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. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Another missing cat in November :-(

Over sixteen years ago we acquired Cleo, who was a small and feisty kitten. Evidently she was a little older than we thought, because six months later - at the end of February 1999 - she gave birth to three kittens.

One of them only lived about six weeks; he became ill and the vet could not help. We were so upset at losing him that we decided to keep the other two.

Sophia was the intelligent one - hence her name - who quickly learned our schedules and bossed us all around. Jemima wasn't quite so bright, and she waddled like a 'puddleduck'. Hence her name.

Our feline family was completed, for a while, nearly two years later when Tessie walked into our house and our lives.

Not that Cleo's family never entirely accepted her.

In November of 2007, Jemima vanished. She was a quiet cat who avoided other people but liked to sleep outdoors at night. One neighbour said that, sometimes, nice cats were stolen to be sold. It seemed a strange theory, but better than any alternative. I was her special human and I missed her enormously; but by that stage, Daniel had left home. He was Sophia's special human, and she gradually transferred her affections to me.

Tim was Tessie's special person; he was looking after the house for us in November last year, when Tessie vanished in a similar manner. One day she was around, as usual; the next she was not. He hunted around the neighbourhood but there was no sign. She was thirteen at the time; not old, but she'd had a few strange episodes of hiding away, with unknown sickness. We never did find her.

So we were down to two increasingly elderly cats. Which is why, when we had the opportunity to adopt two kittens in the summer, we did so.

Thankfully the older cats accepted them well.

Cleo developed arthritis over the past year, and one of her legs became swollen. Around May or June she turned sixteen, which is equivalent to 96 in human years. She could no longer jump much, but she was still eating and washing happily, and purring as she snuggled into us at night.

Here she is, getting comfortable on a cushion about a month ago:

Sophia developed a slight lump on her right eyelid, and we were concerned enough that a visiting friend who has worked as a veterinary nurse took a look; he said it was a hematoma, probably caused by high blood pressure. As it caused her no distress he recommended ignoring it, unless it grew big enough to obstruct her vision.

It actually got smaller.. here she is, earlier this week, looking regal on the beanbag:

We were - at least in theory - prepared for the fact that Cleo might one day wander out of the house, and find a peaceful secluded spot, and fade away. It's what happened to our first cat, Toby, back in 1992. 

What we did not expect was that Sophia would vanish. Out of the blue, two days ago. Just like Jemima and Tessie did, except that it was in broad daylight. Sophia, who was an extremely vocal cat, would have let the entire neighbourhood know if she had got shut in somewhere, or if anybody tried to catnap her. 

It took me a couple of hours to notice that she'd gone out and not come in again; she used to ask to go in and out of my study door rather than using the cat flap, but she would often sleep outside in the sunshine. I was surprised when I went to water plants, and she did not appear to tell me off for wasting water. But I thought that perhaps she had come back into the house via the cat flap after all, and that I would find her inside somewhere, peacefully asleep.

I could not locate her anywhere.

I walked around the neighbourhood, afraid that she might have been run over, but there was no sign. I called for her, and listened.. but there was no distinctive Sophia mew. 

I became increasingly concerned.. and she did not come back. 

A friend mentioned that he had seen her scavenging in a dustbin a few days earlier; perhaps, he theorised, she ate something that's toxic for cats. I then started to wonder if her blood pressure was getting higher and she suffered a stroke. I tried to recall whether she had been behaving differently in recent weeks, and all I could think of was that she had been more peaceable, less bossy. 

Two days later there is still no sign - or sound - of Sophia, and I've given up searching. If by chance she got taken somewhere else, perhaps in the back of a truck, then it's just possible she might find her way home. But she was an old cat - she would have turned 16 in a few months. I had hoped she might have lived a few years longer as she seemed to be in such good health - but apparently not. 

I miss her, so much. 

It never occurred to me that Cleo would be the last remaining of our original four.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Flamingoes at the Cyprus Salt Lakes, as winter approaches

We've lived in Cyprus for seventeen years, now. It should no longer come as a surprise that Summer gives way to Winter in a remarkably short space of time. But, somehow, I never expect it.

We had some rain during September, but it wasn't until about a week ago that a very heavy downpour, lasting at least half an hour, left some significant water in the Salt Lake:

A couple of days later, my friend Sheila commented that she had seen flamingoes. They are migratory birds, either from somewhere in the Middle East or Africa... and they always appear (as I mention every year) almost as soon as the Salt Lake has enough water to support them.

But... how on earth do they know when it's time to come to Cyprus? It's not as if it's the same date each year.

If anyone knows, please do leave a comment!

On Tuesday we walked towards the Airport Road rather than the aqueduct, so as to get a better view of these amazing pink birds - and sure enough, there was a row of them in the distance, which can just about be seen as pink dots (possibly better if you click the image to enlarge it)

The sky was a bit hazy in the early morning, but the reflections of the hills in the water were quite stunning. Alas, my camera doesn't capture them well, but this gives a general idea:

Is it really getting cold? It seems that way to me,  although the daytime temperatures are still hovering at about 20C. In the house it's cooler; I switched from shorts to jeans about three weeks ago, and today am wearing a sweatshirt too.

I put the 'thin' duvet on our bed about two weeks ago, when the night temperatures dropped from mid-twenties (Celcius) to about 17-18. That might not sound cold, but we definitely needed some kind of cover, more than just a sheet or duvet cover.

A couple of days ago, I switched to the 'warm' duvet cover.  The kittens like the duvet very much...and so do we! 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ethnic meals and growing kittens

Our guest flat has been well-occupied this year, with a mixture of friends (old and new) and friends-of-friends. We were very pleased to welcome back some relatively recent friends a few weeks ago, bringing a sister for the first time. They spent most of their week exploring the island in a rental car, but took us out for a wonderful Lebanese meal, near the sea-front, before they left:

I did not recognise most of the dishes, a surprising number of which were vegan, but they were all good and it was a most enjoyable evening out.

I've continued walking with my friend Sheila, three times per week. We've seen a few more sunrises:

Alexander the Great continues to wreak havoc on the house in his special way:

While Joan of Arc is - mostly - more peaceful: 

On another walk, we saw unusual cloud formations that looked almost like flying saucers coming over the horizon:

We were pleased to note, after a fairly heavy rainstorm, that there was at least a little water in the Salt Lake after a few dry months. We could tell by the reflections of the other side:

The weather has cooled sufficiently that I now go out in long trousers rather than shorts. Our walks have also been starting rather later, as the days become shorter... this morning it was almost 7.00am before we set out. However, the clocks go back tonight so next week it will be light by 6.00 again. At least for a few weeks.

Richard's birthday came and went... he didn't want to do anything much, but we did go out to eat at an Indian place along the Dhekelia Road: 

It's somewhat 'British Indian' in style, but nicely done, with delicious food.

Alex and Joan have realised that it's getting cooler... so now, rather than spreadeagling over the floor, they're more inclined to curl up together in the cat bed I made nearly a year ago:

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Autumn slowly tiptoes its way into Cyprus...

This blog has been rather neglected, of late. It's not that we've been ultra-busy, nor have we done a lot of entertaining. It's just that, as the last weeks of summer slowly ease their way out of Cyprus, a kind of lethargy lingers in the air. Time marches on, but I'm not entirely sure where it's vanished to.

I re-started going for early morning walks with my friend Sheila, at the beginning of September. I thought it would still be too hot, but it wasn't too bad, and I do like being out in the early morning, seeing the first light of day:

We don't usually get any rain until nearly the end of September, but it was a rather wetter month than normal. I think we counted four rain showers through the month, one of which was preceded by dramatic grey clouds, and lasted for at least fifteen minutes along with some lightning and thunder that were just a little too close for comfort:

After the rain, there was some water in the Salt Lake, and some significant puddles nearby, one of which had attracted some unusual birds; we have no idea what they are:

Meanwhile, the kittens continue to settle in well, and grow fast; here they are looking sweet and angelic, belying their usual mischief and energy:

Alexander's life is so exciting - from his perspective - that we decided to help him start a blog, to record his escapades in his own words. So to speak. If you're interested, it's called Alexander the Great

Meanwhile Sophia, now fifteen-and-a-half, remains in good health although she prefers a slightly softer place to sleep:

Cleo is sixteen - really quite old for a cat - and somewhat arthritic. One of her front legs has been swollen for a while, too, though it goes up and down. But she gets out and about, and purrs when she's on our laps (or snuggling into my neck at night...) so we're not over-worried. She also likes relaxing on cushions: 

Two thousand miles away our grandson continues to grow and flourish; he's four months old today. We are so thankful for Skype which enables us to keep in touch, letting him see our faces and hear our voices:

David now has his own passport - which, astoundingly, arrived less than a week after the application documents were posted - so we very much hope he (and, of course, his parents...) will be able to come and stay here in a couple of months. 

Now that October is here, the humidity has mostly gone, and the daytime temperatures aren't hitting 30C any more, at least in the shade. We've stopped using air conditioning and are just reliant on fans... although a tee-shirt and shorts are still our usual attire. It's likely to be another month before I venture back into jeans.