Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summer is on its way - Hooray!

On the car radio this week, I heard the weather girl say thet the UV reading was 6, and once it goes over 5 you know that summer is on the way. That was good news after a week of chilly winds, grey skys and sudden downpours. We had thunder storms one night and had to bring the dogs in to sleep. (They look big and fearless but they are absolute wimps when there is any loud noise!). When we got up it was very wet underfoot but everything was sparkling and clean. A couple of days later we had more storms that left everything with a coating of brown sand. I got the hose out and washed all the patio furniture today, as it was warm enough to sit outside to eat lunch again. My sister Jean is due to arrive for a week on Tuesday, so I am glad to report that the forecast for the week is mostly for sun.

Of course, tonight our clocks spring forward an hour which is bad timing for me as I am off to a lace day in Cartagena and have to be down at Garrucha port for the coach at 8.15. I will have to get myself to bed a bit earlier than usual.

Last Tuesday we had a mid-week meeting at church, primarily to learn some new hymns and widen our repertoire. This was followed by a fellowship lunch to which I took a rather nice, rich chocolate cake, and my friend took an equally good marmalade-ginger teabread with a layer of lemon curd through the middle. Both were well received, and as I have some visitors coming I asked Jane for her recipe. My own marmalade teabread is a much denser, more solid cake, and I preferred hers. As it turns out, her recipe is quite different so I look forward to making it on Monday. But first I decided to have a go at making some lemon curd. It is years since I did this and I no longer have the double saucepan I used to use for it. But I went on the internet and found several recipes, and I kind of did a mix-and-match of these and came up with what I needed. It was fairly expensive to make, compared with marmalade or jam anyway, but I only wanted a very small quantity. Unopened it will keep for about six weeks in the fridge, but once opened it really only lasts for a week or two. So I used two lemons, two eggs and two egg yolks, a little butter and rather a lot of sugar. I followed a tip in one of the recipes whereby you start by creaming the butter and sugar and then beat in the eggs followed by the lemon, and then cook it. It said this would prevent the mixture splitting and the egg white cooking as sometimes happens, and it certaily worked for me. It did say you could cook it in a pan but the calor gas I use for my hob is quite fierce, and I have trouble turning it down low enough to simmer, so I put the bowl I had mixed it in, over a pan of boiling water and within twenty minutes I had two small jars of delicious lemon curd. It was so quick and easy that I will happily repeat the exercise next time I want a change of spreads. Let's hope I get an equally successful teabread to spread it in. (The photo was taken after the event for this blog, and one jar is half empty already because we ate it for tea last night!)

This morning I decided to do bit of work in the garden. It is all coming to life and beginning to look very pretty. I have now taken one of the white flowering shrubs I showed last time, and planted it in our tiny square of garden at the back. I am hoping that with its roots in deeper soil, it will start to bush out a bit. I have also planted the second honeysuckle in there and we will train it to grow up and over the pool pump house. The first honesuckle, that I took as a cutting when I saw a nice plant in the grounds of the communal pool on Sylvia's urbanisation last autumn, is growing really well. I have got it climbing up the rejas (metal grill) on the sitting room window, and a second stem is going to be tied to some cable clips that go up the corner join of the walls. In place of the white flower that was in the same pot, I have now properly planted the succulent cuttings that Jane gave me. When we had lunch at her house last month she gave me another plant that at the time was several groups of glossy green leaves. From the centre of one of these, there is now a head of deep blue flowers emerging. It's common name is Madiera squill, and I am really looking forward to seeing it out fully. There is a second bud just showing in a another clump of the leaves.

Along with the other plants that I took from Sylvia's garden when she moved, was a tiny little crown of thorns. These often have red flowers, but this one is a pretty peachy pink, and it is now quite a good size plant and is covered in flowers. Her lavendar is doing well in a window box, and I have just revamped all the boxes with new geraniums and violas. There are some very vivid, almost garish colours in the flowers, but somehow, in nature, they never clash.

A few weeks back Chris cut down the pink jasmine so he could paint the wall behind it, and renew the rotting lattice that it climbs on. It is growing well again now and has lots of buds on it. We are taining the end branch to trail along the front railings and it seems to have got the idea now.

Arwen seems to enjoy looking at the garden. Today I have opened the windows in my room, and when I do that, the cats have learned to pull the mosquito nets aside to get in and out. This means that most windows now have a hole in the corner of the nets, rendering them less than useless! To stop it getting any worse, in the day time I also raise my net a foot or so, so the cats can get in and out easily, but Arwen choses to stay in my room. All day she has sat on the windowsill looking out, or curled up on it for a doze. Her hair is growing and she is still fairly ameniable. Unfortunately she is not too well at the minute. She has a long term urinary tract disorder so each morning and evening I have to give her an anti-inflamatory tablet (a risky business), and she has a special diet which hopefully will cure her in four to six weeks.

I have taken quite a few photos in the garden this month so I can compare the plants next year, with this year and see how much progress they have made. So I am making a folder in my gallery called 'An Andalucian garden in spring' which you can see by clicking here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shorn times three and other gardening trivia

In my last post I showed my beautiful Arwen, curled up in a too small bed, with the news that she was going to the vets to be shaved on Wednesday. So here she is now! Yes it was a bit drastic, but I think it was the only solution to sort out her fur problem. It looks a bit odd I know, and vaguely reminiscent of a newly clipped toy poodle, but I think she looks rather cute. I expected her skin to feel dry and a bit prickly but it is soft and smooth like a new piece of suede. She still has a furry face, and boots and a huge tail. She had wide triangles of fur on either side of her face like you see very exaggerated in cartoon cats, and that has been trimmed so she has a smaller, rounder face that is quite endearing. The strangest thing is that she seems to really like the feel of it. She is like a different cat. Normally she rarely leaves my craft room, but she has spent the last two mornings lying along the back of the settee in Chris' office, and this afternoon she sat on my lap and purred! I've never heard her purr before. She keeps coming back to me for a stroke; it's quite amazing. She has a few sore patches, a couple of which may have been caused by the razor, but mostly they are where she scratched at the knots to get rid of them, and she is now allowing me to put some cream on them and they are healing fast. So it is my aim to now keep her free of tangles, but if I can't I wouldn't hesitate to have her shaved again.

This morning I decided to keep Arwen company so I called in at my hairdressers and had my hair cut. I have been growing it all winter because I am a bit unusual in that I hate having anything done to it. I know it is a treat for most women, but not for me, so I let it just grow while it was cooler, but it was getting very hard to keep tidy, and now that it is getting warmer I thought I'd better have it off again.

The third shearing took place in the garden. When we moved in there was a tall palm tree in the corner of the yard. It was looking a bit sad, as the previous owner was quite poorly for his last winter here, and was unable to give his plants much attention. But we tidied it up and watered it and it flourished. Then this year the crown divided into three parts so we had three lots of leaves growing from it. One day I rescued one of the large grasshoppers from Luna and to get it out of her reach, I put it on a leaf of the tree, assuming it would hop away as soon as it was recovered. Several weeks later I noticed that lots of the leaves were being eaten, so I peered around, and sure enough, there was my hopper, happily munching his way through the tree! Then in the recent storms the tree blew over. It is in a large pot with big stones all around the base, and was tethered to the wall on either side, but we do get very strong winds out here, and sometimes they catch the plants however much we have tried to make them safe. We stood it up again, but ever since then it has been dying and it now looks very sad. So this morning, Chris took off all the brown leaves, and one of the crowns that had rotted, and it now just has two tiny crowns with a couple of leaves on each. We will give it a few months to see whether it recovers. It may well do. Plants are fairly resilient out here.

The first autumn we were here we bought a tiny mandarin tree for the little garden at the front. but for no reason that we could find, the next spring its flowers all dropped off and then the leaves went yellow and dropped and we were left with a bare twig apparently devoid of life. We said we would give it one year and here we are one year later with a little tree showing definite signs of rebirth. It has quite a few new leaves and even a few tiny flower buds. So I am feeding it and this week I am going to cut back all the plants that are trying to overwhelm it, and hopefully it will do better than last year.

Last February my friend Sylvia moved house, and she invited me to take cuttings from her garden which I did. Those lovely canna lillies that bloomed for weeks were hers, and I have just divided them up so I could give some back to her for her new garden. She also had a large shrub that I really liked. It was very big and covered with white flowers in the spring. So I took a couple of soft-wood cuttings but I didn't really expect them to take. However they both did and they are now quite big plants. Probably because they are in pots, they have grown a bit spindley but they are now covered in flowers, so I am going to plant one in our tiny area of soil to see whether it will bush up a bit. Sylvia did not know what it is called and so far I have been unable to find out. I haven't seen it in any other gardens so it is not all that common.

This week another friend, Jasmine, had one of her coffee mornings to raise funds for our church. She sells cuttings from her plants and I bought a very leggy succulent which has a lovely head of flowers on it, and a honeysuckle cutting to train up the front of the house. My friend Jane also brought me several cuttings from her garden. For now I have put them in a pot with my cannas so that they don't dry out. I need to buy a few more large pots so I can plant them all out properly. This week our neighbour came over from Murcia for a few days, and she told me off for having so many plastic tubs. She took me round to her patio to show me that all her plants are in terracotta or stone tubs and I must say, she has a magnificent show of geraniums, so we are going to invest in a few terracotta ones for our patio.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Move over - it's my turn now!

In my last post I showed a photo of Baggins and Luna happily sharing a fairly small cat bed. Well I had to laugh, because as soon as they woke up and climbed out for a stretch, Arwen jumped in their place! As you can see, she is bigger than the two of them together, and altogether too big to curl up in that little bed for long, but she wouldn't get out, even when I rattled her food box for supper time. She has a thick, beautiful coat but this is moulting time and her hair has become very matted. Baggins was nearly as bad but he is so soppy and friendly, that he allows me to work away at it with a brush and comb. I had to cut out a few of the biggest lumps, but mostly i have kept him clear. Arwen on the other hand is not very friendly at all. On a good day I am allowed a quick stroke, and she likes to be near me when I am working in my room and will paw me if I ignor her for too long, but one glimpse of a brush or comb and she hisses and spits, and growls at me, and she lashes out with teeth and claws if I persist, so her hair is in clumps all over, and my hands are full of holes! I have had a persian cat before whose hair matted a bit at moulting time, but nothing like this. The lumps are so hard that they must be really uncomfortable for her, and she does scratch and bite at them to get rid of them herself, without success, but she won't accept any help from me. So we have decided to take her to the vet (she's going on Wednesday) to be sedated while they shave her. It seems a bit drastic but we have little choice, and the vet agreed that it was the best course of action. I have bought a special comb with a blade in it, really for the dogs, but regular use of it is supposed to prevent the build up of an under layer of fur, so I am going to buy some thick leather gloves (for my protection), and try using it on both the cats so next moulting session will be a bit less traumatic for us all.

About a year ago I did a post about a very small patch of garden that we created at the back. It is only about a meter square and has a dead tree stump in the centre, so there was not a lot of scope, but we put quite a few plants in there and did look very pretty for a short while. Unfortunately, the dogs find a small patch of mud, in our completely tiled yard, utterly irresistable and they frequently dig holes in it and between that, and eating them, they have ruined a lot of the plants. However a few have survived. A very pretty yellow osteospermum is now covered in flowers, and there has been a lovely red crown of thorns which is too prickly even for our hounds to chew, but it has almost finished flowering for now. At the back we put a small tree with purple flowers, and this has gone from strength to strength. It has never been without flowers. They are very pretty 'pea-type' flowers with a tufty stamen and they make a lovely backdrop for the yellow daisies. Above that, and actually in the green zone behind the fence, there is a new mimosa tree which is smothered in buds. The early variety is already in bloom but this is the later type which has small clusters of flowers all up its branches. They are just starting to open, so soon we will have the pretty purple tree sandwiched between two layers of yellow. It is right where we sit when are out there so it gives us a great deal of pleasure to see it. The downside is that mimosa pollen gives me rotten hayfever, but last year the doctor prescribed some very efective tablets, so I'll go and see him again if it gets too bad.

There is a type of bee out here that is beginning to make its presence known. i think it is a bee anyway. It certainly looks and acts like one, except that it is much bigger than the usual bee, and it is black. They can be quite intimidating if they fly past you as their wings hum really loudly, but close up they are quite beautiful, and I don't think they are at all agressive. At lunch time today there were half a dozen of them visiting our purple tree, but they were much too busy collecting nectar and pollen, to wait for me to get a decent photo. So this is the best one I could manage.

And now I will end with another cat photo. Baggins is a great help whenever I try to do any work down here. Right now he is sitting so close to my computer that every time he changes position he presses a key and makes something happen that I didn't want! The other afternoon I tried to start a new little piece of lace, and when I had wound the bobbins I went to make a cup of tea before I started. When I came back with it he had not only twisted half the bobbins up, but then he had fallen asleep with his chin resting on them! But you have to love him, and he looks so bewildered when I wake him up to move him, as though he can't see what all the fuss is about!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Two in a bed, constructions, flowers and other ramblings!

I had to start my post today with this lovely picture of Luna and Baggins sharing a little cat bed. This is a rare occurence. Baggins is lovely with me, purring all the time and following me like a shadow, but he dislikes Paco, probably because they are both males, and they often have quite fierce fights. Arwen is worse because she doesn't even want me to fuss her, and she growls if Paco goes anywhere near my room. But they both tolerate Luna as long as she doesn't have a mad half hour, playing with their tails and practising her pouncing skills on their backs! So quite often, when I am working down in my room for the evening, Arwen is on her perch on top of a little set of drawers, Baggins is on my table (usually on my work!) and Luna is curled up in the little cat bed beside my chair, which at least is relatively calm. But I was really surprised to come down here last night and find these two actually curled up together, and apparently enjoying one another's company. Long may it last!

The additional work on our road is finally finished! After negotiating the mess outside here while they renewed the road outside of our house, just over a year ago, we had a brief respite before they started doing similar work at the top of the road. This took from July until Christmas. Just when we thought it was all over, the day after Three Kings, the men appeared again and this time they started from our house and worked down the road almost to the entrance of the village. This meant that once again we were unable to drive into our road and had to come in from the other side. For a few weeks, while the lower road was actually fenced off, we drove down to our house against the new one-way system, as that was the only way to get the shopping home. However, this week the road was reopened and it is now very nice with a black bricked road which is single line, one way only, the entire length of it, a designated parking lane (where the two-way traffic used to drive) and a wide, red-bricked pavement on each side. All the turnings off it alternate one way in or out, which, when everyone gets used to the new system, will make getting around the village much easier. The roads just aren't wide enough to take two-way traffic and there were always holdups.

While all this work was going on, two other large construction projects were underway in the village. Firstly they are building and greatly expanding the school. This is mainly a primary school, and they take children from three years old there, and they stay there for their first two years of secondary school. After that they are taken by bus to the nearby towns. I hadn't realised how many children there are in the village, but I presume the school also provides for families in the surrounding area. When we first came here the school was mainly pre-fab buildings which must have been very hot in the summer. I haven't been up there for ages, so when we passed it with the carnival procession last week, I was surprised to see how large the new building is. This is not a good picture as the sun was setting by the time we got there, but you get some idea of a very modern white complex.

The other main construction is the building of a new medical centre. My visitors will have seen the little, one storey building where I go to see the doctor when I need to. The waiting room was open to the street and it was small, dark and uncared for. And the room where the assistant worked (I go there once a month for a blood pressure and diabetic check), was just big enough for his desk and a chair, that you could only sit on after you had closed the door! Well, back in January the doctor moved into the little bungalow next the old centre, which is much nicer than his own premises, and almost immediately the old one was demolished. They are now rebuilding on the same site, but extending back a bit and across a small empty plot that was next to it. The new building looks huge and is at least three storeys high. I don't know what else will be housed there but we have heard it will be a proper medical centre. It is certainly much too big for one doctor and his assistant!

Isn't this yellow flower lovely? It is one of my favourites. During the winter it has rosettes of glossy green, succulent type leaves, and in spring, these beautiful cones of yellow flowers appear. I don't know what its name is, (but I know someone who will probably be able to tell me!). We have one of these plants just beyone our back fence and I was disapponted when it failed to flower last year. There are no flowers on it again this year. I think it is a bit overwhelmed by the orleanders, and it is a very barren patch of land there. I saw this plant on the rambla at the back of a bar where we stopped for our elevenses.

And finally I am adding this for family members who probably don't follow my other blog. if you do read that, then sorry, this is just a repeat. I have just finished a piece of lace-work that has been on my 'pillow' since before my accident back last summer. I decided to fill the centre hole with some fine cotton material onto which I had transferred edited photos of the boys, in the style of the Fry's five boys chocolate bar. Here is the end result. If you want to know more about how I did it you can read it on my other blog here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Carnival time

As promised, this is a continuation of yesterday's post, about our dual celebration in the village on Monday. By mid-afternoon, the bean-feast in the marquee was over, and most folk had gone home for a siesta. The parade was scheduled for around 5.00 but as everything, all day, had been about an hour behind the advertised times, we didn't rush to get back out. But when we heard the band warming up again we walked across to the plazza where the parade starts. By now the marquee was cleared. the bar was still open but all the trestle tables had gone and the low stage was filled with musical instruments ready for dancing all evening.

There was a lovely atmosphere on the streets with most of the village folk turning out to join in and just have a good time. We saw lots of adults in fancy dress but it is all the little children that I like. Some families really go town like the parents of these three cute little clowns. Even the baby in the pram has his hat on to match his little brother and sister. We saw some carriages pulled by lovely pairs of dark-coated mules. Just look at the size/length of their ears. They were following the town band around the streets. But the main parade was led by another group of musicians who had cobbled together a creditable mobile drum kit to keep the beat going, ably accompanied by a mixture of percussion, brass and wind instruments. On one stop we had an improptu limbo game under the sliders of the two trombones. They were followed by groups in a range of costumes. Pac man seemed to be popular this year. This is just one of about three sets of them. Of course, a lot of the folk in the parade wore masks, and this was one of the best ones.

These circus performers were colourful, as was this group of little children. Some of the smaller ones look a bit bemused as though they are not quite sure what is going on.

For some reason carnival is seen as a time for grown men to dress as women and generally be as silly as possible. This vision of loveliness is Paco, a local electrician. Here is a group of men dressed in sheer tights and very skimpy, thin nylon tunics, and they were freezing! The one on the left of this group is Pedro, who owns/runs the village farmacia, with his son, Pedro pequeño, (little Pedro!) At the end of the parade there were several groups connected with the Knights Templar. They had made a huge,very impressive crossbow, and also this equally impressive battering ram.

We joined a big group of people who mingled with, or followed the paraders, as they walked around all the little back streets of the village, and then made their way back to the plazza. Every so often they stopped to have a sing and a dance, or to throw hoops, balloons and egg shells filled with paper confetti at anyone within range.

It was getting late, and growing chilly in the shady streets that were too narrow to catch the last rays of the sun. We were quite cold by the time we got back to the plazza, and I was glad I had put a light jacket on. So we went home to have some soup for tea, and left the enrgetic ones to the dancing. We knew we would hear the music anyway, especially in my craft room which looks out over the back to where the marquee was. As we walked home the setting sun lent a lovely pinky-purple hue to 'our mountains'. They looked so lovely and we both thought how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place.

I have squeezed as many photos as I can into this post but you can see the rest of them on my photo gallery if you click here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A red day

Yesterday was a red day, or that's how we think of it, though strictly speaking I think it was a blue day as it was Día de Andalucía, a holiday for this region, whereas a red day is really a national fiesta day. Either way it was a Bank holiday, and a day off for most workers, school children etc. In our village it was a busy and exciting day as, for cost cutting reasons, the town hall decided to combine Día de Andalucía with Mardi Gras, which actually falls on Tuesday 8th March, so yesterday, for us, was also carnival day. To avoid this becoming a too long missive, I will talk about the first celebration today, and the carnival next time. Things kicked off around eleven. Chris and I wandered over to the marquee near the plaza, that is still there from Three Kings day. This time, apart from the usual bar running along two side walls, there was a stage at one end and the rest of the space was taken up with long trestle tables, lined with chairs, and a few extra stacks of chairs at the sides and in front of the stage. The tables were already laid out with plate after plate of meats, cheese, sausages, salt fish, olives and hunks of rustic bread. They were then covered with another layer of paper and secured with tape in a few places. It struck me the difference between behaviour here and what it would have been like in a similar situation in UK. Soon most of the chairs were in use, including the stacks which were soon squeezed into every available space. The bar was doing a good trade, and children from toddlers to teens were passing in between us all, yet throughout the next three to four hours of entertainment, not one person lifted that paper to take an early taste of the food underneath! The backdrop to the stage had attractive banners representing the various provinces within the area (or to give it its proper name, the autonomous community) of Adalucía. From left to right, they read, Almería, Granada, Jaén, Córdoba, Málaga, Sevilla, Cádiz and Huelva. Of course, the green and white bunting is the Andalucian flag.

There was an opening speech by someone from the town hall. I didn't understand much of what he said but we clearly his shout at the end - "Viva Andalucía!" - which sent a huge cheer resounding round the marquee. We watched children from a local dance school doing flamenco dancing, and then some others doing hip-hop (Spanish style). Then another dance school did flamenco, and they were very good. They had one older lad in their group, and the teenage girls obviously enjoyed it when it was their turn to partner him! My friend's grand-daughter was in one of the younger groups. Finally the village choir sang several songs. I recognised one tune and heard the words "Lo hizo mi manera" and realised that they were singing a Spanish version of "I did it my way".

When the singing ended, the paper covers were removed from the tables and everyone tucked in with great relish. I shall never get used to the big piles of raw peas and broad beans that arrived along the tables. They break open the pods and eat them raw, which of course, we did with peas as children, when dad grew them in the garden, and we were given the job of shelling them, but I have never been a huge fan of broad beans and I'm not sure my tummy would cope very well with them raw! We had a seat in the marquee and could have helped ourselves to lunch too, but we decided to go home and check on the dogs. They get quite disturbed by all the noise and loud music, and this all takes place just across the green zone at the back of our house.

Come back tomorrow for the story of the carnival!