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


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.