Sunday, March 26, 2023

Eating a variety of plant-based foods

 It's fairly easy to eat healthfully in Cyprus. Fruit and vegetables in season are generally inexpensive; I have often bought a crate at the outdoor fruit market, typically two or three kilograms (sometimes more) of tomatoes, plums, peaches or apricots, when they are plentiful, for a couple of euros. I lightly stew and then freeze the ones I don't use immediately in 400g portions, so I have them available at other times of year. 

In the winter, citrus fruit is excellent value. Large, delicious Merlin oranges are currently 79 eurocents per kilogram, for instance. Lemons are even more prolific, and most years someone offers us a large bag of lemons from their tree. If not, a crate of about 15-20 lemons costs around a euro. The juice can be frozen in ice cube trays, or other containers for use all year round.

So it's pretty easy for us to get our 'five-a-day' - usually it's nearer eight or nine portions of fruit and veg - as well as the recommended 30g fibre, much of which is in the fruit and vegetables we eat. I do this not to be virtuous, but because I like fruit and veg, and also because I appreciate the related health benefits. 

What I hadn't come across until recently was a newer recommendation that, in addition to the above guidelines, we should aim for at least 30 different kinds of plant-based foods each week. A friend on Facebook mentioned this and I checked various links; it seems to be from a legitimate study. It's different from the 'five-a-day' principle (which should still be followed) in two significant respects:

(1) We don't just count fruits and vegetables, but other plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn can also be included.

(2) Each kind of food is only counted once in each week.  

I am aware that being able to do this is a 'first world' privilege. We're fortunate to live in a country that offers a wide selection of high quality produce at affordable prices. In many parts of the world, food products are seriously limited, or highly priced, and it may be impossible to eat more than one or two different kinds of food in a week. 

I have to admit, too, that my first question was whether coffee, cocoa and sugar would count; all are, after all, plant-based. But they're not mentioned in any of the lists I looked at on this topic, so I assume not. Herbs and spices can be included, but each is only worth a quarter of a food 'point' as the quantities are generally so small.

Out of curiosity, I decided to keep a record of a week of typical eating for us, some weeks ago, without making any deliberate adjustments, to see if we reached the goal. 


We're rather predictable as far as breakfasts go. I had my typical basic breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice, and home-made muesli, which contains oats, coconut, almond meal, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, raisins, dried apricots and dried cranberries.  I had a cup of coffee, too. We don't use dairy milk; instead I make both cashew milk and oat milk. I can't count oats again, but cashews can be added to my list. Oh, and I always eat a brazil nut. 

So that was twelve at the start of the first day, but I couldn't count any of them again for the rest of the week.

Richard, meanwhile, had a glass of orange juice, half an apple, a banana, a pear, a little pot of mixed nuts (brazil, peanuts, walnuts, almonds) and a cup of coffee with the same two plant-based milks.  

So he started the week with ten different plant-based products. 

Sunday is the only day we usually have a cooked lunch. I used a previously made lemon chicken from the freezer (which, in addition to the chicken, contained onions, mushrooms, yellow peppers and lemon juice). We had roast potatoes, carrots and broccoli with it. 

That made seven more plant-based foods to add to our weekly inventory.

Our friends were coming over for an afternoon of games followed by a shared meal.  So I made a couple of loaves of bread in the breadmaker (with wholewheat flour, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds), and soup (which contained onions, tomatoes and courgettes, all pureed together after caramelising with garlic and spices, then simmering). For dessert I made an apricot crisp, which contained previously frozen apricots, some lemon juice, and an oat-based topping with some raisins in it. 

Already we were getting into duplicates which didn't count in the '30-a-week' guideline. but I think that made an extra five for me, and an extra eight for Richard as he didn't have apricots or seeds with his breakfast. 

During the meal, we ate some raw carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and peppers brought by our friends. Only the cucumber is counted as a new food, but in all that made 25 different plant-based foods for me, and I think 26 for Richard on our first day. I decided not to count garlic, herbs or spices at all, just treating those as a bonus. 


I went to the fruit shop first thing, to buy the vegetables needed for Tuesday evening, some fruit that we were running low on, and one or two other things. I was pleased to see locally grown strawberries at €1.49 per 500g. They looked and smelled good, so I bought a pack. And since cherry tomatoes were on offer (two for the price of one) I bought some of those too.

Just under nine euros bought me this lot: 

Our breakfasts were the same as Sundays, with the addition of about ten strawberries each. 

For lunch we had some cold turkey and mushroom pie left over from the end of last week, with cherry tomatoes, and the leftover apricot crisp. No new plant-based products there. However we then opened some new dairy-free chocolate from Lidl, with coconut and pecans. Even if the cocoa doesn't count, the nuts do. 

On Monday evenings we usually have something fairly quick to make and vegan. Since I had an avocado which was just right for eating, bought a week earlier, I made some guacamole to eat with black bean fajitas. The tortillas were whole-grain, with rye as well as wheat, and the filling, in addition to the black beans, contained onions, mushrooms and peppers... all of which were included in Sunday's lunch. We also had some tomatoes, cucumber and mixed lettuce and cabbage. 

So we only added seven different plant-based foods on Monday, but if I was counting correctly, it means I had already reached 32 and Richard 33 different plant-based foods in just two days.  


A pear was an extra plant food for Richard for breakfast, but everything else was the same for both of us. Lunch was leftover bread and soup from Sunday, with more of the coconut and pecan chocolate. 

On Tuesday evenings we usually have some kind of fish, with roasted vegetables. This time I cooked baked salmon with lemon slices and roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, garlic cloves, red peppers and broccoli.  The only one we hadn't eaten earlier in the week was sweet potato, and I decided to add in garlic this time, since we ate four or five roasted cloves each, rather than just using a sprinkling. 

Still trying to keep track, I counted 34 for me by this stage, and 37 for Richard.


In the morning I cut up the mango I'd bought at the froutaria on Monday, and we had that along with our usual breakfast foods. At lunch we ate leftover fajita filling and salads, so nothing new there. In the evening I made vegan sausages for me, which are mainly chickpeas; Richard had meat sausages, made a few months ago by a friend. We had them with potato wedges, roasted mushrooms and cauliflower,  and some home-made baked beans, which used haricot beans

Total plant-based foods so far: 38 for me, 40 for Richard.


We had some more of Monday's strawberries with our breakfasts, and more leftovers at lunch. In the evening I heated up a container of chili con carne which I'd made and frozen a couple of months earlier, along with a few of Wednesday's baked beans. I used the microwave and the air fryer to make jacket potatoes, with carrots and broccoli, also air fried, which worked well. I also microwaved some frozen peas which I thought would be the only additional plant food for Thursday, until I remembered that my chilis always contain a good amount of red lentils

So I'd reached 40 plant foods, Richard 42. 


I took my trolley to the local fruitaria first thing, and bought this selection of fruit and veg for the next few days - enough to last us until Wednesday:.

That lot came to just over 15 euros.  The most expensive item was the three peppers; there weren't any in the reduced section, so they were full price, and I paid nearly a euro per pepper (about 300g each). Next highest is the pears. The oranges - lovely large, juicy ones - were still just 69 or 79 cents per kilogram and I bought two different kinds. 

Breakfast on Friday was as before, likewise lunch, with the addition of some apple pastries that were on sale at Lidl, where we went later in the morning (and spent rather more than €15 on items such as cat food, canned coconut milk and honey). And while the pastries were not exactly healthful, I realised that I hadn't had any apple so far this week. So that took me to 41. 

I was going to make spanokopitta in the evening but was quite tired, and we'd had pastries at lunch-time anyway. So we decided on our favourite local fast-food, Souvlaki Express. Chicken with salad in a pitta for Richard, falafel for me. I was losing track, but we had both exceeded 40 different fruits and vegetables, without having taken any added herbs and spices into account. 


I made chicken jalfrezi in the slow cooker first thing, then breakfast and lunch as before... Saturday is our curry night, and we had the jalfrezi with wholegrain pittas, raisins, coconut, mango chutney, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, apple and banana. I don't think there was anything 'new' to the week's plant-based foods, other than the banana for me, as I hadn't had one at breakfast.

Having eaten, without any effort, considerably more than the 'ideal' number of different plant foods during the course of a week, my main feeling was an overwhelming thankfulness at living in a place with such an abundance of high quality, inexpensive foods. 

The following week

During that first week, we had eaten some foods that we don't eat every week, such as the strawberries and mango. We don't eat avocado every week, either or black beans (which we had twice), or baked beans... 

So I logged another week, less rigorously. We didn't have a fresh mango, but still had mango chutney with our Saturday curry. No avocado or baked beans, but we had some canned pineapple when I made sweet-and-sour cheese. We also had some brown rice, which is another one (white rice doesn't count - but I never buy it anyway).  

I don't know that we reached forty during the second week, but we ate well over thirty different plant-based foods. It's not as if we're vegans or even vegetarians, although we don't eat meat every day. And we don't eat a huge number of different fruits or vegetables. But the articles I read implied that many people don't even manage twenty different kinds. 

Rather than continue tracking, I decided to list what we eat by different types of plant-based food. 

Typical groceries

I go to the fruitaria at least twice every week, sometimes three times. A couple of typical purchases are shown above. I'm not very adventurous, which makes it easy to shop without making a list. Every week I buy, and we both eat:

Oranges - apples - bananas - pears 

Potatoes - sweet potatoes - carrots - broccoli - tomatoes - onions - mushrooms - peppers - cucumbers - garlic cloves

Also, we always have and eat at least once:

Peas - french beans

Every six weeks, we go to a lovely little shop that sells nuts and various dried products.  Between €50 and €60 buys us sufficient of the following to last for the next month and a half, mostly eaten at breakfast:

Almonds - brazil nuts - cashew nuts - peanuts - walnuts

Sunflower - flax - chia

Dried fruit:
Raisins - dates - apricots - cranberries 


With the addition of wholewheat (in bread) and oats (in milk, and my granola) I make that 31 plant-based products which we both eat almost every week.  I also eat a large courgette each week, and Richard has a portion of broad beans at the same time.  Even if we don't have a fresh mango, we have mango chutney. We always seem to have something containing lemon juice, too, whether used fresh or frozen. 

I could also include quarter portions each of: chili powder, sweet paprika, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger, turmeric, parsley and basil, all of which we use pretty much every week - and other herbs and spices less frequently. 

At least once or twice a month we also eat:

cauliflower - spinach - cabbage - lettuce - avocado

brown rice - pineapple (canned) 

chickpeas - lentils - black beans - haricot beans 

And, when they're available in season:

clementines - apricots - peaches - strawberries - plums 

It's not a competition; the only 'prize' for eating lots of plant-based products is an increased chance of longevity, with good health as we age. There are, of course, those who eat almost no fruit and veg and still live to be elderly and free of disease. There are also those who are extremely fit and eat very healthfully, but who still develop serious diseases or life-threatening conditions at a young age.  

But I'm not a fatalist. I'd rather increase my chances of good health even if, in the end, environment or genetics beat lifestyle. I know some people have allergies or specific foods they don't like. But there are many more fruits and vegetables than the 50 or so that I've mentioned. So I'm a bit puzzled how anyone in a developed country with widely available (and reasonably priced) produce could NOT eat thirty or more different plant-based foods in a week.  

Friday, February 17, 2023

A new desk, and a tribute to the old one

Short version of this post: my wonderful husband spent three hours putting together a flat-pack desk for me, early last week. This was the result:

new computer desk in Cyprus

For those who like to read my ramblings, here's the longer version:

When we first moved to Cyprus, quarter of a century ago, we bought some furniture inexpensively from the organisation my husband was seconded to. Much of it was quite old and well-used, but also solid and likely to last at least as long as it had already. One of those pieces of furniture was a heavy desk which we put in my study, where I had my computer: 

old desk and computer, small cat

At some point both the computer and the screen were upgraded by my husband and sons, and we acquired a scanner. The desk stayed in the same place, easily able to hold these, a large keyboard, and whatever books or other random additions I needed: 

old desk, old computer

When we moved to our current house, sixteen-and-a-half years ago, we discussed whether I might like something smaller. I already had a flat screen and a more compact keyboard by that stage. But I was quite attached to the desk. It had four good-sized drawers and a cupboard on the other side, and I liked the old-fashioned wood look. So some strong people who helped us to move carried it up the stairs to my new, larger study, and there it sat: 

This study had a lot more scope for moving furniture around. That happened several times, leading to, for instance, this: 

And, later, this:

.. which is where it remained since about 2016, facing the door. This is my preferred orientation for the desk. I did move other furniture around, but the desk stayed where it was. 

About a year ago, the desk started to become a bit wobbly. Perhaps all the moving had weakened one of those legs. They are quite small compared to the size of the desk. Having a large cat jumping on and off probably didn't help, either, but the desk, we reckoned, was probably fifty years old. It didn't owe me anything. I wondered whether I might be able to find something similar, with stronger legs.  

I looked at several possible shops online, none of which had desks I liked. Those they had in the shops seemed extortionately priced. I would have shrugged and forgotten about it, until one day I realised the wobbliness was worse. One of the front legs had become detached. 

Creative as ever, Richard found a temporary solution:

old desk held up by dictionaries

This was shortly after I had upgraded my elderly computer and laptop into a newer laptop that could be used with my screen, keyboard, mouse (etc) while not travelling. Richard made me (from scratch) a very nice wooden shelf to raise the screen, and to house the laptop. 

Inevitably there were a lot of wires, as well as the speaker, and a kind of hub thing which enabled the laptop to connect to the screen and other peripherals. Our white cat Alex liked sleeping on the desk, knocking off anything that came in his path. Hence the rough cardboard box, in stark contrast to the  pristine wooden shelf:

computer, screen, desk and large white cat in a box

We spent a morning, early last summer, looking for possible replacement desks. We tried the Thrift Store, a couple of second-hand furniture shops and several large stores which sold desks of all shapes and sizes. We didn't see anything I really liked. I didn't want a modern streamlined table with movable drawer units, nor a metal desk. Since I had a (mostly) functioning desk, I was only going to replace it if I found one that felt absolutely right. 

Richard wondered whether he could repair the broken leg. It would have meant considerable disruption, but he thought he might possibly do it while I was away last summer. In the event, he was so busy he didn't have a moment to himself, let alone the time needed to find a way to repair it that was going to last, and which would also need to have strengthened the other legs. If one breaks, we realised, it's probably not long before others follow suit. 

So the dictionaries remained in place. Richard said, once or twice, that he should think about repairing the desk, but I was reluctant to go through all the hassle of disconnecting everything and emptying out the drawers and moving the desk...

Then, nearly two weeks ago, the computer refused to connect to the screen. That happened a couple of times before and Richard had shown me a sequence of unplugging wires and re-starting the computer that seemed to work. 

Not this time. And when I tried to follow the wires to their sources, wondering if something had become unplugged, I realised that the hub conversion gadget thing had no lights on. Re-plugging that didn't help. Without it, there was no chance of connecting to the screen. I could use the laptop as a laptop but nothing else, and it looked as though the computer was not even charging...

Richard wasn't home, and I was due to meet my younger son and daughter-in-law online for a crossword-solving session.  Thankfully my son is familiar with the system, and managed to talk me through - on the phone - plugging in the charging cable, and also temporarily enabling the printer so I could print out the crossword they sent me. 

So the solving session happened, and we successfully completed another tricky one. 

Since the hub thing (Richard calls it a 'breakout box', and its official name is 'multi-port adapter') was less than a year old, and did not seem to be working at all, we took it back to Stephanis in the evening. They said they would send it away for repair. It would probably take about a week, they said. 

So I had to use the laptop with its built-in keyboard (which is okay) and touch-pad (which I don't like at all) and its small screen for the next ten days until it was finally acknowledged that the hub/box/adapter was broken, and they supplied a new one. 


In the meantime, I was looking on the Superhome Centre website and happened to see a desk which looked ideal. I mentioned it tentatively to Richard, as I'm always reluctant to replace things that aren't totally broken. He said he thought I should get it. We went to have a look, and made an order, and a couple of days later went - in our van - to collect it. 

Richard hoped it might be in three separate pieces (two sides and a top) rather than all put together as he thought it could be rather heavy to get upstairs. What we had not expected was a single flatpack box, reminiscent of Ikea, but with considerably more parts. The advantage of that was that we could carry it up in several trips. The disadvantage was that it was evidently going to need a significant amount of time to put together. 

The instructions had no words after the first page, and suggested that it would take two hours for two people to put together:

I removed the drawers from the old desk, while Richard disconnected and removed the wires and peripheral computer bits and pieces. Then we managed to lift the old desk into the living room, and ran the Roomba in the space underneath, where it hadn't been able to get before. 

He then used the old desk as a workbench to start constructing the new one:

There wasn't anything I could do to assist in the actual construction, but I did empty out the two large bags of screws, dowels and other bits of metal and plastic, and sorted them:

I then passed over each item as needed. I didn't begin to understand the pictorial 'instructions', but Richard had no difficulty. This, I realised, is why building Lego models from instructions is an important life skill. Freestyle building is more creative, but for something as complex as this desk, I wanted it to be built as designed by the manufacturer rather than a creative model that might be more interesting, but would probably be less useful.

I did assist about three times, holding things that needed to be screwed in place, and moving completed parts out of the way. But I'm not sure that having a second competent pictorial-instruction-follower would have made it much quicker.  It took about three hours in all. I felt a bit guilty: had I known it would be this complex, I wouldn't ever have mentioned it. 

However, the resulting desk is exactly right. It's not as deep as the old one, and the drawers are, therefore, smaller. I was able to get rid of some ancient paperwork and other stuff that was unneeded, and they are much better organised. 

This all happened a week before we were able to pick up the new hub/adapter thing, so I had to use my laptop without the add-on peripherals. But it gave Richard a chance to think how to get the wires reasonably neatly stored so that (1) they weren't on the desk getting in my way, or pushed over by cats (2) they weren't on the floor (where the Roomba might try to eat them) and (3) they weren't dangling at the back, where the cats would want to play with them, and pull things off the desk. 

One of the features of the desk is that instead of having four drawers on the left, there are three, with a shelf at the top. So Richard drilled a few neat holes in the back. My hubs, hard drives and random essential wires are able to be housed there, out of sight, and yet not too difficult to access if needed:

Alex's cardboard box was looking very tatty, but he still likes it, so I covered it with some sticky-backed paper, and put it on the scanner rather than the desk. He's not as keen on it as he was, but in this rather chilly time of year he prefers to sleep on a beanbag anyway.

And the old desk...? 

Some teenage friends have been doing some outside painting for us. They came the morning after Richard built the desk, and were happy to help us move the old one down, prior to taking it to the dump. Our indoor cat, Lady Jane, has twice raced between our legs as we come in the front door, and down the stairs to the desk. She didn't want to escape, just to smell it and roll around underneath. Thankfully she was easily bribed indoors again. She hasn't tried to get out for a long time but evidently saw the desk from the upstairs balcony, and recognised it. 

Since we don't want her getting out - she has no road sense - we were thinking about getting it to the dump, when another young friend said he had a use for it, as a kind of outdoor work bench (under shelter) with different, taller legs that he will construct. I had felt a little sad about abandoning the desk entirely, so am very pleased that it will still be useful. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

In and out of Cyprus, celebrations and sadness

 I last posted on this blog nearly three months ago. I was planning to write on Christmas Eve, two months later, as I have done in previous years. I was going to say what an awesome year we had as a family, notwithstanding the increasingly depressing international news, with wars, famine, rampant inflation and generally worrying outlook. 

I was going to mention the family gathering that took me back to the UK near the end of November, to celebrate my father's 90th birthday. He and his wife of 18 years had settled well into a 'retirement village' apartment, and had made several friends there. On his actual birthday, my sister and my father's sister came for the day and we all went out to lunch. 

The following day my father was very pleased to win a game of Settlers of Catan, quite resoundingly. 

Physically he was increasingly frail, needing oxygen for 15 hours out of every 24. But his mind was as strong as ever, and he was in excellent spirits. His wife had organised a lunch party for the family, and he gave a positive, welcoming speech at the beginning, wearing a banner provided by his step-granddaughters, saying '90 and fabulous'. 

When I flew back to Cyprus, early in December, he was looking forward to Christmas, to seeing the extended family again, and to a couple of significant family events that should take place in 2023.

So it was a terrible shock to us, and to so many people who loved him, when he died a few days before Christmas. He had a virus (not Covid) and had been tired and a bit short of breath; by then he was on oxygen all the time, but he had been watching the World Cup final and there was no indication that he would not survive the night. 

At ninety, with three life-threatening health conditions, we knew he wouldn't have many more years - and he would have hated to become bed-ridden, or completely dependent. From his point of view it was a good time and a good way to go, in his own bed rather than hospital, without suffering from any painful or debilitating final illness. 

From our point of view, it would never have been a good time. 

Perhaps that's inevitable; when someone is such a positive, generous and encouraging person, their passing leaves a huge hole in the lives of those around them.  

My father was an active person, even in his last decade when he started to have physical limitations. He wrote an intermittent blog about living with heart failure, which he last updated just over two years ago when he was still doing a fair bit of gardening. He also published his memoirs just over five years ago, and a dystopian novel nearly three years ago. 

I'm so thankful I spent four days with him in the summer, and nearly a week for his birthday celebrations. I'm thankful he was able to attend all three of his grandsons' weddings, and that my grandchildren knew and loved him, and are old enough that they will probably remember him. I'm also thankful that we have so many good memories; that he was such a good father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

The funeral was last week, well-planned and organised by one of my brothers and one of my step-brothers. We sang three of my father's favourite hymns, and my brother gave a moving eulogy that was poignant, and also inspiring. He left us with a wonderful image of our dad, knocking St Peter's croquet ball off a heavenly lawn. There were many tears, but there were a few smiles, too. We know our father is now walking without difficulty, singing as he did when he was younger, reunited with so many beloved relatives and friends who left this world before he did. 

But we still miss him. 

I wrote about losing my mother nine-and-a-half years earlier. That was hard, in a way I hadn't entirely foreseen. Losing my other parent is just as hard, despite there being so much to be thankful for, and it still feels raw a month later. 

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.