Monday, June 26, 2017

Family visiting Cyprus

It's almost four weeks since the family arrived in Cyprus after a few stressful weeks packing up the house and travelling, via relatives in the UK, to stay here. They were all exhausted when they got here, and it took a few days for the children to get into somewhat regular sleep patterns.

David, at three, no longer takes naps in the daytime, and Esther, at six months, just takes catnaps, and still usually wakes at least once in the night. She's teething, has just started solids, and has reached the stage of frustrating backwards crawling. She was very clingy with Becky when she arrived, too, and David quite stressed and anxious about all the changes.

I had already planned, before they arrived, to find as much time as possible to be with the children. I'm hardly doing any writing, or participating in forums, or doing anything with my websites while they're here. Emails are written in odd moments, and I've been uploading photos to Facebook every few days, but it's taken me over a week to find the time and energy to write this blog post.

With the increasing heat, we're all quite tired - other than David, who seems to have vast reserves of energy - and inevitably have to spend at least the hottest part of the days indoors. I'm delighted to discover that David has an almost endless capacity for books, so we're all reading aloud to him, everything from simple picture books through to early chapter books with line drawings, such as Mrs Pepperpot and Winnie-the-Pooh.

Still, we seem to have done a fair amount of other things - a few highlights below.

On one of the first days, Richard and I took David out to the local park where he enjoyed climbing and digging in the dirt as well as the standard slides and roundabouts.


He's been to some Little Muse presentations and drama sessions (the last one before the summer break is today, giving me an hour to myself) and enjoyed doing some painting there:


Great excitement ensued when he went sailing with his Daddy and Grandpa:


Richard has been very busy with work in the past few weeks, so there haven't been any more opportunities for sailing, but they hope to do that again soon.

We've been to the beach a couple of times, although it's so hot that we can't really go before about 4.30pm at the earliest:


David's third birthday was a very important occasion, and Becky created a wonderful 'digger' cake:


One of his birthday gifts was a paddling pool, which has provided a great deal of entertainment:


We found a second-hand bike at the thrift store, and a helmet, and he's ridden that in an area Richard cleared in our side yard, although, again, it's really too hot to ride much:


Another gift (bought with birthday money) was a sandpit, which he likes very much indeed:


The shop where the sandpit was bought didn't have any play sand in stock, so after some research we discovered the Larnaka Early Learning Centre shop, which not only had sand, but let us know that on Tuesday afternoons they have play sessions for toddlers and young children, with plenty of toys and other activities available. So David's been to a couple of those:


We haven't managed many board games; they're not possible in the daytime, for obvious reasons, and by the evenings we're often too tired to do anything. But we've had a few, sitting outside the guest flat, as it hasn't - yet - been too humid:


Daniel and Becky's closest friends came out to stay for a week, too, which was very enjoyable for them all, and they managed to play games most evenings.

David's enthusiasm and exuberance are quite tiring for those of us who are more introverted, but they also mean that almost anything can be fun for him. Even a trip to the supermarket became a great adventure when he was able to drive the trolley for us:


Esther, meanwhile, is quieter, and more placid. She's very taken with a set of plastic balls which we bought a few years ago, before David visited for the first time. She can sit by herself but topples over if she turns suddenly, so we made a mini ball pool for her, in a plastic box, and she was contented for quite some time:


David is interested in building, mechanics and pipework, so Daniel bought some plumbing bits, and we've made various constructions for David to experiment with. One of his favourite activities is pouring water down a funnel, and seeing where it comes out:


He can concentrate for a long time, adjusting the pieces and trying again when connections break, or when water comes out in unexpected places. I tried to explain that it would pour out of the lowest available gap in whatever system we built, and he seemed to understand. He exemplifies the concept of learning through play!

A local friend told us about a park that's much nicer than the two local ones; it took us a while to locate it, behind St George's Church, but finally we found an afternoon to take David there. Unfortunately it's not open all the time, and has almost no shade until the late afternoon... but still, it's a wonderful park and we hope to go there again:


The family are here for another two months, and the weather is going to be hotter and much more humid, so we're going to look at the two recommended indoor play places that aren't too far away, and make the effort to go to the beach a bit more often.

We didn't move to Cyprus until our sons were nine and eleven, so we never had to find places to entertain very young children in the summer. By the time we moved, they were old enough to play outside safely by themselves (we had a huge garden in our rental house) and were also happy to sit inside during the hottest part of the day, reading books, or at the computer, or otherwise occupied with Lego or music or some other activity.

I am loving being an active grandma of a three-year-old, although I'm getting a lot more tired than I did when I was 27 years younger and had a three-year-old of my own.  

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Preparing for some important people to arrive in Cyprus

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

What could possibly go wrong...??

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

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

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

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


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

Jacob arrived perhaps twenty minutes later:


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Twenty more books read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Summer in Cyprus. Approaching yet again.

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

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

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

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

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

jackets and scarves, necessary for winter in Cyprus

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

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

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

a selection of our sunhats and caps for summer in Cyprus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Continued Cat Chronicles

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

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

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

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

Then Jane decided that the flowers should be destroyed:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Special Spring days in Cyprus

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, March 20, 2017

Another meze at Kira Georgena taverna

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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