Friday, June 29, 2012

It aint half hot mum!!

While Britain is awash with flood water, we out here are having a mini heatwave. We may still be in June, just, but we are experiencing some of the hottest days we have had since we came out here. The back of our porch is always in the shade, and the thermometer there was registering 41º today, (that's around 105ºF). It is too hot for comfort, and although this afternoon we also have high winds, it is a hot wind so it brings no relief. We are fortunate to have our own swimming pool and we jump in and out of that to try to cool down. We were still in it at 1 o'clock this morning, but at least we were then able to sleep. According to the forecast, it will cool down a few degrees over the weekend. I hope so anyway. In the meantime, I can't face cooking so we are living off cold meat and salad, and bowls of cereal. That's quite a healthy diet isn't it?

In my last post I said there was a strange dog in our yard, but it was only Miki with her 'new look' hair cut. This week there really is a strange dog in the yard. This is Barney. I can hear some of you thinking, "Oh no. She's not daft enough to take on another one"!, but Barney is only visiting while his owners, our friends Julie and Robin, are on holiday in UK. Barney is very different from our dogs, with a long, hard body and very long thin legs. Their usual dog-sitters were unable to have him this time, so he came over to meet our girls and they got on well together, so we said we would give it a go.
He has a lot more energy than Miki, and even Foxy doesn't always want to play. At home he has a long run along a rambla each morning, but Robin has started walking him on a lead to stop him over heating, which is just as well as he has to be on a lead with us.  He trots along well with our two, and when they get home and have had breakfast, they have a good old romp together. We shut them all round at the back of the house first thing as it is much cooler there until lunch time, so they can run and play, and then rest. The only problem we have had with Barney is that he doesn't like cats, but our four soon learned to give him a wide berth, and I encourage them to stay inside as the dogs are mostly outside.
Some days we have had the air-con on for half an hour to cool the sitting room down after lunch, and then we bring the dogs in, but they are restless indoors, and soon want to get back out. So they spend the rest of the day sleeping on the porch, and Barney is happy to lie down with them. In the evening, they play chase round and round the pool. It is a wonder one of them hasn't fallen in by now. He is with us for two and a half weeks, but the first week has gone really fast. We will quite miss him when he goes home, and so will the girls.

While it is so hot I have found it quite difficult to do much in my craft room. I have the ceiling and the floor fans on, but they just blow my papers around. But if the temperature drops just a little, it can be quite pleasant to sit out in the back porch in the afternoon, especially if the usual breeze is blowing, so I was thinking of something I could do out there. I suddenly remembered the kit I bought early last year, to make a bobbin lace fan. So I dug it out from the back of a draw, sorted out all my bobbins, and found some thread. Now I have to wind around sixty pairs of bobbins, which is the worst part of the project, (except maybe, sewing all the 120 ends in when it is finished!). Then I will have to try little bits out to see whether I can remember how to do it! Watch this space, but it could be months before I can show the finished article.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Something to look forward to

This week I made a little treat for us to look forward to, but it requires some patience on our part. One of the things I really love about this time of year, is all the soft fruits that appear in our shops and markets. Just as the strawberry season came to an end, we started to see apricots (my absolute favourite if they are ripe enough), peaches, and now cherries. I usually choose the big, shiny black cherries, and this week I bought a rather more generous bagful than usual so that I could preserve some in brandy. First I washed and dried them and made sure that every one I was using was completely unblemished. Then I simply packed them into my 'kilner-style' jars, covered them with brandy, sealed and labelled them, and that's it. The idea is that they stay at the back of a dark cupboard for at least a year. My friend kept some for five years! I don't think we have quite that much patience. In fact I can see our first jar being opened around next Christmas.

I have a strange dog in my yard this week. But she isn't really strange. It is Miki who has had her first haircut! She is just as loveable as ever but I miss my soppy clown who used to peer at me through her almost red fringe. As a puppy, our vet recommended that we didn't have her trimmed as her fur was protection from the sun, but now she is fully grown, her coat is long, thick and curly, and this year we felt she was really struggling with the heat. Most of the dog groomers will only shave the dogs and we didn't want that, but eventually we found a lady who was willing to do a 'half-cut' as long as we understood she may not look 'very pretty' afterwards. Actually she looks fine, just different, but I shall look forward to it all growing again for the winter months. The photo is, of course, the before and after looks.

Last Wednesday evening was our final Cantante concert for the summer. It is really too hot to carry on, and many of our members return to UK for part or all of the summer. We'll be back in September, practising for the Christmas concerts.

Anyway, this week we met at the house of one of our members. I believe I posted photos from our practice session there, last time. It was an excellent evening - a very special time - and as predicted, over a hundred people came to watch us. These two photos show some of them. From where we were sitting, to our right there was the pool with people sitting all around it, and to our left, tables and chairs were set up in every space available, right back to the lovely covered area at the end of the yard which housed a fully equipped bar, a pool table, and an outside kitchen. 

I am posting one last photo of the choir in action although you have seen several others already, because for the first time, all the singers are visible and no-one is hiding behind a lamp post, pillar etc. At the end I will put a link to a short video of our finale. In retrospect it was not the best one to film. For one thing we sing in unison, whereas most of our pieces include harmonies. Also by then the light was beginning to fade so it is a little dark. But I had to find some-one who was willing to hold my camera all through it, and he was sitting a fair distance from us, and it has picked up the piano slightly louder than our singing. But it will still give you an idea of what we are like, and we did so enjoy singing together, especially the very last bit of this song, and for a bunch of amateurs, I hope you will think we did quite well.

After the concert we all sat around and ate any of our picnics left from earlier on, and then we had an 'end of term party'. Three of our singers are also excellent musicians and they are used to playing together, so with Robin on guitar, Dave on saxophone and clarinet, and Bob on drums, plus a bass guitarist I did not know, we had an impromptu rendition of a range of songs from the last three decades. Julie sang along with them as well, and we all sat around chatting, or got up for a dance. It was a warm, balmy evening, and we stayed until gone midnight, and we all had a really good evening. I shall miss our Tuesday practices, but it will also be good to have a bit more free time for a few weeks.

We have had an interesting weekend as well, as yesterday we had some visitors who stayed over until mid-morning today. The man is a distant relative (second cousin I think) of Chris, and they haven't met for 50 years! His wife also lived in the same street in Northwood as they grew up in, so they had plenty of memories to share. They have been in touch recently because the man, Tony, has been delving into the genealogy of the Irish side of the family, and Chris has always been interested in this too. Tony has actually been over to Ireland and searched through endless records, and talked to people from the villages where their parents came from, and he has compiled a huge family tree which was really interesting.

Here they are pouring over the few old photos that Chris has of the early days in Northwood. 

We got on really well with Tom and his wife Theresa. They have a house in Torrevieja and come out for a long stay at least twice a year, so I am sure we will be seeing more of them now we are back in touch.

Then, to round off the week, we have Julie and Robin coming over later today with their dog Barney. We are looking after him while they have two weeks holiday in UK. Barney is a tall thin dog with lots of energy. He was absolutely fine when he came to meet our two a week or so ago, so I hope that was not just a one off. Now it is so hot, all the dogs spend most of the day asleep in some shade, but I gather Barney can be 'a bit nocturnal', (Robin's words) so we may be in for some disturbed nights.

Here is the link to the Cantante video. Persevere through the quiet start and enjoy the ending. We did!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Aren't they gorgeous?

Hi, my faithful followers. You must be wondering where I have been. I am not usually a fortnight between posts, and it is not that I haven't done anything to write about, it is simply that there aren't enough hours in the day to get it done!

But tonight, while Chris watches yet another football match, I thought I would sit here and do a bit of typing. 

This time I am sharing a few little nature pictures that have taken my fancy this week. The first is a row of baby house martins. Aren't they gorgeous? When we walked the dogs at the weekend we came home by a different route and we passed these overhead cables lined with birds. Needless to say I didn't have my camera with me.

Today I had an early appointment at the medical centre for a blood test and electrocardiogram (pre-requisites for my second cataract operation),and as I was leaving the house Chris asked me why I was taking my camera to the doctor's. I said I was hoping to get a photo of the little birds and he gave me a scornful look and said 'They won't still be there'. I said, 'No, but I bet they'll be there again!', and so they were.  You can see they are only babies. They are quite fluffy still, and one or two were having some balancing difficulties.

The second thing I have been watching is a little spider who lives on the huge American cacti just beyond our back fence. She has a very untidy web that criss-crosses between the leaves and catches all sorts of debris. A few weeks back the high winds broke a large branch off the mimosa tree and it fell across her web and destroyed most of it. I felt quite sorry for her. She had laboured over it for weeks. But she soon had it repaired and then she expanded it over several more cacti. It was quite impressive for one little spider. 

Then last week some white oval shapes appeared in the web. At first I thought it was just fluffy seeds blown there, but then I realised that they were egg sacks. I have never seen a spider with lots of them before, but she had groups of two or three linked together in several areas of her web. This week they started to hatch and suddenly she was inundated with spiderlings, smaller than tiny ants. 

This is what one lot looked like. I thought the brown area was the babies and the black dots were probably seeds from the mimosa tree. They seem to be everywhere else in the garden at the minute. But today I discovered that the black dots are the baby spiders, and the brown bits are tiny egg shells, or first layers of skin that they shed as soon as they were born. The babies haven't stayed together like some baby spiders do. Most of them have disappeared. But that area at the back is the hunting ground for loads of insect eating birds, so they may have met an untimely end. I wouldn't want them all to survive anyway, but I have enjoyed watching them.

Then tonight, when I gave the dogs their tea, I noticed something swimming round and round in their water bowl. I know I shouldn't interfere with nature, but I have to rescue things if they are struggling, so I fished it out, and it was this tiny praying mantis. I think she is exquisite. So tiny, but so perfect. She sat on my finger while she cleaned the water off herself, and then she got a bit lively so I put her back on a plant. She is a good bug to have around. She eats a lot of the bad bugs! I know some of you don't understand how I can like all these creepy-crawlies, but I just think God's creation is wonderful!

On a very different note, we had another excellent open-air concert with Cantante on Saturday night. It is harder to sing in the open, but we had a good crowd who came to listen and they all seemed to enjoy it. People are surprised that we have so many men in the choir, and are especially impressed when they sing a song without the ladies! 

Afterwards we wanted to get back quickly as we were invited to a 65th birthday party in the village, and although the couple knew we couldn't be there for most of it, they did ask us to call in when we got back. So we jumped in the car only to find we had a completely dead battery. It had given us no warning or trouble before, but apparently that's how it is out here. Something to do with the heat we are told. Fortunately one of the men in our choir is a mechanic and he came across and reassured us that this was the only problem, and he helped us to jump start the car so we made it home safely. Today we have a new battery installed, so problem sorted.

This morning we had another choir practice at the venue for our final concert on Wednesday evening. This one is a sort of a 'party in the park' style of event. Everyone is invited to bring along their chairs and tables and a picnic. It is at the house of one of the singers. She has a lovely villa, though it is a bit too far off the beaten track for me. There are nice wide veranda steps where we can stand to sing, and the visitors can sit around the pool to listen. We are expecting around 100 people there, so it could get a bit crowded.
This is the view from where we stand, so there are no neighbours to complain about the noise! Afterwards we are having an end of season party there, with a band, dancing, and even a mid-night swim if you want it. it should be fun.

We had another visit to our favourite beach, Los Cocedores, last Thursday. This time it was for a baptismal service with our church. There were six people who were baptised in the sea, five British and one Spaniard. It was very hot, and the high winds earlier in the week had washed more weed than usual towards the shore, but we managed to find an area that was clear. A good crowd of church folk and other friends came to share the occasion.  There were quite a few other families on the beach so this time, in anticipation of that, we had printed out little leaflets in English and Spanish, explaining what was happening. Quite a few people came to watch and took one. It was a good day!

Well that's quite enough for you to read through for one night. I'll maybe come back later in the week and tell you how the last concert goes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Almost back to normal!

Well we have had another fun-filled week, spent with Ben and Dave, but they moved on to Benidorm for their second week on Friday morning. Now, apart from three more concerts with our choir Cantante, we are more or less back to normal. So here is a brief synopsis of last week, in a photo collage that I am hoping will fit across a page when I publish it.
The first thing they did on arrival was to jump into the pool. It was hot all week and they made good use of the pool every day, as did we. Ben likes to prove he can still do handstands and back flips into the water. All that gymnastics training hasn't gone completely! We had one nice morning on the beach. As usual we took them to Los Cocedores, as it is our favourite beach here. We swam in the sea which was as warm as our pool and beautifully clear. The boys came home very sunburnt despite using sun cream. Chris and I are more used to the Spanish sun now and we just went a bit pink. On the last night we met some friends at a bar up in Alfoquia, where they have an 'open mike' night on Thursdays, and Ben entertained us with his singing and playing.

We took them to the train station in Murcia on Friday morning, and when we got back we had a message that our new TV had arrived and was ready for collection. When we moved in we inherited a fairly old television which was big and bulky, with a  mediocre picture. Then our sat box failed so we couldn't record or play back any programmes that we had missed, so for the past year we have talked about renewing it. Chris decided he would like a better one before the Olympics, and the Euro-football, and as my eyesight is now so bad, I just wanted a screen that I can see! So we now have a flat, LCD screen, wall mounted, which makes a big difference to the space in our rather narrow sitting room. It can link up to a computer so we can listen to music and view photos etc on it. It is also capable of showing HD programmes, and the new 'box' allows us to record, as well as to watch both English and Spanish programmes, though we may need to renew the Spanish aerial first. Chris unpacked it and then had a huge task of sorting out a muddle of wires. We put it on it's stand for the first night, but this morning Chris fixed it to the wall, and this afternoon we enjoyed watching the Queen's diamond jubilee water pageant on the Thames. What an amazing spectacle. I would love to have been there to see it. I am looking forward to the big concert tomorrow as well.

And finally here are a few photos I took out in the garden this week. Last autumn we cut the bougainvillea down quite ruthlessly and it paid off, because it is now a solid mass of colour all down the side of the house. It is so pretty close up, with dainty off-white flowers in clusters of three amongst the purple bracts. The stephanotis has opened it's first cluster of flowers. It smells divine! The calla lilies I took from my friend's garden when she moved house, have got their first flowers. They were beautiful for one year, but very poor last year, so I am hoping this promising start will lead to another good year this year. We also have the first flowers out on our bright yellow hibiscus. This is confined to quite a small pot, and it always amazes me when it carries these big beautiful blooms each year. And lastly here is a little window box that has surprised us both. We decided not to renew the window boxes this year as we were waiting for the man to come to fit new mosquito screens to all the windows. Also we did not want to ask anyone to water them while we were away, so we took most of them down. But this one, tucked into a windowsill on the side of the garage, got forgotten, and totally ignored. I have just started watering it, and it has immediately woken up a dead looking geranium, and a succulent that has yellow daisy flowers. I shall now take proper care of it and hopefully it will continue to thrive.