Saturday, September 24, 2005

Getting ready slowly...

So, I started today with a list of about 30 items to do before leaving for the UK tomorrow night. We thought we might try to get ready today, so we could have a dayoff tomorrow. Or, more likely, do all the things we'd forgotten...

Richard had mended the cable I accidentally destroyed last week, so I began cutting the grass fairly early this morning. At 9am some workmen arrived and began climbing over the roof, so we guessed they had come to mend it. Just as well, since they had taken a tile away so heavy rain could have led to disastrous leaking. When they started throwing leaves from the roof, and then hosing it down, I decided to abandon the grass for a while and do some inside jobs. To my surprise, they were here for over two hours and then left their ladder behind when they went, so weassume they'll be back.

This afternoon Richard cleared some boxes out of our garage so he could get the dinghy inside. Then we had to squash some boxes into bin-bags, and decided to burn the rest. There were a lot of branches and other wood that needed burning too, so we had a bonfire... until it started raining again. Thankfully I had cut the last bit of 'lawn' and put the lawnmower away, and I'd also cleaned the patio of all the dirt fromthe roof.

It's now 6.30 and I'm about half-way through my list for today. Some of the jobs are quite short, and I thought I'd just do this one which was to check whether blogging by email really does work. Just in case I get a chance to blog while in the UK. But ifnot, I'll be back in about four weeks.

(Note: It worked, but the formatting came out all wrong. So I've had to edit it. Oh well.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Genius cat...

We called her Sophia because, even at a few weeks old, she was clearly one of the feline intelligentsia. She knows she's clever. I didn't realise she had quite such a high opinion of herself, though, until she decided to point it out to us in words even we humans could understand:

Journey preparation, first part

Some people are very organised. Everything seems to run smoothly as they prepare for their trips abroad, and their 'last-minute' packing is what they put in suitcases a day or two before leaving.

It never seems to work like that in our house. We often don't even start packing until the day before we leave. We think of things that need doing, but get caught up in non-essentials. Or, more likely, essential matters which we have procrastinated about for the past month or two.

This time I was determined it was going to be different.


We leave on Sunday night for a month in the UK. It's only about a week ago that Richard picked up the tickets, and I learned that it was indeed Sunday night (ie Monday morning early) rather than Monday night (or Tuesday early). But that was OK... we let people know, and I adjusted.

A couple of weeks ago I was feeling overwhelmed with Things That Needed Doing, so I wrote myself a list. Stuff to do in the UK (in case I forget when we get there) and stuff to do before we leave. I felt much better when it was there on paper. It wasn't so much after all, even when I wrote down all the details.

But there's the problem... because it didn't seem like much, I stopped worrying about it. Oh, I got in touch with a few friends and relatives who we want to see, kept the list handy for adding things, and did useful chores like cleaning the oven thoroughly and mowing the lawn - or half of it, anyway.

Now it's Wednesday. This morning we went to the supermarket and the bank, I paid some bills, I signed off various email lists, I wrote several overdue emails, I got all our accounts up-to-date, I transferred some money, I doled out cash for the boys to pay for their various classes up to now. But my list is no shorter because I keep adding to it. Tomorrow is Tim's birthday and he's having a few friends over in the evening. Friday we have our house group here. Saturday Richard would like to try out the little boat, if the trailer gets mended in time. I have no idea when we'll think about packing but I'd really like it to be before Sunday.

Part of the problem is that it's so humid. It's not particularly hot any more, only about 30C [86F] in the daytime, but by evening the humidity's over 75%. The air feels heavy, too. Thunder's predicted for the weekend and I can quite believe it. Just walking about the house feels almost like walking through shallow sea... every step is an effort, and my limbs ache after a while. Add to that the feeling of Pritt-stick all over my arms and back ensuring my clothes cling, and apparently a layer of honey in my shoes, and it's distinctly not pleasant doing anything much. It hasn't been hot enough to use the air conditioning all day but this evening we turned it on just for the de-humidifying effect.

Of course I could take a lukewarm shower for temporary relief, but I know from experience that it's hard to get dry afterwards, and then half an hour later I feel much the same as before. So all we can do is to struggle through, knowing it won't last.

At least it won't be hot and humid in the UK.


I've blogged already about three of our cats: Cleo and her daughters Sophia and Jemima (now quite recovered). But it's the fourth who's been giving us the most concern recently. Tessie is not related to the others. She arrived on our doorstep in December 1999, shortly after Richard had declared that we were NOT having more than three cats! The others accepted her somewhat, but don't really like her, even now. She was small, fluffy, very friendly, and clearly a family cat. She even liked small children so we thought someone must have lost her. But we never did manage to find her home. Perhaps she was abandoned.

Her name, incidentally, is really Tessa. And that's an abbreviation: not of Teresa, but of Tessera. Anyone who speaks Greek can probably guess why we gave her that name after it had become clear that she was staying, in the absence of any better ideas.

We worry about her because in the summer she turns into a fighting cat. When she was less than a year old, she managed to get all the local feral cats out of our garden - they were clearly terrified of her. She's like a Jekyll and Hyde character, depending on whether she's with humans or cats. Oddly enough she didn't object to the kittens we fostered for a while, perhaps because they were small and dependent.

In the past couple of years she seems to have decided to expand her territory. Perhaps she started reading the Prayer of Jabez book (about which I have many reservations, but that's another issue). We've actually seen her locked in combat with far bigger cats, and usually winning. But inevitably she arrives home with injuries, some of them looking quite painful. This year she's lost a lot of fur around her throat. It looks very sore but is not bleeding, and she keeps it clean, so we're assuming it's healing naturally. I dread to think what the other cat looked like after the fight...

Still, a big battle with scars seems to be the trigger that stops her fighting for a while. For the last few days she's mostly been inside, arriving on whoever's lap is the last to arrive in any room and wanting a lot of attention. She likes sitting in strange places - yesterday I found her on a plate in the kitchen, and like all cats she considers it her duty to sit on any book that might be absorbing our interest. She's quite interested in computers too: here she is advising Dan on a particularly complex programming issue:

I suppose her stamina was greater than his, but eventually she fell asleep at the computer...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Odyssey on stage

Last night we went to Theatre Antidote's premiere of their new production, 'The Odyssey', an adaptation for children and teenagers of the epic story by Homer. It's a new kind of venture for the group, and we weren't entirely sure what to expect. Since Dan worked for them last year and Richard (and the boys) spent several hours last week working on sound effects and lighting for them, we were given free tickets.

The play was mostly done in a form of mime - ideal for cross-cultural audiences - although there were a few words in Greek, and quite a bit of singing which, we gather, was in the original ancient Greek. There are just four actors working full-time in Antidote this year, so between them they took all the necessary parts with clever changes either on or off stage. As someone who has very little Greek, I would have been rather lost if I didn't know the approximate story (an outline can be found here, for anyone who doesn't). But apparently all children in Cyprus know the tale, almost like British children know about Robin Hood or King Arthur.

Dan went to one of the rehearsals during the week and took these photos:

These were the basic costumes - plain black and simple - and used for the sailors, when they weren't taking other parts.

This is how movement of the ship was portrayed, with a sail moved by two of the sailors showing the force of the wind.

I assume this was Poseidon, god of the sea, and one of the goddesses. I didn't follow the plot entirely! Every time the crew met someone, such as the Sirens or the Cyclops, one of the actors put on an extra costume behind the scenes. It all worked very smoothly.

Antidote aim to take their productions into the Greek schools, to children who have sometimes seen almost no live theatre before. I should think 'The Odyssey' will go down very well with the teachers, and probably the children too. It's not really for very little ones, but there were children of about eight and nine at the premiere who were transfixed.

The whole thing took just under an hour, and despite my lack of Greek was very enjoyable. There was almost continual music, written by a local composer, which was played by just two musicians: a violinist and an accordian player. There will be several more public performances before the end of the year in addition to those booked by schools.

Cutting grass, plants, and... oops!

I did an hour or so of weeding most mornings last week, before it got too hot. Dan cut some of the 'lawn' about ten days ago, and yesterday morning I decided to try and finish it, so it's reasonably tidy before we go to the UK for a month. There was a definite improvement, here's how it looked after I'd cut the far end:

And here's how it looked in August after over a month with no work on it:

So that was fine. But one of the problems with our garden is that there are a lot of prickly plants with rather thick stems which grow at a vast rate during the summer. I'm not quite sure how, with no water, but evidently they're acclimatised fully.

It's not good for the lawnmower to go over them, so I decided to cut the last few of these using the secateurs before finishing the mowing.

Alas for my carelessness. I didn't notice that part of the lawnmower cable was caught in one of these plants. It's a white cable rather than an orange one, and it was a particularly dirty section. Besides which, I was tired. So I was snipping away without really noticing what I was doing, when I was startled by a big spark leaping from the secateurs. I dropped them instantly, and noticed a click at the same time as the earth leakage trip device tripped. Yes, I had cut half-way through a live cable...


So I am very thankful to be alive. Thankful for the trip device which Richard bought a couple of years ago, just in case I ran over the cable with the lawnmower. I doubt if he thought I might cut it with secateurs, though! I reassure myself that I was also wearing trainers with rubbery soles, and that I was only holding the plastic handles of the secateurs. But even so, it was quite a shock. In the emotional sense, that is. I didn't actually feel anything.

Later that morning Richard bought some connectors that will enable him to mend the cable, but obviously I couldn't do any more lawnmowing at the time. Which was just as well, since about half an hour later we had some thunder and a bit more rain.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Car maintenance

A few days ago our car went in to see our (excellent) mechanic. Primarily for a problem with over-heating any time we drove more than a few miles. This was the problem we had way back in early July, but had never had fixed. Secondly, Richard was very concerned about some bad rust around the top of the windscreen. In heavy rain, he was pretty sure it would leak, and would also get much worse. Thirdly, he wanted a towbar fitted so we can pull the mirror dinghy - assuming we can get the trailer fixed.

The mechanic himself couldn't do the towbar or the rust, but recommended someone nearby who could deal with those, although they said they could be expensive and difficult, particularly if the windscreen broke in the process of fixing the rust. The mechanic also said he'd do a full service while the car was there, as it was almost due anyway.

It took a day longer than expected, but that's not a problem. Things usually do in Cyprus. The radiator - which was clogged, causing the overheating - has been totally cleaned out. A full service has been done including replacement of spark plugs. The roof has been mended, the windscreen didn't break, and it's been resprayed to look like new:

A towbar was made from scratch, welded firmly into place, and our towball attached. The people who did it are coming at the weekend to look at the trailer, and quote for attaching new, stronger wheels.

The cost?

We fully expected to have to pay about £400 or even a bit more for all this - almost the value of the car itself. The bill? £200.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Tuesday business

I had to go to the bank first thing this morning. Well, not really first thing since it doesn't open till 8.30. I got there shortly after it opened, and there was no queue. Evidently the best time to go. In the past couple of months I've gone mid-morning, and it's been crowded.

I had to transfer some money from our UK account to our Cyprus account, as I do every month. That one's straightforward. I asked about Internet banking too, since it would make life much easier for paying utility bills. I was given a lengthy form to fill out, with terms and conditions in English. I'm not quite sure what it costs (if anything) - the form didn't say. We don't pay anything for Internet banking on our UK account so I hope it's not much, but the t&c I read this morning did mention fees.

I also had to stop a cheque, something I've never done before. Yesterday our landlady called and said she hadn't received the rent payment for this month. Since I'd posted it on September 1st, it seems to have got lost in the post. The bank clerk checked our account, and it hadn't been cashed (which is good) so she recommended stopping it and writing another. The charge for stopping it was £4!! She did say that if the cheque arrives, we could delete the stop (at no added cost) if we let her know.

Shortly after 11am our medical insurance rep arrived. For some reason insurance here is always paid in person. One month I sent a cheque to the address on the invoice and it caused chaos: it took them about four months to track it down. So now I just wait until the rep arrives! Emergency care is free here, and ordinary doctor visits are inexpensive (about £10 or a little more) so we're only insured for hospital stays. So far we haven't claimed anything on our insurance, nor has any of us visited a doctor for two or three years now, so it seems as if this minimal plan is probably the best for us. It costs £100 per quarter for our family, which seems like a lot for those of us who take free health care for granted, but is far, far less than we had to pay when we lived in the USA for a couple of years back in the early '90s.

Daniel, meanwhile, really did have to be out first thing in the morning. There was a school performance of 'Fairytaleheart' by Theatre Antidote, who he worked for last year. This was one of last year's performances so they asked him if he would join them. It was in Nicosia, so they left at 7am.

As for Tim, he slept until nearly noon after his very late night with Richard in the office, mentioned in the previous post.

At 4pm we had made an appointment to view the house we discovered online. Unfortunately, when I spoke to the agent yesterday, the price is going up by another £20,000! Apparently it's been listed for a year but nobody has been interested, since the downstairs flat has been in rather poor condition. So the owners are paying for major renovations. We decided to have a look anyway, and were pleased to find it in a nice area - only five minutes' walk from where we live at present!

The couple who showed us around were very pleasant and helpful; however when they explained what renovations they were planning for downstairs, we were disappointed. The garden is already very small, and they're going to extend into it, making it almost non-existent both front and back. We don't need a huge garden like we have now, but we need a bit for the cats, to hang out laundry, and just to sit in. There's a little at the side, but not much.

I also felt the apartment block at the back was too close; it could feel rather claustrophobic. And there was no inside staircase from the ground floor to the first floor, just a marble staircase outside which looks very nice but would be slippery, surely, in the rain. There were some attractive balconies all around, but I don't like heights AT ALL so would be rather reluctant to use them.

Having said all that, it was really a very nice house with big rooms and lots of potential. If it wasn't being extended, and if the price wasn't going up, we might well be interested despite the tiny outside space. The downstairs does seriously need renovation, though: it's going to be rewired, repainted, re-floored, and even have false ceilings put in. There's also going to be a brand-new downstairs kitchen and bathroom. It will look very nice. But then again - it will be someone else's choice. We'd rather choose our own decorations.

Anyway, it was interesting to see. We'll certainly be keeping an eye out in that area, and on the site concerned. We still have to sell our UK house, after all; we're not yet in a position to buy.

After we got back, we had a visit from our landlady and her husband, and two builders who spoke very little English. They wanted to see where the roof was leaking. We showed them inside, then Richard got out his long ladder and showed them where he thought the problem was on the roof itself. One of the builders came down with an entire roofing tile in his hand, and said that was the problem. He will come back and fix it some time, but he doesn't yet know when. Of course, having taken away a tile, the leaking will be even worse if it rains again before he returns!

Monday activities

Some people are skilled in organisation and logistics. Unfortunately, in our family none of us is particularly gifted in these areas. As I'm at home, I mostly keep track of everyone's activities, but it's sometimes a struggle to remember what's going on. I'm glad the boys do so many things, but trying to fit meals and general life (not to mention the academic part of home education) around everything else can be difficult, even stressful at times.

After the summer, it always takes a while for my brain to get around so much action all at once. In previous years it seems to have happened more slowly, too. Schools started either in the middle of last week or yesterday morning, and it appears that most extra-curricular activities are starting this week too.

Monday is a 'music day' in our household. At 9am a friend arrives to give the boys aural music lessons - one at a time, and although in theory they have half an hour each they often chat, or talk about music in general, and she's often here till nearly 11am. This was the first aural lesson since June. Both boys play instruments but have hardly taken any exams; however they're both thinking about doing one or two of the higher grades, just so as to have extra paper qualifications. Besides, people in Cyprus seem to like certification. Aural music is part of the RSM and Guildhall exams, and although they've both picked up a fair amout through general musical experience, there are some gaps.

At 11am Daniel then has his drum lesson for an hour. That also happens in our house, and is fairly noisy! The cats are distinctly unimpressed. Dan uses drum pads for some of his practising, which makes the sound much quieter, but for the lesson they have to be removed. He seems to be progressing fast: his teacher says he could take grade 5 in the early spring, which is pretty good going as he only really started last October. But as he may be returning to the Doulos in February, there probably won't be time.

At lunchtime we had a guest - a colleague of Richard's who lives in Malta but is here for a conference. He stayed overnight at the office, and came here with Richard for lunch. Not a problem: we nearly always have bread-based lunches with cheese, salad, fruit etc, so as long as I know someone's coming it's easy enough to cater for them.

After lunch Tim usually does his piano practice, now it's September and there's no siesta-time (in July and August we're supposed to keep quiet between 1pm and 4pm) and later on Dan does his clarinet practice. However they spent most of the afternoon at Theatre Antidote, helping to set up lights for the premiere of their new performance, which is on Saturday.

At 6pm Tim had a singing lesson at one of the local music schools. This is something he's been hoping to do for some time, but only just got around to arranging. He said it went extremely well. Apparently he has an advantage over many of the students in that he can read music, and did sing in a choir when he was younger.

Then Dan should probably have gone to the Municipal Band practice at 8pm. However he couldn't remember if it started yesterday or on Thursday. Besides that, our car was in for a major service and some repairs, so he would have had to walk, and he was pretty tired. So he decided not to go. Just as well since we ended up eating quite late, nearly 7.30pm by the time everyone was home.

After supper, Richard went to his office to do some recording for Theatre Antidote - sound effects and so on for their new play. Tim went to help. They weren't back by the time I went to sleep around 10.30; Tim, who slept till late morning today, told me they didn't get back till 1.30am!! He hadn't noticed the time...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

And what about me?

Every so often people ask me what I do with my time. It's a valid question, and one which is quite difficult to answer since time seems to rush by these days. I wrote a post in March describing a typical day in long and very tedious detail, but of course no day is truly typical. In the Summer - July and August - I deliberately do very little. I know from experience that heatstroke or heat exhaustion are no fun, so I spend most of my time in the air conditioned room.

Besides, summer is when people here slow down even more than they do the rest of the year, so it seems good to follow suit. I do minimal cooking - we make a special summer menu of quick-and-easy evening meals, using ready-made food or cook-in sauces, and things which can be prepared in the minimum of time. Our kitchen gets very hot in the afternoons and I'm just not built to cope with it. If and when we move, a/c in the kitchen will be a priority!

But, as I keep saying, it's now September. So I've returned to our ordinary menu - a three-week plan we drew up in May, to replace the previous four-week menu that was getting a bit old. Even then I don't cook anything too elaborate or complicated, but I suppose on average I spend about an hour cooking each evening. Now Dan's home I make a veggie option as well as something with meat most days.

Still, an hour or so of cooking and an hour or so of washing-up (washing dishes) through the day doesn't constitute my entire life! Sometimes I make lists of things to be done and try to schedule my time, sometimes I just go with the flow. The latter usually works better, so long as I don't forget anything crucial!

So what happened this week?

On Monday, I knew we had to pay our electricity bill. One day we'll get around to setting up online banking, which is now a reality in Cyprus, but currently we have to pay bills at the relevant offices. Most are walkable, but the electricity authority moved from just down the street to about 4km away. It's still walkable in theory, of course, but not something I can manage when the temperatures are still in the thirties (which is nineties, to those who think in fahrenheit). So Richard drove me there before going to work. Before that I'd put on a load of laundry from the weekend. When I got back I made a batch of lemonade, hung out the laundry, and then made some ice cream. And helped Tim draw up his academic schedule for the autumn.

There was a guest staying in Richard's office for a few days, who was coming to supper Monday evening. So I did some tidying and vacuuming and cleaning. Not that the house was particularly messy, but having a guest usually motivates me to clean up somewhat! In the afternoon it was too hot to do much early on, so I read email, then later on prepared the food. I think the evening went well.

Tuesday is when Tim woke with a migraine again. I had to go out and pay the phone bill, so he came too; then I took him to see his optician as Tim thought he might have an eye problem, but he didn't. We popped into a pharmacy, collected mail from the PO box, and went by one of the music shops where we browsed a huge selection of sale items and bought several. I suppose we must have walked 4km in all, but when it's a bit at a time (and in company) it doesn't seem so bad. Still, I was exhausted and very hot by the time we got home - and it was nearly 11am even though we'd left the house shortly after 8am. I spent most of the rest of the day catching up with email, and also researching migraine and its causes online. Oh, and finding out more about buying houses in Cyprus. We pinpointed biltong as the most likely culprit for Tim's migraine.. and as it disappeared once he stopped eating it, I'm standing by that hypothesis.

Wednesday - a bit of gardening, more laundry, and a batch of yogurt to be made. I'm really not quite sure what happened to the rest of Wednesday. Richard flew to Egypt in the evening.

Thursday - I went out to the supermarket early as we needed some more fruit and a few other things. Pulling the trolley behind is quite warm work, even at 8am, so after I'd unpacked and put everything away Dan and I spent most of the morning finishing the last of my jigsaws for this year. As described below. And somehow Thursday passed too. I expect I read and wrote more email.

Friday was a thorough cleaning day. The church house group that meets in our home resumed for the autumn in the evening, so I usually clean, vacuum and mop on Fridays. However for some reason I decided to give the cooker (stove) a good clean. It's not very heavy so I pulled it out of its position to wipe down the sides, and realised that a lot of junk had fallen down the back and the floor underneath looked awful. So it turned into quite a lengthy job, and after that I moved the microwave and other appliances to clean all the work surfaces totally. Somehow that took the entire morning although I'm not quite sure how.

In the afternoon I cleaned the bathroom, washed out the bathmat, dusted, vacuumed and mopped everywhere - which shouldn't have taken as long as it did, but as it was hot and sticky I interspersed it with sitting down to read every half hour or so. I didn't even switch the computer on until half an hour before the group was due to start, having cleaned the kitchen after supper and taken a shower. After the house group I prepared this week's church bulletin on the computer.

Today I did a couple of hours of gardening (yardwork) - watering all the trees with the hose, sweeping the patio, and a fair amount of weeding in both front and back. Not that it makes much noticeable difference. I was going to cut the 'lawn' but by 10am it was getting too hot once again. I did manage a couple of loads of laundry, went out to photcopy the bulletin, and even had a short siesta this afternoon as I was so tired. It didn't help that Sophia woke me at 5.30 this morning to let me know that an intruder cat was in the kitchen. I never can get back to sleep if I'm woken at that time.

It doesn't sound much at all, I know. Of course on the days I do laundry, I also fold and put clothes away. I keep our accounts updated in Quicken, and I write blog entries! I spend time just talking with the boys (and Richard when home) and I have time to myself for an hour or so each morning - sometimes more - to think and pray and read, and to drink my first cup of coffee. I've prepared a Sunday School lesson for tomorrow (that happens two weeks out of four) and kept digital photos up-to-date.

As for the email: I keep in touch with family and friends, I send out updates each month (usually) about Richard's work, I co-ordinate the local church email prayer chain, I answer questions about home education in Cyprus and elsewhere, and I take part in four or five yahoogroups mailing lists on different topics.

But I still don't quite know where all the time goes. There doesn't seem to be any more time than there was when I was involved in the boys' home education for three hours or so each morning. Or when we were in the UK, and I was volunteering in their school two days a week. Or even when, before they were born, I worked full-time as a programmer and did two hours travelling by bus each day to and from work.

Oh, all right then. I do also spend time reading other blogs, reading books, and - every so often - playing a most addictive online game called Babble - a variation on Boggle. But not for more than about an hour or two, other than at weekends.

Life and Education

The older the boys get, the less direct input I have on their education. Not that we've ever done formal 'homeschooling' as some do, particularly in the USA. We've been fairly relaxed and eclectic since starting nearly eight years ago. But in most of the topics that interest them, their abilities are now so far beyond mine that the only thing left for me to do is to provide resources, and issue occasional reminders.

Of course Dan is now nearly 19 and if at school in the UK would have completed A-levels by now, and probably be taking his gap-year off before (possibly) going on to college. As it is, since he went on the Doulos at the end of June, he didn't quite complete the NCSC level 2 correspondence programme which he had been working on. He will probably never need this kind of formal qualification, but as he's so far through we both thought he might as well finish the last eleven workbooks: seven in physics, five in New Testament church history. He hopes to finish these soon. It probably won't be before we return to the UK (for a month) in just over two weeks, but at least should be before Christmas. He's put in an application to return to the Doulos for two years from next February and would really like to have finished with coursework before then.

But home education never really ends. Dan is also working at various musical instruments (clarinet and drums primarily, also guitar, piano and recorder), juggling, learning complex knots, building web-sites: one for our church, and one for an artist friend, and spending time working on animation and model-building in Blender, his favourite graphics program on the computer. Oh, and he too decided to re-read all five previous Harry Potter books before embarking on the sixth. He finished the fifth yesterday. As well as this he has a few performances with Theatre Antidote before Christmas too, and is working on turning his Doulos blog into a printed book.

Today Dan went up to Troodos with some friends from another organisation locally, to pack up the camp and put away tents etc. The group owns a camp-site which is available from mid-June to mid-September, but now the rains have started and the weather is cooling (at least in the mountains) people wouldn't want to stay in tents. Thankfully it was dry and sunny, and there were plenty of helpers so they finished by lunchtime.

Tim's schedule has been less quiet than is usual over the summer, since the inter-church youth group (for 12-18s) has kept going, and he's now on the committee which helps to run it as well as playing keyboard in the band. The church group for students has continued too, and while Tim's too young to attend as a group member, he goes along to lead some singing with his guitar each week. Then there's been a club for children and families running just through the summer, and he's been going there as a helper.

He was going to work on his NCSC programme through the summer, but somehow that never happens. Even with the a/c running, summertime feels like a time to slow down and relax, and neither of the boys has ever succeeded in doing academic work in July or August.

But now it's Autumn, so Tim wrote himself an organised schedule on Monday intending to complete two or three workbooks each week. Unfortunately on Tuesday he didn't feel well, and on Wednesday woke up late... so he's done less this week than expected, as far as academics go.

However we did manage to find some special offer music books - just a pound each for several previous years' piano music in grades 6, 7 and 8, to give him some more pieces to challenge him. So he's been working on a grade 7 Handel piece and enjoying it very much. He's also doing more guitar practice; he hadn't played it much over the summer so his fingertips had softened. And starting next week, he's going to start taking singing lessons - something he's wanted to do for a while but has only just got around to arranging.

Tim also spent much of this week practising, on both piano and church organ, arrangements of two bridal marches and 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' which he played at a wedding this afternoon. He was only told what music was needed last Sunday so it didn't give much time to learn them!

Tomorrow at the Community Church which three of us attend, Dan's going to be talking about his time on the Doulos. Unfortunately I shall be working in Sunday School so I won't hear him! Over the road, at the Anglican church, Tim will be playing the organ in both morning and evening services. Richard returns from a few days in Egypt, arriving - we hope - about 8am so he'll probably be exhausted.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Jigsaws completed at last

I wrote this post at the end of July, talking about how we (mostly I) do jigsaw puzzles on our dining room table each summer, covering them with a thick cloth when we want to eat.

A couple of weeks later I wrote this post, describing the first three which I had completed, and the fourth which was partially done.

Today Daniel and I finished the last of them - a 2000-piece puzzle showing a bit of Venice, which has taken over three weeks. Longer than all the rest put together. We're not even sure why, as it doesn't look particularly difficult. There are a nice variety of shaped pieces, they fit together well, and there's plenty of interest. I even did the sky section first, thinking it would be the most tedious. Then the canal bits, as they were easy to sort out.

But for some reason the left-hand third, with all those buildings, has been extraordinarily tricky. Yesterday there were probably only about 300 pieces remaining to do, but they still weren't going in quickly. So I used my last resort: sorting by approximate shape. That helped, and this morning for about an hour and a half Daniel and I finished it. Phew!

Of course I could simply have abandoned that final puzzle. Either put it back in the box, or left it on the table until next summer. Part of the problem is that I feel in jigsaw-doing-mode during the really hot months, but less so now it's September. As Richard pointed out, jigsaws are supposed to be fun so it was a bit silly for me to be muttering and complaining about the Venice one.

But if I'd put it away, I wouldn't have known if any pieces had got lost. And if we'd left it till next summer, as I did once before with a puzzle that got boring by the end of August, we wouldn't have been able to use the table for anything else (such as table tennis) all year. And as we might be moving before next summer (indeed I hope we will) a mostly-completed puzzle would be very much in the way.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Migraines and ... moving?

We learned something yesterday. A South African delicacy, Biltong (a little like American beef jerky) can trigger migraines. Not that this is generally a problem, but Dan brought some biltong back from South Africa a couple of weeks ago when he returned from the Doulos. Tim ate some most days last week, and had a terrible migraine. It took until yesterday to make the connection.

Also yesterday, Tim picked up a current 'houses for sale' catalogue. Since we're hoping to sell our UK house soonish, and need to move out of our rental home here within the next year or so, we've been keeping a casual eye on local properties, scanning estate agents' windows, and browsing relevant magazines. Mostly without finding anything interesting.

However in this magazine we did find a house that looked attractive, within our price range and located in Larnaka 'town centre' . It was built in 1976, and for some reason Cypriots mostly like new homes. To us, having lived in houses in the UK that were built around 1900, 1976 seems pretty new anyway - and houses of that era are a great deal more attractive than brand-new ones. At least to our eyes. There's a related web-site, where it's possible to search for homes within a wide range of criteria, so we'll be checking that frequently once we've sold our house.

I've emailed a query to find out exactly where the house is, although having looked at the picture several times I think I know - and if I'm right, it's quite close to our church which would be very convenient. If it turns out to be in the town centre, then it would probably be too noisy, as well as dangerous for the cats.

But just seeing a house that we all like makes the possibility of moving seem a little closer to reality. I doubt if we'll sell our UK house before this one is snapped up, but there must be others like it. And 're-sale' or 'previously owned' houses aren't nearly as popular as new ones.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A little boat!

Richard has always wanted a boat. As long as I've known him, anyway, and that's a pretty long time. Every time we go near the Larnaka beach, he takes a walk along the marina and admires the yachts. One of his favourite holidays ever was when some friends came out here and rented a yacht for a few days.

The trouble is, boats are expensive, they need a place to be moored, and they also need experienced crew to take them out.

Then last week, popping into Metro supermarket, he noticed a new advert on the board: a mirror dinghy for sale, including cover and trailer, for £150. He had more than that in accumulated birthday and Christmas money. Dan did some research online. These boats aren't very big (only a little over 3m long) but are about £2000 new. They hold two or three people, and are supposedly easy to learn to sail in.

So on Monday he called the number. Surely someone else would have snapped up this bargain by now? But no - nobody else had enquired at all. The owner said he was given this boat by his brother but had never found time to use it. Hence the good price. Richard arranged to go over and see it in the evening. And as he felt pretty sure he would buy it, so long as it wasn't in terrible condition, he took not just the necessary cash, but borrowed a pickup truck with a towbar, and fitted a towball. Then he and the boys drove off...

About an hour and a half later, they arrived home, having bought it. However they weren't towing the dinghy: it was roped, in its trailer, onto the back of the truck.

This seemed rather a complicated way of bringing it home, particularly after he'd gone to the trouble of fitting a towball. But apparently the trailer wasn't really intended for roads: it was a basic one for taking over the beach to the sea. They set out with the trailer behind, but one of the wheels started poking out at an odd angle, and eventually fell off. Oops! So they had to stop and find another way of bringing the boat back. This is what the wheelshaft looked like:

Next time Richard goes to see his car mechanic, he'll ask if some better wheels can be welded in place. Otherwise it will be a bit difficult to get it to the beach!

Once the boat was moved up our driveway, Sophia - always inquisitive - decided to explore it. She seemed to decide it was an acceptable intruder.

Apparently the boat is probably about the size of Arthur Ransome's 'Swallow' and 'Amazon' - though it (sorry, she) is yet to be named.

Now all that's needed, once the trailer is fixed, is for Richard to find some free time....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday and more rain

After my posting yesterday, the sky clouded over once more and we heard thunder in the distance, getting closer. So we switched off all the computers - and five minutes later we hd yet more rain, for another half hour. Amazing.

However by 5pm the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the evening felt quite pleasant. The church barbecue went ahead - not much else they could do, really, given the amount of meat that had already been bought! We were all asked to take a salad and/or dessert, so as there are four of us, I made some coleslaw and cut up a watermelon. It was too muggy to do any serious cooking, although I know I took the lazy way out!

It was a pleasant evening with masses of food. Quite a few people who were expected didn't turn up, so there was loads left over, some of which was given to various people. This photo shows the long table with just the various salads on it...

Today it rained AGAIN! Only for about ten minutes this time, and not so heavily as yesterday. But even so, pretty amazing to have this much rain so early in the Autumn. The weather is predicted to stay hot (32C in the daytime) for the next ten days or so, but at least it's a little cooler overnight.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

First rains!

The weather site has been predicting thunderstorms for this weekend. Not that I believed it, of course. The first rain of the season is usually late September, at the earliest. And sure enough, a couple of days ago the storm images vanished, and we were told to expect clear or cloudy skies. This morning a storm picture appeared again for tomorrow afternoon, but today was still predicted to be clear. Just as well, I thought, since our church is having a barbecue this evening for the end of the summer. So this morning, as usual on a Saturday, I thoroughly watered all our fruit trees with the hose.

After lunch, Richard switched his computer on. He chuckled. He has a weather link in his toolbar, which told him it was raining. We glanced outside. Sure it was a bit cloudy, but... no.

About ten minutes later I heard an odd noise. I looked properly outside the window. Was it just wind, with seeds blowing from trees? No... to my amazement, it was indeed drops of rain. Just spitting, but definitely rain.

We went to watch from the back door. The first rain is usually very light, just enough to disturb the dust from the rooftops and the trees, and to make everywhere smell rather dank and unpleasant. We could indeed smell that kind of thing. But to our surprise, the rain got heavier rather than stopping after five minutes. And heavier. There was even a hint of thunder.

It started pouring. I remembered that Tim's roof might leak, and Tim was out at Richard's office, doing some recording. So I moved his guitar and fan out of the way, removed his rug,and put down an old plastic tablecloth instead. Just in time, because drops did indeed start coming through his ceiling. I found a couple of buckets to catch them.

I suppose it was only about twenty minutes' worth of rain in all, but it was really very heavy by the end. This is what it looked like from our front door, with a steam pouring down the street. They haven't yet put drains in our road.

Now it's stopped but it feels very muggy, and the sky still looks threatening. I can hear thunder rumbling around in the distance, too. I just hope and pray it clears up fully before this barbecue later on....

Friday, September 02, 2005

Six months of blogging... and it's Friday AGAIN!

Yes, I started this blog exactly six months ago. I can scarcely believe it's been so long. That means our sofas are six months old today, and they look good as new. Evidently a good choice, although we've been fairly careful with them and managed to stop the cats - mostly - from scratching them.

In celebration of this half year, I've finally changed the title background to a picture of the beach that I took back in May. It took me most of the afternoon, and I had to have significant help from Daniel to get it the right size. Hard to believe I was a programmer many years ago when I struggle to understand simple HTML and graphics programs. Not that I ever understood graphics!

Besides that, it's another Friday. Supermarket shopping, yet again. The checkout girl this morning was chatting to someone else as she passed our groceries through the till, then stopped in shock at the end as she told me the bill came to £265. I was expecting it to be about £70 or a bit less, and evidently she realised there was a mistake! So she quickly scanned through the itemised bill, and saw that she'd managed to charge me £203 for a bag of grapes (which should have been £3). Phew! At least that was easy to sort out; she entered a refund of £200 on the till and I paid the £65 which was much more reasonable.

But it did get us wondering... if I'd just been charged £10 extra for something, would we have noticed? I do usually glance at the bill when we leave, but I'm not sure if I'd notice if anything was overcharged, or undercharged.

I haven't done any more gardening this week. It's been humid even in the mornings, and more so in the evenings. Somehow that feels wrong in September. It's so odd how the months feel psychologically different. In June we expect it to be unpleasantly hot, and it's usually fine. In July we brace ourselves for the heat, and remind ourselves it's going to get worse, and make the most of it when it's not quite as bad as we expect. In August we smile and tell ourselves we're half-way through the summer; we do as little as possible and we get through. But in September, I feel that summer has outstayed its welcome. It should be autumn. The humidity should drop, and we should get some rain...

Ah well. We're going back to the UK for a few weeks in the last week of September, to see family and friends. When we get back we should be well into Autumn. Such as it is.

Richard does like the heat, and he decided to do some pruning this week. Our front garden gets even more messy than the back if it's neglected for a month or two, and some of the 'weed' trees were several feet high. So he spent two evenings pruning as much as he could to enable us to get out of the gate more easily, and yesterday evening he cut down a large tree outside Daniel's room, which was growing too close to the mains electric cables. That was a fairly major job needing a ladder and rope to ensure the tree fell the right way... no fun at all. But he was glad to have it done.

And what have I been doing this week? Well... other than catching up on email, and doing things like laundry that can't be put off, I've started cooking properly again in the evenings. We'd all had enough of cook-in sauces and other quick meals. I've also been trying to finish the 2000-piece puzzle we started weeks ago. I did the sky and canal first, thinking those would be the hardest and am now floundering with the buildings! I'd like to finish it this weekend so we can take a photo of the table covered in puzzles, then put them away.

Also I've been reading my way through the Harry Potter series. It's been a few years since I read most of them so I thought it would be good to remind myself of what they were about before reading the most recent one, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (book Six). It's quite an experience reading them as a series one after the other: firstly I'm a little surprised that I've stayed interested enough to read them all, even the ultra-long books Four and Five. Secondly I'm impressed at the way the overall plot develops, with quite an apocalyptic feel to it. So hats off to JK Rowling... and now it's time to go and read a bit more of book Six, which I started last night!