Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's been a good week!

Yes, it has been a lovely week, starting with the arrival of Jonathan and Ella on Sunday. Chris went to collect them from the airport while I was at church. They were only here for three days, and they came mainly so that Jonathan could help Chris with some work in the garden, but of course, they were very happy to have a brief respite from the chilly, snowy weather in UK as well. And weather-wise they were very lucky. The sun shone for them most of the time, and even though we had cooler, somewhat fierce winds at times, it was still a lot better than they would have had at home. They got most of the work done in the mornings, and in the afternoons we took the dogs for long walks on the campo and along the beach.
When we first moved here we had a clear view at the back, out across the green zone, and down to the bottom of the village. This has gradually become obscured by the rapid growth of some mimosa trees, and last year these became quite a nuisance on two counts. Firstly, one is right outside my craft-room window, which I like to have open as often as I can, and the mimosa gave me persistent hay-fever all the time it was in bloom. Secondly, beautiful though it is, the pollen from it turned our yard, (and the dogs) yellow, and this was followed by a carpet of tiny black seeds, and then another layer of leaves which made keeping the pool clear, quite a major task. So this year we decided it was time for them to go.
Climbing ladders and wielding heavy saws is not good for Chris these days, and aggravates his arthritis,  so as Jonathan is trained to work with trees, he seemed the obvious person to ask for help. Despite being the smallest and slightest of the boys, he is so agile and strong, and before long he had cut off all the branches, lopped away the tendrils, and sawn through the thicker pieces, and suddenly we had our clear view again. 
The second tree was a bit further along, behind the pool pump house, and actually was growing from the bank behind our land in the green zone. So for this one he had to go out round the back and climb the bank and then the tree, but once again he soon had it down, while his foreman - Chris - helped to move the branches as they fell, and kept an eye on the ladder stability. It looks so much better without the trees, and we know that although it seems a bit a drastic, they will be back in a year or two, though hopefully it will be four or five years before they need felling again.

The next day he set to again, this time tackling the bougainvillea that grows all along the side fence. This is an extremely aggressive plant and it steals the light from my kitchen. Usually we have to keep cutting this back ourselves, but seeing as Jonathan was here, we got him to do it. It is a horrible job as the wood is very hard and the main branches are thick, and it is all covered with lethal thorns!  He used the electric hedge-trimmer, which vibrates right up your arms when you cut the thick branches, but he cut it back really hard, almost down to the top of the fence, so it shouldn't need doing again for quite a while. I was sad to see all the beautiful purple flowers on the ground, but again, I know they will all be back in just a few months.
As it happens, our neighbour made her annual visit to her house this week, and she also called in a man to cut her trees and shrubs down, so everywhere is looking a bit bare right now, but hey-ho, Spring is just around the corner!
On the first afternoon we took the dogs over the campo and gave them a good run. Jonathan and Ella have a dog of their own, and they love seeing our's. The next day it was lovely and sunny while they were working, but in the afternoon it got chilly and very windy, so we stayed in and chatted together. 
Then Wednesday morning we woke up to find the garden chairs and table, and the ladders, had blown over and were scattered around the yard, but Chris wanted to rest before driving them to the airport, so I took Jonathan and Ella, and the dogs, down to the beach and we had a lovely walk. There was no wind down there and we soon wished we had put fewer clothes on. Jonathan managed to get Miki running along the sand and almost persuaded Foxy to get her feet wet, but she wasn't impressed. We just got home in time for a quick lunch before we had to drive them to Alicante for their plane. I am only including a couple of photos as most of them are in a folder on my picasa gallery which you can see by clicking here.
The other nice thing that has happened this week is that I have received several parcels of items I ordered earlier in the month.  One included the CD of the soundtrack from the new 'Les Miserables' film. I love it and have been playing it on and off ever since it arrived. I had also ordered several bits and pieces of craft things from various sales, and put in a big order from Lakelands plastics. They are one of the few companies that have a very reasonable flat rate postage for any international orders, so I wait until I want enough items and order them all together. 
The two main items in this year's parcel were both kitchen pans. I bought a new Remoska as mine had really worn out and I do use it a lot. It cooks just as well as the main oven using a fraction of the electricity. I find it heaps better than the halogen oven that I originally replaced it with. That is OK for some things but I have found it very unsatisfactory for others. I also have a new set of saucepans that are attractive because they are all different colours, and they have no handles which means they take up a lot less space on the hob, and it makes them very easy to store in my tiny cupboard. There is a separate handle that just clips on to lift them. I am enjoying using them so far anyway. (The Remoska is the big dark pan with a silver lid).
Finally a quick word about my new project this year. Having successfully completed my project 365+1 for 2012, (taking a photo every day, and mounting them on a page each month), I wanted to do something different this year, and I decided to try Project Life. This is done making a double page for each week, with photos, journalling cards and added embellishments. It is all done digitally, but I am hoping to eventually print mine out and make an album. I did a one week course online, with a lesson each day, to learn how to put this together. It has already taught me a lot about using Adobe Photoshop, and I am looking forward to practising it all. I will put last weeks double page here, but you can see the first two weeks, and read more about it on my craft blog post, by clicking here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Taking stock?

Last Wednesday our sewing group restarted, and by the end of the month we will be back rehearsing with Cantante for our summer concerts, but for the past couple of weeks we have been fairly relaxed, and 'taking stock' of where we are and what we want to achieve this year.
Last weekend was fun as it was our annual Three Kings fiesta and once again we were blessed with a lovely sunny day. We had invited some friends to come over and enjoy it with us, so together we wandered into the village in time to watch the re-enactment of the Kings visit to the palace of King Herod. The kings arrived on horses again this year, and we are getting used to seeing their costumes and one well-blackened face!
Food is always a central part of any fiesta, so the usual enormous barbecue was cooking away with its racks of ribs, sausages, chicken etc. The same stall also had a big vat of what was a sort of patatas pobre, with the addition of slices of choritzo, and as we passed the man was deftly breaking eggs randomly over the top. The usual stall was there with its vats of boiling octopus, but I am quite unable to get excited over this delicacy!
In addition to all this food for sale, and the long stalls of special sweets, cakes and bread, there was also the 'comeda popular' which is a free meal provided by the town hall, for anyone who attends the fiesta, and feels inclined to join the queue to be served. This varies from migas, the least popular of these foods, to paella, probably the most popular but also the most expensive to provide so it doesn't happen very often. This year it was a giant tortilla - a deep omelette of eggs broken over layers of potato and onion. We like this and I do sometimes make it at home. How they can possibly cook such a huge one evenly, over an open fire, I do not know. It takes a long time to do. They had started it off when we arrived around 11.00 and it isn't served until 2.00. 
Here you can see two of the workers. They have just inserted rods into the big pole at the ends, and carefully rotated the whole thing to cook the other side. (I have a little double frying pan to do this). In the photo they are using the rods to lift the lid a little to check on the tortilla. You can see how heavy it is. it took all their strength to lift it high enough to get the pole across for support! It is served in big wedges, in even bigger lengths of bread, and Chris and I would struggle to eat one portion between us. We didn't wait to have any of it this year as I had prepared a lunch to have with our friends at home. It was so warm that we were able to sit around the table outside to eat.
That is probably the only thing we have done of note just lately, so I have spent a lot of time in my craft room, sorting out more drawers and folders, and deciding what work I am going to concentrate on this year.
As you know, all last year I did a project called 365 which entailed taking a photo every day. I pasted these into a page mask for each month and then printed them out and mounted them on a scrapbook page. I am pleased with myself for sticking with it and finishing the project, though I do still have a couple of pages to mount up and put in the album. I really enjoyed doing it and learned a bit about photo editing, and using my new camera along the way. But I didn't want to make it again, so I looked around for another idea, and I settled on something called Project Life. The idea of this is to make a page, or even a double page every week, as a digital scrapbook - so everything is done on the computer, no added embellishments, but it can still be printed out and stored in an album. Each page has one or many photos, and cards of journaling talking about what is going on. I still don't know a great deal about using photoshop for digital scrapbooking so I have been following an online course designed for Project Life. It was one lesson each day for a week and I am excited about what I have learned. My first page is nearly done but I needed to complete the course before I completed the page so I have a bit of catching up to do. I hope I will get quicker at doing it as the year progresses, or it may prove to be too time consuming, but at least by the end of the year, I should be using photoshop with a lot more understanding. I will show you pages now and then to give you an idea of how it works.
As well as working with photography I also want to become more efficient at card making, perhaps making small runs of cards so that I build up a stock and have one ready whenever I need it. As I have tidied my room I have found one or two things that I had forgotten about, so it is my aim to use up some of the things that have been around for a long time.
My work for Project Africa is still taking up a lot of my time but we are getting more organised. Having successfully found a home for all the little vests we were still knitting when the original project closed, we were then too efficient in writing about it, so that Brian was overwhelmed by the number sent to him and he asked us not to make any more. Instead he asked us to make larger garments and blankets which we are now doing. Unfortunately it has proved quite difficult to get the message out to all the knitting groups everywhere, that our direction has changed somewhat. As we were not the instigators of the original project it is not really our responsibility to sort everyone out, but we do have a responsibility towards Brian, and because we come rather high up on google search for 'Fish and Chip babies' I get many e-mails every week asking where people can send their knitted vests, and I feel I must answer them as fully as I can so that they can then also spread the word that the vests are no longer required. After we sent our last consignment to Brian, we said we would not be taking any more vests, but some groups had started more, and I found myself being handed around forty of them that I felt duty bound to send to someone who could use them. So this week I was very happy to find a lady working in Uganda who said she would love to have them for young, unmarried mothers on her youth work scheme. I then set about finding a way of getting them to her, and have managed to find a postal service that will take a parcel for 17€ plus 5€ per kilo, which means my parcel will be around 35€ I think. I asked for donations at church this morning and have almost enough to cover the postage so I will be getting that sent off this week. Then I can concentrate on my blankets again. 
I was pleased with the Tunisian crochet one I made. It has a good texture for a blanket and I could make it in strips so there is less sewing up than there is with knitted squares. Several of my Wednesday sewing group friends were very taken with it and they all wanted to learn how it was done. One of them managed to buy a set of Tunisian hooks online so this week I sat with three of them and taught them how to do it. Look at the concentration on their faces! They struggled at first but all had mastered it by the end of the morning. I have nearly finished my Bavarian crochet one now, but as that is made all in one piece, it is beginning to hang heavy on the hook, so I don't think I will do that again.
We have got a bit lazy about exercising the dogs, really ever since I pulled my hamstring and couldn't walk at all for weeks. More recently Chris has had a few bad bouts of his arthritis, and during the summer it is too hot for us and for the animals, so we have fallen into a routine of a short walk each morning, and just letting them run around in the yard for the rest of the day. But last week we decided we were both up to walking the campo route again now, but instead of doing it in the morning, we still give them their more local run  then, and take them over to the campo in the afternoon. It is good for us, and the dogs are loving it. 

Foxy runs like the wind but she is learning not to go so far away from us, and usually comes back when she is called. You can just see her beyond Chris in this photo. Doesn't the clear, blue sky look lovely? We go around 4.30 so the sun is going down and you can see how long my shadow is, but it has still been quite warm then this week.
Miki has a good run for the first bit too, but then she comes back and runs along near us. But if Foxy goes too far, Miki won't walk on until she can see her again. We are going to keep doing it on all the dry days, but we won't go over there when it is wet, because it would be very muddy and quite treacherous.
Of course I am also busy in the kitchen. Josefina, the market stall owner who has supplied me with my bitter oranges each year, retired this summer so I wasn't sure whether I would be able to make much marmalade this year. 
However, the lady who taught me lace making, brought me four big carrier bags full of bitter oranges this week. A farmer had given them to her as he knew she also makes marmalade for another charity, but there were far more than she could use. So this weekend I have been chopping and stirring. First I made a batch of 'normal' marmalade, which is still the favourite with me, and with most of my customers. The first batch that I showed in my previous blog post, sold within a couple of days. Then yesterday I did another batch, cutting the peel a bit thicker, and adding brown sugar to make a stronger, darker marmalade. My preserving pan can just hold 2kilos of oranges, plus lemons and sugar, and that makes around twenty jars of marmalade. So that is sixty jars made so far and I have enough oranges for about eight more batches. Then our friend Andy will be beseeching me to strip his grapefruit tree, and I'll be starting all over again. 
Usually I arrange all the finished jars nicely to photograph them for you, but this time I will show you my kitchen table as it really is after a preserving session; jars everywhere, mostly still waiting for labels, and this time, in a very motley selection of jars. I try to keep to one type of jar for each batch but sometimes it is a good idea to use up all the oddments as well, and this lot had just come out of the dishwasher, so instead of sorting them, I just used them.
This morning I woke up to a rosy glow on the bedroom walls so I grabbed my camera and got outside to take  a photo of this beautiful sunrise. It was around 8.00. By the time I had given the dogs their run, the red and gold had faded and been replaced by grey, and it had started to rain! It was only a little shower, but it is much colder today and very windy. 

But we have been so lucky this month, and it has to get colder sometimes. But all the plants may get a shock. They are all in bud and the almond blossom is out at the back of us. It is so pretty. I hope the wind hasn't blown it all away already.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Catch up time

Well it has a been a while since I posted on here. It has been a quieter time for us so maybe I just didn't have a lot to write about. So here we go on a quick (or not so quick) catch up session.
After the last Cantante concert, which was followed by a very good English-style Christmas dinner, we had no more real commitments until Boxing Day, so I managed to do some actual housework! There were only the two of us for lunch on Christmas day so I didn't need to do much extra cooking. I did make a light fruit cake using all the (highly coloured) crystalised fruits that appear in the shops around this time. Chris prefers it to the dark Christmas cake. 

Another sign in the shops that Christmas is here, is the arrival of bags and bags of mandarine oranges. We love these so I bought a string bag full but there were hundreds in it and we are still eating the last few now. They are lovely and sweet, and we like them better than proper oranges which we mainly use for juicing. They do look inviting don't they?

With the chillier evenings we have now I am more likely to sit in the main room for the evening, if there is a decent drama etc on TV, but I like to have a bit of knitting or crochet to do. It helps me to stay awake! So I have managed to finish the Tunisian crochet blanket that I was making for my Knit for Africa project. I am pleased with it, and now I am trying to finish the second one in Bavarian crochet. It's good to learn a new technique and to be able to use it to do some good for someone else at the same time. Our project is still very much alive, and I am in e-mail contact with knitters all over the world who have got involved. It really does underline the power of the internet as a tool for communication.

On the day of the winter solstice, when, of course, the world didn't come to an end!, we had a nice day but it was a bit cloudy and later in the day the wind got up and made some interesting cloud formations, which in turn became this stunning sunset! It only lasted for a short while but fortunately I glimpsed it out of my window and managed to go out and get this photo.
A few days before Christmas we popped down to bar El Naranjo for some quick lunch and a lady in there asked me if I was the 'jam lady'. I said I was, so she asked me if I wanted a bag of bittter oranges that she had in her car, and I was happy to accept them. So on Christmas Eve, with everything else more or less done, I ended up spending my time making marmalade! Here it is, 22 jars of pure gold.  It made the kitchen smell lovely,and it tastes good too!

After a week of lovely warm days when it was easily hot enough to sit outside to eat our lunch, Christmas Day itself dawned cloudy and quite cool, with a low mist covering the mountains. It never really cleared though we did get a little bit of sun, so we could sit out for our usual toast to absent friends and family. We usually go down to the bar when they open for a couple of hours midday, so we can exchange greetings with others from the village, but this year it was very quiet so we didn't stay for long. Fortunately I had cooked our turkey crown as soon as I got up, and we left the roast potatoes in the oven on the auto timer when we went out. When we got home it was to a cold, dark house and we found that the mains electric had fused. This is not all that unusual so Chris soon had it back on, but it turned out that the oven itself had burnt out and wouldn't heat up at all. So the potatoes were quickly transferred to the halogen cooker. I have a gas hob so the vegetables were no problem, and we finally sat down to our dinner at 4.00! But it was worth the wait, and after that it was time to close all the windows, turn on the fire, and settle down together for a cozy, sleepy evening.
We did have a very nice present each this year. Chris had a Dolce Gusto coffee machine, because I don't drink coffee at all and he doesn't like the instant one I make for him. This apparently makes a very good cup of coffee and he is enjoying using it. And this is what Santa left under the tree for me. Aren't I lucky? I do sit for a lot of hours in front of my computer, and now I can sit comfortably which is great.
Boxing day morning was bright and sunny so we thought a walk along the sea front would do us good, and on the spur of the moment we took the dogs with us. They have never seen the sea before and I expected them to be very wary as they never go near the pool, and are scared stiff of the hose, but they seemed almost unaware of it. They loved running on the sand, and when a wave caught Miki's toes she literally jumped but she went back for more.
In the evening we were singing at a festival of carols on Vera plaza. Fortunately, because it was rather cold, they decided to move inside the big church instead which was much better. It was organised by Vera townhall and anyone could enter if they had a group of at least ten singers. Each group had a ten minute slot, and they each got 100€ for their funds or chosen charity. One member of Cantante was keen to enter and he asked if anyone would go along to sing. Sadly not many turned up, but those of us who did, sang with some other friends of his and it was fun. It was a long evening as there were 18 groups taking part but they were all different. Only two groups were English but we were given a warm reception by the mainly Spanish congregation/audience. The first groups were mainly children from local schools and sports organisations. Then there were a lot of 'general' entries and we were among them. At the end there were three choirs from local churches and they sang so well. They sing with great gusto and perfect harmonies, but show little emotion (including enjoyment), and don't seem to understand light and shade within a piece which makes them so very different from the English groups. But we thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact it was one of the best evening's entertainment we have had out here. 
I can only include a couple of photos of it here but I must show this children's choir. One little girl was much younger than the rest. Each child held a letter card, and they stood forward and sang a verse for their letter, and then everyone joined in the chorus. The tiny girl didn't sing a word all through until it came to her letter. Then she stepped up and sang it beautifully, loud and clear, and then stepped back and fell silent again! 
The next photo is to show an interesting instrument that several groups were playing. It resembled a bongo drum with a hole cut in the skin and a pole inserted in the hole. All the time it was being played, the man squirted water from the bottle onto the pole, and by moving his hands up and down it, it made a noise vaguely like a small didgeridoo! They also played guitars and the instruments the man in the photo is playing. I am not sure whether it was a mandolin or bouzouki (according to google it all depends on size and the way it is strung), but it is bigger than I remember dad's mandolin being. However I last saw that some thirty years ago, so I could be wrong!

I have been busy reorganising my craft room, and hopefully making it into a place that will be more efficient to work in. Last month, Chris helped me to buy a set of shelves with matching storage boxes. It matches the set he bought me a couple of years ago. I had to wait until after the Christmas rush to do anything with it, but we assembled it on the Friday before Christmas and I have been deciding how best to use the boxes, but now they are all filled and labelled. I just have a few more oddments to put away and I will be all set to start another year of crafting.
I had one final bonus Christmas present because on Saturday I got out a joint of beef that has been tucked away in the freezer for a while. I intended to use it today for New Year, but I said to Chris that it would be more sensible to make it our Sunday dinner, so I invited my friend Sylvia to come home from church with me for some dinner, and then I realised that I couldn't cook the meat because I had no oven, and I couldn't do justice to such a good joint in the halogen oven. It is fine for small items, but I am not impressed with some of the things I have cooked in it. So on Saturday afternoon we walked around to the Electrodomesticos shop in the village to see what they had. We found a good standard oven at a fraction of the price we paid for the now defunct one which has never been very satisfactory. Anyway, the man from the shop came round with his son an hour later. They installed the new cooker and took the old one away for us and it was all ready to use by tea-time. They really are very good at that shop. 

In the evening Chris went down the road to watch a football match so I baked a cake. I am very pleased with it. (The oven that is though Chris was pleased with the cake too!).
We went out to the local bar to their Christmas Eve party which was very pleasant with a good entertainer, good company and good food, so last night we decided to have a quiet New Year's Eve at home. We had a late tea and watched a film on TV. Then we had a drink at midnight and listened to the fire crackers being let off down the street. 

We waited up until 1.00 to raise a second toast to those in UK. We watched the London fireworks and I took a few photos of the TV screen. Today I did some editing and  superimposed our 'toast' photo onto one of the screen shots to make this.

So all that is left is for me to send my best wishes to one and all for the New Year. I certainly wish you all the best of health but to wish for wealth seems a bit harsh at this time when so many folk we know are struggling to make ends meet, so I will end with a photo I posted in Facebook this morning. It is one of a set of Christmas cards I made earlier in the year and I used one of my favourite sentiment stamps. I think it sums up what we should all be wishing for at the start of 2013. I hope it is a good one for you all.