Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sleepover, revisited

Just under a year ago, we had three young friends to stay for 27 hours. Their older siblings were away at camp, and their parents enjoyed some time to themselves, for once. It was tiring, but - overall - quite fun, and although we hadn't really talked about repeating the experience, we decided to do so again this year.

The youth group camp started Tuesday, so we agreed that the three younger children could come Wednesday morning, and stay until after lunch on Thursday. So, first thing Wednesday I did my usual Wednesday housework (changing our sheets, putting sheets/towels to wash, cleaning upstairs...) and also cleaned out the air conditioner in our second bedroom, which we hadn't, so far, done this year. It was very dirty indeed!

Then I put some yogurt on to make, and boiled some eggs, and thawed some cheese, and cut up some vegetables, and put bread ingredients in the breadmaker.

By ten o'clock I was showered and prepared for the onslaught arrival of our friends, only to receive a text saying they would be a bit late. So I decided to pre-empt the likely requests of the children, and found a few websites with printable paper dolls to colour and cut. They have made lots of them before, only to end up losing them. They're no longer allowed to make them at their house, so I decided to print three of each of several kinds, and allocate each girl an envelope so they could keep them here, in a cupboard, and play with them when they're at our house.

By 11.00 they had taken their pillows and luggage upstairs, and were thrilled by the paper dolls to colour.

They kept on thanking me, which was nice.  Elisabeth (5) needed a bit of help cutting the first ones out, as she told me she would probably cut the tabs off the clothes by mistake.  But Helen (nearly 7) was fine, although she said she didn't like cutting as much as she likes colouring:

I thought the activity might last half an hour or so before they got bored. However, I hoped they would keep coming back to them every so often. I underestimated them... Helen and Katie kept going almost all day.

Katie, who is ten, asked if she could update her blog in the afternoon. She is ten now, and started it recently under her mother's supervision.  I was impressed at how fast she types; she doesn't touch-type yet, but is far more competent than she was even a few months ago.

Even more impressively, she figured out how to use my webcam to take a photo to put in her blog post. I had no idea my webcam could be used for taking photos...

Elisabeth was the first to get bored of colouring; she also didn't take as much care as her sisters, so finished several of the dolls and their clothes much more quickly. Then she told me she could now read and was going to read the book 'Titch' to me.

We didn't get very far, because she was annoyed at the spelling of the name 'Pete', Titch's brother. She didn't think there should be an 'e' at the end. She explained patiently that the last sound is 'ttttttt' so the final letter ought to be a 't'. I pointed out that if it was just spelled 'p-e-t' then it would make the word 'pet'. She nodded, but felt that the second e should be before the t, not after it.  She has a point...

When she then found that the word 'bike' also ends with 'e' she gave up in disgust.

Helen, meanwhile, who had been colouring a doll version of Lucy (from the Narnia series) said she thought it very funny that Lucy's name was spelled 'Lucky'. I said that the word 'lucky' had a 'k' in it too, and then we had a discussion about when the letter 'c' makes the 's' sound.

So that was their phonics for the day...

Elisabeth got out a bag of paper coasters and cookies and other items of food that she has made over many weeks, when she's here with her mother on Tuesday mornings. None of us really wanted to play one of her long-winded cookie games, so she coerced the large white doll to play.

She had to put some thought into what to feed the doll; I think she allowed him (or perhaps her... the doll is of unspecified gender) some bread in the end. She told me, with a little shake of her head, that she couldn't allow him to have any chocolate because he always gets himself in such a mess when he eats chocolate.

Only those who have seen Elisabeth eating chocolate (or, worse, chocolate cake) can appreciate the wonderful irony of this statement.

Helen was still patiently colouring in her paper dolls' clothes...

Finally they all decided to put the colouring aside for a while and play a game. Ligretto is their current favourite, though I gather Elisabeth only learned how to play it a couple of days ago. It's a game I enjoy, although I'm not very good at it; when playing with experts I usually manage to get two or three cards down by the time someone else has finished. However, these three were at around my level and I even went out first a couple of times.

At lunch we had eaten bread with cheese, and eggs, and chopped up carrots/cucumbers/peppers, and coleslaw, and hummus, and one or two other random things from the fridge. That was straightforward.

However I wasn't entirely sure what to give the girls for their evening meal. I haven't done any cooking, other than on Sundays, for over a month now. We've been eating salads in the evenings, with some form of protein, and no extra starches. But I didn't think that would go down well. Richard spent the afternoon sailing with some friends and had taken some halloumi and pittas to cook on the boat so he wasn't in the equation.

I didn't want to turn the oven on, and haven't used the slow cooker since early July. But we had some sausages in the freezer, so I asked if the girls would like those. They said that would be a great idea. I thought we could have them in pittas, with salad, but then discovered Richard had taken all the pittas from our freezer. One of the girls said she liked sausages with 'noodles' so I cooked some spaghetti, and also refried some roast potatoes that were in the freezer. I knew they wouldn't want cooked vegetables, so out came the chopped ones from lunch, and the coleslaw.

I asked if any of them liked fried onions; they all said they didn't, but were very gracious and said they didn't mind at all if I cooked some for myself. I didn't take advantage of their offer; with potatoes, spaghetti, sausages and a little tomato sauce (also from the freezer) on the hob, I didn't have room for anything else anyway.

The girls were very pleased with the sausages, and even more so with the tomato ketchup I produced. With the heat, I haven't even made ketchup since June; we bought some Heinz ketchup on offer in the supermarket a few weeks ago. One of them asked me if it was very expensive, apparently considering ketchup to be a luxury. I assured her it was very reasonable, and cheaper than mayonnaise.

They were also quite excited by the fried potatoes, which they said they've only ever eaten at the house church. There weren't very many, but that was fine; they went on to eat a bit of spaghetti too, mixed with ketchup, but were more eager to eat the sausages.

I'd made some banana bread on Sunday, which I had kept in the freezer until the morning. So we each had a slice of that. I thought it was rather tasteless; I'd missed out both raisins and walnuts, knowing the girls aren't keen on either, but they declared it 'delicious'.

By the time we finished eating it was after seven o'clock, and the two younger girls said they needed to go to bed soon. Elisabeth asked if she could have a shower, so I found her a towel, and showed her how to work the shower, which is in our bath.

After about ten minutes the shower was still on so I popped my head around the bathroom door to see how she was doing, only to find her sitting down in the bath, with a scrubbing brush and the Cif cream cleanser. I thought perhaps she was cleaning the bath, and was about to thank her, when she showed me that she was scrubbing her feet! They looked extremely clean, but I was a bit worried that she might be scrubbing away a layer of skin; it's quite powerful stuff. I rinsed it very thoroughly and she seemed to be fine.

She said she had thought it was shampoo, which slightly puzzled me as shampoo is not normally used for cleaning feet although it's probably better for them than Cif. It was only when mentioning this to her parents a day later that I learned that she refers to shower gel as shampoo.

Then it was time to sort out the bedroom. We opened up the sofa bed, the one that used to be in my study until we moved furniture around last December. The girls had brought their own pillows, and also some teddies:

Elisabeth's mattress had come separately, and was set up next to the sofa bed.

Despite their eagerness to go to bed, neither Helen nor Elisabeth seemed particularly tired. I read to them until nearly eight o'clock, having turned on the newly cleaned air conditioner (it was VERY humid last night) and then they said they would go to sleep listening to a repeated 'rock a bye baby' tune - if that's the word - on a baby's cot toy which they had brought.

Katie was reading - as she had been, off and on, all day - until nine o'clock, at which point Richard said she should go to bed, and she complied cheerfully. Just as well, since I was absolutely shattered by that point and had already gone to lie down. It wasn't that any of the girls had been any trouble at all; they were mostly peaceable, right through the day, with only a handful of squabbles. I refused to get involved; the best parenting technique I ever learned, when my sons were small, is to listen giving good eye contact and an expression of sympathy to any amount of tattling or argument addressed to me, then to acknowledge that the situation was frustrating, or annoying, or upsetting, or whatever is most appropriate. And then let them work out what to do themselves.

We heard some talking but they stayed in their room and there was no major noise... so, presumably, they fell asleep eventually.

I must have been asleep before 10.00pm, and woke about 5.45am, feeling the humidity already. We only run air conditioners for an hour or so when going to sleep, and usually that's not a problem. I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep, so I got up, only to discover that Katie and Helen were already awake, and had been trying to get into my study to find some of their paper dolls. They had, very thoughtfully, kept quiet and hadn't tried to wake us up, so I let them in, and they took the colouring things back to their room.

I made my coffee, and turned on the ceiling fan, and opened the study door in the hope of at least a few minutes of cooler air, and settled in my beanbag to read.

I had perhaps five minutes of peace before Katie came down to read too. Shortly followed by her sisters. So much for time to myself.

When I went to get showered and dressed, they played some fairly peaceable Ligretto again:

I don't usually have breakfast until I've been up for a couple of hours, but the girls were starting to get a bit irritable and said they were hungry. I asked what they'd like for breakfast; they muttered that they like 'leftovers' like noodles and cheese, but I said we tended to eat leftovers at lunchtime, so in the end they said they'd like toast and butter. They didn't want any yogurt. Katie did say she would be happy to cook pancakes but I vetoed that one, not really wanting to heat the kitchen up at that hour.

I thawed some bread slices, and made orange juice, and produced a banana each and they had their toast. By which time it was about eight o'clock. And I was feeling tired already.

Someone proposed a game of Uno, so we had a couple of rounds:

But Elisabeth was clearly tired; she can't have had more than eight hours of sleep at most, which isn't many for a five-year-old. She always gets black bags under her eyes when she's tired; I've often seen them on her in the evenings, but they were there even at that time in the morning.

So the game deteriorated, and was then put away. It was getting too hot and sticky, anyway, so we decided to return to my study, and put the air conditioning on so that we could put the computer on and Katie could write another blog post.

Elisabeth then decided she would play with her various paper dolls - six of them in all:

Helen wanted to play Misfits but nobody else was keen, so she played with them on her own, for at least thirty seconds, before Elisabeth joined her:

But tempers were getting frayed. Elisabeth started being a bit silly; when she's over-tired she becomes hyper, and seems to lose her usually excellent grasp of reason. Helen seems unable to do anything without humming; she does so quietly and tunefully, and in itself it's not a problem, but Elisabeth kept joining in, and the volume increased as the tunefulness decreased... and since I was feeling tired and a little headachey, my tolerance was low.

At one point they were all looking bored, and pushing each other around, and I said they probably needed to run around outside - something that's not possible here - and maybe they should go home. I even had a text message conversation with their mother, who would have come to collect them, but Katie wanted to read a book, and then look through all our DVDs, and Helen wanted to do some colouring.. and Elisabeth even went to take a nap.

My study was starting to look more like a bombsite, although on the whole they had been good about clearing up one activity before embarking on another...

Elisabeth's nap lasted about ten minutes. Then Katie offered to make some more paper doll's clothes for her, and she watched, no longer being silly and hyper, but chewing her fingers and even yawning. Helen was tired too, but expressed that by sprawling on the sofa, and being more sensitive than usual, and refusing to pick anything up, and also yawning a lot.

But they kept insisting that they did not want to go home until after lunch. I didn't know what was best; I didn't want to turn it into a battle, or have them feel it was 'punishment' to send them home, but I wasn't sure how much longer I could cope - and the two younger ones were SO tired.

I also hadn't realised that they no longer play with Lego - so they informed me. Lego used to occupy them for hours when they came here. But not this time.

Helen decided to do some paper shredding for me, something they all seem to enjoy:

Then Elisabeth asked me to read to her, and Helen soon joined her. I think I read three books in all.

Katie read several books to herself, although I don't seem to have taken any photos of her doing so.

By this stage it was 12.20 and Elisabeth was looking so tired that she could barely stand up. She said she was hungry, so I suggested we have lunch a bit earlier than usual, and then they could go home at 1.00 rather than an hour or two later, as we'd originally planned. They all agreed to this and were pleased to find that Richard had brought back some leftover halloumi and chicken drumsticks from the meal on the boat last night.

So it was only 26 hours this time, an hour less than last year. I expect we'll repeat this next year, but that's a long way off... I have plenty of time to recover!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Coping with the heat in Cyprus

We had a heatwave this week. Temperatures in the shade reached as much as 42C, so were a great deal hotter in the sun. Somebody photographed a digital thermometer in Nicosia, in direct sunlight, showing 57C on Tuesday.

Thankfully this kind of excessive heat is rare, and by Wednesday the temperature had dropped to a more normal 34C. It's made worse because it's very humid. July was remarkably dry; it didn't even get too hot until the middle of the month. August is making up for it. Last Friday, the last day of July, we had some early morning rain - sufficient to produce a puddle on the metal balcony outside one of our doors:

puddle on a metal balcony in cyprus at the end of July

By Sunday, the humidity had arrived in force.

People regularly ask how we 'cope'. I'm the kind of person who's most comfortable at around 20C; I've acclimatised in our years here to the extent that I no longer feel that 25 is unbearably hot; when we run the air conditioning, we set it to 28C and that feels wonderfully cool when it's hotter in the rest of the house and outside.

But we don't run air conditioning all over the house; we just use it in rooms we're using: for an hour or two in the bedroom before going to sleep, in any room where a computer is on, and - if it's unpleasantly hot and humid - when we're eating, or watching a DVD, or playing a board game. I try to do any cleaning or other housework first thing, before 8am, then I have my shower and estivate with the air conditioning in my study.

A shower is a good way of cooling down; sometimes I have another cold shower before going to bed. If we weren't using air conditioning, I would probably have several every day.

Nipping out of my study into the heat for a few minutes isn't a problem, to hang out laundry, or get a drink of water, or even to have something to eat. But my biggest problem has always been food preparation in the heat. Any kind of cooking heats up the kitchen, and since everything takes so much longer in the heat and humidity, it was leaving me drained.

We usually have a bit of bread with cheese, or hummus, or similar for lunch, along with salad or cut up vegetables, or left-over cooked veg. But I have always cooked evening meals (other than Sundays), generally with hot vegetables too. I had made a lot of slow-cooked meals earlier in the year, freezing as much as I could, and we spent the first couple of weeks of July eating those; but they still needed the oven or hob to be on, and vegetables to be prepared and cooked, and side dishes such as rice or potatoes of some kind... and it was exhausting.

I started preparing quick meals - such as omelettes, or tomato sauce with spaghetti and grated cheese - but I still wanted vegetables to go with them. And we were running out of frozen meal portions.

So, a couple of weeks ago, Richard suggested doing no cooking at all until the end of August. I said I'd continue making Sunday lunches; Tim usually joins us, and since I don't use my main computer on Sundays, I tend to air condition the kitchen area. I thought I might cook a quick meal one evening per week, too... but, so far, I haven't.

Instead of cooking, we have eaten a lot of salad. We've cheated, and bought bags of pre-prepared leaves, which are more expensive than just buying lettuce, but have a great deal more variety in them. We've added cucumber, and peppers, and perhaps some grated carrot, or tomato, or nuts or seeds. We've made coleslaw too, and chopped up other random vegetables to eat raw. The healthiest kind of diet is supposed to be 75% raw and we've probably managed that in the last couple of weeks.

We've made sure to include some protein too - cold chicken from Sunday, or egg mayo (yes, I had to boil some eggs but that wasn't too difficult), or tuna mixed with ketchup and mayo, or lentil balls (which I cooked last Sunday).. but we haven't felt the need for any extra starches. There's plenty of carbohydrate in the vegetables.  We've eaten lots of fresh fruit, too, and made some fruit sorbets.

This evening, wanting something slightly different (and with some peaches in the fridge that were starting to get a little soft) I discovered a recipe for salad made of peaches and tomatoes which we both thought absolutely delicious:

To my surprise, neither of us has got bored of salads yet.... we'll see how long it lasts.

Our two kittens have coped with the heat by becoming nocturnal. They didn't go out alone until they were a year old; Alexander then discovered how to get up to our cat flap, and we eventually installed another one to allow Joan more freedom. They go out late evening, and - as far as we know - stay out all night. In the daytime, they collapse:

They don't usually want to be in an air conditioned room, but on Monday and Tuesday they were very glad to be somewhere that enabled them to cool down.

Cleo, by contrast, is loving the heat. She always has done. In Winter she sleeps on beds; in the Spring, for the last few years, she has looked as though she were on her last legs. She's 17 now, a very good age for a cat who goes out. But in the Summer, once again, she seems to have rallied:

Basically, I deal with summer one day at a time. I know it will last well into September, but the humidity should start to drop in a few weeks, and the likelihood of another heatwave will - I hope - reduce. I don't like the feeling of being housebound; I miss going for early morning walks, and feel the lack of exercise. But if I'm in the sun for more than a few minutes - or any excessive heat - I will develop a migraine.

So I stay indoors, venturing out as little as possible, unless we're going to the beach.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Busy Lizzies in Cyprus

Now that we've lived in Cyprus for more than half our married life, we've become used to the idea that bedding plants - if we're going to have any kind of display by our front door - need to be bought in October, when the worst of the heat is over, before the winter rains. They usually thrive during the cooler months, and then fade away, no matter how well I water them, as summer approaches.

Experience has taught me that petunias and antirrhinums are the easiest and most predictable annual plants, and that geraniums are great value since they remain in bloom all year round, functioning as perennials. However, I like to try something new, and so, last October, when we visited our local plant shop, I was rather taken with some impatiens plants, better known as 'busy lizzies'. So I bought a couple of them.

new busy lizzy plant in cyprus

I had no idea how long they would last, but put them in our long planter, and they looked quite good amidst the other plants, some of which I bought at the same time:

row of plants including busy lizzies

Time passed, and while the petunias lasted until about April or May, the busy lizzies soon lost their flowers, and faded away much more quickly.  Ah well, I thought, bedding plants are very cheap. In April, we went back to the local plant shop and bought one or two more to replace those that had died away.

I don't know what this is, but it looked rather hardier than the busy lizzies, and I put two of them in my long planter.

not sure what this plant is

I also bought some more reliable geraniums. I'm not usually a fan of pink, but I do like a lot of pink flowers.

new geranium plants

Time passed, and the flowers in the long planter faded, but the plants continued to live, and although it looked a bit bare, I kept on watering. I regularly have to pull a few weeds from around the flowers, but I gradually noticed that there were rather a lot of seedlings growing up around these plants. I didn't disturb them, and my reticence was rewarded. I went out to water them one morning, and saw a flower:

new plant faded, busy lizzies self-seeding

My busy lizzies had self-seeded!

I thinned them somewhat - I tried planting about ten of them in a different container, but they didn't thrive at all. However, the ones in the long planter kept on growing, and flowering.  The two that I bought last October have become at least twenty, and are flourishing around the other plants, which I trimmed a little, and which still look encouragingly green despite a couple of almost 40-degree heatwaves in the past few weeks:

busy lizzies flourishing

I'm really no gardener. I don't miss our old enormous garden in the slightest. But I have enough of the family 'gardening gene' that I do enjoy my little display of flowers, and am surprised at how satisfying it was to discover that my rash purchase of busy lizzies turned out to be much more productive than I had expected.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Visiting the beach

After we had been living in Cyprus for a couple of years, a friend in the UK commented that we must have a wonderful life, going to the beach every day. I replied that we didn't visit the beach very often despite living only about a mile away from the sea. I explained that living here is very different from being a tourist, and that we'd acclimatised to the extent that, unless we had guests staying, we only really considered it 'beach weather' from June to September.

Now we've been here nearly eighteen years, we don't go to the beach other than during July and August. Indeed, I'm not sure that we really go 'to the beach', as such; we like to cool down in the water, perhaps to swim a little. But we have no wish to sunbathe, or build sandcastles. We only go when it's shady, not before about 5.00pm.

Last year, I didn't go to the beach at all. Not once. That's mainly because I was in the UK from the end of June until mid-August, but if I'd wanted to, I could have gone. I did walk, a few times, along the sea front, and we drove past the beach a few times. But I didn't get my feet wet in the sea; I didn't take my shoes off and walk along the beach. We didn't spend any evenings there at all.

But this year, after much discussion, we and our closest Cyprus friends decided that we'd get together at the beach yesterday evening, to swim and then have a picnic. So I cleaned out our cool box (not used for nearly two years), chopped salad vegetables, and cooked some halloumi; Richard delved into our storage closet (which is technically a shower, but that's another story...) for our beach chairs and mats.

beach in Larnaca, Cyprus in July

Then, after changing into swimsuits, we drove to our favourite spot, perhaps three kilometres away. I expect it's quite crowded during the main part of the day, this being high season, but there weren't many other people around at 5.30pm; most of those had gone by 6.30.

Tim and I went into the water along with most of our friends. It wasn't quite as warm as I remembered from previous years, and there were some quite chilly spots as we waded out, but it wasn't  unpleasant. We managed to swim a little. Neither of us is very good at swimming, and we won't put our heads in the water, but it's good exercise, and fun in a strange sort of way, although it was windy and the waves were bigger than we liked.

Then we had our picnic, and chatted with our friends, and decided that it was relaxing and enjoyable being by the sea, even if it was rather sandier than any of the adults liked.

by the beach in Cyprus, July

We might even go again next week.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Rules as 'suggestions' in Cyprus...

Last night, around 9.00pm we went for a short walk to deliver some DVDs to a friend. Even at this time of year, it's totally dark by that time, but still warm, now that Summer is well and truly here.

Visitors have regularly commented that crossing main roads in Cyprus (or, at anyrate, in Larnaka) is not an enjoyable experience. We've got used to it now; when traffic is coming in both directions, the secret is to look for a gap on one's own side of the road, and then cross to the middle. It feels very precarious at first, balancing on a white line while cars whizz by both behind and in front. However, the ones in front almost invariably stop when they see someone in the middle of the street, and cheerfully wave them over.

Indeed, it's often safer than crossing at an official pelican or other crossing where there are traffic lights. In most of the world, a red traffic light means 'stop' while amber means 'slow down if you can'. In Cyprus, an amber light apparently means 'speed up', and red means, 'you might be in trouble if you run someone over, or crash into another car, but if you can get through safely, go ahead.'

This is bad enough at major sets of traffic lights, although most cars do, eventually, stop for red lights, which allows careful pedestrians to cross. But at pelican crossings it's far from certain that anyone will stop. Sometimes I have pressed the button, and watched cars continue to whizz past as the lights turn red, then back to green. The little green man flashing to tell me it's safe to cross is not correct.

I haven't crossed at this particular crossing for some time, but I wasn't surprised to see this as we approached:

You might think that photo shows cars driving past, despite the light being red. But further examination will show that there are no lights on in the cars. And most people in Cyprus do, at least, use their headlights after dark, and rear lights too when they're not broken.

No, this is yet another example of the law (and there are official Cyprus rules of the road) being treated more as a suggestion than a serious rule. Policemen are unlikely to be about at night, so cars park almost anywhere, including the sides of the crossing.

But what amused us was what happened after we pressed the button and the traffic light turned red. A green man started flashing... but the red 'stop' man was still showing too, directly above:

It was a useful reminder that, even though it was theoretically safe to cross the road, it was a good idea to check first, and remain 'stopped' unless we were quite certain. And, indeed, a couple of cars sped by before we were able to cross.

I suppose this would be a good point to link to a post I thoroughly enjoyed writing, nearly nine years ago, about the vagaries of the Cyprus rules of the road

On a somewhat unrelated note, we were also amused to see this labelling and contents in our local small grocery shop earlier today:

Surely, in any other country, the Trades Description Act would have something to say?!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer in Cyprus. Again.

It's over a month - almost six weeks - since I wrote about the approach of Summer in Cyprus. It hasn't been the inexorable march that some of us expected; instead, it's been a slow and steady approach. The daytime shade temperature now, as we near the end of June, has been around 28-30C, but that's nowhere near as bad as it sometimes is by this time of year.

Richard was away during most of May and the first week of June; he visited seven different countries for work purposes, and was on a total of sixteen flights, if I remember correctly. I don't mind being on my own for extended periods; I did a few summer-preparation tasks such as washing all the curtains and windows, and cleaning most of the air conditioners. I sorted some cupboards, too, and washed all our winter jackets and fleeces, moving them and other winter clothing to the closets on our upstairs landing.

One thing I like about the approach of summer is the soft fruit that starts to appear in the local fruit shops. I have a Lakeland shopping trolley (a cool one, I'm told) and got in the habit, while Richard was away, of filling it each Friday with enough fruit and veg for the week. I didn't need a lot for just me - here's one week's selection:

Some people claim that it's expensive to eat in Cyprus, but I paid a total of €14.40 (just over £10 sterling by today's exchange rate) for that trolley's worth of fruit and vegetables, and I wasn't being particularly frugal. I included 500g strawberries and a pineapple, which are considered luxuries by many.

Cleo, our 17-year-old cat, who seemed even more frail than usual during the winter, always gets a new lease of life during the summer. She walks better, she sleeps less, and she loves to sit outside in the sunshine.

The kittens Alex and Joan, however, are finding it rather too hot...

On the second Monday of June, the local Christian writing group had our annual potluck lunch after our last meeting before September, with lots of good food:

Great company, too. It's not a big group, but we enjoy our monthly meetings.

A few days later I was privileged to be invited to our small friend E's fifth birthday dinner:

Our grandson in the UK is now a year old. I know it's a terrible cliché, but I really don't know where the years are going.

We've used the air conditioning for an hour or so in the bedroom most nights for about ten days, now. It reduces the humidity and makes it easier to get to sleep; there's a fan that runs all night to circulate the air, and it keeps it cool. The cats are not allowed in the bedroom at night now, after one of them started catching unmentionable large insects outside on the balcony and bringing them into the room.

I've stopped walking in the mornings; without the cats in the bedroom, I'm sleeping longer, and by 6.30 or so it's too hot to walk, despite it being cooler than usual (or so it seems) for the time of year. But although we cleaned the air conditioning in the main part of the house on Friday, we've only used it once, so far; for a couple of hours on Sunday when our friends were here for a game and cold meal.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

After the fire on the Larnaka Salt Lake trail

A few days ago, there was a fire near the Salt Lake in Larnaca. We saw smoke from our house, and heard sirens. I gather an arrest has been made, and that it was most likely bored teenagers; however it's also been said that it was possibly deliberate, in the hope of destroying mosquitoes. The latter seems rather unlikely, but perhaps we'll never know.

I took my camera when I walked with Sheila a couple of days later. I'd seen a few photos of the fire itself, and the various vehicles that arrived to assist in putting it out. But I wasn't really prepared for the extent of the damage:

Just a couple of days earlier this area had been mostly green, overgrown after the extensive winter rains. Some of the grasses were beginning to turn brown as Summer approaches, so they were ripe for burning out of control once a fire was started.

Salt Lake trail fire in Larnaca

While ash is a good fertiliser, and weeds will no doubt grow even faster next winter, some trees are unlikely to spring back into life. This one, surrounded by white ash, looks almost like something out of a stark winter scene, not the end of May in Cyprus:

There was one place - on the other side of the trail itself - where there was still something smoking. We watched for a while, wondering if it was dangerous. Sheila said that, the day before, there were several such smouldering piles but the fire fighters were keeping an eye on them. That didn't stop one of them bursting into flame later on, but we thought this one was probably safe enough:

One of the reports said that an area of around two hectares was destroyed by this fire. Hectares sound to me like imperial units, but apparently a hectare is 10,000 square metres; two hectares, in units that might be more familiar to some, is around five acres.

Thankfully there was still plenty of beauty in the rest of the shrubbery and wild flowers by the trail:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The approach of Summer in Cyprus

I don't know why it surprises us, every year, that April is still mostly spring-like as far as the weather goes. The sun was warm during the middle part of the day, but the evenings and nights were still fairly cool. As May began, the weather became warmer; a pleasant 23-25C [that's around 73-77F] in the shade during the daytime, but still 13-15C overnight. I didn't switch to our medium-weight duvet until the start of April, and then moved to the thin one early in May.

It's still cool enough to need a thin duvet at night, which is just as well since our kitten Joan has a tendency to attack feet - or anything she sees as an intruder under the duvet - when she wakes up in the morning, usually around 5.00am. With a thick duvet, this wasn't a problem. With a thin one, it's uncomfortable. I don't want to think about what will happen when there's only a sheet covering my feet.

Alex and Joan celebrated their first birthday on April 4th. At that stage they were still mostly indoor cats, going out on the balconies but no further. Well, not unless they escaped when we opened the front door.

A week later, Alex discovered how to get down from our utility balcony (which has a cat flap into the kitchen). The first couple of times, we brought him back in the house; then he learned how to reverse the process, which requires quite a jump up, and there was no stopping him. Once or twice I wondered if he had gone for good, particularly when I got up in the morning and he was nowhere to be seen.

But apparently he was venturing further and further afield as he explored our neighbourhood. Since then I've spotted him on roofs of houses on a street parallel to ours, and in some waste ground about a hundred metres away, on yet another street.

After a couple of hours or more he usually comes into the house, has a quick snack and a long drink of water, and then flops on the beanbag:

A couple of weeks later, as the weather warmed still further, I realised I couldn't keep the windows and doors closed all summer. I switched from trainers to sandals, stopped wearing a sweatshirt, and started washing our jackets and fleeces. We opened the windows in the daytime and started to let Joan out too. She didn't go as far as Alex at first, but now she, too, goes off exploring and often stays out for an hour or more.

Last weekend we were invited to a friend's 50th birthday party, which was a barbecue at a national park up a hill not far away. It was a warm day, but there are shady places to sit and an amazing view over Larnaka:

I started using the ceiling fans in the warmest part of the day. Shade temperatures were approaching 28 or even 29C. Then, just as I was thinking it was time to put my jeans away for the summer, and dig out my shorts, it got cooler again. So much so that, whereas Alex and Joan had been spreading themselves out on the tile floors to cool down, I found them a couple of days ago sharing a seat, almost as curled up together as they were when they were little:

May seems to be racing by; I will clean the air conditioners soon, although, as ever, hope not to turn any of them on until at least the start of June.