Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Friday 31 December 2010

!Feliz Año Nuevo! A Happy New Year to everyone.

I know we'll be busy eating the traditional 12 grapes as the clocks strike midnight here in Spain so I just wanted to wish everyone a Very Happy New Year - whether you are ahead of us in world time, like my cousin and family in Australia - (40 degrees it has been in Perth!!) or behind us by the hour in the UK or by more hours across the USA - whatever time you reach 2011, I hope you find it and it finds you well, happy and with the ones you love.

The grapes thing - everyone 12 grapes each and you have to put one in your mouth with every 'dong' of the clock and eat them all before the last 'dong' is reached. I would always recommend small, seedless grapes to increase the chances of getting every last one down quickly, but I note that los abuelos have bought some pretty chunky-looking ones.

Peel me a grape... Ruy won't know to say this but I might have do it to in order for him to eat his grapes. He's not a fruity type ... but he would be even more choked if he didn't eat them tonight! So, of course, I'll peel him a grape, or 12.

Right now, away to prepare another wonderful feast. Happy New Year to you all.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Alcala la Real - here we come!

We made it back from our journey south - arrived at 3am this morning. And our mission has been accomplished!
Sort of...

Were we a bit optimistic - maybe a tad unrealistic -  in our expectations? Possibly. We set off (without children) on the 600km journey south in two cars packed to the brim with our things that had made it from England to Valladolid - not the things still stored in the barn in Leon. Cesar (who could not find his way out of a paper bag) leading the way with the GPS; me, with my infallible sense of direction somewhat uneasily following behind, having already told him that if he went wrong in Madrid, I would not follow him. Some strange thing kicks in when I know I'm going the wrong way - I KNOW it's wrong, everything feels wrong and I have to put it right as soon as possible. Cesar does not have this instinct. He has the opposite of a sense of direction in that if he should turn right, he'll instinctively turn left and vice versa. (This is how he once ended up in Belgium instead of Italy but that's another story.. and one he wouldn't want me to tell.....he stayed for six weeks!)

The journey down was remarkable in that we had no complications, the GPS worked beautifully, we stopped twice for coffee and tapas and we arrived in our two pieces at around 4pm as predicted. That's when the problems began.

We had arranged to meet an agent who had some houses to let, some were holiday lets and some were available for longer lets. We had very specifically said that we needed to see only those places where an immediate let was possible - so we could leave our things before going back for the children. First thing I did was to confirm this with him and surprise, surprise - only one of the five met this vital condition! One was currently occupied; two were currently for sale and had only minimal furnishings (and, as it turned out, no heating, no light, no water either!) and the last had only two bedrooms! Were we downhearted? Well, Cesar was deep down in that Slough of Despond by the time we'd seen all of them... actually, not all, because we couldn't see the one that was occupied - which of course, the agent assured us was the best of all!! And the only one that was available was not suitable, of course.

We returned to the cars, which we'd left in supermarket carpark - with great trepidation, packed as they were with tempting items - and had a 'picnic' and a bit of a 'conflab' - this word is one we have always used in my family and means the sort of discussion you have when no one knows what to do. A 'conflab' with lots of people is definitely the best sort  - with two it can easily look like an argument, a nasty, recriminating argument, with rude words and negative body language. I do hope any onlookers recognised it as a 'conflab' and not anything else.

After our conflab, we went back into the centre of Alcala in search of other estate agents - and found several - which was a good sign. What was less helpful was that we also discovered that many places available for rent have been taken by the olive pickers for the duration of the harvest, which lasts until March. And anything else was being 'reserved' by the expected arrival of people coming to work at the brand new hospital in mid-January. We felt a tad doomed....

Enter Mercedes; (whose name means 'mercy' as it happens) - or rather, we entered the estate agency where Mercedes works. From that moment on, I felt sure things would work out fine. She showed us a place that I liked very much, more for its perfect location - with fantastic views of the town square, the gorgeous old library and the castle on the hill - than for it's decor or facilities, but it would do if necessary, if it really had to because there was nothing else. She then insisted that we go to see what the other agents could find for us so that we could make an informed decision; which we did. Knowing we would have to stay the night, we booked into a nice hotel and had another conflab, which went much better and resulted in some practical thinking and positive decisions. We knew we liked Alcala la Real; the people could not have been more helpful, more friendly or kinder; the town felt safe and comfortable and although a lot of people live there, it seemed like everyone knew each other. The schools were all centrally placed and there were plenty of children playing around the plazas and parks. We walked from one end to the other in less than twenty minutes and passed excellent shops, supermarkets and bars. It was OK. It was more than OK, it was really very nice.

The receptionist in the hotel told us we would 'sleep like kings' on the new mattress under the nordic duvet and she was right. We did.

We spent the morning looking at various places - all pisos, our hopes of finding a house to rent had been well and truly dashed the day before - but none we liked better than the first one. We decided to go back to Mercedes and ask to see it one more time. This time, I tried to look closer at the flat itself, rather than look out of the window at the views and it did leave a bit to be desired. I would still have taken it, despite the lack of heating but Cesar was less convinced.. then Mercedes played a trump card. She had been doing a bit of looking on our behalf whilst we were elsewhere and had managed to find another piso that had been recently renovated - the owner hadn't confirmed the completion of the work so she hadn't been able to show us the day before. She hadn't seen the apartment herself either but thought we should go and look together.

And you guessed it - it was absolutely right for us for now!! What luck - four bedrooms, a large lounge, central heating, brand new double-glazed windows, new beds, new sofas, new everything! The only thing is that it's so newly reformed that some things still have to be done - so we will have to wait a week before we can move in. But that's not a problem.

I have now a confession. The only thing that mattered to me was to find a place with a bath. Here, we have two but they are half-sized things and not worth wasting water on filling - you have to sit with bent knees and it's not relaxing at all.  Well, you guessed it again, this piso doesn't have a bath. How can people live without baths!!?? I don't know, but I am going to find out. It does have an enormous shower so I guess I'll have to live without a bath for the time being... but, do you know what... I'm not that bothered! I'm really just so happy to have found it.

We celebrated by eating a few tapas, which were excellent, and buying a lottery ticket for the big January Lottery. We are not 'players' but buying a lottery ticket is the done thing in Spain, especially at Christmas and New Year. So we bought one. For luck.

Then we spent the next few hours unloading our things into the piso, which is on the fifth floor and when we'd done, we marvelled at how much fits into two cars ... and how much more we have wrapped up in the barn in Leon. Then we decided we wanted to get back to the children as soon as possible and that's how we arrived back at 3am - it's a 7 hour journey but it gets a bit easier every time as we begin to recognise the various sights and places en route.

There - that's all for now. No photos because the printer has been taken to Alcala so I can't download anything yet. But watch out - they'll be here before long! Alcala la Real here we come!

Monday 27 December 2010

A glimpse of the world through another's eyes

Mateo got a camera for Christmas from his English grandparents - and was delighted. I've just downloaded his pictures onto the computer - (his cable works, mine doesn't which is why I need the printer to access my photos!) and it's fascinating to see the things he's photographed and how much of 'Mateo' comes through the pictures. I have asked if I can show you some of his photos and he's agreed - I'm so glad!

He took pictures of the 'Belen' - which is a traditional Bethlehem scene that many Spanish households put out each Christmas. This year, I can definitely see a few additions from my own children - probably Mateo himself! See if you can spot them too...

There's lots of lovely details though this year, there is less moss forming the base - we've had a busy time and what with us all being ill, the Belen didn't make it's appearance until late last week.

The children have had such fun rearranging things over the past few days - the Kings have been giving baby Jesus camel rides and when one of the legs fell off one of the camels, a willing triceratops offered to be a stand in... did you spot him? I think he looks rather marvellous!

I suspect Mateo is also responsible for the penguin's presence on the bridge.

I gave Mateo this penguin almost exactly four years ago. Mateo has always loved penguins - he's very like a penguin himself. His cousin, who is only 15 months older is like a giraffe. When they are together, they always look to me like a Roald Dahl story. (I know it was a pelican, not a penguin but I like the concept.)

He's a lovely penguin. They are both lovely penguins. And Mateo still pronounces it 'pinguin' which is a left over from being a little boy when he used to mix up Spanish and English words. He said the first half of the word as if it was Spanish and the second syllable as if it was English.


 These three photos are lovely and really capture how much is going on and I love that he's seen this and is able to tell a story with his camera.

And the more I look at the figures, the more I love them for themselves.

 The other traditional character in the story is the 'crapping man' - every Belen has one. I guess anyone can get caught short on a long journey. 

I didn't stop to check how hidden he was - Romy is fascinated by this character and everytime I look, he's relieving himself in a different place - often not quite as discreetly as this!

And finally - this little thing is what they are all on their way to see. I think this baby has seen better days but it's been in the family for a long time and I don't think anyone will ever change it for another baby.

And rightly so!

The other photos on his camera are all close up shots - very typical of my son liking to observe things in detail - which is why he sees things I don't.

I just love these.

(And now, back to more packing.)

Types will out

Oh gosh, here I am again! I started packing yesterday with much enthusiasm and energy. I filled our four big suitcases; I packed all the books from the bookcase we installed at los abuelos' house; I brought boxes up from the cellar and down from the attic; the wardrobe is empty (in a fit of over-enthusiasm, I packed ALL Cesar's clothes! Fortunately, there remained a few items in the wash - otherwise he would have only what he was wearing yesterday...)

And now, whilst Cesar has made a brief trek north to collect a few more boxes from Leon, I am supposed to be 'finishing off' the packing.


I've been lying in bed, listening to my children playing with their new presents in the room next door - and it's been lovely to hear them negotiating and planning and discussing their battle strategies (I assume they were playing with Ruy's Battleground game..) and then I got up and brought them some breakfast in their room - an unexpected treat for them. I am so glad that they receive anything 'out of the ordinary' as a treat, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. And as I started here off thinking about my own 'type traits', it's probably a good job that my children are a pretty adaptable, spontaneous bunch who happily discard old habits for new routines and who find the new exciting, rather than seriously challenging. I might not be teaching them all the important things in life - and I do confess that I sometimes have to resort to telling them what is right, rather than always being relied upon to demonstrate through my actions - but I do try. And as I am writing, I am feeling guilty that I am writing not 'finishing off' and that I am telling the children to tidy up now, that we have to finish packing...and I am here, writing, not packing! 

So, with a sense of duty (urgh) not the excitement of starting something new, I should away to 'finish off'.

Perhaps if I think of it as making a start in the children's room, that will help. 

Yes.. I need to start work on putting away all those new things that will feel new all over again when we unpack again in a few more days!!

There - if I don't think of it as finishing off, I can do it. See you all soon!!

Sunday 26 December 2010

The packing commences

Well, Christmas was a lovely affair - everything went absolutely according to plan (I can say this because we hadn't planned anything...)

Los abuelos went out in the morning to buy langostinos - big prawns - which everyone here eats on Christmas Eve. We got a call to say they'd had a puncture down at the supermarket and by the time Cesar arrived to assist, los abuelos were almost coming to blows - which would have been quite interesting to watch as Amelia is about 5 foot nothing, if that, and Cesar Snr is like a bear ... but I know who my money would be on! Anyway, all was soon put right and that was one hurdle cleared - and the prawns looked delicious.

Cesar then decided to take the children to the Archeological Museum. whilst I helped prepare the food for the evening with Amelia. However, by the time they got there, it had closed - and as this was part of the unplanned day, it didn't matter so much - so instead, they went into Valladolid together and drove around for about an hour trying to park and returned traumatised by the sheer volume of people out on the streets!

By the time they returned, the lamb was in the oven, the soup was smelling wonderful, I was on putting out the tapas and we'd cracked open the first of many bottles of 'Palacio de Bornos' - Spanish 'champagne'. All was feeling good.

We dressed up in our finest and emerged scrubbed and ready to eat at around 8pm. Famously late for every occasion, we expected to have to wait for Cesar's brother, his wife and their son - earliest prediction was 10pm... at which announcement, Mateo made a beeline for the tapas and got stuck in! Much to our great pleasure, they arrived at 24 minutes past 8 and suddenly we were in full fiesta mode - with very loud music, lots of noise, hugs, kissing and the wishing of 'Felices Navidades' all round.

And then we ate - and boy, did we eat well! A soup of butternut squash; huge prawns with a garlic sauce made by Ruy, asparagus, a salad of escarola and pomegranite; another fish course with cod and monkfish; then the lamb (lechazo, which is a very young lamb); and along with the traditional spanish turron, we ate an English Trifle that I made earlier in the day and which down very well.

On Christmas Day, good old Father Christmas made a special visit to our three English children, who are not used to waiting for the Kings to bring them their presents on 6th January and who would have been most disappointed not to find a little heap of gifts waiting for them when they got up. And they were delighted with what they got - full on yelps of excitement and joy that makes every parent's heart glad, even if it is over something as material as a Nintendo game or a remote controlled helicopter....and I know that they enjoy as much the family fun and the pleasure of us all being together - even if they missed their family in England. However, with SKYPE, we were able to sit down and have - if not a civilised conversation (because there were 12 of us all talking at the same time, more or less!) - then at least feel closer for a little while.

And today, we've started to pack our things up once again. The printer has gone into it's box already - which is why I can't put any pictures up just now - and most of our clothes, books and summer things are folded, bagged, boxed and in the car. It feels very strange. Very exciting. A fitting end to the year and hopefully a good start to the new one.

Hope everyone has enjoyed a wonderful Christmas! I look forward to writing about new things as the new year gets underway. In a new place in another part of the world. WOW!!!

Thursday 23 December 2010

A sense of time

I had a little reflective pause soon after I left work - just before we packed up and left for Spain. I have never been a great reflector, though knowing this, I do try to spend time thinking as well as time 'doing'. Doing definitely comes more naturally than thinking though I am very fond of leafing through memories and dredging up the feelings and emotions from many moons ago. I was very aware, in this earlier reflective pause, that my good friends and I had created many memories to treasure - to unwrap and enjoy again at leisure. And now, as Christmas is almost here, and memories are stirring, my reflective pause now feels a bit like getting out the Christmas decorations; being pleased that I put them away so carefully; wrapping up the delicate pieces; folding all the tinsel neatly; untangling the lights. Finding them as lovely this year as last, never tiring of seeing the same things once again. Welcoming like old friends the favourite angel/snowman/santa/bauble.

I have been so pleasantly surprised recently by the number of emails, text messages, comments on this blog and the odd paper letter that have made their way to me from old friends and new. Christmas is such a good time to pause and reflect - not just on what Christmas might mean to many people - but on the passing of time itself. This time last year I had no concept of what lay ahead of us. Most unexpected were the next few months - full of turmoil and some anxiety - and ultimately a decision that was taken quickly if not lightly. Time flew by in early 2010 and we arrived at August hardly pausing for breath. And how strange that these past five months seem in some ways to have also gone by so quickly, yet now - in looking back - the memories we've created seem to be playing to me in slow motion. I think that despite the stress of not having found the house of our dreams as yet, we have had the opportunity to really relax. And relax in a way that I - as a working mother - in the past never had chance to do. It makes a big difference to my sense of time.

And I like having the time to reflect on that. And I love being able to blog about it. I really do love my blog and those of other bloggers - it's lovely to have that glimpse into the lives of other people. I do hope you enjoy the glimpse you have into ours. Even so, tomorrow - Noche Buena -  and Christmas Day, there'll be no glimpsing (what a lovely word that is!) either from me into yours or for you into mine as all my attention will be on family and having as good a Christmas as possible - with fun, laughter, games, good company and good food. I do hope you have a good one too! Merry Christmas.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

My Facebook Word Cloud

I do like this. 
It's a word cloud produced by and for Facebook based on all the words on my status updates throughout the year. Seems to be it's pretty close to my preoccupations!
 Have a go if you're on Facebook! Try it!

Monday 20 December 2010

Frozen north

Yes, we've been to northern Spain today - to a place just west of Leon. I know you don't believe me when I say it's cold here - and I know it's really bad in the UK at the moment - but I'm not trying to compete, just to say, when I say it's cold here, I really do mean it! There has been no snow this week but the temperatures are well below zero and all the way from Valladolid, the scenery was white, icy and frozen. I kept thinking of Wordsworth and 'The Prelude' which I studies at 'A' Level, several passages of which have stuck firm in my memory; there is a lovely section when he goes skating with friends:
          And in the frosty season, when the sun
          Was set, and visible for many a mile
          The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
          I heeded not their summons: happy time
          It was indeed for all of us--for me
          It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud 
          The village clock tolled six,--I wheeled about,
          Proud and exulting like an untired horse
          That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
          We hissed along the polished ice in games
          Confederate, imitative of the chase
          And woodland pleasures,--the resounding horn,
          The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.
          So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
          And not a voice was idle; with the din
          Smitten, the precipices rang aloud; 
          The leafless trees and every icy crag
          Tinkled like iron;

I love the alliteration of  'all shod with steel, we hissed along the polished ice..'  and the last two lines have always been favourites - and they come to my mind whenever I see a frozen landscape - and so it was today. Everything was tinkling like iron today.

Yes, this really is Spain!

We were going to Leon to haul out those boxes that we think we will need - or want - once we move down to Alcala la Real. Not necessarily to take with us the first day or so, but to pile up a bit of our 'home' so that Cesar can come back and get it once we've got ourselves settled. It's surprising what we have missed and what we haven't! I positively hugged my ironing board.... and Ruy was delighted that we found his wind-up bat torch.
Finding anything was a bit of a challenge:

Sofas and wardrobe?

More sofas

Looks like mainly chairs..

Upstairs in the barn..alsorts of things

Chairs and mattresses..

A few of the 100+ boxes

Definitely some pictures here

Some more boxes and more chairs!
But soon we'll be able to take it all out of the barn and put it in its new place, our new home..soon..well, hopefully in 2011.
For now, it's just sort of nice to see it again!

Saturday 18 December 2010

Alcalá la Real - where we are headed

Promotional video courtesy of YouTube

A very medieval town, dominated by the Moorish castle, called La Mota, Alcala la Real is in the south of the province of Jaen. It's close to the border with the provinces of both Granada and Cordoba and is just over one and a half hour's drive north of Malaga, the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean coastline.

I'm telling you this so you can start planning your visit - if a visit is what you would like. We intend to find a house big enough to take visitors. I'd prefer to have visitors I know or at least who sort of know me - which is nearly all of you. You will be welcome!

All around Alcala la Real is land on which olives are grown - and olive trees on the hillsides look absolutely spectacular. Since we lived in Andalucia - more the 14 years ago now - more and more olive groves have been planted and I was a little disappointed to see the real 'patchwork' effect had turned from a mixture of olives, native trees and empty, fallow land to olives as far as the eye could see. Raquel informed us that farmers had abused the grants available for planting olives up to a few years ago - they had been paid by the number of trees they planted and had been cutting down indigenous oaks in order to squeeze a few more olives in. Now, they are being more closely regulated and will be fined if they so much as lean on an oak - even if it's just to mop their brows. Hopefully, the landscape will adapt itself again before too long - some of the olives are planted in places where they can't possibly be harvested or tended to ... on steep cliffs tops and tiny patches of isolated land. Silly farmers.

Being proud of their medieval background and having a lovely castle to 'play' with - the authorities in the town organise a medieval fair every year and I found this spectacular photo on the 'Blog de Alcala'. (Apologies that I'm not putting the accent on the final 'a' every time - it should have one and I am mentally pronouncing the name with the accent on the last 'a' when I write it, so you must say it 'Alca Laah de Real'. Thank you.)

I hope I am whetting your appetite a little. Part of this attempt to sell Alcala la Real is to convince myself that it's a 'good' place to go to. It is a little scary; it's not as if we have done a lot of research other than reading things on the internet and driving through the place ..once. However, I think it looks very nice and I have always been on the medieval side of things - I like Chaucer and illustrated manuscripts and shawms and sackbutts. I am sure I am going to like Alcalá la Real too.

Friday 17 December 2010

Granada or chips.. or Jaen?

I've resisted committing to paper (well, the electronic stuff) our emerging plans for the new year in case we changed our minds yet again. But a few things have happened these past few weeks that have helped to crystallise things a little.
The first was before we were ill when Cesar was planning a visit to Guadix in Granada to arrange to rent a house for us. Having spoken to several agents it became clear that there were very few places available but when one asked if we were coming to work at the new solar plant, a penny dropped. A brand new, enormous solar plant is opening soon near Guadix and this particular agents admitted that they were being inundated with people moving into the area to either come and work there or to try and find work there and demand was by far outstripping supply.  It didn't take us very long to decide that at this time, Guadix was not for us - we already knew that there were only two spare places at the secondary school there and we couldn't bear to move down and find that these had gone before we had chance to get ourselves a home. SO - we made a momentous decision and decided we would head for a place that we visited during our time down in Granada, but that I didn't write about because we liked Guadix better at the time. This place is called Alcala la Real - and - oh gosh, it's NOT IN GRANADA! It's very, very close.... it's only just over the provincial border in Jaen.. but it's not in Granada.

Ver mapa más grande
We looked at a couple of old properties in the area around Alcala la Real but didn't really like any of them because they were a bit small though they both had lovely land with olive trees and almonds and cherries but the lovely estate agent, Raquel who was about 7 months pregnant and who felt like a real friend by the time we left her, insisted that we drive through Alcala before we left to go back to Guadix. She was very proud of her town and when we approached it, we could see why - it was a very beautiful place. Smaller than Guadix and with a quieter sense of it's own Moorish history but impressive nevertheless.
We've ummed and ahhed about it ever since but we both immediately felt that it was not worthwhile being determined to go to Guadix if it were to prove even slightly difficult when really... the whole of Andalucia lies in front of us with such a variety of lovely offerings that we couldn't fail to find somewhere else.
So that was the first thing.

The second has been the visit from my sister - which would always be a welcome occasion - but the timing of this particular visit has been a true godsend. As a family of five living with los abuelos, we have done extremely well for the past four months but when flu struck and resistance was low, a few little ructions started to emerge and the usually manageable irritations (let's call them that) became stress points (we'll call them that as well) and there have been a little fraying of tempers and the occasional flow of tears. Judy's arrival cleared the tension and we've ended the week back to our usual cheerful and jolly selves. From being desperate to get away, to run away, to be on our own again to make our own decisions about what we eat or when (cos that's been the main frustration - nothing much more!) - we're back on an even keel and looking forward to having a happy Christmas together and talking about how soon they can come and visit us. It's much better and makes leaving much more 'natural'.

And the final thing has been the lovely conversations we've had with the schools down there, where the people who answer the phone have been friendly, cheerful, informative and happy to discuss taking on a boy who will need a little extra help with his Spanish. Here, the school Mateo goes to has been very resistant to helping him and we've had to push and push to get his English teacher to understand that Mateo should not be doing the same things as the other Spanish children do in the lesson - that he knows how to answer questions such as: 'Do you have a dog?' or 'Have you any brothers?' - that he could be offered more challenge or focus on additional Spanish language support. Two weeks ago, they offered him some extra, after school classes - since which time, there has been a holiday and he's been ill and missed a couple of classes - so limited value. A city like Valladolid has a lot of tourism and people come from all over Europe and Asia to visit but immigrants who come to live here tend to come from other Hispanic countries and already speak Spanish. There are relatively few non-Spanish speakers in the schools and quite simply, the authorities are quite poor at providing for them. It's quite different in Andalucia as there is a wide influx of people from many different countries and so the language support is already in place. It will be quite a relief!!

So - we will be packing up and setting off soon after Christmas, weather permitting, for another adventure in our new life here in Spain. But for now, we will really enjoy the run up to Christmas, the preparations, the last days of school and the planning of our special meals together. In peace, not in pieces!

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Having a lovely time..

Well, my sister arrived safe and sound on Monday evening and we have yet to stop talking.. it's been great!
The children are absolutely delighted to have their auntie here with them too.

Yesterday and today, we have spent the morning in Valladolid, shopping - and taking in the sights of this beautiful city - and some rather nice coffee and more tapas.  Tapas are courtesy of our mum who most kindly provided us with a stash of cash that would buy us a whole month's worth! Thanks Mum - we're off out again tonight to try and do justice to your intentions.

Last night, we took on my in-laws at Escoba and won hands down - so there's a grudge match due this evening - my father-in-law doesn't like to be beaten. We're feeling confident!

Tomorrow, we will go to Simancas if the weather stays as sunny as it is and walk down by the river with Nemo and on Friday, we'll wrap Christmas presents and write cards together. And then, after maybe some more tapas - we'll have to wave goodbye and hope that the next visit will bring her to our new home.

Christmas feels like it will be good. I feel more organised and we've decorated the house. We have also turned a corner recently; the pleasure of living so closely with relatives was wearing a bit thin but the arrival of my sister has helped to ease the little irritations away completely and I know that by the time Noche Buena has been and gone - in just over a week - we really will feel that parting is such sweet sorrow and be genuinely sad that our time here will have come to an end.

And where are we going...?

I'll know better in a day or so I hope!!

Monday 13 December 2010

Hurray, hurray!

My sister is coming to stay!! (Well, for a few days, that is.) Couldn't be happier!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Instead of a cold..

This week, when most of us have been snuffling, sniffing, sneezing and other less palatable things, Romy has been in the rudest of health. She really is a tough one. And she was very brave yesterday because we should have all been going to listen to the school choir sing in Salamanca and we couldn't go. Both Romy and Ruy are important choir members as they both have excellent voices and love to sing. But we were too unwell to go and we are very sorry, Romy, and very sorry CEIP Kantica.

Instead of having a cold, Romy decided this week, she would learn to ride a bike. For years, she has really resisted the idea. She used to ride a little bike with stabilisers but when this became too small, she adamantly refused to have a go on a bigger one without the stabilisers - which is most unlike her as she's definitely a 'have a go' girl. So, we left it. She's been rollerskating instead recently.

However, Cesar was clearing out the shed in his parent's garden earlier this week and discovered about 5 old bikes - and he had the strange but ultimately brilliant idea of removing the pedals from one of them.

The theory was that if Romy tried riding the bike, using her feet to move her along rather than pedals, she would get a better idea of how to balance..
She agreed to give it a go

One foot up.. or is it down?

Look - no feet!

I think this is a moment of victory.

This morning , I took a 'recuperation' stroll to the plaza - and there was my daughter, riding a bike with pedals and no stabilisers as if she'd been doing it all her life!

Looks like we might have to get her a bigger bike soon! (To say nothing of some new, longer jeans!!)

Saturday 11 December 2010

Normal service will be resumed soon - I hope!

I have so missed writing my blog and reading others these past few days, but I have been feeling SO ill that I simply could do neither.
I have laid in a darkened room, sneezing, with sad, leaking eyes and a running nose - alternately hot or shivering. And poor Ruy has it too - though he seems to be dealing with better than me.
I'm exhausted now - (hand to brow for dramatic effect) I will return. Weak, brave smile.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Snuffle and sneeze

Yes, I am sneezing, spluttering and feeling very sorry for myself today. Mateo has been ill since Monday - he's always ill when it's a school holiday, poor thing. I expect he'll be feeling fine to go back tomorrow though he is still coughing quite a lot.
Ruy has also started and Amelia too. And I knew last night - I felt the little bug..s creeping up on me and by the middle of the night, I was shivery and sneezy and dozy (and most of the other dwarves as well apart from Happy!)

Oh well, cold should be gone by Christmas. We are planning on being here for Christmas, at least for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) and for Christmas Day. There is an increasing number of Spanish households that accept delivery of presents from 'Papa Noel' on Christmas Day but the main present-bringers are the Kings, who come on 6th January. And of course, that means TWO lots of presents!

I feel rather detached from Christmas this year. All my lovely Christmas things are in the barn in Leon and I have reached the point where a lot of my life feels a bit suspended until I have my own things around me again. Which hopefully will be soon - soon in 2011. We are hanging on here with each day being just a bit more difficult but that's only because we have decided to go - go south, go to Andalucia - on 27th December. We have decided to rent a holiday house for the short term and look for our home from there. It has been impossible to look for something here - the internet is good but the photos of properties all need to be taken with a pinch of salt, more for what they DON'T show that for what they do! I am getting quite desperate for us to establish ourselves in a place we can call home. However grateful we are to have had a home for the past 4 months or so, it's not our home, it has nothing of us here and without it, I do just feel as though I am marking time. And it's scary how fast time goes - so in effect, I sometimes feel as though I am wasting time. But that's because I feel sorry for myself today. I'm not heading for Slough again and I'm going to try and make our last two and a half weeks here really good fun. When I feel better, that is.

I have been knitting recently and finished a jumper for Cesar that I started back in May when I thought we were going to live in La Urz, in Leon, in a cold chilly place! It's the thickest, warmest jumper ever and made from lots of different scraps of wool - new and old. It's different back and front and the sleeves are also 'independent' colour-wise. On purpose, honest. ( I'm rubbish at following knitting patterns but as the original for this was one colour, I chose my different shades on a fairly random basis!)

When it's not actually on Cesar

It looks best draped over a chair

I had some labels made - wish I'd thought of a better name. (Suggestions please!)

Before I left England, I bought two enormous hanks of wool from British Breed Wools in Halifax, near where I used to live. It's a thick/thin yarn in a natural cream colour and it is just gorgeous! I've been saving it for a time when I could knit something for myself and that time has arrived. I'm knitting a shawl..just because I want one.. though I probably won't need it in the south of Spain! However, I've decided it will become an heirloom. Here's where I've got to thus far - and this is the size of a ball of wool that weighs 500g! Isn't it just wonderful!

Big hank, big ball = big shawl

Tuesday 7 December 2010

What's in a name?

I was thinking about my friend, Jenny - musician, nurse, baker, card-maker, creator and inspirer inspirator .. (inspiring person doesn't do it but you know what I mean - was IS the word?) a person with much 'can do' about her. I was thinking about the very first day we met, which was at a band rehearsal in Leeds many years ago. It was the day I joined the band and Jenny came in with a brand new bass clarinet of which she was very proud. Jenny always calls a spade a spade and she introduced me to her new instrument by calling it 'the dog's bollocks of bass clarinets' - by which, by her tone of voice, I assumed she meant something good. Anyway, from that moment on, we were friends and the bass was always called 'DB'.

In more recent years, Jenny has moved on to playing saxophone - progressively bigger ones. Now she's playing a new and rather special baritone saxophone*. 'DB' would be a pretty good name for this monster but for some reason Jenny requested her friends to think of a name for it. The name needed to be.. and I quote - something 'French and trollopy'. I felt game for the challenge and put my mind to work but nothing right would come. I didn't like any of the names that others thought of either. So I tried to forget about it. And isn't it strange how the mind keeps on working in the background? Just before I went to bed that evening, like a lightbulb going on, it came to me - unsummoned unsummonsed  (why today of all days can't I find the right words??) without being summoned .. and I was so pleased, I can't tell you! I giggled my way to Facebook and ignoring the other suggestions, such as Emmanuelle, Fifi and Annette von Parpsalot (which is funny but not very French) proudly announced the name of the new sax - Bari Antoinette!! It is perfect and I'm still pleased and I know Jenny likes it.

And this thought led me on to other cherished memories relating to words and names. Around the time I met Jenny - a musical, single, indulgent time - I had a friend who was planning on opening a music shop and I was charged with the task of selecting a name. On a visit to my sister's, I broached the subject with my brother-in-law, Rob - who loves words, puns, verbal images and the like - and we sat down together to try and think of something. It took him less than 30 seconds once he had the brief - a name for a shop that sells woodwind instruments. How could anyone not think of 'Windstruments'? Perfect. And now, confession time, when I went back to my friend and presented the name - I never actually said that Rob had thought of it. The name proved so popular with everyone and they all thought I was so clever that I forgot to mention where it really came from. Sorry Rob!

In deference to Rob's wit, can I share another memorable wordy exchange I had with him one day. Rob's a keen cook and bakes delicious, exciting bread - yes, exciting! This particular day's cooking involved some mozzarella cheese. The exchange went something like this :  

Rob: Bloody expensive, this mozzarella.
Me: It's probably bufalo.
Rob: Buffalo! Don't fancy milking one of those. Didn't think there were buffalo in Italy.
Me: Yes - bufalo - only one 'f' in bufalo  - in Italy.

Rob......(just a moments pause) No wonder it's so effin' expensive.

His timing was perfect and the conversation is captured in my mind like an excellent comedy sketch forever. Thanks Rob.

And on the subject of words and things that make me laugh about words - when I first met Cesar, his command of the English language was still in development, though boy, was he game to practice and try out what little he had! He was enthusiastic and confident and wholly unembarrassed which resulted in some wonderful little moments. The first day we met, he and another friend of mine came back to my flat and we were talking music and Cesar got onto the subject of Beethoven. He was describing how when he listened to Beethoven's 9th he imagined " being in a chariot being pulled along by six black whores" - an image I found quite stunning - but had to ask... 'why black?'
After a little further questioning, turns out he actually meant black horses....................

He had some famous struggles with some words, such as 'crisps' and 'wasps' but my personal favourite was unbelievable, which always came out as 'unveliebavle'. And as we lay in bed last night, I was thinking about all these things and I asked him if there were any words he still struggled with in English. There was a very long pause and I thought he'd fallen asleep or couldn't be bothered to answer... then he came out with one! It was:
Supercalafragelisticexpialadotious. I laughed a lot!!

Editor's note:
* got my story wrong and put 'bass' saxophone first draft - Jen soon noticed and put me right - see comment below. Thanks Jen!

Monday 6 December 2010

Small joys of the English Language

Romy came into my bed this morning as I had yet another lie in (Sunday morning excuse) and brought a word search puzzle book with her.

We were searching for words relating to 'In the Kitchen' in the puzzle and I explained how it helped to look for the first letter of the object she was trying to find. So she started her search and she was so pleased to find her first word - cup. She carefully crossed it off the list. And continued her search.

When she got to saucepan - a word almost as big as 'wheelbarrow' or 'marmalade' (remember these words, Caroline?) she had a moment of hesitation - convinced that such a big word would be really hard to find.

But using the same technique of starting with the first letter, she was absolutely delighted to find it almost straightaway. When I said it was a good technique, she was very quick to correct me by telling me her success was due to her being 'good looking'. 


I wouldn't argue with that.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Tapas in town; churros en casa

Saturday - first day of holiday (another!) here in Spain. It's Spanish Constitution Day on 6th - though I haven't yet managed to find out what this means - I'm working on it. More importantly (apparently), on 8th it is the day of the 'Inmaculada Concepción' - which I find a bit hard to get my head round - timing's definitely wrong in my book if today is the day of the immaculate conception - ¿no? I leave you to ponder and, if possible, to explain. It could be related to the changes in the calendar over the years - I had to look this up recently when Romy asked me why there were some months with more days than others. It's very complicated and there's no easy answer that I can share here - but just consider this. September, October, November and December are named for their position in the original calendar.. seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth respectively. And going back a long time, March was the first month of the year, coinciding, as it did with Spring and the new year (in northern hemispheres at least!) and that might be why February was cut a bit shorter. And then the Roman emperors started interferring.. and oh gosh, I am getting seriously sidetracked here!

Starting again - here in Spain we have five days of holiday - two at the weekend then three more without school! Hurray!! So, on Saturday, we wrapped up warm and trotted into Valladolid to soak up a bit of atmosphere and try out a few tapas. Not something we do very often for reasons of economy and that fact that our children have neverending appetites!

Before we even got to try our first tapa, we were stopped by the sight of a beautiful old carousel in the middle of the Plaza Mayor. Mateo and I wanted to go on, but decided against but Ruy and Romy were tempted onto a top tier horse each.

Then we hit the 'Marisqueria' - seafood speciality. We were lucky to find a table!

And although we didn't have to wait long, we were treated to a few impressions by Ruy - I didn't capture 'Wolverine' - shame.

And then, I am ashamed to say, I put my camera down and ate patatas bravas and mussels in a piquant, chilli sauce and Cesar and I drank cerveza con gaseosa (shandy!) and I forgot to take photos of any of it!! So we had to go to our favourite place for pinchos morunos - delicious, spicy lamb kebabs.
They arrived good and hot from the fire!

And they were pronounced good!

 Too good for words, really.

Good enough to fight for a bit!

And all that was good but when we got home, we felt it was the sort of day to press Yayo into churro production..

And Yaya into hot chocolate production!

A delicious day!!