Saturday, April 29, 2017

Summer in Cyprus. Approaching yet again.

Once again, the inevitable is happening. A chillier-than-usual winter in Cyprus gave way to a pleasant spring. I very much like March and April here. The sun shines, but it's still cool overnight. I have the energy to get things done, and the landscape is green with a wide variety of wild flowers, and cultivated ones too for those who go to the trouble of growing them in their front gardens.

It's been a pleasant 20-23 C in the daytime for much of the past few weeks. Now, as April draws to a close, the predictions are for hotter weather ahead. Here's what the Weather Channel site is showing for the next couple of weeks:

Screenshot showing weather forecast for Cyprus, May 2017 first two weeks

Yesterday, for the first time since about November, I spent most of the day without any sweatshirt or jacket of any kind. We went into town for various errands, and I found it was too hot in the sun, though still pleasant in the shade. Last night we ran our bedroom ceiling fan. It was only on the slowest speed, and we're still using a duvet... but the air felt still, and my face was too warm without the fan.

Today we realised that we haven't used our warm jackets for a week or two, and are unlikely to do so for the next few months. This is what our coat rack looked like:

jackets and scarves, necessary for winter in Cyprus

Two scarves, and about five warm fleeces and coats. I removed them all, and put most of the jackets in the washing machine.  A few hours on the line and they were dry, so they're now hung up in our landing closet upstairs. I took the opportunity to put more of my winter clothes there, and extract my shorts... which I expect I'll start wearing soon, if the forecasts are correct.

I found my sandals, too, looking rather grubby, so washed them as well, in preparation for needing them all too soon.

Then I collected our surprisingly large collection of sun hats and put them on the now empty coat rack:

a selection of our sunhats and caps for summer in Cyprus

If Murphy's law holds, now I've made these preparations for Summer, we could be due for some unexpected and extra chilly weather meaning I need to get the jackets out again.  I won't mind in the least if that happens, but it's unlikely in May.

In the next few weeks I shall wash all our curtains, and we'll clean the air conditioners which we try to avoid using until at least June.  We'll switch to our very light-weight duvet, too, and then - probably only a couple of weeks later - just a duvet cover or flat sheet to cover us at night.

In other unexciting but typically Cyprus fashion, we went to Lidl just over a week ago. The shop has grown on us since our first unimpressed visit several years ago when it was new to the island.

This time,  I wanted to get some of their cat litter, which is about half the price of our usual brand and seems to work just as well. I also wanted a 2-litre bottle of olive oil, as our current one was running low, and theirs is usually the best value.  We didn't even look at the weekly brochure telling us what the special offers were, because we were only going in for these two items...

This is what we ended up with (plus two bags of cat litter) :

an eclectic mixture of produce and other items bought from Lidl in Cyprus

When we arrived, we remembered that our digital kitchen scales had recently gone faulty.  They were consistently weighing everything at about 75% of its correct weight, which was irritating and I didn't always think about the adjustment.  Happily, Lidl were offering good value kitchen scales with a bowl.

Then we saw a digital medical thermometer. I'd had what was probably a sinus infection the week before, and one day felt very shivery. We realised we had no thermometer, so no way of knowing if I was running a fever. Not that it mattered much, but at 2.99 euro it seemed like a good idea to have one.

Richard needed new crocs/clogs for casual use when sailing. We know the controversies about them, and that they're a bad idea for anything other than use on the beach or as slippers in the house, but he found just ONE pair in his size, in a colour he liked. So those were added to the basket. Along with our usual Lidl dark chocolate, and a new fresh basil plant, and a couple of jars of honey, and a couple or rolls of duct tape... and some seeded bread rolls for lunch.

A nicely eclectic mixture, not atypical for our Lidl visits. We still can't find most things we want there, and their fruit/veg are over-priced (in our view) but their special offers are often very good. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Continued Cat Chronicles

At the end of my previous post about life in Cyprus, I mentioned that our cats Alexander the Great and Lady Jane Grey are getting along well these days. Life, we thought, had calmed down, and they were in a pleasant routine. Cats are usually fairly low maintenance, in our experience, and so long as I remembered to feed them and put them to bed at the times Jane considers appropriate, all was well.

I also mentioned in that post that I was given an unexpected and gorgeous bouquet on Mothering Sunday. It lasted almost perfectly for its first week, and thankfully the cats ignored it.

After about eight days, I removed a few of the bigger blooms which were well past their best, and trimmed the stems slightly, and it did very well for another week. Last Sunday, I removed the rest of the bigger flowers and the supporting foliage, which was going brown. But there were several of the carnations which had emerged from buds and were still looking fresh. Impressive after two weeks, I thought. So I trimmed them some more, and put them in a smaller vase, back on the table in our living room.

However, the cats suddenly noticed them. First Alex knocked the whole thing over so he could drink some of the water.

Then Jane decided that the flowers should be destroyed:

The cat Lady Jane biting the heads of some carnations in a vase

I kept removing her, and she kept returning.  She was determined to bite off as many of the flower heads as she could. Cats usually know what they can and can't eat, so I wasn't too worried about her, but it was rather sad from the point of view of my flowers:


Half an hour later, she brought up a hairball, accompanied by what was evidently several pieces of carnation stem. And we both realised that whereas outdoor cats will eat grass to help them throw up, when they have to, Jane - being an indoor cat - doesn't get that opportunity.  I'm not sure what they would normally do, but she evidently seized her chance and it worked.

Two days later, Jane decided to escape. She hasn't shown much interest in going outside, though she'll sit and chatter at birds for hours, and loves being on our upstairs balcony.  Alex pops in and out but she's shown no inclination to follow him. Until Wednesday, when she darted through my legs as I was letting Alex in by my study door, and then - followed by Alex - down our outside stairs and into the street.

This was at about 6.30am and there wasn't much traffic about, but I didn't want her escaping, nor Alex showing her around the neighbourhood. So I waited for her to come out from under our van... and missed, as she raced across the patio and under a neighbour's car. She's a quick mover. Alex kept trying to persuade her to take off down the street, but she's quite a nervous cat and didn't look as if she were enjoying her adventure much.

It probably took about fifteen minutes before I finally managed to grab her and get her back indoors again. Since then she's pushed at the cat flaps a few times (we keep them on the inwards-only setting) but hasn't tried to escape. Perhaps she's biding her time.

The two aren't nearly as close as Alex was to his other sister, but they spent some time snuggling on the beanbag this week:


Then on Friday we had another scare.  Jane had been hassling me for wet food for about half an hour, so I got up to feed them, only to find Alex lying on his side on the floor, breathing rapidly, and panting. He got up and walked a few steps and collapsed again.  He looked and sounded very miserable, and seemed unable to get up, so we phoned the vet, who said to bring him in at once.

We were both afraid we might lose him on the way there; he was lethargic, still panting, and not complaining at all about being in the car. However, to our astonishment, as we carried him into the vet's, he appeared to recover.  By the time she examined him, there didn't seem to be anything wrong. His temperature was a little low, and I thought his tongue looked rather blue, but she said his heart rate and eyes and everything else were fine.

Since he'd also had some apparent digestive upset, she gave us some gastro-intestinal food for a few days, and said to keep him indoors until after the long Easter weekend. She told us to call her mobile number if it happened again; she said she could have done blood tests, but she didn't think it worthwhile. Most of the possible ailments connected with his symptoms were those of much older cats, and she thought it unlikely that he'd had a sudden asthma attack when we said that we don't smoke, don't use scented candles, don't have indoor gas heaters, and don't use air fresheners!

It was much later in the day, with Alex pretty much recovered, when we discovered that some visitors had been giving Alex milk to drink.  We don't use dairy products; Richard is somewhat intolerant, and I don't much like them.  We already knew that Jane's digestion cannot cope even with yogurt, and that their mother is also intolerant of milk, so it's not something Alex had ever had.

We'll probably never know for certain, but milk is a common trigger for asthma. And Alex does, from time to time, cough without bringing anything up. It doesn't distress him and doesn't last long, but having now done some research, it's exactly the way that asthmatic cats cough.

He's been absolutely fine since returning from the vet, and not too upset at our not letting him go out. His favourite sleeping place is on our bed, pretending to be a throw cushion:


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Special Spring days in Cyprus

There seem to be a lot of public holidays in Cyprus, many of which feature parades, with chosen school students and Scouting groups marching around the town. In past years, when our son Daniel was in the Municipal Band, we used to go and watch; but one parade is much like another. With no special person to watch, the parades held little interest after we had seen a few.

Greek Independence Day
There are two national days celebrated in Cyprus, exactly a week apart. The first is Greek Independence Day, on March 25th.  It's related to the Greeks rising up against the occupying Ottoman empire back in the 1800s, but also, a little confusingly, is connected with the Feast of the Anunciation, nine months before Christmas.

Bunting is put up in the streets, and roads are cleared on the day so that the parades can take place.


Whereas Greek Independence Day is a public holiday if it occurs on a weekday, there's no extra day in lieu if, as happened this year, it falls at the weekend.

Clock-changing Day
March 25th was also the date when clocks had to be put forward for summer time, or daylight savings, or whatever other variation you call it. I very much like the 'spring forward' change. The evenings are lighter - it's now not dark until well past 7.00pm - and it's still pleasantly cool for walking with my friend Sheila at 7.00am.  Ideally we start out half an hour earlier than that, but the disadvantage of the clock change is that I wake later for at least a week or two.

Mothering Sunday
Not to be confused with US 'Mother's Day', Mothering Sunday is always three weeks before Easter. So this year it fell on March 26th. The origins are uncertain, although I gather it existed before the Reformation. In the 19th century it seems to have been the day when girls 'in service' in the UK were able to go home to their 'mother church' - and, I assume, their families - before the busy Easter period.

However, in the middle of the 20th century it became popular as a day to give cards or flowers to mothers. It's not something that was part of my culture growing up; my mother didn't like it, and it was nowhere near such a big thing as it is now.

When my sons were small they made cards or crafts of some kind at school. But then we moved to Cyprus when they were 9 and 11. It's not celebrated here (although Cyprus has a low-key variation of Mother's Day early in May) and none of us ever remembered it. Sometimes there would be a mention at a church service; occasionally flowers were given, or crafts made in Sunday school.

I went to the local Anglican church this year, forgetting that it was Mothering Sunday. Little posies were given to everyone in the congregation - men as well as women - so I was happy to put this in water when I arrived home:


A couple of hours later, a knock at the front door revealed my friend Sheila's 17-year-old son, with a bouquet, from my son Tim in the UK:


I was overwhelmed!  Tim is now a teacher, at a school where Mothering Sunday is mentioned regularly, so he said that helped him to remember.

Jam-making Day
Three days later I went out to the fruit shop, and popped over to look at the connected stall, where they sell large crates of fruit or vegetables at excellent prices. The big crates are far more than we can use, but they often have excess produce, or items past their best (or at the peak of ripeness) for just a euro or two.

I spotted some strawberries; in the fruit shop itself they're about €1.50 for 500g, and I'd bought a couple of punnets a few weeks earlier.  A small crate, which looked as if it had at least a couple of kilogrammes in it, was €4. I bought them, and was pleased to discover, on weighing them, that there were three and a half kg in all.  Excellent value.  They were perfectly ripe, and I knew wouldn't keep much longer, so Wednesday, unexpectedly, was my strawberry jam-making day:


A little over 2kg went into making eight jars of jam, and I pureed and froze most of the rest, keeping a few to eat.

Wednesday was also the day that the UK Prime Minister formally triggered the 'Brexit' process. I was surprised how very sad it made me feel; we knew it was coming, after all, although I had temporarily forgotten while making jam. Nobody knows what agreements will happen, if any, or how things will work out for Brits abroad, and other Europeans in the UK. All we can do is wait and see, hoping and praying that something positive might emerge.

Cyprus National Day
Much of the world knows April 1st as April Fool's Day, and indeed there were pranks on Facebook, and on some of the news websites. It's a bit difficult to know what's true these days anyway; so many sites offer 'fake' news, or exaggerations, or speculations which may never happen. And some news stories which are genuine are quite bizarre.

However, April 1st is another public holiday in Cyprus, exactly a week after Greek Independence Day. It celebrates the start of the uprising of the Cypriots against the occupying British, back in 1955. When we used to watch our son marching with the band, we would sometimes be asked by locals if we knew what the day was about. They thought it a bit odd that we would be out there watching!

Kittens' Birthday
And finally, April 4th. Until three years ago, I only knew this as my brother-in-law's birthday; indeed, I didn't take much notice of the date when Sheila's cat Conny gave birth to kittens back in 2014.  But four months later we adopted Alexander the Great and Joan of Arc, and Tim, who was living in Cyprus at the time, adopted Lady Jane Grey. Sadly we lost Joan a little over a year ago, but then we adopted Jane when Tim moved back to the UK.

At first Jane was terrified and we wondered if the two would ever get along, but now, at the mature age of three (and really no longer kittens, but we still think of them that way) they get along very well:



Monday, March 20, 2017

Another meze at Kira Georgena taverna

About four months ago, some visiting friends took us out to eat at a local taverna whose name in English is Kira (or Kura) Georgena.  We liked it so much that when other friends were visiting last week, and wanted to take us out for meze, we suggested the same place.

Meze is a wonderful way for groups of people to eat in Cyprus. The idea is to have small portions of large numbers of different kinds of food, brought out gradually through the evening.The price per person is typically between about 15 and 18 euros, which sounds like a lot; but with four people it's usual to ask for a meze for three people, as there's always a vast quantity of food and not everyone likes everything. So that's what we did.

I remembered to take photos, this time, and we even attempted to count the dishes; we kept losing track, but think there were about thirty in all, excluding the dessert.

The starter - which comes very quickly - is typical for a meze: a Greek salad (mainly cucumber, tomatoes and feta cheese), a plate of pickled vegetables and quail eggs, bread and dips.  There were two kinds of bread with the starter: some toasted bread dipped in olive oil and herbs (delicious!) and some pittas, and four dips: tzatsiki (cucumber in yogurt), tashi (a specialist tahini dip), humus (the well-known chickpea dip, oozing with olive oil and very tasty), and an egg-feta dish which, the waitress informed us, was their own speciality.


In addition, the starter included some raw root vegetables, some olive paste, a small plate of ham/cheese slices, and a small plate of dried goat meat.

So that was twelve different dishes just for the 'starter'.  It would be very easy to fill up on this - and I liked the dips so much that I had quite a bit, although I didn't have any of the meat or cheese.  But we hadn't finished when the next two dishes arrived:  some freshly grilled halloumi, and this, a tomato/cheese dish which I don't remember seeing before, somewhat reminiscent of pizza:


One of our number is a vegetarian, and I incline that way myself, so I wasn't going to take photos of the meat dishes; but the two meat-eaters said that the next item to arrive, two different kinds of sausage, was so good that it needed a picture:


Then some baked eggs arrived with some hot olives (we didn't know whether to count that as one dish or two - but it was on one plate) and some warm local fluffy bread:


There were a couple more meat dishes that arrived while I was still eating salads and dips, and some mushrooms cooked in scrambled eggs, which I enjoyed very much.  Then a medium sized plate of chips (french fries to any US readers):


Not all mezes include chips, which I suppose are a gesture to the international nature of many visitors and residents of Cyprus, and we were all feeling quite full by the time they arrived... but when we started eating 'just one or two' each, we discovered that they were light and perfectly cooked, and so delicious that we managed to finish them.

By this stage we had been given about twenty-five dishes, including several kinds of meat. We were asked if we wanted 'escargots', and declined politely but firmly.

A bigger plate of meat then appeared; this usually signals the end of a meze, and as we were all very full by this stage, we decided that we would probably ask to take most of this home with us:


We counted that as one 'dish' but there were three kinds of meat on the plate.

And food kept coming. The deep-fried courgettes, as last time, were my favourite:


I ate very slowly, as I was extremely full but wanted to enjoy them.  I didn't even touch the rocket-and-egg dish which arrived at the same time, although it looked good, nor the pasta with grated halloumi:


I don't think I've remembered everything, but that's most of our meze.  We were even given an extra dish of humus as we'd finished the first one.

Thankfully we were given ten minutes or so to digest before the dessert was brought out - all part of the meze.  Fresh seasonal fruit, candied fruit, and cherries in liqueur.  I didn't even try the candied fruit or the cherries, but very much enjoyed a strawberry and a couple of slices of orange:


Then... fresh loukoumades.  They're not something I ever make, or buy; but these were very good ones, and since our visitors only wanted one each. I ate (blush) three of them...


Then, when I was wondering if I would be able to get out of my chair and walk, one of our friends, who plays one of the Pokemon games on her phone, announced that there was a Pokemon just in front of the wall, next to me.  I said I couldn't see it, feeling slightly spooked, so she took a photo:


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Twenty books so far this year

After the first hints of spring, this weekend, as so often happens in March, has returned us to chillier weather. It rained yesterday, on and off, and although it wasn't predicted to start raining until eight o'clock this morning, the heavens opened around 7.15 when my friend Sheila and I were almost at the end of our walk. We didn't have umbrellas and weren't wearing raincoats... we were drenched.

As Sheila has decided to write about the books she reads each month, I thought I might take a short break from writing about living in Cyprus, and do something similar. I write reviews of all the books I read on my book reviews blog,  but more people visit this one.  I challenge myself to read a hundred books each year; that doesn't sound like very many, but life gets in the way and some days I read only a page or two.

I've finished twenty books so far this year, so I'm currently on track. Rather than write about them chronologically, I've listed them below in categories.  My aim is to read a couple of Christian non-fiction books each month, four novels, one writing book, and one 'other' - maybe a biography, or a self-help book, or one about personalities, or that catch-all 'miscellaneous'. Most of the novels I read are in the genre of women's fiction (relationship/character-based, primarily) but I also like reading and re-reading some teenage fiction. I try to slot in a few light crime novels too, to make a change now and again.

I usually have about six books that I'm reading at any moment; they're listed in my sidebar if anyone's interested. Likewise, if you're curious to find out more of what I thought about any of them, links given below are to the reviews on my book blog.

Christian books 

At the start of the year we were in the UK visiting relatives, so I was mainly reading on my Kindle.  I wasn't particularly impressed with 'Meeting Rich', which is almost too short to count as a book, but it was quite well written, and passed the time.

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I then started reading one of the books I was given for Christmas: 'Accidental Saints' by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I wish this book didn't contain such strong, sometimes crude language, because it's extremely well written otherwise, and very thought-provoking. The author is a Lutheran pastor who runs an alternative and inclusive church, and while some of her ideas are quite controversial, she writes with compassion and humility, and I thought it excellent.

The third Christian book I finished this year, again on my Kindle, was 'The Jesus Training Manual', a title which almost put me off reading it. However, it was well written, if a little repetitive in places: a mixture of biographical account, as the author's faith and theology underwent some significant changes, and some teaching of the kind which we'd first heard in the Vineyard Church we belonged to for a couple of years back in the 1990s when we lived in the United States.

Then I read a book which I found on one of our shelves with a much more appealing title: 'Following Jesus without embarrassing God', by Tony Campolo.

- So I succeeded in my aim of two per month, and hope to finish the two I'm currently reading by the end of March.

Novels 

The first book I finished reading was on my Kindle, one I started on our flight to the UK a couple of days after Christmas. 'Passing Shadows' by Della Galton was ideal holiday reading; it's a romance featuring an artist and a woman who runs an animal centre.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
I then embarked on 'The Shepherd's Crown' by Terry Pratchett, which I was given for Christmas.  It was a little bittersweet, knowing it was the last book Sir Terry wrote before he died; I love the way it ties up so many loose endings, and that it's the last of his series for older children and teenagers. It was moving as well as having amusing moments, and I was very pleased to have read it at last.

'Summer on the River' by Marcia Willett was the next novel I decided to read. That was another Christmas present, and I started reading it on our return flight to Cyprus... then found I could barely put it down. As with most of this author's stories, it's character-based and about different kinds of relationships. I liked it very much.

I then decided I should finish 'Elsie's Kith and Kin', a book I had been reading on my Kindle, off and on, for quite some time. I was quite pleased when I first discovered the 'Elsie' series free to download, having read about them in the Chalet School books. I worked my way through a couple of them some years ago.  I didn't much like this one, though, and doubt if I'll read any more.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Back to my Christmas books, and I had immense pleasure reading Jan Karon's latest, 'Come Rain or Come Shine'. I've loved all her Mitford series, featuring the delightful (and now retired) Father Tim and his wife Cynthia. This one features a wedding, and is best read after the rest of the books.

After that I read yet another Christmas book, 'The Great Christmas Knit Off' by Alexandra Brown. It's lighter than the previous books I'd been reading, but moves at a good pace and is surprisingly thought-provoking in places. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but thought that a book about knitting made a nice change from the many similar books about cakes or other baking.

Interspersed with new books I like to re-read books I've enjoyed at least eight years previously, and I tend to work through novels by some of my favourite writers. So the next one I picked up was 'Tell Mrs Poole I'm Sorry' by Kathleen Rowntree, a book I had only read once before, as long ago as 2001. I had only the vaguest recollection of the story, and while it's somewhat shocking, it's very well written.

After that, wanting something different, I decided to re-read Frank Peretti's 'The Visitation', another book which I first read in 2001 but have not picked up since. I had vague memories of it being a book that I found pleasanter than I had expected. I liked the first part very much, when a visitor comes to a small American town and starts doing 'miracles'... but it gradually became more suspenseful and quite violent in places. So I doubt if I'll read that one again.

I followed it with another lighter-looking novel, 'Summer with my Sister' by Lucy Diamond, which I acquired second-hand some time last year.  It's another book about relationships - it features the contrast between a high-flying business woman and a single mother who are sisters, and have almost nothing in common.  I enjoyed it.

After that I picked up 'Many Waters' by Madeleine L'Engle, which I don't think I have ever read before, although it has been on our bookcase of teenage books for many years. Rather different from the others in the 'Time Quintet', the fantasy and science are minimal; the bulk of the story takes place on Earth in the time before Noah.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.

The next novel was another re-read: 'An Ocean Apart' by Robin Pilcher, son of the better-known Rosamunde Pilcher. This was his debut novel, and I read it first in 2001. I'd almost entirely forgotten the story, and once again I loved it.  It's character-based, and in places extremely moving.

I followed that with the much lighter 'Horizontal Epistles of Andromeda Veal' by Adrian Plass, sequel to his first 'Sacred Diary' book. Light-hearted fun with a more serious underlying story; an eight-year-old girl with socialist leanings and highly creative spelling is in traction in hospital with a broken femur, and writes letters to friends, acquaintances, and world leaders.

- So, I finished twelve novels in two months, which is more than my planned one per week. Three are intended for teenagers, and there's inevitably cross-over between the genres as five of them would also be considered Christian books.

Writing books

Writing with Cold Feet by Kathrin Lake
I downloaded on my Kindle 'Back to Creative Writing School' by Bridget Whelan a long time ago, and dipped into it several times before deciding to read it to the end. It takes the format of a creative writing class, so could be studied over the course of several weeks. I liked it very much, and thought it helpful, but didn't do most of the exercises.

I then read 'Writing with Cold Feet' by Kathrin Lake, a slim volume that contains a great deal of wisdom. It doesn't give instruction about writing, or grammar, and doesn't have any exercises as such. Instead it looks at reasons why so many writers feel immense resistance when they sit down at the computer to write. I thought it extremely helpful and inspiring.

Miscellaneous

How it Works: The Mum (A LadyBird Book)
The first 'other' book I read was very short, and almost a cheat to include it in a list of books read, as it took me no more than ten minutes to read it, punctuated by reading bits aloud or chuckling. However, I thought it a wonderful book so wrote about it on my blog - 'How it Works: The Mum', another book which I was given for Christmas.   It's a Ladybird book, in the style of the children's books that were so popular in the 60s and 70s; anyone who has not come across Ladybird books of that era would probably find it bizarre!

And finally... 'The Procrastination Equation' by Dr Piers Steel. It's somewhat of an academic work, by a writer who has done extensive research into what makes people procrastinate, discovering three main styles of procrastination, and outlining what may (or may not) help with working through it. Very interesting information about the way our brains work; a little heavy in places, but overall I thought it excellent.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Spring, Lent, and Yellow Month in Cyprus

It happens around this time every year in Cyprus. The heating doesn't come on in the evenings, as the house is already warm enough. The days get longer, the sun shines with more regularity, and yellow weeds - often quite attractive weeds - appear in abundance on waste ground, like these ones pushing their way over the path on the Salt Lake trail:

yellow weeds for March in Cyprus

Citrus trees are fruiting too. The one thing I occasionally miss about our old house is the fruit that seemed so unusual to pick at first, then commonplace. But our local friends have a lemon tree that's prolific this year, and have been generous in passing bags of lemons to us. I asked if we could have a few earlier in the week, realising that Shrove Tuesday was coming up, and we Brits traditionally eat pancakes with lemon and sugar.  But I agreed that I could use more than a few...

lemons from a friend's tree in Cyprus

Easter is an important festival in the Christian Church, and also culturally in Cyprus where the majority of the population are Greek Orthodox, albeit in name only in many cases. In most years, there are two Easters, their dates calculated by different methods. But this year, as happens from time to time, both the Western and the Eastern Easter will be on the same Sunday in the middle of April.

That means that Lent - the forty-day run-up to Easter - should have started at the same time too, one would think. But that's not the case. In our Western tradition, the last day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday, although it's more often known as Pancake Day by the secular majority.  Traditionally one was supposed to use up products such as eggs and sugar prior to a simpler, vegetarian or sugar-free lifestyle during the days of Lent, in preparation for Easter.  Shrove Tuesday was four days ago, and yes, I made some pancake mixture, which Richard cooked after we had our evening meal:

pancake made for Shrove Tuesday

My recipe makes eight pancakes, which was fine when there were four of us living here, or indeed when there were three of us, as we could make them bigger or one of our number would eat more than two.  But this time we decided to put half the mixture in the fridge for the following day.

Back to the difference in Lent traditions, the Eastern church, at least in this country, begins five days before Shrove Tuesday, with 'Fat Thursday', or Tsiknopempti, as it's called here. It's the day when the faithful are supposed to use up all the meat in their household, with barbecues or feasts for the family; Lent as a fasting season was taken quite seriously until relatively recently.

When we first moved here, there wasn't much meat available during Lent, and we were told that we should be certain not to have barbecues or eat any kind of meat outside during the Eastern Lent period. Nowadays there's just as much meat available now as at any other time of year, and Cypriots openly cook and eat meat right through the Lenten period. There are some 'fasting' foods available: more vegan cheese than can normally be found, and a wide range of halva.  Tsiknopempti is celebrated by going out and buying more meat to feast on.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday last weekend were then the Carnival weekend in the Eastern tradition. There are floats and parades along the sea front, with children (and adults!) dressing up in costumes. The word 'Carnival' originally referred to the removal of meat, but that seems to have been forgotten. Carnival in Cyprus is safe and lively, not the dangerous brawls one sometimes hears about in other European countries, but it's too loud and crowded for me, and I keep away.

Monday was then 'Green Monday' (also known as Clean Monday, and the first day of Eastern Lent) which is a public holiday in Cyprus. It's roughly equivalent to the Western Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday) and in theory should be when people cast off sinful attitudes, forgive anyone they're harbouring grudges against, and ensure there are no tempting delicacies in the house.

In practice, at least in Cyprus,  many people spend the morning spring-cleaning their houses, then go out with their families and friends on a picnic, after which they fly kites.  Again, when we first moved here, we were told that on Green Monday we must make certain not to take any meat on a picnic as it would offend the Greek Orthodox.  Nowadays many Cypriots fire up their barbecues again with meat for their Green Monday picnics.

Back to our leftover pancake mixture.

On Wednesday, neither of us felt hungry after our evening meal, so the mixture remained in the fridge.

On Thursday, we decided to have our last pancakes after lunch. So Richard started cooking them...

.. and suddenly the handle sheared off the pan!  It's a heavy-based pan which I've used for omelettes regularly, and there was no hint that it was breaking. Happily the pancake was fine, but clearly, it wasn't possible to repair the pan safely:

broken frying pan

So he finished cooking the pancakes in a smaller frying pan, and they were very good.

I knew we had to go to a supermarket that afternoon, and was undecided between Metro and Lidl.... we hadn't been to either since before Christmas, as I do most shopping locally, but we needed various things that couldn't easily be found locally.

I looked through the Lidl advertising brochure that arrives weekly, and discovered that they had a special offer on heavy-based frying pans, in the size we needed.  So that determined which supermarket we would visit!  We weren't too keen on Lidl when it first appeared in Cyprus some years ago, as there is a very limited range of regular items, but we now know what's good value, and sometimes the special offers are extremely good.

So we went to Lidl, and now have a new 24cm frying pan:

new 24cm frying pan from Lidl

We used exactly one of our donated lemons with our pancakes. So this morning I processed the rest, freezing another litre with some peel for lemonade in the late summer or autumn when lemons are no longer available, and making more lemon cubes that can be used easily in drinks or food where a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice are called for. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Peculiarities of Plumbing in Cyprus

One of the comments made, now and then, by friends or relatives visiting us in Cyprus is that the skyline is somewhat spoiled by all the water tanks and solar heating panels.  We've got used to them ourselves, after nearly twenty years living on the island, but they do have a point. This, for instance, is typical:

water tanks and solar panels are a feature of Cyprus roofs

(If the image seems too small, clicking it should lead to a bigger, clearer view). 

Whereas in cooler countries, hot water tanks are usually indoors, and insulated with warm lagged jackets, in Cyprus they are outside, on the roof, and (so long as the sun is shining) water is heated by the large solar panels.

Cold water tanks seem very old fashioned to many who don't live in Cyprus, but for many years there was a severe drought on the island. When we moved here, mains water was only switched on a couple of times per week. So it was vital to have cold water storage tanks for use in between times.

Most kitchen taps are still equipped with both mains and tank water availability, with the mains (sometimes filtered) for drinking, and the tank water, hot and cold, for washing dishes. Our dishwasher and washing machine run from the tank, as made sense during the drought years. Nowadays, with recent rainy years and the functioning desalination plants, water is on almost all the time, and some people now have their machines attached directly to the mains water inlets.

Since our house is in two parts, with a separate flat underneath the main part where we live (fairly typical in Cyprus) we have four tanks in all.  The hot ones, fed from the larger cold ones above them, are heated by the solar panels.


The trouble with tanks being on the roof is that, despite being strong and long-lasting, they are at the mercy of the elements. The sun is very hot in summer, and in recent years the winds have been extremely strong at times in the winter.

Seven-and-a-half years ago, we had to have the guest flat cold water tank (the one nearest the edge) replaced, due to a serious leak in the side. We had the pump fixed too, and various other repairs, and everything worked nicely. It was a little frustrating that the hot water never seemed to stay hot for more than an hour or two in the evening, after the sun had gone down, and Richard muttered now and again about having some extra insulation. But we have an electric water heater to supplement the solar power, so we used that when we needed hot water in the evening, or before it had warmed up sufficiently in the morning.

Now and again we noticed that drips were starting again, and we called in plumbers - I think we've used three different ones now, maybe more - who repaired problems in pipes, or outlets, or, on occasion, the ballcocks that are supposed to regulate when the tank stops filling up.  The latter seems to be a common problem; one of our neighbours has a tank that overflows for short periods regularly, as can be seen by the marks down the side of the top tank:

showing the drips down a cold water tank on a roof in Cyprus

Last year we realised that we were seeing were yet more drips, and they weren't just sporadic. We looked at them, and sighed, and said something had to be done. But it didn't seem like a huge problem and we didn't get around to it.

Then one day towards the end of the year, we had water not just dripping onto the balcony below the tanks, but pouring down. We called our friendly local plumber, who came pretty quickly and said that there were two issues. The guest flat hot water tank had developed a serious leak in one of the seams, and was spewing water out. That one was fairly easily fixed, which is good because some of the water was also leaking inside our roof and dripping through the bathroom ceiling.

However, the other hot water tank had a hole that couldn't be fixed, and needed to be replaced completely. But we couldn't have a tank off the shelf; it's pressurised and had to be built specially. So the plumber put in an order, and hoped it would be ready to install before Christmas.

Unsurprisingly, that didn't happen and we were in the UK with the family by the time Richard had a text message to say that the tank was ready.  By the time we were back in Cyprus, the plumber had too many other jobs, then Richard went away again.  Finally a date was arranged, only to discover that the company who had built the new tank had given up waiting for it to be claimed, and sold it to someone else.

But finally, a couple of weeks ago, the plumber arrived with a couple of other guys and the new tank. It took them a couple of hours to put it in place, and everything looked good. There was some slight confusion in that it looked, from the wiring, as if it was the guest flat tank and not the main house one... apparently both the wiring and the pipework are 'interesting'. As is not atypical in this country.

However, there were no more leaks for the rest of the day, and to our delight, the new tank is much better insulated than the old one was, meaning that the water is still hot enough for a shower even four hours after the sun has gone down on a chilly day.  It wasn't cheap having this new tank, but over a few years we should save quite a bit on our electricity bill.

The night after the new tank was installed, I thought I heard a drip, and saw a bit of a puddle on the balcony after dark. But it had been a cloudy day, and I thought perhaps it had rained. The following morning the balcony was dry, and there were no more drips for nearly a week.

However, we had people staying in our guest flat for that week. The day after they departed, there were more drips, which - as far we could tell - were coming out of the guest flat cold water tank, or possibly one of the pipes nearby.  Puddles were appearing yet again on the balcony:

puddle of water due to drips from our water tank, yet again

I thought I could temporarily stop the drips by switching off the guest flat mains water, thinking it might be an overflow problem. So I did that... but it made no difference.

So Richard called the plumber, who came to take a look. He said it was an overflow problem, and the ballcock wasn't working. So he used a little stopcock valve next to the tank to stop water going into it. He was rather surprised to discover, when up the ladder, that there was no round cover at the top of the tank, so it's open to the air... but said he could replace that too, early next week.

The dripping stopped... for a couple of hours.

By evening, it had started again. This makes no sense at all, but then I couldn't understand how the tank could still be leaking when the mains water to it is switched off.  We now think there must be some serious problem with pressure somewhere in the system, in a way that I don't begin to understand.

Life is never entirely straightforward in Cyprus. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Time and Trust in Cyprus

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy post bewailing modern technology as it gradually takes over life in Cyprus. Things are no longer as simple as they used to be.

To summarise the post: I couldn't pay our van tax because it needed an MOT, and when the MOT was done I couldn't pay it because my debit card had expired. When I went to collect my new card from the bank, they had returned it because I hadn't collected it in December, despite not knowing it was there. Meanwhile I couldn't pay our PO Box fee because the 'system' wasn't working, so I left the money with the postmistress who assured me she would do it the next day...

There's something about starting a routine, or habit, which makes it become easier as the weeks go by. Those two Fridays in January, I made sure I had things to post to motivate me to walk to the Post Office. It's only a mile away, and it wasn't as cold as it had been some early mornings when I walk with my friend Sheila, but I didn't much want to go out. However, Richard was away, and I don't drive.

I decided to combine the trips to the Post Office with my usual Friday shopping at our local froutaria...

The fruit shop - or froutaria - where we buy all our fruit and vegetables in Cyprus

... and the connected mini-market over the road from the froutaria:

The mini-market, Achna Discount, where we buy general groceries in Cyprus

The Post Office is about a mile from our house, near the sea-front. It's another mile or so in the other direction to the fruitaria, and then a short walk home. Quite a pleasant outing, once I was out in the sunshine, even if it was rather chilly.

So each time I took my Lakeland shopping trolley (one of the best purchases I have ever made):

The trolley that accompanies me on my shopping trips. Wonderful buy from Lakeland UK.

A few days after my foray into the bank, they phoned me to say that my card had arrived.  I could have gone to collect it at once (the bank is perhaps half a mile away) but decided I would leave it until the Friday, and do another round trip.  There was no urgency to pay the road tax, and I didn't need the debit card for anything else; I generally use cash at the froutaria and discount mini-market.

PO Box Rental part 3
So on Friday, just over a week ago, I walked down to the Post Office once again. There was no receipt in my box, so although I didn't have anything to post this time, I went inside.

Once again there was only one postmistress there, not the one to whom I had handed over the cash for the box renewal. She remembered me from the previous week. I asked her if, perhaps, the other lady had done the renewal and forgotten to give me my receipt. She checked the system, and said that no, it wasn't renewed.

However, she told me, I wasn't the only customer in the same situation. Apparently the other postmistress had been off sick, and had put the money for the PO Box renewals in some account which her colleague couldn't access.  She assured me it would be done on Monday, and they would phone to let me know.

Perhaps I should have ensured I was given a receipt for the cash when I paid it; or, even better, kept it and said I would return another time, since I did in fact keep on returning every week. But trust is important in Cyprus, and I couldn't imagine they would try to cheat me, or insist that I hadn't in fact paid anything. So I said it was okay, and I would wait.

New Debit card part 2
I quite like walking along the main shopping streets of Larnaka, occasionally popping into a shop, or looking in the windows, but my next stop was the bank.

I stood in the queue, as usual, and when I got to the front was told I needed to go to one of the desks further inside the bank. I eventually found it, and instead of just handing over my card (in a thick envelope) and asking me to sign for it, the man at the desk had to access my account, and spend several minutes entering things and eventually succeeding in printing a form. Then I not only had to sign it, I had to enter my passport number. I have no idea why, but it's a good thing I carry it with me. It would have been very annoying to have got that far and been unable to collect the card.

The design of the card is different - it's yellow rather than red - and it's equipped with contactless technology, which always slightly scares me. But we keep our contactless cards in little metal-lined folders so they can't accidentally (or maliciously) be triggered.

Car Tax part 4
I got home, and logged into the jccsmart website, and - at last! - succeeded in paying the year's tax for the van.

Success!

Side note
A few months ago, when we realised we had to write off our two old cars, the mechanic agreed to deal with the scrap merchant, and harvest any parts that could be used. They said we might possibly get €200, and that was only because one of the cars had fairly new tyres. They were supposed to let us know when the transaction happened, but we didn't hear anything. Then we went away shortly after Christmas, and hadn't thought much about it.

When Richard got back from his travels, ten days ago, he went to collect the van after its MOT.  They had had to sort out one or two things, and did a full oil change too, and - including the test certificate - the bill came to €70, which seemed quite reasonable. Better still, they said that our old cars had in fact fetched €250, so rather than having to pay anything, he was given €180 in cash as well as the van with its up-to-date MOT.

PO Box Rental part 4
There was no phone call on Monday, but on Wednesday I had a call from the Post Office! They wanted to check the details, then went ahead and renewed our box rental for another two years.

Whew.

The receipt was awaiting me when I walked down to the Post Office yesterday.  So everything is now done. It might take much longer than it should, but I should have trusted that it would work out correctly.