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. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Introducing our Cyprus kittens

I mentioned in passing, in my last post, that we have two new kittens.

This is not something we planned, precisely. Until six years ago, we had four cats, and that was plenty. Then Jemima vanished one night - we never found out what happened to her - so we were down to three. Daniel had left home so we only had three humans; Daniel was Sophia's human and I was Jemima's, so in the absence of both, Sophia adopted me. Quite an undertaking as she is a highly extraverted, vocal and bossy cat.

Then nearly a year ago, when Richard and I were in the UK, Tessie disappeared. Tim was her human (although there had been some competition from the others while we were away) - and since Richard (Cleo's human) is often out or away, Cleo adopted Tim too.

But Cleo is now sixteen. She's getting thinner, and arthritic, and one of her legs is a bit swollen. Her coat is in good condition and she seems in good health overall - but cats don't often live more than about sixteen or seventeen years. Some make it to twenty, and we hope ours do - but she's definitely getting elderly. Sophia, Cleo's daughter, will be sixteen at the end of next February. She is still quite active, her fur is thick, and she isn't getting thin.. but she does sleep more than she used to (though not at 5.00am, unfortunately).

We had said, idly, for the past couple of years that it would make sense to introduce a couple of kittens into the house while we still have our older cats, to have some overlap. But Cleo and her daughters never accepted Tessie: they wouldn't eat together, they hissed and spat at each other, and Cleo was actually quite afraid of Tessie at times. Tessie, too, saw herself as defender of the house: if any other cat dared to come on our property, or any part of the road she considered hers, she would chase it away. Sometimes quite viciously. The other cats in our neighbourhood were terrified of her - and yet she was a friendly, fluffy cat who liked people very much.

I knew there was no way we could bring kittens here with Tessie around. And I didn't really want the hassle of kittens again, in any case.

Then our friends' second cat Conny gave birth to three kittens early in April this year. I didn't take a whole lot of notice of them at first, but they did become rather cute, as kittens do. There was this grey female one, who, at about five or six weeks old, took a strong liking to Tim:

Then there was a calico female and a brown and white male, who tended to be a lot livelier, watched here by their mother: 

(For anyone who thinks, as I did until recently, that 'calico' is the American word for 'tortoiseshell' - that's not actually the case. Tortoiseshell cats are mixed brown/black and orange, generally, while calico cats have more distinct patches of orange and black, plus large amounts of white).

When we went to see our friends, the three kittens would play for a while, then curl up in a bundle to sleep: 

Our friends did not want to keep them. Richard was very keen on adopting the two girl cats, so we said 'maybe', and 'if our two older cats don't mind'. I thought they probably would mind, very much, so didn't really see it happening. The boy cat was definitely going to be adopted by another friend. 

The kittens were given names, by our friends' 8-year-old daughter, Katie. The boy cat was called Alexander the Great, because he was so big and strong. The calico cat was Joan of Arc, because she was so brave. We didn't think the names would stick, but somehow they did.

And then there was 'the grey one'. Katie wanted her to be called Grandma, 'because she's grey and beautiful'. Someone else in the family wanted her to be called Alfie. I suggested, rather frivolously, that if the other two were named after famous people from history, perhaps she could be Lady Jane Grey.  And for some reason, that name stuck too.  I thought that, if we DID adopt the two female kittens, Joan and Jane made a nice pairing. 

We continued to watch them grow up. Here they are exploring our friends' dolls' house 

Then they would drop to sleep, curled up again... although by early June it was getting a bit too warm so they spread out a bit more:

I did notice at this stage that Lady Jane Grey was something of a loner, often sitting and watching while her two more boisterous siblings chased each other around. I made what was, perhaps, a foolish comment: that Alexander was really not suited to being an 'only cat'. And it was about this time that Alexander's future family found and adopted a feral kitten and said they really didn't want him after all. 

Then we had the news that our grandson had arrived. All other concerns seemed minor. Richard and I flew out to the UK when David was just a couple of weeks old and for the next two months I didn't think much about Cyprus at all.

However, Richard returned a month before I did. And within a few days, he said that he thought the kittens, almost four months old now, were ready to be adopted. 

Not Jane and Joan, as I had thought, but Alexander and Joan.

I didn't mind being away from home while he introduced them to the older cats and had a few sleepless nights of mewing kitties who assumed his toes were cat toys. But Cleo and Sophia accepted them - dubiously, but with a much better grace than they ever accepted Tessie.

Tim, meanwhile, found an apartment about five minutes' walk from where we live, closer to the school where he works, and moved out. Also in my absence.

And Tim adopted Lady Jane: 

Since they were all four months old by this stage, they were all neutered; this is something that some Cypriots don't like to do, but there are so many stray cats that we felt it was important. Particularly for Alex, who was growing fast and starting to display worryingly teenage tendencies. We did not want him spraying to mark territory, or roaming the streets at night yowling for females. 

So by the time I got home, the two kittens were in residence, in an uneasy alliance with Cleo and Sophia. Alex likes to sleep in bookcases and on printers:

Joan is still quite interested in exploring: here she is discovering herself in a mirror: 

And she also sleeps on the sofa, much more elegantly than her brother: 

A couple of weeks ago, Richard and I watched an episode of Doctor Who on DVD. Cleo loves the show - she always sits on Richard's lap when we see it. Sophia keeps out of the way. We had no idea where the kittens were until it had finished, and we discovered Alex hiding behind the sofa: 

... just as I used to when I was young and Doctor Who was on. 

Alex seems to be getting a lot bigger than Joan - typically male, I suppose! - but they still do everything together; here they are having a nap while trying to stay cool about two weeks ago:

.. and here they are, exhausted after the visit from our young friends: 

Alex sometimes washes Joan; she puts up with it for a while, but then tries to push him away: 

But overall, the experiment is working just fine. Here are three of them sharing a sofa a few days ago: 

The kittens are nicely subservient, and Cleo seems to think they're her kittens - she tolerates them remarkably well, and bats them away when they encroach too much. Sophia treats them like annoying little siblings. They have just started eating together, even sharing dishes - something neither Cleo nor Sophia would ever do with Tessie. 

What I find particularly interesting is that, although they still make some mews that sound very like their mother, they have also picked up some specific 'words' from Sophia. The one they are using in this short clip, however, appears to be a universal cat word - I've heard their mother use it, I've heard Sophia use it, and I've seen other cats on YouTube using it. It apparently means 'give me yogurt':

PS Alexander has now started his own blog: Alexander the Great

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cyprus sleepover....

Last night we had three young visitors to stay.

My friend Sheila's three oldest children are away at the youth group camp in the mountains; so I implemented an idle suggestion I'd made three years ago (and for which Sheila had been counting down the days...) to give her 24 hours with her husband, and no offspring at all.

This was a first for them, at least in the past 17 years, and it was also a first for the three girls, none of whom had previously been to a sleepover without parents. I know them well - our families spend a lot of time together - and the girls were looking forward to this as much as their parents, so we didn't really have any worries about them.

However, it was also a first for me. I'm pretty sure we had the occasional teenage boy staying overnight when our sons were that age; they kept out of the way, mostly. But we've never had younger children staying without their parents. I wasn't entirely sure how well I would survive... I like these three children very much, but they tend to be LOUD and I am quite noise-sensitive.

They are also full of energy, and we don't have any outdoor space; moreover, I don't go out in temperatures over about 30C (maximum) so there was no way I could take them to the park during the day. Essentially we were going to be stuck in my air conditioned study, where I keep Lego left from my sons' childhood and various colouring equipment, but not a lot else. I knew that, if all else failed, they could watch a DVD... but hoped not to be reduced to those straits.

On Tuesday, early, I did some extra shopping at our local fruitaria, ensuring we had plenty of potatoes, carrots, cucumber, bananas, eggs, edam cheese and chicken drumsticks. These children are quite picky eaters so I wanted to ensure there was at least something they would eat. Wednesday morning I cleaned the house first thing, put some bread ingredients in the breadmaker, chicken drumsticks in the slow cooker, yogurt mixture in the yogurt maker, and boiled some eggs... and was ready for the onslaught!

They arrived shortly after 11.00, as agreed. They brought their pillows, some clean clothes for the following day, their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and two 'American dolls' complete with outfits and beds.

They're quite self-motivated children, so when I asked what they would like to do first, Katie (nine) said she would like to do some more work on the story she is writing and saving on my computer. Sophia kept guard:

Helen (nearly six) and Elisabeth (just four) opted to play with Lego. 

Alexander (four-and-a-half months) decided to make the acquaintance of one of the dolls, and sat on her lap for a while:

(I probably didn't mention until now that we have recently adopted two of our friends' kittens.) 

Lego soon became boring, so that was put away and the colouring books came out. Colouring isn't something my sons ever did, but a few years ago these girls started asking for printed pictures to colour, and eventually I bought some inexpensive tear-out colouring books of various types from the UK. These are still popular, slightly to my surprise: 

This lasted until lunch-time, where the fresh bread, boiled eggs, cheese and cut up veggies seemed to go down well. After that they wanted to play some games; I wasn't willing to sit much longer in the over-warm dining room, nor to turn on another a/c, so we brought the games through to the study. All three of the girls like (and are good at) Uno:

We had some discussion about whether or not it was 'mean' to play certain cards; Helen can be quite sensitive, and Katie is very competitive. Elisabeth won in the end and I was blamed since the card I played enabled her to go out. I knew it would, as Katie had seen (and told us) what Elisabeth's one remaining card was. I played what I would have done anyway, and explained that it would have been cheating to avoid playing it, since we weren't supposed to know what it was...

We decided not to play another round. Helen and Elisabeth said they would like to play Misfits instead: 

Katie said it was boring, so lay on Elisabeth's mattress (which they had also brought) and read:

When it was clear that I was likely to win at Misfits (not that I was actually trying to....) the girls decided it was, indeed, boring, and they would rather do some origami - something Helen is really quite skilled at:

Meanwhile, Katie read another book: 

Eventually one of them asked if they could have a 'princess' picture to colour from the computer. Katie, who is quite computer literate, offered to find and print them:

Elisabeth collected the pictures from the printer:

They coloured for a while but started getting a bit hyper and wriggly. They really needed to use up some energy... and inspiration struck. They had previously done some of Leslie Sansone's 'three mile walk' at home with Sheila. I put it on, and they thought this was a great idea:

Helen kept starting and stopping, while Elisabeth kept going. Katie said that she only really liked the second 'mile' so she joined in for a few minutes too:

Here are a few seconds of Elisabeth, small but determined, who took it very seriously and kept going right to the end of the three miles: 

I'm not entirely sure how it's counted as three miles since nobody goes anywhere - other than a few steps forwards and backwards - and Elisabeth's steps aren't very big. But still, quite an achievement for one so young.

After that, I read some books, and prepared the rest of our evening meal while the children ran around the house and played with the kittens. My noise tolerance had about reached its limit... so Richard offered to take them out to a local playground after we'd finished eating to give me half an hour of peace!

In the event, Katie decided to stay here and opted to have a bath instead... and when the two smaller girls got back, they also wanted baths. Katie went to read in Richard's study since mine was turned into the girls' bedroom overnight, and around 8.30 the two younger girls were pretty tired and ready for bed. I read them a couple of books then turned out the light and combed their hair in turns; for some reason this calms them down and helps them to fall asleep. It wasn't instantaneous but shortly after 9pm they were both fast asleep.

Katie finished yet another book and then went to bed around 9.30 without any trouble; I hung around for a while but all was peaceful, so I took a cool shower, checked email and Facebook on my netbook computer and then fell asleep!

I woke about 5.00 with Sophia wanting to be fed... so I got up, fed all the cats, read for a while, and got dressed. It was about 7.00am before any sound came from my study; Katie and Helen emerged as I was juicing some oranges. They said they were hungry and that Elisabeth was still asleep.

So I gave them some (diluted) fresh juice, and yogurt with raw oats and bananas (their request):

After that they had some toast and butter. Katie said she often has four pieces of toast but could only manage one today.

Elisabeth appeared about an hour later, and lay on the floor for a while. I wondered if something had upset her but Helen assured me she is always like this in the morning. So I waited until the grumpiness subsided and she had breakfast, the same as her siblings but without the yogurt or oats.

Then I looked at my study: 

Helen was eager to play with Lego while Elisabeth finished her breakfast, so she helped me put the sofa-bed away and she and Katie played for a while: 

However their game seemed to consist in finding and storing 'jewels' so as to get rich, and the kittens wanted to play: 

So the girls raced around the living room trailing ribbons behind them, a wonderful game for young kittens.

One of the dolls stayed in bed for most of the morning: 

The other one got dressed but then fell in a heap, and was joined by Alexander when he was worn out by all the ribbon-chasing:

She wasn't allowed to rest long, however - Helen wanted to do her hair.  And Katie read another book: 

Elisabeth then said she'd like to do another 'three mile walk' with YouTube, so Katie found it for her on my computer, and the three of them started energetically... but once again the two older girls gave up after about five minutes, while Elisabeth kept going to the end, even though she was clearly very tired by the time it finished. 

After some more colouring, we played a couple of games of 'Probe' (a sort of board game variation on 'hangman') but since Helen and Elisabeth aren't reading much yet, we had to be in 'teams'. Helen and I won the first game although Katie was convinced we would 'never' guess her word: 

We then swopped assistants; this time Katie won, and decided to reveal her word, another one which she said I would never guess. She was correct. It was, she told me, an 'old American' word which she was certain I would not know. All I remember is that it started with J and ended with A. I said I didn't mind at all that she had won, but I didn't feel it was quite fair to use a word that I'd never heard of... 

During the course of the game we'd had a text from Sheila saying that as 24 hours were up, they could come and get the girls. All three said they wanted to stay to lunch (as I had expected them to) and after some negotiation they agreed that their parents could come at 3.00pm to collect them. 

After the game, I suggested they pack their clothes and dolls and also the pictures they wanted to take home. I read a few books to the younger girls but Helen said she was getting hungry. So we decided to have lunch at 12.30. 

After we'd cleared up, I read some more books, then Elisabeth said she wanted to go home. It was only 2.00pm (and the older two said they wanted to stay longer...) but Elisabeth was clearly starting to flag. She's really very young to have been away from her parents for a night. So I texted Sheila and she said she'd come over. 

Elisabeth put her shoes on and picked up her things, ready to go:

- although when her parents arrived she barely greeted them!

The house is peaceful once more, the kittens asleep, my study my own. I enjoyed 27 hours doing the full-time parent thing, but was glad to be able to hand the girls back again. I suppose this shows quite clearly that I'm now at the stage of life where it's perfect to be a grandparent; hands-on 24/7 motherhood was something I thoroughly enjoyed in my late twenties and early thirties, but wouldn't want to repeat twenty years later. Not for more than a day or two at a time, anyway...