Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Now that's what I call a chicken!

Hello to all my friends and family, my faithful band of followers! I hope you all enjoyed a Happy Christmas. It is the one day of the year when I really miss the family, and being surrounded by my lovely boys and their families, but that aside we had a peaceful and happy day. On Christmas Eve we joined with many of our neighbours, (all English) at the local bar for a meal and live music. It was a good opportunity to chat with folk, some of whom we hadn't seen for a while, and enjoy some happy company. We didn't get home until around 1.00 a.m. and it was still surprisingly mild so we made a nightcap and sat outside with the dogs for a while. There was just the two of us here for Christmas day but I still cooked a traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings. It was Chris' turn to walk the dogs so while he did that, I got on with preparing the vegetables. Then we took our morning cup of tea out to the seat at the back of the house, which gets the best of the early morning sun. It was lovely out there and we managed to fathom out how to use the self-timer on Ben old camera, so here we are enjoying a lovely cuppa. It was really bright out there. You can see how dark my 'reactolight' glasses have gone.

A few days earlier I had been writing to Ben and I said I was off to the shops to look for a 'nice fat chicken' as we both prefer it to turkey. It actually took some finding. I started at the Spanish butchers in the village as I have bought good ones from him before, but he was closed with a sign on the door that said 'tarde 2 mins'. Now Spanish time is notoriously elastic, and after waiting for nearly ten minutes I decided to get on with my other supermarket shopping. The big independent supermarket in Turre only had a very scrawny looking chicken, and some huge pork joints. They don't eat much turkey here and the favoured meat for Christmas seems to be cabrita which is kid goat/lamb, but they didn't even have that at the supermarket. Moving on to the new Iceland store in Vera, I found loads of freezers full of turkeys but no whole chickens. I could have bought a nice little turkey, around 3.5 kilos which would have done us two, but I had set my heart on chicken so I went home without any meat. The next day we both went up to the local butcher again, and there it was, right in the front of the counter, a beautiful chook, that weighed in at 3 kilos, so almost as big as the small turkey. When I buy chicken portions out here they are always huge so I presume they breed them that way. We also bought lovely pork chops and a whole rabbit. Rabbit is eaten a lot here partly because they abound on the campo, and for six months or so, the local men can be seen going out at the weekends to shoot them. The butcher offered to chop everything for us but I was just in time to make sure the chicken stayed on one piece! But I did ask him to chop the rabbit and he smiled when I asked him to 'quita cabeza' or 'remove the head'. The Spanish eat everything on an animal! The cats and dogs enjoyed the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs, but although I like my meat fresh, I don't want it looking at me!

I put the chicken in a roasting bag and popped it in the oven Christmas morning, and it was delicious, served with all the usual extras such as sausages, bacon rolls and stuffing, and of course, cranberry sauce. It was a beautiful sunny day, and although we didn't eat dinner until 4.00, we were still able to eat it in the garden in full sun. The fly-free area is shady by that time so we pulled a table up to the side of the pool, and as there were no flies around that day, it was a lovely place to have our meal. Chris decided he needed a short siesta after a late night and a big meal, so while he was dozing I used skype and managed to chat with three of my sisters who were all visiting at the one house, and all of our boys. So that was a very satisfactory way to spend the afternoon. Once the sun went down, we put the fire on and got comfortable in front of the TV for a few hours before a somewhat earlier night than the one before.

I always think this week between Christmas and New Year's day is a very strange one. The days all run into each other. We haven't done much more than relax though we did get down to the sea-front yesterday as we had a few errands to run in Mojacar. I wanted to get to the bank to pay in a cheque that kind Mr taxman sent me on Christmas Eve. He suddenly decided that I overpaid my tax by quite a sum during the year when I left work; that's 2006-07! It was a big surprise and a very nice Christmas present. Chris also wanted to go to the lotterie shop. There is a big lottery here in Spain, drawn the week before Christmas, called El Gordo or the The fat one. Tickets are sold all year and the prizes are huge and there are a vast number of them. The numbers are drawn by the children from an orphanage on a live TV programme, and they sing the numbers they draw. It is quite extraordinary to watch. Some families, charities, independent shops etc buy a whole block of tickets and sell them on with a mark up of two to three euros on each one for their own organisation. Each ticket costs 20 euros so although there are hundreds of prizes, it is a big gamble. Chris bought one ticket, sold for our own village charity ASADIS and he won 100 euros. That is a very small amount compared with the millions some people win, but it was a nice little extra all the same, so he went in the shop to claim his prize. Some people in there had a huge pile of tickets to be scanned by the machine to see if they had won anything. They would have needed to win a fair sum to cover the cost of the tickets they had bought. The lady behind the desk looked amazed because Chris handed over his one ticket and collected his money, but when she asked us 'algo mas' (any more) we just shook our heads. She obviously wasn't used to one-ticket holders.

Anyway, tomorrow I shall have to shop again for fresh milk, but Friday is a bank holiday, and in Andalucia, Monday is as well. Then at the end of next week we have the big celebrations for Three Kings Day, with the arrival of the kings on the night of the 5th, and a fiesta in our village on 6th. Then we have our big carol concert with the Spanish choir on 7th, but we have just heard that our lovely choir leader Julie, is in hospital, so I don't know whether that will be going ahead. An old problem she has had before has flared up, and I think she is quite poorly. Those of you who believe in the power of prayer, please pray for her. I know she will be so upset if she is not better by 7th, and she needs to concentrate on herself for once, and not be worrying about letting us down.

All that leaves me with, is to wish you all the very best for 2012. I hope it is a happy, healthy and peaceful year for everyone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Roses in December

Many years ago I rescued a small piece of paper from Mum's pin board that I believe was a quote from a calendar. It said "God gave us our memories that we might have roses in December". I kept it for a long time on my pin board but it became close to disintegrating, and I don't think I have it any more. Well my memory may be failing a bit now, but out here I don't need it to have the roses in December. I have beautiful ones in bloom in my garden right now. We cut these back a bit very recently, but still they have several flowers on each plant. They will be cut back hard soon after Christmas, but by Easter they will be in full bloom again. The jasmine that covers the wall behind them was cut almost to the ground this year, but already it is back in full leaf. I see one little tendril of it has latched on the roses and is now waving from the top of them. It looks like a little cartoon bird trying to fly away.

Christmas has finally arrived in Los Gallardos. I thought they had decided to do away with the street lights as part of a money-saving effort this year, but when I went out to feed the dogs at the end of last week, I saw a man in a crane bucket, fixing something to the overhead cables. Now, not only have they put up the lights, but they have given us our own angel on the post outside our house! This is the first time we have had one as our road has been in various stages of it's make-over for the past two years. The angels are spaced on alternate posts from the entrance of the village up to us. Further up there are lights across the streets of little churches with snow falling on them. They all have tiny LED lights which are very bright and twinkle in a lovely way. Across the village at the main plaza there are bands of large snowflakes which also move and sparkle when lit. It seems quite incongruous to me that they chose snowflakes as decorations when half the village have probably never seen snow, but they do look beautiful at night. They were all switched on for the first time on Saturday, and they will be lit each night until the Three Kings fiesta on 6th January.

Another nice thing they have done is to plant poinsettias around each of the trees up the road, and round the plaza. There are four of them in the planter outside our gate and they make a lovely splash of colour. We have had a week of absolutely beautiful days, warm enough to eat our lunch out in the new fly-free area (which we have started referring to as the conservatory, although that's not what it is at all. It just sounds nicer!). It is four o'clock now and I am sitting right by a window that is wide open and the sun is pouring in, but in about another half an hour, the sun will start slipping behind the hill and it will get quite chilly. When I walked the dogs this morning there was a very fine layer of frost on the 'grass', but it was soon gone. I hope it doesn't get any colder or the lovely poinsettias will die.

And talking of the sun setting behind the hill, we had a stunning sunset last Friday. I was talking to Jonathan on the phone and I glanced round to see the whole sky lighting up like a bonfire. It had streaks of gold and red with pale turquoise underneath. I tried to describe it to him but then I just took photos instead. The colour increased until the whole sky was glowing and then it funnelled into banks of grey and red and seemed to be sucked over the top of the hill, until all of a sudden, it was gone. A beautiful experience!
The Gallarte expo that I mentioned in my previous post was the start of a very, very busy week for us. In between other activities I had several baking sessions and managed to complete somewhere around 65 dozen mince-pies. Of course the first few batches were made earlier so that Ben could take some home with him, and we could have some at our little party on the Monday he was here. I haven't kept a tally, but I expect we have eaten a fair few ourselves, and there is a couple of dozen in a box in the larder for us. But the rest were mainly but not all made to order, and they were sold at Gallarte, through my church, to friends from the village, and others at my Wednesday sewing group. I was able to give a good donation to the church funds from the profits of the ones I sold there. Everyone seems to enjoy them so that makes it all worth-while. Now the table has come down off its bricks and I can sit there without resting my chin on its surface again.

The other events that kept us busy last week were the final practice for our singing group (called Cantante) on Tuesday morning and then four concerts, when were singing a selection of carols and Christmas songs. We had a wonderful reception at every venue. The first was in a small bar in Julie's village of Zurgena on the Tuesday night, then at a larger bar/restaurant called la Vida on Thursday night; On Friday we sang at lunch time when our church returned to a bar called the Palms in Urcal where we used to hold our services before we had our own premises. We had a small table-top sale first, then our singing and it ended with many of us sitting down to lovely traditional English style Christmas dinner. And finally we sang at our own Chruch for their carol service on Sunday morning. Cantante is made up roughly half and half of church members and friends from Julie's village, and it was lovely to see so many of the non-regular church folk turning up on Sunday. We still have one more event to look forward to when we join with Coral Maria Auxiliadora at the church of San Ramon Nonato in Zurgena on 7th January. ( I can never remember all that. I have just copied it off the programme)! We will be singing four or five songs in English and they will sing four or five in Spanish, and then we are singing four together - in Spanish.

We were keen to try to get a recording of one of the concerts, so at La Vida, one of the singers managed to set up a static video camera. It had to be on a table at the back of the room so the quality is not perfect but it is quite listenable to, though you will hear some quiet conversation between people watching us. We were asked to wear black skirts/trousers and a plain, warm colour at the top, but when I saw the video I rather wished I hadn't chosen that night to wear my bright orange smock-top! I will put a link to the videos which are now on youtube, at the end of this post. If you have a few minutes do listen to one or two songs. In many of the more familiar carols you can see Julie encouraging the audience to join in with us. Do listen to Silent night when we sang the first verse in Spanish for some Spanish friends who had come to see us sing, and O Holy night which is almost a solo by Julie, with the rest of us joining in at the end of each verse. (She was a professional singer before her retirement, and although she is now in her seventies - I think! - she can still make the hairs on your arm tingle when she sings). It is lovely. She also wrote the words to 'In Bethlehems Stable' which is sung to the tune of a lovely north country folk song called Water's of Tyne. There is one number called 'I sang a song' which was written and composed by Donna who is also a member of the group and she was very helpful at holding our alto group together. We laughed when we saw the video because Chris starts each song with his elbow propped on the railing, but he did stand up to sing and I think he enjoyed being involved as much as we all did. There is nothing like some good old Christmas music to get us all in the mood for one of my favourite times of year.


Click on this link and it will take you to the list of songs. Just click on any you want to listen to. For a band of amateurs, we didn't do too bad, and we certainly gave a lot of people real pleasure.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A week with Ben

Here I am again with part two of my post. This time I am concentrating on the first week of December, when our son Ben was out here. He came all the way from Birmingham by train, and we collected him from the station at Murcia, on the evening of Saturday 3rd December. He was due in at 6.40 and fortunately the Spanish trains nearly always run to time. It was over an hour's drive to get home and at 8.30 we were due at a dinner in a restaurant just outside our village. We really wanted to go to this as it was the first time we had been invited. Mainly organised and attended by Spanish folk, there was a small contingent of English there as well. It was the annual dinner for ASADIS, the charity run within our village to raise money for disadvantaged children in our area, and it was arranged to coincide with the international day for people with a disability (Día internacional de las personas con discapacidad). We were invited because I make marmalade and jam throughout the year, and sell it in the local bar for ASADIS. I think half the village were there. They served up 250 meals as well as providing a long table set for all the children. This photo shows some of the children who have benefited from the funds we raise, presenting flowers to their main benefactors. It was posted on the charity facebook page with this lovely caption translated into 'Spanglish'! -

Pudimoa last night with a dinner celebrating the Day of Persons with Disabilities. It was a very beautiful night, all the effort and work of mothers in the preparation, bore fruit in an intimate evening, adults and children enjoyed. And just like this one situation, we have luck, the association continues to provide the necessary services for children and indispensable for its development. Thanks to all partners and coloboradores

We had a lovely meal, followed by live music and dancing. Ben was on his knees by the time we got home, but I think he had enjoyed his glimpse of Spanish hospitality.

We had just had a week of mostly grey days and a fair bit of rain, so Ben was very lucky to have a whole week of sunny days. He managed to wear his shorts for the mornings, and sat outside to soak up some sun, though it soon cools down in the afternoons now. Just to annoy his friends, he put a photo on facebook of our outside thermometer showing 28º, but that was taken when the sun was shining directly on to it! We have already made good use of our new fly-free area and we often still eat our lunch out there. Ben came along to our choir practice one morning, and then we went out for lunch and a stroll along the beach.

On the Monday evening I had a little 'party', inviting round two couples from our choir and church, one from the village, one from my sewing group, and a single friend who lives nearby, so there were twelve of us altogether. This is actually the first time we have done any proper entertaining since we moved here, so I kept it simple, with not too many people, and, and I just made a variety of finger food that could all be prepared in advance. The house looked pretty with all the Christmas decorations up, and even though most of them had not met before, everyone got on really well together. In this picture they are all sitting down for a chat and getting ready to listen to Ben sing a few songs. One of our guests, Robin, makes guitars, and he had lent one to me for Ben to play. So he sang a few and then Robin sang one, and we all did a few carols. Later, Robin's wife Julie asked Ben to sing one of his a second time before she went home as while he was playing I suddenly thought I could smell smoke and I remembered that my five branches of candles had been lit for supper (see the photo of the food table). I rushed into the dining room to find the candles had burned right down, melted the plastic flower rings around their bases which in turn had dripped down and set light to my polyester table cloth! I summoned Chris and together we soon put it out. Fortunately we had done justice to the food and most had been eaten, but the remains had a fine layer of ash on them. (The dogs had it the next day. A bit of charcoal is good for them and they didn't seem to mind!) I was a bit sad about the big hole in the tablecloth as it is one I have had for years, but I shall probably cut it down or patch it with one of the matching serviettes. The table itself has a glass top which was mostly unharmed though there is one small area of burn on its wooden frame that we are hoping we can sand away. It was entirely my fault for forgetting the candles, but I bet it won't happen again!

Mostly we spent the week relaxing together, going for walks, and listening to music. One night Ben sat up with dad 'til really late and another night he sat in the kitchen with me until the early hours, and it was rather nice having him all to ourselves for a change. I thought he might find it a bit lonely without Dave, but I think he enjoyed the break, and when he got home they went straight off together for the weekend, so they did their catching up then.

At the end of his week there was another little event that Ben had to come along to with us. It was the Christmas expo for Gallarte - a council sponsored group for 'Artists (and crafters) from Los Gallardos and the surrounding area'. I joined this group about six months ago and this was the first time I was showing any of my work. It is also an opportunity to try to sell some of it. In actual fact I did not have much to show this time but I had knitted a few garments, made some bobbin-lace Christmas decorations, and it was suggested that I also take along some jam and mince-pies so I did. The expo opened on the Thursday evening so I went that afternoon to set my bit up. When I got my camera out to take a photo of it these three Spanish ladies immediately came and posed for me. Cati, the lady on the left of the photo, is very friendly and we get on well with all her family. She is one of the main organisers of the Asadis group, but she also brings sewing and cross -stitched pictures to Gallarte. I am afraid I am not responsible for the lovely paintings behind them, though I wish I was. We only stayed for a short while on the first evening as we were invited to our friends house up in El Pinar - one of the little white villages up in the hills behind Los Gallardos. We had a lovely fun evening up there with her family and other mutual friends. The expo was open until lunch time on Sunday, so after church I went straight there to take my things away. I had sold some of the knitting, most of the jam and quite a few mince-pies, but only one of the lace decorations. That didn't worry me as I wanted some for something else, and it saved me having to try and get more made!

We took Ben back to Lorca station early on the Friday morning. It was dark as we left home but on the journey we watched a beautiful sun rise. We were trying to take photos of it from the car, and I did get this one, but when I went to take another, the picture on my viewfinder was very distorted and I have not been able to get it right since. It is a great shame as I carry it everywhere with me, and am always snapping up anything I see of interest. But Chris thinks something inside has broken. Fortunately I still have Ben's old one that I bought from him when he got his iphone with a good built in camera. It also takes quite good views, but the close up - macro setting - is poor, so it is no use for putting photos of my cards on my craft blog. I'll have to save up for a replacement after Christmas. Well, I think that is enough chat for one day. I have one more post ready to go, so I'll be back, maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Granada

Did you think I'd deserted you all? Well I just took a short break while our son Ben was visiting us, and then I had a very hectic week which I will post about maybe tomorrow. For tonight I will just tell you about my lovely day out in the city of Granada. I went there the week before Ben's visit, with my Wednesday sewing group. It was not a serious shopping trip for any of us; just a chance to spend a day in good company, and get a brief feel for city life, which we don't see very often. We were just too early for there to be many Christmas decorations up, but the men were busy getting lights set up on the plaza, and a few shops had decorated their windows. I don't think I am ready to be a grown-up yet; not if it means I stop getting excited by things like Christmas lights anyway! The one departmental store that shows up in most Andalucian cities is Cortes Ingles, and they did have half a floor of decorations for sale (very expensive ones I might add), and at night fall their facade was lit up with bright snowflakes which sparkled and were lovely.

We were blessed with a beautiful day a
nd one of the nice things about Granada is the number of trees lining its streets and filling the plazas. They were all in their autumn colours and looked beautiful with the sun shining through them. In Spanish, 'una granada' is a pomegranate, and you can see big stone pomegranates clustered at the top of this fountain on one of the plazas we passed.

Last Christmas we also had a day in Granada but it was a grey day with a chilly wind blowing down the narrow streets and we were so cold. This year was really warm by comparison, and I didn't need a coat all day, though I did have one with me 'just in case'. In the morning the shops and flats had their sun-shades up still. There were quite a few people around, but no-one was loaded down with bags of shopping. The 'crisis' is certainly evident here just as it is in UK. These guardia looked very relaxed, taking a break in the sunshine. Every time we go to a city we see people trying to earn a few euros by being 'living statues', but some are much better at it than others. They rather fascinate me, probably because I know I could never sit that still for five minutes, let alone hours at a time. We had to smile at one young girl who hadn't quite got the idea. She had the silver paint all over her hands, face and clothes, but she held a single pink rose and every time someone walked passed her she moved and waved at them! The one that amazed us, and everyone else who passed him, was this man. He was painted all over in gold and he appeared to be suspended in mid air, with just a long pole to rest on. I am still not sure how he did it. The pole only had a small base but it must have been very heavily weighted to balance a bar under his arm that carried a tiny platform, and he must have been sitting cross legged on it. But he was so still it was hard to believe there really was a person under all the wraps, except that he did move his head slightly to acknowledge any donations. I think he really earned his money. You can see the look of disbelief on the faces of the two ladies that have stopped for a closer look.

Our little group had a good wander around the shops, and the Moroccan bazaars all round the cathedral, and when most of them closed for siesta time we had lunch and then went to Cortes Ingles because they do stay open all through the afternoon. When we were walking back to the coach we passed the fountain and it was lit up and looked lovely. Granada is a good three hour drive from here, so it was quite a long day, but we had all enjoyed ourselves, and that's what it is all about.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ready .. Steady .. Bake .. only it nearly didn't happen.

Yes, once again it is mince pie time. I wasn't sure I could make them this year as the mincemeat is proving hard to get. I have managed to buy a jar here and a jar there, and have accumulated about half of what I need. Iceland have promised to keep me 15 jars when their order arrives, but I have phoned every day this week and they still haven't got it in. But today I decided to make a start on them. So the table was again raised up on bricks as it is too low for me to work at for long, the pastry was made and rested, the equippment was out, the oven heated up, and I got stuck in. After the first five dozen I stopped to make our lunch and the oven went off. It was completely dead! Everything else was working so for once the problem wasn't our somewhat erratic power supply. The fuse wasn't tripped, so we were stumped. When it had cooled down, Chris lifted the oven out of it's housing to check the wiring but nothing seemed to be amiss. He waggled a few bits around and put it back in place, and hey presto! it was working again. I quickly baked some more pies in case it went off again. There is obviously a loose connection somewhere that needs attention, but for today, it was okay. So the first twelve dozen pies are done, though I did share two dozen between the workmen who were here this morning, as they were so complimentary about the ones I gave them with their mid-morning tea! So I can blame them if I run out of mincemeat before I have fulfilled my orders!

Why did we have workmen here this morning? Well we have finally got our fly-free room at the side of the house. Anyone who has visited us during the warmest months will know that flies and wasps can really spoil the time we spend sitting outside, and they were really bothering us as we are outside for most of the time. We particularly like to eat our meals outside. We sat out in the sun to eat lunch today and it is December! So we decided to have an area from the back porch across to the start of the pump house, covered with netting. It is similar to the mosquito nets that we have at the windows but much stronger, and it is stretched between steel pillars, and guaranteed to withstand winds up to 140 km/h. So on Monday, Chris and I cleared the area of chairs and tables, and moved the potted plants away. We also cut back the little purple tree and temporarily moved some of the plants from the tiny square of garden we have by the back fence. The men were here all day yesterday and again this morning and they have done a terrific job. The area is more spacious than we had expected and we can easily fit our table below the steps, and we will be treating ourselves to a couple of more comfortable chairs for the porch. The dogs will only be in there if we are, so these ones won't get chewed! The net is silver grey and the frame is white so it is all nice and light, and we will still feel we are sitting outside without the nuisance of the bugs. It will be great for me on a summer evening as I am a magnet for anything that bites, so I don't sit out very often, and now I can. The animals are a bit confused, especially the dogs who are used to sitting on the porch in the evenings, but we do let them in most evenings as long as they settle down. At first Foxy bounced off the net a couple of times, running around as she usually does, and so did one of the cats, but they will soon get used to it. It has caused a little stir in the village. I went to the post office this morning and three of our Spanish friends stopped to ask me about the new building. You can't do much here without everyone knowing, but they are not just being nosey; they genuinely like to know about everything and they are so friendly that you don't mind them asking.

Now I must get back to the kitchen. Ben arrives on Saturday and I have a 'To do' list as long as my arm, which isn't getting crossed off very quickly, so tonight I decided to make some more of my Hot chilli and ginger jam. It is very popular and sells well in the village, and I need some to take to the art and craft sale coming up next weekend. More of that in a later post. Keep checking back here though. I had a lovely day out yesterday with my sewing group and I shall be writing a post about that very soon, and I have some lovely photos to go with it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A sad Good-bye

After a lot of soul-searching and discussion, Chris and I came to the very difficult decision that it was time to say Good-bye to our beautiful Chico. He has had a short life, and a difficult one and we like to think we made it as happy for him as we could. Since his accident eighteen months ago, which resulted in the amputation of his front leg, he has not been the same dog. He made good progress on three legs, and ran around our flat, hard surface yard with relative ease, but he was starting to stumble more, and seemed to be finding running more hard work. We know the blow to his head also caused partial or complete blindness in one eye and he bumped into things, and people, which sometimes made him snap. Added to that was his size and strength. He had to carry a lot of weight for his size on three legs, but he was still massively stronger than the other two, and we had reached the point where not even Chris could hold him securely, and I certainly couldn't. He was a dog who needed to have long runs, but the terrain here is far too uneven for him, so we couldn't take him to the campo. This wasn't very fair on the other two, as they didn't get taken out very often either. We knew Chico barked non-stop when ever we went out without him. He was leader of the pack, and was becoming too dominant so that the two girls were becoming very wary of him, and because he could snap I didn't trust him when anyone came to the house. He always had to be shut away round the back. He was a lovely dog , and no trouble when it was just us two, and there were no distractions, but the situation was getting worse and we knew that we couldn't go on the way we were. He was also showing signs of some pain in his hips which would eventually get worse. So all in all we did not think that it was a real kindness to keep him. We took him to the vet and she agreed that it was the right thing to put him to sleep, so sadly today we said Good-bye to him. We will miss him so much. He was a part of our family. The girls are very quiet today, and are probably wondering when he is coming back, but they still have each other for company, and we now intend to start taking them out regularly again, so their life will be better.
I decided to do a blog post about this as many of my followers have been out here and met Chico, and have followed his trials and tribulations through these pages. I will link it to the boys e-mails too just to save me saying the same thing over and over.
Good-bye lovely boy. I am sorry we couldn't do more for you, but we did the best we could.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A good job or just a pain!!

From Chris's point a view - A good job - ; from mine - just a pain! Those of you who have visited us here will know that outside our kitchen door there is a narrow paved area, used mainly for hanging washing and feeding the animals, and it is divided from next door's orange grove by a big bougainvillea, which has gradually spread all along the fence. This is a vigorous grower, and local folk have told us that November it the time to prune it. Usually we just trim it when the long shoots get in the way, but this year we decided to be more brutal and cut it back hard. I hate cutting off all those lovely purple flowers, but it opens up the centre so all the brown, dead ones that have settled inside the branches can blow away, and it will be a mass of colour again in a couple of months. As this will need to be done at least annually, Chris decided to buy an electric hedge-trimmer to make it easier, so last Thursday being a beautiful sunny day, he made a start on it. He had taken the first layer off the front and top and then he went over the fence with the ladder (the house is empty and the gate is kept locked), to cut the far side. My job is usually to do most of the clearing away of all the debris. Luckily we have a big bin just outside our property, but bougainvillea has wicked long thorns so it is quite a task, and I have to chop it down into shorter lengths so I can get it into a plastic dustbin and lift it over a low side fence, and then out the front gate to the bin. While deciding how to tackle this, I picked up the 'loppers' and idly snipped at a few high branches that Chris had missed first time around, but unfortunately one was thicker than I had realised and I couldn't cut through it so the lopper jammed and sent a shock wave up my arm. Apart from 'ouch' in my head I didn't think anymore about it and together we cleared the branches ready to give it a second cut the next day, but by bed time I knew I was in for a stiff left arm. By Friday I was in agony with a pain I recognised from when I tore my right bicep a few years back, and my ham-string last year. By the evening I was shaking like a leaf, my teeth were chattering and the pain was severe, so I took my strong ibruprophen and went to bed. We even got out the duvet for the first time this year as I was so cold. On Saturday I toyed with the idea of going to an Urgencia (a kind of A&E unit that you find in most towns), but I know from last year that unless you have broken something they won't do anything, so instead we went to our local farmacia and bought the strongest dosage diclofenic tablets. (It's amazing what you can buy over the counter out here!), and they did the trick. The downside is they make me feel like a zombie, but it was worth that to feel more comfortable.(When I said that to a friend at choir practice today, he said, "Really. Do you actually mean you stopped talking?" Cheeky!). Chris strapped my arm up for me just to give it some support. It is heaps better now. I still have a tubigrip on it, but I've done away with the sling, and I don't need the tablets in the day now, though one at bedtime ensures I can lie in enough comfort to get a good night's sleep. In future I'll leave the lopping to Chris, and I'll stick to the clearing away! We've had a bit of rain since then so he hasn't got out there to do the final cut, but he will soon. Already it looks heaps better, and it makes a huge difference to the amount of light I get in the kitchen. It also means I won't get drowned feeding the dogs, everytime it has rained.

I would like to add a quick welcome to one or two new followers, who have stumbled across my ramblings via my, or mutual friend's, crafting blogs. It is great to have you aboard and I hope you enjoy reading about everyday life in sunny Spain.
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Mission accomplished!

It was a mission too. I know I have blogged about my larder before, and some of you may think it is strange, but my home centres around my kitchen and the larder is part of it. It gives me great pleasure to see its shelves filled with labelled containers and lots more besides. Basically it is the usual narrow, walk in space for food storage, and mine has a double tower of dexion shelving along one side. It is a huge asset to have a larder and here it is essential as I have a very small kitchen with very, very, little cupboard space, so the larder not only houses our food, but also much of my bake-ware, utensils and larger pans. It was very nearly a disaster zone as I noticed recently that the shelving was starting to lean away from the wall at the top. This was rapidly getting worse, and I don't think it would have been long before the whole thing tipped over, and what a mess that would have made!

So my mission today was to take everything, and I do mean everything, out of there, so that my long-suffering husband could do some urgent repair work. The first job was to clear the kitchen as much as possible, and to create a little more surface we pulled out both the end extensions to the table. That meant that I couldn't close the door but it was warm enough to leave it open. My kitchen hasn't looked so tidy for ages. Note the teapot and mugs and are still out. I can't work without a cuppa and my mp3 playing on continuous shuffle through my speakers.

For many years I have kept a well-stocked larder. When I lived in Cyprus for a while, the RAF warned us to always have everything in store that we might need for at least three days, and preferably for a week, and when the troubles broke out in 1974 we were very glad that we had followed this directive. Later, I had a couple of years as a single mum with two small children, and living on benefits I wasn't always too sure where the next meal was coming from, so I took every opportunity I could to buy up special bargain offers and keep something in store, and the habit has stayed with me. But even so, it is hard to belive that all of this came out of my little larder today! There was this,

and this,





oh, and this as well!


My boys would be amazed, and proud of me, to hear that I didn't find anything out of date enough to throw it away! When it was all out Chris disconnected the two sets of shelves and moved one into the kitchen, while he assessed the situation, and that is when I decided to make lunch! It was a challenge, but not deterred I found the rest of a chicken I roasted yesterday, and I used the shelves in the kitchen as a table to make some coleslaw while my electric fryer (on the floor of the empty larder) was cooking chips.


Dul
y refreshed, Chris set about fixing the shelves which are now as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar, and I started to put everything back. So now I have a sparkling clean and tidy larder again, and I know where everything is. I rearranged some of the shelves so some of the heavier items are lower down, and put things I use most often into more accessible positions. Mission accomplished!!


On a lighter note, for those of you who haven't seen this already, here is a link to my son Ben's latest recording. It is not one he wrote himself this time. It is a shortened version of The Anthem from the show Chess. It is such a beautiful song with a range of big notes in it, and I think he sings it really well. I know I am biased, and am his number one fan, but it is worth a listen. Just click here if you would like to hear it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints Day in Spain

Today it is All Saints Day, and here in Spain, it is a national holiday. It is a day for remembering loved ones who have died, and it is traditionally celebrated with a big clean up of the cemetery. There is a cemetery on the edge of each village, where the graves are stacked in rows above ground; not buried. Today families go to their family graves and clean them. Then they add lots of fresh flowers. Some people take big displays, previously ordered from flower shops, and others take posies from their garden. When we drove past our village cemetery on our way to our choir practice this morning, we could hardly squeeze our car through the rows of parked cars. There were three florists with stalls set up on the road side and they were doing a brisk trade. This afternoon there was just one left by the gate, but there were still plenty of families arriving to tend to their area. It looked beautiful with each grave overflowing with white lilies, red roses and lots more. My photo doesn't do it justice but it was all in shadow, and I felt it was not the right occasion to wave a camera around for too long. It is quite usual for families to take a picnic with them and stay all day. We popped back up there tonight because we had been told that it was all lit up with candles for tonight, and so it was. It was very beautiful. It seems to me it is a very good tradition that ensures family members are reverently remembered, and the cemetery is kept in a good condition.

Friday, October 28, 2011

One hour later

One hour on from my previous post and it is now almost dark. The sky now looks like this. It is so beautiful. The thunder is still rumbling around, and it is geting closer to us, but so far there is no rain. Any minute now the dogs will be howling at the door to be let in. They hate the thunder so we always have them in until it has passed. It looks like it might be a cosy evening knitting, and listening to music then. My light is flickering. I just hope it isn't knitting by candle-light!

A Baking Day

No. I don't mean it is baking hot today, though it's not cold either; I mean I have spent the day, well the afternoon anyway, in the kitchen doing a bit of baking. What with my diabetes, and both of us watching our weight a bit, I don't do a lot of baking these days, and I sort of miss it. So it nice to have an excuse to get the recipe book out again. This coming Sunday it is my turn to do church coffee/tea duty and it has become a habit for me to take in some home-baked cake. There are only around 30-40 in the congregation so it is not a great chore, and it gives me a reason to make a batch or two, and then I can keep back just a few for us and take the rest in on Sunday. If I make a whole batch for us I nearly always end up throwing the last ones away. It was different when we had a hoard of boys in the house with hollow legs!

Anyway I was fortunate enough to be in our Iceland store when they had a few cooking apples on the shelf. They come in early on a Tuesday morning and have usually sold out by mid-morning, so I get them when I can. So my first job was to make a mix of my special pastry and put it to rest in the fridge while I prepared the apples. We both really like apple pie and that will be a treat for us for a few days to come. Then I used the family tried and tested recipe for 'Maids of Honour'. Mum always said these were cakes for the men, but I know a good few ladies who enjoy them as well. I also made a dozen mincepies. I am already getting orders for them at Christmas so this was a practice run. Last year I made about fifty dozen, which were mostly sold for the church funds and our local village charity, but I was a bit taken back when I packed the last few up to deliver and found they had gone soft underneath. Fortunately I had spares to replace them with for my orders, and we heated up the 'soggy' ones and ate them with custard on! This has never happened before, and in England I have kept them right up until Easter without even refrigerating them. I think it is down to one of two things. a). I can't buy hard block margarine here, and the soft variety is not good for pastry, or b). to cut costs they have reduced the fruit in the mincemeat and added more liquid, so the tablespoon of brandy I add to each jar to 'give it a lift' is a drop too far! So today I have made a few changes and I will store some of the pies away for a few weeks to test my theory. And finally I made a Paradise cake which is a recipe from a very old Jimmy Young cookbook. It is basically a swiss roll tray lined with pastry, spread with jam and filled with a cake mix that is mostly dried fruit, plus ground almonds, rice flour, and a little butter and sugar. So my one mix of pastry did me quite well, and the kitchen smells yummy!

It was a good day to be indoors as, although it started off quite sunny, the clouds have been gathering all day, and this afternoon there was lightening all around and deep rumbles of thunder. It hasn't rained here yet but I am sure it is pouring down on the mountains by Mojacar. The dark sky makes a good back drop to the orange trees doesn't it. Even as I write this the sun has broken through again. This is the sky from my craft-room window now, but it is still pretty black to the right of here. It probably means we won't get any TV reception tonight. The signal doesn't travel through rain very well! At least we won't need to get the hose pipe out. Because all our plants are pots and tubs they need watering for most of the year unless we have rain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Seasons they go round and round...

One of my favourite songs, by Buffy-Sainte-Marie, starts with those words. - 'The seasons they go round and round and the painted ponies go up an down. We're captive on the carusel of time; We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game'.

Certainly the passage of time is inevitable and we are now seeing the changing of the seasons and our Autumn is slowly sliding into the start of Winter. I rather like this time of year when the sun is often still shining with real warmth in it's rays, but it is not too hot, so we can sit outside and enjoy it. These days I often spend the afternoon sitting out with the dogs, who love to have our company, and the light is just perfect for my lace-making or cross stitch. Of course, the days are getting shorter, and as soon as the sun starts to sink behind the hill at the back the village, the temperature drops. Chris has started to wear a jumper indoors, where it is always colder than outside at this time of year, but I haven't succumbed to that yet. We did go up to the market early this morning to buy our new slippers for this year. Stone floors do tend to lead to cold feet!

The weather is also a bit more unpredictable now, with clouds and showers in the morning, and bright sunshine for the afternoon. Then the other day we sat outside to eat our lunch and it was beautiful, but by tea-time there were grey clouds, it was blowing a gale and it felt really cold. So we make the most of it when we can, and hope the sun keeps coming back for a long time yet.

Today we went out in the morning and on the way home we stopped for a menu del dia. (A real treat, as we did this last week too and we don't actually make a habit of it). A restaurant had been recommended to us and we decided to try it out. And we did have a lovely meal there. We opted to sit out on the patio where we were sheltered from the breeze. We looked out through a row of arches onto the distant hills standing against a blue sky and it was lovely.

We noticed that there are not many soft fruits left in the market now but the new season's oranges are beginning to appear. They are still rather sharp so we don't buy many of them, but in a few weeks we will. The fruit on the trees next door to us is getting quite a lot of colour to it. I think this is the tree that was ready quite early last year. The oranges on our own tree are still a pale lime green, but it had ripe fruit on it when we bought it in April last year, so it is a later variety. We are quite excited to have some of our own and keep watching them in case the rain or wind takes them before they are ready.

We have a regular Tuesday outing at the minute. I am sure some of you will be surprised to hear that both Chris and I have joined a choir! It is run by Julie (the retired professional singer from my church, whom I have mentioned on here before), and is a mix of folk from our church and English neighbours from her village of Zurgena, near Albox. We are practising a range of Christmas songs and carols and we have three concerts booked so far, in bars and restaurants around the area. But the most exciting part of the project is the links Julie is building with the choir of her own village. This is a catholic choir of Spanish ladies and a few men, and she has become a member and now sings with them. She has arranged for us to sing with them in a concert, which will probably take place in the big church in her village arond the time of Epiphany. This is quite a big step for us, and for them, and it is something none of them, nor us, have done before. We went up to meet them on Monday and we practised a few carols that we are going to sing with them - in Spanish of course. Then they will sing some of their own; their style is very different from ours, and they sing with great gusto!; and we will also sing some on our own in English, in a slightly more gentle style. I sing with the altos and it is quite a challenge to follow the music, read and pronounce the Spanish words, and make them fit together, which they don't always do very willingly. But it is great fun, and I am so pleased to do one more thing in my quest to follow my word for 2011 which you may remember is 'Integration'. Julie has persuaded Chris to come along as well, and although he is completely unused to singing in any form, so it is quite difficult for him, I think he is enjoying it to, and it nice for us to be involved with something together. We have got a lot of work to do if we are going to sound good at the concerts but there are still a few weeks to practise in yet.