Monday, October 24, 2022

Rain... and an unexpected flood

Several people told us that there was a lot of rain on September 6th when we returned from our UK visit. But by the time we arrived back the sky was clear and the ground mostly dry.  We didn't have to water the plants for a few days, but the temperatures remained fairly high and there was almost no more rain. just the odd shower once or twice.  

The Salt Lake - our friends told us - never quite dried out this summer. As I mentioned in the last post, in mid-September, when I started walking again with my friend Sheila, there was a fair amount of water in it. 

But with the lack of any more significant rain over the next few weeks, we began to wonder if the lake might in fact dry out by the end of October.  Each week there was noticeably less water, and although we knew flamingoes had arrived in Cyprus, we didn't see any. Friends who visited early in the month saw some in Oroklini, not far away, but evidently there wasn't enough water in the local Salt Lake. 

My brother and his family were due to arrive for a visit just over a week ago. The forecast looked very grim, with rain predicted for every day of their stay, and thunderstorms over the weekend. However, experience told us that when five days of heavy rain is expected, we might get one, maybe two. And even then, the rain is usually punctuated by sunshine.  Sure enough, although it rained on Sunday morning - the day after their arrival - it cleared up and stayed fine from mid-afternoon. That was good, as we had planned an outdoor evening get-together with a few friends. 

The following day, however, it was a different story. I managed to pop out to the local shops in between a couple of rain showers, and by lunch-time the rain was pouring down. 

torrential rain in Cyprus, mid-October

We could see water running down the streets, although the drains seemed to be working so that there wasn't a river in the road; we would have expected to see one a decade or so ago. I kept checking our stairs, where there's often a leak with very heavy rain, and was pleased to note that there were just a few drips. Evidently our roof tiles, finally fixed a couple of years ago, were still keeping the water out.

So we had a cold lunch, and were chatting awhile before my brother said he thought he would pop downstairs to our guest flat. The rain had slightly abated so it seemed like a good time to go down. We were still clearing the table, when he said, 'There seems to be something leaking onto the sofa...' 

We went to investigate. Sure enough, there was a wet patch on the back of the sofa in the living room, and as we watched, another drip fell from the ceiling. 


Richard shrugged. 'It's Cyprus,' he said. Heavy rain, he explained, can cause water to get in between the floors. There was nothing much we could do other than move the sofa out of the way and place a bucket under the drip.

'I suppose we should check whether something's leaking upstairs?' I suggested, a little tentatively. Years earlier we had a drip in about that place, and it was from a slow leak at the back of the toilet. 

So he went up the stairs, and quickly came down again. There was, he said, a pool of water pretty much covering the entire upstairs floor. 

Six years ago (I'm surprised it was that long!) we had a flood in our bedroom in the night, due to a small ball blocking the overflow of our balcony. For two or three years afterwards, we checked carefully, every time there was heavy rain, not wanting it to happen again. But we had pretty much forgotten about it, and were doing other things didn't think to go upstairs or see whether the balcony was draining as it should last Monday.

A photo showing the rain on our balcony really doesn't do it justice. It must have been three centimetres deep: 

Richard splashed his way out and found that the overflow was blocked by bird mess, probably washed off the roof by the earlier rain. He used the end of a broom to clear it, and water started gushing out of the overflow, slowly draining the water from the balcony.

But the upstairs floor doesn't slope down to the door, so the next problem was trying to get rid of the water that was getting everywhere. Thankfully we don't put books or papers on the floors, and there's no carpet - everywhere in this house is tiled. The furniture is mostly solid wood, so we knew it wouldn't sustain damage if we could remove the water fairly quickly. But it wasn't a simple process. And really only one of us could work at a time. 

So I began, first with a broom, sweeping as much water as I could from the bedroom towards the door. It wasn't very effective.

I next fetched our wet/dry cleaning machine, which sucks water up effectively. I decided to start in Richard's study where - thankfully - the water hadn't quite reached the wires under his desk. And, even better, there aren't many wires on the floor nowadays, because of our Roomba vacuum cleaner which has a tendency to try to eat any wires it finds.

However the Bissell cleaning machine tank doesn't have a very big capacity. Maybe a litre. And with water over most of the floor, it filled up in a couple of minutes, so I had to empty it. It's quite back-aching work using it on the floor. So by the time I had emptied it half a dozen times, with no appreciable reduction of the water level in the room, I decided to leave that idea for a while.

More sweeping in the bedroom removed a bit more water, and I then went to fetch the old-fashioned mop and bucket, which turned out to be the most effective method. The bucket holds about ten litres so it took longer to fill up, and after a couple of buckets full, the study floor was looking almost dry. The  cleaning machine then worked pretty well to get rid of the last few puddles. 

One room done, and it had taken nearly forty-five minutes.

I did some mopping in our bedroom next, but was soon too tired and achey to continue, so, fifteen minutes or so later, Richard took over.  And, with a combination of sweeping, mopping and the wet/dry Bissell machine, taking it in turns, we did eventually get rid of most of the water. A few shoes had to be dried out, but the sun came out in the late afternoon, so that didn't take long. 

A beanbag, in the room we still refer to as our younger son's, absorbed a huge amount of water and had to be dried out over the next couple of days. One bookcase looks as though part of the base has been somewhat destroyed. But everything else is now fully dried out, and - as far as we can tell - undamaged.

So we're very thankful that my brother spotted the drip when he did, and that we decided to check upstairs before it got any worse.

The following morning, not only did the Salt Lake look almost full, but the flamingoes were there. The tiny pink dots on the right-hand side of the photo (which you might see if you click to enlarge it) are flamingoes.  We have no idea how they know when there's enough water for their needs. 

Salt Lake in Larnaka with water and flamingoes

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Back in Cyprus after six weeks away

 A week ago we were at Gatwick Airport, a tad frustrated and rather bored because our flight back to Cyprus from the UK was delayed by a few hours. Apparently there had been a major storm in the area the night before, meaning that some incoming flights had been diverted, and they were still running late. Gatwick is a perfectly acceptable airport, but there's not a great deal to do there.  

However the flight eventually took off, and was shorter than normal due to good tailwinds, so we arrived back just under three hours after our expected arrival time. Our luggage came through quickly, and our friend Sheila met us outside; we were home, with our cases, and slightly disgruntled cats wanting to know why we were up in the middle of the night, by 2am. 

I haven't felt as brain-fogged as I usually do when flying back to Cyprus, just very tired. I've done five loads of laundry so far, and cleaned fairly thoroughly on Saturday, but not a lot else. 

I flew out of Cyprus towards the end of July, to the Midlands. It was a late evening flight, arriving at nearly midnight so I'd booked a room in a nearby Premier Inn. It was clean and comfortable, and I had a good breakfast before continuing my travels.

fruit breakfast at the premier inn

I took a train to the city centre, then a taxi to visit relatives who recently moved to a 'retirement village'. There was a comfortable guest apartment, and we had a quiet few days, which I very much appreciated, winding down after a busy time getting ready to travel. Then on the train to Cumbria to spend four weeks with my son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. 

Although we did visit the family briefly last year, and chat to them regularly via the Internet, they change so fast and it was wonderful to spend time with them. There was a nearby park where they regularly rode their bikes or used their scooters. The weather was pleasantly warm, with only occasional showers of rain. 

We also read books - lots of them! - and played games, and went for walks in some of the gorgeous local countryside.

A special treat while I was there was what my granddaughter referred to as my 'holiday within a holiday' - a visit to one of the Scottish Hebridean islands.  We went to stay at a holiday home owned by the parents of some of their friends (all of whom were there too). The beaches were gorgeous:

The airport on the island was tiny, the return flight on a plane smaller than I had ever been on before, but surprisingly not at all scary. 

Four weeks after I left, Richard arrived - he had been very busy in Cyprus while I was away, with work and other activities, and looking after the house and cats too. 

Towards the end of my stay was the culmination of the trip, our younger son's wedding. We arrived a few days beforehand and there were some things that needed doing, but nothing major. He and his bride-to-be had organised everything.  

Having said that, we did spend one afternoon thoroughly cleaning the chapel:

We also watched the marquee going up on the lawn (which was brown and hard after quite a long drought). We were surprised how many people were involved in the process, which took well over an hour:

The day before the wedding, my extended family arrived; we were all staying in a nearby Travelodge.  One of my sisters-in-law had a birthday, so my brother had arranged a family meal together, which we all enjoyed thoroughly. I had a kind of halloumi fajitas, which was delicious. 

The wedding was small - with Covid still in people's minds, it was limited to family and a small number of very close friends (eg godparents) - and awesome. Afterwards there was lunch at tables on the lawn, under the marquee:

All was finished by about 6pm, but it wasn't the end of the family celebrations. One of my brothers was just a couple of days away from a milestone birthday, so we had another meal together, the day after the wedding, to celebrate that.  

Our last few days were spent near the south coast, with another relative (who was unable to come to the wedding). And then to Gatwick, and home. 

The weather here in Cyprus is not as hot as it sometimes is in September, and we learned that there was quite a heavy downpour of rain the day we flew back.  This morning for the first time since the end of June I went for an early walk with Sheila and I was quite surprised to see that there's still some water in the Salt Lake: it didn't dry out at all this summer.

I've had a wonderful summer, one of the best ever. We're now looking forward to the arrival of some friends in just a few weeks, followed by some family members mid-October. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Summer in Cyprus

 After over two decades, I am used to summers in Cyprus. I don't like them, but with ceiling fans, air conditioning, and somewhat cooler temperatures in the early mornings, I've learned to cope. Mostly. This year, despite excessive heat in various other parts of the world, we haven't had a major heatwave here yet. June was, if anything, cooler than normal. I kept walking the 4km trail with my friend Sheila three mornings per week almost until the end of June.

Facebook kept reminding me about the annual tradition Richard and I established a few years ago, where we go out for ice cream on the first day when it feels really hot. We decided to declare June 22nd as that day; and had a pleasant evening walk with some excellent ice creams.

We and our friends also decided that from July 1st we would move our Friday evening get-togethers from their home to the beach, as we usually do over the hottest months. 

beach in Cyprus in summer

I try to get out for a short walk around the neighbourhood each morning first thing, staying in the shade, and doing no more than about a kilometre; I know how difficult it is to establish a good habit and how easy to break it, so I do go out, if only for ten minutes, and generally feel better for it. 

And then I do whatever food preparation I need to do in the kitchen, before 8am. For the past few years I have managed to avoid turning on the oven for the whole of July and August. We mostly eat salads - and that doesn't mean lots of lettuce and tomatoes; I have discovered all kinds of excellent variations on salads, and usually make one or two new ones each morning. 

I always ensure at least one salad contains protein (black beans, chickpeas, eggs, canned tuna or canned salmon, for instance), and we have some form of basic carbohydrate. That's often potatoes, cooked or reheated in the air fryer before eating. But I've also made rice salad with peas and corn, or rather a nice pasta salad with wholegrain farfalle pasta, sun dried tomatoes, pesto and some vegan parmesan.

Remembering something I was taught many decades ago in school domestic science, I use as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as possible: red and orange peppers, cucumber, avocado, mango, tomatoes, frozen peas, chopped onions, peaches, lightly steamed broccoli... no more than two or three of them per salad, with a little lemon juice and olive oil as dressing. 

Summer is when soft fruit is in season, and often very good value. A couple of weeks ago, I went out early on Saturday morning to the local fruit market, planning to buy a kilogram or so of apricots to stew for a Sunday afternoon get-together. The best value, however, was a crate for two euros, which contained nearly 4kg apricots. We ate a few raw, and they were very good but clearly needed to be used quickly. I didn't want to make more jam. So I stewed half of them, and then used the dehydrator for most of the rest:

dehydrating apricots in Cyprus

I had been wary of using the dehydrator in the summer months, but it wasn't too unpleasant; it didn't seem to add much to the heat or humidity of the kitchen, and I mostly kept out of the room anyway, after setting it going.

At the weekends we do eat hot food: on Sundays I use the air fryer and stovetop some weeks; other weeks we buy a takeaway roast lunch from a local taverna, which has sufficient chicken and potatoes to last us at least three full meals, although the salad that comes with it is only enough for one meal. Still, at just over 14 euros, it's pretty good value, so I make other salads to go with it during the week. 

I usually have portions of previously-made curries in the freezer that I heat on Saturday evenings. Yesterday we were expecting friends from Limassol for the evening, so I used the slow cooker to make my favourite pinto bean curry, and a similar one with chicken. My three-pot slow cooker is excellent for allowing me to cook a variety of different things at the same time, and a slow cooker is perfect for the summer. All the preparation was done before 8am, and it simmered gently through the day, generating very little heat. 

Something else I make in the summer more than other times of year is ice cream. I hadn't tried using our ice cream churn for a couple of years, as it had been somewhat disappointing. I thought I would give it another chance this year - and it appears that the fridge freezer we bought a couple of years ago to replace our elderly and inefficient one gets the churn sufficiently cold that it actually works as intended! I'm very pleased with it, and have made not just my favourite coconut milk vanilla ice cream, but a chocolate sorbet which is easy to make, and very good:

All of which covers the mornings from around 5.30-6.00am up to about nine o'clock, by which time I've also squeezed fresh orange juice, had breakfast and a frappe, and set Dustin the Roomba off to clean the main floor area.  It's still getting a lot of cat hair every day, and has done, slightly to my embarrassment, over a thousand 'dirt events' since we starting using it less than three months ago. 

Then I might give the floor a quick mop, or put on laundry etc, and Richard and I usually chat - about the day, and what we might have read or heard on the news (or Facebook), and whatever else comes up. But usually I'm showered and ready to turn on the air conditioning by about 10am. We run it at 28-29C, in 'eco' mode in our studies, which means the computers don't overheat; the reduction in humidity means it feels significantly cooler than the rest of the house even though it's only 30-31C most of the time.

On Tuesdays my friends usually come over for board games, on Fridays we shop, and on other days I catch up with email, and Facebook, and forums, and DuoLingo on the computer. For a week or so I was doing some proof-reading for a book that's just been published. I try to keep up with photos, adding more to photobooks, although I haven't done as much as usual this year. In the past couple of weeks I have been re-organising and finalising my recipe folder, something I used to do every few years as I like to keep all my recipes in one place - but also like acquiring new ones, and trying variations.

The most recent folder has been a long time in production: our last family recipe folder was in 2014, but at last I have a completely revised 2022 version, containing everything I make, with adaptations and notes; nearly 100 pages in an A4 pocket folder, which opens almost flat and fits nicely in my perspex cookery book holder that sits on the microwave. 

Not that I use exact recipes, necessarily, but I like to have them to refer to, even if it's something I make so often that I don't actually need the recipe. Such a relief not to have to keep digging out scraps of paper with recipes scribbled on them, or my 2014 folder which had become quite tatty.  I know most people nowadays use their tablets or phones for recipes, but I still prefer them in print. 

As for the afternoons, when I'm not working on photos or recipes: I tend to read more in the summer than I do in the winter, and as ever I write book reviews for my book blog. I keep in touch with various people, and pay bills and keep track of finances... and play the daily Wordle and Worldle and Quordle, and of course Lexulous and Words With Friends and one or two others. Just once a day, usually for half an hour or so after lunch. 

In the evenings, we might play games with friends, or watch a DVD, or just continue with what we were doing in the daytime. I usually put the computer to sleep by about 8pm and if we're not doing anything else, I read.

It probably all sounds quite dull to those who lead more active lives, but I'm learning that it's good for me to slow down, to rest when I'm tired. But I'm very much looking forward to over a month out of Cyprus, seeing relatives and taking a break from looking after the house.  The pandemic made that impossible for the past two years, although we did manage a week late summer last year. This time, I should have the opportunity to be a grandma in person rather than online, thankful though I am for the technology that enables us to keep in touch.

I'm relieved that I'm not going this weekend, however, since the UK is predicted to be significantly hotter than Cyprus, at least for the next couple of days... and without air conditioning, that is not going to be at all comfortable. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Restoration of Bathroom Renovation

 In my previous blog post, I mentioned that we were having some work done upstairs, and that I would write about it when it was complete. 

To introduce it, I need to backtrack six years, when we employed a local builder to remove the old-fashioned bathroom from our house and instal a new one, with an extractor fan, better lighting, and an altogether more modern appearance. We were very pleased with the result. 

Anyone who is curious to read more about it can check the lengthy post I wrote at the time about our bathroom renovation

However, about a week after we had been using the new shower regularly, I realised that a couple of the tiles around the tap didn't look quite the same as the rest. I thought I was imagining it at first. Then I wondered if we had somehow bought a box of tiles in a slightly different shade but hadn't noticed at the time. This theory was disproved when a third tile started changing colour. And we found some water on the floor. It wasn't just shower water that had splashed over; this was behind the bath, where there shouldn't have been any water.

And then we noticed some of the paint starting to bubble on one of the walls. We contacted the builder - I don't recall the time-frame, but it was probably some months after the renovation. He came back, and said that the bubbly paint was possibly due to the plaster not having dried out fully before it was painted. He was more concerned about the water and the different shades on the tiles, and he managed to find a joint that wasn't quite right. 

He said he had employed a plumber who rushed his work and had made some other mistakes. So he fixed this leaky pipe joint, and said he would talk to his brother - who is a plasterer - about getting the bubbly paintwork dealt with. 

Time passed. Not months but years.  If we were away for more than about a week, we returned to find that all the tiles were the same colour, but a couple of days later, with regular shower use, the ones around the taps turned back to the different shade.  And the patches with bubbly paintwork turned into large patches of bare wall, including one in the wall outside the bathroom which seemed to be getting worse and worse. 

The builder and his brother did come and look at the bathroom a couple of times, where the walls were getting worse, and said they would come back some time. But they're very busy with other work, and it didn't happen... and we didn't know anyone else who would be able to do the work. Word of mouth is the best way to find skilled handymen here, but unfortunately most of the people we knew with experience of this kind of thing had been disappointed (or worse). The people we used were some of the best locally. 

A young friend who had done some other work for us suggested that perhaps the sealant around the bath was causing the tile problems, and added some more. It looked good, but didn't seem to make any difference to the colour of the tiles. 

More years passed, with the pandemic stopping everything from happening, and finally we talked to another young friend, whom I will refer to as L, the son of some close friends who has worked with a builder in the UK, and did some excellent plastering for us downstairs. He doesn't particularly like working inside - his passion is horticulture - but he said he thought he could fix our problems working just an hour or two per day for a couple of weeks. 

This is what the wall outside the bathroom looked like when L had removed the radiator, and chipped away the loose plaster. He said the wall was very damp, so clearly there was a problem inside the wall, one which he could only tackle from the bathroom side. 

This was what the wall inside looked like: 

And this is the wall opposite, where plaster had fallen away but it was no longer damp, and it had stopped getting worse. The problem that caused this was that the exterior wall had been sucking in water; a year or so ago L had painted the outside wall, which stopped any more damp getting in.

A couple of days later, the tiles around the taps looked like this:

In pulling away the worst of the tiles, L discovered others that almost fell off the wall. 

The timing worked well, as there were no visitors in our guest flat during May, so we were able to go downstairs to shower. Not ideal, as the guest flat stairs are outside, but we were thankful to have that option while the bathroom was unusable. 

We were also very thankful to have discovered an almost-full box of the tiles. That meant we didn't need to try to find matching tiles, or - worse! - replace all the tiles. And in feeling around the plumbing, L found a place that was wet - a joint that had never properly been made, which was the cause of the leaking. At least, he hoped that was the only cause. He managed to fix it, and then we had to wait for everything to dry out. 

All seemed to be dry a week or so later, so he started plastering. First he used the mixture commonly used in Cyprus that looks to us more like concrete:

He plastered the other walls too, and then we had to wait for those to dry out. May was a good time for this to happen; it was warm but not yet humid, and we were able to use a small upright fan to help the process. 

Over the course of the next few days, further plastering happened. Then there was a big leap forward in terms of appearance ,when L called in his brother J to help with the tiling. 

Alex, who appears sporadically in this blog, assumed that the dust sheet was put there for his comfort, and tried to persuade us to turn on the taps to give him a drink. He was rather annoyed when we refused, not wanting any excess water until everything was complete. 

The walls opposite and outside were also being plastered, and sanded, and skimmed, and looked better than they had in years.

Since we were having all this done, and since our previous shower fittings had become quite corroded, we decided to splash out (so to speak) on new fittings, which improved the appearance significantly: 

I wouldn't have minded too much if we had had to change the colour of the bathroom walls, as the orange used six years ago was rather more vivid than I had anticipated. But when we found a half-full pot of the paint, it was an easy decision to use that rather than embarking on a complete re-paint. Richard and I did the painting (mostly Richard) and at last, over a month since it was started, our bathroom was back to how it was after the first renovation six years ago:

It was very good to be able to take a shower in our bathroom again after more than three weeks of having to go down two flights of stairs (one of them outside). We know we're very blessed to have options like this, but guests were expected for our flat early in June. 

Here's the wall next to the bath:

And here's the one opposite:

The only thing remaining was for L to cut some more skirting board pieces and fit them, which he did a few days later. 

We've been using the shower for nearly four weeks now, and are delighted - and relieved - that none of the tiles is showing any indication of changing colour, nor is any of the plaster bubbling or crumbling. And, as mentioned in the previous post, our Roomba has worked hard at eliminating the last of the plaster dust. L did an excellent job tidying and sweeping every day he came, after finishing, but inevitably there was fine dust that kept falling. 

We hope that this bathroom renovation will last considerably longer than six years, and appreciate it all the more after having been unable to use it for most of May.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Introducing... Dustin!

No, Dustin is not a new cat, nor any other animal. Neither is Dustin a lodger, or a guest or a new family member. Not a human one, anyway. But an extremely effective worker, mostly found under the front window in our living room...

Roomba in Cyprus

A decade or so ago, when I first heard about robot vacuum cleaners, I thought they sounded like a great idea. But they were very expensive, and reviews suggested that they had a lot of flaws. Quite apart from the infamous stories about dragging dog mess over expensive carpets, I was concerned about tiny pieces of Lego, or little electronic components that might have fallen to the floor. 

So I hadn't thought about them much until a couple of months ago when we were in a shop that had robot vacuum cleaners on special offer, at a price that was similar to that of regular vacuum cleaners. Not that we needed a new vacuum cleaner; the one we have works perfectly well. But it's noisy, and a bit heavy to take upstairs, and I find vacuuming one of the most tiring household chores - so I didn't do it very often. I aimed for once a week in the main part of our house, once a month upstairs. I rarely succeeded in either aim. 

We have mostly hard floors, so I did also clean them with a dry swiffer,  and mop with a wet one. My aim for that was once a week upstairs and twice a week in the main floor. I didn't always succeed in that aim, either, although it did help to reduce dust and thus sneezing and - most importantly - snoring.  Every so often I would read an article about dust mites, and shudder, and determine to vacuum more often. But 'good intentions' do not lead to a good place...

And mostly it didn't matter too much. Cyprus is a dusty country and if someone visiting the house feels judgemental about dust, it's their problem, not mine. Before it got too bad, I would take action, if somewhat half-heartedly. If guests were expected, I would at least dust the tops of shelves and mop the floor in the living and eating areas of the house if I hadn't done them on the previous Saturday. 

This year I have been a lot more tired than previously. I said in an earlier post that it was perhaps due to my advancing years, and two different people pointed out that my years are less than theirs, so perhaps not. It's not as if I have any chronic health conditions. But Covid in January left me very tired. I thought I was mostly myself by the end of the month, ten days after I was finally released from isolation, but I am not sure that I ever fully regained my prior energy. And I've never had a lot of stamina. 

I was beginning to feel more myself by the end of March. Then I had a booster vaccination in April, which made me feel extremely grim for 24 hours, and fatigued in the extreme for a couple more days. I still don't feel as if I've returned to normal. My brain is foggy, my energy levels fluctuating even more than they used to. If I have a busy, active day (and my 'busy, active' days are calm and relaxed compared to those of many people I know) I can't do much more than sit and read a day later.

All of which, combined with a generous financial gift, came together to convince me that a robot vacuum cleaner would be a Good Thing. We didn't just buy it in impulse, even so. We came home, and researched the many available options - most of which are now reasonably priced - and eventually decided on a 'Roomba'. 

There are buttons on top to tell it to clean, or to go home. But the instruction manual recommended downloading an app for our phones. My phone doesn't have room for any more apps, and I'd rather use the actual buttons anyway. But Richard downloaded it, and that's when we learned that we had to give it a name. 'Roomba' seemed rather boring, so I Googled for a site that listed names others have given to their robot vacuum cleaners. None of them appealed until we came to 'Dusty' - but, as I pointed out, we didn't want it to make the house dusty. We wanted it to eat the dirt, to suck the dust in... and thus it got its name. And we sometimes started referring to it as 'he'.  

One of the reviews I read said that these robot gadgets lurched around the room like drunken babies, and when we set it off for the first time, we could see what the reviewer meant. It started off in a fairly straight line, bumped into something, changed direction, set off until it bumped into something else... it seemed entirely random, and we could hardly take our eyes off it. 

The cats were puzzled too, disturbed at first, but quickly accepting that it didn't mean any harm. And over the course of the next ninety minutes or so, it managed to find the entire main floor. I hadn't vacuumed the rug for about ten days, and had swiffered (but not mopped) the floors a few days earlier. So it had to work hard. But I was still rather shocked when it returned to its base after about an hour and a half, and we opened the dust container to check and empty it:

Roomba full of dirt and dust!

We were surprised it hadn't choked and stopped. According to the app, it had found 39 'dust events' - places where it was so dirty it had to do a kind of twirl to get properly clean.

We thought we had better run it again the following day, and did so. It struggled a bit on some of the lighter-weight rugs, so we lifted those out of the way - they're easy enough to throw in the washing machine.  More of a problem was its proclivity for trying to swallow electrical cables, of which we had rather a lot on the floor: at the back of the TV, around my computer, and elsewhere. It was a good incentive to find ways to move them off the floor. 

On the Saturday, when I would normally procrastinate about cleaning as I so disliked vacuuming, I had a burst of enthusiasm for dusting the shelves, and even lifted the chairs so Dustin could clean under the dining room table: 

Mopping suddenly became less effort, too, as less dusty floors meant less general mess... so I didn't have to keep stopping to clean the mop. Dustin has cleaned upstairs, too, and is excellent underneath the bed. Twice a week seems to be about right for upstairs. We had read that it was supposed to be able to sense stairs, so we watched it the first time it ran upstairs, hoping it would see the stairs coming and move away. I sat on one of the top stairs watching it approach... and was ready to catch it, if it didn't turn around. 

What happened was that it stopped, rather precariously balanced with about a quarter of it hanging over the edge. A red light came on, and a message appeared on Richard's phone, telling him that Dustin was teetering on the edge of a cliff. We rescued it, and decided to put the cat litter box at the top of the stairs, as it's fairly heavy and bulky, and would prevent the robot from toppling over or sending out the SOS. 

About ten days ago, I remembered that it's probably six months or more since we last moved our big sofa to clean underneath. Sure enough, when I moved it, this is what I saw: 

I had to pick Dustin up and put it in the right place a couple of times, but the resultant dust-free floor was quite a contrast: 

It's been quite a revelation having this robot vacuum cleaner. I didn't think the house was THAT dirty, and assumed that once or twice per week would be sufficient to keep it clean. But we've been running it six times a week in the main part of the house - we give it a rest on Sundays - and still it sucks up a significant amount of dust every day, albeit not as much as the first time. Here, for instance, is today's offering, after about six weeks of use and something like 55 hours running time in total (according to the app):

The white bits that fell out when I opened it are probably plaster dust; considerable work is happening upstairs, which will be the subject of another blog post when it's finished. But there's not much of that. The cats are moulting as the weather warms up, so no doubt a large part of the dust is due to cat hairs, but even so... the house must have been much dirtier than we realised, and it may be months before we can run the Roomba less frequently.

And I'm happy to report that both sneezing (notwithstanding the plaster dust) and snoring have reduced considerably. 

Saturday, April 09, 2022

April, and restrictions ease in Cyprus

So it's over two years since the pandemic started. Case numbers are still fairly high in Cyprus, given that the population is not much more than a million. But restrictions are easing, as they have in many other Western countries in the past couple of months. We still have to wear masks in shops and other indoor public spaces, but safe passes haven't had to be shown in supermarkets or other grocery shops for a couple of weeks, and as of Monday they won't need to be shown anywhere. 

I mentioned in my last post that March had turned chilly, as often happens during the first week of March. I didn't expect that it would continue to be decidedly on the cool side for Cyprus. We've had to have our gas tank refilled at least three times this winter - it was only once a year ago. The central heating was coming on, if only for half an hour or so, every day until the end of the month. 

We realised how unusual that was the day after the clocks went forward (the last Sunday of March); we didn't change the central heating timer clock, and realised it had not previously occurred to us that we might need to. Never before has the heating come on during the daylight savings/summer time period.

I was still wearing several layers of clothes, using a microwave wheat bag every night, and still using our double thickness of duvet (13 togs and 4.5 togs together). Although I change the sheets and pillowcases every week, I only change the duvet cover once a fortnight - and both times, during March, I pondered whether to move to just the 13 tog duvet, and quickly decided against it. It's only in the past week that it started to feel over-warm, and today I put away the 4.5 tog duvet. At some point we'll have a couple of weeks when we just need that, then I'll wash them both and pack them away for the summer.

So it was no surprise to learn that March was the coldest ever for Larnaka (and other parts of the island). 

I took very few photos. I didn't even take one of yellow foliage - perhaps it took longer to appear. I did take this photo, however, which is mostly yellow, about four weeks ago:

lemons in Cyprus!

A crate of lemons, brought to us by a friend who had been employed to cut down an old lemon tree that was growing too close to someone's house. That wasn't all of them - we took maybe 25% of the lemons we were offered.  I don't know how many kilograms there were, but I spent a fair bit of time grating skin to freeze zest, juicing them - to freeze, or use.  

I've frozen two biggish boxes of lemon 'cubes' to use when I need just a tablespoon of the juice in the months when lemons are more difficult to get hold of, and several small boxes with 100ml each of lemon juice to use in various recipes that need more than a tablespoon. I've also frozen a couple of boxes of lemon slices, to use in water, or on salmon.  And during many of those chilly evenings we drank hot lemon and honey. 

I had to throw out maybe three or four that started to go mouldy, but I kept the crate outside, and the colder weather meant that most of them kept very well. I haven't used them all, even now. But the ones that remain are very small and getting a bit dried out.

As usual, I walked three times a week with my friend Sheila, along part of the Salt Lake trail. I say 'as usual' but for a couple of weeks in January I didn't walk due to having Covid, and for a couple of weeks in February she didn't walk, due to isolating and then having Covid herself. But in March we were both fine, and although we sometimes had to wrap up extra-warm, with woolly hats and scarves, it was good to get out first thing. 

In addition to being cold, there was a fair amount of rain, so that the Salt Lake was about as full as it ever gets: 

Salt Lake in Larnaka, quite full

The picture doesn't really show it well, but usually there are several metres more of 'beach' before the water starts.

Flamingoes, of course, have been much in evidence, though never close enough for good pictures:

flamingoes in Larnaka Salt Lake

My freesias came out, over a week later than their usual date, and didn't last long, but they were pretty for a few days:

At the end of the month, I popped around the corner to buy something from 'Kritikos', our convenient supermarket which was previously 'Savemore', and before that 'Micro', and before that 'Orphanides Express', and before that 'Kleitos'.  Yes, all those different supermarkets in the not-quite-sixteen years since we moved to this house (how can it possibly be sixteen...?)

And, like all its predecessors, it had closed. Abruptly, with no warning. 

closed Kritikos supermarket in Larnaka

I wonder what its next incarnation will be... or whether it just isn't commercially viable to have a supermarket in a residential area like this one. 

I don't even take as many photos of the cats as I used to. Alexander and Lady Jane are eight years old now, and Alex, at least, is just starting to slow down a little. He, like me, seems quite sensitive to both extremes of weather; he doesn't like it being cold, but he doesn't like heat either. Here he is, worn out after being outside in the unexpected warmth of April (and it was VERY hot for a couple of days - up to 27 degrees, with a dust storm from the Sahara)

sleeping white and brown cat

Jane, however, likes the heat so much that even in July and August she pointedly departs from any room where the air conditioning is turned on. She has spent much of the winter curled up in a beanbag right against a radiator. And even in early April, when I was, at last, shedding a layer or two, she was clearly hinting that she wanted the heating on again:

cat sleeping in a cat bed!

Yes, Jane is such an unusual cat that she actually sleeps in a bed that is intended for cats! 

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Visitors and Blustery Days in Cyprus

January, as I described at length, was mostly taken up with Covid. Not that I had it seriously, thankfully, and Richard never did catch it. By the end of the month normal pandemic life had resumed albeit with reduced energy levels and a nasty cough. 

In the middle of February we were delighted that one of my second cousins and her family were able to come and visit. I last saw my cousin thirty-five years ago but one of the great things about Facebook is the ability to get in touch with long-lost friends and relatives. 

The weather, as so often happens mid-February, was pleasantly warm and sunny, so they were able to get out and about, and the week flew past. Unfortunately my cousins were not able to meet our closest friends, who were isolating for most of the month, as one after another of them caught Covid. Happily it was even more mildly than I had it, and (so far, anyway) with no lasting effects. 

And so to March. 

Almost every year the balmier weather of February gives way to a much chillier March. Walking with my friend in the Salt Lake Park on Thursday morning, wearing a warm hat, rather than a sun hat, we were startled to see a rainbow:

Rainbow over the Salt Lake

It wasn't raining where we were walking (for which I was thankful) and the rainbow didn't last very long. But it was extremely windy. We watched some birds trying to fly from the top of a tree, apparently hovering or even flying backwards as they battled against the gusts.

Yesterday was quite pleasant, and Richard went sailing with a friend although it was so cold, with rain threatening, that they didn't stay out as long as they had hoped. 

Today, after lunch, Richard suggested a walk along the Mackenzie promenade, and perhaps an ice cream at one of the cafés. It looked very windy despite the temperature being 17 degrees and sunny, so we wrapped up warmly. Richard took a woolly hat. I didn't, but rather wished I had done so...

The waves, usually very calm here, were extremely choppy: 

choppy waves by Mackenzie beach in Larnaka

As we approached the section with the ice cream cafés, I saw a sign for hot chocolate. Somehow that seemed a lot more appealing than ice cream, as we were both feeling a little chilly. So I suggested we ask if they had any non-dairy milks. Yes, they told us, they had either coconut or almond milk. A great improvement on a couple of years ago when the only option tended to be soya. So we ordered hot chocolate made with coconut milk and sat down in some relief after the buffeting of the wind. 

drinking hot chocolate with coconut milk

They were very good, and warmed us up nicely. We don't think we've been in this particular café before - it had a typically Cypriot interior, with both a wood-burning heater for the winter, and high wall fans for the summer:

Inside of Cyprus café

Neither were switched on, since the temperature inside was just right, at least with our warm jackets on. 

The other typical feature was a cat, wandering around sniffing under the tables in case any previous customers had dropped anything:

cat in Cyprus

It was quite a large cat, evidently an elderly one which seemed entirely oblivious to people. Not a feral cat, however: it was clean and well-fed. 

Then, warmed by our hot chocolate, we set out again, this time against the wind so it was much more of a struggle. I got quite cold before we reached the turn-off for the car park.  Yes, we drove most of the way, as we have done before when walking along the promenade. We didn't walk nearly far enough to walk off the hot chocolate calories... but I was extremely thankful to be out of the wind at last.

This blustery weather is predicted to continue, along with somewhat grey days and some rain, and chilly nights, though reasonably warm in the daytimes: 

Larnaka forecast March 2022

I feel as if my energy levels are pretty much restored now, or as much as is possible at my advanced age. I still have an occasional cough, but it's a whole lot better than it was a month ago.