Monday, March 02, 2015

Ten years of blogging about Cyprus

It was quite by chance - if such a thing exists - that it occurred to me that I started blogging 'about' ten years ago.  Out of curiosity I checked right back to March 2005's archive posts - and found, to my surprise, that it was exactly ten years ago today when I began this blog.

Skimming through those posts, I began to wonder just what had really changed. Oh, we've moved house, and our sons have grown up and left home. One is married with an almost-nine-month-old baby. Three of our original cats are no longer with us. We've made new friends and learned new board games. A couple of years ago my mother died, and our younger son, who spent five years living in the UK, moved back to Cyprus.

I have more lines on my face and considerably more grey hairs, but the essential 'me' is no different as far as I can tell. Comparing a very recent photo of me with my grandson, and one from ten years ago, with Tessie, I see - suddenly - why people thought I looked younger than I was, when I was in my mid-forties:

Ten years changed

Since those first blogging days, I have learned how to add more than one photo to a post, which has been a useful skill.  I'm intrigued to read a very long-winded set of posts at the end of March 2005 about a 'typical day' in my life; in that, too, it seems, not a whole lot has changed. There are only two of us here most of the time, and - thankfully - no garden. I wondered if I might miss it, but I haven't yet.  But while the fine details of day-to-day housework, shopping and cleaning have inevitably altered over the years, in a broader 'big picture' sense, they're little different.

We use euros rather than Cyprus pounds now, and the cost of living has, inevitably, risen. But I still squeeze orange juice each morning. We still rely primarily on solar heating for hot water, but have to boost it sometimes with the electric immersion heater. However, mains water is always available these days so I no longer have to do all my laundry on just one day when the mains was on, for fear of running out of water. We take it for granted now; I try to be careful but it's easy to let the tap run a bit too long, or to take an extra-long shower when there is water always on tap.

I still make yogurt, though I use long-life milk now. I still have a four-weekly menu on the fridge, much adjusted over the years, but I only stick to it loosely. A slow-cooker has made some meals much easier and allows me to freeze portions for easy re-heating. A breadmaker means that I rarely go out to buy bread from the bakery. Best of all, from the kitchen perspective, is having a dishwasher, something which changed when we bought our own house in 2006.

I still keep my book reviews blog (and several others); I still seem to spend longer than I should on emails, although there are few if any forum mails these days. Instead, I skim Facebook: sometimes rapidly, sometimes not. Time still has a tendency to run away from me even though I'm no longer trying to juggle meals, laundry and general schedules for our busy sons. It seems, looking back, that my 'typical day' was really quite full: these days, I still sometimes wonder what I did, yet I always seem to be doing something, usually reasonably constructive.

We've been away in the UK for the past couple of weeks, spending time with a large number of family members and driving from the Southernmost part of England to - almost - the border with Scotland. It was wonderful, and refreshing, and tiring too, enlivened (or, rather, the reverse) by the norovirus bug.

I'm wondering, now, what the next ten years will bring.

Having started this post with not just one but two pictures of me - unusual, as I'm normally the one behind the camera - I'll end it with one of the photos that makes me smile the most from the past couple of weeks.

Four generations of my family; four out of five of my favourite guys in all the world:

Friday, February 13, 2015

Yet another post about weather in Cyprus

People around the world know of Cyprus as a holiday destination, picturing it with clear blue skies and endless sunshine. That's pretty much how it is - usually - from early May until around the end of September. Official sources used to mention 360 days of sunshine, which is a high percentage. We realise, now, that this refers not to the number of completely sunny days, but those on which the sun shines.

In our first couple of years here the rain was minimal, and short-lived. We saw some torrential downpours on occasion, but an hour later, as put so succinctly in the children's nursery rhyme, 'Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain'.

There were the occasional thunderstorms, even some hail.  But we didn't see real devastation until the major storm in May 2007, which makes me sad even to think about it now. The Cyprus weather news site reports storms lashing the island at the end of 2008.  In 2012 there was a horrific accident at the sea front, caused by a tornado.

Climate does change, and it seems that currently Cyprus winters are not just wet but, at times, very windy too. January and February seem to be the worst from this point of view.  Just over a year ago I posted about a storm at the end of January. As recently as a month ago I posted about a storm this year.... and it wasn't an isolated one. We had quite a warm week at the end of January, which was very pleasant. A pity, some of us remarked, that it could not stay that way all year round.

As so often happens, it got colder again - and earlier this week there were yet more windy storms. I took my camera on my early morning walk with Sheila, and we decided to walk the airport direction in the hope of seeing the flamingoes a bit closer up. It wasn't long before we spotted this:

Shortly followed by this:

There were bollards marking the hole where the old tree was uprooted a month ago:

It wasn't warm but we walked briskly and reached the end of the trail only to find that the flamingoes were nowhere in sight. It's hard to show by a photograph how full the Salt Lake is, but for what it's worth, here's how it looked:

Still and calm as anything.

When we got back to our usual starting point, we decided to walk a bit further in the hope of seeing the flamingoes at the other side of the lake; we could hear them chattering loudly so knew they could not be far away.

Sure enough, there were hundreds of them - at their usual distance where the camera simply picks them up as pink blobs:

We paused for a moment. I breathed deeply in the cool fresh air. The view, which I so often take for granted, was awesome:

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Coffee at Gloria Jean's

In January 2013, we started to make a list of the various jobs that needed doing around the house - from replacing clock mechanisms to major re-painting work. And many other major and minor tasks that simply weren't getting done. Richard and his sailing buddy had instituted an 'admnin' evening once a week to catch up with financial and other boat-related topics; so I suggested we allocate a few hours each week to work, slowly, through some of the things which we were either igoring or putting off.

Friday mornings seemed like a good idea; if we needed to go to the supermarket we would do that on a Friday, already. But by the stage we had this discussion, a couple of years ago, it often turned into a rush, squeezing the shopping in between many other activities.

So we decided that we would set aside Friday mornings every week to spend together, perhaps to shop; perhaps to do jobs around the house; perhaps to do other things. Richard suggested we might take time to have coffee out together from time to time; many people locally have coffee out regularly but it's not something I had ever done.

We started quite enthusiastically and achieved several things in our first few months of 'house admin'. We bought new plugs, Richard labelled some light switches and made some repairs... some Fridays we did nothing but shopping, and we were away for most April that year, and had the family staying in May.

I think we managed coffee out twice in the first year. Once was at Metro - the supermarket we like best - where we sat upstairs in their little cafe. The other time we were in town, waiting for something to be repaired, and had frappés at Alexander's.

In 2014 we progressed sporadically with the house admin; we did arrange for some important repairs to be done on the house, but it seems that the more we cross off the list, the more gets added on - and we still haven't done any of the re-painting. Nor did we have coffee out together.

Yesterday morning, we had to exchange something in a supermarket, and also check something with our insurer in town. So having done the first, we parked the car in the marina, and did the second. It was only about 10.30am; so Richard suggested we might have coffee somewhere along the sea front.

We were planning to walk to the far end, but then we came across Gloria Jean's:

I'd heard of it many times; it's a popular haunt for older teens and those in their twenties. But I had never been there. And I was struck by their 'cappy hour', offering 'buy one get one free' on weekday mornings.

So we went in, and were asked if we wanted hot or cold coffee. It was a sunny morning, so I decided to have a frappé, while Richard opted for a medium Americano coffee (with no milk, as he avoids dairy products). I wasn't sure if we'd still be eligible for the second drink free; however when we checked our bill we saw that we were. The frappé, slightly to my horror, cost €3.20 but the coffee was free, so it wasn't too extravagant, I guess.

We sat outside on comfortable armchairs, our drinks in front of us

I have frappés unsweetened, but almost wished I'd taken some sugar as the flavour was a little bitter; I couldn't work out exactly what it was, as it wasn't particularly strong. It almost tasted as if it had been lightly smoked. Not unpleasant, but not as delicious as I had hoped.

I finished it - though by the time I did, I was feeling decidedly chilly! There were a lot of ice cubes left at the bottom. Richard managed about two-thirds of his coffee before he felt caffeine overload and stopped. He said it was acceptable, but not the best coffee he's ever had.

There are dozens of places to have coffee along the sea front, so we decided to make a point of visiting more of them during the course of the year, to see how they compare. 

I doubt if we'll go to Gloria Jean's again, though. 

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.