longer to see the flower. In the meantime here is the bud!! So take a guess as to what it will look like, and maybe next week you'll know if you were right.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A beautiful day!

It is hard to believe that it is already one week since I had my cataract operation, but this morning we set off for the hospital again for my next checkup. The consultant was pleased with the actual condition of my eye but seemed a little surprised when I said I could not see much better with it as yet, and in fact my distance vision is rather worse than it was, so he tested me and I was unable to read any of the letters on his screen. I explained that my eyesight has been poor for many years, but as long as I use my glasses I can still see enough to get by, though my eye is constantly a bit sore because I am straining it with everything I do. He told me to go on using the drops and has given me an appointment for 16th December to have a test for new glasses. I am assuming he will then give me a prescription to take to an optician to have made up. I will need to do that quickly if I am to get them before everything stops for Christmas!

It was a beautiful day, much better than even we hope for in November, so when we came out of the hospital, we decided to go for a drive, and took the road that leads down through Pulpi to San Juan beach. For the first part we were driving along a fairly narrow, bumpy road, with a new road, under construction, running along side it. Then we joined the part of the new road that is completed. The views were stunning. The hills and mountains seemed quite green, with long, dark shadows running down them, the sky was bright blue, and as we broke through the mountain range, the sea was sparkling in front of us. All the way we passed huge areas of farm land with long, straight rows of bright green lettuces growing, fields of workers cutting some for marketing, and planting new ones, and then orange groves where the early crop of fruit was also being picked. We passed through sleepy villages, and stopped for goats to cross the road in front of us, and we felt we had seen the real Spain that we both love so much. As we drove down into San Juan we stopped to look at the mountains behind us, and the golf course, (new, and still not looking ready to use) in front of us, and across the other side of that was the mass of coloured houses and flats that make up the town of San Juan. We have a soft spot for this little town as it has one of the best beaches in the area, as well as beautiful mountains all round it. We did look at a property there when we were house-hunting, but like so many towns, it has suffered with over development, and the houses are bunched up close together, and the town lacks the amenities to supply the growing population. But it is still a lovely place to visit on a sunny autumn day. We sat at a beach café for a coffee and then drove along the coast road, passed the flat at El Calón that we rented for our first six months here, and on to one of our favourite restaurants at Villaricos where we stopped for lunch. We were able to sit out on a sunny patio to eat which is a real bonus this late in the year. I then spent the afternoon on a lounger in the garden until it was time for my Spanish lesson. That's life and it's great!

We are in the throws of seriously reducing the size of our bouganvillea 'hedge' outside the kitchen door. It is a big job and we don't really have the best tools to do it with, but we are gradually getting it done. Then we have to prune the roses right back, and generally sort out the garden for it's winter rest time. So it is nice to see that not everything is dying off and we have two plants showing signs of bursting into bloom. They are both cactus/succulent type plants and they were both gifts from a friend at church. One is a big rosette of spikey, spotted leaves and it has flowered several times before, but this time it has four heads of buds on its stem, and it is the first time it has had that. The other one is a not very striking plant but Jasmine told me that the flower is very interesting. She gave me a cutting last year and the dogs, who were still really only pups then, promptly ate it! This year she gave me another small cutting that didn't look very promising, but she thought it had rooted. I put it in a little strip of soil in the front garden (well away from the dogs) where I had dug up the 'rabbit-ears' cactus that had grown too big. It hasn't done much in the months it has been there, but it now has a bud on it that is swelling daily so I am really looking forward to seeing it open. No doubt you will be seeing it too in my next blog.....