Sunday, January 18, 2015

Empty nest once more

A month felt like such a long time when the family arrived, in the middle of December. The weather was pleasant, and although their main aim was to relax and have 'family time', with a few walks and games, we had other plans, when opportunity arose: perhaps a first dip in the sea for David. Perhaps a day or two out somewhere other than Larnaka. Richard had a few household jobs to do which he thought would be more enjoyable with Daniel. And they had a list of people they wanted to see.

But there was plenty of time....

The first few days were spent settling in, letting David become accustomed to us, establishing some kind of loose pattern to the day. There were Christmas gifts to wrap, mince pies to make, and general shopping and cooking. We played a few games, saw our close local friends once or twice, and looked forward to a Christmas as a complete family.

Christmas was good. Boxing Day was relaxing, other than Tim getting to the airport for ten days in the UK.

Then suddenly New Year's Eve was upon us. We spent a few hours with our good friends but were all tired; none of us stayed up to midnight. On New Year's Day we had some other friends for lunch, and that was good too. But we couldn't figure out what had happened to the intervening days... did the end of December just vanish, wiped out by the history monks?

Never mind, we thought. There were still two-and-a-half weeks together. Lots of time to get things done, without the distraction of Christmas.

But the weather was bad, so rather than going out we stayed indoors. And the practicalities of life with a baby mean that more mundane things don't get done. I spent a lot of time shopping and cooking and cleaning the kitchen, and we sat around meal tables eating and chatting and enjoying being together. David progressed to eating three 'solid' meals each day: an adult-sized portion of porridge with a mashed banana at breakfast, and usually something like stewed/pureed apples and pears at lunchtime, carrots and sweet potatoes, or home-made soup for dinner. I enjoyed making his main meals and freezing increasingly large sized portions; but with that, and family cooking (both meat and vegetarian), and extra things like making ketchup, lemonade, granola, coconut milk (etc) the days filled up rapidly.

David is an absolute delight, but is quite an intense baby needing a lot of attention. He keeps his parents busy at night, still waking at least twice; more when he's teething. He's cut one good tooth and several others are about to poke through. We've seen him put on weight and a little chubbiness, we've seen his balance improving when he sits, and a determination to walk before he crawls. His babbling has turned into attempts at individual words. He loves to smile at Grandpa and play with Grandma (yes, that's me!) It's been the most amazing privilege to spend the past month with such a delightful little boy and see his progress.

A week ago, three of us (thankfully not including David) caught the flu. Mine was relatively mild; Daniel's was unpleasant but short-lived; Richard's was draining and left him with a nasty cough. So there were no trips out. Most of the planned household jobs didn't get done. Daniel and Becky managed to see a couple of people on their list, but no more. The sea was far too cold to think of David taking even a tiny paddle.

And then it was their last day.

I was about to text Sheila to arrange when to meet for our early morning walk when Daniel and David appeared in our part of the house. They decided to come with us, David in the 'ergo' carrier which Sheila has lent them. It was lovely to have them with us and they both enjoyed four kilometres along the trail, though it started to spit with rain by the time we got home.

We decided to go out to lunch, to a little cafe Daniel and Becky had been to on their own a couple of times,. We took his last container of fruit puree and David demonstrated just how much he liked it: 

We thought about ice cream afterwards but it was still chilly so we came home. Then the afternoon flew past while they packed. 

We had a sandwich at the airport before saying goodbye, and although I felt sad, we knew it was time for them to return home and to their own lives. Adult children have to move on and we were so thrilled that they had been willing to spend so long with us. We watched them go, and I remained dry-eyed. 

I got up this morning and determined to catch up with email, and photos, and write a blog post. And everything was just fine... 

... until I sat down for lunch. 

I caught sight of the empty high chair. 

And I broke down completely. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Windy and cold in Cyprus!

Usually I walk along the Salt Lake trail with my friend Sheila three times per week, setting off soon after sunrise.

However, during the first week of January I didn't walk at all - and Sheila didn't either. She was unwell, and the weather was wild. There were high winds and heavy rain over several days.

So it was a whole week into the New Year before we went out, well wrapped up and wondering what rain and wind damage there might be.

The Salt Lake looked very full:

We set out in our usual direction towards the aqueduct, but it wasn't long before we saw this blocking the trail:

We managed to step around it without getting wet and continued on our way... but not far. This was ahead of us:

The ground around was squelchy and we didn't want to get our feet wet.

So we turned back and walked in the other direction towards the Airport Road. The path was clear and although the sky was cloudy, we had a good view of the lake with the mountains in the distance, and an astonishing number of flamingoes (the little pink dots on this picture; if you click it, you might see them a little more clearly).

Sheila was very sad, however, to see that this ancient tree had finally been uprooted by the storm:

The roots were so rotten we wondered how it had remained standing for so long.

Back home, I moved the cat bed by a radiator for Cleo, who has never liked cold weather. She was very happy:

The wind died down, and the rain stopped... but the temperatures started to fall. On Friday Larnaka was colder than London, and overnight the temperature dropped as low as 1C - colder than I can remember it being. 

So when we went out for a walk on Saturday morning, even more warmly wrapped (I even wore gloves) there was frost on some of the weeds; unusual in Cyprus, and rather pretty:

I'm not sure if these weeds will have survived this cold snap:

There was even ice on some of the puddles:

We walked briskly, skirting our way around the obstacles this time to reach the aqueduct, but even after 4km of walking I didn't feel warm.

Thankfully the temperatures have risen somewhat today, and the sun was out. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 draws to a close

Time races by faster and faster as we get older. It feels as if I've just got used to writing 2014 and in a couple of days it will be 2015. It's been an amazing year, the one in which we became grandparents for the first time, and we're thrilled to have had the family together for most of the last couple of weeks of this year and the first couple of weeks of next year.

On Christmas Eve we took a walk into the town after dark with David in his buggy, to check the PO Box one more time, and to see some of the lights:

On Christmas morning I par-boiled potatoes, cut up carrots and set the Christmas puddings steaming first thing. Most of us went to a church service at 10.00 then it was back home to open some presents: 

David quickly got used to the idea of opening parcels - most of his presents are in the UK to enjoy when he gets home again, but he seemed to appreciate the ones he had here: 

Then around noon we put the carved turkey, potatoes, sausages (etc) in the oven and prepared the tables for fifteen: 

In the event, David slept for two hours, meaning that Daniel and Becky could enjoy their lunch and chat with our friends before he needed attention.

We played some games in the afternoon, though I didn't remember to take any photos. We ate more food, and cut the Christmas cake, then when our friends left we watched a silly Christmas film.

On Boxing Day we ate leftovers, and played a game of Seafarers, during which one of David's primo 'people' took over as the robber:

Tim went to the UK on Boxing Day, as flights are good value on a day when most people don't want to fly; he was able to get to my family's annual get-together yesterday, and is attending a friend's wedding in Scotland on Saturday. Apparently there's snow in the UK now so we hope it mostly holds off for another week.  

Meanwhile, the weather remains sunny and not too chilly in Cyprus. Two more parcels were in our PO Box today and there are still some to come. It's quite fun having an extended Christmas. 

I doubt if I'll write anything tomorrow, so let me take this opportunity of wishing everyone:

Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

In some senses it feels like so little time since Christmas Eve a year ago when I posted a picture of my hastily-decorated Christmas cake.

This year's, other than being round rather than square, is remarkably similar:

Backtracking a little, I made more mince pies, printed out newsletters emailed by friends, and did various other bits and pieces during the third week of Advent, but the most exciting event was the arrival of our son Daniel with his wife Becky and our six-month old grandson David.  It's the first time they've come to Cyprus for Christmas since they were married. 

David is a total delight - as far as we're concerned, anyway. He's still waking a fair bit at night, and fussing sometimes while feeding, and getting angry when he's over-tired.  But during the day he's mostly a very happy little chap, who wants, more than anything, to walk. I'm loving being a hands-on Grandma for a few weeks.

Here he is when one of our small friends put a fluffy halo on him: 

Their first few days flew past, and at the end of the week we followed what has become a family tradition, and ate out at Alexander's on the sea front:

David showed a worrying tendency to want to drink beer: 

Thankfully the bottle was empty - and it was removed from him before he got his mouth on it!

On Monday I emailed our annual newsletter to various family and friends around the world, on Tuesday I iced the cake. This morning I made more mince pies and an extra dessert for tomorrow, then we did all the Christmas Eve shopping and Tim came over to make stuffing and cook the turkey. He also made a nut roast for Daniel, and some peppermint creams. He chopped some veg, and, this evening, peeled a large number of potatoes.

This afternoon I put our newsletter on our family site; in the evening I wrapped some presents. Richard carved the turkey ready for re-heating tomorrow, then we had our now traditional Christmas Eve supper of 'Souvlaki Express' take-away food. The turkey stock needs to be strained, and the floor badly needs mopping.. the tree needs to be stood up again as the kittens had another go at it yesterday, and I don't feel nearly as calm or 'ready' as I did last year.. but I can't think of too much else that needs to be done.

So, a very merry Christmas to anyone who happens to read this.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Second week of Advent

The week started well. The builders came to work on our roof: installing loft insulation in one part, and - they hoped - fixing and cleaning the place where we have had major leaking (over our stairs) every time it rains.

So once again I abandoned any idea of cleaning and set to work to make some humus and also some mince pies. Later in the morning was the monthly meeting of the Larnaka Christian writing group, and our annual Christmas potluck meal:

It was a good meeting and a lively and enjoyable lunch, a good start to Christmas celebrations.

The following morning, Sheila and three of her children came over for what has become an annual tradition: they helped me put up our Christmas tree:

Actually, they did the work after I retrieved the boxes, and I mostly just took photos. I did remember to hang last year's cards, many of which did not arrive until January:

Post seems to be better this year, and we've already received ten cards, which are now displayed on a bookcase. I will keep them along with any more that arrive between now and the end of January, and re-show them next Christmas. If people take the time and trouble to send us cards, I think they deserve a good long display. And they make nice extra decorations hung up like this.

K and H had some discussion about how exactly the nativity people should be displayed:

Eventually the tree was done, and in place. Happily the kittens had stayed upstairs and asleep while we sorted out the lights and hung the tinsel. They were very interested in the tree:

They seemed to consider that we had kindly hung up some nice shiny cat toys. Alex carefully batted as many as he could off the tree and they chased them around the floor while we retrieved as many as we could and hung them back again...

There was a brief diversion while our new sofa (and the re-covered two-seater) arrived and were put in place:

The material is rather different, and felt a bit creased, or crushed... however when Tim arrived later he said it was quite a modern look. So that's all right.

Unfortunately the kittens were not distracted for long. They spent a lot of time pulling yet more things off the tree, and trying to eat the branches. Alex even attempted to suckle on the lights (which we had turned off by that stage) but, thankfully, he gave that up as a bad job.

It didn't take long for the inevitable to happen:

.. and again. And again. Oddly, when it's lying on its side, they leave it alone.

So. This week, I've made my first batch of mince pies and put up the decorations. I've put the tree up several times. I've also finalised and printed our family newsletter and written cards - fewer and fewer each year, as more and more people turn to electronic greetings. I even posted them. I think we've finished all our gift shopping too, the majority of it online.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

One week into Advent

It's been quite a stressful week, in a low-key kind of way. I don't deal well with chaos; nor, apparently, do I deal well with empty rooms, day after day. This is what we almost got used to:

While the dining room was crowded with furniture. I was surprised at how stressed I became, more so each day as the building work continued inside and out. Not that the builders caused any trouble at all: they did an excellent job, and cleaned up after themselves every day. We were very impressed, and asked them to do some other things around the house too.

The kittens had to be shut away when plastering and painting were happening in the living room, and as soon as they were let into the room, they wanted to investigate everything:

Alex blogged about the building work too.

On Friday morning the last of the inside work was done and we were able to move things back to their normal places. We're still waiting for one new sofa and one re-covered one, but at least the room no longer echoes badly, and I feel so much more relaxed with the rug, curtains and so on in place again:

Just in case things were getting too peaceful, Richard decided to look for some paintings to put in what was Tim's room. Our 'spare' paintings (mostly from one or other of our grandmothers) were in a closet in my study, which had become a general dumping ground for old pieces of cloth (from curtains, mainly), not-quite-finished needlework projects, soft toy stuffing, random ornaments, old boxes...

Everything ended up on my floor and I commented that the closet would be much easier to organise with a couple of extra shelves. And then I realised there were two shelves in high cupboards which I couldn't easily reach, even standing on a chair. So we got those out, and Richard trimmed them to size, and we bought some little shelf-hanging thingies... and I re-organised the closet completely. That was quite a job but it looks so much better now.

As for my December daily tasks, they've been a whole lot more random than I had hoped. Still, in seven days (including today) I have acquired a poinsettia, made mincemeat, made Christmas puddings, written our family newsletter, designed and ordered calendars, and done almost all the online Christmas shopping for family both here and in the UK. I've also uploaded and ordered photos from June through to the end of December. That's not specifically for Christmas but it makes a seventh task!

I still want to do some other food preparation, and have to write and post cards this week as well as the final bits of gift shopping; we also need to do a lot of food shopping and order our turkey. At some point I'll marzipan and ice the cake. And we'll put up the tree and other (minimal) decorations. But still, given that I've had to work around a fairly chaotic house, I'm glad to have achieved as much as I have.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Mincemeat Managed!

Today dawned - unusually - grey and misty. Still, it was somewhat less chilly than it was at the end of last month, and I didn't feel too cold as I set out on my thrice-weekly 5km walk with my friend Sheila.

It was quite unusual that the mountains in the distance were almost invisible, and we saw flamingoes rather closer than usual - I still had to zoom the camera somewhat to snap them, but think they're visible if you click the image to enlarge it:

Since I had my camera out, I also snapped these bushes which looked quite colourful despite the time of year, although they would probably have looked rather better with some sunshine:

Back home and we expected workmen to arrive at 7.30am. They actually arrived about 8.15, but then impressed us with their speed, efficiency and general neatness.  

The main reason we had to get workmen in was because part of the balcony outside my study is collapsing. This is due to water getting into the 'rebar' that holds it up. Richard has been saying for a while that we should ask someone to look at it, since cracks were appearing... but when chunks of concrete started falling a few weeks ago, it turned into a more urgent situation. 

Since the guy (recommended by a friend) seemed very competent, we also asked him to deal with some loose plaster problems by our guest flat front door, as well as some bubbles on our living room ceiling where - a few years ago - we had a leak. Oh, and some problem plaster at the foot of the indoor staircase, which we think is caused by our regular roof leak, as water dribbles down the stairs during rainstorms, and gets into the wall. 

Within a couple of hours of the workmen's arrival, the balcony concrete was chipped away and the rebar painted with a water-resistant product. 

I decided that, since I now had some veggie suet, I would make this year's mincemeat today. I weighed out most of the ingredients, and then Richard said that they workmen were going to start on the indoor plaster preparation. 

So they came in, and we had to shut the kittens in the kitchen; since I didn't want to be imprisoned there, I abandoned the mincemeat and shut myself in my study.  It wasn't long before the patch at the foot of the stairs was chipped away and coated: 

As was the ceiling, where the plaster had been bubbly and flaking: 

They then brushed the floor and left it to dry for 24 hours; it all looks very neat and tidy, albeit rather bare. 

Sheila arrived shortly afterwards with her four-and-a-half-year old who just wanted to be read to today: 

After lunch, I finally succeeded in completing this year's mincemeat. It looked like a huge quantity in the bowl, but I like to pack it quite firmly, and it all fit inside one medium sized plastic container: 

However I weighed it, and it was 1.84kg in all. Slightly surprised at this odd amount I realised that it's almost exactly 4lb in imperial units.  It's an old family recipe so I suppose it was calculated to be an exact number of pounds.

Since a lot of people buy just one 450g jar of mincemeat for their mince pies, I reckon that four times as much ought to be plenty... this quantity usually is.

So that's two tasks to cross off my pre-Christmas list.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The best-made plans.... can sometimes be improved upon!

During November I took part in NaNoWriMo. Along with one of my sons and the daughter of a local friend, I succeeded in writing 50,000 words as the first draft of a novel. I did it a couple of years ago too and nothing ever came of it, but it was an interesting exercise - and quite time-consuming towards the end, when, inevitably, I fell behind on word count for a while.

November 30th was Advent Sunday, so I thought I might do as I did last year and allocate one 'task' per day in Christmas preparation. Possibly even two per day for the first two weeks of the month, since the rest of the family will be arriving on December 16th. I jotted down a list this morning: order presents, make mincemeat, write newsletter, post cards, decorate the tree, buy a poinsettia... that kind of thing. Perfectly manageable if I just plan to do one per day, starting now. The only thing I've done so far is to make our Christmas cake: I'm not one of those people who has Christmas sorted by the end of October.

Looking at the list, I thought that making mincemeat would be a simple, relaxing (and quick) job for today. I mentally checked the ingredients off in my mind.. then I realised I had no suet. Oh well, I thought, I'll pop around the corner later this morning and buy some at the local supermarket.

I was about to get out the feather duster and vacuum cleaner to start my usual Monday-morning blitz of the main floor of the house when I remembered... tomorrow morning, a workman is coming to repair some bubbled plaster in the ceiling and also by the stairs, where it got damp (about four years ago, if I recall correctly. We're really not very good at getting things done quickly). Any kind of cleaning right before plaster is being removed seemed like a pointless exercise.

So, the planned cleaning was abandoned, or at least postponed.

Then Richard said that perhaps we should start moving furniture out of the living room. That triggered some decisions we had been pondering for a while. We had talked about buying a futon or similar to go in what was Tim's bedroom. But we couldn't find anything appropriate. I pointed out that we had a perfectly good sofa bed in my study (I think it's only been used on three occasions since we moved here, as we have a separate guest flat downstairs, but it's good to have it just in case). I proposed moving it upstairs and putting one of our two-seat sofas in its place. Richard has been wanting a three-seat sofa and the only way we could fit one in our living room is to get rid of - or move - one of the two-seat sofas.

So we started to move the sofa bed. We got as far as the living room, but it's pretty heavy. No way could I move it up the stairs.

However, moving one of the two-seat sofas into my study was easy enough, and looked much better than the sofa-bed ever did. Joan of Arc approved: 

The problem was that now I had nowhere for the boxes of Lego that were tidily housed underneath the sofa bed. So we moved some other boxes in a study closet to Tim's old room, and the Lego then fit in the closet in the study. 

We moved the other sofa into our dining room, then started moving the (digital) piano. But that was really too heavy for me, too: 

So then Richard moved the television into the dining room, and I took a photo showing the sofa at the far end, the piano half-way, and the TV unit denuded of the TV: 

We did all this gradually, in between other things, and a friend came soon afterwards to help move the piano and the sofa-bed.  

When we were eating lunch, it felt as if we were in a second-hand furniture store that wasn't very well-organised...

After lunch we went into town to the furniture shop where we bought the two-seat sofas, nearly ten years ago. None of the furniture on display looked like the kind we wanted, but when we explained to a helpful assistant what we were looking for, he knew at once what we were describing, and found 'our' style of sofa in an ancient catalogue. They are made locally, he said, and we could certainly have a three-seater, in a covering of our choice. The price was even better than we had expected. 

We couldn't find the same material - since I had taken a photo earlier I could even show him what our sofas look like and he said he remembered the material, but it was no longer available. However, there was another one which was similar, which we liked, and when Richard asked about having one of the sofas re-covered (the cats pretty much destroyed the back of one of them) he gave us a good quote.

So we should have a three-seater sofa delivered in about a week. 

Just as I was thinking that the Christmas day-by-day tasks weren't even going to get started, we walked past a shop with some healthy looking poinsettias outside, at about half the price we would expect to pay elsewhere. 

So we bought one. 

I then remembered that they are supposed to be toxic to cats, and Alex is into everything.. but, happily, Snopes confirmed that poinsettias are fine. Just as well since Alex was indeed very interested: 

Next I decided to go to our local Micro supermarket to buy some veggie suet, and perhaps make mincemeat tomorrow.

There was no suet in the shop. 

Then I received a text from Tim, saying that as we had both completed NaNoWriMo, he would like to treat me - and perhaps Richard too - for ice cream. And when he heard that I was hunting, in vain, for suet, he said he was about to go to Metro supermarket and would get me some there. 

Half an hour later, Tim arrived with some suet.. and we went out, not just for ordinary ice cream, but for Haagen Dazs. Tim and Richard are dairy-free and Tim's extensive research into alternatives has led him to conclude that this company makes the best raspberry sorbet he has ever tried.  

I opted for the wonderful strawberry cheesecake... although I had a couple of tastes of the raspberry sorbet, too, and it was very good indeed. 

To sum up the day: 
  • Plans:  cleaning, making mincemeat
  • Actuality: moving furniture, ordering a new sofa, buying a poinsettia, eating Haagen Dazs ice cream
I'm not really into spontaneity, but it seems to me that the actuality was a vast improvement on the former...and since we now have a poinsettia, I've even done my first step towards Christmas.