Thursday, June 01, 2017

Preparing for some important people to arrive in Cyprus

In the last few weeks we've been doing some extra preparations in our guest flat. We always make sure it's clean before anyone arrives, but we were expecting some very important (to us) people for the month of June: our older son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. A couple of weeks ago they heard that their expected plans had fallen through and they're actually going to stay in Cyprus for three months. We hope this will give them a good break, and time to relax after a very busy recent period.

Last Friday, we began by cleaning the guest flat air conditioners. They're not needed yet, but within the next few weeks the humidity will begin, and then they'll be essential overnight for refreshing sleep. We haven't done the ones in the main part of the house yet, but wanted the guest flat ones done before the family arrived.

Next we moved the desk/bookcase out of the front bedroom, so we could put up the cot for almost six-month-old Esther, next to the double bed.

We vacuumed the living room rug thoroughly, and put on the sofa throw which had been packed away by previous guests, who used the sofa bed to sleep on.

David, who is nearly three, will sleep in the other bedroom. I made up the bed with a Winnie-the-Pooh pillowcase (not shown) and a special extra visitor at the end of his bed:

Jess the cat is a knitting project I started a couple of months ago, knowing how David loves Postman Pat. He turned out considerably larger than I had expected - here is he with Lady Jane, for comparison:

We remembered that, when they were here in the winter when David was a baby, there was too much light in the front bedroom in the mornings. In the summer, we realised, it would be much worse with the sun coming up early and streaming into the room. So we decided to instal a blind behind the curtains.

This proved to be a longer job than anticipated. We measured the windows and bought a 160cm wide blind at Mr Bricolage, a local DIY store, only to find that 160cm referred to the entire width, including fixings, and the blind itself was only 156cm wide. So we returned that and came away with a 180cm wide blind. Richard installed that under the curtain rail.... only to discover that the door (which is a very high one) would not open.

To his relief, the gap between the ends of the curtain rail had just enough room for the blind, so finally it was in place:

We had moved the cot out of the room, not wanting dust from the wall to fall on it, but still had to do considerable sweeping and mopping afterwards. However, it's well worth it, and the room now stays cooler and darker when the blind is down.

A week or two earlier, we started looking for car seats for David. Esther's is part of her pram/buggy, and we knew that was coming with the family, but they couldn't bring David's. We had the option to borrow one but it was quite old, and not necessarily up to modern safety standards. It didn't have a cover, either. Had they just been coming for a month, we might have opted for that, but with a three-month stay, we thought a new (or, at least, reasonably new) one would be a good idea.

There were none at the Thrift Store. We looked in Jumbo, and they didn't have anything suitable. We went to New Baby City, and were shocked at the prices of suitable seats. Of course one can't put a price on the safety of a child, but several hundred euros seemed extortionate, particularly when the same or similar seats were under fifty pounds on Amazon UK.  Unfortunately, Amazon won't deliver anything as big as a car seat to Cyprus.

However, we then went to Mothercare - similar the UK one - a shop we had always thought of as expensive. But they were selling car seats suitable for a child from two to twelve, exactly what we were looking for, at similar prices to Amazon.  Richard checked online reviews, and we eventually chose this one:

We also looked for a dining chair booster seat for David, since Esther will be using our high chair. We found one at Mothercare.... only to discover, on getting home, that it's only for children up to 12kg. So that had to be returned. They didn't have anything suitable for a child of around 20kg - so in the end we borrowed a car booster seat from our local friends, which works well:

Richard bought some webbing straps to attach it to a chair, and since it's for older children it's quite sturdy.

We also bought a couple of baskets for toys to keep in the living room, and yesterday afternoon I found the things which we'd been storing since their last visit, and a few new items, and put them out:

The family had been visiting relatives around the country before coming to Cyprus, and reported that David had been a bit feverish, and not eating. However, he was getting better by the time they flew, and their flight arrived in good time (fifteen minutes early, despite leaving late).

We both went to the airport, and our friend Sheila also arrived with a car to take the luggage - they brought three large suitcases as well as the buggy and lots of hand luggage - and also to take me back, as only five people can fit in our car.  She arrived at the airport just before the family came through the barrier, with all their luggage.

What could possibly go wrong...??

Sheila and I set off with the luggage in the back of the car, while the family went with Richard (who had parked in the car park) so we assumed we would arrive back home five or ten minutes before they did.

Unfortunately, about a third of the way back, her car ran out of petrol. It had been a busy day for Sheila, and somehow nobody had thought to fill up the car.... so, after coasting several hundred metres on petrol fumes, we drew to a halt.

She put on the flashing hazard lights and tried to call the roadside assistance company... only to discover that the insurance documents with policy details were not in the car, so she had no number or information.

Meanwhile cars were shooting along the dual carriageway, some of them much faster than they should have been, swerving to avoid the car, and, in many cases, hooting.  I suggested putting the bonnet up, even though we knew exactly what the problem was, so that passing cars would realise we'd broken down rather than just stopping to admire the view over the Salt Lake:

Sheila was able to phone her son Jacob who agreed to go and buy some petrol and a canister, and cycle out with it to the car. So we waited.

Jacob arrived perhaps twenty minutes later:

He put a few litres of petrol into the car....

...but it wouldn't start.  It appeared that the battery had gone flat after the lights had been on for so long.

We'd been in touch with Richard, of course, who by that time was home with the family. So he said he'd come back with our van, which is equipped with a tow-bar.

Fifteen minutes later he arrived, then he and Jacob spent some time trying to find a place to attach the rope to the car.  They eventually found a place that required a special kind of eye, which we didn't have.

So after much discussion, we transferred the luggage to the van, and Richard took me and Sheila's youngest daughter (who had been in the car) back to our house, while Jacob cycled across town to buy the necessary gadget to enable the car to be towed. Richard had agreed to take Jacob in the van so they could tow the car back.

Sheila waited with the car.  Then a friendly stranger stopped and managed to use his jump leads to start the car again. She didn't want to stop at that stage to phone, in case the car stalled... so she drove straight home, and then phoned Richard. It was too late to stop him and Jacob travelling back in the van. But towing would have been a long and slow process, so they turned around and came home again.

We eventually ate our evening meal a little after 7.30, and Richard arrived back just in time.  So the whole frustrating experience had been under two hours.  Sheila said it's the first time in thirty years of driving that she's run out of petrol - and she hopes she won't do so again for at least another thirty years.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Twenty more books read

Early in March I wrote a post about the first twenty books I'd finished reading in 2017.  A few days ago, I reached my 40th book, a couple ahead of schedule.

So, the next twenty books, with links to my book reviews blog for anyone who might have an interest in knowing more about what I thought about them.

Christian books
The first one I finished was a Kindle book: Beth Moore's devotional study 'To Live is Christ'. It's a series of studies on the life of the apostle Paul. I started reading this in January, and found it worked well to read a chapter (or part of a chapter) each day.

books by Brian McLaren, John Ortberg, Rob Bell and Michael Harper'The Secret Message of Jesus' by Brian McLaren is written in his usual thought-provoking yet very readable style. I thought it contained a lot of good sense, although I found it rather strange that he kept saying that the message of the Kingdom of God was a secret.

For contrast, I next picked up a much older book that was nestling in our bookshelves, 'Spiritual Warfare', by Michael Harper. An interesting author who was an Anglican minister but converted to Orthodoxy later in life. Terse writing on a subject that's often ignored.

Next I decided to re-read one of my favourites: 'The life you've always wanted' by John Ortberg. Very well written, with anecdotes and some humour, and also some immensely helpful points.  I should probably re-read this more often than once every ten years or so.

By this stage I'd had a birthday, when I was given several new books so I embarked on 'How to be here' by Rob Bell. His slightly odd style of writing has grown on me over the last few years, and I found this thought-provoking and encouraging. It was exactly what I needed to read.

Writing Books
Two writing books: Michael Legat's non-fiction books, and Dorothea Brand's Becoming a Writer
I completed two more of these, the classic, 'Becoming a Writer', by Dorothea Brande, and Michael Legat's 'Non-fiction books'.  The latter is about 25 years old, and Dorothea Brande's book, to my surprise, over eighty years old! I bought it online, second-hand, after reading recommendations for it in several places.

Inevitably both books were very dated in the information about typing, editing, presenting documents to publishers and so on. Even 25 years ago computers in the home were rare, and email almost unknown. However, whereas the topic covered a significant part of Michael Legat's book, it was only a tiny part of Brande's, which is one of the most inspiring and helpful writing books I have ever read.

Children's Books
Brent-Dyer Chalet School Triplets, Noel Streatfeild Primrose Lane, Goudge Linnets and Valerians
I included teenage/older children's books with the novels section in my earlier post, but this time there were three I read that were clearly intended for children.

'Linnets and Valerians' by Elizabeth Goudge is a book I liked as a child, and have read at least two or three times over the years. I last read it eighteen years ago, and spent quite a bit of time searching for my copy, in vain. Eventually I went ahead and ordered a second-hand and inexpensive paperback online, and thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it.

'The Chalet School Triplets' by Elinor M Brent-Dyer is one of the later books in the lengthy series, one which I'd almost entirely forgotten. It was about incidents in the lives of the Maynard triplets, Len, Con and Margot, and although I only have the paperback version, I don't think much has been removed.

'The Children of Primrose Lane' is by Noel Streatfeild, one of my favourite children's writers. Many of her books are about extremely talented dancers or musicians, but this one is an exciting adventure story set in the 1940s, involving six fairly ordinary children. Unfortunately no longer in print.

book covers of nine novels
I read nine novels in this period - or eleven, depending on how they're counted!

'Ultimate Prizes' by Susan Howatch is the third in her thought-provoking and often shocking series about the Church of England in the mid-20th century. As with the previous time I re-read it, I hadn't recalled it with much enjoyment, yet found it unputdownable towards the end. Best read after the first two in the series.

Next I decided to read 'Don't Let me Go' by Catherine Hyde Ryan. This was a gift for my birthday a year earlier, which somehow I had not yet read - and I enjoyed it very much. All based around an eclectic mixture of people living in a block of flats, helping a neglected but very likeable ten-year-old girl.

After two novels of such high drama, pulling on the heartstrings and making me think, I decided to indulge myself in some classic Jeeves and Wooster. I hadn't read 'The Jeeves Omnibus 2' (by PG Wodehouse) for a long time. And here's where I don't know whether to count this as one or three; it's one volume, but three individual Wodehouse books: 'Right-Ho Jeeves', 'Joy in the Morning', and a collection of short stories, 'Carry On, Jeeves'. I thought it might be a bit much reading three Wodehouse books in a row, but it wasn't a problem at all. Wonderful writing, great humour, and no political correctness at all.

I try to vary the style of novel I read, so next I chose 'The Good, the Bad and the Dumped' by Jenny Colgan. I bought this a while ago at a thrift store. Colgan writes very light fiction, in the genre sometimes known as 'chick-lit', but I like her style. This one is a rather odd plot, where a newly engaged girl explores her past by visiting all her ex-boyfriends. Pleasant enough holiday reading.

Next I read 'Light a Penny Candle' by Maeve Binchy. This is one of her earlier novels, which I hadn't read since the year 2000. It's very well written, with lovely pictures painted of life growing up in rural Ireland during the second world war, contrasted, later with life for young adults in London. But the ending was, in my view, very depressing.

'Running Wild' by Victoria Clayton is another character-based novel, based in the 1960s. Most of this author's novels are out of print, and I found this second hand. It's a delightful story about a young woman running away to Dorset after deciding that she has to cancel her wedding. Beautifully written, on the whole, with the author's usual sprinkling of literary references.

I've been trying to vary the authors I read, but didn't succeed in another twenty different authors for this period. I embarked on 'Chasing Windmills' by Catherine Hyde Ryan, a recent birthday gift, having temporarily forgotten that I read another of her books only a few weeks earlier. This one is very different, featuring two lonely and stressed young people who meet by chance on the New York subway.

As a deliberate contrast, I followed this with 'Death in the Stocks' by Georgette Heyer, While I like Heyer's historical romance books best, I have enjoyed most of her mid-20th century detective ones too. This is, in my view, one of the better ones plot-wise, although her characterisation is always excellent. I did guess 'whodunit' before the end, but it wasn't obvious until quite a way through.

The last novel I read in this set of twenty books is 'A Song for Tomorrow', by Alice Peterson. This, as I discovered while reading it, is a fictionalised biography of Alice Martineau, a young woman who fought against the odds to become a singer with cystic fibrosis. Very moving in places.

And finally... I read just one 'miscellaneous' book that doesn't fit into any of the above categories. This one, 'Survival Games Personalities Play' by Eve Delunas' looks at the subconscious strategies used by people of different temperaments when stressed. It includes an overview of the Keirsey temperament system, and made very interesting reading.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Summer in Cyprus. Approaching yet again.

Once again, the inevitable is happening. A chillier-than-usual winter in Cyprus gave way to a pleasant spring. I very much like March and April here. The sun shines, but it's still cool overnight. I have the energy to get things done, and the landscape is green with a wide variety of wild flowers, and cultivated ones too for those who go to the trouble of growing them in their front gardens.

It's been a pleasant 20-23 C in the daytime for much of the past few weeks. Now, as April draws to a close, the predictions are for hotter weather ahead. Here's what the Weather Channel site is showing for the next couple of weeks:

Screenshot showing weather forecast for Cyprus, May 2017 first two weeks

Yesterday, for the first time since about November, I spent most of the day without any sweatshirt or jacket of any kind. We went into town for various errands, and I found it was too hot in the sun, though still pleasant in the shade. Last night we ran our bedroom ceiling fan. It was only on the slowest speed, and we're still using a duvet... but the air felt still, and my face was too warm without the fan.

Today we realised that we haven't used our warm jackets for a week or two, and are unlikely to do so for the next few months. This is what our coat rack looked like:

jackets and scarves, necessary for winter in Cyprus

Two scarves, and about five warm fleeces and coats. I removed them all, and put most of the jackets in the washing machine.  A few hours on the line and they were dry, so they're now hung up in our landing closet upstairs. I took the opportunity to put more of my winter clothes there, and extract my shorts... which I expect I'll start wearing soon, if the forecasts are correct.

I found my sandals, too, looking rather grubby, so washed them as well, in preparation for needing them all too soon.

Then I collected our surprisingly large collection of sun hats and put them on the now empty coat rack:

a selection of our sunhats and caps for summer in Cyprus

If Murphy's law holds, now I've made these preparations for Summer, we could be due for some unexpected and extra chilly weather meaning I need to get the jackets out again.  I won't mind in the least if that happens, but it's unlikely in May.

In the next few weeks I shall wash all our curtains, and we'll clean the air conditioners which we try to avoid using until at least June.  We'll switch to our very light-weight duvet, too, and then - probably only a couple of weeks later - just a duvet cover or flat sheet to cover us at night.

In other unexciting but typically Cyprus fashion, we went to Lidl just over a week ago. The shop has grown on us since our first unimpressed visit several years ago when it was new to the island.

This time,  I wanted to get some of their cat litter, which is about half the price of our usual brand and seems to work just as well. I also wanted a 2-litre bottle of olive oil, as our current one was running low, and theirs is usually the best value.  We didn't even look at the weekly brochure telling us what the special offers were, because we were only going in for these two items...

This is what we ended up with (plus two bags of cat litter) :

an eclectic mixture of produce and other items bought from Lidl in Cyprus

When we arrived, we remembered that our digital kitchen scales had recently gone faulty.  They were consistently weighing everything at about 75% of its correct weight, which was irritating and I didn't always think about the adjustment.  Happily, Lidl were offering good value kitchen scales with a bowl.

Then we saw a digital medical thermometer. I'd had what was probably a sinus infection the week before, and one day felt very shivery. We realised we had no thermometer, so no way of knowing if I was running a fever. Not that it mattered much, but at 2.99 euro it seemed like a good idea to have one.

Richard needed new crocs/clogs for casual use when sailing. We know the controversies about them, and that they're a bad idea for anything other than use on the beach or as slippers in the house, but he found just ONE pair in his size, in a colour he liked. So those were added to the basket. Along with our usual Lidl dark chocolate, and a new fresh basil plant, and a couple of jars of honey, and a couple or rolls of duct tape... and some seeded bread rolls for lunch.

A nicely eclectic mixture, not atypical for our Lidl visits. We still can't find most things we want there, and their fruit/veg are over-priced (in our view) but their special offers are often very good. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Continued Cat Chronicles

At the end of my previous post about life in Cyprus, I mentioned that our cats Alexander the Great and Lady Jane Grey are getting along well these days. Life, we thought, had calmed down, and they were in a pleasant routine. Cats are usually fairly low maintenance, in our experience, and so long as I remembered to feed them and put them to bed at the times Jane considers appropriate, all was well.

I also mentioned in that post that I was given an unexpected and gorgeous bouquet on Mothering Sunday. It lasted almost perfectly for its first week, and thankfully the cats ignored it.

After about eight days, I removed a few of the bigger blooms which were well past their best, and trimmed the stems slightly, and it did very well for another week. Last Sunday, I removed the rest of the bigger flowers and the supporting foliage, which was going brown. But there were several of the carnations which had emerged from buds and were still looking fresh. Impressive after two weeks, I thought. So I trimmed them some more, and put them in a smaller vase, back on the table in our living room.

However, the cats suddenly noticed them. First Alex knocked the whole thing over so he could drink some of the water.

Then Jane decided that the flowers should be destroyed:

The cat Lady Jane biting the heads of some carnations in a vase

I kept removing her, and she kept returning.  She was determined to bite off as many of the flower heads as she could. Cats usually know what they can and can't eat, so I wasn't too worried about her, but it was rather sad from the point of view of my flowers:

Half an hour later, she brought up a hairball, accompanied by what was evidently several pieces of carnation stem. And we both realised that whereas outdoor cats will eat grass to help them throw up, when they have to, Jane - being an indoor cat - doesn't get that opportunity.  I'm not sure what they would normally do, but she evidently seized her chance and it worked.

Two days later, Jane decided to escape. She hasn't shown much interest in going outside, though she'll sit and chatter at birds for hours, and loves being on our upstairs balcony.  Alex pops in and out but she's shown no inclination to follow him. Until Wednesday, when she darted through my legs as I was letting Alex in by my study door, and then - followed by Alex - down our outside stairs and into the street.

This was at about 6.30am and there wasn't much traffic about, but I didn't want her escaping, nor Alex showing her around the neighbourhood. So I waited for her to come out from under our van... and missed, as she raced across the patio and under a neighbour's car. She's a quick mover. Alex kept trying to persuade her to take off down the street, but she's quite a nervous cat and didn't look as if she were enjoying her adventure much.

It probably took about fifteen minutes before I finally managed to grab her and get her back indoors again. Since then she's pushed at the cat flaps a few times (we keep them on the inwards-only setting) but hasn't tried to escape. Perhaps she's biding her time.

The two aren't nearly as close as Alex was to his other sister, but they spent some time snuggling on the beanbag this week:

Then on Friday we had another scare.  Jane had been hassling me for wet food for about half an hour, so I got up to feed them, only to find Alex lying on his side on the floor, breathing rapidly, and panting. He got up and walked a few steps and collapsed again.  He looked and sounded very miserable, and seemed unable to get up, so we phoned the vet, who said to bring him in at once.

We were both afraid we might lose him on the way there; he was lethargic, still panting, and not complaining at all about being in the car. However, to our astonishment, as we carried him into the vet's, he appeared to recover.  By the time she examined him, there didn't seem to be anything wrong. His temperature was a little low, and I thought his tongue looked rather blue, but she said his heart rate and eyes and everything else were fine.

Since he'd also had some apparent digestive upset, she gave us some gastro-intestinal food for a few days, and said to keep him indoors until after the long Easter weekend. She told us to call her mobile number if it happened again; she said she could have done blood tests, but she didn't think it worthwhile. Most of the possible ailments connected with his symptoms were those of much older cats, and she thought it unlikely that he'd had a sudden asthma attack when we said that we don't smoke, don't use scented candles, don't have indoor gas heaters, and don't use air fresheners!

It was much later in the day, with Alex pretty much recovered, when we discovered that some visitors had been giving Alex milk to drink.  We don't use dairy products; Richard is somewhat intolerant, and I don't much like them.  We already knew that Jane's digestion cannot cope even with yogurt, and that their mother is also intolerant of milk, so it's not something Alex had ever had.

We'll probably never know for certain, but milk is a common trigger for asthma. And Alex does, from time to time, cough without bringing anything up. It doesn't distress him and doesn't last long, but having now done some research, it's exactly the way that asthmatic cats cough.

He's been absolutely fine since returning from the vet, and not too upset at our not letting him go out. His favourite sleeping place is on our bed, pretending to be a throw cushion:

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Special Spring days in Cyprus

There seem to be a lot of public holidays in Cyprus, many of which feature parades, with chosen school students and Scouting groups marching around the town. In past years, when our son Daniel was in the Municipal Band, we used to go and watch; but one parade is much like another. With no special person to watch, the parades held little interest after we had seen a few.

Greek Independence Day
There are two national days celebrated in Cyprus, exactly a week apart. The first is Greek Independence Day, on March 25th.  It's related to the Greeks rising up against the occupying Ottoman empire back in the 1800s, but also, a little confusingly, is connected with the Feast of the Anunciation, nine months before Christmas.

Bunting is put up in the streets, and roads are cleared on the day so that the parades can take place.

Whereas Greek Independence Day is a public holiday if it occurs on a weekday, there's no extra day in lieu if, as happened this year, it falls at the weekend.

Clock-changing Day
March 25th was also the date when clocks had to be put forward for summer time, or daylight savings, or whatever other variation you call it. I very much like the 'spring forward' change. The evenings are lighter - it's now not dark until well past 7.00pm - and it's still pleasantly cool for walking with my friend Sheila at 7.00am.  Ideally we start out half an hour earlier than that, but the disadvantage of the clock change is that I wake later for at least a week or two.

Mothering Sunday
Not to be confused with US 'Mother's Day', Mothering Sunday is always three weeks before Easter. So this year it fell on March 26th. The origins are uncertain, although I gather it existed before the Reformation. In the 19th century it seems to have been the day when girls 'in service' in the UK were able to go home to their 'mother church' - and, I assume, their families - before the busy Easter period.

However, in the middle of the 20th century it became popular as a day to give cards or flowers to mothers. It's not something that was part of my culture growing up; my mother didn't like it, and it was nowhere near such a big thing as it is now.

When my sons were small they made cards or crafts of some kind at school. But then we moved to Cyprus when they were 9 and 11. It's not celebrated here (although Cyprus has a low-key variation of Mother's Day early in May) and none of us ever remembered it. Sometimes there would be a mention at a church service; occasionally flowers were given, or crafts made in Sunday school.

I went to the local Anglican church this year, forgetting that it was Mothering Sunday. Little posies were given to everyone in the congregation - men as well as women - so I was happy to put this in water when I arrived home:

A couple of hours later, a knock at the front door revealed my friend Sheila's 17-year-old son, with a bouquet, from my son Tim in the UK:

I was overwhelmed!  Tim is now a teacher, at a school where Mothering Sunday is mentioned regularly, so he said that helped him to remember.

Jam-making Day
Three days later I went out to the fruit shop, and popped over to look at the connected stall, where they sell large crates of fruit or vegetables at excellent prices. The big crates are far more than we can use, but they often have excess produce, or items past their best (or at the peak of ripeness) for just a euro or two.

I spotted some strawberries; in the fruit shop itself they're about €1.50 for 500g, and I'd bought a couple of punnets a few weeks earlier.  A small crate, which looked as if it had at least a couple of kilogrammes in it, was €4. I bought them, and was pleased to discover, on weighing them, that there were three and a half kg in all.  Excellent value.  They were perfectly ripe, and I knew wouldn't keep much longer, so Wednesday, unexpectedly, was my strawberry jam-making day:

A little over 2kg went into making eight jars of jam, and I pureed and froze most of the rest, keeping a few to eat.

Wednesday was also the day that the UK Prime Minister formally triggered the 'Brexit' process. I was surprised how very sad it made me feel; we knew it was coming, after all, although I had temporarily forgotten while making jam. Nobody knows what agreements will happen, if any, or how things will work out for Brits abroad, and other Europeans in the UK. All we can do is wait and see, hoping and praying that something positive might emerge.

Cyprus National Day
Much of the world knows April 1st as April Fool's Day, and indeed there were pranks on Facebook, and on some of the news websites. It's a bit difficult to know what's true these days anyway; so many sites offer 'fake' news, or exaggerations, or speculations which may never happen. And some news stories which are genuine are quite bizarre.

However, April 1st is another public holiday in Cyprus, exactly a week after Greek Independence Day. It celebrates the start of the uprising of the Cypriots against the occupying British, back in 1955. When we used to watch our son marching with the band, we would sometimes be asked by locals if we knew what the day was about. They thought it a bit odd that we would be out there watching!

Kittens' Birthday
And finally, April 4th. Until three years ago, I only knew this as my brother-in-law's birthday; indeed, I didn't take much notice of the date when Sheila's cat Conny gave birth to kittens back in 2014.  But four months later we adopted Alexander the Great and Joan of Arc, and Tim, who was living in Cyprus at the time, adopted Lady Jane Grey. Sadly we lost Joan a little over a year ago, but then we adopted Jane when Tim moved back to the UK.

At first Jane was terrified and we wondered if the two would ever get along, but now, at the mature age of three (and really no longer kittens, but we still think of them that way) they get along very well:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Another meze at Kira Georgena taverna

About four months ago, some visiting friends took us out to eat at a local taverna whose name in English is Kira (or Kura) Georgena.  We liked it so much that when other friends were visiting last week, and wanted to take us out for meze, we suggested the same place.

Meze is a wonderful way for groups of people to eat in Cyprus. The idea is to have small portions of large numbers of different kinds of food, brought out gradually through the evening.The price per person is typically between about 15 and 18 euros, which sounds like a lot; but with four people it's usual to ask for a meze for three people, as there's always a vast quantity of food and not everyone likes everything. So that's what we did.

I remembered to take photos, this time, and we even attempted to count the dishes; we kept losing track, but think there were about thirty in all, excluding the dessert.

The starter - which comes very quickly - is typical for a meze: a Greek salad (mainly cucumber, tomatoes and feta cheese), a plate of pickled vegetables and quail eggs, bread and dips.  There were two kinds of bread with the starter: some toasted bread dipped in olive oil and herbs (delicious!) and some pittas, and four dips: tzatsiki (cucumber in yogurt), tashi (a specialist tahini dip), humus (the well-known chickpea dip, oozing with olive oil and very tasty), and an egg-feta dish which, the waitress informed us, was their own speciality.

In addition, the starter included some raw root vegetables, some olive paste, a small plate of ham/cheese slices, and a small plate of dried goat meat.

So that was twelve different dishes just for the 'starter'.  It would be very easy to fill up on this - and I liked the dips so much that I had quite a bit, although I didn't have any of the meat or cheese.  But we hadn't finished when the next two dishes arrived:  some freshly grilled halloumi, and this, a tomato/cheese dish which I don't remember seeing before, somewhat reminiscent of pizza:

One of our number is a vegetarian, and I incline that way myself, so I wasn't going to take photos of the meat dishes; but the two meat-eaters said that the next item to arrive, two different kinds of sausage, was so good that it needed a picture:

Then some baked eggs arrived with some hot olives (we didn't know whether to count that as one dish or two - but it was on one plate) and some warm local fluffy bread:

There were a couple more meat dishes that arrived while I was still eating salads and dips, and some mushrooms cooked in scrambled eggs, which I enjoyed very much.  Then a medium sized plate of chips (french fries to any US readers):

Not all mezes include chips, which I suppose are a gesture to the international nature of many visitors and residents of Cyprus, and we were all feeling quite full by the time they arrived... but when we started eating 'just one or two' each, we discovered that they were light and perfectly cooked, and so delicious that we managed to finish them.

By this stage we had been given about twenty-five dishes, including several kinds of meat. We were asked if we wanted 'escargots', and declined politely but firmly.

A bigger plate of meat then appeared; this usually signals the end of a meze, and as we were all very full by this stage, we decided that we would probably ask to take most of this home with us:

We counted that as one 'dish' but there were three kinds of meat on the plate.

And food kept coming. The deep-fried courgettes, as last time, were my favourite:

I ate very slowly, as I was extremely full but wanted to enjoy them.  I didn't even touch the rocket-and-egg dish which arrived at the same time, although it looked good, nor the pasta with grated halloumi:

I don't think I've remembered everything, but that's most of our meze.  We were even given an extra dish of humus as we'd finished the first one.

Thankfully we were given ten minutes or so to digest before the dessert was brought out - all part of the meze.  Fresh seasonal fruit, candied fruit, and cherries in liqueur.  I didn't even try the candied fruit or the cherries, but very much enjoyed a strawberry and a couple of slices of orange:

Then... fresh loukoumades.  They're not something I ever make, or buy; but these were very good ones, and since our visitors only wanted one each. I ate (blush) three of them...

Then, when I was wondering if I would be able to get out of my chair and walk, one of our friends, who plays one of the Pokemon games on her phone, announced that there was a Pokemon just in front of the wall, next to me.  I said I couldn't see it, feeling slightly spooked, so she took a photo:

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Twenty books so far this year

After the first hints of spring, this weekend, as so often happens in March, has returned us to chillier weather. It rained yesterday, on and off, and although it wasn't predicted to start raining until eight o'clock this morning, the heavens opened around 7.15 when my friend Sheila and I were almost at the end of our walk. We didn't have umbrellas and weren't wearing raincoats... we were drenched.

As Sheila has decided to write about the books she reads each month, I thought I might take a short break from writing about living in Cyprus, and do something similar. I write reviews of all the books I read on my book reviews blog,  but more people visit this one.  I challenge myself to read a hundred books each year; that doesn't sound like very many, but life gets in the way and some days I read only a page or two.

I've finished twenty books so far this year, so I'm currently on track. Rather than write about them chronologically, I've listed them below in categories.  My aim is to read a couple of Christian non-fiction books each month, four novels, one writing book, and one 'other' - maybe a biography, or a self-help book, or one about personalities, or that catch-all 'miscellaneous'. Most of the novels I read are in the genre of women's fiction (relationship/character-based, primarily) but I also like reading and re-reading some teenage fiction. I try to slot in a few light crime novels too, to make a change now and again.

I usually have about six books that I'm reading at any moment; they're listed in my sidebar if anyone's interested. Likewise, if you're curious to find out more of what I thought about any of them, links given below are to the reviews on my book blog.

Christian books 

At the start of the year we were in the UK visiting relatives, so I was mainly reading on my Kindle.  I wasn't particularly impressed with 'Meeting Rich', which is almost too short to count as a book, but it was quite well written, and passed the time.

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I then started reading one of the books I was given for Christmas: 'Accidental Saints' by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I wish this book didn't contain such strong, sometimes crude language, because it's extremely well written otherwise, and very thought-provoking. The author is a Lutheran pastor who runs an alternative and inclusive church, and while some of her ideas are quite controversial, she writes with compassion and humility, and I thought it excellent.

The third Christian book I finished this year, again on my Kindle, was 'The Jesus Training Manual', a title which almost put me off reading it. However, it was well written, if a little repetitive in places: a mixture of biographical account, as the author's faith and theology underwent some significant changes, and some teaching of the kind which we'd first heard in the Vineyard Church we belonged to for a couple of years back in the 1990s when we lived in the United States.

Then I read a book which I found on one of our shelves with a much more appealing title: 'Following Jesus without embarrassing God', by Tony Campolo.

- So I succeeded in my aim of two per month, and hope to finish the two I'm currently reading by the end of March.


The first book I finished reading was on my Kindle, one I started on our flight to the UK a couple of days after Christmas. 'Passing Shadows' by Della Galton was ideal holiday reading; it's a romance featuring an artist and a woman who runs an animal centre.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
I then embarked on 'The Shepherd's Crown' by Terry Pratchett, which I was given for Christmas.  It was a little bittersweet, knowing it was the last book Sir Terry wrote before he died; I love the way it ties up so many loose endings, and that it's the last of his series for older children and teenagers. It was moving as well as having amusing moments, and I was very pleased to have read it at last.

'Summer on the River' by Marcia Willett was the next novel I decided to read. That was another Christmas present, and I started reading it on our return flight to Cyprus... then found I could barely put it down. As with most of this author's stories, it's character-based and about different kinds of relationships. I liked it very much.

I then decided I should finish 'Elsie's Kith and Kin', a book I had been reading on my Kindle, off and on, for quite some time. I was quite pleased when I first discovered the 'Elsie' series free to download, having read about them in the Chalet School books. I worked my way through a couple of them some years ago.  I didn't much like this one, though, and doubt if I'll read any more.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Back to my Christmas books, and I had immense pleasure reading Jan Karon's latest, 'Come Rain or Come Shine'. I've loved all her Mitford series, featuring the delightful (and now retired) Father Tim and his wife Cynthia. This one features a wedding, and is best read after the rest of the books.

After that I read yet another Christmas book, 'The Great Christmas Knit Off' by Alexandra Brown. It's lighter than the previous books I'd been reading, but moves at a good pace and is surprisingly thought-provoking in places. I hadn't read anything by this author before, but thought that a book about knitting made a nice change from the many similar books about cakes or other baking.

Interspersed with new books I like to re-read books I've enjoyed at least eight years previously, and I tend to work through novels by some of my favourite writers. So the next one I picked up was 'Tell Mrs Poole I'm Sorry' by Kathleen Rowntree, a book I had only read once before, as long ago as 2001. I had only the vaguest recollection of the story, and while it's somewhat shocking, it's very well written.

After that, wanting something different, I decided to re-read Frank Peretti's 'The Visitation', another book which I first read in 2001 but have not picked up since. I had vague memories of it being a book that I found pleasanter than I had expected. I liked the first part very much, when a visitor comes to a small American town and starts doing 'miracles'... but it gradually became more suspenseful and quite violent in places. So I doubt if I'll read that one again.

I followed it with another lighter-looking novel, 'Summer with my Sister' by Lucy Diamond, which I acquired second-hand some time last year.  It's another book about relationships - it features the contrast between a high-flying business woman and a single mother who are sisters, and have almost nothing in common.  I enjoyed it.

After that I picked up 'Many Waters' by Madeleine L'Engle, which I don't think I have ever read before, although it has been on our bookcase of teenage books for many years. Rather different from the others in the 'Time Quintet', the fantasy and science are minimal; the bulk of the story takes place on Earth in the time before Noah.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.

The next novel was another re-read: 'An Ocean Apart' by Robin Pilcher, son of the better-known Rosamunde Pilcher. This was his debut novel, and I read it first in 2001. I'd almost entirely forgotten the story, and once again I loved it.  It's character-based, and in places extremely moving.

I followed that with the much lighter 'Horizontal Epistles of Andromeda Veal' by Adrian Plass, sequel to his first 'Sacred Diary' book. Light-hearted fun with a more serious underlying story; an eight-year-old girl with socialist leanings and highly creative spelling is in traction in hospital with a broken femur, and writes letters to friends, acquaintances, and world leaders.

- So, I finished twelve novels in two months, which is more than my planned one per week. Three are intended for teenagers, and there's inevitably cross-over between the genres as five of them would also be considered Christian books.

Writing books

Writing with Cold Feet by Kathrin Lake
I downloaded on my Kindle 'Back to Creative Writing School' by Bridget Whelan a long time ago, and dipped into it several times before deciding to read it to the end. It takes the format of a creative writing class, so could be studied over the course of several weeks. I liked it very much, and thought it helpful, but didn't do most of the exercises.

I then read 'Writing with Cold Feet' by Kathrin Lake, a slim volume that contains a great deal of wisdom. It doesn't give instruction about writing, or grammar, and doesn't have any exercises as such. Instead it looks at reasons why so many writers feel immense resistance when they sit down at the computer to write. I thought it extremely helpful and inspiring.


How it Works: The Mum (A LadyBird Book)
The first 'other' book I read was very short, and almost a cheat to include it in a list of books read, as it took me no more than ten minutes to read it, punctuated by reading bits aloud or chuckling. However, I thought it a wonderful book so wrote about it on my blog - 'How it Works: The Mum', another book which I was given for Christmas.   It's a Ladybird book, in the style of the children's books that were so popular in the 60s and 70s; anyone who has not come across Ladybird books of that era would probably find it bizarre!

And finally... 'The Procrastination Equation' by Dr Piers Steel. It's somewhat of an academic work, by a writer who has done extensive research into what makes people procrastinate, discovering three main styles of procrastination, and outlining what may (or may not) help with working through it. Very interesting information about the way our brains work; a little heavy in places, but overall I thought it excellent.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Spring, Lent, and Yellow Month in Cyprus

It happens around this time every year in Cyprus. The heating doesn't come on in the evenings, as the house is already warm enough. The days get longer, the sun shines with more regularity, and yellow weeds - often quite attractive weeds - appear in abundance on waste ground, like these ones pushing their way over the path on the Salt Lake trail:

yellow weeds for March in Cyprus

Citrus trees are fruiting too. The one thing I occasionally miss about our old house is the fruit that seemed so unusual to pick at first, then commonplace. But our local friends have a lemon tree that's prolific this year, and have been generous in passing bags of lemons to us. I asked if we could have a few earlier in the week, realising that Shrove Tuesday was coming up, and we Brits traditionally eat pancakes with lemon and sugar.  But I agreed that I could use more than a few...

lemons from a friend's tree in Cyprus

Easter is an important festival in the Christian Church, and also culturally in Cyprus where the majority of the population are Greek Orthodox, albeit in name only in many cases. In most years, there are two Easters, their dates calculated by different methods. But this year, as happens from time to time, both the Western and the Eastern Easter will be on the same Sunday in the middle of April.

That means that Lent - the forty-day run-up to Easter - should have started at the same time too, one would think. But that's not the case. In our Western tradition, the last day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday, although it's more often known as Pancake Day by the secular majority.  Traditionally one was supposed to use up products such as eggs and sugar prior to a simpler, vegetarian or sugar-free lifestyle during the days of Lent, in preparation for Easter.  Shrove Tuesday was four days ago, and yes, I made some pancake mixture, which Richard cooked after we had our evening meal:

pancake made for Shrove Tuesday

My recipe makes eight pancakes, which was fine when there were four of us living here, or indeed when there were three of us, as we could make them bigger or one of our number would eat more than two.  But this time we decided to put half the mixture in the fridge for the following day.

Back to the difference in Lent traditions, the Eastern church, at least in this country, begins five days before Shrove Tuesday, with 'Fat Thursday', or Tsiknopempti, as it's called here. It's the day when the faithful are supposed to use up all the meat in their household, with barbecues or feasts for the family; Lent as a fasting season was taken quite seriously until relatively recently.

When we first moved here, there wasn't much meat available during Lent, and we were told that we should be certain not to have barbecues or eat any kind of meat outside during the Eastern Lent period. Nowadays there's just as much meat available now as at any other time of year, and Cypriots openly cook and eat meat right through the Lenten period. There are some 'fasting' foods available: more vegan cheese than can normally be found, and a wide range of halva.  Tsiknopempti is celebrated by going out and buying more meat to feast on.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday last weekend were then the Carnival weekend in the Eastern tradition. There are floats and parades along the sea front, with children (and adults!) dressing up in costumes. The word 'Carnival' originally referred to the removal of meat, but that seems to have been forgotten. Carnival in Cyprus is safe and lively, not the dangerous brawls one sometimes hears about in other European countries, but it's too loud and crowded for me, and I keep away.

Monday was then 'Green Monday' (also known as Clean Monday, and the first day of Eastern Lent) which is a public holiday in Cyprus. It's roughly equivalent to the Western Ash Wednesday (the day after Shrove Tuesday) and in theory should be when people cast off sinful attitudes, forgive anyone they're harbouring grudges against, and ensure there are no tempting delicacies in the house.

In practice, at least in Cyprus,  many people spend the morning spring-cleaning their houses, then go out with their families and friends on a picnic, after which they fly kites.  Again, when we first moved here, we were told that on Green Monday we must make certain not to take any meat on a picnic as it would offend the Greek Orthodox.  Nowadays many Cypriots fire up their barbecues again with meat for their Green Monday picnics.

Back to our leftover pancake mixture.

On Wednesday, neither of us felt hungry after our evening meal, so the mixture remained in the fridge.

On Thursday, we decided to have our last pancakes after lunch. So Richard started cooking them...

.. and suddenly the handle sheared off the pan!  It's a heavy-based pan which I've used for omelettes regularly, and there was no hint that it was breaking. Happily the pancake was fine, but clearly, it wasn't possible to repair the pan safely:

broken frying pan

So he finished cooking the pancakes in a smaller frying pan, and they were very good.

I knew we had to go to a supermarket that afternoon, and was undecided between Metro and Lidl.... we hadn't been to either since before Christmas, as I do most shopping locally, but we needed various things that couldn't easily be found locally.

I looked through the Lidl advertising brochure that arrives weekly, and discovered that they had a special offer on heavy-based frying pans, in the size we needed.  So that determined which supermarket we would visit!  We weren't too keen on Lidl when it first appeared in Cyprus some years ago, as there is a very limited range of regular items, but we now know what's good value, and sometimes the special offers are extremely good.

So we went to Lidl, and now have a new 24cm frying pan:

new 24cm frying pan from Lidl

We used exactly one of our donated lemons with our pancakes. So this morning I processed the rest, freezing another litre with some peel for lemonade in the late summer or autumn when lemons are no longer available, and making more lemon cubes that can be used easily in drinks or food where a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice are called for.