Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A walk on the campo.

Hi. We are off to choir practice soon, but I thought I'd try to do a quick blog post first. i intended to do it last night but I got bogged down in something else on the computer. We have had a week of really lovely weather with lots of sunshine. It still gets chilly enough to put the fire on for an hour or two in the evenings, but during the day we have been sitting outside as much as we can. Chris even went into shorts for the afternoon on a couple of days. I had to sit in the shade so that I could do some knitting. Jonathan asked me to knit a jumper for Ella, that is wide red and black stripes, and very baggy! I want to get it done before it is too hot to knit, and I try to do at least one stripe a day. I am on the last piece which is the back - so the biggest one. I usually do that first but I was trying to see how far the yarn was going as I am combining three different patterns to get the shape she wants. Unfortunately I will have to go and get one more ball of the black just to do the neck ribbing, but I can always make a pair of gloves for dog walking next winter, or something.

Yesterday we actually had a day with no other commitments so I suggested we took the dogs for a good run, and we went over to the campo. Sadly we have to keep them on their leads most of the time, because throughout the winter months the local men are licensed to shoot rabbits and although they are mostly out at the weekends, you never know when it is safe. And from next month there is sometimes a 'warden' on patrol to make sure you stick to the pathways and keep dogs on leads because of the ground-nesting birds, which is perfectly reasonable, but I would love to give our dogs more chance to run free. Anyway it was very quiet over there yesterday. There were no workers on the new railway site, no other walkers, no gunfire, so we did let them off for a short time. Foxy was off like the wind but she comes back when we call, and she enjoyed herself so much. Miki is not as keen to run, but even she had a good root around and kept running up the banks to look for her friend. She doesn't like it if Foxy goes out of sight. Then we saw them both getting very excited so we walked over to see what they had found, and it was a tortoise! I called them off, and went to make sure it was alright. They had bowled it around a bit so I set it the right way up again, and left it where it was. They are protected here and there are heavy fines if you are found with one. He wasn't willing to come out of his shell for the camera, but I can't blame him. He had just been used as a ball by two boiterous dogs. He did eventually show me his nose and toes, so I had to be content with that. I was surprised to find one out of hibernation already. It was a nice warm morning but the nights are still chilly. Perhaps they don't hibernate over here, but I would thik that they do.

It was nice to know that the tortoises are still around over there. The land has been so disrupted by the works for the AVE (Auto Velocedad España, or high speed train). Over a year ago they started digging out a valley where the track will run, and there was a constant stream of lorries, transporting soil and rock to further down the track where it has been used to build up the banks etc. More recently we have had to drive down into this valley to cross it to the campo where we walk the dogs, and it was very wet and muddy last time we went. But yesterday they had opened one of the new bridges and we were able to cross on that. They have built these bridges all along the valley to maintain acess to all the remote fincas scattered around the campo. From the bridge I took a couple of photos, one looking to the right, towards Mojacar and the sea, and one to the left towards Sorbas and on to Almeria city. It is a huge piece of engineering, and though their method is quite different from in UK, with little bits going on all over the place, when it all comes together it is very impressive. We are enjoying watching it being done, and just hope we are still around to see it when it is finished.

Everyone out here keeps talking about the lack of rain this winter. We did have some heavy falls in early autumn, but we expect to have much more in January and February, and this year we have really only had a couple of wet nights and some light showers. So I shouldn't really have been surprised (though I was) when the men who look after the orange trees next door, came on Sunday and turned on the 'acequia water', which is agricultural water that comes down from the mountains and each house can pay a small fee to be allowed to turn it on to flood their land once a month I think it is. The valve is in our front yard so when we heard the dogs creating a racket out there, and went to investigate, the men were turning on the valve. The earliest I have seen them do this in other years is May, but they obviously felt the trees needed it. I took a photo, much to their amusement, because I love the way the early morning light was reflected off the water, broken up by all the fallen leaves. It made me think about all our potted plants, and when I checked on them, I found they were very dry so I had a watering session yesterday as well.

I don't know if anyone else is interested, but following my previous blog, my friend John told me that the spider who came to call, was a wolf spider. I had heard of these though I hadn't seen one before, and they are best known because the female carries her egg sack around attached to her abdomen, and when the spiderlings hatch, they climb on to her back and are carried around for a few weeks until they are ready to fend for themselves. I looked it up on the net, and this was described as 'ugly', horrifying', 'scarey' etc, but I think it is 'amazing', and lovely to find such an example of caring motherhood in a species that is generally disliked. I wish it had a been a female who came to us, as I would have loved to have seen this. However I also learned that although they are not agressive, these spiders do have a venomous bite, which in severe cases needs a shot of anti-venom at the hospital. So perhaps I should be a bit more careful when getting 'close-up and personal' to take photos of unknown bugs! You can see a photo of the female with her babies by clicking here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Glorious grapefruit and other culinary delights.

You must have gathered from my recent posts that this is the season for citrus fruits. In fact, apart from the oranges I picked from our tree, and a net full of late mandarins, both of which are in the larder so we remember to eat them, my garage is littered with boxes and bags full of lemons, bitter oranges and sweet but sour 'eating' oranges. There is also a shopping bag full to the brim with bags of sugar, and boxes and drawers of bottles and lids. My next job is to match the last two up. Last year I had to stop making marmalade because I ran out of jars, so throughout this past year, disappointed customers have been giving me their jars so the same thing won't happen this year. Each supermarket jam out here comes in a different shaped jar, and I also get given olive jars, and ones from pickles and sauces. It doesn't work to store them with lids on, as they smell musty and flavour-tainted after a while, so now it is time to use them, I need to sort them all out.

A friend of our who lives just across the campo from our village, lives in a house with a row of fruit trees along one side. For a while he has urged us to come and pick some of his grapefruit, and this week he begged us to, as he says he has eaten one a day for the last two months and can't face any more! So today we went round there and had a picking session. Andy had picked the outer layer of fruit for his own use, but when I ducked under the low branches and looked up, there was still loads of fruit inside the tree. Chris climbed into the central fork and picked them and handed them down to me below. We brought home a big bag full and they smell gorgeous. Last year when Andy gave us some, Chris had told him that I liked them, but neither of them realised that I couldn't eat them as I was taking simvastain daily for a high cholesterol problem, and grapefruit is the one thing you shouldn't mix with statins. So I made those into grapefruit marmalade and it was quite popular. Now my cholesterol level is so much lower that the doctor has told me to just take one tablet a week, so I feel I can enjoy eating some of these grapefruit this year. But I will also make some into marmalade, and perhaps do a batch with ginger in it too. I know now that I will eventually sell as much marmalade as I can make; of all the home preserves, it seems to be the best for keeping; so at least this year I won't run out quite as early as I did last year.

Our church has recently started holding life/house groups each Wednesday afternoon, and our group has decided that we would like to share a meal together before we have a time of Bible study and praise, and to make it fair, we are going to a different member's house each week. This week it was my turn to host it. We have agreed to keep it simple so it doesn't become a competition to see who can put on the best spread. While it is a bit chilly we settled on soup, followed by cheese, meat etc. So I needed to make a pot of soup that was sufficient for a dozen people. The only soup I make from a recipe is a very nice fresh tomato soup. Other than that it is a case of 'see what's in the cupboard, chop it up small and cook it all together'! I did dig a tray of stewing beef out of the freezer, and as it was the day after market day, I had a good selection of fresh vegetables in. I diced all of these up and put them in the slow cooker over night. I recently bought myself a bigger slow cooker as I like to cook enough for several meals at one time, and my little one wasn't very adequate. The new one was perfect for my soup, and the next morning I tipped it all into my preserving pan and added a tin of baked beans and a jar of chick peas. And I am glad to say there was enough for everyone, and some left over to make a meal for Chris and I one day. I wasn't sure whether I could manage to seat twelve people round a table. Our dining room is quite small so we pushed all the arm chairs back to the walls in the sitting room, and brought in our garden table and the one from the kitchen, and it was fine. Amazingly I still have enough crockery and glasses as well, so it was quite easy. We had a lovely time of fellowship together, and now I can enjoy several weeks of lunches at friends houses, before it is my turn to do it again.

After our grapefruit picking sessions we went home and sat out on the porch for a while, and we had a rather unwelcome visitor. This spider was on the inside of our fly-free area, so the warm sun must have brought him out of the brickwork somewhere. Chris put it outside where it continued to sit on the mesh of the door. It is very unusual to see a spider this big in our garden. We get quite a lot of little grey 'jumping spiders'. They are tiny and they do literally jump rather than run. They can give you a bite that is far more irritating than any mosquito bite, and it can often turn into a very nasty sore. When I had a bad one the man at the farmacia gave me cortisone cream and that soon cleared it up. But I hadn't seen one like this before. Maybe the cats and dogs chase them away for us. On closer inspection I have to say he is quite a handsome creature with some pretty cool markings on his body, but I'll never be able to really say I like spiders. However I didn't want to hurt it, but I didn't want it near me either so I found a soft brush and persuaded it to go down to ground level, where, eventually, it scuttled away, so I hope it has found a new home far away from mine!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Orange Love

I am sure some of you are wondering why we are sitting with a pile of oranges between us, and looking very happy about it. Well, these are not just oranges; they are our oranges. You may remember that last April, on our wedding anniversary, we bought a small orange tree, and a very large pot to plant it in. What fruit it had on it at the time, quickly fell off, but we were excited to see a decent amount of blossom on it which then set to a good number of tiny oranges. Of course many of these fell in the wind, but we have carefully tended it, and nurtured the remaining fruit, which are now big, ripe oranges. I knew they wouldn't last until our anniversary to pick, so I thought Valentine's Day might be a fitting day to harvest them. However we were busy all that day, and by the time we got home the sun had disappeared and somehow I wanted to pick them while they were warm from the sun. So after lunch today, we picked them, all fifteen of them, and tonight we will be eating the first ones with our tea. (As a diabetic, I am supposed to eat my sugar items at the end of a meal!) You might well wonder what all the fuss is about in a land where oranges are two a penny, and they lie rotting under the trees everywhere, but when we moved here we inherited a tiny lemon tree which we were told was dying, and despite all my efforts, it yielded one shriveled lemon and gave up the fight. We then bought a baby mandarin tree which died before producing any fruit, so we are justifiable happy to have at last managed to grow these oranges. Let's hope our little tree now goes from strength to strength.

You will probably have realised that I don't often take photos of people, preferring to try to capture the beautiful views and skies we have here. But my first choice of subject has to be wild-life, from birds and bugs, to flowers and trees, so here are a few I'd like to share with you. The first is a little sparrow that was pecking away in the almond tree at the back of our house. It was so far away, and the sun was too low, so I couldn't really see where he was on my camera screen, but I managed to catch him all the same.

This is a succulent plant that I bought at a church coffee morning a year ago. It was a spindly little thing, in a tiny pot, much too tall to support itself, but I thought it had a pretty flower so I bought it anyway. This picture shows it as it was last March, just after I got it, and on the right you can see how it is now. It is very tall, but also strong, and it doesn't need staking. It is a strange plant, because at it dies, each flower will produce a new plant. Also the edges of all the leaves grow tiny. tiny 'plantlets' that fall off if you rub passed it, so in a way it is a good thing it is in a pot, or it may well take over. In fact this year we have spotted a patch of it over our back fence that wasn't there last year, and I suspect we may have thrown a baby over there that has taken root! I still think it is a lovely flower. You can see in this photo just how big each umbrella of flowers is, and this one taken from below shows haw very pretty the individual flowers are. It is a shame they hang down really, as they hide their faces.

And these last two I was very pleased with. We woke up on Friday morning to the sound of steady rain. It soon stopped but looking around, I think it has been raining for some time. While I was waiting for the dogs to finish their breakfast I took several photos of this little plant which is in a trough that hangs on the back fence. It had trapped raindrops like jewels between its leaves, and they sparkled in the early morning light. And the second photo is the same plant on the next day. The rain had gone, and in its place we had bright sunshine, so bright that it almost shone through the leaves making them glow with inner light. I've said it before, and no doubt I'll say it again, "Nature is beautiful!"

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A day's outing to Benidorm

I have been busy this past week making a set of invitations for Ben, because on May 19th, he and Dave are holding a Civil Partnership Ceremony. We shall be coming over for it, but we can only come together for a week, so this time we will be spending all our time in the Midlands with our boys. There will only be immediate family at the ceremony but they are having a big celebration party in the evening, and that is what the invitations are for. Here is a picture of what I made but for any further information about them you can go to my craft blog which you will find here.

Because of his work, Dave has school holidays off, so this being half-term week, they are back in their favourite Spanish resort of Benidorm. This is just a three hour drive from here, so we decided to go there for a day, spend some time with them, and deliver the invitations by hand, rather than relying on the vagaries of the Spanish Postal system.

We were up just before sunrise and hit the road at 8.00, and we arrived just before 11.00 in time for a coffee while we waited for the other two to find us. It was a lovely day. Despite a fresh breeze, it was warm enough to walk around without a coat, and when we found a sheltered place to sit, it got quite hot. Neither of us had been to Benidorm and it was quite a surprise. The skyline was not like anything we see down near us, with long rows of tall sky-scrapers. In Almeria there are big blocks of flats that rise quite high, but these were individual towers, of all shapes and colours. As we reached the sea front there was a long sandy beach edged by the high-risers, and just around the bend in the opposite direction, there was a small cove and then another long beach with more flats towering above it, and a lovely backdrop of mountains. Although it may not be our choice of holiday resort now, I can quite see why the youngsters like it, and from a distance, at least, it is very attractive. The streets were lined with tourist-type shops, and there were more people milling around than you see on our beach in mid-summer.

We found somewhere that did a very nice lunch, and then they took us up to a large plazza, ideal for enjoying the views in both directions, as well as for resting in the sun. The small cove below us must have been very sheltered because there were lots of folk sunbathing, and even one brave soul swimming in the sea. I took along my camera so I could capture the views and get some pictures of us and the boys. Then they took us down some steps to see a rather remarkable sight. All along both sides of the steps there was a wire rail and it was absolutely loaded with padlocks. Each one had been left there by a couple who had enjoyed their holiday in Benidorm. Some were written on and others were actually engraved with names and dates. Some were quite rusty and had obviously been there for years but others were shiny and new. In fact we saw one couple attaching theirs as we went down. Maybe Ben and Dave will add one next time they come back, but it will be a struggle to find a space. Some couples gave up trying and just wrote their names on the wall, but I dare say the officials will put a stop to that, but the locks have almost become a tourist attraction so I expect they will survive.

I am keen to master taking better wild-life photos with my new camera, and ever since I got it I have been trying to catch a bird in flight, and today I managed it! Just look at the wing span on this gull. I got some quite good photos of a couple of gulls perched on an aerial preening themselves too. And I particularly liked this one because he looks as though as he is whispering a secret to his mate. There were also a lots of white doves around the beach area which made a nice change from the usual pigeons. They look quite tiny next to the gulls which were huge.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the roof terrace above Ben's hotel. They said it was the warmest they had been since they arrived. We stayed chatting until about 4.30 and then we drove home, so that we could get back before it was too dark. As we drove through Murcia we hit some quite heavy rain, but we drove through it, and it was dry again when we got home. The dogs were excited to see us. We don't often leave them for a full day, and I expect they were wondering whether they were going to get any tea. It is quite nice to get a friendly reception when we arrive. No doubt they will go even more berserk when they have spent a week in kennels in May!

I have used quite small photos on this post so I could get a nice lot in, but don't forget that you can click on them to get a larger image.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Well; I made it!

Some of you will remember that back in 2008, when we had sold our house in UK and were waiting for the winter season before we rented a flat in Spain to go house-hunting, we decided to use the three months when we were in 'limbo', realising a long held dream to have a real adventure. Originally we were considering a trip to India, but after our son Tom had a break in S.E. Asia and came back with such wonderful stories, we decided that we would go to Thailand, and then travel on to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. We didn't book into any posh hotels, in fact the only thing we did book was our flight out there, and a return flight three months later. We only took what we could squeeze into two large rucksacks and we moved from one guesthouse to another, travelling by train, boat, bus and plane, and boy did we have our adventure! Bangkok was our base and we found we could leave half of our belongings there and travel much lighter, so we returned there several times for a change of clothes etc. and we became quite familiar with the back-street guest houses and markets. In one market we saw some lamps which really caught our eye. They were in a range of colours and shapes, but all were made from the same shaped pieces of fairly rigid plastic. They were called 'Jig-saw lamps' and rightly so, as you bought them as a pack of flat pieces which then had to be fitted together much like a jigsaw. We bought one large sphere and two little ones, but up until now we have not really found anywhere to use them. But we are just sorting out the best lighting for our new fly-free area, and decided that the large one could hang in the porch which will be more of a decoration than a useful light as we are fitting a bright light on the wall for reading etc. So today I got out the set of shapes for the large sphere shade and it sure was a puzzle. It consisted of thirty of these pieces, and some tiny, not very clear instructions. I thought I was going to need Chris' help, but just as he mastered the first round, I did too, and from then on it was easier though very fiddly, because just as I got one 'corner' fixed together, another one popped out again. But in the end I made it! And here it is fully assembled. It is now stored in a very safe place, well away from any curious animals, until the light is ready to take it. Unfortunately Chris will then have to go up a ladder with it, undo one of the five-join corners and do it up again around the hanging cable of the light. That should be more fun. He's not as patient as me when it comes to fiddly things. I'll try to get a picture of it with the light on inside it when it is finally up, but in the meantime, here is one of some of the coloured ones we saw lit up in Thailand.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Credit where credit is due.

Living out here, I find I do quite a lot of shopping online, and there is a big difference between companies as to how friendly, helpful and efficient they are. Just occasionally I find a company that stands out and I like to give them credit for this, so 'thumbs up' to Fairtrade Clipper Teas, for fast and efficient service every time. Those who know me are aware that my choice of drink is a cup of tea, whatever the time of day, and I mean proper tea; not a tea bag in a mug of hot water. I like to use loose tea leaves, brewed in a proper teapot, so I was rather dismayed to find that the only loose tea available in Spain is the many fruit and herbal infusions that are on sale in the markets. So I wrote to The Clipper Tea company because I like to buy Fairtrade whenever I can, and I had used their brand when I lived in UK. I asked them if there was a supply of their tea in Spain and they said 'No', but directed me to their on-line store which they said would be happy to deal with me. So I have used them ever since. Not only are they the best tea ever, but their prices are lower than the local shops (for tea-bags), and if I spend over £30 then postage is free. Ever keen to promote fair-trading, I have encouraged friends at my church to share my order so that I get the free shipping without having to order in too huge quantities just for me, at any one time. I was running low on my favourite brew so I placed an order online on Tuesday morning. That evening I had an e-mail to say my order had been dispatched, and it arrived first thing today (Thursday). It is dispatched from Dorset, and is delivered by our village post lady, so one has to wonder why some of my mail takes weeks to arrive! But full credit to my tea company. I hope they keep trading for a long time to come.

We have had some very mixed weather just lately, and we have been wondering whether winter was going to come at all this year, but it has now! We still have had very little rain but we were on the edge of the Siberian weather front that has swept across UK and this weekend it was really cold. Saturday was World Cancer Day and there was an event on the seafront at Mojacar that I wanted to go to. The organisers spent the weeks before the event, selling pink ribbon for 1€ a metre, and their aim was to make a 10,000m 'ribbon of life'. I had sold some of the ribbons at church, so I wanted to go to see how they were getting on. It was a bright sunny day but there was an icy wind that cut right through you. We easily found the place because there was music coming from loud-speakers and much activity around the food area where they were doing a good trade in hot dogs, hot chocolate and roasted chicken, while a giant paella was cooking ready to serve at 2.00. One group of people were frantically tying together lengths of ribbon but the wind kept whipping it out of their hands. All along the promenade there were stalls selling hand crafted cards, jewelry, jam etc, and there was an excellent turnout of both Spanish and English people. As you can see in these photos, everyone was well wrapped up in scarves and hats. It was the first time this winter that I have worn my coat, but I was glad I did. Had it been a kinder day, the crowd would have spilled onto the beach, but it was quiet and empty but very beautiful.

We could only stay for part of the time as we were booked to go for lunch with Gallarte, the art and craft group that I belong to in our village. This was really our Christmas dinner, but we were all too busy to go then, and the restaurant that we chose is closed for the whole of January, so we booked for the first week in February instead. There was quite a crowd of us - enough to fill two tables, and we had an excellent meal in good company.

Sunday remained just as cold but the blue sky quickly disappeared under a covering of cloud which got quite black in the afternoon. I decided to sit in the lounge and do some knitting and from my chair I could just see a small area of sky between the houses opposite ours. As I was watching a reflection of the sunset, I saw a small section of a rainbow appear across it, so I grabbed my camera and went outside. It was an unusual sky because the sun sets behind our house but the pink and red were reflected at the front and there was almost a complete rainbow in it. Then I went out to the back to see the actual sunset and by then the sky was really red and in this photo it looks as though there is a face in the cloud pattern looking back at me!

We had a relatively warm day yesterday, though it soon gets cold when the sun sets. The nights have been very cold and we have brought the dogs in each evening and made a bed for them in the passage outside our bedroom, because it has been too cold for them to sleep outside, even in their house. It was my turn to take them out this morning and although there was a decent sunrise, the grass and wild flowers where we were walking were white with frost. We very rarely see that in the village. However it turned into a lovely day. The fierce wind had dropped and in a sheltered spot it was quite comfortable to sit outside. In fact we sat out to eat our lunch today and then we both had a short snooze on the swing seat. You can see how sunny it was by how dark our reactolite glasses have gone. Chris looked at the thermometer in the pool, and while the sun was on the water, the temperature was 8º. Now the sun has gone down and once again I am wearing two jumpers and a fleece body-warmer, and have a rug tucked around my legs. (There is a lot to be said for central heating on a winter evening!). But we are so lucky to have such lovely days in February, so we are making the most of them while we can.