A game changer …

Finally, after placing the order back in January, the pressure canner has arrived! Hooray!!

The All American 915! This is the second smallest in the range – some of the others are huge!

These are almost impossible to buy in Europe, but are really popular in the US, so I ordered mine from Lehman’s Store – famous for working alongside the Amish, and off grid specialists. The only problem was that because of the pandemic, the company that makes them were totally out of stock, so I had to wait until July for it to be shipped, and another two months for it to finally arrive here!

The one I’ve gone for is the All American 915 – after reading lots of reviews, I bought the one that everyone said would be a once in a lifetime purchase – and to be honest it’s likely to outlive me from the reviews!

So, why is this a game changer for us?

It means I can preserve and bottle pretty much anything – this size isn’t recommended for fish, but bottling fish doesn’t really appeal anyway so not a problem! But where we produce more veg than we can eat, it means that we can enjoy them all year round, rather than eating cabbage until we’re sick of the sight of it followed by none for 10 months!

In the Spring we had a complete glut of cabbages and kohlrabi, and this summer we could’ve filled the pool and had a swim in tomatoes! I ended up giving loads away so they didn’t go to waste, but the whole idea of this life is to be able to provide as much veg for ourselves as possible. There’s only so much tomato chutney you can make, and our freezer is too small to be able to preserve anything that way. A chest freezer would be great, but we don’t have enough electricity to run one. So this pressure canner will allow us to achieve our goal. There’ll be no more holding back on planting veg now!!!

They are similar to a pressure cooker, but definitely not interchangeable and a little more technical to use … you need to use a special weight on the top and altitude makes a difference – I will definitely need to do some thorough reading before I start using it – I have visions of blowing the house up at the moment 😱. I have a good stock of clip top jars as these cookers require proper preserving jars such as Le Parfait or Mason jars. If using the clip top jars then the seals need to be replaced after each use, and if using mason jars then the inner lid part needs replacing each time – but these are pretty cheap to buy. There is a distinct lack of these jars available in Spain, not sure why, and the ones that are available are a fortune. Luckily some friends were driving over from the UK so I bought a load at wholesale prices and they delivered them to me!

Bottling (or canning as it’s known in the US) is the only surefire way to remove the risk of botulism and safely preserve vegetables – I have done some tomatoes just in a water bath this summer and it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether the jars seal properly – everything gets very closely inspected before it’s eaten!

We’re at the end of the tomatoes and peppers from the garden now so there’s nothing that needs bottling urgently … not a bad thing as it will give me time to get thoroughly acquainted with it before I have a load to do … but I can’t wait to get started!!

Cleaning the trees …

Yes, you read that correctly, and no, it’s not because of my old OCD cleaning regime – you really do have to clean the trees!

We took delivery yesterday of this mighty fine machine …

This pressure washer holds 100 liters – today we’re using water and washing up liquid to clean the trees, but it can be used to apply horticultural oil and the like too. Soapy water will not only clean, but also kill the scale that have been tormenting us all year, and sort the leaf curl. Blasting the scale into oblivion is so very satisfying I can tell you!

Up until now we’ve been using backpack sprayers. The problem with these is (a) there’s very little pressure so it’s difficult to get really great coverage – missing loads of problems is really easy and (b) they really knacker your shoulders after 3 tanks.

On a fun scale of 1-10 this sits at about 38!

We found the best technique so as not to get soaked through very quickly – start inside the tree and work outwards!

Now we just need to wait and watch to see if this does cure the problems that the trees have … I’m feeling confident!

Before …
After!

Now that they’re clean, we’ll cut out any dead wood today and give them a lovely long watering overnight tonight – they’ll feel so loved!!

Then tomorrow, the other two terraces!!

Spanish Dentists

I recently found out that Spain is a popular destination for holiday dental treatment, and having been twice recently I can understand why!

All dentists here are private – there’s no provision under the State Healthcare system. But, and this is a huge but, it’s so affordable!

Back in the UK there were times that I should’ve gone to the dentist, but just didn’t have the money, and finding an NHS Dentist was impossible!

A few months back I broke a tooth eating my healthy morning cereal! It was so bad it just couldn’t be ignored. I went into the dentist and got an appointment for two weeks later. I went in thinking, this is going to cost a fortune!

No obligatory form filling (unusual for Spain), no full check up including x rays like there would be in the UK to bump the price up. And you don’t have to be a resident. I was in the chair for 20 minutes – no injections (and no pain), one totally rebuilt tooth (seriously, you wouldn’t spot the mend) and it cost … drum roll … €50 … seriously! There wouldn’t have been change out of £250 in the UK.

So a few days ago I had bad toothache, and realised I had an abscess on one of my back teeth … no waiting, no putting it off, I called for an appointment and went down to the dentist. Abscess drained and he told me what prescription to get from my doctor, which was sorted within an hour. I have to go back next week to see how it’s looking – he reckons there’s a small chance he’ll be able to save the tooth, but there’s a chance I’ll lose it. Today’s bill – €20! That’s what you call affordable dental care! And I’ll be going back next week knowing the only worry will be whether I lose my tooth or not, and not what it will cost me!

So, some advice … now that it’s easier to travel and the cheap tickets are back, look up a dentist in the area you’re planning to come to and get booked in for anything you’ve been putting off!

I never thought I would hear myself say that I don’t dread going to the dentist anymore!

Dogs and mules …

Our normally tranquil and peaceful life was somewhat shattered on Sunday with the arrival of a mule in the field at the end of our road …

This poor little bugger gets moved around, and sometimes we have passed him in a field further away when we’ve been out for a walk. The very short tether, lack of food, water and shelter did upset me. The dogs had a quick bark but didn’t seem overly interested then.

But on Sunday he got moved a bit too close, and the dogs were beside themselves! The mule was now on ‘their turf!’.

They both went down there, and when Luna realised the mule was tied up, she got bored of barking at him and went to come back home. Rog heard the commotion and went down to investigate (in the pitch dark)!

But Persi, well, that was a different matter altogether! He’s only 8 months old and hasn’t been able to contain himself at this new arrival. Persi was barking furiously, wanting to play, Luna was trying to drag him away, the mule started kicking out, and Rog was shouting at, well, all of them!

We had friends staying here too – they must’ve thought they’d come to a madhouse!

We had to tie the dogs up Sunday night to make sure they didn’t go back over there – something we don’t like doing, but if the mules hoof connected it would definitely have had a sad ending, so better to secure them.

The next morning we decided to let them off in the hope they would now be bored of the new arrival, but no, Persi was off like a shot. Luna gave chase, closely followed by Rog (he has walked / run about 2 miles going back and forth). Persi has an injury on his face – not sure if that was Luna or the mule, but it hasn’t deterred him at all – talk about not learning your lesson!

Rog has been taking down water for him – it’s heartbreaking to see him tied up on a really short rope with nothing except an empty water bucket by him. He drunk the first bucket in one go – just broke our hearts!

So Persi is under house arrest, and currently being walked on a lead … I just hope they’re not planning on leaving the mule there for too long … for everyone’s sake!

Rats!!!

Now you know me, I’m an animal lover, and we need all sorts of animals to create a balanced eco system … but there is a list of animals in my head where my attitude is ‘you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone!’. At the top of that list here for me is the rat…

I remember our neighbour Paco saying to us ‘you know there are rats and snakes in the campo don’t you?’ – to which we replied of course, it’s the campo! You have to accept there’s all sorts of creatures out here!

Over the last few years I’ve caught the occasional rat out of the corner of my eye, but recently they’re getting bold and brave. Rog had one that made a nest in the shed, so he cleared out anything that could be used for nest building, leaving just a few rags in a drawer . After doing up the caseta and laying a floor, the droppings became very clearly obvious – and we think they’re mithering the chickens as they try to get the chicken food.

But this week, just the worst thing imaginable happened to Rog…

Whilst in the shed, he reached over to get a rag out of the drawer … stuck his hand in and grabbed a rag … which then started to move in his hand 😱😱😱

The shock of having a rat in his hand instead of a rag meant he dropped it and the rat made a run for it. Rog said he was annoyed with himself for dropping it as we could’ve had one less here … not a problem Mr C!!! Definitely forgive you that one!

To say I’m nervous about going in the shed is an understatement – I needed to get my pruners and gloves out this morning, and I thought, be brave, you can’t keep asking Rog to get everything out for you. So, like a ninja, I picked up my pruning shears and used the blade to open the glove drawer very gingerly, and only when I was sure it was rat free would I pick up the gloves 😂😂

So I’ve made some poison using chicken feed, peanut butter and salt, as well as sprinkling salt around their haunts. It’s the best way to deal with them when you have other animals – this won’t harm the dogs or the chickens, but should kill the rats, as their bodies can’t deal with salt. Melting their insides … sounds good to me!

War is declared!

Buying a second hand car in Spain …

Our 37 year old Suzuki Santana has started costing a bit of money for repairs, and is just getting a bit, well, old …

It’s a bit agricultural to drive, still has a manual choke and no power steering etc. It has been a wonderful thing to own, and perfect for here, but a couple of months ago we started looking around .

This little car has done us proud over the last few years! We’re not sure yet whether we’ll be selling it, or keeping it just for using round the campo!

The problem we have here is that the road to our house has a really tight corner and the road is really narrow, so we’re a little bit limited on what sort of car we can have. We looked at a modern Jimny – but they’re really expensive! That would be the best option – they are a great little 4×4 with fabulous ground clearance. In fact, all second hand cars here are really expensive compared to the UK!

Both of us have always wanted a Land Rover Defender but they were just completely out of our price range, so we stopped looking at them and tormenting ourselves – you’d need to spend at least €15,000 for a decent 30 year old one!

So we had about six different cars that we thought would be suitable for here, and that would fit up the drive without too many problems, and so started having a serious look about.

We were just getting to the stage of pulling our hair out when our lovely mechanic, Fran, sent us some pictures of a Jimny and some Vitaras that were in a garage in Roquetas. Now this place only sells to the trade, not normally to the public, and Fran knows the chap very well.

So off we all went in a jolly this morning, and we decided to go for the Jimny – it’s only 16 years old and has just 107,000 km on the clock – it has been in a slow accident and there’s a bit of cosmetic damage, it needs new tyres and a service – but an absolute bargain at €5,000 – half what we’ve seen the others at. Even better, we can still take the entire roof off this one, the same as we can with the Santana – a real must for us! Rog and Fran took it for a spin and when they came back the verdict was ‘buy it!’. A quick phone call to our insurance company, and five minutes later we had a cover note.

But here’s the hilarious bit … we drove it away without paying the man a penny! ‘No problem, pay me later’ he said! Really!!

We stopped at the gestorias on the way back to sort the paperwork to change the car into our name – that costs just over €100 here. Top tip – never ever bother trying to do this yourself – always get a gestoria to sort it – it’s well worth the €50 fee! We tried to do it ourselves when we bought the Santana … no, no, no, never again!!! At one point I actually stamped my feet, and was close to tears of frustration!

We’ve taken it straight to Frans garage for him to sort the required work over the next few days or couple of weeks, depending on the queue for the body shop!

Looking forward to getting it once the bit of work has been done and it’s had a darn good clean! Not that it will stay clean for long here!

Getting ready for autumn …

The temperature is starting to drop (down to 30 degrees 😂) and it’s getting dark a little earlier now – the door is closed by 9pm. Time to roll up our sleeves and crack on with preparing for the autumn and winter months … and there’s lots to do!

Rog has already started getting our stock of firewood ready – he’s doubled the size of our old woodshed and repurposed an IBC cage, adding a roof, for extra wood storage. We’ve been caught out in previous winters and ended up scrabbling around for wood on cold days. That’s not going to happen this year – we learn a bit more with every passing year here!

The trees need spraying and fertilizing, and we need to plan for the food we will grow over the winter. We’ve been having terrible problems with scale on the trees this year – we’ve sprayed and sprayed, but just can’t get rid of them. We asked a neighbour at the cafe the other day and he said we need a jet washer with a tank of water and washing up liquid and to ‘clean’ the trees. So we’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a petrol jet power washer with a 50l tank so we can get to all the trees. It comes on a little trolley that you can wheel around. This is going to be so much easier than staggering around with a 16l backpack on, which we currently do, and it knackers my shoulders! It will be much more effective too, and that’s what counts at the end of the day. There’s some things you can scrimp on or take shortcuts with here.

Last year we built a large framework in the veg garden, which, now that we’ve actually used it, we know what we want to change about it. Unfortunately this does mean taking it down and starting again, but doing this will allow us to rotivate the whole area before the next round of planting. I’ve already bought loads of seeds, and plan to grow a bigger variety of veg over the winter to harvest in the spring. Last spring we were overrun with cabbages and kohl rabi but little else – they were everywhere!

In the house, there’s decorating to be done – everything has to be redone every two years here! We did our bedroom this week, and the next job is to tank and then paint the spare room. Pretty much all cortijos in Spain suffer with damp, as there’s never a damp proof course in the houses. For us it’s especially bad in the spare room as the back is built into the hillside. Most of the plastering and painting we did two years ago has fallen or flaked off the walls in there, so we’re doing it properly this time. Brico Depot had a special offer on ready mixed tanking slurry so we now have a huge tub of that to try and stop the damp coming through.

Yep, definitely a damp problem!
Most people say you just have to accept that this happens in cortijos and that you simply have to scrape and paint the bad patches every year.

And the spare room needs to be ready for the end of the month for two VIP’s – yep, my parents are finally able to come over in October and see the finca for the first time since we moved here! Can you begin to imagine the cleaning that will be taking place the day before they arrive 😂😂

So, the next three months are going to be pretty busy! It’s actually nice now that it’s cooled down a little now so we can crack on again! There’s a lot of just sitting around doing nothing when it’s 40 degrees!

Advice I would give to my younger self …

During the process leading up to making this move, there was quite a lot of soul searching. No more pretending that everything was fine, and looking at our lives with the rose tinted glasses not just off, but thrown in the bin.

My life in a nutshell could be described thus:

A fantastic childhood. Parents who made my sister and I the most important thing in their lives, and it always felt like everything they did was for us.

Marriage number one – the most terrible mistake of my life, although the one positive from those nine long awful years is my son Matthew.

Marriage number two – Roger, my soulmate, still putting up with me after 26 years. There have been great years, difficult years, years where we didn’t have a pot to piss in, and years where we enjoyed lovely holidays and no money worries. Three children between us and five grandchildren, which next February will become six!

And at age 50 the greatest adventure so far … chucking life up in the air, and proving to myself that anything is possible.

Over the years I’ve had lots of different jobs – I’ve been at the bottom of the ladder, and at the top, and everywhere in between!

So knowing what I know now, what advice would I give my younger self?

Be happy – if you make a mistake, do something about it; don’t put up and shut up. Life is too short.

Be kind – to people, animals and the planet. I do believe that what you send out comes back to you threefold.

Don’t ever feel like you need to prove anything to anyone.

Accept who and what you are – always try to be the best you can be, and be happy with that.

Like stuff and love people, not the other way around. Stuff may make you happy but I promise you it will be short lived.

If a situation frightens you, ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? Will the world stop turning? Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Accept that friends come and go in life, and don’t be sad when you or they feel it’s time to move on. We all change as we grow older, and sometimes you won’t ‘fit’ with friends anymore. Be grateful for the friendship you had.

Money isn’t everything. Having a tiny house with no mortgage has made me much happier than a big house with the corresponding big mortgage (takes me back to point number 2, don’t feel that you need to prove anything to anyone!).

If it looks too good to be true then it probably is.

If something hurts (job, relationship etc), then change it – you are not a tree, you can move and change your situation. Taking a step backwards is sometimes the biggest step forwards you can take.

Look after your health – it’s easier to stay healthy than to regain your health after it’s gone – and it will go one day! Look after your mental health as well as your physical health – they are both your responsibility.

And if you are able to, have a dog (or two!). Surrounding yourself with people and animals who love you unconditionally is the most wonderful feeling.

I could go on all day, but I think this is a good basis for a happy and healthy life. After all, as the Dalai Lama once said ‘the purpose of our lives is to be happy’ – get that one right and everything will fall into place!

I’d love to hear what advice you would give your younger selves!

What do you have to give up to live off grid?

Having just returned from 11 days with my parents in the UK in their ‘normal’ house, it got me thinking about what we’ve given up to live off grid. It also gave me a good opportunity to evaluate whether there’s any stuff that I miss …

Of course, the big three are unlimited electricity, piped gas and water that you can drink without an armful of filters!

So: no electric kettle, hairdryer, toaster, microwave, washing machine, tumble dryer, coffee machine, iron, or in fact, anything with a heating element – they’re all a big no no on solar. No kitchen gadgets like bread makers, food processors etc. You have to accept a limited number of lights will be available, especially when you most need them in winter. And certainly no unnecessary lights – pretty corner lamps just to make the room look nice, or lights in the dresser! Oh, and no heating or air conditioning.

The great news is that we don’t really miss any of them! No hairdryer, just stand outside in the sun. No iron; hang things on the line carefully so you don’t get peg marks in obvious places. No toaster – just use a griddle pan on the stove. Microwave – well I only really ever used it for my morning porridge anyway, which I now just make the old fashioned way on the stove. No washing machine – wash by hand (I’m actually in the process of doing a video of the off grid gizmos I have for washing clothes!). There’s always an alternative way of doing things!

Lighting – thanks to the development of solar lights, we actually do really well here for light. We do have ‘normal’, wired ceiling lights, but rarely use them now. We changed the bulbs in these to 12 volt led strip lights, which don’t use as much power though. But, we bought two individual lights that each have their own solar panel with a battery that charges during the day. The little solar panels are up in the roof and the wires come in through the corner of the window and across the ceiling – not the prettiest solution, but we do have plenty of light in the evening from these. We also have another light that can be charged up during the day that we use in the bedroom at night – it has a built in blue insect light too, which we leave on all night. This only needs charging every 3-4 days!

Kitchen gadgets – I do still have my electric food processor, but as I have to put the generator on to use it, it’s now gathering dust in the back of a cupboard somewhere! I do have a manual pull cord processor / chopper, which works brilliantly. I also have a sieve with a handle do I can mince things (it’s probably got a special name but I have no idea what that is!). Everything else is done the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon and some elbow grease!

My mincing sieve thing with a handle is excellent for making tomato sauce!

Having a generator is a great back up, but it’s mainly used for power tools – Rog does have a battery powered drill, but there are times he needs to get ‘the big drill’ out, or to use other tools that aren’t battery powered. The really big stuff, like the chain saw and rotavator are all petrol.

The solar does generate enough power to run wifi, although sometimes in winter we can only have it on for a couple of hours – better than nothing though! Because we have WiMAX rather than broadband, our speeds reach the dizzying heights of 11-12 MB’s- but it’s enough to do the blog, play a few games and watch a film! My son was telling me that he gets 350mb in the UK 😱. It’s a different world!

We don’t have a TV but as we’ve spent the last 20 years looking and saying there’s nothing on the telly, we can’t say we miss it! We have a tablet to watch a film in the evening. The theme here is we charge stuff up in the day to use at night!

For our gas appliances (cooker fridge and boiler) we use gas bottles, just like everyone else in Spain. It does make you very conscious of using the oven for hours at a time, which would never have crossed my mind back in the UK. We buy our gas bottles locally, and always have 1 spare one outside, so when something goes we can put the new bottle on and then go and get a refill. Only occasionally do we get the perfect storm of two going on the same day!

In conclusion, yes, we’ve given up plenty to live here – no more big comfortable cars (wouldn’t fit up the drive), and most things being done manually.

BUT, what we have in return makes it so worth it! Living in an environmentally way makes me feel at peace – there’s no guilt about leading a life that’s bad for the planet. It’s fun too – working out different ways of getting things done. Not having to go out to work anymore – priceless. Going down to the garden to pick our own food – this just makes me so happy I can’t even put it into words.

Would we ever go back to living on the grid? That’s hard to answer truthfully – there may come a day when we’re too old or unwell to be able to live like this, but even if we do end up in a house in a village, there will be lots of lessons that we’ve learned here that we’ll take with us … but I might just have a washing machine 😂

Luna and Persi

Well, Persi is now 7 months old! Where has the time gone? When we got him at 9 weeks old from the rescue shelter they said he would be medium sized weighing 15-18 kgs. Hmmm … at his 6 months vaccination he was already 24kgs!

He’s a greedy little thing and a total kleptomaniac – nothing is sacred or safe in the house. But we love him! He’s now reached puberty and only has one thing on his mind, much to Luna’s annoyance! She has been spayed so not interested in the least, and Persi isn’t quite tall enough, but it doesn’t stop him trying! A bit embarrassing when we have visitors! Think we might have to ‘sort him out’ 😂

Because we got him from a shelter, we don’t know what breed his parents were, but there’s definitely some terrier in him. We thought this would be good for here as terriers have a reputation for being good ratters. And hurrah, he got his first rat this week, and it was a big one – what a good boy! Because we have chickens, you can’t avoid having rats, and where there’s rats, there’s snakes! So Persi catches the rats, and we know that Luna likes to eat a bit of snake!

Their relationship is fantastic – they charge around the finca chasing each other like mad things! But when Luna has had enough she literally slams him to the floor and holds him down with one paw! She is more than double his weight! His favourite game is to bite her tail and try to keep up as she charges off. They really look after each other – in their quieter moments they sit and clean each other, and are never far from each other.

Having Persi has stopped Luna wandering off too far- they both go off together sometimes in the morning and in the evening, but they’re never far from the finca now, and Persi always comes back after 10-15 minutes – he just loves being here with us.

The one problem we do have is when we want to go out without them … Luna can keep up with the car up to the village, and more often that not she will follow us … and where Luna goes, Persi goes. We’re working on it, but at the moment we have to put them on a long lead to get them to stay here. It makes it impossible for us to have a proper day out, as all the time we’re out we just think about getting back for the dogs. Hopefully they’ll get better as they get older!

When we first got Luna we set the ‘no dogs in the house’ rule – yea, that’s totally out of the window. They are always outside at night though!

I couldn’t imagine not having them now!

Persi on guard duty – I just wish he’d come away from the edge of the roof terrace – he has no fear of anything at all!

So many tomatoes!

We planted 25 tomato plants in the spring. This is my first ever attempt at growing tomatoes, so we bought 3 different varieties to see which would work well. And the answer … they all did very well!!

We’d already had several crates of tomatoes off these, and they just keep coming!

So we’re sitting here with a mound of tomatoes around us! We’ve eaten loads, given some away, and used any ‘iffy’ ones for the chickens.

Unfortunately, the pressure canner I ordered back in January still hasn’t arrived from America, although it has at last been dispatched. The good thing about preserving tomatoes though is that you can just use a water bath to seal the jars (you can only do this with very acidic food!).

So I thought I’d share how to make your own bottled / tinned tomatoes. Since doing this I actually hate eating shop bought tinned tomatoes – they just taste like metal! So if you see a special offer at the supermarket, or decide to grow some of your own in the back garden, go big and plant lots, as by preserving them you can enjoy them all year round!

You don’t have to chop and cook the tomatoes before you bottle them, but I prefer to as they’re ready to use straight from the shelf then.

So you start by peeling the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to boil a big pan of water and then, using a knife, make an X on the bottom of each tomato and drop them into the boiling water for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the boiling water and dunk them straight into a bowl or sink of really cold water to stop the cooking process. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, take them out and the skin will literally slide off.

Next, chop the tomatoes (I like to cut away the tough stalk bit), keeping as much juice as you can.

Pop the chopped tomatoes into a big non reactive pot, bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes until they start to thicken.

While the tomatoes are cooking, sterilize the jars. Many dishwashers have a sterilize setting now, or you can wash them and pop them in the oven in a low heat for 30 minutes. The other way is to put them in a pan of water and boil for 10 minutes. The rubber seals or lid tops also need to sit in boiling water for 10 minutes. You need to use either clip top jars or mason jars for this (not jam jars!).

Mason jars have 2 part screw lids. Check your jars for chips or cracks, and make sure the lids are not damaged before using them.
Clip top jars have a rubber seal which should be replaced after each use.

Put half a tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of each jar, and fill the warm jars with the cooked tomatoes, leaving 1/2’’ headroom. You can add half a teaspoon of salt to the top of each jar if you wish (I don’t).

Bring a large pan of water up to the boil, but before it reaches boiling point, add the jars of tomatoes. It’s really important that the jars don’t stand directly on the bottom of the pan, and they mustn’t touch each other. I use old tea towels to protect them from the bottom, and wind another round the jars to stop them touching. The water needs to fully cover the tops of the jars by about an inch. Bring the pan up to boiling and then turn down slightly and process for 40 minutes. You will see bubbles coming out of the jars as the air is sucked out – this is what seals the jars.

This preserving pan is the biggest thing I’ve got, but I can only fit 500ml jars in it – when the pressure canner arrives (or ‘if’ it ever arrives!) I will be able to use 1l jars

Remove the jars and place on a cooling rack and leave them for 24 hours to cool – don’t even move them! You can check that the seals have worked by unclipping the jars – they shouldn’t spring open! If they do, then they need to go into the water bath again. With the screw top jars you can check that they have sealed by unscrewing the top – the middle part of the lid should sit tight on the jar.

The first time I preserved tomatoes it felt a bit complicated, but it seems much easier the second time around, I promise! Set aside a whole morning for this, especially if you’ve got a lot of tomatoes like we have!

The resulting bottled tomatoes will last at least 1 year, but should be used within 2 years.

Once you start preserving your own food you’ll never go back to shop bought!

When you first start preserving food, there is a bit of an initial outlay for a preserving pan (I ‘borrowed’ Mums a few years back!), some jars, a pair of jar tongs (really wouldn’t be without them) and a thermometer for jams etc. The jars are quite expensive but will last for years – you just need to replace the lids or rubber seals, which don’t cost much. My expensive purchase is the pressure canner – they’re not very common at all in the UK, which is why I’ve had to buy from America, but having one of these will enable me to bottle any fruit or vegetable (and you can do meat, fish etc too) – it’s what all the preppers use for their zombie apocalypse bunkers!

And apart from tasting better, preserving your own food is environmentally friendly too!

Going back to the UK

Not for good, I hasten to add!

I was last over in the UK in tragic circumstances last October – the trip was to say goodbye to my terminally ill sister, although I never got to see her before she died. Tracy was taken into hospital just a few days before I arrived there, and because of the virus, I wasn’t allowed to go into the hospital to see her.

The pandemic has meant that I was unable to support mum and dad through the toughest time, and I missed Tracy’s memorial service, and could only watch online. But we’re getting through it, and flights started again from Almeria to London a couple of weeks ago – the first in months and months. So, I decided it was time to get over to see Mum and Dad and booked my flights for 12th August. We think this will be the ‘window of opportunity’ to travel, as the experts seem to be warning us already that the winter will be tough again, possibly with restrictions being brought back in. If I don’t go now, I’m not sure when the next opportunity will be.

The requirements at the time of booking were to self isolate on arrival, with PCR tests on day 2 and 8, and the optional test to release on day 5, despite having both Pfizer jabs. I booked the day 5 test as I wanted to be able to visit the grandchildren whilst in the UK, who I haven’t seen now since November 2019. Just four days later the rules changed so that fully vaccinated EU citizens did not have to quarantine – hurrah, I thought. I arranged a refund for the the day 5 and 8 tests, which I will say are still stupidly expensive at £200 for the 3 test package. I will still have to have an antigen test here in Spain within 72 hours of travelling to the UK, which is another €40.

Add on to that the fact that Easyjet have changed their baggage policy, so I’ve had to book hold luggage. What used to cost €60 return is now up to €450 with all the tests – are we starting to see a return to the 70’s when only rich people travelled?

When we moved here we were careful to pick somewhere reasonably close to an airport (40 minutes), and that had flights all year round to both London for me and Birmingham for Roger. Some of the trips we had in the past from Peterborough down to London in the car have actually taken longer than going door to door Almeria to London! We promised family we would be back twice a year to visit.

Then came the ‘will they won’t they put Spain on an amber watchlist’ – which would mean going back to self isolating for ten days, plus tests on day 2, 5 and 8 again. Today we saw some news and it looks like that isn’t going to happen – not this week anyway!

There are currently 1 million Brits on holiday in Spain alone – if Spain went onto the UK’s red list, where would they put everyone when they arrived back in the UK? I can’t see there being 1 million spaces in Government hotels!

Getting back into Spain will be much easier – as I have had both jabs, I just need my proof of that and nothing else – no further tests, no self isolating. Even though there’s no requirement, both of us have always self isolated on return though – we live in a village with an elderly population and so it seemed the right thing to do.

To be honest, neither of us would’ve travelled during the pandemic ‘just for a holiday’ – our trips back have been for terminally ill family and funerals only, and I wouldn’t be traveling now if I thought mum and dad were coping well with losing my sister.

This virus isn’t going away, and I think there has to come a point where we start to learn to live with it. All the way though this we’ve done exactly what we’ve been told and we’ve had the jabs – all on the promise that this is the way to get back to normal.

We used to enjoy traveling – I love airports and find people watching in them absolutely fascinating. Sadly now, it has become an angst ridden experience, and an expensive one at that.

I’m sure though, that being able to hug Mum and Dad, and give those grandchildren the biggest cuddles ever, will make it all worthwhile.

Meditation

I started meditating a few years ago now, and at first I found it excruciating! I just couldn’t get my mind to stop thinking about things – stupid, random stuff. It left me feeling a bit of a failure and very frustrated. How hard could it be to just sit still and think of nothing for a while?

Prior to that, many years ago now, I did do past life regression – not via hypnotherapy, which is the norm, but via a guided meditation. Someone sat with me in the room and guided me via simple instructions and it worked really well. I had an amazing experience, but that’s another blog fir the future!

So this got me thinking that maybe a good way to start would be via guided meditations. There are hundreds, if not thousands, on YouTube. There are so many apps on the App Store and Google play too. So how do you choose which ones to start with, and do guided meditations actually help you to achieve the ultimate goal of this:

It’s harder than it looks to sit still and think of nothing at all, but if you can master it the health and wellbeing benefits are massive.

I think it’s a very personal choice, and a good way to start is to try a couple of different ones. Don’t be tempted to pay, most of them have free versions so you can try them out. The really irritating ones for me are the ones that get you all relaxed and ‘in the zone’ and then make you jump when out of nowhere the voice says ‘don’t worry if you’re still thinking thoughts’ or similar! Well, thanks mate, I was doing really well until you made me jump out of my skin! There are also ones that just play nature sounds or tinkly music – I find these quite good because you can focus your attention on the sounds, which helps to stop your ego from running wild thoughts through your head. And that’s the ultimate aim, to hush the ego that constantly tries to steer you away from living in the present and just being by making you think about the past or the future.

Headspace, Oak and Calm are three of the apps I have used in the past, and found them to work well. It’s useful to have one where you can set a timer otherwise you end up thinking well is that my 10 minutes nearly up yet – how long have I been here???

If you don’t fancy trying a guided meditation, you could try this: sit comfortably in a quiet place and breathe just slightly more deeply and slowly than normal, and be aware of your breath. If your mind wanders, just return your concentration back to your breath again. On every out breath think ‘1’ – you’re not counting upwards, just use the number 1 – this does help to stop your mind wandering.

As well as counting the number 1, you can also recite mantras, silently in your head. Sat nam is one that I use. Sat Nam is a seed mantra, which awakens the chakras. It means ‘I am truth’. As you breathe in, think Sat, and as you breath out think Nam.

Once you get to grips with this you’re ready to move on to the next stage … just concentrate on your breath but don’t think of ‘1’ on each out breath. It’s also good to focus on your third eye – the space between your eyebrows, as this is the area we want to open up and bring alive – if you can, whilst your eyes are closed, turn them upwards to look at your third eye – this might feel a bit odd and uncomfortable at first, but give it a go as it does help to focus the attention.

After that, you’re working towards the breathing happening without being conscious of it, and without thinking about work, family, what you need on the shopping etc! When you get to this stage, this is where the magic happens. Often you will experience images – for me it’s flying through the universe, passing stars, planets and galaxies. This too is where you may start to get messages – for me it was all about living the life that would make me happy. It was a very visual experience, and the hard bit is to just accept these images and messages, but don’t think about them while you’re still meditating – just accept them into your being.

My favourite destination when meditating!

Rog took to meditating like a duck to water, and he too saw that our life could change totally, and that it would be a good move for us. It was almost irritating though how easy he found it!

Having a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed is important – and as long as you’re comfortable, you don’t need any special equipment. You don’t have to contort yourself into the lotus position – you can sit cross legged on the floor, using a cushion if that’s more comfortable, or you could just sit on a chair. Aim to start for five minutes initially and build from there.

The om symbol is recognizable worldwide, although there are variations. Om will help to connect us to the universe, and has a calming effect on the body. It’s a great way to start your meditation.

Chanting OM has both physical and mental effects on us as it calms our mind and calms our nervous system. OM is chanted three times because it symbolises the three worlds of the Soul: the past, the present and the future.

Mudras are hand positions that you can use whilst meditating to enhance your experience. There are so many mudras, so here I will just tell you about some of the most common ones to help you to meditate. Mudras can also bring many health benefits, and there are lots of books available and a ton of information on the internet.

Apana mudra helps to remove toxins that make meditating uncomfortable
Shuni mudra helps with concentration and
Ganesha mudra – hands are interlocked in front of the heart. This brings new opportunities and removes obstacles
A common hand gesture of Buddha, Karana mudra expels negativity from the heart and brings inner peace

There are so many more mudras that you could use, but these are well known and I think they are good for starting out with – shuni will give you the patience to keep trying to meditate and not get frustrated, and we could all do with some inner peace these days!

The techniques that you learn as you start to meditate don’t need to be confined to a particular time each day and nowhere else. If you’re at work and having a difficult day, just closing your eyes for a moment, breathing deeply with your hand in a mudra will really help – escape to the loo if necessary!!

Meditation is a massive subject, and this is by no means a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started. If, like me, it becomes life changing, you’ll want to read more, learn more, and master the art (which I am still far from doing!). Most of all, enjoy it – it’s your time to look after yourself, and the better you are, the more you will have a positive effect on those around you too – it could just spread like the best pandemic ever!

It’s Fiesta week!

Back in 2019 we experienced our first fiesta, and it was brilliant – carnivals, the evening dedicated to carrying the huge statue of Santa Ana all the way around the village, lots of gatherings, eating and drinking, and more fireworks than you could shake a stick at.

Starting around the end of June, each village has its fiesta, generally starting Thursday through to Sunday or Monday. You can see all along the valley as each village takes it’s turn to celebrate.

Fast forward to 2020 and the height of the pandemic – everything was cancelled.

So we were interested to see what we would be able to do this year for the fiesta.

We’ll, I have to take my hat off to the ayuntamiento! Although the celebrations are slightly different, with masks and social distancing , they have managed to come up with a variety of ways to celebrate.

It started with a children’s competition for decorating their shoes, followed by the same competition for adults. We were having a coffee at the cafe one day in the week, when this group of children walked by:

Good job we don’t get much rain here with all that papier-mâché!

Sunday was a bike ride around the village – a great way to get people together safely! This was followed by an art exhibition by a local artist who died earlier this year. There has also been summer cinema showing films outside and a music group performing traditional music (that didn’t start till very late and we’re rarely in the village at night!).

Today (Monday) is Santa Ana day, and her statue was carried into the middle of the village this morning, accompanied by the village band, where she waited until 9pm for an outdoor mass and a lot of fireworks, before being carried back into the church. (No easy task when you see the size of the statue!). The street was lined with people, where they would normally follow behind the statue as she is carried right around the village. So something very close to normal for Santa Ana day. All carefully organised to make sure people stay safe. 👏👏👏

Whilst we’re not religious, you can’t help but be impressed with the pomp and ceremony here on holy days.

This is a link to a video on Facebook of the statue being carried through the streets earlier today:

https://fb.watch/6_SfIImhgR/

I love the feeling of community here – it’s very special and I hope we never lose it.

Buying into the model

When we’re young and at school, we’re taught different subjects based on ‘the model’ – the accepted right answers. When we look at a subject, such as history, it’s often influenced by personal opinions and we all know that different countries report on history differently! We have to agree to learn these influenced facts, or fail our exams!

And that’s pretty much how we’re taught to live too – do well at school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have children, buy a bigger house, and so on. That’s what you do to be accepted by society.

People who don’t follow this accepted model are considered oddballs and crazies. Television programmes are even made about some of them! We used to love watching these for inspiration about how we were going to escape!

If there’s one thing this pandemic has shown, it’s that the accepted life model isn’t so great in a crisis! People losing their jobs, cooped up in their houses that they can no longer afford, feeling trapped with people (their families) that they only usually only spend a few hours a day with. Mental health issues through the roof, businesses closing left right and center, and a whole generation of children who will be told how they will be affected for life by this (which means of course that they will be – because they are growing up in the ‘model’ and most will blindly do or be what is expected of them!).

Maybe we should start trying to free our minds from ‘the model’ – create a life that YOU want to live. You may have to live with being ridiculed by those who still buy into the model, but hey, you get used to it!

When we started to meditate, strange things happened in our lives – marvellous and strange! If we’re just biological creatures, why do we have a consciousness? What would be the purpose of that? Yet the model for modern society makes no allowances for us being conscious beings! That’s not part of the plan!

If you could break free from your current life completely, would you? What’s stopping you? Maybe you don’t want to break free, but make some smaller changes. Why don’t you? Are you worried what people might think if you announce that you no longer buy into the model? Or maybe you feel like I did before I started meditating – you’re desperately unhappy but simply don’t know what to do about it?

My personal opinion is that we should be happy, and what determines happiness is different for everyone. So rather than buying into an accepted lifestyle that everyone thinks you should be happy with, go and carve that life for yourself. You won’t regret it.

My next blog will be about meditation (give me a week or so!) – as there are so many different methods, apps for phones, guided meditation, music etc etc so I’d like to give some hints and tips about getting started and finding a way that works for you – what struggles you might have, and what benefits it will bring.

What we can learn from nature..

Living as we do, surrounded by nature, has taught us many things. It’s funny how the different types of trees almost have different personalities, and how the wide variety of animals that we get here interact with their surroundings.

I’m not talking here about that fact that everything wants to bite or sting you, although if you saw our poor feet and legs you couldn’t argue that everything does indeed want to bite and sting you! We have just discovered this week that our local chemist sells a natural repellent without Deet that actually works – oh, the relief!

So, let’s start with the wildlife. We have A LOT of ants here – and lots of different types. They work hard all day, although they often have a late start in the morning! They work together to farm aphids in the trees and to expand their nests, much to our annoyance. Ants from different nests will ignore each other, until, that is, you dump one nest on top of another (which is a trick we use up get rid of them) – then they will literally fight to the death to protect their nest and each other. Lesson – like ants, people need a little bit of space – start piling people on top of each other (like in big cities) and aggression will abound. If you live and work in a city, find time in the evenings or weekends to get out into some space.

Bees – who doesn’t love a bee! In the Spring, our trees are literally alive with them. This is their time – we back off and let them do their work. For that month or so, we don’t attempt to prune or spray or do anything with the trees. When the sun is shining the trees are alive – when it’s raining they take the day off! Lesson – let the experts around you work in peace to do their thing, and do the right things at the right time.

The dogs! Well, what can I say about these two! We’ve all heard the phrase ‘be more dog’ and I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. They truly live in the present moment.

Birds – now we’ve been here for a few years, we could almost tell you the time of year based on the birds in the sky! The bee eaters return in late Spring, filling the evening sky with their iridescent colours as they enjoy one last flight before bed time. As the bee eaters finish their last dance, the swift’s come out to play, flying unbelievably fast, twisting and turning – they’re real show offs! The golden oriels also return for the summer, and they love to sit in the trees in the mornings with their distinctive calls. So what can we learn from the birds? To be free, to accept life totally and go where the thermals take you!

I mentioned that the trees seem to have different personalities – I’ll try to explain here what I mean:

The olive trees are probably my favourites – they’re so beautiful with their knarly trunks and drooping branches – they’re like little old people to me – they almost ooze wisdom. They don’t need a lot of looking after compared to the other trees – lots of water of course to get juicy olives, and a spray in the spring to get rid of the woolly aphids, and a cut every couple of years.

The almond trees are the tough guys – doesn’t matter how much you cut them back, they just grow and grow!

The soft fruit trees – apricots, peaches, nectarines etc are very delicate – you can look at them the wrong way and they’ll die – in my mind, if they could speak they would sound like Mavis off Coronation Street!

The orange trees are very needy. Spoilt children, always wanting attention! Lots of water, lots of spraying and regular pruning. But they are worth the investment as they do produce the most wonderful juicy oranges when you get them right. We’ve had several people say to us that our oranges are the best they’ve ever tasted! A proud moment!

The orange trees are so pretty when they’re covered in fruit!

But all of the trees bend with the wind, they don’t fight against it. They show you when they need help, and they reward you when you do help by giving you a bountiful harvest in return. They just do what they do, no complaining. You wouldn’t find an olive tree having a tantrum because it really wanted to be an apple tree – and yet, when we look at humans, we almost seek out these sorts of struggles to have.

So there we have it – be more ant, bee, dog and tree, and I think our lives would be happier!

Learning new skills

Since moving here we have learnt so many new things, mostly on the hoof as we’ve had something that needs doing!

I’ve always had a love of learning, and in the past have done so many diplomas and courses to expand my knowledge – and usually nothing to do with my job at the time! I like taking a hobby and really getting good at it!

So here, well, I barely know where to start on the list of things we’ve learnt! There’s the obvious, like looking after the trees, and our veg growing knowledge is getting there. But it’s all the other stuff, like making the water safe, sectioning the irrigation, using chain saws, installing a wood burning stove, installing a solar system and wind turbine … the list goes on! Roger has proved to be like a sponge when it comes to taking in new skills, and I have been in awe of how he tackles problems head on.

So his latest project has been the caseta – the small shed up on the third terrace. It was built out of breeze blocks up against the back wall (which is a dry stone wall), with an earth floor and some corrugated metal laid on the top for the roof. There were massive gaps in the wall, and a resident rat …

We’ve been using this caseta as a bit of a loft space – spare chairs, two grape presses, the suitcases, and the tent that we lived in when we got here etc. It’s been a good opportunity to get rid of some stuff out of there that we simply don’t use.

So, with the help of our mate Paddy, the work began! They emptied it out, chasing the rat out at the same time (although it’s still lurking around 😱). All the gaps were filled, and the roof removed. They laid a new OSB roof, which is secured to the metal crossbars, and they tilted the roof slightly so that the rain will actually run off towards the chirimoya trees. Thanks Paddy!

All the gaps between the bricks were filled to hopefully stop any more unwelcome guests from moving in. Foam filler finishes off the gap between the wall and the roof.

Then Rog laid a bitumen roof on the top. We bought some tiles that he laid, and luckily didn’t have to use a heat gun to melt them onto the roof – the sun did that for us!

Getting there… new roof on!
Rog has even included a skylight using a glass shelf from an old fridge! It’s normally a dark and creepy place to go in to look for something!

So the last jobs were to render the outside to make it look a bit prettier – another skill Rog has picked up by watching our builders at work here, and to put some sort of floor in. We couldn’t put a concrete floor in, as when our neighbour above irrigates, the water sometimes comes through holes in the wall, so needs to be able to drain away. We thought the best way to have a floor was to collect some flat stones from near the river and then fill in between with dry mix mortar. Looks pretty too! I should point out here that the stones didn’t come from the actual riverbed – this would be bad! Instead we collected them from places nearby where the water doesn’t run!

This won’t affect the ability for water to drain away, and is a vast improvement aesthetically!

When we do these projects we try to buy the bare minimum, repurposing things we have around where possible. This whole project has come in under €120 – the bitumen tiles were the expensive bit at just over €100

We’re pretty pleased with the finished article – hopefully we can now store some extra stuff up there out of the way without fear of rats nesting in there and chewing everything!

So the next project is the other shed. Built in the same way out of breeze blocks and a corrugated metal roof, but this has an added challenge of a very wonky wall, currently propped up with scaffolding poles.

Never a chance of running out of things to do here!

Heatwaves and wildfires

As if Spain wasn’t hot enough in summer (we average around 36 degrees in July and August), we’re now getting ready for what could be a historic heatwave. The temperature in parts of Andalucía is expected to hit 50 degrees this weekend, and elsewhere it will be over 40 degrees. The UV index has already been at extreme for some time, and we’re just in the mid thirties – what comes after extreme??

So there are sensible precautions that we can take, namely getting up early before sunrise to do any essential jobs and never go outside without wearing sunglasses. We never sunbathe here anyway – we’ve already been eaten alive in the last week, so the thought of lying down outside with minimal clothing on would be just madness! At the moment we tend to stop any work outside by midday, but that will have to change to probably 10am! We do then have a couple of hours in the evening when we can do things before it gets dark. It’ll be salads all the way – no cooking (hurrah!) as that increases the temperature of the house substantially.

Obviously we can’t run air conditioning or ceiling fans here – we just don’t have enough electricity, so the two things we do use are these:

Yes, that electric fan is as small as you think it is! The traditional fan works brilliantly and also keeps flies and bitey things away!

Extreme heat often sparks wildfires, and so now is the time be be vigilant living here. There have been a few wildfires in the area over the last couple of years, but none of them close enough to warrant any real concern, although we did go up to the roof terrace to keep an eye regularly, as you can imagine!

A friend of ours has an Australian partner, and when he asked us what evacuation plan did we have, we laughed and said we’d probably do a great impression of scooby doo and just get the hell out – ‘not good enough, you seriously need a plan’ he said!

So we have made sure we have several options, and we do have a plan. We have a big plastic box which houses all our paperwork for everything – that goes in the car with the dogs. The chicken coop would be opened and they would have to fend for themselves (I know 😢, but that’s a better option than putting them in the car with the dogs!). If we turn left at the end of our Camino, that takes us to the river, where we can go left or right to get away. We regularly walk along the river bed, and have been down there in the car to make sure we know the turning off that we can take to either get up to Illar, or go to the neighboring village Bentarique. If we turn right at the end of the road, that takes us up to the village. And this is why we have the car that we do – we don’t necessarily need a 4×4 day to day, but there could well come a day where it makes a big difference!

Preparing for extreme weather has always meant snow for us in the past when we lived in the UK – it seems funny thinking ahead because it’s going to be so hot! I know which I prefer!!

Living on the edge of society

Although our finca is only 1km from the village, most days it might as well be 100km away! And we like that, it’s what we wanted. When we first viewed here we were a little worried that it was too close to civilization, but everything else we had looked at was too remote (I know, there’s no pleasing some people 😂).

So I thought I would investigate why we felt so compelled to leave society behind three years ago, and whether we have really achieved that.

I think one of the main problems we had with life in the UK was the fact that there is an expectation that you should live to work, rather than work to live. The people that were still sending emails at 2am were the ones to get promoted – ooh look how hard they work. I have been in this situation, and oftentimes felt so tired that I literally cried. This is not living.

Then there’s the need for more and more useless stuff. I too was caught in this trap, and the day I spent £995 on a handbag I suddenly thought ‘what on earth am I doing???’. Work harder so you can earn more money, and then spend it on useless crap that maybe makes you happy at best for a fleeting moment. Now I have no issues with working hard to earn my money, the difference now is that we buy things we need, with just the odd exception! I don’t think we’d be human if we weren’t occasionally drawn to something glittery. But it is just occasionally now, rather than the weekly or monthly norm. I wish I’d saved more, rather than spending it on unnecessary things – it would’ve made the escape a little easier.

The third reason is just how unkind and judgemental society seems to have become. There’s a real streak of selfishness running through many cultures, and quite frankly, it makes me sad. We came off Facebook a few years ago, although we have recently rejoined. The difference now is that we’re very careful who we add as friends. Mostly it’s family and a few friends, as this is a good way to stay in touch with the ones we like! It also means we can keep up with things that are happening in the village, and although we don’t always go and join in, we do occasionally go and show our faces to be part of the community. One thing though, we make sure we don’t get drawn into any politics or arguments in the village. We smile and walk away …

We went and joined in with tree planting in the new park in the village. This is the expat tree and between us we represented Ireland, England and Scotland!

For Rog, he said his main reason was how het up people get over things that just really don’t matter – the fact that people rarely look at the bigger picture or overreacting to minor issues. Now we’re far from perfect, and we do still get wound up over stupid things, but I like to think that we realise it quicker now when we’re doing it and stop ourselves (or stop each other).

The last reason of course, is the environment. We wanted to live a life with a gentler touch on the planet. This, we have achieved, and it makes me happy that we are contributing less now to the environmental catastrophe that’s happening to Earth.

So looking back at those reasons, there wasn’t an awful lot left that we did like!

The hardest thing about doing what we did was leaving the family. We do miss them, but that’s where modern technology does improve life, being able to video call regularly. And these days we do actually have the time to talk properly to them, without clock watching, or having to dash off somewhere.

So now, the big question – have we achieved our dream of dropping out? Well, no, not totally. I think, as the title of this blog suggests, we have achieved living on the edge of society – we’re on the hard shoulder of life, but haven’t quite made it into the field on the other side of the hill away from the motorway 😂. But that’s fine with us.

I don’t think we expected to form some good friendships, but we have – and it’s nice having a handful of people that you can call up and go ‘help!’ – and help them in return when needed, or to just drop in for a coffee. I think the best thing is that our few good friends know we’re oddballs who moved here to get away from people, and so there’s no pressure on us to meet up regularly, or join the whist club or pétanque team (one person did suggest that we join them on a Sunday afternoon for a game but I think the horrified look on our faces was enough of an answer!). When we do occasionally meet up for lunch, we enjoy it, simply because it’s not every week.

Even here though we do sometimes meet people we’d rather not have anything to do with, but living where we do makes it easier to avoid them! We try not to venture away from the finca too often, usually a couple of times a week just for a few hours, as when we’re here we’re generally undisturbed. Whilst it’s nice to go out occasionally, I always feel happy to get back here again. It’s definitely become our sanctuary away from the world.

Best of all, we enjoy more freedom than we’ve ever experienced before – real freedom. No one telling us those trees have to be pruned today, or that we have to work late to get things done. They do say that people are their own worst bosses, and I agree with that – at the start of this journey we had a grueling amount of work to do to get this place in shape, and we did put ourselves under pressure. We’re learning to slow down now though! We have time to sit and talk, and sometimes to just sit and enjoy the scenery, watching the swifts dive around at sunset, or just hearing the golden oriels in the morning as the sun rises. Summer afternoons are for reading or sleeping in the cool. This is living to us. The longer we’re here, the more certain I am of the decision we made, and the more sure I am that we could never go back to our old lives.

As for the other aspects of being part of society – paying your bills, making sure you’ve filled in all the forms for everything, going food shopping etc etc, well there’s no escaping those things is there! But these are things we can live with!

Cars in the campo

As part of selling all of our belongings before coming to Spain, we also sold the car, as it had a loan on it that we wanted to clear. I had a company car, so just needed to hand that back. We’ve always loved cars, and have been lucky enough to own some really lovely cars over the years – a TVR Cerbera and an Alfa GTV to name but two.

So, Rog bought a 17 year old Saab 95 estate for £660, and paid £200 for new tyres and a service. All this needed to do was get us to Spain – if it then died, so be it! We didn’t want to bring a car to then change it to a spanish licence plate – the process is a bit complicated and can be costly. Not knowing where we would end up buying a house, the ideal would’ve be for the Saab to last until we had a house, at which point we could scrap it and buy a Spanish car suitable for our location. And it did just that! Hurrah! Not only that, but we managed to sell it on for €400! Hurrah, hurrah!

Rog has had several Saab’s over the years and we’ve always loved them. This carried so much stuff to Spain, including the tent that was home for 3 months in the picture!

So when we came to visit this Finca, we were prepared for narrow roads, steep hills and shingle tracks, as had been the case with most of the other places we had viewed. But we were pleasantly surprised – an actual concrete road! Initially it wasn’t overly narrow, but the closer we got to the finca, the narrower the road got, and then we arrived at the irrigation pool where we turn left to get to the place! Oh! That was quite tight! And the final 100 meters after that turn is considerably narrower than the rest of the road down from the village!

So, once our offer had been accepted, we started to think seriously about what car to buy for here. It needed to be a small narrow car with good ground clearance, which immediately limited our choices.

We’d been looking at the Suzuki Jimny, and the forerunner to that, the Samuri. There was a version built in Spain – the Santana SJ410. We had checked and knew that we would easily get spare parts for these still, so this seemed to be the best option – a small 4×2 that was pretty cool looking in our opinion, and would fit comfortable round the corner and up the road to the finca. And so we bought this …

We’ve had this since March 2019, and in that time we’ve had to do various bits of work to it. The good thing is that the parts are cheap and it’s pretty easy to work on. It’s been great value for money though, as we originally paid €2,250 for it. Second hand cars in Spain are SO expensive!

But it’s now 37 years old, and we think we’re coming to the point where a decision will need to be made – spend more money or change it. When we come up our rather steep driveway it makes some funny sounds, which we suspect is the drive chain. We’ve already replaced the drive shaft, the steering rack and the wheel bearings, and we know the suspension needs some work and the clutch is on its way out. The maximum speed we get out of it is about 80kmh – and it’s not a terribly comfy ride. It does, however, come into its own off road – it’s amazing!

We’ve made a list of cars that we think would be suitable, and today we’ve been walking up and down the road and our drive with a tape measure to see what will fit. There is one car that both Rog and I have always wanted to own – a Defender. The smaller one, the 90, should just about fit the road and the drive. The big but though is the price! We’ve found one over in Malaga that has been renovated, but it’s 4 years older than the Suzuki and it’s up for … €10,000 😱 For a 41 year old car!!!

The hunt will continue, but getting the right one is important as it has to ferry the dogs, the orange harvest, the olive harvest, furniture, solar panels, and well, anything that needs to get to the house!

If we do change the car, I will really miss the Suzuki, which sounds funny coming from a couple of old petrol heads!

The Land Rover is the ultimate classic in our view and would be perfect for here.

Tips for surviving hot weather!

Summer, after a bit of a stuttering start, properly arrived last week. Suddenly, wham, mid 30’s! Nighttime temperatures are now around 20 degrees too – usually by the end of July these will rise to 26-27 at night.

Over the last couple of years here we have had to learn how to live with the heat, and so here are my top tips!

Now obviously, we don’t have air conditioning, and there’s not enough electricity to run a ceiling fan – in fact, the only fan we can use is this little one:

Try not to sit in the path of a fan – as soon as you move away you’ll feel ten times hotter! Position it so it’s just keeping the air in the room moving!

Most Spanish houses have roller shutters at the windows to try and keep the heat at bay, and we keep ours mostly down in the day, although we do still keep the front door open!

We only have a shutter at the big window in the main room. You could use an ordinary roller blind to achieve the same effect, which we have at the other window in the main room, or just keep the curtains drawn.

At the start of the summer we open all the windows, and then they stay like that then until usually September. This is the reason why you see grills at the windows and doors – we can go out knowing that the house is secure. It felt a bit weird at first going out and leaving all the windows open! As houses in the UK don’t have grills this isn’t an option, but the minute you get in, throw them all open to get some airflow!

Get up early – the cool mornings are when you will be able to get things done. If it’s not done by 11.30-12 o,clock, it’s not going to get done until either late evening or the next morning here!

Have cool, but not cold showers.

We still drink tea and coffee in the morning and late evening, but the rest of the day it’s water or juice, with big ice cubes! If I really want a cuppa in the day then I’ll generally have green tea, as this is still lovely when it’s really cooled down. There’s nothing worse than trying to have a cuppa and feeling yourself sweat it out the minute you’ve drunk it! Avoid alcohol, which will dehydrate you and make you feel worse!

Hot weather will bring flies and mosquitos, and boy are they bad this year! We have mosquito nets up at the windows, and keep our bedroom door closed in the day. Any that do get into the house in the day don’t annoy us at night! You can repel insects by planting things like mint and lavender near the house, or by taking some cuttings and having them inside. Keep worktops clean and clear of food so there’s nothing for the little blighters to feed on. We are demons with a fly swat these days! No mercy! We also have a plastic strip curtain up at the door – simply a must have living here! Dab any insect bites with iodine – this will stop flies coming and feeding off the bite wound – I know, gross!

Rog is a bit of a ninja with our
flower shaped fly swat 😂

We’re lucky enough to have an above ground plunge pool outside – it’s years old and has seen better days, but at the end of a very hot day, there’s nothing better than sitting in that for a while to cool the blood. A cheap paddling pool would do the same outside and it really does make a difference! We never sunbathe here – the flies would drive you mad, plus we don’t use sun cream. Too much sun ages the skin and I really don’t want to look even older than I do now 😂. We try to do jobs outside where we can be in the shade, but there comes a point in the day where the best place is inside!

The siesta – it’s what Spain is famous for! Our bedroom has one small window that luckily faces away from the hot midday sun, and so it stays relatively cool in there. The duvet has long gone off the bed – we just have a sheet. After lunch, it’s time for a lie down – if I’m not tired then it’s a good time for a read, but inevitably, I always end up having a half hour nap! If you’re working, maybe take a later lunch break, find somewhere cool and close your eyes for 20 minutes! Hot weather drains your energy, so this is a great boost to get you through to the end of the day.

Clothing – Rog generally lives in swim shorts in the summer, and puts on overalls when he’s strimming etc, but that all happens first thing in the morning. I have discovered the best clothes are simple, loose cotton dresses. Now although my blog is called Life with no bra, I’m not really of an age to be going around all day without a bra! However, ladies, when it gets really hot, losing that thing of torture will make life better! Hats are good – we have a couple of dodgy looking straw hats here for working outside – no one wants sunstroke!

Lastly, food. When you digest food your body temperature rises. So, little and often is the best way. We eat lots of salad this time of year, but try to make sure we’re still getting all our nutrients – homemade potato salad or coleslaw, home grown and pickled beetroot, cold fish, or some cooked prawns (because they only take a minute to cook!), tinned corn … adding these types of things to a basic salad makes them nutritious as well as delicious! Our main meal is late – usually 9ish at night. During the winter we do eat earlier, but the hotter it gets, the later dinner is. People worry about eating before bed – well, it’s not a problem if you’re eating healthy food. Burger and chips just before bed would probably be bad!

So life slows down in summer, and we no longer get frustrated at not being able to whizz around the finca. It’s time to relax and enjoy the sunshine!

Beans legumes and pulses

As a child I was raised on very simple food – Mum is Irish and Dad had shocking stomach ulcers which meant he had to eat very plain food. So it was meat potatoes and veg basically – nothing spicy or foreign! The first time I ate pasta or rice was as an adult. For many years I simply didn’t know what to do with some of the ingredients I saw in supermarkets, and assumed that I probably wouldn’t like them – well, if they were nice to eat why hadn’t we had them as children???

Over the years I became more open to trying new food, but since moving here, our diet has changed completely. Aside from the fact that we don’t eat meat or dairy, I decided that I would learn how to cook some traditional Spanish food. Of course, these days with the internet and You Tube it’s all become so much easier to learn.

Now there was a couple of food groups that I had very little experience with – beans, pulses and legumes (apart from having tinned baked beans of course!).

Chickpeas play a really big part in traditional Spanish food, and they have become one of my favourite ingredients to use. And if anyone had said to me a few years ago that I would love lentils, I would’ve pulled an ‘ewww’ face!

My nemesis though, is using dried beans – it doesn’t matter what I do, they either come out like bullets or mush when I cook them. I decided a while back that there was no need to make life difficult, and so now I just buy the jars of pre cooked beans to add to my dishes. I went through about €15 worth of dried beans trying to perfect cooking them – I have absolutely no idea why I just can’t get them right! I will have another go at some point, I don’t like to give up on these things!

There are about 400 different types of edible bean,and they play an especially important part of our diet as they provide us with both protein and fibre. As we don’t eat meat, it’s essential to ensure we’re still eating a balanced diet with all the nutrition we need.

So I thought I would pick my top three favourite recipes using beans to share with you … with all of these I have tweaked the recipe to our own liking … it’s what makes cooking fun!

1. Moorish Chickpeas (and they are very more-ish 😂). Serves 2 (generous portions), 30 minutes prep and cook time.

1/2 onion, diced

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 carrots, diced

2 grated tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes

Jar of cooked chickpeas (540g)

Red and green pepper, chopped

Vegetable stock cube

200ml water

Large handful of chopped spinach

Other veg, whatever you have! Green beans, peas, courgette …

1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon dried coriander

1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon saffron

Use a large deep frying pan – put 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in and warm. Add the veg (except the spinach) and garlic and cook for 5-10 minutes. Add the spices and herbs and stir. Add stock cube, tomatoes and water. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in the spinach and cook for 1 minute so the spinach wilts. Serve with crusty bread.

Moorish Chickpeas – one of our favourite dishes!

2. Homemade baked beans

We can buy Heinz beans here in the bigger supermarkets, but I actually now prefer these ones I make!

Jar white beans (540g)

Tomato frito / passata (215g small carton or homemade)

Vegetable stock cube

60ml water

1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

Optional – small clove of garlic, minced

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a saucepan and warm. If using, add the garlic. Add the paprika, stock cube and water. Stir and cook for one minute. Add the tomato frito and simmer for 5-10 minutes to thicken. Drain and rinse the beans and add to the saucepan. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Serve.

3. Lentil curry soup

I love this in the winter – this makes 4 generous portions.

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

2 carrots peeled and chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp medium curry powder

1/4 tsp dried parsley

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 cup brown or green lentils, pecked over and rinsed

4 cups veg stock

2 cups water

Salt & pepper

1 cup chopped spinach

Juice of half a lemon

Warm the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and carrot and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and parsley and cook for 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, cook for 2 minutes. Add the lentils, stock and water. Season and simmer for 25-30 minutes.

Optional – remove 2 cups and pop in a blender then add back in once blended (makes the soup a bit creamier).

Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes. Add lemon, season and serve.

When Rog was in the UK I made a big batch of this and just left it in the stove, heating it up as I wanted some for both lunch and dinner (I’m terrible at cooking just for myself when he’s away!).

Let me know if you try any of these recipes and what you thought if them!

World Environment Day

This special day is celebrated tomorrow (Saturday 5th June). It’s a day when the UN seeks to focus the attention of investors, businesses, governments and communities on the increasingly urgent need to restore the Earth’s ecosystems.

People will be marking the day all over the world by planting trees, cleaning up beaches and woods, and generally trying to make a difference.

Here in Illar, the Ayuntamiento has recently made a new park area for residents to enjoy, and they have invited the local community along on Saturday to plant the trees – what a wonderful way to celebrate!

Here are some ideas for ways to join in:

Go to your local park, canal, beach or woods and litter pick

Plant some insect friendly plants or a tree in your garden

Spend the day avoiding using any plastic, or maybe reducing your consumption of electricity!

If you’re going food shopping, avoid buying anything that’s packaged in plastic, or highly processed. Maybe look for a local farmers market to support instead of a big supermarket.

Go meat free for the day, weekend or even the week – maybe commit to one day a week without meat?

It might be the start of some easy changes you could introduce into your every day life. We’ve been amazed at just how easy it is to live with much less electricity than we used to have!

The way that we’re living on this planet is not sustainable for life in the long term, and we all know we need to make changes. Whilst many people see the responsibility lying with governments and industry, we can all make small changes that will make a difference now – and if everyone made a small difference, it would add up to a big change. We can’t keep waiting for governments and commercial industries to stop talking and start doing, every single one of us is responsible.

We have two homes – our planet and our body – look after them both.

Things we love and hate about living here!

Whilst outside doing some washing this afternoon, being hounded by flies, it got me thinking about the top five things we love and hate most about living here – some on the list are relevant to our particular location whilst others are more general about Spain!

Things we love:

The climate – obviously! In Almeria we average just under 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, and it only rains on 25 days in an average year. Average temperature is 19 degrees.

The sense of community – there are events almost every weekend in the summer (in years with no pandemic!) where the community comes together to enjoy … well, being alive! Everybody helps each other here.

The fiestas – we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we may be allowed our big summer fiesta again this year. There is a love of fireworks here, and no party would be complete without them!

Fiesta in July 2019. The ‘big one’ each year in each village lasts around four days!

The cafe culture. I think this is where the pandemic hit hard last year. Spain is a very sociable country and people spend time with friends and family at the local cafe, enjoying a cold beer and some tapas.

The work life balance. When there’s work to be done, sleeves get rolled up and people work hard. BUT, and this is the bit that’s missing in other countries, people here work to live, not live to work. Weekends are precious, and so aside from the big stores in the city, you’ll find local shops closed on Sundays – I love that.

So then … the top five things we hate!

Number one has got to be the flies – they drive you to distraction from June until about October. Even when they’re not in you, you feel like your skin is crawling with them after a while. I am often seen doing stupid dances whilst doing jobs outside – just to keep the flies off. It’s a sight to behold.

This next one is very personal to me – Rog doesn’t mind them, and that’s the snakes. Literally, my blood runs cold when I see one.

Learning Spanish. It’s the second fastest spoken language in the world, and when the locals fire a conversation at you, it’s almost impossible for non native speakers to understand. Where we might have 3 words for something in English, there’ll be two dozen in Spanish. Makes our heads hurt … but we’re getting better!

The use of car horns. Many delivery vans visit the villages selling bread, fish, gas bottles etc, and they literally drive around continually honking their horns to let people know they’re there. This might go in for fifteen minutes each time.

We’re struggling to think of a fifth thing … oh, the bureaucracy! Everything you want to do involves reams of forms. When we changed our mobile phone numbers to Spanish ones we popped into the bank to let them know – 20 sheets of paper each with multiple signatures. When trying to register the car when we bought it, I actually cried outside the fifth government building with the fifth form out of sheer frustration. My advice – never ever try and do these things yourself – pay a gestoria – they are administrators and know the systems. You will never fathom it!

The list of things we love was really easy – the only difficulty was keeping it to just five things! When we did the list of things we hate, we struggled to think of five things – tells us we’ve made a good move!

Suffering

Eckhart Tolle wrote:

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.

Thinking back to our old life, I used to feel really tortured at times, which made me feel sorry for myself, which then made me feel even worse. Those feelings used to then make me feel guilty, as there were are so many people who would’ve given their right arm to have our life. It’s so easy to see how people can go into a downward spiral. Thoughts like ‘if only I had this or that, or if only I were there, then I’d be happy’ probably resonate with a lot of people.

So looking at Eckhart’s three choices, obviously we chose option number 1! These options can be applied to each and every situation we find ourselves in that we don’t like – an uncomfortable meeting at work, a hard training session at the gym, or your entire life! Removing yourself from the situation could be seen as giving up or running away. I prefer to see it as ensuring your own continued happiness.

So did we make the right choice, and are we happy with what we did? Hell yes! A friend told me last night that I look younger every time she speaks to me! I’ll take that compliment!

There is more awareness now for mental health than ever before – how employers, family and friends should spot when people are in trouble and offer help. Of course, I totally agree with this, but at the end of the day, our mental well being must be our own responsibility first and foremost. Once we realise there is a problem, that’s when we do need the help, support and understanding of our friends and family to back the choices we make for solving the problem.

When things get really bad it can be difficult to even recognise where you are, and even when you do, it can seem impossible to try and fathom how to get out of it. Having these three choices really simplifies everything. This is also why it’s so important to live in the present – we can do nothing to change what has happened in the past, and the future hasn’t happened yet, and do there is only now.

Be the watcher of your own mind – of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in various situations. Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or person that causes you to react

Eckhart Tolle

Following this advice, to watch your own mind, helps you to see clearly when there is a problem.

The worst thing you can do, in my opinion, is nothing. There’s a saying – if things don’t change, they stay the same. If you can’t change the external thing that’s happening to you, then you must change yourself – either by accepting what’s happening, or by removing yourself.

I don’t like the word suffering, and try hard not to use it … I’m suffering from backache or ‘my’ backache – when you use these words, you’re owning the problem or illness, and it therefore becomes an integrated part of you. We can get over lots of minor physical illnesses by having a positive attitude towards the ailment – try it next time you have a cold – tell it to ‘f off!’!

When you are struggling with unhappiness as opposed to a physical illness, it’s somewhat harder not to own it, but it’s so important to stand back, try and look at the situation objectively, and then decide what to do.

When I was back in the UK last year I spent a lovely evening with my son – just us two on our own, talking until 3am. He shocked me when he told me I was his hero. I asked him why on earth he though that – his answer ‘whenever you have a problem, Mum, you just sort it out’. I’ll never forget him telling me that. And if I can do it, then anyone can.

So, my final words of advice – doing nothing is far more scary than doing something. Don’t be afraid to admit there’s a problem and ask for help. If it’s work related, take some time off – sleep, meditate, look after yourself, and put yourself in a position where you can decide which option to take, and when you make your decision, own it completely.

Thank goodness that’s done!

The last big ‘building’ job we had left on the list for the house was the kitchen. When we had the bathroom done we asked our builder to price up doing a proper brick built Spanish kitchen (where you have curtains instead of cupboard doors). This is a really cost effective way of replacing the kitchen, as bricks are less expensive than kitchen cupboards, and we thought it would look perfect in here too!

We had done the best we could with the old kitchen, and it had served its purpose, but I’ve always hated the tiles, and some of the cupboards were just knackered and had bits of wood propping them up! Not liking the tiles was not justification on its own, and I would’ve lived with them, but the bottoms of the cupboards were falling apart!

When you have a small house, doing this kind of work becomes a bit trickier – emptying the kitchen is all well and good, except that we don’t really have any spare space anywhere else to put the stuff! So it all got piled in the spare bedroom – everything from the kitchen side of our room plus the armchairs – getting anything else out for the 9 days it took for the kitchen to be built was simply impossible! The only place the fridge could go was outside!

The planning process was hilarious – when we did our kitchen back in the UK there were hours of planning on the computer in the kitchen showroom. Here, it’s a chat, a sketch, and some lines on the wall!

Drawing lines on the wall in red to mark out where the walls will be built.
And a very rough sketch 😂

So, having piled everything onto and around the spare bed, we were ready! The table was pushed up against the fireplace and the fridge moved outside.

The only thing that didn’t get consigned to the spare room was the teapot of course!!

We have bought a new fridge freezer – it’s one that runs on both gas and electric – we’re hoping that on sunny days we can plug it in and just use the gas at night – that will make a huge difference! The only problem is that they are ridiculously expensive to buy – a simple small gas fridge on its own wouldn’t be too bad, but there’s only one company that makes a fridge freezer that runs on both gas and electric, so they can pretty much name their price (which was €1,000😱). But if it lasts 20 years like the old one has then it will be a good investment. The old one was a bit knackered – I made shelves out of trays, there was a hole in the bottom of the freezer compartment, and most of the shelves in the door had no front bit, so couldn’t be used. It’s done us a good turn though.

So, let the mess and noise begin! The first job was to remove the old cupboards, some of which are going in the shed for storage – I think Rog was quite excited he would be able to have a tidier shed! Then came removal of all the old tiles. The noise and dust was awful, but we knew what to expect having just done the self same thing in the bathroom.

New tiles went on, and that meant the kitchen itself could then be built. Corners are always a bit of a wasted space, so we opted for a corner sink – I’d never even seen one of those before we moved here! The wasted space will house all the pipes, and I can still fit my cleaning stuff in there too – these days I don’t have millions of bottles of cleaning stuff – there’s a lemon tree at the bottom of the road!

The walls started going up very quickly!

By the end of day three the walls were done and we had a couple of days respite over the weekend from the noise and dust.

So then it was time to make and tile the worktop. I love having a tiled worktop – utterly bombproof and no issues with putting hot things on them! I’m very happy to be going back to this type of worktop, having had a tiled one back in the UK for many years.

The construction was interesting to say the least! Long terracota tiles were laid on the new walls, topped with metal reinforcement and concreted piled on the top. Once this was dry the top could be tiled – this makes the worktop about 10cm thick in total!

So now the kitchen was built and the builders left us to finish off!

Rog plumbed in the sink and refitted the reverse osmosis water system. Having no water for 9 days was a bit tough, and it’s only when you have to keep buying bottled water that you realise how much you go through! We still had water in the bathroom but obviously we can’t drink that, but it did mean we could wash up in the shower!

The cupboard spaces then needed to be fitted out with shelves and drawers. Being brick built means that none of the measurements are exact like they are with traditional cupboards in a fitted kitchen. We opted to make the shelves from interlocking floorboards – this would make the shelves really strong and gave us the flexibility to cut the length of each board to fit. We bought four individual drawers that came with plastic runners which were quite flexible – again, giving us the ability to adjust them to the space.

The last job was the curtains – my sewing machine does work in the solar thankfully – I wouldn’t have fancied sewing them all by hand!

So not a bad turnaround – about four. weeks start to finish. The rest of the room does need painting again – the clean and fresh kitchen side has made the rest of the room look a little second hand! And we’ve decided to build two bookcases either side of the fireplace, as the new fridge us where the bookshelves used to be!

Aside from the regular decorating that’s required here, the house is now done.

A huge improvement on the old kitchen – it gives me much more workspace and looks much prettier too I think.

Time to do something about the extremely wonky shed I think (before it falls down!).

As they say here in Spain ‘a poco a poco’ – little by little!

Learning to look after the trees

Before coming here I’d never had a fruit tree, and had absolutely no idea how to look after them, so buying a finca with 97 of them was a bit of a baptism of fire! Our fruit trees include oranges, mandarins, chirimoya, nispero, almond, olives, pears and bananas.

We’ve learnt a lot, but by no means are we experts yet. As with all aspects of life, it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive. Preventing problems through proper management is less work than trying to cure insect or mold problems, as we’re currently finding out!

Twice a year they need fertilizer, which we buy as granules in large sacks – this gets thrown up into the tree canopy so you get a good spread on the ground, and then as we water the trees, the granules dissolve. We also bury our waste from the house under the trees which composts directly under the trees to give them extra oomph too.

Fruit trees can be prone to fungus and mold problems. The best way is prevention rather than cure, and the popular method here is sulphur powder. We have a backpack which has a nozzle on the end and a handle on the side to puff out the powder. It’s a job that needs doing every couple of weeks to be effective. This really does need safety gear – hat, goggles, face mask and overalls – although it’s a natural substance, it can cause all sorts of irritation and problems if you get it on yourself.

We’re a bit devastated that we’ve just lost out apricot tree to fungus (we think) – it was going great guns and covered in fruit. Literally overnight the fruit shriveled and the leaves dropped and died. Apricot trees are prone to a root fungus that kills the tree from the bottom up, and in just days we went from a good tree to one that rocks in the ground – we’re going to have to take it down before it falls down. If we plant a new one, we will have to wait several years for it to produce fruit. There could well have been early signs that we missed – but it’s all part of the learning journey.

Fruit trees are targets for insects – ants develop aphid farms up in the leaves so they can eat the sweet secretions from the aphids – produced when the aphids munch on your tree! The one we’re really struggling with at the moment is scale – they reproduce at such a rate. The trees have been sprayed now with four different types of insecticides and we’ve still got a problem. Scale insects not only suck on your trees, they leave a sooty mold on the leaves, which can affect the fruit. Usually we would insecticide four times a year – January, March, July and October, but at the moment we’re just continually spraying weekly to try and get rid of the problem.

Undoubtedly, the most effective method is to pick insects off by hand, but this is very labour intensive as you can imagine!

Scale insects are ugly little bugs! This is the Cottony Cushion Scale that we are currently battling with.

The adult female cottony cushion scale is capable of self-fertilization and lays about 500 to 800 eggs. Eggs are laid within an egg sac and are red and oblong. The eggs can hatch within a few days during the summer months but can take up to two months during the winter. The population increases most rapidly during the drier months and requires about four months for a generation.

Neem oil and insecticidal soap are both effective for scale, but both are contact insecticides rather than systemic, so the trees need drenching from every angle.

Then there’s watering – we usually irrigate 3-4 times a week in summer. Recently we’ve been turning on the irrigation at night as we go to bed and leaving it in all night. As we use drip irrigation rather than flooding, there are about 300 little nozzles that need checking each time we irrigate – we’ve got pretty efficient at doing this and now it only takes about half an hour!

The drip irrigation lines run throughout the finca, and Roger has zoned them so we can control what areas get watered. This is especially important if the water pressure is too low to water the whole place at the same time.

Pruning – I’ve done blog posts before on pruning but it’s worthy of another mention here. Pruning is essential for tree health – cutting out the dead wood whenever you spot it, and then the bigger, annual cut, to ensure enough light gets in. Water shoots regularly sprout and they need cutting off to ensure the water goes to the fruit bearing branches. Trees that haven’t been pruned will still produce fruit, but it will be smaller and not as good. Opening up the tree through pruning also helps with insect control, as it’s easier to spray thoroughly, and you can actually see what’s going on.

A clean orchard is essential – picking up cuttings if you’ve pruned to get rid of insects and cleaning pruners and shears between trees both help to stop diseases spreading between trees.

And after all that work, your reward is your harvest – we both love harvesting! You get to climb trees and eat lots of fruit, so what’s not to love about it!

Cleaning in the campo …

I’ve always been very house proud, I mean for goodness sake I used to iron dusters! Ive always tried to look my best too – I’m no stunner by a long chalk, but a bit of makeup, clean styled hair etc, nice clothes etc were always important.

Now, things are …. well, different!

Before we moved here we had a weekend away in Limoge in France – we’d made the decision to move to Spain but this weekend break had been booked for some time. When we got to the airport there was a really scruffy, quite mad, Englishman, looking for his wife who was supposed to be on our flight. He was pretty dirty, and had what we now refer to as an ‘off grid air’ about him! I said that we would never go out looking like that when we live off grid! But here we are, killing it!

So, my personal appearance – I think feral would be a good word 😂. Don’t get me wrong, we are clean of course, but now I haven’t worn make up for over 2 years, and I’m less concerned about clothes. I actually threw away my last few bits of make up at Christmas! That was a liberating moment! I haven’t been to a hairdressers since we moved here – Rog sometimes cuts my hair, and sometimes I do it myself! Living here our clothes need to be functional. You tend to look and say, will these show the dirt or doggie paw prints two minutes after getting dressed? Without heating, clothes are things to keep you warm in winter. Without air conditioning, clothes are things to keep you cool in summer. We do still have some nice going out clothes, but they get worn less and less the longer we’re here. The last time I wore a pair of high heels or proper shoes was December 18th 2019 – my last day at work back in the UK! These days it’s steel toe capped boots, wellies or flip flops!

Onto the house. This is more challenging as we avoid using any chemicals on ourselves or in the house. We live just over 10 miles from Europe’s only desert, so we do get pretty dusty here and it can also get very windy. Then there’s the dogs running in and out, often after they’ve played in a field full of water or in the river. Then there’s us – it’s just not a ‘take your shoes off at the door’ kind of place (like our old house in the UK was!). The result is that you are literally fighting a losing battle to keep the house spic and span.

I’ve had to learn to be less fussy – you dust here and ten minutes later it looks like you haven’t bothered for months. Being a small house it’s not all beautifully organised with a place for everything and everything in its place – but it’s comfortable, and it works for us. A certain level of tidiness is required or we just wouldn’t fit our stuff in. We have no storage, so the bed linen and towels have a long shelf in the spare bedroom. Photos and everything else are in boxes stored under the bed – it’s amazing how valuable the space under the beds has become!

I have to say, it’s been a revelation learning not to be so fussy – I never thought I’d hear myself say that there’s more to life than having a perfectly clean house!

But I do now have some clever cleaning hacks using natural products that I thought some of you might like – I have shared some before that you’ll find in the recipes, tips and ideas page, but these are my daily go to favourites.

Buy an old fashioned feather duster – they are amazing! I have a long handled one which means I can do the ceiling and into the corners.

A lemon, some vinegar and some bicarbonate of soda will clean most hard surfaces in your home (not wood furniture though!). Sprinkle some bicarb around your stainless steel sink, rub half a lemon around, and if still not clean, splash some vinegar and gently wipe. Amazing results. Use in kitchen cupboards too! Never use vinegar on natural stone, like marble or granite, or on wood or cast iron.

We have tiled floors, and just use a mop to clean – I use vinegar in the warm water and a few drops of lavender essential oil. The result is that you get lovely clean floors which smell great too. The added advantage of the essential oil is that spiders and bugs hate the smell of lavender so stay away! If you don’t like lavender substitute for an oil you do like! Bugs hate the smell of peppermint too!

For wooden chopping boards and bread boards, you can clean them with toothpaste. Put a generous teaspoon of toothpaste on your hand and work into the wood thoroughly, rinse and wipe dry. Not only does it clean the wood, but will kill off any bacteria lurking in the surface. Half a lemon dipped into salt also works really well for chopping boards, and smells great too!

For the laundry I do buy some environmentally friendly detergent, but also use soapnuts. I boil up the soapnuts in some water for 20 minutes, strain, and use the liquid just like ordinary detergent. The smell isn’t great though, so I add just a tiny bit of the detergent to the wash too. The soapnuts work out to be very cheap – I buy a kilo for around €11 and they last me a year – can’t complain at that! Because I only use a tiny bit if the detergent, I use maybe 3 litres in a whole year – I used to use that in a month back in our old life!

I have recently bought some of these new detergent strips – I’m using the Tru Earth ones. You get 32 strips in a pack and just pull one off and use it in your wash. Obviously, I cut mine down to a smaller size. There’s no plastic, they’re environmentally friendly and good for people with sensitive skin. The only downside I can see at the moment is the price – they work out about 3 times the price of traditional detergent. More companies are launching their own versions, and as they become more popular I’m sure the prices will come down. So far though, in terms of cleaning, they’re really great, and take up almost no room at all!

When I change the bed sheets each week I give the mattress a quick spray to deter any bugs that might want to set up home in our bed (we do get a lot of insects here and it’s my mission in life to keep them out of the house!). I use alcohol with some lemongrass essential oil in a spray bottle – we buy cleaning alcohol here – it’s usually 80/90% strength. I give the mattress and pillows a quick spritz and leave it for 10 minutes. The bed smells lovely and we can sleep soundly at night knowing there’s no bugs in there!

The cleaning alcohol is also really useful in the garden to clean the pruners and shears etc. It’s a good idea to clean these in between working on each tree so that no diseases are transferred from one tree to another.

Lastly for today, a kitchen cleaner. Grab hold of some citrus peel, pop in a jar and add equal amounts of water and vinegar. Let it sit for two weeks, strain and it’s ready to use.

Not only are these environmentally friendly, but you’ll find that you’ll save an enormous amount of money too! I’m always looking for new hacks so if you know of any please leave a comment!

Hens and eggs …

At the moment we have 5 hens, and average 4 eggs a day from them. We were getting slightly overrun with eggs so decided to start selling some. The problem is, they’ve become so popular we’re struggling to meet the demand!

Here’s a picture one of my customers sent, with the message ‘guess which two eggs are from your hens!’ 😂 – easy peasy!

The pale eggs on the right are organic free range eggs from a big supermarket costing double what we charge! Our customer said ‘The flavor is vastly different – yours are creamy and full flavored, the shop ones are watery and bland’

So we have a couple of choices – just keep one or two customers; put three more hens into our existing coop (which will realistically be the most we could add for the space we have) – or build a second coop and get another six or so hens … I think we all know my preferred option! 😂😂😂

We don’t really want to limit our customers. If we add three hens into the existing coop we’re looking at six weeks of bickering and very few eggs. Option number three it is then – a second chicken coop and run with another batch of chooks!

We’re clearly doing something right for our hens to be producing such marvellous eggs. Every morning they get chopped up vegetables, including peelings from the kitchen, and which most days include some fresh parsley (excellent for egg production). They also have a really good layer food, plus extra corn in the winter when it’s cold. Corn is high in fat and helps to keep them warm. They also get crushed up oyster shells to munch on. Hens use so much calcium from their bodies to produce eggs that it’s really important for them to have extra calcium in their diet. And lastly, they get mealworms every day to keep up their protein – again, essential for egg production.

Most days they do get out of the coop and can free range around the finca for a while – they like to dig a little hole and have a dust bath – a natural way for them to clean their feathers and keep any mites at bay. We also use diatomaceous earth in with their bedding too to make sure no mites can get at them. We grow vetiver here on one of the banks to stop soil erosion, and when we cut the vetiver we add some to the nesting boxes as they are a natural insect repellent. I love utilizing everything possible here!

So we’ve picked a spot at the end of the third terrace – the run will need to be triangular to fit in the space, but it will be a bit bigger than the first one. We need to do some planning and decide whether to build a wooden coop, buy another IBC or buy a ready made coop (which is the most expensive option and not the preferred way for us). I think we might also try another breed of hen this time too! Variety is the spice of life!

I think we’ll get the kitchen finished first, and then it will be watch this space!

Here comes summer!

So here we are, just into May and the temperature is swaying between 22 and 30 degrees – lovely when you’re on holiday with nothing to do! Slightly more tricky when there’s work to do!

I do understand why many people think the Spanish are lazy, but having lived here for over two years, I can say hand on heart that they’re not – you simply have to pace yourself in this climate.

The working day in Spain is actually a very long one, with a break in the afternoon when it becomes too hot to do anything. For many Spaniards out at work, this makes spending time with family almost impossible during the week, which is why Sundays here are still pretty sacred.

We are soon reaching the time where if things that need doing outside haven’t been done by about 11.30 in the morning, then they won’t get done until the end of the day – 8 or 9pm – or sometimes mañana!

Even the dogs rest more in the day now – they have a mad couple of hours in the morning – then pretty much sleep until about 4pm when it’s dinner time. Our daily walk is getting later and later – the steep hill back up from the river is a killer when it’s 25 degrees! As the temperature cools, the dogs change back into the mad sods we know and love!

With summer comes very windy afternoons here – we get wind warnings most days – it starts out of nowhere at 1pm and just stops at 5pm- another reason for a siesta during these hours! It’s very dusty here, and with the wind it becomes quite uncomfortable to be outside.

Having worked in office or sales jobs all my life before we came here, the weather influenced my life very little (unless we had maybe a week of snow which disrupted things). Now we’re here, we organise our working day and week around the weather, with jobs that need overalls and boots being done early in the morning before the heat kicks in! We don’t use sun cream which means we do have to be careful to do jobs in the shade when we can. It also makes sure that we take regular breaks during the day to top up on water – we drink gallons of water in the summer months as it’s just too hot to drink tea in the day (which is really hard for me – you know how I love a cuppa!).

The hottest months are July and August, and during these months we actually do very little work outside. The main task is to keep on top of the irrigating, and the trees get a spray in July. This year of course, we’ll have more veg growing, so they will need regular irrigating and some attention, but all the big, heavy jobs are done in the Spring and Autumn.

We have noticed too that our weight changes with the seasons – going into summer we’re carrying a few extra pounds! Between the cold of winter and the physical activities in the spring, we naturally eat more. Coming into summer, we switch mainly to salads, so the weight comes off again!

A very different way of life!

Something a little like normal …

After the last year of lurching from one lockdown to another, there’s a lighter feeling starting to settle, something a little like being closer to life pre coronavirus. We are still officially in a 4th wave, but it seems to be more under control than previous peaks.

Last weekend we welcomed some lovely friends here to stay – our first guests for almost 16 months. Our friends were ones we had lost touch with and not seen for over 12 years. We recently got back in touch when we decided to rejoin Facebook after a break from it for several years, only to discover they too were living in Andalucía! It’s a very small world!

Last Thursday saw the opening of the provincial borders, so although the region of Andalucía is still closed, you can now travel freely within Andalucía. The curfew was also reduced, and we can meet up with 2 other people inside or 4 outside (I think anyway, it’s hard to keep up with the changes!)

The State of Alarm that has been in place across Spain for over a year comes to an end on 9th May, and apparently is not intended to be extended again. What this actually means for us in terms of restrictions isn’t really clear yet. Some regions are calling for a further extension in order to maintain restrictions, and if not agreed, there is a public health law that they could use in order to maintain some restrictions – we can only wait and see what happens.

In our village, some things are beginning to return to near normal – our cafe is open again now that the owner, Antonio, is out of hospital – he got covid last September and spent about 50 days on a ventilator. Although he is unable to work, his family have re-opened the cafe, and Antonio is able to come and sit outside for a while to chat to customers – it is lovely to have him back! The village feels more alive again now the cafe has reopened.

There are still no flights to and from the UK into Almeria airport, but fingers crossed these will resume again soon so I can visit the family. I haven’t had a hug from the grandchildren for 18 months, and Mum is desperate for a visit – lockdown was so hard for them with my sister getting cancer and me being so far away.

Throughout the pandemic, it has been law here to wear a face mask at all times when outside (except when you’re actually eating and drinking at the cafe!), unlike the UK. For me, this is the one thing I am most looking forward to ending at some point… maybe next year??? They have now declared that you don’t need to wear one when out walking in the countryside, or when you’re swimming (😂), so that’s a step in the right direction for me. We do have a municipal pool in the village, which remained closed last summer – it would be great if this could reopen this year.

Whilst the vaccine rollout has been hugely successful in the UK, most European countries are lagging behind, with simply not enough vaccine being delivered to provinces – we are just moving into the 50-70’s age group here, so it could be another month or more yet before we get jabbed at this rate. It will be interesting to see if this picks up.

Living where we do, we haven’t felt the impact of the pandemic as much as those living in towns and cities – we spend most of our time going about our normal daily tasks, rarely seeing anybody – exactly as we planned when we moved here! Going out once a week to get the things we need used to be fun, but for the last year it’s been go out, get what we need, and get back home. With the cafe reopening, we can at least resume our Wednesday coffee and tostada tradition when we go to the market!

Let’s all hope now that the light at the end of the tunnel starts to shine a lighter brighter so that we can all get back to the old normal as opposed to the new normal, which hasn’t been normal at all!

Almeria – a very special place

Almeria was actually third or fourth in our list of preferred areas when we came to Spain. Top of the list was Malaga province, mainly because we knew there a little more. Then came Granada or Jaen and then Almeria. For a few months after we made the decision to move, we became avid watchers of A Place in the Sun, when it was about southern Spain. Whilst it is without a doubt an intensely annoying programme, it did give us a few insights into different areas around Andalucía. That, coupled with lots of research on the internet looking at house prices, climate, distances to airports etc, all contributed to deciding our top areas.

During our property search when we got here, we quickly ruled out Malaga – the properties we could afford would’ve been very difficult to live in – very very rural and on top of very steep mountains! We then discovered just how cold Jaen and Granada can be in winter, and we had to consider things like distances to airports etc, having elderly parents. There was a suitable property, although it was at the very top of our budget and needed work. This was in Alcaudete in Jaen. There was just something about it that didn’t feel right, but we kept it there as an option – until we saw this place.

Driving over to Almeria, we had heard of the plastic tents, but nothing prepared us for the sea of plastic tents that went on for miles. The further we drove, the more convinced we became that we would be buying the house in Alcaudete.

The plastic greenhouses in Almeria can be seen from space!

But then we turned off the motorway and started heading towards the Alpujarras and Illar. We spent a lot of time staring out of the window just going ‘WOW!’ at the scenery! There were still a few plastic tents dotted here and there, and we can even see one from our finca, but you get used to them, and they play a huge and important part of the economy in this part of Spain.

The scenery here is dramatic to say the least. That’s probably why so many films have been made in the area. Not too far from us is Little Hollywood, where you can visit some of the film sets from movies made here – including many spaghetti westerns, Top Gun, Terminator, Indiana Jones and Star Wars to name but a few.

Clint Eastwood made many films in Almeria.

The climate is special too – summers are short and hot and winters are short and cold, and the rest of the year it’s, well, just lovely!

They always say that the special thing about here is you can go skiing in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon! We’re about 30 minutes from the coast, and 30 minutes the other way you find yourself in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The city of Almeria is actually lovely – you can wander round the shops then walk over and have lunch by the beach! This part of Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors, and you can see the remnants of this today, not only in the architecture but also in the food.

The Fort overlooks the city.

Almeria’s popularity is growing – there are growing areas of expats, particularly over towards Mojácar and Albox way. Even here in our small village there are probably a dozen expat couples from the UK, as well as from other countries. Property prices tend to be cheaper than other places such as Malaga too.

On the coast you can find Cabo de Gata – a beautiful nature reserve with stunning beaches and little white villages – somewhere we have yet to visit (mainly because of the lockdown), but it’s definitely on the list of places we want to see.

Cabo de Gata is a UNESCO Biosphere Site, and somewhere I’d happily spend a day!

This is also a popular area for observatories – clear skies with little or no light pollution make it a great place to stargaze – we have sat on our roof terrace mesmerized by the Milky Way over our heads!

Little villages dot the landscape, all of which have little bars & cafes serving authentic tapas. Almeria is a place I would definitely recommend hiring a car and having a roam about, and I feel so unbelievably lucky to call it home.

Rog took this photo the other day from a viewpoint up on top of a mountain and it shows the valley where we live!

Luna & Persi

Persi has been with us now for 6 weeks and he’s grown a lot in that time! He was tiny and just nine weeks old when we got him from the rescue shelter in Almeria.

That little face!

How he’s grown!

He loves sleeping with his head under the chair!

He and Luna have had a couple of trips in the car together to go to the vets for their vaccinations, which was … interesting! Luna now weighs about 48kg and Persi is 12kg. When you tell Luna to sit she literally plonks her bum down, and more often than not Persi is in the way as he is forever hanging onto Luna’s tail. We have no back seats in the car, so the pair of them have to go in the back together without harnesses and we just drive very carefully! Thankfully the vets is only 10 minutes away! Luna loves to stand with her head on Rogers shoulder so she can look out of the window, so he gets covered in drool – we don’t wear nice clothes when we have the dogs in the car!

So, the primary reason for getting a second dog was to try and get Luna to stay on the finca, instead of wandering off to find other dogs to play with – so has it worked? For the most part, yes – hurrah! She no longer goes into the village, which is a huge relief. In the mornings she goes off for half an hour as if to say, I’ve had him all night, you two can look after him now 😂. But these days she stays local. Luna is a much happier dog these days – they chase each other all around the trees, and are never far from each other.

A match made in heaven!

Luna has taken on the role of Persi’s Boss, and she regularly chastises him when he’s naughty, which is quite often! We think that’s why one of his ears has gone funny, maybe Luna had a little chew or tug on his ear! We got the vet to check it out and she says he’s fine, but he now looks like he’s been caught in a gust of wind all the time! Maybe it will straighten again as he gets older!

Luna has really matured since we got Persi – she’s become really responsible and well behaved. Persi, on the other hand, is a proper demon – he’ll steal and hide anything that’s not nailed down – shoes, clothes, the dustpan and brush – oh, how he loves the broom!

But we love them, and the place just wouldn’t be the same without them!

Catching up

With Rog having been so poorly, we found that we were quite a lot behind with jobs on the finca. There’s never a good time to be ill, but March and April are definitely the worst time possible!

So now that he’s back on his feet, and I’ve stopped teaching, we’ve been really going for it to try and catch up.

The oranges have all been harvested, and all the trees have had a mammoth prune . We probably won’t have many oranges next year, but it was something that really needed doing. I think it’s taken us the two years we’ve been here to feel confident enough to prune them this hard. They say here that a good fruit tree is one that a bird could fly through – and this really is a good measure when you’re pruning.

The orange trees are about half the size now! I think this meets the criteria that a bird could fly through it!

We have raised the canopy off the ground, brought down the height of the trees and taken them in too – a fairly savage short back and sides! There’s no point having oranges growing 25 feet up in the air where you can’t get to them. We can now also walk around the finca comfortably!

The next job was to tackle the weeds, which were 4 feet high in some places. A combination of strimming and old fashioned pulling up has left us with a few pulled muscles and sore bum cheeks from all the bending, but it’s been worth it!

Now that the weeds are under some sort of control we can start rotivating. The oranges on the second terrace are being turned into the ground – we missed the end of the campaign with the cooperative, and couldn’t get rid of them. At least by turning them into the ground they will compost and improve the soil.

The second terrace has had its first turnover with the rotivator – we’re expecting some rain this week so we’ll do it again after the rain. The soil goes solid here in the sunshine!

Once that’s done, it will be time to spray the trees. Usually we would do this in March before the blossom. It’s so important not to do this when the bees are still pollinating as we really don’t want to kill them. Some of the trees developed a fungus problem last year – it didn’t spoil the fruit and they still tasted delicious, but some oranges just didn’t look very pretty! It does mean a double spray this time round – first with insecticide and then a fungicide.

And lastly, before we have a little break, will be pruning the vines. I’ve been amazed at the amount of work that vines require – it’s almost a weekly job to go round taking back the vines without fruit so that the grapes can develop. Grades are also so susceptible to fungus problems, so they will need spraying too!

Baby grapes are starting to form so the vines need thinning out. This allows all the growth to be concentrated where there are grapes. We have 97 vines so it will take a good number of days to thin them out – a very satisfying and therapeutic job!

And in between all this we will be planting the summer veg! The veg garden has been cleared of the last of the cabbages and kohlrabi, and weeded ready for the next lot of seedlings to go in.

We’re cramming about 3 months of work into just a few weeks. At least the days are getting longer now – we don’t go dark until 8.30-9pm which means we can get more done. The nice thing is that we’re not worried, we’re not panicking – it will all get done eventually. And let’s face it, if something doesn’t get done quite at the right time, the world isn’t going to stop turning!

It is so satisfying when you stand back and look at the difference after a hard days graft – it really does feel so worthwhile!

Time

As you get older, you realise just how precious time really is, and the older you get, the faster time seems to move. It’s a strange phenomenon- remember when the school summer holidays felt like forever? Six weeks now goes by in a flash.

I look at our family – Matt is 31 and has three children of his own – it seems like yesterday when he was born. Josh will be 30 this year, and he has two children, and Kate is almost 27! There they all are, leading their own lives, and doing pretty well at life in our view! We’re very proud of all of them, and becoming grandparents has been wonderful. We’ve been married for 22 years today, and I said to Rog earlier that we never imagined all those years ago that we’d be where we are now.

In our old life there never seemed to be enough time to do everything – there were days where we just really wanted to do nothing at all, exhausted from the week at work, yet we felt almost guilty for resting. What about the cleaning, the shopping, we really should go to the gym. Every day at 100 miles per hour.

I think one of the most valuable gifts this life has given us is time … we work hard but we do have time to relax, to do nothing at all, and best of all, we never feel guilty for doing nothing. It’s amazing what you miss when you’re constantly busy. Today we heard the first distinct calls of the golden oriel, a beautiful bird who arrives every spring and stays for the summer. Their arrival for us is special – I remember our first few weeks here when we heard one and we were all excited – what bird is that, let’s look it up! Would we have even noticed that in our old life? Very doubtful!

We go for a walk with the dogs every afternoon, and we pass by one of our neighbours fields where he’s growing potatoes – and we’ve watched them growing bigger every day. I know it sounds daft, but this is the stuff that’s real life. Not social media (which we do also indulge in), TV, magazines about how much better life would be if you were thinner, fitter, prettier, or wore better clothes – none of that is real.

There is enough time, we’ve discovered, when you focus on the real stuff and don’t get distracted all the time by things that don’t matter. It’s hard if you still have to work etc, but maybe now and again look up from your phone and look at the stars, turn off the tv and go for a walk, or say to hell with the cleaning and go and sit in the garden and listen to the birds!

Getting creative!

We now have a regular supply of eggs – 4 or 5 each day. Clearly too many for us to eat! Until now, we have been giving eggs away to friends, but I really want to start selling them now I’m not working.

I need some egg boxes, I thought. Checked with our local place where we buy our chickens thinking they’re bound to have some, but no! Finally found some online but they cost 50 cents each! I have ordered a pack, but clearly there’s got to be a better way!

Now my friends and family on Facebook know that I love the chickens, so tend to tag me into anything that’s daft and chicken related -things like a harness and lead to take your chicken for a walk, swings and picnic tables! My stepdaughter Katie sent me a picture of a crochet egg collecting apron – I’m totally serious 😂 – here it is …

But it got me thinking, and after a bit of research I came upon a picture of an egg basket. Now this would be more sustainable than an egg box as it could be used over and over, and it gives me something else to sell alongside the eggs. So the idea is that people can buy one of my sustainable egg baskets with 6 eggs in it, and then when they want more eggs they just bring it back to fill up, paying just for the eggs. It totally fits in with our sustainable living! So, here’s the first one – not perfect but it definitely works, and even has little carry handles! Some of our eggs are enormous so I might have to make them a little bigger!

Pretty easy and cheap to make!

I might also make some reusable bags so people can also buy marmalade, chutney and jam when they come for their eggs! I’m actually quite excited at the thought of our little cottage industry!

Plants to improve air quality

I mentioned the other week that we were going to try using house plants to improve the humidity in the house when Rog got ill.

Well, we’re a few weeks on now, and I can reveal whether this method has been a success!

The short answer is a resounding YES!

Two of the peace lilies which are good for purifying the air

In our main room, which serves as kitchen, dining room and living room, we have two reed palms and three peace lilies. Then in the bedroom we have another, slightly larger reed palm and a mother in laws tongue. We have also bought a Himalayan salt lamp for the bedroom, which we put on for a couple of hours in the afternoon – we don’t have enough electricity to have it on longer, but combined with the plants, we can both really feel the difference.

Reed palms reduce humidity

We have a weather station here, and one of the things it measures is indoor and outdoor humidity. A comfortable range is 30-60% humidity. A few days after I put the plants in, we started to monitor the humidity more carefully, and for the last two weeks it’s hardly gone over 60% indoors! We had a day last week where the humidity outside was 97%, but we we’re still all good indoors!

The fact that the house now rather resembles Kew Gardens is a lovely bonus!

It’s been a perfect example of thinking outside the box. Not having access to unlimited electricity means you have to find other ways, and I think you’ll agree that these are much better than running some ugly, noisy dehumidifier!

I was also planning to try making a home dehumidifier by placing one pot inside another and adding rock salt to draw the moisture in – I haven’t managed to get my hands on any rock salt yet so haven’t made these, but I’ll let you know how I get on if I do manage to get some!

We need to go and get some more plants now for the spare bedroom, which is the worst room in the house for damp!

Another big decision!

I don’t think any decision will be as big as the one to move here in the first place, but we have got really brave since making this move. I’m no longer scared to say that I don’t like something and want to change it.

Oh no, I can hear you thinking- they’re selling up to buy an apartment on a golf course with a communal pool! No! Satan would have cold toes before that happened 😂.

I’ve been teaching English as a second language to children and adults in China for about 18 months. Initially 4 days a week but then down to 3 days, as I could make enough to cover the bills with 3 full days. At the start it was good – decent money and a full schedule. Then the pandemic happened and the company was sold to new owners. My diary, and all the other teacher’s diaries, got quieter and quieter. Then came the enforced 40% pay cut. The company culture has become a very toxic place to work, and teachers are treated with contempt. I have looked around at other ESL companies, but they seem be be heading the same way from the reviews. In China, the online ESL market has become very crowded, driving down the price of lessons, resulting in less pay for teachers.

When you look at my average week, working 3 days, one day for shopping and errands,one for washing and housework, I was being left very little time to enjoy what we’ve got here. Also, with Rog having been so ill recently, I want to be able to help more with the stuff that needs doing outside.

So, decision made, I’m out of there! And, gulp, I’m going to start writing a book about our adventure. There now, I’ve said it out loud so now I have to do it!

When you are self employed in Spain, you have to pay autonomo – basically social security. The cost varies depending on where you live and what you do. I was paying about €86 per month, and this was due to rise this year to about €140 and then next year up to €250 per month – being self employed in Spain is not a cheap option – you pay the same autonomo whether you earn €10,000 or €100,000 a year. This is currently being reformed but the details haven’t been released yet. The thing this did give us both was access to state healthcare. By deregistering as self employed, we will have to pay to access healthcare another way.

So we have the choice of private healthcare or convenio especial (paying for state healthcare) – as we have been residents for over a year we are entitled to apply for convenio especial, which will cost about €60 per month each. The state healthcare here is fantastic, so that’s the option we’re going with – and it’s still cheaper than private healthcare.

Whilst we’ll miss the bit of money I’ve been earning, we should be able to live off our savings if we’re careful, and having time to do more on the finca will be fantastic – after all, that’s what we came here to do! These days, I do find it easier to make decisions, and, well, trust in the universe to guide us. Who knows, I might start selling marmalade, chutney and eggs etc!

Preserving food

It’s a wonderful thing to grow your own food, but even with the best planning you will always end up with a glut of something at harvest time. So, what to do with it all?

We had about a dozen kohl rabi and 6lbs of beetroot the other day from the garden! I have prepared all the kohl rabi and squeezed it into our tiny freezer!

Well, there are several options – keep eating it every day to use it all up; swap with friends and neighbours for other goods or services, or preserve them.

We’ve done all three to some extent 😂. Believe me, there is only so much cabbage two people can eat! Our lovely friend and neighbour, Pepe, dropped over some beans the other day, and we were delighted to give him a massive cabbage in return. Before we had fresh produce to share, we would give him a jar of homemade chutney or marmalade in return for the veg he brought us. It’s a great system!

Now I’m really getting into preserving food. There’s quite a lot to learn as there are so many ways you can try – freezing, pickling, canning and dehydrating to name just four. There are loads of excellent books and information on the internet, and I am creating my own recipe book as I try new things – if they go well they go in the book. If they’re not so good they get tweaked, tried again, and when they’re perfect they make the book.

Freezing isn’t really an option for us. Because we have a gas fridge freezer, the freezer part is really small. It’s actually quite unusual to get a fridge freezer that runs on butane, and as far as I’m aware there’s just one company that makes them – Butsir, based in Brazil.

Dehydrating using just the sun is on my wish list for this year. We will have to make a frame that is covered with netting and off the ground to stop the beasties getting at the tomatoes whilst they’re drying. The process takes a couple of days, but there’s something really appealing about making your own sun dried tomatoes! Many people use a drying oven, which takes around 24-48 hours – again, not an option for us on limited solar power.

That leaves pickling and canning, and I have dabbled since we moved here with quite good success. I have ordered a pressure canner from the US, but due to the pandemic, the manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand, so it’s likely to be months before it arrives.

So, what does a pressure canner do, and how are they different to a pressure cooker – the two are not to be confused! A pressure cooker cooks food quickly. A pressure canner will also cook food, but it’s designed in a slightly different way in order to seal preserving jars, like Le Parfait and Mason Jars. Without sealing the jars, nasty bacteria can cause serious illness! With a pressure canner, pretty much any food can be preserved. They come in lots of different sizes and can be pretty expensive, but it’s likely to be a once in a lifetime purchase. The pressure required and the length of time that you put the jars in for are based on what you are canning and the altitude you live at – most good preserving books will have charts in them.

Mason jars have a two part lid. The central piece needs to be replaced each time the jar is re-used.
The alternative to mason jars are these clip top jars – the orange rubber seal needs replacing after each use. Probably the best known brand is LeParfait.

Then there’s pickling and chutneys. Because vinegar is used in these, any nasty bugs get finished off in the cooking process, so don’t need canning. Today though, I have pickled our harvest of beetroots using Le Parfait jars, and finished off with a water bath – yes, yet another method 😂. A water bath seals the jars, but not to the extent a canner does – this method is fine for acidic foods, like pickled beetroot or tomatoes, and just means the shelf life is extended. A water bath is very simple to do – you just need a large saucepan that enables you to cover the jars with water, bring it to the boil and boil for 20-30 minutes. I always put a cloth on the bottom of the pan and in between the jars to ensure the glass jars don’t crack. If you’re using a twist lid (jam) jar rather than a preserving jar, then no water bath or pressure canning is used (things will explode!), but the jars must be sterilized thoroughly before filling.

It was with some trepidation that I started preserving food – if you get it wrong you can get quite ill! You do get the odd jar that goes off because it didn’t quite seal right – making sure everything is sterilized properly is so important – that, and having a good look and sniff when you open a jar of course! The slightest hint of mold and it has to go straight in the bin!

When it goes right it is a very satisfying thing to do, and I love seeing the rows of jars in the bodega that we can enjoy throughout the year!

Home grown beetroot preserved in apple cider vinegar with honey – we’ll leave for a few weeks now to really let the flavor develop so they’ll be ready for the summer salads!

When my pressure canner finally arrives I will do a post just on pressure canning once I’ve had a play with it!

Veg gardening – things we know now!

We’ve learnt a lot in two years!

Today’s haul from the veg garden – kohl rabí, beetroot and greens!

Don’t grow too many of the same thing (unless you have a way to preserve your produce). See the box of Kohl Rabi above 😂 – I couldn’t leave them in the ground any longer as they go tough! Things like beetroot are fine as it’s very easy to preserve and will give you months of delicious pickled beetroot through the summer months to go with salads!

Don’t get too hung up on keeping every weed away! There are ‘no dig’ methods that lots of people have success with, but we have copied what the locals do in this area. There’s always more than one right way to do things! Try different methods and then go for the way that works best for you.

Plan your planting and then plant the seeds, especially if space is limited.

Make sure you can fence off the veg garden if you have pets – all your hard work could be destroyed in minutes!

Look up companion planting to see which of your crops will grow well together, and which should be kept away from each other. Planting the right flowers and herbs in between the veg will enhance your produce and keep pests at bay. Basil around tomatoes, marigolds around beans etc.

So, here’s the latest update … hope you enjoy!

Natural ways to feel better …

I have always enjoyed learning new things in my spare time. One of the areas I studied in our old life was complimentary therapies, and I achieved 15 diplomas in various treatments.

As the last year has taken its toll on all of us in various degrees, I thought it would be useful to share some easy things we can all do to make us feel a little better!

Remember I mentioned a few posts ago about having a little corner or den where you could escape? Well, there’s a few things you could put in that corner to help you to relax …like an alter to your own well-being.

I find that being surrounded by nature is one thing that really lifts my spirits, so why not pop a little vase with a couple of daffodils in it in your corner – who could fail to be brightened by the sight of those gorgeous sunshine flowers! Having something to concentrate in when you first start meditating is really helpful too to stop your mind wandering.

Just getting outside to do some gardening can help to reconnect you too. If you don’t have a garden, you could get a couple of houseplants that you can look after.

Essential oils can be used in many different ways, but you don’t have to buy expensive carrier oils and then beg your other half for a massage! Milk works as a good carrier for oils in your bath. Add a few drops of your favourite oil to a cup of milk and add to a nice warm bath – lie back and inhale deeply! The best oils for relaxation are lavender, geranium, bergamot and ylang ylang. If you don’t like really sweet flowery fragrances, you could also use orange oil.

If you haven’t got any oils, don’t worry! Crushed orange peel added to your bath will work too – just let the peel soak for 10 minutes before you get in it for maximum benefit.

You can also use oils in diffusers or oil burners, use scented candles or incense. Our sense of smell is the strongest sense – just think about how a smell can transport you back to a moment in your childhood in a split second!

Our bodies have many pressure points, and knowing which ones to activate in difficult times can be really helpful. Best of all, you can do this anywhere at any time, and it’s free! Here are a few that can help:

The first one is in between the eyebrows – your third eye – apply gentle pressure with your finger and massage in a circular motion for 5-10 minutes. This can help alleviate anxiety and stress.

Another one is in the webbing between your thumb and index finger. Gently massaging the area using your finger and thumb of the other hand for 5-10 seconds can help to reduce headaches and neck pain. Please don’t use this pressure point if you are pregnant as it can induce labour!

A third one can be found in your arm, three fingers width below your wrist. Turn your palm upwards and measure three finger widths down – the pressure point is in the hollow between your tendons. Apply gentle pressure and massage for 5 second to relieve nausea and pain.

Our bodies are literally covered with pressure points, but I chose these three as an introduction as they’re easy to find and you can access them on your own!

Crystals can also help – their vibrations resonate with our own to help balance our emotions. If you’re anxious, try having any of the following crystals near to you – howlite, amethyst, rose quartz or moonstone. Pop them in your bedside table at night, or leave next yo you in your desk during the day. When using crystals for healing, it’s important to re-charge them. The easiest way to do this is to place them outside for a night in the light of the full moon. Another excellent stone for healing emotions is Kunzite too – there are so many to choose from! Just pick the one that feels right for you – your intuition and instinct won’t be wrong!

Moonstones gentle healing properties can help you achieve restful sleep when placed under your pillow or by your bed at night.

In today’s hectic world it can be difficult to find time to look after yourself, but these simple methods are quick, easy and inexpensive ways to help you feel better!

A little bit of luxury …

Since moving here we haven’t really bought any ‘stuff’ – just things we needed to be able to live at the finca.

When Rogers Mum sadly passed away in December, she left us a little bit of money, and so we decided to treat ourselves. Now, what we bought are not environmentally friendly; not necessary for this life – in fact there’s no justification at all for the purchases, except, well, they’re really good fun …

I suppose the only justification for these is that our car is 36 years old! Yes, they are crazy yoga leggings I’m sporting and that’s a yoga mat on my back! Can’t think of a better way to go to our friends house for yoga on the roof terrace!

It would be really easy to become eco arseholes, but that’s not us – I’ve always talked about balance in life being so important. Our carbon footprint is way ahead of the world target for each person – no, no, I’m going to stop trying to justify these, and just enjoy them! The daft smile says it all really – life is about having fun!

Once all the covid restrictions have eased we plan to investigate Almeria a bit more – something we haven’t done much of since moving here. There are so many lovely little villages in the Alpujarras. It will be great to have a few hours off each week and have a coffee somewhere different each week! I promise to report on any little hidden gems we find along the way!

Thank you Mother in Law – we know you would approve ❤️

How much does it cost to live off grid?

This is a question we get asked a lot. And the answer is, it depends!

There are some costs you simply can’t avoid – tax, healthcare, food etc. And then there’s some you can avoid – like having a car, the size of your solar system, and whether you buy everything or choose to make stuff yourself out of things lying around.

When we got on that ferry in January 2019, we were jobless and homeless – and I’ve never felt so free – what an opportunity to hit the reset button!

Our main priorities were to have financial freedom and a better quality of life. We wanted to live comfortably, but as sustainably as possible. That meant we were prepared to compromise on a lot of things, like the size of the house and land. Leaving a bit in the bank was more important that having an extra acre.

We bought the finca for €37,000 and knew it needed work to make it comfortable, and I would say we’ve spent another €20,000 achieving that.

There are lots of smaller bills along the way to achieving this move which really add up, and could cause a problem if not factored into the moving budget. Things like gestorias to get residency etc sorted – we’ve probably spent €1,000 ‘doing paperwork’ to live and work here legally. Storage and moving costs for the stuff back in the uk, rent for somewhere while you find a property – even though we spent 3 months in a tent we probably spent €2,000 on the tent and campsite costs in this time.

We spent around €3,500 on our solar system, and you have to remember that the panels and batteries will likely need replacing after 10 years. We can’t run washing machines, toasters, kettles or the like off this – we can charge things up during the day, have the wifi on and lights in the evening. The longer we’re here the less we use the electricity we do produce to be honest!

So, monthly ongoing costs – during the winter there’s firewood (unless your finca is big enough to give you the wood you need from pruning, which ours isn’t) – €5 -€10 a week. Gas bottles for cooking, hot water and the fridge comes to €40 a month. We do have a home insurance policy that also covers the trees etc outside – so if the whole lot burned down everything would be replaced – €250 a year. Healthcare costs vary, but having healthcare is a requirement here, not one you can get away with. Because I’m currently self employed I pay autonomo (social security) which gives us both state healthcare – the cost varies across Spain so I won’t quote figures and confuse things. The average cost for private healthcare seems to be roughly €150 a month, but this will depend on age and existing conditions etc.

For the finca there are ongoing costs to buy or replace tools, fertilizer, insecticide and fungicide, seeds or veg seedlings. These costs have gradually been reducing for us the longer we’re here as we pretty much have the hardware we need now. Factor in things like rotavators and chainsaws – these things are not cheap, but buying good quality ones that will last is definitely the way to go.

We are producing more veg, and I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my pressure canner, which will enable me to preserve excess veg, but we do still need to buy food – we’ll never be totally self sufficient – I think that’s a wildly unrealistic goal for the majority of people.

So living off grid is cheaper once you’re set up , and we do enjoy a simple life, but we still need probably an absolute minimum of €500 a month to live comfortably – a far cry from what our old life used to cost us each month!

For us, waking up in the morning and knowing that we don’t owe a penny to anyone in the world is priceless, and that the finca is 100% ours. The goal was to remove financial pressures – tick, and to have a better quality of life – tick, tick, tick!

I really hope this post gives some useful information and pointers to the costs involved. There are so many things to think about when making this move. Especially now we’re post Brexit – moving from the UK to an EU country has so many new rules and regulations – we certainly wouldn’t meet the new criteria. It would be tragic not to have done the planning before to make sure the dream could be realised – that’s probably the best advice we could give.

Writing a blog!

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads the blog! This month has been record breaking for us, and it’s quite humbling that so many people in so many countries are reading it.

My first blog post was just before my 50th birthday – we’d made the decision to move and we were trying to sell the house and our belongings – it seems like a lifetime ago now, but it’s just shy of three years.

I hope in that time that we’ve provided a few laughs, a bit of inspiration and some sound advice. It’s certainly lovely for us to have a record of our journey so far. So much has happened in such a short space of time that it would be easy to forget some of those moments (although some will be totally unforgettable, like the snake in the bedroom!).

Hopefully over the next year we will be able to make some more informative videos about what it takes to live this sort of life, how to grow vegetables, and what life in this part of Spain is really like. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short space of time and it’s a lovely thing to be able to share our adventure.

So, thanks again, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading!

Spring jobs and pacing yourself …

It’s a busy time of year on the finca. Roger is now out of hospital but obviously needs to go carefully (although getting him to take it easy is easier said than done!).

We have managed to find someone to take the oranges – just about half have been harvested so the rest need to get sorted. This is the point where I say a massive thank you to our friends Paddy, Anita and Rab – while Roger was in hospital last week they came over and helped me harvest half of the oranges and have offered to come back this week to help with the rest. We can’t thank them enough for stepping in to help. There’s never a good time to be ill, but March / April is definitely the worst timing!

Rog has rotavated around the olives, and the second and third terraces need strimming and rotavating.

Then the orange trees need pruning and spraying.

The veg that we grew over the winter needs to make way for summer crops – we have prepared the tomato seedlings, and have loads of others that need sowing so that in about 4 weeks they can all be planted down in the veg garden. I did grow too much cabbage, so any visitors here at the moment leave with a big bag! My plan is to have a wider variety of veg, but not so many of each type – these are all the things you learn as you progress!

The important thing now is to pace ourselves – whilst all of these things need doing, no one is going to give us a written warning if they’re not quite done on time! That famous phrase here ‘a poco a poco’ (little by little) is completely relevant at the moment. It will all get done, and it’s important to keep enjoying it, and the only way to do that is to not put ourselves under pressure.

When we first got here we would give ourselves a goal – I’ll finish these two trees then go and have a cuppa, but after watching how the Spanish approach tasks, we now have a different way. We stop when we need to, no matter where we are up to in a job, if we need a break we take it. This is a very different mindset to what we are both used to in our old working lives, living to deadlines.

We have learnt the consequences of not listening to our bodies – the day Rog cut off the top of his finger he was definitely dehydrated. Ignoring the warning signs of his asthma going out of control could’ve had the worst ending – we can’t keep saying oh I’ll be ok in a couple of days – some things will be, but it’s like playing Russian roulette …

So, we continually learn and adapt to this new way of living. Making mistakes is fine, as long as you learn from them and don’t repeat them!

So, it’s time for me to go and crack on with the seedlings …! Until I’m ready for a cuppa, of course!

Humidity

The climate here is more humid than we were expecting, and the house gets pretty damp.

You always think of that dry heat you get on holiday in Spain, but away from the coast where we are, the humidity can play havoc with your health, especially if you’re asthmatic, as Rog is.

Over the last year he’s been having more and more problems with his asthma. We put it down to a combination of being allergic to the dogs, his hayfever and the house being a bit damp. What we didn’t foresee was what has happened over the last week, which has been terrifying.

Last Friday was so bad that he actually made an appointment to see the doctor on Monday. He came back from there with a carrier bag of medication, and was told to go for an X Ray on Tuesday. Tuesday morning I genuinely thought he was dying – after his X Ray he saw the doctor again, who said he would call an ambulance (but I took him to hospital instead). On the letter to the hospital it was described as ‘total respiratory failure’. So that’s where he is at the moment, but we’re hoping he’ll be out in a day or two. The doctors have said the humidity is the likely cause.

That leaves us with the challenge of trying to reduce the humidity in the house.

The solar system isn’t powerful enough to run a dehumidifier, so time to get creative. I have ordered a salt lamp, but this in its own won’t be enough. So there’s a combination of solutions that I will be getting into place before he gets home – starting with plant shopping! Peace lilies and reed palms are both good dehumidifiers, so they’re on the list. I’m also going to buy two small buckets and a bag of rock salt – one bucket inside the other, leaving a gap at the bottom. Drill some holes in the bottom of the top bucket and add the rock salt. This is effectively a big version of the small plastic pots you can buy which are good for caravans etc.

The peace lily is known to help dehumidify houses.

Fingers crossed these do the job. I’ll do an update in a few weeks and let you know if these have worked! Longer term, we’ll have to wait and see, but keeping Rog alive is the top priority, that’s for sure!

And the nicest thing is how friends and neighbours here have been rallying around, offering help. The one thing I don’t feel is alone.

Baby oranges – the final installment!

Over the last year we’ve been charting the lifecycle of our oranges, and here we are, it’s harvest time!

The final product … better get picking!!

The oranges were actually ready to be picked weeks ago, but we’ve been waiting for a call from the cooperative to say they’re ready for our oranges. Having not heard anything, and now a week later than when we got the call last year, we decided to chase them up. The lady who organises the dates for each finca said she didn’t have us on the list – had we registered? Yes, we said, we filled out all the paperwork last year. Oh dear, she said, you have to register EACH YEAR! Oh bugger!

She’s going to call a couple of other local villages to see if they are still collecting, in which case we can take them over. Whatever happens though, the oranges need to come off the trees as we need to prune and cut the trees.

We get paid very little for our oranges – last year we harvested 1008kg and got €123! So financially, whilst every penny counts, it’s not a financial disaster if we can’t add them to another village’s campaign. For us though, we hate waste, so we’ll use what we can (even more marmalade!), and give away what we can, rather than throw them all away. We have got quite a few holes in our banks, so we will fill these up with oranges that will compost down – there’s always different uses for organic material.

For the payment you get, you can understand why so many people let the oranges fall to the ground really, although it’s not something we’ll ever do.

But for this year, lesson learnt, and we’ll make sure we register good and early for next year!

April 2020 and the oranges were really tiny!

A new addition to the family …

Luna gets a bit lonely, and the result of this is that she goes wandering off to look for other dogs to play with sometimes.

So there was only one answer to this problem!

Meet Persi! We got him from the local animal shelter – he’s only a baby but when fully grown he’ll be about 14-15 kg, a good size!

His breed is ‘dog’ – a proper Heinz 57!

He and Luna have been getting used to each other today – there have been a few fractious moments but we’re getting there! We introduced them to each other away from the finca initially, and then walked them back together. We’ve been out for a big walk, and they’ve had dinner, and they’re both still alive – I’ll take that as a success!

We now need a nap, we’re exhausted!

Seresto collar for cats and dogs

I wanted to do a review on this product as we’ve been using these for Luna for about a year now.

When we first had Luna, I used the frontline drops that you put on your dog or cats neck – I had used them in the past and always found them very good. However, we quickly noticed that poor Luna was covered in ticks, and so started looking around for something else. Living where we do in a rural insect infested area, we needed something stronger.

I came across the Seresto collar on the internet, and it had good reviews so I thought we should give it a go, and the results have been amazing.

Available in most pet shops and online – do compare prices though as they vary a lot from shop to shop!

For dogs, they come in two sizes, under 8kgs and over 8kgs. Now, Luna is a big dog at nearly 50 kgs, but the over 8kg one fits no problem, and she has room to spare. The collar is adjustable and easy to put on.

Luna gets covered in mud and all sorts of other ‘stuff’ and she loves to play in the river and in the grasses along the edge of the river – the collar has never come off, and has remained effective. You do need to change the collar about every 7-8 months, and the cost is generally between €28-35 here in Spain.

Since using the collar she’s had no problem with fleas, ticks or anything else. We did notice two ticks on her after a wet day, but they very quickly pulled out and dropped off her, being repelled by the collar.

Totally impressed with this product and thought it deserved our thumbs up 👍🏻

Fiestas during the pandemic

Spain loves a party! And what must every party have … fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks!

Spain’s love affair with fireworks!

Each village has their own series of fiestas throughout the year, and we made the effort to go to most of them during 2019 – they’re all about the community coming together, and we thought it was really important to be a part of that.

Last year, of course, everything was cancelled. I can’t tell you how sad it made people feel .

Yesterday was Santa Ana day. As she is the patron saint of our village it’s a big deal here. For those that may not know, Santa Ana was Mary’s mum (Jesus’ Granny). Obviously we’re still living with lots of restrictions, but our village was declared covid free a couple of weeks ago.

I take my hat off to the Ayuntamiento for the way they managed to celebrate yesterday – obviously no parades, no brass band etc, but what they did do was bring in a churros van and everyone in the village got free churros and chocolate in the morning – pop along to the van, pick up your freebies and take them home to enjoy. Then at lunchtime there was mass, which was streamed on Facebook, accompanied by fireworks. And last night, a huge firework display for everyone to watch from their balconies, again, streamed live on Facebook.

Free churros for everyone!!

The amount of thought that went into organising a safe way for everyone to celebrate is astonishing, and is testament to how well local government works here.

Each town or village has an ayuntamiento – a town hall. Each village also has an elected Mayor. The Mayor (here it’s a lovely chap called Carmelo, who, just like the rest of us, farms oranges) works with the other committee members to run all aspects of the village.

Bearing in mind there’s only 380 people in our village, we have a municipal swimming pool, a floodlit astroturf football pitch, a small theatre, and a handball court. A small army of workers constantly sweep the roads, cut the trees, paint the walls and benches etc – every week some sort of maintenance is happening to keep the village looking lovely.

So the next celebration is Easter of course – usually there’s a parade here on Palm Sunday and then lots of community events over Easter – we’re highly unlikely to be able to have anything close to a normal Easter here, but we all have a little heart after yesterday that we’ll find a way to make it special.

Possibly the most fun you can have with your clothes on ….

I mentioned that the rotivator died last year, so this was something we knew we would have to buy.

The old one didn’t have wheels on at all, so getting it to the other terraces was a total killer – lots of swearing, heaving and then we would both be way too tired to actually rotivate anything once it was in place. So, one of the things the new one HAD to have was wheels. This means it’s easier to move about and then once it’s where we want it, the wheels come off and the rotivating thingies (technical term!) go on.

What we didn’t expect though was to get one that came with a little trailer too!!!!! Whilst it’s not legal to drive this on the road, it certainly will make moving heavy stuff around the finca much easier. Lugging crates and buckets of fruit from one end to the other gets a bit much after the first dozen buckets!

So it’s basically a baby mechanical mule! The trailer can carry 200kg – not too shabby!

Unbelievably, it arrived literally in pieces – Rog has had to build the entire thing, which has taken a couple of days. Plus, the instructions had been translated into English, which doesn’t always make a lot of sense as you get the literal translation. It needs a bit of tuning, but we had a test run down the road to pick up some firewood … here’s Rog on our 7hp bullet …

Taking it all in your stride…

I will start by confessing I used to be Mrs Stressy McStressy in my old life – and if there wasn’t anything to be stressed about I would jolly well look harder until I found something! I think it was to do with making life feel meaningful – look, there’s a stressy problem, fixed it, well done me – that may sound familiar to some of you out there!

Since moving here, my outlook and attitude really have changed. Take the bathroom for example – if someone told me I would have to manage without a bathroom for 3 months, I would’ve totally Freaked (with a capital F!). I’d be lying if I said it’s been fun without a bathroom, but have I managed? Yes, of course I have!

We had a lot to deal with in the family last year, but making a conscious decision not to get stressed about it did make it all a little easier to deal with. You can’t choose or change what is happening around you, but you can choose how you react to it all.

I started trying to live in the present a few years ago, and it was really difficult to break old habits and live for the moment (which I’ve talked about in previous blogs). I did have some success – enough to make me realise that if the present is the only thing that is real, then I wanted a different ‘present’ and hence our move to here. Actually living a life that we want to live, and one that made us happy, became the focus. And in making this move, I do now find myself easily able to live for NOW. I know all the books say you should be able to do this in whatever situation you find yourself in, but when you feel utterly miserable and trapped so much of the time, and then you focus on that moment, it makes you realise just how much you don’t want to be where you are – make sense? It did to us.

I think part of the problem too is the fast pace of modern life – we can be contacted all hours of the day and night, we’re bombarded with information 24/7 and we’re expected to respond to everything immediately – and so the response is usually a knee jerk reaction rather than a considered response.

We’ve had lots of challenges to contend with since moving here, but I actually surprise myself when I hear a calm and measured response leaving my mouth – it makes me want to turn around to see who said that! The funny thing is, some of the challenges we’ve had have actually been really important, like how are we going to turn river water into drinking water! Even that stuff gets a calm response these days – I think part of that comes from my faith in Roger that he’ll have a bright idea!

I look back occasionally at some of the stuff I used to get het up about and think what a waste of time that was – obviously I don’t dwell on these things – that wouldn’t be living in the present, but I do think it’s good to be able to recognise the changes in yourself.

Having cleared my mind of the incessant chatter I now find myself able to be more creative – there are times now where we’re trying to find a solution for something and I’ll say, I’ve got an idea, and Rog says, me too – then we find we’ve both come up with the same idea – so it must be the right solution! Certainly my Roger, and maybe men in general, are better at living in the present. On many occasions I’ve said to Rog, what are you thinking about, and the reply was ‘nothing’ – and he was genuinely thinking about nothing at all! I used to think, well how does he do that???!!! There were a million things buzzing around my head constantly!

So how can you apply a more considered approach to life if you’re stuck where you don’t want to be, are worrying constantly about everything, and not feeling at peace? Well, my advice would be to create a little den somewhere at home – a corner that is just yours, where you can hide away for 10 minutes to clear your head. You should promise yourself not to think about anything – just breath. This takes practice, and one thing you mustn’t do is get cross with yourself if thoughts wander in – I always imagine a little rowing boat in front of me, and I pop any thoughts in there and let them bob away. Acknowledge you’ve had a thought, and then let it go. So then, when you do face a challenge, or you’re being asked to respond to something immediately, it will become second nature to you take a breath and just think for a moment before answering, or deciding what to do. There are times now where we’ll both take hours or days to come up with a solution to something – if you don’t force it, you have time to be creative.

When we were little my sister and I shared a small bedroom and there was a little gap between our beds. We used to put a blanket over the gap and hold it in place by piling books on the beds. For some reason we always sneaked in a bowl of dry Rice Krispies as our den snack. It was like the outside world didn’t exist – bliss! Why do we stop giving ourselves a time out place as we get older? Let’s face it, how many of you would love to revisit your childhood den right now!

The other thing I’ve just started to do is write a diary – just a notebook, that enables me to write down some of the rambling thoughts I have sometimes. It’s almost like once they’re down on paper I can let them go from my mind.

We know how lucky we are to have been able to make this change, and we know that many people have dreams to change their lives, but just aren’t in a situation to do anything about it at the moment. The covid situation has been so hard on so many over the last year, and so if ever there was a time to make yourself a den, I think it’s now.

One day at a time, breath, and trust that better days are coming, that’s my advice.

Food shopping in Spain

Out here in the countryside, the weekly shop is a little different to what we were used to in the UK. Large supermarkets with an enormous amount of choice, and all veg available all year are just not a thing here. In Almeria you have loads of big supermarkets, but we rarely go down to the big city these days!

Locally, there’s the daily fish van that comes round the village beeping his horn vigorously – we’ve never bought from him as he doesn’t get to our village until lunchtime, and we’re always back at the finca by then if we have been out. Some locals say never to buy the fish as the van isn’t refrigerated – the fish is kept in polystyrene boxes in the back of the van, and would’ve been in there for hours by the time he gets to us!

We have two food shops in the village – they’re small, but you can get your staples there if you run short, and we do like to support our local shop where possible. We do go to the nearest ‘bigger town’, Alhama, which is about 4 miles away, as there is a small supermarket there, so between Alhama and what we have in the village, we can get everything we need.

Then there’s the pharmacy – if you want some headache pills, you can’t get them in the food shops – there’s no crossover here! Different shops for different things.

But the highlight of the week is the market on a Wednesday. Every village has its particular market day, so if you miss yours for some reason then you can always find a nearby market within the next day or two (when there’s no pandemic and you’re allowed to travel anyway!).

The number and variety of stalls vary from week to week, but there’s always a couple of fruit and veg stalls, a butchers van, usually one selling clothes, one with household items – pots and pans etc, and a linen stall with bedding and towels. Sometimes we get shoes, handbags, scarves, and underwear too!

The weekly market is an important part of life in Spain. Some weeks the market is really small, but other weeks stalls line both sides of the road.

You can always tell when it’s fiesta time – extra stalls appear with special flowers and posh dresses!

We always get our veg from the lovely Alexandra. It seems normal to us now, but I remember when we first moved to Spain how we couldn’t get over the size of the veg – it’s all huge! And it’s really fresh too. You don’t go with a shopping list – you decide what to buy when you get there based on what’s available and what’s in season. The only things I really miss are parsnips and swede – never ever see them here (probably because they need a frost and that just doesn’t happen here!).

I remember as a child going to do the weekly shopping with Dad on a Thursday night – butchers first, then the green grocers, followed by the supermarket (and always the fish and chip shop on the way home, making sure we were back for Tomorrow’s World and Top of the Pops!) – going shopping here is just like that (minus the fish and chips, Tomorrow’s World and Top of the Pops of course!) in that you go to different shops for everything. I didn’t realise just how much I’d missed that till we got here – it really is like going back 40 years!

Like most things about life here, rushing is pointless. Standing at the veg stall isn’t boring .. it’s just an opportunity to catch up with other people and enjoy the sun for a while! This slower, calmer pace of life is wonderful and I would heartily recommend everyone trying to introduce a bit of this ethos into life! It would’ve probably driven me mad though if I was working full time with a family like I used to – it was a struggle to find the time to do an online shop back then, never mind visiting different shops!

Over the last year during the pandemic, shopping hasn’t been as much fun as it used to be … after getting our stuff from the market we would go and enjoy a leisurely coffee at the cafe and have a gossip. Unfortunately, our cafe has been closed since last Autumn as our lovely cafe owner, Antonio, is very ill with Covid – I’ll take this opportunity to wish him a speedy recovery – the cafe is such an important part of the village and it’s just not the same without Antonio and his family there. Fingers crossed we have better and happier days coming again.

There’s pruning, then there’s the skeleton cut …

Our mandarin trees have needed a good hard prune since we got here really. We’ve been avoiding doing too much to them as with some trees it’s hard to know where to start when they’re so bad. The problem with mandarin trees is that they get very thick, almost like a hedge, and it becomes difficult to cut out dead wood and cut out crossing branches. Not being able to do this means that not enough light gets in, and so the fruit that you do get is really small.

Mandarins tend to get very thick and dense, and they say here that a good fruit tree is one that a bird can fly through.

Last year we had a bumper harvest, and so this year, while we’ve had mandarins, there haven’t been as many and a lot of them were very small. As we finished the harvest we both agreed we needed to do something with them.

So we got brave, and so the first time on any of our trees, we did a skeleton cut – and oh boy it does look a bit brutal. You do forego one harvest after you’ve done this, but in two years it should be amazing. The plan is to do half the mandarin trees this year, and the other half next year. There is part of me that thinks we should just do just this one though and stand back to see if we’ve rescued it or killed it! We did something similar, although not quite as brutal, with the olive trees last year. Our first harvest yielded 265kgs, but the last one we got just 50kgs – next year we’re hoping to improve on the 265kgs, and have healthier trees too.

The timing of doing a skeleton cut is important – as soon as you’ve harvested, no threat of frost, but before it gets really hot – so really we’ve got a window of a few weeks during February to get this done. That will give the trees a chance to get some leaves going before the summer. It’s actually much quicker to do than traditional pruning, as you just cut most of it off! Getting a good shape is important, and where there are several branches close to each other, you need to decide on the best ones and get rid of the rest.

Doing this sort of cut is like hitting the reset button – it will go crackers now to replace its canopy , as this is what protects the trunk from sun damage.

So here it is, looks a bit sad doesn’t it!

It was scary just how quickly we went from a mature tree to this! Some say it’s a good idea to smear the cuts with manuka honey to protect from disease.

So we wait now for the first signs of life to spring forth from the branches! We’ll let you know what happens!

Power tools & machinery!

Now Mr C has always loved playing with power tools, not that he ever had much time back in the UK for projects! But here, oh boy, is he having a ball!

The drill he owned man and boy finally died about 6 months after we moved here, it was a sad day … but it was used more in that 6 months than probably in the previous 20 years!

Living on solar power as we do means we have to be a bit careful with tools. Rog now has a drill with 2 battery packs, and these charge up quite happily on a sunny day on the solar. We bought a spare battery pack so he wouldn’t run out of power halfway through a project and it’s something we’re glad we did – the second battery was about €30 and worth every penny. His other power tools, such as his angle grinder, sander, dremel drill etc all run off the generator. The one he gets the most use from is the angle grinder – it’s worth its’ weight in gold!

Day to day we tend to manage most things with manual tools. Pepe, who sold us the finca, left all his old tools here for us, and we have every size of spade available, rakes, pick axes, you name it .. the shed was bursting! Plus we had the stuff we brought with us from the UK. Working this way has replaced the expensive gym membership I used to pay back in the UK!

Just a small part of the collection! A spade for every job!
Rog wanted me to wait till he’d tidied up 😂 We do actually use everything at some point in the year! There’s another two whole walls like this too!

So the other tools we use here are all petrol, which is great as there are no annoying leads to get in the way, and they are pretty cost effective to run. These tools include the wood chipper, rotivator, chain saw and the strimmer. It does mean we keep a good store of petrol here to keep all of these plus the generator running.

As Rog has become a recycling god here, having decent tools has become essential. There’s nothing we enjoy more now than having a nose around a good suministros, who sell everything from pruning shears to tractors – I really am in love with the little tractors they use here – but we simply cannot justify having one for our small finca! I couldn’t understand at first why they were so small – until we drove down the tiny roads in the campo! Also, as the fincas are generally packed with fruit trees there isn’t much room to either fit a tractor in or turn it around to get out again. They’re known here as mechanical mules. Look though, how sweet are these …

This belongs to our builder and it’s the only way he can get large amounts of materials here! Who wouldn’t want one!

Of course, some safety gear is pretty important – we both have steel toe capped boots (although mine still look quite new and Rog is on his second pair!), safety glasses (tinted of course!), ear defenders and a hard hat. Rog has just bought an all in one thing – helmet, ear defenders and face protector – it will be invaluable as we’ve both noticed that we’re a bit deaf after finishing jobs around here! This will definitely come into its own when strimming under the trees – Rog has cut his head on branches so many times, and of course, strimming kicks up all sorts into your face! Before getting this he had to choose between hard hat, ear defenders or a face mask- it was impossible to get them all on at the same time!

But at last we now have the new chainsaw – the old one died at completely the wrong time, just as the cold weather set in at the end of December. It’s taken 6 weeks to arrive but it’s here at last. We decided to go the whole hog and buy the king of chainsaws – Stihl – it was expensive but I think this is one piece of kit you don’t scrimp on. The next purchase will be a new rotivator (if we’re ever allowed out again) – ours went bang in a big puff of black smoke at the end of last year – piston rings have gone. The way we look at it is we did expect to have to buy this stuff, but Pepe left all his old gear so we’ve had two years out of those. We guessed that all his stuff was 20+ years old, so they’ve done well to last this long.

Ooohhhh! We bought one with a slightly shorter bar – easier to manage but will do everything we need it to.

I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’m quite excited at the prospect of rotivator shopping …😂

My favourite time of year …

Spring has always been my favourite time of year, not too hot, not too cold, and I love seeing everything starting to come back to life after the winter.

I see a change in myself, too, as the seasons change – something I’ve never noticed before.

As the cold weather has relented in the last couple of weeks, I feel more energetic, I seem to be coming out of my winter slumber just like the plants. I find myself buzzing around the farm doing all sorts of things – all with a big smile on my face! Getting into bed at night feeling physically tired instead of mentally tired is a wonderful thing.

March and April can be changeable here, but not being under the continual pressure of our old life, we can take a day off if the weather is rubbish. It’s an opportunity to hole up in the house with a nice fire and a good book, or plan what we’ll do next when the weather improves. I’d never consider that a wasted day!

Of course, the orange trees are lush and green all year round, and the fruit is definitely ready – we’re just waiting for the call from the cooperative. This week though, we noticed buds on the apricot and almond trees, and the very next day they sprung into life with gorgeous blossom.

As soon as the blossom appears, so do the bees, and we hear the familiar buzz all day again now.

The vegetables are doing well – the weeds went mad, but they’re cleared again now. We tend to get lots of wood sorrel and chickweed, which are good for the soil as they give out nitrogen, so it’s a case of just pulling up handfuls if it from around the veg, but you can leave the roots down. And the great thing is that the chickens go mad for both, so even the weeds get recycled here!

Lovely greens!

We’ve always had a keen interest in the weather, so we decided to treat ourselves to a home weather station – and with the very changeable weather at the moment, it has really come in handy! It gives a pretty accurate 12 hour forecast, which helps to decide whether we need to irrigate or not!

The weather station. A very clever bit of kit – a battery operated digital base station indoors tells us wind speed, wind direction, indoor and outdoor humidity and temperatures, rainfall, air pressure, 12 hour forecast, and all sorts!

And of course, the best thing about Spring is that the winter is over! I do really struggle with the cold, although this year I seem to have been much better than our first year off grid I’m happy to say! Definitely toughened up!

The crazy weather continues …

We tend to get very strong winds here – it comes straight off the Sierra Nevadas and down the valley in the winter, and in the summer it blows up the valley from the coast. The last few days it has been worse than normal. Being halfway up the side of the valley we seem to get it full force here.

It started Saturday afternoon – about 50kgs of oranges were blown clean off the trees and the gates to the finca were ripped out of the concrete columns either side of the gates. The solid bar that you close the gates with – the bit that goes into the ground – bent by the wind! To straighten it Rog had to use a dirty great lump hammer! That is strong wind!

Once the mortar has dried we can repaint – this gate shouldn’t ever move again!

And then at 3 o,clock this morning we had a repeat performance, so there we were, sitting the house working our way through several pots of tea waiting for it to end – which it finally did about 5.30 – managed to catch a quick hours sleep before getting up so we were ready for the builders, who arrive at 8.

This sort of weather certainly isn’t ideal at this time of year – the oranges are ripe, and you just have to hope they stay on the tree until you get the call from the Co-operative saying they’re ready for you – it was March for us last year.

So we have about 150kgs of oranges sitting outside – what on earth are we going to do with them all??? When I make marmalade, just 4 oranges (2 kgs) makes 5 or 6 jars! I have made some already this year and will do another couple of batches – it’s very handy to be able to give people a jar in exchange for some vegetables etc! The nice thing is that no-one around here expects anything in return, but it’s something we like to do. At the moment, anyone we see leaves with a carrier bag of oranges! We’ve just harvested most of the mandarins too – we could be facing a vitamin c overdose!!

It’s too early for them all to be in crates! This is over 10% of our total expected harvest.

So far this year, we’ve had the coldest weather in 50 years followed by the hottest weather in a decade in January – and now apocalyptic wind! We’re also getting a whole series of earthquakes in the area – Granada, which is only a couple of hours away, had a series of them last week, and last night, Gergal, which is not that far from us, had a sizeable one too!

The weather really plays such an important part of our lives now, and you have to stay on your toes all the time to try and manage the farm around different bizarre weather events. We all know that the weather plays a crucial part in every farmers life, but to experience it firsthand really brings it home. Let’s hope the weather calms down a bit now for the next few weeks!

A loo with a view!

We used to have a proper flushing loo in the bathroom, but we soon discovered that the pozo negro (cesspit) was extremely small. It may have been fine for two people staying here just the odd night, but for two people living here full time, it was a disaster. The day we got up and discovered raw sewage floating outside on the ground we thought we’d better sort something out!

We looked at increasing the size of the pozo, but in the end decided to buy a composting toilet, which is dry, and requires emptying (the wee is every day and the composting bit once a week). We did a lot of research and opted for the Nature’s Head Composting Toilet – not the cheapest, but not the most expensive either, and it had lots of good reviews online. We took delivery in July 2019, so have been using it now for the last 18 months.

As we’re having the bathroom totally renovated at the moment, the composting loo has just come into its own! This week, while the builders have been here, we moved the toilet out into the shed, and then brought it back in the house for overnight. Fantastic! But even better today, we’ve popped it outside, in the warm sunshine, so we can sit and look at the view while we … you know!

Whilst a composting toilet is flexible and you can put it anywhere you want to, there is a hose for ventilation – the toilet has a little fan on the side to suck out the smells. The hole for that tube is obviously still in the bathroom – it’s no problem at all in the day while it’s outside or in the shed, but at night when we put it in the spare room, we’ve had to leave the window open so the room doesn’t smell in the morning!

When we first got the toilet, and with me being me, I wrote a little poem for visitors, so they would know how to use it .. which goes like this …

If while you’re here you need the loo, then this is what you have to do …

Both boys and girls must both sit down, otherwise you’ll get a frown.

If you just need a number one, then go ahead and have some fun,

But if you need a number two, there’s a little extra you must do …

The little handle on your left, opens the trap door of death …

Once finished, close the little door, then see the spindle near the floor

Just turn it round, three times, no more, and then a quick spray so the smells are no more!

I know, I clearly have too much time on my hands!

Dogs in the campo …

Spain has a reputation for stray dogs, which in our experience so far is a little unfounded where we are at least. You do see the odd dog wandering around the village, but they do actually have a home – they just like to go for a walk and a nose on their own! I know in bigger cities there are problems though.

This morning we were enjoying a cuppa on the roof terrace when these two appeared …

I reckon they’re about 3 or 4 months old – they have collars but no names or phone number. They made themselves at home here in about 30 seconds (Luna was out exploring at the time!). When Luna came back, she was really calm … until they decided to try her food. All hell broke loose and both pups ‘got taught a lesson’ shall we say!

But they haven’t been put off … all three are now camped out on the drive! Watch this space for the next installment of ‘Do we now have three dogs?’ 😂😂

Awwwwww ….

Firewood

Now a well stocked woodshed has become my security blanket. If there’s one thing I really don’t like it’s being cold! I start to get a bit jittery and nervous if we don’t have at least a weeks worth of wood.

We weren’t sure what the winters would be like here, and when we bought the finca it was March and still a bit chilly in the evenings. We didn’t have the wood burning stove at that point, so we used the open fire … which, no matter what we did, simply filled the house with smoke every night. We tried everything, resorting to an upside down fire technique we found on the internet. This worked a little better but still not ideal. Thankfully the weather warmed and it wasn’t an issue for a few months. However, we made plans for the next winter, and bought a wood burner. There were piles of wood strewn all over the finca, which we gathered up. Great, we thought, we’re ready for our first full winter!

Wrong!!! When you only burn wood, boy, do you go through a large amount of wood! We used to mainly burn coal back in the UK, but no one does here – the chimneys wouldn’t take the heat and would probably just crumble! So in our first winter here, we got to mid January before the supply ran out.

After speaking to a couple of locals we were told about a place in a nearby town, so off we went …

We drove to Alhabia a few miles away and took the little dirt track off to the right and came across a warehouse with loads of tree trunks outside – must be the place!

Inside there were two elderly gentleman – 80 if they were a day, an old defender in the process of being done up, a myriad of other bits and bobs, plus a really old band saw, which looked as old as the two fellas!

Can we buy some wood please? Si, si! And off they went to go and collect some tree trunks in a wheelbarrow – Rog went to help too of course. They started up the band saw to warm it up – lots of black smoke! Then they just started putting the wood through – no goggles, no gloves, no safety equipment whatsoever! They filled up the back of the Santana until it looked like the suspension was going to break, and then told us that would be €20! Bargain!

Although we do cut a lot of our own firewood we do still regularly top up from the old chaps – it’s really cost effective and that old band saw cuts through the wood like butter, so less work for us chopping wood (and we’re not getting any younger!). Nothing makes me happier than seeing our little woodshed that Rog built fully stocked!

We did almost run out of wood again this winter, right in the middle of that awful week with freezing temperatures, and the old guys came to the rescue again. A combination of the chainsaw breaking on Xmas eve, Rog having to go back to the UK because of his Mum passing away, and not being allowed out to buy a new chainsaw saw us caught short – we have tree trunks here, but they’re way too big to just use the axe and saw.

So we’ve already started planning what to do differently for next winter so we don’t get caught out again. Rog has just started enlarging the woodshed to double the size – this will then hold at least 3 weeks worth of wood. In the summer we will begin chopping in earnest so that by the time we need a fire in November / December we will have enough wood for the whole winter. We can stack the extra near the woodshed and cover with tarpaulin and then shift into the woodshed as it empties.

The woodshed (made from pallets) in the process of being extended to double the size.

Most days we don’t light a fire until the evening – we’re generally pretty busy during the day and we’re in and out of the house. We do get the odd couple of days where it’s so cold we literally huddle in front of the fire with the house door closed, but they’re few and far between thankfully. Winters here are not like we were used to in the UK – but we are becoming acclimatized. When we first lived here we laughed at the Spanish wearing coats hats and scarves when it was 16 degrees – but we’re a bit the same now!

Bliss! Rog fitted some silver bulk head insulator material on the outside wall (normally used in car engines) to reflect the heat back into the room. We left the other wall as that’s our bedroom, so the fire heats that room too! The little fan on top was great until it packed up the other day!

But we’re starting to get warmer again now – the daytime temperatures are back up at 17-20 degrees and it’s generally 10ish degrees at night – not bad for January! We no longer need woolly hats and gloves when we go for our afternoon walk. I do drive Rog a little mad when we’re out walking – pointing out wood we can come back for for the woodshed – and that’s no matter what time of year it is! A bargain is good but free is even better!

Dealing with waste

No matter how carefully we use resources, there will always be some waste that we have to get rid of – grey water from the bathroom and kitchen; kitchen food and packaging waste; our ‘personal’ waste; the list goes on.

Back in the UK we were furnished with three large wheelie bins – one for recycling, one for general waste for landfill and one for organic matter for composting. Each bin was collected every two weeks, and there were some weeks where the bins would be overflowing, especially the recycling one. As for other waste, such as grey water or the loo, well, you don’t think twice about it do you? You pull out the plug or flush the loo and it just goes away like magic!

There are no wheelie bins here, and no magic drains or sewers – we have to manage everything we need to get rid of. The previous owner of the finca didn’t manage this very well, which is why the place was in such a mess when we bought it – old kitchen cupboards under the trees, worn out shoes, hundreds of mismatched tiles just sinking into the ground – it took months just to clear the rubbish away so we could start the real work.

The whole finca was like this – it took two months of taking a car load of rubbish up to the bins in town almost every day to clear the place.

We do have access to large bins in the village – there’s an array of recycling bins and then the big grey ones are for household waste. So now we have one small dustbin outside, which we empty in the town once a week. When we go to the market on a Wednesday we sort all the rubbish into piles in the back of the car and work our way round the bins in town. I’m quite proud that we only produce two small plastic bags of rubbish for the grey bin – everything else is cardboard or paper for recycling and then our milk cartons, which are also recycled here. We don’t pay for using these bins – if we lived in town then we would pay a quarterly charge of about €30 but as we’re in the campo in a rustic house, the system won’t let them produce a bill for us – fine by me! I was really impressed that about 93% of all the rubbish in Almeria gets recycled.

Food scraps are no problem at all – we have a second small bin in the kitchen for any food scraps that the chickens can’t eat, and these simply get buried in the ground under the trees.

When we prune the trees we obviously have the cuttings to get rid of. Any larger branches go in a pile to dry out and get used as firewood. The smaller stuff gets wood chipped and put back under the trees. Some cuttings, such as the olive tree branches, don’t chip very well, and so we have a couple of fires after we’ve done those trees, and then use the ash as fertilizer. When we cut down the pine trees at the front of the finca, obviously we had an abundance of twigs covered in pine needles and fir cones – both are excellent firelighters!

So this leaves us with the grey water and human waste. When we bought here we knew there was a pozo – a cesspit, but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn’t big enough for two people living here all the time. The day came when we had to uncover it and see what was going on as we had raw sewage floating on the ground – not pleasant! So the pozo was a small hole in the ground, lined with old tiles – that was it! We still use this for the grey water from the bathroom. We did consider making a proper cesspit using IBC’s, but we would’ve lost a mature orange tree, and we would’ve needed a digger up here for several days, so we decided to find another way – and that was to buy a composting loo.

The grey water from the kitchen and from the outside sink that I use for washing clothes was the next challenge. We decided to deal with these separately, so we have the water spread out rather than all going into one area. To deal with these, Rog dug holes and made two French drains. Now a French drain works a little like a pozo – the pipe goes into a hole lined with stones, but with the addition of a largish bowl upside down. The whole lot is then covered with earth. These have worked really well, but I do have to be careful how much washing I do in one day, as the water needs some time to drain away. After heavy rain like we had the other week, we do have to be mindful of how much water we put down the sinks as it’s not going to drain as well or as quickly as in the summer months.

I think the most important thing we’ve learned is … is it really rubbish? Can we repurpose this, or does it really have to go in the bin? As an example, there were a couple of old tea chests outside, a bit the worse for wear. Take that, some pallet wood and a drop of varnish and Ta da! A new cupboard for the kitchen! It gives me a small worktop next to the cooker and hides the ugly bright orange gas bottle!

Repurposing an old tea chest and a pallet. Excuse all the jars – it’s marmalade week!

Finding a pallet when we’re out makes us so happy! There are sooo many things you can do with them! It’s the same with IBC’s that hold water – we’ve used all the ones that were here already for other things – dog kennel, chicken coop and run, rainwater collection … the list goes on!

The management of these systems is on going – you can’t just put them in and forget about them! Rog spends much of his week on maintenance, adjustments and repairs. He’s definitely a busy boy!!

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

We recently watched this documentary, which the great Mr Attenborough calls his witness statement. I felt compelled to share the information about this program and would urge every single person to watch it, and ask them to then tell everyone they know about it. My Dad is reading the book at the moment, and we enjoyed an animated discussion on the contents last week – it’s great to see that the message is getting through to young and old alike.

The first half of the program charts the changes that he has seen throughout his life, including information about population growth and the decline of the amount of wilderness on our planet. He shares his thoughts on the fantastic opportunities he has had, the animals he has not only seen, but also introduced to ordinary people through TV, who would otherwise have never seen a pangolin, or a baby seal, or a mountain gorilla….

But it’s the second half of the program that had the most profound affect on me. I have read about predictions for the future of our planet. In fact, we felt so strongly about what we were doing to our planet that it lead us to living the life we do now. The way that the program lays it out in such a straightforward way reduced me to tears. Before our grandchildren finish their working lives, much of this planet will be a wasteland; the delicate ecosystem that our planet depends on, destroyed; rainforests and their inhabitants, gone. Decades of intensive mono farming will have effectively killed the soil.

If we continue on the destructive path we are currently on, we will not be able to live here, it’s as simple as that. What will all of our children and grandchildren do then? Where will they live?

The program ends with answers – changes we can make, and changes we need our governments to make, to heal the planet. It can be done.

This is not someone else’s problem – we all have to own it and we can all make a difference – each and every one of us.

Please, watch the program, inspire others, and give our grandchildren, and all future generations, a life worth living.

Thank you.

Owning a Spanish Mastin

When we lived in the UK we had a lovely Japanese Shiba Inu (a small husky) for 14 years. She was gorgeous and a fabulous pet. I cried and cried when she had to be put down. She wasn’t a big dog – she stood about 12 inches tall at the shoulder and I think the most she ever weighed was about 9 or 10kg. Being a husky though we could never let her of the lead – their hunting instinct is so strong that she would’ve been off and gone if she caught the scent of something – but that was the only downside. We were told when we got her not to bother with training classes – they’re rather strong willed and so with all the training in the world, they will only do something if they want to!

The lovely Ella

Fast forward to living in Spain and Luna, the Spanish mastin! We couldn’t have chosen a more different dog! Ella loved to keep herself spotlessly clean … Luna, well there’s a constant ‘aroma’ that follows her everywhere! Some days it’s so bad we can’t let her in the house – anything that smells bad is only there to be rolled in as far as she’s concerned!

So, mastins, what can I tell you about them – well, they’re big, really big! At 14 months she weighed 49 kg – her head is bigger than ours, and if she puts her front paws on our shoulders she’s taller than us. Her tail is like a weapon, and god help you if you put a cup of tea down on the terrace table – one wag of the tail and she clears the table – mugs and tea flying everywhere! When she’s fully grown she will end up at about 10 stone in weight. Males are generally bigger still, weighing in at around 12 stone fully grown.

Mastins are guard dogs – their primary role has always been to look after livestock here. However, they’re usually not aggressive towards people, just animals that would attack the livestock.

Mastins generally sleep for a large portion of the day – she has her spot in the sun (when it’s not too hot) by the fence, and she’ll be out for the count … or so you think … but if you walk by, or a motorbike, a tractor or person goes by the finca – then she springs into action! At night she simply chases anything and everything off the finca – well not just off the finca, out of the province! She spends most of the night on the roof terrace surveying her kingdom, well positioned to take off like a bullet out of a gun at the first glimpse of anything moving! When she comes back she actually wakes us up when she sits back down again – there’s nothing dainty about her! There are nights where we barely get any sleep!

She has recently started following bikes and tractors, which is proving to be a bit of a nuisance because she follows them all the way to the village, and then doesn’t know how to get back to the finca. It means a quick run up to the village in the car to get her. All we have to do is call her, turn the car around and she follows the car back home! She gets a fair lick on too when she gets moving! The locals think it’s hilarious – our very old car chugging along with a massive dog loping after it!

Mastins are fiercely loyal – when Rog was in the UK before Xmas she literally didn’t leave my side, and at night she still chased everything but did not leave the finca once, really unusual for her. She’s very affectionate too, and loves nothing more than sticking her head through the crook of your arm for a cuddle! It is rather like being cuddled by a bulldozer at times!

She does eat quite a lot of food as you’d expect – a 20kg bag of dried food lasts 2-3 weeks and on top of that she has 1kg wet meat food for dinner each day, which takes less than 3 minutes to finish off! Then there’s bones – we buy her ham bones which have quite a bit of meat on them – that’s a 20 minute snack after dinner. Plus of course, there’s anything she catches outside herself – she’s quite partial to snake, particularly once it’s been crisped up in the sun – I just wish she wouldn’t bring them in the house to show us 😂 And she doesn’t have a water bowl, she has a water bucket!

When we decided on her name (Luna means moon in Spanish) we didn’t realise that a better name would be Lunática (lunatic!) – which is what we call her mostly!

But she is bilingual! We speak to her in both English and Spanish! Certain commands are either always English or always Spanish – sit and stay are always English, but when we’re sending her out of the house (because of the smell!) it’s always fuera or afuera! And dinner is always la cena! Clever girl!

We have been able to train her (sort of!) – she will sit and lie down as long as you have a treat in your hand, and although she does wander off to go and visit anyone working on their fincas, more often than not she will come back now if we call her. I think the locals are getting used to her now – in an ideal world she wouldn’t leave the finca, but short of erecting 10ft high fencing it’s pretty impossible to get her to stay here. The sound of irrigation water is too strong for her, she absolutely loves sitting in muddy water!

So would I recommend a mastin as a pet? Yes, BUT, you need a big garden, and if you treasure your furniture in the house it would be best for the dog to live outside! They can be quite drooly- occasionally Luna shakes her head and ends up with drool on top of her own head – nice!

Extraordinary weather!

You may have seen the pictures in the news of storm Filomena, which has brought much of Spain to a halt! Roads closed, blocked with snow, airports shut, and so far four people have died. Last winter was the coldest here in 40 years, but at the moment this winter is beating it hands down!

Madrid on Saturday!

We’re not doing too bad in this little corner of Spain – we are now in our fifth day of this storm, and rather than snow we’ve had rain – lots and lots of rain. Temperatures have been the lowest we’ve ever experienced here and we are truly living in a quagmire. We have had a massive hole open up on the first terrace, so once this rain stops we’ll need to take steps to sort that or we’ll risk losing the back of the car down it. It’s not unusual for this to happen here with the amount of water that we’ve experienced.

Obviously, living off grid in this sort of weather gets a little tougher … there’s been no sun and no wind, so no electricity to speak of. The house doesn’t have a damp proof course, insulation or heating. So, how are we coping?

Well poor Luna and the chickens are sodden! Luna hates the rain so has mainly stayed in her kennel, coming out now and again to check if we’re still alive I think! The ground in the chicken runs desperately needs raking out once it’s stopped raining – the poor things look so bedraggled! As well as their layer food and lots of veggies, the chickens get corn to eat – because corn is actually very fatty it helps to keep them warm, plus a bit of extra protein by way of meal worms helps too.

Thankfully we have the back up generator so I was able to work on Saturday! It is very noisy so we tend not to use it all day though, just while I’m working. We are well set up now to cope for a few days without electricity – we have lights that will work for several days once charged up, the fire to keep us warm, and I’ve read two books in the last few days! Well it’s not like you can do much outside! It’s felt a bit odd sitting around doing nothing, but quite nice at the same time. I think this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since being here – just roll with it, whatever is happening!

The house does feel pretty damp, especially the spare bedroom which is where I work, that’s probably the worst thing to deal with. Luckily we went to Sweden a few years back, which was a trip that required us to buy lots of thermals! I’m currently wearing two or three layers of clothes as I really do feel the cold – I remember packing the thermal clothes when we were moving and thinking I’ll probably never need these, but we’ll take them just in case … thank goodness we didn’t throw them away!

I really could do with a hot bath or shower, but we’re now in our 11th week of not having a bathroom to speak of – just the loo and the sink is left in there. Our builder lost a family member to covid so they all had to quarantine, leaving him 3 weeks behind at work. Fingers crossed we’ll have a bathroom by the end of January! Another thing to just roll with!!

So we’re actually counting our blessings – looking around Spain it could’ve been a lot worse! I think we picked a good spot to live!

And the forecast from Wednesday onwards is back to wall to wall sunshine!, if still a little chilly – that I can deal with!

Another year has rolled round

I can’t believe it’s two years today since we landed in Spain – how our life (and the world) has changed in that time.

Some days I sit here and get a little impatient – we should have done this or that by now – but then I breathe, remember what the purpose of this move was … and relax. But saying that, I was looking at photos of this place the day we bought it – it was like a junk yard, and suddenly realise just how much we’ve accomplished.

When we moved here, it was like a junkyard, it was like this throughout the whole finca. The trees were overgrown, the drip irrigation was a mess, and there was little or no fencing around the boundary. No power to speak of, no drinking water … making that list of things that needed doing was quite scary!
All the junk is gone, and the outside of the cortijo is rendered and finished.
We have chickens and, of course Luna …
Wind turbine and new solar system installed …

Actually feeling quite proud of what we have achieved! It’s good to look back sometimes!

When we first arrived in Spain we lived in a tent for the first three months – I’m very glad we’re not doing that at the moment – we’re experiencing horrendous weather right across Spain. Apparently it’s been caused by a polar vortex over Greenland, which is pushing down very cold air through Europe. To say it’s cold is an understatement – I got up the other morning and the ‘real feel’ temperature was -6! It has been raining since Wednesday night and isn’t due to stop until Monday night!

Jut to add insult to injury, our chainsaw finally fell apart last week and the new one is arriving in a couple of weeks, so we’re having to buy firewood at the moment. It’s a little annoying as we have plenty of wood, but they’re still tree trunks! We said for next winter we need to build a bigger wood store and have the winters supply ready by December. It wasn’t necessary to do this last year, as the days were mostly sunny even if they were chilly, which meant we could cut wood once or twice a week. In fact, there was only one day last winter that we needed the fire on in the day! This week we’ve spent the afternoons huddled in front of the fire with a blanket and a book (which actually has been rather lovely!).

So two years on, we’ve learned so much, and are pretty much settled here now. There are always things on the to do list, and improvements we want to make as and when finances allow. We do sit and think carefully before spending money – is it something we really need … is there another, cheaper way to achieve it. Rog is very imaginative when it comes to solving problems cheaply, but sometimes you do just have to get the cheque book out – like the chainsaw.

Rog has nursed that chainsaw through ill health for the last 18 months – he’s replaced the carburetor, resealed bits, new washers etc, but it’s just really old and worn out. We looked at cheaper options, but decided it would be a false economy – not having a working chain saw is causing us a problem, so this is one thing we won’t scrimp on. We’ve ordered a Stihl – considered to be the best make out there – and so it should be for €500!

So here’s to our third year here – fingers crossed we all have a happier year than 2020 – but we’re still smiling, and still loving life!

I love writing this blog, and wanted to say thank you to everyone who reads it – I still can’t believe how many people in so many different countries read what we get up to. I hope we provide a chuckle now and again, and hopefully we can inspire people to follow their dreams – anything is possible if you’re prepared to take a risk and go for it!

Creating a farmers almanac

In America there is an annual publication that has been going since the early 1800’s. This farmers almanac gives information on timings for growing crops, moon phase dates and lore as well as natural remedies.

I started a project book when we moved here, and it’s actually fast becoming a kind of perpetual almanac – when to harvest the different fruit, when to prune, recipes etc. But there was a missing piece to the puzzle – sewing and harvesting dates for many of the vegetables we want to grow.

We’ve been feeling our way through this over the last year, but then this week, our lovely neighbour Pepe dropped in a spreadsheet which has everything we need to know – hurrah!! It has the plant name, when to sew the seeds, the spacing, when to plant out, when to harvest, optimal temperature for germination – everything! I need to make this man a lot of jam and marmalade!

We knew most of the veg names in Spanish, but one or two of them are even a mystery to the online translator!

The weather for the next few days is set to be awful (it’s already so cold we’re sitting less than a foot from the fire with blankets over us!) so we have the perfect opportunity to update our own almanac!

Here’s to a more successful harvest throughout 2021!

Rediscovering old hobbies

In my younger years I loved sewing – in fact I did an A level in it, and whilst at school was often involved in extra activities outside of class. In 1982 I worked with a small team from our school and the diocese of Southwark to make an alter frontal which was presented to Pope John Paul II when he visited – my contribution to that was all of the gold work on the piece – hours and hours of work!

But then you grow up, get a job, have a family etc and these hobbies fall by the wayside.

One of the benefits of this life is having more time to start these hobbies again. I finally completed the hand sewn patchwork quilt I started years ago, have taught myself some basic crochet (and made a laundry basket!) and have started doing some embroidery again, and whilst I’m a little rusty it’s slowly coming back!

This was about 5 years in the making – the first third took 4 years and then we moved here and I had time to complete it in a year!

Looking at something and saying to yourself ‘I made that!’ is a lovely thing and very satisfying.

So as lots of people head into lockdown again, maybe turn off Netflix for a while and try something new!

I think this will keep me out of mischief for a while! It’s from a company called Zenbroidery – they have lots of designs, and they’re like the mindfulness colouring books, but sewing instead of colouring!

As we say goodbye to 2020…

Now it would be terribly easy to say ‘thank goodness 2020 is over’ but I prefer to look for the good in everything, and think about what we have learned from this terribly challenging year …

Appreciate everyone and everything.

Accept that life constantly changes. Whatever is happening around us, make the best of it and find joy somewhere instead of dwelling on the gloom.

Realise that it’s not material possessions that make you happy – it’s people – friends and family.

Don’t take your freedom or your very existence for granted.

Be happy.

Stop thinking about the past or worrying about the future – learn to live in the present.We all know we’re not out of the woods yet with this pandemic – time to pull up our big girl pants and take each day as it comes.

For those people who have lost their jobs, homes or businesses during the year we send our heartfelt best wishes for a better year for you, and to those who have lost loved ones, we just send our hearts.

So as the clock counts down Roger and I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy 2021.

Growing vegetables in Spain

Almeria is famous worldwide for the amount of vegetables grown in the plastic greenhouses – mainly down near the coast, but they are creeping up our way. There’s one down by the river that we can see from the house, but it doesn’t bother us too much – the view is so vast it would take more than one greenhouse to spoil the view. Almeria grows over a million tons of tomatoes each year that are shipped all over the world. It’s said that this province is one of the most fertile places in Europe for growing. The soil here is clay, which when dry goes like concrete, so the challenge is to stop it drying out completely!

Lots of people said before we came here ‘so are you going to be completely self sufficient?’ To which we answered NO! But we’d be over the moon if we could grow 50% of our veg and all our fruit. 100% self sufficiency in my opinion is just unrealistic – after all, I’m not planning on having sheep to shear to then knit loo roll am I?!!

The whole point of this life is to not get stressed out about stuff, do the best we can, and most importantly, have fun living this life.

So here’s a quick video update on our veg garden!

Feliz Navidad! Happy Christmas!

After a challenging and difficult year for pretty much the whole world, it’s time to put aside all the troubles, to be grateful for everything we have, and maybe eat a little more cake than we would normally eat!

From Luna, Atila the Hen, Balti, Stumpy, Daphne, Maureen the Great, and of course us, have a wonderful, peaceful and safe Christmas!

Being here alone …

Rog had a week away back in the UK in September of last year, and I was just a little nervous about being here on my own then. Well, I wasn’t nervous until everyone kept saying to me ‘will you be ok on your own there??’ and ‘what if you need help’ – after hearing these things from half a dozen people only then did I get spooked! But it was absolutely fine, of course!

He was due to visit the UK again in May this year, but obviously that trip got cancelled. I dropped Rog off at the coach station in Almeria yesterday morning so he could go back for his Mums funeral, and I’m here on my tod for just the second time.

It’s amazing the difference a year makes though – we’ve now got Luna and the chickens, so I really don’t feel alone at all. Although, Rog has only been gone two days and I’m already talking to the chickens probably more than is healthy!! We are having to play referee with the new hens vs the old hens as they’re still sorting out their pecking order, so there’s a bit of squabbling and feather pulling going on. But it’s quite comforting hearing Luna trot up and down the stairs outside the house, chasing everything in sight! She is missing Rog quite a bit – she even came and sat with me in the house for a couple of hours tonight! I’m certainly busier than when I was on my own last time! That’s the nice thing about here, there’s always something that needs doing – no chance of getting bored!

Rog and I are both the kind of people who don’t mind being on our own now and again – even when we’re here together we don’t mind companionable silences and rarely feel the need for inane chatter. Day to day we’re not in each other’s pockets all day – we’ll be off doing various jobs around the place, and we meet up in the kitchen for a cuppa during the day!

Each of us is capable of doing the day to day stuff here – sorting the composting loo, checking and changing water filters, looking after the animals – but there are definitely some things that I would avoid doing here on my own – no wood chipping, no using the chainsaw (well I don’t even do that when Rog is here – I’m terrified of the thing!), no rotavating etc – you know, the stuff where you can chop a limb off! Rog did cut me some firewood before he went, and if I need more while he’s gone I’ll just be using an ordinary hand saw!

When we’re both here I tend to do the cooking while Rog sorts out the heavier, more dirty jobs outside. When I’m away he cooks for himself every night, but when I’m here on my own I find it really hard to be bothered to cook just for me – I’ll warm some soup up or have some toast. I’m going to make a concerted effort this time to be bothered though!

I’ve also done a ‘to do’ list of jobs I want to get done – things like wash the curtains, clear out the cupboards, re-stock and sort our food in the bodega etc. And, of course, get ready for Xmas – which takes far less time now than ever before in my life! I now tend to shop online in the UK and have the pressies delivered directly to the family, either getting stuff gift wrapped by the store, or in the case of the grandkids, sending the pressies to Matt and Holly along with a supply of wrapping paper and they wrap them all up for me! The Christmas shopping was all completed weeks ago to make sure everything arrived in time!

Rog is due back on Wednesday 23rd – we’re a little nervous as he has to produce a negative PCR test to get back into Spain – he’ll be giving everyone a wide berth at the funeral, and the rest of the time he’ll just be in the hotel. If he can’t board that plane on the 23rd then the next flight home is the 27th – so there could be me, the six chickens and Luna sitting around the Christmas dinner table!

I think a little time on your own now and again is very healthy, and it really makes you appreciate each other when you are together again. I have to say though that after hearing Boris Johnson today I’m a bit more anxious about Rog getting home and have everything crossed that it all turns out ok. No point worrying about it though, that certainly wouldn’t change anything. I think the grand plan for when he gets back is to just hide ourselves away here for as long as possible! Sounds like a good plan to me!

Different ways to learn a new language

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges we faced moving here was learning Spanish. As you get older it does become more difficult to learn something totally new, but it’s slightly easier living here as it’s something we need to do rather than just want to do for fun. You can turn that bit of pressure into motivation!

We were those people who always tried to learn at least a few phrases for when we travelled – even when we went to Sweden! It might’ve only been hello and thank you, but it always goes a long way with the locals. I have to say, Swedish makes spanish look very easy! It annoys me intensely when you hear Brits who live here who don’t even try to learn Spanish.

We have been using a variety of methods for learning Spanish – apps on our phones, phrase books and text books, and just getting out there and speaking to people. And we’ve just added a new one by joining the local library.

I don’t think there’s any one single method that will teach you what you need to know – a multi pronged approach seems to work best.

We have tried various apps, and the best free one is definitely Duolingo in my opinion. I also used one called Drops – literally teaches you vocabulary, just single words, but very useful. Duolingo gets you speaking, writing in your chosen language, and translating written sentences back into English. I spend 15-30 minutes a day doing lessons on this – and it does say ‘15 minutes a day on Duolingo teaches you a new language – what does 15 minutes a day on social media teach you’ – a very good point!

The hardest thing to learn for me has been the verb tables – I’ve had to revisit English grammar again in order to understand what the book is trying to teach me! (And obviously this revision has also been necessary for teaching English to my Asian students!). Having left school 34 years ago, I had forgotten an awful lot of English grammar – a year ago I was like what the hell is a gerund??? (Verb form ending in -ing in case you were wondering!)

So, once you have the basics then it’s time to get out there and talk to people – Rog and I work pretty well together – he understands what people are saying better than I do, and I’m a bit more confident when it comes to talking (well no change there then!!). A combination of arm waving, funny noises, acting and speaking seems to work well for us – but just sometimes you find that you just can’t get what someone is saying – not a word. It’s very frustrating, but only motivates you to learn more as quickly as possible. There are still times, like if we have a doctors appointment, which are currently all done over the phone, that we do some homework beforehand to prepare – speaking in the phone is the single most difficult thing to do when you’re learning a language.

Our progress has slowed this year, mainly due to the pandemic – the visits to the cafe once or twice a week teach us so much and we do miss going there. Our cafe had to close again several weeks ago, and we’re currently back under orders to stay in our houses – we have been hit much harder by the virus the second time around.

Still, we’re not going anywhere, and I’m sure if we keep doing a little every day we will eventually be able to say with confidence that we’re fluent Spanish speakers!

You’re never too old to learn something new, so even if you just want to learn a little bit of a new language for going on holiday, I would say go for it! Its easier than ever to access courses, apps etc online, and it’s quite good fun!

And they say living in the countryside is peaceful …!

There are some nights where it literally just all kicks off around here. Probably why we’re sitting up drinking tea and writing in the middle of the night!

We have some animal, we don’t know what it is, that comes around occasionally – it makes a terrible screaming noise and sets off every dog for miles around! We had some friends here one night when it visited, and they sat there looking terrified going ‘what the hell is that?’ We’re pretty laid back about it now, but the first time we heard it we reacted in exactly the same way. Whatever it is, I don’t want to meet it!

There’s a really small finca next to ours owned by a couple who just come down twice a week for a few hours – it seems the primary reason for having the finca is to house their three dogs. So tonight, there’s the three of them going mad, and Luna is basically running around the entire area barking her head of, and this thing is still doing it’s’ screaming thing – it’s like a madhouse!

We didn’t know it when we got Luna, but apparently this is what mastins do – they sleep in the day and chase everything all night. They’re very vigilant so even when they sleep in the day, it’s always with one eye open!

We also get some of the locals who go hunting at night so sometimes we lie in bed listening to the gunshots. It’s preferable to when they go shooting in the day to be fair – we’ve had a few bullets whistle overhead – bad enough to make you want to hit the deck!

The good thing about this lifestyle is the freedom though – the day after a bad night we can always have a little siesta or nanna nap in the afternoon! Thank goodness!

Really 2020, that’s enough now …

Remember a few years back (well, 28 years ago!) when the Queen made the Christmas Day speech and said it had been her ‘annus horribilis’? Yep, think we’re officially having one of those.

Rogers mum died on Friday – she had several big strokes at the end of September and had been moved to a nursing home a few weeks ago, unable to move or speak.

Mother in law was as mad as a box of frogs, and she loved to sing and dance and talk, and talk, and talk! We have so many hilarious memories of her – enough to make us smile forever I think. I think my favourite memory will always be when I was on an online meeting with the other Directors at IHM – she brought me in a cup of tea, and curtsied to the Directors, who thought she was hilarious and marvellous! It has been so sad to see her so poorly, but now she’s back with her beloved husband Bernard, of that I have no doubt.

Ethel came out here twice last year and loved it – I remember her saying she had never seen orange trees covered in fruit before in real life, and she loved to walk around the finca. I’m glad she got to see here, and she understood why we love it so much.

Travelling back and forth to the UK is not ideal with the pandemic still playing havoc, but in this situation, it’s necessary. Rog has had to book flights from Malaga to the UK. If he went out of Almeria he would have to stop in Madrid, and wait there for 5+ hours – which makes it a long journey. Getting to the UK that way is still pretty cheap, but coming back they wanted 1000 euros for the flight! So he found some flights from Malaga at ‘normal’ prices, and he is getting a coach to Malaga from Almeria. We’re not supposed to be leaving our village, never mind the province, so it would be stupid and risky for me to drive him to Malaga (that, and the car probably wouldn’t make the journey!). When I went back to the UK in October, I had to complete track and trace forms both ways within 48 hours of travelling – I thought that was bad enough, but poor Rog now has to produce a negative PCR test in order to get back into Spain – and the test must be within 72 hours of arriving back in Spain.

When we moved to Spain, we told our families we would visit them twice a year – we had no idea those plans would be thrown into chaos by a pandemic – made all the harder with what’s happened this year with our families.

So that’s five family members this year we have lost – enough, 2020, enough now.

Mother in law always hated photos of herself, so instead of a picture, here’s a link to her all time favourite song, which she used to sing all the time, no matter where we were!

A very untraditional Christmas

I think it’s fair to say that most people will have an unusual Christmas this year, with family bubbles, face masks and a lack of social events. I saw some advice that says you should sit Granny and Grandad at one end of the table near an open window – great, so they can die of hypothermia instead of covid!

In the past, we were definitely upholders of the spirit of Christmas. We never had much money, but Christmas was always a busy time, with lots of family, a huge tree and turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas Day.

Last Christmas was our first one on the finca, and it did feel very different – no family here, not a turkey to be seen anywhere (lamb is the traditional Christmas dinner here but we ended up with roast beef) and not enough room in the house for a tree. But we enjoyed it nonetheless – we didn’t feel particularly ‘christmassy’ despite playing all the old Christmas music – sitting on the roof terrace in a t-shirt in 24 degrees just somehow made it all feel a bit wrong!

We did go into the village for the unveiling of the belen (the nativity scene) and joined in with the locals having some rather strong bright green alcohol and some traditional Spanish sweets though. New Year was fun last year – it’s traditional to meet up outside the town hall and eat a grape on each bong at midnight!

This year will be different again – I doubt there will be any form of socialising in the village, no family will be here, and of course, now we don’t eat meat I’m looking at all sorts of vegan recipes to try and still do something a bit special (mushroom Wellington is top of the list at the moment!). We have bought a small tree this year – I think we have got used to the size of the house, we sort of fit into it a bit better now after 18 months!

Christmas, like life, is what you make it. Knowing that your family are safe and well, even if they’re not with you, would seem to be the most important thing to me. It will be an odd one, but let’s hope that Xmas 2021 will feel more normal, and maybe this year’s muted celebrations will make people feel even more thankful for a more traditional Christmas next year!

Transition to mad chicken woman complete!

After we lost Maureen the other week, I said I’d like to get a new hen to replace her – but it can be difficult to add just one hen into an existing flock. So Rog said, let’s get another three then! I do love him – he says all the right things!

So Rog has built a temporary extension onto the other side of the chicken run so that we can keep the new ones separated from Atila, Balti and Ethel for a couple of weeks to avoid a bun fight. They can see each other, so they should get used to one another fairly quickly.

A temporary extension for the new girls – what would we do without old IBC’s!

Balti has definitely let them know who is the boss already! All three of them made a right racket and then Atila and Ethel decided to go and sulk in the nesting box, leaving Balti to lay down the rules.

What a big fuss they made!

So the important bit – the names! My sister said a replacement for Maureen had to be Maureen the Great, so that’s one decided. The other two will be Gerty and Daphne I think. The new ones are quite hard to tell apart at the moment though! When they come out of hiding in the next few days we’ll get a proper look at them!

So that takes us to six hens, which realistically is the most we can have with the coop and run we’ve got – and to be fair, even I think that’s enough!

For now … 😂

Make the most of every day …

If you have a dream, do it. Make it happen. Never regret things that have happened in the past – you can’t change the past, but you can change now. I’ve talked before about the importance of living in the present and living your dreams, but the events of this year have brought this home to me so clearly.

In March, I woke up one Saturday morning to an email from my sister, which read ‘now don’t panic, but I’m in hospital and I’ve got a brain tumour’. A week later, I arrived in the UK and sat waiting with my son and my parents while Tracy was at the hospital getting her full diagnosis. It was the worst possible news – the most aggressive tumour you can get, and there was no cure. The tumour had gone into her frontal lobe, so they wouldn’t be able to remove it all. They did operate two days later to remove what they could to give her some time – without that operation she would’ve had less than a month.

‘No shiny eyes’ is all she kept saying to us all.

Just days after her op, Spain went into lockdown and I had to fly back or be stuck in the UK – she told me to get home while I could. It has been difficult being in Spain while my family have been going through this back in the UK. I did what I could to help from here, and thanks to modern technology, was able to video call Tracy regularly. Covid has made the whole thing even harder for all the family.

She went through radiotherapy and round after round of chemo. I went back in October, knowing it would be the last time I would see her – she had decided not to have any more chemo at the end of September. Heartbreakingly, just 4 days before I arrived back she was taken very ill and went into hospital, and no visitors were allowed because of covid. From the hospital she was moved into a nursing home and was there for her final few weeks, and this week she passed away, aged just 55.

None of us know when it will be our time. Don’t end up lying on your deathbed thinking ‘I wish I’d …’ . This is the sort of thing that you don’t ever think will happen to you or your family – it’s something that tragically happens to other people – well, I know now that’s not true.

My beautiful sister

Don’t waste a single day …

The Olive Harvest

I can’t believe it’s that time of year again already! Over the last week or so we have seen a few people coming down to their fincas to pick the olives – it seems almost everyone here has at least a few trees!

Last year we managed to harvest 246 kilos from our nine trees which gave us 31 litres of extra virgin olive oil, and beautiful it was too!

Now back in the UK I might have used 2 or 3 litres of oil in a whole year, so I was a bit bewildered at the thought of what I was going to do with 31 litres, but just in normal everyday cooking we’ve used 16 litres this year! Wow! It goes into everything, and I no longer buy salad dressings, we just use olive oil – and it’s soooo good for you! It really is the backbone of Spanish cooking.

So we’ve made a short video of this years harvest to show how we pick them. We tried various different methods last year but found this way the most successful! It’s very therapeutic – well, the first few trees are, then your back starts to protest a little and your hands get a bit sore – but do you know what, we don’t mind one bit!!

The harvest is much smaller this year – the terrace with the olive trees was so overgrown that after the harvest last year we gave them a really hard cut. Olives grow on second year wood, so whilst this years harvest is small, we can expect a better crop next year. So, here’s a short video showing just how easy it is to harvest olives!

The olive harvest …

So off we go to the olive mill in Canjayar with our harvest …

The olives are emptied into the grills where they are weighed and a sample taken for analysis. The sample shows the yield of oil for our particular olives which then determines how much oil we get next week.
And then off they go on these conveyers to be pressed.

So that’s it for another year – time to start all over again!

Baby Oranges Part 3

I love this time of year – when you look across the valley the trees look like they have jewels all over them!

The oranges are not ready yet – but they are ripening nicely. The harvest around here generally starts in January and goes on until the end of April / beginning of May. Last year we got the call in mid March from the cooperative for our oranges.

We don’t earn a lot from the oranges, which is why you see people just letting their oranges fall to the ground – the time and effort needed to grow the oranges doesn’t feel fully rewarded by the payment you get! There are two types here – eating oranges and juicing oranges. The only difference is whether you hold an ecological certificate for your finca – if you do then you can sell them as eating oranges and you earn more money. Needless to say, our small finca doesn’t have a certificate, and to be honest, we can’t be bothered with the rules and regulations and soil testing that would be needed to get the certificate. The process would probably cost more than we could earn in 3 years selling them as juicing oranges. For farmers with large fincas it’s absolutely worth it – but for half an acre with 35 trees? Nah!

The first year we were here we didn’t have anywhere to sell our oranges – we sort of moved in just at the wrong time really! We didn’t want rotting oranges littering the finca so we’d pick up the fallen ones each day and then at night take them to the bins in town. We did try to eat as many as we could, and we had fresh orange juice for breakfast each day – it’s a wonder we didn’t turn orange! We gave away what we could to friends back on the campsite, but there were still an awful lot of oranges left to get rid of. I hate wasting food, and throwing them away really bothered both of us.

Last year though, it was all very efficient. Got the call, harvested the oranges over a few days (well, Rog did as I was in England when the call came!) and then we delivered them to the co-op. All done in a week or so.

Learning how to look after the orange trees has been a bit bewildering at times – too much water, not enough water, what fertilizer and when, how to cut them. We’re nowhere near experts yet, but we are learning how to look at them and figure out what they need … we think!

And next month I’ll be stocking up on sugar and jars ready to make a ton of marmalade in January! There’s nothing quite like homemade marmalade with big thick chunks of peel in it!

The next post on the oranges will be when we harvest them!

The Vegetable Garden Part 3!

A thoroughly enjoyable day, despite needing a hot water bottle on my back and a couple of ibroprufen at the end of it, but the veg garden is full! Kohlrabi, cabbages, beetroot and several types of beans are all in. I did stand back at one point and think ‘we’re going to need a bigger finca’ as there’s loads more I’d like to plant, but my aching back disagreed! There are other, smaller areas around the finca that we can utilise, although we’d have to protect the veg from the chickens!

We planted seeds in trays back in September while we were preparing the veg patch and building the frame. The onions didn’t take at all, but we can buy some seedlings really cheaply locally. The beans were donated by a neighbour Pepe, who has really taken us under his wing.

I’m really looking forward to having some excess veg that we can give to Pepe next year. He has been so generous giving us tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and squash from his finca this year. It will be lovely to return the favour.

So the next thing to consider is how we preserve all this veg when it’s ready to harvest! The climate here isn’t great for storing veg in boxes with sawdust as nowhere is really cold enough. The alternative is canning. I did can some tomatoes this year, just using a water bath to seal the jars. This is fine for highly acidic food, but not for other veg such as potatoes etc.

The answer to this problem is to buy a pressure canner, which isn’t to be confused with a pressure cooker! It’s almost impossible to get one outside of America, where they are really popular. They sterilize and seal the jars properly so the food is good for years. The downside is the cost – they’re around $300 to buy, but then the shipping and import fees doubles the cost. The undisputed champion on the market is the ‘All American Pressure Canner’ and it seems from my research that one of these would last the rest of my life! It’s definitely on the wish list as it would enable us to have homegrown veg all year round. They do look a bit scary … but all the blurb says they’re easy to use!

The All American is comes top in every list of best pressure canners.

Pickling is also a good way to preserve, and I have done 6 jars of green peppers today. I made the pickling liquid with apple cider vinegar, water and olive oil. Alongside the peppers in the jars I added salt, garlic salt, peppercorns and coriander seeds for extra flavor. Because the vinegar, oil and salt are all natural preservatives, these don’t need pressure canning – a quick 10 minutes in a water bath does the job to seal the jars!

I always put some cloth on the bottom of the pan and in between the jars to make sure they don’t chink against each other or the pan as this can cause the jars to break.

At some point I will do a more comprehensive post on the different ways to preserve veg, as it could be useful when there’s a buy one get one free offer on at the supermarket – you don’t have to grow your own to preserve food!

As if the house didn’t already feel small …

… tonight Luna is staying in the house with us, complete with a cone of shame!

Feeling pretty sorry for herself!

Luna was spayed today – not a decision we made lightly, but at night the entire area around Illar becomes her finca as she chases lord knows what around! Other dogs do the same, and we really didn’t want to end up with a herd of mastín babies running around the place (although baby mastins are soooo fluffy and cute!)

The first hurdle was getting her in the car this morning – she’s not keen on the car, but with a bit of encouragement and pushing, we got her in. Next stop, Alhama and the vets (who love her!). Let’s pop her on the scales said the vet … no thanks said Luna, think I’ll just pee all over the floor instead 🙄

Fifteen minutes of coaxing, we got her on the scales. She’s just 13 months old but now weighs 42kg (6 stone 9lbs). Yikes!

Our vet is lovely, and so we stayed to help get the canula in her leg, which took four of us. Sedative first and then when she was lovely and calm, she was sent off into a lovely sleep. It all went well and we were able to pick her up this afternoon and bring her home. She’s still a bit wobbly and hasn’t had anything to eat or drink, but I’m sure she’ll feel better in the morning.

So basically Luna has got one half of our main room. We’ve pushed one armchair into a corner and moved the table to give her enough room to stretch out and lie comfortably – I just hope we don’t get up to too much mess in the morning – a 42kg dog that’s not house trained – could be messy!

She’ll need to keep the cone on for 5 days. Even without it, Luna has no spacial awareness and constantly walks into things – she really doesn’t understand just how big she is. With the cone on though, it’s hard not to laugh – I think she has actually managed to walk into and hit everything in the room already! It’s going to be a challenging week I think!

Here we all go again …

Spain has done pretty well this year making the lockdown instructions clear and easy to follow. The lockdown here in the Spring was called draconian by many other European countries, but we all knew what you could and couldn’t do, and it seemed to be effective. Restrictions started to ease at the end of June, and it’s been pretty easy over the summer to move around and do what you need to do.

But now, like many other European countries, new restrictions have been imposed over the last month, and they are getting tighter and more strict by the week. A new state of alarm was announced a couple of weeks ago that will be in place until next May, which gives regions the power to close down borders around and within their regions. Where areas have been hit hard, such as Granada, Seville and Jaén in Andalucía, they are pretty much in total lockdown. This seems to be similar to the tiered system that was in place in the UK until last week, when the full lockdown was again announced.

From tomorrow we are going back into a new type of lockdown – we are restricted to our own towns and villages for the next three weeks. It’s better than having to stay in our homes like before, but obviously, living in a tiny village as we do, there aren’t many shops and services here – we can get the basics that we need though. People can still travel around for work or education purposes, but the hope is that by restricting unnecessary journeys it will slow the spread of the virus.

We’ve been under a nighttime curfew for the last few weeks, and this is being extended by several hours now each night, which doesn’t affect us at all. Bars can still open, but have to close at 6pm now. It’s hopefully a good compromise that will slow the virus whilst maintaining the economy to a degree – fingers crossed it works and we don’t end up back in a full ‘stay at home’ lockdown…. time will tell.

Houses in Spain

Spain certainly seems to have different building regulations to what we’re used to in the UK, even more so when you buy a cortijo on a Finca.

Many cortijos were built without any permissions or sign offs at the end of the build – think along the lines of building a shed in your garden!

Most houses don’t have a damp proof course, so suffer from some damp and paint peeling off the cold cast walls.

When we bought this cortijo were went in eyes wide open and knew what we were buying – and also accepted that some work would need to be done to live in it all year round. And I think we’ve been pretty lucky – the house has been way better than we thought it would be. Some of the electrics and plumbing have been ‘interesting’ to say the least, but Rog is handy in both of these areas so with a bit of hard work and some choice swear words, we’ve had everything working ok.

But there, in the back of our minds was ‘what’s going on under the shower tray?’ We took the decision to leave it well alone while it’s all been working ok.

But a couple of weeks ago we had a problem with the hot water – there was literally a trickle coming out of the taps. Knowing the water here has loads of calc we called Emilio, our gas man, to clean out the boiler pipes with the special diluted acid to get rid of the calc. But then disaster struck!

We turned the hot water back on and even though the taps were off, we could hear water running in the house – there was a leak somewhere. The leak had been plugged by the calc so now the pipes were clean, the leak could flow freely! At which point I buggered off to the UK leaving Rog to sort it out!

It turns out that the water pipes were laid and then the concrete floor was poured. So Rog had to dig down and around to find the leak, taking out the shower as part of the process. He had to dig fairly deep …

This is under what used to be our shower!

So the good news is we do now have running hot water, but the bad news is we have no shower or bath! So, we called our builder (also called Emilio!), who once again looked at something in our house and simply said ‘Madre Mia!’. The situation has forced our hand to get the bathroom totally re-done (which was on the list for some point in the future). We’ve been and bought all new tiles and new fixtures and fittings for the bathroom now in case we go back into lockdown like other countries in Europe, but Emilio can’t do the work for a month … it’s going to be a very long month I think!

At this point it’s better to just rip everything out and start again. We’re bringing the water pipes above ground just in case we have another leak in the future!

We’re turning it into a wet room and have chosen tiles we actually like 😂. It’ll all be worth it when it’s done!

It’s a cruel world …

Only three chickens came back tonight … Maureen was missing. After half an hour of searching and calling her Rog found her. She had gone through the fence into the next finca and had been attacked, probably by a dog – the attack didn’t kill her directly, we think she died of fright.

That’s the reality of living out here … but I have shed a tear or two – love my girls.

RIP Maureen 😔

The Vegetable Garden Part 2!

So after cutting down 4 small orange trees and rotavating the end where we plan to have the veggies, we did a big of digging. Now I’m just going to say it was pretty hard work digging in 30 degrees! But I’d rather be doing it in 30 degrees than in the cold, pouring rain!

Trenches prepared for flood irrigation. I promise we hadn’t been drinking when we marked out the lines for the trenches!

Rog then ran an irrigation pipe around the edge of the garden with several large outlets so we can flood the trenches.

So then it was test time – would the irrigation work?

Of course it did!!

The next step was to plant some seeds in trays to get them going so we can plant them in November – we planted cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, spinach, beetroot, beans and some herbs to start us off. We will also go and buy some seedlings from the local garden centre nearer the time. I have a large plastic box divided up into the seasons, with packets of seeds filed away in the relevant sections for when they can be planted – once an administrator, always an administrator! The plastic box also stops the pesky mice from eating all our seeds in the shed (learned that one pretty quickly last year!).

And then the building of the frame began! We had a drive up to Canjayar as they have a metalworks place there so we could buy some really long metal poles for the corners. I do find shopping for agricultural stuff quite exciting these days! Canjayar is only about 10km from us, higher up in the mountains – lovely little town, so of course we took the opportunity to have a nose round and a coffee while we were there!

We put the metal poles in the corners to support the rest of the frame – they’re a long way into the ground so should make the whole thing really sturdy. Then we started building the rest of the frame from river grass. Now the river is at the bottom of the valley of course, so the walk down there is easy peasy- not so easy coming back though, especially with a huge bundle of bamboo stuff that’s about 8ft long! We still needed more, so the next trip was in the car! Alleluia for having a very narrow car which happily goes down the lane to the river (which is still dry and has been since the end of May!).

So with all this bamboo and masses of wire, we started constructing the frame …

Luna wasn’t terribly helpful, she just kept chewing all the sticks!
And it grew and grew …
Ta da! Perfect for tomatoes, squash, beans, peas and peppers! We’ve left a corner without a frame for cabbage, spinach etc but we can also plant these between the poles over the winter while there’s no tomatoes and peppers.

And the finishing touch is a particularly ugly scarecrow to stand guard! Had to be done!

I attached some bells to the sides of the overalls so they jingle in the wind! The scarecrow is the one on the left by the way 😂😂😂. And Luna is STILL chewing the sticks!

Next step, get planting!

The insanity of modern society

A chap called Eckhart Tolle changed my thinking on life, the universe and everything quite a few years back now, and his message sounds like a very simple one – we should learn to live in the present. Don’t dwell on the past, it’s gone. Don’t be anxious about the future, it hasn’t happened yet. Makes sense, doesn’t it! Living it is a whole lot harder than you could ever imagine. It takes practice, practice and then some more practice!

His most famous publication, The Power of Now, explains how the ego is constantly trying to grab our attention by making us think about all sorts of things that really shouldn’t be concerning us right at that moment. It talks of learning to be still – to just exist in the moment.

I regularly watch clips on his channel on YouTube – listening to him is easier than reading his work, and by listening in frequent, small chunks, it’s easier to digest what he’s saying.

So the piece I watched (again) last night was about living simply. It asked the question should we reduce our activities and possessions – and I liked the answer so I thought I would share it, as I think it will resonate with many people who have been suffering through 2020 and the traumas it has brought.

First, on activities and what we spend our days doing. Eckhart acknowledges that the collective conscious (the majority of people) feel they have to be continually busy and continually stressed to be successful – which certainly sounded familiar to me! ‘I have to be busy, I’ve got to do this … and this … and that … or I’ll lose my job or my home won’t look right’. And it is sheer insanity! But it can be really hard to see a way out of this. We end up doing most things at home and work to an ‘acceptable’ level, rather than doing fewer things and doing them really well, letting things mature as he puts it. Snap decisions without thinking through long term consequences etc. So choose what will make you stand out in your work, what will be beneficial to the company, and do that well. You will be forgiven for inconsequential things that don’t get done if what you did achieve makes a difference. I think learning to say no and asking why are also important.

The second point, about personal possessions was really simple. It’s not about what you’ve got, but about what your inner connection is to the items – are you defined as an individual by surrounding yourself with beautiful things – do you need them to feel worthwhile? If you do, then perhaps it’s time to put some space between your feelings and the objects – it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of everything, although the day might come (like it did for us) that you just don’t feel the need for stuff. Once you stop defining yourself as a person by things you have bought, then you don’t need to buy stuff to be happy and fulfilled as an individual. There are certain people that we know who ‘feel sorry for us’ because we don’t own much anymore – really, you don’t need to, we’ve never been so happy! We still have some lovely things around but the difference now is if they were gone tomorrow then that would be fine. We don’t NEED them, but at the moment we quite enjoy having them around.

If you can learn to live in the present moment, and to quieten those voices in your head, then life gets better – it’s as simple as that. I’m still not terribly good at it every day, as I have a tendency to worry about the short term future. I’m due to go to the UK in a week to see my sister who is in the final stages of brain cancer – and I am anxious about traveling with the pandemic. Mainly because if I get it and give it to my parents and sister it would finish them off. And at the moment, will I even get there, and if I get there will I get back? It’s not like I can say, well I’ll go next year instead, as my sister won’t be there – this is my last chance to see her. Quite exceptional circumstances, I agree, but also a personal test for me in dealing with the situation. In one breath I say, well there’s nothing I can do about this situation, and then those voices start again! The difference now is that I’m aware when I’m not living in the present, and then I can haul myself back again and quieten the anxious thoughts.

So, if you’re like I used to be, always worrying about everything, then I would really recommend listening to The Power of Now – you wont ‘get’ it all in the first listen, but don’t worry – it’s a lot to take in in one go! And again, thank you Paul for introducing me to Eckhart!

Learning to cook all over again!

Since moving to a predominantly plant based diet, I can’t tell you the new things I’ve learned, and the experiments that have been carried out in this kitchen!

It really helps having such lovely fresh produce available, and a good nose about at the market often comes up trumps. My herb and spice rack has never been used so much!

Lots of people on a plant based diet use these vegan and vegetarians alternatives – ‘pretend meat’ – but the problem I have with these is that they’re so highly processed, and when you read the labels you find they’re not that good for you (or for the environment). When we first went down this road we had a trip into Almeria to go to a big supermarket and bought a variety of alternative products to try, and very quickly decided that we would rather just not eat the alternatives, and instead stick to cooking with fresh plants from scratch. Apart from the fact they’re highly processed, don’t taste that good and are expensive, we would have to do a 62km round trip to get any of them. Nah!

And I’ll just say, pretend cheese made from cashews … ewwwww… it tastes like cardboard flavored with whatever they use to make quavers crisps.

Growing up with an Irish Mum and an English Dad who suffered terribly with stomach ulcers (he ended up having most of his stomach cut out), we ate very plain food at home. It was all plain meat and boiled veg, stew and dumplings, Sunday roast with Yorkshire’s – in fact, the first time I ate pasta was after I left home! My first curry was about six years ago – I know, it’s shameful!

So, I decided it was time for this old dog to learn some new tricks – and once you get started, it’s amazing what you can serve up with a few veg, herbs, spices and a little inspiration from You Tube! The great thing is that I have time now – I’ve always loved cooking, but now I’ve become quite passionate about it. After a long day at work it was often difficult to muster the energy to cook something exciting. Living here and only having a small supermarket locally means I have to get inventive with basic ingredients or face a trip down into Almeria for supplies.

A few favourites of ours have become:

Veg stew with white beans and dumplings – ready from scratch in 30 minutes and perfect on a cold day.

Veggie paella (I call this paella de Finca del Cielo – if Spanish people saw my paella they would have a fit as it’s not terribly traditional!).

Poached quince crumble with oat milk custard (ooh get me!)

Deconstructed tortilla (don’t laugh but it’s way easier than trying to flip a tortilla when you make them as chunky as I do!) Again, it’s my own take on a Spanish tortilla and does not conform to tradition!

This is real comfort food!

Fried cauliflower rice. I used to buy the tubs of cauliflower rice in the UK but had never made it myself. As they don’t have that sort of stuff here in the shops I now make my own, and am quite ashamed that I ever bought it – sooooo easy!

So, over the next few days I’ll share the recipes for these on the ‘recipes, tips and ideas’ page. They’re all really flexible recipes – they change every time I cook them depending on what’s in the fridge!

The great thing about cooking without meat is that it actually becomes quicker and healthier and you don’t have to sacrifice flavor. I have been astonished at how easy the change has been, and by not going for the ‘pretend, processed stuff’ we’re saving a fortune every week. Eggs feature quite heavily in our diet as the girls lay an average of 3 a day between them – I think I have cooked eggs in every possible way over the last few months!

I thought I’d miss dairy, but I really don’t. We use oat milk instead of cows milk, and the only problems I’ve come across with this are cakes and Yorkshire puddings. We did try rice milk, and a few years ago I tried almond milk, neither of which I was that taken with.

I have bought some nutritional yeast which is used to add a cheesy taste to food, and it’s ok – you can sprinkle it on sandwiches or over salads and pasta, or stir some into your pasta sauce before serving. We wouldn’t eat it every day, but it makes a change now and again.

We said at the start of our change in diet that we wouldn’t be arseholes about it, so when I make cakes, I buy a pint of cows milk. I have now found a few recipes that don’t call for milk but use water instead. There’s always an alternative way to do things, and as I become more knowledgeable I’m sure our use of cows milk will go to zero.

Occasionally we buy a chorizo and I’ll add a little bit to a paella, but this is becoming more and more rare. I’m amazed that we haven’t craved a bacon sandwich yet, and we happily walk past all the meat and cheese etc in the supermarket without a second glance!

I think the fact that we said if we really fancied a bit of meat then we’d have some has helped – when you tell yourself you can’t have something you immediately start to crave that very thing! But I’m happy with the choice we’ve made – I feel well, I’ve discovered a passion for cooking and we’re saving money – what could be better than that!

Wind turbines and solar panels

When you live in a ‘normal’ house with an unlimited supply of electricity, you don’t even stop to think before you plug something in – at least, we never did. I was a great lover of lamps – we had so many around the house, all on timers so they went on and off automatically. Kettles, irons, microwaves, telly, stereo, hairdryer, food mixer, coffee machine, slow cooker, computers, bread machine, toaster … the list of electrical items we use is endless, and nearly all are probably considered necessary for daily life.

So when you live on solar panels you have to totally re-think what you use, and not just what you use, but when you use it.

The biggest enemy of solar power is ‘the heating element’. Heating elements drain power at an unbelievable rate – I was really taken by surprise by the amount of power they use. So that rules out an awful lot of things – the kettle being the big one for me (being a tea lover!). No iron, no microwave, hairdryer, coffee machine, bread machine, heaters or a toaster – they’re all a huge no no! Instead, we have a stove top kettle, and do the toast in a griddle pan (my new cooker has a grill, which I was quite excited about, but was totally underwhelmed the first and only time I used it). As for the other stuff, well we just don’t have them anymore!

When we were learning about solar systems it became obvious very quickly that it was not as easy as it looks. There are different parts to a system, and balancing out the different parts and calculating what power you think you might need had us producing pages and pages of mathematical equations, and we spent several months of planning before we attempted to install anything.

The house had a very simple control panel, one 100 watt panel, a 150 watt inverter and six 2 volt batteries to store the energy. This set up was used by the previous owner to run the tv for an hour once or twice a week. We were clearly going to need more! We found the original paperwork for the installation of this original system and discovered that everything was 15 years old. Only five of the batteries were working, and the rest were bulging, and definitely at the end of their life. So, we were starting from scratch basically.

On the Internet there are lots of methods of calculating how big your system needs to be. We started by listing what electrical equipment we NEEDED (not wanted!). We needed to know the wattage, voltage and amps of each item, and estimate how long we would use each item each day / week / month / year. Once this calculation is done, you then look and see what items might need to be on at the same time, and from that you can calculate what amount of power you need in any given day. Now, as you can’t discharge the batteries by more than 50% you have to build a system that gives double what you actually need.

So step one – we bought a 2000 watt inverter. We have a 12 volt system here and so we need the inverter to change the current from 12 volt to 240 volts. That was around €800 – wow! You can get much bigger ones, but we calculated that we could run what we needed on this. The big problem with most electrical items is, it might say it’s 5 amps, but to get the item going it actually needs triple the amps. So something you think is pretty light on power can still cause a problem.

The inverter converts the power from 12volts to 240 volts.

The power coming into the inverter from the solar panels is controlled by … the control panel. Now there are two main types of control panel – MPPT and PWM. We chose an MPPT controller as it’s more flexible. MPPT stands for maximum power point tracking. This type of controller looks after the life of the batteries better as it gives just a little more power than you need for what’s on, and the rest is used to maintain the batteries. That may be over simplifying it a little, but you get the drift! When you turn something else on in the house, it diverts the extra power you need to the inverter. The control panel wasn’t too expensive – around €140. You can also buy a combined inverter and control panel all in one now.

The control panel tells you at a glance what state the system is in, and what power is coming in and going out.

So then there’s the solar panels. There are two ways to connect the panels to the controller – in series or in parallel. Always so many choices to decide on when installing a solar system! We have three solar panels totaling 745 watts. The maximum we could have for our controller was 760 watts. Solar panels have come down in price massively and so this part cost around €400. Again, there are different types of solar panels – polychristaline or monochrystaline. The big problem with solar panels is how quickly they lose their effectiveness – we’re probably looking at replacing the panels every 6-7 years.

Lastly, you need batteries to store the energy so you can have power when it’s dark. These are expensive, and need changing about every 8-10 years. We bought 6 batteries which cost about €1100, but they are a decent size. Again, there’s a huge amount of choice of type and size of battery. The control panel’s job is to maintain the batteries – when to pull in power, when to stop, when to stir the batteries to refresh them etc etc.

The batteries are stored in our bedroom – it’s sometimes disconcerting when the fizz and bubble!

Now at this point, I will say that Rog did 98% of the research, and all of the installation! I just couldn’t get my head around volts, amps and watts, so was sitting there chipping in ‘can I run a food processor then?’

All was well, and as we’re in Spain we get a decent amount of sun for much of the year. It is harder in the winter – it gets dark at 5 o,clock and so the batteries get drained much more than in the summer. This is where the candles, oil lamp and solar lights come into their own! We have fitted low energy LED lights in the house, but they are still a drain, and so only use them briefly when we need to rather than leaving them on all evening. We can charge up the solar lights in the day and bring them in the evening. We also have a light we can charge up in the day via usb to use in the evening, which has been more successful than the solar lights! We have to plan what needs charging in the winter on cloudy or rainy days as we can’t have everything plugged in together like we can on a summers day!

So last winter we asked ourselves what we could do to boost our power on cloudy days – and of course, the solution was a wind turbine! It was surprisingly cheap at €130 from Germany. Now, this is where it got complicated. Solar panels output DC power which comes into the control panel and is then converted to AC by the inverter. Wind turbines produce AC power! We wired the wind turbine into the solar panels (I can say we here ‘cos I did actually help!) so all the power from both the solar panels and the turbine combine as they come into the house. This meant fitting a small controller between the wind turbine and the solar panels. This changes the current from the wind turbine into DC to join up with the solar panels, and then the controller / inverter changes it all back to AC. It makes your head hurt doesn’t it!!

We stabilised the pole that the wind turbine sits on with metal wire – it wobbled alarmingly without these!

The net result is that we have enough electricity to live a simple life. We can produce about 7 amps. The average house in the UK has a supply of at least 50 amps to put that into perspective! Most of Roger’s power tools need to run on the generator as the solar system simply can’t handle them, but much of what we do is manual so this doesn’t need to happen often. We are fortunate to have satellite WiFi so I can work, and if we do have a bad weather day, there’s always the generator (a back up is a must have in our situation) – it costs about €1 an hour to run so not too bad. There are days when we literally turn everything off during the day so that we have some power after dark, but the benefit of living in a sunny country is that we don’t have too many days like that!

So, that’s all there is to installing an alternative power system!

They say a little knowledge is dangerous – but a bit more can be hilarious!

I think we can honestly say now that our Spanish has moved from beginner to intermediate! We can actually hold something close to a conversation with people now without most of it being acted out like we’re from RADA! We do have half the village acting out words that we don’t know too though – if you drive past the cafe on a Wednesday when we’re there it must look like we’re all crazy!

However, as Spanish is the second fastest spoken language in the world after Japanese, there can be hilarious misunderstandings. So I thought I would share a few of the better ones! Because it’s so fast, you find yourself trying to reply at the same speed, and this is where it can all go so very wrong!

Like the day that Roger told Olga in the town hall I was outside on fire (I was actually having a cigarette outside). Fuego / fumar – easy to mix up!

At the cafe, Jose told us he was having ‘gato y patatas fritas’ (well, that’s what we heard anyway) – which translates to ‘cat and chips‘! As you can imagine, we both said (in Spanish) ‘oh my god you’re eating cat???’ He nearly wet himself laughing.

We had loads of eggs one day, and so when Paco and his Grandad came to work on their finca at the back of us, Rog said he would take them some eggs. He meant to say ‘I’ve got a present for you’ as he handed them the eggs, but what he actually said was ‘I have some watches for you’. We’re getting so used to seeing bemused smiles when we speak! Regalo / reloj – Well, they both start with ‘R’!

Sometimes you get asked a question, and you’re really confident that you’ve heard it right and so you answer – then you realise by the look on their faces that you’ve just done this:

Q: What did you used to do in the UK?

A: Peterborough, near Cambridge

It’s also so easy to get things like first and last, up and down, before and after etc the wrong way round. Rog told Paco back in March that he was so relieved I got the first flight out of the UK to Almeria instead of the last one before the lockdown!

I think one of the reasons why people have been so good to us here is that they can see us trying so hard. Every week we get a little better. There seems to be a tipping point now that we’ve achieved – we have got most of the foundation stuff and now need to expand our vocabulary. The different verb tenses still give us both a problem but we seem to be understood if we use the present tense but add on last week or last year. I think there may be a rainy day coming where I simply write some verb tables onto paper and stick them on the wall to practice!

Of course, just like you get regional accents in the UK, the same applies here in Spain. Andalucia has very lazy pronunciation – lots of letters missed off at the start and end of words. Hasta luego (see you later) becomes ‘A luego’ or just ‘luego’. This is really tough when you’re learning the full generic pronunciation of words. And then we take it a stage further – here in Illar it is ‘campo spanish’. The equivalent in England would be farmers saying ‘ooo-arrr’ for yes in English. It’s no wonder our brains hurt some days!

The only way to learn really is to immerse yourself in it, throw caution to the wind and not worry if you sometimes look and sound like a real eejit! We haven’t done bad in 18 months – the locals at the cafe said another two years and you wouldn’t know we’re English … we’ll see!

Baby oranges part 2!

In April I wrote a post showing the little baby oranges that were appearing as the blossom fell away from the trees.

April 2020

So here we are nearly at the end of September, and the oranges are coming on nicely. The weather has been really bad for fruit this year – we had far too much cloud and rain followed by really hot sunshine in the spring, which meant that a higher percentage of babies fell off than normal.

We have also watered less this summer. We lost quite a few oranges at the start of the year simply because they were so huge that the tree couldn’t hold on to them. When we had the builders here last December they thought our oranges were absolutely hilarious, so we decided to put less water down, and they are a better size this year.

It’s lovely watching the oranges develop, and in just the last week or so they’ve started to change colour. We do hit our heads on them constantly as we walk around, and they’re quite hard!
I took some ripe oranges back to the UK in March this year and was told they were the best oranges ever!

Yum, I can taste them already! 😋

The Vegetable Garden

Over the last 18 months we’ve been ‘playing’ at growing veg, with a bit of success. We’re novice veg growers who have watched quite a lot on the Internet, but nothing replaces hands on experience – and it’s going to take us years to learn this properly. The veg garden wasn’t the top priority initially as we had to learn about looking after what we already had (the trees) and get things like the house, water and power sorted first. Now the other things are pretty much there we can turn some of our attention to growing our own food. Vegetables from the market are pretty cheap and really fresh, so it’s caused us no problems buying them for the last 18 months, but of course, the long term aim is to grow as much of our own veg as we can.

When we moved here there was a spot that was the natural choice for growing veg – yes, it was dotted with smaller trees but it had more open space than anywhere else on the finca.

Having tried growing in raised beds, directly into the ground, using seeds for some things and plants for others to see what would and wouldn’t work, we now have a bit of a plan …

Step one involved cutting down four orange trees, which we did last week – they were really small compared to the others so weren’t big producers. We still need to try and get the stumps out, but if they prove really awkward we can actually work around them if need be. We’ve read that an average orange tree will put their roots down 3-4 meters, and there’s no way we’ll get a mini digger up here! But having a clearer patch of land now means we can start to develop this end of the finca. We have left two orange trees, a lemon, peach, níspero, citrus finger, two almonds and a chirimoya down that end, but they shouldn’t get in the way too much as they’re along the sides and at the end. We’re expecting some rain and so will rotavate after the rain (by the end of the summer the earth is like concrete where there’s no irrigation!). The bird table will need a new home!

So the plan is to build a framework out of river grass canes – they’re a bit like bamboo and grow wild at the river – so best of all, they’re free! In between these rows of canes we will dig trenches so we can irrigate the roots of the plants, which will grow up the framework. The big problem we’ve had here is that the water runs away so quickly, so digging trenches should mean that the plants get what they need. Rog has set up new irrigation pipes down there all around the edge so we can run pipes off to literally flood the trenches a few times a week – it’s the method everyone round here seems to use. Using this method we should be able to grow pretty much everything we want to down there! That’s the theory anyway!

The aim is to grow tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, cabbage, kohl rabi, spinach, potatoes, squash and beetroot to start. I’ll also be doing a herb garden on the new decking in pots – we have several types of mint already, but I want to grow garlic and parsley as I use loads in the kitchen. The chickens also love fresh parsley and it increases egg production!

We have gated off the veg garden using an old bedstead left here by the previous owners and some plastic fencing – it works well enough to keep the chickens out!

The vegetable garden part 2 should be in the next few weeks once we’ve got the framework in place!

Living in a tiny house

There are definitely both pros and cons to living in a tiny house.

We came from a house that was roughly 190 square meters in the UK and now live in one that’s 42 square meters!

Moving to a smaller house made us evaluate what we actually need to have. We got rid of over 80% of everything we owned when we moved here – and to be honest, we haven’t missed any of the ‘stuff’ we got rid of. We did bring some books – the ones about gardening, preserving food and living off grid! Our music was uploaded onto iTunes and then all the CD’s were sold, and books were sold / donated, but having a kindle means all my favourite books now take up no room at all, and clothes whittled down to the bare minimum (although Rog would say I still have too many!).

I used to have so much kitchenware – enough plates for 15 people to come for a three course meal without having to wash up in between courses – madness! Glasses, mugs etc – way too many! Even though I whittled these down, we still have plates and bowls we haven’t used since moving in! And clothes, shoes and handbags – let’s not even start talking about those …!!!

So a big pro is less cleaning – which is just as well, as it’s pretty dusty where we live. I can clean the house top to bottom in under an hour, but I do this several times a week now (and half an hour later you can write your name in the dust again!!).

Things that hadn’t been seen as essential before now moved up the priority list – all the tools in the garage, my sewing machine and sewing box, candle holders (and those household candles from the back of the cupboard for emergencies!) – all of these suddenly became priority things to have. We sold lots of our archery stuff, but kept the crossbow and bolts – we get all sorts of animals out here so better to be safe than sorry!

The biggest challenge to living in a small house is storage – you take having an airing cupboard for granted – and our old house had 3 lofts, although this did mean that we hoarded an incredible amount of rubbish – I would be happy with one small one now! Things like the suitcases – we just don’t have room for them in the house, so we have a small brick shed that’s now referred to as the loft – we have to be careful what we store in there though, as we do get little mousey visitors in there – so needless to say, it’s always Rogers job to get things out of the loft!

There isn’t room in the bedrooms to put a cupboard in to store things like towels and sheets, so Rog put up a long shelf in the spare bedroom for these things, and other stuff simply has to go under the beds! But we manage.

Since moving in I have had another clearout and got rid of some of the things we brought from the UK – like the iron that is never going to work on the solar (and even gives the generator a hard time!), so there’s just no point in keeping it, taking up valuable under bed storage space! I did buy a small travel iron, which is fine on the generator, just in case I need to iron something for a special occasion!

It does make me more conscious of what we have, and so now, if something doesn’t get used, it’s likely to end up being given away or thrown away, whereas before, I would keep everything simply because I could.

The spare bedroom doubles up as my office when I’m working – so we have a folding picnic table that can be moved out of the way when we have guests, and I use one of the kitchen chairs. When I’m not working, the Mac just fits on top of the chest of drawers, which has to house things like sellotape, envelopes, games, batteries etc

Converting the bodega last year into a useful storage room has helped – having only 1 kitchen cupboard for food was tough, but now I have shelves in the bodega where I can store food, as well as things like cleaning stuff, loo roll etc and that has made a big difference! I have very few cupboards in the kitchen for pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pot rack out of pallets and fencing, and it works brilliantly! Once upon a time I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at spending hundreds on something like this, but it’s very satisfying when it’s free!

Clearing the clutter from life is something I would heartily recommend. At first I was a bit sad at selling everything, and was hanging on to things … but with each item that I sold, not only was it money in the bank for the move, but also I felt lighter and somehow more free. It got to the point where I was chucking everything on eBay and Gumtree – Rog would say, ‘have you seen …’ and I’d say ‘yes, I sold it and posted it off yesterday!’ There has been hardly anything that I regretted selling – I did buy a new pressure cooker – something that I had in the UK but never used. Here, it really works for me to have one, as I can cook a stew in under 15 minutes, and marmalade in about 20 minutes, which saves money on the gas – something that you become very aware of when you rely on gas bottles and don’t just have a constant supply of piped gas!

Our bedroom doubles up as the lounge, particularly in the winter months. After dinner we sometimes watch a film on the tablet, and so the most comfortable place to watch something is the bed as we have no couch to lay around on! We do have 2 armchairs in the kitchen / dining room by the fire, but at the end of a long day what you really want to do is stretch out and relax!

We have adjusted to a small space really well, and you do learn very quickly to make the most of every bit of space you have!

Autumn jobs around the finca

The nights are starting to draw in a little. It’s dark at 8.30pm and first thing in the morning there is a nip in the air. We’re still basking in 25-30 degree sunshine most of the day, and it’s much more comfortable now than the temperatures of a weeks ago.

So as it starts to cool down a little, the number of jobs that need doing start to rev up! We’ve harvested the almonds (Luna’s favourites!), started to prune the almond trees and done the apricot tree. We’re much more confident this year with pruning, although I did watch a reminder on how to prune the apricot as they can be the trickiest of all to get right! The orange trees are pruned as and when we see dead wood, crossing branches and water shoots, although after the harvest next spring they are going to need a big prune to thin them out – this is a job that needs doing every few years, not annually thank goodness!

The weeds are starting to grow again – they tend not to go mad everywhere in the summer as it’s so hot, but we know that we’ll have the first rain since May in the next few weeks and everything will go absolutely bonkers again – we’re going to try and get a head start by clearing what we can now do they don’t seed when it does rain.

We’ve stripped back the vegetable garden. Over the last 18 months we’ve been trying different methods – we now know that raised beds simply don’t work here, so we’ve removed those – we made them ourselves out of bits around the finca, as we wanted to try this method before we spent any money on them and thank goodness we did it that way! We have decided to lose some of the smaller orange trees from the veg garden to give us more room to grow food, so there are 3 or 4 trees to cut down, and then we can rotavate that whole end. The plan then is to set up a series of long poles to create a framework with trenches to irrigate heavily – we’ve been learning from Pepe down the lane! This will be a mammoth task so I will do a separate blog dedicated to this when we get to that job!

Then the rest of the finca will need rotavating! And in between all of this, our firewood for the winter needs chopping. The pine trees were cut down earlier this year and we left them out in the sun to dry off, so a chainsaw and axe combo should do the trick! And in October it’s time to insecticide again!

In the heat of the summer between the middle of June until now, you only get a few hours in the morning when you can work, so you sit waiting for the temperature to cool to be able to crack on!

It’s amazing just how much work there is just for day to day living here – things you take for granted back home when you have washing machines, abundant safe water, unlimited electricity etc – when you do things manually it does take longer, but it’s a very satisfying way of life.

Over the summer Roger has been making lots of improvements to the outside of the house – he has become an expert at rendering! The little roof terrace above the bodega was just very uneven concrete before, and was really ugly with uneven concrete edges. Now it not only looks lovely, but it reflects the heat so it keeps the bodega cooler – which was the first and foremost reason for doing this work! He has also rigged up a solar fan inside the bodega which has made a massive difference to the temperature in there – really essential as it’s where we store our food! I’ve lost count of the number of bags of render we’ve bought over the last couple of months, but it is transforming the place, giving it a finished look! Thankfully it’s really cheap!

Roger also rendered at the bottom of the drive, and we bought the Spanish tiles to do our house name – it’s these little things that are really making it into our little sanctuary …

He’s built a little decking area at the side of the house and we fitted a sunshade the other week that we can wind back in when it’s windy – it gives us somewhere we can sit outside when it’s really hot but with some shade. The decking was made with bits of wood we found around the finca so cost nothing to make other than the cost of the wood screws and some time!

There have been lots of adjustments made to the irrigation too – I’ll be doing a blog on this soon as it will be useful even if you just have a normal sized garden – I wish I had known more about drip irrigation back in the uk as I would definitely have set this up for my garden. Obviously though, having 100 trees here it’s a bigger task, and different trees need different amounts of water, so we’ve been zoning different areas.

But for now, it’s digging, climbing trees and chopping wood that takes priority over making stuff look pretty!

Luna

Well, Luna is coming up to 11 months old now, and she’s been with us for almost 8 months.

After months of no sleep because of the constant barking all night, the daily escaping unless she was on a chain, the chewing of all the drip irrigation pipes and the general destruction of everything around her, we finally said enough – we can’t do this. She just wasn’t learning! We read and watched so much information to try and find a training method that would work with her, but nothing seemed to stick. Now we knew it was something we were doing wrong but we couldn’t fathom our what that was – after all, we had Ella for 14 years back in the UK so we knew what we were doing, right? Luna is a totally different kind of dog. Perplexed wasn’t the word. With extremely heavy hearts we went to the town hall two weeks ago to arrange for her to be re-homed via the local dog shelter.

What worried us more than anything was the escaping – she has a lovely temperament and wants to play with anyone and everyone – but she’s huge. If she came across some children or old people out walking she would hurt them – not on purpose of course, just by trying to play with them. I really didn’t want a visit from the police saying Luna had to be put down because she’d hurt someone. That meant that for the last few months she has been on a chain more than she’s been off it – and that’s really not the sort of life we want for any dog. We do have fencing around the finca, but at the back is a dry stone wall, which is about 6ft high – she’s been able to get up there in a single bound since she was 5 or 6 months old! It’s just not possible to turn the place into a prison with 9ft fencing, and to be fair, we wouldn’t want to live here if it was like that.

Various locals have offered advice – one said she would calm down when she turned 1 year old, another said when she’s 2 years old – the thought of another year of this was, well, unthinkable. She has had a couple of run ins with local farmers – they simply hold their spade up when she hurtles towards them to fend her off, and they don’t seem too bothered by her when she runs headlong into the spade. It was slowly teaching her to stay away from people, which is a good thing!

So we’ve been waiting for Paco to arrange to come and collect her. And while we have been waiting, a miracle has happened.

We moved her house right down to the end of the finca a couple of weeks ago – we just had to get some sleep. We could still hear her barking, but it didn’t disturb us as much. And that seemed to suddenly switch on the lights for her. I’m convinced she knew what was in store for her.

Yes, she still goes off for a little wander, but stays within sight of our finca (the dogs next door are her little friends!). For the last few days the only time we have had to put her on the chain is when we both pop out shopping – she would still follow the car if we didn’t. But she’s free of the chain at all other times – it’s as if she’s suddenly taken a chill pill and understands what she’s supposed to do. She sits on the roof at night keeping guard – and if she does bark it’s literally one or two barks and that’s it – before she would be constantly barking for hours. She follows us around and sits by us while we’re working outside – that was impossible just 2 weeks ago when she was jumping all over us, stealing tools and digging MASSIVE holes where we were trying to work. She still loves to play, but it’s more gentle now thank goodness! We still can’t let the chickens out around her, she would play them to death, but in the evening she sits on the roof with us on her lead while the chickens enjoy a little freedom for a couple of hours.

It’s been a real emotional roller coaster and I can’t tell you how relieved we are that we can keep her – even with all the problems it would’ve broken our hearts to give her away – all I’ve done today is cry with relief! Olga at the Town Hall was so happy for us – she’s a dog lover too and saw how upset we were when we asked about having her re-homed.

So here she is, at home, where she belongs ❤️

I’ve never known a dog who loves being filthy dirty absolutely all of the time like Luna does!

Why do we stop playing?

A few years ago, whilst waiting outside a school before a meeting there, I was watching the children in the playground, running around, skipping, shouting, laughing – you know, proper belly laughing. It prompted me to post on Facebook then that maybe work places should have a 10 minute break time mid morning and mid afternoon so that staff could run around, laugh, play footy etc to escape being a grown up just for a few minutes. Let’s face it, we all get tired of adulting sometimes.

Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

I was reminded of this the other week when watching a film called Tag, where a group of mates had been playing a game of tag for 30 years – for one month a year they would chase each other all over the country – and it was based on a true story. The wonderful quote used in the film was:

We don’t stop playing because we grow old – we grow old because we stop playing

How true is that? So the day after watching the film I spent the morning climbing trees! There is something so satisfying about it, and our orange trees are perfect for climbing!

I think as we grow up we forget the simple pleasures in life – life gets hectic and we convince ourselves we don’t have time for fun, and that being silly just for the heck of it is something reserved for kids.

Let’s face it, the world is going to hell in a handcart, so maybe now is the perfect time to look at having fun again – not sensible grown up fun, proper childish stuff – running around, skipping, finger painting, jumping in a pile of leaves, climbing a tree, going tiddler fishing – let your imagination run riot! Don’t watch the news, play tiddlywinks or cuddle a chicken instead!

Caption competition???

Aloe Vera – the plant of immortality!

I did a blog post a while back about the wonder of iodine. My next wonder is aloe vera, and by the end of this blog I hope you’ll agree that it’s one of the most valuable plants on this planet! Whilst on a trip to Lanzarote a few years back, we visited a museum dedicated to aloe and although we were already fans of it then, it really opened our eyes to more uses for it!

Aloe Vera is approximately 95% water, but the other 5% is made up of extremely high levels of healthy enzymes. It has more than 200 bioactive compounds such as minerals, enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, and polysaccharides, which all improve nutrient absorption in the body. It is also rich in calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium, and manganese. It boasts anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties which help detoxify the body and support the immune system. It also contains the vitamin B12, which is normally only found in animal based foods, making it invaluable to vegetarians.

The ancient Egyptians referred to aloe as ‘the plant of immortality’, the Chinese as ‘the method of harmony’ and during the crusades it was mixed with other ingredients and considered to be an elixir that would lengthen the life of those who drank it. Indeed, the healing properties of aloe have been documented over thousands of years all over the world.

There are over 50 conditions that aloe can be used for – I’m not going to list them all here, but I will hopefully give you a few ideas how you can incorporate it into daily life to benefit from this miracle plant.

1. Drink it – the easiest way is to buy aloe juice from a health food shop, and you then mix a little with some water each morning. Now it’s not what I’d call a lovely taste, but after a few weeks I promise you will get used to it. The benefits of drinking aloe juice are the huge number of vitamins and minerals contained in it, plus its an antiviral and an antibacterial. The juice will also help fight a number of digestive disorders and flush toxins from the body. If you have aloe plants you could of course, make your own juice and there are loads of tutorials online in how to do this. Please see the warnings at the end of this post about drinking aloe juice.

2. Moisturiser- I use it daily head to toe. I have made some aloe body gel, which is a bit sticky and fiddly- but very pure! All you need to do is scrape the gel out of the middle of an aloe leaf, zap it in a blender and then mix it with a little water. Add the oil from a vitamin e capsule and a few drops of essential oil – lavender is great for skin. Mix well and it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, so don’t make too much up in one go! Again, you can buy it, and I would recommend getting one that is 99/100% pure – it costs a little more but worth every penny. Living in such a hot climate means my skin gets really dry, but using aloe every day has made my skin in the best condition it’s ever been in.

3. Sunburn and other burns. You can use shop bought aloe gel / moisturiser or just cut an aloe leaf and rub the gel inside straight onto the sunburn. Apply regularly throughout the day.

4. Eczema, rosacea and psoriasis – my Dad had really bad eczema on his back for years – I bought him some aloe gel and within a week he was clear – use every couple of days to keep the eczema away – again, the purer the better.

5. Keeping an aloe plant in your bedroom will help purify the air you breathe as you sleep.

6. Haircare. Using pure aloe gel, rub it into your hair and scalp and leave in for 30 minutes before rinsing. It will improve dry, flaky or dandruff prone scalps and lessen hair breakage.

7. Insect bites – aloe relieves any itching and swelling and protects against infection – everything you want in an insect bite cream! Just use the gel from the plant leaf for best results, or again use the store bought gel.

The list of benefits just goes on and on! BUT, there are some contraindications, and please be aware that aloe is a natural laxative, so if you drink too much you could find yourself staying close to the bathroom! Do a spot test on your skin to check if you are allergic to aloe gel before smothering yourself jn it! Before taking aloe as a drink, please check if it’s suitable for you if you have existing conditions or are taking medication as the flushing capabilities of aloe could flush your medication out too. Children under 12, pregnant women or those breastfeeding should not drink aloe juice. There’s lots of information on the Internet, but if you are in any doubt then please check with your doctor before taking.

We do have several aloe plants here at the finca – the hot dry conditions here are perfect!

Lots of modern lotions and potions copy what plants do – so why put chemicals on or in your body when you can use the original, pure, natural ingredients? I know what I’d rather do!

Bok Bok Box Treadle Chicken Feeder Review

We’ve been using a homemade feeder which has worked really well but we were starting to get a problem with mice. They could sneak in to steal the chickens food as it was an open top feeder. We covered it over at night, but little mice could still sneak in. Now I don’t like mice, but even worse is that the mice attract snakes, and I REALLY don’t like snakes!

So I started doing some research and found this automatic feeder – there are several different types on the market, but interestingly, none of them were available to buy in Spain (suppliers please note!), so I had to buy it in the UK, have it sent to Mum & Dad and then they shipped it over here.

Basically it’s a metal box with a lid and a foot plate – when a chook stands on the foot plate the lid opens and they can feed. When they step off the plate the lid closes. There are three plastic bowls inside, so you could have two for food and one for water – we’ve decided to use this for just food and they still have their normal water bowl separately. It measures 59x20x20cm and has a clever little locking pin attached to it which slots through holes in the side of the box – there are different positions so you can lock it open, half open or completely shut.

I chose this particular one basically because of the closing mechanism – it’s a soft close lid so doesn’t bang shut, potentially trapping their heads or at the very least scaring the life out of them! It holds about 5-6 days of food for our 4 hens.

The Bok Bok Box Automatic Chicken Feeder

The instructions say it takes three stages to train your chickens – in stage one you prop the lid open for them in the day so they can see where their food is and access it easily. In Stage two the lid is half open, so they have to step up into the plate to feed, but their food is still visible. In stage three the lid is only open a little bit – so they learn where their food is and gradually get used to stepping on the plate to feed.

So stage one went well – no hesitation to feed from the new box at all! At night we let the lid close, but didn’t lock it shut, so if the girls wanted to give it a whirl in the mornings then they could. And each night I demonstrated to them how it worked when they came back into the run for bed!

After just three days in phase one my clever girls got it! No need for phase two or phase three! I’ve just taken them their breakfast (potato peelings, some tomatoes, carrots and cauliflower!!) and there they were, standing on the plate, heads in the feeder quite merrily!

So far I’m impressed with this – it’s well made and a good size for 4 hens. It is a little on the expensive side (around £60) but it’s good value for money, and I’m happy to pay that as long as it lasts for a long time! The only possible issue I can see with this is that, living in a very hot country, the whole thing could get really hot as it’s shiny metal – we have put it in the corner of the run where there’s some shade and they don’t seem to be having a problem with this at the moment – and I think chickens have quite tough toes!

All in all, seems to be a very good purchase!

Cultural differences

Spain and its culture have been a real surprise to me. Now that we’ve been living here for nearly 18 months I feel that we are really starting to understand what makes this little corner of Spain tick.

Like many people, my only previous experience of Spain was as a holiday maker, and I had only been to Malaga twice before and a couple of visits to the Canaries. There was a bit of me that thought that maybe that’s how all of Spain was – a bit ‘Benidorm’ but I wasn’t worried as we had planned to live an isolated life, so we wouldn’t be in the thick of it too often.

Our actual experience has been so different to the stereotype and I think it’s mainly because we’re away from the coast and tourist areas.

Food – when we moved here we decided to make a concerted effort to learn about real Spanish cuisine. I am now an expert paella and tortilla maker (although they’re not always completely traditional!), and both have become part of our staple diet as they’re quick easy and healthy! Of course, Spain is famous for tapas, and we have become big fans over the last year. There really is a massive difference between the tapas that you get at tourist resorts and the tapas you get if you drive away from the coast – I would really recommend taking a drive and stopping in almost any village cafe to try some proper tapas. Tapas translates as ‘small dish’ and it’s so much better than a Greg’s sausage roll or a bar of chocolate, which was my go to food in the UK when I was hungry in between meals! Generally, the diet here is so much healthier than in the UK – fruit and veg at the markets tends to be seasonal, so I don’t write shopping lists any more – I go to the market and choose from what’s available, and that dictates what we eat for the next week. We use loads more olive oil now, especially as we got 31 litres of it from our olives lat year! The other dish I would recommend if you visit Spain is the toastada – a toasted baguette topped with smashed tomatoes which is traditionally eaten for breakfast – a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt on top makes it perfect! Meal times are quite different here – Spanish people think it’s hilarious that the English eat dinner at 6pm ish as it’s customary here to eat at 9.30pm! During the very hot weather this makes absolute sense, as it’s simply too hot to eat earlier than that, but in the winter we do tend to close the front door once it’s dark at about 5pm and revert to British mealtimes! The only thing I bring back from the UK with me now is tea and vegetable diet for dumplings – sorry, but Spanish tea just doesn’t cut it – it’s soooo weak! So whenever we visit the UK we make sure there’s some room in our case for bags of Yorkshire tea – and when it gets serious I get my parents to post a box of it over! You can buy PG over here in the bigger supermarkets, but it costs a fortune and only comes in tiny boxes – the Spanish aren’t a nation of tea drinkers! But other than tea and suet, we don’t actively seek out traditional British goods any more. We’ve found Spanish alternatives which suit our new way of eating perfectly.

Family and community here are so important; children are adored and everyone talks to them – they never seem to be an annoyance or in the way, and as a result they are generally beautifully behaved with fabulous manners. Respect towards your elders is a massive thing here.

There is one thing that has been hard to get used to though which is the staring. Men openly stare at women, and they don’t look away when you catch them! Apparently it’s purely appreciating the female form – hmmm … the jury is definitely out on this one!

Queuing is hilarious here! In the UK we are used to orderly queues, and pushing in is tantamount to treason. In Spain they just don’t queue, BUT there is a system! You go into, say, the bank, and everyone is just standing around. If you speak Spanish you then ask who is the last person in the general direction of the crowd, and once identified you know who to go after. If you don’t speak Spanish you have to memorize everyone who was in there when you arrived 😂 (the latter was us when we first arrived in Spain!). There are occasional podgers- and they get glared at and whispered about, although generally nothing is then said to them – it just seems to be accepted that they must be really busy!

Customer service – prior to moving to Spain we read loads of articles about living in Spain, and many cited terrible customer service as one of the downsides of living here. Well, that’s not our experience at all. Sometimes you go into a shop and think great, there’s only two people in front of us, and then you wait half an hour to be served! Why, you ask? Well, each person is given the time they need, and when it’s your turn, you’ll get the time and attention you need too. Nothing wrong in my book with that! Maybe the people who wrote these articles didn’t smile or speak Spanish, and if that’s the case then they can’t complain really!

Someone asked us the other week what our views were on bull fighting. Well, I said, personally I think it’s cruel and I don’t agree with it – however, I respect the fact that it’s a tradition here, and as I’m not Spanish I’m not going to pass judgement (but you wouldn’t catch me going to a bullfight). The response was, well, you have fox hunting! So we had to explain that it’s been outlawed and that ordinary people like us have never been fox hunting. Not everyone gets up on a Sunday morning and nips out on their horse with their dogs to go hunting – funny to hear how other people imagine England to be like!

Attitudes towards women here could be considered a little outdated or old fashioned in other countries – men and women really do have pink and blue jobs – a woman might come and pick some fruit at the finca, but you wouldn’t see them digging or fighting with a rotavator. It has a slight 1950’s feel to it. And do you know what, in this type of community it does actually work, and we have slipped into this way too for some things (but not everything 😂😂) – Rog does the majority of the heavy work outside and I do the washing, cooking etc. I do occasionally like to climb a few trees to prune them and grapple with the rotavator though, much to the hilarity of everyone who sees me! When you live like this each person really does have to know their strengths and weaknesses and you have to play to your strengths to get things done.

Everyone seems to own or part own a finca here for growing fruit and veg. And they all seem to help each other out – if someone is out spraying then they seem to do their neighbours finca too! One of our neighbours, Pepe, brings us potatoes and last week a huge carrier bag of peppers – he’s clearly a bit of an expert grower. He’s offered to come to our finca to help us a bit with our veg – I think he’s seen us struggling to get to grips with the very different soil, climate and timings for veg and so is going to come and teach us – how nice is that! He invited Rog over to see his finca (not me, because a woman wouldn’t be concerned with such things here!) to show him the best way to grow here, and the best way to irrigate etc. Once upon a time I would probably have been a bit miffed, but it’s actually really nice not having to prove anything to anyone anymore.

Religion is big here – the vast majority of the population is catholic and all the villages have a church in the center of the village , around which everything revolves. Holy days of obligation are observed, and they are usually public holidays. Each village has its own patron Saint – in Illar it’s Santa Ana (Mary’s mum). The annual fiesta sees an enormous statue of her being carried around the town, and everyone does the walk with the statue – it takes a good hour and there are stops on the route so that an enormous number of fireworks can be set off for her. This explains why, from the day we arrived here, I have been called Ana instead of Anita – as the name Anita is a derivative of Ana it’s much better to be Ana – actually it’s considered an honor.

The annual fiesta lasts for 4 or 5 days with Friday night being the evening dedicated to Santa Ana.

When we decided to quit the UK we cited a big part of the reason as being that we were fed up of living to work rather than working to live … and I think we have found the perfect place with like minded people and we certainly feel very much at home with the culture (except for the staring 😳).

The sound of summer…

Last summer we had our first experience of a wildfire, which was pretty scary, not least because when it started on the Saturday morning I suddenly realised that I hadn’t arranged the house insurance 😱. The wildfire went on all weekend with a battery of helicopters and planes fighting to extinguish it – we saw the devastation afterwards, although just a few months later we drove past and the area was recovering amazingly quickly.

I was on the phone to the insurance company at 9:01am on the Monday morning! We managed to arrange a brilliant policy that covers the whole finca as well as the house. This means that if disaster did ever strike, the insurance would cover the cost of repairing and replanting the whole finca – and it covers acts of god too!

The helicopter refill reservoir is just across from us and down the valley a bit, and so the helicopters were flying right over our house all weekend – it’s the only sound that drowns out the cicadas!

So far this year we’ve had two wildfires in the area – the one today was out in just a couple of hours and now the sound of the planes and helicopters is gradually lessening.

Our reaction compared to last year was a little different today – ‘ooh that sounds like the fire helicopters, better have a look – it’s all good, other side of the mountain and the wind is blowing in the right direction – want a cuppa’ 😂

BUT, we know better than to get complacent – we do have escape routes planned just in case, and all of our paperwork / birth certificates / passports / house deeds etc are kept in a box that can be picked up and put in the car. The plan would be to put the dog in the car and let the chickens out of the coop. As much as I would like to put all of them in the car, realistically it wouldn’t work! The chickens would have to fend for themselves I’m afraid.

If the fire was coming from below us we can drive up to the village, but if it was coming down from the village we can drive down to the river. At this point we can turn left or right and drive along the riverbed – left into the mountains or turn right towards Almeria city!

Let’s hope we never have to use our escape plan!

Ethel is a funny old bird!

I mean the chicken, not my mother in law whom the chicken is named after (well, on second thoughts … 😂😂) – no, no, I definitely mean the chicken!

When we named them on the day we got them, we didn’t know at that time that chickens really do have personalities! Ethel was a little smaller than the others, as as my mother in law is about Yoda size, we thought that the small chicken should be Ethel.

Well it turns out that chicken Ethel is a sandwich short of a picnic!

Last week we got so fed up with her keep trying to keep her out of the veg garden, stop her eating the dog food and drinking the rusty water (used for the trees when they need iron), tormenting the dog etc that Rog picked her up and walked down the end of the second terrace and plonked her down – far away from mischief … only 5 minutes later she was back. So Rog picked her up again and took her away … 5 minutes later, yep, back again. And so the game went on …

There’s nothing better than a few dog biscuits!

Now normally, we thought that chickens wouldn’t like being carried about very much. And when they don’t like something their necks shrink, and head goes right down to the body.

Well it turns out that Ethel loves it. Head up, looking about, not a bit nervous or unhappy. She’s almost saying ‘wow, look at meeeee!’ So now as we carry her away from mischief, we sing ‘her song’:

I believe I can fly, I believe I can touch the Sky, I think about it every night and day, just spread my wings and fly away ….

Not quietly either, full on singing – she seems to like her song too! Maybe it’s not just the chicken whose cheese has slid off her cracker!

(Almost) Free tomatoes!

I had never grown tomatoes before living here, mainly because until a year ago I didn’t actually like them (largely thanks to a dinner lady at primary school who forced me to eat one, whereupon I was sick at her feet!). But now I love them, and they’re a huge part of our diet here. I even make a rather fab chutney and have canned some tomatoes too!

We don’t have a compost pile here, we just bury our kitchen scraps straight into the ground, so I was delighted when potatoes and tomatoes started cropping up randomly under trees – they’re proving not to be the ideal place to grow them, but it did give me an idea how to grow tomatoes very cheaply!

I sliced a single tomato into about 5 slices and covered the slices with a bit of compost in small pots – and a few weeks later, 13 tomato plants! These were then transplanted into one of our veg beds, and they’re coming on quite well – there aren’t tons of tomatoes on each plant, but I have a lot to learn yet about growing tomatoes. For my first effort I’m pretty pleased.

A neighbour told us we’ll struggle to grow tomatoes here as they get attacked, but they seem to be ok at the moment! Almeria Province is well known for its tomato production in the infamous plastic greenhouses – 80 % of Europe’s tomatoes grow here – that’s a lot of tomatoes! Many of them now use hydroponics to grow the tomatoes but we’ll just stick to popping them in the soil I think 😂

We think we’ve worked out why we’ve been struggling to grow really good veg down in the veg garden. The veg garden is near the five rather huge pine trees at the front of our finca, and the trees have stripped the water and goodness out of the soil down there. We also have the problem of the processionary caterpillars that come and build their nests in those trees, so it didn’t take long for us to decide to chop them down! And, of course, we now have our supply of fuel for the winter! The processionary caterpillars are horrid evil little things – they are actually considered the most dangerous predator in Spain, and kill loads of pets each year. They shoot poisonous spines in the air / at you if you get too close, and these are really bad for young children, the elderly, and anyone with a breathing condition. Pets go and stick their noses into them and breath in the spines – their throat swells up and they die a rather horrible death. Last February we had so many nests in the trees, and although I blasted them with insecticide, an awful lot survived. The weekend they decided to march down the road, Rog went down with a flame thrower and got rid of them all – the most popular method of getting rid of them over here!

My plan for next year is a lot more tomatoes, and now I know this method works, I’ll probably need just half a dozen tomatoes to grow a ton of them! I have a hankering to sun dry our own tomatoes and preserve them in our own olive oil – that’s proper self sufficiency in action – I won’t get to that point this year, but life isn’t a race any more!

Shade

We’re currently in the middle of a heatwave – like Spain needs one of those! Summers are normally blistering, but the last few days have been off the scale reaching 43 degrees in the afternoon here.

It’s been really hard keeping the house bearable. So sit outside in the shade I hear you cry! Well it’s not that simple! It wouldn’t be, would it! 😂

Last summer we bought a pergola for the roof terrace. It got absolutely ripped apart by the wind and has now been recycled as a handrail for the stairs and the roof of the chicken coop. Rog tried several times to repair it, but we do get strong winds here, and nothing worked for longer than a day or two before it broke again. We’ve tried a sail off the posts already on the roof terrace – nope! So we’ve given up trying to get any shade up there, which does mean that after about 9am it’s impossible to sit up there until the evening. But it’s lovely up there in the evening as you get a gorgeous breeze and get to watch the sun go down behind the mountains!

We have a little area to the side of the house, where we had a couple of small tables for potting plants, the big homemade washing machine, bags of compost etc etc. So we set to this morning clearing it all out, and we’ve managed to make a little triangular area where we can fix a canopy up on the roof of the house and then tie the other corners to one of the mandarin trees on the second terrace and the apricot tree on the first terrace. And it survived a very windy afternoon – hurrah! The canopy is one of the olive harvesting nets, but we have plenty so could spare this one!

Now we know it works, we’re going to build a raised deck here so that it’s just a small step from the side of the house, and it will look a bit nicer. We had some big pieces of wood lying around which we can use for the frame – we just need to get our hands on some decent pallets now!

We didn’t bring any garden furniture from the UK, but we had an old plastic table and some folding wooden chairs here – ok so it’s not the prettiest, but it works!! A bit of incense keeps the flies at bay too. We’re going to finish off that bit of wall too under the patio – Half a job Harry definitely worked here when they built the house!

Living in Spain after Brexit

We completed on the house mid March last year, and in April got the ball rolling to register as self employed, register for state healthcare, and obtain residency. We got our residency on 3rd July and then immediately started the process to change over our driving licences, which was all done by September. Was it difficult? No – mainly because we used a gestoria!

Gestorias exist in Spain to help people through the maze of red tape and paperwork that is just a part of life here. Spaniards have always used them for registering cars, submitting tax returns, all sorts of things. Anything that comes under the title of ‘official administration’ is covered by them. We spoke to people who had tried to do the paperwork for residency themselves and heeded their warning – don’t do it!!!

So expats here are on the countdown to the 31st December, when the transition period ends. After that date, anyone applying for residency here will have to meet the criteria as a 3rd country – the red tape gets thicker and the income requirements skyrocket. I also read recently that anyone arriving in Spain next year from the UK will not have reciprocal healthcare at retirement. This makes the move impossible for many, as the cost of private health insurance at retirement age would be huge – and you have to have healthcare to get residency.

However, Spain values expats here, and have made the process achievable (as long as you don’t stick your head in the ground and pretend it’s not happening!). EU citizens seem to be having a hard time obtaining settled status in the UK so I’m really pleased we were making the move this way round!

A recent statement by the Spanish government went like this:

How lovely is that – brings a tear to the eye!

I think the people that will be hardest hit are those that, for years, have spent 6 months in Spain over the winter here and then 6 months in the UK – this won’t be possible after the transition period. The maximum stay will be 90 days in any 183 day period without residency. So you can be in Spain for 6 months if the year, but over two stays.

You can see Spain gearing up for this already – when I go through the airport on my Irish passport, it gets looked at and handed back. When Rog travels on his UK passport, it gets put into the machine and logged – anyone who thinks that Spain will be laid back about this in the future (like they have been in the past) is going to have a big shock!

I’m just so glad we put our best foot forward and got it all sorted last year!

Ten Top Tips – save money, help the planet and help yourself!

With so many people losing their jobs, or having been furloughed on 80% of their normal pay, I thought it would be handy to share some tips and ideas that will not only save you money, but are also more environmentally friendly ….

1. Cleaning – use vinegar, lemon and bicarbonate of soda – these three items will clean everything! When I mop the floor I use a couple of capfuls of vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice (from a real lemon, not a plastic one!) and a few drops of essential oil – sparkling floors that smell delicious! For stubborn dirt in the kitchen or bathroom add a little bicarbonate to the worktop then use vinegar and / or lemon on top – let it bubble and fizz for a few minutes then wipe away! Just a word of caution – if you have plastic / resin sinks and baths don’t use the bicarbonate as it could leave scratches! Obviously don’t use on wood – there’s a quick easy recipe for furniture polish on my recipes tips and ideas page! Keep a spray bottle with a 50/50 vinegar water mix in the bathroom so you’re not mixing it up each time.

2. Moisturiser – forget £20+ bottles of stuff that promise everything! Buy an Aloe Vera plant (or two!) and you will have a lifetime supply of gel for moisturising, for cuts and stings and for sunburn! You can scrape the gel out from inside the leaf and add a vitamin e capsule, pop it in a jar and it will keep in the fridge.

3. Save on electricity and gas bills – we have become much more aware of the energy we use here – I’ve talked about this in other posts – a few simple things like turning off the WiFi when you’re not at home or in bed, not leaving stuff on standby, will all make a difference. Look after the pennies …

4. Food – have something to eat before you go shopping – it’s proven that we’ll buy more if we’re hungry when we go shopping. Stop buying branded goods – I used to be a terrible snob about supermarket brands – more fool me! Try to swap 5 items – if 4 are great but you hate the 5th, then buy that brand for that one item, you’ll still save money on the other 4! Then choose another 5 …

5. Vegetables – look for special offers and buy seasonal veg, which will be cheaper. If there’s a fantastic offer on green beans, for example – buy extra. Blanche and freeze what you don’t need now. We’ve all got to used to eating things like strawberries and tomatoes all year round – buy them when they’re cheap and preserve some for later in the year when they’re more expensive! Find a weekend market instead of buying from the supermarket, or better still, grow some veg in the garden!

6. Meat – a slight reduction in meat in your diet can save you £££’s! Up the veg and a little less meat – good for you and good for your wallet! Buy cheaper cuts of meat and add more seasoning / herbs / spices to turn a cheap cut into a fantastic meal!

7. Hair conditioner – use diluted apple cider vinegar a couple of times a week after washing instead of conditioner – works a treat and costs peanuts!

8. The garden – need compost? Stop buying it and make your own. Have a bin in the house where food scraps go, add them to your compost pile – you don’t need much space and there’s loads of different ways to manage a compost pile (see You Tube!). If you don’t want a compost pile you can bury the scraps straight into the ground!

9. Gifts for Xmas and birthdays – I think most people will be having a lean year this year, but why not use it as an opportunity to make gifts? A bit of knitting or crochet, make some chutney or fudge, whittle some wood 😂 – whatever you can do!

10. Ok, so this one is from Rog! ‘Don’t throw anything away, it might come in handy!’ For example, I had nowhere in the kitchen for my pots and pans, so Rog made a hanging pan rack out of pallets and fencing that were just lying around. We’ve used old pipe and pallets to make raised beds, old ibc’s for the chicken coop … the list goes on! Rog loves a challenge so when I say we could do with something, he’s off, rummaging about that see what he can find!

And a bonus tip – if you have sky, virgin or similar for TV, look at what you actually watch! Do you need all those channels or do you end up watching BBC1, ITV etc but just through Sky? Could you swap to a different sort of subscription (or even just call them and haggle a better deal – be prepared to get to the point where you tell them to cancel your subscription!), change to something cheaper like Netflix- do you have Amazon prime but never make use of Prime TV? Better still, watch less TV and do something more useful instead!

I have been amazed at how wasteful we used to be and how easy it has been to spend less money, live a healthier life, and reduce our carbon footprint!

Lunatics and terrorists

I refer, of course, to the dog and the chickens!

Luna’s continual escaping started to give us real cause for concern on so many levels – she’s a big dog and rather exuberant and I was terrified she would knock someone over whilst jumping on them to play, and we really don’t want to be responsible for someone getting hurt. We also didn’t want her getting pregnant! The little finca next door has 4 dogs, one of whom is male. We soon discovered that his own harem of 3 dogs wasn’t enough. He escaped and Luna escaped, and well, I don’t need to go into details … thankfully she’s not pregnant though – a lucky escape!

So we’ve had to take some rather drastic action, which we didn’t want to do, but our choice became to either take action or take her to a shelter. She needs to learn that she has to stay on our finca all the time – there’s no fence or wall that will keep her in – she can jump a 2m wall with ease, so without turning this place into Alcatraz we had to find another solution.

We have put a long washing line up along the first terrace and we attach her lead to it – she can still run around, lie in the sun or choose from a selection of trees to lie under, but we can control where she is. We do also use a chain at night – again, it’s long enough that she can still wander about, but she can’t leave the finca. It was a bit heartbreaking at first, but after a few days we realised it actually wasn’t bothering her at all – we walk her around the perimeter of the finca 4-5 times a day so that she learns where the boundaries are. Our neighbour said we had done exactly the right thing, and that by the time she is one year old she will quieten down and will know where she can and can’t go – so this won’t be forever. If we don’t get her completely trained now while she’s young, we have no hope of controlling her when she weighs 10 stone in another 18 months!

When we go and sit on the roof terrace, she still comes with us as we can attach her lead to one of the posts up there, and she can still sit just inside the door of the house so on hot afternoons she can lay on the cool tiles on the floor.

Our next thing to sort is to get her spayed in case someone else’s dog comes on our finca and gets her up the duff, but we want to get this new regime ingrained first so she doesn’t get confused by leaving the finca or we’ll find ourselves back at square one again.

Then there’s the chickens – or the banana terrorists as Rog now calls them! We have two areas where we have banana trees, and each area has about 6 trees, some of which were really big (and you’ll notice I said ‘were’!). Yep, 4 little clucky chickens managed to fell 2 trees – turns out they have a taste for banana trees, and spent an afternoon merrily pecking at the trunks – they were so badly damaged and leaning at such an angle that Rog had no choice but to finish what the chucks started! They also had a real go at some of the pups (the young new trees that come up). So we solved the problem by fencing off the banana trees so we could start letting them free range again. At least we thought we had solved the problem …

The other afternoon was so hot – the dog was asleep under a tree, and we went for a little siesta, and left the chickens to roam. Until now they have never ventured down onto the first terrace where Luna is most of the time – they have been perfectly happy with the other two terraces. But while we were asleep they somehow managed to tiptoe past Luna into the vegetable garden! Not where we want them scratching around! So we now had to herd them back past Luna, up two flights of steps and back into the run – they’re so naughty!

Life was so much simpler before the animals, but they do make life more interesting, and I couldn’t imagine not having them now!

Ethel and Maureen loving the banana trees before they were fenced off – they could sleep and eat all in the one place!

Living an isolated life

We recently watched one of our favourite TV programmes – one that inspired us to make the move we did – Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild, and watching it again inspired me to write a post about living in isolation.

Now we’re not as isolated as some people on that program – we just decided that was a bit too much for us when we looked at some properties that really were remote over here. You start asking yourself questions like, one if one of us had an accident or got really ill … or what would I do if the unthinkable happened and I ran out of milk for tea 😱. Our finca gave us the perfect mix of being away from society, but 5 minutes in the car or a 15 minute walk puts us in the heart of the village (which is home to just 400 people!).

Since the Coronavirus pandemic hit, people all over the world have had a taste of living an isolated life even when they live in the middle of a city, and some of the friends we talked to were amazed at how good it felt – getting off the hamster wheel of eat, sleep, work, repeat. Having more time together as a family has been a great experience for many, although I appreciate that financial worries and fears about the pandemic have overshadowed the benefits for lots of people. I will also give a shout out here to parents working from home whilst home schooling their children – hats off to you. The Valium prescriptions should be free of charge for you!

So, how did it feel to spend 24/7 with your partner? I watched my parents back in the UK, who have been married for nearly 58 years, go through a range of emotions – pulling together and being supportive, bickering, out and out shouting, and then the ‘we have to get out we’re going crazy!’ It was quite a process to watch! They usually have pretty busy lives, Dad with his bowls several times a week, mum meeting up with friends for coffee etc, and then mum does drag dad out a couple of times a week for a walk. To suddenly feel like prisoners in their own home was hard for them both.

But this is the life that Roger and I specifically chose. Yes, we go shopping once a week and see other people occasionally to wave to when they’re working on their nearby fincas, but we spend 98% of our time here on the finca, with just each other, the dog and the chickens for company. Some mates pop over very occasionally for a cuppa or some lunch, but we don’t feel the need to constantly have friends over or meet up every other day! The thought of ending up in an expat Thursday night whist club fills me with absolute dread!

Don’t get me wrong, there are the occasional days where we get on each other’s nerves a bit – it would be hard not to, but the key is good communication. It does help that we are actually best friends as well as being husband and wife. We understand each other where so many people just don’t get us – I don’t think either of us ever really fitted into modern society. It always felt a bit like I was a piece of jigsaw puzzle that was being hammered into the wrong place in the jigsaw – ‘you WILL fit in here’ – and what you end up with is a mutilated jigsaw piece!

We also respect the fact that now and again we both like a bit of time on our own, and we’ll go off doing different jobs round the finca, meeting up for a cuppa mid morning! Neither of us mind a bit of quiet – we don’t feel the need to be talking about stuff constantly – being able to sit in companionable silence is wonderful. My favourite part of the day is in the evening, sitting in the roof terrace with a cuppa – talking about what we’ve achieved that day and what we plan to do tomorrow. And then to just sit … enjoy the scenery and the sounds of the countryside getting ready for bed … and the swish of the fly swat for the zillionth time 🥴

When we need to make decisions we do it together, and if one of us is really convinced that something needs to be done a particular way then the other tries to respect that and go with that idea (although we are both capable of pulling ‘that face’!) We’re working towards the same goal here – if we didn’t pull together it just wouldn’t work. But bouncing ideas off each other is invaluable, and we do know each other well enough to know what the other would probably hate – there are times when Rog starts the conversation with ‘I know you’ll say no, but …’

We’ve had a few friends and family from the UK to visit – we enjoy seeing people but we do both find that after about 3 or 4 days we’re thinking, go on now, off home with you – that’s enough talking! We have got into a rhythm here – I won’t call it a routine – rhythm is a much better word for it – and having visitors definitely disrupts that. And now and again for a few days it’s a nice disruption. For people that knew us in the UK it’s quite mind boggling for them just how different our life is now.

Maybe we’ve just got a bit antisocial 😳 We had definitely reached the point of being so tired of peopling – it can be exhausting can’t it! Worrying about what people think, what have I done now to upset them, why don’t they just leave me alone – you know how it goes. I read a fantastic quote recently that I have really taken on board – if you feel like you have disturbed someone, then don’t disturb them again (ie. if someone is being an eejit then let them get on with it, it’s their problem, not yours!) – once upon a time I would’ve worried about this stuff – not now.

We do still do some peopling – talking to our families and friends on video calls regularly – we actually have the time now to have longer and more frequent conversations. The video calling has certainly helped our parents come to terms with our move, and I feel that we have actually got closer to our kids – which is funny, moving 1500 miles away! Some people who were friends have dropped us like hot potatoes – and that’s fine, everybody’s circle of friends changes throughout life – the trick is not to get upset about it – everyone is on their own journey.

Living an isolated life isn’t for everyone, probably not for most people to be honest, but we love it – the feeling of true calm and peace is priceless.

Working outside

For the last 15 years or so in the UK I worked on the road as a rep, driving around 40,000 miles a year. There are benefits to this type of job – you avoid office politics and the obligatory small talk with people you sometimes don’t like too much 😂, but it does take its toll, both physically and mentally. Don’t get me wrong, there were days that I loved it – driving back home with a fist full of orders, knowing you’re on for good commission that month – I would have a big old sing in the car, and do my best Jerry Maguire impression ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY’ – I think Rog used to know what sort of day it had been by the way I pulled into the drive 😂

But it can be lonely, hours and hours each day in the car, and physically it totally screws your neck shoulders and back – and lets not even talk about the varicose veins on your accelerator leg! You tend to average a 12 hour day in this type of job, and then when you get in there’s emails, reports and the like to do.

So now I work just a few days a week, sitting at the computer – but only for 5 hours at a time maximum. I now earn in a month what I used to earn in 3 days, but it doesn’t matter – it’s enough. The rest of the week is spent on housework / washing and working outside on the farm. Rog spends all his time working outside (you should see his tan!). The list of jobs to do here is endless, but we’re under no pressure and there’s no-one telling us what we have to do, how we have to do it and when it has to be done by.

We work with the seasons and the weather. In the winter it’s pretty chilly in the morning and so we start a bit later after a couple of pots of tea, and then finish working outside as it gets dark (no earlier than 5pm). In the summer, we have to get started earlier before it gets too hot. We stop at 12.30 and the afternoon is spent having a leisurely lunch and a siesta. Then at about 6pm we start working again as it starts to cool down.

We take regular breaks – we’ve spent an hour today collecting firewood from our neighbours farm as he’s just given his trees a massive prune – the temperature was about 30 degrees already at 10.30am – so do that job, then take a break before starting anything else. We wouldn’t last the day if we didn’t! By the way, he did say to us to help ourselves to the wood!!

Even when I’m doing the washing, it all goes on outside in our old fashioned sink and the homemade tumbler washing machine. Lots of fresh air and quite physical!

Last winter was the coldest here for 40 years, and there were days when I didn’t want to go outside (I really do feel the cold) but Rog convinced me to help him chop some wood one day, after which I was so hot I didn’t need a fire straight away! They say there’s no wrong weather, just the wrong clothes – and we do go from thermals and jumpers to the skimpiest shorts over the course of the year!

It’s a different way of life – you gauge your day on what the weather is doing AND how you feel – now and then we have a lazy day – and why shouldn’t we! And we don’t feel bad about it anymore! Some summer evenings are just too lovely to work – it would almost be criminal not to have a sit on the terrace with a glass of something cold and just enjoy the view whilst watching the bee eaters enjoying their final flight before bed!

I don’t think I could go back to our old life – every day feels joyous here, even when we’re melting in the heat and covered in insect bites or freezing cold 😂. I used to think I was in tune with nature, but now I understand what it really means, and there’s nothing like it on this earth! Where the wind blows from at different times of year, where the moon rises, the position of the sun when the bee eaters and swifts take flight in the evening – we know when to go up on the roof by the position of the sun over the mountain, not by the clock in the house – being in the same place each day means you really see what’s changing as the year turns.

Changing the way we eat …

Since moving to Spain our diet has definitely changed – the climate changes what how and when you eat, and the veg here is so good!

Our consumption of meat has been gradually decreasing over the last year or two and we have found that a diet with less meat seems to suit us very well.

So a while back we made the decision to stop eating meat and dairy – mainly due to animal welfare reasons, but also for health reasons. We’re not calling ourselves vegetarians or vegans, as we’re still eating fish and also the eggs we get from our own chickens. We’ve never been into labels and like to do things our own way.

It has been easier than I thought, although I do miss cheese and proper salted butter some days! We’ve started using oat milk instead of cows milk, and that has been absolutely fine – took a few days to get used to it after a lifetime of cows milk, but not a real hardship. Vegan cheese is a bit odd – think cardboard with a taste of quavers, but we recently found one that is made from coconut oil rather than cashews so it has a better texture.

The Spanish aren’t really into veganism or vegetarianism – at our local market the other week the lady on the meat stand came over and asked if I wanted some meat – so I said thanks, but we don’t eat meat – she looked at me like I was a mental case and then said, well I have some chicken 😂 to which I said, thanks but that’s meat, and we don’t eat meat! So she said, what, not even chicken! I think she would’ve called for the men in white coats if she knew we didn’t eat dairy as well!!

I think a lot of vegans get a bad press because something strange happens to a small number of people when they go vegan – they turn into pious a**eholes and spout to everyone how cruel they are to eat meat and dairy products – I actually had a vegan say to me that I eat chicken periods (eggs) – I mean, come on for goodness sake!!

Well here’s my promise – we won’t be pious a**eholes!! When my parents visit here, there’s no way my Dad would stand for vegan or vegetarian meals – he would literally walk out! So meat will be on the menu for them. And we’ll have to get cows milk in for them. Just because we’ve made the choice to not eat meat, then surely people should also have the choice to eat meat if they want to? Right?

So why then do we people feel the need to keep saying ‘what you need is a nice steak’ – errr, no we don’t actually! The a**ehole thing works both ways …

We’re doing it!!!

I know, it’s just some beetroot and salad onions, but I’m made up! Skipping down to the veg garden with my little basket and coming back with these makes me so unbelievable happy. Having never grown veg before it’s going to take years to perfect the craft, but time is something we have…

And in the meantime, Rog was harvesting the first pears! I just love it.

Fresh onions and beetroot in the salad tonight with pears for pudding – life just doesn’t get better!

Something like ‘normal’ …

I’m not quite sure why, but I just can’t stand the phrase ‘the new normal’ – I think it’s because I really liked the ‘old normal’ and the thought of wearing these face masks every time we go out, and not being able to hug friends etc for the foreseeable future doesn’t bear thinking about for me.

But … our cafe in the village opened yesterday and so we lost a few hours there today catching up with friends! And it was lovely. The village market was back on today with stalls the length of the high street (well the only real street!) and there were people milling about, sitting on benches in the sunshine and chatting – it almost feels like Illar again! Driving through the village during lockdown was eerie – not a soul in sight and none of the old fellas sitting around chewing the fat – I couldn’t be happier that that is over with (for now at least).

I know, it’s not exactly a throng in the picture!

Diatomaceous Earth

We recently read about DE and decided to order some to use here on the farm.

DE is a natural substance which is made from the fossilised remains of tiny aquatic organisms whose skeletons are made from silica. It’s mainly used for insect control, although food grade DE can be purchased as there are some health benefits to using it on yourself (but I haven’t looked into this side of it!).

Although it’s a natural substance, you have to be a little careful when using it – I try not to breath it in, and keep it away from my eyes etc, as it can be harmful when sprinkling it around. It’s not poisonous, so safe to use here around the dog and chickens, which is what really attracted me to the idea of using it.

The insects don’t have to ingest it – simply walking through it will do the trick.  To an insect, the powder is like thousands of shards of glass which penetrate the insect.  It causes insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the insect’s exoskeleton – cool! This comes second only to exploding ants by mixing bicarbonate of soda and icing sugar! The bicarbonate expands inside them to explode them!

DE is only effective if it’s dry, so regular sprinkling is required.  I have used some in the chicken coop and run, around the dogs kennel (she was being attacked by ticks daily poor thing) and around the outside of the house.  So far it seems to be quite effective.

We’ve also sprinkled it around the bases of the trees where they get attacked by ants farming aphids up in the leaves, and that, combined with the systemic insecticide, is working rather well.

It’s also good to use around the vegetable garden to protect our crops, and we’re even using it in the house to deter critters coming in to bite us in the night, and around the bodega where we store food (mainly in jars, tins and plastic boxes, but you can’t be too careful!)

There really are A LOT of insects here!

You can buy DE online and it’s not too expensive – we bought a 25kg sack of it for about €25, but you can get it in smaller bags – might be a good option for lots of you in the garden!

 

 

Chicken update …

I’ve always wanted to have some hens but was never able to until now.

We’ve had them for a couple of months now, and they make me laugh every day – they really do have personalities! As I go past I always say hello to them, and they do talk back – Rog said I was going bats!#t crazy talking to them … and then I overheard him having a full blown conversation with them 😳

They are quite naughty … you can’t go into the coop with sandals on – they just love pecking at toes! They do protest at being put away at night – you get three in, turn your back for a split second to get the last one in, and then the other three escape again, but it’s all part of the fun. We’ve found that using a piece of board to herd them works well (sometimes!)

We do let them out every day or every other day – one of us sits with the dog on a lead on the terrace – think she’ll have to be much older before we can trust her around them!

They love to stretch their legs and have a good forage about, and we feel better knowing they’re having fun. We wanted to let them free range but that’s just not possible with Luna.

We’re getting 4 eggs a day and the aim is to sell them, although that hasn’t been possible with all the virus stuff going on. I’ve been giving some to our veg lady each week and in return she gives us a ton of tomatoes for free – I have jars of homemade canned toms and chutney – having so many tomatoes is almost as problematic as having 28 eggs a week! 😂

They are actually pretty easy to look after. They like to get out the second the sun comes up over the mountain in the morning, and so I get a bucketload of weeds ready the night before to give them first thing. Rog made a snazzy feeder out of tubing so that only needs filling up every few days, and so it’s a case of clean water with the weeds in the mornings. We have a small feeder that goes in the coop at night in case they get peckish. We have changed their food recently – we got a sack from the local ferriteria but it was like dust, so after a visit to our local pet shop we now have proper dried corn that they love – and at €11 for a 25kg sack that won’t break the bank!

In terms of cleaning them out, we’re using the deep litter method, so once a month we add more wood shavings into their house. That means the whole thing only needs emptying and cleaning twice a year. Their nesting box is fitted to the outside of the coop for easy access to add hay and collect the eggs. Using diatomaceous earth around the edge of the coop and in with the wood shavings keeps insects at bay (I’ll do a post on diatomaceous earth another day!). We do have some small mice that come to nick the corn at night, but there’s not much we can do about those!

These girls though …

Left to right: Balti, Maureen, Attila the Hen and Ethel

Easing of lockdown restrictions in Spain

Spain went into lockdown back in March just before the UK and I was lucky to get the last flight back into Almeria from the UK – if I hadn’t come back early I would still be in the UK now, over two months later!

The lockdown here was one of the most restrictive across Europe. Two thirds of Spaniards live in flats and spent that first 6 weeks unable to leave their flats unless they were shopping for essential items. Children weren’t allowed to go out at all (unless they had to go out with their parent where no one else could care for the child). No daily exercise was permitted and only one person could be in a car to go out for essential items. Pretty hardcore stuff. Those that thought we were mad for living out in the campo were suddenly a bit jealous as we still had our freedom out here, and daily life wasn’t too different for us.

A couple of weeks ago we transitioned into the start of an easing of these restrictions, and last Monday we went into the second phase.

Just to make things confusing, the first stage was phase 0 and the second stage is phase 1 😂. Some places, such as Madrid, didn’t meet the criteria to move to phase 1, so they’re in phase 0.5 😂 It’s nigh on impossible to know what you can and can’t do! Luckily, Almeria has been pretty good – not too many cases compared with elsewhere in Spain, so the move to the next phase was never going to be an issue here.

We still can’t leave the province (not that we need to!) and there are still no flights out of Almeria – really hoping I can get back to see my poorly sister soon, although with two weeks quarantine both ways it would hardly be worth it, as I wouldn’t be allowed to see the family in that time. With my sister being so ill, she can’t have any visitors in case she gets the virus – mum and dad go over and wave to her through the window – brain cancer at any time is devastating, but this pandemic has made it even harder for everyone in the family. It would be good to see her again though, and to support mum and dad.

But, last Wednesday did see us going food shopping together for the first time since March! It was quite an event!

Cafes are allowed to open again, but customers can only use the outdoor terrace and with a maximum capacity of 50%. There are stringent hygiene requirements too and twice daily disinfecting of the premises, which has meant that lots of cafes have chosen to stay closed, fearful of getting it wrong, including our one in the village. But we did stop at a different cafe whilst out shopping – there wasn’t a whole load of social distancing going on, but we didn’t mind – it was lovely to see people out laughing and kids running around again.

A few more shops were open so we were able to get some bits – only shops that are less than 400 sqm can open, and the number of people in there at any one time is limited, but it’s a step forward.

So fingers crossed we’re in the road back to a more sociable life with the freedom to travel again …

It’s that jam time of year ….

Last year when we moved in here at the end of March we knew nothing! We didn’t even know what some of the trees were! In April we went ‘oh, that’s an apricot tree’ and in May said ‘oh, they’re ripe!’ At this point I just wasn’t prepared – no jam jars, no sugar, no tried and tested recipe!

This year of course is different. I maintain a good stock of jars, I have recipes and knew the apricots would be ready around this week so made sure I had plenty of sugar.

Not all of them are ripe yet, but we did pick 24lbs yesterday afternoon so the jam making started last night and will all be done over the next couple of days – it’s so nice to be a little more in the know this year! The thing with apricots is they turn quickly, so when we pick them you then have to get on with it whether that’s jam, chutney or bottling them in syrup.

I’ll share my fabulous jam recipe again because it really is beautiful jam and is so easy to make:

3lb apricots

600g granulated  sugar

Wash, quarter and de-stone the apricots and put into a non reactive bowl

Add the sugar and stir

Cover and leave for 12  hours to macerate (hence the session starts the night before!)

After 12 hours pop it in a large preserving pan, bring to the boil and let it boil merrily for 10 minutes. Stir frequently while it’s coming to the boil while the sugar dissolves, and once boiling just give it a stir every couple of minutes.

Place into sterilised jars

Literally, that’s it! Nicest jam I have ever eaten – I guarantee you’ll never eat shop bought apricot jam ever again!

I mean, homemade cranberry scones topped with apricot jam – don’t mind if I do!!!

 

First aid in the campo and the wonder that is iodine!

We’re forever getting bites and stings, scratching ourselves on the trees and the like, so having a decent first aid kit is quite important.  But there’s one thing we have started using all the time since we moved here, and that’s iodine – it’s miraculous!

Obviously iodine is used by doctors and hospitals all the time, but it was never very common for it to be used at home very much in the UK.

There was a bottle here when we moved in, and so on some of our bigger cuts we thought one day, we should put some iodine on it to stop it getting infected … and that was it – we now use it almost daily!  Bites, stings, cuts, everything.  I recently had a really bad eye infection and so got the iodine out – it was a lot better by the time I got around to speaking to the doctor a week later, but hadn’t quite killed off the infection, so eye drops had to be used to finish it off!  But I would’ve been in a right mess without the iodine!

We have two first aid cupboards here – one in the bedroom, which we refer to as the ‘ooh I don’t feel very well’ medicine cabinet – simple remedies, paracetamol, homeopathic medicine and essential oils etc, and one in the bathroom which is the ‘oh my god I’ve cut my arm off’ medicine cabinet.  The latter has serious first aid stuff – the iodine, tournequets, big ass bandages and dressings, saline eye wash etc – the one we used when Rog chopped his finger off last year!

Our neighbour reckons an ambulance would come out here, but the last turn into our lane and the last 100 metres would be impossible for an ambulance, so we need to make sure we can do immediate first aid here.  We do have a house address for official use, but only a few of the locals would be able to tell anyone how to get here, so we have GPS co-ordinates to give out and can send the exact location via things like Google maps – these are all things you have to think of living out here.  You wouldn’t want to be trying to work out how to direct an ambulance here if one of our limbs was hanging off!

Fingers crossed (although Rog struggles to cross his fingers now 😂) we’ll never need to make that call …

Living with solar power… a year on

Having completed just over a year of being off grid, I really think we have this licked now! Not really knowing what the climate would be like across a whole year meant we had to try and anticipate what we would need to get through winter.

We have three decent sized solar panels, a 2000 watt inverter, charge controller and six big batteries to store the energy in here.   We replaced the ancient system that was here when we moved in as it was just 1 x 100 watt panel, very old batteries and a 150 watt inverter!  What we have now gives us enough electricity to run the compost loo fan 24 hours a day, for charging phones, the toothbrush, battery packs, running the WiFi and the radio / speaker. We can also run the computer when I work in the day as long as it’s not really cloudy. We have to be careful how many things we have going at once, so try to stagger the usage.  On bad winter days we turn the wifi off for most of the day so we can have it on in the evening for a few hours – running the compost loo fan is way more important than having wifi!!  We added a wind turbine last autumn to try and boost the power on cloudy days and overnight – I wouldn’t say it’s been a roaring success, but it helps to maintain the batteries rather than add to the stored power.

We can have lights on, but they’re quite a drain on the power even though they’re LED, so we have a couple of solar lights that we charge up outside during the day, and another we can charge on the usb in the day, which is a great light in the evening.  Worse case scenario, we always have a stock of candles. It all comes down to finding other ways of achieving your goals, and prioritising what’s most important.  We can use the light in the bathroom in the evening as it’s not on constantly, but we do find these days that our eyes don’t like bright artificial lights!

On cloudy days we really limit our usage. We both have battery packs that we can charge up on sunny days to use on cloudy days so we don’t need to draw on the power, and we have the all important back up petrol generator so I can work in bad weather.

But it’s funny how quickly we’ve got used to living like this! It just takes a little juggling and organisation, but we do it now without really having to think about it!

In the kitchen though, I didn’t want to be beholden to having sunshine to be able to cook, wash etc, so opted for as few electrical items as possible. I did bring my food processor, but this has been resigned to the back of the cupboard as it will only work on the generator – it’s too powerful for the solar on start up.  I can use it if I really need to, but its a bit of a pain to turn on the generator, run a lead into the house just to blitz something for 30 seconds!  I have a spiralizer and have just treated myself to a pull cord mini chopper / processor, and I have to say it’s brilliant!  But other than those, everything is just done the old fashioned way by hand with a wooden spoon or knife – it actually feels like real cooking again!

We have a fridge with a small freezer, which runs on butane gas – we go through a gas bottle every 3-4 weeks, which costs about 13 euros, so an effective way to run a fridge.  We have a small camping oven with two gas rings, which is ok for cooking on – this also runs on gas, and a gas bottle lasts 6 weeks, so pretty efficient.  I simply avoid cooking things that take hours – lots of dishes that take 20-30 minutes works well on so many fronts!  For most of the summer it’s too hot to eat anything other than salads anyway! Our hot water is on gas too – in the summer a gas bottle lasts nearly 3 months – all you want are cold showers when the temperature doesn’t drop under 26 degrees at night and averages 36 in the day!  In the winter we get 6-8 weeks on a gas bottle.  So we average 2 gas bottles a month – about 26 euros – I wish my gas bill in the UK had been that low!

I’ve got the clothes washing down to a fine art now.  I have a small hand crank washing machine in the house for clothes and a larger one outside that Rog built for duvets, towels etc.  When we got here there was an old fashioned sink outside with a washboard (you can actually still buy these new here!). Rog has done it up, added a pipe to drain away the water etc and this is brilliant for getting really dirty work clothes clean.  Now that the weather has gone back to normal at last, the washing dries in no time outside, and with the afternoon breeze it doesn’t need ironing – in fact, I haven’t ironed a single thing since we moved to Spain! It’s been a revelation!

We weighed up putting in a bigger solar system so we could run things like a fridge, but the cost was pretty steep – it would only break even after ten years compared to what we spend on gas, and at that point, parts of the solar system would need replacing, so not a cost effective option.

We bought a decent generator when we moved here – being able to work to earn a few bob is essential, but we also use this for some of Rogers’ power tools for doing jobs outside – there are times when you just need to use beefy tools for some jobs!  We bought a rechargeable drill with a spare battery pack, so one on and the spare charged up as a back up, and this does for most jobs.

Our only source of heating for the winter is the wood burning stove, but as our house is tiny this pretty much heats the whole house.  We have a fan that sits on top of the stove to maximise output, and this is powered solely by the heat from the fire – an excellent purchase! We tend to only use this in the evening – if it’s cold in the day it’s warm clothes and move around (difficult when I’m teaching, so out of view I have a hot water bottle and a blanket!).

We don’t have air conditioning here – some people think we’re crazy to live in Spain without it, but the house stays pretty cool in the summer, and we do have a tiny fan just to keep the air moving in the day. We found last year that we opened all the windows in May and they stayed open until September! We have mosquito nets up at all the windows to stop the critters otherwise leaving them open just wouldn’t be an option!

We use strimmers outside for weed control, a rotavator and of course the wood chipper, and these all run on petrol. As they aren’t in constant daily use they don’t cost us much at all – we rotavate a couple of times a year, strim every couple of months in autumn and winter but more often in the summer (almost a constant job like the forth bridge!) and wood chip maybe 6 – 8 times a year.

Back in the UK we never gave a second thought to using gas and electric – just turn it on, and the direct debit goes out each month.  Now we have to be more careful, and prioritise what jobs to do and what to use, but it’s really no problem at all.  I would imagine that living off solar in colder or cloudier climates would be harder and more of a challenge.

I can honestly say that with the set up we have, living off the grid is pretty easy and less of a compromise than I ever thought it would be.

Preserving fresh food

One of the plans we had for our new life was to grow and preserve as much of our own food as possible. We’ve had some cabbage, broad beans, peas and onions from the garden so far, with lots more planted. So far we’ve eaten whatever veg we’ve produced, but we plan to increase how much we grow each year as we find our feet.

From our fruit we either make jams, chutneys, sell it or just eat it!

Yesterday my lovely veg lady gave me about 4 kilos of tomatoes in return for some eggs – now we like tomatoes, but there’s no way we could eat that many before they go off, so I set to this morning to bottle them so they’ll be like tinned tomatoes which I can then use in dishes.

I know lots of people have started growing some veg now because of the worries around food supply chains with the pandemic, so I thought I’d share how to preserve tomatoes, and also details of my favourite, no nonsense preserving book. I’m guessing that come the summer people are going to suddenly be inundated with tomatoes!

First, my favourite book is this one by John and Val Harrison:

It’s practical and easy to follow – it’s become my little bible here!

There are a few bits of equipment that I would recommend you get, namely a jam thermometer and jar tongs (worth every penny!) A decent preserving pan is helpful for jams and chutneys (I stole my mums!).

For jams and chutneys you can use ordinary jars – I re-use these as long as the seal on the lid is still good. For bottling and preserving use le parfait clip top jars and mason jars. All are easy to get hold of in the UK and can be used re-used for years, simply buy new rubber seals or lids occasionally to make sure you always get a good seal.

To bottle or can tomatoes, I skin the tomatoes first – cut a small cross in the bottom and pop them in a pan of boiling water for a minute until you see the skins loosening – take them out with a slotted spoon and peel off the skin, cut out the hard core and chop up.

Once this is done simply bring your tomatoes slowly to a simmer, stirring frequently.

I wash my jars and then pop them in a warm oven to dry and sterilise while I’m cooking the tomatoes – if you have a dishwasher simply wash them on the hottest wash.

Ladle the tomatoes in leaving half an inch headroom. Add a teaspoon of salt or lemon juice and put the lid on. Pop into a water bath (saucepan of hot water with either a cloth in the bottom or a metal trivet, and make sure the jars don’t touch each other) and let it bubble away for 40 minutes to seal. The water needs to be 1-2 inches over the jars, so keep an eye on the water level and top up when necessary.

Once done, lift the jars out and leave standing for 12 hours – and that’s it! You can check the seal by unclipping or parfait jars – the lid should stay sealed (if it doesn’t it needs to go back in the water bath) or unscrewing mason jars – the middle section of the lid should stay put. Your tomatoes will be good for a year.

Here are the ones I’ve just finished:

You can add herbs or garlic etc – I’ve just left mine plain and will add the garlic and herbs when I use them in a dish.

Fingers crossed I’ll be sun drying our own tomatoes and preserving them in our own olive oil later this year!

Baby oranges

I’ve found watching the life cycle of oranges quite fascinating over the last year. The UK isn’t well placed for growing citrus fruit, so this has all been totally new to us.

The trees blossomed about a month ago, just as we were harvesting the oranges, and since then the trees have been humming with the sound of hundreds of bees busy pollinating.

The blossom is just about done now, which means that next week we’ll be able to insecticide – some of the trees have an aphid problem so this won’t be a minute too soon. But while the bees are doing their thing you just let them get on with it and don’t interfere! The smell of the orange blossom has been heady to say the least – I don’t suffer with hay fever, but it even got me sneezing!

As the blossom falls away, the trees reveal their little babies!

The tiny green balls are what will become the oranges that we will harvest next year. The harvest around here starts in mid January and goes right through to April. We have to wait for the call from the cooperative to tell us when to harvest, as they can’t be sitting around for weeks in crates. This year we got the call which gave us a week to harvest and get the oranges to the drop off, which was fine.

Lots of these tiny oranges will fall off over the next few months – the trees will shed about a third or more of them to make sure it can grow all the other oranges to perfection.

Our job over the next year is to insecticide every 3 months, water regularly and fertilise 3 times. We also keep an eye out for dead wood and crossing branches that need cutting out. There’s no specific time of year to prune orange trees – it’s just an ongoing job throughout the year. We did remove some of the bigger branches that needed to come out after the harvest in March – it’s important to let light into the middle of the tree, as one thing oranges do need is sunshine, and lots of it!

The motivation to change

I’m pretty sure that the current situation with the virus has given lots of people food for thought about their lives, their dreams and what the future might hold.

Motivation is a funny thing – other people can’t make you feel motivated, that only comes from inside you. You can be inspired by others that brings about the motivation within you, but only you can make things happen to bring about a change.

So what inspired us to make our big change – well, there were a number of factors and we really reached the point where we couldn’t ignore the call any more.

As a child I used to go to Ireland each summer to stay with my Grandmother. She lived in a small village right in the middle of rural Ireland, and we were related to a large percentage of the village! My Mum grew up a way out of the village with her Granny, but spent most of her time on the farm down the lane from her Granny’s cottage – Nancy and Joe weren’t actually blood relatives, but her farm was a sanctuary for my Mum. I loved it there – every morning I would get up early and walk to Nancys’ in my wellies in time for milking, which was all done by hand, and then I used to take the milk up to the top of the lane with Joe in the donkey and cart. On the way back we would stop at what was my great granny’s cottage to see my aunts – Queenie and Kay, for a cup of tea and a chat. The farm had no electricity, no running water, no bathroom – proper off grid! The farmhouse was thatched and the kitchen had a big open fire – the only thing for cooking and heat. There were chickens and dogs wandering around the yard and the donkey lived in the orchard. My days were spent collecting eggs in the hay barn, taking the cows down to the brook for a drink of water, helping Joe in the fields – it was perfect and I loved it. I used to have to go back to Nans for lunch, but the minute that was done I’d be back to the farm – I spent every possible moment there and would’ve stayed there forever given the chance. I have so many funny stories about those years in Ireland, I should probably write a book!

But those sorts of dreams rarely become a reality – you leave school or university, get a job, get a mortgage, have kids, and somehow your childhood dreams just vanish. You wake up one day in a house that’s too big now just for the two of you, mortgaged to the hilt and working all hours to pay for a house you never spend any time in.

Yoga and meditation played a huge part too – they help you to think clearly and give you the ability to shut out the ‘noise’.

Then one day, out of nowhere, Rog said, ‘let’s move!’. ‘Where to’, I said.  ‘Anywhere’, he said. And that’s how it started …

Time for some honest list making and planning – so much planning and research went into this.  We spent 2-3 months defining what sort of life we wanted and how we could make it work financially. We put the house on the market just before Easter, and then put most of our stuff on ebay and gumtree – every item we sold got us one step closer.  The house sold in August and completed in November and that was us off … and the rest is history as they say!

So roughly half of the world’s population is currently in lockdown, and has been now for many weeks … giving people time to think and dream … what changes have you been dreaming about, and more importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Local Wildlife

Living here gives us amazing views, not just of the beautiful scenery, but also of the local wildlife. At this time of year some beautiful birds return, and there’s nothing better than sitting in the roof terrace watching the bee eaters do their final flight before bed, followed by the acrobatic swifts that sometimes fly so close to us they make us duck in our chairs!

So I thought I’d share some of the wildlife that we’ve seen over the last year that were new to us – by the way, I can’t take credit for the photos below! We never manage to catch any of these as we don’t have our phones on us when we’re outside!

1. Wild pig

These have caused us a few problems over the last year, and we had to set traps (but secretly hoped we would never catch one – they’re pretty bad tempered!). My close encounter with one the other week hasn’t done anything to improve my opinion of them! When the river dries up in the summer they come digging around the roots of the trees for water.

2. Spanish fox

A visitor a few months ago – the main difference to the foxes in the UK is these look better fed, and are huge! But they are just as bold as the ones in the UK!

3. Spanish carpenter bee

This is one of only three insects to make it on the list – obviously we have hundreds of insects here, but this one is spectacular – they are enormous and frequently fly into the window with a colossal bang! Initially we nicknamed them ‘what the f@&?k are you’s’ which to be honest is a better name than carpenter bee!

4. Ladder snake

I’ve only seen two of these – they’re not poisonous, but I still wouldn’t fancy getting bitten! We did have a snake in the house last year but we struggled to identify it – Rog remembers it having a diamond pattern on its back, which matches a very venomous viper we get here, but let’s not dwell on that or I’ll be having nightmares!!

5. Gecko

Now initially I was nervous of these, but not any more – they’re really sweet , eat mosquitos and are terrified of humans – hilariously they think you can’t see them if they don’t move!

6. Iberian blue tailed lizard

I’ve struggled to find a picture of these – they’re small and move that quickly that it’s impossible to get a picture! Their tail is electric blue, very pretty! The one below is similar but the tail isn’t quite the right colour.

7. Bee eaters

These birds are beautiful – they do a big show as the sun starts to set behind the mountain, and the last few rays show off their iridescent colours fantastically

8. Benelli’s Eagle

Fabulous to watch circling above our house! When they arrive all the other birds take cover and hide!

9. Buzzard

We don’t see too many of these but have spotted a few over the last year

10. Kestrels

We watched two babies growing up and being taught by mum how to hunt last year – it was fabulous seeing them grow and learn

11. Golden oriole

This is such a beautiful bird – in the summer they come in the morning and sit in our trees to sing to us while we have breakfast!

12. Hoopie

Very striking bird – they nest just a hundred metres from our house down the hill, and we can see them coming and going during the day. Lovely call too!

13. Goldfinch

So pretty, and I love the way that finches fly – it’s not so much flying as occasional mad flapping to stop themselves from falling out of the sky!

14. Greenfinch

Finches are very traditional birds to keep in small cages in Spain – you’ll see them in lots of cafes – personally I prefer to see them flying around in the open air.

15. Cicada

These drive us to distraction in the summer – the noise becomes unbelievable in the afternoon – when they finally stop the silence is almost deafening, but in a really good way!

16. Locust

I hate these things – Luna loves trying to catch them and toys with them until they die. They don’t so much fly as fling themselves about, and they’re huge. As you walk along the spring past you – ugh! They also seem pretty resistant to insecticides – I’d happily take a flame thrower to them!

So there we are, some of the best and worst creatures we share the finca with!

Irish Soda Bread

I just thought I’d share my recipe – it’s so easy and doesn’t require yeast (which is like unicorn poo here and I’m guessing it’s the same everywhere!). I’ve been using this recipe for years and it’s foolproof!

1lb flour – just use plain flour or half plain and half wholemeal – either is delicious

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

300ml milk (ideally buttermilk but if not just ordinary whole or semi skimmed milk and you can add a drop of lemon juice to ordinary milk, but you don’t have to!)

3 fl oz lukewarm water

Chuck it all in a bowl and mix up with a fork. Don’t knead or mix too much. Shape into a 7 inch round and place on a greased baking tray. Cut a deep cross on the top and sprinkle with a little flour. Cook on 200 degrees for 30 minutes then turn upside down and give it another 5-10 minutes.

You can also add some fried onion and bacon bits to the dough before baking – extremely naughty but takes it to another level!

Then the only tough thing is trying to resist eating massive chunks of it while it’s still hot!

We didn’t resist today … half gone already 😂

Spring has … limped in

After one of the worst winters here for decades, Spring is attempting to get going. The weather has improved slightly this week, actually managed a wear a t-shirt yesterday and today for a few hours! Looking at the forecast it’s going to be up and down over the next few weeks, but at least it’s warmer now while it’s raining!

But despite the weather, Spring is doing her thing and stuff is growing – it’s my favourite time of the year.

The nisperos are growing visibly bigger every day:

And the orange blossom, which has been humming with hundreds of bees every time the rain stops, is starting to die off to make way for baby oranges:

The apricots are going great guns – another month or so and they’ll be ready:

Baby pears are forming:

The vines are taking off:

Almonds are getting big, but won’t be ready until August / September:

And the olive blossom is getting ready to open:

We still have some poorly trees that we’ve been trying to rescue since we got here – we have 12 chirimoyas that really don’t look well at all – I’d hate for these to fail as the fruit is delicious and really expensive to buy! A handful of the orange trees are struggling, but they’ve had a really good hard prune, which will be kill or cure … time will tell. The big challenge at the moment is the weeds – we don’t use herbicide and could literally spend day after day pulling them out and strimming! The good thing now, of course, is that we pull them up and give them to the chickens!

We leave the wood sorrel and chickweed to grow freely – these are good for the soil and the chickens favourites. Since we started giving them a huge pile of weeds every day, egg production has gone through the roof – we’re getting 28 a week – that’s a lot of eggs for two people! We were planning to sell them, but with the current lockdown restrictions we can’t to that – so we’re giving some away and eating the rest, scrambled egg for lunch most days – I’m not complaining!!

Update on Luna

Well she’s about 24 weeks old now, and she has a surname now ‘tic’ – get it, Luna Tic 😂

And that’s exactly what she is! Nothing is safe or sacred. We used to have lovely fairy lights and solar lamps on the roof terrace – nope, all been eaten now! The list of things she has eaten and destroyed is long, but I couldn’t imagine not having her here now.

Her tail has a mind of it’s own, she can clear the coffee table on the terrace in one swish! We made the decision on day one that she would not be allowed in the house, although she regularly sneaks in when she thinks we’re not looking.

Yesterday I was weeding the veg garden – she crept in the house, stole my knitting and wound it around all the trees outside – 3 balls of wool, demolished.

And cacti, she loves eating them- spikes and all.

But she does guard this place and us so well – at night she chases goodness knows what around the farm! And she did see off the wild pig the other week! That makes up for the destructive tendencies in my view!

When we got her she weighted about 15kg (at 12 weeks) and we think she’s now about 30kg at 24 weeks – she’s going to be a big girl!

And we do love her …

Worrying times …

Because I teach English to students in China, I’ve had many first hand conversations about the lockdown that started over there in January and have watched as the virus progressed across the world. I think most people felt sorry for the Chinese and didn’t really think back in January that we would all be where we are now.

Spain has been hit hard as you will have seen in the news, initially around Madrid and in Northern Spain, but it is inevitably spreading to all parts, despite this being our third week of lockdown. Apparently the rate of infections is slowing but the death rate will continue to increase for some time yet.

And so now it’s on our doorstep. There’s an old people’s home in the village, and when I ventured out for food last week I saw a military vehicle going in, and in recent days there has been serious disinfecting going on around the village – and we found out why – there are multiple cases amongst the residents and staff. This is so sad – we have seen many care homes around Spain being decimated by the virus, and I really hope the residents and staff will be ok.

Even more worrying are signs locally that people are getting lockdown weary. I went out for food yesterday to our nearest larger town, Alhama, and loads of people were out shopping without masks or gloves, and ignoring the social distancing rules. I made sure we now have enough food to keep us going for several weeks – meat we can do without, and we get eggs daily from the chickens. We buy our veg from the local market each week, but all markets were closed at the start of the lockdown, so my lovely veg lady, Alexandra, has offered to bring my order into the village each week –  a much better option and less risky than the supermarket. The plan now is to hole up for as long as possible so we can avoid food shopping in supermarkets. We might be eating veg with butter beans and chickpeas for some time to come!

The lockdown over here has tighter regulations than other countries currently have – we can only go out for food and medicines, and all non essential businesses and shops are closed. The postal system is barely operational now too. It does me wonder how things will be in another few weeks – the world has changed so much in such a short space of time. I realise how lucky I am still being able to work and earn a few quid, although it has been quieter in the last week as life starts to return to normal for people in China – having been indoors for so long they’re all desperate to get back out and about again.

The weather is actually disrupting our day to day lives more than the lockdown – it has rained for weeks now, but hopefully, if the forecast is right (!), we’re at the end of this unseasonably bad spell, which means we can crack on with the jobs that need doing outside! We have actually joked that the Government ordered in this weather to make people stay in!

I guess all we can do today is sit in front of the fire with a good book!

Has Mother Nature just had enough of us?

It’s been my opinion for many years that the day would come when Mother Nature, like an angry Mum, would just go ‘stop, that’s enough’ (in that tone of voice that only Mums have!). Do you think we’ve reached that point?

I mean, look at what we’ve done to the planet …

Climate change – arguments are there that it’s a natural cycle of our planet and other arguments that we are the cause – I sit somewhere in the middle on the fence in this one, but what I do know is that the levels of pollution that spew out are harming us, the animals and our planet.

Extinction of species – we are seeing an extinction rate estimated between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate and since 1970 it has been reported that we have lost 60% of species on this planet.

Deforestation – I mean, really, we need trees to survive, but that hasn’t stopped us cutting down hundreds of millions of acres of natural forest across the globe. One and a half acres of forest is cut down EVERY SECOND.

Over extraction of minerals and natural resources go hand and hand with hyper consumerism and waste. The stuff we throw away, stuff that we probably didn’t need in the first place … filling our oceans with rubbish, killing the wildlife.

Mono farming – we are losing soil at an unprecedented rate across the planet – some reports suggest that within 40 years over 30% of the worlds arable land will become unproductive … think about that … and with a booming population that is estimated to be heading towards 9-10 billion within 50 years, our planet will not be able to sustain us.

In just a few weeks of the virus outbreak, skies above smog chocked cities are clearing, and even the canals in Venice have fish returning …

So, the big question – has Mother Nature decided to act now, in time to be able to recover the planet before we finish it off for good?

Or are you a conspiracy theorist … is this Mother Nature or a man made weapon?

For the first time in most peoples lives, we actually have time, being stuck in our homes, to think about these things.

Maybe we should all think about what we could change in our lives if / when we get through this? We’ve got to learn something from it, haven’t we?

The lockdown in Spain.

So we’re on day 10 of lockdown here in Spain, and it was announced over the weekend that it has been extended until 11th April (minimum).

After returning from the UK 9 days ago and showing no symptoms, I decided it was time to venture out as we were getting very low on supplies, needed petrol for the generator, food for the animals and a gas bottle. Rog has asthma so I was reluctant for him to go, and also the control freak in me wanted to do the food shopping (being the cook!) 😂

Over the last few days I have been sitting here wondering whether Spain has been panic buying like I saw with my own eyes in the UK. Being 1km away from the village, we haven’t seen a soul and had no idea what was happening out there. I know that there has been panic buying in places like Madrid, but would we be different being a more rural community?

So off I went with my face mask and gloves and shopping list. First stop was for a gas bottle, chicken feed and dog food – all good. A piece of tape on the floor in front of the counter ensured we kept our distance – the chap wore a face mask and gloves. He got my shopping and popped it in the car for me, as he always does, but with both of us respecting the distance rules of 2 meters. Definitely quieter than normal on the roads as we can only go out for essentials.

Then on to the bank for the cash point – all good again, orderly very small queue, everyone keeping their distance, but still saying good morning to each other.

Gloomy thoughts of panic buying were starting to disperse in my mind – but I still had to do the supermarket run …

At the entrance to Dia supermarket I was met with a table with a pile of plastic gloves – mandatory to use while shopping. They bake their own bread in this store, and there was plenty of it on the shelves – in fact, there was plenty of everything. It was calm, orderly, and no sign of panic buying (with the exception of … you’ve guessed it, TOILET ROLL) – there was very little stock of loo roll, but the shelves had been filled with kitchen roll instead. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg, meat- everything. The sense of relief was enormous and resulted in me buying just a week’s worth of food, with the exception of topping up a few things that I usually keep stocks of that have now run out at home, like flour, cereals and milk.

At 8pm every evening, the locals in the village come out into their balconies to sing the national anthem and applaud – we can sometimes here the music from our village and from the next one down the valley. I’m sure just being able to wave to friends and neighbours lifts their spirits.

Spain, I applaud your sense of community and thoughtfulness of others.

There is such a thing as too much excitement in one day …

Sitting on the roof terrace this afternoon, Luna lying next to my chair (quite unusual in itself as that involves being still!) when I noticed something in her fur – bugger, a tick. Huge, dirty great tick. We’ve never had to remove one of these before so we checked on old faithful (You Tube) grabbed a pair of tweezers and set to. Nope, not happening. When you’ve got a 5 month old puppy who weighs about 50lbs and decides she doesn’t want to be messed with then it just ain’t happening.

Back to You Tube – ah! Neem oil or apple cider vinegar – squirt either on and stand back.

So an hour or so later I thought I should check to see if the tick had gone, put the chickens away for the night etc etc. We’ll blow me, the neem oil worked – no more tick – fantastic! After a small tousle I managed to get some iodine on the wound. Put the chickens away, tidied up the terrace (Luna is currently eating her way through all the deckchairs) and headed back down the steps to the house.

Something caught my eye as I got to the second terrace, and at the same moment Luna went mad and raced off – about 20 feet away was a wild boar. Now we’ve seen the damage these things can do – a chap in the village recently got gored and ended up with 40 stitches in his leg. We had a boar problem last year – they were coming up and digging under the olive trees for water so we set some traps and blocked up where they were coming in – and we’ve not had a problem since, or so we thought!

So Luna is going mental as this boar takes off, and I’m shouting to Rog indoors, so then he comes and and takes off after Luna and the boar … returning a few minutes later to say it’s gone – phew! Well now we know what she goes mad about in the night!

That’s life in the campo!

Feeling incredibly lucky …

When we made this move I came off all social media platforms, except LinkedIn, and it’s heart breaking today to see so many people posting that they have been made redundant this week because of the Coronavirus emergency. It’s not like there will be many companies hiring in these uncertain times – I genuinely send all my best thoughts to anyone facing this situation at the moment.

We faced a similar situation back in the 2008 financial crisis when we both lost our jobs and almost lost everything – but we didn’t – there is help out there and my advice is tell creditors now, before you start missing payments – it took us years to get back on our feet, but we didn’t lose the house. I guess the other big advice is this – it’s all just stuff, and actually life becomes much simpler if you scale everything back. It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s who you’re with that counts.

It made me think back to when we were in the UK – huge mortgage and pressure to earn X amount every month just to survive. Western society encourages people to achieve more by owning more, borrowing more – and whilst no one could’ve predicted this pandemic, it shows how fragile modern society really is.

Ok, so these days we don’t own very much, but we have everything we need, and more importantly, we’re financially free of the system. I’m counting every lucky star over our heads today.

Mission Orange Harvest completed!

Well we weighed in at 1,008 kilos – happy with that. Last night definitely required a hot water bottle on the lower back to ease the pain!

Another week and I’m not sure we would’ve been able to take them in …

Looking at this photo does give us a massive sense of achievement – when we moved in we had to give the trees a hard prune as they hadn’t been done for a long time, so we’re convinced we wouldn’t get that many oranges this year. We’re pruning again now that the harvest is finished – the trees are already in flower and full of our busy little friends pollinating!

It’s naranja day!

So amidst the Coronavirus situation, we have the orange harvest.

While I was in the UK last week Rog got the call to say that our window for taking the oranges in was Tuesday – Thursday this week. Rog spent last week harvesting as many as he could in preparation for the drop off and he has filled every crate bucket and bag we have here leaving only about 5 trees still to harvest.

Of course then, everything changed with the declaration at the weekend so we were sitting here this morning wondering whether we would be allowed to move our oranges up to the hopper, which is on the main road just outside the village.

But we just got the call – yes, we can take them up there! Hurrah!

So today, in our little 35 year old car, we need to shift 1,300 kg of oranges! And only 1 person can be in the car … so Rog will take them up there and I’ll refill the empty crates he brings back ready for the next run … going to be a long day, but a really exciting one!

The ‘State of Alarm’ in Spain

It’s been a bit of couple of weeks – I was due to go to the UK this week to see the family, but ended up going a week ago as my sister is unwell. I planned to come back on my original return date of the 25th, but on hearing that a State of Alarm had been declared here we thought I had better check the flight situation last night – and lucky that I did. I managed to get in a flight into Almeria this morning and am back at home. It turned out to be the last flight into Almeria from London for the foreseeable – and it was only once we landed that the crew told us that we took off with no permission to land – that only came through when we were halfway to Spain. Phew! Gatwick was deserted this morning – there was me and one other person going through security and there were only about 60 people on my flight.

So a State of Alarm is stage one, and can be followed by a State of Emergency, and then the most serious level is a State of Siege (which actually sounds quite exciting!).

So what can we and can’t we do – well for one, you have to be a resident to get into the country. We can go food shopping and go out for medical supplies. Non essential shops, bars, restaurants etc are closed for at least 15 days. We can still get supplies for the dog and the chickens, you can get gas bottles and petrol. You can’t go out unless you are going for supplies, going to work or going to a medical centre. Only one person in the car – clearly want to avoid family trips out. Basically you have to have a good reason for leaving your house – Rog was able to come and get me from the airport this morning – we didn’t see any police but could’ve justified our trip as we were returning to our habitual residence.

Funny, we bought this apocalypse proof place out in the sticks and when the proverbial poo hit the fan, where was I – in the middle of London! I do think a zombie apocalypse would’ve been much more fun than flu! Sorry, I shouldn’t make light of this, and genuinely hope that our elderly friends and families stay safe and healthy.

There’s still food in the supermarkets here – not the stupid panic buying like we’ve seen in the UK in the last few days.

All in all, it won’t make a lot of difference to us as we spend 95% of our time at home anyway – just means that just one of us can go out to get what we need – no real hardship.

It will be interesting to see what happens here over the next few weeks and whether we get raised to a State of Emergency. It will also be interesting to see how the UK responds this week and whether they pursue the herd immunity plan or follow the rest of Europe and go into lockdown.

Strange times indeed …

The veg garden

Well the veg garden is coming along nicely now. We have created separate areas and grouped the veg together with plants that like growing together – companion planting. Because we have odd shaped terraced land with lots of trees, it’s a case of lots of small beds here and there in between the trees! Also, being a real novice here it’s very much trial and error this year – I have a feeling we’ll have a big glut of veg and then nothing, so I’m trying to plan how to avoid that!

We didn’t have money to spend on expensive raised beds, so have marked the beds out with things we already have here, like a cut up IBC and some pipe! The bean poles were free – they are a bamboo-like grass that grows abundantly by the river, so we pop down there with a saw and help ourselves. The tops are thinner so we’ll use these bits as canes for the tomatoes. Amazing what you can do for free!

In the mornings we use the ash from the fire around different plants and trees, and also the morning coffee grounds go out too – all helps them to grow!

Last autumn I planted broad beans, peas, cabbage, onions and garlic, and this month I have sewn lots of seeds for lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, red beans, leeks, spinach, beetroot and butternut squash. I still have potatoes to go in, and will sew some wild garlic in with those.

I planted nasturtiums in with the cabbages and marigolds with the beans to keep insects away, and it seems to work well. I’ll put some basil with the tomatoes too. The insect population is steadily increasing as the days become warmer, so we’ll see what happens!

There is a real joy in nipping down the garden to cut some cabbage leaves for dinner and I can’t wait for the rest to start growing!

I’m also planning a small herb garden but haven’t quite decided what to grow or where yet – we have got mint and spearmint growing on one of the banks with the vetiver – it can go as mad as it likes along there, it won’t interfere or overtake the herb garden or veg as it’s as the other end of our land. I’ll be using creeping thyme on another bank to help secure the earth and suppress weeds there.

A year on and there’s still so much to do!

The chickens are here!

I am delighted to introduce Ethel, Maureen, Atila the Hen and Balti!

Ethel and Maureen are named after our Mums and the other two, well, the names just made us laugh!

We are planning to let them free range in the day and use the coop for the night, but at the moment they have to stay in the coop while they settle in, and it gives a chance for Luna to get used to them too! We’re just hoping she doesn’t try to play with them like she plays with / destroys everything else around here once we let them out 😳

It’ll take them a couple of weeks to settle in before they start laying, but fingers crossed we won’t be buying any more eggs from now on!

Re-using old IBC’s

When we moved in here there were 8 old IBC’s along the top terrace, which were used to store water before the finca got a piped water supply. Where they were placed wasn’t great though, as they blocked the third terrace (together with an enormous fig tree), so we had to walk to the other end of our land on the second terrace to get up to the third terrace. As we didn’t need them for water we decided to move them down to the end of our land knowing that one day they would come in handy…

Well, they’ve turned out to be amazing for making so many different things! We are actually using one to store rainwater that comes off the roof – it holds 1000 litres so if we ever have a problem with the piped water we can at least use this for irrigation.

But we also have a roof rack for the car made out of metal casing, a dog kennel and the chicken coop! The only thing we had to buy for the chicken coop was some chicken wire. We used two of the plastic totes to make their little house with roosts inside and a nesting box, and then the cages were cut up and reassembled to make the run! The roof of the run is made from the pergola roof that got destroyed in the storm last September – nothing gets thrown away here!

We also traded one IBC for some local honey, eggs and beans! Leftover bits of metal cage are being used as temporary fencing where we’re trying to stop the dog ragging up and down the worst bits of the banks like a complete lunatic!

Luna’s house, complete with porch:

The chicken coop

They really are the most useful things ever!

Valentines Day and other ‘commercial’ days …

Once upon a time, we were well and truly in the trap … Valentines Day, Mothers / Fathers Day etc – buying cards and pressies (sometimes quite expensive too!). You’re made to feel like a right git if you don’t take part in these ‘special’ days.

So we’ve dumped them all. And it’s really wonderful! We don’t ignore the fact it’s Valentines Day or our anniversary – we just don’t spend any money on it. Instead, we do something nice for each other (I cooked a nice dinner and Rog is doing all the clearing up!). My view is you should love and appreciate your other half as though it’s Valentines Day every day – probably why we’re still so happy together after 24 years!

We can’t ignore Mothers Day and Fathers Day for our parents – our lives wouldn’t be worth living, but we’ve told our kids we don’t expect cards or pressies – just maybe take 10 minutes to call us – worth so much more than a card to us.

It’s funny how your views change when you remove yourself from being surrounded by commercialism.

Shampoo or no poo???

When we moved here I wanted to get away from using chemicals wherever possible either on myself, in the house and in the garden, and have tried using a variety of alternatives and combinations for replacing shampoo over the last year. Theres loads of info on the internet about going ‘no poo’ with long lists of benefits, such as better condition hair, better hair growth etc.

The first homemade shampoo was a bit of a disaster that left me with an oil slick on my head! But I altered the recipe and it was ok, but not great. The recipe called for liquid Castile soap, which is really expensive, so I ditched this recipe and went in search of alternatives, and found soapnuts. I used soapnuts years ago as a replacement for laundry detergent, but have to say that just popping the soapnuts into the washing machine didn’t work great and so ended up going back to detergent at that time.

To make soapnut shampoo you simply boil up some soapnuts in water (and I added a few sprigs of rosemary too), strain and bottle. It lasts for a week in the fridge and to use it you simply wet your hair with it and leave it on for 5-10 minutes before rinsing off. All pretty easy, and for the last 8 months it has worked well – my hair has been in clean and in great condition for very little cost. But just recently it stopped working so well – the ends of my hair were great but the oil slick was back on my head, and sorry, but I just can’t live like that!

I also use the soapnut liquid as our laundry detergent. As Rog suffers with eczema I was pleased to see that the soapnut detergent didn’t upset his skin at all, so big thumbs up for that! Boiling up the soapnuts and using the liquid as detergent has worked better than just adding soapnuts to the machine, so really happy with the results. And it works out to about €20 a year for detergent – much cheaper than traditional detergent.

A popular way of going no poo is to use baking soda – didn’t really appeal, although I do condition my hair once a week with diluted apple cider vinegar – don’t pour it on your head, just the ends of your hair – works a treat.

But that still left me with the problem of a replacement shampoo … another trawl on the internet and I discovered shampoo bars – and some of them are completely natural, organic, no chemicals – hurrah! They’re a bit more expensive ( I paid €18 for 4 bars) BUT they last for 3-4 months each.  And a couple of days in, and I t think I may have found the happy balance – clean hair, no chemicals, and no more expensive then buying ordinary shampoo in the supermarket over the course of a year.

So while it is nice to make your own stuff, again it’s all about finding that balance. I would definitely recommend ditching shampoos with chemicals especially as there are other alternatives so easily available.

Just a word of warning if you’re thinking of going no poo – you will have a week or so of awful, greasy hair – it’s just your hair recovering from having all the oils stripped out – there’s no avoiding it, you just have to go into hiding for a few days!

The end of our first winter off grid

Well, we seem to be through the worst of the winter! The weather has turned beautiful this week and although next week is not so good, we’re not going back down to really low temperatures.

I’m very glad we choose to live off grid in Spain rather than the UK or Ireland! We’ve had some really tough days and weeks – storm Gloria in January saw plummeting temperatures and days of rain – and we had it better in Almeria than many parts of Spain. Apparently this is the worst winter for decades! For me to be able to work we had to run the generator – luckily we bought a new one a few months ago as Rog needed more power than we can get from the solar panels for his power tools, but it’s pretty efficient so doesn’t cost much to run for 4-5 hours.

The thing we have struggled with the most is the damp – it makes it colder in the house than outside, and that’s been difficult on the days I work. We’re only 1km away from the village, but we’re generally 3-4 degrees colder here because we’re close to the river – amazing what a difference that makes – we arrive in the village looking like we’re ready for an arctic expedition and they’re all there in just a sweater! We do get some looks 😂

The weather inland is different to down on the coast – we’re at an altitude of about 500 meters here so it’s generally cooler here, which is s blessing in the summer!

At the start of the winter we had a good stock of wood – but it wasn’t enough. Luckily wood isn’t expensive here as most houses have a stove or fireplace, and so we could go to the wood yard and fill up the back of the car for €25 and that would see us through a couple of weeks. We have done a bit of scavenging too for free wood but as you can only take fallen wood, you’re limited to what you can take, and it tends to be too green to burn – it would be ok to store away for next year though. Only on the worst days do we put the fire on in the daytime – we try to keep it for the evenings. It’s cold in the mornings, but a hot shower, getting dressed and getting on with things is the best way to to deal with those!

There was a point where I started looking at gas heaters but we were put off by (a) the cost to buy and run and (b) we already have 2 gas bottles in the house and 1 outside – if we had another one inside we would invalidate our house insurance! If one went it would be BOOM 💥 Yea, think we’ll stick with the log burner!

So wearing the right clothes is important – thermal layers became a necessity for me for most of December and January, as I do tend to feel the cold more than Rog does. Early nights with multiple hot water bottles also helped! To save electricity we don’t use the lights, only when we’re in the bathroom, and so bought some solar lights that we can charge up in the day to give us a couple of hours of light in the evening. Couple those up with some candles and it’s been absolutely fine. When you only have solar power you sometimes have to make a choice of what you can use! We like to watch a film on the cold nights and now have a tablet that we can charge up in the day so then we have enough electricity in the evening to have the WiFi on – it’s all just a bit of a balancing act! Come the summer we’ll be back on the roof terrace for the evenings.

But I do feel like I’m toughening up a bit – I couldn’t have imagined a winter in the UK with no heating other than a small wood burning stove – I used to reach for that central heating button without a second thought! I do think we’ll be better prepared for next winter – a bigger stock of wood for one, and I’ll be asking Father Christmas for some new thermals!

The thing is, there’s two months of winter that are cold, and two months of summer that are really hot – and the other eight months are just really comfortable. I think we can live with that!

So now we’re looking towards spring – lots of work to do outside – we have loads of seeds to plant in February and March so we can start to become more self sufficient for our vegetables, and the trees are starting to blossom and the bees buzzing. The birds are back to sing to us in the evening and life is good!

Introducing Luna …

So we stopped at the cafe today and while we were there one of our mates asked whether we wanted a dog – we said we had been thinking about it, but yes, we would like to get one.

So before we knew it, we were on our way up to a farm where the chap had three mastin puppies – well now he only has two, and we brought one home with us – total cost – 2 beers!

And here she is – totally in love with her already:

She’s only 3 months old – mastins grow to be enormous, but she’ll protect us and the finca with her life – they’re fiercely loyal.

So this answers our question I posed last year about whether to have animals or not – and we’ve started building the chicken coop too!

The Fudge Effect

Before Christmas we decided that there were a dozen or so people who have been an enormous help to us since we got here, and we thought we would take the opportunity to say thank you with a little bag of homemade fudge. The list included neighbours, our mechanic, the blokes in the hardware shop, the lady in the post office, the local Mayor (who agreed to make our road legal so the house could be legal!), the lady in the town hall and the people who run the local cafe, amongst others.

So I set to with vast amounts of butter and sugar and spent a day in the kitchen. We got some cellophane sweetie bags and some nice ties, and attached a note saying happy Christmas and thanks for all your help this year.

All of these people were on the list because they’d been so nice and so helpful, but the effect these little bags of fudge have had now has a name in our house – we call it the fudge effect!

The man in the local hardware shop for example – he’s always a bit grumpy, but always helpful (even though we sometimes make him sigh!) – well the fudge effect now sees him smiling and waving when we go in! And it’s the same wherever we go, people waving to us in the street – maybe they don’t often get people showing their appreciation? We know we’ve been a pain, with our bad Spanish and stupid questions!

I think we may have given ourselves an annual job to do now … and one we will happily do!

But it does go to show that a little kindness goes a long way, and it makes us very happy that we’ve made a small difference to someone else’s day.

A life changing year …

Well it’s one year ago today that we sailed out of Portsmouth harbour to start a new life in Spain.

I remember crying my heart out because I’d broken my parents hearts and we were filled with every emotion known – excited, terrified, anxious, you name it, we were feeling it! We were now officially homeless and facing months of living in a tent while we found a new home.

So jump forwards 12 months – my parents get it now and their tickets are booked to come over in March to stay with us. Rogers Mum, who was equally as upset at the move, has been over twice, and she’s already talking about her next visit! They have all watched as we have carved out this new life, and I think now they’re all actually quite proud of what we’ve done. I’ll always be the laughing stock of the family, because I’m different, but I actually really don’t worry about it anymore – we don’t have to pretend to be people we’re not now, and that is a huge relief! And if our antics over here make people laugh then I see nothing wrong with that!

This first year has been such an adventure – don’t get me wrong – there have been challenging days – it hasn’t all been plain sailing! But we’ve met every challenge together head on. Proper challenges too – turning river water into drinking water – you know, the important stuff! Some friends stayed with us recently and by the middle of the week they made an observation – they said, you’re not just living here, you’re both thriving here. Probably the nicest compliment ever!

We’ve learned a lot of new skills – installing a solar system and then adding a wind turbine, stripping down old machinery that was here and getting it working again (I’m talking rebuilding carburettors and the like!) – Rog is not scared to give anything a go, and we had no experience of these things before the move. Then there’s me giving up sales and becoming a teacher – I would rather not have to work, but at least it’s only 14-20 hours a week and I can work from home! Then there’s looking after 90 trees, when we didn’t have a clue what to do with them! But we learned, and we are still learning! Throw in learning a new language, and trying to fathom foreign systems and ways of doing things – makes me dizzy just thinking about it!

The most important lessons I’ve learned this year:

Be yourself, not what everyone else wants you to be – if people ridicule you for that, they have a problem, not you.

Don’t go through life being afraid to follow your dreams – accept compromises along the way, but if you achieve 80% of your dream, there’s a good chance you won’t lie on your death bed going thank god that’s over! Do something – now, not next month or next year – make a commitment to work towards it – it might take years, but that’s better than never! Whatever it is, get excited about it and make the plans to achieve it part of your life every day.

Leave the drama out of life – too many people live their life like it’s a soap opera – if that delivery is a day late, will the world stop turning? I have been very guilty of this in the past, (and I do still occasionally overreact!) but generally leaving all that behind has made me a better and happier person.

Be realistic – life is never going to be perfect every minute of the day, it just won’t be! If you go through life expecting everything to be perfect you’ll be in for some big disappointments – knowing stuff can go wrong means that when it does you have have your 5 minute strop and then move on and deal with it!

Look after your mental health as well as your physical health – they’re solely your responsibility.

Don’t take connected services like gas and electricity for granted. What I wouldn’t give some days at the moment to be able to flick the heating on! These days if we want heating, we have to go and cut firewood – an exercise in itself which warms you up!! I realise now how wasteful we used to be – lights on in a room we weren’t in, radio on in the kitchen and the tv on in the living room at the same time, running the washing machine for just a couple of bits, oh my goodness, when I think about it now!

I can honestly say that I love my life and I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings! I’m particularly looking forward to it warming up a bit!! 🥶 At least that’s guaranteed to happen here!

Winter in Spain

So how does the Spanish winter compare with good old Blighty?

The sun shines most days – lovely blue sky and some real warmth in the sun when you’re outside – we’re averaging about 15 degrees most days.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t get cold! In the morning and evening at the moment the real feel temperature is between 0 and about 6 degrees. It does quickly rise up to 10 or 12 degrees by 9-10 am, but the house is cold!

Most houses here don’t have any insulation, so any heat you generate escapes straight outside! This is perfect in the summer, as the house stays lovely and cool, but it feels strange in winter for it to be warmer outside than in the house!

We have our little wood burner, which we use in the evening, but we don’t tend to light it in the morning. We have put some silver insulating material in the fireplace behind the fire to stop as much warmth escaping as possible, and we have a fan on order to sit on top of the stove and push the warm air into the room.

We can’t burn coal here, just wood, and we’re going through a lot of it! There was loads of wood all around the land when we moved in, from years of pruning, but we’ve gone through all of that now. We spent New Year’s Day in the local forest collecting firewood, and oh, the joy of finding a tree that had been blown over! The only thing was that it was wedged between two other trees on the side of a very steep hill, so getting it down was a bit of a laugh! We will have to buy in some firewood to see us through, but there’s something immensely satisfying about going out and getting it for free from the forest! (You can’t go and chop down trees, just gather fallen wood by the way!).

Now I’ve always felt the cold, so I am having to learn how to keep warm without the modern luxury of central heating:

1) Just toughen up a bit!

2) There’s no wrong weather, just wrong clothes. Thankfully we do have plenty of warm clothes, and a range of thermals from when we went to Sweden a few years back – so we layer up!

3) Get moving; do stuff! It’s the sitting around at breakfast time that I feel the cold. The worst time for me is when I’m teaching – five hours at the computer without being able to move around to keep warm. Tactical use of blankets and hot water bottles come into play here! I often go and sit outside when I’m finished to let the sun warm my bones!

4) One of the best ways to get warm is chopping firewood! By the time you’ve got your firewood you’re lovely and warm (but that doesn’t stop me putting the fire on!).

I’m not going to lie, it can be a bit tough when you’ve had central heating all your life to suddenly live like this, but once you get outside and enjoy the sunshine it makes it all worthwhile! And it’s certainly warmer than the UK …

Christmas in Spain

Unlike the UK, Christmas doesn’t start here until December, which is quite refreshing! There’s other things that are different here too:

The real start of the Christmas holidays is on the 22nd December with the lottery – it’s called El Gordo (the fat one!) because the total prize fund is massive – about 2.5 billion euros. The tickets are different to the UK lottery – you get batches with the same number, so you could buy the batch (hundreds of euros) or buy a share in that batch, with each share being €23. It often happens that a whole village will be celebrating as they have all bought a share in the same batch from the local shop, so if that number comes up each share would be about half a million euros before tax. The draw itself takes about 5 hours and is done by children from a school which used to be an orphanage. They reckon 90% of people in Spain buy a ticket, so we have treated ourselves to a single share of a batch – would be rude not to! Apparently it’s a thing to sit and watch the entire draw, but we’ll give that a miss I think!

Generally, Christmas trees are not a thing here. We kept our favourite tree ornaments and have them in a box, but we don’t have a tree to put them on now! There are probably places in Almeria city where we could get a tree, but we don’t really have room in the house for anything more than a tiny tree, we’ve just got a bit creative with some tinsel and battery lights around the place!

Christmas Day is not quite the big thing here that it is in the UK. Yes, it’s a public holiday, but the big meal happens on Christmas Eve followed by midnight mass. The BIG day is the 6th January – Three Kings Day – this is when the children get their presents (which does make sense really!). I think we’ll be keeping the tradition of opening our pressies on Xmas morning and having a nice lunch.

Food – traditional Christmas food here is lobster / seafood, lamb and suckling pig. The sweet treats aren’t big tubs of chocolate – they’re small biscuits and nougat type sweets. We’ve tried a selection of the traditional ones – sorry, but they just not Quality Street I’m afraid – they’re not going to win me over!

I think the strangest thing for us this year will be having a Christmas and New Year without a houseful of family – in our 24 years together we have only ever had one Christmas Day on our own. This is where video calling makes a big difference when you live far from family – I’m guessing a lot of the morning will be spent catching up with everyone!

One thing’s for sure – this Christmas will be very different for us!

Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, Rog and I would like to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

Builders are all done…

Really happy with the work that our builders have done – money well spent… here they are and what the house looks like now:

The wall outside the bodega by the steps in this next picture was a few bricks but mainly made of mud! It’s now a proper wall! And they did the steps while they were at it so they’re even now!

As a reminder this was it three weeks ago!