Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Welcome to a little boy.

We had a new little boy to welcome into the family this weekend. Chris' sister Mary already has three grandsons, and this Sunday, her daughter Victoria had her first baby, which is also a boy. She was always a little slip of a girl and I gather she had quite a difficult labour, but he arrived a bonny eight pounds plus. Unfortunately I don't know what name they have chosen yet, but I am looking forward to hearing soon, and to seeing his first photos via his Aunty and Uncle on facebook. Doesn't the social network make things easy for us sometimes? Of course I wanted to make a card to welcome him into the world so I set to, and here is what I made. I shall get it in the post first thing tomorrow morning, and hopefully they will get it by the weekend.

My last post was called "Just chillin'", but today the heat was definitely turned up. At around 11.00 this morning we set off with a picnic and some fold away chairs, to meet with a group of church friends on Carolina beach, about a half hour drive from here. The route took us near where we lived for our first six months out here, and we couldn't believe how much it has changed. There is a huge new urbanisation of flats with extensive car parking, and new roundabouts and roads. We weren't even sure where we were at one stage. I must say, once the Spanish decide to do something, they get on with it, and it all looked really smart. There is still quite a lot of work going on so it will be interesting to go back again at the end of the summer and see what else they have done.

The weather has been very up and down of late, very muggy which we don't get very often, with quite a bit of cloud and occasional rain. Yesterday we started off with a terrific thunderstorm, right above us. The poor dogs nearly clawed the door down when the thunder came, but we quickly let them in, just before the heavens opened. But the rain didn't last long and the rest of the day wasn't too bad. So we didn't make a final decision about today's picnic until a couple of hours before we were due to leave. I had to do a quick scout round the larder and try to find something to take. (It is the day before I do my monthly shop so the cupboard is a bit bare!) Anyway it turned out to be a real scorcher of a day. As you can see from this photo, the beach was scantily populated, and the sea was inviting. It was warm, once you got in, and crystal clear, with shoals of fish clearly visible. It is a nice beach, with interesting arms of rocks enclosing a small bay. Much prettier than the long straight stretches of sand at our more local beaches of Garrucha and Mojacar. We all enjoyed a swim and then chatted together while we ate our lunch. We packed up to go home around 3.30 and after a much needed cup of tea I had a shower to get rid of the sand and I realised that I had caught the sun on my shoulders and front, and so has Chris. But we really enjoyed ourselves. it was lovely to spend some relaxing time with friends, and in such a beautiful setting too.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Just Chillin'

As I am sure you will all apreciate, in a climate like ours, keeping food chilled and fresh is top priority, and for this purpose, the previous owners left their fridge with small freezer above it, and another, low level freezer for us to use. Unfortunately these have been giving us some problems lately, with excess water appearing all over the fridge, an unreliable thermostat so we have lost milk and fruit and veg, and a defunct light which we were unable to replace. The top freezer was simply two fairly large shelves, which meant everything had to be unloaded in order to reach a packet I knew was lurking at the back. And even when I had used quite a large bagful of what ever it was, the rest of the stuff never seemed to want to go back into the now larger space! This was also the problem with the floor-standing freezer as it had four compartments, but they only had a flap 'door' and no drawers, so it was a constant battle to keep food rotated. So after a bit of persuasion, Chris agreed to replace them for me.

We are keen to support the shops within our little village, (We will need them one day, when we can no longer drive), so yesterday afternoon we went to the little electodomesticos round the corner, and we were impressed with the range he had to show us. He took us two doors down the road to a lock-up garage where we found exactly what we (I anyway) was looking for. The young lad who served us was so nice and helpful. He didn't speak English but he was very patient with my faltering Spanish, and when he wasn't sure if we had understood, he typed what he wanted to say into his laptop and translated it for us! He explained about a very good government scheme whereby, as long as we bought a new appliance of grade A or A+ energy rating, we would be given a substantial refund on our old one and they would take it away to a recycling depot. We finalised the deal and within an hour, two lovely matching appliances were sitting in our hall. He unwrapped them for us and took all the packaging away with him, which was a great help. So I now have a tall fridge, with room for chilled drinks all summer, and two huge drawers for fruit and veg, and a matching tall freezer with big drawers, so everything is now accessable. For the offer, the dealer had to take copies of evidence of our residencia to the energy authority. He told us to let the two new 'chillers' rest for the night to settle their fluids. Early today he came back with the paper work stamped and approved, and told us we could now plug them in.

We moved the old ones out into the
kitchen and used an extension cable to plug them into the utility to keep their contents cold while the new ones were reaching the desired temperatures. Then we manoevered the new ones into the same places as the old ones had been. The freezer is a lot taller of course, so it looks very big, but we will soon be used to it. The only downside was that the microwave that used to sit on the freezer has had to move into the utility area, but it is just as near as it used to be so it's not a problem.

While I was waiting for them to cool down I dismantled my silk flower arrangement that has lived on top of the fridge since we came here. I brought it with me, because I made it when my kitchen was replaced back in Oswestry, and have always liked it. It is mainly silk flowers with some ears of corn, a few poppy seed heads, and some 'arty' bits made of wood and string. When I got it down last night, prior to moving the fridge, it was woefully dusty, so this morning I washed all the flowers. I just swooshed them around in some soapy water, (that's a very technical term!), rinsed them and put them outside to dry, and they came up a treat. Now it is all put back together again, and back in its rightful place, on top of the new fridge. I also cleaned up all my magnets and replaced them on the side and front of the fridge. I know a lot of people wouldn't want them there, but they either represent something or someone special to me, or they come from all the lovely places we have been around the world, and everytime I go to the fridge I smile at a happy memory they evoke.

By lunch time the fridge was cool enough to transfer food across to it. It took me a while to work out what arrangement of shelves etc suited me best, but I am happy with it for now. I have a special bottle rack so I have some drinks in there, and there is a mechanism to tilt it if you want to store bottles that have been opened. And you will see that I even have half an empty shelf. But it won't stay like that for long. As it is right at the end of the month, I am low on some things, but I'll be shopping next week and it will be much fuller then, and that shelf is reserved for half a water melon. They are just coming into season, and I love them, especially when they are really chilled.

Soon after that was done, I decided that the freezer had also got cold enough to fill, so I emptied each shelf of the old one as quickly as I could, and sorted it into different drawers for each type of food. It looks surprisingly full considering it came from two relatively small freezers, but it just shows haw tightly everything had to be packed in before. I even labelled the drawers so I can find things quickly. Now I will be able to see what I have got, and I won't have things falling out on me every time I open a door!

It is a super hot day again today, so both freezers soon thawed out and I gave them a quick wipe out. The dealer had promised to come around 6.00 this evening to collect them, and sure enough, at ten to six he was here. What excellent service. We are very impressed!

I am sorry I seem to have rambled on again. Not many people could say so much about a couple of new fridges. But I have always felt very at home in my kitchen. I see it as a sort of extension of me, and it gives me great pleasure to have nice things to use in it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let your little light shine

Sorry folks, we are back on the creepy crawlies today. I know you don't all share, or even understand my facination with the creatures that I find in the garden, but I can't help it. Whenever I see something new, I just have to try to identify it, and if possible, return it to the wild unharmed. That's not always easy as many of my visitors are brought in by a cat. Luna, in particular is a natural hunter who always brings her prey home to play with! If I catch her in time, I rescue whatever she has caught, but I'm not always fast enough.

However, last week I found a creature that I didn't recognise at all. It was early morning while I was feeding the dogs, before the cats had come outside so this one was unharmed. It was mainly dark grey with a pretty pink underbelly and light green under it's tail end. It reminded me a bit of a ladybird larva, but was bigger than that, and I thought it might be a moth larva. Chris knows me well enough to know I would have picked it up to photograph, but he was quick to warn me not to touch, which makes sense really as we do have some not-too-friendly creatures out here. So I dutifully found a stick to move it and it immediately curled up like a wood-louse, showing off its pink underside. With the help of a friend, I found out that this was a glow-worm. I was so surprised. I had no idea that they looked anything like this. My only previous experience of one was on holiday in France. The boys were small, and when we found ourselves driving the length of France for an early morning ferry, we decided to camp out for the night to give us all a break. We found a lovely park with a huge lake so we let the boys have a swim and then we settled down for a sleep. It was cramped in the car and Ben and I had trouble nodding off, so I put a blanket on the grass and laid down with him. I woke in the night to find a bright green light a few feet from my face. It really scared me and I had to wake poor Chris up to see it. We prowled around with a torch but couldn't find anything and the next morning, we realised that it must have been a glow worm! I did a bit of research and apparently the one I found was a female which is flightless, but has the brightest glow. The males fly around overhead to see who makes the best display. I shall now be constantly checking my garden at night for green lights but I am not holding my breath. There are too many street lights and a bright moon, so she won't be glowing very often. She is probably miles away by now anyway.

Today Luna was having fun when I entered the kitchen and found her with what looked like a long slug on the floor. (We don't have slugs out here). On closer inspection I realised it was a type of lizard but with a rounder nose, and smother skin. I also found its long tail lying on the floor a short distance away! It was still very much alive, and as lizards are able to regenerate a lost tail, I thought I would try to rescue it. I took a few photos to help me identify it, and then set it free on the green zone at the back of our house, shutting Luna indoors while it made its getaway. I looked on the web and discovered it was an ocellated skink, which is, apparently, fairly common, though this is the first one I have seen close up. One description on the web said it was '..just four tiny legs away from being a slow worm' and that is very apt. The 'ocelli' refers to the markings which imitate an eye. This one only had the distinctive markings on it's lower half, but I am pretty sure that is what it was. With its tail in place it was quite long, about eight inches I think.

An hour later I found Luna in the kitchen again with another friend! This time it was one of our very common, large grasshoppers. For once, it had no sign of injury so again I took some photos and set it free. But just look at that face, and those amazing eyes! They have tiny claws on each foot and it clung on to me like it was stuck with glue, but I eventually persuaded it on to a bush, from where it hopefully launched itself to a safer garden.

I think nature is wonderful. No artist will ever rival the colours and patterns of our natural world!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Very Merry Perry Day

The Sargent clan is well known for it's family days, when we all get together and talk over one another, and just enjoy being in one another's company again. In fact I am looking forward to more of such gatherings when I visit UK in the autumn. But it is not very often that the Perry's get together. Geographically this is more difficult than it is for my side of the family. However, this week, Chris' brother Roy, his wife Susan and her mum Rita, are doing a whistle stop tour of Andalucia, Rita's choice to celebrate her 80th birthday! Roy and Sue live in Phoenix, Arizona and we last saw them seven years ago when Chris and I visited their part of the world to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Chris's sister Mary and her husband Bill live over here in Velez Blanco, which it not too far from here, but we all seem to live busy lives and have not managed to see one another very often. So yesterday, we all travelled to Granada to spend the afternoon together. We set off at 8.00 having fed all the animals an extra large breakfast and given the dogs a huge bone each to keep them busy. It is a lovely drive up to Granada, and when we stopped for a coffee break I took this picture of the last of the snow on the peaks of the distant Sierra Nevada.

We arrived on the outskirts of Granada by 10.30 but then spent nearly another hour driving into the city centre and finding a suitable place to park. We knew that Roy and his party were on an organised trip around the Alhambra Palace in the morning, so we met up with Mary and Bill and went for a stroll to the cathedral. Unfortunately we did a bit too much strolling, and sat for longer than we intended for refreshments on route, so we arrived at the cathedral just as the doors were closing for siesta time...again! (We did the same in Almeria but we'll learn one day!). This photo shows Chris with his sister and brother.

So we had some lunch and went back to the hotel where we met up with Roy and Sue, and as it was getting very wet-looking outside, we sat in the hotel lounge and had a happy afternoon catching up on family news over several cups of decent tea (by Spanish standards anyway!) and coffee. Rita had a rest for the afternoon, but joined us for our last cuppa before we left.

We had intended to leave around 5.00 so we could get home before dark, and before the dogs got too upset by our absence, but in fact it was just after 7.00 when we said 'Goodbye' and went our separate ways. It had rained really hard during the afternoon, but in the evening the sun made a late appearance which we very glad about, as we had no jackets with us, and we had a twenty minute walk back to our car.

Going home the views were amazing. The sky was ever changing, one minute the sun was shining brightly, but we could see layers of low cloud ahead, and the next minute we were driving through the clouds, and out into sunshine again on the other side. The setting sun was shining on the snowy peaks that rose above the cloud layer. Everywhere looked very green after all the rain we have had in April and May. All along the motorway, the centre reservation was alight with bright yellow broom in full flower, and when the sun caught it, it looked so beautiful in contrast with the lowering skies behind it. Further along we saw the area which is 'peopled' by hundreds of wind turbines standing like ghostly giants waving their arms in the mist and clouds. The road, as you can see, was almost empty so we made good time going home, but even so we couldn't get there before dark. We were driving into some very black cloud and expected another downpour, but it never came. It was clear, when we arrived home, that they had also had a lot of rain during the day. The dogs greeted us as if we had been gone for a month, but the cats were curled up in their respective chosen corners, and weren't bothered either way! It was a long journey, and a lot of driving for Chris, but I'm glad we made the effort. It could be several years before we see them all again.

I took too many photos of family and the views to put on here so I will make a small folder on my gallery which you can see by clicking here.
The quality isn't marvellous but seeing as most of them were taken through the car windscreen as we bowled down the motorway, they are not too bad!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A lovely day with friends

Today was San Isidro day. He is the 'second' saint of Los Gallardos (the first being Virgen de la Carmen), and also the patron saint of farmers and agricultural workers, so in our village it is a fiesta day. One thing I kind of like about Spanish fiestas is the tradition. You know everything will be more or less the same as last year, and the year before, and ...etc. So today started with the village band playing music as they passed along the streets. Then there was a mass in the church followed by a romeria, or country walk/picnic, when everyone follows a cart bearing a statue of San Isidro, and walks out of the village and up to the sports area beyond. Meanwhile, all morning up at the sports ground, there was a series of football matches between teams from the village league, culminating in the final for the Los Gallardos cup. In previous years we have followed the romeria, arriving in time to watch the final, and then having a share of the gran paella cooked behind the tennis courts. It is not a long walk but it is very slow, and very hot, and this year we decided to drive up instead. This was partly so that we could take a couple of fold-up chairs and a picnic bag with us. We went earlier so that we could watch more of the football. It was lovely to see the new pitch in full use. Several months ago I showed pictures of the new all weather turf that was being laid. It looked so clean and green, and with some of the surrounding trees cut down, there was a clear view of the beautiful backdrop of mountains. Apparently this new surface can be quite dangerous to play on if it is too dry, so after one of the matches they turned on powerful water jets that oscillated and pumped water from the four corners and the centre of each long side, and between them they soaked the whole area. We were sitting on the spectator steps, and one of the jets swung round a bit too far and we got well sprayed. It was lovely and cooling and as the sun was out, we were soon dry again!

After the football, we walked round the side to the picnic area which is mercifully shaded by tall trees, where we joined our friends John and Eileen, and we all enjoyed a picnic together. We have learned from previous occasions, that the benches on the picnic tables feel very hard after the first half hour, so we all took chairs, and also we were glad of our sunshades when the sun moved and the trees no longer shaded us completely. There are several fixed barbeques up there that anyone can use, and there were several huge family gatherings all enjoying parties, complete with balloons and streamers hanging from their sun shades. They really know how to enjoy themselves, and every one was in a holiday mood. John and Eileen have been living here for twelve years so they have got to know many English and Spanish families, and lots of people came over to talk to us. We stayed until about 5.30 and then came home to feed the animals and have a rest.

The top of our road is blocked off today and there is a huge stage built across it. Tonight there will be music and dancing. It won't start until nearly midnight, and will continue until early tomorrow morning. Chris and I will go up there for an hour or so and then we'll come home to bed, probably with the windows closed and the air-con on, so we can get some much needed sleep.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lessons learned, and a few more bugs!

I always say that we are never too old to learn something new, so here are a couple of things I have learned. The first one was not that recent. Just before we moved out to Spain, when we had finally sold our house in UK and were rootless, we had the wonderful experience of spending three months backpacking around Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Now as a child I had, several times, watched my sister-in-law Pam (from Burma) showing my mum how to prepare a fresh pineapple, but whenever I tried, I made an aweful mess, and by the time I had dug out all the prickly bits that hide the seeds, there was very little fruit left to eat. But when we were in Thailand, Chris and I often bought fresh fruit from street vendors, and pineapple was our favourite. Little old ladies pushed handcarts around the streets carrying glass cabinets filled with ice, and halved pineapples, mangoes, papaya, and water melon, and for a few pence they cut it up into a plastic bag and gave you a wooden 'pick' to eat it with. Delicious!! At the end of the road, along from our guesthouse in Bangkok, an old man stood every morning with a wooden board and a sharp knife, just preparing pineapples, and I stood and watched him for hours, facinated by the ease with which he made such clean and juicy slices. I even videoed him so I would remember what he did. I don't buy pineapples very often now as after such lovely ones, the ones we could buy in England were a disappointment, and I haven't seen them much over here. But this week, when I was in Garrucha market, I saw some lovely ones and decided to treat us. Then yesterday I got out my board and sharpest knife and did my best to remember the lesson from Thailand. I think I did rather well. After lunch, Chris and I sat down with a few slices each and as we bit into them, we looked at one another and said in unison 'Thailand!' It took us both straight back there, and incidently, the pineapple was gorgeous.

More recently, at the end of April I signed up for an online course on colouring! Now you might think that after 60 odd years of colouring in, there can't be much more to learn, but although I love my crafting I have never been an artist. At grammar school I was nearly thrown out of art lessons. I think it was my first experience of not doing well at something, so I made up my mind that I didn't like it, and became a thorough nuisance in class. Then one teacher gave me a block of clay instead of paint and I settled down enough to finish my time there. But I am still frustrated when I can't make a picture look how I see it in my mind, and I thought these classes might help. When I won a national ATC competition a couple of years ago, I spent my prize money on a lovely set of quality coloured pencils so I thought it was about time I learned to use them properly. I belong to a group of crafters called The Chocolate Baroque Guild, and the owner of this company, Glenda Waterworth, provides these lessons through an American company called My Creative Classroom. Each week we get a downloadable tutorial and a set of six videos demonstrating a technique. Then we are given assignments to try for ourselves. For the second week we were shown first how to turn a flat empty circle into a sphere by careful shading and the adding of a shadow, and then we moved on to colouring a flower to make it look 3D, and hence more 'real'. So I thought I would show you my first attempt which was to colour the moning glory provided on the assignment sheet, as I was quite pleased with mine. I went on to do the same with a poppy to make a card for a family member this week. I think I am safe to put it on here as she does not follow my blog, so here it is.

On a very different topic I wanted to show you some bugs which are very common, but these had a 'twist'. Over Easter, while England was enjoying some much needed sunshine, we had a couple of very wet days. I was out in the garden, making sure none of my plant pots were being drowned by the water spouting from corners of the roof, when I saw these snails. They are more like something you would expect to see on the beach, than in the garden. What's more, they had all appeared on the most unfriendly plant in the whole garden. The spines on this cactus are vicious, but the snails had crawled between them and seemed quite happy there. I won't touch the plant so I found a stick and picked them out. A cactus of that size would cost at least 50€ to buy, and I didn't want ours spoiled by snail trails or nibbled holes.

Yesterday was different altogether, very hot with bright sunshine. As I was going out to the shops I saw this bug fly past me and settle on our rose bush. On closer inspection I saw it was a ladybird, complete with black spots, but instead of the rounded body we are used to seeing, this one was almost a rectangle. She was quite welcome in the garden as her larva will eat the green and blackfly that sometimes infest the roses. When I fed the dogs tonight, I was standing at our back fence, waiting for them to finish eating, when I noticed some more on a plant just below me. This is the mimosa tree that grew so fast last year, and Chris cut down in the autumn because it is right outside my room and its flowers give me hayfever. Already it is growing well and no doubt he will have to tackle it again this autumn. I suddenly realised that the whole plant was heaving with these ladybirds. If you click on it to enlarge it, you can see several in this small shot. They may be a new lot of larva that have all just emerged from their cocoons, or just adults about to breed, but there are certainly plenty of them. The swifts are darting around there catching bugs so I don't know how many will survive, but I'm sure some will.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Enjoying God's wonderful creation

Today dawned bright and sunny so I suggested to Chris that we go for a drive and a walk out in the countryside, before all the wild flowers disappear in the hot sun. So mid-morning we drove up to Cortijo Grande. We parked near the golf course and spent a while just enjoying the view of shadowed valleys and distant mountains. I have made a small panoramic picture of part of the view. It is not very good, but the best I could do with the photos I took.

The trees were lovely. We are not very high there but the trees are quite different from the ones around the village. They are almost like English ones, with tall trunks and delicate branches and leaves that filter the sun through, and make roosts for the many birds that are around. We could hear several distinct calls but I am not sufficiently expert to identify them. One bonus was when a bright, canary-yellow bird swooped across the valley in front of me. It was too fast for me to catch on camera, but I saw it clearly and it was much brighter and more yellow than any bird I have seen here so far. I have looked on the internet and the only bird that fitted the description, indigeonous to this region, is the Iberian yellow wagtail, so I think that must be what it was. I did manage to get pictures of a couple of other birds. This glossy blue-black back belongs to one of the many swallows that were dipping and diving around us, and the two birds are spotless starlings, similar to the starlings seen in UK, but slightly larger and without the speckled feathers. They were very vocal, and we sat and watched groups of them digging holes all over the golfing greens, and enjoying whatever it was they were finding to eat there.

As we walked around the golf course we saw quite a lot of flowers still blooming, including this deep blue one, which shone out through the tall grass, calling us to go and admire it! There were also plants that were once cultivated but had returned to the wild like this beautiful morning glory scrambling over a rotting fence post. Between the driving ranges there were small areas of orange trees which were semi-wild and they were covered in fruit still. I tried one, half expecting it to be bitter, but it was quite sweet, though without much flavour. Some of the trees had died and I was amused to see they had been colonised by the usual white snails that abound everywhere. We saw lots of loquat (Chinese plum) trees with ripening fruit on. I bought some last year to try but was not very impressed. We went to our favourite bar up there for a drink after our walk, and sat in the garden, amongst this beautiful array of vivid geraniums. They survive outside all winter here, so over the years they get quite big, almost like small bushes, and they flower abundantly for months.

On our way back home I took Chris to see some truly beautiful birds. Followers of this blog since it began, may remember that I have often spoken of wanting to see the bee-eaters that visit this region to breed around April through 'til June. A friend of mine took some quite stunning photos of them last week, and though I can't compete with that, I did ask them where they were taken and they kindly whispered the location of their breeding ground to me. I went to see them and sat in the car for ages watching them swoop to and fro between the over head cables, and occasionally coming down to the trees along the road. I wanted to take Chris there to see them because now they need to be left in peace to rear their families. They nest in sandy banks and you can see here all the holes where they burrow into the mud at the side of the road. I would love to have a telephoto lens and sit taking pictures of them, but I tried with my little point-and-shoot camera. It doesn't have a very powerful zoom, and when it is in use, it picks up every wobble of my hands, so there was never much chance of me getting a good picture! But when I got home I enlarged the pictures I had taken and this is the best one which I am putting on here so that you can see the the lovely colours on these birds. To see such exotic creatures in their natural habitat is a real privilege, and I am so glad I have at last had an opportunity to do so.

I took quite a few photos this morning so I will put a folder of them on my gallery which you can see by clicking here.