Well it’s been almost four years since I started writing this blog about starting a new life in Spain. Moving from a comfortable home, a well paid job and lots of creature comforts to a tiny off grid finca. And what a journey it’s been!
We have so many new skills, ones that actually feel real and relevant to daily living. We’ve had lots of challenges to overcome, but we’ve faced them all and beaten most of them! We’ve become adept at living without resources that modern society would have you believe are essential, and carved ourselves a life that is uncomplicated and sustainable.
I think we have changed and grown both as individuals and also as marriage partners – if we didn’t work together as a team here we’d be in real trouble!
The world has also changed so much in the time we’ve been here, and with each new tragedy I can only think that our move was perfectly timed.
It’s been a privilege to be able to share our story, and now we’re ready to continue what we’re doing – we have no plans to change where we are for as long as possible – no place has ever felt so much like home as it does here – our little sanctuary, with our beloved dogs and our funny chickens. You never know, I might crack on with that book I’ve been threatening to write one of these days!
We both hope that you have enjoyed reading about our life here, and maybe even been able to inspire some of you to make a change, however small … or even just to feel more grateful for that flushing loo you have in your house!!
I’ll leave you with one final thought – no dream is ever impossible unless you decide it is. I hope all of your dreams become reality.
On Saturday morning Luna and Persi went off for their normal tour of duty around the area … they love to see who is about (always hopeful of getting a bit of a fuss and a treat!). Everyone round here knows them, and it’s not unusual for them to come trotting back after an hour with a bone to chew on.
But yesterday they didn’t come back. Rog went into the village and along the river, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Now sometimes they do this, so we didn’t start to really worry until lunchtime. By 5pm we were resigned to the fact that they were lost, injured or stolen. We went for our normal afternoon walk in the hope of seeing or hearing something, but no, nothing.
As we got back to the finca we saw Luna – thank goodness! But no Persi …
Luna was starving and ate two dinners, and then curled up in in the house for a while with us before going to her kennel and falling fast asleep.
Oh how I wish dogs could talk … she’s the only one who knew what happened to our funny, scruffy, affectionate Persi, but she couldn’t tell us.
He’s had two run ins with wild pigs over the last few weeks, so we thought he might’ve had another go and lost this time … any number of things could’ve happened to him out there.
This morning we were both up early … we didn’t want to say out loud that we thought he might not be coming back – after all it was now a full 24 hours that he’d been gone. Rog decided to go out for one more drive down the river, but needed to fill up with petrol first, so he headed off to the garage.
Ten minutes after Rog left, who comes limping through the gate but Persi! He seemed to have had a bit of a night, wherever he was, but apart from a bit of a limp he was fine!
This winter has been cold, long and dry – hardly any rain at all, which obviously isn’t great when you’re growing 100 trees, grapevines and veggies! We’ve gone through probably 3 tonnes of firewood, and we only have the fire on in the evening!
March promised rain – we’ve had a little so far, but the forecast for the next two weeks is showing lots of rain. The problem is that the forecast shows rain, but we actually get just a few paltry showers, which barely wet the ground.
But today, we have experienced the most freaky weather yet – a proper sandstorm. Now you imagine a sandstorm to be like something you see in films – a great wall of sand hurtling at a city across the desert, but it’s not necessarily like that in real life!
We’ve been in the clouds all day, and there’s been not a breath of wind – everything is totally still … eerily still. Then the sky turned orange!
Down on the coast it was even worse, looking at the pictures that people have been sharing on social media!
I had a walk around just before it went dark, and boy, the clean up operation is not going to be fun at all! Everything has a layer of sand direct from the Sahara on it! Solar panels, roof terrace, chairs and tables, the car, it’s everywhere … even on the dogs!
But it’s the eerie silence that got me the most today … had an almost ‘end of the world’ feeling about it! Fingers crossed we return to normal tomorrow!
Life isn’t all about massive achievements … and we all know that massive achievements don’t come along that often during life. This means that we can find ourselves rushing through mundane jobs to get them done and out of the way.
Jobs, relationships and life in general can be transient and uncertain in the modern world, and we have all become aware of just how uncertain things can be over the last few years as we lived through the pandemic and then straight into the crisis in Ukraine, especially with the media hailing it as the potential start to WW3.
I think it’s important to find things that give stability … the day to day achievements we barely take any notice of … cleaning the house, doing the washing up, cooking dinner and the like. It’s in completing simple tasks that we can find peace and stability in our lives. Instead of rushing through, be present and take notice of what you’re doing.
In this next blog about natural remedies, I thought we could explore crystal therapy, as this is something you can do for yourself in your own home!
Obviously, it’s lovely to go and get a full therapy with a professional, but you can make using crystals a part of daily life – having them around your home or office, or carrying them around with you.
So, how do they work?
We all have seven main chakras, or energy centres, in our body. These are represented by different colours, which are associated with the characteristic of each chakra.
The root, or base chakra is what keeps us grounded. The sacral chakra is about courage. The solar plexus chakra is fun / laughter, whilst the heart chakra of course is associated with love. The throat chakra is all about communication. The last two, the third eye and crown chakra, represent our connection to the spiritual.
Think of these chakras as little whirlpools (that’s how they always feel to me when I place my hand above them!). Sometimes these whirlpools get a bit mucky, the colour fades, or they don’t whirl around enough – that’s when we get out of balance. When we look at the word disease we can break it down thus:
ie. your body is not at ease. So when our chakras become unbalanced we can feel unwell, either physically or emotionally.
Using crystals can help to rebalance our chakras. Of course it is better for a therapist to do this for you, as we first create a circle of protection around the aura, before opening, cleaning and rebalancing the chakras. Chakras should never be left fully open, as it leaves you totally vulnerable to outside influences. However, after a bad week, you could lie on the bed and rest the crystals on your chakras and just rest for half an hour, somewhere quiet.
The best collection of crystals I can recommend for the chakras would be clear quartz for the crown, amethyst for the third eye, sodalite for the throat chakra , rose quartz for the heart, citrine for the solar plexus, brown tigers eye for the sacral and red jasper for the base or root chakra. You can, if you prefer it, use Lapis Lazuli at the third eye, and instead of a pink rose quartz at the heart, you can swap for a green aventurine. Personally, I prefer to use the green on my heart chakra, but if you’re not sure which would work best, let your instinct pick for you – pick up the one that feels right.
You can use tough or tumbled crystals for this, and any size is fine. What you don’t have to do is buy one of these fancy kits in a lovely box with reiki symbol engravings on them – I promise you, they make no difference, except to your purse!
At other times, you can simply carry crystals with you, or have them placed by your bed or on your desk. There’s lots of books out there to tell you the characteristics of different crystals, but here’s my advice – if you can, go into a crystal shop and pick what jumps out at you. Your instinct and intuition are far stronger than you think!
Here are some of my favourites:
Sunstone by your bed – you wake up happy!
Hematite by your computer – negates some of the EMR
Snowflake obsidian if you’re struggling to come to terms with something difficult
Clear quartz or smoky quartz can help you to meditate. If possible, but a slightly larger stone with a point at one end and just sit with it in front of you. If you’re struggling to quieten your mind, gaze at the crystal and I’m sure you’ll find it helps.
It’s a good idea to look after your crystals too by regularly cleansing them – you can either run them under mineral water or leave out in the full moon overnight – this removes any negative energy that the stones have absorbed. If you are reiki attuned, you can simply hold them and flood them with reiki to cleanse them.
Crystals can help you to stay focused and balanced in everyday life, in a gentle and soothing way! Learning about and using crystals has certainly made a difference in my life, and I hope you give them a go ❤️
Luna and Persi really do have a wonderful life here … lots of freedom, lots of space to run and play, and no shortage of snacks between meals!
But it’s not always fun for them … there are wild animals about at night – rats, foxes, other dogs, cats and wild pigs.
A couple of days ago we noticed Persi had a nasty cut under one of his legs – popped him down to the vet and she said he’s fine, keep it clean (🙄).
But that didn’t prepare us for what happened to him last night … this is what we found this morning when we got up:
Luna has come to sit with him in the house to keep him company, and we’re just hoping he has a good sleep now, as keeping still for a while to let the healing start is the best thing for him.
We stopped off at the cafe on the way home, we both definitely needed a strong coffee. One of our neighbours said he was definitely gored by a wild pig – hopefully he’ll know to stay away from them in the future!
As you know, I’m a great believer in using complimentary therapies, and so I thought I would do a short introduction to Bach Flower Remedies this week.
I think you’ll all agree, the world is in trouble (putting it lightly), and even I have found myself feeling anxious and worried about the future. Now we all know it’s mad to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet, but none of us are immune to the odd angst ridden day, and this is where Bach Flower Remedies can really help.
Probably the most famous of these remedies is the Rescue Remedy … recognize it?
But did you know that the range of Bach Remedies consists of 38 different remedies!
Dr Edward Bach developed the remedies back in the 1930’s. He was both a physician and homeopath, and believed that the key to our overall wellness had to include our emotions – you had to care for your mind as well as your body. I think today there’s not many people that would argue with that statement. So the Bach Remedies are designed to balance our emotions. Each essence is derived from a different flower tree or plant, and is linked to a specific emotion.
Dr Bach then organised the remedies into seven groups, to make it easier to choose one or multiple remedies that would help you. You can take one, several, or blends of remedies, enabling you to tailor the remedies to your exact needs.
The seven groups are fear, uncertainty, loneliness, insufficient interest in current circumstances, despondency and despair, over sensitivity due to influences and ideas, and over care for the welfare of others. Within each of these categories there are a number of remedies that can help.
There is an official Bach website, where you can read the description for each remedy – it describes the emotions that the remedy can help with – here’s an example:
Olive is used when you’re tired and out of energy. The description reads … Restore Energy. The Bach® remedy Olive encourages the positive potential to revitalize yourself after making an effort. For times when all reserves of inner strength and energy have run out. Let go and allow yourself to revitalize and restore your mental energy.
Sometimes you may not know why you’re feeling the way you are, but by reading through the descriptions, I can almost guarantee you’ll hit on one and think ‘yep, that’s me at the moment’!
If you simply type Bach Remedies into a search engine you’ll easily find out more information.
The remedies are natural remedies, and made by placing the flower, plant or tree into water and exposing it to a heat source to make an infusion. The plant material is then discarded, and the infusion left behind is preserved (usually with alcohol), diluted and put into vials. Rescue Remedy is now available in a non alcoholic base, glycerin is used instead, so a good option for nursing mums and children.
The recommended dose is usually 4 drops placed directly in the tongue or put into a glass of water, which you can then sip throughout the day. But please, always read the instructions before you take anything!
Now a word of caution – you’ll notice that I refer to these as complimentary medicines, not alternatives! I would never put down modern medicine, and if you are taking medications, never just stop them without talking to your doctor. If I get unwell, I always try the natural route first, then if I need to, I will go to the doctor. When I hurt my shoulder back in January, I was in agony. I tried my own methods first for a week then went to the doctor for something stronger. I took the anti inflammatories and the pain killers he gave me, and alongside that medication, I used homeopathy and Qigong to help my body heal itself – that, to me, is just sensible!
All of our modern medicines have been derived from plants at some point (although mostly synthetically produced these days), so to go back to using natural remedies makes sense to me!
Back in the UK Rog used to have a few allergies, resulting in both asthma and eczema, but it was always controlled and rarely caused him a problem.
When we moved to Spain, one of the things we were hoping was that it would improve both his asthma and eczema, as in previous visits he found that the extra sunshine cleared up his eczema, and the drier air meant he rarely needed to take his inhaler.
And indeed, our first year here that’s exactly what happened! He bought a six month supply of inhalers, which lasted a whole year! Great news!
Then about 18 months ago he started to struggle, and visited the doctor several times in an effort to resolve the problems. They changed his inhaler, as the one he had in the UK isn’t available here. He continued to struggle – everything became difficult, breathing, or doing anything at all.
Just shy of a year ago he was rushed into hospital with total respiratory failure … and was then diagnosed with pneumonia – he had been trying to carry on regardless for months… but he’s always been like that!
Even after the pneumonia cleared up, he continued to struggle. So over the last year we’ve been backwards and forwards to the hospital, and yesterday we got the results of probably the most important tests so far. They did pin tests to test for allergies, and the news was about as bad as it gets.
Now we know he’s always had a bit of hay fever in the past, and that he wasn’t great around animals, but our dogs live predominantly outside, so he’s not been too bad with them.
Cats, dogs, dust, powder, plants and trees – basically he’s allergic to where we live. And it’s not just a little bit allergic, he’s a lot allergic. If it was a stuffy nose and red eyes he probably would just get on with it, but his reactions have been quite severe.
The way they explained it is that if you imagine a bucket and you put some allergies into it, you can take the odd antihistamine and be ok. But then something else gets added and the bucket overflows … that’s when it gets serious. The one that has made Rogers bucket overflow is olives – obviously back in the uk we never came into contact with olive trees!
During the meeting with the consultant I quipped that we needed to move and have a house by the sea … I wasn’t expecting her to agree …
But that’s out of the question … there’s certainly no money for another house, we love living here, and even if we did put it on the market it could take years to sell, and wouldn’t raise enough money for anything other than a one bedroom flat near the sea … it’s a quandary, but we’ve always loved a challenge!
BUT I’m now a woman on a mission … researching natural ways that will help him to cope – thank god we didn’t buy a finca with 3 or 4 acres 😱. We know that things like pineapple can help with inflammation because it contains an enzyme called Bromelain, and stinging nettles are a natural antihistamine, green tea helps too, but I know there’s lots of other things to investigate …
As I find remedies that work for Rog I’ll do regular updates and hope they help with anyone else out there living with severe allergies … and of course, if anyone out there has any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them!
Many things happen to us during our lives, both good and bad. Why is it then that so many people hang on to the bad stuff and let it shape their future?
It’s true that certain events can leave scars that last a lifetime, but I believe you can learn to live with them.
I always say that you can choose whether or not to become a victim of something that’s happened in your life.
Take my first marriage for example – on my wedding day I had to use extra makeup to cover the first black eye he gave me – he punched me full force while I was wearing glasses because I disagreed with him about something trivial in front of a friend. Why, I hear you shouting, did you you go through with it? Well, I was young and naive, and I believed him when he said it would never happen again. After nine years of mental and physical abuse, I met Roger, and he made me realise I deserved better. My ex husband had said to me once that if I tried to leave that he would kill our son … but I called his bluff, and he crumbled. And from that moment on he had no power over me. I left, taking Matthew and a few bits of furniture, and rented a tiny, cold house with threadbare carpets (all I could afford!), but I’d never been happier.
Many women don’t speak out about abuse – you’re made to feel ashamed – like it was your fault in some way, and that you deserved the kicks and punches. NOBODY EVER DESERVES THAT TREATMENT!
After I left, I felt empowered – if I could survive that nine years and escape to tell the tale, then there was nothing I couldn’t do! Yes, it has left some scars – I don’t take criticism very well; I don’t like being around very drunk people, and I flip if someone playfully puts a hand on my throat. I can’t help that, and that’s just part of who I am now.
But what do I choose to concentrate on these days – those miserable nine years? No! My wonderful childhood, my school years (which in the main I loved), my wonderful son and step children, all our grandchildren, the fantastic 27 years that Rog and I have been together, and the fact that I am now living my lifelong dream. It makes those nine years pale into insignificance.
So what is the point of my blog today? If it reaches one person who is in a bad relationship decides to get out, then that would make me very happy. But also to show that whatever happens in life, there will be better days ahead, but it’s up to you to do it! It doesn’t always come easy, and you have to take chances and believe in yourself, but you can have the life that you want.
It seems to me that one of the worst things to come out of the pandemic (apart from losing loved ones obviously!) is the division in society.
I firmly believe it’s every individuals right to have their own opinion, and to make decisions based on their own judgement or intuition.
I’m sick of hearing about how stupid people who don’t want the jab are, or that people who have had the jabs are just sheep. Please … stop! It’s everyone’s individual choice whether to have the jab or not! By all means, protest at the governments who are imposing restrictions, but don’t attack your fellow ‘ordinary’ people who simply chose a different route to you.
Our opinions and beliefs are formed throughout our lives based on what we’ve been taught, what we’ve been shown, and what we’ve experienced. All of these things form the ‘bars of our cage’. You’ve heard the phrase ‘don’t rattle their cage’ – in other words, don’t shake their beliefs and opinions. Now some people have cages with bars so tight together they can’t stick a finger out, whilst other people can walk freely in and out of their cage, happy to have their beliefs and opinions tested.
We’ve got to realise that not everyone can deal with things outside of their cage or comfort zone. Attacking peoples beliefs will do no good – it makes them retreat further into their cage, close the bars together a bit more and add an extra padlock!
Social media platforms have become so full of hateful comments from both sides of the argument – it’s like watching a boxing match.
It’s all too easy to be judgemental in this crazy world, not just about the pandemic, but about the way that people choose to live their life, the way they dress, talk, whether they work or not, colour, sexuality … there’s always someone ready to put you down.
If we stopped allowing ourselves to be divided into smaller and smaller groups, and started acting together simply as humans and respecting each other, then I think the world would be a better place for us all.
I’ll be 54 this year, and I was thinking the other day how technology has changed during my lifetime. Looking back made me chuckle so I thought I’d take some of us back down memory lane, and for any younger readers, this will probably horrify them!
Let’s start with the internet! In 1991 (aged 23) I was working for Equity & Law as the office manager. The computer team arrived at the branch one day and installed a new terminal (as we called computers then 😂). After hours of messing around, they dialed up and, with great excitement, showed us a screen and said … this is the internet!! I can remember it like it was yesterday! What does it do, I asked. Well, they said, you can ask it anything at all! Go on, type a question in. And do you know what, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted to ask! Can you imagine not having Google now! If we had a question we’d ask our parents, and they would tell us to look it up in a book if they didn’t know! I used to go to the library every Saturday morning to get both books for enjoyment and reference books to help with homework. Then came a revolutionary day – Mum and Dad bought a really good set of encyclopedias- life changing!
If you wanted to make a phone call you walked to a phone box … but we rarely did that as we didn’t know anyone else with a phone 😂. I think I was about 10 years old when we got a house phone. My sister was terrible, she would say goodbye to her friends on the bus and then phone them when she got indoors! Mum went mad when the bill came in so she bought a lock for the phone … and then gave us a key for emergencies 😂
TV – we had a black and white TV with 3 channels – BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. I remember arguing with my sister who was going to get up to change the channel and fiddle with the aerial when the picture went wonky! When Channel 4 was launched we weren’t allowed to watch it because it used to have vulgar programs (trendy programs aimed at teenagers in truth!). And the TV didn’t have programs on 24 hours a day! Mum and Dad always had a little bet on the horses on a Saturday, and one week my Dad hit the jackpot, winning about £80 (a months wages!) … he went straight to the betting shop to pick up his winnings, and went into Radio Rentals next door and rented a colour TV (nobody bought TV’s in those days!) – and they delivered it the same day. He also arrived back with a huge bag of sweets too!
Household appliances – my Mum washed all our clothes by hand up until I was about 11 or 12, when she got her first washing machine. She worked full time and so would spend all of Friday evening and Saturday morning doing all the washing. She had a spin dryer, although it used to dance across the kitchen floor when it got going! You wanted toast – you used the grill on the cooker. No coffee machines, bread making machines, microwave ovens, food processors etc.
And of course no Facebook, no instagram, no TikTok YouTube etc etc – it would be hard for teenagers now to imagine a life without technology!
Games – it scares me when I see our grandchildren absolutely fixated with their games consoles etc – they really do look like zombies sometimes. As kids we played cards, backgammon, draughts and board games on wet days, and played outside when the weather was nice.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against technology – far from it. Taking on this life would’ve been a whole lot harder without it. Just the solar technology alone makes such a difference to our life here. Being able to use YouTube and Google to instantly access experts for information and guidance from all over the world is a godsend.
But there is a downside … maybe we’ve become a bit too reliant on it these days – I think even we need to step away from our phones a bit more! I’m not sure there’s many people who wouldn’t admit the same! I do find now that I’m losing touch with tech a bit – starting to feel my age as I look totally confused trying to back up my photos off my phone without deleting half of them!
If I look at how technology has changed just in my lifetime, and the pace at which it evolves now, it does make me wonder where we’ll be in 5, 10, 30 years … will life be better ir worse for it? I just don’t know!
Have you ever stopped and thought about why (most) people love to get out in nature? The answer is simple – we are as much a part of nature as the trees, the birds, the animals, the mountains and the rivers – we’re all made from the very same stuff!
So many of us would head out if the city at the weekend to parks or woods, and immediately feel a sense of well-being, calm and peaceful.
I think it’s really easy to forget this which leads to us feeling disconnected with the natural world – particularly when you live in a city. Having been in that position myself, you can go through the whole day or week without sensing the nature – sitting in your metal box driving up and down roads, sitting in an office staring at a computer etc …
Which leads me nicely onto time … in particular, the seasons. We seem to have forgotten how to live in tune with the seasons, and January is the perfect example of this! New Year resolutions abound – I’m going to get fit, do new things, give stuff up – I hear Veganuary is the new thing, or people stopping drinking alcohol for the month, go on a month long shred (whatever that is!)
What is Mother Nature doing in January? Retreating, resting, waiting for Spring when new life will burst forth (I’m getting quite poetic now!). So why do we try to live at odds with the seasons – couldn’t the extra gym visits or the shred wait until Spring, when we’ll all naturally have more energy, more enthusiasm? Surely we would be giving ourselves the best chance of success if we copied Mother Nature? Just an observation!
Living as we do, and probably because I’ve hurt myself again, I’m on a complete go slow this month! And do you know what – I’m not beating myself up about it! I’m not doing nothing at all – but I’m doing it slowly, with lots of tea breaks! We harvested the mandarins at Christmas, so January is mandarin marmalade making and February is orange marmalade! Between us, it’s all getting done, but at a pace that Mother Nature would be proud of 😂. And after all, if you want to curl up in front of the fire with a book at the end of the day, then wood needs to be chopped in order to have a fire!
Central heating and air conditioning cut us off from the seasons in a way – you can have your home at the optimum temperature all year round, which again, disconnects us from what’s happening in the outside world.
So if in January and February you don’t feel like doing much, tell yourself that it’s ok, you’re just doing what Mother Nature does!!
It was one of my goals when we moved here to become less reliant on buying commercial products (that contain all sorts of nasties) and move to making more things myself.
It became very obvious very quickly that this wasn’t going to be an overnight change, after all, there was so much to do here and so much to learn, that it would have been unrealistic to expect all these changes to happen immediately.
But we’re getting there …
Last year we stopped eating meat and dairy. After trying various plant based ‘milks’ we settled on oat milk as our favourite, and we’ve been buying that ever since in 1 liter cartons. Now, we go through a liter a day – we drink a lot of tea and coffee, especially when it’s cold, and have cereal every morning for breakfast. I don’t like the amount of waste that this produces, even though we recycle the cartons, and compared to cows milk, it’s really expensive.
So, time to start making our own – it’s probably the simplest plant based milk to make, but does require a blender. Now I do have a blender, but it doesn’t work on the solar system, it’s just too powerful and sets all the alarms off! So this does mean that I have to pop the generator on for 5 minutes in order to make a couple of liters. I’ve bought 2 glass bottles that we can use again and again, so this will cut down on all the waste. It will also work out to be less than half the cost per liter, so why wouldn’t you make your own!!
It’s very simple – 4 cups of ice cold water to 1 cup of oats – add a tiny pinch of salt and a little squeeze of agave to sweeten and blend until smooth. I then use a double layer of cheesecloth and squeeze the oat milk through. Pour into sterilized bottles and pop in the fridge. It will last about 3 days in the fridge, but it’s such a quick process that it’s no problem to knock up a couple of batches every two days.
The other thing I’ve started making too is deoderant. This is so unbelievably simple and cheap! Two thirds of a cup of cornflour, one third of a cup of bicarbonate of soda (mix) and add two thirds of a cup of coconut oil – mix it altogether and pop it in a jar. I also added a couple of drops of essential oil to make it smell lovely. To use you just scoop a tiny bit out with your finger and rub it in! Pennies to make and better for you!
I’ve also started making seitan (plant based alternative to meat) and plan to turn my hand to making plant based cheese and butter (the two things I really miss!). I’ve had to buy a few slightly unusual ingredients off the internet as I can’t get them locally, but again, making our own will still produce less waste and be less processed (and therefore healthier!) for us – I’ll save these for another blog on another day though!
It’s all too easy to turn to a shop every time you think you need something, but I’m really enjoying the challenge of finding other, more natural ways to provide what we need where possible.
Having to spend a few days laid up in bed last week after screwing up my shoulder really gave me time to think and plan about what changes I wanted to make – it’s good to take time out to take stock sometimes! Every cloud has a silver lining!
So you might’ve guessed … I’ve hurt myself again! My shoulder this time, and it’s not in a good state.
I left it for a few days to see if it would get better on its own – tried keeping it moving but when that made it worse I had no choice but to just sit … and sit … and sit. Nothing was helping, and it was so frustrating knowing there were jobs that needed doing as I watched Rog try to do everything.
Last time it was rotivating… this time I was climbing around up in the mandarin trees cutting out the dead wood. I think my problem has been twofold – not stopping when it starts to hurt and thinking I’m still 18 years old! Since moving here we are asking more of our bodies than ever before in our lives, and we’re not spring chickens anymore!
I like to try and get myself better before I resort to going to the doctors, so I’ve been using reiki, meditation and visualization, homeopathy and listening to music at 432 Hz – a good healing frequency. All helped a bit, but I was getting impatient to be better.
So another trip to the doctor (who rolled his eyes at me again when I told him how I did it) saw me with another load of drugs to take including more diazepam, which I have to take in the day as well as at night. I can’t even drink half a glass of wine these days, so you can imagine what diazepam is doing to me – staggering around the house laughing hysterically at things that aren’t funny followed by passing out in the chair – poor Rog, the things he has to put up with! But I’ve also been to an osteopath, who cracked all my bones which has given some relief – and I’m still carrying on with all the complementary stuff too.
So hopefully a few more days and I’ll be able to start doing some of the more gentle jobs. I’m also planning to start Qigong, similar to Tai Chi. I don’t think yoga would be a clever thing to be doing at the moment, but Qigong will get me moving again in a gentle way, keeping the blood flowing and getting back some strength.
And most importantly, I think I’ve learnt my lesson this time!
Just before Christmas I came across a book recommendation from a like minded person on the internet, who lives in a similar way to us. He described it as a book that would change your way of thinking and split your life into two parts – before Ishmael and after Ishmael. This like minded person didn’t give away any of the storyline, or even what the book was about, which only stoked my interest further.
Ishmael is the first part of a trilogy – the second part being The Story of B and the final part being My Ishmael. The author is Daniel Quinn.
Mum had asked me what I would like for Christmas, and so quick as a flash I asked for this trilogy – since moving here I have once again been able to revert to being an avid reader as I’ve mentioned before. As much as I would consider myself a ‘book sniffer’ who loves nothing more than mooching around Waterstones at every given opportunity, our tiny house forces me to restrict my library to my kindle. The rate at which I devour books again these days would otherwise see us having to build an extension to house them all if I had real books!
And so a couple of days before Christmas I downloaded the three books, and am currently reading the second book, but I couldn’t wait until I had finished all three to write this blog.
I read Ishmael in just a couple of days, and it only took that long because it’s one of those books that you have to put down occasionally and have a think about what you’ve read before continuing. I also found myself re-reading sections to fully digest and understand. I will also say at this point that reading every word is a must – including the foreword . Don’t speed read it.
It was like a light bulb being turned on. We live the way we do here because we consider society, in its current form, to be wrong, unsustainable, and at odds with the natural world. This book explained exactly why we feel like that.
You only have to look at the level of mental health issues, suicide, greed, extinction levels and the stripping of our natural resources to know that to continue on our current path will lead to the destruction of our world … yet we’re all of us sitting by watching it happen, occasionally tutting at how awful it all is …
I’m amazed that I’ve never come across this book before, and I’m so glad that I have read it at last, it’s a story that may just help us to change our story …
It used to be so important to have something to look forward to … the weekends; birthdays; anniversaries; Christmas etc. And they had to be perfect, with lots of organising and build up to ‘the big day’.
We’re coming up to three years here in Spain, and living with nature as we do, these special days are just, well, another day now. I’m not sad at all about that … it says to me that every day is special to us. We get up each morning and live that day – it makes no difference what day of the week it is.
I actually think those special occasions used to be so important as I was always on a countdown to having time off work – two more weeks then a week off for Xmas etc – I’ve always loved just being at home! Don’t get me wrong, I always worked really hard, but all I ever wanted to do was to get back home again.
Our views on gender roles have also changed somewhat. We used to both work and share most of the household chores – whoever was there would run the Hoover around! As we have adapted to living here it has become really obvious that men and women are better at different things! I know that’s probably not politically correct, but it’s the truth when living this type of lifestyle. I will give anything and everything a go, but I just don’t have the strength or stamina for some of the more physical work here – those of you that know me, I’m not exactly a ‘girly girl’ and so it’s taken me a while (and some injuries!) to admit that this is the truth 😂. There is just no way that I would be out strimming while Rog bakes bread! You have to play to your strengths in order for everything to get done here.
Shopping – I used to love a nice new handbag or a pair of shoes! Now I get excited at farming machinery and equipment!
Time … we sometimes forget what month it is, never mind what day it is! The only day we have to remember really is Wednesday – market day! We’ve had to start using a shared calendar on our phones to remind us when things need doing because we lose track of time so badly! We do have a paper calendar up in the wall, but we never remember to change the month! It’s a bit bad when your calendar is still on August when it’s actually October! In our old life, everything was governed by time. Here, it’s more about the seasons in terms of timing – when is it time to harvest, plant veg etc.
Entertainment – when we were at home the TV was always on, and more often than not the radio too in the kitchen. We used to enjoy going out occasionally, to the cinema, for a meal, or a mooch around the shops. I loved going to the gym and yoga center regularly, and I would spend a lot of time cleaning (I know, I actually used to enjoy it!). None of those things are possible now – we can have the radio on in the day when it’s sunny, and we have a little tablet to watch a bit of a film or program at night, but I love the quiet. In the winter, we take the dogs for a walk in the afternoon, light the fire when we get back, and then I have an hour or so before I cook dinner – the perfect opportunity to curl up in a chair in front of the fire with a book – it’s heaven! I haven’t read this many books for years! In the summer in the evening we sit on the roof terrace and watch the bee eaters, swifts, eagles and kestrels and just enjoy the view. We do still have our phones of course, and enjoy a bit of Facebook and YouTube! But we never get bored, and never need things to entertain us now. If we have a day where we have no electricity, then I’m happy with a bit of sewing or crochet, and Rog will learn new things watching YouTube.
Priorities – it feels very real living here – I’m not sure I can explain it very well, but it’s less about owning stuff, technology and how you are perceived by the world in terms of success, and more about actual daily living – food, water, shelter. Simplifying life like we have means there aren’t a million thoughts and worries worming their way around your head, and it feels peaceful. I have said many times in the past that all I wanted was some peace – and I was right to want it. I think we all deserve that.
I’ve always been a home loving person, but I do find that the longer we’re here, the less I want to leave the finca to go anywhere. I do think this has been partly compounded by the pandemic, but the bottom line is that I feel safe here – just me, Rog, the dogs and the chickens – it’s like our little micro world where the big bad world can’t get at us. I thought I’d at least miss going on holiday, but I really don’t – there’s nowhere on this earth I’d rather be.
Now I’m always looking for ways to make living off grid a little easier or more comfortable, but still trying to be environmentally friendly at the same time.
In a recent video I showed the two products I use to do the washing – a hand cranked washing machine and a separate spin dryer that’s like a giant salad spinner. I also have a small food chopper / processor and a hand cranked sieve for mushing up food – and both of these work really well.
When I was looking for a pressure canner, I discovered, after many hours of searching online, that I would simply have to buy it from America. That meant months of waiting for it to get here, a pretty hefty price tag, and a ridiculous amount of import tax (25% of the cost of the canner!). I sucked it up as this was going to be something that would really make a difference to us – being able to preserve our own produce, and from what I read, it should also outlive me!
Back in the UK I used to have a Kenwood Chef – one that was about 40 years old – Rog found it for me on eBay and even managed to track down all the extra bits for it. I loved it, but it was one of the many things I sold before coming here (assuming we would be living with very little electricity).
So I was thinking to myself earlier, I wonder if you can get a hand cranked food mixer, and so the search began. And as usual, I ended up looking in America, because being a prepper or living off grid is big business there! It didn’t take long until I found this …
And then I saw the price … $635 … and that’s without shipping and import tax. WOW! So that won’t be happening then! I’ll stick to my wooden spoon and my hands! Both are cheaper and more environmentally friendly!
Earlier in the year we also saw an advert for solar powered generators. What a great idea – charge it up on sunny days as a back up for when it’s cloudy. The price … £1,700 … but it gets worse – you start reading the reviews and it turns out that the battery will only last for about 8 months to a year! Do they think we’re actually that stupid??
And don’t get me started on the price of mangles!
I’m not sure of the reason behind the cost of these items – some, of course, would probably last a lifetime, so you have to factor that in. It could also be that because production numbers are low that that affects the cost per item. I’m not sure if you’ll ever see any of these items being massed produced, but surely if these are more environmentally friendly, then they should become more accessible and cheaper? It would seem that trying to be more environmentally friendly has become a lucrative business for some!
Time and again it comes back to this … keep it simple! Kneading bread and seitan by hand doubles up as a gym workout and costs absolutely nothing; I have wooden spoons and whisks that are thirty years old and still going strong … at the end of the day they do the same job … a little slower perhaps and a little more effort is required, but the job gets done.
And as for the solar generator, well, if you live in such a way that you don’t need very much electricity then you shouldn’t need another backup! We do still have the petrol generator for emergencies, but the longer we live like this, the less electricity we find we really need.
So I saved a fortune just by reminding myself what it is that we set out to do here … live simply and walk a more gentle path on our planet. It’s so easy to get drawn into wanting more stuff, but the lesson here is to stop and think ‘do we really need it’ – what a difference that one question could make to the world!
We’ve always loved Christmas … people seem to be nicer to each other, have fun and relax a bit. People become, well, better people for the most part.
This will be our third Christmas here, and it’s a little different to the ones we used to have back in the UK! Back then we would spend a fortune on decorations, presents and food, and our house was always full of visitors. It’s a much quieter affair these days!
We do take the day off from doing any non essential work of course, and this year our good friends Anita & Paddy have invited us for lunch – it’s been years since someone else cooked for me on Christmas Day! God help them, but we’re taking Luna and Persi with us – they love playing with Paddy & Anita’s dog, Holly – they’ll be tearing around the garden like nutters all day I’m sure!
Christmas Eve has always been my favourite day, and this year I plan to spend the afternoon drinking tea, eating cake and watching It’s a Wonderful Life! I loved it when our kids were small, the building excitement, too many sweets and Christmas films on the tv while I made a start in the kitchen – always party food on Christmas Eve for tea!
Getting traditional British goodies is possible here, but at a price. In previous years here I haven’t bothered buying anything British for Christmas, but because we’re out for the day, I decided the least I could do was get some traditional fayre – 12 Mr Kipling mince pies, a small Christmas cake and a really small Christmas pudding was over €50 but hey, why not! (I would’ve made all of these myself but my oven packed up 6 weeks ago and I’m waiting for a spare part, plus buying some of the ingredients is nigh on impossible!).
The traditional Belen is up in the village – a life sized nativity scene, and the village is decorated with lights – I think we’re all ready! A timetable of events taking place in the village has been published, although with rising Covid numbers over here, I’m not sure if all of the activities will be able to take place – but it is lovely to see so much effort being made to bring the community together.
So wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing this year, we would like to thank you for sharing another year with us, and we hope you have a very very Happy Christmas.
The first year we were here we didn’t really grow much veg – there were so many other things that needed to take priority (like making the house habitable!).
Then for year 2 we built the big framework …
It was good, but it had it’s flaws – it was very difficult to work in between the rows, especially after we had irrigated. It was brilliant for the tomatoes though. So we started some proper planning (probably should have done that earlier, but hey, we’re learning!). We decided what we wanted to grow, and how to manage the quantity of each veg type – you can see above we ended up with a glut of cabbage and kohl rabi and little else. After these were harvested it was all tomatoes.
So to grow peas, beans and tomatoes we still needed something for them to grow up against. For everything else, we just needed veg beds. We like the flood irrigation – it worked really well last year. Rog repositioned all the pipes and outlets so now we can actually irrigate just around the frames, just the beds, or all of it.
This time we’ve given ourselves some room at the side to work. We were also having problems with the edge of the garden being washed down the bank, so we’ve brought the beds away from the edge a bit.
I’ve bought sacks for growing the potatoes in, so these won’t even need to be fitted into the veg garden.
We put the frames up before we needed to plant anything so we could make sure it all held and was strong enough. It all looked good so I planted some peas … then we had a force 7 storm, and they took a bit of a battering.
One had to be taken down and rebuilt, and the other two just needed a bit of extra securing. We’ve gone belt and braces on them all now with cross beams attached to metal posts that go into the ground about 18 inches. We’ve been able to reuse the poles and all the wire from when we took down the big frame, so there’s been no waste.
So at the moment we have peas, broccoli, cabbage , onions, beetroot and broad beans in the ground. I have also started seedlings off in seed trays, which will be planted in the new year – these include spinach, rhubarb, kohl rabi and some more peas, beetroot and cabbage. Staggering the planting will give us a chance to eat what we grow! This year, of course, I do also have the pressure canner, so any that we can’t eat can be preserved for later.
The potatoes will be planted into the grow bags in January, and then in February we have loads of seeds to start off! I hope to make better use of the space we have this year by continually harvesting and then sowing again so there aren’t bare patches for months in between planting.
We’ve also started growing more herbs, but have decided to do most of them in pots near the house – much easier when I’m cooking! But we’re also planting marigolds, thyme and basil in the veg garden to repel insects – nothing better than picking fresh tomato and basil at the same time for tea – making my mouth water already!!
We would love to have more room to grow more veg, but we would have to start cutting down trees to achieve this – I think we’ll see how we get on with what we have now, and think about expanding the veg garden maybe next year. We do have a lot of trees, but the land would actually serve us better growing our own food rather than a ton of oranges … we’ll see – it’s an ever evolving life living here!
It’s quite strange … it doesn’t seem to matter how much we do, or how many things we tick off the to do list, we never get to the end of the list! For every three things we do, we think of five new ones to add!
Many of the things we have to do here are time bound – certain things have to be done at set times of the year whether we like it or not! We were finding that we weren’t utilizing our time very efficiently, and so we weren’t making all the improvements that we said we wanted to do when we first bought the finca.
So the other week Roger started a to do list – now this wasn’t going to include doing things with the trees or veg – we know now when these need doing – but it was for all the other stuff that needs fitting in in between the trees and veg stuff. The kind of things that are the continuous improvements to what we have here – the rebuilding, changing where things go, mending things that have broken etc.
It’s actually quite amazing how things here need re-doing after about two years! In the UK it’s the wind and rain that do the damage, but here it’s the relentless sunshine and heat that undo our hard work. This goes especially for painting – whether it’s the outside walls of the house, or the glossing of the window bars and gates etc. We did everything the first year we were here thinking that would do for 5 years, but no, it all needs re-painting again!
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up working on the trees and forgetting about the other stuff.
The weather is perfect at the moment for working outside, and since we started the to do list we are actually rocking through it at a pace! It gets light at about 8am and gets dark at about 6pm. We still make time for our leisurely breakfast, and stop at lunchtime for a break. Once it gets dark, the fire goes on, the door closes and we’re done for the day! We never miss our afternoon walk with the dogs and make sure there’s time to enjoy the beauty of where we live. You know what they say, all work and no play …
Of course, the big difference this winter is that I’m not working, and I love having time to work outside with Rog instead of being cooped up inside teaching.
But saying all of that, I was walking around the finca today and I actually thought about just how much we have achieved since we got here, and the changes we have made to the place – it’s actually quite amazing what we’ve achieved in a relatively short space of time. I would love the previous owner, Pepe, to be able to come for lunch – I think he’d be stunned at the place – unfortunately, his wife is so unwell that he’s not able to visit us – hopefully one day soon he’ll be able to visit again.
Even though we’re not employed any more, there are things we can take from our old working life to make sure we stay on track here – namely the 5 P’s – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance! We start each week with a run through of what we want to achieve – the big difference of course is that if we don’t get it all done, no one tells us off any more 😂
So, to give you a taste of the type of things we get up to here, here are a few of the jobs currently on our list:
Chop more wood, re-paint gates, re-paint side wall of house, render the shed on the 3rd terrace, take down garage wall before it falls down, build new garage, put trellis back up on side of house, strimming, water proofing on terrace, split and re plant vetiver on banks, re-do steps up to terrace, and make Alice in Wonderland signs (don’t ask!) … and that’s before we’ve cut the olive trees, harvested and cut the mandarin trees, harvested the oranges, pruned the orange trees, washed all the trees and grown any veg! Well, we wouldn’t want to get bored would we …!
I mentioned to a friend that I might do a video of what we do with our olives once we harvest them, and she thought it was a good idea, so here we go …!
Now I do these vlogs just on my mobile phone, one take, no script and no editing (I know, it shows!), so I’m not going to try and get clever by editing it into one video – I can taste the disaster just thinking about it 😂
We started using a reverse osmosis water filtering system back in the UK. The tap water where we lived in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, was ok, but tasted horrible. We were also really concerned about drinking water (or using products) that contained fluoride.
So, what does an RO system do? Well basically, it makes the water totally pure and balances the pH levels to make the water 7 on the scale – neutral. Most tap water is maintained at around 6.5 to 8.5 pH. Now there are some disadvantages to some types of RO systems, depending on the type you buy, which I’ll come on to.
You generally see 3 stage or 5 stage systems, and there’s a very important difference between the two, and that’s the re mineralization stage. If you have a 3 stage system, it is possible to add a remineralization filter between the system and the tap, so it means you don’t have to buy a whole new system at least!
So, why is remineralization so important? We’ll, drinking totally pure water is not actually that good for you. Because it doesn’t contain trace minerals, the water will actually leach these minerals out of your body as it passes through. Not good! The remineralization stage also puts back some taste into the water too.
So, on the upside, a reverse osmosis system is an excellent way to drink very healthy water. They are particularly popular here in Spain as town water doesn’t taste that great. As a result they are fairly cheap here compared to what we paid back in the UK (around £300 plus £60 each year for filters compared to roughly half that cost here). We had one back in the UK mainly to filter out the fluoride, as this can calcify the pineal gland.
Our pineal gland is tiny and sits deep in the brain. It produces melatonin and is the biological representation of our 3rd eye, connecting us spiritually to the universe. To be honest, this subject is a blog of it’s own, but I couldn’t talk about filtering out fluoride without some explanation as to why that is important! On a biological level, melatonin regulates our sleep and affects our mood – I have seen some studies suggesting links to various illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, but I’m not a doctor, so I’ll leave that there! There are lots of other things, such as dairy, that can also contribute to a calcified pineal gland too.
From personal experience, all I will say is that I saw a huge difference in myself when I stopped drinking water with fluoride – everything became very clear in my mind. It was not long after changing to RO water that we threw everything up in the air and moved to Spain, changing our lives beyond recognition!
So, what are the downsides? Well, there’s the initial cost, and annual cost of replacement filters to consider. This is a no brainer for us though, as without the RO system we would have to buy bottled water … and the cost of that would far exceed the cost of the RO system, never mind the plastic etc that we would be using. There is an amount of waste with an RO system – it takes 4 liters of water for every one liter of actual drinking water out of the tap. Now we have our waste water going out into the veg garden, so ours isn’t actually going to waste, but it’s something to be aware of.
After owning a couple of different systems over the years, here’s a couple of top tips that we’ve learned the hard way!
1. Most DIY stores etc sell these systems – when choosing one, check to see if you can get spare parts and replacement filters online! We bought a system from a big store here, and after a year they stopped selling that make, and we can only buy filters, no spare parts! The company don’t have a website, and despite searching everywhere, we cannot find a thing for this make!
2. Shop around – the prices can vary wildly.
3. Check the dimensions of the system and the tank before buying to check it will all fit under your sink.
4. The system requires its own tap, so make sure you have somewhere it can go.
5. Check your water pressure and the minimum and maximums for the systems you’re looking at, and decide whether you will need one with an electric pump (not an option for us, but we do have high water pressure).
On a final note, it is also possible to buy whole house systems, so that all the water out of every tap will have gone through the system – we decided that we didn’t need this, as our water goes through 3 other filters before it gets to the RO system, and having measured the parts per million, it’s perfectly acceptable for washing etc.
Personally, I can’t ever see the day where we don’t have one of these systems!
Back in the UK we used to have three large wheelie bins – one for composting , one for dry recycling and one that would go to landfill. All three were emptied every two weeks, and we tried really hard to recycle whatever we could.
Our rubbish consumption has plummeted since moving here I’m happy to say, and we just keep one small black plastic bin here that we take to empty once a week, separating the different rubbish in the back of the car before we go, so that we can recycle as much as we can. We were amazed to read that Almeria province manages to recycle 93% of all waste.
Rubbish collection works a little differently here – houses don’t have their own wheelie bins. Instead there are large communal bins around the village, and you can take your rubbish to them after 5pm. As well as the large grey bins for landfill, there are large bins for glass, cardboard and plastic.
We try to use less plastic – we now have net bags for the veg stall which we can use again and again, and we still have our bags for life that we bought many years ago in the UK, so it’s very rare that we need a carrier bag from a shop. Simply not eating meat or processed food reduces our rubbish hugely. Any jars get washed out and reused for the homemade marmalade and chutney. There’s no egg boxes these days as we never buy eggs.
As for other stuff that many might consider to be rubbish, well, we try to use as much as we can here. Cardboard boxes are great when flattened for lining the bottom of the dogs kennels – they’re good insulation. Any food waste (not that there is much)gets composted or given to the chickens. And if something gets delivered on a pallet, wow, happy days! The things you can do with old pallets is amazing! Even if it’s old and a bit the worse for wear, it can still be firewood. When the new fridge was delivered it was surrounded by polystyrene – which we’ve used on the back of the bodega door (which is metal), to try and stop the heat in the summer. Whist in an ideal world we wouldn’t have ended up with a load of polystyrene, we really did need a new fridge, and it’s better that the packaging gets reused than thrown out!
When we moved in here the whole finca was littered with rubbish – bits of old kitchen under the trees, piles of old tiles that had sunk into the ground, loads of pipes, bits of fencing, it really was a mess … and that was just outside! The house was crammed full of stuff – old beds with mattresses you really didn’t want to touch, wardrobes full of clothes – it was like they left one day and then just never came back! Sorting out an 87 year old man’s dirty Y Fronts may have mentally scarred me forever 😂 I’ve never been one to use marigolds for cleaning, but I went through several pairs in just the first week here!
It took months to sort through properly. We salvaged things we thought might be useful then took the rest a little at a time up to the bins each day. Roger spent days gathering up the piles of tiles, and these were invaluable! When we did up the bodega, our builder used them to tile the walls and floor – ok so it’s a bit of a crazy pattern, but that’s fine by us! It did the job!
There were 8 old IBC’s up on the third terrace, which used to be used for storing water before the finca was hooked up to irrigation water. These have proved invaluable for all sorts! One is used to catch rainwater off the roof terrace, which we can use to water the plants, then there’s the dog kennels and the chicken coop and run! The top of the chicken run is made from a pergola that we tried to have on the roof – despite it being bolted into the roof, the wind ripped it apart. Makes a good roof for the run, and the rest of it made a nice handrail up the outside stairs!
We do occasionally decide that something needs throwing away though … the other day we had to move all the tree nets. Whilst heaving them around, we commented that in almost three years we’d never used them! So they’re just taking up valuable space! We picked out a few of the best ones to keep just in case, and piled the rest near the gate to take down to the bins on the next run. We’ll that’s plan has changed! Persi and Luna have taken a liking to them … they now have a day bed!
We have now set up our own reclamation yard in one corner of the finca, and it’s piled with all sorts of things ‘that might come in useful one day’ – sure beats going out and spending money on new stuff! It’s great fun too getting imaginative and creative using the stuff we have!
Summer living on solar power is easy peasy! Day after day of brilliant sunshine for 14 hours a day. The batteries are usually fully charged and the system floating by 9am. Piece of cake!
Winter requires a little more … management! The odd cloudy day is fine, but it’s when we get a run of days without sun that it starts to get a little harder!
Yesterday was cloudy, rainy, cold. We left the inverter off for most of the day to let the batteries boost so that we would have some power for the evening. We got about an hour in the evening before the batteries started to struggle!
Today is really cloudy again, and the forecast doesn’t look great for the next 3-4 days. Thankfully, over the past 12 months we have made sure we have different options for when the weather turns.
We have two solar lights in the main room, each with their own little solar panel up on the roof. These don’t need too much sunlight to charge, so at least we have light in the evening! And then there’s the backup candles if need be! We also found some fantastic rechargeable lights in Bricodepot recently, which we bought for mum to have over the bed while she was here – they are simply charged on a usb and we get about 10 hours out of one charge. We try to keep them fully charged as a back up option.
We have two battery lights in the bathroom, which last ages, and a rechargeable light in our bedroom. We can easily get a week out of the bedroom room light, so rarely get caught out with that.
So really, the only thing we need power for in the evening is the wifi – and it’s no great problem if we have to turn that off – a good book, a game of chess, bit of crochet – it’s easy to find other things to do. Keeping our phones charged can be tricky – we both have battery packs that we charge up on sunny days, but they’re a bit old now and don’t last too long, so more than two cloudy days and they’re empty. I do FaceTime Mum and Dad every evening, so it means trying to keep enough charge to make that call – sometimes it has to be a quick check in call only!
Our only heating is the wood burner, so no power required for that!
We do have a back up petrol generator for emergencies, but the only time we had to use that was when I was teaching, as it was critical to be able to run the computer and wifi for the whole day – again, no problem in the summer but the winter was a problem!
There’s always the option of bumping up the solar system – more panels, bigger batteries etc, but it’s an expensive option, and personally, we’d rather manage with what we’ve got! We have talked about raising the panels up on a frame with a turntable so that the panels will track the sun, and get the sun for longer in the winter. During the winter at the moment we lose the sun off the panels by about 3pm, which is not ideal. Making what we have work more efficiently would be a good thing I think.
So in the winter we just have to be a bit organised – when we know there’s some bad weather coming, we make sure stuff is charged up so we’re ready for it!
But now that we’ve been here for a while, it’s amazing how easy we find it to just not have power! It sometimes feels a bit like camping, but that’s fine, we always liked camping 😂
I was always one of those people who gave my job everything, and I did ok on the career ladder in my time. However, this was despite a real lack of self confidence and there were days where I doubted my abilities – I have been known to make myself sick over work, which looking back, was really stupid! Lots of people commented to me that they thought I would really miss working, as I learned to project a certain image to the outside world.
I was thinking about it the other day, and it occurred to me that you hear about people who struggle after retirement … sometimes feeling bored, or that they’re no longer contributing anything meaningful. Some people thought this would be me …
Other than the 18 months when I was teaching part time here, the last time I had a proper job was December 2018, so I thought I’d give my take on retirement so far.
Of course, we’re not doing retirement in a normal or conventional way (no change there then!), and there’s always lots to do here on the finca, but retirement it is (minus the pensions, happy to say we’re too young for those 😂). There’s absolutely no way we could’ve retired this early without making the move we did.
I started my first job at the age of 12, working in an off licence, and then at 15 combined that with working at Sainsburys at the weekends and in the holidays, and any spare time where there was no work at Sainsburys was spent temping. At 18 I left school and went to work full time, and other than a few months maternity leave in 1990 I’ve worked full time all the way through. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fabulous people and companies over the years, and am grateful to certain people who have me so many opportunities. Now though, I think I’ve done my bit, paid my fair share of taxes etc!
So, what’s good about retirement … although we still set an alarm in the morning to sort the dogs and chickens, we could go back to bed if we really want to … napping in the afternoon is heaven … we can stay up until whatever time we like on a school night… (there are no school nights anymore) … we get to do things that we love and that make us happy … and, very importantly, we get to spend time together – something that was severely lacking in our old life. Then there’s being able to be a bit scruffy all the time, not having to wear makeup or high heels, having time to walk the dogs when it’s still light, having time to cook our favourite dinners … the list goes on! I think it can be summed up in one word … FREEDOM!
On the downside ….. hmmmm … well ….. errrrr … oh yea, there’s no monthly salary going in the bank 😂 Living off savings can be a bit nervie – you see it going down each month and never going up again 😂😂. But really, that’s it, the only negative I can think of!
Some people say they get lonely and bored after retirement. Well, I spent the last 15 years working on the road or at home as a rep, which can get soooo lonely. And as for being bored … my goodness, the world is your oyster! I’ve learned so many new things since we moved here, and restarted hobbies that I enjoyed years ago too – crochet, embroidery, cooking, reading, doing the blog, and that’s before we even consider all the farming side of our life! Before moving here I didn’t know how to look after trees, grow veg, rotavate, use a chain saw, put up fencing, look after chickens, preserve food ….
I would honestly not have time to go to work again now!
So my message to anyone who is struggling with retirement, or wondering what they will do with themselves when the day comes is this …
What are you waiting for??? It’s fabulous!
A famous quote: ‘It comes down to a simple choice really: get busy living or get busy dying’
Since we moved here we have discovered muscles that we’ve never used before, and also that this is, at times, quite a dangerous lifestyle!
We are advocates of safety gear – hard hats, safety glasses, steel toe capped boots etc, but we do still have the odd accident…
It started with Rog cutting off the top of his finger in the wood chipper – the lesson there was don’t keep working when it’s really hot and you are dehydrated! It makes you do daft things like stick your hand in the bottom of the chipper to clear it out instead of using the stick that’s in the other hand! It was … messy. I don’t usually panic, but my reaction to his accident was to literally spin in circles saying ‘oh my god oh my god’. At the hospital they asked where the missing bit of finger was – errrr, under a tree somewhere? The hospital did a great job of sewing up the top of his finger, but it was months of backwards and forwards to the doctors and the hospital.
Roger’s head and back are covered in scars now from where he’s scraped himself on trees, and I have the odd one here and there – you get to know the trees, where branches stick out etc, and then you cut them … changing their shape … and then forget that you’ve cut them 😂 You dive underneath in the usual way, and out comes the iodine again!
Then there’s too many muscle sprains and strains to even mention. I think we might have to make a concerted effort to do more yoga to get fit and flexible again, as we haven’t done it too often since moving here.
Cutting the dead wood out of the trees is an evil job, as tiny splinters always fly off, and invariably I’m always left trying to get a piece out of my eye, even with safety glasses on! I think I’ll end up looking like this eventually to do this job …
The latest one has laid me up for a while. The veg garden needed rotivating so I, as always, tried to help. We’ve just had it serviced, and boy is it different! The bloody thing nearly dragged me across the farm, but I wouldn’t give up! I should’ve, in hindsight! Eventually Rog just waded in and finished off. Later that day we were irrigating, and I bent under a tree to check the nozzle and felt a pop in my side. It was ‘ok’ for a few days then started to get so bad that I relented and went to the doctors … it is muscular but pretty bad … lots of anti inflammatories, painkillers and diazepam to try and let the muscles relax. Typical when we do actually have lots of jobs planned! We’re midway through redoing the veg garden so the plan for tomorrow is for me to sit on a chair in the middle and direct – don’t you already feel sorry for poor Rog! 😂😂
I do have a proper first aid kit these days – lots of dressings, bandages, a tourniquet, sterile water for washing eyes etc etc, because, despite our best efforts, we do keep hurting ourselves!
The first year we were here we actually remarked on the fact that there were four very distinct seasons here. This was a stark contrast to the UK where it goes: more grey and cold to less grey and cold, with rain at any time. Interjected, of course, with the odd heatwave which invariably lasts about a week, before descending back to grey after some thunderstorms!
Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a change here – last winter seemed to go on forever, and then it was suddenly summer – spring was barely noticeable. This summer was hot, with some times that were not just hot, but almost unbearably hot – we’re talking 30 degrees at night hot, and heading towards 50 degrees in the day. This year though, summer stayed with us until almost the end of October, and then pop! Winter! Boots on, jumpers on, fire lit every night, and with little or no warning. Is the climate really changing that quickly or is it just an unusual year?
We’ve been watching the events at COP26 closely, and it’s pretty much played out as expected – I fear we’re doomed. I don’t agree with Greta Thunberg about much, but I do think there was too much ‘blah blah blah’ at the conference. World leaders know what they have to do, but they’re too interested in money and power to do it. Well that’s great, they will be able to sit in the middle of a wasted planet surrounded by all their money within a couple of generations. (Imagine now I’m doing a slow hand clap).
Of course, there’s lots we can do as individuals, but again, there are too many people who still don’t want to make changes or sacrifices – saying you recycle all your rubbish just isn’t enough anymore!
I have a feeling that if we were in a scenario where there was a meteor heading straight for earth, but that we could stop it by, I don’t know, hopping on one foot for example, then I think we’d see everyone out hopping on one foot! What we’re heading for is the same destination but just slower and by different means. We all know what sort of things we can do to play our part, and it’s time we showed the politicians and corporations that it really is important to us. Shame them into action. The planet will bounce back after we’ve gone – maybe it would be the best thing for Mother Nature if we weren’t here?
So I sit here wondering how our climate will change further over the coming years, and whether there will be a habitable place for us and future generations? I really do hope so …
One of the things I love about this place is the big sky – huge, enormous, and with nothing to spoil the view. Because of the surrounding mountains, we do get spectacular cloud formations here too.
Now I’m no photographer, and these have been taken just with the camera on my phone, and don’t nearly do the wonderful scenes enough justice, but I hope you enjoy some of the best we’ve seen so far from our finca …
But I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything as dramatic as these next ones ever again … I have shared them before, a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t talk about clouds and skies without including these again. It’s not surprising that people think the aliens are landing when they see these …
None of these pictures have been enhanced, filtered or touched up in any way, so can you imagine how spectacular they were in real life!
Not a day goes by when I don’t feel truly grateful to live here.
Over the last few years, Halloween in the UK has become more and more American, so we were curious to see how Spain celebrated it when we first moved here.
In Spain, October 31st is known as ‘Día de las Brujas’ (Day of the Witches), November 1st as ‘Día de Todos los Santos’ (All Saints Day) and November 2nd as ‘Día de los Muertos/Difuntos’ (Day of the Dead/All Souls Day). … In Spain, most celebrations happen on November 1st which has been made a national holiday (known as a red day here).
On All Saints Day in Spain, some families take the opportunity to visit the cemeteries where their ancestors and loved ones are buried. As a family, they then clean the graves, leave flowers, light candles and take time to remember their dearly departed.
This week in the village there has been face painting and a movie for the children, and on the 31st October the children usually dress up and go out collecting sweets (not called trick or treating here). In larger towns and cities there will be parades with music and fireworks – remembering the dead doesn’t have to be a miserable affair!
The cemetery has had a lick of paint and a good tidy up before All Souls over the last few weeks ready for people to visit the graves of their loved ones.
Most villages have their own cemetery, usually close to the undertakers (tanatorio), which in turn is usually close to the church! It made me laugh when we saw this as it looks very efficient! There is a law in Spain that a body has to be cremated or embalmed within 48 hours of dying, so funerals happen really quickly here, which I think is a good thing.
We have noticed more Halloween type things in the shops recently, but not nearly as much as in the UK.
Of course, living outside of the village in the campo as we do, we won’t get any children knocking on the door for sweets, but we might pop into the village for an hour on Sunday evening to join in a little!
The big difference here is the focus is all on remembering loved ones rather than dressing up for sweets and treats, which keeps it closer to the pagan festival of Samhain where All Souls Day originated from many years ago. We still celebrate Samhain, and we place a simple meal outside for any passing souls, which is the traditional way to celebrate.
However you celebrate Halloween / All Saints and All Souls, have a wonderful weekend!
Last February we took drastic action with one of the mandarin trees. It was not looking great, and the center was so packed with branches and twigs it was hard to get in there to thin it out.
So we did this to it …
Nine months later, and this is the tree now …
Now we can prune it to to thin it out. We had to forego ant fruit for this year but we have five other mandarin trees, so not a problem! Hopefully next year the fruit from this tree will be bigger and better!
Now that we’ve done this to one tree successfully, I’m much more confident in using the same technique on some of the other trees. There are a handful of orange trees that I think would really benefit from this. There are also a couple of the other mandarin trees that have got too bushy, and so are now producing small fruit … time to get the chainsaw out again!!
It’s getting harder and harder to be able to live without technology, and we were talking the other day about people who can’t access it getting left behind in society. And then there’s people who want to spend less time on devices, not more! Reports abound about kids spending too much time on screens, yet it’s getting harder to do anything without them. It makes me wonder where technology will be by the time our grandchildren are adults 🤔
Take traveling at the moment … the need for technology was brought home when I was organising mum and dad’s trip here. Mum has an iPad as with her sight problems it’s the only way she can see the TV, and she does really well with it – she can navigate around her programes really well now that she knows where the buttons are. But move away from the familiar sites and she really struggles. Dad also has a little android tablet – only used for horse racing results and playing backgammon! He is a self confessed dinosaur and proud of it.
So I booked their plane tickets on the easyjet app and downloaded the boarding passes – these were then emailed to a friend who printed them out for Mum. Then came the locator form for arriving in Spain – again, I completed it and emailed it over for printing. Mums neighbour went in and downloaded their vaccination certificates (which sounded like a total faff) and printed them out.
Going back, I completed the UK locator forms and printed them here. Everything had to be paper for them still – there’s no way they would’ve managed to find everything online at the airport.
Before they traveled I booked their Day 2 PCR tests for them. As far as I am aware, you can only access the providers on the Gov.uk website.
Now I’m guessing this would be pretty common for my parents generation – some knowledge, maybe owning a tablet or phone, but get quite worried about using online stuff in real-time at an airport. So what happens to that generation where they don’t have an army of people helping them? Sorry, you just can’t travel anymore? That doesn’t seem right or fair to me.
We watched a program about 5g the other night, and how it’s going to revolutionize how we live – everything automated, machines calculating and making decisions for us … is it just me or is everyone else terrified too??? We have often said we would love to go down to the beach and throw our phones into the sea … but how would we talk to our families, do our banking, pay our taxes – it’s already too late, we have to have them to be able to live in this society … we can’t get rid of the bloomin’ things!
We do have wifi here (when the sun is shining!), which is satellite WiMAX, and we get a speed of 12mbps – but do you know what – it works!! Out of curiosity I looked up what the cost of Elon’s Starlink – wow! It’s like £90 a month after you’ve forked out £500 for equipment and set up! The service promises astonishing speeds, reliable service etc – but why has everything had to get so fast?
I saw an article about technology in Japan – they are already so far ahead of many countries – coffee shops run completely by robots – I can only hope it never happens here. What happens with human interaction, having a laugh and a joke? And the people that used to work in the coffee shop – now unemployed – or now employed to build robots to put other people out of work! I fear that technology is more like a disease, and one that’s spreading faster than Covid. And don’t even get me started on the ‘metaverse’…
So I mentioned at the start about the people in the world who will get left behind as this new technology rolls out – whilst I’m kinda hoping we’re in that group of people, on the other side of the coin there would be a huge division and technology will make the gap between the haves and have nots much wider. I think it’s too late to stop it, but maybe what we should be doing is identifying friends and family who struggle with this brave new world and try to help and support them – it must feel so bewildering after all.
So now that Mum and Dad have gone back to Blighty it’s time to pick up the tools and crack on!
It was lovely to have a break, spend some time with the oldies and do some different stuff, but we’re both happy to be going back outside, working with the trees and getting the next lot of veg ready for planting!
First things first, the trees need cutting back to get rid of the dead wood, washing again (we’re still fighting off the scale insects) and puffing with sulphur powder. The cuttings will need to go through the wood chipper to make more mulch, firewood needs chopping, and then there’s a ton of work to do in the veg garden to prepare for the winter planting!
We’re just a few weeks away now from the olive harvest too, and it looks like it’s going to be a good year. Between harvesting them and taking the olives up to the factory, we can pretty much kiss goodbye to a week just for this one job – although I have to admit it’s one of my favourite things to do here. There’s just something very satisfying about stripping the olives off the trees!
We’re taking down the huge frame we built in the veg garden last year and will rebuild it just up one end of the garden – we know now what veg grow best here, and which ones need the framework to grow around – mainly tomatoes beans and peas. We are going to put more support posts into the new framework, as I found myself having to weave string between the posts this year for the tomatoes to give them extra support. Doing this will also make getting around the veg easier – it was a bit krypton factor this year!
Before we build the new one, we need to rotavate the garden – we have several large holes that have appeared, and the best way to deal with them is to rotavate and then fill.
There’s not too much to plant before Xmas but in January loads of veg will be going in – and this year I’m planning it better so we don’t end up with 50 cabbages, 50 kohl rabbi and nothing else! I bought a big plastic box which I’ve sectioned into the months of the year, and then sorted the seeds into each month – at the start of each month I can simply check the box and instantly know which seeds need planting – we’re getting there! 😂😂
The other thing we really need to do is sort out the chicken coop – sparrows and rats are both getting in so we need to sort that out! When we built it we could only get a larger size chicken wire, and the sparrows could squeeze through, so we covered the whole coop with olive netting, which had tiny holes, but they’re still finding a way in! The rats are coming in by digging under, so we’ll have to dig down further and push the fencing further into the ground to try and stop this!
Now if I could answer this question with any surety I’d probably win some sort of Nobel prize, but I thought I’d try and tackle it today and share some of my own thoughts on the topic.
I’m sitting here, it’s Monday morning, 7.30am, and I’m on my third cup of tea as I start this blog. Just a few short years ago, Monday mornings were so different – I would’ve usually already have been on the road for an hour by now, on my way to meetings and conferences. Dashing around all day, getting in by about 7pm before zooming off to a yoga class, and grabbing a prepared salad on the way home before crashing into bed to start it all again tomorrow. Too tired to even wonder what it is I’m contributing to. Sound familiar?
Now I’ve become the queen of pottering 😂. Lots of tea to start the day, feed the dogs and chickens, do a spot of cleaning and washing, prune some trees, plant or tend to some veg before a rest in the afternoon, clean the chickens, a long walk with the dogs, a sit on the roof terrace to watch the birds get ready for bed, and a spot of dinner. A couple of times a week we’ll go out for supplies or to meet up with friends for a coffee. We’re always busy doing something, but these days there’s no rush. Growing our own fruit and veg has become so satisfying, and it’s quite addictive … we want to grow more of our own food, and try lots of new varieties. Then, of course, there’s preserving our food so that we have supplies of different veg out of season – it takes quite some organising.
Rog spends a lot of time working outside in the day – making improvements to the finca, repairing fences, filling holes that appear in the terraces, replacing water filters, sorting firewood, looking after the trees, strimming etc – there are lots of repetitive jobs here in order to maintain the place. But saying that no two days are ever the same.
I have friends on Facebook who have lives like mine used to be … dashing about with their jobs, kids and hobbies … it makes me tired just reading about their lives sometimes!
I reached the point where I couldn’t see the point of what I was doing when I looked at the bigger picture. Was selling software so important?? Is that really all there was? I didn’t feel like I was contributing to the well being of our planet or to my own well being – the opposite in fact – dashing up and down motorways in my diesel car, flying up and down to Scotland all the time – I was having a bad effect on the environment. I feel like this about most of modern society in reality … it seems to be just about making money these days … inventing things for the sake of it, just because it can be done. We don’t have time to make or grow the things we need because everyone is out providing services to other people … and it’s questionable whether those people need those services!
I don’t know, maybe I was born a few hundred years later than I should’ve been, but it seems to me that having your own space from which you can feed yourself, and doing things in a much simpler way without the need for lots of modern technology is a good thing – I’m sure there’s many that will disagree with me. By simplifying life, every day has become so much richer, and it all feels REAL. We don’t need to be constantly entertained. We don’t have any confusion in our life, any mental health issues, no real medical or physical issues, and, most importantly, we’re happy …
Now, clearly, what makes us happy would be someone else’s nightmare – it wouldn’t do for us all to be the same after all! So I think the answer to the question ‘what is our true purpose’ is this … find what makes you happy … truly happy in your heart … and do it. I do also think that making the people around us happy is hugely important too … the two things go hand in hand really.
The caveat of course, don’t harm anyone else or the planet in pursuit of your happiness, and I don’t think you can go wrong.
Well, Mum and Dad arrived a week ago, and it was dark by the time we got back to the finca. This meant of course, that they couldn’t see anything of the views on the way here, or anything outside the house, so Tuesday morning was like ‘the big reveal’!
So, what did Mum think of the house? ‘Ooh it’s lovely, and bigger then I thought!’ – this line on its own from Mum got me doing a little happy dance!
On Tuesday morning Dad came and had a walk around with us – unfortunately, it was a bit difficult for Mum to do this, but we did manage to get her up to the roof terrace to see the views and at least look out across our land. Dad is quite taken with having a sit on the roof terrace in the afternoon sunshine for his rest!
They love it here, and are already talking about when they’ll be coming back!
Dad has always owned motorbikes from the age of 17 through to when he retired, and he made a remark the other week that he’d love to have a go on my bike! So on Thursday afternoon Rog and Dad went out for a little tootle around – at least that’s what I thought they were going to do … an hour and a half later they came back and Dad had the biggest grin on his face – they’d been up all through the mountains and had a stop at the cafe on the way back! It was lovely to see Dad so relaxed and happy!
They have experienced the weekly market and the relaxed late breakfast at the cafe, and met lots of the locals, who have all welcomed them to the village!
On Sunday we went to Fort Bravo to see the film sets used in lots of spaghetti westerns, had a ride in a horse and cart, and watched two shows – a punch up in the saloon and a bank robbery out on the street – both were done with such humour and the actors were great! Lots of horses and guns! And even though both shows were totally in Spanish it was easy to get the drift of what was happening! I’d really recommend this for a day out if you’re in the area.
Mum and Dad are managing well with our limited electricity – we make sure their stuff is all charged up in the day and bought some rechargeable bright lights for their bedroom. It’s a shame Mum can’t wander around the whole finca, but she has a chair outside the house so she can enjoy the sunshine. And mum has definitely taken a fancy to long relaxed lunches at the cafe, trying lots of different tapas!
We’ve still got lots planned for this week, but I think it’s fair to say that it has put mum and dads minds at rest now they’ve seen where and how we live. Dad actually said last night that they couldn’t be happier for us!
With Mum and Dad arriving next week, we’ve been thinking about where we can take them and some things we can go and do while they’re here. I’ve done a blog previously giving a quick overview of the province, but I thought I’d give some specific places to visit this time.
We haven’t actually spent much time at all sightseeing here – the first year we were trying to get this place habitable, and then the pandemic hit, so we’ll be seeing some of these places for the first time too!
Almeria is in a special location – they say you can go skiing in the morning up in the Sierra Nevada’s, and then go and lie on a beach in the afternoon! It’s a great place if you are sporty – lots of walking and hiking in the mountains, and water sports down on the coast. Kayaking out from Cabo de Gata is really popular (don’t think mum and dad would be keen as hilarious as that would be!).
Almería has some truly beautiful beaches. Or you could hire a boat and go and discover the coves around the coast too! Then there are organised boat trips where you will often catch sight of dolphins. There are various places along the coast where you can find these – Cabo de Gata and Aguadulce being just two that I know of. Aguadulce is lovely, and very close to the popular resort of Roquetas de Mar (personally my idea of hell … rows and rows of hotels and bars selling English food!!). I’m planning a boat trip for mum and dad from Aguadulce – they last a couple of hours and cost about €30 each – longer days trips are also available.
Then there’s the many little villages dotted around the province, usually with great local bars and cafes so you can while away a few hours with some cold beer and tapas! As you go towards the mountains of course you get spectacular views to enjoy with your cold beer! Another drink you might enjoy over here is Tinto de Verano – wine of summer – basically a red wine spritzer and very delicious on a hot day! There are some beautiful villages near us that I plan to take mum and dad to – Laujar de Andarax, Almocita and Padules – they’re all within half an hour of us, and we have tried and tested the tapas there!
Overlooking Almeria City is the 10th Century Fort – the Alcazaba. It’s free entry if you’re an EU citizen and €1,50 if you’re not (sorry Dad!). There are beautiful gardens and you can walk around the ruins of the Fort, once lived in by the King of Almeria.
Almeria is home to Europe’s only desert. The town of Tabernas sits on the edge of the desert, and is a nice place to wander around. However, most people go to this part of Almeria to visit Mini Hollywood and Fort Bravo. Loads of films have been made here, and you can visit some of the sets and even watch a Wild West show! I think it famously started with the Spaghetti westerns, but in more recent years there have been Indiana Jones, Top Gun, Game of Thrones etc to name but a few, made here.
Then there’s the cathedral and various museums in Almeria city to explore! The city is right on the coast, so you can do your shopping, wander around the museums and then down to the beach to enjoy a spot of lunch looking out across the med – we did this the other week and just kept sitting there saying how lucky we are!
Almeria has become a more popular holiday destination over the last few years and there really is something for everyone – the busy city with bustling markets and lots of shops or you can escape to the more tranquil settings in the mountains or hidden coves around the coast … we’re certainly looking forward to doing a bit of touristy sightseeing ourselves over the next few weeks!
Mum and Dad weren’t overly happen when I told them we were moving to Spain, and of course, losing my sister last year compounded some of those feelings. There’s no one around the corner now to help them, and whilst I do have more time to sort stuff out for them from here, it’s the little jobs that they’re starting to need help with. I get Mum to write a list so when I go over I can work my way through to help where I can. Having FaceTime has made a huge difference – I speak to them every day – something I never had time for when we lived in the UK, and that makes up for a lot I think. I promised to go back to visit twice each year and have managed that so far with the exception of this year – just one, but longer visit, due to their being no flights until June!
Mums initial reaction three years ago was ‘well we’re never coming to visit you!’. Said in a state of upset of course… and we hoped that as the shock wore off that they would come around to the idea.
And that’s exactly what happened – 18 months after we moved here they announced they were coming to see us! They were due to visit us last March – but then my sister was diagnosed with cancer and the pandemic hit, so the trip couldn’t happen.
I didn’t want them to take unnecessary risks traveling this year, but now that rules have been relaxed and flights are back on they have rebooked to come for two weeks! Just a week to go now till they arrive!
We’re a little worried about how mum will cope here – she has macular degeneration and is registered blind, and has some mobility problems – we don’t have massively bright lights here at night, and there’s lots of steps and uneven ground. So I’ve done a deal with them – there is a little house in the village available for holiday rentals. If, after a few days here, Mum is struggling, then we’ll pop down and see the owner to rent it for the rest of their stay. They’ll only be 5 minutes down the road from us if we need to do that.
Mum, of course, grew up in rural Ireland where they lived properly off grid … no solar panels or wind turbines, no running water and no bathroom – I think she’ll be quite shocked (in a good way) at what off grid can look like these days!
Since booking their tickets two weeks ago, Rog and I have been a little more motivated to get some jobs finished!! For most people, they’ll have a clean and tidy before family visits … we’ve redecorated the house, bought a car they’ll be able to get into, and Rog has even built a ramp up to the house. These were all things we were planning to do (the ramp is to make it easier to get the wheelbarrow up to the other terraces), but over the last two weeks we’ve gone like the clappers to get it all done!
I don’t usually subscribe to the ‘everything has to be perfect’ school of thought anymore – you could torment yourself trying to achieve that – nearly perfect is fine!! As long as the place is clean, tidy and has a comfy bed then that’s good enough usually. Bit different when it’s your Mum visiting though!! 😂😂 Generally these days we don’t worry about what other people think about how we choose to live – everyone is entitled to their opinion (but we don’t have to agree with it!) – but I really do want Mum and Dad to like it here!
Rogers Mum came to visit twice before she passed away. Like my Mum and Dad, she wasn’t overly impressed with our decision to move. The first time she came was literally a couple of weeks after we moved in – we only got our furniture here three days before they all arrived. We had no comfy chairs but we had found a rocking chair in the shed which we cleaned up for her! We pulled out all the stops to get everywhere clean and painted in time for her visit, but didn’t have things terribly well organised! When Ethel asked if I had a hairdryer she could use, all I could do was take her outside, stand her in the sun and tell her to wait there for five minutes!! The second time she came, six months later, we were better prepared – we at least had some solar panels and a working fridge if nothing else! There was still no hairdryer though! All during her visit, Ethel just kept saying ‘ooh you have got a lot of work to do here!’ – understatement of the year! I wish she could see it now …
When you make this kind of move, one of the things you have to consider of course is the family … it was the one thing that made making the decision very hard. We made sure we bought somewhere within an hour of an airport that had regular flights to both Birmingham and London all year round … there have been very few flights out of Almeria to the UK during the last 18 months, but things are slowly improving, and it is a comfort to know that if we need to, we can get to the UK quickly.
Mum and Dad are both really excited to finally see where we live, and I think when they see it they will really understand what we love about it here – well I hope so anyway! Seeing it on FaceTime just isn’t the same. I’ll report in after their visit with the verdict… !
Finally, after placing the order back in January, the pressure canner has arrived! Hooray!!
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!!
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!
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!!
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!
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!
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!
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 .
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 😂
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!
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!!
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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. 👏👏👏
This is a link to a video on Facebook of the statue being carried through the streets earlier today:
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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:
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!!
We’ve learnt a lot about looking after fruit trees in the time we’ve been here, although we’re nowhere near experts yet! This video gives you a tour of one of our orange trees with some tips and advice on how to look after them.
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 …
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!
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!
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 …
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!
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:
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!
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!
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!
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
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How he’s grown!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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?
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.
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!
When my pressure canner finally arrives I will do a post just on pressure canning once I’ve had a play with it!
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.
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!
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!
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 …
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 ❤️
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Over the last year we’ve been charting the lifecycle of our oranges, and here we are, it’s harvest time!
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!
It’s two years this week since we bought the finca. Before we came here, we had a vision in our heads and certain expectations about what life would be like. However, at no point did we imagine this though … 😂
So, have our expectations been met, is life how we imagined it, and what advice would we give to others embarking on a similar journey …
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!
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!
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.
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 👍🏻
Spain loves a party! And what must every party have … fireworks, lots and lots of 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.
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.
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 …
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
So we wait now for the first signs of life to spring forth from the branches! We’ll let you know what happens!
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!
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 …
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.
I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’m quite excited at the prospect of rotivator shopping …😂
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!!
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!
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!
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?’ 😂😂
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
So off we go to the olive mill in Canjayar with our harvest …
So that’s it for another year – time to start all over again!
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!
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!
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!
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!
… tonight Luna is staying in the house with us, complete with a cone of shame!
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!
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.
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 …
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?
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 …
And the finishing touch is a particularly ugly scarecrow to stand guard! Had to be done!
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!
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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!!
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!
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!
In April I wrote a post showing the little baby oranges that were appearing as the blossom fell away from the trees.
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.
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!
The vegetable garden part 2 should be in the next few weeks once we’ve got the framework in place!
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!
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.
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!
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 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!