Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ordinary days in an ordinary life in Cyprus...

I'm sometimes asked what I 'do' with my time, since I don't go out to work and no longer have children at home. I never know quite how to respond. I'm not a 'career' person; I've never had much ambition beyond a reasonably comfortable home and family life. I loved being a full-time mother of small children, and also thoroughly enjoyed home educating our sons as teenagers.

I dreaded the 'empty nest', but, over eight years later, I'm mostly contented with life as it happens. As I was trying to think about what to say in this post - at the end of a week where nothing much has happened, yet I feel that it's been quite busy - I saw this link on Facebook: What if all I want is a mediocre life?  I don't much like the word 'mediocre', but that's how some more driven or ambitious people see those of us who are contented to live life a day at a time, doing what needs to be done, offering ideas or sympathies or just a listening ear as required by those around us.  A 'small, slow, simple life', as the writer of that article puts it.

I'm a strong Introvert (INFJ, for those who know and/or care about such things) and need quite significant time alone regularly. I'm also the kind of person who needs an approximate structure to the week, if I'm to get anything done, and a list of tasks to cross off as they are complete. I tend to think in terms of 'projects', and if I have one, I throw myself into it. So far, my favourite is being a hands-on grandma, but that can only happen when I'm in the same country as my grandchildren. Last year, I did a knitting project to create a Nativity scene, as mentioned elsewhere; then in December I spent many hours sorting, uploading and arranging all my 2016 photos to create a year's 'Photobook' to be printed.

I call myself a writer, since people seem to want some kind of label, and I've always loved writing. I have many potential writing projects in differing stages of completion, but in recent years have not felt much inspiration. I run a few websites but haven't felt much inclination to update those, either, unless specifically asked to add something. I update my books and DVD review blogs regularly, and am attempting to write on this one at least once a week, but have mostly neglected my other blogs. Since I aim to read and review at least 100 books each year, I read for perhaps an hour (in total) each day.

I have an ongoing project which I wrote about a year ago, to scan our entire collection of negatives. I think I'm about half-way through. I answer questions on online forums, sporadically, and I'm also using both the Memrise and DuoLingo sites to attempt to revise my schoolgirl French and learn more Greek.  I do some knitting each day... and I do our household cleaning, laundry and cooking, as well as weekly bookkeeping (on the computer) to keep track of all our income and expenditure.

My typical day starts between 6.00 and 6.30am. At this time of year I have no wish to get out of the warm bed after a chilly night, but at some point the bathroom calls, so I throw on my walking trousers and yesterday's shirt as quickly as possible...

Alexander the Great and Lady Jane Grey are always pleased to see me when I let them out of the kitchen/dining room area where they sleep at night. They don't snuggle together much, but sometimes we see this:


By the time I've walked for an hour with Sheila (three times a week), read for a while, chatted to God, thought about the day, cleaned the house (main floor on Mondays, upstairs on Wednesdays), squeezed orange juice and had breakfast, visited the local froutaria [greengrocer] for more fruit and veg (three times a week), taken my shower and put on clean clothes, it's usually about 9.00 or 9.30 - sometimes later - and I'm ready to sit down at my computer:


Not that I do so at 9.30 every day. On Sundays I try and avoid switching it on at all, and once a month on Mondays I go to the Larnaka Christian Writing group. On other Mondays - or perhaps Fridays - Richard and I do a supermarket shop, or catch up with paperwork, or household repairs or maintenance. On Tuesday mornings Sheila comes over with her three younger daughters, and on Thursday mornings the three girls are here while Sheila teaches English to adults.

We eat a cold lunch most days, with home-made bread, and salad vegetables, perhaps some leftovers from a previous night's evening meal, or hummus, or dairy-free cheese and chutney, or sometimes home-made soup if it's really cold.  It's fairly leisurely and a good break in the middle of the day.

In the afternoons I usually have three or four hours at my computer before I need to start meal preparation. I don't sit there solidly; I have an application that tells me to take a ten-minute break every hour, and that's when I might hang out laundry, or potter in the kitchen, or do some knitting, or sit and read.

I cook almost everything from scratch, but when I make hot meals it tends to be enough for at least four people, sometimes eight, so unless we're entertaining there's usually plenty to freeze.  I follow - roughly - a four-week menu plan that means I don't have to think about what we're eating each evening. If I'm making a new batch of granola, or ketchup, or chutney, I tend to do that at the weekend. And yes, just like the writer of the article I quoted, I believe strongly in real food and budgeting and planning, but sometimes break my own 'rules'.

We eat around 6.30 - 7.00pm most evenings. One evening per week we eat at our friends' house, and one evening per week they usually come over, after eating, to play a board game with us. Richard and I like to watch a film on DVD once a week, and occasionally we have someone over for an evening meal. But friends and acquaintances keep leaving the island, and that's not something we've done for a while.

Other evenings I might read, or we might play a two-person board game, or we might have a video call with one of our sons in the UK... or we might sit at our separate computers and continue what we were doing in the daytime.

When we were planning to move here, around twenty years ago, friends commented that it was exciting, and that they could never uproot, and how brave I was to embark on such an adventure. I didn't feel brave; I didn't want to leave my comfortable UK life behind. But my family mattered more, so we moved to Cyprus, and adapted, and adjusted, and I'm contented - mostly - even if my life seems dull or 'mediocre' to others. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Back in Cyprus

It feels like several weeks since my last blog post. Travelling can have that effect, as can the collision of two worlds. Normally when we are in the UK, we're focussed on the people and places there, and life in Cyprus takes a back seat. The reverse happens when we return home. It's as if, at some point on the aeroplane, one scenario is faded down, and the other faded up.

But when a crisis occurs, or someone we love is ill, or struggling in some way in the 'other' country, our focus moves to them, and it feels discordant, as if I'm in the wrong place, not entirely sure what I'm supposed to be doing. It was like that in December when our new granddaughter was in hospital in Carlisle, with the threat of a nasty infection. I could hardly concentrate on anything else until we knew that all was well.

Something similar happened last Sunday. I had mentioned that Cleo, our very elderly cat, had become disorientated and confused on New Year's Day. Perhaps, we thought, she had a stroke. But she wasn't in pain, and our friends in Cyprus were looking after her. As the days progressed I thought about her less. Then last Sunday morning, quite unexpectedly while we were at a church service, I had a sense of Cleo slipping away; an image in my mind of her being greeted with some surprise by someone who died a few years ago. I suppose I knew then that we were losing her.

When I opened my computer a couple of hours later, I had two emails from Sheila, our friend who was cat-sitting in Cyprus; the first one let us know that Cleo had stopped eating and, that morning, seemed to have lost the ability to walk. If nothing changed, she and another friend felt they needed to take her to the vet on Monday morning.

The second email, sent an hour or so later, simply said that Cleo had died. It must have happened around the time she came to my mind so strongly.

We felt numb at first, with that sense of being in the wrong place. Then sad, along with a sense of inevitability and rightness. Her time had come, and she slipped away peacefully in her own home. We felt worst about our friends having to see her go downhill so rapidly, and deal with what happened.

Daniel and Becky's close friends came over in the evening for a meal and a Settlers game, and it was good to be distracted, though I had an underlying sense of sadness and disorientation.

I don't remember what happened on most of Monday. I didn't take any photos at all. On Tuesday Richard drove them to have Esther's birth registered in the morning. He spent some time at Daniel's office helping him with some projects, and also sorting out some equipment he had ordered to take back to Cyprus.

On Tuesday evening, Daniel and Becky decided that it was time for David to have his 'main' Christmas present. For a long time they had been talking about getting him some kind of keyboard. They didn't want a 'kiddie' one with poor quality sound, but of course full-sized ones are expensive. They thought they should wait, in any case, until they know where they will be working next.

Then they managed to acquire an old but good quality keyboard that would otherwise be thrown away. Daniel checked that it was working, but didn't want David to have it amidst the excitement of Christmas and other presents. But on Tuesday evening they were starting to take down Christmas decorations, so David was given his 'plano', as he called it. He was thrilled, and quickly figured out how most of the buttons worked:


Meanwhile, Esther was growing stronger and more alert each day. Unfortunately being awake in the daytime did not mean that she slept any better at night, but it made a good opportunity for me to start reading some books to her, and she seemed to find the pictures interesting:


On Thursday we went into town, and Becky could not resist buying an inexpensive set of  four 'Tiger who came to tea' jigsaw puzzles from 'The Works'. David, it seems to me, is remarkably good at jigsaws; I've never before seen a child so young look at the colours and shapes, and deliberately find pieces showing faces or bodies to match one he had found already. He put the 12-piece jigsaw together in a couple of minutes, without any help, and then needed only a few hints to put together the 20-piece puzzle:


Our time in Carlisle was rapidly drawing to a close. I read large numbers of books, I played with David's Postman Pat figures, I helped him build structures with Duplo. He doesn't in the least mind his different worlds not just colliding but colluding: if Postman Pat has a breakdown, he calls Bob the Builder to help him. Mog the cat fell through the roof of the Duplo house and tried to make friends with Postman Pat's cat Jess. David himself was, by turns, Mr Strong and Mr Happy and Mr Slow.. and sometimes 'just David'.

Every so often he spent another five minutes at his 'plano', content to use a fairly low volume, and mostly very careful. I'm sure all grandparents believe their grandchildren to be uncommonly wonderful - as, indeed, toddlers are pretty much universally. At times he showed that he's still just a small child; he sometimes confuses words, telling us that a 'bandage' is a 'bank', for instance, or asking Becky to put Marmite on his 'Bridget' when he meant 'crumpet'.

I didn't understand what he meant by a 'bock' at first, until I realised that he was using it as the singular of 'box'. When I told him that one of them is a 'box' and two are 'boxes', he muttered, 'books and bookses'.  English is a very confusing language.

At last, it was time to leave. We had to book four pieces of checked luggage; in addition to the modest single case of clothes that we had taken out, we had been given a lot of Christmas presents, and bought some new jackets with Christmas money. We also had rather a lot of equipment which Richard had ordered, which needed flight cases to take them back.

Our flight was at 1pm Saturday from Liverpool. We had decided to drive to Liverpool on Friday evening rather than having to leave early on the Saturday morning; the weather was unpredictable (much of the country had snow, though we didn't see any) and we didn't want the stress of traffic jams or other holdups when we had a flight to catch. So we said our goodbyes and left around 7.15pm, just before David went to bed.

The drive was straightforward and took about two and a half hours; we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express, which is much like a Travelodge but (in our view) somewhat nicer. Our flight was on time and, since we had so much luggage, two friends met us, with two cars, at the airport.

We mostly unpacked last night, feeling sad that there was no Cleo to greet us, but pleased that Alex and Jane seemed so lively and (after pointedly ignoring us for a while) very friendly to us, and each other.


We went to the PO Box this evening. There were 21 Christmas cards waiting for us. Some had been posted as long ago as Dec 12th; yet they had not arrived by the 27th, when we flew out. For some reason, post to Cyprus always seems extremely slow during the second half of December and we usually receive most of our Christmas cards in January.

So, once again, we'll keep them with the Christmas decorations and next December will display them all and think of the recipients as we put them up.


Saturday, January 07, 2017

Family visits (not in Cyprus)

Ten days ago, we flew from Larnaka to Gatwick. Winter is not a time when we normally choose to be in the UK, but events came together this year in a way that really gave us little choice. I wrote in an earlier post about our new granddaughter, born a couple of weeks early in Carlisle (and now in excellent health). Naturally we wanted to meet her as soon as possible.

I had also mentioned back in September that our younger son Tim is now living and working in Surrey. At the time he had a temporary job and was living in temporary accommodation. So a great deal of his stuff (particularly books and kitchen equipment) was stored in Cyprus. In November he was offered a permanent post, and was then in a position to look for a flat to rent longer term. He found somewhere and took possession in the middle of December, but since he was spending Christmas with us in Cyprus, the only things he had bought for the flat so far were a bed, bedding, and some crockery.

After Christmas, Tim prioritised his stored stuff, and we booked two 20kg suitcases for each of us (yes, that's 120kg of checked luggage!) on our flight, and Richard - who is excellent at packing - worked out what would go where.


We needed two cars to get to the airport, and happily two of our friends were willing to drive us there. Checking in was no problem, the flight was on time, and all the luggage arrived safely. Since we got to Gatwick after 11pm we had booked overnight at the Travelodge which, as usual, offered good value and a large breakfast.

In the morning, Richard and Tim went to pick up the rental car we had booked. They were expecting to pick up a VW Golf. Tim was then planning to get the train from Gatwick to his new place, while we hoped to fit the luggage in the car in full estated form.

However, the only Golf available was 500 miles away from needing a service, so they were offered a free double upgrade. It's a car which Richard likes very much, and which easily took all the luggage, plus the three of us:


Our first view of Tim's flat was a bit mixed.  The living room area was bare and empty, the second bedroom filled entirely with packing material from Tim's purchases so far - but no furniture at all. However, we very much liked the kitchen. It's quite compact, but fully equipped with oven, hob, a large fridge-freezer, and even a dishwasher.


After we had brought the cases in, my job was to sort and tidy rubbish and packaging material, and unpack suitcases (other than the two containing books) while Richard and Tim went to collect a transit van, rented for the day, and then to drive around collecting various second-hand furniture that Tim had ordered through 'GumTree', a classified site that, in Surrey, seems to have a great deal of inexpensive and high quality items.

By the end of the day,Tim had acquired a sofa bed for us to sleep in, an office table and chair plus a computer monitor, an Ikea sofa (in pieces, still) a dining table and chairs, bedside cabinets, and - his favourite purchase - a gliding chair, all for a fraction of their worth. Thankfully, although it was very cold outside, it was not raining.

On the following day, which was cold and frosty, they returned the rental van and then we drove in the large car to Newbury, where my brother and sister-in-law were hosting my family's annual post-Christmas gathering. It's the first one Richard and I have been to since the tradition started about twelve years ago. Fourteen of us sat down to an excellent lunch, followed by present-opening.


Yet more of Tim's stuff had been stored in my father's garage in Alcester, and that had been transferred to Newbury, so we collected a couple of boxes of kitchen and computer bits and pieces, and his bass guitar. We drove back through freezing fog, which was not pleasant: a cultural experience that we have never had in Cyprus.

On the Friday we spent the day with Richard's mother in Sussex, with lunch at a garden centre; then we managed to find some winter jackets, reduced by 70% or more. I'd been wanting a new waterproof winter jacket for a long time as my previous one was over thirty years old and rather falling to pieces.

On Saturday Richard and Tim put his sofa together, and he bought some more important items: a biggish bookcase, a digital piano, and even a picture for his wall. His living room was starting to look quite cosy by the end of the day:


On Sunday - New Year's Day, though it felt like weeks since Christmas! - we visited Tim's church, which was friendly and welcoming, then had a rather worrying phone call from our friend Sheila who is cat-sitting for us while we're away. Cleo, who is now about eighteen-and-a-half, had been getting confused, wandering around in circles, and got herself into a tight spot where she had to be rescued after some furniture moving.

I happened to take a picture of Cleo shortly before we flew out; she was getting frail, and thinner than she used to be, but her coat was still reasonably clean, her eyes bright, and she was eating heartily. As far as we could tell, she was quite happy, and in full possession of her sight, hearing and other senses. She slept a lot, and had some arthritis and a swollen (but not painful) leg... but otherwise was fine.


We wondered if she had suffered some kind of stroke.  However, since Sheila assured us that Cleo did not seem to be in any pain or distress, we suggested waiting to see what transpired. There would only be emergency vet services on New Year's Day, and it's not as if a vet could 'cure' such an elderly cat (she's around 112 in human year equivalency). Cleo has rallied before when we thought she was on her last legs...and indeed she was better on the Monday. Worse again on the Tuesday, but then livelier and very friendly to Sheila for the rest of the week... at least, so far. More than one person has suggested that Cleo may be missing us.

Back to our UK trip... we played a board game after lunch before setting off for Alcester, where we admired my father's wooden Santa collection, some of which was on display on the mantelpiece:


We relaxed there for a couple of days, though my father was plagued with a nasty chest infection and I was suffering from a nasty lingering cough. Then on Wednesday we drove the longer distance up to Carlisle to meet Esther:


She was four weeks old yesterday, and still sleeps most of the time, though she's quite windy at night which keeps her parents awake rather too much. She's gorgeous, but not yet reacting much to other people. So, inevitably, we're spending more time with David, who, at two-and-a-half, is delightful. He rarely stops talking, and has an amazing imagination as well as an apparently insatiable appetite for books, something we're all happy to encourage:


I had a bit of an adventure with him yesterday when I took him out for what I thought would be a fairly quick walk around a few blocks, to give him some fresh air and let him splash in puddles. I didn't take my bag, thinking I wouldn't want my camera, only to realise after he'd led me along several different roads and paths that I had NO idea where we were... and did not have my phone to call for help!

Thankfully he has a much better sense of direction than I do, and although we must have walked for more than a mile he led me back to the end of his street and home in time for lunch.

When he's not being read to, or playing with his diggers, or Duplo, or Postman Pat figures, or doing jigsaws (I was impressed to find that he can do a 12-piece puzzle without any help, and a 16 or 20-piece one with only a few suggestions) he's role playing in some way; here he is, in a cool hat, having clicked on his imaginary seat-belt, and donned his imaginary sunglasses, driving a car:


It's going to be harder than ever saying goodbye when we return to Cyprus in another week. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve and our latest newsletter

Continuing the theme of a fairly low-key Christmas, I didn't make mincemeat or Christmas puddings this year, because we still had some left from last year. I did make mince pies earlier this week, and our usual traditional Christmas lunch is currently in the oven, to be cut and refrigerated tonight, re-heated tomorrow along with cooking roast potatoes and carrots and brussels sprouts, and so on.

I iced our cake yesterday, but since it looks much the same as it always does, though rather less tidy (since I put marzipan only on the top) I haven't taken a photo yet.

Thank you so much to all who were concerned and prayed for our granddaughter Esther after my last post; within a few days she was home and free from infection, so we are very thankful and relieved. They are remaining in the UK for Christmas, with other relatives visiting.

Meanwhile our tree has continued to suffer from the cats' enthusiasm. Alex looks rather pleased with himself here:


It's currently standing, however, and has done for a couple of days, so perhaps they have finally lost interest.

One entirely new thing that happened this year was that Richard was co-opted as 'Santa' for a couple of performances of 'The Snowman' by Little Muse Theatre.  I didn't see the show this year, not having a small child to take, but I gather it went well. He wondered if our grandson would have recognised him; when I saw the photos, I'm pretty sure I would not have recognised him before he spoke!


It's been a strange week. The sky has mostly been grey, and there has been a lot of rain - more than we can remember in some years, although statistics online show that December is usually rather a wet month in Cyprus. Sheila and I didn't walk on Thursday as it had rained all night, and hadn't stopped by the time we usually go out.

But this morning it was clearer, so despite the trail being a bit soggy in places we did our usual 4km walk, and saw that the Salt Lake was looking quite full once more.


And finally, here's the link to this year's family newsletter.

Wishing all who see this a joyful and peaceful Christmas, as we celebrate again the birth of the world's most important Baby, and every blessing for 2017.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Half-way through Advent ... and a baby

I made this year's Christmas cake at the start of November. But the sun was still shining, and there was no urgency to do anything else related to Christmas. I still have quite a large tub of mincemeat which I made last year, and one remaining Christmas pudding, both in the fridge. Since most of the family won't be coming here for Christmas this year, we won't need more than that.

I decided that Thursday would be the day for putting up our tree.  My small friends were here for the morning, so they enthusiastically sorted and placed the branches. I roughly strung the lights, and then the children hung up as many decorations as they could.


I'm not at all obsessive or perfectionist about the tree, and thought the final result looked pretty good:


Alex, however, had other ideas:


I had to pick up a prone tree twice during that afternoon, resulting in it now looking like this:


So long as the decorations are on the floor, the cats leave the tree alone. I may try to put them back again when they're not looking.

The girls were also quite excited about setting out my knitted nativity figures. They thought the coffee table would work well:


The wise men (or magi or kings) shouldn't really appear in the same tableau, but I didn't really want to put them somewhere else in the room, so we put them on the far edge of the table:


Oddly enough, other than a brief investigation, the cats haven't taken any notice of this. Here's the whole thing, in a little patch of starlight. Well, it's really sunlight, but the sun is, after all, a star.


Christmas is, of course, about the birth of the most important Baby who ever lived. But in our family, we have also been looking forward to the birth of our first granddaughter, who was due on Christmas Eve. She's the reason that her parents and brother are not coming to Cyprus for Christmas this year.

However she decided to put in an appearance a couple of weeks early, so that when we woke up on Friday morning, we had the exciting news of Esther's arrival. Here's a photo taken today of the four of them:


Although she doesn't have jaundice, she has tested positive for a Strep-B infection, which can be quite dangerous in newborns, so she and Becky have to stay in hospital for another few days. Prayers are welcome.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Meze at Kura Giorgina in Larnaka

A few weeks ago, some friends stayed in our guest flat, and, during the course of the week, offered to take us out for a meal. When they were here a year ago they took us to a meze at a taverna called Kura Georgina. It's in William Weir Street, about a kilometre away from where we live, so easy walking distance. We all liked it, and they suggested going there again.

We had booked a table, although it wasn't necessary when arriving at 6.30, as we tend to do. Cypriots often eat much later, arriving at restaurants at perhaps 8.00 or even 9.00pm. But my metabolism doesn't do well with late eating, and we much prefer to be in an uncrowded environment, free from smoke. Cypriot restaurants are now smoke-free indoors, but there's still usually smoking outside making it unpleasant to go in and out.

Kura Giorgina's is a traditional building with a bar near the entrance, and tables laid out in typical Cyprus style:


Since there were five of us - our younger son was visiting too - we ordered a meze for four. There's always so much food that it's normal to ask for fewer portions than the number of people, unless everyone has a huge appetite. We debated ordering for just three, and in retrospect that would have been plenty.

Two of us drank water, but the other three ordered a bottle of wine. It came in an unusual traditional bottle, and was poured into pottery cups, which were quite attractive:


The 'first course' of a meze, if one thinks of it that way, is usually a Greek salad, complete with feta cheese, bread of some kind, and dips.  That's exactly what arrived on our table within a few minutes of our order:


Unusually the bread was neither pittas nor village bread, but a warm, apparently freshly baked bread that was very good. There were also some slices of processed meat and cheese, and some capers. I had a lot of salad, some bread, tahini dip, tsatsiki, and a pepper/yogurt dip which was delicious. It's all too easy to eat a lot of the starter, when one is the most hungry, and feel almost full by the end but I know from experience that this is a bad idea.

It wasn't long before other dishes started to arrive. There were plates of meat of varying kinds, baked eggs, a plate of freshly cooked chips, and - my favourite of all - some deep-fried aubergine slices with Greek yogurt.  I had a lot of those!


There was a great deal more which I forgot to photograph: halloumi, other vegetables, scrambled eggs with courgettes, olives, and much more. Each dish arrived just as we were wondering if we had come to the end. And, as so often, there was a large dish of different kinds of fried meat near the end.


We were told that this was the end, which was fine since we were all quite full. I eat almost no meat but I had a small piece of chicken, and it was very good. The rest of the party managed to finish most of what remained.

We chatted a while, and nibbled at bits and pieces, and then, after the waitress cleared away most of the dishes, it was time for dessert. This is often included as part of a meze, but we were still pleasantly surprised and very impressed with what they brought.

There was a selection of fresh fruit, clearly only just prepared, and some candied fruit which was a bit too sweet for me, but which the others liked:


And then, when we thought we couldn't manage another bite, they brought out loukoumades:


These are a sort of deep-fried doughnut batter with honey; probably very unhealthy, but rather scrumptious. And despite our order being for four people, they brought five loukoumades... so we decided we should each have one....

We were probably there for a couple of hours, and could see that the area outside was getting quite full. People started arriving to eat inside, too, but we thought it was about time to leave. We could have had coffee if we'd wanted to, but that would have kept us awake all night.

Here's what the front looks like after dark since I forgot to take a photo on the way in:


All in all, we thought it an excellent meal.  While some mezes can be very meat-focused, we liked the wide range of non-meat options at this one, and the friendly family atmosphere. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Sudden switching of seasons...

When we lived in the UK, seasons were inevitably based on dates. We might argue whether Autumn started on the first or the 21st of September; we might comment that it was really quite warm and summery for September. But we were pretty clear: December to February were winter, March to May were Spring, June to August were Summer - even if it rained most of the time, as happened some years - and September to November were Autumn.

In Cyprus, seasons are a lot more predictable in one sense; during July and August it will be hot (over thirty degrees celcius) during the daytime, and probably humid too. However, the seasonal changes can happen at varying times. Some years we have some rain by early October, and it feels pleasantly cool after the summer, even if visitors tell us it's far too hot. Sometimes Summer starts in May, sometimes not until the end of June. Spring and Autumn can be tricky to spot sometimes, if we believe that it's Summer when we're comfortable spending all day in shorts and tee shirts.

So after many years I came up with my own indicators: Summer is when we have to use air conditioning for the computers during the day, and for at least an hour at night to enable us to sleep, but we can guarantee hot water any time we want it due to the solar heating panels on the roof. Winter is when we have to use the electric water heater regularly and usually have the central heating switched on morning and evening. Spring and Autumn are the in-between times, when we use neither the air conditioning nor the central heating, and rarely need the electric water heater.

This year, I was in the UK for the first ten days of September, and when I got back to Cyprus we didn't use the air conditioning much, if at all. By mid-September the humidity had dropped - mostly - and the daytime temperatures were no more than 30C. Autumn, I decided, was here. It advanced very slowly: it wasn't until early October that I started using a duvet cover rather than just a sheet on the bed, and the middle of October before we decided that the nights were cool enough to warrant the thin duvet. But we were still using the ceiling fan all night.

There was a bit of rain in September, and perhaps half an hour of rain in October, but by the end of the month reports said that the reservoirs were at 20% of capacity. Not as bad as it was eight or nine years ago, but not good. The Salt Lake doesn't dry out every year, but this year it was dry for most of the Summer, and right up to the end of October.

The days were getting shorter, even before the clock change, and I did put on a very light jacket a couple of times for my early morning walks by the Salt Lake; but whereas, some years, I took my camera every time to capture a variety of sunrises, I only did so once in October towards the end of the month when I spotted clouds in the sky, and was quite pleased with this:


I keep an eye on the weather forecast, and had noted that thundery rain was due in the early hours of this morning, so I'd taken in dry laundry, and hoped I might not have to water the plants.

Apparently there was a major thunderstorm around 3.00am. Family members and friends woke, although I slept right through it. However I was awakened at 4.00am by Richard's phone, which reported a problem at his friend's shop at the marina. Most likely a false alarm, we knew, perhaps due to the winds. I was on the point of falling straight asleep again when Richard, who had decided to get up for a moment, said that there was water all over the bedroom floor.

My first thought was that the roof had been leaking, but we quickly realised that it was water flooding in from our outside balcony. It was evidently a LOT of rain, and something must have blocked the overflow. That had happened once or twice before, although never with enough rain to flood into the house.

I tried to take a photo of the water on the floor - at least a couple of centimetres of it - but it's not obvious at all, although this one does show the reflections in the water:


There was water on the landing, too, and in the bathroom, and the study, and the other bedroom....

Richard went to fetch one of the drain unblocking tools, then, splashing through the water on the balcony in his crocs, discovered that rather than being full of gunk, the overflow had been blocked by this:


Yes, a cat toy. Most of them are table tennis balls that float, but this one is heavier, and clearly didn't.

We knew we had to get the water out, before it damaged the wood of the bed, and the chest of drawers, and the bookcases. So Richard fetched our Bissell Green Cleaning Machine:


And an old-fashioned mop and bucket.


This Bissell machine, much smaller than our old one, only sucks up about a litre of water at a time, but it does so quite quickly and could easily be emptied into the bucket.  I used the mop to push some of the water towards the balcony, and more into the bucket. Richard must have emptied the bucket at least twenty times in the next hour, and gradually the water levels went down.

We then got rid of most of the water from the other rooms, and by then it was about 5.54 am and getting light. He went back to sleep for an hour, and I decided I might as well go for my planned early walk with Sheila, although we thought the trail might well be impassable. I decided to wear long trousers rather than shorts, and was glad I did.

On the way to the Salt Lake trail I saw fields full of water:


We were amazed to see that just one major downpour was sufficient to make the dried-out lake look almost full:


We walked perhaps 500 metres towards the Airport Road, and then saw this, with water flowing across the path:

So we turned back and headed the other way.  The light was stunning over the outskirts of the town, although - as ever - a photo can only give a slight hint of how it looked:


We walked perhaps a kilometre and a half of the trail before coming to this:


I was very tired by this point, so we headed back.

I didn't need the water heater for my shower this morning, as the sun was out by this time, and I waited until after nine o'clock. But I did decide to put on jeans rather than shorts, and I'm pretty sure Richard will need the water heater for his shower this evening. With the time change and increasingly shorter days, this will be the pattern for the next two or three months.

So, even though the daytime temperatures are predicted to be around 24-25 degrees next week, and we haven't yet had our central heating serviced so it won't be going on just yet... I'm unofficially declaring that, this year, winter in Larnaka started today. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Knitted Nativity

As my young friend Helen pointed out to me this morning, it's exactly two months until Christmas. Even after nineteen years in Cyprus, I can't get my head around the thought of the approaching season while the daytime temperatures are still in the upper twenties.

However, it seemed an appropriate date to write about a small knitting project which has been ongoing for the past six months, and in my mind for a great deal longer.

I used to knit regularly when I was younger. Among other things I knitted several soft toys for the boys, a long scarf and - peak of my achievements - a cable-knit sweater for Richard, back in the early 1990s.  But the boys grew out of soft toys, and I did less and less knitting as other activities took its place. From time to time I thought about it; but the last thing I made, some years ago, was a small chicken that I gave to Helen's sister when she was born, a little over six years ago.

I had brought my knitting needles and yarn to Cyprus, but had a hard time finding any stuffing, until I needed it for the chicken, and had to buy a huge bag:


I thought that would motivate me to do more knitting, but it didn't. I started a cat, but got bored. I started a seasonal mouse, and got bored of that too. The pieces lay muddled up with my box of random yarns, and my knitting needles were idle.

In January this year, a friend on Facebook posted a link to an article giving the health benefits of knitting. Around the same time, I spotted on Amazon a booklet by Jean Greenhowe (the author who produced the booklet of knitting instructions for soft toys) featuring a knitted nativity scene. I had seen something similar at another friend's house many years ago and liked it very much. Our nativity figures are rather stylised - we were given them by people moving from the island - but I'd never found any affordable ones that I liked better.

So the Christmas knitting booklet went on my wishlist, and I was given it for my birthday, back in April. I hoped it might be - I would have ordered it myself, otherwise - and when I was in the UK earlier in the month I bought some very nice knitting yarn, a ten-pack of unusual colours that included some browns and greens; ideal, I thought, for my potential project.

One more thing to sort before getting started: I wanted a little drawer unit in which to store my knitting supplies, rather than keeping it in a box in a cupboard. I found exactly what I needed for around ten euros at the local thrift shop, and Alex gave it his stamp of approval:


I had already decided that, rather than knitting the people with light pink/beige skin, as in the instructions, I would make their faces olive or light brown, as is much more appropriate for people from the Middle East and Asian areas. So I visited a very nice little craft shop not far from where we live, and bought some suitable shades of brown too.

All the yarn, including the oddments from previous projects, fitted in one of the drawers nicely:


By then, it was the middle of May. I decided that if I knitted for half an hour each day, I might complete one figure per fortnight, meaning that I could finish all ten figures by about the middle of October.

I decided to start with one of the magi/kings/wise men. I opted for the 'green' one, since I had plenty of suitable colours. I followed instructions carefully, and was a little puzzled at the requirement to 'block' the outer cape, which seemed to require rather drastic acupuncture for the poor man overnight, after dampening it and turning it inside out:


I do trust Jean Greenhowe's instructions although there were times when I had no idea how something was going to work out. I am not at all good at thinking in three dimensions. Knitting the wise man's gift, I wondered if I'd done something wrong when I ended up with this:


However, I kept following the directions, and it turned into this:


At last everything was complete, just before the end of May. The sewing process is my least favourite part, but I was quite pleased with the result:


Next I decided to try Joseph. The main body was the same, with some variations, although I didn't think he looked as impressive as the wise man. Perhaps that's appropriate, since he was an ordinary carpenter:


However, I finished him in just a week. Without the fiddly gift and headpiece, and with more confidence in the instructions (and no having to hunt for suitable pins...) it was considerably quicker.

Then I did a shepherd, and that took less than a week, though wrapping yarn around a bendy straw as the final touch was rather fiddly:


After three human figures, I decided to try something else. The manger wasn't a difficult pattern, but was remarkably difficult to knit as it required double thickness of yarn, which, on 3mm needles, took a great deal of effort.


Mary was a bit more complicated than the men too, as she is in a permanent sitting-down position. Moreover, as there's no beard she needed a mouth; I found it impossible to get that to look right, but hope that won't show too much when the whole scene is in place.

I put off knitting baby Jesus, for a while, wondering if this fell into the category of making graven images... however I could hardly have a nativity scene without him, so I continued, and was pleased that he is able to be taken out of the manger and held in Mary's arms:


I had realised that the cream yarn which I used for the shepherd's headdress was thicker than double knitting, and I didn't want to use it for the lambs. I also realised that I didn't have bright enough colours for the other wise men.

But I learned that the Zako shop on the main road nearby sells knitting yarn, so we went there and I bought yet more supplies:


By this stage, it was the end of June and I was way ahead of my provisional schedule. I was also feeling a lot more confident about how the figures worked, so I decided that, rather than having all the standing figures the exact same height, I would make my next wise man a bit shorter. That meant he was quicker to knit, too; here he is next to the first one:


Next I embarked on a lamb. I wasn't too sure about the eventual result, which included quite a bit of fiddly sewing:


But when placed next to the shepherd, the effect isn't too bad:


I did the third king mainly in yellow; I enjoyed making the wise men the most:


I know that there may have been more than three of the wise men; but there were three gifts mentioned in the Biblical accounts and there are three patterns, so I decided to stick with the traditional three.

I wanted one more shepherd, and thought I'd make him shorter than the first one too, as I was pleased with the effect of the shorter wise man.  I think perhaps I overdid it (or under-did it...) as he looks a bit too short; but never mind:


It was early August by now, and I'd completed almost everything well ahead of schedule. So I started a second lamb, but having knitted all the pieces, I realised there was no hurry to sew them together. And I started playing around with some of the tree decorations in the same booklet.

I also realised that I was lacking another important animal: the donkey that carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. A brief search online revealed that Jean Greenhowe had been asked repeatedly for a donkey, and had included one in a different Christmas knitting pattern book. No longer in print, it could be found very inexpensively from the Amazon Marketplace.

I had arranged to spend three weeks in the UK in late August, so I ordered the booklet, and was delighted to receive it in 'as new' condition. But the donkey instructions looked remarkably complicated. I didn't start knitting that until nearly the end of September, and it was, indeed, a more complex set of instructions than any of the others.

I played around with starting to knit a couple of other things. Then, after discussion with my small friends, I began knitting a doll from yet another Jean Greenhowe book.

I realised, about a week ago, that my knitting drawers had become very muddled. So I took everything out, and sorted the different pieces from different items, and put them in bags so that I could see what I had:


I set myself a target of finishing the donkey by Sunday.  Once again the sewing part was the most fiddly; the legs involved sections of straws as well as stuffing, to keep them sturdy, and the mane was very strange. But I was pleased with the result:


I also completed the second lamb. I haven't put everything out together to make the Nativity tableau, so that will happen mid-December, or whenever we decide to put up Christmas decorations.