Saturday, October 14, 2017

Signs of Autumn in Cyprus

Once again, Summer in Cyprus is gradually coming to an end. To me, this is a great relief. By about mid-September the humidity had reduced to mostly bearable levels, but we were still using air conditioning during the daytime, if we had computers on, and for an hour or so after going to bed.

At the end of September daytime temperatures were still in the low thirties. Now, just a couple of weeks later, the daytime highs are in the 26-29 range. That's still very warm, and it's sunny, most of the time. But the house stays a couple of degrees cooler, and windows, cracked open or covered with mosquito netting, catch the breezes nicely. 

We went to the local plant shop and bought some petunias and other bedding plants. It was perhaps a tad early; they don't do well in heat. But most of them have survived, providing some extra colour on our balcony and front patio.

Around the end of September we stopped using air conditioning in the bedroom, although we still run the ceiling fan. I still used air conditioning some of the time with my computer, as the fan seems to be giving up and I didn't want it to overheat. But I haven't used air conditioning at all for over a week now.

We had lunch with visiting friends last Sunday, and then suggested going for a walk. They had never been to the Pharos beach, which used to be a favourite walk of ours. I was interested to know how it looked; some months ago, the walk along the top was closed to visitors, with considerable construction going on.

In the Summer, I don't go outside, if I can help it, between the hours of about 9.00am and 5.00pm. But this was barely three o'clock, and not too hot. It was quite cloudy, although I grabbed a sun hat anyway.

As we were driving, it started to rain. It was only for a few minutes; we haven't yet had any heavy rain since the Summer, but it was perhaps the third shower since the end of September. As the sun came out through the clouds, a lovely rainbow appeared:

By the time we reached the lighthouse, the rain had stopped and the skies were blue again. The walk above the beach was paved, but the beach itself still looked deserted, with wild plants looking dry and brown after the summer.

I kept in the shade as much as possible, but it was a refreshing walk despite being in the sunshine in the middle of the afternoon.

During the Summer, we sleep with just a cotton sheet over us. By the end of September we had moved to just a duvet cover. A few nights ago, we were feeling quite chilly, so I got out our thin duvet. I laid it across the cover, thinking it might be too warm, but it was very pleasant. Today, when I changed the sheets, I put the thin duvet in a cover.  It will probably only be a couple of weeks or so until we need the medium thickness duvet.

In the mornings, through the summer, I throw on the previous day's tee shirt and a pair of shorts that have seen better days. Then, after doing whatever cleaning or cooking I am doing, I shower and get dressed a little more respectably.  However, this week I have moved from old shorts to my sweatshirt trousers for the mornings.  I haven't got any sweatshirts out yet, but am quite looking forward to doing so.

This morning I made another batch of granola, and some ketchup. I cut up fruit for a fruit salad, and made a cake, as we're going out to a barbecue this evening. I cleaned the house, too, as well as making the bed and doing some laundry.  A few weeks ago I would have been quite daunted by all this. As I wrote in a previous post, just three weeks ago, when I was doing a lot in the kitchen on a Saturday, I had to keep escaping to my air conditioned study for a break. Today I finished everything in the kitchen by about one o'clock. 

I love the onset of Autumn in Cyprus; sadly it's usually quite a short season. Within another month we'll probably be starting to feel distinctly cold....

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Replacing our Freezer

Yesterday, we bought a new freezer.

But before I write about that, I will temporarily jump back in time, eleven and a quarter years. We also bought a freezer when we moved to this house in the summer of 2006. We decided, then, to have a large upright freezer. It was an unbranded one; we bought it from a showroom called Dalco that wasn't far from here. It was good value, and the freezer seemed enormous. But we soon filled it up.

Its only problem was that it frosted up regularly. I took a photo (probably for this blog...) the first time I de-frosted it, about a year after we bought it:

In a rush of nostalgia, I went through my photos looking for snaps of it, but there were very few. I suppose freezers aren't very photogenic.  The first one I found showing it in its place, at the end of our kitchen, was when we bought this useful Ikea table in 2008 and we put it next to the freezer:

This shows the context a little better, with our greatly-missed cat Sophia testing out the new table:

And there the freezer stayed, keeping lots of produce cold, needing little care other than de-frosting about once a year. I bought crates of fruit or tomatoes from the local fruit stall, lightly stewed and froze them. Healthier and a great deal less expensive than the canned equivalent.

I bought pitta bread on offer to go in the freezer, bags of frozen raspberries (since fresh ones are not available here), frozen puff pastry, and the occasional tub of ice cream. We kept a shelf for meat (mostly chicken) which we bought perhaps once every other month, and a shelf for vegetables - some ready-frozen ones such as peas or spinach, as well as my home-frozen tomatoes.  I kept one shelf for flour, beans and lentils; not that they need to be frozen, but food moths can be a problem in Cyprus, so I would always put new packs in the freezer until needed. And one shelf was dedicated to stock, made from meat bones or vegetables, and leftover portions of soups, which I make in the winter.

Here's another photo, from 2009. The table is still there, the bin evidently sat next to the freezer. The fridge is in the foreground; it has a freezer at the top as well, but I tend to use that for open bags of vegetables, and individual portions of meals left over from slow cooking.

We never used the radiator that's pictured behind the freezer. At least, we didn't ever turn it on. We used it as a shelf for random boxes, or old batteries, or whatever needed a temporary space. And the area behind the freezer gradually filled up with plastic bags to re-use, and things to recycle... and it got messier and messier.

This is how it looked by 2014:

It wasn't just cluttered, it was a horrible and rather embarrassing mess. We decided that we needed something tidier that would hold all the plastic bags and recycling, now that Cyprus has a good recycling scheme.  We eventually found a chest of drawers in the Ikea children's department, and it was ideal. We put it behind the freezer, where it fitted perfectly, and (once I had filled it) that space started to look a great deal tidier:

A couple of years later, when we acquired more bookcases, I decided to put one in the kitchen with recipe books and the potatoes and onions, right next to the freezer... which was looking a little battered and rusty by now. But still, for the most part, working well.

There was a glitch when I turned it on after a defrosting session, and nothing happened. But I hit it, and it sprang into life. Then the handle broke off... but Richard fixed that with some extra strong glue. Several of the shelf fronts had also broken off, not helped by the way it iced up so easily.  But it kept working, and was extremely useful during the past summer when the family were staying, even though it got left slightly open one night and iced up very badly. So I had to do a major de-frost shortly afterwards.

While some appliances seem to last for decades (our fridge freezer must be approaching fifteen years old) we realised that our tall freezer was nearing the end of its days. A week ago I noticed (thankfully) that it had gone silent, and the temperature gauge was showing almost zero. I hit it, and it started making a noise and grew gradually colder, but not down to its expected temperature.

We finished the last of the ice cream, and I moved the most critical things to the freezer at the top of the fridge. We talked about it, and realised that a new, more energy-efficient freezer would probably pay for itself over about three or four years, in electricity saving. Possibly even sooner.  We also decided that we didn't want to hang on until the old one stopped working entirely. We could lose a great deal of food if we didn't notice in time, and I was starting to feel quite stressed, continually glancing at the temperature, not wanting to open it in case it warmed up too much.

So on Friday morning, after checking the relevant website, we went to the local George Theodorou white goods shop. It's where we usually buy electrical goods now. They offer good value, they deliver at no extra cost, and on the rare occasions we've had to ask them to mend something, they have been efficient and not over-priced. We didn't even check any other shops, though I glanced at some of the regular junk mail that appears in our mail box, and realised that at other shops, prices were higher.

The freezer I had seen online was the one that the owner suggested. It's smaller than our other one, but there are only two of us at home most of the time. It doesn't have a temperature sensor, and the warning lights are inside the door, which seems a tad pointless, but we didn't think we'd find anything better. Most importantly, it's 'frost-free', which means that it won't ice up. No more de-frosting!

So we ordered it, and they said they would deliver later that morning.

I turned off the old freezer, then transferred the contents - it was about two-thirds full - to two biggish picnic cool-boxes and the fridge.  I just had time to clean the gunk that had accumulated underneath the freezer when the doorbell rang - our new freezer was being delivered. The men put it in place, and checked it... then took the old one away.

Then it occurred to me that it would make a lot more space, and look tidier, if we moved the freezer almost against the non-functional radiator, with the drawer unit next to it. I don't know why we never thought of that before. The bookcase now sticks out rather awkwardly, but the space is much better used:

Modern freezers can be turned on at once, and we were told to wait a couple of hours before putting anything in.  So early in the afternoon I packed everything into the new one.

Well, most things. It doesn't look that much smaller than the old one, but it only has six shelves rather than seven. They're quite deep, but the walls are so well insulated that there's rather a lot less space in each one. So I had to re-organise somewhat, and just managed, with a lot of things still in the freezer over the fridge. It's more efficient having it full, and I need to be more careful about what to freeze - I discovered, for instance, that I had more than twelve 500g tubs of cooked tomatoes, and at least six of lightly stewed peaches.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A quiet 'day in the life'....

Since the family departed, I have taken very few photos. I've been scanning a lot of negatives from the 1960s and 1970s, both my own and some of my father's, and knitting, and proof-reading a book which my brother is writing. These don't take up my whole time, yet the days seem to move on increasingly fast. I suppose it's a sign of late middle age.

However, one photo I did take was of a Middle Eastern wedding, which took place on the beach where we were sitting with our friends, a couple of weeks ago. As we watched, hotel staff came and set up chairs and a table, guests started to arrive - the men in suits and ties, the women in dresses and high heels, which looked a bit awkward on the sand. After a while the bride and groom arrived, and the ceremony itself cannot have been more than ten minutes. People out on the beach watched with interest. Three of the children from our group went up quite close...

Today, I haven't spoken to another person (cats excluded). For an Introvert like me, that's actually a relaxing and energising way to spend a day. Richard went up to Nicosia yesterday, in preparation for providing PA for a day conference organised by some friends. So he's been out all day. Last night I decided I'd read in bed for a couple of hours, so went upstairs around eight o'clock, the cats having put themselves to bed already (we shut them into our dining room/kitchen area overnight so they don't wake us in the early hours!).

As ever, after about an hour my eyes started to droop, and I eventually turned out my light about 9.30pm and must have fallen asleep immediately. I woke shortly after 5.30am.  Normally, at this time of year, I would then go for a walk with my friend Sheila. But they're away at present, and I can rarely motivate myself to walk by myself, unless I'm doing some errands.

After feeding the cats, dealing with cat litter and reading for a while, I realised that I had forgotten to soak the dried fruit for a 'celebration cake' I was planning on baking this morning. I'm not being ultra organised for Christmas; this is an extra one which I promised some years ago to Richard, for his forthcoming special birthday. So I weighed the fruit, and put it in brandy, and put it aside.

I was also planning on making another batch of tomato ketchup today, and some more apple-and-tomato chutney. I had bought a 4kg bag of tomatoes at the local fruit stall a couple of days ago, for the grand price of a euro. They were still in good condition, but I needed to start using them.  So I chopped apples, and onions, and garlic, and tomatoes and started them both off in separate large pans.

I should perhaps also mention that in the middle I had mend my kitchen scales; they're very light, and have a tendency to stick to the bowl. I keep on forgetting, and I don't know how many times they have landed on the floor. I managed to break at least one set in the past by doing this, and our last set became unreliable, weighing incorrectly, after such a crash.  My current scales seem to be quite sturdy, and are still accurate... but today's crash made part of the insides come off and rattle around. I had to find a cross-point screwdriver and undo them to fix it - and was quite pleased with myself for succeeding.

I glanced at the time... and it was already eight o'clock. Time for breakfast, and a glance at my email and Facebook...

Then I washed up the utensils I'd been using; when I poured out the washing up water, a cockroach (shudder) ran out of the sink and behind the microwave. These are an ongoing problem in Cyprus in the summer; I've reached the stage where I no longer drop everything, scream, and leave the room. At least, not every time I see one. Instead I armed myself with Biokill and sprayed behind the microwave.  I turned around to stir the chutney, and turned back in time to see the roach running down the counter top and into a corner.

I didn't want to chase it around the kitchen spraying more potentially toxic insecticide, even if Biokill is milder than most. So I grabbed our large broom from the utility balcony, and swept the roach outside. I'm getting a lot braver.

Once the computer's on, it's easy to get distracted. There was an interesting discussion on one of the Facebook groups I'm on. I decided to start scanning some negatives... and kept going, finishing two or three films rather than just one. I answered a few questions on an online forum I participate in... and kept finding more that I could respond to.  I played moves in my Lexulous games. I checked my email. I briefly browsed the BBC news site.

In between doing those things, I kept popping to the kitchen to stir the chutney. I decided to move all the appliances on the worktops and clean behind them, but only did a couple at a time. I made our bed with clean sheets, as I do on Saturdays now, and I put on some laundry.

I usually clean the house on Saturdays too, and try to get that done before lunch-time, but my back was aching after all the chopping of vegetables, and I kept getting distracted by the computer. I followed links to interesting articles on Facebook. I went to Picasa, my photo-editing software, to check the results of the negatives I'd been scanning, and to add names to the faces.

Then I spent half an hour at Memrise - where I'm teaching myself some world geography, and Greek vocabulary - and DuoLingo, where I'm attempting to get better at modern Greek.  Not that I seem to make much progress in understanding other people speaking Greek - and almost everyone we know speaks excellent English anyway.

After lunch I dusted the whole house with my long-handled faux feather duster, including the ceiling fans, then turned them on as it was getting a bit humid. Summer is coming to an end, with the temperatures 'only' about 30C in the shade, at the most, so I was a bit surprised at the sticky feeling this afternoon.  I'm still using air conditioning in my study, as computers can't deal with anything over about 28C.

jars of apple and tomato chutney in my store cupboard
After another break at the computer (more photos, more forums, a Sudoku game) I swept the whole house, vacuumed the living room rug and dining room chairs, then mopped everywhere.  In between times, I sterilised six jars and transferred the newly-finished chutney to it.

Later, I labelled the chutney and put it away, next to the mango chutney I made at the end of August. I don't particularly enjoy making chutney, but I like eating it very much, so am always pleased to have a supply that should last us at least another six months or so.

When I'd finished the cleaning, I sat down at the computer again and caught up with some email.  And Facebook, and forums, and did a bit more photo organising...

By the time I'd had something to eat in the evening, I realised it was too late to make the cake, which might have to cook for three or four hours, so I'll do that tomorrow. I cleared up the kitchen, yet again, and put the dishwasher on. I am still, after eleven years in this house, very thankful indeed for my dishwasher.

I've been thinking for a few days that I needed to write a blog post, so although I was going to close my computer down an hour ago, I thought I'd 'just start' one. As ever, once I'd started, it was hard to stop...

The cats had a bit of a fracas this evening; Alex went out for a while, and then Jane started attacking him when he came in again. It's happened a couple of times before, usually when he's got into fights. I don't know what caused it this time, but I separated them for a while.  Happily, she soon got over it. And while I was in the middle of writing this blog post, Alex came and started nibbling my legs, a sign that he wants me to go to the kitchen with him. I did so, and as Jane came too - and was quite affectionate with him - I shut them in for the night.

Oh, and if anyone's read this far, and is wondering where our grandchildren and their parents are... they are at last on the Logos Hope.  It's less than a month since they departed from Cyprus, though it feels like considerably longer. They spent a week in Canada with other relatives, then flew to the Dominican Republic. Yes, that country on a small island in the Caribbean, shared with Haiti, where two hurricanes have hit in the past couple of weeks. We were very anxious as Hurricane Irma approached, but they were in a large building with other new recruits on the south of the island, and - when they briefly managed to get online - we learned that the only effect for them was heavy rain. The ship and the crew had to go out to sea for a couple of days.

Our family and the other new recruits (around 100 people in all) have joined the ship now, according to its site updates, and again had to go a way out to sea when the port closed as Hurricane Maria drew new. They should be back by now, so we hope to hear from them soon.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Another twenty books completed

I wrote about my first twenty books of the year early in March. The next set of twenty books was completed late in May. It was at the end of May that my son and his family arrived to stay in our guest flat for three months. During that time, I got very behind on reviewing books. I mostly kept up - with only a few days' lag - until I went away for a couple of weeks in July.  After that, I kept note of when I had finished each one, but I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my grandchildren while they were here, and by the time I had an hours or two myself in the evening, I was too exhausted to do anything constructive.

Moreover, I didn't do much reading for myself, other than ten minutes or so before going to sleep each night. So I thought I was going to be lagging seriously on my 100-books-a-year challenge on Goodreads. Then I realised that I could review the longer books I was reading to David. I didn't want to review shorter picture books - some only take five minutes to read, even though many are delightful - but he likes shorter chapter books too, the kinds with line drawings every couple of pages, so I decided to count them as part of the challenge, if I read them aloud. Which means that my third set of twenty books is rather unbalanced, with an abundance of children's books...

As with the earlier posts, links to my full reviews of each book (on my book reviews blog) are given.

Christian books
Two books read in the last period. Out of the Saltshaker and the Divine Dance
I'm surprised and quite pleased to find that I did manage to complete four Christian books in this period, as I have done previously, even if it was over nearly three months rather than two, and one of them was very short....

The first was on my Kindle, 'The Beloved Disciple' by Beth Moore. It's a lengthy study of the Apostle John, written in devotional style to be read over a couple of months. I liked parts of it, but found it a bit too informal and culturally American for my tastes.

After that, I read 'The Divine Dance' by Richard Rohr, which I had been given for my birthday.  Very readable, interesting, and also reassuring. I had moments of wondering if the author was veering a bit too far into non-orthodox belief, but my gut feeling is that he stayed just inside the line. One I'd like to read again fairly soon.

To contrast with that new, somewhat mystical book I then opted for what is now almost a Christian classic: 'Out of the Saltshaker' by Rebecca Manley Pippert. Written at the end of the 1970s, the contrasting cover style is shown rather clearly in the photo above. The contents are very good, though inevitably somewhat dated.

The fourth Christian book I read over the past three months is a very short one: 'Waking Up' by Ted Dekker, which I read on my Kindle. It's a biographical account of the author's struggles with his faith, and how he moved on to a newer appreciation of life as a believer.

I read nine novels intended for adults in my first twenty books of the year, nine in my second twenty... and just six in this third batch. I always have a novel of some kind to read before going to sleep at night, but it evidently took me rather longer than usual to read most of these. In addition, they were interspersed with some teenage novels, listed below.  They're all fairly light-weight, as I wasn't awake enough for anything too deep.

'The Christmas Promise' by Sue Moorcroft was the first one I completed in this period. It would have been ideal to read in the Christmas season, but I was given it for my birthday, and couldn't resist. Good characters, interesting plot.

'Belonging' by Alexandra Raife was next. Warm characters, a nice pace, and a hint of mystery that kept me turning the pages.

I then embarked on 'The Holiday' by Erica James. It was with some reluctance, as I hadn't much enjoyed it the first time I read it. But I'm slowly re-reading books by my favourite authors, and thought it only fair to give this another chance. I'm glad I did, as I liked it much more this time.

Wanting a change from contemporary women's fiction, I next read Agatha Christie's 'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side', which I enjoyed very much. It features Miss Marple, and an intriguing plot set in a small village.

By the time I'd finished that, I was about to leave for my UK visit, so I picked something from my Kindle: 'The Incomplete Amorist' by E Nesbit. Set over 100 years ago, it was pleasant light reading although I didn't feel it was as good as the author's better-known children's books.

The final book I read that was intended for adults is 'Anna's Return' by Sally Quilford. A novella rather than a novel, it is set in the middle of the 20th century with references to the war, and I liked it very much.

Teenage Fiction
This category involves the books I read interspersed with the novels above, at bedtime; some are for older children (8+) rather than just teenagers, but I enjoyed them anyway.  I read three of this category in my first twenty books, three in my second twenty, four in this batch:

The first one I read in this period was 'Little Women' by Louisa M Alcott, a book I loved when I first read it, probably as a child, and which I've re-read many times over the years. Pure indulgence, and I enjoyed it very much.

I followed that, a week or two later, with 'Meet the Austins' by Madeleine L'Engle. I hadn't read this book before, as far as I recall. Not a whole lot of plot, but a pleasant light read with very well-drawn characters.

Chalet School books are one of my first choices of comfort read, so it's no surprise that I also read Elinor M Brent-Dyer's 'The Chalet School Reunion' during this busy period. Fiftieth in the original series, this is about families and friends connected with the school, rather than being a school story as such. Very enjoyable.

The fourth book in this category was on my Kindle while travelling: 'Of Wheels and Witches' by Stephen Hayes. A very interesting read, set in the apartheid years in South Africa, featuring some children having rather dangerous encounters and adventures.

Children's read-alouds
The first book in this section is one I read to some young friends, over several weeks, and finished just before my grandchildren arrived. 'The Exiles' by Hilary McCay features four girls sent to live with their grandmother for the summer, and I very much liked reading it aloud. My friends enjoyed it too, partly because three of the girls were the same ages as they were.

The first short chapter book I read to my grandson was 'Help!' by Margaret Gordon, a book, along with those below, which I found at the local thrift store. It's about two young pigs who live in a block of flats with their extended family, and who are determined to be helpful... unfortunately it doesn't always work that way. Amusing in places, each chapter complete in itself.

'TJ's Sunflower Race' by Rose Impey is a delightful story intended for early readers, but it works very well as a read-aloud. Lovely line drawings, and if the ending is predictable, it's very nicely done with a bit of humour here and there too. We read this one aloud several times...

'Lollipop Days' by Margaret Nash is about a friendship between a rather mischievous girl and a somewhat more ordinary boy who live near each other.  Not particularly exciting, but quite a nice set of stories, probably intended for about age 5-6 as later chapters involve school.

Roald Dahl's 'The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me', in a large format with colour drawings by Quentin Blake was a wonderful find. The story is (unsurprisingly) bizarre, but not unpleasant, and my grandson loved it. I don't know how many times one or other of us read this thing aloud in its entirety. There are no chapter breaks, so we just kept going...

And finally, at least for this batch of books, another by Roald Dahl. Not as enjoyable as the previous one, my grandson also very much liked 'George's Marvellous Medicine'. It involves a boy concocting a potion to replace his horrible grandmother's medicine, with unexpected results.

As for writing books and 'miscellaneous', I didn't complete any of those in this period. 3e

(I actually finished the last of this batch of books on August 8th and have read another seven books since then, including one of the ones which I mistakenly included in the photo for the final category - but I'll mention it, along with the others, when I've completed my next set of twenty books for this year. )

Thursday, August 24, 2017

So long, farewell... as the family depart from Cyprus

Today, we said our sad goodbyes to our older son and his family, who have been here, staying in our guest flat, for almost three months. They're on their way to Canada for a week, to catch up with relatives, and then to Central America.

But I should back-track nearly three weeks. I returned home after a couple of weeks away, bringing Tim with me. It was wonderful to have an extra pair of hands.. and on the first Sunday he cooked most of our lunch, meaning I was relaxed enough to take a photo of our entire family - or, at least, all our descendants - together, probably for the last time in a couple of years.

Tim loves to cook, and while he was here he made some of his classic one-bowl brownies, and some double chocolate chip cookies... he also made a batch of naan bread, assisted ably by David who loves helping in the kitchen.  There was a slight misunderstanding in that David thought they were making banana bread, but he liked it anyway.

It's said that children really don't need many toys; that they play with new things for a few days, and then the enthusiasm wears off. David does love his little trains, and figurines from Postman Pat and other favourite stories, but he also spends a lot of time playing pretend games with whatever items he finds, inspired by his tremendous imagination. Here he is with my beanbag, which he first decided was a Santa sack, then a sleigh, and - in this photo - it became reindeer pulling a sleigh:

The cushions in our living room have been used, by turn, as sacks of corn, presents to be unwrapped, sticks for a barbecue, bread for sandwiches... and probably much more besides.

More recently David's been playing at going to Canada, so the beanbag became an aeroplane seat. I was amused when he produced a backpack that he'd found, and told me it was his 'hang luggage'. When I asked what he'd put in it, he looked at me with a 'duh!' expression, and said, 'Books!'

About a week ago, he suddenly announced that he wanted to wear a jumper. We were somewhat bemused - the temperature outside has been at least 32C in the shade for the last couple of months, and it wasn't much cooler in the house. But Becky thought it a good opportunity to let him try on the Postman Pat jumper I had made him for his birthday. I was worried it would be too small by now, but happily it fit him with some room to spare:

Esther, meanwhile, has mastered the art of crawling, and pulling herself up to standing, and she's started cruising around furniture too.

Before I left, attempts were made at potty-training David. Current wisdom is that around three is the right time to start for boys, if they haven't already shown interest. Daniel explained that modern nappies are so absorbent and comfortable that there's almost no motivation for most toddlers and young children to give them up, so parents very often have to persuade their children to go through a 'training' period, with 'toilet times' and stickers and all kinds of other motivational ideas.

While I was away, after a few false starts, they embarked on a full nappy-free week. David spent a lot of time sitting on one or other of the loos, with one of his parents reading to him.  (Richard asked if the choice of book in our upstairs bathroom was deliberate.... )

After what was, I gather, rather a traumatic week for all concerned, David had mostly got the idea and was beginning to ask to go. There were some accidents, but happily they've reduced significantly in the past couple of weeks.

The problem with August is that almost everything shuts down. In June David was able to go to some drama sessions, and the local toddler group.  In July, there was less and less going on... by August, almost nothing at all. He had really outgrown the Early Learning Centre Tuesday afternoon sessions, which didn't change much from week to week, and the indoor soft play places are too noisy and busy for more than the occasional visit.

In addition it was far too hot to be outside during most of the day, making the side yard less appealing. Sometimes in late afternoon David played outside, and a few times went to the park, plus Fridays to the beach with friends... but mostly we were confined to the inside, with air conditioning. Not easy for a lively child who wants to run around.

As with so many difficult periods of life, it sometimes felt confining and almost endless at the time, but looking back, the time has flown past. Suddenly it was their last Friday evening:

We played a last Cities and Knights game, all together, sitting outside:

There was a last Tuesday morning. Most of my friend Sheila's children are away at a youth camp, but E (four years older than David) came over, and they spent the time making paper cakes and other goodies, and asking us to order things to eat and drink, which they then delivered on trays or cushions:

I continued reading to David for at least an hour every day; I collected the books I'd read aloud on one day, not long ago, and was quite surprised to find there were twelve:

While most are quite short, a couple (the Roald Dahl ones) take over half an hour each to read.

On Wednesday morning, we all went to Richard's favourite ice cream place, and David had his favourite so-called 'Facebook' ice cream one more time:

I shouldn't have gone, really. It was so hot out that I didn't feel well for about an hour after getting home again. In the afternoon we took Tim to the airport, to return to the UK.

Then this afternoon, it was the turn of the rest of the family.  They managed to get all their belongings into three large cases and one lighter one (plus hand luggage). Sheila helped with transport. Check-in was quick, so Richard and I didn't stay long at the airport.

I'm pleased that they're on their way to the ship where they've wanted to return for some time, and that the details eventually worked out. I'm delighted they're able to spend a week seeing some of Becky's family en route. I've loved getting to know the children better, seeing them develop and pass milestones, enjoying David's wonderful sense of curiosity and imagination and hunger for stories.

Tomorrow we'll get the guest flat back to its usual state (one of the beds was dismantled in David's room, and the cot needs to be put away) and work out where to store the sand pit and toys.  On Saturday I hope to catch up with my book reviews blog, on which I'm about three weeks behind. On Monday I'll resume scanning negatives, and writing, and website updating.

Meanwhile, the house feels very quiet. I haven't done anything constructive since returning from the airport six or seven hours ago. I've shed a few tears, tidied away a few things, vegged out at the computer. I'm going to miss them all very much.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Returning to Cyprus today

The last week has, once again, flown past. Today, accompanied by Tim who is coming for a holiday, I will be returning to Cyprus. I'm looking forward to seeing the family again and spending a few more weeks with my grandchildren, having all my descendants under one roof! But I'm really NOT looking forward to the heat, humidity and sheer exhaustion that overtakes me during the summer months. Apparently last month was the hottest July for the past thirty years in Cyprus. I am, rather selfishly, very relieved to have missed the last ten days of it.

However, I can't move on, blogwise, without mentioning a delightful restaurant where I was taken on my last Saturday in Alcester. It wasn't particularly close to the house, and in the opposite direction from a large computer shop we had been visiting in the morning, looking at laptops.  Indeed, if we had not known it was there, we would probably never have driven up the small road where it was located, nor necessarily even have spotted the rather modest-looking sign on the outside, letting us know that it was The Broom Tavern:

There was a small car park, but it wasn't immediately obvious where we were supposed to go. The house looked old; apparently it was originally a farmhouse in the 16th century.

Inside the decor is attractive, with a very pleasant atmosphere.

The menu isn't huge, but with a wide variety of options including some for vegetarians; they seem to be quite flexible, too. I'm not vegetarian, though I lean strongly in that direction; I learned a few months ago that I am a 'flexitarian' - one who mostly eats plant-based foods, but also a bit of poultry or fish when offered it by other people. Since I'm married to a confirmed meat-eater, and Cyprus culture really isn't  good at understanding vegetarianism (let alone veganism) I've opted for this, at least for now.

Anyway... one of the menu options was vegetarian chili with various side dishes, so that's what I opted for.  This photo, unfortunately, doesn't really show how stunning the presentation was when it arrived laid out on a wooden platter.  One of the black metal dishes contained rice, the other an excellent veggie chili. There were tortilla chips (clearly made from tortillas rather than bought in), guacamole, sour cream, tomato salsa, grated cheese, and salad.

I didn't think I would manage more than half of it, but in the event, other than about half the rice, I ate it all. It was delicious.

My father, who is not vegetarian but highly intolerant of garlic, and whose appetite fluctuates somewhat, asked for a baked potato with baked beans and grated cheese.  That was also beautifully presented but the photo doesn't show it at its best:

After such a large first course I wouldn't have opted for dessert at all, but my father very much likes desserts, and chose a fruity sorbet one - pineapple and melon were certainly involved, and he said it was delicious:

Lorraine chose a strawberry panacotta dessert; I might have gone for that, but the dish description mentioned balsamic vinegar, and that sounded rather odd.  It was also beautifully presented, and she said it was extremely good:

I decided, since they were having desserts, I would have the basic ice cream. Three scoops, they told me, with various choices.  I opted for two chocolate and one salted caramel.  I expected three scoops in a small dish, as one might expect in Cyprus. Instead, I was presented with this:

The odd-looking squiggles on the top of each of the desserts was a kind of crystalline spun sugar. A sort of hardened, flat candy floss, I suppose.  The chocolate ice cream was good, the salted caramel out of this world... I should perhaps have had two of that. It never occurred to me that anything could be better than chocolate.

Replete from this amazing meal, we took a short walk in the afternoon...

...which included some blackberrying.  July seems rather early to me for blackberries, but there were lots on the local bushes, with plenty more to come.  Hard to see in the small version of this photo, but anyone interested in knowing what blackberries look like, just click the image and a larger one should appear.

ripening blackberries on a bush, in Alcester, UK

Sunday was a relaxed day. We went to a church service at St Nicholas' Church, then home for a roast lunch followed by apple and blackberry crumble. In the afternoon we played our fourth game of Settlers of Catan in which I really hoped I wouldn't win. In the first game, earlier in the week, I won rather too resoundingly. The second was much closer, and I only won because I picked up a victory point. I don't remember the details of the third, but I won again. I had tried a different starting strategy in each.

For the fourth game, I didn't have particularly good starting places, and decided to play the 'harbour' strategy. It worked all too well, but when I was approaching twelve points we decided I'd keep playing, opting out, so to speak, of the possibility of winning.  Eventually they both reached eleven points... and Lorraine eventually reached twelve and was declared victor:

We then counted my points and I was slightly embarrassed to find that I had managed to acquire eighteen...

On Monday morning I made the train journey down to Surrey to stay a few days with Tim. It's a journey of about three-and-a-half hours by train, with three changes including a brief ride on the London Underground. I am always a bit anxious about the Underground as I haven't used it much and don't understand it... but all went well and I arrived safely at the station close to Tim's flat. What amazed me most was that the entire trip (three trains and one Underground), since I booked it in advance, cost me the grand total of £11.

In the evening, we played a game of Cities and Knights, and Tim creamed: sixteen points to my eight.

On the Tuesday we took further trains down to Sussex to spend the day with Richard's mother. It was the first day since my arrival when the sun had shone almost all the time, so we spent some time sitting outside, admiring her garden:

On the Wednesday it rained, off and on. I caught yet more trains, this time to Woking, to spend a few hours with my friend Anne, who is, as far as I can tell, my longest-standing friend. We met when I was seven and our family moved to Walton-on-Thames, as we were in the same class at school. We spent two years at Ambleside Avenue First School before moving to the larger Mayfield Middle School when we were nine.

After a year there, our family moved to Birmingham, and not long afterwards Anne's family also moved. We had agreed to stay in touch, and although our parents didn't expect us to, we wrote letters - pages and pages, sometimes - very regularly, at first, then gradually easing off to just Christmas and birthday greetings. Anne came to our wedding ten years after we parted, and at the time we said we ought to get together every ten years, but that hasn't happened. So it's over 37 years since we had actually met!

We talked endlessly, catching each other up on the past few decades' worth of news about family and friends. Then Anne drove me back to Tim's making a considerable detour through Walton-on-Thames where we went past the sites our our old schools (Ambleside Avenue is now a primary school, with rather different buildings; Mayfield no longer exists at all).

I had only the vaguest memories; my family only lived in Walton for three years, but I did vaguely remember the road where we used to live, and that our house was just around the corner from another school friend. I knew the address, so as we briefly slowed down, was able to snap this picture out of the car window. I'm pretty sure it's the right place, though I wouldn't have been able to pick it out if I hadn't known the house number:

On Friday - yesterday - Tim showed me round the grounds of the school where he teaches, then we walked into Epsom, a nearby reasonably-sized town with a good set of high street shops. I particularly wanted to go to Lakeland, to buy some of my favourite breadmaking yeast, and one or two other things. I also went to several rather upmarket charity shops and was delighted to find yet more children's picture books that were not previously part of our collection.

In the evening, Tim treated me to Indian takeaway food, and then we had another Cities and Knights game. This time I did at least reach ten points before he won.

After that we sorted out a lot of paper recycling, printed our boarding passes, and even did most of our packing.

This morning we've cleaned and tidied everywhere, turned my bed back into a sofa, emptied all the rubbish... and were completely ready to go over two hours before we need to leave. This is a bit disturbing for both of us, so I decided to write a blog post, and Tim has popped out to buy a few essentials that he will need as soon as he returns.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Out of Cyprus: ten days in the Midlands

It's over a month since I last wrote. Being a hands-on Grandma has been thoroughly enjoyable and far from full-time; but still tiring in the heat of a Cyprus summer. David is lively, talkative and energetic from the time he wakes up - usually not long after I do - until the time he falls asleep, not long after the evening meal. If I found an hour or two during the day, when David was out with someone else or playing downstairs in the guest flat with his family, I would either catch up on household jobs, or write emails, or perhaps try and put a few photos on Facebook. After he went to bed, I would usually start to clean the kitchen, and then curl up with a book for an hour or so to myself...

I write this somewhat in the past tense because I've been in the UK for the past ten days. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the family again at the end of the week, for a few more weeks until they leave Cyprus for their next adventures in Central and South America.

It was with very mixed feelings that I set off, on the evening of July 20th. I looked forward to getting out of the Cyprus heat and humidity, and I was so exhausted that I knew I needed a rest. The trigger for choosing this particular period was an invitation to my younger goddaughter's wedding in Birmingham, and I also wanted to spend a few days with my father, including helping him finish an ongoing project to write and publish his memoirs.

But although I needed a rest, and some cooler weather, I hated saying goodbye to the family. They were also struggling in the intense heat, with all usual children's activities closed for the summer, having to stay indoors for at least five or six hours during the hottest part of the day: not something appreciated by a lively and energetic three-year-old.

However, when I checked for flights on the day I wanted to fly, only about six weeks earlier, there was one direct to Birmingham for under sixty euros. It seemed to be a confirmation that I should indeed go. We didn't know, at the time, how long the family would be staying in Cyprus, and I needed to make a definite decision in order to make other arrangements.

My good friend Heather, who lives in Birmingham, suggested staying with her for three nights, and my father contacted my three siblings who live in different parts of the UK, and determined that the only day they could gather at his house for a family reunion was the day after the wedding. So, gradually, arrangements fell into place.

I arrived at Heather's via taxi from the airport shortly before 2am UK time, very tired indeed as I can never sleep on flights, but slept well and then spent a wonderful and relaxing day with her, including a visit to my other goddaughter - Heather's daughter - and her one-year-old son.

On the Saturday I caught a bus into town, where I met Tim, and we then got on another bus to take us to the wedding, which was in a small and friendly Methodist church.

All went well, the bride looked radiant, and the reception was in a lovely place set in the middle of the countryside:

I was extremely impressed by the cake, baked by the bride's mother, who had never done this kind of thing before:

I was at a table with other godparents and neighbours of the family. I didn't know any of them beforehand but they were all friendly and it was a very enjoyable day. The evening party was due to go on until midnight but I was tired, and the music was quite loud, so Tim and I left around 10pm.

On the Sunday morning I packed my case (I had travelled with hand luggage only, using a cabin bag as large as is allowed) and got on the bus to Selly Park, where I went to a pleasant service at Christ Church, which still feels like 'home' to me, even though there were only a handful of people I knew there. Tim had been staying with other friends and was there too, and afterwards we were collected by my father and driven to his house, where my siblings and families had gathered for an excellent lunch:

Tim stayed overnight and was able to help with various computer issues; on the Monday we were taken out to lunch at a nearby Carvery.

Then Tim was dropped at New Street so that he could get the train back to Surrey.

The subsequent week has raced past, and I have thoroughly enjoyed being a 'lady of leisure'. The weather has been quite rainy and not particularly warm, but we've managed a few short walks, and even some blackberrying nearby.

On Tuesday my two young step-nieces (if that's the correct relationship) were here for the day and we all went out to lunch at a garden centre. On Wednesday afternoon one of my secondary school friends came over for a couple of hours. On Thursday we went to a charity lunch organised by the local church.

My father's wife is an excellent cook, and in between the outings we have eaten some delicious meals. I've helped a bit with food preparation, but find myself much happier in the sous-chef role than being in charge of a kitchen. I don't like the word lazy...but I do appreciate an easy life! It was enjoyable, too, experimenting with one or two different things, such as these breadcrumb-and-parmesan coated courgette sticks which we had seen online, and which used up a couple of the courgettes from the garden produce:

One thing I wanted to do while staying here for a week was to help my father finish his memoirs. This project has been ongoing for at least a couple of years, and in the weeks before I arrived, he wrote a few extra chapters to fill in some gaps. I've been through the whole thing (nearly 70,000 words) editing and proof-reading and compiling into Kindle-readable versions so we and other family members could check for inaccuracies, omissions and errors.

I finished the second draft yesterday evening, with a sense of satisfaction; we hope to publish via CreateSpace later in the year.

In a few hours I will be travelling down to Surrey to spend a few days with Tim before returning to Cyprus on Friday.